THE ISLAND PHARISEES - BY JOHN GALSWORTHY
THE ISLAND PHARISEES - BY JOHN GALSWORTHY
"But this is a worshipful society"
Each man born into the world is born like Shelton in this book--to go
a journey and for the most part he is born on the high road. At
first he sits there in the dust with his little chubby hands
reaching at nothing and his little solemn eyes staring into space.
As soon as he can toddle he moves by the queer instinct we call the
love of life straight along this road looking neither to the right
nor left so pleased is he to walk. And he is charmed with
everything--with the nice flat road all broad and white with his
own feet and with the prospect he can see on either hand. The sun
shines and he finds the road a little hot and dusty; the rain falls
and he splashes through the muddy puddles. It makes no matter--all
is pleasant; his fathers went this way before him; they made this
road for him to tread and when they bred him passed into his fibre
the love of doing things as they themselves had done them. So he
walks on and on resting comfortably at nights under the roofs that
have been raised to shelter him by those who went before.
Suddenly one day without intending to he notices a path or opening
in the hedge leading to right or left and he stands looking at the
undiscovered. After that he stops at all the openings in the hedge;
one day with a beating heart he tries one.
And this is where the fun begins.
Out of ten of him that try the narrow path nine of him come back to
the broad road and when they pass the next gap in the hedge they
say: "No no my friend I found you pleasant for a while but after
that-ah! after that! The way my fathers went is good enough for me
and it is obviously the proper one; for nine of me came back and
that poor silly tenth--I really pity him!"
And when he comes to the next inn and snuggles in his well-warmed
bed he thinks of the wild waste of heather where he might have had
to spend the night alone beneath the stars; nor does it I think
occur to him that the broad road he treads all day was once a
trackless heath itself.
But the poor silly tenth is faring on. It is a windy night that he
is travelling through a windy night with all things new around and
nothing to help him but his courage. Nine times out of ten that
courage fails and he goes down into the bog. He has seen the
undiscovered and--like Ferrand in this book--the undiscovered has
engulfed him; his spirit tougher than the spirit of the nine that
burned back to sleep in inns was yet not tough enough. The tenth
time he wins across and on the traces he has left others follow
slowly cautiously--a new road is opened to mankind! A true saying
goes: Whatever is is right! And if all men from the world's
beginning had said that the world would never have begun--at all.
Not even the protoplasmic jelly could have commenced its journey;
there would have been no motive force to make it start.
And so that other saying had to be devised before the world could
set up business: Whatever is is wrong! But since the Cosmic Spirit
found that matters moved too fast if those that felt "All things that
are are wrong" equalled in number those that felt "All things that
are are right" It solemnly devised polygamy (all be it said in a
spiritual way of speaking); and to each male spirit crowing "All
things that are are wrong" It decreed nine female spirits clucking
"All things that are are right." The Cosmic Spirit who was very
much an artist knew its work and had previously devised a quality
called courage and divided it in three naming the parts spiritual
moral physical. To all the male-bird spirits but to no female
(spiritually not corporeally speaking) It gave courage that was
spiritual; to nearly all both male and female It gave courage that
was physical; to very many hen-bird spirits It gave moral courage
too. But because It knew that if all the male-bird spirits were
complete the proportion of male to female--one to ten--would be too
great and cause upheavals It so arranged that only one in ten male-
bird spirits should have all three kinds of courage; so that the
other nine having spiritual courage but lacking either in moral or
in physical should fail in their extensions of the poultry-run. And
having started them upon these lines it left them to get along as
best they might.
Thus in the subdivision of the poultry-run that we call England the
proportion of the others to the complete male-bird spirit who of
course is not infrequently a woman is ninety-nine to one; and with
every Island Pharisee when he or she starts out in life the
interesting question ought to be "Am I that one?" Ninety very soon
find out that they are not and having found it out lest others
should discover they say they are. Nine of the other ten blinded
by their spiritual courage are harder to convince; but one by one
they sink still proclaiming their virility. The hundredth Pharisee
alone sits out the play.
Now the journey of this young man Shelton who is surely not the
hundredth Pharisee is but a ragged effort to present the working of
the truth "All things that are are wrong" upon the truth "All
things that are are right."
The Institutions of this country like the Institutions of all other
countries are but half-truths; they are the working daily clothing
of the nation; no more the body's permanent dress than is a baby's
frock. Slowly but surely they wear out or are outgrown; and in
their fashion they are always thirty years at least behind the
fashions of those spirits who are concerned with what shall take
their place. The conditions that dictate our education the
distribution of our property our marriage laws amusements worship
prisons and all other things change imperceptibly from hour to
hour; the moulds containing them being inelastic do not change but
hold on to the point of bursting and then are hastily often
clumsily enlarged. The ninety desiring peace and comfort for their
spirit the ninety of the well-warmed beds will have it that the
fashions need not change that morality is fixed that all is ordered
and immutable that every one will always marry play and worship in
the way that they themselves are marrying playing worshipping.
They have no speculation and they hate with a deep hatred those who
speculate with thought. This is the function they were made for.
They are the dough and they dislike that yeasty stuff of life which
comes and works about in them. The Yeasty Stuff--the other
ten--chafed by all things that are desirous ever of new forms and
moulds hate in their turn the comfortable ninety. Each party has
invented for the other the hardest names that it can think of:
Philistines Bourgeois Mrs. Grundy Rebels Anarchists and
Ne'er-do-weels. So we go on! And so as each of us is born to go
his journey he finds himself in time ranged on one side or on the
other and joins the choruses of name-slingers.
But now and then--ah! very seldom--we find ourselves so near that
thing which has no breadth the middle line that we can watch them
both and positively smile to see the fun.