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MUSINGS WITHOUT METHOD.
VULGARITY AND ITS CURE—THE SNOB IN ANCIENT TIMES—THE CRAVING
FOR NEWS-THE LOVE OF CROWDS—THE WORSHIP OF SPEED - THE
We are repeatedly told by But before we discuss our writers, lecturers, and others, own vulgarity it is not without that we live in a vulgar age; some consolation that we look and manifold are the remedies backward. Vulgarity is no new proposed to cure the prevailing sin. Midas with his pitiful disease. Sir Edward Fry's ambition of gold was a king suggestion, made recently at of snobs. The noisy demothe Birkbeck College, that a crats sketched by Aristophanes gentle course of study would were wholly lacking in a sense effect a remedy, does not seem of decency, and the Sausagepracticable or adequate. It seller approached very nearly reminds us of the prescription to what in these days we call of the hard-hearted doctor who à cad. Again, the bore who assured a dipsomaniac that all interrupted Horace on the Via would be well if only he took a Sacra was of common little fresh fruit. Now, vul- temper that you might match garity is a failing of character him at the next street corner; as much as of intelligence. and you have but to consult Learning is not necessary to the works of Martial and the the making of a fine gentle- satirists, passim, to realise that man, and we do not think the even the worst vices have the reading of books will ever prove merit of antiquity, But in a specific. Education, indeed, Greece and Rome the vulgar has had a fair trial, and been was rare enough to be found wanting The whole curious. Though he existed, country was driven to school he was not seen without surby the iron hand of the law prise. In other words, he was some thirty years ago, and com- an accident, not a type, and plaints of vulgarity have been he could not yet dominate the louder and louder ever since. whole world by mere force of No doubt we have followed a numbers. As we come nearer false system ; we have taught to modern times, the snob the wrong things; we have and the cad both recede from pointed to paltry ideals. But
our vision. Life was so hard it is not easy to find a better under our early kings that way, since nobody is sanguine every man had to keep his enough to bring back into place and do the best he could. our practical curriculum the Even in the bustling days of treatises
manners which the Tudors our citizens had an efficient guide unto little time to grow arrogant the footsteps of our forefathers, and absurd. . The Stuarts,
again, in spite of many faults, the courage of their vulgarwere the stern enemies of vul- ity; they have the frankness to garity; and though we know acknowledge their paltry tastes, far less of the people than of because they know that they their rulers, we may safely con- will bring them no discredit. clude that the standard of They laugh hoarsely, because manners was higher then than their fun is forced ; they cry now. With the eighteenth easily, because in the theatre century a change came. Curi- or in the free library they are osity and self-consciousness exposed only to the crasser emobrought with them an inevit- tions. And how should it be able vulgarity of mind. Men otherwise ? They have been began to question all things, to given the power of reading, despise the old traditions, to without the power of underesteem a pert flippancy more standing what they read, and highly than an obedience to it is impossible to overrate the time-honoured laws. In brief, crimes against taste and devulgarity increased, not from cency which have been entoo little knowledge, but from couraged by philanthropy and too much.
superficial education. And to-day the work begun Of course the most obvious in the eighteenth century is symptom of vulgarity is the achieved. At last we are all common craving for news; equal, or rather it is the vulgar and the news which is most who dictate the terms of life, acceptable is that which should because the vulgar are more never be brought to the gennumerous than the others. eral ear.
But what people Sir Edward Fry points to a de- want to know is always that sire of display, to a passion to which does not concern them. rise from one class to another, They are delighted when they as the source of our vulgarity. think they have discovered We cannot agree with his some paltry secret discreditdiagnosis. The desire to rise able to somebody whom they seems only too
The will never see. If we take, most of men are quite content as we may, the popular prints to sink down into the obloquy as a fair echo of the popular of commonness. Had they a voice, we must conclude that sincere ambition to appear the man in the street, who is better than they were, they our master, is never so happy would not accept the foolish as when he is trying a case pursuits and foolish amuse- of murder without judge or ments which are now theirs. jury, or intruding, cunningly For very shame they would and boldly, into somebody else's exercise some restraint; they house. The hero of his adwould pretend that they took miration is Paul Pry. Before an interest in something else the Columbus who discovers than bad jokes and in vapid not a new continent, but a jesters grinning industriously new secret, he bends the knee through horse - collars. But in humble worship. Politics they pretend nothing; they have have ceased to interest him, save as an excuse for his in- And if there is anything they satiable curiosity. He knows love better than a crowd it is not on which side this or that speed. Only let the people move statesman speaks and votes; about quickly and aimlessly, but he knows perfectly well and all will be well. Whither where they play golf, and how they go, and why they are in they spend their holidays in a hurry, it is idle to ask of these the summer. For the rest, indolent, hasty travellers. They look at the books which our do not know themselves. They educated countrymen read; go are
bitten with the desire to the theatres which they fre- of movement, that is all, and quent; sit in the music halls, they will keep moving until where they rock with laughter, they die. And not merely and you will get some measure must they move, but they of their vulgarity. They are must move quickly. For speed sad, these amusements of the is the worst form which modern people; but they are sufficient, vulgarity takes-speed, useless and their sufficiency is the true and irrelevant, but always tragedy of modern life.
speed. Wherever we look we see But these are not the only signs of haste without purpose, symptoms of the disease. The of bustle without design. men and women of to-day are Everywhere we find the same so little masters of themselves inapposite vulgarity, — in litthat they must always go in erature, in the theatre, on crowds. They are happiest when the high road. But it is in the largest number of them is vulgar advertisement that we packed into the smallest space. have outstripped all epochs They take their pleasures, as and all nations. Such wares they like to do their work, in our countrymen have to common. Now, a crowd, as sell are thrust upon us with has often been pointed out, is a monstrous insistence. The always worse in manners and hideous hoardings, which rise intelligence than the indi- gaunt and terrific at the viduals of which it is com- corners of our streets, tell us posed. These, massed together, with pictorial effrontery where are bolder in the defiance of can find all the things law and order than they which we do not want. Not would be separate and alone. even the greatest names in our They exaggerate the tone of annals are sacred from the their neighbours, and are proud advertiser. Nelson is used to to outdo one another in noise vaunt the qualities of a brand and folly. And so they pack of whisky; and a colossal the football field or overcrowd Shakespeare, surrounded with the gallery of our theatres, a mob of pigmies, is asked to and find their highest delight call the world's attention to in insulting the referee whose some kind of sauce. But worst decisions do not please them, of all are the advertisements or in shrieking applause at the of quack doctors, which flatter actor whose lack of voice and at once the hypochondria and talent they mistake for genius. vanity of the people. The por
traits of the men and women ilege which has been handed who have been persuaded to on with infinite generosity to waste their money upon pills the twentieth. The furniture, are printed as an inducement the jewels, the costumes which to others to follow a bad ex- gave a splendour to life in the ample. And as all the world reigns of Louis XIV., Louis delights to scramble into the xv., and Louis XVI. were dissame tram-car, heedless of its tinguished by a beauty which destination, so all the world was their own. This beauty is ready to take the was not borrowed from another medicine, which probably cures age, nor carelessly compounded no disease and obviously can- of discordant
it not cure all. But the ambition grew naturally out of its of the crowd is satisfied, and epoch, and was a simple and the vendor of quack medicines appropriate embellishment of is almost as great a man in the life. But after the Empire of community as the advertiser's Napoleon crumbled in dust tout.
style ceased to be a living However, vulgarity, as Sir thing, and the reign of vulEdward Fry says, is not limited garity began. Since 1815 to a single class. High and Europe has evolved no low, rich and poor, suffer all design. We have mimicked the from the same disease. They eccentricities of all the world ; must all betray their own we have mingled in inextricsecrets and
able confusion the wonders of names impertinently printed in ancient Italy and the marvels the journals. If the reporters of Japan; we have borrowed refrain from uncovering any with a reckless courage and corner of life, those who escape no discretion, and the result notice betray not gratitude is that the aspect of modern but uneasiness. They cannot life is ugly when it is not bear that their friends and ridiculous. rivals should be seen in the The country has fared little street or at the theatre while better than the town. There they are absent; so they, too, a time when men spoke thrust themselves forward, not of rural simplicity and believed for amusement, but for dis- with some reason that vulgarplay. Our houses, our fur- ity could not find its way into niture, all the trappings of our villages. The peasants of life, are evidence of the same old were poor, underfed, and vice. Until a century ago overworked, but they were not there was a living style of yet brought down to the architecture, and houses were common level, or squeezed to adorned in accordance with fit the
Procrustean living rules of taste. The pattern. Education and the exhibition which some years railway, however, have worked ago was held in Paris seemed miracles. The few peasants to prove that vulgarity was that are left us are peasants the exclusive privilege of the
Their minds are fed nineteenth century
à priv- on the same imbecilities which
debauch the towns. They 8 month passes but he finds have no eyes for the scenes some new symptom of danger. around them, no hands for One day he is appalled by the toil which was the pride the competition of Germany; of their fathers. On the other another day it is the proxhand, they have ready-made imity of France whicho fills opinions on the most abstruse him with terror.
And now questions of the day, opinions he has permitted his voice to which they take from their swell the general chorus which daily paper and retail to one proclaims the inefficiency of another as though they were England. A foreword their own, with a complete tributed to Mr Alfred Stead's lack of humour and a perfect 'Great Japan’ is an excellent ignorance as to the meaning specimen of Lord Rosebery's and pronunciation of words. method. He begins by de“I don't care for this official claring that Japan is "the
" question," said Radical object-lesson of national efficigardener the other day, and ency," and he hails that the fact that he had not the country as happy who learns smallest notion what it meant it. This is true enough, but did not in any way diminish it is not the whole truth. What the strength of his opinion. is efficient in Japan is not How much better were the necessarily efficient anywhere countrymen of old ! The few else. It is not for us to underthat are left are not so glib of rate the success of the wondertongue as their children, but ful country which has just they have a dignity and honesty founded a new empire in the which we are not likely to find East. But to institute a comagain. They live in harmony parison between the Japanese with their environment, and he and ourselves is to set at nought who succeeds in doing this need the lessons of history. Though not fear the reproach of vulgar- old in years, Japan is new ity. But, as we have said, to in civilisation. When, thirty attempt to cure a common dis- years ago, she resolved to ease with a course of reading come out of her seclusion, she is a hopeless enterprise. The had no lessons to unlearn, world will not rid itself of vul- conventions of
governgarity until it is born again, ment and warfare to forget. and it will not be the good for- She stepped from the Middle tune of any living man to wit- Ages into the present day at ness this regeneration.
a single stride, and she could But if our people is vulgar, elude without a struggle the our leaders are diffident. The prejudices which have grown most of them distrust not only up in Europe through six centhemselves but their country. turies. This being so, she was Lord Rosebery, for instance, free to take her "efficiency ' long since came to the con- where she found it. All unclusion that England is decay- trammelled she sent her emising in more serious things than saries abroad to choose detaste and manners. Scarcely liberately the customs and