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The Altar Fire - Part 3 Post by :rainydays Category :Nonfictions Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :1553

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The Altar Fire - Part 3

November 6, 1888.

It is a joy to think of the way in which the best, most beautiful, most permanent things have stolen unnoticed into life. I like to think of Wordsworth, an obscure, poor, perverse, absurd man, living in the corner of the great house at Alfoxden, walking in the moonlight with Coleridge, living on milk and eggs, utterly unaccountable and puerile to the sensible man of affairs, while the two planned the Lyrical Ballads. I like to think of Keats, sitting lazily and discontentedly in the villa garden at Hampstead, with his illness growing upon him and his money melting away, scribbling the "Ode to the Nightingale," and caring so little about the fate of it that it was only by chance, as it were, that the pencil scraps were rescued from the book where he had shut them. I love to think of Charlotte Bronte, in the bare kitchen of the little house in the grey, wind-swept village on the edge of the moorland, penning, in sickness and depression, the scenes of Jane Eyre, without a thought that she was doing anything unusual or lasting. We surround such scenes with a heavenly halo, born of the afterglow of fame; we think them romantic, beautiful, thrilled and flushed by passionate joy; but there was little that was delightful about them at the time.

The most beautiful of all such scenes is the tale of the maiden-wife in the stable at Bethlehem, with the pain and horror and shame of the tragic experience, in all its squalid publicity, told in those simple words, which I never hear without a smile that is full of tears, BECAUSE THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR THEM IN THE INN. We poor human souls, knowing what that event has meant for the race, make the bare, ugly place seemly and lovely, surrounding the Babe with a tapestry of heavenly forms, holy lights, rapturous sounds; taking the terror and the meanness of the scene away, and thereby, by our clumsy handling, losing the divine seal of the great mystery, the fact that hope can spring, in unstained and sublime radiance, from the vilest, lowest, meanest, noisiest conditions that can well be conceived.

November 20, 1888.

I wonder aimlessly what it is that makes a book, a picture, a piece of music, a poem, great. When any of these things has become a part of one's mind and soul, utterly and entirely familiar, one is tempted to think that the precise form of them is inevitable. That is a great mistake.

Here is a tiny instance. I see that in the "Lycidas" Milton wrote:--

"Who would not sing for Lycidas? He WELL knew
Himself to sing and build the lofty rhyme."

The word "well" occurs in two MSS., and it seems to have been struck out in the proof. The introduction of the word seems barbarous, unmetrical, an outrage on the beauty of the line. Yet Milton must have thought that it was needed, and have only decided by an after-thought that it was better away. If it had been printed so, we should equally have thought its omission barbarous and inartistic.

And thus, to an artist, there must be many ways of working out a conception. I do not believe in the theory that the form is so inevitable, because what great artist was ever perfectly content with the form? The greater the artist, the more conscious he probably is of the imperfection of his work; and if it could be bettered, how is it then inevitable? It is only our familiarity with it that gives it inevitableness. A beautiful building gains its mellow outline by a hundred accidents of wear and weather, never contemplated by the designer's mind. We love it so, we would not have it otherwise; but we should have loved it just as intensely if it had been otherwise. Only a small part, then, of the greatness of artistic work is what we ourselves bring to it; and it becomes great, not only from itself, but from the fact that it fits our minds as the dagger fits the sheath. The greatness of a conception depends largely upon its being near enough to our own conceptions, and yet a little greater, just as the vault of a great church gives one a larger sense of immensity than the sky with its sailing clouds. Indeed it is often the very minuteness of a conception rather than its vastness that makes it great. It must not be outside our range. As to the form, it depends upon some curious felicity of hand, and touch, and thought. Suppose that a great painter gave a rough pencil-sketch of a picture to a hundred students, and told them all to work it out in colour. Some few of the results would be beautiful, the majority would be still uninteresting and tame.

Thus I am somewhat of a fatalist about art, because it seems to depend upon a lucky union of conception and technical instinct. The saddest proof of which is that many good and even great artists have not improved in greatness as their skill improved. The youthful works of genius are generally the best, their very crudities and stiffnesses adorable.

The history of art and literature alike seems to point to the fact that each artistic soul has a flowering period, which generally comes early, rarely comes late; and therefore the supreme artist ought also to know when the bloom is over, when his good work is done. And then, I think, he ought to be ready to abjure his art, to drown his book, like Prospero, and set himself to live rather than to produce. But what a sacrifice to demand of a man, and how few attain it! Most men cannot do without their work, and go on to the end producing more feeble, more tired, more mannerised work, till they cloud the beauty of their prime by masses of inferior and uninspired production.

November 24, 1888.

Soft wintry skies, touched with faintest gleams of colour, like a dove's wing, blue plains and heights, over the nearer woodland; everywhere fallen rotting leaf and oozy water-channel; everything, tint and form, restrained, austere, delicate; nature asleep and breathing gently in the cool airs; a tranquil and sober hopefulness abroad.

I walked alone in deep woodland lanes, content for once to rest and dream. The country seemed absolutely deserted; such labour as was going forward was being done in barn and byre; beasts being fed, hurdles made.

I passed in a solitary road a draggled ugly woman, a tramp, wheeling an old perambulator full of dingy clothes and sordid odds and ends; she looked at me sullenly and suspiciously. Where she was going God knows: to camp, I suppose, in some dingle, with ugly company; to beg, to lie, to purloin, perhaps to drink; but by the perambulator walked a little boy, seven or eight years old, grotesquely clothed in patched and clumsy garments; he held on to the rim, dirty, unkempt; but he was happy too; he was with his mother, of whom he had no fear; he had been fed as the birds are fed; he had no anxious thoughts of the future, and as he went, he crooned to himself a soft song, like the piping of a finch in a wayside thicket. What was in his tiny mind and heart? I do not know; but perhaps a little touch of the peace of God.

November 26, 1888.

Another visitor! I am not sure that his visit is not a more distinguished testimonial than any I have yet received. He is a young Don with a very brilliant record indeed. He wrote to ask if he might have the honour of calling, and renewing a very slight acquaintance. He came and conquered. I am still crushed and battered by his visit. I feel like a land that has been harried by an invading army. Let me see if, dizzy and unmanned as I am, I call recall some of the incidents of his visit. He has only been gone an hour, yet I feel as though a month had elapsed since he entered the room, since I was a moderately happy man. He is a very pleasant fellow to look at, small, trim, well-appointed, courteous, friendly, with a deferential air. His eyes gleam brightly through his glasses, and he has brisk dexterous gestures. He was genial enough till he settled down upon literature, and since then what waves and storms have gone over me! I have or had a grovelling taste for books; I possess a large number, and I thought I had read them. But I feel now, not so much as if I had read the wrong ones, but as if those I had read were only, so to speak, the anterooms and corridors which led to the really important books--and of them, it seems, I know nothing. Epigrams flowed from his tongue, brilliant characterisations, admirable judgments. He had "placed" every one, and literature to him seemed like a great mosaic in which he knew the position of every cube. He knew all the movements and tendencies of literature, and books seemed to him to be important, not because they had a message for the mind and heart, but because they illustrated a tendency, or were a connecting link in a chain. He quoted poems I had never heard of, he named authors I had never read. He did it all modestly and quietly enough, with no parade, (I want to do him full justice) but with an evidently growing disappointment to find that he had fallen among savages. I am sure that his conclusion was that authors of popular novels were very shallow, ill-informed people, and I am sure I wholly agreed with him. Good heavens, what a mind the man had, how stored with knowledge! how admirably equipped! Nothing that he had ever put away in his memory seemed to have lost its colour or outline; and he knew, moreover, how to lay his hand upon everything. Indeed, it seemed to me that his mind was like an emporium, with everything in the world arranged on shelves, all new and varnished and bright, and that he knew precisely the place of everything. I became the prey of hopeless depression; when I tried to join in, I confused writers and dates; he set me right, not patronisingly but paternally. "Ah, but you will remember," he said, and "Yes, but we must not overlook the fact that"--adding, with admirable humility, "Of course these are small points, but it is my business to know them." Now I find myself wondering why I disliked knowledge, communicated thus, so much as I did. It may be envy and jealousy, it may be humiliation and despair. But I do not honestly think that it is. I am quite sure I do not want to possess that kind of knowledge. It is the very sharpness and clearness of outline about it all that I dislike. The things that he knows have not become part of his mind in any way: they are stored away there, like walnuts; and I feel that I have been pelted with walnuts, deluged and buried in walnuts. The things which my visitor knows have undergone no change, they have not been fused and blended by his personality; they have not affected his mind, nor has his mind affected them. I don't wish to despise or to decry his knowledge; as a lecturer, he must be invaluable; but he treats literature as a purveyor might--it has not been food to him, but material and stock-in-trade. Some of the poetry we talked about--Elizabethan lyrics--grow in my mind like flowers in a copse; in his mind they are planted in rows, with their botanical names on tickets. The worst of it is that I do not even feel encouraged to fill up my gaps of knowledge, or to master the history of tendency. I feel as if he had rather trampled down the hyacinths and anemones in my wild and uncultivated woodlands. I should like, in a dim way, to have his knowledge as well as my own appreciation, but I would not exchange my knowledge for his. The value of a lyric or a beautiful sentence, for me, is its melody, its charm, its mysterious thrill; and there are many books and poems, which I know to be excellent of their kind, but which have no meaning or message for me. He seems to think that it is important to have complete texts of old authors, and I do not think that he makes much distinction between first-rate and second-rate work. In fact, I think that his view of literature is the sociological view, and he seems to care more about tendencies and influences than about the beauty and appeal of literature. I do not go so far as to say or to think that literature cannot be treated scientifically; but I feel as I feel about the doctor in Balzac, I think, who, when his wife cried upon his shoulder, said, "Hold, I have analysed tears," adding that they contained so much chlorate of sodium and so much mucus. The truth is that he is a philosopher, and that I am an individualist; but it leaves me with an intense desire to be left alone in my woodland, or, at all events, not to walk there with a ruthless botanist!

November 29, 1888.

I have heard this morning of the suicide of an old friend. Is it strange to say that I have heard the news with an unfeigned relief, even gladness? He was formerly a charming and brilliant creature, full of enthusiasm and artistic impulses, fitful, wayward, wilful. Somehow he missed his footing; he fell into disreputable courses; he did nothing, but drifted about, planning many things, executing nothing. The last time I saw him was exquisitely painful; we met by appointment, and I could see that he had tried to screw himself up for the interview by stimulants. The ghastly feigning of cheerfulness, the bloated face, the trembling hands, told the sad tale. And now that it is all over, the shame and the decay, the horror of his having died by his own act is a purely conventional one. One talks pompously about the selfishness of it, but it is one of the most unselfish things poor Dick has ever done; he was a burden and a misery to all those who cared for him. Recovery was, I sincerely believe, impossible. His was a fine, uplifted, even noble spirit in youth, but there were terrible hereditary influences at work, and I cannot honestly say that I think he was wholly responsible for his sins. If I could think that this act was done reasonably, in a solemn and recollected spirit, and was not a mere frightened scurrying out of life, I should be, I believe, wholly glad. I do not see that any one had anything to gain by his continuing to live; and if reason is given us to use, to guide our actions by, it seems to me that we do right to obey it. Suicide may, of course, be a selfish and a cowardly thing, but the instinct of self-preservation is so strong that a man must always manifest a certain courage in making such a decision. The sacrifice of one's own life is not necessarily and absolutely an immoral thing, because it is always held to be justified if one's motive is to save another. It is purely, I believe, a question of motive; whatever poor Dick's motives were, it was certainly the kindest and bravest thing that he could do; and I look upon his life as having been as naturally ended as if he had died of disease or by an accident. There is not a single one of his friends who would not have been thankful if he had died in the course of nature; and I for one am even more thankful as it is, because it seems to me that his act testifies to some tenderness, some consideration for others, as well as to a degree of resolution with which I had not credited him.

Of course such a thing deepens the mystery of the world; but such an act as this is not to me half as mysterious as the action of an omnipotent Power which allowed so bright and gracious a creature as Dick was long ago to drift into ugly, sordid, and irreparable misery. Yet it seems to me now that Dick has at last trusted God completely, made the last surrender, and put his miserable case in the Father's hands.

December 2, 1888.

As I came home to-night, moving slowly westward along deserted roads, among wide and solitary fields, in the frosty twilight, I passed a great pale fallow, in the far corner of which, beside a willow-shaded stream, a great heap of weeds was burning, tended by a single lonely figure raking in the smouldering pile. A dense column of thick smoke came volleying from the heap, that went softly and silently up into the orange-tinted sky; some forty feet higher the smoke was caught by a moving current of air; much of it ascended higher still, but the thin streak of moving wind caught and drew out upon itself a long weft of aerial vapour, that showed a delicate blue against the rose-flushed west. The long lines of leafless trees, the faint outlines of the low distant hills, seemed wrapped in meditative silence, dreaming wistfully, as the earth turned her broad shoulder to the night, and as the forlorn and chilly sunset faded by soft degrees on the horizon. As the day thus died, the frost made itself felt, touching the hedgerows with rime, and crisping the damp road beneath my feet. The end drew on with a mournful solemnity; but the death of the light seemed a perfectly natural and beautiful thing, not an event to be grieved over or regretted, but all part of a sweet and grave progress, in which silence and darkness seemed, not an interruption to the eager life of the world, but a happy suspension of activity and life. I was haunted, as I often am at sunset, by a sense that the dying light was trying to show me some august secret, some gracious mystery, which would silence and sustain the soul could it but capture it. Some great and wonderful presence seemed to hold up a hand, with a gesture half of invitation, half of compassion for my blindness. Down there, beyond the lines of motionless trees, where the water gleamed golden in the reaches of the stream, the secret brooded, withdrawing itself resistlessly into the glowing west. A wistful yearning filled my soul to enter into that incommunicable peace. Yet if one could take the wings of the morning, and follow that flying zone of light, as swiftly as the air, one could pursue the same sunset all the world over, and see the fiery face of the sun ever sinking to his setting, over the broad furrows of moving seas, over tangled tropic forests, out to the shapeless wintry land of the south. Day by day has the same pageant enacted itself, for who can tell what millions of years. And in that vast perspective of weltering aeons has come the day when God has set me here, a tiny sentient point, conscious, in a sense, of it all, and conscious too that, long after I sleep in the dust, the same strange and beautiful thing will be displayed age after age. And yet it is all outside of me, all without. I am a part of it, yet with no sense of my unity with it. That is the marvellous and bewildering thing, that each tiny being like myself has the same sense of isolation, of distinctness, of the perfectly rounded life, complete faculties, independent existence. Another day is done, and leaves me as bewildered, as ignorant as ever, as aware of my small limitations, as lonely and uncomforted.

Who shall show me why I love, with this deep and thirsty intensity, the array of gold and silver light, these mist-hung fields with their soft tints, the glow that flies and fades, the cold veils of frosty vapour? Thousands of men and women have seen the sunset pass, loving it even as I love it. They have gone into the silence as I too shall go, and no hint comes back as to whether they understand and are satisfied.

And now I turn in at the well-known gate, and see the dark gables of my house, with the high elms of the grove outlined against the pale sky. The cheerful windows sparkle with warmth and light, welcoming me, fresh from the chilly air, out of the homeless fields. With such array of cheerful usages I beguile my wondering heart, and chase away the wild insistent thoughts, the deep yearnings that thrill me. Thus am I bidden to desire and to be unsatisfied, to rest and marvel not, to stay, on this unsubstantial show of peace and security, the aching and wondering will.

December 4, 1888.

Writing, like music, ought to have two dimensions--a horizontal movement of melody, a perpendicular depth of tone. A person unskilled in music can only recognise a single horizontal movement, an air. One who is a little more skilled can recognise the composition of a chord. A real musician can read a score horizontally, with all its contrasting and combining melodies. Sometimes one gets, in writing, a piece of horizontal structure, a firm and majestic melody, with but little harmony. Such are the great spare, strong stories of the old world. Modern writing tends to lay much more emphasis upon depth of colour, and the danger there is that such writing may become a mere structureless modulation, The perfect combination is to get firm structure, sparingly and economically enriched by colour, but colour always subordinated to structure. When I was young I undervalued structure and overvalued colour; but it was a good training in a way, because I learned to appreciate the vital necessity of structure, and I learnt the command of harmony. What is it that gives structure? It is firm and clear intellectual conception, the grasp of form and proportion; while colour is given by depth and richness of personality, by power of perception, and still more by the power of fusing perception with personality. The important thing here is that the thing perceived and felt should not simply be registered and pigeon-holed, but that it should become a cell of the writer's soul, respond to his pulse, be animated by his vital forces.

Now, in my present state, I have lost my hold on melody in some way or other; my creative intellectual power has struck work; and when I try to exercise it, I can only produce vague textures of modulated thoughts--things melodious in themselves, but ineffective because they are isolated effects, instead of effects emphasising points, crises, climaxes. I have strained some mental muscle, I suppose; but the unhappy part of the situation is that I have not lost the desire to use it.

It would be a piece of good fortune for me now if I could fall in with some vigorous mind who could give me a lead, indicate a subject. But then the work that resulted would miss unity, I think. What I ought to be content to do is to garner more impressions; but I seem to be surfeited of impressions.

December 10, 1888.

To-day I stumbled upon one of my old childish books--Grimm's Household Stories. I am ashamed to say how long I read it. These old tales, which I used to read as transcripts of marvellous and ancient facts, have, many of them, gained for me, through experience of life, a beautiful and symbolical value; one in particular, the tale of Karl Katz.

Karl used to feed his goats in the ruins of an old castle, high up above the stream. Day after day one of his herd used to disappear, coming back in the evening to join the homeward procession, very fat and well-liking. So Karl set himself to watch, and saw that the goat slipped in at a hole in the masonry. He enlarged the hole, and presently was able to creep into a dark passage. He made his way along, and soon heard a sound like a falling hailstorm. He groped his way thither, and found the goat, in the dim light, feeding on grains of corn which came splashing down from above. He looked and listened, and, from the sounds of stamping and neighing overhead, he became aware that the grain was failing through the chinks of a paved floor from a stable inside the hill. I forget at this moment what happened next--the story is rich in inconsequent details--but Karl shortly heard a sound like thunder, which he discerned at last to be persons laughing and shouting and running in the vaulted passages. He stole on, and found, in an open, grassy place, great merry men playing at bowls. He was welcomed and set down in a chair, though he could not even lift one of the bowls when invited to join in the game. A dwarf brought him wine in a cup, which he drank, and presently he fell asleep.

When he woke, all was silent and still; he made his way back; the goats were gone, and it was the early morning, all misty and dewy among the ruins, when he squeezed out of the hole.

He felt strangely haggard and tired, and reached the village only to find that seventy years had elapsed, and that he was an old and forgotten man, with no place for him. He had lost his home, and though there were one or two old grandfathers, spent and dying, who remembered the day when he was lost, and the search made for him, yet now there was no room for the old man. The gap had filled up, life had flowed on. They had grieved for him, but they did not want him back. He disturbed their arrangements; he was another useless mouth to feed.

The pretty old story is full of parables, sad and sweet. But the kernel of the tale is a warning to all who, for any wilfulness or curiosity, however romantic or alluring the quest, forfeit their place for an instant in the world. You cannot return. Life accommodates itself to its losses, and however sincerely a man may be lamented, yet if he returns, if he tries to claim his place, he is in the way, de trop. No one has need of him.

An artist has most need of this warning, because he of all men is tempted to enter the dark place in the hill, to see wonderful things and to drink the oblivious wine. Let him rather keep his hold on the world, at whatever sacrifice. Because by the time that he has explored the home of the merry giants, and dreamed his dream, the world to which he tries to tell the vision will heed it not, but treat it as a fanciful tale.

All depends on the artist being in league with his day; if he is born too early or too late, he has no hold on the world, no message for it. Either he is a voice out of the past, an echo of old joys, piping a forgotten message, or he is fanciful, unreal, visionary, if he sees and tries to utter what shall be. By the time that events confirm his foresight, the vitality of his prophecy is gone, and he is only looked at with a curious admiration, as one that had a certain clearness of vision, but no more; he is called into court by the historian of tendency, but he has had no hold on living men.

One sees men of great artistic gifts who suffer from each of these disadvantages. One sees poets, born in a prosaic age, who would have won high fame if they had been born in an age of poets. And one sees, too, men who seem to struggle with big, unintelligible thoughts, thoughts which do not seem to fit on to anything existing. The happy artist is the man who touches the note which awakens a responsive echo in many hearts; the man who instinctively uses the medium of the time, and who neither regrets the old nor portends the new.

Karl Katz must content himself, if he can find a corner and a crust, with the memory of the day when the sun lay hot among the ruins, with the thought of the pleasant coolness of the vault, the leaping shower of corn, the thunder of the imprisoned feet, the heroic players, the heady wine. That must be enough for him. He has had a taste, let him remember, of marvels hidden from common eyes and ears. Let it be for him to muse in the sun, and to be grateful for the space of recollection given him. If he had lived the life of the world, he would but have had a treasure of simple memories, much that was sordid, much that was sad.

But now he has his own dreams, and he must pay the price in heaviness and dreariness!

December 14, 1888.

The danger of art as an occupation is that one uses life, looks at life, as so much material for one's art. Life becomes a province of art, instead of art being a province of life. That is all a sad mistake, perhaps an irreparable mistake! I walked to-day on the crisp frozen snow, down the valley, by field-paths, among leafless copses and wood-ends. The stream ran dark and cold, between its brambly banks; the snow lay pure and smooth on the high-sloping fields. It made a heart of whiteness in the covert, the trees all delicately outlined, the hazels weaving an intricate pattern. All perfectly and exquisitely beautiful. Sight after sight of subtle and mysterious beauty, vignette after vignette, picture after picture. If I could but sing it, or say it, depict or record it, I thought to myself! Yet I could not analyse what the desire was. I do not think I wished to interpret the sight to others, or even to capture it for myself. No matter at what season of the year I pass through the valley, it is always filled from end to end with beauty, ever changing, perishing, ever renewing itself. In spring the copse is full of tender points of green, uncrumpling and uncurling. The hyacinths make a carpet of steely blue, the anemones weave their starred tapestry. In the summer, the grove hides its secret, dense with leaf, the heavy-seeded grass rises in the field, the tall flowering plants make airy mounds of colour; in autumn, the woods blaze with orange and gold, the air is heavy with the scent of the dying leaf. In winter, the eye dwells with delight upon the spare low tints; and when the snow falls and lies, as it does to-day, the whole scene has a still and mournful beauty, a pure economy of contrasted light and gloom. Yet the trained perception of the artist does not dwell upon the thought of the place as upon a perpetual feast of beauty and delight. Rather, it shames me to reflect, one dwells upon it as a quarry of effects, where one can find and detach the note of background, the sweet symbol that will lend point and significance to the scene that one is labouring at. Instead of being content to gaze, to listen, to drink in, one thinks only what one can carry away and make one's own. If one's art were purely altruistic, if one's aim were to emphasise some sweet aspect of nature which the careless might otherwise overlook or despise; or even if the sight haunted one like a passion, and fed the heart with hope and love, it would be well. But does one in reality feel either of these purposes? Speaking candidly, I do not. I care very little for my message to the world. It is true that I have a deep and tender love for the gracious things of earth; but I cannot be content with that. One thinks of Wordsworth, rapt in contemplation, sitting silent for a whole morning, his eyes fixed upon the pool of the moorland stream, or the precipice with the climbing ashes. It was like a religion to him, a communion with something holy and august which in that moment drew near to his soul. But with me it is different. To me the passion is to express it, to embalm it, in phrase or word, not for my pride in my art, not for any desire to give the treasure to others, but simply, so it seems, in obedience to a tyrannous instinct to lend the thought, the sight, another shape. I despair of defining the feeling. It is partly a desire to arrest the fleeting moment, to give it permanence in the ruinous lapse of things, the same feeling that made old Herrick say to the daffodils, "We weep to see you haste away so soon." Partly the joy of the craftsman in making something that shall please the eye and ear. It is not the desire to create, as some say, but to record. For when one writes an impassioned scene, it seems no more an act of creation than one feels about one's dreams. The wonder of dreams is that one does not make them; they come upon one with all the pleasure of surprise and experience. They are there; and so, when one indulges imagination, one does not make, one merely tells the dream. It is this that makes art so strange and sad an occupation, that one lives in a beautiful world, which does not seem to be of one's own designing, but from which one is awakened, in terror and disgust, by bodily pain, discomfort, anxiety, loss. Yet it seems useless to say that life is real and imagination unreal. They are both there, both real. The danger is to use life to feed the imagination, not to use imagination to feed life. In these sad weeks I have been like a sleeper awakened. The world of imagination, in which I have lived and moved, has crumbled into pieces over my head; the wind and rain beat through the flimsy dwelling, and I must arise and go. I have sported with life as though it were a pretty plaything; and I find it turn upon me like a wild beast, gaunt, hungry, angry. I am terrified by its evil motions, I sicken at its odour. That is the deep mystery and horror of life, that one yields unerringly to blind and imperious instincts, not knowing which may lead us into green and fertile pastures of hope and happy labour, and which may draw us into thorny wildernesses. The old fables are true, that one must not trust the smiling presences, the beguiling words. Yet how is one to know which of the forms that beckon us we may trust. Must we learn the lesson by sad betrayals, by dark catastrophes? I have wandered, it seems, along a flowery path--and yet I have not gathered the poisonous herbs of sin; I have loved innocence and goodness; but for all that I have followed a phantom, and now that it is too late to retrace my steps, I find that I have been betrayed. I feel

"As some bold seer in a trance
Seeing all his own mischance."

Well, at least one may still be bold!

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The Altar Fire - Part 4 The Altar Fire - Part 4

The Altar Fire - Part 4
December 22, 1888. Perhaps my trial comes to me that it may test my faith in art; perhaps to show me that the artist's creed is a false and shallow one after all. What is it that we artists do? In a happy hour I should have said glibly that we discern and interpret beauty. But now it seems to me that no man can ever live upon beauty. I think I have gone wrong in busying myself so ardently in trying to discern the quality of beauty in all things. I seem to have submitted everything--virtue, honour, life itself--to that

Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 21. Temperament Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 21. Temperament

Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 21. Temperament
CHAPTER XXI. TEMPERAMENTHugh never seemed to me to treat life in the spirit of a mystic or a dreamer, with unshared and secret experiences, withdrawing into his own ecstasy, half afraid of life, rapt away into interior visions. Though he had a deep curiosity about mystical experiences, he was never a mystic in the sense that he had, as great mystics seem to have had, one shell less, so to speak, between him and the unseen. He lived in the visible and tangible world, loving beautiful secrets; and he was a mystic only in the sense that he had an hourly