Page images

produce enough for its own sustenance and growth, for the neutralizing of that error and evil itself, like all others, tends also to produce. Experience, and alas !- probably the cruel experience of omission and commission, will have to teach this to the nations, lest they dance for ever in Satan's ballets. And this brings me to the chief moral of this war-play of mine, both of which will doubtless strike some readers as what they call immoral. The thesis summed up in my allegory and brought home to me by the war's prodigious waste of human virtue, is that the world needs rather than such altruism as is expressed in self-sacrifice, a different kind of altruism which is recognition of the other (for alter is Latin for other), sides, aspects, possibilities and requirements of things and people. That humble, but, alas, by no means always common, altruism is at the bottom of such barter of good for better as is abhorrent to Satan the Waster. In this preface I have incidentally summarized the two first parts, the Prologue in Hell and the Dance of D ath on earth, of my allegoric trilogy of the war. Events have now (August, 1919), got to the Epilogue. In my symbolic interpretation thereof, Heroism, waked up by Ballet Master Death's intoxicated boastings, and called upon to help him to his legs, becomes aware that his former idolized leader is but an aged and very putrescent scarecrow; whereupon, laying blindly (since Heroism is still blind) about him he nearly makes an end of that particular offspring of the Great Waster. The latter however, I mean Satan, having examined his son and ballet master's injuries, expresses the hope that a decent modern disguise (perhaps as one of those idealistic guardian angels who rush in nowadays wherever fools have not feared to tread) may make him pass muster yet awhile; and adds that the serious danger to the prospects of his Ballet of the Nations lies in Heroism's being cured at last of his congenital blindness. Which, being interpreted, means mankind's recognizing that the adversary against which it spends itself is its own refleeted image, or, when more tangible, its own tortured substance. Not so long ago I still imagined that it was in the power, as among the duties, of a writer to teach new ways of wisdom and train the docile generations to pursue them. Thanks largely to the lessons of the war, I have come to think otherwise about us writers. Though we do not recognize it as yet, continuing to seat ourselves in the chancel-stalls and procession gravely in the cast-off vestments of priests, prophets and augurs, the use of us, if any, is different. The ideas we take one from the other and hand on in an endless chain of contradiction or complementary, black coming after white and green following on over much red—all these ideas, or rather our always excessive individual presentation of them, are what serves to elicit and keep up the flow of thought in mankind. And that is the really important business. Since in whatever falls under the heading "philosophy of life," the generations require to think out their problems rather than be furnished with ready-made conclusions, often coming to grief when they are hustled into action before having been familiar with a question's aspects and alternatives. As in the matter of going or not going to war. It is not the views of this writer or that which will really alter anything, unless indeed, which is oftenest the case, those views of his tally with, reinforce, perhaps slightly forestalling, the tendencies of thought of his readers. This comes to saying that we really are, rather than teachers, expressers, making our readers' latent thoughts manifest to themselves, sometimes even with the effect of their starting away from them in terror or laughter. I have not, therefore, the smallest hope of teaching the younger generation what I have compared, presumptuously, no doubt, with the Copernican system as distinguished from that which made the sun and stars turn obsequiously round the earth; or put otherwise, the altruism which is respect for the other rather than renunciation of the self; indeed any of the various truths which I imagine myself to have set forth in the present volume. What I do hope (it may well be without sufficient warrant) is that some of these notions are the needful complementaries and correctives of what has gone before, and, as such, implicit in the younger generation's thinking. Even in the years immediately before the war there seemed to be gathering, as a consequence of wider scientific interests, a reaction against the fashions of thought—pragmatism of William James, vitalism of Bergson, obscurantism of the Modernists; likewise against that tendency a la Nietzsche, but also (derived from Renan) a la Sorel the Syndicalist, to make life minister to aesthetic desire for dramatic or "distinguished" posturing, and for crimson and azure backgrounds; all of which modes (in the French sense also !) were themselves, like their accompanying nationalism and imperialism, only so much reaction against the crude though insufficient lucidity of the days of Mill, Spencer and Taine. Some such change towards a more sceptical, less self-sufficient rationalism, did seem to be coming. And had it set in already in full force, it is conceivable that this war would never have taken place. But the war having taken place, indeed taken the place of everything else, I seem to guess that the younger generation —or what remains alive thereof !—whose immature thought and self were overwhelmed by the war-passions, dragged (pied-piper wise) by Idealism's silver trumpetings and Heroism's monotonous drumming, moreover bereft of reason by the fiery hissings and cruel sobs of Indignation and Pity, will now have been brought to intellectual maturity, to sober self-questioning, by the war itself. The unexampled magnitude of the war's sacrifice, the paltry, where not abhorrent, reward for that sacrifice, will have jolted into activity even those powers of thinking which might have remained dormant short of such convulsions. Intelligent people would really have been hopelessly stupid if this were not the case!I therefore venture to think that the young generation, the generation separated by an intervening (and obscurantist and imperialist) one from my own superannuated self, may, while counting the losses and patching up the fragments among the ruins of our world, see their thoughts turn more and more round one idea: Waste; how it comes about, how it may be minimized. It is for them, as well as for my solitary self, that I have set up my allegoric puppet-show and pulled the strings of my archangelic marionette labelled Satan, the Waster of Human Virtue.

Adel, Near Leeds. August, MCMXIX.

« PreviousContinue »