“Forgive? O yes! How lightly, lightly said!
Forget? No, never, while the ages roll.
Till God slay o’er again the undying dead,
And quite unmake my soul!” — Mary Coleridge.
I STEPPED down, it seemed, into a lilliputian world where the grander issues no longer drew the souls of men. The deep and simple things were fled, the old Nature gods withdrawn. The scale of life had oddly shrunk.
I saw the names above the shuttered shops with artificial articles for sale — “11¾d. a yard” — on printed paper labels. The cheapness of a lesser day flashed everywhere.
I passed the closed doors of a building where people flocked to mumble that no good was in them, while a man proclaimed in a loud voice things he hardly could believe. A few streets behind me Julius LeVallon stood in the shadows of another porch, solitary and apart, yet communing with stars and hills and seas, survival from a vital, vanished age when life was realised everywhere and the elemental Nature Powers walked hand in hand with men.
Through the deserted streets I made my way across the town to my own little student’s flat on the Morningside where I then lived. Gradually the crimson dawn slipped into a stormy sunrise. I watched the Pentlands take the gold, and the Castle rock turn ruddy; a gentle mist lay over Leith below; a pool of deep blue shadow marked the slumbering Old Town.
But about my heart at this magic hour stirred the dawn — winds of a thousand ancient sunrises, and I felt
IS2 the haunting atmosphere of other days and other places steal up through the mists of immemorial existences. I thought of the whole great series, each life rising and setting like a little day, each with its dawn and noon and sunset, each with its harvest of failure and success, of joy and sorrow, of friendships formed and enemies forgiven, of ideals realised or abandoned — pouring out of the womb of time and slowly bringing the soul through the discipline of all possible experience towards that perfection which proclaims it one with the entire universe — the Deity.
And a profound weariness fell about my spirit as I went. I became aware of my own meagre enthusiasm. I welcomed the conception of some saviour who should do it all for me. I knew myself unequal to the gigantic task. In that moment the heroic figure of Julius seemed remote from reality, a towering outline in the sky, an austere embodiment of legendary myth. The former passionate certainty that he was right dwindled amid wavering doubts. The perplexities of life came back upon me with tormenting power. I lost the coherent vision of consistent and logical beauty that he inspired. It was all too vast for me.
This reaction was natural enough, though for a long time mood chased mood across my troubled mind, each battling for supremacy. The materialism of the day, proudly strutting with its boundless assurance and its cock-sure knowledge, regained possession of my thoughts. The emptiness of scholastic theology no longer seemed so hideously apparent. It was pain to let the other go, but go it did — though never, perhaps, so completely as I then believed.
By insignificant details the change revealed itself. I recalled that I was due that very afternoon at a luncheon where “intellectual” folk would explain away the soul with a single scientific formula, and where learned heads would wag condescendingly as they murmured “But there’s no evidence to prove that, you know . . . ”.., and Julius rose before me in another light at once — Pagan, dreamer, monster of exploded superstitions, those very hills where he evoked the sylvan deities, a momentary hallucination. . . .
Then again, quite suddenly, it was the chatterers at the luncheon party who seemed unreal, and all their clever patter about the “movements” of the day mere shallow verbiage. The hoardings of the town were blue and yellow with gaudy election posters, but the sky was aflame with the grand old message of the Sun God, written in eternal hieroglyphs of gold and red upon the clouds that brushed the hills. The elemental deities stormed thundering by. And, instead of scholars laying down the letter of their little law, I heard the tones of Concerighe calling across the centuries the names of great belief, of greater beauty.
And the older pageantry stole back across the world.
Almost it was in me to turn and seek . . . with him,.. that soul-knowledge which ran through all the “sections.” . . . Yet the younger fear oppressed me. The endless journey, the renunciation and suffering involved, the incessant, tireless striving, with none to help but one’s own unconquerable will — this, and a host of other feelings that lay beyond expression, bore down upon me with their cold, glacier power. I thought of Julius with something of reverence akin to terror. . . . I despised myself. I also understood why the majority need priests and creeds and formulae to help them. . . . The will, divorced from Nature, was so small a thing!
When I entered my rooms the sunlight lay upon the carpet, and never before had it seemed so welcome or so comforting. I could then and there have worshipped the great body that sent it forth. But, instead, in a state of exhaustion and weariness, I flung myself upon the bed. Yet, while I slept, it seemed I left that little modern room and entered the region of great, golden days “when the sun was younger.” In very different attire, I took my place in the blue-robed circle, a portion of some ancient, gorgeous ceremonial that was nearer to the primitive beauty, when the “circles swallowed the sun,” and the elemental Powers were accessible to every heart.
It was not surprising that I slept till dusk, missing my lectures and the luncheon party as well; but it was distinctly surprising to find myself wakened by a knocking at the door for a telegram that summoned me south forthwith. And only in the train, anxiously counting the minutes in the hope that I might find my father still alive, did the possible significance of LeVallon’s final words come back upon my troubled mind: “Until we meet again.”
For little did I guess that my father’s death was to prevent my returning to the University, that my career would be changed and hastened owing to an unexpected lack of means, that my occasional letters to Julius were to be returned “unknown,” or that my next word of him would be received twenty years later in a room overlooking the Rhine at Bale, where I have attempted to set down these difficult notes of reminiscence. . . .
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52