'Comments and Clippings: About Parasites, Pharisees and Puritans' - by Vigilant, Westralian Worker, 27 September 1918, page 2

Fitzgerald described this article as:

A threaded miscellany, largely attacking puritanism.[1]


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Comments and Clippings: About Parasites, Pharisees and Puritans by Vigilant


“I had five savagely, happy minutes one afternoon. I found a mistletoe on a limb I could just reach – on a young tree – and didn’t I revel in ripping the brute down, rump and stump – and seeing the branch swing light. The only greater joy I could have had would have been to hear it squeal as I tore its limbs and roots out.

Now, if this had been written by a Labour scribe in denunciation of the social mistletoes that suck the living sap from the social tree, our reptile contemporaries, long ere now would have shouted themselves hoarse with cries of “Let him be crucified.” As it actually appeared in August “Birth,” a Melbourne paper devoted entirely to literature, the author is let off which is worse, might we ask? The parasitic plant – cannibal, or the man-eating capitalist vampire?


“The Puritan, I place with great reluctance among the enemies of literature; because it is to the inherent puritanism of the English character that English literature owes some of its best and most distinctive notes... But an appreciation of what is good in puritanism must not blind us to the fact that the puritans, consistent with their general enmity to joy, have all along fought hard against the indulgence of the artistic impulse. I need scarcely hope to say anything more damning than that, if the puritans had had their way, the plays of Shakespeare would never have been “written.” – (W. Murdoch.” In “Enemies of Literature.”)

Which reminds us that it isn’t a century ago since a New Zealand bookseller was hailed before the authorities for exposing for sale an indecent publication, to wit, “Venus and Adonis,” by one William Shakespeare. And these people want the education of the young to be entrusted to their clumsy perversion.

Professor Murdoch’s essay continues: “The artist suffers much from irrelevant questions. The Philistine says to him: “This work of yours- what is the use of it?’ The scientist asks: ‘What does it prove anyhow?’ And the puritan asks: “What does it teach? How does it square with my little ethical code? Is it edifying? And the only question we have any right to ask is: ‘Is it beautiful?’”

After all, the task of the Labor movement is the greatest work of art ever attempted. Just as the crude marble enshrouds the exquisite form of Galatea, which only the genius of Pygmalion might call forth, so somewhere within this amorphous human clay of our pitiful barbaric culture, rests the Man Beautiful – the Man of Morris’s “News from Nowhere.” Every agitator from Moses to Tom Mann, every poet-prophet, from Amos to the author of “Solidarity for Ever,” yea, every minister of Heaven’s vengeance, from David to the slayer of Nicholas II., adds a name to the roll of Humanity’s Great Artists. “It is beautiful,” is the sufficient justification of their lifework, despite puritan or philistine.

“Miss Matthews’s face was now all covered with scarlet. Indeed, she expected from Amelia some of those insults, of which virtuous women are generally so liberal to a frail sister; but she was mistaken. Amelia was not one –

Who thought the nation ne’er would thrive
Till all the (flappers) were burnt alive.

Her virtue could support itself with its own intrinsic work, without borrowing any assistance from the vices of other women.” – (From Henry Fielding’s “Amelia” – a shrewd satire on cant.)

Fielding was practically the inventor of the modern novel. The story of its origin is worth telling. Richardson, a country gentleman, and model of the proprieties, was commissioned by a firm of London publishers to draw up some sample letters for a polite letter-writing handbook.


Richardson struck the idea of making the letters continuous, so that a sort of story was evolved, in which it was told, through the medium of letters, how a very good girl had resisted the wicked wiles of a very bad man. Fielding, disgusted at the paltry mock modest of Pamela (Richardson’s book), wrote a satire called “Joseph Andrews,” in which the situation was reversed – Joseph, the exceeding virtuous youth, resisting all the temptations of a plethora of designing sirens. Thus rose the idea that incidents of contemporary life, after all, made interesting reading.


“These unhappy women, to me, were simply sisters in calamity; and sisters amongst whom, in as large measure as amongst any other equal number of persons commanding more of the world’s respect, were to be found humanity, disinterested generosity, courage that would not falter in defence of the helpless, and fidelity that would have scorned to take bribes for betraying. But the truth is that at no time of my life have I been a person to hold myself polluted by the approach or touch of any creature that wore a human shape. I cannot suppose, I will not believe, that any creatures wearing the form of man or woman are so absolutely rejected and reprobate outcasts that merely to talk with them inflicts pollution. On the contrary... a philosopher should not see with the eyes of the poor limitary creature calling himself a man of the world, filled with narrow and self-regarding prejudices of birth and education, but should look upon himself as a catholic creature, and as standing in an equal relation to high and low, to educated and uneducated, to the guilty and the innocent.” – Thos. De Quincey, in “Confessions of an English Opium Eater.”

This is Democracy. Not the democracy of the Lover of Mankind; neither the theoretic democracy of the platform and congress nor the bloody democracy o the Terror, but a truer democracy than either, and the parent from which each of the others springs in due season. The self-righteous cannot be a democrat. By his self-righteousness he creates a caste, elevates himself into an aristocracy of morality, and incidentally falls headlong into an abyss of conventional cant. De Quincey and the unfortunate Ann, Dostoieffsky’s haunted murderer and Sonia, the waif of Petersburg, Christ and Magdalen, knew more of morality because they knew more of humanity, than all the legions of W.C.T.U.’s begot of an hypocritical age.

“We” – that’s a word kings and newspaper blokes use instead of “I” - “We” have just been reading some of Laurence Hope’s poems “Stars of the Desert,” to wit. The volume is not an Australian production, and the authoress is not an Australian, consequently the work has not been condemned to the sewer by certain of our contemporaries. But apart from the facts above stated, it would be difficult to select a line that the “certain contemporary” principally referred to has seen fit to pen in condemnation of Zora Cross that would not apply equally well – or badly – to her English sister. But then, a discerning public “at ‘Ome” has called consistently for at least one, and sometimes two editions of "Stars of the Desert" annually since 1903, and consequently any suggestions that Laurence Hope ought to “get married, quick," would rather tend to confirm the opinion of the editor of the wayside press edition of Omar Khayyam, namely, that the popularity of the Rubaiyat in England proves England to be “an obviously decadent nation” – a sentiment entirely at variance with the policy of our esteemed “certain contemporary.” And there’s nothing on earth that a tripe butcher dislikes so much as the other butcher’s tripe – especially if the other butcher is a big-endian.

Laurence Hope sings the song of sex, and sings it remarkably well. The poems have all or nearly all, an Oriental setting, and most of them owe much to Oriental legend. An edition at 5s. net (7s. in Perth) is now being starred by the city booksellers.


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin: Book discussions (largely from Our Bookshelf), 1917 - 1988. JCPML00653/36