Mankind in the Making


The Man-Making Forces of the Modern State

H.G. Wells

§ 1

SO FAR we have concerned ourselves with the introductory and foundation matter of the New Republican project, with the measures and methods that may be resorted to, firstly, if we would raise the general quality of the children out of whom we have to make the next generation, and, secondly, if we would replace divergent dialects and partial and confused expression by a uniform, ample and thorough knowledge of English throughout the English-speaking world. These two things are necessary preliminaries to the complete attainment of the more essential nucleus in the New Republican idea. So much has been discussed. This essential nucleus, thus stripped, reveals itself as the systematic direction of the moulding forces that play upon the developing citizen, towards his improvement, with a view to a new generation of individuals, a new social state, at a higher level than that at which we live to-day, a new generation which will apply the greater power, ampler knowledge and more definite will our endeavours will give it, to raise its successor still higher in the scale of life. Or we may put the thing in another and more concrete and vivid way. On the one hand imagine an average little child let us say in its second year. We have discussed all that can be done to secure that this average little child shall be well born, well fed, well cared for, and we will imagine all that can be done has been done. Accordingly, we have a sturdy, beautiful healthy little creature to go upon, just beginning to walk, just beginning to clutch at things with its hands, to reach out to and apprehend things with its eyes, with its ears, with the hopeful commencement of speech. We want to arrange matters so that this little being shall develop into its best possible adult form. That is our remaining problem.

Is our contemporary average citizen the best that could have been made out of the vague extensive possibilities that resided in him when he was a child of two? It has been shown already that in height and weight he, demonstrably, is not, and it has been suggested, I hope almost as convincingly, that in that complex apparatus of acquisition and expression, language, he is also needlessly deficient. And even upon this defective foundation, it is submitted, he still fails, morally, mentally, socially, æsthetically, to be as much as he might be. “As much as he might be,” is far too ironically mild. The average citizen of our great state to-day is, I would respectfully submit, scarcely more than a dirty clout about his own buried talents.

I do not say he might not be infinitely worse, but can any one believe that, given better conditions, he might not have been infinitely better? Is it necessary to argue for a thing so obvious to all clear-sighted men? Is it necessary, even if it were possible, that I should borrow the mantle of Mr. George Gissing or the force of Mr. Arthur Morrison, and set myself in cold blood to measure the enormous defect of myself and my fellows by the standards of a remote perfection, to gauge the extent of this complex muddle of artificial and avoidable shortcomings through which we struggle? Must one, indeed, pass in review once more, bucolic stupidity, commercial cunning, urban vulgarity, religious hypocrisy, political clap-trap, and all the raw disorder of our incipient civilization before the point will be conceded? What benefit is there in any such revision? rather it may overwhelm us with the magnitude of what we seek to do. Let us not dwell on it, on all the average civilized man still fails to achieve; admit his imperfection, and for the rest let us keep steadfastly before us that fair, alluring and reasonable conception of all that, even now, the average man might be.

Yet one is tempted by the effective contrast to put against that clean and beautiful child some vivid presentation of the average thing, to sketch in a few simple lines the mean and graceless creature of our modern life, his ill-made clothes, his clumsy, half-fearful, half-brutal bearing, his coarse defective speech, his dreary unintelligent work, his shabby, impossible, bathless, artless, comfortless home; one is provoked to suggest him in some phase of typical activity, “enjoying himself” on a Bank Holiday, or rejoicing, peacock feather in hand, hat askew, and voice completely gone, on some occasion of public festivity—on the defeat of a numerically inferior enemy for example, or the decision of some great international issue at baseball or cricket. This, one would say, we have made out of that, and so point the New Republican question, “Cannot we do better?” But the thing has been done so often without ever the breath of a remedy. Our business is with remedies. We mean to do better, we live to do better, and with no more than a glance at our present failures we will set ourselves to that.

To do better we must begin with a careful analysis of the process of this man’s making, of the great complex of circumstances which mould the vague possibilities of the average child into the reality of the citizen of the modern state.

We may begin upon this complex most hopefully by picking out a few of the conspicuous and typical elements and using them as a basis for an exhaustive classification. To begin with, of course, there is the home. For our present purpose it will be convenient to use “home” as a general expression for that limited group of human beings who share the board and lodging of the growing imperial citizen, and whose personalities are in constant, close contact with his until he reaches fifteen or sixteen. Typically, the chief figures of this group are mother, brothers and sisters, and father, to which are often added nursemaid, governess, and other servants. Beyond these are playmates again. Beyond these acquaintances figure. Home has indeed nowadays, in our world, no very definite boundaries—no such boundaries as it has, for example, on the veldt. In the case of a growing number of English upper middle-class children, moreover, and of the children of a growing element in the life of the eastern United States, the home functions are delegated in a very large degree to the preparatory school. It is a distinction that needs to be emphasized that many so-called schools are really homes, often very excellent homes, with which schools, often very inefficient schools, are united. All this we must lump together—it is, indeed, woven together almost inextricably—when we speak of home as a formative factor. The home, so far as its hygienic conditions go, we have already dealt with, and we have dealt, too, with the great neglected necessity, the absolute necessity if our peoples are to keep together, of making and keeping the language of the home uniform throughout our world-wide community. Purely intellectual development beyond the matter of language we may leave for a space. There remains the distinctive mental and moral function of the home, the determination by precept, example, and implication of the cardinal habits of the developing citizen, his general demeanour, his fundamental beliefs about all the common and essential things of life.

This group of people, who constitute the home, will be in constant reaction upon him. If as a whole they bear themselves with grace and serenity, say and do kindly things, control rage, and occupy themselves constantly, they will do much to impose these qualities upon the new-comer. If they quarrel one with another, behave coarsely and spitefully, loiter and lounge abundantly, these things will also stamp the child. A raging father, a scared deceitful mother, vulgarly acting, vulgarly thinking friends, all leave an almost indelible impress. Precept may play a part in the home, but it is a small part, unless it is endorsed by conduct. What these people do, on the whole, believe in and act upon, the child will tend to believe in and act upon; what they believe they believe, but do not act upon, the child will acquire also as a non-operative belief; their practices, habits, and prejudices will be enormously prepotent in his life. If, for example, the parent talks constantly of the contemptible dirtiness of Boers and foreigners, and of the extreme beauty of cleanliness and—even obviously—rarely washes, the child will grow to the same professions and the same practical denial. This home circle it is that will describe what, in modified Herbartian phraseology, one may call the child’s initial circle of thought; it is a circle many things will subsequently enlarge and modify, but of which they have the centering at least and the establishment of the radial trends, almost beyond redemption. The effect of home influence, indeed, constitutes with most of us a sort of secondary heredity, interweaving with, and sometimes almost indistinguishable from, the real unalterable primary heredity, a moral shaping by suggestion, example, and influence, that is a sort of spiritual parallel to physical procreation.

It is not simply personalities that are operative in the home influence. There is also the implications of the various relations between one member of the home circle and another. I am inclined to think that the social conceptions, for example, that are accepted in a child’s home world are very rarely shaken in afterlife. People who have been brought up in households where there is an organized under-world of servants are incurably different in their social outlook from those who have passed a servantless childhood. They never quite emancipate themselves from the conception of an essential class difference, of a class of beings inferior to themselves. They may theorise about equality—but theory is not belief. They will do a hundred things to servants that between equals would be, for various reasons, impossible. The Englishwoman and the Anglicised American woman of the more pretentious classes honestly regards a servant as physically, morally, and intellectually different from herself, capable of things that would be incredibly arduous to a lady, capable of things that would be incredibly disgraceful, under obligations of conduct no lady observes, incapable of the refinement to which every lady pretends. It is one of the most amazing aspects of contemporary life, to converse with some smart, affected, profoundly uneducated, flirtatious woman about her housemaid’s followers. There is such an identity; there is such an abyss. But at present that contrast is not our concern. Our concern at present is with the fact that the social constitution of the home almost invariably shapes the fundamental social conceptions for life, just as its average temperament shapes manners and bearing and its moral tone begets moral predisposition. If the average sensual man of our civilization is noisy and undignified in his bearing, disposed to insult and despise those he believes to be his social inferiors, competitive and disobliging to his equals; abject, servile, and dishonest to those he regards as his betters; if his wife is a silly, shallow, gossiping spendthrift, unfit to rear the children she occasionally bears, perpetually snubbing social inferiors and perpetually cringing to social superiors, it is probable that we have to blame the home, not particularly any specific class of homes, but our general home atmosphere, for the great part of these characteristics. If we would make the average man of the coming years gentler in manner, more deliberate in judgment, steadier in purpose, upright, considerate, and free, we must look first to the possibility of improving the tone and quality of the average home.

Now the substance and constitution of the home, the relations and order of its various members, have been, and are, traditional. But it is a tradition that has always been capable of modification in each generation. In the unlettered, untravelling past, the factor of tradition was altogether dominant. Sons and daughters married and set up homes, morally, intellectually, economically, like those of their parents. Over great areas homogeneous traditions held, and it needed wars and conquests, or it needed missionaries and persecutors and conflicts, or it needed many generations of intercourse and filtration before a new tradition could replace or graft itself upon the old. But in the past hundred years or so the home conditions of the children of our English-speaking population have shown a disposition to break from tradition under influences that are increasing, and to become much more heterogeneous than were any home conditions before. The ways in which these modifications of the old home tradition have arisen will indicate the means and methods by which further modifications may be expected and attempted in the future.

Modification has come to the average home tradition through two distinct, though no doubt finally interdependent channels. The first of these channels is the channel of changing economic necessities, using the phrase to cover everything from domestic conveniences at the one extreme to the financial foundation of the home at the other, and the next is the influx of new systems of thought, of feeling, and of interpretation about the general issues of life.

There are in Great Britain three main interdependent systems of home tradition undergoing modification and readjustment. They date from the days before mechanism and science began their revolutionary intervention in human affairs, and they derive from the three main classes of the old aristocratic, agricultural, and trading state, namely, the aristocratic, the middle, and the labour class. There are local, there are even racial modifications, there are minor classes and subspecies, but the rough triple classification will serve. In America the dominant home tradition is that of the transplanted English middle class. The English aristocratic tradition has flourished and faded in the Southern States; the British servile and peasant tradition has never found any growth in America, and has, in the persons of the Irish chiefly, been imported in an imperfect condition, only to fade. The various home traditions of the nineteenth century immigrants have either, if widely different, succumbed, or if not very different assimilated themselves to the ruling tradition. The most marked non-British influence has been the intermixture of Teutonic Protestantism. In both countries now the old home traditions have been and are being adjusted to and modified by the new classes, with new relationships and new necessities, that the revolution in industrial organization and domestic conveniences has created.

The interplay of old tradition and new necessities becomes at times very curious. Consider, for example, the home influences of the child of a shopman in a large store, or those of the child of a skilled operative—an engineer of some sort let us say—in England. Both these are new types in the English social body; the former derives from the old middle class, the class that was shopkeeping in the towns and farming in the country, the class of the Puritans, the Quakers, the first manufacturers, the class whose mentally active members become the dissenters, the old Liberals, and the original New Englanders. The growth of large businesses has raised a portion of this class to the position of Sir John Blundell Maple, Sir Thomas Lipton, the intimate friend of our King, and our brewer peers; it has raised a rather more numerous section to the red plush glories of Wagon-Lit trains and their social and domestic equivalents, and it has reduced the bulk of the class to the status of employees for life. But the tradition that our English shopman is in the same class as his master, that he has been apprentice and improver, and is now assistant, with a view to presently being a master himself, still throws its glamour over his life and his home, and his child’s upbringing. They belong to the middle class, the black coat and silk-hat class, and the silk hat crowns the adolescence of their boys as inevitably as the toga made men in ancient Rome. Their house is built, not for convenience primarily, but to realize whatever convenience is possible after the rigid traditional requirements have been met; it is the extreme and final reduction of the plan of a better class house, and the very type of its owner. As one sees it in the London suburbs devoted to clerks and shopmen, it stands back a yard or so from the road, with a gate and a railing, and a patch, perhaps two feet wide, of gravel between its front and the pavement. This is the last pathetic vestige of the preliminary privacies of its original type, the gates, the drive-up, the front lawn, the shady trees, that gave a great impressive margin to the door. The door has a knocker (with an appeal to realities, “ring also”) and it opens into a narrow passage, perhaps four feet wide, which still retains the title of “hall.” Oak staining on the woodwork and marbled paper accentuate the lordly memory. People of this class would rather die than live in a house with a front door, even had it a draught-stopping inner door, that gave upon the street. Instead of an ample kitchen in which meals can be taken and one other room in which the rest of life goes on, these two covering the house site, the social distinction from the servant invades the house space first by necessitating a passage to a side-door, and secondly by cutting up the interior into a “dining-room” and a “drawing-room.” Economy of fuel throughout the winter and economy of the best furniture always, keeps the family in the dining-room pretty constantly, but there you have the drawing-room as a concrete fact. Though the drawing-room is inevitable, the family will manage without a bath-room well enough. They may, or they may not, occasionally wash all over. There are probably not fifty books in the house, but a daily paper comes and Tit Bits or Pearson’s Weekly, or, perhaps, M.A.P., Modern Society, or some such illuminant of the upper circles, and a cheap fashion paper, appear at irregular intervals to supplement this literature.

The wife lives to realize the ideal of the “ladylike”—lady she resigns to the patrician—and she insists upon a servant, however small. This poor wretch of a servant, often a mere child of fourteen or fifteen, lives by herself in a minute kitchen, and sleeps in a fireless attic. To escape vulgar associates, the children of the house avoid the elementary schools—the schools called in America public schools—where there are trained, efficient teachers, good apparatus, and an atmosphere of industry, and go to one of those wretched dens of disorderly imposture, a middle-class school, where an absolute failure to train or educate is seasoned with religious cant, lessons in piano-playing, lessons in French “made in England,” mortarboard caps for the boys, and a high social tone. And to emphasize the fact of its social position, this bookless, bathless family tips! The plumber touches his hat for a tip, the man who moves the furniture, the butcher-boy at Christmas, the dustman; these things also, the respect and the tip, at their minimum dimensions. Everything is at its minimum dimensions, it is the last chipped, dwarfed, enfeebled state of a tradition that has, in its time, played a fine part in the world. This much of honour still clings to it, it will endure no tip, no charity, no upper-class control of its privacy. This is the sort of home in which the minds of thousands of young Englishmen and Englishwomen receive their first indelible impressions. Can one expect them to escape the contagion of its cramped pretentiousness, its dingy narrowness, its shy privacy of social degradation, its essential sordidness and inefficiency?

Our skilled operative, on the other hand, will pocket his tip. He is on the other side of the boundary. He presents a rising element coming from the servile mass. Probably his net income equals or exceeds the shopman’s, but there is no servant, no black coat and silk hat, no middle-class school in his scheme of things. He calls the shopman “Sir,” and makes no struggle against his native accent. In his heart he despises the middle class, the mean tip-givers, and he is inclined to overrate the gentry or big tippers. He is much more sociable, much noisier, relatively shameless, more intelligent, more capable, less restrained. He is rising against his tradition, and almost against his will. The serf still bulks large in him. The whole trend of circumstance is to substitute science for mere rote skill in him, to demand initiative and an intelligent self-adaptation to new discoveries and new methods, to make him a professional man and a job and pieceworker after the fashion of the great majority of professional men. Against all these things the serf element in him fights. He resists education and clings to apprenticeship, he fights for time-work, he obstructs new inventions, he clings to the ideal of short hours, high pay, shirk and let the master worry. His wife is a far more actual creature than the clerk’s; she does the house herself in a rough, effectual fashion, his children get far more food for mind and body, and far less restraint. You can tell the age of the skilled operative within a decade by the quantity of books in his home; the younger he is the more numerous these are likely to be. And the younger he is the more likely he is to be alive to certain general views about his rights and his place in the social scale, the less readily will his finger go to his cap at the sight of broad-cloth, or his hand to the proffered half-crown. He will have listened to Trade Union organizers and Socialist speakers; he will have read the special papers of his class. The whole of this home is, in comparison with the shopman’s, wide open to new influences. The children go to a Board School, and very probably afterwards to evening classes—or music-halls. Here again is a new type of home, in which the English of 1920 are being made in thousands, and which is forced a little way up the intellectual and moral scale every year, a little further from its original conception of labour, dependence, irresponsibility, and servility.

Compare, again, the home conditions of the child of a well-connected British shareholder inheriting, let us say, seven or eight hundred a year, with the home of exactly the same sort of person deriving from the middle class. On the one hand, one will find the old aristocratic British tradition in an instructively distorted state. All the assumptions of an essential lordliness remain—and none of the duties. All the pride is there still, but it is cramped, querulous, and undignified. That lordliness is so ample that for even a small family the income I have named will be no more than biting poverty, there will be a pervading quality of struggle in this home to avoid work, to frame arrangements, to discover cheap, loyal servants of the old type, to discover six per cent. investments without risk, to interest influential connections in the prospects of the children. The tradition of the ruling class, which sees in the public service a pension scheme for poor relations, will glow with all the colours of hope. Great sacrifices will be made to get the boys to public schools, where they can revive and expand the family connections. They will look forward as a matter of course to positions and appointments, for the want of which men of gifts and capacity from other social strata will break their hearts, and they will fill these coveted places with a languid, discontented incapacity. Great difficulty will be experienced in finding schools for the girls from which the offspring of tradesmen are excluded. Vulgarity has to be jealously anticipated. In a period when Smartness (as distinguished from Vulgarity) is becoming an ideal, this demands at times extremely subtle discrimination. The art of credit will be developed to a high level. . . . 

Now in the other family economically indistinguishable from this, a family with seven or eight hundred a year from investments, which derives from the middle class, the tradition is one that, in spite of the essential irresponsibility of the economic position, will urge this family towards exertion as a duty. As a rule the resultant lies in the direction of pleasant, not too arduous exertion, the arts are attacked with great earnestness of intention, literature, “movements” of many sorts are ingredients in these homes. Many things that are imperative to the aristocratic home are regarded as needless, and in their place appear other things that the aristocrat would despise, books, instruction, travel in incorrect parts of the world, games, that most seductive development of modern life, played to the pitch of distinction. Into both these homes comes literature, comes the Press, comes the talk of alien minds, comes the observation of things without, sometimes reinforcing the tradition, sometimes insidiously glossing upon it or undermining it, sometimes “letting daylight through it”; but much more into the latter type than into the former. And slowly the two fundamentally identical things tend to assimilate their superficial difference, to homologize their traditions, each generation sees a relaxation of the aristocratic prohibitions, a “gentleman” may tout for wines nowadays—among gentlemen—he may be a journalist, a fashionable artist, a schoolmaster, his sisters may “act,” while, on the other hand, each generation of the ex-commercial shareholder reaches out more earnestly towards refinement, towards tone and quality, towards etiquette, and away from what is “common” in life.

So in these typical cases one follows the strands of tradition into the new conditions, the new homes of our modern state. In America one finds exactly the same new elements shaped by quite parallel economic developments, shopmen in a large store, skilled operatives, and independent shareholders developing homes not out of a triple strand of tradition, but out of the predominant home tradition of an emancipated middle class, and in a widely different atmosphere of thought and suggestion. As a consequence, one finds, I am told, a skilled operative already with no eye (or only an angry eye) for tips, sociable shopmen, and shareholding families, frankly common, frankly intelligent, frankly hedonistic, or only with the most naïve and superficial imitation of the haughty incapacity, the mean pride, the parasitic lordliness of the just-independent, well-connected English.

These rough indications of four social types will illustrate the quality of our proposition, that home influence in the making of men resolves itself into an interplay of one substantial and two modifying elements, namely:—

        (1) Tradition.
        (2) Economic conditions.
        (3) New ideas, suggestions, interpretations, changes in the general atmosphere of thought in which a man lives and which he mentally breathes.

The net sum of which three factors becomes the tradition for the next generation.

Both the modifying elements admit of control. How the economic conditions of homes may be controlled to accomplish New Republican ends has already been discussed with a view to a hygienic minimum, and obviously the same, or similar, methods may be employed to secure less materialistic benefits. You can make a people dirty by denying them water, you can make a people cleaner by cheapening and enforcing bath-rooms. Man is indeed so spiritual a being that he will turn every materialistic development you force upon him into spiritual growth. You can aërate his house, not only with air, but with ideas. Build, cheapen, render alluring a simpler, more spacious type of house for the clerk, fill it with labour-saving conveniences, and leave no excuse and no spare corners for the “slavey,” and the slavey—and all that she means in mental and moral consequence—will vanish out of being. You will beat tradition. Make it easy for Trade Unions to press for shorter hours of work, but make it difficult for them to obstruct the arrival of labour-saving appliances, put the means of education easily within the reach of every workman, make promotion from the ranks, in the Army, in the Navy, in all business concerns, practicable and natural, and the lingering discolouration of the serf taint will vanish from the workman’s mind. The days of mystic individualism have passed, few people nowadays will agree to that strange creed that we must deal with economic conditions as though they were inflexible laws. Economic conditions are made and compact of the human will, and by tariffs, by trade regulation and organization, fresh strands of will may be woven into the complex. The thing may be extraordinarily intricate and difficult, abounding in unknown possibilities and unsuspected dangers, but that is a plea for science and not for despair.

Controllable, too, is the influx of modifying suggestions into our homes, however vast and subtle the enterprise may seem. But here we touch for the first time a question that we shall now continue to touch upon at other points, until at last we shall clear it and display it as the necessarily central question of the whole matter of man-making so far as the human will is concerned, and that is the preservation and expansion of the body of human thought and imagination, of which all conscious human will and act is but the imperfect expression and realization, of which all human institutions and contrivances, from the steam-engine to the ploughed field, and from the blue pill to the printing press, are no more than the imperfect symbols, the rude mnemonics and memoranda.

But this analysis of the modifying factors in the home influence, this formulation of its controllable elements, has now gone as far as the purpose of this paper requires. It has worked out to this, that the home, so far as it is not traditional organization, is really only on the one hand an aspect of the general economic condition of the state, and on the other of that still more fundamental thing, its general atmosphere of thought. Our analysis refers back the man-maker to these two questions. The home, one gathers, is not to be dealt with separately or simply. Nor, on the other hand, are these questions to be dealt with merely in relation to their home application. As the citizen grows up, he presently emerges from his home influences to a more direct and general contact with these two things, with the Fact of the modern state and with the Thought of the modern state, and we must consider each of these in relation to his development as a whole.

The next group of elements in the man-making complex that occurs to one after the home, is the school. Let me repeat a distinction already drawn between the home element in boarding-schools and the school proper. While the child is out of the school-room, playing—except when it is drilling or playing under direction—when it is talking with its playmates, walking, sleeping, eating, it is under those influences that it has been convenient for me to speak of as the home influence. The schoolmaster who takes boarders is, I hold, merely a substitute for the parent, the household of boarders merely a substitute for the family. What is meant by school here, is that which is possessed in common by day school and boarding-school—the schoolroom and the recess playground part. It is something which the savage and the barbarian distinctively do not possess as a phase in their making, and scarcely even its rudimentary suggestion. It is a new element correlated with the establishment of a wider political order and with the use of written speech.

Now I think it will be generally conceded that whatever systematic intellectual training the developing citizen gets, as distinguished from his natural, accidental, and incidental development, is got in school or in its subsequent development of college, and with that I will put aside the question of intellectual development altogether for a later, fuller discussion. My point here is simply to note the school as a factor in the making of almost every citizen in the modern state, and to point out, what is sometimes disregarded, that it is only one of many factors in that making. The tendency of the present time is enormously to exaggerate the importance of school in development, to ascribe to it powers quite beyond its utmost possibilities, and to blame it for evils in which it has no share. And in the most preposterous invasions of the duties of parent, clergyman, statesman, author, journalist, of duties which are in truth scarcely more within the province of a schoolmaster than they are within the province of a butcher, the real and necessary work of the school is too often marred, crippled, and lost sight of altogether. We treat the complex, difficult and honourable task of intellectual development as if it were within the capacity of any earnest but muddle-headed young lady, or any half-educated gentleman in orders; we take that for granted, and we demand in addition from them the “formation of character,” moral and ethical training and supervision, æsthetic guidance, the implanting of a taste for the Best in literature, for the Best in art, for the finest conduct; we demand the clue to success in commerce and the seeds of a fine passionate patriotism from these necessarily very ordinary persons.

One might think schoolmasters and schoolmistresses were inaccessible to general observation in the face of these stupendous demands. If we exacted such things from our butcher over and above good service in his trade, if we insisted that his meat should not only build up honest nerve and muscle, but that it should compensate for all that was slovenly in our homes, dishonest in our economic conditions, and slack and vulgar in our public life, he would very probably say that it took him all his time to supply sound meat, that it was a difficult and honourable thing to supply sound meat, that the slackness of business-men and statesmen in the country, the condition of the arts and sciences, wasn’t his business, that however lamentable the disorders of the state, there was no reasonable prospect of improving it by upsetting the distribution of meat, and, in short, that he was a butcher and not a Cosmos-healing quack. “You must have meat,” he would say, “anyhow.” But the average schoolmaster and schoolmistress does not do things in that way.

What a school may do for the developing citizen, the original and the developed function of the school, and how its true work may best be accomplished, we shall discuss later. But it may be well to expand a little more fully here the account of what the school has no business to attempt, and what the scholastic profession is, as a whole, quite incapable of doing, and to point to the really responsible agencies in each case.

Now, firstly, with regard to all that the schoolmaster and schoolmistress means by the “formation of character.” A large proportion of the scholastic profession will profess, and a still larger proportion of the public believes, that it is possible by talk and specially designed instruction, to give a boy or girl a definite bias towards “truth,” towards acts called “healthy” (a word it would puzzle the ordinary schoolmaster or schoolmistress extremely to define, glib as they are with it), towards honour, towards generosity, enterprise, self-reliance, and the like. The masters in our public schools are far from blameless in this respect, and you may gauge the quality of many of these gentlemen pretty precisely by their disposition towards the “school pulpit” line of business. Half an hour’s “straight talk to the boys,” impromptu vague sentimentality about Earnestness, Thoroughness, True Patriotism, and so forth, seems to assuage the conscience as nothing else could do, for weeks of ill-prepared, ill-planned teaching, and years of preoccupation with rowing-boats and cricket. The more extreme examples of this type will say in a tone of manly apology, “It does the boys good to tell them plainly what I think about serious things”—when the simple fact of the case is too often that he does all he can not to think about any things of any sort whatever, except cricket and promotion. Schoolmistresses, again, will sometimes come near boasting to the inquiring parent of our “ethical hour,” and if you probe the facts you will find that means no more and no less than an hour of floundering egotism, in which a poor illogical soul, with a sort of naive indecency, talks nonsense about “Ideals,” about the Higher and the Better, about Purity, and about many secret and sacred things, things upon which wise men are often profoundly uncertain, to incredulous or imitative children. All that is needed to do this sort of thing abundantly and freely is a certain degree of aggressive egotism, a certain gift of stupidity, good intentions, and a defective sense of educational possibilities and limitations.

In addition to moral discussions, that at the best are very second-rate eloquence, and at the worst are respect destroying, mind destroying gabble, there are various forms of “ethical” teaching, advocated and practised in America and in the elementary schools of this country. For example, a story of an edifying sort is told to the children, and comments are elicited upon the behaviour of the characters. “Would you have done that?” “Oh, no, teacher!” “Why not?” “Because it would be mean.” The teacher goes into particulars, whittling away at the verdict, and at last the fine point of the lesson stands out. Now it may be indisputable that such lessons can be conducted effectively and successfully by exceptionally brilliant teachers, that children may be given an excellent code of good intentions, and a wonderful skill in the research for good or bad motives for any given course of action they may or may not want to take, but that they can be systematically trained by the average teacher at our disposal in this desirable “subject” is quite another question. It is one of the things that the educational reformer must guard against most earnestly, the persuasion that what an exceptional man can do ever and again for display purposes can be done successfully day by day in schools. This applies to many other things besides the teaching of ethics. Professor Armstrong can give delightfully instructive lessons in chemistry according to the heuristic method, but in the hands of the average teacher by whom teaching must be done for the next few years the heuristic system will result in nothing but a pointless fumble. Mr. Mackinder teaches geography—inimitably—just to show how to do it. Mr. David Devant—the brilliant Egyptian Hall conjuror—will show any assembly of parents how to amuse children quite easily, but for some reason he does not present his legerdemain as a new discovery in educational method.

To our argument that this sort of teaching is not within the capacity of such teachers as we have, or are likely to have, we can, fortunately enough, add that whatever is attempted can be done far better through other agencies. More or less unknown to teachers there exists a considerable amount of well-written literature, true stories and fiction, in which, without any clumsy insistence upon moral points, fine actions are displayed in their elementary fineness, and baseness is seen to be base. There are also a few theatres, and there might be more, in which fine action is finely displayed. Now one nobly conceived and nobly rendered play will give a stronger moral impression than the best schoolmaster conceivable, talking ethics for a year on end. One great and stirring book may give an impression less powerful, perhaps, but even more permanent. Practically these things are as good as example—they are example. Surround your growing boy or girl with a generous supply of good books, and leave writer and growing soul to do their business together without any scholastic control of their intercourse. Make your state healthy, your economic life healthy and honest, be honest and truthful in the pulpit, behind the counter, in the office, and your children will need no specific ethical teaching; they will inhale right. And without these things all the ethical teaching in the world will only sour to cant at the first wind of the breath of the world.

Quite without ethical pretension at all the school is of course bound to influence the moral development of the child. That most important matter, the habit and disposition towards industry, should be acquired there, the sense of thoroughness in execution, the profound belief that difficulty is bound to yield to a resolute attack—all these things are the necessary by-products of a good school. A teacher who is punctual, persistent, just, who tells the truth, and insists upon the truth, who is truthful, not merely technically but in a constant search for exact expression, whose own share of the school work is faultlessly done, who is tolerant to effort and a tireless helper, who is obviously more interested in serious work than in puerile games, will beget essential manliness in every boy he teaches. He need not lecture on his virtues. A slack, emotional, unpunctual, inexact, and illogical teacher, a fawning loyalist, an incredible pietist, an energetic snob, a teacher as eager for games, as sensitive to social status, as easy, kindly, and sentimental, and as shy really of hard toil as—as some teachers—is none the better for ethical flatulence. There is a good deal of cant in certain educational circles, there is a certain type of educational writing in which “love” is altogether too strongly present; a reasonably extensive observation of school-children and school-teachers makes one doubt whether there is ever anything more than a very temperate affection and a still more temperate admiration on either side. Children see through their teachers amazingly, and what they do not understand now they will understand later. For a teacher to lay hands on all the virtues, to associate them with his or her personality, to smear characteristic phrases and expressions over them, is as likely as not to give the virtues unpleasant associations. Better far, save through practice, to leave them alone altogether.

And what is here said of this tainting of moral instruction with the personality of the teacher applies still more forcibly to religious instruction. Here, however, I enter upon a field where I am anxious to avoid dispute. To my mind those ideas and emotions that centre about the idea of God appear at once too great and remote, and too intimate and subtle for objective treatment. But there are a great number of people, unfortunately, who regard religion as no more than geography, who believe that it can be got into daily lessons of one hour, and adequately done by any poor soul who has been frightened into conformity by the fear of dismissal. And having this knobby, portable creed, and believing sincerely that lip conformity is alone necessary to salvation, they want to force every teacher they can to acquire and impart its indestructible, inflexible recipes, and they are prepared to enforce this at the price of inefficiency in every other school function. We must all agree—whatever we believe or disbelieve—that religion is the crown of the edifice we build. But it will simply ruin a vital part of the edifice and misuse our religion very greatly if we hand it over to the excavators and bricklayers of the mind, to use as a cheap substitute for the proper intellectual and ethical foundations; for the ethical foundation which is schooling and the ethical foundation which is habit. I must confess that there is only one sort of man whose insistence upon religious teaching in schools by ordinary school teachers I can understand, and that is the downright Atheist, the man who believes sensual pleasure is all that there is of pleasure, and virtue no more than a hood to check the impetuosity of youth until discretion is acquired, the man who believes there is nothing else in the world but hard material fact, and who has as much respect for truth and religion as he has for stable manure. Such a man finds it convenient to profess a lax version of the popular religion, and he usually does so, and invariably he wants his children “taught” religion, because he so utterly disbelieves in God, goodness, and spirituality that he cannot imagine young people doing even enough right to keep healthy and prosperous, unless they are humbugged into it.

Equally unnecessary is the scholastic attempt to take over the relations of the child to “nature,” art, and literature. To read the educational journals, to hear the scholastic enthusiast, one would think that no human being would ever discover there was any such thing as “nature” were it not for the schoolmaster—and quotation from Wordsworth. And this nature, as they present it, is really not nature at all, but a factitious admiration for certain isolated aspects of the universe conventionally regarded as “natural.” Few schoolmasters have discovered that for every individual there are certain aspects of the universe that especially appeal, and that that appeal is part of the individuality—different from every human being, and quite outside their range. Certain things that have been rather well treated by poets and artists (for the most part dead and of Academic standing) they regard as Nature, and all the rest of the world, most of the world in which we live, as being in some way an intrusion upon this classic. They propound a wanton and illogical canon. Trees, rivers, flowers, birds, stars—are, and have been for many centuries Nature—so are ploughed fields—really the most artificial of all things—and all the apparatus of the agriculturist, cattle, vermin, weeds, weed-fires, and all the rest of it. A grassy old embankment to protect low-lying fields is Nature, and so is all the mass of apparatus about a water-mill; a new embankment to store an urban water supply, though it may be one mass of splendid weeds, is artificial, and ugly. A wooden windmill is Nature and beautiful, a sky-sign atrocious. Mountains have become Nature and beautiful within the last hundred years—volcanoes even. Vesuvius, for example, is grand and beautiful, its smell of underground railway most impressive, its night effect stupendous, but the glowing cinder heaps of Burslem, the wonders of the Black Country sunset, the wonderful fire-shot nightfall of the Five Towns, these things are horrid and offensive and vulgar beyond the powers of scholastic language. Such a mass of clotted inconsistencies, such a wild confusion of vicious mental practices as this, is the stuff the schoolmaster has in mind when he talks of children acquiring a love of Nature. They are to be trained, against all their mental bias, to observe and quote about the canonical natural objects and not to observe, but instead to shun and contemn everything outside the canon, and so to hand on the orthodox Love of Nature to another generation. One may present the triumph of scholastic nature-teaching, by the figure of a little child hurrying to school along the ways of a busy modern town. She carries a faded cut-flower, got at considerable cost from a botanical garden, and as she goes she counts its petals, its stamens, its bracteoles. Her love of Nature, her “powers of observation,” are being trained. About her, all unheeded, is a wonderful life that she would be intent upon but for this precious training of her mind; great electric trains loom wonderfully round corners, go droning by, spitting fire from their overhead wires; great shop windows display a multitudinous variety of objects; men and women come and go about a thousand businesses; a street-organ splashes a spray of notes at her as she passes, a hoarding splashes a spray of colour. . . . 

The shape and direction of one’s private observation is no more the schoolmaster’s business than the shape and direction of one’s nose. It is, indeed, possible to certain gifted and exceptional persons that they should not only see acutely, but abstract and express again what they have seen. Such people are artists—a different kind of people from schoolmasters altogether. Into all sorts of places, where people have failed to see, comes the artist like a light. The artist cannot create nor can he determine the observation of other men, but he can, at any rate, help and inspire it. But he and the pedagogue are temperamentally different and apart. They are at opposite poles of human quality. The pedagogue with his canon comes between the child and Nature only to limit and obscure. His business is to leave the whole thing alone.

If the interpretation of nature is a rare and peculiar gift, the interpretation of art and literature is surely an even rarer thing. Hundreds of schoolmasters and schoolmistresses who could not write one tolerable line of criticism, will stand up in front of classes by the hour together and issue judgments on books, pictures, and all that is comprised under the name of art. Think of it! Here is your great artist, your great exceptional mind groping in the darknesses beneath the surface of life, half apprehending strange elusive things in those profundities, and striving—striving sometimes to the utmost verge of human endeavour—to give that strange unsuspected mystery expression, to shape it, to shadow it in form and wonder of colour, in beautiful rhythms, in phantasies of narrative, in gracious and glowing words. So much in its essential and precious degree is art. Think of what the world must be in the wider vision of the great artist. Think, for example, of the dark splendours amidst which the mind of Leonardo clambered; the mirror of tender lights that reflected into our world the iridescent graciousness of Botticelli! Then to the faint and faded intimations these great men have left us of the things beyond our scope, comes the scholastic intelligence, gesticulating instructively, and in too many cases obscuring for ever the naive vision of the child. The scholastic intelligence, succulently appreciative, blind, hopelessly blind to the fact that every great work of art is a strenuous, an almost despairing effort to express and convey, treats the whole thing as some foolish riddle—“explains it to the children.” As if every picture was a rebus and every poem a charade! “Little children,” he says, “this teaches you”—and out comes the platitude!

Of late years, in Great Britain more particularly, the School has been called upon to conquer still other fields. It has become apparent that in this monarchy of ours, in which honour is heaped high upon money-making, even if it is money-making that adds nothing to the collective wealth or efficiency, and denied to the most splendid public services unless they are also remunerative; where public applause is the meed of cricketers, hostile guerillas, clamorous authors, yacht-racing grocers, and hopelessly incapable generals, and where suspicion and ridicule are the lot of every man working hard and living hard for any end beyond a cabman’s understanding; in this world-wide Empire whose Government is entrusted as a matter of course to peers and denied as a matter of course to any man of humble origin; where social pressure of the most urgent kind compels every capable business manager to sell out to a company and become a “gentleman” at the very earliest opportunity, the national energy is falling away. That driving zeal, that practical vigour that once distinguished the English is continually less apparent. Our workmen take no pride in their work any longer, they shirk toil and gamble. And what is worse, the master takes no pride in the works; he, too, shirks toil and gambles. Our middle-class young men, instead of flinging themselves into study, into research, into literature, into widely conceived business enterprises, into so much of the public service as is not preserved for the sons of the well connected, play games, display an almost oriental slackness in the presence of work and duty, and seem to consider it rather good form to do so. And seeking for some reason and some remedy for this remarkable phenomenon, a number of patriotic gentlemen have discovered that the Schools, the Schools are to blame. Something in the nature of Reform has to be waved over our schools. . . . 

It would be a wicked deed to write anything that might seem to imply that our Schools were not in need of very extensive reforms, or that their efficiency is not a necessary preliminary condition to general public efficiency, but, indeed, the Schools are only one factor in a great interplay of causes, and the remedy is a much ampler problem than any Education Act will cure. Take a typical young Englishman, for example, one who has recently emerged from one of our public schools, one of the sort of young Englishmen for whom all commissions in the Army are practically reserved, who will own some great business, perhaps, or direct companies, and worm your way through the tough hide of style and restraint he has acquired, get him to talk about women, about his prospects, his intimate self, and see for yourself how much of him, and how little of him, his school has made. Test him on politics, on the national future, on social relationships, and lead him if you can to an utterance or so upon art and literature. You will be astonished how little you can either blame or praise the teaching of his school for him. He is ignorant, profoundly ignorant, and much of his style and reserve is draped over that; he does not clearly understand what he reads, and he can scarcely write a letter; he draws, calculates and thinks no better than an errand boy, and he has no habit of work; for that much perhaps the school must answer. And the school, too, must answer for the fact that although—unless he is one of the small specialized set who “swat” at games—he plays cricket and football quite without distinction, he regards these games as much more important than military training and things of that sort, spends days watching his school matches, and thumbs and muddles over the records of county cricket to an amazing extent. But these things are indeed only symptons, and not essential factors in general inefficiency. There are much wider things for which his school is only mediately or not at all to blame. For example, he is not only ignorant and inefficient and secretly aware of his ignorance and inefficiency, but, what is far more serious, he does not feel any strong desire to alter the fact; he is not only without the habit of regular work, but he does not feel the defect because he has no desire whatever to do anything that requires work in the doing. And you will find that this is so because there is woven into the tissue of his being a profound belief that work and knowledge “do not pay,” that they are rather ugly and vulgar characteristics, and that they make neither for happiness nor success.

He did not learn that at school, nor at school was it possible he should unlearn it. He acquired that belief from his home, from the conversation of his equals, from the behaviour of his inferiors; he found it in the books and newspapers he has read, he breathed it in with his native air. He regards it as manifest Fact in the life about him. And he is perfectly right. He lives in a country where stupidity is, so to speak, crowned and throned, and where honour is a means of exchange; and he draws his simple, straight conclusions. The much-castigated gentleman with the ferule is largely innocent in this account.

If, too, you ransack your young Englishman for religion, you will be amazed to find scarcely a trace of School. In spite of a ceremonial adhesion to the religion of his fathers, you will find nothing but a profound agnosticism. He has not even the faith to disbelieve. It is not so much that he has not developed religion as that the place has been seared. In his time his boyish heart has had its stirrings, he has responded with the others to “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” the earnest moments of the school pulpit, and all those first vague things. But limited as his reading is, it has not been so limited that he does not know that very grave things have happened in matters of faith, that the doctrinal schemes of the conventional faith are riddled targets, that creed and Bible do not mean what they appear to mean, but something quite different and indefinable, that the bishops, socially so much in evidence, are intellectually in hiding. . . . 

Here again is something the school did not cause, the school cannot cure.

And in matters sexual, in matters political, in matters social, and matters financial you will find that the flabby, narrow-chested, under-trained mind that hides in the excellent-looking body of the typical young Englishman is encumbered with an elaborate duplicity. Under the cloak of a fine tradition of good form and fair appearances you will find some intricate disbeliefs, some odd practices. You will trace his moral code chiefly to his school-fellows, and the intimates of his early manhood, and could you trace it back you would follow an unbroken tradition from the days of the Restoration. So soon as he pierces into the realities of the life about him, he finds enforcement, ample and complete, for the secret code. The schoolmaster has not touched it; the school pulpit has boomed over its development in vain. Nor has the schoolmaster done anything for or against the young man’s political views, his ideas of social exclusiveness, the peculiar code of honour that makes it disgraceful to bilk a cabman and permissible to obtain goods on credit from a tradesman without the means to pay. All this much of the artificial element in our young English gentleman was made outside the school, and is to be remedied only by extra-scholastic forces.

School is only one necessary strand in an enormous body of formative influence. At first that mass of formative influence takes the outline of the home, but it broadens out as the citizen grows until it reaches the limits of his world. And his world, just like his home, resolves itself into three main elements. First, there is the traditional element, the creation of the past; secondly, there is the contemporary interplay of economic and material forces; and thirdly, there is literature, using that word for the current thought about the world, which is perpetually tending on the one hand to realize itself and to become in that manner a material force, and on the other to impose fresh interpretations upon things and so become a factor in tradition. Now the first of these elements is a thing established. And it is the possibility of intervening through the remaining two that it is now our business to discuss.

Mankind in the Making - Contents    |     VI - Schooling

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