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Title: The Story of My Heart: An Autobiography
Author: Jefferies, Richard
Language: English
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The Story of My Heart


by Richard Jefferies




The story of my heart commences seventeen years ago. In the glow of
youth there were times every now and then when I felt the necessity of
a strong inspiration of soul-thought. My heart was dusty, parched for
want of the rain of deep feeling; my mind arid and dry, for there is a
dust which settles on the heart as well as that which falls on a ledge.
It is injurious to the mind as well as to the body to be always in one
place and always surrounded by the same circumstances. A species of
thick clothing slowly grows about the mind, the pores are choked,
little habits become a part of existence, and by degrees the mind is
inclosed in a husk. When this began to form I felt eager to escape from
it, to throw off the heavy clothing, to drink deeply once more at the
fresh foundations of life. An inspiration—a long deep breath of the
pure air of thought—could alone give health to the heart.

There is a hill to which I used to resort at such periods. The labour
of walking three miles to it, all the while gradually ascending, seemed
to clear my blood of the heaviness accumulated at home. On a warm
summer day the slow continued rise required continual effort, which
caried away the sense of oppression. The familiar everyday scene was
soon out of sight; I came to other trees, meadows, and fields; I began
to breathe a new air and to have a fresher aspiration. I restrained my
soul till reached the sward of the hill; psyche, the soul that longed
to be loose. I would write psyche always instead of soul to avoid
meanings which have become attached to the word soul, but it is awkward
to do so. Clumsy indeed are all words the moment the wooden stage of
commonplace life is left. I restrained psyche, my soul, till I reached
and put my foot on the grass at the beginning of the green hill itself.

Moving up the sweet short turf, at every step my heart seemed to obtain
a wider horizon of feeling; with every inhalation of rich pure air, a
deeper desire. The very light of the sun was whiter and more brilliant
here. By the time I had reached the summit I had entirely forgotten the
petty circumstances and the annoyances of existence. I felt myself,
myself. There was an intrenchment on the summit, and going down into
the fosse I walked round it slowly to recover breath. On the
south-western side there was a spot where the outer bank had partially
slipped, leaving a gap. There the view was over a broad plain,
beautiful with wheat, and inclosed by a perfect amphitheatre of green
hills. Through these hills there was one narrow groove, or pass,
southwards, where the white clouds seemed to close in the horizon.
Woods hid the scattered hamlets and farmhouses, so that I was quite

I was utterly alone with the sun and the earth. Lying down on the
grass, I spoke in my soul to the earth, the sun, the air, and the
distant sea far beyond sight. I thought of the earth’s firmness—I felt
it bear me up: through the grassy couch there came an influence as if I
could feel the great earth speaking to me. I thought of the wandering
air—its pureness, which is its beauty; the air touched me and gave me
something of itself. I spoke to the sea: though so far, in my mind I
saw it, green at the rim of the earth and blue in deeper ocean; I
desired to have its strength, its mystery and glory. Then I addressed
the sun, desiring the soul equivalent of his light and brilliance, his
endurance and unwearied race. I turned to the blue heaven over, gazing
into its depth, inhaling its exquisite colour and sweetness. The rich
blue of the unattainable flower of the sky drew my soul towards it, and
there it rested, for pure colour is rest of heart. By all these I
prayed; I felt an emotion of the soul beyond all definition; prayer is
a puny thing to it, and the word is a rude sign to the feeling, but I
know no other.

By the blue heaven, by the rolling sun bursting through untrodden
space, a new ocean of ether every day unveiled. By the fresh and
wandering air encompassing the world; by the sea sounding on the
shore—the green sea white-flecked at the margin and the deep ocean; by
the strong earth under me. Then, returning, I prayed by the sweet
thyme, whose little flowers I touched with my hand; by the slender
grass; by the crumble of dry chalky earth I took up and let fall
through my fingers. Touching the crumble of earth, the blade of grass,
the thyme flower, breathing the earth-encircling air, thinking of the
sea and the sky, holding out my hand for the sunbeams to touch it,
prone on the sward in token of deep reverence, thus I prayed that I
might touch to the unutterable existence infinitely higher than deity.

With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me, all the intense
communion I held with the earth, the sun and sky, the stars hidden by
the light, with the ocean—in no manner can the thrilling depth of these
feelings be written—with these I prayed, as if they were the keys of an
instrument, of an organ, with which I swelled forth the note of my
soul, redoubling my own voice by their power. The great sun burning
with light; the strong earth, dear earth; the warm sky; the pure air;
the thought of ocean; the inexpressible beauty of all filled me with a
rapture, an ecstasy, and inflatus. With this inflatus, too, I prayed.
Next to myself I came and recalled myself, my bodily existence. I held
out my hand, the sunlight gleamed on the skin and the iridescent nails;
I recalled the mystery and beauty of the flesh. I thought of the mind
with which I could see the ocean sixty miles distant, and gather to
myself its glory. I thought of my inner existence, that consciousness
which is called the soul. These, that is, myself—I threw into the
balance to weight the prayer the heavier. My strength of body, mind and
soul, I flung into it; I but forth my strength; I wrestled and
laboured, and toiled in might of prayer. The prayer, this soul-emotion
was in itself-not for an object-it was a passion. I hid my face in the
grass, I was wholly prostrated, I lost myself in the wrestle, I was
rapt and carried away.

Becoming calmer, I returned to myself and thought, reclining in rapt
thought, full of aspiration, steeped to the lips of my soul in desire.
I did not then define, or analyses, or understand this. I see now that
what I laboured for was soul-life, more soul-nature, to be exalted, to
be full of soul-learning. Finally I rose, walked half a mile or so
along the summit of the hill eastwards, to soothe myself and come to
the common ways of life again. Had any shepherd accidentally seen me
lying on the turf, he would only have thought that I was resting a few
minutes; I made no outward show. Who could have imagined the whirlwind
of passion that was going on within me as I reclined there! I was
greatly exhausted when I reached home. Occasionally I went upon the
hill deliberately, deeming it good to do so; then, again, this craving
carried me away up there of itself. Though the principal feeling was
the same, there were variations in the mode in which it affected me.

Sometimes on lying down on the sward I first looked up at the sky,
gazing for a long time till I could see deep into the azure and my eyes
were full of the colour; then I turned my face to the grass and thyme,
placing my hands at each side of my face so as to shut out everything
and hide myself. Having drunk deeply of the heaven above and felt the
most glorious beauty of the day, and remembering the old, old, sea,
which (as it seemed to me) was but just yonder at the edge, I now
became lost, and absorbed into the being or existence of the universe.
I felt down deep into the earth under, and high above into the sky, and
farther still to the sun and stars. Still farther beyond the stars into
the hollow of space, and losing thus my separateness of being came to
seem like a part of the whole. Then I whisper-ed to the earth beneath,
through the grass and thyme, down into the depth of its ear, and again
up to the starry space hid behind the blue of day. Travelling in an
instant across the distant sea, I saw as if with actual vision the
palms and cocoanut trees, the bamboos of India, and the cedars of the
extreme south. Like a lake with islands the ocean lay before me, as
clear and vivid as the plain beneath in the midst of the amphitheatre
of hills.

With the glory of the great sea, I said, with the firm, solid, and
sustaining earth; the depth, distance, and expanse of ether; the age,
tamelessness, and ceaseless motion of the ocean; the stars, and the
unknown in space; by all those things which are most powerful known to
me, and by those which exist, but of which I have no idea whatever, I
pray. Further, by my own soul, that secret existence which above all
other things bears the nearest resemblance to the ideal of spirit,
infinitely nearer than earth, sun, or star. Speaking by an inclination
towards, not in words, my soul prays that I may have something from
each of these, that I may gather a flower from them, that I may have in
myself the secret and meaning of the earth, the golden sun, the light,
the foam-flecked sea. Let my soul become enlarged; I am not enough; I
am little and contemptible. I desire a great-ness of soul, an
irradiance of mind, a deeper insight, a broader hope. Give me power of
soul, so that I may actually effect by its will that which I strive

In winter, though I could not then rest on the grass, or stay long
enough to form any definite expression, I still went up to the hill
once now and then, for it seemed that to merely visit the spot repeated
all that I had previously said. But it was not only then.

In summer I went out into the fields, and let my soul inspire these
thoughts under the trees, standing against the trunk, or looking up
through the branches at the sky. If trees could speak, hundreds of them
would say that I had had these soul-emotions under them. Leaning
against the oak’s massive trunk, and feeling the rough bark and the
lichen at my back, looking southwards over the grassy fields,
cowslip-yellow, at the woods on the slope, I thought my desire of
deeper soul-life. Or under the green firs, looking upwards, the sky was
more deeply blue at their tops; then the brake fern was unrolling, the
doves cooing, the thickets astir, the late ash-leaves coming forth.
Under the shapely rounded elms, by the hawthorn bushes and hazel,
everywhere the same deep desire for the soul-nature; to have from all
green things and from the sunlight the inner meaning which was not
known to them, that I might be full of light as the woods of the sun’s
rays. Just to touch the lichened bark of a tree, or the end of a spray
projecting over the path as I walked, seemed to repeat the same prayer
in me.

The long-lived summer days dried and warmed the turf in the meadows. I
used to lie down in solitary corners at full length on my back, so as
to feel the embrace of the earth. The grass stood high above me, and
the shadows of the tree-branches danced on my face. I looked up at the
sky, with half-closed eyes to bear the dazzling light. Bees buzzed over
me, sometimes a butterfly passed, there was a hum in the air,
greenfinches sang in the hedge. Gradually entering into the intense
life of the summer days—a life which burned around as if every grass
blade and leaf were a torch—I came to feel the long-drawn life of the
earth back into the dimmest past, while the sun of the moment was warm
on me. Sesostris on the most ancient sands of the south, in ancient,
ancient days, was conscious of himself and of the sun. This sunlight
linked me through the ages to that past consciousness. From all the
ages my soul desired to take that soul-life which had flowed through
them as the sunbeams had continually poured on earth. As the hot sands
take up the heat, so would I take up that soul-energy. Dreamy in
appearance, I was breathing full of existence; I was aware of the grass
blades, the flowers, the leaves on hawthorn and tree. I seemed to live
more largely through them, as if each were a pore through which I
drank. The grasshoppers called and leaped, the greenfinches sang, the
blackbirds happily fluted, all the air hummed with life. I was plunged
deep in existence, and with all that existence I prayed.

Through every grass blade in the thousand, thousand grasses; through
the million leaves, veined and edge-cut, on bush and tree; through the
song-notes and the marked feathers of the birds; through the insects’
hum and the colour of the butterflies; through the soft warm air, the
flecks of clouds dissolving—I used them all for prayer. With all the
energy the sunbeams had poured unwearied on the earth since Sesostris
was conscious of them on the ancient sands; with all the life that had
been lived by vigorous man and beauteous woman since first in dearest
Greece the dream of the gods was woven; with all the soul-life that had
flowed a long stream down to me, I prayed that I might have a soul more
than equal to, far beyond my conception of, these things of the past,
the present, and the fulness of all life. Not only equal to these, but
beyond, higher, and more powerful than I could imagine. That I might
take from all their energy, grandeur, and beauty, and gather it into
me. That my soul might be more than the cosmos of life.

I prayed with the glowing clouds of sun-set and the soft light of the
first star coming through the violet sky. At night with the stars,
according to the season: now with the Pleiades, now with the Swan or
burning Sirius, and broad Orion’s whole constellation, red Aldebaran,
Arcturus, and the Northern Crown; with the morning star, the
light-bringer, once now and then when I saw it, a white-gold ball in
the violet-purple sky, or framed about with pale summer vapour floating
away as red streaks shot horizontally in the east. A diffused saffron
ascended into the luminous upper azure. The disk of the sun rose over
the hill, fluctuating with throbs of light; his chest heaved in fervour
of brilliance. All the glory of the sunrise filled me with broader and
furnace-like vehemence of prayer. That I might have the deepest of
soul-life, the deepest of all, deeper far than all this greatness of
the visible universe and even of the invisible; that I might have a
fulness of soul till now unknown, and utterly beyond my own conception.

In the deepest darkness of the night the same thought rose in my mind
as in the bright light of noontide. What is there which I have not used
to strengthen the same emotion?


Sometimes I went to a deep, narrow valley in the hills, silent and
solitary. The sky crossed from side to side, like a roof supported on
two walls of green. Sparrows chirped in the wheat at the verge above,
their calls falling like the twittering of swallows from the air. There
was no other sound. The short grass was dried grey as it grew by the
heat; the sun hung over the narrow vale as if it had been put there by
hand. Burning, burning, the sun glowed on the sward at the foot of the
slope where these thoughts burned into me. How many, many years, how
many cycles of years, how many bundles of cycles of years, had the sun
glowed down thus on that hollow? Since it was formed how long? Since it
was worn and shaped, groove-like, in the flanks of the hills by mighty
forces which had ebbed. Alone with the sun which glowed on the work
when it was done, I saw back through space to the old time of
tree-ferns, of the lizard flying through the air, the lizard-dragon
wallowing in sea foam, the mountainous creatures, twice-elephantine,
feeding on land; all the crooked sequence of life. The dragon-fly which
passed me traced a continuous descent from the fly marked on stone in
those days. The immense time lifted me like a wave rolling under a
boat; my mind seemed to raise itself as the swell of the cycles came;
it felt strong with the power of the ages. With all that time and power
I prayed: that I might have in my soul the intellectual part of it; the
idea, the thought. Like a shuttle the mind shot to and fro the past and
the present, in an instant.

Full to the brim of the wondrous past, I felt the wondrous present. For
the day—the very moment I breathed, that second of time then in the
valley, was as marvellous, as grand, as all that had gone before. Now,
this moment was the wonder and the glory. Now, this moment was
exceedingly wonderful. Now, this moment give me all the thought, all
the idea, ali the soul expressed in the cosmos around me. Give me still
more, for the interminable universe, past and present, is but earth;
give me the unknown soul, wholly apart from it, the soul of which I
know only that when I touch the ground, when the sunlight touches my
hand, it is not there. Therefore the heart looks into space to be away
from earth. With all the cycles, and the sunlight streaming through
them, with all that is meant by the present, I thought in the deep vale
and prayed.

There was a secluded spring to which I sometimes went to drink the pure
water, lifting it in the hollow of my hand. Drinking the lucid water,
clear as light itself in solution, I absorbed the beauty and purity of
it. I drank the thought of the element; I desired soul-nature pure and
limpid. When I saw the sparkling dew on the grass—a rainbow broken into
drops—it called up the same thought-prayer. The stormy wind whose
sudden twists laid the trees on the ground woke the same feeling; my
heart shouted with it. The soft summer air which entered when I opened
my window in the morning breathed the same sweet desire. At night,
before sleeping, I always looked out at the shadowy trees, the hills
looming indistinctly in the dark, a star seen between the drifting
clouds; prayer of soul-life always. I chose the highest room, bare and
gaunt, because as I sat at work I could look out and see more of the
wide earth, more of the dome of the sky, and could think my desire
through these. When the crescent of the new moon shone, all the old
thoughts were renewed.

All the succeeding incidents of the year repeated my prayer as I noted
them. The first green leaf on the hawthorn, the first spike of meadow
grass, the first song of the nightingale, the green ear of wheat. I
spoke it with the ear of wheat as the sun tinted it golden; with the
whitening barley; again with the red gold spots of autumn on the beech,
the buff oak leaves, and the gossamer dew-weighted. All the larks over
the green corn sang it for me, all the dear swallows; the green leaves
rustled it; the green brook flags waved it; the swallows took it with
them to repeat it for me in distant lands. By the running brook I
meditated it; a flash of sunlight here in the curve, a flicker yonder
on the ripples, the birds bathing in the sandy shallow, the rush of
falling water. As the brook ran winding through the meadow, so one
thought ran winding through my days.

The sciences I studied never checked it for a moment; nor did the books
of old philosophy. The sun was stronger than science; the hills more
than philosophy. Twice circumstances gave me a brief view of the sea
then the passion rose tumultuous as the waves. It was very bitter to me
to leave the sea.

Sometimes I spent the whole day walking over the hills searching for
it; as if the labour of walking would force it from the ground. I
remained in the woods for hours, among the ash sprays and the
fluttering of the ring-doves at their nests, the scent of pines here
and there, dreaming my prayer.

My work was most uncongenial and useless, but even then sometimes a
gleam of sunlight on the wall, the buzz of a bee at the window, would
bring the thought to me. Only to make me miserable, for it was a waste
of golden time while the rich sunlight streamed on hill and plain.
There was a wrenching of the mind, a straining of the mental sinews; I
was forced to do this, my mind was yonder. Weariness, exhaustion,
nerve-illness often ensued. The insults which are showered on poverty,
long struggle of labour, the heavy pressure of circumstances, the
unhappiness, only stayed the expression of the feeling. It was always
there. Often in the streets of London, as the red sunset flamed over
the houses, the old thought, the old prayer, came.

Not only in grassy fields with green leaf and running brook did this
constant desire find renewal. More deeply still with living human
beauty; the perfection of form, the simple fact of form, ravished and
always will ravish me away. In this lies the outcome and end of all the
loveliness of sunshine and green leaf, of flowers, pure water, and
sweet air. This is embodiment and highest ex-pression; the scattered,
uncertain, and designless loveliness of tree and sunlight brought to
shape. Through this beauty I prayed deepest and longest, and down to
this hour. The shape—the divine idea of that shape—the swelling muscle
or the dreamy limb, strong sinew or curve of bust, Aphrodite or
Hercules, it is the same. That I may have the soul-life, the
soul-nature, let divine beauty bring to me divine soul. Swart Nubian,
white Greek, delicate Italian, massive Scandinavian, in all the
exquisite pleasure the form gave, and gives, to me immediately becomes
intense prayer.

If I could have been in physical shape like these, how despicable in
comparison I am; to be shapely of form is so infinitely beyond wealth,
power, fame, all that ambition can give, that these are dust before it.
Unless of the human form, no pictures hold me; the rest are flat
surfaces. So, too, with the other arts, they are dead; the potters, the
architects, meaningless, stony, and some repellent, like the cold touch
of porcelain. No prayer with these. Only the human form in art could
raise it, and most in statuary. I have seen so little good statuary, it
is a regret to me; still, that I have is beyond all other art.
Fragments here, a bust yonder, the broken pieces brought from Greece,
copies, plaster casts, a memory of an Aphrodite, of a Persephone, of an
Apollo, that is all; but even drawings of statuary will raise the
prayer. These statues were like myself full of a thought, for ever
about to burst forth as a bud, yet silent in the same attitude. Give me
to live the soul-life they express. The smallest fragment of marble
carved in the shape of the human arm will wake the desire I felt in my

Time went on; good fortune and success never for an instant deceived me
that they were in themselves to be sought; only my soul-thought was
worthy. Further years bringing much suffering, grinding the very life
out; new troubles, renewed insults, loss of what hard labour had
earned, the bitter question: Is it not better to leap into the sea?
These, too, have made no impression; constant still to the former
prayer my mind endures. It was my chief regret that I had not
endeavoured to write these things, to give expression to this passion.
I am now trying, but I see that I shall only in part succeed.

The same prayer comes to me at this very hour. It is now less solely
associated with the sun and sea, hills, woods, or beauteous human
shape. It is always within. It requires no waking; no renewal; it is
always with me. I am it; the fact of my existence expresses it.

After a long interval I came to the hills again, this time by the
coast. I found a deep hollow on the side of a great hill, a green
concave opening to the sea, where I could rest and think in perfect
quiet. Behind me were furze bushes dried by the heat; immediately in
front dropped the steep descent of the bowl-like hollow which received
and brought up to me the faint sound of the summer waves. Yonder lay
the immense plain of sea, the palest green under the continued
sunshine, as though the heat had evaporated the colour from it; there
was no distinct horizon, a heat-mist inclosed it and looked farther
away than the horizon would have done. Silence and sunshine, sea and
hill gradually brought my mind into the condition of intense prayer.
Day after day, for hours at a time, I came there, my soul-desire always
the same. Presently I began to consider how I could put a part of that
prayer into form, giving it an object. Could I bring it into such a
shape as would admit of actually working upon the lines it indicated
for any good?

One evening, when the bright white star in Lyra was shining almost at
the zenith over me, and the deep concave was the more profound in the
dusk, I formulated it into three divisions. First, I desired that I
might do or find something to exalt the soul, something to enable it to
live its own life, a more powerful existence now. Secondly, I desired
to be able to do something for the flesh, to make a discovery or
perfect a method by which the fleshly body might enjoy more pleasure,
longer life, and suffer less pain. Thirdly, to construct a more
flexible engine with which to carry into execution the design of the
will. I called this the Lyra prayer, to distinguish it from the far
deeper emotion in which the soul was alone concerned.

Of the three divisions, the last was of so little importance that it
scarcely deserved to be named in conjunction with the others. Mechanism
increases convenience—in no degree does it confer physical or moral
perfection. The rudimentary engines employed thousands of years ago in
raising buildings were in that respect equal to the complicated
machines of the present day. Control of iron and steel has not altered
or improved the bodily man. I even debated some time whether such a
third division should be included at all. Our bodies are now conveyed
all round the world with ease, but obtain no advantage. As they start
so they return. The most perfect human families of ancient times were
almost stationary, as those of Greece. Perfection of form was found in
Sparta; how small a spot compared to those continents over which we are
now taken so quickly! Such perfection of form might perhaps again
dwell, contented and complete in itself, on such a strip of land as I
could see between me and the sand of the sea. Again, a watch keeping
correct time is no guarantee that the bearer shall not suffer pain. The
owner of the watch may be soulless, without mind-fire, a mere creature.
No benefit to the heart or to the body accrues from the most accurate
mechanism. Hence I debated whether the third division should be
included. But I reflected that time cannot be put back on the dial, we
cannot return to Sparta; there is an existent state of things, and
existent multitudes; and possibly a more powerful engine, flexible to
the will, might give them that freedom which is the one, and the one
only, political or social idea I possess. For liberty, therefore, let
it be included.

For the flesh, this arm of mine, the limbs of others gracefully moving,
let me find something that will give them greater perfection. That the
bones may be firmer, somewhat larger if that would be an advantage,
certainly stronger, that the cartilage and sinews may be more enduring,
and the muscles more powerful, something after the manner of those
ideal limbs and muscles sculptured of old, these in the flesh and real.
That the organs of the body may be stronger in their action, perfect,
and lasting. That the exterior flesh may be yet more beautiful; that
the shape may be finer, and the motions graceful. These are the
soberest words I can find, purposely chosen; for I am so rapt in the
beauty of the human form, and so earnestly, so inexpressibly, prayerful
to see that form perfect, that my full thought is not to be written.
Unable to express it fully, I have considered it best to put it in the
simplest manner of words. I believe in the human form; let me find
something, some method, by which that form may achieve the utmost
beauty. Its beauty is like an arrow, which may be shot any distance
according to the strength of the bow. So the idea expressed in the
human shape is capable of indefinite expansion and elevation of beauty.

Of the mind, the inner consciousness, the soul, my prayer desired that
I might discover a mode of life for it, so that it might not only
conceive of such a life, but actually enjoy it on the earth. I wished
to search out a new and higher set of ideas on which the mind should
work. The simile of a new book of the soul is the nearest to convey the
meaning—a book drawn from the present and future, not the past. Instead
of a set of ideas based on tradition, let me give the mind a new
thought drawn straight from the wondrous present, direct this very
hour. Next, to furnish the soul with the means of executing its will,
of carrying thought into action. In other words, for the soul to become
a power. These three formed the Lyra prayer, of which the two first are
immeasurably the in more important. I believe in the human being, mind
and flesh; form and soul.

It happened just afterwards that I went to Pevensey, and immediately
the ancient wall swept my mind back seventeen hundred years to the
eagle, the pilum, and the short sword. The grey stones, the thin red
bricks laid by those whose eyes had seen Cæsar’s Rome, lifted me out of
the grasp of house-life, of modern civilisation, of those minutiae
which occupy the moment. The grey stone made me feel as if I had
existed from then till now, so strongly did I enter into and see my own
life as if reflected. My own existence was focused back on me; I saw
its joy, its unhappiness, its birth, its death, its possibilities among
the infinite, above all its yearning Question. Why? Seeing it thus
clearly, and lifted out of the moment by the force of seventeen
centuries, I recognised the full mystery and the depths of things in
the roots of the dry grass on the wall, in the green sea flowing near.
Is there anything I can do? The mystery and the possibilities are not
in the roots of the grass, nor is the depth of things in the sea; they
are in my existence, in my soul. The marvel of existence, almost the
terror of it, was flung on me with crushing force by the sea, the sun
shining, the distant hills. With all their ponderous weight they made
me feel myself: all the time, all the centuries made me feel myself
this moment a hundred-fold. I determined that I would endeavour to
write what I had so long thought of, and the same evening put down one
sentence. There the sentence remained two years. I tried to carry it
on; I hesitated because I could not express it: nor can I now, though
in desperation I am throwing these rude stones of thought together,
rude as those of the ancient wall.


There were grass-grown tumuli on the hills to which of old I used to
walk, sit down at the foot of one of them, and think. Some warrior had
been interred there in the antehistoric times. The sun of the summer
morning shone on the dome of sward, and the air came softly up from the
wheat below, the tips of the grasses swayed as it passed sighing
faintly, it ceased, and the bees hummed by to the thyme and heathbells.
I became absorbed in the glory of the day, the sunshine, the sweet air,
the yellowing corn turning from its sappy green to summer’s noon of
gold, the lark’s song like a waterfall in the sky. I felt at that
moment that I was like the spirit of the man whose body was interred in
the tumulus; I could understand and feel his existence the same as my
own. He was as real to me two thousand years after interment as those I
had seen in the body. The abstract personality of the dead seemed as
existent as thought. As my thought could slip back the twenty centuries
in a moment to the forest-days when he hurled the spear, or shot with
the bow, hunting the deer, and could return again as swiftly to this
moment, so his spirit could endure from then till now, and the time was

Two thousand years being a second to the soul could not cause its
extinction. It was no longer to the soul than my thought occupied to
me. Recognising my own inner consciousness, the psyche, so clearly,
death did not seem to me to affect the personality. In dissolution
there was no bridgeless chasm, no unfathomable gulf of separation; the
spirit did not immediately become inaccessible, leaping at a bound to
an immeasurable distance. Look at another person while living; the soul
is not visible, only the body which it animates. Therefore, merely
because after death the soul is not visible is no demonstration that it
does not still live. The condition of being unseen is the same
condition which occurs while the body is living, so that intrinsically
there is nothing exceptionable, or supernatural, in the life of the
soul after death. Resting by the tumulus, the spirit of the man who had
been interred there was to me really alive, and very close. This was
quite natural, as natural and simple as the grass waving in the wind,
the bees humming, and the larks’ songs. Only by the strongest effort of
the mind could I understand the idea of extinction; that was
supernatural, requiring a miracle; the immortality of the soul natural,
like earth. Listening to the sighing of the grass I felt immortality as
I felt the beauty of the summer morning, and I thought beyond
immortality, of other conditions, more beautiful than existence, higher
than immortality.

That there is no knowing, in the sense of written reasons, whether the
soul lives on or not, I am fully aware. I do not hope or fear. At least
while I am living I have enjoyed the idea of immortality, and the idea
of my own soul. If then, after death, I am resolved without exception
into earth, air, and water, and the spirit goes out like a flame, still
I shall have had the glory of that thought.

It happened once that a man was drowned while bathing, and his body was
placed in an outhouse near the garden. I passed the outhouse
continually, sometimes on purpose to think about it, and it always
seemed to me that the man was still living. Separation is not to be
comprehended; the spirit of the man did not appear to have gone to an
in conceivable distance. As my thought flashes itself back through the
centuries to the luxury of Canopus, and can see the gilded couches of a
city extinct, so it slips through the future, and immeasurable time in
front is no boundary to it. Certainly the man was not dead to me.

Sweetly the summer air came up to the tumulus, the grass sighed softly,
the butterflies went by, sometimes alighting on the green dome. Two
thousand years! Summer after summer the blue butterflies had visited
the mound, the thyme had flowered, the wind sighed in the grass. The
azure morning had spread its arms over the low tomb; and full glowing
noon burned on it; the purple of sunset rosied the sward. Stars, ruddy
in the vapour of the southern horizon, beamed at midnight through the
mystic summer night, which is dusky and yet full of light. White mists
swept up and hid it; dews rested on the turf; tender harebells drooped;
the wings of the finches fanned the air—finches whose colours faded
from the wings how many centuries ago! Brown autumn dwelt in the woods
beneath; the rime of winter whitened the beech clump on the ridge;
again the buds came on the wind-blown hawthorn bushes, and in the
evening the broad constellation of Orion covered the east. Two thousand
times! Two thousand times the woods grew green, and ring-doves built
their nests. Day and night for two thousand years—light and shadow
sweeping over the mound—two thousand years of labour by day and slumber
by night. Mystery gleaming in the stars, pouring down in the sunshine,
speaking in the night, the wonder of the sun and of far space, for
twenty centuries round about this low and green-grown dome. Yet all
that mystery and wonder is as nothing to the Thought that lies therein,
to the spirit that I feel so close.

Realising that spirit, recognising my own inner consciousness, the
psyche, so clearly, I cannot understand time. It is eternity now. I am
in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it, as the
butterfly floats in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is
now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life. Here this moment, by
this tumulus, on earth, now; I exist in it. The years, the centuries,
the cycles are absolutely nothing; it is only a moment since this
tumulus was raised; in a thousand years it will still be only a moment.
To the soul there is no past and no future; all is and will be ever, in
now. For artificial purposes time is mutually agreed on, but is really
no such thing. The shadow goes on upon the dial, the index moves round
upon the clock, and what is the difference? None whatever. If the clock
had never been set going, what would have been the difference? There
may be time for the clock, the clock may make time for itself; there is
none for me.

I dip my hand in the brook and feel the stream; in an instant the
particles of water which first touched me have floated yards down the
current, my hand remains there. I take my hand away, and the flow—the
time—of the brook does not exist to me. The great clock of the
firmament, the sun and the stars, the crescent moon, the earth circling
two thousand times, is no more to me than the flow of the brook when my
hand is withdrawn; my soul has never been, and never can be, dipped in
time. Time has never existed, and never will; it is a purely artificial
arrangement. It is eternity now, it always was eternity, and always
will be. By no possible means could I get into time if I tried. I am in
eternity now and must there remain. Haste not, be at rest, this Now is
eternity. Because the idea of time has left my mind—if ever it had any
hold on it—to me the man interred in the tumulus is living now as I
live. We are both in eternity.

There is no separation-no past; eternity, the Now, is continuous. When
all the stars have revolved they only produce Now again. The continuity
of Now is for ever. So that it appears to me purely natural, and not
super natural, that the soul whose temporary frame was interred in this
mound should be existing as I sit on the sward. How infinitely deeper
is thought than the million miles of the firmament! The wonder is here,
not there; now, not to be, now always. Things that have been miscalled
supernatural appear to me simple, more natural than nature, than earth,
than sea, or sun. It is beyond telling more natural that I should have
a soul than not, that there should be immortality; I think there is
much more than immortality. It is matter which is the supernatural, and
difficult of under-standing. Why this clod of earth I hold in my hand?
Why this water which drops sparkling from my fingers dipped in the
brook? Why are they at all? When? How? What for? Matter is beyond
understanding, mysterious, impenetrable; I touch it easily, comprehend
it, no. Soul, mind—the thought, the idea—is easily understood, it
understands itself and is conscious.

The supernatural miscalled, the natural in truth, is the real. To me
everything is supernatural. How strange that condition of mind which
cannot accept anything but the earth, the sea, the tangible universe!
Without the misnamed supernatural these to me seem incomplete,
unfinished. Without soul all these are dead. Except when I walk by the
sea, and my soul is by it, the sea is dead. Those seas by which no man
has stood—which no soul has been—whether on earth or the planets, are
dead. No matter how majestic the planet rolls in space, unless a soul
be there it is dead. As I move about in the sunshine I feel in the
midst of the supernatural: in the midst of immortal things. It is
impossible to wrest the mind down to the same laws that rule pieces of
timber, water, or earth. They do not control the soul, however rigidly
they may bind matter. So full am I always of a sense of the immortality
now at this moment round about me, that it would not surprise me in the
least if a circumstance outside physical experience occurred. It would
seem to me quite natural. Give the soul the power it conceives, and
there would be nothing wonderful in it.

I can see nothing astonishing in what are called miracles. Only those
who are mesmerised by matter can find a difficulty in such events. I am
aware that the evidence for miracles is logically and historically
untrustworthy; I am not defending recorded miracles. My point is that
in principle I see no reason at all why they should not take place this
day. I do not even say that there are or ever have been miracles, but I
maintain that they would be perfectly natural. The wonder rather is
that they do not happen frequently. Consider the limitless conceptions
of the soul: let it possess but the power to realise those conceptions
for one hour, and how little, how trifling would be the helping of the
injured or the sick to regain health and happiness—merely to think it.
A soul-work would require but a thought. Soul-work is an expression
better suited to my meaning than “miracle,” a term like others into
which a special sense has been infused.

When I consider that I dwell this moment in the eternal Now that has
ever been and will be, that I am in the midst of immortal things this
moment, that there probably are Souls as infinitely superior to mine as
mine to a piece of timber, what then, pray, is a “miracle”? As commonly
understood, a “miracle” is a mere nothing. I can conceive soul-works
done by simple will or thought a thousand times greater. I marvel that
they do not happen this moment. The air, the sunlight, the night, all
that surrounds me seems crowded with inexpressible powers, with the
influence of Souls, or existences, so that I walk in the midst of
immortal things. I myself am a living witness of it. Sometimes I have
concentrated myself, and driven away by continued will all sense of
outward appearances, looking straight with the full power of my mind
inwards on myself. I find “I” am there; an “I” I do not wholly
understand, or know—something is there distinct from earth and timber,
from flesh and bones. Recognising it, I feel on the margin of a life
unknown, very near, almost touching it: on the verge of powers which if
I could grasp would give me an immense breadth of existence, an ability
to execute what I now only conceive; most probably of far more than
that. To see that “I” is to know that I am surrounded with immortal
things. If, when I die, that “I” also dies, and becomes extinct, still
even then I have had the exaltation of these ideas.

How many words it has taken to describe so briefly the feelings and the
thoughts that came to me by the tumulus; thoughts that swept past and
were gone, and were succeeded by others while yet the shadow of the
mound had not moved from one thyme flower to another, not the breadth
of a grass blade. Softly breathed the sweet south wind, gently the
yellow corn waved beneath; the ancient, ancient sun shone on the fresh
grass and the flower, my heart opened wide as the broad, broad earth. I
spread my arms out, laying them on the sward, seizing the grass, to
take the fulness of the days. Could I have my own way after death I
would be burned on a pyre of pine-wood, open to the air, and placed on
the summit of the hills. Then let my ashes be scattered abroad—not
collected urn an urn—freely sown wide and broadcast. That is the
natural interment of man—of man whose Thought at least has been among
the immortals; interment in the elements. Burial is not enough, it does
not give sufficient solution into the elements speedily; a furnace is
confined. The high open air of the topmost hill, there let the tawny
flame lick up the fragment called the body; there cast the ashes into
the space it longed for while living. Such a luxury of interment is
only for the wealthy; I fear I shall not be able to afford it. Else the
smoke of my resolution into the elements should certainly arise in time
on the hill-top.

The silky grass sighs as the wind comes carrying the blue butterfly
more rapidly than his wings. A large humble-bee burrs round the green
dome against which I rest; my hands are scented with thyme. The
sweetness of the day, the fulness of the earth, the beauteous earth,
how shall I say it?

Three things only have been discovered of that which concerns the inner
consciousness since before written history began. Three things only in
twelve thousand written, or sculptured, years, and in the dumb, dim
time before then. Three ideas the Cavemen primeval wrested from the
unknown, the night which is round us still in daylight—the existence of
the soul, immortality, the deity. These things found, prayer followed
as a sequential result. Since then nothing further has been found in
all the twelve thousand years, as if men had been satisfied and had
found these to suffice. They do not suffice me. I desire to advance
further, and to wrest a fourth, and even still more than a fourth, from
the darkness of thought. I want more ideas of soul-life. I am certain
that there are more yet to be found. A great life—an entire
civilisation—lies just outside the pale of common thought. Cities and
countries, inhabitants, intelligences, culture—an entire civilisation.
Except by illustrations drawn from familiar things, there is no way of
indicating a new idea. I do not mean actual cities, actual
civilisation. Such life is different from any yet imagined. A nexus of
ideas exists of which nothing is known—a vast system of ideas—a cosmos
of thought. There is an Entity, a Soul-Entity, as yet unrecognised.
These, rudely expressed, constitute my Fourth Idea. It is beyond, or
beside, the three discovered by the Cavemen; it is in addition to the
existence of the soul; in addition to immortality; and beyond the idea
of the deity. I think there is something more than existence.

There is an immense ocean over which the mind can sail, upon which the
vessel of thought has not yet been launched. I hope to launch it. The
mind of so many thousand years has worked round and round inside the
circle of these three ideas as a boat on an inland lake. Let us haul it
over the belt of land, launch on the ocean, and sail outwards.

There is so much beyond all that has ever yet been imagined. As I write
these words, in the very moment, I feel that the whole air, the
sunshine out yonder lighting up the ploughed earth, the distant sky,
the circumambient ether, and that far space, is full of soul-secrets,
soul-life, things outside the experience of all the ages. The fact of
my own existence as I write, as I exist at this second, is so
marvellous, so miracle-like, strange, and supernatural to me, that I
unhesitatingly conclude I am always on the margin of life illimitable,
and that there are higher conditions than existence. Everything around
is supernatural; everything so full of unexplained meaning.

Twelve thousand years since the Caveman stood at the mouth of his
cavern and gazed out at the night and the stars. He looked again and
saw the sun rise beyond the sea. He reposed in the noontide heat under
the shade of the trees, he closed his eyes and looked into himself. He
was face to face with the earth, the sun, the night; face to face with
himself. There was nothing between; no wall of written tradition; no
built up system of culture—his naked mind was confronted by naked
earth. He made three idea-discoveries, wresting them from the unknown;
the existence of his soul, immortality, the deity. Now, to-day, as I
write, I stand in exactly the same position as the Caveman. Written
tradition, systems of culture, modes of thought, have for me no
existence. If ever they took any hold of my mind it must have been very
slight; they have long ago been erased.

From earth and sea and sun, from night, the stars, from day, the trees,
the hills, from my own soul—from these I think. I stand this moment at
the mouth of the ancient cave, face to face with nature, face to face
with the supernatural, with myself. My naked mind confronts the
unknown. I see as clearly as the noonday that this is not all; I see
other and higher conditions than existence; I see not only the
existence of the soul, immortality, but, in addition, I realise a
soul-life illimitable; I realise the existence of a cosmos of thought;
I realise the existence of an inexpressible entity infinitely higher
than deity. I strive to give utterance to a Fourth Idea. The very idea
that there is another idea is something gained. The three found by the
Cavemen are but stepping-stones: first links of an endless chain. At
the mouth of the ancient cave, face to face with the unknown, they
prayed. Prone in heart to-day I pray, Give me the deepest soul-life.


The wind sighs through the grass, sighs in the sunshine; it has drifted
the butterfly eastwards along the hill. A few yards away there lies the
skull of a lamb on the turf, white and bleached, picked clean long
since by crows and ants. Like the faint ripple of the summer sea
sounding in the hollow of the ear, so the sweet air ripples in the
grass. The ashes of the man interred in the tumulus are
indistinguishable; they have sunk away like rain into the earth; so his
body has disappeared. I am under no delusion; I am fully aware that no
demonstration can be given of the three stepping-stones of the Cavemen.
The soul is inscrutable; it is not in evidence to show that it exists;
immortality is not tangible. Full well I know that reason and knowledge
and experience tend to disprove all three; that experience denies
answer to prayer. I am under no delusion whatever; I grasp death firmly
in conception as I can grasp this bleached bone; utter extinction,
annihilation. That the soul is a product at best of organic
composition; that it goes out like a flame. This may be the end; my
soul may sink like rain into the earth and disappear. Wind and earth,
sea, and night and day, what then? Let my soul be but a product, what
then? I say it is nothing to me; this only I know, that while I have
lived—now, this moment, while I live—I think immortality, I lift my
mind to a Fourth Idea. If I pass into utter oblivion, yet I have had

The original three ideas of the Cavemen became encumbered with
superstition; ritual grew up, and ceremony, and long ranks of souls
were painted on papyri waiting to be weighed in the scales, and to be
punished or rewarded. These cobwebs grotesque have sullied the original
discoveries and cast them into discredit. Erase them altogether, and
consider only the underlying principles. The principles do not go far
enough, but I shall not discard all of them for that. Even supposing
the pure principles to be illusions, and annihilation the end, even
then it is better—it is something gained to have thought them. Thought
is life; to have thought them is to have lived them. Accepting two of
them as true in principle, then I say that these are but the threshold.
For twelve thousand years no effort has been made to get beyond that
threshold. These are but the primer of soul-life; the merest
hieroglyphics chipped out, a little shape given to the unknown.

Not to-morrow but to-day. Not the to-morrow of the tumulus, the hour of
the sunshine now. This moment give me to live soul-life, not only after
death. Now is eternity, now I am in the midst of immortality; now the
supernatural crowds around me. Open my mind, give my soul to see, let
me live it now on earth, while I hear the burring of the larger bees,
the sweet air in the grass, and watch the yellow wheat wave beneath me.
Sun and earth and sea, night and day—these are the least of things.
Give me soul-life.

There is nothing human in nature. The earth, though loved so dearly,
would let me perish on the ground, and neither bring forth food nor
water. Burning in the sky the great sun, of whose company I have been
so fond, would merely burn on and make no motion to assist me. Those
who have been in an open boat at sea without water have proved the
mercies of the sun, and of the deity who did not give them one drop of
rain, dying in misery under the same rays that smile so beautifully on
the flowers. In the south the sun is the enemy; night and coolness and
rain are the friends of man. As for the sea, it offers us salt water
which we cannot drink. The trees care nothing for us; the hill I
visited so often in days gone by has not missed me. The sun scorches
man, and willing his naked state roast him alive. The sea and the fresh
water alike make no effort to uphold him if his vessel founders; he
casts up his arms in vain, they come to their level over his head,
filling the spot his body occupied. If he falls from a cliff the air
parts; the earth beneath dashes him to pieces.

Water he can drink, but it is not produced for him; how many thousands
have perished for want of it? Some fruits are produced which he can
eat, but they do not produce themselves for him; merely for the purpose
of continuing their species. In wild, tropical countries, at the first
glance there appears to be some consideration for him, but it is on the
surface only. The lion pounces on him, the rhinoceros crushes him, the
serpent bites, insects torture, diseases rack him. Disease worked its
dreary will even among the flower-crowned Polynesians. Returning to our
own country, this very thyme which scents my fingers did not grow for
that purpose, but for its own. So does the wheat beneath; we utilise
it, but its original and native purpose was for itself. By night it is
the same as by day; the stars care not, they pursue their courses
revolving, and we are nothing to them. There is nothing human in the
whole round of nature. All nature, all the universe that we can see, is
absolutely indifferent to us, and except to us human life is of no more
value than grass. If the entire human race perished at this hour, what
difference would it make to the earth? What would the earth care? As
much as for the extinct dodo, or for the fate of the elephant now

On the contrary, a great part, perhaps the whole, of nature and of the
universe is distinctly anti-human. The term inhuman does not express my
meaning, anti-human is better; outre-human, in the sense of beyond,
outside, almost grotesque in its attitude towards, would nearly convey
it. Everything is anti-human. How extraordinary, strange, and
incomprehensible are the creatures captured out of the depths of the
sea! The distorted fishes; the ghastly cuttles; the hideous eel-like
shapes; the crawling shell-encrusted things; the centipede-like beings;
monstrous forms, to see which gives a shock to the brain. They shock
the mind because they exhibit an absence of design. There is no idea in

They have no shape, form, grace, or purpose; they call up a vague sense
of chaos, chaos which the mind revolts from. It would be a relief to
the thought if they ceased to be, and utterly disappeared from the sea.
They are not inimical of intent towards man, not even the shark; but
there the shark is, and that is enough. These miserably hideous things
of the sea are not anti-human in the sense of persecution, they are
outside, they are ultra and beyond. It is like looking into chaos, and
it is vivid because these creatures, interred alive a hundred fathoms
deep, are seldom seen; so that the mind sees them as if only that
moment they had come into existence. Use has not habituated it to them,
so that their anti-human character is at once apparent, and stares at
us with glassy eye.

But it is the same in reality with the creatures on the earth. There
are some of these even now to which use has not accustomed the mind.
Such, for instance, as the toad. At its shapeless shape appearing in an
unexpected corner many people start and exclaim. They are aware that
they shall receive no injury from it, yet it affrights them, it sends a
shock to the mind. The reason lies in its obviously anti-human
character. All the designless, formless chaos of chance-directed
matter, without idea or human plan, squats there embodied in the
pathway. By watching the creature, and convincing the mind from
observation that it is harmless, and even has uses, the horror wears
away. But still remains the form to which the mind can never reconcile
itself. Carved in wood it is still repellent.

Or suddenly there is a rustle like a faint hiss in the grass, and a
green snake glides over the bank. The breath in the chest seems to lose
its vitality; for an instant the nerves refuse to transmit the force of
life. The gliding yellow-streaked worm is so utterly opposed to the
ever present Idea in the mind. Custom may reduce the horror, but no
long pondering can ever bring that creature within the pale of the
human Idea. These are so distinctly opposite and anti-human that
thousands of years have not sufficed to soften their outline. Various
insects and creeping creatures excite the same sense in lesser degrees.
Animals and birds in general do not. The tiger is dreaded, but causes
no disgust. The exception is in those that feed on offal. Horses and
dogs we love; we not only do not recognise anything opposite in them,
we come to love them.

They are useful to us, they show more or less sympathy with us, they
possess, especially the horse, a certain grace of movement. A gloss, as
it were, is thrown over them by these attributes and by familiarity.
The shape of the horse to the eye has become conventional: it is
accepted. Yet the horse is not in any sense human. Could we look at it
suddenly, without previous acquaintance, as at strange fishes in a
tank, the ultra-human character of the horse would be apparent. It is
the curves of the neck and body that carry the horse past without
adverse comment. Examine the hind legs in detail, and the curious
backward motion, the shape and anti-human curves become apparent. Dogs
take us by their intelligence, but they have no hand; pass the hand
over the dog’s head, and the shape of the skull to the sense of feeling
is almost as repellent as the form of the toad to the sense of sight.
We have gradually gathered around us all the creatures that are less
markedly anti-human, horses and dogs and birds, but they are still
themselves. They originally existed like the wheat, for themselves; we
utilise them, but they are not of us.

There is nothing human in any living animal. All nature, the universe
as far as we see, is anti- or ultra-human, outside, and has no concern
with man. These things are unnatural to him. By no course of reasoning,
however tortuous, can nature and the universe be fitted to the mind.
Nor can the mind be fitted to the cosmos. My mind cannot be twisted to
it; I am separate altogether from these designless things. The soul
cannot be wrested down to them. The laws of nature are of no importance
to it. I refuse to be bound by the laws of the tides, nor am I so
bound. Though bodily swung round on this rotating globe, my mind always
remains in the centre. No tidal law, no rotation, no gravitation can
control my thought.

Centuries of thought have failed to reconcile and fit the mind to the
universe, which is designless, and purposeless, and without idea. I
will not endeavour to fit my thought to it any longer; I find and
believe myself to be distinct—separate; and I will labour in earnest to
obtain the highest culture for myself. As these natural things have no
connection with man, it follows again that the natural is the strange
and mysterious, and the supernatural the natural.

There being nothing human in nature or the universe, and all things
being ultra-human and without design, shape, or purpose, I conclude
that, no deity has anything to do with nature. There is no god in
nature, nor in any matter anywhere, either in the clods on the earth or
in the composition of the stars. For what we understand by the deity is
the purest form of Idea, of Mind, and no mind is exhibited in these.
That which controls them is distinct altogether from deity. It is not
force in the sense of electricity, nor a deity as god, nor a spirit,
not even an intelligence, but a power quite different to anything yet
imagined. I cease, therefore, to look for deity in nature or the cosmos
at large, or to trace any marks of divine handiwork. I search for
traces of this force which is not god, and is certainly not the higher
than deity of whom I have written. It is a force without a mind. I wish
to indicate something more subtle than electricity, but absolutely
devoid of consciousness, and with no more feeling than the force which
lifts the tides.

Next, in human affairs, in the relations of man with man, in the
conduct of life, in the events that occur, in human affairs generally
everything happens by chance. No prudence in conduct, no wisdom or
foresight can effect anything, for the most trivial circumstance will
upset the deepest plan of the wisest mind. As Xenophon observed in old
times, wisdom is like casting dice and determining your course by the
number that appears. Virtue, humanity, the best and most beautiful
conduct is wholly in vain. The history of thousands of years
demonstrates it. In all these years there is no more moving instance on
record than that of Danae, when she was dragged to the precipice, two
thousand years ago. Sophron was governor of Ephesus, and Laodice
plotted to assassinate him. Danae discovered the plot, and warned
Sophron, who fled, and saved his life. Laodice—the murderess in
intent—had Danae seized and cast from a cliff. On the verge Danae said
that some persons despised the deity, and they might now prove the
justice of their contempt by her fate. For having saved the man who was
to her as a husband, she was rewarded in this way with cruel death by
the deity, but Laodice was advanced to honour. The bitterness of these
words remains to this hour.

In truth the deity, if responsible for such a thing, or for similar
things which occur now, should be despised. One must always despise the
fatuous belief in such a deity. But as everything in human affairs
obviously happens by chance, it is clear that no deity is responsible.
If the deity guides chance in that manner, then let the deity be
despised. Apparently the deity does not interfere, and all things
happen by chance. I cease, therefore, to look for traces of the deity
in life, because no such traces exist.

I conclude that there is an existence, a something higher than
soul—higher, better, and more perfect than deity. Earnestly I pray to
find this something better than a god. There is something superior,
higher, more good. For this I search, labour, think, and pray. If after
all there be nothing, and my soul has to go out like a flame, yet even
then I have thought this while it lives. With the whole force of my
existence, with the whole force of my thought, mind, and soul, I pray
to find this Highest Soul, this greater than deity, this better than
god. Give me to live the deepest soul-life now and always with this
Soul. For want of words I write soul, but I think that it is something
beyond soul.


It is not possible to narrate these incidents of the mind in strict
order. I must now return to a period earlier than anything already
narrated, and pass in review other phases of my search from then up
till recently. So long since that I have forgotten the date, I used
every morning to visit a spot where I could get a clear view of the
east. Immediately on rising I went out to some elms; thence I could see
across the dewy fields to the distant hill over or near which the sun
rose. These elms partially hid me, for at that time I had a dislike to
being seen, feeling that I should be despised if I was noticed. This
happened once or twice, and I knew I was watched contemptuously, though
no one had the least idea of my object. But I went every morning, and
was satisfied if I could get two or three minutes to think unchecked.
Often I saw the sun rise over the line of the hills, but if it was
summer the sun had been up a long time.

I looked at the hills, at the dewy grass, and then up through the elm
branches to the sky. In a moment all that was behind me, the house, the
people, the sounds, seemed to disappear, and to leave me alone.
Involuntarily I drew a long breath, then I breathed slowly. My thought,
or inner consciousness, went up through the illumined sky, and I was
lost in a moment of exaltation. This only lasted a very short time,
perhaps only part of a second, and while it lasted there was no
formulated wish. I was absorbed; I drank the beauty of the morning; I
was exalted. When it ceased I did wish for some increase or enlargement
of my existence to correspond with the largeness of feeling I had
momentarily enjoyed. Sometimes the wind came through the tops of the
elms, and the slender boughs bent, and gazing up through them, and
beyond the fleecy clouds, I felt lifted up. The light coming across the
grass and leaving itself on the dew-drops, the sound of the wind, and
the sense of mounting to the lofty heaven, filled me with a deep sigh,
a wish to draw something out of the beauty of it, some part of that
which caused my admiration, the subtle inner essence.

Sometimes the green tips of the highest boughs seemed gilded, the light
laid a gold on the green. Or the trees bowed to a stormy wind roaring
through them, the grass threw itself down, and in the east broad
curtains of a rosy tint stretched along. The light was turned to
redness in the vapour, and rain hid the summit of the hill. In the rush
and roar of the stormy wind the same exaltation, the same desire,
lifted me for a moment. I went there every morning, I could not exactly
define why; it was like going to a rose bush to taste the scent of the
flower and feel the dew from its petals on the lips. But I desired the
beauty—the inner subtle meaning—to be in me, that I might have it, and
with it an existence of a higher kind.

Later on I began to have daily pilgrimages to think these things. There
was a feeling that I must go somewhere, and be alone. It was a
necessity to have a few minutes of this separate life every day; my
mind required to live its own life apart from other things. A great oak
at a short distance was one resort, and sitting on the grass at the
roots, or leaning against the trunk and looking over the quiet meadows
towards the bright southern sky, I could live my own life a little
while. Behind the trunk I was alone; I liked to lean against it; to
touch the lichen on the rough bark. High in the wood of branches the
birds were not alarmed; they sang, or called, and passed to and fro
happily. The wind moved the leaves, and they replied to it softly; and
now at this distance of time I can see the fragments of sky up through
the boughs. Bees were always humming in the green field; ring-doves
went over swiftly, flying for the woods.

Of the sun I was conscious; I could not look at it, but the boughs held
back the beams so that I could feel the sun’s presence pleasantly. They
shaded the sun, yet let me know that it was there. There came to me a
delicate, but at the same time a deep, strong, and sensuous enjoyment
of the beautiful green earth, the beautiful sky and sun; I felt them,
they gave me inexpressible delight, as if they embraced and poured out
their love upon me. It was I who loved them, for my heart was broader
than the earth; it is broader now than even then, more thirsty and
desirous. After the sensuous enjoyment always came the thought, the
desire: That I might be like this; that I might have the inner meaning
of the sun, the light, the earth, the trees and grass, translated into
some growth of excellence in myself, both of body and of mind; greater
perfection of physique, greater perfection of mind and soul; that I
might be higher in myself. To this oak I came daily for a long time;
sometimes only for a minute, for just to view the spot was enough. In
the bitter cold of spring, when the north wind blackened everything, I
used to come now and then at night to look from under the bare branches
at the splendour of the southern sky. The stars burned with brilliance,
broad Orion and flashing Sirius—there are more or brighter
constellations visible then than all the year: and the clearness of the
air and the blackness of the sky—black, not clouded—let them gleam in
their fulness. They lifted me—they gave me fresh vigour of soul. Not
all that the stars could have given, had they been destinies, could
have satiated me. This, all this, and more, I wanted in myself.

There was a place a mile or so along the road where the hills could be
seen much better; I went there frequently to think the same thought.
Another spot was by an elm, a very short walk, where openings in the
trees, and the slope of the ground, brought the hills well into view.
This too, was a favourite thinking-place. Another was a wood, half an
hour’s walk distant, through part of which a rude track went, so that
it was not altogether inclosed. The ash-saplings, and the trees, the
firs, the hazel bushes—to be among these enabled me to be myself. From
the buds of spring to the berries of autumn, I always liked to be
there. Sometimes in spring there was a sheen of blue-bells covering
acres; the doves cooed; the blackbirds whistled sweetly; there was a
taste of green things in the air. But it was the tall firs that pleased
me most; the glance rose up the flame-shaped fir-tree, tapering to its
green tip, and above was the azure sky. By aid of the tree I felt the
sky more. By aid of everything beautiful I felt myself, and in that
intense sense of consciousness prayed for greater perfection of soul
and body.

Afterwards, I walked almost daily more than two miles along the road to
a spot where the hills began, where from the first rise the road could
be seen winding southwards over the hills, open and uninclosed. I
paused a minute or two by a clump of firs, in whose branches the wind
always sighed—there is always a movement of the air on a hill.
Southwards the sky was illumined by the sun, southwards the clouds
moved across the opening or pass in the amphitheatre, and southwards,
though far distant, was the sea. There I could think a moment. These
pilgrimages gave me a few sacred minutes daily; the moment seemed holy
when the thought or desire came in its full force.

A time came when, having to live in a town, these pilgrimages had to be
suspended. The wearisome work on which I was engaged would not permit
of them. But I used to look now and then, from a window, in the evening
at a birch-tree at some distance; its graceful boughs drooped across
the glow of the sunset. The thought was not suspended; it lived in me
always. A bitterer time still came when it was necessary to be
separated from those I loved. There is little indeed in the more
immediate suburbs of London to gratify the sense of the beautiful. Yet
there was a cedar by which I used to walk up and down, and think the
same thoughts as under the great oak in the solitude of the sunlit
meadows. In the course of slow time happier circumstances brought us
together again, and, though near London, at a spot where there was easy
access to meadows and woods. Hills that purify those who walk on them
there were not. Still I thought my old thoughts.

I was much in London, and, engagements completed, I wandered about in
the same way as in the woods of former days. From the stone bridges I
looked down on the river; the gritty dust, the straws that lie on the
bridges, flew up and whirled round with every gust from the flowing
tide; gritty dust that settles in the nostrils and on the lips, the
very residuum of all that is repulsive in the greatest city of the
world. The noise of the traffic and the constant pressure from the
crowds passing, their incessant and disjointed talk, could not distract
me. One moment at least I had, a moment when I thought of the push of
the great sea forcing the water to flow under the feet of these crowds,
the distant sea strong and splendid; when I saw the sunlight gleam on
the tidal wavelets; when I felt the wind, and was conscious of the
earth, the sea, the sun, the air, the immense forces working on, while
the city hummed by the river. Nature was deepened by the crowds and
foot-worn stones. If the tide had ebbed, and the masts of the vessels
were tilted as the hulls rested on the shelving mud, still even the
blackened mud did not prevent me seeing the water as water flowing to
the sea. The sea had drawn down, and the wavelets washing the strand
here as they hastened were running the faster to it. Eastwards from
London Bridge the river raced to the ocean.

The bright morning sun of summer heated the eastern parapet of London
Bridge; I stayed in the recess to acknowledge it. The smooth water was
a broad sheen of light, the built-up river flowed calm and silent by a
thousand doors, rippling only where the stream chafed against a chain.
Red pennants drooped, gilded vanes gleamed on polished masts,
black-pitched hulls glistened like a black rook’s feathers in sunlight;
the clear air cut out the forward angles of the warehouses, the
shadowed wharves were quiet in shadows that carried light; far down the
ships that were hauling out moved in repose, and with the stream
floated away into the summer mist. There was a faint blue colour in the
air hovering between the built-up banks, against the lit walls, in the
hollows of the houses. The swallows wheeled and climbed, twittered and
glided downwards. Burning on, the great sun stood in the sky, heating
the parapet, glowing steadfastly upon me as when I rested in the narrow
valley grooved out in prehistoric times. Burning on steadfast, and ever
present as my thought. Lighting the broad river, the broad walls;
lighting the least speck of dust; lighting the great heaven; gleaming
on my finger-nail. The fixed point of day—the sun. I was intensely
conscious of it; I felt it; I felt the presence of the immense powers
of the universe; I felt out into the depths of the ether. So intensely
conscious of the sun, the sky, the limitless space, I felt too in the
midst of eternity then, in the midst of the supernatural, among the
immortal, and the greatness of the material realised the spirit. By
these I saw my soul; by these I knew the supernatural to be more
intensely real than the sun. I touched the supernatural, the immortal,
there that moment.

When, weary of walking on the pavements, I went to rest in the National
Gallery, I sat and rested before one or other of the human pictures. I
am not a picture lover: they are flat surfaces, but those that I call
human are nevertheless beautiful. The knee in Daphnis and Chloe and the
breast are like living things; they draw the heart towards them, the
heart must love them. I lived in looking; without beauty there is no
life for me, the divine beauty of flesh is life itself to me. The
shoulder in the Surprise, the rounded rise of the bust, the exquisite
tints of the ripe skin, momentarily gratified the sea-thirst in me. For
I thirst with all the thirst of the salt sea, and the sun-heated sands
dry for the tide, with all the sea I thirst for beauty. And I know full
well that one lifetime, however long, cannot fill my heart. My throat
and tongue and whole body have often been parched and feverish dry with
this measureless thirst, and again moist to the fingers’ ends like a
sappy bough. It burns in me as the sun burns in the sky.

The glowing face of Cytherea in Titian’s Venus and Adonis, the heated
cheek, the lips that kiss each eye that gazes on them, the desiring
glance, the golden hair—sunbeams moulded into features—this face
answered me. Juno’s wide back and mesial groove, is any thing so lovely
as the back? Cythereals poised hips unveiled for judgment; these called
up the same thirst I felt on the green sward in the sun, on the wild
beach listening to the quiet sob as the summer wave drank at the land.
I will search the world through for beauty. I came here and sat to rest
before these in the days when I could not afford to buy so much as a
glass of ale, weary and faint from walking on stone pavements. I came
later on, in better times, often straight from labours which though
necessary will ever be distasteful, always to rest my heart with
loveliness. I go still; the divine beauty of flesh is life itself to
me. It was, and is, one of my London pilgrimages.

Another was to the Greek sculpture galleries in the British Museum. The
statues are not, it is said, the best; broken too, and mutilated, and
seen in a dull, commonplace light. But they were shape—divine shape of
man and woman; the form of limb and torso, of bust and neck, gave me a
sighing sense of rest. These were they who would have stayed with me
under the shadow of the oaks while the blackbirds fluted and the south
air swung the cowslips. They would have walked with me among the
reddened gold of the wheat. They would have rested with me on the
hill-tops and in the narrow valley grooved of ancient times. They would
have listened with me to the sob of the summer sea drinking the land.
These had thirsted of sun, and earth, and sea, and sky. Their shape
spoke this thirst and desire like mine—if I had lived with them from
Greece till now I should not have had enough of them. Tracing the form
of limb and torso with the eye gave me a sense of rest.

Sometimes I came in from the crowded streets and ceaseless hum; one
glance at these shapes and I became myself. Sometimes I came from the
Reading-room, where under the dome I often looked up from the desk and
realised the crushing hopelessness of books, useless, not equal to one
bubble borne along on the running brook I had walked by, giving no
thought like the spring when I lifted the water in my hand and saw the
light gleam on it. Torso and limb, bust and neck instantly returned me
to myself; I felt as I did lying on the turf listening to the wind
among the grass; it would have seemed natural to have found butterflies
fluttering among he statues. The same deep desire was with me. I shall
always go to speak to them; they are a place of pilgrimage; wherever
there is a beautiful statue there is a place of pilgrimage.

I always stepped aside, too, to look awhile at the head of Julius
Cæsar. The domes of the swelling temples of his broad head are full of
mind, evident to the eye as a globe is full of substance to the sense
of feeling in the hands that hold it. The thin worn cheek is entirely
human; endless difficulties surmounted by endless labour are marked in
it, as the sandblast, by dint of particles ceaselessly driven, carves
the hardest material. If circumstances favoured him he made those
circumstances his own by marvellous labour, so as justly to receive the
credit of chance. Therefore the thin cheek is entirely human—the sum of
human life made visible in one face—labour, and endurance, and mind,
and all in vain. A shadow—of deep sadness has gathered on it in the
years that have passed, because endurance was without avail. It is
sadder to look at than the grass-grown tumulus I used to sit by,
because it is a personality, and also on account of the extreme folly
of our human race ever destroying our greatest.

Far better had they endeavoured, however hopelessly, to keep him living
till this day. Did but the race this hour possess one-hundredth part of
his breadth of view, how happy for them! Of whom else can it be said
that he had no enemies to forgive because he recognised no enemy?
Nineteen hundred years ago he put in actual practice, with more
arbitrary power than any despot, those very principles of humanity
which are now put forward as the highest culture. But he made them to
be actual things under his sway.

The one man filled with mind; the one man without avarice, anger,
pettiness, littleness; the one man generous and truly great of all
history. It is enough to make one despair to think of the mere brutes
butting to death the great-minded Cæsar. He comes nearest to the ideal
of a design-power arranging the affairs of the world for good in
practical things. Before his face—the divine brow of mind above, the
human suffering-drawn cheek beneath—my own thought became set and
strengthened. That I could but look at things in the broad way he did;
that I could not possess one particle of such width of intellect to
guide my own course, to cope with and drag forth from the
iron-resisting forces of the universe some one thing of my prayer for
the soul and for the flesh.


There is a place in front of the Royal Exchange where the wide pavement
reaches out like a promontory. It is in the shape of a triangle with a
rounded apex. A stream of traffic runs on either side, and other
streets send their currents down into the open space before it. Like
the spokes of a wheel converging streams of human life flow into this
agitated pool. Horses and carriages, carts, vans, omnibuses, cabs,
every kind of conveyance cross each other’s course in every possible
direction. Twisting in and out by the wheels and under the horses’
heads, working a devious way, men and women of all conditions wind a
path over. They fill the interstices between the carriages and blacken
the surface, till the vans almost float on human beings. Now the
streams slacken, and now they rush amain, but never cease; dark waves
are always rolling down the incline opposite, waves swell out from the
side rivers, all London converges into this focus. There is an
indistinguishable noise—it is not clatter, hum, or roar, it is not
resolvable; made up of a thousand thousand footsteps, from a thousand
hoofs, a thousand wheels—of haste, and shuffle, and quick movements,
and ponderous loads; no attention can resolve it into a fixed sound.

Blue carts and yellow omnibuses, varnished carriages and brown vans,
green omnibuses and red cabs, pale loads of yellow straw, rusty-red
iron clanking on paintless carts, high white wool-packs, grey horses,
bay horses, black teams; sunlight sparkling on brass harness, gleaming
from carriage panels; jingle, jingle, jingle! An intermixed and
intertangled, ceaselessly changing jingle, too, of colour; flecks of
colour champed, as it were, like bits in the horses’ teeth, frothed and
strewn about, and a surface always of dark-dressed people winding like
the curves on fast-flowing water. This is the vortex and whirlpool, the
centre of human life today on the earth. Now the tide rises and now it
sinks, but the flow of these rivers always continues. Here it seethes
and whirls, not for an hour only, but for all present time, hour by
hour, day by day, year by year.

Here it rushes and pushes, the atoms triturate and grind, and, eagerly
thrusting by, pursue their separate ends. Here it appears in its
unconcealed personality, indifferent to all else but itself, absorbed
and rapt in eager self, devoid and stripped of conventional gloss and
politeness, yielding only to get its own way; driving, pushing, carried
on in a stress of feverish force like a bullet, dynamic force apart
from reason or will, like the force that lifts the tides and sends the
clouds onwards. The friction of a thousand interests evolves a
condition of electricity in which men are moved to and fro without
considering their steps. Yet the agitated pool of life is stonily
indifferent, the thought is absent or preoccupied, for it is evident
that the mass are unconscious of the scene in which they act.

But it is more sternly real than the very stones, for all these men and
women that pass through are driven on by the push of accumulated
circumstances; they cannot stay, they must go, their necks are in the
slave’s ring, they are beaten like seaweed against the solid walls of
fact. In ancient times, Xerxes, the king of kings, looking down upon
his myriads, wept to think that in a hundred years not one of them
would be left. Where will be these millions of to-day in a hundred
years? But, further than that, let us ask, Where then will be the sum
and outcome of their labour? If they wither away like summer grass,
will not at least a result be left which those of a hundred years hence
may be the better for? No, not one jot! There will not be any sum or
outcome or result of this ceaseless labour and movement; it vanishes in
the moment that it is done, and in a hundred years nothing will be
there, for nothing is there now. There will be no more sum or result
than accumulates from the motion of a revolving cowl on a housetop. Nor
do they receive any more sunshine during their lives, for they are
unconscious of the sun.

I used to come and stand near the apex of the promontory of pavement
which juts out towards the pool of life; I still go there to ponder.
Burning in the sky, the sun shone on me as when I rested in the narrow
valley carved in prehistoric time. Burning in the sky, I can never
forget the sun. The heat of summer is dry there as if the light carried
an impalpable dust; dry, breathless heat that will not let the skin
respire, but swathes up the dry fire in the blood. But beyond the heat
and light, I felt the presence of the sun as I felt it in the solitary
valley, the presence of the resistless forces of the universe; the sun
burned in the sky as I stood and pondered. Is there any theory,
philosophy, or creed, is there any system or culture, any formulated
method able to meet and satisfy each separate item of this agitated
pool of human life? By which they may be guided, by which hope, by
which look forward? Not a mere illusion of the craven heart—something
real, as real as the solid walls of fact against which, like drifted
sea-weed, they are dashed; something to give each separate personality
sunshine and a flower in its own existence now; something to shape this
million-handed labour to an end and outcome that will leave more
sunshine and more flowers to those who must succeed? Something real
now, and not in the spirit-land; in this hour now, as I stand and the
sun burns. Can any creed, philosophy, system, or culture endure the
test and remain unmolten in this fierce focus of human life?

Consider, is there anything slowly painted on the once mystic and now
commonplace papyri of ancient, ancient Egypt, held on the mummy’s
withered breast? In that elaborate ritual, in the procession of the
symbols, in the winged circle, in the laborious sarcophagus? Nothing;
absolutely nothing! Before the fierce heat of the human furnace, the
papyri smoulder away as paper smoulders under a lens in the sun.
Remember Nineveh and the cult of the fir-cone, the turbaned and bearded
bulls of stone, the lion hunt, the painted chambers loaded with tile
books, the lore of the arrow-headed writing. What is in Assyria? There
are sand, and failing rivers, and in Assyria’s writings an utter
nothing. The aged caves of India, who shall tell when they were
sculptured? Far back when the sun was burning, burning in the sky as
now in untold precedent time. Is there any meaning in those ancient
caves? The indistinguishable noise not to be resolved, born of the
human struggle, mocks in answer.

In the strange characters of the Zend, in the Sanscrit, in the
effortless creed of Confucius, in the Aztec coloured-string writings
and rayed stones, in the uncertain marks left of the sunken Polynesian
continent, hieroglyphs as useless as those of Memphis, nothing.
Nothing! They have been tried, and were found an illusion. Think then,
to-day, now looking from this apex of the pavement promontory outwards
from our own land to the utmost bounds of the farthest sail, is there
any faith or culture at this hour which can stand in this fierce heat?
From the various forms of Semitic, Aryan, or Turanian creed now
existing, from the printing-press to the palm-leaf volume on to those
who call on the jewel in the lotus, can aught be gathered which can
face this, the Reality? The indistinguishable noise, non-resolvable,
roars a loud contempt.

Turn, then, to the calm reasoning of Aristotle; is there anything in
that? Can the half-divine thought of Plato, rising in storeys of
sequential ideas, following each other to the conclusion, endure here?
No! All the philosophers in Diogenes Laertius fade away: the theories
of mediæval days; the organon of experiment; down to this hour—they are
useless alike. The science of this hour, drawn from the printing-press
in an endless web of paper, is powerless here; the indistinguishable
noise echoed from the smoke-shadowed walls despises the whole. A
thousand footsteps, a thousand hoofs, a thousand wheels roll over and
utterly contemn them in complete annihilation. Mere illusions of heart
or mind, they are tested and thrust aside by the irresistible push of a
million converging feet.

Burning in the sky, the sun shines as it shone on me in the solitary
valley, as it burned on when the earliest cave of India was carved.
Above the indistinguishable roar of the many feet I feel the presence
of the sun, of the immense forces of the universe, and beyond these the
sense of the eternal now, of the immortal. Full well aware that all has
failed, yet, side by side with the sadness of that knowledge, there
lives on in me an unquenchable belief, thought burning like the sun,
that there is yet something to be found, something real, something to
give each separate personality sunshine and flowers in its own
existence now. Something to shape this million-handed labour to an end
and outcome, leaving accumulated sunshine and flowers to those who
shall succeed. It must be dragged forth by might of thought from the
immense forces of the universe.

To prepare for such an effort, first the mind must be cleared of the
conceit that, because we live to-day, we are wiser than the ages gone.
The mind must acknowledge its ignorance; all the learning and lore of
so many eras must be erased from it as an encumbrance. It is not from
past or present knowledge, science or faith, that it is to be drawn.
Erase these altogether as they are erased under the fierce heat of the
focus before me. Begin wholly afresh. Go straight to the sun, the
immense forces of the universe, to the Entity unknown; go higher than a
god; deeper than prayer; and open a new day. That I might but have a
fragment of Cæsar’s intellect to find a fragment of this desire!

From my home near London I made a pilgrimage almost daily to an aspen
by a brook. It was a mile and a quarter along the road, far enough for
me to walk off the concentration of mind necessary for work. The idea
of the pilgrimage was to get away from the endless and nameless
circumstances of everyday existence, which by degrees build a wall
about the mind so that it travels in a constantly narrowing circle.
This tether of the faculties tends to make them accept present
knowledge, and present things, as all that can be attained to. This is
all—there is nothing more—is the iterated preaching of house-life.
Remain; be content; go round and round in one barren path, a little
money, a little food and sleep, some ancient fables, old age and death.
Of all the inventions of casuistry with man for ages has in various
ways which manacled himself, and stayed his own advance, there is none
equally potent with the supposition that nothing more is possible. Once
well impress on the mind that it has already all, that advance is
impossible because there is nothing further, and it is chained like a
horse to an iron pin in the ground. It is the most deadly—the most
fatal poison of the mind. No such casuistry has ever for a moment held
me, but still, if permitted, the constant routine of house-life, the
same work, the same thought in the work, the little circumstances
regularly recurring, will dull the keenest edge of thought. By my daily
pilgrimage, I escaped from it back to the sun.

In summer the leaves of the aspen rustled pleasantly, there was the
tinkle of falling water over a hatch, thrushes sang and blackbirds
whistled, greenfinches laughed in their talk to each other. The
commonplace dusty road was commonplace no longer. In the dust was the
mark of the chaffinches’ little feet; the white light rendered even the
dust brighter to look on. The air came from the south-west—there were
distant hills in that direction—over fields of grass and corn. As I
visited the spot from day to day the wheat grew from green to yellow,
the wild roses flowered, the scarlet poppies appeared, and again the
beeches reddened in autumn. In the march of time there fell away from
my mind, as the leaves from the trees in autumn, the last traces and
relics of superstitions and traditions acquired compulsorily in
childhood. Always feebly adhering, they finally disappeared.

There fell away, too, personal bias and prejudices, enabling me to see
clearer and with wider sympathies. The glamour of modern science and
discoveries faded away, for I found them no more than the first
potter’s wheel. Erasure and reception proceeded together; the past
accumulations of casuistry were erased, and my thought widened to
receive the idea of something beyond all previous ideas. With
disbelief, belief increased. The aspiration and hope, the prayer, was
the same as that which I felt years before on the hills, only it now

Experience of life, instead of curtailing and checking my prayer, led
me to reject experience altogether. As well might the horse believe
that the road the bridle forces it to traverse every day encircles the
earth as I believe in experience. All the experience of the greatest
city in the world could not withhold me. I rejected it wholly. I stood
bare-headed before the sun, in the presence of the earth and air, in
the presence of the immense forces of the universe. I demand that which
will make me more perfect now, this hour. London convinced me of my own
thought. That thought has always been with me, and always grows wider.

One midsummer I went out of the road into the fields, and sat down on
the grass between the yellowing wheat and the green hawthorn bushes.
The sun burned in the sky, the wheat was full of a luxuriant sense of
growth, the grass high, the earth giving its vigour to tree and leaf,
the heaven blue. The vigour and growth, the warmth and light, the
beauty and richness of it entered into me; an ecstasy of soul
accompanied the delicate excitement of the senses: the soul rose with
the body. Rapt in the fulness of the moment, I prayed there with all
that expansion of mind and frame; no words, no definition,
inexpressible desire of physical life, of soul-life, equal to and
beyond the highest imagining of my heart.

These memories cannot be placed in exact chronological order. There was
a time when a weary restlessness came upon me, perhaps from
too-long-continued labour. It was like a drought—a moral drought—as if
I had been absent for many years from the sources of life and hope. The
inner nature was faint, all was dry and tasteless; I was weary for the
pure, fresh springs of thought. Some instinctive feeling uncontrollable
drove me to the sea; I was so under its influence that I could not
arrange the journey so as to get the longest day. I merely started, and
of course had to wait and endure much inconvenience. To get to the sea
at some quiet spot was my one thought; to do so I had to travel
farther, and from want of prearrangement it was between two and three
in the afternoon before I reached the end of my journey. Even then,
being too much preoccupied to inquire the way, I missed the road and
had to walk a long distance before coming to the shore. But I found the
sea at last; I walked beside it in a trance away from the houses out
into the wheat. The ripe corn stood up to the beach, the waves on one
side of the shingle, and the yellow wheat on the other.

There, alone, I went down to the sea. I stood where the foam came to my
feet, and looked out over the sunlit waters. The great earth bearing
the richness of the harvest, and its hills golden with corn, was at my
back; its strength and firmness under me. The great sun shone above,
the wide sea was before me, the wind came sweet and strong from the
waves. The life of the earth and the sea, the glow of the sun filled
me; I touched the surge with my hand, I lifted my face to the sun, I
opened my lips to the wind. I prayed aloud in the roar of the waves—my
soul was strong as the sea and prayed with the sea’s might. Give me
fulness of life like to the sea and the sun, to the earth and the air;
give me fulness of physical life, mind equal and beyond their fulness;
give me a greatness and perfection of soul higher than all things; give
me my inexpressible desire which swells in me like a tide—give it to me
with all the force of the sea.

Then I rested, sitting by the wheat; the bank of beach was between me
and the sea, but the waves beat against it; the sea was there, the sea
was present and at hand. By the dry wheat I rested, I did not think, I
was inhaling the richness of the sea, all the strength and depth of
meaning of the sea and earth came to me again. I rubbed out some of the
wheat in my hands, I took up a piece of clod and crumbled it in my
fingers—it was a joy to touch it—I held my hand so that I could see the
sunlight gleam on the slightly moist surface of the skin. The earth and
sun were to me like my flesh and blood, and the air of the sea life.

With all the greater existence I drew from them I prayed for a bodily
life equal to it, for a soul-life beyond my thought, for my
inexpressible desire of more than I could shape even into idea. There
was something higher than idea, invisible to thought as air to the eye;
give me bodily life equal in fulness to the strength of earth, and sun,
and sea; give me the soul-life of my desire. Once more I went down to
the sea, touched it, and said farewell. So deep was the inhalation of
this life that day, that it seemed to remain in me for years. This was
a real pilgrimage.

Time passed away, with more labour, pleasure, and again at last, after
much pain and wearinesss of mind, I came down again to the sea. The
circumstances were changed—it was not a hurried glance—there were
opportunities for longer thought. It mattered scarcely anything to me
now whether I was alone, or whether houses and other people were near.
Nothing could disturb my inner vision. By the sea, aware of the sun
overhead, and the blue heaven, I feel that there is nothing between me
and space. This is the verge of a gulf, and a tangent from my feet goes
straight unchecked into the unknown. It is the edge of the abyss as
much as if the earth were cut away in a sheer fall of eight thousand
miles to the sky beneath, thence a hollow to the stars. Looking
straight out is looking straight down; the eye-glance gradually departs
from the sea-level, and, rising as that falls, enters the hollow of
heaven. It is gazing along the face of a vast precipice into the hollow
space which is nameless.

There mystery has been placed, but realising the vast hollow yonder
makes me feel that the mystery is here. I, who am here on the verge,
standing on the margin of the sky, am in the mystery itself. If I let
my eye look back upon me from the extreme opposite of heaven, then this
spot where I stand is in the centre of the hollow. Alone with the sea
and sky, I presently feel all the depth and wonder of the unknown come
back surging up around, and touching me as the foam runs to my feet. I
am in it now, not to-morrow, this moment; I cannot escape from it.
Though I may deceive myself with labour, yet still I am in it; in sleep
too. There is no escape from this immensity.

Feeling this by the sea, under the sun, my life enlarges and quickens,
striving to take to itself the largeness of the heaven. The frame
cannot expand, but the soul is able to stand before it. No giant’s body
could be in proportion to the earth, but a little spirit is equal to
the entire cosmos, to earth and ocean, sun and star-hollow. These are
but a few acres to it. Were the cosmos twice as wide, the soul could
run over it, and return to itself in a time so small, no measure exists
to mete it. Therefore, I think the soul may sometimes find out an
existence as superior as my mind is to the dead chalk cliff.

With the great sun burning over the foam-flaked sea, roofed with
heaven—aware of myself, a consciousness forced on me by these things—I
feel that thought must yet grow larger and correspond in magnitude of
conception to these. But these cannot content me, these Titanic things
of sea, and sun, and profundity; I feel that my thought is stronger
than they are. I burn life like a torch. The hot light shot back from
the sea scorches my cheek—my life is burning in me. The soul throbs
like the sea for a larger life. No thought which I have ever had has
satisfied my soul.


My strength is not enough to fulfil my desire; if I had the strength of
the ocean, and of the earth, the burning vigour of the sun implanted in
my limbs, it would hardly suffice to gratify the measureless desire of
life which possesses me. I have often walked the day long over the
sward, and, compelled to pause, at length, in my weariness, I was full
of the same eagerness with which I started. The sinews would obey no
longer, but the will was the same. My frame could never take the
violent exertion my heart demanded. Labour of body was like meat and
drink to me. Over the open hills, up the steep ascents, mile after
mile, there was deep enjoyment in the long-drawn breath, the spring of
the foot, in the act of rapid movement. Never have I had enough of it;
I wearied long before I was satisfied, and weariness did not bring a
cessation of desire; the thirst was still there.

I rowed, I used the axe, I split tree-trunks with wedges; my arms
tired, but my spirit remained fresh and chafed against the physical
weariness. My arms were not strong enough to satisfy me with the axe,
or wedges, or oars. There was delight in the moment, but it was not
enough. I swam, and what is more delicious than swimming? It is
exercise and luxury at once. But I could not swim far enough; I was
always dissatisfied with myself on leaving the water. Nature has not
given me a great frame, and had it done so I should still have longed
for more. I was out of doors all day, and often half the night; still I
wanted more sunshine, more air, the hours were too short. I feel this
even more now than in the violence of early youth: the hours are too
short, the day should be sixty hours long. Slumber, too, is abbreviated
and restricted; forty hours of night and sleep would not be too much.
So little can be accomplished in the longest summer day, so little rest
and new force is accumulated in a short eight hours of sleep.

I live by the sea now; I can see nothing of it in a day; why, I do but
get a breath of it, and the sun sinks before I have well begun to
think. Life is so little and so mean. I dream sometimes backwards of
the ancient times. If I could have the bow of Ninus, and the earth full
of wild bulls and lions, to hunt them down, there would be rest in
that. To shoot with a gun is nothing; a mere touch discharges it. Give
me a bow, that I may enjoy the delight of feeling myself draw the
string and the strong wood bending, that I may see the rush of the
arrow, and the broad head bury itself deep in shaggy hide. Give me an
iron mace that I may crush the savage beast and hammer him down. A
spear to thrust through with, so that I may feel the long blade enter
and the push of the shaft. The unwearied strength of Ninus to hunt
unceasingly in the fierce sun. Still I should desire greater strength
and a stouter bow, wilder creatures to combat. The intense life of the
senses, there is never enough for them. I envy Semiramis; I would have
been ten times Semiramis. I envy Nero, because of the great concourse
of beauty he saw. I should like to be loved by every beautiful woman on
earth, from the swart Nubian to the white and divine Greek.

Wine is pleasant and meat refreshing; but though I own with absolute
honesty that I like them, these are the least of all. Of these two only
have I ever had enough. The vehemence of exertion, the vehemence of the
spear, the vehemence of sunlight and life, the insatiate desire of
insatiate Semiramis, the still more insatiate desire of love, divine
and beautiful, the uncontrollable adoration of beauty, these—these:
give me these in greater abundance than was ever known to man or woman.
The strength of Hercules, the fulness of the senses, the richness of
life, would not in the least impair my desire of soul-life. On the
reverse, with every stronger beat of the pulse my desire of soul-life
would expand. So it has ever been with me; in hard exercise, in
sensuous pleasure, in the embrace of the sunlight, even in the drinking
of a glass of wine, my heart has been lifted the higher towards
perfection of soul. Fulness of physical life causes a deeper desire of

Let me be physically perfect, in shape, vigour, and movement. My frame,
naturally slender, will not respond to labour, and increase in
proportion to effort, nor will exposure harden a delicate skin. It
disappoints me so far, but my spirit rises with the effort, and my
thought opens. This is the only profit of frost, the pleasure of
winter, to conquer cold, and to feel braced and strengthened by that
whose province it is to wither and destroy, making of cold, life’s
enemy, life’s renewer. The black north wind hardens the resolution as
steel is tempered in ice-water. It is a sensual joy, as sensuous as the
warm embrace of the sunlight, but fulness of physical life ever brings
to me a more eager desire of soul-life.

Splendid it is to feel the boat rise to the roller, or forced through
by the sail to shear the foam aside like a share; splendid to undulate
as the chest lies on the wave, swimming, the brimming ocean round: then
I know and feel its deep strong tide, its immense fulness, and the sun
glowing over; splendid to climb the steep green hill: in these I feel
myself, I drink the exquisite joy of the senses, and my soul lifts
itself with them. It is beautiful even to watch a fine horse gallop,
the long stride, the rush of the wind as he passes—my heart beats
quicker to the thud of the hoofs, and I feel his strength. Gladly would
I have the strength of the Tartar stallion roaming the wild steppe;
that very strength, what vehemence of soul-thought would accompany it.
But I should like it, too, for itself. For I believe, with all my
heart, in the body and the flesh, and believe that it should be
increased and made more beautiful by every means. I believe—I do more
than think—I believe it to be a sacred duty, incumbent upon every one,
man and woman, to add to and encourage their physical life, by
exercise, and in every manner. A sacred duty each towards himself, and
each towards the whole of the human race. Each one of us should do some
little part for the physical good of the race—health, strength, vigour.
There is no harm therein to the soul: on the contrary, those who stunt
their physical life are most certainly stunting their souls.

I believe all manner of asceticism to be the vilest blasphemy—blasphemy
towards the whole of the human race. I believe in the flesh and the
body, which is worthy of worship—to see a perfect human body unveiled
causes a sense of worship. The ascetics are the only persons who are
impure. Increase of physical beauty is attended by increase of soul
beauty. The soul is the high even by gazing on beauty. Let me be
fleshly perfect.

It is in myself that I desire increase, profit, and exaltation of body,
mind, and soul. The surroundings, the clothes, the dwelling, the social
status, the circumstances are to me utterly indifferent. Let the floor
of the room be bare, let the furniture be a plank table, the bed a mere
pallet. Let the house be plain and simple, but in the midst of air and
light. These are enough—a cave would be enough; in a warmer climate the
open air would suffice. Let me be furnished in myself with health,
safety, strength, the perfection of physical existence; let my mind be
furnished with highest thoughts of soul-life. Let me be in myself
myself fully. The pageantry of power, the still more foolish pageantry
of wealth, the senseless precedence of place; words fail me to express
my utter contempt for such pleasure or such ambitions. Let me be in
myself myself fully, and those I love equally so.

It is enough to lie on the sward in the shadow of green boughs, to
listen to the songs of summer, to drink in the sunlight, the air, the
flowers, the sky, the beauty of all. Or upon the hill-tops to watch the
white clouds rising over the curved hill-lines, their shadows
descending the slope. Or on the beach to listen to the sweet sigh as
the smooth sea runs up and recedes. It is lying beside the immortals,
in-drawing the life of the ocean, the earth, and the sun.

I want to be always in company with these, with earth, and sun, and
sea, and stars by night. The pettiness of house-life—chairs and
tables—and the pettiness of observances, the petty necessity of useless
labour, useless because productive of nothing, chafe me the year
through. I want to be always in company with the sun, and sea, and
earth. These, and the stars by night, are my natural companions. My
heart looks back and sympathises with all the joy and life of ancient
time. With the circling dance burned in still attitude on the vase;
with the chase and the hunter eagerly pursuing, whose javelin trembles
to be thrown; with the extreme fury of feeling, the whirl of joy in the
warriors from Marathon to the last battle of Rome, not with the
slaughter, but with the passion—the life in the passion; with the
garlands and the flowers; with all the breathing busts that have panted
beneath the sun. O beautiful human life! Tears come in my eyes as I
think of it. So beautiful, so inexpressibly beautiful!

So deep is the passion of life that, if it were possible to live again,
it must be exquisite to die pushing the eager breast against the sword.
In the flush of strength to face the sharp pain joyously, and laugh in
the last glance of the sun—if only to live again, now on earth, were
possible. So subtle is the chord of life that sometimes to watch troops
marching in rhythmic order, undulating along the column as the feet are
lifted, brings tears in my eyes. Yet could I have in my own heart all
the passion, the love and joy, burned in the breasts that have panted,
breathing deeply, since the hour of Ilion, yet still I should desire
more. How willingly I would strew the paths of all with flowers; how
beautiful a delight to make the world joyous! The song should never be
silent, the dance never still, the laugh should sound like water which
runs for ever.

I would submit to a severe discipline, and to go without many things
cheerfully, for the good and happiness of the human race in the future.
Each one of us should do something, however small, towards that great
end. At the present time the labour of our predecessors in this
country, in all other countries of the earth, is entirely wasted. We
live—that is, we snatch an existence—and our works become nothing. The
piling up of fortunes, the building of cities, the establishment of
immense commerce, ends in a cipher. These objects are so outside my
idea that I cannot understand them, and look upon the struggle in
amazement. Not even the pressure of poverty can force upon me an
understanding of, and sympathy with, these things. It is the human
being as the human being of whom I think. That the human being as the
human being, nude—apart altogether from money, clothing, houses,
properties—should enjoy greater health, strength, safety, beauty, and
happiness, I would gladly agree to a discipline like that of Sparta.
The Spartan method did produce the finest race of men, and Sparta was
famous in antiquity for the most beautiful women. So far, therefore, it
fits exactly to my ideas.

No science of modern times has yet discovered a plan to meet the
requirements of the millions who live now, no plan by which they might
attain similar physical proportion. Some increase of longevity, some
slight improvement in the general health is promised, and these are
great things, but far, far beneath the ideal. Probably the whole mode
of thought of the nations must be altered before physical progress is
possible. Not while money, furniture, affected show and the pageantry
of wealth are the ambitions of the multitude can the multitude become
ideal in form. When the ambition of the multitude is fixed on the ideal
of form and beauty, then that ideal will become immediately possible,
and a marked advance towards it could be made in three generations.
Glad, indeed, should I be to discover something that would help towards
this end.

How pleasant it would be each day to think, To-day I have done
something that will tend to render future generations more happy. The
very thought would make this hour sweeter. It is absolutely necessary
that something of this kind should be discovered. First, we must lay
down the axiom that as yet nothing has been found; we have nothing to
start with; all has to be begun afresh. All courses or methods of human
life have hitherto been failures. Some course of life is needed based
on things that are, irrespective of tradition. The physical ideal must
be kept steadily in view.


An enumeration of the useless would almost be an enumeration of
everything hitherto pursued. For instance, to go back as far as
possible, the study and labour expended on Egyptian inscriptions and
papyri, which contain nothing but doubtful, because laudatory history,
invocations to idols, and similar matters: all these labours are in
vain. Take a broom and sweep the papyri away into the dust. The
Assyrian terra-cotta tablets, some recording fables, and some even
sadder—contracts between men whose bodies were dust twenty centuries
since—take a hammer and demolish them. Set a battery to beat down the
pyramids, and a mind-battery to destroy the deadening influence of
tradition. The Greek statue lives to this day, and has the highest use
of all, the use of true beauty. The Greek and Roman philosophers have
the value of furnishing the mind with material to think from. Egyptian
and Assyrian, mediæval and eighteenth-century culture, miscalled, are
all alike mere dust, and absolutely useless.

There is a mass of knowledge so called at the present day equally
useless, and nothing but an encumbrance. We are forced by circumstances
to become familiar with it, but the time expended on it is lost. No
physical ideal—far less any soul-ideal—will ever be reached by it. In a
recent generation erudition in the text of the classics was considered
the most honourable of pursuits; certainly nothing could be less
valuable. In our own generation, another species of erudition is
lauded—erudition in the laws of matter—which, in itself, is but one
degree better. The study of matter for matter’s sake is despicable; if
any can turn that study to advance the ideal of life, it immediately
becomes most valuable. But not without the human ideal. It is nothing
to me if the planets revolve around the sun, or the sun around the
earth, unless I can thereby gather an increase of body or mind. As the
conception of the planets revolving around the sun, the present
astronomical conception of the heavens, is distinctly grander than that
of Ptolemy, it is therefore superior, and a gain to the human mind. So
with other sciences, not immediately useful, yet if they furnish the
mind with material of thought, they are an advance.

But not in themselves—only in conjunction with the human ideal. Once
let that slip out of the thought, and science is of no more use than
the invocations in the Egyptian papyri. The world would be the gainer
if the Nile rose and swept away pyramid and tomb, sarcophagus, papyri,
and inscription; for it seems as if most of the superstitions which
still to this hour, in our own country, hold minds in their sway,
originated in Egypt. The world would be the gainer if a Nile flood of
new thought arose and swept away the past, concentrating the effort of
all the races of the earth upon man’s body, that it might reach an
ideal of shape, and health, and happiness.

Nothing is of any use unless it gives me a stronger body and mind, a
more beautiful body, a happy existence, and a soul-life now. The last
phase of philosophy is equally useless with the rest. The belief that
the human mind was evolved, in the process of unnumbered years, from a
fragment of palpitating slime through a thousand gradations, is a
modern superstition, and proceeds upon assumption alone.

Nothing is evolved, no evolution takes place, there is no record of
such an event; it is pure assertion. The theory fascinates many,
because they find, upon study of physiology, that the gradations
between animal and vegetable are so fine and so close together, as if a
common web bound them together. But although they stand so near they
never change places. They are like the figures on the face of a clock;
there are minute dots between, apparently connecting each with the
other, and the hands move round over all. Yet ten never becomes twelve,
and each second even is parted from the next, as you may hear by
listening to the beat. So the gradations of life, past and present,
though standing close together never change places. Nothing is evolved.
There is no evolution any more than there is any design in nature. By
standing face to face with nature, and not from books, I have convinced
myself that there is no design and no evolution. What there is, what
was the cause, how and why, is not yet known; certainly it was neither
of these.

But it may be argued the world must have been created, or it must have
been made of existing things, or it must have been evolved, or it must
have existed for ever, through all eternity. I think not. I do not
think that either of these are “musts,” nor that any “must” has yet
been discovered; not even that there “must” be a first cause. There may
be other things—other physical forces even—of which we know nothing. I
strongly suspect there are. There may be other ideas altogether from
any we have hitherto had the use of. For many ages our ideas have been
confined to two or three. We have conceived the idea of creation, which
is the highest and grandest of all, if not historically true; we have
conceived the idea of design, that is of an intelligence making order
and revolution of chaos; and we have conceived the idea of evolution by
physical laws of matter, which, though now so much insisted on, is as
ancient as the Greek philosophers. But there may be another
alternative; I think there are other alternatives.

Whenever the mind obtains a wider view we may find that origin. For
instance, is not always due to what is understood by cause. At this
moment the mind is unable to conceive of anything happening, or of
anything coming into existence, without a cause. From cause to effect
is the sequence of our ideas. But I think that if at some time we
should obtain an altogether different and broader sequence of ideas, we
may discover that there are various other alternatives. As the world,
and the universe at large, was not constructed according to plan, so it
is clear that the sequence or circle of ideas which includes plan, and
cause, and effect, are not in the circle of ideas which would correctly
explain it. Put aside the plan-circle of ideas, and it will at once be
evident that there is no inherent necessity or “must.” There is no
inherent necessity for a first cause, or that the world and the
universe was created, or that it was shaped of existing matter, or that
it evolved itself and its inhabitants, or that the cosmos has existed
in varying forms for ever. There may be other alternatives altogether.
The only idea I can give is the idea that there is another idea.

In this “must”—“it must follow”—lies my objection to the logic of
science. The arguments proceed from premises to conclusions, and end
with the assumption “it therefore follows.” But I say that, however
carefully the argument be built up, even though apparently flawless,
there is no such thing at present as “it must follow.” Human ideas at
present naturally form a plan, and a balanced design; they might be
indicated by a geometrical figure, an upright straight line in the
centre, and branching from that straight line curves on either hand
exactly equal to each other. In drawing that is how we are taught, to
balance the outline or curves on one side with the curves on the other.
In nature and in fact there is no such thing. The stem of a tree
represents the upright line, but the branches do not balance; those on
one side are larger or longer than those on the other. Nothing is
straight, but all things curved, crooked, and unequal.

The human body is the most remarkable instance of inequality, lack of
balance, and want of plan. The exterior is beautiful in its lines, but
the two hands, the two feet, the two sides of the face, the two sides
of the profile, are not precisely equal. The very nails of the fingers
are set ajar, as it were, to the lines of the hand, and not quite
straight. Examination of the interior organs shows a total absence of
balance. The heart is not in the centre, nor do the organs correspond
in any way. The viscera are wholly opposed to plan. Coming, lastly, to
the bones, these have no humanity, as it were, of shape; they are
neither round nor square; the first sight of them causes a sense of
horror, so extra-human are they in shape; there is no balance of design
in them. These are very brief examples, but the whole universe, so far
as it can be investigated, is equally unequal. No straight line runs
through it, with balanced curves each side.

Let this thought now be carried into the realms of thought. The mind,
or circle, or sequence of ideas, acts, or thinks, or exists in a
balance, or what seems a balance to it. A straight line of thought is
set in the centre, with equal branches each side, and with a generally
rounded outline. But this corresponds to nothing in tangible fact.
Hence I think, by analogy, we may suppose that neither does it
correspond to the circle of ideas which caused us and all things to be,
or, at all events, to the circle of ideas which accurately understand
us and all things. There are other ideas altogether. From standing face
to face so long with the real earth, the real sun, and the real sea, I
am firmly convinced that there is an immense range of thought quite
unknown to us yet.

The problem of my own existence also convinces me that there is much
more. The questions are: Did my soul exist before my body was formed?
Or did it come into life with my body, as a product, like a flame, of
combustion? What will become of it after death? Will it simply go out
like a flame and become non-existent, or will it live for ever in one
or other mode? To these questions I am unable to find any answer
whatsoever. In our present range of ideas there is no reply to them. I
may have previously existed; I may not have previously existed. I may
be a product of combustion; I may exist on after physical life is
suspended, or I may not. No demonstration is possible. But what I want
to say is that the alternatives of extinction or immortality may not be
the only alternatives. There may be something else, more wonderful than
immortality, and far beyond and above that idea. There may be something
immeasurably superior to it. As our ideas have run in circles for
centuries, it is difficult to find words to express the idea that there
are other ideas. For myself, though I cannot fully express myself, I
feel fully convinced that there is a vast immensity of thought, of
existence, and of other things beyond even immortal existence.


In human affairs everything happens by chance—that is, in defiance of
human ideas, and without any direction of an intelligence. A man bathes
in a pool, a crocodile seizes and lacerates his flesh. If any one
maintains that an intelligence directed that cruelty, I can only reply
that his mind is under an illusion. A man is caught by a revolving
shaft and torn to pieces, limb from limb. There is no directing
intelligence in human affairs, no protection, and no assistance. Those
who act uprightly are not rewarded, but they and their children often
wander in the utmost indigence. Those who do evil are not always
punished, but frequently flourish and have happy children. Rewards and
punishments are purely human institutions, and if government be relaxed
they entirely disappear. No intelligence whatever interferes in human
affairs. There is a most senseless belief now prevalent that effort,
and work, and cleverness, perseverance and industry, are invariably
successful. Were this the case, every man would enjoy a competence, at
least, and be free from the cares of money. This is an illusion almost
equal to the superstition of a directing intelligence, which every fact
and every consideration disproves.

How can I adequately express my contempt for the assertion that all
things occur for the best, for a wise and beneficent end, and are
ordered by a humane intelligence! It is the most utter falsehood and a
crime against the human race. Even in my brief time I have been
contemporary with events of the most horrible character; as when the
mothers in the Balkans cast their own children from the train to parish
in the snow; as when the _Princess Alice_ foundered, and six hundred
human beings were smothered in foul water; as when the hecatomb of two
thousand maidens were burned in the church at Santiago; as when the
miserable creatures tore at the walls of the Vienna theatre. Consider
only the fates which overtake the little children. Human suffering is
so great, so endless, so awful that I can hardly write of it. I could
not go into hospitals and face it, as some do, lest my mind should be
temporarily overcome. The whole and the worst the worst pessimist can
say is far beneath the least particle of the truth, so immense is the
misery of man. It is the duty of all rational beings to acknowledge the
truth. There is not the least trace of directing intelligence in human
affairs. This is a foundation of hope, because, if the present
condition of things were ordered by a superior power, there would be no
possibility of improving it for the better in the spite of that power.
Acknowledging that no such direction exists, all things become at once
plastic to our will.

The credit given by the unthinking to the statement that all affairs
are directed has been the bane of the world since the days of the
Egyptian papyri and the origin of superstition. So long as men firmly
believe that everything is fixed for them, so long is progress
impossible. If you argue yourself into the belief that you cannot walk
to a place, you cannot walk there. But if you start you can walk there
easily. Any one who will consider the affairs of the world at large,
and of the individual, will see that they do not proceed in the manner
they would do for our own happiness if a man of humane breadth of view
were placed at their head with unlimited power, such as is credited to
the intelligence which does not exist. A man of intellect and humanity
could cause everything to happen in an infinitely superior manner.
Could one like the divine Julius—humane, generous, broadest of view,
deep thinking—wield such power, certainly every human being would enjoy

But that which is thoughtlessly credited to a non-existent intelligence
should really be claimed and exercised by the human race. It is
ourselves who should direct our affairs, protecting ourselves from
pain, assisting ourselves, succouring and rendering our lives happy. We
must do for ourselves what superstition has hitherto supposed an
intelligence to do for us. Nothing whatsoever is done for us. We are
born naked, and not even protected by a shaggy covering. Nothing is
done for us. The first and strongest command (using the word to convey
the idea only) that nature, the universe, our own bodies give, is to do
everything for ourselves. The sea does not make boats for us, nor the
earth of her own will build us hospitals. The injured lie bleeding, and
no invisible power lifts them up. The maidens were scorched in the
midst of their devotions, and their remains make a mound hundreds of
yards long. The infants perished in the snow, and the ravens tore their
limbs. Those in the theatre crushed each other to the death—agony. For
how long, for how many thousand years, must the earth and the sea, and
the fire and the air, utter these things and force them upon us before
they are admitted in their full significance?

These things speak with a voice of thunder. From every human being
whose body has been racked by pain; from every human being who has
suffered from accident or disease; from every human being drowned,
burned, or slain by negligence, there goes up a continually increasing
cry louder than the thunder. An awe-inspiring cry dread to listen to,
which no one dares listen to, against which ears are stopped by the wax
of superstition and the wax of criminal selfishness:—These miseries are
your doing, because you have mind and though, and could have prevented
them. You can prevent them in the future. You do not even try.

It is perfectly certain that all diseases without exception are
preventable, or, if not so, that they can be so weakened as to do no
harm. It is perfectly certain that all accidents are preventable; there
is not one that does not arise from folly or negligence. All accidents
are crimes. It is perfectly certain that all human beings are capable
of physical happiness. It is absolutely incontrovertible that the ideal
shape of the human being is attainable to the exclusion of deformities.
It is incontrovertible that there is no necessity for any man to die
but of old age, and that if death cannot be prevented life can be
prolonged far beyond the farthest now known. It is incontrovertible
that at the present time no one ever dies of old age. Not one single
person ever dies of old age, or of natural causes, for there is no such
thing as a natural cause of death. They die of disease or weakness
which is the result of disease either in themselves or in their
ancestors. No such thing as old age is known to us. We do not even know
what old age would be like, because no one ever lives to it.

Our bodies are full of unsuspected flaws, handed down it may be for
thousands of years, and it is of these that we die, and not of natural
decay. Till these are eliminated, or as nearly eliminated as possible,
we shall never even know what true old age is like, nor what the true
natural limit of human life is. The utmost limit now appears to be
about one hundred and five years, but as each person who has got so far
has died of weaknesses inherited through thousands of years, it is
impossible to say to what number of years he would have reached in a
natural state. It seems more than possible that true old age—the slow
and natural decay of the body apart from inherited flaw—would be free
from very many, if not all, of the petty miseries which now render
extreme age a doubtful blessing. If the limbs grew weaker they would
not totter; if the teeth dropped it would not be till the last; if the
eyes were less strong they would not be quite dim; nor would the mind
lose its memory.

But now we see eyes become dim and artifical aid needed in comparative
youth, and teeth drop out in mere childhood. Many men and women lose
teeth before they are twenty. This simple fact is evidence enough of
inherited weakness or flaw. How could a person who had lost teeth
before twenty be ever said to die of old age, though he died at a
hundred and ten? Death is not a supernatural event; it is an event of
the most materialistic character, and may certainly be postponed, by
the united efforts of the human race, to a period far more distant from
the date of birth than has been the case during the historic period.
The question has often been debated in my mind whether death is or is
not wholly preventable; whether, if the entire human race were united
in their efforts to eliminate causes of decay, death might not also be
altogether eliminated.

If we consider ourselves by the analogy of animals, trees, and other
living creatures, the reply is that, however postponed, in long process
of time the tissues must wither. Suppose an ideal man, free from
inherited flaw, then though his age might be prolonged to several
centuries, in the end the natural body must wear out. That is true so
far. But it so happens that the analogy is not just, and therefore the
conclusions it points to are not tenable.

Man is altogether different from every other animal, every other living
creature known. He is different in body. In his purely natural state—in
his true natural state—he is immeasurably stronger. No animal
approaches to the physical perfection of which a man is capable. He can
weary the strongest horse, he can outrun the swiftest stag, he can bear
extremes of heat and cold hunger and thirst, which would exterminate
every known living thing. Merely in bodily strength he is superior to
all. The stories of antiquity, which were deemed fables, may be fables
historically, but search has shown that they are not intrinsically
fables. Man of flesh and blood is capable of all that Ajax, all that
Hercules did. Feats in modern days have surpassed these, as when Webb
swam the Channel; mythology contains nothing equal to that. The
difference does not end here. Animals think to a certain extent, but if
their conceptions be ever so clever, not having hands they cannot
execute them.

I myself maintain that the mind of man is practically infinite. It can
understand anything brought before it. It has not the power of its own
motion to bring everything before it, but when anything is brought it
is understood. It is like sitting in a room with one window; you cannot
compel everything to pass the window, but whatever does pass is seen.
It is like a magnifying glass, which magnifies and explains everything
brought into its focus. The mind of man is infinite. Beyond this, man
has a soul. I do not use this word in the common sense which
circumstances have given to it. I use it as the only term to express
that inner consciousness which aspires. These brief reasons show that
the analogy is imperfect, and that therefore, although an ideal
animal—a horse, a dog, a lion—must die, it does not follow that an
ideal man must. He has a body possessed of exceptional recuperative
powers, which, under proper conditions, continually repairs itself. He
has a mind by which he can select remedies, and select his course and
carefully restore the waste of tissue. He has a soul, as yet, it seems
to me, lying in abeyance, by the aid of which he may yet discover
things now deemed supernatural.

Considering these things I am obliged by facts and incontrovertible
argument to conclude that death is not inevitable to the ideal man. He
is shaped for a species of physical immortality. The beauty of form of
the ideal human being indicates immortality—the contour, the curve, the
outline answer to the idea of life. In the course of ages united effort
long continued may eliminate those causes of decay which have grown up
in ages past, and after that has been done advance farther and improve
the natural state. As a river brings down suspended particles of sand,
and depositing them at its mouth forms a delta and a new country; as
the air and the rain and the heat of the sun desiccate the rocks and
slowly wear down mountains into sand, so the united action of the human
race, continued through centuries, may build up the ideal man and
woman. Each individual labouring in his day through geological time in
front must produce an effect. The instance of Sparta, where so much was
done in a few centuries, is almost proof of it.

The truth is, we die through our ancestors; we are murdered by our
ancestors. Their dead hands stretch forth from the tomb and drag us
down to their mouldering bones. We in our turn are now at this moment
preparing death for our unborn posterity. This day those that die do
not die in the sense of old age, they are slain. Nothing has been
accumulated for our benefit in ages past. All the labour and the toil
of so many millions continued through such vistas of time, down to
those millions who at this hour are rushing to and fro in London, has
accumulated nothing for us. Nothing for our good. The only things that
have been stored up have been for our evil and destruction, diseases
and weaknesses crossed and cultivated and rendered almost part and
parcel of our very bones. Now let us begin to roll back the tide of
death, and to set our faces steadily to a future of life. It should be
the sacred and sworn duty of every one, once at least during lifetime,
to do something in person towards this end. It would be a delight and
pleasure to me to do something every day, were it ever so minute. To
reflect that another human being, if at a distance of ten thousand
years from the year 1883, would enjoy one hour’s more life, in the
sense of fulness of life, in consequence of anything I had done in my
little span, would be to me a peace of soul.


United effort through geological time in front is but the beginning of
an idea. I am convinced that much more can be done, and that the length
of time may be almost immeasurably shortened. The general principles
that are now in operation are of the simplest and most elementary
character, yet they have already made considerable difference. I am not
content with these. There must be much more—there must be things which
are at present unknown by whose aid advance may be made. Research
proceeds upon the same old lines and runs in the ancient grooves.
Further, it is restricted by the ultra-practical views which are alone
deemed reasonable. But there should be no limit placed on the mind. The
purely ideal is as worthy of pursuit as the practical, and the mind is
not to be pinned to dogmas of science any more than to dogmas of
superstition. Most injurious of all is the continuous circling on the
same path, and it is from this that I wish to free my mind.

The pursuit of theory—the organon of pure thought—has led incidentally
to great discoveries, and for myself I am convinced it is of the
highest value. The process of experiment has produced much, and has
applied what was previously found. Empiricism is worthy of careful
re-working out, for it is a fact that most things are more or less
empirical, especially in medicine. Denial may be given to this
statement, nevertheless it is true, and I have had practical
exemplification of it in my own experience. Observation is perhaps more
powerful an organon than either experiment or empiricism. If the eye is
always watching, and the mind on the alert, ultimately chance supplies
the solution.

The difficulties I have encountered have generally been solved by
chance in this way. When I took an interest in archaeological
matters—an interest long since extinct—I considered that a part of an
army known to have marched in a certain direction during the Civil War
must have visited a town in which I was interested. But I exhausted
every mode of research in vain; there was no evidence of it. If the
knowledge had ever existed it had dropped again. Some years afterwards,
when my interest had ceased, and I had put such inquiries for ever
aside (being useless, like the Egyptian papyri), I was reading in the
British Museum. Presently I returned my book to the shelf, and then
slowly walked along the curving wall lined with volumes, looking to see
if I could light on anything to amuse me. I took out a volume for a
glance; it opened of itself at a certain page, and there was the
information I had so long sought—a reprint of an old pamphlet
describing the visit of the army to the town in the Civil War. So
chance answered the question in the course of time.

And I think that, seeing how great a part chance plays in human
affairs, it is essential that study should be made of chance; it seems
to me that an organon from experiment. Then there is the inner
consciousness—the psyche—that has never yet been brought to bear upon
life and its questions. Besides which there is a super-sensuous reason.
Often I have argued with myself that such and such a course was the
right one to follow, while in the intervals of thinking about it an
undercurrent of unconscious impulse has desired me to do the reverse or
to remain inactive. Sometimes it has happened that the supersensuous
reasoning has been correct, and the most faultless argument wrong. I
presume this supersensuous reasoning, preceeding independently in the
mind, arises from perceptions too delicate for analysis. From these
considerations alone I am convinced that, by the aid of ideas yet to be
discovered, the geological time in front may be immeasurably shortened.
These modes of research are not all. The psyche—the soul in me—tells me
that there is much more, that these are merely beginnings of the
crudest kind.

I fully recognise the practical difficulty arising from the ingrained,
hereditary, and unconscious selfishness which began before history, and
has been crossed and cultivated for twelve thousand years since. This
renders me less sanguine of united effort through geological time
ahead, unless some idea can be formed to give a stronger impulse even
than selfishness, or unless the selfishness can be utilised. The
complacency with which the mass of people go about their daily task,
absolutely indifferent to all other considerations, is appalling in its
concentrated stolidity. They do not intend wrong—they intend rightly:
in truth, they work against the entire human race. So wedded and so
confirmed is the world in its narrow groove of self, so stolid and so
complacent under the immense weight of misery, so callous to its own
possibilities, and so grown to its chains, that I almost despair to see
it awakened. Cemeteries are often placed on hillsides, and the white
stones are visible far off. If the whole of the dead in a hillside
cemetery were called up alive from their tombs, and walked forth down
into the valley, it would not rouse the mass of people from the dense
pyramid of stolidity which presses on them.

There would be gaping and marvelling and rushing about, and what then?
In a week or two the ploughman would settle down to his plough, the
carpenter to his bench, the smith to his anvil, the merchant to his
money, and the dead come to life would be utterly forgotten. No matter
in what manner the possibilities of human life are put before the
world, the crowd continues as stolid as before. Therefore nothing
hitherto done, or suggested, or thought of, is of much avail; but this
fact in no degree stays me from the search. On the contrary, the less
there has been accomplished the more anxious I am; the truth it teaches
is that the mind must be lifted out of its old grooves before anything
will be certainly begun. Erase the past from the mind—stand face to
face with the real now—and work out all anew. Call the soul to our
assistance; the soul tells me that outside all the ideas that have yet
occurred there are others, whole circles of others.

I remember a cameo of Augustus Cæsar—the head of the emperor is graven
in delicate lines, and shows the most exquisite proportions. It is a
balanced head, a head adjusted to the calmest intellect. That head when
it was living contained a circle of ideas, the largest, the widest, the
most profound current in his time. All that philosophy had taught, all
that practice, experiment, and empiricism had discovered, was familiar
to him. There was no knowledge in the ancient world but what was
accessible to the Emperor of Rome. Now at this day there are amongst us
heads as finely proportioned as that cut out in the cameo. Though these
living men do not possess arbitrary power, the advantages of arbitrary
power—as far as knowledge is concerned—are secured to them by
education, by the printing-press, and the facilities of our era. It is
reasonable to imagine a head of our time filled with the largest, the
widest, the most profound ideas current in the age. Augustus Cæsar,
however great his intellect, could not in that balanced head have
possessed the ideas familiar enough to the living head of this day. As
we have a circle of ideas unknown to Augustus Cæsar, so I argue there
are whole circles of ideas unknown to us. It is these that I am so
earnestly desirous of discovering.

For nothing has as yet been of any value, however good its intent.
There is no virtue, or reputed virtue, which has not been rigidly
pursued, and things have remained as before. Men and women have
practised self-denial, and to what end? They have compelled themselves
to suffer hunger and thirst; in vain. They have clothed themselves in
sack cloth and lacerated the flesh. They have mutilated themselves.
Some have been scrupulous to bathe, and some have been scrupulous to
cake their bodies with the foulness of years. Many have devoted their
lives to assist others in sickness or poverty. Chastity has been
faithfully observed, chastity both of body and mind. Self-examination
has been pursued till it ended in a species of sacred insanity, and all
these have been of no more value than the tortures undergone by the
Indian mendicant who hangs himself up by a hook through his back. All
these are pure folly.

Asceticism has not improved the form, or the physical well-being, or
the heart of any human being. On the contrary, the hetaira is often the
warmest hearted and the most generous. Casuistry and self-examination
are perhaps the most injurious of all the virtues, utterly destroying
independence of mind. Self-denial has had no result, and all the
self-torture of centuries has been thrown away. Lives spent in doing
good have been lives nobly wasted. Everything is in vain. The circle of
ideas we possess is too limited to aid us. We need ideas as far outside
our circle as ours are outside those that were pondered over by
Augustus Cæsar.

The most extraordinary spectacle, as it seems to me, is the vast
expenditure of labour and time wasted in obtaining mere subsistence. As
a man, in his lifetime, works hard and saves money, that his children
may be free from the cares of penury and may at least have sufficient
to eat, drink, clothe, and roof them, so the generations that preceded
us might, had they so chosen, have provided for our subsistence. The
labour and time of ten generations, properly directed, would sustain a
hundred generations succeeding to them, and that, too, with so little
self-denial on the part of the providers as to be scarcely felt. So men
now, in this generation, ought clearly to be laying up a store, or,
what is still more powerful, arranging and organising that the
generations which follow may enjoy comparative freedom from useless
labour. Instead of which, with transcendent improvidence, the world
works only for to-day, as the world worked twelve thousand years ago,
and our children’s children will still have to toil and slave for the
bare necessities of life. This is, indeed an extraordinary spectacle.

That twelve thousand written years should have elapsed, and the human
race—able to reason and to think, and easily capable of combination in
immense armies for its own destruction—should still live from hand to
mouth, like cattle and sheep, like the animals of the field and the
birds of the woods; that there should not even be roofs to cover the
children born, unless those children labour and expend their time to
pay for them; that there should not be clothes, unless, again, time and
labour are expended to procure them; that there should not be even food
for the children of the human race, except they labour as their fathers
did twelve thousand years ago; that even water should scarce be
accessible to them, unless paid for by labour! In twelve thousand
written years the world has not yet built itself a House, nor filled a
Granary, nor organised itself for its own comfort. It is so marvellous
I cannot express the wonder with which it fills me. And more wonderful
still, if that could be, there are people so infatuated, or, rather, so
limited of view, that they glory in this state of things, declaring
that work is the main object of man’s existence—work for
subsistence—and glorying in their wasted time. To argue with such is
impossible; to leave them is the only resource.

This our earth this day produces sufficient for our existence. This our
earth produces not only a sufficiency, but a superabundance, and pours
a cornucopia of good things down upon us. Further, it produces
sufficient for stores and granaries to be filled to the rooftree for
years ahead. I verily believe that the earth in one year produces
enough food to last for thirty. Why, then, have we not enough? Why do
people die of starvation, or lead a miserable existence on the verge of
it? Why have millions upon millions to toil from morning to evening
just to gain a mere crust of bread? Because of the absolute lack of
Organisation by which such labour should produce its effect, the
absolute lack of distribution, the absolute lack even of the very idea
that such things are possible. Nay, even to mention such things, to say
that they are possible, is criminal with many. Madness could hardly go

That selfishness has all to do with it I entirely deny. The human race
for ages upon ages has been enslaved by ignorance and by interested
persons whose object it has been to confine the minds of men, thereby
doing more injury than if with infected hands they purposely imposed
disease on the heads of the people. Almost worse than these, and at the
present day as injurious, are those persons incessantly declaring,
teaching, and impressing upon all that to work is man’s highest
condition. This falsehood is the interested superstition of an age
infatuated with money, which having accumulated it cannot even expend
it in pageantry. It is a falsehood propagated for the doubtful benefit
of two or three out of ten thousand, It is the lie of a morality
founded on money only, and utterly outside and having no association
whatever with the human being in itself. Many superstitions have been
got rid of in these days; time it is that this, the last and worst,
were eradicated.

At this hour, out of thirty-four millions who inhabit this country,
two-thirds—say twenty-two millions—live within thirty years of that
abominable institution the poorhouse. That any human being should dare
to apply to another the epithet “pauper” is, to me, the greatest, the
vilest, the most unpardonable crime that could be committed. Each human
being, by mere birth, has a birthright in this earth and all its
productions; and if they do not receive it, then it is they who are
injured, and it is not the “pauper”—oh, inexpressibly wicked word!—it
is the well-to-do, who are the criminal classes. It matters not in the
least if the poor be improvident, or drunken, or evil in any way. Food
and drink, roof and clothes, are the inalienable right of every child
born into the light. If the world does not provide it freely—not as a
grudging gift but as a right, as a son of the house sits down to
breakfast—then is the world mad. But the world is not mad, only in
ignorance—an interested ignorance, kept up by strenuous exertions, from
which infernal darkness it will, in course of time, emerge, marvelling
at the past as a man wonders at and glories in the light who has
escaped from blindness.


This our earth produces not only a sufficiency a superabundance, but in
one year pours a cornucopia of good things forth, enough to fill us for
many years in succession. The only reason we do not enjoy it is the
want of rational organisation. I know, of course, and all who think
know, that some labour or supervision will always necessary, since the
plough must travel the furrow and the seed must must be sown; but I
maintain that a tenth, nay, a hundredth, part of the labour and slavery
now gone through will be sufficient, and that in the course of time, as
organisation perfects itself and discoveries advance, even that part
will diminish. For the rise and fall of the tides alone furnish forth
sufficient power to do automatically all the labour that is done on the
earth. Is ideal man, then, to be idle? I answer that, if so, I see no
wrong, but a great good. I deny altogether that idleness is an evil, or
that it produces evil, and I am well aware why the interested are so
bitter against idleness—namely, because it gives time for thought, and
if men had time to think their reign would come to an end.
Idleness—that is, the absence of the necessity to work for
subsistence—is a great good.

I hope succeeding generations will be able to be ideal. I hope that
nine-tenths of their time will be leisure time; that they may enjoy
their days, and the earth, and the beauty of this beautiful world; that
they may rest by the sea and dream; that they may dance and sing, and
eat and drink. I will work towards that end with all my heart. If
employment they must have—and the restlessness of the mind will insure
that some will be followed—then they will find scope enough in the
perfection of their physical frames, in the expansion of the mind, and
in the enlargement of the soul. They shall not work for bread, but for
their souls. I am willing to divide and share all I shall ever have for
this purpose, though I think the end will rather be gained by
organisation than by sharing alone.

In these material things, too, I think that we require another circle
of ideas, and I believe that such ideas are possible, and, in a manner
of speaking, exist. Let me exhort every one to do their utmost to think
outside and beyond our present circle of ideas. For every idea gained
is a hundred years of slavery remitted. Even with the idea of
organisation which promises most I am not satisfied, but endeavour to
get beyond and outside it, so that the time now necessary may be
shortened. Besides which, I see that many of our difficulties arise
from obscure and remote causes—obscure like the shape of bones, for
whose strange curves there is no familiar term. We must endeavour to
understand the crookedness and unfamiliar curves of the conditions of
life. Beyond that still there are other ideas. Never, never rest
contented with any circle of ideas, but always be certain that a wider
one is still possible. For my thought is like a hyperbola that
continually widens ascending.

For grief there is no known consolation. It is useless to fill our
hearts with bubbles. A loved one gone is gone, and as to the
future—even if there is a future—it is unknown. To assure ourselves
otherwise is to soothe the mind with illusions; the bitterness of it is
inconsolable. The sentiments of trust chipped out on tombstones are
touching instances of the innate goodness of the human heart, which
naturally longs for good, and sighs itself to sleep in the hope that,
if parted, the parting is for the benefit of those that are gone. But
these inscriptions are also awful instances of the deep intellectual
darkness which presses still on the minds of men. The least thought
erases them. There is no consolation. There is no relief. There is no
hope certain; the whole system is a mere illusion. I, who hope so much,
and am so rapt up in the soul, know full well that there is no

The tomb cries aloud to us—its dead silence presses on the drum of the
ear like thunder, saying, Look at this, and erase your illusions; now
know the extreme value of human life; reflect on this and strew human
life with flowers; save every hour for the sunshine; let your labour be
so ordered that in future times the loved ones may dwell longer with
those who love them; open your minds; exalt your souls; widen the
sympathies of your hearts; face the things that are now as you will
face the reality of death; make joy real now to those you love, and
help forward the joy of those yet to be born. Let these facts force the
mind and the soul to the increase of thought, and the consequent
remission of misery; so that those whose time it is to die may have
enjoyed all that is possible in life. Lift up your mind and see now in
this bitterness of parting, in this absence of certainty, the fact that
there is no directing intelligence; remember that this death is not of
old age, which no one living in the world has ever seen; remember that
old age is possible, and perhaps even more than old age; and beyond
these earthly things-what? None know. But let us, turning away from the
illusion of a directing intelligence, look earnestly for something
better than a god, seek for something higher than prayer, and lift our
souls to be with the more than immortal now.

A river runs itself clear during the night, and in sleep thought
becomes pellucid. All the hurrying to and fro, the unrest and stress,
the agitation and confusion subside. Like a sweet pure spring, thought
pours forth to meet the light, and is illumined to its depths. The dawn
at my window ever causes a desire for larger thought, the recognition
of the light at the moment of waking kindles afresh the wish for a
broad day of the mind. There is a certainty that there are yet ideas
further, and greater—that there is still a limitless beyond. I know at
that moment that there is no limit to the things that may be yet in
material and tangible shape besides the immaterial perceptions of the
soul. The dim white light of the dawn speaks it. This prophet which has
come with its wonders to the bedside of every human being for so many
thousands of years faces me once again with the upheld finger of light.
Where is the limit to that physical sign?

From space to the sky, from the sky to the hills, and the sea; to every
blade of grass, to every leaf, to the smallest insect, to the million
waves of ocean. Yet this earth itself appears but a mote in that
sunbeam by which we are conscious of one narrow streak in the abyss. A
beam crosses my silent chamber from the window, and atoms are visible
in it; a beam slants between the fir-trees, and particles rise and fall
within, and cross it while the air each side seems void. Through the
heavens a beam slants, and we are aware of the star-stratum in which
our earth moves. But what may be without that stratum? Certainly it is
not a void. This light tells us much, but I think in the course of time
yet more delicate and subtle mediums than light may be found, and
through these we shall see into the shadows of the sky. When will it be
possible to be certain that the capacity of a single atom has been
exhausted? At any moment some fortunate incident may reveal a fresh
power. One by one the powers of light have been unfolded.

After thousands of years the telescope opened the stars, the prism
analysed the substance of the sun, the microscope showed the minute
structure of the rocks and the tissues of living bodies. The winged men
on the Assyrian bas-reliefs, the gods of the Nile, the chariot-borne
immortals of Olympus, not the greatest of imagined beings ever
possessed in fancied attributes one-tenth the power of light. As the
swallows twitter, the dim white finger appears at my window full of
wonders, such as all the wise men in twelve thousand precedent years
never even hoped to conceive. But this is not all—light is not all;
light conceals more than it reveals; light is the darkest shadow of the
sky; besides light there are many other mediums yet to be explored. For
thousands of years the sunbeams poured on the earth, full as now of
messages, and light is not a hidden thing to be searched out with
difficulty. Full in the faces of men the rays came with their
intelligence from the sun when the papyri were painted beside the
ancient Nile, but they were not understood.

This hour, rays or undulations of more subtle mediums are doubtless
pouring on us over the wide earth, unrecognised, and full of messages
and intelligence from the unseen. Of these we are this day as ignorant
as those who painted the papyri were of light. There is an infinity of
knowledge yet to be known, and beyond that an infinity of thought. No
mental instrument even has yet been invented by which researches can be
carried direct to the object. Whatever has been found has been
discovered by fortunate accident; in looking for one thing another has
been chanced on. A reasoning process has yet to be invented by which to
go straight to the desired end. For now the slightest particle is
enough to throw the search aside, and the most minute circumstance
sufficient to conceal obvious and brilliantly shining truths. One
summer evening sitting by my window I watched for the first star to
appear, knowing the position of the brightest in the southern sky. The
dusk came on, grew deeper, but the star did not shine. By-and-by, other
stars less bright appeared, so that it could not be the sunset which
obscured the expected one. Finally, I considered that I must have
mistaken its position, when suddenly a puff of air blew through the
branch of a pear-tree which overhung the window, a leaf moved, and
there was the star behind the leaf.

At present the endeavour to make discoveries is like gazing at the sky
up through the boughs of an oak. Here a beautiful star shines clearly;
here a constellation is hidden by a branch; a universe by a leaf. Some
mental instrument or organon is required to enable us to distinguish
between the leaf which may be removed and a real void; when to cease to
look in one direction, and to work in another. Many men of broad brow
and great intellect lived in the days of ancient Greece, but for lack
of the accident of a lens, and of knowing the way to use a prism, they
could but conjecture imperfectly. I am in exactly the position they
were when I look beyond light. Outside my present knowledge I am
exactly in their condition. I feel that there are infinities to be
known, but they are hidden by a leaf. If any one says to himself that
the telescope, and the microscope, the prism, and other discoveries
have made all plain, then he is in the attitude of those ancient
priests who worshipped the scarabaeus or beetle. So, too, it is with
thought; outside our present circle of ideas I believe there is an
infinity of idea. All this that has been effected with light has been
done by bits of glass—mere bits of shaped glass, quickly broken, and
made of flint, so that by the rude flint our subtlest ideas are gained.
Could we employ the ocean as a lens, and force truth from the sky, even
then I think there would be much more beyond.

Natural things are known to us only under two conditions—matter and
force, or matter and motion. A third, a fourth, a fifth—no one can say
how many conditions—may exist in the ultra-stellar space, and such
other conditions may equally exist about us now unsuspected. Something
which is neither matter nor force is difficult to conceive, yet, I
think, it is certain that there are other conditions. When the mind
succeeds in entering on a wider series, or circle of ideas, other
conditions would appear natural enough. In this effort upwards I claim
the assistance of the soul—the mind of the mind. The eye sees, the mind
deliberates on what it sees, the soul understands the operation of the
mind. Before a bridge is built, or a structure erected, or an
interoceanic canal made, there must be a plan, and before a plan the
thought in the mind. So that it is correct to say the mind bores
tunnels through the mountains, bridges the rivers, and constructs the
engines which are the pride of the world.

This is a wonderful tool, but it is capable of work yet more wonderful
in the exploration of the heavens. Now the soul is the mind of the
mind. It can build and construct and look beyond and penetrate space,
and create. It is the keenest, the sharpest tool possessed by man. But
what would be said if a carpenter about to commence a piece of work
examined his tools and deliberately cast away that with the finest
edge? Such is the conduct of those who reject the inner mind or psyche
altogether. So great is the value of the soul that it seems to me, if
the soul lived and received its aspirations it would not matter if the
material universe melted away as snow. Many turn aside the instant the
soul is mentioned, and I sympathise with them in one sense; they fear
lest, if they acknowledge it, they will be fettered by mediæval
conditions. My contention is that the restrictions of the mediæval era
should entirely be cast into oblivion, but the soul recognised and
employed. Instead of slurring over the soul, I desire to see it at its
highest perfection.


Subtle as the mind is, it can effect little without knowledge. It
cannot construct a bridge, or a building, or make a canal, or work a
problem in algebra, unless it is provided with information. This is
obvious, and yet some say, What can you effect by the soul? I reply
because it has had no employment. Mediaeval conditions kept it in
slumber: science refuses to accept it. We are taught to employ our
minds, and furnished with materials. The mind has its logic and
exercise of geometry, and thus assisted brings a great force to the
solution of problems. The soul remains untaught, and can effect little.

I consider that the highest purpose of study is the education of the
soul or psyche. It is said that there is no proof of the existence of
the soul, but, arguing on the same grounds, there is no proof of the
existence of the mind, which is not a tangible thing. For myself, I
feel convinced that there is a soul, a mind of the mind—and that it
really exists. Now, glancing at the state of wild and uneducated men,
it is evident that they work with their hands and make various things
almost instinctively. But when they arrive at the idea of mind, and say
to themselves, I possess a mind, then they think and proceed farther,
forming designs and constructions both tangible and mental.

Next then, when we say, I have a soul, we can proceed to shape things
yet further, and to see deeper, and penetrate the mystery. By denying
the existence and the power of the soul—refusing to employ it—we should
go back more than twelve thousand written years of human history. But
instead of this, I contend, we should endeavour to go forward, and to
discover a fourth Idea, and after that a fifth, and onwards

I will not permit myself to be taken captive by observing physical
phenomena, as many evidently are. Some gases are mingled and produce a
liquid; certainly it is worth careful investigation, but it is no more
than the revolution of a wheel, which is so often seen that it excites
no surprise, though, in truth, as wonderful. So is all motion, and so
is a grain of sand; there is nothing that is not wonderful; as, for
instance, the fact of the existence of things at all. But the intense
concentration of the mind on mechanical effects appears often to render
it incapable of perceiving anything that is not mechanical. Some
compounds are observed to precipitate crystals, all of which contain
known angles. Thence it is argued that all is mechanical, and that
action occurs in set ways only. There is a tendency to lay it down as
an infallible law that because we see these things therefore everything
else that exists in space must be or move exactly in the same manner.
But I do not think that because crystals are precipitated with fixed
angles therefore the whole universe is necessarily mechanical. I think
there are things exempt from mechanical rules. The restriction of
thought to purely mechanical grooves blocks progress in the same way as
the restrictions of mediæval superstition. Let the mind think, dream,
imagine: let it have perfect freedom. To shut out the soul is to put us
back more than twelve thousand years.

Just as outside light, and the knowledge gained from light, there are,
I think, other mediums from which, in times to come, intelligence will
be obtained, so outside the mental and the spiritual ideas we now
possess I believe there exists a whole circle of ideas. In the
conception of the idea that there are others, I lay claim to another

The mind is infinite and able to understand everything that is brought
before it; there is no limit to its understanding. The limit is in the
littleness of the things and the narrowness of the ideas which have
been put for it to consider. For the philosophies of old time past and
the discoveries of modern research are as nothing to it. They do not
fill it. When they have been read, the mind passes on, and asks for
more. The utmost of them, the whole together, make a mere nothing.
These things have been gathered together by immense labour, labour so
great that it is a weariness to think of it; but yet, when all is
summed up and written, the mind receives it all as easily as the hand
picks flowers. It is like one sentence—read and gone.

The mind requires more, and more, and more. It is so strong that all
that can be put before it is devoured in a moment. Left to itself it
will not be satisfied with an invisible idol any more than with a
wooden one. An idol whose attributes are omnipresence, omnipotence, and
so on, is no greater than light or electricity, which are present
everywhere and all-powerful, and from which perhaps the thought arose.
Prayer which receives no reply must be pronounced in vain. The mind
goes on and requires more than these, something higher than prayer,
something higher than a god.

I have been obliged to write these things by an irresistible impulse
which has worked in me since early youth. They have not been written
for the sake of argument, still less for any thought of profit, rather
indeed the reverse. They have been forced from me by earnestness of
heart, and they express my most serious convictions. For seventeen
years they have been lying in my mind, continually thought of and
pondered over. I was not more than eighteen when an inner and esoteric
meaning began to come to me from all the visible universe, and
indefinable aspirations filled me. I found them in the grass fields,
under the trees, on the hill-tops, at sunrise, and in the night. There
was a deeper meaning everywhere. The sun burned with it, the broad
front of morning beamed with it; a deep feeling entered me while gazing
at the sky in the azure noon, and in the star-lit evening.

I was sensitive to all things, to the earth under, and the star-hollow
round about; to the least blade of grass, to the largest oak. They
seemed like exterior nerves and veins for the conveyance of feeling to
me. Sometimes a very ecstasy of exquisite enjoyment of the entire
visible universe filled me. I was aware that in reality the feeling and
the thought were in me, and not in the earth or sun; yet I was more
conscious of it when in company with these. A visit to the sea
increased the strength of the original impulse. I began to make efforts
to express these thoughts in writing, but could not succeed to my own
liking. Time went on, and harder experiences, and the pressure of
labour came, but in no degree abated the fire of first thought. Again
and again I made resolutions that I would write it, in some way or
other, and as often failed. I could express any other idea with ease,
but not this. Once especially I remember, in a short interval of
distasteful labour, walking away to a spot by a brook which skirts an
ancient Roman wall, and there trying to determine and really commence
to work. Again I failed. More time, more changes, and still the same
thought running beneath everything. At last, in 1880, in the old castle
of Pevensey, under happy circumstances, once more I resolved, and
actually did write down a few notes. Even then I could not go on, but I
kept the notes (I had destroyed all former beginnings), and in the end,
two years afterwards, commenced this book.

After all this time and thought it is only a fragment, and a fragment
scarcely hewn. Had I not made it personal I could scarcely have put it
into any shape at all. But I felt that I could no longer delay, and
that it must be done, however imperfectly. I am only too conscious of
its imperfections, for I have as it were seventeen years of
consciousness of my own inability to express this the idea of my life.
I can only say that many of these short sentences are the result of
long-continued thought. One of the greatest difficulties I have
encountered is the lack of words to express ideas. By the word soul, or
psyche, I mean that inner consciousness which aspires. By prayer I do
not mean a request for anything preferred to a deity; I mean intense
soul-emotion, intense aspiration. The word immortal is very
inconvenient, and yet there is no other to convey the idea of
soul-life. Even these definitions are deficient, and I must leave my
book as a whole to give its own meaning to its words.

Time has gone on, and still, after so much pondering, I feel that I
know nothing, that I have not yet begun; I have only just commenced to
realise the immensity of thought which lies outside the knowledge of
the senses. Still, on the hills and by the seashore, I seek and pray
deeper than ever. The sun burns southwards over the sea and before the
wave runs its shadow, constantly slipping on the advancing slope till
it curls and covers its dark image at the shore. Over the rim of the
horizon waves are flowing as high and wide as those that break upon the
beach. These that come to me and beat the trembling shore are like the
thoughts that have been known so long; like the ancient, iterated, and
reiterated thoughts that have broken on the strand of mind for
thousands of years. Beyond and over the horizon I feel that there are
other waves of ideas unknown to me, flowing as the stream of ocean
flows. Knowledge of facts is limitless: they lie at my feet innumerable
like the countless pebbles; knowledge of thought so circumscribed! Ever
the same thoughts come that have been written down centuries and

Let me launch forth and sail over the rim of the sea yonder, and when
another rim arises over that, and again and onwards into an
ever-widening ocean of idea and life. For with all the strength of the
wave, and its succeeding wave, the depth and race of the tide, the
clear definition of the sky; with all the subtle power of the great
sea, there rises an equal desire. Give me life strong and full as the
brimming ocean; give me thoughts wide as its plain; give me a soul
beyond these. Sweet is the bitter sea by the shore where the faint blue
pebbles are lapped by the green-grey wave, where the wind-quivering
foam is loth to leave the lashed stone. Sweet is the bitter sea, and
the clear green in which the gaze seeks the soul, looking through the
glass into itself. The sea thinks for me as I listen and ponder; the
sea thinks, and every boom of the wave repeats my prayer.

Sometimes I stay on the wet sands as the tide rises, listening to the
rush of the lines of foam in layer upon layer; the wash swells and
circles about my feet, I have my hands in it, I lift a little in my
hollowed palm, I take the life of the sea to me. My soul rising to the
immensity utters its desire-prayer with all the strength of the sea.
Or, again, the full stream of ocean beats upon the shore, and the rich
wind feeds the heart, the sun burns brightly; the sense of soul-life
burns in me like a torch.

Leaving the shore I walk among the trees; a cloud passes, and the sweet
short rain comes mingled with sunbeams and flower-scented air. The
finches sing among the fresh green leaves of the beeches. Beautiful it
is, in summer days, to see the wheat wave, and the long grass
foam—flecked of flower yield and return to the wind. My soul of itself
always desires; these are to it as fresh food. I have found in the
hills another valley grooved in prehistoric times, where, climbing to
the top of the hollow, I can see the sea. Down in the hollow I look up;
the sky stretches over, the sun burns as it seems but just above the
hill, and the wind sweeps onward. As the sky extends beyond the valley,
so I know that there are ideas beyond the valley of my thought; I know
that there is something infinitely higher than deity. The great sun
burning in the sky, the sea, the firm earth, all the stars of night are
feeble—all, all the cosmos is feeble; it is not strong enough to utter
my prayer-desire. My soul cannot reach to its full desire of prayer. I
need no earth, or sea, or sun to think my thought. If my
thought-part—the psyche—were entirely separated from the body, and from
the earth, I should of myself desire the same. In itself my soul
desires; my existence, my soul-existence is in itself my prayer, and so
long as it exists so long will it pray that I may have the fullest

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