6 MARCH 1915, Page 10


ONE of the most marked features of life is its plotlessness. Just when things seem to be going to take a dramatic turn they do not take it. Instead the unexpected happens, very often the apparently meaningless, or else there is a long wait. We have only to open our morning newspapers to admit that this is true. Yet one of the innate cravings in human nature is the craving for a plot. Great people long to see, or in some dim way, at any rate, to be able to conceive, the scheme of the serial. If we live to the allotted span, we read, according to Shakespeare, seven chapters. Learning will enable us to read some of what went before ; imagination enables us to guess something of what is coming ; but only men of genius can hope to see these as intrinsic parts of the plot of the tale that is always to be continued. Smaller people diligently cut it up into short stories. Often the drama seems to consist of nothing but byplay—brilliant, but aside from any dramatic issue. All children demand to be told a story. When they ask it they teeny mean "Put a plot into life for me." Children are artists by nature. They want to make a story with a beginning and an ending out of the everlasting serial which they have just begun to read in the middle, and which they suspect with dismay is all middle.

Do our readers remember their first early attempts to read history—very childish attempts we mean P The present writer used to hear with amazement books of history spoken of as "more interesting than any novel" How was it possible, he wondered, since no chapter, no period, and no volume of it ever seemed to have the ordinary elements of a story. There was no start, no finish, and no guiding thread to enable the reader to guess at what was coming P Only the mature mind can tackle history. Simple people and children must be content to study the portion of the serial which lies open before them, and to exercise their imaginations upon that. But we all get a great deal of interest out of it, because in our little way we are all artists, and arrange and compose its incidents to suit our fancy. Perhaps that is what we are intended to do with them, as children make words not of a turned.over bee of letters. After al), it is kid possible that the geniuses are wrong; that the scheme is not of much consequence; that God is the Supreme Individualist making people, creating characters, not making a play; that life is not a drama at all, but a workshop, a sculptor's studio, where all that matters is the statuary.

But to go back to our point. It is really true that very simple people have something of the artist in them; or, if the fastidious will not let them have the word, they ought to supply them with another. "Almost like artificial" is their highest praise of Nature, and the "Quite a picture" of the more educated means, we snppoae, something the same. Common gossip is always more dramatic than the truth it represents. Ordinary people want to see straggling reality made to point a moral, or at least to look like fiction. They insist that events should show souse arrangement or selection. They do their best, as it were, to make everything plot.- shape—dramatically neat and fitting. The gossips demand to see a scheme everywhere, just as they demand that a melody should resolve itself in an accustomed- way, or, any- how, in some way. It is strange because the less educated people are, the nearer they are supposed to be to Nature. Sometimes one feels inclined to turn the proverb round and say "The nearer they are to Art." The songs of the birds and of the waves and the wind never resolve. They go on

and on, the inconclusive lyrics of the eternal serial. But such lyrics are not much noticed by the crowd. They get far more pleasure out of a song sung by the human voice. One insignificant little whole makes an appeal which cannot be made by the unending. Sermonizers are very fond of comparing life to a piece of embroidery, and some one who realized that the analogy did not hold had the happy thought of comparing it to the Bayeux tapestries, which are worked from the back. It may look like that from the pulpit, but from the pew we think that a gigantic and splendidly patterned textile looks more lifelike. The pattern is for ever beginning again, and cut it off where you will you cannot injure its effect. Time turns it out by the yard, for ever repeating, yet never breaking, the unity.

As we look back at life it is something of a shock to realize to what extent all joys, Borrows, and interests crowd one another out. Perhaps there are exceptions to the rule. Certain incidents retain for individuals, as for masses of men, dominant importance. But they are exceptions to the rule. like miracles, forcing us to reject the uniformity of Nature in our souls, if not with our minds. We cannot believe at present that by the time the details and secrets of this war have become the common property of historians they may be even to those who have lived through it of secondary interest, something else enchaining their attention. It seems incredible in the face of so much sorrow, sacrifice, and heroic determina- tion. Indeed, it seems almost a wrong thing to say. Shall we really read the newspapers before we read that history ? Will the book be taken up after we have finished the debates ? There are times when something in us revolts against the imposition of the eternal serial. For us, we declare, the story, the picture, the pattern, the tune, whatever we like to compare it to, finishes there or there. This or that incident dominates life for us, gives it a meaning, is for us the plot; the rest is byplay. We swear to ourselves that the byplay shall never divert us again. Our horrid tragedy or our joyful comedy is our life—a perfect, finished thing. For an individual this is sometimes true, and it may be true for a nation, but very seldom, though certain sorrows and misfortunes greatly seduce the interest of the serial.

As we get older if young people ask us about the past do we ever tell it just as it happened ? If we do we tell a dell tale. Not that life is dull, but we cannot reproduce the constant movements of the moments, that supremely con- ceived mechanical effect which makes dulness impossible for any but the stupid, and the recognition of which is possibly the nearest approach to the discovery of the charm eveu of life at its least fortunate which we shall ever make. The most fretful infant is soothed by motion. That is why time heals wounds and we all want pastimes. Again, any show will soothe a child; the nurse instinctively takes it to the window to see the unending procession. But when we think about the past and the future to amuse ourselves or others with hopes or recollections, we cannot get that sense of movement, and without it reality is too dull. We have in our minds to rewrite the serial, to convert it into short stories as it were, with devices of screens and false horizons. We are in a sense free to make the future what we will, but in practice most people make it a reflection of a recollection with the proportions altered. The more clever a man is in tussling about the incidents which crowd his memory and making something of them, the less chaotic will be his hopes. If he analyses the instinct which thus prompts him to arrange the past, he will find he is trying to make it lifelike—that is, he is trying to make the incidents show up the characters, arranging the play—imagining a play—for the actors; and if he can say to himself that it is they for whom the drama existed, and they only who matter, he has a working philosophy of life.