CHESTERTON: “THE NEW JERUSALEM”

September 24, 2006 at 12:24 am | Posted in Arabs, Art, Books, History, Islam, Israel, Judaica, Middle East, Palestine, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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The New Jerusalem

by G.K. Chesterton

The New Jerusalem

By Dale Ahlquist

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936

The New Jerusalem by G. K. Chesterton

During Christmas of 1919, G.K. Chesterton, left his home in Beaconsfield, and traveled backward through time to the place where Christmas began. His 1920 book, The New Jerusalem, is a philosophical travelogue of his journey across Europe, across the desert, to Palestine.

He says in fell in love with Jerusalem at first sight. He found there the whole history of the world, the place where east truly meets west. Interestingly enough, he arrived during an utterly rare event in that land: snow. Chesterton thought of it as “the triumph of Christmas.”

Chesterton calls Jerusalem, “the shoulder of the world,” a place that demonstrates the truth of “the hardest of all the hard sayings of supernaturalism: that there is such a thing as holy and unholy ground.” Because three different religions see it as holy ground, Jerusalem remains to this day a place of great conflict. However, if you follow that conflict in the news, you might get the impression that the conflict is merely political, or viciously racial. The news analysis never seems to mention the hard saying about holy ground and admit that there are religious questions at the heart of the conflict. Moreover, the news seems to leave out one of the religions: Christianity, the religion that founded western civilization, the religion that thought Jerusalem so important that thousands of people from kings to peasants died to protect that place though it was not their home, and spent hundreds of years trying to conquer and keep that town, and that when it lost that town, the thing known as Christendom began its long decline. That religion believed something that the other two did not: that the holiest spot in Jerusalem and in all the world was an empty grave.

But there are two other religious groups who lay claim to Jerusalem: the Moslems and
the Jews. Chesterton begins his discussion of the three religions by saying that it does
no harm to describe the differences between them as “irreconcilable.” He says,
“We have grown used to a habit of calling things by the wrong names and supporting
them by the wrong arguments; and even dong the right thing for the wrong cause.”
Obviously everyone one wants peace, but we fall into the lie of saying “Peace,
peace” when there is no peace.

Chesterton sees Islam as the Way of the Desert. The desert is a place of mirage and
loss of perspective, and Islam personifies that loss of perspective. It is a religion that
is an oversimplification of Christianity, a “monomania, in which everything is
neglected that one thing may be exaggerated.” The Moslem, says Chesterton, has one
thought: “the greatness of God which levels all men.” Its tautological cry that
God is God is an everlasting echo across the sandy wastes, because its God did not become
flesh.

The Jew presents a different kind of problem, different from anything else on earth:
the problem of being a chosen people combined with the problem of being an exile.
Chesterton says that being an exile “is the worst kind of bondage.” It means
being everywhere in the whole world except home, which is the only place to be. The whole
world is “the narrowest possible prison.” Chesterton’s solution is to let the
exile return home, to give the Jew back his homeland.

The most devastating accusation against G.K. Chesterton is that he was an anti-Semite.
It has been repeated so many times that not only do his enemies assume it be fact, so do
many of his friends. They ignore the fact that Chesterton was a great defender of the
Jews, from his schoolboy days to the day of his death. So why does the charge persist? Two
reasons. One, it is a convenient way to discredit Chesterton altogether. The charge itself
is as good as a guilty verdict; it suggests a fundamental flaw in Chesterton that must
therefore make all of his writing suddenly suspect, especially his defense of Christianity
in general and Catholicism in particular. Two, it ensures that Chesterton’s honest (and sympathetic) criticisms of the Jews will not be taken seriously, but will be immediately dismissed or ignored as anti-Semitic ravings.

Chesterton was puzzled by the charge of anti-Semitism in his own lifetime. He thought it strange that he could criticize everyone except the Jews. (And he did criticize everyone, most of all, himself. And his criticisms of the Jews are lightweight compared to what he said about Moslems, Buddhists, Christian Scientists, Germans, and, more
surprisingly, Americans.)

The main problem is that no one bothers examining the evidence. Much of the so-called
support for the charge is taken from this book. However, the quotations are carefully lifted out of context or else blatantly misquoted. There is not space to deal with all of them here, but in any case, it is a crime against Chesterton to characterize his statements as hostile or hateful.

His initial point is that it is absurd to say that Jews have only been oppressed and have never been the oppressor. His main argument about Jews being the oppressor is the consequences of usury in the Middle Ages. It is an issue no one ever wants to discuss. In
fact, no one ever dares to discuss the reason why Jews were historically unpopular in Europe. The problem is epitomized by the literary discussions of Shakespeare and Shylock that never mention the word “usury.” Chesterton insists that Shylock is not disliked because he is a Jew but because he is a usurer.

Chesterton is frank in his criticism of wealthy international banking firms run by Jewish families that have a huge influence on European political and commercial affairs in his own day. But again, his attack on them is not that they are Jewish but that they are too rich and too powerful and make for an unjust world. Chesterton is always a defender of the poor and always a gadfly of the rich. The chief character in the New Testament was much the same way.

But the real “Jewish Problem” as Chesterton calls it, is that the Jews were a people in exile, a people without a homeland. Patriotism is a natural virtue, always praised by Chesterton, but the Jew’s patriotism is for a land that he has lost and not for
the land in which he is an exile, no matter how well his host country treats him. It is important to note that he is talking about the Jew in Europe, not the Jew in America, where we are an entire nation of exiles, who have a loyalty to this country that is always mixed with a loyalty to our ethnic heritage and national origin. It was not that way in Europe, where a nation was a more organic thing, and the Jew, through no fault of his own, was always an outsider.

Chesterton was invited to Palestine by a group of Jewish Zionists who saw him as an
ally in their goal to achieve a Jewish homeland. They obviously did not consider him an
anti-Semite. And when he stood at the Mount of the Rock, where a Moslem mosque sits on the
site of the ancient temple of Israel, he could not escape the idea that the land belonged
to the Jews. Holy ground.

As with all of Chesterton’s writings, The New Jerusalem has a prophetic quality. But
certainly the most chilling prophecy is Chesterton’s warning that unless England (and
Europe) admits that there is a “Jewish Problem” rather than denying it or
ignoring it, there could be a violent outbreak against the Jews.

It is only through a willful misreading of this book that anyone can accuse Chesterton
of anti-Semitism. Or a non-reading of it. The latter is usually the case.

The New Jerusalem, by G. K. Chesterton

Title: The New Jerusalem Author: G. K. Chesterton

THE NEW JERUSALEM by G. K. CHESTERTON PREFACE

This book is only an uncomfortably large note-book; and it has the disadvantages,
whether or no it has the advantages, of notes that were taken on the spot. Owing to the
unexpected distraction of other duties, the notes were published in a newspaper as they
were made on the spot; and are now reproduced in a book as they were published in the
newspaper. The only exception refers to the last chapter on Zionism; and even there the
book only reverts to the original note-book. A difference of opinion, which divided the
writer of the book from the politics of the newspaper, prevented the complete publication
of that chapter in that place. I recognise that any expurgated form of it would have
falsified the proportions of my attempt to do justice in a very difficult problem; but on
re-reading even my own attempt in extenso, I am far from satisfied that the proper
proportions are kept.
I wrote these first
impressions in Palestine, where everybody recognises the Jew as something quite distinct
from the Englishman or the European; and where his unpopularity even moved me in the
direction of his defence. But I admit it was something of a shock to return to a
conventional atmosphere, in which that unpopularity is still actually denied or described
as mere persecution. It was more of a shock to realise that this most obscurantist of all
types of obscurantism is still sometimes regarded as a sort of liberalism. To talk of the
Jews always as the oppressed and never as the oppressors is simply absurd; it is as if men
pleaded for reasonable help for exiled French aristocrats or ruined Irish landlords, and
forgot that the French and Irish peasants had any wrongs at all. Moreover, the Jews in the
West do not seem so much concerned to ask, as I have done however tentatively here,
whether a larger and less local colonial development might really transfer the bulk of
Israel to a more independent basis, as simply to demand that Jews shall continue to
control other nations as well as their own. It might be worth while for England to take
risks to settle the Jewish problem; but not to take risks merely to unsettle the Arab
problem, and leave the Jewish problem unsolved.
For the rest, there
must under the circumstances be only too many mistakes; the historical conjectures, for
they can be no more, are founded on authorities sufficiently recognised for me to be
permitted to trust them; but I have never pretended to the knowledge necessary to check
them. I am aware that there are many disputed points; as for instance the connection of
Gerard, the fiery Templar, with the English town of Bideford. I am also aware that some
are sensitive about the spelling of words; and the very proof-readers will sometimes
revolt and
turn Mahomet into Mohammed. Upon this point, however, I am unrepentant; for I never could see the point of
altering a form with historic and even heroic fame in our own language, for the sake of
reproducing by an arrangement of our letters something that is really written in quite
different letters, and probably pronounced with quite a different accent. In speaking of
the great prophet I am therefore resolved to call him Mahomet; and am prepared, on further
provocation, to call him Mahound.

G. K. C. CONTENTS

CHAPTER I THE WAY OF THE CITIES CHAPTER II THE WAY OF THE DESERT CHAPTER III THE GATES
OF THE CITY CHAPTER IV THE PHILOSOPHY OF SIGHT-SEEING CHAPTER V THE STREETS OF THE CITY
CHAPTER VI THE GROUPS OF THE CITY CHAPTER VII THE SHADOW OF THE PROBLEM CHAPTER VIII THE
OTHER SIDE OF THE DESERT CHAPTER IX THE BATTLE WITH THE DRAGON CHAPTER X THE ENDLESS
EMPIRE CHAPTER XI THE MEANING OF THE CRUSADE CHAPTER XII THE FALL OF CHIVALRY CHAPTER XIII
THE PROBLEM OF ZIONISM CONCLUSION CHAPTER I THE WAY OF THE CITIES

It was in the season of Christmas that I came out of my little garden in that
“field of the beeches” between the Chilterns and the Thames, and began to walk
backwards through history to the place from which Christmas came. For it is often
necessary to walk backwards, as a man on the wrong road goes back to a sign-post to find
the right road. The modern man is more like a traveller who has forgotten the name of his
destination, and has to go back whence he came, even to find out where he is going. That
the world has lost its way few will now deny; and it did seem to me that I found at last a
sort of sign-post, of a singular and significant shape, and saw for a moment in my mind
the true map of the modern wanderings; but whether I shall be able to say anything of what
I saw, this story must show. I had said farewell to all my friends, or all those with my
own limited number of legs; and nothing living remained but a dog and a donkey. The reader
will learn with surprise that my first feeling of fellowship went out to the dog; I am
well aware that I lay open my guard to a lunge of wit. The dog is rather like a donkey, or
a small caricature of one, with a large black head and long black ears; but in the mood of
the moment there was rather a moral contrast than a pictorial parallel. For the dog did
indeed seem to stand for home and everything I was leaving behind me, with reluctance,
especially that season of the year. For one thing, he is named after Mr. Winkle, the
Christmas guest of Mr. Wardle; and there is indeed something Dickensian in his union of
domesticity with exuberance. He jumped about me, barking like a small battery, under the
impression that I was going for a walk; but I could not, alas, take him with me on a
stroll to Palestine. Incidentally, he would have been out of place; for dogs have not
their due honour in the East; and this seemed to sharpen my sense of my own domestic
sentinel as a sort of symbol of the West. On the other hand, the East is full of donkeys,
often very dignified donkeys; and when I turned my attention to the other grotesque
quadruped, with an even larger head and even longer ears, he seemed to take on a deep
shade of oriental mystery. I know not why these two absurd creatures tangled themselves up
so much in my train of thought, like dragons in an illuminated text; or ramped like
gargoyles on either side of the gateway of my adventure. But in truth they were in some
sense symbols of the West and the East after all. The dog’s very lawlessness is but an
extravagance of loyalty; he will go mad with joy three times on the same day, at going out
for a walk down the same road. The modern world is full of fantastic forms of animal
worship; a religion generally accompanied with human sacrifice. Yet we hear strangely
little of the real merits of animals; and one of them surely is this innocence of all
boredom; perhaps such simplicity is the absence of sin. I have some sense myself of the
sacred duty of surprise; and the need of seeing the old road as a new road. But I cannot
claim that whenever I go out for a walk with my family and friends, I rush in front of
them volleying vociferous shouts of happiness; or even leap up round them attempting to
lick their faces. It is in this power of beginning again with energy upon familiar and
homely things that the dog is really the eternal type of the Western civilisation. And the
donkey is really as different as is the Eastern civilisation. His very anarchy is a sort
of secrecy; his very revolt is a secret. He does not leap up because he wishes to share my
walk, but to follow his own way, as lonely as the wild ass of Scripture. My own beast of
burden supports the authority of Scripture by being a very wild ass. I have given him the
name of Trotsky, because he seldom trots, but either scampers or stands still. He scampers
all over the field when it is necessary to catch him, and stands still when it is really
urgent to drive him. He also breaks fences, eats vegetables, and fulfills other functions;
between delays and destructions he could ruin a really poor man in a day. I wish this fact
were more often remembered, in judging whether really poor men have really been cruel to
donkeys. But I assure the reader that I am not cruel to my donkey; the cruelty is all the
other way. He kicks the people who try to catch him; and again I am haunted by a dim human
parallel. For it seems to me that many of us, in just detestation of the dirty trick of
cruelty to animals, have really a great deal of patience with animals; more patience, I
fear, than many of us have with human beings. Suppose I had to go out and catch my
secretary in a field every morning; and suppose my secretary always kicked me by way of
beginning the day’s work; I wonder whether that day’s work would resume its normal course
as if nothing had happened. Nothing graver than these grotesque images and groping
speculations would come into my conscious mind just then, though at the back of it there
was an indescribable sense of regret and parting. All through my wanderings the dog
remained in my memory as a Dickensian and domestic emblem of England; and if it is
difficult to take a donkey seriously, it ought to be easiest, at least, for a man who is
going to Jerusalem. There was a cloud of Christmas weather on the great grey beech-woods
and the silver cross of the cross-roads. For the four roads that meet in the market-place
of my little town make one of the largest and simplest of such outlines on the map of
England; and the shape as it shines on that wooded chart always affects me in a singular
fashion. The sight of the cross-roads is in a true sense the sign of the cross. For it is
the sign of a truly Christian thing; that sharp combination of liberty and limitation
which we call choice. A man is entirely free to choose between right and left, or between
right and wrong. As I looked for the last time at the pale roads under the load of cloud,
I knew that our civilisation had indeed come to the cross-roads. As the paths grew
fainter, fading under the gathering shadow, I felt rather as if it had lost its way in a
forest. It was at the time when people were talking about some menace of the end of the
world, not apocalyptic but astronomical; and the cloud that covered the little town of
Beaconsfield might have fitted in with such a fancy. It faded, however, as I left the
place further behind; and in London the weather, though wet, was comparatively clear. It
was almost as if Beaconsfield had a domestic day of judgment, and an end of the world all
to itself. In a sense Beaconsfield has four ends of the world, for its four corners are
named “ends” after the four nearest towns. But I was concerned only with the one
called London End; and the very name of it was like a vision of some vain thing at once
ultimate and infinite. The very title of London End sounds like the other end of nowhere,
or (what is worse) of everywhere. It suggests a sort of derisive riddle; where does London
End? As I came up through the vast vague suburbs, it was this sense of London as a
shapeless and endless muddle that chiefly filled my mind. I seemed still to carry the
cloud with me; and when I looked up, I almost expected to see the chimney-pots as tangled
as the trees. And in truth if there was now no material fog, there was any amount of
mental and moral fog. The whole industrial world symbolised by London had reached a
curious complication and confusion, not easy to parallel in human history. It is not a
question of controversies, but rather of cross-purposes. As I went by Charing Cross my eye
caught a poster about Labour politics, with something about the threat of Direct Action
and a demand for Nationalisation. And quite apart from the merits of the case, it struck
me that after all the direct action is very indirect, and the thing demanded is many steps
away from the thing desired. It is all part of a sort of tangle, in which terms and things
cut across each other. The employers talk about “private enterprise,” as if
there were anything private about modern enterprise. Its combines are as big as many
commonwealths; and things advertised in large letters on the sky cannot plead the shy
privileges of privacy. Meanwhile the Labour men talk about the need to
“nationalise” the mines or the land, as if it were not the great difficulty in a
plutocracy to nationalise the Government, or even to nationalise the nation. The
Capitalists praise competition while they create monopoly; the Socialists urge a strike to
turn workmen into soldiers and state officials; which is logically a strike against
strikes. I merely mention it as an example of the bewildering inconsistency, and for no
controversial purpose. My own sympathies are with the Socialists; in so far that there is
something to be said for Socialism, and nothing to be said for Capitalism. But the point
is that when there is something to be said for one thing, it is now commonly said in
support of the opposite thing. Never since the mob called out, “Less bread! More
taxes!” in the nonsense story, has there been so truly nonsensical a situation as
that in which the strikers demand Government control and the Government denounces its own
control as anarchy. The mob howls before the palace gates, “Hateful tyrant, we demand
that you assume more despotic powers”; and the tyrant thunders from the balcony,
“Vile rebels, do you dare to suggest that my powers should be extended?” There
seems to be a little misunderstanding somewhere. In truth everything I saw told me that
there was a large misunderstanding everywhere; a misunderstanding amounting to a mess. And
as this was the last impression that London left on me, so it was the impression I carried
with me about the whole modern problem of Western civilisation, as a riddle to be read or
a knot to be untied. To untie it it is necessary to get hold of the right end of it, and
especially the other end of it. We must begin at the beginning; we must return to our
first origins in history, as we must return to our first principles in philosophy. We must
consider how we came to be doing what we do, and even saying what we say. As it is, the
very terms we use are either meaningless or something more than meaningless, inconsistent
even with themselves. This applies, for instance, to the talk of both sides in that Labour
controversy, which I merely took in passing, because it was the current controversy in
London when I left. The Capitalists say Bolshevism as one might say Boojum. It is merely a
mystical and imaginative word suggesting horror. But it might mean many things; including
some just and rational things. On the other hand, there could never be any meaning at all
in the phrase “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” It is like saying,
“the omnipotence of omnibus-conductors.” It is fairly obvious that if an
omnibus-conductor were omnipotent, he would probably prefer to conduct something else
besides an omnibus. Whatever its exponents mean, it is clearly something different from
what they say; and even this verbal inconsistency, this mere welter of words, is a sign of
the common confusion of thought. It is this sort of thing that made London seem like a
limbo of lost words, and possibly of lost wits. And it is here we find the value of what I
have called walking backwards through history. It is one of the rare merits of modern
mechanical travel that it enables us to compare widely different cities in rapid
succession. The stages of my own progress were the chief cities of separate countries; and
though more is lost in missing the countries, something is gained in so sharply
contrasting the capitals. And again it was one of the advantages of my own progress that
it was a progress backwards; that it happened, as I have said, to retrace the course of
history to older and older things; to Paris and to Rome and to Egypt, and almost, as it
were, to Eden. And finally it is one of the advantages of such a return that it did really
begin to clarify the confusion of names and notions in modern society. I first became
conscious of this when I went out of the Gare de Lyon and walked along a row of cafes,
until I saw again a distant column crowned with a dancing figure; the freedom that danced
over the fall of the Bastille. Here at least, I thought, is an origin and a standard, such
as I missed in the mere muddle of industrial opportunism. The modern industrial world is
not in the least democratic; but it is supposed to be democratic, or supposed to be trying
to be democratic. The ninth century, the time of the Norse invasions, was not saintly in
the sense of being filled with saints; it was filled with pirates and petty tyrants, and
the first feudal anarchy. But sanctity was the only ideal those barbarians had, when they
had any at all. And democracy is the only ideal the industrial millions have, when they
have any at all. Sanctity was the light of the Dark Ages, or if you will the dream of the
Dark Ages. And democracy is the dream of the dark age of industrialism; if it be very much
of a dream. It is this which prophets promise to achieve, and politicians pretend to
achieve, and poets sometimes desire to achieve, and sometimes only desire to desire. In a
word, an equal citizenship is quite the reverse of the reality in the modern world; but it
is still the ideal in the modern world. At any rate it has no other ideal. If the figure
that has alighted on the column in the Place de la Bastille be indeed the spirit of
liberty, it must see a million growths in a modern city to make it wish to fly back again
into heaven. But our secular society would not know what goddess to put on the pillar in
its place. As I looked at that sculptured goddess on that classical column, my mind went
back another historic stage, and I asked myself where this classic and republican ideal
came from, and the answer was equally clear. The place from which it had come was the
place to which I was going; Rome. And it was not until I had reached Rome that I
adequately realised the next great reality that simplified the whole story, and even this
particular part of the story. I know nothing more abruptly arresting than that sudden
steepness, as of streets scaling the sky, where stands, now cased in tile and brick and
stone, that small rock that rose and overshadowed the whole earth; the Capitol. Here in
the grey dawn of our history sat the strong Republic that set her foot upon the necks of
kings; and it was from here assuredly that the spirit of the Republic flew like an eagle
to alight on that far-off pillar in the country of the Gauls. For it ought to be
remembered (and it is too often forgotten) that if Paris inherited what may be called the
authority of Rome, it is equally true that Rome anticipated all that is sometimes called
the anarchy of Paris. The expansion of the Roman Empire was accompanied by a sort of
permanent Roman Revolution, fully as furious as the French Revolution. So long as the
Roman system was really strong, it was full of riots and mobs and democratic divisions;
and any number of Bastilles fell as the temple of the victories rose. But though I had but
a hurried glance at such things, there were among them some that further aided the
solution of the problem. I saw the larger achievements of the later Romans; and the lesson
that was still lacking was plainly there. I saw the Coliseum, a monument of that love of
looking on at athletic sports, which is noted as a sign of decadence in the Roman Empire
and of energy in the British Empire. I saw the Baths of Caracalla, witnessing to a cult of
cleanliness, adduced also to prove the luxury of Ancient Romans and the simplicity of
Anglo-Saxons. All it really proves either way is a love of washing on a large scale; which
might merely indicate that Caracalla, like other Emperors, was a lunatic. But indeed what
such things do indicate, if only indirectly, is something which is here much more
important. They indicate not only a sincerity in the public spirit, but a certain
smoothness in the public services. In a word, while there were many revolutions, there
were no strikes. The citizens were often rebels; but there were men who were not rebels,
because they were not citizens. The ancient world forced a number of people to do the work
of the world first, before it allowed more privileged people to fight about the government
of the world. The truth is trite enough, of course; it is in the single word Slavery,
which is not the name of a crime like Simony, but rather of a scheme like Socialism.
Sometimes very like Socialism. Only standing idly on one of those grassy mounds under one
of those broken arches, I suddenly saw the Labour problem of London, as I could not see it
in London. I do not mean that I saw which side was right, or what solution was reliable,
or any partisan points or repartees, or any practical details about practical
difficulties. I mean that I saw what it was; the thing itself and the whole thing. The
Labour problem of to-day stood up quite simply, like a peak at which a man looks back and
sees single and solid, though when he was walking over it it was a wilderness of rocks.
The Labour problem is the attempt to have the democracy of Paris without the slavery of
Rome. Between the Roman Republic and the French Republic something had happened. Whatever
else it was, it was the abandonment of the ancient and fundamental human habit of slavery;
the numbering of men for necessary labour as the normal foundation of society, even a
society in which citizens were free and equal. When the idea of equal citizenship returned
to the world, it found that world changed by a much more mysterious version of equality.
So that London, handing on the lamp from Paris as well as Rome, is faced with a new
problem touching the old practice of getting the work of the world done somehow. We have
now to assume not only that all citizens are equal, but that all men are citizens.
Capitalism attempted it by combining political equality with economic inequality; it
assumed the rich could always hire the poor. But Capitalism seems to me to have collapsed;
to be not only a discredited ethic but a bankrupt business. Whether we shall return to
pagan slavery, or to small property, or by guilds or otherwise get to work in a new way,
is not the question here. The question here was the one I asked myself standing on that
green mound beside the yellow river; and the answer to it lay ahead of me, along the road
that ran towards the rising sun. What made the difference? What was it that had happened
between the rise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the French Republic? Why did the
equal citizens of the first take it for granted that there would be slaves? Why did the
equal citizens of the second take it for granted that there would not be slaves? How had
this immemorial institution disappeared in the interval, so that nobody even dreamed of it
or suggested it? How was it that when equality returned, it was no longer the equality of
citizens, and had to be the equality of men? The answer is that this equality of men is in
more senses than one a mystery. It is a mystery which I pondered as I stood in the
corridor of the train going south from Rome. It was at daybreak, and (as it happened)
before any one else had risen, that I looked out of the long row of windows across a great
landscape grey with olives and still dark against the dawn. The dawn itself looked rather
like a row of wonderful windows; a line of low casements unshuttered and shining under the
eaves of cloud. There was a curious clarity about the sunrise; as if its sun might be made
of glass rather than gold. It was the first time I had seen so closely and covering such a
landscape the grey convolutions and hoary foliage of the olive; and all those twisted
trees went by like a dance of dragons in a dream. The rocking railway-train and the
vanishing railway-line seemed to be going due east, as if disappearing into the sun; and
save for the noise of the train there was no sound in all that grey and silver solitude;
not even the sound of a bird. Yet the plantations were mostly marked out in private plots
and bore every trace of the care of private owners. It is seldom, I confess, that I so
catch the world asleep, nor do I know why my answer should have come to me thus when I was
myself only half-awake. It is common in such a case to see some new signal or landmark;
but in my experience it is rather the things already grown familiar that suddenly grow
strange and significant. A million olives must have flashed by before I saw the first
olive; the first, so to speak, which really waved the olive branch. For I remembered at
last to what land I was going; and I knew the name of the magic which had made all those
peasants out of pagan slaves, and has presented to the modern world a new problem of
labour and liberty. It was as if I already saw against the clouds of daybreak that
mountain which takes its title from the olive: and standing half visible upon it, a figure
at which I did not look. _Ex oriente lux_; and I knew what dawn had broken over the ruins
of Rome. I have taken but this one text or label, out of a hundred such, the matter of
labour and liberty; and thought it worth while to trace it from one blatant and
bewildering yellow poster in the London streets to its high places in history. But it is
only one example of the way in which a thousand things grouped themselves and fell into
perspective as I passed farther and farther from them, and drew near the central origins
of civilisation. I do not say that I saw the solution; but I saw the problem. In the
litter of journalism and the chatter of politics, it is too much of a puzzle even to be a
problem. For instance, a friend of mine described his book, _The Path to Rome_, as a
journey through all Europe that the Faith had saved; and I might very well describe my own
journey as one through all Europe that the War has saved. The trail of the actual
fighting, of course, was awfully apparent everywhere; the plantations of pale crosses
seemed to crop up on every side like growing things; and the first French villages through
which I passed had heard in the distance, day and night, the guns of the long battle-line,
like the breaking of an endless exterior sea of night upon the very borderland of the
world. I felt it most as we passed the noble towers of Amiens, so near the high-water mark
of the high tide of barbarism, in that night of terror just before the turning of the
tide. For the truth which thus grew clearer with travel is rightly represented by the
metaphor of the artillery, as the thunder and surf of a sea beyond the world. Whatever
else the war was, it was like the resistance of something as solid as land, and sometimes
as patient and inert as land, against something as unstable as water, as weak as water;
but also as _strong_ as water, as strong as water is in a cataract or a flood. It was the
resistance of form to formlessness; that version or vision of it seemed to clarify itself
more and more as I went on. It was the defence of that same ancient enclosure in which
stood the broken columns of the Roman forum and the column in the Paris square, and of all
other such enclosures down to the domestic enclosures of my own dog and donkey. All had
the same design, the marking out of a square for the experiment of liberty; of the old
civic liberty or the later universal liberty. I knew, to take the domestic metaphor, that
the watchdog of the West had again proved too strong for the wild dogs of the Orient. For
the foes of such creative limits are chaos and old night, whether they are the Northern
barbarism that pitted tribal pride and brutal drill against the civic ideal of Paris, or
the Eastern barbarism that brought brigands out of the wilds of Asia to sit on the throne
of Byzantium. And as in the other case, what I saw was something simpler and larger than
all the disputed details about the war and the peace. A man may think it extraordinary, as
I do, that the natural dissolution of the artificial German Empire into smaller states
should have actually been prevented by its enemies, when it was already accepted in
despair by its friends. For we are now trying hard to hold the Prussian system together,
having hammered hard for four mortal years to burst it asunder. Or he may think exactly
the opposite; it makes no difference to the larger fact I have in mind. A man may think it
simply topsy-turvy, as I do, that we should clear the Turks out of Turkey, but leave them
in Constantinople. For that is driving the barbarians from their own rude tillage and
pasturage, and giving up to them our own European and Christian city; it is as if the
Romans annexed Parthia but surrendered Rome. But he may think exactly the opposite; and
the larger and simpler truth will still be there. It was that the weeds and wild things
had been everywhere breaking into our boundaries, climbing over the northern wall or
crawling through the eastern gate, so that the city would soon have been swallowed in the
jungle. And whether the lines had been redrawn logically or loosely, or particular things
cleared with consistency or caprice, a line has been drawn somewhere and a clearance has
been made somehow. The ancient plan of our city has been saved; a city at least capable of
containing citizens. I felt this in the chance relics of the war itself; I felt it twenty
times more in those older relics which even the war had never touched at all; I felt the
change as much in the changeless East as in the ever-changing West. I felt it when I
crossed another great square in Paris to look at a certain statue, which I had last seen
hung with crape and such garlands as we give the dead; but on whose plain pedestal nothing
now is left but the single word “Strasbourg.” I felt it when I saw words merely
scribbled with a pencil on a wall in a poor street in Brindisi; _Italia vittoriosa_. But I
felt it as much or even more in things infinitely more ancient and remote; in those
monuments like mountains that still seem to look down upon all modern things. For these
things were more than a trophy that had been raised, they were a palladium that had been
rescued. These were the things that had again been saved from chaos, as they were saved at
Salamis and Lepanto; and I knew what had saved them or at least in what formation they had
been saved. I knew that these scattered splendours of antiquity would hardly have
descended to us at all, to be endangered or delivered, if all that pagan world had not
crystallised into Christendom. Crossing seas as smooth as pavements inlaid with turquoise
and lapis lazuli, and relieved with marble mountains as clear and famous as marble
statues, it was easy to feel all that had been pure and radiant even in the long evening
of paganism; but that did not make me forget what strong stars had comforted the
inevitable night. The historical moral was the same whether these marble outlines were
merely “the isles” seen afar off like sunset clouds by the Hebrew prophets, or
were felt indeed as Hellas, the great archipelago of arts and arms praised by the Greek
poets; the historic heritage of both descended only to the Greek Fathers. In those wild
times and places, the thing that preserved both was the only thing that would have
permanently preserved either. It was but part of the same story when we passed the hoary
hills that held the primeval culture of Crete, and remembered that it may well have been
the first home of the Philistines. It mattered the less by now whether the pagans were
best represented by Poseidon the deity or by Dagon the demon. It mattered the less what
gods had blessed the Greeks in their youth and liberty; for I knew what god had blessed
them in their despair. I knew by what sign they had survived the long slavery under
Ottoman orientalism; and upon what name they had called in the darkness, when there was no
light but the horned moon of Mahound. If the glory of Greece has survived in some sense, I
knew why it had ever survived in any sense. Nor did this feeling of our fixed formation
fail me when I came to the very gates of Asia and of Africa; when there rose out of the
same blue seas the great harbour of Alexandria; where had shone the Pharos like the star
of Hellas, and where men had heard from the lips of Hypatia the last words of Plato. I
know the Christians tore Hypatia in pieces; but they did not tear Plato in pieces. The
wild men that rode behind Omar the Arab would have thought nothing of tearing every page
of Plato in pieces. For it is the nature of all this outer nomadic anarchy that it is
capable sooner or later of tearing anything and everything in pieces; it has no instinct
of preservation or of the permanent needs of men. Where it has passed the ruins remain
ruins and are not renewed; where it has been resisted and rolled back, the links of our
long history are never lost. As I went forward the vision of our own civilisation, in the
form in which it finally found unity, grew clearer and clearer; nor did I ever know it
more certainly than when I had left it behind. For the vision was that of a shape
appearing and reappearing among shapeless things; and it was a shape I knew. The
imagination was forced to rise into altitudes infinitely ancient and dizzy with distance,
as if into the cold colours of primeval dawns, or into the upper strata and dead spaces of
a daylight older than the sun and moon. But the character of that central clearance still
became clearer and clearer. And my memory turned again homewards; and I thought it was
like the vision of a man flying from Northolt, over that little market-place beside my own
door; who can see nothing below him but a waste as of grey forests, and the pale pattern
of a cross. CHAPTER II THE WAY OF THE DESERT It may truly be said, touching the type of
culture at least, that Egypt has an Egyptian lower class, a French middle class and an
English governing class. Anyhow it is true that the civilisations are stratified in this
formation, or superimposed in this order. It is the first impression produced by the
darkness and density of the bazaars, the line of the lighted cafes and the blaze of the
big hotels. But it contains a much deeper truth in all three cases, and especially in the
case of the French influence. It is indeed one of the first examples of what I mean by the
divisions of the West becoming clearer in the ancient centres of the East. It is often
said that we can only appreciate the work of England in a place like India. In so far as
this is true, it is quite equally true that we can only appreciate the work of France in a
place like Egypt. But this work is of a peculiar and even paradoxical kind. It is too
practical to be prominent, and so universal that it is unnoticed. The French view of the
Rights of Man is called visionary; but in practice it is very solid and even prosaic. The
French have a unique and successful trick by which French things are not accepted as
French. They are accepted as human. However many foreigners played football, they would
still consider football an English thing. But they do not consider fencing a French thing,
though all the terms of it are still French. If a Frenchman were to label his hostelry an
inn or a public house (probably written publicouse) we should think him a victim of rather
advanced Anglomania. But when an Englishman calls it an hotel, we feel no special dread of
him either as a dangerous foreigner or a dangerous lunatic. We need not recognise less
readily the value of this because our own distinction is different; especially as our own
distinction is being more distinguished. The spirit of the English is adventure; and it is
the essence of adventure that the adventurer does remain different from the strange tribes
or strange cities, which he studies because of their strangeness. He does not become like
them, as did some of the Germans, or persuade them to become like him, as do most of the
French. But whether we like or dislike this French capacity, or merely appreciate it
properly in its place, there can be no doubt about the cause of that capacity. The cause
is in the spirit that is so often regarded as wildly Utopian and unreal. The cause is in
the abstract creed of equality and citizenship; in the possession of a political
philosophy that appeals to all men. In truth men have never looked low enough for the
success of the French Revolution. They have assumed that it claims to be a sort of divine
and distant thing, and therefore have not noticed it in the nearest and most materialistic
things. They have watched its wavering in the senate and never seen it walking in the
streets; though it can be seen in the streets of Cairo as in the streets of Paris. In
Cairo a man thinks it English to go into a tea-shop; but he does not think it French to go
into a cafe. And the people who go to the tea-shop, the English officers and officials,
are stamped as English and also stamped as official. They are generally genial, they are
generally generous, but they have the detachment of a governing group and even a garrison.
They cannot be mistaken for human beings. The people going to a cafe are simply human
beings going to it because it is a human place. They have forgotten how much is French and
how much Egyptian in their civilisation; they simply think of it as civilisation. Now this
character of the older French culture must be grasped because it is the clue to many
things in the mystery of the modern East. I call it an old culture because as a matter of
fact it runs back to the Roman culture. In this respect the Gauls really continue the work
of the Romans, in making something official which comes at last to be regarded as
ordinary. And the great fundamental fact which is incessantly forgotten and ought to be
incessantly remembered, about these cities and provinces of the near East, is that they
were once as Roman as Gaul. There is a frivolous and fanciful debate I have often had with
a friend, about whether it is better to find one’s way or to lose it, to remember the road
or to forget it. I am so constituted as to be capable of losing my way in my own village
and almost in my own house. And I am prepared to maintain the privilege to be a poetic
one. In truth I am prepared to maintain that both attitudes are valuable, and should exist
side by side. And so my friend and I walk side by side along the ways of the world, he
being full of a rich and humane sentiment, because he remembers passing that way a few
hundred times since his childhood; while to me existence is a perpetual fairy-tale,
because I have forgotten all about it. The lamp-post which moves him to a tear of
reminiscence wrings from me a cry of astonishment; and the wall which to him is as
historic as a pyramid is to me as arresting and revolutionary as a barricade. Now in this,
I am glad to say, my temperament is very English; and the difference is very typical of
the two functions of the English and the French. But in practical politics the French have
a certain advantage in knowing where they are, and knowing it is where they have been
before. It is in the Roman Empire. The position of the English in Egypt or even in
Palestine is something of a paradox. The real English claim is never heard in England and
never uttered by Englishmen. We do indeed hear a number of false English claims, and other
English claims that are rather irrelevant than false. We hear pompous and hypocritical
suggestions, full of that which so often accompanies the sin of pride, the weakness of
provinciality. We hear suggestions that the English alone can establish anywhere a reign
of law, justice, mercy, purity and all the rest of it. We also hear franker and fairer
suggestions that the English have after all (as indeed they have) embarked on a spirited
and stirring adventure; and that there has been a real romance in the extending of the
British Empire in strange lands. But the real case for these semi-eastern occupations is
not that of extending the British Empire in strange lands. Rather it is restoring the
Roman Empire in familiar lands. It is not merely breaking out of Europe in the search for
something non-European. It would be much truer to call it putting Europe together again
after it had been broken. It may almost be said of the Britons, considered as the most
western of Europeans, that they have so completely forgotten their own history that they
have forgotten even their own rights. At any rate they have forgotten the claims that
could reasonably be made for them, but which they never think of making for themselves.
They have not the faintest notion, for instance, of why hundreds of years ago an English
saint was taken from Egypt, or why an English king was fighting in Palestine. They merely
have a vague idea that George of Cappadocia was naturalised much in the same way as George
of Hanover. They almost certainly suppose that Coeur de Lion in his wanderings happened to
meet the King of Egypt, as Captain Cook might happen to meet the King of the Cannibal
Islands. To understand the past connection of England with the near East, it is necessary
to understand something that lies behind Europe and even behind the Roman Empire;
something that can only be conveyed by the name of the Mediterranean. When people talk,
for instance, as if the Crusades were nothing more than an aggressive raid against Islam,
they seem to forget in the strangest way that Islam itself was only an aggressive raid
against the old and ordered civilisation in these parts. I do not say it in mere hostility
to the religion of Mahomet; as will be apparent later, I am fully conscious of many values
and virtues in it; but certainly it was Islam that was the invasion and Christendom that
was the thing invaded. An Arabian gentleman found riding on the road to Paris or hammering
on the gates of Vienna can hardly complain that we have sought him out in his simple tent
in the desert. The conqueror of Sicily and Spain cannot reasonably express surprise at
being an object of morbid curiosity to the people of Italy and France. In the city of
Cairo the stranger feels many of the Moslem merits, but he certainly feels the
militaristic character of the Moslem glories. The crown of the city is the citadel, built
by the great Saladin but of the spoils of ancient Egyptian architecture; and that fact is
in its turn very symbolical. The man was a great conqueror, but he certainly behaved like
an invader; he spoiled the Egyptians. He broke the old temples and tombs and built his own
out of fragments. Nor is this the only respect in which the citadel of Cairo is set high
like a sign in heaven. The sign is also significant because from this superb height the
traveller first beholds the desert, out of which the great conquest came. Every one has
heard the great story of the Greeks who cried aloud in triumph when they saw the sea afar
off; but it is a stranger experience to see the earth afar off. And few of us, strictly
speaking, have ever seen the earth at all. In cultivated countries it is always clad, as
it were, in green garments. The first sight of the desert is like the sight of a naked
giant in the distance. The image is all the more natural because of the particular
formation which it takes, at least as it borders upon the fields of Egypt, and as it is
seen from the high places of Cairo. Those who have seen the desert only in pictures
generally think of it as entirely flat. But this edge of it at least stands up on the
horizon, as a line of wrinkled and hollow hills like the scalps of bald men; or worse, of
bald women. For it is impossible not to think of such repulsive images, in spite of real
sublimity of the call to the imagination. There is something curiously hostile and inhuman
about the first appearance of the motionless surges of that dry and dreadful sea.
Afterwards, if the traveller has happened to linger here and there in the outposts of the
desert, has seen the British camp at Kantara or the graceful French garden town of
Ismalia, he comes to take the desert as a background, and sometimes a beautiful
background; a mirror of mighty reflections and changing colours almost as strange as the
colours of the sea. But when it is first seen abutting, and as it were, advancing, upon
the fields and gardens of humanity, then it looks indeed like an enemy, or a long line of
enemies; like a line of tawny wild beasts thus halted with their heads lifted. It is the
feeling that such vain and sterile sand can yet make itself into something like a mountain
range; and the traveller remembers all the tragedies of the desert, when he lifts up his
eyes to those accursed hills, from whence no help can come. But this is only a first
glimpse from a city set among green fields; and is concerned rather with what the desert
has been in its relation to men than with what the desert is in itself. When the mind has
grown used to its monotony, a curious change takes place which I have never seen noted or
explained by the students of mental science. It may sound strange to say that monotony of
its nature becomes novelty. But if any one will try the common experiment of saying some
ordinary word such as “moon” or “man” about fifty times, he will find
that the expression has become extraordinary by sheer repetition. A man has become a
strange animal with a name as queer as that of the gnu; and the moon something monstrous
like the moon-calf. Something of this magic of monotony is effected by the monotony of
deserts; and the traveller feels as if he had entered into a secret, and was looking at
everything from another side. Something of this simplification appears, I think, in the
religions of the desert, especially in the religion of Islam. It explains something of the
super-human hopes that fill the desert prophets concerning the future; it explains
something also about their barbarous indifference to the past. We think of the desert and
its stones as old; but in one sense they are unnaturally new. They are unused, and perhaps
unusable. They might be the raw material of a world; only they are so raw as to be
rejected. It is not easy to define this quality of something primitive, something not
mature enough to be fruitful. Indeed there is a hard simplicity about many Eastern things
that is as much crude as archaic. A palm-tree is very like a tree drawn by a child–or by
a very futurist artist. Even a pyramid is like a mathematical figure drawn by a
schoolmaster teaching children; and its very impressiveness is that of an ultimate
Platonic abstraction. There is something curiously simple about the shape in which these
colossal crystals of the ancient sands have been cast. It is only when we have felt
something of this element, not only of simplicity, but of crudity, and even in a sense of
novelty, that we can begin to understand both the immensity and the insufficiency of that
power that came out of the desert, the great religion of Mahomet. In the red circle of the
desert, in the dark and secret place, the prophet discovers the obvious things. I do not
say it merely as a sneer, for obvious things are very easily forgotten; and indeed every
high civilisation decays by forgetting obvious things. But it is true that in such a
solitude men tend to take very simple ideas as if they were entirely new ideas. There is a
love of concentration which comes from the lack of comparison. The lonely man looking at
the lonely palm-tree does see the elementary truths about the palm-tree; and the
elementary truths are very essential. Thus he does see that though the palm-tree may be a
very simple design, it was not he who designed it. It may look like a tree drawn by a
child, but he is not the child who could draw it. He has not command of that magic slate
on which the pictures can come to life, or of that magic green chalk of which the green
lines can grow. He sees at once that a power is at work in whose presence he and the
palm-tree are alike little children. In other words, he is intelligent enough to believe
in God; and the Moslem, the man of the desert, is intelligent enough to believe in God.
But his belief is lacking in that humane complexity that comes from comparison. The man
looking at the palm-tree does realise the simple fact that God made it; while the man
looking at the lamp-post in a large modern city can be persuaded by a hundred sophistical
circumlocutions that he made it himself. But the man in the desert cannot compare the
palm-tree with the lamp-post, or even with all the other trees which may be better worth
looking at than the lamp-post. Hence his religion, though true as far as it goes, has not
the variety and vitality of the churches that were designed by men walking in the woods
and orchards. I speak here of the Moslem type of religion and not of the oriental type of
ornament, which is much older than the Moslem type of religion. But even the oriental type
of ornament, admirable as it often is, is to the ornament of a gothic cathedral what a
fossil forest is to a forest full of birds. In short, the man of the desert tends to
simplify too much, and to take his first truth for the last truth. And as it is with
religion so it is with morality. He who believes in the existence of God believes in the
equality of man. And it has been one of the merits of the Moslem faith that it felt men as
men, and was not incapable of welcoming men of many different races. But here again it was
so hard and crude that its very equality was like a desert rather than a field. Its very
humanity was inhuman. But though this human sentiment is rather rudimentary it is very
real. When a man in the desert meets another man, he is really a man; the proverbial
two-legged fowl without feathers. He is an absolute and elementary shape, like the
palm-tree or the pyramid. The discoverer does not pause to consider through what
gradations he may have been evolved from a camel. When the man is a mere dot in the
distance, the other man does not shout at him and ask whether he had a university
education, or whether he is quite sure he is purely Teutonic and not Celtic or Iberian. A
man is a man; and a man is a very important thing. One thing redeems the Moslem morality
which can be set over against a mountain of crimes; a considerable deposit of common
sense. And the first fact of common sense is the common bond of men. There is indeed in
the Moslem character also a deep and most dangerous potentiality of fanaticism of the
menace of which something may be said later. Fanaticism sounds like the flat contrary of
common sense; yet curiously enough they are both sides of the same thing. The fanatic of
the desert is dangerous precisely because he does take his faith as a fact, and not even
as a truth in our more transcendental sense. When he does take up a mystical idea he takes
it as he takes the man or the palm-tree; that is, quite literally. When he does
distinguish somebody not as a man but as a Moslem, then he divides the Moslem from the
non-Moslem exactly as he divides the man from the camel. But even then he recognises the
equality of men in the sense of the equality of Moslems. He does not, for instance,
complicate his conscience with any sham science about races. In this he has something like
an intellectual advantage over the Jew, who is generally so much his intellectual
superior; and even in some ways his spiritual superior. The Jew has far more moral
imagination and sympathy with the subtler ideals of the soul. For instance, it is said
that many Jews disbelieve in a future life; but if they did believe in a future life, it
would be something more worthy of the genius of Isaiah and Spinoza. The Moslem Paradise is
a very Earthly Paradise. But with all their fine apprehensions, the Jews suffer from one
heavy calamity; that of being a Chosen Race. It is the vice of any patriotism or religion
depending on race that the individual is himself the thing to be worshipped; the
individual is his own ideal, and even his own idol. This fancy was fatal to the Germans;
it is fatal to the Anglo-Saxons, whenever any of them forswear the glorious name of
Englishmen and Americans to fall into that forlorn description. This is not so when the
nation is felt as a noble abstraction, of which the individual is proud in the abstract. A
Frenchman is proud of France, and therefore may think himself unworthy of France. But a
German is proud of being a German; and he cannot be too unworthy to be a German when he is
a German. In short, mere family pride flatters every member of the family; it produced the
arrogance of the Germans, and it is capable of producing a much subtler kind of arrogance
in the Jews. From this particular sort of self-deception the more savage man of the desert
is free. If he is not considering somebody as a Moslem, he will consider him as a man. At
the price of something like barbarism, he has at least been saved from ethnology. But here
again the obvious is a limit as well as a light to him. It does not permit, for instance,
anything fine or subtle in the sentiment of sex. Islam asserts admirably the equality of
men; but it is the equality of males. No one can deny that a noble dignity is possible
even to the poorest, who has seen the Arabs coming in from the desert to the cities of
Palestine or Egypt. No one can deny that men whose rags are dropping off their backs can
bear themselves in a way befitting kings or prophets in the great stories of Scripture. No
one can be surprised that so many fine artists have delighted to draw such models on the
spot, and to make realistic studies for illustrations to the Old and New Testaments. On
the road to Cairo one may see twenty groups exactly like that of the Holy Family in the
pictures of the Flight into Egypt; with only one difference. The man is riding on the ass.
In the East it is the male who is dignified and even ceremonial. Possibly that is why he
wears skirts. I pointed out long ago that petticoats, which some regard as a garb of
humiliation for women are really regarded as the only garb of magnificence for men, when
they wish to be something more than men. They are worn by kings, by priests, and by
judges. The male Moslem, especially in his own family, is the king and the priest and the
judge. I do not mean merely that he is the master, as many would say of the male in many
Western societies, especially simple and self-governing societies. I mean something more;
I mean that he has not only the kingdom and the power but the glory, and even as it were
the glamour. I mean he has not only the rough leadership that we often give to the man,
but the special sort of social beauty and stateliness that we generally expect only of the
woman. What we mean when we say that an ambitious man wants to have a fine woman at the
head of the dinner-table, that the Moslem world really means when it expects to see a fine
man at the head of the house. Even in the street he is the peacock, coloured much more
splendidly than the peahen. Even when clad in comparatively sober and partly European
costume, as outside the cafes of Cairo and the great cities, he exhibits this indefinable
character not merely of dignity but of pomp. It can be traced even in the tarbouch, the
minimum of Turkish attire worn by all the commercial classes; the thing more commonly
called in England a fez. The fez is not a sort of smoking cap. It is a tower of scarlet
often tall enough to be the head-dress of a priest. And it is a hat one cannot take off to
a lady. This fact is familiar enough in talk about Moslem and oriental life generally; but
I only repeat it in order to refer it back to the same simplification which is the
advantage and disadvantage of the philosophy of the desert. Chivalry is not an obvious
idea. It is not as plain as a pike-staff or as a palm-tree. It is a delicate balance
between the sexes which gives the rarest and most poetic kind of pleasure to those who can
strike it. But it is not self-evident to a savage merely because he is also a sane man. It
often seems to him as much a part of his own coarse common sense that all the fame and fun
should go to the sex that is stronger and less tied, as that all the authority should go
to the parents rather than the children. Pity for weakness he can understand; and the
Moslem is quite capable of giving royal alms to a cripple or an orphan. But reverence for
weakness is to him simply meaningless. It is a mystical idea that is to him no more than a
mystery. But the same is true touching what may be called the lighter side of the more
civilised sentiment. This hard and literal view of life gives no place for that slight
element of a magnanimous sort of play-acting, which has run through all our tales of true
lovers in the West. Wherever there is chivalry there is courtesy; and wherever there is
courtesy there is comedy. There is no comedy in the desert. Another quite logical and
consistent element, in the very logical and consistent creed we call Mahometanism, is the
element that we call Vandalism. Since such few and obvious things alone are vital, and
since a half-artistic half-antiquarian affection is not one of these things, and cannot be
called obvious, it is largely left out. It is very difficult to say in a few well-chosen
words exactly what is now the use of the Pyramids. Therefore Saladin, the great Saracen
warrior, simply stripped the Pyramids to build a military fortress on the heights of
Cairo. It is a little difficult to define exactly what is a man’s duty to the Sphinx; and
therefore the Mamelukes used it entirely as a target. There was little in them of that
double feeling, full of pathos and irony, which divided the hearts of the primitive
Christians in presence of the great pagan literature and art. This is not concerned with
brutal outbreaks of revenge which may be found on both sides, or with chivalrous caprices
of toleration, which may also be found on both sides; it is concerned with the inmost
mentality of the two religions, which must be understood in order to do justice to either.
The Moslem mind never tended to that mystical mode of “loving yet leaving” with
which Augustine cried aloud upon the ancient beauty, or Dante said farewell to Virgil when
he left him in the limbo of the pagans. The Moslem traditions, unlike the medieval
legends, do not suggest the image of a knight who kissed Venus before he killed her. We
see in all the Christian ages this combination which is not a compromise, but rather a
complexity made by two contrary enthusiasms; as when the Dark Ages copied out the pagan
poems while denying the pagan legends; or when the popes of the Renascence imitated the
Greek temples while denying the Greek gods. This high inconsistency is inconsistent with
Islam. Islam, as I have said, takes everything literally, and does not know how to play
with anything. And the cause of the contrast is the historical cause of which we must be
conscious in all studies of this kind. The Christian Church had from a very early date the
idea of reconstructing a whole civilisation, and even a complex civilisation. It was the
attempt to make a new balance, which differed from the old balance of the stoics of Rome;
but which could not afford to lose its balance any more than they. It differed because the
old system was one of many religions under one government, while the new was one of many
governments under one religion. But the idea of variety in unity remained though it was in
a sense reversed. A historical instinct made the men of the new Europe try hard to find a
place for everything in the system, however much might be denied to the individual.
Christians might lose everything, but Christendom, if possible, must not lose anything.
The very nature of Islam, even at its best, was quite different from this. Nobody
supposed, even subconsciously, that Mahomet meant to restore ancient Babylon as
medievalism vaguely sought to restore ancient Rome. Nobody thought that the builders of
the Mosque of Omar had looked at the Pyramids as the builders of St. Peter’s might have
looked at the Parthenon. Islam began at the beginning; it was content with the idea that
it had a great truth; as indeed it had a colossal truth. It was so huge a truth that it
was hard to see it was a half-truth. Islam was a movement; that is why it has ceased to
move. For a movement can only be a mood. It may be a very necessary movement arising from
a very noble mood, but sooner or later it must find its level in a larger philosophy, and
be balanced against other things. Islam was a reaction towards simplicity; it was a
violent simplification, which turned out to be an over-simplification. Stevenson has
somewhere one of his perfectly picked phrases for an empty-minded man; that he has not one
thought to rub against another while he waits for a train. The Moslem had one thought, and
that a most vital one; the greatness of God which levels all men. But the Moslem had not
one thought to rub against another, because he really had not another. It is the friction
of two spiritual things, of tradition and invention, or of substance and symbol, from
which the mind takes fire. The creeds condemned as complex have something like the secret
of sex; they can breed thoughts. An idealistic intellectual remarked recently that there
were a great many things in the creed for which he had no use. He might just as well have
said that there were a great many things in the _Encyclopedia Britannica_ for which he had
no use. It would probably have occurred to him that the work in question was meant for
humanity and not for him. But even in the case of the _Encyclopedia_, it will often be
found a stimulating exercise to read two articles on two widely different subjects and
note where they touch. In fact there is really a great deal to be said for the man in
_Pickwick_ who read first about China and then about metaphysics and combined his
information. But however this may be in the famous case of Chinese metaphysics, it is this
which is chiefly lacking in Arabian metaphysics. They suffer, as I have said of the
palm-tree in the desert, from a lack of the vitality that comes from complexity, and of
the complexity that comes from comparison. They suffer from having been in a single
movement in a single direction; from having begun as a mood and ended rather as a mode,
that is a mere custom or fashion. But any modern Christian thus criticising the Moslem
movement will do well to criticise himself and his world at the same time. For in truth
most modern things are mere movements in the same sense as the Moslem movement. They are
at best fashions, in which one thing is exaggerated because it has been neglected. They
are at worst mere monomanias, in which everything is neglected that one thing may be
exaggerated. Good or bad, they are alike movements which in their nature can only move for
a certain distance and then stop. Feminism, for instance, is in its nature a movement, and
one that must stop somewhere. But the Suffragettes no more established a philosophy of the
sexes by their feminism than the Arabs did by their anti-feminism. A woman can find her
home on the hustings even less than in the harem; but such movements do not really attempt
to find a final home for anybody or anything. Bolshevism is a movement; and in my opinion
a very natural and just movement considered as a revolt against the crude cruelty of
Capitalism. But when we find the Bolshevists making a rule that the drama “must
encourage the proletarian spirit,” it is obvious that those who say so are not only
maniacs but, what is more to the point here, are monomaniacs. Imagine having to apply that
principle, let us say, to “Charley’s Aunt.” None of these things seek to
establish a complete philosophy such as Aquinas founded on Aristotle. The only two modern
men who attempted it were Comte and Herbert Spencer. Spencer, I think, was too small a man
to do it at all; and Comte was a great enough man to show how difficult it is to do it in
modern times. None of these movements can do anything but move; they have not discovered
where to rest. And this fact brings us back to the man of the desert, who moves and does
not rest; but who has many superiorities to the restless races of the industrial city. Men
who have been in the Manchester movement in 1860 and the Fabian movement in 1880 cannot
sneer at a religious mood that lasted for eight hundred years. And those who tolerate the
degraded homelessness of the slums cannot despise the much more dignified homelessness of
the desert. Nevertheless, the thing is a homelessness and not a home; and there runs
through it all the note of the nomad. The Moslem takes literally, as he takes everything,
the truth that here we have no abiding city. He can see no meaning in the mysticism of
materialism, the sacramental idea that a French poet expressed so nobly, when he said that
our earthly city is the body of the city of God. He has no true notion of building a
house, or in our Western sense of recognising the kindred points of heaven and home. Even
the exception to this rule is an exception at once terrible and touching. There is one
house that the Moslem does build like a house and even a home, often with walls and roof
and door; as square as a cottage, as solid as a fort. And that is his grave. A Moslem
cemetery is literally like a little village. It is a village, as the saying goes, that one
would not care to walk through at night. There is something singularly creepy about so
strange a street of houses, each with a door that might be opened by a dead man. But in a
less fanciful sense, there is about it something profoundly pathetic and human. Here
indeed is the sailor home from sea, in the only port he will consent to call his home;
here at last the nomad confesses the common need of men. But even about this there broods
the presence of the desert and its dry bones of reason. He will accept nothing between a
tent and a tomb. The philosophy of the desert can only begin over again. It cannot grow;
it cannot have what Protestants call progress and Catholics call development. There is
death and hell in the desert when it does begin over again. There is always the
possibility that a new prophet will rediscover the old truth; will find again written on
the red sands the secret of the obvious. But it will always be the same secret, for which
thousands of these simple and serious and splendidly valiant men will die. The highest
message of Mahomet is a piece of divine tautology. The very cry that God is God is a
repetition of words, like the repetitions of wide sands and rolling skies. The very phrase
is like an everlasting echo, that can never cease to say the same sacred word; and when I
saw afterwards the mightiest and most magnificent of all the mosques of that land, I found
that its inscriptions had the same character of a deliberate and defiant sameness. The
ancient Arabic alphabet and script is itself at once so elegant and so exact that it can
be used as a fixed ornament, like the egg and dart pattern or the Greek key. It is as if
we could make a heraldry of handwriting, or cover a wall-paper with signatures. But the
literary style is as recurrent as the decorative style; perhaps that is why it can be used
as a decorative style. Phrases are repeated again and again like ornamental stars or
flowers. Many modern people, for example, imagine that the Athanasian Creed is full of
vain repetitions; but that is because people are too lazy to listen to it, or not lucid
enough to understand it. The same terms are used throughout, as they are in a proposition
of Euclid. But the steps are all as differentiated and progressive as in a proposition of
Euclid. But in the inscriptions of the Mosque whole sentences seem to occur, not like the
steps of an argument, but rather like the chorus of a song. This is the impression
everywhere produced by this spirit of the sandy wastes; this is the voice of the desert,
though the muezzin cries from the high turrets of the city. Indeed one is driven to
repeating oneself about the repetition, so overpowering is the impression of the tall
horizons of those tremendous plains, brooding upon the soul with all the solemn weight of
the self-evident. There is indeed another aspect of the desert, yet more ancient and
momentous, of which I may speak; but here I only deal with its effect on this great
religion of simplicity. For it is through the atmosphere of that religion that a man makes
his way, as so many pilgrims have done, to the goal of this pilgrimage. Also this
particular aspect remained the more sharply in my memory because of the suddenness with
which I escaped from it. I had not expected the contrast; and it may have coloured all my
after experiences. I descended from the desert train at Ludd, which had all the look of a
large camp in the desert; appropriately enough perhaps, for it is the traditional
birthplace of the soldier St. George. At the moment, however, there was nothing rousing or
romantic about its appearance. It was perhaps unusually dreary; for heavy rain had fallen;
and the water stood about in what it is easier to call large puddles than anything so
poetic as small pools. A motor car sent by friends had halted beside the platform; I got
into it with a not unusual vagueness about where I was going; and it wound its way up miry
paths to a more rolling stretch of country with patches of cactus here and there. And then
with a curious abruptness I became conscious that the whole huge desert had vanished, and
I was in a new land. The dark red plains had rolled away like an enormous nightmare; and I
found myself in a fresh and exceedingly pleasant dream. I know it will seem fanciful; but
for a moment I really felt as if I had come home; or rather to that home behind home for
which we are all homesick. The lost memory of it is the life at once of faith and of
fairy-tale. Groves glowing with oranges rose behind hedges of grotesque cactus or prickly
pear; which really looked like green dragons guarding the golden apples of the Hesperides.
On each side of the road were such flowers as I had never seen before under the sun; for
indeed they seemed to have the sun in them rather than the sun on them. Clusters and
crowds of crimson anemones were of a red not to be symbolised in blood or wine; but rather
in the red glass that glows in the window dedicated to a martyr. Only in a wild Eastern
tale could one picture a pilgrim or traveller finding such a garden in the desert; and I
thought of the oldest tale of all and the garden from which we came. But there was
something in it yet more subtle; which there must be in the impression of any earthly
paradise. It is vital to such a dream that things familiar should be mixed with things
fantastic; as when an actual dream is filled with the faces of old friends. Sparrows,
which seem to be the same all over the world, were darting hither and thither among the
flowers; and I had the fancy that they were the souls of the town-sparrows of London and
the smoky cities, and now gone wherever the good sparrows go. And a little way up the road
before me, on the hill between the cactus hedges, I saw a grey donkey trotting; and I
could almost have sworn that it was the donkey I had left at home. He was trotting on
ahead of me, and the outline of his erect and elfish ears was dark against the sky. He was
evidently going somewhere with great determination; and I thought I knew to what
appropriate place he was going, and that it was my fate to follow him like a moving omen.
I lost sight of him later, for I had to complete the journey by train; but the train
followed the same direction, which was up steeper and steeper hills. I began to realise
more clearly where I was; and to know that the garden in the desert that had bloomed so
suddenly about me had borne for many desert wanderers the name of the promised land. As
the rocks rose higher and higher on every side, and hung over us like terrible and
tangible clouds, I saw in the dim grass of the slopes below them something I had never
seen before. It was a rainbow fallen upon the earth, with no part of it against the sky,
but only the grasses and the flowers shining through its fine shades of fiery colour. I
thought this also was like an omen; and in such a mood of idle mysticism there fell on me
another accident which I was content to count for a third. For when the train stopped at
last in the rain, and there was no other vehicle for the last lap of the journey, a very
courteous officer, an army surgeon, gave me a seat in an ambulance wagon; and it was under
the shield of the red cross that I entered Jerusalem. For suddenly, between a post of the
wagon and a wrack of rainy cloud I saw it, uplifted and withdrawn under all the arching
heavens of its history, alone with its benediction and its blasphemy, the city that is set
upon a hill, and cannot be hid. CHAPTER III THE GATES OF THE CITY The men I met coming
from Jerusalem reported all sorts of contradictory impressions; and yet my own impression
contradicted them all. Their impressions were doubtless as true as mine; but I describe my
own because it is true, and because I think it points to a neglected truth about the real
Jerusalem. I need not say I did not expect the real Jerusalem to be the New Jerusalem; a
city of charity and peace, any more than a city of chrysolite and pearl. I might more
reasonably have expected an austere and ascetic place, oppressed with the weight of its
destiny, with no inns except monasteries, and these sealed with the terrible silence of
the Trappists; an awful city where men speak by signs in the street. I did not need the
numberless jokes about Jerusalem to-day, to warn me against expecting this; anyhow I did
not expect it, and certainly I did not find it. But neither did I find what I was much
more inclined to expect; something at the other extreme. Many reports had led me to look
for a truly cosmopolitan town, that is a truly conquered town. I looked for a place like
Cairo, containing indeed old and interesting things, but open on every side to new and
vulgar things; full of the touts who seem only created for the tourists and the tourists
who seem only created for the touts. There may be more of this in the place than pleases
those who would idealise it. But I fancy there is much less of it than is commonly
supposed in the reaction from such an ideal. It does not, like Cairo, offer the exciting
experience of twenty guides fighting for one traveller; of young Turks drinking American
cocktails as a protest against Christian wine. The town is quite inconvenient enough to
make it a decent place for pilgrims. Or a stranger might have imagined a place even less
Western than Cairo, one of those villages of Palestine described in dusty old books of
Biblical research. He might remember drawings like diagrams representing a well or a
wine-press, rather a dry well, so to speak, and a wine-press very difficult to associate
with wine. These hard colourless outlines never did justice to the colour of the East, but
even to give it the colour of the East would not do justice to Jerusalem. If I had
anticipated the Bagdad of all our dreams, a maze of bazaars glowing with gorgeous wares, I
should have been wrong again. There is quite enough of this vivid and varied colour in
Jerusalem, but it is not the first fact that arrests the attention, and certainly not the
first that arrested mine. I give my own first impression as a fact, for what it is worth
and exactly as it came. I did not expect it, and it was some time before I even understood
it. As soon as I was walking inside the walls of Jerusalem, I had an overwhelming
impression that I was walking in the town of Rye, where it looks across the flat
sea-meadows towards Winchelsea. As I tried to explain this eccentric sentiment to myself,
I was conscious of another which at once completed and contradicted it. It was not only
like a memory of Rye, it was mixed with a memory of the Mount St. Michael, which stands
among the sands of Normandy on the other side of the narrow seas. The first part of the
sensation is that the traveller, as he walks the stony streets between the walls, feels
that he is inside a fortress. But it is the paradox of such a place that, while he feels
in a sense that he is in a prison, he also feels that he is on a precipice. The sense of
being uplifted, and set on a high place, comes to him through the smallest cranny, or most
accidental crack in rock or stone; it comes to him especially through those long narrow
windows in the walls of the old fortifications; those slits in the stone through which the
medieval archers used their bows and the medieval artists used their eyes, with even
greater success. Those green glimpses of fields far below or of flats far away, which
delight us and yet make us dizzy (by being both near and far) when seen through the
windows of Memling, can often be seen from the walls of Jerusalem. Then I remembered that
in the same strips of medieval landscape could be seen always, here and there, a steep
hill crowned with a city of towers. And I knew I had the mystical and double pleasure of
seeing such a hill and standing on it. A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid; but
it is more strange when the hill cannot anywhere be hid, even from the citizen in the
city. Then indeed I knew that what I saw was Jerusalem of the Crusaders; or at least
Jerusalem of the Crusades. It was a medieval town, with walls and gates and a citadel, and
built upon a hill to be defended by bowmen. The greater part of the actual walls now
standing were built by Moslems late in the Middle Ages; but they are almost exactly like
the walls that were being built by the Christians at or before that time. The Crusader
Edward, afterwards Edward the First, reared such battlements far away among the rainy
hills of Wales. I do not know what elements were originally Gothic or what originally
Saracenic. The Crusaders and the Saracens constantly copied each other while they combated
each other; indeed it is a fact always to be found in such combats. It is one of the
arguments against war that are really human, and therefore are never used by
humanitarians. The curse of war is that it does lead to more international imitation;
while in peace and freedom men can afford to have national variety. But some things in
this country were certainly copied from the Christian invaders, and even if they are not
Christian they are in many ways strangely European. The wall and gates which now stand,
whatever stood before them and whatever comes after them, carry a memory of those men from
the West who came here upon that wild adventure, who climbed this rock and clung to it so
perilously from the victory of Godfrey to the victory of Saladin; and that is why this
momentary Eastern exile reminded me so strangely of the hill of Rye and of home. I do not
forget, of course, that all these visible walls and towers are but the battlements and
pinnacles of a buried city, or of many buried cities. I do not forget that such buildings
have foundations that are to us almost like fossils; the gigantic fossils of some other
geological epoch. Something may be said later of those lost empires whose very
masterpieces are to us like petrified monsters. From this height, after long histories
unrecorded, fell the forgotten idol of the Jebusites, on that day when David’s javelin-men
scaled the citadel and carried through it, in darkness behind his coloured curtains, the
god whose image had never been made by man. Here was waged that endless war between the
graven gods of the plain and the invisible god of the mountain; from here the hosts
carrying the sacred fish of the Philistines were driven back to the sea from which their
worship came. Those who worshipped on this hill had come out of bondage in Egypt and went
into bondage in Babylon; small as was their country, there passed before them almost the
whole pageant of the old pagan world. All its strange shapes and strong almost cruel
colours remain in the records of their prophets; whose lightest phrase seems heavier than
the pyramids of Egypt; and whose very words are like winged bulls walking. All this
historic or pre-historic interest may be touched on in its turn; but I am not dealing here
with the historic secrets unearthed by the study of the place, but with the historic
associations aroused by the sight of it. The traveller is in the position of that famous
fantastic who tied his horse to a wayside cross in the snow, and afterward saw it dangling
from the church-spire of what had been a buried city. But here the cross does not stand as
it does on the top of a spire; but as it does on the top of an Egyptian obelisk in Rome,–
where the priests have put a cross on the top of the heathen monument; for fear it should
walk. I entirely sympathise with their sentiment; and I shall try to suggest later why I
think that symbol the logical culmination of heathen as well as Christian things. The
traveller in the traveller’s tale looked up at last and saw, from the streets far below,
the spire and cross dominating a Gothic city. If I looked up in a vision and saw it
dominating a Babylonian city, that blocked the heavens with monstrous palaces and temples,
I should still think it natural that it should dominate. But the point here is that what I
saw above ground was rather the Gothic town than the Babylonian; and that it reminded me,
if not specially of the cross, at least of the soldiers who took the cross. Nor do I
forget the long centuries that have passed over the place since these medieval walls were
built, any more than the far more interesting centuries that passed before they were
built. But any one taking exception to the description on that ground may well realise, on
consideration, that it is an exception that proves the rule. There is something very
negative about Turkish rule; and the best and worst of it is in the word neglect.
Everything that lived under the vague empire of Constantinople remained in a state of
suspended animation like something frozen rather than decayed, like something sleeping
rather than dead. It was a sort of Arabian spell, like that which turned princes and
princesses into marble statues in the _Arabian Nights_. All that part of the history of
the place is a kind of sleep; and that of a sleeper who hardly knows if he has slept an
hour or a hundred years. When I first found myself in the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem, my eye
happened to fall on something that might be seen anywhere, but which seemed somehow to
have a curious significance there. Most people are conscious of some common object which
still strikes them as uncommon; as if it were the first fantastic sketch in the
sketch-book of nature. I myself can never overcome the sense of something almost unearthly
about grass growing upon human buildings. There is in it a wild and even horrible fancy,
as if houses could grow hair. When I saw that green hair on the huge stone blocks of the
citadel, though I had seen the same thing on any number of ruins, it came to me like an
omen or a vision, a curious vision at once of chaos and of sleep. It is said that the
grass will not grow where the Turk sets his foot; but it is the other side of the same
truth to say that it would grow anywhere but where it ought to grow. And though in this
case it was but an accident and a symbol, it was a very true symbol. We talk of the green
banner of the Turk having been planted on this or that citadel; and certainly it was so
planted with splendid valour and sensational victory. But this is the green banner that he
plants on all his high cities in the end. Therefore my immediate impression of the walls
and gates was not contradicted by my consciousness of what came before and what came after
that medieval period. It remained primarily a thing of walls and gates; a thing which the
modern world does not perhaps understand so well as the medieval world. There is involved
in it all that idea of definition which those who do not like it are fond of describing as
dogma. A wall is like rule; and the gates are like the exceptions that prove the rule. The
man making it has to decide where his rule will run and where his exception shall stand.
He cannot have a city that is all gates any more than a house that is all windows; nor is
it possible to have a law that consists entirely of liberties. The ancient races and
religions that contended for this city agreed with each other in this, when they differed
about everything else. It was true of practically all of them that when they built a city
they built a citadel. That is, whatever strange thing they may have made, they regarded it
as something to be defined and to be defended. And from this standpoint the holy city was
a happy city; it had no suburbs. That is to say, there are all sorts of buildings outside
the wall; but they are outside the wall. Everybody is conscious of being inside or outside
a boundary; but it is the whole character of the true suburbs which grow round our great
industrial towns that they grow, as it were, unconsciously and blindly, like grass that
covers up a boundary line traced on the earth. This indefinite expansion is controlled
neither by the soul of the city from within, nor by the resistance of the lands round
about. It destroys at once the dignity of a town and the freedom of a countryside. The
citizens are too new and numerous for citizenship; yet they never learn what there is to
be learned of the ancient traditions of agriculture. The first sight of the sharp outline
of Jerusalem is like a memory of the older types of limitation and liberty. Happy is the
city that has a wall; and happier still if it is a precipice. Again, Jerusalem might be
called a city of staircases. Many streets are steep and most actually cut into steps. It
is, I believe, an element in the controversy about the cave at Bethlehem traditionally
connected with the Nativity that the sceptics doubt whether any beasts of burden could
have entered a stable that has to be reached by such steps. And indeed to any one in a
modern city like London or Liverpool it may well appear odd, like a cab-horse climbing a
ladder. But as a matter of fact, if the asses and goats of Jerusalem could not go up and
downstairs, they could not go anywhere. However this may be, I mention the matter here
merely as adding another touch to that angular profile which is the impression involved
here. Strangely enough, there is something that leads up to this impression even in the
labyrinth of mountains through which the road winds its way to the city. The hills round
Jerusalem are themselves often hewn out in terraces, like a huge stairway. This is mostly
for the practical and indeed profitable purpose of vineyards; and serves for a reminder
that this ancient seat of civilisation has not lost the tradition of the mercy and the
glory of the vine. But in outline such a mountain looks much like the mountain of
Purgatory that Dante saw in his vision, lifted in terraces, like titanic steps up to God.
And indeed this shape also is symbolic; as symbolic as the pointed profile of the Holy
City. For a creed is like a ladder, while an evolution is only like a slope. A spiritual
and social evolution is generally a pretty slippery slope; a miry slope where it is very
easy to slide down again. Such is something like the sharp and even abrupt impression
produced by this mountain city; and especially by its wall with gates like a house with
windows. A gate, like a window, is primarily a picture-frame. The pictures that are found
within the frame are indeed very various and sometimes very alien. Within this frame-work
are indeed to be found things entirely Asiatic, or entirely Moslem, or even entirely
nomadic. But Jerusalem itself is not nomadic. Nothing could be less like a mere camp of
tents pitched by Arabs. Nothing could be less like the mere chaos of colour in a temporary
and tawdry bazaar. The Arabs are there and the colours are there, and they make a glorious
picture; but the picture is in a Gothic frame, and is seen so to speak through a Gothic
window. And the meaning of all this is the meaning of all windows, and especially of
Gothic windows. It is that even light itself is most divine within limits; and that even
the shining one is most shining, when he takes upon himself a shape. Such a system of
walls and gates, like many other things thought rude and primitive, is really very
rationalistic. It turns the town, as it were, into a plan of itself, and even into a guide
to itself. This is especially true, as may be suggested in a moment, regarding the
direction of the roads leading out of it. But anyhow, a man must decide which way he will
leave the city; he cannot merely drift out of the city as he drifts out of the modern
cities through a litter of slums. And there is no better way to get a preliminary plan of
the city than to follow the wall and fix the gates in the memory. Suppose, for instance,
that a man begins in the south with the Zion Gate, which bears the ancient name of
Jerusalem. This, to begin with, will sharpen the medieval and even the Western impression
first because it is here that he has the strongest sentiment of threading the narrow
passages of a great castle; but also because the very name of the gate was given to this
south-western hill by Godfrey and Tancred during the period of the Latin kingdom. I
believe it is one of the problems of the scholars why the Latin conquerors called this
hill the Zion Hill, when the other is obviously the sacred hill. Jerusalem is
traditionally divided into four hills, but for practical purposes into two; the lower
eastern hill where stood the Temple, and now stands the great Mosque, and the western
where is the citadel and the Zion Gate to the south of it. I know nothing of such
questions; and I attach no importance to the notion that has crossed my own mind, and
which I only mention in passing, for I have no doubt there are a hundred objections to it.
But it is known that Zion or Sion was the old name of the place before it was stormed by
David; and even afterwards the Jebusites remained on this western hill, and some
compromise seems to have been made with them. Is it conceivable, I wonder, that even in
the twelfth century there lingered some local memory of what had once been a way of
distinguishing Sion of the Jebusites from Salem of the Jews? The Zion Gate, however, is
only a starting-point here; if we go south-eastward from it we descend a steep and rocky
path, from which can be caught the first and finest vision of what stands on the other
hill to the east. The great Mosque of Omar stands up like a peacock, lustrous with mosaics
that are like plumes of blue and green. Scholars, I may say here, object to calling it the
Mosque of Omar; on the petty and pedantic ground that it is not a mosque and was not built
by Omar. But it is my fixed intention to call it the Mosque of Omar, and with ever renewed
pertinacity to continue calling it the Mosque of Omar. I possess a special permit from the
Grand Mufti to call it the Mosque of Omar. He is the head of the whole Moslem religion,
and if he does not know, who does? He told me, in the beautiful French which matches his
beautiful manners, that it really is not so ridiculous after all to call the place the
Mosque of Omar, since the great Caliph desired and even designed such a building, though
he did not build it. I suppose it is rather as if Solomon’s Temple had been called David’s
Temple. Omar was a great man and the Mosque was a great work, and the two were telescoped
together by the excellent common sense of vulgar tradition. There could not be a better
example of that great truth for all travellers; that popular tradition is never so right
as when it is wrong; and that pedantry is never so wrong as when it is right. And as for
the other objection, that the Dome of the Rock (to give it its other name) is not actually
used as a Mosque, I answer that Westminster Abbey is not used as an Abbey. But modern
Englishmen would be much surprised if I were to refer to it as Westminster Church; to say
nothing of the many modern Englishmen for whom it would be more suitable to call it
Westminster Museum. And for whatever purposes the Moslems may actually use their great and
glorious sanctuary, at least they have not allowed it to become the private house of a
particular rich man. And that is what we have suffered to happen, if not to Westminster
Abbey, at least to Welbeck Abbey. The Mosque of Omar (I repeat firmly) stands on the great
eastern plateau in place of the Temple; and the wall that runs round to it on the south
side of the city contains only the Dung Gate, on which the fancy need not linger. All
along outside this wall the ground falls away into the southern valley; and upon the
dreary and stony steep opposite is the place called Acaldama. Wall and valley turn
together round the corner of the great temple platform, and confronting the eastern wall,
across the ravine, is the mighty wall of the Mount of Olives. On this side there are
several gates now blocked up, of which the most famous, the Golden Gate, carries in its
very uselessness a testimony to the fallen warriors of the cross. For there is a strange
Moslem legend that through this gate, so solemnly sealed up, shall ride the Christian King
who shall again rule in Jerusalem. In the middle of the square enclosure rises the great
dark Dome of the Rock; and standing near it, a man may see for the first time in the
distance, another dome. It lies away to the west, but a little to the north; and it is
surmounted, not by a crescent but a cross. Many heroes and holy kings have desired to see
this thing, and have not seen it. It is very characteristic of the city, with its medieval
medley and huddle of houses, that a man may first see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
which is in the west, by going as far as possible to the east. All the sights are
glimpses; and things far can be visible and things near invisible. The traveller comes on
the Moslem dome round a corner; and he finds the Christian dome, as it were, behind his
own back. But if he goes on round the wall to the north-east corner of the Court of the
Temple, he will find the next entrance; the Gate of St. Stephen. On the slope outside, by
a strange and suitable coincidence, the loose stones which lie on every side of the
mountain city seemed to be heaped higher; and across the valley on the skirts of the Mount
of Olives is the great grey olive of Gethsemane. On the northern side the valley turns to
an artificial trench, for the ground here is higher; and the next or northern gate bears
the name of Herod; though it might well bear the name either of Godfrey or Saladin. For
just outside it stands a pine-tree, and beside it a rude bulk of stone; where stood these
great captains in turn, before they took Jerusalem. Then the wall runs on till it comes to
the great Damascus Gate, graven I know not why with great roses in a style wholly heraldic
and occidental, and in no way likely to remind us of the rich roses of Damascus; though
their name has passed into our own English tongue and tradition, along with another word
for the delicate decoration of the sword. But at the first glance, at any rate, it is hard
to believe that the roses on the walls are not the Western roses of York or Lancaster, or
that the swords which guarded them were not the straight swords of England or of France.
Doubtless a deeper and more solemn memory ought to return immediately to the mind where
that gate looks down the great highway; as if one could see, hung over it in the sky for
ever, the cloud concealing the sunburst that broods upon the road to Damascus. But I am
here only confessing the facts or fancies of my first impression; and again the fancy that
came to me first was not of any such alien or awful things. I did not think of damask or
damascene or the great Arabian city or even the conversion of St. Paul. I thought of my
own little house in Buckinghamshire, and how the edge of the country town where it stands
is called Aylesbury End, merely because it is the corner nearest to Aylesbury. That is
what I mean by saying that these ancient customs are more rational and even utilitarian
than the fashions of modernity. When a street in a new suburb is called Pretoria Avenue,
the clerk living there does not set out from his villa with the cheerful hope of finding
the road lead him to Pretoria. But the man leaving Aylesbury End does know it would lead
him to Aylesbury; and the man going out at the Damascus Gate did know it would lead him to
Damascus. And the same is true of the next and last of the old entrances, the Jaffa Gate
in the east; but when I saw that I saw something else as well. I have heard that there is
a low doorway at the entrance to a famous shrine which is called the Gate of Humility; but
indeed in this sense all gates are gates of humility, and especially gates of this kind.
Any one who has ever looked at a landscape under an archway will know what I mean, when I
say that it sharpens a pleasure with a strange sentiment of privilege. It adds to the
grace of distance something that makes it not only a grace but a gift. Such are the
visions of remote places that appear in the low gateways of a Gothic town; as if each
gateway led into a separate world; and almost as if each dome of sky were a different
chamber. But he who walks round the walls of this city in this spirit will come suddenly
upon an exception which will surprise him like an earthquake. It looks indeed rather like
something done by an earthquake; an earthquake with a half-witted sense of humour.
Immediately at the side of one of these humble and human gateways there is a great gap in
the wall, with a wide road running through it. There is something of unreason in the sight
which affects the eye as well as the reason. It recalls some crazy tale about the great
works of the Wise Men of Gotham. It suggests the old joke about the man who made a small
hole for the kitten as well as a large hole for the cat. Everybody has read about it by
this time; but the immediate impression of it is not merely an effect of reading or even
of reasoning. It looks lop-sided; like something done by a one-eyed giant. But it was done
by the last prince of the great Prussian imperial system, in what was probably the
proudest moment in all his life of pride. What is true has a way of sounding trite; and
what is trite has a way of sounding false. We shall now probably weary the world with
calling the Germans barbaric, just as we very recently wearied the world with calling them
cultured and progressive and scientific. But the thing is true though we say it a thousand
times. And any one who wishes to understand the sense in which it is true has only to
contemplate that fantasy and fallacy in stone; a gate with an open road beside it. The
quality I mean, however, is not merely in that particular contrast; as of a front door
standing by itself in an open field. It is also in the origin, the occasion and the whole
story of the thing. There is above all this supreme stamp of the barbarian; the sacrifice
of the permanent to the temporary. When the walls of the Holy City were overthrown for the
glory of the German Emperor, it was hardly even for that everlasting glory which has been
the vision and the temptation of great men. It was for the glory of a single day. It was
something rather in the nature of a holiday than anything that could be even in the most
vainglorious sense a heritage. It did not in the ordinary sense make a monument, or even a
trophy. It destroyed a monument to make a procession. We might almost say that it
destroyed a trophy to make a triumph. There is the true barbaric touch in this oblivion of
what Jerusalem would look like a century after, or a year after, or even the day after. It
is this which distinguishes the savage tribe on the march after a victory from the
civilised army establishing a government, even if it be a tyranny. Hence the very effect
of it, like the effect of the whole Prussian adventure in history, remains something
negative and even nihilistic. The Christians made the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the
Moslems made the Mosque of Omar; but this is what the most scientific culture made at the
end of the great century of science. It made an enormous hole. The only positive
contribution of the nineteenth century to the spot is an unnaturally ugly clock, at the
top of an ornamental tower, or a tower that was meant to be ornamental. It was erected, I
believe, to commemorate the reign of Abdul Hamid; and it seems perfectly adapted to its
purpose, like one of Sir William Watson’s sonnets on the same subject. But this object
only adds a touch of triviality to the much more tremendous negative effect of the gap by
the gate. That remains a parable as well as a puzzle, under all the changing skies of day
and night; with the shadows that gather tinder the narrow Gate of Humility; and beside it,
blank as daybreak and abrupt as an abyss, the broad road that has led already to
destruction. The gap remains like a gash, a sort of wound in the walls; but it only
strengthens by contrast the general sense of their continuity. Save this one angle where
the nineteenth century has entered, the vague impression of the thirteenth or fourteenth
century rather deepens than dies away. It is supported more than many would suppose even
by the figures that appear in the gateways or pass in procession under the walls. The
brown Franciscans and the white Dominicans would alone give some colour to a memory of the
Latin kingdom of Jerusalem; and there are other examples and effects which are less easily
imagined in the West. Thus as I look down the street, I see coming out from under an
archway a woman wearing a high white head-dress very like those we have all seen in a
hundred pictures of tournaments or hunting parties, or the Canterbury Pilgrimage or the
Court of Louis XI. She is as white as a woman of the North; and it is not, I think,
entirely fanciful to trace a certain freedom and dignity in her movement, which is quite
different at least from the shuffling walk of the shrouded Moslem women. She is a woman of
Bethlehem, where a tradition, it is said, still claims as a heroic heritage the blood of
the Latin knights of the cross. This is, of course, but one aspect of the city; but it is
one which may be early noted, yet one which is generally neglected. As I have said, I had
expected many things of Jerusalem, but I had not expected this. I had expected to be
disappointed with it as a place utterly profaned and fallen below its mission. I had
expected to be awed by it; indeed I had expected to be frightened of it, as a place
dedicated and even doomed by its mission. But I had never fancied that it would be
possible to be fond of it; as one might be fond of a little walled town among the orchards
of Normandy or the hop-fields of Kent. And just then there happened a coincidence that was
also something like a catastrophe. I was idly watching, as it moved down the narrow street
to one of the dark doorways, the head-dress, like a tower of white drapery, belonging to
the Christian woman from the place where Christ was born. After she had disappeared into
the darkness of the porch I continued to look vaguely at the porch, and thought how easily
it might have been a small Gothic gate in some old corner of Rouen, or even Canterbury. In
twenty such places in the town one may see the details that appeal to the same
associations, so different and so distant. One may see that angular dogtooth ornament that
makes the round Norman gateways look like the gaping mouths of sharks. One may see the
pointed niches in the walls, shaped like windows and serving somewhat the purpose of
brackets, on which were to stand sacred images possibly removed by the Moslems. One may
come upon a small court planted with ornamental trees with some monument in the centre,
which makes the precise impression of something in a small French town. There are no
Gothic spires, but there are numberless Gothic doors and windows; and he who first strikes
the place at this angle, as it were, may well feel the Northern element as native and the
Eastern element as intrusive. While I was thinking all these things, something happened
which in that place was almost a portent. It was very cold; and there were curious colours
in the sky. There had been chilly rains from time to time; and the whole air seemed to
have taken on something sharper than a chill. It was as if a door had been opened in the
northern corner of the heavens; letting in something that changed all the face of the
earth. Great grey clouds with haloes of lurid pearl and pale-green were coming up from the
plains or the sea and spreading over the towers of the city. In the middle of the moving
mass of grey vapours was a splash of paler vapour; a wan white cloud whose white seemed
somehow more ominous than gloom. It went over the high citadel like a white wild goose
flying; and a few white feathers fell. It was the snow; and it snowed day and night until
that Eastern city was sealed up like a village in Norway or Northern Scotland. It rose in
the streets till men might almost have been drowned in it like a sea of solid foam. And
the people of the place told me there had been no such thing seen in it in all recent
records, or perhaps in the records of all its four thousand years. All this came later;
but for me at the moment, looking at the scene in so dreamy a fashion, it seemed merely
like a dramatic conclusion to my dream. It was but an accident confirming what was but an
aspect. But it confirmed it with a strange and almost supernatural completeness. The white
light out of the window in the north lay on all the roofs and turrets of the mountain
town; for there is an aspect in which snow looks less like frozen water than like
solidified light. As the snow accumulated there accumulated also everywhere those
fantastic effects of frost which seem to fit in with the fantastic qualities of medieval
architecture; and which make an icicle seem like the mere extension of a gargoyle. It was
the atmosphere that has led so many romancers to make medieval Paris a mere black and
white study of night and snow. Something had redrawn in silver all things from the rude
ornament on the old gateways to the wrinkles on the ancient hills of Moab. Fields of white
still spotted with green swept down into the valleys between us and the hills; and high
above them the Holy City lifted her head into the thunder-clouded heavens, wearing a white
head-dress like a daughter of the Crusaders. CHAPTER IV THE PHILOSOPHY OF SIGHT-SEEING
Various cultivated critics told me that I should find Jerusalem disappointing; and I fear
it will disappoint them that I am not disappointed. Of the city as a city I shall try to
say something elsewhere; but the things which these critics have especially in mind are at
once more general and more internal. They concern something tawdry, squalid or
superstitious about the shrines and those who use them. Now the mistake of critics is not
that they criticise the world; it is that they never criticise themselves. They compare
the alien with the ideal; but they do not at the same time compare themselves with the
ideal; rather they identify themselves with the ideal. I have met a tourist who had seen
the great Pyramid, and who told me that the Pyramid looked small. Believe me, the tourist
looked much smaller. There is indeed another type of traveller, who is not at all small in
the moral mental sense, who will confess such disappointments quite honestly, as a piece
of realism about his own sensations. In that case he generally suffers from the defect of
most realists; that of not being realistic enough. He does not really think out his own
impressions thoroughly; or he would generally find they are not so disappointing after
all. A humorous soldier told me that he came from Derbyshire, and that he did not think
much of the Pyramid because it was not so tall as the Peak. I pointed out to him that he
was really offering the tallest possible tribute to a work of man in comparing it to a
mountain; even if he thought it was a rather small mountain. I suggested that it was a
rather large tombstone. I appealed to those with whom I debated in that district, as to
whether they would not be faintly surprised to find such a monument during their quiet
rambles in a country churchyard. I asked whether each one of them, if he had such a
tombstone in the family, would not feel it natural, if hardly necessary, to point it out;
and that with a certain pride. The same principle of the higher realism applies to those
who are disappointed with the sight of the Sphinx. The Sphinx really exceeds expectations
because it escapes expectations. Monuments commonly look impressive when they are high and
often when they are distant. The Sphinx is really unexpected, because it is found suddenly
in a hollow, and unnaturally near. Its face is turned away; and the effect is as creepy as
coming into a room apparently empty, and finding somebody as still as the furniture. Or it
is as if one found a lion couchant in that hole in the sand; as indeed the buried part of
the monster is in the form of a couchant lion. If it was a real lion it would hardly be
less arresting merely because it was near; nor could the first emotion of the traveller be
adequately described as disappointment. In such cases there is generally some profit in
looking at the monument a second time, or even at our own sensations a second time. So I
reasoned, striving with wild critics in the wilderness; but the only part of the debate
which is relevant here can be expressed in the statement that I do think the Pyramid big,
for the deep and simple reason that it is bigger than I am. I delicately suggested to
those who were disappointed in the Sphinx that it was just possible that the Sphinx was
disappointed in them. The Sphinx has seen Julius Caesar; it has very probably seen St.
Francis, when he brought his flaming charity to Egypt; it has certainly looked, in the
first high days of the revolutionary victories, on the face of the young Napoleon. Is it
not barely possible, I hinted to my friends and fellow-tourists, that after these
experiences, it might be a little depressed at the sight of you and me? But as I say, I
only reintroduce my remarks in connection with a greater matter than these dead things of
the desert; in connection with a tomb to which even the Pyramids are but titanic lumber,
and a presence greater than the Sphinx, since it is not only a riddle but an answer.
Before I go on to deeper defences of any such cult or culture, I wish first to note a sort
of test for the first impressions of an ordinary tourist like myself, to whom much that is
really full of an archaic strength may seem merely stiff, or much that really deals with a
deep devotional psychology may seem merely distorted. In short I would put myself in the
position of the educated Englishman who does quite honestly receive a mere impression of
idolatry. Incidentally, I may remark, it is the educated Englishman who is the idolater.
It is he who only reverences the place, and does not reverence the reverence for the
place. It is he who is supremely concerned about whether a mere object is old or new, or
whether a mere ornament is gold or gilt. In other words, it is he who values the visible
things rather than the invisible; for no sane man can doubt that invisible things are
vivid to the priests and pilgrims of these shrines. In the midst of emotions that have
moved the whole world out of its course, girt about with crowds who will die or do murder
for a definition, the educated English gentleman in his blindness bows down to wood and
stone. For the only thing wrong about that admirable man is that he is blind about
himself. No man will really attempt to describe his feelings, when he first stood at the
gateway of the grave of Christ. The only record relevant here is that I did not feel the
reaction, not to say repulsion, that many seem to have felt about its formal surroundings.
Either I was particularly fortunate or others are particularly fastidious. The guide who
showed me the Sepulchre was not particularly noisy or profane or palpably mercenary; he
was rather more than less sympathetic than the same sort of man who might have shown me
Westminster Abbey or Stratford-on-Avon. He was a small, solemn, owlish old man, a Roman
Catholic in religion; but so far from deserving the charge of not knowing the Bible, he
deserved rather a gentle remonstrance against his assumption that nobody else knew it. If
there was anything to smile at, in associations so sacred, it was the elaborate simplicity
with which he told the first facts of the Gospel story, as if he were evangelising a
savage. Anyhow, he did not talk like a cheap-jack at a stall; but rather like a teacher in
an infant school. He made it very clear that Jesus Christ was crucified in case any one
should suppose he was beheaded; and often stopped in his narrative to repeat that the hero
of these events was Jesus Christ, lest we should fancy it was Nebuchadnezzar or the Duke
of Wellington. I do not in the least mind being amused at this; but I have no reason
whatever for doubting that he may have been a better man than I. I gave him what I should
have given a similar guide in my own country; I parted from him as politely as from one of
my own countrymen. I also, of course, gave money, as is the custom, to the various
monastic custodians of the shrines; but I see nothing surprising about that. I am not
quite so ignorant as not to know that without the monastic brotherhoods, supported by such
charity, there would not by this time be anything to see in Jerusalem at all. There was
only one class of men whose consistent concern was to watch these things, from the age of
heathens and heresies to the age of Turks and tourists; and I am certainly not going to
sneer at them for doing no practical work, and then refuse to pay them for the practical
work they do. For the rest, even the architectural defacement is overstated, the church
was burned down and rebuilt in a bad and modern period; but the older parts, especially
the Crusaders’ porch, are as grand as the men who made them. The incongruities there are,
are those of local colour. In connection, by the way, with what I said about beasts of
burden, I mounted a series of steep staircases to the roof of the convent beside the Holy
Sepulchre. When I got to the top I found myself in the placid presence of two camels. It
would be curious to meet two cows on the roof of a village church. Nevertheless it is the
only moral of the chapter interpolated here, that we can meet things quite as curious in
our own country. When the critic says that Jerusalem is disappointing he generally means
that the popular worship there is weak and degraded, and especially that the religious art
is gaudy and grotesque. In so far as there is any kind of truth in this, it is still true
that the critic seldom sees the whole truth. What is wrong with the critic is that he does
not criticise himself. He does not honestly compare what is weak, in this particular world
of ideas, with what is weak in his own world of ideas. I will take an example from my own
experience, and in a manner at my own expense. If I have a native heath it is certainly
Kensington High Street, off which stands the house of my childhood. I grew up in that
thorough-fare which Mr. Max Beerbohm, with his usual easy exactitude of phrase, has
described as “dapper, with a leaning to the fine arts.” Dapper was never perhaps
a descriptive term for myself; but it is quite true that I owe a certain taste for the
arts to the sort of people among whom I was brought up. It is also true that such a taste,
in various forms and degrees, was fairly common in the world which may be symbolised as
Kensington High Street. And whether or no it is a tribute, it is certainly a truth that
most people with an artistic turn in Kensington High Street would have been very much
shocked, in their sense of propriety, if they had seen the popular shrines of Jerusalem;
the sham gold, the garish colours, the fantastic tales and the feverish tumult. But what I
want such people to do, and what they never do, is to turn this truth round. I want them
to imagine, not a Kensington aesthete walking down David Street to the Holy Sepulchre, but
a Greek monk or a Russian pilgrim walking down Kensington High Street to Kensington
Gardens. I will not insist here on all the hundred plagues of plutocracy that would really
surprise such a Christian peasant; especially that curse of an irreligious society
(unknown in religious societies, Moslem as well as Christian) the detestable denial of all
dignity to the poor. I am not speaking now of moral but of artistic things; of the
concrete arts and crafts used in popular worship. Well, my imaginary pilgrim would walk
past Kensington Gardens till his sight was blasted by a prodigy. He would either fall on
his knees as before a shrine, or cover his face as from a sacrilege. He would have seen
the Albert Memorial. There is nothing so conspicuous in Jerusalem. There is nothing so
gilded and gaudy in Jerusalem. Above all, there is nothing in Jerusalem that is on so
large a scale and at the same time in so gay and glittering a style. My simple Eastern
Christian would almost certainly be driven to cry aloud, “To what superhuman God was
this enormous temple erected? I hope it is Christ; but I fear it is Antichrist.”
Such, he would think, might well be the great and golden image of the Prince of the World,
set up in this great open space to receive the heathen prayers and heathen sacrifices of a
lost humanity. I fancy he would feel a desire to be at home again amid the humble shrines
of Zion. I really cannot imagine _what_ he would feel, if he were told that the gilded
idol was neither a god nor a demon, but a petty German prince who had some slight
influence in turning us into the tools of Prussia. Now I myself, I cheerfully admit, feel
that enormity in Kensington Gardens as something quite natural. I feel it so because I
have been brought up, so to speak, under its shadow; and stared at the graven images of
Raphael and Shakespeare almost before I knew their names; and long before I saw anything
funny in their figures being carved, on a smaller scale, under the feet of Prince Albert.
I even took a certain childish pleasure in the gilding of the canopy and spire, as if in
the golden palace of what was, to Peter Pan and all children, something of a fairy garden.
So do the Christians of Jerusalem take pleasure, and possibly a childish pleasure, in the
gilding of a better palace, besides a nobler garden, ornamented with a somewhat worthier
aim. But the point is that the people of Kensington, whatever they might think about the
Holy Sepulchre, do not think anything at all about the Albert Memorial. They are quite
unconscious of how strange a thing it is; and that simply because they are used to it. The
religious groups in Jerusalem are also accustomed to their coloured background; and they
are surely none the worse if they still feel rather more of the meaning of the colours. It
may be said that they retain their childish illusion about _their_ Albert Memorial. I
confess I cannot manage to regard Palestine as a place where a special curse was laid on
those who can become like little children. And I never could understand why such critics
who agree that the kingdom of heaven is for children, should forbid it to be the only sort
of kingdom that children would really like; a kingdom with real crowns of gold or even of
tinsel. But that is another question, which I shall discuss in another place; the point is
for the moment that such people would be quite as much surprised at the place of tinsel in
our lives as we are at its place in theirs. If we are critical of the petty things they do
to glorify great things, they would find quite as much to criticise (as in Kensington
Gardens) in the great things we do to glorify petty things. And if we wonder at the way in
which they seem to gild the lily, they would wonder quite as much at the way we gild the
weed. There are countless other examples of course of this principle of self-criticism, as
the necessary condition of all criticism. It applies quite as much, for instance, to the
other great complaint which my Kensington friend would make after the complaint about
paltry ornament; the complaint about what is commonly called backsheesh. Here again there
is really something to complain of; though much of the fault is not due to Jerusalem, but
rather to London and New York. The worst superstition of Jerusalem, like the worst
profligacy of Paris, is a thing so much invented for Anglo-Saxons that it might be called
an Anglo-Saxon institution. But here again the critic could only really judge fairly if he
realised with what abuses at home he ought really to compare this particular abuse abroad.
He ought to imagine, for example, the feelings of a religious Russian peasant if he really
understood all the highly-coloured advertisements covering High Street Kensington Station.
It is really not so repulsive to see the poor asking for money as to see the rich asking
for more money. And advertisement is the rich asking for more money. A man would be
annoyed if he found himself in a mob of millionaires, all holding out their silk hats for
a penny; or all shouting with one voice, “Give me money.” Yet advertisement does
really assault the eye very much as such a shout would assault the ear. “Budge’s
Boots are the Best” simply means “Give me money”; “Use Seraphic
Soap” simply means “Give me money.” It is a complete mistake to suppose
that common people make our towns commonplace, with unsightly things like advertisements.
Most of those whose wares are thus placarded everywhere are very wealthy gentlemen with
coronets and country seats, men who are probably very particular about the artistic
adornment of their own homes. They disfigure their towns in order to decorate their
houses. To see such men crowding and clamouring for more wealth would really be a more
unworthy sight than a scramble of poor guides; yet this is what would be conveyed by all
the glare of gaudy advertisement to anybody who saw and understood it for the first time.
Yet for us who are familiar with it all that gaudy advertisement fades into a background,
just as the gaudy oriental patterns fade into a background for those oriental priests and
pilgrims. Just as the innocent Kensington gentleman is wholly unaware that his black top
hat is relieved against a background, or encircled as by a halo, of a yellow hoarding
about mustard, so is the poor guide sometimes unaware that his small doings are dark
against the fainter and more fading gold in which are traced only the humbler haloes of
the Twelve Apostles. But all these misunderstandings are merely convenient illustrations
and introductions, leading up to the great fact of the main misunderstanding. It is a
misunderstanding of the whole history and philosophy of the position; that is the whole of
the story and the whole moral of the story. The critic of the Christianity of Jerusalem
emphatically manages to miss the point. The lesson he ought to learn from it is one which
the Western and modern man needs most, and does not even know that he needs. It is the
lesson of constancy. These people may decorate their temples with gold or with tinsel; but
their tinsel has lasted longer than our gold. They may build things as costly and ugly as
the Albert Memorial; but the thing remains a memorial, a thing of immortal memory. They do
not build it for a passing fashion and then forget it, or try hard to forget it. They may
paint a picture of a saint as gaudy as any advertisement of a soap; but one saint does not
drive out another saint as one soap drives out another soap. They do not forget their
recent idolatries, as the educated English are now trying to forget their very recent
idolatry of everything German. These Christian bodies have been in Jerusalem for at least
fifteen hundred years. Save for a few years after the time of Constantine and a few years
after the First Crusade, they have been practically persecuted all the time. At least they
have been under heathen masters whose attitude towards Christendom was hatred and whose
type of government was despotism. No man living in the West can form the faintest
conception of what it must have been to live in the very heart of the East through the
long and seemingly everlasting epoch of Moslem power. A man in Jerusalem was in the centre
of the Turkish Empire as a man in Rome was in the centre of the Roman Empire. The imperial
power of Islam stretched away to the sunrise and the sunset; westward to the mountains of
Spain and eastward towards the wall of China. It must have seemed as if the whole earth
belonged to Mahomet to those who in this rocky city renewed their hopeless witness to
Christ. What we have to ask ourselves is not whether we happen in all respects to agree
with them, but whether we in the same condition should even have the courage to agree with
ourselves. It is not a question of how much of their religion is superstition, but of how
much of our religion is convention; how much is custom and how much a compromise even with
custom; how much a thing made facile by the security of our own society or the success of
our own state. These are powerful supports; and the enlightened Englishman, from a
cathedral town or a suburban chapel, walks these wild Eastern places with a certain sense
of assurance and stability. Even after centuries of Turkish supremacy, such a man feels,
he would not have descended to such a credulity. He would not be fighting for the Holy
Fire or wrangling with beggars in the Holy Sepulchre. He would not be hanging fantastic
lamps on a pillar peculiar to the Armenians, or peering into the gilded cage that contains
the brown Madonna of the Copts. He would not be the dupe of such degenerate fables; God
forbid. He would not be grovelling at such grotesque shrines; no indeed. He would be many
hundred yards away, decorously bowing towards a more distant city; where, above the only
formal and official open place in Jerusalem, the mighty mosaics of the Mosque of Omar
proclaim across the valleys the victory and the glory of Mahomet. That is the real lesson
that the enlightened traveller should learn; the lesson about himself. That is the test
that should really be put to those who say that the Christianity of Jerusalem is degraded.
After a thousand years of Turkish tyranny, the religion of a London fashionable preacher
would not be degraded. It would be destroyed. It would not be there at all, to be jeered
at by every prosperous tourist out of a _train de luxe_. It is worth while to pause upon
the point; for nothing has been so wholly missed in our modern religious ideals as the
ideal of tenacity. Fashion is called progress. Every new fashion is called a new faith.
Every faith is a faith which offers everything except faithfulness. It was never so
necessary to insist that most of the really vital and valuable ideas in the world,
including Christianity, would never have survived at all if they had not survived their
own death, even in the sense of dying daily. The ideal was out of date almost from the
first day; that is why it is eternal; for whatever is dated is doomed. As for our own
society, if it proceeds at its present rate of progress and improvement, no trace or
memory of it will be left at all. Some think that this would be an improvement in itself.
We have come to live morally, as the Japs live literally, in houses of paper. But they are
pavilions made of the morning papers, which have to be burned on the appearance of the
evening editions. Well, a thousand years hence the Japs may be ruling in Jerusalem; the
modern Japs who no longer live in paper houses, but in sweated factories and slums. They
and the Chinese (that much more dignified and democratic people) seem to be about the only
people of importance who have not yet ruled Jerusalem. But though we may think the
Christian chapels as thin as Japanese tea-houses, they will still be Christian; though we
may think the sacred lamps as cheap as Chinese lanterns, they will still be burning before
a crucified creator of the world. But besides this need of making strange cults the test
not of themselves but ourselves, the sights of Jerusalem also illustrate the other
suggestion about the philosophy of sight-seeing. It is true, as I have suggested, that
after all the Sphinx is larger than I am; and on the same principle the painted saints are
saintlier than I am, and the patient pilgrims more constant than I am. But it is also
true, as in the lesser matter before mentioned, that even those who think the Sphinx small
generally do not notice the small things about it. They do not even discover what is
interesting about their own disappointment. And similarly even those who are truly
irritated by the unfamiliar fashions of worship in a place like Jerusalem, do not know how
to discover what is interesting in the very existence of what is irritating. For instance,
they talk of Byzantine decay or barbaric delusion, and they generally go away with an
impression that the ritual and symbolism is something dating from the Dark Ages. But if
they would really note the details of their surroundings, or even of their sensations,
they would observe a rather curious fact about such ornament of such places as the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre as may really be counted unworthy of them. They would realise that
what they would most instinctively reject as superstitious does not date from what they
would regard as the ages of superstition. There really are bad pictures but they are not
barbaric pictures; they are florid pictures in the last faded realism of the Renascence.
There really is stiff and ungainly decoration, but it is not the harsh or ascetic
decoration of a Spanish cloister; it is much more like the pompous yet frivolous
decorations of a Parisian hotel. In short, in so far as the shrine has really been defaced
it has not been defaced by the Dark Ages, but rather if anything by the Age of Reason. It
is the enlightened eighteenth century, which regarded itself as the very noonday of
natural culture and common sense, that has really though indirectly laid its disfiguring
finger on the dark but dignified Byzantine temple. I do not particularly mind it myself;
for in such great matters I do not think taste is the test. But if taste is to be made the
test, there is matter for momentary reflection in this fact; for it is another example of
the weakness of what may be called fashion. Voltaire, I believe, erected a sort of temple
to God in his own garden; and we may be sure that it was in the most exquisite taste of
the time. Nothing would have surprised him more than to learn that, fifty years after the
success of the French Revolution, almost every freethinker of any artistic taste would
think his temple far less artistically admirable than the nearest gargoyle on Notre Dame.
Thus it is progress that must be blamed for most of these things: and we ought not to turn
away in contempt from something antiquated, but rather recognise with respect and even
alarm a sort of permanent man-trap in the idea of being modern. So that the moral of this
matter is the same as that of the other; that these things should raise in us, not merely
the question of whether we like them, but of whether there is anything very infallible or
imperishable about what we like. At least the essentials of these things endure; and if
they seem to have remained fixed as effigies, at least they have not faded like
fashion-plates. It has seemed worth while to insert here this note on the philosophy of
sight-seeing, however dilatory or disproportionate it may seem. For I am particularly and
positively convinced that unless these things can somehow or other be seen in the right
historical perspective and philosophical proportion, they are not worth seeing at all. And
let me say in conclusion that I can not only respect the sincerity, but understand the
sentiments, of a man who says they are not worth seeing at all. Sight-seeing is a far more
difficult and disputable matter than many seem to suppose; and a man refusing it
altogether might be a man of sense and even a man of imagination. It was the great
Wordsworth who refused to revisit Yarrow; it was only the small Wordsworth who revisited
it after all. I remember the first great sight in my own entrance to the Near East, when I
looked by accident out of the train going to Cairo, and saw far away across the luminous
flats a faint triangular shape; the Pyramids. I could understand a man who had seen it
turning his back and retracing his whole journey to his own country and his own home,
saying, “I will go no further; for I have seen afar off the last houses of the
kings.” I can understand a man who had only seen in the distance Jerusalem sitting on
the hill going no further and keeping that vision for ever. It would, of course, be said
that it was absurd to come at all, and to see so little. To which I answer that in that
sense it is absurd to come at all. It is no more fantastic to turn back for such a fancy
than it was to come for a similar fancy. A man cannot eat the Pyramids; he cannot buy or
sell the Holy City; there can be no practical aspect either of his coming or going. If he
has not come for a poetic mood he has come for nothing; if he has come for such a mood, he
is not a fool to obey that mood. The way to be really a fool is to try to be practical
about unpractical things. It is to try to collect clouds or preserve moonshine like money.
Now there is much to be said for the view that to search for a mood is in its nature
moonshine. It may be said that this is especially true in the crowded and commonplace
conditions in which most sight-seeing has to be done. It may be said that thirty tourists
going together to see a tombstone is really as ridiculous as thirty poets going together
to write poems about the nightingale. There would be something rather depressing about a
crowd of travellers, walking over hill and dale after the celebrated cloud of Wordsworth;
especially if the crowd is like the cloud, and moveth all together if it move at all. A
vast mob assembled on Salisbury Plain to listen to Shelley’s skylark would probably (after
an hour or two) consider it a rather subdued sort of skylarking. It may be argued that it
is just as illogical to hope to fix beforehand the elusive effects of the works of man as
of the works of nature. It may be called a contradiction in terms to expect the
unexpected. It may be counted mere madness to anticipate astonishment, or go in search of
a surprise. To all of which there is only one answer; that such anticipation is absurd,
and such realisation will be disappointing, that images will seem to be idols and idols
will seem to be dolls, unless there be some rudiment of such a habit of mind as I have
tried to suggest in this chapter. No great works will seem great, and no wonders of the
world will seem wonderful, unless the angle from which they are seen is that of historical
humility. One more word may be added of a more practical sort. The place where the most
passionate convictions on this planet are concentrated is not one where it will always be
wise, even from a political standpoint, to air our plutocratic patronage and our sceptical
superiority. Strange scenes have already been enacted round that fane where the Holy Fire
bursts forth to declare that Christ is risen; and whether or no we think the thing holy
there is no doubt about it being fiery. Whether or no the superior person is right to
expect the unexpected, it is possible that something may be revealed to him that he really
does not expect. And whatever he may think about the philosophy of sight-seeing, it is not
unlikely that he may see some sights. CHAPTER V THE STREETS OF THE CITY When Jerusalem had
been half buried in snow for two or three days, I remarked to a friend that I was prepared
henceforward to justify all the Christmas cards. The cards that spangle Bethlehem with
frost are generally regarded by the learned merely as vulgar lies. At best they are
regarded as popular fictions, like that which made the shepherds in the Nativity Play talk
a broad dialect of Somerset. In the deepest sense of course this democratic tradition is
truer than most history. But even in the cruder and more concrete sense the tradition
about the December snow is not quite so false as is suggested. It is not a mere local
illusion for Englishmen to picture the Holy Child in a snowstorm, as it would be for the
Londoners to picture him in a London fog. There can be snow in Jerusalem, and there might
be snow in Bethlehem; and when we penetrate to the idea behind the image, we find it is
not only possible but probable. In Palestine, at least in these mountainous parts of
Palestine, men have the same general sentiment about the seasons as in the West or the
North. Snow is a rarity, but winter is a reality. Whether we regard it as the divine
purpose of a mystery or the human purpose of a myth, the purpose of putting such a feast
in winter would be just the same in Bethlehem as it would be in Balham. Any one thinking
of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that
Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.
In other words, the semi-tropical nature of the place, like its vulgarity and desecration,
can be, and are, enormously exaggerated. But it is always hard to correct the exaggeration
without exaggerating the correction. It would be absurd seriously to deny that Jerusalem
is an Eastern town; but we may say it was Westernised without being modernised. Anyhow, it
was medievalised before it was modernised. And in the same way it would be absurd to deny
that Jerusalem is a Southern town, in the sense of being normally out of the way of
snowstorms, but the truth can be suggested by saying that it has always known the quality
of snow, but not the quantity. And the quantity of snow that fell on this occasion would
have been something striking and even sensational in Sussex or Kent. And yet another way
of putting the proportions of the thing would be to say that Jerusalem has been besieged
more often and by more different kinds of people than any town upon the globe; that it has
been besieged by Jews and Assyrians, Egyptians and Babylonians, Greeks and Romans,
Persians and Saracens, Frenchmen and Englishmen; but perhaps never before in all its agony
of ages has it ever really been besieged by winter. In this case it was not only snowed
on, it was snowed up. For some days the city was really in a state of siege. If the snow
had held for a sufficient number of days it might have been in a state of famine. The
railway failed between Jerusalem and the nearest station. The roads were impassable
between Jerusalem and the nearest village, or even the nearest suburb. In some places the
snow drifted deep enough to bury a man, and in some places, alas, it did actually bury
little children; poor little Arabs whose bodies were stiff where they had fallen. Many
mules were overwhelmed as if by floods, and countless trees struck down as if by
lightning. Even when the snow began at last to melt it only threatened to turn the
besieged fortress into a sort of island. A river that men could not ford flowed between
Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Even a man walking about the ordinary streets could
easily step up to his knees or up to his waist. Snow stood about like a new system of
natural barricades reared in some new type of revolution. I have already remarked that
what struck me most about the city was the city wall; but now a new white wall stood all
round the city; and one that neither friend nor foe could pass. But a state of siege,
whatever its inconveniences, is exceedingly convenient for a critic and observer of the
town. It concentrated all that impression of being something compact and what, with less
tragic attendant circumstances, one might call cosy. It fixed the whole picture in a frame
even more absolute than the city wall; and it turned the eyes of all spectators inwards.
Above all, by its very abnormality it accentuated the normal divisions and differences of
the place; and made it more possible to distinguish and describe them like _dramatis
personae_. The parts they played in the crisis of the snow were very like the parts they
played in the general crisis of the state. And the very cut and colour of the figures,
turban and tarbouch, khaki and burnous and gabardine, seemed to stand out more sharply
against that blank background of white. The first fact of course was a fact of contrast.
When I said that the city struck me in its historic aspect as being at least as much a
memory of the Crusaders as of the Saracens, I did not of course mean to deny the
incidental contrasts between this Southern civilisation and the civilisation of Europe,
especially northern Europe. The immediate difference was obvious enough when the gold and
the gaudy vegetation of so comparatively Asiatic a city were struck by this strange blast
out of the North. It was a queer spectacle to see a great green palm bowed down under a
white load of snow; and it was a stranger and sadder spectacle to see the people
accustomed to live under such palm-trees bowed down under such unearthly storms. Yet the
very manner in which they bore it is perhaps the first fact to be noted among all the
facts that make up the puzzling problem of Jerusalem. Odd as it may sound you can see that
the true Orientals are not familiar with snow by the very fact that they accept it. They
accept it as we should accept being swallowed by an earthquake; because we do not know the
answer to an earthquake. The men from the desert do not know the answer to the snow, it
seems to them unanswerable. But Christians fight with snow in a double sense; they fight
with snow as they fight with snowballs. A Moslem left to himself would no more play with a
snowball than make a toy of a thunderbolt. And this is really a type of the true problem
that was raised by the very presence of the English soldier in the street, even if he was
only shovelling away the snow. It would be far from a bad thing, I fancy, if the rights
and wrongs of these Bible countries could occasionally be translated into Bible language.
And I suggest this here, not in the least because it is a religious language, but merely
because it is a simple language. It may be a good thing, and in many ways it certainly is
a good thing, that the races native to the Near East, to Egypt or Arabia, should come in
contact with Western culture; but it will be unfortunate if this only means coming in
contact with Western pedantry and even Western hypocrisy. As it is there is only too much
danger that the local complaints against the government may be exactly like the official
explanations of the government; that is, mere strings of long words with very little
meaning involved. In short, if people are to learn to talk English it will be a refreshing
finishing touch to their culture if they learn to talk plain English. Of this it would be
hard to find a better working model than what may be called scriptural English. It would
be a very good thing for everybody concerned if any really unjust or unpopular official
were described only in terms taken from the denunciations of Jezebel and Herod. It would
especially be a good thing for the official. If it were true it would be appropriate, and
if it were untrue it would be absurd. When people are really oppressed, their condition
can generally be described in very plain terms connected with very plain things; with
bread, with land, with taxes and children and churches. If imperialists and capitalists do
thus oppress them, as they most certainly often do, then the condition of those more
powerful persons can also be described in few and simple words; such as crime and sin and
death and hell. But when complaints are made, as they are sometimes in Palestine and still
more in Egypt, in the elaborate and long-winded style of a leading article, the
sympathetic European is apt to remember how very little confidence he has ever felt in his
own leading articles. If an Arab comes to me and says, “The stranger from across the
sea has taxed me, and taken the corn-sheaves from the field of my fathers,” I do
really feel that he towers over me and my perishing industrial civilisation with a
terrible appeal to eternal things. I feel he is a figure more enduring than a statue, like
the figure of Naboth or of Nathan. But when that simple son of the desert opens his mouth
and says, “The self-determination of proletarian class-conscious solidarity as it
functions for international reconstruction,” and so on, why then I must confess to
the weakness of feeling my sympathies instantly and strangely chilled. I merely feel
inclined to tell him that I can talk that sort of pidgin English better than he can. If he
modelled himself on the great rebels and revolutionists of the Bible, it would at least be
a considerable improvement in his literary style. But as a matter of fact something much
more solid is involved than literary style. There is a logic and justice in the
distinction, even in the world of ideas. That most people with much more education than
the Arab, and therefore much less excuse than the Arab, entirely ignore that distinction,
is merely a result of their ignoring ideas, and being satisfied with long words. They like
democracy because it is a long word; that is the only thing they do like about it. People
are entitled to self-government; that is, to such government as is self-made. They are not
necessarily entitled to a special and elaborate machinery that somebody else has made. It
is their right to make it for themselves, but it is also their duty to think of it for
themselves. Self-government of a simple kind has existed in numberless simple societies,
and I shall always think it a horrible responsibility to interfere with it. But
representative government, or theoretically representative government, of an exceedingly
complicated kind, may exist in certain complicated societies without their being bound to
transfer it to others, or even to admire it for themselves. At any rate, for good or evil,
they have invented it themselves. And there is a moral distinction, which is perfectly
rational and democratic, between such inventions and the self-evident rights which no man
can claim to have invented. If the Arab says to me, “I don’t care a curse for Europe;
I demand bread,” the reproach is to me both true and terrible. But if he says,
“I don’t care a curse for Europe; I demand French cookery, Italian confectionery,
English audit ale,” and so on, I think he is rather an unreasonable Arab. After all,
we invented these things; in _auctore auctoritas_. And of this problem there is a sort of
working model in the presence of the snow in Palestine, especially in the light of the old
proverb about the impossibility of snow in Egypt. Palestine is wilder, less wealthy and
modernised, more religious and therefore more realistic. The issue between the things only
a European can do, and the things no European has the right to do, is much sharper and
clearer than the confusions of verbosity. On the one hand the things the English can do
are more real things, like clearing away the snow; for the very reason that the English
are not here, so to speak, building on a French pavement but on the bare rocks of the
Eastern wilds, the contact with Islam and Israel is more simple and direct. And on the
other side the discontents and revolts are more real. So far from intending to suggest
that the Egyptians have no complaints, I am very far from meaning that they have no
wrongs. But curiously enough the wrongs seem to me more real than the complaints. The real
case against our Egyptian adventure was stated long ago by Randolph Churchill, when he
denounced “a bondholder’s war”; it is in the whole business of collecting debts
due to cosmopolitan finance. But a stranger in Egypt hears little denunciation of
cosmopolitan finance, and a great deal of drivel in the way of cosmopolitan idealism. When
the Palestinians say that usurers menace their land they mean the land they dig; an old
actuality and not a new abstraction. Their revolt may be right or wrong, but it is real;
and what applies to their revolt applies to their religion. There may well be doubts about
whether Egypt is a nation, but there is no doubt that Jerusalem is a city, and the nations
have come to its light. The problem of the snow proved indeed the text for a tale touching
the practical politics of the city. The English soldiers cleared the snow away; the Arabs
sat down satisfied or stoical with the snow blocking their own doors or loading their own
roofs. But the Jews, as the story went, were at length persuaded to clear away the snow in
front of them, and then demanded a handsome salary for having recovered the use of their
own front doors. The story is not quite fair; and yet it is not so unfair as it seems. Any
rational Anti-Semite will agree that such tales, even when they are true, do not always
signify an avaricious tradition in Semitism, but sometimes the healthier and more human
suggestion of Bolshevism. The Jews do demand high wages, but it is not always because they
are in the old sense money-grabbers, but rather in the new sense money-grabbers (as an
enemy would put it) men sincerely and bitterly convinced of their right to the surplus of
capitalism. There is the same problem in the Jewish colonies in the country districts; in
the Jewish explanation of the employment of Arab and Syrian labour. The Jews argue that
this occurs, not because they wish to remain idle capitalists, but because they insist on
being properly paid proletarians. With all this I shall deal, however, when I treat of the
Jewish problem itself. The point for the moment is that the episode of the snow did in a
superficial way suggest the parts played by the three parties and the tales told about
them. To begin with, it is right to say that the English do a great many things, as they
clear away the snow, simply because nobody else would do them. They did save the oriental
inhabitants from some of the worst consequences of the calamity. Probably they sometimes
save the inhabitants from something which the inhabitants do not regard as a calamity. It
is the danger of all such foreign efficiency that it often saves men who do not want to be
saved. But they do in many cases do things from which Moslems profit, but which Moslems by
themselves would not propose, let alone perform. And this has a general significance even
in our first survey, for it suggests a truth easy to abuse, but I think impossible to
ignore. I mean that there is something non-political about Moslem morality. Perverse as it
may appear, I suspect that most of their political movements result from their
non-political morality. They become politicians because they know they are not political;
and feel their simple and more or less healthy life is at a disadvantage, in face of the
political supremacy of the English and the political subtlety of the Jews. For instance,
the tradition of Turkish rule is simply a joke. All the stories about it are jokes, and
often very good jokes. My own favourite incident is that which is still commemorated in
the English cathedral by an enormous hole in the floor. The Turks dug up the pavement
looking for concealed English artillery; because they had been told that the bishop had
given his blessing to two canons. The bishop had indeed recently appointed two canons to
the service of the Church, but he had not secreted them under the floor of the chancel.
There was another agreeable incident when the Turkish authorities, by an impulsive
movement of religious toleration, sent for a Greek priest to bury Greek soldiers, and told
him to take his choice in a heap of corpses of all creeds and colours. But at once the
most curious and the most common touch of comedy is the perpetual social introduction to
solid and smiling citizens who have been nearly hanged by the Turks. The fortunate
gentleman seems still to be regarding his escape with a broad grin. If you were introduced
to a polite Frenchman who had come straight from the guillotine, or to an affable American
who had only just vacated the electrical chair, you would feel a faint curiosity about the
whole story. If a friend introduced somebody, saying, “My friend Robinson; his
sentence has been commuted to penal servitude,” or “My Uncle William, just come
from Dartmoor Prison,” your mind and perhaps your lips would faintly form the
syllables “What for?” But evidently, under Turkish rule, being hanged was like
being knocked down by a cab; it might happen to anybody. This is a parenthesis, since I am
only dealing here with the superficial experience of the streets, especially in the snow.
But it will be well to safeguard it by saying that this unpolitical carelessness and
comprehensiveness of the indiscriminate Turk had its tragic as well as its comic side. It
was by no means everybody that escaped hanging; and there was a tree growing outside the
Jaffa Gate at which men might still shudder as they pass it in the sunlight. It was what a
modern revolutionary poet has called bitterly the Tree of Man’s Making; and what a
medieval revolutionary poet called the fruit tree in the orchard of the king. It was the
gibbet; and lives have dropped from it like leaves from a tree in autumn. Yet even on the
sterner side, we can trace the truth about the Moslem fatalism which seems so alien to
political actuality. There was a popular legend or proverb that this terrible tree was in
some way bound up with the power of the Turk, and perhaps the Moslem over a great part of
the earth. There is nothing more strange about that Moslem fatalism than a certain gloomy
magnanimity which can invoke omens and oracles against itself. It is astonishing how often
the Turks seem to have accepted a legend or prophecy about their own ultimate failure. De
Quincey mentions one of them in the blow that half broke the Palladium of Byzantium. It is
said that the Moslems themselves predict the entry of a Christian king of Jerusalem
through the Golden Gate. Perhaps that is why they have blocked up the fatal gate; but in
any case they dealt in that fashion with the fatal tree. They elaborately bound and
riveted it with iron, as if accepting the popular prophecy which declared that so long as
it stood the Turkish Empire would stand. It was as if the wicked man of Scripture had
daily watered a green bay-tree, to make sure that it should flourish. In the last chapter
I have attempted to suggest a background of the battlemented walls with the low gates and
narrow windows which seem to relieve the liveliest of the coloured groups against the
neutral tints of the North, and how this was intensified when the neutral tints were
touched with the positive hue of snow. In the same merely impressionist spirit I would
here attempt to sketch some of the externals of the actors in such a scene, though it is
hard to do justice to such a picture even in the superficial matter of the picturesque.
Indeed it is hard to be sufficiently superficial; for in the East nearly every external is
a symbol. The greater part of it is the gorgeous rag-heap of Arabian humanity, and even
about that one could lecture on almost every coloured rag. We hear much of the gaudy
colours of the East; but the most striking thing about them is that they are delicate
colours. It is rare to see a red that is merely like a pillar-box, or a blue that is
Reckitt’s blue; the red is sure to have the enrichment of tawny wine or blood oranges, and
the blue of peacocks or the sea. In short these people are artistic in the sense that used
to be called aesthetic; and it is a nameless instinct that preserves these nameless tints.
Like all such instincts, it can be blunted by a bullying rationalism; like all such
children, these people do not know why they prefer the better, and can therefore be
persuaded by sophists that they prefer the worst. But there are other elements emerging
from the coloured crowd, which are more significant, and therefore more stubborn. A
stranger entirely ignorant of that world would feel something like a chill to the blood
when he first saw the black figures of the veiled Moslem women, sinister figures without
faces. It is as if in that world every woman were a widow. When he realised that these
were not the masked mutes at a very grisly funeral, but merely ladies literally obeying a
convention of wearing veils in public, he would probably have a reaction of laughter. He
would be disposed to say flippantly that it must be, a dull life, not only for the women
but the men; and that a man might well want five wives if he had to marry them before he
could even look at them. But he will be wise not to be satisfied with such flippancy, for
the complete veiling of the Moslem women of Jerusalem, though not a finer thing than the
freedom of the Christian woman of Bethlehem, is almost certainly a finer thing than the
more coquettish compromise of the other Moslem women of Cairo. It simply means that the
Moslem religion is here more sincerely observed; and this in turn is part of something
that a sympathetic person will soon feel in Jerusalem, if he has come from these more
commercial cities of the East; a spiritual tone decidedly more delicate and dignified,
like the clear air about the mountain city. Whatever the human vices involved, it is not
altogether for nothing that this is the holy town of three great religions. When all is
said, he will feel that there are some tricks that could not be played, some trades that
could not be plied, some shops that could not be opened, within a stone’s throw of the
Sepulchre. This indefinable seriousness has its own fantasies of fanaticism or formalism;
but if these are vices they are not vulgarities. There is no stronger example of this than
the real Jews of Jerusalem, especially those from the ghettoes of eastern Europe. They can
be immediately picked out by the peculiar wisps of hair worn on each side of the face,
like something between curls and whiskers. Sometimes they look strangely effeminate, like
some rococo burlesque of the ringlets of an Early Victorian woman. Sometimes they look
considerably more like the horns of a devil; and one need not be an Anti-Semite to say
that the face is often made to match. But though they may be ugly, or even horrible, they
are not vulgar like the Jews at Brighton; they trail behind them too many primeval
traditions and laborious loyalties, along with their grand though often greasy robes of
bronze or purple velvet. They often wear on their heads that odd turban of fur worn by the
Rabbis in the pictures of Rembrandt. And indeed that great name is not irrelevant; for the
whole truth at the back of Zionism is in the difference between the picture of a Jew by
Rembrandt and a picture of a Jew by Sargent. For Rembrandt the Rabbi was, in a special and
double sense, a distinguished figure. He was something distinct from the world of the
artist, who drew a Rabbi as he would a Brahmin. But Sargent had to treat his sitters as
solid citizens of England or America; and consequently his pictures are direct
provocations to a pogrom. But the light that Rembrandt loved falls not irreverently on the
strange hairy haloes that can still be seen on the shaven heads of the Jews of Jerusalem.
And I should be sorry for any pogrom that brought down any of their grey wisps or whiskers
in sorrow to the grave. The whole scene indeed, seriousness apart, might be regarded as a
fantasia for barbers; for the different ways of dressing the hair would alone serve as
symbols of different races and religions. Thus the Greek priests of the Orthodox Church,
bearded and robed in black with black towers upon their heads, have for some strange
reason their hair bound up behind like a woman’s. In any case they have in their pomp a
touch of the bearded bulls of Assyrian sculpture; and this strange fashion of curling if
not oiling the Assyrian bull gives the newcomer an indescribable and illogical impression
of the unnatural sublimity of archaic art. In the Apocalypse somewhere there is an
inspiringly unintelligible allusion to men coming on the earth, whose hair is like the
hair of women and their teeth like the teeth of lions. I have never been bitten by an
Orthodox clergyman, and cannot say whether his teeth are at all leonine; though I have
seen seven of them together enjoying their lunch at an hotel with decorum and dispatch.
But the twisting of the hair in the womanish fashion does for us touch that note of the
abnormal which the mystic meant to convey in his poetry, and which others feel rather as a
recoil into humour. The best and last touch to this topsy-turvydom was given when a lady,
observing one of these reverend gentlemen who for some reason did not carry this curious
coiffure, exclaimed, in a tone of heartrending surprise and distress, “Oh, he’s
bobbed his hair!” Here again of course even a superficial glance at the pageant of
the street should not be content with its comedy. There is an intellectual interest in the
external pomp and air of placid power in these ordinary Orthodox parish priests;
especially if we compare them with the comparatively prosaic and jog-trot good nature of
the Roman monks, called in this country the Latins. Mingling in the same crowd with these
black-robed pontiffs can be seen shaven men in brown habits who seem in comparison to be
both busy and obscure. These are the sons of St. Francis, who came to the East with a
grand simplicity and thought to finish the Crusades with a smile. The spectator will be
wise to accept this first contrast that strikes the eye with an impartial intellectual
interest; it has nothing to do with personal character, of course, and many Greek priests
are as simple in their tastes as they are charming in their manners; while any Roman
priests can find as much ritual as they may happen to want in other aspects of their own
religion. But it is broadly true that Roman and Greek Catholicism are contrasted in this
way in this country; and the contrast is the flat contrary to all our customary
associations in the West. In the East it is Roman Catholicism that stands for much that we
associate with Protestantism. It is Roman Catholicism that is by comparison plain and
practical and scornful of superstition and concerned for social work. It is Greek
Catholicism that is stiff with gold and gorgeous with ceremonial, with its hold on ancient
history and its inheritance of imperial tradition. In the cant of our own society, we may
say it is the Roman who rationalises and the Greek who Romanises. It is the Roman Catholic
who is impatient with Russian and Greek childishness, and perpetually appealing for common
sense. It is the Greek who defends such childishness as childlike faith and would rebuke
such common sense as common scepticism. I do not speak of the theological tenets or even
the deeper emotions involved, but only, as I have said, of contrasts visible even in the
street. And the whole difference is sufficiently suggested in two phrases I heard within a
few days. A distinguished Anglo-Catholic, who has himself much sympathy with the Greek
Orthodox traditions, said to me, “After all, the Romans were the first
Puritans.” And I heard that a Franciscan, being told that this Englishman and perhaps
the English generally were disposed to make an alliance with the Greek Church, had only
said by way of comment, “And a good thing too, the Greeks might do something at
last.” Anyhow the first impression is that the Greek is more gorgeous in black than
the Roman in colours. But the Greek of course can also appear in colours, especially in
those eternal forms of frozen yet fiery colours which we call jewels. I have seen the
Greek Patriarch, that magnificent old gentleman, walking down the street like an emperor
in the _Arabian Nights_, hung all over with historic jewels as thick as beads or buttons,
with a gigantic cross of solid emeralds that might have been given him by the green genii
of the sea, if any of the genii are Christians. These things are toys, but I am entirely
in favour of toys; and rubies and emeralds are almost as intoxicating as that sort of
lustrous coloured paper they put inside Christmas crackers. This beauty has been best
achieved in the North in the glory of coloured glass; and I have seen great Gothic windows
in which one could really believe that the robes of martyrs were giant rubies or the
starry sky a single enormous sapphire. But the colours of the West are transparent, the
colours of the East opaque. I have spoken of the _Arabian Nights_, and there is really a
touch of them even in the Christian churches, perhaps increased with a tradition of early
Christian secrecy. There are glimpses of gorgeously tiled walls, of blue curtains and
green doors and golden inner chambers, that are just like the entrance to an Eastern tale.
The Orthodox are at least more oriental in the sense of being more ornamental; more flat
and decorative. The Romans are more Western, I might even say more modern, in the sense of
having more realism even in their ritualism. The Greek cross is a cross; the Roman cross
is a crucifix. But these are deeper matters; I am only trying to suggest a sort of
silhouette of the crowd like the similar silhouette of the city, a profile or outline of
the heads and hats, like the profile of the towers and spires. The tower that makes the
Greek priest look like a walking catafalque is by no means alone among the horns thus
fantastically exalted. There is the peaked hood of the Armenian priest, for instance; the
stately survival of that strange Monophysite heresy which perpetuated itself in pomp and
pride mainly through the sublime accident of the Crusades. That black cone also rises
above the crowd with something of the immemorial majesty of a pyramid; and rightly so, for
it is typical of the prehistoric poetry by which these places live that some say it is a
surviving memory of Ararat and the Ark. Again the high white headgear of the Bethlehem
women, or to speak more strictly of the Bethlehem wives, has already been noted in another
connection; but it is well to remark it again among the colours of the crowd, because this
at least has a significance essential to all criticism of such a crowd. Most travellers
from the West regard such an Eastern city far too much as a Moslem city, like the lady
whom Mr. Maurice Baring met who travelled all over Russia, and thought all the churches
were mosques. But in truth it is very hard to generalise about Jerusalem, precisely
because it contains everything, and its contrasts are real contrasts. And anybody who
doubts that its Christianity is Christian, a thing fighting for our own culture and morals
on the borders of Asia, need only consider the concrete fact of these women of Bethlehem
and their costume. There is no need to sneer in any unsympathetic fashion at all the
domestic institutions of Islam; the sexes are never quite so stupid as some feminists
represent; and I dare say a woman often has her own way in a harem as well as in a
household. But the broad difference does remain. And if there be one thing, I think, that
can safely be said about all Asia and all oriental tribes, it is this; that if a married
woman wears any distinctive mark, it is always meant to prevent her from receiving the
admiration or even the notice of strange men. Often it is only made to disguise her;
sometimes it is made to disfigure her. It may be the masking of the face as among the
Moslems; it may be the shaving of the head as among the Jews; it may, I believe, be the
blackening of the teeth and other queer expedients among the people of the Far East. But
is never meant to make her look magnificent in public; and the Bethlehem wife is made to
look magnificent in public. She not only shows all the beauty of her face; and she is
often very beautiful. She also wears a towering erection which is as unmistakably meant to
give her consequence as the triple tiara of the Pope. A woman wearing such a crown, and
wearing it without a veil, does stand, and can only conceivably stand, for what we call
the Western view of women, but should rather call the Christian view of women. This is the
sort of dignity which must of necessity come from some vague memory of chivalry. The woman
may or may not be, as the legend says, a lineal descendant of a Crusader. But whether or
no she is his daughter, she is certainly his heiress. She may be put last among the local
figures I have here described, for the special reason that her case has this rather deeper
significance. For it is not possible to remain content with the fact that the crowd offers
such varied shapes and colours to the eye, when it also offers much deeper divisions and
even dilemmas to the intelligence. The black dress of the Moslem woman and the white dress
of the Christian woman are in sober truth as different as black and white. They stand for
real principles in a real opposition; and the black and white will not easily disappear in
the dull grey of our own compromises. The one tradition will defend what it regards as
modesty, and the other what it regards as dignity, with passions far deeper than most of
our paltry political appetites. Nor do I see how we can deny such a right of defence, even
in the case we consider the less enlightened. It is made all the more difficult by the
fact that those who consider themselves the pioneers of enlightenment generally also
consider themselves the protectors of native races and aboriginal rights. Whatever view we
take of the Moslem Arab, we must at least admit that the greater includes the less. It is
manifestly absurd to say we have no right to interfere in his country, but have a right to
interfere in his home. It is the intense interest of Jerusalem that there can thus be two
universes in the same street. Indeed there are ten rather than two; and it is a proverb
that the fight is not only between Christian and Moslem, but between Christian and
Christian. At this moment, it must be admitted, it is almost entirely a fight of Christian
and Moslem allied against Jew. But of that I shall have to speak later; the point for the
moment is that the varied colours of the streets are a true symbol of the varied colours
of the souls. It is perhaps the only modern place where the war waged between ideas has
such a visible and vivid heraldry. And that fact alone may well leave the spectator with
one final reflection; for it is a matter in which the modern world may well have to learn
something from the motley rabble of this remote Eastern town. It may be an odd thing to
suggest that a crowd in Bond Street or Piccadilly should model itself on this masquerade
of religions. It would be facile and fascinating to turn it into a satire or an
extravaganza. Every good and innocent mind would be gratified with the image of a bowler
hat in the precise proportions of the Dome of St. Paul’s, and surmounted with a little
ball and cross, symbolising the loyalty of some Anglican to his mother church. It might
even be pleasing to see the street dominated with a more graceful top-hat modelled on the
Eiffel Tower, and signifying the wearer’s faith in scientific enterprise, or perhaps in
its frequent concomitant of political corruption. These would be fair Western parallels to
the head-dresses of Jerusalem; modelled on Mount Ararat or Solomon’s Temple, and some may
insinuate that we are not very likely ever to meet them in the Strand. A man wearing
whiskers is not even compelled to plead some sort of excuse or authority for wearing
whiskers, as the Jew can for wearing ringlets; and though the Anglican clergyman may
indeed be very loyal to his mother church, there might be considerable hesitation if his
mother bade him bind his hair. Nevertheless a more historical view of the London and
Jerusalem crowds will show as far from impossible to domesticate such symbols; that some
day a lady’s jewels might mean something like the sacred jewels of the Patriarch, or a
lady’s furs mean something like the furred turban of the Rabbi. History indeed will show
us that we are not so much superior to them as inferior to ourselves. When the Crusaders
came to Palestine, and came riding up that road from Jaffa where the orange plantations
glow on either side, they came with motives which may have been mixed and are certainly
disputed. There may have been different theories among the Crusaders; there are certainly
different theories among the critics of the Crusaders. Many sought God, some gold, some
perhaps black magic. But whatever else they were in search of, they were not in search of
the picturesque. They were not drawn from a drab civilisation by that mere thirst for
colour that draws so many modern artists to the bazaars of the East. In those days there
were colours in the West as well as in the East; and a glow in the sunset as well as in
the sunrise. Many of the men who rode up that road were dressed to match the most glorious
orange garden and to rival the most magnificent oriental king. King Richard cannot have
been considered dowdy, even by comparison, when he rode on that high red saddle graven
with golden lions, with his great scarlet hat and his vest of silver crescents. That
squire of the comparatively unobtrusive household of Joinville, who was clad in scarlet
striped with yellow, must surely have been capable (if I may be allowed the expression) of
knocking them in the most magnificent Asiatic bazaar. Nor were these external symbols less
significant, but rather more significant than the corresponding symbols of the Eastern
civilisation. It is true that heraldry began beautifully as an art and afterwards
degenerated into a science. But even in being a science it had to possess a significance;
and the Western colours were often allegorical where the Eastern were only accidental. To
a certain extent this more philosophical ornament was doubtless imitated; and I have
remarked elsewhere on the highly heraldic lions which even the Saracens carved over the
gate of St. Stephen. But it is the extraordinary and even exasperating fact that it was
not imitated as the most meaningless sort of modern vulgarity is imitated. King Richard’s
great red hat embroidered with beasts and birds has not overshadowed the earth so much as
the billycock, which no one has yet thought of embroidering with any such natural and
universal imagery. The cockney tourist is not only more likely to set out with the
intention of knocking them, but he has actually knocked them; and Orientals are imitating
the tweeds of the tourist more than they imitated the stripes of the squire. It is a
curious and perhaps melancholy truth that the world is imitating our worst, our weariness
and our dingy decline, when it did not imitate our best and the high moment of our
morning. Perhaps it is only when civilisation becomes a disease that it becomes an
infection. Possibly it is only when it becomes a very virulent disease that it becomes an
epidemic. Possibly again that is the meaning both of cosmopolitanism and imperialism.
Anyhow the tribes sitting by Afric’s sunny fountains did not take up the song when Francis
of Assisi stood on the very mountain of the Middle Ages, singing the Canticle of the Sun.
When Michael Angelo carved a statue in snow, Eskimos did not copy him, despite their large
natural quarries or resources. Laplanders never made a model of the Elgin Marbles, with a
frieze of reindeers instead of horses; nor did Hottentots try to paint Mumbo Jumbo as
Raphael had painted Madonnas. But many a savage king has worn a top-hat, and the barbarian
has sometimes been so debased as to add to it a pair of trousers. Explosive bullets and
the brutal factory system numbers of advanced natives are anxious to possess. And it was
this reflection, arising out of the mere pleasure of the eye in the parti-coloured crowd
before me, that brought back my mind to the chief problem and peril of our position in
Palestine, on which I touched earlier in this chapter; the peril which is largely at the
back both of the just and of the unjust objections to Zionism. It is the fear that the
West, in its modern mercantile mood, will send not its best but its worst. The artisan way
of putting it, from the point of view of the Arab, is that it will mean not so much the
English merchant as the Jewish money-lender. I shall write elsewhere of better types of
Jew and the truths they really represent; but the Jewish money-lender is in a curious and
complex sense the representative of this unfortunate paradox. He is not only unpopular
both in the East and West, but he is unpopular in the West for being Eastern and in the
East for being Western. He is accused in Europe of Asiatic crookedness and secrecy, and in
Asia of European vulgarity and bounce. I have said _a propos_ of the Arab that the dignity
of the oriental is in his long robe; the merely mercantile Jew is the oriental who has
lost his long robe, which leads to a dangerous liveliness in the legs. He bustles and
hustles too much; and in Palestine some of the unpopularity even of the better sort of Jew
is simply due to his restlessness. But there remains a fear that it will not be a question
of the better sort of Jew, or of the better sort of British influence. The same
ignominious inversion which reproduces everywhere the factory chimney without the church
tower, which spreads a cockney commerce but not a Christian culture, has given many men a
vague feeling that the influence of modern civilisation will surround these ragged but
coloured groups with something as dreary and discoloured, as unnatural and as desolate as
the unfamiliar snow in which they were shivering as I watched them. There seemed a sort of
sinister omen in this strange visitation that the north had sent them; in the fact that
when the north wind blew at last, it had only scattered on them this silver dust of death.
It may be that this more melancholy mood was intensified by that pale landscape and those
impassable ways. I do not dislike snow; on the contrary I delight in it; and if it had
drifted as deep in my own country against my own door I should have thought it the triumph
of Christmas, and a thing as comic as my own dog and donkey. But the people in the
coloured rags did dislike it; and the effects of it were not comic but tragic. The news
that came in seemed in that little lonely town like the news of a great war, or even of a
great defeat. Men fell to regarding it, as they have fallen too much to regarding the war,
merely as an unmixed misery, and here the misery was really unmixed. As the snow began to
melt corpses were found in it, homes were hopelessly buried, and even the gradual clearing
of the roads only brought him stories of the lonely hamlets lost in the hills. It seemed
as if a breath of the aimless destruction that wanders in the world had drifted across us;
and no task remained for men but the weary rebuilding of ruins and the numbering of the
dead. Only as I went out of the Jaffa Gate, a man told me that the tree of the hundred
deaths, that was the type of the eternal Caliphate of the Crescent, was cast down and
lying broken in the snow. CHAPTER VI THE GROUPS OF THE CITY Palestine is a striped
country; that is the first effect of landscape on the eye. It runs in great parallel lines
wavering into vast hills and valleys, but preserving the parallel pattern; as if drawn
boldly but accurately with gigantic chalks of green and grey and red and yellow. The
natural explanation or (to speak less foolishly) the natural process of this is simple
enough. The stripes are the strata of the rock, only they are stripped by the great rains,
so that everything has to grow on ledges, repeating yet again that terraced character to
be seen in the vineyards and the staircase streets of the town. But though the cause is in
a sense in the ruinous strength of the rain, the hues are not the dreary hues of ruin.
What earth there is is commonly a red clay richer than that of Devon; a red clay of which
it would be easy to believe that the giant limbs of the first man were made. What grass
there is is not only an enamel of emerald, but is literally crowded with those crimson
anemones which might well have called forth the great saying touching Solomon in all his
glory. And even what rock there is is coloured with a thousand secondary and tertiary
tints, as are the walls and streets of the Holy City which is built from the quarries of
these hills. For the old stones of the old Jerusalem are as precious as the precious
stones of the New Jerusalem; and at certain moments of morning or of sunset, every pebble
might be a pearl. And all these coloured strata rise so high and roll so far that they
might be skies rather than slopes. It is as if we looked up at a frozen sunset; or a
daybreak fixed for ever with its fleeting bars of cloud. And indeed the fancy is not
without a symbolic suggestiveness. This is the land of eternal things; but we tend too
much to forget that recurrent things are eternal things. We tend to forget that subtle
tones and delicate hues, whether in the hills or the heavens, were to the primitive poets
and sages as visible as they are to us; and the strong and simple words in which they
describe them do not prove that they did not realise them. When Wordsworth speaks of
“the clouds that gather round the setting sun,” we assume that he has seen every
shadow of colour and every curve of form; but when the Hebrew poet says “He hath made
the clouds his chariot”; we do not always realise that he was full of indescribable
emotions aroused by indescribable sights. We vaguely assume that the very sky was plainer
in primitive times. We feel as if there had been a fashion in sunsets; or as if dawn was
always grey in the Stone Age or brown in the Bronze Age. But there is another parable
written in those long lines of many-coloured clay and stone. Palestine is in every sense a
stratified country. It is not only true in the natural sense, as here where the clay has
fallen away and left visible the very ribs of the hills. It is true in the quarries where
men dig, in the dead cities where they excavate, and even in the living cities where they
still fight and pray. The sorrow of all Palestine is that its divisions in culture,
politics and theology are like its divisions in geology. The dividing line is horizontal
instead of vertical. The frontier does not run between states but between stratified
layers. The Jew did not appear beside the Canaanite but on top of the Canaanite; the Greek
not beside the Jew but on top of the Jew; the Moslem not beside the Christian but on top
of the Christian. It is not merely a house divided against itself, but one divided across
itself. It is a house in which the first floor is fighting the second floor, in which the
basement is oppressed from above and attics are besieged from below. There is a great deal
of gunpowder in the cellars; and people are by no means comfortable even on the roof. In
days of what some call Bolshevism, it may be said that most states are houses in which the
kitchen has declared war on the drawing-room. But this will give no notion of the toppling
pagoda of political and religious and racial differences, of which the name is Palestine.
To explain that it is necessary to give the traveller’s first impressions more
particularly in their order, and before I return to this view of the society as
stratified, I must state the problem more practically as it presents itself while the
society still seems fragmentary. We are always told that the Turk kept the peace between
the Christian sects. It would be nearer the nerve of vital truth to say that he made the
war between the Christian sects. But it would be nearer still to say that the war is
something not made by Turks but made up by infidels. The tourist visiting the churches is
often incredulous about the tall tales told about them; but he is completely credulous
about the tallest of all the tales, the tale that is told against them. He believes in a
frantic fraticidal war perpetually waged by Christian against Christian in Jerusalem. It
freshens the free sense of adventure to wander through those crooked and cavernous
streets, expecting every minute to see the Armenian Patriarch trying to stick a knife into
the Greek Patriarch; just as it would add to the romance of London to linger about Lambeth
and Westminster in the hope of seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury locked in a deadly
grapple with the President of the Wesleyan Conference. And if we return to our homes at
evening without having actually seen these things with the eye of flesh, the vision has
none the less shone on our path, and led us round many corners with alertness and with
hope. But in bald fact religion does not involve perpetual war in the East, any more than
patriotism involves perpetual war in the West. What it does involve in both cases is a
defensive attitude; a vigilance on the frontiers. There is no war; but there is an armed
peace. I have already explained the sense in which I say that the Moslems are unhistoric
or even anti-historic. Perhaps it would be near the truth to say that they are
prehistoric. They attach themselves to the tremendous truisms which men might have
realised before they had any political experience at all; which might have been scratched
with primitive knives of flint upon primitive pots of clay. Being simple and sincere, they
do not escape the need for legends; I might almost say that, being honest, they do not
escape the need for lies. But their mood is not historic, they do not wish to grapple with
the past; they do not love its complexities; nor do they understand the enthusiasm for its
details and even its doubts. Now in all this the Moslems of a place like Jerusalem are the
very opposite of the Christians of Jerusalem. The Christianity of Jerusalem is highly
historic, and cannot be understood without historical imagination. And this is not the
strong point perhaps of those among us who generally record their impressions of the
place. As the educated Englishman does not know the history of England, it would be
unreasonable to expect him to know the history of Moab or of Mesopotamia. He receives the
impression, in visiting the shrines of Jerusalem, of a number of small sects squabbling
about small things. In short, he has before him a tangle of trivialities, which include
the Roman Empire in the West and in the East, the Catholic Church in its two great
divisions, the Jewish race, the memories of Greece and Egypt, and the whole Mahometan
world in Asia and Africa. It may be that he regards these as small things; but I should be
glad if he would cast his eye over human history, and tell me what are the large things.
The truth is that the things that meet to-day in Jerusalem are by far the greatest things
that the world has yet seen. If they are not important nothing on this earth is important,
and certainly not the impressions of those who happen to be bored by them. But to
understand them it is necessary to have something which is much commoner in Jerusalem than
in Oxford or Boston; that sort of living history which we call tradition. For instance,
the critic generally begins by dismissing these conflicts with the statement that they are
all about small points of theology. I do not admit that theological points are small
points. Theology is only thought applied to religion; and those who prefer a thoughtless
religion need not be so very disdainful of others with a more rationalistic taste. The old
joke that the Greek sects only differed about a single letter is about the lamest and most
illogical joke in the world. An atheist and a theist only differ by a single letter; yet
theologians are so subtle as to distinguish definitely between the two. But though I do
not in any case allow that it is idle to be concerned about theology, as a matter of
actual fact these quarrels are not chiefly concerned about theology. They are concerned
about history. They are concerned with the things about which the only human sort of
history is concerned; great memories of great men, great battles for great ideas, the love
of brave people for beautiful places, and the faith by which the dead are alive. It is
quite true that with this historic sense men inherit heavy responsibilities and revenges,
fury and sorrow and shame. It is also true that without it men die, and nobody even digs
their graves. The truth is that these quarrels are rather about patriotism than about
religion, in the sense of theology. That is, they are just such heroic passions about the
past as we call in the West by the name of nationalism; but they are conditioned by the
extraordinarily complicated position of the nations, or what corresponds to the nations.
We of the West, if we wish to understand it, must imagine ourselves as left with all our
local loves and family memories unchanged, but the places affected by them intermingled
and tumbled about by some almost inconceivable convulsion. We must imagine cities and
landscapes to have turned on some unseen pivots, or been shifted about by some unseen
machinery, so that our nearest was furthest and our remotest enemy our neighbour. We must
imagine monuments on the wrong sites, and the antiquities of one county emptied out on top
of another. And we must imagine through all this the thin but tough threads of tradition
everywhere tangled and yet everywhere unbroken. We must picture a new map made out of the
broken fragments of the old map; and yet with every one remembering the old map and
ignoring the new. In short we must try to imagine, or rather we must try to hope, that our
own memories would be as long and our own loyalties as steady as the memories and
loyalties of the little crowd in Jerusalem; and hope, or pray, that we could only be as
rigid, as rabid and as bigoted as are these benighted people. Then perhaps we might
preserve all our distinctions of truth and falsehood in a chaos of time and space. We have
to conceive that the Tomb of Napoleon is in the middle of Stratford-on-Avon, and that the
Nelson Column is erected on the field of Bannockburn; that Westminster Abbey has taken
wings and flown away to the most romantic situation on the Rhine, and that the wooden
“Victory” is stranded, like the Ark on Ararat, on the top of the Hill of Tara;
that the pilgrims to the shrine of Lourdes have to look for it in the Island of Runnymede,
and that the only existing German statue of Bismarck is to be found in the Pantheon at
Paris. This intolerable topsy-turvydom is no exaggeration of the way in which stories cut
across each other and sites are imposed on each other in the historic chaos of the Holy
City. Now we in the West are very lucky in having our nations normally distributed into
their native lands; so that good patriots can talk about themselves without perpetually
annoying their neighbours. Some of the pacifists tell us that national frontiers and
divisions are evil because they exasperate us to war. It would be far truer to say that
national frontiers and divisions keep us at peace. It would be far truer to say that we
can always love each other so long as we do not see each other. But the people of
Jerusalem are doomed to have difference without division. They are driven to set pillar
against pillar in the same temple, while we can set city against city across the plains of
the world. While for us a church rises from its foundations as naturally as a flower
springs from a flower-bed, they have to bless the soil and curse the stones that stand on
it. While the land we love is solid under our feet to the earth’s centre, they have to see
all they love and hate lying in strata like alternate night and day, as incompatible and
as inseparable. Their entanglements are tragic, but they are not trumpery or accidental.
Everything has a meaning; they are loyal to great names as men are loyal to great nations;
they have differences about which they feel bound to dispute to the death; but in their
death they are not divided. Jerusalem is a small town of big things; and the average
modern city is a big town full of small things. All the most important and interesting
powers in history are here gathered within the area of a quiet village; and if they are
not always friends, at least they are necessarily neighbours. This is a point of
intellectual interest, and even intensity, that is far too little realised. It is a matter
of modern complaint that in a place like Jerusalem the Christian groups do not always
regard each other with Christian feelings. It is said that they fight each other; but at
least they meet each other. In a great industrial city like London or Liverpool, how often
do they even meet each other? In a large town men live in small cliques, which are much
narrower than classes; but in this small town they live at least by large contacts, even
if they are conflicts. Nor is it really true, in the daily humours of human life, that
they are only conflicts. I have heard an eminent English clergyman from Cambridge
bargaining for a brass lamp with a Syrian of the Greek Church, and asking the advice of a
Franciscan friar who was standing smiling in the same shop. I have met the same
representative of the Church of England, at a luncheon party with the wildest Zionist
Jews, and with the Grand Mufti, the head of the Moslem religion. Suppose the same
Englishman had been, as he might well have been, an eloquent and popular vicar in Chelsea
or Hampstead. How often would he have met a Franciscan or a Zionist? Not once in a year.
How often would he have met a Moslem or a Greek Syrian? Not once in a lifetime. Even if he
were a bigot, he would be bound in Jerusalem to become a more interesting kind of bigot.
Even if his opinions were narrow, his experiences would be wide. He is not, as a fact, a
bigot, nor, as a fact, are the other people bigots, but at the worst they could not be
unconscious bigots. They could not live in such uncorrected complacency as is possible to
a larger social set in a larger social system. They could not be quite so ignorant as a
broad-minded person in a big suburb. Indeed there is something fine and distinguished
about the very delicacy, and even irony, of their diplomatic relations. There is something
of chivalry in the courtesy of their armed truce, and it is a great school of manners that
includes such differences in morals. This is an aspect of the interest of Jerusalem which
can easily be neglected and is not easy to describe. The normal life there is intensely
exciting, not because the factions fight, but rather because they do not fight. Of the
abnormal crisis when they did fight, and the abnormal motives that made them fight, I
shall have something to say later on. But it was true for a great part of the time that
what was picturesque and thrilling was not the war but the peace. The sensation of being
in this little town is rather like that of being at a great international congress. It is
like that moving and glittering social satire, in which diplomatists can join in a waltz
who may soon be joining in a war. For the religious and political parties have yet another
point in common with separate nations; that even within this narrow space the complicated
curve of their frontiers is really more or less fixed, and certainly not particularly
fluctuating. Persecution is impossible and conversion is not at all common. The very able
Anglo-Catholic leader, to whom I have already referred, uttered to me a paradox that was a
very practical truth. He said he felt exasperated with the Christian sects, not for their
fanaticism but for their lack of fanaticism. He meant their lack of any fervour and even
of any hope, of converting each other to their respective religions. An Armenian may be
quite as proud of the Armenian Church as a Frenchman of the French nation, yet he may no
more expect to make a Moslem an Armenian than the Frenchman expects to make an Englishman
a Frenchman. If, as we are told, the quarrels could be condemned as merely theological,
this would certainly be the very reverse of logical. But as I say, we get much nearer to
them by calling them national; and the leaders of the great religions feel much more like
the ambassadors of great nations. And, as I have also said, that ambassadorial atmosphere
can be best expressed on the word irony, sometimes a rather tragic irony. At any tea-party
or talk in the street, between the rival leaders, there is a natural tendency to that sort
of wit which consists in veiled allusion to a very open secret. Each mail feels that there
are heavy forces behind a small point, as the weight of the fencer is behind the point of
the rapier. And the point can be yet more pointed because the politics of the city, when I
was there, included several men with a taste and talent for such polished intercourse;
including especially two men whose experience and culture would have been remarkable in
any community in the world; the American Consul and the Military Governor of Jerusalem. If
in cataloguing the strata of the society we take first the topmost layer of Western
officialism, we might indeed find it not inconvenient to take these two men as
representing the chief realities about it. Dr. Glazebrook, the representative of the
United States, has the less to do with the internal issues of the country; but his mere
presence and history is so strangely picturesque that he might be put among the first
reasons for finding the city interesting. He is an old man now, for he actually began life
as a soldier in the Southern and Secessionist army, and still keeps alive in every detail,
not merely the virtues but the very gestures of the old Southern and Secessionist
aristocrat. He afterward became a clergyman of the Episcopalian Church, and served as a
chaplain in the Spanish-American war, then, at an age when most men have long retired from
the most peaceful occupations, he was sent out by President Wilson to the permanent
battlefield of Palestine. The brilliant services he performed there, in the protection of
British and American subjects, are here chiefly interesting as throwing a backward light
on the unearthly topsy-turvydom of Turkish rule. There appears in his experiences
something in such rule which we are perhaps apt to forget in a vision of stately Eastern
princes and gallant Eastern warriors, something more tyrannical even than the dull
pigheadedness of Prussianism. I mean the most atrocious of all tortures, which is called
caprice. It is the thing we feel in the Arabian tales, when no man knows whether the
Sultan is good or bad, and he gives the same Vizier a thousand pounds or a thousand
lashes. I have heard Dr. Glazebrook describe a whole day of hideous hesitation, in which
fugitives for whom he pleaded were allowed four times to embark and four times were
brought back again to their prison. There is something there dizzy as well as dark, a
whirlpool in the very heart of Asia; and something wilder than our own worst oppressions
in the peril of those men who looked up and saw above all the power of Asiatic arms, their
hopes hanging on a rocking mind like that of a maniac. The tyrant let them go at last,
avowedly out of a simple sentiment for the white hair of the consul, and the strange
respect that many Moslems feel for the minister of any religion. Once at least the
trembling rock of barbaric rule nearly fell on him and killed him. By a sudden movement of
lawlessness the Turkish military authorities sent to him, demanding the English documents
left in his custody. He refused to give them up; and he knew what he was doing. In
standing firm he was not even standing like Nurse Cavell against organised Prussia under
the full criticism of organised Europe. He was rather standing in a den of brigands, most
of whom had never heard of the international rules they violated. Finally by another freak
of friendliness they left him and his papers alone; but the old man had to wait many days
in doubt, not knowing what they would do, since they did not know themselves. I do not
know what were his thoughts, or whether they were far from Palestine and all possibilities
that tyranny might return and reign for ever. But I have sometimes fancied that, in that
ghastly silence, he may have heard again only the guns of Lee and the last battle in the
Wilderness. If the mention of the American Consul refers back to the oppression of the
past, the mention of the Military Governor brings back all the problems of the present.
Here I only sketch these groups as I first found them in the present; and it must be
remembered that my present is already past. All this was before the latest change from
military to civil government, but the mere name of Colonel Storrs raises a question which
is rather misunderstood in relation to that change itself. Many of our journalists,
especially at the time of the last and worst of the riots, wrote as if it would be a
change from some sort of stiff militarism to a liberal policy akin to parliamentarism. I
think this a fallacy, and a fallacy not uncommon in journalism, which is professedly very
much up to date, and actually very much behind the times. As a fact it is nearly four
years behind the times, for it is thinking in terms of the old small and rigidly
professional army. Colonel Storrs is the very last man to be called militaristic in the
narrow sense; he is a particularly liberal and enlightened type of the sort of English
gentleman who readily served his country in war, but who is rather particularly fitted to
serve her in politics or literature. Of course many purely professional soldiers have
liberal and artistic tastes; as General Shea, one of the organisers of Palestinian
victory, has a fine taste in poetry, or Colonel Popham, then deputy Governor of Jerusalem,
an admirable taste in painting. But while it is sometimes forgotten that many soldiers are
men, it is now still more strange to forget that most men are soldiers. I fancy there are
now few things more representative than the British Army; certainly it is much more
representative than the British Parliament. The men I knew, and whom I remember with so
much gratitude, working under General Bols at the seat of government on the Mount of
Olives, were certainly not narrowed by any military professionalism, and had if anything
the mark of quite different professions. One was a very shrewd and humorous lawyer
employed on legal problems about enemy property, another was a young schoolmaster, with
keen and clear ideas, or rather ideals, about education for all the races in Palestine.
These men did not cease to be themselves because they were all dressed in khaki; and if
Colonel Storrs recurs first to the memory, it is not because he had become a colonel in
the trade of soldiering, but because he is the sort of man who could talk equally about
all these other trades and twenty more. Incidentally, and by way of example, he can talk
about them in about ten languages. There is a story, which whether or no it be true is
very typical, that one of the Zionist leaders made a patriotic speech in Hebrew, and broke
off short in his recollection of this partially revived national tongue; whereupon the
Governor of Jerusalem finished his Hebrew speech for him–whether to exactly the same
effect or not it would be impertinent to inquire. He is a man rather recalling the
eighteenth century aristocrat, with his love of wit and classical learning; one of that
small group of the governing class that contains his uncle, Harry Cust, and was warmed
with the generous culture of George Wyndham. It was a purely mechanical distinction
between the military and civil government that would lend to such figures the stiffness of
a drumhead court martial. And even those who differed with him accused him in practice,
not of militarist lack of sympathy with any of those he ruled, but rather with too
imaginative a sympathy with some of them. To know these things, however slightly, and then
read the English newspapers afterwards is often amusing enough; but I have only mentioned
the matter because there is a real danger in so crude a differentiation. It would be a bad
thing if a system military in form but representative in fact gave place to a system
representative in form but financial in fact. That is what the Arabs and many of the
English fear; and with the mention of that fear we come to the next stratum after the
official. It must be remembered that I am not at this stage judging these groups, but
merely very rapidly sketching them, like figures and costumes in the street. The group
standing nearest to the official is that of the Zionists; who are supposed to have a place
at least in our official policy. Among these also I am happy to have friends; and I may
venture to call the official head of the Zionists an old friend in a matter quite remote
from Zionism. Dr. Eder, the President of the Zionist Commission, is a man for whom I
conceived a respect long ago when he protested, as a professional physician, against the
subjection of the poor to medical interference to the destruction of all moral
independence. He criticised with great effect the proposal of legislators to kidnap
anybody else’s child whom they chose to suspect of a feeblemindedness they were themselves
too feeble-minded to define. It was defended, very characteristically, by a combination of
precedent and progress; and we were told that it only extended the principle of the lunacy
laws. That is to say, it only extended the principle of the lunacy laws to people whom no
sane man would call lunatics. It is as if they were to alter the terms of a quarantine law
from “lepers” to “light-haired persons”; and then say blandly that the
principle was the same. The humour and human sympathy of a Jewish doctor was very welcome
to us when we were accused of being Anti-Semites, and we afterwards asked Dr. Eder for his
own views on the Jewish problem. We found he was then a very strong Zionist; and this was
long before he had the faintest chance of figuring as a leader of Zionism. And this
accident is important; for it stamps the sincerity of the small group of original
Zionists, who were in favour of this nationalist ideal when all the international Jewish
millionaires were against it. To my mind the most serious point now against it is that the
millionaires are for it. But it is enough to note here the reality of the ideal in men
like Dr. Eder and Dr. Weizmann, and doubtless many others. The only defect that need be
noted, as a mere detail of portraiture, is a certain excessive vigilance and jealousy and
pertinacity in the wrong place, which sometimes makes the genuine Zionists unpopular with
the English, who themselves suffer unpopularity for supporting them. For though I am
called an Anti-Semite, there were really periods of official impatience when I was almost
the only Pro-Semite in the company. I went about pointing out what was really to be said
for Zionism, to people who were represented by the Arabs as the mere slaves of the
Zionists. This group of Arab Anti-Semites may be taken next, but very briefly; for the
problem itself belongs to a later page; and the one thing to be said of it here is very
simple. I never expected it, and even now I do not fully understand it. But it is the fact
that the native Moslems are more Anti-Semitic than the native Christians. Both are more or
less so; and have formed a sort of alliance out of the fact. The banner carried by the mob
bore the Arabic inscription “Moslems and Christians are brothers.” It is as if
the little wedge of Zionism had closed up the cracks of the Crusades. Of the Christian
crowds in that partnership, and the Christian creeds they are proud to inherit, I have
already suggested something; it is only as well to note that I have put them out of their
strict order in the stratification of history. It is too often forgotten that in these
countries the Christian culture is older than the Moslem culture. I for one regret that
the old Pax Romana was broken up by the Arabs; and hold that in the long run there was
more life in that Byzantine decline than in that Semitic revival. And I will add what I
cannot here develop or defend; that in the long run it is best that the Pax Romana should
return; and that the suzerainty of those lands at least will have to be Christian, and
neither Moslem nor Jewish. To defend it is to defend a philosophy; but I do hold that
there is in that philosophy, for all the talk of its persecutions in the past, a
possibility of comprehension and many-sided sympathy which is not in the narrow intensity
either of the Moslem or the Jew. Christianity is really the right angle of that triangle,
and the other two are very acute angles. But in the meetings that led up to the riots it
is the more Moslem part of the mixed crowds that I chiefly remember; which touches the
same truth that the Christians are the more potentially tolerant. But many of the Moslem
leaders are as dignified and human as many of the Zionist leaders; the Grand Mufti is a
man I cannot imagine as either insulting anybody, or being conceivably the object of
insult. The Moslem Mayor of Jerusalem was another such figure, belonging also I believe to
one of the Arab aristocratic houses (the Grand Mufti is a descendant of Mahomet) and I
shall not forget his first appearance at the first of the riotous meetings in which I
found myself. I will give it as the first of two final impressions with which I will end
this chapter, I fear on a note of almost anarchic noise, the unearthly beating and braying
of the Eastern gongs and horns of two fierce desert faiths against each other. I first saw
from the balcony of the hotel the crowd of riotors come rolling up the street. In front of
them went two fantastic figures turning like teetotums in an endless dance and twirling
two crooked and naked scimitars, as the Irish were supposed to twirl shillelaghs. I
thought it a delightful way of opening a political meeting; and I wished we could do it at
home at the General Election. I wish that instead of the wearisome business of Mr. Bonar
Law taking the chair, and Mr. Lloyd George addressing the meeting, Mr. Law and Mr. Lloyd
George would only hop and caper in front of a procession, spinning round and round till
they were dizzy, and waving and crossing a pair of umbrellas in a thousand invisible
patterns. But this political announcement or advertisement, though more intelligent than
our own, had, as I could readily believe, another side to it. I was told that it was often
a prelude to ordinary festivals, such as weddings; and no doubt it remains from some
ancient ritual dance of a religious character. But I could imagine that it might sometimes
seem to a more rational taste to have too religious a character. I could imagine that
those dancing men might indeed be dancing dervishes, with their heads going round in a
more irrational sense than their bodies. I could imagine that at some moments it might
suck the soul into what I have called in metaphor the whirlpool of Asia, or the whirlwind
of a world whipped like a top with a raging monotony; the cyclone of eternity. That is not
the sort of rhythm nor the sort of religion by which I myself should hope to save the
soul; but it is intensely interesting to the mind and even the eye, and I went downstairs
and wedged myself into the thick and thronging press. It surged through the gap by the
gate, where men climbed lamp-posts and roared out speeches, and more especially recited
national poems in rich resounding voices; a really moving effect, at least for one who
could not understand a word that was said. Feeling had already gone as far as knocking
Jews’ hats off and other popular sports, but not as yet on any universal and systematic
scale; I saw a few of the antiquated Jews with wrinkles and ringlets, peering about here
and there; some said as spies or representatives of the Zionists, to take away the
Anti-Semitic colour from the meeting. But I think this unlikely; especially as it would
have been pretty hard to take it away. It is more likely, I think, that the archaic Jews
were really not unamused and perhaps not unsympathetic spectators; for the Zionist problem
is complicated by a real quarrel in the Ghetto about Zionism. The old religious Jews do
not welcome the new nationalist Jews; it would sometimes be hardly an exaggeration to say
that one party stands for the religion without the nation, and the other for the nation
without the religion. Just as the old agricultural Arabs hate the Zionists as the
instruments of new Western business grab and sharp practice; so the old peddling and
pedantic but intensely pious Jews hate the Zionists as the instruments of new Western
atheism of free thought. Only I fear that when the storm breaks, such distinctions are
swept away. The storm was certainly rising. Outside the Jaffa Gate the road runs up
steeply and is split in two by the wedge of a high building, looking as narrow as a tower
and projecting like the prow of a ship. There is something almost theatrical about its
position and stage properties, its one high-curtained window and balcony, with a sort of
pole or flag-staff; for the place is official or rather municipal. Round it swelled the
crowd, with its songs and poems and passionate rhetoric in a kind of crescendo, and then
suddenly the curtain of the window rose like the curtain of the theatre, and we saw on
that high balcony the red fez and the tall figure of the Mahometan Mayor of Jerusalem. I
did not understand his Arabic observations; but I know when a man is calming a mob, and
the mob did become calmer. It was as if a storm swelled in the night and gradually died
away in a grey morning; but there are perpetual mutterings of that storm. My point for the
moment is that the exasperations come chiefly from the two extremes of the two great
Semitic traditions of monotheism; and certainly not primarily from those poor Eastern
Christians of whose fanaticism we have been taught to make fun. From time to time there
are gleams of the extremities of Eastern fanaticism which are almost ghastly to Western
feeling. They seem to crack the polish of the dignified leaders of the Arab aristocracy
and the Zionist school of culture, and reveal a volcanic substance of which only oriental
creeds have been made. One day a wild Jewish proclamation is passed from hand to hand,
denouncing disloyal Jews who refuse the teaching Hebrew; telling doctors to let them die
and hospitals to let them rot, ringing with the old unmistakable and awful accent that
bade men dash their children against the stones. Another day the city would be placarded
with posters printed in Damascus, telling the Jews who looked to Palestine for a national
home that they should find it a national cemetery. And when these cries clash it is like
the clash of those two crooked Eastern swords, that crossed and recrossed and revolved
like blazing wheels, in the vanguard of the marching mob. I felt the fullest pressure of
the problem when I first walked round the whole of the Haram enclosure, the courts of the
old Temple, where the high muezzin towers now stand at every corner, and heard the clear
voices of the call to prayer. The sky was laden with a storm that became the snowstorm;
and it was the time at which the old Jews beat their hands and mourn over what are
believed to be the last stones of the Temple. There was a movement in my own mind that was
attuned to these things, and impressed by the strait limits and steep sides of that
platform of the mountains; for the sense of crisis is not only in the intensity of the
ideals, but in the very conditions of the reality, the reality with which this chapter
began. And the burden of it is the burden of Palestine; the narrowness of the boundaries
and the stratification of the rock. A voice not of my reason but rather sounding heavily
in my heart, seemed to be repeating sentences like pessimistic proverbs. There is no place
for the Temple of Solomon but on the ruins of the Mosque of Omar. There is no place for
the nation of the Jews but in the country of the Arabs. And these whispers came to me
first not as intellectual conclusions upon the conditions of the case, of which I should
have much more to say and to hope; but rather as hints of something immediate and menacing
and yet mysterious. I felt almost a momentary impulse to flee from the place, like one who
has received an omen. For two voices had met in my ears; and within the same narrow space
and in the same dark hour, electric and yet eclipsed with cloud, I had heard Islam crying
from the turret and Israel wailing at the wall. CHAPTER VII THE SHADOW OF THE PROBLEM A
traveller sees the hundred branches of a tree long before he is near enough to see its
single and simple root; he generally sees the scattered or sprawling suburbs of a town
long before he has looked upon the temple or the market-place. So far I have given
impressions of the most motley things merely as they came, in chronological and not in
logical order; the first flying vision of Islam as a sort of sea, with something both of
the equality and the emptiness and the grandeur of its purple seas of sand; the first
sharp silhouette of Jerusalem, like Mount St. Michael, lifting above that merely Moslem
flood a crag still crowned with the towers of the Crusaders; the mere kaleidoscope of the
streets, with little more than a hint of the heraldic meaning of the colours; a merely
personal impression of a few of the leading figures whom I happened to meet first, and
only the faintest suggestion of the groups for which they stood. So far I have not even
tidied up my own first impressions of the place; far less advanced a plan for tidying up
the place itself. In any case, to begin with, it is easy to be in far too much of a hurry
about tidying up. This has already been noted in the more obvious case, of all that
religious art that bewildered the tourist with its churches full of flat and gilded ikons.
Many a man has had the sensation of something as full as a picture gallery and as futile
as a lumber-room, merely by not happening to know what is really of value, or especially
in what way it is really valued. An Armenian or a Syrian might write a report on his visit
to England, saying that our national and especially our naval heroes were neglected, and
left to the lowest dregs of the rabble; since the portraits of Benbow and Nelson, when
exhibited to the public, were painted on wood by the crudest and most incompetent artists.
He would not perhaps fully appreciate the fine shade of social status and utility implied
in a public-house sign. He might not realise that the sign of Nelson could be hung on high
everywhere, because the reputation of Nelson was high everywhere, not because it was low
anywhere; that his bad portrait was really a proof of his good name. Yet the too rapid
reformer may easily miss even the simple and superficial parallel between the wooden
pictures of admirals and the wooden pictures of angels. Still less will he appreciate the
intense spiritual atmosphere, that makes the real difference between an ikon and an
inn-sign, and makes the inns of England, noble and national as they are, relatively the
homes of Christian charity but hardly a Christian faith. He can hardly bring himself to
believe that Syrians can be as fond of religion as Englishmen of beer. Nobody can do
justice to these cults who has not some sympathy with the power of a mystical idea to
transmute the meanest and most trivial objects with a kind of magic. It is easy to talk of
superstitiously attaching importance to sticks and stones, but the whole poetry of life
consists of attaching importance to sticks and stones; and not only to those tall sticks
we call the trees or those large stones we call the mountains. Anything that gives to the
sticks of our own furniture, or the stones of our own backyard, even a reflected or
indirect divinity is good for the dignity of life; and this is often achieved by the
dedication of similar and special things. At least we should desire to see the profane
things transfigured by the sacred, rather than the sacred disenchanted by the profane; and
it was a prophet walking on the walls of this mountain city, who said that in his vision
all the bowls should be as the bowls before the altar, and on every pot in Jerusalem
should be written Holy unto the Lord. Anyhow, this intensity about trifles is not always
understood. Several quite sympathetic Englishmen told me merely as a funny story (and God
forbid that I should deny that it is funny) the fact of the Armenians or some such people
having been allowed to suspend a string of lamps from a Greek pillar by means of a nail,
and their subsequent alarm when their nail was washed by the owners of the pillar; a sort
of symbol that their nail had finally fallen into the hands of the enemy. It strikes us as
odd that a nail should be so valuable or so vivid to the imagination. And yet, to men so
close to Calvary, even nails are not entirely commonplace. All this, regarding a decent
delay and respect for religion or even for superstition, is obvious and has already been
observed. But before leaving it, we may note that the same argument cuts the other way; I
mean that we should not insolently impose our own ideas of what is picturesque any more
than our own ideas of what is practical. The aesthete is sometimes more of a vandal than
the vandal. The proposed reconstructions of Jerusalem have been on the whole reasonable
and sympathetic; but there is always a danger from the activities, I might almost say the
antics, of a sort of antiquary who is more hasty than an anarchist. If the people of such
places revolt against their own limitations, we must have a reasonable respect for their
revolt, and we must not be impatient even with their impatience. It is their town; they
have to live in it, and not we. As they are the only judges of whether their antiquities
are really authorities, so they are the only judges of whether their novelties are really
necessities. As I pointed out more than once to many of my friends in Jerusalem, we should
be very much annoyed if artistic visitors from Asia took similar liberties in London. It
would be bad enough if they proposed to conduct excavations in Pimlico or Paddington,
without much reference to the people who lived there; but it would be worse if they began
to relieve them of the mere utilitarianism of Chelsea Bridge or Paddington Station.
Suppose an eloquent Abyssinian Christian were to hold up his hand and stop the
motor-omnibuses from going down Fleet Street on the ground that the thoroughfare was
sacred to the simpler locomotion of Dr. Johnson. We should be pleased at the African’s
appreciation of Johnson; but our pleasure would not be unmixed. Suppose when you or I are
in the act of stepping into a taxi-cab, an excitable Coptic Christian were to leap from
behind a lamp-post, and implore us to save the grand old growler or the cab called the
gondola of London. I admit and enjoy the poetry of the hansom; I admit and enjoy the
personality of the true cabman of the old four-wheeler, upon whose massive manhood
descended something of the tremendous tradition of Tony Weller. But I am not so certain as
I should like to be, that I should at that moment enjoy the personality of the Copt. For
these reasons it seems really desirable, or at least defensible, to defer any premature
reconstruction of disputed things, and to begin this book as a mere note-book or
sketch-book of things as they are, or at any rate as they appear. It was in this irregular
order, and in this illogical disproportion, that things did in fact appear to me, and it
was some time before I saw any real generalisation that would reduce my impressions to
order. I saw that the groups disagreed, and to some extent why they disagreed, long before
I could seriously consider anything on which they would be likely to agree. I have
therefore confined the first section of this book to a mere series of such impressions,
and left to the last section a study of the problem and an attempt at the solution.
Between these two I have inserted a sort of sketch of what seemed to me the determining
historical events that make the problem what it is. Of these I will only say for the
moment that, whether by a coincidence or for some deeper cause, I feel it myself to be a
case of first thoughts being best; and that some further study of history served rather to
solidify what had seemed merely a sort of vision. I might almost say that I fell in love
with Jerusalem at first sight; and the final impression, right or wrong, served only to
fix the fugitive fancy which had seen, in the snow on the city, the white crown of a woman
of Bethlehem. But there is another cause for my being content for the moment, with this
mere chaos of contrasts. There is a very real reason for emphasising those contrasts, and
for shunning the temptation to shut our eyes to them even considered as contrasts. It is
necessary to insist that the contrasts are not easy to turn into combinations; that the
red robes of Rome and the green scarves of Islam will not very easily fade into a dingy
russet; that the gold of Byzantium and the brass of Babylon will require a hot furnace to
melt them into any kind of amalgam. The reason for this is akin to what has already been
said about Jerusalem as a knot of realities. It is especially a knot of popular realities.
Although it is so small a place, or rather because it is so small a place, it is a domain
and a dominion for the masses. Democracy is never quite democratic except when it is quite
direct; and it is never quite direct except when it is quite small. So soon as a mob has
grown large enough to have delegates it has grown large enough to have despots; indeed the
despots are often much the more representative of the two. Now in a place so small as
Jerusalem, what we call the rank and file really counts. And it is generally true, in
religions especially, that the real enthusiasm or even fanaticism is to be found in the
rank and file. In all intense religions it is the poor who are more religious and the rich
who are more irreligious. It is certainly so with the creeds and causes that come to a
collision in Jerusalem. The great Jewish population throughout the world did hail Mr.
Balfour’s declaration with something almost of the tribal triumph they might have shown
when the Persian conqueror broke the Babylonian bondage. It was rather the plutocratic
princes of Jewry who long hung back and hesitated about Zionism. The mass of Mahometans
really are ready to combine against the Zionists as they might have combined against the
Crusades. It is rather the responsible Mahometan leaders who will naturally be found more
moderate and diplomatic. This popular spirit may take a good or a bad form; and a mob may
cry out many things, right and wrong. But a mob cries out “No Popery”; it does
not cry out “Not so much Popery,” still less “Only a moderate admixture of
Popery.” It shouts “Three cheers for Gladstone,” it does not shout “A
gradual and evolutionary social tendency towards some ideal similar to that of
Gladstone.” It would find it quite a difficult thing to shout; and it would find
exactly the same difficulty with all the advanced formulae about nationalisation and
internationalisation and class-conscious solidarity. No rabble could roar at the top of
its voice the collectivist formula of “The nationalisation of all the means of
production, distribution, and exchange.” The mob of Jerusalem is no exception to the
rule, but rather an extreme example of it. The mob of Jerusalem has cried some remarkable
things in its time; but they were not pedantic and they were not evasive. There was a day
when it cried a single word; “Crucify.” It was a thing to darken the sun and
rend the veil of the temple; but there was no doubt about what it meant. This is an age of
minorities; of minorities powerful and predominant, partly through the power of wealth and
partly through the idolatry of education. Their powers appeared in every crisis of the
Great War, when a small group of pacifists and internationalists, a microscopic minority
in every country, were yet constantly figuring as diplomatists and intermediaries and men
on whose attitude great issues might depend. A man like Mr. Macdonald, not a workman nor a
formal or real representative of workmen, was followed everywhere by the limelight; while
the millions of workmen who worked and fought were out of focus and therefore looked like
a fog. Just as such figures give a fictitious impression of unity between the crowds
fighting for different flags and frontiers, so there are similar figures giving a
fictitious unity to the crowds following different creeds. There are already Moslems who
are Modernists; there have always been a ruling class of Jews who are Materialists.
Perhaps it would be true to say about much of the philosophical controversy in Europe,
that many Jews tend to be Materialists, but all tend to be Monists, though the best in the
sense of being Monotheists. The worst are in a much grosser sense materialists, and have
motives very different from the dry idealism of men like Mr. Macdonald, which is probably
sincere enough in its way. But with whatever motives, these intermediaries everywhere
bridge the chasm between creeds as they do the chasm between countries. Everywhere they
exalt the minority that is indifferent over the majority that is interested. Just as they
would make an international congress out of the traitors of all nations, so they would
make an ecumenical council out of the heretics of all religions. Mild constitutionalists
in our own country often discuss the possibility of a method of protecting the minority.
If they will find any possible method of protecting the majority, they will have found
something practically unknown to the modern world. The majority is always at a
disadvantage; the majority is difficult to idealise, because it is difficult to imagine.
The minority is generally idealised, sometimes by its servants, always by itself. But my
sympathies are generally, I confess, with the impotent and even invisible majority. And my
sympathies, when I go beyond the things I myself believe, are with all the poor Jews who
do believe in Judaism and all the Mahometans who do believe in Mahometanism, not to
mention so obscure a crowd as the Christians who do believe in Christianity. I feel I have
more morally and even intellectually in common with these people, and even the religions
of these people, than with the supercilious negations that make up the most part of what
is called enlightenment. It is these masses whom we ought to consider everywhere; but it
is especially these masses whom we must consider in Jerusalem. And the reason is in the
reality I have described; that the place is like a Greek city or a medieval parish; it is
sufficiently small and simple to be a democracy. This is not a university town full of
philosophies; it is a Zion of the hundred sieges raging with religions; not a place where
resolutions can be voted and amended, but a place where men can be crowned and crucified.
There is one small thing neglected in all our talk about self-determination; and that is
determination. There is a great deal more difference than there is between most motions
and amendments between the things for which a democracy will vote and the things on which
a democracy is determined. You can take a vote among Jews and Christians and Moslems about
whether lamp-posts should be painted green or portraits of politicians painted at all, and
even their solid unanimity may be solid indifference. Most of what is called
self-determination is like that; but there is no self-determination about it. The people
are not determined. You cannot take a vote when the people are determined. You accept a
vote, or something very much more obvious than a vote. Now it may be that in Jerusalem
there is not one people but rather three or four; but each is a real people, having its
public opinion, its public policy, its flag and almost, as I have said, its frontier. It
is not a question of persuading weak and wavering voters, at a vague parliamentary
election, to vote on the other side for a change, to choose afresh between two
middle-class gentlemen, who look exactly alike and only differ on a question about which
nobody knows or cares anything. It is a question of contrasts that will almost certainly
remain contrasts, except under the flood of some spiritual conversion which cannot be
foreseen and certainly cannot be enforced. We cannot enrol these people under our
religion, because we have not got one. We can enrol them under our government, and if we
are obliged to do that, the obvious essential is that like Roman rule before Christianity,
or the English rule in India it should profess to be impartial if only by being
irreligious. That is why I willingly set down for the moment only the first impressions of
a stranger in a strange country. It is because our first safety is in seeing that it is a
strange country; and our present preliminary peril that we may fall into the habit of
thinking it a familiar country. It does no harm to put the facts in a fashion that seems
disconnected; for the first fact of all is that they are disconnected. And the first
danger of all is that we may allow some international nonsense or newspaper cant to imply
that they are connected when they are not. It does no harm, at any rate to start with, to
state the differences as irreconcilable. For the first and most unfamiliar fact the
English have to learn in this strange land is that differences can be irreconcilable. And
again the chief danger is that they may be persuaded that the wordy compromises of Western
politics can reconcile them; that such abysses can be filled up with rubbish, or such
chasms bridged with cobwebs. For we have created in England a sort of compromise which may
up to a certain point be workable in England; though there are signs that even in England
that point is approaching or is past. But in any case we could only do with that
compromise as we could do without conscription; because an accident had made us insular
and even provincial. So in India where we have treated the peoples as different from
ourselves and from each other we have at least partly succeeded. So in Ireland, where we
have tried to make them agree with us and each other, we have made one never-ending
nightmare. We can no more subject the world to the English compromise than to the English
climate; and both are things of incalculable cloud and twilight. We have grown used to a
habit of calling things by the wrong names and supporting them by the wrong arguments; and
even doing the right thing for the wrong cause. We have party governments which consist of
people who pretend to agree when they really disagree. We have party debates which consist
of people who pretend to disagree when they really agree. We have whole parties named
after things they no longer support, or things they would never dream of proposing. We
have a mass of meaningless parliamentary ceremonials that are no longer even symbolic; the
rule by which a parliamentarian possesses a constituency but not a surname; or the rule by
which he becomes a minister in order to cease to be a member. All this would seem the most
superstitious and idolatrous mummery to the simple worshippers in the shrines of
Jerusalem. You may think what they say fantastic, or what they mean fanatical, but they do
not say one thing and mean another. The Greek may or may not have a right to say he is
Orthodox, but he means that he is Orthodox; in a very different sense from that in which a
man supporting a new Home Rule Bill means that he is Unionist. A Moslem would stop the
sale of strong drink because he is a Moslem. But he is not quite so muddleheaded as to
profess to stop it because he is a Liberal, and a particular supporter of the party of
liberty. Even in England indeed it will generally be found that there is something more
clear and rational about the terms of theology than those of politics and popular science.
A man has at least a more logical notion of what he means when he calls himself an
Anglo-Catholic than when he calls himself an Anglo-Saxon. But the old Jew with the
drooping ringlets, shuffling in and out of the little black booths of Jerusalem, would not
condescend to say he is a child of anything like the Anglo-Saxon race. He does not say he
is a child of the Aramaico-Semitic race. He says he is a child of the Chosen Race, brought
with thunder and with miracles and with mighty battles out of the land of Egypt and out of
the house of bondage. In other words, he says something that means something, and
something that he really means. One of the white Dominicans or brown Franciscans, from the
great monasteries of the Holy City, may or may not be right in maintaining that a Papacy
is necessary to the unity of Christendom. But he does not pass his life in proving that
the Papacy is not a Papacy, as many of our liberal constitutionalists pass it in proving
that the Monarchy is not a Monarchy. The Greek priests spend an hour on what seems to the
sceptic mere meaningless formalities of the preparation of the Mass. But they would not
spend a minute if they were themselves sceptics and thought them meaningless formalities,
as most modern people do think of the formalities about Black Rod or the Bar of the House.
They would be far less ritualistic than we are, if they cared as little for the Mass as we
do for the Mace. Hence it is necessary for us to realise that these rude and simple
worshippers, of all the different forms of worship, really would be bewildered by the
ritual dances and elaborate ceremonial antics of John Bull, as by the superstitious forms
and almost supernatural incantations of most of what we call plain English. Now I take it
we retain enough realism and common sense not to wish to transfer these complicated
conventions and compromises to a land of such ruthless logic and such rending divisions.
We may hope to reproduce our laws, we do not want to reproduce our legal fictions. We do
not want to insist on everybody referring to Mr. Peter or Mr. Paul, as the honourable
member for Waddy Walleh; because a retiring Parliamentarian has to become Steward of the
Chiltern Hundreds, we shall not insist on a retiring Palestinian official becoming Steward
of the Moabitic Hundreds. But yet in much more subtle and more dangerous ways we are
making that very mistake. We are transferring the fictions and even the hypocrisies of our
own insular institutions from a place where they can be tolerated to a place where they
will be torn in pieces. I have confined myself hitherto to descriptions and not to
criticisms, to stating the elements of the problem rather than attempting as yet to solve
it; because I think the danger is rather that we shall underrate the difficulties than
overdo the description; that we shall too easily deny the problem rather than that we
shall too severely criticise the solution. But I would conclude this chapter with one
practical criticism which seems to me to follow directly from all that is said here of our
legal fictions and local anomalies. One thing at least has been done by our own
Government, which is entirely according to the ritual or routine of our own Parliament. It
is a parliament of Pooh Bah, where anybody may be Lord High Everything Else. It is a
parliament of Alice in Wonderland, where the name of a thing is different from what it is
called, and even from what its name is called. It is death and destruction to send out
these fictions into a foreign daylight, where they will be seen as things and not
theories. And knowing all this, I cannot conceive the reason, or even the meaning, of
sending out Sir Herbert Samuel as the British representative in Palestine. I have heard it
supported as an interesting experiment in Zionism. I have heard it denounced as a craven
concession to Zionism. I think it is quite obviously a flat and violent contradiction to
Zionism. Zionism, as I have always understood it, and indeed as I have always defended it,
consists in maintaining that it would be better for all parties if Israel had the dignity
and distinctive responsibility of a separate nation; and that this should be effected, if
possible, or so far as possible, by giving the Jews a national home, preferably in
Palestine. But where is Sir Herbert Samuel’s national home? If it is in Palestine he
cannot go there as a representative of England. If it is in England, he is so far a living
proof that a Jew does not need a national home in Palestine. If there is any point in the
Zionist argument at all, you have chosen precisely the wrong man and sent him to precisely
the wrong country. You have asserted not the independence but the dependence of Israel,
and yet you have ratified the worst insinuations about the dependence of Christendom. In
reason you could not more strongly state that Palestine does not belong to the Jews, than
by sending a Jew to claim it for the English. And yet in practice, of course, all the
Anti-Semites will say he is claiming it for the Jews. You combine all possible
disadvantages of all possible courses of action; you run all the risks of the hard Zionist
adventure, while actually denying the high Zionist ideal. You make a Jew admit he is not a
Jew but an Englishman; even while you allow all his enemies to revile him because he is
not an Englishman but a Jew. Now this sort of confusion or compromise is as local as a
London fog. A London fog is tolerable in London, indeed I think it is very enjoyable in
London. There is a beauty in that brown twilight as well as in the clear skies of the
Orient and the South. But it is simply horribly dangerous for a Londoner to carry his
cloud of fog about with him, in the crystalline air about the crags of Zion, or under the
terrible stars of the desert. There men see differences with almost unnatural clearness,
and call things by savagely simple names. We in England may consider all sorts of aspects
of a man like Sir Herbert Samuel; we may consider him as a Liberal, or a friend of the
Fabian Socialists, or a cadet of one of the great financial houses, or a Member of
Parliament who is supposed to represent certain miners in Yorkshire, or in twenty other
more or less impersonal ways. But the people in Palestine will see only one aspect, and it
will be a very personal aspect indeed. For the enthusiastic Moslems he will simply be a
Jew; for the enthusiastic Zionists he will not really be a Zionist. For them he will
always be the type of Jew who would be willing to remain in London, and who is ready to
represent Westminster. Meanwhile, for the masses of Moslems and Christians, he will only
be the aggravation in practice of the very thing of which he is the denial in theory. He
will not mean that Palestine is not surrendered to the Jews, but only that England is. Now
I have nothing as yet to do with the truth of that suggestion; I merely give it as an
example of the violent and unexpected reactions we shall produce if we thrust our own
unrealities amid the red-hot realities of the Near East; it is like pushing a snow man
into a furnace. I have no objection to a snow man as a part of our own Christmas
festivities; indeed, as has already been suggested, I think such festivities a great glory
of English life. But I have seen the snow melting in the steep places about Jerusalem; and
I know what a cataract it could feed. As I considered these things a deepening disquiet
possessed me, and my thoughts were far away from where I stood. After all, the English did
not indulge in this doubling of parts and muddling of mistaken identity in their real and
unique success in India. They may have been wrong or right but they were realistic about
Moslems and Hindoos; they did not say Moslems were Hindoos, or send a highly intelligent
Hindoo from Oxford to rule Moslems as an Englishman. They may not have cared for things
like the ideal of Zionism; but they understood the common sense of Zionism, the
desirability of distinguishing between entirely different things. But I remembered that of
late their tact had often failed them even in their chief success in India; and that every
hour brought worse and wilder news of their failure in Ireland. I remembered that in the
Early Victorian time, against the advice only of the wisest and subtlest of the Early
Victorians, we had tied ourselves to the triumphant progress of industrial capitalism; and
that progress had now come to a crisis and what might well be a crash. And now, on the top
of all, our fine patriotic tradition of foreign policy seemed to be doing these irrational
and random things. A sort of fear took hold of me; and it was not for the Holy Land that I
feared. A cold wave went over me, like that unreasonable change and chill with which a man
far from home fancies his house has been burned down, or that those dear to him are dead.
For one horrible moment at least I wondered if we had come to the end of compromise and
comfortable nonsense, and if at last the successful stupidity of England would topple over
like the successful wickedness of Prussia; because God is not mocked by the denial of
reason any more than the denial of justice. And I fancied the very crowds of Jerusalem
retorted on me words spoken to them long ago; that a great voice crying of old along the
Via Dolorosa was rolled back on me like thunder from the mountains; and that all those
alien faces are turned against us to-day, bidding us weep not for them, who have faith and
clarity and a purpose, but weep for ourselves and for our children. CHAPTER VIII THE OTHER
SIDE OF THE DESERT There was a story in Jerusalem so true or so well told that I can see
the actors in it like figures in coloured costumes on a lighted stage. It occurred during
the last days of Turkish occupation, while the English advance was still halted before
Gaza, and heroically enduring the slow death of desert warfare. There were German and
Austrian elements present in the garrison with the Turks, though the three allies seem to
have held strangely aloof from each other. In the Austrian group there was an Austrian
lady, “who had some dignity or other,” like Lord Lundy’s grandmother. She was
very beautiful, very fashionable, somewhat frivolous, but with fits of Catholic devotion.
She had some very valuable Christian virtues, such as indiscriminate charity for the poor
and indiscriminate loathing for the Prussians. She was a nurse; she was also a nuisance.
One day she was driving just outside the Jaffa Gate, when she saw one of those figures
which make the Holy City seem like the eternal crisis of an epic. Such a man will enter
the gate in the most ghastly rags as if he were going to be crowned king in the city; with
his head lifted as if he saw apocalyptic stars in heaven, and a gesture at which the
towers might fall. This man was ragged beyond all that moving rag-heap; he was as gaunt as
a gallows tree, and the thing he was uttering with arms held up to heaven was evidently a
curse. The lady sent an inquiry by her German servant, whom also I can see in a vision,
with his face of wood and his air of still trailing all the heraldic trappings of the Holy
Roman Empire. This ambassador soon returned in state and said, “Your Serene High
Sublimity (or whatever it is), he says he is cursing the English.” Her pity and
patriotism were alike moved; and she again sent the plenipotentiary to discover why he
cursed the English, or what tale of wrong or ruin at English hands lay behind the large
gestures of his despair. A second time the wooden intermediary returned and said,
“Your Ecstatic Excellency (or whatever be the correct form), he says he is cursing
the English because they don’t come.” There are a great many morals to this story,
besides the general truth to which it testifies; that the Turkish rule was not popular
even with Moslems, and that the German war was not particularly popular even with Turks.
When all deductions are made for the patriot as a partisan, and his way of picking up only
what pleases him, it remains true that the English attack was very widely regarded rather
as a rescue than an aggression. And what complaint there was really was, in many cases, a
complaint that the rescue did not come with a rush; that the English forces had to fall
back when they had actually entered Gaza, and could not for long afterwards continue their
advance on Jerusalem. This kind of criticism of military operations is always, of course,
worthless. In journalists it is generally worthless without being even harmless. There
were some in London whose pessimistic wailing was less excusable than that of the poor
Arab in Jerusalem; who cursed the English with the addition of being English themselves,
who did it, not as he did, before one foreigner, but before all foreign opinion; and who
advertised their failure in a sort of rags less reputable than his. No one can judge of a
point like the capture and loss of Gaza, unless he knows a huge mass of technical and
local detail that can only be known to the staff on the spot; it is not a question of lack
of water but of exactly how little water; not of the arrival of reinforcements but of
exactly how much reinforcement; not of whether time presses, but of exactly how much time
there is. Nobody can know these things who is editing a newspaper at the other end of the
world; and these are the things which, for the soldier on the spot, make all the
difference between jumping over a paling and jumping over a precipice. Even the latter, as
the philosophic relativist will eagerly point out, is only a matter of degree. But this is
a parenthesis; for the purpose with which I mentioned the anecdote is something different.
It is the text of another and somewhat more elusive truth; some appreciation of which is
necessary to a sympathy with the more profound problems of Palestine. And it might be
expressed thus; it is a proverb that the Eastern methods seem to us slow; that the Arabs
trail along on labouring camels while the Europeans flash by on motors or mono-planes. But
there is another and stranger sense in which we do seem to them slow, and they do seem to
themselves to have a secret of swiftness. There is a sense in which we here touch the
limits of a land of lightning; across which, as in a dream, the motor-car can be seen
crawling like a snail. I have said that there is another side to the desert; though there
is something queer in talking of another side to something so bare and big and
oppressively obvious. But there is another side besides the big and bare truths, like
giant bones, that the Moslem has found there; there is, so to speak, an obverse of the
obvious. And to suggest what I mean I must go back again to the desert and the days I
spent there, being carted from camp to camp and giving what were courteously described as
lectures. All I can say is that if those were lectures, I cannot imagine why everybody is
not a lecturer. Perhaps the secret is already out; and multitudes of men in evening dress
are already dotted about the desert, wandering in search of an audience. Anyhow in my own
wanderings I found myself in the high narrow house of the Base Commandant at Kantara, the
only house in the whole circle of the horizon; and from the wooden balustrade and
verandah, running round the top of it, could be seen nine miles of tents. Sydney Smith
said that the bulbous domes of the Brighton Pavilion looked as if St. Paul’s Cathedral had
come down there and littered; and that grey vista of countless cones looked rather as if
the Great Pyramid had multiplied itself on the prolific scale of the herring. Nor was even
such a foolish fancy without its serious side; for though these pyramids would pass, the
plan of them was also among the mightiest of the works of man; and the king in every
pyramid was alive. For this was the great camp that was the pivot of the greatest
campaign; and from that balcony I had looked on something all the more historic because it
may never be seen again. As the dusk fell and the moon brightened above that great ghostly
city of canvas, I had fallen into talk with three or four of the officers at the base;
grizzled and hard-headed men talking with all the curious and almost colourless common
sense of the soldier. All that they said was objective; one felt that everything they
mentioned was really a thing and not merely a thought; a thing like a post or a palm-tree.
I think there is something in this of a sympathy between the English and the Moslems,
which may have helped us in India and elsewhere. For they mentioned many Moslem proverbs
and traditions, lightly enough but not contemptuously, and in particular another of the
proverbial prophecies about the term of Turkish power. They said there was an old saying
that the Turk would never depart until the Nile flowed through Palestine; and this at
least was evidently a proverb of pride and security, like many such; as who should say
until the sea is dry or the sun rises in the west. And one of them smiled and made a small
gesture as of attention. And in the silence of that moonlit scene we heard the clanking of
a pump. The water from the Nile had been brought in pipes across the desert. And I thought
that the symbol was a sound one, apart from all vanities; for this is indeed the special
sort of thing that Christendom can do, and that Islam by itself would hardly care to do. I
heard more afterwards of that water, which was eventually carried up the hills to
Jerusalem, when I myself followed it thither; and all I heard bore testimony to this truth
so far as it goes; the sense among the natives themselves of something magic in our
machinery, and that in the main a white magic; the sense of all the more solid sort of
social service that belongs rather to the West than to the East. When the fountain first
flowed in the Holy City in the mountains, and Father Waggett blessed it for the use of
men, it is said that an old Arab standing by said, in the plain and powerful phraseology
of his people: “The Turks were here for five hundred years, and they never gave us a
cup of cold water.” I put first this minimum of truth about the validity of Western
work because the same conversation swerved slowly, as it were, to the Eastern side. These
same men, who talked of all things as if they were chairs and tables, began to talk quite
calmly of things more amazing than table-turning. They were as wonderful as if the water
had come there like the wind, without any pipes or pumps; or if Father Waggett had merely
struck the rock like Moses. They spoke of a solitary soldier at the end of a single
telephone wire across the wastes, hearing of something that had that moment happened
hundreds of miles away, and then coming upon a casual Bedouin who knew it already. They
spoke of the whole tribes moving and on the march, upon news that could only come a little
later by the swiftest wires of the white man. They offered no explanation of these things;
they simply knew they were there, like the palm-trees and the moon. They did not say it
was “telepathy”; they lived much too close to realities for that. That word,
which will instantly leap to the lips of too many of my readers, strikes me as merely an
evidence of two of our great modern improvements; the love of long words and the loss of
common sense. It may have been telepathy, whatever that is; but a man must be almost
stunned with stupidity if he is satisfied to say telepathy as if he were saying
telegraphy. If everybody is satisfied about how it is done, why does not everybody do it?
Why does not a cultivated clergyman in Cornwall make a casual remark to an old friend of
his at the University of Aberdeen? Why does not a harassed commercial traveller in
Barcelona settle a question by merely thinking about his business partner in Berlin? The
common sense of it is, of course, that the name makes no sort of difference; the mystery
is why some people can do it and others cannot; and why it seems to be easy in one place
and impossible in another. In other words it comes back to that very mystery which of all
mysteries the modern world thinks most superstitious and senseless; the mystery of
locality. It works back at last to the hardest of all the hard sayings of supernaturalism;
that there is such a thing as holy or unholy ground, as divinely or diabolically inspired
people; that there may be such things as sacred sites or even sacred stones; in short that
the airy nothing of spiritual essence, evil or good, can have quite literally a local
habitation and a name. It may be said in passing that this _genius loci_ is here very much
the presiding genius. It is true that everywhere to-day a parade of the theory of
pantheism goes with a considerable practice of particularism; and that people everywhere
are beginning to wish they were somewhere. And even where it is not true of men, it seems
to be true of the mysterious forces which men are once more studying. The words we now
address to the unseen powers may be vague and universal, but the words they are said to
address to us are parochial and even private. While the Higher Thought Centre would widen
worship everywhere to a temple not made with hands, the Psychical Research Society is
conducting practical experiments round a haunted house. Men may become cosmopolitans, but
ghosts remain patriots. Men may or may not expect an act of healing to take place at a
holy well, but nobody expects it ten miles from the well; and even the sceptic who comes
to expose the ghost-haunted churchyard has to haunt the churchyard like a ghost. There may
be something faintly amusing about the idea of demi-gods with door-knockers and dinner
tables, and demons, one may almost say, keeping the home fires burning. But the driving
force of this dark mystery of locality is all the more indisputable because it drives
against most modern theories and associations. The truth is that, upon a more
transcendental consideration, we do not know what place is any more than we know what time
is. We do not know of the unknown powers that they cannot concentrate in space as in time,
or find in a spot something that corresponds to a crisis. And if this be felt everywhere,
it is necessarily and abnormally felt in those alleged holy places and sacred spots. It is
felt supremely in all those lands of the Near East which lie about the holy hill of Zion.
In these lands an impression grows steadily on the mind much too large for most of the
recent religious or scientific definitions. The bogus heraldry of Haeckel is as obviously
insufficient as any quaint old chronicle tracing the genealogies of English kings through
the chiefs of Troy to the children of Noah. There is no difference, except that the tale
of the Dark Ages can never be proved, while the travesty of the Darwinian theory can
sometimes be disproved. But I should diminish my meaning if I suggested it as a mere score
in the Victorian game of Scripture versus Science. Some much larger mystery veils the
origins of man than most partisans on either side have realised; and in these strange
primeval plains the traveller does realise it. It was never so well expressed as by one of
the most promising of those whose literary possibilities were gloriously broken off by the
great war; Lieutenant Warre-Cornish who left a strange and striking fragment, about a man
who came to these lands with a mystical idea of forcing himself back against the stream of
time into the very fountain of creation. This is a parenthesis; but before resuming the
more immediate matter of the supernormal tricks of the tribes of the East, it is well to
recognise this very real if much more general historic impression about the particular
lands in which they lived. I have called it a historic impression; but it might more truly
be called a prehistoric impression. It is best expressed in symbol by saying that the
legendary site of the Garden of Eden is in Mesopotamia. It is equally well expressed in
concrete experience by saying that, when I was in these parts, a learned man told me that
the primitive form of wheat had just, for the first time, been discovered in Palestine.
The feeling that fills the traveller may be faintly suggested thus; that here, in this
legendary land between Asia and Europe, may well have happened whatever did happen; that
through this Eastern gate, if any, entered whatever made and changed the world. Whatever
else this narrow strip of land may seem like, it does really seem, to the spirit and
almost to the senses, like the bridge that may have borne across archaic abysses the
burden and the mystery of man. Here have been civilisations as old as any barbarism; to
all appearance perhaps older than any barbarism. Here is the camel; the enormous unnatural
friend of man; the prehistoric pet. He is never known to have been wild, and might make a
man fancy that all wild animals had once been tame. As I said elsewhere, all might be a
runaway menagerie; the whale a cow that went swimming and never came back, the tiger a
large cat that took the prize (and the prize-giver) and escaped to the jungle. This is not
(I venture to think) true; but it is true as Pithecanthropus and Primitive Man and all the
other random guesses from dubious bits of bone and stone. And the truth is some third
thing, too tremendous to be remembered by men. Whatever it was, perhaps the camel saw it;
but from the expression on the face of that old family servant, I feel sure that he will
never tell. I have called this the other side of the desert; and in another sense it is
literally the other side. It is the other shore of that shifting and arid sea. Looking at
it from the West and considering mainly the case of the Moslem, we feel the desert is but
a barren border-land of Christendom; but seen from the other side it is the barrier
between us and a heathendom far more mysterious and even monstrous than anything Moslem
can be. Indeed it is necessary to realise this more vividly in order to feel the virtue of
the Moslem movement. It belonged to the desert, but in one sense it was rather a clearance
in the cloud that rests upon the desert; a rift of pale but clean light in volumes of
vapour rolled on it like smoke from the strange lands beyond. It conceived a fixed hatred
of idolatry, partly because its face was turned towards the multitudinous idolatries of
the lands of sunrise; and as I looked Eastward I seemed to be conscious of the beginnings
of that other world; and saw, like a forest of arms or a dream full of faces, the gods of
Asia on their thousand thrones. It is not a mere romance that calls it a land of magic, or
even of black magic. Those who carry that atmosphere to us are not the romanticists but
the realists. Every one can feel it in the work of Mr. Rudyard Kipling; and when I once
remarked on his repulsive little masterpiece called “The Mark of the Beast,” to
a rather cynical Anglo-Indian officer, he observed moodily, “It’s a beastly story.
But those devils really can do jolly queer things.” It is but to take a commonplace
example out of countless more notable ones to mention the many witnesses to the mango
trick. Here again we have from time to time to weep over the weak-mindedness that
hurriedly dismisses it as the practice of hypnotism. It is as if people were asked to
explain how one unarmed Indian had killed three hundred men, and they said it was only the
practice of human sacrifice. Nothing that we know as hypnotism will enable a man to alter
the eyes in the heads of a huge crowd of total strangers; wide awake in broad daylight;
and if it is hypnotism, it is something so appallingly magnified as to need a new magic to
explain the explanation; certainly something that explains it better than a Greek word for
sleep. But the impression of these special instances is but one example of a more
universal impression of the Asiatic atmosphere; and that atmosphere itself is only an
example of something vaster still for which I am trying to find words. Asia stands for
something which the world in the West as well as the East is more and more feeling as a
presence, and even a pressure. It might be called the spiritual world let loose; or a sort
of psychical anarchy; a jungle of mango plants. And it is pressing upon the West also
to-day because of the breaking down of certain materialistic barriers that have hitherto
held it back. In plain words the attitude of science is not only modified; it is now
entirely reversed. I do not say it with mere pleasure; in some ways I prefer our
materialism to their spiritualism. But for good or evil the scientists are now destroying
their own scientific world. The agnostics have been driven back on agnosticism; and are
already recovering from the shock. They find themselves in a really unknown world under
really unknown gods; a world which is more mystical, or at least more mysterious. For in
the Victorian age the agnostics were not really agnostics. They might be better described
as reverent materialists; or at any rate monists. They had at least at the back of their
minds a clear and consistent concept of their rather clockwork cosmos; that is why they
could not admit the smallest speck of the supernatural into their clockwork. But to-day it
is very hard for a scientific man to say where the supernatural ends or the natural
begins, or what name should be given to either. The word agnostic has ceased to be a
polite word for atheist. It has become a real word for a very real state of mind,
conscious of many possibilities beyond that of the atheist, and not excluding that of the
polytheist. It is no longer a question of defining or denying a simple central power, but
of balancing the brain in a bewilderment of new powers which seem to overlap and might
even conflict. Nature herself has become unnatural. The wind is blowing from the other
side of the desert, not now with noble truism “There is no God but God,” but
rather with that other motto out of the deeper anarchy of Asia, drawn out by Mr. Kipling,
in the shape of a native proverb, in the very story already mentioned; “Your gods and
my gods, do you or I know which is the stronger?” There was a mystical story I read
somewhere in my boyhood, of which the only image that remains is that of a rose-bush
growing mysteriously in the middle of a room. Taking this image for the sake of argument,
we can easily fancy a man half-conscious and convinced that he is delirious, or still
partly in a dream, because he sees such a magic bush growing irrationally in the middle of
his bedroom. All the walls and furniture are familiar and solid, the table, the clock, the
telephone, the looking glass or what not; there is nothing unnatural but this one hovering
hallucination or optical delusion of green and red. Now that was very much the view taken
of the Rose of Sharon, the mystical rose of the sacred tradition of Palestine, by any
educated man about 1850, when the rationalism of the eighteenth century was supposed to
have found full support in the science of the nineteenth. He had a sentiment about a rose:
he was still glad it had fragrance or atmosphere; though he remembered with a slight
discomfort that it had thorns. But what bothered him about it was that it was impossible.
And what made him think it impossible was it was inconsistent with everything else. It was
one solitary and monstrous exception to the sort of rule that ought to have no exceptions.
Science did not convince him that there were few miracles, but that there were no
miracles; and why should there be miracles only in Palestine and only for one short
period? It was a single and senseless contradiction to an otherwise complete cosmos. For
the furniture fitted in bit by bit and better and better; and the bedroom seemed to grow
more and more solid. The man recognised the portrait of himself over the mantelpiece or
the medicine bottles on the table, like the dying lover in Browning. In other words,
science so far had steadily solidified things; Newton had measured the walls and ceiling
and made a calculus of their three dimensions. Darwin was already arranging the animals in
rank as neatly as a row of chairs, or Faraday the chemical elements as clearly as a row of
medicine bottles. From the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the
nineteenth, science was not only making discoveries, but all the discoveries were in one
direction. Science is still making discoveries; but they are in the opposite direction.
For things are rather different when the man in the bed next looks at the bedroom. Not
only is the rose-bush still very obvious; but the other things are looking very odd. The
perspective seems to have gone crooked; the walls seem to vary in measurement till the man
thinks he is going mad. The wall-paper has a new pattern, of strange spirals instead of
round dots. The table seems to have moved by itself across the room and thrown the
medicine bottles out of the window. The telephone has vanished from the wall; the mirror
does not reflect what is in front of it. The portrait of himself over the mantelpiece has
a face that is not his own. That is something like a vision of the vital change in the
whole trend of natural philosophy in the last twenty or thirty years. It matters little
whether we regard it as the deepening or the destruction of the scientific universe. It
matters little whether we say that grander abysses have opened in it, or merely that the
bottom has fallen out of it. It is quite self-evident that scientific men are at war with
wilder and more unfathomable fancies than the facts of the age of Huxley. I attempt no
controversy about any of the particular cases: it is the cumulative effect of all of them
that makes the impression one of common sense. It is really true that the perspective and
dimensions of the man’s bedroom have altered; the disciples of Einstein will tell him that
straight lines are curved and perhaps measure more one way than the other; if that is not
a nightmare, what is? It is really true that the clock has altered, for time has turned
into the fourth dimension or something entirely different; and the telephone may fairly be
said to have faded from view in favour of the invisible telepath. It is true that the
pattern of the paper has changed, for the very pattern of the world has changed; we are
told that it is not made of atoms like the dots but of electrons like the spirals.
Scientific men of the first rank have seen a table move by itself, and walk upstairs by
itself. It does not matter here whether it was done by the spirits; it is enough that few
still pretend that is entirely done by the spiritualists. I am not dealing with doctrines
but with doubts; with the mere fact that all these things have grown deeper and more
bewildering. Some people really are throwing their medicine bottles out of the window; and
some of them at least are working purely psychological cures of a sort that would once
have been called miraculous healing. I do not say we know how far this could go; it is my
whole point that we do not know, that we are in contact with numbers of new things of
which we know uncommonly little. But the vital point is, not that science deals with what
we do not know, but that science is destroying what we thought we did know. Nearly all the
latest discoveries have been destructive, not of the old dogmas of religion, but rather of
the recent dogmas of science. The conservation of energy could not itself be entirely
conserved. The atom was smashed to atoms. And dancing to the tune of Professor Einstein,
even the law of gravity is behaving with lamentable levity. And when the man looks at the
portrait of himself he really does not see himself. He sees his Other Self, which some say
is the opposite of his ordinary self; his Subconscious Self or his Subliminal Self, said
to rage and rule in his dreams, or a suppressed self which hates him though it is hidden
from him; or the Alter Ego of a Dual Personality. It is not to my present purpose to
discuss the merit of these speculations, or whether they be medicinal or morbid. My
purpose is served in pointing out the plain historical fact; that if you had talked to a
Utilitarian and Rationalist of Bentham’s time, who told men to follow “enlightened
self-interest,” he would have been considerably bewildered if you had replied
brightly and briskly, “And to which self do you refer; the sub-conscious, the
conscious, the latently criminal or suppressed, or others that we fortunately have in
stock?” When the man looks at his own portrait in his own bedroom, it does really
melt into the face of a stranger or flicker into the face of a fiend. When he looks at the
bedroom itself, in short, it becomes clearer and clearer that it is exactly this
comfortable and solid part of the vision that is altering and breaking up. It is the walls
and furniture that are only a dream or memory. And when he looks again at the incongruous
rose-bush, he seems to smell as well as see; and he stretches forth his hand, and his
finger bleeds upon a thorn. It will not be altogether surprising if the story ends with
the man recovering full consciousness, and finding he has been convalescing in a hammock
in a rose-garden. It is not so very unreasonable when you come to think of it; or at least
when you come to think of the whole of it. He was not wrong in thinking the whole must be
a consistent whole, and that one part seemed inconsistent with the other. He was only
wrong about which part was wrong through being inconsistent with the other. Now the whole
of the rationalistic doubt about the Palestinian legends, from its rise in the early
eighteenth century out of the last movements of the Renascence, was founded on the fixity
of facts. Miracles were monstrosities because they were against natural law, which was
necessarily immutable law. The prodigies of the Old Testament or the mighty works of the
New were extravagances because they were exceptions; and they were exceptions because
there was a rule, and that an immutable rule. In short, there was no rose-tree growing out
of the carpet of a trim and tidy bedroom; because rose-trees do not grow out of carpets in
trim and tidy bedrooms. So far it seemed reasonable enough. But it left out one
possibility; that a man can dream about a room as well as a rose; and that a man can doubt
about a rule as well as an exception. As soon as the men of science began to doubt the
rules of the game, the game was up. They could no longer rule out all the old marvels as
impossible, in face of the new marvels which they had to admit as possible. They were
themselves dealing now with a number of unknown quantities; what is the power of mind over
matter; when is matter an illusion of mind; what is identity, what is individuality, is
there a limit to logic in the last extremes of mathematics? They knew by a hundred hints
that their non-miraculous world was no longer watertight; that floods were coming in from
somewhere in which they were already out of their depth, and down among very fantastical
deep-sea fishes. They could hardly feel certain even about the fish that swallowed Jonah,
when they had no test except the very true one that there are more fish in the sea than
ever came out of it. Logically they would find it quite as hard to draw the line at the
miraculous draught of fishes. I do not mean that they, or even I, need here depend on
those particular stories; I mean that the difficulty now is to draw a line, and a new
line, after the obliteration of an old and much more obvious line. Any one can draw it for
himself, as a matter of mere taste in probability; but we have not made a philosophy until
we can draw it for others. And the modern men of science cannot draw it for others. Men
could easily mark the contrast between the force of gravity and the fable of the
Ascension. They cannot all be made to see any such contrast between the levitation that is
now discussed as a possibility and the ascension which is still derided as a miracle. I do
not even say that there is not a great difference between them; I say that science is now
plunged too deep in new doubts and possibilities to have authority to define the
difference. I say the more it knows of what seems to have happened, or what is said to
have happened, in many modern drawing-rooms, the less it knows what did or did not happen
on that lofty and legendary hill, where a spire rises over Jerusalem and can be seen
beyond Jordan. But with that part of the Palestinian story which is told in the New
Testament I am not directly concerned till the next chapter; and the matter here is a more
general one. The truth is that through a thousand channels something has returned to the
modern mind. It is not Christianity. On the contrary, it would be truer to say that it is
paganism. In reality it is in a very special sense paganism; because it is polytheism. The
word will startle many people, but not the people who know the modern world best. When I
told a distinguished psychologist at Oxford that I differed from his view of the universe,
he answered, “Why universe? Why should it not be a multiverse?” The essence of
polytheism is the worship of gods who are not God; that is, who are not necessarily the
author and the authority of all things. Men are feeling more and more that there are many
spiritual forces in the universe, and the wisest men feel that some are to be trusted more
than others. There will be a tendency, I think, to take a favourite force, or in other
words a familiar spirit. Mr. H. G. Wells, who is, if anybody is, a genius among moderns
and a modern among geniuses, really did this very thing; he selected a god who was really
more like a daemon. He called his book _God, the Invisible King_; but the curious point
was that he specially insisted that his God differed from other people’s God in the very
fact that he was not a king. He was very particular in explaining that his deity did not
rule in any almighty or infinite sense; but merely influenced, like any wandering spirit.
Nor was he particularly invisible, if there can be said to be any degrees in invisibility.
Mr. Wells’s Invisible God was really like Mr. Wells’s Invisible Man. You almost felt he
might appear at any moment, at any rate to his one devoted worshipper; and that, as if in
old Greece, a glad cry might ring through the woods of Essex, the voice of Mr. Wells
crying, “We have seen, he hath seen us, a visible God.” I do not mean this
disrespectfully, but on the contrary very sympathetically; I think it worthy of so great a
man to appreciate and answer the general sense of a richer and more adventurous spiritual
world around us. It is a great emancipation from the leaden materialism which weighed on
men of imagination forty years ago. But my point for the moment is that the mode of the
emancipation was pagan or even polytheistic, in the real philosophical sense that it was
the selection of a single spirit, out of many there might be in the spiritual world. The
point is that while Mr. Wells worships his god (who is not his creator or even necessarily
his overlord) there is nothing to prevent Mr. William Archer, also emancipated, from
adoring another god in another temple; or Mr. Arnold Bennett, should he similarly liberate
his mind, from bowing down to a third god in a third temple. My imagination rather fails
me, I confess, in evoking the image and symbolism of Mr. Bennett’s or Mr. Archer’s
idolatries; and if I had to choose between the three, I should probably be found as an
acolyte in the shrine of Mr. Wells. But, anyhow, the trend of all this is to polytheism,
rather as it existed in the old civilisation of paganism. There is the same modern mark in
Spiritualism. Spiritualism also has the trend of polytheism, if it be in a form more akin
to ancestor-worship. But whether it be the invocation of ghosts or of gods, the mark of it
is that it invokes something less than the divine; nor am I at all quarrelling with it on
that account. I am merely describing the drift of the day; and it seems clear that it is
towards the summoning of spirits to our aid whatever their position in the unknown world,
and without any clear doctrinal plan of that world. The most probable result would seem to
be a multitude of psychic cults, personal and impersonal, from the vaguest reverence for
the powers of nature to the most concrete appeal to crystals or mascots. When I say that
the agnostics have discovered agnosticism, and have now recovered from the shock, I do not
mean merely to sneer at the identity of the word agnosticism with the word ignorance. On
the contrary, I think ignorance the greater thing; for ignorance can be creative. And the
thing it can create, and soon probably will create, is one of the lost arts of the world;
a mythology. In a word, the modern world will probably end exactly where the Bible begins.
In that inevitable setting of spirit against spirit, or god against god, we shall soon be
in a position to do more justice not only to the New Testament, but to the Old Testament.
Our descendants may very possibly do the very thing we scoff at the old Jews for doing;
grope for and cling to their own deity as one rising above rivals who seem to be equally
real. They also may feel him not primarily as the sole or even the supreme but only as the
best; and have to abide the miracles of ages to prove that he is also the mightiest. For
them also he may at first be felt as their own, before he is extended to others; he also,
from the collision with colossal idolatries and towering spiritual tyrannies, may emerge
only as a God of Battles and a Lord of Hosts. Here between the dark wastes and the clouded
mountain was fought out what must seem even to the indifferent a wrestle of giants driving
the world out of its course; Jehovah of the mountains casting down Baal of the desert and
Dagon of the sea. Here wandered and endured that strange and terrible and tenacious people
who held high above all their virtues and their vices one indestructible idea; that they
were but the tools in that tremendous hand. Here was the first triumph of those who, in
some sense beyond our understanding, had rightly chosen among the powers invisible, and
found their choice a great god above all gods. So the future may suffer not from the loss
but the multiplicity of faith; and its fate be far more like the cloudy and mythological
war in the desert than like the dry radiance of theism or monism. I have said nothing here
of my own faith, or of that name on which, I am well persuaded, the world will be most
wise to call. But I do believe that the tradition founded in that far tribal battle, in
that far Eastern land, did indeed justify itself by leading up to a lasting truth; and
that it will once again be justified of all its children. What has survived through an age
of atheism as the most indestructible would survive through an age of polytheism as the
most indispensable. If among many gods it could not presently be proved to be the
strongest, some would still know it was the best. Its central presence would endure
through times of cloud and confusion, in which it was judged only as a myth among myths or
a man among men. Even the old heathen test of humanity and the apparition of the body,
touching which I have quoted the verse about the pagan polytheist as sung by the neo-pagan
poet, is a test which that incarnate mystery will abide the best. And however much or
little our spiritual inquirers may lift the veil from their invisible kings, they will not
find a vision more vivid than a man walking unveiled upon the mountains, seen of men and
seeing; a visible god. CHAPTER IX THE BATTLE WITH THE DRAGON Lydda or Ludd has already
been noted as the legendary birthplace of St. George, and as the camp on the edge of the
desert from which, as it happened, I caught the first glimpse of the coloured fields of
Palestine that looked like the fields of Paradise. Being an encampment of soldiers, it
seems an appropriate place for St. George; and indeed it may be said that all that red and
empty land has resounded with his name like a shield of copper or of bronze. The name was
not even confined to the cries of the Christians; a curious imaginative hospitality in the
Moslem mind, a certain innocent and imitative enthusiasm, made the Moslems also
half-accept a sort of Christian mythology, and make an abstract hero of St. George. It is
said that Coeur de Lion on these very sands first invoked the soldier saint to bless the
English battle-line, and blazon his cross on the English banners. But the name occurs not
only in the stories of the victory of Richard, but in the enemy stories that led up to the
great victory of Saladin. In that obscure and violent quarrel which let loose the disaster
of Hattin, when the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard the Englishman from Bideford in
Devon, drove with demented heroism his few lances against a host, there fell among those
radiant fanatics one Christian warrior, who had made with his single sword such a circle
of the slain, that the victorious Moslems treated even his dead body as something
supernatural; and bore it away with them with honour, saying it was the body of St.
George. But if the purpose of the camp be appropriate to the story of St. George, the
position of the camp might be considered appropriate to the more fantastic story of St.
George and the Dragon. The symbolic struggle between man and monster might very well take
place somewhere where the green culture of the fields meets the red desolation of the
desert. As a matter of fact, I dare say, legend locates the duel itself somewhere else,
but I am only making use of the legend as a legend, or even as a convenient figure of
speech. I would only use it here to make a kind of picture which may clarify a kind of
paradox, very vital to our present attitude towards all Palestinian traditions, including
those that are more sacred even than St. George. This paradox has already been touched on
in the last chapter about polytheistic spirits or superstitions such as surrounded the Old
Testament, but it is yet more true of the criticisms and apologetics surrounding the New
Testament. And the paradox is this; that we never find our own religion so right as when
we find we are wrong about it. I mean that we are finally convinced not by the sort of
evidence we are looking for, but by the sort of evidence we are not looking for. We are
convinced when we come on a ratification that is almost as abrupt as a refutation. That is
the point about the wireless telegraphy or wordless telepathy of the Bedouins. A
supernatural trick in a dingy tribe wandering in dry places is not the sort of
supernaturalism we should expect to find; it is only the sort that we do find. These rocks
of the desert, like the bones of a buried giant, do not seem to stick out where they ought
to, but they stick out, and we fall over them. Whatever we think of St. George, most
people would see a mere fairy-tale in St. George and the Dragon. I dare say they are
right; and I only use it here as a figure for the sake of argument. But suppose, for the
sake of argument, that a man has come to the conclusion that there probably was such a
person as St. George, in spite of all the nonsense about dragons and the chimera with
wings and claws that has somehow interwreathed itself with his image. Perhaps he is a
little biased by patriotism or other ethical aims; and thinks the saint a good social
ideal. Perhaps he knows that early Christianity, so far from being a religion of
pacifists, was largely a religion of soldiers. Anyhow he thinks St. George himself a quite
sufficiently solid and historical figure; and has little doubt that records or traces can
be found of him. Now the point is this; suppose that man goes to the land of the legendary
combat; and finds comparatively few or faint traces of the personality of St. George. But
suppose he _does_ find, on that very field of combat, the bones of a gigantic monster
unlike every other creature except the legendary dragon. Or suppose he only finds ancient
Eastern sculptures and hieroglyphics representing maidens, being sacrificed to such a
monster, and making it quite clear that even within historic times one of those sacrificed
was a princess. It is surely clear that he will be considerably impressed by this
confirmation, not of the part he did believe, but actually of the part he did not believe.
He has not found what he expected but he has found what he wanted, and much more than he
wanted. He has not found a single detail directly in support of St. George. But he had
found a very considerable support of St. George and the Dragon. It is needless to inform
the reader, I trust, that I do not think this particular case in the least likely; or that
I am only using it for the sake of lucidity. Even as it stands, it would not necessarily
make a man believe the traditional story, but it would make him guess that it was some
sort of tradition of some sort of truth; that there was something in it, and much more in
it than even he himself had imagined. And the point of it would be precisely that his
reason had not anticipated the extent of his revelation. He has proved the improbable, not
the probable thing. Reason had already taught him the reasonable part; but facts had
taught him the fantastic part. He will certainly conclude that the whole story is very
much more valid than anybody has supposed. Now as I have already said, it is not in the
least likely that this will happen touching this particular tale of Palestine. But this is
precisely what really has happened touching the most sacred and tremendous of all the
tales of Palestine. This is precisely what has happened touching that central figure,
round which the monster and the champion are alike only ornamental symbols; and by the
right of whose tragedy even St. George’s Cross does not belong to St. George. It is not
likely to be true of the desert duel between George and the Dragon; but it is already true
of the desert duel between Jesus and the Devil. St. George is but a servant and the Dragon
is but a symbol, but it is precisely about the central reality, the mystery of Christ and
His mastery of the powers of darkness, that this very paradox has proved itself a fact.
Going down from Jerusalem to Jericho I was more than once moved by a flippant and possibly
profane memory of the swine that rushed down a steep place into the sea. I do not insist
on the personal parallel; for whatever my points of resemblance to a pig I am not a flying
pig, a pig with wings of speed and precipitancy; and if I am possessed of a devil, it is
not the blue devil of suicide. But the phrase came back into my mind because going down to
the Dead Sea does really involve rushing down a steep place. Indeed it gives a strange
impression that the whole of Palestine is one single steep place. It is as if all other
countries lay flat under the sky, but this one country had been tilted sideways. This
gigantic gesture of geography or geology, this sweep as of a universal landslide, is the
sort of thing that is never conveyed by any maps or books or even pictures. All the
pictures of Palestine I have seen are descriptive details, groups of costume or corners of
architecture, at most views of famous places; they cannot give the bottomless vision of
this long descent. We went in a little rocking Ford car down steep and jagged roads among
ribbed and columned cliffs; but the roads below soon failed us altogether; and the car had
to tumble like a tank over rocky banks and into empty river-beds, long before it came to
the sinister and discoloured landscapes of the Dead Sea. And the distance looks far enough
on the map, and seems long enough in the motor journey, to make a man feel he has come to
another part of the world; yet so much is it all a single fall of land that even when he
gets out beyond Jordan in the wild country of the Shereef he can still look back and see,
small and faint as if in the clouds, the spire of the Russian church (I fancy) upon the
hill of the Ascension. And though the story of the swine is attached in truth to another
place, I was still haunted with its fanciful appropriateness to this one, because of the
very steepness of this larger slope and the mystery of that larger sea. I even had the
fancy that one might fish for them and find them in such a sea, turned into monsters;
sea-swine or four-legged fishes, swollen and with evil eyes, grown over with sea-grass for
bristles; the ghosts of Gadara. And then it came back to me, as a curiosity and almost a
coincidence, that the same strange story had actually been selected as the text for the
central controversy of the Victorian Age between Christianity and criticism. The two
champions were two of the greatest men of the nineteenth century; Huxley representing
scientific scepticism and Gladstone scriptural orthodoxy. The scriptural champion was
universally regarded as standing for the past, if not for the dead past; and the
scientific champion as standing for the future, if not the final judgment of the world.
And yet the future has been entirely different to anything that anybody expected; and the
final judgment may yet reverse all the conceptions of their contemporaries and even of
themselves. The philosophical position now is in a very curious way the contrary of the
position then. Gladstone had the worst of the argument, and has been proved right. Huxley
had the best of the argument, and has been proved wrong. At any rate he has been
ultimately proved wrong about the way the world was going, and the probable position of
the next generation. What he thought indisputable is disputed; and what he thought dead is
rather too much alive. Huxley was not only a man of genius in logic and rhetoric; he was a
man of a very manly and generous morality. Morally he deserves much more sympathy than
many of the mystics who have supplanted him. But they have supplanted him. In the more
mental fashions of the day, most of what he thought would stand has fallen, and most of
what he thought would fall is standing yet. In the Gadarene controversy with Gladstone, he
announced it as his purpose to purge the Christian ideal, which he thought self-evidently
sublime, of the Christian demonology, which he thought self-evidently ridiculous. And yet
if we take any typical man of the next generation, we shall very probably find Huxley’s
sublime thing scoffed at, and Huxley’s ridiculous thing taken seriously. I imagine a very
typical child of the age succeeding Huxley’s may be found in Mr. George Moore. He has one
of the most critical, appreciative and atmospheric talents of the age. He has lived in
most of the sets of the age, and through most of the fashions of the age. He has held, at
one time or another, most of the opinions of the age. Above all, he has not only thought
for himself, but done it with peculiar pomp and pride; he would consider himself the
freest of all freethinkers. Let us take him as a type and a test of what has really
happened to Huxley’s analysis of the gold and the dross. Huxley quoted as the
indestructible ideal the noble passage in Micah, beginning “He hath shewed thee, O
man, that which is good”; and asked scornfully whether anybody was ever likely to
suggest that justice was worthless or that mercy was unlovable, and whether anything would
diminish the distance between ourselves and the ideals that we reverence. And yet already,
perhaps, Mr. George Moore was anticipating Nietzsche, sailing near, as he said, “the
sunken rocks about the cave of Zarathustra.” He said, if I remember right, that
Cromwell should be admired for his injustice. He implied that Christ should be condemned,
not because he destroyed the swine, but because he delivered the sick. In short he found
justice quite worthless and mercy quite unlovable; and as for humility and the distance
between himself and his ideals, he seemed rather to suggest (at this time at least) that
his somewhat varying ideals were only interesting because they had belonged to himself.
Some of this, it is true, was only in the _Confessions of a Young Man_; but it is the
whole point here that they were then the confessions of a young man, and that Huxley’s in
comparison were the confessions of an old man. The trend of the new time, in very varying
degrees, was tending to undermine, not merely the Christian demonology, not merely the
Christian theology, not merely the Christian religion, but definitely the Christian
ethical ideal, which had seemed to the great agnostic as secure as the stars. But while
the world was mocking the morality he had assumed, it was bringing back the mysticism he
had mocked. The next phase of Mr. George Moore himself, whom I have taken as a type of the
time, was the serious and sympathetic consideration of Irish mysticism, as embodied in Mr.
W. B. Yeats. I have myself heard Mr. Yeats, about that time, tell a story, to illustrate
how concrete and even comic is the reality of the supernatural, saying that he knew a
farmer whom the fairies had dragged out of bed and beaten. Now suppose Mr. Yeats had told
Mr. Moore, then moving in this glamorous atmosphere, another story of the same sort.
Suppose he had said that the farmer’s pigs had fallen under the displeasure of some
magician of the sort he celebrates, who had conjured bad fairies into the quadrupeds, so
that they went in a wild dance down to the village pond. Would Mr. Moore have thought that
story any more incredible than the other? Would he have thought it worse than a thousand
other things that a modern mystic may lawfully believe? Would he have risen to his feet
and told Mr. Yeats that all was over between them? Not a bit of it. He would at least have
listened with a serious, nay, a solemn face. He would think it a grim little grotesque of
rustic diablerie, a quaint tale of goblins, neither less nor more improbable than hundreds
of psychic fantasies or farces for which there is really a good deal of evidence. He would
be ready to entertain the idea if he found it anywhere except in the New Testament. As for
the more vulgar and universal fashions that have followed after the Celtic movement, they
have left such trifles far behind. And they have been directed not by imaginative artists
like Mr. Yeats or even Mr. Moore, but by solid scientific students like Sir William
Crookes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I find it easier to imagine an evil spirit agitating
the legs of a pig than a good spirit agitating the legs of a table. But I will not here
enter into the argument, since I am only trying to describe the atmosphere. Whatever has
happened in more recent years, what Huxley expected has certainly not happened. There has
been a revolt against Christian morality, and where there has not been a return of
Christian mysticism, it has been a return of the mysticism without the Christianity.
Mysticism itself has returned, with all its moons and twilights, its talismans and spells.
Mysticism itself has returned, and brought with it seven devils worse than itself. But the
scientific coincidence is even more strict and close. It affects not only the general
question of miracles, but the particular question of possession. This is the very last
element in the Christian story that would ever have been selected by the enlightened
Christian apologist. Gladstone would defend it, but he would not go out of his way to
dwell on it. It is an excellent working model of what I mean by finding an unexpected
support, and finding it in an unexpected quarter. It is not theological but psychological
study that has brought us back into this dark underworld of the soul, where even identity
seems to dissolve or divide, and men are not even themselves. I do not say that
psychologists admit the discovery of demoniacs; and if they did they would doubtless call
them something else, such as demono-maniacs. But they admit things which seem almost as
near to a new supernaturalism, and things quite as incredible to the old rationalism. Dual
personality is not so very far from diabolic possession. And if the dogma of
subconsciousness allows of agnosticism, the agnosticism cuts both ways. A man cannot say
there is a part of him of which he is quite unconscious, and only conscious that it is not
in contact with the unknown. He cannot say there is a sealed chamber or cellar under his
house, of which he knows nothing whatever; but that he is quite certain that it cannot
have an underground passage leading anywhere else in the world. He cannot say he knows
nothing whatever about its size or shape or appearance, except that it certainly does not
contain a relic of the finger-joint of St. Catherine of Alexandria, or that it certainly
is not haunted by the ghost of King Herod Agrippa. If there is any sort of legend or
tradition or plausible probability which says that it is, he cannot call a thing
impossible where he is not only ignorant but even unconscious. It comes back therefore to
the same reality, that the old compact cosmos depended on a compact consciousness. If we
are dealing with unknown quantities, we cannot deny their connection with other unknown
quantities. If I have a self of which I can say nothing, how can I even say that it is my
own self? How can I even say that I always had it, or that it did not come from somewhere
else? It is clear that we are in very deep waters, whether or no we have rushed down a
steep place to fall into them. It will be noted that what we really lack here is not the
supernatural but only the healthy supernatural. It is not the miracle, but only the
miracle of healing. I warmly sympathise with those who think most of this rather morbid,
and nearer the diabolic than the divine, but to call a thing diabolic is hardly an
argument against the existence of diabolism. It is still more clearly the case when we go
outside the sphere of science into its penumbra in literature and conversation. There is a
mass of fiction and fashionable talk of which it may truly be said, that what we miss in
it is not demons but the power to cast them out. It combines the occult with the obscene;
the sensuality of materialism with the insanity of spiritualism. In the story of Gadara we
have left out nothing except the Redeemer, we have kept the devils and the swine. In other
words, we have not found St. George; but we have found the Dragon. We have found in the
desert, as I have said, the bones of the monster we did not believe in, more plainly than
the footprints of the hero we did. We have found them not because we expected to find
them, for our progressive minds look to the promise of something much brighter and even
better; not because we wanted to find them, for our modern mood, as well as our human
nature, is entirely in favour of more amiable and reassuring things; not because we
thought it even possible to find them, for we really thought it impossible so far as we
ever thought of it at all. We have found them because they are _there_; and we are bound
to come on them even by falling over them. It is Huxley’s method that has upset Huxley’s
conclusion. As I have said, that conclusion itself is completely reversed. What he thought
indisputable is disputed; and what he thought impossible is possible. Instead of Christian
morals surviving in the form of humanitarian morals, Christian demonology has survived in
the form of heathen demonology. But it has not survived by scholarly traditionalism in the
style of Gladstone, but rather by obstinate objective curiosity according to the advice of
Huxley. We in the West have “followed our reason as far as it would go,” and our
reason has led us to things that nearly all the rationalists would have thought wildly
irrational. Science was supposed to bully us into being rationalists; but it is now
supposed to be bullying us into being irrationalists. The science of Einstein might rather
be called following our unreason as far as it will go, seeing whether the brain will crack
under the conception that space is curved, or that parallel straight lines always meet.
And the science of Freud would make it essentially impossible to say how far our reason or
unreason does go, or where it stops. For if a man is ignorant of his other self, how can
he possibly know that the other self is ignorant? He can no longer say with pride that at
least he knows that he knows nothing. That is exactly what he does not know. The floor has
fallen out of his mind and the abyss below may contain subconscious certainties as well as
subconscious doubts. He is too ignorant even to ignore; and he must confess himself an
agnostic about whether he is an agnostic. That is the coil or tangle, at least, which the
dragon has reached even in the scientific regions of the West. I only describe the tangle;
I do not delight in it. Like most people with a taste for Catholic tradition, I am too
much of a rationalist for that; for Catholics are almost the only people now defending
reason. But I am not talking of the true relations of reason and mystery, but of the
historical fact that mystery has invaded the peculiar realms of reason; especially the
European realms of the motor and the telephone. When we have a man like Mr. William
Archer, lecturing mystically on dreams and psychoanalysis, and saying it is clear that God
did not make man a reasonable creature, those acquainted with the traditions and
distinguished record of that dry and capable Scot will consider the fact a prodigy. I
confess it never occurred to me that Mr. Archer was of such stuff as dreams are made of;
and if he is becoming a mystic in his old age (I use the phrase in a mystical and merely
relative sense) we may take it that the occult oriental flood is rising fast, and reaching
places that are not only high but dry. But the change is much more apparent to a man who
has chanced to stray into those orient hills where those occult streams have always risen,
and especially in this land that lies between Asia, where the occult is almost the
obvious, and Europe, where it is always returning with a fresher and younger vigour. The
truth becomes strangely luminous in this wilderness between two worlds, where the rocks
stand out stark like the very bones of the Dragon. As I went down that sloping wall or
shoulder of the world from the Holy City on the mountain to the buried Cities of the
Plain, I seemed to see more and more clearly all this Western evolution of Eastern
mystery, and how on this one high place, as on a pivot, the whole purpose of mankind had
swerved. I took up again the train of thought which I had trailed through the desert, as
described in the last chapter, about the gods of Asia and of the ancient dispensation, and
I found it led me along these hills to a sort of vista or vision of the new dispensation
and of Christendom. Considered objectively, and from the outside, the story is something
such as has already been loosely outlined; the emergence in this immemorial and mysterious
land of what was undoubtedly, when thus considered, one tribe among many tribes
worshipping one god among many gods, but it is quite as much an evident external fact that
the god has become God. Still stated objectively, the story is that the tribe having this
religion produced a new prophet, claiming to be more than a prophet. The old religion
killed the new prophet; but the new prophet killed the old religion. He died to destroy
it, and it died in destroying him. Now it may be reaffirmed equally realistically that
there was nothing normal about the case or its consequences. The things that took part in
that tragedy have never been the same since, and have never been like anything else in the
world. The Church is not like other religions; its very crimes were unique. The Jews are
not like other races; they remain as unique to everybody else as they are to themselves.
The Roman Empire did not pass like other empires; it did not perish like Babylon and
Assyria. It went through a most extraordinary remorse amounting to madness and
resuscitation into sanity, which is equally strange in history whether it seems as ghastly
as a galvanised corpse or as glorious as a god risen from the dead. The very land and city
are not like other lands and cities. The concentration and conflict in Jerusalem to-day,
whether we regard them as a reconquest by Christendom or a conspiracy of Jews or a part of
the lingering quarrel with Moslems, are alike the effect of forces gathered and loosened
in that one mysterious moment in the history of the city. They equally proclaim the
paradox of its insignificance and its importance. But above all the prophet was not and is
not like other prophets; and the proof of it is to be found not primarily among those who
believe in him, but among those who do not. He is not dead, even where he is denied. What
is the use of a modern man saying that Christ is only a thing like Atys or Mithras, when
the next moment he is reproaching Christianity for not following Christ? He does not
suddenly lose his temper and talk about our most unmithraic conduct, as he does (very
justly as a rule) about our most unchristian conduct. We do not find a group of ardent
young agnostics, in the middle of a great war, tried as traitors for their extravagant
interpretation of remarks attributed to Atys. It is improbable that Tolstoy wrote a book
to prove that all modern ills could be cured by literal obedience to all the orders of
Adonis. We do not find wild Bolshevists calling themselves Mithraic Socialists as many of
them call themselves Christian Socialists. Leaving orthodoxy and even sanity entirely on
one side, the very heresies and insanities of our time prove that after nearly two
thousand years the issue is still living and the name is quite literally one to conjure
with. Let the critics try to conjure with any of the other names. In the real centres of
modern inquiry and mental activity, they will not move even a mystic with the name of
Mithras as they will move a materialist with the name of Jesus. There are men who deny God
and accept Christ. But this lingering yet living power in the legend, even for those to
whom it is little more than a legend, has another relevancy to the particular point here.
Jesus of Nazareth, merely humanly considered, has thus become a hero of humanitarianism.
Even the eighteenth-century deists in denying his divinity generally took pains to exalt
his humanity. Of the nineteenth-century revolutionists it is really an understatement to
say that they exalted him as a man; for indeed they rather exalted him as a superman. That
is to say, many of them represented him as a man preaching a decisively superior and ever
strange morality, not only in advance of his age but practically in advance of our age.
They made of his mystical counsels of perfection a sort of Socialism or Pacifism or
Communism, which they themselves still see rather as something that ought to be or that
will be; the extreme limit of universal love. I am not discussing here whether they are
right or not; I say they have in fact found in the same figure a type of humanitarianism
and the care for human happiness. Every one knows the striking and sometimes staggering
utterances that do really support and illustrate this side of the teaching. Modern
idealists are naturally moved by such things as the intensely poetic paradox about the
lilies of the field; which for them has a joy in life and living things like that of
Shelley or Whitman, combined with a return to simplicity beyond that of Tolstoy or
Thoreau. Indeed I rather wonder that those, whose merely historic or humanistic view of
the case would allow of such criticism without incongruity, have not made some study of
the purely poetical or oratorical structure of such passages. Certainly there are few
finer examples of the swift architecture of style than that single fragment about the
flowers; the almost idle opening of a chance reference to a wild flower, the sudden
unfolding of the small purple blossom into pavilions and palaces and the great name of the
national history; and then with a turn of the hand like a gesture of scorn, the change to
the grass that to-day is and to-morrow is cast into the oven. Then follows, as so often in
the Gospels, the “how much more” which is like a celestial flight of stairs, a
ladder of imaginative logic. Indeed this _a fortiori_, and this power of thinking on three
levels, is (I may remark incidentally) a thing very much needed in modern discussion. Many
minds apparently cannot stretch to three dimensions, or to thinking that a cube can go
beyond a surface as a surface goes beyond a line; for instance, that the citizen is
infinitely above all ranks, and yet the soul is infinitely above the citizen. But we are
only concerned at the moment with the sides of this many-sided mystery which happen to be
really in sympathy with the modern mood. Judged even by our modern tests of emancipated
art or ideal economics, it is admitted that Christ understood all that is rather crudely
embodied in Socialism or the Simple Life. I purposely insist first on this optimistic, I
might almost say this pantheistic or even this pagan aspect of the Christian Gospels. For
it is only when we understand that Christ, considered merely as a prophet, can be and is a
popular leader in the love of natural things, that we can feel that tremendous and tragic
energy of his testimony to an ugly reality, the existence of unnatural things. Instead of
taking a text as I have done, take a whole Gospel and read it steadily and honestly and
straight through at a sitting, and you will certainly have one impression, whether of a
myth or of a man. It is that the exorcist towers above the poet and even the prophet; that
the story between Cana and Calvary is one long war with demons. He understood better than
a hundred poets the beauty of the flowers of the battle-field; but he came out to battle.
And if most of his words mean anything they do mean that there is at our very feet, like a
chasm concealed among the flowers, an unfathomable evil. In short, I would here only hint
delicately that perhaps the mind which admittedly knew much of what we think we know about
ethics and economics, knew a little more than we are beginning to know about psychology
and psychic phenomena. I remember reading, not without amusement, a severe and trenchant
article in the _Hibbert Journal_, in which Christ’s admission of demonology was alone
thought enough to dispose of his divinity. The one sentence of the article, which I
cherish in my memory through all the changing years, ran thus: “If he was God, he
knew there was no such thing as diabolical possession.” It did not seem to strike the
_Hibbert_ critic that this line of criticism raises the question, not of whether Christ is
God, but of whether the critic in the _Hibbert Journal_ is God. About that mystery as
about the other I am for the moment agnostic; but I should have thought that the
meditations of Omniscience on the problem of evil might be allowed, even by an agnostic,
to be a little difficult to discover. Of Christ in the Gospels and in modern life I will
merely for the moment say this; that if he was God, as the critic put it, it seems
possible that he knew the next discovery in science, as well as the last, not to mention
(what is more common in rationalistic culture) the last but three. And what will be the
next discovery in psychological science nobody can imagine; and we can only say that if it
reveals demons and their name is Legion, we can hardly be much surprised now. But at any
rate the days are over of Omniscience like that of the _Hibbert_ critic, who knows exactly
what he would know if he were God Almighty. What is pain? What is evil? What did they mean
by devils? What do we mean by madness? The rising generation, when asked by a venerable
Victorian critic and catechist, “What does God know?” will hardly think it
unreasonably flippant to answer, “God knows.” There was something already
suggested about the steep scenery through which I went as I thought about these things; a
sense of silent catastrophe and fundamental cleavage in the deep division of the cliffs
and crags. They were all the more profoundly moving, because my sense of them was almost
as subconscious as the subconsciousness about which I was reflecting. I had fallen again
into the old habit of forgetting where I was going, and seeing things with one eye off, in
a blind abstraction. I awoke from a sort of trance of absentmindedness in a landscape that
might well awaken anybody. It might awaken a man sleeping; but he would think he was still
in a nightmare. It might wake the dead, but they would probably think they were in hell.
Halfway down the slope the hills had taken on a certain pallor which had about it
something primitive, as if the colours were not yet created. There was only a kind of cold
and wan blue in the level skies which contrasted with wild sky-line. Perhaps we are
accustomed to the contrary condition of the clouds moving and mutable and the hills solid
and serene; but anyhow there seemed something of the making of a new world about the quiet
of the skies and the cold convulsion of the landscape. But if it was between chaos and
creation, it was creation by God or at least by the gods, something with an aim in its
anarchy. It was very different in the final stage of the descent, where my mind woke up
from its meditations. One can only say that the whole landscape was like a leper. It was
of a wasting white and silver and grey, with mere dots of decadent vegetation like the
green spots of a plague. In shape it not only rose into horns and crests like waves or
clouds, but I believe it actually alters like waves or clouds, visibly but with a
loathsome slowness. The swamp is alive. And I found again a certain advantage in
forgetfulness; for I saw all this incredible country before I even remembered its name, or
the ancient tradition about its nature. Then even the green plague-spots failed, and
everything seemed to fall away into a universal blank under the staring sun, as I came, in
the great spaces of the circle of a lifeless sea, into the silence of Sodom and Gomorrah.
For these are the foundations of a fallen world, and a sea below the seas on which men
sail. Seas move like clouds and fishes float like birds above the level of the sunken
land. And it is here that tradition has laid the tragedy of the mighty perversion of the
imagination of man; the monstrous birth and death of abominable things. I say such things
in no mood of spiritual pride; such things are hideous not because they are distant but
because they are near to us; in all our brains, certainly in mine, were buried things as
bad as any buried under that bitter sea, and if He did not come to do battle with them,
even in the darkness of the brain of man, I know not why He came. Certainly it was not
only to talk about flowers or to talk about Socialism. The more truly we can see life as a
fairy-tale, the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the Dragon who is
wasting fairyland. I will not enter on the theology behind the symbol; but I am sure it
was of this that all the symbols were symbolic. I remember distinguished men among the
liberal theologians, who found it more difficult to believe in one devil than in many.
They admitted in the New Testament an attestation to evil spirits, but not to a general
enemy of mankind. As some are said to want the drama of Hamlet without the Prince of
Denmark, they would have the drama of Hell without the Prince of Darkness. I say nothing
of these things, save that the language of the Gospel seems to me to go much more singly
to a single issue. The voice that is heard there has such authority as speaks to an army;
and the highest note of it is victory rather than peace. When the apostles were first sent
forth with their faces to the four corners of the earth, and turned again to acclaim their
master, he did not say in that hour of triumph, “All are aspects of one harmonious
whole” or “The universe evolves through progress to perfection” or
“All things find their end in Nirvana” or “The dewdrop slips into the
shining sea.” He looked up and said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from
heaven.” Then I looked up and saw in the long jagged lines of road and rock and cleft
something of the swiftness of such a thunderbolt. What I saw seemed not so much a scene as
an act; as when abruptly Michael barred the passage of the Lord of Pride. Below me all the
empire of evil was splashed and scattered upon the plain, like a wine-cup shattered into a
star. Sodom lay like Satan, flat upon the floor of the world. And far away and aloft,
faint with height and distance, small but still visible, stood up the spire of the
Ascension like the sword of the Archangel, lifted in salute after a stroke. CHAPTER X THE
ENDLESS EMPIRE One of the adventures of travel consists, not so much in finding that
popular sayings are false, as that they mean more than they say. We cannot appreciate the
full force of the phrase until we have seen the fact. We make a picture of the things we
do not know out of the things we know; and suppose the traveller’s tale to mean no more
abroad than it would at home. If a man acquainted only with English churches is told about
certain French churches that they are much frequented, he makes an English picture. He
imagines a definite dense crowd of people in their best clothes going all together at
eleven o’clock, and all coming back together to lunch. He does not picture the peculiar
impression he would gain on the spot; of chance people going in and out of the church all
day, sometimes for quite short periods, as if it were a sort of sacred inn. Or suppose a
man knowing only English beer-shops hears for the first time of a German beer-garden, he
probably does not imagine the slow ritual of the place. He does not know that unless the
drinker positively slams down the top of his beer-mug with a resounding noise and a
decisive gesture, beer will go on flowing into it as from a natural fountain; the drinking
of beer being regarded as the normal state of man, and the cessation of it a decisive and
even dramatic departure. I do not give this example in contempt; heaven forbid. I have had
so much to say of the inhuman side of Prussianised Germany that I am glad to be able to
pay a passing tribute to those more generous German traditions which we hope may revive
and make Germany once more a part of Christendom. I merely give it as an instance of the
way in which things we have all heard of, like church-going or beer-drinking, in foreign
lands, mean much more, and something much more special, than we should infer from our own
land. Now this is true of a phrase we have all heard of deserted cities or temples in the
Near East: “The Bedouins camp in the ruins.” When I have read a hundred times
that Arabs camp in some deserted town or temple near the Nile or the Euphrates, I always
thought of gipsies near some place like Stonehenge. They would make their own rude shelter
near the stones, perhaps sheltering behind them to light a fire; and for the rest,
generations of gipsies might camp there without making much difference. The thing I saw
more than once in Egypt and Palestine was much more curious. It was as if the gipsies set
to work to refurnish Stonehenge and make it a commodious residence. It was as if they
spread a sort of giant umbrella over the circle of stones, and elaborately hung curtains
between them, so as to turn the old Druid temple into a sort of patchwork pavilion. In one
sense there is much more vandalism, and in another sense much more practicality; but it is
a practicality that always stops short of the true creative independence of going off and
building a house of their own. That is the attitude of the Arab; and it runs through all
his history. Noble as is his masterpiece of the Mosque of Omar, there is something about
it of that patchwork pavilion. It was based on Christian work, it was built with
fragments, it was content with things that fastidious architects call fictions or even
shams. I frequently saw old ruined houses of which there only remained two walls of stone,
to which the nomads had added two walls of canvas making an exact cube in form with the
most startling incongruity in colour. He needs the form and he does not mind the
incongruity, nor does he mind the fact that somebody else has done the solid part and he
has only done the ramshackle part. You can say that he is nobly superior to jealousy, or
that he is without artistic ambition, or that he is too much of a nomad to mind living
half in somebody else’s house and half in his own. The real quality is probably too subtle
for any simple praise or blame; we can only say that there is in the wandering Moslem a
curious kind of limited common sense; which might even be called a short-sighted common
sense. But however we define it, that is what can really be traced through Arab conquests
and Arab culture in all its ingenuity and insufficiency. That is the note of these nomads
in all the things in which they have succeeded and failed. In that sense they are
constructive and in that sense unconstructive; in that sense artistic and in that sense
inartistic; in that sense practical and in that sense unpractical; in that sense cunning
and in that sense innocent. The curtains they would hang round Stonehenge might be of
beautifully selected colours. The banners they waved from Stonehenge might be defended
with glorious courage and enthusiasm. The prayers they recited in Stonehenge might be
essentially worthy of human dignity, and certainly a great improvement on its older
associations of human sacrifice. All this is true of Islam and the idolatries and
negations are often replaced. But they would not have built Stonehenge; they would
scarcely, so to speak, have troubled to lift a stone of Stonehenge. They would not have
built Stonehenge; how much less Salisbury or Glastonbury or Lincoln. That is the element
about the Arab influence which makes it, after its ages of supremacy and in a sense of
success, remain in a subtle manner superficial. When a man first sees the Eastern deserts,
he sees this influence as I first described it, very present and powerful, almost
omnipresent and omnipotent. But I fancy that to me and to others it is partly striking
only because it is strange. Islam is so different to Christendom that to see it at all is
at first like entering a new world. But, in my own case at any rate, as the strange
colours became more customary, and especially as I saw more of the established seats of
history, the cities and the framework of the different states, I became conscious of
something else. It was something underneath, undestroyed and even in a sense unaltered. It
was something neither Moslem nor modern; not merely oriental and yet very different from
the new occidental nations from which I came. For a long time I could not put a name to
this historical atmosphere. Then one day, standing in one of the Greek churches, one of
those houses of gold full of hard highly coloured pictures, I fancied it came to me. It
was the Empire. And certainly not the raid of Asiatic bandits we call the Turkish Empire.
The thing which had caught my eye in that coloured interior was the carving of a
two-headed eagle in such a position as to make it almost as symbolic as a cross. Every one
has heard, of course, of the situation which this might well suggest, the suggestion that
the Russian Church was far too much of an Established Church and the White Czar encroached
upon the White Christ. But as a fact the eagle I saw was not borrowed from the Russian
Empire; it would be truer to say that the Empire was borrowed from the eagle. The double
eagle is the ancient emblem of the double empire of Rome and of Byzantium; the one head
looking to the west and the other to the east, as if it spread its wings from the sunrise
to the sunset. Unless I am mistaken, it was only associated with Russia as late as Peter
the Great, though it had been the badge of Austria as the representative of the Holy Roman
Empire. And what I felt brooding over that shrine and that landscape was something older
not only than Turkey or Russia but than Austria itself. I began to understand a sort of
evening light that lies over Palestine and Syria; a sense of smooth ruts of custom such as
are said to give a dignity to the civilisation of China. I even understood a sort of
sleepiness about the splendid and handsome Orthodox priests moving fully robed about the
streets. They were not aristocrats but officials; still moving with the mighty routine of
some far-off official system. In so far as the eagle was an emblem not of such imperial
peace but of distant imperial wars, it was of wars that we in the West have hardly heard
of; it was the emblem of official ovations. When Heracleius rode homewards from the rout
of Ispahan With the captives dragged behind him and the eagles in the van. That is the
rigid reality that still underlay the light mastery of the Arab rider; that is what a man
sees, in the patchwork pavilion, when he grows used to the coloured canvas and looks at
the walls of stone. This also was far too great a thing for facile praise or blame, a vast
bureaucracy busy and yet intensely dignified, the most civilised thing ruling many other
civilisations. It was an endless end of the world; for ever repeating its rich finality.
And I myself was still walking in that long evening of the earth; and Caesar my lord was
at Byzantium. But it is necessary to remember next that this empire was not always at its
evening. Byzantium was not always Byzantine. Nor was the seat of that power always in the
city of Constantine, which was primarily a mere outpost of the city of Caesar. We must
remember Rome as well as Byzantium; as indeed nobody would remember Byzantium if it were
not for Rome. The more I saw of a hundred little things the more my mind revolved round
that original idea which may be called the Mediterranean; and the fact that it became two
empires, but remained one civilisation, just as it has become two churches, but remained
one religion. In this little world there is a story attached to every word; and never more
than when it is the wrong word. For instance, we may say that in certain cases the word
Roman actually means Greek. The Greek Patriarch is sometimes called the Roman Patriarch;
while the real Roman Patriarch, who actually comes from Rome, is only called the Latin
Patriarch, as if he came from any little town in Latium. The truth behind this confusion
is the truth about five hundred very vital years, which are concealed even from cultivated
Englishmen by two vague falsehoods; the notion that the Roman Empire was merely decadent
and the notion that the Middle Ages were merely dark. As a fact, even the Dark Ages were
not merely dark. And even the Byzantine Empire was not merely Byzantine. It seems a little
unfair that we should take the very title of decay from that Christian city, for surely it
was yet more stiff and sterile when it had become a Moslem city. I am not so exacting as
to ask any one to popularise such a word as “Constantinopolitan.” But it would
surely be a better word for stiffness and sterility to call it Stamboulish. But for the
Moslems and other men of the Near East what counted about Byzantium was that it still
inherited the huge weight of the name of Rome. Rome had come east and reared against them
this Roman city, and though and priest or soldier who came out of it might be speaking as
a Greek, he was ruling as a Roman. Its critics in these days of criticism may regard it as
a corrupt civilisation. But its enemies in the day of battle only regarded it as
civilisation. Saladin, the greatest of the Saracens, did not call Greek bishops degenerate
dreamers or dingy outcasts, he called them, with a sounder historical instinct, “The
monks of the imperial race.” The survival of the word merely means that even when the
imperial city fell behind them, they did not surrender their claim to defy all Asia in the
name of the Christian Emperor. That is but one example out of twenty, but that is why in
this distant place to this day the Greeks who are separated from the see of Rome sometimes
bear the strange name of “The Romans.” Now that civilisation is our
civilisation, and we never had any other. We have not inherited a Teutonic culture any
more than a Druid culture; not half so much. The people who say that parliaments or
pictures or gardens or roads or universities were made by the Teutonic race from the north
can be disposed of by the simple question: why did not the Teutonic race make them in the
north? Why was not the Parthenon originally built in the neighbourhood of Potsdam, or did
ten Hansa towns compete to be the birthplace of Homer? Perhaps they do by this time; but
their local illusion is no longer largely shared. Anyhow it seems strange that the roads
of the Romans should be due to the inspiration of the Teutons; and that parliaments should
begin in Spain because they came from Germany. If I looked about in these parts for a
local emblem like that of the eagle, I might very well find it in the lion. The lion is
common enough, of course, in Christian art both hagiological and heraldic. Besides the
cavern of Bethlehem of which I shall speak presently, is the cavern of St. Jerome, where
he lived with that real or legendary lion who was drawn by the delicate humour of
Carpaccio and a hundred other religious painters. That it should appear in Christian art
is natural; that it should appear in Moslem art is much more singular, seeing that Moslems
are in theory forbidden so to carve images of living things. Some say the Persian Moslems
are less particular; but whatever the explanation, two lions of highly heraldic appearance
are carved over that Saracen gate which Christians call the gate of St. Stephen; and the
best judges seem to agree that, like so much of the Saracenic shell of Zion, they were
partly at least copied from the shields and crests of the Crusaders. And the lions graven
over the gate of St. Stephen might well be the text for a whole book on the subject. For
if they indicate, however indirectly, the presence of the Latins of the twelfth century,
they also indicate the earlier sources from which the Latin life had itself been drawn.
The two lions are pacing, passant as the heralds would say, in two opposite directions
almost as if prowling to and fro. And this also might well be symbolic as well as
heraldic. For if the Crusaders brought the lion southward in spite of the conventional
fancy of Moslem decoration, it was only because the Romans had previously brought the lion
northward to the cold seas and the savage forests. The image of the lion came from north
to south, only because the idea of the lion had long ago come from south to north. The
Christian had a symbolic lion he had never seen, and the Moslem had a real lion that he
refused to draw. For we could deduce from the case of this single creature the fact that
all our civilisation came from the Mediterranean, and the folly of pretending that it came
from the North Sea. Those two heraldic shapes over the gate may be borrowed from the
Norman or Angevin shield now quartered in the Royal Arms of England. They may have been
copied, directly or indirectly, from that great Angevin King of England whose title
credited him with the heart of a lion. They may have in some far-off fashion the same
ancestry as the boast or jest of our own comic papers when they talk about the British
Lion. But why are there lions, though of French or feudal origin, on the flag of England?
There might as well be camels or crocodiles, for all the apparent connection with England
or with France. Why was an English king described as having the heart of a lion, any more
than of a tiger? Why do your patriotic cartoons threaten the world with the wrath of the
British Lion; it is really as strange as if they warned it against stimulating the rage of
the British rhinoceros. Why did not the French and English princes find in the wild boars,
that were the objects of their hunting, the subjects of their heraldry? If the Normans
were really the Northmen, the sea-wolves of Scandinavian piracy, why did they not display
three wolves on their shields? Why has not John Bull been content with the English bull,
or the English bull-dog? The answer might be put somewhat defiantly by saying that the
very name of John Bull is foreign. The surname comes through France from Rome; and the
Christian name comes through Rome from Palestine. If there had really been any
justification for the Teutonic generalisation, we should expect the surname to be
“ox” and not “bull”; and we should expect the hero standing as
godfather to be Odin or Siegfried, and not the prophet who lived on locusts in the
wilderness of Palestine or the mystic who mused with his burning eyes on the blue seas
around Patmos. If our national hero is John Bull and not Olaf the Ox, it is ultimately
because that blue sea has run like a blue thread through all the tapestries of our
traditions; or in other words because our culture, like that of France or Flanders, came
originally from the Mediterranean. And if this is true of our use of the word
“bull,” it is obviously even truer of our use of the word “lion.” The
later emblem is enough to show that the culture came, not only from the Mediterranean, but
from the southern as well as the northern side of the Mediterranean. In other words, the
Roman Empire ran all round the great inland sea; the very name of which meant, not merely
the sea in the middle of the land, but more especially the sea in the middle of all the
lands that mattered most to civilisation. One of these, and the one that in the long run
has mattered most of all, was Palestine. In this lies the deepest difference between a man
like Richard the Lion Heart and any of the countless modern English soldiers in Palestine
who have been quite as lion-hearted as he. His superiority was not moral but intellectual;
it consisted in knowing where he was and why he was there. It arose from the fact that in
his time there remained a sort of memory of the Roman Empire, which some would have
re-established as a Holy Roman Empire. Christendom was still almost one commonwealth; and
it seemed to Richard quite natural to go from one edge of it that happened to be called
England to the opposite edge of it that happened to be called Palestine. We may think him
right or wrong in the particular quarrel, we may think him innocent or unscrupulous in his
incidental methods; but there is next to no doubt whatever that he did regard himself not
merely as conquering but as re-conquering a realm. He was not like a man attacking total
strangers on a hitherto undiscovered island. He was not opening up a new country, or
giving his name to a new continent, and he could boast none of those ideals of imperial
innovation which inspire the more enlightened pioneers, who exterminate tribes or
extinguish republics for the sake of a gold-mine or an oil-field. Some day, if our modern
educational system is further expanded and enforced, the whole of the past of Palestine
may be entirely forgotten; and a traveller in happier days may have all the fresher
sentiments of one stepping on a new and nameless soil. Disregarding any dim and lingering
legends among the natives, he may then have the honour of calling Sinai by the name of
Mount Higgins, or marking on a new map the site of Bethlehem with the name of Brownsville.
But King Richard, adventurous as he was, could not experience the full freshness of this
sort of adventure. He was not riding into Asia thus romantically and at random; indeed he
was not riding into Asia at all. He was riding into Europa Irredenta. But that is to
anticipate what happened later and must be considered later. I am primarily speaking of
the Empire as a pagan and political matter; and it is easy to see what was the meaning of
the Crusade on the merely pagan and political side. In one sentence, it meant that Rome
had to recover what Byzantium could not keep. But something further had happened as
affecting Rome than anything that could be understood by a man standing as I have imagined
myself standing, in the official area of Byzantium. When I have said that the Byzantian
civilisation seemed still to be reigning, I meant a curious impression that, in these
Eastern provinces, though the Empire had been more defeated it has been less disturbed.
There is a greater clarity in that ancient air; and fewer clouds of real revolution and
novelty have come between them and their ancient sun. This may seem an enigma and a
paradox; seeing that here a foreign religion has successfully fought and ruled. But indeed
the enigma is also the explanation. In the East the continuity of culture has only been
interrupted by negative things that Islam has done. In the West it has been interrupted by
positive things that Christendom itself has done. In the West the past of Christendom has
its perspective blocked up by its own creations; in the East it is a true perspective of
interminable corridors, with round Byzantine arches and proud Byzantine pillars. That, I
incline to fancy, is the real difference that a man come from the west of Europe feels in
the east of Europe, it is a gap or a void. It is the absence of the grotesque energy of
Gothic, the absence of the experiments of parliament and popular representation, the
absence of medieval chivalry, the absence of modern nationality. In the East the
civilisation lived on, or if you will, lingered on; in the West it died and was reborn.
But for a long time, it should be remembered, it must have seemed to the East merely that
it died. The realms of Rome had disappeared in clouds of barbaric war, while the realms of
Byzantium were still golden and gorgeous in the sun. The men of the East did not realise
that their splendour was stiffening and growing sterile, and even the early successes of
Islam may not have revealed to them that their rule was not only stiff but brittle. It was
something else that was destined to reveal it. The Crusades meant many things; but in this
matter they meant one thing, which was like a word carried to them on the great west wind.
And the word was like that in an old Irish song: “The west is awake.” They heard
in the distance the cries of unknown crowds and felt the earth shaking with the march of
mobs; and behind them came the trampling of horses and the noise of harness and of horns
of war; new kings calling out commands and hosts of young men full of hope crying out in
the old Roman tongue “Id Deus vult,” Rome was risen from the dead. Almost any
traveller could select out of the countless things that he has looked at the few things
that he has seen. I mean the things that come to him with a curious clearness; so that he
actually sees them to be what he knows them to be. I might almost say that he can believe
in them although he has seen them. There can be no rule about this realisation; it seems
to come in the most random fashion; and the man to whom it comes can only speak for
himself without any attempt at a critical comparison with others. In this sense I may say
that the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem contains something impossible to describe,
yet driving me beyond expression to a desperate attempt at description. The church is
entered through a door so small that it it might fairly be called a hole, in which many
have seen, and I think truly, a symbol of some idea of humility. It is also said that the
wall was pierced in this way to prevent the appearance of a camel during divine service,
but even that explanation would only repeat the same suggestion through the parable of the
needle’s eye. Personally I should guess that, in so far as the purpose was practical, it
was meant to keep out much more dangerous animals than camels, as, for instance, Turks.
For the whole church has clearly been turned into a fortress, windows are bricked up and
walls thickened in some or all of its thousand years of religious war. In the blank spaces
above the little doorway hung in old times that strange mosaic of the Magi which once
saved the holy place from destruction, in the strange interlude between the decline of
Rome and the rise of Mahomet. For when the Persians who had destroyed Jerusalem rode out
in triumph to the village of Bethlehem, they looked up and saw above the door a picture in
coloured stone, a picture of themselves. They were following a strange star and
worshipping an unknown child. For a Christian artist, following some ancient Eastern
tradition containing an eternal truth, had drawn the three wise men with the long robes
and high head-dresses of Persia. The worshippers of the sun had come westward for the
worship of the star. But whether that part of the church were bare and bald as it is now
or coloured with the gold and purple images of the Persians, the inside of the church
would always be by comparison abruptly dark. As familiarity turns the darkness to
twilight, and the twilight to a grey daylight, the first impression is that of two rows of
towering pillars. They are of a dark red stone having much of the appearance of a dark red
marble; and they are crowned with the acanthus in the manner of the Corinthian school.
They were carved and set up at the command of Constantine; and beyond them, at the other
end of the church beside the attar, is the dark stairway that descends under the canopies
of rock to the stable where Christ was born. Of all the things I have seen the most
convincing, and as it were crushing, were these red columns of Constantine. In explanation
of the sentiment there are a thousand things that want saying and cannot be said. Never
have I felt so vividly the great fact of our history; that the Christian religion is like
a huge bridge across a boundless sea, which alone connects us with the men who made the
world, and yet have utterly vanished from the world. To put it curtly and very crudely on
this point alone it was possible to sympathise with a Roman and not merely to admire him.
All his pagan remains are but sublime fossils; for we can never know the life that was in
them. We know that here and there was a temple to Venus or there an altar to Vesta; but
who knows or pretends to know what he really felt about Venus or Vesta? Was a Vestal
Virgin like a Christian Virgin, or something profoundly different? Was he quite serious
about Venus, like a diabolist, or merely frivolous about Venus, like a Christian? If the
spirit was different from ours we cannot hope to understand it, and if the spirit was like
ours, the spirit was expressed in images that no longer express it. But it is here that he
and I meet; and salute the same images in the end. In any case I can never recapture in
words the waves of sympathy with strange things that went through me in that twilight of
the tall pillars, like giants robed in purple, standing still and looking down into that
dark hole in the ground. Here halted that imperial civilisation, when it had marched in
triumph through the whole world; here in the evening of its days it came trailing in all
its panoply in the pathway of the three kings. For it came following not only a falling
but a fallen star and one that dived before them into a birthplace darker than a grave.
And the lord of the laurels, clad in his sombre crimson, looked down into that darkness,
and then looked up, and saw that all the stars in his own sky were dead. They were deities
no longer but only a brilliant dust, scattered down the vain void of Lucretius. The stars
were as stale as they were strong; they would never die for they had never lived; they
were cursed with an incurable immortality that was but the extension of mortality; they
were chained in the chains of causation and unchangeable as the dead. There are not many
men in the modern world who do not know that mood, though it was not discovered by the
moderns; it was the final and seemingly fixed mood of nearly all the ancients. Only above
the black hole of Bethlehem they had seen a star wandering like a lost spark; and it had
done what the eternal suns and planets could not do. It had disappeared. There are some
who resent the presence of such purple beside the plain stable of the Nativity. But it
seems strange that they always rebuke it as if it were a blind vulgarity like the red
plush of a parvenu; a mere insensibility to a mere incongruity. For in fact the
insensibility is in the critics and not the artists. It is an insensibility not to an
accidental incongruity but to an artistic contrast. Indeed it is an insensibility of a
somewhat tiresome kind, which can often be noticed in those sceptics who make a science of
folk-lore. The mark of them is that they fail to see the importance of finding the upshot
or climax of a tale, even when it is a fairy-tale. Since the old devotional doctors and
designers were never tired of insisting on the sufferings of the holy poor to the point of
squalor, and simultaneously insisting on the sumptuousness of the subject kings to the
point of swagger, it would really seem not entirely improbable that they may have been
conscious of the contrast themselves. I confess this is an insensibility, not to say
stupidity, in the sceptics and simplifiers, which I find very fatiguing. I do not mind a
man not believing a story, but I confess I am bored stiff (if I may be allowed the
expression) by a man who can tell a story without seeing the point of the story,
considered as a story or even considered as a lie. And a man who sees the rags and the
royal purple as a clumsy inconsistency is merely missing the meaning of a deliberate
design. He is like a man who should hear the story of King Cophetua and the beggar maid
and say doubtfully that it was hard to recognise it as really _a mariage de convenance_; a
phrase which (I may remark in parenthesis but not without passion) is not the French for
“a marriage of convenience,” any more than _hors d’oeuvre_ is the French for
“out of work”; but may be more rightly rendered in English as “a suitable
match.” But nobody thought the match of the king and the beggar maid conventionally a
suitable match; and nobody would ever have thought the story worth telling if it had been.
It is like saying that Diogenes, remaining in his tub after the offer of Alexander, must
have been unaware of the opportunities of Greek architecture; or like saying that
Nebuchadnezzar eating grass is clearly inconsistent with court etiquette, or not to be
found in any fashionable cookery book. I do not mind the learned sceptic saying it is a
legend or a lie; but I weep for him when he cannot see the gist of it, I might even say
the joke of it. I do not object to his rejecting the story as a tall story; but I find it
deplorable when he cannot see the point or end or upshot of the tall story, the very
pinnacle or spire of that sublime tower. This dull type of doubt clouds the consideration
of many sacred things as it does that of the shrine of Bethlehem. It is applied to the
divine reality of Bethlehem itself, as when sceptics still sneer at the littleness, the
localism, the provincial particularity and obscurity of that divine origin; as if
Christians could be confounded and silenced by a contrast which Christians in ten thousand
hymns, songs and sermons have incessantly shouted and proclaimed. In this capital case, of
course, the same principle holds. A man may think the tale is incredible; but it would
never have been told at all if it had not been incongruous. But this particular case of
the lesser contrast, that between the imperial pomp and the rustic poverty of the
carpenter and the shepherds, is alone enough to illustrate the strange artistic fallacy
involved. If it be the point that an emperor came to worship a carpenter, it is as
artistically necessary to make the emperor imperial as to make the carpenter humble; if we
wish to make plain to plain people that before this shrine kings are no better than
shepherds, it is as necessary that the kings should have crowns as that the shepherds
should have crooks. And if modern intellectuals do not know it, it is because nobody has
really been mad enough even to try to make modern intellectualism popular. Now this
conception of pomp as a popular thing, this conception of a concession to common human
nature in colour and symbol, has a considerable bearing on many misunderstandings about
the original enthusiasm that spread from the cave of Bethlehem over the whole Roman
Empire. It is a curious fact that the moderns have mostly rebuked historic Christianity,
not for being narrow, but for being broad. They have rebuked it because it did prove
itself the desire of all nations, because it did satisfy the cravings of many creeds,
because it did prove itself to idolaters as something as magic as their idols, or did
prove itself to patriots something as lovable as their native land. In many other matters
indeed, besides this popular art, we may find examples of the same illogical prejudice.
Nothing betrays more curiously the bias of historians against the Christian faith than the
fact that they blame in Christians the very human indulgences that they have praised in
heathens. The same arts and allegories, the same phraseologies and philosophies, which
appear first as proofs of heathen health turn up later as proofs of Christian corruption.
It was noble of pagans to be pagan, but it was unpardonable of Christians to be paganised.
They never tire of telling us of the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome,
but the Church was infamous because it satisfied the Greek intellect and wielded the Roman
power. Now on the first example of the attempt of theology to meet the claims of
philosophy I will not here dwell at length. I will only remark in passing that it is an
utter fallacy to suggest, as for instance Mr. Wells suggests in his fascinating _Outline
of History_, that the subtleties of theology were a mere falling away from the
simplicities of religion. Religion may be better simple for those who find it simple; but
there are bound to be many who in any case find it subtle, among those who think about it
and especially those who doubt about it. To take an example, there is no saying which the
humanitarians of a broad religion more commonly offer as a model of simplicity than that
most mystical affirmation “God is Love.” And there is no theological quarrel of
the Councils of the Church which they, especially Mr. Wells, more commonly deride as
bitter and barren than that at the Council of Nicea about the Co-eternity of the Divine
Son. Yet the subtle statement is simply a metaphysical explanation of the simple
statement; and it would be quite possible even to make it a popular explanation, by saying
that God could not love when there was nothing to be loved. Now the Church Councils were
originally very popular, not to say riotous assemblies. So far from being undemocratic,
they were rather too democratic; the real case against them was that they passed by
uproarious votes, and not without violence, things that had ultimately to be considered
more calmly by experts. But it may reasonably be suggested, I think, that the
concentration of the Greek intellect on these things did gradually pass from a popular to
a more professional or official thing; and that the traces of it have finally tended to
fade from the official religion of the East. It was far otherwise with the more poetical
and therefore more practical religion of the West. It was far otherwise with that direct
appeal to pathos and affection in the highly coloured picture of the Shepherd and the
King. In the West the world not only prolonged its life but recovered its youth. That is
the meaning of the movement I have described as the awakening of the West and the
resurrection of Rome. And the whole point of that movement, as I propose to suggest, was
that it was a popular movement. It had returned with exactly that strange and simple
energy that belongs to the story of Bethlehem. Not in vain had Constantine come clad in
purple to look down into that dark cave at his feet; nor did the star mislead him when it
seemed to end in the entrails of the earth. The men who followed him passed on, as it
were, through the low and vaulted tunnel of the Dark Ages; but they had found the way, and
the only way, out of that world of death, and their journey ended in the land of the
living. They came out into a world more wonderful than the eyes of men have looked on
before or after; they heard the hammers of hundreds of happy craftsmen working for once
according to their own will, and saw St. Francis walking with his halo a cloud of birds.
CHAPTER XI THE MEANING OF THE CRUSADE There are three examples of Western work on the
great eastern slope of the Mount of Olives; and they form a sort of triangle illustrating
the truth about the different influences of the West on the East. At the foot of the hill
is the garden kept by the Franciscans on the alleged site of Gethsemane, and containing
the hoary olive that is supposed to be the terrible tree of the agony of Christ. Given the
great age and slow growth of the olives, the tradition is not so unreasonable as some may
suppose. But whether or not it is historically right, it is not artistically wrong. The
instinct, if it was only an instinct, that made men fix upon this strange growth of grey
and twisted wood, was a true imaginative instinct. One of the strange qualities of this
strange Southern tree is its almost startling hardness; accidentally to strike the branch
of an olive is like striking rock. With its stony surface, stunted stature, and strange
holes and hollows, it is often more like a grotto than a tree. Hence it does not seem so
unnatural that it should be treated as a holy grotto; or that this strange vegetation
should claim to stand for ever like a sculptured monument. Even the shimmering or
shivering silver foliage of the living olive might well have a legend like that of the
aspen; as if it had grown grey with fear from the apocalyptic paradox of a divine vision
of death. A child from one of the villages said to me, in broken English, that it was the
place where God said his prayers. I for one could not ask for a finer or more defiant
statement of all that separates the Christian from the Moslem or the Jew; _credo quia
impossibile_. Around this terrible spot the Franciscans have done something which will
strike many good and thoughtful people as quite fantastically inadequate; and which
strikes me as fantastically but precisely right. They have laid out the garden simply as a
garden, in a way that is completely natural because it is completely artificial. They have
made flower-beds in the shape of stars and moons, and coloured them with flowers like
those in the backyard of a cottage. The combination of these bright patterns in the
sunshine with the awful shadow in the centre is certainly an incongruity in the sense of a
contrast. But it is a poetical contrast, like that of birds building in a temple or
flowers growing on a tomb. The best way of suggesting what I for one feel about it would
be something like this; suppose we imagine a company of children, such as those whom
Christ blessed in Jerusalem, afterwards put permanently in charge of a field full of his
sorrow; it is probable that, if they could do anything with it, they would do something
like this. They might cut it up into quaint shapes and dot it with red daisies or yellow
marigolds. I really do not know that there is anything better that grown up people could
do, since anything that the greatest of them could do must be, must look quite as small.
“Shall I, the gnat that dances in Thy ray, dare to be reverent?” The Franciscans
have not dared to be reverent; they have only dared to be cheerful. It may be too awful an
adventure of the imagination to imagine Christ in that garden. But there is not the
smallest difficulty about imagining St. Francis there; and that is something to say of an
institution which is eight hundred years old. Immediately above this little garden,
overshadowing and almost overhanging it, is a gorgeous gilded building with golden domes
and minarets glittering in the sun, and filling a splendid situation with almost shameless
splendour; the Russian church built over the upper part of the garden, belonging to the
Orthodox-Greeks. Here again many Western travellers will be troubled; and will think that
golden building much too like a fairy palace in a pantomime. But here again I shall differ
from them, though perhaps less strongly. It may be that the pleasure is childish rather
than childlike; but I can imagine a child clapping his hands at the mere sight of those
great domes like bubbles of gold against the blue sky. It is a little like Aladdin’s
Palace, but it has a place in art as Aladdin has a place in literature; especially since
it is oriental literature. Those wise missionaries in China who were not afraid to depict
the Twelve Apostles in the costume of Chinamen might have built such a church in a land of
glittering mosques. And as it is said that the Russian has in him something of the child
and something of the oriental, such a style may be quite sincere, and have even a certain
simplicity in its splendour. It is genuine of its kind; it was built for those who like
it; and those who do not like it can look at something else. This sort of thing may be
called tawdry, but it is not what I call meretricious. What I call really meretricious can
be found yet higher on the hill; towering to the sky and dominating all the valleys. The
nature of the difference, I think, is worth noting. The German Hospice, which served as a
sort of palace for the German Emperor, is a very big building with a very high tower,
planned I believe with great efficiency, solidity and comfort, and fitted with a thousand
things that mark its modernity compared with the things around, with the quaint garden of
the Franciscans or the fantastic temple of the Russians. It is what I can only describe as
a handsome building; rather as the more vulgar of the Victorian wits used to talk about a
fine woman. By calling it a handsome building I mean that from the top of its dizzy tower
to the bottom of its deepest foundations there is not one line or one tint of beauty. This
negative fact, however, would be nothing; it might be honestly ugly and utilitarian like a
factory or a prison; but it is not. It is as pretentious as the gilded dome below it; and
it is pretentious in a wicked way where the other is pretentious in a good and innocent
way. What annoys me about it is that it was not built by children, or even by savages, but
by professors; and the professors could profess the art and could not practise it. The
architects knew everything about a Romanesque building except how to build it. We feel
that they accumulated on that spot all the learning and organisation and information and
wealth of the world, to do this one particular thing; and then did it wrong. They did it
wrong, not through superstition, not through fanatical exaggeration, not through
provincial ignorance, but through pure, profound, internal, intellectual incompetence;
that intellectual incompetence which so often goes with intellectual pride. I will mention
only one matter out of a hundred. All the columns in the Kaiser’s Chapel are in one way
very suitable to their place; every one of them has a swelled head. The column itself is
slender but the capital is not only big but bulging; and it has the air of bulging
_downwards_, as if pressing heavily on something too slender to support it. This is false,
not to any of the particular schools of architecture about which professors can read in
libraries, but to the inmost instinctive idea of architecture itself. A Norman capital can
be heavy because the Norman column is thick, and the whole thing expresses an elephantine
massiveness and repose. And a Gothic column can be slender, because its strength is
energy; and is expressed in its line, which shoots upwards like the life of a tree, like
the jet of a fountain or even like the rush of a rocket. But a slender thing beneath,
obviously oppressed by a bloated thing above, suggests weakness by one of those miraculous
mistakes that are as precisely wrong as masterpieces are precisely right. And to all this
is added the intolerable intuition; that the Russians and the Franciscans, even if we
credit them with fantastic ignorance, are at least looking up at the sky; and we know how
the learned Germans would look down upon them, from their monstrous tower upon the hill.
And this is as true of the moral as of the artistic elements in the modern Jerusalem. To
show that I am not unjustly partisan, I will say frankly that I see little to complain of
in that common subject of complaint; the mosaic portrait of the Emperor on the ceiling of
the chapel. It is but one among many figures; and it is not an unknown practice to include
a figure of the founder in such church decorations. The real example of that startling
moral stupidity which marked the barbaric imperialism can be found in another figure of
which, curiously enough, considerably less notice seems to have been taken. It is the more
remarkable because it is but an artistic shadow of the actual fact; and merely records in
outline and relief the temporary masquerade in which the man walked about in broad
daylight. I mean the really astounding trick of dressing himself up as a Crusader. That
was, under the circumstances, far more ludicrous and lunatic a proceeding than if he had
filled the whole ceiling with cherub heads with his own features, or festooned all the
walls with one ornamental pattern of his moustaches. The German Emperor came to Jerusalem
under the escort of the Turks, as the ally of the Turks, and solely because of the victory
and supremacy of the Turks. In other words, he came to Jerusalem solely because the
Crusaders had lost Jerusalem; he came there solely because the Crusaders had been routed,
ruined, butchered before and after the disaster of Hattin: because the Cross had gone down
in blood before the Crescent, under which alone he could ride in with safety. Under those
circumstances to dress up as a Crusader, as if for a fancy dress ball, was a mixture of
madness and vulgarity which literally stops the breath. There is no need whatever to blame
him for being in alliance with the Turks; hundreds of people have been in alliance with
the Turks; the English especially have been far too much in alliance with them. But if any
one wants to appreciate the true difference, distinct from all the cant of newspaper
nationality, between the English and the Germans (who were classed together by the same
newspapers a little time before the war) let him take this single incident as a test. Lord
Palmerston, for instance, was a firm friend of the Turks. Imagine Lord Palmerston
appearing in chain mail and the shield of a Red Cross Knight. It is obvious enough that
Palmerston would have said that he cared no more for the Crusade than for the Siege of
Troy; that his diplomacy was directed by practical patriotic considerations of the moment;
and that he regarded the religious wars of the twelfth century as a rubbish heap of remote
superstitions. In this he would be quite wrong, but quite intelligible and quite sincere;
an English aristocrat of the nineteenth century inheriting from the English aristocrats of
the eighteenth century; whose views were simply those of Voltaire. And these things are
something of an allegory. For the Voltairian version of the Crusades is still by far the
most reasonable of all merely hostile views of the Crusades. If they were not a creative
movement of religion, then they were simply a destructive movement of superstition; and
whether we agree with Voltaire in calling it superstition or with Villehardouin in calling
it religion, at least both these very clear-headed Frenchmen would agree that the motive
did exist and did explain the facts. But just as there is a clumsy German building with
statues that at once patronise and parody the Crusaders, so there is a clumsy German
theory that at once patronises and minimises the Crusades. According to this theory the
essential truth about a Crusade was that it was not a Crusade. It was something that the
professors, in the old days before the war, used to call a Teutonic Folk-Wandering.
Godfrey and St. Louis were not, as Villehardouin would say, fighting for the truth; they
were not even, as Voltaire would say, fighting for what they thought was the truth; this
was only what they thought they thought, and they were really thinking of something
entirely different. They were not moved either by piety or priestcraft, but by a new and
unexpected nomadism. They were not inspired either by faith or fanaticism, but by an
unusually aimless taste for foreign travel. This theory that the war of the two great
religions could be explained by “Wanderlust” was current about twenty years ago
among the historical professors of Germany, and with many of their other views, was often
accepted by the historical professors of England. It was swallowed by an earthquake, along
with other rubbish, in the year 1914. Since then, so far as I know, the only person who
has been patient enough to dig it up again is Mr. Ezra Pound. He is well known as an
American poet; and he is, I believe, a man of great talent and information. His attempt to
recover the old Teutonic theory of the Folk-Wandering of Peter the Hermit was expressed,
however, in prose; in an article in the _New Age_. I have no reason to doubt that he was
to be counted among the most loyal of our allies; but he is evidently one of those who,
quite without being Pro-German, still manage to be German. The Teutonic theory was very
Teutonic; like the German Hospice on the hill it was put together with great care and
knowledge and it is rotten from top to bottom. I do not understand, for that matter, why
that alliance which we enjoy with Mr. Pound should not be treated in the same way as the
other historical event; or why the war should not be an example of the Wanderlust. Surely
the American Army in France must have drifted eastward merely through the same vague
nomadic need as the Christian Army in Palestine. Surely Pershing as well as Peter the
Hermit was merely a rather restless gentleman who found his health improved by frequent
change of scene. The Americans said, and perhaps thought, that they were fighting for
democracy; and the Crusaders said, and perhaps thought, that they were fighting for
Christianity. But as we know what the Crusaders meant better than they did themselves, I
cannot quite understand why we do not enjoy the same valuable omniscience about the
Americans. Indeed I do not see why we should not enjoy it (for it would be very enjoyable)
about any individual American. Surely it was this vague vagabond spirit that moved Mr.
Pound, not only to come to England, but in a fashion to come to Fleet Street. A dim tribal
tendency, vast and invisible as the wind, carried him and his article like an autumn leaf
to alight on the _New Age_ doorstep. Or a blind aboriginal impulse, wholly without
rational motive, led him one day to put on his hat, and go out with his article in an
envelope and put it in a pillar-box. It is vain to correct by cold logic the power of such
primitive appetites; nature herself was behind the seemingly random thoughtlessness of the
deed. And now that it is irrevocably done, he can look back on it and trace the large
lines of an awful law of averages; wherein it is ruled by a ruthless necessity that a
certain number of such Americans should write a certain number of such articles, as the
leaves fall or the flowers return. In plain words, this sort of theory is a blasphemy
against the intellectual dignity of man. It is a blunder as well as a blasphemy; for it
goes miles out of its way to find a bestial explanation when there is obviously a human
explanation. It is as if a man told me that a dim survival of the instincts of a quadruped
was the reason of my sitting on a chair with four legs. I answer that I do it because I
foresee that there may be grave disadvantages in sitting on a chair with one leg. Or it is
as if I were told that I liked to swim in the sea, solely because some early forms of
amphibian life came out of the sea on to the shore. I answer that I know why I swim in the
sea; and it is because the divine gift of reason tells me that it would be unsatisfactory
to swim on the land. In short this sort of vague evolutionary theorising simply amounts to
finding an unconvincing explanation of something that needs no explanation. And the case
is really quite as simple with great political and religious movements by which man has
from time to time changed the world in this or that respect in which he happened to think
it would be the better for a change. The Crusade was a religious movement, but it was also
a perfectly rational movement; one might almost say a rationalist movement. I could quite
understand Mr. Pound saying that such a campaign for a creed was immoral; and indeed it
often has been, and now perhaps generally is, quite horribly immoral. But when he implies
that it is irrational he has selected exactly the thing which it is not. It is not
enlightenment, on the contrary it is ignorance and insularity, which causes most of us to
miss this fact. But it certainly is the fact that religious war is in itself much more
rational than patriotic war. I for one have often defended and even encouraged patriotic
war, and should always be ready to defend and encourage patriotic passion. But it cannot
be denied that there is more of mere passion, of mere preference and prejudice, in short
of mere personal accident, in fighting another nation than in fighting another faith. The
Crusader is in every sense more rational than the modern conscript or professional
soldier. He is more rational in his object, which is the intelligent and intelligible
object of conversion; where the modern militarist has an object much more confused by
momentary vanity and one-sided satisfaction. The Crusader wished to make Jerusalem a
Christian town; but the Englishman does not wish to make Berlin an English town. He has
only a healthy hatred of it as a Prussian town. The Moslem wished to make the Christian a
Moslem; but even the Prussian did not wish to make the Frenchman a Prussian. He only
wished to make the Frenchman admire a Prussian; and not only were the means he adopted
somewhat ill-considered for this purpose, but the purpose itself is looser and more
irrational. The object of all war is peace; but the object of religious war is mental as
well as material peace; it is agreement. In short religious war aims ultimately at
equality, where national war aims relatively at superiority. Conversion is the one sort of
conquest in which the conquered must rejoice. In that sense alone it is foolish for us in
the West to sneer at those who kill men when a foot is set in a holy place, when we
ourselves kill hundreds of thousands when a foot is put across a frontier. It is absurd
for us to despise those who shed blood for a relic when we have shed rivers of blood for a
rag. But above all the Crusade, or, for that matter, the Jehad, is by far the most
philosophical sort of fighting, not only in its conception of ending the difference, but
in its mere act of recognising the difference, as the deepest kind of difference. It is to
reverse all reason to suggest that a man’s politics matter and his religion does not
matter. It is to say he is affected by the town he lives in, but not by the world he lives
in. It is to say that he is altered when he is a fellow-citizen walking under new
lamp-posts, but not altered when he is another creature walking under strange stars. It is
exactly as if we were to say that two people ought to live in the same house, but it need
not be in the same town. It is exactly as if we said that so long as the address included
York it did not matter whether it was New York; or that so long as a man is in Essex we do
not care whether he is in England. Christendom would have been entirely justified in the
abstract in being alarmed or suspicious at the mere rise of a great power that was not
Christian. Nobody nowadays would think it odd to express regret at the rise of a power
because it was Militarist or Socialist or even Protectionist. But it is far more natural
to be conscious of a difference, not about the order of battle but the battle of life; not
about our definable enjoyment of possessions, but about our much more doubtful possession
of enjoyment; not about the fiscal divisions between us and foreigners but about the
spiritual divisions even between us and friends. These are the things that differ
profoundly with differing views of the ultimate nature of the universe. For the things of
our country are often distant; but the things of our cosmos are always near; we can shut
our doors upon the wheeled traffic of our native town; but in our own inmost chamber we
hear the sound that never ceases; that wheel which Dante and a popular proverb have dared
to christen as the love that makes the world go round. For this is the great paradox of
life; that there are not only wheels within wheels, but the larger wheels within the
smaller. When a whole community rests on one conception of life and death and the origin
of things, it is quite entitled to watch the rise of another community founded on another
conception as the rise of something certain to be different and likely to be hostile.
Indeed, as I have pointed out touching certain political theories, we already admit this
truth in its small and questionable examples. We only deny the large and obvious examples.
Christendom might quite reasonably have been alarmed if it had not been attacked. But as a
matter of history it had been attacked. The Crusader would have been quite justified in
suspecting the Moslem even if the Moslem had merely been a new stranger; but as a matter
of history he was already an old enemy. The critic of the Crusade talks as if it had
sought out some inoffensive tribe or temple in the interior of Thibet, which was never
discovered until it was invaded. They seem entirely to forget that long before the
Crusaders had dreamed of riding to Jerusalem, the Moslems had almost ridden into Paris.
They seem to forget that if the Crusaders nearly conquered Palestine, it was but a return
upon the Moslems who had nearly conquered Europe. There was no need for them to argue by
an appeal to reason, as I have argued above, that a religious division must make a
difference; it had already made a difference. The difference stared them in the face in
the startling transformation of Roman Barbary and of Roman Spain. In short it was
something which must happen in theory and which did happen in practice; all expectation
suggested that it would be so and all experience said it was so. Having thought it out
theoretically and experienced it practically, they proceeded to deal with it equally
practically. The first division involved every principle of the science of thought; and
the last developments followed out every principle of the science of war. The Crusade was
the counter-attack. It was the defensive army taking the offensive in its turn, and
driving back the enemy to his base. And it is this process, reasonable from its first
axiom to its last act, that Mr. Pound actually selects as a sort of automatic wandering of
an animal. But a man so intelligent would not have made a mistake so extraordinary but for
another error which it is here very essential to consider. To suggest that men engaged,
rightly or wrongly, in so logical a military and political operation were only migrating
like birds or swarming like bees is as ridiculous as to say that the Prohibition campaign
in America was only an animal reversion towards lapping as the dog lappeth, or Rowland
Hill’s introduction of postage stamps an animal taste for licking as the cat licks. Why
should we provide other people with a remote reason for their own actions, when they
themselves are ready to tell us the reason, and it is a perfectly reasonable reason? I
have compared this pompous imposture of scientific history to the pompous and clumsy
building of the scientific Germans on the Mount of Olives, because it substitutes in the
same way a modern stupidity for the medieval simplicity. But just as the German Hospice
after all stands on a fine site, and might have been a fine building, so there is after
all another truth, somewhat analogous, which the German historians of the Folk-Wanderings
might possibly have meant, as distinct from all that they have actually said. There is
indeed one respect in which the case of the Crusade does differ very much from modern
political cases like prohibition or the penny post. I do not refer to such incidental
peculiarities as the fact that Prohibition could only have succeeded through the enormous
power of modern plutocracy, or that even the convenience of the postage goes along with an
extreme coercion by the police. It is a somewhat deeper difference that I mean; and it may
possibly be what these critics mean. But the difference is not in the evolutionary, but
rather the revolutionary spirit. The First Crusade was not a racial migration; it was
something much more intellectual and dignified; a riot. In order to understand this
religious war we must class it, not so much with the wars of history as with the
revolutions of history. As I shall try to show briefly on a later page, it not only had
all the peculiar good and the peculiar evil of things like the French Revolution or the
Russian Revolution, but it was a more purely popular revolution than either of them. The
truly modern mind will of course regard the contention that it was popular as tantamount
to a confession that it was animal. In these days when papers and speeches are full of
words like democracy and self-determination, anything really resembling the movement of a
mass of angry men is regarded as no better than a stampede of bulls or a scurry of rats.
The new sociologists call it the herd instinct, just as the old reactionaries called it
the many-headed beast. But both agree in implying that it is hardly worth while to count
how many head there are of such cattle. In face of such fashionable comparisons it will
seem comparatively mild to talk of migration as it occurs among birds or insects.
Nevertheless we may venture to state with some confidence that both the sociologists and
the reactionaries are wrong. It does not follow that human beings become less than human
because their ideas appeal to more and more of humanity. Nor can we deduce that men are
mindless solely from the fact that they are all of one mind. In plain fact the virtues of
a mob cannot be found in a herd of bulls or a pack of wolves, any more than the crimes of
a mob can be committed by a flock of sheep or a shoal of herrings. Birds have never been
known to besiege and capture an empty cage of an aviary, on a point of principle, merely
because it had kept a few other birds in captivity, as the mob besieged and captured the
almost empty Bastille, merely because it was the fortress of a historic tyranny. And rats
have never been known to die by thousands merely in order to visit a particular trap in
which a particular rat had perished, as the poor peasants of the First Crusade died in
thousands for a far-off sight of the Sepulchre or a fragment of the true cross. In this
sense indeed the Crusade was not rationalistic, if the rat is the only rationalist. But it
will seem more truly rational to point out that the inspiration of such a crowd is not in
such instincts as we share with the animals, but precisely in such ideas as the animals
never (with all their virtues) understand. What is peculiar about the First Crusade is
that it was in quite a new and abnormal sense a popular movement. I might almost say it
was the only popular movement there ever was in the world. For it was not a thing which
the populace followed; it was actually a thing which the populace led. It was not only
essentially a revolution, but it was the only revolution I know of in which the masses
began by acting alone, and practically without any support from any of the classes. When
they had acted, the classes came in; and it is perfectly true, and indeed only natural,
that the masses alone failed where the two together succeeded. But it was the uneducated
who educated the educated. The case of the Crusade is emphatically not a case in which
certain ideas were first suggested by a few philosophers, and then preached by demagogues
to the democracy. This was to a great extent true of the French Revolution; it was
probably yet more true of the Russian Revolution; and we need not here pause upon the fine
shade of difference that Rousseau was right and Karl Marx was wrong. In the First Crusade
it was the ordinary man who was right or wrong. He came out in a fury at the insult to his
own little images or private prayers, as if he had come out to fight with his own domestic
poker or private carving-knife. He was not armed with new weapons of wit and logic served
round from the arsenal of an academy. There was any amount of wit and logic in the
academies of the Middle Ages; but the typical leader of the Crusade was not Abelard or
Aquinas but Peter the Hermit, who can hardly be called even a popular leader, but rather a
popular flag. And it was his army, or rather his enormous rabble, that first marched
across the world to die for the deliverance of Jerusalem. Historians say that in that huge
host of thousands there were only nine knights. To any one who knows even a little of
medieval war the fact seems astounding. It is indeed a long exploded fallacy to regard
medievalism as identical with feudalism. There were countless democratic institutions,
such as the guilds; sometimes as many as twenty guilds in one small town. But it is really
true that the military organization of the Middle Ages was almost entirely feudal; indeed
we might rather say that feudalism was the name of their military organisation. That so
vast a military mass should have attempted to move at all, with only nine of the natural
military leaders, seems to me a prodigy of popular initiative. It is as if a parliament
were elected at the next general election, in which only two men could afford to read a
daily newspaper. This mob marched against the military discipline of the Moslems and was
massacred; or, might I so mystically express it, martyred. Many of the great kings and
knights who followed in their tracks did not so clearly deserve any haloes for the
simplicity and purity of their motives. The canonisation of such a crowd might be
impossible, and would certainly be resisted in modern opinion; chiefly because they
indulged their democratic violence on the way by killing various usurers; a course which
naturally fills modern society with an anger verging on alarm. A perversity leads me to
weep rather more over the many slaughtered peasants than over the few slaughtered usurers;
but in any case the peasants certainly were not slaughtered in vain. The common conscience
of all classes, in a time when all had a common creed, was aroused, and a new army
followed of a very different type of skill and training; led by most of the ablest
captains and by some of the most chivalrous gentlemen of the age. For curiously enough,
the host contained more than one cultured gentleman who was as simple a Christian as any
peasant, and as recklessly ready to be butchered or tortured for the mere name of Christ.
It is a tag of the materialists that the truth about history rubs away the romance of
history. It is dear to the modern mind because it is depressing; but it does not happen to
be true. Nothing emerges more clearly from a study that is truly realistic, than the
curious fact that romantic people were really romantic. It is rather the historical novels
that will lead a modern man vaguely to expect to find the leader of the new knights,
Godfrey de Bouillon, to have been merely a brutal baron. The historical facts are all in
favour of his having been much more like a knight of the Round Table. In fact he was a far
better man than most of the knights of the Round Table, in whose characters the fabulist,
knowing that he was writing a fable, was tactful enough to introduce a larger admixture of
vice. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but often saintlier than fiction. For truth
is real, while fiction is bound to be realistic. Curiously enough Godfrey seems to have
been heroic even in those admirable accidents which are generally and perhaps rightly
regarded as the trappings of fiction. Thus he was of heroic stature, a handsome
red-bearded man of great personal strength and daring; and he was himself the first man
over the wall of Jerusalem, like any boy hero in a boy’s adventure story. But he was also,
the realist will be surprised to hear, a perfectly honest man, and a perfectly genuine
practiser of the theoretical magnanimity of knighthood. Everything about him suggests it;
from his first conversion from the imperial to the papal (and popular) cause, to his great
refusal of the kinghood of the city he had taken; “I will not wear a crown of gold
where my Master wore a crown of thorns.” He was a just ruler, and the laws he made
were full of the plainest public spirit. But even if we dismiss all that was written of
him by Christian chroniclers because they might be his friends (which would be a pathetic
and exaggerated compliment to the harmonious unity of Crusaders and of Christians) he
would still remain sufficiently assoiled and crowned with the words of his enemies. For a
Saracen chronicler wrote of him, with a fine simplicity, that if all truth and honour had
otherwise withered off the earth, there would still remain enough of them so long as Duke
Godfrey was alive. Allied with Godfrey were Tancred the Italian, Raymond of Toulouse with
the southern French and Robert of Normandy, the adventurous son of the Conqueror, with the
Normans and the English. But it would be an error, I think, and one tending to make the
whole subsequent story a thing not so much misunderstood as unintelligible, to suppose
that the whole crusading movement had been suddenly and unnaturally stiffened with the
highest chivalric discipline. Unless I am much mistaken, a great mass of that army was
still very much of a mob. It is probable _a priori_, since the great popular movement was
still profoundly popular. It is supported by a thousand things in the story of the
campaign; the extraordinary emotionalism that made throngs of men weep and wail together,
the importance of the demagogue, Peter the Hermit, in spite of his unmilitary character,
and the wide differences between the designs of the leaders and the actions of the rank
and file. It was a crowd of rude and simple men that cast themselves on the sacred dust at
the first sight of the little mountain town which they had tramped for two thousand miles
to see. Tancred saw it first from the slope by the village of Bethlehem, which had opened
its gates willingly to his hundred Italian knights; for Bethlehem then as now was an
island of Christendom in the sea of Islam. Meanwhile Godfrey came up the road from Jaffa,
and crossing the mountain ridge, saw also with his living eyes his vision of the world’s
desire. But the poorest men about him probably felt the same as he; all ranks knelt
together in the dust, and the whole story is one wave of numberless and nameless men. It
was a mob that had risen like a man for the faith. It was a mob that had truly been
tortured like a man for the faith. It was already transfigured by pain as well as passion.
Those that know war in those deserts through the summer months, even with modern supplies
and appliances and modern maps and calculations, know that it could only be described as a
hell full of heroes. What it must have been to those little local serfs and peasants from
the Northern villages, who had never dreamed in nightmares of such landscapes or such a
sun, who knew not how men lived at all in such a furnace and could neither guess the
alleviations nor get them, is beyond the imagination of man. They arrived dying with
thirst, dropping with weariness, lamenting the loss of the dead that rotted along their
road; they arrived shrivelled to rags or already raving with fever and they did what they
had come to do. Above all, it is clear that they had the vices as well as the virtues of a
mob. The shocking massacre in which they indulged in the sudden relaxation of success is
quite obviously a massacre by a mob. It is all the more profoundly revolutionary because
it must have been for the most part a French mob. It was of the same order as the Massacre
of September, and it is but a part of the same truth that the First Crusade was as
revolutionary as the French Revolution. It was of the same order as the Massacre of St.
Bartholomew, which was also a piece of purely popular fanaticism, directed against what
was also regarded as an anti-national aristocracy. It is practically self-evident that the
Christian commanders were opposed to it, and tried to stop it. Tancred promised their
lives to the Moslems in the mosque, but the mob clearly disregarded him. Raymond of
Toulouse himself saved those in the Tower of David, and managed to send them safely with
their property to Ascalon. But revolution with all its evil as well as its good was loose
and raging in the streets of the Holy City. And in nothing do we see that spirit of
revolution more clearly than in the sight of all those peasants and serfs and vassals, in
that one wild moment in revolt, not only against the conquered lords of Islam, but even
against the conquering lords of Christendom. The whole strain of the siege indeed had been
one of high and even horrible excitement. Those who tell us to-day about the psychology of
the crowd will agree that men who have so suffered and so succeeded are not normal; that
their brains are in a dreadful balance which may turn either way. They entered the city at
last in a mood in which they might all have become monks; and instead they all became
murderers. A brilliant general, who played a decisive part in our own recent Palestinian
campaign, told me with a sort of grim humour that he hardly wondered at the story; for he
himself had entered Jerusalem in a sort of fury of disappointment; “We went through
such a hell to get there, and now it’s spoilt for all of us.” Such is the heavy irony
that hangs over our human nature, making it enter the Holy City as if it were the Heavenly
City, and more than any earthly city can be. But the struggle which led to the scaling of
Jerusalem in the First Crusade was something much wilder and more incalculable than
anything that can be conceived in modern war. We can hardly wonder that the crusading
crowd saw the town in front of them as a sort of tower full of demons, and the hills
around them as an enchanted and accursed land. For in one very real sense it really was
so; for all the elements and expedients were alike unknown qualities. All their enemies’
methods were secrets sprung upon them. All their own methods were new things made out of
nothing. They wondered alike what would be done on the other side and what could be done
on their own side; every movement against them was a stab out of the darkness and every
movement they made was a leap in the dark. First, on the one side, we have Tancred trying
to take the whole fortified city by climbing up a single slender ladder, as if a man tried
to lasso the peak of a mountain. Then we have the flinging from the turrets of a strange
and frightful fiery rain, as if water itself had caught fire. It was afterwards known as
the Greek Fire and was probably petroleum; but to those who had never seen (or felt) it
before it may well have seemed the flaming oil of witchcraft. Then Godfrey and the wiser
of the warriors set about to build wooden siege-towers and found they had next to no wood
to build them. There was scarcely anything in that rocky waste but the dwarf trees of
olive; a poetic fantasy woven about that war in after ages described them as hindered even
in their wood-cutting by the demons of that weird place. And indeed the fancy had an
essential truth, for the very nature of the land fought against them; and each of those
dwarf trees, hard and hollow and twisted, may well have seemed like a grinning goblin. It
is said that they found timbers by accident in a cavern; they tore down the beams from
ruined houses; at last they got into touch with some craftsmen from Genoa who went to work
more successfully; skinning the cattle, who had died in heaps, and covering the timbers.
They built three high towers on rollers, and men and beasts dragged them heavily against
the high towers of the city. The catapults of the city answered them, the cataracts of
devouring fire came down; the wooden towers swayed and tottered, and two of them suddenly
stuck motionless and useless. And as the darkness fell a great flare must have told them
that the third and last was in flames. All that night Godfrey was toiling to retrieve the
disaster. He took down the whole tower from where it stood and raised it again on the high
ground to the north of the city which is now marked by the pine tree that grows outside
Herod’s gate. And all the time he toiled, it was said, sinister sorcerers sat upon the
battlements, working unknown marvels for the undoing of the labour of man. If the great
knight had a touch of such symbolism on his own side, he might have seen in his own strife
with the solid timber something of the craft that had surrounded the birth of his creed,
and the sacred trade of the carpenter. And indeed the very pattern of all carpentry is
cruciform, and there is something more than an accident in the allegory. The transverse
position of the timber does indeed involve many of those mathematical that are analogous
to moral truths and almost every structural shape has the shadow of the mystic rood, as
the three dimensions have a shadow of the Trinity. Here is the true mystery of equality;
since the longer beam might lengthen itself to infinity, and never be nearer to the
symbolic shape without the help of the shorter. Here is that war and wedding between two
contrary forces, resisting and supporting each other; the meeting-place of contraries
which we, by a sort of pietistic pun, still call the crux of the question. Here is our
angular and defiant answer to the self-devouring circle of Asia. It may be improbable,
though it is far from impossible (for the age was philosophical enough) that a man like
Godfrey thus extended the mystical to the metaphysical; but the writer of a real romance
about him would be well within his rights in making him see the symbolism of his own
tower, a tower rising above him through the clouds of night as if taking hold on the
heaven or showing its network of beams black against the daybreak; scaling the skies and
open to all the winds, a ladder and a labyrinth, repeating till it was lost in the
twilight the pattern of the sign of the cross. When dawn was come all those starving
peasants may well have stood before the high impregnable walls in the broad daylight of
despair. Even their nightmares during the night, of unearthly necromancers looking down at
them from the battlements and with signs and spells paralysing all their potential toils,
may well have been a sort of pessimistic consolation, anticipating and accounting for
failure. The Holy City had become for them a fortress full of fiends, when Godfrey de
Bouillon again set himself sword in hand upon the wooden tower and gave the order once
more to drag it tottering towards the towers on either side of the postern gate. So they
crawled again across the fosse full of the slain, dragging their huge house of timber
behind them, and all the blast and din of war broke again about their heads. A hail of
bolts hammered such shields as covered them for a canopy, stones and rocks fell on them
and crushed them like flies in the mire, and from the engines of the Greek Fire all the
torrents of their torment came down on them like red rivers of hell. For indeed the souls
of those peasants must have been sickened with something of the topsy-turvydom felt by too
many peasants of our own time under the frightful flying batteries of scientific war; a
blasphemy of inverted battle in which hell itself has occupied heaven. Something of the
vapours vomited by such cruel chemistry may have mingled with the dust of battle, and
darkened such light as showed where shattering rocks were rending a roof of shields, to
men bowed and blinded as they are by such labour of dragging and such a hailstorm of
death. They may have heard through all the racket of nameless noises the high minaret
cries of Moslem triumph rising shriller like a wind in shrill pipes, and known little else
of what was happening above or beyond them. It was most likely that they laboured and
strove in that lower darkness, not knowing that high over their heads, and up above the
cloud of battle, the tower of timber and the tower of stone had touched and met in
mid-heaven; and great Godfrey, alone and alive, had leapt upon the wall of Jerusalem.
CHAPTER XII THE FALL OF CHIVALRY On the back of this book is the name of the New Jerusalem
and on the first page of it a phrase about the necessity of going back to the old even to
find the new, as a man retraces his steps to a sign-post. The common sense of that process
is indeed most mysteriously misunderstood. Any suggestion that progress has at any time
taken the wrong turning is always answered by the argument that men idealise the past, and
make a myth of the Age of Gold. If my progressive guide has led me into a morass or a
man-trap by turning to the left by the red pillar-box, instead of to the right by the blue
palings of the inn called the Rising Sun, my progressive guide always proceeds to soothe
me by talking about the myth of an Age of Gold. He says I am idealising the right turning.
He says the blue palings are not so blue as they are painted. He says they are only blue
with distance. He assures me there are spots on the sun, even on the rising sun. Sometimes
he tells me I am wrong in my fixed conviction that the blue was of solid sapphires, or the
sun of solid gold. In short he assures me I am wrong in supposing that the right turning
was right in every possible respect; as if I had ever supposed anything of the sort. I
want to go back to that particular place, not because it was all my fancy paints it, or
because it was the best place my fancy can paint; but because it was a many thousand times
better place than the man-trap in which he and his like have landed me. But above all I
want to go back to it, not because I know it was the right place but because I think it
was the right turning. And the right turning might possibly have led me to the right
place; whereas the progressive guide has quite certainly led me to the wrong one. Now it
is quite true that there is less general human testimony to the notion of a New Jerusalem
in the future than to the notion of a Golden Age in the past. But neither of those ideas,
whether or no they are illusions, are any answer to the question of a plain man in the
plain position of this parable; a man who has to find some guidance in the past if he is
to get any good in the future. What he positively knows, in any case, is the complete
collapse of the present. Now that is the exact truth about the thing so often rebuked as a
romantic and unreal return of modern men to medieval things. They suppose they have taken
the wrong turning, because they know they are in the wrong place. To know that, it is
necessary not to idealise the medieval world, but merely to realise the modern world. It
is not so much that they suppose the medieval world was above the average as that they
feel sure the modern world is below the average. They do not start either with the idea
that man is meant to live in a New Jerusalem of pearl and sapphire in the future, or that
a man was meant to live in a picturesque and richly-painted tavern of the past; but with a
strong inward and personal persuasion that a man was not meant to live in a man-trap. For
there is and will be more and more a turn of total change in all our talk and writing
about history. Everything in the past was praised if it had led up to the present, and
blamed if it would have led up to anything else. In short everybody has been searching the
past for the secret of our success. Very soon everybody may be searching the past for the
secret of our failure. They may be talking in such terms as they use after a motor smash
or a bankruptcy; where was the blunder? They may be writing such books as generals write
after a military defeat; whose was the fault? The failure will be assumed even in being
explained. For industrialism is no longer a vulgar success. On the contrary, it is now too
tragic even to be vulgar. Under the cloud of doom the modern city has taken on something
of the dignity of Babel or Babylon. Whether we call it the nemesis of Capitalism or the
nightmare of Bolshevism makes no difference; the rich grumble as much as the poor; every
one is discontented, and none more than those who are chiefly discontented with the
discontent. About that discord we are in perfect harmony; about that disease we all think
alike, whatever we think of the diagnosis or the cure. By whatever process in the past we
might have come to the right place, practical facts in the present and future will prove
more and more that we have come to the wrong place. And for many a premonition will grow
more and more of a probability; that we may or may not await another century or another
world to see the New Jerusalem rebuilt and shining on our fields; but in the flesh we
shall see Babylon fall. But there is another way in which that metaphor of the forked road
will make the position plain. Medieval society was not the right place; it was only the
right turning. It was only the right road; or perhaps only the beginning of the right
road. The medieval age was very far from being the age in which everything went right. It
would be nearer the truth I mean to call it the age in which everything went wrong. It was
the moment when things might have developed well, and did develop badly. Or rather, to be
yet more exact, it was the moment when they were developing well, and yet they were driven
to develop badly. This was the history of all the medieval states and of none more than
medieval Jerusalem; indeed there were signs of some serious idea of making it the model
medieval state. Of this notion of Jerusalem as the New Jerusalem, of the Utopian aspect of
the adventure of the Latin Kingdom, something may be said in a moment. But meanwhile there
was a more important part played by Jerusalem, I think, in all that great progress and
reaction which has left us the problem of modern Europe. And the suggestion of it is bound
up with the former suggestion, about the difference between the goal and the right road
that might have led to it. It is bound up with that quality of the civilisation in
question, that it was potential rather than perfect; and there is no need to idealise it
in order to regret it. This peculiar part played by Jerusalem I mention merely as a
suggestion; I might almost say a suspicion. Anyhow, it is something of a guess; but I for
one have found it a guide. Medievalism died, but it died young. It was at once energetic
and incomplete when it died, or very shortly before it died. This is not a matter of
sympathy or antipathy, but of appreciation of an interesting historic comparison with
other historic cases. When the Roman Empire finally failed we cannot of course say that it
had done all it was meant to do, for that is dogmatism. We cannot even say it had done all
that it might have done, for that is guesswork. But we can say that it had done certain
definite things and was conscious of having done them; that it had long and even literally
rested on its laurels. But suppose that Rome had fallen when she had only half defeated
Carthage, or when she had only half conquered Gaul, or even when the city was Christian
but most of the provinces still heathen. Then we should have said, not merely that Rome
had not done what she might have done, but that she had not done what she was actually
doing. And that is very much the truth in the matter of the medieval civilisation. It was
not merely that the medievals left undone what they might have done, but they left undone
what they were doing. This potential promise is proved not only in their successes but in
their failures. It is shown, for instance, in the very defects of their art. All the
crafts of which Gothic architecture formed the frame-work were developed, not only less
than they should have been, but less than they would have been. There is no sort of reason
why their sculpture should not have become as perfect as their architecture; there is no
sort of reason why their sense of form should not have been as finished as their sense of
colour. A statue like the St. George of Donatello would have stood more appropriately
under a Gothic than under a Classic arch. The niches were already made for the statues.
The same thing is true, of course, not only about the state of the crafts but about the
status of the craftsman. The best proof that the system of the guilds had an undeveloped
good in it is that the most advanced modern men are now going back five hundred years to
get the good out of it. The best proof that a rich house was brought to ruin is that our
very pioneers are now digging in the ruins to find the riches. That the new guildsmen add
a great deal that never belonged to the old guildsmen is not only a truth, but is part of
the truth I maintain here. The new guildsmen add what the old guildsmen would have added
if they had not died young. When we renew a frustrated thing we do not renew the
frustration. But if there are some things in the new that were not in the old, there were
certainly some things in the old that are not yet visible in the new; such as individual
humour in the handiwork. The point here, however, is not merely that the worker worked
well but that he was working better; not merely that his mind was free but that it was
growing freer. All this popular power and humour was increasing everywhere, when something
touched it and it withered away. The frost had struck it in the spring. Some people
complain that the working man of our own day does not show an individual interest in his
work. But it will be well to realise that they would be much more annoyed with him if he
did. The medieval workman took so individual an interest in his work that he would call up
devils entirely on his own account, carving them in corners according to his own taste and
fancy. He would even reproduce the priests who were his patrons and make them as ugly as
devils; carving anti-clerical caricatures on the very seats and stalls of the clerics. If
a modern householder, on entering his own bathroom, found that the plumber had twisted the
taps into the images of two horned and grinning fiends, he would be faintly surprised. If
the householder, on returning at evening to his house, found the door-knocker distorted
into a repulsive likeness of himself, his surprise might even be tinged with disapproval.
It may be just as well that builders and bricklayers do not gratuitously attach gargoyles
to our smaller residential villas. But well or ill, it is certainly true that this feature
of a flexible popular fancy has never reappeared in any school of architecture or any
state of society since the medieval decline. The great classical buildings of the
Renascence were swept as bare of it as any villa in Balham. But those who best appreciate
this loss to popular art will be the first to agree that at its best it retained a touch
of the barbaric as well as the popular. While we can admire these matters of the
grotesque, we can admit that their work was sometimes unintentionally as well as
intentionally grotesque. Some of the carving did remain so rude that the angels were
almost as ugly as the devils. But this is the very point upon which I would here insist;
the mystery of why men who were so obviously only beginning should have so suddenly
stopped. Men with medieval sympathies are sometimes accused, absurdly enough, of trying to
prove that the medieval period was perfect. In truth the whole case for it is that it was
imperfect. It was imperfect as an unripe fruit or a growing child is imperfect. Indeed it
was imperfect in that very particular fashion which most modern thinkers generally praise,
more than they ever praise maturity. It was something now much more popular than an age of
perfection; it was an age of progress. It was perhaps the one real age of progress in all
history. Men have seldom moved with such rapidity and such unity from barbarism to
civilisation as they did from the end of the Dark Ages to the times of the universities
and the parliaments, the cathedrals and the guilds. Up to a certain point we may say that
everything, at whatever stage of improvement, was full of the promise of improvement. Then
something began to go wrong, almost equally rapidly, and the glory of this great culture
is not so much in what it did as in what it might have done. It recalls one of these
typical medieval speculations, full of the very fantasy of free will, in which the
schoolmen tried to fancy the fate of every herb or animal if Adam had not eaten the apple.
It remains, in a cant historical phrase, one of the great might-have-beens of history. I
have said that it died young; but perhaps it would be truer to say that it suddenly grew
old. Like Godfrey and many of its great champions in Jerusalem, it was overtaken in the
prime of life by a mysterious malady. The more a man reads of history the less easy he
will find it to explain that secret and rapid decay of medieval civilisation from within.
Only a few generations separated the world that worshipped St. Francis from the world that
burned Joan of Arc. One would think there might be no more than a date and a number
between the white mystery of Louis the Ninth and the black mystery of Louis the Eleventh.
This is the very real historical mystery; the more realistic is our study of medieval
things, the more puzzled we shall be about the peculiar creeping paralysis which affected
things so virile and so full of hope. There was a growth of moral morbidity as well as
social inefficiency, especially in the governing classes; for even to the end the
guildsmen and the peasants remained much more vigorous. How it ended we all know;
personally I should say that they got the Reformation and deserved it. But it matters
nothing to the truth here whether the Reformation was a just revolt and revenge or an
unjust culmination and conquest. It is common ground to Catholics and Protestants of
intelligence that evils preceded and produced the schism; and that evils were produced by
it and have pursued it down to our own day. We know it if only in the one example, that
the schism begat the Thirty Years’ War, and the Thirty Years’ War begat the Seven Years’
War, and the Seven Years’ War begat the Great War, which has passed like a pestilence
through our own homes. After the schism Prussia could relapse into heathenry and erect an
ethical system external to the whole culture of Christendom. But it can still be
reasonably asked what begat the schism; and it can still be reasonably answered; something
that went wrong with medievalism. But what was it that went wrong? When I looked for the
last time on the towers of Zion I had a fixed fancy that I knew what it was. It is a thing
that cannot be proved or disproved; it must sound merely an ignorant guess. But I believe
myself that it died of disappointment. I believe the whole medieval society failed,
because the heart went out of it with the loss of Jerusalem. Let it be observed that I do
not say the loss of the war, or even the Crusade. For the war against Islam was not lost.
The Moslem was overthrown in the real battle-field, which was Spain; he was menaced in
Africa; his imperial power was already stricken and beginning slowly to decline. I do not
mean the political calculations about a Mediterranean war. I do not even mean the Papal
conceptions about the Holy War. I mean the purely popular picture of the Holy City. For
while the aristocratic thing was a view, the vulgar thing was a vision; something with
which all stories stop, something where the rainbow ends, something over the hills and far
away. In Spain they had been victorious; but their castle was not even a castle in Spain.
It was a castle east of the sun and west of the moon, and the fairy prince could find it
no more. Indeed that idle image out of the nursery books fits it very exactly. For its
mystery was and is in standing in the middle, or as they said in the very centre of the
earth. It is east of the sun of Europe, which fills the world with a daylight of sanity,
and ripens real and growing things. It is west of the moon of Asia, mysterious and archaic
with its cold volcanoes, silver mirror for poets and a most fatal magnet for lunatics.
Anyhow the fall of Jerusalem, and in that sense the failure of the Crusades, had a
widespread effect, as I should myself suggest, for the reason I have myself suggested.
Because it had been a popular movement, it was a popular disappointment; and because it
had been a popular movement, its ideal was an image; a particular picture in the
imagination. For poor men are almost always particularists; and nobody has ever seen such
a thing as a mob of pantheists. I have seen in some of that lost literature of the old
guilds, which is now everywhere coming to light, a list of the stage properties required
for some village play, one of those popular plays acted by the medieval trades unions, for
which the guild of the shipwrights would build Noah’s Ark or the guild of the barbers
provide golden wigs for the haloes of the Twelve Apostles. The list of those crude pieces
of stage furniture had a curious colour of poetry about it, like the impromptu apparatus
of a nursery charade; a cloud, an idol with a club, and notably among the rest, the walls
and towers of Jerusalem. I can imagine them patiently painted and gilded as a special
feature, like the two tubs of Mr. Vincent Crummles. But I can also imagine that towards
the end of the Middle Ages, the master of the revels might begin to look at those towers
of wood and pasteboard with a sort of pain, and perhaps put them away in a corner, as a
child will tire of a toy especially if it is associated with a disappointment or a dismal
misunderstanding. There is noticeable in some of the later popular poems a disposition to
sulk about the Crusades. But though the popular feeling had been largely poetical, the
same thing did in its degree occur in the political realm that was purely practical. The
Moslem had been checked, but he had not been checked enough. The whole story of what was
called the Eastern Question, and three-quarters of the wars of the modern world, were due
to the fact that he was not checked enough. The only thing to do with unconquerable things
is to conquer them. That alone will cure them of invincibility; or what is worse, their
own vision of invincibility. That was the conviction of those of us who would not accept
what we considered a premature peace with Prussia. That is why we would not listen either
to the Tory Pro-Germanism of Lord Lansdowne or the Socialist Pro-Germanism of Mr.
Macdonald. If a lunatic believes in his luck so fixedly as to feel sure be cannot be
caught, he will not only believe in it still, but believe in it more and more, until the
actual instant when he is caught. The longer the chase, the more certain he will be of
escaping; the more narrow the escapes, the more certain will be the escape. And indeed if
he does escape it will seem a miracle, and almost a divine intervention, not only to the
pursued but to the pursuers. The evil thing will chiefly appear unconquerable to those who
try to conquer it. It will seem after all to have a secret of success; and those who
failed against it will hide in their hearts a secret of failure. It was that secret of
failure, I fancy, that slowly withered from within the high hopes of the Middle Ages.
Christianity and chivalry had measured their force against Mahound, and Mahound had not
fallen; the shadow of his horned helmet, the crest of the Crescent, still lay across their
sunnier lands; the Horns of Hattin. The streams of life that flowed to guilds and schools
and orders of knighthood and brotherhoods of friars were strangely changed and chilled.
So, if the peace had left Prussianism secure even in Prussia, I believe that all the
liberal ideals of the Latins, and all the liberties of the English, and the whole theory
of a democratic experiment in America, would have begun to die of a deep and even
subconscious despair. A vote, a jury, a newspaper, would not be as they are, things of
which it is hard to make the right use, or any use; they would be things of which nobody
would even try to make any use. A vote would actually look like a vassal’s cry of
“haro,” a jury would look like a joust; many would no more read headlines than
blazon heraldic coats. For these medieval things look dead and dusty because of a defeat,
which was none the less a defeat because it was more than half a victory. A curious cloud
of confusion rests on the details of that defeat. The Christian captains who acted in it
were certainly men on a different moral level from the good Duke Godfrey; their characters
were by comparison mixed and even mysterious. Perhaps the two determining personalities
were Raymond of Tripoli, a skilful soldier whom his enemies seemed to have accused of
being much too skilful a diplomatist; and Renaud of Chatillon, a violent adventurer whom
his enemies seem to have accused of being little better than a bandit. And it is the irony
of the incident that Raymond got into trouble for making a dubious peace with the
Saracens, while Renaud got into trouble by making an equally dubious war on the Saracens.
Renaud exacted from Moslem travellers on a certain road what he regarded as a sort of
feudal toll or tax, and they regarded as a brigand ransom; and when they did not pay he
attacked them. This was regarded as a breach of the truce; but probably it would have been
easier to regard Renaud as waging the war of a robber, if many had not regarded Raymond as
having made the truce of a traitor. Probably Raymond was not a traitor, since the military
advice he gave up to the very instant of catastrophe was entirely loyal and sound, and
worthy of so wise a veteran. And very likely Renaud was not merely a robber, especially in
his own eyes; and there seems to be a much better case for him than many modern writers
allow. But the very fact of such charges being bandied among the factions shows a certain
fall from the first days under the headship of the house of Bouillon. No slanderer ever
suggested that Godfrey was a traitor; no enemy ever asserted that Godfrey was only a
thief. It is fairly clear that there had been a degeneration; but most people hardly
realise sufficiently that there had been a very great thing from which to degenerate. The
first Crusades had really had some notion of Jerusalem as a New Jerusalem. I mean they had
really had a vision of the place being not only a promised land but a Utopia or even an
Earthly Paradise. The outstanding fact and feature which is seldom seized is this: that
the social experiment in Palestine was rather in advance of the social experiments in the
rest of Christendom. Having to begin at the beginning, they really began with what they
considered the best ideas of their time; like any group of Socialists founding an ideal
Commonwealth in a modern colony. A specialist on this period, Colonel Conder of the
Palestine Exploration, has written that the core of the Code was founded on the
recommendations of Godfrey himself in his “Letters of the Sepulchre”; and he
observes concerning it: “The basis of these laws was found in Justinian’s code, and
they presented features as yet quite unknown in Europe, especially in their careful
provision of justice for the bourgeois and the peasant, and for the trading communes whose
fleets were so necessary to the king. Not only were free men judged by juries of their
equals, but the same applied to those who were technically serfs and actually
aborigines.” The original arrangements of the Native Court seem to me singularly
liberal, even by modern standards of the treatment of natives. That in many such medieval
codes citizens were still called serfs is no more final than the fact that in many modern
capitalist newspapers serfs are still called citizens. The whole point about the villein
was that he was a tenant at least as permanent as a peasant. He “went with the
land”; and there are a good many hopeless tramps starving in streets, or sleeping in
ditches, who might not be sorry if they could go with a little land. It would not be very
much worse than homelessness and hunger to go with a good kitchen garden of which you
could always eat most of the beans and turnips; or to go with a good cornfield of which
you could take a considerable proportion of the corn. There has been many a modern man
would have been none the worse for “going” about burdened with such a green
island, or dragging the chains of such a tangle of green living things. As a fact, of
course, this system throughout Christendom was already evolving rapidly into a pure
peasant proprietorship; and it will be long before industrialism evolves by itself into
anything so equal or so free. Above all, there appears notably that universal mark of the
medieval movement; the voluntary liberation of slaves. But we may willingly allow that
something of the earlier success of all this was due to the personal qualities of the
first knights fresh from the West; and especially to the personal justice and moderation
of Godfrey and some of his immediate kindred. Godfrey died young; his successors had
mostly short periods of power, largely through the prevalence of malaria and the absence
of medicine. Royal marriages with the more oriental tradition of the Armenian princes
brought in new elements of luxury and cynicism; and by the time of the disputed truce of
Raymond of Tripoli, the crown had descended to a man named Guy of Lusignan who seems to
have been regarded as a somewhat unsatisfactory character. He had quarrelled with Raymond,
who was ruler of Galilee, and a curious and rather incomprehensible concession made by the
latter, that the Saracens should ride in arms but in peace round his land, led to alleged
Moslem insults to Nazareth, and the outbreak of the furious Templar, Gerard of Bideford,
of which mention has been made already. But the most serious threat to them and their New
Jerusalem was the emergence among the Moslems of a man of military genius, and the fact
that all that land lay now under the shadow of the ambition and ardour of Saladin. With
the breach of the truce, or even the tale of it, the common danger of Christians was
apparent; and Raymond of Tripoli repaired to the royal headquarters to consult with his
late enemy the king; but he seems to have been almost openly treated as a traitor. Gerard
of Bideford, the fanatic who was Grand Master of the Templars, forced the king’s hand
against the advice of the wiser soldier, who had pointed out the peril of perishing of
thirst in the waterless wastes between them and the enemy. Into those wastes they
advanced, and they were already weary and unfit for warfare by the time they came in sight
of the strange hills that will be remembered for ever under the name of the Horns of
Hattin. On those hills, a few hours later, the last knights of an army of which half had
fallen gathered in a final defiance and despair round the relic they carried in their
midst, a fragment of the True Cross. In that hour fell, as I have fancied, more hopes than
they themselves could number, and the glory departed from the Middle Ages. There fell with
them all that New Jerusalem which was the symbol of a new world, all those great and
growing promises and possibilities of Christendom of which this vision was the centre, all
that “justice for the bourgeois and the peasant, and for the trading communes,”
all the guilds that gained their charters by fighting for the Cross, all the hopes of a
happier transformation of the Roman Law wedded to charity and to chivalry. There was the
first slip and the great swerving of our fate; and in that wilderness we lost all the
things we should have loved, and shall need so long a labour to find again. Raymond of
Tripoli had hewn his way through the enemy and ridden away to Tyre. The king, with a few
of the remaining nobles, including Renaud de Chatillon, were brought before Saladin in his
tent. There occurred a scene strangely typical of the mingled strains in the creed or the
culture that triumphed on that day; the stately Eastern courtesy and hospitality; the wild
Eastern hatred and self-will. Saladin welcomed the king and gracefully gave him a cup of
sherbet, which he passed to Renaud. “It is thou and not I who hast given him to
drink,” said the Saracen, preserving the precise letter of the punctilio of
hospitality. Then he suddenly flung himself raving and reviling upon Renaud de Chatillon,
and killed the prisoner with his own hands. Outside, two hundred Hospitallers and Templars
were beheaded on the field of battle; by one account I have read because Saladin disliked
them, and by another because they were Christian priests. There is a strong bias against
the Christians and in favour of the Moslems and the Jews in most of the Victorian
historical works, especially historical novels. And most people of modern, or rather of
very recent times got all their notions of history from dipping into historical novels. In
those romances the Jew is always the oppressed where in reality he was often the
oppressor. In those romances the Arab is always credited with oriental dignity and
courtesy and never with oriental crookedness and cruelty. The same injustice is introduced
into history, which by means of selection and omission can be made as fictitious as any
fiction. Twenty historians mention the way in which the maddened Christian mob murdered
the Moslems after the capture of Jerusalem, for one who mentions that the Moslem commander
commanded in cold blood the murder of some two hundred of his most famous and valiant
enemies after the victory of Hattin. The former cannot be shown to have been the act of
Tancred, while the latter was quite certainly the act of Saladin. Yet Tancred is described
as at best a doubtful character, while Saladin is represented as a Bayard without fear or
blame. Both of them doubtless were ordinary faulty fighting men, but they are not judged
by an equal balance. It may seem a paradox that there should be this prejudice in Western
history in favour of Eastern heroes. But the cause is clear enough; it is the remains of
the revolt among many Europeans against their own old religious organisation, which
naturally made them hunt through all ages for its crimes and its victims. It was natural
that Voltaire should sympathise more with a Brahmin he had never seen than with a Jesuit
with whom he was engaged in a violent controversy; and should similarly feel more dislike
of a Catholic who was his enemy than of a Moslem who was the enemy of his enemy. In this
atmosphere of natural and even pardonable prejudice arose the habit of contrasting the
intolerance of the Crusaders with the toleration shown by the Moslems. Now as there are
two sides to everything, it would undoubtedly be quite possible to tell the tale of the
Crusades, correctly enough in detail, and in such a way as entirely to justify the Moslems
and condemn the Crusaders. But any such real record of the Moslem case would have very
little to do with any questions of tolerance or intolerance, or any modern ideas about
religious liberty and equality. As the modern world does not know what it means itself by
religious liberty and equality, as the moderns have not thought out any logical theory of
toleration at all (for their vague generalisations can always be upset by twenty tests
from Thugs to Christian Science) it would obviously be unreasonable to expect the moderns
to understand the much clearer philosophy of the Moslems. But some rough suggestion of
what was really involved may be found convenient in this case. Islam was not originally a
movement directed against Christianity at all. It did not face westwards, so to speak; it
faced eastwards towards the idolatries of Asia. But Mahomet believed that these idols
could be fought more successfully with a simpler kind of creed; one might almost say with
a simpler kind of Christianity. For he included many things which we in the West commonly
suppose not only to be peculiar to Christianity but to be peculiar to Catholicism. Many
things have been rejected by Protestantism that are not rejected by Mahometanism. Thus the
Moslems believe in Purgatory, and they give at least a sort of dignity to the Mother of
Christ. About such things as these they have little of the bitterness that rankles in the
Jews and is said sometimes to become hideously vitriolic. While I was in Palestine a
distinguished Moslem said to a Christian resident: “We also, as well as you, honour
the Mother of Christ. Never do we speak of her but we call her the Lady Miriam. I dare not
tell you what the Jews call her.” The real mistake of the Moslems is something much
more modern in its application than any particular or passing persecution of Christians as
such. It lay in the very fact that they did think they had a simpler and saner sort of
Christianity, as do many modern Christians. They thought it could be made universal merely
by being made uninteresting. Now a man preaching what he thinks is a platitude is far more
intolerant than a man preaching what he admits is a paradox. It was exactly because it
seemed self-evident, to Moslems as to Bolshevists, that their simple creed was suited to
everybody, that they wished in that particular sweeping fashion to impose it on everybody.
It was because Islam was broad that Moslems were narrow. And because it was not a hard
religion it was a heavy rule. Because it was without a self-correcting complexity, it
allowed of those simple and masculine but mostly rather dangerous appetites that show
themselves in a chieftain or a lord. As it had the simplest sort of religion, monotheism,
so it had the simplest sort of government, monarchy. There was exactly the same direct
spirit in its despotism as in its deism. The Code, the Common Law, the give and take of
charters and chivalric vows, did not grow in that golden desert. The great sun was in the
sky and the great Saladin was in his tent, and he must be obeyed unless he were
assassinated. Those who complain of our creeds as elaborate often forget that the
elaborate Western creeds have produced the elaborate Western constitutions; and that they
are elaborate because they are emancipated. And the real moral of the relations of the two
great religions is something much more subtle and sincere than any mere atrocity tales
against Turks. It is the same as the moral of the Christian refusal of a Pagan Pantheon in
which Christ should rank with Ammon and Apollo. Twice the Christian Church refused what
seemed like a handsome offer of a large latitudinarian sort; once to include Christ as a
god and once to include him as a prophet; once by the admission of all idols and once by
the abandonment of all idols. Twice the Church took the risk and twice the Church survived
alone and succeeded alone, filling the world with her own children; and leaving her rivals
in a desert, where the idols were dead and the iconoclasts were dying. But all this
history has been hidden by a prejudice more general than the particular case of Saracens
and Crusaders. The modern, or rather the Victorian prejudice against Crusaders is positive
and not relative; and it would still desire to condemn Tancred if it could not acquit
Saladin. Indeed it is a prejudice not so much against Crusaders as against Christians. It
will not give to these heroes of religious war the fair measure it gives to the heroes of
ordinary patriotic and imperial war. There never was a nobler hero than Nelson, or one
more national or more normal. Yet Nelson quite certainly did do what Tancred almost
certainly did not do; break his own word by giving up his own brave enemies to execution.
If the cause of Nelson in other times comes to be treated as the creed of Tancred has
often in recent times been treated, this incident alone will be held sufficient to prove
not only that Nelson was a liar and a scoundrel, but that he did not love England at all,
did not love Lady Hamilton at all, that he sailed in English ships only to pocket the
prize money of French ships, and would as willingly have sailed in French ships for the
prize money of English ships. That is the sort of dull dust of gold that has been shaken
like the drifting dust of the desert over the swords and the relics, the crosses and the
clasped hands of the men who marched to Jerusalem or died at Hattin. In these medieval
pilgrims every inconsistency is a hypocrisy; while in the more modern patriots even an
infamy is only an inconsistency. I have rounded off the story here with the ruin at Hattin
because the whole reaction against the pilgrimage had its origin there; and because it was
this at least that finally lost Jerusalem. Elsewhere in Palestine, to say nothing of
Africa and Spain, splendid counter-strokes were still being delivered from the West, not
the least being the splendid rescue by Richard of England. But I still think that with the
mere name of that tiny town upon the hills the note of the whole human revolution had been
struck, was changed and was silent. All the other names were only the names of Eastern
towns; but that was nearer to a man than his neighbours; a village inside his village, a
house inside his house. There is a hill above Bethlehem of a strange shape, with a flat
top which makes it look oddly like an island, habitable though uninhabited, when all Moab
heaves about it and beyond it as with the curves and colours of a sea. Its stability
suggests in some strange fashion what may often be felt in these lands with the longest
record of culture; that there may be not only a civilisation but even a chivalry older
than history. Perhaps the table-land with its round top has a romantic reminiscence of a
round table. Perhaps it is only a fantastic effect of evening, for it is felt most when
the low skies are swimming with the colours of sunset, and in the shadows the shattered
rocks about its base take on the shapes of titanic paladins fighting and falling around
it. I only know that the mere shape of the hill and vista of the landscape suggested such
visions and it was only afterwards that I heard the local legend, which says it is here
that some of the Christian knights made their last stand after they lost Jerusalem and
which names this height The Mountain of the Latins. They fell, and the ages rolled on them
the rocks of scorn; they were buried in jests and buffooneries. As the Renascence expanded
into the rationalism of recent centuries, nothing seemed so ridiculous as to butcher and
bleed in a distant desert not only for a tomb, but an empty tomb. The last legend of them
withered under the wit of Cervantes, though he himself had fought in the last Crusade at
Lepanto. They were kicked about like dead donkeys by the cool vivacity of Voltaire; who
went off, very symbolically, to dance attendance on the new drill-sergeant of the
Prussians. They were dissected like strange beasts by the serene disgust of Gibbon, more
serene than the similar horror with which he regarded the similar violence of the French
Revolution. By our own time even the flippancy has become a platitude. They have long been
the butt of every penny-a-liner who can talk of a helmet as a tin pot, of every
caricaturist on a comic paper who can draw a fat man falling off a bucking horse; of every
pushing professional politician who can talk about the superstitions of the Middle Ages.
Great men and small have agreed to contemn them; they were renounced by their children and
refuted by their biographers; they were exposed, they were exploded, they were ridiculed
and they were right. They were proved wrong, and they were right. They were judged finally
and forgotten, and they were right. Centuries after their fall the full experience and
development of political discovery has shown beyond question that they were right. For
there is a very simple test of the truth; that the very thing which was dismissed, as a
dream of the ages of faith, we have been forced to turn into a fact in the ages of fact.
It is now more certain than it ever was before that Europe must rescue some lordship, or
overlordship, of these old Roman provinces. Whether it is wise for England alone to claim
Palestine, whether it would be better if the Entente could do so, I think a serious
question. But in some form they are reverting for the Roman Empire. Every opportunity has
been given for any other empire that could be its equal, and especially for the great
dream of a mission for Imperial Islam. If ever a human being had a run for his money, it
was the Sultan of the Moslems riding on his Arab steed. His empire expanded over and
beyond the great Greek empire of Byzantium; a last charge of the chivalry of Poland barely
stopped it at the very gates of Vienna. He was free to unfold everything that was in him,
and he unfolded the death that was in him. He reigned and he could not rule; he was
successful and he did not succeed. His baffled and retreating enemies left him standing,
and he could not stand. He fell finally with that other half-heathen power in the North,
with which he had made an alliance against the remains of Roman and Byzantine culture. He
fell because barbarism cannot stand; because even when it succeeds it rather falls on its
foes and crushes them. And after all these things, after all these ages, with a wearier
philosophy, with a heavier heart, we have been forced to do again the very thing that the
Crusaders were derided for doing. What Western men failed to do for the faith, other
Western men have been forced to do even without the faith. The sons of Tancred are again
in Tripoli. The heirs of Raymond are again in Syria. And men from the Midlands or the
Northumbrian towns went again through a furnace of thirst and fever and furious fighting,
to gain the same water-courses and invest the same cities as of old. They trod the hills
of Galilee and the Horns of Hattin threw no shadow on their souls; they crossed dark and
disastrous fields whose fame had been hidden from them, and avenged the fathers they had
forgotten. And the most cynical of modern diplomatists, making their settlement by the
most sceptical of modern philosophies, can find no practical or even temporary solution
for this sacred land, except to bring it again under the crown of Coeur de Lion and the
cross of St. George. There came in through the crooked entry beside the great gap in the
wall a tall soldier, dismounting and walking and wearing only the dust-hued habit of
modern war. There went no trumpet before him, neither did he enter by the Golden Gate; but
the silence of the deserts was full of a phantom acclamation, as when from far away a wind
brings in a whisper the cheering of many thousand men. For in that hour a long-lost cry
found fulfilment, and something counted irrational returned in the reason of things. And
at last even the wise understood, and at last even the learned were enlightened on a need
truly and indeed international, which a mob in a darker age had known by the light of
nature; something that could be denied and delayed and evaded, but not escaped for ever.
_Id Deus vult_. CHAPTER XIII THE PROBLEM OF ZIONISM There is an
attitude for which my friends and I were for a long period rebuked and even reviled; and
of which at the present period we are less likely than ever to repent. It was always
called Anti-Semitism; but it was always much more true to call it Zionism. At any rate it
was much nearer to the nature of the thing to call it Zionism, whether or no it can find
its geographical concentration in Zion. The substance of this heresy was exceedingly
simple. It consisted entirely in saying that Jews are Jews; and as a logical consequence
that they are not Russians or Roumanians or Italians or Frenchmen or Englishmen.
During
the war the newspapers commonly referred to them as Russians; but the ritual wore so
singularly thin that I remember one newspaper paragraph saying that the Russians in the
East End complained of the food regulations, because their religion forbade them to eat
pork. My own brief contact with the Greek priests of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem did
not permit me to discover any trace of this detail of their discipline; and even the
Russian pilgrims were said to be equally negligent in the matter. The
point for the moment, however, is that if I was violently opposed to anything, it was not
to Jews, but to that sort of remark about Jews; or rather to the silly and craven fear of
making it a remark about Jews. But my friends and I had in some general sense a policy in
the matter; and it was in substance the desire to give Jews the dignity and status of a
separate nation. We desired that in some fashion, and so far as possible, Jews should be
represented by Jews, should live in a society of Jews, should be judged by Jews and ruled
by Jews. I am an Anti-Semite if that is Anti-Semitism. It would seem more rational to call
it Semitism. Of this attitude, I repeat, I am now less likely than ever to repent. I have
lived to see the thing that was dismissed as a fad discussed everywhere as a fact; and one
of the most menacing facts of the age. I have lived to see people who accused me of
Anti-Semitism become far more Anti-Semitic than I am or ever was. I have heard people
talking with real injustice about the Jews, who once seemed to think it an injustice to
talk about them at all.
But, above all, I have seen with my own eyes wild mobs
marching through a great city, raving not only against Jews, but against the English for
identifying themselves with the Jews. I have seen the whole prestige of England brought
into peril, merely by the trick of talking about two nations as if they were one. I have
seen an Englishman arriving in Jerusalem with somebody he had been taught to regard as his
fellow countryman and political colleague, and received as if he had come arm-in-arm with
a flaming dragon. So do our frosty fictions fare when they come under that burning sun.
Twice in my life, and twice lately, I have seen a piece of English pedantry bring us
within an inch of an enormous English peril. The first was when all the Victorian
historians and philosophers had told us that our German cousin was a cousin german and
even germane; something naturally near and sympathetic. That also was an identification;
that also was an assimilation; that also was a union of hearts. For the second time in a
few short years, English politicians and journalists have discovered the dreadful revenge
of reality. To pretend that something is what it is not is business that can easily be
fashionable and sometimes popular. But the thing we have agreed to regard as what it is
not will always abruptly punish and pulverise us, merely by being what it is. For years we
were told that the Germans were a sort of Englishman because they were Teutons; but it was
all the worse for us when we found out what Teutons really were. For years we were told
that Jews were a sort of Englishman because they were British subjects. It is all the
worse for us now we have to regard them, not subjectively as subjects, but objectively as
objects; as objects of a fierce hatred among the Moslems and the Greeks. We are in the
absurd position of introducing to these people a new friend whom they instantly recognise
as an old enemy. It is an absurd position because it is a false position; but it is merely
the penalty of falsehood. Whether this Eastern anger is reasonable or not may be discussed
in a moment; but what is utterly unreasonable is not the anger but the astonishment; at
least it is our astonishment at their astonishment. We might believe ourselves in the view
that a Jew is an Englishman; but there was no reason why they should regard him as an
Englishman, since they already recognised him as a Jew. This is the whole present problem
of the Jew in Palestine; and it must be solved either by the logic of Zionism or the logic
of purely English supremacy and, impartiality; and not by what seems to everybody in
Palestine a monstrous muddle of the two. But of course it is not only the peril in
Palestine that has made the realisation of the Jewish problem, which once suffered all the
dangers of a fad, suffer the opposite dangers of a fashion. The same journalists who
politely describe Jews as Russians are now very impolitely describing certain Russians who
are Jews. Many who had no particular objection to Jews as Capitalists have a very great
objection to them as Bolshevists. Those who had an innocent unconsciousness of the
nationality of Eckstein, even when he called himself Eckstein, have managed to discover
the nationality of Braunstein, even, when he calls, himself Trotsky. And much of this
peril also might easily have been lessened, by the simple proposal to call men and things
by their own names. I will confess, however, that I have no very full sympathy with the
new Anti-Semitism which is merely Anti-Socialism. There are good, honourable and
magnanimous Jews of every type and rank, there are many to whom I am greatly attached
among my own friends in my own rank; but if I have to make a general choice on a general
chance among different types of Jews, I have much more sympathy with the Jew who is
revolutionary than the Jew who is plutocratic. In other words, I have much more sympathy
for the Israelite we are beginning to reject, than for the Israelite we have already
accepted. I have more respect for him when he leads some sort of revolt, however narrow
and anarchic, against the oppression of the poor, than when he is safe at the head of a
great money-lending business oppressing the poor himself. It is not the poor aliens, but
the rich aliens I wish we had excluded. I myself wholly reject Bolshevism, not because its
actions are violent, but because its very thought is materialistic and mean. And if this
preference is true even of Bolshevism, it is ten times truer of Zionism. It really seems
to me rather hard that the full storm of fury should have burst about the Jews, at the
very moment when some of them at least have felt the call of a far cleaner ideal; and that
when we have tolerated their tricks with our country, we should turn on them precisely
when they seek in sincerity for their own. But in order to judge this Jewish possibility,
we must understand more fully the nature of the Jewish problem. We must consider it from
the start, because there are still many who do not know that there is a Jewish problem.
That problem has its proof, of course, in the history of the Jew, and the fact that he
came from the East. A Jew will sometimes complain of the injustice of describing him as a
man of the East; but in truth another very real injustice may be involved in treating him
as a man of the West. Very often even the joke against the Jew is rather a joke against
those who have made the joke; that is, a joke against what they have made out of the Jew.
This is true especially, for instance, of many points of religion and ritual. Thus we
cannot help feeling, for instance, that there is something a little grotesque about the
Hebrew habit of putting on a top-hat as an act of worship. It is vaguely mixed up with
another line of humour, about another class of Jew, who wears a large number of hats; and
who must not therefore be credited with an extreme or extravagant religious zeal, leading
him to pile up a pagoda of hats towards heaven. To Western eyes, in Western conditions,
there really is something inevitably fantastic about this formality of the synagogue. But
we ought to remember that we have made the Western conditions which startle the Western
eyes. It seems odd to wear a modern top-hat as if it were a mitre or a biretta; it seems
quainter still when the hat is worn even for the momentary purpose of saying grace before
lunch. It seems quaintest of all when, at some Jewish luncheon parties, a tray of hats is
actually handed round, and each guest helps himself to a hat as a sort of _hors d’oeuvre_.
All this could easily be turned into a joke; but we ought to realise that the joke is
against ourselves. It is not merely we who make fun of it, but we who have made it funny.
For, after all, nobody can pretend that this particular type of head-dress is a part of
that uncouth imagery “setting painting and sculpture at defiance” which Renan
remarked in the tradition of Hebrew civilisation. Nobody can say that a top-hat was among
the strange symbolic utensils dedicated to the obscure service of the Ark; nobody can
suppose that a top-hat descended from heaven among the wings and wheels of the flying
visions of the Prophets. For this wild vision the West is entirely responsible. Europe has
created the Tower of Giotto; but it has also created the topper. We of the West must bear
the burden, as best we may, both of the responsibility and of the hat. It is solely the
special type and shape of hat that makes the Hebrew ritual seem ridiculous. Performed in
the old original Hebrew fashion it is not ridiculous, but rather if anything sublime. For
the original fashion was an oriental fashion; and the Jews are orientals; and the mark of
all such orientals is the wearing of long and loose draperies. To throw those loose
draperies over the head is decidedly a dignified and even poetic gesture. One can imagine
something like justice done to its majesty and mystery in one of the great dark drawings
of William Blake. It may be true, and personally I think it is true, that the Hebrew
covering of the head signifies a certain stress on the fear of God, which is the beginning
of wisdom, while the Christian uncovering of the head suggests rather the love of God that
is the end of wisdom. But this has nothing to do with the taste and dignity of the
ceremony; and to do justice to these we must treat the Jew as an oriental; we must even
dress him as an oriental. I have only taken this as one working example out of many that
would point to the same conclusion. A number of points upon which the unfortunate alien is
blamed would be much improved if he were, not less of an alien, but rather more of an
alien. They arise from his being too like us, and too little like himself. It is obviously
the case, for instance, touching that vivid vulgarity in clothes, and especially the
colours of clothes, with which a certain sort of Jews brighten the landscape or seascape
at Margate or many holiday resorts. When we see a foreign gentleman on Brighton Pier
wearing yellow spats, a magenta waistcoat, and an emerald green tie, we feel that he has
somehow missed certain fine shades of social sensibility and fitness. It might
considerably surprise the company on Brighton Pier, if he were to reply by solemnly
unwinding his green necktie from round his neck, and winding it round his head. Yet the
reply would be the right one; and would be equally logical and artistic. As soon as the
green tie had become a green turban, it might look as appropriate and even attractive as
the green turban of any pilgrim of Mecca or any descendant of Mahomet, who walks with a
stately air through the streets of Jaffa or Jerusalem. The bright colours that make the
Margate Jews hideous are no brighter than those that make the Moslem crowd picturesque.
They are only worn in the wrong place, in the wrong way, and in conjunction with a type
and cut of clothing that is meant to be more sober and restrained. Little can really be
urged against him, in that respect, except that his artistic instinct is rather for colour
than form, especially of the kind that we ourselves have labelled good form. This is a
mere symbol, but it is so suitable a symbol that I have often offered it symbolically as a
solution of the Jewish problem. I have felt disposed to say: let all liberal legislation
stand, let all literal and legal civic equality stand; let a Jew occupy any political or
social position which he can gain in open competition; let us not listen for a moment to
any suggestions of reactionary restrictions or racial privilege. Let a Jew be Lord Chief
justice, if his exceptional veracity and reliability have clearly marked him out for that
post. Let a Jew be Archbishop of Canterbury, if our national religion has attained to that
receptive breadth that would render such a transition unobjectionable and even
unconscious. But let there be one single-clause bill; one simple and sweeping law about
Jews, and no other. Be it enacted, by the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the
advice of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons in Parliament assembled, that
every Jew must be dressed like an Arab. Let him sit on the Woolsack, but let him sit there
dressed as an Arab. Let him preach in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but let him preach there
dressed as an Arab. It is not my point at present to dwell on the pleasing if flippant
fancy of how much this would transform the political scene; of the dapper figure of Sir
Herbert Samuel swathed as a Bedouin, or Sir Alfred Mond gaining a yet greater grandeur
from the gorgeous and trailing robes of the East. If my image is quaint my intention is
quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point
applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is
that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign
land. This is but a parenthesis and a parable, but it brings us to the concrete
controversial matter which is the Jewish problem. Only a few years ago it was regarded as
a mark of a blood-thirsty disposition to admit that the Jewish problem was a problem, or
even that the Jew was a Jew. Through much misunderstanding certain friends of mine and
myself have persisted in disregarding the silence thus imposed; but facts have fought for
us more effectively than words. By this time nobody is more conscious of the Jewish
problem than the most intelligent and idealistic of the Jews. The folly of the fashion by
which Jews often concealed their Jewish names, must surely be manifest by this time even
to those who concealed them. To mention but one example of the way in which this fiction
falsified the relations of everybody and everything, it is enough to note that it involved
the Jews themselves in a quite new and quite needless unpopularity in the first years of
the war. A poor little Jewish tailor, who called himself by a German name merely because
he lived for a short time in a German town, was instantly mobbed in Whitechapel for his
share in the invasion of Belgium. He was cross-examined about why he had damaged the tower
of Rheims; and talked to as if he had killed Nurse Cavell with his own pair of shears. It
was very unjust; quite as unjust as it would be to ask Bethmann-Hollweg why he had stabbed
Eglon or hewn Agag in pieces. But it was partly at least the fault of the Jew himself, and
of the whole of that futile and unworthy policy which had led him to call himself
Bernstein when his name was Benjamin. In such cases the Jews are accused of all sorts of
faults they have not got; but there are faults that they have got. Some of the charges
against them, as in the cases I have quoted concerning religious ritual and artistic
taste, are due merely to the false light in which they are regarded. Other faults may also
be due to the false position in which they are placed. But the faults exist; and nothing
was ever more dangerous to everybody concerned than the recent fashion of denying or
ignoring them. It was done simply by the snobbish habit of suppressing the experience and
evidence of the majority of people, and especially of the majority of poor people. It was
done by confining the controversy to a small world of wealth and refinement, remote from
all the real facts involved. For the rich are the most ignorant people on earth, and the
best that can be said for them, in cases like these, is that their ignorance often reaches
the point of innocence. I will take a typical case, which sums up the whole of this absurd
fashion. There was a controversy in the columns of an important daily paper, some time
ago, on the subject of the character of Shylock in Shakespeare. Actors and authors of
distinction, including some of the most brilliant of living Jews, argued the matter from
the most varied points of view. Some said that Shakespeare was prevented by the prejudices
of his time from having a complete sympathy with Shylock. Some said that Shakespeare was
only restrained by fear of the powers of his time from expressing his complete sympathy
with Shylock. Some wondered how or why Shakespeare had got hold of such a queer story as
that of the pound of flesh, and what it could possibly have to do with so dignified and
intellectual a character as Shylock. In short, some wondered why a man of genius should be
so much of an Anti-Semite, and some stoutly declared that he must have been a Pro-Semite.
But all of them in a sense admitted that they were puzzled as to what the play was about.
The correspondence filled column after column and went on for weeks. And from one end of
that correspondence to the other, no human being even so much as mentioned the word
“usury.” It is exactly as if twenty clever critics were set down to talk for a
month about the play of Macbeth, and were all strictly forbidden to mention the word
“murder.” The play called _The Merchant of Venice_ happens to be about usury,
and its story is a medieval satire on usury. It is the fashion to say that it is a clumsy
and grotesque story; but as a fact it is an exceedingly good story. It is a perfect and
pointed story for its purpose, which is to convey the moral of the story. And the moral is
that the logic of usury is in its nature at war with life, and might logically end in
breaking into the bloody house of life. In other words, if a creditor can always claim a
man’s tools or a man’s home, he might quite as justly claim one of his arms or legs. This
principle was not only embodied in medieval satires but in very sound medieval laws, which
set a limit on the usurer who was trying to take away a man’s livelihood, as the usurer in
the play is trying to take away a man’s life. And if anybody thinks that usury can never
go to lengths wicked enough to be worthy of so wild an image, then that person either
knows nothing about it or knows too much. He is either one of the innocent rich who have
never been the victims of money-lenders, or else one of the more powerful and influential
rich who are money-lenders themselves. All this, I say, is a fact that must be faced, but
there is another side to the case, and it is this that the genius of Shakespeare
discovered. What he did do, and what the medieval satirist did not do, was to attempt to
understand Shylock; in the true sense to sympathise with Shylock the money-lender, as he
sympathised with Macbeth the murderer. It was not to deny that the man was an usurer, but
to assert that the usurer was a man. And the Elizabethan dramatist does make him a man,
where the medieval satirist made him a monster. Shakespeare not only makes him a man but a
perfectly sincere and self-respecting man. But the point is this: that he is a sincere man
who sincerely believes in usury. He is a self-respecting man who does not despise himself
for being a usurer. In one word, he regards usury as normal. In that word is the whole
problem of the popular impression of the Jews. What Shakespeare suggested about the Jew in
a subtle and sympathetic way, millions of plain men everywhere would suggest about him in
a rough and ready way. Regarding the Jew in relation to his ideas about interest, they
think either that he is simply immoral; or that if he is moral, then he has a different
morality. There is a great deal more to be said about how far this is true, and about what
are its causes and excuses if it is true. But it is an old story, surely, that the worst
of all cures is to deny the disease. To recognise the reality of the Jewish problem is
very vital for everybody and especially vital for Jews. To pretend that there is no
problem is to precipitate the expression of a rational impatience, which unfortunately can
only express itself in the rather irrational form of Anti-Semitism. In the controversies
of Palestine and Syria, for instance, it is very common to hear the answer that the Jew is
no worse than the Armenian. The Armenian also is said to be unpopular as a money-lender
and a mercantile upstart; yet the Armenian figures as a martyr for the Christian faith and
a victim of the Moslem fury. But this is one of those arguments which really carry their
own answer. It is like the sceptical saying that man is only an animal, which of itself
provokes the retort, “What an animal!” The very similarity only emphasises the
contrast. Is it seriously suggested that we can substitute the Armenian for the Jew in the
study of a world-wide problem like that of the Jews? Could we talk of the competition of
Armenians among Welsh shop-keepers, or of the crowd of Armenians on Brighton Parade? Can
Armenian usury be a common topic of talk in a camp in California and in a club in
Piccadilly? Does Shakespeare show us a tragic Armenian towering over the great Venice of
the Renascence? Does Dickens show us a realistic Armenian teaching in the thieves’
kitchens of the slums? When we meet Mr. Vernon Vavasour, that brilliant financier, do we
speculate on the probability of his really having an Armenian name to match his Armenian
nose? Is it true, in short, that all sorts of people, from the peasants of Poland to the
peasants of Portugal, can agree more or less upon the special subject of Armenia?
Obviously it is not in the least true; obviously the Armenian question is only a local
question of certain Christians, who may be more avaricious than other Christians. But it
is the truth about the Jews. It is only half the truth, and one which by itself would be
very unjust to the Jews. But it is the truth, and we must realise it as sharply and
clearly as we can. The truth is that it is rather strange that the Jews should be so
anxious for international agreements. For one of the few really international agreements
is a suspicion of the Jews. A more practical comparison would be one between the Jews and
gipsies; for the latter at least cover several countries, and can be tested by the
impressions of very different districts. And in some preliminary respects the comparison
is really useful. Both races are in different ways landless, and therefore in different
ways lawless. For the fundamental laws are land laws. In both cases a reasonable man will
see reasons for unpopularity, without wishing to indulge any task for persecution. In both
cases he will probably recognise the reality of a racial fault, while admitting that it
may be largely a racial misfortune. That is to say, the drifting and detached condition
may be largely the cause of Jewish usury or gipsy pilfering; but it is not common sense to
contradict the general experience of gipsy pilfering or Jewish usury. The comparison helps
us to clear away some of the cloudy evasions by which modern men have tried to escape from
that experience. It is absurd to say that people are only prejudiced against the money
methods of the Jews because the medieval church has left behind a hatred of their
religion. We might as well say that people only protect the chickens from the gipsies
because the medieval church undoubtedly condemned fortune-telling. It is unreasonable for
a Jew to complain that Shakespeare makes Shylock and not Antonio the ruthless
money-lender; or that Dickens makes Fagin and not Sikes the receiver of stolen goods. It
is as if a gipsy were to complain when a novelist describes a child as stolen by the
gipsies, and not by the curate or the mothers’ meeting. It is to complain of facts and
probabilities. There may be good gipsies; there may be good qualities which specially
belong to them as gipsies; many students of the strange race have, for instance, praised a
certain dignity and self-respect among the women of the Romany. But no student ever
praised them for an exaggerated respect for private property, and the whole argument about
gipsy theft can be roughly repeated about Hebrew usury. Above all, there is one other
respect in which the comparison is even more to the point. It is the essential fact of the
whole business, that the Jews do not become national merely by becoming a political part
of any nation. We might as well say that the gipsies had villas in Clapham, when their
caravans stood on Clapham Common. But, of course, even this comparison between the two
wandering peoples fails in the presence of the greater problem. Here again even the
attempt at a parallel leaves the primary thing more unique. The gipsies do not become
municipal merely by passing through a number of parishes, and it would seem equally
obvious that a Jew need not become English merely by passing through England on his way
from Germany to America. But the gipsy not only is not municipal, but he is not called
municipal. His caravan is not immediately painted outside with the number and name of 123
Laburnam Road, Clapham. The municipal authorities generally notice the wheels attached to
the new cottage, and therefore do not fall into the error. The gipsy may halt in a
particular parish, but he is not as a rule immediately made a parish councillor. The cases
in which a travelling tinker has been suddenly made the mayor of an important industrial
town must be comparatively rare. And if the poor vagabonds of the Romany blood are bullied
by mayors and magistrates, kicked off the land by landlords, pursued by policemen and
generally knocked about from pillar to post, nobody raises an outcry that _they_ are the
victims of religious persecution; nobody summons meetings in public halls, collects
subscriptions or sends petitions to parliament; nobody threatens anybody else with the
organised indignation of the gipsies all over the world. The case of the Jew in the nation
is very different from that of the tinker in the town. The moral elements that can be
appealed to are of a very different style and scale. No gipsies are millionaires. In
short, the Jewish problem differs from anything like the gipsy problem in two highly
practical respects. First, the Jews already exercise colossal cosmopolitan financial
power. And second, the modern societies they live in also grant them vital forms of
national political power. Here the vagrant is already as rich as a miser and the vagrant
is actually made a mayor. As will be seen shortly, there is a Jewish side of the story
which leads really to the same ending of the story; but the truth stated here is quite
independent of any sympathetic or unsympathetic view of the race in question. It is a
question of fact, which a sensible Jew can afford to recognise, and which the most
sensible Jews do very definitely recognise. It is really irrational for anybody to pretend
that the Jews are only a curious sect of Englishmen, like the Plymouth Brothers or the
Seventh Day Baptists, in the face of such a simple fact as the family of Rothschild.
Nobody can pretend that such an English sect can establish five brothers, or even cousins,
in the five great capitals of Europe. Nobody can pretend that the Seventh Day Baptists are
the seven grandchildren of one grandfather, scattered systematically among the warring
nations of the earth. Nobody thinks the Plymouth Brothers are literally brothers, or that
they are likely to be quite as powerful in Paris or in Petrograd as in Plymouth. The
Jewish problem can be stated very simply after all. It is normal for the nation to contain
the family. With the Jews the family is generally divided among the nations. This may not
appear to matter to those who do not believe in nations, those who really think there
ought not to be any nations. But I literally fail to understand anybody who does believe
in patriotism thinking that this state of affairs can be consistent with it. It is in its
nature intolerable, from a national standpoint, that a man admittedly powerful in one
nation should be bound to a man equally powerful in another nation, by ties more private
and personal even than nationality. Even when the purpose is not any sort of treachery,
the very position is a sort of treason. Given the passionately patriotic peoples of the
west of Europe especially, the state of things cannot conceivably be satisfactory to a
patriot. But least of all can it conceivably be satisfactory to a Jewish patriot; by which
I do not mean a sham Englishman or a sham Frenchman, but a man who is sincerely patriotic
for the historic and highly civilised nation of the Jews. For what may be criticised here
as Anti-Semitism is only the negative side of Zionism. For the sake of convenience I have
begun by stating it in terms of the universal popular impression which some call a popular
prejudice. But such a truth of differentiation is equally true on both its different
sides. Suppose somebody proposes to mix up England and America, under some absurd name
like the Anglo-Saxon Empire. One man may say, “Why should the jolly English inns and
villages be swamped by these priggish provincial Yankees?” Another may say, “Why
should the real democracy of a young country be tied to your snobbish old
squirarchy?” But both these views are only versions of the same view of a great
American: “God never made one people good enough to rule another.” The primary
point about Zionism is that, whether it is right or wrong, it does offer a real and
reasonable answer both to Anti-Semitism and to the charge of Anti-Semitism. The usual
phrases about religious persecution and racial hatred are not reasonable answers, or
answers at all. These Jews do not deny that they are Jews; they do not deny that Jews may
be unpopular; they do not deny that there may be other than superstitious reasons for
their unpopularity. They are not obliged to maintain that when a Piccadilly dandy talks
about being in the hands of the Jews he is moved by the theological fanaticism that
prevails in Piccadilly; or that when a silly youth on Derby Day says he was done by a
dirty Jew, he is merely conforming to that Christian orthodoxy which is one of the strict
traditions of the Turf. They are not, like some other Jews, forced to pay so extravagant a
compliment to the Christian religion as to suppose it the ruling motive of half the
discontented talk in clubs and public-houses, of nearly every business man who suspects a
foreign financier, or nearly every working man who grumbles against the local pawn-broker.
Religious mania, unfortunately, is not so common. The Zionists do not need to deny any of
these things; what they offer is not a denial but a diagnosis and a remedy. Whether their
diagnosis is correct, whether their remedy is practicable, we will try to consider later,
with something like a fair summary of what is to be said on both sides. But their theory,
on the face of it, is perfectly reasonable. It is the theory that any abnormal qualities
in the Jews are due to the abnormal position of the Jews. They are traders rather than
producers because they have no land of their own from which to produce, and they are
cosmopolitans rather than patriots because they have no country of their own for which to
be patriotic. They can no more become farmers while they are vagrant than they could have
built the Temple of Solomon while they were building the Pyramids of Egypt. They can no
more feel the full stream of nationalism while they wander in the desert of nomadism than
they could bathe in the waters of Jordan while they were weeping by the waters of Babylon.
For exile is the worst kind of bondage. In insisting upon that at least the Zionists have
insisted upon a profound truth, with many applications to many other moral issues. It is
true that for any one whose heart is set on a particular home or shrine, to be locked out
is to be locked in. The narrowest possible prison for him is the whole world. It will be
well to notice briefly, however, how the principle applies to the two Anti-Semitic
arguments already considered. The first is the charge of usury and unproductive loans, the
second the charge either of treason or of unpatriotic detachment. The charge of usury is
regarded, not unreasonably, as only a specially dangerous development of the general
charge of uncreative commerce and the refusal of creative manual exercise; the
unproductive loan is only a minor form of the unproductive labour. It is certainly true
that the latter complaint is, if possible, commoner than the former, especially in
comparatively simple communities like those of Palestine. A very honest Moslem Arab said
to me, with a singular blend of simplicity and humour, “A Jew does not work; but he
grows rich. You never see a Jew working; and yet they grow rich. What I want to know is,
why do we not all do the same? Why do we not also do this and become rich?” This is,
I need hardly say, an over-simplification. Jews often work hard at some things, especially
intellectual things. But the same experience which tells us that we have known many
industrious Jewish scholars, Jewish lawyers, Jewish doctors, Jewish pianists,
chess-players and so on, is an experience which cuts both ways. The same experience, if
carefully consulted, will probably tell us that we have not known personally many patient
Jewish ploughmen, many laborious Jewish blacksmiths, many active Jewish hedgers and
ditchers, or even many energetic Jewish hunters and fishermen. In short, the popular
impression is tolerably true to life, as popular impressions very often are; though it is
not fashionable to say so in these days of democracy and self-determination. Jews do not
generally work on the land, or in any of the handicrafts that are akin to the land; but
the Zionists reply that this is because it can never really be their own land. That is
Zionism, and that has really a practical place in the past and future of Zion. Patriotism
is not merely dying for the nation. It is dying with the nation. It is regarding the
fatherland not merely as a real resting-place like an inn, but as a final resting-place,
like a house or even a grave. Even the most Jingo of the Jews do not feel like this about
their adopted country; and I doubt if the most intelligent of the Jews would pretend that
they did. Even if we can bring ourselves to believe that Disraeli lived for England, we
cannot think that he would have died with her. If England had sunk in the Atlantic he
would not have sunk with her, but easily floated over to America to stand for the
Presidency. Even if we are profoundly convinced that Mr. Beit or Mr. Eckstein had
patriotic tears in his eyes when he obtained a gold concession from Queen Victoria, we
cannot believe that in her absence he would have refused a similar concession from the
German Emperor. When the Jew in France or in England says he is a good patriot he only
means that he is a good citizen, and he would put it more truly if he said he was a good
exile. Sometimes indeed he is an abominably bad citizen, and a most exasperating and
execrable exile, but I am not talking of that side of the case. I am assuming that a man
like Disraeli did really make a romance of England, that a man like Dernburg did really
make a romance of Germany, and it is still true that though it was a romance, they would
not have allowed it to be a tragedy. They would have seen that the story had a happy
ending, especially for themselves. These Jews would not have died with any Christian
nation. But the Jews did die with Jerusalem. That is the first and last great truth in
Zionism. Jerusalem was destroyed and Jews were destroyed with it, men who cared no longer
to live because the city of their faith had fallen. It may be questioned whether all the
Zionists have all the sublime insanity of the Zealots. But at least it is not nonsense to
suggest that the Zionists might feel like this about Zion. It is nonsense to suggest that
they would ever feel like this about Dublin or Moscow. And so far at least the truth both
in Semitism and Anti-Semitism is included in Zionism. It is a commonplace that the
infamous are more famous than the famous. Byron noted, with his own misanthropic moral,
that we think more of Nero the monster who killed his mother than of Nero the noble Roman
who defeated Hannibal. The name of Julian more often suggests Julian the Apostate than
Julian the Saint; though the latter crowned his canonisation with the sacred glory of
being the patron saint of inn-keepers. But the best example of this unjust historical
habit is the most famous of all and the most infamous of all. If there is one proper noun
which has become a common noun, if there is one name which has been generalised till it
means a thing, it is certainly the name of Judas. We should hesitate perhaps to call it a
Christian name, except in the more evasive form of Jude. And even that, as the name of a
more faithful apostle, is another illustration of the same injustice; for, by comparison
with the other, Jude the faithful might almost be called Jude the obscure. The critic who
said, whether innocently or ironically, “What wicked men these early Christians
were!” was certainly more successful in innocence than in irony; for he seems to have
been innocent or ignorant of the whole idea of the Christian communion. Judas Iscariot was
one of the very earliest of all possible early Christians. And the whole point about him
was that his hand was in the same dish; the traitor is always a friend, or he could never
be a foe. But the point for the moment is merely that the name is known everywhere merely
as the name of a traitor. The name of Judas nearly always means Judas Iscariot; it hardly
ever means Judas Maccabeus. And if you shout out “Judas” to a politician in the
thick of a political tumult, you will have some difficulty in soothing him afterwards,
with the assurance that you had merely traced in him something of that splendid zeal and
valour which dragged down the tyranny of Antiochus, in the day of the great deliverance of
Israel. Those two possible uses of the name of Judas would give us yet another compact
embodiment of the case for Zionism. Numberless international Jews have gained the bad name
of Judas, and some have certainly earned it. If you have gained or earned the good name of
Judas, it can quite fairly and intelligently be affirmed that this was not the fault of
the Jews, but of the peculiar position of the Jews. A man can betray like Judas Iscariot
in another man’s house; but a man cannot fight like Judas Maccabeus for another man’s
temple. There is no more truly rousing revolutionary story amid all the stories of
mankind, there is no more perfect type of the element of chivalry in rebellion, than that
magnificent tale of the Maccabee who stabbed from underneath the elephant of Antiochus and
died under the fall of that huge and living castle. But it would be unreasonable to ask
Mr. Montagu to stick a knife into the elephant on which Lord Curzon, let us say, was
riding in all the pomp of Asiatic imperialism. For Mr. Montagu would not be liberating his
own land; and therefore he naturally prefers to interest himself either in operations in
silver or in somewhat slower and less efficient methods of liberation. In short, whatever
we may think of the financial or social services such as were rendered to England in the
affair of Marconi, or to France in the affair of Panama, it must be admitted that these
exhibit a humbler and more humdrum type of civic duty, and do not remind us of the more
reckless virtues of the Maccabees or the Zealots. A man may be a good citizen of anywhere,
but he cannot be a national hero of nowhere; and for this particular type of patriotic
passion it is necessary to have a _patria_. The Zionists therefore are maintaining a
perfectly reasonable proposition, both about the charge of usury and the charge of
treason, if they claim that both could be cured by the return to a national soil as
promised in Zionism. Unfortunately they are not always reasonable about their own
reasonable proposition. Some of them have a most unlucky habit of ignoring, and therefore
implicitly denying, the very evil that they are wisely trying to cure. I have already
remarked this irritating innocence in the first of the two questions; the criticism that
sees everything in Shylock except the point of him, or the point of his knife. How in the
politics of Palestine at this moment this first question is in every sense the primary
question. Palestine has hardly as yet a patriotism to be betrayed; but it certainly has a
peasantry to be oppressed, and especially to be oppressed as so many peasantries have been
with usury and forestalling. The Syrians and Arabs and all the agricultural and pastoral
populations of Palestine are, rightly or wrongly, alarmed and angered at the advent of the
Jews to power; for the perfectly practical and simple reason of the reputation which the
Jews have all over the world. It is really ridiculous in people so intelligent as the
Jews, and especially so intelligent as the Zionists, to ignore so enormous and elementary
a fact as that reputation and its natural results. It may or may not in this case be
unjust; but in any case it is not unnatural. It may be the result of persecution, but it
is one that has definitely resulted. It may be the consequence of a misunderstanding; but
it is a misunderstanding that must itself be understood. Rightly or wrongly, certain
people in Palestine fear the coming of the Jews as they fear the coming of the locusts;
they regard them as parasites that feed on a community by a thousand methods of financial
intrigue and economic exploitation. I could understand the Jews indignantly denying this,
or eagerly disproving it, or best of all, explaining what is true in it while exposing
what is untrue. What is strange, I might almost say weird, about the attitude of some
quite intelligent and sincere Zionists, is that they talk, write and apparently think as
if there were no such thing in the world. I will give one curious example from one of the
best and most brilliant of the Zionists. Dr. Weizmann is a man of large mind and human
sympathies; and it is difficult to believe that any one with so fine a sense of humanity
can be entirely empty of anything like a sense of humour. Yet, in the middle of a very
temperate and magnanimous address on “Zionist Policy,” he can actually say a
thing like this, “The Arabs need us with our knowledge, and our experience and our
money. If they do not have us they will fall into the hands of others, they will fall
among sharks.” One is tempted for the moment to doubt whether any one else in the
world could have said that, except the Jew with his strange mixture of brilliancy and
blindness, of subtlety and simplicity. It is much as if President Wilson were to say,
“Unless America deals with Mexico, it will be dealt with by some modern commercial
power, that has trust-magnates and hustling millionaires.” But would President Wilson
say it? It is as if the German Chancellor had said, “We must rush to the rescue of
the poor Belgians, or they may be put under some system with a rigid militarism and a
bullying bureaucracy.” But would even a German Chancellor put it exactly like that?
Would anybody put it in the exact order of words and structure of sentence in which Dr.
Weizmann has put it? Would even the Turks say, “The Armenians need us with our order
and our discipline and our arms. If they do not have us they will fall into the hands of
others, they will perhaps be in danger of massacres.” I suspect that a Turk would see
the joke, even if it were as grim a joke as the massacres themselves. If the Zionists wish
to quiet the fears of the Arabs, surely the first thing to do is to discover what the
Arabs are afraid of. And very little investigation will reveal the simple truth that they
are very much afraid of sharks; and that in their book of symbolic or heraldic zoology it
is the Jew who is adorned with the dorsal fin and the crescent of cruel teeth. This may be
a fairy-tale about a fabulous animal; but it is one which all sorts of races believe, and
certainly one which these races believe. But the case is yet more curious than that. These
simple tribes are afraid, not only of the dorsal fin and dental arrangements which Dr.
Weizmann may say (with some justice) that he has not got; they are also afraid of the
other things which he says he has got. They may be in error, at the first superficial
glance, in mistaking a respectable professor for a shark. But they can hardly be mistaken
in attributing to the respectable professor what he himself considers as his claims to
respect. And as the imagery about the shark may be too metaphorical or almost
mythological, there is not the smallest difficulty in stating in plain words what the
Arabs fear in the Jews. They fear, in exact terms, their knowledge and their experience
and their money. The Arabs fear exactly the three things which he says they need. Only the
Arabs would call it a knowledge of financial trickery and an experience of political
intrigue, and the power given by hoards of money not only of their own but of other
peoples. About Dr. Weizmann and the true Zionists this is self-evidently unjust; but about
Jewish influence of the more visible and vulgar kind it has to be proved to be unjust.
Feeling as I do the force of the real case for Zionism, I venture most earnestly to
implore the Jews to disprove it, and not to dismiss it. But above all I implore them not
to be content with assuring us again and again of their knowledge and their experience and
their money. That is what people dread like a pestilence or an earthquake; their knowledge
and their experience and their money. It is needless for Dr. Weizmann to tell us that he
does not desire to enter Palestine like a Junker or drive thousands of Arabs forcibly out
of the land; nobody supposes that Dr. Weizmann looks like a Junker; and nobody among the
enemies of the Jews says that they have driven their foes in that fashion since the wars
with the Canaanites. But for the Jews to reassure us by insisting on their own economic
culture or commercial education is exactly like the Junkers reassuring us by insisting on
the unquestioned supremacy of their Kaiser or the unquestioned obedience of their
soldiers. Men bar themselves in their houses, or even hide themselves in their cellars,
when such virtues are abroad in the land. In short the fear of the Jews in Palestine,
reasonable or unreasonable, is a thing that must be answered by reason. It is idle for the
unpopular thing to answer with boasts, especially boasts of the very quality that makes it
unpopular. But I think it could be answered by reason, or at any rate tested by reason;
and the tests by consideration. The principle is still as stated above; that the tests
must not merely insist on the virtues the Jews do show, but rather deal with the
particular virtues which they are generally accused of not showing. It is necessary to
understand this more thoroughly than it is generally understood, and especially better
than it is usually stated in the language of fashionable controversy. For the question
involves the whole success or failure of Zionism. Many of the Zionists know it; but I
rather doubt whether most of the Anti-Zionists know that they know it. And some of the
phrases of the Zionists, such as those that I have noted, too often tend to produce the
impression that they ignore when they are not ignorant. They are not ignorant; and they do
not ignore in practice; even when an intellectual habit makes them seem to ignore in
theory. Nobody who has seen a Jewish rural settlement, such as Rishon, can doubt that some
Jews are sincerely filled with the vision of sitting under their own vine and fig-tree,
and even with its accompanying lesson that it is first necessary to grow the fig-tree and
the vine. The true test of Zionism may seem a topsy-turvy test. It will not succeed by the
number of successes, but rather by the number of failures, or what the world (and
certainly not least the Jewish world) has generally called failures. It will be tested,
not by whether Jews can climb to the top of the ladder, but by whether Jews can remain at
the bottom; not by whether they have a hundred arts of becoming important, but by whether
they have any skill in the art of remaining insignificant. It is often noted that the
intelligent Israelite can rise to positions of power and trust outside Israel, like Witte
in Russia or Rufus Isaacs in England. It is generally bad, I think, for their adopted
country; but in any case it is no good for the particular problem of their own country.
Palestine cannot have a population of Prime Ministers and Chief Justices; and if those
they rule and judge are not Jews, then we have not established a commonwealth but only an
oligarchy. It is said again that the ancient Jews turned their enemies into hewers of wood
and drawers of water. The modern Jews have to turn themselves into hewers of wood and
drawers of water. If they cannot do that, they cannot turn themselves into citizens, but
only into a kind of alien bureaucrats, of all kinds the most perilous and the most
imperilled. Hence a Jewish state will not be a success when the Jews in it are successful,
or even when the Jews in it are statesmen. It will be a success when the Jews in it are
scavengers, when the Jews in it are sweeps, when they are dockers and ditchers and porters
and hodmen. When the Zionist can point proudly to a Jewish navvy who has _not_ risen in
the world, an under-gardener who is not now taking his ease as an upper-gardener, a yokel
who is still a yokel, or even a village idiot at least sufficiently idiotic to remain in
his village, then indeed the world will come to blow the trumpets and lift up the heads of
the everlasting gates; for God will have turned the captivity of Zion. Zionists of whose
sincerity I am personally convinced, and of whose intelligence anybody would be convinced,
have told me that there really is, in places like Rishon, something like a beginning of
this spirit; the love of the peasant for his land. One lady, even in expressing her
conviction of it, called it “this very un-Jewish characteristic.” She was
perfectly well aware both of the need of it in the Jewish land, and the lack of it in the
Jewish race. In short she was well aware of the truth of that seemingly topsy-turvy test I
have suggested; that of whether men are worthy to be drudges. When a humorous and humane
Jew thus accepts the test, and honestly expects the Jewish people to pass it, then I think
the claim is very serious indeed, and one not lightly to be set aside. I do certainly
think it a very serious responsibility under the circumstances to set it altogether aside.
It is our whole complaint against the Jew that he does not till the soil or toil with the
spade; it is very hard on him to refuse him if he really says, “Give me a soil and I
will till it; give me a spade and I will use it.” It is our whole reason for
distrusting him that he cannot really love any of the lands in which he wanders; it seems
rather indefensible to be deaf to him if he really says, “Give me a land and I will
love it.” I would certainly give him a land or some instalment of the land, (in what
general sense I will try to suggest a little later) so long as his conduct on it was
watched and tested according to the principles I have suggested. If he asks for the spade
he must use the spade, and not merely employ the spade, in the sense of hiring half a
hundred men to use spades. If he asks for the soil he must till the soil; that is he must
belong to the soil and not merely make the soil belong to him. He must have the
simplicity, and what many would call the stupidity of the peasant. He must not only call a
spade a spade, but regard it as a spade and not as a speculation. By some true conversion
the urban and modern man must be not only on the soil, but of the soil, and free from our
urban trick of inventing the word dirt for the dust to which we shall return. He must be
washed in mud, that he may be clean. How far this can really happen it is very hard for
anybody, especially a casual visitor, to discover in the present crisis. It is admitted
that there is much Arab and Syrian labour employed; and this in itself would leave all the
danger of the Jew as a mere capitalist. The Jews explain it, however, by saying that the
Arabs will work for a lower wage, and that this is necessarily a great temptation to the
struggling colonists. In this they may be acting naturally as colonists, but it is none
the less clear that they are not yet acting literally as labourers. It may not be their
fault that they are not proving themselves to be peasants; but it is none the less clear
that this situation in itself does not prove them to be peasants. So far as that is
concerned, it still remains to be decided finally whether a Jew will be an agricultural
labourer, if he is a decently paid agricultural labourer. On the other hand, the leaders
of these local experiments, if they have not yet shown the higher materialism of peasants,
most certainly do not show the lower materialism of capitalists. There can be no doubt of
the patriotic and even poetic spirit in which many of them hope to make their ancient
wilderness blossom like the rose. They at least would still stand among the great prophets
of Israel, and none the less though they prophesied in vain. I have tried to state fairly
the case for Zionism, for the reason already stated; that I think it intellectually unjust
that any attempt of the Jews to regularise their position should merely be rejected as one
of their irregularities. But I do not disguise the enormous difficulties of doing it in
the particular conditions Of Palestine. In fact the greatest of the real difficulties of
Zionism is that it has to take place in Zion. There are other difficulties, however, which
when they are not specially the fault of Zionists are very much the fault of Jews. The
worst is the general impression of a business pressure from the more brutal and
businesslike type of Jew, which arouses very violent and very just indignation. When I was
in Jerusalem it was openly said that Jewish financiers had complained of the low rate of
interest at which loans were made by the government to the peasantry, and even that the
government had yielded to them. If this were true it was a heavier reproach to the
government even than to the Jews. But the general truth is that such a state of feeling
seems to make the simple and solid patriotism of a Palestinian Jewish nation practically
impossible, and forces us to consider some alternative or some compromise. The most
sensible statement of a compromise I heard among the Zionists was suggested to me by Dr.
Weizmann, who is a man not only highly intelligent but ardent and sympathetic. And the
phrase he used gives the key to my own rough conception of a possible solution, though he
himself would probably, not accept that solution. Dr. Weizmann suggested, if I understood
him rightly, that he did not think Palestine could be a single and simple national
territory quite in the sense of France; but he did not see why it should not be a
commonwealth of cantons after the manner of Switzerland. Some of these could be Jewish
cantons, others Arab cantons, and so on according to the type of population. This is in
itself more reasonable than much that is suggested on the same side; but the point of it
for my own purpose is more particular. This idea, whether it correctly represents Dr.
Weizmann’s meaning or no, clearly involves the abandonment of the solidarity of Palestine,
and tolerates the idea of groups of Jews being separated from each other by populations of
a different type. Now if once this notion be considered admissible, it seems to me capable
of considerable extension. It seems possible that there might be not only Jewish cantons
in Palestine but Jewish cantons outside Palestine, Jewish colonies in suitable and
selected places in adjacent parts or in many other parts of the world. They might be
affiliated to some official centre in Palestine, or even in Jerusalem, where there would
naturally be at least some great religious headquarters of the scattered race and
religion. The nature of that religious centre it must be for Jews to decide; but I think
if I were a Jew I would build the Temple without bothering about the site of the Temple.
That they should have the old site, of course, is not to be thought of; it would raise a
Holy War from Morocco to the marches of China. But seeing that some of the greatest of the
deeds of Israel were done, and some of the most glorious of the songs of Israel sung, when
their only temple was a box carried about in the desert, I cannot think that the mere
moving of the situation of the place of sacrifice need even mean so much to that historic
tradition as it would to many others. That the Jews should have some high place of dignity
and ritual in Palestine, such as a great building like the Mosque of Omar, is certainly
right and reasonable; for upon no theory can their historic connection be dismissed. I
think it is sophistry to say, as do some Anti-Semites, that the Jews have no more right
there than the Jebusites. If there are Jebusites they are Jebusites without knowing it. I
think it sufficiently answered in the fine phrase of an English priest, in many ways more
Anti-Semitic than I: “The people that remembers has a right.” The very worst of
the Jews, as well as the very best, do in some sense remember. They are hated and
persecuted and frightened into false names and double lives; but they remember. They lie,
they swindle, they betray, they oppress; but they remember. The more we happen to hate
such elements among the Hebrews the more we admire the manly and magnificent elements
among the more vague and vagrant tribes of Palestine, the more we must admit that paradox.
The unheroic have the heroic memory; and the heroic people have no memory. But whatever
the Jewish nation might wish to do about a national shrine or other supreme centre, the
suggestion for the moment is that something like a Jewish territorial scheme might really
be attempted, if we permit the Jews to be scattered no longer as individuals but as
groups. It seems possible that by some such extension of the definition of Zionism we
might ultimately overcome even the greatest difficulty of Zionism, the difficulty of
resettling a sufficient number of so large a race on so small a land. For if the advantage
of the ideal to the Jews is to gain the promised land, the advantage to the Gentiles is to
get rid of the Jewish problem, and I do not see why we should obtain all their advantage
and none of our own. Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established
nations, and to these I would give a special position best described as privilege; some
sort of self-governing enclave with special laws and exemptions; for instance, I would
certainly excuse them from conscription, which I think a gross injustice in their case.
[Footnote: Of course the privileged exile would also lose the rights of a native.] A Jew
might be treated as respectfully as a foreign ambassador, but a foreign ambassador is a
foreigner. Finally, I would give the same privileged position to all Jews everywhere, as
an alternative policy to Zionism, if Zionism failed by the test I have named; the only
true and the only tolerable test; if the Jews had not so much failed as peasants as
succeeded as capitalists. There is one word to be added; it will be noted that inevitably
and even against some of my own desires, the argument has returned to that recurrent
conclusion, which was found in the Roman Empire and the Crusades. The European can do
justice to the Jew; but it must be the European who does it. Such a possibility as I have
thrown out, and any other possibility that any one can think of, becomes at once
impossible without some idea of a general suzerainty of Christendom over the lands of the
Moslem and the Jew. Personally, I think it would be better if it were a general suzerainty
of Christendom, rather than a particular supremacy of England. And I feel this, not from a
desire to restrain the English power, but rather from a desire to defend it. I think there
is not a little danger to England in the diplomatic situation involved; but that is a
diplomatic question that it is neither within my power or duty to discuss adequately. But
if I think it would be wiser for France and England together to hold Syria and Palestine
together rather than separately, that only completes and clinches the conclusion that has
haunted me, with almost uncanny recurrence, since I first saw Jerusalem sitting on the
hill like a turreted town in England or in France; and for one moment the dark dome of it
was again the Templum Domini, and the tower on it was the Tower of Tancred. Anyhow with
the failure of Zionism would fall the last and best attempt at a rationalistic theory of
the Jew. We should be left facing a mystery which no other rationalism has ever come so
near to providing within rational cause and cure. Whatever we do, we shall not return to
that insular innocence and comfortable unconsciousness of Christendom, in which the
Victorian agnostics could suppose that the Semitic problem was a brief medieval insanity.
In this as in greater things, even if we lost our faith we could not recover our
agnosticism. We can never recover agnosticism, any more than any other kind of ignorance.
We know that there is a Jewish problem; we only hope that there is a Jewish solution. If
there is not, there is no other. We cannot believe again that the Jew is an Englishman
with certain theological theories, any more than we can believe again any other part of
the optimistic materialism whose temple is the Albert Memorial. A scheme of guilds may be
attempted and may be a failure; but never again can we respect mere Capitalism for its
success. An attack may be made on political corruption, and it may be a failure; but never
again can we believe that our politics are not corrupt. And so Zionism may be attempted
and may be a failure; but never again can we ourselves be at ease in Zion. Or rather, I
should say, if the Jew cannot be at ease in Zion we can never again persuade ourselves
that he is at ease out of Zion. We can only salute as it passes that restless and
mysterious figure, knowing at last that there must be in him something mystical as well as
mysterious; that whether in the sense of the sorrows of Christ or of the sorrows of Cain,
he must pass by, for he belongs to God. CONCLUSION To have worn a large scallop shell in
my hat in the streets of London might have been deemed ostentatious, to say nothing of
carrying a staff like a long pole; and wearing sandals might have proclaimed rather that I
had not come from Jerusalem but from Letchworth, which some identify with the New
Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. Lacking such attributes, I passed through
South England as one who might have come from Ramsgate or from anywhere; and the only
symbol left to me of my pilgrimage was a cheap ring of metal coloured like copper and
brass. For on it was written in Greek characters the word “Jerusalem,” and
though it may be less valuable than a brass nail, I do not think you can buy it in the
Strand. All those enormous and everlasting things, all those gates of bronze and mosaics
of purple and peacock colouring, all those chapels of gold and columns of crimson marble,
had all shrivelled up and dwindled down to that one small thread of red metal round my
finger. I could not help having a feeling, like Aladdin, that if I rubbed the ring perhaps
all those towers would rise again. And there was a sort of feeling of truth in the fancy
after all. We talk of the changeless East; but in one sense the impression of it is really
rather changing, with its wandering tribes and its shifting sands, in which the genii of
the East might well build the palace or the paradise of a day. As I saw the low and solid
English cottages rising around me amid damp delightful thickets under rainy skies, I felt
that in a deeper sense it is rather we who build for permanence or at least for a sort of
peace. It is something more than comfort; a relative and reasonable contentment. And there
came back on me like a boomerang a rather indescribable thought which had circled round my
head through most of my journey; that Christendom is like a gigantic bronze come out of
the furnace of the Near East; that in Asia is only the fire and in Europe the form. The
nearest to what I mean was suggested in that very striking book _Form and Colour_, by Mr.
March Philips. When I spoke of the idols of Asia, many moderns may well have murmured
against such a description of the ideals of Buddha or Mrs. Besant. To which I can only
reply that I do know a little about the ideals, and I think I prefer the idols. I have far
more sympathy with the enthusiasm for a nice green or yellow idol, with nine arms and
three heads, than with the philosophy ultimately represented by the snake devouring his
tail; the awful sceptical argument in a circle by which everything begins and ends in the
mind. I would far rather be a fetish worshipper and have a little fun, than be an oriental
pessimist expected always to smile like an optimist. Now it seems to me that the fighting
Christian creed is the one thing that has been in that mystical circle and broken out of
it, and become something real as well. It has gone westward by a sort of centrifugal
force, like a stone from a sling; and so made the revolving Eastern mind, as the
Franciscan said in Jerusalem, do something at last. Anyhow, although I carried none of the
trappings of a pilgrim I felt strongly disposed to take the privileges of one. I wanted to
be entertained at the firesides of total strangers, in the medieval manner, and to tell
them interminable tales of my travels. I wanted to linger in Dover, and try it on the
citizens of that town. I nearly got out of the train at several wayside stations, where I
saw secluded cottages which might be brightened by a little news from the Holy Land. For
it seemed to me that all my fellow-countrymen must be my friends; all these English places
had come much closer together after travels that seemed in comparison as vast as the
spaces between the stars. The hop-fields of Kent seemed to me like outlying parts of my
own kitchen garden; and London itself to be really situated at London End. London was
perhaps the largest of the suburbs of Beaconsfield. By the time I came to Beaconsfield
itself, dusk was dropping over the beechwoods and the white cross-roads. The distance
seemed to grow deeper and richer with darkness as I went up the long lanes towards my
home; and in that distance, as I drew nearer, I heard the barking of a dog.

*** THE NEW JERUSALEM***

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