Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "There are no secrets better kept than the secrets that everybody guesses."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    The Soul Of Man Under Socialism

    by Oscar Wilde
    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode
    The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of
    Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us
    from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the
    present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost
    everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.

    Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science,
    like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like
    M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate
    himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of
    others, to stand 'under the shelter of the wall,' as Plato puts it,
    and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own
    incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the
    whole world. These, however, are exceptions. The majority of
    people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism--
    are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. They find themselves
    surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous
    starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by
    all this. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man's
    intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on
    the function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy
    with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.
    Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they
    very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of
    remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure
    the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are
    part of the disease.

    They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping
    the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by
    amusing the poor.

    But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the
    difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on
    such a basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic
    virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. Just
    as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves,
    and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those
    who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it,
    so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do
    most harm are the people who try to do most good; and at last we
    have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the problem
    and know the life--educated men who live in the East End--coming
    forward and imploring the community to restrain its altruistic
    impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on the
    ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are
    perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.

    There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private
    property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from
    the institution of private property. It is both immoral and

    Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There will
    be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up
    unhealthy, hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and
    absolutely repulsive surroundings. The security of society will
    not depend, as it does now, on the state of the weather. If a
    frost comes we shall not have a hundred thousand men out of work,
    tramping about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or
    whining to their neighbours for alms, or crowding round the doors
    of loathsome shelters to try and secure a hunch of bread and a
    night's unclean lodging. Each member of the society will share in
    the general prosperity and happiness of the society, and if a frost
    comes no one will practically be anything the worse.

    Upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply
    because it will lead to Individualism.

    Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by
    converting private property into public wealth, and substituting
    co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper
    condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material
    well-being of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give
    Life its proper basis and its proper environment. But for the full
    development of Life to its highest mode of perfection, something
    more is needed. What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism
    is Authoritarian; if there are Governments armed with economic
    power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are
    to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be
    worse than the first. At present, in consequence of the existence
    of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a
    certain very limited amount of Individualism. They are either
    under no necessity to work for their living, or are enabled to
    choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial to them, and
    gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the
    men of science, the men of culture--in a word, the real men, the
    men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a
    partial realisation. Upon the other hand, there are a great many
    people who, having no private property of their own, and being
    always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the
    work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to
    them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable,
    degrading Tyranny of want. These are the poor, and amongst them
    there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation,
    or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life. From their
    collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity. But
    it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is
    poor is in himself absolutely of no importance. He is merely the
    infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him,
    crushes him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is
    far more obedient.

    Of course, it might be said that the Individualism generated under
    conditions of private property is not always, or even as a rule, of
    a fine or wonderful type, and that the poor, if they have not
    culture and charm, have still many virtues. Both these statements
    would be quite true. The possession of private property is very
    often extremely demoralising, and that is, of course, one of the
    reasons why Socialism wants to get rid of the institution. In
    fact, property is really a nuisance. Some years ago people went
    about the country saying that property has duties. They said it so
    often and so tediously that, at last, the Church has begun to say
    it. One hears it now from every pulpit. It is perfectly true.
    Property not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its
    possession to any large extent is a bore. It involves endless
    claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless bother. If
    property had simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its duties
    make it unbearable. In the interest of the rich we must get rid of
    it. The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much
    to be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for
    charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor
    are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented,
    disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so.
    Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial
    restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some
    impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise
    over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the
    crumbs that fall from the rich man's table? They should be seated
    at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being
    discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such
    surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute.
    Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man's
    original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been
    made, through disobedience and through rebellion. Sometimes the
    poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the
    poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man
    who is starving to eat less. For a town or country labourer to
    practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be
    ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should
    decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the
    rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As
    for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to
    take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty,
    discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and
    has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the
    virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot
    possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy,
    and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be
    extraordinarily stupid. I can quite understand a man accepting
    laws that protect private property, and admit of its accumulation,
    as long as he himself is able under those conditions to realise
    some form of beautiful and intellectual life. But it is almost
    incredible to me how a man whose life is marred and made hideous by
    such laws can possibly acquiesce in their continuance.

    However, the explanation is not really difficult to find. It is
    simply this. Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and
    exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no
    class is ever really conscious of its own suffering. They have to
    be told of it by other people, and they often entirely disbelieve
    them. What is said by great employers of labour against agitators
    is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering,
    meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of
    the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That
    is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without
    them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards
    civilisation. Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence
    of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any express desire
    on their part that they should be free. It was put down entirely
    through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston
    and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of
    slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was,
    undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began
    the whole thing. And it is curious to note that from the slaves
    themselves they received, not merely very little assistance, but
    hardly any sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the
    slaves found themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely
    free that they were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted
    the new state of things. To the thinker, the most tragic fact in
    the whole of the French Revolution is not that Marie Antoinette was
    killed for being a queen, but that the starved peasant of the
    Vendee voluntarily went out to die for the hideous cause of

    It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. For
    while under the present system a very large number of people can
    lead lives of a certain amount of freedom and expression and
    happiness, under an industrial-barrack system, or a system of
    economic tyranny, nobody would be able to have any such freedom at
    all. It is to be regretted that a portion of our community should
    be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by
    enslaving the entire community is childish. Every man must be left
    quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be
    exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for
    him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others.
    And by work I simply mean activity of any kind.

    I hardly think that any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously
    propose that an inspector should call every morning at each house
    to see that each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight
    hours. Humanity has got beyond that stage, and reserves such a
    form of life for the people whom, in a very arbitrary manner, it
    chooses to call criminals. But I confess that many of the
    socialistic views that I have come across seem to me to be tainted
    with ideas of authority, if not of actual compulsion. Of course,
    authority and compulsion are out of the question. All association
    must be quite voluntary. It is only in voluntary associations that
    man is fine.

    But it may be asked how Individualism, which is now more or less
    dependent on the existence of private property for its development,
    will benefit by the abolition of such private property. The answer
    is very simple. It is true that, under existing conditions, a few
    men who have had private means of their own, such as Byron,
    Shelley, Browning, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been
    able to realise their personality more or less completely. Not one
    of these men ever did a single day's work for hire. They were
    relieved from poverty. They had an immense advantage. The
    question is whether it would be for the good of Individualism that
    such an advantage should be taken away. Let us suppose that it is
    taken away. What happens then to Individualism? How will it

    It will benefit in this way. Under the new conditions
    Individualism will be far freer, far finer, and far more
    intensified than it is now. I am not talking of the great
    imaginatively-realised Individualism of such poets as I have
    mentioned, but of the great actual Individualism latent and
    potential in mankind generally. For the recognition of private
    property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by
    confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism
    entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man
    thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that
    the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not
    in what man has, but in what man is.

    Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an
    Individualism that is false. It has debarred one part of the
    community from being individual by starving them. It has debarred
    the other part of the community from being individual by putting
    them on the wrong road, and encumbering them. Indeed, so
    completely has man's personality been absorbed by his possessions
    that the English law has always treated offences against a man's
    property with far more severity than offences against his person,
    and property is still the test of complete citizenship. The
    industry necessary for the making money is also very demoralising.
    In a community like ours, where property confers immense
    distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other
    pleasant things of the kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes
    it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and
    tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he
    wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of. Man will
    kill himself by overwork in order to secure property, and really,
    considering the enormous advantages that property brings, one is
    hardly surprised. One's regret is that society should be
    constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove
    in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and
    fascinating, and delightful in him--in which, in fact, he misses
    the true pleasure and joy of living. He is also, under existing
    conditions, very insecure. An enormously wealthy merchant may be--
    often is--at every moment of his life at the mercy of things that
    are not under his control. If the wind blows an extra point or so,
    or the weather suddenly changes, or some trivial thing happens, his
    ship may go down, his speculations may go wrong, and he finds
    himself a poor man, with his social position quite gone. Now,
    nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing
    should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what
    is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no

    With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true,
    beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in
    accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live.
    To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that
    is all.

    It is a question whether we have ever seen the full expression of a
    personality, except on the imaginative plane of art. In action, we
    never have. Caesar, says Mommsen, was the complete and perfect
    man. But how tragically insecure was Caesar! Wherever there is a
    man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority.
    Caesar was very perfect, but his perfection travelled by too
    dangerous a road. Marcus Aurelius was the perfect man, says Renan.
    Yes; the great emperor was a perfect man. But how intolerable were
    the endless claims upon him! He staggered under the burden of the
    empire. He was conscious how inadequate one man was to bear the
    weight of that Titan and too vast orb. What I mean by a perfect
    man is one who develops under perfect conditions; one who is not
    wounded, or worried or maimed, or in danger. Most personalities
    have been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been
    wasted in friction. Byron's personality, for instance, was
    terribly wasted in its battle with the stupidity, and hypocrisy,
    and Philistinism of the English. Such battles do not always
    intensify strength: they often exaggerate weakness. Byron was
    never able to give us what he might have given us. Shelley escaped
    better. Like Byron, he got out of England as soon as possible.
    But he was not so well known. If the English had had any idea of
    what a great poet he really was, they would have fallen on him with
    tooth and nail, and made his life as unbearable to him as they
    possibly could. But he was not a remarkable figure in society, and
    consequently he escaped, to a certain degree. Still, even in
    Shelley the note of rebellion is sometimes too strong. The note of
    the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace.

    It will be a marvellous thing--the true personality of man--when we
    see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a
    tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or
    dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And
    yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom.
    Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have
    nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes
    from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be
    always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It
    will love them because they will be different. And yet while it
    will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing
    helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very
    wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.

    In its development it will be assisted by Christianity, if men
    desire that; but if men do not desire that, it will develop none
    the less surely. For it will not worry itself about the past, nor
    care whether things happened or did not happen. Nor will it admit
    any laws but its own laws; nor any authority but its own authority.
    Yet it will love those who sought to intensify it, and speak often
    of them. And of these Christ was one.

    'Know thyself' was written over the portal of the antique world.
    Over the portal of the new world, 'Be thyself' shall be written.
    And the message of Christ to man was simply 'Be thyself.' That is
    the secret of Christ.

    When Jesus talks about the poor he simply means personalities, just
    as when he talks about the rich he simply means people who have not
    developed their personalities. Jesus moved in a community that
    allowed the accumulation of private property just as ours does, and
    the gospel that he preached was not that in such a community it is
    an advantage for a man to live on scanty, unwholesome food, to wear
    ragged, unwholesome clothes, to sleep in horrid, unwholesome
    dwellings, and a disadvantage for a man to live under healthy,
    pleasant, and decent conditions. Such a view would have been wrong
    there and then, and would, of course, be still more wrong now and
    in England; for as man moves northward the material necessities of
    life become of more vital importance, and our society is infinitely
    more complex, and displays far greater extremes of luxury and
    pauperism than any society of the antique world. What Jesus meant,
    was this. He said to man, 'You have a wonderful personality.
    Develop it. Be yourself. Don't imagine that your perfection lies
    in accumulating or possessing external things. Your affection is
    inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want
    to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches
    cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely
    precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so
    shape your life that external things will not harm you. And try
    also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid
    preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal
    property hinders Individualism at every step.' It is to be noted
    that Jesus never says that impoverished people are necessarily
    good, or wealthy people necessarily bad. That would not have been
    true. Wealthy people are, as a class, better than impoverished
    people, more moral, more intellectual, more well-behaved. There is
    only one class in the community that thinks more about money than
    the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing
    else. That is the misery of being poor. What Jesus does say is
    that man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even
    through what he does, but entirely through what he is. And so the
    wealthy young man who comes to Jesus is represented as a thoroughly
    good citizen, who has broken none of the laws of his state, none of
    the commandments of his religion. He is quite respectable, in the
    ordinary sense of that extraordinary word. Jesus says to him, 'You
    should give up private property. It hinders you from realising
    your perfection. It is a drag upon you. It is a burden. Your
    personality does not need it. It is within you, and not outside of
    you, that you will find what you really are, and what you really
    want.' To his own friends he says the same thing. He tells them
    to be themselves, and not to be always worrying about other things.
    What do other things matter? Man is complete in himself. When
    they go into the world, the world will disagree with them. That is
    inevitable. The world hates Individualism. But that is not to
    trouble them. They are to be calm and self-centred. If a man
    takes their cloak, they are to give him their coat, just to show
    that material things are of no importance. If people abuse them,
    they are not to answer back. What does it signify? The things
    people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public
    opinion is of no value whatsoever. Even if people employ actual
    violence, they are not to be violent in turn. That would be to
    fall to the same low level. After all, even in prison, a man can
    be quite free. His soul can be free. His personality can be
    untroubled. He can be at peace. And, above all things, they are
    not to interfere with other people or judge them in any way.
    Personality is a very mysterious thing. A man cannot always be
    estimated by what he does. He may keep the law, and yet be
    worthless. He may break the law, and yet be fine. He may be bad,
    without ever doing anything bad. He may commit a sin against
    society, and yet realise through that sin his true perfection.

    There was a woman who was taken in adultery. We are not told the
    history of her love, but that love must have been very great; for
    Jesus said that her sins were forgiven her, not because she
    repented, but because her love was so intense and wonderful. Later
    on, a short time before his death, as he sat at a feast, the woman
    came in and poured costly perfumes on his hair. His friends tried
    to interfere with her, and said that it was an extravagance, and
    that the money that the perfume cost should have been expended on
    charitable relief of people in want, or something of that kind.
    Jesus did not accept that view. He pointed out that the material
    needs of Man were great and very permanent, but that the spiritual
    needs of Man were greater still, and that in one divine moment, and
    by selecting its own mode of expression, a personality might make
    itself perfect. The world worships the woman, even now, as a

    Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism
    annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of
    private property, marriage in its present form must disappear.
    This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and
    makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a
    form of freedom that will help the full development of personality,
    and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful,
    and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of
    family life, although they existed in his day and community in a
    very marked form. 'Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?' he
    said, when he was told that they wished to speak to him. When one
    of his followers asked leave to go and bury his father, 'Let the
    dead bury the dead,' was his terrible answer. He would allow no
    claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

    And so he who would lead a Christlike life is he who is perfectly
    and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of
    science; or a young student at a University, or one who watches
    sheep upon a moor; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a
    thinker about God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden,
    or a fisherman who throws his net into the sea. It does not matter
    what he is, as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that
    is within him. All imitation in morals and in life is wrong.
    Through the streets of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who
    is mad and carries a wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol
    of the lives that are marred by imitation. Father Damien was
    Christlike when he went out to live with the lepers, because in
    such service he realised fully what was best in him. But he was
    not more Christlike than Wagner when he realised his soul in music;
    or than Shelley, when he realised his soul in song. There is no
    one type for man. There are as many perfections as there are
    imperfect men. And while to the claims of charity a man may yield
    and yet be free, to the claims of conformity no man may yield and
    remain free at all.

    Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to.
    As a natural result the State must give up all idea of government.
    It must give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries
    before Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone;
    there is no such thing as governing mankind. All modes of
    government are failures. Despotism is unjust to everybody,
    including the despot, who was probably made for better things.
    Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and ochlocracies are unjust to
    the few. High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy
    means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the
    people. It has been found out. I must say that it was high time,
    for all authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who
    exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised. When it
    is violently, grossly, and cruelly used, it produces a good effect,
    by creating, or at any rate bringing out, the spirit of revolt and
    Individualism that is to kill it. When it is used with a certain
    amount of kindness, and accompanied by prizes and rewards, it is
    dreadfully demoralising. People, in that case, are less conscious
    of the horrible pressure that is being put on them, and so go
    through their lives in a sort of coarse comfort, like petted
    animals, without ever realising that they are probably thinking
    other people's thoughts, living by other people's standards,
    wearing practically what one may call other people's second-hand
    clothes, and never being themselves for a single moment. 'He who
    would be free,' says a fine thinker, 'must not conform.' And
    authority, by bribing people to conform, produces a very gross kind
    of over-fed barbarism amongst us.

    With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great
    gain--a gain, in fact, of incalculable value. As one reads
    history, not in the expurgated editions written for school-boys and
    passmen, but in the original authorities of each time, one is
    absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have
    committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and
    a community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual
    employment of punishment, than it is by the occurrence of crime.
    It obviously follows that the more punishment is inflicted the more
    crime is produced, and most modern legislation has clearly
    recognised this, and has made it its task to diminish punishment as
    far as it thinks it can. Wherever it has really diminished it, the
    results have always been extremely good. The less punishment, the
    less crime. When there is no punishment at all, crime will either
    cease to exist, or, if it occurs, will be treated by physicians as
    a very distressing form of dementia, to be cured by care and
    kindness. For what are called criminals nowadays are not criminals
    at all. Starvation, and not sin, is the parent of modern crime.
    That indeed is the reason why our criminals are, as a class, so
    absolutely uninteresting from any psychological point of view.
    They are not marvellous Macbeths and terrible Vautrins. They are
    merely what ordinary, respectable, commonplace people would be if
    they had not got enough to eat. When private property is abolished
    there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will
    cease to exist. Of course, all crimes are not crimes against
    property, though such are the crimes that the English law, valuing
    what a man has more than what a man is, punishes with the harshest
    and most horrible severity, if we except the crime of murder, and
    regard death as worse than penal servitude, a point on which our
    criminals, I believe, disagree. But though a crime may not be
    against property, it may spring from the misery and rage and
    depression produced by our wrong system of property-holding, and
    so, when that system is abolished, will disappear. When each
    member of the community has sufficient for his wants, and is not
    interfered with by his neighbour, it will not be an object of any
    interest to him to interfere with anyone else. Jealousy, which is
    an extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is an emotion
    closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and under
    Socialism and Individualism will die out. It is remarkable that in
    communistic tribes jealousy is entirely unknown.

    Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State
    is to do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will
    organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of
    necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The
    individual is to make what is beautiful. And as I have mentioned
    the word labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense
    is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual
    labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour
    at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and
    morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find
    pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless
    activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy
    crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is
    a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or
    physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with
    joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than
    disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a

    And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present, man has
    been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is
    something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a
    machine to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of
    course, the result of our property system and our system of
    competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five
    hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of
    employment, and, having no work to do, become hungry and take to
    thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps
    it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and
    probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more than
    he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, every one
    would benefit by it. It would be an immense advantage to the
    community. All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour,
    all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant
    conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us
    in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of
    steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and
    do anything that is tedious or distressing. At present machinery
    competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve
    man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of
    machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is
    asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying
    cultivated leisure--which, and not labour, is the aim of man--or
    making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply
    contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will
    be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is, that
    civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there.
    Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting
    work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human
    slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical
    slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world
    depends. And when scientific men are no longer called upon to go
    down to a depressing East End and distribute bad cocoa and worse
    blankets to starving people, they will have delightful leisure in
    which to devise wonderful and marvellous things for their own joy
    and the joy of everyone else. There will be great storages of
    force for every city, and for every house if required, and this
    force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according to
    his needs. Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not
    include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the
    one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity
    lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.
    Progress is the realisation of Utopias.

    Now, I have said that the community by means of organisation of
    machinery will supply the useful things, and that the beautiful
    things will be made by the individual. This is not merely
    necessary, but it is the only possible way by which we can get
    either the one or the other. An individual who has to make things
    for the use of others, and with reference to their wants and their
    wishes, does not work with interest, and consequently cannot put
    into his work what is best in him. Upon the other hand, whenever a
    community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of
    any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art
    either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates
    into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the unique
    result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact
    that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact
    that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an
    artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply
    the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an
    amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no
    further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most
    intense mode of Individualism that the world has known. I am
    inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that
    the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may
    seem to have created Individualism, must take cognisance of other
    people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of
    action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbours,
    without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing;
    and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an
    artist at all.

    And it is to be noted that it is the fact that Art is this intense
    form of Individualism that makes the public try to exercise over it
    in an authority that is as immoral as it is ridiculous, and as
    corrupting as it is contemptible. It is not quite their fault.
    The public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up.
    They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want
    of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they
    have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of
    seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much,
    and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own
    stupidity. Now Art should never try to be popular. The public
    should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide
    difference. If a man of science were told that the results of his
    experiments, and the conclusions that he arrived at, should be of
    such a character that they would not upset the received popular
    notions on the subject, or disturb popular prejudice, or hurt the
    sensibilities of people who knew nothing about science; if a
    philosopher were told that he had a perfect right to speculate in
    the highest spheres of thought, provided that he arrived at the
    same conclusions as were held by those who had never thought in any
    sphere at all--well, nowadays the man of science and the
    philosopher would be considerably amused. Yet it is really a very
    few years since both philosophy and science were subjected to
    brutal popular control, to authority--in fact the authority of
    either the general ignorance of the community, or the terror and
    greed for power of an ecclesiastical or governmental class. Of
    course, we have to a very great extent got rid of any attempt on
    the part of the community, or the Church, or the Government, to
    interfere with the individualism of speculative thought, but the
    attempt to interfere with the individualism of imaginative art
    still lingers. In fact, it does more than linger; it is
    aggressive, offensive, and brutalising.

    In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which
    the public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean.
    We have been able to have fine poetry in England because the public
    do not read it, and consequently do not influence it. The public
    like to insult poets because they are individual, but once they
    have insulted them, they leave them alone. In the case of the
    novel and the drama, arts in which the public do take an interest,
    the result of the exercise of popular authority has been absolutely
    ridiculous. No country produces such badly-written fiction, such
    tedious, common work in the novel form, such silly, vulgar plays as
    England. It must necessarily be so. The popular standard is of
    such a character that no artist can get to it. It is at once too
    easy and too difficult to be a popular novelist. It is too easy,
    because the requirements of the public as far as plot, style,
    psychology, treatment of life, and treatment of literature are
    concerned are within the reach of the very meanest capacity and the
    most uncultivated mind. It is too difficult, because to meet such
    requirements the artist would have to do violence to his
    temperament, would have to write not for the artistic joy of
    writing, but for the amusement of half-educated people, and so
    would have to suppress his individualism, forget his culture,
    annihilate his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in
    him. In the case of the drama, things are a little better: the
    theatre-going public like the obvious, it is true, but they do not
    like the tedious; and burlesque and farcical comedy, the two most
    popular forms, are distinct forms of art. Delightful work may be
    produced under burlesque and farcical conditions, and in work of
    this kind the artist in England is allowed very great freedom. It
    is when one comes to the higher forms of the drama that the result
    of popular control is seen. The one thing that the public dislike
    is novelty. Any attempt to extend the subject-matter of art is
    extremely distasteful to the public; and yet the vitality and
    progress of art depend in a large measure on the continual
    extension of subject-matter. The public dislike novelty because
    they are afraid of it. It represents to them a mode of
    Individualism, an assertion on the part of the artist that he
    selects his own subject, and treats it as he chooses. The public
    are quite right in their attitude. Art is Individualism, and
    Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein
    lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony
    of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of
    man to the level of a machine. In Art, the public accept what has
    been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it.
    They swallow their classics whole, and never taste them. They
    endure them as the inevitable, and as they cannot mar them, they
    mouth about them. Strangely enough, or not strangely, according to
    one's own views, this acceptance of the classics does a great deal
    of harm. The uncritical admiration of the Bible and Shakespeare in
    England is an instance of what I mean. With regard to the Bible,
    considerations of ecclesiastical authority enter into the matter,
    so that I need not dwell upon the point. But in the case of
    Shakespeare it is quite obvious that the public really see neither
    the beauties nor the defects of his plays. If they saw the
    beauties, they would not object to the development of the drama;
    and if they saw the defects, they would not object to the
    development of the drama either. The fact is, the public make use
    of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of
    Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as
    bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new
    forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like
    somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody
    else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did
    anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode
    of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it
    appears they get so angry, and bewildered that they always use two
    stupid expressions--one is that the work of art is grossly
    unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral.
    What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they
    say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has
    said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a
    work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made
    a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression has
    reference to style; the latter to subject-matter. But they
    probably use the words very vaguely, as an ordinary mob will use
    ready-made paving-stones. There is not a single real poet or
    prose-writer of this century, for instance, on whom the British
    public have not solemnly conferred diplomas of immorality, and
    these diplomas practically take the place, with us, of what in
    France, is the formal recognition of an Academy of Letters, and
    fortunately make the establishment of such an institution quite
    unnecessary in England. Of course, the public are very reckless in
    their use of the word. That they should have called Wordsworth an
    immoral poet, was only to be expected. Wordsworth was a poet. But
    that they should have called Charles Kingsley an immoral novelist
    is extraordinary. Kingsley's prose was not of a very fine quality.
    Still, there is the word, and they use it as best they can. An
    artist is, of course, not disturbed by it. The true artist is a
    man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely
    himself. But I can fancy that if an artist produced a work of art
    in England that immediately on its appearance was recognised by the
    public, through their medium, which is the public press, as a work
    that was quite intelligible and highly moral, he would begin to
    seriously question whether in its creation he had really been
    himself at all, and consequently whether the work was not quite
    unworthy of him, and either of a thoroughly second-rate order, or
    of no artistic value whatsoever.

    Perhaps, however, I have wronged the public in limiting them to
    such words as 'immoral,' 'unintelligible,' 'exotic,' and
    'unhealthy.' There is one other word that they use. That word is
    'morbid.' They do not use it often. The meaning of the word is so
    simple that they are afraid of using it. Still, they use it
    sometimes, and, now and then, one comes across it in popular
    newspapers. It is, of course, a ridiculous word to apply to a work
    of art. For what is morbidity but a mood of emotion or a mode of
    thought that one cannot express? The public are all morbid,
    because the public can never find expression for anything. The
    artist is never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands
    outside his subject, and through its medium produces incomparable
    and artistic effects. To call an artist morbid because he deals
    with morbidity as his subject-matter is as silly as if one called
    Shakespeare mad because he wrote 'King Lear.'

    On the whole, an artist in England gains something by being
    attacked. His individuality is intensified. He becomes more
    completely himself. Of course, the attacks are very gross, very
    impertinent, and very contemptible. But then no artist expects
    grace from the vulgar mind, or style from the suburban intellect.
    Vulgarity and stupidity are two very vivid facts in modern life.
    One regrets them, naturally. But there they are. They are
    subjects for study, like everything else. And it is only fair to
    state, with regard to modern journalists, that they always
    apologise to one in private for what they have written against one
    in public.

    Within the last few years two other adjectives, it may be
    mentioned, have been added to the very limited vocabulary of art-
    abuse that is at the disposal of the public. One is the word
    'unhealthy,' the other is the word 'exotic.' The latter merely
    expresses the rage of the momentary mushroom against the immortal,
    entrancing, and exquisitely lovely orchid. It is a tribute, but a
    tribute of no importance. The word 'unhealthy,' however, admits of
    analysis. It is a rather interesting word. In fact, it is so
    interesting that the people who use it do not know what it means.

    What does it mean? What is a healthy, or an unhealthy work of art?
    All terms that one applies to a work of art, provided that one
    applies them rationally, have reference to either its style or its
    subject, or to both together. From the point of view of style, a
    healthy work of art is one whose style recognises the beauty of the
    material it employs, be that material one of words or of bronze, of
    colour or of ivory, and uses that beauty as a factor in producing
    the aesthetic effect. From the point of view of subject, a healthy
    work of art is one the choice of whose subject is conditioned by
    the temperament of the artist, and comes directly out of it. In
    fine, a healthy work of art is one that has both perfection and
    personality. Of course, form and substance cannot be separated in
    a work of art; they are always one. But for purposes of analysis,
    and setting the wholeness of aesthetic impression aside for a
    moment, we can intellectually so separate them. An unhealthy work
    of art, on the other hand, is a work whose style is obvious, old-
    fashioned, and common, and whose subject is deliberately chosen,
    not because the artist has any pleasure in it, but because he
    thinks that the public will pay him for it. In fact, the popular
    novel that the public calls healthy is always a thoroughly
    unhealthy production; and what the public call an unhealthy novel
    is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.

    I need hardly say that I am not, for a single moment, complaining
    that the public and the public press misuse these words. I do not
    see how, with their lack of comprehension of what Art is, they
    could possibly use them in the proper sense. I am merely pointing
    out the misuse; and as for the origin of the misuse and the meaning
    that lies behind it all, the explanation is very simple. It comes
    from the barbarous conception of authority. It comes from the
    natural inability of a community corrupted by authority to
    understand or appreciate Individualism. In a word, it comes from
    that monstrous and ignorant thing that is called Public Opinion,
    which, bad and well-meaning as it is when it tries to control
    action, is infamous and of evil meaning when it tries to control
    Thought or Art.

    Indeed, there is much more to be said in favour of the physical
    force of the public than there is in favour of the public's
    opinion. The former may be fine. The latter must be foolish. It
    is often said that force is no argument. That, however, entirely
    depends on what one wants to prove. Many of the most important
    problems of the last few centuries, such as the continuance of
    personal government in England, or of feudalism in France, have
    been solved entirely by means of physical force. The very violence
    of a revolution may make the public grand and splendid for a
    moment. It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen
    is mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as
    the brickbat. They at once sought for the journalist, found him,
    developed him, and made him their industrious and well-paid
    servant. It is greatly to be regretted, for both their sakes.
    Behind the barricade there may be much that is noble and heroic.
    But what is there behind the leading-article but prejudice,
    stupidity, cant, and twaddle? And when these four are joined
    together they make a terrible force, and constitute the new

    In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an
    improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and
    demoralising. Somebody--was it Burke?--called journalism the
    fourth estate. That was true at the time, no doubt. But at the
    present moment it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the
    other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual
    have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say
    and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America the
    President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever
    and ever. Fortunately in America Journalism has carried its
    authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural
    consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are
    amused by it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments.
    But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously
    treated. In England, Journalism, not, except in a few well-known
    instances, having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is
    still a great factor, a really remarkable power. The tyranny that
    it proposes to exercise over people's private lives seems to me to
    be quite extraordinary. The fact is, that the public have an
    insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth
    knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like
    habits, supplies their demands. In centuries before ours the
    public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was quite
    hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to
    the keyhole. That is much worse. And what aggravates the mischief
    is that the journalists who are most to blame are not the amusing
    journalists who write for what are called Society papers. The harm
    is done by the serious, thoughtful, earnest journalists, who
    solemnly, as they are doing at present, will drag before the eyes
    of the public some incident in the private life of a great
    statesman, of a man who is a leader of political thought as he is a
    creator of political force, and invite the public to discuss the
    incident, to exercise authority in the matter, to give their views,
    and not merely to give their views, but to carry them into action,
    to dictate to the man upon all other points, to dictate to his
    party, to dictate to his country; in fact, to make themselves
    ridiculous, offensive, and harmful. The private lives of men and
    women should not be told to the public. The public have nothing to
    do with them at all. In France they manage these things better.
    There they do not allow the details of the trials that take place
    in the divorce courts to be published for the amusement or
    criticism of the public. All that the public are allowed to know
    is that the divorce has taken place and was granted on petition of
    one or other or both of the married parties concerned. In France,
    in fact, they limit the journalist, and allow the artist almost
    perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the journalist,
    and entirely limit the artist. English public opinion, that is to
    say, tries to constrain and impede and warp the man who makes
    things that are beautiful in effect, and compels the journalist to
    retail things that are ugly, or disgusting, or revolting in fact,
    so that we have the most serious journalists in the world, and the
    most indecent newspapers. It is no exaggeration to talk of
    compulsion. There are possibly some journalists who take a real
    pleasure in publishing horrible things, or who, being poor, look to
    scandals as forming a sort of permanent basis for an income. But
    there are other journalists, I feel certain, men of education and
    cultivation, who really dislike publishing these things, who know
    that it is wrong to do so, and only do it because the unhealthy
    conditions under which their occupation is carried on oblige them
    to supply the public with what the public wants, and to compete
    with other journalists in making that supply as full and satisfying
    to the gross popular appetite as possible. It is a very degrading
    position for any body of educated men to be placed in, and I have
    no doubt that most of them feel it acutely.

    However, let us leave what is really a very sordid side of the
    subject, and return to the question of popular control in the
    matter of Art, by which I mean Public Opinion dictating to the
    artist the form which he is to use, the mode in which he is to use
    it, and the materials with which he is to work. I have pointed out
    that the arts which have escaped best in England are the arts in
    which the public have not been interested. They are, however,
    interested in the drama, and as a certain advance has been made in
    the drama within the last ten or fifteen years, it is important to
    point out that this advance is entirely due to a few individual
    artists refusing to accept the popular want of taste as their
    standard, and refusing to regard Art as a mere matter of demand and
    supply. With his marvellous and vivid personality, with a style
    that has really a true colour-element in it, with his extraordinary
    power, not over mere mimicry but over imaginative and intellectual
    creation, Mr Irving, had his sole object been to give the public
    what they wanted, could have produced the commonest plays in the
    commonest manner, and made as much success and money as a man could
    possibly desire. But his object was not that. His object was to
    realise his own perfection as an artist, under certain conditions,
    and in certain forms of Art. At first he appealed to the few: now
    he has educated the many. He has created in the public both taste
    and temperament. The public appreciate his artistic success
    immensely. I often wonder, however, whether the public understand
    that that success is entirely due to the fact that he did not
    accept their standard, but realised his own. With their standard
    the Lyceum would have been a sort of second-rate booth, as some of
    the popular theatres in London are at present. Whether they
    understand it or not the fact however remains, that taste and
    temperament have, to a certain extent been created in the public,
    and that the public is capable of developing these qualities. The
    problem then is, why do not the public become more civilised? They
    have the capacity. What stops them?

    The thing that stops them, it must be said again, is their desire
    to exercise authority over the artist and over works of art. To
    certain theatres, such as the Lyceum and the Haymarket, the public
    seem to come in a proper mood. In both of these theatres there
    have been individual artists, who have succeeded in creating in
    their audiences--and every theatre in London has its own audience--
    the temperament to which Art appeals. And what is that
    temperament? It is the temperament of receptivity. That is all.

    If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise
    authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit
    that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The
    work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to
    dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is
    to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more
    completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish
    prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should
    not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work
    of art in question. This is, of course, quite obvious in the case
    of the vulgar theatre-going public of English men and women. But
    it is equally true of what are called educated people. For an
    educated person's ideas of Art are drawn naturally from what Art
    has been, whereas the new work of art is beautiful by being what
    Art has never been; and to measure it by the standard of the past
    is to measure it by a standard on the rejection of which its real
    perfection depends. A temperament capable of receiving, through an
    imaginative medium, and under imaginative conditions, new and
    beautiful impressions, is the only temperament that can appreciate
    a work of art. And true as this is in the case of the appreciation
    of sculpture and painting, it is still more true of the
    appreciation of such arts as the drama. For a picture and a statue
    are not at war with Time. They take no count of its succession.
    In one moment their unity may be apprehended. In the case of
    literature it is different. Time must be traversed before the
    unity of effect is realised. And so, in the drama, there may occur
    in the first act of the play something whose real artistic value
    may not be evident to the spectator till the third or fourth act is
    reached. Is the silly fellow to get angry and call out, and
    disturb the play, and annoy the artists? No. The honest man is to
    sit quietly, and know the delightful emotions of wonder, curiosity,
    and suspense. He is not to go to the play to lose a vulgar temper.
    He is to go to the play to realise an artistic temperament. He is
    to go to the play to gain an artistic temperament. He is not the
    arbiter of the work of art. He is one who is admitted to
    contemplate the work of art, and, if the work be fine, to forget in
    its contemplation and the egotism that mars him--the egotism of his
    ignorance, or the egotism of his information. This point about the
    drama is hardly, I think, sufficiently recognised. I can quite
    understand that were 'Macbeth' produced for the first time before a
    modern London audience, many of the people present would strongly
    and vigorously object to the introduction of the witches in the
    first act, with their grotesque phrases and their ridiculous words.
    But when the play is over one realises that the laughter of the
    witches in 'Macbeth' is as terrible as the laughter of madness in
    'Lear,' more terrible than the laughter of Iago in the tragedy of
    the Moor. No spectator of art needs a more perfect mood of
    receptivity than the spectator of a play. The moment he seeks to
    exercise authority he becomes the avowed enemy of Art and of
    himself. Art does not mind. It is he who suffers.

    With the novel it is the same thing. Popular authority and the
    recognition of popular authority are fatal. Thackeray's 'Esmond'
    is a beautiful work of art because he wrote it to please himself.
    In his other novels, in 'Pendennis,' in 'Philip,' in 'Vanity Fair'
    even, at times, he is too conscious of the public, and spoils his
    work by appealing directly to the sympathies of the public, or by
    directly mocking at them. A true artist takes no notice whatever
    of the public. The public are to him non-existent. He has no
    poppied or honeyed cakes through which to give the monster sleep or
    sustenance. He leaves that to the popular novelist. One
    incomparable novelist we have now in England, Mr George Meredith.
    There are better artists in France, but France has no one whose
    view of life is so large, so varied, so imaginatively true. There
    are tellers of stories in Russia who have a more vivid sense of
    what pain in fiction may be. But to him belongs philosophy in
    fiction. His people not merely live, but they live in thought.
    One can see them from myriad points of view. They are suggestive.
    There is soul in them and around them. They are interpretative and
    symbolic. And he who made them, those wonderful quickly-moving
    figures, made them for his own pleasure, and has never asked the
    public what they wanted, has never cared to know what they wanted,
    has never allowed the public to dictate to him or influence him in
    any way but has gone on intensifying his own personality, and
    producing his own individual work. At first none came to him.
    That did not matter. Then the few came to him. That did not
    change him. The many have come now. He is still the same. He is
    an incomparable novelist. With the decorative arts it is not
    different. The public clung with really pathetic tenacity to what
    I believe were the direct traditions of the Great Exhibition of
    international vulgarity, traditions that were so appalling that the
    houses in which people lived were only fit for blind people to live
    in. Beautiful things began to be made, beautiful colours came from
    the dyer's hand, beautiful patterns from the artist's brain, and
    the use of beautiful things and their value and importance were set
    forth. The public were really very indignant. They lost their
    temper. They said silly things. No one minded. No one was a whit
    the worse. No one accepted the authority of public opinion. And
    now it is almost impossible to enter any modern house without
    seeing some recognition of good taste, some recognition of the
    value of lovely surroundings, some sign of appreciation of beauty.
    In fact, people's houses are, as a rule, quite charming nowadays.
    People have been to a very great extent civilised. It is only fair
    to state, however, that the extraordinary success of the revolution
    in house-decoration and furniture and the like has not really been
    due to the majority of the public developing a very fine taste in
    such matters. It has been chiefly due to the fact that the
    craftsmen of things so appreciated the pleasure of making what was
    beautiful, and woke to such a vivid consciousness of the
    hideousness and vulgarity of what the public had previously wanted,
    that they simply starved the public out. It would be quite
    impossible at the present moment to furnish a room as rooms were
    furnished a few years ago, without going for everything to an
    auction of second-hand furniture from some third-rate lodging-
    house. The things are no longer made. However they may object to
    it, people must nowadays have something charming in their
    surroundings. Fortunately for them, their assumption of authority
    in these art-matters came to entire grief.

    It is evident, then, that all authority in such things is bad.
    People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable
    for an artist to live under. To this question there is only one
    answer. The form of government that is most suitable to the artist
    is no government at all. Authority over him and his art is
    ridiculous. It has been stated that under despotisms artists have
    produced lovely work. This is not quite so. Artists have visited
    despots, not as subjects to be tyrannised over, but as wandering
    wonder-makers, as fascinating vagrant personalities, to be
    entertained and charmed and suffered to be at peace, and allowed to
    create. There is this to be said in favour of the despot, that he,
    being an individual, may have culture, while the mob, being a
    monster, has none. One who is an Emperor and King may stoop down
    to pick up a brush for a painter, but when the democracy stoops
    down it is merely to throw mud. And yet the democracy have not so
    far to stoop as the emperor. In fact, when they want to throw mud
    they have not to stoop at all. But there is no necessity to
    separate the monarch from the mob; all authority is equally bad.

    There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who
    tyrannises over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over
    the soul. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and
    body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called
    the Pope. The third is called the People. The Prince may be
    cultivated. Many Princes have been. Yet in the Prince there is
    danger. One thinks of Dante at the bitter feast in Verona, of
    Tasso in Ferrara's madman's cell. It is better for the artist not
    to live with Princes. The Pope may be cultivated. Many Popes have
    been; the bad Popes have been. The bad Popes loved Beauty, almost
    as passionately, nay, with as much passion as the good Popes hated
    Thought. To the wickedness of the Papacy humanity owes much. The
    goodness of the Papacy owes a terrible debt to humanity. Yet,
    though the Vatican has kept the rhetoric of its thunders, and lost
    the rod of its lightning, it is better for the artist not to live
    with Popes. It was a Pope who said of Cellini to a conclave of
    Cardinals that common laws and common authority were not made for
    men such as he; but it was a Pope who thrust Cellini into prison,
    and kept him there till he sickened with rage, and created unreal
    visions for himself, and saw the gilded sun enter his room, and
    grew so enamoured of it that he sought to escape, and crept out
    from tower to tower, and falling through dizzy air at dawn, maimed
    himself, and was by a vine-dresser covered with vine leaves, and
    carried in a cart to one who, loving beautiful things, had care of
    him. There is danger in Popes. And as for the People, what of
    them and their authority? Perhaps of them and their authority one
    has spoken enough. Their authority is a thing blind, deaf,
    hideous, grotesque, tragic, amusing, serious, and obscene. It is
    impossible for the artist to live with the People. All despots
    bribe. The people bribe and brutalise. Who told them to exercise
    authority? They were made to live, to listen, and to love.
    Someone has done them a great wrong. They have marred themselves
    by imitation of their inferiors. They have taken the sceptre of
    the Prince. How should they use it? They have taken the triple
    tiara of the Pope. How should they carry its burden? They are as
    a clown whose heart is broken. They are as a priest whose soul is
    not yet born. Let all who love Beauty pity them. Though they
    themselves love not Beauty, yet let them pity themselves. Who
    taught them the trick of tyranny?

    There are many other things that one might point out. One might
    point out how the Renaissance was great, because it sought to solve
    no social problem, and busied itself not about such things, but
    suffered the individual to develop freely, beautifully, and
    naturally, and so had great and individual artists, and great and
    individual men. One might point out how Louis XIV., by creating
    the modern state, destroyed the individualism of the artist, and
    made things monstrous in their monotony of repetition, and
    contemptible in their conformity to rule, and destroyed throughout
    all France all those fine freedoms of expression that had made
    tradition new in beauty, and new modes one with antique form. But
    the past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It
    is with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what man
    should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be.
    The future is what artists are.

    It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here
    is quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is
    perfectly true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human
    nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one
    proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme
    is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that
    could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly
    the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that
    could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions
    will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only
    thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes.
    Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that
    fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not
    on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV. was that he
    thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his
    error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result. All
    the results of the mistakes of governments are quite admirable.

    It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with
    any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other
    people want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-
    sacrifice, which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In
    fact, it does not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It
    comes naturally and inevitably out of man. It is the point to
    which all development tends. It is the differentiation to which
    all organisms grow. It is the perfection that is inherent in every
    mode of life, and towards which every mode of life quickens. And
    so Individualism exercises no compulsion over man. On the
    contrary, it says to man that he should suffer no compulsion to be
    exercised over him. It does not try to force people to be good.
    It knows that people are good when they are let alone. Man will
    develop Individualism out of himself. Man is now so developing
    Individualism. To ask whether Individualism is practical is like
    asking whether Evolution is practical. Evolution is the law of
    life, and there is no evolution except towards Individualism.
    Where this tendency is not expressed, it is a case of artificially-
    arrested growth, or of disease, or of death.

    Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected. It has been
    pointed out that one of the results of the extraordinary tyranny of
    authority is that words are absolutely distorted from their proper
    and simple meaning, and are used to express the obverse of their
    right signification. What is true about Art is true about Life. A
    man is called affected, nowadays, if he dresses as he likes to
    dress. But in doing that he is acting in a perfectly natural
    manner. Affectation, in such matters, consists in dressing
    according to the views of one's neighbour, whose views, as they are
    the views of the majority, will probably be extremely stupid. Or a
    man is called selfish if he lives in the manner that seems to him
    most suitable for the full realisation of his own personality; if,
    in fact, the primary aim of his life is self-development. But this
    is the way in which everyone should live. Selfishness is not
    living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one
    wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people's lives
    alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at
    creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness
    recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts
    it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for
    oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at
    all. It is grossly selfish to require of ones neighbour that he
    should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why
    should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently.
    If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind
    from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red
    rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other
    flowers in the garden to be both red and roses. Under
    Individualism people will be quite natural and absolutely
    unselfish, and will know the meanings of the words, and realise
    them in their free, beautiful lives. Nor will men be egotistic as
    they are now. For the egotist is he who makes claims upon others,
    and the Individualist will not desire to do that. It will not give
    him pleasure. When man has realised Individualism, he will also
    realise sympathy and exercise it freely and spontaneously. Up to
    the present man has hardly cultivated sympathy at all. He has
    merely sympathy with pain, and sympathy with pain is not the
    highest form of sympathy. All sympathy is fine, but sympathy with
    suffering is the least fine mode. It is tainted with egotism. It
    is apt to become morbid. There is in it a certain element of
    terror for our own safety. We become afraid that we ourselves
    might be as the leper or as the blind, and that no man would have
    care of us. It is curiously limiting, too. One should sympathise
    with the entirety of life, not with life's sores and maladies
    merely, but with life's joy and beauty and energy and health and
    freedom. The wider sympathy is, of course, the more difficult. It
    requires more unselfishness. Anybody can sympathise with the
    sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature--it
    requires, in fact, the nature of a true Individualist--to
    sympathise with a friend's success.

    In the modern stress of competition and struggle for place, such
    sympathy is naturally rare, and is also very much stifled by the
    immoral ideal of uniformity of type and conformity to rule which is
    so prevalent everywhere, and is perhaps most obnoxious in England.

    Sympathy with pain there will, of course, always be. It is one of
    the first instincts of man. The animals which are individual, the
    higher animals, that is to say, share it with us. But it must be
    remembered that while sympathy with joy intensifies the sum of joy
    in the world, sympathy with pain does not really diminish the
    amount of pain. It may make man better able to endure evil, but
    the evil remains. Sympathy with consumption does not cure
    consumption; that is what Science does. And when Socialism has
    solved the problem of poverty, and Science solved the problem of
    disease, the area of the sentimentalists will be lessened, and the
    sympathy of man will be large, healthy, and spontaneous. Man will
    have joy in the contemplation of the joyous life of others.

    For it is through joy that the Individualism of the future will
    develop itself. Christ made no attempt to reconstruct society, and
    consequently the Individualism that he preached to man could be
    realised only through pain or in solitude. The ideals that we owe
    to Christ are the ideals of the man who abandons society entirely,
    or of the man who resists society absolutely. But man is naturally
    social. Even the Thebaid became peopled at last. And though the
    cenobite realises his personality, it is often an impoverished
    personality that he so realises. Upon the other hand, the terrible
    truth that pain is a mode through which man may realise himself
    exercises a wonderful fascination over the world. Shallow speakers
    and shallow thinkers in pulpits and on platforms often talk about
    the world's worship of pleasure, and whine against it. But it is
    rarely in the world's history that its ideal has been one of joy
    and beauty. The worship of pain has far more often dominated the
    world. Mediaevalism, with its saints and martyrs, its love of
    self-torture, its wild passion for wounding itself, its gashing
    with knives, and its whipping with rods--Mediaevalism is real
    Christianity, and the mediaeval Christ is the real Christ. When
    the Renaissance dawned upon the world, and brought with it the new
    ideals of the beauty of life and the joy of living, men could not
    understand Christ. Even Art shows us that. The painters of the
    Renaissance drew Christ as a little boy playing with another boy in
    a palace or a garden, or lying back in his mother's arms, smiling
    at her, or at a flower, or at a bright bird; or as a noble, stately
    figure moving nobly through the world; or as a wonderful figure
    rising in a sort of ecstasy from death to life. Even when they
    drew him crucified they drew him as a beautiful God on whom evil
    men had inflicted suffering. But he did not preoccupy them much.
    What delighted them was to paint the men and women whom they
    admired, and to show the loveliness of this lovely earth. They
    painted many religious pictures--in fact, they painted far too
    many, and the monotony of type and motive is wearisome, and was bad
    for art. It was the result of the authority of the public in art-
    matters, and is to be deplored. But their soul was not in the
    subject. Raphael was a great artist when he painted his portrait
    of the Pope. When he painted his Madonnas and infant Christs, he
    is not a great artist at all. Christ had no message for the
    Renaissance, which was wonderful because it brought an ideal at
    variance with his, and to find the presentation of the real Christ
    we must go to mediaeval art. There he is one maimed and marred;
    one who is not comely to look on, because Beauty is a joy; one who
    is not in fair raiment, because that may be a joy also: he is a
    beggar who has a marvellous soul; he is a leper whose soul is
    divine; he needs neither property nor health; he is a God realising
    his perfection through pain.

    The evolution of man is slow. The injustice of men is great. It
    was necessary that pain should be put forward as a mode of self-
    realisation. Even now, in some places in the world, the message of
    Christ is necessary. No one who lived in modern Russia could
    possibly realise his perfection except by pain. A few Russian
    artists have realised themselves in Art; in a fiction that is
    mediaeval in character, because its dominant note is the
    realisation of men through suffering. But for those who are not
    artists, and to whom there is no mode of life but the actual life
    of fact, pain is the only door to perfection. A Russian who lives
    happily under the present system of government in Russia must
    either believe that man has no soul, or that, if he has, it is not
    worth developing. A Nihilist who rejects all authority, because he
    knows authority to be evil, and welcomes all pain, because through
    that he realises his personality, is a real Christian. To him the
    Christian ideal is a true thing.

    And yet, Christ did not revolt against authority. He accepted the
    imperial authority of the Roman Empire and paid tribute. He
    endured the ecclesiastical authority of the Jewish Church, and
    would not repel its violence by any violence of his own. He had,
    as I said before, no scheme for the reconstruction of society. But
    the modern world has schemes. It proposes to do away with poverty
    and the suffering that it entails. It desires to get rid of pain,
    and the suffering that pain entails. It trusts to Socialism and to
    Science as its methods. What it aims at is an Individualism
    expressing itself through joy. This Individualism will be larger,
    fuller, lovelier than any Individualism has ever been. Pain is not
    the ultimate mode of perfection. It is merely provisional and a
    protest. It has reference to wrong, unhealthy, unjust
    surroundings. When the wrong, and the disease, and the injustice
    are removed, it will have no further place. It will have done its
    work. It was a great work, but it is almost over. Its sphere
    lessens every day.

    Nor will man miss it. For what man has sought for is, indeed,
    neither pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to live
    intensely, fully, perfectly. When he can do so without exercising
    restraint on others, or suffering it ever, and his activities are
    all pleasurable to him, he will be saner, healthier, more
    civilised, more himself. Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of
    approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his
    environment. The new Individualism, for whose service Socialism,
    whether it wills it or not, is working, will be perfect harmony.
    It will be what the Greeks sought for, but could not, except in
    Thought, realise completely, because they had slaves, and fed them;
    it will be what the Renaissance sought for, but could not realise
    completely except in Art, because they had slaves, and starved
    them. It will be complete, and through it each man will attain to
    his perfection. The new Individualism is the new Hellenism.
    If you're writing a The Soul Of Man Under Socialism essay and need some advice, post your Oscar Wilde essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?