Some years ago I met my old master, Sir Frank Benson — he was Mr. F. R. Benson then — and he asked me in his friendly way what I had been doing lately.
“I am just finishing a book,” I replied, “a book that everybody will hate.“
“As usual,” said the Don Quixote of our English stage — if I knew any nobler title to bestow upon him, I would, bestow it —“as usual; running your head against a stone wall!“
Well, I don’t know about “as usual”; there may be something to be said for the personal criticism or there may not; but it has struck me that Sir Frank’s remark is a very good description of “The Secret Glory,” the book I had in mind as I talked to him. It is emphatically the history of an unfortunate fellow who ran his head against stone walls from the beginning to the end. He could think nothing and do nothing after the common fashion of the world; even when he “went wrong,” he did so in a highly unusual and eccentric manner. It will be for the reader to determine whether he were a saint who had lost his way in the centuries or merely an undeveloped lunatic; I hold no passionate view on either side. In every age, there are people great and small for whom the times are out of joint, for whom everything is, somehow, wrong and askew. Consider Hamlet; an amiable man and an intelligent man. But what a mess he made of it! Fortunately, my hero — or idiot, which you will — was not called upon to intermeddle with affairs of State, and so only brought himself to grief: if it were grief; for the least chink of the door should be kept open, I am inclined to hold, for the other point of view. I have just been rereading Kipling’s “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat,” the tale of the Brahmin Prime Minister of the Native State in India, who saw all the world and the glory of it, in the West as well as in the East, and suddenly abjured all to become a hermit in the wood. Was he mad, or was he supremely wise? It is just a matter of opinion.
The origin and genesis of “The Secret Glory” were odd enough. Once on a time, I read the life of a famous schoolmaster, one of the most notable schoolmasters of these later days. I believe he was an excellent man in every way; but, somehow, that “Life” got on my nerves. I thought that the School Songs — for which, amongst other things, this master was famous — were drivel; I thought his views about football, regarded, not as a good game, but as the discipline and guide of life, were rot, and poisonous rot at that. In a word, the “Life” of this excellent man got my back up.
Very good. The year after, schoolmasters and football had ceased to engage my attention. I was deeply interested in a curious and minute investigation of the wonderful legend of the Holy Grail; or rather, in one aspect of that extraordinary complex. My researches led me to the connection of the Grail Legend with the vanished Celtic Church which held the field in Britain in the fifth and sixth and seventh centuries; I undertook an extraordinary and fascinating journey into a misty and uncertain region of Christian history. I must not say more here, lest — as Nurse says to the troublesome and persistent child — I “begin all over again”; but, indeed, it was a voyage on perilous seas, a journey to faery lands forlorn — and I would declare, by the way, my conviction that if there had been no Celtic Church, Keats could never have written those lines of tremendous evocation and incantation.
Again; very good. The year after, it came upon me to write a book. And I hit upon an original plan; or so I thought. I took my dislike of the good schoolmaster’s “Life,” I took my knowledge of Celtic mysteries — and combined my information.
Original, this plan! It was all thought of years before I was born. Do you remember the critic of the “Eatanswill Gazette”? He had to review for that admirable journal a work on Chinese Metaphysics. Mr. Pott tells the story of the article.
“He read up for the subject, at my desire, in the Encyclopædia Britannica . . . he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information!“
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58