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Full text of "Beyond Life Dizain Des Demiurges"

THE MODERN LIBRARY 



OF THE WORLD'S BEST BOOKS 



BEYOND LIFE 



Turn to the end of this volume 

for a complete list of titles 

in the Modern Library 



BEYOND LIFE 

Dizain des Demiurges 



BY 
JAMES BRANCH CABELL 

Introduction by 
GUY HOLT 




"Many a man lives a burden to the earth; 
tut a good book is the precious life-blood of 
a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up 
on purpose to a life beyond life. 9 ' 



THE MODERN LIBRARY 



PUBLISHERS :: :: NEW YORE 



Manufactured in the United States of America 
Bound fir THE MODERN LIBRARY by H. Wolff 



To 
GUY HOLT 

Garrulity again begets 
Unconscionable dreadful debts. . , 

You that have piped to-day must dance j 
Herein beholding maintenance 
Of arguments about Romance 
(Like fountains falling whence they spring) 
To you revert its eddying. 



Contents 

I WHEREIN WE APPROACH ALL AUTHORS 

AT THEIR BEST 3 

II WHICH DEALS WITH THE DEMIURGE , 23 

III WHICH HINTS AT THE WITCH- WOMAN . 55 

IV WHICH ADMIRES THE ECONOMIST . 85 
V WHICH CONSIDERS THE REACTIONARY . 127 

VI WHICH VALUES THE CANDLE . . 163 

VII WHICH INDICATES THE MOUNTEBANK . 203 

VIII WHICH CONCERNS THE CONTEMPORARY. 243 

IX WHICH DEFERS TO THE ARBITERS . . 277 

X WHEREIN WE AWAIT THE DAWN . . 323 



Introduction 



One evening, not so many years ago, an aged 
novelist of thirty-odd and an extremely young 
editor sat talking. The subject was Art, and 
it had, almost certainly, been introduced into 
the conversation by the younger of the two 
speakers. However that be, it was he, I am 
informed, who held the floor and who dis- 
coursed, with the large wisdom of his years, 
upon the duty of the artist, particularly the 
literary artist, to be "true to life"; and upon 
the obligation of the writer-as-prophet to in- 
terpret the modern world in all its complexities 
to his less perceptive fellows. This was in the 
days when the Younger British Novelists still 
merited both adjectives, and when, annually, 
in fiction, a new crop of earnest young men 
were laboriously conducted from the nursery, 
through public school and the first manifesta- 
tions of the sex-impulse, into a refined state 
of political or religious heterodoxy and some 
degree of material prosperity. These books 
almost uniformly ended on page 500, when the 
hero wad in the later twenties ; and there were 



IX 



INTRODUCTION 

four dots at the end of the last sentence of each 
to indicate that life is continuous. 

"Whereas," our young man is reported to 
have said, "your books, with their too explicit 
endings, with their prettified dialogue, and that 
dash of bitterness one finds in all of them, are 
oh, beautifully written, I grant you but 
quite, quite wrong." 

It is possible that the young man spoke less 
blatantly than is here recorded, but certainly 
he talked somewhat in this fashion, and cer- 
tainly also he concluded his strictures with a 
proposal to send one day a "rebuttal" of the 
novelist's aesthetic creed. 

That document, happily, was never written, 
although, in his letters, the novelist often 
requested it, with an eagerness prompted, I 
suspect, rather by malicious curiosity than a 
desire for enlightenment. It must have been 
nearly a year later that the novelist announced 
his intention to write a reply to "my own 
imagined version of your criticisms." And 
not long afterward there appeared upon the 
young .editor's desk a manuscript volume which 
he read with delight and amazement and a 
gratified chuckling at the astounding proper- 



INTRODUCTION 

tions to which had grown this hare that he had 
started. i&H%fr AUV,<J\I i/*^ -*- 

For the book took form eventually 
Beyond Life to which this note must serve as 
introduction ; and from a defense of an aesthetic 
creed it had developed into a discourse of 
bewildering variety and richness. But to this 
I shall recur presently. 

At this time, Mr. James Branch Cabell had 
been writing for somewhat more than fifteen 
years, in precisely that decent obscurity which 
he elsewhere prescribes as the only safe van- 
tage point from which to produce literature, 
It was an obscurity not entirely unbroken, 
however. Years before, Mark Twain had 
repeatedly spoken of his delight in the tales 
which compose the volumes of Chivalry and 
Gallantry and The Line of Love; so robust a 
voice as that of Theodore Roosevelt had praised 
CabelPs work; and even in 1904, when his first 
novel, The Eagle's Shadow appeared, there was 
much scandalized discussion of his heroine's 
character and vocabulary. He was not un- 
known to a valiant half-dozen of critics. But 
the books of the professors ignored him and the 
larger public was unaware of him. Yet dur- 
ing these fifteen years he had unperturbably 



INTRODUCTION 

gone his way, producing novels and tales of 
which not one but is marked by a cool and dis- 
criminating irony, by well-nigh impeccable 
workmanship, by, in a word, a distinction of 
thought and utterance that have made them 
unique in American literature. 

Now there is much nonsense written, both 
about the shameful neglect with which the pub- 
lic repays its artists as well as about the hero- 
ism of the man who, in the face of public indif- 
ference, continues to produce the finest work 
that is in him. The public, is, of course, under 
no obligation to be interested in art; and that 
it chose to ignore for many years the beauty of 
CabelPs work was its privilege and its loss. 
But that Cabell, whatever the reception ac- 
corded him, could have written better or worse 
than he has is a notion whose absurdity is pat- 
ent. There was in the man the impulse and the 
power to create beauty of a certain kind, and 
I doubt if any external consideration could have 
stifled the one or weakened the other. 

No less, the years before 1918 were solitary 
years, and they have left their mark upon his 
work in minor ways : in the form of a mocking 
indifference to the public, for example, and in 
an almost malicious desire to cozen his audi- 



XII 



INTRODUCTION 

ence with the portentious bits of nonsense with 
which he occasionally interlards his books. But 
the main fabric of his work is unchanged ; and 
he is today the suave apostle of spiritual 
weariness which he was always, potentially. 

Recognition came to him, of course. There 
is a tale still to be told of how Mr. Burton 
Rascoe bullied the Chicago public into reading 
Cabell 's books; of how he belabored them with 
weekly adulations of Cabell, and published, 
with a fine disregard of his readers' indiffer- 
ence, instalments of Beyond Life, which bore 
fruit in several bitte ! r controversies. Other 
writers took up the chorus and even before the 
suppression of Jurgen became a cause celebre 
coincident, in fact, with the appearance of 
Beyond Life Cabell's fame was assured. 

Yet, when the book appeared, its admirers, no 
less than those whom Cabell always arouses to 
a frenzy of annoyance, were at a loss to define 
it, and more than a little uncertain just how 
much sincerity to ascribe to its author. How, 
indeed, was one to describe the rambling dis- 
course which composed the book! What was 
one to say of so elaborate a collection of fancies, 
conceits, quaint bits of erudition, of comments 
on man, religion, the universe, and almost every 



Xlll 



INTRODUCTION 

other conceivable thing the whole masquerad- 
ing as a discussion of literary canons, and put 
into the mouth of that very John Charteris who 
had earlier been known as Mr. Cabell's favorite 
if not most reputable character? It was all so 
soberly expressed, even if one did find now and 
again a hint of malicious levity behind its 
seriousness, and builded into such a structure of 
logic, however insecurely resting upon deliber- 
ate misapprehensions, that one might well be 
at a loss how to regard it. It seemed, in brief, 
one of the most sagacious, ingratiating, suave 
and exasperating books to be discovered any- 
where; a tone poem of ideas, in which a hun- 
dred notions are blended into consonance with 
one motivating argument; but a book, withal, 
so perverse, so thoroughly pernicious in its 
point of view and its implications that it has to 
me been a matter of wonder that the authorities 
did not long ago rather turn their attention to 
Mr. Charteris 's devastating arguments than to 
Jurgen, whose only offense was that it embodied 
a plea for monogamy presented in the only 
convincing terms. 

I do the book a disservice if I seem to imply 
that it is an essay in one of the more fashion- 
able forms of gessimism, or a study of the 



INTRODUCTION 

degradation of modern conduct or ideals; or 
that it is, as the phrase goes, a "searching" or 
"pitiless" analysis of anything whatsoever. It 
is, thank heaven, none of these lugubrious aids 
to depression. For if John Charteris or his 
creator finds it impossible here to regard life 
a^f a, unif oipnly satisfying performance, he is too 
\tiffofihe* to dwell cheerlessly upon its inade- 
quacies. No, one will find here no gloomy dia- 
tribes and few admonitions. "I propose," says 
John Charteris, "to lecture to bare benches," 
on the principle that the lack of an audience will 
"lead him presently to overhear a discovery 
of his actual opinion. ' ' This he does, no more- 
And I, who have eased my conscience by warn- 
ing you of the insidiousness of these opinions, 
will leave to Charteris the actual exposition of 
them. 

For that matter, it is impossible to sum up 
in this space an argument whose essence is its 
variety. "His notion," says the anonymous 
auditor of Charteris, "was that romance con- 
trolled the minds of men: and by creating 
force-producing illusions, furthered the world's 
betterment with the forces thus brought into 
being." But, in the mouth of John Charteris, 
what a Behemoth becomes this romance, this 



xv 



INTRODUCTION 

impulse to lie pleasingly about life, this doctrine 
of "no tampering with facts," this exhortation 
to regard all things not as they are but as they 
ought to be. It is this, says Charteris, which 
enables men to achieve beyond the meagre lim- 
its of their capabilities, by blinding them alike 
to the unimportance of the task in hand and t$ 
their own incompetence. It is this^mySpia 
which alone renders unendurable the spectacle 
of beauty, of justice, or religion or love ; by 
mismanagement plunging itself into wars, or 
through sheer dulness, stumbling into a morass 
of activities whose net increment is neither 
profit nor enjoyment. And it is this paranoiac 
delusion which alone permits man to stand, im- 
potent but not wholly terrified, in a threatening 
universe, and to regard himself as its center 
and supreme achievement. In a word, it is only 
through abdication of the senses and the intel- 
lect that these attributes may function worthily. 
Thus, Mr. Charteris, in effect; but I must 
leave to the reader of the book the detection of 
the subversive ramifications of his thesis. That 
his argument is such as can be approved by no 
right thinking person is attested by the re- 
corded opinion of Mr* Floyd Dell, no less thjgf 

zvi 



INTRODUCTION 

by that of, for example, the Dean of Trinity 
College (N. C.). 

Here I must end my encroachments upon Mr. 
Cabell's domain. Yet it is interesting, first, to 
consider Mr. Cabell's other writings in the light 
of this expression of a theory of writing. For 
in literature, too, romance is a liberating force: 
and upon the creative artist the obligation to 
avoid facts is heavy and inescapable. In litera- 
ture, indeed, truthfulness to life is the supreme 
treachery, and "realism", or any attempt to 
depict men as they are rather than as shining 
beings bound on a triumphant journey to some 
not too distant goal, ie not only an act of mal- 
feasance but, also, a direct bid for unpopularity. 
Thus prudence and human need unite in coun- 
seling the writer to lie pleasingly. . . . 

Here, of course, is a somewhat novel presen- 
tation of one of the oldest of aesthetic contro- 
versies. Romance and realism, with the latter f s 
attendant progeny, of which the youngest is the 
now much cried-up " expressionism ", have been 
contending for as many generations as there 
have been men seduced by the mad impulse to 
" write perfectly of beautiful happenings"; and 
countless audiences have yawned over the spec- 

rvii 



INTRODUCTION 

tacle. Into this melee plunges Mr. Cabell, clad 
in the bright armor of the romanticist but fight- 
ing for his own hand, and, in very much the 
manner of those Welsh retainers of the third 
Edward, crawling under the horses of his fellow 
antagonists and knifing adroitly and always 
with good temper friend and foe alike. For 
Mr. Cabell has been a romanticist these twenty 
years, but his romanticism, like Jurgen's 
youth, is a queer sort of romanticism and not 
always what it appears. It is no mean tribute 
to his considerable achievement as an artist 
that his duplicity remains today largely unde- 
tected. 

I am here tempted to enlarge upon the stu- 
pendous audacity of which Cabell has been 
guilty in the creation of the little world which 
his books comprise. It is a world discoverable 
on no chart: for Fairhaven and Lichfield are 
not more easily reached than is that ancient 
Poictesme through which, long ago, went gray 
Manual and Jurgen, and where later Florian de 
Puysange followed his dark course. It is a 
world peopled in part by those who never have 
been: fantastic monsters, and women of un- 
earthly loveliness and a host of antic creatures 
whose like is not to be encountered in the world 

xviii 



INTRODUCTION 

of flesh. But in this world, too, man lies under 
an inescapable sentence of defeat; and in this 
world, too, all nobility, all happiness and all 
high endeavor stay unattainable through the 
whim of the creator of the world. 

It is as if Cabell, seeing man as the victim of 
supernal treachery, in that in him are implanted 
the noblest of desires with no possibility of 
achieving them, had emulated, in tht world of 
his own creation, this sublime injustice: as 
if he, the postulant of fortifying untruthf ulness, 
had amused himself by building a fairer world 
than men inhabit, but, with mocking humility, 
had peopled it with men, such as God made. 
For in all literature I doubt if there is a gallery 
of persons more truly molded in the likeness of 
the flesh, more consistently animated by unscru- 
pulousness, vanity, deceit, rapacity and lust, 
and more pitifully condemned to frustration in 
their nobler undertakings, than are the men 
whom Cabell has created to be the heroes of his 
tales. And this fidelity which is, of course, 
realism of a large sort, is, equally, of course, 
blasphemy. But what magnificent blasphemy! 

GUY HOLT 
New York City 
Sept. 4, 1923 

six 



I 

WE APPROACH 



So I propose to settle the matter, once for aJL In 
fact I feel myself in rather good form and about to 
shine to perhaps exceptional advantage. . . 

Hark to the fellow! . . But riddle me this, 
now, in the name of CEdipus! who wants to hear about 
your moonstruck theories? 

Such, Curly-Locks, is not the game I quest. . . I 
propose to lecture to bare branches; granted. Indeed, it 
would be base to deceive you. But is it not apparent 
even, as one might say uncivilly, to you that the 
lack of an audience breeds edifying candor in the 
speaker? and leads him presently to overhear a discovery 
of his actual opinion? 

Afhtaroth'$ Lackey 



Wherein We Approach All 
Authors at Their Best. 



WHENEVER I am in Fairhaven, if but 
in thought, I desire the company of 
John Charteris. His morals I am not 
called upon to defend, nor do I esteem myself 
really responsible therefor: and from his no- 
tions I frequently get entertainment . . . 

Besides, to visit Charteris realizes for you 
the art of retaining "an atmosphere, " because 
Willoughby Hall, to the last mullion and gable, 
is so precisely the mansion which one would 
accredit in imagination to the author of In Old 
Lichfield, and Ashtaroth's Lackey, and all those 
other stories of the gracious Southern life of 
more stately years. . . But pictures of this 
eighteenth century manor-house have been so 
often reproduced in literary supplements and 
magazines that to describe Willoughby Hall 
appears superfluous. 

Fairhaven itself, I find, has in the matter of 
"atmosphere" deteriorated rather appallingly 
since the town's northern outskirt was disfig- 



BEYOND LIFE 

ured by a powder mill. Unfamiliar persons, in 
new-looking clothes, now walk on Cambridge 
Street, with an unseemly effect of actual haste 
to reach their destination; and thus pass un- 
abashed by St. Martin's Churchyard, wherein 
they have not any great-grandparents. Imme- 
diately across the street from the churchyard 
now glitters the Colonial Moving Picture Pal- 
ace: and most of the delectable old-fashioned 
aborigines "take boarder s" (at unbelievable 
rates), and time-honored King's College rents 
out its dormitories in summer months to the 
munition workers. Then, too, everybody has 
money. . . In fine, there remains for the future 
historian who would perfectly indicate how in- 
credible were the changes wrought by recent 
years, merely to make the statement that Fair- 
haven was synchronized. For without any inter- 
mediary gradations the town has passed from 
the eighteenth to the twentieth century. 



But Willoughby Hall had remained un- 
changed since my last visit, save for the instal- 
lation of electric lights. Charteris I think it 
must have been who attended to it that these 
were so discreetly placed and shaded that no- 

4 



WE APPROACH 



where do you actually see an anachronistic 
bulb; for the wizened little fellow attaches far 
more importance to such details than does his 
wife : and on each of his mantels you may still 
find a sheaf of paper " lamp-lighter s." He 
probably rolls them himself, in his determined 
retention of " atmosphere. " 

His library and working-room, at all events, 
is a personal apartment such as does not seem 
likely ever to be much affected by extraneous 
happenings. His library opens upon a sort of 
garden, which is mostly lawn and trees: this 
side of the room I can only describe as made 
of glass; for it is all one broad tall window, 
in three compartments, with a window-seat 
beneath. To-night the shutters were closed; 
but still you were conscious of green grow- 
ing things very close at hand. . . The other 
walls are papered, as near as I remember, in a 
brown leather-like shade, obscurely patterned 
in dull gold: the bookcases ranged against 
them are flagrantly irregular in shape and 
height, and convey the impression of having 
been acquired one by one, as the increasing 
number of books in the library demanded aug- 
mented shelf -room. Above and between these 
cases are the originals of various paintings 



BEYOND LIFE 

made to illustrate the writings of John Char- 
teris: and the walls are furthermore adorned 
with numerous portraits of those whom Char- 
teris described to me as his "literary cred- 
itors. " . . This assemblage is sufficiently 
curious. . 

Here, then, we were sitting, toward nine 
o'clock on a pleasant evening in May, what 
time John Charteris apologized for having 
nothing in particular to talk about. I courte- 
ously suggested that the circumstance was 
never once aforetime known to keep him silent. 



"Ah, but then you must remember, " says 
Charteris, "that you find me a little let down 
by a rather trying day. I devoted an arduous 
morning to splashing about the room with a 
tin basin and a couple of old towels, washing 
off the glass in all my several million pictures. 
They really do get terribly dirty, what with 
their misguided owner's pertinacious efforts 
toward ruining his health by incessant 
smoking. " 

"But surely ! well, why on earth do yon 

attend to that sort of thing f " 

"For the simple reason, my dear fellow, that 

6 



WE APPROACH 

we never had a housegirl who could wash pic- 
tures without slopping the water through at 
the corners, and making unpleasant looking 
brown spots. I practically exist in here: and 
I find it worth my while to have my lair just 
what I want it, even at the cost of doing my 
own housecleaning. Picture-washing, after all, 
is not so trying as polishing the furniture. I 
do not so much mind the smell, but at times 
it seems to me there is something vaguely 
ridiculous in the spectacle of a highly gifted 
novelist sitting upon the floor and devoting all 
his undeniable ability to getting the proper 
polish on a chair leg. Besides, I am not so 
limber as I used to be." 

4 'At worst, though, Charteris, all this will 
be an interesting trait for the Authorized Bi- 
ography, when some unusually discreet per- 
son has been retained to edit and censor the 
story of your life " 

A bit forlornly he said: "Ah, yes, the story 
of my life ! That reminds me I put in the after- 
noon typing off some letters I had from a girl, 
I very emphatically decline to say how many 
years ago. I want to use her in the new book, 
and from letters, somehow, one gets more of a 
genuine accent, of a real flavor, than it is easy 



BEYOND LIFE 

to invent. Indeed, as I grow older I find it im- 
possible to 'do' a satisfactory heroine without 
a packet of old love-letters to start on and 
to work in here and there, you know, for dia- 
logue. . . Ah, but then, in that tin box just 
back of your chair, I have filed the letters 
of eight women which I have not used yet, 
and to-day I foolishly got to glancing over 
the whole budget. . . , And it was rather de- 
pressing. It made my life, on looking back, seem 
too much like a very loosely connected series of 
short stories. The thing was not sound art. 
It lacked construction, form, inevitability 
perhaps I cannot quite word what I meant 
But so many wonderful and generous women! 
and so much that once seemed so very impor- 
tant! and nothing to come of any of it! Oh, 
yes, old letters are infernal things." 

"But useful for literary purposes," I sug- 
gested, "if only one happens to be a particu- 
larly methodical and cold-blooded sort of 
ghoul." 

He shrugged. "Oh, yes, one has to be, in the 
interest of romantic art. I am afraid almost 
everything is grist for that omnivorous mill. 
It seemed to me, this afternoon at least, that 
even I was very like a character being carried 

8 



WE APPEOACH 

over from one short story to another, and then 
to yet another. And I could not but suspect 
that, so as to make me fit into my new sur- 
roundings more exactly, at every-transf er I was 
altered a bit, not always for the better. In fine, 
there seems to be an Author who coarsens and 
cheapens and will some day obliterate me, in 
order to serve the trend of some big serial he 
has in course of publication. For as set against 
that, I am of minor importance. Indeed, it was 
perhaps simply to further this purpose that he 
created me. I wonder T" 

"Your notion, " I observed, with dignity, 
"has been elsewhere handled " 

"But it has not been disposed of," retorted 
Charteris, "and it will never down. The riddle 
of the Author and his puppets, and of their 
true relations, stays forever unanswered. And 
no matter from what standpoint you look at it, 
there seems an element of unfairness. . ." 

"The Author works according to his 
creed " 

"But we do not know what it is. We cannot 
even guess. Ah, I dare say you wonder quite 
as often as I do what the Author is up to." 
And I regarded the little man with real tender- 
ness : for I saw that he justified the far-fetched 

9 



BEYOND LIFE 



analogue I had aforetime employed in speaking 
of John Charteris, when I likened him to a quiz- 
zical black parrot . . . 

4 

"Probably no author," I suggested, "can 
ever, quite, put his actual working creed into 
any hard and fast words that satisfy him." 

"But no self -respecting author, my dear man, 
has ever pretended to put anything into words 
that satisfied him." 

"Well, for one, I write my books as well as 
I can. I have my standards, undoubtedly, and 
I value them " 

"You tell us, in effect, that Queen Anne is 
dead." 

"And I believe them to be the standards of 
every person that ever wrote a * re-readable 
book. Yet I question if I could tell you pre- 
cisely what these standards are." 

"They are very strikingly exemplified, how- 
ever" and John Charteris waved his hand, 
"on every side of us. But how can you hope 
to judge of books, who have never read any 
author in the only satisfactory edition!" . . 

5 

For we were sitting, I may repeat, in his 

10 



WE APPROACH 

library at Willoughby Hall, where I had often 
been before. But I had never thought to ex- 
amine his bookshelves, as I did now . . . 

"Why, what on earth, Charteris ! The 

Complete Works of David Copperfield: 
CBuvres de Lucien de Rubempre: Novels 
and Tales of Mark Ambient: Novels of Titus 
Scrope: The Works of Arthur Pendennis: 
Complete Writings of Eustace Cleever : Works 
of Bartholomew Josselin: Poems of Gervase 
Poore: The Works of Colney Durance:" 
hastily I ran over some of the titles. "Why, 
what on earth are all these library sets?" 

"That section of the room is devoted to the 
books of the gifted writers of Bookland. You 
will observe it is extensive; for the wonderful 
literary genius is by long odds the most com- 
mon character in fiction. You will find all my 
books over there, I may diffidently remark." 

"H'm, yes," said I, "no doubt!" 

But I was inspecting severally Lord Ben- 
dish's Billiad and The Wanderer; and A Man 
of Words, by Felix Wildmay; and The Amber 
Statuette, by Lucien Taylor; and the Collected 
Essays of Ernest Pontifex; and in particular, 
an interesting publication entitled The Nunga- 
pimga Book, by G. B. Torpenhow, with Numer- 

11 



BEYOND LIFE 

ous Illustrations by Richard Heldar .... 
And I even looked provisionally into An 
Essay upon Castrametation, with some particu- 
lar Remarks upon the Vestiges of Ancient 
Fortifications lately discovered by the Author 
at the Kaim of Kinprwes . . . 



Then I became aware of further food for 
wonder. " Why, but what's this Sophia Scar- 
let, The Shovels of Newton French, Cannon- 
mills, The Rising Sun You seem to have a lot 
of Stevenson's I never heard of." 

" Those shelves contain the cream of the 
unwritten books the masterpieces that were 
planned and never carried through. Of them 
also, you perceive, there are a great many. In- 
deed, a number of persons who never published 
a line have contributed to that section. Yes, 
that is Thackeray's mediaeval romance of Agin- 
court. Dickens, as you see, has several novels 
there: perhaps The Young Person and The 
Children of the Fathers are the best, but they r 
all belong to his later and failing period " 

"But the unwritten books appear to ran 
largely to verso " 

12 



WE APPROACH 

" 'For many men are poets in their youth', 
and in their second childhood also. That 
Keats' epic thing is rather disappointing: and, 
for one, I cannot agree with Hawthorne's friend 
that it contains 'the loftiest strains which have 
been heard on earth since Milton's day.' Mil- 
ton's own King Arthur, by the by, is quite his 

most readable performance. And that? oh, 

yes, the oomplete Christabel falls off toward the 
end and becomes fearfully long-winded. And 
the last six books of The Faery Queen and the 
latter Canterbury Tales are simply beyond hu- 
man patience " 

i * Then too there is a deal of drama. But 
what is Sheridan doing in this galley?" 

"Why, that volume is an illustrated edition 
of Sheridan's fine comedy, Affectation, which 
he mulled over during the last thirty years of 
his life : and it is undisputedly his masterpiece. 
The main treasure of my library, though, is 
that unbound collection of the Unwritten Plays 
of Christopher Marlowe." 

7 

"This part of the room, at least " for T 
pas still nosing about "appears to exhibit 
cinch the usual lot of standard books " 

IS 



BEYOND LIFE 

"Ah, if those only were the ordinary stand- 
ards for inducing sleep I" and Charteris 
shrugged. "Instead, those are the books with 
which you are familiar, as the authors meant 
them to be." 

"Then even Shakespeare came an occasional 
cropper 1" 

"Oh, that is the 1599 version of Troilus and 
Cressida the only edition in which the play is 
anything like comprehensible . . . You have 
no idea how differently books read in the In- 
tended Edition. Why, even your own books," 
added Charteris, "in that Intended Edition 
yonder, issued through Knappe & Dreme who 
bring out, indeed, the only desirable edition of 
most authors are such as you might read with 
pleasure, and even a mild degree of pride." 

"Go on!" said I, "for now I know you are 
talking nonsense." 

"Upon my word," said he, "I really mean 
it" . . 

8 

Then, and then only, did I comprehend the 
singularity of that unequalled collection of 
literary masterpieces. . . "Man, man!" I 
said, in envy, "if I had shared your oppor- 

14 



WE APPROACH 

tunities I would know well enough what a booh 
ought to be. I might even be able to formulate 
the aesthetic creed of which I was just 
speaking. " 

"I have heard, though, " said Charteris, with 
a grin, "that a quite definite sort of a some- 
thing in this line has been accomplished. How 
was it Mr. Wilson Follett summed it up? Oh, 
yes! 'Reduced to baldness, the argument is 
this : Since first-class art has never reproduced 
its own contemporary background (for some 
reason or other the romanticist does not ad- 
duce Jane Austen in support of this truism), 
and since the novel of things-as-they-are calls 
for no constructive imagination whatever in 
author or reader, the present supply of " real- 
ism " is nothing but the publisher's answer to 
a cheap and fickle demand; and since the im- 
aginative element in art is all but everything, 
the only artist who has a chance of longevity 
is he who shuns the " vital ", the "gripping", 
and the contemporary/ Surely, that ought to 
be a creed quite definite enough for anybody 
accused of being committed to it." 

"Quite," I conceded "especially since the 
charge is laid by a person whose dicta I am 
accustomed to revere and, elsewhere, to delight 

15 



BEYOND LIFE 

in. Now to me that creed, as originally stated, 
read infinitely plainer than a pikestaff. Yet you 
see what an actually noteworthy critic like Mr. 
Follett makes of it : whereas, to the other side, 
one of the least frivolous of our comic weeklies, 
The Independent, described that very exposi- 
tion of romantic ideals as * fatuous'; and The 
New York Times was moved to mild deploring 
that the thing had not been suppressed. So I 
am afraid it was not put with entire exactness 
after all" 

Charteris reflected. "At least, " he said, in 
a while, "I would not have phrased it quite 
in Mr. Follett 's manner, which reduces to bald- 
ness an argument that is entitled to hair- 
splitting. For nothing, even remotely, can 
compare with romance in importance. I 
am not speaking merely of that especial 
manifestation of romance which is sold in 
book-form. . . Well, as you may recall, I have 
been termed the founder of the Economist 
school of literature. I accept the distinction for 
what it is worth, and probably for a deal more. 
And I believe the Economist creed as to the 
laws of that 'life beyond life' which Mil- 
ton attributes to good books could be ex- 
plicitly stated in a few minutes. Of course, it 

16 



WE APPROACH 

does require a little reading-up, in some library 
not less well stocked than mine with the really 
satisfactory editions. " 

"Then do you state it," I exhorted, "and 
save me the trouble of puzzling over it any 
longer. " . . It was then a trifle after nine 
in the evening. . . 

"Off-hand," began John Charteris, "I would 
say that books are best insured against oblivion 
through practise of the auctorial virtues of 
distinction and clarity, of beauty and sym- 
metry, of tenderness and truth and ur- 
banity. . ." 



But as you may hereinafter observe if such 
be your will he did not explain his theories 
"in a few minutes." In fact, the little man 
talked for a long while, even until dawn; and 
as it appeared to me, not always quite con- 
sistently. And he seemed to take an impish 
delight in his own discursiveness, ,as he ran 
on, in that wonderfully pleasing voice of his: 
and he shifted from irony to earnestness, and 
back again, so irresponsibly that I was not 
always sure of his actual belief. 

Thus it was that John Charteris discoursed, 

17 



BEYOND LIFE 

as he sat there, just beyond the broad and 
gleaming expanse of desk-top, talking, interm- 
inably talking. The hook-nosed little fellow 
looks, nowadays, incredibly withered and an- 
cient : one might liken him to a Pharaoh newly 
unwrapped were it not for his very unregal 
restlessness. And his eyes, too, stay young and 
a trifle puzzled. . . So Charteris talked: and 
animatedly he twisted in his swivel-chair, now 
toward me, now toward the unabridged dic- 
tionary mounted on a stand at his right elbow, 
and now toward the ashtray at his left. For of 
course he smoked I do not pretend to estimate 
how many cigarettes . . . Meanwhile he 
talked : and he talked in very much that redun- 
dant and finicky and involved and inverted 
" style " of his writings; wherein, as you have 
probably noted, the infrequent sentence which 
does not begin with a connective or with an 
adverb comes as a positive shock. . . 

And sometimes he talked concerning men 
who haye made literature, and spoke sensibly 
enough, although with a pervasive air of 
knowing more than anyone else ever did. And 
sometimes he discoursed enigmas, concerning 
the power of romance, which he pretentiously 
called "the demiurge ", as being a world- 



WE APPROACH 

shaping and world-controlling principle: and 
this appeared a plausible tenet when advanced 
by Charteris, if only because he declared 
himself to be a character out of romantic fie- 
tion; but I have since been tempted to ques- 
tion the theory's quite general application. 
And he talked a deal, too, concerning the "dy- 
namic illusions " evolved by romance, which 
phrase I still consider unhappy, for all that 
deliberation suggests no synonym. . . 

10 

His notion, as I followed him, was that ro- 
mance controlled the minds of men; and by 
creating force-producing illusions, furthered 
the world's betterment with the forces thus 
brought into being: so that each generation of 
naturally inert mortals was propelled toward 
a higher sphere and manner of living, by the 
might of each generation's ignorance and 
prejudices and follies and stupidities, benefi- 
cently directed. To me this sounded in every 
way Economical. And as he ran on, I really 
seemed to glimpse, under the spell of that 
melodious voice, romance and "realism" as 
the contending Ormuzd and Ahrimanes he 

19 



BEYOND LIFE 

depicted; and the ends for which these two con- 
tended as not merely scriptorial. . . 

But I too run on. It is more equitable to 
let John Charteris speak for himself, and ex- 
press uninterruptedly the creed of what he 
called the Economist theory, as to literature 
and human affairs in general. . . 



II 

THE DEMIURGE 



What is man, that his welfare be considered f an 
ape who chatters to himself of kinship with the archangels 
while filthily he digs for groundnuts. . . . 

Yet more clearly do I perceive that this same man 
is a maimed god. ... He is under penalty condemned 
to compute eternity with false weights and to estimate 
infinity with a yardstick; and he very often docs it. ... 

There lies the choice which every man must make 
or rationally to accept his own limitations? or stupen- 
dously to play the fool and swear that he is at will 
omnipotent? 

Dizain des Beines 



II 

Which Deals with the Demiurge 



OFF-HAND (began John Charteris) I 
would say that books are best insured 
against oblivion through practise of the 
auctorial virtues of distinction and clarity, of 
beauty and symmetry, of tenderness and truth 
arid urbanity. That covers the ground, I 
think: and so it remains merely to cite sup- 
porLiii; instances here and there, by mention- 
ing a few writers who have observed these 
requirements, and thus to substantiate my 
formula without unnecessary divagation . . . 
Therefore I shall be very brief. And even 
so, I imagine, you will not be inclined to listen 
to much of what I am about to say, if only 
because, like most of us, you are intimidated 
by that general attitude toward culture and the 
humanities which has made of American litera- 
ture, among foreign penmen, if not precisely 
an object of despairing envy, at least of feel- 
ing comment. In particular, I imagine that 
my frequent references to the affairs and 

23 



BEYOND LIFE 

people of fled years will annoy you, since the 
American book-purchaser shies from such 
pedantic, and indeed from any, allusion to the 
past, with that distrust peculiar to persons 
with criminal records. In fact, this murderer, 
too, is often haunted, I dare say, by memories 
of his victim, in thinking of the time he has 
killed, whether with the "uplifting" or with 
the "daring" current novels of yesterday. 

But you perceive, I trust, that your personal 
indifference, and the lazy contempt of America 
as a whole, toward art matters no more affects 
the eternal verity and the eternal importance 
of art than do the religious practises of Abys- 
sinia, say, affect the verity and importance of 
the New Testament. You perceive, I trust, that 
you ought to be interested in art matters, 
whatever is your actual emotion. You under- 
stand, in fine as a mere abstract principle 
what your feeling "ought to be." Well, it is 
precisely that tendency to imagine yourself and 
your emotions as these things "ought to be" 
which convicts you, over any verbal disclaimer, 
of a vital interest in art matters : and it is that 
tendency about which I propose to speak very 
briefly. . . 
And yet, so insidious is the influence of 

24 



THE DEMIURGE 

general opinion, even when manifested as plain 
unreason, that I confess I myself, whenever 
anyone talks of "art" and "aesthetic the- 
ories", am inclined to find him vaguely ridicu- 
lous, and seem to detect in every word he utters 
a flavor of affectation. So should you prove 
quite as susceptible as I to the herd-instinct I 
shall have no ground for complaint. Mean- 
while in theory without of necessity accom- 
panying my friend Felix Eennaston all the way 
to his conclusion that the sum of corporeal life 
represents an essay in romantic fiction, I can 
perceive plainly enough that the shape-giving 
principle of all sentient beings is artistic. That 
is a mere matter of looking at living creatures 
and noticing their forme. . . But the prin- 
ciple goes deeper, in that it shapes too the 
minds of men, by this universal tendency to 
imagine and to think of as in reality existent 
all the tenants of earth and all the affairs 
of earth, not as they are, but "as they ought 
to be". And so it comes about that romance 
has invariably been the demiurgic and bene- 
ficent force, not merely in letters, but in every 
matter which concerns mankind ; and that "real- 
ism", with its teaching that the mile-posts 
along the road are as worthy of consideration 

25 



BEYOND LIFE 

as the goal, has always figured as man's chief 
enemy. . 



Indeed, that scathing criticism which So- 
phocles passed, however anciently on a con- 
temporary, remains no less familiar than sig- 
nificant, "He paints men as they are: I paint 
them as they ought to be." It is aside from 
the mark that in imputing such veracity to 
Euripides the singer of Colonos was talking 
nonsense: the point is that Sophocles saw 
clearly what was the one unpardonable sin 
against art and human welfare. 

For the Greeks, who were nurtured among 
art's master-works, recognized, with much of 
that perturbing candor wherewith children 
everywhere appraise their associates, that 
gracefully to prevaricate about mankind and 
human existence was art's signal function. As 
a by-product of this perception, Hellenic litera- 
ture restrained its endeavors, quite naturally, 
to embroidering events that were incontest- 
able because time had erased the evidence for 
or against their actual occurrence: and poets 
evoked protagonists worth noble handling from 
bright mists of antiquity, wherethrough, as far 



THE DEMIURGE 

as went existent proofs, men might in reality 
have moved ' ' as they ought to be ' '. Thus, even 
Homer, the most ancient of great verbal artists, 
elected to deal with legends that in his day were 
venerable: and in Homer when Ajax lifts a 
stone it is with the strength of ten warriors, 
and Odysseus, when it at all promotes the 
progress of the story, becomes invisible. It 
seems upon the whole less probable that 
Homer drew either of these accomplishments 
from the actual human life about him, than 
from simple consciousness that it would be very 
gratifying if men could do these things. And, 
indeed, as touches enduring art, to write 
"with the eye upon the object " appears a rela- 
tively modern pretence, perhaps not uncon- 
nected with the coetaneous phrase of "all my 
eye." 

Then, when the Attic drama came to flower- 
age, the actors were masked, so that their fea- 
tures might display unhuman perfection; and 
were mounted upon cothurni, to lend impres- 
siveness to man's physical mediocrity; and 
were clothed in draperies which philanthropic- 
ally eclipsed humanity's frugal graces. In 
painting or sculpture, where the human body 
could be idealized with a free hand, the Greek 

27 



BEYOND LIFE 

rule was nakedness: in drama, where the 
artist's material was incorrigible flesh, there 
was nothing for it save to disguise the uncap- 
tivating groundwork through some discreet 
employment of fair apparel. Thus only eould 
the audience be hoodwinked into forgetting 
for a while what men and women really looked 
like. So in drama Theseus declaimed in im- 
perial vestments, and in sculpture wore at the 
very most a fig-leaf. It is hardly necessary to 
point out that the Greeks shared few of our 
delusions concerning " decency ": for, of course, 
they had no more moral aversion to a man's 
appearing naked in the street than to a toad's 
doing so, and objected simply on the ground 
that both were ugly. So they resolutely wrote 
about and carved and painted, for that 
matter men "as they ought to be" doing 
such things as it would be gratifying for men 
to do if these feats were humanly possible. . . 
And in the twilit evening of Greek literature 
you will find Theocritus clinging with unshaken 
ardor to unreality, and regaling the townfolk 
of Alexandria with tales of an improbable 
Sicily, where the inhabitants are on terms of 
friendly intimacy with Cyclopes, water-nymphs 
and satyrs. 



THE DEMIURGE 



Equally in the Middle Ages did literature 
avoid deviation into the credible. When carpets 
of brocade were spread in April meadows it 
was to the end that barons and ladies might 
listen with delight to peculiarly unplausible 
accounts of how Sire Roland held the pass at 
Roncevaux single-handed against an army, and 
of Lancelot's education at the bottom of a pond 
by elfin pedagogues, and of how Virgil builded 
Naples upon eggshells. When English-speak- 
ing tale-tellers began to concoct homespun 
romances they selected such themes as Bevis 
of Southampton's addiction to giant-killing, 
and Guy of Warwick's encounter with a man- 
eating cow eighteen feet long, and the exploits 
of Thomas of Reading, who exterminated an 
infinity of dragons and eloped with Prester 
John's daughter after jilting the Queen of 
Fairyland. Chaucer, questionless, was so in- 
judicious as to dabble in that muddy stream 
of contemporaneous happenings which time 
alone may clarify: but the parts of Chaucer 
that endure are a Knight's story of mytho- 
logical events, a Prioress's unsubstantiated 
account of a miracle, a Nun's Priest's anticipa- 

29 



BEYOND LIFE 

tion of Rostand's barnyard fantasy, and a ream 
or two of other delightful flimflams. From his 
contemporaries Chaucer got such matter as the 
Miller's tale of a clerk's misadventures in 
osculation. 



But with the invention of printing, thoughts 
spread so expeditiously that it became possible 
to acquire quite serviceable ideas without the 
trouble of thinking: and very few of us since 
then have cared to risk impairment of our 
minds by using them. A consequence was that, 
with inaction, man's imagination in general 
grew more sluggish, and demurred, just as 
mental indolence continues to balk, over the 
exertion of conceiving an unfamiliar locale, in 
any form of art. The deterioration, of course, 
was gradual, and for a considerable while 
theatrical audiences remained receptively illit- 
erate. And it seems at first sight gratifying 
to note that for a lengthy period Marlowe was 
the most " popular" of the Elizabethan play- 
wrights: for in Marlowe's superb verse there 
is really very little to indicate that the writer 
had ever encountered any human beings, and 
certainly nothing whatever to show that he had 

30 



THE DEMIURGE 

seriously considered this especial division of 
fauna: whereas all his scenes are laid some- 
where a long way west of the Hesperides. Yet 
Marlowe's popularity, one cannot but suspect, 
was furthered by unsesthetic aids, in divers 
"comic" scenes which time has beneficently 
destroyed. At all events, complaisant dram- 
atists, out of a normal preference for butter 
with their daily bread, soon began to romance 
about contemporary life. It is not Shakes- 
peare's least claim to applause that he sedu- 
lously avoided doing anything of the sort. To 
the other side, being human, Shakespeare was 
not untainted by the augmenting trend toward 
"realism", and in depicting his fellows was 
prone to limit himself to exaggeration of their 
powers of fancy and diction. This, as we now 
know, is a too sparing employment of untruth- 
fulness : and there is ground for sharp arraign- 
ment of the imbecility attributed to Lear, and 
Othello, and Hamlet, and Macbeth, and Borneo 
to cite only a few instances, by any candid 
estimate of their actions, when deprived of the 
transfiguring glow wherewith Shakespeare in- 
vests what is being done, by evoking a haze 
of lovely words. For really, to go mad be- 
cause a hostess resents your bringing a hun- 

31 



BEYOND LIFE 

dred servants on a visit, or to murder your 
wife because she has misplaced a handkerchief, 
is much the sort of conduct which is daily 
chronicled by the morning-paper; and in char- 
ity to man's self-respect should be restricted 
to the ostentatious impermanence of journal- 
ism. But at bottom Shakespeare never dis- 
played any very hearty admiration for human- 
ity as a race, and would seem to have found 
not many more commendable traits in general 
exercise among mankind than did the authors 
of the Bible. 

Few of the art-reverencing Elizabethans, 
however, handled the surrounding English life : 
when they dealt with the contemporaneous it 
was with a reassuringly remote Italian back- 
ground, against which almost anything might 
be supposed to happen, in the way of pictur- 
esque iniquity and poisoned wine : so that they 
composed with much of that fine irresponsi- 
bility wherewith American journalists expose 
the court-life of Madrid. But the Jacobean 
drama tended spasmodically toward untruths 
about its audience's workaday life, with such de- 
pressing results as Hyde Park, The Roarmg 
Girl and The New Inn, by men who in the field 
of unrestricted imagination had showed them- 

32 



THE DEMIURGE 
selves to be possessed of genuine ability. 

5 

Then came the gallant protest of the Res- 
toration, when Wycherley and his successors 
in drama, commenced to write of contemporary 
life in much the spirit of modern musical com- 
edy, which utilizes a fac-simile of the New 
York Pennsylvania Railway Station, or of the 
Capitol at Washington, as an appropriate 
setting for a ballet and a comedian's colloquy 
with the orchestra leader. Thus here the scenes 
are in St. James's Park, outside Westminster, 
in the New Exchange, and in other places 
familiar to the audience; and the characters 
barter jokes on current events: but the laws 
of the performers' mimic existence are frankly 
extra-mundane, and their antics, in Restoration 
days as now, would have subjected them to im- 
mediate arrest upon the auditorial side of foot- 
lights. A great deal of queer nonsense has 
been printed concerning the comedy of Gal- 
lantry, upon the startling assumption that its 
authors copied the life about them. It is true 
that Wyeherley, in this the first of English 
authors to go astray, began the pernicious 
practise of depicting men as being not very 

33 



BEYOND LIFE 

much better than they actually are: of that I 
will speak later : but Wycherley had the saving 
grace to present his men and women as tram- 
meled by the social restrictions of Cloud- 
Cuckoo-Land alone. And, were there nothing 
else, it seems improbable that Congreve, say, 
really believed that every young fellow spoke 
habitually in terms of philosophic wit and 
hated his father ; and that every old hunks pos- 
sessed, more or less vicariously, a beautiful 
second wife; and that people married without 
licenses, or, indeed, without noticing very par- 
ticularly whom they were marrying; and that 
monetary competence and happiness and all- 
important documents, as well as a sudden turn 
for heroic verse, were regularly accorded to 
everybody toward eleven o'clock in the evening. 



Thus far the illiterate ages, when as yet so 
few persons could read that literature tended 
generally toward the acted drama. The stage 
could supply much illusory assistance, in the 
way of pads and wigs and grease-paints and 
soft lightings, toward making men appear he- 
roic and women charming: but, after all, the 
roles were necessarily performed by human 

84 



THE DEMIURGE 

beings, and the charitable deceit was not con- 
tinuous. The audience was ever and anon being 
reminded, against its firm-set will, that men 
were mediocre creatures. 

Nor could the poets, however rapidly now 
multiplied their verse-books, satisfactorily de- 
lude their patrons into overlooking this un- 
pleasant fact. For one reason or another, men 
as a whole have never taken kindlily to printed 
poetry: most of us are unable to put up with 
it at all, and even to the exceptional person 
verse after an hour's reading becomes unac- 
countably tiresome. Prose for no very patent 
cause is much easier going. So the poets 
proved ineffectual comforters, who could but 
rarely be-drug even the few to whom then 
charms did not seem gibberish. 

With the advent of the novel, all this was 
changed. Not merely were you relieved from 
metrical fatigue, but there came no common- 
place flesh-and-blood to give the lie to the 
artist's pretensions. It was possible, really for 
the first time, acceptably to present in litera- 
ture men "as they ought to be." Richardson 
could dilate as unrestrainedly as he pleased 
upon the super-eminence in virtue and sin, re- 
spectively, of his Grandison and his Lovelace 

35 



BEYOND LIFE 

emboldened by the knowledge that there was 
nothing to check him off save the dubious 
touchstone of his reader's common-sense. 
Fielding was not only able to conduct a broad- 
shouldered young ruffian to fortune and a lovely 
wife, but could moreover endow Tom Jones 
with all sorts of heroic and estimable qualities 
such as (in mere unimportant fact) rascals do 
not display in actual life. When the novel suc- 
ceeded the drama it was no longer necessary for 
the artist to represent human beings with even 
partial veracity: and this new style of writing 
at once became emblematic. 

And so it has been ever since. Novelists 
have severally evolved their pleasing symbols 
wherewith approximately to suggest human be- 
ings and the business of human life, much as 
remote Egyptians drew serrated lines to con- 
vey the idea of water and a circle to indicate 
eternity. The symbols have often varied: but 
there has rarely been any ill-advised attempt to 
depict life as it seems in the living of it, or 
to crystallize the vague notions and feeble sen- 
sations with which human beings, actually, 
muddle through to an epitaph; if only because 
all sensible persons, obscurely aware that this 
routine is far from what it ought to be, have 

36 



THE DEMIURGE 

always preferred to deny its existence. And 
moreover, we have come long ago to be guided 
in any really decisive speech or action by what 
we have read somewhere; and so, may fairly 
claim that literature should select (as it does) 
such speeches and such actions as typical of 
our essential lives, rather than the gray inter- 
stices, which we perforce fill in extempore, and 
botch. 

As concerns the novelists of the day before 
yesterday, this evasion of veracity is already 
more or less conceded: the "platitudinous he- 
roics " of Scott and the "exaggerated senti- 
mentalism" of Dickens are notorious in quite 
authoritative circles whose ducdame is the hon- 
est belief that art is a branch of pedagogy. 
Thackeray, as has been pointed out elsewhere, 
avoids many a logical outcome of circumstance, 
when recognition thereof would be inconvenient, 
by killing off somebody and blinding the reader 
with a tear-drenched handkerchief. And when 
we sanely appraise the most cried-up writer of 
genteel "realism", matters are not conducted 
much more candidly. Here is a fair sample : 
"From the very beginning of my acquaintance 
with you, your manners, impressing me with 
the fullest belief of your arrogance, your con- 

37 



BEYOND LIFE 

ceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings 
of others, were such as to form that ground- 
work of disapprobation on which succeeding 
events have built so immovable a dislike, and 
I had not known you a month before I felt that 
you were the last man in the world whom I 
could ever be prevailed on to marry." It is 
Miss Austen 's most famous, most beloved, and 
most "natural" character replying not by 
means of a stilted letter, but colloquially, under 
the stress of emotion to a proposal of mar- 
riage by the man she loves. This is a crisis 
which in 'human life a normal young woman 
simply does not meet with any such rhetorical 
architecture. . . So there really seems small 
ground for wonder that Mr. Darcy observed, 
"You have said quite enough, madam"; and 
no cause whatever for surprise that he hastily 
left the room, and was heard to open the front- 
door and quit the house. . . Yet, be it forth- 
with added, Scott and Dickens and Thackeray, 
and even Miss Austen, were in the right, from 
one or another aesthetic standpoint, in thus 
variously editing and revising their contem- 
poraries* unsatisfactory disposition of life. 
Indeed, upon no plea could they be bound to 
emulate malfeasance. 

38 



THE DEMIURGE 

Criticism as to the veracity of more recent 
writers is best dismissed with the well-merited 
commendation that novelists to-day continue 
rigorously to respect the Second Command- 
ment. Meanwhile it may, with comparative 
safety, be pointed out that no interred writer 
of widely conceded genius has ever displayed 
in depicting the average of human speech and 
thought and action, and general endowments, 
such exactness as would be becoming in an affi- 
davit; but rather, when his art touched on 
these dangerous topics, has regarded romantic 
prevarication as a necessity. The truth about 
ourselves is the one truth, above all others, 
which we are adamantine not to face. And this 
determination springs, not wholly from vanity, 
but from a profound race-sense that by such 
denial we have little to lose, and a great deal 
to gain. 



For, as has been said before, an inveterate 
Sophocles notes clearly that veracity is the 
one unpardonable sin, not merely against art, 
but against human welfare. . . . Ton will 
observe that the beginnings of fiction every- 
where, among all races, take with curious un- 

39 



BEYOND LIFE 

animity the same form. It is always the history 
of the unlooked-for achievements and the ulti- 
mate very public triumph of the ill-used young- 
est son. From the myth of Zeus, third son of 
Chronos, to the third prince of the fairy-tale, 
there is no exception. Everywhere it is to the 
despised weakling that romance accords the 
final and very public victory. For in the life- 
battle for existence it was of course the men 
of puniest build who first developed mental 
ability, since hardier compeers, who took with 
bloodied hands that which they wanted, had 
no especial need of less reliable makeshifts: 
and everywhere this weakling, quite naturally, 
afforded himself in imagination what the force 
of circumstance denied him in fact. Competent 
persons, then as now, had neither the time nor 
ability for literature. 

By and bye a staggering stroke of genius 
improved the tale by adding the handicap of 
sex-weakness: and Cinderella (whom romance 
begot and deified as Psyche) straightway led 
captive every dreamer's hitherto unvoiced de- 
sire. This is the most beloved story in the 
world's library, and, barring a tremendous 
exception to which I shall presently return, will 
always remain without rival. Any author any- 

40 



THE DEMIUBaE 

where can gain men's love by remodeling (not 
too drastically) the history of Cinderella: thou- 
sands of calligraphic persons have, of course, 
availed themselves of this fortunate circum- 
stance: and the seeming miracle is that the 
naive and the most sophisticated continue to 
thrill, at each re-telling of the hackneyed story, 
with the instant response of fiddlestrings, to 
an interpretation of life which one is tempted 
to describe as fiddlesticks. Yet an inevitable 
very public triumph of the downtrodden with 
all imaginable pomp and fanfare is of neces- 
sity a tenet generally acceptable to a world of 
ineffectual inhabitants, each one of whom is a 
monarch of dreams incarcerated in a prison of 
flesh; and each of whom is hourly fretted, no 
less by the indifference of nature to his plight, 
than by the irrelevancy thereto of those social 
orderings he dazedly ballots into existence. . . 
Christianity, with its teaching that the op- 
pressed shall be exalted, and the unhappy made 
free of eternal bliss, thus came in the nick of 
occasion, to promise what the run of men were 
eager to believe. Such a delectable prospect, 
irrespective of its plausibility, could not in the 
nature of things fail to become popular: as 
has been strikingly attested by man's wide 

41 



BEYOND LIFE 

acceptance of the rather exigent requirements 
of Christianity, and his honest endeavors ever 
since to interpret them as meaning whatever 
happens to be convenient. 

In similar fashion, humanity would seem at 
an early period to have wrenched comfort from 
prefiguring man as the hero of the cosmic ro- 
mance. For it was unpleasantly apparent that 
man did not excel in physical strength, as set 
against the other creatures of a planet whereon 
may be encountered tigers and elephants. His 
senses were of low development, as compared 
with the senses of insects: and, indeed, senses 
possessed by some of these small contempor- 
aries man presently found he did not share, nor 
very clearly understand. The luxury of wings, 
and even the common comfort of a caudal ap- 
pendage, was denied him. He walked painfully, 
without hoofs, and, created naked as a shelled 
almond, with difficulty outlived a season of in- 
clement weather. Physically, he displayed in not 
a solitary trait a product of nature's more am- 
bitious labor. . . He, thus, surpassed the rest 
of vital creation in nothing except, as was begin- 
ning to be rumored, the power to reason; and 
even so, was apparently too magnanimous to 
avail himself of the privilege. 

42 



THE DEMIURGE 

But to acknowledge such disconcerting facts 
would never do: just as inevitably, therefore, 
as the peafowl came to listen with condescen- 
sion to the nightingale, and the tortoise to de- 
plore the slapdash ways of his contemporaries, 
man probably began very early to regale him- 
self with flattering narratives as to his nature 
and destiny. Among the countless internecine 
animals that roamed earth, puissant with claw 
and fang and sinew, an ape reft of his tail, and 
grown rusty at climbing, was the most formid- 
able, and in the end would triumph. It was of 
course considered blasphemous to inquire into 
the grounds for this belief, in view of its patent 
desirability, for the race was already human. 
So the prophetic portrait of man treading 
among cringing pleosauri to browbeat a fright- 
ened dinosaur was duly scratched upon the 
cave's wall, and art began forthwith to accredit 
human beings with every trait and destiny 
which they desiderated. . . 

And so to-day, as always, we delight to 
hear about invincible men and women of un- 
earthly loveliness corrected and considerably 
augmented versions of our family circle, per- 
forming feats illimitably beyond our modest 
powers. And so to-day no one upon the prefer- 

43 



BEYOND LIFE 

able side of Bedlam wishes to be reminded of 
what we are in actuality, even were it possible, 
by any disastrous miracle, ever to dispel the 
mist which romance has evoked about all human 
doings ; and to the golden twilight of which old 
usage has so accustomed us that, like nocturnal 
birds, our vision grows perturbed in a clearer 
atmosphere. And we have come very firmly 
to believe in the existence of men everywhere, 
not as in fact they are, but "as they ought to 
be". 

8 

Now art, like all the other noteworthy factors 
in this remarkable world, serves in the end 
utilitarian purposes. When a trait is held up 
as desirable, for a convincingly long while, the 
average person, out of self-respect, pretends to 
possess it: with time, he acts letter-perfect as 
one endowed therewith, and comes unshakably 
to believe that it has guided him from infancy. 
For while everyone is notoriously swayed by 
appearances, this is more especially true of his 
own appearance: cleanliness is, if not actually 
next to godliness, so far a promoter of benevo- 
lence that no man feels upon quite friendly 

44 



THE DEMIURGE 

terms with his fellow-beings when conscious 
that he needs a shave ; and if in grief yon reso- 
lutely contort your mouth into a smile you 
somehow do become forthwith aware of a con- 
siderable mitigation of misery. ... So it 
is that man's vanity and hypocrisy and lack 
of dear thinking are in a fair way to prove in 
the outcome his salvation. 

All is vanity, quoth the son of David, invert- 
ing the truth for popular consumption, as be- 
came a wise Preacher who knew that vanity is 
all. For man alone of animals plays the ape 
to his dreams. That a dog dreams vehemently 
is matter of public knowledge: it is perfectly 
possible that in his more ecstatic visions he 
usurps the shape of his master, and visits 
Elysian pantries in human form: with awak- 
ening, he observes that in point of fact he is a 
dog, and as a rational arnnrial, makes the best 
of canineship. But with man the case is other- 
wise, in that when logic leads to any humili- 
ating conclusion, the sole effect is to discredit 
logic. 

So has man's indomitable vanity made a 
harem of his instincts, and walled off a seraglio 
wherein to beget the virtues and refinements 
and all ennobling factors in man's long prog- 

45 



BEYOND LIFE 

ress from gorillaship. As has been suggested, 
creative literature would seem to have sprung 
simply from the instinct of any hurt animal 
to seek revenge, and "to get even", as the 
phrase runs, in the field of imagination when 
such revenge was not feasible in any other 
arena. . . Then, too, it is an instinct common 
to brute creatures that the breeding or even 
the potential mother must not be bitten, upon 
which modest basis a little by a little mankind 
builded the fair code of domnei, or woman- 
worship, which yet does yeoman service among 
legislators toward keeping half our citizens 
"out of the mire of politics." From the shud- 
dering dread that beasts manifest toward un- 
comprehended forces, such as wind and thun- 
der and tall waves, man developed religion, and 
a consoling assurance of divine paternity. And 
when you come to judge what he made of sexual 
desire, appraising the deed in view as against 
the wondrous overture of courtship and that 
infinity of high achievements which time has 
seen performed as grace-notes, words fail be- 
fore his egregious thaumaturgy. For after any 
such stupendous bit of hocus-pocus, there seems 
to be no limit fixed to the conjurations of human 
vanity. 

46 



THE DEMIURGE 



And these aspiring notions blended a great 
while since, into what may be termed the 
Chivalrous attitude toward life. Thus it is that 
romance, the real demiurge, the first and love- 
liest daughter of human vanity, contrives all 
those dynamic illusions which are used to fur- 
ther the ultimate ends of romance. . . The 
cornerstone of Chivalry I take to be the idea 
of vicarship: for the chivalrous person is, in 
his own eyes at least, the child of God, and 
goes about this world as his Father's repre- 
sentative in an alien country. It was very 
adroitly to human pride, through an assump- 
tion of man's personal responsibility in his 
tiniest action, that Chivalry made its appeal; 
and exhorted every man to keep faith, not 
merely with the arbitrary will of a strong god, 
but with himself. There is no cause for won- 
der that the appeal was irresistible, when to 
each man it thus admitted that he himself was 
the one thing seriously to be considered. . . 
So man became a chivalrous animal ; and about 
this flattering notion of divine vicarship builded 
his elaborate mediaeval code, to which, in essen- 
tials, a great number of persons adhere even 

47 



BEYOND LIFE 

nowadays. Questionless, however, the Chival- 
rous attitude does not very happily fit in with 
modern conditions, whereby the self-elected 
obligations of the knight-errant toward repres- 
sing evil are (in theory at all events) more 
efficaciously discharged by an organized police 
and a jury system. 

And perhaps it was never, quite, a " prac- 
tical " attitude, no, mais quel geste! as was 
observed by a pre-eminently chivalrous person. 
At worst, it is an attitude which one finds very 
taking to the fancy as the posture is exempli- 
fied by divers mediaeval chroniclers, who had 
sound notions about portraying men "as they 
ought to be". . . There is Nicolas de Caen, 
for instance, who in his Dizain des Reines 
(with which I am familiar, I confess, in the 
English version alone) presents with some 
naivete this notion of divine vicarship, in that 
he would seem to restrict it to the nobility and 
gentry. "For royal persons and their imme- 
diate associates", Dom Nicolas assumes at out- 
set, "are the responsible stewards of Heaven": 
and regarding them continuously as such, he 
selects from the lives of various queens ten 
crucial moments wherein (as Nicolas phrases 
it), "Destiny has thrust her sceptre into the 

48 



THE DEMIURGE 

hands of a human being, and left the weakling 
free to steer the pregnant outcome. Now prove 
thyself to be at bottom a god or else a beast, 
saith Destiny, and now eternally abide that 
choice. " Yet this, and this alone, when you 
come to think of it, is what Destiny says, not 
merely to " royal persons and their immediate 
associates ", but to everyone. . . And in his 
Roman de Lusignan Nicolas deals with that 
quaint development of the Chivalrous attitude 
to which I just alluded, that took form, as an 
allied but individual illusion, in domnei, or 
woman-worship; and found in a man's mistress 
an ever-present reminder, and sometimes a 
rival, of God. There is something not unpa- 
thetic in the thought that this once world-con- 
trolling force is restricted to-day to removing a 
man's hat in an elevator and occasionally com- 
pelling a surrender of his seat in a streetcar. 
. . . But this Roman de Lusignan also has 
been put into English, with an Afterword by 
the translator wherein the theories of domnei 
are rather painstakingly set forth : and thereto 
I shall presently recur, for further considera- 
tion of this illusion of domnei. 

Throughout, of course, the Chivalrous atti- 
tude was an intelligent attitude, in which 

49 



BEYOND LIFE 

one spun romances and accorded no meticu- 
lous attention to mere facts. . . For thus 
to spin romances is to bring about, in every 
sense, man's recreation, since man alone 
of animals can, actually, acquire a trait by 
assuming, in defiance of reason, that he 
already possesses it To spin romances is, in- 
deed, man's proper and peculiar function in a 
world wherein he only of created beings can 
make no profitable use of the truth about him- 
self. For man alone of animals plays the ape 
to his dreams. So he fares onward chival- 
rously, led by ignes fatui no doubt, yet moving 
onward. And that the goal remains ambiguous 
seems but a trivial circumstance to any living 
creature who knows, he knows not how, that to 
stay still can be esteemed a virtue only in the 
dead. 

10 

Indeed, when I consider the race to which 
I have the honor to belong, I am filled with re- 
spectful wonder. . . All about us flows and 
gyrates unceasingly the material universe, an 
endless inconceivable jumble of rotatory blaz- 
ing gas and frozen spheres and detonating com- 
ets, wherethrough spins Earth like a frail 

50 



THE DEMIURGE 

midge. And to this blown molecule adhere what 
millions and millions and millions of parasites 
just such as I am, begetting and dreaming and 
slaying and abnegating and toiling and making 
mirth, just as did aforetime those countless gen- 
erations of our forebears, every one of whom 
was likewise a creature just such as I am! 
Were the human beings that have been sub- 
jected to confinement in flesh each numbered, 
as is customary in other penal institutes, with 
what interminable row of digits might one set 
forth your number, say, or mine? 

Nor is this everything. For my reason, such 
as it is, perceives this race, in its entirety, in 
the whole outcome of its achievement, to be be- 
yond all wording petty and ineffectual: and 
no more than thought can estimate the relative 
proportion to the material universe of our poor 
Earth, can thought conceive with what quin- 
tillionths to express that fractional part which 
I, as an individual parasite, add to Earth's 
negligible fretting by ephemerae. 

And still behold the mira,cle ! still I believe 
life to be a personal transaction between myself 
and Omnipotence; I believe that what I do is 
somehow of importance ; and I believe that I am 
on a journey toward some very public triumph 

61 



BEYOND LIFE 

not unlike that of the third prince in the fairy- 
tale. . . Even to-day I believe in this dynamic 
illusion. For that creed was the first great in- 
spiration of the demiurge, man's big roman- 
tic idea of Chivalry, of himself as his Father 's 
representative in an alien country ; and it is a 
notion at which mere fact and reason yelp de- 
nial unavailingly. For every one of us is so 
constituted that he knows the romance to be 
true, and corporal fact and human reason in 
this matter, as in divers others, to be the 
suborned and perjured witnesses of "realism". 



nr 

THE WITCH-WOMAN 



You are a terrible, delicious woman! begotten on a 
water-demon, people say. I ask no questions. . . 

And so you do not any longer either love or hate me, 
Perion? 

It was not I who loved you, but a boy that is dead 

SLOW. . . . 

Yet I loved you, Perion oh, yes, Sn t>ftrt I loved 
you. . . . 

So that to-day l walk with ghosts, King's daughter: 
and I am none the happier. , . . 

It was not for nothing that Pressina was my mother, 
and I know many things, pilfering light from the past to 
shed it upon the future. 

i Soman de Lusignan 



Ill 

Which Hints at the 
Witch- Woman 



YOU perceive, then, it is by the grace of 
pomance that man has been exalted above 
the other animals. It was by romance, 
in a fashion I have endeavored to make clear, 
that mankind was endowed with all its virtues : 
so we need hardly be surprised that to romance 
mankind has likewise had to repair in search of 
vices. Here, though, the demiurge would seem 
to have been not quite so successful, perhaps 
because men lacked the requisite inborn capac- 
ity to attain any real distinction in wicked- 
ness. . . Indeed, I question whether wicked- 
ness is possible to humanity outside of litera- 
ture. In books, of course, may be encountered 
any number of competently evil people, who 
take a proper pride in their depravity. But in 
life men go wrong without dignity, and sin as 
it were from hand to mouth. In life wrong- 
doing seems deplorably prone to take form 
either as a business necessity or as a public 

55 



BEYOND 



nuisance, and in each avatar is shunned by the 
considerate person. 

Yes, in life the "wicked" people are rather 
pitiable, and quite hopelessly tedious as asso- 
ciates. I suspect that the root of most evil is, 
not so much the love of money, as the lack of 
imagination: and few in fact deny that our 
recognized " criminals " are the victims of men- 
tal inability to contrive and carry through this 
or that infringement of the civil code in pre- 
cisely the unobtrusive fashion of our leading 
captains of industry. Yet the romantic have 
always fabled that by whole-hearted allegiance 
to evil this life in the flesh by " jumping' ', 
as the Thane of Cawdor put it, any possible 
life to come, might be rendered vastly more 
entertaining, and might even afford to the 
sinner control of superhuman powers. Men 
have always dreamed thus of evading the low 
levels of everyday existence, and of augment- 
ing their inadequate natural forces, by enter- 
ing into some formal compact with evil. Hence 
have arisen the innumerable legends of sorcer- 
ers and witches, and the disfigurement of his- 
tory with divers revolting chapters relative to 
the martyrdom of half-witted old women so 
injudicious as to maintain a cat. And toward 

56 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

such chapters it seems needful momentarily to 
digress, by very briefly indicating certain vul- 
gar notions about the witch-woman, so as to 
make clear what I have in mind as to another 
dynamic illusion; and needful, too, to speak of 
these chapters with flippant levity, because such 
enormities grow unbearable when regarded 
seriously. . . 



Witchcraft, if it were not indeed the first 
manifestation of "feminism", was practised 
almost exclusively by women. There has been 
a feebly paradoxical attempt to contend that 
the Devil was the original witch, when he played 
the impostor with our primal parents, and that 
the serpent whose form he assumed was his 
imp, or familiar spirit: but the theory lacks 
sure corroboration, if only because the Prince 
of Darkness is, on venerable authority, a gen- 
tleman; and if but in this capacity, would be 
the first to quote that axiomatic Place aux dames 
which cynics assert to be his workaday rule. 

At all events, sorcery was imputed to both 
the wives of Adam. Thus the Talmudists tell 
us how Lilith, his first helpmate, for the then 
comparatively novel offence of refusing to obey 

57 



BEYOND LIFE 

her husband, was cast out of Paradise, to be 
succeeded by Eve; and how since this evic- 
tion Lilith, now adulterously allied with the 
powers of evil, has passed her existence 
"in the upper regions of the air", whence 
she occasionally speeds earthward to seek 
amusement in the molestation of infants. 
She it is who cunningly tortures the descend- 
ants of her unf orgiven husband with croup and 
the pangs of teething. Sheer pedantry tempts 
one to point out here that it was on this ac- 
count the Hebrew mothers were accustomed, 
when putting their children to sleep, to sing 
" Lullaby t" which is when Englished "Lilith, 
avaunt!" so that all our cradle-songs are the 
results of a childless marriage. 

Equally in Jewish legend has Lilith 's suc- 
cessor, our joint grandmother Eve, been ac- 
credited with being a trifle prone to sorcerous 
practises. I regret that the details as thus 
rumored are not very nicely quotable : but they 
seem quite as well authenticated as any other 
gossip of the period: so that witchcraft may 
fairly be declared the first invention of the 
first woman. Eve had dealings with the 
Devil some while before the birth of Cain, even 
before the incident of the fig-leaves. She was 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

a magician before she was a mother, and con- 
juring with her took precedence of costume. 
And while the fact that forever after there 
were twenty women given to witchcraft as 
against one man, may seem a little strange, King 
James the First of England, in his Demonology, 
explains it, speciously enough, by yet another 
reference to the most ancient of all scandals. 
"The reason is easy, for as that sex is frailer 
than man is, so it is easier to be entrapped by 
the gross snares of the Devil, as was over-well 
proved by the serpent's beguiling deceit of Eve 
at the beginning, which makes him the homelier 
with that sex." In other words, King James 
is bold enough to voice it as a truism that 
women go to the Devil in search of congeni- 
ality. 



Men have always inclined instead to sorcery. 
A witch, it may be premised, derived her power 
from a contract with the especial devil to whom 
she became in some sort a servant: whereas a 
sorcerer commanded divers spirits in bale, by 
means of his skill at magic, and in this ticklish 
traffic was less the servant than the master. 

And the foremost of all sorcerers was prob- 

59 



BEYOND LIFE 

ably Johan Faustus of Wiirtemburg. He cer- 
tainly stays the best known, now that Goethe 
and Gounod and Berlioz and so many others 
have had their fling at him, as an alluring peg 
whereon to hang librettoes and allegories. But 
it is Christopher Marlowe's version of the leg- 
end which to-day would seem almost to justify 
any conceivable practises, however diabolic, 
without which we had lacked this masterwork 
of loveliness. Presently I must speak of this 
drama at greater length, and of Marlowe too, as 
one of those neglected geniuses with which the 
British branch of American literature has been 
so undeservedly favored. . . 



Momentarily waiving art's debt to con- 
jurers, and returning to their sister practition- 
ers, the typical witch-woman was distinguish- 
able according to Gaule, in his Select Cases of 
Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft, 
by "a wrinkled face, a furred brow, a hairy 
lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking 
voice, and a scolding tongue." These were the 
outward marks of a sinister genus, which was 
divided into three species. Thus antiquity dis- 
tinguished thereamong "white witches", who 

60 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

could help, but not hurt; " black witches ", who 
could hurt, but not help; and "gray witches", 
who could do either at will. All were persecuted 
with severity, which seems natural enough in 
harrying black or even gray witches, but rather 
unaccountable when exercised toward the bene- 
ficent white witch. It appears, however, that 
the last were not without their human frailties : 
Dryden at least refers to someone as being as 
little honest as he could manage, and "like 
white witches mischievously good. ' ' Then, too, 
a Jacobean publicist has left it on record that 
"it were a thousand times better for the land 
if all witches, but especially the blessing 
witch, might suffer death. For men do com- 
monly hate and spit at the damnifying sorceress 
as unworthy to live among them : whereas they 
flee unto the other in necessity, they depend 
upon her as their god, and by this means thou- 
sands are carried away to their final confusion. 
Death, therefore, is the just and deserved por- 
tion of the good witch. M Such logic smacks of 
sophistry, but remoter times found it accept- 
able. 

Gray witches also, as has been said, were by 
way of being philanthropists. Of this species 
were the famed Lapland witches, from whom 

61 



BEYOND LIFE 

gested taking the wall of the witch in a town 
or street, and in rural circumstances passing 
to the right of her. In passing, one was in- 
variably to clench both hands, with thumbs 
doubled beneath the fingers : and it was thought 
well to salute every known witch civilly before 
she spoke, and on no account to accept a pres- 
ent from her. To draw blood from a witch 
forthwith rendered her enchantments ineffec- 
tual. Moreover, a horseshoe nailed to the 
threshold of a door was well known to hinder 
the power of any witch from entering the 
house. 

Persons accused of witchcraft could be proven 
guilty in various ways: there was never any 
popular demand for acquittal. Sometimes con- 
viction was secured by finding on their bodies 
certain marks, of which prudishness prevents 
any description: by another process the sus- 
pected woman was required and if sorcerously 
given was unable to repeat the Lord's Prayer. 
A variant test was based on the belief that, in 
the unchivalrous phrasing of King James, 
4 * witches cannot shed tears, though women in 
general are, like the crocodile, ready to weep 
upon every light occasion. " Other authorities 
asserted that a witch can as a matter of fact 

64 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

shed three tears, but no more, and these only 
from the left eye. . . The most popular ordeal, 
at all events, was that of " swimming " the 
suspected witch. By this method she was 
stripped naked, and cross-bound, with the right 
thumb fastened to the left toe and the left 
thumb to the right toe ; and was thus cast into 
a pond or river, to choose between the alterna- 
tives of drowning and thereby attesting her in- 
nocence, or of struggling to keep above the 
water in order to be burned as a convicted 
witch. "For it appears " again King James 
is cited "that God hath appointed for a super- 
natural sign for the impiety of witches that the 
water shall refuse to receive into her bosom 
all these that have shaken off them the sacred 
waters of baptism, and have wilfully refused 
the benefit thereof ". . . 

It was long an unquestioned belief that cer- 
tain persons were peculiarly endowed with the 
faculty of distinguishing witches from the rest 
of humanity. Of these " witch-finders " the 
most celebrated was that Matthew Hopkins who 
during the seventeenth century was officially 
employed for this purpose by the English gov- 
ernment. Hopkins was in his time a personage, 
and an unexcelled detector of the "special 

65 



BEYOND LIFE 

marks" which are the sure signs of a witch. 
But his customary test was to "swim" the 
accused. By this really infallible method of 
furnishing public recreation he averaged sixty 
murders to the year; and was thriving in his 
unique profession when it somehow occurred 
to someone to put Hopkins himself to Hopkins ' 
test. The sequel is cheering: for he impru- 
dently remained above water, and being thus 
by his own methods proven a witch, was burned 
alive. . . 



It seems a great while ago that such things 
were possible. We have relinquished nowadays 
our belief in witchcraft, along with our faith 
in a many other Biblical matters. The faith 
of every century is, however, the natural 
laughing-stock of its immediate successors. So 
it is now very generally conceded that witches 
are obsolete, and that the cause of evil is to-day 
furthered by more competent factors, such as 
denying the ballot to women, or not restricting 
alcohol as a poison to the communion-table, 
or whatever other prevalent arrangement espe- 
cially evokes the speaker's natural talents for 
being irrational 

66 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

Yet consideration suggests that many witches 
have a more plausible title to existence than 
falls to most of their deriders. Were it but for 
the noble aid which certain sorceresses have 
rendered to romance, it must be that some- 
where, or east of the sun or west of the moon, 
there is a Paradise of Witches, wherein all these 
abide eternally. There stands the house of 
Pamphile, whom Lucius saw transformed into 
an owl, and by whose pilfered unguents he him- 
self was disastrously converted into an ass, 
In the moonlit court-yard glitters an ever- 
moving wheel, barley and laurel burn together 
there, and Simaetha calls to the bright and 
terrible lady of heaven for pity and help and 
vengeance. Near-by a nameless red-haired 
witch waits at the vine-hung opening of a cave : 
in her hand is a spray of blossoming hemlock : 
and she cries, "What d'ye lackf It has a 
price." By the road-side, on the marge of a 
clear pool a woman smiles to think of that 
which she alone foresees, with bright wild eyes 
that are as changeless as the eyes of a serpent : 
for this is Lamia; and Lycius has already left 
Corinth. On the adjoining heath the three 
Weird Sisters stir their cauldron: they are 
observed, from a respectful distance, by that 

67 



BEYOND LIFE 

Madge Gray who once rifled the rectory larder 
at Tappington, and by that wee Nannie, 
"Cutty-Sark", who in the dance at Kirk- 
Alloway extorted injudicious applause from 
Tarn O'Shanter. Off shore Parthenope and 
Ligeia and Leucosia, the dreaded Sirens, 
chaunt their endless song: fathoms beneath 
them that other sea-witch, with whom the little 
mermaid trafficked, lurks in a horrible forest 
of polypi, and caresses meditatively a fat drab- 
colored water-snake. Through yonder glen 
whirls the blasphemous carnival of Walpurgis, 
no more sedate to-night than when Faustus 
spied upon it very anciently. Beyond those 
dense thickets one may yet come to the many- 
columned palace, builded of polished stones, 
wherein Circe waits the coming of unwary 
mariners, Circe, the fair-haired and delicate- 
voiced witch, who is a bane to men, and yet 
sometimes takes mortal lovers. . . 

6 

But here we enter dreamland. Thus far a 
little pedantic levity has seemed permissible 
enough, in treating of man's dealings with the 
witch-woman as his conscience prompted, since 
here as elsewhere a high moral motive has been 

68 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

the banner flown by such enormities as grow 
"unbearable when regarded seriously. But the 
dreams of man arise from deeper requirements 
than prompt his deeds. In dreams man has 
shown no aversion to the witch-woman, whom 
in his dreams he has never really confounded 
with those broomstick-riding, squint-eyed and 
gobber-toothed wives of the Goat that were con- 
scientiously hunted down and murdered; but, 
to the contrary, man has always clung, with 
curious tenacity, to the notion of some day 
attaining the good graces of that fair-haired 
and delicate-voiced witch who is a bane to men, 
and yet sometimes takes mortal lovers. The 
aspiration was familiar even in Plutarch's far* 
off heyday: and you will find that he, precise 
fellow, though speaking guardedly enough of 
" those very ancient fables which the Phrygians 
have received and still recount of Attis, the 
Bithynians of Herodotus, and the Arcadians 
of Endymion M , yet ventures into diffident and 
delicate dissent from certain tenets of the "wise 
Egyptians ". . . 

Always people have whispered of heroes, 
strangely favored, that have won, through ob- 
scure by-paths, to the witch-woman's embraces, 
and by her shrewd counsel have been enabled 

69 



BEYOND LIFE 

to excel in earthly affairs. The rtunor is ubi- 
quitous. Greek Odysseus, doubly fortunate, 
was thus ambiguously cherished both by Circe 
and by Calypso; Roman Numa Pompilius, by 
the Arician nymph Egeria; Cossack Ivan by the 
Sun's Sister, Scandinavian Helgi Thorirson by 
Injiborg, and Irish Oisin by golden-haired 
Niamh, and Scottish Thomas of Ercildoune 
by the Queen of Faery: as was the French 
Ogier le Danois by King Arthur's elfin sister, 
in her hushed island realm of Avalon, and 
the German Tannhauser by the furtive Aphro- 
dite of Thuringia, in the corridors of her hollow 
mountain. Then there is hardly an ancient 
family which does not trace from Dame Melu- 
sine (who founded the proud house of Lusi- 
gan), as well as from that more pestiferous 
witch-wife who was so disastrously won very 
long ago by Foulques Plantagenet. To all such 
legends the Eosicrucians, in particular, affixed 
a perturbing commentary. . . 

In every land men have thus reported, not 
very gallantly, that a possible reward for sur- 
passing the run of men in wit and strength and 
daring was to obtain in marriage a creature 
indescribably more fine and wise than a woman. 
Everywhere men have hungered for the witch- 

70 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

woman who mysteriously abides, as did Circe 
and Melusine and all that whispered-of soror- 
ity, in a secluded land which is always less glar- 
ingly lighted than our workaday world shows 
at noontide; who is as much more shrewd as 
more lovely than the daughters of men; to 
whom all human concernments with good and 
evil are negligible matters, viewed much as men 
themselves in going about a barnyard are 
moved to regard the bravery and maternal de- 
votion and thievery and incest of their fowls; 
and whose caresses this above all, awaken no 
satiety. . . And through desire of the witch- 
woman many and many a man is hinted (in 
those queer vague tales to which chroniclers 
allude with visible circumspection, and none has 
ever narrated quite explicitly) to have sacri- 
ficed the kindly ties of ordinary life, and finally 
life itself. Ubiquitous is this secretive whis- 
pering of the witch-woman's favors, that are 
purchased by bodily and spiritual ruin, some- 
times, and even so are not too dearly bought: 
for everywhere is rumored thus the story of the 
witch-woman, and of her ageless allure, and of 
her inevitable elusion at the last of all her 
lovers, whether crowned or cassocked or ink- 
stained, who are but mortal. . . 

71 



BEYOND LIFE 



Here is no place to deal with an hypothesis 
which alone would seem, quite, to explain this 
race-belief. That superhuman beings, imper- 
ceptible to everyday sense, at times, for their 
own veiled purposes, seek union with men, and 
that this union is sometimes consummated, may 
appear to the majority very like moonstruck 
fustian. Meanwhile that which men vaguely 
describe as "science" is slowly veering if 
but by means of "new" theories concerning 
a fourth dimension, curved time, curved space 
and kindred speculations, to the quaint find- 
ing that many cast-by superstitions of the 
Rosicrucians lie just ahead, and bid fair once 
more to be "discovered". Indeed, the common- 
sense, or Ptolemaic, viewpoint, which disposed 
of the universe without any nonsense, by look- 
ing at the earth and seeing for yourself that 
it was flat, and by watching the sun and moon 
and stars visibly climbing one side of the sky 
to descend the other, while you had only to 
feel the ground to prove it was quite motion- 
less, appears to be, in one or two minor points, 
not infallible. And any protestation of judg- 
ing all things "sensibly", now that the senses 

72 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

are convicted liars, seems less a boast than a 
confession. 

8 

Hypotheses apart, men believed in the witch- 
woman through a need far deeper than a tepid 
preference for veracity. For all men had 
loved ; and most of them wooed not unsuccess- 
fully, at one time or another, and saw what 
came of it: and they simply did not choose to 
accept the result as being anything but an ex- 
ceptional and probably unique instance of some- 
thing having gone wrong. With other hus- 
bands, they doggedly reflected, the case was 
in all likelihood quite different. . . 

Against the institution of marriage has been 
directed, by and large, a net amount of ad- 
verse criticism such as was never attracted by 
any other business arrangement. Too ardent 
novelists, in particular, have overdone their 
contributions to the epithalamia of backbiting. 
Some rousing call to take a part therein would 
seem to sound as clear to the upliftingly lach- 
rymose tale-tellers, whose imaginary wives and 
husbands can "grow really to know each other " 
only after the bank fails or some other material 
misfortune has reduced them to poverty and 

73 



BEYOND LIFE 

caresses, as to those fearless fictionists whose 
heroines find it a married woman's first duty 
in life to set up housekeeping with a bachelor. 
Indeed, the more advanced novelists nowadays 
are almost as contemptuous about marriage as 
was formerly St. Paul. The considerate phil- 
osopher hesitates, amid all this abuse, to con- 
cede that marriage, when the contracting par- 
ties are sincerely in love with each other, ends 
of necessity in disappointment. But this there 
appears to be no denying. For love too is a 
dynamic illusion which romance induces in 
order to further the labor of the demiurge, and 
marriage is an estate wherein illusion quite 
inevitably perishes. 

You may marry through any motive less ex- 
alted, from desire of money or of children or 
of someone to do the darning, and have at least 
a chance of attaining the prize in view. But 
in love-matches there is n6 such chance: for, 
were there nothing else, love accredits the be- 
loved with opulence in qualities which human 
beings display, if at all, in exiguous traces ; and 
is compounded in large part of an awed reveiv 
ence such as it is impossible to retain for any 
human being with intimacy. These phantoms 
vanish at the dawn of married life: and the 

7A 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

most obtuse of couples set about joint house- 
holding with, as concerns each other, very few 
misapprehensions outliving the wedding-trip; 
for that by ordinary is a transmuting journey, 
upon which demi-gods depart, and wherefrom 
return only Mr. and Mrs, So-and-so. Now hu- 
man nature, whatever cynics may assert, is 
humble-minded enough to think rather poorly 
of itself when manifested by its associates. In 
a love-match human nature most certainly is 
uplifted to the point of anticipating something 
better. . . And afterward you get on fairly 
well : you miss her to a decorous degree in ab- 
sence, you do not verbally quarrel when to- 
gether, and you even discover in the woman a 
number of admirable and quite unsuspected 
traits. In fact, you would as willingly part with 
your right hand as part with her: but then, 
when all is said, you are not in love with your 
right hand, either. And you very often wonder 
what has become of that other woman, whom 
you thought you were marrying. 



Perhaps not many of us, however, marry for 
love. Love is, indeed, the one dynamic illu- 
sion that rather frequently results in impotence. 

75 



BEYOND LIFE 

The demiurgic spirit of romance hoodwinks 
humanity through this dynamic illusion known 
as love, in order that humanity may endure, 
and the groans of a lover be perpetuated in the 
wails of an infant; to each of us in our prime 
"it is granted to love greatly, and to know 
at least one hour of pure magnanimity ": yet 
that hour tends for no plain reason to be ster- 
ile: the madness of love-making passes like a 
tinted mist; and generation after generation 
casts its rice upon marriages which are 
prompted by some motive other than a mutual 
infatuation, and result excellently. . . . For 
there comes about some impediment, through 
the operation of our man-made social laws, so 
that, for one reason or another, where we love 
to our uttermost we do not marry. And so, 
we are spared the shame of seeing the highest 
passion which we have known, brought to noth- 
ing through the attrition of everyday life. We 
are permitted to believe that with favoring 
luck we might have retained forever the mag- 
nanimity which youth and love once briefly 
loaned; and we preserve a measure of self- 
esteem. . . Even where love-marriages are 
consummated, I suspect that few are prompted 
by the one love of either participant's life: 

76 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

concerning women no married man, of course, 
would care to speak assuredly as touches this 
or any other matter; but when the perturbed 
bridegroom approaches the chancel he is spared 
at least the fear that those delectable girls 
whom at various times he has desired to meet 
there may all be awaiting him. . . And so, 
the husband has always a missed chance or two 
to embroider in reverie. . . 

10 

For in youth all men that live have been con- 
verts, if but in transitory allegiance, to that 
religion of the world's youth, to the creed of 
which I spoke just now as domnei, or woman- 
worship. You may remember I promised to 
come back to that: and it is in reality toward 
this creed of domnei all these notions as to the 
witch-woman approach. , . . Thus as I re- 
member to have read in the English version of 
that Roman de Lusignan to which I just re- 
ferred, "it was a canon of domnei, it was the 
very essence of domnei, that the woman one 
loves is providentially set between her lover's 
apprehension and God, as the mobile and vital 
image and corporeal reminder of Heaven, as a 
quick symbol of beauty and holiness, of purity 

77 



BEYOND LIFE 

and perfection. In her the lover views all quali- 
ties of God which can be comprehended by mere- 
ly human faculties. . . And instances were not 
lacking in the service of domnei where worship 
of the symbol developed into a religion sufficing 
in itself, and became competitor with worship 
of what the symbol primarily represented, 
such instances as have their analogues in the 
legend of Bitter Tannhauser, or in Aucassin's 
resolve in the romance to go down into hell with 
'his sweet mistress whom he so much loves', 
or (here perhaps most perfectly exampled) in 
Arnaud de MerveiPs naive declaration that 
whatever portion of his heart belongs to God 
Heaven holds in vassalage to Adelaide de 
Beziers". . . 

So it used to be, you may retort with a com- 
miserating shrug. Yet even now this once 
dynamic illusion of chivalrous love quite inevi- 
tably invades the life of every adolescent boy, 
and works transient havoc; but is by ordinary 
so restrained and thwarted by our man-made 
social laws as to be evicted without leaving any 
lasting monuments of the tyrant's stay, in ma- 
terial form. The boy's beliefs, though, are 
not always left conformable to his estate. For 
at this time romance tricks each of us so cun- 

78 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

ningly, in conscienceless endeavor that the man 
be brought, somehow and anyhow, to the maid's 
bed, that we are persuaded what romance then 
promises, in the role of Pandarus, can really 
be come by: and so firm-set is the impression 
that with some of us it remains ineffaceable, 
even by marriage. The average male, of course, 
is very rarely at pains to ascertain his private 
belief in this or any other matter, and is con- 
tent to assume he thinks and feels what seems 
expected of him : but here and there a man pries 
curiously into his own mind. And it is he who 
presently becomes the veritable " witch- 
finder ", after a fashion unknown to Matthew 
Hopkins. . . 

For such-an-one the mother of his children, 
that rather likable well-meaning creature, 
proves assuredly to be not at all the person 
for whom, so long ago, his heart was set a- 
burning: and for that very reason her short- 
comings can never dim the fire, since with its 
thin and vaulting ardors she is in no wise con- 
cerned. So it glows fed with hope and memory. 
For such-an-one the maid waits somewhere of 
whose embraces one can never tire, as in an 
unforgotten vision was once revealed to him, 
once for all time. Meanwhile, in moiling 

79 



BEYOND LIFE 

through a world of blunders, he does but break 
the journey where there is tolerable company, 
a deal of kindly human give-and-take, and no 
rapture. If but in honor, his heart stays bound 
to his first and only real love, that woman of 
whom one never tires. Her coming is not yet. 
He can but wait sustained by his sure faith 
discreetly left unvoiced, that some day her 
glory will be apparent, and he will enter gladly 
into her secret kingdom, and will find her 
kisses all that in youth he foreknew to be not 
impossible. . . And meanwhile this prescience, 
somehow, informs all art, just as life animates 
the body, and makes art to him a vital thing. 
For here and there art's masterworks become 
precursors of the witch- woman's advent, and 
whisper of a loveliness, as yet withheld, which 
" never waxes old", of a loveliness which 
stays as yet the nebulous goal of art's surmise, 
but will be obvious at the witch- woman's com- 
ing, incarnate in soft flesh; and will be no 
longer impalpable as in verse, nor inarticulate 
as in music, nor cataleptic as in painting. Of 
this it is alone that art whispers to the veritable 
"witch-finder," to the witch- woman's nympho- 
lept. And there seems to be no beauty in the 
world save those stray hints of her, whose ulti- 



THE WITCH-WOMAN 

mate revealment is not yet. . . And it is very 
often through desire to express his faith in 
this withheld perfection, of which he has been 
conscious in broken glimpses from afar, that 
he himself turns artist, and the dynamic illusion 
finds secondary employment. For every art is 
a confession of faith in that which is not 
yet. . . Meanwhile the nympholept must wait, 
contentedly enough, and share whatever hap- 
pens in four-square co-partnership with another 
woman, unaccountably "married" to him, and 
must know at bottom that his dealings with this 
other woman are temporary makeshifts. Nor 
with him can there be any doubt that Methu- 
selah who was a married man, died in this 
faith. 

For there is that in every human being 
which demands communion with something 
more fine and potent than itself. Perhaps, in- 
deed, this is only another way of saying every 
man is innately religious. . . So it befalls that 
to-day, as did a many in times overpast, a few 
of us yet dream of the witch-woman, and of 
our meeting by and bye. . . Meanwhile it may 
be that wives here and there have likewise their 
disillusions and a proper sense of their own 
merits. How else is one to account for the 

81 



BEYOND LIFE 

legends of Danae and Creusa and all those other 
minxes who find no husband worthy of them 
until a god has come down out of heaven, no 
less? 

Yes, certainly there is in every human being 
that which demands communion with something 
more fine and potent than itself. . . . Indeed, 
the tale is so old that one may find its upshot 
aptly illustrated in no less venerable writings 
than those two epics concerning which Mr. 
Maurice Hewlett has spoken in such glowing 
terms, I mean Les Gestes de Manuel and La 
Haulte Histoire de Jurgen, wherein the long, 
high, fruitless questing does not ever end, but, 
rather, is temporarily remitted for the society 
of Dame Niafer and of Dame Lisa. For in 
reading these legends, one perceives that, even 
in remote Poictesme, those aging nympholepts, 
Dom Manuel and Jurgen they also, were 
heartened to endure, the privileges of happily 
married persons by a sure faith, discreetly left 
unvoiced, that these hardwon, fond, wearisome 
and implacable wives were, after all, just tem- 
porary makeshifts. By and by would Freydis 
and Helen return, at their own season. . . . 



82 



IV 
THE ECONOMIST 



Keep out, keep out, or else you are blown up, you 
are dismembered, Ralph: keep out, for 1 am about a 
roaring piece of work. 

Come, what dost thou with that same book? . . . 
Can'st thou conjure with it? 

I can do all things easily with it: first, I can make 
thee drunk with ippocras at any tabern in Europe ; that's 
one of my conjuring works, 

Our Master Parson says that's nothing. . . . 

[Enter MEPHISTOPHILIS, who sets squibs at their 
backs; and then exeunt.} 

The Tragical History of Dr. Fwstus 



IV 

Which Admires the Economist 



ALL the legends I have mentioned, how- 
ever, were in large part the figments of 
poets, so that no doubt they have been 
misinterpreted. For the visionary matter-of- 
fact people who rule the world have from the 
beginning misapprehended each and every 
matter connected with those chillingly astute 
persons, the poets. . . It was tlje penetrative 
common-sense of poets, as not very generally 
recognized, that I had in mind a few minutes 
ago, when I spoke of Christopher Marlowe, and 
referred to the Faustus as justifying any con- 
ceivable practises without which we had lacked 
this drama. You appeared at the time to think 
that a rather sweeping statement, but there is 
no question as to its truth. And in order to 
make this truth quite plain to you, I shall for a 
moment divert your attention to Christopher 
Marlowe, as a specific instance of what I have 
in mind as to another dynamic illusion . . . 

85 



BEYOND LIFE 

I select Marlowe as my text, from among a 
host of names which would serve my purpose, 
because Marlowe, I imagine, is to you, as 
through our criminal folly he is to most of us, 
but one of the poets in the English Literature 
course at college ; and ranks now with chapel at- 
tendance and Greek particles and other happily 
outgrown annoyances. Improvident and waste- 
ful as this is in us, I hardly wonder. No poet 
has been more worthily praised by more compe- 
tent persons: but, for all that, Marlowe re- 
mains unappreciated, on account of our general 
human habit of appraising everything from ir- 
relevant standpoints. Thus people think of 
Marlowe simply as a poet, whereas his real dar- 
ing, like that of all the elect among creative 
writers, was displayed as an economist. And it 
is the economy of such poets that I must pause 
to explain. 

2 

Now most of the phrases which we utilize as 
substitutes for ideas were coined by those short- 
sighted persons who somehow confound econ- 
omy with monetary matters: and among these 
from time immemorial it has been the custom 
to encourage the shiftless cult of mediocrity. 



THE ECONOMIST 

Age-honored precepts and all reputable pro- 
verbs concur in stating that a staid and con- 
ventional course of life should be pursued, 
upon the indisputable ground that this is the 
surest avenue to a sufficiency of creature com- 
forts: and, indeed, if men had ever taken the 
corporeal circumstances of their existence very 
seriously people would long ago have become 
as indistinguishable from one another as cheese- 
mites. Since Attica was young the "middle 
road" has been commended by sages and 
schoolmasters, by vestrymen and grandparents 
and bankers, and all the other really responsible 
constituents of society: and yet, as I need 
hardly point out, it has been the deviators from 
the highway, the strayers in by-paths and even 
in posted woodlands, whom men, led by instinc- 
tive wisdom, have elected to commemorate. To 
venture just such a mythological allusion as 
nowadays infuriates the reader, Clio with fem- 
inine perversity has insisted on singing the 
praises of those who have flown in the face of 
convention, and have notoriously violated every 
rule for securing an epitaph in which they 
might take reasonable pride. . . But no form 
of greatness is appreciable save in perspective. 
If your house be builded upon the side of a 

87 



BEYOND LIFE 

mountain you must leave home in order to dis- 
cover the mountain's actual contour: and to a 
many contemporaries Homer could not but 
seem a beggarly street-door singer, and Jeanne 
Dare an ill-mannered trollop with not at all am- 
biguous reasons for consorting with lewd sol- 
diers. Genius, like Niagara, is thus most 
majestic from a distance: and indeed, if the 
flights of genius are immeasurable, its descents 
are equally fathomless. 

This would appear particularly true of that 
creative literary genius whereby the human 
brain is perverted to uses for which, as first 
planned against arboreal requirements, it was 
perhaps not especially designed. At all events, 
very few of our time-honored authors were 
esteemed as ornaments of the drawing-room, 
however bravely they now figure in the library; 
but were by the more solid element of society 
quite generally avoided as loose fish, on the 
probably Milesian analogue of their preference 
of other beverages to water. For, whatever 
one might desire the case to have been, there 
is really no doubt that in the production of an 
astoundingly large number of literary master- 
works alcohol played the midwife. Equally, at 
first sight, the only possible way for any repu- 



THE ECONOMIST 

table connoisseur of art to confront this un- 
pleasant truth was to deny its existence: and 
the expedient has been adopted in pedagogic 
circles with pleasing unanimity. The rest of 
us are well content to take our poets as we find 
them: and have no call to explain the origin 
of "unsubstantiated traditions " as to Shakes- 
peare, and "calumnies of Griswold" concern- 
ing Poe, and "Bacchic myths" about ^Eschylos/ 
and "the symbolic vine" of Omar, nor other' 
wise laboriously to cull from the sands of time 
a little dust to throw in our own eyes. 



Marlowe, however, quite incontestably wasted 
health and repute, and even lost his life, in the 
pursuit of pot-house dissipation. It is unfair 
that, after following the onerous routine fa- 
miliar to every student of poetic biography, 
Marlowe should be accorded no very general 
consideration as an economist. . . Of course 
few poets have escaped the charge of writing 
by virtue of "inspiration": and minor rhyme- 
sters, naturally enough, have fostered this bal- 
derdash, in extenuation of what they would be 
thought to have published under the influence 
of disease. But it is really too much that 

89 



BEYOND LIFE 

Christopher Marlowe should be regarded as a 
dissolute wastrel afflicted with rhetorical epil- 
epsy, during fits of which he wrote his Hero 
and Leander and his Faustus. Even his unde- 
niable achievements are insidiously belittled 
when he is accredited with starting various 
hares which Shakespeare and Goethe and divers 
other better-winded bards ran down, or, 
somewhat to jumble similes, with being the 
crude ore from which they extracted more or 
less metal, to be cast by them into enduring 
forms. Such belittlement is insidious, be it re- 
peated, because this idea possesses, by ill luck, 
the one misleading grain of truth with which it 
is so difficult to deal quite justly. For it is in- 
disputable that great poets have borrowed with 
a high hand from Marlowe, and with an 
adroitness hereabouts distinctive of great 
poets, have looked to it that where they pil- 
fered they improved. It is equally indisputable 
that Christopher Marlowe was one of the su- 
preme artists of literature. 

He was an artist who labored, with sincere 
and appreciative reverence for his labor's 
worthiness, in the very highest fields of crea- 
tive writing. And it is really an inconsider- 
able matter that his dramas are failures in that 

90 



THE ECONOMIST 

they patently do not attain to the original con- 
ception. The shortcoming is bred, not by in- 
ferior workmanship, for in technique Marlowe 
excelled, but by the reach of his conception, 
which in cold earnest was superhuman. And 
finally, Marlowe himself has answered this 
criticism, once for all, in Tamburlaine's superb 
rhapsody beginning // all the pens that ever 
poets held, which I forbear to quote, because 
for your aesthetic enrichment it is preferable 
that you search out and read these thirteen 
lines with painstaking consideration. For thus 
you will come by sure knowledge of what 
" poetry " actually is, and must remain 
always. . . Indeed, as you may with profit 
remember, the conclusive verdict as to this 
tirade has been rendered by an attestedly com- 
petent judge : ' ' In the most glorious verses now 
fashioned by a poet to express with subtle and 
final truth the supreme limit of his art, Mar- 
lowe has summed up all that can be said or 
thought on the office and the object, the means 
and the end, of this highest form of spiritual 
ambition/' And Swinburne, for once, really 
appears to speak with moderation. 

But I intend both here and hereafter to avoid 
that dreary thing called literary criticism, and 

91 



BEYOND LIFE 

make no effort to define the faults and merits 
of the various writers to whom I may allude. 
I shall not analyze, compare or appraise any 
of them. Instead, I shall but educe them as 
illustrations of my theory as to the working- 
code of romance, and shall consider them from 
that sole viewpoint. So, in deliberating the 
economy of Marlowe, it is eminently necessary 
here to emphasize the fact that his fine genius 
was exercised worthily. It is not unreasonable, 
indeed, to assert that he has had no equal any- 
where. To consider as after any such state- 
ment seems unavoidable the possibility that, 
had Marlowe lived to attain maturity, he might 
to-day have been as tritely gabbled about as 
Shakespeare, is rather on a plane with debating 
4 'what song the Sirens sang" or the kindred 
mystery of what becomes of political issues 
after election. Marlowe, precisely by virtue of 
his more sensitive genius, was predestinate to 
an early death. In so far as any comparison 
can be carried, the advantage is, of course, with 
Marlowe. He was a scant two months older 
than Shakespeare; and all his wizardry was 
ended before the young fellow from Stratford 
had achieved anything notable. The highest 
aim of Shakespeare during Marlowe's lifetime 

92 



THE ECONOMIST 

was to poetize, as exactly as was humanly pos- 
sible, in Marlowe's manner. It was by observ- 
ing Marlowe that Shakespeare finally learned 
how to write: and Milton "formed himself " 
on the same model. Marlowe himself had no 
instructors, and no need of any. 

To the other side, he displayed little of 
that gift for voicing platitudes in unforgettable 
terms, by virtue of which Shakespeare "comes 
home" to most of us, and still remains so uni- 
versally quoted. Marlowe's utterance is lack- 
ing in that element of triteness without which 
no work of art can ever be of general appeal 
in a world of mostly mediocre people. Then, 
too, one shudders to consider what Marlowe 
would have made of Mercutio or Falstaff, for, 
pace Swinburne, Marlowe was really not the 
foremost of English humorists. To the con- 
trary, his plays are larded with quite dreadful 
scenes in prose, of which the only humorous fea- 
ture nowadays seems to lurk in the fact that 
they were intended to be amusing. In the act- 
ing, there is no doubt that such rough-and- 
tumble fun found appreciative audience, just as 
it does to-day in the athletic comedy of our Sun- 
day newspaper cartoons, and in the screened 
endeavors of our most popular moving-picture 

93 



BEYOND LIFE 

actors, who to the delight of crowded auditori- 
ums throw custard pies and fall down several 
flights of stairs. . . Nor may one fairly raise 
any question of art, this way or the other: 
Elizabethan dramatists labored under the 
necessity of making the audience laugh at cer- 
tain intervals, and being. unable to write com- 
edy, Marlowe fulfilled a business obligation by 
concocting knockabout farce. 



There is a deal of other calamitous printed 
matter bearing his name, some of which he un- 
questionably wrote, to his admirers' discom- 
fort, and much of which remains gratefully 
dubious. Upon these productions we need 
waste no more time than did the writer. But 
it here seems necessary, even at a dire risk of 
appearing sophomoric, briefly to enumerate 
such portions of Marlowe's work as the most 
precise cannot conscientiously refuse to weigh, 
as tangible achievements which now must 
serve, somewhat, to counterbalance the flung- 
away life of a shoe-maker's oldest son. 

First of course, if though but in seniority, 
comes Tamburlaine the Great: were there noth- 
ing else, the ten robustious acts of this 

94 



THE ECONOMIST 

astounding drama flow in a continuous stream 
of resonant verse such as has no parallel in 
literature, anywhere. And there is a great deal 
else, for the matter of the song is compact of 
all outlandish splendors, a pageant, or rather 
a phantasmagoria, of hordes of warriors 
a-gleam in armor; of caliphs, viziers, bashaws, 
viceroys, and emirs; of naked negroes; of re- 
splendent kings who are a little insane under 
the weight of their crowns; of hapless emper- 
ors imprisoned in curiously painted cages, and 
thus drawn about what was their kingdom 
yesterday, by milk-white steeds, the manes and 
tails of which have very carefully been dyed 
with men's blood; and of dream women that 
are more lovely than was Pygmalion's ivory 
girl. . . To me at least it is pleasing to note 
that the " comic " scenes of Tamburlaine (which 
ranked among its main attractions as an acting 
drama) were purposely omitted by its pub- 
lisher, and so have perished, because I have 
always contended that there was a certain 
amount of latent literary taste among pub- 
lishers. 

The Jew of Malta is quite as far removed 
from any atmosphere which was ever breathed 
by human lungs. No doubt this play is the 

95 



BEYOND LIFE 

fiasco of a Titan, in that, having perfected his 
conception of Barabbas, Marlowe was not able 
to find him fit employment ; and so, set his Jew 
about a rather profitless series of assassina- 
tions and poisonings. One can but remember 
that when Barabbas was kidnapped, stripped of 
all his passionate feeling for material beauty, 
and re-named Shylock, Shakespeare made no 
better work of it by involving the Israelite in 
silly wagers and preposterous legal quibbles, 
over a pound of human flesh. And meanwhile 
through well-nigh every speech attributed to 
Barabbas glints something of the bright mal- 
ignity of lightning. 

Then there is the Edward the Second, which 
is to some of us an annoy ingly "adequate" 
piece of writing; more elaborately builded, and 
more meticulously worked out, than is habitual 
with the author ; and yet, when all is said, con- 
taining nothing pre-eminently characteristic of 
Marlowe. It is a marvelous example of the 
"chronicle-history" play; and in superb pass- 
ages it abounds : but, as a whole even though, 
here again, Shakespeare found a deal he consid- 
ered well worth Autolycean handling, the 
drama seems to some of us not quite unique, in 
the high fashion of its fellows. For the persons 

96 



THE ECONOMIST. 

who appreciate Marlowe pay him the noble 
compliment of fretting over the spectacle of 
his doing work which merely surpasses that of 
other people in degree, rather than, as else- 
where, by its nature being inimitable. In short, 
their illogical frame of mind is not dissimilar 
to that in which we read, with admiring vexa- 
tion, those novels of modern life that have been 
4 * charmingly written" by Mr. Maurice Hewlett. 
And in that narrative poem, Hero and Lean- 
der, left uncompleted at his death, Marlowe re- 
vealed to Englishmen a then forgotten aspect 
of Grecian art, by harking back, not to classic 
Greek ideals, but to the Greeks' fond and inti- 
mate scrutiny of the material world, and to 
exultance in the grateful form and color of 
lovely things when viewed precisely. It is not 
an ethic-ridden world he revivifies, this pleas- 
ant realm wherein beauty is the chief good of 
life, and life's paramount object is assumed to 
be that warfare in which women use not half 
their strength. For here it is upon bodily 
beauty at its perfection that Marlowe dwells, 
with fascinated delight. The physical charm 
of Hero, and every constituent of her loveliness 
(no less than every colorful detail of Venus'*) 
fair church of jasper-stone, which serves as 

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BEYOND LIFE 

appropriate framing for that loveliness), is ex- 
pressed as vividly and carefully as is possible 
for the pen of a master craftsman: and even 
more deft, and more lovingly retouched, is the 
verbal portrait of ' * amorous Lcander, beautiful 
and young ". For as Marlowe here presents it, 
to be "beautiful and young " is, not merely the 
most desirable, but the unparalleled gift which 
life can bestow. And really, to each of us, with 
every dilapidating advance of time, the truth 
in this contention becomes no less increasingly 
apparent than does the necessity of concealing 
it. To Marlowe's finding, at any rate, wisdom 
and power and wealth and self-control are all 
very well, as the toys and solaces of maturity : 
but beauty in youth being then at beauty's 
fullness, alone is postulated to be worthy, less 
of desire, than of worship. And what men 
"foolishly do call virtuous " is thus relegated 
to a subsidiary position, in comparison with 
beauty, not as being in itself unimportant, but 
as being of no very potent value aesthetically. 
Chiefly, however, the fame of Marlowe has 
been preserved by The Tragical History of Dr. 
Faustus. And this is actually "poetic justice", 
for Marlowe is at his unrivaled best in rehandl- 
ing the legend of the sorcerer who, in exchange 



THE ECONOMIST 

for his soul, leased of the devil Mephistophilis 
a quarter-century tenure of superhuman pow- 
ers, and at the running out of his bond was 
carried off alive to hell. Now it must be noted 
that Marlowe thought this story as to what had 
happened in Wiirtemberg, not quite a hundred 
years before the time at which he wrote, nar- 
rated plausible and established facts. The 
story told of a bargain which Marlowe believed 
was capable of consummation, by such * 'for- 
ward wits", at the very moment Marlowe 
wrote: and he no more questioned that as a 
result of this bargain Johan Faustus, after 
doing certain unusual things, was carried off 
alive to hell than you or I would think of deny- 
ing that Napoleon, after doing certain unusual 
things, was carried off alive to St. Helena. But 
above all, it must be noted that the exploit 
which, as attributed to Faustus, most deeply 
impressed Marlowe was the evocation of Helen 
of Troy, in defiance of time and death, and 
any process of human reason, to be the wiz- 
ard 's mistress. For Marlowe believed in this 
feat- also : and he found the man who had per- 
formed it enviable. To Marlowe need I say? 
Queen Helen, that lost proud darling of old 
nations whereamong she moved as a ruinous 

99 



BEYOND LIFE 

flame, pre-figured the witch-woman. The apos- 
trophe of Faustus to Queen Helen, apart from 
the mere loveliness of words, thus pulsates with 
an emotion for there is really no expression 
in human speech. In imagination the poet 
for one breathless moment, stands as he per- 
fectly believed, you must remember, that Johan 
Faustus had stood, face to face with that flaw- 
less beauty of which all poets have perturbedly 
divined the existence somewhere, and which 
life as men know it simply does not afford, nor 
anywhere foresee. To Marlowe's mind, it was 
for this that Faustus pawned his soul, and 
drove no intolerable bargain: and the moral 
which Marlowe educes, wistfully, when all is 
over, is that a man must pay dearly for doing 
not what heaven disapproves of, as would 
speed the orthodox tag, but that which 
heaven nowadays does not permit. . . Of course 
his hero technically " repents ", with a con- 
siderable display of rhetoric; but not until his 
lease of enjoyment is quite run out, and hell 
is pyrotechnically a-gape: by the prosaic the 
ethical value of " repentance " for the necessity 
of discharging an ardently unpleasant debt may 
be questioned. There is really no trace of re- 
gret for the hellish compact until punishment 

100 



THE ECONOMIST 

therefor impends: and then, by a stupendous 
touch of irony, Faustus is dragged to torment 
just as his parched lips pervert, to shriek his 
need, in terror-stricken babblement, that 
sugared and languorous verse which Ovid whis- 
pered in Corinna's arms, at the summit of life's 
felicity. 

In short, this Christopher Marlowe was one 
of the supreme artists of literature. . . 



We may lay finger upon this much, then, as 
increment, toward justifying Marlowe's econ- 
omy. This much we have to set against its pur- 
chase price, which at crude utmost was the 
flung-away life of a shoe-maker's oldest son, 
very discreditably murdered at twenty-nine. 
All this, it must be remembered, was created 
tangibly to exist where before existed noth- 
ing, by a young fellow who, as went material 
things, was wasting his prospects in pot-house 
dissipation. At the birth of much of if not 
all this loveliness alcohol played the midwife. 
And really to make this admission need not 
trouble us, even nowadays when, at the mo- 
ment I speak, we have so far advanced toward 
barbarism as to have adopted, with other doc- 

101 



BEYOND LIFE 

trines of Islam, the tribal taboo, in the 
form of Prohibition; and are resolute to let 
art take its chances, with the other amenities 
of life, under that new regime, which so allur- 
ingly promises alike to outlaw the views of 
Christ concerning alcoholic beverages, and to 
enable zealous Christians to turn an honest 
penny by spy-work. 

For, faithful in this as in all else to his ab- 
stention from logic, man has never believed his 
moral standards to be retro-active. We are so 
constituted that we can whole-heartedly detest 
from afar whatever our neighbors consider to 
be undesirable, when it is a measure of miles 
which removes the object of disapproval, but 
not when the thing is remote by a span of years. 
Of course in this there is no more display of 
reason than we evince, say, in the selection of 
our wives. In abstract theory, people ought 
to-day to view the infamy of Heliogabalus with 
at least the disfavor we reserve for our neigh- 
bors 9 children : in practise, a knave's wickedness 
becomes with time an element of romance, and 
large iniquities serve as colorful relief to the 
tedium of history. And it seems banal to point 
out that it no longer matters ethically, to anyone 
breathing, that a shoe-maker's son, rather more 

102 



THE ECONOMIST 

than three centuries ago, made ruin of his body 
through intemperance, for the case is no longer 
within the jurisdiction of morals. Our sole 
concern with Marlowe nowadays is aesthetic: 
and the most strait-laced may permissibly com- 
mend the Faustus with much of that indiffer- 
ence to the author's personal "morality" which 
renders their enjoyment of the Boole of Psalms 
immune to memories of tho deplorable affair 
with Uriah's wife. 



Then there is yet another versifier, Francois 
Villon, whose doings in the flesh allure me here 
toward a parenthetic and resistless illustra- 
tion of what I have in mii\d: for, of course, 
among the many morals suggested out of hand 
by the terrestrial career of Villon the most per- 
turbing is that depravity may, in the last quar- 
ter of every other blue moon, be positively 
praiseworthy. A many other notable poets 
have been deplorable citizens ; hundreds of them 
have come to physical and spiritual ruin 
through drunkenness and debauchery : yet over 
these others, even over Marlowe if you be par- 
ticularly obtuse, it is possible to pull a long 
face, in at any event the class-room, and to as- 

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BEYOND LIFE 

sume that their verses would have been in- 
finitely better if only the misguided writers 
thereof had lived a trifle more decorously. 
But with Villon no such genteel evasion is per- 
missible. The Grand Testament is a direct 
result of its author's having been, plus genius, 
a sneakthief, a pimp, and a cut-throat. From 
personal experience painfully attained in the 
practise of these several vocations it was that 
Dillon wove imperishable verses, and he could 
not have come by this experience in any 
other way. So we have this Testament, which 
is an inseparable medley of sneers and beauty 
and grief and plain nastiness (and wherein each 
quality bewilderingly begets the other three), 
as the reaction of a certain personality to cer- 
tain experiences. We are heartily glad to have 
this Testament: and upon the whole, we are 
grateful to Villon for having done whatever 
was necessary to produce these poems. And no 
sane person would contemn the Ballade au Nom 
de la Fortune, the Regrets de la Beale Heaul- 
miere, and the iSpitaphe, on the score that their 
purchase price was severally the necessity of 
forcing a man of genius to occupy a jail, a 
brothel and a gibbet. For again our moral 
prejudices fail to traverse the corridors of time ; 

104 



THE ECONOMIST 

and we really cannot bother at this late day to 
regain the viewpoint of the Capetian police. 

Just here, moreover, the career of Villon sug- 
gests a subsidiary moral, as to the quaint and 
rather general human habit of "being prac- 
tical " Villon stole purses, and the constabu- 
lary hunted him down, through "practical" 
motives : and it is salutary to reflect that both 
these facts are to-day of equal unimportance 
with all the other coeval manifestations of com- 
mon-sense. Thus, for example, it was in Vil- 
lon's generation that Jeanne Dare drove the 
English out of France, and Louis the Eleventh 
established the French monarchy in actual 
power, both "practical" and, as it seemed, 
really important proceedings, of the sort to 
which marked prominence is accorded in the 
history-books. Yet the French monarchy to- 
day shares limbo with the court of Nimrod; 
dozens of English armies have entered France 
since the Maid's martyrdom in Rouen Square, 
and not always to the displeasure of French- 
men: but the emotion with which a vagabond 
in 1461 regarded a loaf of bread in a bakery 
window survives unchanged. Et pain ne voyent 
qu'aux fenestres, he wrote: and his action in 
setting down that single line has proven a more 

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BEYOND LIFE 

lasting and a more momentous feat than the 
capture of Orleans. Then, when you consider 
all the " practical" persons of Villon's acquain- 
tance, the bishops and lords and princes, the 
lawyers and long-robed physicians, the merch- 
ants and grave magistrates and other citizens 
of unstained repute, who self-respectingly 
went about important duties, and discharged 
them with credit, you cannot but marvel that 
of this vast and complicated polity, which took 
itself so seriously, nothing should have re- 
mained vital save the wail, as of a hurt child, 
that life should be so "horrid." For this is 
all that survives to us, all that stays really 
alive, of the France of Louis the Eleventh. . . 
Presently I shall return to this fallacy of 
"being practical." Meanwhile, let it be re- 
peated, Villon even when he jeers does but 
transmit to us the woe of an astounded and very 
dirty child that life should be so "horrid." He 
does not reason about it : here if anywhere was 
a great poet "delivered from thought, from the 
base holiness of intellect," and Villon reasons 
about nothing: but his grief is peculiarly acute, 
and in the outcome contagious. It is so cruel, 
he laments, that youth and vigor should be but 
transient loans, and that even I should have 

106 



THE ECONOMIST 

become as bald as a peeled turnip; so cruel 
that death should be waiting like a tipstaff to 
hale each of us, even me, into the dark prison 
of the grave; and so cruel that the troubling 
beauty of great queens, and even the prettiness 
of those adorable girls with whom I used to 
frolic, should be so soon converted into a 
wrinkled bag of bo^es. It is very cruel, too, 
that because I borrowed a purseful of money 
when the owner was looking elsewhere, I should 
be locked in this uncomfortable dungeon ; I had 
to have some money. And it is perfectly pre- 
posterous that, merely because I lost my temper 
and knifed a rascal, who was no conceivable 
loss to anybody, the sheriff should be going to 
hang me on a filthy gallows, where presently 
the beak of a be-draggled crow will be pecking 
at my face like the needle at my old mother's 
thimble. For I never really meant any harm! 
. . In short, to Villon's finding, life, not merely 
as the parish authorities order it, but as the 
laws of nature constrain it too, is so "horrid" 
that the only way of rendering life endurable 
is to drink as much wine as one can come by. 
Besides, wine gives you such stupendous no- 
tions for a ballade, and enables you to com- 
prehend the importance of writing it, as you, 

107 



BEYOND LIFE 

who are so woefully unappreciated, who are so 
soon to die, alone can write it : and equally does 
wine sustain you through the slow fine toil of 
getting all the lovely words just right. . 
There in little we have Villon's creed. It is 
not a particularly "uplifting" form of faith, 
save in the sense that it sometimes leads toward 
elevation at a rope's end: but Villon is sincere 
about it, poignantly sincere : and his very real 
terror and his bewilderment at the trap in 
which he was born, and his delight in all life's 
colorful things, that are doubly endeared by his 
keen sense of their impermanence, are unerr- 
ingly communicated. . . Pity and terror : this 
dare one repeat? was what Aristotle de- 
manded in great poetry: and this it is that 
Villon gives, full measure. 

And we who receive the gift, all we who 
profit thus directly by the fact that Francois 
Villon was in the flesh, plus genius, a sneak- 
thief, a pimp, and a cut-throat why, we may 
very well protest that our sole concern with 
the long-dead is aesthetic. For that is a more 
comfortable course than its alternative, whiph 
is to make confession that Villon's depravity 
has proven positively praiseworthy. Yet, 
either way, we have no right to dwell obtusely 

108 



THE ECONOMIST 

upon a circumstance which Villon himself is 
reported to have disposed of, once for all: 
"When Paris had need of a singer Fate made 
the man. To kings' courts she lifted him; to 
thieves ' hovels she thrust him down; and past 
Lutetia's palaces and abbeys and taverns and 
gutters and prisons and its very gallows past 
each in turn the man was dragged, that he 
might make the Song of Paris. So the song 
was made : and as long as Paris endures Fran- 
sois Villon will be remembered. Villon the 
singer Fate fashioned as was needful: and in 
this fashioning Villon the man was ruined in 
body and soul. And the song was worth it." 
To-day of course nobody anywhere deliber- 
ates denying that the song was very well worth 
it. One may permissibly dispute what call there 
was to drag Fate into the business: but there 
is no possible disputing that Villon's first homi- 
cide was one of the luckiest accidents in the 
history of literature; and that a throng of in- 
grates have failed to render any appropriate 
gratitude to Dom Philippe Sermaise, for allow- 
ing himself to be killed so easily, by a novice 
in misdemeanor. . . 

7 

Our sole concern with the long dead (we are 

109 



BEYOND LIFE 

thus driven to concede) is aesthetic: and it was 
aesthetically that Villon and Marlowe, in com- 
mon with a host of confreres, have demon* 
strated their talent for economy. . . To a 
few of us it must always remain a source of in- 
termittent regret that we have no medium of 
expression save the one human body which we 
to some extent, if only for a while, control. If 
you will quite rationally consider a looking-glass 
you will get food for illimitable wonder in the 
thought that the peering animal you find there, 
to all other persons, represents you : and prob- 
ably there is nobody but has been shocked to 
identify one of those ambulatory reflections of 
queer people, in the mirror of a shop-window, 
as himself. That moving carcass does but very 
inadequately symbolize you, who, as a matter 
of open Sabbatical report, are a subtle and im- 
mortal spirit: nor does it afford any outlet to 
powers which you obscurely feel that you pos- 
sess, and must perforce permit to come to noth- 
ing, like starved prisoners that perish slowly. 
. . The thing is rather a parody, in dubious 
taste. . . So far from being you, it is not even 
really under your control. Pre-figuring it as 
your residence, you are immured in the garret, 
where you have telephonic communication with 

110 



THE ECONOMIST 

the rest of the house. But a house remains 
quiescent : whereas this thing incredibly sprouts 
lawns of hair; concocts, as no chemist can do, 
its saliva and sweat and gastric juices, with a 
host of mysterious secretions, and uses them 
intelligently; makes and fits on a vitreous 
armor for the tips of its toes and fingers; 
builds up and glazes and renews its sentient 
teeth; despatches, to course about its arteries, 
innumerable rivulets of blood, with colonies of 
living creatures voyaging thereon; and of its 
own accord performs a hundred other mon- 
strous activities in which you have no say. A 
third of the time, indeed, this commonwealth 
which you affect to rule takes holiday, willy- 
nilly, and you are stripped even of pretender- 
ship by sleep. Meanwhile the thing restlessly 
destroys and rebuilds itself. There is no par- 
ticle of it, in the arms and legs or anywhere, 
which those hands before you have not lifted 
and put into the mouth's humid cavern: nor is 
there remaining to-day one atom of the body 
you frequented ten years ago. For incessantly 
it sloughs and renews and recasts itself, this 
apparently constant body: so that you are 
afforded neither a private nor a permanent 
residence, but wander about earth like a wind- 
Ill 



BEYOND LIFE 

whirl over a roadway, in a vortex of ever- 
changing dust. 

And yet this body is likewise a cunning and 
elaborate piece of mechanism, over which you 
possess a deal of influence, for a limited while ; 
and is an apparatus wherewith something 
might conceivably be done. And so, those 
covetous-minded persons, the creative writers 
the poets, the poietoi, the " makers " endeavor 
with this loaned machinery to make something 
permanent. 

Deluded people who view life sensibly 
through the misleading reports transmitted to 
the brain-centres by man's gullible five senses, 
aim otherwhither and gravely weave ropes 
of sand. It is they who, with a portentousness 
which laughter-loving cherubs no doubt appre- 
ciate, commend the "middle road". They live 
temperately, display edifying virtues, put 
money in bank, rise at need to heroism and 
abnegation, serve on committees, dispense a 
rational benevolence in which there is in reality 
something divine, discourse very wisely over 
flat-topped desks, and eventually die to the 
honest regret of their associates. And for such- 
an-one that forthwith begins to end his achieve- 
ment here. No doubt the gates of heaven fly 

112 



THE ECONOMIST 

open, and his sturdy spirit sets about celestial 
labor: but upon earth he has got of his body 
no enduring increment. He has left nothing 
durable to signalize his stay upon this planet. 
Mementoes there may be in the shape of chil- 
dren: yet the days of these children also are 
numbered by no prodigal mathematician: and 
since to these children who were created when 
his thoughts ran upon other matters, he is 
certain to transmit his habits, they too in turn 
beget futilities. Meanwhile has the "practical" 
person builded a house, it is in time torn down, 
it burns, or else it crumbles : and his bungalow, 
or his paper-mill, or his free circulating library, 
fronts on the spires of Carthage and the 
Temple of Solomon. Has he contrived a bene- 
ficial law with Lycurgus, or a useful invention 
with Alfred the Great, his race in the progress 
of years outgrows employment of it. Has he 
created a civilization, it passes and is at one 
with Assyria and Babylon. Has he even 
founded a religion, the faith, he evinced by mar- 
tyrdom is taken over by an organized church, 
and pared down to the tenet that it is good 
form to agree with your neighbors. . . But 
the tale is old as to what befalls all human en- 
deavors that are prompted by common-sense. 

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BEYOND LIFE 

"Consider in thy mind, for example's sake, the 
times of Vespasian : consider now the times of 
Trajan: and in like manner consider all other 
periods, both of times and of whole nations, and 
see how many men, after they had with all their 
might and main intended and prosecuted some 
one worldly thing or other, did drop away and 
were resolved into the elements. " And Marcus 
Aurelius was in the right of it : by making any 
orthodox use of your body and brain you can 
get out of them only ephemeral results. For 
all this code of common-sense, and this belief 
in the value of doing " practical " things, would 
seem to be but another dynamic illusion, 
through which romance retains the person of 
average intelligence in physical employment 
and, as a by-product, in an augmenting continu- 
ance of creature comforts. To every dupe, of 
course, romance assigns no more than a just 
adequate illusion; and squanders no unneeded 
cunning in contriving the deceit. So with men 
it is a truism that people of great mental pow- 
ers are usually deficient in common-sense; for 
only the normally obtuse can be deluded by any 
pretence so tenuous as this of the ultimate value 
of doing "practical" things, and the acute 
waste time less self-deceivingly. 

114 



THE ECONOMIST 

8 

To some few of our multifarious race this 
futile body-wasting practised by kings and 
presidents and political parties, by ditch- 
diggers and milliners and shrewd men of busi- 
ness, seems irrational. The thriftier artist is 
resolved to get enduring increment of his body, 
arid by means of that movable carcass which 
for a while he partially controls, to make some- 
thing that may, with favoring luck, be perman- 
ent. Particularly does this incentive hearten 
the craftsman in that creative literature where- 
through a man perpetuates his dreams. In all 
other forms of chirographic exercise, wherein 
the scribe expresses his knowledge and ostens- 
ible opinions, as in history or in philosophy 
or in love-letters or in novels that deal with 
"vital" problems or in tax interrogatories, 
his writing is certain very soon to require re- 
vision into conformity with altered conditions, 
and is doomed ultimately to interest nobody. 
In the sister arts, there needs only a glance 
at the discolored canvases of Leonardo, or at 
the battered Venus of the Louvre, to show that 
here too time lies in wait to work disastrous 
alchemy. But the dream once written down, 

115 



BEYOND LIFE 

once snared with comely and fit words, may be 
perpetuated: its creator may usurp the brain- 
cells and prompt the flesh of generations born 
long after his own carnal loans are dust: and 
possibly he may do this here is the lure 
forever. 

To authors who regard their art with actual 
reverence, and beyond doubt exaggerate its 
possibilities as prodigally as their own, this 
then is the creative writer's goal: it is to bring 
about this that he utilizes his human brain and 
body: and it is to this end he devotes those 
impermanencies. By any creative writer, 
as has been said, the human brain is per- 
verted to uses for which it was perhaps 
not especially designed: nor is it certain that 
the human body was originally planned 
as a device for making 'marks on paper. 
Thus the serious artist, as well as the con- 
tributor to those justly popular magazines 
wherein the fiction is arranged, and to 
every appearance written, with a view of in- 
ducing people to read the advertisements, will 
very often damage his fleshly allotments in 
adapting them to serve his turn. And this 
would be a weighty consideration to the elect 
artist, who is above all else an economist, were 

116 



THE ECONOMIST 

a man's brain or body, by any possibility of 
hook or crook, and even in its present imper- 
fection, to be retained by him. But these chat- 
tels, as the elect artist alone would seem to com- 
prehend, with any clarity, are but the loans of 
time, who in an indeterminable while will have 
need of his own. So always this problem con- 
fronts the creative writer, as to what com- 
promise is permissible between his existence 
as an artist and his existence as an ephemeral 
animal. And this problem has the dubious dis- 
tinction of being absolutely the only question no 
writer has ever settled, even to his own sat- 
isfaction. . . 

Nor is this all. Enduring literature, as it is 
necessary once more to point out in a land 
where reviewers so incessantly dogmatize as 
to this or that book's "truthfulness to life", 
does not consist of reportorial work. It is not 
a transcript of human speech and gesture, it 
is not even "true to life" in any four-square 
sense, nor are its materials to be drawn from 
the level of our normal and trivial doings, 
So that writers seldom establish their desks at 
street-corners, which would seem the obvious 
course were it really anyone's business to copy 
human life, but to the contrary, affect libra- 

117 



BEYOND LIFE 

ries, where they grumble over being disturbed 
by human intrusion. I shall presently come 
back to this vital falsity of " being true to life." 
. . Meanwhile the elect artist voluntarily pur- 
chases loneliness by a withdrawal from the 
plane of common life, since only in such isola- 
tion can he create. No doubt he takes with 
him his memories of things observed and things 
endured, which later may be utilized to lend 
plausibility and corroborative detail: but, pre- 
cisely as in the Book of Genesis, here too the 
creator must begin in vacuo. And moreover, he. 
must withdraw, for literary evaluation, to an 
attitude which is frankly abnormal. The view- 
point of "the man in the street" is really not 
the viewpoint of fine literature: their touch- 
stones display very little more in common than 
is shared by the standards of lineal measure and 
avoirdupois weight: and for the greater part 
of every day, at meals, and in our family con- 
cerns, and in all relations with human beings, 
each one of us is perforce "the man in the 
street." It is thus from his own normal view- 
point that the artist must withdraw. . . And 
sometimes the mind goes of its own accord 
into this withdrawal, and reverie abstracts the 
creative writer from the ties and aspirations 

118 



THE ECONOMIST 

of his existence as a tax-payer. Of the pleasure 
he knows then one need not speak: but it is 
a noble pleasure. And sometimes the mind 
plays the refractory child, and clings pertina- 
ciously to the belongings of workaday life : and 
abstraction will not come unaided. Then it 
would seem that this ruthlessly far-seeing econ- 
omist induces such withdrawal by extraneous 
means (as people loosely say) as a matter of 
course, and by mere extension of the principle 
on which he closes his library door. . . Of the 
pleasure he knows then one need not speak: 
but, then also, the pleasure is noble. For now 
he is conscious of stupendous notions : he com- 
prehends the importance of writing down these 
notions as he alone can write them : and feeling 
himself to be a god, with eternity held in fee, he 
need not grudge the slow and comminuted labor 
of getting all his lovely words just right. And 
now he is for the while released from inhibitions 
which compel him ordinarily to affect agree- 
ment with the quaint irrationalities of " prac- 
tical " persons. For in his sober senses, of 
course, the economist dare not ever be entirely 
himself, but must pretend to be, like everybody 
else, admiringly respectful of bankers and 
archbishops and brigadier-generals and presi- 

119 



BEYOND LIFE 



dents, as the highliest developed forms of hu- 
manity. So it is from his own double-dealing 
that he induces a withdrawal; and with drugs 
or alcohol unlocks the cell wherein his cowardice 
ordinarily imprisons his actual self. Nor with 
him does there appear to be any question of 
self-sacrifice or self -injury, since, as he can per- 
ceive with unmerciful clearness, a man's brain 
and body are no more a part of him than is the 
brandy or the opium. All are extraneous things ; 
and are implements of which the economist 
makes use to serve his end. So the abstraction 
is induced, the dream is captured: and pres- 
ently, of course, this withdrawal requires aug- 
mented prompting. . . Thus the wind-whirl 
passes with heightened speed, and the dust it 
animated is quiet a little sooner than any in- 
evitable need was. And subsequently commen- 
tators are put to the trouble of exposing "un- 
substantiated traditions" and "calumnies of 
Griswold" and "Bacchic myths " and "sym- 
bolic vines", in annotated editions for the use 
of class-rooms. 



For to some of us this economy seems wrong* 
There is no flaw in it perhaps, as a matter of 

120 



THE ECONOMIST 

pure reason : but reasoning very often conducts 
one to undesirable results, and after all has no 
claim to be considered infallible. . . Drugged 
by the fumes of moral indignation, we will even 
protest that, inasmuch as Professor Henry 
Wadsworth Longfellow was a man of irre- 
proachable habits, and it was only yesterday 
that the Christian Disciples 7 pulpit was adorned 
by the Reverend Harold Bell Wright (to whom 
I shall recur for admiring consideration), it 
is, among other inferences, a self-evident 
proposition that Shakespeare did not die as 
the result of a drinking-bout. Conceivably the 
syllogism is not builded of perennial brass. 
But, as has been said, it seems at first sight, to 
every reputable connoisseur of art, that the 
only possible way to confront this unpleasant 
truth is to deny its existence. We somehow 
know, again led by instinctive wisdom, that it 
is more salutary for us to perceive in this 
mythos of the Dive Boutettle, which clings with 
annoying uniformity to so many great creative 
writers, simply a proof of their detractors ' un- 
inventiveness. . . For we admire our corner 
of the planet, we prize our span of life, and 
we cherish our bodies with a certain tenderness. 
It is not the part of a well-balanced person, say 

121 



BEYOND LIFE 

we, to think of such " economy ", nor to ap- 
praise a man's relative importance in human 
life, far less in the material universe, after 
any such high-flown and morbid fashion, so long 
as there is the daily paper with all the local 
news. So we take refuge in that dynamic illu- 
sion known as common-sense; and wax saga- 
cious over state elections and the children's 
progress at school and the misdemeanors of the 
cook, and other trivialities which accident 
places so near the eye that they seem large: 
and we care not a button that all about us 
flows and gyrates unceasingly an endless and 
inconceivable jumble of rotatory blazing gas 
and frozen spheres and detonating comets, 
wherethrough spins Earth like a frail midge. 
And we decline, very emphatically, to consider 
the universe as a whole "to encounter Pan", 
as the old Greeks phrased it, who rumored that 
this thing sometimes befell a mortal, but as- 
serted likewise that the man was afterward 
insane. They seem to have had the root of the 
matter. 

TO 

Yet Pan. IB eternal and ubiquitous, whatever 
we might pteier to have him. . . So perhaps 

122 



THE ECONOMIST 

the creative writer will continue indefinitely to 
abuse and wreck that inadequate human body 
which is his sole medium of expression, in an 
endeavor to compel the thing to serve his de- 
sire. It may be, of course, that he also is some- 
times led by instinctive wisdom, and achieves 
economy with no more forethought than bees 
devote to the blending of honey: even when the 
case stands thus, the fact is in no way altered 
that actually the creative writer, alone of man- 
kind, does in a logical fashion attempt the un- 
human virtue of economy. Whether consciously 
or no, he labors to perpetuate something of 
himself in the one sphere of which he is certain, 
and strives in the only way unbarred to create 
against the last reach of futurity that which 
was not anywhere before he made it. He 
breaks his implements with ruthless usage; 
he ruins all that time will loan : meanwhile the 
work goes forward, with fair promise. Yet a 
little while, as he assuredly reflects, and there 
will be no call for moral indignation, since it 
will be his book alone that will endure. And 
considering that wondrous volume, the arch* 
bishops and aldermen and pedagogues and 
leading philanthropists of oncoming years will 
concede that it was the reputed wastrel who 

123 



BEYOND LIFE 

played the usurer with his loaned body, and 
thriftily extorted interest, while those contem- 
poraries who listened to the siren voice of 
common-sense were passing in limousines 
toward oblivion. . . So it is that the verbal 
artist and the " practical " person must always 
pity each other : and when it comes to deciding 
which is in reality the wastrel, there seems a 
great deal to be said for both sides. 

Perhaps that is a moral of no large ethical 
value. But I am afraid there is nothing of the 
sort in the whole sorry business. Meanwhile 
you must remember that this cult of Art is very 
ancient, and began in days when goddesses were 
honored by human sacrifice. I think it is 
Thomas a Kempis who reports that an old cus- 
tom is not lightly broken. 



124 



THE REACTIONARY 



Have I the air Francais? . . . For you must know, 
lis as ill breeding now to speak good English as to write 
good English, good sense or a good hand. . . . But, 
Lord! that old people should be such fools! I wonder 
bow old people can be fooled so ! ... 

The parson will expound it to you, cousin. . . . 

I knew there was a mistake in't somehow . . For 
the parson was mistaken, uncie, it seems, ha ! ha ! ha ! 

The mistake will not bo rectified now, nephew. 

The Gentleman Dancing Master 



V 

Which Considers the 

Reactionary 

YET, if an old custom be not lightly broken 
in this cult of Art, it is equally a truism 
that therein all customs inevitably alter, 
and variability, here as elsewhere, attests the 
presence of vitality. . . So it happens that, at 
the moment I speak, "the reign of the Puritan 
in literature " is the target of considerable not 
over-civil comment: and everywhere les jeunes 
are vociferously demanding their right to a 
candid and fearless exposition of life as it actu- 
ally is. Alike in smashing and in splintered 
prose (which latter form they playfully list aa 
vers libre), and via a pullulation of queer-look- 
ing little magazines, these earnest if rather 
quaint young people are expounding their "per- 
sonal reactions ". . . . For to obtrude some 
reference to "the reaction " seems now as much 
the badge of this movement as was in 1830 
enjambement of a French Romanticist or in 
1590 a far-fetched metaphor of an English 
Euphist. "Ah, yes, but just what, precisely, is 

127 



BEYOND LIFE 

my reaction to this?" is considered nowadays, 
I am inf ormed> the correct attitude toward art 
and life alike, among all really earnest think- 
ers. . . And the badge is happily chosen : for, 
of course, this is but the latest form of that age- 
less reaction which is bred in every generation 
by unavoidable perception that its parents have 
muddled matters beyond human patience. Thus 
the necessary incentive remains inveterate, 
leaving merely the question what is to be done 
about it all, for each generation to answer with 
pleasing variousness. 

So, it is well enough that " earnestness " 
should have its little hour along with tho uke- 
lele, just as a "red-blooded reversion to primal 
instincts' 9 coincided in its fleet vogue with 
that other parlor-game called pingpong, and in 
the remote era of progressive-euchre parties 
pretty much everything was " subtle " and 
" perverse " and " fiery-colored". And really, 
that a demand for liberty to talk on any and 
all subjects should prove always a pleonasm 
for limiting the discussion to sexual matters, is 
proper enough, too, if only because it is the 
natural business of young people to outdo their 
elders, as touches both interest and perform- 
ance, in such affairs. 

128 



THE BEACTIONABY 

In every seriously taken pursuit, of course, 
the influence of the Puritan augments daily: 
and the enaction of laws prohibiting anything 
from which light-minded persons might con- 
ceivably derive enjoyment remains our real na- 
tional pastime. But it seems actually a gen- 
eral aesthetic movement, this ousting of the 
Puritan from control of our reading-matter: 
and since to the clear-seeing Puritan this read- 
ing-matter does not appear a potential source 
of pleasure to anybody, the movement has little 
opposition. If only the experiment had not 
been triec^ over and over again, one might look 
forward to the outcome with an optimism less 
lukewarm. But the progress of romance I take 
to be a purely natural force : and in nature, as 
has been strikingly observed, any number of 
times, there are no straight lines. Art thus 
does not always go forward, but moves in re- 
current cycles, as inevitably as the planets and 
tides and seasons, and all else which is natural. 
For "the continual slight novelty" recom- 
mended by Aristotle or some other old-fash- 
ioned person, is the demand of universal nature, 
and in consequence of art : so that, as you will 
remember, St. Paul very feelingly comments 
upon this craving as characteristic of the most 

129 



BEYOND LIFE 

artistic people that ever lived, in his address 
to the Athenians. 

Thus it comes about, humiliating as may 
seem the concession, that what is happening 
to-day in America is really not in essentials 
different from what happened in England as 
far back as 1660. Then too "the reign of the 
Puritan in literature " was triumphantly done 
away with, once for all. . . And it is to this 
quaint analogue that I must for a moment 
divert, as illustrating very exactly what I have 
in mind. . . 



In England 1660 marked a rather wide adop- 
tion, toward life in general, of that attitude 
which, as distinguished from the Chivalrous 
view, is describable as Gallantry. I have read 
that the secret of Gallantry is to accept the 
pleasures of life leisurely, and its inconven- 
iences with a shrug; as well as that, among 
other requisites, the gallant person will always 
consider the world with a smile of toleration, 
and his own doings with a smile of honest 
amusement, and Heaven with a smile which is 
not distrustful, being thoroughly persuaded 

130 



THE REACTIONARY 

that God is kindlier than the genteel would 
regard as rational. 

In fine, the gallant person is a well-balanced 
sceptic, who comprehends that he knows very 
little, and probably amounts to somewhat less, 
but has the grace to keep his temper. This as 
a creed of conduct, of course, is ancient: you 
will find it illustrated certainly as far back as 
in the disreputable Jurgen legends of Poic- 
tesme, if indeed it was not explicitly voiced 
even earlier by Horace. And precisely as in 
the case of Chivalry, this too is a creed which 
still retains adherents; so that even here in 
Fairhaven my friends Robert Townsend and 
Rudolph Musgrave, to me at least, exemplify 
the Gallant and the Chivalrous types, as 
lingering survivals left at hopeless odds with 
an era unpropitious to either. . . 



If one is indeed known by the company he 
keeps out of, Gallantry entered England very 
ill-recommended. Those dissolute and pictur- 
esque Cavaliers of the Restoration were really 
no fit companions for any self-respecting atti- 
tude toward life. They came swaggering into 

131 



BEYOND LIFE 

England, swearing a many mouth-filling oaths, 
and chivied Mrs. Grundy, who was then no less 
much-thought-of for being not yet christened, 
up and down and out of the island, as a dowdy 
harridan. She has regained her own, dei gratia, 
since then: but, being feminine, she has never 
forgiven those who once decreed her out of 
fashion: and the schoolbooks she licenses will 
smugly inform you, any day, that this was the 
most " immoral " period in English history. 

The description, like most of Mrs. Grundy 's 
verdicts, is sufficiently sonorous to insure its 
repetition without the attachment of much par- 
ticulai meaning. Indeed, for all that the famed 
difficulties of getting a camel into a needle's eye 
are insignificant compared with the 'task of 
getting an era into a sentence, almost any book 
treating of the past is by ordinary a Museum 
of Unnatural History, wherein one views the 
bones of extinct epochs carefully wired 
into artificial coherency and ticketed with an 
authoritative-looking placard. Of all these 
labels none is better known than the adjective 
"immoral" attached to the period of the Eng- 
lish Restoration. . . That, though, is because 
its "immorality" was itself a moral which men 
prefer not to face. One is told that this period 

132 



THE REACTIONARY 

was indecent, and the information has a sub- 
stratum of veracity. Yet 1660 is only the cor- 
ollary of 1649 : and England being once wedded 
to Puritanism, the union, after enduring ten 
years, was pretty sure to produce a Duchess 
of Cleveland at the helm of state, and a 
William Wycherley at the head of its literature. 
It was the human " reaction " to a decade of 
supernal thinking. 

When the king had bravely stepped out of 
the window at Whitehall, a prohibitory tax was 
laid on mental cakes and ale. An epidemic of 
gloomy apprehensions in the guise of religion 
devastated the three kingdoms, and agreed one 
with another in the single tenet that since life 
is short you must even affairs by wearing a 
long face. Theological bickering succeeded the 
struggles of civil war : and unsatiated by Wor- 
cester and Marston Moor, dialecticians fought 
and refought Armageddon. The beneficent 
purpose of life as a matter of public knowl- 
edge was to afford all men a chance of escap- 
ing hell, by making earth equally unattractive. 
Vice went thriftily clad in fanaticism, for piety, 
or at least a vociferous impersonation thereof, 
was expected of everyone. . . It was one of 
those not infrequent historical instances when 

133 



BEYOND LIFE 

the rank and file of men have actually acquired 
a noble idea, and have gone mad under the un- 
accustomed stimulus, such revolutions as 
have their modern analogue in the world-wide 
movement toward Prohibition, which, as I need 
hardly say, has resulted in unseemly excesses 
and a deplorable abuse of alcohol by our lead- 
ing temperance workers. . . Never before or 
since has hypocrisy, even in England, received 
such disastrous encouragement. Children be- 
gan life firmly impressed with the burden of 
original sin, and simultaneously assumed the 
responsibilities of Christianity and the first 
pinafore. 

It has been plausibly suggested to have been 
through a not unnatural confusion that these 
children, with time's advancement, were prone 
to lay aside both together. No sooner is 
Cromwell buried than conies treading over his 
grave an uproarious train, rustling in satin, 
rippling with laughter, and extravagant in 
misdoing. It is the exiled "man Charles 
Stuart ", returning at the head of a retinue 
of tailors, cooks and strumpets of panders, 
priests, swashbucklers, perfumers, pickpockets, 
and an entire peerage, yesterday's mendi- 
cants, to whom a kingdom has been given 

134 



THE REACTIONARY 

wherewith to ainuse themselves. Ten years 
of beggary and vagabondage not being 
the best conceivable training for a monarch 
and his advisers, it is inevitable that they per- 
form queer antics. England is topsy-turvy: 
sobriety is esteemed as quaintly out-of -fashion 
wear as the late Queen Elizabeth's ruff or the 
casque with which her predecessor affrighted 
the air of Agincourt. If any offences stay un- 
committed against decorum, it is merely be- 
cause no one has thought of them. Certainly, 
no person of quality ever remembers social re- 
strictions save when considering how most 
piquantly to break them. . . Lord Buckhurst 
and Sir Charles Sedley, for example, gain pres- 
tige as humorists by appearing in the streets 
of London Adam-naked: 'tis conceded by the 
wits to be a vastly diverting jest, for Gallantry 
is yet in its boisterous youth. Where decorum 
had stalked unchecked for years, at last the 
revolution has set in, as against any other 
tyrant. The Restoration is thus far " im- 
moral ", but profoundly logical. As for con- 
demning, there is always danger in hasty 
judgments : and investigation has ere now sug- 
gested that Nero was throughout the victim 
of his artistic temperament, and that the dog, 

135 



BEYOND LIFE 

in the manger was a neurasthenic in search of 
rest and quiet. . . 

Questionless, if the English of the day were 
somewhat lacking in hidebound morality, they 
seem to have trod the primrose way with hon- 
est enjoyment, and to have anticipated in the 
reputed bonfire just ahead, at the very worst, 
a feu de joie. Meanwhile the air they breathed 
was filled with animation, gayety, wit and ex- 
citement. For these people were guilty of 
enjoying existence without analyses, in a period 
of Externals, wherein hearts pumped blood and 
had no recognized avocations. Of a gentleman 
it was everywhere expected, as the requisites 
of social success, to make improper advances 
gracefully ; and to dress not more than a month 
behind the Court of Fontainebleau ; and to 
fence well enough to pink his man in an occa- 
sional duel back of Montague House ; and to say 
resistlessly in French that which he ought not 
to say at all. 

For conversation was now an art. You 
adopted it as a profession, and labored assidu- 
ously toward graduation as a wit. Persons of 
ton who properly valued their reputations 
would spend at least an hour in bed devising 
impromptus while the day was being aired. 

136 



THE REACTIONARY 

They ornamented their language as carefully 
as their bodies : the sting of an epigram was as 
important as the set of a periwig : and the aspir- 
ing were at no little pains to crowd all their 
envy, hatred and uncharitableness into a per- 
fectly phrased sentence, while wistfully hoping 
that its rounded and compact malignance might 
rouse approving laughter in the coffee-houses. 
. . For that was fame, albeit fame of a sort 
which is hardly appreciable nowadays, when 
thoughts are polished solely against potential 
appearance in a book. When two or three tax- 
payers are gathered together for the sake of 
what we humorously describe as conversation, 
it is salutary to remember that you may retain 
far better repute as touches sanity after dis- 
charging a shotgun into the midst of the group 
than will survive the loosing of a "rhetorical" 
sentence. But men were less partial to the 
slipshod on flambeaux-lighted Restoration eve- 
nings, when Eilligrew and Rochester capped 
jests, and ornate paradoxes went boldly about 
tavern-tables, secure of applause, and with no 
weightier misgiving than the offchance of 
clashing with some more cleverly worded as- 
persion of human nature. 

137 



BEYOND LIFE 



Such were the beaux who loitered through 
the parks by day, and at night, with congenial 
female companions, thronged the side-boxes of 
the theatres. They had assembled to be 
amused, and in 1660 nothing in dramatic form 
in England was able to bring about this con- 
summation. There was only the Elizabethan 
and Jacobean drama, which was to them as 
it remains to-day to the more honest of our 
contemporaries, all very admirable, no doubt, 
in a remote high-minded sort of way, but with- 
out any possible doubt, deplorably old-fash- 
ioned. Such an audience puzzling over Hamlet, 
Prince of Denmark, as revived by the Duke's 
company, is a repetition of the ancient fable, 
a group of splendid, shimmering and not at all 
erudite cocks gathered around a jewel, which 
they find curious but tasteless. Their " reac- 
tion ", in fine, was plain boredom: and "the old 
plays, " as Evelyn recorded after sitting 
through this Hamlet, " begin to disgust our re- 
fined age." This Shakespeare, about whom their 
fathers made such a to-do, had evidently been 
over-rated: his tragedies were lacking in cor- 
rectness, and certainly were unlike those of 

138 



THE REACTIONARY 

that newly discovered genius, in France yon- 
der, Jean Racine: as for his comedies, they 
were insipid things compared with those which 
that really diverting rascal, Moliere, was pro- 
ducing every week or two, in France, where 
King Lewis himself took part in them. Thus 
it was that to these people, too, came the un- 
avoidable perception that their parents had 
muddled aesthetic matters beyond human pa- 
tience. 

So English audiences demanded new plays, 
which would resemble those French dramas 
that it was the very height of fashion to admire. 
They wished for something they could compre- 
hend: like all uncultured persons, they were 
unable comfortably to venture in imagination 
beyond the orbits they traveled in flesh, and so 
preferred in art an exalted parody of their 
own everyday existence. They were bored by 
these mouthing thanes whose only assignations 
were with witches in a cave, and by these out- 
of-date Moors who smothered a faithless wife 
instead of allowing her a separate mainten- 
ance. They wished to see the stage bustling 
with people whose motives and doings they 
could understand and commend: so the beaux 
demanded heroines who, with delicious flut- 

139 



BEYOND LIFE 

tarings, stayed chaste pending the first pro- 
curable opportunity to be otherwise: and the 
fine ladies wanted as heroes flattered likenesses 
of last week's seducer, scented and irresistible, 
to parade triumphantly among the ruins of a 
shattered Decalogue. 

The dramatists did their best toward com- 
pliance. A new style of comedy was impro- 
vised, which, for lack of a better term, we may 
agree to call the comedy of Gallantry, and 
which Etherege, and Shadwell, and Davenant, 
and Crowne, and Wycherley, and divers others, 
labored painstakingly to perfect. They prob- 
ably exercised the full reach of their powers 
when they hammered into grossness their too- 
fine witticisms just smuggled out of France, 
mixed them with additional breaches of deco- 
rum, and divided the result into five acts. For 
Gallantry, it must be repeated, was yet in its 
crude youth. . . So these comedies, however 
gaily received in those days, seem now a trifle 
depressing. Such uncensored philosophy may 
well have interested mankind when voiced by 
the lovely painted lips of Nell Gwynne or lisped 
by roguish Mrs. Knipp (Pepys* " merry 
jade 91 ), when the beauty of the speaker loaned 
incisiveness to the phrase, and the waving of 

140 



THE REACTIONARY 

her fan could suggest naughtinesses. But now, 
in reading, the formal cadences of these elabo- 
rate improprieties blend, somehow, into a dirge, 
hollow and monotonous, over an era wherein 
undue importance would seem to have attached 
to concupiscence. The inhabitants can think of 
nothing else : continually they express the delu- 
sions of vice-commissioners and schoolboys in 
regard to the matter, and are bent upon having 
you believe that, behind the scenes, their am- 
orous prowess puts to shame the house-fly. It 
is, if you insist, rather nasty: but, above all, 
it is so naive. . . And at worst these "real- 
ists" did not pretend that their interest in such 
affairs, an interest which is probably always 
more or less an obsession with the inexperi- 
enced, had anything to do with altruism and 
the social reformation of humanity. It was 
merely to make sport they trifled with the 
quaintness of the still popular fallacy that hu- 
man beings are monogamous animals, either by 
inclination or practise. For the comedy of Gal- 
lantry took its cue from the Court of Charles 
the Second, where morality was strictly con- 
formable to the standards of spinsters whose 
inexplicable children were viewed with a pecu- 
liar tenderness by the king. And these Caro- 

141 



BEYOND LIFE 

Han arbiters the Duchess of Cleveland, the 
Duchess of Portsmouth, the Duchess of Rich- 
mond, and other ladies of the bedchamber, 
were not duchesses of Lewis Carroll's creation, 
intent on finding a moral in everything. . . 
One of these dainty iniquities had, indeed, be- 
stowed considerable and even profoundly per- 
sonal favors on Wycherley, in return for verses 
in praise of her ancient calling : and the dram- 
atist, remembering it was the Duchess of Cleve- 
land who had lifted him to fame and participa- 
tion in royal privileges, felt perhaps that com- 
mon gratitude demanded of him a little rough 
treatment of virtues any general practise of 
which would involve the destitution of his bene- 
factress. Whatever his motives, Wycherley 
manifested scant respect for the integrity of 
the Seventh Commandment, or in fact for any 
sort of integrity. . . 



This, of course, was very reprehensible. 
Yet the plays of this William Wycherley make 
rather more than interesting reading, for there 
is in his wit a genuine vigor that withstands the 
lapse of time and the distraction of explana- 
tory notes. One may yet smile over the clever 

142 



THE REACTIONARY 

things said in his comedies, without being pro* 
foundly in sympathy with the speakers. For 
Wycherley's priapeans are, when you view 
them closely, in nothing an improvement upon 
actual human beings. They have forsaken 
blank verse for something very like the real 
speech of unusually quick-witted persons in so- 
cial intercourse: and their behavior springs 
from no more exalted motives than people 
ordinarily bring into a drawing-room. In de- 
picting character, and in his dialogue, Wycher- 
ley was the first of English writers to attempt 
anything like sustained "realism": and it is 
a quaint reflection that Jane Austen is his liter- 
ary granddaughter. 

It would be pleasant to discuss a little more 
amply this William Wycherley. The spend- 
thrift had virile genius, which, had he chosen, 
might have made his name one of the greatest 
in English literature. Instead, he preferred to 
enjoy the material things of life, and, in the 
end, got from his endeavor to do so, very small 
comfort. . . But the man's work remains, for 
anybody to inspect at will : and all that is neces- 
sary to say as to the man himself has been, 
rather indulgently, set forth elsewhere. 

So in his first youth he wrote four comedies, 

143 



BEYOND LIFE 

in a manner that will always delight the judi- 
cious, because the desire to write perfectly was 
inborn in him: but all the while he was rather 
ashamed of his employment. To be classed 
with such queer cattle as authors, and be con- 
sidered at the mercy of persons whom lack of 
any especial ability has reduced to writing 
criticisms for the newspapers, a little marred 
his renown as a leader of fashion, and indeed 
is still humiliating. Then many writers be- 
sides Wycherley have sometimes felt dejectedly 
that scribbling on paper is trivial employment 
for an adult. . . So he protests to his ad- 
mirers, yawning carelessly behind his long 
white fingers, that these jeux d' esprit were 
written for his own amusement; mere trifles, 
in faith, scrawled at odd moments in his boy- 
hood, and hastily strung together; nothing 
more, good hearts, he assures them. And his 
hearers, duly impressed, applaud this gentle- 
manly rogue, who has without any effort de- 
picted vividly that which they understand and 
admire. For the age, like every other age as 
a whole, is not really interested in the myster- 
ies of existence that move in orbits other than 
the round of daily life. Poetry, religion, high 
passion and clear thinking even now with most 

144 



THE BEACTIONABY 

of us remain the x's and y's of a purely aca- 
demic equation, and as unknown quantities, are 
as dubiously regarded in literature as else- 
where. But that which is "true to life" any- 
one of us can at once recognize, with a pleasant 
glow over his own cleverness. 

6 

Now it is unnecessary to enumerate all the 
points of resemblance between what may be 
euphemistically described as the present state 
of reading-matter in America and the very real 
literary art of the English Restoration. Nor is 
it needful to explain that, where these "real- 
ists" attempted to be as lively as their French 
models, our own "realists" are more ambi- 
tiously endeavoring to be at once as "daring" 
and as dull as the Russians. . . The main point 
is that in both cases the reaction was inevitable 
and not especially significant. The similarity 
next in importance is found by observing that 
these Restoration dramatists were the first 
English writers to fall into that dangerous and 
thrice dangerous practise with which our litera- 
ture is threatened to-day, of allowing their art 
to be seriously influenced by the life about 
them. 

145 



BEYOND LIFE 

For Wycherley and his confreres were the 
first Englishmen to depict mankind as leading 
an existence with no moral outcome. It was 
their sorry distinction to be the first of English 
authors to present a world of unscrupulous 
persons who entertained no especial preju- 
dices, one way or the other, as touched ethical 
matters; to represent such persons as being 
attractive in their characteristics; and to rep- 
resent such persons, not merely as going un- 
punished, but as thriving in all things. There 
was really never a more disastrous example of 
literature's stooping to copy life. 

For of course the Restoration dramatists 
were misled by facts. They observed that in 
reality unscrupulous persons were very agree- 
able and likable companions; that the prizes 
of life fell to these unscrupulous persons; and 
that it is only the unscrupulous person who can 
retain always the blessing of an untroubled con- 
science. Anyone of us can to-day observe that 
such is still, and perhaps will be forever, the 
case in human society. And equally, everyone 
of us knows that in enduring literature of the 
first class this fact has always been ignored, 
and retributive justice, in the form of both 
gnawing remorse and physical misfortune, has 

146 



THE REACTIONARY 

with gratifying regularity requited the evil- 
doer. 



Most great creative writers, in the pursuit 
of their emblematic art, have tended to present 
man's nature as being compounded of "good" 
and "evil" qualities, presenting humanity in 
the explicit black and white of full-dress mor- 
ality, as it were, without much intrusion of the 
intermediate shades of ordinary business-wear. 
And all great creative writers have as a rule 
rewarded the virtuous, but they have punished 
the wicked invariably. Here we touch on what 
is perhaps the most important illusion that ro- 
mance fosters in man. 

It can hardly be questioned that "good" and 
"evil" are aesthetic conventions, of romantic 
origin. The most of us, indeed, at various re- 
moves, quite candidly derive our standards in 
such matters from romantic art, as evinced in 
that anthology of poems and apologues and 
legends and pastorals and historical romances 
known collectively as the Bible. And therein, 
you will recall, the Saviour of mankind is rep- 
resented as conveying his message by making 
up short stories in the form of parables, ro- 



147 



BEYOND LIFE 

mance thus being very tremendously indicated 
as the true demiurge. . . But of the Bible I 
will speak later. 

And were there nothing else to indicate the 
artistic origin of "good" and "evil", no one 
could fail to note that "goodness" everywhere 
takes the form of refraining from certain 
deeds. Every system of ethics, and every re- 
ligion, has expressed its requirements in the 
form, not of ordering people to do so-and-so, 
but of "Thou shalt not do this or that". Thus 
the "wicked" have always retained a monopoly 
of terrestrial dealings, since the "good" have 
largely confined themselves to abstention there- 
from. There is only one class of men con- 
ceivable to whom avoidance of action could 
figure as being in any circumstances praise- 
worthy: and that, of course, is the artist class, 
which alone can make use of, and indeed has 
need of, physical inactivity, wherein to evolve 
and perfect and embody its imaginings. To 
rational persons it is at once apparent that 
mere abstention from enormities cannot in 
itself constitute any very striking merit; and 
that rigorously keeping all the Ten Command- 
ments, say, cannot possibly entitle you to su- 
pernal favoritism. You really cannot in reason 

148 



THE REACTIONARY 

ask, from either celestial or civic authorities, 
a reward for not being a thief or an adulterer, 
and expect to enter into eternal bliss on the 
ground of having kept out of jail. . . To the 
contrary, all religious precepts, when closely 
considered, can have no bearing whatever on 
any future life, and would seem to be the purely 
utilitarian figments of romance, as variously 
contrived with a view of improving the coher- 
ency and comeliness of life here. 

Thus virtue has always been conceived of 
as victorious resistance to one's vital desire 
to do this, that or the other, and in a word as 
daily abstention from being "true to life". 
And that such abstinence will ultimately be re- 
warded full measure, is the lure which religion 
has always dangled before man, very plainly 
in the demiurgic effort to exalt the animal, and 
to woo him away from "realism' 7 . . . So he 
moils forward, guided by the marsh-fire glitter 
of that other venerable artistic convention "the 
happy ending". For being "good" he will be 
paid, here in all probability, but certainly in a 
transfigured life to come. It is that dynamic 
belief which men generally entitle the sustain- 
ing force of religion. . . And religion, like all 
the other products of romance, is true in a far 

149 



BEYOND LIFE 

higher sense than are the unstable conditions of 
our physical life. Indeed, the most prosaic of 
materialists proclaim that we are all descended 
from an insane fish, who somehow evolved the 
idea that it was his duty to live on land, and 
eventually succeeded in doing it. So that now 
his earth-treading progeny manifest the same 
illogical aspiration toward heaven, their bank- 
ruptcy in common-sense may, even by material 
standards, have much the same incredible re- 
sult. 

8 

Still, it is a pity we no longer really notice 
that material world which we unthinkingly con- 
temn. Much abominable talk about "the un- 
wholesome restlessness of modern life" is thus 
bred by our blindness to the fact that restless- 
ness is pre-eminently a natural trait. All nature 
is restless, as men must very anciently have 
noted with troubled surmise, when they ob- 
served this constant and inexplicable moving of 
things. . . The world they inhabited was a 
place ineffably different from the planet which 
we utilize as a foundation for office-buildings, 
but then too the world was full of obvious un- 
rest. For over their heads by day moved a 

150 



THE REACTIONARY 

ball of fire, and at night a spotted plate, or 
perhaps a crescent, of silver, moving among 
innumerable lamps that guttered and sparkled 
as they too moved, each as if of its own accord. 
Incomprehensible objects, much like enormous 
fleeces, likewise moved overhead by day, and 
moved earthward at evening, to be dipped in 
blood and dyed with gold. Sometimes would 
come the moving pelts of more sombre mon^ 
sters, bellowing with rage, and these shaggy 
horrors would fight one another with terrible 
javelins, while the world wept and the frenzied 
trees wailed aloud. Very often after such a 
battle a triumphal arch, of all blended colors, 
would arise as if of its own accord, in honor 
of the victor. . . And on earth plants crept 
out of the soil much as did the worms, and the 
grass thrust through like little green swords, 
always moving. Bushes and trees, that fastidi- 
ously cast by and renewed their raiment, and 
insanely relinquished it altogether when the 
world was chilliest, were never still, but 
moved always, and whispered secrets to one 
another. Water wandered about earth, and 
chattered and laughed as it moved. The very 
fire in your cave moved too, as though strug- 
gling to free itself from the hearth, and if you 

151 



BEYOND LIFE 

came within reach, it venomously stung you. . . 
Men long ago noted this interminable restless- 
ness, this unceasing movement, of insensate 
things; and deduced, quite naturally, that in- 
visible beings must exist who manipulated 
them. Whether the deduction were right or 
wrong, the approach to it was purely a matter 
of reasoning: and man's interpretation of the 
universe, through considering things as they 
were, was in the terms of " realism". Men saw 
the universe as the uncanny place that it re- 
mains to honest inspection. . . 



Then appeared, as invariably appears, the 
liberating reactionary. For romance, the first 
and loveliest daughter of human vanity, took 
charge of this interpretation, and transmuted 
it, by whispering that these unseen beings were 
vitally interested in mankind and in all the 
doings of mankind. This, as I need hardly 
point out, had nothing to do with reasoning : it 
was not (upon the whole) a logical inference 
based on the analogue of man's deep interest 
in, say, the morals of gnats and lizards; but 
was throughout the splendid and far-reaching 
inspiration of romance. For now the demiurgio 

152 



THE REACTIONARY 

spirit of romance revealed these beings, who had 
gifts to bestow, and led men thriftily to worship 
them. So that, by the grace of romance, the 
quite incredible "reaction" of man to all the 
mystery and vastness of the universe was a 
high-hearted faith alike in many impendent 
blessings and in his own importance. 

For it was romance, the first and loveliest 
daughter of human vanity, that now caused re- 
ligion to become dynamic, by presenting it as 
profitable to men. Straightway in Egypt hawk- 
headed Ra went forth, a divine philanthropist, 
to fight with the strong dragon Apap for man's 
welfare: and Queen Isis, crowned with the 
young moon, and attended by geese and ser- 
pents, set out upon her wanderings, burying 
here and there a fragment of her loved hus- 
band's body, so that men might get plentiful 
crops from the earth she thus made fertile. 
From Nineveh came Ishtah, in a chariot drawn 
by innumerable doves: she bore in one hand a 
cone-shaped pebble, and in the other a comb: 
thus she came mystically to reign as Mylitta 
in Babylon, as Astarte in Syria, as Tanith in 
Carthage, as Ashtaroth in Canaan, as Anaitis 
in Armenia, and as Freia in the northlands, and 
everywhere to delight and madden mankind 

153 



BEYOND LIFE 

with careful perversities of passion. About 
India roamed Pushan, with his hair braided 
spirally like a shell, and he carried a golden 
spear wherewith to protect men from every ill : 
and dreadful but not unpropitiable Kali, the 
Contriver of Human Sorrows the Black God- 
dess, whose joy was in curious torture, might 
sometimes be encountered there, in the form 
of a tigress, intent to work evil among men. 
And Olympos arose, in very much the fashion 
of Ilium's fabled erection, to a noise of multi- 
tudinous music, and so revealed its passionate 
and calm-eyed hierarchy: nymphs went about 
the woods, so that in every coppice was the flash 
of their silvery nakedness, and from stilled 
forest pools came the green-haired Naiads : and 
of all these romance consummated the nuptials, 
at one time or another, with some member of 
the human race, save only by a fine truthful 
touch the Goddess of Wisdom. And north- 
ward Thor smote terribly with his Hammer, 
bringing the nourishing rain to men's tilled 
places, and Balder the Ever-Beautiful, whom 
blind Hoder slew unwittingly with a javelin of 
mistletoe-wood, went down into Hela's cheer- 
less habitation, there to abide until the gather- 
ing of Ragnarok; so that virtuous persons 

154 



THE REACTIONARY 

might then pass through the world's twilight, 
over the bright rainbow bridge, to revel etern- 
ally in Gimli, that paradise which the jEsir had 
builded for wise and valiant men. Everywhere, 
as romance evolved the colorful myths of re- 
ligion, the main concern of the gods was, less 
with their own affairs, than with the doings of 
men: everywhere religion was directly profit- 
able to men : and everywhere romance loaned to 
this new form of expression that peculiar 
beauty which is delicate and strange, yet in 
large part thrills the observer by reason of its 
unexpected aptness, such as always stamps 
the authentic work of romance. 

10 

Then the demiurge set about a masterpiece, 
and Christianity was revealed to men. . . 
There is really no product of romance more de- 
lightful than the Bible: but we are prone to 
appraise it, like everything else, from irrele- 
vant standpoints. Thus we consider the Book 
piecemeal : we think of Abraham and Moses and 
David and Isaiah and Paul and Peter and so 
on, as individuals, and attempt, with some- 
thing very like aesthetic sacrilege, to educe 
"lessons" from their several lives. To do this 

155 



BEYOND LIFE 

is beyond any reasonable doubt a futile pro- 
ceeding, and is to misapprehend the Author's 
scale. For the proportion of any one of these 
people to the story is not, as elsewhere, the 
relation of a character to the tale in which it 
figures, but rather the value of a word, or at 
most a sentence, that is employed in narrating 
the romance. In this great love-story there are 
only the two characters of God and Humanity. 
The men and women used as arbitrary symbols 
in themselves signify very little. But viewed 
collectively, like so many letters on a printed 
page, they reveal a meaning, and it is 
gigantic. . . 

For I spoke just now of the Cinderella 
legend, with its teaching of the inevitable very 
public triumph of the neglected and down- 
trodden, as being the masterwork of romance. 
Can you not see that the story of Christ, the 
climax toward which the whole Bible-romance 
moves as its denouement, is but the story of 
Cinderella set forth in more impressive terms! 
for therein the most neglected and down- 
trodden of humanity is revealed, not as a tin- 
seled princess, but as the Creator and Master 
of all things: and His very public triumph is 
celebrated among the acclamation, not of any 

156 



THE REACTIONARY 

human grandees and earls and lackeys, but of 
the radiant hosts of Heaven. And you must 
note the scale of this greater version! For as 
the disregard and contumely accorded God is 
dated from the Genesis of humanity, from the 
primal beginnings of life, so is the ultimate 
very public triumph celebrated amid the unim- 
aginable pomp and fanfare of the vision seep, 
from Patmos. And then the firmament is rolled 
up like a scroll that has been read to the end, 
and the last type of life is removed from earth, 
precisely as all type is removed from a "form" 
after the manufacture of a very beautiful book 
that is not intended as an article of commerce, 
but is printed solely for the Author 's 
pleasure. . . 

I spoke of Christianity as a product of ro- 
mance. . . I have discoursed to little purpose 
if that sounded to you like a slur upon Christi- 
anity : for from the beginning I have been con- 
tending that nothing in the universe is of im- 
portance, or is authentic to any serious sense, 
except the various illusions of romance, the 
demiurge. And I am frank to confess that I 
elect to believe every word of the Bible. In- 
deed, to discover anything incredible therein 
necessitates a rather highly developed form of 

157 



BEYOND LIFE 

opththalmia in regard to what is miraculous. 
It is possible only to those persons who some- 
how overlook the fact that they themselves are 
miracles of dullness entirely surrounded by 
miracles of romance. We should avoid such 
beings. Personally, I find no difficulty in be- 
lieving, for example, that Jonah was kept alive 
for three days in the commodious interior of 
a great fish, when I consider that I myself have 
been kept alive for a number of years impris- 
oned in three pounds of fibrous matter here 
in my skull. That Adam was modeled of clay, 
and an immortal spirit breathed thereinto, is in 
every way a more comprehensible and neat pro- 
ceeding than that the physical union of two hu- 
man bodies a process in which the soul would 
seem very certainly to take no part whatever, 
should not infrequently produce an infant who 
is an immortal spirit. And finally, that Christ 
turned water into wine, of noticeably superior 
and heady quality, and gave it to His friends 
to drink, is at the worst as consistent with 
reason as that His most vociferous servitors 
should demand to have any imitation of His 
example rewarded with a jail-sentence. . . Ah, 
no, there is no difficulty in the miracles and in- 
consistencies of the Bible, for us who live 

158 



THE BEACTIONABY 

among, and are made what we are, by miracles 
and inconsistencies. 

Thus I am frank to confess that I elect to be- 
lieve every word of the Bible. Its historical 
portions, I am told, have been shown to be un- 
true, but that is surely a very inadequate reason 
for exchanging belief in them for credence of 
the artless "facts" which "scholars" propose 
as substitutes. For as I have previously pointed 
out, our sole concern with the long-dead is aes- 
thetic. Now aesthetically it makes for tedinm 
to enthrone any such dull figure as the "liisJo^ 
ical ' ' Pilgrim-Father-sounding Nebo-def em: 
the-crown in place of the picturesque potentate 
who ate grass like an ox, and certainly it makes 
for dryness to revise the world-engulfing Flood 
into a local freshet; whereas the Christ legend 
should always be believed in, without relation to 
the "realism" of inscriptions and codexes, be- 
cause of the legend's beauty and usefulness to 
art. . . But suppose these things never hap- 
pened? Why, but do you not see that to sup- 
pose anything of the sort is insane extrava- 
gance? for it is to barter a lovely idea for a 
colorless one. No, whether the Bible-story be 
"historical" or not, the story is priceless either 

159 



BEYOND LIFE 



way, as a triumph of romantic art, in its apothe- 
osis of the Cinderella legend. 

So I spoke of Christianity as a product of 
romance, and as the masterpiece of romance. 
And such it veritably is : for if scribes who were 
not "divinely inspired " concocted and ar- 
ranged the Bible as we have it, the Bible is past 
doubt the boldest and most splendid example 
of pure romance contrived by human ingenuity. 
But if it all really happened, if one great 
Author did in point of fact shape the tale thus, 
employing men and women in the place of 
printed words, it very overwhelmingly proves 
that our world is swayed by a Romancer of in- 
calculable skill and imagination. And that the 
truth is this, precisely, is again precisely, 
what I have been contending from the start. 



160 



VI 
THE CANDLE 



Mr. Scandal, for Heaven's sake, sir, try if you can 
dissuade him from turning poet. 

Poet! . . . Why, what the devil! has not your 
poverty made you enemies enough? must you needs show 
your wit to get moref 

Ay, more indeed: for who cares for anybody that 
has more wit than himself f 

Jeremy speate like an oracle, r . , No, turn pimp, 
flatterer, quack, lawyer, parson, be cnapiain to *2 atheist, 
or stallion to an old woman, anything but poet; for a 
poet is worse, more serrile, timorous and fawning, than 
any I have named. 

Lo w for Low 



VI 

Which Values the Candle 



T T TE have come a long way, from the petty 
\\ villains of Wycherley to the eternal 
verities of religion. . . And in prog- 
ress we seem to have deserted the Gallant atti- 
tude toward life, at a period when among Eng- 
lish-speaking peoples this school of philosophy 
was yet in its boisterous youth. It matured, as 
I need hardly say, into something infinitely 
more urbane ; and developed, as does every in- 
spiration of the demiurge, in a direction very 
largely determined by the material this artist 
had just then in hand. Precisely as the sculp- 
tor's inspiration must conform to his supply of 
marble, so must romance be trammeled by 
working in the rarer and more stubborn me- 
dium of human intelligence. 

Indeed, it is pitiable to observe how the most 
felicitoub notions of the demiurge, when 
brought forcibly into contact with our gen- 
eral blockheadedness, fly off a tangent. Thus, 

163 



BEYOND LIFE 



for instance, it has long fared with Chris- 
tianity, which I made bold to eulogize a 
moment ago as the supreme masterpiece of 
romance, however many well-meaning persons 
stand, to-day as always, ready to assure you 
that we have been very dismally privileged to 
witness "the world-wide failure of Christian- 
ity/ 1 Well, that is another verdict which will 
be settled by posterity, without, it is just con- 
ceivable, any prolonged consideration of my 
opinion. Meanwhile it is true that those few 
of us who believe that the principles of Christi- 
anity may perhaps some day be regarded seri- 
ously as rules of conduct are apt every once 
in a while to be staggered. A war, for example, 
may seem, to persons judging hastily, to render 
any such opinion untenable. Yet, when rightly 
viewed, the war-madness which is occasionally 
kindled to ravage Christendom, discredits noth- 
ing except the harmless pretensions of us 
church-members to be otherwise than academ- 
ically interested in Christianity. The verity 
and beauty and the importance of Christianity 
remain unaffected, alike by the doings of lay- 
men and clergy. 

For of course the time-hallowed verdict of 
the clergy, when confronted by this mania, has 

Ifii 



THE CANDLE 

been perfectly voiced by an honored and inr 
fluential prelate: "All God's teachings about 
forgiveness should be rescinded for the enemy. 
I am willing to forgive our enemies for their 
atrocities just as soon as they are all shot. If 
you would give me happiness, just give me the 
sight of the leaders of the enemy hanging by 
the rope. If we forgive our enemies after the 
war, I shall think the whole universe has gone 
wrong. " 

Now that is pithily put: it leaves you in no 
manner of doubt as to the speaker's opinion of 
romantic Galilean doctrines, and candor is 
always worthy of commendation. And the 
clergy in every era have merited the praise due 
to this fearless stand. History must always 
record that in war-time the ministers of Christ, 
in every land and epoch, have bravely confessed 
that to their minds the exhortation to love your 
neighbor was in no way inconsistent with mili- 
tary endeavor to remove him from the face of 
the earth; and that to their minds the text 
concerning the blessedness of peacemakers 
should be "rescinded for the enemy." The 
clergy act bravely, be it repeated, for consider- 
able courage is required to make public con- 
fession that your mind works in this fashion* 

165 



BEYOND LIFE 

Nor for near twenty centuries have they once 
faltered in contending that the Sixth Com- 
mandment should be interpreted in a super- 
Pickwickian sense, since if only you were care- 
ful to commit your homicides wholesale and in 
the right uniform, manslaughter was an emi- 
nently praiseworthy pursuit. Any killing done 
in the wrong uniform, of course, is counted as 
another brutal atrocity: that has always been 
frankly conceded by the clergy, upon both 
sides. . . For everywhere in war-time the 
clergy are thrust into the delicate position of 
having to explain away explicit requirements 
with which their parishioners do not intend to 
be bothered just now: so that the clergy labor 
under what must be the very unpleasant obliga- 
tion of talking truculent nonsense Sunday after 
Sunday, and of issuing a formal invitation to 
Omnipotence to take part in the carnage. How- 
ever, the considerate person will always re- 
member that rectors and bishops really have 
no alternative, short of 'falling out with their 
congregations : and that a clergyman who took 
the ground that Christ meant literally every 
word He said would get himself into very seri- 
ous trouble. Meanwhile it is consoling to note 
that through every war the potential impor- 

166 



THE CANDLE 

tance of Christianity, even as a possible stand- 
ard of conduct, is re-suggested, by the fact that 
each revolt from Christian tenets, however en- 
thusiastically abetted by all the vestries and 
diaconates, results in misery everywhere. And 
meanwhile, one more dynamic illusion of ro- 
mance the masterpiece of romance, in fact, is 
temporarily baffled by coming into contact with 
human dunderheadedness, very much after the 
fashion in which, as was just pointed out, our 
man-made social orderings often bring to noth- 
ing the illusion known as love. For there is no 
denying that romance is flouted when church- 
men "face the facts" (as sturdy capitalists put 
it) in a well-meant effort to patch up some su- 
perficial consistency between what the congre- 
gation is going to do at all hazards and the 
plaguily explicit teachings of an unparochial 
Saviour . . . 

And the naive blasphemy of this is far worse 
than " wicked, " because it is an abandonment 
of aesthetic principles. For this do you not 
see? is "realism": and, as I hasten to add, 
such " realism" as was hardly avoidable, by 
human nature. Since Constantine killed off all 
serious opposition to Christianity (in the lit- 
eral fashion of an unimaginative soldier), and 

167 



BEYOND LIFE 

made Christianity upon the whole the most con- 
venient religion for civilized persons to pro- 
fess, the Christian church has been in war-time 
more or less driven to precisely that " realism' 7 
which was denounced by Sophocles. For an 
endowed and generally prosperous church can- 
not but sooner or later be seduced into regard- 
ing the men composing the average congrega- 
tion as they are, instead of considering what 
men "ought to be," and holding them to that 
standard by the romantic and infallible pro- 
cess of assuming, as a matter of course, that it 
is a standard from which nobody ever deviates. 
Unquestionably, "realism" is not upon a 
plane with arson or adultery, and so cannot be 
much palliated by circumstances. And it has 
even been suggested that in war-time some of 
the clergy, here and there, really believe what 
they preach. For the undeniable possibility of 
the case being such, however, we pew-holders 
are more to blame than the pastors, if only be- 
cause the contemptuous indulgence everywhere 
accorded the clergy, as a sort of third sex, so 
shuts them off from normal life that many 
of them may well come quite honestly to 
confound the chief ends of human existence 
with church affairs. Now war has always 

168 



THE CANDLE 

promoted " business, " by the simple pro- 
cess of creating a need for that which 
war destroyed. War has always thus directly 
benefited that staid and undraftable class of 
" business" men who compose vestries. Viewed 
from the cloistered and necessarily somewhat 
unsophisticated standpoint of most clergymen, 
it must seem self-evidently not possible that 
religion was intended to interfere with the con- 
tinuance in well-doing of a leading vestryman 
no less esteemed as a personal friend than as 
a parishioner of famed integrity and benevo- 
lence, whose annual contribution to Foreign 
Missions, and even to the Contingent Fund, is 
dependent upon the state of his ledgers. That 
the " business " of such a person is divinely pro- 
vided, and made prosperous, it would be im- 
pious to doubt. For, through everybody acting 
conscientiously, all around, the clergy in many 
instances come really to believe (in common 
with their congregations) that church- work 
comprises that attitude toward life which is 
Christianity. They come, in short, to mistake 
for the light of the world the candle that illu- 
minates the altar. And thus it is very often 
without any conscious and intelligent time-serv- 
ing, no doubt, that prelates so intrepidly expose 

169 



BEYOND LIFE 

to detestation that lack of self-restraint which 
they deplore when manifested on the battle- 
field, by reproducing it in the pulpit. . . 

Thus it has been for some twenty centuries, 
and the end is not yet. Meanwhile the consid- 
erate person here and there to be born among 
oncoming generations will reflect that this very 
human hysteria under bell-towers in no way 
affected the authentic sun ; and will insist that 
Christianity has been not at all " discredited, " 
but remains the happiest effort of romance. 

I have divagated at such length, as to this 
particular instance of the way in which the 
demiurge is occasionally foiled by human short- 
comings, in part because it illustrates my 
thesis, with vivid pigments ; and partly because, 
as I too become an old fogy, I turn with re- 
newed tenderness to all else that grows obso- 
lete, and so am inclined to defend the church, 
even in this matter, to the utmost effort of my 
out-of-date prejudices. 

And much as what we so long nicknamed 
Christianity surrendered to material condi- 
tions, so did that other pleasing product of ro- 
mance, which I have termed Gallantry, in due 
season compromise with material conditions, 

170 



THE CANDLE 

though in a fashion, as I am happy to report, 
far less disastrous. 



For the fun of shouting out the gross names of 
things is not inexhaustible. We have glanced at 
the dramatic literature of Gallantry as it was 
in the exuberance of youth, and we have noted 
its painstaking improprieties. . . Well, when 
the scented exquisites of Charles the Seeond*s 
generation, a little the worse for the wear and 
tear of time, and a trifle shaken by the turmoil 
and uproar of 1688, crept out of the retirement 
into which the Revolution had thrust them, to 
lounge again on the shady side of the Mall, their 
juniors were beginning to wonder if this in- 
terminable obligation to be salacious had not 
reached the point of becoming tiresome. In 
large part this was the inevitable rebellion of 
a new generation against the existent order, 
whatever that may happen to be, in demand- 
ing "the continual slight novelty." Yet the 
reaction, as always, was given its general trend 
by material circumstances : for the all-powerful 
Whigs had of late displayed such turpitude that 
it was eminently necessary to emphasize their 
pious motives in everything. Thus, when peo- 

171 



BEYOND LIFE 

pie uncivilly pointed out that King William 
was an unhanged thief, his adherents could 
draw attention to his regular attendance at 
morning prayers: and when the Tories de- 
nounced Queen Mfoy as a parricide, Whigs 
could complacently counter with the equally un- 
deniable facts that she did beautiful needlework 
and was particularly gracious to archbishops. 
Many of the less exigent virtues thus became 
quite modish. 

The stage of course reflected this. So, after 
an existence of thirty years, the new comedy 
passed into a second period, like a married 
rake, vastly ameliorated in conduct, and not at 
all in morals. Toward the end of the seven- 
teenth century it was still the fashion to speak 
encomiums of " manly Wycherley," whose pite- 
ous wrecked body as yet survived his intellect : 
but it was "the great Mr. Congreve" whose 
plays drew crowded houses. 

For, beyond question, Mr. Congreve of the 
Middle Temple was the day's foremost writer. 
Such was the general opinion of his contempor- 
aries, and it does not appear to have been 
bitterly disputed by Congreve. He is "the 
great Mr. Congreve/' who, very much as 
Wycherley had done before Fleet Prisor 

172 



THE CANDLE 

eclipsed his genius, leads fashion as well as 
literature: to honor Mr. Congreve critics con- 
tend in adulation, and even the pen of misan- 
thropic John Dennis flows as with milk and 
honey; whereas 'tis notorious that no woman 
can resist Mr. Congreve 's blandishments, from 
Anne Bracegirdle the famous actress, to Henri- 
etta Churchill, the equally famous Duchess of 
Marlborough. He is "the great Mr. Con- 
greve " : and Mr. Dry den (the late laureate, and 
himself a poet of considerable parts) doth not 
hesitate to predict that the name of Congreve 
will survive as long to posterity as the name 
>f Shakespeare. But, for that matter, so long 
equally will live the names of Iscariot and 
Simple Simon: and while it is well enough to 
leave footprints on the sands of time, it is even 
more important to make sure they point in a 
commendable direction. . . 



In his youth this William Congreve wrote 
four comedies that will always delight the judi- 
cious, because in Congreve too was inborn the 
desire to write perfectly of beautiful happen- 
ings These comedies I take to be the full and 
well-nigh perfect expression of the Gallant atti- 

173 



BEYOND LIFE 

tilde. There has been no lack of persons to 
arraign them as "immoral" productions, and 
to point out that their sprightly dialogue is not 
with any painstaking exactitude modeled after 
the questions and answers of the Shorter Cate- 
chism. But really that sort of carping is rather 
silly. Congreve was writing for a definite 
audience an assemblage of gallant persons, 
and must give them what they would accept. 
The far less lucky Marlowe, as I have just in- 
dicated, was forced to write those "comic" 
scenes which make the blood of his admirers 
grill with shame, because his audience de- 
manded that sort of thing : and dramatists have 
always labored under such necessities, very 
probably before Phrynichus suffered for re- 
minding the Athenians of unpleasant topics, 
and quite certainly ever since Shakespeare 
stooped to vilify the Maid of Domremy. Con- 
greve 's auditors had shown what subjects they 
considered suitable for comic treatment: and 
Wycherley had so far justified their belief as 
to demonstrate that from the materials they 
had chosen could be constructed excellent enter- 
tainment. If Congreve was to write for the 
stage, he must abide by its traditions as to the 
comedy of Gallantry. . . 

174 



THE CANDLE 

As for the "grossness" of Congreve *s 
language, decorum in speech is largely a mat- 
ter of chronology. The gallant pleasantries 
'of Congreve neither corrupted nor embar-^ 
rassed his contemporaries. It was what they 
were used to in daily life, with the difference 
jthat the Congrevean version was more deli- 
.cately worded: for anecdotes which even an 
apple-cheeked boy in the company of his fel- 
lows might hesitate to repeat, were then nar- 
rated by divines from the pulpit. . . Congreve 
in short, has worn the mode of his day, and 
permitted his art to be seriously influenced by 
the life about him. As I have previously 
pointed out, this is always a dangerous pro- 
ceeding : and here we find a droll by-product of 
such rash dalliance with "realism", of de- 
picting men more or less as they are, in the 
fact that with altered fashions the plays of 
Congreve, which were formerly considered 
models of elegance, have become "indecent" 
reading. The lesson should be salutary. . . 
Meanwhile we ought to be rational, and con- 
cede to an acknowledged leader of society the 
right to wear the style of his day, in all things, 
and to be a la wode alike in dress and speech. 
Neither his language nor his periwig is just 

175 



BEYOND LIFE 

at present in vogue : and that is the worst which 
can be said of either with justice. For really, 
should you fall to the rare practise of thinking, 
whether you allude to the strange woman as a 
"social problem " or plump out with a briefer 
Biblical synonym, the meaning conveyed is 
very much the same. 

There remains, of course, the question of 
Congreve 's ethical attitude. Toward the mis- 
doings of which he treats, as innumerable mor- 
alists have lamented, his tone is one of amused 
acquiescence. Well, after all, that is a Gallant 
requisite to "consider the world with a smile 
of toleration," and such remains the Gallant 
viewpoint even nowadays, however infre- 
quently it is displayed in electrotype : Wycher- 
ley, as I have said, had perfidiously set forth 
the fact that Nemesis is by no means an in- 
fallible accountant: and Congreve, too, con- 
ceded this, though with more urbanity. For 
where the cynicism of Wycherley is exhibited 
in an onslaught, that of Congreve takes shape 
as a shrug. Wycherley, like most of us, was 
uncomfortable when people talked exaltedly 
outside of pulpits, and being free of obligations 
we labor under of pretending to like it, ex- 
pressed his annoyance forcibly. But Congreve 

176 



THE CANDLE 

brushed aside such verbiage, and declined to 
make a pother over catchwords. Meanwhile h~ 
looked about him, and was convinced that men 
were not immaculate creatures: and his view 
of women 's natural talent for chastity became 
such as nowadays only a very gifted woman 
dare express. . . 

So Congreve makes no effort toward elevat- 
ing or instructing his audience, despite his cool 
assertion that in each of his comedies is hidden 
a fable. "I designed the moral first, and to 
that moral I invented the fable," you will find 
the unconscionable fellow writing; and if this 
be so, the disguise of the apologue is remark- 
ably efficient. For unquestionably none save 
Congreve ever accused his plots of being 
builded to point a moral. In fact, the unpreju- 
diced would hardly have suspected his com- 
edies of being constructed at all, for they have 
throughout the formless incoherence of ordi- 
nary human existence, and resemble actual life 
also in that the insignificance of what is being 
done is painstakingly veiled with much speak- 
ing. At the final curtain, you have no idea of 
the story: in memory lingers at most a glit- 
tering confusion of persons hiding in closets, 
juggling with important documents, inconse- 

177 



BEYOND LIFE 

quently soliloquizing over their private affairs 
for the benefit of eavesdroppers, and casually 
marrying masked strangers. You recall, 
clearly enough, that the young people have got 
the better of their seniors, and that all the love- 
ly wives en secondes noces have " deceived M the 
doddering husbands : but, in spite of the Latin 
on the title-page and the rhymes at the end, 
the moral lesson inculcated remains a trifle 
vague. 



Congreve to the contrary, this fine gentle- 
man's object is not so much to castigate the 
follies of his time with derision, as to perfect 
the sort of gallant conversation he forlornly 
hoped some day to conduct in real life with 
one of his duchesses. Provided his puppets 
talk their very best, it does not much matter 
how they behave. Unhuman conduct, at all 
events, is immaterial in characters created ex- 
pressly to voice clever thoughts, since to have 
such thoughts is, by ill luck, not generally a 
human trait. For nowhere in any drawing- 
room was ever spoken anything like Congreve J s 
dialogue : and his people all live in glass houses 
which, very luckily for the tenants, are located 

178 



THE CANDLE 

in the country that Lamb long ago called the 
Utopia of Gallantry. . . The wisest may well 
unbend occasionally, to give conscience a half- 
holiday, and procure a passport to this delec- 
table land. True, there are, as always in travel, 
the custom-house regulations to be observed: 
in this realm exist no conscientious scruples, no 
probity, no religion, no pompous notions about 
altruism, nor any sacred tie of any sort, and 
such impedimenta will be confiscated at the 
frontier. We are entering a territory wherein 
ethics and ideals are equally contraband. For 
Congreve's readers make the grand tour of a 
new Arcadia, where Strephon wears a peruke, 
and Phyllis is arrayed in the latest mode from 
the Court of Versailles ; and where Priapos, for 
all that he remains god of the garden, about 
the formal alley-ways of which flee bevies of 
coy nymphs (somewhat encumbered by bro- 
caded gowns) pursued by velvet-coated shep- 
herds, who carry, in place of vulgar crooks, the 
most exquisite of clouded canes, where the 
Lamps scene's statue, I repeat, has been ameli- 
orated into the likeness of a tailor's dummy. It 
is a care-free land, where life, untrammeled 
by the restrictions of moral codes, untoward 
weather, limited incomes or apprehension of 

179 



BEYOND LIFE 

the police, has no legitimate object save the 
pursuit of amorous pleasures. Allowing for a 
century of progress and refinement, it is very 
much the country in which dwelt Marlowe's 
Hero and Leander. 

And probably this atmosphere of holiday de- 
tachment from the ordinary duties and obliga- 
tions of existence is the milieu best adapted, 
after all, to exhilarating comedy. To picture 
people solely in a temporary and irresponsible 
withdrawal from the everyday business of life 
is a serviceable device toward lightheartedness : 
and you will find that in more recent times a 
delightful use of it was made by that gener- 
ally unappreciated artist, Henry Harland. 
Here is a man whom I have sometimes sus- 
pected of a deliberate attempt to reproduce 
something of this Congrevean atmosphere, as 
well as almost all the other deliciously improb- 
able conventions of the comedy of Gallantry, in 
a tale of more modern conditions. Even so, I 
am free to confess that I once thought Har land's 
books of more importance than I would care 
to assert them to-day. For of course it is no 
longer permissible to believe that, provided the 
puppets talk their very best, it does not much 
matter how they behave: and my juniors cow 

180 



THE CANDLE 

me with their all-devastating " earnestness. " 
But to revert to Congreve's older chronicles 
of house-parties and week-ends is to encounter 
some of the most entertaining company in lit- 
erature. Thereamong are the fine gentlemen, 
Careless, and Scandal, and Valentine, and Bell- 
mour, and Mirabell, and the even finer fops, 
Brisk and Tattle, magnanimous "Turk Tat- 
tle, " who, being accidentally married, is hon- 
estly grieved, on his wife's account. "The 
devil take me if I was ever so much concerned 
at anything in my life. Poor woman! Gad, but 
I'm sorry for her, too, for I believe I shall lead 
her a damned sort of life." . . And Lady 
Froth, and Lady Plyant, and Belinda, and 
Cynthia, and Angelica, and the well-matched 
sisters Frail and Foresight, who between them 
lost and found a bodkin. And the two Wit- 
wouds, and Ben Legend, and Lady Wishfort, 
and Prue, and Sir Sampson, are other names 
in the list one could go on enumerating, for 
delight in the pleasant memories evoked. Even 
for Mrs. Mincing and her unsuccessful endeav- 
ors to pin up hair with love-letters in prose, 
one has a tenderness, and hears with regret 
how "poor Mincing tift and tift all the 
morning" , . 

181 



BEYOND LIFE 



Besides, with Mrs. Mincing, according to the 
Stage Directions, enters Mrs. Millamant. . . 
It is not easy to say too much in praise of Milla- 
mant : for there is nothing in polite comedy that 
can pretend to rival her save Celimene, and the 
little French widow is not one-tenth so likable, 
since the English minx inveigles you into a sort 
of fond and half-vexed adoration, from the 
moment she appears "in full sail, with her fan 
spread and her streamers out, and a shoal of 
fools for tenders," till the final settlement of 
her heart-affairs, when she has promised to 
have Mirabell, on the condition (among so 
many others which read more curiously, and 
are sufficiently up-to-date to include eugenic 
provisos) that "we never visit together, nor 
go to the play together, nor call names like love 
and sweetheart and the rest of the nauseous 
cant, but be as well-bred as if we were not mar- 
ried at all." . . So she vanishes, through a 
pleasantly shaded avenue in the St. James's 
Park of Utopia: and one envies the lucky fel- 
low as she passes, with mincing steps, painted 
and frail under her nodding bows, "far dee 
et peinte et frele parmi les noeuds enormes de 

182 



THE CANDLE 

rubans," and to the very tips of those slender 
fingers, which are half-hidden by a gleam of 
jewels, in everything one sees of her fantastic 
and adorable. It stays no wonder that Mirabell 
was confessedly as indulgent to her faults as to 
his own. For Millamant is not to be remem- 
bered as so many paragraphs of printed 
dialogue: you recollect her as an elfin woman 
actually seen, heard and capitulated to, be- 
cause there was no resisting the cool splen- 
dor of her eyes (enhanced by a small black 
star of courtplaster), and the spell of her tinted 
lips, her sweet and insolent laughter, and, un- 
derlying all, her genuine tenderness. . . "None 
but herself can be her parallel, " as Theobald 
unhappily expressed it, in referring to quite 
another person: and English comedy has pro- 
duced nothing else that rivals this brilliant 
figure. 



Of course she was the cause that Congreve 
never married. Having once been intimate 
with Mrs. Millamant, it was inevitable he should 
find flesh-and-blood coquettes a little tedious. 
Indeed, when you deliberate his Utopian serag- 
lio, you cannot but wonder how he managed 

183 



BEYOND LIFE 

after his desertion thereof, to put up with thirty 
years of mere duchesses. . . . The considerate 
reader will always be in love with Congreve's 
women; with those lost ladies of a yester-year 
which was never almanacked ; and with the per- 
ennial charm of these delectable girls, that never 
wore rose-tinted flesh. For they are in every 
thing pre-eminently adorable, these mendacious, 
subtle, pleasure-loving, babbling, generous, vo- 
latile, brave, witty, and sumptuous young jill- 
flirts who rule in the Utopia of Gallantry. So 
all true cognoscenti must stay forever enamored 
of them; of their alert eyes, their little satin* 
slippered feet, their saucy tip-tilted little noses, 
their scornful little carmine mouths, and their 
glittering restless little hands, for they are all 
mignonnes. Nay, the more discerning will even 
value them the more for their bright raiment 
and uncountable fallals, their stomachers and 
tight sleeves, their lappets and ribbons, their 
top-knots and pinners, their lace streamers, and 
fans, and diamonds, and comfit-boxes; and, 
above all, that fantastic edifice of hair which 
rises in tiers and billows and turrets, above 
their mischievous small faces: whereas Herod 
of Jewry could not but find something heart- 
moving in their infinite youth. It is, upon the 

184 



THE CANDLE 

whole, consoling to reflect that no girls like 
these were ever confined in impermanent flesh : 
for then, after setting at most a trio of decades 
by the ears, they would have grown old, and that 
tragedy would have been quite unbearable. But 
since these gallant minxes existed only in ro- 
mance, their youth remains immortal, and has 
made glad some seven generations of adorers. 

And so, the gravest charge which equity can 
lay against them is that they spoiled Congreve's 
interest in all other women. . . . But it will 
not do too closely to consider what unfilial havoc 
must have been wrought, off and on, by book- 
women, in the heart-life of their begetters. 
Every romantic artist is a Goriot and wastes 
existence in adoration of his dream daughters 
as they move in loftier spheres. . . . Mean- 
while one may well pity this fond lover's wife. 
For what chance had poor Ann Shakespeare 
against Beatrice and Cleopatra and Rosalind? 
Nor will the judicious deny that Isabella Thack- 
eray lost her mind with considerable provoca- 
tion when her husband was perpetually closeted 
now with that red-stockinged jade from Castle- 
wood, and now with the notorious Mrs. Bawdon 
Crawley. Even Scott's marriage, they say, was 
not eminently successful: and you may depend 

185 



BEYOND LIFE 

upon it that at the bottom of the trouble was 
one Mistress Diana Vernon of Osbaldistone 
Hall, in the Cheviots. Indeed, the more perspi- 
cacious will have no manner of doubt that Cath- 
erine Dickens was driven into a separation 
through Charles's impending affair with that 
Wilf er girl, coming as it did upon the heels of 
his undisguised relations with the first Mrs. 
Copperfield. . . But all that, too, is a part of 
the human sacrifice through which Art is yet 
honored by her zealous servitors. For to be 
quite contentedly married may be taken as 
proof positive that a writer has no very striking 
literary genius, and being unable to outdo na- 
ture in creating women, is satisfied to put up 
with her makeshifts. 



To Art, then, this William Congreve gave 
whole-hearted allegiance until he was (like Mar- 
lowe) a young fellow of twenty-nine. At that 
age Congreve also died, as an artist Physi- 
cally and it is toward this fact my pre-amble 
has from the first been making headway, phys- 
ically Congreve survived for some thirty years; 
and during this period wrote not another line. 
You will search in vain to find another case 

186 



THE CANDLE 

which really resembles this. At twenty-nine 
Congreve was the most famous and most widely 
admired writer of an age distinguished in let- 
ters : and at twenty-nine he put aside literature 
forever, like a coat of last year's cut. . . . 

One perceives that this spruce gambler for 
immortality found the game not worth the can- 
dle. ... Of the real economy which is prac- 
tised by the creative writer I have just spoken : 
yet this unhumanly rational course of life is 
adopted but as a shield against entire extinc- 
tion, and proverbially every shield has two sides. 
I find it on record that the obverse the not so 
rational, and therefore more human side of 
this buckler against oblivion was fairly pre- 
sented by another fine literary artist, whose 
warped soul inhabited the crooked body of Alex- 
ander Pope. "Men will remember me. Truly 
a mighty foundation for pride ! when the utmost 
I can hope for is but to be read in one island, 
and to be thrown aside at the end of one age. 
Indeed, I am not even sure of that much. I 
print, and print, and print. And when 1 collect 
my verses into books, I am altogether uncertain 
whether to look upon myself as a man building 
a monument or burying the dead. It sometimes 
seems to me that each publication is but A sol- 

3JK 



BEYOND LIFE 

emn funeral of many wasted years. For I have 
given all to the verse-making. Granted that the 
sacrifice avails to rescue my name from obliv- 
ion, what will it profit me when I am dead and 
care no more for men's opinions f" . . . And 
Wycherley is asserted to have agreed with the 
indomitable little hornet of Twickenham. 
11 There was a time," says Wycherley, "when I 
too was foolishly intent to divert the leisure 
hours of posterity. But reflection assured me 
that posterity had, thus far, done very little to 
place me under that or any other obligation. 
Ah, no ! Youth, health and a modicum of intelli- 
gence are loaned to most of us for a while, and 
for a terribly brief while. They are but loans, 
and Time is waiting greedily to snatch them 
from us. For the perturbed usurer knows that 
he is lending us, perforce, three priceless pos- 
sessions, and that till our lease runs out we are 
free to dispose of them as we elect. Now, had 
I more jealously devoted my allotment of these 
treasures toward securing for my impressions 
of the universe a place in yet unprinted libra- 
ries, I would have made an investment from 
which I could not possibly have derived any 
pleasure, and which would have been to other 
people of rather dubious benefit." 

188 



THE CANDLE 

In very much this fashion it would seem that 
Congreve reasoned. Like Wycherley, Con- 
greve in his first youth wrote in a manner that 
will always delight the elect, because the desire 
to write perfectly of beautiful happenings was, 
with him also, innate: and throughout all this 
thrice-polished writing he presented so irresist- 
ibly a plea for what I have called the Gallant 
attitude toward life, that in the end he con- 
verted himself. One must make the best of this 
world as a residence ; keep it as far as possible 
a cheery and comfortable place; practise ur- 
banity toward the other transient occupants; 
and not think too despondently nor too often of 
the grim Sheriff, who arrives anon to dispos- 
sess you, no less than all the others, nor of any 
subsequent and unpredictable legal adjust- 
ments: that is what the creed of Gallantry 
came to (long before Congreve played with ver- 
bal jewelry under the later Stuarts) when Hor- 
ace first exhorted well-bred persons to accept 
life's inconveniences with a shrug, amara lento 
temperet risu, and to make the most of their 
little hour of youth and sunlight in Augustan 
Borne; and the Tent-maker sang to very much 
that rueful cadence in the Naishapur of Malik 
Shah, when the Plantagenets were not yet come 

189 



BEYOND LIFE 

into England. . . But Congreve was more hu- 
manly logical than these elder sceptics, who 
kept on laboriously refining phrases about the 
vanity, among so many other vanities, of writ- 
ing at all. For he devoted thirty very pleasant 
years to gourmandizing and good wine, and to 
innumerable lovely women, who, though not 
Millamants to be sure, were chosen solely on ac- 
count of obvious merits, from the green-room 
and the peerage impartially, and to reading 
new books, and to making much brilliant and 
quite profitless talk with other equally amiable 
and well-to-do and indolent fine gentlemen. His 
apostasy to romance, in short, was even more 
thorough-going than that ecclesiastical aban- 
donment of romance which I just now lamented. 
And he undertook for the remainder of his life 
no heavier responsibility than to sign on every 
quarter-day a receipt for his salary as Secre- 
tary of Jamaica, and perhaps every once in a 
while to wonder where Jamaica might be. ... 

8 

Indeed, to all of us who have essayed the 
word-game, at which one plays for a dole of 
remembrance in our former lodgings after the 
Sheriff has haled us hence, there comes at times 

190 



THE CANDLE 

a dispiriting doubt as to whether the game is 
worth the candle. Potent and honey-sweet, very 
certainly, is the allure of this desire to write 
perfectly of beautiful happenings : for all that, 
it may well be the contrivance of some particu- 
larly sardonic-minded devil : and beyond doubt, 
if follow the desire you must, you will be the 
wiser for scrutinizing its logic none too closely. 
You had best yield blindly to the inborn instinct, 
and write as well as you possibly can, much as 
the coral zoophyte builds his atoll, without any 
theorizing. Assuredly you have not time to 
count how many candles are being squandered, 
or what precisely is their value. . . . For here 
too we cross the trail of another dynamic illu- 
sion. 



Of tlie Dive Boutettle I have spoken at suffi- 
cient length. Apart from this sort of sacrifice, 
however, the literary artist who is really in ear- 
nest must be content to do without any number 
of desirable human traits which he cannot af- 
ford. . . . Thus, although modesty may seem 
to him a most engaging virtue, his mainstay in 
life must always be an exaggerated and thrice 
exaggerated opinion of his own value. Should 

191 



BEYOND LIFE 

he once admit that what he sets about is by any 
possibility not the most important thing in the 
universe, and quite incommensurate by every- 
day criterions, then his aesthetic grave is al- 
ready mounded : for the sole alternative is that 
he writes reading-matter, which is as much as 
codfish or clocks or honorary college degrees a 
recognized staple commodity. He has thus his 
choice between the inconveniencies of appearing 
to responsible people what is popularly termed 
a gloomy ass, or of figuring even in his own 
mind as a verbal huckster. Since write he must, 
he is restricted either laboriously to pleasure 
his ideals or his paymasters, and can but pick 
between being a paranoiac or a prostitute. 

Then, too, he must avoid all persons whose 
tastes are similar to his, and so is condemned 
to continuous loneliness. Were there nothing 
else, the romantic artist is a parasite on human 
life, in the manner of a mistletoe seed, which 
roots in the oak, draws nutriment therefrom, 
and so evolves a more delicate type of life, that 
does but very slightly resemble an oak-tree. 
And parasites cannot thus nourish one another, 
nor can the artist come by serviceable notions 
of ordinary life in the society of his abnormal 
peers. I grant you that distinguished men of 

192 



THE CANDLE 

letters have often formed coteries, but it was 
after their best work was done: and I take it 
that each fact in part explains the other. Be- 
sides, the literary artist who aims to be even 
more than a valued contributor to magazines, 
and hopes through ensuing ages to rank above 
kings, cannot but despise the fellow typist who 
thinks only of royalties : whereas he is inclined 
to view his rivals in aesthetic endeavor with very 
much the complacency of a teased cobra. . . . 
Thus doomed to live with wholesome folk, the 
artist cannot afford to make a sane and candid 
estimate of his work's importance. The tide of 
circumstance sets so strong against belief in his 
laborious revisions amounting to anything 
whatever, that he can but despairingly essay to 
counterbalance affairs by virtue of a megalo- 
maniac's confidence alike in the worth of what 
he is resolved to do and in his fitness to perform 
it immeasurably better than any one else. His 
daily associates, for whose intelligence (and 
there is the rub) he cannot but entertain con- 
siderable respect, may see clearly enough that 
art affords in the last outcome a diversion for 
vacant evenings, or furnishes a museum to 
which sane people resort only when they accom- 
pany their visitors from out-of-town : but of this 

193 



BEYOND LIFE 

verdict the artist must not dare to grant the 
weighty if not absolute justice. In fine, he must 
be reconciled to having most people think him 
a fool, and to suspecting that they are not en- 
tirely mistaken. . . . 

Moreover, the literary artist is condemned to 
strengthen this belief by means of that very 
drudgery wherewith he hopes to disprove it. 
For where other persons decently attempt to 
conceal their foibles and mistakes and vices, 
this maniac, stung by the gadfly of self-expres- 
sion, will catalogue all his and print them in a 
book. Since write he must, interminably he 
writes about himself because (in this respect at 
least resembling the other members of his race) 
he has no certain knowledge as to anyone else. 
And the part he has played in other person's 
lives he will likewise expose in a manner that 
is not always chivalrous. Indeed, he will under* 
take much unethical research with the assist- 
ance of women who do not entirely comprehend 
they are participating in a philosophical experi- 
ment. And all this, too, he will print in his 
damned book, for from a social standpoint the 
creative literary artist is always a traitor, and 
not infrequently a scoundrel. Meanwhile he 
becomes callous, by virtue of never yielding BO 

194 



THE CANDLE 

entirely to any emotion as to lose sight of its 
being an interesting topic to write about. All 
that which is naturally fine in him, indeed, he 
will so study, and regard from every aspect, 
that from much handling it grows dingy. And 
very clearly does the luckless knave perceive 
this fact, for all the while, amid these constant 
impairments, his vision grows more quick and 
keen, and mercilessly shows him the twisted and 
scathed thing he is. 

10 

Nor is this the final jibe. However pleasant it 
be to dream of survival in the speech and ac- 
tions and libraries of posterity, reflection sug- 
gests that this " immortality " is deplorably pa- 
rochial. For we and our contemporaneous 
wasters of shoe-leather and printer's ink, it 
may be recalled, are that " posterity " to which 
Shakespeare and Milton so confidently ad- 
dressed themselves : and it were folly to pretend 
that to us, as a generation, either of these poets 
is to-day, not merely as generally known and 
read, but as generally an intellectual influence, 
as Mr. Harold Bell Wright or Mrs. Gene Strat- 

195 



BEYOND LIFE 

ton Porter* Of course, a century hence, there 
will still be a few readers for Hamlet, whereas 
Freckles which is regarded, I believe, as Mrs. 
Porter's masterpiece will conceivably be out of 
print. Yet is it grimly dubious if, in the ulti- 
mate outcome of time, the great creative artist 
exercises more influence, all in all, or is more 
widely a public benefactor, than is the perpe- 
trator of a really popular novel. ... I have 
spoken of the literary artist's patient immola- 
tion, which he himself contrives in order that 
his dream, once snared with comely and fit 
words, may be perpetuated, and that so the art- 
ist may usurp the brain-cells and prompt the 
flesh of unborn generations. And I have spoken, 
too, of the Faustus, at some length, as the in- 
disputable masterpiece that it is: but suppose 
you compare its actual aggregate influence upon 
humanity with the influence, say, of the novel 
called Queed which a few years ago was so ex- 
tensively purchased. Not even the publishers 

*Charteris here refers to two very popular novelists of hlg 
day. "It is his almost clairvoyant power of reading the human 
soul that has made Mr. Wright's books among the most remark- 
able works of the present age." Oregon Journal, Portland. "It 
is difficult to speak of the work of Gene Stratton Porter and 
not to call upon all the superlatives of praise in the language." 
an Francisco Call 

196 



THE CANDLE 

need pretend nowadays that Queed was an im- 
portant contribution to literature : but this book 
was read by millions, and by many of its read- 
ers was naively enjoyed and admired and more 
or less remembered. Queed did thus somewhat 
influence all these honest folk, and tinge their 
minds, such as they were. Now the Faustus, 
during three centuries of polite speeches about 
it, has not with any such directness tinged the 
minds of millions, nor has it been read even by 
thousands of their own volition. Nor has the 
Faustus ever given that general pleasure which 
was provoked by Queed. And moreover, the 
"uplifting" optimism of Queed, it must be re- 
membered, really brought out that which was 
best in the readers who took the book seriously. 
You cannot, of course, evoke from any source 
more than is already there, and to every end 
the means must be commensurate : so that, while 
to bring out the best there is in a wrecked vessel 
or a gold-mine or a person of some culture re- 
quires a deal of elaborated apparatus, a nut- 
pick will do as much for a walnut, and a popular 
novel for the average mind. And the point is, 
that this average mind, which from Queed de- 
rived enjoyment and some benefit, has (after a 
brief toleration of the Faustus on account of its 

197 



BEYOND LIFE 

dreadful "comic" scenes) for some three cen- 
turies perceived in Marlowe's masterpiece 
"just another one of those old classics, " and 
will so view it always. . . . We thus reach by 
plain arithmetic the proof that as a writer Mr. 
Sydnor Harrison (who wrote Queed*) has ex- 
ercised a greater influence, and has really 
amounted to more, than Christopher Marlowe: 
and continuing to be quite honest in our mathe- 
matics, we find that as touches influence, neither 
craftsman can pretend to rival the sympathetic 
scribe whose daily column of advice to the love- 
lorn is printed simultaneously by hundreds of 
our leading public journals, and daily advises 
millions as to the most delicate and important 
relations of their existence. 

And should you raise the objection that, none 
the less, the Faustus is fine literature, whereas 
Queed is fairly answerable to some other de- 
scription, that the drama is profuse in verbal 
magic, and the novel, to put the matter as 
civilly as possible, is not remarkable for literary 
art, I can but remind you that, after all, your 

*"0f all American authors who have made their d&but in the 
twentieth century, I regard Mr. Henry Sydnor Harrison as the 
most promising. ... Of all our younger writers he seems to 
have the largest natural endowment." William Lyon Phelps, in 
The Advance of the English Novel (published 1916). 

198 



THE CANDLE 

protest amounts to astonishingly little. All you 
assert is true enough, but to what, in the high 
and potent name of St. Stultitia (who presides 
over the popularity of our reading-matter) 
does your objection amount? Even to the very, 
very few who can distinguish between compe- 
tent work and botchery, the "style" of an 
adroit writer is apt to become an increasing an- 
noyance, as he proceeds with such miraculous 
and conscious nicety: until at last you are fret- 
ted into active irritation that the fellow does not 
ever stumble and flounder into some more hu- 
manly inadequate way of expressing himself. 
And for the rest, how many persons really care, 
or even notice, whether a book be conscien- 
tiously written! It is merely "something to 
read": and they, good souls, have been reduced 
to looking it over, not quite by any reverential 
quest of "art," but by a lack of anything else 
to do. 

For literature is a starveling cult kept alive 
by the "literary." Such literature has been, 
and will continue to be, always. I grant you 
that it will continue always. But always, too, 
its masterworks will affect directly no one save 
the "literary": and to perceive this is the seri- 
ous artist's crowning discouragement. For he 

199 



BEYOND LIFE 

has every reason to know what " literary " per- 
sons are, if but by means of discomf ortable in- 
trospection, and all and sundry of them he de- 
spises. At an Authors' League Dinner, or any 
similar assemblage of people who ' 'write, 1 ' you 
may always detect the participants uneasily 
peeping toward mirrors, to see if they really do 
look like the others. . . . And it is only per- 
sons such as these, the artist sometimes com- 
prehends forlornly, who will be making any to- 
do over him a thousand years from to-day! At 
such depressing moments of prevision, he rec- 
ognizes that this desire to write perfectly, and 
thus to win to "literary" immortality, is but 
another dynamic illusion : and he concedes, pre- 
cisely as Congreve long ago detected, that, 
viewed from any personal standpoint, the game 
is very far from being worth the candle. 



:oo 



VII 
THE MOUNTEBANK 



Vastly well, sir! vastly well! a most interesting 
gravity! . . . 

He is very perfect indeed! Now, pray what did he 
mean by that? 

Why, 'by that shake of the head, he gave you to 
understand that even though they had more justice in 
their cause, and wisdom in their measures yet, if there 
was not a greater spirit shown on the part of the people, 
the country would at last fall a sacrifice tc the hostile 
ambition of the Spanish monarchy. 

The devil! did he mean all that by shaking his 
head? 

Every word of it if he shook his head as I taught 
him. 

The Critic 



VII 

Which Indicates the 
Mountebank- /^/. ^ ;? - 

Y X : 

BUT it occurs to me that I have thus far 
spoken of Gallantry as a force in litera- 
ture. That is, past doubt, its most impor- 
tant aspect, since literature is compounded of so 
much finer material than life, and is builded so 
much more durably, that it affords the worthier 
field of exercise for any and all ideas. But of 
course when the spirit of Gallantry was ex- 
pressed in books, man continued as always to 
play the ape to his dreams, and clumsily began 
to reproduce the fantasies of Wycherley and 
Congreve in everyday conduct. Thus it was in 
the eighteenth century that Gallantry found its 
most adequate exposition in actual life, which 
is customarily at least a generation behind its 
current reading-matter. And concerning a pe- 
culiarly striking instance of this vital imitative- 
ness I must for a moment digress, before ex- 
plaining its very poignant relevancy to what I 
have in mind as to another dynamic illusion. 



203 



BEYOND LIFE 

Indeed, in the eighteenth century men were 
reading much of that depressing literature for 
which the unborn Victorians were to furnish 
illustrations. In letters the exit of Mrs. Milla- 
mant seemed to have marked both the apex and 
the final curtain of the comedy of Gallantry. 
After Congreve, and his colleagues Vanbrugh 
and Farquhar, as no doubt you remember, fol- 
lows that dreary interval wherein dramatic art 
floundered and splashed, and eventually 
drowned, in a stagnant pond of morality. This 
was the heyday of "do-me-good, lackadaisical, 
whining, make-believe comedies." For now it 
was to the responsibilities of actual life thav 
comedy of Sentiment attempted to resign the 
spirit, and the comedy of Gallantry seemed in 
a fair way to give up the ghost. Then life made 
a fine plagiarism, and enriched zoology by re- 
producing in flesh and blood the manifestly im- 
possible jeune premier of the comedy of Gal- 
lantry. . . . 



In consequence, some three-quarters of a cen- 
tury after Mrs. MillamaTit "dwindled into a 

204 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

wife," a youth of twenty made his appearance 
at Bath, possessed of no resources save good 
looks, a tolerable supply of impudence, and 
life being resolved to do the thing thoroughly, 
a translation of Aristaenetus. By virtue of 
these assets Dick Sheridan forthwith becomes 
the ruler of that mixed company of valetudinar- 
ians and dowagers, of second-rate bucks and for- 
tune-hunters, retired army-officers, and ladies of 
rank "chiefly remarkable for the delicacy of 
their reputations. " Brilliant, young and vic- 
torious, he has only to appear in order to be 
admired. In the Pump-room there is no dandy 
who attracts more attention than "handsome 
Dick 19 : and it is in accordance with his election 
that the trousered portion of Bath society mod- 
els its cravats. . . . 

Nor was he less popular among women. His 
manner toward them, it is recorded, had just 
the proper blending of respect and audacity. No 
one could say more impudent things with a 
greater air of humility. Here was a macaroni 
who made love-verses and love with equal grace, 
however rarely these perilous accomplishments 
are united in one artist. . . . Then, too, to a 
woman the poet who appeals to her vanity is 

205 



BEYOND LIFE 

one thing, and the lover who touches her heart 
quite another: for the rhymester, while pleas- 
ing and appropriate for rare occasions, is a trifle 
outlandish for everyday wear. Besides, the 
average woman is bored by poetry, if only be- 
cause girl-children proverbially inherit tEg 
tastes of their fathers. So Daphne, wise in her 
generation, fled the embraces of Apollo, and her 
sisters have followed the example, to the en- 
richment of the world's literature by an infinity 
of wailing sonnets. . . . But Sheridan's love- 
verses are really exquisite trifles, without the 
least taint of sincerity; and so, it may be that 
they did not greatly hinder him in winning the 
heart of Eliza Linley, the reigning belle of 
Bath, "upon whom Nature seemed to have lav- 
ished her richest treasures, and by the example 
of her generosity to have roused Art to noble 
emulation/' Certain it is, by whatever means 
he attained Miss Linley's favor, that Sheridan 
succeeded in making fools of some ten or twelve 
other suitors, and in eloping with the young 
lady to Paris, in the true style of Gallant com- 
edy. There they were married : and on their 
return to England Sheridan, still in the role of 
jeune premier, fought two duels with one of his 
outwitted rivals. . . . Throughout, as you will 

206 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

remember, he treated the entire affair as being 
a frolic; and with just the appropriate dra- 
matic touch, invited his antagonist to sup with 
him and the seconds the night before they met 
in battle. The invitation was declined, which 
seems almost a pity: and the encounter, of 
course, was not lethal, since life was plagiaris- 
ing from the comic stage. . . . 

So began the series of improbable scenes in 
which Sheridan was to figure as the hero. Be- 
ing, as he entirely comprehended, cast for the 
part, he enacted it with sufficient sentiment to 
render him attractive to the audience, and with 
enough variety to prevent the attitudinizing 
growing tiresome to him : and it is as a piece of 
histrionic art that we ought to judge the life of 
Sheridan. . . . Thus at first he is the jeune 
premier of the comedy; a handsome mounte- 
bank, no better than he should be perhaps, but 
making, in his embroidered coat and red-heeled 
shoes, a prodigiously pleasing figure. So the 
young rogue struts in the sunlight, prof oundlv 
conscious that the men all run after him, and 
none of the women can resist him. Misbehav- 
ing himself he is, of course, and having a de- 
lightful time of it, too. And he is perfectly con- 
tent, as yet, to let more prudent people say 

207 



BEYOND LIFE 

whatever they will, and croak any number of 
warnings as to the follies of this world provid- 
ing fuel for the next, because after all he is not 
committing any enormities. He is the jeune 
premier of the comedy: and at the bottom of 
our hearts the majority of us can find a sneak- 
ing fondness, and a fund of sympathy, for this 
graceless youth, who has thus far manifested no 
nobler desire than that of outshining his fellow 
dandies, and no more elevated notion of happi- 
ness than a " wet" night at the tavern. ... It 
is the attitude which romance has taught us to 
adopt toward the sowers of wild oats, and rea- 
son has nothing to do with it. 



With marriage, the mountebank entered the 
larger world of London, and turned playwright, 
as a temporary makeshift to help meet the ex- 
penses of that fine establishment in Portman 
Square he had just set up on credit. Within 
five years he thus completed and produced six 
potboilers: and three of these were master- 
works. . . . Sheridan was the very last ad- 
herent of "that laughing painted French bag- 
gage, the Comic Muse who came over from the 
Continent with Charles, after the Restoration," 

208 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

not-immaculate nymph, who, as we have 
seen, had been blithe and rather shameless in her 
traffic with Wycherley and Congreve: but her 
merriment is less free now that she inspires 
The Rivals and The School for Scandal. De- 
cidedly, one reflects, her stay in England has im- 
proved the minx: there is a kindlier sound to 
her voice, and her laughter echoes with a heart- 
ier ring. She remains audacious, and retains 
her rouge and gauds: but under all the tinsel 
and frippery beats a generous wild loving hu- 
man heart. ... So you reflect, in spite of 
yourself: for this mountebank-artist, Sheridan, 
knows perfectly well the value of what pub- 
lishers describe without compunction in private 
converse, and glowingly commend in type as 
4 ' wholesome sentiment. ' ' 

It was a clever schoolboy who defined a pla- 
giarist as "a writer of plays." Sheridan has 
taken an idea from George Villiers, a character 
from Fielding, a situation from Moliere, and so 
on, with the light fingers of an inveterate bor- 
rower : he has mingled all, and has flavored the 
mixture with jests of his own compounding and 
of his neighbor's: the materials are mostly sto- 
len, yet the ragout is unmistakably Sheridan's. 
And though he confessedly write potboilers, he 

209 



BEYOND LIFE 

is no hasty composer nor careless workman: 
for in this man too was inborn that irrational 
desire to write perfectly: and these speeches 
which come off so airily, and these scenes that 
seem written at whiteheat, were laboriously con- 
structed, and revised, and polished and re-pol- 
ished to the very last degree of refinement, be- 
fore the author exposed them to the glare of 
footlights. For it is still possible to consult 
Sheridan's rough drafts of all this sprightly 
elegance, and they read queerly enough. . . . 
Here is one Solomon Teazle, a widower who 
has lost five children, and talks over his wife's 
extravagance with the butler: before Sheridan 
has done with him this Teazle will have entered 
knighthood, as Sir Peter, and immortality will 
bestow the accolade. Here is Solomon's ill- 
bred, stupid and impertinent wife, who when 
she steps upon the stage will be that Lady Tea- 
zle who so gracefully poignarded reputations, 
and led the van of a regiment of misunderstood 
heroines toward discovery in an unmarried 
man's apartments by their husbands. . . . And 
so the tale goes. Over and over again Sheridan 
wrote and re-wrote his potboilers until they 
were masterpieces. The point is that to the con- 
siderate person it is well-nigh pathetic to de* 

210 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

tect this splendid mountebank taking so much 
pains over anything. . . . And then, like Con- 
greve, he recognized that the word-game is not 
worth the candle. " Deuce take posterity I " he 
is reported to have summed it up. "A sensible 
man will bear in mind that all this world's deli- 
cacies are to be won, if ever, from one's con- 
temporaries. And people are generous toward 
social rather than literary talents, for the sen- 
sible reason that they derive more pleasure 
from an agreeable companion at dinner than 
from having a rainy afternoon rendered en- 
durable by some book or another. ' ' 

So the mountebank very sensibly turned man 
of affairs, just as in comedy the scapegrace 
son is prone to astound everybody and outwit 
his delighted father by disclosing unsuspected 
business ability, and, with borrowed money, 
purchased his own theatre. A trifle later (and 
again with borrowed money) he bought a seat 
in Parliament, and set up as a statesman. And 
that was the end of his career in letters, for as 
an artist Sheridan also, by a quaint coincidence, 
perished at twenty-nine. . . . 

Meanwhile it is a brilliant literary feast which 
the youth of this mountebank purveyed. The 
lights are all rose-color, the wine is good 

211 



BEYOND LIFE 

(though borrowed and unpaid for), the women 
are beautiful, and all the men have wit. You 
cannot but delight in this assemblage of light- 
hearted persons, and in the prevailing glitter, 
which is gem-like, beyond doubt, and yet is un- 
accountably suggestive of rhinestones. . . . 

There is no denying that the funeral pyre of 
the comedy of Gallantry blazed very notably in 
the wit of Sheridan. Yet The Rivals and The 
School for Scandal, brilliant as they are, can 
hardly be ranked with Congreve's verbal pyro- 
technics in The Way of the World and The 
Double-Dealer. Nor is the comparison quite 
fair, since Sheridan's plays are, from aesthetic 
standpoints, too disastrously handicapped by 
the strivings of their author, as though this 
were a necessary part of his emulation of the 
highest social circles, to wed the incompatible. 
This splendid mountebank has made deliberate 
attempt to blend the old school with the new, 
and to infuse into the comedy of Gallantry "a 
wholesome sentiment. " It is unnecessary to 
point out that the demand for such literary trea- 
cle has always been unfailing, and that aucto- 
rial mountebanks have always done therein a 
thriving trade: Euripides dispensed such 
sweetmeats in Athens very anciently, and in 

212 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

American publishers ' lists the Cinderella leg- 
end masquerades perennially as a new novel. 
. . . Here the results are those dialogues be- 
tween Julia and Faulkland, the love-scenes 
which made The Rivals a popular success, and 
which nowadays we condone because they are 
omitted in representation, and there is no stat- 
ute compelling anyone to read them. For here 
the rhinestone glitter is at its cheapest. "When 
hearts deserving happiness would unite their 
fortunes, Virtue would crown them with the un- 
fading garland of modest hurtless flowers ; but 
ill- judging Passion will force the gaudier rose 
into the wreath, whose thorn offends them when 
its leaves are dropped. " Really, for anyone 
who concludes a masterpiece of comedy in just 
that fashion there would seem to be no punish- 
ment quite severe enough : and yet the dictates 
of "wholesome sentiment" have elsewhere 
brought about conclusions even more flagrant, 
and continue to breed remunerative inanities. 
.... Many of us are not a little grateful for 
the fact that in writing The School for Scandal 
Sheridan steered an ingenious middle-course, 
and caused Charles Surface and Maria to do all 
their love-making before the play began. Their 
brief encounter at the end is inoffensive: and 

213 



BEYOND LIFE 

the judicious will pass very lightly over the sop 
thrown to sentiment in the reforming wastrel's 
pentametric outburst. 



So the mountebank gave up literature, and 
became a man of affairs. . . . And with him 
went a continual glitter, as of rhinestones. Than 
Mr. Sheridan, the owner of Drury Lane Thea- 
tre, there was for thirty years no Maecenas more 
courted and conspicuous. True, he was over- 
whelmed with lawsuits, he made it a business- 
rule never to open a business-letter, and the 
salaries of his actors and carpenters and multi- 
tudinous employees were always long overdue. 
But he catered unerringly to the popular taste, 
and when there was any pressing need he could 
always talk his bankers into another loan. At 
Brooke's and Almack's there was no gamester 
more determined, nor anyone more ready to 
wager any sum on any hazard. Thus he wins 
and loses fortunes overnight, and often has not 
a shilling in his pocket. Meanwhile, he lives in 
splendor, "as a statesman and a man of fashion 
who 'set the pace' in all pastimes of the opulent 
and idle": and the Prince-Regent is proud to 
be seen with Mr. Sheridan, for this mounte- 

214 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

bank retained men's admiration as a vested 
right. ... No one resists him, and nothing 
daunts the fellow, not even when fire destroys 
the theatre in which was invested every penny 
of all the money he had borrowed. To any other 
man the loss would mean double ruin : but Mr. 
Sheridan loiters in the Bedford Coffee-House 
over the way, point-de-vice in every solitaire 
and lace ruffle, smiling a little, and chatting 
with the assembled pleasure-seekers there, as 
he watches the flames; and he calls for liquid 
refreshments, upon the plea, no longer consid- 
ered valid, that a man may reasonably be per- 
mitted to take a glass of wine by his own fireside. 
. . . When misfortunes overwhelm him, as he 
knows by experience, he somehow floats out of 
the welter like a cork. This destruction of the 
theatre thus means very little to him, who has 
only to borrow a few more thousands of pounds, 
and re-build. For he is always borrowing, with 
the air of one performing an act of friendship. 
The luckless tradesmen, it is related, call to 
bully him into payment of long-standing debts, 
and end by inducing him to accept a monetary 
loan. A glib tongue and imperturbable self- 
assurance are his equipments in battle with the 
World : but he makes them serve, and prodigally. 

215 



BEYOND LIFE 

And perhaps these weapons are as much as 
anybody really needs. . . . 

Even with his wife they served prodigally. 
Eliza Sheridan lived under the spell of her 
husband's bounce and glitter, through twenty- 
one years of married life, and died adoring him. 
'Twas a matter of large comment by the town 
that Mr. Sheridan's grief was prodigiously edi- 
fying : for in this, too, he somewhat outdid na- 
ture. . . . He was now a time-battered rake 
nearing fifty, and bereft of his good looks by 
dissipation, but still perfect in manner and ap- 
parel and assurance. So he re-married, select- 
ing, as a matter of course, the most prepossess- 
ing young heiress of the day, "the irresistible 
Ogle," as she was toasted, and winning the 
Dean of Winchester's daughter amid circum- 
stances which were sufficiently curious. . . . 

Meanwhile in Parliament he encounters the 
first orators of the time, and outtalks them. His 
arraignment of Warren Hastings, the im- 
peached governor-general of India, is the sen- 
sation of the age : at the conclusion of Mr. Sheri- 
dan's opening speech the House is adjourned, 
so that the members can regain control of their 
overwrought emotions. When he rises to con- 
tinue, a seat in the visitors' gallery costs fifty 

216 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

guineas, and the gallery is full. Mr. Sheridan 
spoke for three days, with what was everywhere 
conceded to be unparalleled brilliancy. When 
he had done, the lawyer who was there to defend 
Hastings vehemently protested his client to be 
a monster of iniquity. I do not expect you to 
believe this, but it is a matter of record. The 
great Pitt (who, mark you, very cordially de- 
tested Mr. Sheridan) admits that "this speech 
surpassed all the eloquence of ancient or mod- 
ern times, and possessed everything that genius 
or art could furnish to agitate and control the 
human mind. ' 9 Burke asserted the oration to be 
"the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argu- 
ment and wit united, of which there was any rec- 
ord or tradition. " And Fox declared that "all 
he had ever heard, all he had ever read, 
when compared with this speech, dwin- 
dled into nothing, and vanished like va- 
por before the sun." In short, there was 
never such a Parliamentary triumph. . . , And 
of course these invectives against Hastings 
(whose main crime lay in being a Tory) were 
claptrap of quite astounding commonplaceness, 
as any man can see for himself who cares to 
endure the tedium of reading these speeches; 
but they dazzled all England, and served the 

217 



BEYOND LIFE 

mountebank's turn to admiration. He becomes 
secretary of foreign affairs, secretary of the 
treasury, treasurer of the navy, and so on, hold- 
ing office after office, and purchasing every ad- 
vancement with pinchbeck oratory. Before each 
speech it was his custom to drink a pint of 
brandy ' ' neat. ' ' But there was no resisting Mr. 
Sheridan, not even when he was sober. . . . 
From beginning to end, his career is an extrava- 
ganza such as no thoughtful artist would care 
to perpetrate: and you cannot but feel that in 
producing him life laid too onerous a strain 
upon belief. 

Thus far the drama has sped so trippingly 
that one rather boggles over the last act. . . . 
It would appear that life was fumbling at some 
lugubrious moral. If not as apologue, how 
else are we to interpret this bloated old Silenus, 
this derelict who has outlived alike his health, 
his income, his friends, his talents, and his repu- 
tation? By retaining the Prince-Begent's 
friendship he might have lived to the last in 
that continuous rhinestone glitter. But Wales 
wanted help just then in the matter of securing 
his divorce. "Sir," said Mr. Sheridan, "I never 
take part against a woman, " and with that 
flourish went to his ruin gallantly. ... Yet this 

218 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

sudden eclipse of Sheridan, with its brief and 
painful sequel, was not aesthetically allowable: 
it was bad art: and the comedy straggled out 
into an intolerable fiasco when the greatest wit 
in Europe, and probably the most polished 
mountebank therein, became so broken-spirited 
that he wept at a compliment and grew pale at 
the sight of a constable. . . . Dukes and mar- 
quises bore his coffin to Westminster Abbey, 
and they buried him with princely honors : but 
he died an imbecile, happily unconscious that 
the sheriff's officer was threatening to drag him 
off, in the blankets, to the debtors' prison, . , . 
Yes, it must be that life was fumbling at a 
moral, of just that explicit sort which every 
writer worth his salt knows to be unforgivably 
artificial. . . . 



Meanwhile, from a variety of standpoints, it 
is salutary to consider Sheridan's career. As 
an instance of life's not quite successful pla- 
giarism from literature, it has been discussed 
sufficiently. But moreover, I would have you 
mark that for the thirty-two years he adorned 
Parliament this mountebank was taken quite 

219 



BEYOND LIFE 

seriously, and without any harm coming thereof. 
He was very often too drunk to walk, but as 
secretary of foreign affairs he guided a nation 
acceptably. He was never within sight of pay- 
ing his debts, or even of guessing what they 
might amount to, so the Coalition ministry 
made him secretary of the treasury. And fin- 
ally, at a period when Britannia, as a circum- 
stance of considerable choric notoriety, ruled 
the waves, he who was equally ignorant of 
finance and maritime matters was treasurer of 
the navy. Sheridan was as profoundly and it 
would seem as obviously unqualified as diction- 
aries could well express to fill any of the offices 
given him : and he discharged their duties per- 
fectly. Had he died at sixty his career would 
have been the most immoral chapter in recorded 
history: and it is solely by virtue of his in judi- 
ciousness in living three years longer that repu- 
table persons are to-day enabled to face this 
mountebank's continuous success. . . . His 
secret merely was to pretend to be what seemed 
expected. And for divers reasons nobody ever 
exposed him. . . . 

I shall digress into plain egotism. The initial 
indiscretion of my life made me the youngest of 
a large family, and, while I have sunk to author- 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

ship, my step-brothers and sisters have turned 
out remarkably well. They are responsible 
citizens, authorities on business and the stock- 
market and cognate riddles, eminent in local 
politics, leaders in education, and one of them 
is a much admired clergyman whose eloquence 
soars fearlessly to the loftiest platitudes. Yet 
as a matter of fact, I know they are still the 
children with whom I used to play in a brick- 
paved backyard, about and under a huge cat- 
alpa tree. . . . Each has come by an official 
manner, like a grave mask in which to earn 
bread and butter, and otherwise further the 
wearer's desires: this laid aside, in family 
gatherings, you will find that each displays as to 
any matter outside of his recognized vocation 
very little interest and no ideas whatever. At 
most, in regard to the rest of life each of my 
brothers and sisters cherishes a handful of erro- 
neous catchwords acquired by tenth-hand hear- 
say. . . . For mentally they have developed 
hardly at all : they are those children with whom 
I used to play, incarcerated in matured bodies, 
as I perceive to my daily astonishment : and the 
world at large permits these children to meddle 
with its important causes and its cash and its 
spiritual welfare. ... In fact, they are en- 

221 



BEYOND LIFE 

couraged to do so : and like Sheridan, they ap- 
pear somehow to meet the responsibility in a 
perfectly adequate fashion. For they pass as 
models of acumen and reliability: and only by 
accident do I know that when my serious- 
minded kindred look most imposing they are 
meditating trivialities or else not thinking about 
anything at all. ... Do I appear to accuse 
them of stupidity? Well, I confess I have 
heard my preacher-brother publicly assert that 
war was the final method of proving, not which 
side had the stronger army, but that we were 
right : and my banker-brother once informed me 
it was a striking proof of God's kindness that 
He had given all the larger seaports excellent 
harbors. When voiced by one's own ilesh, such 
imbecilities wake self-distrust. And yet, I can- 
not but admiringly recognize that my kindred 
are persons of exceptional success in the prac- 
tical affairs of life, as these matters are con- 
ducted. For my kindred very convincingly pre- 
tend to be what seems expected. . . . 



And to me who wonder at the irrationality of 
all this, to me also, life has been an interminable 

222 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

effort to pretend to be what seemed expected. 
I know quite well at bottom that I too have very 
little changed from what I was in boyhood, 
when for any say in matters of import I was 
concededly unfit. But there is no arguing with 
the looking-glass, and it displays a rather sa- 
gacious-seeming person. . . . None the less, 
the outcome is really too preposterous that I 
should have acquired a house and a bank-ac- 
count, a wife and children, and a variety of oth- 
er valuables that ought to be entrusted only to 
responsible people. And when I think of the 
ignorance and incapacity I daily endeavor to 
conceal, and all the baseless pretensions and 
unreal interests I affect hourly, it appals me to 
reflect that very possibly everyone else conducts 
affairs on a not dissimilar plan. For I have 
suffered as yet no open detection. The neigh- 
bors seem to accept me quite gravely as the 
head of a family : the chauffeur touches his cap 
and calls me "sir": publishers bring out my 
books: and my wife fair-mindedly discusses 
with me all our differences of opinion, so that 
we may without any bitterness reach the com- 
promise of doing what she originally suggested. 
I even serve on juries, and have a say in whether 
or no a full-grown man shall go to jail. . . . 

223 



BEYOND LIFE 

Some day, I think, this playing at responsi- 
bility will be ended. In some unguessable fash- 
ion the years will be turned back, and I shall be 
nineteen or thereabouts concededly, and shall no 
longer be disguised by scanty hair and wrinkled 
flesh and this interminable need of pretending 
to be a noteworthy and grave person. At the 
bottom of my heart I know that the trappings of 
a staid citizen have been given me through some 
mistake, his house and wife and motors and 
farm-lands and table-silver, and his graying 
moustache and rheumatic twinges and impaired 
digestion, and his mannerisms and little digni- 
ties and continual small fussy obligations, and 
that the error will have to be set right. These 
things are alien to me : and instinctively I know 
that my association with them is temporary. 
And so it will be managed somehow that these 
things will pass from me, as a piled cloud-heap 
passes, and I shall enter again into a certain 
garden, and find therein a girl whom I and one 
aging woman alone remember. It is toward 
that meeting all things move, quite irresistibly, 
and all life turns as a vast wheel, so very slowly, 
till time has come full-circle through this stupe- 
fying mist of common-sense and even more com- 
mon prejudice. For life, if life means anything, 

224 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

must aim toward realities: and that girl and 
Boy, and that garden and their doings therein, 
were more important and more real to me, as I 
know now, than things have been since then. 
. . . Nothing, indeed, that happens after nine- 
teen or thereabouts can ever be accepted as quite 
real, because the person to whom it happens can 
no longer meet it frankly. There is no thorough 
contact between the event and his flinching wary 
senses. For always the need of judicious reser- 
vation, the feeling of amenability to what is ex- 
pected of you, and in fine the obligation of being 
a mountebank, conspire to prevent entire sur- 
render to reality : and there is a prescribed eti- 
quette, of which some underthought is more or 
less potent in all we say or do. At times, indeed, 
this etiquette controls us absolutely, as in mat- 
ters of personal honor or in love-making, so that 
we recite set phrases and move as puppets. Thus 
we worry graveward, with the engagement of 
but a part of our faculties : and we no longer 
participate in life with all our being. 



So it is that the accepted routine of life's con- 
duct tends to make mountebanks of us inevit* 

225 



BEYOND LIFE 

ably : and the laborious years weave small hypo- 
crisies like cobwebs about our every action, and 
at last about our every thought. The one con- 
soling feature is that we are so incessantly 
busied at concealment of our personal ignorance 
and incapacity as to lack time to detect one an- 
other. For we are all about that arduous task: 
at every moment of our lives we who are civil- 
ized persons must regard, if we indeed do not 
submit to be controlled by, that which is ex- 
pected of us : and we are harassed always by an 
instant need of mimicking the natural behavior 
of men as, according to our generally received if 
erroneous standards, ' 'men ought to be. " It all 
reverts, you observe, to the aesthetic canons of 
Sophocles. . . . And not the least remarkable 
part of the astounding business is that this 
continuous pretending by everybody appears to 
answer fairly well/ It passes the pragmatic 
test : it works, and upon the whole it works with- 
out bringing about intolerable disaster. . . . 
Yet it is interesting to observe the unaecount- 
ability of many of these conformances to what 
is expected, and to wonder if, as I have sug- 
gested, our standards may by any chance be 
here and there erroneous. I am often surprised 
by what does seem expected of us, through the 

226 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

entire irrelevance of the thing indicated to our 
formula for expressing it. ... 

For instance, I am expected to amuse myself. 
One way of doing this is to preface my pleasure- 
seeking by putting on, among other habiliments, 
a cuirass of starched linen, a stubborn and 
exacerbating garment, with no conceivable pal- 
liation, and a funereal-hued coat, with elon- 
gated tails, of which the only use is to prevent 
my sitting down with comfort. Thus calami- 
tously equipped, I set forth unabashed by the 
gaze of heaven's stars, to an uncarpeted room 
where a band is playing, place my right hand 
toward the small of a woman's back, who has 
bared her arms and shoulders in preparation 
for the ceremony, hold her left hand in mine, 
and in this posture escort her around the room, 
not once but time after time. At intervals a 
reputable lawyer, under no suspicions as to his 
sanity, blows a child's whistle, and the woman 
and I, with others, take part in a sort of mili- 
tary drill. After I have repeated this process, 
over and over again, with several women, all of 
us go into another room and eat a variety of 
indigestible things within an allotted time, 
somewhat as though we were lunching at one 
of those rural railway stations where the pas- 

227 



BEYOND LIFE 

sengers forage for sandwiches and pie and 
chicken while the train waits restively. We then 
return to the first apartment, and proceed with 
the original form of evolutions until several 
hours of yet another calendar day are disposed 
of. ... There is no great harm in all this, 
and in fact, the physical exercise involved may 
be mildly beneficial, if not offset by indigestion. 
The impenetrable mystery remains, though, 
how the cotillion, or dancing in any form, came 
to be employed as an arbitrary symbol for 
amusement. . . . But, indeed, now that we 
elderly people are no longer encouraged to be- 
come mildly intoxicated at all social gatherings, 
I am afraid the truth is being forced upon us 
that man, after age has bred discernment, can 
get but little delight from the company of his 
fellows when in his sober senses. . . . 

Or put it that I am expected to evince my 
religious faith. I must set about this by put- 
ting on my best raiment, for, again like chil- 
dren, we need must " dress up" for everything 
we "play at," and by going into a building, of 
which the roof is indecorously adorned with a 
tall phallic symbol, and by remaining there for 
an hour and a half. There too we perform a 
drill, of standing, sitting and kneeling, and we 

228 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

read and sing archaic observations from little 
books. Sometimes the formulae we repeat are 
not unastounding, as when we gravely desider- 
ate the privilege of dipping our feet in the blood 
of our enemies, or even request that our adver- 
saries be forthwith carried alive into hell. An 
honest gentleman, whose conduct upon week- 
days I cordially revere, emerges from the ves- 
try, in what to the unsophisticated might appear 
to be a collocation of the fragments of a black 
bathrobe and of a nightgown; and after forbid- 
ding us to worship stone images (which really 
does seem rather a superfluous exhortation) an- 
nounces that the Neighborhood League will meet 
on Monday evening, and devotes some twenty 
minutes to revising one or another well-meant 
utterance of Christ into conformity with more 
modern ideas. Then plates are passed, into 
which we put envelopes containing money, to 
pay for the heating, lighting and general up- 
keep of the building, and the living expenses of 
the clergyman and the janitor. Now all this is 
likewise more or less harmless, yet, sanely 
viewed, it is difficult to connect in any way with 
religion. . . . 

But the tale of our grave-faced antics is in- 
terminable. ... I meet So-and-so, and we in- 

229 



BEYOND LIFE 

quire simultaneously, "How do you do?" with- 
out either of us giving or expecting an answer. 
We shake hands, for the perhaps inadequate 
reason that several centuries ago people did 
this to show that neither of them was carrying 
a knife. And thereupon we babble of topics 
concerning which both know the verdict of either 
to be valueless, such as the lessening supply of 
good servants and the increasing cost of food, or 
the probability of rain and what our wives are 
planning to do. And I find myself advancing 
opinions I never thought of holding, just to 
make conversation to which neither of us pays 
any particular attention. I find myself gravely 
expounding what I remember paying for shoes, 
and from what direction storms usually ap- 
proach our house, and our reasons for spending 
the summer in one place rather than another, 
quite as if these were matters about which my 
hapless listener might conceivably want to 
know. What curse is come upon me, I marvel 
inly, that I must discourse such nonsense? and 
why, in heaven's name, should this man be tell- 
ing me about his automobile and what he said to 
the butler ? Then, when we say l ' good-bye, ' ' we 
sedately invoke in that contracted form the 
guardianship of Omnipotence for each other. 

230 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

. . . The transaction throughout is automatic, 
for of course we do not actually think of what 
we are in point of fact saying and doing: and 
indeed the majority of us appear to get through 
life quite comfortably without thinking at all. 
For consider how very generally we believe 
that we who have eyes, too, are a race of 
" white" persons; and that the promises of the 
Marriage Ceremony are such as may be made 
rationally; and that it is a matter of course ar- 
rangement to pay taxes for the privilege c f re- 
taining what confessedly belongs to you; and 
that it preserves justice to execute a murderer, 
on the principle that two homicides constitute 
a maintenance of what one of them upsets ; and 
that it is humorous to mention certain towns, 
such as Oshkosh or Kankakee, and is somehow 
an excellent joke on anyone to have a baby or a 
mother-in-law: so that, in fine, we are guided 
in well-nigh every transaction in life by axioms 
and presumptions which have not even the lean 
merit of sounding plausible. . . . 

8 

But it is not merely that our private lives 
are given over to mental anarchy. . . . We live 

231 



BEYOND LIFE 

under a government which purports to be based, 
actually, on the assumption that one man is as 
good as another. No human being believes this 
assumption to be true, of course, nor could any 
form of polity that took it seriously survive a 
week: but the imposing statement serves well 
enough as the ostensible cornerstone of demo- 
cracy. And we must all regard the laws of this 
government, since to one or another of these 
laws must be amenable every action of our lives. 
Thus you may well spare time to visit a legis- 
lative body in session, and to listen to the de- 
bates, and to conjecture whether each partici- 
pant is really an imbecile or for ulterior ends is 
consciously making a spectacle of himself. How- 
ever, it may be an excess of modesty which in- 
duces the self-evident belief of every public 
speaker that the persons who have assembled 
to hear him cannot possibly be intelligent. And 
if you will attend a State Legislature, in parti- 
cular, and look about you, and listen for a while, 
and reflect that those preposterous people are 
actually making and unmaking laws by which 
your physical life is ordered, you will get food 
for wonder and some perturbation. But of 
course, poor creatures, they too are trying to do 
what seems expected of them, very much as 

232 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

Sheridan attacked Warren Hastings : and many 
of the most applauded public speakers conserve 
an appreciable degree of intelligence for private 
life. 

When you consider that presidents and chief- 
justices and archbishops and kings and states- 
men are human beings like you and me and the 
state legislators and the laundryman, the 
thought becomes too horrible for humanity to 
face. So, here too, romance intervenes promptly, 
to build up a mythos about each of our promi- 
nent men, about his wisdom and subtlety and 
bravery and eloquence, and including usually 
his Gargantuan exploits in lechery and drunken- 
ness, so as to save us from the driveling terror 
that would spring from conceding our destinies 
in any way to depend on other beings quite as 
mediocre and incompetent as ourselves. . . . 



Yet perfection graces few human subterfuges. 
Thus very often does the need arise for romance 
to preserve us yet further, from discovering 
that this protective talk of " statesmanship " 
and " policies " is nonsense clamorously ex- 
ploded. For sometimes nations come to fisti- 

233 



BEYOND LIFE 

cuffs, just as inconsequently as the plumber and 
the baker might do, and the neighbors take part, 
very much as a street-row intensifies, until a 
considerable section of the world is devastated. 
Then romance prompts us, in self -protection, to 
moralize of one or the other side's "aims" and 
"plottings" and " schemes," and so on, as the 
provokers of all this ruin, rather than acknowl- 
edge the causes to lie disconcertingly deeper, 
and to be rooted in our general human incom- 
petence, and in our lack of any especial designs 
whatever. . . . Never at any time is man in 
direr need of disregarding men as they are, 
than under the disastrous illumination of war : 
for then actually to face the truth would forth- 
with drive anyone of us insane. We are then 
all shuddering through a disrupted Vanity Fair 
of mountebanks who have come to open and ig- 
nominious failure: and our sole hope of salva- 
tion lies in pretending not to notice. For it 
sometimes happens that among these so cruelly 
exposed mountebanks are our own chosen over- 
lords, chosen as such, for the most part, on ac- 
count of their real superiority to the run of 
men : and when this happens, the more perspica- 
cious among us prefer not to recognize our over- 
lords ' incompetence, because we know that these 

234 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

pathetic muddlers and blusterers represent, 
upon the whole, the best our race is yet able to 
produce. . . . 

So it is rather sad when war breaks out, and 
honored subterfuges unaccountably collapse. 
Everyone was letter-perfect in what seemed ex- 
pected of him under the old order: but when 
that is upset overnight, and there are no stand- 
ards to conform to, nobody anywhere has any 
notion what to do. It breeds a seizure of dumb 
panic which is unbearable. So kings and cab- 
inets and generalissimos being at a nonplus, and 
even presidents (in Mexico and other Southern 
republics) falling a shade short of omniscience, 
the nations flounder, and gabble catchwords, 
and drift, and strike out blindly, and tergiver- 
sate, and jostle one another, and tell frantic 
falsehoods, and hit back, like fretful children; 
and finally one by one fling aside the last tram- 
meling vestige of reason and self-control, and 
go screaming mad (with a decided sense of re- 
lief) in order to get rid of the strain. And so 
spreads steadily the holocaust. . . . 

Yes, it is rather sad, because you cannot but 
suspect that whatever befalls a race of such at- 
tested incompetence cannot very greatly matter 
if the universe be conducted on any serious 

235 



BEYOND LIFE 

basis. Yet even in war-time men worry along 
somehow, desperately endeavoring still to live 
up to notions derived from romantic fiction, 
such as is provided by public speakers and 
newspaper editorials and the censored war- 
news, and liberally ascribing "plans" and 
"policies" to every accident of the carnage, and 
revising these explanations as often as seems 
expedient. We play, in fine, that human intelli- 
gence somewhere either has the situation in 
hand or at least foresees a plausible way out of 
it. We are thus never actually reduced to fac- 
ing the truth : for however near we may blunder 
to the verge of such disaster, the demiurge pro- 
tects us by means of that high anaesthesia which 
we term "patriotism." 

10 

Now patriotism is, of course, something 
more than a parade of prejudice, so flimsy that 
even at the height of its vogue, in war-time, 
anyone of us can see the folly, and indeed the 
wickedness, of such patriotism as is manifested 
by the other side. For with our own country's 
entry into war, it is generally conceded that, 
whether for right or wrong and in default of any 

236 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

coherent explanation by our overlords as to 
what we are doing in that fighting galley, we can 
all agree to stand together in defence of our na- 
tional honor. In large part, this is another case 
of doing what seems to be expected: and the 
vast majority of us begin by being patriotically 
bellicose in speech out of respect to our neigh- 
bor's presumed opinion, while he returns the 
courtesy. So we both come at last unfeignedly 
to believe what we are saying, just as men al- 
ways find conviction in repetition: and a bene- 
volent wave of irrationality sweeps over towns 
and cross-roads, with the most staid of us upon 
its crest excitedly throwing tea into Boston Har- 
bor, or burning effigies of Lincoln and Davis 
(severally, as taste directs), or trampling upon 
Spanish flags, and organizing parades and pass- 
ing resolutions, and even attempting to memo- 
rize our national air. . . . Doubtless, all this 
is grotesque, upon the surface, and is of no es- 
pecial use in settling the war : but it prevents us 
from thinking too constantly of the fact that we 
are sending our boys to death. . . . The demi- 
urge, in fine, to soothe bewilderment and panic 
administers patriotism as an anaesthetic. And 
as has been pointed out, elsewhere, we find that 
ardent patriotism can even be made to serve as 

237 



BEYOND LIFE 

an exhilarating substitute for lukewarm reli- 
gion whenever the two happen to be irrecon- 
cilable. . . . Each war, in short, with its at- 
tendant outlets for new energies, arouses a fine 
if not quite explicable general sense of doing 
something of real importance, in all save the 
emotionally abstemious, to whom any war must 
perforce appear in its inception a gloomy error, 
and in its manifestations a nuisance. 

And probably these thin-blooded people are 
wrong. j33sthetically, at any rate, there is a 
deal to be said in favor of patriotism, and of 
this quaint-seeming faith in the especial merits 
of one's own country and in all the curious cus- 
toms of one's country, however inexplicable, 
even though this faith occasionally convert 
Earth into a revolving shambles. For patriot- 
ism is, of course, not merely an anaesthetic: to 
the contrary, it is, like all the other magnani- 
mous factors in human life, a dynamic product 
of the demiurge. Thus patriotism (as Paul 
Vanderhoffen has put it) can ascend to lofty 
heights without depending upon logic to give it 
a leg up. To prefer your country's welfare to 
your own is rational enough, since it is but to 
assume that the whole is greater than the part : 
but when we proceed to prefer our country's 

238 



THE MOUNTEBANK 

welfare to that of any and all other countries in 
the world, as we unanimously do, with tho 
glowing approval of conscience, we must pro- 
gress by high-mindedly reversing the original 
assumption. So that patriotism is undefiled by 
any smirch of "realism" or of that which is 
merely "logical," and must always be kept 
thus in order to stay vigorous, since patriotism 
is a product, and one of the most generally com- 
mended products, of the demiurge. 

And I, for one, find nothing unreasonable in 
the irrationality of patriotism. . . . The other 
animals munch grass and paw at unconsidered 
dirt, where man not all unconsciously gets nour- 
ishment from his mother's bosom. For we know 
ourselves to be born of that coign of Earth we 
cherish with no inexplicable affection. Not only 
in spirit does our habitat conform us, since the 
land we love, that soil whereon our cattle graze, 
goes steadily to the making of plants, and thence 
becomes incarnate in our bodies : until we our- 
selves seem but a many agglutinate and ani- 
mated particles of that land we love, with such 
partiality as we may not rouse toward those 
cool abstractions, equity and logic, but reserve 
for our corporal kin. Thus patriots may ration- 
ally justify the direst transports of their ac- 

239 



BEYOND LIFE 

tions, if not the wisdom of their public utter- 
ances. For in battling for the honor of one's 
birthplace each hand is lifted in defence, not 
merely of opinions, but of the very field in 
which it once was dust : and he that is slain does 
but repay through burial a loan from his 
mother. So it is with actual and very profound 
reason that we are not reasonable about the 
display of our patriotism : for no man, of what- 
ever nationality, is called on to be reasonable 
where his mother's welfare appears concerned 
or, to however small degree, her honor seems 
impugned. In such a quandary he strikes. The 
merits of his cause he will defer for later con- 
sideration. And meanwhile wisdom and phil- 
osophy may speak with the tongue of angels, 
and be hanged to them : for the noble madness 
of patriotism pleads at quite another tribunal, 
and addresses the human heart, whereover nei- 
ther ear nor brain has jurisdiction. Our mother 
seems to be molested; and we strike to requite 
all those who trouble her, no matter what be 
their excuse. That only is the immediate es- 
sential: long afterward, when there is nothing 
better to do, we may spare time to reason. 
Meanwhile we know that, here also, the romance 
is of more instant worth than the mere fact. 

240 



VIII 
THE CONTEMPORARY 



This Disinterested Loan and Life Assurance is 
rather a capital concern, David. 

Capital, indeed! in one sense. 

In the only important one which is number one, 
David. 

What will be the paid up capital, according to jour 
next prospwrtwf 

A figure of two, and as many oughts after it a? 
the printe/ eon get into the same line. . , 

Well, upon my soul, you are a genius then. 

Life and Adventures of Martin Chusslewit 



Vffl 

Which Concerns the 

Contemporary 

SO it is in physical life that romance, when 
things go hopelessly wrong, without fail 
affords to mortals some makeshift whereby 

to preserve their self-esteem And that 

brings me to another topic which has long been 
in the back of my mind, the other way in which 
romance may deal with actually present condi- 
tions, and make something more or less worth- 
while of them, by transplantation in the field of 
literature. I have spoken, at some length, as to 
how creative writers came against their in- 
stincts to prevaricate about contemporary life, 
in concession to their patrons' mental indo- 
lence : and to the drawbacks and pitfalls of this 
proceeding I have alluded. Past doubt, it is in- 
finitely safer to adhere to the Hellenic method 
of evoking protagonists worth noble handling 
from the bright mists of antiquity, where- 
through, as far as go existent proofs, men may 
in reality have moved "as they ought to be." 

243 



BEYOND LIFE 

That, however, is very far from saying that 
fine literature does not ever deal with the con- 
temporaneous. Were there nothing else, no- 
body could advance such an insane statement in 
English without forthwith incurring a liability 
of having hurled at his head the Complete 
Works of Charles Dickens. . . . 



Yes, I know that, after so many others, to 
speak of Dickens is to squander breath, and to 
write of him is to waste good ink and paper. In- 
deed, for that matter, numerous cognoscenti 
will assure you publishers do likewise when 
they print his novels. For as literature, the 
man's effusions are no longer taken very seri- 
ously by the lecturers before Women 's Clubs. 
The deuce of it is that, both colloquially and 
mentally, he stays the ancestor of all of us : and, 
like helpless victims of heredity, we must con- 
tinue to repeat his phrases for lack of any ade- 
quate synonym, and our really popular fiction 
seems condemned to haunt the levels of his 
Christmas Carol philosophy. 

Yet, as always, there is another side. "The 
custom of ancestor worship," as Horace Cal- 
verley somewhere observes, "has long been a 

244 



THE CONTEMPOBABY 

less potent fetish in the Kingdom of China than 
in the Republic of Letters/ 1 And, true enough, 
it was for a great while the wont of our general 
dunderheadedness to speak well of dead writers 
and decry all living authors, with the reassuring 
consciousness that thus no possible benefit could 
be incurred by anybody. There is even now a 
vast deal of respectability in Death: and he re- 
mains King-at-Arms in the literary world, 
wherein no title of nobility is assured until his 
seal lias been affixed. "Death is the great as- 
sayer of the sterling ore of talent. At his touch 
the drossy particles fall off, the irritable, the 
personal, the gross, and mingle with the dust: 
the finer and more ethereal part mounts with 
tho winged spirit to watch over our latest mem- 
ory, and to protect our bones from insult. Death 
is a sort of natural canonization. It makes the 
meanest of us sacred: it installs the poet in his 
immortality, and lifts him to the skies. " . . . 
So wrote Hazlitt, in preparation for a volte- 
face dictated by that custom which makes bod- 
ily interment a condition of literary pre-emi- 
nence : and to the considerate even such fame as 
fills several pages in the encyclopaedia, and a 
half-shelf in the library, seems purchased on 
quaint terms. . . . 

245 



BEYOND LIFE 

But the present stays not always tamely sub- 
servient to the past; so that to become a " clas- 
sic 11 is no assurance of perpetuity in the estate. 
Especially of late years has appraisal of our 
ancestors' ignorance in regard to aeroplanes 
and biology and suffrage, and motors and Pro- 
hibition and germs and the electric chair, begot- 
ten by analogy distrust of their clear-sighted- 
ness in all directions; and old literary values 
have borne up ill under their re-testing by the 
twentieth century, with that cocksureness pecu- 
liar to youngsters under twenty. The " person- 
al reaction, " in fine, has not been uniformly sat- 
isfactory; and as a consequence, pretty much 
everybody knows nowadays that the name of no 
novelist should be spoken with reverence if you 
are quite certain of its pronunciation ; and that 
the correct verdict as to Dickens, at all events, 
should waver delicately between a yawn and a 
shrug. 

When thus by so many persons no more seri- 
ously regarded than an obituary notice, the 
reputation of Dickens is in perilous plight. Con- 
fessed inability to read his novels is even re- 
garded as incommunicably smacking of literary 
knowingness. His characters are mere personi- 
fications of certain qualities. His books present 

246 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

false pictures of life. And above all, he is that 
unforgivable monster, a Victorian. ... So the 
tale goes, with blithe unconsciousness that these 
arraignments do but, in point of fact, sum up 
the reasons why his books will always delight 
the judicious. 

Few persons not already under restraint 
would care to deny that Dickens unfailingly mis* 
represented the life he pretended to portray. 
To do this was, as I have shown, alike a requi- 
site of art and of altruism: so the wise praise 
him therefor, knowing his merits to hinge far 
less on whether or no he has falsified the truth 
than on the delectable manner in which he has 
prevaricated. A novel, or indeed any work of 
art, is not intended to be a transcript from na- 
ture, pace all that cheerless reading-matter 
which our "realists" concoct for the agents of 
the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Truth, 
once hoisted from her well in primal nakedness, 
must like any other human failing be judiciously 
dressed in order to make an acceptable appear- 
ance in the library. 



You might reasonably refrain from the noble 
pleasure of praising in discussion of a neigh- 

247 



BEYOND LIFE 

bor's intellectual clarity if he ranked diamonds 
and charcoal as of equivalent worth, on the 
ground that both are composed of carbon. Yet 
radically, such confusion would be no more 
egregious than that made by the creative writer 
who mingles the observed truth and his private 
inventions, with very little more discrimination 
than is exercised in such blending by a prose- 
cuting attorney. "Realists" gravely contend 
that their books are true to what they see in 
life. It is consoling to deduce, from the com- 
parative infrequency of suicide, that the ma- 
jority of mankind view life otherwise. And yet, 
in such novels a naive veracity is sometimes, 
beyond doubt, confusedly to be discerned among 
a multitude of other aesthetic offences. . . . 
For of course the mere fact of a thing's hap- 
pening in nature does not affect in one way or 
another its right to happen in a novel: and 
to proclaim that "All this is truth " is 
really on a par with observing "All this 
is carbon. " It should be the part of the 
creative writer skilfully to make a selection 
from the truths in regard to his sub- 
ject, rather than to foist them wholesale into a 
transient grant of electrotype. Facts which are 
not to his purpose he is at liberty to omit, or to 

248 



THE OONTEMPOBABY 

color, or at a pinch to deny. He must, in short, 
create unhampered, and shape his petty uni- 
verse with the fine freedom of omnipotence. The 
truth therein must be whatever he wills to be 
the truth, and not a whit more or less : and his 
observation of actual life is an account on which 
he ought, at most, to draw small cheques to tide 
him over difficulties. 

For the creative artist must remember that 
his book is structurally different from life, in 
that, were there nothing else, his book begins 
and ends at a definite point, whereas the canons 
of heredity and religion forbid us to believe that 
life can ever do anything of the sort. He must 
remember that his art traces in ancestry from 
the tribal huntsman telling tales about the cave- 
fire ; and so, strives to emulate not human life, 
but human speech, with its natural elisions and 
falsifications. He must remember, too, that his 
one concern with the one all-prevalent truth in 
normal existence is jealously to exclude it from 
his book. . . . For " living " is to be conscious 
of an incessant series of less than momentary 
sensations, of about equal poignancy, for the 
most part, and of nearly equal unimportance. 
Art attempts to marshal the shambling proceg- 
sion into trimness, to usurp the role of memory 

249 



BEYOND LIFE 

and convention in assigning to some of these 
sensations an especial prominence, and, in the 
old phrase, to lend perspective to the forest we 
cannot see because of the trees. Art, as long 
ago observed my friend Mrs Kennaston, is an 
expurgated edition of nature: at art's touch, 
too, "the drossy particles fall off and mingle 
with the dust." And if Dickens has performed 
his expurgation so as to improve on the original, 
he is deserving of our gratitude. 



To contest that Dickens has done this is futile. 
He has painted a clear-cut picture of the sort 
of world which he imagined he would like to in- 
habit. Questionless, his England is contiguous 
to Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, and his Anglo-Saxons 
intermarried with the Nepphelococcygians. 
There was never anyone in human flesh so me- 
ticulously enamored of le mot juste as Mr. Peck- 
sniff, so prolific in weird modern instances as 
the Wellers pere et fils, nor so felicitously gar- 
rulous as Mrs. Nickleby : yet this need not pre- 
vent their being the best of company. As Dick- 
ens has himself suggested in his subtle depic- 
tion of Mrs. Harris, which is quite in the method 
of Henry James, the non-existence of a person 

250 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

detracts not at all from the merits of his or her 
conversation. The features of these people are 
over-emphasized, as are those of any actor when 
he treads the stage, and the performance is all 
the better for it. The characters of Mr. Theo- 
dore Dreiser*, say, are more "true to life" (in 
one of the many fields wherein candor is a ruin- 
ous virtue), and indeed can never be suppressed 
into actual popularity. For few of us find liv- 
ing of such uniform excellence and nobility as 
to endear a rehearsal thereof in the library : and 
the more honest are willing to confess that our 
average associates, to whom business and con- 
sanguinity link us willy-nilly, are sufficiently 
depressing in the flesh to induce a whole-hearted 
avoidance of their counterparts in fiction. . . . 
And when it comes actually to reading time- 
hallowed books, however rarely such hard ne- 
cessity arises in America, there is no doubting 
that most of us prefer the grotesqueries of Mi- 
cawber and Swiveller and Winkle to a nodding 
intimacy with Hamlet, or to an out-and-out nap 
over Robinson Crusoe, or to a vain dream of 

""Frankly we have little use for 'dunghill' literature, in 
which branch of expression Dreiser is a past master. The flavor 
throughout is hectic and unwholesome. It is not nice reading 
for pure girls and high-minded women, nor yet for clean young 
"Evening Journal, Richmond, Va. 

251 



BEYOND LIFE 

having moistened the arid stretches of Clarissa 
Marlowe's correspondence with the tear of sen- 
sibility: and this does not prove that Dickens 
is superior in any way to Shakespeare or Defoe, 
or even Richardson, but simply that the ma- 
jority of us find in Dickens less that is uncon- 
genial. Mr. Bumble is not, upon the whole, a 
more masterfully portrayed character than Sir 
John Falstaff : but Mr. Bumble is more gener- 
ally familiar, and, quite naturally, finds a far 
larger circle of sympathizers in his last stage, 
which, as you may remember, was not to babble 
of green fields, but to be bullied by his wife. 

And quaintly obsolete as it sounds, I am 
afraid there are still surviving a few of us old 
fogies who read Dickens with positive delight. 
We even hunt up an excuse or two in palliation. 
. . . For although the humor of Dickens may, 
as we are credibly informed, degenerate into 
buffoonery, it has a provoking habit of making 
people laugh. His pathos may, even to the ex- 
tent of a stylistic scandal, be palpably forced, 
but from uncritical eyes it has drawn at least a 
Mediterranean of salt water. So we old fogies 
let detractors bay their uttermost: the moon 
has spots on it, but it remains a creditable lu- 
minary ; and it is a pitiable form of myopia, say 

252 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

we, that detects in a Belisarius only the holes 
in his toga. Dickens very certainly has not de- 
picted the real world in his writings, but therein 
has made us free of an infinitely more pleasant 
planet. He has endowed virtuous folk with a 
preternatural power of coming out of trouble 
with flying colors and congenial spouses, but 
the most rigid moralist cannot well quarrel with 
this equipoise to delinquent actuality. Dickens 
may have made all good women short and 
plump and fair, and all misguided females 
haughty and tall and dark : yet every artist has 
his mannerisms, and if Dickens chooses to make 
the possession of desirable traits a question of 
height and complexion, there too he improves 
upon unscrupulous life, which in these matters 
seems to have no principle whatever. Besides, 
in Dickens-Land the residents are entitled to 
their local customs and racial idiosyncrasies and 
patois and peculiar social standards, just as 
much as are the inhabitants of Austria and 
Abyssinia and Arden. . . . Somewhat in this 
fashion run the excuses of us frivolous old fo- 
gies, who are a little too old to regard men and 
men's doings, even upon platforms, very seri- 
ously; and have lived through so many trials 
and responsibilities that those which remain to 

253 



BEYOND LIFE 

be encountered appear comparatively neglig- 
ible, and much grave talk about them seems 
silly. 

Of course, all this is "inartistic": it is the 
sort of conduct that grieved Flaubert, and con- 
tinues to upset the sensibility of Mr. George 
Moore, as earnest-minded persons stand ready 
to protest in columns. For Dickens very often 
shocks the young by his lack of interest in sex- 
ual irregularities. Yet Dickens probably knew 
even more about novel-writing than do such sa- 
gacious folk as lecture and publish without gen- 
eral detection. No doubt he has his quirks and 
whimsies, which are common to the despot of 
any country: but we who love him are fain to 
believe that the king can do no wrong. . . . 
Perhaps that is begging the question : but then 
it is a question which should never have been 
raised. And if you can seriously debate "Is 
Dickens obsolete t" already, in so far as you 
are concerned, he is as obsolete as youth and 
April. For you have outgrown a novelist who 
"wallows naked in the pathetic," and is some- 
times guilty of a vulgar sort of humor that 
makes people laugh, which, as we now know, is 
not the purpose of humor. . . . Indeed, to 
many persons not Torquemada or the Four 

254 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

Evangelists can appear more remote in their 
way of thinking than does this novelist who 
shapes his plots with the long arm of coinci- 
dence, and never flies in the admiring foolish 
face of convention. For it depresses the con- 
ventionally "advanced" to see the man deal so 
liberally in cheerfulness: and they rese^nt his 
happy-go-lucky methods of creating characters 
that seem more real to the judicious than the 
people we sit beside in streetcars, and (upon the 
whole) more vital and worthy of consideration 
than the folk who ' ' cannot read Dickens. ' ' For 
Dickens regarded life from the viewpoint of a 
now unmodish optimism. . . 



That reminds me of the remark by ordinary 
made as to Dickens which would be more pat- 
ently absurd had not usage toned its lurid idiocy 
to the drab of commonplace. "No, I don't care 
for Dickens: I prefer Thackeray. " To the 
philosophic mind it would seem equally sensi- 
ble to decline to participate in a game of bil- 
liards on the ground that one was fond of her- 
ring. No considerate admirer of the dignified 
character of the ancient Britons will feel it a 
matter of absolute duty to paint himself blue. 

255 



BEYOND LIFE 

Caractacus and Boadicea were no doubt as es- 
timable in conduct as in costume they were fru- 
gal: the police anywhere may reasonably con- 
cede both circumstances without adding a per- 
mit to dispense with further patronage of the 
tailor: and very much as it is possible thus to 
render homage to moral excellence without the 
ascription of sartorial infallibility, so may you 
admire a manner of writing without belittling 
another man's way of clothing his thoughts. 
When an author offers us a good piece of work, 
it is folly to begrudge acknowledgement because 
another writer has done as well, or even better. 
Lovers of tolerably intelligent literature must 
take what they can come by, in a world which to 
them has never been over-generous. 

But English-speaking races appear somehow 
called upon to uphold one of these writers at 
the expense of the other. Beside this disputa- 
tion, the Hundred Years War was an affair of 
no moment. The combatants will have none of 
the watchman crying in our mental night, no 
matter how wisely Master Dogberry proclaims 
comparisons to be odorous : and there is only a 
small party of lawless renegades who think the 
verbose Sicilian in the right, and so turn to 
the folk at Castlewood when Oliver Twist groira 

256 



THE CONTEMPOEAEY 

rhetorical, and seek the company of Mrs. Gamp 
when the moralizing becomes prolix in and 
about Great Gaunt Street. 

And it would be very pleasant, did time serve, 
to prattle about Thackeray, too, and his equally 
ingenious travesty of every day life for artistic 
purposes. But Thackeray, when you come to 
think of it, did his best work precisely when he 
was not dealing with contemporary life, and 
Esmond scores tremendously for the Hellenic 
method. . . . Yet it must be noted that Thack- 
eray also improved upon what was merely 
plausible, and in very much the pertinacious 
manner of Dickens, clung to a favorite cticM 
which delights us in chief by reason of its anti- 
quity. With Dickens there was always "the 
comic countryman who overheard everything, " 
and came forward toward the end of the twen- 
tieth monthly number to unmask the evil-doer: 
in book after book this accident is unblushingly 
tendered as a panacea for every human ill. With 
Thackeray there was always the unsuspected 
document lying perdu against its revealment or 
destruction, as might best serve virtue, in the 
twentieth monthly number, whether as Lieu- 
tenant Osborne's injudicious letter to Mrs. 
Crawley, or as the will of Sophia Newcome or 

257 



BEYOND LIFE 

of Lord Ringwood, or Henry Esmond's birth- 
certificate, or the Warringtons' deed to Castle- 
wood-in-Virginia. Thackeray is really not 
happy unless he has some such chirographic 
bombshell to explode in the last chapter. And 
in Pendennis you will find this omnipresent 
document assuming the droll form of the tattoo- 
ing on Amory's arm: but here too Thackeray *s 
obsessing cliche provides the happy winding-up 
of affairs. . . . No, I shall not insult you by 
pointing out that everybody's welfare does not 
thus quite invariably, and unanimously, pivot 
upon a bit of paper or an eavesdropper. But 
do you not perceive that these writers faithfully 
copied life in life's most important teaching, by 
inculcating that for persons who honor the aes- 
thetic conventions of "good" and "evil" a 
happy ending impends and is inevitable, 
through however unlikely means? For the dy- 
namic illusion of optimism is very thriftily fos- 
tered by romance in the wisest, and in the wise 
alone. 



in all, there is really no disputing that 
these two great optimists succeeded in writing 
delightfully about their contemporaries by the 

258 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

simple device of not telling the truth. . . . 
Probably few men of striking literary talent 
have ever been so constituted as to be capable 
of actually noticing what contemporary life was 
like. The absent-mindedness of gifted writers 
is, indeed, notorious: and it would seem to be 
this habit of not closely observing their fellow 
creatures which enables men of genius to write 
about them so charmingly. At all events, once 
the writing is adopted as a profession, the 
author has definitely cut adrift from normal 
life; and before long will forget its ordinary 
course so completely that he may very well 
come to misrepresent it in a masterpiece. , . . 
Balzac, who was more profoundly painstaking 
than most of us, adopted the plan of sleeping by 
day, and writing throughout the night hours, 
and of thus living for considerable periods 
without seeing anyone save the domestic who 
fetched the sustaining coffee : and Balzac 's mas- 
terworks remain to prove this an excellent way 
of writing really profound studies of contem- 
porary life. It secures, to begin with, an ab- 
normal viewpoint, concerning the need of which 
I have spoken at sufficient length. And besides, 
it is undeniable that a person who steadily per- 
sisted in this ordering of his existence, as Bal- 

259 



BEYOND LIFE 

zac did through some twenty-odd years, will not 
be creatively wind-bound by his knowledge of 
actualities and human nature as displayed 
therein: nor need I point out that the later vol- 
umes of the Comedie Humaine are concededly 
the best, improving as they did in ratio to Bal- 
zac 's increasing forgetfulness of the truth 
about his subject. . . . Given the requisite ge- 
nius, anyone of us may do well to follow his ex- 
ample. But the programme is arduous, and, 
first of all, you must be quite sure about the 
genius. 



To divagate once more into egotism, I recall 
a book that was published some years ago with, 
I believe, quite gratifying misprision of the of- 
fence. This volume, at any rate, was handi- 
capped by a preface in which this identical tru- 
ism was cited, that what mankind has gener- 
ally agreed to accept as first-class art, in any of 
the varied forms of fictitious narrative, has 
never been a truthful reproduction of the art- 
ist's era. And the author, as I recall it, went 
on at some length to consider the futility of our 
" vital " novels, which affect to dispose of this or 
that problem of the day in the terms of "faith- 

260 



THE OONTEMPOBARY 

ful realism. 71 I was rather taken with the 
writer's exposition of what were more or less 
my own theories: and so, was no little inter- 
ested, later, by the verdict thereanent of one of 
the few living novelists who, as a matter of any 
intelligent belief, has done work which will en- 
dure. ... I think that verdict will repay 
quoting: 

"Mr. is exactly right in intimating that 

the * timely 1 is not generally the ' timeless.' And 
yet I can't help saying (I suppose, because 'no 
rogue e'er felt the halter draw with good opin- 
ion of the law') that I think it is a possible thing 
to be timely, if (and this is a very large 'if') the 
'timely' is merely a method of showing the 
timeless. That is to say, if the reaction of the 
momentary phase of existence expresses some 
eternal phase of the human soul. Uncle Tom's 
Cabin was timely enough, but it was not its 
timeliness that made it survive : it was because, 
it seems to me, the book dealt with the ultimate 
passions of the human creature, with fear, and 
pity, and love. One could, I think, write a novel 
upon, say, the latest thing in automobiles, if the 
eccentricities of the self-starfer or what-not sim- 
ply ministered to some expression of that per- 
manently 'vital' thing, the human heart. . . . 

261 



BEYOND LIFE 

"I have twice ventured to be timely in fiction, 
and therefore I know how true is everything 
this Induction says about the 'vital' novel. 
And yet, ' Strike, but hear me!' Isn't it the 
trouble with Undine Spragg, for instance, that 
the 'vitalness' of the book is not founded upon 
truth, and therefore cannot possibly be perma- 
nent? It looks to me as if these people who 
tried to be * vital' dealt only with facts: and the 
trouble with facts seems to be, that if one treats 
them out of relation to the rest of life, they be- 
come lies. Mrs. "Wharton, for whose art I have 
the profoundest respect and admiration, offers 
us those horrid people in The Custom of the 
Country, with souls of a uniform tint of rather 
nasty and very dull blackness. Now, that is not 
true to life. There are black souls, God knows ! 
But even in the blackest of them, I am con- 
vinced that the true artist will see some glim- 
mering of white. To treat only the black, is in- 
deed to be * timely': it is to represent the mo- 
ment and the phase, and not the everlasting 
emotions. . . . 

"This Induction cuffs my ears so soundly, and 
so deservedly (apropos of my last book) that I 
have to ask for mercy, for myself and even for 
(whose books I have never read). Yet so 

262 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

far as I am concerned, I did try to relate my 
very timely subject to the timelessness of hu- 
man passion, which seems to me like a living 
root in the ground: the phases grow and blos- 
som, like leaves and flowers, and drop into the 
dust of time, but the root remains. " 

8 

Now that is a summing-up which everyone, re- 
membering the writer's books, must perforce 
view with reverence. It is the verdict of a per- 
son who speaks with authority. So I shall not 
carp over an expression here and there, though 
in regard to the permanent value of Uncle 
Tom's Cabin the temptation is considerable to 
speak daggers. . . . Instead, I thankfully ac- 
cept the formula whereby the novel (and equally 
the play or poem) of contemporary life may, 
just possibly, become fine literature: if that 
which is timely therein be made merely a 
method of showing that which is timeless, and 
if the momentary phase of existence be utilized 
to express some eternal phase of the human 
soul. Concerning the size of those "ifs" the 
writer and I are in gratifying accord. 

It comes almost to saying that the novel of 
contemporary life, via the typewriter of the 



BEYOND LIFE 

serious artist, will return to the oldest of forms, 
and become more or less an allegory. ... In- 
deed, this is inevitable. Book after book I find 
in the department-stores narrating how this or 
that particular person lived, wooed, married, 
labored, reared children, got into the divorce 
courts, made a fortune, acquired new opinions, 
or died. Often it is so convincingly set forth 
that the illusion of reality is produced: and for 
the instant the reader does believe that all this 
actually happened. But do you not see that to 
produce this illusion amounts to nothing aesthe- 
tically f I read of marriages and divorces and 
family squabbles and deaths and business-ven- 
tures by the dozen in the morning paper: and I 
believe that these too actually happened. Well, 
the "realistic" school of fiction, at its most am- 
bitious reach of tedium, aims to convey the same 
impression, and nothing more. If * * realism ' ' be 
a form of art, the morning newspaper is a per- 
manent contribution to literature. Undeniably, 
the " realist *' invents his facts a trifle more dar- 
ingly than the police reporter, and soars above 
mere veracity on an approximate level with the 
editorial writer: but not even on the plea of 
imagination can he claim to rank with the com- 
pilers of the weather predictions or of the so- 

264 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

ciety columns. . . . What John Jones may do 
or may refrain from doing really does not mat- 
ter a button to anyone outside of his immediate 
circle of acquaintances: and the most faithful 
record of his actions, surely, cannot be made of 
enduring value to the world at large by the fact 
that they never took place and that Jones never 
existed. . . And yet, none the less, this novel 
of contemporary life may be informed by art if, 
through some occult magic, the tale becomes a 
symbol : and if, however dimly, we comprehend 
that we are not reading merely about "John 
Jones, aged 26, who gave his address as 187 
West Avenue, " but about humanity, and about 
the strivings of that ape reft of his tail, and 
grown rusty at climbing, who yet, however 
dimly, feels himself to be a symbol, and the frail 
representative of Omnipotence in a place that is 
not home; and so strives blunderingly, from 
mystery to mystery, with pathetic makeshifts, 
not understanding anything, greedy in all de- 
sires, and honeycombed with poltroonery, and 
yet ready to give all, and to die fighting, for the 
sake of that undemonstrable idea. If, in short, 
the chronicle becomes a symbol of that which is 
really integral to human existence, in a sense to 
which motor cars and marriage licenses and 

265 



BEYOND LIFE 

even joys and miseries appear as extraneous 
things, why, then and then only, this tale of 
our contemporaries shifts incommunicably to 
fine art. . . . 

I wonder if you are familiar with that un- 
canny genius whom the London directory pro- 
saically lists as Arthur Machen? If so, you 
may remember that in his maddening volume 
Hieroglyphics Mr. Machen circumvolantly ap- 
proaches to the doctrine I have just voiced 
that all enduring art must be an allegory. No 
doubt, he does not word this axiom quite ex- 
plicitly: but then Mr. Machen very rarely ex- 
presses outright that which his wizardry sug- 
gests. And it is perhaps on account of this rash 
reliance upon intelligence and imagination, as 
being at all ordinary human traits, that Mr. 
Machen has failed to appeal as instantly as, we 
will say, Mr. Robert W. Chambers* appeals to 

*A novelist of the day, appropriately commemorated by Cap- 
tain Rupert Hughes (another writer of fiction) in the Cosmo- 
politan Magazine, for June, 1918. "Mr. Chambers . . . does 
not run about the world shaking his fist at the sky or spitting 
in other people's faces. . . . There is an eternal summer in hU 
heart. The world is his rose garden." Mr. Chambers, according 
to the same authority, has written "masterpieces," "triumphs of 
art," "superb fantasy," "thrilling drama," etc., etc., dealing for 
the most part with "well-groomed men and women in their 
stately homes." 

266 



THE CONTEMPOBABY 

those immaculate and terrible ladies who lan- 
guidly vend books in our department stores, 
and with Olympian unconcern confer success 
upon reading-matter by "recommending" it. 
. . But here in a secluded library is no place 
to speak of the thirty years ' neglect that has 
been accorded Mr. Arthur Machen: it is the 
sort of crime that ought to be discussed in the 
Biblical manner, from the house-top. . . And, 
besides, I am digressing. 

Art, then, must deal with contemporary life 
by means of symbols. Never for a moment will 
art in dealing with the actual life about us re- 
strict its concern to John Jones, as a person, 
any more than, as I have suggested, does the 
art of the Bible ever pivot upon Abraham or 
Solomon as individual persons. . . It was 
perhaps intuitively that Dickens very briefly 
to revert to him, obeyed this necessity, but he 
regarded it, none the less : and so you will find, 
even to-day, the more hopelessly obtuse among 
us deprecating that his characters are "per- 
sonifications of certain qualities". . . And of 
course it is idle to argue with folk who were men- 
tally stillborn and grotesquely flourish the 
corpse as something of which to be proud. 
They boggle less over Thackeray, who explains 

267 



BEYOND LIFE 

the meaning of his symbols over and over again, 
with delightfully indefensible side-taking and 
moralizing, until even dullards comprehend 
what he is writing about. . . 

Art, I repeat, must deal with contemporary 
life by means of symbols. And the creative 
writer should handle facts religiously, in that 
particular mood of piety which holds that in- 
complete accord with a creator's will is irre- 
ligious. . . Facts must be kept in their proper 
place, outside of which they lose veracity. 



To go back a little "the trouble with facts 
seems to be, that if one treats them out of re- 
lation to the rest of life, they become lies." 
. . There in brief you have the damnatory 
frailty of "realistic 99 novels, which endeavor 
to show our actual existence from a viewpoint 
wherefrom no human being ever saw it. For 
literature need I repeat it? should be true to 
life: and the serious artist will not attempt to 
present the facts about his contemporaries as 
these facts really are, since that is precisely the 
one indiscretion which life never perpetrates. 
In literature facts should not be handled intel- 
ligently, for the simple reason that in living no 

268 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

fact or happening reveals itself directly to 
man's intelligence; but is apprehended as an 
emotion, which the sustainer's prejudices color 
with some freedom. Thus, were you to hear of 
your wife's sudden death it would come to you 
not, I hope, as an interesting fact, but as a 
grief: and with the advent of your first-born 
you are conscious not at all of the newcomer's 
ugliness and untoothed imbecility which are 
the undeniable facts, but gratefully receive a 
priceless joy. All the important happenings of 
life, indeed, present themselves as emotions 
that are prodigally conformed by what our de- 
sires are willing to admit : it is indisputable, for 
instance, that a quite different account from 
any which we now possess of the Betrayal and 
Crucifixion would have been rendered, and hon- 
estly believed in, by the mother of Judas. Even 
life's trivialities arrive in the livery of emotion: 
to receive a letter is either a pleasure or a 
nuisance, and what there is for dinner appre- 
ciably affects the spirit-level. We, in fine, thus 
fritter through existence without ever encoun-v 
tering any facts as they actually are : for in life 
no fact is received as truth until the percipient 
has conformed and colored it to suit his prefer- 

26? 



BEYOND LIFE 

ences : and in this also literature should be true 
to life. . . 

Then, too, to make a complete and fair- 
minded analysis of any human being, as " real- 
ists " affect to do, is forthwith to avoid any con- 
ceivable viewpoint: since our acquaintances, to 
whom alone we are impartial, we do not take the 
trouble to analyze, and to our intimates, with 
whom alone we are familiar, we can by no possi- 
bility remain impartial. You would thus no 
more think of inquiring into your grocer 's rea- 
sons for turning Methodist than of abhorring 
your brother because he happened to have mur- 
dered somebody. . . The artist, as has been 
said, requires a viewpoint that is abnormal : but 
he can make no very profitable use of one which 
does not exist. That much cried-up volume, 
Madame Bovary, for example, is doubtless a 
painstaking delineation of a sort of a some- 
thing, which nobody can take oath to be a wo- 
man. For, inasmuch as this deplorable Emma 
is studied with an intimacy and an aloofness of 
feeling which in human life cannot coexist in an 
observer, you have no data whereby to judge 
the portrait's verisimilitude. It may resemble 
a certain woman seen from that especial stand- 
point: but then nobody ever saw a real woman 

270 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

from that standpoint. The thing may well be 
like a village doctor's wife when thus regarded: 
yet so far as positive knowledge goes, it may be 
even more like a dromedary viewed from the 
North Pole: for Flaubert is refining phrases 
about a collocation outside of human experi- 
ence. . . And all the other "realistic " writers, 
who thus set forth to present intelligently the 
facts of cotemporaneous existence, are intro- 
ducing facts to the reader's perception after a 
fashion for which life affords no parallel. So 
their facts become lies, because such " realism " 
as a literary method is fundamentally untrue 
to life; and by attempting to exhibit our con- 
temporaries as being precisely what they are, 
does but very ill compare with actual life, which 
is far more charitable. 

10 

Really there should be no trifling with f acis. 
For always the ever-present danger exists that, 
in treating of the life immediately about him, 
even the unobservant literary genius may notice 
that this life for the most part consists of ugly 
and stupid persons doing foolish things, and 
will take a despondent view of the probable out- 
come. . . Not everyone of us, whatever our 

271 



BEYOND LIFE 

private belief, writes quite as understandingly 
as Shakespeare : and even he, in addition to the 
peccadilloes previously noted, was very guilty 
of Timon and of Trottus and Cressida. But 
Shakespeare, being what he was, went beyond 
all that, and came at last to the astounding 
" romantic " plays written after his retirement 
to Stratford. . . There is strong meat in their 
serene indifference to moral indignation. Le- 
ontes and lachimo and Antonio of Milan are 
every whit as evil as Shylock and lago : but the 
dramatist is not at pains to invent, any punish- 
ment for the latelier-begotten scoundrels ; for to 
enwidened vision it has become doubtful if the 
full reach of human wickedness can, after all, 
amount to very much. . . 

And so this poet is reputed to have said: "I 
never knew a wicked person. I question if any- 
body ever did. Undoubtedly, short-sighted 
people exist who have floundered into ill-doing: 
but it proves always to have been on account 
of either cowardice or folly, and never because 
of malevolence ; and in consequence, their sorry 
pickle should demand commiseration far more 
loudly than our blame. In short, I find hu- 
manity to be both a weaker and a better-mean- 
ing race than I had suspected. . . I grant the 

272 



THE CONTEMPORARY 

world to be composed of muck and sunshine in- 
termingled : but, upon the whole, I find the sun- 
shine more pleasant to look at. . . And I hold 
that all human imbroglios, in some irrational 
and quite incomprehensible fashion, will be 
straightened to our satisfaction. . . Mean- 
while this universe of ours, and, reverently 
speaking, the Maker of this universe as well, is 
under no actual bond to be intelligible in deal- 
ing with us/' 

That, too, is the verdict of a person who 
knows what he is talking about. It is the ano- 
dyne, however variously labeled, of every can- 
did philosopher in putting up with those innu- 
merable, continuous, small, nagging and ines- 
capable annoyances which compound his life as 
a human being : and it serves as a cordial to sus- 
tain him in almost all his dealings with his con- 
temporaries. Equally it is a creed to which the 
literary artist, also, must cling fast, yet not too 
desperately, in dealing with his contempo- 
raries. . . It is the utterance of a man who, 
to revert to the old phrase, "has encountered 
Pan," and yet has perceived, too, that in every- 
thing romance, to serve the unforeseeable pur- 
pose of the demiurge, begets and nourishes the 
dynamic illusion of optimism. Anc* he knows, 

273 



BEYOND LIFE 

he knows not how, that the demiurgic spirit of 
romance strives not without discernment 
toward noble ends. Thus it is alone that, in 
defiance of the perturbing spectacle of man'? 
futility and insignificance, as the passing skin- 
trouble of an unimportant planet, he can still 
foster hope and urbanity and all the other gal- 
lant virtues, serenely knowing all the while that 
if he builds without any firm foundation his feat 
is but the more creditable. 



274 



IX 

THE ARBITERS 



She stood before him in all the beautiful strength of 
her young womanhood. 

He was really a fine looking young man with the ap- 
pearance of being exceptionally well-bred and well-kept 
Indeed the most casual of observers would not have hesi- 
tated to pronounce him a thoroughbred and a good indi- 
vidual of the best cype that the race has produced. . . . 

Barbara, he cried, don't you Jcnow that I love you! 
. . Don't you know that nothing else matters? Your 
desert has taught me many things, dear, but nothing so 
great as this that I want you and that nothing else 
matters* I want you for my wife. 

The Winning of Barbara Worth 



IX 

Which Defers to the 

Arbiters 



TO attain the ends I have indicated may, 
then, be taken as the peculiar duty of the 
literary artist who is reduced to writing 
about his contemporaries. . . Put to a jury 
of average discrimination, however, the ques- 
tion, what is the first requirement of a novelist! 
would probably result in a hung verdict. The 
less prosaic would answer "A publisher, " and 
the ten dullards would prattle of " original 
ideas " quite as though they discoursed of pos- 
sibilities. And the whole dozen would be right 
enough: for the publisher is really indispens- 
able, whereas from the point of view of com- 
merce and really aesthetics is in no wise con- 
cerned, our modern novel is nothing if it have 
not some superficial novelty, to arrest the rov- 
ing and languid interest with which all people 
(turned pessimists by experience) hear about 
new fiction. . . Yet the humane laws of the 

277 



BEYOND LIFE 

land compel no man to read another's book. 
Emboldened by this fact, the general reader de- 
mands, with his visage too betraying such aes- 
thetic zeal as may fairly be described as char- 
acteristic: 

"Interest me, against my natural inclina- 
tions, in your printed nonsense, and I will buy 
such novels of yours as I cannot borrow. I do 
not at all go in for reading and that sort of 
thing, when I can find anything else to do: 
but once in a while there is a vacant half -hour 
I have to get rid of somehow. At such times I 
am willing to put you on an equal footing with 
the evening paper and the cinematograph, since 
I reserve the right to quit any one of you the 
moment I find the entertainment distasteful. 
So, go ahead now with your fooleries and re- 
member I am here to be shocked or elevated or 
instructed or harrowed or otherwise taken out of 
myself: and let us have no ' literary' nonsense, 
because I resent the impudence of people who 
allude to matters that I do not understand. " 

It seems little enough to ask in return for a 
whole ten per cent commission on a book that 
costs the general reader, very often, as much 
as his cravat. Still, it is a mercantile offer, 
*rhich every true artist would meet with con- 

'278 



THE ARBITERS 

tempt if only it were possible to discharge 
the monthly accounts with the same coinage. 
But, unfortunately, most books are less a ques- 
tion of art than of bread and butter. The aver- 
age fiction-writer, at all events, can afford to 
look down upon the public only, as the acrobat 
looks down upon the tight-rope, to ascertain 
whither it leads, and to make sure that it will 
support him. . . 

Nor is it impeccable etiquette to blow one's 
own trumpet: yet each musician undoubtedly 
gets the most noise out of his own instrument. 
So in the Vanity Fair of Current Letters every 
tradesman makes bold to commend his especial 
wares. . . The attractions just now are vari- 
ous. Here is Mr. Booth Tarkington dispensing, 
past doubt, the best confectionery in the mar- 
ket. At the familiar stand Mr. W. D. Howells 
is still making tintypes, and guaranteeing a per- 
fect likeness. Mr. Bernard Shaw, of course, is 
in charge of that intriguing exhibition, the 
Crazy House, where everything is exhibited up- 
side down: and in the fortune-teller's tent, re- 
cently vacated by Mr. H. G. Wells, is prophesy- 
ing this week I forget precisely who. Yonder 
row of pavilions is devoted to a display of pre- 
cocious orphans, and you are warned not to 

279 



BEYOND LIFE 

enter with less than two pocket handkerchiefs. 
Those who are interested by the sport of shy- 
ing missiles at inkily colored persons can be 
diverted, to your left, at any number of stalls, 
conducted by such dissimilar folk as ambassa- 
dors, newspaper correspondents, retired 
spies, and ex-governesses to the nobility. 
Over yonder a very considerable section of the 
fair-grounds is set apart for the performances 
commended by Colonel Roosevelt. And of 
course there are any number of tents with 
flamboyant placards stating that the exhibit 
within concerns the highest and most exclusive 
society, and narrowly escaped being forbidden 
by the police. . . It is a motley bazaar, and to 
make any choice therein cannot but puzzle the 
visitor with limited resources for his fairing. 
Now all this is very new ard original indeed, 
and the general reader ought to be satisfied. 
For it is at his demand the age thus pullulates 
with reading-matter for the non-literary. Still, 
all progress brings its attendant problems : and 
in this case one honestly wonders what is to be- 
come of our old literary masterpieces, now that 
people decline to read them. For there can be 
no earthly doubt that to a steadily augmenting 
majority the time-honored bulk of English lit* 

280 



THE ARBITERS 

erature means only a forgotten " course " at 
school or college, along with the calculus and 
botany and other matters there is no longer 
any need to worry over, until it comes to help- 
ing the children with their lessons. . . 

Nor was this state of affairs avoidable. In 
order to appreciate the productions of a de- 
parted age, it is necessary to be familiar with 
the era : and time has added ruthlessly, no less 
to the ranks of literary masterpieces, than to 
the number of requisite viewpoints. There is 
really no end of actual drudgery entailed nowa- 
days in becoming tolerably conversant with 
English literature, and comprehending, if but 
more or less, what the authors are about. And 
when it comes to consideration of their interplay 
on one another, and their derivative sources, 
and their borrowings from other literatures 
all which are quite essential -studies if we are 
to read with comprehension, the prospect 
broadens out into little better than a lifetime of 
penal servitude. It is a vista before which the 
student quails, and the better-balanced general 
public shrugs and turns its back. 

As a case in point, one may well consider that 
especial glory of English letters, the much- 
vaunted plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobean 

281 



BEYOND LIFE 

dramatists, which justly rank so high in litera- 
ture that few can endure the altitude. Here 
for the asking is, in cold earnest, "the greatest 
part of the greatest period of the greatest lit- 
erature of the world": and to extol this quite 
priceless literary heritage of ours as animated, 
impassioned, brilliant and inimitable, would be 
to deal in text-book truisms ; but to describe it 
as generally pleasant reading would be an 
absurdity. To the most of us such portions as 
we can understand at all sound uncommonly 
like nonsense: and throughout, the flavor of 
unreality in these dramas is even stronger than 
their depressing odor of antiquity. Our in- 
stinctive attitude toward them becomes much 
the same as that of Tom Tulliver toward the 
Latin language. Yet managers once with per- 
fect justice classed these plays as "light popu- 
lar stuff, " and the jokes we puzzle out with the 
aid of commentaries and foot-notes were put 
in for the especial benefit of the uneducated. 
, . Then there is The Spectator, which time 
tas transmuted from a popular periodical into 
a* pest. And all the productions of Mrs. Aphra 
J*ehn, the seventeenth century Elinor Glyn, 
and of Samuel Richardson, who was the Flor- 
wce Barclay of his day, these too assist to 

"82 



THE ARBITERS 

prompt avoidance of the well selected li- 
brary.* . . 



For time has erected barriers more or less 
serious before all the " popular " reading- 
matter of yester-year. From this side of the 
fence, the prospect seems attractive enough, 
and for Cervantes, let us say, nearly everybody 
has a civil superlative. . . But the actual climb- 
ing of the palings, to the extent of reading 
famous books, instead of the books about them, 
provokes inevitable disillusion. The moon is 
beyond question interesting when glanced at 
through a moderate sized telescope, but actu- 
ally to sojourn on its surface might prove in- 
sufferably tedious. . . Thus every self-respect- 
ing person will assure you, with whatever r>ro- 
nunciatory divergence, that Don Quixote is one 
of the great characters of fiction: and past 
doubt the ingenious gentleman of La Mancha 
is a delightful companion, in anticipation. 
What could be more diverting than the adven- 

*Charteris likens Richardson and Mrs. Behn to writers eon- 
temporary with Charteris. "Mrs. Glyn possesses a brilliant in- 
tellect, which she uses to probe unsparingly into the human 
soul." - - Cosmopolitan Magazine for September 1918. Mrs. Bar- 
clay also had admirers. 

283 



BEYOND LIFE 

ture of Mambrino's helmet, and that perfectly 
killing affair of the windmills? and where will 
you find nowadays such wonderful character- 
drawing as in Sancho Panza? You thrill to the 
notion of a jaunt through old-world Spain in 
company with these two immortal types of hu- 
manity, concerning whom, as you glowingly 
remember, it has been strikingly observed by 
Somebody-or-other that such-and-such is the 
case. . . So you begin the book, in an atmos- 
phere of genial goodf ellowship, which vanishes 
long before the end of the fourth chapter. For 
it is an unfortunate fact that, so far as most of 
us are concerned, the essayists have written 
much more entertainingly about Don Quixote 
than Cervantes ever did. And when you fair- 
mindedly consider that noble structure which 
commentators and occasional writers have 
erected with the works of Rabelais as founda- 
tion, you will hardly contend that the most at- 
tractive portion of the building is the cellar. . . 
Yet, by the pertinacious, these time-raised 
barriers are surmountable: and once over, 
there is pleasant enough adventuring to be 
found, in and about the domains that are 
held in trust for posterity. The surrounc 
are, indeed, rather different from what might 

284 




THE ARBITERS 

be expected. Some monuments of genius, which 
from a distance seemed most imposing, reveal 
to closer inspection a great deal of clumsy 
joiners-work: and others turn out to be mere 
piles of odds and ends. Posterity appears to 
be as much by way of falling heir to the slap- 
dash and the incidental work as to inheriting 
that which was aspiringly put together for her 
edification. . . Indeed, a many ambitious 
epistles especially designed for posterity's 
perusal have gone astray in transit, and any 
number of personal communications, addressed 
elsewhere and written with never a thought of 
her, have fallen by pure luck into the hands of 
her trustees, to be ranked among her most 
amiable treasures. . . 

There was one John Dryden, for example, 
who was incessantly plaguing himself about the 
debatable tastes of unborn headers: tragedies, 
comedies, satires, pastorals, elegies, and other 
dignified displayals of his genius were de- 
spatched to posterity every year. There lived 
coetaneously, in the same city, a government 
official of more or less importance, a secretary 
of the Admiralty, who in hours of leisure jotted 
down a diary for his own amusement. Dryden 
was a fine poet, and wears morocco worthily: 

285 



BEYOND LIFE 

there is perhaps no surer test of culture than 
an ability to read The Conquest of Granada 
with enjoyment. Still, nobody pretends it is 
as pleasant to yawn over The Spanish Friar 
and Sir Martin Mar-all as to listen to Mr. 
Pepys's quarrels with his wife ("poor 
wretch !"), observe the glowworms with Mrs. 
Turner, and witness the execution of Major 
Harrison, who, having been hanged, drawn 
and quartered, with really deathless optimism, 
"looked as cheerful as any man could do in 
thai condition. " Shall we glance over The 
Hind and the Panther and Absalom and Achi- 
tophel, those eminently meritorious produc- 
tions, or shall we follow the secretary from the 
House to Hercules-pillars? or to a stolen tete- 
&-tete with Mrs. Knipp, or to church, or to the 
Duke's theater, or to an hour's practise on 
the flute, or to reflective contemplation of 
Saturn through a twelve foot glass, and "so to 
bed"? There is only one answer for any right- 
minded man. * . The reading public, of course, 
is not right-minded. This is not to say, indeed, 
that the general public prefers Dryden to 
Pepys: to the contrary, it enrolls both, with 
most of our elder writers, in the ranks of the 
Great Unread. . . 

286 



THE ARBITERS 



As we have seen, then, among the important 
que&tions of our time (as public speakers pleas- 
ingly put it) is the problem: what can be done 
toward educating the taste of the general read- 
ing public. And the answer, of course, is 
bother the general public! It reads what it 
chooses, has always done so, and will in all 
probability continue to do so indefinitely. The 
general public to-day, as always, has no con- 
cern with literature, which, as previously 
pointefl out, is a starveling cult kept alive by 
the " literary ". And vice versa, we have seen 
too that when literature at all considers the 
taste of the general public and the trend of the 
writer 's time, the result may range anywhere 
between the " comedy " of Marlowe and the 
" sentiment " of Sheridan, over an awe-inspir- 
ing field of enormities. . . Meanwhile the gen- 
eral public patronizes Mr. Winston Churchill,* 
and Mrs. Florence Barclay, and Mr. Sydnor 
Harrison, and Mr. Harold Bell Wright, through 
just that sober enjoyment of being told over and 
over again what nobody thinks of denying which 

*Charteris here enumerates a few writers all novelists, 
who were in vogue at the time he spoke. 

237 



BEYOND LIFE 

weekly draws it churchward. It regales itself 
with Sir Conan Doyle, and Mr. R. W. Cham- 
bers, and Mr. Phillips Oppenheim, and Sir Hall 
Caine, on much the principle that it eats pop- 
corn and peanuts, less from any especial de- 
light in the diet than from an impulse to get to 
the bottom of the bag. And lastly, and above 
all, the general public quite sincerely enjoys 
reading any book, of any kind, that is being 
read by the public generally, through much that 
herd instinct for doing what everybody else is 
doing, which exalts sane women upon three- 
inch heels, and attaches buttons to the sleeves 
and coat-tails of presumably intelligent men. 
So that in reading the general public is not in- 
fluenced by its literary taste, but by qualities 
less esoteric. 

This, then, is the conclusion of the matter: 
that, as literature goes, the verdict, or rather 
the aversion,, of the reading public may be dis- 
regarded. For literature is a cult kept alive by 
the "literary." And the fact that the general 
public no longer reads time-hallowed books has 
really no more to do with literature than have 
the books it actually does read. Sometimes, for 
one reason or another, the general public talks 
about, and perhaps reads, a quite excellent 

288 



THE ARBITERS 

piece of writing. And were there a company 
that insured the lives of books though prob- 
ably no author, even as beneficiary, would ever 
admit that any seeming demise among his 
brain-children amounted to more than cata- 
lepsy, it is gratifying to-day to note the num- 
ber of apparently good "risks" in America. 
For instance, this desiderated company would 
beyond doubt insure at a quite moderate pre- 
mium the ink and paper offspring of Mr. Joseph 
Hergesheimer : and would not the terms offered 
Mr. Booth Tarkington (to whom I shall pres- 
ently recur in exasperated admiration) be made 
unusually "attractive"? 

One is here tempted to enumerate at least a 
corporal's guard of promising living candidates 
for the "literary themes" of unbuilded class- 
rooms ; and is deterred by the reflection that all 
such lists can only be dictated by prejudice 
and compiled by self conceit. Setting aside his 
own books, no living author could very confi- 
dently go on record as to what Arks are just 
now discernible in the deluge of current fic- 
tion, because in such matters any honest proph- 
ecy is a vain thing. Posterity amasses its lit- 
erary heirlooms by no known standard: and 
when it comes to predicting which books will 

28? 



BEYOND LIFE 

live, and which are passing into oblivion via 
tremendous popularity, no person, and no class 
of persons, is competent to say what trait it is 
that, somehow, gives a book vitality. 



Publishers, upon their purely commercial 
plane, appear agreed that the miracle is per- 
formed, very much as vitality was conferred 
on Adam, by word of mouth. When readers 
commend a novel to their acquaintances, so 
rumor runs in editorial fastnesses, the book's 
future is assured. "Now, that's what I call a 
pretty good story, " says So-and-so: and Such- 
an-one receives the dictum with a confidence he 
would never accord the verdict of a professional 
reviewer, whose approval is vexatiously apt 
sometimes to be based upon the volume's merits 
as a piece of literature. . . 

Now the age-old sneer against professional 
reviewers as being unsuccessful authors, who 
have acquired, by virtue of demonstrating their 
innate incapacity to write readable books, a 
glib ability to instruct others in that art, is in 
most cases pointless. Usually, indeed, it is the 
other way around: and one might enumerate 
any number of present-day novelists whom the 

290 



THE ARBITERS 

decade has seen like stars start from their criti- 
cal spheres. Even were the old slur always barb- 
ed with veracity, however, its repetition need 
gall nobody. For the practising reviewer of cur- 
rent reading-matter has, of course, in the exer- 
cise of his trade no more concern with literary 
values than has the shoemaker or the magazine- 
editor or the blacksmith in the pursuit of their 
several vocations. This rule, like every gen- 
eral rule, is attested by its exception, to-day 
delightfully incarnate in the always exceptional 
Mr. H. L. Mencken, who illicitly begets new 
ideas upon ancient culture, and, like an erratic 
chemist, uses as an acid to test contemporary 
humbug such erudition as staider critics employ 
as oxygen for the moribund in tooled calf. No 
less, this rule applies to normal persons : and a 
conscientious newspaper critic ought not to read 
much of anything. The books he is condemned 
to review are naturally out of the question, were 
it but that his contribution toward his family's 
support depends upon retention of his mental 
health : whereas familiarity with what mankind 
has in the main agreed to accept as great lit- 
erature will handicap him without fail, and ulti- 
mately will lessen the market- value of his para- 
graphs, by mitigating the infallibility of his tone. 

291 



BEYOND LIFE 

For, no one who cared cordially for literature 
has ever been a competent critic of literature. 
To the mental eye examples throng with the re- 
puted contiguity of leaves in Vallambrosa. The 
men and women who made our enduring books 
have by ordinary been mistaken in appraising 
the relative importance of what they themselves 
had written, and almost every one of them has 
tended to estimate as a feather in his cap what 
posterity has found a thorn in the side. But in 
weighing the value of one another's produc- 
tions, distinguished authors have been wrong 
without fail. You must permit me a few pe- 
dantic citations of appalling instances. . . 
Voltaire considered Shakespeare a barbarian, 
and said so without scruple or any great harm. 
Madame de Stael complained of the " common- 
ness " of Jane Austen's novels, of which the 
merits were equally imperceptible to Charlotte 
Bronte. Wordsworth termed Candide "the 
dull product of a scoffer's pen," to the aston- 
ishment of many who would otherwise have con- 
sidered the author of Peter Bell an authority on 
dullness. Coleridge discovered nothing very 
remarkable in Gray. Southey complained that 
the Essays of Elia were lacking in sound re- 
ligious feeling, and pronounced The Ancient 

292 



THE ARBITERS 

Mariner "the clumsiest attempt at German 
sublimity I ever saw." Keats (at whom Byron 
sneered) found in the writers of the Augustan 
age of England only a school of dolts that mis- 
took a rocking-horse for Pegasus : and his espe- 
cial indignation against their precentor, Boil- 
eau, is not unnatural, in view of the latter *s 
plagiarism of his "rien n'cst beau que le mai" 
from Keats 's most often quoted line, made 
with low cunning so many years before the birth 
of Keats. . . Then Thackeray has left it on 
record that either he or Dickens understood 
nothing about novel-writing: and Dickens 
agreed with him, as posterity on this particular 
point has done with neither. For the rest, 
Swinburne was at small pains to conceal his 
real opinion of Tennyson, and Dr. Johnson con- 
sidered whipping the proper reward of any- 
one who would read twice a poem of Milton's. . . 
One might cite other instances, but the mad tale 
would stretch to the crack of doom. Its un- 
avoidable moral would seem to be that this 
word-of -mouth criticism by concededly incompe- 
tent people, through which books "sell," is in 
comparison quite competent criticism. 

5 

Thus to repeat, at this late day, the sayings 

293 



BEYOND LIFE 

of obsolete persons who wrote novels in monthly 
numbers and poems in metrical verse, may no 
doubt appear pedantic : but even so, these dire 
examples prove pretty plainly that you cannot 
trust a man who has read much, to select your 
reading-matter. Literature is precisely the one 
thing which cannot be correctly judged from 
literary standpoints. We come thus to the gist 
of the whole matter, that by each of us what- 
ever he reads or finds unreadable must be ap- 
praised independently. One may merely say 
with reverent acknowledgment that the verdict 
has no jurisdiction in remoter libraries, 
whether or not one likes the book. After all, 
that is the only thing about the volume which 
matters. If a book gives pleasure, then, in so 
far as the reader is concerned, it is a praise- 
worthy book. Wiser men may go farther, and 
fare proverbially, by explaining how and why it 
pleases: as in like manner, a stationer might 
fix the precise value of its paper per ream. But 
none of these may settle the sole question in 
which any reader can take rational interest, 
which is, whether or not he likes the book. 
Everybody must decide that matter for him- 
self: and no critic can help in the decision, from 
Mr. Chesterton of The Illustrated London 

294 



THE ARBITERS 

News to Job of Uz, who first of all people be- 
trayed the characteristics of a born reviewer, 
by his disparaging resume of the universe and 
his unconcealed desire to have his enemy write 
a book. 



By each of us whatever he reads must be ap- 
praised independently. The general reading 
public, without knowing it, has grasped, and 
practises, this great fundamental principle of 
criticism; which yet remains unapprehended by 
far more cultured persons, to their not incon- 
siderable annoyance. Thus, more extensive 
recognition of this principle would do away 
with at least one gigantic humbug that continu- 
ally teases most Americans, say, all those per- 
sons of sufficient social rank to take interest 
in the current price of gasoline, who go en- 
shackled by the necessity of having, or pretend- 
ing to have, some knowledge of, and even a 
liking for, the books generally accepted to con- 
stitute the main glories of literature. It would 
put a stop to much pernicious platitudinizing 
as to the Hundred Best Books and Five-Foot 
Shelves to contain them, by pedagogues whose 
first requirement is that an author be no longer 

295 



BEYOND LIFE 

alive, and by aesthetes who merely demand that 
he abstain from liveliness. For no book could 
then in itself be "best" or even "good": its 
merits would confessedly depend on who was 
reading it. Viewed from an ethical standpoint 
alone, the incurrent benefits of this understand- 
ing would be invaluable. We would be relieved 
from the compulsion of seeming to admire The 
Faery Queen; we need not, even in writing 
essays, refer knowingly to Richardson with an 
air of having read his novels ; and if we found 
Miss Corelli* a more congenial companion than 
Shakespeare, nor can there be any possible 
doubt as to with which of these twain the ma- 
jority of us have most in common, we could 
unhesitatingly say so. The morality of book- 
purchasers would be raised, and reading would 
become to people of education a positive pleas- 
ure. Nowadays it is not entirely all cakes and 
ale : for if one reads with any Ligher quest than 
pastime, misguided self-respect will presently 
be snaring the unwary into great company. The 
genius of JEschylos and Virgil and Dante, and 

*A novelist of the day. "Miss Corelli's stories ... are 
much more than novels that are read and are forgotten; they 
contain sound philosophy; they stimulate the mind; they edu- 
cate; they are permanent." -Hearst's Magazine, September, 
1917. 

296 



THE ABBITEES 

such folk, is so stupendous that it can be ad- 
mired from a considerable distance. Very few 
of us are fit to associate with these superior 
beings, or with the attempt, to be quite at ease 
in Sion. We are, when all is said, perturbed be- 
fore such high-strung utterance, and reflect that 
sensible people take existence more easily. Su- 
blime, immortal, and after that out of all 
whooping, we may willingly and honestly ac- 
claim these bards, without of necessity enjoy- 
ing their books. So we admire, more or less 
whole-heartedly: and when it comes to reading, 
pick up the handiest new popular novel, with 
rather less optimism than when, with similar 
intent, we enter into conversation with stran- 
gers on a railway journey, in order to kill off 
a vacant half -hour. 

And it is highly improbable that you or I will 
live to see a termination of this lying about 
literature, which is, to all appearance, as in- 
stinctive as the dislike every healthy boy enter- 
tains toward the Bible. It may happen, indeed, 
that the day will never dawn wherein honest 
persons may without incurring the suspicion of 
illiteracy or posturing admit the longwinded 
drivel of The Life and Strange Surprising Ad- 
ventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, 

297 



BEYOND LIFE 

to be commensurate with the title; and point 
out that the erotic misdemeanors of Tom Jones 
are, after all, too few and too inadequately de- 
tailed to prevent his biography being tiresome. 
These books, with many others, retain a sort of 
barnacle-grasp on literature, long after loss of 
vitality. And they will never be out of print, 
of course, in view of the delightful cycle of 
romance which centres about each, in the form 
of essays on its author's life and genius. 

Yet always the consoling thought remains 
that, while cowardice may force us to speak rev- 
erently of famous books, no police-regulation 
has ever dared to meddle with hypocrisy. And 
the humane laws of the land compel no man to 
read another's books. . . 



Meanwhile illiteracy is becoming as rare as 
all the other characteristics of the Golden Age, 
. . And among the multifarious results of uni- 
versal education, the candid philosopher will 
not fail to admire a curious by-product of teach- 
ing everybody to read (in disregard of most 
persons' really cultivable powers), in the mod- 
ern American novel of commerce, thriving 

298 



THE ABBITEBS 

everywhere by virtue of the truism that unto 
each his like seems good. . . 

That venerable adage may be taken as the not 
very startling explanation of the appeal of 
every really popular novel nowadays. It is 
about the sort of book its average reader would 
have written were he, too, stung by the gadfly 
of self-expression. It is a book which respects 
its average reader 's limitations, for the excel- 
lent reason that the author shares them. It is 
a book which flatters its readers' pet delusions, 
because the author also honestly believes these 
rank among the eternal verities. And above all, 
of course, it is a book which pictures humanity 
as a superhuman race, who are leading pur- 
poseful lives, and have always in view some 
clearly apprehended aim, whether it be a lady's 
happiness or the will of somebody's uncle. For 
that each of us is consciously .attempting to get 
something perfectly definite out of existence, is 
the average man's most jealously preserved 
belief, if only because it is the most difficult to 
preserve. So that the reward for manufactur- 
ing reading-matter of this sort is very prop- 
erly munificent, since the precise intellectual 
deficiencies necessary thereto must be conge- 

299 



BEYOND LIFE 

nital, and certainly cannot be acquired by tak- 
ing thought. 

Books fulfilling these general requirements 
fall into innumerable sub-divisions, which might 
be not unprofitably catalogued by students of 
arrested development. Meanwhile Mr. Win- 
ston Churchill* has his clientele, who stand 
ready to purchase all further simply-worded ex- 
planations of the obvious. Here and there 
some of the very faithful admirers of Mr. Syd- 
nor Harrison* are prepared to make affidavit 
they read all of V V's Eyes, as this writer rather 
quaintly christened the best of his books. Mr. 
R. W. Chambers,* too, retains his eminently 
Cosmopolitan audience to the utmost reach of 
the rural delivery routes: and thousands will 
never think of refraining from the meed of a 
melodious tear so long as Mrs. Florence Bar- 
clay* continues to publish woes untold. And 
Mr. Booth Tarkington, also, is a very popular 
novelist. . . But that I take to be one of the 
most tragic items in all the long list of misfor- 
tunes which have befallen American literature, 
It is a fact that merits its threnody, since the 
loss of an artist demands lamentation, even 
when he commits suicide. 

^Compare page 287. 

200 



THE ARBITERS 

8 

For if , as Stevenson declared, the fairies were 
tipsy at Mr. Kipling's christening, at Mr. Tark- 
ington's they must have been in the last stage 
of maudlin generosity. Poetic insight they gave 
him; and the knack of story building; and all 
their own authentic elfin liveliness of fancy; 
and actually perceptive eyes, by virtue of which 
his more truly Tarkingtonian pages are en- 
riched with countless happy little miracles of 
observation; and the dramatic gift, of contriv- 
ing and causing to move convincingly a wide 
variety of puppets in nothing resembling the 
puppet-master; and the not uncommon desire 
to " write, " with just enough deficiency in com- 
mon-sense to make him willing to put up with 
the laboriousness of writing fairly well. In fine, 
there is hardly one natural endowment requisite 
to grace in a creative author that was omitted 
by these inebriated fairies. And to all this Mr. 
Tarkington has since added, through lonesome 
and grinding toil, an astounding proficiency at 
the indoor sport of adroit verbal expression. 
No living manipulator of English employs the 
contents of his dictionary more artfully or, in 

301 



BEYOND LIFE 

the general hackneyed and misleading phrase, 
has a better " style. " 

No less, for many years Mr. Tarkington has 
been writing " best-sellers, " varied every once 
in a while by something that was a "best- 
seller ' ' in nature rather than performance. His 
progress has been from the position of a for- 
midable rival of the late Mr. Charles Major 
(not very long ago the world-famous author of 
a story entitled When Knighthood Was in 
Flower) to the point of figuring prominently in 
The Saturday Evening Post* So that, upon 
the whole, one wonders if ere this the fairies 
have not humored their protege yet further, 
by becoming Prohibitionists. 2 

Mr. Tarkington has published nothing that 
does not make very " pleasant " reading. He 
has in fact re-written the quaint legend, that 
virtue and honest worth must rise inevitably 
to be the target both of rice-throwing and of 
respectful consideration by the bank cashier, as 

*A widely circulated advertising medium which printed con- 
siderable fiction; published in Philadelphia. 

^Sectarians of the period, who upheld the tenets of Moham- 
med as opposed to those of Christ in the matter of beverages; 
and made of dietary preferences a national issue, in imitation of 
the wars of Lilliput and Blef escu over the preferable manner of 
eating eggs. Charteris frequently mentions this heresy. 

802 



THE ABBITERS 

indefatigably as human optimism and the en- 
durance of the human wrist would reasonably 
permit. .For the rest, his plots are the sort of 
[thing that makes criticism seem cruel. His ven- 
triloquism is startling in its excellence ; but his 
marionettes, under the most life-like of exteri- 
ors, have either hearts of gold or entrails of 
sawdust; there is no medium: and as touches 
their behavior, all the Tarkingtonian puppets 
"form themselves " after the example of the 
not unfamous young person who had a curl in 
the middle of her forehead. And Mr. Tarking- 
ton's auctorial philosophy was summed up long 
ago, in The Gentleman from Indiana. "Look," 
said Helen. "Aren't they good dear people! " 
"The beautiful people!" he answered. 

Now this, precisely this, Mr. Tarkington has 
been answering ever since to every riddle in 
life. To-day he is still murmuring, for publica- 
tion, "The good dear people, the beautiful peo- 
ple!" who, according to his very latest bulle- 
tin at the moment I speak, are presently to be 
awarded suitable residences in "a noble and 
joyous city, unbelievably white. ' ' Questionless, 
the apostrophe, no less than the prediction, is 
"pleasant" to the apostrophized,his chosen and 
enormous audience ; and as such is well received 

303 



BEYOND LIFE 

by the majority, who according to our theories 
of government are always right. Tet to some 
carping few of us (who read the daily papers, 
say) this sentiment now seems peculiarly ana- 
chronistic and irrational. The world to us is 
not very strikingly suggestive of a cosmic gum- 
drop variegated by oceans of molasses : we dis- 
pute if Omnipotence was ever, at any time, a 
confectioner's apprentice: and to us whatever 
workmen may have been employed in laying out 
that " noble and joyous city" appear undoubt- 
edly to have gone on strike. So we remember 
Mr. Tarkington's own story of Lukens and the 
advice therein, when dealing with a popular 
novelist, to " treat him with silent contempt or 
a brick." And we reflect that Mr. Tarkington 
is certainly not a person to be treated with 
silent contempt. . . 

For Mr. Tarkington has not mere talent 
but an uncontrollable wizardry that defies con- 
cealment, even by the livery of a popular novel- 
ist. The winding-up of the William Sylvanus 
Baxter stories, for example, is just the species 
of necromancy attainable by no other living 
author; so that a theatre wherein but now the 
humor of sitting upon wet paint and the mirth- 
ful aspect of a person vomiting have made 

304 



THE AEBITEES 

their bids for popular applause, is shaken to 
its low foundation by the departing rumble of 
a "pompous train, " and unsuspected casements 
open upon Fairy Land. Nor is the ending of 
The Turmoil, technically, a whit inferior. 
Here, though, with due respect to the recorded 
verdict of Mr. W. D. Howells, one does not 
" stand on tiptoe" to reach an effect so beau* 
tiful and unpredictable and so eminently "as 
it ought to be." Instead, one is rather inclined 
to kneel 

For here and in how many other places! 
Mr. Tarkington displays a form of wealth which 
should not be exempt from fair taxation. . . 
And in fine, it all comes back to this: to write 
"best sellers " is by ordinary a harmless and 
very often a philanthropic performance ; but in 
Mr. Tarkington 's case it is a misappropriation 
of funds. 

You perceive that Coleridge was perfectly 
right "and to be wroth with one we love doth 
work like madness in the brain. ' ' Mr. Tarking- 
ton is a gentleman whose ability none of us 
has any choice save cordially to love, and to 
revere. It is for that reason I resent its waste, 
and voice my resentment unwillingly. In short, 
I throw my brick with one hand, and with the 



BEYOND LIFE 

other remove my hat And to many this well 
may seem the inkiest ingratitude, for one half* 
moment to begrudge prosperity and wide ap- 
plause to a person who has purveyed so many 
enjoyable half -hours. But in cold earnest one 
of the most dire calamities that ever befell 
American literature was the commercial success 
of The Gentleman from Indiana, so closely fol- 
lowed by the popular triumph of Monsieur 
Beaucaire. For this double misfortune has 
since bred such concessions by Mr. Tarkington, 
to the necessity of being "pleasant," as would 
seem amply to justify a remission of that 
necessity, at all events among the admirers of 
his ability as distinguished from its employ- 
ment. And the pathos of it all is but augmented 
by the circumstance that both of these novels 
were quite fine enough to have "fallen flat," 
and so have left Mr. Tarkington to write in 
rational obscurity a book commensurate with 
his intelligence. 

"Is that time dead? lo, with a little Penrod 
he has but touched the honey of romance" since 
then, and thus has very, very slightly dissipated 
its saccharinity. Still, we who have read all his 
stories with resentful admiration cannot but 
hopefully consider the date of Mr. Tarkington ' 

306 



THE ARBITERS 

birth, and reflect that the really incurable op- 
timism of senility remains a comfortably re- 
mote affair. Religion too assures us that there 
is always hope for a change of heart, if not for 
any actual regaining of the Biblical view 
which, to be sure, is peculiarly ophthalmic as 
to the far-and-wide existence of "good and dear 
and beautiful people " and is unlikely ever to 
be taken seriously by Americans. No less, the 
fact remains that out of forty-nine years of 
living Mr. Tarkington has thus far given tis 
only Seventeen. Nor would this matter were 
Mr. Tarkington a Barclay or a Harrison, or 
even the mental and artistic equal of the trio's 
far more popular rival, Mr. Harold Bell 
Wright. But Mr. Tarkington had genius. 
That is even more tragic than the " pleasant " 
ending of The Magnificent Ambersons. . . 



Thus we approach the master of them all. 
And it is not without upon the whole exhil- 
arating significance that by long odds the most 
popular author typewriting to-day is Mr. Har- 
old Bell Wright. . * For in this matter of 
killing time he stands pre-eminent, like a 
David among these chirographic Sauls, and to 

307 



BEYOND LIFE 

their thousands he has slain his ten thousands 
of unoccupied half -hours. 

This worthy representative of our popular 
standards in reading-matter during the open- 
ing years of the twentieth century, has been the 
target of so much more or less envious ridicule 
that to me it has proved almost a pleasure to 
read enough whole pages in his books to dis- 
cover that there is absolutely nothing laughable 
about Mr. Wright. To the contrary, his novels 
are masterpieces in the always popular genre 
ennuyeux. A fly-leaf to the van of one of them 
asserts that the source of its author's power 
"is the same God-given secret that inspired 
Shakespeare and upheld Dickens. " But it is 
hardly describable as a secret that dullness is 
the hall-mark of efficient people, in writing as 
elsewhere : and however liberal the endowments 
which enabled Dickens to write Little Dorrit, 
and Shakespeare to make an unfavorable im- 
pression on Mr. Shaw, one may reasonably 
question if, after all, these writers are the hap- 
piest analogues. Indeed, whatever their emi- 
nence in other respects, Mr. Wright is beyond 
comparison their superior in that especial sort 
of tediousness which, above all other natural 
gifts, Americans instinctively revere and trust. 

308 



THE ARBITERS 

. . Should proof be seriously demanded that 
as a nation we distrust brilliancy, it is always 
possible to produce the unanswerable list of our 
Presidents, and the Congressional Record also 
might be consulted for valuable documentary 
evidence. All democratic government, though, 
is of course based on the axiom that the man 
of average intelligence is in theory equal to a 
person of exceptional endowments, and in prac- 
tise the superior by reason of numbers: and 
that the average man is dull nobody can well 
dispute without furnishing a striking example 
to offset his contention. . . And for the rest, 
there is past doubt a tendency, among the very 
dull, to decry dullness, much as millionaires 
are prone to assure you that money does not 
always make for happiness: but to the consid- 
erate person a sufficient amount of obtuseness 
shows alike as the best possible armor in life's 
warfare at large, and the most companionable 
of traits in the home-circle, where it unfailingly 
flatters one's sense of superiority. 

Now Mr. Harold Bell Wright has that unerr- 
ing accuracy in catering to the commonplace 
which first made vers lib re readable, in the 
poems of Martin Farquhar Tupper* Nor is it 
possible for the most atrabilious contemner of 

309 



BEYOND LIFE 



popular taste to contend that Mr. Wright's 
books are badly written, for this author's 
avoidance of thought is made clear in perfectly 
presentable English, and in at least the style of 
its expression compares very creditably with 
the average Pastoral Letter. 

Through five hundred generous pages his 
stories move with never an incongruous taint 
of liveliness or wit or imagination, narrating 
how the heroine decorously acquired an im- 
peccable male admirer, and how the two of 
them, after a sufficing number of other calami- 
ties, were eventually married to each other. 
Money, of course, has come to them in conson- 
ance with the financial system of authentic 
noveldom, whereby material success is nicely 
graduated to everybody's domestic virtues. 
Yet in the mean time all well-to-do persons have 
proved so uniformly dishonest and contemptible 
and dissolute that it is not without misgivings 
one leaves the meritorious couple established in 
what has been aforetime described as the lap 
of luxury: and meanwhile God has been the 
subject of a great many complimentary re- 
marks. For Mr. Wright's is precisely that 
conservative and unblushingly platitudinous 
dullness, of which every syllable reeks with 

310 



THE AEBITEES 

"wholesome sentiment, " such as we take com- 
fort to see represented in our senate-chambers, 
and to nod under on Sabbath mornings, and to 
retail to our helpless children. There is no 
walk in life in which this especial form of hebe- 
tude is not assured of meeting with respectful 
attention : and its claim to be esteemed a liter- 
ary merit is, at the very worst, quite as well- 
founded as its age-old privilege to grace the 
rostrum and adorn the vestry. 

It may well be the multitudinous readers of 
Mr. Wright who are our true art critics. They 
independently appraise that which they read. 
For they alone without any amazement recog- 
nize that the purpose of art is, not at all to 
record adroitly some personal or purloined idea 
in paint or clay or carbon-copies, but to evoke 
this idea in the brain-cells of other people ; and 
that when art does not do this the artist has 
failed. . . It is not unsalutary to test one of 
them, with Walter Pater, say, "To burn al- 
ways with this gem-like flame, to maintain this 
ecstasy, is success in life, 17 and so on. To the 
general reader the first clause suggests, if any- 
thing, Gehenna, and the second, habitual in- 
toxication; neither of which impresses him as 
a likely avenue to the bank-account and lim- 

311 



BEYOND LIFE 

ousine that brevet success in life: and more- 
over, he will point out with perfect justice that 
flames, whatever else they may be, are not 
" gem-like. " It matters little whether there- 
after, in his figurative vernacular, he decrees 
this " high-brow stuff" to be over his head or 
beneath consideration : by either trope he voices 
the fact that it has missed him, and the ques- 
tion, after all, is one of markmanship. 

Here Pater's artifice, in short, has failed to 
create art: for the idea has not been trans- 
ferred. The artifice of Mr. Harold Bell 
Wright, however, such as it is, has sped true 
as an arrow to the reader's prejudices. The 
story, unquestionably, is rather stupid, with 
something of the staleness of last week's news- 
paper: but imperfect human nature humbjy 
recognizes, in the light of experience, that it is 
always bored by sustaining improvement 
Moreover, you must remember that, as sug- 
gested elsewhere, the general reader does not 
turn to fiction with any expectation of positive 
pleasure, but with the less ambitious aspiration 
of killing time : he takes up a book when there 
is nothing else conceivable to do, and then only. 
For the rest, it is generally conceded that all 
rich people lead deplorable private lives, of 

312 



THE ARBITERS 

which the more said the better as touches the 
interest of that supplement to the Sunday paper 
wherein the fashionable scandals of the read- 
ing-matter appropriately consort with the cal- 
umnies of the photographer. Then, too, that 
high-minded artizans possessing fine heads of 
hair invariably fade from observation in the 
embrace of opulence and feminine arms, is a 
well-known phenomenon susceptible of instant 
proof through a visit to the nearest cinemato- 
graph. And finally, the man and the girl vie 
with each other in discoursing "wholesome sen- 
timent," and are such sweet and noble char- 
acters as the reader always knew existed some- 
where, and is going to emulate to-morrow or, at 
any rate, next month : for he, too, can procras- 
tinate as amiably as far more cultured persons. 
And he, too, has his dim notion of men "as they 
ought to be." . . 

The general reader, in a word, is punctili- 
ously following Pater's exhortation, however 
unintentionally; and is deriving that noble 
pleasure which comes from exercising the high- 
est reach of your endowments. It is the pleas- 
ure one man derives from writing the Second 
Part of Faust, and another from playing chess, 
the pleasure of using the finest part of your 

313 



BEYOND LIFE 

mind, such as it is, to its fullest extent, what- 
ever that may happen to be. Where Mr. Wright 
can rouse this pleasure it is thus with perfect 
justice that Mr. Wright is greeted as a serious 
and successful artist. And this truth is in no 
way affected by the limited number of endow- 
ments possessed, and therefore brought to ex- 
ercise, by the general reader : as I just pointed 
out in speaking of Queed, a mediocre book alone 
can bring out that which is best in a mediocre 
person: and a race-horse may very conscienti- 
ously enjoy and take credit for his work with- 
out qualms over his failure to have been born 
a centipede. 

So when all is done, "Now, that's what I call 
a pretty good story, " says the general reader, 
intrepidly appraising his own reading-matter. 
He thereby proves as indisputably that Mr. 
Wright is really an artist as that he himself is 
a competent art-critic. . . For in most cases, 
this unarrogant verdict records the fact that yet 
another book has momentarily evoked belief 
that by and large the Recording Angel is 
writing a pretty good story. A rather tawdry 
book has roused the speaker (as no amount of 
judicious writing could ever hope to do) from 
that workaday existence which is common to 

314 



THE ARBITERS 

mankind, made up of tedious unimportant 
tasks and useless little habits, to proud as- 
surance that life is not a blind and aimless busi- 
ness, not all a hopeless waste and confusion: 
and that he himself, however gross and weak 
an animal in the revelation of his past antics, 
will presently be strong and excellent and wise, 
and his existence a pageant. And to create this 
assurance is the purpose of all art. . . And in 
life, of course, the demiurgic spirit of romance 
induces this dynamic illusion in every moment 
of life, since without it men to-day would not 
consent to live. I need hardly say that in pro- 
moting any and all illusions romance has no 
more potent ally, anywhere, than dullness. . . 

10 

So we attain the reassuring conclusion that 
the arbiters, both as to the popular appeal and 
as to the ultimate survival of any book, are our 
general human inadequacy and our general hu- 
man resolution never to acknowledge this in- 
adequacy. For our dullness and our vanity 
as you perceive, I trust, by this? are the de- 
pendable arbiters of every affair in human life. 
And luckily for us, they bid fair, too, to be the 
arbiters of life's final outcome. 

315 



BEYOND LIFE 

Through a merciful dispensation, we are one 
and all of us created very vain and very dull: 
and by utilizing these invaluable qualities the 
demiurgic spirit of romance will yet contrive 
a world "as it ought to be." Vanity it is that 
pricks us indef atigably to play the ape to every 
dream romance induces; yet vanity is but the 
stirrup-cup : and urgent need arises that human 
dullness retain us (as it does) securely blinded, 
lest we observe the wayside horrors of our 
journey and go mad. One moment of clear 
vision as to man's plight in the universe would 
be quite sufficient to set the most philosophic 
gibbering. Meanwhile with bandaged eyes we 
advance: and human sanity is guarded by the 
brave and pitiable and tireless dullness of man- 
kind. . . Yet note how varied are the amiable 
activities of human dullness, which tend alike 
to protect and to enliven human progress! 
Dullness it is, of course, that brews and quaffs 
Dutch courage in the form of popular novels, 
and hoards its " literary classics, " as senti- 
mental persons treasure old letters (because 
this faded writing once was necromancy), in a 
very rarely visited attic. . . But dullness, too, 
it is that fosters salutary optimism as to the 
destiny of mankind, in flat defiance of every- 

316 



THE ARBITERS 

thing mankind can do, and does unblushingly. 
And dullness likewise nurtures all our general 
faith in the peculiar sanctity of anything which 
one has seen done often enough, and our rever- 
ence for whatever is sufficiently hackneyed; 
since dullness, naturally, ascribes no slight im- 
portance to itself . . . Then, too, how magnani- 
mously does dullness, in you and me and our 
moonstruck compeers, dispose of its one fervent 
scudding moment of ability to do anything at 
all, by devoting it to the creation of " art"; so 
that some erroneous impression, based upon the 
talebearing of five perfidious senses (and pain- 
fully worked out to a non sequitur, by the rattle- 
trap mechanism of an "artist's" lop-sided 
brain), may be preserved for posterity's mis- 
guidance and well-being. In graver circles, 
dullness sometimes mitred, sometimes erup- 
tive with forensic platitudes, and at its most 
terrible with a black cap adorning its inertia, 
invents and codifies religion, and makes eupho- 
nious noises about "right" and "wrong," as 
an ornate and stately method of imposing the 
local by-laws. Equally among those favored 
mortals whom the income tax annoys does a 
kindred form of dullness become axiomatic 
about common-sense and "being practical," a? 

317 



BEYOND LIFE 

the impedimenta peculiarly requisite to wing- 
less bipeds when left to their own devices 
among much non-committal stardrif t. . . Dull- 
ness it is that, signally, esteems itself well 
worthy of perpetuation ; and in the action seeks 
to love, in the quite staggering faith that pres- 
ently hy some human being of the opposite sex 
love will be merited. And finally dullness it is 
that lifts up heart and voice alike, to view a 
parasite infesting the epidermis of a midge 
among the planets, and cries, Behold, this is the 
child of God All-mighty and All-worshipful, 
made in the likeness of his Father! . . These 
and how many other wholesome miracles are 
daily brought about by our dullness, by our 
brave and pitiable and tireless dullness, by our 
really majestic dullness, in firm alliance with 
the demiurgic spirit of romance. . . But upon 
these amiable activities I shall dilate no further, 
lest you declare my encomiums somewhat less 
adequately to praise the dullness of mankind 
than to illustrate it: yet you perceive, I trust, 
that our dullness is our one quite priceless pos- 
session. 

And so it is dullness alone which enables us 
to hurl defiance at "realism": for these illu- 
sions that are born of romance, and are nursed 

318 



THE ARBITERS 

by dullness, serve as our curveting and prancing 
escort, and keep at bay all interference, as we 
pass in a straggling caravan, with death 
already hot upon the trail, and human nature 
clogging every step like gyves. And thus pro- 
tected, to-day as always, our caravan accepts 
romance for guide; and strains and flounders 
toward goals which stay remote, and yet are 
fairly discernible. For that to arhich romance 
conducts, in all the affairs of life (concluded 
John Charteris), is plain enough, distinction 
and clarity, and beauty and symmetry, and ten- 
derness and truth and arbanity. 



819 



X 
WHEREIN WE AWAIT 



There was a deal said, sir what with one thing 
leading to another, as it werebut no great harm done 
after all. 

And no good either, you may depend upon it, Dab- 
ney. . . . There is never any good comes of intermin- 
able palavering. . . This is a case that calls for action, 
and for instant action, by George ! 

Just as you say, sir, no doubt And yet- well, in a 
manner of speaking, sir, and considering everything 
why, what on earth is anybody able to dot 

I am sure I don't know. But that does not in the 
least alter the principle of the thing. 

In Old Liohfleld 



Wherein We Await 



HERE for a moment John Charteris 
ceased talking. He, at least, seemed 
not fatigued: but the venerable tall 
clock behind him again had asthmatically 
cleared its throat ; and now, in thin unresonant 
tones, which suggested the beating of a pencil 
on the bottom of a tin pan, was striking five : so 
Charteris had paused, provisionally. And I 
seized the chance. 

Said I: 

So here we are back again precisely where 
we started, with a strained pose upon the same 
half-truth. Now, Charteris, suppose you let me 
talk a little! 

His hands went out in a wide gesture of mag- 
nanimity. . . 

I continued: 

"Where is one to begin, though! . . Well, 
I shall generously say at outset that not in a 
long time have I heard a discourse so insincere. 
It is an apology for romance by a man who be- 
lieves that romance is dead beyond resurrec- 

323 



BEYOND LIFE 

tion; and who considers therefore that to ro- 
mance may be attributed every imaginable 
virtue, without any imaginable consequences. 
It is a tissue of wild errors, deceitfully glossed 
with the unreasonableness of a person who is 
really in earnest; so that, I confess, I was at 
first quite taken in, and fancied you to be la- 
menting with honest grief the world 's lost 
youth. 

SaidCharteris: 

Ah, but who can with honesty lament the 
passing of youth t No, youth remains current 
everywhere, though, like all other forms of cur- 
rency, its only value is that it purchases some- 
thing else. For the rest, far from deploring 
that our present-day reading-matter is no 
longer youthful, I have just voiced unfeigned 
regret that it is childish. 

But, my dear Charteris, consider soberly 
this conceit of yours ! Of course, I must pro- 
test that you have been shamefully unfair with 
"realism" throughout: for however pleasingly 
you have defined romance by implication, at 
least you have left "realism" indeterminate 
after so many hours of abusing it. 

Charteris shrugged: but he said nothing. 

324 



WE AWAIT 

And I continued my effort to bring him to 
reason: 

Indeed, your major and minor premises 
seem to run thus : romance in literature is that 
method, governed by that viewpoint, in which 
resides all virtue ; and "realism" is precisely the 
reverse. To your hearer you leave the comple- 
tion of this imperfect syllogism. Now that is 
an excellent way to convince the unwary : it is, 
on the other hand, a poor method of discovering 
truth. 

John Charteris said: 

If I indeed left "realism" indeterminate, 
it was merely because I hesitated to define the 
unmentionable. "Realism" not only in writ- 
ing, but in every one of its evincements is the 
fallacy that our mile-posts are as worthy of con- 
sideration as our goal; and that the especial 
post we are now passing reveals an eternal ver- 
ity. As a matter of fact, mile-posts by ordinary 
reveal the pretensions of a tradesman who be- 
lieves in advertising, which very possibly 
accounts for the manner of our more generally 
esteemed "realists," in every field of human 
action. So "realism" too becomes an art of 
sorts, a minor art like music or hair-dressing. 

325 



BEYOND LIFE 

"Realism" is the art of being superficial seri- 
ously. 



Permit me, Charteris, none the less, to re- 
state your principal thesis as it concerns the 
writer's craft 

Now, curiously enough, the little novelist ap- 
peared vexed. 

My dear fellow, my very dear fellow (John 
Charteris inquired, with careful and laborious 
patience), but have I really seemed to you to- 
night to be talking about books and how books 
should be written? For in that event, I have 
failed very disastrously. My target was not 
at all "literary." Instead, I have attempted 
to expound man's proper attitude toward the 
universe he temporarily infests; and to show 
you that this must always be a purely romantic 
attitude which is in no wise concerned with 
facts. Yes, I can but repeat my golden rule for 
aesthetic conduct: there should be no trifling 
with facts. 

But, Charteris, from the very beginning 
you have been talking about books and the 
makers of books 

John Charteris shook his head. He declared: 

326 



WE AWAIT 

It is discouraging: but the wounds of a 
friend are proverbially faithful. I have talked 
for a not inconsiderable while, with perfect 
honesty and the best of my ability: and the up- 
shot is that my audience evinces no least shad- 
owy comprehension of what I have been talking 
about. The writer's craft, quotha! 

But without heeding the grimaces of Char- 
teris, I went on rationally: 

Romance, I infer, is the expression of an 
attitude which views life with profound dis- 
trust, as a business of exceeding dullness and 
of very little worth; and which therefore seeks 
for beauty by an abandonment of the facts of 
living. Living is a drab transaction, a concat- 
enation of unimportant events: man is impo- 
tent and aimless: beauty, and indeed all the 
fine things which you desiderate in literature 
and in Jrour personal existence, I suspect are 
nowhere attainable save in imagination. To 
the problem of living, romance propounds the 
only possible answer, which is, not understand- 
ing, but escape. And the method of that escape 
is, you imply, the creation of a piecing dream, 
which will somehow engender a reality as love- 
ly. So romance in literature invents its 
"dynamic illusions " Ibsen called them vital 

327 



BEYOND LIFE 

lies, did he not! to the sole end that mankind 
may play Peter Ibbetson upon a cosmic scale. 
This I take to be the doctrine of your Econom- 
ists. 

Oh, but continue, pray! said Charteris. 
Continue, since you are bent upon reducing all 
my wasted eloquence to a lecture on novel- 
writing I 

Well, I shall avoid the obvious comment 
that your viewpoint outdoes in pessimism the 
ugliest vision of the "realist"; and that it has 
its root in cowardice; and, finally, that it pre- 
sents the difficulty which Mr. Gilbert Chester- 
ton once voiced, That what is wrong with the 
world is that no man can say what would be 
right with it. This applies to Sophocles as poig- 
nantly as to John Charteris. Nor will I insist 
that very often what you have regarded as 
beautiful I with equal conviction have deemed 
merely pretty." 

I am confuted, John Charteris replied, in 
that any unmade comment is unanswerable. . . 
Otherwise, I would agree that quite obviously 
the world is made uninhabitable by the density 
of its inhabitants. I might even, very rudely, 
cite contiguous evidence. . . As for cowardice, 
I might point out that clear thinking is every- 

328 



WE AWAIT 

where indoctrinated by that instructor who 
alone can teach the tortoise to run, and the 
cornered rat to fight, and human beings to be 
rational. And had you vocally denied my doc- 
trines on the ground of their ugliness, I would 
have flung full in your face earthquakes and 
cloudbursts and hyenas and rhinoceroses and 
diseases and germs and intellectual women ; and 
the unlovable senility of aged persons, which 
converts the very tenderest affection into re- 
signed endurance of its object as an unavoid- 
able nuisance ; and the cruel and filthy process 
of birth; and the unspeakable corruption of 
death: and I would have given you untram- 
meled leave to deduce from the ugliness of these 
things that they are all untrue. . . But since 
you graciously keep silence, so must I. 



All that, my friend, is equivocation pure 
and simple. However, let me defer your 
quibble for a moment, Charteris. For I want 
to point out with emphatic seriousness one 
quality which you have overlooked in catalog- 
ing the desirable ingredients of literature 

But literature is really not, I must submit 
with Gautier, a sort of soup stock, which one 

329 



BEYOND LIFE 

may flavor to every individual taste by putting 
this and that into the pot. 

You have said, then, Charteris, that these 
are the auctorial virtues par excellence: dis- 
tinction and clarity, beauty and symmetry, and 
tenderness and truth and urbanity. These are 
good, I grant : and it may be upon a m6re matter 
of words that we differ. Yet it seems to me 
that all books have been made re-readable 
through the possession, not of these qualities 
alone, but of one other which is salt to them 
all and that quality is gusto. 

You employ an excellent sonorous word, 
conceded Charteris. And perhaps to you this 
use of it may even seem to have some meaning T 

Why, to me it appears that all enduring 
books, of however delicate a texture, have pos- 
sessed a well, we will say, a heartiness akin 
to the smacking of lips over a good dish. It is 
not joy, for many joyless writers have dis- 
played it; and it is often inherent in the black- 
est of tragedies. It is not ecstasy, although to 
ecstasy it may approach. I think it is almost 
a physical thing: it certainly involves a com- 
plete surrender to life, and an absorption of 
one's self in the functions of being. It is a 
drunkenness of the soul, perhaps: it is allied 



WE AWAIT 

to that fierce pain and joy which we call ecstatic 
living, and which the creative artist must al- 
ways seek to reproduce in his work, just as 
does every adequately existing person still re- 
produce it now and then in corporal life and 
whether through gross sins or high-flown abne- 
gations is, to the artist at least, quite immate- 
rial. Yes, gusto, I would say, is the very life- 
blood of art: and solely by the measure of art's 
possession of what I have called gusto does art 
overtop life, when art is able to distill the 
quintessence of that which in reality is always 
more or less transitory and alloyed. 

John Charteris said : 

Undoubtedly I failed to stipulate that the 
creative artist should write with what you de- 
scribe as " gusto " : indeed, I would as soon have 
thought of suggesting that he write with his 
hand. For the sole point upon which fine liter- 
ature and reading-matter and all the uncon- 
tested axioms of mankind are quite at one, is 
in assuming mankind to be superhuman. 
Through this protective instinct the artist will 
as an affair of course, in his depiction of human 
beings, exaggerate everything. All passions, 
naturally, will be studied by him, as with a 
microscope, whereunder men's emotions will 

331 



BEYOND LIFE 

figure as untamed leviathans that ramp quite 
awe-inspiringly. 

Now Charteris was so outrageously pervert- 
ing my meaning that I would have interrupted 
him. But he continued : 

No, you and I can differ but upon the ques- 
tion as to whether in corporal life some " ade- 
quately existing person " does now and then 
reproduce anything of this sort. With the 
wide-spread tradition that he does we ought to 
deal as open-mindedly as with the equally well- 
known myth of George and the Dragon or of the 
Cat and the Fiddle. No doubt, one might infer, 
once more upon advisement of the morning- 
paper, that no longer ago than yesterday a re- 
spectable number of not at all respectable 
people were brought through the indulgence 
of some such " gusto" into publicity and police- 
stations: but, even in pursuit of a really " ade- 
quate " scheme of living, one hesitates to accept 
these folk as patterns : and the wiser of us will 
not quite thus tumultuously rush into the dock. 
For to comparatively intelligent persons self- 
control is a more common and less difficult vir- 
tue than any intelligent person would dream of 
admitting. Passion does not rouse the vast 
majority of us to any outbreak, or even to elo- 

832 



WE AWAIT 

quence: perhaps, indeed, nothing can ever do 
that save dread of public opinion. In purely 
personal matters the disheartening fact is that 
we encounter crises with commonplaces, and 
the important scenes of one's life are rendered 
inefficiently, at their only performance. How 
can this be otherwise, when all the while we are 
vexatiously aware that our emotions are unfit 
to the occasion? For it is the actual reflection 
of every considerate person at the climax of 
some great joy or crime or grief, that his emo- 
tion is neither so fine nor so absorbing as he 
had anticipated. It follows, of course, that 
everyone of us is forever after resolute to con- 
ceal this failure, especially from himself. . . 
So it is not quite for the reason which you ad- 
vance that I accept your dictum as to art's over * 
topping life through art's ability to distill the 
quintessence of that which, in ephemeral real- 
ity, is transitory and alloyed Still, I accept it. 



My dear Charteris, I really must in passing 
congratulate you upon your retention of youth. 
I had thought it the peculiar privilege of im- 
maturity to view mankind and God with doleful 
eyes. But here am I, quick with the wisdom 

333 



BEYOND LIFE 

of my generation, compelled to shout denial of 
your doctrines from comparatively roseate 
heights, for all that you are by some twenty- 
two years my senior, and your opinions ought 
in consequence to be already gilded by a setting 
sun. Instead, you appraise earth in the dumps. 
. . Well, I let pass that pose, out of commingled 
respect for its antiquity and youthfulness. 
Meanwhile, I do agree with you when you say 
all enduring literature in the past has been 
of the romantic quality you describe, from what- 
ever various standpoints this quality has been 
apprehended. And it is true that surface 
faithfulness alone, such as many modern novel- 
ists seek to achieve, is the emptiest of artistic 
aims, I even grant you it is better to lie pleas- 
ingly. . . Indeed, despite your wilful blindness 
as to the true value of " realism, " your slurs 
upon the practised methods of producing " real- 
istic " art compose a valuable recipe. It is 
merely because I think you have ignored some 
essentials that I venture, upon this subject also, 
to be banal. Bear with me, then, while I recite 
a modest credo of my own. . . I too believe 
it is more important that literature should be 
true to life than that it should inventory life's 
mannerisms. I believe we can never be eon- 

334 



WE AWAIT 

earned by any man or woman in a book if we 
do not at least while the book's spell is on us--* 
put very cordial faith in that person's exis- 
tence, and share in the emotional atmosphere 
of the scene. But I likewise believe that the 
illusion of reality can be produced by the ro- 
'mantic or the "realistic" method, either one, 
or even by the two commingled, provided al- 
ways that the artist, given insight, is sincerely 
striving to show fundamental things as he sees 
them, and thereby, perhaps, to hint at their true 
and unknowable nature. 

Ah, but (said Charteris) I have freely con- 
ceded that this illusion can be produced in many 
cases even by the Wright method. It is merely 
a question of how much intelligence the reader 
lacks. For the rest, your "if" has somewhat 
the impressive vacuity of an address to Con- 
gress. Were I inclined to daring metaphor, I 
would suggest that your cloudy "if" ambigu- 
ously wreathes the black hole of "realism" 
with such vaporings as ordinarily emanate 
from a white house. 

Well f then I mouth my platitudes in very 
respectable company. Whereas you but just 
consider whither you would lead us with your 
Economist doctrines say, with your doctrine of 

335 



BEYOND LIFE 

original dullness! Grant that man is as in- 
adequate as you please, and living as unevent- 
ful : no less, the jogtrot way is sometimes illu- 
mined and is made august by flashes struck from 
midnights (to pervert Browning to my own 
uses), and still even the most humble of us 
have our exalted moments. And these mo- 
ments, I contend, it is the business of the artist, 
romanticist and "realist" alike, to interpret 
for us and, if he can, to evaluate them in terms 
of approximate eternity. 

It is just possible, John Charteris sug- 
gested, that the poor dear man may fall a shade 
short of omniscience. I at least have encoun- 
tered writers with this defect, although none, of 
course, who was conscious of it. . . And I 
forbear to inquire as to the no doubt interesting 
process of evaluating anything in "terms of ap- 
proximate eternity," simply because this also 
sounds delightfully presidential, and suggests 
the swish of Mrs. Partington's not uncelebrated 
broom. On second thought, though, I retract 
the "presidential": your words are such stuff 
as deans are made on. 

5 

To Charteris I nodded now in cordial assent. 
Said I: 

336 



WE AWAIT 

Perverted proverbs are a little old-fash- 
ioned, aren't they, nowadays? Still, I hail 
gladly both your fleering analogues. For art 
is truly "a branch of pedagogy, " because the 
artist is affiliated to priesthood. To only a few 
of us is it given, or desirable, to see within. 
The majority must for practical purposes dis- 
sever dreams from the business of existence: 
dreams are not our metier, and that is all there 
is to it. Yet since it is our nature to learn by 
parables, we turn to the artist who is also a 
seer, in search of entertainment, and more or 
lees consciously hoping to acquire understand- 
ing. . . What does it matter, then, the seer's 
" method "? You should remember Chante- 
cler's experience with " methods/ 1 No, whether 
the seer's text be some impartially considered 
facts about John Jones, or whether he clothe 
his puppets with such a bright and exquisite 
tissue of prevarication as enmeshes the person- 
ality of King Arthur or Jeanne Dare or Lee 
or Lincoln, or any other high-minded figment 
of patriotic self-complacency this "method/* 
I repeat, must always stay a circumstance of 
conspicuous unimportance. We merely ask 
that our story treat of such a man as captures 
our attention; and that through the lights and 



BEYOND LIFE 

shadows of his fortunes may glimmer some- 
thing like an answer to the great question which 
I can only word as "What is it all up tot" 
Yes, that is really the one thing we need to 
know about the universe, nowadays: and our 
need is heavy and quenchless. . . You see, my 
creed says nothing about "style," and makes 
no caustic remarks as to the taste of my fellow 
citizens. But you are none the less aware of 
how firm my faith is in the axiom that the best of 
" styles " is the simplest and the least affected: 
and I believe that saying applies with equal 
truth to the best of our fellow citizens. For the 
rest, I would merely express the "reaction" to 
that portion of your talk which touches on the 
writer's craft, by one who let us say is in- 
stantly aware of his preference for Thackeray 
whenever anybody mentions Dickens ; and who 
comprehends without bitterness that it is the 
business of the author, and not of the public, 
to see that the distinction between literature 
and reading-matter be rendered less invidious, 
by proving that literature may be both. For I 
know that what is one man's inspiration is an- 
other's soporific; and that to the fellow crafts* 
man only is the craftsman's skill apparent; and 
that, no less, when one person anywhere has 

338 



WE AWAIT 

voiced a tonic truth or some great-hearted lie 
(for these are really truths in embryo), that 
utterance must quite inevitably become what 
is both less and more than literature: for it 
will be in time a commonplace of daily speech 
among the simplest and the least affected peo- 
ple; and so will live when countless master- 
pieces and their makers are forgotten. 



Again John Charteris grimaced. He spread 
those eloquent soft hands of his, palms upward. 

He said: 

Thus you affirm that art is an impor- 
tant form of religion ; while I have pointed out 
that religion is one of the loveliest forms of 
art Our final difference is, let us say, but one 
of terms which are quite possibly "of approxi- 
mate eternity. " So let us leave them, then, 
agreeing simply that art and religion are kin- 
dred. . . And truly as to the origin of either 
what man can utter anything save his guesses? 
None now remembers who first thought of any 
god : all the creators of religion are become un- 
honored dust; and it is only the anthologists, 
such as Buddha and Mohammed and Zoroaster 
and Christ and Moses and Confucius, who have 

339 



BEYOND LIFE 

bequeathed imperishable names to serve as 
weapons for the weak, as well as for the fool 
and the fanatic. So it has always been in every 
field of artistio creation. Indeed, a very cogent 
proof that art is akin to religion lies in the fact 
that, will you or nill you, you contribute to the 
welfare of some form of each. In each the only 
feasible way to attack a tenet is to found a 
schism: so that even atheists and the contribu- 
tors to magazines must perforce adhere to their 
common creed, of denying plausibility to per- 
sonal creation. . . Moreover, religion and art 
alone take tender care of their unprofitable 
servants. Thus for the clergy who find Chris- 
tian tenets impracticable there are always 
bishoprics: whereas it is the sure reward of 
every unsuccessful artist that he shall be for- 
gotten, and so shall be no longer inadequate. 
Say that his vision founders in the form of a 
book! Well, the man passes; and the milk of 
human kindness obliterates the ink he spat- 
tered. But a few of his words, and of the words 
of many other men who failed as literary 
artists, will be repeated and re-echoed, in idle 
hearthside talk, because there is something in 
them, though not very much: and presently 
time will bring forth the brain to fuse, and the 

348 



WE AWAIT 



tongue to utter, all these old disregarded little 
sayings in harmony. And then these men will 
have become a legendary whole: and each life's 
work will live, despite its failure, and will sur- 
vive if but as a half-sentence or as some happy 
phrase. That outcome certainly is not prodi- 
gious. But then these fragments will live on 
eternally; and Shakespeare's lordliest fancy 
can hardly hope to do much more. These frag- 
ments will not be pondered over ; and they will 
never wring tears and themes from schoolboys : 
but they will be as threads in the stuff of which 
dreams are woven. In this much all shall serve 
the demiurgic spirit of romance: and even the 
feeble hand that failed, and the vain ambition 
which pitiably wrought its own burlesque, shall 
aid to shape dynamic illusions; and so in time 
will create reality. 

These, Charteris, are very certainly what 
Captain Fluellen was wont to commend for 
being "as prave words as you shall see in a 
summer 's day. " But I fancy they are not much 
more. And so, I give you over as incorrigible. 

Now Charteris leaned back in his revolving 
chair, so that it creaked and tilted. His arms 
went up behind his head, in a long stretching 
gesture, and he yawned luxuriously. He said: 

341 



BEYOND LIFE 

But is not to be given over by one's friends 
the inevitable price of speaking the tongue of 
angels? I really wish you would not interrupt 
my periods. . . For, as I was going on to re- 
mark, by the elect anthologist will be pursued 
all the auctorial virtues : distinction and clarity, 
and beauty and symmetry, and tenderness and 
truth and urbanity. Thus it has been since the 
moon's nonage. And as I began by saying a 
few minutes ago, I believe that to-day, as al- 
ways, it is only through the exercise of these 
virtues that any man may in reason attempt to 
insure his books against oblivion's voracity. . . 
But was it indeed a few moments ago that I 
began? . . 

Oharteris rose and pushed open one of the 
shutters. He stood thus, peering out into the 
green recesses of his garden, and blinking in a ' 
flood of clear gray light that showed him curi- 
ously sallow and withered and futile looking* 

Upon my word, said he, it is morning. I 
must have talked all night. And the dawn of 
this new day discovers me, after so many diva- 
gations, just where I started yesterday. Yes, 
it admits of any number of moral deductions. . . 

For I have talked all night: and you have 
not even suspected what I was talking about 

342 



WE AWAIT 

I have spoken of the demiurgic spirit of ro- 
mance, which by cajoling our inestimable vanity 
and dullness controls all human life, and profi- 
tably utilizes every blunder of human life ; and 
I have spoken of existence from the one view- 
point which reveals in human life some possible 
significance : and all the while you believed that 
I was trying to voice my personal theory as to 
how novels ought to be written! Well, perhaps 
that is about as near as any one of us can ever 
come to understanding another: and even 
though the reflection has its dispiriting aspect, 
it strikingly exposes the futility of my talking 
further. That circumstance, at least, should be 
consolatory. . . 

So I have wearied the night with much vain 
speech; and neither rhetoric nor candor has 
availed me anything. Yes, it admits of a vast 
number of moral deductions : but I prefer to 
regard myself symbolically, as an epitome of 
all mankind. For each of us is babbling in the 
night, and has no way to make his fellows un- 
derstand just what he would be at. It may.be 
there is some supernal audience which sees and 
hears with perfect comprehension? Yes, such 
of course may be the case. But in that event 

343 



BEYOND LIFE 

I shudder to think of how we must provoke 
and bore that audience. . . 



Meanwhile (continued John Charteris) it is 
strange to look out upon that quiet-colored 
place of vacant lawns and undulating foliage, 
where there appears to be no living thing any- 
where save those querulous birds. Everywhere 
it is a world of wavering verdancy, a twilit 
world without any shadows or sharp fall of sun 
rays, a world such as we attribute to the xner- 
folk undersea or, say, to the witch-woman's 
occupancy. It is only my familiar garden, but 
this trick of light estranges it . . At dawn 
you have the Chivalrous sense of being in a 
place that is not home, and wherein something 
is expected of you. Then, too, at dawn you 
have a sense of imminent destiny, and feel that 
what is going to happen to you is very generally 
foreknown. Birds shrill of it, and it is about 
this the trees hold conference, and the placid 
sun seems to have risen to find how far the 
matter has progressed. Eh, I am helpless in an 
ambiguous place, I and all my fellows, whom 
I may not, quite, understand, and there is no 
escape from this unalterably ordered prooes- 

344 



WE AWAIT 

sion of sound and noise and color, save through 
death. And I do not know what death means, 
either. . . So I shall presently eat breakfast 
and enjoy it, and look over the morning-paper 
with interest, and then get to writing and find 
pleasure in that too, I, who am under this in- 
evitable sentence to a fate at which I cannot 
guess ! It is in such a predicament that I find 
time to think seriously about literature, and to 
prattle about literature, and to ask this and that 
of literature, quite as if books or anything else 
could possibly matter, while that impends which 
is going to happen to me, that unpredictable 
outcome of affairs which the dawn knows about. 
For very certainly at dawn there is abroad 
some force which foreknows all things. I sense 
its nearness and its contemplation of me, and 
I am frightened. . . 

8 

Meanwhile yon voice a truth I had not hith- 
erto perceived: I ask of literature precisely 
those things of which I feel the lack in my own 
life. I appeal for charity, and implore that 
literature afford me what I cannot come by in 
myself. . . 

For I want distinction for that existence 

345 



BEYOND LIFE 

which ought to be peculiarly mine, among my 
innumerable fellows who swarm about earth 
like ants. Yet which one of us is noticeably, or 
can be appreciably different, in this throng of 
human ephemerae and all their millions and in- 
estimable millions of millions of predecessors 
and oncoming progeny? And even though one 
mote may transiently appear exceptional, the 
distinction of those who in their heydays are 
"great' 1 personages much as the Emperor of 
Lilliput overtopped his subjects by the breadth 
of Captain Gulliver's nail, must suffer loss 
with time, and must dwindle continuously, until 
at most the man's recorded name remains here 
and there in sundry pedants 9 libraries. There 
were how many dynasties of Pharaohs, each 
one of whom was absolute lord of the known 
world, and is to-day forgotten! Among the 
countless popes who one by one were adored as 
the regent of Heaven upon earth, how many 
persons can to-day distinguish? and does not 
time breed emperors and czars and presidents as 
plentiful as blackberries, and as little thought 
of when their season is out? For there is no 
perpetuity in human endeavor : we strut upon a 
quicksand : and all that any man may do for 
good or ill is presently forgotten, because it 

346 



WE AWAIT 

does not matter. I wail to a familiar tune, of 
course, in this lament for the evanescence of 
human grandeur and the perishable renown 
of kings. And indeed to the statement that 
imperial Caesar is turned to clay and Mizraim 
now cures wounds, and that in short Queen 
Anne is dead, we may agree lightly enough; 
for it is, after all, a matter of no personal con- 
cern: but how hard it is to concede that the 
banker and the rector and the traffic-officer, to 
whom we more immediately defer, and we our- 
selves, and the little gold heads of our children, 
may be of no importance, either! . In art it 
may so happen that the thing which a man 
makes endures to be misunderstood and gab- 
bled over: yet it is not the man himself. We 
retain the Iliad, but oblivion has swallowed 
Homer so deep that many question if he ever 
existed at all. . . So we pass as a cloud of 
gnats, where I want to live and be thought of, 
if only by myself, as a distinguishable entity. 
And such distinction is impossible in the long 
progress of suns, whereby in thought to sepa- 
rate the personality of any one man from all 
others that have lived, becomes a task to stagger 
Omniscience. . . 
I want my life, the only life of which I am 

347 



BEYOND LIFE 

assured, to have symmetry or, in default of 
that, at least to acquire some clarity. Surely it 
is not asking very much to wish that my per- 
sonal conduct be intelligible to me! Yet it is 
forbidden to know for what purpose this uni- 
verse was intended, to what end it was set 
a-going, or why I am here, or even what I had 
preferably do while here. It vaguely seems to 
me that I am expected to perform an allotted 
task, but as to what it is I have no notion. . . 
And indeed, what have I done hitherto, in the 
years behind me? There are some books to 
show as increment, as something which was 
not anywhere before I made it, and which even 
in bulk will replace my buried body, so that my 
life will be to mankind no loss materially. 
But the course of my life, when I look back, is 
as orderless as a trickle of water that is diverted 
and guided by every pebble and crevice and 
grass-root it encounters. I seem to have done 
nothing with pre-meditation, but rather, to have 
had things done to me. And for all the rest 
of my life, as I know now, I shall have to shave 
every morning in order to be ready for no 
more than this! . . I have attempted to make 
the best of my material circumstances always; 
nor do I see to-day how any widely varying 

348 



WE AWAIT 

course could have been wiser or even feasible : 
but material things have nothing to do with 
that life which moves in me. Why, then, should 
they direct and heighten and provoke and curb 
every action of life! It is against the tyranny 
of matter I would rebel, against life's abso- 
lute need of food, and books, and fire, and cloth- 
ing, and flesh, to touch and to inhabit, lest life 
perish. . . No, all that which I do here or 
refrain from doing lacks clarity, nor can I de- 
tect any symmetry anywhere, such as living 
would assuredly display, I think, if my progress 
were directed by any particular motive. . . It 
is all a muddling through, somehow, without 
any recognizable goal in view, and there is no 
explanation of the scuffle tendered or anywhere 
procurable. It merely seems that to go on liv- 
ing has become with me a habit. . . 

And I want beauty in my life. I have seen 
beauty in a sunset and in the spring woods and 
in the eyes of divers women, but now these 
happy accidents of light and color no longer 
thrill me. And I want beauty in my life itself, 
rather than in such chances as befall it. It 
seems to me that many actions of my life were 
beautiful, very long ago, when I was young 
in an evanished world of friendly girls, who 

349 



BEYOND LIFE 

were all more lovely than any girl is nowadays. 
For women now are merely more or less good* 
looking, and as I know, their looks when at 
their best have been painstakingly enhanced 
and edited. . . But I would like this life which 
moves and yearns in me, to be able itself to 
attain to comeliness, though but in transitory 
performance. The life of a butterfly, for ex- 
ample, is just a graceful gesture: and yet, in 
that its loveliness is complete and perfectly 
rounded in itself, I envy this bright flicker 
through existence. And the nearest I can come 
to my ideal is punctiliously to pay my bills, be 
polite to my wife, and contribute to deserving 
charities: and the programme does not seem, 
somehow, quite adequate. There are my books, 
I know; and there is beauty "embalmed and 
treasured up" in many pages of my books, and 
in the books of other persons, too, which I may 
read at will: but this desire inborn in me is 
not to be satiated by making marks upon paper, 
nor by deciphering them. . . In short, I am 
enamored of that flawless beauty of which all 
poets have perturbedly divined the existence 
somewhere, and which life as men know it 
simply does not afford nor anywhere fore- 
see. . . 

350 



WE AWAIT 

And tenderness, too but does that appear 
a mawkish thing to desiderate in life? Well, 
to my finding human beings do not like one 
another. Indeed, why should they, being 
rational creatures? All babies have a tempo- 
rary lien on tenderness, of course : and there- 
from children too receive a dwindling income, 
although on looking back, you will recollect that 
your childhood was upon the whole a lonesome 
and much put-upon period. But all grown per- 
sons ineffably distrust one another. . . In 
courtship, I grant you, there is a passing aber- 
ration which often mimics tenderness, some- 
times as the result of honest delusion, but more 
frequently as an ambuscade in the endless 
struggle between man and woman. Married 
people are not ever tender with each other, you 
will notice : if they are mutually civil it is much: 
and physical contacts apart, their relation is 
that of a very moderate intimacy. My own 
wife, at all events, I find an unfailing mystery, 
a Sphinx whose secrets I assume to be not worth 
knowing: and, as I am mildly thankful to nar- 
rate, she knows very little about me, and evinces 
as to my affairs no morbid interest That is 
not to assert that if I were ill she would not 
nurse me through any imaginable contagion, 

351 



BEYOND LIFE 

nor that if she were drowning I would not 
plunge in after her, whatever my delinquencies 
at swimming: what I mean is that, pending 
such high crises, we tolerate each other amic- 
ably, and never think of doing more. . . And 
from our blood-kin we grow apart inevitably. 
Their lives and their interests are no longer 
the same as ours, and when we meet it is with 
conscious reservations and much manufactured 
talk. Besides, they know things about us which 
we resent . . And with the rest of my fellows, 
I find that convention orders all our dealings, 
even with children, and we do and say what 
seems more or less expected. And I know that 
we distrust one another all the while, and in- 
stinctively conceal or misrepresent our actual 
thoughts and emotions when there is no very 
apparent need. . . Personally, I do not like 
human beings because I am not aware, upon 
the whole, of any generally distributed qualities 
which entitle them as a race to admiration and 
affection. But toward people in books such 
as Mrs. Millamant, and Helen of Troy, and 
Bella Wilfer, and Melusine, and Beatrix Es- 
mond, I may intelligently overflow with ten- 
derness and caressing words, in part because 
they deserve it, and in part because I know they 

352 



WE AWAIT 

will not suspect me of being "queer" or of 
having ulterior motives. . . 

And I very often wish that I could know the 
truth about just any one circumstance con- 
nected with my life. . . Is the phantasmagoria 
of sound and noise and color really passing or 
is it all an illusion here in my brain? How do 
you know that you are not dreaming me, for 
instance ? In your Conceded dreams, I am sure, 
you must invent and see and listen to persons 
who for the while seem quite as real to you as 
I do now. As I do, you observe, I say! and 
what thing is it to which I so glibly refer as 
It If you will try to form a notion of yourself, 
of the sort of a something that you suspect to 
inhabit and partially to control your flesh and 
blood body, you will encounter a walking bundle 
of superfluities: and when you mentally have 
put aside the extraneous things, your gar- 
ments and your members and your body, and 
your acquired habits and your appetites and 
your inherited traits and your prejudices, and 
all other appurtenances which considered sepa- 
rately you recognize to be no integral part of 
you, there seems to remain in those pearl- 
colored brain-cells, wherein is your ultimate 
lair, very little save a faculty for receiving 

353 



BEYOND LIFE 

sensations, of which you know the larger por- 
tion to be illusory. And surely, to be just a 
very gullible consciousness provisionally exist- 
ing among inexplicable mysteries, is not an en- 
viable plight. And yet this life to which I 
cling tenaciously, comes to no more. Mean- 
while I hear men talk about "the truth "; and 
they even wager handsome sums upon their 
knowledge of it: but I align myself with "jest- 
ing Pilate," and echo the forlorn query that 
recorded time has left unanswered. . . 

Then, last of all, I desiderate urbanity. I be- 
lieve this is the rarest quality in the world. 
Indeed, it probably does not exist anywhere. 
A really urbane person a mortal open-minded 
and affable to conviction of his own shortcom- 
ings and errors, and unguided in anything by 
irrational blind prejudices, could not but in a 
world of men and women be regarded as a 
monster. We are all of us, as if by instinct, in- 
tolerant of that which is unfamiliar : we resent 
its impudence: and very much the same prin- 
ciple which prompts small boys to jeer at a 
straw-hat out of season induces their elders to 
send missionaries to the heathen. The history 
of the progress of the human race is but the 
picaresque romance of intolerance, a narrative 

354 



WE AWAIT 

of how what is it Milton says? " truth never 
came into the world but, like a bastard, to the 
ignominy of him that brought her forth, till 
time hath washed and salted the infant, declared 
her legitimate, and churched the father of his 
young Minerva. " And I, who prattle to you, 
very candidly confess that I have no patience 
with other people's ideas unless they coincide 
with mine: for if the fellow be demonstrably 
wrong I am fretted by his stupidity, and if his 
notion seem more nearly right than mine I am 
infuriated. . . Yet I wish I could acquire ur- 
banity, very much as I would like to have wings. 
For in default of it, I cannot even manage to be 
civil to that piteous thing called human nature, 
or to view its parasites, whether they be poli- 
ticians or clergymen or popular authors, with 
one half the commiseration which the shifts 
they are put to, quite certainly, would rouse in 
the urbane. . . 



So I in point of fact desire of literature, just 
as you guessed, precisely those things of which 
I most poignantly and most constantly feel the 
lack in my own life. And it is that which ro- 
mance affords her postulants. The philtres of 

355 



BEYOND LIFE 

romance are brewed to free us from this un- 
satisfying life that is calendared by fiscal years, 
and to contrive a less disastrous elusion of our 
own personalities than many seek dispersedly 
in drink and drugs and lust and fanaticism, and 
sometimes in death. For, beset by his own 
rationality, the normal man is goaded to evade 
the strictures of his normal life, upon the in- 
contestable ground that it is a stupid and un- 
lovely routine ; and to escape likewise from his 
own personality, which bores him quite as much 
as it does his associates. So he hurtles into 
these very various roads from reality, precisely 
as a goaded sheep flees without notice of what 
lies ahead. . . 

And romance tricks him, but not to his harm. 
For, be it remembered that man alone of ani- 
mals plays the ape to his dreams. Romance it 
is undoubtedly who whispers to every man that 
life is not a blind and aimless business, not all 
a hopeless waste and confusion; and that his 
existence is a pageant (appreciatively observed 
by divine spectators), and that he is strong and 
excellent and wise : and to romance he listens, 
willing and thrice willing to be cheated by the 
honeyed fiction. The things of which romance 
assures him are very far from true: yet it is 

356 



WE AWAIT 

solely by believing himself a creature but little 
lower than the cherubim that man has by in- 
terminable small degrees become, upon the 
whole, distinctly superior to the chimpanzee: 
so that, however extravagant may seem these 
flattering whispers to-day, they were immeas- 
urably more remote from veracity when men 
first began to listen to their sugared susurrus, 
and steadily the discrepancy lessens. To-day 
these things seem quite as preposterous to calm 
consideration as did flying yesterday: and so, 
to the Gradgrindians, romance appears to dis- 
course foolishly, and incurs the common fate 
of prophets: for it is about to-morrow and 
about the day after to-mo*rrow, that romance is 
talking, by means of parables. And all the 
while man plays the ape to fairer and yet fairer 
dreams, and practise strengthens him at 
mimickry. . . 

10 

To what does the whole business tend! why, 
how in heaven's name should I know? We can 
but be content to note that all goes forward, 
toward something. . . It may be that we are 
nocturnal creatures perturbed by rumors of a 
dawn which comes inevitably, as prologue to 

357 



BEYOND LIFE 

a day wherein we and our children have no part 
whatever. It may be that when our arboreal 
propositns descended from his palm-tree and 
began to walk upright about the earth, his 
progeny were forthwith committed to a journey 
in which to-day is only a way-station. Yet I 
prefer to take it that we are components of an 
unfinished world, and that we are but as seeth- 
ing atoms which ferment toward its making, if 
merely because man as he now exists can hardly 
be the finished product of any Creator whom 
one could very heartily revere. We are being 
made into something quite unpredictable, I im- 
agine : and through the purging and the smelt- 
ing, we are sustained by an instinctive knowl- 
edge that we are being made into something 
better. For this we know, quite incommu- 
nicably, and yet as surely as we know that we 
will to have it thus. 

And it is this will that stirs in us to have 
the creatures of earth and the affairs of earth, 
not as they are, but "as they ought to be, 
which we call romance. But when we note how 
visibly it sways all life we perceive that we are 
talking about God. 

EXPLICIT ULTRA VTTAM 

358 



MODERN LIBRARY OF THE WORLD'S BEST BOOKS 
COMPLETE LIST OF TITLES IN 

THE MODERN LIBRARY 

For convenience in ordering please use number at right of title 



AUTHOR 

AIKEN, CONRAD 

AIKEN, CONRAD 
ANDERSON, SHERWOOD 
ANDERSON, SHERWOOD 
ANDREYEV, LEONID 

APULEIUS, LUCIUS 
BALZAC 
BAUDELAIRE 
BEARDSLEY, AUBREY 
BEEBE, WILLIAM 
BEERBOHM, MAX 
BENNETT, ARNOLD 
BIERCE, AMBROSE 
BLAKE,.. WILLIAM 
BRONTE, EMILY 
BROWN, GEO. DOUGLAS 
BUTLER, SAMUEL 
BUTLER, SAMUEL 
CABELL, JAMES BRANCH 
CABELL, JAMES BRANCH 
CARPENTER, EDWARD 
CARROLL, LEWIS 
CASANOVA, JACQUES 
CELLINI, BENVENUTO 
CERVANTES 
CHAUCER 

CHESTERTON, G. K. 
CRANE, STEPHEN 
D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE 
D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE 
D'ANNUNZIO, GABRIELE 
DAUDET. ALPHONSE 
DEFOE, DANIEL 
DEWEY, JOHN 
DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR 
DOSTOYEVSKY, FYODOR 
DOUGLAS, NORMAN 
DOUGLAS, NORMAN 
DOWSON, ERNEST 
DREISER, THEODORE 
DREISER, THEODORE 



TITLE AND NUMBER 

A Comprehensive Anthology of 

American Verse 101 
Modern American Poetry 127 
Poor White 115 
Winesburg, Ohio 104 
The Seven That Were Hanged, and 

the Red Laugh 45 
The Golden Ass 88 
Short Stories 40 
Prose and Poetry 70 
64 Reproductions 42 
Jungle Peace 30 
Zuleika Dobson 116 
The Old Wives* Tale 184 
In the Midst of Life 133 
Poems 91 

Wuthering Heights 106 
The House with the Green Shutters 1 29 
Erewhon 136 
The Way of All Flesh 13 
Beyond Life 25 
The Cream of the Jest 126 
Love's Coming of Age 51 
Alice in Wonderland, etc. 79 
Memoirs of Casanova 165 
Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini 3 
Don Quixote 174 
The Canterbury Tales 161 
Man Who Was Thursday 35 
Men, Women and Boats 102 
Flame of Life 65 
The Child of Pleasure 98 
The Triumph of Death 112 
Sappho 85 
Moll Flanders 122 
Human Nature and Conduct 173 
The Brothers Karamazov 151 
Poor People 10 
Old Calabria 14! 
South Wind 5 
Poems and Prose 74 
Free, and Other Stories 50 
Twelve Men 148 



AUTHOR 

DUNSANY, LORD 
EDMAN, IRWIN 
ELLIS, HAVELOCK 
ELLIS, HAVELOCK 
FIELDING, HENRY 
FLAUBERT, GUSTAVE 
FLAUBERT, GUSTAVE 
FLAUBERT, GUSTAVE 
FRANCE, ANATOLE 
FRANCE, ANATOLE 
FRANCE, ANATOLE 
FRANCE, ANATOLE 
FRANCE, ANATOLE 
GAUTIER, THEOPHILE 
GEORGE, W. L. 
GILBERT, W. S. 
GILBERT, W. S. 
GISSING, GEORGE 
GISSING, GEORGE 
GOETHE 

GONCOURT, E. AND J. DE 
GORKY, MAXIM 

GOURMONT, REMY DE 
GOURMONT, REMY DE 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HARDY, THOMAS 
HAUPTMANN, GERHART 
HAWTHORNE, NATHANIEL 
HEARN, LAFCADIO 
HECHT, BEN 
HEMINGWAY, ERNEST 
HOMER 
HOMER 

HUDSON, W. H. 
HUDSON, W. H. 
HUNEKER, JAMES G. 
HUXLEY, ALDOUS 
HUXLEY, ALDOUS 
HUYSMANS, J. K. 
IBSEN, HENRIK 
IBSEN, HENRIK 

IBSEN, HENRIK 

JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, HENRY 
JAMES, WILLIAM 
JOYCE, JAMES 
JOYCE, JAMES 

KENT, ROCKWELL 



TITLE AND NUMBER 

A Dreamer's Tales 34 

The Philosophy of Plato 181 

The Dance of Life 160 

The New Spirit 95 

Tom Jones 185 

Madame Bovary 28 

Salammbo 118 

Temptation of St. Anthony 92 

Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard 22 

The Queen Pedauque no 

The Red Lily 7 

The Revolt of the Angels II 

Thais 67 

Mile. De Maupin 53 

A Bed of Roses 75 

The Mikado, lolanthe, etc. 26 

Pinafore and Other Plays 113 

New Grub Street 125 

Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft 46 

Faust 177 

Renee Maupertn 76 

Creatures That Once Were Men and 

Other Stories 48 
A Night in the Luxembourg 120 
A Virgin Heart 131 
Jude the Obscure 135 
The Mayor of Casterbridge 17 
The Return of the Native 121 
The Heretic of Soana 149 
The Scarlet Letter 93 
Some Chinese Ghosts 130 
Erik Dorn 29 
The Sun Also Rises 170 
The Iliad 1 66 
The Odyssey 167 
Green Mansions 89 
The Purple Land 24 
Painted Veils 43 
A Virgin Heart 131 
Point Counter Point 180 
Against the Grain 183 
A Doll's House, Ghosts, etc. 6 
Hedda Gabler, Pillars of Society, The 

Master Builder 36 
The Wild Duck, Rosmersholm.The 

League of Youth 54 
Daisy Miller, etc. 63 
The Turn of the Screw 169 
The Philosophy of William James 114 
Dubliners 124 
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young 

Man 145 
Wilderness 182 



AUTHOR 

KIPLING, RUDYARD 
KOMROFF, MANUEL 
LAWRENCE, D. H. 
LAWRENCE, D. H. 
LEWISOHN, LUDWIG 
LOTI, PIERRE 
MACY, JOHN 

MAUGHAM, W. SOMERSET 
MAUPASSANT, GUY DE 
MAUPASSANT, GUY DE 
MAUPASSANT, GUY DE 
MENKEN, H. L. 
MELVILLE, HERMAN 
MEREDITH, GEORGE 
MEREDITH, GEORGE 
MEREJKOWSKI, DMITRI 
MEREJKOWSKI, DMITRI 
MEREJKOWSKI, DMITRI 
MISCELLANEOUS 



MOLIERE 
MOORE, GEORGE 
MORRISON, ARTHUR 
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH 
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH 
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH 
NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH 
O'NEILL, EUGENE 
O'NEILL, EUGENE 
PAINE, THOMAS 
PATER, WALTER 
PATER, WALTER 
PEPYS, SAMUEL 
PETRONIUS ARBITER 
POE, EDGAR ALLAN 
PREVOST, ANTOINE 
PROUST, MARCEL 
PROUST, MARCEL 
RABELAIS 



TITLE AND NUMBER 

Soldiers Three 71 

Oriental Romances 55 

The Rainbow 128 

Sons and Lovers 109 

Upstream 123 

Mme. Chrysantheme 94 

The Spirit of American Literature 56 

Of Human Bondage 176 

Love and Other Stories 72 

Mile. Fifi, and 12 Other Stones 8 

Une Vie 57 

Selected Prejudices 107 

Moby Dick 119 

Diana of the Crossways 14 

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel 134 

The Death of the Gods 153 

Peter and Alexis 175 

The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci 138 

An Anthology of American Negro 
Literature 163 

A Modern Book of Criticism 81 

Best Ghost Stories 73 

Best Amer. Humorous Short Stories 87 

Best Russian Short Stories 18 

Four Famous Greek Plays 1 58 

Fourteen Great Detective Stories 144 

Great Modern Short Stories 1 68 

Edited by Grant Overton and includ- 
ing stories by Joseph Conrad, D. H. 
Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, 
Sherwood Anderson, Glenway Weat- 
cott, E. M. Forster, etc. 

Outline of Abnormal Psychology 152 

Outline of Psychoanalysis 66 

Plays 78 % 

Confessions of a Young Man 16 

Tales of Mean Streets 100 

Beyond Good and Evil 20 

Ecce Homo and the Birth of Tragedy 68 

Genealogy of Morals 62 

Thus Spake Zarathustra 9 

The Emperor Jones and The Straw 146 

Seven Plays of the Sea in 

Writings 108 

The Renaissance 86 

Marius the Epicurean 90 

Samuel Pepys' Diary 103 

The Satyricon 156 

Best Tales 82 

Manon Lescaut 85 

Swann's Way 59 

Within A Budding Grove 172 

Gargantua and Pantagruel 4 



AUTHOR 

RENAN, ERNEST 

RODIN 

ROSTAND, EDMOND 

RUSSELL, BERTRAND 

SALTUS, EDGAR 

SCHNITZLER, ARTHUR 

SCHNITZLER, ARTHUR 

SCHOPENHAUER 

SCHOPENHAUER 

SCHREINER, OLIVE 

SHAW, G. B. 

SMOLLETT, TOBIAS 

SPINOZA 

STENDHAL 

STERNE, LAURENCE 

STRINDBERG, AUGUST 

SUDERMANN, HERMANN 

SUDERMANN, HERMANN 

SWINBURNE, CHARLES 

SYMONDS, JOHN A. 

TCHEKOV 

TCHEKOV 

THOMPSON, FRANCIS 
TOLSTOY, LEO 
TOLSTOY, LEO 
TOLSTOY, LEO 

TOMLINSON, H. M. 
TURGENEV, IVAN 
TURGENEV, IVAN 
VAN LOON, HENDRIK W. 
VAN VECHTEN, CARL 
VILLON, FRANCOIS 
VOLTAIRE 
WALPOLE, HUGH 
WELLS, H. G. 
WHISTLER, J. McNEIL 

WHITMAN, WALT 
WILDE, OSCAR 

WILDE, OSCAR 
WILDE, OSCAR 
WILDE, OSCAR 
WILDE, OSCAR 
WILDE, OSCAR 

WILDER, THORNTON 
WOOLF, VIRGINIA 
YEATS, W. B. 
YOUNG, G. F. 
ZOLA, EMILE 



TITLE AND NUMBER 

The Life of Jesus 140 

64 Reproductions 41 

Cyrano de Bergerac 154 

Selected Papers of Bcrtrand Russell 137 

The Imperial Orgy 139 

Anatol, Green Cockatoo, etc. 32 

Bertha Garlan 39 

The Philosophy of Schopenhauer 52 

Studies in Pessimism 12 

The Story of an African Farm 132 

An Unsocial Socialist 15 

Humphrey Clinker 159 

The Philosophy of Spinoza 60 

The Red and the Black 157 

Tristram Shandy 147 

Married 2 

Dame Care 33 

The Song of Songs 162 

Poems 23 

The Life of Michelangelo 49 

Rothschild's Fiddle, etc. 31 

Sea Gull, Cherry Orchard, Three Sis- 
ters, etc. 171 

Complete Poems 38 

Anna Karenina 37 

Redemption and Other Plays 77 

The Death of Ivan llyitch and Four 
Other Stories 64 

The Sea and The Jungle 99 

Fathers and Sons 21 

Smoke 80 

Ancient Man 105 

Peter Whiffle 164 

Poems 58 

Candide 47 

Fortitude 178 

Ann Veronica 27 

The Art of Whistler with 32 Reproduc- 
tions 150 

Leaves of Grass 97 

An Ideal Husband, A Woman of No 
Importance 84 

De Profundis 117 

Dorian Gray I 

Poems 19 

Fairy Tales, Poems in Prose 61 

Salome, The Importance of Being 
Earnest, etc. 83 

The Cabala 1 55 

Mrs. Dalloway 96 

Irish Fairy and Folk Tales 44 

The Medici 179 

Nana 142