Read CHAPTER IX - THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW WORLD of The Passionate Friends , free online book, by Herbert George Wells, on


I met Rachel again in Germany through the devices of my cousin the Fuerstin Letzlingen.  I had finished seeing what I wanted to see in Westphalia and I was preparing to go to the United States.  There I thought I should be able to complete and round off that large view of the human process I had been developing in my mind.  But my departure was delayed by an attack of influenza that I picked up at a Socialist Congress in Munich, and the dear Durchlaucht, hearing of this and having her own views of my destiny, descended upon me while I was still in bed there, made me get up and carried me off in her car, to take care of me herself at her villa at Boppard, telling me nothing of any fellow-guests I might encounter.

She had a villa upon the Rhine under a hill of vineyards, where she devoted herself-she was a widow-to matchmaking and belated regrets for the childlessness that necessitated a perpetual borrowing of material for her pursuit.  She had a motor-car, a steam-launch, several rowing boats and canoes, a tennis-lawn, a rambling garden, a devious house and a rapid mind, and in fact everything that was necessary for throwing young people together.  She made her surprise seem easy and natural, and with returning health I found myself already back upon my old footing of friendly intimacy with Rachel.

I found her a new and yet a familiar Rachel.  She had grown up, she was no longer a schoolgirl, crystalline clear with gleams of emotion and understanding, and what she had lost in transparency she had gained in depth.  And she had become well-informed, she had been reading very widely and well, I could see, and not simply reading but talking and listening and thinking.  She showed a vivid interest in the current of home politics,-at that time the last government of Mr. Balfour was ebbing to its end and my old Transvaal friends, the Chinese coolies, were to avenge themselves on their importers.  The Tariff Reformers my father detested were still struggling to unseat the Premier from his leadership of Conservatism....

It was queer to hear once more, after my Asiatic wanderings and dreamings, those West-End dinner-table politics, those speculations about “Winston’s” future and the possibility of Lloyd George or Ramsay Macdonald or Macnamara taking office with the Liberals and whether there might not ultimately be a middle party in which Haldane and Balfour, Grey and the Cecils could meet upon common ground.  It seemed now not only very small but very far off.  She told me too of the huge popularity of King Edward.  He had proved to be interested, curious, understanding and clever, an unexpectedly successful King.  She described how he was breaking out of the narrow official limits that had kept his mother in a kind of social bandbox, extending his solvent informality of friendliness to all sorts of men.  He had won the heart of Will Crooks, the labor member for Poplar, for example, made John Burns a social success and warmed all France for England.

I surveyed this novel picture of the English throne diffusing amiability.

“I suppose it’s what the throne ought to do,” said Rachel.  “If it can’t be inspiration, at any rate it can tolerate and reconcile and take the ill-bred bitterness out of politics.”

“My father might have said that.”

“I got that from your father,” she said; and added after a momentary pause, “I go over and talk to him.”

“You talk to my father!”

“I like to.  Or rather I listen and take it in.  I go over in the afternoon.  I go sometimes twice or three times a week.”

“That’s kind of you.”

“Not at all.  You see - It sounds impudent, I know, for a girl to say so, but we’ve so many interests in common.”


I was more and more interested by Rachel as the days went on.  A man must be stupid who does not know that a woman is happy in his presence, and for two years now and more I had met no one with a very strong personal feeling for me.  And quite apart from that, her mind was extraordinarily interesting to me because it was at once so active and so clear and so limited by her entirely English circumstances.  She had the prosperous English outlook.  She didn’t so much see the wide world as get glimpses of it through the tangle of Westminster and of West End and week-end limitations.  She wasn’t even aware of that greater unprosperous England, already sulking and darkling outside her political world, that greater England which was presently to make its first audible intimations of discontent in that remarkable anti-climax to King George’s Coronation, the Railway Strike.  India for her was the land of people’s cousins, Germany and the German Dreadnoughts bulked far larger, and all the tremendous gathering forces of the East were beyond the range of her imagination.  I set myself to widen her horizons.

I told her something of the intention and range of my travels, and something of the views that were growing out of their experiences.

I have a clear little picture in my mind of an excursion we made to that huge national Denkmal which rears its head out of the amiable vineyards of Assmannshausen and Rüdesheim over against Bingen.  We landed at the former place, went up its little funicular to eat our lunch and drink its red wine at the pleasant inn above, and then strolled along through the woods to the monument.

The Fuerstin fell behind with her unwilling escort, a newly arrived medical student from England, a very pleasant youngster named Berwick, who was all too obviously anxious to change places with me.  She devised delays, and meanwhile I, as yet unaware of the state of affairs, went on with Rachel to that towering florid monument with its vast gesticulating Germania, which triumphs over the conquered provinces.

We fell talking of war and the passions and delusions that lead to war.  Rachel’s thoughts were strongly colored by those ideas of a natural rivalry between Germany and England and of a necessary revenge for France which have for nearly forty years diverted the bulk of European thought and energy to the mere waste of military preparations.  I jarred with an edifice of preconceptions when I scoffed and scolded at these assumptions.

“Our two great peoples are disputing for the leadership of the world,” I said, “and meanwhile the whole world sweeps past us.  We’re drifting into a quarrelsome backwater.”

I began to tell of the fermentation and new beginnings that were everywhere perceptible throughout the East, of the vast masses of human ability and energy that were coming into action in China and India, of the unlimited future of both North and South America, of the mere accidentalness of the European advantage.  “History,” I said, “is already shifting the significance out of Western Europe altogether, and we English cannot see it; we can see no further than Berlin, and these Germans can think of nothing better than to taunt the French with such tawdry effigies as this!  Europe goes on to-day as India went on in the eighteenth century, making aimless history.  And the sands of opportunity run and run....”

I shrugged my shoulders and we stood for a little while looking down on the shining crescent of the Rhine.

“Suppose,” said Rachel, “that someone were to say that-in the House.”

“The House,” I said, “doesn’t hear things at my pitch.  Bat outcries.  Too shrill altogether.”

“It might.  If you -”

She halted, hesitated for a moment on the question and asked abruptly: 

“When are you coming back to England, Mr. Stratton?”

“Certainly not for six months,” I said.

A movement of her eyes made me aware of the Fuerstin and Berwick emerging from the trees.  “And then?” asked Rachel.

I didn’t want to answer that question, in which the personal note sounded so clearly.  “I am going to America to see America,” I said, “and America may be rather a big thing to see.”

“You must see it?”

“I want to be sure of it-as something comprehensive.  I want to get a general effect of it....”

Rachel hesitated, looked back to measure the distance of the Fuerstin and her companion and put her question again, but this time with a significance that did not seem even to want to hide itself. “Then will you come back?” she said.

Her face flamed scarlet, but her eyes met mine boldly.  Between us there was a flash of complete understanding.

My answer, if it was lame and ungallant to such a challenge, was at least perfectly honest.  “I can’t make up my mind,” I said.  “I’ve been near making plans-taking steps....  Something holds me back....”

I had no time for an explanation.

“I can’t make up my mind,” I repeated.

She stood for a moment rather stiffly, staring away towards the blue hills of Alsace.

Then she turned with a smiling and undisturbed countenance to the Fuerstin.  Her crimson had given place to white.  “The triumph of it,” she said with a slight gesture to the flamboyant Teutonism that towered over us, and boldly repeating words I had used scarcely five minutes before, “makes me angry.  They conquered-ungraciously....”

She had overlooked something in her effort to seem entirely self-possessed.  She collapsed.  “My dear!” she cried,-“I forgot!”

“Oh!  I’m only a German by marriage!” cried the Fuerstin.  “And I can assure you I quite understand-about the triumph of it....”  She surveyed the achievement of her countrymen.  “It is-ungracious.  But indeed it’s only a sort of artlessness if you see the thing properly....  It’s not vulgarity-it’s childishness....  They’ve hardly got over it yet-their intense astonishment at being any good at war....  That large throaty Victory!  She’s not so militant as she seems.  She’s too plump....  Of course what a German really appreciates is nutrition.  But I quite agree with you both....  I’m beginning to want my tea, Mr. Stratton....  Rachel!”

Her eyes had been on Rachel as she chattered.  The girl had turned to the distant hills again, and had forgotten even to pretend to listen to the answer she had evoked.  Now she came back sharply to the sound of her name.

“Tea?” said the Fuerstin.

“Oh!” cried Rachel.  “Yes.  Yes, certainly.  Rather.  Tea.”


It was clear to me that after that I must as people say “have things out” with Rachel.  But before I could do anything of the sort the Fuerstin pounced upon me.  She made me sit up that night after her other guests had gone to their rooms, in the cosy little turret apartment she called her study and devoted to the reading of whatever was most notorious in contemporary British fiction.  “Sit down,” said she, “by the fire in that chair there and tell me all about it.  It’s no good your pretending you don’t know what I mean.  What are you up to with her, and why don’t you go straight to your manifest destiny as a decent man should?”

“Because manifestly it isn’t my destiny,” I said.

“Stuff,” said the Fuerstin.

“You know perfectly well why I am out of England.”

“Everybody knows-except of course quite young persons who are being carefully brought up.”

“Does she know?”

“She doesn’t seem to.”

“Well, that’s what I want to know.”

“Need she know?”

“Well, it does seem rather essential -”

“I suppose if you think so -”

“Will you tell her?”

“Tell her yourself, if she must be told.  Down there in Surrey, she must have seen things and heard things.  But I don’t see that she wants a lot of ancient history.”

“If it is ancient history!”

“Oh! two years and a half,-it’s an Era.”

I made no answer to that, but sat staring into the fire while my cousin watched my face.  At length I made my confession.  “I don’t think it is ancient history at all,” I said.  “I think if I met Mary again now -”

“You mean Lady Mary Justin?”

“Of course.”

“It would be good for your mind if you remembered to call her by her proper name....  You think if you met her again you two would begin to carry on.  But you see,-you aren’t going to meet her.  Everybody will see that doesn’t happen.”

“I mean that I - Well -”

“You’d better not say it.  Besides, it’s nonsense.  I doubt if you’ve given her a thought for weeks and weeks.”

“Until I came here perhaps that was almost nearly true.  But you’ve stirred me up, sweet cousin, and old things, old memories and habits have come to the surface again.  Mary wrote herself over my life-in all sorts of places....  I can’t tell you.  I’ve never talked of her to anyone.  I’m not able, very well, to talk about my feelings....  Perhaps a man of my sort-doesn’t love twice over.”

I disregarded a note of dissent from my cousin.  “That was all so magic, all my youth, all my hope, all the splendid adventure of it.  Why should one pretend?...  I’m giving none of that to Rachel.  It isn’t there any more to give....”

“One would think,” remarked the Fuerstin, “there was no gift of healing.”

She waited for me to speak, and then irritated by my silence struck at me sharply with that wicked little tongue of hers.

“Do you think that Lady Mary Justin thinks of you-as you think of her?  Do you think she hasn’t settled down?”

I looked up at her quickly.

“She’s just going to have a second child,” the Fuerstin flung out.

Yes, that did astonish me.  I suppose my face showed it.

“That girl,” said the Fuerstin, “that clean girl would have sooner died-ten thousand deaths....  And she’s never-never been anything to you.”

I think that for an instant she had been frightened at her own words.  She was now quite angry and short of breath.  She had contrived a rapid indignation against Mary and myself.

“I didn’t know Mary had had any child at all,” I said.

“This makes two,” said the Fuerstin, and held up a brace of fingers, “with scarcely a year and a half between them.  Not much more anyhow....  It was natural, I suppose.  A natural female indecency.  I don’t blame her.  When a woman gives in she ought to do it thoroughly.  But I don’t see that it leaves you much scope for philandering, Stephen, does it?...  And there you are, and here is Rachel.  And why don’t you make a clean job of your life?...”

“I didn’t understand.”

“I wonder what you imagined.”

I reflected.  “I wonder what I did.  I suppose I thought of Mary-just as I had left her-always.”

I remained with my mind filled with confused images of Mary, memories, astonishment....

I perceived the Fuerstin was talking.

“Maundering about,” she was saying, “like a huntsman without a horse....  You’ve got work to do-blood in your veins.  I’m not one of your ignorant women, Stephen.  You ought to have a wife....”

“Rachel’s too good,” I said, at the end of a pause and perceiving I had to say something, “to be that sort of wife.”

“No woman’s too good for a man,” said the Fuerstin von Letzlingen with conviction.  “It’s what God made her for.”


My visit to Boppard was drawing to an end before I had a clear opportunity to have things out with Rachel.  It was in a little garden, under the very shadow of that gracious cathedral at Worms, the sort of little garden to which one is admitted by ringing a bell and tipping a custodian.  I think Worms is in many respects one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen, so perfectly proportioned, so delicately faded, so aloof, so free from pride or presumption, and it rises over this green and flowery peace, a towering, lithe, light brown, sunlit, easy thing, as unconsciously and irrelevantly splendid as a tall ship in the evening glow under a press of canvas.  We looked up at it for a time and then went on with the talk to which we had been coming slowly since the Fuerstin had packed us off for it, while she went into the town with Berwick to buy toys for her gatekeeper’s children.  I had talked about myself, and the gradual replacement of my ambition to play a part in imperial politics by wider intentions.  “You know,” I asked abruptly, “why I left England?”

She thought through the briefest of pauses.  “No,” she decided at last.

“I made love,” I said, “to Lady Mary Justin, and we were found out.  We couldn’t go away together -”

“Why not?” she interjected.

“It was impossible.”

For some moments neither of us spoke.  “Something,” she said, and then, “Some vague report,” and left these fragments to be her reply.

“We were old playmates; we were children together.  We have-something-that draws us to each other.  She-she made a mistake in marrying.  We were both very young and the situation was difficult.  And then afterwards we were thrown together....  But you see that has made a great difference to my life; it’s turned me off the rails on which men of my sort usually run.  I’ve had to look to these other things....  They’ve become more to me than to most people if only because of that....”

“You mean these ideas of yours-learning as much as you can about the world, and then doing what you can to help other people to a better understanding.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And that-will fill your life.”

“It ought to.”

“I suppose it ought.  I suppose-you find-it does.”

“Don’t you think it ought to fill my life?”

“I wondered if it did.”

“But why shouldn’t it?”

“It’s so-so cold.”

My questioning silence made her attempt to explain.

“One wants life more beautiful than that,” she said.  “One wants - There are things one needs, things nearer one.”

We became aware of a jangling at the janitor’s bell.  Our opportunity for talk was slipping away.  And we were both still undecided, both blunderingly nervous and insecure.  We were hurried into clumsy phrases that afterwards we would have given much to recall.

“But how could life be more beautiful,” I said, “than when it serves big human ends?”

Her brows were knit.  She seemed to be listening for the sound of the unlocking gate.

“But,” she said, and plunged, “one wants to be loved.  Surely one needs that.”

“You see, for me-that’s gone.”

“Why should it be gone?”

“It is.  One doesn’t begin again.  I mean-myself. You-can.  You’ve never begun.  Not when you’ve loved-loved really.”  I forced that on her.  I over emphasized.  “It was real love, you know; the real thing....  I don’t mean the mere imaginative love, blindfold love, but love that sees....  I want you to understand that.  I loved-altogether....”

Across the lawn under its trim flowering-trees appeared Berwick loaded with little parcels, and manifestly eager to separate us, and the Fuerstin as manifestly putting on the drag.

“There’s a sort of love,” I hurried, “that doesn’t renew itself ever.  Don’t let yourself believe it does.  Something else may come in its place, but that is different.  It’s youth,-a wonderful newness....  Look at that youngster. He can love you like that.  I’ve watched him.  He does.  You know he does....”

“Yes,” she said, as hurriedly; “but then, you see, I don’t love him.”

“You don’t?”

“I can’t.”

“But he’s such a fresh clean human being -”

“That’s not all,” said Rachel.  “That’s not all....  You don’t understand.”

The two drew near.  “It is so hard to explain,” she said.  “Things that one hardly sees for oneself.  Sometimes it seems one cannot help oneself.  You can’t choose.  You are taken....”  She seemed about to say something more, and stopped and bit her lip.

In another moment I was standing up, and the Fuerstin was calling to us across ten feet of space.  “Such amoosin’ little toyshops.  We’ve got a heap of things.  Just look at him!”

He smiled over his load with anxious eyes upon our faces.

“Ten separate parcels,” he said, appealing for Rachel’s sympathy.  “I’m doing my best not to complain.”

And rather adroitly he contrived to let two of them slip, and captured Rachel to assist him.

He didn’t relinquish her again.


The Fuerstin and I followed them along the broad, pleasant, tree-lined street towards the railway station.

“A boy of that age ought not to marry a girl of that age,” said the Fuerstin, breaking a silence.

I didn’t answer.

“Well?” she said, domineering.

“My dear cousin,” I said, “I know all that you have in your mind.  I admit-I covet her.  You can’t make me more jealous than I am.  She’s clean and sweet-it is marvellous how the God of the rest of the world can have made a thing so brave and honest and wonderful.  She’s better than flowers.  But I think I’m going away to-night, nevertheless.”

“You don’t mean you’re going to carry chivalry to the point of giving that boy a chance-for he hasn’t one while you’re about.”

“No.  You see-I want to give Rachel a chance.  You know as well as I do-the things in my mind.”

“That you’ve got to forget.”

“That I don’t forget.”

“That you’re bound in honor to forget.  And who could help you better?”

“I’m going,” I said and then, wrathfully, “If you think I want to use Rachel as a sort of dressing-for my old sores -”

I left the sentence unfinished.

“Oh nonsense!” cried the Fuerstin, and wouldn’t speak to me again until we got to that entirely Teutonic “art” station that is not the least among the sights of Worms.

“Sores, indeed!” said the Fuerstin presently, as we walked up the end of the platform.

“There’s nothing,” said the Fuerstin, with an unusual note of petulance, “she’d like better.”

“I can’t think what men are coming to,” she went on.  “You’re in love with her, or you wouldn’t be so generous.  And she’s head over heels with you.  And here you are!  I’ll give you one more chance -”

“I won’t take it,” I interrupted.  “It isn’t fair.  I tell you I won’t take it.  I’ll go two days earlier to prevent you.  Unless you promise me - Of course I see how things are with her.  She’s not a sphinx.  But it isn’t fair.  It isn’t.  Not to her, or to him-or myself. He’s got some claims.  He’s got more right to her than I....”

“A boy like that!  No man has any rights about women-until he’s thirty.  And as for me and all the pains I’ve taken - Oh!  I hate Worms.  Dust and ashes!  Well here thank heaven! comes the train.  If nothing else could stir you, Stephen, at least I could have imagined some decent impulse of gratitude to me.  Stephen, you’re disgusting.  You’ve absolutely spoilt this trip for me-absolutely.  When only a little reasonableness on your part - Oh!”

She left her sentence unfinished.

Berwick and I had to make any conversation that was needed on the way back to Boppard.  Rachel did not talk and the Fuerstin did not want to.


Directly I had parted from Rachel’s questioning eyes I wanted to go back to them.  It seems to me now that all the way across to America, in that magnificent German liner I joined at Hamburg, I was thinking in confused alternations of her and of Mary.  There are turns of thought that still bring back inseparably with them the faint echo of the airs of the excellent but industrious band that glorified our crossing.

I had been extraordinarily shocked and concerned at the thought of Mary bearing children.  It is a grotesque thing to confess but I had never let myself imagine the possibility of such a thing for her who had been so immensely mine....

We are the oddest creatures, little son, beasts and barbarians and brains, neither one nor the other but all confusedly, and here was I who had given up Mary and resigned her and freed myself from her as I thought altogether, cast back again into my old pit by the most obvious and necessary consequence of her surrender and mine.  And it’s just there and in that relation that we men and women are so elaborately insecure.  We try to love as equals and behave as equals and concede a level freedom, and then comes a crisis,-our laboriously contrived edifice of liberty collapses and we perceive that so far as sex goes the woman remains to the man no more than a possession-capable of loyalty or treachery.

There, still at that barbaric stage, the situation stands.  You see I had always wanted to own Mary, and always she had disputed that.  That is our whole story, the story of an instinctive subjugation struggling against a passionate desire for fellowship.  She had denied herself to me, taken herself away; that much I could endure; but now came this blazing fact that showed her as it seemed in the most material and conclusive way-overcome.  I had storms of retrospective passion at the thoroughness of her surrender....  Yes, and that’s in everyone of us,-in everyone.  I wonder if in all decent law-abiding London there lives a single healthy adult man who has not at times longed to trample and kill....

For once I think the Fuerstin miscalculated consequences.  I think I should have engaged myself to Rachel before I went to America if it had not been for the Fuerstin’s revelation, but this so tore me that I could no longer go on falling in love again, naturally and sweetly.  No man falls in love if he has just been flayed....  I could no longer think of Rachel except as a foil to Mary.  I was moved to marry her by a new set of motives; to fling her so to speak in Mary’s face, and from the fierce vulgarity of that at least I recoiled-and let her go as I have told you.


I had thought all that was over.

I remember my struggles to recover my peace.

I remember how very late one night I went up to the promenade deck to smoke a cigar before turning in.  It was a warm moonlight night.  The broad low waves of ebony water that went seething past below, foamed luminous and were streaked and starred with phosphorescence.  The recumbent moon, past its full and sinking westward, seemed bigger than I had ever seen it before, and the roundness of the watery globe was manifest about the edge of the sky.  One had that sense so rare on land, so common in the night at sea, of the world as a conceivable sphere, and of interstellar space as of something clear and close at hand.

There came back to me again that feeling I had lost for a time in Germany of being not myself but Man consciously on his little planet communing with God.

But my spirit was saying all the time, “I am still in my pit, in my pit.  After all I am still in my pit.”

And then there broke the answer on my mind, that all our lives we must struggle out of our pits, that to struggle out of our pit is this life, there is no individual life but that, and that there comes no escape here, no end to that effort, until the release of death.  Continually or frequently we may taste salvation, but never may we achieve it while we are things of substance.  Each moment in our lives we come to the test and are lost again or saved again.  To be assured of one’s security is to forget and fall away.

And standing at the rail with these thoughts in my mind, suddenly I prayed....

I remember how the engine-throbs beat through me like the beating of a heart, and that far below, among the dim lights that came up from the emigrants in the steerage, there was a tinkling music as I prayed and a man’s voice singing a plaintive air in some strange Slavonic tongue.

That voice of the invisible singer and the spirit of the unknown song-maker and the serenity of the sky, they were all, I perceived, no more and no less than things in myself that I did not understand.  They were out beyond the range of understanding.  And yet they fell into the completest harmony that night with all that I seemed to understand....


The onset of New York was extraordinarily stimulating to me.  I write onset.  It is indeed that.  New York rides up out of the waters, a cliff of man’s making; its great buildings at a distance seem like long Chinese banners held up against the sky.  From Sandy Hook to the great landing stages and the swirling hooting traffic of the Hudson River there fails nothing in that magnificent crescendo of approach.

And New York keeps the promise of its first appearance.  There is no such fulness of life elsewhere in all the world.  The common man in the streets is a bigger common man than any Old World city can show, physically bigger; there is hope in his eyes and a braced defiance.  New York may be harsh and blusterous and violent, but there is a breeze from the sea and a breeze of fraternity in the streets, and the Americans of all peoples in the world are a nation of still unbroken men.

I went to America curious, balancing between hope and scepticism.  The European world is full of the criticism of America, and for the matter of that America too is full of it; hostility and depreciation prevail,-overmuch, for in spite of rawness and vehemence and a scum of blatant, oh! quite asinine folly, the United States of America remains the greatest country in the world and the living hope of mankind.  It is the supreme break with the old tradition; it is the freshest and most valiant beginning that has ever been made in human life.

Here was the antithesis of India; here were no peasants whatever, no traditional culture, no castes, no established differences (except for the one schism of color); this amazing place had never had a famine, never a plague; here were no temples and no priesthoods dominating the lives of the people,-old Trinity church embedded amidst towering sky-scrapers was a symbol for as much as they had of all that; and here too there was no crown, no affectations of an ancient loyalty, no visible army, no traditions of hostility, for the old defiance of Britain is a thing now ridiculous and dead; and everyone I met had an air as if he knew that to-morrow must be different from to-day and different and novel and remarkable by virtue of himself and such as himself.

I went about New York, with the incredulous satisfaction of a man who has long doubted, to find that after all America was coming true.  The very clatter pleased me, the crowds, the camp-like slovenliness, a disorder so entirely different from the established and accepted untidiness of China or India.  Here was something the old world had never shown me, a new enterprise, a fresh vigor.  In the old world there is Change, a mighty wave now of Change, but it drives men before it as if it were a power outside them and not in them; they do not know, they do not believe; but here the change is in the very blood and spirit of mankind.  They breathe it in even before the launch has brought their feet to Ellis Island soil.  In six months they are Americanized.  Does it matter that a thing so gigantic should be a little coarse and blundering in detail, if this stumbling giant of the new time breaks a gracious relic or so in his eager clutch and treads a little on the flowers?


And in this setting of energy and activity, towering city life and bracing sea breezes, I met Gidding again, whom I had last seen departing into Egypt to look more particularly at the prehistoric remains and the temples of the first and second dynasty at Abydos.  It was at a dinner-party, one of those large gatherings that welcome interesting visitors.  It wasn’t, of course, I who was the centre of interest, but a distinguished French portrait painter; I was there as just any guest.  I hadn’t even perceived Gidding until he came round to me in that precious gap of masculine intercourse that ensues upon the departure of the ladies.  That gap is one of the rare opportunities for conversation men get in America.

“I don’t know whether you will remember me,” he said, “but perhaps you remember Crete-in the sunrise.”

“And no end of talk afterwards,” I said, grasping his hand, “no end-for we didn’t half finish.  Did you have a good time in Egypt?”

“I’m not going to talk to you about Egypt,” said Gidding.  “I’m through with ruins.  I’m going to ask you-you know what I’m going to ask you.”

“What I think of America.  It’s the same inevitable question.  I think everything of it.  It’s the stepping-off place.  I’ve come here at last, because it matters most.”

“That’s what we all want to believe,” said Gidding.  “That’s what we want you to tell us.”

He reflected.  “It’s immense, isn’t it, perfectly immense?  But - I am afraid at times we’re too disposed to forget just what it’s all about.  We’ve got to be reminded.  That, you know, is why we keep on asking.”

He went on to question me where I had been, what I had done, what I made of things.  He’d never, he said, forgotten our two days’ gossip in the Levant, and all the wide questions about the world and ourselves that we had broached then and left so open.  I soon found myself talking very freely to him.  I am not a ready or abundant talker, but Gidding has the knack of precipitating my ideas.  He is America to my Europe, and at his touch all that has been hanging in concentrated solution in my mind comes crystallizing out.  He has to a peculiar degree that directness and simplicity which is the distinctive American quality.  I tried to explain to his solemnly nodding head and entirely intelligent eyes just exactly what I was making of things, of the world, of humanity, of myself....

It was an odd theme for two men to attempt after dinner, servants hovering about them, their two faces a little flushed by wine and good eating, their keen interest masked from the others around them by a gossiping affectation, their hands going out as they talked for matches or cigarette, and before we had gone further than to fling out a few intimations to each other our colloquy was interrupted by our host standing up and by the general stir that preluded our return to feminine society.  “We’ve got more to say than this,” said Gidding.  “We’ve got to talk.”  He brought out a little engagement book that at once drew out mine in response.  And a couple of days after, we spent a morning and afternoon together and got down to some very intimate conversation.  We motored out to lunch at a place called Nyack, above the Palisades, we crossed on a ferry to reach it, and we visited the house of Washington Irving near Yonkers on our way.

I’ve still a vivid picture in my mind of the little lawn at Irvington that looks out upon the rushing steel of Hudson River, where Gidding opened his heart to me.  I can see him now as he leant a little forward over the table, with his wrists resting upon it, his long clean-shaven face very solemn and earnest and grey against the hard American sunlight in the greenery about us, while he told me in that deliberate American voice of his and with the deliberate American solemnity, of his desire to “do some decent thing with life.”

He was very anxious to set himself completely before me, I remember, on that occasion.  There was a peculiar mental kinship between us that even the profound differences of our English and American trainings could not mask.  And now he told me almost everything material about his life.  For the first time I learnt how enormously rich he was, not only by reason of his father’s acquisitions, but also because of his own almost instinctive aptitude for business.  “I’ve got,” he said, “to begin with, what almost all men spend their whole lives in trying to get.  And it amounts to nothing.  It leaves me with life like a blank sheet of paper, and nothing in particular to write on it.”

“You know,” he said, “it’s-exasperating.  I’m already half-way to three-score and ten, and I’m still wandering about wondering what to do with this piece of life God has given me....”

He had “lived” as people say, he had been in scrapes and scandals, tasted to the full the bitter intensities of the personal life; he had come by a different route to the same conclusions as myself, was as anxious as I to escape from memories and associations and feuds and that excessive vividness of individual feeling which blinds us to the common humanity, the common interest, the gentler, larger reality, which lies behind each tawdrily emphatic self....

“It’s a sort of inverted homoeopathy I want,” he said.  “The big thing to cure the little thing....”

But I will say no more of that side of our friendship, because the ideas of it are spread all through this book from the first page to the last....  What concerns me now is not our sympathy and agreement, but that other aspect of our relations in which Gidding becomes impulse and urgency.  “Seeing we have these ideas,” said he,-“and mind you there must be others who have them or are getting to them, for nobody thinks all alone in this world,-seeing we have these ideas what are we going to do?”


That meeting was followed by another before I left New York, and presently Gidding joined me at Denver, where I was trying to measure the true significance of a labor paper called The Appeal to Reason that, in spite of a rigid boycott by the ordinary agencies for news distribution went out in the middle west to nearly half a million subscribers, and was filled with such a fierceness of insurrection against labor conditions, such a hatred, blind and impassioned, as I had never known before.  Gidding remained with me there and came back with me to Chicago, where I wanted to see something of the Americanization of the immigrant, and my survey of America, the social and economic problem of America, resolved itself more and more into a conference with him.

There is no more fruitless thing in the world than to speculate how life would have gone if this thing or that had not happened.  Yet I cannot help but wonder how far I might have travelled along the lines of my present work if I had gone to America and not met Gidding, or if I had met him without visiting America.  The man and his country are inextricably interwoven in my mind.  Yet I do think that his simplicity and directness, his force of initiative that turned me from a mere enquirer into an active writer and organizer, are qualities less his in particular than America’s in general.  There is in America a splendid crudity, a directness that cleared my spirit as a bracing wind will sweep the clouds from mountain scenery.  Compared with our older continents America is mankind stripped for achievement.  So many things are not there at all, need not be considered; no institutional aristocracy, no Kaisers, Czars, nor King-Emperors to maintain a litigious sequel to the Empire of Rome; it has no uneducated immovable peasantry rooted to the soil, indeed it has no rooting to the soil at all; it is, from the Forty-ninth Parallel to the tip of Cape Horn, one triumphant embodiment of freedom and deliberate agreement.  For I mean all America, Spanish-speaking as well as English-speaking; they have this detachment from tradition in common.  See how the United States, for example, stands flatly on that bare piece of eighteenth-century intellectualism the Constitution, and is by virtue of that a structure either wilful and intellectual or absurd.  That sense of incurable servitude to fate and past traditions, that encumbrance with ruins, pledges, laws and ancient institutions, that perpetual complication of considerations and those haunting memories of preceding human failures which dwarf the courage of destiny in Europe and Asia, vanish from the mind within a week of one’s arrival in the New World.  Naturally one begins to do things.  One is inspired to do things.  One feels that one has escaped, one feels that the time is now.  All America, North and South alike, is one tremendous escape from ancient obsessions into activity and making.

And by the time I had reached America I had already come to see that just as the issues of party politics at home and international politics abroad are mere superficialities above the greater struggle of an energetic minority to organize and exploit the labor of the masses of mankind, so that struggle also is only a huge incident in the still more than half unconscious impulse to replace the ancient way of human living by a more highly organized world-wide social order, by a world civilization embodying itself in a World State.  And I saw now how that impulse could neither cease nor could it on the other hand realize itself until it became conscious and deliberate and merciful, free from haste and tyranny, persuasive and sustained by a nearly universal sympathy and understanding.  For until that arrives the creative forces must inevitably spend themselves very largely in blind alleys, futile rushes and destructive conflicts.  Upon that our two minds were agreed.

“We have,” said Gidding, “to understand and make understanding.  That is the real work for us to do, Stratton, that is our job.  The world, as you say, has been floundering about, half making civilization and never achieving it.  Now we, I don’t mean just you and me, Stratton, particularly, but every intelligent man among us, have got to set to and make it thorough.  There is no other sane policy for a man outside his private passions but that.  So let’s get at it -”

I find it now impossible to trace the phases by which I reached these broad ideas upon which I rest all my work, but certainly they were present very early in my discussions with Gidding.  We two men had been thinking independently but very similarly, and it is hard to say just what completing touches either of us gave to the other’s propositions.  We found ourselves rather than arrived at the conception of ourselves as the citizens neither of the United States nor of England but of a state that had still to come into being, a World State, a great unity behind and embracing the ostensible political fabrics of to-day-a unity to be reached by weakening antagonisms, by developing understandings and toleration, by fostering the sense of brotherhood across the ancient bounds.

We believed and we believe that such a creative conception of a human commonweal can be fostered in exactly the same way that the idea of German unity was fostered behind the dukedoms, the free cities and kingdoms of Germany, a conception so creative that it can dissolve traditional hatreds, incorporate narrower loyalties and replace a thousand suspicions and hostilities by a common passion for collective achievement, so creative that at last the national boundaries of to-day may become obstacles as trivial to the amplifying good-will of men as the imaginary line that severs Normandy from Brittany, or Berwick from Northumberland.

And it is not only a great peace about the earth that this idea of a World State means for us, but social justice also.  We are both convinced altogether that there survives no reason for lives of toil, for hardship, poverty, famine, infectious disease, for the continuing cruelties of wild beasts and the greater multitude of crimes, but mismanagement and waste, and that mismanagement and waste spring from no other source than ignorance and from stupid divisions and jealousies, base patriotisms, fanaticisms, prejudices and suspicions that are all no more than ignorance a little mingled with viciousness.  We have looked closely into this servitude of modern labor, we have seen its injustice fester towards syndicalism and revolutionary socialism, and we know these things for the mere aimless, ignorant resentments they are; punishments, not remedies.  We have looked into the portentous threat of modern war, and it is ignorant vanity and ignorant suspicion, the bargaining aggression of the British prosperous and the swaggering vulgarity of the German junker that make and sustain that monstrous European devotion to arms.  And we are convinced there is nothing in these evils and conflicts that light may not dispel.  We believe that these things can be dispelled, that the great universals, Science which has limitations neither of race nor class, Art which speaks to its own in every rank and nation, Philosophy and Literature which broaden sympathy and banish prejudice, can flood and submerge and will yet flow over and submerge every one of these separations between man and man.

I will not say that this Great State, this World Republic of civilized men, is our dream, because it is not a dream, it is a manifestly reasonable possibility.  It is our intention.  It is what we are deliberately making and what in a little while very many men and women will be making.  We are secessionists from all contemporary nationalities and loyalties.  We have set ourselves with all the capacity and energy at our disposal to create a world-wide common fund of ideas and knowledge, and to evoke a world-wide sense of human solidarity in which the existing limitations of political structure must inevitably melt away.

It was Gidding and his Americanism, his inborn predisposition to innovation and the large freedom of his wealth that turned these ideas into immediate concrete undertakings.  I see more and more that it is here that we of the old European stocks, who still grow upon the old wood, differ most from those vigorous grafts of our race in America and Africa and Australia on the one hand and from the renascent peoples of the East on the other:  that we have lost the courage of youth and have not yet gained the courage of desperate humiliations, in taking hold of things.  To Gidding it was neither preposterous nor insufferably magnificent that we should set about a propaganda of all science, all knowledge, all philosophical and political ideas, round about the habitable globe.  His mind began producing concrete projects as a fire-work being lit produces sparks, and soon he was “figuring out” the most colossal of printing and publishing projects, as a man might work out the particulars for an alteration to his bathroom.  It was so entirely natural to him, it was so entirely novel to me, to go on from the proposition that understanding was the primary need of humanity to the systematic organization of free publishing, exhaustive discussion, intellectual stimulation.  He set about it as a company of pharmacists might organize the distribution of some beneficial cure.

“Say, Stratton,” he said, after a conversation that had seemed to me half fantasy; “Let’s do it.”

There are moments still when it seems to me that this life of mine has become the most preposterous of adventures.  We two absurd human beings are spending our days and nights in a sustained and growing attempt to do what?  To destroy certain obsessions and to give the universal human mind a form and a desire for expression.  We have put into the shape of one comprehensive project that force of released wealth that has already dotted America with universities, libraries, institutions for research and enquiry.  Already there are others at work with us, and presently there will be a great number.  We have started an avalanche above the old politics and it gathers mass and pace....

And there never was an impulse towards endeavor in a human heart that wasn’t preposterous.  Man is a preposterous animal.  Thereby he ceases to be a creature and becomes a creator, he turns upon the powers that made him and subdues them to his service; by his sheer impudence he establishes his claim to possess a soul....

But I need not write at all fully of my work here.  This book is not about that but about my coming to that.  Long before this manuscript reaches your hands-if ultimately I decide that it shall reach your hands-you will be taking your share, I hope, in this open conspiracy against potentates and prejudices and all the separating powers of darkness.


I would if I could omit one thing that I must tell you here, because it goes so close to the very core of all this book has to convey.  I wish I could leave it out altogether.  I wish I could simplify my story by smoothing out this wrinkle at least and obliterating a thing that was at once very real and very ugly.  You see I had at last struggled up to a sustaining idea, to a conception of work and duty to which I could surely give my life.  I had escaped from my pit so far.  And it was natural that now with something to give I should turn not merely for consolation and service but for help and fellowship to that dear human being across the seas who had offered them to me so straightly and sweetly.  All that is brave and good and as you would have me, is it not?  Only, dear son, that is not all the truth.

There was still in my mind, for long it remained in my mind, a bitterness against Mary.  I had left her, I had lost her, we had parted; but from Germany to America and all through America and home again to my marriage and with me after my marriage, it rankled that she could still go on living a life independent of mine.  I had not yet lost my desire to possess her, to pervade and dominate her existence; my resentment that though she loved me she had first not married me and afterwards not consented to come away with me was smouldering under the closed hatches of my mind.  And so while the better part of me was laying hold of this work because it gave me the hope of a complete distraction and escape from my narrow and jealous self, that lower being of the pit was also rejoicing in the great enterprises before me and in the marriage upon which I had now determined, because it was a last trampling upon my devotion to Mary, because it defied and denied some lurking claims to empire I could suspect in her.  I want to tell you that particularly because so I am made, so you are made, so most of us are made.  There is scarcely a high purpose in all the world that has no dwarfish footman at its stirrup, no base intention over which there does not ride at least the phantom of an angel.

Constantly in those days, it seems to me now, I was haunted by my own imagination of Mary amiably reconciled to Justin, bearing him children, forgetful of or repudiating all the sweetness, all the wonder and beauty we had shared....  It was an unjust and ungenerous conception, I knew it for a caricature even as I entertained it, and yet it tormented me.  It stung me like a spur.  It kept me at work, and if I strayed into indolence brought me back to work with a mind galled and bleeding....


And I suppose it is mixed up with all this that I could not make love easily and naturally to Rachel.  I could not write love-letters to her.  There is a burlesque quality in these scruples, I know, seeing that I was now resolved to marry her, but that is the quality, that is the mixed texture of life.  We overcome the greater things and are conscience-stricken by the details.

I wouldn’t, even at the price of losing her-and I was now passionately anxious not to lose her-use a single phrase of endearment that did not come out of me almost in spite of myself.  At any rate I would not cheat her.  And my offer of marriage when at last I sent it to her from Chicago was, as I remember it, almost business-like.  I atoned soon enough for that arid letter in ten thousand sweet words that came of themselves to my lips.  And she paid me at any rate in my own coin when she sent me her answer by cable, the one word “Yes.”

And indeed I was already in love with her long before I wrote.  It was only a dread of giving her a single undeserved cheapness that had held me back so long.  It was that and the perplexity that Mary still gripped my feelings; my old love for her was there in my heart in spite of my new passion for Rachel, it was blackened perhaps and ruined and changed but it was there.  It was as if a new crater burnt now in the ampler circumference of an old volcano, which showed all the more desolate and sorrowful and obsolete for the warm light of the new flames....

How impatiently I came home!  Thoughts of England I had not dared to think for three long years might now do what they would in me.  I dreamt of the Surrey Hills and the great woods of Burnmore Park, of the changing skies and stirring soft winds of our grey green Motherland.  There was fog in the Irish Sea, and we lost the better part of a day hooting our way towards Liverpool while I fretted about the ship with all my luggage packed, staring at the grey waters that weltered under the mist.  It was the longest day in my life.  My heart was full of desire, my eyes ached for the little fields and golden October skies of England, England that was waiting to welcome me back from my exile with such open arms.  I was coming home,-home.

I hurried through London into Surrey and in my father’s study, warned by a telegram, I found a bright-eyed, resolute young woman awaiting me, with the quality about her of one who embarks upon a long premeditated adventure.  And I found too a family her sisters and her brother all gladly ready for me, my father too was a happy man, and on the eighth of November in 1906 Rachel and I were married in the little church at Shere.  We stayed for a week or so in Hampshire near Ringwood, the season was late that year and the trees still very beautiful; and then we went to Portofino on the Ligurian coast.

There presently Gidding joined us and we began to work out the schemes we had made in America, the schemes that now fill my life.