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2. The Maniac
Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether
on a few cynical maxims which are not true. Once I remember walking with a
prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is,
indeed, almost a motto of the modern world. Yet I had heard it once too often,
and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it. The publisher said of somebody,
"That man will get on; he believes in himself." And I remember that as I lifted my
head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell." I said
to him, "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I
can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than
Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success.
I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in
themselves are all in lunatic asylums." He said mildly that there were a good
many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic
asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted, "and you of all men ought to know them.
That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed
in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a
back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience
instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in
himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in
themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that a man
will certainly fail, because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not
merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness. Believing utterly in one's
self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote: the
man who has it has `Hanwell' written on his face as plain as it is written on that
omnibus." And to all this my friend the publisher made this very deep and
effective reply, "Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to
believe?" After a long pause I replied, "I will go home and write a book in answer
to that question." This is the book that I have written in answer to it.
But I think this book may well start where our argument started-- in the
neighbourhood of the mad-house. Modern masters of science are much
impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters
of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the
fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed
in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.
But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our
day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt.
Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian
theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend
R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness,
which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human
sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest
sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true