Page images

the Past as if its personages belonged to our own day, our class, our visiting list; for a man or woman of the Past as he or she really existed would often be as disagreeable to our feelings as would the methods of ablution of the Grand Monarque, let alone the forkless banquets of Homeric Kings poking eager fingers into the succulent thighs of freshly slaughtered beasts. We want the Past, its romance and raciness. But a Past for our personal, present use. And Clio provides it. IV Should any reader object that all this is a slanderous view of History, my answer is: so much the better. I am not speaking of History as it (I like the nice impersonal neuter as opposed to my high-bosomed super-personal Muse!) may and should be; as it, doubtless, already sometimes is, may even always have been from time to time. I am speaking of History in so far as symbolized by Clio. I am speaking of Clio. And no one believes more than I do that History is destined to become an ever finer thing; and Clio to lose her footing in it, finally to vanish altogether, or turn, as other Goddesses have in their day, into some amusing little crone, Mother Hubbard or such like, for the delight of nurseries. Which leads me to say that if there is a branch of human knowledge which cannot be learned by, and should never be taught to, children, except as just such an adjunct to Grimm's goblins or Piglet Bland, it is surely History. Children cannot understand the meaning of Change, the full sense of which is indeed a mark of intellectual and moral maturity to which we latter day grown-ups barely attain. Children have no sense of otherness; the tiny world gathering around their little halfgrown bodies and lovely heads whose every feature is still out of place—that childish world is all of "my-my" as it needs must be in creatures whose / has only just arrived; who possess no real mine both in the Law's eyes and as opposed to a real thine. History is or should be the study of Time working in human concerns; and for Children Time is measured from getting up to going to bed; at most by months bringing with them changes so great as well-nigh cancel previous memories.

To teach children History is to allow them, like those innocents of Victor Hugo's, to make hay of precious missals and scandalous documents in the Castle library. At best it is to let them play with a few cheap court cards, a splendid game. By all means use history to supplement other toys, educating the little creatures, all unconsciously, to colour, to movement, and to drama; there is no better puppet show. Only let it be understood, if not by the children themselves, at least by the grown-ups, that it is a kind of Punch and Judy. But here Clio steps in, severe, sometimes even brandishing a pedagogic rod, lays pedantic hands on all these babes; seats them on her hard key-patterned knee and administers, not without painful show of duty, the drams and syrups for which adults go to her. I doubt whether grown-up men and women would swallow patriotic lies so greedily had they not sucked them already at the age of barley sugar. Surely a grown-up man or woman, fairly educated and moderately experienced, might from time to time be struck by the queerness of its happening that just his or her own country (whichever it be) should be, not only often, but always, the supremely wise, good and glorious one among the lot. The oddness of this agreeable coincidence might even be brought home by noticing that the grown-ups of every other country are under the same impression, only about their country. Even a suspicion might arise in a few sceptical minds, that since there was evidently some muddle about each country being solely wise, good and glorious, it might well be that none was. But we have learned these views from our tenderest years, and they have taken on that warm, dim, comfortable, religious familiarity and Tightness with which long habit invests everything, turning myth into dogma. Indeed in all countries nowadays History is taught with just this object in view, as a kind of religion, a help to docility, a training to doing and dying without asking why; and incidentally a preparation for readiness to coerce or fleece our neighbours. I know, for instance, what has been taught in French schools since 1871, reversing Gambetta's advice, "Pensons y toujours, n'en parlons jamais." But those teachings were merely applying to a different country the hatred long cultivated against Perfide Albion which nearly provoked war about Marchand's flag at Fashoda; and, may, who knows? some day be turned once more against the country which is to-day France's ally. That hatred of England would not have been so ready twenty years ago (was it M. Clemenceau who suggested rolling this perfidious nation in blood and mud ?) if small French children had not, like myself (for I was a small French child among successive incarnations), eaten their nursery meals off plates pictured with the story of Joan of Arc, appropriately explained in decorative scrolls. At all events those nursery plates (and all the books, lectures, monographs, plays, cours de dictees, lectures patriotiques, which succeeded them) made it immensely more difficult for, say, my own French cousins to grasp the fact (which they never have) that what was called France in the days of Joan and duly brought its portion of faggots to her burning, was a mediaeval medley, Provencal, Burgundian, Angevin, English, which would never have recognized itself in the Third Republic; that the English who, as Villon also recorded, burned her at Rouen, were not the English whom street boys there and elsewhere would playfully pursue with "Angliche Goddam, vivent les Boers." Indeed that all that horrible business can be understood only in the light of witch trials and burnings of heretics, in fact only if you grasp the difference between our own time and the late Middle Ages. But such difference would enormously damp the interest, quench the passions which enliven our dull lives, even as poor Joan's and all other autos da fe enlivened the gaping, illiterate dullness of our forbears. Hence Clio never brings that difference forward. For her it is the name which makes the identity; the name allowing us to stick pins into wax images (sometimes also realities) and roast them before a slow fire like Sister Helen. It was Clio who, in a street-song of the Tripoli War, called on the Italy of Giolitti and of Sonnino to buckle on the Helmet of Scipio Africanus . . . Let alone similar historical inducements even more recent. At other moments when the Orchestra of Patriotism is in full swing, Clio obligingly hides away certain analogies; that, for instance, between our present English attitude towards the Russian revolution and our interference with the Regicide Republic of Burke's Reflections and speeches. Industrious artificer of faked nationalities as well as preserver of bygone enmities; parasite, sycophant, purveyor of drawingroom entertainments; agent of holy and unhallowed alliances; there are few jobs which Clio will not do or get done to oblige her clients. She will even, when absolutely required to, tell quite a lot of truth. Christmas, i9i8.


« PreviousContinue »