A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 46.

Julius Faber and Amy Lloyd stayed in my house three day, I and in their presence I felt a healthful sense of security and peace. Amy wished to visit her father’s house, and I asked Faber, in taking her there, to seize the occasion to see Lilian, that he might communicate to me his impression of a case so peculiar. I prepared Mrs. Ashleigh for this visit by a previous note. When the old man and the child came back, both brought me comfort. Amy was charmed with Lilian, who had received her with the sweetness natural to her real character, and I loved to hear Lilian’s praise from those innocent lips.

Faber’s report was still more calculated to console me.

“I have seen, I have conversed with her long and familiarly. You were quite right — there is no tendency to consumption in that exquisite, if delicate, organization; nor do I see cause for the fear to which your statement had preinclined me. That head is too nobly formed for any constitutional cerebral infirmity. In its organization, ideality, wonder, veneration, are large, it is true, but they are balanced by other organs, now perhaps almost dormant, but which will come into play as life passes from romance into duty. Something at this moment evidently oppresses her mind. In conversing with her, I observe abstraction, listlessness; but I am so convinced of her truthfulness, that if she has once told you she returned your affection, and pledged to you her faith, I should, in your place, rest perfectly satisfied that whatever be the cloud that now rests on her imagination, and for the time obscures the idea of yourself, it will pass away.”

Faber was a believer in the main divisions of phrenology, though he did not accept all the dogmas of Gall and Spurzheim; while, to my mind, the refutation of phrenology in its fundamental propositions had been triumphantly established by the lucid arguments of Sir W. Hamilton.22 But when Faber rested on phrenological observations assurances in honour of Lilian, I forgot Sir W. Hamilton, and believed in phrenology. As iron girders and pillars expand and contract with the mere variations of temperature, so will the strongest conviction on which the human intellect rests its judgment vary with the changes of the human heart; and the building is only safe where these variations are foreseen and allowed for by a wisdom intent on self-knowledge.23

There was much in the affection that had sprung up between Julius Faber and Amy Lloyd which touched my heart and softened all its emotions. This man, unblessed, like myself, by conjugal and parental ties, had, in his solitary age, turned for solace to the love of a child, as I, in the pride of manhood, had turned to the love of woman. But his love was without fear, without jealousy, without trouble. My sunshine came to me in a fitful ray, through clouds that had gathered over my noon; his sunshine covered all his landscape, hallowed and hallowing by the calm of declining day.

And Amy was no common child. She had no exuberant imagination; she was haunted by no whispers from Afar; she was a creature fitted for the earth — to accept its duties and to gladden its cares. Her tender observation, fine and tranquil, was alive to all the important household trifles by which, at the earliest age, man’s allotted soother asserts her privilege to tend and to comfort. It was pleasant to see her moving so noiselessly through the rooms I had devoted to her venerable protector, knowing all his simple wants, and providing for them as if by the mechanism of a heart exquisitely moulded to the loving uses of life. Sometimes when I saw her setting his chair by the window (knowing, as I did, how much he habitually loved to be near the light) and smoothing his papers (in which he was apt to be unmethodical), placing the mark in his book when he ceased to read, divining, almost without his glance, some wish passing through his mind, and then seating herself at his feet, often with her work — which was always destined for him or for one of her absent brothers — now and then with the one small book that she had carried with her, a selection of Bible stories compiled for children — sometimes when I saw her thus, how I wished that Lilian, too, could have seen her, and have compared her own ideal fantasies with those young developments of the natural heavenly Woman!

But was there nothing in that sight from which I, proud of my arid reason even in its perplexities, might have taken lessons for myself?

On the second evening of Faber’s visit I brought to him the draft of deeds for the sale of his property. He had never been a man of business out of his profession; he was impatient to sell his property, and disposed to accept an offer at half its value. I insisted on taking on myself the task of negotiator; perhaps, too, in this office I was egotistically anxious to prove to the great physician that which he believed to be my “hallucination” had in no way obscured my common-sense in the daily affairs of life. So I concluded, and in a few hours, terms for his property that were only just, but were infinitely more advantageous than had appeared to himself to be possible. But as I approached him with the papers, he put his finger to his lips. Amy was standing by him with her little book in her hand, and his own Bible lay open on the table. He was reading to her from the Sacred Volume itself, and impressing on her the force and beauty of one of the Parables, the adaptation of which had perplexed her; when he had done, she kissed him, bade him goodnight, and went away to rest. Then said Faber thoughtfully, and as if to himself more than me —

“What a lovely bridge between old age and childhood is religion! How intuitively the child begins with prayer and worship on entering life, and how intuitively on quitting life the old man turns back to prayer and worship, putting himself again side by side with the infant!”

I made no answer, but, after a pause, spoke of fines and freeholds, title-deeds and money; and when the business on hand was concluded, asked my learned guest if, before he departed, he would deign to look over the pages of my ambitious Physiological Work. There were parts of it on which I much desired his opinion, touching on subjects in which his special studies made him an authority as high as our land possessed.

He made me bring him the manuscript, and devoted much of that night and the next day to its perusal.

When he gave it me back, which was not till the morning of his departure, he commenced with eulogies on the scope of its design, and the manner of its execution, which flattered my vanity so much that I could not help exclaiming, “Then, at least, there is no trace of ‘hallucination’ here!”

“Alas, my poor Allen! here, perhaps, hallucination, or self-deception, is more apparent than in all the strange tales you confided to me. For here is the hallucination of the man seated on the shores of Nature, and who would say to its measureless sea, ‘So far shalt thou go and no farther;’ here is the hallucination of the creature, who, not content with exploring the laws of the Creator, ends with submitting to his interpretation of some three or four laws, in the midst of a code of which all the rest are in a language unknown to him, the powers and free-will of the Lawgiver Himself; here is the hallucination by which Nature is left Godless, because Man is left soulless. What would matter all our speculations on a Deity who would cease to exist for us when we are in the grave? Why mete out, like Archytas, the earth and the sea, and number the sands on the shore that divides them, if the end of this wisdom be a handful of dust sprinkled over a skull!

“‘Nec quidquam tibi prodest

Aerias tentasse dornos, animoque rotundum

Percurrisse polum naorituro.’

“Your book is a proof of the soul that you fail to discover. Without a soul, no man would work for a Future that begins for his fame when the breath is gone from his body. Do you remember how you saw that little child praying at the grave of her father? Shall I tell you that in her simple orisons she prayed for the benefactor — who had cared for the orphan; who had reared over dust that tomb which, in a Christian burial-ground, is a mute but perceptible memorial of Christian hopes; that the child prayed, haughty man, for you? And you sat by, knowing nought of this; sat by, amongst the graves, troubled and tortured with ghastly doubts, vain of a reason that was sceptical of eternity, and yet shaken like a reed by a moment’s marvel. Shall I tell the child to pray for you no more; that you disbelieve in a soul? If you do so, what is the efficacy of prayer? Speak, shall I tell her this? Shall the infant pray for you never more?”

I was silent; I was thrilled.

“Has it never occurred to you, who, in denying all innate perceptions as well as ideas, have passed on to deductions from which poor Locke, humble Christian that he was, would have shrunk in dismay — has it never occurred to you as a wonderful fact, that the easiest thing in the world to teach a child is that which seems to metaphysical schoolmen the abstrusest of all problems? Read all those philosophers wrangling about a First Cause, deciding on what are miracles, and then again deciding that such miracles cannot be; and when one has answered another, and left in the crucible of wisdom a caput mortuum of ignorance, then turn your eyes, and look at the infant praying to the invisible God at his mother’s knees. This idea, so miraculously abstract, of a Power the infant has never seen, that cannot be symbolled forth and explained to him by the most erudite sage — a Power, nevertheless, that watches over him, that hears him, that sees him, that will carry him across the grave, that will enable him to live on forever — this double mystery of a Divinity and of a Soul, the infant learns with the most facile readiness, at the first glimpse of his reasoning faculty. Before you can teach him a rule in addition, before you can venture to drill him into his horn-book, he leaps, with one intuitive spring of all his ideas, to the comprehension of the truths which are only incomprehensible to blundering sages! And you, as you stand before me, dare not say, ‘Let the child pray for me no more!’ But will the Creator accept the child’s prayer for the man who refuses prayer for himself? Take my advice, pray! And in this counsel I do not overstep my province. I speak not as a preacher, but as a physician. For health is a word that comprehends our whole organization, and a just equilibrium of all faculties and functions is the condition of health. As in your Lilian the equilibrium is deranged by the over-indulgence of a spiritual mysticism which withdraws from the nutriment of duty the essential pabulum of sober sense, so in you the resolute negation of disciplined spiritual communion between Thought and Divinity robs imagination of its noblest and safest vent. Thus, from opposite extremes, you and your Lilian meet in the same region of mist and cloud, losing sight of each other and of the true ends of life, as her eyes only gaze on the stars and yours only bend to the earth. Were I advising her, I should say: ‘Your Creator has placed the scene of your trial below, and not in the stars.’ Advising you, I say: ‘But in the trial below, man should recognize education for heaven.’ In a word, I would draw somewhat more downward her fancy, raise somewhat more upward your reason. Take my advice then — Pray. Your mental system needs the support of prayer in order to preserve its balance. In the embarrassment and confusion of your senses, clearness of perception will come with habitual and tranquil confidence in Him who alike rules the universe and reads the heart. I only say here what has been said much better before by a reasoner in whom all Students of Nature recognize a guide. I see on your table the very volume of Bacon which contains the passage I commend to your reflection. Here it is. Listen: ‘Take an example of a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on when he finds himself maintained by a man who, to him, is instead of a God, or melior natura, which courage is manifestly such as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain. So man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon Divine protection and favour, gathereth a force and faith which human nature could not obtain.’24 You are silent, but your gesture tells me your doubt — a doubt which your heart, so femininely tender, will not speak aloud lest you should rob the old man of a hope with which your strength of manhood dispenses — you doubt the efficacy of prayer! Pause and reflect, bold but candid inquirer into the laws of that guide you call Nature. If there were no efficacy in prayer; if prayer were as mere an illusion of superstitious fantasy as aught against which your reason now struggles, do you think that Nature herself would have made it amongst the most common and facile of all her dictates? Do you believe that if there really did not exist that tie between Man and his Maker — that link between life here and life hereafter which is found in what we call Soul alone — that wherever you look through the universe, you would behold a child at Prayer? Nature inculcates nothing that is superfluous. Nature does not impel the leviathan or the lion, the eagle or the moth, to pray; she impels only man. Why? Because man only has soul, and Soul seeks to commune with the Everlasting, as a fountain struggles up to its source. Burn your book. It would found you a reputation for learning and intellect and courage, I allow; but learning and intellect and courage wasted against a truth, like spray against a rock! A truth valuable to the world, the world will never part with. You will not injure the truth, but you will mislead and may destroy many, whose best security is in the truth which you so eruditely insinuate to be a fable. Soul and Hereafter are the heritage of all men; the humblest, journeyman in those streets, the pettiest trader behind those counters, have in those beliefs their prerogatives of royalty. You would dethrone and embrute the lords of the earth by your theories. For my part, having given the greater part of my life to the study and analysis of facts, I would rather be the author of the tritest homily, or the baldest poem, that inculcated that imperishable essence of the soul to which I have neither scalpel nor probe, than be the founder of the subtlest school, or the framer of the loftiest verse, that robbed my fellow-men of their faith in a spirit that eludes the dissecting-knife — in a being that escapes the grave-digger. Burn your book! Accept This Book instead; Read and Pray.”

He placed his Bible in my hand, embraced me, and, an hour afterwards, the old man and the child left my hearth solitary once more.

22 The summary of this distinguished lecturer’s objections to phrenology is to be found in the Appendix to vol i. of “Lectures on Metaphysics,” p. 404, et seq. Edition 1859.

23 The change of length of iron girders caused by variation of temperature has not unfrequently brought down the whole edifice into which they were admitted. Good engineers and architects allow for such changes produced by temperature. In the tubular bridge across the Menai Straits, a self-acting record of the daily amount of its contraction and expansion is ingeniously Contrived.

24 Bacon’s “Essay on Atheism.” This quotation is made with admirable felicity and force by Dr. Whewell, page 378 of Bridgewater Treatise on Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to Natural Theology.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31