Let us pass over the period of dull, stupefied misery that followed, when Lancelot had returned to his lonely lodging, and the excitement of his feelings had died away. It is impossible to describe that which could not be separated into parts, in which there was no foreground, no distance, but only one dead, black, colourless present. After a time, however, he began to find that fancies, almost ridiculously trivial, arrested and absorbed his attention; even as when our eyes have become accustomed to darkness, every light-coloured mote shows luminous against the void blackness of night. So we are tempted to unseemly frivolity in churches, and at funerals, and all most solemn moments; and so Lancelot found his imagination fluttering back, half amused, to every smallest circumstance of the last few weeks, as objects of mere curiosity, and found with astonishment that they had lost their power of paining him. Just as victims on the rack have fallen, it is said, by length of torture, into insensibility, and even calm repose, his brain had been wrought until all feeling was benumbed. He began to think what an interesting autobiography his life might make; and the events of the last few years began to arrange themselves in a most attractive dramatic form. He began even to work out a scene or two, and where ‘motives’ seemed wanting, to invent them here and there. He sat thus for hours silent over his fire, playing with his old self, as though it were a thing which did not belong to him — a suit of clothes which he had put off, and which,
‘For that it was too rich to hang by the wall,
It must be ripped,’
and then pieced and dizened out afresh as a toy. And then again he started away from his own thoughts, at finding himself on the edge of that very gulf, which, as Mellot had lately told him, Barnakill denounced as the true hell of genius, where Art is regarded as an end and not a means, and objects are interesting, not in as far as they form our spirits, but in proportion as they can be shaped into effective parts of some beautiful whole. But whether it was a temptation or none, the desire recurred to him again and again. He even attempted to write, but sickened at the sight of the first words. He turned to his pencil, and tried to represent with it one scene at least; and with the horrible calmness of some self-torturing ascetic, he sat down to sketch a drawing of himself and Argemone on her dying day, with her head upon his bosom for the last time — and then tossed it angrily into the fire, partly because he felt just as he had in his attempts to write, that there was something more in all these events than he could utter by pen or pencil, than he could even understand; principally because he could not arrange the attitudes gracefully enough. And now, in front of the stern realities of sorrow and death, he began to see a meaning in another mysterious saying of Barnakill’s, which Mellot was continually quoting, that ‘Art was never Art till it was more than Art; that the Finite only existed as a body of the Infinite; and that the man of genius must first know the Infinite, unless he wished to become not a poet, but a maker of idols.’ Still he felt in himself a capability, nay, an infinite longing to speak; though what he should utter, or how — whether as poet, social theorist, preacher, he could not yet decide. Barnakill had forbidden him painting, and though he hardly knew why, he dared not disobey him. But Argemone’s dying words lay on him as a divine command to labour. All his doubts, his social observations, his dreams of the beautiful and the blissful, his intense perception of social evils, his new-born hope — faith it could not yet be called — in a ruler and deliverer of the world, all urged him on to labour: but at what? He felt as if he were the demon in the legend, condemned to twine endless ropes of sand. The world, outside which he now stood for good and evil, seemed to him like some frantic whirling waltz; some serried struggling crowd, which rushed past him in aimless confusion, without allowing him time or opening to take his place among their ranks: and as for wings to rise above, and to look down upon the uproar, where were they? His melancholy paralysed him more and more. He was too listless even to cater for his daily bread by writing his articles for the magazines. Why should he? He had nothing to say. Why should he pour out words and empty sound, and add one more futility to the herd of ‘prophets that had become wind, and had no truth in them’? Those who could write without a conscience, without an object except that of seeing their own fine words, and filling their own pockets — let them do it: for his part he would have none of it. But his purse was empty, and so was his stomach; and as for asking assistance of his uncle, it was returning like the dog to his vomit. So one day he settled all bills with his last shilling, tied up his remaining clothes in a bundle, and stoutly stepped forth into the street to find a job — to hold a horse, if nothing better offered; when, behold! on the threshold he met Barnakill himself.
‘Whither away?’ said that strange personage. ‘I was just going to call on you.’
‘To earn my bread by the labour of my hands. So our fathers all began.’
‘And so their sons must all end. Do you want work?’
‘Yes, if you have any.’
‘Follow me, and carry a trunk home from a shop to my lodgings.’
He strode off, with Lancelot after him; entered a mathematical instrument maker’s shop in the neighbouring street, and pointed out a heavy corded case to Lancelot, who, with the assistance of the shopman, got it on his shoulders; and trudging forth through the streets after his employer, who walked before him silent and unregarding, felt himself for the first time in his life in the same situation as nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand of Adam’s descendants, and discovered somewhat to his satisfaction that when he could once rid his mind of its old superstition that every one was looking at him, it mattered very little whether the burden carried were a deal trunk or a Downing Street despatch-box.
His employer’s lodgings were in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Lancelot set the trunk down inside the door.
‘What do you charge?’
Barnakill looked him steadily in the face, gave him the sixpence, went in, and shut the door.
Lancelot wandered down the street, half amused at the simple test which had just been applied to him, and yet sickened with disappointment; for he had cherished a mysterious fancy that with this strange being all his hopes of future activity were bound up. Tregarva’s month was nearly over, and yet no tidings of him had come. Mellot had left London on some mysterious errand of the prophet’s, and for the first time in his life he seemed to stand utterly alone. He was at one pole, and the whole universe at the other. It was in vain to tell himself that his own act had placed him there; that he had friends to whom he might appeal. He would not, he dare not, accept outward help, even outward friendship, however hearty and sincere, at that crisis of his existence. It seemed a desecration of its awfulness to find comfort in anything but the highest and the deepest. And the glimpse of that which he had attained seemed to have passed away from him again — seemed to be something which, as it had arisen with Argemone, was lost with her also — one speck of the far blue sky which the rolling clouds had covered in again. As he passed under the shadow of the huge soot-blackened cathedral, and looked at its grim spiked railings and closed doors, it seemed to him a symbol of the spiritual world, clouded and barred from him. He stopped and looked up, and tried to think. The rays of the setting sun lighted up in clear radiance the huge cross on the summit. Was it an omen? Lancelot thought so; but at that instant he felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked round. It was that strange man again.
‘So far well,’ said he. ‘You are making a better day’s work than you fancy, and earning more wages. For instance, here is a packet for you.’
Lancelot seized it, trembling, and tore it open. It was directed in Honoria’s handwriting.
‘Whence had you this?’ said he.
‘Through Mellot, through whom I can return your answer, if one be needed.’
The letter was significant of Honoria’s character. It busied itself entirely about facts, and showed the depth of her sorrow by making no allusion to it. ‘Argemone, as Lancelot was probably aware, had bequeathed to him the whole of her own fortune at Mrs. Lavington’s death, and had directed that various precious things of hers should be delivered over to him immediately. Her mother, however, kept her chamber under lock and key, and refused to allow an article to be removed from its accustomed place. It was natural in the first burst of her sorrow, and Lancelot would pardon.’ All his drawings and letters had been, by Argemone’s desire, placed with her in her coffin. Honoria had been only able to obey her in sending a favourite ring of hers, and with it the last stanzas which she had composed before her death:—
‘Twin stars, aloft in ether clear,
Around each other roll away,
Within one common atmosphere
Of their own mutual light and day.
‘And myriad happy eyes are bent
Upon their changeless love alway;
As, strengthened by their one intent,
They pour the flood of life and day,
‘So we, through this world’s waning night,
Shall, hand in hand, pursue our way;
Shed round us order, love, and light,
And shine unto the perfect day.’
The precious relic, with all its shattered hopes, came at the right moment to soften his hard-worn heart. The sight, the touch of it, shot like an electric spark through the black stifling thunder-cloud of his soul, and dissolved it in refreshing showers of tears.
Barnakill led him gently within the area of the railings, where he might conceal his emotion, and it was but a few seconds before Lancelot had recovered his self-possession and followed him up the steps through the wicket door.
They entered. The afternoon service was proceeding. The organ droned sadly in its iron cage to a few musical amateurs. Some nursery maids and foreign sailors stared about within the spiked felon’s dock which shut off the body of the cathedral, and tried in vain to hear what was going on inside the choir. As a wise author — a Protestant, too — has lately said, ‘the scanty service rattled in the vast building, like a dried kernel too small for its shell.’ The place breathed imbecility, and unreality, and sleepy life-indeath, while the whole nineteenth century went roaring on its way outside. And as Lancelot thought, though only as a dilettante, of old St. Paul’s, the morning star and focal beacon of England through centuries and dynasties, from old Augustine and Mellitus, up to those Paul’s Cross sermons whose thunders shook thrones, and to noble Wren’s masterpiece of art, he asked, ‘Whither all this? Coleridge’s dictum, that a cathedral is a petrified religion, may be taken to bear more meanings than one. When will life return to this cathedral system?’
‘When was it ever a living system?’ answered the other. ‘When was it ever anything but a transitionary makeshift since the dissolution of the monasteries?’
‘Why, then, not away with it at once?’
‘You English have not done with it yet. At all events, it is keeping your cathedrals rain-proof for you, till you can put them to some better use than now.’
‘And in the meantime?’
‘In the meantime there is life enough in them; life that will wake the dead some day. Do you hear what those choristers are chanting now?’
‘Not I,’ said Lancelot; ‘nor any one round us, I should think.’
‘That is our own fault, after all; for we were not good churchmen enough to come in time for vespers.’
‘Are you a churchman then?’
‘Yes, thank God. There may be other churches than those of Europe or Syria, and right Catholic ones, too. But, shall I tell you what they are singing? “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.” Is there no life, think you, in those words, spoken here every afternoon in the name of God?’
‘By hirelings, who neither care nor understand —’
‘Hush. Be not hasty with imputations of evil, within walls dedicated to and preserved by the All-good. Even should the speakers forget the meaning of their own words, to my sense, perhaps, that may just now leave the words more entirely God’s. At all events, confess that whatever accidental husks may have clustered round it, here is a germ of Eternal Truth. No, I dare not despair of you English, as long as I hear your priesthood forced by Providence, even in spite of themselves, thus to speak God’s words about an age in which the condition of the poor, and the rights and duties of man, are becoming the rallying-point for all thought and all organisation.’
‘But does it not make the case more hopeless that such words have been spoken for centuries, and no man regards them?’
‘You have to blame for that the people, rather than the priest. As they are, so will he be, in every age and country. He is but the index which the changes of their spiritual state move up and down the scale: and as they will become in England in the next half century, so will he become also.’
‘And can these dry bones live?’ asked Lancelot, scornfully.
‘Who are you to ask? What were you three months ago? for I know well your story. But do you remember what the prophet saw in the Valley of Vision? How first that those same dry bones shook and clashed together, as if uneasy because they were disorganised; and how they then found flesh and stood upright: and yet there was no life in them, till at last the Spirit came down and entered into them? Surely there is shaking enough among the bones now! It is happening to the body of your England as it did to Adam’s after he was made. It lay on earth, the rabbis say, forty days before the breath of life was put into it, and the devil came and kicked it; and it sounded hollow, as England is doing now; but that did not prevent the breath of life coming in good time, nor will it in England’s case.’
Lancelot looked at him with a puzzled face.
‘You must not speak in such deep parables to so young a learner.’
‘Is my parable so hard, then? Look around you and see what is the characteristic of your country and of your generation at this moment. What a yearning, what an expectation, amid infinite falsehoods and confusions, of some nobler, more chivalrous, more godlike state! Your very costermonger trolls out his belief that “there’s a good time coming,” and the hearts of gamins, as well as millenarians, answer, “True!” Is not that a clashing among the dry bones? And as for flesh, what new materials are springing up among you every month, spiritual and physical, for a state such as “eye hath not seen nor ear heard?”— railroads, electric telegraphs, associate-lodging-houses, club-houses, sanitary reforms, experimental schools, chemical agriculture, a matchless school of inductive science, an equally matchless school of naturalist painters — and all this in the very workshop of the world! Look, again, at the healthy craving after religious art and ceremonial — the strong desire to preserve that which has stood the test of time; and on the other hand, at the manful resolution of your middle classes to stand or fall by the Bible alone — to admit no innovations in worship which are empty of instinctive meaning. Look at the enormous amount of practical benevolence which now struggles in vain against evil, only because it is as yet private, desultory, divided. How dare you, young man, despair of your own nation, while its nobles can produce a Carlisle, an Ellesmere, an Ashley, a Robert Grosvenor — while its middle classes can beget a Faraday, a Stephenson, a Brooke, an Elizabeth Fry? See, I say, what a chaos of noble materials is here — all confused, it is true — polarised, jarring, and chaotic — here bigotry, there self-will, superstition, sheer Atheism often, but only waiting for the one inspiring Spirit to organise, and unite, and consecrate this chaos into the noblest polity the world ever saw realised! What a destiny may be that of your land, if you have but the faith to see your own honour! Were I not of my own country, I would be an Englishman this day.’
‘And what is your country?’ asked Lancelot. ‘It should be a noble one which breeds such men as you.’
The stranger smiled.
‘Will you go thither with me?’
‘Why not? I long for travel, and truly I am sick of my own country. When the Spirit of which you speak,’ he went on, bitterly, ‘shall descend, I may return; till then England is no place for the penniless.’
‘How know you that the Spirit is not even now poured out? Must your English Pharisees and Sadducees, too, have signs and wonders ere they believe? Will man never know that “the kingdom of God comes not by observation”? that now, as ever, His promise stands true — “Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”? How many inspired hearts even now may be cherishing in secret the idea which shall reform the age, and fulfil at once the longings of every sect and rank?’
‘Name it to me, then!’
‘Who can name it? Who can even see it, but those who are like Him from whom it comes? Them a long and stern discipline awaits. Would you be of them, you must, like the Highest who ever trod this earth, go fasting into the wilderness, and, among the wild beasts, stand alone face to face with the powers of Nature.’
‘I will go where you shall bid me. I will turn shepherd among the Scottish mountains — live as an anchorite in the solitudes of Dartmoor. But to what purpose? I have listened long to Nature’s voice, but even the whispers of a spiritual presence which haunted my childhood have died away, and I hear nothing in her but the grinding of the iron wheels of mechanical necessity.’
‘Which is the will of God. Henceforth you shall study, not Nature, but Him. Yet as for place — I do not like your English primitive formations, where earth, worn out with struggling, has fallen wearily asleep. No, you shall rather come to Asia, the oldest and yet the youngest continent — to our volcanic mountain ranges, where her bosom still heaves with the creative energy of youth, around the primeval cradle of the most ancient race of men. Then, when you have learnt the wondrous harmony between man and his dwelling-place, I will lead you to a land where you shall see the highest spiritual cultivation in triumphant contact with the fiercest energies of matter; where men have learnt to tame and use alike the volcano and the human heart, where the body and the spirit, the beautiful and the useful, the human and the divine, are no longer separate, and men have embodied to themselves on earth an image of the “city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”’
‘Where is this land?’ said Lancelot eagerly.
‘Poor human nature must have its name for everything. You have heard of the country of Prester John, that mysterious Christian empire, rarely visited by European eye?’
‘There are legends of two such,’ said Lancelot, ‘an Ethiopian and an Asiatic one; and the Ethiopian, if we are to believe Colonel Harris’s Journey to Shoa, is a sufficiently miserable failure.’
‘True; the day of the Chamitic race is past; you will not say the same of our Caucasian empire. To our race the present belongs — to England, France, Germany, America — to us. Will you see what we have done, and, perhaps, bring home, after long wanderings, a message for your country which may help to unravel the tangled web of this strange time?’
‘I will,’ said Lancelot, ‘now, this moment. And yet, no. There is one with whom I have promised to share all future weal and woe. Without him I can take no step.’
‘Yes — he. What made you guess that I spoke of him?’
‘Mellot told me of him, and of you, too, six weeks ago. He is now gone to fetch him from Manchester. I cannot trust him here in England yet. The country made him sad; London has made him mad; Manchester may make him bad. It is too fearful a trial even for his faith. I must take him with us.’
‘What interest in him — not to say what authority over him — have you?’
‘The same which I have over you. You will come with me; so will he. It is my business, as my name signifies, to save the children alive whom European society leaves carelessly and ignorantly to die. And as for my power, I come,’ said he, with a smile, ‘from a country which sends no one on its errands without first thoroughly satisfying itself as to his power of fulfilling them.’
‘If he goes, I go with you.’
‘And he will go. And yet, think what you do. It is a fearful journey. They who travel it, even as they came naked out of their mother’s womb — even as they return thither, and carry nothing with them of all which they have gotten in this life, so must those who travel to my land.’
‘What? Tregarva? Is he, too, to give up all? I had thought that I saw in him a precious possession, one for which I would barter all my scholarship, my talents — ay — my life itself.’
‘A possession worth your life? What then?’
‘Faith in an unseen God.’
‘Ask him whether he would call that a possession — his own in any sense?’
‘He would call it a revelation to him.’
‘That is, a taking of the veil from something which was behind the veil already.’
‘And which may therefore just as really be behind the veil in other cases without its presence being suspected.’
‘In what sense, now, is that a possession? Do you possess the sun because you see it? Did Herschel create Uranus by discovering it; or even increase, by an atom, its attraction on one particle of his own body?”
‘Whither is all this tending?’
‘Hither. Tregarva does not possess his Father and his Lord; he is possessed by them.’
‘But he would say — and I should believe him — that he has seen and known them, not with his bodily eyes, but with his soul, heart, imagination — call it what you will. All I know is, that between him and me there is a great gulf fixed.’
‘What! seen and known them utterly? comprehended them? Are they not infinite, incomprehensible? Can the less comprehend the greater?’
‘He knows, at least, enough of them to make him what I am not.’
‘That is, he knows something of them. And may not you know something of them also? — enough to make you what he is not?’
Lancelot shook his head in silence.
‘Suppose that you had met and spoken with your father, and loved him when you saw him, and yet were not aware of the relation in which you stood to him, still you would know him?’
‘Not the most important thing of all — that he was my father.’
‘Is that the most important thing? Is it not more important that he should know that you were his son? That he should support, guide, educate you, even though unseen? Do you not know that some one has been doing that?’
‘That I have been supported, guided, educated, I know full well; but by whom I know not. And I know, too, that I have been punished. And therefore — therefore I cannot free the thought of a Him — of a Person — only of a Destiny, of Laws and Powers, which have no faces wherewith to frown awful wrath upon me! If it be a Person who has been leading me, I must go mad, or know that He has forgiven!’
‘I conceive that it is He, and not punishment which you fear?’
Lancelot was silent a moment. . . . ‘Yes. He, and not hell at all, is what I fear. He can inflict no punishment on me worse than the inner hell which I have felt already, many and many a time.’
‘Bona verba! That is an awful thing to say: but better this extreme than the other. . . . And you would — what?’
‘If He loves you, He has pardoned you already.’
‘How do I know that He loves me?’
‘How does Tregarva?’
‘He is a righteous man, and I—’
‘Am a sinner. He would, and rightly, call himself the same.’
‘But he knows that God loves him — that he is God’s child.’
‘So, then, God did not love him till he caused God to love him, by knowing that He loved him? He was not God’s child till he made himself one, by believing that he was one when as yet he was not? I appeal to common sense and logic . . . It was revealed to Tregarva that God had been loving him while he was yet a bad man. If He loved him, in spite of his sin, why should He not have loved you?’
‘If He had loved me, would He have left me in ignorance of Himself? For if He be, to know Him is the highest good.’
‘Had he left Tregarva in ignorance of Himself?’
‘No. . . . Certainly, Tregarva spoke of his conversion as of a turning to one of whom he had known all along, and disregarded.’
‘Then do you turn like him, to Him whom you have known all along, and disregarded.’
‘Yes — you! If half I have heard and seen of you be true, He has been telling you more, and not less, of Himself than He does to most men. You, for aught I know, may know more of Him than Tregarva does. The gulf between you and him is this: he has obeyed what he knew — and you have not.’ . . .
Lancelot paused a moment, then —
‘No! — do not cheat me! You said once that you were a churchman.’
‘So I am. A Catholic of the Catholics. What then?’
‘Who is He to whom you ask me to turn? You talk to me of Him as my Father; but you talk of Him to men of your own creed as The Father. You have mysterious dogmas of a Three in One. I know them . . . I have admired them. In all their forms — in the Vedas, in the Neo–Platonists, in Jacob Boehmen, in your Catholic creeds, in Coleridge, and the Germans from whom he borrowed, I have looked at them, and found in them beautiful phantasms of philosophy, . . . all but scientific necessities; . . . but —’
‘I do not want cold abstract necessities of logic: I want living practical facts. If those mysterious dogmas speak of real and necessary properties of His being, they must be necessarily interwoven in practice with His revelation of Himself?’
‘Most true. But how would you have Him unveil Himself?’
‘By unveiling Himself.’
‘What? To your simple intuition? That was Semele’s ambition. . . . You recollect the end of that myth. You recollect, too, as you have read the Neo–Platonists, the result of their similar attempt.’
‘Idolatry and magic.’
‘True; and yet, such is the ambition of man, you who were just now envying Tregarva, are already longing to climb even higher than Saint Theresa.’
‘I do not often indulge in such an ambition. But I have read in your Schoolmen tales of a Beatific Vision; how that the highest good for man was to see God.’
‘And did you believe that?’
‘One cannot believe the impossible — only regret its impossibility.’
‘Impossibility? You can only see the Uncreate in the Create — the Infinite in the Finite — the absolute good in that which is like the good. Does Tregarva pretend to more? He sees God in His own thoughts and consciousnesses, and in the events of the world around him, imaged in the mirror of his own mind. Is your mirror, then, so much narrower than his?’
‘I have none. I see but myself, and the world, and far above them, a dim awful Unity, which is but a notion.’
‘Fool! — and slow of heart to believe! Where else would you see Him but in yourself and in the world? They are all things cognisable to you. Where else, but everywhere, would you see Him whom no man hath seen, or can see?’
‘When He shows Himself to me in them, then I may see Him. But now — ‘
‘You have seen Him; and because you do not know the name of what you see — or rather will not acknowledge it — you fancy that it is not there.’
‘How in His name? What have I seen?’
‘Ask yourself. Have you not seen, in your fancy, at least, an ideal of man, for which you spurned (for Mellot has told me all) the merely negative angelic — the merely receptive and indulgent feminine-ideals of humanity, and longed to be a man, like that ideal and perfect man?’
‘And what was your misery all along? Was it not that you felt you ought to be a person with a one inner unity, a one practical will, purpose, and business given to you — not invented by yourself — in the great order and harmony of the universe — and that you were not one? — That your self-willed fancies, and self-pleasing passions, had torn you in pieces, and left you inconsistent, dismembered, helpless, purposeless? That, in short, you were below your ideal, just in proportion as you were not a person?’
‘God knows you speak truth!’
‘Then must not that ideal of humanity be a person himself? — Else how can he be the ideal man? Where is your logic? An impersonal ideal of a personal species! . . . And what is the most special peculiarity of man? Is it not that he alone of creation is a son, with a Father to love and to obey? Then must not the ideal man be a son also? And last, but not least, is it not the very property of man that he is a spirit invested with flesh and blood? Then must not the ideal man have, once at least, taken on himself flesh and blood also? Else, how could he fulfil his own idea?’
‘Yes . . . Yes . . . That thought, too, has glanced through my mind at moments, like a lightning-flash; till I have envied the old Greeks their faith in a human Zeus, son of Kronos — a human Phoibos, son of Zeus. But I could not rest in them. They are noble. But are they — are any — perfect ideals? The one thing I did, and do, and will believe, is the one which they do not fulfil — that man is meant to be the conqueror of the earth, matter, nature, decay, death itself, and to conquer them, as Bacon says, by obeying them.’
‘Hold it fast; — but follow it out, and say boldly, the ideal of humanity must be one who has conquered nature — one who rules the universe — one who has vanquished death itself; and conquered them, as Bacon says, not by violating, but by submitting to them. Have you never heard of one who is said to have done this? How do you know that in this ideal which you have seen, you have not seen the Son — the perfect Man, who died and rose again, and sits for ever Healer, and Lord, and Ruler of the universe? . . . Stay — do not answer me. Have you not, besides, had dreams of an all-Father — from whom, in some mysterious way, all things and beings must derive their source, and that Son — if my theory be true — among the rest, and above all the rest?’
‘Who has not? But what more dim or distant — more drearily, hopelessly notional, than that thought?’
‘Only the thought that there is none. But the dreariness was only in your own inconsistency. If He be the Father of all, He must be the Father of persons — He Himself therefore a Person. He must be the Father of all in whom dwell personal qualities, power, wisdom, creative energy, love, justice, pity. Can He be their Father, unless all these very qualities are infinitely His? Does He now look so terrible to you?’
‘I have had this dream, too; but I turned away from it in dread.’
‘Doubtless you did. Some day you will know why. Does that former dream of a human Son relieve this dream of none of its awfulness? May not the type be beloved for the sake of its Antitype, even if the very name of All–Father is no guarantee for His paternal pity! . . . But you have had this dream. How know you, that in it you were not allowed a glimpse, however dim and distant, of Him whom the Catholics call the Father?’
‘It may be; but —’
‘Stay again. Had you never the sense of a Spirit in you — a will, an energy, an inspiration, deeper than the region of consciousness and reflection, which, like the wind, blew where it listed, and you heard the sound of it ringing through your whole consciousness, and yet knew not whence it came, or whither it went, or why it drove you on to dare and suffer, to love and hate; to be a fighter, a sportsman, an artist —’
‘And a drunkard!’ added Lancelot, sadly.
‘And a drunkard. But did it never seem to you that this strange wayward spirit, if anything, was the very root and core of your own personality? And had you never a craving for the help of some higher, mightier spirit, to guide and strengthen yours; to regulate and civilise its savage and spasmodic self-will; to teach you your rightful place in the great order of the universe around; to fill you with a continuous purpose and with a continuous will to do it? Have you never had a dream of an Inspirer? — a spirit of all spirits?’
Lancelot turned away with a shudder.
‘Talk of anything but that! Little you know — and yet you seem to know everything — the agony of craving with which I have longed for guidance; the rage and disgust which possessed me when I tried one pretended teacher after another, and found in myself depths which their spirits could not, or rather would not, touch. I have been irreverent to the false, from very longing to worship the true; I have been a rebel to sham leaders, for very desire to be loyal to a real one; I have envied my poor cousin his Jesuits; I have envied my own pointers their slavery to my whip and whistle; I have fled, as a last resource, to brandy and opium, for the inspiration which neither man nor demon would bestow. . . . Then I found . . . you know my story. . . . And when I looked to her to guide and inspire me, behold! I found myself, by the very laws of humanity, compelled to guide and inspire her; — blind, to lead the blind! — Thank God, for her sake, that she was taken from me!’
‘Did you ever mistake these substitutes, even the noblest of them, for the reality? Did not your very dissatisfaction with them show you that the true inspirer ought to be, if he were to satisfy your cravings, a person, truly — else how could he inspire and teach you, a person yourself! — but an utterly infinite, omniscient, eternal person? How know you that in that dream He was not unveiling Himself to you — He, The Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life; The Spirit, who teaches men their duty and relation to those above, around, beneath them; the Spirit of order, obedience, loyalty, brotherhood, mercy, condescension?’
‘But I never could distinguish these dreams from each other; the moment that I essayed to separate them, I seemed to break up the thought of an absolute one ground of all things, without which the universe would have seemed a piecemeal chaos; and they receded to infinite distance, and became transparent, barren, notional shadows of my own brain, even as your words are now.’
‘How know you that you were meant to distinguish them? How know you that that very impossibility was not the testimony of fact and experience to that old Catholic dogma, for the sake of which you just now shrank from my teaching? I say that this is so. How do you know that it is not?’
‘But how do I know that it is? I want proof.’
‘And you are the man who was, five minutes ago, crying out for practical facts, and disdaining cold abstract necessities of logic! Can you prove that your body exists?’
‘Can you prove that your spirit exists?’
‘And yet know that they both exist. And how?’
‘Exactly. When you try to prove either of them without the other, you fail. You arrive, if at anything, at some barren polar notion. By action alone you prove the mesothetic fact which underlies and unites them.’
‘Hither. I am not going to demonstrate the indemonstrable — to give you intellectual notions which, after all, will be but reflexes of my own peculiar brain, and so add the green of my spectacles to the orange of yours, and make night hideous by fresh monsters. I may help you to think yourself into a theoretical Tritheism, or a theoretical Sabellianism; I cannot make you think yourself into practical and living Catholicism. As you of anthropology, so I say of theology — Solvitur ambulando. Don’t believe Catholic doctrine unless you like; faith is free. But see if you can reclaim either society or yourself without it; see if He will let you reclaim them. Take Catholic doctrine for granted; act on it; and see if you will not reclaim them!’
‘Take for granted? Am I to come, after all, to implicit faith?’
‘Implicit fiddlesticks! Did you ever read the Novum Organum? Mellot told me that you were a geologist.’
‘You took for granted what you read in geological books, and went to the mine and the quarry afterwards, to verify it in practice; and according as you found fact correspond to theory, you retained or rejected. Was that implicit faith, or common sense, common humility, and sound induction?’
‘Sound induction, at least.’
‘Then go now, and do likewise. Believe that the learned, wise, and good, for 1800 years, may possibly have found out somewhat, or have been taught somewhat, on this matter, and test their theory by practice. If a theory on such a point is worth anything at all, it is omnipotent and all-explaining. If it will not work, of course there is no use keeping it a moment. Perhaps it will work. I say it will.’
‘But I shall not work it; I still dread my own spectacles. I dare not trust myself alone to verify a theory of Murchison’s or Lyell’s. How dare I trust myself in this?’
‘Then do not trust yourself alone: come and see what others are doing. Come, and become a member of a body which is verifying, by united action, those universal and eternal truths, which are too great for the grasp of any one time-ridden individual. Not that we claim the gift of infallibility, any more than I do that of perfect utterance of the little which we do know.’
‘Then what do you promise me in asking me to go with you?’
‘Practical proof that these my words are true — practical proof that they can make a nation all that England might be and is not — the sight of what a people might become who, knowing thus far, do what they know. We believe no more than you, but we believe it. Come and see! — and yet you will not see; facts, and the reasons of them, will be as impalpable to you there as here, unless you can again obey your Novum Organum.’
‘By renouncing all your idols — the idols of the race and of the market, of the study and of the theatre. Every national prejudice, every vulgar superstition, every remnant of pedantic system, every sentimental like or dislike, must be left behind you, for the induction of the world problem. You must empty yourself before God will fill you.’
‘Of what can I strip myself more? I know nothing; I can do nothing; I hope nothing; I fear nothing; I am nothing.’
‘And you would gain something. But for what purpose? — for on that depends your whole success. To be famous, great, glorious, powerful, beneficent?’
‘As I live, the height of my ambition, small though it be, is only to find my place, though it were but as a sweeper of chimneys. If I dare wish — if I dare choose, it would be only this — to regenerate one little parish in the whole world . . . To do that, and die, for aught I care, without ever being recognised as the author of my own deeds . . . to hear them, if need be, imputed to another, and myself accursed as a fool, if I can but atone for the sins of . . .
He paused; but his teacher understood him.
‘It is enough,’ he said. ‘Come with me; Tregarva waits for us near. Again I warn you; you will hear nothing new; you shall only see what you, and all around you, have known and not done, known and done. We have no peculiar doctrines or systems; the old creeds are enough for us. But we have obeyed the teaching which we received in each and every age, and allowed ourselves to be built up, generation by generation — as the rest of Christendom might have done — into a living temple, on the foundation which is laid already, and other than which no man can lay.’
‘And what is that?’
‘Jesus Christ —The Man.’
He took Lancelot by the hand. A peaceful warmth diffused itself over his limbs; the droning of the organ sounded fainter and more faint; the marble monuments grew dim and distant; and, half unconsciously, he followed like a child through the cathedral door.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10