His so-called “philosophy” has an air of dangerous novelty only to those innocent middle-classes born but yesterday, to whom any form of thought is a novelty. Methusaleh himself was not older than Mr. Shaw’s “original ideas.” In England, twenty years ago, we were long since weary of his egotistic buffooneries. Of anything “fine” in literature or art he is contemptuously ignorant, and from understanding of any of the finer shades of human life, or of the meaning of such words as “honour,” “gentleman,” “beauty,” “religion,” he is by nature utterly shut out. He laughs and sneers to make up for his deficiencies, like that Pietro Aretino who threw his perishable mud at Michael Angelo. So is it always with the vulgarian out of his sphere. Once he dared to talk vulgarly of God to a great man who believed in God—Count Tolstoi.
He had written to Tolstoi a propos his insignificant little play The Showing up of Blanco Posnet, and in the course of his letter had said: “Suppose the world were only one of God’s jokes, would you work any less to make it a good joke instead of a bad one?” Tolstoi had hitherto been favourably inclined towards Shaw, owing to his friend and biographer Mr. Aylmer Maude; but this cheap-jack sacrilege was too much for the great old man, who seemed to know God with almost Matthew Arnold’s
As flashing as Moses felt,
and he closed the correspondence with a rebuke which would have abashed any one but the man to whom it was sent.
Tolstoi was like Walt Whitman—he “argued not concerning God.” It is a point of view which people like Mr. Shaw can never understand; any more than he or his like can comprehend that there are areas of human feeling over which for him and other such bulls in china-shops should be posted the delicate Americanism—KEEP OUT.
THE BIBLE AND THE BUTTERFLY
Once, in my old book-hunting days, I picked up, on the Quai Voltaire, a copy of the Proverbs of King Solomon. Then it was more possible than today to make finds in that quaint open-air library which, still more than any library housed within governmental or diplomaed walls, is haunted by the spirit of those passionate, dream-led scholars that made the Renaissance, and crowded to those lectures filled with that dangerous new charm which always belongs to the poetic presentation of new knowledge—those lectures, “musical as is Apollo’s lute,” being given up on the hill nearby, by a romantic young priest named Abelard.