Yes, with the French writer, we must say:
“Et nous jongleurs inutiles, frivoles joueurs de luth!” . . . 1906.
Yes! Why is this the chief characteristic of our art? What secret instincts are responsible for this inveterate distaste? But, first, is it true that we have it?
To stand still and look at a thing for the joy of looking, without reference to any material advantage, and personal benefit, either to ourselves or our neighbours, just simply to indulge our curiosity! Is that a British habit? I think not.
If, on some November afternoon, we walk into Kensington Gardens, where they join the Park on the Bayswater side, and, crossing in front of the ornamental fountain, glance at the semicircular seat let into a dismal little Temple of the Sun, we shall see a half-moon of apathetic figures. There, enjoying a moment of lugubrious idleness, may be sitting an old countrywoman with steady eyes in a lean, dusty-black dress and an old poke-bonnet; by her side, some gin-faced creature of the town, all blousy and draggled; a hollow-eyed foreigner, far gone in consumption; a bronzed young navvy, asleep, with his muddy boots jutting straight out; a bearded, dreary being, chin on chest; and more consumptives, and more vagabonds, and more people dead-tired, speechless, and staring before them from that crescent-shaped haven where there is no draught at their backs, and the sun occasionally shines. And as we look at them, according to the state of our temper, we think: Poor creatures, I wish I could do something for them! or: Revolting! They oughtn’t to allow it! But do we feel any pleasure in just watching them; any of that intimate sensation a cat entertains when its back is being rubbed; are we curiously enjoying the sight of these people, simply as manifestations of life, as objects fashioned by the ebb and flow of its tides? Again, I think, not. And why? Either, because we have instantly felt that we ought to do something; that here is a danger in our midst, which one day might affect our own security; and at all events, a sight revolting to us who came out to look at this remarkably fine fountain. Or, because we are too humane! Though very possibly that frequent murmuring of ours: Ah! It’s too sad! is but another way of putting the words: Stand aside, please, you’re too depressing! Or, again, is it that we avoid the sight of things as they are, avoid the unedifying, because of what may be called “the uncreative instinct,” that safeguard and concomitant of a civilisation which demands of us complete efficiency, practical and thorough employment of every second of our time and every inch of our space? We know, of course, that out of nothing nothing can be made, that to “create” anything a man must first receive impressions, and that to receive impressions requires an apparatus of nerves and feelers,