Take history where you will, when a new driving force enters the world, it is a nuisance, a disturbing upheaval, a troubling agitation, a plaguey fish. Think how the tiresome Reformation disturbed the artists of Italy and Renaissance scholars; or how Cromwell disgusted the half-way moderates, how the Revolution jogged the sentimental theorists of France, how Kant shattered the Supreme Being of the Deists, and Byron set the conventions of art and life tottering aghast. Take it where you will, the approach of the soul’s catfish is watched with apprehension and violent dislike, all the more because it saves from torpor. It saves from what Hamlet calls—
“That monster, custom, who all sense
Of habits devil.”
In the Futurist exhibition held in Sackville Street in 1912, one of the most notable pictures was called “Rebellion.” The catalogue told us that it represented “the collision of two forces, that of the revolutionary element made up of enthusiasm and red lyricism against the force of inertia and the reactionary resistance of tradition.” The picture showed a crowd of scarlet figures rushing forward in a wedge. Before them went successive wedge-shaped lines, impinging upon dull blue. They represented, we were told, the vibratory waves of the revolutionary element in motion. The force of inertia and the reactionary resistance of tradition were pictured as rows on rows of commonplace streets. The waves of the revolutionary element had knocked them all askew. Though they still stood firmly side by side to all appearance (to keep up appearances, as we say) they were all knocked aslant, “just as a boxer is bent double by receiving a blow in the wind.”
We may be sure that inertia in all its monotonous streets does not like such treatment. It likes it no more than the plethoric cod likes the catfish close behind its tail. And it is no consolation either to inertia or cod to say that this disturbing element serves an ultimate good, rendering it alert, firm, and wholesome of flesh. However salutary, the catfish is far from popular among the placid residents of the tank, and it is fortunate that neither in tanks nor streets can the advisability of catfish or change be submitted to the referendum of the inert. In neither case would the necessary steps for advance in health and activity be adopted. To be sure, it is just possible to overdo the number of catfish in one tank. At present in this country, for instance, and, indeed, in the whole world, there seem to be more catfish than cod, and the resulting liveliness is perhaps a little excessive, a little “jumpy.” But in the midst of all the violence, turmoil, and upheaval, it is hopeful to remember that of the deepest and most salutary change which Europe has known it was divinely foretold that it would bring not peace but a sword.