This is the thirty-ninth in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts are available here. Volume XXXIX: Prefaces and Prologues
This Sunday marks the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War One. Even during the war, it was known as “the war to end war.” (An expression that may have been coined by H. G. Wells.) So high were the human and economic costs that it was almost inconceivable that humans could ever again resort to war.
It was not mere naïveté that led people to hope World War One would be the end of all war; such hopes have existed throughout human history. In the late fifteenth century, William Caxton wrote that even the ancient Trojan War “may be example to all men during the world how dreadful and jeopardous it is to begin a war and what harms, losses, and death followeth.” And occasionally, people have invented new weapons, such as the Gatling gun or the atomic bomb, that are so devastating that further wars appear unthinkably terrible.
But with a century of hindsight, we know well the World War One did not end all war. It was barely twenty years before a Second World War was underway. In fact, it was less than twenty years, if one takes into account the Japanese invasion of China.
Nearly every year since then, the United States, far and away the greatest military power of all time, has been at war. The most recent American war in Afghanistan is approaching the end of its second decade. (There are some who argue that the United States has not been at war since the Korean War because Congress has not made a declaration of war since then. This argument elevates form over substance. The actions of the United States in Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, etc. were unquestionably acts of war.) As far as I can tell, the most recent year that the United States was not at war was 2000. That means that by next year, there will be eligible voters who have lived their entire lives during wartime. Maybe they’ll somehow have the sense to vote for candidates who want peace. (If such a thing exists.)
Even with centuries and millennia of examples of how dreadful war is, it persists. But it is not unreasonable to hope, pray, and, most importantly, strive for peace. So this weekend, raise a glass and drink to peace in our time.
Beer of the week: Balashi Pilsner- Even the tiny island of Aruba has not been totally isolated from war. During World War Two, German and Italian submarines torpedoed oil tankers anchored there. Over 50 sailors lost their lives as the submarines sunk six tankers and damaged two others. There we’re a couple of German casualties as well, the result of a deck gun exploding due to user error. But for the most part, Aruba has been a peaceful place to have a beer. Balashi Pilsner has a faint but pleasantly malty aroma. Although it is a fairly light beer, it is well-balanced. Frankly, Balashi is better than one might expect from the tropics.
Reading of the week: William Caxton’s Prologue to Book I and Epilogues to Books II and III of The Recuyell of the Histories of Troy – Caxton, the first commercial printer in England, translated many of the books that he published. His own writings are primarily prefaces.
Question for the week: For all its myriad evils, some maintain that war has social value. (Including, perhaps, population control, technological advancement, or economic stimulus.) What is war’s most redeeming value?
Imagine that you live in Vermont and want to be a beer brewer. You don’t only want to be a brewer, you need to be a brewer. It is your calling. You find that there are a lot of options. You could apply for work at The Alchemist Brewing Company. You could apply for work at Hill Farmstead. Or Fiddlehead Brewing Company. Or Long Trail. You could seek work at any of the dozens of breweries in the state. Or you could start your own. To be sure, there are legal and logistical hurdles to starting a brewery. There are some licensing and regulatory issues. But in a state with more breweries per capita than any other, it can’t be too hard.
Now imagine that you live in Taiwan in the 1990’s and you want to be a beer brewer. You don’t only want to be a brewer, you need to be a brewer. You could apply for work at the Monopoly Bureau of the Taiwan Governor’s Office, makers of Taiwan’s only beer: the cleverly named “Taiwan Beer.” And if you did not get the job, you have to give up on your dream. Opening your own brewery is not an option. As the name clearly states: there is a state monopoly on beer production in Taiwan.
These two contrasting scenarios illustrate a necessary defect in centralized economies. Vermont, which is a relatively free market, produces some of the very best beers in the world and provides entrepreneurs with the opportunity to follow their dreams. The result is an excellent environment for both brewers and consumers. Taiwan, on the other hand, produces decidedly mediocre beer. And until 2002, the state run brewery was the only game in town. The result was a stifling of creativity for brewers and a lack of choice for consumers.
Dedicated socialist H. G. Wells wrote in his New World Order that collectivism requires a declaration of human rights. “The more socialisation proceeds and the more directive authority is concentrated, the more necessary is an efficient protection of individuals from the impatience of well-meaning or narrow-minded or ruthless officials and indeed from all the possible abuses of advantage that are inevitable under such circumstances to our still childishly wicked breed.” And he is certainly right that the more power the government has, the more dangerous it is to individuals. (Although his solution of “compose a declaration of rights” is, in my opinion, a poor second to the solution of “just don’t give that much power to the government.”)
Wells’ proposed declaration of rights includes economic freedom. “That he [anyone] may engage freely in any lawful occupation, earning such pay as the need for his work and the increment it makes to the common welfare may justify. That he is entitled to paid employment and to a free choice whenever there is any variety of employment open to him. He may suggest employment for himself and have his claim publicly considered, accepted or dismissed.”
But the Taiwan example shows how hollow this freedom is. In a totally centralized economy, there really is no space for the individual to suggest his own employment. The question of which occupations are “lawful” and “open to” the individual is totally loaded. It is the government itself that decides whether the occupations are lawful or open to any given person. Wells may as well have written “he may engage freely in any occupation that the government gives him permission to.” As long as the power is given to the government to make all economic decisions, there is no freedom at all.
Beer of the week: Sip of Sunshine IPA – Lawson’s Finest Liquids is yet another wonderful Vermont brewery. And Sip of Sunshine sure is a treat. This beer is honey-colored and has a decent head. The aroma is bright and fruity. The taste has lots of tropical fruit and citrus notes from the hops and the sweetness of the malt balances it all very nicely. There is a reason that this beer is very sought after; it is delicious.
Reading of the week: The New World Order by H.G. Wells, Chapter: 10 Declaration of the Rights of Men – I think that the above criticism of Wells is valid, if not original. However, this reading does include a number of very good ideas that cannot be as easily discounted.
Question of the week: Is there anywhere in the world that is better for beer right now than Vermont?
From You are free to do as I please.
The New World Order, by H. G. Wells
10. Declaration of the Rights of Man
Let us turn now to another system of problems in the collectivisation of the world, and that is the preservation of liberty in the socialist state and the restoration of that confidence without which good behaviour is generally impossible.
This destruction of confidence is one of the less clearly recognised evils of the present phase of world-disintegration. In the past there have been periods when whole communities or at least large classes within communities have gone about their business with a general honesty, directness and sense of personal honour. They have taken a keen pride in the quality of their output. They have lived through life on tolerable and tolerant terms with their neighbours. The laws they observed have varied in different countries and periods, but their general nature was to make an orderly law-abiding life possible and natural. They had been taught and they believed and they had every reason to believe: “This (that or the other thing) is right. Do right and nothing, except by some strange exceptional misfortune, can touch you. The Law guarantees you that. Do right and nothing will rob you or frustrate you.”
Nowhere in the world now is there very much of that feeling left, and as it disappears, the behaviour of people degenerates towards a panic scramble, towards cheating, over-reaching, gang organisation, precautionary hoarding, concealment and all the meanness and anti-social feeling which is the natural outcome of insecurity.
Faced with what now amounts to something like a moral stampede, more and more sane men will realise the urgency for a restoration of confidence. The more socialisation proceeds and the more directive authority is concentrated, the more necessary is an efficient protection of individuals from the impatience of well-meaning or narrow-minded or ruthless officials and indeed from all the possible abuses of advantage that are inevitable under such circumstances to our still childishly wicked breed.
In the past the Atlantic world has been particularly successful in expedients for meeting this aspect of human nature. Our characteristic and traditional method may be called the method of the fundamental declaration. Our Western peoples, by a happy instinct, have produced statements of Right, from Magna Carta onwards, to provide a structural defence between the citizen and the necessary growth of central authority.
And plainly the successful organisation of the more universal and penetrating collectivism that is now being forced upon us all, will be frustrated in its most vital aspect unless its organisation is accompanied by the preservative of a new Declaration of the Rights of Man, that must, because of the increasing complexity of the social structure, be more generous, detailed and explicit than any of its predecessors. Such a Declaration must become the COMMON FUNDAMENTAL LAW of all communities and collectivities assembled under the World Pax. It should be interwoven with the declared war aims of the combatant powers now; it should become the primary fact in any settlement; it should be put before the now combatant states for their approval, their embarrassed silence or their rejection.
In order to be as clear as possible about this, let me submit a draft for your consideration of this proposed Declaration of the Rights of Man — using “man” of course to cover every individual, male or female, of the species. I have endeavoured to bring in everything that is essential and to omit whatever secondary issues can be easily deduced from its general statements. It is a draft for your consideration. Points may have been overlooked and it may contain repetitions and superfluous statements.
“Since a man comes into this world through no fault of his own, since he is manifestly a joint inheritor of the accumulations of the past, and since those accumulations are more than sufficient to justify the claims that are here made for him, it follows:
“(1) That every man without distinction of race, of colour or of professed belief or opinions, is entitled to the nourishment, covering, medical care and attention needed to realise his full possibilities of physical and mental development and to keep him in a state of health from his birth to death.
“(2) That he is entitled to sufficient education to make him a useful and interested citizen, that special education should be so made available as to give him equality of opportunity for the development of his distinctive gifts in the service of mankind, that he should have easy access to information upon all matters of common knowledge throughout his life and enjoy the utmost freedom of discussion, association and worship.
“(3) That he may engage freely in any lawful occupation, earning such pay as the need for his work and the increment it makes to the common welfare may justify. That he is entitled to paid employment and to a free choice whenever there is any variety of employment open to him. He may suggest employment for himself and have his claim publicly considered, accepted or dismissed.
“(4) That he shall have the right to buy or sell without any discriminatory restrictions anything which may be lawfully bought or sold, in such quantities and with such reservations as are compatible with the common welfare.”
(Here I will interpolate a comment. We have to bear in mind that in a collectivist state buying and selling to secure income and profit will be not simply needless but impossible. The Stock Exchange, after its career of four-hundred-odd-years, will necessarily vanish with the disappearance of any rational motive either for large accumulations or for hoarding against deprivation and destitution. Long before the age of complete collectivisation arrives, the savings of individuals for later consumption will probably be protected by some development of the Unit Trust System into a public service. They will probably be entitled to interest at such a rate as to compensate for that secular inflation which should go on in a steadily enriched world community. Inheritance and bequest in a community in which the means of production and of all possible monopolisation are collectivised, can concern little else than relatively small, beautiful and intimate objects, which will afford pleasure but no unfair social advantage to the receiver.)
“(5) That he and his personal property lawfully acquired are entitled to police and legal protection from private violence, deprivation, compulsion and intimidation.
“(6) That he may move freely about the world at his own expense. That his private house or apartment or reasonably limited garden enclosure is his castle, which may be entered only with his consent, but that he shall have the right to come and go over any kind of country, moorland, mountain, farm, great garden or what not, or upon the seas, lakes and rivers of the world, where his presence will not be destructive of some special use, dangerous to himself nor seriously inconvenient to his fellow-citizens.
“(7) That a man unless he is declared by a competent authority to be a danger to himself and to others through mental abnormality, a declaration which must be annually confirmed, shall not be imprisoned for a longer period than six days without being charged with a definite offence against the law, nor for more than three months without a public trial. At the end of the latter period, if he has not been tried and sentenced by due process of law, he shall be released. Nor shall he be conscripted for military, police or any other service to which he has a conscientious objection.
“(8) That although a man is subject to the free criticism of his fellows, he shall have adequate protection from any lying or misrepresentation that may distress or injure him. All administrative registration and records about a man shall be open to his personal and private inspection. There shall be no secret dossiers in any administrative department. All dossiers shall be accessible to the man concerned and subject to verification and correction at his challenge. A dossier is merely a memorandum; it cannot be used as evidence without proper confirmation in open court.
“(9) That no man shall be subjected to any sort of mutilation or sterilisation except with his own deliberate consent, freely given, nor to bodily assault, except in restraint of his own violence, nor to torture, beating or any other bodily punishment; he shall not be subjected to imprisonment with such an excess of silence, noise, light or darkness as to cause mental suffering, or to imprisonment in infected, verminous or otherwise insanitary quarters, or be put into the company of verminous or infectious people. He shall not be forcibly fed nor prevented from starving himself if he so desire. He shall not be forced to take drugs nor shall they be administered to him without his knowledge and consent. That the extreme punishments to which he may be subjected are rigorous imprisonment for a term of not longer than fifteen years or death.”
(Here I would point out that there is nothing in this to prevent any country from abolishing the death penalty. Nor do I assert a general right to commit suicide, because no one can punish a man for doing that. He has escaped. But threats and incompetent attempts to commit suicide belong to an entirely different category. They are indecent and distressing acts that can easily become a serious social nuisance, from which the normal citizen is entitled to protection.)
“(10) That the provisions and principles embodied in this Declaration shall be more fully defined in a code of fundamental human rights which shall be made easily accessible to everyone. This Declaration shall not be qualified nor departed from upon any pretext whatever. It incorporates all previous Declarations of Human Right. Henceforth for a new era it is the fundamental law for mankind throughout the whole world.
“No treaty and no law affecting these primary rights shall be binding upon any man or province or administrative division of the community, that has not been made openly, by and with the active or tacit acquiescence of every adult citizen concerned, either given by a direct majority vote of the community affected or through the majority vote of his publicly elected representatives. In matters of collective behaviour it is by the majority decision men must abide. No administration, under a pretext of urgency, convenience or the like, shall be entrusted with powers to create or further define offences or set up by-laws, which will in any way infringe the rights and liberties here asserted. All legislation must be public and definite. No secret treaties shall be binding on individuals, organisations or communities. No orders in council or the like, which extend the application of a law, shall be permitted. There is no source of law but the people, and since life flows on constantly to new citizens, no generation of the people can in whole or in part surrender or delegate the legislative power inherent in mankind.”
There, I think, is something that keener minds than mine may polish into a working Declaration which would in the most effective manner begin that restoration of confidence of which the world stands in need. Much of it might be better phrased, but I think it embodies the general goodwill in mankind from pole to pole. It is certainly what we all want for ourselves. It could be a very potent instrument indeed in the present phase of human affairs. It is necessary and it is acceptable. Incorporate that in your peace treaties and articles of federation, I would say, and you will have a firm foundation, which will continually grow firmer, for the fearless cosmopolitan life of a new world order. You will never get that order without some such document. It is the missing key to endless contemporary difficulties.
And if we, the virtuous democracies, are not fighting for these common human rights, then what in the name of the nobility and gentry, the Crown and the Established Church, the City, The Times and the Army and Navy Club, are we common British peoples fighting for?
The complete text of The New World Order from The University of Adelaide
Only seconds after the opening kickoff, Tom went to ground clutching his knee and screaming. He had torn some cartilage; his season may have ended prematurely. Only minutes later, a shout came from the field, “don’t let the ambulance leave yet!” Richard had just taken a heavy tackle and was similarly left on the ground with an apparent knee injury. Evaluation later showed a broken tibia and two torn cruciate ligaments. He won’t be playing rugby for quite some time.
Mr. Bedford, the narrator of H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon found himself in a similar situation. If any Earthly experience can be called “similar” to being stranded on the moon. (Aside from the fact that Tom, Richard and Bedford are all English,) what they have in common is that none of them was content “simply to go about being safe and comfortable and well fed and amused.” Something, it seems, “urges [man] for ever to depart from happiness and security, to toil, to place himself in danger, to risk even… death.” But what is this force that drives men to do “unreasonable things?”
In every action, man is making a bargain, and no man makes a bargain unless he has decided that he profits by it. That is not to say that he is always right, but life is a constant cost/benefit analysis. Bedford went to the moon because he saw the potential for great material wealth. He reasoned, perhaps not carefully enough, that the odds of becoming rich outweighed the odds of dying on some foreign world. Tom and Richard decided the reward of enjoying their physical prowess on the rugby pitch was worth the risk of injury that comes with such an endeavor.
Bedford says, “that all my life I had in truth never served the purposes of my private life.” But he is mistaken. He is not subject to some outside force that causes him to make choices to that serve its grand scheme. He only seems to be working against his own personal interest because he has proved to be a poor judge of what he really wants and what he really needs. If the risks were really greater than the potential rewards, he has only himself to blame for not analyzing them adequately beforehand.
Beer of the Week: Kunstmann Torobayo Pale Ale – Long before anybody was seriously thinking of setting off on dangerous trips to the moon, Europeans were setting off on dangerous trips to uncharted terrestrial worlds. Kunstmann may not seem like a Chilean name, but back in the middle of the 19th century, quite a few Germans immigrated to South America. And they brought beer brewing with them. This, my first ever Chilean beer, is a great take on the classic English pale ale. It is light amber in color and has an aroma of caramel and fruit with just a hit of fresh grass. The taste meets and exceeds expectations after the smell, with plenty of caramel flavor in the finish with just a small bite of hops. Really, a delightful beer.
Reading of the week: The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells, Chapter 19, Excerpt – Lost and alone in a world altogether unlike his own, Mr. Bedford is given an opportunity to reflect on how and why he made the trip to the moon.
Question of the week: In Bedford’s case, the decision to go to the moon was primarily the potential for great wealth. It is easy to see the risk/reward analysis in such an endeavor. But others have sought out adventure seemingly for adventure’s sake. How does one assess the amount of risk that is reasonable if the reward is something as abstract as “adventure”?
The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells, Chapter 19, Excerpt
In a little while it seemed to me as though I had always been alone on the moon. I hunted for a time with a certain intentness, but the heat was still very great, and the thinness of the air felt like a hoop about one’s chest. I came presently into a hollow basin bristling with tall, brown, dry fronds about its edge, and I sat down under these to rest and cool. I intended to rest for only a little while. I put down my clubs beside me, and sat resting my chin on my hands. I saw with a sort of colourless interest that the rocks of the basin, where here and there the crackling dry lichens had shrunk away to show them, were all veined and splattered with gold, that here and there bosses of rounded and wrinkled gold projected from among the litter. What did that matter now? A sort of languor had possession of my limbs and mind, I did not believe for a moment that we should ever find the sphere in that vast desiccated wilderness. I seemed to lack a motive for effort until the Selenites should come. Then I supposed I should exert myself, obeying that unreasonable imperative that urges a man before all things to preserve and defend his life, albeit he may preserve it only to die more painfully in a little while.
Why had we come to the moon?
The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem. What is this spirit in man that urges him for ever to depart from happiness and security, to toil, to place himself in danger, to risk even a reasonable certainty of death? It dawned upon me up there in the moon as a thing I ought always to have known, that man is not made simply to go about being safe and comfortable and well fed and amused. Almost any man, if you put the thing to him, not in words, but in the shape of opportunities, will show that he knob as much. Against his interest, against his happiness, he is constantly being driven to do unreasonable things. Some force not himself impels him, and go he must. But why? Why? Sitting there in the midst of that useless moon gold, amidst the things of another world, I took count of all my life. Assuming I was to die a castaway upon the moon, I failed altogether to see what purpose I had served. I got no light on that point, but at any rate it was clearer to me than it had ever been in my life before that I was not serving my own purpose, that all my life I had in truth never served the purposes of my private life. Whose purposes, what purposes, was I serving? … I ceased to speculate on why we had come to the moon, and took a wider sweep. Why had I come to the earth? Why had I a private life at all? … I lost myself at last in bottomless speculations….
My thoughts became vague and cloudy, no longer leading in definite directions. I had not felt heavy or weary–I cannot imagine one doing so upon the moon–but I suppose I was greatly fatigued. At any rate I slept.
The complete text of The First Men in the Moon.
Each of these readings is under one beer long and worth at least a 6-pack of thought.
The Constitution of the Confederate States of America: In toto
The Constitution of May 3, 1791: In toto
Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776: Declaration of Rights
Antifederalist Papers No. 3 by “A Farmer”: In toto
Thanksgiving Declaration of 1777 by Samuel Adams in committee with Richard Henry Lee and Daniel Roberdeau: In toto
Prometheus Bound by Æschylus: Lines 435-567
Transcendental Wild Oats by Louisa May Alcott: Excerpt
Paradiso by Dante Alighieri:
Proslogium by St. Anselm of Canterbury: Chapters II and III
The Frogs by Aristophanes: Lines 1010- 1105
The Wasps by Aristophanes: Lines 986-1121
Metaphysics by Aristotle: Book IV, 1005b-1006b
Physics by Aristotle: Book II, Part 3, Excerpt
Aristotle’s Problems: Excerpts
The Confessions of St. Augustine: Book 3, Paragraphs 1-4
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: Chapter 2, Excerpt
The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela: Chapter XIII
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon: Excerpt
Of Studies by Sir Francis Bacon: In toto
Of Truth by Sir Francis Bacon: In toto
The Law by Frédéric Bastiat: Excerpt
The Broken Window by Frédéric Bastiat: In toto
Stulta and Puera by Frédéric Bastiat: In toto
Get Drunk by Charles Baudelaire: In toto
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by The Venerable Bede: Preface
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation by Jeremy Bentham: Chapter XVII, §1, VIII-XV
Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous by George Berkeley: Second Dialogue, Excerpt
The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1 & 2
The Book of Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher: Chapter 3
The Book of Job: Chapter 6
The Gospel According to St. Matthew: The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (20:1-15)
First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: Chapter 13
The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius: Book I, Sections 2 & 3
In Reference to Her Children, 23 June 1659 by Anne Bradstreet: In toto
Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne: Sections VI & VII
Home-thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning: In toto
Beer by Charles Bukowski: In toto
A Letter to a Noble Lord by Edmund Burke: Excerpt
On the Sublime and Beautiful by Sir Edmond Burke: Part I, Chapter 1
Scotch Drink by Robert Burns: In toto
To a Mouse by Robert Burns: In toto (with audio)
The Twa Dogs by Robert Burns: In toto
War is a Racket by Major General Smedley Butler: Chapter 2
The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid translated by Oliver Byrne: Introduction, Excerpt
My Soul is Dark by George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron: In toto
Cordas v. Peerless Transp. Co. by Justice Frank Carlin: In toto
Characteristics by Thomas Carlyle: Paragraphs 1-4
Sir Walter Scott by Thomas Carlyle: Excerpt
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini: Chapter XXXIII, Excerpt
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini: Chapter LXXVIII
Don Quixote, Part 1 by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Chapter VI, Excerpt
Don Quixote, Part 1 by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Chapter VIII, Paragraphs 1 and 2
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
General Prologue: Excerpt
The Parson’s Tale: Excerpt
Regret by Kate Chopin: Excerpt
The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov: Excerpt
Letter XXX to his Son from Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield: In toto
On Friendship by Marcus Tullius Cicero: Paragraphs 61-66
Second Inaugural Address: by Grover Cleveland: In toto
The Sayings of Confucius: VII
The Sayings of Confucius: XV
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: Excerpt
The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper: Volume 2, Chapter III, Excerpt
On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres by Nicolas Copernicus: Introduction
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.: Chapter VIII
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: Chapter II. Variation under Nature, Excerpt
The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin: Chapter XII, Excerpt
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey: The Pleasures of Opium, Excerpt
The Shoemaker’s Holiday by Thomas Dekker: Act I, Scene 1, Excerpt
Le Monde by René Descartes: Chapter 1, Excerpt
Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes: Preface to the Reader
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoesvky: Epilogue, Chapter Three, Excerpt
Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass by Fredrick Douglass: Excerpt
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Part One, Chapter Two, Excerpt
The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas: Chapter 1, Excerpt
The Ghosts by Lord Dunsany: In toto
Relativity by Albert Einstein: Section 1
The Editor’s Introduction to the Harvard Classics by Charles William Eliot: Excerpt
The American Scholar by Ralph Waldo Emerson: Section II
English Traits by Ralph Waldo Emerson: Chapter I, Excerpt
Pyrrhonic Sketches by Sextus Empericus: Excerpt
The Handbook of Epictetus: Chapter 4
Hippolytus by Euripides: Excerpt
The Force of Gravitation by Michael Faraday: Paragraphs 7-10
The Reivers by William Faulkner: Excerpt
Shah Nameh by Ferdowsi: Excerpt
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Key Fitzgerald: Chapter 9, Excerpt
Sermon to the Birds by St. Francis of Assisi: In toto
Disapproving and Accepting the Constitution by Benjamin Franklin: In toto
His Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin: Excerpt
Wat Tyler’s Rebellion by Jean Froissart: Excerpt
My November Guest by Robert Frost: In toto
Mohandas K. Gandhi to Leo Tolstoy: In toto
A Lover’s Lullaby by George Gascoigne: In toto
Geographical Evolution by Sir Archibald Geikie: Excerpt
Egmont by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Act IV, Scene I
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith: Act One, Lines 78-142
The Desecration of the Flag by Horatio Greenough: In toto
The Frog-King, or Iron Henry by the Bros. Grimm: In toto
On the Law of War and Peace by Hugo Grotius: Excerpt
The Code of Hammurabi: Excerpts
On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey: Dedication, In toto
Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorn: Excerpt
Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen by William Hazlitt: In toto
Histories by Herodotus: Book I, Paragraphs 30 & 32
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes: Excerpt
The Iliad by Homer: Book XXIII, 653-749
The Odyssey by Homer
The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope: Excerpt
Sceptical Doubts concerning the Operations of the Understanding by David Hume: Part I
The Spy by Svetozár Hurban-Vajanský: In toto
Treatise on Light by Christiaan Huygans: Preface
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving: Excerpt
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving: Excerpt
The Jātaka Tales: The Birth of the Buddha, Excerpt
A Counterblaste to Tobacco by King James I of England: Excerpt
What is an Emotion? by William James: Excerpts
The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson and The Continental Congress: Paragraph 2
Notes on Religion by Thomas Jefferson: Excerpt
Thoughts on Lotteries by Thomas Jefferson: Excerpt
Thomas Jefferson To Dr. Joseph Priestley: In toto
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome: Chapter 12, Excerpt
Hermit Hoar by Samuel Johnson: In toto
On Bacon by Ben Jonson: In toto
The Caesars by Emperor Julian I (The Apostate): Excerpt
In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka: Excerpt
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: Excerpt
Dreams of a Spirit-Seer by Immanuel Kant: Preface
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant: Excerpt
Optimism by Helen Keller: Excerpt
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis: Book One, Sec. II and X
The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes: Excerpt
The Crowd is Untruth by Søren Kierkegaard: In toto
Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: In toto (audio)
Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling: In toto
If— by Rudyard Kipling: In toto
The Stranger by Rudyard Kipling: In toto
The Alexiad by Anna Komnene: Excerpts from Book I, Chapters X & XI
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius: Parmenides, Melissus, and Zeno of Elea
Epictetus and Seneca by Walter Savage Landor: In toto
Elements of Chemistry by Antoine Lavoisier: Chapter 3, Excerpt
The Errors of Santa Claus by Stephen Leacock: In toto
How to Live to be 200 by Stephen Leacock: In toto
The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln: In toto
The Genius of Wine by Liu Ling: In toto
The History of Rome by Livy: Book I, Paragraphs 43-45
Excelsior by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: In toto
The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: In toto
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace: In toto
A Treatise on Good Works by Martin Luther: Section VI
Letter to Pope Leo X by Martin Luther: In toto
Letter to Jerome Weller by Martin Luther: In toto
The Art of War by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli: Preface
Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusion by Charles Mackay: Volume II: The Crusades, Excerpt
The Federalist No. 37 by James Madison: Excerpt
The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides: Part I, Chapter LXXIII
I Promessi Sposi by Alessandro Manzoni: Chapter XXXI
Edward the Second by Christopher Marlowe: Act the Third, Scene II
The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe: Scene VI
The Spirit of Russia: Studies in History, Literature and Philosophy
by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk: Excerpt
Bartleby The Scrivener by Herman Melville: Excerpt
Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville: Chapter IV, Excerpt
The American Language by H. L. Mencken: Chapter 22: Expletives and Forbidden Words
Damn! A Book of Calumny by H. L. Mencken: Chapter XII: On Lying
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill: Chapter One, Excerpt
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill: Chapter One, Excerpt
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill: Chapter Four, Excerpt
Areopagitica by John Milton: Excerpt
At a Vacation Exercise in the College, Part Latin, Part English by John Milton: Excerpt
Samson Agonistes by John Milton: Lines 373-576
Human Action by Ludwig von Mises: Part One, Chapter IV, Sections 2 & 3
Liberty and Property by Ludwig von Mises: Section V
Tartuffe, or the Hypocrite by Molière: Act I, Scene VI
The Apology of Raymond Sebond by Michel de Montaigne: Excerpt
Of Cannibals by Michel de Montaigne: Excerpt
Of Moderation by Michel de Montaigne: Excerpt
Utopia by Thomas More: Chapter 1, Excerpt
Ave Verum Corpus by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Audio
Volume 39 of the Harvard Classics by William Allan Neilson: Introductory Note
The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche: The Madman
Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche: The Traditional Error of Philosophers
Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche: The Appreciation of Simple Truths
The Madman by Friedrich Nietzsche: In toto
The Extent of the Universe by Simon Newcomb: Excerpt
Our Enemy the State by Albert Jay Nock: Excerpt
The Life of Charlemagne by Notker the Stammerer: Book I, 1-4
The Auld House by Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne: In toto
Politics and the English Language by George Orwell: In toto
Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell: Excerpt
Metamorphoses by Ovid: Book VIII, Lines 183-235, Daedalus and Icarus
Discourses on the Condition of the Great by Blaise Pascal: In toto
The Physiological Theory Of Fermentation by Louis Pasteur: Excerpt
Clancy Of The Overflow by Banjo Paterson: In toto
The Corner-Man by Banjo Paterson: In toto
The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson: In toto
A Key by William Penn: Sections XII, XIII, and Postscript
Some Fruits of Solitude by William Penn: Part I, 41-46
Charmides by Plato: Excerpt
Gorgias by Plato: 493d-495b
Phaedrus by Plato, 274c – 275e
The Republic by Plato: Book IV, 436(a) – 441(c)
Letter to Attius Clemens by Pliny the Younger: In toto
Letter to Calvisius by Pliny the Younger: In toto
Letter to Cornelius Tacitus by Pliny the Younger: In toto
The Life of Demosthenes by Plutarch: Excerpt
The Life of Cato the Younger by Plutarch: Excerpt
The Life of Pericles by Plutarch: Excerpt
Annabel Lee by Edgar A. Poe: In toto
Lines on Ale by Edgar Allan Poe: In toto
The Purloined Letter by Edgar A. Poe: Paragraphs 94-96
The Raven by Edgar A. Poe: In toto
The Histories by Polybius: Excerpt
Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope: Canto V
Law and Liberty by Roscoe Pound: Excerpt
Gargantua by François Rabelais: The Author’s Prologue to the First Book, Excerpt
The Discovery of Guiana by Sir Walter Raleigh: Excerpt
Maximes and Moral Reflections by François de La Rochefoucauld: 50-62
The Song of Roland: Part II: The Prelude of the Great Battle, Roncesvalles, LXXXIII-XCV
Remember by Christina Georgina Rossetti: In toto
Song by Christina Georgina Rossetti: In toto
The Mystery of Banking by Murray N. Rothbard: Chapter IV, Section 1, Excerpt
Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar by Jean Jacques Rousseau: Excerpt
Saga of the Greenlanders: Excerpt
What is a Classic? by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: Excerpt
Hymn To Aphrodite by Sappho: In toto
William Tell by Friedrich Schiller: Act One, Scene One
On Men of Learning by Arthur Schopenhauer, Excerpt
Letter LXIII to Lucilius from Seneca: In toto
Natural Questions by Seneca: XXX & XXXI
Hamlet by William Shakespeare: Act 1, Scene 1
Henry V by William Shakespeare: Act 5, Scene 2, Excerpt
Henry VI, Part 2 by William Shakespeare: Act 4, Scene 2, Excerpt
Richard II by William Shakespeare: Act III, Scene 2
Sonnet #12 by William Shakespeare: In toto
Sonnet #18 by William Shakespeare: In toto
Winter by William Shakespeare: In toto
The New Theology by George Bernard Shaw: Excerpt
Music by Percy Shelley: In toto
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley: In todo
Bibliotheca Historica by Diodorus Siculus: Book XIV, Preface
The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith: III.I.46
Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith: Book V, I. Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth, PART I. Of the Expence of Defence
The Emigrants by Charlotte Smith: Book 1, Excerpt
Ozymandias by Horace Smith: In toto
Ajax by Sophocles: Lines 1-133
Antigone by Sophocles: Lines 1-99
Justice by Herbert Spencer: Excerpt
On the Improvement of the Understanding by Benedictus de Spinoza: 3:2-5;3, 7:1-3
Across the Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson: Fellow-Passengers
Truth of Intercourse by Robert Louis Stevenson: Excerpt
McGuire v. Commonwealth, 70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 387 (1866) in the Supreme Court of the United States: Excerpt
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift: In toto
The Annals by Tacitus: Book 6, Paragraphs 33-35
Creative Unity by Rabindranath Tagore: Chapter One, Part I
Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In toto
Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In toto
Zmai Iovan Iovanovich – The Chief Servian Poet of To-Day by Nikola Tesla: In toto
The Thousand and One Nights: The Barber’s Tale of Himself
Kelo v. New London: Dissenting Opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas
Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Chapter 17, Excerpt
History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides: Book VI, Chapters 8-15
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Part One, Chapter 3, Excerpt
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy: Chapter VI
On Patriotism by Leo Tolstoy: Excerpt
Leo Tolstoy to Mohandas K. Gandhi: In toto
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Book Seven, Chapter 6, Excerpt
The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan by Ibn Tufail: § 24 – § 29
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain: Chapter XII
How I Edited an Agricultural Paper by Mark Twain: In toto
Jim Smily and His Jumping Frog by Mark Twain: In toto
The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen: Excerpt
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne: Excerpts
Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne: Chapter 20, Excerpt
Aeneid by Virgil
The Life of Dr. Donne by Izaak Walton: Excerpt
The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells: Chapter 19, Excerpt
The New World Order by H.G. Wells: Chapter: 10 Declaration of the Rights of Men
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Preface
Philosophical Inquiries by Ludwig Wittgenstein: §40-47
The Man Upstairs by P.G. Wodehouse: Excerpt
The String Quartet by Virginia Woolf: In toto
The Journal of John Woolman: Excerpt
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth: In toto
Memorabilia by Xenophon: Book I, Chapter 2, Sections 39-50
A Model For The Laureate by William Butler Yeats: In toto
The Old Stone Cross by William Butler Yeats: In toto
This is the twenty-fifth in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts are available here. Volume XXV: Autobiography, Etc., J.S. Mill; Essays and Addresses, T. Carlyle
It is clear from a review of the titles in the Harvard Classics that Dr. Eliot was a firm believer of the importance of role models and the possibility of learning from experience. His “five-foot shelf” includes a seemingly disproportionate share of biographical works. In addition to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and biographies by Izaak Walton, the set includes autobiographical writings by Franklin, Woolman, Augustine, Mill, Dana, and Cellini.
If the purpose of studying biography is to learn from positive role models, most of these selections are totally understandable. Franklin’s Autobiography is full of folksy wisdom and Puritanical morality. Augustine’s Confessions describe the path to faith and virtue from a dissolute youth. Johns Donne and Woolman were humble and pious preachers whom one would do well to emulate. Excellent role models, they.
But Thomas Carlyle suggests in his essay on Sir Walter Scott (another biographical work) that the value of biography is more than just an appreciation for role models, but an instinctive attraction to people of distinction. “Such is hero-worship; so much lies in that our inborn sincere love of great men!” If we are to emulate the subjects of biographies, we are to emulate them for their greatness rather than any moral virtue they happen to have. And more likely, we are to find that we are incapable of emulating them and should worship them all the more for doing what we could not.
What’s more, Carlyle claims that the attraction to prominent figures is more important than finding truly great heroes to worship. For even in the hero-worship of merely “noted men” is the seed of the value of following the truly great. “Find great men, if you can; if you cannot, still quit not the search; in defect of great men, let there be noted men, in such number, to such degree of intensity as the public appetite can tolerate.”
Here, I think Carlyle misses the mark. His version of history is a string biographies of a few great men who, by power of personality and virtue (in the Machiavellian sense,) were able to drag society upward. In truth, we give far more credit to “great men” than they deserve. It is the toil of the multitude, and the choices of the many that have led to the tremendous material improvements in society. From the spontaneous order of the market to the physical production of the food and widgets that we need and desire, the actions and decisions of each individual has always better provided for the material needs of society than the dictates of any “great leader”. There is plenty to learn from biographies of notable people, but it is a mistake to assume that their lives alone have brought us here.
Beer of the week: Wells Banana Bread Beer – The name says it all. This not-quite-copper-colored ale is banana bread in a can. The aroma is of bananas and spice. Without being too sticky or sweet, this really does taste a lot like banana bread. It is very smooth with enough spicy hops in the finish to make sure that it tastes like beer as well. And delicious beer at that.
Reading of the week: Sir Walter Scott by Thomas Carlyle – Later in the essay, Carlyle writes, “there is no heroic poem in the world but is at bottom a biography, the life of a man: also, it may be said, there is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed.”
Question for the week: How does biography compare to other forms of nonfiction? Is it even fair to call biography a subcategory of nonfiction?
This is the eighteenth in a series on The Harvard Classics; the rest of the posts are available here. Volume XVIII: Modern English Drama
For as long as humans have consumed alcohol, its effect on thought, particularly creative thought, has been an important issue.
According to Herodotus, in Book I of his Histories, the Persians made alcohol an essential part of their decision-making. “Moreover,” he writes, “it is their custom to deliberate about the gravest matters when they are drunk; and what they approve in their deliberations is proposed to them the next day, when they are sober, by the master of the house where they deliberate; and if, being sober, they still approve it, they act on it, but if not, they drop it. And if they have deliberated about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk.” There are several important features of this comment. In the first place, the Persians applied this practice for “the gravest matters”; the most important decisions require the most complete deliberation. Additionally, the order does not seem to matter; the initial deliberation can be either drunk or sober, so long as the decisions are reviewed in the opposite state. The ultimate decision making is not left exclusively to sobriety.
Two thousand years later, the notion of alcohol as an aide to thought was still common. In Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy She Stoops To Conquer, the jokester Tony Lumpkin sings a drinking song that starts with the lines:
Let schoolmasters puzzle their brain
With grammar, and nonsense, and learning,
Good liquor, I stoutly maintain,
Gives genus a better discerning.
More important than intellectual training, Lumpkin declares, is the consumption of good liquor. Of course, it is not at all clear that this song should be taken at face value. The song meets with the universal approval of the barflies… a group whose decision making is, itself, questionable.
Shortly before our own day, we have come to better appreciate how alcohol adversely affects our mental processes. H. L. Mencken, although an avid tippler, never mixed alcohol and intellectual work. In his essay Giants at the Bar, he wrote, “I never touch the stuff by daylight if I can help it, and I employ it of an evening not to hooch up my faculties but to let them down after work. Not in years have I ever written anything with so much as a glass of beer in my system. My compositions, I gather, sometimes seem boozy to the nobility and gentry, but they are actually done as soberly as those of the late William Dean Howells.”
Ultimately, it seems that different amounts of alcohol (from zero to tipsy) provide different mental effects. So for each individual, each mental task probably has its own optimal level of intoxication. (Many, if not most, of which are almost certainly stone sober.) I suppose that it would require years of dedicated study to determine how many beers are ideal for any given task. I’d better get to work.
Beer of the week: PC Pils – Founders Brewing Co. makes this “American hopped pilsner.” But PC Pils doesn’t strike me as very pilsner-like. For one thing, it is a bit hazy, while pilsners are most often clear and golden. And without the classic noble hops aroma and taste, it just doesn’t fit the bill. That said, I quite like PC Pils. Although the aroma is faint, it is nice and hoppy. The flavor is primarily of floral hops and a subtle hint of ginger. Whatever style they claim this is, Founders has done a great job with this summer seasonal.
Reading of the week: She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith – This scene sets up the primary story arc of the play. After performing the song introduced above, Lumpkin misleads some travelers into mistaking their destination. A series of misunderstandings ensues. More alcohol may have helped.
Question for the week: Is there any task, mental or otherwise, that you are better at after a beer or two?
Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language–so the argument runs–must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.
These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad–I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen–but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative samples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:
(1) I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.
–PROFESSOR HAROLD LASKI (Essay in FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION)
(2) Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes such egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic PUT UP WITH for TOLERATE or PUT AT A LOSS for BEWILDER.
–PROFESSOR LANCELOT HOGBEN (INTERGLOSSA)
(3) On the one side we have the free personality; by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But ON THE OTHER SIDE, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?
–Essay on psychology in POLITICS (New York)
(4) All the “best people” from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror of the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoisie to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.
(5) If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may lee sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM–as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes, or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’am-ish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens.
–Letter in TRIBUNE
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of WORDS chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of PHRASES tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged:
DYING METAPHORS. A newly-invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically “dead” (e.g., IRON RESOLUTION) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: RING THE CHANGES ON, TAKE UP THE CUDGELS FOR, TOE THE LINE, RIDE ROUGHSHOD OVER, STAND SHOULDER TO SHOULDER WITH, PLAY INTO THE HANDS OF, AN AXE TO GRIND, GRIST TO THE MILL, FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS, ON THE ORDER OF THE DAY, ACHILLES’ HEEL, SWAN SONG, HOTBED. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a “rift,” for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, TOE THE LINE is sometimes written TOW THE LINE. Another example is THE HAMMER AND THE ANVIL, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would be aware of this, and would avoid perverting the original phrase.
OPERATORS, or VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: RENDER INOPERATIVE, MILITATE AGAINST, PROVE UNACCEPTABLE, MAKE CONTACT WITH, BE SUBJECTED TO, GIVE RISE TO, GIVE GROUNDS FOR, HAVING THE EFFECT OF, PLAY A LEADING PART (RÔLE) IN, MAKE ITSELF FELT, TAKE EFFECT, EXHIBIT A TENDENCY TO, SERVE THE PURPOSE OF, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as BREAK, STOP, SPOIL, MEND, KILL, a verb becomes a PHRASE, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb as PROVE, SERVE, FORM, PLAY, RENDER. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (BY EXAMINATION OF instead of BY EXAMINING). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the ‘-IZE’ AND ‘DE-‘ formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the NOT ‘UN-‘ formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as WITH RESPECT TO, HAVING REGARD TO, THE FACT THAT, BY DINT OF, IN VIEW OF, IN THE INTERESTS OF, ON THE HYPOTHESIS THAT; and the ends of sentences are saved from anti-climax by such resounding commonplaces as GREATLY TO BE DESIRED, CANNOT BE LEFT OUT OF ACCOUNT, A DEVELOPMENT TO BE EXPECTED IN THE NEAR FUTURE, DESERVING OF SERIOUS CONSIDERATION, BROUGHT TO A SATISFACTORY CONCLUSION, and so on and so forth.
PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like PHENOMENON, ELEMENT, INDIVIDUAL (as noun), OBJECTIVE, CATEGORICAL, EFFECTIVE, VIRTUAL, BASIS, PRIMARY, PROMOTE, CONSTITUTE, EXHIBIT, EXPLOIT, UTILIZE, ELIMINATE, LIQUIDATE, are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments. Adjectives like EPOCH-MAKING, EPIC, HISTORIC, UNFORGETTABLE, TRIUMPHANT, AGE-OLD, INEVITABLE, INEXORABLE, VERITABLE, are used to dignify the sordid processes of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: REALM, THRONE, CHARIOT, MAILED FIST, TRIDENT, SWORD, SHIELD, BUCKLER, BANNER, JACKBOOT, CLARION. Foreign words and expressions such as CUL DE SAC, ANCIEN RÉGIME, DEUS EX MACHINA, MUTATIS MUTANDIS, STATUS QUO, GLEICHSCHALTUNG, WELTANSCHAUUNG, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations I.E., E.G., and ETC., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in English. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like EXPEDITE, AMELIORATE, PREDICT, EXTRANEOUS, DERACINATED, CLANDESTINE, SUB-AQUEOUS and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon opposite numbers. [Note 1, below] The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (HYENA, HANGMAN, CANNIBAL, PETTY BOURGEOIS, THESE GENTRY, LACKEY, FLUNKEY, MAD DOG, WHITE GUARD, etc.) consists largely of words and phrases translated from Russian, German or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the ‘-ize’ formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (DE-REGIONALIZE, IMPERMISSIBLE, EXTRAMARITAL, NON-FRAGMENTARY and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.
[Note: 1. An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, SNAPDRAGON becoming ANTIRRHINUM, FORGET-ME-NOT becoming MYOSOTIS, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific. (Author’s footnote.)]
MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. [Note, below] Words like ROMANTIC, PLASTIC, VALUES, HUMAN, DEAD, SENTIMENTAL, NATURAL, VITALITY, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, “The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality,” while another writes, “The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness,” the reader accepts this as a simple difference of opinion If words like BLACK and WHITE were involved, instead of the jargon words DEAD and LIVING, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word FASCISM has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable.” The words DEMOCRACY, SOCIALISM, FREEDOM, PATRIOTIC, REALISTIC, JUSTICE, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like DEMOCRACY, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like MARSHAL PÉTAIN WAS A TRUE PATRIOT, THE SOVIET PRESS IS THE FREEST IN THE WORLD, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS OPPOSED TO PERSECUTION, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: CLASS, TOTALITARIAN, SCIENCE, PROGRESSIVE, REACTIONARY BOURGEOIS, EQUALITY.
[Note: Example: “Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness…Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bulls-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation.” (POETRY QUARTERLY.) (Author’s footnote.)]
Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from ECCLESIASTES:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3), above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations–race, battle, bread–dissolve into the vague phrase “success or failure in competitive activities.” This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing–no one capable of using phrases like “objective consideration of contemporary phenomena”–would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains 38 words of 90 syllables: 18 of its words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (“time and chance”) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from ECCLESIASTES.
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing, is that it is easy. It is easier–even quicker, once you have the habit–to say IN MY OPINION IT IS A NOT UNJUSTIFIABLE ASSUMPTION THAT than to say I THINK. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry–when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech–it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like A CONSIDERATION WHICH WE SHOULD DO WELL TO BEAR IN MIND OR A CONCLUSION TO WHICH ALL OF US WOULD READILY ASSENT will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash–as in THE FASCIST OCTOPUS HAS SUNG ITS SWAN SONG, THE JACKBOOT IS THROWN INTO THE MELTING POT–it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in 53 words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip ALIEN for akin, making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase PUT UP WITH, is unwilling to look EGREGIOUS up in the dictionary and see what it means. (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning–they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another–but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you–even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent-and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.” Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White Papers and the speeches of under-secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases–BESTIAL ATROCITIES, IRON HEEL, BLOODSTAINED TYRANNY, FREE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD, STAND SHOULDER TO SHOULDER–one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called PACIFICATION. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called TRANSFER OF POPULATION or RECTIFICATION OF FRONTIERS. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called ELIMINATION OF UNRELIABLE ELEMENTS. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.
The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find–this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify–that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years as a result of dictatorship.
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like A NOT UNJUSTIFIABLE ASSUMPTION, LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED, WOULD SERVE NO GOOD PURPOSE, A CONSIDERATION WHICH WE SHOULD DO WELL TO BEAR IN MIND, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence that I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a cooperative and unified Europe.” You see, he “feels impelled” to write–feels, presumably, that he has something new to say–and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (LAY THE FOUNDATIONS, ACHIEVE A RADICAL TRANSFORMATION) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were EXPLORE EVERY AVENUE and LEAVE NO STONE UNTURNED, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of fly-blown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the NOT ‘UN-‘ formation out of existence, [Note, below] to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does NOT imply.
[Note: One can cure oneself of the NOT ‘UN-‘ formation by memorizing this sentence: A NOT UNBLACK DOG WAS CHASING A NOT UNSMALL RABBIT ACROSS A NOT UNGREEN FIELD. (Author’s footnote.)]
To begin with, it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting-up of a “standard-English” which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a “good prose style.” On the other hand it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing, you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures or sensations. Afterwards one can choose–not simply ACCEPT–the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.
These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in these five specimens at the beginning of this article.
I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language-and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists–is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase–some JACKBOOT, ACHILLES’ HEEL, HOTBED, MELTING POT, ACID TEST, VERITABLE INFERNO or other lump of verbal refuse–into the dustbin where it belongs.