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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 81 pages of information about The Defendant.
criminal.  Books recommending profligacy and pessimism, at which the high-souled errand-boy would shudder, lie upon all our drawing-room tables.  If the dirtiest old owner of the dirtiest old bookstall in Whitechapel dared to display works really recommending polygamy or suicide, his stock would be seized by the police.  These things are our luxuries.  And with a hypocrisy so ludicrous as to be almost unparalleled in history, we rate the gutter-boys for their immorality at the very time that we are discussing (with equivocal German Professors) whether morality is valid at all.  At the very instant that we curse the Penny Dreadful for encouraging thefts upon property, we canvass the proposition that all property is theft.  At the very instant we accuse it (quite unjustly) of lubricity and indecency, we are cheerfully reading philosophies which glory in lubricity and indecency.  At the very instant that we charge it with encouraging the young to destroy life, we are placidly discussing whether life is worth preserving.

But it is we who are the morbid exceptions; it is we who are the criminal class.  This should be our great comfort.  The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared.  There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these maxims of daily life, just as there are a large number of persons who believe they are the Prince of Wales; and I am told that both classes of people are entertaining conversationalists.  But the average man or boy writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call Penny Dreadfuls, a plainer and better gospel than any of those iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as their bonnets.  It may be a very limited aim in morality to shoot a ‘many-faced and fickle traitor,’ but at least it is a better aim than to be a many-faced and fickle traitor, which is a simple summary of a good many modern systems from Mr. d’Annunzio’s downwards.  So long as the coarse and thin texture of mere current popular romance is not touched by a paltry culture it will never be vitally immoral.  It is always on the side of life.  The poor—­the slaves who really stoop under the burden of life—­have often been mad, scatter-brained and cruel, but never hopeless.  That is a class privilege, like cigars.  Their drivelling literature will always be a ‘blood and thunder’ literature, as simple as the thunder of heaven and the blood of men.

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A DEFENCE OF RASH VOWS

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