YOUR little Great War reached its ignominious end. During the four years of misery and waste, the short-lived combatants felt that the war area, fringed with the remote and insubstantial lands of peace, was the whole of space, and that time itself was but the endless Duration of the War. But to Neptunian observers, ranging over the considerable span occupied by human history, the events of those four years appeared but as an instantaneous flicker of pain in the still embryonic life of Man. The full-grown Spirit of Man, the Race Mind of the Eighteenth Human Species may be said to use the great company of individual Neptunian observers as a kind of psychical and supra-temporal microscope for the study of its own prenatal career. Peering down that strange instrument, it searches upon the slide for the little point of life which is to become in due season Man himself. The thing is discovered. It is seen to reach that stage of its history when for the first time it begins to master its little Terrestrial environment. Then is to be detected by the quick eye of mature Man the faint and instantaneous flicker, your Great War. Henceforth the minute creature slowly retracts its adventuring pseudopodia, enters into itself, shrinks, and lapses into a state of suspended animation, until at last, after some ten million years, it is ripe for its second phase of adventure, wholly forgetful of its first. It becomes, in fact, the Second Human Species.
When your Great War ended, it seemed to the soldiers of all the nations that a new and happier age had dawned. The veterans prepared to take up once more the threads that war had cut; the young prepared for the beginning of real life. All alike looked forward to security, to freedom from military discipline, to the amusements of civilized society, to woman. Those who had been long under restraint found it almost incredible that they would soon be able to go wherever they pleased without seeking permission, that they would be able to lie in bed in the morning, that they might wear civilian clothes, that they would never again be under the eye of a sergeant, or a captain, or some more exalted officer, and never again take part in an offensive.
For the majority these anticipations were enough. If they could but secure a livelihood, capture some charming and adoring woman, keep a family in comfort, enjoy life, or return to some engrossing work, they would be happy. And a grateful country would surely see to it that they were at least thus rewarded for their years of heroism.
But there were many who demanded of the peace something more than personal contentment. They demanded, and indeed confidently looked for, the beginnings of a better world. The universe, which during the war years, had been progressively revealed as more and more diabolical, was now transfused with a new hope, a new or a refurbished divinity. The armies of the Allies had been fighting for justice and for democracy; or so at least they had been told. They had won. Justice and democracy would henceforth flourish everywhere. On the other hand the armies of the Central Powers had believed that they had been fighting for the Fatherland or for Culture. They had been beaten; but after a gallant fight, and because their starved and exhausted peoples could no longer support them. To those hard-pressed peoples the end of war came not indeed as a bright dawn, as to the Allies, but none the less as the end of unspeakable things, and with the promise of a new day. Henceforth there would at least be food. The pinched and ailing children of Central Europe, whom the Allies had so successfully, so heroically stricken by their blockade, might now perhaps be nursed into precarious health. The beaten nations, trusting to the high-sounding protestations of the victors, not only surrendered, but appealed for help in the desperate task of re-establishing society. President Wilson prophesied a new world, a Brotherhood of Nations, and pronounced his Fourteen Points. Henceforth there would be no more wars, because this last and most bitter war had expunged militarism from the hearts of all the peoples; and had made all men feel, as never before, the difference between the things that were essential and the things that were trivial in the life of mankind What mattered (men now vehemently asserted) was the fellowship of man, Christian charity, the co-operation of all men in the making of a happier world. The war had occurred because the fundamental kindliness of the peoples towards one another had been poisoned by the diplomats. Henceforth the peoples would come into direct contact with one another. The old diplomacy must go.
These sentiments were tactfully applauded by the diplomats of all nations, and were embalmed, suitably trimmed and tempered, in a new charter of human brotherhood, the Peace Treaty of Versailles.
To Neptunian observers, estimating the deepest and most obscure mental reactions of thousands of demobilized soldiers and of the civilian populations that welcomed them, it was clear that the First Human Species had not yet begun to realize the extent of the disaster which it had brought upon itself. All the belligerent peoples were, of course, war-weary. It was natural that after the four years of strain they should experience a serious lassitude, that after responding so magnificently (as was said) to the call for sacrifice, they should be more than usually prone to take the easy course. But our observers, comparing minutely the minds of 1914 with the same minds of 1918, noted a widespread, subtle, and in the main unconscious change. Not a few minds, indeed, had been completely shattered by the experience of those four years, succumbing either to the conflict between personal fear and tribal loyalty or to that rarer conflict between tribal loyalty and the groping loyalty to Man. But also, even in the great mass of men, who had escaped this obvious ruin, there had occurred a general coarsening and softening of the mental fibre, such that they were henceforth poor stuff for the making of a new world.
The slight but gravely significant lassitude which we now observed in all the Western peoples had its roots not merely in fatigue, but in self-distrust and disillusionment. At first obscured by the new hope which peace had gendered, this profound moral disheartenment was destined to increase, not dwindle, as the years advanced. In those early months of peace scarcely any man was aware of it, but to our observers it was evident as a faint odour of corruption in almost every mind. It was the universal though unacknowledged sense of war-guilt, the sense that the high moral and patriotic fervours of 1914 had somehow obscured a deeper and more serious issue. Western Man had blundered into a grave act of treason against the spirit that had but recently and precariously been conceived in him. Few could see that it was so; and yet in almost every mind we found an all-pervading shame, unwitting but most hurtful. Knowing not that they did so, all men blamed themselves and their fellow-men for a treason which they did not know they had committed, against a spirit that was almost completely beyond their ken. Neptunian observers did not blame them.
For these unhappy primitives had but acted according to their lights. They could not know that another and a purer light had been eclipsed in them before they could recognize it.
In many thousands of minds we have watched this subtle guilt at work. Sometimes it expressed itself as a touchy conscientiousness in familiar moral issues, combined with a laxity in matters less stereotyped. Sometimes it became a tendency to blame others unduly, or to mortify the self. More often it gave rise to a lazy cynicism, a comfortable contempt of human nature, and disgust with all existence. Its issue was a widespread, slight loosening of responsibility, both toward society and toward particular individuals. Western men were to be henceforth on the whole less trustworthy, less firm with themselves, less workmanlike, less rigorous in abstract thought, less fastidious in all spheres, more avid of pleasure, more prone to heartlessness, to brutality, to murder. And, when, later, it began to be realized that this deterioration had taken place, the realization itself, by suggestion, increased the deterioration.
But the effects of the war were by no means wholly bad. In the great majority of minds observed by Neptunians after the war, there was detected a very interesting conflict between the forces of decay and the forces of rebirth. The hope of a new world was not entirely ungrounded. The war had stripped men of many hampering illusions; and, for those that had eyes to see, it had underlined in blood the things that really mattered. For the most clear-sighted it was henceforth evident that only two things mattered, the daily happiness of individual human beings and the advancement of the human spirit in its gallant cosmical adventure. To the great majority of those who took serious interest in public affairs the happiness of men and women throughout the world became henceforth the one goal of social action. Only a few admitted that the supreme care of all the peoples should be the adventure of the Terrestrial spirit. Because so few recognized this cosmical aspect of human endeavour, even the obvious goal of world-happiness became unrealizable. For if happiness alone is the goal, one man’s happiness is as good as another’s, and no one will feel obligation to make the supreme sacrifice. But if the true goal is of another order, those who recognize it may gladly die for it.
In the Western World, during the decades that followed the war we encountered far and wide among the hearts of men the beginnings of a true rebirth, an emphatic rejection of the outworn ideals of conduct and of world policy, and a desperate quest for something better, something to fire men’s imaginations and command their allegiance even to the death; something above suspicion, above ridicule, above criticism. Far and wide, among many peoples, the new ideal began to stir for birth, but men’s spirits had been subtly poisoned by the war. What should have become a world-wide religious experience beside which all earlier revivals would have seemed mere tentative and ineffectual gropings, became only a revolutionary social policy, became in fact the wholly admirable but unfinished ideal of a happy world. The muscles which should have thrust the new creature into the light were flaccid. The birth was checked. The young thing, half-born, struggled for a while, then died, assuming the fixed grin of Paul’s nightmare foal.
In Russia alone, and only for a few decades, did there seem to be the possibility of complete rebirth. In that great people of mixed Western and Eastern temperament the poison of war had not worked so disastrously. The great mass of Russians had not regarded the war as their war, but as the war of their archaic government. And as the suffering bred of war increased beyond the limit of endurance, they rose and overthrew their government. The revolutionists who heroically accomplished this change were troubled by no war-shame, for the blood which they shed was truly split in the birth throes of a new world. They were indeed fighting for the spirit, though they would have laughed indignantly had they been told so. For to them ‘spirit’ was but an invention of the oppressors, and ‘matter’ alone was real. They fought, so they believed, for-the free physiological functioning of human animals. They fought, that is, for the fulfilling of whatever capacities those animals might discover in themselves. And in fighting thus they fought unwittingly for the human spirit in its cosmical adventure. When their fight was won, and they had come into power, they began to discipline their people to lead a world-wide crusade. Each man, they said, must regard himself as but an instrument of something greater than himself, must live for that something, and if necessary die for it. This devotion that they preached and practised was indeed the very breath of the spirit within them. Little by little a new hope, a new pride, a new energy, spread among the Russian people. Little by little they fashioned for themselves a new community, such as had never before occurred on the planet. And because they allowed no one to hold power through riches, they became the horror of the Western World.
To the thousands of our observers stationed in Russian minds it was evident even at the outset that this promise of new birth would never be fulfilled. The ardour of revolution and the devotion of community-building could not suffice alone for ever. There must come a time when the revolution was won, the main structure of the new community completed, when the goal of a happy world, though not in fact attained, would no longer fire men, no longer suffice as the ‘something’ for which they would gladly live or die; when the spirit so obscurely conceived in men would need more nourishment than social loyalty. Then the only hope of the world would be that Russian men and women should look more closely into their hearts, and discover there the cosmical and spiritual significance of human life, which their creed denied. But this could not be. In few of them did we find a capacity for insight strong enough to apprehend what man is, and what the world, and the exquisite relation of them. And being without that vision, they would have nothing to strengthen them against the infection of the decaying Western civilization. Feared and hated by their neighbours, they themselves would succumb to nationalistic fear and hate. Craving material power for their defence, they would betray themselves for power, security, prosperity.
In short, the new hope which the European War had occasioned, especially in Russia, was destined, sooner or later, to be destroyed by the virus which war itself had generated in the guilty Western peoples. While that new hope, still quick and bright, was travelling hither and thither over Asia like a smouldering fire, this dank effluence also was spreading, damping the fibre of men’s hearts with disillusionment about human nature and the universe. And so, that which should have become a world-wide spiritual conflagration was doomed never to achieve more than revolutionary propaganda, and smoke.
It is my task to show your world in its ‘post-war’ phase as it seemed to one of your own kind who had been infected with something of the Neptunian mood. First, however, I must recall how Paul faced his own private ‘post-war’ problems, and emerged at last as a perfected instrument for my purpose.
Crossing the Channel for the last time in uniform, Paul looked behind and forward with mixed feelings. Behind lay the dead, with their thousands upon thousands of wooden crosses; and also (for Paul’s imagination) the wounded, grey, blue and khaki, bloody, with splintered bones. Behind, but indelible, lay all that horror, that waste, that idiocy; yet also behind lay, as he was forced to admit to himself, an exquisite, an inhuman, an indefensible, an intolerable beauty. Forward lay life, and a new hope. Yet looking toward the future he felt misgivings both for himself and for the world. For himself he feared, because he had no part in the common emotion of his fellow-countrymen, in the thankfulness that the war had been nobly won. For the world he feared, because of a growing sense that man’s circumstances were rapidly passing beyond man’s control. They demanded more intelligence and more integrity than he possessed.
Thus Paul on his homeward journey could not conjure in himself the pure thankfulness of his fellows. Yet, looking behind and forward, with the wind chanting in his ears and the salt spray on his lips, he savoured zestfully the bitter and taunting taste of existence. Comparing his present self with the self of his first war-time crossing, he smiled at the poor half-conscious thing that he had been, and said, at least, I have come awake.’ Then he thought again of those thousands under the crosses, who would not wake ever. He remembered the boy whom he had known so well, and had watched dying; who should have wakened so splendidly. And then once more he savoured that mysterious, indefensible beauty which he had seen emerge in all this horror.
I chose this moment of comparatively deep self-consciousness and world-consciousness to force upon Paul with a new clarity the problem with which I intended henceforth to haunt him. This task was made easier by the circumstances of the voyage. The sea was boisterous. Paul greatly enjoyed a boisterous sea and the plunging of a ship, but his pleasure was complicated by a feeling of sea-sickness. He fought against his nausea and against its depressing influence. He wanted to go on enjoying the wind and the spray and the motion and the white-veined sea, but he could not. Presently, however, he very heartily vomited; and then once more he could enjoy things, and even think about the world. His thinking was coloured both by his nausea and by his zest in the salt air. Resolutely blowing his nose, meditatively wiping his mouth, he continued to lean on the rail and watch the desecrated but all-unsullied waves. He formulated his problem to himself, ‘How can things be so wrong, so meaningless, so filthy; and yet also so right, so overwhelmingly significant, so exquisite?’ How wrong things were, and how exquisite, neither Paul nor any man had yet fully discovered. But the problem was formulated. I promised myself that I should watch with minute attention the efforts of this specially treated member of your kind to come to terms with the universe.
Paul returned to his native suburb, and was welcomed into the bosom of the home. It was good to be at home. For a while he was content to enjoy the prospect of an endless leave, lazing in flannel trousers and an old tweed coat. At home, where he was not expected to explain himself, he was at peace; but elsewhere, even when he was dressed as others, he felt an alien. He attributed his sense of isolation to his pacifism, not knowing how far opinion had moved since the beginning of the war. This loneliness of his was in fact due much more to my clarifying influence in him, to his having been as it were impregnated with seminal ideas gendered in another species and another world. He found his mind working differently from other minds, yet he could not detect where the difference lay. This distressed him. He hated to be different. He longed to become an indistinguishable member of the herd, of his own social class. He began to take great pains to dress correctly, and to use the slang of the moment. He tried to play bridge, but could never keep awake. He tried to play golf, but his muscles seemed to play tricks on him at the critical moment. The truth was that he did not really want to do these things at all. He wanted to do ‘the done thing’.
There was another trouble. He had not been at home more than a fortnight before he realized with distress that his relations with his parents were not what they had been. In the old days he used to say, ‘I have been lucky in my choice of parents. Of course they don’t really know me very well, but they understand as much as is necessary. They are both endlessly kind, sympathetic; helpful, and they have the sense to leave me alone.’ Now, he began to see that in the old days they really had understood him far more than he supposed, but that the thing that he had since become was incomprehensible to them. Even at the beginning of the war they had lost touch with him over his pacifism; accepting it thankfully as a means of saving him from the trenches, but never taking it seriously. Now, they were more out of touch than ever. It seemed to him that they were living in a kind of mental Flat Land, without acquaintance with the third dimension. They were so sensible, so kind, so anxious to be tolerant. He could see eye to eye with them in so many things, in all those respects in which Flat Land was in accord with Solid Land. But every now and then intercourse would break down. They would argue with him patiently for a while in vain; then fall silent, regarding him with an expression in which he seemed to see, blended together, love, pity and horror. He would then shrug his shoulders, and wonder whether in earlier times the gulf between the generations had ever been so wide. They, for their part, sadly told one another that his war experience (or was it his pacifism?) had so twisted his mind that he was ‘not quite, not absolutely, sane’.
After a few weeks Paul went back to his old post in the big suburban secondary school. He was surprised that they took him, in spite of his pacifism and his incompetence. Later he discovered that his father knew the Chairman of the Council. Ought he to resign? Probably, but he would not. He was by now well established as one of the less brilliant but not impossible members of the staff; and though the work never came easily to him, it was no longer the torture that it had formerly been. He was older, and less easily flustered. And he must have money. After all, he found, he rather liked boys, so long as he could keep on the right side of them. If you got wrong with them, they were hell; but if you kept right, they were much more tolerable than most adults. The work was respectable useful work. Indeed, it was in a way the most important of all work, if it was done properly. Moreover, it was the only work he could do. And he must have money; not much, but enough to make him independent.
His aim at this time was to live an easy and uneventful life. He told himself that he did want to pull his weight, but he was not prepared to overstrain himself. He must have time to enjoy himself. He proposed to enjoy himself in two ways, and both together. He wanted to win his spurs in the endless tournament of sex; for his virginity filled him with self-doubt, and disturbed his judgements about life. At the same time he promised himself a good deal of what he called ‘intellectual sight-seeing’ or ‘spiritual touring’. Comfortably, if not with a first-class ticket, at least with a second-class one, he would explore all the well-exploited travel-routes of all the continents of the mind. Sometimes he might even venture into the untracked wild, but not dangerously. Never again, if he could help it, would he lose touch with civilization, with the comfortable mental structure of his fellows, as he had done through pacifism. Thus did this war-weary young Terrestrial propose. Much of his plan suited my purpose admirably, but by no means the whole of it.
So Paul settled down to teach history, geography, English and ‘scripture’. He taught whatever he was told to teach, and for mere pity’s sake, he made the stuff as palatable as he could. On the whole the boys liked him. He seemed to regard the business much as they did themselves, as a tiresome necessary grind, which must be done efficiently but might be alleviated by jokes and stories. Even discipline, formerly such a trouble to Paul, now seemed to work automatically. This was partly because he did not worry about it, having outgrown the notion that he must preserve his ‘dignity’, and partly because in the critical first days of his new school career I influenced his mood and his bearing so that he gave an impression of friendliness combined with careless firmness. Paul himself was surprised and thankful that the self-discipline of his classes relieved him of a dreadful burden. He used to say to visitors, in front of the class, ‘You see, we have not a dictator, but a chairman.’ All the same, he secretly took credit for his achievement.
By thus helping Paul to establish himself in a tolerable routine, I enabled him to keep his mind free and sensitive for other matters. The boys themselves knew that there was another side to him. Occasionally in class the lesson would go astray completely, and he would talk astoundingly about things interesting to himself, things outside the curriculum, and sometimes of very doubtful orthodoxy. He would dwell upon the age and number of the stars, the localization of functions in the brain, the abstractness of science and mathematics, the kinds of insanity, the truth about Soviet Russia, the theatre and the cinema, the cellular structure of the body, the supposed electronic structure of the atom, death and old age, cosmopolitanism, sun-bathing, the crawl stroke, Samuel Butler, coitus and the birth of babies. To these floods of language the boys reacted according to their diverse natures. The stupid slipped thankfully into torpor, the industrious revised their home-work. The shrewd masticated whatever in the harangue seemed to have a practical value, and spat out the rest. The intellectually curious listened aloofly. The main mass fluctuated between amusement, enthusiastic support, and boredom. A few sensitive ones took Paul as their prophet. After these outbursts Paul became unusually reticent and cautious. Sometimes he even told the boys they’ had better forget it all’ because he was’ a bit mad then’. He was obviously anxious that rumour of his wildness should not go beyond the class-room door. The sense of secrecy appealed to the boys. Whatever their diverse opinions of the stuff, all could enjoy a conspiracy. Paul’s own class began to regard itself as something between a band of disciples (or even prophets), a secret revolutionary society, and a pirate crew.
For some months Paul was so busy becoming an efficient school-master that he had little time for those’ other matters’ which I required him to undertake. But when he had established his technique and could look around him, he began to ask himself, ‘What next?’ His intention was to see life safely, to observe all its varieties and nuances, to read it in comfort as one might enjoy a novel of passion and agony without being upset by it. What was the field to be covered? There was woman. Until he had explored that field he could never give his attention to others. There was art, literature, music. There was science. There was the intricate spectacle of the universe, including the little peep-show, man. There were certain philosophical questions which had formed themselves in his mind without producing their answers. There was religion. Was there anything in it at all? But here, as also in the sphere of woman, one must be careful. One might so easily find oneself too deeply entangled. For the post-war Paul, entanglement, becoming part of the drama instead of a spectator, was to be avoided at all costs. But could he avoid it? Could he preserve in all circumstances this new snug aloofness, which had come to him with the end of war’s long torment of pity and shame and indignation? He knew very well that there were strange forces in him which might wreck his plans. He must be very careful, but the risk must be taken. His sheer curiosity, and his cold passion for savouring the drama of the world, must be satisfied.
Paul now began to lead a double life. In school-hours he tried to be the correct schoolmaster, and save for his lapses he succeeded. Out of school he inspected the universe. With cold judgement he decided that the first aspect of the universe to be inspected was woman. But how? There was Katherine. She alone, he felt, could be for him the perfect mate. But she was obviously happy with her returned soldier and her two children. He met her now and again. She was gentle with him, and distressingly anxious that he should like her husband. Strangely enough, he did like the man, as a man. He was intellectually unexciting, but he had an interested and open mind, and could readily be enticed out of Flat Land. Paul, however, disliked the sense that Katherine wanted to hold the two of them in one embrace. No, he must look elsewhere for woman, for the woman that was to show him the deep cosmical significance of womanhood.
The girls of his suburb were no good. In his thwarted, virginal state, they often stirred him, but he could not get anywhere with them. He lacked the right touch. Sometimes he would take one of them on the river or to a dance, or to the pictures, but nothing came of it. They found him queer, a little ridiculous, sometimes alarming. When he should have been audacious, he was diffident. His voice went husky and his hand trembled. When he should have been gentle, he was rough. With one of them, indeed, he got so far as to realize that to go further would be disastrous; for though she was a ‘dear’ she was dull. Moreover, she would expect to be married. And for marriage he had neither means nor inclination.
Of course there were prostitutes. They would sell him something that he wanted. But he wanted much more than they could sell. He wanted, along with full physical union, that depth of intimacy which he had known with Katherine. Once in Paris while he was coming home on leave, a girl in the street had said to him ‘Venez faire l’amour avec moi’, and he had stopped. But there was something about her, some trace of a repugnance long since outworn, that made his cherished maleness contemptible in his own eyes. He hurried away, telling himself she was too unattractive. Henceforth all prostitutes reminded him of her. They made him dislike himself.
What other hope was there for him? He once found himself alone with a little dusky creature in a railway carriage. She reminded him of a marmoset. Might he smoke, he asked. Certainly. Would she smoke too? Well, yes, since there was no one else there. They talked about the cinema. They arranged to meet again. He took her to a dance, and to picture shows, and for walks. She told him she was unhappy at home. Things advanced to such an extent that one day he put a protecting arm round her, with his hand under her breast; and he kissed her. She began to trust him, rely on him. Suddenly he felt an utter cad, and determined to give her up. But when he said he would never see her again, she wept like a child and clung to him. He told her what a beast he was, and how he had intended merely to get what he wanted from her, and take no responsibility. As for marrying her, he was not the marrying sort. She said she didn’t care. She didn’t want marriage, she wanted him, just now and again. Yet somehow he couldn’t do it. Was it fear of the consequences? No, not fear, shame. She was only a child, after all, and he found himself feeling responsible for her. Damn it, why couldn’t he go through with it? It wouldn’t hurt her really. It would all be experience. But he couldn’t do it. Yet he had not the heart to keep away from her. Hell! Then why not marry her and go through with it that way? No, that would be certain hell for both of them. The affair began to get on his nerves. His teaching was affected; for in class he was haunted by images of the little marmoset, of her great wide black eyes, or of the feel of her hair on his cheek. Obviously he must put an end to it all. He wrote her a strange muddled letter, saying he loved her too much to go on, or too little; that in fact he did not really love her at all, and she must make the best of it; that he was desperately in love with her and would be miserable for ever without her; that the upshot anyhow was that he could never see her again. He kept to his resolve. In spite of a number of beseeching letters, he never saw her or wrote to her again.
Paul thanked his stars he had escaped from that trap. But his problem remained completely unsolved. How was he to come to terms with this huge factor in the universe, woman? For in his present state he could not but regard sex as something fundamental to the universe. He was desperate. He could not keep his mind off woman. Every train of thought brought him to the same dead end, woman, and how he was to cope with her. He spent hours wandering in the streets of the metropolis, watching all the slender figures, the silken ankles, the faces. Even in his present thwarted and obsessed mood, in which every well-formed girl seemed to him desirable, his interest was in part disinterested, impersonal. Behind his personal problem lay the universal problem. What was the cosmical significance of this perennial effloresence of femininity, this host of ‘other’ beings, ranging from the commonplace to the exquisite? Many of them were just female animals, some so brutish as to stir him little more than a bitch baboon; some though merely animal, were animals of his kind, and they roused in him a frankly animal but none the less divine desire. So at least he told himself. Many, on the other hand, he felt were more than animal, and the worse for it. They were the marred and vulgar products of a vulgar civilization. But many also, so it seemed to him, were divinely human and more than human. They eloquently manifested the woman-spirit, the female mode of the cosmic spirit. They had but to move a hand or turn the head or lean ever so slightly, ever so tenderly toward a lover, and Paul was smitten with a hushed, a religious, wonder. What was the meaning of it all? The man-spirit in himself, he said, demanded communion with one of these divine manifestations. The thing must be done. It was a sacred trust that he must fulfil. But how?
He made the acquaintance of a young actress whom he had often admired from the auditorium. He took her out a good deal. He spent more money on her than he could afford. But this relationship, like the other, came to nothing. It developed into a kind of brother-sister affection, though spiced with a sexual piquancy. Whenever he tried to bring in a more sensual element, she was distressed, and he was torn between resentment and self-reproach.
There were others. But nothing came of any of them, except a ceaseless expenditure on dance tickets, theatre tickets, chocolates, suppers, gifts. There was also a more ruinous and no less barren, expense of spirit, and a perennial sense of frustration. The girls that he really cared for he was afraid of hurting. Of course, he might marry one of them, if he could find one willing. But he felt sure he would be a bad husband, that he would be sick to death of the relationship within a month. And anyhow he could not afford a wife. On the other hand, the girls toward whom he felt no responsibility, he feared for his own sake, lest they should entangle him. Meanwhile he was becoming more and more entangled in his own obsession. The intellectual touring which he had proposed for himself, and was even now, in a desultory manner, undertaking, was becoming a labour instead of a delight, because he could not free his mind from woman. In bed at night he would writhe and mutter self-pityingly, ‘God, give me a woman!’
At last he decided to go with a prostitute. On the way with her he was like a starved dog ready to eat anything. But when he was alone with her, it suddenly came over him with a flood of shame and self-ridicule, that here was a girl, at bottom a ‘good sort’ too, who did not want him at all, and yet had to put up with him. It must be like having to make your living by hiring out your tooth-brush to strangers. How she must despise him! His hunger vanished. She tried to rouse him, using well-practised arts. But it was no good. He saw himself through her eyes. He felt his own body as she would feel it, clinging, repugnant. Stammering that he was ill, he put down his money, and fled.
From the point of view of my work with Paul the situation was very unsatisfactory. It was time to free his mind for the wider life that I required of him. I decided that the most thorough cure could be obtained only by means of Katherine, who was by now a superb young wife and mother. I therefore entered her once more, and found that by a careful use of my most delicate arts I might persuade her to serve my purpose. Five years of exceptionally happy marriage had deepened her spirit and enlarged her outlook. The colt had grown into a noble mare, the anxious young suburban miss into a mature and zestful woman, whose mind was surprisingly untrammelled. I found her still comfortably in love with the husband that I had given her, and the constant friend of her children. But also I found, on deeper inspection, a core of peaceful aloofness, of detachment from all the joys and anxieties of her busy life; of detachment, as yet unwitting, even from the moral conventions which hitherto she had had no cause to question. I found, too, a lively interest in her renewed acquaintance with Paul She saw clearly that he was in distress, that he was ‘sexually dead-ended ‘. Such was the phrase she used to describe Paul’s condition to her husband. She felt responsible for his trouble. Also, before I began to work on her, she had already recognized in herself a tender echo of her old love for Paul. But without my help she would never have taken the course toward which I now began to lead her. For long she brooded over Paul and his trouble and her own new restlessness. Little by little I made her see that Paul would be for ever thwarted unless she let herself be taken. I also forced her to admit to herself that she wanted him to take her. At first she saw the situation conventionally, and was terrified lest Paul should ruin all her happiness. For a while she shunned him. But Paul himself was being drawn irresistibly under her spell; and when at last she forbade him to come near her, he was so downcast and so acquiescent, that she shed tears for him. He duly kept away, and she increasingly wanted him.
But presently, looking into her own heart with my help, she realized a great and comforting truth about herself, and another truth about Paul. She did not want him forever, but only for sometimes. For ever, she wanted her husband, with whom she had already woven an intricate and lovely pattern of life, not yet completed, scarcely more than begun. But with Paul also she had begun to weave a pattern long ago; and now she would complete it, not as was first intended, but in another and less intricate style. It would re-vitalize her, enrich her, give her a new bloom and fragrance for her husband’s taking. And Paul, she knew, would find new life. With all the art at her command she would be woman for him, and crown his manhood, and set him free from his crippling obsession, free to do all the fine things which in old days he had talked of doing. For this was the truth that she had realized about Paul, that he also had another life to lead, independent of her, that for him, too, their union must be not an end but a refreshment.
But what about her husband? If only he could be made to feel that there was no danger of his losing her, or of his ceasing to be spiritually her husband, he ought surely to see the sanity of her madness. The thought of talking to him about it all made her recognize how mad she really was, how wicked, too. But somehow the recognition did not dismay her, for I kept her plied with clear thoughts and frank desires, which somehow robbed the conventions of their sanctity.
Katherine I had dealt with successfully. But there remained the more difficult task of persuading her husband, Richard. I had at the outset chosen him carefully; but now, when I took up my position in his mind, I was more interested in my experiment than hopeful of its success. It would have been easy to infatuate him with some woman, and so render him indifferent to his wife’s conduct. But if tolerance had to rest merely, on indifference, this marriage, in which I took some pride, would have been spoiled. I had decided, moreover, that Richard’s predicament would afford me the opportunity of a crucial piece of research upon your species. I was curious to know whether it would be possible so to influence him that he should regard the whole matter with Neptunian sanity.
I took some pains to prepare him, leading his mind to ruminate in unfamiliar fields. I did nothing to dim in any way his desire for his wife; on the contrary, I produced in him a very detailed and exquisite apprehension of her. And when at last she found courage to tell him of her plan, I used all my skill to give him full imaginative insight into her love for Paul and her different love for himself. It was very interesting to watch his reaction. For a few minutes he sat gazing at his wife in silence. Then he said that of course she must do what seemed best to her, but he asked her to give him time to think. For a whole day he acted to himself the part of the devoted and discarded husband, biting through a pipe-stem in the course of his tortured meditations. He conceived a dozen plans for preventing the disaster, and dismissed them all. Already on the second day, however, he saw the situation more calmly, even with something like Neptunian detachment; and on the third he recognized with my help that it did not concern him at all in any serious manner how Katherine should spend her holiday, provided that she should come back to him gladly, and with enhanced vitality.
Paul and Katherine took a tent and went off together for three weeks. They pitched beside a little bay on the rocky and seal-haunted coast of Pembroke. In this choice they had been unwittingly influenced by me. Thoughts of my recent (and remotely future) holiday on a Neptunian coast infected them with a desire for rocks and the sea. In this holiday of theirs I myself found real refreshment. Through the primitive mind of Paul I rejoiced in the primitive body and primitive spirit of Katherine.
She was already well practised in the art of love, at least in the unsubtle Terrestrial mode. Paul was a novice. But now he surprised himself, and Katherine also, by the fire, the assurance, the gentleness, the sweet banter of his wooing. Well might he, for I who am not inexperienced even according to Neptunian standards, prompted him at every turn of his dalliance. Not only was I determined, for my work’s sake, to afford these two children full enrichment of one another, but also I myself, by now so well adapted to the Terrestrial sphere, was deeply stirred by this ‘almost woman’, this doe of a half-human species. Her real beauty, interwoven with the reptilian clumsiness of an immature type, smote me with a savage delight of the flesh, and yet also with a vast remoteness which issued in grave tenderness and reverence.
They lay long in the mornings, with the sun pouring in at the open end of the tent. They swam together in the bay, pretending to be seals. They cooked and washed up, and shopped in the neighbouring village. They scrambled over the rocks and the heather. And they made love. In the night, and also naked on the sunlit beach, they drank one another in through eye and ear and tactile flesh. Of many things they spoke together, sitting in the evening in the opening of the tent. One night there was a storm. The tent was blown down, and their bedding was wet. They dressed under the floundering canvas, and having made things secure, for the rest of the night they walked in the rain, reeling with sleep. Next day they repaired the tent, spread out their blankets in the sun, and on the sunny grass they lay down to sleep. Paul murmured, ‘We could have been man and wife so well.’ But Katherine roused herself to say, ‘No, no! Richard has me for keeps, and you for sometimes. I should hate you for a husband, you’d be too tiring, and probably no good with children. Paul, if I have a baby, it will count as Richard’s.’
For three weeks Paul basked in intimacy with the bland Katherine. This, then, was woman, this intricacy of lovely volumes and movements, of lovely resistances and yieldings, of play, laughter and quietness. She was just animal made perfect, and as such she was unfathomable spirit at once utterly dependable and utterly incalculable, mysterious. Paul knew, even in his present huge content, that there was much more of woman than was revealed to him, more which could only be known through long intimacy, in fact in the stress and long-suffering and intricate concrescence of marriage. This, Richard had, but he himself had not, perhaps would never have. The thought saddened him; but it did not bite into him poisonously, as his virginity had done. Fundamentally, he was to be henceforth in respect of woman at peace. Her beauties would no longer taunt him and waylay him and tether him. Henceforth he would have strength of her, not weakness.
In these expectations Paul was justified. His retarded spirit, starved hitherto of women, now burgeoned. I could detect in him day by day, almost hour by hour, new buds and growing points of sensitivity, of percipience, hitherto suppressed by the long winter of his frustration. Even during the rapturous holiday itself, when his whole interest was centred on the one being and on his love play with her, he was at the same time exfoliating into a new and vital cognizance of more remote spheres. On their last day he wrote this poem:
walking on the heath.
she and I.
condescended toward the stars.
For then we knew
that all the pother of the universe
was but a prelude to that summer night
and our uniting.
and all the ages to come
but a cadence
after our loving.
Nestled down into the heather.
and took joy of one another.
justifying the cosmic enterprise for ever
by the moments of our caressing.
while the simple stars
Thus lovers, nations, worlds, nay galaxies.
conceive themselves the crest of all that is.
Paul spent the last fortnight of his summer holiday at home, preparing for the next term, and feeling the influence of Katherine spread deeply into his being. When he returned to work, he found that he looked about him with fresh interest. Walking in the streets of London, he now saw something besides stray flowers of femininity adrift on the stream of mere humanity. He saw the stream itself, to which, after all, the women were not alien but integral. And just as woman had been a challenge to him, so now the great human flood was a challenge to him, something which he must come to terms with, comprehend.
The time had come for me to attempt my most delicate piece of work on Paul, the experiment which was to lead me to a more inward and sympathetic apprehension of your kind than anything that had hitherto been possible; the deep and subtle manipulation which incidentally would give Paul a treasure of experience beyond the normal reach of the first Men. It was my aim to complete in him the propaedeutic influence with which I had occasionally disturbed him in childhood. I therefore set about to induce in him such an awakened state that he should see in all things, and with some constancy, the dazzling intensity of being, the depth beyond depth of significance, which even in childhood he had glimpsed, though rarely. With this heightened percipience he must assess his own mature and deeper self and the far wider and more fearsome world which he now inhabited. Then should I be able to observe how far and with what idiosyncrasies the mentality of your kind, thus aided, could endure the truth and praise it.
It was chiefly in the streets and in the class-room that Paul found his challenge, but also, as had ever been the case with him, under the stars. Their frosty glance had now for him a more cruel, a more wounding significance than formerly, a significance which drew poignancy not only from echoes of the street, and the class-room, and from the sunned flesh of Katherine, but also from the war.
Paul had promised himself that when he had come to terms with woman he would devote his leisure to that intellectual touring in which he had never yet been able seriously to indulge. But even now, it seemed, he was not to carry out his plan, or at least not with the comfort and safety which he desired. What was meant to be a tour of well-marked and well-guided routes of the mind, threatened to become in fact a desperate adventure in lonely altitudes of the spirit. It was as though by some inner compulsion he were enticed to travel not through but above all the mental cities and dominions, not on foot but in the air; as though he who had no skill for flight were to find himself perilously exploring the currents and whirlpools, the invisible cliffs and chasms, of an element far other than the earth; which, however, now displayed to his miraculous vision a detailed inwardness opaque to the pedestrian observer.
Even in the class-room, expounding to reluctant urchins the structure of sentences, the provisions of Magna Carta, the products of South America, Paul constantly struggled for balance in that remote ethereal sphere. Sometimes he would even fall into complete abstraction, gazing with disconcerting intensity at some boy or other, while the particular juvenile spirit took form in his imagination, conjured by my skill. He would begin by probing behind the defensive eyes into the vast tangled order of blood-vessels and nerve fibres. He would seem to watch the drift of blood corpuscles, the very movements of atoms from molecule to molecule. He would narrow his eyes in breathless search for he knew not what. Then suddenly, not out there but somehow in the depth of his own being, the immature somnolent spirit of the child would confront him. He would intimately savour those little lusts and fears, those little joys and unwilling efforts, all those quick eager movements of a life whose very earnestness was but the earnestness of a dream. With the boy’s hand in the boy’s pocket he would finger pennies and sixpences, or a precious knife or toy. He would look into all the crannies of that mind, noting here a promise to be fulfilled, there a blank insensitivity, here some passion unexpressed and festering. Rapt in this contemplation, he would fall blind to everything but this unique particular being, this featured monad. Or he would hold it up in contrast with himself, as one might hold for comparison in the palm of the hand two little crystals, or in the field of the telescope a double star. Sometimes it would seem to him that the boy and himself were indeed two great spheres of light hugely present to one another, yet held eternally distinct from one another by the movement, the swing, of their diverse individualities. Then, like a memory from some forgotten life, there would come to him the thought, ‘This is just Jackson Minor, a boy whom I must teach.’ And then, ‘Teach what’!’ And the answer, more apt than explicit, ‘Teach to put forth an ever brighter effulgence of the spirit.’
While Paul was thus rapt, some movement would recall the class to him, and he would realize with a kind of eager terror that not only one but many of these huge presences were in the room with him. It was as though by some miracle a company of majestic and angelic beings was crowded upon this pin-point floor. And yet he knew that they were just a bunch of lads, just a collection of young and ephemeral human animals, who almost in the twinkle of a star would become black-coated citizens, parents, grandparents and discreetly laid-out corpses. Between then and now, what would they do’! What were they for’! They would do geography and scripture, they would make money or fail to make money, they would take young women to the pictures, they would do the done thing, and say the said thing. Then one day they would realize that they were growing old. Some of them would scream that they had not yet begun to live, others would shrug and drift heavily gravewards. So it would be, but why?
In the lunch hour, or when the school day was over, or in the evening
when he was waiting to go to some show, he would let himself glide on the street flood to watch the faces, the action, to speculate on the significance of this gesture and that.
Sometimes he would walk unperturbed through street after street, carelessly turning the pages of the great picture book, dwelling lightly for a moment on this or that, on this comicality or elegance, on that figure of defeat or of complacency. Straying up Regent Street, he would amuse himself by sorting out the natives from the provincial visitors, and the foreign nationals from one another. He would surmise whether that painted duchess knew how desolate she looked, or that Lancashire holiday-maker how conscious that he was a stranger here, or whether the sweeper, with slouch hat and broom, felt, as he looked, more real than the rest. Odours would assail him: odour of dust and horse-dung, odour of exhaust fumes, rubber and tar, odour of cosmetics precariously triumphing over female sweat. Sounds would assail him: footsteps, leather-hard and rubber-soft, the hum and roar of motors, the expostulation of their horns; voices also of human animals, some oddly revealing, others a mere mask of sound, a carapace of standard tone, revealing nothing. Above all, forms and colours would assail him with their depths of significance. Well-tailored young women, discreet of glance; others more blowsy, not so discreet. Young men, vacantly correct, or betraying in some movement of the hand or restlessness of the eye an undercurrent of self-doubt. Old men, daughter-attended, tremblingly holding around their withered flesh the toga of seniority, bath-wrap-wise. Women of a past decade, backward leaning for weight of bosom, bullock-eyed, uncomprehending, backward straining under the impending pole-axe. After the smooth drift of Regent Street, he would find himself in the rapids of Oxford Street, buffeted, whirled hither and thither by successive vortices of humanity, of tweed-clad men, and women of artificial silk, of children toffee-smeared, of parents piloting their families, of messenger boys, soldiers, sailors, Indian students, and everywhere the constant flood of indistinguishable humanity, neither rich nor poor, neither beautiful nor ugly, neither happy nor sad, but restless, obscurely anxious, like a dog shivering before a dying fire.
At some point or other of his easeful wandering a change would probably happen to Paul. He would suddenly feel himself oppressed and borne down by the on-coming flood of his fellows. He would realize that he himself was but one indistinguishable drop in this huge continuum; that everything most unique and characteristic in him he had from It; that nothing whatever was himself, not even this craving for discrete existence; that the contours of his body and his mind had no more originality than one ripple in a wave-train. But with a
violent movement of self-affirmation he would inwardly cry out, ‘I am I, and not another.’ Then in a flash he would feel his reality, and believe himself to be a substantial spirit, and eternal. For a moment all these others would seem to him but as moving pictures in the panorama of his own all-embracing self. But almost immediately some passing voice-tone in the crowd, some passing gesture, would stab him, shame him into realization of others. It would be as in the class-room. He would be overwhelmed not by the featureless drops of an ocean, but by a great company of unique and diverse spirits. Behind each on-coming pair of eyes he would glimpse a whole universe, intricate as his own, but different; similar in its basic order, but different in detail, and permeated through and through by a different mood, a different ground-tone or timbre. Each of them was like a ship forging toward him, moving beside him and beyond, and trailing a great spreading wake of past life, past intercourse with the world. He himself, it seemed, was tossed like a cork upon the inter-crossing trains of many past careers. Looking at them one by one as they came upon him, he seemed to see with his miraculous vision the teeming experiences of each mind, as with a telescope one may see on the decks of a passing liner a great company of men and women, suddenly made real and intimate, though inaccessible. The ship’s bow rises to the slow waves, and droops, in sad reiteration, as she thrusts her way forward, oxlike, obedient to some will above her but not of her. And so, seemingly, those wayfarers blindly thrust forward on their courses, hand-to-mouth fulfilment of their mechanism, ignorant of the helmsman’s touch, the owner’s instructions. Here, bearing down upon him, would appear perhaps a tall woman with nose like a liner’s stem, and fo’c’sle brows. Then perhaps an old gentleman with the white wave of his moustache curling under his prow. Then a rakish young girl. Then a bulky freighter. Thus Paul would entertain himself with fantasies, till sooner or later a bleak familiar thought would strike him. Each of these vessels of the spirit (this was the phrase he used) had indeed a helmsman, keeping her to some course or other; had even a master, who worked out the details of navigation and set the course; but of owner’s instructions he was in most cases completely ignorant. And so these many ships ploughed hither and thither on the high seas vainly, not fulfilling, but forlornly seeking, instructions. And because the mechanism of these vessels was not of insensitive steel but of desires and loathings, passions and admirations, Paul was filled with a great pity for them, and for himself as one of them, a pity for their half-awakened state between awareness and unawareness.
After such experiences in the heart of the city, Paul, in the train for his southern suburb, would already change his mood. Even while the train crossed the river the alteration would come. He would note, perhaps, the sunset reflected in the water. Though so unfashionable, it was after all alluring. The barges and tugs, jewelled with port and starboard and mast-head lights, the vague and cliffy rank of buildings, the trailing smoke, all these the sunset dignified. Of course it was nothing but a flutter of ether waves and shifting atoms, glorified by sentimental associations. Yet it compelled attention and an irrational worship. Sometimes Paul withdrew himself from it into his evening paper, resentful of this insidious romanticism. Sometimes he yielded to it, excusing himself in the name of Whitehead.
If it was a night-time crossing, with the dim stars beyond the smoke and glow of London, Paul would experience that tremor of recognition, of unreasoning expectation, which through my influence the stars had ever given him, and now gave him again, tinctured with a new dread, a new solemnity.
And when at last he was at home, and, as was his custom, walking for a few minutes on the Down before going to bed, he would feel, if it were a jewelled night, the overwhelming presence of the Cosmos. It was on these occasions that I could most completely master him, and even lift him precariously to the Neptunian plane. First he would have a powerful apprehension of the earth’s rotundity, of the continents and oceans spreading beneath him and meeting under his feet. Then would I, using my best skill on the many keyboards of his brain, conjure in him a compelling perception of physical immensity, of the immensity first of the galactic universe, with its intermingling streams of stars, its gulfs of darkness; and then the huger immensity of the whole cosmos. With the eye of imagination he would perceive the scores, the millions, of other universes, drifting outwards in all directions like the fire-spray of a rocket. Then, fastening his attention once more on the stray atom earth, he would seem to see it forging through time, trailing its long wake of aeons, thrusting forward into its vaster, its more tempestuous future. I would let him glimpse that future. I would pour into the overflowing cup of his mind a torrent of visions. He would conceive and sensuously experience (as it were tropical rain descending on his bare head) the age-long but not everlasting downpour of human generations. Strange human-inhuman faces would glimmer before him and vanish. By a simple device I made these glimpsed beings intimate to him; for I permitted him ever and again to see in them something of Katherine, though mysteriously transposed. And in the strange aspirations, strange fears, strange modes of the spirit that would impose themselves upon his tortured but exultant mind I took care that he should feel the strange intimate remoteness that he knew in Katherine. With my best art I would sometimes thrash the strings of his mind to echoes of man’s last, most glorious achievement. And here again I would kindle this high theme with Katherine. Along with all this richness and splendour of human efflorescence I established in him an enduring emotional certainty that in the end is downfall and agony, then silence. This he had felt already as implicit in the nature of his own species, his own movement of the symphony; but now through my influence he knew with an absolute conviction that such must be the end also of all things human.
Often he would cry out against this fate, inwardly screaming like a child dropped from supporting arms. But little by little, as the months and years passed over him, he learned to accept this issue, to accept it at least in the deepest solitude of his own being, but not always to conduct himself in the world according to the final discipline of this acceptance.
At last there came a night when Paul, striding alone through the rough grass of the Down, facing the Pole Star and the far glow of London, wakened to a much clearer insight. One of Katherine’s children had recently been knocked over by a car and seriously hurt. Paul saw Katherine for a few moments after the accident. With shock he saw her, for she was changed. Her mouth had withered. Her eyes looked at him like the eyes of some animal drowning in a well. It was upon the evening of that day that Paul took this most memorable of all his walks upon the Down. I plied him, as so often before, with images of cosmical pain and grief, and over all of them he saw the changed face of Katherine. Suddenly the horror, the cruelty of existence burst upon him with a new and insupportable violence, so that he cried out, stumbled, and fell. It seemed to him in his agony of compassion that if only the pain of the world were his own pain it might become endurable; but it was the pain of others, and therefore he could never master it with that strange joy which he knew was sometimes his. If all pain could be made his own only, he could surely grasp it firmly and put it in its place in the exquisite pattern of things. Yet could he? He remembered that mostly he was a coward, that he could not endure pain even as well as others, that it undermined him, and left him abject. But sometimes he had indeed been able to accept its very painfulness with a strange, quiet joy.
He thought of a thing to do. He would have a careful look at this thing, pain. And so, sitting up in the grass, he took out his pocket-knife, opened the big blade, and forced the point through the palm of his left hand. Looking fixedly at the Pole Star, he twisted the blade about, while the warm blood spread over his hand and trickled on to the grass. With the first shock his body had leapt, and now it writhed. The muscles of his face twisted, he set his teeth lest he should scream. His forehead was wet and cold, and faintness surged over him; but still he looked at Polaris, and moved the knife.
Beneath the Star spread the glow of London, a pale glory over-arching the many lives. On his moist face, the wind. In his hand, grasped in the palm of his hand, the thing, pain. In his mind’s eye the face of Katherine, symbol of all compassion. And, surging through him, induced by my power in him, apprehensions of cosmical austerity.
Then it was that Paul experienced the illumination which was henceforth to rule his life. In a sudden blaze of insight he saw more deeply into his own nature and the world’s than had ever before been possible to him. While the vision lasted, he sat quietly on the grass staunching his wounded hand and contemplating in turn the many facets of his new experience. Lest he should afterwards fail to recapture what was now so exquisitely clear, he put his findings into words, which however seemed incapable of expressing more than the surrounding glow of his experience, leaving the bright central truth unspoken.
‘This pain in my hand’, he said, ‘is painful because of the interruption that has been caused in the harmonious living of my flesh. All pain is hateful in that it is an interruption, a discord, an infringement of some theme of living, whether lowly or exalted. This pain in my hand, which is an infringement of my body’s lowly living, is not, it so happens, an infringement also of my spirit. No. Entering into my spirit, this pain is a feature of beauty. My spirit? What do I really mean by that? There is first I, the minded body, or the embodied mind; and there is also my spirit. What is it? Surely it is no substantial thing. It is the music rather, which I, the instrument, may produce, and may also appreciate. My glory is, not to preserve myself, but to create upon the strings of myself the music that is spirit, in whatever degree of excellence I may; and to appreciate the music in myself and others, and in the massed splendours of the cosmos, with whatever insight I can muster. Formerly I was dismayed by the knowledge that pain’s evil was intrinsic to pain. But now I see clearly that though this is so, though pain’s evil to the pain-blinded creature is an absolute fact in the universe, yet the very evil itself may have a place in the music which spirit is. There is no music without the torture of the strings. Even the over-straining, the slow wearing out, the sudden shattering of instruments may be demanded for the full harmony of this dread music. Nay, more. In this high music of the spheres, even the heartless betrayals, the mean insufficiencies of will, common to all human instruments, unwittingly contribute by their very foulness to the intolerable, the inhuman, beauty of the music.’
By now Paul, having bound up his hand, having wiped his knife and put it away, had risen to his feet, and was walking towards home with trembling knees, pursuing his argument.
‘To make the music that spirit is, that, I now see, is the end for which all living things exist, from the humblest to the most exalted. In two ways they make it: gloriously, Purposefully, in their loyal strivings, but also shamefully, unwittingly, in their betrayals. Without Satan, with God only, how poor a universe, how trite a music! Purposefully to contribute to the music that spirit is, this is the great beatitude. It is permitted only to the elect. But the damned also, even they, contribute, though unwittingly. Purposefully to contribute upon the strings of one’s own being, and also to respond with ecstasy to the great cosmic theme inflooding from all other instruments, this is indeed the sum of duty, and of beatitude. Though in my own conduct I were to betray the music which is spirit, and in my own heart dishonour it, yet seemingly it is not in reality sullied; for it dare avail itself alike of Christ and Judas. Yet must I not betray it, not dishonour it. Yet if I do, it will not be sullied. Mystery! Purposefully to make the music that spirit is, and to delight in it! The delighting and suffering of all minded beings are within the music. Even this very profound, very still delight, this ecstasy, with which I now contemplate my hand’s pain and Katherine’s distress and the long effort and agony of the worlds, this also is a contribution to the music which it contemplates. Why am I thus chosen? I do not know. But it is irrelevant that this instrument rather than that should sound this theme and not another, create this ecstasy and not that agony. What matters is the music, that it should unfold itself through the ages, and be fulfilled in whatever end is fitting, and crowned with admiration, worship. But if it should never be rightly fulfilled, and never meetly crowned? I have indeed a very clear conviction that over the head of time the whole music of the cosmos is all the while a fulfilled perfection, the eternal outcome of the past, the present and the future. But if I am mistaken? Then if it is not perfected, it is at least very excellent. For this much my eyes have seen.’
He was now coming down the slope toward the street lamps and lighted windows. On the other side of the little valley the water-tower of the lunatic asylum rose black against the sky. He stood for a while. At that moment a faint sound came to him from across the valley. Was it a cat? Or had a dog been run over? Or was it a human sound between laughter and horror? To Paul it came as the asylum’s comment on his meditation. Or was it the comment of the whole modern age? For a while, he kept silent, then said aloud, ‘Yes, you may be right. Perhaps it is I that am mad. But if so this madness is better than sanity. Better, and more sane.’
On the following day Paul wrote a poem. It reveals the blend of intuitive exaltation and metaphysical perplexity in which he now found himself.
When a man salutes the perfection of reality
Peace invades him.
as though upon the completion of some high duty
as though his life’s task were achieved in this act of loyalty
Was the task illusory?
Is this beatitude but the complacency of self-expansion?
Or does the real, perfect formally.
yet claim for its justification and fulfilment
As a man’s love transmutes a woman.
kindling her features with an inner radiance.
does mind’s worship
transfigure the world?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00