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3. The Suicide Of Thought
The phrases of the street are not only forcible but subtle: for a figure of speech
can often get into a crack too small for a definition. Phrases like "put out" or "off
colour" might have been coined by Mr. Henry James in an agony of verbal
precision. And there is no more subtle truth than that of the everyday phrase
about a man having "his heart in the right place." It involves the idea of normal
proportion; not only does a certain function exist, but it is rightly related to other
functions. Indeed, the negation of this phrase would describe with peculiar
accuracy the somewhat morbid mercy and perverse tenderness of the most
representative moderns. If, for instance, I had to describe with fairness the
character of Mr. Bernard Shaw, I could not express myself more exactly than by
saying that he has a heroically large and generous heart; but not a heart in the
right place. And this is so of the typical society of our time.
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good.
It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as
Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are
let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But
the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues
do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues
gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from
each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and
their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I
am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks
Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and
almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier
to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not
only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have
been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his
mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race--
because he is so human. As the other extreme, we may take the acrid realist,
who has deliberately killed in himself all human pleasure in happy tales or in the
healing of the heart. Torquemada tortured people physically for the sake of moral
truth. Zola tortured people morally for the sake of physical truth. But in
Torquemada's time there was at least a system that could to some extent make
righteousness and peace kiss each other. Now they do not even bow. But a
much stronger case than these two of truth and pity can be found in the
remarkable case of the dislocation of humility.
It is only with one aspect of humility that we are here concerned. Humility was
largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetite of
man. He was always outstripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs.
His very power of enjoyment destroyed half his joys. By asking for pleasure, he
lost the chief pleasure; for the chief pleasure is surprise. Hence it became