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THE FIFTH NIGHT
C?SAR ON THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

On the fifth night the gods and heroes assembled in the city of Rome. Their meeting-place was the Forum. The eternal city lay dormant around them, and Zeus, who had for the time recalled into existence the magnificent temple built in his honour, which used to adorn the incomparable centre of Roman might and splendour, sat in front of it, surrounded by the Flamines and the last Pontifex Maximus aided by the last Vestal Virgins. On the via sacra there was an unending flow of thronging Romans and Greeks, and Cicero was seen talking with great animation with Julius C?sar, while Augustus seemed to chide Tacitus with mild irony. Cornelius Scipio Africanus was deeply engaged in a conversation with Pericles, and Marcus Antistius Labeo discussed law with Plato. From afar the wind brought the sounds of the bells of the Vatican, at the hearing of which all conversation stopped; and when a few minutes later a choir intoned a hymn in a neighbouring church, the Pontifex and the Flamines veiled their heads in dumb resignation, and the Vestal Virgins looked up to Zeus as if imploring him for help. A pause followed. But soon the moon rose over the majestic Palatine hill; the Graces performed a soulful dance, and finally Zeus asked Caius Julius C?sar to entertain them[Pg 135] with his experiences during his third travel in England which, as he said, he had, in addition to his two landings during his mortal life, recently made after nearly two thousand years.

C?sar, standing near the house of the Senate of ancient Rome, thus addressed the divine Assembly:

"It is, O Jupiter and all the other gods and heroes, a singular pleasure and honour to me to address you on a topic so important and interesting. When I arrived in England for the third time (—I started from Dunkerque to avoid giving offence to the 112 scholars who have, each to his complete satisfaction, proved 112 different spots on the French coast between Boulogne and Calais wherefrom I am supposed to have started for England in my mortal time—) I was received by no wilder tribe than a few customs officials, who asked me whether I had any cigars in my toga. On my denying it, they searched me, and finding none they let me go. Two hours later I arrived in London, which I found ugly beyond words. I can understand that you, O Canova, cried on seeing it. What struck me most was its surprising silence, which contrasted very strongly with the noise of Rome, or Paris. I mentioned this to a casual acquaintance, who stared at me in despair, exclaiming: 'Silence, sir? Why, the noises of London drive half of us to madness. Here, take that (—he handed me a bunch of printed papers—) read it carefully and join us.' On looking into the papers I found that they contained a prospectus of a vast 'Society for the Abatement of Street-Noises in London.'

"This made me somewhat thoughtful. It was[Pg 136] quite clear to me that the unattractiveness of London is owing chiefly to its lack of animation, to its silence. I soon found out that silence is the dominating institution of that country. To talk is to infringe the principal law of their language. They want to see their language noiselessly, and not to hear it. Hence they constantly read printed language on wooden paper, in a wooden style, on wooden matters. This they call 'the daily Press.' I met one of the chief writers on their most popular paper, and he assured me that the editor solemnly warns each of his contributors not to indulge in any attempt at esprit or brilliancy of any sort; for, should he do so, the editor would be forced to dismiss him forthwith. All that the contributor is allowed to do is to make startling headlines, such as:

'Delicious puddings made out of wood.'

'New aqueducts full of milk for the people.'

'Discovery of wireless telegraphy among the ancient Egyptians.'

'Discovery of the pin-cushion to Cleopatra's needles.'

'Trunk murder: a man assassinates his widow.'

That same editor, on my asking him why he allowed such crying stupidities in the headlines, and nothing but the most platitudinous stuff in the body of the article, gave me the following answer:

"'My dear sir, our public has nerves but no intellect. Hence we work for sudden, rapid shocks to their nerves, and no fatigue to their intellect. They not only do not think; they do not want to think. They are practically convinced that thinking[Pg 137] is the perdition of all common-sense. Just let me give you an example. There is among the younger writers one whose mind is singularly suggestive and nimble. He really has something to say, and can say it well. However, unfortunately, he says it in what are, apparently, contradictory and circuitous terms. This my readers cannot grasp; it fatigues them. They complain of that man's writings as being "heavy," "hard to follow." This is the consequence of the vogue of music halls. One may say that the popular University of this country, where the average man gets most of his ideas from, is the music hall. What, then, can we editors do better than imitate the style and substance of the music hall? Shocks to the nerves—and no fatigue to the intellect. Voilà!'

"On my way home I met Columbus. He told me, and no man ever spoke with more solid right, that he was the greatest benefactor to England. But for him, who by discovering the New World placed England in the very centre of the intelligent and wealthy nations, while formerly England was somewhere on the 'other end of all the world'; but for him, he said, England could never have had her unique leverage. 'You, C?sar,' he added, 'discovered England, as the Vikings discovered America; I did not discover it, I made it. But would you believe me that thousands and thousands of Englishmen have scarcely ever heard my name? They[Pg 138] constantly talk of their race as born to rule. But what would they have ruled without me? The ponds in Lincolnshire. You wonder at their tongue-tiedness. I will tell you what it means. The English are neither talkers nor thinkers; they are almost exclusively men of action; or used to be. They have no intellectual initiative. They have started neither the Renascence, nor the Great Discoveries of my time, nor the Reformation, or the three greatest factors in the formation of modern Europe. All this was first started by us Italians. We can both talk and think and create; but we are not good at actions. The English are good only at action. This is the be-all and end-all of their history. Have you ever seen their Parliament? Do not omit attending it. You will there learn something that no other Assembly can teach you. It rarely contains a great orator, for oratory is of little use in an Assembly with an iron party discipline, and with members every one of whom is amenable to no argument that has not had the august privilege of being born in his own mind. And since his mind brings forth none, he moves in a vicious circle!'

"'Would you not,' I asked Columbus, 'accompany me to the House of Commons?'

"'Readily,' said the great Genoese. And next day we repaired to the 'first club of the country.'

"The hall was curiously unfit for the business of a national Assembly. It is neither large, nor light[Pg 139] enough. The acoustics are fair, but superfluous. For, who cares very much what any member other than himself is saying? In the midst there is a porter's lodge, in which sits a gentleman in the attire of the eighteenth century. This, as behoves a conservative Roman, did not meet with my disapproval. The only objection I made was that in my opinion he ought to have been clothed in all the various costumes in use since Magna Charta. The English, and the rest of the little ones, in utter contrast to ourselves, constantly vary their dress. We preferred to vary our inner selves.

"The subject of discussion, or rather of a score or so of monologues, was one of which in my time I have had the amplest experience. They proposed to give weekly a certain sum of money to anyone of their citizens who on reaching his seventieth year had arrived at the end of his financial tether. In my day I had given away millions to the populace, and my imperial successors had gone even very much further. The common people was thereby demoralised as is everybody, even parents, who accepts, year in year out, free gifts from a third person or his children. Being demoralised, such a recipient of donations becomes inevitably the most cruel enemy of his donor. Nothing contributed more to the downfall of Rome. A nation must consist of free and financially independent citizens, or it loses its most precious asset. How frequently, O Pericles, have you said to me, how much you regretted having introduced the same injurious donations into Athens. But this is the melancholy truth of all history: one learns from history one thing only, to wit, that no statesman has ever learned anything from history.

[Pg 140]

"In the midst of my sad reflections I could yet not help being amused by the speech of one member of the governing party, who belonged to that formidable mixture of faddists, formalists, cocksure-ists, and moral precisians who have in this country an influence that we should not have given to the members of the most exalted among the Roman patricians. Much as they are laughed at, they yet have the power of striking dread into the public and instilling hesitation into the feeble nerves of statesmen. The name of the orator in question was, if I am right, Harold Gox. He said:

"'Mr Speaker, it is with a satisfaction and self-complacency new even to me that I beg to submit my remarks on a subject than which there is no greater one; a subject, sir, that has no predicate except that of immensity; an immensity, sir, that exceeds infinitude itself; and last not least, an infinitude vaster than all other infinitudes: a moral infinity. This country, sir, was built up by morals and righteousness. Righteousness, I say, sir; and I will repeat it: righteousness. How did we come by our Empire? By righteousness. How did our colonists occupy vast continents? By righteousness. What was the guiding principle even of our national debt? Righteousness, in that we contracted it mainly by paying the foreigner to help us in beating our immoral enemies. Righteousness is the A and the Z of our glorious polity.

"'We cannot help being righteous; it is in us, over us, beside, beneath, and all through us. We have sometimes tried to be unrighteous; but, sir, we could not. It is not given to us, and we have only what is given to us.

[Pg 141]

"'Well then, sir, if that be so, as it undoubtedly is, beyond the shadow of a doubt; then I venture to say that any person that opposes the present bill of Old Age Pensions cannot but be an enemy of England, in that he is an enemy of righteousness.

"'What indeed, sir, can be fairer, juster, and more equitable than that they who have laboriously saved up a few sovereigns, should share them with those that have done everything in their power to have none?

"'Where there is nothing, there is death. Can a country introduce death as a regular constituent organ of its life? What in that case would righteousness do? She would blush green with shame, sir. Nothing would remain for her but to leave this country and to go to Germany or Turkey. Could we allow such a disaster? Would it not be necessary to hold or haul her back by ropes, strings, or any other instrument of our party machinery?

"'Just, pray, represent to yourself, sir, or to any other person, the actualities of the case. Here is a man of seventy. It is a noble feat of honourable perseverance to reach that age. It is, I make bold to submit, an evident proof of the favour and countenance of The Principle of All Righteousness that the man was allowed to proceed so far.

"'He has worked all such days of his long life as he did not spend in reverential contemplation of the works of the Almighty. Who can blame him for that?

"'I go much further: who can possibly blame him for having focussed his attention rather on the liquid than on the solid bodies of Creation?

[Pg 142]

"'Each man has his own way of saying prayers.

"'Now, after having thus spent a long life in what has at all times been considered the essence of life; or as the ancient Romans used to formulate it, after having acted upon the noble doctrine of ora et labora (pray and work), he finds himself landed, or rather stranded in the wilderness of penury. Sir, such a state of things is untenable, unbearable, and unrighteous.

"'I know full well that people who have never given righteousness the slightest chance persist in repeating the old fallacy, that a labourer ought to save up for a rainy day. But, pray, sir, is it not perfectly clear that this principle is of Egyptian origin, and comes therefore from a country where there is no rain?

"'In England, sir, there are 362 rainy days a year; therefore 3620 rainy days in ten years, 18,100 rainy days in fifty years. How shall, I ask you, that unfortunate labourer, or grocer, or author, save up for 18,100 days? That takes a capital of at least £25,000. Well, who has that capital? No one. The nation alone has it. Ergo, the nation must pay for the rain.

"'I have, sir, in my locker a great many shots like the preceding, but I will, out of modesty, not use them all. I will only dwell on one point. Sir, our opponents contend that the money needed for Old Age Pensions is not available unless it be taken from funds much more necessary for the public welfare. Now I ask, which are those funds? The answer I receive is that the nation needs more defensive measures against possible invasions on the part of a Continental power.

[Pg 143]

"'Sir, on hearing such nonsense one is painfully reminded of what Lord Bacon used to say: "Difficile est satiram non scribere."' (A voice from the Irish bench: 'Juvenal, and not Lord Bacon!') 'Well, Lord Percival, and not Lord Bacon, it amounts to the same.

"'An invasion? Sir, an invasion? How, for goodness' sake, do our opponents imagine such a thing to be possible? I know they say that Lord Roberts has declared an invasion of England a feasible thing. But has Lord Roberts ever invaded England? How can he know? How can anyone know?

"'They refer me to William the Conqueror. But, sir, is it not evident that William could not have done it had he not been the Conqueror? Being the Conqueror, he was bound to do it. Is there any such William amongst the Williams of the day? I looked them all up in the latest Who's Who—but not one of them came up to the requisite conditions.' (A voice: 'William Whiteley!') 'I hear, sir, the name of William Whiteley; and I reply that he is now too "Ltd." to undertake such a grand enterprise.

"'And more than anything else militating in my favour is the fact that the Germans do not so much as dream of doing this country the slightest harm. Look at the relationship between the Kaiser and the King; nephew and uncle. Who has ever heard that a nephew made war on an uncle? Take into consideration how the Kaiser behaved when lately visiting England. Did he not leave huge tips at Windsor? Did he not stroke children's cheeks? Did he not admire our houses? Who else has ever done that? He talked English all day long, and during part of the night. He read the Daily Telegraph and took[Pg 144] his tub every morning. Can there be stronger symptoms of his Anglophile soul?

"'A few weeks after he left England he went so far in his predilection of everything English that he even curtailed his moustaches.

"'His moustaches, sir, these the beacons of the German Empire, the hirsute hymn of Teutonia, her anchor, her lightning rod, her salvation!

"'To talk of such a man's hostile intentions against England is to accuse Dover Cliff, High Cliffe, or Northcliffe, or any other Cliff of base treachery. No, sir, there is no need of new expenses for defence on land; and as to the sea, we have only to follow the Chief Admiral's advice and go to sleep. Our principal force consists of our power to sleep on land as well as on sea. Once asleep, we can spend nothing. In that way there remains plenty of money for the Old Age Pensions, that glorious corrective of misery, that ventilator of property, and distillator of other men's pockets. I have not a word to add; the subject itself talks to every person of sense in a thousand tongues.'

"When the man had ended," C?sar continued, "I asked one of the officials whether the orator was the clown of the house. The official looked daggers at me. He explained in a solemn voice that the orator was a staunch Liberal and Cobraite. The latter name was, I learnt, a little mistake in pronunciation; it ought to have been Cobdenite. Cobden, I was told, was a very great man. He succeeded in passing a measure which under the circumstances of his time was not altogether bad, although it drove the people away from the plough to the factories.

"However, he, like our Gracchi, imagined that[Pg 145] what was good for his time must necessarily be good for all times. On the basis of a complete ignorance of the Continent, that is, of the Power that has always been and always will be the real regulator of the fundamental policy of England, Cobden thought he had got hold of an absolute truth, instead of a merely passing and temporary measure. Like all nations that have never gone through social and political cataclysms and are necessarily highly conservative, the English are totally lacking in historic perspective. Men of the class of Cobden, or such as the orator I had heard, are like their most renowned thinker, Herbert Spencer, absolutely devoid of historic thinking. They think in categories of quantity and matter; never in quality made by history.

"Columbus, who was with me, said:

"'You need not be unusually excited over what you see. Each nation cuts a different caper to the riddles and problems of life. The French, who used to be des hommes, while at present alas! they are only des omelettes, were in their prime of an aggressive attitude to all that touched them; the Germans were of an idealising temper, while their present mood is rather a tampering ideal; the Americans are full of the exploiting fever; and the English invariably take up a posture of expectativeness.

"'They pretend to believe what the Spartan King Archidamus always said: "One cannot by reasoning disentangle the future." This attitude pays the English best. First they let it be proved by the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and more particularly by the French that India can be conquered, and then—they take it. Even so with Egypt, Canada,[Pg 146] the West Indies, and South Africa. Expectativeness is their motto.

"'When I came to England trying to persuade them to help me in the discovery of America, they acted the wise Archidamus, and would not give me linen for one sail. When I had discovered it, then they took as much of it, and more than they could swallow. This method of expectativeness has had much historic quality, to use your words, O C?sar, for a time. But I am afraid it is beginning to be worn out.

"'I for one know (and have you, and Pericles, and Joan of Arc, and Napoleon, and so many others not told me the same thing when we used to meet, at the wish of Joan, at Rheims Cathedral?), I for one know what these little ones do not even dream of, so infatuated are they with the power of Reason and Science and similar machinery, namely, that our force to forefeel things of the future is far greater, at least in some of us, than our capacity to analyse or comprehend things of the present or the past. Our whole being is not so much an upshot of the past as a projection of the future. Hence the astounding assurance with which all of us now assembled i............
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