THAT essence which is indeed the universal spirit of Man, identical in all human individuals, survived the extinction of the transient being which had emerged in those few killed. Gravely he had watched those men and women die. Feeling their pain and sorrow as in a way his own, he yet held himself aloof from it; much as a man may feel the hurt of a cut finger or a barked knuckle and yet carry on with his work.
The spirit of Man did not now for the first time wake. He had all the while been awake and aware in all the two thousand million living individuals that composed his living flesh; and equally in every moment of mankind’s long life-time he had been aware in the living population of the world. And in all the tenuous and fragmentary
corporate beings, brief or lasting, that were emergent in human associations, the age-old spirit of Man had always been aware. He knew them not only as individual spirits distinct from himself but also as though they were sentiments and ideas of his own mind; as a man may know the interests and whims, the passions and high purposes, that jostle one another within him.
The spirit of Man confronted the City’s dead saint, and all the saints of all lands. These appeared to him not as something alien and lofty to which he could not attain, but as most truly and inwardly his very self; though often they were confused by doctrines which he, wise with all human wisdom, saw to be false. In spite of their errors, these angelic beings were at heart indeed himself; the more so for their inveterate yearning beyond him, beyond his mere humanity to some spirit purer and more Godlike. For this yearning was his own. And in the beatitude that these rare beings reached in seeming union with their Gods, he too found bliss. But his was a dumb and uninterpreted bliss. Not for him their little myths. To him their joy was rather a foretaste of strange joy still to be found; but never, perhaps, explained. For he knew well that the intelligence of no man, nor even of the essential spirit of Man, could solve high mystery.
The spirit of Man, unlike that lesser, transient spirit emergent in the killed of a certain battle, was not confused and nauseated by the welter of human experience. Perceiving through all men’s sense organs, he fused without effort all their perceptions into a single orderly perception. Thus, fingering the earth through swarms of little human feet, and watching it through hosts of little human eyes, he felt and saw his planet as a variegated sphere of lands and seas, of tropic, temperate and arctic.
And from this globe, on which his multiple body was a sparse and creeping vital dust, he now, as on many other occasions, looked wonderingly outwards through men’s eyes and telescopes to consider his location and prospects among the planets, among the stars and galaxies. ‘When I am full-grown’, he dreamed, ‘and not the fledgeling that I am, and not racked by the distemper which today distresses me, perhaps —’ But then the hugeness of the cosmos, beside the minuteness of his own bodily instrument, silenced his imagination. ‘I am so little,’ he murmured, ‘so young, so ignorant and weak; and so distorted by these fierce convulsions of my flesh. What part can such as I play ever among the stars?’
A persistent eagerness for he knew not what, a restlessness to exert some hidden potency that he could not yet conceive, impelled him again and again to look outward at the stars, in a conflict of exaltation and abasement. But in the main his interest was with his immediate fortunes, and so with his little planet and all his tingling multiple flesh, mankind. His flesh? In a way, yes, his multi-cellular flesh. And yet his own unified awareness of his individual members was very different from a man’s obscure consciousness of his body’s cells. For he could at will concentrate his attention on anyone of those minute personalities. They were for him at once persons into whose minds he had access and also parts within his own physique and mentality. For the personal lives of the great host of his members were fused into a single epic theme, which was the groundwork of his own being.
For him the whole ocean of human experience, far from being a chaos, formed a single clear though often self-conflicting pattern of his own self-knowledge and knowledge of the world. To a man at sea-level the waves may seem disorderly; but from an aeroplane he may observe that they are in fact well-ordered ranks, a number of drilled processions and regiments moving in many directions across each other’s tracks, inter-penetrating without losing their identity, reflected here and there from bays and promontories and distant coasts, disturbing each drop of the water with the summation of all their rhythms; but in some regions one wave-train and in some another dominates the rest. So, but with far greater complexity, the mental field composed of all human individuals was seen and felt by the spirit of Man to be traversed by many prevailing trends of thought and purpose, while ephemeral zephyrs flurried now one region and now another of the human sea with fleeting catspaws of passion and of fashion.
In respect, for example, of the many vocations of human beings the great spirit of Man felt innumerable special modes of mentality imposed by circumstance on the common human nature and the personal idiosyncrasies of men and women. Peasants, though infinitely diverse, were mainly peasant-minded, thrifty, patient, rich in country-lore; and superstitious. Wage-slaves in industry mainly lived for their brief hours of leisure. Like seedlings in barren ground their roots were starved; yet many put forth poor gallant starveling blooms of love. The minds of financiers were woven largely of figures and the abstractions of the money-market. They were strangely obtuse to the repercussions of their fiats??on the lives of men and women. And yet they too were personal spirits, capable of loving. In physicians’ minds awareness of the human body’s intricacies and manifold disorders bulked overwhelmingly. For sailors the world was mainly water; for miners, tunnels.
There was one mode of experience which the spirit of Man felt as a character of the whole field of human mentality, here faint and there obtrusive, here obsessing the spotlight of consciousness, there a secret but powerful influence in the unwitting depths of the personality. All the little human creatures craved, frankly or under a cloak of revulsion, intimate bodily contact with some other of their kind, either in the normal union of the sexes or in some eccentric manner. The importunacy of this hunger, though rigorously restrained by convention, toned every feeling, every thought, of the spirit of Man’s individual members; toned also his own mentality, with an Adonis-like self-delight, a sweet mysterious, bisexual, hermaphrodite, sensual and spiritual passion, inconceivable to human individuals. Thus the spirit of Man enjoyed the beauty of all well-grown men and women, by perceiving them through the loving eyes of all their lovers. Not only the spiritual communion but also the physical delight of all lovers in one another was his treasure.
But in all this experience of beauty and of love, as in so much of his experience, he was distressfully aware of a widespread malaise and sickness in his flesh. The beauty of his members, exquisite here and there, was for the most part marred, disfigured. Starvation, disease, overstrain, and all kinds of disharmony with the world and with each other, blighted most of them, and oppressed the spirit of Man himself with the jaundice of his flesh. And so, he remembered, it had been for many thousands of years.
In each of his members he, his very self, was ever the spirit that craved understanding, wisdom, community, love, beauty and creativity; but in nearly all the little human creatures, this spirit was eternally frustrated by a pest of stupidities, hates, ugliness, and all manner of betrayals. And everywhere there was fear; not only the urgent fears of war but of death in every form, of incurable diseases, of poverty, of disgrace, of the loss of the beloved. And all the self-regarding fears of human beings were felt by the loftier being that was Man, felt with full poignancy; yet also with detachment. For these minute ephemeral beings, though indeed they were his flesh, were not he, himself. Their unhealthiness was indeed oppressive to him, because it was an unhealthiness in his own body lowering his vitality, and confusing his mind; but the sorrows of those spirits were not in themselves his sorrows. Though he experienced them from within, he experienced them with detachment.
Yet, most strangely, this detachment was not the whole of his feeling toward them. Just because they were all in their diverse ways persons, self-aware and other-aware, his own mere self-concern in their joys and pains was strangely mingled with the respect and compassion, yes and the love, due between all personal beings, no matter how remote from one another in the hierarchy of personality. A man cannot love his little brain-cells, for he has no acquaintance with them, and they are not persons; but the spirit of Man, knowing men inwardly, and knowing them as persons, needs must love them with such love as is their due. He loved them for being at once identical with himself and other than himself; identical in their groping will for the light, other in their littleness, their diversity, their frailty, and their mortality.
Moreover they and he were bound together in a strange mutual dependence. He, without them could have no footing in the world, perhaps no being; and they without him, constantly active within them, would be mere sub-human beasts. Without them, love would be for him inconceivable, for only in their severalty could love be. Yet without him in their hearts they could never love; for they could never be truly aware of one another as spirits, and as inwardly united. Through the unity of himself and his members, fellowship and even loving mutual insight were rhythms which pervaded, though unsurely, the whole human field. Only here and there, of course, did love blossom fully, only among serene or lifelong lovers, and in the few inspired lovers of mankind or of the very spirit of Man himself, or of some imagined God.
Because of love’s unfulfilment in his members, he himself was maimed, paralysed by their discordancy, and confused by their conflicting fantasies.
Particularly in this age of violence the spirit of Man was tormented by the convulsions of his flesh. He was oppressively aware throughout nearly all his peoples of the rending spasm and the harsh fatigue of warfare. Only in the deepest jungle and in the snow-huts of the Arctic were men wholly free from war’s effects. Everywhere else the slaughter and the fear and the strain weighed upon them, even if only as a vague shadow cast upon a normal life. And to some the war brought a black-out darkness of the spirit, though a darkness shot with flashes of much-needed pleasure or the pale light of hoped-for dawn. Everywhere, save among a few born warriors and a few strategists poring over the chess-board of war, and among those who made profit out of the urgency of war’s needs, the spirit of Man felt the unison vibration of men’s yearning for peace; though most were also fearful of what peace might bring. And in many great regions of the human field men, and women also, were crushed and annihilated by war’s fierce impact.
Though to his members the war was a prolonged gloom and misery, to him it seemed a brief though violent contortion of his body, paralysing his mind. He knew it as the climax of a long-suppressed disease. His organs, long discordant, were now divided against themselves in crazy conflict. And though he could not but will victory to the side which was on the whole for the light, and not to the other side, which was blindly astray, yet his sympathies were divided; for on both sides, though in unequal extent, there were men and women who were blunderingly obedient to his will; and on both sides were cancerous and rebellious growths. And every day swarms of his individual members, the precious cells of his flesh, the vessels and instruments of his essential being, suffered destruction or hideous maiming. Everywhere young minds, the only vehicle for a glorious change that had seemed imminent in him, were being squandered. With this huge killing of the young the tone of all his tissues must surely turn predominantly old. And he himself, whose million years were but a childhood, might well become in temper prematurely senile. Indeed, if men’s mutual destruction were not restrained, the race might destroy itself, and he, the spirit of Man, who was still so juvenile, and full of promise of great and glorious change, might prematurely end.
Glorious change! Cutting across all the pervading wave-trains and local flurries of human mentality the spirit of Man felt two strong conflicting wills in every region, in every mind. They thrust against one another as opposing waves meet on a tormented lake with violent pulse and throb of their conflicting rhythms. From one direction the minds of men were all stirred by a yearning for the womb, for easy bliss, for safety, for the familiar order with its known ills and known opportunities. From the other they were moved by a longing for new horizons and greater scope for their vitality, and by discontent with the existing pattern of human life. Indignation fired them because of the misery of their own lives or their fellows’. Here and there they rose even to a passion for the flowering of the human spirit, and therefore for a new-born world which alone could support that flowering. He saw that, though this internecine conflict had racked him always, now, in this tense moment, it was most severe, most urgent. For in some way that was still dark to him this moment of his life was felt as crucial. Something strange, unprecedented, dangerous, was causing a new restlessness, a ferment, throughout his flesh. Was this fever merely the climax of his familiar, long-suppressed disease, or could it be the stress and tumult preluding some vast remaking, some rebirth into a creature more subtle and more vital?
For so many centuries, for many centuries of millennia, the spirit of Man had been toilfully, painfully clarifying his purpose. At first, how slowly!
He looked back into the deep vista of his past. The historical and prehistorical ages of humanity crowded his t memory. As a man may peer back into his youth, and even into the mists of his infancy, so the spirit of Man reviewed his life. Every phase of his whole past lay open to him. And at the earliest point of all he saw the first of his remembered ages knotted into the dark womb of his subhuman ancestry. Out of that darkness he had sprung to life as a certain individual fully human infant, a male child, the first true human being, offspring of subhuman parents. By whatever mutation of genes he had been created, there he was, the I. one bright individuality in a certain almost human but still subhuman family, the one twinkling star of half-lucidity in the dark world of the subhuman. And he himself was in appearance scarcely distinguishable from his subhuman kin. Only in his half-lucid spirit was he man.
In this forefather of us all the spirit of Man first breathed. And well he remembered how In this his first germ cell he slowly wakened and slowly discovered his uniqueness. For this father Adam of all human beings had painfully to find himself. Loving his subhuman mother for her animal affection, he loathed her for her obtuseness to his human needs. Accepting his brothers and sisters for their companionableness, he despised them for their stupidity. Soon, though the youngest, he became the master of them all. And then in youth and maturity he was the genius, the medicine man, the tyrant, of his subhuman tribe. Timorous yet arrogant, revered but hated, maddened by loneliness, without speech or the support of any human tradition, the first true man was so hampered by his subhuman nurture that to the spirit of Man, looking back on him from a future time, he seemed scarcely human. Yet, though by upbringing a mere subman, ignorant, inarticulate, bewildered, teased by his own unfulfilled humanity, he was by native capacity fully human. A man by nature, but by nurture almost a beast. He accepted the simple customs of the submen, and was content to beat them at their own simple game. But the spirit of Man, reviewing the first man’s life, remembered occasions when, in unfamiliar torment of self-consciousness, he had fluttered impotently, mothlike, against the shut windows of his nature, and how, in his dealings with companions and his sexual mate, he had craved what could never be given, what he himself could never conceive, personal awareness and true love.
How far, how very far, had the spirit of Man travelled, since he was that Adam! Now, at least he knew clearly what his nature was. And that knowledge, in spite of all his errors, was a constant light. Yes! But his members? When he compared his present members with Adam, he saw that by far the most of them were scarcely more lucid. There was a certain rear-gunner, for instance, who, in spite of all the prophets and philosophers through all the ages, knew scarcely better than the first man what his nature needed. Of love he had little more understanding than Adam in his subhuman world; of wisdom, in spite of his smattering of science, rather less; and of creative action, less, far less.
Among Adam’s offspring some had been clear-minded like himself; and among them, as comrades or incestuous mates, human loving had first begun.
When at last that Father Adam had died, when the first truly human self was annihilated, the spirit of Man had disengaged himself from that ephemeral being, and wakened into clearer but still halting insight into his own and Adam’s nature; as, long afterwards, in the death of a certain rear-gunner, a more lucid spirit had awakened. Though still imprisoned within the limits of poor Adam’s knowledge, he was not enslaved, like Adam, to Adam’s greeds and fears. And he was sensitive to all the subtlest features of that bewildered mind’s experience, as Adam himself could never be. And so, already, though darkly and without the winged vehicle of language, he felt, but could not clearly conceive, that his main concern must ever be to know, to love, to make.
The spirit of Man, peering back into the ages of his long infancy, saw Adam’s descendants slowly win mastery over their tribe of submen.
And always the first true men had lived mainly as submen, though ruling those poor half-human cattle; and sometimes, teased by the strange spark within them, men groped for more human living. How dark, how fog-bound had been their minds! And yet, because these his first members had been indeed part-lucid, like all subsequent men, and not wholly unseeing like the submen, already the more sensitive among them were obscurely loyal to him; already he was alive in them, a spark disturbing them; but only with spasmodic intuitions, gleams of understanding, flashes of mutual insight, only with passing miracles of clear love, or wisdom, and short, precarious flights of divine creating. Our earliest human forefathers were no less human inwardly than men today, no less aware, intelligent, and apt for love; but they lacked the long treasure of experience yet to be gathered and scrutinized by the thousands of generations. And lacking this, they lacked judgment and clear human purpose. And he too, the spirit of Man, in his far-off infancy, lacked judgment; and though already his purpose was the essential human purpose, it was imprecise, not rigorously conceived, not even constant. For not yet, not in that earliest age of man, could there be, even for the spirit of Man, any clear vision of the way.
The millennia of his infancy succeeded one another as the weeks of a child’s life. His members multiplied. They spread into every land, a sparse, percipient vital dust on Earth’s vast skin. He remembered, as his own hard-won prowess, how they learned and lost and learned again the skills and lore that were the earliest human tradition. Above all he savoured his memories of the first halting speech; recalling how, out of familiar grunts and cries in familiar situations, significance had slowly emerged. He remembered too, as his own most distinctive strokes of insight, the acts of the early geniuses who had first used stones as missiles or as hammers, first shaped a flint, first seized a flaming brand from the bush-fire to tame and use the bright, biting creature; first tamed a dog, a horse; first turned the rolled log into a wheel. He remembered also how they had passed from continent to continent, storm-driven in their canoes. It was he, his very self, too (how he remembered it!), who, through the minds of early medicine men, had first used marks as signs; and he who first led them to symbolize their hungers; and their aspirations by drawings on cave walls and by rhythmic incantations. And he had made them find in the growing subtlety of gesture and of intonation, and later in dance and song, in sculpture and painting, the means to quicken their consciousness of self and other, and of the dread and lovely world. He again it was who teased them with an itch for understanding; so that, in haste for satisfaction, they childishly explained the universe in terms of their own hunting lore or peasant wisdom.
In short it was he who had always (so at least it seemed to him) been the lucid though often misguided spirit in them, forcing them to conceive and then abandon illusion after illusion. Yes, it was he, the spirit of Man, who had done all this; and yet he was nothing but his little members themselves in their highest reach of percipience and integrity, united as a single mind.
Ten thousand centuries after his birth from the womb of the subhuman, in fact in the full bloom of his childhood, when generations of hunters, fishers, pickers of wild fruits and herbs, and the nomadic herdsmen, and finally the settled farmers, had played their parts in weaving the long tapestry of early culture, then, ah then, there came a happy age. The spirit of Man remembered how at that time he was a small, clear, constant flame in every heart, fostered by a strong though but half-conscious custom of reason and friendliness. Men lived in Eden, and in innocence. War was not, and violence between man and man was a private madness only. The families of hunters or herdsmen, and the companies of communal farmers, were each unified by a common purpose and by comradeship in work. Each family was a close-knit crew, fretted no doubt with conflicts and jealousies, but rooted in mutual acceptance; and far more deeply rooted than the ephemeral crew of ship or aeroplane could ever be. And because of this wholesomeness of the social tissue of mankind, this age was the bright phase which, ever after, tradition would enshrine and glorify as the Golden Age. The spirit of Man, looking back in perplexity from this tortuous age of ours, reviewed in memory that long-past candour of his members, and sighed. Crowning that bliss, came the first cities, each set in its own wide cornland, and each the seed-plot of a new elegance and subtlety of mind. And all was weaponless. And lords and kings were only leaders among brothers. All men took care for all.
But presently, through the land-hunger of the swelling cities, and their rivalry in splendour, empires had risen, knit by arms. And often remote barbarian tribes, greedy for wealth and power, had overrun whole civilizations. And all the while the hosts of little farms, once worked by free comradely yeomen, were welded into great estates, where gangs of slaves were forced to labour for the lords who owned them.
The spirit of Man, looking back on this phase in his childhood, saw that this was the time of his first undoing. Some secret poison had crept into his flesh to start the smouldering cancer that was to rack him throughout his life. Before that age, men’s greed had been tempered by their unquestioned custom of brotherhood. Opportunities for mastery had been slight, and censure powerful. But in the new affluence of the cities, new dazzling prizes enticed men. And since all men were spellbound by this glamour, censure of arrogance and self-seeking lost its power; save among slaves, and what matter the censure of slaves? And what authority, anyhow, the masters demanded, was there for censure? Merely the dying prestige of the blind and outworn custom of the tribal age that had passed. Now, new ambitions charmed men. New moralities whispered plausibly in their hearts. Wealth and military power and imperial majesty demanded the allegiance of all men.
The spirit of Man remembered that even he himself had been misled by the new specious values. For in the earlier, golden age his multiple body had been a disorderly swarm of little tribes, but now it was becoming orderly; and so it seemed to him that the order of the whole was worth the sacrifice of some. For order promised new power to his limbs. Organized into great states, and into heirarchies of social classes, his multiple body (he believed) could develop new sensitive organs and new creative skills. In the new cities some men, saved from toil by the toiling masses, could give their whole minds to the problems of the spirit, the problem of man’s nature and his destiny. And so it had seemed even to the spirit of Man himself that the new order opened new reaches of the long way of life; even though hosts of his individual members, born to be persons, were doomed by the new order to become slaves, mere units of the great machine.
Remembering his folly, he cried, ‘What fiend, what power of outer darkness, was it that crept into every tissue of my flesh, and even into my inmost self? Or what inherent weakness in me was it that then undid me?’
He watched the hosts of labourers, their spirits maimed, tilling the stubborn ground with inadequate tools, to keep the rich in affluence; or being driven in gangs to carry great stones for the building of temples for the priests, and palaces and tombs for the kings. In each suffering individual slave of all these millions, generation upon generation, the spirit of Man was himself present. He saw each child denied its human birthright; its promise of human happiness broken by toil and harshness. He was alive, too, in the minds of the privileged, who should have become the peculiar instruments of his own awakening mentality; but in them he found for the most part obsession with luxury or personal glory, and dreams of immortality. He watched them conceive a thousand myths of a life hereafter, and consecrate half their energy and the labour of innumerable slaves to securing comfort for themselves in the other world.
Reviewing those millennia of his late childhood, the spirit of Man saw man’s power constantly increase. Cities grew more splendid, empires vaster, armies more cunningly equipped, handicrafts more apt and lavish. But the cost was the sweat, and often the blood, of innumerable slaves. And to the privileged it seemed natural and right that this should be so, for the comradely custom of the ancient tribes was forgotten. And though between lovers and between friends and in working gangs love might often emerge, the steel threads that knit society were no longer comradeship but power. And again, though the brighter minds were stirred by curiosity about the secret nature of the universe, they still assuaged that itch merely by fantasy, by wishful fantasy. They could not yet see clearly what thinking was, nor what the ceiling of its flight. Neither love nor reason was a constant star to guide.
The spirit of Man recalled how, in that phase of his life, even he himself had strayed from the way which in the Golden Age he had already half-conceived. In this age of slaves and empires the sickness of his flesh had clouded his wit and obscured his feeling. He was like a man whose mind wanders in fever. And the new lure of power was one of the dream visions that confused him. But now and then, here and there, even in this dark phase, he had recovered lucidity; and in the mind of some unheeded prophet or humble slave he had declared, though vainly, some facet of the truth.
Shifting now the searchlight of his memory to the next movement of his life, the spirit of Man recalled his sudden waking, as it were, from childhood to adolescence.
Tormented by the distress of the swarming workers and the futility of the privileged, and frightened at his own delirium, he, the spirit of Man, had at last put forth the whole strength of his will to wake again and more fully into such percipience as was possible to him, and to wrestle as never before with the problem of his own nature, and of his relation to his members and to the whole universe beyond him.
Through his recent centuries of sickness he had conceived health more clearly. Through participation in a great evil he had more urgently perceived the good. Of the follies that beset his members, some he could easily avoid, others not. Never had he been tempted to suppose that the triumph of one particular empire or potentate or noble caste or priestly class or creed was in itself of any importance. As well might a man be loyal to his right hand against his left. Nor did it ever seem to him desirable or credible that little human individuals should have eternal life. Too well he knew their littleness, their triviality. Too often, indeed in every death, he himself had struck free from the drowning individual spirit and watched it suffer extinction. But in men’s internecine struggles for power and empire he saw the promise of world order, and for himself theocratic dictatorship over all his flesh. Spellbound by this hope, he had overlooked the degradation of his members in slavery. But never again, no never again, would he persuade himself that in their degradation he himself could thrive; or that, while the many suffered, his work could be carried on by an unheeding few.
Something more was also borne in on him. Since all his little members, though so minute and so crippled, were of stature personal, he recognized that in permitting their degradation he had not only harmed his own flesh and dulled his own mentality; he had sinned. And this recognition of his sin had been a new and terrible and enlightening experience for the spirit of Man. He discovered that, in some way not yet clear to him, he was under obligation to respect and foster the life of personal spirits of whatever order. With shame and remorse he confessed to himself, ‘Even if slavery and empire had indeed been the way for my advancement, yet I ought to have rejected them. In accepting them I sinned against something deep within me that was at once my essential self yet also somehow far greater than myself.’
In mental agony he cried, ‘I, the spirit of Man, have sinned against the Spirit’. And in that spontaneous cry he recognized for the first time that he, even he, the spirit of Man, was not a law unto himself, not the ultimate rightful arbiter of his own conduct, not the measure of all things. But what power, what divinity, could it be that thus mastered him?
Looking back to that dread discovery, and that unanswered question, after thousands of years had passed, he remembered well how, when he had suffered this half-enlightenment, he had gazed outward from his planet, through the eyes of Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians, and the remote Chinese, and the isolated, and still savage Americans. Through these scattered human eyes he had contemplated the joined hemispheres of night and day. Of the true nature of sun and stars he still knew nothing, but knew that he knew nothing. He knew neither that they were mere balls of fire, nor that they were immense, and engulfed in inconceivable immensity. But in the passion of his repentance it seemed to him that the surrounding dark-bright sphere was alive, was spirit like himself, but greater; and that all its luminaries were flashing eyes, and angry. .
Looking back from our latter day across the gulf of centuries the spirit of Man tasted once more the bitter blood-guilt of his youthful sin, and seemed to see once more the flashing anger of the heavens. And yet surely that sin was expiated. For had he not inwardly lived through and suffered, generation after generation, all the sorrows of the downtrodden? And had not compassion tormented him?
In his childhood’s remorse he had wondered what he could do to wipe out his sin, to overthrow the tyranny that he had permitted, and thereby to heal his sickly flesh and purge his erring will.
At last with innocent hopefulness he had resolved upon a twofold plan. Strengthening his own will with earnest contemplation, and searching with new insight and reverence the groping spirits of his saints, he would more forcibly than ever make his presence felt in the minds of all men and women. And also he would choose out some, the most aware of all his members, to be peculiar vessels of the light. These should become self-consecrated instruments of his new chastened purpose. They should influence all men, both humble and powerful, like master cells controlling the growth of tissues. They should so work upon men’s minds that all men would henceforth gladly dedicate themselves to the great cause that he and they together served. And so tyranny would be forsworn. Thus the cancerous tumours that were destroying his flesh would melt away, and his flesh would be once more wholesome.
This plan he had vigorously executed. With redoubled strength, born of his new passion, he had stirred the minds of all men and women in every land, so that all yearned, though still obscurely, for new life. At the same time he had chosen out his prophets, the many lesser and the few great, to explore the truth, and to preach it. Thus was it that within a span of a few centuries the leading peoples had conceived those high visions which were to hold all men till the age that we call modern.
Looking back at that time of youthful hope across the centuries of disillusion, the spirit of Man smiled and sighed. To suppose that so easily the enemy could be defeated, the fiend exorcized!
But it had been a gallant venture. In land after land prophet after prophet had preached some partial aspect of the truth. And the hearts of the peoples took fire. The prophets had spoken each in the language of his own people, and they had shaped their message according to the concepts of their age. And so, even in their own minds, the truth that each had felt was shot through with error. Accepting the old gods and the old taboos, they strove to purify them in the light of the flame which the spirit of Man had kindled in them. But, being creatures of their age, they could not abandon the old images wholly to the flame.
In the East a young man of royal birth, shielded from the truth by luxury and pomp, went out to find how the common people lived. Penury, disease and sorrow everywhere confronted him. And all men were enslaved to their distresses, as he himself had been enslaved to his pleasures and his royal style. Neither in personal triumph, he discovered, nor in the frustration of cherished desires could men find peace. The spirit of Man moved him to consecrate his life wholly to seeking out the way of peace, the way of reality, for his fellow mortals. Forswearing for ever the pleasures and I glories of the favoured individual triumphing in the world, this prophet set out to free himself wholly from desire, save the one desire, to surrender his will and destroy his individual self utterly and be dissipated into the spirit not of man merely but of the cosmos. For the individual selves of men, with their enthralling pleasures and their torturing woes seemed to him to be phantoms only, moments of the universal sprit, real-seeming to themselves merely because of their strange isolation and privation from the universal. To find his reality in the whole, a man must deny himself utterly, must kill his individuality. So long as he remained in the world, he must use himself wholly in service of his fellows; yet even toward them he must remain always detached, caring at heart only that he and they should travel along their destined ways toward the ultimate dissolution of their finite selves in the universal Spirit.
Other great prophets in the East described more minutely the Way by which alone men might hope to escape from their littleness and their enslavement, the Way of reasonableness, forbearance, mutual respect and self-detachment.
But in the West another, apostle of truth, lover of wisdom, strove above all to clarify men’s thinking, by patient questioning; and to show that the way of reason also must lead a man to stand outside himself, and see himself wholly as one among his fellow mortals. He affirmed that to favour oneself against another was to be false to reason, and that the right goal for each man was to express the essential spirit of Man in the integrity of his own life.
Another, between East and West, schooled in his people’s vision of the one almighty creator, the law-giver, the just and jealous God, most high, most dread and holy, found in his own heart-searching another and a nobler gospel. He saw that all his fellows were deep in sin. They lied and cheated and drove hard bargains. They were heartless toward one another. And above all the rich used their power not to free the poor from poverty but to keep them enslaved. All, all, in a thousand ways, sinned constantly against the spirit. And yet also they loved. And love was their salvation. The prophet in his own daily living had found that in fact men were inevitably members one of another, and that only in mutual insight and friendship could they fulfil themselves. For in love, in which each self-regard is restrained for the other’s sake, each spirit finds also self-increase through joy in the other; and in the community of the lovers love itself is greater than either.
Long ago the lonely Adam of our species had hungered blindly, vainly, for human companionship. Since then, throughout the generations the human creatures had tasted friendship, love, comradeship in work; but without clear perception of its excellence. At last this great prophet, a chosen instrument of the spirit of Man, and supreme lover of his fellows, saw clearly that in this relationship of mutual awareness and cherishing between persons individual human creatures were transformed, dissolved and remade to a finer pattern, and indeed possessed by something greater than themselves. And he affirmed, using inevitably the thought-forms of his people, that this glory residing in the communion of human spirits was in fact God, all-loving, all-knowing and almighty. And because this prophet was indeed inspired by the spirit of Man, and raised above his fellow mortals in the power of love, and because in his day his people were expecting a great leader, he believed that he himself, the Son of Man, was also the unique Son of God, and that he himself must be the leader, not of that people only but of all mankind. And because the spirit of Man, resident in all men’s hearts willed to expiate his own former sin by bearing all men’s suffering, the prophet believed that he, the Son of Man, who conceived himself to be also the Son of God the Almighty Lover, was sent by his divine father to die for men’s salvation.
Other prophets also there had been, great and small, in every inhabited land. Stung by the quickening presence of the spirit of Man within them, but confused by the desires and fantasies of those early cultures, all these prophets had roused men somewhat, yet also entangled them in further fantasies. Always the heart of truth that fired them was the same, the excellence of wisdom, love and creative action. But some preached one aspect and some preached others, and all their gospels were distorted by the longing of individual human beings for immortality for their little selves.
The spirit of Man, looking back across two millennia, and more, to the few centuries of his great venture with the prophets, sighed and smiled. How he had strained with all his strength to quicken his ailing flesh! And for a while, first here, then there, he had succeeded. One people after another, one great limb of his multiple body after another, had been stirred by the quickening current of a great idea. In land after land an inspired and disciplined few had set all men an example of life in service of the spirit. For a while his whole body seemed to be reviving. But the poison still remained in all his tissues, not easily to be overcome. For the very structure of his flesh, the pattern of men’s social relations, had been too long distorted by the disease. The form of society, the organization of men in hierarchies of social classes, was itself largely a product of the poison, so that its structure favoured the disease rather than health. How clearly he now saw it!
True, under the influence of the prophets new social forms and new ways of living were here and there attempted. Men grouped themselves into churches or retired from the world into monasteries, or became solitary hermits, seeking salvation for their individual spirits, or dedicating themselves in selfless adoration to the God whom the prophet of their people had proclaimed to them. Here and there, some few even set out bravely to change the evil forms of men’s relationships and found a society that could indeed express the spirit in daily living. But the ancient hierarchies, both social and ecclesiastical, remained powerful. True, century by century the new healthy but tender social tissues proliferated; until at last some became powerful organs. Here and there they even overmastered the ancient order. But the greater they became the more they themselves were infected by the inveterate poison. For the rising tide of spiritual energy which had carried forward the prophets and their first devoted disciples, was not powerful enough to undermine the strongholds of the enemy; and presently the tide began to ebb, leaving behind it a desiccated wrack of institutions which formerly had been the living instruments of the great revival. The spirit of Man remembered how he had struggled with failing strength to stimulate his members once more while they were already coming to terms with the old bad order. He had struggled in vain. Here and there, now and again, throughout the centuries, the smouldering fire had sprung once more into flame. Some prophet had arisen, some new movement had started in the hearts of men, inspired either by a passing recovery of the old fervour or by a revulsion against new baseness. But soon the flame died down; the new institutions were assimilated to the old. The new organs were poisoned.
Again and again, century after century, in land after land there was some resurgence of the spirit; but with ever-decreasing power. These revivals were but the rearguard waves counter-attacking for the retreating tide.
The spirit of Man, looking back at this time from the age that we call modern, swept the searching beam of his memory over the whole of this period in which, though spiritual passion was mainly ebbing, material power was increasing. Through all that time the great mass of his little members were in fact, though not in theory, slaves. Without the toil of the many neither the luxury of the few nor the structure of society itself could exist. Occasionally some group of the workers, savage with adversity, would dare to rebel. But immediately the whole power of society would be brought against them; and either by violence or by the tyranny of the established myths working in their own clouded minds, the bewildered commonalty would be quelled.
Yet all the while the fortunate were becoming on the whole more prosperous, and even more refined.
As a sick man may remember the wanderings of his own sick mind, so the spirit of Man remembered his faintness and his mental confusion at that time. He remembered too how he had once more gathered his strength for a new kind of attempt to purge his ailing flesh of poison. His members had become more and more spellbound by the established ways of life and of thought. They judged everything by the authority of some ancient prophet, as revealed to them in some distorting scripture or the falsified tradition of some priesthood. By now all such authority, though vital formerly, had everywhere become a support for the old bad forms of life.
The spirit of Man therefore determined so to strengthen the individuality of his members that they would question all authority. They should become more aware of their own personality and less servile to the group. So he set about firing them with a new hunger for fulness of individual life, not hereafter but here on earth.
In the West, quickened by him, they now saw with new eyes, heard with new ears, and relished their world exquisitely. He inspired them, too, with a passion to inquire into the hidden nature of things. Under the renewed influence of that ancient people whose prophets had cared most for wisdom, they now conceived a new loyalty to clear reasoning, a new desire for sincerity in all thinking. By stirring them thus the spirit of Man intended to show them that this road also, like the road of love, which had proved too difficult for them, must, if followed faithfully, lead them out of the prison of self-absorption, and free them to seek the one true goal, the fulfilment of mankind in wisdom, love and creativity.
He believed that little by little their new learning would strip away from their minds all the childish and wishful fantasies of personal immortality which had so long ensnared them into endless efforts to secure, by faith or ritual or conventional good works, happiness for their too cherished individual spirits after death. At last, he hoped, they would be forced to recognize their littleness; and then, bereft of heir dream of immortality, deprived of their ‘souls’, they would find their only true salvation in joyful corporate living with their fellow mortals. They would at last consecrate themselves without reserve, as he himself had done, to the fulfilling of the spirit in Man.
Re hoped, moreover, that in another way also the loss of their delusions would free them. For these fantasies of an after-life were the opium by which the rulers had spell-bound the common people in all lands, promising them happiness hereafter if they would be obedient to church and state; and, if they rebelled, damnation. Deprived of this drug, they would surely no longer acquiesce in tyranny.
It had seemed to the spirit of Man also that the vast powers promised to his members by science, their new magic, would enable the rulers at last to free the enslaved masses from the necessity of toil. No longer would there be any need at all, he told himself, for the many to be hungry, sickly, ignorant and scarcely human, in order that the few might have the leisure and affluence for carrying on the great adventure of Man. For surely, by the wise use of this new magic, men would speedily abolish hunger, sickness, ignorance and all those natural ills that hitherto prevented men from being fully human.
So he had planned, but the issue was very different from his expectation.
True, in the region where his recent inspiration had been strongest, some of the more intelligent or the least enslaved to the old fantasies, or to the craving for personal power, had indeed done as he had intended. With a new zest for understanding they had set about exploring the mysteries of nature, the movements of planets and stars and falling stones, the impact of chemical substances on one another, the workings of the human body and the secret of its relationship to the mind. Some of them conceived the body as a machine controlled by the soul; but later as a machine self-regulated, with mind as a mere consequence of its activity. The soul was by more and more of them dismissed as an unnecessary hypothesis.
The spirit of Man was surprised and rather amused by their thorough divorcing of matter and mind, and their belief that matter alone was fully real; but he was on the whole well satisfied, for now surely, weaned from fantasies of immortality, they would be less distracted from their proper goal.
But things happened otherwise. Their whole morality had been sanctioned, falsely, by the prospect of reward and punishment hereafter, in eternal bliss or eternal damnation. And so, when they could no longer believe themselves immortal, they were disinclined to burden themselves with righteousness. Slowly but surely the fibres which bound men together in mutual responsibility began to be corroded and broken.
There had been one, however, God-intoxicated like the ancient prophets, but brought to God by the path of intellect, who ill his own life and teaching expressed but also distorted the inspiration of the spirit of Man. He conceived the Whole I as alone fully real, and as both spirit and matter. And the r Whole for him was God. The little human creatures he saw as phantoms, abstractions from the indissoluble reality of the Whole. Their self-will, he declared, sprang from their blindness to the Whole, to the inexpressible beauty of the Whole. He himself was possessed by a passion of self-oblivious righteousness through his devotion to the Whole; and he preached to his troubled fellow mortals that they should seek salvation by rising beyond their individuality and their self-love, to conceive the intellectual love of God.
The spirit of Man had been pleased with this philosopher-prophet. Surely men must now see that not only the gospel of love, which they accepted and constantly betrayed, but also sheer reason demanded that they should rise above the pettiness of self-regard, and live in self-transcending community.
Very few of his members were persuaded. The triumph of reason among them took a different turn from that which the spirit of Man had intended. They had won their new magic of physical science by analysing things into their component parts and studying the behaviour of the parts. Now, therefore, those few among them who cared to think about these mysteries, hoping to understand and control human nature as they understood and controlled the behaviour of matter, set about analysing man. And they were persuaded that a man was indeed a mechanism of appetite and repulsion and calculating self-interest, which itself was an expression of the massed activity of minute physical units. All love, they affirmed, was at heart physical lust, and all idealism self-deception. Right and wrong were fantasies. The only intelligent course for a man was the calculated gratification of whatever cravings impelled him. Few of the little human creatures behaved frankly according to this principle, but its hold upon them steadily increased.
Meanwhile men had begun in earnest to use their new magic for changing the whole condition of human living; but not in the manner that the spirit of Man had intended. A few devoted pioneers did indeed work according to his inspiration. Hoping simply to open the way for mankind’s fuller living, they invented innumerable devices for clothing men better, housing them more comfortably, feeding them more amply, and for ridding them of sickness, and of slavery to toil. They won power from the stored energies of the primeval forests. They harnessed steam for the transmission of that power to their machines. From the strange little magic that the ancients had known in amber they developed a mightier magic for their telegraph, telephone, radio and all our thousand electrical ingenuities. With their new rapid transport and communication they brought the ends of the earth together; so that, as never before, the fortunes of men in one land affected the inhabitants of every land.
This material progress had at first delighted the spirit of Man. ‘Soon, soon,’ he had cried, ‘with increased nourishment my whole flesh will be healthy; with increased understanding of one another and their common world the peoples will feel themselves akin, and the rival classes will be bound together in mutual insight and comradeship.’
But very soon it was clear that this was not to happen. The application of science had begun in the fortunate lands where science itself had first begun. It was controlled not by the will of mankind as a whole but by individuals seeking private profit. And so, in order that the machines might be fed and profits piled up, men and women, and children also, were forced to live as cattle, and as uncared-for cattle. Their lives were wholly occupied with toil, with hunger, with fear of their masters, and with such soiled impoverished love as they could snatch. Their limbs and brains, at birth as human as any other’s, were crushed by evil conditions down into subhumanity. Meanwhile the craftsmen, heirs of ancient skills, were ousted by the machines, to be ground henceforth between the millstones of starvation and lethal toil. The upshot in those pioneering lands was not, as the spirit of Man had intended, fuller life for all men. Instead, wherever the new magic spread, there was for the workers degradation of body and of mind, and for the few fortunate, power and luxury such as kings and princes had never known.
The spirit of Man had watched the new magic spread its dire effects over all the world. Little by little its new cheap swarming products were carried into every land, and country after country became a workshop for making even more of them. Everywhere the traditional ways of life began to fade, or retreated into the few remaining fastnesses, like snow in spring-time, retreating into the mountains. The’ old cultures loosened their grip on men’s minds. The prestige of money and personal power and speed and machinery and machine-made luxury ousted the ancient values.
Meanwhile the workshops of the world competed with one another. And because the peoples, though their need was great, lived mostly in penury, and had little money for purchasing, there were more goods than could be sold. And so profits failed, factories closed, workers were dismissed into deeper penury. And so less goods than ever could be bought, and the whole mad world that the new magic had made circled and spiralled towards disaster, like a spinning-top when its energy is spent.
One method alone seemed able to whip the flagging top into new life. The states, already desperately competing for markets and commercial empires, must pay the industrial masters to arm them ever more heavily. Then factories would open again and workers be once more paid wages. This was accordingly done. To the spirit of Man it soon became clear that, since the jealous states lived in constant dread of one another’s armaments, any spark would be enough to touch off those vast explosives in apocalyptic war. And then his multiple body would be hideously torn and tortured, and he himself, the constant and lucid spirit in all men, might well be engulfed in delirium, might even be for ever annihilated.
Once more his plans had been utterly defeated, whether by some innate weakness in the little cells of his flesh or by some alien power that had sown poison and inveterate disease in him far back in his childhood.
He could no longer hope for success by merely trying once more to revitalize his members by making his presence in them felt more powerfully. A few here and there might respond, but the mass of them were by now too deeply diseased for heroic love, or heroic reason, or heroic righteousness.
Fainting under the toxic influence of his disease, yet stung into desperate vitality by the prospect of still more cruel disaster, the spirit of Man earnestly searched for some device by which he might yet save himself.
Clearly the disease was kept in being against all his efforts by the poisoned and deformed tradition and social structure which moulded all men’s behaviour and crippled all their spirits. But how could he prevail upon his members to change the whole form of their society if their minds were no longer vital enough to take mass action for the sake of righteousness? Anxiously debating with himself, he wondered whether, if not love, nor reason, then perhaps hate and cold self-interest could rouse men to destroy the vampire that sucked the blood of all, the cancer that was annexing to its own corpulent and hideous flesh the energies of his multiple body.
The spirit of Man set out to stir the minds of the oppressed with indignation against the money power that gripped them. He also chose out forerunning prophets to expose the folly of measuring human worth in terms of money, and allowing the blind movements of money to control the fate of human beings. And then he swayed them with a prophet of a new kind, one who could speak in the language of science, one who regarded men in their massed behaviour as simply economic animals, one who concealed his rage against all oppressors under a manner of studied objectivity. Inspired by the spirit of Man, but, like all the prophets, confused by his own idiosyncrasy and his own fortune, the new prophet conceived his own pattern of truth and error. He affirmed that the whole life of mankind was a predictable causal sequence; that the rise and fall of peoples and social classes, the incidence of wars and revolutions, the sway of religions and all ideals over the minds of men, were the summed efforts of men’s economic motives and their economic environment. He declared, moreover, that all history was the story of the struggle of rival social classes for power; that the present master class had now fulfilled its function as the pioneer of mechanism; that the modes of economic production upheld by them were now quite inadequate and already breaking up; that circumstances were forcing men to set up a planned economy controlled by the workers; and that the workers, long repressed, must now of necessity burst their chains, overthrow the masters, and establish a new world-order, planned through and through for human welfare.
While the spirit of Man was watching the slow spread of the new gospel, the expected war seized mankind. And under the stress of war the old order was so strained that in one great region of the world it broke. Another prophet had arisen, a believer in the new faith, a man apt in resolute action, and impelled (so at first it seemed to the spirit of Man) chiefly by righteous hate against the rulers for killing his brother and oppressing the whole people. The prophet’s followers, an inspired and self-disciplined few, set the people a high example of self-dedication, and won their allegiance. In a sudden storm the old order based on money was in this land quite destroyed, and a new order was founded.
With wild hope, but also with misgiving, the spirit of Man had watched the birth-throes of this new society. For in all his lifetime there had been no event like this. Never before had a great idea not merely won men’s hearts but embodied itself successfully in a new kind of social structure over half a continent. Could this great event be indeed the beginning of his body’s return to health? The statesman-prophet and his followers defended their new society with fierce devotion. They did not shrink from destroying many thousands of human beings who were hostile to the revolution. Little by little the seedling that they had precariously planted struck firm roots. The new state grew strong.
The spirit of Man, remembering the failure of his ancient prophet of love, now laughed at his own youthful simplicity. ‘My sickness’, he said, ‘had gone too far to be cured by noble feelings and gentle words, and even by the martyrdom of a great prophet. Not by the slow spread of love from heart to heart could men’s poisoned associations be changed but only by a sudden explosion of rage disciplined under cold intellect, only by a great act of violence in a scientifically conceived and executed revolution. Nothing but the surgeon’s knife could save me.’
But even as he made this affirmation a chill crept over him. For his nature, after all, was love, not hate. And not in ruthless discipline but only in the glad and free self-expression of all his members could the spirit of Man properly thrive.
He brooded more intently on the great event, and peered more closely into the minds of the prophet and his followers. Presently he recognized that, after all, the real motive that had launched the revolution and defended the new state had been not merely hate of the oppressor but the new passion of comradeship among the oppressed; who for the sake of their fellow workers, their wives, husbands, children and sweethearts, had given themselves in the common cause. The prophet-statesman himself, though stung to hate, was moved first and most constantly by love, by love of his murdered brother and of the oppressed workers. The whole vast revolution, which had seemed at first the expression of sheer hate, was in fact a mighty gesture of outraged love, and worthy of love’s great prophet himself, who long ago had died to save men.
Very strange it seemed to the spirit of Man that this should be so. ‘Despairing of love’, he said, ‘I tried to move my members by the force of sheer primitive rage and hate, yet after all it is love that has moved them and stung them to this hate.’ But when he considered how rebels and recalcitrants had been shot, or exiled and slave-driven to death, how critics had been silenced, witnesses intimidated, and accused men browbeaten into false confession, and above all how the minds of the young had been drilled into acceptance of the new gospel, the chill of doubt returned. He reminded himself that, if the revolutionaries had not been ruthless in defence of the new state, it would certainly have been destroyed, and that the founding of this new people’s state had been by far the most hopeful thing in the modern world. But also he remembered that his members, though minute and so misshapen, were none the less persons, and that even the defenders of the revolution ought to treat even the enemies of the revolution always as persons, never as mere vermin.
Meanwhile the men of money and all their followers throughout the world had done their utmost to destroy the revolutionary state. And many sincere believers in the gospel of love, outraged by the violence of the revolutionaries, had sided with money against the new order.
Presently in the more distressed of the money-states themselves the minds of men began to assume a new temper, a blind rage against the disastrous power of money, and against the falsity of the commercial mind. The spirit of Man saw that he himself was partly responsible for this blind rage, for he had done his utmost to infuriate men against the old order. But he had not seen where mere blind rage would lead them.
A false prophet, born of this exasperation, but willing to use the power of the old order for his own ambitious aims, began to cast his spell over a great and distressed people. In him the true fire of the spirit was subtly blended with heats of personal resentment against a society that had scorned him. With passion he felt that individual men and women should be instruments for the expression of something deeper, greater, than themselves; but his impoverished and crooked heart could not conceive that thing save in terms of his own warped nature. And his warped truth was the very gospel that his tormented people craved. They had been defeated in war; he promised them world-conquest. They were deeply unsure of themselves; he told them they were by nature the supreme race whom all others ought to obey. They had suffered grievously through the breakdown of their money-bound society; he exorcised the spell of money, and promised them security, prosperity, plenitude of wealth. They had been paralysed by unemployment; he set industry going again by directing it to the making of weapons. They had been emasculated by the evaporation of all ideals; he gave them a thing to live and die for, the mystic race, of which, he said, all men of the true blood were vessels. They had been sickened by decades of licentious self-seeking; he commanded them to abandon individuality and conform in thought and feeling and conduct wholly to the pattern set them by the race, through its supreme mouthpiece, himself. They had learned to despise the cult of logic-chopping reason; he exhorted?? them to think with the blood. They had been embittered by the cant of the enfeebled religion of love; he preached not love but hate, not gentleness but might and cruelty.
The spirit of Man had watched this great people clutch in their despair at the phantoms which the false prophet evoked for their undoing. He watched the young men, the young women, become intoxicated alike by what was true and what was false in this savage gospel. He was present in every young mind that tortured itself willingly away from the natural flowering of its personality, so as to live according to the crazy precepts of the false prophet’s false religion. He watched the massed thousands, uniformed, marching behind their flaming banners; the children carefully hardened to brutality by bullying, and prepared for torturing men by being encouraged to torment cats and dogs. He felt the precious individual cells of his multiple flesh, that were so much more than cells, since they were capable of personality, denatured by the poison; so that henceforth a whole generation of them must constitute a tumour in his body until death should remove them.
Not only in this great people but in others also the poison had conquered. And indeed in every people throughout the world it was at work, here as a suppressed but chronic disease, there threatening disaster. With grief and despair the spirit of Man recognized that even among those newborn peoples where the true revolution had triumphed and founded the new order, the poison was still obscurely at work, though restrained by the influence of the new social order.
At last, when the false prophet had fully armed his people, he had struck with all his force, helped by formidable allies, at those peoples where the enfeebled powers of money ruled, and the disheartened followers of the true spirit were paralysed with their own past failures. Once more the whole human race was thrown into convulsion. It had seemed to the spirit of Man in the first phase of this paroxysm that the issue might well be fatal, that he who had survived a million years might now, though still in early youth, be destroyed. For though mankind, his flesh, would surely recover even from this greatest war, he, the spirit of Man, might well be killed. And then his animal body, tempered no longer by its soul of intelligence and love, would live on mechanically, until some later and more crazy war should finally destroy it.
Strange how your eyes reveal you!
Some spirits are best made known through brow or lips, or the chiselling of the nose, or the head’s carriage, or the hand’s proportions, or the gait and rhythm of the whole body. But you stand always at the open windows of your eyes, looking at people passing in that thronged street, the world. Intent and self-oblivious, you do not peep through curtains; you lean frankly forward on the sill, where all, can see you, in the sunlight. (Or is that brightness all your own?) Every passer-by can see you, but one who has watched for decades sees you best.
But eyes? How can those globes of gristle, those camera lenses, speak the soul? They were not made for communication, but just for watching. Ancestral women watched the flying spindle, and the potter’s wheel. Ancestral men aimed the flint arrow. Ancestral beasts looked for hand-holds on the trees, judged the ripeness of the golden fruit, caught with the eye’s mere corner the tell-tale movement of long grass, or gauged the leap. And much longer ago, long before colour dawned in any mind, ages before even shape was clearly seen, far lowlier creatures, eyed only with blisters on light-sensitive skin, groped their way. And earlier still the wholly-eyeless vaguely felt the contrast of light and shade falling on the body’s surface.
Those eyes of yours, those well-proportioned windows through which an inner beauty sees and is seen, are the flower of all that history. But of how much more besides! For as reptilian claws fathered the ape’s hands, and these the human artful instruments of making and of gesture, so eyes have found new powers. Through all the human generations they have seen beauty, and they have expressed the spirit. Wide open with interest, half-closed with languor or contempt, staring with hate or sorrow, narrowed for peering at far horizons, crow’s-footed at the corners with frequent smiling, prone to sidelong glancing in shrewdness or in shy enticement, veiled or bright with love, eyes have slowly, little by little though the ages of human living, created their own language.
What wonder, then, that some clear spirits reveal themselves most surely in the unwitting speech of eyes!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00