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ON GOING TO CHURCH

AS a modern man, concerned with matters of fine art and living in
London by the sweat of my brain, I dwell in a world which, unable
to live by bread alone, lives spiritually on alcohol and morphia. Young and
excessively sentimental people live on love, and delight in poetry or fine
writing which declares that love is Alpha and Omega ; but an attentive
examination will generally establish the fact that this kind of love, ethereal
as it seems, is merely a symptom of the drugs I have mentioned, and
does not occur independently except in those persons whose normal state
is similar to that induced in healthy persons by narcotic stimulants. If
from the fine art of to-day we set aside feelingless or prosaic art, which
is, properly, not fine art at all, we may safely refer most of the rest to
feeling produced by the teapot, the bottle, or the hypodermic syringe. An
exhibition of the cleverest men and women in London at five p.m., with
their afternoon tea cut off, would shatter many illusions. Tea and coffee
and cigarettes produce conversation ; lager beer and pipes produce routine
journalism ; wine and gallantry produce brilliant journalism, essays and
novels ; brandy and cigars produce violently devotional or erotic poetry;
morphia produces tragic exaltation (useful on the stage) ; and sobriety
produces an average curate’s sermon. Again, strychnine and arsenic may
be taken as pick-me-ups ; doctors quite understand that “tonics” mean
drams of ether; chlorodyne is a universal medicine ; chloral, sulphonal
and the like call up Nature’s great destroyer, artificial sleep ; bromide
of potassium will reduce the over-sensitive man of genius to a con-
dition in which the alighting of a wasp on his naked eyeball will not
make him wink ; haschisch tempts the dreamer by the Oriental glamour of
its reputation ; and gin is a cheap substitute for all these anodynes.
Most of the activity of the Press, the Pulpit, the Platform and the Theatre

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is only a symptom of the activity of the drug trade, the tea trade, the
tobacco trade and the liquor trade. The world is not going from bad to
worse, it is true ; but the increased facilities which constitute the advance
of civilisation include facilities for drugging oneself. These facilities wipe
whole races of black men off the face of the earth ; and every extension
and refinement of them picks a stratum out of white society and devotes
it to destruction. Such traditions of the gross old habits as have reached
me seem to be based on the idea of first doing your day’s work and then
enjoying yourself by getting drunk. Nowadays you get drunk to enable
you to begin work. Shakespere’s opportunities of meddling with his nerves
were much more limited than Dante Rossetti’s ; but it is not clear that
the advantage of the change lay with Rossetti. Besides, though Shakespere
may, as tradition asserts, have died of drink in a ditch, he at all events
conceived alcohol as an enemy put by a man into his own mouth to steal
away his brains ; whereas the modern man conceives it as an indispensable
means of setting his brains going. We drink and drug, not for the pleasure
of it, but for Dutch inspiration and by the advice of our doctors, as duellists
drink for Dutch courage by the advice of their seconds. Obviously this
systematic, utilitarian drugging and stimulating, though necessarily “moderate”
(so as not to defeat its own object), is more dangerous than the old boozing
if we are to regard the use of stimulants as an evil.

As for me, I do not clearly see where a scientific line can be drawn
between food and stimulants. I cannot say, like Ninon de l’Enclos, that a
bowl of soup intoxicates me ; but it stimulates me as much as I want to be
stimulated, which is, perhaps, all that Ninon meant. Still, I have not failed
to observe that all the drugs, from tea to morphia, and all the drams, from
lager beer to brandy, dull the edge of self-criticism and make a man content
with something less than the best work of which he is soberly capable. He
thinks his work better, when he is really only more easily satisfied with him-
self. Those whose daily task is only a routine, for the sufficient discharge of
which a man need hardly be more than half alive, may seek this fool’s
paradise without detriment to their work; but to those professional men whose

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art affords practically boundless scope for skill of execution and elevation
of thought, to take drug or dram is to sacrifice the keenest, most precious
part of life to a dollop of lazy and vulgar comfort for which no true man of
genius should have any greater stomach than the lady of the manor has for
her ploughman’s lump of fat bacon. To the creative artist stimulants are
especially dangerous, since they produce that terrible dream-glamour in which
the ugly, the grotesque, the wicked, the morbific begin to fascinate and
obsess instead of disgusting. This effect, however faint it may be, is always
produced in some degree by drugs. The mark left on a novel in the Leisure
Hour by a cup of tea may be imperceptible to a bishop’s wife who has
just had two cups ; but the effect is there as certainly as if De Quincey’s
eight thousand drops of laudanum had been substituted.

A very little experience of the world of art and letters will convince
any open-minded person that abstinence, pure and simple, is not a practicable
remedy for this state of things. There is a considerable commercial demand
for maudlin or nightmarish art and literature which no sober person would
produce, the manufacture of which must accordingly be frankly classed
industrially with the unhealthy trades, and morally with the manufacture
of unwholesome sweets for children or the distilling of gin. What the victims
of this industry call imagination and artistic faculty is nothing but attenuated
delirium tremens, like Pasteur’s attenuated hydrophobia. It is useless to
encumber an argument with these predestined children of perdition. The
only profitable cases are those to consider of people engaged in the
healthy pursuit of those arts which afford scope for the greatest mental
and physical energy, the clearest and acutest reason and the most elevated
perception. Work of this kind requires an intensity of energy of which no
ordinary labourer or routine official can form any conception. If the dreams
of Keeleyism could be so far realised as to transmute human brain energy
into vulgar explosive force, the head of Shakespere, used as a bombshell,
might conceivably blow England out of the sea. At all events, the succession
of efforts by which a Shaksperean play, a Beethoven symphony, or a Wagner
music-drama is produced, though it may not overtax Shakespere, Beethoven

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or Wagner, must certainly tax even them to the utmost, and would be as
prodigiously impossible to the average professional man as the writing of an
ordinary leading article to a ploughman. What is called professional work
is, in point of severity, just what you choose to make it, either commonplace,
easy and requiring only extensive industry to be lucrative, or else dis-
tinguished, difficult and exacting the fiercest intensive industry in return,
after a probation of twenty years or so, for authority, reputation and an
income only sufficient for simple habits and plain living. The whole
professional world lies between these two extremes. At the one, you
have the man to whom his profession is only a means of making himself
and his family comfortable and prosperous : at the other, you have the man
who sacrifices everything and everybody, himself included, to the perfection
of his work—to the passion for efficiency which is the true master-
passion of the artist. At the one, work is a necessary evil and
moneymaking a pleasure : at the other, work is the objective realisation of
life and moneymaking a nuisance. At the one, men drink and drug
to make themselves comfortable : at the other, to stimulate their working
faculty. Preach mere abstinence at the one, and you are preaching nothing
but diminution of happiness. Preach it at the other, and you are proposing
a reduction of efficiency. If you are to prevail, you must propose a sub-
stitute. And the only one I have yet been able to hit on is—going to
church.

It will not be disputed, I presume, that an unstimulated saint
can work as hard, as long, as finely and, on occasion, as fiercely, as
a stimulated sinner. Recuperation, recreation, inspiration seem to come to
the saint far more surely than to the man who grows coarser and fatter
with every additional hundred a year, and who calls the saint an ascetic.
A comparison of the works of our carnivorous drunkard poets with those
of Shelley, or of Dr. Johnson’s dictionary with that of the vegetarian Littré,
is sufficient to show that the secret of attaining the highest eminence either
in poetry or in dictionary compiling (and all fine literature lies between the
two), is to be found neither in alcohol nor in our monstrous habit of bringing

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millions of useless and disagreeable animals into existence for the express
purpose of barbarously slaughtering them, roasting their corpses and eating
them. I have myself tried the experiment of not eating meat or drinking tea,
coffee or spirits for more than a dozen years past, without, as far I can
discover, placing myself at more than my natural disadvantages relatively to
those colleagues of mine who patronise the slaughter-house and the distillery.
But then I go to church. If you should chance to see, in a country church-
yard, a bicycle leaning against a tombstone, you are not unlikely to find me
inside the church if it is old enough or new enough to be fit for its
purpose. There I find rest without languor and recreation without excitement,
both of a quality unknown to the traveller who turns from the village church
to the village inn and seeks to renew himself with shandygaff. Any place
where men dwell, village or city, is a reflection of the consciousness of every
single man. In my consciousness there is a market, a garden, a dwelling, a
workshop, a lover’s walk—above all, a cathedral. My appeal to the master-
builder is: Mirror this cathedral for me in enduring stone; make it with
hands; let it direct its sure and clear appeal to my senses, so that when my
spirit is vaguely groping after an elusive mood my eye shall be caught by the
skyward tower, showing me where, within the cathedral, I may find my way
to the cathedral within me. With a right knowledge of this great function
of the cathedral builder, and craft enough to set an arch on a couple of pillars,
make doors and windows in a good wall and put a roof over them, any
modern man might, it seems to me, build churches as they built them in the
middle ages, if only the pious founders and the parson would let him. For
want of that knowledge, gentlemen of Mr. Pecksniff’s profession make
fashionable pencil-drawings, presenting what Mr. Pecksniff’s creator elsewhere
calls an architectooralooral appearance, with which, having delighted the
darkened eyes of the committee and the clerics, they have them translated into
bricks and masonry and take a shilling in the pound on the bill, with the
result that the bishop may consecrate the finished building until he is black
in the face without making a real church of it. Can it be doubted by the
pious that babies baptised in such places go to limbo if they die before

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qualifying themselves for other regions ; that prayers said there do not count ;
nay, that such purposeless, respectable-looking interiors are irreconcilable with
the doctrine of Omnipresence, since the bishop’s blessing is no spell of black
magic to imprison Omnipotence in a place that must needs be intolerable to
Omniscience? At all events, the godhead in me, certified by the tenth
chapter of St. John’s Gospel to those who will admit no other authority,
refuses to enter these barren places. This is perhaps fortunate, since they
are generally kept locked ; and even when they are open, they are jealously-
guarded in the spirit of that Westminster Abbey verger who, not long ago,
had a stranger arrested for kneeling down, and explained, when remonstrated
with, that if that sort of thing were tolerated, they would soon have people
praying all over the place. Happily it is not so everywhere. You may now
ride or tramp into a village with a fair chance of finding the church-door open
and a manuscript placard in the porch, whereby the parson, speaking no less
as a man and a brother than as the porter of the House Beautiful, gives you
to understand that the church is open always for those who have any use for
it. Inside such churches you will often find not only carefully-cherished work
from the ages of faith, which you expect to find noble and lovely, but
sometimes a quite modern furnishing of the interior and draping of the altar,
evidently done, not by contract with a firm celebrated for its illustrated
catalogues, but by someone who loved and understood the church, and who,
when baffled in the search for beautiful things, had at least succeeded in
avoiding indecently commercial and incongruous ones. And then the search
for beauty is not always baffled. When the dean and chapter of a cathedral
want not merely an ugly but a positively beastly pulpit to preach from—
something like the Albert Memorial canopy, only much worse—they always
get it, improbable and unnatural as the enterprise is. Similarly, when an
enlightened country parson wants an unpretending tub to thump, with a few
pretty panels in it and a pleasant shape generally, he will, with a little
perseverance, soon enough find a craftsman who has picked up the thread
of the tradition of his craft from the time when that craft was a fine art—
as may be done nowadays more easily than was possible before we had

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cheap trips and cheap photographs*—and who is only too glad to be allowed
to try his hand at something in the line of that tradition. Some months ago,
bicycling in the west country, I came upon a little church, built long before
the sense of beauty and devotion had been supplanted by the sense of
respectability and talent, in which some neat panels left by a modern carver
had been painted with a few saints on gold backgrounds, evidently by some
woman who had tried to learn what she could from the early Florentine
masters and had done the work in the true votive spirit, without any taint of
the amateur exhibiting his irritating and futile imitations of the celebrated-artist
business. From such humble but quite acceptable efforts, up to the master-
piece in stained glass by William Morris and Burne-Jones which occasionally
astonishes you in places far more remote and unlikely than Birmingham or
Oxford, convincing evidence may be picked up here and there that the decay of
religious art from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth was not caused by any
atrophy of the artistic faculty, but was an eclipse of religion by science and com-
merce. It is an odd period to look back on from the churchgoer’s point of view
—those eclipsed centuries calling their predecessors “the dark ages,” and trying
to prove their own piety by raising, at huge expense, gigantic monuments in
enduring stone (not very enduring, though, sometimes) of their infidelity.
Go to Milan, and join the rush of tourists to its petrified christening-cake
of a cathedral. The projectors of that costly ornament spared no expense to
prove that their devotion was ten times greater than that of the builders of
San Ambrogio. But every pound they spent only recorded in marble that
their devotion was a hundred times less. Go on to Florence and try San
Lorenzo, a really noble church (which the Milan Cathedral is not),

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* At the bookstall in the South Kensington Museum, any young craftsman, or other person,
can turn over hundreds of photographs taken by Alinari, of Florence, from the finest work in the
churches and palaces of Italy. He will not be importuned to buy, or grudged access to the port-
folios, which are, fortunately, in charge of a lady who is a first-rate public servant. He can,
however, purchase as many of the photographs as he wants for sixpence each. This invaluable
arrangement, having been made at the public expense, is carefully kept from the public knowledge,
because, if it were properly advertised, complaints might be made by English shopkeepers who
object to our buying Alinari’s cheap photographs instead of their own dear photographs of the
Great Wheel at Earl’s Court.

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Brunelleschi’s masterpiece. You cannot but admire its intellectual command
of form, its unaffected dignity, its power and accomplishment, its masterly
combination of simplicity and homogeneity of plan with elegance and
variety of detail : you are even touched by the retention of that part of the
beauty of the older time which was perceptible to the Renascent intellect before
its weaning from heavenly food had been followed by starvation. You under-
stand the deep and serious respect which Michael Angelo had for Brunelleschi
—why he said “I can do different work, but not better.” But a few minutes’
walk to Santa Maria Novella or Santa Croce, or a turn in the steam-tram
to San Miniato, will bring you to churches built a century or two earlier;
and you have only to cross their thresholds to feel, almost before you have
smelt the incense, the difference between a church built to the pride and
glory of God (not to mention the Medici) and one built as a sanctuary
shielded by God’s presence from pride and glory and all the other burdens
of life. In San Lorenzo up goes your head—every isolating advantage you
have of talent, power or rank asserts itself with thrilling poignancy. In the
older churches you forget yourself, and are the equal of the beggar at
the door, standing on ground made holy by that labour in which we
have discovered the reality of prayer. You may also hit on a church
like the Santissima Annunziata, carefully and expensively brought up
to date, quite in our modern church-restoring manner, by generations
of princes chewing the cud of the Renascence ; and there you will
see the worship of glory and the self-sufficiency of intellect giving way
to the display of wealth and elegance as a guarantee of social
importance—in another word, snobbery. In later edifices you see how
intellect, finding its worshippers growing colder, had to abandon its dignity
and cut capers to attract attention, giving the grotesque, the eccentric, the
baroque, even the profane and blasphemous, until, finally, it is thoroughly
snubbed out of its vulgar attempts at self-assertion, and mopes conventionally
in our modern churches of St. Nicholas Without and St. Walker Within,
locked up, except at service-time, from week’s end to week’s end without ever
provoking the smallest protest from a public only too glad to have an

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excuse for not going into them. You may read the same history of the
human soul in any art you like to select ; but he who runs may read it in
the streets by looking at the churches.

Now, consider for a moment the prodigious increase of the population of
Christendom since the church of San Zeno Maggiore was built at Verona,
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Let a man go and renew himself
for half an hour occasionally in San Zeno, and he need eat no corpses, nor
drink any drugs or drams to sustain him. Yet not even all Verona, much
less all Europe, could resort to San Zeno in the thirteenth century ; whereas,
in the nineteenth, a thousand perfect churches would be but as a thousand
drops of rain on Sahara. Yet in London, with four millions and a quarter of
people in it, how many perfect or usable churches are there? And of the
few we have, how many are apparent to the wayfarer? Who, for instance,
would guess from the repulsive exterior of Westminster Abbey that there are
beautiful chapels and a noble nave within, or cloisters without, on the
hidden side?

I remember, a dozen years ago, Parson Shuttleworth, of St. Nicholas
Cole Abbey in the city, tried to persuade the city man to spend his mid-day
hour of rest in church ; guaranteeing him immunity from sermons, prayers
and collections, and even making the organ discourse Bach and Wagner,
instead of Goss and Jackson. This singular appeal to a people walking in
darkness was quite successful: the mid-day hour is kept to this day; but
Parson Shuttleworth has to speak for five minutes—by general and insistent
request—as Housekeeper, though he has placed a shelf of books in the
church for those who would rather read than listen to him or the organ.
This was a good thought ; for all inspired books should be read either in
church or on the eternal hills. St. Nicholas Cole Abbey makes you feel, the
moment you enter it, that you are in a rather dingy rococo banqueting-room,
built for a city company. Corpulence and comfort are written on every stone
of it. Considering that money is dirt cheap now in the city, it is strange that
Mr. Shuttleworth cannot get twenty thousand pounds to build a real church.
He would, soon enough, if the city knew what a church was. The twenty

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thousand pounds need not be wasted, either, on an “architect.” I was
lately walking in a polite suburb of Newcastle, when I saw a church— a
    new church—with, of all things, a detached campanile ; at sight of which
I could not help exclaiming profanely : “How the deuce did you find your
way to Newcastle?” So I went in and, after examining the place with
much astonishment, addressed myself to the sexton, who happened to be
about. I asked him who built the church, and he gave me the name of
Mr. Mitchell, who turned out, however, to be the pious founder—a ship-
builder prince, with some just notion of his princely function. But this
was not what I wanted to know ; so I asked who was the—the word stuck
in my throat a little—the architect. He, it appeared, was one Spence. “Was
that marble carving in the altar and that mosaic decoration round the chancel
part of his design?” said I. “Yes,” said the sexton, with a certain surliness
as if he suspected me of disapproving. “The ironwork is good,” I remarked,
to appease him ; “who did that?” “Mr. Spence did.” “Who carved that
wooden figure of St. George?” (the patron saint of the edifice). “Mr.
Spence did.” “Who painted those four panels in the dado with figures in
oil?” “Mr. Spence did : he meant them to be at intervals round the
church, but we put them all together by mistake.” “Then, perhaps, he
designed the stained windows, too?” “Yes, most of em.” I got so irritated
at this—feeling that Spence was going too far—that I remarked sarcas-
tically that no doubt Mr. Spence designed Mr. Mitchell’s ships as
well, which turned out to be the case as far as the cabins were
concerned. Clearly, this Mr. Spence is an artist-craftsman with a
vengeance. Many people, I learnt, came to see the church, especially in
the first eighteen months; but some of the congregation thought it too
ornamental. (At St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, by the way, some of the
parishioners objected at first to Mr. Shuttleworth as being too religious.)
Now, as a matter of fact, this Newcastle church of St. George’s is not
ornamental enough. Under modern commercial conditions, it is impossible
to get from the labour in the building-trade that artistic quality in the
actual masonry which makes a good mediæval building independent of

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applied ornament. Wherever Mr. Spence’s artist’s hand has passed over
the interior surface, the church is beautiful. Why should his hand not pass
over every inch of it? It is true, the complete finishing of a large church
of the right kind has hardly ever been carried through by one man. Some-
times the man has died: more often the money has failed. But in this
instance the man is not dead ; and surely money cannot fail in the most
fashionable suburb of Newcastle. The chancel with its wonderful mosaics, the
baptistry with its ornamented stones, the four painted panels of the dado, are
only samples of what the whole interior should and might be. All that cold
contract masonry must be redeemed, stone by stone, by the travail of the
artist-churchmaker. Nobody, not even an average respectable Sabbath-
keeper, will dare to say then that it is over-decorated, however out of place
in it he may feel his ugly Sunday clothes and his wife’s best bonnet.
Howbeit, this church of St. George’s in Newcastle proves my point, namely,
that churches fit for their proper use can still be built by men who follow
the craft of Orcagna instead of the profession of Mr. Pecksniff, and built
cheaply, too ; for I took the pains to ascertain what this large church
cost, and found that £30,000 was well over the mark. For aught
I know, there may be dozens of such churches rising in the country ; for
Mr. Spence’s talent, though evidently a rare and delicate one, cannot be
unique, and what he has done in his own style other men can do in theirs,
if they want to, and are given the means by those who can make money,
and are capable of the same want.

There is still one serious obstacle to the use of churches on the very
day when most people are best able and most disposed to visit them. I
mean, of course, the services. When I was a little boy, I was compelled
to go to church on Sunday ; and though I escaped from that intolerable
bondage before I was ten, it prejudiced me so violently against churchgoing
that twenty years elapsed before, in foreign lands and in pursuit of works
of art, I became once more a churchgoer. To this day. my flesh creeps
when I recall that genteel suburban Irish Protestant church, built by
Roman Catholic workmen who would have considered themselves damned

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had they crossed its threshold afterwards. Every separate stone, every pane
of glass, every fillet of ornamental ironwork— half-dog-collar, half-coronet— in
that building must have sowed a separate evil passion in my young heart.
Yes ; all the vulgarity, savagery, and bad blood which has marred my literary
work, was certainly laid upon me in that house of Satan! The mere nullity
of the building could make no positive impression on me : but what could,
and did, were the unnaturally motionless figures of the congregation in their
Sunday clothes and bonnets, and their set faces, pale with the malignant
rigidity produced by the suppression of all expression. And yet these people
were always moving and watching one another by stealth, as convicts com-
municate with one another. So was I. I had been told to keep my restless
little limbs still all through those interminable hours ; not to talk ; and, above
all, to be happy and holy there and glad that I was not a wicked little boy
playing in the fields instead of worshipping God. I hypocritically acquiesced ;
but the state of my conscience may be imagined, especially as I implicitly
believed that all the rest of the congregation were perfectly sincere and good.
I remember at that time dreaming one night that I was dead and had gone
to heaven. The picture of heaven which the efforts of the then Established
Church of Ireland had conveyed to my childish imagination, was a waiting
room with walls of pale sky-coloured tabbinet, and a pew-like bench running all
round, except at one corner, where there was a door. I was, somehow, aware
that God was in the next room, accessible through that door. I was seated
on the bench with my ankles tightly interlaced to prevent my legs dangling,
behaving myself with all my might before the grown-up people, who all
belonged to the Sunday congregation, and were either sitting on the bench
as if at church or else moving solemnly in and out as if there were
a dead person in the house. A grimly-handsome lady who usually sat in a
corner seat near me in church, and whom I believed to be thoroughly con-
versant with the arrangements of the Almighty, was to introduce me presently
into the next room—a moment which I was supposed to await with joy and
enthusiasm. Really, of course, my heart sank like lead within me at the
thought ; for I felt that my feeble affectation of piety could not impose on

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Omniscience, and that one glance of that all-searching eye would discover
that I had been allowed to come to heaven by mistake. Unfortunately for
the interest of this narrative, I awoke, or wandered off into another dream,
before the critical moment arrived. But it goes far enough to show that
I was by no means an insusceptible subject : indeed, I am sure, from other
early experiences of mine, that if I had been turned loose in a real church,
and allowed to wander and stare about, or hear noble music there instead
of that most accursed Te Deum of Jackson’s and a senseless droning of
the Old Hundredth, I should never have seized the opportunity of a great
evangelical revival, which occurred when I was still in my teens, to begin
my literary career with a letter to the Press (which was duly printed),
announcing with inflexible materialistic logic, and to the extreme horror of
my respectable connections, that I was an atheist. When, later on, I was
led to the study of the economic basis of the respectability of that and similar
congregations, I was inexpressibly relieved to find that it represented a mere
passing phase of industrial confusion, and could never have substantiated its
claims to my respect if, as a child, I had been able to bring it to book. To
this very day, whenever there is the slightest danger of my being mistaken
for a votary of the blue tabbinet waiting-room or a supporter of that morality
in which wrong and right, base and noble, evil and good, really mean
nothing more than the kitchen and the drawing-room, I hasten to claim
honourable exemption, as atheist and socialist, from any such complicity.

When I at last took to church-going again, a kindred difficulty beset me,
especially in Roman Catholic countries. In Italy, for instance, churches are
used in such a way that priceless pictures become smeared with filthy tallow-
soot, and have sometimes to be rescued by the temporal power and placed in
national galleries. But worse than this are the innumerable daily services
which disturb the truly religious visitor. If these were decently and intelli-
gently conducted by genuine mystics to whom the Mass was no mere rite
or miracle, but a real communion, the celebrants might reasonably claim
a place in the church as their share of the common human right to its
use. But the average Italian priest, personally uncleanly, and with chronic

26                              THE SAVOY

catarrh of the nose and throat, produced and maintained by sleeping and
living in frowsy, ill-ventilated rooms, punctuating his gabbled Latin only
by expectorative hawking, and making the decent guest sicken and shiver
every time the horrible splash of spitten mucus echoes along the vaulting
from the marble steps of the altar : this unseemly wretch should be seized
and put out, bell, book, candle and all, until he learns to behave himself.
The English tourist is often lectured for his inconsiderate behaviour in
Italian churches, for walking about during service, talking loudly, thrusting
himself rudely between a worshipper and an altar to examine a painting,
even for stealing chips of stone and scrawling his name on statues. But
as far as the mere disturbance of the services is concerned, and the often
very evident disposition of the tourist—especially the experienced tourist—
to regard the priest and his congregation as troublesome intruders, a week
spent in Italy will convince any unprejudiced person that this is a perfectly
reasonable attitude. I have seen inconsiderate British behaviour often enough
both in church and out of it. The slow-witted Englishman who refuses to
get out of the way of the Host, and looks at the bellringer going before it
with “Where the devil are you shoving to?” written in every pucker of his
free-born British brow, is a familiar figure to me ; but I have never seen any
stranger behave so insufferably as the officials of the church habitually do.
It is the sacristan who teaches you, when once you are committed to tipping
him, not to waste your good manners on the kneeling worshippers who are
snatching a moment from their daily round of drudgery and starvation to be
comforted by the Blessed Virgin or one of the saints ; it is the officiating
priest who makes you understand that the congregation are past shocking by
any indecency that you would dream of committing, and that the black looks
of the congregation are directed at the foreigner and the heretic only, and
imply a denial of your right as a human being to your share of the use of
the church. That right should be unflinchingly asserted on all proper occasions.
I know no contrary right by which the great Catholic churches made for the
world by the great church-builders should be monopolised by any sect as
against any man who desires to use them. My own faith is clear : I am

                      ON GOING TO CHURCH                                         27

a resolute Protestant ; I believe in the Holy Catholic Church ; in the Holy
Trinity of Father, Son (or Mother, Daughter) and Spirit ; in the Com-
munion of Saints, the Life to Come, the Immaculate Conception, and the
everyday reality of Godhead and the Kingdom of Heaven. Also, I believe
that salvation depends on redemption from belief in miracles; and I regard
St. Athanasius as an irreligious fool—that is, in the only serious sense of
the word, a damned fool. I pity the poor neurotic who can say, “Man
that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of
misery,” as I pity a maudlin drunkard ; and I know that the real religion
of to-day was made possible only by the materialist-physicists and atheist-
critics who performed for us the indispensable preliminary operation of
purging us thoroughly of the ignorant and vicious superstitions which were
thrust down our throats as religion in our helpless childhood. How those who
assume that our churches are the private property of their sect would think
of this profession of faith of mine I need not describe. But am I, therefore,
to be denied access to the place of spiritual recreation which is my inheritance
as much as theirs? If, for example, I desire to follow a good old custom
by pledging my love to my wife in the church of our parish, why should I
be denied due record in the registers unless she submits to have a moment
of deep feeling made ridiculous by the reading aloud of the naive impertinences
of St. Peter, who, on the subject of Woman, was neither Catholic nor Christian,
but a boorish Syrian fisherman. If I want to name a child in the church, the
prescribed service may be more touched with the religious spirit—once or
twice beautifully touched—but, on the whole, it is time to dismiss our prayer-
book as quite rotten with the pessimism of the age which produced it. In
spite of the stolen jewels with which it is studded, an age of strength and
faith and noble activity can have nothing to do with it : Caliban might have
constructed such a ritual out of his own terror of the supernatural, and such
fragments of the words of the saints as he could dimly feel some sort of
glory in.

My demand will now be understood without any ceremonious formulation
of it. No nation, working at the strain we face, can live cleanly without

28                              THE SAVOY

public-houses in which to seek refreshment and recreation. To supply that
vital want we have the drinking-shop with its narcotic, stimulant poisons, the
conventicle with its brimstone-flavoured hot gospel, and the church. In the
church alone can our need be truly met, nor even there save when we leave
outside the door the materialisations that help us to believe the in-
credible, and the intellectualisations that help us to think the unthink-
able, completing the refuse-heap of “isms” and creeds with our vain lust for
truth and happiness, and going in without thought or belief or prayer or any
other vanity, so that the soul, freed from all that crushing lumber, may open
all its avenues of life to the holy air of the true Catholic Church.

MLA citation:

Shaw, G. Bernard. “On Going to Church.” The Savoy, vol. 1 January 1896, pp. 13-28. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv1-shaw-church/