APOLLO

It has become the Englishman’s habit, one might almost say the
Englishman’s instinct, to take himself for the head and front of the
universe. The order of creation began, we are told, in protoplasm.
It has achieved at length the Englishman. Herein are the culmination
and ultimate glory of evolutionary processes. Nature, like the
seventh-standard boy in a board school, “can get no higher.” She
has made the Englishman, and her work therefore is done. For the
continued progress of the world and all that in it is, the Englishman
will make due provision. He knows exactly what is wanted, and by
himself it shall be supplied. There is little that can be considered
distinguishingly English which does not reflect this point of view. As
an easy-going, entirely confident, imperturbable piece of arrogance,
the Englishman has certainly no mammalian compeer. Even in the blackest
of his troubles he perceives that he is great. “I shall muddle
through,” he says. He is expected and understood to muddle through;
and, muddle through or not, he invariably believes he has done it.
Sheer complacency bolsters him up on every hand. At his going forth the
rest of the world is fain to abase itself in the dust. He is the strong
man, the white man of white men. He is the rich, clean sportsman, the
incomparable, the fearless, the intolerable. And by “Englishman” the
world has learned not to mean “Briton.” The world has been taught to
discriminate. It has regarded the Britannic brotherhood; and though it
forgets that the Gael and the Celt are Britons, it takes its Englishman
for a Briton, only with a difference. On the other hand, it is keenly
sensible of sundry facts–as that it is the Englishman who rules the
waves and the Englishman upon whose dominions the sun never sets; that
the British flag is the English flag, the British army the English
army, and the British navy the English navy, and that Scotland and
Ireland, with Wales, are English appanages. It would be foolish to
assert that the Englishman has greatly concerned himself in either the
promulgation or the acceptance of these notions. But he holds them
dear, and they are ineradicably planted in his subconsciousness.

One is inclined to think, however, that, while the supremacy and
superiority of the Englishman have been received without traverse in
his own dominions, there are those in outer darkness–on the Continent,
in Ireland, and even in Scotland–who admit no such supremacy and
no such superiority. Nay, there be persons breathing the breath of
life who, so far from looking upon the Englishman with the eyes with
which the early savage must have regarded Captain Cook, look upon him
with the eyes with which Captain Cook regarded the early savage. In
Ireland, particularly, hatred of the English has become a deep-grounded
national characteristic. The French dislike of perfidious Albion may
be reckoned to a great extent an intermittent matter. It sputters and
flares when a Fashoda or a Boer War comes along, and it has a way of
finding its deadliest expression in caricature. But the Irish hatred is
as persistent and concrete as it is ancient. In Scotland the feeling
about the English amounts in the main to good-humoured tolerance,
touched with a certain amazement. The least cultivated of Scotsmen–and
such a man is quite a different being from the least cultivated of
Englishmen–will tell you that “thae English” are chiefly notable by
reason of their profound ignorance and a ridiculous passion for the
dissipation of money. The Scot of the middle class thinks his neighbour
is a feckless, foolish person who would pass muster if he could be
serious, and who has got what he possesses by good luck rather than
by good management. Up to a point both are right, for the English in
the mass are at once much more ignorant and much less thrifty than the
people of Scotland, and their good-nature and happy-go-luckiness are
things to set a Scot moralising.

Years ago Matthew Arnold put the right names on the two more creditable
and powerful sections of English society. The aristocracy he set down
for Barbarians, the middle class for Philistines. The aristocracy were
inaccessible to ideas, he said; the middle class admired and loved the
aristocracy. It is so to this day, and so to an extent which is in
entire consonance with the circumstance that for sheer stupidity the
Englishman of the upper class is without parallel, while the Englishman
of the middle class cannot be paralleled for snobbishness. Arnold’s
complaint that neither class was a reading class or at all devoted to
the higher matters still holds. The great, broad-shouldered, genial
Englishman whom Tennyson sang and at whom Arnold gibed is still with
us. That he is as great and as broad-shouldered and as genial as ever
nobody will deny. And, broadly speaking, his outlook upon life remains
exactly what it was. To be ruddy and healthy, to go out mornings with
dogs, to dine hilariously and dance evenings, to be generous to the
poor, and to honour oneself and the King are the rule of his life if
he be a Barbarian; and to ape these things and consider them gifts of
price, if he be a Philistine. Since Arnold, however, the Englishman,
egregious though he undoubtedly was, has taken unto himself a new and
altogether alarming demerit. Out of his love of health and ease and
security and pleasure and well-ordered materialism there has sprung
up a trouble which is like to cost him exceeding dear–a trouble, in
fact, which, if he be not careful, will go far to emasculate him, if
not wholly to destroy him. Of the higher matters, as has been said,
he has taken but the smallest heed. Writer fellows, painter fellows,
philosopher Johnnies, and so forth are not of his world, except in
so far as they may entertain his women-folk, or deck his halls with
commercial canvas, or assist him in the eking out of his small talk
before dessert. It is not to be expected of him that he should take to
his heart persons whom he cannot by any possibility understand. Even
Arnold could forgive him that failing. It was the build of the man, the
breed and constitution of him, that justified him. But since, being
English, he has found his way to the unpardonable sin. It was well
that he should despise persons who, however much they might think, did
little and got little for doing it. It was well that brains which could
not sit a horse, and preferred bed to the moors, and had no rent-roll,
should be despised. It would have been well, too, if that other kind
of brains, which, beginning with nothing, ends in millionairedom and
flagrant barbarianism, might also have continued to be despised and
to be kept at arm’s-length. The great, broad-shouldered, genial
Englishman, however, has succumbed. Park Lane has become a Ghetto; my
lord’s house parties reek of gentlemen with noses, and names ending
in “baum”; and the English Houses of Parliament, the finest club in
Europe, the mother of parliaments, the most dignified assemblage under
the sun, is just a branch of the Stock Exchange. As the exceedingly
clever young man who recently wrote a book about the Scot might say,
this shows what the English really are.

It has been remarked, and possibly not without truth, that the Scot
keeps the Sabbath and everything else he can lay his hands upon. He
is credited with being the perfect money-grubber; his desire for
competence, we have been told by the clever young man before mentioned,
has blighted his soul and brought him into opprobrium among Turks and
Chinamen. Well, the Scot does look after money: he desires competence,
he loves independence; and, when he can get them, ease and pleasure are
gratifying to him. If he comes off the rock and attains affluence, he
is not averse to the goodnesses that affluence commands. He will start
a castle and a carriage and a coat-of-arms with the best of them; he
will lift up his family and leave his children well provided for. In
these connections he is just as human as the next man; but he never
has played and he never will play the English game of lavishness and
wastefulness and swaggering profusion, and, least of all, will he
play it on a basis of undesirable association. The Scotsman who has
compassed wealth, even though he be the son of a mole-catcher or a
sweetie-wife or a Glasgow beer-seller, can always remember that there
is such a thing as spiritual integrity. And though he may or may not
boo and boo and boo in accordance with the good old kindly English
legend, he certainly will not do it in Jews’ houses. This, I take it,
is where he has some little advantage over Englishmen.

Perhaps no finer indication of the English spirit, and of the greed
and corruption that have overtaken it, could have been offered than
has been offered by the trend of recent events in South Africa. To
go thoroughly over the ground in such an essay as the present is, of
course, impossible; to state the arguments for both sides would be to
reproduce writing of which everybody is heartily tired. The battling
newspapers have said their say, and we are just beginning to feel the
comfort of a more or less reasonable settlement. All that need be
said here is that the Englishman has not come out of this war with
anything like the honour and the glory and the _éclat_ that he has
been accustomed to expect of himself in similar undertakings. His
bodily prowess, his hardihood, his Spartan capacity for withstanding
the rigours of campaigning, his military abilities, and his very
patriotism have all had to be called in question during the past two
and a half years. When he went out to the fray, his cry was, “Ha! ha!”
and the war was to be over in six weeks. He had the finest equipment,
the finest munitions, the finest men, the finest system, the world had
seen. He was as fit as a fiddle and as hard as nails, and his love of
music prompted him to take a piano with him. Then the English and they
that dwell in outer darkness saw many things. They have been learning
their lesson ever since. They have learned that in a fight the great,
broad-shouldered, genial Englishman, instead of being worth three
Frenchmen, is worth about the fiftieth part of a Boer farmer. They have
learned that the great, broad-shouldered, genial Englishman is not
above selling spavined horses and stinking beef to the country that
he loves. And they have learned that when a great, broad-shouldered,
genial Englishman is discovered in his incompetence or his culpable
negligence or his dishonour, it is the business of all the other great,
broad-shouldered, genial Englishmen to get round him and screen him
from the public gaze and swear that he is a maligned and misunderstood
man. The incidents of the war alone, without any backing or the
smallest distortion or exaggeration, have been quite sufficient to show
that there is something rotten in the condition of the English. It has
been a tale of shame and ignominy and disaster from beginning to end.
It has resulted in a peace which practically settles very little, and
an inquiry with closed doors. Verily Apollo must have a care for his
reputation in the Pantheon.