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Title: Apologia Diffidentis
Author: Dalton, O. M. (Ormonde Maddock), 1866-1945
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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 [Transcriber's Note:

  Greek words in this text have been transliterated into English and are
  found within { } brackets.]



          Apologia Diffidentis



          _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

          Sirenica



          Apologia Diffidentis

                  By
           W. Compton Leith

         London: John Lane, The
         Bodley Head. New York:
         John Lane Company
               MCMXVII



           _Third Edition_

     _Printed in Great Britain
  by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh_



              To One
 Whose Friendship is beyond Desert
         and above Requital



Apologia Diffidentis

    "I am naturally bashful; nor hath conversation, age,
    or travel been able to effront or enharden me."

                                       SIR THOMAS BROWNE


In the matter of avowals the diffident never speak if they can write.
That is why my apology for a furtive existence is here set down in
solitude instead of being told face to face. You have borne so many
years with my unresponsive and incomprehensible ways that shame at last
constrains me to this poor defence; for I must either justify myself in
your sight, or go far away where even your kindness cannot reach me. The
first alternative is hard, but the second too grievous for impaired
powers of endurance; I must therefore find what expression I may, and
tell you how my life has been beshrewed ever since, a boy of twelve, I
first incurred the obloquy of being shy. The word slips easily from the
pen though the lips refuse to frame it; for I think most men would
rather plead guilty to a vice than to this weakness.

A doom of reticence is upon all our shy confraternity, and we seldom
make confidences even to each other. It is only at rarest intervals that
the spell is lifted, by silent sympathy, by a smile, by a tear, by I
know not what. At such times our souls are like those deep pools of the
shore, only open to the sky at lowest tides of still summer days, only
to be approached across long stretches of wet sand and slippery shelves
of rock. In their depths are delicate fronded seaweeds and shells tinted
with hues of sundawn; but to see them you must bend low over the
surface, which no lightest breath must furrow, or the vision is gone.

Few of the busy toilers of the world will leave the firm sands to see so
little; but sometimes one weary of keen life will stray aside, and
oftener a child will come splashing across the beach to peer down with
artless curiosity and delight. Then the jealous ocean returns, and the
still clear depths are confused once more with refluent waters; soon the
waves are tossing above the quiet spot, and the child is gone home to
sleep and forget. I cannot have you with me at these still hours of
revelation; I must tell my tale as best I can with such success as
fortune may bestow.

I shall say nothing of the miseries which embittered the life of the
diffident boy. But I cannot pass in silence the deeper trouble of
earliest manhood, when my soul first awoke to the dread that though
other clouds might drift westward and dissolve, one would impend over me
for ever. It was at the university that this vague misgiving crept upon
me like a chill mist, until the hopes and aspirations of youth were one
by one extinguished, as to a sailor putting out to sea the comfortable
harbour lights vanish in the wracks of a tempestuous winter morning. I
turned my face away from the gracious young life amidst which I moved,
like a man possessed of a dark secret to his undoing. My heart, yet
eager for the joy of living and yearning for affection, was daily
starved of its need as by a power of deliberate and feline cruelty; and
with every expansive impulse instantly restrained by this dæmonic
force, I was left at last unresponsive as a maltreated child, who flings
his arms round no one, but shrinks back into his own world of solitary
fancies.

I think there is no misery so great as that of youth surrounded by all
opportunities for wholesome fellowship, endowed with natural faculties
for enjoyment, yet repressed and thwarted at every turn by invincible
self-consciousness and mistrust: surely no lost opportunities of manhood
leave such aching voids as these. In the spring-time of life to feel day
by day the slow erosion of the power of joy is of all pains most
poignant; out of it grow anxieties, premature despairs, incongruous with
fresh cheeks and a mind not yet mature. This misery was mine for those
four years which to most men are the happiest of a whole career, but to
me at every retrospect seem so beset with gloomy shadows that could I
live my life again, I would not traverse them once more for all the gold
of Ophir.

At first I writhed and strained in my bonds, and sometimes would make
timid advances to the generous young hearts around me. But the tension
always proved too sore; I never maintained the ground I had won, and
with a perilous fatalism more and more readily accepted what I deemed
inevitable failure. There were among them, I doubt it not now,
Samaritans who would have tended my bruised limbs; but then they all
seemed to be gliding over the black ice, too happy to stay and lift up
the fallen. And bruised though I was, I still rose time and again and
moved painfully among them, so that theirs was no culpable or merciless
neglect.

Yet the end for me was illimitable dreariness; and like Archie in _Weir
of Hermiston_, I seemed abroad in a world from which every hope of
intimacy was banished. And as with every month the hopelessness of
resistance was made plainer and plainer, there came upon me the
recklessness of the condemned man who jests or blasphemes to hide his
ruth. Overwrought continually by forebodings of coming pain, unstrung by
strange revulsions, I would pass from burning wrath to cold despair, a
most petulant and undisciplined sufferer. Uniting in one person the
physical exuberance of youth and the melancholy of disillusioned
manhood, I was deprived of the balanced energy proper to either age, and
kept up a braggart courage with the headiest wine of literature. I could
not bear the bland homilies of the preachers, but ranged myself with the
apostles of rebellion who blew imperious trumpet blasts before the walls
of ordered life.

Verily the violence of the blasts was sometimes such that the ramparts
should have fallen down; and often in my exaltation I already saw them
totter, as I strode along reciting the dithyrambs of men who like myself
could find scarce a responsive heart-beat in all this throbbing world.
Above all I gloried in the declamations of Queen Mab, which sanctioned
by high poetic authority the waste of my affections and my moody
defiance of life's most salutary law. With these upon my lips I roamed,
an absurd pathetic figure, amid the haunts of the Scholar Gipsy, and the
wayward upland breezes conspired with my truant moods. And while I sat
by my lamp late into the night, I turned the pages of pessimists and
cynics, for no principles are dearer to a man than those which allow him
to profess contempt for the benefits which he cannot enjoy.

Yet by seeking amid such simples a balm for wounded pride, I did not
really deceive myself, but lived as a sophist rather than a philosopher.
And all the while I was digging graves for my better instincts, until my
sexton's mood, confining me within churchyard walls, gave me over almost
entirely to the company of mental bats and owls. The danger of it all
was that though I was yet youthful, and should have been still pliant as
a sapling, I was fostering the growth of those habits which, like rings
in the grain, are the signature of unyielding years. Naturalists say
that a bullfinch fed only on hempseed gradually loses his fair plumage
and becomes black as a raven: so my soul, nourished on thoughts of
rebellion, put off its bright and diverse enthusiasms and was clothed in
the dark garment of despair.

When the long-desired hour of release came, and I was free to turn my
back upon the spires of my prison city, I had already plumbed an abyss
of misery. The very thought of life in the conflict of the world was
abhorrent; and if I had been of the Roman Church I should have become a
Benedictine and sought a lettered and cloistered peace. I despaired of
finding anywhere upon earth the profound quietude, the absolute
detachment, when a chance occasion seemed to crown my desire, and blind
to all warnings of disillusion, I suddenly set sail for what I then
thought might be a permanent sojourn in the East.

Within two months' time the whole environment of my life was changed,
and I was established on a lonely plantation set high upon a range of
hills whose slopes were clothed with primeval forests verging to a
tropical sea. My home, a white-walled, red-roofed bungalow with a great
columned verandah like a temple's peristyle, lay in the issue of an
upper valley threaded by a clear stream, whence you may look far down
over rolling plains to an horizon lost in the shimmering heat of noon.
Immediately to the east rose the cone of a great solitary hill, always
outlined against the sky with a majestic isolation that lent it an
almost personal existence, and at the birth of every day bearing the orb
of the rising sun upon its wooded shoulder. Round about, in scattered
villages of thatched and mud-walled huts, dwelled brown men of ancient
pagan ways, men who neither knew progress nor set any price upon time.

There I entered upon a wholly new existence as remote from all the
social trials which beset shyness as if it were passed in some island of
the uttermost sea. I had escaped from a harrying pursuit; I was free;
and to the bliss of this recovered liberty I abandoned myself, without
attempting to justify my flight to conscience or forming any scheme for
future years. Like a deer which has eluded the hounds, I yearned only
for rest and long oblivion of the chase; I wanted to live woodland days
until, all the strain and panic of the past forgotten, I might rise
refreshed and see a new way clear before me.

And this first abandonment was a time of ecstasy. The long tranquil days
were crowned by nights of peace yet more desired. I lay beneath the
verandah and watched the stars in their splendour, not the pin-points of
cold light that pierce our misty western heavens, but bright orbs in
innumerable companies hovering upon the tranced earth. Night after night
I saw the incomparable vision; month after month the moon rose slowly
over the high wall of the jungle, first a great globe imminent upon the
trees, next soaring remote through the upper heavens, waning at last to
a sphere of pale unquickening light. I would lie thus for hours
motionless, with lulled mind, until the breeze forerunning the dawn, or
the quavering wail of the jackal, recalled the startled thought to the
prison bonds of self.

With the gentle lapse of months all these impersonal influences took
dominion over me and gave me a quiet happiness never known before. The
nights brought the greater light; but the days too had their glories. I
would climb the rugged sides of the mountain, and emerging into a colder
world sit beneath an overhanging rock and see the hot air quivering
over leagues of plain; while in the nearer distance, far down beneath my
feet, the rice-fields shone like emerald and the palm-fringed pools like
shields of silver. Or I would stretch myself at early afternoon on the
close-cropped grass on the jungle-edge, and watch the opposite sky take
on an ever-deeper blue against the setting sun behind me. Often at such
times I would hear a rushing in the highest branches, and turning very
silently, see the outposts of a troop of monkeys peering down through
the gleaming foliage. Then, if I moved, neither head nor limb, others
would come, and yet others, leaping from branch to branch and plunging
down from higher to lower levels like divers cleaving a deep green sea;
until at last some slightest involuntary movement of mine would put the
whole host to flight, and greybeards, young warriors, camp followers and
mothers with their children on their backs would spring precipitate from
tree to tree, screaming and gibbering like Homer's sapless dead. Then,
when the stars rushed out and the darkness came on apace, it was sweet
to wander home along those paths so dear to primitive men in all
countries, narrow paths and sinuous, smoothed by the footfalls of
centuries, winding patiently round every obstacle and never breaking
through after the brutal manner of civilization. The fire-flies gleamed
in the brushwood on either hand, and from every side rose that
all-pervading hum of busy insects through which the tropic forest is
never still.

Amid these surroundings, so peaceful and so new, my soul was stilled to
that {galênê} or ocean-calm which the old Greek philosopher found the
highest good for man. And month by month the mere material side of life
grew of less moment; the body fretted the spirit less, but often seemed
a tissue of gossamer lightness through which it could pass at will, as
the breeze through the gleaming spider-webs upon the bushes at dawn.
There were times when the ideal of the mystic seemed well-nigh
accomplished, when my body might almost have been abandoned by the soul
for hours upon end. The words of Emerson seemed to be fulfilled: "By
being assimilated to the original soul by whom and after whom all things
subsist, the soul of man does then easily flow into all things and all
things flow into it: they mix; and he is present and sympathetic with
their structure and law."

As I write now amid the roar of London traffic, I well believe that to
men who have never bathed in eastern moonlight, the description will
sound hyperbolical and false. But when I think of those old days, how
serene they were, how apart, I let the words stand: I am not artist
enough to give them a more plausible simplicity. All conditions that a
recluse might crave seemed now to be fulfilled for my benefit. The
virgin forests and great hills were a perpetual joy, but there was a
tranquil pleasure in the plantation which man's labour had reclaimed
from these. That was a meet place indeed for the meditation of a quiet
hour, and no more grateful refuge can be conceived than such a shady
grove at the height of noon. You must not fancy an expanse of dusty land
lined with prim rows of plants in the formal style of a nursery garden;
but, spread over the lower slopes of the valleys, spacious woods of
clean, grey-stemmed trees, with overarching branches thinned to cast a
diaphanous shade over the sea of lustrous dark leaves below. The shrubs
stood waist-high in serried, commingling ranks, their dark burnished
leaves gleaming here and there in the sifted rays that found their way
down through the vaults of foliage; the groves of Daphne had no more
perfect sheen.

I learned to feel for this gracious place a love only second to that of
the wilder jungle; for nature thus tamed to work side by side with man
loses indeed her austerer charm, but not her calm and dignity: these she
brings with her always to be a glory to the humblest associate of her
labour. Often as I pruned a tree, or stripped its stem of suckers, I
felt the soothing, quickening influence of this partnership, and my
thoughts turned to others who had known a like satisfaction and relief;
to Obermann forgetting his melancholy in the toil of the vintage,
plucking the ripe clusters and wheeling them away as if he had never
known the malady of thought; or to Edward Fitzgerald out with the dawn
among his roses at Little Grange.

Amid these high dreams and simple occupations, time seemed to glide away
like a brimming stream, and the only events that marked the passing of
the years were wayfarings through the country-side, sojournings in
strange, slumbrous native towns, expeditions of wider range to old white
ports of Malabar still dreaming of the forgotten heroes whose story
Camoens sang. After many such journeys the genius of this oriental land
seemed to travel with us, so familiar did every aspect of this simple
Indian life become. Our equipment was of set purpose the patriarchal
gear of native fashion; narrow carts with great lumbering wheels were
covered by matting arched upon bent saplings, and had within a depth of
clean rice-straw on which at night mattresses were spread. Beneath each
yoke went a pair of milk-white oxen with large mild eyes and pendulous
dewlaps, great beasts of a fine Homeric dignity and worthy of
Nausicaa's wain. They swung along with a leisurely rolling gait; and if
their silent feet moved too slowly, the sleepy brown-skinned driver,
crouching on the pole between them, would shame them into speed by
scornful words about their ancestry, more prompt than blows in their
effect on beasts of ancient and sacred lineage.

We travelled at night or in the freshness of early morning, regardless
of the hours, unfretted by the tyrannous remembrances of appointed
times. Milestones passed slowly, like things drifting, which ask no
attention, and hardly perceived in the moment of their disappearance,
serve only to enrich and replenish the mind's voluptuous repose. It was
a joy to lie drowsily back upon the straw, awaiting sleep and looking
out upon the stars through the open back of the cart, while the
fire-flies darted across the feathery clusters of bamboo, and the
cradling sound of wheels and footfalls called slumber up out of the
darkness. And it was equal delight to spring from the cart at first
flush of dawn, and see some far blue hill in the east lined like a
cloud with broadening gold, until the resistless sun rose a full orb
above it, flooding the grey plains and making the leaves of the banyans
gleam with the lustre of old bronze. But though the sun was come, we
would often press on for yet three hours, through belts of
squirrel-haunted wood, beside great sheets of water with wild-duck
floating far amidst, and borders starred with yellow nenuphars, across
groves of mango and plantain trees into landscapes of tiny terraced
plots, where the vivid green rice-blades stood thick in the well-soaked
earth, and bowed brown figures diverted to their roots the thread-like
rivulet from the great brown tank above.

Here would be a wayside shrine, a simple stuccoed portico with columns
streaked in red, enclosing the sacred emblems with their offerings of
golden marigold, and bearing upon each corner, carved in dark grey
stone, Siva's recumbent bull. Here millet fields, with hedges of blue
aloe or euphorbias like seven-branched candlesticks, announced a place
of habitation; soon the village itself appeared, a long irregular line
of white-walled houses roofed with thatch or tile, and here and there
greater dwellings with carved balconies and barred verandahs, behind
which impassive white-robed figures sat and seemed to ponder upon life.
On the right, perhaps, would be a shop all open to the road, where,
cross-legged upon a kind of daïs, the merchant sat among his piled
wares, unenterprising and unsolicitous, serenely confident in the
balance-sheet of fate. On the left, in a shady corner, a barber would be
bending over a half-shaven skull. Everywhere children of every shade
from yellow to deep umber would be playing solemnly about the ways,
turning upon the passing stranger their grave, unfathomable eyes.

Beyond the village there would be a rest-house maintained for the use of
wayfaring white men, and here we would repose through the heat of the
day, reclining with a book in rooms shaded with shutters, or with fine
mats drenched from hour to hour with cooling sprays of water. Then with
the sun's decline we would set out once more, meeting a file of
blue-robed women erect as caryatides as they came up from the well,
each bearing upon her back-thrown head a water-jar of earthen or brazen
ware, staying her burden with a shapely brown arm circled with bangles
of glass and silver. In the short hours before the darkness, we would
encounter all the types of men which go to make up Indian country
life--the red-slippered banker jogging on his pony beneath a white
umbrella, the vendor of palm-wine urging a donkey almost lost beneath
the swollen skins, barefooted ryots with silent feet and strident
tongues, crowds of boys and children driving buffaloes and cows, all
coming homeward from their labour with the evening.

And when these had gone by, and we rolled on through the scented air of
the silent open country, we would come perhaps in the gathering darkness
to a great river lapping and murmuring through the blackened rocks above
the ford, and shining like a glorious path in the light of the rising
moon. Silently, high above the banks, there would flit through the still
air bands of flying foxes awakened for their nightly raid upon the
plantain groves; and in the shadows of the further bank there would
gleam a sudden light, or the echoes of a hailing voice would rise and
then die away. Steeped in the poetry of all these things we would cross
and emerge upon the opposite slope to begin the pilgrimage of the night
anew. So to live tranquil days and unfretful, moving in quiet through a
still land rich in old tradition--this was an experience of peace which
no dreams of imagination could surpass, a freshness of joy penetrative
as the fragrance of unplucked wayside flowers.

Sometimes we would set out on longer journeys by land and sea, crossing
the wooded ghats and descending to some old port of historic name,
Cochin or Mangalore or Calicut, white places of old memory, sleeping by
the blue waves as if no Vasco de Gama had ever come sailing up out of
the West to disturb their enchanted slumber. The approach to these
dreamy shores was dark and tumultuous, as if nature had set an
initiation of contrasting toil before the enjoyment of that light and
peace. It followed the bed of a mountain stream, which began in a mere
pleat of the hills, tumbling often in white cascades, and enduring no
boat upon its waters until half its course was run. But here it
challenged man to essay a fall; for where it burst its way over rocky
slopes were channels jeopardous and hardly navigable, sequences of
foaming rapids, races of wild water swirling round opposing boulders,
and careering indignant of restraint between long walls of beetling
rock. Here when the sun had gone down we would embark with a crew of
lithe brown men in a boat hewn from a single tree, seamless and stoutly
fashioned to be the unharmed plaything of such rocks and boisterous
waters as these. In these rapids the river waked to consciousness of
mighty life, tossing our little craft through a riot of dancing waves,
whirling it round the base of perpendicular rocks set like adamant in
the hissing waters, sweeping it helpless as a petal down some glassy
plane stilled, as it were, into a concentrated wrath of movement. The
men sprang from side to side, from bow to stern, staving the craft with
a miraculous deftness from a projecting boulder, forcing her into a new
course, steadying her as she reeled in the shock and strain of the
conflict, while their long poles bent continually like willow wands
against her battered sides. The steersman stood silent, except when he
shouted above all the din some resonant, eruptive word of command; the
men responded by breathless invocations to their gods, relaxing no tense
sinew until the pent waters rushed out into some broad pool where the
eased stream went brimming silently, gathering new strength in the
darkness of its central deeps.

At such places the moon would perhaps be obscured by passing clouds, and
we would land upon an eyot until she shone once more in a clear heaven.
Stretched at length upon the fine white sand waiting for her return, we
could hear the boom of waters in the distance calling us on to a renewal
of the conflict. These periods of great stillness, interposed between
tumults past and impending, had their own refinement of pleasure as far
above the joys of fenced and covenanted ease as the bivouac of the hard
campaign surpasses slumber in the fine linen of a captured city: they
brought the wandering mind into communion with elemental forces, and
seemed to hold it expectant of supernatural events. In that interlunar
twilight there reigned a solemn sense of wonder evoked here eternally,
one felt, from the ancient time, with the rustling of stirred foliage
and the voice of those far waters for its music.

The lulled reason yielded place to reverie, and the whole rapt being
abandoned itself like an Orphic worshipper to the guidance of an unseen
mysteriarch. This acquiescence in the swift succession of calm to fury
and stress, resembled the quiet which may be conceived to follow sudden
death; the heightened sense of vicissitude in things summoned up and
sustained a solemn mood. All the while that we lay charmed and half
oppressed in this atmosphere as of an under-world, the clouds were
drawing forward on their course; and as their last fringe trailed slowly
by and the moon was revealed once more, the spell was broken in an
instant by human voices calling us to re-embark. Again we glided to the
verge of tumultuous falls, again we were flung through foaming narrows
and labyrinthine passages of torn rocks, until, the last promontory
turned with arrowy swiftness, we shot through a postern of the granite
barrier and bounded far into still water fringed with trees of
profoundest shadow. We put in to shore, for this stage of our journey
was over; the dawn was near; the carts stood waiting on the road. But
the influence of the wonderful night, clinging about us, would keep us
long silent, as if awed by the passing of ancient Vedic gods.

I will not describe the later stages of these journeys: the coasting
voyages in restful ships that seemed built to sail Mæander; the
touchings at old wharfless ports; the visits to lone temples where
Herodotus would have loved to linger; the rambles on the slopes of
Adam's Peak; the meditations amid the ruins of Anaradhapura and
Pollanarrua, ancient homes of kings, now stripped of every glory but
that of these sonorous names--such are the records of every traveller,
and are chronicled to satiety by a hundred hasty pens. A month of
wandering within the fringe of civilization would be closed by a last
week of patriarchal travel, bringing us back to our remote valley just
as the clouds of the coming monsoon were ranging in denser ranks along
the evening sky like the tents of a beleaguering army. Hardly had we
time to settle down for the wet season, see to the stacking of
fire-logs, and be sure that every tile on the roof was firm in its
appointed place, when the embattled host seemed to break up from its
last camp, and advance upon us along the whole line that the eye
perceived.

One year I was witness of the first onset, which came in the late
afternoon--an immediate shock of massed clouds without throwing forward
of skirmishers or any prelude of the vanguard. Our home looked down upon
a gentle incline of open grassy land to a broad belt of jungle in the
middle distance; here the undergrowth and small trees had been newly
cleared away, opening out a dim far view across an uncumbered
leaf-strewn floor into the backward gloom of the forest. I sat with my
eyes fixed upon the trees, drawing the rain on with the whole strength
of desire to the parched country lying there faint with the exhaustion
of three months of drought. While I watched, the deep line of cloud, at
first distinct from the forest-top along which it came rolling,
insensibly merged with the foliage, until every contour was lost in a
common gloom, only the great bare stems below standing pale against the
gathering darkness. There was an intense stillness everywhere like the
silence of expectation which falls upon an awestruck crowd; the very
insects had ceased their usual song. And now the ear caught a distant
sound, vague and deep, coming up out of the mid darkness, and growing to
a mighty volume as a sudden wind swept out from the sounding foliage
into the open land and searched every cranny of the house as it passed.
Then, as if drawn by the wind, there came into view among the nearest
tree-stems a moving grey line advancing with a long roar until it hid
the whole forest from sight: it was the wave of battle about to break
upon us. It came on like a wall, enormous, irresistible; one instant,
and it had devoured the intervening space; another, and we were lost in
the deluge, and the great rain drops were spilled upon the roof with the
noise of continuous thunder. As the deep sound reverberated through the
roof above me, I went in exulting to a hearth piled with blazing logs,
glad in the prospect of renewing for many weeks old and quiet habitudes
of indoor life, rich with solace of books and tranquil meditation.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have dwelt upon the outward aspects of my life in exile, because the
sojourn of these years amid the hills and forests taught a natural
leechcraft which was to stand me in good stead in coming years, and may
stand in equal stead other souls desolate as mine. Like the Nile
brimming over the fields, a flood of joy from nature overlaid my parched
being, enriching it with a fertile loam, and shielding it from the
irritations of the world. I lay fallow beneath the still, sunlit waters,
unharrowed by teasing points of doubt, and porous to the influence of an
all-encompassing peace. Exile had opened to me a new heaven and a new
earth, whose freshness and calm charmed thought away from all vain
questionings; the fascination of outward things had for a while cooled
the useless ardour of introspection. But it was inevitable that the
bland ease of such a contemplative life should bring no enduring
satisfaction to the mind; it was not an end in itself, but a mere means
to serenity, a breathing-space useful to the recovery of a long-lost
fortitude. The time was now come when the hunted deer, refreshed in the
quiet of his inaccessible glen, was to awake to new thought of the herd,
and of the duties of a common life; when the peace of successful flight
was to appear in its true light as a momentary release, and no longer as
the ultimate goal imagined in the anguish of pursuit.

It was during this last monsoon that doubts began to stir within,
interrupting my studies of the systems of Hindu philosophy and my
porings over sacred books. The vague insistence of these misgivings made
me surely aware that even in this eastern paradise all was not well;
but at first I refused to listen, and plunged deep into the maze of the
Vedanta to escape the importunate voice. Yet anxiety came up around me
like a heavy atmosphere; an indescribable sense of disillusion, clinging
as a damp mist, brought its mildew to the soul, until my new heaven was
overcast and my new earth dispeopled of all pleasures. Then one day the
fever struck me down, and of a sudden my mind became an arena in which
memories of earlier life chased one another unceasingly in the round of
a delirious dance. Trivial events impressed themselves on consciousness
with strange precision; objects long forgotten rose before me outlined
in fire--one, a pane of stained glass in Fairford Church, with a lost
soul peering in anguish through the red bars of hell. Each and every
apparition was of the old life; all were emissaries from the forsaken
West summoning me back to my renounced allegiance. When the fever left
me, returning reason slowly brought order amid the welter of confused
ideas, as the ants sorted the grain for distracted Psyche, and for the
first time I considered in the detachment of reminiscence the nature of
my action in leaving England. I sifted the evidence at length as I lay
under the verandah slowly recovering strength; and when at last judgment
was delivered, it took the necessary form of condemnation.

I saw now that unless a man is prepared to discard every western usage,
to slough off his inherited cast of thought, to renounce his faith,
wholly and finally to abandon his country and his father's house, his
flight is but the blind expedient of cowardice or pride. Here and there
may be born one who can so cut himself off from the parent stem as to
endure a fruitful grafting upon an oriental stock, but I knew that I at
least was none such. I was no more prepared for so uncompromising a
renunciation than any other weakling who seeks prestige by parade of
exotic wisdom, and deems himself a seer if he can but name the Triad, or
tell the avatars of Vishnu, I had not the credulity which may justify
the honest renegade, and the western blood still ran too warmly in my
veins. I felt that were I to stay in the East for fifty years, I should
never reach the supreme heights of metaphysical abstraction whence men
really appear as specks and life as a play; therefore to remain was to
avow myself a runaway and to live henceforth despicable in my own eyes.
For over the unfathomable deep of oriental custom the torrent of our
civilization flows unblending, as in the Druid's legend the twin streams
of Dee flow clear through Bala lake, and never mingle with its waters.
Not for our use is that intricate mind which in logic needs more than
two premises to a conclusion, and in art is intolerant of all void
space, entangling its figures in labyrinths of ornament which Maya
herself might have devised to distract the sight from truth.

The Hindu has the true dignity of contemplation, and superbly removes
himself from the sordid greeds of life. But in imagining and reviling an
abstraction called Matter, he abides in the errors of the first Greek
sages, and mines so far beneath the trodden earth that when he looks up
into middle day he sees only the stars above him. Could I have shared
the eremite's belief that his prayers help not merely his own solitary
soul but all souls travailing through all the world, I might yet have
remained where I was, an alien living indifferent to the common rule,
like a monk of some shunned exotic order. But with convictions like
mine, to do so would have brought the drear sense of derogation. All the
miseries of the past were as nothing to that; there was but one manly
course--to return and gird my loins for a new struggle with western
life. Within a month from the time when this course was seen to be a
duty, I was standing on the deck of a homeward-bound steamer, watching
the harbour lights recede into the distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Back once more in England, I threw aside the clinging robe of
meditation, and falling upon work ravenously, indulged what genius of
energy was still alive within me. I made haste to adore all that I had
so lately burned, making life objective, revering personal ideals, and
in the ordinance of material things finding the truest satisfaction of
all endeavour. I saw in civilization the world's sole hope; its brisk
life and abounding force took sudden hold of a fancy enervated by
dreams. Again I found a new heaven and a new earth, though earth was now
no more than man's dinted anvil, and heaven his reservoir of useful
light. I lived for action and movement; I mingled eagerly with my
fellows, and cursed the folly which had driven me to waste three years
in an intellectual swoon. Now the day was not long enough for work,
Lebanon was not sufficient to burn. I saw the western man with race-dust
on his cheeks, or throned in the power-houses of the world, moving upon
iron platforms and straight ladders in the mid throb and tumult of
encompassing engines. One false step, and he must fall a crushed and
mutilated thing. Yet unconcerned as one strolling at large, he
controlled the great wheels and plunging pistons, and brought them to a
standstill with a touch of his finger. The confidence and strenuous ease
of such life compelled me to marvel and admire, and I who had so lately
lain at the feet of eastern sages, set up this mechanician as my god.
If I looked back at all to the land of dreams, the placid figure beneath
the Tree of Enlightenment took on the aspect of a fool's idol, ignobly
self-manacled, pitiful and irksome in remembrance.

But if once more I dreamed of finality in change I deceived myself,
forgetting that God Himself cannot unmake the past or undo what is done.
A year had hardly gone by in this new apprenticeship to life, when at
moments of weariness or overstrain sharp doubts shot through me and were
gone again, like twinges of sudden pain recalling old disease to one who
has lulled himself with dreams of cure. The feeling of fellowship with
men grew weaker, and as it waned I began to shrink once more from my
kind. I still believed myself happy, but happiness seemed to need
constant affirmation, as though it could make no way in my favour
without display of token or credential to confirm its truth. There were
pauses in the clatter and jangle of life; the revolutions of the great
wheels sometimes slowed into silence; and as these interludes grew more
frequent, I caught myself repeating that I really was content. The faint
assurance given, I flung myself with devouring industry upon my allotted
task, trying to stifle the forebodings which prophesied against my
peace.

In one such pause my old self appeared before me again, like the face of
an ancient enemy looking in from the darkness; stealthy footfalls which
of late I had so often seemed to hear were now referred to their true
cause as we saw each other eye to eye. The old Adam had awakened and was
come for his inheritance; and the vision of him there across the pane
gazing in upon his own, seemed to arraign me for disowning a brother and
denying his indefeasible right. I recognized that with this familiar
form cold reason had returned to oust the hopes and emotions which had
usurped her office. My rush for freedom had ended, as such sallies often
do, in exhaustion, capture and despair; upon the thrill and thunder of
the charge followed the silence of the dungeon and the anguish of
stiffening wounds. The truth, so simply written that a child might have
spelled it, lay clear before me: I had left reformation till too late. I
was too old to change.

Even a few years before, I might have dashed out, like Marmion, from the
prison-fortress; but now the opportunity was past and the portcullis was
down. My character with all its faults was formed within me; and the
very years which I had passed in the wilderness, instead of averting the
danger, had set the final seal upon my fate, for when a man has reached
a certain point in life he is intractable to the reforming hand. But
though at last I knew myself beaten, and helpless in the hands of an
implacable power, I fluttered like a wounded bird and sought wildly for
a loophole of escape. I could no longer hope to stand alone against
destiny; that conceit was gone: could I find a comrade to help me
through the press and lift me when I fell? But here the invincible pride
of shyness barred the way, forbidding alike any confession of weakness
or any appeal to man's compassion. I could not bring myself to say: I am
unable to rule my life, do you undertake it for me. Was marriage a
conceivable path of redemption? I had never envisaged it before, but
now, in my desperation, I dreamed it for a moment a possible issue. I
even fixed upon the person who should thus save me from myself, and
beguiled many lonely hours by picturing her charms and enumerating her
noble qualities.

She lived in a country house where I had been several times a guest, and
she had one of those faces which, in Gray's beautiful expression, speak
the language of all nations. Her features had that sunny charm which
thaws mistrust; she was dowered with all graces and sweet qualities; and
you could no more have doubted the immanent nobility of her nature than
you could have dreamed a stain in the texture of a white petal. And with
all her gentleness there was present I know not what sign and promise of
strength, waking in those who saw her an intuitive trust in loyalty of
uttermost proof. She would have flamed indignant against evil, but only
evil could have moved her from that equal poise of soul which made her
entrance into a room the prelude to higher thoughts and finer feelings.
She was naturally kind without consciousness of a mission, neither
seeking to enslave nor enfranchise, but by a silent outflowing of
goodness ennobling whatever company she was in. Nor was her tongue the
prattling servant of her beauty, but a guide of cheerful converse; for
just as she charmed without device or scheme of fascination, so she
possessed the art of speaking well without seeming to have ever studied
it. In the chase after just and felicitous ideas, she could lead or
follow over the most varied fields with the intuition of the huntress
born. With all these excellences, her wit, her sincerity, her ardour for
all things bright and true, she had no conceit of herself but kept her
father's house in gladness and loved the country-side.

To her, in these days of imminent dismay, my thoughts flew out as to a
fair protecting saint; until the inspiration of her visionary presence
wrought in my fancy with such a dramaturgic power, that I seemed to walk
daily with her, and to know all those delicate and sweet propinquities
by which liking passes into affection and affection is glorified into
love. So far did these happy day-dreams carry me, that they brought me
to the extreme of imaginary bliss, and poured out for me the wine of
untempered joy which thrills the hearts of lovers on the verge of their
betrothal. The dreams that followed that magic draught denied me no
convincing touch of circumstance, and projected upon a credible and
familiar scene the bright possibilities to which fate denied a real
existence. The scene was always the same, and the words and movements
which entranced me followed each other with almost religious exactitude
of detail which the adult demands of his day-dreams and the child of the
fairy-tale he loves.

It was always a June afternoon when we went out together, into the
meadows near her home; she moving with fluent grace as befitted a
daughter of the woods, her eyes indrawing joy from all nature, her hair
reflecting rich gold of the sunlight, her whole face lit with the
pleasure of a bright hour; I a mere satellite attendant upon its
central star. We strolled through the four home-meadows, crossed a
high-banked lane and a dingle with a brook running down it, and then
from an open common flooded with sunlight passed into a wood of tallest
beeches. In that cool, shadowy place the sun, searching a way through
crannies in the upper verdure, chequered with patches of silver light
the even mast-strewn floor. The multitude of smooth grey stems rose
aligned like cathedral columns; and the grateful dimness of the wood,
succeeding the glare of day, wakened a sense of purposed protection and
quietude pervading all things, which soothed the mind with the illusion
that this was a sacred spot appointed for an offering of souls. Near one
of those isles of sunlight we lingered; and as she looked up to the
source of light, the movement brought her face near the slanting shaft
of rays, until there was set round it an aureole of dancing beams. It
seemed to me at this part of my dream that there came to both of us some
gracious influence, for as her eyes met mine they dropped again, and
were fixed for a moment upon the wild flowers she carried. Then my heart
began to beat and my whole being to grow greater: impassioned words, to
that hour unconceived, came rushing to my lips; the fire and glory of a
new manhood were kindling in me to the transformation of my
nature--when, in the very moment of utterance, a sheer barrier of doom
descended between me and my joy; the fire was quenched, and my soul was
poured out within me.

To this fatal point my fancy always brought me and no further, that
coming thus to the threshold of the house of joy and hearing the bars
shoot into their sockets I might thoroughly know my ineffectual self and
leave untouched the forbidden latch. So far I came in my dream times
without number; and always on the verge of joy there came that doom, and
the shooting of those adamantine bolts.

Yet all the while I wove it, I knew that this texture of dreams must
soon be drawn aside, and like the curtain in the tragedy reveal at last
the horror concealed within. Such brooding was but the deception of a
reluctant spirit dallying and delaying with any trifle by the way to put
off the arrival at the hill of evil prospect. At last I learned the
lesson of this abrupt ending to the dream at the point of full
disillusion; it forced itself upon me with the power of an oracular
utterance warning me to cease my palterings with fate. My reason now
rebuked me like a stern judge, dissecting all false pleas and laying
bare their weakness. What right had I, now knowing myself incurable,
even to dream of easing my own pain by darkening and despoiling a second
life? The love of solitude was now more to me than even the love of a
wife; it would surely come between us like a strange woman, and fill a
pure heart with bitterness. No smiling hopes of a possible redemption
could annul the immutable decree, and if I disobeyed the warning, guilt
as well as misery would be mine; for he is pitiful indeed who only weds
that his wife may suck the poison from his wounds. If I married I should
stand for ever condemned of an unutterable meanness. So I dispelled my
dreams and looked reality in the face.

It was a dismal prospect that lay before me. Until then the future had
held its possible secrets, its imaginable revelations of change, which,
like the luminous suggestions in dark clouds, allured with a promise of
a brief and penetrable gloom. In my darkest hours I had lulled fear by
the thought of a haply interposing Providence, and drifted on from day
to aimless day nursing the hope of some miraculous release upon the very
steps of the scaffold. But now I was twice fallen; and as a man
abandoned by the last illusion of deliverance calls ruin to him, and in
the new leisure of despair calmly scans the features at which but now he
dared not glance, so I saw as in a hard grey light the true outlines of
my destiny. The wreathing mist, the profound soft shadows, the clouds
with their promise of mutability, were now all gone, leaving the bare
framework of a world arid and severe as a lunar landscape.

I seemed to be sitting in the dust, as in inmost Asia a sick man may
crouch abandoned, while the caravan in which all his earthly hopes are
centred goes inexorably upon its way. The blue sky flushes to deep
purple before him; night falls; all colour is swallowed up in darkness,
until the jingling camel-bells receding up the pass cross the dividing
ridge, and for him the last silence is begun. Such then was the end of
youthful ambition: for food a mouthful of ashes instead of the very
marrow of joy; for home not the free ocean, but a stagnant pool ringed
with weeping willows, a log's fit floating-place. Here to float, marking
the weed creep onward until all from bank to bank was overfilmed, and
there remained no clear water of space for reflection of a single star:
to float, and feel the sodden fibres of life loosening in slow
decay--this was to be the last state of the seedling which had sprung up
on the mountain slopes with promise of mighty stem and overarching
branches full of sap like the cedars of the Lord.

My life henceforth was to be ringed round and overhung with so heavy an
air that joy and fancy should never fly in it, but fall dead as the
birds above Avernus according to the ancient story. I seemed to see
nothing upon the path of the future but the stern form of Renunciation
drawing between me and the living world the impassable circle of death
in life, the _ultima linea rerum_. It was the last decree, the
irrevocable sentence, the absolute end: and I had not yet reached half
the Psalmist's span; I had not yet forgotten the lost summer mornings
when the breeze scented with lilac came blowing through the casement,
bearing with it the sound of glad voices welcoming the day.

Philosophers are prone to gird at the animal in man, accusing it of
dragging the soul down to the mire in which it wallows. They forget that
by its brutal insistence upon physical needs it often preserves from
madness, and timely arrests him who goes like a sleep-walker upon the
verge of the abyss. Weariness and hunger are like brakes upon the car;
they stop the dire momentum of grief, and insure that if misery will
again drive us furiously, she must lash winded steeds anew. But what
force should stay a disembodied sorrow, which unbreathed by period or
alternation of despair, should be rapt onward in the whirlwind and the
hurricane, gathering eternally a fresh impetus of woe? Let us rail at
the body for its weakness if we will, but prize it also for its
restraint of the distracted mind. In the worst hour of my dejection it
was the body which called the lost reason home. I became hungry and ate,
hardly knowing what I did; I slept exhaustion away; and after many hours
awoke with clearer eyes, grateful to the weak flesh, and ready in its
company to face life once more, a defeated but not a desperate man. I
was glad to be thus reminded that the body could play this helpful part,
and my gratitude for its timely rescue taught me in after days to endure
its tyranny with a better grace. In the interlude between despair and
new effort, I once more turned a dispassionate gaze upon myself, as upon
some abandoned slave of a drug; and maintaining an attitude of
half-amused detachment, sought by a diagnosis of my case to establish
the real causes of my failure to lead a normal life.

At the outset I would make it clear that for me the only shyness that
counts, is that which is so deeply ingrained, as to have outlasted
youth. It may, indeed, be physically related to that transient
bashfulness which haunts so many of us in our younger days only to
vanish at maturity, swift as the belated ghost at cockcrow. But unlike
this common accident of growth, it is no surface-defect, but an inward
stain which dyes the very fibres of the being. It may, indeed, be
somewhat bleached and diminished by a timely and skilful treatment, but
is become too much a part of life to be ever wholly washed away. And the
unhappy step-children of nature whose inheritance it is, seldom find a
deliverer good at need; for as the world draws no distinction between
their grave affliction and that other remediable misery of youth, it
will sanction no other treatment than banter or mockery, which does but
infuse yet more deeply the mournful dye. When this fails, it leaves its
victims to the desolation which according to its judgment they have
wilfully chosen; for the most part ignoring their existence, but often
chastising them with scorpion-stings of disdain. Yet the subjects of
this scorn, sufferers as I believe from a hereditary tendency matured by
neglect into disease, deserve a more merciful usage than this, and their
plea for extenuating circumstances should not be too impatiently
rejected. For in them what is to most men a transient ailment has thrown
down permanent roots to draw a nourishment from pain: and he who is
fortunate enough to be whole should think twice before he makes sport of
those in this distress.

To me this malady seems to arise from an antinomy between the physical
and intellectual elements of the personality, from an unhappy marriage
of mind and body, suffering the lower of the two partners to abase the
life of the higher by the long-drawn misery of a hateful but
indissoluble union. When the physical and mental natures in a man are
happily attuned, there is a fair concord in his life and the outward
expression of his being is an unimpeded process, to which, as to the
functions of a healthy organism, no heedful thought is given. If both
natures are of the finest temper, they find utterance in a noble
amiability and ease of manner; if both are coarse in the grain, they
blend in a naïve freedom always sure of itself, the freedom of Sancho
spreading himself in the duchess's boudoir. Between these two extremes
there intervene a hundred compromises by which minds and bodies less
equally yoked contrive to muffle the discordant notes of an inharmonious
wedlock.

In most cases use gives to this politic agreement the peace and
permanence of settled habit; the body proves itself so far amenable that
it is accepted as a needful if uninspiring companion, and its plain
usefulness ends by dulling the edged criticisms of the mind. But
wherever there is a permanent incompatibility too profound for
compromise, an elemental difference keeping the personality continually
distraught, then shyness, in the sense in which I understand it, assumes
its inalienable dominion. The flame of rebellion may smoulder unobserved
while the sufferer is in his own home, but among strangers it will
blaze fiercely, as the mind protests against the misinterpretations of
its unworthy partner. This burning shame is not the proof of a foolish
conceit, as unsympathetic criticism proclaims it, but the visible misery
of a keen spirit thwarted by physical defect. The man who manifests it
is angered with himself because through a physical hindrance he has
failed to take the place which would otherwise be his. He is proud, it
may be, but not fatuous; for shyness as a rule implies a comparative
quickness and alertness of intellect: its exceeding sensibility is
exclusive of dulness; and it is frequently due to the presence in a
reluctant body of a mind endowed with active powers.

Inasmuch as diffidence appears where the subtler formalities of life are
compulsory, it is clear that it essentially belongs to the class called
gentle, for this class alone enforces that exacting code of etiquette to
which our discomfiture is so largely due. Shyness has seldom place in
the patriarchal life where men live, "sound, without care, every man
under his own vine or his own fig-tree," nor among those who, perforce
pursuing a too laborious existence, have no leisure for superficial
refinements. Though here and there you may find a Joseph Poorgrass, it
is rare among the simple; it is not a popular weakness, and therefore
wins no popular sympathy. Such is its first social limitation: it is
almost restricted to the classes which are outwardly refined.

But it has another limitation of equal importance which may be described
as climatic; for this malady is not found in equal degrees all over the
habitable globe. There are many lands where it hardly exists at all even
among the class which is alone liable to it; and in its serious form it
is found only over a small part of the earth. There are many causes
which conduce to this partial distribution. In one country manners are
not minutely schooled, women being held of secondary account, and men
content without subtlety; in another, life is in itself too primitive to
devise the artifices of refinement; in a third, the fundamental disunion
between the mind and the physical organism is prevented by the kindly
hand of nature. For these reasons all the savage world, all the East,
and the whole of southern Europe have little knowledge of the diffident,
and what zoologists would call the area of distribution of the species
is confined within narrow geographical limits.

It is in fact chiefly in the north and west of our own continent that
the haunts of the diffident are to be found, for there alone are all the
conditions necessary to their maintenance fulfilled--a society
sufficiently leisured and wealthy to have elaborated conventional rules
of intercourse, the assemblage of both sexes upon an equal footing, and
a climate which exaggerates the antagonism between the quick mind and
the unresponsive body. Here the cold humid airs have produced a race
with great limbs and great appetites, but compensated these gifts by a
certain unreadiness in the delicate encounter of wits and graces. To
these impassive natures all displays of the personality are distasteful,
and the lighter social arts, seeming both insignificant and histrionic,
are learned with difficulty and practised with repugnance. An
awkwardness of address, in the uneducated almost bovine, becomes in the
cultivated a painful reserve and self-consciousness, reflecting in open
physical distress the uneasiness of the man's whole being.

And among the northern nations which are thus afflicted England has
achieved an undesirable supremacy, having herself smoothed the path of
her eminence by a school system which withdraws her youth from female
influences during the years when the tendency to reserve may be combated
with a certain hope of success. It would ill become one who has never
recovered from the effects of such deprivation to assume on the ground
of his own narrow experience any wide dissemination of similar defects
among his countrymen; his testimony would be received with suspicion,
and he would be condemned as one who to justify himself would drag
others down to his own poor level. Let me therefore place myself on
surer ground by calling as a witness an impartial observer from another
country, one exceptionally trained in the analysis of national
temperament and conduct.

When M. Taine visited England towards the close of the nineteenth
century one of the first things to attract his notice was the
bashfulness which he encountered in unexpected places. He was surprised
to meet travelled and cultured men who were habitually embarrassed in
society, and so reserved that you might live with them six months before
you discovered half their excellent qualities. To unveil their true
nature there was needed the steady breeze of a serious interest or the
hurricane of perilous times; the faint airs of courtliness could not
stir the heavy folds that hung before their hearts. These strong men
could not join in delicate raillery, but shrank back afraid; as if a
tortoise, startled by a shower of blossoms, should withdraw into that
thick carapace which can bear the impact of a rock. There was one who
stammered pitifully in a drawing-room, but the next day sought the
suffrages of electors with an unembarrassed and fluent eloquence, so
proving that his failure came not of folly or cowardice, but from lack
of training in a certain school of fence. He needed the open air for the
play of his broadsword; and to his hand, apt to another hilt, the foil
appeared a woman's weapon. Speaking of high aims and national ideals, he
moved in a large place oblivious of himself; but in the social arena he
tripped with timid steps, like a man essaying an unfamiliar dance. On
the platform he had the enthusiasm and confidence of an orator; on the
carpet he could not string three sentences in any courtly language.

In the North the art of mercurial dialogue, which in the South is a
natural gift, is only learned under favourable conditions, and is often
condemned by those who have it not, as a popinjay's accomplishment.
Immediate cordiality to strangers is frowned upon as tending to divorce
courtesy from truth. It is otherwise with the southern peoples. While
the Englishman conceals his benevolence by a frigid aloofness of manner,
or blurts out friendliness like an indiscretion, the Italian is courtly
without a second thought, and the Frenchman seems the comrade of a
chance acquaintance from the moment when he has taken his hand. They are
amiable without effort in the security of a harmonious nature, and if
they encounter diffidence at all, observe it like an anthropologist
confronted with a survival of primitive times in the culture of a
civilized age.

Taine did not err when he found the home of shyness among the Teutonic
peoples; he saw that it flourishes in climatic conditions acting hardly
upon a vigorous race, and only allowing it to cultivate ease of manner
by effort and outlay, just as they only allow it to raise under glass
the grapes and oranges which more favoured peoples can grow in the open
air. He saw too that this pain of diffidence becomes more subtle as the
progress of culture makes us more sensitive to vague impressions from
our environment, and tunes the nerves to a higher pitch. A shy nature
upon this plane of susceptibility suffers anguish from an uncontrollable
body; and even in peaceful moments the memory of the discomfitures so
inflicted may distort a man's whole view of the world around him. He is
impatient of the wit which demands a versatility in response beyond his
powers, and persuades himself into contempt of those ephemeral arts to
which his nature cannot be constrained. Irritated at the injustice which
places so high in the general scale of values accomplishments which he
cannot practise, shrinking from the suave devices of gesture and
expression which in his own case might quickly pass into antic or
grimace, he withdraws more and more from the places where such arts win
esteem to live in a private world of inner sentiment. As he leaves this
sure retreat but rarely himself, so he forbids ingress to others; and
becoming yearly a greater recluse, he confines himself more and more
within the walls of his forbidden city. The mind which may have been
fitted to expand in the free play of intellectual debate or to explore
the high peaks of idea, loses its power of flight in this cave where it
dwells with a company of sad thoughts, until at last the sacrifice is
complete and the perfect eremite is formed.

But the virile Teutonic spirit does not suffer things to reach this
ultimate pass without stubborn resistance, and this is one reason why
shyness is often so conspicuous, seeming deliberately to court an
avoidable confusion. Over and over again it forces the recalcitrant body
back into the arena, preferring repeated humiliation to a pusillanimous
surrender. People often wonder at the recklessness with which the shy
expose themselves to disaster, forgetting that in this insistence of a
soul under discomfiture, there is evidence of a moral strength which is
its own reward. What discipline is harder than that which conscientious
diffidence imposes upon itself? To stand forth and endure, though every
instinct implores retreat, is a true assertion of the higher self for
the satisfaction of imperious duty. Such deliberate return towards
suffering is no cowardice, but a triumph over weak flesh; and the
awkward strife of diffidence may often prove a greater feat of arms than
the supple fence of self-possession.

Like the physical obstacles, the mists, the snows and bleak winds, which
have hardened the fibre of northern men, diffidence as an obstacle to
ease has its place among the causes of strong character; and those who
appear at a first glance weak and ineffectual as Hamlet, will often in
the light of knowledge be found guided by the most inflexible moral
determination. They see, as in a mirage, peace supreme and adorable, but
may not tread the hermit's path that leads to her dwelling. Only a
religious vow might justify the abandonment of the human struggle, and
even that appears desertion. The stern genius of the North grudges
immurement, even to great piety, remembering that Christ himself
remained but forty days in the desert and then returned to deliver the
world. If he had remained there all his life, and never met the
Pharisees and high-priests, our forefathers would have rejected his law.
For this reason there can be no more rest for the shy than for starving
Tantalus; for this reason my flight into the East had been foredoomed to
failure.

If shyness is thus affected by climate and geography, its birth and
growth are also conditioned by historical causes. Just as it is the
peculiar failing of northern and western peoples, so it is the creation
of comparatively modern times; it had no place among the classified
weaknesses of men until these peoples began in their turn to make
history.

In Greece, where limb and thought were consentient in one grace of
motion, the body was too perfect an expression of the mind to admit any
consciousness of discord; the greater simplicity of a life passed
largely in the open air, left no place for awkwardness in the franker
converse of man with man. Moreover the seclusion of women rendered
unnecessary that complicated code of manners which the freer intercourse
of the sexes has built up in later times as a barrier against brutality
or the unseemly selfishness of passion. In Greece the words of the witty
and the wise could be heard in the market-place; good conversation was
not for the few alone; and the common man might of unquestioned right
approach the circle of Socrates or Plato. The sense of community was
everywhere, overthrowing reserve, and propitious to the universal growth
of fellowship.

In the Roman world things were changed; there were more closed doors and
courts impenetrable of access. Insignia of office, gradations of wealth
and rank, sundered those of high estate from classes which now
acknowledged their own inferiority; privacies, exclusions, distinctions
innumerable, altered the face of public life as the easy _mos majorum_
was confined by the ordinances of encroaching fashion. It was now that
women began to be cast for leading parts upon the great stage of life.
Under the Empire, by the rapid removal of her disabilities the Roman
matron achieved a position of independence which made her, according to
her nature, a potent force of good or evil. It was now that the
intricate threads of social prescription were woven into that ceremonial
mantle which was afterwards to sit so uneasily on the shoulders of
barbarian men.

But the time for shyness was not yet come, for Italy is a sunny land
where clear air makes clear minds, blandly or keenly observant of the
world, and never impelled by onset of outer mists and darkness to tend a
flickering light within themselves. There was melancholy, high and
stately, such as Lucretius knew, when he went lonely among the
homesteads or along the shore; but it was too exalted to be one with
diffidence, for he who will hold the sum of things in his thoughts walks
on clouds above the heads of men, free of all misgiving. Perhaps beyond
the Alps, in some Rhætian upland where Roman dignity was interfused with
old barbaric roughness, the first signs of our malady were perceived and
the first ancestor of all the shy was born. But even yet the time was
not ripe, nor the place prepared. Christianity had to come, turning
men's eyes inwards and proclaiming the error of the objective pagan way.
A new feeling, the sense of personal unworthiness before God, spreading
through the Roman world, now stirred mankind to still communing with
themselves, and sanctioned the stealing away from the noisy festivals of
life. By enjoining a search into the depths of the heart, it encouraged
the growth of a self-consciousness hitherto unknown. It was not always a
panic of contrition, sweeping the joyous out of the sunlight into a
monastic shade, which brought the troubled into a new way of peace, but
sometimes a quiet joy in renunciation, congruous with a timid mood,
leading by gradual allurement to cloisters of shadowy lanes and cells
which were forest bowers. The new faith gave open sanction to evasion of
the banquet, and thus fortified and increased those who loved not the
ceremonial day. The spirit of solitude, no more a mænad, but a nun,
sheltered earth's children in the folds of her robe, and no man said her
nay.

Moreover, Christianity quickened the force of that feminine influence
which Rome had first set flowing through the civilized world, but
diverted the stream from irregular and torrential courses into a smooth
channel gliding amid sacred groves. It clothed woman with ideal grace
and virtue, and perceived in her powers which the virile mind could
never wield. "Inesse quinetiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant, nec
aut consilia earum aspernantur, nec responsa negligunt." So our
ancestors held in the northern woods, and Christianity, purifying and
expanding their belief, fulfilled it with a new perfection.

But this gradual binding of all men's limbs in silken cords of
reverence, making a rude world civil, was now to inaugurate for
diffidence its miserable career. Through the rough deference of the
German camp, through the Provençal code of _courtoisie_, up to the
modern law of fine manners, the drudge and chattel of the primeval tribe
has risen to impose her law upon the modern world. Earth is better for
this finer power, but social intercourse is less sincere. For woman,
having curbed the brute man by conventional restraints of outward
demeanour, has made human intercourse smooth and seemly, but imposed
upon mankind the wearing of unnatural masks. Before the multitude of
locked souls with labels of smiling faces the sensitive nature feels
itself mocked, and is soon distraught. It cannot suffer convention
gladly for an ultimate good, but is chilled by this everlasting
urbanity, which must, it fancies, be compact of irony and conceal a
disingenuous soul.

All this finished science of illusion is like an east wind to the
confidences of the shy, and if they stay within its range they are
blighted before their hearts have time to unfold. They long for a less
biting air, for vernal hours in sheltered dells, where without sheaths
and unguarded the hearts of flowers lie open to their neighbours and to
heaven. There was once a simple day when religion set hearts
interflowing, but now it can melt them only within the precincts; the
fire which is carried from the altar is dead at the church door. The
brotherliness of those early days is indeed often found in humble walks
of life, but these we cannot continually tread, because our intellectual
and artistic tastes find there no sufficient nurture. Among the cultured
a cold convention often reigns, behind which only a more persistent
nature than ours can pass. Unless, therefore, we find our way into some
circle of gentle scholars or lovers of the beautiful quite simple in
their tastes, a thing possible but not often granted by a niggard
fortune, we are perforce thrown back upon our own company, and move
towards the grave alone. For this we accuse none; nothing is more at
fault than our own constitution. But to us society is a school of dames,
who are not to be blamed if amid the crowd that clamours for their
teaching, they find no time for the backward scholar. We are the dunces
of the school, and are dismissed without learning the accomplishments
set forth upon the prospectus. That is why in our northern streets so
many seeming hats are cowls.

In England the loss of congenial intercourse is perhaps more certain
than in other lands. For through his national reserve the
highly-cultured Englishman has a cold perfection of good breeding to
which heartiness is vulgarity; he emanates intimidation, and in courtesy
is rather studious than spontaneous, seldom genial but in an ancient
friendship. If you knew him to the concealed heart, and were suffered to
assay the fine metal beneath this polished surface, you would win a
golden friendship; but only on a desert island would he permit the
operation. To the shy who may encumber his path his bearing seems marked
by an indifference which they magnify into aversion, and are thereby the
worse confounded. In a land where such convention reigns they go through
life like persons afflicted with a partial deafness; between them and
the happier world there is as it were a crystalline wall which the
pleasant low voices of confidence can never traverse.

I say, then, that the real, the enduring shyness is that inveteration of
reserve to which a few men in a few countries are miserably condemned.
Others know it as a transient inconvenience, as the croup or measles of
childhood; but in us it is obstinate and ineradicable as grave disease.
If out of the long frustration of our efforts to be whole some strain of
bitterness passes into our nature; if sometimes we burn with unjust
resentment against the fate which, suffers such lives as ours to be
prolonged, let it be remembered in extenuation that to those who bear a
double burden human charity owes the larger kindliness. For though like
you we bear our share of common troubles, O happier men and women, the
common pleasures and compensations which are as wings upon your
shoulders are heavy packs on ours. The cheerful contrasts are for you
alone; for us the bright threads interwoven in the dark stuff of life
were faded before they reached the loom.

You who have the friendships and affections without which you would not
care to live a day, think more kindly of those to whom the interludes of
toil are often harder than the toil itself. Of your charity believe our
fate ordained and not the choice of our own perversity; for what man
born of woman would choose a path so sad, were there not within him some
guiding and possessing devil which he could in nowise cast out? Never
will in maddest hours of freedom consented to such doom; we were
condemned at birth, our threads were spoiled upon the fingers of the
Norns.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such in its broader outlines seemed the infirmity which had grown with
my growth, and now had to be reckoned with, like the bridle of Theages,
as a permanent hindrance to a reasonable happiness. Old hopes lay
shattered about me--well, I had to pick up the fragments and piece
together a less ambitious ideal.

I will not linger over the forces which helped my resolution, the great
and general remedies which come to the relief of men in like evil case.
Religion, philosophy, art, science, literature--all promised their
anodynes against despair; slowly they stirred in me anew those springs
of interest in life which disillusion seemed to have choked for ever. I
rose up, and looking round upon the world saw that it was still good;
and there came into my memory brave words which a golden book puts in
the mouths of its indomitable knights: "I will take the adventure which
God shall ordain me." I now perceived that if evil fortune had unhorsed
me it had yet left me endurance to continue the combat on foot. My
second failure was more final and disastrous than the first discomfiture
in earlier life, but now the plague of pessimism was stayed by a
greater recuperative power. Those long hours of the long eastern day,
spent under the verandah with books of many ages and languages, had not
been altogether fruitless; they had helped to mature a wider and more
catholic taste than that of restless youth, the kind of culture that
brings not rebellion but peace.

In my eastern watch-tower I had re-read the great books from a new point
of vantage, and let the eye roam over fields of literature which lie
beyond the undergraduate's bounds; by a still permeation of fine
influence, my crude philosophy was unconsciously mellowed, as the
surface of ivory, according to Roman belief, by the bland air of Tibur.
For by the mere being in an atmosphere of serenity our nature grows
porous to gracious influences streaming in we know not how or when, and
taking their abode in our very grain and structure. And so without
consciousness of good desert, I found myself confident in a new
discipline, and looking for the word of command from wiser leaders than
Byron or the youthful Shelley. Queen Mab was now the saddest rhetoric,
and Childe Harold's plaint unseemly lamentation; I had erased from my
calendar of saints the names of apostles of affliction once held in
honour; the Caliph Amurath with his tale of fourteen happy days out of a
long life of royal opportunity; Swift with his birthday lection from
Jeremiah. Rather there trooped into memory with a quiet pomp and
induction of joy, forms of men who, though justified in rebellion by
every human suffrage, remained loyal to the end and proved by endurance
a more imperial humanity. Socrates unperturbed by mortal injustice;
Dante a deep harmonious voice amid jangling destinies; William the
Silent serene in every desperate conjecture--these seemed now the more
perfect captains. If exile had done no more than transfer my allegiance
to such as these, I had not borne the lash in vain.

But at the first setting out upon this later stage I had still mistakes
to make, and the ascent to tranquillity was not to be accomplished
without stumbling. It was the old Roman creed which first drew me away
from fretting memories; in its high restraint, as of a hushed yet mighty
wind, it breathed a power of valiant endurance, and promised before
nightfall the respite of a twilight hour. For stoicism has qualities
which seem foreordained for the bracing of shy souls, as if the men who
framed its austere laws had prescience of our frailty and consciously
legislated to its intention. It is the philosophy of the individual
standing by himself, as the shy must always stand, over against a world
which he likes not but may not altogether shun. And in this proud
estrangement it promises release from all the inquisition of morbid
fears, and an imperturbable calm above the need of earthly friends or
comfort or happiness; it plants the feet upon that path of nature along
which a man may go strongly, consoled in solitude by a god-like sense of
self-reliance. This immutable confidence is the essential power of
stoicism, which does not, like the great oriental religions, tame
personality by ruthless maiming, but teaches it to bear the brunt of
adversities erect, like an athlete finely trained. Its very arrogance,
its sufficiency, perforce commend it to those whose instinct urges to
self-abasement: its lofty disregard of adverse circumstance is medical
to their timidity.

And so in the hour of my bereavement its voice inspired to resistance
like a bugle sounding the advance; its echoes rang with the assurance
that man was not made to be the worm of Eden, darkly creeping in the
dust, but rather its noblest creature, with the light crowning his head
and the winds tossing his hair. And then its strong simplicity, so
masculine and unemotional, was grateful to one now finally dismated, and
so cruelly handled as to have, it seemed, no use for a heart any more.
Better let feeling die than be betrayed by diffidence into the denial of
its true allegiance, or into expressions of the inner life false and wry
as the strange laughter which the doomed suitors in Ithaca could not
control. Though it stifled feeling, the creed of Cleanthes exalted the
intellect, which was all that now remained to me unimpaired; surely it
was the appointed rule for one henceforth to be severed from the
passions and enthusiasms through which humanity errs and is happy.

"The world," the wise Stoic seemed to say, "is twofold in its nature.
Some things may be changed by man, others are by his utmost effort
immutable. God has implanted in you a right reason by which, when it is
well trained, you can infallibly distinguish between the two, avoiding
thus all unworthy fretfulness and all idle kicking against the pricks.
Therefore he has made you for happiness; for the joy of men is an
achievement; and their misery in the coveting of the unattainable end.
If you would fulfil his benevolent design, seek only what has been
placed in your power, frankly resigning all that lies beyond; but be
ever difficult in renunciation; test and sound well every issue, lest
you leave a permitted good undone, than which nothing is a greater sin.
To be loyal, to be contented, to acquiesce in all things save only in
ameliorable evil, this is to live according to nature, which is God's
administration. If you are assiduous in careful choosing, you will learn
at last to make a right use of every event; you will be harassed no
more by vain desire or unreasoning aversion, but will become God's
coadjutor and be always of his mind. So, when external things have
ceased to trouble your spirit, you will no longer be a competitor for
vanities; but, enfranchised from all solicitude, you will have discarded
envy and conceit and intolerance, which are the ill fruits of that vain
rivalry. You will neither cringe before power nor covet great place, for
alike from inordinate affection and from the fear of pain or death you
will be free. Disenamoured of mundane things, you will live simply and
unperturbed, in kindness and cheerfulness and in gratitude to
Providence. Life will be to you as a feast or solemnity, and when it
comes to a close, you will rise up saying, 'I have been well and nobly
entertained, it is fit that I give place to another guest.'"

The strength and mastery thus promised raised my dejected spirits, as
the words of a new and sanguine physician may hearten one who had long
lain stricken yet now dares to hope for the day of recovery. This was a
law which did not denounce the world as illusion or enjoin a cloistral
seclusion upon the mind, but rather proposed each and every appearance
as a touchstone on which the quality of personality should be
unceasingly tried. By the constant application of a high standard to
life, it seemed to implant an incorrupt seed of manliness, and to create
in its disciples that saner mood which holds in equal aversion a
Heliogabalus and a Simeon Stylites. So persuaded, I could join with the
fervour of a neophyte in the Stoic's profession: "Good and evil are in
choice alone, and there is no cause of sorrowing save in my own errant
and wilful desires. When these shall have been overcome, I shall possess
my soul in tranquillity, vexing myself in nowise if, in the world's
illusive good, all men have the advantage over me. For all outward
things I will bear with equal mind, even chains or insults or great
pain, ashamed of this only, if reason shall not wholly free me from the
servitude of care. Let others boast of material goods; mine is the
privilege of not needing these or stooping to their control. I will
have but a temperate desire of things open to choice, as they are good
and present, and the tempter shall find no hold for his hands by which
to draw me astray. I will be content with any sojourn or any company,
for there is none, howsoever perilous, which may not prove and
strengthen the defences of my soul. For I have built an impregnable
citadel whence, if only I am true to myself, I can repel assaults from
the four quarters of heaven. Who shall console one lifted above the
range of grief, whom neither privation nor insolence can annoy? for he
has peace as an inalienable possession, and by no earthly tyranny shall
be perturbed. Bearing serenely all natural impediments to action,
trespassing beyond no eternal landmark, by no foolishness provoked, he
shall become a spectator and interpreter of God's works; he shall ripen
to the harvest in the sunshine and wait tranquilly for the sickle,
knowing that corn is only sown that it may be reaped, and man only born
to die."

The mere repetition of these words, so instinct with the spirit of old
Roman fortitude, roused me to a more immediate resolution than any
other form of solace. There are times when a splendour of exaggeration
is the best foil to truth. The Roman's pride is the best corrective to
the earthward bias of the diffident; by its excess of an opposite defect
it drives us soonest into the mean of a simple and manly confidence. It
is better for us first to repeat, "Dare to look up to God and say: Make
use of me for the future as Thou wilt, I am of the same mind, I am equal
with Thee.... Lead me whither Thou wilt," than to dwell upon such words
as these: "It is altogether necessary that thou have a true contempt for
thyself if thou desire to prevail against flesh and blood"--or these:
"If I abase myself ... and grind myself to the dust which I am, Thy
grace will be favourable to me, and Thy light near unto my head.... By
seeking Thee alone and purely loving Thee I have found both myself and
Thee, and by that love have more deeply reduced myself to nothing."

This supreme abnegation may leave the saint unharmed, but it is ill
fitted for those who droop already with the malady of dejection. The
divine wisdom which knows the secrets of all hearts and their
necessities infinitely various, shall exact obedience according to no
adamantine law: it loves not the jots and tittles of formalism, nor the
pretensions of those who would cast all things in one mould. From those
made perfect, from the saints whose links with earth are almost severed,
whose sight begins to pierce gross matter through, it may accept
prostration and endless contrite tears, knowing that to these, upon the
very verge of illumination, the forms of slavery have lost their
vileness. But to those who are still of earth and can but conceive God's
fatherhood according to earthly similitudes, it will not ordain a prone
obeisance. Such it will require to stand erect even in contrition, in
that posture which is the privilege of sons. We who are unperfected
affront God supposing him pleased with the prostration of his children.
It is the ignorance of a feudal age that ascribes to him a Byzantine
love of adulation; but that age is no more, and he disserves the divine
majesty who imputes to it a liking for the _esprit d'antichambre_.

I did not need to dwell upon my weakness and misery but rather upon the
grandeur of humanity, whose kinship and collaboration God himself does
not reject. The Stoic phase was a useful stage on the road of
convalescence, and the majestic words of Epictetus more helpful to a
manlier bearing than the confessions of the saintliest souls. If, as is
not to be doubted, there are others who seek an issue from the same dark
region where I wandered, I do not fear to point them to the Stoic way,
which like a narrow gorge cold with perpetual shadow is yet their
shortest path upward to the high slopes lit with sunlight. Let them
enter it without fear and endure its shadows a while, for by other ways
they will fetch a longer compass and come later to their release.

But when some interval had passed I became aware that this cold ideal
was not the end, and that out of the gall of austerity sweetness should
yet come forth. Wise men have said that all great systems of ethics
meet upon a higher plane, as the branches of forest trees rustle
together in the breeze; for though in the dark earth their roots creep
apart, their summits are joined in the freedom of clear air. As I now
struck inland from the iron shores of shipwreck, my heart warmed to a
brighter and softer landscape, and with Landor I began to wish that I
might walk with Epicurus on the right hand and Epictetus on the left.
With a later thinker I reflected that if the Stoic knew more of the
faith and hope of Christianity, the Epicurean came nearer to its
charity. For it is true that Stoicism commands admiration rather than
love. It was indeed too harsh a saying that "the ruggedness of the Stoic
is only a silly affectation of being a god, to wind himself up by
pulleys to an insensibility of suffering": that is the judgment of the
bluff partisan, so shocked by the adversary's opinions that he feels
absolved from any effort to understand them. But even those who in
extremity have been roused to new valour by the precepts as by a Tyrtæan
ode, for all the gratitude which they owe, will not impute to their
deliverers an inhuman perfection. The Stoic does in truth wear a
semblance of academic conceit, as though related to God not as a child
to its father, but as a junior to a senior colleague. And with all its
sufficiency, his philosophy seems too Fabian in its counsels; it is
always withdrawing, passing by on the other side, avoiding battle--so
that as a preparation for the uttermost ordeal it will often prove
inferior to the reckless pugnacity of a narrow zealot.

Then, too, it acts like a frost not merely upon personal, but upon
national ambition, and so keeps the wellspring from the root. Its
assumption of a superhuman fortitude accords but ill with scientific
truth, for if with one bound every man may become as God, he will
despise that infinitely slow upward progression which is the only real
advance. But, above all, it lives estranged from tenderness, in which
alone at certain hours of torment the distracted mind finds God's face
reflected. It preaches renunciation of all vain aversions and desires;
but it repels sweet impulses that are not vain. By exalting apathy in
regard to personal suffering, it becomes insensible to others' pain
also. In the conviction that appeals for sympathy are avowals of
unworthiness, it will have no part in the love of comrades, and it never
discovered the truth that the strength and the compassion of the Divine
are one perfection.

There is a favourite mediæval legend depicted in one of the windows of
the cathedral at Bourges, which exposes in a characteristic fashion this
weakness of the Stoic's creed. The Evangelist St John, when at Ephesus,
remarked in the forum the philosopher Cratinus giving a lesson of
abnegation to certain rich young men. At the teacher's bidding the
youths had converted all their wealth into precious stones, and these
they were now bidden crush to dust with a heavy hammer in the presence
of the assembled people, that so they might make public profession of
their contempt for riches. But St John was angered at so wasteful a
renunciation. "It is written," he said, "that whoso would be perfect
should not destroy his possessions, but sell them, and give the proceeds
to the poor." "If your master is the true God," replied Cratinus
scornfully, "restore these gems again to their original form, and then
they shall be bestowed according to your desire." St John prayed, and
the precious stones lay there once more perfect in all their brilliance
and splendour. The moral of the old tale is clear--that all virtue
without charity is nothing worth; and that of virtue without charity,
the Stoic's cold renunciation is the chief type and ensample.

The insight into this higher truth did not come by inspiration, but was
gradually imparted during long summer days, when I wandered from dawn to
dark among the fields and woods. Hoping at first no more than to tire
the mind with the body and so win a whole repose, I became by degrees
receptive of a new learning from nature, which created new sympathies
and kindled fresh ambitions. Naturally I again read Wordsworth, and now
for the first time since childhood I knew what joys intimacy brings. I
was one of a brotherhood, and wherever I went was sure of a friendly
salutation. Things that grew in silence became my friends; I was with
them at all hours, in light and shadow, in warmth and cold, watching
their gracious and responsive existences, which reject no good gift, but
radiantly grow towards the light while it endures. Insensibly the spirit
of this gentle expansive life was infused within me, until the heart
which I had deemed useless and outworn, began to open like a flower
scathed by frost, at the full coming of spring. The plants and trees
were human to me, the brooks spoke with articulate voice; by that
ancient witchery of animism, old as the relationship of man and nature,
I was put to school again: until at last, absorbed in the vicissitudes
of small things and surrendering reason to a host of pathetic fallacies,
I was taught the great secret that life may not be centred in itself,
but in the going out of the heart is wisdom. And as among human friends
there are some to whom a man is bound by deeper and tenderer links than
to the rest, so it is with these other friends which have no language,
but only the wild-wood power of growing about the heart. Among their
gracious company each man will discover his own affinity, and having
found it will look on the rest of nature with brighter eyes. Some learn
the great lessons from mountains, lakes, and sounding cataracts; others
from broad rivers peacefully flowing to the sea. To me there spoke no
such romantic voices. My wanderings led me through a country of simple
rural charm, and the friends that became dearest to me were just our
English elms.

Who but the solitary, artists alone excepted, understand the full charm
of elms in an English landscape? To us there is an especial appeal in
their loneliness, as they range apart along the hedgerows, embayed in
blue air and sunlight which do but play upon the fringe of your huddling
forest. See them on a breezy August morning across a tawny corn-field,
printing their dark feathery contours on a blue sky and holding the
shadows to their bosoms; or on a June evening get them between you and
the setting sun, and mark the droop and poise of the upper foliage
fretted black upon a ground of red fire. Here are no cones or
hemispheres, or shapeless bulks of green, but living beings of
articulated form, clothed in verdure as with the fine-wrought drapery
that enhances rather than conceals the beauty of the statue.

Or at a still later hour, over against the harvest moon, see them rise
congruous with the gentle night, casting round them not palls of ominous
gloom, but clear translucent shadows sifted through traceries of leafage
which do but veil the light. And what variety of form and structure
sunders them from other trees, what irregular persuasive grace. Some are
tall and straight, springing like fountains arrested in the moment when
they turn to fall; others bend oblique without one perpendicular line,
every branch by some subtle instinct evading the hard angles of
earth-measurement as unmeet for that which frames the sky; others again
spread to all the quarters of heaven their vast umbrageous arms. No
trees are so companionable as the elms to the red-roofed homestead which
nestles at their feet and is glad for them. Seen from a distance, how
delightful is this association, how delicate the contrast of tile and
leaf and timbered barn, each lending some complement to the other's
fairest imperfection. Perhaps there will be a whole line of distinct
trees, and then you will see as it were a cliff-side of verdure in
which, beneath the billowy curves of lit foliage, there open caverns and
cool deeps of shadow fit for a Dryad's rest.

To know the elm-tree you must not come too near, for it too is wild and
does not reveal its nature lightly; you may be cooler in the shadow of
the beech or stand drier beneath the red-stemmed leaves of the sycamore.
Yet it suffers the clinging ivy; it was beloved of poets in old days,
and painters love it still. It has not the walnut's vivid green nor the
rare flush that lights up the pine-stem. Its leaves are rough and of no
brilliance; its bark is rugged also. But in life the familiar guardian
of home meadows, it has stood by our fathers' landmarks from generation
to generation, and when fallen and hewn and stacked it sheds a
fragrance which, wherever perceived in after years, brings back memories
of wanderings in deep lanes and of the great dim barns where we played
in childhood. In the dull winter days when only yews and cypresses wear
their leaves, I sometimes wander to a place whose walls are hung with
the works of many a seer and lover of elms; there seated before a few
small frames I give them thanks for having read the dear trees truly,
and glorified a close and barren gallery with all the breezes and
colours of the fields: I am beyond all noise and murkiness, walking in
the peace and spaciousness of unsullied air.

To a mind now happily reverted to the primitive confidence in souls
everywhere indwelling and creating sympathies between all things, the
bonds of kinship between man and nature were drawn ever closer, and it
seemed a wholly natural belief that the changes of the visible universe,
affecting things which lived an almost personal existence, should be
instinct with the deeper meaning of events in the drama of human
existence.

Like the every-day life of men with its imperceptible attritions was the
insensible growth and decay of things; as the tumult of his emotions
were the storms and catastrophes that convulse the face of nature. The
movement never ceased; the transforming power was never wearied; the
spectator had but to give rapt attention, to be carried beyond his poor
solicitudes to a participation in elemental processes of change in which
the fates of humanity were mysteriously involved. The thought of this
indissoluble union kept alive the sense of brotherhood within me, of
responsibility in life, of interest in all that happens; and whether it
was the daily contraction of a pond in drought, or a battle of ants by
the wayside, or the first tinge of autumn upon the woods, all was
ennobled by symbolic relationships to man's experience, which in the
unceasing flow of their perception were lustral to a solitary heart,
without them choked and stagnant.

There was a certain heath-clad ridge which like a watch-tower set above
a city never failed to bring before the ranging eye some vision
pregnant of those emotions by which the sense of humanity is quickened
to a deeper consciousness of itself. The witchery of space was there
always, and seemed to draw from the soul the clinging mists of her
indifference. It was there that I saw nature in all her moods, and felt
that to each my own moods responded; there that despondency, imagining
her monotony of woe, was confuted by the saving changefulness of created
things. I remember one day, when a summer storm was spending its fury, I
stood upon this ridge and looked across the low lands that stretched
away beneath me. They lay with all their boundaries confused by a pall
of purple gloom, then darkly transparent, and dissolving before the
returning sun, whose penetrative influence was felt rather than actually
perceived. As I gazed, high in the veil of cloud there began faintly to
gleam a spot of palest gold, so high that it seemed to belong to the sky
and to have no part in an earthly landscape. Gradually it expanded, grew
more vivid, and assumed form, other forms and tints emerged beside it,
until at last it was revealed as a ripe corn-field on the high slopes
across the valley, and before many moments had passed, a long line of
downs stood out in the pure air with a sculptural clearness, as if
during the storm all had been uprooted and moved a whole league towards
the spot where I stood. While the rainbow spanned the plain, and the
thunder still rolled in the distance, all the opposite heaven cleared
almost to the furthest horizon; but there a remoter range yet lay
half-covered by a billowy mass of clouds, like the hull of a dismasted
ship in the folds of her fallen sails. At last even this trace of the
battle was gone; the sun shone unopposed; the wet lands and clear sky
were lit with an intenser brightness for their transient eclipse.

Then the humanity of all these things was borne in upon my mind, and I
was affected by these vicissitudes shadowing forth the destiny of man,
and reminding him in their beautiful and majestic procession that nature
endures no perpetual gloom. The sudden ruin of a bright day in deluge
and darkness and sonorous thunder, the timid reappearance of faint
light, the natural forms strangely emerging from the perplexed wrack
infesting the heaven, and at last seen as never before through leagues
of pellucid air; the thunder's silence, the final and supreme triumph of
light;--these swift yet utter revolutions of the visible world, by very
grace of mutability, were rich with instant consolations for the soul's
misgiving. They served to remind me that the fears, the spiritual
conflicts, the darkness that seems eternal, are mere incidents of a
summer noon and leave behind them a purer and serener day. Through all
this close intercourse with nature my mind was being prepared for a
healthier relation to my fellow-man, and my heart saved from the
petrification of melancholy self-regard. The ever-growing delight in
these inanimate things, the constant discovery of new charms as
knowledge widened with experience, united to prevent stagnation and
despair; they kept heart and mind alert for the perception of new
glories; and it is from a clear sense of their salutary power that I
dwell upon them in this record of a self-tormented life. How should he
find life colourless whose eyes are often fixed upon the sky, who sees
grey zones of cloud flush crimson before the sunrise, and at evening the
wide air richly glowing, moted as with the bloom of plums and the golden
pollen of all flowers?

At the end of that summer I returned to the occupations of life,
appeased and almost happy in this inheritance of new sympathies. And
before long I found that these were themselves but precursors of that
which was to come, and that like the paranymphs who escort the bride,
they did but apparel the heart for a deeper and more abiding joy. They
were busied about me in tranquil hours, and speaking not, but seeming to
wait in gladness for another, they made me serenely expectant also. They
destroyed all sadness of retrospect; they led me always forward; with
faces transparent with the light of an inward happiness they seemed to
promise a vision at each near bending of the way. From glad looks and
gestures assuring imminent joy, I too was charmed into a like faith, and
went on blithely in the confidence of a coming illumination. Nor was
that hope vain, for at length the mystery was made plain, and one day
they brought me exulting into the presence of the Ideal Love.

There is a place in every heart which must be filled by adoration, or
else the whole will grow hard and wither like a garden whose central
fountain is grown dry. And though the affection of mortal man or woman
may abandon it, there remains yet this other love which by pure and
strenuous invocation may be drawn to it, and dwell in it, to the
ennoblement of life; so great is the care of providence for mortal need.
Love is our need, and it is given, if we despair not of it, even to such
as have rarely felt the glow of earthly passion. For love is of many
kinds; yet the palest and most subtle of its forms are made real to
those who believe, and may become the guiding influences of their lives.
Such are the visions of the ideal love to which those glad natural
sympathies now led me, leaving me alone awhile that I might worship the
orient light. And when I came out from that presence I rejoiced indeed,
for the path was clear for my return, and life was now glad with promise
like an orchard burgeoning with white blossoms. Old memories crowded
back on me of hours beneath the cedars with the Phædrus and the Vita
Nuova, hours made happy with intellectual and austere delights. But now
the joy was other than intellectual, though significant tenfold, for
then in untried youth I had wondered at the beauty of an imaginary
world; now with eyes that had looked on desolation I perceived that
these visions were true. For had they been no more than airy fancies,
they surely had not endured throughout these long ages in our laden and
mortal air.

It was not merely the beauty of a literary setting which had preserved
them: the craftsman's skill might indeed have enhanced their natural
splendour, but it could not have alone inspired them with this perennial
life. The gem with fire in its heart outlives the delicate setting;
though it may be maltreated and buried for centuries by the wayside, it
will come to light when the gold that framed it is long battered or
lost, and will be desired by new generations for its inherent and
unalterable beauty.

Not Plato's or Dante's creative power, but truth surviving all
incarnations of genius, has kept this celestial gem aglow: they have but
celebrated that which was never mortal, and guided wandering eyes to
heaven's most beautiful star. This intangible and unincarnate vision
exacts more from its votaries than the love which walks the earth:
holding the lover ever in the strain of apprehension, it inures him to
unwearying worship, and itself moving in regions incorruptible, never
loses the glory of its first hour. The years may pass, but one face,
like a hallowed thing, abides continually; years may fret and corrode
other ideals, but to this they add beauties of ever fresh significance.
The auroral glow is always round it, brightening the world, until it
becomes an emblem of illumination and the symbol of eternal truths. This
visionary presence wakes aspiration to new effort and touches the
intellect with passion; beleaguered thought sallies out with new
strength, and the frontiers of darkness recede before it. From this
comes the quickening of the heart without which hope wanes and the mind
is barren: the deep pure joy of contemplation awakens all that is best
in the soul, which goes towards it on tense wings of desire. And as with
time it draws further from the earth, and, following, the soul essays
ever higher flights, it is often poised at a great height as in a trance
of motion, whence it looks back upon the world it has left, and round it
upon other worlds. Then, its love-range being wondrously expanded, it
sees beyond that visionary countenance, which dissolves and forms again
like a delicate wreath of mist; and clear starlight falls upon it from
every side, so that all shadow is destroyed. And when it returns to
earth again, and is forced to contemplate meaner things, it is now aware
that the very soil is compacted of dust of stars, and that he who looks
listlessly upon creation is unworthy of the human name. And so
continually flying forth and returning, it weaves endless bonds between
the infinitesimal and the infinite, forgetting how to despise, which is
the heavenly science.

All this ardour is awakened and sustained by love, which began in sense
and is now transformed. Through each succeeding change it is known for
the same divine power which has so attuned the body that it vibrates no
more to desire alone, but is now become resonant beneath a faint and
spiritual breath.

It is an old story that love is sightless, but that is the love which
romps among the roses and is blinded by their thorns. There is another
and a better tradition that love's eyes pierce heaven, and this is a
great truth; for infinity is cold and vaporous until man projects upon
it his mortal ideal, his conception of an earthly love transfigured.
When this beloved guide appears throned above him as in the clouds, he
dares to lift his eyes, and there he reads through its light the divine
purports of his existence. Is it a small thing to stand, though but for
a moment, searching infinity undismayed? This is the celestial ocean to
whose shore he is come; and now "drawing towards and contemplating the
vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and
notions in boundless love of wisdom, until on that shore he grows and
waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single
science, which is the science of beauty everywhere ... beauty absolute,
separate, simple, everlasting, which without diminution, without
increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever growing and perishing
beauties of all other things."

To some the great perception comes but late, rising from the ashes of
love's common furnace. But they whose hearts have never been consumed in
these roaring flames may find it earlier; and purged from all taints of
jealousy and covetousness, may pass straightway into the bliss of a
higher union. This is that supreme affiance and espousal of the soul
wherein they may be released into a larger air, undelayed by the
earthward longings and gradual initiations of seemingly happier men.
Thus its servants do not decline into slothful service, but are
strenuous always; raised above the acquiescence of use, they never know
the cloying of fruition or suffer the barbarian conquest of
indifference. Their soul is unaffected by material circumstance or
misfortune, and illuminates their lives as often as in the silent hour
of meditation they concentrate their thoughts upon its grace. The cup of
earthly love, even the noblest, is often dipped in Pyriphlegethon, and
the draught it offers scathes the palate until its finest sensibility is
for ever dulled. Those who have quaffed this liquid fire can no longer
understand his mood who leaves the roses and the wine to toil through
deserts in search of limpid water. They think him madly ungrateful for
God's good gifts, a fool abandoning joy proved and present for a shadow
far and incomprehensible. But they who have not denied themselves are no
longer fit judges of him who has renounced. They cannot know that by
this renunciation the senses are thrice refined, and receive as a vital
influence the stellar beam which falls chill and ineffectual upon a
grosser frame. They cannot believe that this love from the infinite
distance wields as mighty a force over renunciant lives as the near
flame of passion over their own. But, for all their denial, it lives and
puissantly reigns. It reigns in very truth predominant, this ideal love
to which space exists not and propinquity is nothing; and it will have
none for its subjects but those who by bereavement or aspiration or
intense purity are inly prepared for its dominion.

Happy therefore are the shy if in the midst of their tribulation they
are guided to the gateway of so bright a kingdom. It may well be that we
must first be led thither by some dear-remembered and virgin form once
almost ours through earthly love, but now joined to us only by an
imperishable and mystic union. Our sight may at first need the embodied
beauty to give it the finer powers by which the revelation of the ideal
grows familiar to us, but is at last attainable without mortal
intervention by an immediate flight of the soul. Until that late day of
enlightenment we must still be set upon the celestial path by a touch
of human tenderness; a pure yet sensuous yearning must be ours when we
are first girded to the ascent. If there are beings which attain the
fulness of the ideal love without the first inspiration of a fair
earthly form I know nothing in creation to which they may be likened,
nor had I ever part in so rare an enfranchisement. The vision that now
entrances my soul first arose from a living, breathing form radiant with
earthly brightness and instinct with every charm which brings men
fawning to the feet of women. The sensuous frenzy which lovers sing was
also mine, the tremor of the heart, the vibration of the very life; the
deep seventh wave of passion rioted through me also. But from the first
amazement of the shaken being it was not given me to pass through
satisfaction into tranquillity; I was held long in a whirl of trouble;
in the anguish of denial I learned initiation into the mystery which is
eternal and supreme.

It is good for some of earth's children that passion should be stayed
before it makes ashes of the fancy; for if it does but touch for a
moment only to be withdrawn for ever, it does not destroy, but by its
meteoric passage kindles the imagination with the glow of an
incorruptible flame. It is with them long enough to brand upon memory
the image which, though never renewed before their bodily eyes, by its
very severance from perception puts on an immortality of virginal grace.
Love is understanding, said the poet of Heaven and Hell, and love
ennobled through renunciant years shall at the last encompass the world.
The sensuous glow that first quickened the heart of youth is transmuted
into a purer fire akin to that which moves the spheres.

To know this truth is their compensation who are swiftly withdrawn from
the warm radiance of earthly love. They are stricken, but before passion
blinds them are rapt into a high solitude, whence, if they truly love,
an infinite prospect is unrolled before them. They know desire; but as
their passion was hopeless in this world, their steps were mercifully
set upon a new path, whereby the bodily semblance of the beloved became
the symbol of spiritual comeliness, alluring the beholder into the
peace of a serene and unworldly mood. A thin and rarefied ideal, you
say, a mirage which no wayfarer can approach: experience rejects these
subtleties, and to these creations of a dream human affection was never
given. True, to hearts established and content in happy unions, to minds
preoccupied with the near cares and pleasures of a home, our distant
visions may appear frail structures wrought in mist by homeless fancy.
But for the exiled heart they are not such, but verities of abiding
inspiration. For the ideal love did not die with Plato, but came again
in mediæval Italy, and who shall say that even our material age has
banished it from the earth?

No indeed it is not dead, the ideal love, but indwells, a redeeming
power, wherever there are desolate hearts and minds to be updrawn and
united by its ministry; a power so lustral in its nature, that no abject
and despairing thought creeps into its presence but is purified and
exalted by its regard. This love brings hope and cheerful constancy;
with a shining falchion it affrights into their natal darkness the
monstrous forms of despair, and lends to all work a secret charm of
chivalry. It sustains that high anticipatory mood to which life is but a
preparation, and the bees buzzing round the honey-flowers seem poor
things toiling for an inessential gain. Because it is mystic and
transcendental it is the predestined guide of all whom fate holds
removed from earthly love. This is the old device of the world's
failures, you say, to trick themselves out in Plato's mantle or the
schoolman's cowl, and conceal their spite beneath the pretensions of the
mystic. But I answer that the causes which moved the Greek and the
Florentine are still at work among mankind to-day; they have never
ceased, however much obscured by the glare of triumphant luxury or the
stress of miserable toil. Often when disillusion has laid bare a soul,
this love which did but slumber awakes to contest with envy or despair
the possession of a wounded heart. I aver that any exile from the
happier earth whose heart is pure, if he invokes this love with ardent
faith, may unbar his door and feel that it has passed his threshold.
Let us never be persuaded that the ideal world is far from this earth of
ours, or that the way to it may not be daily traversed by him who has
submitted to the heavenly guide. Not even the close entanglement of
common cares can avail to keep such an one from his love; but as Bishop
Berkeley is said to have been able to pass in a moment from the
consideration of trifling things to the throne of thrones and the seats
of the Trinity, so this lover shall overpass with easy and habitual
flight the barriers that hold most men life-long prisoners.

For to the Spirit that is chastened and endures there is given a power
of flight and poise, by which, if it abandon itself to the celestial
wind, it may instantly remove from the deeper planes of life, as a bird
by the mere slanting of its wings is carried in proud quiescence into an
upper region of the air. He shall know instant release from the leaguer
of disillusion and vain solicitudes; in the light of one beautiful and
compassionate countenance the unquiet memories of failure shall give up
their exceeding bitterness.

And though the style and instinct of modern life are hostile to such
love, though in prosperity it is ignored and in adversity often
overborne by a vain uproar of lamentation, yet even in a self-indulgent
and furious world it still draws many to the severe exaltation of its
service. We cannot approach the heights where a Plato and a Dante walked
with ease, but far beneath upon the lower slopes we can draw a breath of
new life as we fix our weaker eyes upon the glory which they saw so
near. Although the men who have there ascended are a supreme company, we
may yet presume to follow; for let it never be said that the gods have
reserved for surpassing genius the consolation of which lesser men have
so much deeper need. But he who would reach a serener air must press
forward strenuously; for as a mountain may have one bare and northern
slope, and another sunlit and clothed with verdure, and yet there may be
a path on each side to the summit, so it is with the ascent to this
felicity. One lingers amid pleasant groves and laughing waters;
another, undistracted by the beauty of any lower zone, but fixing his
eyes upon the far summit, crosses the chill rocky slopes, never feeling
the warmth of the sun and only seeing his brightness reflected from the
highest peak. Though the ways of the two travellers lie far apart until
the end, their endurance may be crowned with the same reward; but he who
knew no dalliance and plucked no fruit has from the beginning seen the
goal clearly, and lived steadfastly in its distant promise. And do you
tell me that this is not love or joy, you who saunter in the verdant
southern valleys breathing a present happiness with the perfume of a
thousand flowers? Your way may lead you upward after long vicissitudes,
but endurance will more swiftly fail you for the last most arduous
ascent. Very love is of the heights, and he whose thoughts have long
been thither exalted will breathe with least pain the attenuate upper
air.

To this pilgrimage the diffident are foreordained; it is their happiest
hour when they take staff and scrip and set out in earnest for the
shrine built among the mountains. The gardens of Armida are not for
them, nor the warm breezes fragrant of fruit and flowers; but the vision
of a far peak flushed at sundawn draws them onward, and strength and
peace are increased upon them throughout the great ascent. He is still
too rich for pity to whom renunciation brings these high and enviable
hours.

But the heavens are not opened every day, and the adept of these
mysteries must walk the dull round of common life like other men, not
warmed as they are by the glow of constant friendship, yet cheered by
intermittent flames of remembrance and of hope. The real life of the
diffident is cunningly hidden from those around them, for whom, indeed,
it is wont to have faint interest; but before you who have often sought
me out through fair and foul weather, I may venture to undo the pack of
small resources which brings variety and distraction into lonely days.

Firstly, I still dare to haunt the forecourts of philosophy. Into her
inner courts I may not penetrate, lacking the leisure which her whole
service demands; yet the loiterings which I may still enjoy are to me
like voyages into a foreign country, and give my mind the healthful
enjoyment of change; they are not long enough to bring that whole
detachment from daily life which, in my case, might prove a perilous
advantage. All that I need for common use is a simple rule based on a
few fundamental thoughts to give me a course upon the wayward ocean, and
though it be full of error as the Almagest, yet it shall surpass the
thumb-rules of Philistia. It must be a doctrine which allows imagination
her right and durable career, and therefore not be monist. For
materialism is too wildly imaginative at the start: like a runner who at
the outset overstrains his heart and thereafter runs no more, the
follower of this creed, by his postulate of a blind impersonal Law,
exhausts his power of speed and plods henceforth eyes downward over
flattest plains of dulness. That my mind may remain curious and alert in
isolation, I must conceive in the universal scheme a power that does
not alone impel, but also draws me forward. For were it true that the
sum of things blunders from change to change, swept by blind force into
uncharted voids, I should abandon myself in despair to that hopeless
course, and drift indifferent to the direction or the end.

Let me rather believe that if each several idea is compacted by my
active intelligence out of some vast system of relations, then only a
supreme intelligence akin to man's can brace together the whole system
or universal sum of things. For this earth, yes, and all the complex of
the spheres, exist to me imperfectly as idea alone, nor can I conceive
them any complete existence apart from a kindred but omniscient mind.
Each advance in human knowledge should then be an infinitesimal approach
towards the supreme comprehension; and the aspiring race of man is
justified in that inchoation of long hope which is folly to the single
life.

I would also believe that new relations between things may be detected
not merely by the staid and ordered process of collating abstractions,
which is science, but by swifter and more genial methods of intuition.

    "Hurrah for positive science,
    Long live exact demonstration!"

cried Walt Whitman, exulting over the filed fetters of mankind; and let
us all echo the cry, nor ever forget the razed Bastilles of
superstition. But there glimmers a wealth of truth in the penumbra
beyond our lanterns to which science will creep too slowly without the
aid of imagination. Yet this truth may be seized by swift sallies into
the darkness, and assured to us as it were by some dim apperception of
the soul, when the whole personality is made tense, and subtly
anticipates the cosmic argument. Life is too short to renounce this
daring: the sense of kinship with the All-Consciousness sanctions if not
commands the right adventure.

It was this feeling which led William Blake to exclaim in his impulsive
way, that to generalize is to be an idiot, that direct perception is
all, and the slow process of the inductive reason a devil's
machination. This method of intuition is to the more sober method of
science as the romantic to the classical spirit in literature,
permitting to the individual mind a licence of noble vagrancy. But it
must be a law for the ordinary intelligence to exercise the two apart,
else it will fall into sick fancies of excitement, and by abuse of wild
analogies lose the vital art of balance and sane comparison. Only the
greatest minds, endowed as it were with some divine genius of
extrication, may dare to practise the two together. So Leonardo da Vinci
drove inference and intuition abreast without disaster, and gathered
from purple distances of thought their wildest and most splendid
flowers. To him, as has been well said, philosophy was something giving
strange swiftness and double sight, clairvoyant of occult gifts in
common or uncommon things. The doom of Phæton awaits those who now would
follow that marvellous course; but the poetic observation of
resemblances in things remote, which lent so rich a colour to the
science of the Renaissance, may yet be trained in all our minds; and
the philosophy which trusts in the slow suffusion of the worlds with
intellectual light will bless and encourage its reasonable growth.

Such a philosophy brings also a living sympathy with art. For the artist
ever sees a perfection of truth beyond his rendering, yet always calling
for expression; there is something eternally missed by his highest
effort, and he can never know complacency. The philosophy which
conceives the gradual growth of form through consciousness towards a
perfection infinitely removed, yet in its remoteness drawing up our life
as the moon sways the tides--this surely is the artist's wisdom.
Idealism is like love, {apora porimos}, holding us as it were in touch
with the intangible: it will have us conceive the Absolute without that
helpless absorption in thought which changed Amiel's life from a
fountain to a vapour: it would keep us near the surf and confluence of
things. Its function is not to give any mysterious transcendental
knowledge, but to serve culture "by suggesting questions which help to
detect the passion, and strangeness and dramatic contrasts of life."
And not only to bring suggestions, but repose, by granting to eyes
wearied with minute concerns the contrasts of vast times and spaces, the
majestic idea of the Whole; to change the focus and variously dispose
the perspectives of familiar things.

An old watchmaker, whose window overlooked a wide meadow, used ever and
again to lay down his instruments to gaze out upon the expanse of green,
pasturing upon it a wandering vague regard, and absorbing from it an
assuagement of his wearied senses which, he said, served him more
effectually after these bright interludes. The province of Metaphysics
should be to us as to this wise workman his field; not a place to dream
our days away in, but for occasional resort; in which we may forget the
infinitesimal in healing visions of broad space and colour. I counsel
every lonely man to satisfy what has been described as the common
metaphysical instinct, and according to his powers to become a
metaphysician. There is no discipline which so well consists with
solitude, none which so instantly enfranchises the mind from the
tyranny of mean self-interest or vain and envious polemics. Men do not
grow sour and quarrelsome about the Absolute: everything that is
polemical is inspired, as Michelet once said, by some temporal and
momentary interest. The man who has climbed to the Idalian spring comes
down benevolent. He does not grudge this toiling ant his grain, that
snarling dog his bone, but is content to live serene, in the certainty
that his soul has great provision, and that though all human things are
small, each is worth its while. Into his hand there is given a scale by
which life is known in its fair proportions; a tranquil joy, disturbed
neither by dirges nor Epinician odes, is poured into his heart and
exalts him above distraction. He respects himself as akin to that great
Self whose perfection shall one day be known; he understands the passion
for the ideal through which men die young; he wonders at envy and in the
happiness of enfranchisement would have all men free.

The pages of this Almagest are for the exceptional hour; but daily, as
one bookish from the nursery, I read much in many directions. For if
books are called the best friends of happy men, to the sad they are
saviours also. And when I remember too clearly what I am, I turn perhaps
most often to Lucretius. For of all those who have taken up the pen to
assuage the miseries of men, it is he who sings most bravely of the
great endurance. This austere enthusiast, whose soul was never fused in
the fire of friendship; who went apart, as it were, amid thunders upon
the lonely heights; who, without any lover, yet loved his kind so well
that all the years of his maturity, how short and splendid a period,
were poured forth in one song of human consolation,--this man for all
the madness of his creed, was yet aflame with a wisdom to be called
divine. That calm face, lit with one desire--to drive the furies from
the way and soothe the frightened children of men, is ever among the
nobler countenances which fancy summons about my bed. Over the anxious
heart they flow, those slow cadences, so vibrant yet so magnificently
passionless, until the nerves of pain cease to throb, and fear shrinks
as a taint impossible to the patient of such a physician. It is not his
to intimidate or denounce, to evoke visions of lurid hell, to linger
over dire vaticinations, or apportion to each his grade of torment, but
with cool fingers to smooth the hair back from the forehead, and in
grave, tender accents to say: Sleep now, for it was a dream.

Landor, in a fine passage, compared the merciful tolerance of the Roman
poet with the pitiless ire of Dante, contrasting in respect of the
quality of mercy these two poets, one in their austere perfection, but
so different in their vision of death, and judgment, and ultimate
reward. The seer of lost worlds has written his own defence, and was
indeed but attacked to point the sharp antithesis; but Lucretius, though
he owes it to a literary feint, is very finely praised. And to me it
seems that his compassionate mood increased upon him just because he was
not emulous of the world's gifts or earnest for its pleasures, but
withdrew from the press, and lived out his few great years
contemplating apart the vicissitudes of orbs and men. He did not wait in
ante-chambers or sit at wedding feasts; but severing all entangling and
intricate threads of observance, followed the voice which called him to
solitary places of illimitable prospect. It was not through disillusion
or injustice, or wounded pride, that he walked aloof; but loneliness was
his birthright, and from the hills and headlands to which solitude
allured his steps he saw the dust of mad encounters rise to heaven, and
the rent sails of foundering galleys. He saw, and could not but be wrung
with pity for man deafened to wise counsel by the noise of vanities, and
fiercely conspiring to precipitate his doom. As he went by shore and
upland, there gathered in his mind those resonant hexameters of warning
or consolation, those similes from the life of husbandry and dumb
things, which, set like diamonds in clay, lend to the most arid
arguments their own incomparable splendour, or that homelier beauty
which instantly pierces the defences of the heart. Not diffident as we,
but of a nature so infinitely absent and reserved that in the legend
his wife must concoct a philter to remind him of his love, he is of all
the pagans the best companion for our angrier moods. An archaic and
elemental serenity is upon his language and thought, rebuking our
unprofitable petulance; if emotion gains him he finds utterance in those
tremendous periods "where single words seem to gather out of the deep
and to reverberate like thunder." As the reverberation dies away and the
clouds are pierced by the sun, the world is seen in new lights through
an air clear as upon rain-swept mountains.

As my reading is incessant, so also is my writing. For the happiness of
man is in his fertility, and of barrenness comes the worst despair. To
be happy is to have issue--children, or books written, or things
beautifully wrought, or monuments of goodness to live after you, if only
in the memory of some tiny hamlet of the folded hills. This is the law
of life that Diotima knew, by which flower and tree, animal and man,
fulfil the end of their creation; and man in nothing more surely proves
his lordship than by his many-handed hold upon posterity. For the lower
creation is procreant in one way, but man in many; who may have
offspring not of body alone but of mind and heart, and be so redeemed
from the grim dismay of childlessness. The greatest human happiness is
to be fertile in every way, a thing granted rarely in the world we know;
the next, perhaps, is that of the parent who gives all of himself to his
family, not tilling any field beyond the charmed walls confining his
desire. The author sure of his fame, the born artist, the benefactor of
his kind, are also happy, seeing their offspring grow in years and in
the power of making a brighter world.

But he is miserable who, aspiring to follow these, feels his force wane
within him while he remains yet fatherless; or who has sons stillborn,
or weakly, or dishonoured. I question whether sheer degradation into
evil brings more pain to man than such sense of sterility or frustrate
parentage. But it is no small part of human redemption that none need
know the interminable misery. A man may have neither sons nor genius,
but in the dark hour he can go out and give, if it be only a penny or a
kind word, and on that foundation build a temple to receive his
thanksgiving. To give of yourself is good. This is that grand agreement
and oecumenical consent to which those words _quod ab omnibus quod
ubique_ in deed and truth may be applied. For this reason meanness is of
the deeps, and avarice groans in the lowest zone of hell. And if there
are faces of blank and permanent despair upon your path, be sure that
these are not masks of whole men, but of those who wilfully abstained
from joy and have received the greater damnation. My children are mostly
writings, poor weakly creatures dying inarticulate and unchristened,
tenderly remembered by myself only, but at least no nuisance to the
world. I loved them at their birth, I hold them in remembrance, though
they were ever of a hectic and uncertain beauty.

The comparison of children with branches of the olive is not the mere
ornament of a Bible verse, but the wisdom of one who knew both tree and
child. For as children are bright creatures of swiftly changing moods,
so are the olive leaves in the blue southern air. I once read of an
artist who essayed to paint a group of olives and a cypress growing
before them. Against their silvery leaves its dark burnished form stood
finely mysterious, the contrasting grey lending it a depth of almost
sable colour; all was propitious for his work. Then suddenly, the air
being to all seeming quite still, the grey-green leaves began to shake
and quiver, until each olive tree was like a silver bonfire, tremulous
with a thousand waves of white flame flowing and following along the
branches. It was a revelation and swift effluence of life, perplexing
and full of charm. The brush was laid down, the moment of inspiration
gone, before the capricious leaves ceased their quivering to be robed
once more in grey, casting on the ground that translucent shadow which
tempers the sunlight only, and does not spoil it of its gold. In the end
the canvas was covered, but with a sketch far less true and beautiful
than the painter's first happy vision. Even so of all our children few
attain the perfection of our dreams. While we look, some influence comes
upon them and they are changed, some breeze, born we know not where,
stirs them to their heart of joy while we stand perplexed; innumerable
laughter of leaves, a rushing and a shivering in quick answer to a mere
breath, silence as swift when unperceived it dies away--these are their
replies to our silent invocations. We cannot follow the swift course,
but are quickened with a glad rejuvenescence, the true prize and guerdon
of parentage. They may grow old or die, or bring us sorrow; it is enough
that once they so lived and stirred a pride within us. Let Hedonist and
idealist dispute, let one worship pleasure and another wait on the
intangible joy, but in the fathering and mothering and the bringing up
of young children, of the flesh, the mind, or the spirit, lies the
natural happiness of men and women. It is a joy which outlasts
disillusions; it rests surely upon achievement and deserts which lie
ponderable in the archangel's scales. For it is certain that he who
creates as best he knows best serves God, the world and himself, and
what system of Ethics has conceived a more perfect rule?

All young life is instinct with such a beauty and trustfulness, that
though he himself may have no part or lot in its creation, and be dumb
or awkward in its presence, a man will be the brighter for having
passed, if but for a moment, out of the darkness of his own course into
the radiance within its orbit. To the diffident this is an especial
grace. For children by some deeper intuition understand us as their
parents cannot do; and when all the world is cold will often smile upon
us with happy upturned faces. It is one of my consolations that the
little players in the parks come running to me rather than to others
with their eternal question after the exact hour of day. For I reflect
that though my face grows wrinkled and drawn with years, there must yet
hover something about its ugly surface which tells of a good will
within. There was a time when I found the children's question
importunate, and drew out my watch ungraciously; but now I feel
disappointment if during their hours of play I can walk my mile without
answering one of these high-pitched inquiries.

To have the confidence of children is indeed a thing of which a poor
wanderer may be proud, a credential confirming his self-respect, and
worthy one day to be presented at the gate of heaven. Once during one of
my worst hours of desolation, when I was tramping across the fields, I
found a little maid of seven picking primroses on the edge of an old
orchard. For some time I stood watching, so charmed with the grace of
her movements and the beauty of the spring sunlight on her golden mane,
that I lost all consciousness of present trouble, and beyond her fairy
form began to see vague visions of lost happiness returning. As I stood
thus forgetful and looking absently before me, I suddenly felt a touch
which recalled my scattered thoughts: she had come to me and put her
hand in mine. I think in all my lonely life I never felt so swift a
thankfulness as that which suffused me then: the memory of it is always
with me, and now I never see a happy child engrossed in its little task
of duty or pleasure without thinking to myself there is one of those who
truly have power to remit sins. I will not repeat the fond things often
written about children. Not all of them are like the infant angels of
Bellini or Filippino Lippi or Carpaccio; some indeed are strident, pert,
without charm or candour, not doves but little jays; but for the
loveliness of those who have smiled upon me, whether rich or poor,
whether wild or tended flowers, I shall ever hold the whole company
dear.

Whether I read or write, or go painfully upon difficult paths of
thought, like many other men whom the world dismays, I win a larger
tranquillity and a clearer vision from an increased simplicity of life.
I know that to use the word asceticism of one's daily practice is to
incur the judgment of all those whom the world calls good fellows, whose
motto is live and let live, or any other aphorism of convenient and
universal remission. To them asceticism is the deterrent saintliness
which renounces all joy, and with a hard thin voice condemns the
leanings of mankind to reasonable indulgence. The ill-favour drawn down
by ecclesiastical exaggeration upon the good Greek word {askêsis}, which
means nothing more than the practice of fitness, has prejudiced men
against all system of conduct bold enough to include it in their
terminology.

Kant's chapter on the Ascetic Exercise of Ethics is a fine defence of
that training of the heart and mind which has no affinity with the
morbid discipline of hair shirt and scourge. "The ascetic exercise of
the monasteries," he says, "inspired by superstitious fear and the
hypocritical disesteem of a man's own self, sets to work with
self-reproaches, whimpering compunction and a torturing of the body. It
is intended not to result in virtue but to make expiation for sins, and
by self-imposed punishment the sinners expect to do penance, instead of
ethically repenting." And again--"All ethical gymnastics consist
therefore singly in subjugating the instincts and appetites of our
physical system ... a gymnastic exercise rendering the will hardy and
robust, which by the consciousness of regained freedom makes the heart
glad."

This is sound doctrine, neither ungodly nor inhuman, the word of a man
in whose veins the warm blood yet flowed. Few pictures of venerable age
please more than that of the old philosopher of Königsberg drawn for us
by de Quincey in one of his miscellaneous Essays. There we see Immanuel
Kant, leading his tranquil sane existence, giving his friends sober
entertainment, talking brightly of mundane things, practising "the
hilarity which goes hand in hand with virtue." For me the very
eccentricities of his daily routine have a fascination, and I read them
as a devout Catholic reads many a quaint passage in the _Acta
Sanctorum_. How wise was his nightly habit, as he settled himself in bed
before falling asleep, to asseverate with a sigh of thankfulness that no
man living was more contented and healthier than he! Here is the true
asceticism, the child's glad abandonment to nature maintained and grown
articulate in philosophic age.

To this beauty of plain life I cannot attain. But my own life is as far
removed as may be from brilliant or luxurious pleasures, and I divide my
time between the country and the town. This I do from obedience to
reason rather than fashion; for while the country has my love, the city
is more remedial to my peculiar pain. There the shy man may have what
Lamb called the perfect and sympathetic solitude, as opposed to the
"inhuman and cavern-haunting solitariness," to which his infirmity
inclines. There he and those who rub shoulders with him on the pavement
can "enjoy each other's want of conversation." No creature with a heart
can jostle daily with his kind, but he wins some consciousness of kindly
feeling. The very annoyances and constraints of propinquity are in their
own way disciplinary, and insistent, uncongenial persons, like glaring
red buoys with clanging bells, serve at least to keep us in the fairway
of navigation. And in a city there are voices of cheerful exhortation
always echoing in the higher air above the roar and the trampling, which
in the interludes of coarser sound, or by our removal into some quiet
court or garden, may be heard repeating their stirring watchwords of
endeavour. We are told that no word spoken ever dies, but goes
reverberating through space for ever. It is my fancy that only evil
words escape into the outer void, which eternally engulfs their
profitless message, while words of hope and helpfulness are not thus
lightly sundered from the world that needs them, but hover still near
above us, descending with every lull of the tumult into those ears which
are strained towards them. The laden air of towns carries not the rumour
of the battle only, but by the presence of these fair echoes held within
it, gives back to the soul more health than ever it drew from the body.
With this thought I am often consoled as I go my way through gloom and
clamour and unloveliness, finding a Providence in places which else seem
abandoned in the outer desolation.

Nor is the vast city to be valued only for what it gives, but for its
own wonderful self, an obvious point which need not be expanded into a
tedious circle. The shy will naturally draw more advantage from so rich
a field of contemplation than those who seldom walk alone. In London I
often map out a course of wandering which in its varied stages shall
remind me of the change in progress or decay of particular arts or
industries or different quarters of the town. Reading their meaning in
the light of history, I make bare walls speak to me with a personal
voice. Let any one but acquaint himself with the styles of
ecclesiastical or domestic architecture, or of monuments of the dead, or
with the history of the thoroughfares he frequents, and he will be
pleasantly constrained to reflection upon those who have gone before
him. As he stands in the shadow of an ancient church he will think to
himself: "By this very wall Chaucer may have stood." As he walks amid
the reverberating ravines which are city streets he will say: "Here
along green and silent paths the Roman legionary marched when Hadrian
ruled the world." When once the faculty of observation has been awakened
to a permanent alertness, the desire to be widely read in history of men
and their arts will become irresistible; and through the knowledge
gradually amassed it will be thought a sorry chance if any ramble of
wider compass yield no vision which in comeliness or deformity tells its
tale of changing fortune. To appreciate human work, and the conditions
under which it is born, is to exult in abounding sympathy with this
man's conquest over things poor in promise, or to condole with that
man's failure to do the best that in him lay.

As I walk by the strand of Thames, my fancy sees upon one flood the gay
barge gliding upward to green fields, and the black hull bearing down
the prisoner to the Traitors' Gate. If I go up Holborn, I remember that
where this traffic now thunders John Gerard tended his Physic Garden
when Elizabeth was queen. I know where Sarah Siddons lived; and where
William Blake died; and my curious wanderings are now so far extended,
that when I turn to the great book of London I seldom find a tedious
page. The places where people strove and suffered evoke before me the
forms of men and women dead but unforgotten, and if I am alone I am not
aware of loneliness.

London is the central wonder, but wonderful also in spirit and
suggestion are those old places which ring it round: these I often
frequent at every season, and carry their portraits over my heart. Let a
man once learn to know them, and his memory shall never starve; he will
never forget the hour when first they yielded him up their secret. Many
moments of intimate delight do I treasure in remembrance, moments when I
was suddenly aware that all previous impressions were the poor
gatherings of purblind eyes; but I will only tell you of one, which may
suffice to show what riches lie ever open to those who roam in solitude.

It was mid-April and the close of a cloudless day. I had been to the
Observatory hill at Greenwich to see the sun set over London, looking
for such a transfiguration of the grey city as should reveal its line of
warehouses lying along the horizon in a mist of splendour like the walls
of the New Jerusalem. So I had seen it before, marvellous and refined in
unearthly fire: but to-day, in a sadder mood, and hungering more deeply
for the vision, I looked out to the west in vain. For the wind had set
in from the east, and driven back upon the town a zone of iron-grey
smoke, ragged along its upper edge like a great water blown to spray,
but merging below with those gloomy and innumerable buildings. Upon this
the sun, which all day had ridden in a clear air, was slowly falling,
losing radiance with every minute, until as it approached that gloomy
spray it was luminous no more, but a dull red orb whose light, like a
flame withdrawn into the consumed heart of coals, glows for awhile
beneath a gathering film of grey. In a few minutes it descended, as if
sadly and of resolution, into the murky sea, where for a moment its red
curves seemed to refine the smoke into translucency; but at last the
dun waves gathered upon it dark and voluminous, drowning it so deeply
that the clearer sky above was instantly robbed of the wonted
after-glow. Some pale reflection there was in the upper heaven, ensuring
a time of twilight, but no glory; and smitten with a congruous sadness,
I went down to the river. But there, pacing to and fro as if upon a
quarter-deck, with the water lapping upon the wall beneath, I lived one
of the happy hours of life, redeemed from disappointment, and carried
far into a magical world.

The flood tide, which had turned for more than an hour, was now racing
down wilful for the sea, though the breeze ruffling its surface seemed
to thwart and stay its eager course. And on the surface, indeed, chafed
and broken into innumerable ripples, the wind triumphed; but as one
looked westwards towards the city, it was clear that the sullen strength
of stream and tide had the mastery. For over the broad curving reach,
lit like white unburnished silver with the reflection of the pallid sky,
there glided forward a line of barges each with every red sail set, and
as silent as if they sallied from a besieged city. One by one they hung
out their lights, the lamps swaying and casting yellow bars over the
quivering water, until in perfect silence all passed down before me.
Each in turn attaining the lower bend where the river sweeps northward,
went about and stood for the Middlesex shore; and then for a moment the
wind seemed to overcome the tide, for before the boat could win new way,
lying almost broadside across the stream, the breeze held her
motionless, like a tired bird on a windy day when it flies out from the
shelter of the wood. It was but for a moment, and then the blunt bows
glided forward towards the north bank, and another barge succeeded in
the gathering gloom.

And so it was until all were passed. The departing light drew the
colours from the red sails and the silvery brightness from the river;
all forms became outlined in black upon what uncertain light remained.
Two men put off in a boat from an anchored ship; the mingled sound of
their oars and voices came with subdued tone as if out of an infinite
distance. Then the whole reach lay bare and silent for a while, and only
the little waves lapping upon the stone steps played an accompaniment to
my dream.

The hour and the place compelled to reverie, and memory consenting to
their evocative charm, I peopled the still scene with the forms of those
who had swayed or shared the fortunes of this land; imperious Elizabeth
and gentler Mary, the slight heroic figure with one sleeve pinned empty
on the breast, and all those who, going down to their business in deep
waters or returning therefrom, have saluted with melancholy or with joy
these towers and this wooded hill. I thought of the lads playing beneath
these trees, and so inbreathing the spirit of this place that for them
there was no career but to follow the river down to ocean, and ocean
himself in his circuit of the world. I thought of the veterans returned
from that quest, old Argonauts of a later day, now clustering round the
Hospital fires and perhaps recalling amid tales of havens and high seas
the very morning when they first dropped round the bend and passed into
the new world beyond. For this Thames is such an avenue and entry into
marvellous life that earth can show no greater rival, none more rich in
dignity or in the multitude of its merchandise. And if the flood of that
merchandise shall cease, and the stream once more go lonely to the sea
or carry coracles, it cannot be again as if it had never borne great
ships, or swung the Admiral's galley on its tide.

It is good for an Englishman to stand here and listen to the brown
waters lapping on the old walls and caulked timbers; to hear, as an
under murmur, voices of Lechlade and Bablockhythe, for all intervening
leagues of wood and meadow not altogether lost: before this persistence
and continuity of youth to feel high thoughts stir within him and
solemnize the nativity of new resolve. You cannot feel beneath your feet
these old stones trodden by the great generations of your own blood and
kindred, and not be moved to walk uprightly, to be approved by their
shades as one not unworthy of such descent. For whether such worn
stones be in the aisle of some great minster, or here, paving this
narrow way for hurrying feet, the inspiration is as strong and the
thankfulness not other. For this is a place of meridian, the navel of
our land and empire; the wind searching its alleys has no usual voice,
but as it were a deep and oceanic sound, according with old ballads and
stories of the sea.

I lingered leaning upon the rail until the tide had fallen from the
wall, tracing along the narrow pebbled foreshore a clear marginal line
of irregular contour, now sinuous, now straight, but palely luminous
like a silver tone on some enamel of old Italy, a line drawn by a master
draughtsman, in its inevitable and sure perfection wholly satisfying the
eye. With the dark bank it vanished towards the great city, now marked
in the upper sky by a hovering brightness of light escaped beyond the
smoky rampart to tell the effort of innumerable lamps beneath, all
pouring their blurred and vain effulgence to the disdainful stars.

Moreover, the city will give the shy man all the consolations of art,
philosophy and literature of which his education or experience may have
made him worthy. He can see great pictures or read great books at little
cost, and find in them the truest of friends in need. It is so obvious
that a solitary of any culture will find relief with such companions,
that here I take for granted his resort to their aid, and will only
mention two resources from which the real recluse often draws less
advantage than he might, I mean orchestral music and the drama. Any man
of feeling who hears a great symphony ceases to be self-centred with the
first movement; he goes out of himself, and rides upon waves of sound,
exalted by this majesty of collective effort. No other music thrills his
whole being like this, which sweeps him with all around into the very
course of changing fates. In the confluence of dim hopes and passions
which rise above the harmonies like smoke-wreaths riding the red flame,
the soul glows interfluous with other souls and is elated with the
inspiration of their presence. He bears arms exulting who never had
comrades till now; his will is absorbed in confederate joy and human
force unanimous. In this abandonment of the whole being, the diffident
know their fellows near, and in the ecstasy of shared emotion learn the
full measure of their humanity. Philosophers in all ages have known and
taught the power of music in compelling ten thousand to the love of one,
and so ennobling an infinite multitude in the glow of a common emotion.
Sound was the first instinctive language, one for man and winds and
waters; and music, which is the development of this primeval converse,
leaving to grammars the expression of cold and abstract thought, has
gathered about her in her mountain caverns the echoes of all sighs sad
or passionate, of all inarticulate cries born of aspiration or desire,
and there blended them into eternal harmonies which at her word flow
forth and join the hearts of men.

Indeed, that swift responsiveness of feeling which music thus awakes is
a gift beyond gems of Golconda; not youth's swift effusion cheaply given
and soon forgotten, but the vibration of a heart stirred in sympathy
with some profound note of life, as the dyed pane stirs and quivers
when the organ gives forth its deepest tones. Sentiment is a draught of
old wine passing into the veins and enriching the blood, until in the
generous glow all the privations and the stints of loneliness are
forgotten. Pure emotion is like righteous anger, which may be lawfully
indulged if the sun go not down upon it; and as he who shrinks from all
fire of wrath lives but a vaporous life, so he who will never be moved
is proud of a poor crustacean strength, like the limpet, winning
darkness in exchange for dull stability. As for me, in the propitious
hour when the heart longs for expansion, I give it honourable licence,
and quicken its unfolding by spells of magical words. At such times I
invoke the aid of passionate souls, not shrinking even from the vain,
provided that they loved greatly and give great expression to their
humanity. Such is that wild lover of George Sand whose _Souvenir_, for
all its rhetoric, charms like an incantation. The ancients quenched the
ashes of the pyre with red wine, as if the blood of the god-given vine
could hearten the spirit that yet hovered near. Over my ashes let no
wine be poured, but read me such verses high and valiant, that if my
soul yet lingers undelivered from the earth's attraction it may be
regenerated and set free into a braver life.

And let the lonely man be an assiduous frequenter of the playhouse, for
the drama will also open the world's heart to him, and that by a plainer
and less elusive speech. Seated in the theatre among his kind, he knows
a deeper pleasure than other men; for while to these the changing scene
brings remembrance or anticipation of familiar things, to him it reveals
whole vistas of life which, except in dreams, his feet may never tread.
When the curtain is rung down, and he goes out into the street, for a
while at least his existence is transformed. All those front doors
aligned in their innumerable sequence, which in daylight or darkness he
passes when he wanders alone, are now no longer barred against him; they
open at the touch of his fancy, and he sees within the light of
homeliness, where father, mother, and child weave round warm firesides
their close conspiracies of affection. At last he knows what is passing
behind those bars; like an old family friend he takes his place by the
fire and receives as of right the confidences which in his real lonely
life never find their way to his ears. He helps the lovers to build
their cloudy castles, he reasons away the parents' care, he goes
up-stairs with a shaded candle to look in upon the children sleeping.
Good women unlock the jewel-caskets which are their souls; happy maidens
are sisterly with him; strong men grapple him to their hearts and call
him friend. He that was vagabond has now innumerable homes, and of the
faces that fleet by him out of doors there are always some which seem to
give him greeting.

These secret and unavowed alliances transfigure the unlovely streets,
and light in the cavernous blank houses many a glowing and familiar
hearth. As he goes on, careless of distance or direction, he is now
inwardly busy with fresh and delightful dreams. He plights his troth and
earth is Eden; he imagines brilliant hours for the dream-children who
go by his side, holding each of his hands. And if the visions change,
and sorrow or sin pass in over a familiar threshold, what generous
abnegation, what pity, what righteous wrath does he not know, until the
plastic power of fancy moulds out of this poor recluse a man like other
men. Amid these visionary sympathies time goes quickly by, and returning
to his voiceless dwelling he has stored up such wealth of dreams that he
can even endure the supreme test when the lonely man finds himself
sitting in the wan light with no one near him to whom he is dear. Of the
strength and peacefulness which bring him safely through that hour of
desolation he owes much to the players, who have shot the drab texture
of life with an infinity of bright and tender hues, so that he can bear
to turn it in his hands and look upon it with a wistful pleasure. I say,
then, let the shy man frequent the playhouse, and there facet and
burnish his dulled mind until it reflects, if it may not touch, the
many-sided world.

For the discipline of sympathy, for the quickened sense of comradeship
in work, for the very presence of that unloveliness which compels
sympathy, I dwell more months in the town than in the country-side. But
remembering what Nature did to save me, and owing her an endless debt of
filial duty, I return to her in the summer days, and to make up for the
long months of separation cling nearer to her than most of her truant
sons. For communion with Nature, the ideal joy of country life, is not
attained by the sportsman or the mere player of games, who think of
their bodies chiefly, and use as a means to rude physical vigour the end
ordained for the fine contentience of body, mind, and spirit. Again I
will pass by the obvious and familiar resources of outdoor life, and
speak only of such as men are unaccountably prone to neglect.

There is a way of learning nature which in this wet land is mostly
followed by tramps and vagrants; the way of sleeping beneath the stars.
So far is this joy from the thoughts of most men, that even George
Borrow felt a strange uneasiness when for the first time the darkness
descended upon him in the open country. I think we carry with us all our
lives that fear of night with which nursery tales inspired our
childhood; it reinforces the later more reasoned fear of boisterous
weather, or of the men who walk in darkness because their works are
evil. We shrink from night as a chill privation of daylight, as a gloom
which we must traverse, but not inhabit; the distrust becomes with years
instinctive and universal, and the nearest approach to friendly relation
with night attained by most of us is a timid liking for the twilight
hours. Yet as the sun rises alike upon the just and upon the unjust even
so does he descend, and we put a slight upon Providence if we abandon to
rogues and rakes that wonderful kingdom of the darkness of which by
natural prerogative we are enfranchised. By never using our proper
freedom, we give them prescriptive licence of usurpation, so that the
hours in which the heavens are nearest to us are become the peculiar
inheritance of thieves.

I confess that on the night when first I set out to do without a bedroom
I too felt all the force of the traditional mistrust. I heard human
whispers in the wind, and saw the shadows of walls and trees as forms of
men lurking to spring out against me. The movements of roosting birds
startled me as I passed; the sudden silences startled me more. And when
I had spread my gear on the ground and settled down to rest, the sense
of exposure on every side made sleep impossible; time after time I
seemed to hear footsteps stealthily approaching; and there was a
strangeness pervading everything which to my nervous fancy was simply
provocative of apparitions. This lasted many nights; and whether I
established myself on the edge of a copse, or in the open grass, or in a
hammock beneath two trees, I continued a prey to the same uneasy
wakefulness. But then, as if satisfied of good faith by such
perseverance, the night began to wear a friendly aspect, the shadows
gave up their ghosts, and the breezes became the expected messengers of
slumber.

When the lonely sleeper-out has grown familiar with the moonlight and
the darkness, he is admitted into the number of earth's favoured sons;
for lying like a child upon her bosom, he hears her heart beating in the
silence, and wakes to see her smiling in her beauty like a queen
apparelled. To no man slumber comes more gently than to him; and his
uprising is as that of a child exulting in the cloudless day. Health and
innocence return to him, and his one sorrow is that he has lived into
maturity without continually partaking of these sane and natural
delights. Remorse is his that for all these years he has feared the dews
and shrunk from the bland night airs; and remembering the needless
imprisonment of a hundred chambers, he mourns over the irrecoverable
hours which would have rooted his life more deeply in tranquillity and
strength. But the June sun is up, and the birds are singing: he strides
with light step over the grass, watching the rabbits play in the glades,
and in unison with a host of fellow-creatures singing a welcome to the
dawn. When it is time for him to think of home and he comes once more
beneath a doorway, he has a mind refreshed by the quietude of dim space,
and a heart replenished with innocence and good-will. He who so sleeps
hates no man, and will go upon the dullest way free from petulance or
despair. The scent of the rich earth is in his nostrils, and the
clearness of morning air has passed into his eyes.

I have made my lair in many places since I first kept house with Nature.
I have couched in heather by the pines of hills far above the Sussex
Weald; I have lain in dry furrows or on the margin of a copse, or in the
parks of the children of fortune, for whose welfare, in gratitude for
their unconscious hospitality, I shall ever pray. But of all wild
resting-places I have known, the openest are the most delightful. To see
the whole sweep of the stars; to lie on the shorn ground free of all
that overshadows or encompasses or confines; to breathe in the great
gulf of air; to stretch unhindered limbs--this is an initiation into a
new life, a pleasant memory in the long glooms of winter. Let nothing
come between you and the stars, that they may look well upon your face,
and haply repenting of some ancient unkindliness, draw you at this
rebirth a new horoscope of blessing and fair fortune. And if slumber
tarries when you lie in an open spot, you may consciously ride the great
globe through space, and like the shepherd watching by his flock in the
clear night while star rises after star, grow aware of the great earth
rolling to the east beneath you.

In these still hours of night or early dawn there steals upon the
charmed mind an Orphic sense of worship and inexplicable joy. For here
on bare uplands and wooded hills, where the starlight rains down through
the silence, or the day, welling up over the rim of the downs, glides
fresh from the lips of ocean, a calm river of light, here is the place
of Dionysus, of him born from fire and dew, Zagreus the soul of clean
souls and wild lives, his heart a-quiver with vague sadness drawn from
all the worlds, Eleutherios, loosener of heart and lip, the regenerator,
the absolver, the eternally misunderstood, whose true followers are
priests of impassioned pure life, whose wine is not juice of grapes but
the clear air ambient upon the hills. Here when sleep is shamed away by
expectant awe, the whole being grows one with all-environing life;
personality glides into the stream of cosmic existence, lost and found a
thousand times in the trance and ecstasy of dim divine feelings beyond
the power of words inexpressible. It is miracle; it is religion; it is a
feast of purification above pomps or mysteries, a cleansing ritual
without victims and undefiled. In such hours, and in such hours alone,
man and things are joined in a supreme utterance of life high and
humble, transient and immortal, by which the fellowship of all
existences within the universe is made real and significant to the
initiate mind. For in the day fences are about us, roofs and towers
impend above our heads, we are cribbed in streets and markets, the din
of rhetoric or sordid bargaining fills our ears. Or if we withdraw into
some still chamber, yet the walls built by hired hands offend, and the
doorposts of sapless timber; no high influence can penetrate to us save
through the close court of memory, and compared with the breezy starlit
meadows, how poor an avenue to the soul is that!

And the exuberant sun of noon distracts, and the multitude of his beams
is troublous, for what does sight avail if the things of the heart's
desire are lost in immeasurable perplexities of light? For in the high
day the quivering bright air is more opaque than the dim spaces of
night, so tranquil and severe, or the glowing kingdoms of the morning.
At the springing of the day the eyes open upon awakening flowers, giving
filial heed to the marvellous earth which waits in patience for a human
greeting. I like the passage in which Chaucer tells how in May-time his
couch was spread in an arbour upon the margin of the grass, that he
might wake to see the daisies unfold their petals. Sleeping thus, he
also must have known those intervals of slumber when a sense of some
impending wonder grows too strong for sleep, and all nature seems
calling to high vision. Often I have been thus awakened, not by noise
or movement, but as it were by some strange prescience of beauty
constraining me to rise and look. Once I was drawn some distance round
the corner of a copse, and there, low in the sable-blue of the sky, in a
rivalry of intense but dazzling light, the crescent moon hung splendid
over against a great constellation which glittered like a carcanet of
diamonds. They seemed to speak together as if in some scene or passage
of celestial drama, nor did I know which was the diviner speech, the
moon's unwavering effulgence or that leaping coruscation of the stars.
Nothing stirred on the right hand or the left, but earth and air were
hushed, as if before that colloquy all sound and motion were
miraculously holden. Tall trees brown with densest shadows were massed
upon one side, obscuring half the heaven, and lending by their
contrasted gloom that sense of wizardry in natural things which enchants
the clear summer nights when the air is still.

This is but one among many visions of which the remembrance makes life
worshipful; and it is pity that at the hour of their coming well-nigh
all whom they should delight lie chambered within brick walls, lost in
sleep or in the mazes of unprofitable thoughts. For these things in
their rare appearances are more precious than an hour's slumber, were it
dreamless as a child's, or all the watches of luxurious unrest. If
another summer is given me I hope to take the road when July has come
with balmy nights, and wander days at a stretch with all I need upon my
shoulders. Then I shall know the real joy of vagrancy, caring little
where night finds me, and quickening my steps for nothing and for no
man. I shall linger in every glade or on every hill-top which calls to
me to stay; I shall tell all the hedgerow flowers, and lean over the
gates to watch the foals playing. The brooks shall be my washing-basins,
and I shall quench hunger and thirst in the tiled kitchens of lonely
farmsteads. If I hear the shriek of a train I shall smile when I think
of its cooped and harried passengers, and plunge devious into some
pathless wood, in whose depths the only sounds are the tap of the
woodpecker's bill or the measured axe-strokes of the woodman. I shall
fling myself down to rest under what tree I will, and pulling from my
pocket the book of my choice, I shall summon a wise and cheerful
companion to my side as easily as ever oriental magician called a jinn
to do him service. I shall once more be commensal with wild creatures,
and wonder that solitude was ever a pain; I shall be healthily
disdainful of the valetudinarian who lives to spoil either his body or
his soul.

These are the wanderings which henceforward will chiefly suffice to my
need. For since I roamed my fill in other continents the gadfly may no
longer sting me out of my tranquil haunts. In their youth lonely people
suffer more than others from that restlessness which fills the mind with
sudden distaste for the present scene, and a fierce longing to be
somewhere far away. Others are preserved from it by the love of home;
but we, in our poverty of attachment, listen more readily to the
depreciating voice.

I remember how deep had always been my longing to look out upon the sea
from some Greek island, and how one day, when this desire was granted,
and I walked along hills set high above the blue Ægean, I was seized
with an instant yearning to be instead upon Ranmore Common in Surrey.
Yet at that moment a life's ambition was being fulfilled; I stood in a
scene of incomparable beauty, gazing down on those deep azure waters
whose voice is always to me as a lament for wandering Odysseus; the
lower slopes were rich with olive trees, powdering with silver the
tilled lands round a beautiful monastery lying there in its enchanted
rest. Dark cypresses rose amid white walls of villages, by the contrast
of their gloom making all bright colours glorious; away to the left,
where the shore verged westward tracing inimitable curves between field
and sea, lay slumbering a little white town with minarets and walled
gardens and tiny haven--a very place for Argonauts; and yet my thoughts
turned to the chalk downs of England and honeysuckle crowning the
unfruitful hollies. _Sed quia semper abest quod aves praesentia
temnis_;--Such desire has distracted Roman minds; the perversity is very
old; and perhaps only children find no disillusion in the accomplishment
of a dream.

For our feet have one country and our dreams another, and there is no
constancy in us. It is not alone in the bartering of one earthly scene
for its fellow that we suffer the sick thirst of change; but into the
rarest hour of achieved ideal to which hope promised her supreme
satisfaction, the same wayward longing will often find a way; as in a
sacred place amid the purest and most exquisite meditations of the soul,
there will suddenly flit inexplicable shadows of irreverence, with
echoes of incongruous voices from the abandoned world.

But now as the years pass and the penury of human love has made the home
woods and fields more dear, I feel that this unrest is drawing to its
end. For as the seasons pass over the uplands and the meadows, clothing
them with new splendours between the seed-time and the harvest, no
vision rises upon the memory dearer and more beneficent than theirs. As
the lover's fancy dwells upon the image of his beloved in this or that
environment, and thus or thus arrayed, so I see the woods and fields in
the various glories of the year and know not in which garb I love them
best. They have heard my laments, my confidences, all my broken
resolves: they are bound to me by so pure and intimate an affection that
all those grander wonders of the world should never draw me again from
this allegiance. Not for the vision of Himalaya piercing the heaven, or
the sunsets of Sienna, or the moonlight on the Taj Mahal, or for any
other beauty or any wonder shall I weary of the cornfields framed in
elms or the great horses turning in the furrow against the evening sky.

For with the growth of years our desires wander less, and are mercifully
contracted to the scope of our wearying powers. We haunt the same old
places and want the same old things, dwelling amongst them with an
increasing constancy of devotion. For we find that year by year the old
places and things are not really the same; something has touched them in
our absence; strange still agencies have intervened, long silences of
dissolution and the ineluctable fate of change. And so that perfect
sameness which we find unattainable takes on the quality of ideal and
demands the grown man's devotion, as the change that is forbidden casts
its resistless spell over the guarded and tethered child. The eyes of
youth are on the far end of the vista, those of age upon the near; the
old horse that has drawn the coulter through the clay is glad for the
four hedges of the paddock which irk the growing colt's desire. When
Richard Jefferies was asked why he walked the same lane day after day,
at first he was at a loss for a reply; but gradually the reason became
clear to him. It was because he had become aware of the iron law:
_Nothing twice_: he wanted the same old and loved things not twice but
endlessly; he was yearly more eager to be with them, and paint indelibly
upon his memory their delicate quiet beauty, their soft and perishable
charm.

That is how I also feel, as with the return of summer I wander out into
the old meadows and climb the familiar hills; I find myself hoping that
nothing is changed, and am stirred with sweet anxieties of reminiscence.
And surely within the enchanted boundaries of the counties where I
ramble, there is variety which not the hundred eyes of Argus could
exhaust. These fields and woodlands in high summer feast all the senses
with a surfeit of delights. How good it is to exercise in all its range
the fine mechanism of the body, suffering each part of it to indulge its
own hunger after beauty; to feel the texture of petals, and draw the
long grasses through the fingers; to breathe an air laden with the scent
of blossoms, passing from uplands fragrant with bean-flowers into
untilled regions odorous with pines; to hear the birds' chorus at
sunrise and the distant sound of reaping; to see innumerable marvels;
the belts of clover mantling wine-dark in the wind; the poppies in the
standing corn, the carmine yew-stems on the downs; above you the soft
grey clouds delicately floating; below you, as the day declines, some
distant lonely water emerging in its glory to be the mirror and refuge
of all heaven's light; to remember the gorse and broom and look forward
to the royal purple of the heather--all this is a consummation of pure
life, a high, sensuous pleasure penetrating to the inmost soul, and of
such exceeding price that to disdain its offerings or to pass incurious
before them, is to live in the blindness of the tribe of Genseric.

In such wanderings the mind is filled with slow and seasonable thoughts,
lasting as the trees and buildings of the country-side. Old deliberate
contemplations, perceptions after long regard ingathered from abundant
nature, theories leisurely compacted in sunshine or storm, to stand in
the fields of memory, crowned with beauty by the indulgent years. So in
the visible meadows stand the ancient barns, with roofs of umber tiles
parcel-gilded with old gold of lichen, and crowning their seasoned
timbers "as naturally as leaves"; restful structures of a quiet age,
capacious of dim space, unvexed by the glare of a hundred summers.

And if you ask what profit is here for one who must do battle in the
loud world, study for a while the artifice and industrious policy of
plants by which they attract to themselves the visitants they need or
with most masterful defence repel the importunate advance, and you will
return to the societies of men, even to their parliaments, enriched with
arts of prudence beyond the practice of Machiavel. Examine the dog-rose
upon the hedge, how by putting forth thorns it raises itself to the
light and ranges irresistible along the leafy parapets; see how the
flowers adapt their form and colour to the convenience of the bee or the
predilections of the bird; consider the furze armed with spines against
browsing muzzles, and be near when it casts its seed wide upon the
earth; and then say if among states or governments there is a wiser
economy or an intelligence more provident of its end. I myself have the
conceit that if time, revoking my sentence of superannuation, should
restore my lost years and add youth to the wisdom learned along the
hedges, even I, a very profitless weed, should not again so uncivilly
decay, but flower to another June and see my seed multiply around me.

Perhaps, if that might be, I should strive to learn thoroughly, and
bring science to bear upon experience. But, as I am, classifications and
dissections are repellent to my fancy. I cannot get to the hearts of
flowers by any Linnæan approach, but go rather by the old animistic way,
still honoured by Milton through his Genius of the Woods:

    "When evening gray doth rise I fetch my round,
    Over the mount and all this hallowed ground,
    And early, ere the breath of odorous morn
    Awakes the slumbering leaves."

So I greet the blossoms of hill and upland and water-meadow, knowing
them all by their country names, and sometimes fancying that they know
me back: all that is lacking is the tutelary power to guard their growth
and prolong their bright and fragrant lives. What fine old names they
have, great with the blended dignities of literary and rural lore;
archangel, tormentil, rosa solis or sun-dew, horehound, Saracen's
wound-wort, melilot or king's clover, pellitory of Spain! I cannot
coldly divide so fine a company into bare genera and species, but
imagine for them high genealogies and alliances by an imaginative method
of my own: to me the lily and the onion shall never be connections.

If I must read books on flowers, I take down such a one as Nicholas
Culpeper's _Complete Herbal_, written from "my house in Spitalfields
next the Red Lion, September 5th, 1653." For here is a man who attempers
science with the quaintest fancies after the manner of his generation,
and delightfully misinterprets the real affinity of the flowers and the
heavens. "He that would know the operation of the herbs must look up to
the stars astrologically," says this master; and so to him briony is "a
furious martial plant," and brank ursine "an excellent plant under the
dominion of the moon." Of rosemary he says, "the sun claims privilege in
it, and it is under the celestial ram," and of viper's bugloss, "it is
a most gallant herb of the sun." The bay-tree rouses him to real
eloquence, though not for Apollo's sake. "It is a tree of the sun and
under the celestial sign of Leo, and resists witchcraft very potently,
as also all the evils that old Saturn can do to the body of man; for
neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightning will hurt a man in the
place where a bay-tree is."

Reading in this old book of the ordinance and virtues of the familiar
herbs, I escape from the severities of botanical science into a maze of
queer fancies, well suited to those retrospective hours when we love
best what we least believe. And by the pleasant suggestion of astrology
I am led on to contemplate the starry heavens, which I do in the ancient
pastoral way, peopling them with mythical forms and connecting them with
the seasonable changes of rustic toil. I forget for the moment all the
discoveries of Copernicus and Kepler, and see eye to eye with
Cleostratus of Tenedos who nightly watched the stars from the sacred
slopes of Ida.

Much as the companionships of nature have meant for me, I would not have
any man content himself with these alone. It is not right to live the
slave of Pales, or become the rhapsode of docks and nettles. To be all
for the lower life, were it the fairest, is derogation; and Har and Heva
before they may enter into their kingdom of the flowers must first be
fallen spirits. But continually in the interludes of human endeavour to
rebathe the mind at these clear wells does indeed exceedingly purify and
strengthen against the returning and imminent encounter. Those long
retreats at Walden may not often be repeated, for man is either risen
too high or too far fallen to live well in the sole company of animals
and flowers. What sociologists call the consciousness of kind is as
vital to man as the consciousness of self; and to pine for adoption into
an alien kind is vain on this side transmigration.

Not seldom my wanderings in town and country lead me to quiet
churchyards, or to those vast cemeteries where the living have
established the dead in avenues and streets of tombs after their drear
suburban fashion. Solitude has ever persuaded to the contemplation of
death, and in these silent places I feel no shock of sadness but am
rather possessed by a familiar spirit of peace. As I wander from path to
path, my fancy is not lamed by mournful thoughts, but finds suggestion
amid the poor laconic histories by which these headstones appeal to him
that passes by.

It is with most men a natural desire to take their last rest in some
green God's acre, far from the smoke and turmoil of towns, lying in a
fair space amid a small company, where there is a wide prospect of
tilled lands, and the reapers cut the swathes against the very
churchyard wall. And this is my most usual aspiration; yet there are
times when I would not shrink in thought from the Valley of Ezekiel, and
would be content to be written a mere number in some city of the dead,
where at last after all the loneliness of life I should no longer be
kept apart, but be gathered to my fellows where they lie in their
thousands, and be received a member of their society. And though I well
know that it matters not a cummin-seed whether my bones are washed to
and fro on the bed of the sea or my ashes cast to the winds of heaven,
yet I humour this fancy, and find a quiet pleasure in the thought that
death at least may end this isolation.

And what if the propinquity of these poor remains be gage and promise of
a sympathy of souls unveiled and unhidden by false semblances of the
body? Then should death indeed be the crown of a long desire and give me
at the last the fellowship into which life denied initiation. Surely, as
Coleridge dreamed, there is a sex in souls, which, disengaged from the
coarse companionship of the flesh, shall see into each other's crystal
deeps. Thence, in new life, when the last recondite secret is withholden
no longer, there shall come forth those qualities and powers that
ennobled man and woman in mortality; they shall come forth in all their
several strength and beauty, divinely animate, and reflecting upon each
other bright rays and soft colours invisible upon these misty oceans of
our navigation.

It is not terrible to think, at times, on death, for that _danse
macabre_ which troubled the fancy of our forefathers is now danced out,
and the silent figure that knocks at every door comes not as a grinning
skeleton but as one of more gentle countenance than any art can express.
The natural change, which to William Blake was but the passing out of
one room into another, is well personified in the merciful figure with
the kind eyes, coming at the sounded hour to lead away into quietness.
My solitude has taught me to know well those noble efforts which art has
made to lift from our bowed backs the burden of the fear of death: I
like to look upon that youthful Thanatos carved upon a column from the
temple of the Ephesian Diana, and every year the red leaves of autumn
persuade my steps to that village rich in elms where lived one who also
saw death so, and laboured to draw the frightened eyes of men from the
hour-glass and the skull to the gracious vision of the deliverer and
friend. There hands which were dear to him have raised a place of
leave-taking upon a green slope, a house of farewell set upon the shore
to receive the last pledges from the living to the absolved and
unburdened dead.

When first I saw Compton it was a cloudless noon in August, the day of
days in which to come alone into this silent place. Out of the fiery
heat beaten from wall and path like a blinding spray of light, it is a
passage into a dimness of cool space, an air glaucous as the shade of
olives. There from the circuit of a dome look down kind faces of
immortal youth, in form and habit too tranquil for our life, but made
homely to us by the mercy in their eyes, and some quality of the white
soft hands which draws all weariness and all pain towards them. To me it
was as though some furious struggle in the waves were over, and swooning
out of life I had awakened upon a floor of translucent ocean, where, in
a gracious and tempered light, beings of a compassion too intense for
earth, each with a gesture that was not yet a touch, were charming all
the bruises of the lost battle away. Surely this is true vision of
things to come, and to such mercy we shall awaken. It cannot be that
when the eyes reopen they shall see the forms of dark apparitors, or
that the ears shall hear Æacus and Rhadamanthys speaking in dim halls
their cold, irrevocable dooms. No, but there shall be a pause and
respite upon the way from one to another life, and none may be conceived
more grateful than this rest, as it were a sojourn beneath waters of
Eunoë, where a flood of dear memories foreboding good shall absolve us
from the mortal sin of fear.

       *       *       *       *       *

Turning back over these pages, I am conscious that I have failed to give
real experiences their proper life. Describing solitude I have been
dull; I have fixed the rushing flames of emotion in poor flamboyant
lines. I have written far more than any reader but yourself will have
cared to follow; but now at any rate the confession is over, and in the
future I shall work, and use my sight for a worthier end than
introspection. It has been said that the tale of any life is
interesting if sincerely told; and it may be that the most ordinary
lives have the advantage, because it is the common experience which
touches most hearts. For the greater part mine has been a common life,
unglorified by hazards in the field, or bright fulfilment of ambition;
it had been better for its peace if it might wholly have kept the
comfortable, usual way.

I sometimes wonder whether the printing of these pages will reveal to me
any kinsmen in affliction, for such there must be going westward alone,
and I wish that for a moment we might foregather as we pass, to compare
the marvels of our isolation. Then perhaps I might be urged to higher
effort, hearing stories more pitiful than mine, tales of silent courage
under ban of excommunion to shame me from the very thought of despair.
Poets have metaphorically given colours to souls; mine, I feel, is only
grey, the common hue of shadows; but it was steeped in gloom by a
veritable pain and evils really undergone. And as I reflect upon what I
have written, and try to imagine it read by some brisk person utterly
content with life, I can well understand that the whole thing would
appear to him incredible, too preposterously strange for belief, a
rigmarole of sick fancies beyond the power of hellebore. So be it: I
expect small comprehension and no mercy, for indeed I have written
caring little for such consequence, yielding to that human thirst for
utterance which only confession can slake; as one eases pain by a moan
though there are none to hear it. It is not altogether a grateful task.
For hardly, and then only in a fortunate hour, to one whose years and
feelings have been interwoven with his own, will even a healthy man tell
the tale of his hidden emotion; and mine is the deeper reticence of a
habit which has ever held closely to the recipe of fernseed. To entrust
a confidence to one of unproven sympathy, is to risk a profitless
embarrassment. It has been most truly said that both parties to such
impulsive avowals, whenever they afterwards meet, must feel a constraint
as of confederacy in misdemeanour.

I have hope that though I came late to the steady labour of the
vineyard, I may yet earn my wage and begin the new day with the rest.
Like Joseph Poorgrass I can now almost regard my diffidence as an
interesting study, and agree with the rustic man of calamities that
destiny might have made things even worse. Certainly the pain grows less
fierce; I can go more readily among my fellows for all but social ends.
For those who live much apart learn at last to see men not as
individuals but in groups: to them it is the type which counts, the
_forma specifica per formam individualem translucens_, of which the
scholastic jargon speaks. Those with whom I come in casual contact
appear to me now in a vague, diffused light like the atmosphere of some
other world. Dwelling upon none with the eyes of intimacy, and passing
swiftly from this to that, I find each but the harmless variant of a
species; if I lingered or came too near, doubtless old apprehensions
would oppress me still. It is a disadvantage of this outlook that the
fascination of detail is lost, and that I have less sense for the
personal in life. But if I grow old I shall regain the interest in
particular things and persons with which age is consoled amid many
miseries; for while youth grows earnest over some riddle of high art or
the occultation of Aldebaran, age is happily absorbed in the arrangement
of a room or discussing the destinies of a single household.

Meanwhile, though uncongenial to my kind as entering little into their
pleasures, I like to be near them in their grief or happiness, standing
unnoticed in the wind of their fortune's wheel. At least I am not soured
or malevolent, and when there is dancing toward, I am in the crowd upon
the margin of the green. I have abandoned social obligations because I
am unfitted to perform them well, and society high and low exists by
their cheerful fulfilment. But I no longer rail at social law or decline
to see anything but evil in conventions devised by the wisdom and
refinement of centuries. If I refuse invitations and leave calls unpaid,
it is because I am socially bankrupt: were I solvent I should redeem all
debts.

I decline therefore to denounce Chesterfield and deify Thoreau: there
was exaggeration in both men, and though my sympathies are rather with
the recluse of Walden pond, it is quite probable that Chesterfield was
the more useful of the two. I am a bad player, I have not the high
spirits or the conversational skill which each should contribute to the
social game. And in almost any sport the incompetent confer a benefit by
standing out: at least, that is the opinion which I hear the average
player express. If I lived in the backwoods where any guest is welcome,
it might be my duty to act differently. But my ways are cast in places
where there is no need for social press-gangs, and the highways and
hedges are left unsearched. If therefore by abstention I gain a
qualified peace for myself, and confer positive benefit on others, I may
go my way without serious reproach.

And I did wisely not to marry, for I should have clung too closely to my
study for the happiness of any woman. I once saw an advertisement in
the newspaper inserted by a discontented young wife whose husband was a
recluse and would not take her out of evenings. She wanted to
communicate with congenial people, and, like a desperate sailor
marooned, was driven to wave her signal in the sight of the casual eye.
This frank confession of abandonment made a profound impression upon me.
I thought to myself, "Master recluse, you are a pilferer and have
filched a life. I am yet more solitary in my estate, and if I followed
your example, should be guilty of a greater wrong." There are, indeed,
hours when I feel embittered at the thought that for one innocent defect
a whole life should be amerced of joy; the finality of loss appals: all
is so irrevocable; _le vase est imbibé, l'étoffe a pris son pli_.
Avoided not without cause by those who were my natural associates, I
grow impenetrable of access, and even in my own family unfamiliar. The
resentment that welled up in the man who told the story of Henry
Ryecroft obtains the mastery, and I feel one in spirit with that lonely
analyst of disillusions. Sometimes a worse darkness gathers round, till
I long for one of those intense and all-absorbing creeds which somehow
seem to tend the brightest hearth-fires which earth knows: for
philosophy, though it invented the void, never built a little Gidding.

It is then that I feel like the suppliant of the old Babylonian prayer,
"one whose kin are afar off, whose city is distant," and all that
appears before my sight is one scroll of wrongs which this evil heritage
has inflicted upon me. It has made my best years rich in misery; it has
cut me off from marriage; it has compelled me, one hating vain
complaint, to live querulously in the optative mood. Neither poverty nor
sickness could chastise more heavily; for poverty is strong in numbers
and sickness rich in sympathy, but diffidence reaps laughter and is
alone. When such thoughts win dominion over the mind I could envy what
sufferer you will his most awful punishment. For in his agony be sure
there is movement and action; his limbs are torn, yet he is dragged
onward: by his very writhing in the bonds he confesses his life. But I
lie in some dead waste where nothing moves and all is mist without
horizon, lost in an abhorred blankness of dismay to which no positive
suffering may be likened. Thither comes no fierce provocation to quicken
into Promethean scorn; life lies whelmed in blackness unlit by flashes
of defiance or the cold splendour of disdain.

Empedocles once described his dream of retribution for the last
unutterable offence. For thrice ten thousand years the sinner roams
estranged from bliss, taking all mortal shapes, wearing with tired feet
all the sad ways of life. Æther sweeps him out to Ocean, Ocean casts him
naked on the shores of Earth, Earth hurls him upward to the flames of
Helios, and he, relentless, spurns the victim back to Æther, that the
dread cycle may begin anew. But to be for ever driven in this majestic
whirl of change, to receive the chastisement of all elements and survive
unbroken for a new revolution of the wheel, this is but an assurance of
the very pride of life, it is the charter of an invincible manhood. The
doom which in truth befits the unutterable sin is rather the blank pain
without accident or period, without point or salience to draw from
stunned nature her last energies of resentment. It is well for me that
this misery is short-lived, and that either by thinking on that ideal
love I know the miracle of the twenty-ninth sonnet, or, struggling with
instant effort out of the toils, try to see myself as I appear to
others, one who should scorn to sit in thirst when there are wells yet
for the seeking.

It is a strange life to lead in this pleasureful world; and if when it
is over I were condemned to live again, coming like Er the Armenian to
that meadow where the lots are thrown down for each to choose his own, I
am already decided what character I should elect to play. I should
neither cast myself for a protagonist's part nor again for that of a
dumb actor in those backgrounds I know too well; but just for a plain
manly character, strong to face all fortunes and rich in troops of
friends. There should be no more evasion or dreary wrestling of mind
with body; but life should move to a restrained harmony, and no elusive
wind should carry half the music away.

As for what remains of this present dispensation, I shall know how to
endure, trusting that the years may fade finely, like the figures in an
old tapestry, and that the end may come to me as to the old gentleman in
Hans Christian Andersen's story of the Old House. And I have this
advantage over other men, that while they have the whole cornucopia to
lose, I can but be deprived of the dregs in its pointed end. For in what
can there be further punishment? On others, men of happy pasts, dismay
may fall as the ways are darkened before them. But surely I shall be of
good cheer as I come into the land of the fierce old robber Age; for,
stripped long since by a more subtle and insatiate despoiler, I shall
possess nothing of worth to draw his covetousness upon me. So many joys
did my very youth renounce; so many pleasures the Harpies swept from my
place at the spread board of life; such gags and fetters held me while
others danced and sang, that I was the sad familiar of evil fortune
before my companions were acquainted with her name. That leaden weight
which brings others low, by a nice adjustment of the scales shall raise
me for the first time to their equality. And then, as one experienced in
bereavements, of themselves they may seek my company; and I, so long the
useless and estranged, may become at the close their helpful counsellor.

If only that might be; if only upon the verge of night I might redeem by
usefulness my lost unserviceable day. Then this grey life, so long sole
and intrinsical to itself, should glow at last with some reflection of
the sunset; once more I should know young ardours imagined lost and
devotions miraculously born again.

You will still encounter me now and then, moving absently through the
crowd, or wandering in some green place, as in the garden of the
Luxembourg Vauvenargues used to meet the wounded of the great battle,
keeping apart in the narrower walks, and leaving the broad central ways
for lighter feet than theirs. He often longed to have speech with them;
but always they turned away, with the proud self-sufficiency of the
disillusioned. Perhaps if he had succeeded he would have found that to
some of them life had its consolations not unlike mine, and that they
could still regard it as something more than a friendly process of
detachment. But it is not our habit to expand; we are ever held back by
the occult pride which the same soldier-philosopher has assigned to one
of his imaginary characters, "cette fierté tendre d'une âme timide, qui
ne veut avouer ni sa défaite, ni ses espérances, ni la vanité de ses
voeux."





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