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    The Elf of Japan

    by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
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    There are things in this world of which I can say seriously that I love
    them but I do not like them. The point is not merely verbal, but
    psychologically quite valid. Cats are the first things that occur to me
    as examples of the principle. Cats are so beautiful that a creature from
    another star might fall in love with them, and so incalculable that he
    might kill them. Some of my friends take quite a high moral line about
    cats. Some, like Mr. Titterton, I think, admire a cat for its moral
    independence and readiness to scratch anybody "if he does not behave
    himself." Others, like Mr. Belloe, regard the cat as cruel and secret, a
    fit friend for witches; one who will devour everything, except, indeed,
    poisoned food, "so utterly lacking is it in Christian simplicity and
    humility." For my part, I have neither of these feelings. I admire cats
    as I admire catkins; those little fluffy things that hang on trees. They
    are both pretty and both furry, and both declare the glory of God. And
    this abstract exultation in all living things is truly to be called Love;
    for it is a higher feeling than mere affectional convenience; it is a
    vision. It is heroic, and even saintly, in this: that it asks for nothing
    in return. I love all the eats in the street as St. Francis of Assisi
    loved all the birds in the wood or all the fishes in the sea; not so much,
    of course, but then I am not a saint. But he did not wish to bridle a
    bird and ride on its back, as one bridles and rides on a horse. He did
    not wish to put a collar round a fish's neck, marked with the name
    "Francis," and the address "Assisi"--as one does with a dog. He did not
    wish them to belong to him or himself to belong to them; in fact, it would
    be a very awkward experience to belong to a lot of fishes. But a man does
    belong to his dog, in another but an equally real sense with that in which
    the dog belongs to him. The two bonds of obedience and responsibility
    vary very much with the dogs and the men; but they are both bonds. In
    other words, a man does not merely love a dog; as he might (in a mystical
    moment) love any sparrow that perched on his windowsill or any rabbit that
    ran across his path. A man likes a dog; and that is a serious matter.

    To me, unfortunately perhaps (for I speak merely of individual taste), a
    cat is a wild animal. A cat is Nature personified. Like Nature, it is so
    mysterious that one cannot quite repose even in its beauty. But like
    Nature again, it is so beautiful that one cannot believe that it is really
    cruel. Perhaps it isn't; and there again it is like Nature. Men of old
    time worshipped cats as they worshipped crocodiles; and those magnificent
    old mystics knew what they were about. The moment in which one really
    loves cats is the same as that in which one (moderately and within reason)
    loves crocodiles. It is that divine instant when a man feels himself--no,
    not absorbed into the unity of all things (a loathsome fancy)--but
    delighting in the difference of all things. At the moment when a man
    really knows he is a man he will feel, however faintly, a kind of
    fairy-tale pleasure in the fact that a crocodile is a crocodile. All the
    more will he exult in the things that are more evidently beautiful than
    crocodiles, such as flowers and birds and eats--which are more beautiful
    than either. But it does not follow that he will wish to pick all the
    flowers or to cage all the birds or to own all the cats.

    No one who still believes in democracy and the rights of man will admit
    that any division between men and men can be anything but a fanciful
    analogy to the division between men and animals. But in the sphere of
    such fanciful analogy there are even human beings whom I feel to be like
    eats in this respect: that I can love them without liking them. I feel it
    about certain quaint and alien societies, especially about the Japanese.
    The exquisite old Japanese draughtsmanship (of which we shall see no more,
    now Japan has gone in for Progress and Imperialism) had a quality that was
    infinitely attractive and intangible. Japanese pictures were really
    rather like pictures made by cats. They were full of feathery softness
    and of sudden and spirited scratches. If any one will wander in some
    gallery fortunate enough to have a fine collection of those slight
    water-colour sketches on rice paper which come from the remote East, he
    will observe many elements in them which a fanciful person might consider
    feline. There is, for instance, that odd enjoyment of the tops of trees;
    those airy traceries of forks and fading twigs, up to which certainly no
    artist, but only a cat could climb. There is that elvish love of the full
    moon, as large and lucid as a Chinese lantern, hung in these tenuous
    branches. That moon is so large and luminous that one can imagine a
    hundred cats howling under it. Then there is the exhaustive treatment of
    the anatomy of birds and fish; subjects in which cats are said to be
    interested. Then there is the slanting cat-like eye of all these Eastern
    gods and men--but this is getting altogether too coincident. We shall
    have another racial theory in no time (beginning "Are the Japs Cats?"),
    and though I shall not believe in my theory, somebody else might. There
    are people among my esteemed correspondents who might believe anything.
    It is enough for me to say here that in this small respect Japs affect me
    like cats. I mean that I love them. I love their quaint and native
    poetry, their instinct of easy civilisation, their unique unreplaceable
    art, the testimony they bear to the bustling, irrepressible activities of
    nature and man. If I were a real mystic looking down on them from a real
    mountain, I am sure I should love them more even than the strong winged and
    unwearied birds or the fruitful, ever multiplying fish. But, as for liking
    them, as one likes a dog--that is quite another matter. That would mean
    trusting them.

    In the old English and Scotch ballads the fairies are regarded very much
    in the way that I feel inclined to regard Japs and cats. They are not
    specially spoken of as evil; they are enjoyed as witching and wonderful;
    but they are not trusted as good. You do not say the wrong words or give
    the wrong gifts to them; and there is a curious silence about what would
    happen to you if you did. Now to me, Japan, the Japan of Art, was always
    a fairyland. What trees as gay as flowers and peaks as white as wedding
    cakes; what lanterns as large as houses and houses as frail as lanterns!
    but... but... the missionary explained (I read in the paper) that the
    assertion and denial about the Japanese use of torture was a mere matter
    of verbal translation. "The Japanese would not call twisting the thumbs
    back 'torture.'"
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