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The Fool

For many years I had sought him, and at last I found him in a club. I had
been told that he was everywhere; but I had almost begun to think that he
was nowhere. I had been assured that there were millions of him; but
before my late discovery I inclined to think that there were none of him.
After my late discovery I am sure that there is one; and I incline to
think that there are several, say, a few hundreds; but unfortunately most
of them occupying important positions. When I say "him," I mean the
entire idiot.

I have never been able to discover that "stupid public" of which so many
literary men complain. The people one actually meets in trains or at
tea parties seem to me quite bright and interesting; certainly quite enough
so to call for the full exertion of one's own wits. And even when I have
heard brilliant "conversationalists" conversing with other people, the
conversation had much more equality and give and take than this age of
intellectual snobs will admit. I have sometimes felt tired, like other
people; but rather tired with men's talk and variety than with their
stolidity or sameness; therefore it was that I sometimes longed to find
the refreshment of a single fool.

But it was denied me. Turn where I would I found this monotonous
brilliancy of the general intelligence, this ruthless, ceaseless sparkle
of humour and good sense. The "mostly fools" theory has been used in an
anti-democratic sense; but when I found at last my priceless ass, I did
not find him in what is commonly called the democracy; nor in the
aristocracy either. The man of the democracy generally talks quite
rationally, sometimes on the anti-democratic side, but always with an idea
of giving reasons for what he says and referring to the realities of his
experience. Nor is it the aristocracy that is stupid; at least, not that
section of the aristocracy which represents it in politics. They are
often cynical, especially about money, but even their boredom tends to
make them a little eager for any real information or originality. If a
man like Mr. Winston Churchill or Mr. Wyndham made up his mind for any
reason to attack Syndicalism he would find out what it was first. Not so
the man I found in the club.

He was very well dressed; he had a heavy but handsome face; his black
clothes suggested the City and his gray moustaches the Army; but the whole
suggested that he did not really belong to either, but was one of those
who dabble in shares and who play at soldiers. There was some third
element about him that was neither mercantile nor military. His manners
were a shade too gentlemanly to be quite those of a gentleman. They
involved an unction and over-emphasis of the club-man: then I suddenly
remembered feeling the same thing in some old actors or old playgoers who
had modelled themselves on actors. As I came in he said, "If I was the
Government," and then put a cigar in his mouth which he lit carefully with
long intakes of breath. Then he took the cigar out of his mouth again and
said, "I'd give it 'em," as if it were quite a separate sentence. But
even while his mouth was stopped with the cigar his companion or
interlocutor leaped to his feet and said with great heartiness, snatching
up a hat, "Well, I must be off. Tuesday!". I dislike these dark
suspicions, but I certainly fancied I recognised the sudden geniality with
which one takes leave of a bore.

When, therefore, he removed the narcotic stopper from his mouth it was to
me that he addressed the belated epigram. "I'd give it 'em."

"What would you give them," I asked, "the minimum wage?"

"I'd give them beans," he said. "I'd shoot 'em down shoot 'em down, every
man Jack of them. I lost my best train yesterday, and here's the whole
country paralysed, and here's a handful of obstinate fellows standing
between the country and coal. I'd shoot 'em down!"

"That would surely be a little harsh," I pleaded. "After all, they are
not under martial law, though I suppose two or three of them have
commissions in the Yeomanry."

"Commissions in the Yeomanry!" he repeated, and his eyes and face, which
became startling and separate, like those of a boiled lobster, made me
feel sure that he had something of the kind himself.

"Besides," I continued, "wouldn't it be quite enough to confiscate their

"Well, I'd send them all to penal servitude, anyhow," he said, "and I'd
confiscate their funds as well."

"The policy is daring and full of difficulty," I replied, "but I do not
say that it is wholly outside the extreme rights of the republic. But you
must remember that though the facts of property have become quite
fantastic, yet the sentiment of property still exists. These coal-owners,
though they have not earned the mines, though they could not work the
mines, do quite honestly feel that they own the mines. Hence your
suggestion of shooting them down, or even of confiscating their property,
raises very--"

"What do you mean?" asked the man with the cigar, with a bullying eye.
"Who yer talking about?"

"I'm talking about what you were talking about," I replied; "as you put it
so perfectly, about the handful of obstinate fellows who are standing
between the country and the coal. I mean the men who are selling their
own coal for fancy prices, and who, as long as they can get those prices,
care as little for national starvation as most merchant princes and
pirates have cared for the provinces that were wasted or the peoples that
were enslaved just before their ships came home. But though I am a bit of
a revolutionist myself, I cannot quite go with you in the extreme violence
you suggest. You say--"

"I say," he cried, bursting through my speech with a really splendid
energy like that of some noble beast, "I say I'd take all these blasted
miners and--"

I had risen slowly to my feet, for I was profoundly moved; and I stood
staring at that mental monster.

"Oh," I said, "so it is the miners who are all to be sent to penal
servitude, so that we may get more coal. It is the miners who are to be
shot dead, every man Jack of them; for if once they are all shot dead they
will start mining again...You must forgive me, sir; I know I seem somewhat
moved. The fact is, I have just found something. Something I have been
looking for four years."

"Well," he asked, with no unfriendly stare, "and what have you found?"

"No," I answered, shaking my head sadly, "I do not think it would be quite
kind to tell you what I have found."

He had a hundred virtues, including the capital virtue of good humour, and
we had no difficulty in changing the subject and forgetting the
disagreement. He talked about society, his town friends and his country
sports, and I discovered in the course of it that he was a county
magistrate, a Member of Parliament, and a director of several important
companies. He was also that other thing, which I did not tell him.

The moral is that a certain sort of person does exist, to whose glory this
article is dedicated. He is not the ordinary man. He is not the miner,
who is sharp enough to ask for the necessities of existence. He is not
the mine-owner, who is sharp enough to get a great deal more, by selling
his coal at the best possible moment. He is not the aristocratic
politician, who has a cynical but a fair sympathy with both economic
opportunities. But he is the man who appears in scores of public places
open to the upper middle class or (that less known but more powerful
section) the lower upper class. Men like this all over the country are
really saying whatever comes into their heads in their capacities of
justice of the peace, candidate for Parliament, Colonel of the Yeomanry,
old family doctor, Poor Law guardian, coroner, or above all, arbiter in
trade disputes. He suffers, in the literal sense, from softening of the
brain; he has softened it by always taking the view of everything most
comfortable for his country, his class, and his private personality. He
is a deadly public danger. But as I have given him his name at the
beginning of this article there is no need for me to repeat it at the end.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton