The Bubble Bursts
As I walk back along the river terrace to the hotel where the
botanist awaits me, and observe the Utopians I encounter, I have no
thought that my tenure of Utopia becomes every moment more
precarious. There float in my mind vague anticipations of more talks
with my double and still more, of a steady elaboration of detail, of
interesting journeys of exploration. I forget that a Utopia is a
thing of the imagination that becomes more fragile with every added
circumstance, that, like a soap-bubble, it is most brilliantly and
variously coloured at the very instant of its dissolution. This
Utopia is nearly done. All the broad lines of its social
organisation are completed now, the discussion of all its general
difficulties and problems. Utopian individuals pass me by, fine
buildings tower on either hand; it does not occur to me that I may
look too closely. To find the people assuming the concrete and
individual, is not, as I fondly imagine, the last triumph of
realisation, but the swimming moment of opacity before the film
gives way. To come to individual emotional cases, is to return to
I find the botanist sitting at a table in the hotel courtyard.
"Well?" I say, standing before him.
"I've been in the gardens on the river terrace," he answers, "hoping
I might see her again."
"Nothing better to do?"
"Nothing in the world."
"You'll have your double back from India to-morrow. Then you'll have
"I don't want it," he replies, compactly.
I shrug my shoulders, and he adds, "At least with him."
I let myself down into a seat beside him.
For a time I sit restfully enjoying his companionable silence, and
thinking fragmentarily of those samurai and their Rules. I entertain
something of the satisfaction of a man who has finished building a
bridge; I feel that I have joined together things that I had never
joined before. My Utopia seems real to me, very real, I can believe
in it, until the metal chair-back gives to my shoulder blades, and
Utopian sparrows twitter and hop before my feet. I have a pleasant
moment of unhesitating self-satisfaction; I feel a shameless
exultation to be there. For a moment I forget the consideration the
botanist demands; the mere pleasure of completeness, of holding and
controlling all the threads possesses me.
"You _will_ persist in believing," I say, with an aggressive
expository note, "that if you meet this lady she will be a person
with the memories and sentiments of her double on earth. You think
she will understand and pity, and perhaps love you. Nothing of the
sort is the case." I repeat with confident rudeness, "Nothing of the
sort is the case. Things are different altogether here; you can
hardly tell even now how different are----"
I discover he is not listening to me.
"What is the matter?" I ask abruptly.
He makes no answer, but his expression startles me.
"What is the matter?" and then I follow his eyes.
A woman and a man are coming through the great archway--and
instantly I guess what has happened. She it is arrests my attention
first--long ago I knew she was a sweetly beautiful woman. She is
fair, with frank blue eyes, that look with a sort of tender
receptivity into her companion's face. For a moment or so they
remain, greyish figures in the cool shadow, against the sunlit
greenery of the gardens beyond.
"It is Mary," the botanist whispers with white lips, but he stares
at the form of the man. His face whitens, it becomes so transfigured
with emotion that for a moment it does not look weak. Then I see
that his thin hand is clenched.
I realise how little I understand his emotions.
A sudden fear of what he will do takes hold of me. He sits white and
tense as the two come into the clearer light of the courtyard. The
man, I see, is one of the samurai, a dark, strong-faced man, a man I
have never seen before, and she is wearing the robe that shows her a
follower of the Lesser Rule.
Some glimmering of the botanist's feelings strikes through to my
slow sympathies. Of course--a strange man! I put out a restraining
hand towards his arm. "I told you," I say, "that very probably, most
probably, she would have met some other. I tried to prepare
"Nonsense," he whispers, without looking at me. "It isn't that.
He has an impulse to rise. "That scoundrel," he repeats.
"He isn't a scoundrel," I say. "How do you know? Keep still! Why are
you standing up?"
He and I stand up quickly, I as soon as he. But now the full meaning
of the group has reached me. I grip his arm. "Be sensible," I say,
speaking very quickly, and with my back to the approaching couple.
"He's not a scoundrel here. This world is different from that. It's
caught his pride somehow and made a man of him. Whatever troubled
He turns a face of white wrath on me, of accusation, and for the
moment of unexpected force. "This is _your_ doing," he says. "You
have done this to mock me. He--of all men!" For a moment speech
fails him, then; "You--you have done this to mock me."
I try to explain very quickly. My tone is almost propitiatory.
"I never thought of it until now. But he's---- How did I know he was
the sort of man a disciplined world has a use for?"
He makes no answer, but he looks at me with eyes that are positively
baleful, and in the instant I read his mute but mulish resolve that
Utopia must end.
"Don't let that old quarrel poison all this," I say almost
entreatingly. "It happened all differently here--everything is
different here. Your double will be back to-morrow. Wait for him.
Perhaps then you will understand----"
He shakes his head, and then bursts out with, "What do I want with a
double? Double! What do I care if things have been different here?
He thrusts me weakly back with his long, white hand. "My God!" he
says almost forcibly, "what nonsense all this is! All these dreams!
All Utopias! There she is----! Oh, but I have dreamt of her! And
A sob catches him. I am really frightened by this time. I still try
to keep between him and these Utopians, and to hide his gestures
"It's different here," I persist. "It's different here. The emotion
you feel has no place in it. It's a scar from the earth--the sore
scar of your past----"
"And what are we all but scars? What is life but a scarring? It's
_you_--you who don't understand! Of course we are covered with
scars, we live to be scarred, we are scars! We are the scars of the
past! These _dreams_, these childish dreams----!"
He does not need to finish his sentence, he waves an unteachable
My Utopia rocks about me.
For a moment the vision of that great courtyard hangs real. There
the Utopians live real about me, going to and fro, and the great
archway blazes with sunlight from the green gardens by the
riverside. The man who is one of the samurai, and his lady, whom the
botanist loved on earth, pass out of sight behind the marble
flower-set Triton that spouts coolness in the middle of the place.
For a moment I see two working men in green tunics sitting on a
marble seat in the shadow of the colonnade, and a sweet little
silver-haired old lady, clad all in violet, and carrying a book,
comes towards us, and lifts a curious eye at the botanist's
gestures. And then----
"Scars of the past! Scars of the past! These fanciful, useless
There is no jerk, no sound, no hint of material shock. We are in
London, and clothed in the fashion of the town. The sullen roar of
London fills our ears....
I see that I am standing beside an iron seat of poor design in that
grey and gawky waste of asphalte--Trafalgar Square, and the
botanist, with perplexity in his face, stares from me to a poor,
shrivelled, dirt-lined old woman--my God! what a neglected thing she
is!--who proffers a box of matches....
He buys almost mechanically, and turns back to me.
"I was saying," he says, "the past rules us absolutely. These
His sentence does not complete itself. He looks nervous and
"You have a trick at times," he says instead, "of making your
suggestions so vivid----"
He takes a plunge. "If you don't mind," he says in a sort of
quavering ultimatum, "we won't discuss that aspect of the
question--the lady, I mean--further."
He pauses, and there still hangs a faint perplexity between us.
"But----" I begin.
For a moment we stand there, and my dream of Utopia runs off me like
water from an oiled slab. Of course--we lunched at our club. We came
back from Switzerland by no dream train but by the ordinary Bale
express. We have been talking of that Lucerne woman he harps upon,
and I have made some novel comment on his story. I have touched
"You can't conceivably understand," he says.
"The fact remains," he goes on, taking up the thread of his argument
again with an air of having defined our field, "we are the scars of
the past. That's a thing one can discuss--without personalities."
"No," I say rather stupidly, "no."
"You are always talking as though you could kick the past to pieces;
as though one could get right out from oneself and begin afresh. It
is your weakness--if you don't mind my being frank--it makes you
seem harsh and dogmatic. Life has gone easily for you; you have
never been badly tried. You have been lucky--you do not understand
the other way about. You are--hard."
I answer nothing.
He pants for breath. I perceive that in our discussion of his case I
must have gone too far, and that he has rebelled. Clearly I must
have said something wounding about that ineffectual love story of
"You don't allow for my position," he says, and it occurs to me to
say, "I'm obliged to look at the thing from my own point of
One or other of us makes a move. What a lot of filthy, torn paper is
scattered about the world! We walk slowly side by side towards the
dirt-littered basin of the fountain, and stand regarding two grimy
tramps who sit and argue on a further seat. One holds a horrible old
boot in his hand, and gesticulates with it, while his other hand
caresses his rag-wrapped foot. "Wot does Cham'lain _si_?" his words
drift to us. "W'y, 'e says, wot's the good of 'nvesting your kepital
where these 'ere Americans may dump it flat any time they
(Were there not two men in green sitting on a marble seat?)
We walk on, our talk suspended, past a ruthlessly clumsy hoarding,
towards where men and women and children are struggling about a
string of omnibuses. A newsvendor at the corner spreads a newspaper
placard upon the wood pavement, pins the corners down with stones,
and we glimpse something about:--
MASSACRE IN ODESSA.
DISCOVERY OF HUMAN REMAINS AT CHERTSEY.
SHOCKING LYNCHING OUTRAGE IN NEW YORK STATE.
GERMAN INTRIGUES GET A SET-BACK.
THE BIRTHDAY HONOURS.--FULL LIST.
Dear old familiar world!
An angry parent in conversation with a sympathetic friend jostles
against us. "I'll knock his blooming young 'ed orf if 'e cheeks me
again. It's these 'ere brasted Board Schools----"
An omnibus passes, bearing on a board beneath an incorrectly drawn
Union Jack an exhortation to the true patriot to "Buy Bumper's
British-Boiled Jam." ...
I am stunned beyond the possibility of discussion for a space. In
this very place it must have been that the high terrace ran with the
gardens below it, along which I came from my double to our hotel. I
am going back, but now through reality, along the path I passed so
happily in my dream. And the people I saw then are the people I am
looking at now--with a difference.
The botanist walks beside me, white and nervously jerky in his
movements, his ultimatum delivered.
We start to cross the road. An open carriage drives by, and we see a
jaded, red-haired woman, smeared with paint, dressed in furs, and
petulantly discontented. Her face is familiar to me, her face, with
Why do I think of her as dressed in green?
Of course!--she it was I saw leading her children by the hand!
Comes a crash to our left, and a running of people to see a
cab-horse down on the slippery, slanting pavement outside St.
We go on up the street.
A heavy-eyed young Jewess, a draggled prostitute--no crimson flower
for her hair, poor girl!--regards us with a momentary speculation,
and we get a whiff of foul language from two newsboys on the
"We can't go on talking," the botanist begins, and ducks aside just
in time to save his eye from the ferule of a stupidly held umbrella.
He is going to treat our little tiff about that lady as closed. He
has the air of picking up our conversation again at some earlier
He steps into the gutter, walks round outside a negro hawker, just
escapes the wheel of a hansom, and comes to my side again.
"We can't go on talking of your Utopia," he says, "in a noise and
crowd like this."
We are separated by a portly man going in the opposite direction,
and join again. "We can't go on talking of Utopia," he repeats, "in
London.... Up in the mountains--and holiday-time--it was all right.
We let ourselves go!"
"I've been living in Utopia," I answer, tacitly adopting his tacit
proposal to drop the lady out of the question.
"At times," he says, with a queer laugh, "you've almost made me live
He reflects. "It doesn't do, you know. _No_! And I don't know
whether, after all, I want----"
We are separated again by half-a-dozen lifted flagstones, a burning
brazier, and two engineers concerned with some underground business
or other--in the busiest hour of the day's traffic.
"Why shouldn't it do?" I ask.
"It spoils the world of everyday to let your mind run on impossible
"I wish," I shout against the traffic, "I could _smash_ the world of
My note becomes quarrelsome. "You may accept _this_ as the world of
reality, _you_ may consent to be one scar in an ill-dressed compound
wound, but so--not I! This is a dream too--this world. _Your_ dream,
and you bring me back to it--out of Utopia----"
The crossing of Bow Street gives me pause again.
The face of a girl who is passing westward, a student girl, rather
carelessly dressed, her books in a carrying-strap, comes across my
field of vision. The westward sun of London glows upon her face. She
has eyes that dream, surely no sensuous nor personal dream.
After all, after all, dispersed, hidden, disorganised, undiscovered,
unsuspected even by themselves, the samurai of Utopia are in this
world, the motives that are developed and organised there stir
dumbly here and stifle in ten thousand futile hearts....
I overtake the botanist, who got ahead at the crossing by the
advantage of a dust-cart.
"You think this is real because you can't wake out of it," I say.
"It's all a dream, and there are people--I'm just one of the first
of a multitude--between sleeping and waking--who will presently be
rubbing it out of their eyes."
A pinched and dirty little girl, with sores upon her face, stretches
out a bunch of wilting violets, in a pitifully thin little fist, and
interrupts my speech. "Bunch o' vi'lets--on'y a penny."
"No!" I say curtly, hardening my heart.
A ragged and filthy nursing mother, with her last addition to our
Imperial People on her arm, comes out of a drinkshop, and stands a
little unsteadily, and wipes mouth and nose comprehensively with the
back of a red chapped hand....
"Isn't _that_ reality?" says the botanist, almost triumphantly, and
leaves me aghast at his triumph.
"_That_!" I say belatedly. "It's a thing in a nightmare!"
He shakes his head and smiles--exasperatingly.
I perceive quite abruptly that the botanist and I have reached the
limits of our intercourse.
"The world dreams things like that," I say, "because it suffers from
an indigestion of such people as you."
His low-toned self-complacency, like the faded banner of an
obstinate fort, still flies unconquered. And you know, he's not even
a happy man with it all!
For ten seconds or more I am furiously seeking in my mind for a
word, for a term of abuse, for one compendious verbal missile that
shall smash this man for ever. It has to express total inadequacy of
imagination and will, spiritual anaemia, dull respectability, gross
sentimentality, a cultivated pettiness of heart....
That word will not come. But no other word will do. Indeed the word
does not exist. There is nothing with sufficient vituperative
concentration for this moral and intellectual stupidity of educated
"Er----" he begins.
No! I can't endure him.
With a passionate rapidity of movement, I leave his side, dart
between a carriage and a van, duck under the head of a cab-horse,
and board a 'bus going westward somewhere--but anyhow, going in
exactly the reverse direction to the botanist. I clamber up the
steps and thread my swaying way to the seat immediately behind the
"There!" I say, as I whack myself down on the seat and pant.
When I look round the botanist is out of sight.
But I am back in the world for all that, and my Utopia is done.
It is good discipline for the Utopist to visit this world
But from the front seat on the top of an omnibus on a sunny
September afternoon, the Strand, and Charing Cross corner, and
Whitehall, and the great multitude of people, the great uproar of
vehicles, streaming in all directions, is apt to look a world
altogether too formidable. It has a glare, it has a tumult and
vigour that shouts one down. It shouts one down, if shouting is to
carry it. What good was it to trot along the pavement through this
noise and tumult of life, pleading Utopia to that botanist? What
good would it be to recommend Utopia in this driver's preoccupied
There are moments in the life of every philosopher and dreamer when
he feels himself the flimsiest of absurdities, when the Thing in
Being has its way with him, its triumphant way, when it asks in a
roar, unanswerably, with a fine solid use of the current vernacular,
"What Good is all this--Rot about Utopias?"
One inspects the Thing in Being with something of the diffident
speculation of primitive man, peering from behind a tree at an angry
(There is an omen in that image. On how many occasions must that
ancestor of ours have had just the Utopist's feeling of ambitious
unreality, have decided that on the whole it was wiser to go very
quietly home again, and leave the big beast alone? But, in the end,
men rode upon the elephant's head, and guided him this way or
that.... The Thing in Being that roars so tremendously about Charing
Cross corner seems a bigger antagonist than an elephant, but then we
have better weapons than chipped flint blades....)
After all, in a very little time everything that impresses me so
mightily this September afternoon will have changed or passed away
for ever, everything. These omnibuses, these great, stalwart,
crowded, many-coloured things that jostle one another, and make so
handsome a clatter-clamour, will all have gone; they and their
horses and drivers and organisation; you will come here and you will
not find them. Something else will be here, some different sort of
vehicle, that is now perhaps the mere germ of an idea in some
engineer student's brain. And this road and pavement will have
changed, and these impressive great buildings; other buildings will
be here, buildings that are as yet more impalpable than this page
you read, more formless and flimsy by far than anything that is
reasoned here. Little plans sketched on paper, strokes of a pen or
of a brush, will be the first materialisations of what will at last
obliterate every detail and atom of these re-echoing actualities
that overwhelm us now. And the clothing and gestures of these
innumerable people, the character of their faces and bearing, these
too will be recast in the spirit of what are now obscure and
The new things will be indeed of the substance of the thing that is,
but differing just in the measure of the will and imagination that
goes to make them. They will be strong and fair as the will is
sturdy and organised and the imagination comprehensive and bold;
they will be ugly and smeared with wretchedness as the will is
fluctuating and the imagination timid and mean.
Indeed Will is stronger than Fact, it can mould and overcome Fact.
But this world has still to discover its will, it is a world that
slumbers inertly, and all this roar and pulsation of life is no more
than its heavy breathing.... My mind runs on to the thought of an
As my omnibus goes lumbering up Cockspur Street through the clatter
rattle of the cabs and carriages, there comes another fancy in my
mind.... Could one but realise an apocalyptic image and suppose an
angel, such as was given to each of the seven churches of Asia,
given for a space to the service of the Greater Rule. I see him as a
towering figure of flame and colour, standing between earth and sky,
with a trumpet in his hands, over there above the Haymarket, against
the October glow; and when he sounds, all the samurai, all who are
samurai in Utopia, will know themselves and one another....
(Whup! says a motor brougham, and a policeman stays the traffic with
All of us who partake of the samurai would know ourselves and one
For a moment I have a vision of this resurrection of the living, of
a vague, magnificent answer, of countless myriads at attention, of
all that is fine in humanity at attention, round the compass of the
Then that philosophy of individual uniqueness resumes its sway over
my thoughts, and my dream of a world's awakening fades.
I had forgotten....
Things do not happen like that. God is not simple, God is not
theatrical, the summons comes to each man in its due time for him,
with an infinite subtlety of variety....
If that is so, what of my Utopia?
This infinite world must needs be flattened to get it on one
retina. The picture of a solid thing, although it is flattened and
simplified, is not necessarily a lie. Surely, surely, in the end, by
degrees, and steps, something of this sort, some such understanding,
as this Utopia must come. First here, then there, single men and
then groups of men will fall into line--not indeed with my poor
faulty hesitating suggestions--but with a great and comprehensive
plan wrought out by many minds and in many tongues. It is just
because my plan is faulty, because it mis-states so much, and omits
so much, that they do not now fall in. It will not be like _my_
dream, the world that is coming. My dream is just my own poor dream,
the thing sufficient for me. We fail in comprehension, we fail so
variously and abundantly. We see as much as it is serviceable for us
to see, and we see no further. But the fresh undaunted generations
come to take on our work beyond our utmost effort, beyond the range
of our ideas. They will learn with certainty things that to us are
guesses and riddles....
There will be many Utopias. Each generation will have its new
version of Utopia, a little more certain and complete and real, with
its problems lying closer and closer to the problems of the Thing
in Being. Until at last from dreams Utopias will have come to be
working drawings, and the whole world will be shaping the final
World State, the fair and great and fruitful World State, that will
only not be a Utopia because it will be this world. So surely it
The policeman drops his hand. "Come up," says the 'bus driver, and
the horses strain; "Clitter, clatter, cluck, clak," the line of
hurrying hansoms overtakes the omnibus going west. A dexterous lad
on a bicycle with a bale of newspapers on his back dodges nimbly
across the head of the column and vanishes up a side street.
The omnibus sways forward. Rapt and prophetic, his plump hands
clasped round the handle of his umbrella, his billycock hat a trifle
askew, this irascible little man of the Voice, this impatient
dreamer, this scolding Optimist, who has argued so rudely and
dogmatically about economics and philosophy and decoration, and
indeed about everything under the sun, who has been so hard on the
botanist and fashionable women, and so reluctant in the matter of
beer, is carried onward, dreaming dreams, dreams that with all the
inevitable ironies of difference, may be realities when you and I
He passes, and for a little space we are left with his egoisms and
idiosyncrasies more or less in suspense.
But why was he intruded? you ask. Why could not a modern Utopia be
discussed without this impersonation--impersonally? It has confused
the book, you say, made the argument hard to follow, and thrown
a quality of insincerity over the whole. Are we but mocking at
Utopias, you demand, using all these noble and generalised hopes
as the backcloth against which two bickering personalities jar and
squabble? Do I mean we are never to view the promised land again
except through a foreground of fellow-travellers? There is a common
notion that the reading of a Utopia should end with a swelling heart
and clear resolves, with lists of names, formation of committees,
and even the commencement of subscriptions. But this Utopia began
upon a philosophy of fragmentation, and ends, confusedly, amidst a
gross tumult of immediate realities, in dust and doubt, with, at the
best, one individual's aspiration. Utopias were once in good faith,
projects for a fresh creation of the world and of a most unworldly
completeness; this so-called Modern Utopia is a mere story of
personal adventures among Utopian philosophies.
Indeed, that came about without the writer's intention. So it was
the summoned vision came. For I see about me a great multitude of
little souls and groups of souls as darkened, as derivative as my
own; with the passage of years I understand more and more clearly
the quality of the motives that urge me and urge them to do whatever
we do.... Yet that is not all I see, and I am not altogether bounded
by my littleness. Ever and again, contrasting with this immediate
vision, come glimpses of a comprehensive scheme, in which these
personalities float, the scheme of a synthetic wider being, the
great State, mankind, in which we all move and go, like blood
corpuscles, like nerve cells, it may be at times like brain cells,
in the body of a man. But the two visions are not seen consistently
together, at least by me, and I do not surely know that they exist
consistently together. The motives needed for those wider issues
come not into the interplay of my vanities and wishes. That greater
scheme lies about the men and women I know, as I have tried to make
the vistas and spaces, the mountains, cities, laws, and order of
Utopia lie about my talking couple, too great for their sustained
comprehension. When one focuses upon these two that wide landscape
becomes indistinct and distant, and when one regards that then the
real persons one knows grow vague and unreal. Nevertheless, I cannot
separate these two aspects of human life, each commenting on the
other. In that incongruity between great and individual inheres the
incompatibility I could not resolve, and which, therefore, I have
had to present in this conflicting form. At times that great scheme
does seem to me to enter certain men's lives as a passion, as a real
and living motive; there are those who know it almost as if it was a
thing of desire; even for me, upon occasion, the little lures of the
immediate life are seen small and vain, and the soul goes out to
that mighty Being, to apprehend it and serve it and possess. But
this is an illumination that passes as it comes, a rare transitory
lucidity, leaving the soul's desire suddenly turned to presumption
and hypocrisy upon the lips. One grasps at the Universe and
attains--Bathos. The hungers, the jealousies, the prejudices and
habits have us again, and we are forced back to think that it is so,
and not otherwise, that we are meant to serve the mysteries; that in
these blinkers it is we are driven to an end we cannot understand.
And then, for measured moments in the night watches or as one walks
alone or while one sits in thought and speech with a friend, the
wider aspirations glow again with a sincere emotion, with the
colours of attainable desire....
That is my all about Utopia, and about the desire and need for
Utopia, and how that planet lies to this planet that bears the daily
lives of men.