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IV.

  • Yet this, to say the truth, is a very shallow kind of moral philosophy indeed.
  • Would such an excuse as that serve my purpose, I should like to know, if some
  • sea-green, incorruptible readuster were suddenly to begin lopping off the
  • useless branches from the social organism here in England? For ours, after
  • all, is a serious world of struggling, hungry mortals, governed by natural
  • selection and the survival of the fittest — in other words, by ever-pressing
  • famine which picks out on the whole the weakest and least successful members
  • with the unerring sagacity of blind mechanical law. If such a community,
  • composed mainly of real workers and producers, of men and women who raise the
  • bread and weave the garments that feed and clothe me, were seriously and
  • solemnly to ask me what I had ever done for them and theirs that I should not
  • be hewn down and cast into the fire like the barren fig-tree, could I really
  • give them any solid and satisfactory excuse for my continued existence? I fear
  • not. The classes for whom I purvey entertaining leaders, or leaders meant to
  • be entertaining, are not theirs: they are the classes with whom theirs have
  • little or nothing at all in common. Tootling is of small use to the cobblers
  • of Northampton, or to the saw-grinders of Sheffield; it is the idle people of
  • the world who pay me my penny for my day's labour. Probably there are few
  • minor journalists who do not sometimes pause to think with shame or grief that
  • they are ministering only to the pettiest amusement of a useless crowd; that
  • they are pandering to the more or less unwholesome tastes of a set with whom
  • they can have personally but very little literary sympathy. This, I take it,
  • is the worst and darkest count in the whole indictment against professional
  • scribblers — that they are scribbling not for the advancement of the world as
  • a whole, not for the enlightenment of the struggling masses, not even for the
  • more innocent amusement of the people who feed and clothe them, but simply and
  • solely for the gratification of a class who have probably no reason whatsoever
  • to exist, and whom the sea-green incorruptible, if ever he comes, will educate
  • out of existence with all convenient expedition.
  • But this, you say, is rank socialism and nihilism of the most cut-throat sort.
  • This is the talk of sheer Parisian communards and pétroleuses over their drop
  • of absinthe in a Belleville cabaret. Oh, no; I hope not. My own ethics are far
  • too dubitative and fluctuating to make me willingly cut any other man's throat
  • for any supposed shortcoming in his performance of his social duties. I don't
  • mean by these apparently harsh words to taboo utterly all the ladies and
  • gentlemen upon earth; I only want to make my own calling and election quite
  • sure. I can readily understand that there many a wealthy man in England who
  • lives in a great house and keeps a great retinue, and whom mere unthinking
  • nihilism would at once condemn as a double-dyed aristocrat, but who
  • nevertheless has really done nearly as much for the cause of humanity as
  • Messrs. Delescluze, Rochefort, and O'Donovan Rossa. I don't for a moment deny
  • that many a member of the richer classes in all countries, if asked to render
  • an account of his stewardship, could point to great works of benevolence, of
  • social organisation, of industrial improvement, of agricultural progress, of
  • education, of literature, of science, of art. Such people could pass their
  • examination before the delegates of humanity in the first class with honours.
  • I have no doubt, too, that there are many other humbler persons of the same
  • rank who could show good work done in other ways, political, social, or
  • domestic, which would at least enable them to scrape through decently for a
  • pass degree. But I don't suppose, on the other hand, that anybody will deny
  • the existence of many thousands of utterly idle and useless people in our
  • midst, who have never done anything, and never will do anything, save eat,
  • drink, and enjoy themselves in wholly selfish ways their whole life long. Now,
  • I don't say that such people ought to be lopped off forcibly from the body
  • politic: far be it from me, who am an individualist of the utterest school,
  • and firmly believe in the divine right of everybody to be left alone in his
  • own devices, so to coerce the acts and consciences of other people. Let the
  • wheat and the tares grow together to the harvest. But the important point for
  • each one of us is to make sure under which category he himself properly falls.
  • It is one thing to say you do not interfere with a certain set of exoteric
  • persons; another thing to say you will be one of them yourself. We are all for
  • tolerating Muggletonians and Fifth Monarchy Men, but we don't all wish
  • immediately to join these eccentric sects, or to march up and down the streets
  • with banners flying as full privates in the Salvation Army.
  • I take it for granted, therefore, without being at all of a sanguinary or
  • revolutionary disposition, that there are at this moment in England a vast
  • number of people who cannot satisfactorily defend their own presence on earth
  • in any way; and who, if only they had attained to an ethical standpoint at
  • all, would either go their way and do otherwise, or else would cut their own
  • throats for incorrigible vagabonds upon the spot. I take it for granted also
  • that it is the obvious duty of every right-minded man to avoid being one of
  • these, and as far as practicably possible, to avoid making his living by
  • pandering to their useless tastes and selfish amusements. The only remaining
  • question is this — Can the scribbler be considered as sinning against light if
  • he deliberately goes on scribbling for the classes in point, after he has once
  • clearly arrived at this fundamental ethical judgement?