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On Seeing Visions Post by :Easyhome Category :Essays Author :A. G. Gardiner Date :October 2011 Read :3371

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On Seeing Visions

The postman (or rather the postwoman) brought me among other things this morning a little paper called The Superman, which I find is devoted to the stars, the lines of the hands, and similar mysteries. I gather from it that "Althea," a normal clairvoyant, and other seers, have visited the planets--in their astral bodies, of course--to make inquiries on various aspects of the war. Althea and "the other seers" seem to have had quite a busy time running about among the stars and talking to the inhabitants about the trouble in our particular orb. They seem really to have got to the bottom of things. It appears that there is a row going on between Lucifer and Arniel. "Lucifer is a fallen planetary god, whose lust for power has driven him from his seat of authority as ruler of Jupiter. He is the evil genius overshadowing the Kaiser and is striving to possess this world so that he may pass it on to Jupiter and eventually blot out the Solar Logos," etc., etc.

I do not know who sent me this paper or for what purpose; but let me say that it is sheer waste of postage stamps and material. I hope I am not intolerant of the opinions of others, but I confess that when people talk to me about reading the stars and the lines of the hand and things of that sort I shut up like an oyster. I do not speak of the humbugs who deliberately exploit the credulity of fools. I speak of the sincere believers--people like my dear old friend W.T. Stead, who was the most extraordinary combination of wisdom and moonshine I have ever known. He would startle you at one moment by his penetrating handling of the facts of a great situation, and the next moment would make you speechless with some staggering story of spirit visitors or starry conspiracies that seemed to him just as actual as the pavement on which he walked.

I am not at home in this atmosphere of mysteries. It is not that I do not share the feeling out of which it is born. I do. Thoreau said he would give all he possessed for "one true vision," and so long as we are spiritually alive we must all have some sense of expectancy that the curtain will lift, and that we shall look out with eyes of wonder on the hidden meaning of this strange adventure upon which we are embarked. For thousands of years we have been wandering in this wilderness of the world and speculating about why we are here, where we are going, and what it is all about. It can never have been a greater puzzle than now, when we are all busily engaged in killing each other. And at every stage there have been those who have cried, "Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" and have called men to witness that they have read the riddle and have torn the secret from the heart of the great mystery.

And so long as men can feel and think, the quest will go on. We could not cease that quest if we would, and we would not if we could, for without it all the meaning would have gone out of life and we should be no more than the cattle in the fields. Nor is the quest in vain. We follow this trail and that, catch at this hint of a meaning and that gleam of vision, and though we find this path ends in a cul-de-sac, and that brings us back to the place from whence we started, we are learning all the time about the mysteries of our wilderness. And one day, perhaps--suddenly, it may be, as that vision of the great white mountains of the Oberland breaks upon the sight of the traveller--we shall see whither the long adventure leads. "Say not the struggle naught availeth," said a poet who was not given to cultivating illusions. And he went on:--


For while the tired waves, vainly breaking.
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making.
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.


But though I want to see a vision as much as anybody, I am out of touch with the company of the credulous. I am with Doubting Thomas. I have no capacity for believing the impossible, and have an entire distrust of dark rooms and magic. People with bees in their bonnets leave me wondering, but cold. I know a man--a most excellent man--whose life is a perfect debauch of visions and revelations. He seems to discover the philosopher's stone every other day. Sometimes it is brown bread that is the way to salvation. If you eat brown bread you will never die, or at any rate you will live until everybody is tired of you. Sometimes it is a new tax or a new sort of bath that is the secret key to the whole contraption. For one period he could talk of nothing but dried milk; for another, acetic acid was the thing. Rub yourself with acetic acid and you would be as invulnerable to the ills of the body as Achilles was after he had been dipped by Thetis in the waters of Styx. The stars tell him anything he wishes to believe, and he can conjure up spirits as easily as another man can order a cab. It is not that he is a fool. In practical affairs he is astonishingly astute. It is that he has an illimitable capacity for belief. He is always on the road to Damascus.

For my part I am content to wait. I am for Wordsworth's creed of "wise passiveness." I should as soon think of reading my destiny on the sole of my boot as in the palm of my hand. The one would be just as illuminating as the other. It would tell me what I chose to make it tell me. That and no more. And so with the stars. People who pretend to read the riddle of our affairs in the pageant of the stars are deceiving themselves or are trying to deceive others. They are giving their own little fancies the sanction of the universe. The butterfly that I see flitting about in the sunshine outside might as well read the European war as a comment on its aimless little life. The stars do not chatter about us, but they have a balm for us if we will be silent. The "huge and thoughtful night" speaks a language simple, august, universal.

It is one of the smaller consolations of the war that it has given us in London a chance of hearing that language. The lamps of the street are blotted out, and the lamps above are visible. Five nights of the week all the year round I take the last bus that goes northward from the City, and from the back seat on the top I watch the great procession of the stars. It is the most astonishing spectacle offered to men. Emerson said that if we only saw it once in a hundred years we should spend years in preparing for the vision. It is hung out for us every night, and we hardly give it a glance. And yet it is well worth glancing at. It is the best corrective for this agitated little mad-house in which we dwell and quarrel and fight and die. It gives us a new scale of measurement and a new order of ideas. Even the war seems only a local affair of some ill-governed asylum in the presence of this ordered march of illimitable worlds. I do not worry about the vision; I do not badger the stars to give me their views about the war. It is enough to see and feel and be silent.

And now I hope Althea will waste no more postage stamps in sending me her desecrating gibberish.


(The end)
A. G. Gardiner's essay: On Seeing Visions

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