THE LAY FIGURE AND COUNT
"Have I read Tolstoi's 'What is
Art ? ' and what do I think of it ? " the
Lay Figure spoke in an irritated voice. " Yes, I
have read, and re-read it, and tried to bring myself
to take it as something worth fighting, but I must
own I cannot."
" Surely that is intolerant," said the Man with
a Clay Pipe; " if it annoys you, it must do so
either because it tells you unpleasant truths, or
distorts truths to support a preconceived antagon-
" How can one dispute seriously with a writer
who says, 'People of our time and of our society
are delighted with Baudelaires, Verlaines, Moreases,
Ibsens, and Maeterlincks in poetry; with Monets,
Manets, Puvis de Chavannes, Burne - Joneses,
Stucks, and Boecklins in painting; with Wagners,
Liszts, Richard Strausses in music; and they are
no longer capable of comprehending either the
highest or the simplest art ? "
" Exactly ! it seems to me a fair argument that
people who love highly spiced dishes lose their
appetite for wholesome food." The Man with a
Clay Pipe spoke as if he did not quite mean what
he said to be taken literally.
"An excellently obvious argument," returned the
Lay Figure, " but not obviously excellent. Why
is Burne-Jones more ' highly spiced,' to use your
own phrase, and therefore unwholesome, than
Walter Langley's Beggar Boy, or Millet's Man
-with a Hoe, which Count Tolstoi praises ? The
book is merely the logical outcome of the morbid
religionist who, whether in Charles Kingsley's
' Hypatia,' in the New England puritanism, or in
certain sectarians to-day, would fain model or
mould on his own conceptions of religion all his
effort to save his ' dirty little soul,' to quote Kingsley.
Mind, I do not dispute his right to his own view,
but I dispute entirely his right to force it on me.
If art be indeed a horribly obscene, vicious lure
to him, let him spurn it, and we can respect his
doing so ; but I do not care to defame my ideals by
allowing that he can be right. A diseased mind
sees all things askew; but if we have not distorted
views ourselves, we can forgive his honest, if wholly
distorted vision, and even respect his courage in
giving it words."
" But this is only counter-assertion," the Man
* "What is Art?" By Leo Tolstoi. Translated
from the Russian Original by Aylmer Maude. (London :
The Brotherhood Publishing Company. Price 3s. 6d. net.)
with a Clay Pipe observed ; " not a real argument.
I wish you wTould take Tolstoi's charges one by
one and refute them, or else own that they are
The Lay Figure laughed.
"Am I to prove concurrently that the earth is
round not flat, that parallel lines never meet, that
the next century begins with 1901 not 1900,
that to confuse didactic teaching with aesthetic
is mere nonsense ? Why, man! the rest of
human existence, if the argument were con-
tinued by each generation until the world became
uninhabitable, would be too short to convince
people who had taken the fallacy of each statement
"I think Count Tolstoi is worth less flippant
treatment," he replied.
" Was I speaking disrespectfully of your equator ?
If so, I apologise humbly," the Lay Figure replied.
" To me, the whole of the Russian nobleman's
manifesto is on the level with that of the ranter
at the street-corner. I think Religion and Art
are both noble enough to be discussed with open
minds. If before the case is brought into court
your opponent says that a mass of hearsay
evidence he has to submit must not be ques-
tioned but accepted blindly, that the law as it is
written or practised must be put aside, and
the case argued on lines he prefers to lay down,
why, then, a wise man does not go into court
" Then you really wish me to believe that you,
a mere nobody, deem an author of world-wide
reputation too unimportant to confute," said the
Man with a Clay Pipe.
"If you put it that way, all right," the Lay
Figure replied good-naturedly. " At times one
must even risk the charge of behaving like a cad.
If my bootmaker discusses leather, I bow to his
opinion; if he discusses art, I wait until he proves
his incapacity, and turn the subject."
The Man with a Clay Pipe put it down and
burst into an Homeric peal of laughter. " I
quite agree with you," he said. "Count Tolstoi
"An entirely honourable man, whom I respect
most sincerely. A man that I reverence the more
because pity is akin to love. But, as Robert Louis
Stevenson said of Whitman, I regard him as a bull
in a china-shop—a well-intentioned bull—but all
the same not an expert to wrangle with, merely an
admirable instance of vital energy in the wrong
The Lay Figure.