As most of these commentaries were written during the year which is mercifully over, it would not have been possible, even if it had been sought, to avoid current topics. Why should a writer shrink from being called a journalist? He need not cease to be writer. But if he wishes to be true to his original calling, to make his hope and election sure, he must always be careful to seek the universal in the particular; and that is where your idealist has such a pull, for he can see nothing else. And if he does that he need not be afraid that the conventions of Time and Space will be a hindrance to his book’s path. He will be readable a century hence; he will be readable in the Antipodes; and that is as near infinity as any of us, short of Chaucer and Shakespeare, need trouble about. In the country one reads, not skims, the daily paper; and if one’s comments are leisurely, perhaps they are all the better. At any rate one is not tempted to see the end of the world in a strike, or a second Bonaparte in Signor d’Annunzio. To me that poet seems rather a comic-opera brigand. I suspect him of a green velvet jacket with a two-inch tail. But if you regard him sub specie eternitatis, then I fear we must see in him all Italy in epitome. That was how Italy went to war—but you must live in the country to understand things like that, out of range of the tumult and the shouting.
No more of Signor d’Annunzio here or elsewhere in these pages; but of ourselves and our needs somewhat. Nobody could have lived through last year without considering anxiously whither we are tending and with what pretence. As the occasion moved me I have said my say about those matters, and here the reader will have as much of it as I am ready just now to give him. This is perhaps some sort of an apology for what may be found hereafter of a hortatory kind. I may be charged with wanting to do people “good.” Well, if trying to make them happy is trying to do them good, then I confess the charge. There is no doubt whatever that they are not happy now. They hate too many people, they pant and toil after the wrong things; they serve false gods and forget the true ones. That is what we think about it in the country; and I am of the country’s opinion.
We need, it seems to me, many things—religion, love, work, seriousness and so on; but what we need most of all, as I believe, is to wash our hands. For five years they have been groping and wrenching in the vitals of other people. They are foul and we are still drunk with the reek. In God’s name, let us wash and then we can begin to build up the world again. We see the need of that out in the country, but so far as I can judge by what I read or have seen of London, there’s no notion of it there.
But there’s not much about London in this book.