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There is grave danger of a revival of virtue in this country. There are, I know, two kinds of virtue, and only one of them is a vice Unfortunately, it is the latter a revival of which is threatened to-day. This is the virtue of the virtuously indignant. It is virtue that is not content merely to be virtuous to the glory of God. It has no patience with the simple beauty and goodness of the saints. Virtue, in the eyes of the virtuously indignant, is hardly worthy to be called virtue unless it goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom it may devour. Virtue, according to this view, is a detective, inquisitor, and flagellator of the vices–especially of the vices that are so unpopular that the mob may be easily persuaded to attack them. One of the chief differences between the two kinds of virtue, I fancy, is that while true virtue regards the mob-spirit as an enemy, simular virtue (if we may adopt the Shakespearean phrase) looks to the mob as its cousin and its ally. To be virtuous in the latter sense is obviously as easy as hunting rats or cats. Virtue of this kind is simply the eternal huntsman in man’s breast with eyes aglint for a victim. It is Mr Murdstone’s virtue–the persecutor’s virtue. It is the virtue that warms the bosom of every man who is more furious with his neighbour’s sins than with his own. If virtue is merely an inflammation against our neighbour’s sins, what man on earth is so mean as to be incapable of it? To be virtuous in this fashion is as easy as lying. Those who abstain from it do so not out of lack of heart, but from choice. We have read of the popularity of the ducking-stool in former days for women taken in adultery. Savage mobs may have thought that by putting their hearts into this amusement they were making up to virtue for the long years of neglect to which, as individuals, they had subjected her. They might not have been virtue’s lovers, but at least they could be virtue’s bullies. After all, virtue itself is no bad sport, when chasing, kicking, thumping, and yelling are made the chief part of the game. Sending dogs coursing after a hare is nothing to it. Man’s enjoyment of the chase never rises to the finest point of ecstasy save when his victim is a human being. Man’s inhumanity to man, says the poet, makes countless thousands mourn. But think also of the countless thousands that it makes rejoice! We should always remember that the Crucifixion was an exceedingly popular event, and in no quarter more so than among the virtuously indignant. It would probably never have taken place had it not been for the close alliance between the virtuously indignant and the mob.

To be fair to the virtuously indignant and the mob, they do not insist beyond reason that their victim shall be a bad man. Good hunting may be had even among the saints, and who does not enjoy the spectacle of a citizen distinguished mainly for his unblemished character being dragged down into the dust? We have no reason to believe that the people who were burned during the Inquisition were worse than their neighbours, yet the mob, we are told, used to gather enthusiastically and dance round the flames. The destructive instincts of the mob are such that in certain moods it is ready to destroy any kind of man, just as the destructive instincts of a puppy are such that in certain moods it is ready to destroy any sort of book–whether Smiles’s Self-Help or Mademoiselle de Maupin is a matter of perfect indifference. The virtuously indignant maintain their power by constantly inciting and feeding this appetite for destruction. Hence, when we feel virtuously indignant, we would do well to inquire of ourselves if that is the limit and Z of our virtue. Have we no sins of our own to amend that we have all this time for barking and biting at the vices of our neighbours? And if we must attack the sins of our fellows, would it not be the more heroic course to begin with those we are most tempted by, instead of those to which we have no mind? Do not let the drunkard feel virtuous because he is able with an undivided heart to denounce simony, and do not let the forger, who happens to be a teetotaller because of the weakness of his stomach, be too virtuously indignant at the red-nosed patron of the four-ale bar. Any of us can achieve virtue, if by virtue we merely mean the avoidance of the vices that do not attract us. Most of us can boast than we have never been cruel to a hippopotamus or had dealings with a succubus or taken a bribe of a million pounds to betray a friend. On these points we can look forward with perfect confidence to the scrutiny of the Day of Judgment. I fear, however, the Recording Angel is likely to devote such little space as he can afford to each of us to the vices we have rather than to the vices we have not. Even Charles Peace would have been acquitted if he had been accused of brawling in church instead of murder. Hence it is to be hoped that passengers in railway trains will not remain content with gloating down upon the unappetising sins of which the forty-seven thousand are accused by Mr Pemberton Billing. Steep and perilous is the ascent of virtue, and the British public may well be grateful to Mr Billing and Mr Bottomley if they help it with voice or outstretched hand to climb to the snowy summits. So far as can be seen, however, all that Mr Billing and Mr Bottomley do is to interrupt the British public in its upward climb and orate to it on the monstrous vices of the Cities of the Plain. This may be an agreeable diversion for weary men, but it obviously involves the neglect of virtue, not the pursuit of it. Most people imagine that to pursue vice is to pursue virtue. But the wisdom of the ages tells us that the only thing to do to vice is to fly from it. Lot’s wife was a lady who looked round once too often to see what was happening to the forty-seven thousand. Let Mr Billing and Mr Bottomley beware. Their interest in the Cities of the Plain will turn them into pillars of salt a thousand years before it turns them into pillars of society.