The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Fifteen

The Place Of Friendship

Anthony opened the door of the flat and went quickly into it. He called out as he did so, not that he had much hope of an answer, even if Quentin were there. But instinctively his voice went before him, desiring to cry out to that wilderness of spirit, to proclaim the making straight of the highway of God. No other replied.

He went into each room, and even looked behind chairs and inside a deep cupboard or two and under tables and beds. The agonized fugitive might so easily have tried to hide himself in such an absurd refuge. But he had not; after a very few minutes Anthony was compelled to admit that the flat was untenanted. He came back into their common lounge and sat down. Quentin wasn’t here; then he was still in flight — or helpless, or dead. The first possibility of the two which had been in Anthony’s mind — that of finding his friend — had proved useless; the second and less defined — the hinted discovery in this house of friendship of a means of being of use to the troubled world — remained. He lay back in his chair and let his eyes wander round the room.

The traces of their common occupation lay before him, rather tidier at this hour of the morning than they generally were, because the woman who looked after the flat had obviously only just “been round it” and gone. She had been broken of her original habit of putting everything straight, of thrusting papers away in drawers and pushing books back on to shelves — any book on any shelf, so that Spinoza and Mr. T. S. Eliot might jostle, which would have been quite suitable, but then also Milton might neighbour a study in Minoan origins, which was merely inconvenient, or Mr. Gerard Hopkins shoulder Mr. Gilbert Frankau, which was silly. So books and papers — and even pipes — still lay on tables, and Quentin’s fountain-pen upon a pile of letter-paper. There were the pictures, most of them signs of some memory — this of a common holiday, that of a common friend, that again of a birthday or even of a prolonged argument. A little reproduction of Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen was the sign of the last. Anthony had forgotten for the moment what the terrific discussion had really been about, though he knew in general terms that it was on the nature of art and had arisen out of a review of his own in The Two Camps. But he remembered how Quentin had won a perfectly devastating triumph, and how the next day he had himself searched several picture shops to find the Landseer and had triumphantly presented it to Quentin that evening as a commemoration of the battle and in illustration of the other’s principles. Or so he swore it was, though Quentin had rampantly denied it; but they had hung the thing up in mutual laughter, derision, and joy. Anthony’s eyes left it reluctantly, and went on glancing round the room.

The moments of their past showed themselves multitudinously to him as he looked. In that chair Quentin had sat sprawled on a winter evening, while he himself, pacing up and down the warm unlit room, had delivered a long monologue on Damaris; in yonder corner he had himself crouched with books scattered round him while they disputed which “chorus-ending from Euripides” might conceivably have been in Browning’s mind. Quentin had a fantastic passion for discovering impossible suitabilities. By the window they had both leaned one evening, while they talked of the exact kind of authority which reposed in moments of exalted experience and how far they each sought to obey it. In another chair they had once seated an uneasy canvasser before a general election, and plied him with questions and epigrams about the nature of the State, and whether a dictatorship was consistent with the English political genius. By the table they had once nearly quarrelled; near the fireplace they had read immortal verse from a new illustrated edition of Macbeth which had come to Anthony for review, and had been propped up on the mantelpiece for admiration. Light and amusing, poignant and awful, the different hours of friendship came to him, each full of that suggestion of significance which hours of the kind mysteriously hold — a suggestion which demands definitely either to be accepted as truth or rejected as illusion. Anthony had long since determined on which side his own choice lay; he had accepted those exchanges, so far as mortal frailty could, as being of the nature of final and eternal being. Though they did not last, their importance did; though any friendship might be shattered, no strife and no separation could deny the truth within it: all immortality could but more clearly reveal what in those moments had been.

More certainly than ever he now believed. He reaccepted what they offered; he reaccepted them, knowing from of old that this, which seems so simple, is one of the hardest tasks laid before mankind. Hard, for the reality is so evasive; self-consciousness, egotism, heaviness, solemnity, carelessness, even an over-personal fondness, continually miss it. He could do nothing but indicate to that fleeting truth his willingness to be at its service. It accepted him in turn; it renewed within him its work of illumination. He felt how some moving power bore Quentin and himself within it, and so bearing them passed onward through time. Or perhaps it was Time; in that they were related, and outside that there was only . . . whatever “the perfect and simultaneous possession of everlasting life” might be. The phrase, he remembered, came from St. Thomas; perhaps Damaris would once have quoted it in a footnote.

He sat on, from recollection passing to reflection, from reflection to obedience, from obedience into a trance of attention. As he had dreamed, if it were a dream, that he rose on powerful wings through the air of the spiritual abyss, so now he felt again the power between Quentin and himself active in its own place. Within that power the presence of his friend grew more defined to him, and the room in which he sat was but the visible extension of an immortal state. He loved; yet not he, but Love living in him. Quentin was surely there, in the room, leaning by the window as he had so often leaned, and Anthony instinctively rose and went across, as he had so often gone across, to join him. If, when he reached it, there was no mortal form, there was yet a reception of him into something that had been and still was; his movement freed it to make a movement of its own. He stood and looked out of the window upon the world.

It presented itself to him in an apparition of strength. How firmly the houses were set within the ground! With what decision each row of bricks lay level upon the row beneath! Spires and towers and chimneys thrust into the sky, and slender as they were, it was an energetic slenderness. The trees were drawing up strength and displaying it, and the sunlight communicated strength. The noises that came to him from the streets resolved themselves into a litany of energy. Matter was directed by and inspired with this first and necessary virtue, and through the vast spaces of the sky potential energy expanded in an azure wonder.

But the sounds that came to him, though they reached him as a choric hymn, sounding almost like the subdued and harmonious thunder of the lion’s roar, were yet many. A subtlety of music held them together, and the strength whose epiphany was before him was also subtilized into its complex existence. Neither virtue could exist without the other: the slender spires were a token of that unison. What intelligence, what cunning, what practice, had gone to build them! Even the chimneys — ways for smoke, improvements on the mere holes by which the accidents of fire dispersed — and fire itself, all signs of man’s invention! He, as he stood there, was an incredibly subtle creation, nerves, sinews, bones, muscle, skin and flesh, heart and a thousand organs and vessels. They were his strength, yet his strength parcelled and ordered according to many curious divisions, even as by a similar process of infinite change the few clouds that floated in the sky were transmuted from and into rivers and seas. The seas, the world itself, was a mass of subtle life, existing only by means of those two vast Principles — and the stars beyond the world. For through space the serpentine imagination coiled and uncoiled in a myriad shapes, at each moment so and not otherwise, and the next moment entirely different and yet so and not otherwise again.

The Lion and the Serpent — but what arose between them, the first visitant from the world of abstract knowledge, the blue of the sky, the red of the bricks, the slenderness of the spires? “The world was created by number,” someone had said — Pythagoras, of course. Dear Damaris! But when Number came to man, it was shown, not merely in pure intellectual proportions, which were no doubt more like its own august nature — No, they weren’t; why were mathematics more after its nature than butterflies? Beauty went with strength and subtlety, and made haste to emotion as to mind, to sense as to spirit. One and indivisible, those three mighty Splendours yet offered themselves each to other — and had a fourth property also, and that was speed.

He stood there, looking out, and as if from some point high in space he beheld the world turning on its axis and at the same time rushing forward. So also he looked on created things and saw them moving rapidly upon their own concerns yet also moving forward in a unity. Within the sunlight he could almost have believed that a herd of wild horses came charging towards him across “the savannahs of the blue,” only they were not a herd and not coming towards him; they were single and going from him, or would have been had he not been following at a similar speed. And now the trance deepened upon him, and what had before been half deliberate thought was now dream or vision — and, as if for the last time, he felt the choice offered him once more. Moments of love were either reality or illusion; the instant knowledge required his similar decision. He made it at once, and the sunlight grew brighter still and flowed through and around him. Quentin was leaning on the other side of the window, or whatever opening it was, in whatever world, through which the light poured, and more than light. For the light changed as he remembered again that it was not Quentin but the thing that was between him and Quentin, the thing that went with speed, and yet, speeding, was already at its goal, the thing that was for ever new and for ever old —tam antiqua, tam nova, that issued from its own ardent nest in its own perpetually renovated beauty, a rosy glow, a living body, the wonder of earthly love. The movement of the Eagle was the measure of truth, but the birth of some other being was the life of truth, some other royal creature that rose from fire and plunged into fire, momently consumed, momently reborn. Such was the inmost life of the universe, infinitely destroyed, infinitely recreated, breaking from its continual death into continual life, instinct with strength and subtlety and beauty and speed. But the blazing Phoenix lived and swept again to its nest of fire, and as it sank all those other Virtues went with it, themselves still, yet changed. The outer was with the inner; the inner with the outer. All of them rose in the Phoenix and a pattern of stars shone round its head, for the interfused Virtues made a pattern of worlds and stayed, and all the worlds lived and brought forth living creatures to cry out one moment for joy and then be swallowed in the Return. Ephemera of eternity, they broke into being, and Quentin who stood opposite him was one of them, and Damaris was another, and the song of joy filled them and swept them down as it pulsed for sheer gladness into silence again. But the red glow was changing; a soft white light was substituting itself, in the midst of which there grew the form of a Lamb. It stood quietly, and by it he saw Quentin lying on the ground and Damaris leaning over him. They were in some open place, and around them in circling haste went the Lion, and circling within its path, but in the opposite direction, leapt the Lamb. He saw the concentric and complementary paths only for a moment, for his attention rested on a point between Damaris and Quentin, a point that was speeding infinitely away from them, so that his own gaze passed between, and they were on each side of him, and then they were not. The point hung in remote space.

It hung, and after many centuries it opened out, floating nearer, and within it was the earth itself. That which had been but a point resolved itself into a web of speeding and interwoven colours of so many tones that he could but recognize one here and there. He saw a golden Lion against that background, and again a Butterfly of sprinkled azure, and a crimson Phoenix and a white Lamb, and others which he could not know, so swift were the transmutations. But always the earth — already he could distinguish it, with masses of piling waters heaped back from the dry land between — was in the very forefront of whatever creature showed itself. Presently it hid them altogether, hid even the web of colour, though very dimly within it he could still see the pulsations of the glories. They were not to be denied; they thrust out from it; darkened and in strange shapes. If he had been among them — some million-year-old memory woke in his brain —when he had been among them, with undeveloped brain and hardly lit spirit, they had gone about him as terrifying enemies — the pterodactyl and the dinosaur, Behemoth and Leviathan. It was not until man began to know them by the spiritual intellect that they were minimized to his outer sight; it was to those who were in process of degrading intellect and spirit that, mentally or actually, they appeared again, in those old, huge, and violent shapes. When the holy imagination could behold them in forms yet nearer their true selves, even the present animal appearances would disappear; the Angelicals would be known as Angelicals, and in the idea of Man all ideas would be at one: then man would know himself. For then the Lion would not be without the Lamb. It was the Lamb of which he was again aware, aware vaguely of Damaris and Quentin somewhere at hand. His thought returned to his friend. Was Quentin to be exposed already to the full blast of those energies? What were Damaris and he doing but trying to redeem him from them? Nay, what else had he been trying to do for Damaris herself? Some dispensation of the Mercy had used him for that purpose, to moderate, by the assumption of his natural mind into living knowledge, the danger that threatened his lover and his friend.

His friend. The many moments of joy and deep content which their room had held had in them something of the nature of holy innocence. There had been something in them which was imparted, by Love to love, and which had willed to save them now. Much was possible to a man in solitude; perhaps the final transmutations and achievements in the zones on the yonder side of the central Knowledge were possible only to the spirit in solitude. But some things were possible only to a man in companionship, and of these the most important was balance. No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter and equal it, and to save it from conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly. Only in such a balance could humility be found, humility which was a lucid speed to welcome lucidity whenever and wherever it presented itself. How much he owed to Quentin! How much — not pride but delight urged the admission — Quentin owed to him! Balance — and movement in balance, as an eagle sails up on the wind — this was the truth of life, and beauty in life.

But if so — and unconsciously he turned now from the window and wandered back through that place of friendship to the chair he most commonly used — if so, what of the world of men under this visitation? He thought first of Damaris’s father, but also of the struggle in Dora Wilmot’s house. One was in some sense beautiful — the other had been horrible; but even that first entire submission and absorption, was it quite the perfect end? This abandonment, awe-inspiring as it had been, surely lacked something; would the great classic poets have desired it for a conclusion? If man was perfectly to know. . . . And if Mr. Tighe had subordinated himself to one Idea, were not those others in process of being subordinated, each by an Idea to itself? And for others still, what awaited them but thunder, earthquake, terror, chaos — the destruction of patterns and the blasting of purposes?

Unthinkingly he put out his hand to the cigarette box which Quentin had given him one Christmas; given both of them, as he had himself pointed out, in remarking on the superior nature of his own present, which had been a neat kind of pocket-book and therefore an entirely personal gift. But Quentin had maintained that the cigarette box, as being of greater good to a greater number, had been nearer to the ideal perfection of giving. “For,” he had argued, “to give to you a means by which you can give to others, is better than to give a merely private thing.”

“But,” Anthony had persisted, “in so far as you are one of those others — and likely to be the most persistent — you give to yourself and therefore altogether deprive the act of the principle of giving”; to which Quentin had retorted that he was included only as one of a number, and that the wise man would not deprive others of good because he himself might be a gainer. “Otherwise what about all martyrs, missionaries, and philanthropists?” And so the comedy had been played to its end.

The comedy — but this was no comedy; the fierceness of the Lion was no comedy, nor any of those other apparitions, unless the Lamb . . . The Lion and the Lamb — and a little child shall lead them. Lead them where? Even a little child was in its own mind presumably leading them somewhere. Or perhaps not, perhaps a little child would be content just to lead. The Lion and the Lamb — if this were the restored balance?

Friendship — love — had something in it at once strong and innocent, leonine and lamblike. By friendship, by love, these great Virtues became delicately known. Apart from such love and friendship they were merely destructive and helpless; man was never meant to be subjected to them, unless by the offering up of his being to “divine Philosophy.” In that very chair he had been mocked by Foster for hoping to rule the principles of creation, and he had answered that he had promised to do everything to help Damaris. How far such a profound intention sufficed to rule those principles he did not know — more perhaps than man normally thought. The balance in things — the Lion and the Lamb, the Serpent and the Phoenix, the Horse and the Unicorn: ideas as they were visualized and imagined — if these could be led . . . if . . .

He could not clearly understand what suggestion was being made to him. But an intense apprehension of the danger in which many besides Quentin were grew within him, a danger brought about by the disorder which had been introduced. He could not honestly say that in any sense he loved these others, unless indeed love were partly a process of willing good to them. That he was determined to do, and perhaps this willing of good meant restoration. By order man ascended; what was it that St. Francis had written? “Set Love in order, thou that lovest Me.” First for Quentin and then for all the rest.

So gradually abandoning himself to the purpose of the great Power that lived in him, he sat on. If the Eagle was to be served the Eagle must show him how to serve. In this place of friendship, among the expositions and symbols of friendship, he was filled with the intention of friendship. Quentin was not here, but here they had been received by the knowledge of good, by comparison with which only could evil be known. Friendship was one, but friends were many; the idea was one, but its epiphanies many. One winged creature — but many, many flights of birds. The sparrows in the garden outside his window — and the brown thrushes that sought in it sometimes — the blackbird and the starling — the pigeons of the Guildhall and the gulls of the Thames — the pelicans of St. James and the ridiculous penguins of the Zoo — herons in shallow waters — owls screaming by night — nightingales, skylarks, robin redbreasts — a kingfisher out beyond Maidenhead — doves and crows? ravens — the hooded falcons of pageantry — pheasants — peacocks magnificently scornful — migrating swallows of October? migrating? migrating — birds of paradise — parrots shrieking in the jungles of India — vultures tearing the bodies in the sands of Africa — flight after flight went by. He knew them in the spiritual intellect, and beheld by their fashioned material bodies the mercy which hid in matter the else overwhelming ardours; man was not yet capable of naked vision. The breach between mankind and the angelicals must be closed again; “a little child should lead them”— back. The lion should lie down with the lamb. Separately they had issued — strength divorced from innocence, fierceness from joy. They must go back together; somehow they must be called. Adam, long since — so the fable ran — standing in Eden had named the Celestials which were brought into existence before him. Their names — how should Anthony Durrant know their names, or by what title to summon again the lion and the serpent? Yet even in Anthony Durrant the nature of Adam lived. In Adam there had been perfect balance, perfect proportion: in Anthony —?

He was lying back, very still, in his chair. His desire went inwards, through a universe of peace, and hovered, as if on aquiline pinions, over the moment when man knew and named the powers of which he was made. Vast landscapes opened beneath him; laughter rang up towards him. Among the forests he saw a great glade, and in the glade wandered a solitary lamb. It was alone — for a moment or for many years; and then from the trees there came forth a human figure and stood also in the sun. With its appearance a mighty movement everywhere began. A morning of Light was on the earth; the hippopotamus lumbered from the river, the boar charged from the forest, the great apes swung down to the ground before a figure of strength and beauty, the young and glorious archetype of humanity. A voice, crying out in song, went through the air of Eden — a voice that swept up as the eagle, and with every call renewed its youth. All music was the scattered echo of that voice; all poetry was the approach of the fallen understanding to that unfallen meaning. All things were named — all but man himself, then the sleep fell upon the Adam, and in that first sleep he strove to utter his name, and as he strove he was divided and woke to find humanity doubled. The name of mankind was in neither voice but in both; the knowledge of the name and its utterance was in the perpetual interchange of love. Whoever denied that austere godhead, wherever and however it appeared — its presence, its austerity, its divinity — refused the name of man.

The echo of that high spiritual mastery sounded through the inmost being of the child of Adam who lay tranced and attentive. His memory could not bear the task of holding the sounds, but it was not memory’s business. The great affair of the naming was present within him, eternal, now as much as then, and at any future hour as much as now. There floated from that singing rapture of man’s knowledge of man a last note which rose through his whole being, and as it came brought with it a cloud. “A mist went up and covered the face of the earth.” His faculties relaxed; his attention was gently released. He blinked once or twice, moved, saw, recognized, and drowsily smiled at the Landseer; then his head dropped down, and he was received, until his energies were renewed, into such a sleep as possessed our father when he awaited the discovery of himself.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30