'You send out teachers of religion to undermine and ruin the people.'—Black Flag Proclamation to the French, 1883.
The moonlight, in wave on wave of silver, flooded all the Sacred Island. Far away and faint ran the line of the crests of Samoa, like the hills of heaven in the old ballad, or a scene in the Italian opera. Then came a voice from the Calling Place, and the smooth sea thrilled, and all the fishes leaped, and the Sacred Isle itself was moved, and shuddered to its inmost heart. Again and again came the voice, and now it rose and fell in the cadences of a magical song (or Karakia, if we must have local colour), and the words were not of this world. Then, behold, the smooth seas began to break and plash round the foremost cape of the Holy Island, and to close again behind, like water before the keel and behind the stern of a running ship, so they plashed, and broke, and fell. Next the surface was stirred far off with the gambolling and sporting of innumerable fishes; the dolphin was tumbling in the van; the flying fish hovered and shone and sank; and clearer, always, and yet more clear came the words of the song from Samoa. Clearer and louder, moment by moment, rose the voice of Queen Mab, where she stood on the Calling Place of the Gods, and chanted to the Islands, and to the sea, and the dwellers in the sea. It was not that she left her stand, nor came nearer, but the Sacred Island itself was steering straight, like a magical barque, drawn by the wonderful song, to the mystic shore of Samoa. Now Queen Mab, where she stood among her court, with the strange brown fairies of the Southern Ocean, could behold the Sacred Island, with all its fairy crew. Beautiful things they seemed, as the sailing isle drew nearer, beautiful and naked, and brave with purple pan-danus flowers, and with red and yellow necklets of the scented seed of the pandanus. At last Queen Mab, the fairy in the fluttering wings of green, clapped her hands, and, with a little soft shock, the Sacred Island ran in and struck on the haunted beach of Samoa. What was Queen Mab doing here, so far away from England? England she had left long ago; when the Puritans arose the Fairies vanished. When 'Tom came home from labour and Cis from milking rose,' there was now no more sound of tabor, nor 'merrily went their toes.' Tom went to the Public House or the Preaching House, and Cis—Cis waited till Tom should come home and kick her into a jelly (his toes going merrily enough at that work), or tell her she was, spiritually, in a parlous case. So the Fairy Queen and all her court had long since fled from England, and long ago made a home in the undiscovered isles of the South. Now they all met and mingled in the throng of the Polynesian fairy folk, and, rushing down into the waters, they revelled all night on the silvery sand, in the windless dancing places of the deep. Tanê and Tawhiti came, the Gods of the tides and the shores, and all the fairies sang to them:
'Tawhiti, on the sacred beach The purple pandanus is thine! How soft the breakers come and go, How bright the fragrant berries blow, The fern-tree scents the shining reach, And Tanê dances down the brine!'
Such is the poetry of the Polynesian fairies. It is addicted to frequent repetitions of the same obvious remark, and it does not contain a Criticism of Life, so we do not give any more of it. But, such as it was, it seemed to afford great pleasure to the dancers, probably because every one of them could compose any amount of it himself, at will, and every dancer was 'his own poet,' than which nothing can be more salubrious and delightful.
Thus the dance and the revel swang and swayed through the silver halls till the green lights began to glow with gold and scarlet and crimson, burning into dawn. Then came a sudden noise, like thunder, crashing and roaring through the silence of the sea. Queen Mab clapped her hands, and, in one moment, the Sacred Isle had flitted back to its place, and the music stopped, and the dancers vanished.
Then, as the island swiftly receded, came a monstrous wave, and no wonder, which raised the surface of the sea to a level with the topmost cliff of the Calling Place. Queen Mab, who had flown to a pine-tree there, saw the salt water fall back down the steeps like a cataract, and heard a voice say, 'The blooming reef has bolted.' Another voice remarked something about 'submarine volcanic action.' These words came from a level with her head, where the Queen saw, stranded in a huge tree, a boat with a funnel that poured forth smoke, and with wheels that still rapidly and automatically revolved in mid air. In fact, a missionary steamer had been raised by the mighty tidal wave to the level of the cliff. Then the sailors climbed into the trees, talking freely, in a speech which Queen Mab knew for English, but not at all the English she had been accustomed to hear. Also the sailors had among them men with full, sleek, shining faces, wearing tall hats and long coats, and carrying little books whose edges flashed in the sun. And Queen Mab did not like the look of them. Then she heard the sailors and the men in black coats making straight for the very pine-tree in which she was sitting. So she fled into a myrtle-bush, and behold, the sailors chopped every branch of the pine clean away, and changed the beautiful tree into a bare pole. Then they brought out ropes, and a great piece of thin cloth, white with red and blue cross marks on it, and they tugged it up, and it floated from the top of the tree. Then the people from the ship gathered round it, and sang songs, whereof one repeated,
and the other contained the words,
'Every prospect pleases, And only Man is vile.'
Soon some specimens of vile Man, some of the human beings of Samoa, came round, beautiful women dressed in feathers and leaves, carrying flowers and fruit, which they offered to the men in black coats and white neckties. But the men in black coats held up their hands in horror, and shut their eyes, while some of them ran to the boat and brought bonnets, and boots, and cotton gowns, and pocket-handkerchiefs, and gave them to the women. And the women, putting them on anyhow, walked about as proud as peacocks; while the men in black coats explained that, unless they wore these things, and did and refrained from many matters, they would all be punished dreadfully after they were dead. Now, while the women were crying at such glad tidings, came another awful crash and shock, which indeed, like the previous noise that had frightened the dancers, was produced by a ship's gun. And another cloud of black smoke floated round the point, and another set of sailors got out and cut the branches off a tree, and ran up a flag which was black and red and yellow. Then those sailors (who had men with red beards and spectacles among them) cried Hock! and sang the Wacht am Rhein. Thereupon the sailors of the first steamer, with a horrid yell, rushed on the tree under the new flag, and were cutting it down, when some of the singers of the Wacht am Rhein pointed a curious little machine that way and began to turn a handle. Thereon the most dreadful cracking sounds arose, cracking and crashing; fire flew, and some of the first set of sailors fell down and writhed on the sand, while the rest fled to their boat. Several of the native women also fell down bleeding and dying in their new cotton gowns and their bonnets, for they had been dancing about while the sailors were hacking at the tree with the black and red and yellow flag.
Seeing all this, Queen Mab also saw that Samoa was no longer a place for her. She did not understand what was happening, nor know that a peaceful English annexation had been disturbed by a violent German annexation, for which the English afterwards apologised. Queen Mab also conceived a prejudice against missionaries, which, perhaps, was justified by her experience. For, in the matter of missionaries, she was unlucky. The specimens she had observed were of the wrong kind. She might have met missionaries as learned as Mr. Codrington, as manly as Livingstone, as brave and pure as Bishop Pattison> who was a martyr indeed, and gave his life for the heathen people. Yes, Queen Mab was unlucky in her missionaries.
'The time is come,' the walrus said, 'To talk of many things.' 'Alice in Wonderland.'
It was on April 1, the green young year's beginning, that Mab arrived in England. She had hired a seagull—no, the seagull offered his services for nothing; I was forgetting that it was not an English, but a Polynesian seagull—to take her across. She did not altogether admire the missionaries, as we have seen, in their proceedings, the fact being that she had grown used to Polynesians in the course of the centuries she had spent among them, and the missionaries were such a remarkable contrast to the Polynesians. But their advent was certainly a source of mental improvement to her, for fairies as we know, understand things almost by instinct, and Queen Mab, one evening, chanced to overhear a good deal of the missionaries' conversation. She learned, for instance, the precise meanings, and the bearings on modern theology and metaphysics, of such words as kathenotheism, hagiography, transubstantiation, eschatology, Positivist, noumenony begriffy vorstellung, Paulisimus, wissenschaft, and others, quite new to her, and of great benefit in general conversation.
With this additional knowledge she started on the voyage, leaving her faithful subjects to take care of the island and themselves, till she came back to tell them whether their return to England would ever be practicable. She landed in Great Britain, then, on April 1, and the seagull went across to the Faroe Islands and waited there till the time which she had appointed for him to come and carry her back to Polynesia.
Queen Mab found England a good deal altered. There were still fairy circles in the grass; but they were attributed, not to fairy dances, but to unscientific farming and the absence of artificial phosphates. The country did not smell of April and May, but of brick-kilns and the manufacture of chemicals. The rivers, which she had left bright and clear, were all black and poisonous. Water for drinking purposes was therefore supplied by convoys from the Apollinaris and other foreign wells, and it was thought that, if a war broke out, the natives of England would die of thirst. This was not the only disenchantment of Queen Mab. She found that in Europe she was an anachronism. She did not know, at first, what the word meant, but the sense of it gradually dawned upon her. Now there is always something uncomfortable about being an anachronism; but still people may become accustomed to it, and even take a kind of a pride in it, if they are only anachronisms on the right side—so far in the van of the bulk of humanity, for instance, that the bulk of humanity considers them not wholly in their right minds. There must surely be a sense of superiority in knowing oneself a century or two in front of one's fellow-creatures that counterbalances the sense of solitude. Queen Mab had no such consolation. She was an anachronism hundreds of years on the wrong side; in fact, a relic of Paganism.
Of course she was acquainted with the language of all the beasts and birds and insects, and she counted on their befriending her, however much men had changed. Her brief experience of modern sailors and missionaries, whether English or German, had indeed convinced her that men were, even now, far from perfection. But it was a crushing blow to find that all the beasts were traitors, and all the insects.
If it had not been for the loyal birds she would have gone back to Polynesia at once; but they flocked faithfully to her standard, led by the Owl, the wisest of all feathered things, who had lived too long, and had too much good feeling to ignore fairies, though he was, perhaps, just a little of a prig. The insects, however, who, considering the size of their brains, one might have thought would believe in fairies and in the supernatural in general, if anybody did, behaved disgracefully, and the ant was the worst all. She started by saying that her brain was larger in proportion than the brain of any other insect. Perhaps Queen Mab was not aware that Sir John Lubbock had devoted a volume to the faculties and accomplishments of ants, together with some minor details relating to bees and wasps, of which these insects magnified the importance. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for her to countenance a mere vulgar superstition, like faith in fairies. She begged leave to refer Queen Mab to various works in the International Scientific Series for a complete explanation of her motives, and mentioned, casually, that she also held credentials from Mr. Romanes. Then, explaining that her character with the sluggard was at stake, she hurried away. Evidently she did not care to be seen talking to a fairy. It may be mentioned here, however, that Queen Mab's faith in entomological nature was considerably shaken by the fact that when no one was looking at her the ant always folded up her work and went to sleep—though, if surprised in a siesta, she explained that she had only just succumbed to complete exhaustion, and lamented that mind, though infinitely superior to, was not yet independent of matter.
The bees hummed much to the same tune. The Queen Bee recommended our foreigner to read a work on 'Bees and Wasps,' with a few minor details relating to Ants, by Sir John Lubbock, in the International Scientific Series. She was not, indeed quite so timid about her reputation as the ant, and even volunteered to give her visitor an account of the formation of hexagonal cells by Natural Selection, culled from the pages of the 'Origin of Species'; but she observed that, though her brain might be smaller in proportion than the brains of some inferior insects, it was of finer quality, what there was of it, and that fairies were merely an outgrowth of the anthropomorphic tendency which had been noticed by distinguished writers as persisting even in the present day. Then she departed, humming gaily, to the tune of a popular hymn in the 'Ancient and Modern' collection:
'And gather honey all the day From every opening flower?
But the whole sad history of Queen Mab's failures to enlist sympathy and protection it would be vain to tell. The fishes, all that were left of them, took her part; but they lived in the water, and she had never had very much to do with them. In the birds she found her true allies. They were not attached to the higher civilisation. The higher civilisation, so far, had treated them inconsiderately, at sparrow clubs. The Owl talked a good deal about the low moral tone of the human race in this respect, and was pessimistic about it, failing to perceive that higher types of organisms always like to signify their superiority over lower ones by shooting them, or otherwise making their lives a burden. The Owl, however, was a very talented bird, and one felt that even his fallacies were a mark of attainments beyond those common to his race. He had read and thought a great deal, and could tell Queen Mab about almost anything she asked him. This was pleasant, and she sat with him on a very high oak in Epping Forest, above a pond, and made observations. It was lovely weather, just the weather for sitting on the uppermost branches of a great oak, and she began to feel like herself again. She had forgotten to put her invisible cloak on; but as she was only half a foot high, and dressed in green, no one saw her up there. Having reached the Forest at night, she had met as yet with few British subjects; but the Owl explained that she would see hundreds of them before the day was over, coming to admire Nature.
'The English people,' he observed, 'are great worshippers of Nature, and write many guide-books about her, some on large paper at ten guineas the volume. I have sometimes fancied, indeed,' he added, doubtfully,' that it was their own capacity for admiring Nature that they admired, but that were a churlish thought. For, do they not run innumerable excursion trains for the purpose of bowing at her shrine? Epping Forest must be one of Nature's favourite haunts, from the numbers of people who come here to worship her, especially on Bank Holidays. Those are her high festivals, when her adorers troop down, and build booths and whirligigs and circuses in her honour, and gamble, and ride donkeys, and shy sticks at cocoanuts before her. Also they partake of sandwiches and many other appropriate offerings at the shrine, and pour libations of bottled ale, and nectar, and zoedone, and brandy, and soda-water, and ginger-beer. They always leave the corks about, and confectionery paper bags, for the next people to gaze upon who come to worship Nature: you may see them now, if you look down. I have often thought those corks, and cigar-ends, and such tokens that the British public always leaves behind it, must be symbolical of something—offerings to Nature, you know, an invariable part of the rite, and typical—well, the question is, of what are they typical?' mused the Owl, getting beyond his depth, as he had a way of doing.
'However,' he resumed, 'it is certain that their devotion is strong, and they offer to Nature the sacrifices dearest to their own hearts, and probably dearest, therefore, to the heart of Nature. They cut their names all over her shrine, which is, I have no doubt, a welcome attention; but they do not look at her any more than they can help, for they stay where the beer is, and they are very warm, and flirt.'
'What is "flirt"?'
'A recreation,' said the Owl decorously; 'a pastime.'
'And does nobody believe in fairies?' sighed Queen Mab.
'No, or at least hardly anyone. A few of the children, perhaps, and a very, very few grown-up people—persons who believe in Faith-healing and Esoteric Buddhism, and Thought-reading, and Arbitration, and Phonetic Spelling, can believe in anything, except what their mothers taught them on their knees. All of these are in just now.'
'What do you mean by "in"?'
'In fashion; and what is fashionable is to be believed in. Why, you might be the fashion again,' said the Owl excitedly. 'Why not? and then people would believe in you. What a game it all is, to be sure! But the fashions of this kind don't last,' the bird added; 'they get snuffed out by the scientific men.'
'Tell me exactly who the scientific men are,' said the fairy. 'I have heard so much about them since I came.'
'They are the men.' sighed the Owl, 'who go about with microscopes, that is, instruments for looking into things as they are not meant to be looked at and seeing them as they were never intended to be seen. They have put everything under their microscopes, except stars and First Causes; but they had to take telescopes to the stars, because they were so far off; and First Causes they examined by stethoscopes, which each philosopher applied to his own breast. But, as all the breasts are different, they now call First Causes no business of theirs. They make most things their business, though. They have had a good deal of trouble with the poets, because the poets liked to put themselves and their critics under their own microscopes, and they objected to the microscopes of the scientific men. You know what poets are?'
'Yes, indeed,' said Queen Mab, feeling at home on the subject. 'I have forgotten a good many things, I daresay, with living in Polynesia, but not about the poets. I remember Shakespeare very well, and Herrick is at my court in the Pacific.'
'Ah, he was a great man, Shakespeare, almost too large for a microscope!' said the Owl reflectively. They have put him under a good many since he died, however, especially German lenses. But we were talking about the philosophers—another name for the scientific men —the men who don't know everything.'
'I should have thought they did,' said Queen Mab.
'No,' said the Owl. 'It is the theologians who know everything, or at least they used to do so. But lately it has become such a mark of mental inferiority to know everything, that they are always casting it in each other's teeth. It has grown into a war-cry with both parties: "You think you know everything," and it is hard for a bird to find out how it all began and what it is all about. I believe it sprang originally out of the old microscope difficulty. The philosophers wanted to put theology under the microscope, and the theologians excommunicated microscopes, and said theology ought never to be looked at except with the Eye of Faith. Now the philosophers are borrowing an eye of Faith from the theologians, and adding it on to their own microscope like another lens, and they have detected a kind of Absolute, a sort of a Something, the Higher Pantheism. I could never tell you all about it, and I don't even know whether they have really put theology under the microscope, or only theologians.'
'And the people worship St. George still?' asked Queen Mab, who, being only a fairy, and owning no soul, had private theories of belief, based merely on observation of popular customs.
'Oh yes, St. George and the Dragon. They have them both together on the beads of their rosaries—the yellow things they count, and pray with, or pay with.' said the Owl rather vaguely.
'St. George and the Dragon! Why, St. George killed the Dragon.'
'Ah! the Dragon was not really killed.' said the Owl coolly. 'It was only syncope, and he kept quiet for a time, and grew seven other heads worse than the first. Some say St George worships the Dragon now, himself; but people always are saying unpleasant things, and probably it isn't true. At all events, the English worship St George and the Dragon till they don't seem to know which is which.'
'What, has St George grown like the Dragon then?' cried Queen Mab distractedly, wringing her hands.
'Oh no,' replied the Owl, with some condescending pity for the foreigner's ignorance. 'But the Dragon has grown vastly like St. George.'
'Is that all they worship?' said Queen Mab.
'Oh no, there are plenty of other patent religions. A hundred religions and only one sauce—melted butter, as the Frenchman said, but the sauce has outlived many of the patent religions.'
'I don't understand how religions are patent.' remarked her inquisitive Majesty.
'We call it a patent religion.' said the Owl, 'when it has only been recently invented, and is so insufficiently advertised, that it is only to be found in a very few houses indeed, and is not a commodity in general request. The Patentees then call themselves a Church, and devote their energies to advertising the new "Cult," as they generally style it. For example, you have Esoteric Buddhism, so named because it is not Buddhism, nor Esoteric. It is imported by an American company with a manufactory in Thibet, and has had some success among fashionable people.'
'What do the Esoteric Buddhists worship?'
'Teacups and cigarettes, standing where they ought not.' replied the owl; 'but I believe these things are purely symbolical, and that au fond the Priestess of Esoteric Buddhism herself adores the Dragon.'
'That is enough about that. Are there no patent religions warranted free from Dragon worship?'
'Well.' said the Owl dubiously, 'there are the Altruists. 'They worship humanity. As a rule, you may have noticed that adorers think the object of adoration better than themselves,—an unexpected instance in most cases, of the modesty of their species. But the Altruists worship Humanity.'
'And they don't think Humanity better than themselves?'
'Far from it. Their leading idea is that they are the cream of Humanity. Their principal industry is to scold and lecture Humanity. Whatever Humanity may be doing—making war or making peace, or making love to its Deceased Wife's Sister—the Altruists cry out, "Don't do that." And they preach sermons to Humanity, always beginning, "We think;" and they publish their remarks in high-class periodicals, and they invariably show that everyone, and especially Mr. Herbert Spencer, is in the wrong, and nobody pays the slightest attention to them. In their way the Altruists do to others as they would have others do to them, To my mind, while they pretend that Humanity is what they worship, they really want to be worshipped by Humanity.'
'Are there many of this sect?' asked Mab.
'There were twenty-seven of them.' said the Owl, 'but they quarrelled about canonising the Emperor Tiberius, and now there are only thirteen and a half.'
'Where do you get the fraction?' said Mab.
'That is a mystery.' said the Owl. 'Every religion should have its mystery, and the Altruists possess only this example; it is a cheap one, but they are not a luxurious sect.'
'Well.' said Mab mournfully at last, 'I must go back to Samoa; there is too much mystery here for me. But who is that?'
She broke off suddenly, for a new and mysterious object had just entered the glade, and was advancing towards the pool.
'Hush!' said the Owl. 'Do take care. It is a scientific man—a philosopher.'
It was a tall, thin personage, with spectacles and a knapsack, and what reminded Queen Mab of a small green landing-net, but was really intended to catch butterflies. He came up to the pond, and she imagined he was going to fish; but no, he only unfastened his knapsack and took some small phials and a tin box out of it Then, bending down to the edge of the water, he began to skim its surface cautiously with a ladle and empty the contents into one of his phials. Suddenly a look of delight came into his face, and he uttered a cry—'Stephanoceros!'
Queen Mab thought it was an incantation, and, trembling with fear, she relaxed her hold of the bough and fell. Not into the pond! She had wings, of course, and half petrified with horror though she was, she yet fluttered away from that stagnant water. But alas, in the very effort to escape, she had caught the eye of the Professor; he sprang up—pond, animalcule all forgotten in the chase of this extraordinary butterfly. The fairy's courage failed her: her presence of mind vanished, and the wild gyrations of the owl, who, too late, realised the peril of his companion, only increased her confusion. In another moment she was a prisoner under the butterfly-net.
Beaming with delight, the philosopher turned her carefully into the tin box, shut the lid and hastened home, too much enraptured with his prize even to pause to secure the valuable Stephanoceros.
But Queen Mab had fainted, as even fairies must do at such a terrible crisis; and perhaps it was as well that she had, for the professor forbore to administer chloroform, under the impression that his lovely captive had completely succumbed. He put her, therefore, straight into a tall glass bottle, and began to survey her carefully, walking round and round. Truly, he had never seen such a remarkable butterfly.
'Rough draughts of Man's Beginning God!' Swinburne.
When Queen Mab recovered consciousness she heard the sound of violent voices in the room before she opened her eyes, which she did half hoping to find herself the victim of some terrible delusion. But the sight of the professor, standing not a yard away, brought a fatal conviction to her heart. It was too true. Was there ever a more undesirable position for a fairy, accustomed to perfect freedom, and nourished by honey and nectar, than to be closely confined in a tall bottle, with smooth hard slippery walls that she could not pierce, and nothing to live upon but a glass-stopper! It was absurd; but it was also terrible. How fervently she wished, now, that the missionaries had never come to Polynesia.
But the professor was not alone, two of his acquaintances were there—a divine veering towards the modern school, and a poet—the ordinary poet of satire and Mr. Besant's novels, with an eye-glass, who held that the whole duty of poets at least was to transfer the meanderings of the inner life, or as much of them as were in any degree capable of transmission, to immortal foolscap..Unfortunately, as he observed with a mixture of pride and regret, the workings of his soul were generally so ethereal as to baffle expression and comprehension; and, he was wont to say, mixing up metaphors at a great rate, that he could only stand, like the High Priest of the Delphic oracle, before the gates of his inner life, to note down such fragmentary utterances as 'foamed up from the depths of that divine chaos.' for the benefit of inquiring minds with a preference for the oracular. He added that cosmos was a condition of grovelling minds, and that while the thoughts, faculties, and emotions of an ordinary member of society might fitly be summed up in the epithet 'microcosm.' his own nature could be appropriately described only by that of 'microchaos.' In which opinion the professor always fully coincided.
With the two had entered the professor's little boy, a motherless child of eight, who walked straight up to the bottle.
No sooner did the child's eyes light on the vessel than a curious thing occurred. He fell down on his knees, bowed his head, and held up his hands.
'Great Heavens!' cried the professor, forgetting himself, 'what do I behold! My child is praying (a thing he never was taught to do), and praying to a green butterfly! Hush! hush!' the professor went on, turning to his friends. 'This is terrible, but most important. The child has never been allowed to hear anything about the supernatural—his poor mother died when he was in the cradle—and I have scrupulously shielded him from all dangerous conversation. There is not a prayer-book in the house, the maids are picked Agnostics, from advanced families, and I am quite certain that my boy has never even heard of the existence of a bogie.'
The poet whistled: the divine took up his hat, and, with a pained look, was leaving the room.
'Stop, stop!' cried the professor, 'he is doing something odd.'
The child had taken out of his pocket certain small black stones of a peculiar shape. So absorbed was he that he never noticed the presence of the men.
He kissed the stones and arranged them in a curious pattern on the floor, still kneeling, and keeping his eye on Mab in her bottle. At last he placed one strangely shaped pebble in the centre, and then began to speak in a low, trembling voice, and in a kind of cadence:
'Oh! you that I have tried to see, Oh! you that I have heard in the night, Oh! you that live in the sky and the water; Now I see you, now you have come: Now you will tell me where you live, And what things are, and who made them. Oh Dala, these stones are yours; These are the goona stones I find, And play with when I think of you. Oh Dala, be my friend, and never leave me Alone in the dark night.'
'As I live, it's a religious service, the worship of a green butterfly!' said the professor. At his voice the child turned round, and seeing the men, looked very much ashamed of himself.
'Come here, my dear old man.' said the professor to the child, who came on being called.
'What were you doing?—who taught you to say all those funny things?'
The little fellow looked frightened.
'I didn't remember you were here.' he said; 'they are things I say when I play by myself.'
'And who is Dala?'
The boy was blushing painfully.
'Oh, I didn't mean you to hear, it's just a game of mine. I play at there being somebody I can't see, who knows what I am doing; a friend.'
'And nobody taught you, not Jane or Harriet?'
Now Harriet and Jane were the maids.
'You never saw anybody play at that kind of game before?'
'No,' said the child, 'nobody ever.' 'Then,' cried the professor, in a loud and blissful voice, 'we have at last discovered the origin of religion. It isn't Ghosts. It isn't the Infinite. It is worshipping butterflies, with a service of fetich stones. The boy has returned to it by an act of unconscious inherited memory, derived from Palaeolithic Man, who must, therefore, have been the native of a temperate climate, where there were green lepidoptera. Oh, my friends, what a thing is inherited memory! In each of us there slumber all the impressions of all our predecessors, up to the earliest Ascidian. See how the domesticated dog,' cried the professor, forgetting that he was not lecturing in Albemarle Street, 'see how the domesticated dog, by inherited memory, turns round on the hearthrug before he curls up to sleep! He is unconsciously remembering the long grasses in which his wild ancestors dwelt. Also observe this boy, who has retained an unconscious recollection of the earliest creed of prehistoric man. Behold him instinctively, and I may say automatically, cherishing fetich stones (instead of marbles, like other boys) and adoring that green insect in the glass bottle! Oh Science,' he added rapturously, 'what will Mr. Max Müller say now? The Infinite! Bosh, it's a butterfly!'
'It is my own Dala, come to play with me,' said the boy.
'It is a fairy,' exclaimed the poet, examining Mab through his eyeglass. This he said, not that he believed in fairies any more than publishers believed in him, but partly because it was a pose he affected, partly to 'draw' the professor.
The professor replied that fairies were unscientific, and even unthinkable, and the divine declared that they were too heterodox even for the advanced state of modern theology, and had been condemned by several councils, which is true. And the professor ran through all the animal kingdoms and sub-kingdoms very fast, and proved quite conclusively, in a perfect cataract of polysyllables, that fairies didn't belong to any of them. While the professor was recovering breath, the divine observed, in a somewhat aggrieved tone, that he for his part found men and women enough for him, and too much sometimes. He also wished to know whether, if his talented but misguided friend required something ethereal, angels were not sufficient, without his having recourse to Pagan mythology; and whether he considered Pagan mythology suitable to the pressing needs of modern society, with a large surplus female population, and to the adjustment of the claims of reason and religion.
The poet replied, 'Oh, don't bother me with your theological conundrums. I give it up. See here, I am going to write a sonnet to this creature, whatever it is. Fair denizen—!'
'Of a glass bottle!' interrupted the professor somewhat rudely, and the divine laughed.
'No. Of deathless ether, doomed.'
'And that reminds me,' said the professor, turning hastily, 'I must examine it under the microscope carefully, while the light lasts.'
'Oh father!' cried the child, 'don't touch it, it is alive!'
'Nonsense!' said the professor, 'it is as dead as a door-nail. Just reach me that lens.'
He raised the glass stopper unsuspiciously, then turned to adjust his instrument And even as he turned his captive fled.
'There!' cried the boy.
Like a flash of sunshine, Queen Mab darted upwards and floated through the open window. They saw her hover outside a moment, then she was gone—back into her deathless ether.
'I told you so!' exclaimed the poet, startled by this incident into a momentary conviction of the truth of his own theory.
'Puis nous fut dit que chose estrange ne leur sembloit estre deux contradictoires Vrayes en mode, en figure, et en temps.' Pantagruel, v. xxii.
Moved by an uncontrollable impulse, they all three rushed out into the garden; and far beyond them, in the sunlight, they did indeed catch one parting gleam of gauzy wings, as the fairy vanished. When the professor led the way into the room again, and, rather crestfallen, looked at the tall empty bottle and the stopper, which in his hurry he had thrown down upon the floor.
'She is gone!' sobbed the child. 'My beautiful Dala. I shall never see her again.'
He was right; the professor and the theologian, between them, had scared Queen Mab away pretty successfully. She would certainly never revisit that part of the city if she could help it. The divine looked uncomfortable. In spite of himself he had recognised something strange and unusual in the appearance of this last capture of his friend's butterfly-net, and almost unconsciously he began to ponder on the old theory that the Evil One might occasionally disguise himself as an angel of light. The poet, meanwhile, was more voluble.
'Your soul is sordid!' he said indignantly to the professor. 'You have no eyes for the Immaterial, the intangibly Ideal, that lies behind the shadowy and deceptive veil that we call Matter.'
'My soul,' said the professor with equal indignation, 'that is, if I have got one, is as good as yours.'
'No, it isn't,' said the poet; 'I am all soul, or nearly all. You are nothing but a mass of Higher Protoplasm.'
'No one need wish to be anything better. I should like to know,' cried the professor angrily, 'where we should all be without Protoplasm.'
'My friends,' said the theologian, still rather confused, 'this heat is both irreverent and irrational. Protoplasm is invaluable, but is it not also transient? The flight of that butterfly may well remind us—'
'Stop!' interrupted the philosopher. 'Was it a butterfly? Now I come to think of it, I hardly know whether to refer it to the lepidoptera or not. At all events, it is a striking example of the manner in which natural and sexual selection, continued through a series of epochs, can evolve the most brilliant and graceful combinations of tint and plumage, by simple survival of the favourable variations.'
'It is indeed,' suggested the theologian, 'a remarkable proof of the intelligent construction of the universe, and of the argument from design, that this insect should have been framed with such exquisite perfection of form and colour to delight the eyes of the theologian.'
'Not at all,' said the professor irritably. 'It was to delight the eyes of butterflies of the opposite sex. It is no more an argument from design than I am!'
'Do stop that!' said the poet. 'How can a fellow write a sonnet with you two for ever sparring away at your musty scholasticisms? Haven't we heard enough about Paley and Darwin? You have frightened away the fairy between you, and that is plenty of mischief for one day.
'Fair denizen of deathless ether, doomed For one brief hour to languish and repine.
Entombed? That will do, but I'm afraid there are not many more rhymes to "doomed." "Loomed," "boomed," "exhumed," "well-groomed." My thoughts won't flow, hang it all!'
'You are an argument for design,' said the theologian, taking no notice of the poet, 'though you won't admit it. Why won't you take up with my scientific religion?—a religion, you know, that can be expressed with equal facility by emotional or by mathematical terms. It is as easy, when you once understand it, as the first proposition in Euclid. You have two points, Faith and Reason, and you draw a straight line between them. Then you must describe an equilateral triangle—I mean a scientific religion, on the straight line, F R—between Faith and Reason.'
'Oh!' said the professor. 'How do you do it?'
'First,' said the theologian hopefully, 'taking F as your centre, F R as your radius, describe the circle of Theology. Then, taking R as your centre, F R as your radius, describe the circle of Logic. These two circles will intersect at Science, indicated in the proposition by the point S. Join together S F, and then join S R, and you will have the equilateral triangle of a scientific religion on the line F R S.'
'Prove it,' said the professor grimly.
'Science and Faith,' replied the theologian readily, 'equal Faith and Reason, because they are both radii of the same circle, Man being the Radius of the Infinite. Theology—'
'Stop!' ejaculated the professor in the utmost indignation. 'What do you mean by it? I never in my life listened to such unmitigated nonsense. Who gave you leave to talk of a scientific religion as an equilateral triangle? If it is a triangle at all, which there is not the remotest reason to suppose—but I cannot argue with you? You might as well call it a dodecahedron, or the cube root of minus nothing.'
'Oh, very well,' said the theologian with exasperating coolness. 'I thought it possible that even your blind prejudice might not refuse to listen to a simple mathematical demonstration of the possibility of a true scientific religion, but I find that I was mistaken. I am not annoyed—not at all. I prefer to look with lenity upon this outburst of passion, which might, I admit, have roused the anger of a theologian of the old school. But, believe me, I personally feel towards you no enmity—only the profoundest compassion.'
Inarticulate sound from the professor.
'I find in you,' continued the theologian with benevolence, 'much to tolerate, much even to admire. I regret that, formerly, some of my predecessors may have been led, by your aggressive and turbulent spirit, to form unnecessarily harsh judgments of your character, and put unnecessarily tight thumbscrews on your thumbs; but as for me, I desire to win you by sympathy and affection and physico-theological afternoon parties, not to coerce you by vituperation. Your eye of Reason, as I have often observed, is already sufficiently developed; supplement it with the eye of Faith, and you will be quite complete. It will then only remain for you to learn which objects it is necessary to view with which eye, and carefully to close the other. This takes a little practice (which must not be attempted in Society), but I am sure that a person of your attainments will easily master the difficulty. We will then joyfully receive you into our ranks. No sacrifice on your part will be required; you will retain the old distinction of F.R.S., of which you have always been justly proud; but we shall take the liberty of conferring upon you the additional privilege of the honorary title of D.D.'
The professor uttered a brief but trenchant observation, on which the theologian was about to launch down a reply, less brief but equally trenchant. But the poet, as his fate would have it, struck in, in the capacity of a lightning conductor, and succeeded in turning the wrath of both combatants upon his own devoted head.
'If you must quarrel,' he cried, 'pray don't quarrel here. You would fight on the very peaks of Parnassus. I can't think of a word that will rhyme except "design." Stop, now I have it:
'Bright messenger of the Celestial Nine, Now in translucent ambience entombed.'
Celestial Nine is commonplace, but what can a man do in this region of trivial souls? Soar, my mind! What does "ambience" mean, by the way? Never mind, if the Sublime is unfettered by literal meaning, all the better for the Sublime!'
At this the divine and the philosopher turned upon him together, as they were wont to do every now and then.
'This laxity of terms,' said the professor, 'is unscientific and unpractical.'
'I am a poet,' said the poet, 'I bow to no narrow machinery of definitions. Words have a gemlike beauty and colour of their own. They are not merely the signs of ideas—of thoughts.'
'I wish they were!' groaned the professor. 'They are with us.'
'The idea,' continued the poet, 'must conform to the word, when the word honours the idea by making use of it. What care I for the conventional, the threadbare significance? My heart recognises, through the outer vestment of apparent insanity, the inner adaptability. Soar, my mind!'
'And in this way,' said the professor sternly, 'ignoring the great principles of classification and generalisation, you let a chaos of disordered ideas abroad upon the universe, destroying all method and definite arrangement and retarding the great progress of Evolution!'
'A jewel-like word, a transfigured phrase,' replied the poet, 'is worth all your scientific dictionaries and logic threshing-machines put together. Ruskin was in error. He tells us that Milton always meant what he said, and said exactly what he meant.
'This had been an ignoble exactitude. How can a man whose words are unbounded confine himself within the limits of an intellectual bound?
How can he, that is to say, know exactly what he means, in words, or mean exactly what, to souls less gloriously chaotic, his words appear to express? I have always felt this an insuperable difficulty.'
'I have no doubt of it,' said the professor ironically. 'Now,' he went on, turning to the theologian, 'you see what comes of having too much soul. It is impossible but that such fixed attention to any one organ should prove injurious, even if the organ is not there. You really have a great deal to answer for, in encouraging this kind of monomania.'
'Not a bit of it,' said the theologian indignantly. 'It comes of not having soul enough, or of allowing the sway the soul should exercise to fall upon the feeble sceptre of imagination. If our misguided young friend had been thoroughly grounded in Paley's Evidences and scientific primers—for these should never be separated—do you think we should have heard anything about his chaotic soul? Not a bit of it. It would all have been as clear as an opera-glass, or as Mr. Joseph Cook's theory of Solar Light. Why didn't his parents give him my "Mathematical Exposition of Orthodoxy for Children," or my "The Theology of Euclid," on his birthdays, instead of Hans Andersen's "Fairy Tales" and the "Tales from the Norse?" It was very remiss of them.'
'On the contrary,' said the professor, 'I should have recommended the entire elimination of doctrinal matter from his studies. I should have guided him to a thorough investigation of the principle of all the Natural Sciences, with especial devotion to one single branch, as Botany or Conchology, and an entire mastery of its terminology I should have urged our gifted but destitute of all scientific method friend to the observation and definition of objective phenomena, rather than to subjective analysis, and turned his reflections—'
'Flow, my words!' said the poet dreamily. 'Soar, my mind!'
He had flung himself into the solitary armchair in a graceful and distraught pose, and with half-closed eyes had fallen into a reverie. The divine and the professor stood and gazed at him despondently.
'Such,' said the divine, 'are the consequences of the lack of sound ethical and eclectic principles in our day and generation!'
'Such,' said the professor, 'are the pernicious results of a classical training, the absence of a spirit of scientific research and a broad and philosophical mental culture.'
Those readers who have not yet perused the poet's sonnet may recognise it, of course, by the first line:
'Fair denizen of deathless ether, doomed.'
It attracted a good deal of attention at the time. The public were informed, in the 'Athæenum,' that the poet was engaged on a sonnet, and the literary world was excited, but, not having the key, could not make out what on earth it meant. Meanwhile the professor's paper in 'Nature,' which appeared in the course of the same week, being written from a wholly different standpoint, did not tend to elucidate the mystery. The latter merely described the locality in which the fairy, or butterfly, as the professor called it, was found, and the circumstances of its capture and escape, with such an account of its manifold peculiarities, and the reasons to suppose it an entirely new genus, that Epping Forest was as much haunted for the next two or three months by naturalists on the watch, as by 'Arries making holiday. Our professor himself visited the fairy's pond several times, in the company of the poet, with whom he soon patched up a reconciliation. But Queen Mab, in the meantime, had taken her departure.
The professor also sent to the 'Spectator' an account of the Origin of Religion, as developed by his little boy, under his very eyes. But the editor thought, not unnaturally, that it was only the professor's fun, and declined to publish it, preferring an essay on the Political Rights of the Domesticated Cat.
'Geese are swans, and swans are geese,' M. Arnold.
At first Mab was so overwhelmed at the nature of her reception by Science and Theology, that she meditated an immediate return to Polynesia; but the birds implored her so pathetically to stay longer, that she yielded, and went with the owl into Surrey. She had seen enough of Epping Forest.
Surrey was very beautiful, and once pleasantly established in Richmond Park, she watched the human life that seemed so strange to her with great interest, taking care nevertheless, for some time, to keep clear of anything that looked like a scientific man. The owl supported her in this policy. He was not intimately acquainted with any of the members of the learned societies, but he had a deeply-rooted and perhaps overstrained horror of vivisection. Still, being a liberal-minded bird, he extenuated the professor's conduct as far as possible.
'Perhaps he did not mean to do you any harm,' he suggested. 'He only wanted to put you under the microscope.'
'He might have had more sense, then?' returned Queen Mab, still ruffled. 'He might have seen that I was a fairy. The child suspected something at once.'
'Ah, he was an exceptional child,' said the Owl. 'Most of the children, nowadays, don't believe anything. In fact, now that education is spreading so widely, I don't suppose one of them will in ten years' time.'
'It is very dreadful,' said Queen Mab. 'What are we coming to?'
'I am sure I don't know,' said the Owl. 'But we are being educated up to a very high point. It saves people the trouble of thinking for themselves, certainly; they can always get all their thoughts now, ready made, on every kind of subject, and at extremely low prices. They only have to make up their minds what to take, and generally they take the cheapest. There is a great demand for cheap thought just now, especially when it is advertised as being of superior quality.'
'How do they buy it?' asked Queen Mab. 'I don't quite understand.'
'Well, you know a little about Commerce. Education is another kind of commerce. The authors and publishers are the wholesale market, and teachers and schools and colleges are a kind of retail dealers. Of course, not being human, we can't expect to find it quite clear, but that is what we do make out. The kingfisher and I were listening lately to a whole course of lectures on Political Economy; we were on a skylight in the roof of the building, and we found that Popular Education was part of the system of co-operation. The people who don't think, you know, but want thoughts, hand education over to the people who do think, or who buy up old thoughts cheap, and remake them, and this class furnishes the community. So that, by division of labour, no one is obliged to think who doesn't want to think, and this saves any amount of time and expense. It is really astonishing, I hear, how few people have to think under this new system. But Thought is in great demand, as I said, and so is Knowledge—whether there was any difference between the two we could not quite gather. It is a law that everyone must buy a certain quantity from the dealers: in other words, education is compulsory. Eating is not compulsory; you may starve, you must learn. The Government has founded a large system of retail establishments, or schools, and up to a certain age all the children are taught there whose parents do not undertake to have them supplied with thoughts at other establishments. I say thoughts, but it is facts principally that they acquire. Of course, some thoughts are necessary to mix the facts together with; but they generally take as few as possible, because facts are a cheaper article, and by the principles of competition and profit, people use the cheapest article that will sell again for the same price. Some writers say that thoughts at retail establishments are very inferior, and that customers had better go to wholesale dealers at once, or else make on the premises; but I don't know about that. Generally people buy the kind that comes handiest; they are not half so particular about them as about articles of food and dress, and the dealers, wholesale or retail, can sell almost anything they like if they have a good reputation. History, languages, science, art, theology, are all so many departments. Politics are always in demand, and there are many great manufacturers who issue supplies at a penny, every day, all over the kingdom. There is no branch where the labourers employed have such stirring times as the makers of politics: we call them statesmen. They seem, however, rather to enjoy it, and I suppose they get used to the heat, like stokers. I think that the burden of the whole scheme really falls most heavily on the children. But you are tired.'
'Tell me about the children,' said Queen Mab. 'I shall understand that better.'
'They have to learn facts, facts, for ever facts,' said the Owl compassionately. 'It makes one's head ache to think of it. I am a pretty well educated bird myself, though I say it; but if I had spent my time in acquiring a quarter of the knowledge those children have to acquire, then I should certainly never have been able to look at things in the broadly scientific light in which they should be looked at. It does not seem to matter what the facts are, so long as they are cheap and plenty of them; it does not even matter whether they are true, or, at least, that is of very minor importance. But see! see there! That is an example of what I have been telling you.'
A child was passing below them with a weary step. Queen Mab trembled at the sight of him, secure as she was among the broad chestnut leaves, and her fear was justified, for in another moment the professor himself came into view. The fairy-had seen the child before, and, as Mr. Trollope used to say, 'she had been to him as a god'—it was the professor's little boy. But this time the philosopher was without his butterfly-net, and she found him much less alarming. He was occupied with the pale, tired child, and telling him charming stories about coral islands, that sounded to Queen Mab's astonished ears almost like a real fairy tale. They sat down, while the professor talked. Wonderful things he told, and said not a word all the time about generalisation or classification.
'It is like a fairy tale,' said the boy, echoing Queen Mab's thought, when at last they rose to go. 'Oh, father, how I wish we could see Dala again!'
'Dala, my boy? What, the lepidoptera? Ah, I wish we could! You will find, as you grow older, Walter, that science is better than a butterfly.'
The boy looked up wistfully, and over the face of the philosopher, too, came a sudden shadow. When Walter grew older? Hand in hand, the two passed silently out of sight.
'He is a good man, after all,' said the Owl sententiously. And then there came by a British manufacturer, in a gold watch-chain and patent creaking leather boots, warranted to creak everywhere without losing tone.
'Who is that?' asked Queen Mab.
'It is one of the pillars of the Church,' replied the Owl. 'The Dragon's church, I mean, where he is worshipped by himself. In some places you may worship St. George and the Dragon together; but in the Stock Exchange, for instance, you may only worship the Dragon.'
'Is the Dragon very wicked?'
'I don't know,' said the Owl. 'I think he can't be, or else so many respectable people would not worship him. The professor doesn't, or very little; but then he doesn't worship St. George either. The people who worship the Dragon are sometimes called Snobs—not by themselves though; it is one of the marks of the true Snob that he never knows he is one. They never call the Dragon by that name either. He has as many other names as Jupiter used to have, and all the altars, and temples, and sacrifices are made to him under the other names.'
'Sacrifices!' exclaimed Queen Mab. 'What do they sacrifice?'
'It would be shorter to say what they don't sacrifice,' replied the Owl. 'Only nobody knows, for many of his worshippers sacrifice anything and everything. The manufacturer you saw go past—'
'Yes,' said Queen Mab, a good deal impressed, for the owl was speaking solemnly.
'He is sacrificing the happiness, and even the lives of hundreds of men and women. Also the playtime of the children and their innocence. As for his own peace and charity, he sacrificed them long ago. And yet—it is very strange; he calls himself a worshipper of St. George. You remember, in very early times there used to be sacrifices to the Dragon.'
'I remember,' said the fairy. 'In wicker baskets. But never anything. like this!'
'I daresay not,' said the Owl 'We do things on a larger scale now, sacrifices and all. Everybody prefers, of course, to make sacrifices of the belongings of other people; but there are certain possessions of their own that unavoidably go too—as Truth, Sympathy, Justice; abstract nouns, the names of any quality, property, state or action,' murmured the Owl, falling unconsciously into his old habit of parsing. 'The English,' he added, 'are very generous with their abstract nouns, and will sacrifice or give away any quantity of them. It is a national characteristic, of which they are justly proud.'
'Do the women worship the Dragon?'
'Certainly!' said the Owl. 'They generally profess a great deal of veneration for St. George too; but they will worship either to get front seats. I don't know why the English are so fond of front seats; back ones are just as comfortable, and one can often hear better in them; but they don't suit dragon-worshippers. They want front seats anywhere—at concerts, in the church, in art or literature, or even in subscription lists. The persons who can't afford front seats generally adore those who can, and those who can, say that the others ought to be grateful to Providence for putting them in the gallery or letting them into the free pews. There is a great deal of veneration in the English, and it shows itself in this way; they reverence the people with reserved tickets. That is why they are so fond of a noble lord, and that is why they admire Abraham, and even Lazarus, because he ultimately got such an excellent place in the next world. They don't care much about Lazarus in this, because their souls have not such a natural affinity with his when he is hanging about anyone's doorstep, or loafing round street-corners with oranges to sell or a barrel-organ. Sometimes they give him the crumbs that fall from their tables, and sometimes they don't, because they are afraid he will take advantage of it to steal the spoons. Or else they take the lofty patriotic ground, and say that their principles forbid them to countenance vagrancy, and that Heaven helps those who help themselves. This is very consoling to Lazarus, and it always gives him pleasure to hear what good moral principles the Philistines—or Snobs—have got, even if he hasn't got any himself. From what they frequently say, you would not think that they looked forward to seeing him in Heaven. It is part of their great-mindedness—a national characteristic—that the chords of their nature are more deeply stirred by sympathy with him when he has got into a good berth. I can fancy how, in Paradise, a British Snob will edge round to some retired crossing-sweeper, who was converted by the Salvation Army, and went straight up among the front row of angels and prophets, and will say:
'"Pardon me; but I remember you so well!" And I can fancy that the seraph might reply:
'"Ah, yes! I used to sweep a crossing up your street. I asked you for a copper once, and you told me to go—not where you find me."
'It would be a little awkward for the Snob: things often are; but he would soon get over it. His sense of locality, you perceive, is extremely acute. He may not always know at a glance exactly what men are in themselves, but he can always tell where they are. If you put one of Madame Tussaud's waxworks into a front seat, or on a Woolsack, or on a Board of Directors, the English would venerate it more than most real persons. Their sensibilities are so strong that the merest symbol stirs them. A noble lord need not do anything remarkable; but he is in the front row, and if he just radiates ability, that is quite enough. And he can't help radiating "ability;" it is one of his characteristics, and has become automatic.'
'What is automatic?'
'Automatic! Oh, it means acting of its own accord, without any effort of the will to make it work. Automatic actions may go on a very long time without stopping, sometimes for ever. If I continued in this strain much longer it might get automatic too: speaking often does, especially with Members of Parliament. It is as if they were wound up to say similar things one after the other, like musical-boxes, by reflex action, and you never know when they will give up. The automatic method has this advantage, that when you have had some experience of an automaton, you can always tell—suppose that it is wound up, for instance, to speak on a motion—what it will probably say next, and certainly how it will vote, and that gives you a sense of calm peace. It is a method very common among stump orators, because it comes cheaper in the long run. But there are other things—novel-writing, for instance. Novelists, many of them, are wound up at the beginning to write novels periodically, and the action gradually gets feebler and feebler, till at last it stops. It does not, however, generally stop till they die, and that is why we have so many bad novels from some writers. All authors, though, don't write automatically, any more than all clergymen preach automatically. But it is a very easy habit to fall into: I have done it myself more than once. Of course it is very useful, and very inexpensive, and an immense saving of energy, and one would advise the rising generation to cultivate it as much as possible, that their years may be long in the land. But one ought never to allow such a habit as swearing,—or shooting,' added the Owl gravely, 'to become automatic. Let me see, where did I begin? I was telling you about the female dragon-worshippers, who dress in symbolical costumes, like the old priestesses or the Salvation Army captains. Lately, though, a good many of the women who were brought up to it have taken "a new departure," and gone off after the wholesale education establishments at Camford, where they are fed on biscuits and marmalade, and illuminate the fragments of Sappho on vellum. This may not be very good: still I think it is better than the Dragon; the worst of it is that it forces up the educational prices.'
With which remark the Owl began a long series of observations, a mixture of political economy and his views on popular education, which Queen Mab found rather tedious. But they inspired her with a few verses, which she resolved, being the most philanthropic of fairies, and full of compassion for the dreary state of Great Britain in general, and of the rising generation in particular, to circulate among the Polynesian children as soon as she returned home. In this determination, unfortunately, she either forgot or ignored the fact that she had left her happy island a prey to the combined effects of annexation, civilisation, and evangelisation. But the verses ran thus:
'Upon my childhood's pallid morn No tropic summer smiled, In foreign lands I was not born, A happy, heathen child. Alas! but in a colder clime, A cultured clime, I dwell All in the foremost ranks of time, They say: I know it well. You never learn geography, No grammar makes you wild, A book, a slate you never see, You happy, heathen child. I know in forest and in glade Your games are odd but gay, Think of the little British maid, Who has no place for play. When ended is the day's long joy, And you to rest have gone, Think of the little British boy, Who still is toiling on. The many things we learn about, We cannot understand. Ah, send your missionaries out To this benighted land! You blessed little foreigner, In weather fair and mild, Think of the tiny Britisher, Oh, happy heathen child. Ah! highly favoured Pagan, born In some far hemisphere, Pity the British child forlorn, And drop one sorrowing tear!'
'They will soon be here, They are upon the road,' John Gilpin.
'I should like,' said Queen Mab one day, 'to go and see the City. Do you think it would be safe?'
'Yes,' said the Owl, 'if you fly out of the way of the smoke and the net of overhead wires, and take care not to be suffocated, and not to go near the Houses of Parliament, nor the Bank, nor St. Paul's, nor the Exchange, nor any great public building. And if you keep clear of all the bridges, and the railway stations, and Victoria Embankment, and go the other way whenever you see a person carrying a black bag.'
'Why?' inquired Queen Mab, a good deal mystified.
'Because all these places,' said the Owl, 'are in danger of being blown up. If you could get a Home Ruler to take you round now; but I'm afraid it wouldn't do, as he might put you into an explosion and leave you there, as likely as not. Besides, I was forgetting, you are immortal, aren't you? You couldn't be blown up? If so, it is all right.'
'I don't suppose I could,' said Queen Mab a little doubtfully, 'but still I shouldn't care to try. What is it like?'
'I don't know,' replied her mentor. 'I have never tried it myself. You had better ask Mr. Bradlaugh, or some eminent popular sciolist Huxley or Spencer would do. They have been exploding or blowing up popular theology for a number of years, and popular theology and Mr. Joseph Cook have been exploding them. As far as I can make out, they both appear to think it very good fun. But I was going to tell you about the black bags, which are filled with dynamite, a very explosive though inexpensive substance indeed, and carried by persons called "dynamiters." These bags are left at large in public buildings, while the dynamitards go away, and as soon as their owners turn the corner the bags explode and blow up the buildings, and anyone who happens to be about.'
'Why do they do it?' exclaimed Queen Mab, breathless.
'Nobody seems to know,' said the Owl. 'It is one of the problems of the nineteenth century. Even the dynamiters themselves don't appear to have gone into the whole logic of it I suppose that they are tired of only blowing things up on paper, and they are people who have a great objection to things in general. They complain that they can't get justice from the universe in its present state of preservation, and therefore they are going to blow as much of it as possible into what they call smithereens, and try to get justice from the smithereens. It is a new scheme they have hit upon, a kind of scientific experiment. The theory appears to be, that justice is the product of Nihilism plus public buildings blown up by dynamite, and that the more public buildings they blow up the more justice they will obtain. I hear that they have also started a company for supplying statesmen, and all public orators except Home Rulers, with nitro-glycerine jujubes to improve the voice. Nitro-glycerine is a kind of condensed dynamite. A City sparrow told me—but perhaps it was only his fun—that they were borrowing the money from the Government, under the pretext of applying it to a fund for presenting three-and-sixpenny copies of Jevons' "Logic" to Members of Parliament who can't afford to buy the book for themselves. It is reported, also, that if the Nihilists can't obtain justice enough by any less extensive measures, they will lower a great many kegs of nitro-glycerine to the molten nucleus of the globe, and then—'
'Then?' said Queen Mab, much excited.
'Then the globe will explode, and all the inhabitants, even the dynamiters themselves; but justice will remain; according to the theory, that is. But it is rather an expensive experiment.'
'How dreadful!' said the fairy. 'Do you think I had better not go to London?'
'I think you might,' replied the Owl thoughtfully. 'There would be a little risk certainly; but you could fly high, and remember that dynamite strikes downwards. You had better take the sparrow, though, for I'm afraid I should attract too much attention. Otherwise I should like to go with you.'
'I will make us both invisible,' said Queen Mab. 'That will be easy.'
'Oh, very well, if you do that!' And they started.
'After all,' said the Owl an hour later, 'as we are here, and invisible, we may as well rest on the dome of St. Paul's. Dynamite does strike downwards, and I don't see any black bags about,' he added, looking round suspiciously.
'All right,' said the fairy. 'Now you can tell me all about things,' for they had been flying too fast to exchange many remarks. 'What is this building?'
'It is one of St. George's best churches,' said the Owl.
A burst of melancholy music swelled out below them as he spoke, and Queen Mab started with delight.
'That is like Fairyland,' she said promptly. 'What is it?'
'It is the organ and the choristers,' said the Owl. 'If you fly down a moment you can look in; but don't wait long, because of the dynamite. It would be just like them,' he added pensively, 'to blow it up when we are here.'
Queen Mab obeyed, leaving the owl, still a little nervous, seated invisible on the dome.
'I have heard the music,' she said when she flew back, 'and seen the singers, and the great golden pipes the music comes out of. What a beautiful big place it is! We have nothing like that in Polynesia.'
'No, I should think not,' returned the bird. 'Look round you. That street where all the people and the vehicles are rushing up and down is Cheapside.'
'Why do they all go so fast?' said the fairy.
'Oh, for many reasons. Competition, struggle for existence, and all that. They are in a normal condition, in that street, of having trains to catch, and not having any time to catch them in. Besides, they are dragon-worshippers, most of them, and it is part of their religion to walk as fast as they can, not only through Cheapside but through life. The one who can walk fastest, and knock down the greatest number of other people, gets a prize.'
'Who are the big men in black robes who stand at corners, and look as if everything belonged to them? Are they the owners of the City?'
'They are policemen,' said the Owl. 'Products,' he went on learnedly, 'of the higher civilisation, evolved to put the lower civilisation into prisons.'
'What are prisons?'
'A kind of hothouses,' said the Owl, 'for the culture of feeble moral principles that the Struggle for Existtence has been too much for. They are a wonderful system. The weak morality is supplied with bread and water and a cell to develop in, and it is exercised on a treadmill, and allowed to expand and pick oakum, and so it is turned into a beautiful plant of virtue.'
'What do they do with it then?'
'Then they let it run wild, unless it comes across a Home Missionary, or a School Board, or Dr. Barnardo, and gets trained.'
'Oh!' said Queen Mab. 'Are there many of these hothouses?'
'A good many. You see, such a number of the members of the lower portion of the higher civilisation have moral principles that need training. The moral principle is the latest product of evolution, or so the professor says, and evolution has not yet got quite into the way of always turning it out first class. Like everything else, it wants practice. Some moral principles are excellent; but others are really bungles, and require periodical prison culture. At present we need policemen for the transplanting; but it is hoped that, in the course of an era or two, the automatic method will be so much further developed that a member of the higher civilisation who gets very drunk, or steals, will put himself to prison at once, by reflex action. I told you about that: it is a lengthy subject; but the kingfisher and I quite mastered it one day, and I daresay you will. It is much easier than portions of the Thirty-nine Articles.'
'I know what that is,' said Queen Mab; 'the missionaries were talking about it once.'
'I have taken a good deal of trouble,' said the Owl, 'but there were parts of the Thirty-nine Articles I never could make out. They are a kind of tinned theology, and so much tinned that no one appreciates them but the theologians.'
'Why is the theology tinned?' asked the Queen. 'Why don't they have it fresh and fresh?'
'They like it old,' said the Owl. 'They have tried various ways of treating it, for theology does not keep well in a scientific atmosphere. Frozen theology has been experimented with by Archdeacon Farrar and others, and has some vogue. But the popular taste prefers it tinned. And yet it is very tough, in Articles. I am surprised that no one has written a simple explanation of them: "Primer of the Thirty-nine Articles," "The Thirty-nine Articles made Easy," or "Thirty-nine Articles for Beginners;" but no one ever has. It is a book that is very much needed, and if I had any influence with the theologians I would ask them to do it at once. In days like ours, when floods of Nonconformity and Socialism are pouring in on every hand, the very foundations of Church and State are being sapped for want of a plain popular guide ta the Thirty-nine Articles, that a child could understand. A child couldn't expect to find them clear in their present condensed state, could he now? But then, when I come to think of it, perhaps there is no reason why he should.' And the owl fell into a reverie.
After this they departed in search of a more sequestered resting-place, and ultimately alighted in Kensington Gardens. And there they came upon a Democrat and an Aristocrat who was also a landholder, and the Aristocrat was saying:
'What will you do without an aristocracy? What will you look up to?' 'We shall do,' said the Democrat, 'very well indeed. We shall do, in fact, a good deal better; for we shall be an aristocracy in ourselves, and look up to ourselves, and reverence humanity. What, I should like to know, has the British aristocracy done for us?'
'We have set you an example,' replied his companion impressively.
'We have told you what to do and what not to do. We have employed you; we have let you vote for us; we have represented you in Church and State; we have given you a popular education; and a pretty use you have made of it! We have, in short,' he continued, trying hard to remember the popular maxim, 'cherished you like a viper, and you turn again and rend us.'
'All that,' said the Democrat, 'you did because you couldn't help it.' 'We have been,' exclaimed the Aristocrat with deep pathos, 'as lights in a benighted land. We have improved the breed of horses and cultivated the fine arts, and literature, and china, and the fashions, and French cookery—'
'And drinking, and racing, and gambling, and betting, and pigeon-shooting,' put in the Democrat thoughtfully. 'So you have.'
'We have come to church,' continued the Aristocrat unheeding, 'and you have surveyed us from the free seats—when you were there. I regret to say that your attendance at the established places of worship has been far from satisfactory. We have allowed you to pay us the highest rents you could afford, solely to develop in you the sense of competition and a stimulus to progress, and we have daily displayed to you, in our persons and equipments, the advantages of the higher life. Our wives and daughters have played the piano, done crewel work, danced, sung and skated, and painted on plaques for your edification and improvement. We have trained ourselves, physically, mentally, morally, and aesthetically to be a thing of beauty in your eyes and a joy for ever. Alas, you have no vision for the beautiful and intrinsically complete; you can't appreciate an aristocracy when you see one. We have even flung open our parks and grounds for your benefit, and let you admire our mansions, and you knocked down the ornaments, and smudged the tapestry and the antimacassars, and trod on the flower-beds, and pulled up the young trees, and threw orange-peel into the fountains, and ridiculed the statuary. Then you asked us for peasant proprietorship.'
'It wasn't me,' said the Democrat with unusual humility. 'It was the British public.'
'And what are you,' retorted his companion firmly—for he felt that he had scored a point—'but a representative of the British public? Alas, I could weep for your short-sightedness! When the reins of the ship of State—no, the helm of the chariot of Government, is in the hands of a semi-barbarous public, what will it do with it? The old aristocratic ballast once thrown overboard, it will drive that chariot upon the rocks of anarchy, it will overturn it upon the shores of revolution. And you, contemptible tool of an infatuated majority, what will you do then? Ah, then, too late you will cry, "Give me back my aristocracy, the aristocracy I so madly flung away!" When you have the Church and State flying about your ears, you will wish you had minded what we said to you. You will long with remorse unspeakable for the old English gentleman, the bulwark of the land; but the good old English gentleman will be no more. He will have gone to the vaults of his fathers, to the happy hunting-grounds of the noble lord.'
'You are really very eloquent,' said the Democrat, with more politeness than his wont ('I didn't think he had it in him,' he murmured under his breath.) 'But you exaggerate our intentions. We are only democrats: we are not Nihilists. We desire justice.'
'Ah, that is what you all say!' exclaimed the Aristocrat hastily. 'I have heard enough about justice: I wish it had never been invented. Never knew any of your fine-sounding phrases yet that did not end in gunpowder.'
'You mistake,' said the Democrat severely. 'Our requirements are few and simple: Universal suffrage, the abolition of the peers, of entail, and of primogeniture, the overthrow of establishments and armaments equally bloated, the right to marry the deceased wife's sister, the confiscation of landed property by the State—'
'Oh lord, yes!' groaned the Aristocrat 'I thought you were coming to that next. Take our landed property, do—I wish you joy of it! What with all your Communistic legislation and bad harvests, and backing good things that don't come off—like an ass as I was—by Jove, I feel disposed to quit the whole business and compete for a Mandarin's Button in China. It's the only country for a British Aristocracy to live comfortably in and be properly appreciated, and you can't come sneaking about with your red-hot Republicanism, for they are all good Conservatives. Who ever heard of The Chinese Revolution?'
They parted hastily, the common consequence of all lengthy argument, and the aristocrat repaired to his club, smoking a cigar to soothe his ruffled feelings, while the democrat also turned on his heel, and went to address the British public in Hyde Park. Queen Mab, however, had heard enough of social problems for one day, and she did not follow him. The Owl took her, instead, to Westminster Abbey, and offered explanations after the manner of a verger.
'This is our museum of 'dead celebrities,' he said. 'Here lie our great men—poets, soldiers, artists, and statesmen. When the British public feels elevated and sublime it comes here to look at the tombstones, and it says: "These are my great men: they worked for me. I bought them: I paid for them!" And it turns away with tears in its eyes.'
'And while they are alive?' asked Mab.
'That is rather a long subject,' replied the Owl.
'In the first place, they set up a great man, like a target, to shoot at and fight over, and find out whether he is really a great man or only a "lunatic ritualist," like General Gordon, in the view of Thoughtful persons. It takes them some time to decide: sometimes they never do decide till he has gone to his reward, if even then. It is an admirable quality in him, always, not to mind being shot at. But when the British public has really made up its mind that a man is a great man, and that however low they rate him at market value he is sure to be above the average, they sing a psalm of thanksgiving, and they cry, "Where is his coffin? Let us drive nails into the coffin of this great man! Let us show our magnanimity, our respect for the higher life, our reverence for the lofty soul! Give us the hammer." Then they begin. It is an imposing ceremony, and lasts during the lifetime of the great man, whoever he happens to be. He may be a literary great man, a poet, perhaps a Laureate. This type, according to the notions of the British public, requires a great quantity of nails, and every class of society almost brings them to his coffin. The young lady authors come, many troops of them, all conscious of greatness in their own souls, and all having made it the dream of their lives to turn their souls inside out for the benefit of a really great man. Surely, they think, there must be in the heart of him a natural affinity for the details of their inner lives. They give him the details of their inner lives: they also bring with them hammer and nails. There is nerve in those delicate fingers, energy in those sympathetic souls: the number of nails they contrive to hammer in is astonishing.
'Then the theologians come, with a doctrinal hammer and many nails, the lineal descendants of the nail that Jael drove into the head of Sisera because he fought against the Israelites. They have found out that there is a want of sound sectarian teaching in the works of the poet, and they say that in the interests of theology they must drive a nail in. They drive it: they know how to drive nails, some of the theologians. Good sound crushing, rending, comfortable nails of doctrine—none of your airy latitudinarian tin-tacks. Then come the critics: they have been brought up to it. They have all manner of nails—nails with broad heads, and narrow heads, and brass heads, and no heads, but all with points. If a critic ever should drive in a nail without a point he would feel everlastingly disgraced, but he never does: he sharpens them on the premises. He can always find a place for another nail, till by-and-by the coffin is quite covered, and then the great man is thankful to rest in it. Then the British public sings more psalms.
But it seems to afford them solid comfort and happiness to find out, or to think they find out, that a great man was really not so great after all, and that they can look down on him. It is certainly a more piquant sensation to look down on a great man than on an ordinary mortal, and makes one feel happier. There is a melancholy, sweet satisfaction—I have noticed it myself—in pointing out exactly where this or that great man erred, and where we should not have erred if we had been this or that great man. There is a calm, blessed sense of the law of compensation among humans when they murmur over the grave: "Ah! his was a mighty soul; everybody says so; but his umbrella was only gingham, and mine has a silver handle." Or, "Yes, his force of mind was gigantic; but just here he left the beaten track. If I had been in his place at that moment I should have kept it; I always do." Or, "His morality looks elegant, but it hasn't got any fibre to it. Now my morality is all fibre; you never met with such fibrous morality. What did he do with the fibre out of his? Did he pawn it? did he sell it? did he give it away? We should like to know all about it—is it in his autobiography? Did he write an autobiography? If he didn't, why didn't he? We prefer all our great men to write autobiographies. We like to be well up in them, and we think it would throw a great deal of light on the study of psychology, and gratify our sense of reverence, to know the exact details of the daily life of this great man, and at what hour he dined, and whether he wrote with a quill or a J pen. Whether the quality of the pens he used was or was not intimately connected with the quality of his moral fibre, and whether his ethical degeneration could or could not be dated from his ceasing to make two fair copies of his manuscripts. We should also like to be informed whether his studs were gold or gilt, and, if they were gold, whether it was 18-carat gold, or only 15. If they were gilt, whether he wore them gilt on principle, or because he hadn't money enough to buy a better pair; and if, supposing that it was because he hadn't money enough, why he hadn't, and whether he spent the money on cigars. Why he was not an anti-tobacconist. Did anyone ever invite him to join the anti-tobacconists? and if they didn't, why didn't they? Did he approve of the Blue Ribbon movement? Is it true that he once got intoxicated, and smashed a blue china teapot? If he did, was it by way of protest against the demoralising doctrine of Art for Art's sake? Has anybody written his wife's biography?—if not, why not? We should like it at once, and also the biographies of all his second and third cousins, and of his publishers, and of the conductor of the tramcar he once went into town by. Why did he travel by tram that day, and what had the twopence he paid for the tramcar to do with the flow of the hexameters used by him in translating the Æneid? Let us trace the effects of both on the growth of individuality in his writings, and find out, if possible, the influence of the twopence as affecting his views on the opium traffic." But what a long time I have been talking,' said the Owl, suddenly recollecting himself. 'Automatic action again. Dear me!'
'Yes, you have,' said Queen Mab, whose thoughts had been wandering. 'I did not suppose you meant to stop. Is it not time for us to go?'
It was indeed growing late, and the Owl was tired after his long harangue, but though they set out at once on their return journey, the day's experiences were not quite ended. For behold! the mob, returning from Hyde Park, with the Democrat at its head, in search of a Cabinet Minister, a Lord Mayor, a Government, anything administrative and official that they could lay their hands upon, and to whom they could make representations. The mob was half-starved; but that, as the Owl whispered to Queen Mab, was a way it had, and did not amount to much. It was also able-bodied and unemployed but these too were normal characteristics, and did not amount to much either. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it met a Cabinet Minister just at the entrance of Oxford Street, and the Cabinet Minister, who had been walking gaily, and twirling his cane, instantly slackened his pace, and, with inherent fine tact, put on a serious and sympathetic expression. The mob pushed the Democrat forward, and he confronted the Cabinet Minister.
'What are you going to do for these people?' he said abruptly; 'they are starving.'
'No; are they?' said the Cabinet Minister, looking very properly horrified, at which the mob cheered. 'I am very sorry indeed to hear it. Let me see if I can find a sixpence.'
He fumbled in all his pockets, and, finally, with some difficulty, produced a threepenny bit. The mob cheered again.
'I am sorry,' he said, 'that I haven't a sixpence, but perhaps this will be of use?'
'That won't do,' replied the Democrat roughly, as he pocketed the coin. 'Do you suppose that you are going to feed thousands of starving men, women, and children on a threepenny bit?'
'I deeply sympathise,' said the Cabinet Minister, without any distinct impression that he was quoting from 'Alice in Wonderland.' 'In fact, I may say that I weep for you; but what can I do? Am I not with you? Don't I hate criticism, and political economy, and Mr. Goschen?'
'You must act, returned the Democrat impressively. 'You are in the Government; 'and there came from the mob a hoarse, funereal echo, 'You are in the—qualified—Government!'
'Ah, but I am not in that department,' said the Minister, seeing a way of escape. 'My friends—I may say, indeed, my suffering fellow-citizens—be reasonable. Don't be vexed with me. I am only a capitalist, a toiler and spinner. Go for dukes and earls, or better—exercise patience. "The night," says the poet, "is always darkest just before the dawn." I am not in that department.'
'Hang your departments!' said the Democrat. 'If you are not in that department, at least you might be expected to know where it is, and to tell it what to do. Who would give a farthing for departments and officials who can't join hands at a time like this, to help their starving countrymen? We shan't stop to quarrel with you how you do it, if you only lift us out of the mire. Here are these men'—he pointed to the mob, and the mob hurrahed—'willing to work, eager to work, perishing for want of food, and not a soul of your benevolent Governments will lift a finger to set them to work for it. Give them public buildings to erect and to be blown up, canals to make, railways to cut; assist them to emigrate, if you have nothing for them to do at home, but in Heaven's name be sharp about it!'
'It is really very awkward,' said the Cabinet Minister. 'You see I am not in the Railroad Department, nor in the Canal Department, nor in the Emigration Department. I am sure you see that!' he continued hopefully, looking round upon the crowd, who, though they admitted the fact, did not appear to appreciate its deep and intrinsic force. 'But I am quite willing at some future opportunity—indeed, I may say I hope at some opportunity comparatively not distant, to consider the advisability of representing the matter to the heads of certain departments who might be able, in the course of the next but one Septennial Parliament, or' (even more sanguinely) 'I might under favourable circumstances even hope to say, the next Septennial Parliament, to lay the topic before the Government. In the meantime, my friends, consider that such means as you have suggested for alleviating the hardships with which I so profoundly sympathise are not things to be lightly rushed into. You will agree with me doubtless. You will show that fine sense of the propriety of your lots innate in the breast of every Briton, by agreeing with me that canals, for instance, are not things to be lightly rushed into. Emigration, my friends, is not a thing to be lightly rushed into. In the meantime, knowledge, as the good old maxim tells us, never comes amiss, and whatever be the eventual scheme resolved upon by Government for relieving your necessities, you cannot better employ your leisure than in preparatory academic study of the arts of building, railway cutting, and canal-making, and in acquainting yourselves with the principles and methods of emigration, the nature of our different colonial settlements, their situation and productions, during the seven years that must inevitably elapse—'
He would have proceeded, but a howl, long and loud, drowned his utterance, and the mob surged forward, driving him back, in a state of bewildered astonishment, into the premises of a fashionable dealer. Various tokens of regard followed him in the shape of rotten eggs and cabbage leaves, which, as the Owl observed in a thoughtful voice, were doubtless symbolical.
Then the mob broke up and went on its different ways. Mab and the Owl, following one of its scattered detachments, met another procession, with a drum and trumpets and other instruments, all working their hardest at one of Sankey and Moody's hymns, which procession drew up straightway before the remnant of the mob, and began to convert it.
'What is this?' asked Queen Mab. 'Is it British Polynesians going to a war-dance?'
'No,' replied the Owl. 'It is only the Salvation Army, walking backwards into glory.'
'Come away,' said Mab. 'They are very noisy, these British Polynesians, and the mob makes me miserable. Let us go back.'
'I am ready,' said the Owl. 'I don't wonder that London has this effect on you at first. You are not sufficiently automatic, and a non-automatic mind has always much to contend with.'
'Now to the eye of Faith displayed, The Prototype is seen, In every office, every trade, I mark, in human garb arrayed, The conquering Machine! By careful evolution planned, With many a gliding wheel, To warn, to comfort, to command, Or fly, or drive a four-in-hand, Or dance a Highland Reel! When, urged no more by Passions gale, Or impulse unforeseen, Humanity shall faint and fail, Upon its ruins will prevail The conquering Machine!'
Perhaps the exhibition of machinery-struck Queen Mab with more horror than any other novelty in this country. The Owl declared that she ought to develop a stronger automatic principle, and he therefore took her to an exhibition full of appliances for making the world over again, if ever, as North-country folk say, it 'happened an accident' All the different industries of the higher life were represented, and the scene was calculated to drive a non-automatic mind, as the Owl called Queen Mab's, entirely out of itself in the course of three-quarters of an hour.
There was machinery, worked by electricity, for beating gold to that degree of fineness that it could not be seen except through a powerful microscope, and there was the powerful microscope for seeing it through, also worked by electricity.
'Why do they want it so fine?' asked Mab.
'In order,' said the Owl, 'that they may be able to take a microscope to it, and so increase the demand for microscopes. The trades play into each other's hands. Look at these watches making themselves.'
He pointed to an arrangement of ropes and wheels and pulleys and electricity, directing the movements of a few human assistants with admirable dexterity and precision.
'You don't have anything like that in Polynesia!' said the Owl with pardonable pride.
'No, I should think not,' said Queen Mab. 'Why, we haven't any watches at all there. We look at the sun.'
'Ah yes,' returned the Owl. 'But the sun is rather unreliable, after all. He has the Ecliptic to go round, and the whole of the Solar System to attend to, and one must make allowances for him. But, for purposes of strict chronology, watches are better, especially these watches! They wind themselves up punctually every night, and if their owners break the mainsprings of them, they pack themselves up to go by Parcels Post back to the Company, and then they direct the parcel—or so I hear. Oh! they are very intelligent watches!'
'Is that true? 'inquired Mab doubtfully.
'I believe so,' said the Owl.
There seemed to Queen Mab something rather too preternatural about this, though she could well believe it, as she looked at the wonderful manner in which the watches turned themselves out. It frightened her, and they proceeded farther on, and came to much artillery, carefully constructed by the higher civilisation for the purpose of turning the lower civilisation, or the non-civilisation, or the alien civilisation, from the error of its ways.
'These,' said the Owl, pointing at random to a collection of elegantly polished torpedoes, cannons of superior excellence, gunpowder and gun-cotton of all descriptions and colours, arranged artistically in cases, to resemble sugar-candy and other confectionery, 'are the weapons of our philanthropy, the agents by which we disseminate truth, charity, and freedom, among tribes and races as yet imperfectly supplied with cardinal virtues and general ideas. They cost a great deal, but we would sacrifice anything for such a purpose. There is nothing mean about the British public. "What are a few bales of gun-cotton,' it cries—" a few tons of paltry bullets, in comparison with the march of civilisation and humanity and open markets? We do but give them of our best, our finest Bessemer steel, our latest thing in torpedo-boats—nothing is too good for them. What are we, if not magnanimous?' says the British public. I always like that about it—it never grudges a few millions for war expenditure in the cause of philanthropy! Considering how very sharply it looks after its £ s. d. in other directions, this liberality is especially touching and gratifying.'
But Queen Mab preferred to hurry past these dangerous-looking engines of Altruism, and they continued their survey. They came next to a company of umbrellas who were also barometers, and found out when it was going to rain in time for their masters to take them out. This, Mab said, was absurd, and, in fact, she was heartily tired of the whole thing before the Owl had explained to her half-a-dozen ingenious structures. She said that inanimate objects had no business to be so clever, and that, if the mechanicians did not take care, they would shortly invent machines that would conspire together to assassinate them, and then share the profits.
'Let us go away,' she exclaimed finally, 'before we turn into machines ourselves! Everything is going round and round, and I am afraid of having to begin to go round and round too.'
'Ah, I knew this would be the place for cultivating the automatic principle in you,' said the Owl triumphantly. 'We will come again.'
'No, thank you,' said Mab, energetically spreading her wings, and, in her preoccupation, taking the wrong road and darting into the great luncheon-room, whither the Owl followed her. The tables were crowded with people, and numbers of other people who had not yet lunched, were pacing up and down, looking anxiously for vacant places which were not there. The invisible spectators recognised the British manufacturer they had seen in Richmond Park. He was seated at a table; he had been sitting there since the disappearance of his last glass of claret, half an hour by the great clock, and for the whole of that half-hour several persons, standing very near his chair, had been fixing hungry eyes upon him, and expecting him to get up. Every time his boots creaked they moved perceptibly nearer, and made swift mental calculations of the chances each would have to reach the chair; but the worthy manufacturer still sat on, stolid and complacent, with a sense of comfort the keener by contrast.
Queen Mab and the Owl found him uncongenial, and flew away again.
'That is just like him,' said the Owl, when they had reached the outside of the building at last, and were perched on the roof, enjoying the fresh air. 'He will get all he can for his money. In him you may see a typical and beautiful example of the Survival of the Fittest. He worked his way, by means of native moral superiority and pure chocolate composed of mortar and molasses tinted with sepia, right from the gallery into one of the very best reserved seats, and now has little books written on himself, as exemplifying the reward of virtue, and exhorts everybody to go in and do likewise. The pamphlets conclude:
'"If your vocation furnishes only the trivial round and the common task; if it does not fall to your lot to invent a new pure chocolate, you can at least buy Mr. Tubbs's pure chocolate, and reverence the benefactors of humanity."
'He sends copies to all the dukes, and earls, and archbishops, and the result is an immense sale of the pure chocolate. He has never missed a chance of advertising it; he takes boxes to the meetings of the Church Missionary Society for propagation among the heathen, and so has managed to get large profits from the Zunis, and the Thlinkeets, and the Mikado, and the Shah. He nearly got into difficulty with the Low Church party once by writing privately to the Pope to solicit orders—not holy orders; orders for pure chocolate, I mean. I hope he won't carry it too far. His wife's uncle, who was a wholesale draper, seized one golden opportunity too many, and never recovered from the effects.'
'How was that?' asked Mab.
'It was an incident that took place in the Strand one day,' said the Owl with a modest air, 'of which I learned the particulars from two City sparrows. It struck my fancy, and I wrote a few stanzas upon it. The kingfisher, in fact, did me the honour to say that I had wedded the circumstance to immortal verse; but that was his partiality. I will, however, repeat the little poem to you.' And with becoming diffidence the Owl recited:
'The Seraph and the Snob. It was a draper eminent, A merchant of the land, On lofty calculations bent, Who raised his eyes, on cent, per cent. From pondering, in the Strand. He saw a Seraph standing there, With aspect bright and sainted, Ethereal robe of fabric fair, And wings that might have been the pair Sir Noel Paton painted. A real Seraph met his gaze— There was no doubt of that— Irradiate with celestial rays. Our merchant viewed him with amaze, And then he touched his hat. I own, before he raised his hand, A moment he reflected, Because in this degenerate land, To meet a Seraph in the Strand Was somewhat unexpected. Yet there one stood, as wrapt in thought, Amid the City's din, No other eye the vision caught, Not even a stray policeman sought To run that Seraph in. But on the merchant curious eyes Men turned, and mocking finger, For well they knew his mien and guise, He was not wont, in moonstruck wise, About the Strand to linger. Mute stood the draper for a space, The mystery to probe, Alas! in that his hour of grace, His eyes forsook the Seraph's face, And rested on his robe. And wildly did he seek in vain To guess the strange material, And golden fancies filled his brain, And hopes of unimagined gain Woke at the sight ethereal. Then, suffered not by fate austere The impulse to discard, He never paused to idly veer About the bush; but calm and clear He said: 'How much a yard?' A bright and tremulous lustre shone Through the dull, dingy Strand, From parting wings seraphic thrown; And then, mute, motionless, alone, Men saw the merchant stand.
In town to-day his memory's cold, No more his name on 'Change is, Idle his mart, his wares are sold, And men forget his fame of old, Who now in Earlswood ranges. Yet evermore, with toil and care He ponders on devices For stuffs superlatively rare, Celestial fabrics past compare, At reasonable prices. To him the padded wall and dead With gorgeous colour gleams, And huge advertisements are spread, And lurid placards, orange, red, Drive through his waking dreams.'
'Thank you,' said Queen Mab, 'that is very interesting; but I can't help being sorry for the merchant. For, after all, you know, it was his nature to. Is it not time, now, for us to go back?'
'Tweet!' cried the sparrows, 'it is nothing! It only looks like something. Tweet! that is the beautiful. Can you make anything of it? I can't?' Hans Andersen.
'How exceedingly successful,' observed Queen Mab one day, 'the Permanent Scarecrows have been!'
'The Permanent Scarecrows?' said the Owl.
The winged and gifted pair had been on another visit to London, and Mab had found rows on rows of stucco houses, where she had left green fields, running brooks, and hedges white with may, on the northern side of the Strand.
'Yes 'said Mab 'you hardly ever see a crow now, where, in my time, the farmers were so much plagued by the furtive bird. But, as the crows have been thoroughly frightened off, and as there are now no crops to protect, I do think they might remove the permanent scarecrows.'
'Your Majesty's meaning,' said the Owl, 'is beginning to dawn on me. True, in your time there were no statues in London, and the mistake into which you have fallen is natural. You went away before the great development of British Art, and British Sculpture, and British worship of Beauty. The monuments you notice are expressive of our love of loveliness, our devotion to all that is fair. These objects of which you complain are not meant to alarm predatory fowls (though well calculated for that purpose) but to commemorate heroes, often themselves more or less predatory.'
'Do you mean to tell me?' asked Mab, 'that that big burly scarecrow, about to mend a gigantic quill with a blunt sword, was a hero?'
'He was indeed,' said the Owl, 'though I admit that you would never have guessed it from his effigy.'
'And that other scarecrow, all claws and beak, who blocks up the narrow street where the Dragon worshippers throng? Was he a hero?'
'He is believed by some to be the Dragon himself,' said the Owl; 'but no one knows for certain, not even the sculptor.'
'And the Barber's Block with the stuffed dog, looking into the Park?'
'He was a poet,' said the Owl, 'and expressed so much contempt for men that they retorted by that ridiculous caricature. Would you believe it, English sculptors actually quarrelled among themselves as to who made that singular and, for its original purpose, most successful scarecrow!'
'I don't wonder,' remarked the Queen, 'that birds of taste are rare in the Metropolis, and that, on the Embankment especially, a rook would be regarded as a kind of prodigy. Nowhere has the manufacture of permanent scarecrows been conducted with more ingenious success. But tell me, my accomplished fowl, have Britons any other arts? Long ago the men used to paint themselves blue, but, as far as I have remarked, the women are now alone in staining their cheeks with a curious purplish dye and their locks with ginger colour.'
'Among the Arts,' said the Owl, 'the modern English chiefly excel in painting. To-morrow, by the way, the shrine of Loveliness begins to open its gates. The successful worshippers, are admitted to varnish their offerings to Beauty, while the unsuccessful are sent away in disgrace, with their sacrifices. Suppose we go and examine this curious scene.'
'In Polynesia,' replied Mab, 'no well-meant offering is rejected by the gods.'
'The Polynesian gods,' answered the Owl, 'are too indiscriminate.'
On the next morning any one whose eyes were purged with euphrasy and rue might have observed an owl and a fairy queen fluttering in the smoky air above Burlington House. Here a mixed multitude of men and women, young and old, were thronging about the gates, some laughing, some lamenting. A few entered with proud and happy steps, bearing quantities of varnish to the goddess; others sneaked away with pictures under their arms, or hastily concealed the gifts rejected at the shrine of Beauty in the hospitable shelter of four-wheeled cabs.
'Let us enter,' said the Owl, 'and behold how wisely the Forty Priests of Beauty (or the Forty Thieves, as their enemies call them) and the Thirty Acolytes have arranged the gifts of the faithful.
Lightly the unseen pair fluttered past the servants of Beauty, nobly attired in gold and scarlet. They found themselves in a series of stately halls, so covered with pictures in all the hues of the aniline rainbow, that Queen Mab winked, and suffered from an immortal headache.
'How curious it is,' said Queen Mab, 'that of all the many thousand offerings only a very few, namely, those hung at a certain height from the floor, are really visible to any one who is neither a fairy nor a bird.'
'The pieces which you observe,' remarked the Owl, 'are almost in every case the work of the Forty Priests of Beauty, of the Thirty Acolytes, and of their cousins, their sisters, and their aunts. Those other attempts, almost invisible, as you say, to anyone but a bird or a fairy, have been produced by other worshippers not yet admitted to the Holy Band.'
'Then,' asked the Queen, 'are the Forty Priests by far the most expert in devising objects truly beautiful, and really worthy of the Goddess of Beauty?'
'On that subject,' said the Owl, 'your Majesty will be able to form an opinion after you have examined the sacrifices at the shrine.'
Swiftly as Art Critics the winged spectators flew, invisible, round the galleries, and finally paused, breathless, on the gigantic group of St. George and the Dragon, then in the Sculpture Room.
'Well, what do you think?' asked the Owl.
'The Forty Priests,' replied Queen Mab, 'are, with few exceptions, men who seem to have been blinded, perhaps by the Beatific Vision of Beauty. If the Beatific Vision of Beauty has not blinded them, why are they and their friends so hopelessly absurd? Why do they have all the best of the shrine to themselves, while the young worshippers are consigned to holes and corners, or turned out altogether? Who makes the Forty the Forty? Does the goddess choose her own Ministers?'
'By no means,' said the Owl, 'they choose themselves. Who else, in the name of Beauty, would choose them? But you must not think that they are all blind or stupid; there are some very brilliant exceptions,' and he pointed triumphantly to the offerings of the High Priest and of five or six other members of the Fraternity.
'This is all very well, and I am delighted to see it,' said Queen Mab, 'but tell me how the choosing of the Forty and of the Acolytes is arranged. 'When one of the Forty dies,' replied the Owl, 'which happens only at very long intervals, for they belong to the race of Struldbrugs, several worshippers who have become bald, old, nearly sightless, with other worshippers' still young and strong, are paraded before the Thirty-nine. And they generally choose the old men, or, if not, the young men who come from a strange land in the North, where rain falls always when it is not snowing, and whither no native ever returns. If such a man lives in a fine house, and has a cunning cook, then (even though he can paint) he may be admitted among the Forty, or among the Thirty who attain not to the Forty. After that he can take his ease; however ugly his offerings to Beauty, they are presented to the public.'
'Well,' said Queen Mab, 'my curiosity is satisfied, and I no longer wonder at the permanent scarecrows. But one thing still puzzles me. What becomes of the offerings of the Forty after the temple closes?'
'They disappear by means of a very clever invention,' said the Owl. 'Long ago a famous priest, named Chantrey, perceived that the country would be overrun with the offerings to which you allude. He therefore bequeathed a sum of money, called the Chantrey bequest, to enable the Forty to purchase each other's pictures.'
'But what do they do with them after they have bought them?' persisted Mab, who had a very inquiring mind.
'Oh, goodness knows; don't ask me,' said the Owl crossly; 'nobody ever inquires after them again!'
'Were it not better not to be!' Tennyson: The Two Voices. 'Si tu veux', je te tuerais ici tout franc, en sorte que tu rien sentiras rien, et m'en croy, car j'en ay bien tué d'autres qui s'en sont bien trouvez' Pantagruel, ii. xiv.
'Look there!' said the Owl one day. 'There is a bishop, one of the higher priests of St. George.'
He was a beautiful bishop, in his mitre, canonicals, and crozier, all complete—so the Owl said. It strikes one as a novelty for bishops to wear their rochettes and mitres when they go out walking in Richmond Park; but one is forced to believe the Owl, he has such a truthful way with him, like George Washington. By the way, what scope George Washington had for telling lies, if he had wished it, after that incident of the cherry-tree, which gave everyone such a high opinion of his veracity!
The Bishop advanced slowly into full view, and then drew up before a tree. He did not lean against the tree, for fear of spoiling his splendours, but he drew up before it, and began to ponder, with a mild, benevolent expression on his fine features. At the same time, two hundred yards away, Queen Mab caught sight of the Democrat, walking very fast, a little out of breath, and looking for the Bishop. He wanted to explain to him the principles of Church and State, and to talk things over in a friendly way. The Democrat had great faith in talking things over, spite of his failure to convince the Aristocrat; he never really doubted that if he only harangued against obstacles long enough they would ultimately disappear. The Bishop, for instance, would willingly rush into nonentity, if once he could be brought to look at his duty in that light, and the Democrat was eager to begin to put it before him in that light immediately. But while he was still looking earnestly for his expected proselyte, someone else advanced with a similar purpose—a tall, gentlemanly individual, with a pleasing exterior, spotless linen cuffs, and a black bag. The Owl uttered a cry of horror.
'Come away!' he exclaimed. 'It is a Nihilist, a dynamiter!'
But Queen Mab held her ground, or rather her branch. She was a courageous fairy, and though she turned a shade paler she spoke resolutely:
'No!' she said. 'I mean to stay and see what he does with it You may go.'
But the Owl was either too chivalrous to desert her, or he was paralysed with terror.
'Dynamite strikes downwards,' the fairy heard him murmur with chattering beak, and that was all he could say. Meanwhile the Nihilist went up to the Bishop.
'Excuse me!' he murmured politely, and knelt down. The Bishop stretched out his hands absently, in an attitude of blessing; but the Nihilist did not look up. He took an American cloth parcel from the black bag and laid it at the Bishop's feet. Then, gradually withdrawing, he began to lay the train.
'He is going to blow him up!' whispered Mab, shuddering. But the Bishop, absorbed in rapt contemplation, heard and saw nothing, till the Democrat, breaking rudely through some bushes and into his reverie, roused him effectually. The Democrat was not a person of whose neighbourhood one could remain unconscious.
'Ah!' he exclaimed, while the Bishop looked upon him with an air of mild disapprobation. 'I have found you at last! I was anxious to discuss with you—but what is this?'
For the more observant Democrat had caught sight of the cloth parcel.
'What is this?' he repeated suspiciously.
'I really don't know,' said the Bishop mildly, putting on his spectacles and gazing down. 'I am a little shortsighted, you know. It is the size of the quarto edition of—'
'There!' interrupted the Democrat, who had caught a glimpse of the Nihilist's shadowy figure. He darted after it, while the Bishop, a little perturbed, moved slowly in the same direction.
'Don't move,' said the Nihilist, raising an abstracted face. 'I will only be a moment. Just step back there, will you?' and he pointed towards the parcel with one hand, while the other still scattered the train.
'What are you doing?' cried the Democrat, shaking him.
'Stop that!' said the Nihilist 'You had better not lay hands on me, or you mayn't like it. It is really inconsiderate,' he continued, appealing to the Bishop in an injured voice. 'I am only going to blow you up, and you won't be quiet half a minute together. How can I blow you up properly, if you will keep walking about?'
'You are going to blow me up!' said the Bishop, awaking to the situation, and becoming as indignant as his gentle nature would allow him to be. 'Miserable man! What will you want to blow up next? I utterly discountenance it. Take your dynamite to the haunts of iniquity and atheism, if you will. Rather blow up Renan, and Dissenters, and the Rev. Mr. Cattell; but as for me, this is really carrying it too far!'
'Waal,' said the Nihilist, rising with a surprised stare, and in the astonishment of the moment betraying his nationality, 'I guess things air come to a pretty pass when a Bishop of the Church of England refooses to be blown up in the interests of hoomanity!'
He took up the American cloth parcel as he spoke and walked despondently away, musing over the lack of public spirit displayed by established orders in general and prelates in particular.
'I would cheerfully consent to be blown up any day,' he murmured pensively, 'in the interests of hoomanity; but it is not for the interests of hoomanity—'
'Why did you not arrest him?' said the Bishop reproachfully, when he was out of sight.
'He is the natural product of the present depraved state of Society and of the Legislature,' replied the Democrat, shaking his head, 'and therefore to be pitied rather than condemned. He should be accepted as a warning, a merciful token sent to all thrones, principalities and powers, reminding them of the error of their ways and of their latter end. And besides,' he continued unwillingly, 'he has a whole magazine of explosives on his person. If I had not been carried away by my indignation just now I should never have taken him by the collar. I did remonstrate with him once, on the strength of his political bias. I said, "Look at us, why can't you profit by our example? We don't wish to blow up, but gently to 'disintegrate. We are mild, but firm. We never express a wish for revolution, but for reform. We are as active as anyone in bringing about the Millennium, but we don't desire to be shot into it head foremost, like a projectile from one of your infernal machines. Dynamite, that last infirmity of noble minds, should only be resorted to when all other modes of conciliation have failed." And what do you think he replied? He smiled affably and offered me a box. "Thank you!" he said, "Take a torpedo?"'
'Dear me!' said the Bishop; 'he is really a terrible character. I have here some of his advertisements, sent to me the other day. Actually sent by post, to me, a Prelate of the Church of England. I saved them, intending to deliver a discourse upon the subject.'
He took a handful of papers from his pocket-book, and the Democrat perused them, while Queen Mab, invisible, looked over his shoulder.
'Home Comfort! Hints to Architects and Builders.
'In the construction of tenements, it is absolutely necessary, for the safety and convenience of the inmates, to place in the recess at the back of each fireplace a couple of Donovan's Patent Dynamite Fire Bricks, warranted. The advantages of this novel and most ingenious contrivance will be fully appreciated when, for the first time, the family circle gathers round the cheerful blaze.'
'To Clergymen. 'For a pure religious light, suitable to the Liturgy of the Church of England, try Donovan's Wax Tapers for Church Illumination. Two of these, placed in the sconces, will give more light than twenty ordinary candles, and will also impart vigour and fervency of tone to the whole of the proceedings. Donovan and Co. are so confident of the superiority of their manufactures that they are willing to refund costs, on receiving the written attestation of the Bishop of the diocese that the article has proved unsuitable. Try them; you can have no idea of the effects.'
'Directors of Railway Companies. 'Take care to have carriages illuminated with Donovan's Patent Safety Lamps. These exert a bracing and salutary influence, not only on the atmosphere and the spirits of the passengers, but on the tunnel walls themselves, which are invariably found, after the passage through them of a train lighted by Donovan's Patent Safety Lamps, completely prostrate with astonishment at the unparalleled effects of the same, to the immense convenience of traffic and judicious prevention of accidents.'
There were several more advertisements, similar in tone and of attractive appearance, which the Democrat perused with interest.
'What could possess the fellow to send all these to you?' he exclaimed when he had finished. 'I always said he pushed the thing to an extreme. He has got dynamite on the brain: he will go off himself some day if he doesn't take care, like a new infernal machine.'
'I wish he would!' said the Bishop hastily; and then correcting himself, 'I was about to say, "Whatever is, is best."'
'Oh, stow that!' exclaimed the Democrat. 'I mean,' he added apologetically, on observing the Bishop's startled glance, 'that, of course, that sounds very well, and it is a pretty thing to say, but everybody knows it isn't true. I will undertake to prove to you, if you will allow me'—here the Bishop's face gathered a shade of melancholy—'that, in fact, there never was a more outrageous falsehood on the earth. As for the Nihilist, naturally we should be thankful to get rid of him, either by explosion or otherwise; but he is such a dangerous fellow to tackle. The fact is, one hardly dare shake hands with him, for fear of being blown into the middle of next week, and then one couldn't toil for the benefit of humanity.'
'Act, act in the living Present,' murmured the Bishop.
'Just so,' said his companion approvingly. 'And you can't act in the living Present when you are in the middle of next week.'
'And yet, you know,' said the Bishop, with a glimpse before him of some possible advantage in the argument, 'I have often fancied that you yourself—'
He paused judiciously.
'Oh no!' returned the Democrat promptly, 'we wouldn't do it on any account. I assure you that our motives are quite unimpeachable.'
'Oh!' said the Bishop. 'And about the House of Lords, for example? Being a Spiritual Peer oneself, you see, one naturally takes an interest—limited.'
'Well, as for that,' said the Democrat, 'it would really be such an excellent thing for you in all respects to be abolished, that you would never make any objection, would you now? We have your welfare so deeply at heart, and long study of your characteristics has convinced us that a course of judicious abolition would be your salvation, temporal, spiritual—and eternal.'
'I say!' exclaimed the Bishop, 'isn't that putting it rather strong? To a Bishop, you know.'
'Ah,' said his companion encouragingly, 'all that feeling will pass away. The full beauty of true Democracy is not, I admit, at first wholly apparent to the Conservative mind; but once afford the requisite culture, and it unfolds new attractions every day. Believe me, we are acting in this matter solely, or almost solely, with a view to your ultimate benefit. We are not acting for ourselves—ourselves is a secondary consideration. But your true fife, as Goethe so beautifully says, probably with an intentional reference to bishops and noble lords, must begin with renunciation of yourself. Till you have once been abolished you can never know how nice it is.
"The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower,"' he added, quoting the words of the hymn-book, with the firm impression that they were from some Secularist publication.
'And is it necessary?' said the Bishop somewhat helplessly.
'Absolutely necessary,' replied the Democrat.
'I don't know about that,' said a voice behind them, and Queen Mab started, seeing the Professor. 'But depend upon it, the fittest will survive. I think, myself, that it is quite time you were gone; but some types die out very slowly, especially the lower types; and you may be said, as regards freedom of intellect and the march of Science, to be a low type—in fact, a relic of barbarism. There can be no doubt that, in the economy of Nature, bishops are an unnecessary organ, merely transmitted by inheritance in the national organism, and that in the course of time they will become atrophied and degenerate out of existence. When that time comes you must be content to pass into oblivion. Study Palæontology.' Now he pronounced it Paleyon-tology, not having had a classical education. 'Think of the pterodactyles, who passed away before the end of the Mesozoic ages, and never have appeared again. What, in the eternal nature of things, are bishops more than pterodactyles?'
'I wonder,' interrupted the Bishop severely, 'that you dare to speak of your pernicious teachings under the name of Paleyontology, as if the First Principles of that revered divine, whose loss we all deplore, were ever anything like that!'
The Professor only glared, and was going on, but the Democrat stopped him, by remarking, in a loud and exasperatingly complacent voice:
'You are quite correct. Only upon the wreck of the old order of existence can arise the New Democracy.'
'Can you never stop talking about yourself?' snapped the Professor testily. 'One would think, to hear you, that Democracy was the goal of everything.'
'So it is,' said the Democrat.
'Not a bit of it. You and your democracies are only a fleeting phase, an infinitesimal fraction of the aeons to be represented, perhaps, in some geological record of the future, by a mere insignificant conglomerate of dust and bones, and ballot-boxes, and letters in the Spectator and other articles characteristic of this especial period. What a dream of Science that, interstellary communication established, some being of knowledge and capacities as infinitely excelling our own as our faculties excel those of the lowly monad, wandering on this terrestrial globe, and culling from the imperfect archives of these bygone years a corkscrew, an opera-glass, or, perchance, a pot of long since petrified marmalade, preserved intact by some protecting incrustation of stalagmite from the ravages of time, may dart a penetrating gleam of intelligence through the dark abysses of innumerable ages, and exclaim: "This clay, upon which I gaze, was of the human period. This coin, this meerschaum, this china shepherdess, this prayer-book with gilt edges, this Sporting Times, were the inseparable companions of a fossil species of Englishmen who once colonised this globe, and minute traces of whom have been found in its most widely separated regions. Alas that the action of marine and subaerial denuding agents has deprived us of an opportunity for closer examination of the habits and idiosyncrasies of this interesting fossil. Into such small compass are compressed the pride and wealth of nations and of centuries. O genus humanum! O tempora! O mores!" Thus will he muse. No democrat! no stump orator will be that Being of the Future, nor anything of human mould. One's imagination may well revel in the thought that Evolution, mighty to conceive and to perform, lias not yet completed her work. What are vertebrates? Even these are transient. But four classes of vertebrates—only four!' shouted the Professor in his enthusiasm, wholly forgetting the Democrat, and the Bishop, who was gazing at him with a look of blank horror on his venerable countenance. 'Why, it is preposterous, it is inconceivable that we should stop at four!—fishes, reptiles, birds, and mammals! Where is the fifth! Cannot Natural Selection, Struggle for Existence, Variability and Survival of the Fittest, between them, furnish a fifth class of vertebrates? I demand it in the name of Science and of Evolution. We have been human long enough. There we are, ever since the Age of Stone, pinned down to one particular tribe of mammals. Ah, when shall we begin to move on again? Is not this a hope beyond the niggardly aspirations of a purblind democrat?'
'What will the future reality be? I care not; but progress demands a new and conquering organism. For my part, I see no reason why we should not immediately leave the vertebrates. That would be something like a New Departure.'
Here the professor stopped suddenly, becoming aware of the eyes of the Democrat, which were fixed on him with a mixture of contempt and curiosity.
'I don't understand all that,' he said in an exasperating tone. 'It is very elevating, I daresay, but what I want is Universal Suffrage. There is something tangible for you. When we get that, there will be time to think about the future, and indeed, we shall have it in our own hands, and can furnish any kind we like, by Ballot. Ballot is better than Natural Selection. Natural Selection is all very well; but it does not know what we want. We do.'
'Science may be allowed her dreams as well as Theology,' said the Professor rather shamefacedly.
'But you can't bring about a new sub-kingdom, or the kingdom of heaven either, by Act of Parliament.'
'Why not?' returned the Democrat confidently. 'It is only to get a majority; and there you are, you know!'
'My brethren,' said the Bishop, inspired thereto, as the Owl observed, by reflex action, 'Perfection is not of this world!'
'It will be though,' replied the Democrat cheerfully,' before we have done with it. Bless you, Perfection will be upon you before you have time to turn round! That is the beauty of the New Democracy. You have merely to be abolished, and then we get a majority, and then, you know, there we are!'
'What will you do with the minority?' said the Professor grumpily. 'How about Proportional Representation?'
'Oh, the minority?' said the Democrat. 'Well, it will be all right—you will see how right it will be if you give us a majority. We have everybody's interests at heart—deeply at heart!' he added hopefully. 'We first pass a Bill for the manufacture (National Monopoly) of all the cardinal virtues at reduced prices—may be ordered direct from the Company, carriage paid; and then a Bill for the repression of all the Cardinal Crimes, which the Company is also willing to buy up at market value, for exportation—and then, you see, there we are!'
'Where are you?' said the Professor sharply.
'Where?' replied the Democrat, looking puzzled for a moment, but soon recovering himself triumphantly. 'Where? oh, we are there, you know. There we are!'
'Humph!' ejaculated the Professor, turning on his heel. The Bishop turned away also, saying that he had an engagement, and the Democrat followed him, talking very fast and bringing forward arguments. When they reached the gate there was a sad, perplexed look upon the Bishop's face, and finally shaking off his companion by an effort of the will, he entered the nearest churchyard and began to meditate upon mortality. The Democrat, observing in an acrid voice that he had something better to do with mortality than to meditate upon it, turned away reluctantly from the gate, and began to compose a popular ode, which had tremendous success, and of which the rhymes were dubious but the sentiments unimpeachable. Meanwhile, Queen Mab and the Owl, who had followed un-perceived, perched upon the tower of the church, and surveyed the landscape and the Bishop, who, a venerable appropriate figure in his vestments, had turned naturally to the east, and was standing by a marble cross.
'What a pleasant place!' said Mab. 'The dead must rest quietly here.'
'I am not sure that they don't keep up class distinctions,' said the Owl rather misanthropically. 'They would if they could. But, on the whole, I prefer to think that this place is the goal of the Democrat, where Equality reigns indeed. If so, it will be consoling to him, for I am afraid he will never get equality in life. Death, at present, has the monopoly. Mr. Mallock thinks that Social Equality, if it ever came to pass, would be ruinous to the welfare of the nation; but happily we are in no immediate danger of it. Inequality, he says, is the condition of Progress, and if it is only Inequality that is wanted, Progress ought to be making rapid strides. Oh yes, we have Social Inequality enough to carry us on at the rate of a mile a minute. It would be interesting, would it not, to know in what direction we are progressing—though, of course, the Progress is the chief thing—from good to better or from bad to worse?'
'Very interesting,' said Queen Mab. 'I mean to think that we are progressing from good to better. But do you know that you are a very dismal bird? Are things really as bad as you say they are?'
'Perhaps I am cynical,' replied the Owl. 'The kingfisher says so. The kingfisher is an optimist, and he told me I thought it was clever to be cynical; but that was when we had a few words one day. It is from living in a belfry, doubtless, that I have contracted a habit of looking at things on the dark side; but when one has made allowance for the belfry, the world is not so bad after all. Of course animals can't be expected to know what it means; they are not social philosophers, and men say so many different things. Some think the universe is under a dual control, and some that it is altogether a blunder—a clock running down and the key lost I don't know about that, I am only a bird; but if it is a failure, it is a glorious failure. Sometimes, indeed, the theologians call life a howling wilderness; but that is in comparison with the next world. For they are immortal.'
'I am immortal too,' said Queen Mab proudly.
'So you are,' returned the Owl. 'I was forgetting. I'm not,' he added rather doubtfully. 'But I hope you will enjoy it.'
'It is my intention,' said Queen Mab.
The Bishop, from whose face the look of perplexity had departed, leaving only his old serene, benevolent expression, turned as the bell chimed out the hour, and walked slowly towards the gate. The east was growing grey towards sunset, the east that lent the light wherein he lived, for he was a man of a gentle heart. Far off, in the town, a million lamps were beginning to burn. Gas lamps, and electric, and matches that struck only on the box, and not always on that. But the face of the Bishop shone with another radiance, and a lustre not of this world.
'Cucullus nonfacit monachum.'
Queen Mab and the Owl were returning, rather tired, from an excursion, when a procession of the Salvation Army came across them, with drums and banners, and the General at its head, and,—they could hardly believe their eyes,—the Nihilist walking by the side of the General and weeping abundantly. The Salvation Army had brought him to a conviction of his sins, and he was wringing his hands—at least one of them; the other, as if automatically, still carried the black bag. The General, on the contrary, was highly delighted. It was not every day that he converted a Nihilist, and the thought occurred, small blame to him, that the whole history of the incident would sound remarkably well in the 'War Cry.' So it would have done, but for that unfortunate bag.
'You renounce the devil,' said the General confidently, 'and all his ways?'
'I renounce him,' said the Nihilist, still clasping the black bag fervently, in a glow of pious enthusiasm, as if it were a prayer-book.
'Then you are all right,' said the General in an encouraging tone. 'Throw away the black bag, my friend, and shout Hallelujah! Do you feel your sins forgiven?'
'I do! I do!' exclaimed the Nihilist. 'But I daren't throw it away: it would make such a noise in the street. I'll tie it on to the next balloon that comes by empty. They'll assassinate me; but I don't care: I have peace in my heart!'
'That's the right ring,' said the General, not without conquering a feeling of repugnance towards the vicinity of the bag. 'Faith without works, you know. Well, my brother, we must be back to head-quarters. You'll meet us at the Hall to-night—seven sharp.'
'I will,' cried the Nihilist enthusiastically. 'I must go to one of your blessed gatherings before my enemies are on my track. Ah, it's true—the world is vanity. Dynamite is vanity. Torpedoes, nitro-glycerine—they're dust and ashes, broken cisterns! I renounce them all.'
They had reached an important metropolitan railway station, and the General's party, entering, began to take tickets for their return journey. Then, for the first time, the Nihilist noticed that the General also carried a black bag, in shape and size similar to his own, which he placed on the floor of the booking-office as he went to take his ticket. Queen Mab never fully comprehended what happened next. She could only assert that the expression on the face of the Nihilist was one of fervent and devoted piety, as, with an ejaculation of 'Hallelujah!' he absently put down his own bag and took up that of the General. Then he broke out, as in irrepressible enthusiasm, with a verse of 'Dare to be a Daniel!' The General, turning round, looked duly edified at this outburst of ardour, and took up his bag of pamphlets, as he supposed, without any suspicion of the length to which his friend's devotional rapture had carried him. The Nihilist then bade a hurried farewell, observing rather incoherently that the weight of sin was heavy on his conscience, and he was going to submerge it instantly at St. Paul's Pier. With this parting statement he rushed from the station, and Queen Mab, with a sense of misgiving, followed hastily.
A moment after, the city was thrilled by a loud explosion. No one was killed: above a hundred persons were injured, and the cause of the disturbance was traced to a bag left by the General on the platform close to the bookstall. For the next two or three days the station wore a blackened, distracted, and generally intermingled appearance. The big drum suffered the most severely, and shreds of parchment were wafted to a great distance, and gathered up, many of them, by adherents of the Army, as relics of this unfortunate martyr of Progress and of Nihilism. Many of the other instruments were shattered, and so great was the force of the explosion, that a small fragment of a bagpipe was propelled into St. Paul's Cathedral, where it was discovered next day, on the lectern, by the Canon who read the lessons. The General, for some time, was supposed to have disappeared with these instruments; but it was afterwards asserted, on good authority, that he had been seen the same evening on board a vessel bound for America; and the most reasonable conjecture appeared to be, that his native discrimination, at once perceiving the weight of evidence for the prosecution, had led him, during the tumult incident on the explosion, to effect an escape. Certain it is that the Hall at Clapton knew him no more.
Meanwhile, outside the station, amid a medley of blackened officials, disintegrated portions of railway carriages and book-stalls, Salvation Army captains, converted reprobates, policemen, cabmen, and orange vendors, was found a Nihilist! Once a Nihilist, but a Nihilist no longer. With a threepenny hymn-book in one hand and a black bag in the other, filled, not with dangerous explosives, but with a whole arsenal of tracts, 'War Crys,' hymn-books, addresses to swearers and Sabbath-breakers, and other devotional literature, he was calmly spouting:
'Convulsions shake the solid world, My faith shall never yield to fear!'
It may not be amiss, here, to say a few words as regards his subsequent history, as related by the Owl. After that somewhat untoward incident, he was not warmly received into the ranks of the Salvation Army. A coldness sprang up which, though not inexplicable, had the unfortunate effect of causing our Nihilist to renounce connection with that body. The influences which they had brought to bear upon him, however, did not so easily pass away, and it was in the continued glow of pious enthusiasm that he joined a Dissenting Society, in which respectability and fervour were happily combined, and which, accusing the Salvation Army of the fervour without the respectability, regarded the Nihilist as an interesting martyr of unjust suspicion. For two months he remained in this society, and rose to the post of deacon, or what corresponded to deacon in their system; but at the end of that time his native bias proved too strong for him. With singular injudiciousness he brought to the Sunday evening service a hymn-book carefully constructed, including the hymns of the society, and also a small but superlatively powerful block of explosive material, arranged to go off at the moment in which the collection was being taken up. So confident was he of the excellent workmanship of this article that he did not scruple even to write his name in it, and to leave it in the pew, assured that, once exploded, no trace of its ownership would remain. He then left before the collection—a thing which he had been repeatedly known to do before, and which struck the congregation with no alarm. But, from the pew behind, an eye was upon him. It was the eye of the Professor. What was the Professor! doing there? The answer was simple enough. He was writing a book on 'Competition, and the Survival of the Fittest, as displayed in Modern Sectarianism,' and he had come to this! dissenting place of worship in quest; of information. Always ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, he entered the Nihilist's pew the moment that individual left it, and began to scan the leaves of the hymn-book. To his infinite amazement, on turning over page 227, he came upon a cunning piece of machinery, not a musical-box, like those one comes to unexpectedly in the midst of photograph albums, but a "chef d'ouvre" of Donovan's own, smouldering away at a great rate. The time was just up; the collection-boxes were being handed round; instant destruction seemed inevitable, when, to the amazement of the congregation, the Professor, starting up, rushed to the altar, and, with the cool forethought and intrepidity so eminently characteristic of that gifted man, dropped the hymn-book into the large font, then full of water. The ignited wick ceased to smoulder; the peril was averted.
But the Nihilist was sought for in vain by the civil authorities. Glancing back at the threshold of the building, he had caught sight of the Professor, and, as if fascinated to the spot, he had watched him take up the fatal hymn-book. Then, with an instant presentiment of the consequences, he had rushed away. He has since joined the Parsees, and the Democrat, visiting America on business, met him the other day in New York, in the full costume of a Fire-worshipper. His complexion had assumed a more Eastern appearance, and his turban was pulled low down, and partially concealed his features; but the Democrat's keen eyes detected a resemblance, even before the Parsee began to hum, in a singularly rich and flexible tenor voice, a verse from Omar Khayyam: 'Ah Love, could you and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits, and then Remould it nearer to the Heart's Desire?'
From the depth of feeling which the Nihilist flung into these words, the Democrat conjectured that he had at last found his true devotional sphere, but he did not venture on renewing the acquaintance, judiciously reflecting that the flowing costume of a Persian magnate was favourable to the secretion of infernal machines of all sorts and sizes.
Knowest thou the House where the members elected Consider the measure apart from the brand, Where Voting by Party is quite unaffected, And solely concerned with the good of the land? Knowest thou the House of Amendments and Clauses, Where Reason may reel but debate never pauses, Where words, the grand note of Humanity, reign (Oh Müller, Max Müller, expound us the gain!), Articulate always, if often insane?
'Tis the Temple of Justice, the home of M.P.'s, Our noble, our own representatives these, But endless as sands of the desert, and worse, Are the Bills they discuss and the rules they rehearse.
'What about the Government?' said Queen Mab to the Owl one day. 'Is there anything that it would do to introduce into Polynesia—that is, if the Germans and the missionaries have gone away again? If they haven't—!' and she sighed.
'I think you had better not try,' returned her counsellor, after considering the point. 'You have got a queen already, and I should think the Polynesians are hardly ripe for a representative Government No doubt, in the course of the struggle for existence, they will get into a good many difficulties, but I rather think that a British constitution on the top of them would not improve matters. If you could get up a Witenagemot now!'
'Oh, the gathering of the Wise Men,' said the fairy. 'I remember that. Has not England got a Witenagemot now, then?' she inquired. Her historical notions, during her long residence in Polynesia, had got fearfully mixed up and hazy.
'They don't call it so,' said the Owl gravely. 'I wonder they don't, it would be very suitable.'
'And what is it for?' asked Mab.
'Chiefly to legislate for the Millennium, I think,' replied the Owl. 'They have been legislating now for a considerable time, but it hasn't come yet. It is late. We expect, however, that it will arrive when the New Democracy is in power. There has been a good deal of annoyance with the Established Church lately for not telegraphing for it sooner, and people say that but for the Church's neglect the Millennium would have been here a very long time ago. Therefore, when the New Democracy comes, it intends, as the Democrat was saying, to be mild but firm, and see if the Millennium can't be got to travel faster. And the first mild but firm thing it will do will be to pull down the Established Church of England and level it with the—with other denominations.'
'What is the Millennium?' said Queen Mab.
'Some think one thing and some another,' returned the Owl. 'Perhaps we had better not discuss it; it is so easy to be profane on the subject before you know where you are. But you can hear Parliament legislating for it any day, and see people living up to it under the gangway.'
'I should like to go and see how they do it,' said Mab, 'just for once.'
'Well, so you can,' said the Owl. 'We can start directly if you like. It is the safest place in London now that the session is on, because of the Home Rulers. The dynamiters couldn't very well blow it up with the Irish members in, and it would look too pointed for them all to be away at the time of its being blown up. Make me invisible and we will go.'
So Queen Mab made them both invisible, and they flew away to the House of Commons. There ensconcing themselves on a high beam, they soon forgot the cobwebs in the interest of the debate. It was a remarkable debate, and, what is also remarkable, I can find no traces of it in the Hansard for that year, and it hardly conforms to the latest rules. Sometimes I am inclined to think that the Owl must have invented it or dreamed it, but he says that every word is mathematically correct, and I know him for a most truthful bird, who never told, or at all events never meant to tell, a lie. The debate was on a Bill introduced by Government for the colonisation of the lunar world by emigration of the able-bodied unemployed, and the House was full. All the Home Rulers were present, a fact which gave the Owl a feeling of pleasant security, and members generally were wide awake and very attentive.
In a brief speech of three hours the Prime Minister advocated the principles of the Bill.
'I am not what is vulgarly called a Jingo' (hear, hear!) he said finally, 'and measures of simple aggrandisement, sir, I have never been known to advocate.'
'How about Bechuana?' from Mr. Jacob Bright.
'If the rules of courtesy demanded a reply to that interruption,' said the Prime Minister, 'I would answer,' and he did so for an hour by Shrewsbury clock. He then proceeded:
'But there is a wide difference between annexation necessary to maintain the integrity of our glorious realm, as in the case of Bechuana, and the annexations so often observed in the policy of Continental Powers, springing from a mere greed of empire. We may deplore, indeed, that a preceding Administration has involved us in responsibilities almost beyond the power of statesmen to grapple with successfully; but that is the habit of preceding Administrations, and now that such measures are beyond recall we shall not shirk their consequences. The recent annexation of Mercury by Russia, and the presence in Jupiter of a German emissary, whose ulterior object, though the Press of that country states him to have gone there solely for the benefit of his health, cannot be viewed with too much suspicion, make it incumbent on all parties to unite in speedy measures for the security of our home and colonial interests.' (Ministerial cheers.) 'I am at a loss to conceive,' said a member of the Opposition, rising—and here the irregularity comes in, for which we can only refer readers to the Owl—'what is the drift of the remarks we have just listened to. I am no enemy to annexation, as honourable members know well. We have been annexing ever since we had a rood of land to make annexations to, and it would be a pity to begin to stop now. But as for occupying a place like the Moon, without water, without air, without inhabitants—that, sir, appears to me to be adding folly to madness. Is the Government not content with the proofs of utter imbecility'—(order)—'I will say, of excruciating feebleness, it has given to the public, that it must squander the resources of the nation for the sake of a wild-goose chase like this? As for the German envoy, he has gone to Jupiter for the benefit of a settled climate, and to drink the waters, not to annex a planet which, with the present indifferent means of communication, could be of no service to his country. This is the simple explanation, which anybody but an old owl like the Prime Minister—'
'Order, order!' shouted several voices, and the Speaker, rising gravely, called upon the honourable member to withdraw the epithet of 'old owl' as unparliamentary.
'I withdraw it,' said the member readily. 'I should have said, the gentleman so highly distinguished for youth and sanity, who has plunged us into oceans of disaster at home and abroad, and, not content with making the world we live in too hot to hold us, intends to make all the planets related to us in the Solar System too hot to hold us, as well. He has determined wantonly to attack a sphere with which we have always maintained the most cordial relations, to invade its territories, ravage its villages, and introduce the atrocious benefits of Maxim guns and Gladstone claret to the Selenites.'
'The honourable member observed a moment ago,' said the Prime Minister ironically, 'that there were no Selenites.'
'So I did,' returned the Opposition member unabashed. 'I am not ashamed of that. If the Moon has no inhabitants, you can have no commercial relations with the Moon; if it has, you can only demoralise an unsophisticated population. But I refuse to be held responsible for the opinions I expressed two minutes ago. I am a true Briton, and I absolutely decline to limit myself to a single contradiction, or to a dozen, in the course of a quarter of an hour's harangue.'
'We can quite believe that!' said the Home Secretary blandly. 'But till my honourable friend undertakes the management of affairs—before which may heaven remove me! ("Hear, hear!" from the honourable friend)—it is the business of competent statesmen to preserve relations friendly yet firm with foreign Powers terrestrial and celestial, and we shall do it, sir, if we have to annex the Pleiades (cheers). To illustrate by a single case the urgency of an action which the honourable member, in his own choice and happy phraseology, stigmatised as a wild-goose chase. If a Power which I will not specify is allowed to occupy that interesting orb which it is our hope to link closely with our own destinies in national union—what of the tides? (Cheers.) Sir, it has long been our proud boast that Britannia rules the waves. How much longer, I ask you, would she continue to rule them, if once the sway with which the studies of our childhood have made us all familiar passed into the hands of alien and perhaps hostile authorities? (Prolonged cheers.) Can we doubt that unfriendly arbitration would eventually turn away all the tides from our hitherto favoured island, and would divert the current of the Gulf Stream to Powers with whom our relations are strained, while punctually supplying us with icebergs and a temperature below zero from the Arctic Zone? Once hemmed in (or surrounded) by icebergs, what becomes of your carrying trade? Can we doubt that the trade-winds, too, would be mere playthings in the hands of a lunar colonial Government, inspired in every action by the malice of an unfriendly terrestrial Admiralty, and that, in short, by a terrible reversal of the national motto for which we feel so just a reverence, Britannia would cease to rule the waves, while the waves would rule Britannia?' (Loud and prolonged Ministerial cheers, during which another member of the Opposition rose and inquired the precise policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the Selenites.)
'I am instructed,' said a Cabinet Minister, 'to inform the honourable member that the Selenites have no existence. The step contemplated is therefore a mere peaceful annexation, and war and bloodshed, such as were pathetically alluded to by the honourable member for Putney, are out of the question. I may here bring clearly before the minds of the House the fact that, as the Moon is destitute of any atmosphere, scientific men have unanimously declared the impossibility of animal life upon it.'
'I should like to know,' said a member, rising below the gangway, 'whether the Government has given its attention to one point, namely, that as where there is no atmosphere there can be no inhabitants, where there can be no inhabitants there can be no representatives of rival terrestrial Powers. Unless the forces of a certain Power are capable of living without air, I fail to see that we have anything to apprehend from their occupation of the Moon. Russians, for instance, are not personally dear to me; and I should say that the more of them introduce civilisation to that extinct and uninhabitable sphere the better; but I utterly decline to go there myself, or to vote for sending even our convicts there, much less our able-bodied unemployed. I should like this little difficulty explained, for I confess that, to an unstatesmanlike mind, this debate seems to be verging on nonsense.' 'I had not thought it necessary, at this early stage of the debate,' observed the Prime Minister plaintively, 'to remind the House that no such difficulty as that present to the mind of the honourable member really exists. Has my honourable friend below the gangway never heard of a mental or a moral atmosphere? Is it not one which inevitably surrounds us, in the incandescent Soudan or in the chill abode of departed Selenites? What he regards as an insuperable drawback only furnishes me with another reason for urging the Bill upon you. Would it not be a disgrace to the British flag, ever the friend of civilisation and of virtue, to allow a perverted moral atmosphere to be introduced into an orb which has done so much for us in the way of tidal action, of artistic enjoyment, and, I will say, of amatory sentiment—(cheers)—as our satellite? Now what kind of moral atmosphere, I would ask, surrounds the average Russian? Of a mental atmosphere I will not speak—suffice it to say that that also is immeasurably inferior; but is it fitting for a nation like ours, in the van of progress, to suffer a moral atmosphere degraded, pernicious, and suffocating to circulate in regions to which we could furnish one so infinitely more salubrious?' (Prolonged Ministerial cheers.)
'The drivelling of politicians!' Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
It is said that the unexpected always happens, and therefore one may deplore without surprise the fact that schemes set on foot by a charitable government to relieve the necessities of their starving fellow-countrymen should frequently have a diametrically opposite effect. Into the Ministerial cheers that followed the Premier's last statement broke a sound outside the House, a sound as of much wailing, the howling of innumerable newsboys, the cries of 'Woe, woe!' the dirge of an empire qui s'en va! With those now familiar noises was mingled, but at a greater distance, a strain of martial music.
'What is this?' said the Prime Minister through the increasing tumult, with a vague idea of legions of the able-bodied unemployed coming in person to state their views on the debate. 'A riot?'
'No,' shouted the member below the gangway, promptly divining, by a prophetic instinct, the real nature of the case. 'It is a Revolution.'
'Heavens!' said the leader of the Opposition helplessly. 'I hope not. I had no idea!'
It was too true. The Army was advancing to the House—the broken-down, ragged, wasted remnant of an Army of Heroes. Sent forth, too late, to 'smash' Prester John, and relieve the Equator, they had all but overcome the Desert, and had only been defeated by space. Too many of them lay like the vanished legions of Cambyses, swathed by the sand and lulled by the music of the night wind. The remnant had returned of their own motion. It was an impressive spectacle, and the British public, finding no more appropriate action, cheered vociferously, while the newsboys, hundreds of them, continued to howl one against another. For the newspapers had got wind of Something, and it only remained for them to find out what the Something was. At present they had confused the facts—an accident which will happen sometimes with the best-regulated newspapers. But all of them had made shots at the truth, more or less un-veracious. 'The Banner' asserted that Sir Charles Dilke and the Democrat, arrayed in costumes of the beginning of the seventeenth century for effect, were parading the cellars under the House of Lords, after the manner of Guy Fawkes, laying trains of gunpowder and singing the well-known lines about the fifth of November. The 'Daily Pulpit,' on the other hand, declared that Lord Randolph Church-hill had set the Thames on fire with native genius and a lighted fusee, which, on the face of it, seemed so extremely probable, that all of the British public that was not cheering the Army's arrival rushed to the bridges to investigate the river. Delegates from the 'Holywell Street Gazette,' in the meantime, were madly interviewing everything and everybody with such celerity that the British public probably arrived at the truth of matters somewhere about that journal's fifth edition. Up to this time, unfortunately, the 'Gazette' had only been able to contradict flatly all the statements of all its contemporaries in language, to say the least of it, most emphatic. But at a national crisis one is nothing if not emphatic. And this was a national crisis. And while the crowd was rushing and swaying hither and thither, and the light-fingered brigade was taking advantage of the crowd's absent-mindedness to borrow its watches and pocket-handkerchiefs, the General, just returned from the Desert, with the demeanour of a second Cromwell, was marching on the House of Commons. In the House itself reigned confusion much worse confounded. There was no time for lengthy recrimination, for in another moment the General, alone, and with a mien of indignant resolution that struck a chill to the hearts of the most irrepressible members, was striding boldly up to the table. The Speaker looked at the Serjeant-at-Arms, and the Serjeant-at-Arms looked at the Speaker, but neither of them said a word. This was worse than Mr. Bradlaugh at his worst.
'Behold in this handful of broken and wasted men, returned, not by your order, but by mine, to their native shore,' exclaimed the General in a voice of stern thunder that reverberated through the building, 'the result of your imbecile, idiotic, ignominious, incomprehensible policy and of your absurd "Intelligence" and "Righteousness!" Call yourselves a Parliament? I tell you, your Constitution is rotten to the core. Do you think we are to shed our blood for you, to perish of famine, sword and pestilence, while you sit here, talking the most delirious nonsense that ever was talked since the Confusion of Tongues? You never have anything fresh to say; but there you are, and nothing stops you. If it was the Day of Judgment you would go on moving resolutions; and you have the insolence to maunder over your gallant band of heroes, sacrificed to a whim of party rancour or a struggle for place. We put you here to maintain law and order, to give justice to your fellow-countrymen, and you sit listening to your own melodious voices raving of the welfare of the nation, of Political Economy, Budgets, and Ballots; but so much as the meaning of true justice the bulk of you never guess. You, you turn Parliament into a club, and your ambition is satisfied by invitations to dinner. But we have borne enough, and marched enough; now you must march. We have trudged at your bidding thousands of weary miles, for an end you made impossible by your word-splitting cowardice. Your turn has come. The troops are in readiness; we are drilling the unemployed in event of civil war, and you had better look out. "Obey me,"' added the General, insensibly sliding into a popular quotation, '"and my nature's ile: disobey me, and it's still ile, but it's ile of vitriol."'
For the most part honourable members sat stunned and silent; but from the more rebellious came a few cries of 'Order!' 'Turn him out!' and the Speaker slowly rose. 'I would remind the gallant General of the Mutiny Act,' he said.
'An obsolete restriction of free contract,' said the General. He stamped his foot, and in a second a file of soldiers had appeared.
'Take away that bauble!' exclaimed the General to his aide-decamp in a severe and terrible tone, as he pointed to the mace. But as he gazed upon the venerable emblem his frown melted, and his eyes grew dim. For one instant the victorious warrior, the inexorable avenger of his country's wrongs, was the dreamy worshipper of Blue China, the aesthetic adorer of marquetry, and Chippendale.
'Take away that bauble,' he repeated in a low voice of ineffable sweetness, 'and deposit it in the upper compartment of my bureau. You know the spot. The bauble has a Chippendale feeling about it.'
Then his fortitude returned; he was once more the dauntless General, the saviour of society.
'A passing weakness,' he said, smiling sadly. '"Richard's himself again!"'
Into the lull that followed his words fell the familiar accents of the future Dictator, the Member for Woodstock, as he said in a cool aside to Mr. Goschen:
'The Hour has come.'
And Mr. Goschen, with his usual calm impartiality, replied:
'Yes, Randolph, and the Man!'
Through all the uproar Queen Mab and the Owl had looked on with breathless interest; but now, at a reiterated mandate from the General, the members were compelled to disperse, some furious, some alarmed, and all discomfited. There only remained one policeman, the General, and the Democrat to fight it out between themselves, and decide whether a European war would be advisable, or whether they should disband the army and devote themselves to Home Reform. But by this time Queen Mab and the Owl had had enough, for the din which still continued outside the windows was giving them neuralgia. They therefore left the House and flew away westward over the crowd, where differences of opinion, expressed in the British public's own graceful and forcible manner, had become the order of the day. They met Mr. Bradlaugh at a little distance, hurrying to the scene of combat with the air of 'Under which king, Bezonian?' and if the locality had not been so extremely noisy they could not have but turned back to see the fun. The Prime Minister had unaccountably (though not unexpectedly) disappeared from the arena, and his adherents were under the impression that he had been treacherously stowed away in the Tower or some subterranean dungeon. The fact was, that, as eloquence could have no effect on the House in its present state of delirium, the temptation to study Hittite inscriptions in their native home became too strong for him, and he was on his peaceful way to the shores of the Orontes and the ruins of Megiddo.
Shortly after, the Owl and the Fairy met the Bishop, who had heard of the catastrophe, and was torn by conflicting emotions; personal anxiety about his prospects being overclouded by the fear that the new Government might proceed to pass the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill immediately. 'And a man who marries his Deceased Wife's Sister,' he exclaimed pathetically to the air, 'may very soon end in the swamps of Rationalism!' Only Queen Mab and the Owl heard the words as they flew overhead. Next they met Mr. Matthew Arnold, smiling a happy smile, and concocting a 'childlike and bland' article for the 'Nineteenth Century' on the present crisis. So they flew on westward till, gaining a freer and fresher neighbourhood, they came upon a wide green lawn, and on the lawn three old acquaintances, the Poet, the Palæonto-theologist, and—wholly altered from the pale and dreamy boy of their recollection—Walter, the Professor's child.
The Professor was a man given to promptitude of speech and action, and, once awakened to the serious state of Walter's health, physical and mental, he had resolved, at whatever discomfort to himself, to check the boy's undue mental precocity and substitute for it mere physical vigour. He was content with no half-measures, and he sent the lad at once to a preparatory school for Eton. At Eton he knew Walter's brain would have a rest. The effect was miraculous. The boy, whom the Palaeonto-theologist had rashly invited to spend a holiday at his home, was a different creature. He had become sturdy and robust; he had forgotten his new religion of Dala, with his science primers, and could no more have composed a hymn to a fairy than he could have endured a false quantity. He had forgotten the Goona stones; he had forgotten the dates of the Kings of England. He said that bogies were all bosh; he said that Cardinal Wolsey was imprisoned in the Tower for thirteen years and wrote 'Robinson Crusoe' there, and that the Nile rose in Mungo Park. He had forgotten his father's instructions, and regarded birds, not as products of Evolution, but as things suitable to shy stones at, and to be treated with contempt, and catapults. He was incorrigible at Euclid, but he was excellent at cricket, and on this occasion he had fagged the Poet and the Palæonto-theologist to bowl to and field out for him. It was beyond human nature to expect them to enjoy it. The Poet was in the midst of a sublime stanza when he was peremptorily ordered to come and bowl, and he went dreamily and reluctantly, to be greeted with a further mandate of 'Look sharp there!' The Palaeonto-theologist was deep in an exhaustive inventory of the animals in Noah's Ark, and was discussing the probability of the Mammoth's having been one of its residents. If so, there came the knotty point of how Noah contrived to stow him and the Megatherium in comfortably, and whether they never wanted to do away with the other animals, in which case the Patriarch must have had stirring times. The Palæonto-theologist was just about to begin the grand chain of evidence in which he proves conclusively, from careful study of the original Hebrew manuscripts, and from examination of the soil of Mount Ararat, whose fossils are abraded to this day where the Ark rested on them, that the dimensions of the Ark were anything but what they are said to be, when Walter ordered him to come and field. There was no help for it; he went and fielded; 'he ran, he fell, he fielded well.'
While he and the Poet were thus occupied, Mab and the Owl rested on a great horse-chestnut and watched the game, and Mab, under the impression that the boy, at sight of her, would be filled with wonder and delight, slipped off her invisible cloak. For some time he was too much absorbed in 'crumping the Poet's slows,' as he said, to notice her; but at last, when the Poet and the Palæonto-theologist were utterly 'collared' (as Walter put it) and exhausted, and the perspiration stood thick on their intellectual foreheads, the advent of refreshments gained them a momentary respite. Walter attacked the fruit and cakes so vigorously that Queen Mab grew impatient, and descended to a lower branch of the huge tree, where at last the boy, raising his eyes, beheld her.
'Hi!' he cried, rushing indiscriminately at his companions. 'Get me a catapult, lower boy, I say! Stones, peashooter, anything. Look alive! Here goes!'
And he assailed the astonished Mab with a cricket-ball, and next 'it came to pleats,' as Mrs. Major O'Dowd said; and then he hurled a jampot and a fruit-knife. Fortunately for the fairy, who at the moment was too much astonished to move, his aim was rendered inaccurate by his excitement, and the missiles flew wide. The unhappy fags had started up, and the Poet, looking round bewildered, with a volley of desperate expletives un-uttered in his soul, caught sight of Mab.
'Celestial being!' he exclaimed rapturously. 'I again behold thee. Bright inmate! How did it run?'
'Bother your verses!' cried the boy with utter contempt. 'Shy at it, you duffer! Oh, what a Butterfly! Get her into the teapot. Blockhead!'
This last disdainfully to himself, for he had hurled the ancient and valuable teapot at Mab, who was flying to a higher branch, and the teapot had missed.
'Rash boy!' cried the Palæonto-theologist, shaking him angrily, 'you have broken my grandfather's teapot.'
'Run for the butterfly-net,' returned the boy unabashed. 'By George, I'll give you the jolliest licking!'
'Hi, there she goes! Seize her!' he shouted distractedly, and the unlucky Palæonto-theologist rushed after a butterfly-net, while Queen Mab, in unutterable indignation, rose slowly into the air, followed by the bewildered Owl, who had not had time to explain the boy's 'new departure' to himself on scientific principles. It was not till they were fully half a mile from the ill-starred spot that the Owl opened his beak to murmur, with an air of long-suffering melancholy but scientific delight, the word—
But Queen Mab, after this crowning insult, was fain to depart from Britain and renounce the higher civilisation. In the Councils of the New Democracy she had no place. Church and State abjured her: the rising generation needed no fairies, but was content with football and cricket, 'Treasure Island,' and the Latin Grammar. Education, Philosophy, and the Philistines had made of the island she once loved well a wilderness wherein no fairy might henceforth furl its wings.
She said 'good-bye' to the Owl, who shed one tear at parting, and to all the loyal birds, and went back to Samoa. But alas! Samoa, like Great Britain, was no longer any place for her. It was annexed: it was evangelised. The natives of it were going to church; they were going to Sunday School; they were going to heaven. They were sending their children to be educated at English colleges: they were translating Tennyson and Wesley's sermons, and learning the catechism, and reading the Testament in the original Greek, and wearing high-crowned hats and paper collars. There was no end of the things they were doing, and they had no time for fairies.
Queen Mab summoned her Court together in despair, and left for one of the Admiralty Islands. There, till the civilisation that dogs the steps of the old folk-lore has driven her thence—with constitutions, and microscopes, and a higher Pantheism that leaves the older Pantheism in the lurch, and other advantages of the nineteenth century—she is secure. We trust that she is also happy, and that the shadow of the approaching hour when she will be ultimately reduced by scientific theologians to a symbol of some deeper verity, the conception of men whose understandings could not cope, like ours, with abstract truth, is not cast heavily upon her path. For she knows well, now, that her day is over, that she is too tangible by far for a higher Pantheism, and that only among the heathen, in some obscure corner of Oceania, she is still permitted to linger on, till that lagging island too receives its chrism of intellect, and is caught up into the van of time.
The Owl is yet the wisest of the birds, though he has commenced a course of psychological research that, it is to be feared, if persisted in, will seriously injure his brain. For he said, only yesterday, that as he was conscious of external objects merely through the medium of his own ego, how was he to know whether or not his own ego was the sole ego in the universe—in fact, composed the universe? He wished to be informed whether he could possibly be nothing but an impression or somebody else's ego; and said finally, in a despondent tone, that it was hopeless to regard this mundane scheme as anything but a subjective phenomenon, mere Schein or maya, and that he gave it up.
But the Democrat, untroubled by transcendental scruples, goes on his way, rejoicing in the prospect of the Millennium, now close at hand. He does not much care what the universe is, but he knows what he wants to get out of it, and that is sufficient for his purpose. To be sure, he wants to get what no one ever did or will obtain, but his moments are impassioned, and his idea is a distraction, like another.