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Fancies versus Fads

188 pages
Library of Alexandria
I HAVE strung these things together on a slight enough thread; but as the things themselves are slight, it is possible that the thread (and the metaphor) may manage to hang together. These notes range over very variegated topics and in many cases were made at very different times. They concern all sorts of things from lady barristers to cave-men, and from psycho-analysis to free verse. Yet they have this amount of unity in their wandering, that they all imply that it is only a more traditional spirit that is truly able to wander. The wild theorists of our time are quite unable to wander. When they talk of making new roads, they are only making new ruts. Each of them is necessarily imprisoned in his own curious cosmos; in other words, he is limited by the very largeness of his own generalization. The explanations of the Marxian must not go outside economics; and the student of Freud is forbidden to forget sex. To see only the fanciful side of these serious sects may seem a very frivolous pleasure; and I will not dispute that these are very frivolous criticisms. I only submit that this frivolity is the last lingering form of freedom. In short, the note of these notes, so to speak, is that it is only from a normal standpoint that all the nonsense of the world takes on something of the wild interest of wonderland. I mean it is only in the mirror of a very moderate sense and sanity, which is all I have ever claimed to possess, that even insanities can appear as images clear enough to appeal to the imagination. After all, the ordinary orthodox person is he to whom the heresies can appear as fantasies. After all, it is we ordinary human and humdrum people who can enjoy eccentricity as a sort of elfland; while the eccentrics are too serious even to know that they are elves. When a man tells us that he disapproves of children being told fairy-tales, it is we who can perceive that he is himself a fairy. He himself has not the least idea of it. When he says he would discourage children from playing with tin soldiers, because it is militarism, it is we and not he who can enjoy in fancy the fantastic possibilities of his idea. It is we who suddenly think of children playing with little tin figures of philanthropists, rather round and with tin top-hats; the little tin gods of our commercial religion. It is we who develop his imaginative idea for him, by suggesting little leaden dolls of Conscientious Objectors in fixed attitudes of refined repugnance; or a whole regiment of tiny Quakers with little grey coats and white flags. He would never have thought of any of these substitutes for himself; his negation is purely negative. Or when an educational philosopher tells us that the child should have complete equality with the adult, he cannot really carry his idea any farther without our assistance. It will be from us and not from him that the natural suggestion will come; that the baby should take its turn and carry the mother, the moment the mother is tired of carrying the baby. He will not, when left to himself, call up the poetical picture of the child wheeling a double perambulator with the father and mother at each end. He has no motive to look for lively logical developments; for him the assimilation of parent and child is simply a platitude; and an inevitable part of his own rather platitudinous philosophy. It is we and not he who can behold the whole vista and vanishing perspective of his own opinions; and work out what he really means. It is only those who have ordinary views who have extraordinary visions.