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The Giant

I sometimes fancy that every great city must have been built by night.
At least, it is only at night that every part of a great city is great.
All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps
architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.
At least, I think many people of those nobler trades that work
by night (journalists, policemen, burglars, coffee-stall keepers,
and such mistaken enthusiasts as refuse to go home till morning)
must often have stood admiring some black bulk of building with a crown
of battlements or a crest of spires and then burst into tears at
daybreak to discover that it was only a haberdasher's shop with huge
gold letters across the face of it.

. . . . .

I had a sensation of this sort the other day as I happened to be
wandering in the Temple Gardens towards the end of twilight.
I sat down on a bench with my back to the river, happening to
choose such a place that a huge angle and fašade of building
jutting out from the Strand sat above me like an incubus.
I dare say that if I took the same seat to-morrow by daylight I
should find the impression entirely false. In sunlight the thing
might seem almost distant; but in that half-darkness it seemed
as if the walls were almost falling upon me. Never before have I
had so strongly the sense which makes people pessimists in politics,
the sense of the hopeless height of the high places of the earth.
That pile of wealth and power, whatever was its name, went up above
and beyond me like a cliff that no living thing could climb.
I had an irrational sense that this thing had to be fought, that I
had to fight it; and that I could offer nothing to the occasion
but an indolent journalist with a walking-stick.

Almost as I had the thought, two windows were lit in that black,
blind face. It was as if two eyes had opened in the huge
face of a sleeping giant; the eyes were too close together,
and gave it the suggestion of a bestial sneer. And either
by accident of this light or of some other, I could now read
the big letters which spaced themselves across the front;
it was the Babylon Hotel. It was the perfect symbol of everything
that I should like to pull down with my hands if I could.
Reared by a detected robber, it is framed to be the fashionable
and luxurious home of undetected robbers. In the house of man
are many mansions; but there is a class of men who feel normal
nowhere except in the Babylon Hotel or in Dartmoor Gaol.
That big black face, which was staring at me with its flaming
eyes too close together, that was indeed the giant of all epic
and fairy tales. But, alas! I was not the giant-killer;
the hour had come, but not the man. I sat down on the seat again
(I had had one wild impulse to climb up the front of the hotel
and fall in at one of the windows), and I tried to think,
as all decent people are thinking, what one can really do.
And all the time that oppressive wall went up in front of me,
and took hold upon the heavens like a house of the gods.

. . . . .

It is remarkable that in so many great wars it has been
the defeated who have won. The people who were left
worst at the end of the war were generally the people
who were left best at the end of the whole business.
For instance, the Crusades ended in the defeat of the Christians.
But they did not end in the decline of the Christians;
they ended in the decline of the Saracens. That huge prophetic wave
of Moslem power which had hung in the very heavens above the towns
of Christendom, that wave was broken, and never came on again.
The Crusaders had saved Paris in the act of losing Jerusalem.
The same applies to that epic of Republican war in the eighteenth
century to which we Liberals owe our political creed.
The French Revolution ended in defeat: the kings came back
across a carpet of dead at Waterloo. The Revolution had
lost its last battle; but it had gained its first object.
It had cut a chasm. The world has never been the same since.
No one after that has ever been able to treat the poor merely
as a pavement.

These jewels of God, the poor, are still treated as mere
stones of the street; but as stones that may sometimes fly.
If it please God, you and I may see some of the stones
flying again before we see death. But here I only remark
the interesting fact that the conquered almost always conquer.
Sparta killed Athens with a final blow, and she was born again.
Sparta went away victorious, and died slowly of her own wounds.
The Boers lost the South African War and gained South Africa.

And this is really all that we can do when we fight something really
stronger than ourselves; we can deal it its death-wound one moment;
it deals us death in the end. It is something if we can shock
and jar the unthinking impetus and enormous innocence of evil;
just as a pebble on a railway can stagger the Scotch express.
It is enough for the great martyrs and criminals of the French revolution,
that they have surprised for all time the secret weakness of the strong.
They have awakened and set leaping and quivering in his crypt for ever
the coward in the hearts of kings.

. . . . .

When Jack the Giant-Killer really first saw the giant his
experience was not such as has been generally supposed.
If you care to hear it I will tell you the real story of Jack
the Giant-Killer. To begin with, the most awful thing which Jack
first felt about the giant was that he was not a giant.
He came striding across an interminable wooded plain, and against
its remote horizon the giant was quite a small figure, like a figure
in a picture--he seemed merely a man walking across the grass.
Then Jack was shocked by remembering that the grass which the man
was treading down was one of the tallest forests upon that plain.
The man came nearer and nearer, growing bigger and bigger,
and at the instant when he passed the possible stature of humanity
Jack almost screamed. The rest was an intolerable apocalypse.

The giant had the one frightful quality of a miracle;
the more he became incredible the more he became solid.
The less one could believe in him the more plainly one could see him.
It was unbearable that so much of the sky should be occupied
by one human face. His eyes, which had stood out like bow windows,
became bigger yet, and there was no metaphor that could
contain their bigness; yet still they were human eyes.
Jack's intellect was utterly gone under that huge hypnotism
of the face that filled the sky; his last hope was submerged,
his five wits all still with terror.

But there stood up in him still a kind of cold chivalry, a dignity of dead
honour that would not forget the small and futile sword in his hand.
He rushed at one of the colossal feet of this human tower, and when
he came quite close to it the ankle-bone arched over him like a cave.
Then he planted the point of his sword against the foot and leant on it
with all his weight, till it went up to the hilt and broke the hilt,
and then snapped just under it. And it was plain that the giant felt
a sort of prick, for he snatched up his great foot into his great hand
for an instant; and then, putting it down again, he bent over and stared
at the ground until he had seen his enemy.

Then he picked up Jack between a big finger and thumb and threw
him away; and as Jack went through the air he felt as if he were
flying from system to system through the universe of stars.
But, as the giant had thrown him away carelessly, he did not strike
a stone, but struck soft mire by the side of a distant river.
There he lay insensible for several hours; but when he awoke again
his horrible conqueror was still in sight. He was striding away
across the void and wooded plain towards where it ended in the sea;
and by this time he was only much higher than any of the hills.
He grew less and less indeed; but only as a really high mountain
grows at last less and less when we leave it in a railway train.
Half an hour afterwards he was a bright blue colour, as are the
distant hills; but his outline was still human and still gigantic.
Then the big blue figure seemed to come to the brink of the big
blue sea, and even as it did so it altered its attitude.
Jack, stunned and bleeding, lifted himself laboriously upon one
elbow to stare. The giant once more caught hold of his ankle,
wavered twice as in a wind, and then went over into the great sea
which washes the whole world, and which, alone of all things God
has made, was big enough to drown him.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton