Belfast and the Religious Problem
Of that cloud of dream which seems to drift over so many Irish poems and impressions, I felt very little in Ireland. There is a real meaning in this suggestion of a mystic sleep; but it does not mean what most of us imagine, and is not to be found where we expect it. On the contrary, I think the most vivid impression the nation left on me, was that it was almost unnaturally wide awake. I might almost say that Ireland suffers from insomnia. This is not only literally true, of those tremendous talks, the prolonged activities of rich and restless intellects, that can burn up the nights from darkness to daybreak. It is true on the doubtful as well as the delightful side; and the temperament has something of the morbid vigilance and even of the irritability of insomnia. Its lucidity is not only superhuman, but it is sometimes in the true sense inhuman. Its intellectual clarity cannot resist the temptation to intellectual cruelty. If I had to sum up in a sentence the one fault really to be found with the Irish, I could do it simply enough. I should say it saddened me that I liked them all so much better than they liked each other. But it is our supreme stupidity that this is always taken as meaning that Ireland is a sort of Donnybrook Fair. It is really quite the reverse of a merely rowdy and irresponsible quarrel. So far from fighting with shillelaghs, they fight far too much with rapiers; their temptation is in the very nicety and even delicacy of the thrust. Of course there are multitudes who make no such deadly use of the national irony; but it is sufficiently common for even these to suffer from it; and after a time I began to understand a little that burden about bitterness of speech, which recurs so often in the songs of Mr. Yeats and other Irish poets.
“Though hope fall from you and love decay Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.”
But there is nothing dreamy about the bitterness; the worst part of it is the fact that the criticisms always have a very lucid and logical touch of truth. It is not for us to lecture the Irish about forgiveness, who have given them so much to forgive. But if some one who had not lost the right to preach to them, if St. Patrick were to return to preach, he would find that nothing had failed, through all those ages of agony, of faith and honour and endurance; but I think he might possibly say, what I have no right to say, a word about charity.
There is indeed one decisive sense in which the Irish are very poetical; in that of giving a special and serious social recognition to poetry. I have sometimes expressed the fancy that men in the Golden Age might spontaneously talk in verse; and it is really true that half the Irish talk is in verse. Quotation becomes recitation. But it is much too rhythmic to resemble our own theatrical recitations. This is one of my own strongest and most sympathetic memories, and one of my most definable reasons for having felt extraordinarily happy in Dublin. It was a paradise of poets, in which a man who may feel inclined to mention a book or two of Paradise Lost, or illustrate his meaning with the complete ballad of the Ancient Mariner, feels he will be better understood than elsewhere. But the more this very national quality is noted, the less it will be mistaken for anything merely irresponsible, or even merely emotional. The shortest way of stating the truth is to say that poetry plays the part of music. It is in every sense of the phrase a social function. A poetical evening is as natural as a musical evening; and being as natural it becomes what is called artificial. As in some circles “Do you play?” is rather “Don’t you play?” these Irish circles would be surprised because a man did not recite rather than because he did. A hostile critic, especially an Irish critic, might possibly say that the Irish are poetical because they are not sufficiently musical. I can imagine Mr. Bernard Shaw saying something of the sort. But it might well be retorted that they are not merely musical because they will not consent to be merely emotional. It is far truer to say that they give a reasonable place to poetry, than that they permit any particular poetic interference with reason. “But I, whose virtues are the definitions of the analytical mind,” says Mr. Yeats, and any one who has been in the atmosphere will know what he means. In so far as such things stray from reason, they tend rather to ritual than to riot. Poetry is in Ireland what humour is in America; it is an institution. The Englishman, who is always for good and evil the amateur, takes both in a more occasional and even accidental fashion. It must always be remembered here that the ancient Irish civilisation had a high order of poetry, which was not merely mystical, but rather mathematical. Like Celtic ornament, Celtic verse tended too much to geometrical patterns. If this was irrational, it was not by excess of emotion. It might rather be described as irrational by excess of reason. The antique hierarchy of minstrels, each grade with its own complicated metre, suggests that there was something Chinese about a thing so unhumanly civilised. Yet all this vanished etiquette is somehow in the air in Ireland; and men and women move to it, as to the steps of a lost dance.
Thus, whether we consider the sense in which the Irish are really quarrelsome, or the sense in which they are really poetical, we find that both lead us back to a condition of clarity which seems the very reverse of a mere dream. In both cases Ireland is critical, and even self-critical. The bitterness I have ventured to lament is not Irish bitterness against the English; that I should assume as not only inevitable, but substantially justifiable. It is Irish bitterness against the Irish; the remarks of one honest Nationalist about another honest Nationalist. Similarly, while they are fond of poetry, they are not always fond of poets; and there is plenty of satire in their conversation on the subject. I have said that half the talk may consist of poetry; I might almost say that the other half may consist of parody. All these things amount to an excess of vigilance and realism; the mass of the people watch and pray, but even those who never pray never cease to watch. If they idealise sleep, it is as the sleepless do; it might almost be said that they can only dream of dreaming. If a dream haunts them, it is rather as something that escapes them; and indeed some of their finest poetry is rather about seeking fairyland than about finding it. Granted all this, I may say that there was one place in Ireland where I did seem to find it, and not merely to seek it. There was one spot where I seemed to see the dream itself in possession; as one might see from afar a cloud resting on a single hill. There a dream, at once a desire and a delusion, brooded above a whole city. That place was Belfast.
The description could be justified even literally and in detail. A man told me in northeast Ulster that he had heard a mother warning her children away from some pond, or similar place of danger, by saying, “Don’t you go there; there are wee popes there.” A country where that could be said is like Elfland as compared to England. If not exactly a land of fairies, it is at least a land of goblins. There is something charming in the fancy of a pool full of these peculiar elves, like so many efts, each with his tiny triple crown or crossed keys complete. That is the difference between this manufacturing district and an English manufacturing district, like that of Manchester. There are numbers of sturdy Nonconformists in Manchester; and doubtless they direct some of their educational warnings against the system represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But nobody in Manchester, however Nonconformist, tells even a child that a puddle is a sort of breeding place for Archbishops of Canterbury, little goblins in gaiters and aprons. It may be said that it is a very stagnant pool that breeds that sort of efts. But whatever view we take of it, it remains true, to begin with, that the paradox could be proved merely from superficial things like superstitions. Protestant Ulster reeks of superstition; it is the strong smell that really comes like a blast out of Belfast, as distinct from Birmingham or Brixton. But to me there is always something human and almost humanising about superstition; and I really think that such lingering legends about the Pope, as a being as distant and dehumanised as the King of the Cannibal Islands, have served as a sort of negative folk-lore. And the same may be said, in so far as it is true that the commercial province has retained a theology as well as a mythology. Wherever men are still theological there is still some chance of their being logical. And in this the Calvinist Ulsterman may be more of a Catholic Irishman than is commonly realised, especially by himself.
Attacks and apologies abound about the matter of Belfast bigotry; but bigotry is by no means the worst thing in Belfast. I rather think it is the best. Nor is it the strongest example of what I mean, when I say that Belfast does really live in a dream. The other and more remarkable fault of the society has indeed a religious root; for nearly everything in history has a religious root, and especially nearly everything in Irish history. Of that theoretical origin in theology I may say something in a moment; it will be enough to say here that what has produced the more prominent and practical evil is ultimately the theology itself, but not the habit of being theological. It is the creed; but not the faith. In so far as the Ulster Protestant really has a faith, he is really a fine fellow; though perhaps not quite so fine a fellow as he thinks himself. And that is the chasm; and can be most shortly stated as I have often stated it in such debates, by saying that the Protestant generally says, “I am a good Protestant,” while the Catholic always says, “I am a bad Catholic.”
When I say that Belfast is dominated by a dream, I mean it in the strict psychological sense; that something inside the mind is stronger than everything outside it. Nonsense is not only stronger than sense, but stronger than the senses. The idea in a man’s head can eclipse the eyes in his head. Very worthy and kindly merchants told me there was no poverty in Belfast. They did not say there was less poverty than was commonly alleged, or less poverty than there had been, or less than there was in similar places elsewhere. They said there was none. As a remark about the Earthly Paradise or the New Jerusalem, it would be arresting. As a remark about the streets, through which they and I had both passed a few moments before, it was simply a triumph of the sheer madness of the imagination of man. These eminent citizens of Belfast received me in the kindest and most courteous fashion; and I would not willingly say anything in criticism of them beyond what is necessary for the practical needs of their country and mine. But indeed I think the greatest criticism of them is that they would not understand what the criticism means. I will therefore clothe it in a parable, which is none the worse for having also been a real incident. When told there was no poverty in Belfast, I had remarked mildly that the people must have a singular taste in dress. I was gravely assured that they had indeed a most singular taste in dress. I was left with the general impression that wearing shirts or trousers decorated with large holes at irregular intervals was a pardonable form of foppery or fashionable extravagance. And it will always be a deep indwelling delight, in the memories of my life, that just as these city fathers and I came out on to the steps of the hotel, there appeared before us one of the raggedest of the ragged little boys I had seen, asking for a penny. I gave him a penny, whereon this group of merchants was suddenly transfigured into a sort of mob, vociferating, “Against the law! Against the law!” and bundled him away. I hope it is not unamiable to be so much entertained by that vision of a mob of magistrates, so earnestly shooing away a solitary child like a cat. Anyhow, they knew not what they did; and, what is worse, knew not that they knew not. And they would not understand, if I told them, what legend might have been made about that child, in the Christian ages of the world.
The point is here that the evil in the delusion does not consist in bigotry, but in vanity. It is not that such a Belfast man thinks he is right; for any honest man has a right to think he is right. It is that he does think he is good, not to say great; and no honest man can reach that comfortable conviction without a course of intellectual dishonesty. What cuts this spirit off from Christian common sense is the fact that the delusion, like most insane delusions, is merely egotistical. It is simply the pleasure of thinking extravagantly well of oneself; and unlimited indulgence in that pleasure is far more weakening than any indulgence in drink or dissipation. But so completely does it construct an unreal cosmos round the ego, that the criticism of the world cannot be felt even for worldly purposes. I could give many examples of this element in Belfast, as compared even with Birmingham or Manchester. The Lord Mayor of Manchester may not happen to know much about pictures; but he knows men who know about them. But the Belfast authorities will exhibit a maniacally bad picture as a masterpiece, merely because it glorifies Belfast. No man dare put up such a picture in Manchester, within a stone’s-throw of Mr. Charles Rowley. I care comparatively little about the case of aesthetics; but the case is even clearer in ethics. So wholly are these people sundered from more Christian traditions that their very boasts lower them; and. they abase themselves when they mean to exalt themselves. It never occurs to them that their strange inside standards do not always impress outsiders. A great employer introduced me to several of his very intelligent employees; and I can readily bear witness to the sincerity of the great Belfast delusion even among many of the poorer men of Belfast. But the sincere efforts of them and their master, to convince me that a union with the Catholic majority under Home Rule was intolerable to them, all went to one tune, which recurred with a kind of chorus, “We won’t have the likes of them making laws for the likes of us.” It never seemed to cross their minds that this is not a high example of any human morality; that judged by pagan verecundia or Christian humility or modern democratic brotherhood, it is simply the remark of a snob. The man in question is quite innocent of all this; he has no notion of modesty, or even of mock modesty; he is not only superior, but he thinks it a superiority to claim superiority.
It is here that we cannot avoid theology, because, we cannot avoid theory. For the point is that even in theory the one religious atmosphere now differs from the other. That the difference had historically a religious root is really unquestionable; but anyhow it is very deeply rooted. The essence of Calvinism was certainty about salvation; the essence of Catholicism is uncertainty about salvation. The modern and materialised form of that certainty is superiority; the belief of a man in a fixed moral aristocracy of men like himself. But the truth concerned here is that, by this time at any rate, the superiority has become a doctrine as well as an indulgence. I doubt if this extreme school of Protestants believe in Christian humility even as an ideal. I doubt whether the more honest of them would even profess to believe in it. This can be clearly seen by comparing it with other Christian virtues; of which this decayed Calvinism offers at least a version, even to those who think it a perversion. Puritanism is a version of purity; if we think it a parody of purity. Philanthropy is a version of charity; if we think it a parody of charity. But in all this commercial Protestantism there is no version of humility; there is not even a parody of humility. Humility is not an ideal. Humility is not even a hypocrisy. There is no institution, no commandment, no common form of words, no popular pattern or traditional tale, to tell anybody in any fashion that there is any such thing as a peril of spiritual pride. In short, there is here a school of thought and sentiment that does definitely regard self-satisfaction as a strength; as against the strong Christian tradition in the rest of the country that does as definitely regard it as a weakness. That is the real moral issue in the modern struggle in Ireland; nor is it confined to Ireland. England has been deeply infected with this pharisaical weakness; but as I have said, England takes things vaguely where Ireland takes them vividly. The men of Belfast offer that city as something supreme, unique and unrivalled; and they are very nearly right. There is nothing exactly like it in the industrialism of this country; but for all that, the fight against its religion of arrogance has been fought out elsewhere and on a larger field. There is another centre and citadel from which this theory, of strength in a self-hypnotised superiority, has despised Christendom. There has been a rival city to Belfast; and its name was Berlin.
Historians of all religions and no religion may yet come to regard it as a historical fact, I fancy, that the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century (at least in the form it actually took) was a barbaric breakdown, like that Prussianism which was the ultimate product of the Protestantism. But however this may be, historians will always be interested to note that it produced certain curious and characteristic things; which are worth studying whether we like or dislike them. And one of its features, I fancy, has been this; that it has had the power of producing certain institutions which progressed very rapidly to great wealth and power; which the world regarded at a certain moment as invincible; and which the world, at the next moment, suddenly discovered to be intolerable. It was so with the whole of that Calvinist theology, of which Belfast is now left as the lonely missionary. It was so, even in our own time, with the whole of that industrial capitalism of which Belfast is now the besieged and almost deserted outpost. And it was so with Berlin as it was with Belfast; and a subtle Prussian might almost complain of a kind of treachery, in the abruptness with which the world woke up and found it wanting; in the suddenness of the reaction that struck it impotent, so soon after it had been counted on omnipotent. These things seem to hold all the future; and in one flash they are things of the past.
Belfast is an antiquated novelty. Such a thing is still being excused for seeming parvenu when it is discovered to be passe. For instance, it is only by coming in touch with some of the controversies surrounding the Convention, that an Englishman could realise how much the mentality of the Belfast leader is not so much that of a remote seventeenth century Whig, as that of a recent nineteenth century Radical. His conventionality seemed to be that of a Victorian rather than a Williamite; and to be less limited by the Orange Brotherhood than by the Cobden Club. This is a fact most successfully painted and pasted over by the big brushes of our own Party System, which has the art of hiding so many glaring facts. This Unionist Party in Ireland is very largely concerned to resist the main reform advocated by the Unionist Party in England. A political humorist, who understood the Cobden tradition of Belfast and the Chamberlain tradition of Birmingham, could have a huge amount of fun appealing from one to the other; congratulating Belfast on the bold Protectionist doctrines prevalent in Ireland; adjuring Mr. Bonar Law and the Tariff Reformers never to forget the fight made by Belfast for the sacred principles of Free Trade. But the fact that the Belfast school is merely the Manchester school is only one aspect of this general truth about the abrupt collapse into antiquity; a sudden superannuation. The whole march of that Manchester industrialism is not only halted but turned; the whole position is outflanked by new forces coming from new directions; the wealth of the peasantries blocks the road in front of it; the general strike has risen menacing its rear. That strange cloud of self-protecting vanity may still permit Belfast to believe in Belfast, but Britain does not really believe in Belfast. Philosophical forces far wider and deeper than politics have undermined the conception of progressive Protestantism in Ireland. I should say myself that mere English ascendancy in that island became intellectually impossible on the day when Shaftesbury introduced the first Factory Act, and on the day when Newman published the first pages of the Apologia. Both men were certainly Tories and probably Unionists.
Neither were connected with the subject or with each other; the one hated the Pope and the other the Liberator. But industrialism was never again self-evidently superior after the first event, or Protestantism self-evidently superior after the other. And it needed a towering and self-evident superiority to excuse the English rule in Ireland. It is only on the ground of unquestionably doing good that men can do so much evil as that.
Some Orangemen before the war indulged in a fine rhetorical comparison between William of Prussia and William of Orange; and openly suggested that the new Protestant Deliverer from the north would come from North Germany. I was assured by my more moderate hosts in Belfast that such Orangemen could not be regarded as representative or even responsible. On that I cannot pronounce. The Orangemen may not have been representative; they may not have been responsible; but I am quite sure they were right. I am quite sure those poor fanatics were far nearer the nerve of historical truth than professional politicians like Sir Edward Carson or industrial capitalists like Sir George Clark. If ever there was a natural alliance in the world, it would have been the alliance between Belfast and Berlin. The fanatics may be fools, but they have here the light by which the foolish things can confound the wise. It is the brightest spot in Belfast, bigotry, for if the light in its body be darkness, it is still brighter than the darkness. By the vision that goes everywhere with the virility and greatness of religion, these men have indeed pierced to the Protestant secret and the meaning of four hundred years. Their Protestantism is Prussianism, not as a term of abuse, but as a term of abstract and impartial ethical science. Belfast and Berlin are on the same side in the deepest of all the spiritual issues involved in the war. And that is the simple issue of whether pride is a sin, and therefore a weakness. Modern mentality, or great masses of it, has seriously advanced the view that it is a weakness to disarm criticism by self-criticism, and a strength to disdain criticism through self-confidence. That is the thesis for which Berlin gave battle to the older civilisation in Europe; and that for which Belfast gave battle to the older civilisation in Ireland. It may be, as I suggested, that such Protestant pride is the old Calvinism, with its fixed election of the few. It may be that the Protestantism is merely Paganism, with its brutish gods and giants lingering in corners of the more savage north. It may be that the Calvinism was itself a recurrence of the Paganism. But in any case, I am sure that this superiority, which can master men like a nightmare, can also vanish like a nightmare. And I strongly suspect that in this matter also, as in the matter of property as viewed by a peasantry, the older civilisation will prove to be the real civilisation; and that a healthier society will return to regarding pride as a pestilence, as the Socialists have already returned to regarding avarice as a pestilence. The old tradition of Christendom was that the highest form of faith was a doubt. It was the doubt of a man about his soul. It was admirably expressed to me by Mr. Yeats, who is now champion of Catholic orthodoxy, in stating his preference for mediaeval Catholicism as compared with modern humanitarianism; “Men were thinking then about their own sins, and now they are always thinking about other people’s.” And even by the Protestant test of progress, pride is seen to be arrested by a premature paralysis. Progress is superiority to oneself; and it is stopped dead by superiority to others. The case is even clearer by the test of poetry, which is much more solid and permanent than progress. The Superman may have been a sort of poem; but he could never be any sort of poet. The more we attempt to analyse that strange element of wonder, which is the soul of all the arts, the more we shall see that it must depend on some subordination of the self to a glory existing beyond it, and even in spite of it. Man always feels as a creature when he acts as a creator. When he carves a cathedral it is to make a monster that can swallow him. But the Nietzschean nightmare of swallowing the world is only a sort of yawning. When the evolutionary anarch has broken all links and laws and is at last free to speak, he finds he has nothing to say. So German songs under the imperial eagle fell silent like songbirds under a hawk; and it is but rarely, and here and there, that a Belfast merchant liberates his soul in a lyric. He has to get Mr. Kipling to write a Belfast poem, in a style technically attuned to the Belfast pictures. There is the true Tara of the silent harp, and the throne and habitation of the dream; and it is there that the Celtic pessimists should weep in silence for the end of song. Blowing one’s own trumpet has not proved a good musical education.
In logic a wise man will always put the cart before the horse. That is to say, he will always put the end before the means; when he is considering the question as a whole. He does not construct a cart in order to exercise a horse. He employs a horse to draw a cart, and whatever is in the cart. In all modern reasoning there is a tendency to make the mere political beast of burden more important than the chariot of man it is meant to draw. This had led to a dismissal of all such spiritual questions in favour of what are called social questions; and this to a too facile treatment of things like the religious question in Belfast. There is a religious question; and it will not have an irreligious answer. It will not be met by the limitation of Christian faith, but rather by the extension of Christian charity. But if a man says that there is no difference between a Protestant and a Catholic, and that both can act in an identical fashion everywhere but in a church or chapel, he is madly driving the cart-horse when he has forgotten the cart. A religion is not the church a man goes to but the cosmos he lives in; and if any sceptic forgets it, the maddest fanatic beating an Orange drum about the Battle of the Boyne is a better philosopher than he.
Many uneducated and some educated people in Belfast, quite sincerely believe that Roman priests are fiends, only waiting to rekindle the fires of the Inquisition. For two simple reasons, however, I declined to take this fact as evidence of anything except their sincerity. First, because the stories, when reduced to their rudiment of truth, generally resolved themselves into the riddle of poor Roman Catholics giving money to their own religion; and seemed to deplore not so much a dependence on priests as an independence of employers. And second for a reason drawn from my own experience, as well as common knowledge, concerning the Protestant gentry in the south of Ireland. The southern Unionists spoke quite without this special horror of Catholic priests or peasants. They grumbled at them or laughed at them as a man grumbles or laughs at his neighbours; but obviously they no more dreamed that the priest would burn them than that he would eat them. If the priests were as black as the black Protestants painted them, they would be at their worst where they are with the majority; and would be known at their worst by the minority. It was clear that Belfast held the more bigoted tradition, not because it knew more of priests, but because it knew less of them; not because it was on the spot, but because the spot was barred. An even more general delusion was the idea that all the southern Irish dreamed and did no work. I pointed out that this also was inconsistent with concrete experience; since all over the world a man who makes a small farm pay has to work very hard indeed. In historic fact, the old notion that the Irish peasant did no work, but only dreamed, had a simple explanation. It merely meant that he did no work for a capitalist’s profit; but dreamed of some day doing work for his own profit. But there may also have been this distorted truth in the tradition; that a free peasant, while he extends his own work, creates his own holidays. He is not idle all day, but he may be idle at any time of the day; he does not dream whenever he feels inclined, but he does dream whenever he chooses. A famous Belfast manufacturer, a man of capacity, but one who shook his head over the unaccountable prevalence of priests, assured me that he had seen peasants in the south doing nothing, at all sorts of odd times; and this is doubtless the difference between the farm and the factory. The same gentleman showed me over the colossal shipping of the great harbour, with all machinery and transport leading up to it. No man of any imagination would be insensible to such titanic experiments of his race; or deny the dark poetry of those furnaces fit for Vulcan or those hammers worthy of Thor. But as I stood on the dock I said to my guide: “Have you ever asked what all this is for?” He was an intelligent man, an exile from metaphysical Scotland, and he knew what I meant. “I don’t know,” he said, “perhaps we are only insects building a coral reef. I don’t know what is the good of the coral reef.” “Perhaps,” I said, “that is what the peasant dreams about, and, why he listens to the priest.”
For there seems to be a fashionable fallacy to the effect that religious equality is something to be done and done with, that we may go on to the real matter of political equality. In philosophy it is the flat contrary that is true. Political equality is something to be done and done with, that we may go on to the much more real matter of religion. At the Abbey Theatre I saw a forcible play by Mr. St. John Ervine, called The Mixed Marriage; which I should remember if it were only for the beautiful acting of Miss Maire O’Neill. But the play moved me very much as a play; yet I felt that the presence of this fallacy falsified it in some measure. The dramatist seemed to resent a schism merely because it interfered with a strike. But the only object of striking is liberty; and the only object of liberty is life: a thing wholly spiritual. It is economic liberty that should be dismissed as these people dismiss theology. We only get it, to forget it. It is right that men should have houses, right that they should have land, right that they should have laws to protect the land; but all these things are only machinery to make leisure for the labouring soul. The house is only a stage set up by stage carpenters for the acting of what Mr. J. B. Yeats has called “the drama of the home.” All the most dramatic things happen at home, from being born to being dead. What a man thinks about these things is his life; and to substitute for them a bustle of electioneering and legislation is to wander about among screens and pulleys on the wrong side of pasteboard scenery; and never to act the play. And that play is always a miracle play; and the name of its hero is Everyman.
When I came back from the desolate splendour of the Donegal sea and shore, and saw again the square garden and the statue outside the Dublin hotel, I did not know I was returning to something that might well be called more desolate. For it was when I entered the hotel that I first found that it was full of the awful tragedy of the Leinster. I had often seen death in a home, but never death decimating a vast hostelry; and there was something strangely shocking about the empty seats of men and women with whom I had talked so idly a few days before. It was almost as if there was more tragedy in the cutting short of such trivial talk than in the sundering of life-long ties. But there was all the dignity as well as the tragedy of man; and I was glad, before I left Ireland, to have seen the nobler side of the Anglo-Irish garrison; and to have known men of my own blood, however mistaken, so enduring the end of things. With the bad news from the sea came better news from the war; Mangin had struck the sensational blow that cut off the Germans as they marched upon Chalons; and with all the emotions of an exile, however temporary, I knew that my own land was secure. Somehow, the bad and good news together turned my mind more and more towards England; and all the inner humour and insular geniality which even the Irish may some day be allowed to understand. As I went homewards on the next boat that started from the Irish port, and the Wicklow hills receded in a rainy and broken sunlight, it was with all the simplest of those ancient appetites with which a man should come back to his own country. Only there clung to me, not to be denied, one sentiment about Ireland, one sentiment that I could not transfer to England; which called me like an elfland of so many happy figures, from Puck to Pickwick. As I looked at those rainy hills, I knew at least that I was looking, perhaps for the last time, on something rooted in the Christian faith. There at least the Christian ideal was something more than an ideal; it was in a special sense real. It was so real that it appeared even in statistics. It was so self-evident as to be seen even by sociologists. It was a land where our religion had made even its vision visible. It had made even its unpopular virtues popular. It must be, in the times to come, a final testing-place, of whether a people that will take that name seriously, and even solidly, is fated to suffer or to succeed.
As the long line of the mountain coast unfolded before me I had an optical illusion; it may be that many have had it before. As new lengths of coast and lines of heights were unfolded, I had the fancy that the whole land was not receding but advancing, like something spreading out its arms to the world. A chance shred of sunshine rested, like a riven banner, on the hill which I believe is called in Irish the Mountain of the Golden Spears; and I could have imagined that the spears and the banner were coming on. And in that flash I remembered that the men of this island had once gone forth, not the torches of conquerors or destroyers; but as missionaries in the very midnight of the Dark Ages, like a multitude of moving candles, that were the light of the world.