‘The voice of the Hooligan’
by Robert Buchanan

From the Contemporary Review, December 1899 


As the years advance which ‘bring the philosophic mind’, or at least
the mind which we fondly flatter ourselves is philosophic—in other
words, as men of thought and feeling approach the latter end of their
pilgrimage—there is a tendency among them to undcr-reckon the
advance which the world has made in the course of their experience,
and to discover in the far-off days of their youth a light which has
almost ceased to shine on earthly things.

Laudatores temporis acti, they look askance at all the results of progress,
and assert, more or less emphatically that men were wiser and better
when they themselves were young. They forget, of course, that
distance lends enchantment to the view, and that the very splendour in
which the world once appeared came rather from within than from
without; and, forgetting this, they do scant justice to the achievements
of later generations. A little sober reflection, nevertheless, may convince
them that the world does advance, though perhaps not so surely and
satisfactorily as they would wish to believe; and that, even if there is
some occasional retrogression, inevitable under the conditions of
human development, it is only, after all, temporary, and due to causes
which are inherent in our imperfect human nature. From time to time,
however, the momentum towards a higher and more spiritual ideal
seems suspended altogether, and we appear to be swept centuries back,
by a great back-wave, as it were, in the direction of absolute

Such a back-wave, it appears to me, has been at work during the last
few decades, and the accompanying phenomena, in public life, in
religion, in literature, have been extraordinary enough to fill even a
fairly philosophical mind with something like despair. Closer contem-
plation and profounder meditation, however, may prove that in all
possibility the retrogression is less real than superficial, that the advance
forward of our civilization has only been hampered, not absolutely and
finally hindered, and that in due time we may become stronger and
wiser through the very lessons hardly learned during the painful period
of delay.

It would be quite beyond the scope of the present article to point
out in detail the divers ways in which modern society, in England
particularly, has drifted little by little, and day by day, away from those
humanitarian traditions which appeared to open up to men, in the time
of my own boyhood, the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth.
At that time, the influence of the great leaders of modern thought was
still felt, both in politics and in literature; the gospel of humanity, as
expressed in the language of poets like Wordsworth and Shelley, and
in the deeds of men like Wilberforce and Mazzini, had purified the very
air men breathed; and down lower, in the humbler spheres of duty and
human endeavour, humanists like Dickens were translating the results
of religious aspiration into such simple and happy speech as even the
lowliest of students could understand. It was a time of immense
activity in all departments, but its chief characteristic, perhaps, was the
almost universal dominance, among educated men, of the sentiment
of philanthropy, of belief in the inherent perfectibility of human nature,
as well as of faith in ideals which bore at least the semblance of a
celestial origin. Not quite in vain, it seemed, had Owen and Fourier
laboured, and Hood sung, and John Leech wielded the pencil, and
Dickens and Thackeray used the pen. The name of Arnold was still a
living force in our English schools, and the name of Mazzini was being
whispered in every English home. The first noticeable change came,
perhaps, with the criminal crusade of the Crimean war; and from that
hour to this, owing in no little degree to the rough-and-ready generali-
zations of popular science, and the consequent discrediting of all
religious sanctions, the enthusiasm of humanity among the masses has
gradually, but surely, died away. Sentiment has at last become
thoroughly out of fashion, and humanitarianism is left to the care of
eccentric and unauthoritative teachers. Thus, while a few despairing
thinkers and dreamers have been trying vainly to substitute a new
Ethos for the old religious sanctions, the world at large, repudiating the
enthusiasm of humanity altogether, and exchanging it for the worship
of physical force and commercial success in any and every form, has
turned rapturously towards activities which need no sanction whatever,
or which, at any rate, can be easily sanctified by the wanton will of the
majority. Men no longer, in the great civic centres at least, ask them-
selves whether a particular course of conduct is right or wrong, but
whether it is expedient, profitable, and certain of clamorous approval.
Thanks to the newspaper press—that ‘mighty engine’, as Mr. Morley
calls it, for ‘keeping the public intelligence on a low level’—they are
fed from day to day with hasty news and gossip, and with bogus views
of affairs, concocted in the interests of the wealthy classes. Ephemeral
and empirical books of all sorts take the place of serious literature; so
that, while a great work like Mr. Spencer’s Justice falls still-born from
the press, a sophistical defence of the status quo like Mr. Balfour’s
Foundations of Belief Is read by thousands. The aristocracy, impoverished
by its own idleness and luxury, rushes wildly to join the middle-class
in speculations which necessitate new conquests of territory and constant
acts of aggression. The mob, promised a merry time by the governing
classes, just as the old Roman mob was deluded by bread and pageants
panem et circenses—dances merrily to patriotic war-tunes, while that
modern monstrosity and anachronism, the conservative working man,
exchanges his birthright of freedom and free thought for a pat on the
head from any little rump-fed lord that steps his way and spouts the
platitudes of cockney patriotism. The established Church, deprived of
the conscience which accompanied honest belief, supports nearly every
infamy of the moment in the name of the Christianity which it has long
ago shifted quietly overboard.

There is an universal scramble for plunder, for excitement, for
amusement, for speculation, and, above it all, the flag of a Hooligan
Imperialism is raised, with the proclamation that it is the sole mission
of Anglo-Saxon England, forgetful of the task of keeping its own
drains in order, to expand and extend its boundaries indefinitely, and,
again in the name of the Christianity it has practically abandoned, to
conquer and inherit the earth.

It may be replied that this is an exaggerated picture, and I will admit
at once that there is justice in the reply, if it is granted at the same time
that the picture is true so far as London itself and an enormous majority
of Englishmen are concerned. Only if this is granted, can the present
relapse back to barbarism of our public life, our society, our literature,
be explained. Now that Mr. Gladstone has departed, we possess no
politician, with the single exception of Mr. Morley (whose sanity
and honesty are unquestionable, though he lacks, unfortunately, the
daemonic influence), who demands for the discussion of public affairs
any conscientious and unselfish sanction whatever; we possess, instead,
a thousand pertinacious counsellors, cynics like Lord Salisbury or
trimmers like Lord Rosebery, for whom no one in his heart of hearts
feels the slightest respect. Our fashionable society is admittedly so
rotten, root and branch, that not even the Queen’s commanding
influence can impart to it the faintest suggestion of purity, or even
decency. As for our popular literature, it has been in many of its
manifestations long past praying for; it has run to seed in fiction of the
baser sort, seldom or never, with all its cleverness, touching the quick
of human conscience; but its most extraordinary feature at this mo-
ment is the exaltation to a position of almost unexampled popularity
of a writer who in his single person adumbrates, I think, all that is most
deplorable, all that is most retrograde and savage, in the restless and
uninstructed Elooliganism of the time.

The English public’s first knowledge of Mr. Rudyard Kipling was
gathered from certain brief anecdotal stories and occasional verses
which began to be quoted about a decade ago in England, and which
were speedily followed by cheap reprints of the originals, sold on
every bookstall. They possessed one not inconsiderable attraction, in
so far as they dealt with a naturally romantic country, looming very
far off to English readers, and doubly interesting as one of our own
great national possessions. We had had many works about India—
works of description and works of fiction; and a passionate interest in
them, and in all that pertained to things Anglo-Indian, had been
awakened by the Mutiny; but few writers had dealt with the ignobler
details of military and civilian life, with the gossip of the messroom
and the scandal of the governmental departments. Mr. Kipling’s little
Kodak-glimpses, therefore, seemed unusually fresh and new; nor would
it be just to deny them the merits if great liveliness, intimate personal
knowledge, and a certain unmistakable, though obviously cockney,
humour. Although they dealt almost entirely with the baser aspects of
our civilization, being chiefly devoted to the affairs of idle military
men, savage soldiers, frisky wives and widows, and flippant civilians,
they were indubitably bright and clever, and in the background of
them we perceived, faintly but distinctly, the shadow of the great and
wonderful national life of India. At any rate, whatever their merits
were—and I hold their merits to be indisputable—they became
rapidly popular, especially with the newspaper press, which hailed the
writer as a new and quite amazing force in literature. So far as the lazy
public was concerned, they had the one delightful merit of extreme
brevity; he that ran might read them, just as he read Tit-bits and the
society newspapers, and then treat them like the rose in Browning’s

Smell, kiss, wear it—at last throw away!

Two factors contributed to their vogue; first, the utter apathy of
general readers, too idle and uninstructed to study works of any length
or demanding any contribution of serious thought on the reader’s part,
and eager for any amusement which did not remind them of the eternal
problems which once beset humanity; and, second, the rapid growth
in every direction of the military or militant spirit, of the Primrose
League, of aggression abroad, and indifference at home to all religious
ideals—in a word, of Greater Englandism, or Imperialism. For a con-
siderable time Mr. Kipling poured out a rapid succession of these little
tales and smoking-room anecdotes, to the great satisfaction of those
who loved to listen to banalities about the English flag, seasoned with
strong suggestions of social impropriety, as revealed in camps and
barracks and the boudoirs of officers’ mistresses and wives. The things
seemed harmless enough, if not very elevating or ennobling. Encour-
aged by his success, the author attempted longer flights, with very
indifferent results; though in the Jungle Books, for example, he got near
to a really imaginative presentment of fine material, and, if he had
continued his work in that direction, criticism might have had little
or nothing to say against him. But in an unfortunate moment, en-
couraged by the journalistic praise lavished on certain fragments of
verse with which he had ornamented his prose effusions, he elected to
challenge criticism as a poet—as, indeed, the approved and authorita-
tive poet of the British empire; and the first result of this election, or,
as I prefer to call it, this delusion and hallucination, was the publication
of the volume of poems, partly new and partly reprinted, called
Barrack-Room Ballads.

I have said that Mr. Kipling’s estimate of himself as a poet was a
delusion; it was no delusion, however, so far as his faith in the public
was concerned. The book was received with instantaneous and clamor-
ous approval; and, once again, let me pause to admit that it contained,
here and there, glimpses of a real verse-making faculty—a faculty
which, had the writer been spiritually and intellectually equipped,
might have led to the production of work entitled to be called ‘poetry’.
On the very first page, however, the note of insincerity was struck, in
a dedication addressed to Mr. Wolcott Balestier, but recognized at
once as having done duty for quite a different purpose—resembling
in this respect the famous acrostic of Mr. Slum, which, although
written to fit the name of ‘Warren’, became at a pinch ‘a positive
inspiration for Jarley’. This dedication, with its false feeling and utterly
unsuitable imagery, suggests the remark en passant that Mr. Kipling’s
muse alternates between two extremes—the lowest cockney vulgarity
and the very height of what Americans call ‘high-falutin’ ’—so that,
when it is not setting the teeth on edge with the vocabulary of the
London Hooligan, it is raving in capital letters about the Seraphim and
the Pit and the Maidens Nine and the Planets.

The Ballads thus introduced are twenty-one in number, of which
the majority are descriptive of whatever is basest and most brutal in the
character of the British mercenary. One deals, naturally enough, with
the want of sympathy shown in public-houses to Tommy Atkins in
time of peace, as contrasted with the enthusiasm for him in time of
war; another, entitled ‘Cells’, begins as follows:

I’ve a head like a concertina:
I’ve a tongue like a button-stick:
I’ve a mouth like an old potato,
and I’m more than a little sick.
But I’ve had my fun with the Corp’ral’s Guard:
I’ve made the cinders fly,
And I’m here in the Clink for a thundering drink
and blacking the Corp’ral’s eye;

it is, in fact, the glorification of the familiar episode of ‘drunk and
resisting the guard’. In an equally sublime spirit is conceived the ballad
called ‘Loot’, beginning:

If you’ve ever stole a pheasant-egg be’ind the keeper’s back
If you’ve ever snigged the washin’ from a line;
If you’ve ever crammed a gander in your bloomin’ ’aversack,
You will understand this little song of mine;

and the verses are indeed, with their brutal violence and their hideous
refrain, only too sadly understandable. Worse still, in its horrible
savagery, is the piece called ‘Belts’, which is the apotheosis of the
soldier who uses his belt in drunken fury to assault civilians in the
streets, and which has this agreeable refrain:

But it was: ‘Belts, belts, belts, an’ that’s one for you!’
An’ it was ‘Belts, belts, belts, an’ that’s done for you!’
O buckle an’ tongue
Was the song that we sung
From Harrison’s down to the Park!

If it is suggested that the poems I have quoted are only incidental
bits of local colour, interspersed among verses of a very different
character, the reply is that those pieces, although they are certainly the
least defensible, are quite in keeping with the other ballads, scarcely
one of which reaches to the intellectual level of the lowest jnusic-hall
effusions. The best of them is a ballad called ‘Mandalay’, describing the
feelings of a soldier who regrets the heroine of a little amour out in
India, and it certainly possesses a real melody and a certain pathos. But
in all the ballads, with scarcely an exception, the tone is one of absolute
vulgarity and triviality, unredeemed by a touch of human tenderness
and pity. Even the little piece called ‘Soldier, Soldier’, which begins
quite naturally and tenderly, ends with the cynical suggestion that the
lady who mourns her old love had better take up at once with the
party who brings the news of his death:

True love! new love!
Best take ’im for a new love!
The dead they cannot rise,
an’ you’d better dry your eyes,
An’ you’d best take ’im for your true love.

With such touching sweetness and tender verisimilitude are these
ballads of the barrack filled from end to end. Seriously, the picture
they present is one of unmitigated barbarism. The Tommy Atkins
they introduce is a drunken, swearing, coarse-minded Hooligan, for
whom, nevertheless, our sympathy is eagerly entreated. Yet these
pieces were accepted on their publication, not as cruel libel on the
British soldier, but as a perfect and splendid representation of the red-
coated patriot on whom our national security chiefly depended, and
who was spreading abroad in every country the glory of our Imperial

That we might be in no doubt about the sort of thinker who was
claiming our suffrages, Mr. Kipling printed at the end of his book
certain other lyrics not specially devoted to the military. The best of
these, the ‘Ballad of the Bolivar’, is put into the mouth of seven drunken
sailors, ‘rolling down the Ratcliffe Road drunk and raising Cain’, and
loudly proclaiming, with the true brag and bluster so characteristic of
modern British heroism, how ‘they took the (water-logged) Bolivar
across the Bay’. It seems, by the way, a favourite condition with Mr.
Kipling, when he celebrates acts of manly daring, that his subjects
should be mad drunk, and, at any rate, as drunken in their language as
possible. But this ballad may pass, that we may turn to the poem
‘Cleared’, in which Mr. Kipling spits all the venom of cockney
ignorance on the Irish party, apropos of a certain Commission of which
we have all heard, and, while saying no tiling on the subject of forged
letters and cowardly accusations, affirms that Irish patriots are naturally
and distinctively murderers, because in the name of patriotism murders
have now and then been done. He who loves blood and gore so much,
who camiot even follow the soldier home into our streets without
celebrating his drunken assaults and savageries, has only hate and
loathing for the unhappy nation which has suffered untold wrong,
and which, when all is said and done, has struck back so seldom. In the
poem which follows, ‘An Imperial Rescript’, he protests with all his
might against any bond of brotherhood among the sons of toil,
pledging the strong to work for and help the weak. Here, as elsewhere,
he is on the side of all that is ignorant, selfish, base, and brutal in the
instincts of humanity.

Before proceeding further to estimate Mr. Kipling’s contributions
to literature, let me glance for a moment at his second book of verse,
The Seven Seas, published a year or two ago. It may be granted at once
that it was a distinct advance on its predecessor, more restrained, less
vulgar, and much more varied; here and there, indeed, as in the open-
ing ‘Song of the English’, it struck a note of distinct and absolute
poetry. But, in spite of its unquestionable picturesqueness, and of a
certain swing and lilt in the go-as-you-please rhythms, it was still
characterized by the same indefinable quality of brutality and latent
baseness. Many of the poems, such as the ‘Song of the Banjo’, were on
the level of the cleverness to be found in the contributions of the poet
of the Sporting Times, known to the occult as the ‘Pink ’Un’. The large
majority, indeed, were cockney in spirit, in language, and in inspiration,
and one or two, such as ‘The Ladies’ and ‘The Sergeant’s Weddin’ ’,
with its refrain:

Cheer for the Sergeant’s weddin’—
Give ’em one cheer more!
Grey gun-’orses in the lando,
And a rogue is married to etc.,

were frankly and brutally indecent. The army appeared again, in the
same ignoble light as before, with the same disregard of all literary
luxuries, even of grammar and the aspirate. God, too, loomed largely
in these productions, a cockney ‘Gawd’ again, chiefly requisitioned for
purposes of blasphemy and furious emphasis. There was no glimpse
anywhere of sober and self-respecting human beings—only a wild
carnival of drunken, bragging, boasting Hooligans in red coats and
seamen’s jackets, shrieking to the sound of the banjo and applauding
the English flag.

Faint almost to inaudibility have been the protests awakened by
these cockney caricatures in the ranks of the army itself. Here and there
a mild voice has been heard, but no military man has declared
authoritatively that effusions like those which I have quoted are a libel
on the Service, if not on human nature. Are we to assume, then, that
there are no refined gentlemen among our officers, and no honest
self-respecting human beings among their men? Is the life of a soldier,
abroad as at home, a succession of savage escapades, bestial amuse-
ments, fuddlings, tipplings, and intrigues with other men’s wives,
redeemed from time to time by acts of brute courage and of sang-froid
in the presence of danger? Is the spirit of Gordon quite forgotten, in
the service over which he shed the glory of his illustrious name? If this
is really the case, there is surely very little in the Anglo-Saxon military
prestige which offers us any security for the stormy times to come.
That Englishmen are brave, and capable of brave deeds, is a truism of
which we need no longer to be assured; but bravery and brave deeds
are not national possessions—they are the prerogative of the militant
classes all over the earth. Englishmen in times past were not merely
brave, they could be noble and magnanimous; their courage was not
only that of the bulldog, but of the patriot, the hero, and even the
philanthropist: they had not yet begun to mingle the idea of a national
Imperialism with the political game of brag. I am not contending for
one moment that the spirit which inspired them then has altogether de-
parted; I am sure, on the contrary, that it is living yet, and living most
strongly and influentially in the heart of the army itself; but, if this is
admitted and believed, it is certain that the Tommy Atkins of Mr.
Rudyard Kipling deserves drumming out of all decent barracks as a
monstrosity and a rogue.

The truth is, however, that these lamentable productions were
concocted, not for sane men or self-respecting soldiers, not even for
those who are merely ignorant and uninstructed, but for the ‘mean
whites’ of our eastern civilization, the idle and loafing men in the
street, and for such women, the well-dressed Doll Tearsheets of our
cities, as shriek at their heels. Mr. Kipling’s very vocabulary is a purely
cockney vocabulary, even his Irishmen speaking a dialect which would
cause amazement in the Emerald Isle, but is familiar enough in Seven
Dials. Turning over the leaves of his poems, one is transported at once
to the region of low-drinking dens and gin-palaces, of dirty dissipation
and drunken brawls; and the voice we hear is always the voice of the
soldier whose God is a cockney ‘Gawd’, and who is ignorant of the
aspirate in either heaven or hell. Are there no Scotchmen in the ranks,
no Highlanders, no men from Dublin or Tipperary, no Lancashire or
Yorkshire men, no Welshmen, and no men of any kind who speak the
Queen’s English? It would seem not, if, the poet of ‘The Sergeant’s
Wcddin’ ’ is to be trusted. Nor have our mercenaries, from the ranks
upwards, any one tiling, except brute courage, to distinguish them
from the beasts of the field. This, at least, appears to be Mr. Kipling’s
contention, and even in the Service itself it seems to be undisputed.
EIow then, are we to account for the extraordinary popularity of
works so contemptible in spirit and so barbarous in execution? In the
first place, even fairly educated readers were sick to death of the
insincerities and affectations of the professional ‘Poets’, with one or two
familiar exceptions, and, failing the advent of a popular singer like
Burns, capable of setting to brisk music the simple joys and sorrows of
humanity, they turned eagerly to any writer who wrote verse, doggerel
even, which seemed thoroughly alive. They were amused, therefore,
by the free-and-easy rattles, the jog-trot tunes, which had hitherto
been heard only in the music-halls and read only in the sporting news-
papers. In the second place, the spirit abroad today is the spirit of
ephemeral journalism, and whatever accords with that spirit—its
vulgarity, its flippancy, and its radical unintelligence—is certain to
attain tremendous vogue. Anything that demands a moment’s thought
or a moment’s severe attention, anything that is not thoroughly noisy,
blatant, cocksure, and self-assertive, is caviare to that man in the street
on whom cheap journalism depends, and who, it should be said
en passant, is often a member of smart society. In the third place, Mr.
Kipling had the good, or bad, fortune to come at the very moment
when the wave of false Imperialism was cresting most strongly up-
ward, and when even the great organs of opinion, organs which, like
The Times, subsist entirely on the good or bad passions of the hour,
were in sore need of a writer who could express in fairly readable
numbers the secret yearnings and sympathies of the baser military and
commercial spirit. Mr. Kipling, in a word, although not a poet at all
in the true sense of the word, is as near an approach to a poet as can be
tolerated by the ephemeral and hasty judgment of the day. His very
incapacity of serious thought or deep feeling is in his favour. He repre-
sents, with more or less accuracy, what the mob is thinking, and for
this very reason he is likely to be forgotten as swiftly and summarily as
he has been applauded, nay, to be judged and condemned as mean and
insignificant on grounds quite as hasty as those on which he has been
hailed as important and high-minded. Savage animalism and ignorant
vainglory being in the ascendant, he is hailed at every street-corner and
crowned by every newspaper. To-morrow, when the wind changes,
and the silly crowd is in another and possibly saner temper, he is
certain to fare very differently. The misfortune is that his effusions have
no real poetical quality to preserve them when their momentary
purpose has been served. Of more than one poet of this generation it
has been said that ‘he uttered nothing base’. Of Mr. Kipling it may be
said, so far at least as his verses are concerned, that he has scarcely on
any single occasion uttered anything that does not suggest moral
baseness, or hover dangerously near it.

However, that we might not entertain one lingering doubt as to the
nature of the spirit which inspires his easy-going Muse, Mr. Kipling
himself, with a candour for which we cannot be sufficiently thankful,
has recently laid bare, in a prose work, the inmost springs of his
inspiration; in other words, he has described to us, with fearless and
shameless accuracy, in a record of English boyhood, his ideal of the
human character in adolescence. Now, there is nothing which so
clearly and absolutely represents the nature of a grown man’s
intelligence as the manner in which he contemplates, looking backward,
the feelings and aspirations of youthful days.

‘Heaven lies about us in our infancy,’ says the author of the immortal
Ode, and heaven is still with us very often as we more closely approach
to manhood. In Goethe’s reminiscences of his childhood, we discover,
faintly developing, all that was wisest and most beautiful in a soul
which was distinguished, despite many imperfections, by an inherent
love of gentleness and wisdom; the eager intelligence, the vision, the
curiosity, are all there, in every thought and act of an extraordinary
child. When Dickens, in David Copperjield, described under a thin veil
of fiction the joys and sorrows of his own boyhood and youth, there
welled up out of his great heart a love, a tenderness, a humour which
filled the eyes of all humanity with happy tears. When Thackeray
touched the same chords, as he did more than once, he was no longer
the glorified Jeames of latter-day fiction—he was as kindly, as tender,
and as loving as even his great contemporary. Even George Eliot, with
imaginative gifts so far inferior, reached the height of her artistic
achievement when she went back to the emotions of her early days—
when for example, she described the personal relations of Tom and
Maggie Tulliver, or when, in the one real poem she ever wrote, she
told in sonnet-sequence of the little ‘Brother and Sister’. It would be
cruel, even brutal, to talk of Mr. Rudyard Kipling in the same breath
as fine artists like these; but all writers, great or little, must finally be
judged by the same test—that of the truth and beauty, the sanity or the
folly, of their representations of our manifold human nature. Merc
truth is not sufficient for Art; the truth must be there, but it must be
spiritualized and have become beautiful. In Stalky & Co. Mr. Kipling
obviously aims at verisimilitude; the picture he draws is at any rate
repulsive and disgusting enough to be true; yet I trust for England’s
sake that it is not—that it is, like nearly all his writings with which I
am familiar, merely a savage caricature.

Only the spoiled child of an utterly brutalized public could possibly
have written Stalky & Co. or, having written it, have dared to publish
it. These are strong words, but they can be justified. The story ran
originally through the pages of a cheap monthly magazine, and con-
tained, I fancy, in its first form, certain passages which the writer him-
self was compelled in pure shame to suppress. Its purpose, almost openly
avowed, is to furnish English readers with an antidote to what Mr.
Kipling styles ‘Ericism’, by which label is meant the kind of‘sentiment’
which was once made familiar to schoolboys by Farrar’s Eric, or, Little
by Little; or, to put the matter in other words, the truly ideal schoolboy
is not a little sentimentalist, he is simply a little beast. The heroes of
this deplorable book are three youths, dwelling in a training school
near Westward Ho!; one of them, the Beetle, reads poetry and wears
spectacles, the two others, Stalky and M’Turk, are his bosom com-
panions. This trio are leagued together for purposes of offence and
defence against their comrades; they join in no honest play or manly
sports, they lounge about, they drink, they smoke, they curse and
swear, not like boys at all, but like hideous little men. Owing to their
determination to obey their own instincts, and their diabolic ingenuity
in revenging themselves on any one who meddles with them, they
become a terror to the school. It is quietly suggested, however, that the
headmaster sympathizes with them, especially in their power to inflict
pain wantonly and to bear it stoically, which appears to him the
noblest attribute of a human being. It is simply impossible to show by
mere quotations the horrible vileness of the book describing the lives
of these three small fiends in human likeness; only a perusal of the
whole work would convey to the reader its truly repulsive character,
and to read the pages through, I fear, would sorely test the stomach of
any sensitive reader. The nature of one of the longest and most im-
portant episodes may be gathered from the statement that the episode
turns on the way in which the three young Hooligans revenge them-
selves on a number of their schoolmates who have offended them, by
means of a dead and putrefying cat. And here is a sample of the
dialogue: [quotes, p. 86]

Another equally charming episode is the one describing how a
certain plebeian called ‘Rabbits-Eggs’, through the machinations of
the trio, wrecked the room of one of the masters, King: [quotes, p. 58]

As I have already said, however, the book cannot be represented by
extracts. The vulgarity, the brutality, the savagery, reeks on every
page. It may be noted as a minor peculiarity that everything, according
to our young Hooligans, is ‘beastly’, or ‘giddy’, or ‘blooming’;
adjectives of this sort cropping up everywhere in their conversation,
as in that of the savages of the London slums. And the moral of the
book—for, of course, like all such banalities, it professes to have a
moral—is that out of materials like these is fashioned the humanity
which is to ennoble and preserve our Anglo-Saxon empire! ‘India’s
full of Stalkies,’ says the Beetle, ‘Cheltenham and Haileybury and
Marlborough chaps—that we don’t know anything about, and the
surprises will begin when there is really a big row on!’
Perhaps, after all, I am unjust to Mr. Kipling in forgetting for the
moment to credit him with a poet’s prophetic vision? For, if Stalky &
Co. was written before and not after recent political developments, it
certainly furnishes a foretaste of what has actually happened! The
‘surprises have begun’, although the ‘rows’ have not been very ‘big’
ones, and the souls of Stalky and his companions have been looming
large in our empire. Studying certain latter-day records, indeed,
listening to the voice of the Hooligan in politics, in literature, and
journalism, is really very like reading Stalky & Co. Some of our battles,
even, faithfully reproduce the ‘blooming’ and ‘giddy’ orgies of the
schoolroom, and in not a few of our public affairs there is a ‘stench’
like that of‘the dead cat’. Yes, there must be Stalkies and M’Turks and
Beetles working busily, after all, and representing the new spirit which
appears to have begun in the time of Mr. Kipling’s boyhood. But
whether they really represent the true spirit of our civilization, and
make for its salvation, is a question which I will leave my readers
to decide.

So much, however, for the voice of the Hooligan, as reverberating
in current literature. It is needless to say that it would hardly have been
necessary to discuss seriously such literature, if the object was merely
to protest on intellectual grounds against its popularity; one might
well examine seriously the current contributions to Answers and the
Sporting Times, or hold up to artistic execration the topical songs in a
Drury Lane pantomime. But even a straw may indicate the direction
in which the wind is blowing, and the vogue of Mr. Kipling, the
cheerful acceptance of his banalities by even educated people, is so sure
a sign of the times that it deserves and needs a passing consideration.
Behind that vogue lies, first and foremost, the influence of the news-
paper press, and I cannot do better than quote in this connection some
pregnant words contained in a recent work by a writer of undoubted
insight, Mr. George Gissing.

‘A wise autocrat might well prohibit newspapers altogether, don’t you think?’
[says one of Mr. Gissing’s characters]. ‘They have done good, I suppose, but
they are just as likely to do harm. When the next great war comes, newspapers
will be the chief cause of it. And for mere profit, that’s the worst! There are
newspaper proprietors in every country who would slaughter half mankind
for the pennies of the half who were left, without caring the fraction of a penny
whether they had preached war for a truth or a lie.’ ‘But doesn’t a newspaper,’
demands another character, ‘simply echo the opinions and feelings of the public?’
‘I’m afraid,’ is the reply, ‘it manufactures opinions and stirs up feeling . . . The
business of newspapers in general is to give a show of importance to what has
no real importance at all, to prevent the world from living quietly, to arouse
bitterness, when the natural man would be quite indifferent… I suppose I
quarrel with them because they have such gigantic power and don’t make
anything like the best use of it.’

If this statement is accepted as true—and few readers who have
studied the recent developments of journalism will be inclined to doubt
it—it will be understood at once how the popularity of Mr. Kipling
has been accelerated by ‘that mighty engine’, the newspaper press.
It is no purpose of mine, in the present paper, to touch on political
questions, except so far as they illustrate the movements of that back-
wave toward barbarism on which, as I have suggested, we are now
struggling. I write neither as a Banjo-Imperialist nor as a Little Eng-
lander, but simply as a citizen of a great nation, who loves his country,
and would gladly see it honoured and respected wherever the English
tongue is spoken. It will scarcely be denied, indeed it is frankly ad-
mitted by all parties, that the Hooligan spirit of patriotism, the fierce
and quasi-savage militant spirit as expressed in many London news-
papers and in such literature as the writings of Mr. Kipling, has
measurably lowered the affection and respect once felt for us among
European nations. Nor will any honest thinker combat the assertion
that we have exhibited lately, in our dealings with other nationalities,
a greed of gain, a vainglory, a cruelty, and a boastful indifference to the
rights of others, of which in days when the old philanthropic spirit
was abroad we should simply have been incapable. But it is not here,
in the region of politics and militarism, that I wish to linger. My chief
object in writing this paper has been to express my sorrow that
Hooliganism, not satisfied with invading our newspapers, should
already threaten to corrupt the pure springs of our literature. These
noisy strains and coarse importations from the music-hall should not
be heard where the fountains of intellectual light and beauty once
played, where Chaucer and Shakespeare once drank inspiration, and
where Wordsworth, Hood, and Shelley found messages for the
yearning hearts of men. Anywhere but there; anywhere but in the
speech of those who loved and blessed their fellows. And let it be
remembered that those fountains are not yet dry. Poets and dreamers
are living yet, to resent the pollution. Only a little while ago the one
living novelist who inherits the great human tradition tore out his
very heart, figuratively speaking, in revolt against the spirit of savagery
and cruelty which is abroad; though, when Thomas Hardy wrote
Jude the Obscure, touching therein the very quick of divine pity, only
a coarse laugh from the professional critics greeted his protest. Else-
where, too, there are voices, not to be silenced by the clamour of the
crowd; as near as our own shores, where Herbert Spencer is still
dwelling, as far away as South Africa, where Olive Schreiner has sought
and found human love in the dominion of dreams; and there are others,
shrinking away in shame from the brazen idols of the mart, and praying
that this great empire may yet be warned and saved. To one and all
of these has been brought home the lesson—‘Woe to you when the
world speaks well of you!’—and they have elected to let the world
speak ill of them, rather than bow down in homage to its calves of
gold. For to speak the truth as we see it, to confront the evil and folly
of the hour, is as dangerous today as when Socrates drank his hemlock-
cup. I have left myself no space, I find, to draw a final contrast between
the coarse and soulless patriotism of the hour and that nobler Imperi-
alism in which all true Englishmen, to whatever political camp they
may belong for the time being, must still believe. In the federation
of Great Britain and her colonies, and in the slow and sure spread of
what is best and purest in our civilization, there was indeed hope and
inspiration for our race, and a message of freedom for all the world.
But true Imperialism has nothing in common with the mere lust of
conquest, with the vulgar idea of mere expansion, or with the increase
of the spirit of mercenary militarism; its object is to diffuse light, not
to darken the sunshine; to feed the toiling millions, not to immolate
them; to free man, not to enslave him; to consecrate, and not to
desecrate, the great temple of humanity. Some of its ways, like the
ways of nature herself, must inevitably be destructive; the weaker and
baser races must sooner or later dissolve away; but the process of
dissolution should be made as gentle and merciful as possible, not
savage, pitiless, and cruel. True Imperialism should be strong, but the
strength should be that of justice, of wisdom, of brotherly love and
sympathy; for the power which is bred of a mere multitude equipped
with the engines of slaughter will in the long run avail nothing against
the eternal law which determines that the righteous only shall inherit
the earth. We are a people still, though we seem for the time being to
be forgetting the conditions on which we received our charter, and
deep in the heart of England survives the sentiment of a world-wide
nationality, as expressed in the passionate lines of a modern poet:

Hands across the Sea!
Feet on British ground!
The Motherhood means Brotherhood the whole world round!
From the parent root,
Sap, and stem, and fruit
Grow the same, or soil or name—•
Hands across the Sea!

There sounds the true Imperial feeling, which will survive, I think,
long after the repulsive school of patriotism which I have called (for
want of a better name) the Hooligan school, is silent and forgotten.
Let me at least hope that it may be so—that Englishmen, after their
present wild orgy of militant savagery, may become clothed and in
their right minds. There is time to pause yet, although they are already
paying the penalty, in blood, in tears, in shame. Let them take warning
by the fate of France, let them try to remember the old sanctions and
the old enthusiasms; for, if they continue to forget them, they are in
danger of being swept back into the vortex of barbarism altogether.