And yet might there not be gain also from a universal practice of uttering our thoughts aloud? Imagine a world in which nobody had any secrets from anybody—could have no secrets from anybody. I see the Kaiser, after consciously declaring that his only purpose is peace, unconsciously blurting out to the British Ambassador that the ultimatum to Serbia is a “plant”—that what Germany means is war, that she proposes to attack Belgium, and so on. And I see the British Ambassador, having explained that England is entirely free from commitments, adding dreamily, “But if there’s a war we shall be in it.” In the same way Jones, after making Smith a firm offer of L30 for his horse, would say, absentmindedly, “Of course it would be cheap at L50, and I might spring L55 if he is stiff about it.”
It would be a world in which lies would have no value and deception would be a waste of time—a world in which truth would no longer be at the bottom of the well, but on the tip of every man’s tongue. We should have all the rascals in prison and all the dishonest traders in the bankruptcy court. Secret diplomacy would no longer play with the lives of men, for there would be no secrets. Those little perverse concealments that wreck so many lives would vanish. You, sir, who find it so easy to nag at home and so difficult to say the kind thing that you know to be true, would be discovered to your great advantage and to the peace of your household.
Yes, I think the world would go very well if we all had tongues that told our true thoughts in spite of us. But what a lot of us would be found out. My own face crimsons at the thought. So, I think, does yours.
As I passed along Great Queen Street the other evening, I saw that Boswell’s house, so long threatened, is at last falling a victim to the housebreaker. The fact is one of the by-products of the war. While the Huns are abroad in Belgium the Vandals are busy at home. You may see them at work on every hand. The few precious remains we have of the past are vanishing like snows before the south wind.
In the Strand there is a great heap of rubbish where, when the war began, stood two fine old houses of Charles II.’s London. Their disappearance would, in normal times, have set all the Press in revolt. But they have gone without a murmur, so preoccupied are we with more urgent matters. And so with the Elizabethan houses in Cloth Fair. They have been demolished without a word of protest. And what devastation is afoot in Lincoln’s Inn among those fine reposeful dwellings, hardly one of which is without some historic or literary interest!
In the midst of all this vandalism it was too much perhaps to hope that Boswell’s house would escape. Bozzy was not an Englishman; his residence in London was casual, and, what is more to the point, he has only a reflected greatness. Macaulay’s judgment of him is now felt to be too harsh, but even his warmest advocate must admit that his picture of himself is not engaging. He was gross in his habits, full of little malevolences (observe the spitefulness of his references to Goldsmith), and his worship of Johnson was abject to the point of nausea.