4 MARCH 1905, Page 9

T HERE are many kinds of muddled heads. There are those

which contain few ideas, and those which contain many. The state of the former is certainly less chaotic than thai of the latter, and, one would imagine, more amenable to the introduction of order ; but experience proves this to be a mistake. Where a head is ill furnished with ideas, Nature commonly fills up the waste space with obstinacy, so that the notion of order cannot without difficulty find room to enter. These two divisions must be again sub- divided if we are to attempt any practical classification of the muddle-headed. There are the morally muddled and the intellectually muddled ; and these are found among the simple and the sophisticated alike. There are those among the sophisticated who are so intoxicated by words that in their confusion they can hardly ever lay their hand upon the idea they want to express ; and there are those among the simple who live in such verbal poverty that they cannot find words enough in which to clothe their ideas, or at any rate not in such a manner as to make them recognisable for what they are.

The young girl who pitied those who lived before the Christian era because of the inconvenience they must have suffered in being obliged to count the years backwards, and the old woman who defended the marginal dates in the Old Testament on the grounds that "the Prophets were men of great research," are extreme instances of dearth and confusion of ideas. They reveal nothing less than an attempt on the part of the muddle-headed to read the stories of sacred and profane history upside down. Slowness in putting down one thought and taking up another often leads to great confusion of mind, even among those who, given sufficient time, keep their ideas very neatly arranged. We lately heard of two men sitting at a restaurant. A third came in and seated himself at a distant table. "I am almost sure I know that man," said No. 1 to his companion. "I am pretty certain it is Jones. I think I will go and speak to him"; adding on second thoughts, "Perhaps I had better not, though. It would be so awkward if it were some one else; he might resent it." "Nonsense ! Why should any one resent being spoken to by mistake? You had much better go," urged his interlocutor. "Ah I but you do not know Jones; he is so shy," was the explanatory reply. A strong desire to "go one better" in conversation, to relate an experience more strange than the one just heard, will often disarrange a speaker's thoughts. "Last Thursday was a very wet day," said a man at a dinner party to his neighbour. "My rain-gauge registered over an inch." "Oh, but it was far worse in our part of the country," she replied ; "our river rose two feet ! "

Morally muddled heads are not at all rare. We find them on the shoulders of the very good and the very bad alike. It is difficult to say how far the morally muddled are responsible for their actions. In very small matters we come across this moral confusion continually. How many women freely, and even indignantly, admit that certain articles of clothing or adornment involve cruelty either to men or animals in their production, yet excuse themselves for buying these articles on the plea that they are for sale, and therefore they may as well buy them as some one else. The worst instance of moral muddle-headedness which ever came under the notice of the present writer was that of a woman who applied for assistance to a charitable society, asserting that she was very poor, but that she ought to be comfortably off, as money had been left her by her sister's will. This money she declared her brother-in-Law had by fraudulent means prevented her from getting. The will was inquired for at Somerset House, and contained no mention of the name of the applicant, who still maintained that she had been wronged, and when pressed for her grounds of suspicion against her relative, asserted that he had been more kind to her children than could reasonably be accounted for unless he had "something of the sort on his mind." Such a story reveals, no doubt, a low moral nature tainted by canning as well as rendered feeble by confusion. But moral muddle-headedness is not confined to the wrong end of the moral scale. The writer knows of a cultivated woman who will not send a postal order because the recipient is obliged to sign his name to a written statement that he has received the money a few seconds before the post office clerk passes the coins across the counter. The sender, she argues, is thus made responsible for a lie. It is sad to think of the tortures of scrupulosity to which everyday life must put so absurdly sensitive a conscience. All sense of proportion is lost where disorder reigns. The significant and the insignificant change places, and the distinction between small sins and silly scruples is altogether lost. Fortunately, or unfortunately, few people are good enough to fall into this particular form of folly.

As to the confusion of thought which is brought about by immoderate indulgence in vague phrases, it is terribly common in the present day. Out of mental laziness or want of origin- ality, men catch up any phrase from the confused heaps which they pile up by constant inattentive reading, and which they never take the trouble properly to sort, but use them haphazard to pacify the uneducated, to silence the troublesome, to obtain honour from the stupid, or simply to save themselves the trouble of thinking. The other day the present writer heard a conversation in a train between two men. The dress of one proclaimed him to be a clergyman, the appearance of the other suggested that he might be a churchwarden. They were discussing the merits of various newspapers. Of one which shall be nameless the clergyman declared that it was a very good paper, an excellent paper, "inclined perhaps at times to say rather more than is true ; but then the greater contains the less." Surely this was a singularly unlucky dive into a mental lucky-bag. The listener appeared well satisfied. But the argument, treated logically, comes to this : What is truth P—A part of a lie. Yet the sentence sounds pretty well, and might have done duty upon another occasion if only it had been put away in the right place, and used because it fitted the occasion and not because it came to hand.

Occasionally remarks which savour for the moment of muddle-headedness are realised upon consideration to be exceedingly shrewd. The speaker goes so swiftly to his, or more often her, point that we do not at first follow her reasoning, and think she is talking nonsense. "Mrs. So-and-so is a perfectly sincere woman, and just as nice as if she wasn't," is a clever judgment passed in a drawing-room a short time ago upon a lady whose genuine goodwill to the world made her as truly sympathetic as the hest possible actress could affect to be. The remark was elliptical rather than confused. To expound its exact meaning one would need to amplify the wording by many lines. It exalts sincerity, condemns roughness, and suggests the folly of affectation, all in one short sentenew

Mrs. Carlyle's celebrated remark that she could not remain in her house during a spring cleaning lest she should "wake up one morning dead of the paint" is another instance of the witty simulation of confusion. Mere verbal ellipses often ,give an impression of a muddled head, but they have no mental bearing whatever, and show nothing as a rule but a scanty education. A lady in reduced circumstances residing with friends as a paying guest wrote the other day: "My land- lord is quite a gentleman, and she too having lived so much in India." The meaning of the sentence is clear enough, but the lady was chary of ink and paper. She would not waste words in setting down the feminine equivalent for a gentleman, and she considered it to be an understood fact that Englishmen in India belong to a family party, and are regarded—by those who are not there—as belonging one and all to very much the same social level.

Is muddle-headedness commoner or less common than it was ? All forms of stupidity are no doubt becoming rarer with the spread of education—the average stock of ideas is larger than it was—but confusion of thought among the educated is, we are sometimes tempted to fear, upon the increase, so much talent is devoted to its cultivation. Our lighter philosophers vie with one another in turning the blindfolded reader round and round, aud making him guess the points of the compass. In many of their writings the balance of contradictions is so perfectly maintained that they seem to the simple to produce harmony from discord. The one thing they never do is to say what they mean, and their great object is to leave the reader uncertain as to their conclusion upon any subject. No doubt in one sense they write well—that is, they often • possess the true literary touch, which has some connection with the poetic art—but license to charm with meaningless words should be confined to a few really great poets. A man of mere talent ought to be prepared at times to pause in his oblations to the Muses and repeat his creed. A few muddle- headed people in the world do no harm. They serve to keep • the others amused. But when clear-headed persons set seriously to work to increase the number, and aspire to • muddle a generation, the matter has gone beyond a joke.