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The Aristocratic `Arry

The Cheap Tripper, pursued by the curses of the aesthetes and the
antiquaries, really is, I suppose, a symptom of the strange and almost
unearthly ugliness of our diseased society. The costumes and customs of a
hundred peasantries are there to prove that such ugliness does not
necessarily follow from mere poverty, or mere democracy, or mere
unlettered simplicity of mind.

But though the tripper, artistically considered, is a sign of our
decadence, he is not one of its worst signs, but relatively one of its
best; one of its most innocent and most sincere. Compared with many of
the philosophers and artists who denounce him; he looks like a God fearing
fisher or a noble mountaineer. His antics with donkeys and concertinas,
crowded charabancs, and exchanged hats, though clumsy, are not so vicious
or even so fundamentally vulgar as many of the amusements of the
overeducated. People are not more crowded on a char-a-banc than they are
at a political "At Home," or even an artistic soiree; and if the female
trippers are overdressed, at least they are not overdressed and
underdressed at the same time. It is better to ride a donkey than to be a
donkey. It is better to deal with the Cockney festival which asks men and
women to change hats, rather than with the modern Utopia that wants them
to change heads.

But the truth is that such small, but real, element of vulgarity as there
is indeed in the tripper, is part of a certain folly and falsity which is
characteristic of much modernity, and especially of the very people who
persecute the poor tripper most. There is something in the whole society,
and even especially in the cultured part of it, that does things in a
clumsy and unbeautiful way.

A case occurs to me in the matter of Stonehenge, which I happened to visit
yesterday. Now to a person really capable of feeling the poetry of
Stonehenge it is almost a secondary matter whether he sees Stonehenge at
all. The vast void roll of the empty land towards Salisbury, the gray
tablelands like primeval altars, the trailing rain-clouds, the vapour of
primeval sacrifices, would all tell him of a very ancient and very lonely
Britain. It would not spoil his Druidic mood if he missed Stonehenge.
But it does spoil his mood to find Stonehenge--surrounded by a brand-new
fence of barbed wire, with a policeman and a little shop selling picture
post-cards.

Now if you protest against this, educated people will instantly answer you,
"Oh, it was done to prevent the vulgar trippers who chip stones and carve
names and spoil the look of Stonehenge." It does not seem to occur to
them that barbed wire and a policeman rather spoil the look of Stonehenge.
The scratching of a name, particularly when performed with blunt penknife
or pencil by a person of imperfect School Board education, can be trusted
in a little while to be indistinguishable from the grayest hieroglyphic by
the grandest Druid of old. But nobody could get a modern policeman into
the same picture with a Druid. This really vital piece of vandalism was
done by the educated, not the uneducated; it was done by the influence of
the artists or antiquaries who wanted to preserve the antique beauty of
Stonehenge. It seems to me curious to preserve your lady's beauty from
freckles by blacking her face all over; or to protect the pure whiteness
of your wedding garment by dyeing it green.

And if you ask, "But what else could any one have done, what could the
most artistic age have done to save the monument?" I reply, "There are
hundreds of things that Greeks or Mediaevals might have done; and I have
no notion what they would have chosen; but I say that by an instinct in
their whole society they would have done something that was decent and
serious and suitable to the place. Perhaps some family of knights or
warriors would have the hereditary duty of guarding such a place. If so
their armour would be appropriate; their tents would be appropriate; not
deliberately--they would grow like that. Perhaps some religious order
such as normally employ nocturnal watches and the relieving of guard would
protect such a place. Perhaps it would be protected by all sorts of
rituals, consecrations, or curses, which would seem to you mere raving
superstition and silliness. But they do not seem to me one twentieth part
so silly, from a purely rationalist point of view, as calmly making a spot
hideous in order to keep it beautiful."

The thing that is really vulgar, the thing that is really vile, is to live
in a good place Without living by its life. Any one who settles down in a
place without becoming part of it is (barring peculiar personal cases, of
course) a tripper or wandering cad. For instance, the Jew is a genuine
peculiar case. The Wandering Jew is not a wandering cad. He is a highly
civilised man in a highly difficult position; the world being divided, and
his own nation being divided, about whether he can do anything else except
wander.

The best example of the cultured, but common, tripper is the educated
Englishman on the Continent. We can no longer explain the quarrel by
calling Englishmen rude and foreigners polite. Hundreds of Englishmen are
extremely polite, and thousands of foreigners are extremely rude. The
truth of the matter is that foreigners do not resent the rude Englishman.
What they do resent, what they do most justly resent, is the polite
Englishman. He visits Italy for Botticellis or Flanders for Rembrandts,
and he treats the great nations that made these things courteously--as he
would treat the custodians of any museum. It does not seem to strike him
that the Italian is not the custodian of the pictures, but the creator of
them. He can afford to look down on such nations--when he can paint such
pictures.

That is, in matters of art and travel, the psychology of the cad. If,
living in Italy, you admire Italian art while distrusting Italian
character, you are a tourist, or cad. If, living in Italy, you admire
Italian art while despising Italian religion, you are a tourist, or cad.
It does not matter how many years you have lived there. Tourists will
often live a long time in hotels without discovering the nationality of
the waiters. Englishmen will often live a long time in Italy without
discovering the nationality of the Italians. But the test is simple. If
you admire what Italians did without admiring Italians--you are a cheap
tripper.

The same, of course, applies much nearer home. I have remarked elsewhere
that country shopkeepers are justly offended by London people, who, coming
among them, continue to order all their goods from London. It is caddish
to wink and squint at the colour of a man's wine, like a wine taster; and
then refuse to drink it. It is equally caddish to wink and squint at the
colour of a man's orchard, like a landscape painter; and then refuse to
buy the apples. It is always an insult to admire a thing and not use it.
But the main point is that one has no right to see Stonehenge without
Salisbury Plain and Salisbury: One has no right to respect the dead
Italians without respecting the live ones. One has no right to visit a
Christian society like a diver visiting the deep-sea fishes--fed along a
lengthy tube by another atmosphere, and seeing the sights without
breathing the air. It is very real bad manners.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton


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