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On Nothing & Kindred Subjects by Hilaire Belloc

Part 3 out of 3

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invitation he sang in a loud and clear voice the following verse:

_It's ten years ago to-day you turned me out of doors
To cut my feet on flinty lands and stumble down the shores.
And I thought about the all in all ..._

"The '_all in all_,'" I said, "is weak."

He was immensely pleased with this, and, standing up, seized me by
the hand. "I know you now," he said, "for a man who does indeed
write verse. I have done everything I could with those three
syllables, and by the grace of Heaven I shall get them right in
time. Anyhow, they are the stop-gap of the moment, and with your
leave I shall reserve them, for I do not wish to put words like
'tumty tum' into the middle of my verse."

I bowed to him, and he proceeded:

_And I thought about the all in all, and more than I could tell;
But I caught a horse to ride upon and rode him very well.
He had flame behind the eyes of him and wings upon his side--
And I ride; and I ride!_

"Of how many verses do you intend this metrical composition to be?"
said I, with great interest.

"I have sketched out thirteen," said he firmly, "but I confess that
the next ten are so embryonic in this year 1907 that I cannot sing
them in public." He hesitated a moment, then added: "They have many
fine single lines, but there is as yet no composition or unity about
them." And as he recited the words "composition" and "unity" he
waved his hand about like a man sketching a cartoon.

"Give me, then," said I, "at any rate the last two." For I had
rapidly calculated how many would remain of his scheme.

He was indeed pleased to be so challenged, and continued to sing:

_And once atop of Lambourne Down, towards the hill of Clere,
I saw the host of Heaven in rank and Michael with his spear
And Turpin, out of Gascony, and Charlemagne the lord,
And Roland of the Marches with his hand upon his sword
For fear he should have need of it;--and forty more beside!
And I ride; and I ride!
For you that took the all in all..._

"That again is weak," I murmured.

"You are quite right," he said gravely, "I will rub it out." Then he
went on:

_For you that took the all in all, the things you left were
A loud Voice for singing, and keen Eyes to see,
And a spouting Well of Joy within that never yet was dried!
And I ride!_

He sang this last in so fierce and so exultant a manner that I was
impressed more than I cared to say, but not more than I cared to
show. As for him, he cared little whether I was impressed or not; he
was exalted and detached from the world.

There were no stirrups upon the beast. He vaulted upon it, and said
as he did so:

"You have put me into the mood, and I must get away!"

And though the words were abrupt, he _did_ speak them with such
a grace that I will always remember them!

He then touched the flanks of his horse with his heels (on which
there were no spurs) and at once beating the air powerfully twice or
thrice with its wings it spurned the turf of Berkshire and made out
southward and upward into the sunlit air, a pleasing and a glorious

In a very little while they had dwindled to a point of light and
were soon mixed with the sky. But I went on more lonely along the
crest of the hills, very human, riding my horse Monster, a mortal
horse--I had almost written a human horse. My mind was full of

Some of those to whom I have related this adventure criticise it by
the method of questions and of cross-examination proving that it
could not have happened precisely where it did; showing that I left
the vale so late in the afternoon that I could not have found this
man and his mount at the hour I say I did, and making all manner of
comments upon the exact way in which the feathers (which they say
are those of a bird) grew out of the hide of the horse, and so
forth. There are no witnesses of the matter, and I go lonely, for
many people will not believe, and those who do believe believe too


Once there was a Man who lived in a House at the Corner of a Wood
with an excellent landscape upon every side, a village about one
mile off, and a pleasant stream flowing over chalk and full of
trout, for which he used to fish.

This man was perfectly happy for some little time, fishing for the
trout, contemplating the shapes of clouds in the sky, and singing
all the songs he could remember in turn under the high wood, till
one day he found, to his annoyance, that there was strapped to his
back a Burden.

However, he was by nature of a merry mood, and began thinking of all
the things he had read about Burdens. He remembered an uncle of his
called Jonas (ridiculous name) who had pointed out that Burdens,
especially if borne in youth, strengthen the upper deltoid muscle,
expand the chest, and give to the whole figure an erect and graceful
poise. He remembered also reading in a book upon "Country Sports"
that the bearing of heavy weights is an excellent training for all
other forms of exercise, and produces a manly and resolute carriage,
very useful in golf, cricket and Colonial wars. He could not forget
his mother's frequent remark that a Burden nobly endured gave
firmness, and at the same time elasticity, to the character, and
altogether he went about his way taking it as kindly as he could;
but I will not deny that it annoyed him.

In a few days he discovered that during sleep, when he lay down, the
Burden annoyed him somewhat less than at other times, though the
memory of it never completely left him. He would therefore sleep for
a very considerable number of hours every day, sometimes retiring to
rest as early as nine o'clock, nor rising till noon of the next day.
He discovered also that rapid and loud conversation, adventure,
wine, beer, the theatre, cards, travel, and so forth made him forget
his Burden for the time being, and he indulged himself perhaps to
excess in all these things. But when the memory of his Burden would
return to him after each indulgence, whether working in his garden,
or fishing for trout, or on a lonely walk, he began reluctantly to
admit that, on the whole, he felt uncertainty and doubt as to
whether the Burden was really good for him.

In this unpleasing attitude of mind he had the good fortune one day
to meet with an excellent Divine who inhabited a neighbouring
parish, and was possessed of no less a sum than L29,000. This
Ecclesiastic, seeing his whilom jocund Face fretted with the Marks
of Care, put a hand gently upon his shoulder and said:

"My young friend, I easily perceive that you are put out by this
Burden which you bear upon your shoulders. I am indeed surprised
that one so intelligent should take such a matter so ill. What! Do
you not know that burdens are the common lot of humanity? I myself,
though you may little suspect it, bear a burden far heavier than
yours, though, true, it is invisible, and not strapped on to my
shoulders by gross material thongs of leather, as is yours. The
worthy Squire of our parish bears one too; and with what manliness!
what ease! what abnegation! Believe me, these other Burdens of which
you never hear, and which no man can perceive, are for that very
reason the heaviest and the most trying. Come, play the man! Little
by little you will find that the patient sustenance of this Burden
will make you something greater, stronger, nobler than you were, and
you will notice as you grow older that those who are most favoured
by the Unseen bear the heaviest of such impediments."

With these last words recited in a solemn, and, as it were, an
inspired voice, the Hierarch lifted an immense stone from the
roadway, and placing it on the top of the Burden, so as considerably
to add to its weight, went on his way.

The irritation of the Man was already considerable when his family
called upon him--his mother, that is, his younger sister, his cousin
Jane, and her husband--and after they had eaten some of his food and
drunk some of his beer they all sat out in the garden with him and
talked to him somewhat in this manner:

"We really cannot pity you much, for ever since you were a child
whatever evil has happened to you has been your own doing, and
probably this is no different from the rest.... What can have
possessed you to get putting upon your back an ugly, useless, and
dangerous great Burden! You have no idea how utterly out of fashion
you seem, stumbling about the roads like a clodhopper, and going up
and downstairs as though you were on the treadmill.... For the
Lord's sake, at least have the decency to stay at home and not to
disgrace the family with your miserable appearance!"

Having said so much they rose, and adding to his burden a number of
leaden weights they had brought with them, went on their way and
left him to his own thoughts.

You may well imagine that by this time the irritation of the Man had
gone almost past bearing. He would quarrel with his best friends,
and they, in revenge, would put something more on to the burden,
till he felt he would break down. It haunted his dreams and filled
most of his waking thoughts, and did all those things which burdens
have been discovered to do since the beginning of time, until at
last, though very reluctantly, he determined to be rid of it.

Upon hearing of this resolution his friends and acquaintances raised
a most fearful hubbub; some talked of sending for the police, others
of restraining him by force, and others again of putting him into an
asylum, but he broke away from them all, and, making for the open
road, went out to see if he could not rid himself of this abominable

Of himself he could not, for the Burden was so cunningly strapped on
that his hands could not reach it, and there was magic about it, and
a spell; but he thought somewhere there must be someone who could
tell him how to cast it away.

In the very first ale-house he came to he discovered what is common
to such places, namely, a batch of politicians, who laughed at him
very loudly for not knowing how to get rid of burdens. "It is done,"
they said, "by the very simple method of paying one of us to get on
top and undo the straps." This the man said he would be very willing
to do, whereat the politicians, having fought somewhat among
themselves for the money, desisted at last in favour of the most
vulgar, who climbed on to the top of the man's burden, and remained
there, viewing the landscape and commenting in general terms upon
the nature of public affairs, and when the man complained a little,
the politician did but cuff him sharply on the side of the head to
teach him better manners.

Yet a little further on he met with a Scientist, who told him in
English Greek a clear and simple method of getting rid of the
burden, and, since the Man did not seem to understand, he lost his
temper, and said, "Come, let me do it," and climbed up by the side
of the Politician. Once there the Scientist confessed that the
problem was not so easy as he had imagined.

"But," said he, "now that I am here, you may as well carry me, for
it will be no great additional weight, and meanwhile I will spend
most of my time in trying to set you free."

And the third man he met was a Philosopher with quiet eyes; a person
whose very gestures were profound. Taking by the hand the Man, now
fevered and despairing, he looked at him with a mixture of
comprehension and charity, and he said:

"My poor fellow, your eyes are very wild and staring and bloodshot.
How little you understand the world!" Then he smiled gently, and
said, "Will you never learn?"

And without another word he climbed up on the top of the burden and
seated himself by the side of the other two.

After this the man went mad.

The last time I saw him he was wandering down the road with his
burden very much increased. He was bearing not only these original
three, but some Kings and Tax-gatherers and Schoolmasters, several
Fortune-tellers, and an Old Admiral. He was blind, and they were
goading him. But as he passed me he smiled and gibbered a little,
and told me it was in the nature of things, and went on downward

_This Parable I think, as I re-read it, demands a KEY, lest it
prove a stumbling-block to the muddle-headed and a perplexity to the
foolish. Here then is the KEY:_--

_The_ MAN _is a_ MAN. _His_ BURDEN _is that Burden
which men often feel themselves to be bearing as they advance from
youth to manhood. The_ RELATIVES _(his mother, his sister, his
cousins, etc.) are a Man's_ RELATIVES _and the little weights
they add to the_ BURDEN _are the little additional weights a
Man's_ RELATIVES _commonly add to his burden. The_ PARSON
_represents a_ PARSON, _and the_ POLITICIAN, _the_
OLD ADMIRAL, _stand severally for an_ OLD ADMIRAL, TAX-GATHERERS,

_The_ POLITICIANS _who fight for the_ MONEY
_represent_ POLITICIANS, _and the_ MONEY _they struggle
for is the_ MONEY _for which Politicians do ceaselessly jostle
and barge one another. The_ MOST VULGAR _in whose favour the
others desist, represents the_ MOST VULGAR _who, among Politicians,
invariably obtains the largest share of whatever public money is going.

The_ MADNESS _of the Man at the end, stands for the_ MADNESS
_which does as a fact often fall upon Men late in life if their
Burdens are sufficiently increased.

I trust that with this Key the Parable will be clear to all._


In that part of the Thames where the river begins to feel its life
before it knows its name the counties play with it upon either side.
It is not yet a boundary. The parishes upon the northern bank are
sometimes as truly Wiltshire as those to the south. The men upon the
farms that look at each other over the water are close neighbours;
they use the same words and the way they build their houses is the
same. Between them runs the beginning of the Thames.

From the surface of the water the whole prospect is sky, bounded by
reeds; but sitting up in one's canoe one sees between the reeds
distant hills to the southward, or, on the north, trees in groups,
and now and then the roofs of a village; more often the lonely group
of a steading with a church close by.

Floating down this stream quite silently, but rather swiftly upon a
summer's day, I saw on the bank to my right a very pleasant man. He
was perhaps a hundred yards or two hundred ahead of me when I first
caught sight of him, and perceived that he was a clergyman of the
Church of England. He was fishing.

He was dressed in black, even his hat was black (though it was of
straw), but his collar was of such a kind as his ancestors had worn,
turned down and surrounded by a soft white tie. His face was clear
and ruddy, his eyes honest, his hair already grey, and he was gazing
intently upon the float; for I will not conceal it that he was
fishing in that ancient manner with a float shaped like a sea-buoy
and stuck through with a quill. So fish the yeomen to this day in
Northern France and in Holland. Upon such immutable customs does an
ancient State repose, which, if they are disturbed, there is danger
of its dissolution.

As I so looked at him and rapidly approached him I took care not to
disturb the water with my paddle, but to let the boat glide far from
his side, until in the pleasure of watching him, I got fast upon the
further reeds. There she held and I, knowing that the effort of
getting her off would seriously stir the water, lay still. Nor did I
speak to him, though he pleased me so much, because a friend of mine
in Lambourne had once told me that of all things in Nature what a
fish most fears is the voice of a man.

He, however, first spoke to me in a sort of easy tone that could
frighten no fish. He said "Hullo!"

I answered him in a very subdued voice, for I have no art where
fishes are concerned, "Hullo!"

Then he asked me, after a good long time, whether his watch was
right, and as he asked me he pulled out his, which was a large,
thick, golden watch, and looked at it with anxiety and dread. He
asked me this, I think, because I must have had the look of a tired
man fresh from the towns, and with the London time upon him, and yet
I had been for weeks in no town larger than Cricklade: moreover, I
had no watch. Since, none the less, it is one's duty to uplift,
sustain, and comfort all one's fellows I told him that his watch was
but half a minute fast, and he put it back with a greater content
than he had taken it out; and, indeed, anyone who blames me for what
I did in so assuring him of the time should remember that I had
other means than a watch for judging it. The sunlight was already
full of old kindness, the midges were active, the shadow of the
reeds on the river was of a particular colour, the haze of a
particular warmth; no one who had passed many days and nights
together sleeping out and living out under this rare summer could
mistake the hour.

In a little while I asked him whether he had caught any fish. He
said he had not actually caught any, but that he would have caught
several but for accidents, which he explained to me in technical
language. Then he asked me in his turn where I was going to that
evening. I said I had no object before me, that I would sleep when I
felt sleepy, and wake when I felt wakeful, and that I would so drift
down Thames till I came to anything unpleasant, when it was my
design to leave my canoe at once, to tie it up to a post, and to go
off to another place, "for," I told him, "I am here to think about
Peace, and to see if She can be found." When I said this his face
became moody, and, as though such portentous thoughts required
action to balance them, he strained his line, lifted his float
smartly from the water (so that I saw the hook flying through the
air with a quarter of a worm upon it), and brought it down far up
the stream. Then he let it go slowly down again as the water carried
it, and instead of watching it with his steady and experienced eyes
he looked up at me and asked me if, as yet, I had come upon any clue
to Peace, that I expected to find Her between Cricklade and Bablock
Hythe. I answered that I did not exactly expect to find Her, that I
had come out to think about Her, and to find out whether She could
be found. I told him that often and often as I wandered over the
earth I had clearly seen Her, as once in Auvergne by Pont-Gibaud,
once in Terneuzen, several times in Hazlemere, Hampstead, Clapham,
and other suburbs, and more often than I could tell in the Weald:
"but seeing Her," said I, "is one thing and holding Her is another.
I hardly propose to follow all Her ways, but I do propose to
consider Her nature until I know so much as to be able to discover
Her at last whenever I have need, for I am convinced by this time
that nothing else is worth the effort of a man ... and I think I
shall achieve my object somewhere between here and Bablock Hythe."

He told me without interest that there was nothing attractive in the
pursuit or in its realisation.

I answered with equal promptitude that the whole of attraction was
summed up in it: that to nothing else did we move by nature, and to
nothing else were we drawn but to Peace. I said that a completion
and a fulfilment were vaguely demanded by a man even in very early
youth, that in manhood the desire for them became a passion and in
early middle age so overmastering and natural a necessity that all
who turned aside from it and attempted to forget it were justly
despised by their fellows and were some of them money-makers, some
of them sybarites, but all of them perverted men, whose hard eyes,
weak mouths, and fear of every trial sufficiently proved the curse
that was upon them. I told him as heatedly as one can speak lying
back in a canoe to a man beyond a little river that he, being older
than I, should know that everything in a full man tended towards
some place where expression is permanent and secure; and then I told
him that since I had only seen such a place far off as it were, but
never lived in, I had set forth to see if I might think out the way
to it, "and I hope," I said, "to finish the problem not so far down
as Bablock Hythe, but nearer by, towards New Bridge or even higher,
by Kelmscott,"

He asked me, after a little space, during which he took off the
remnant of the worm and replaced it by a large new one, whether when
I said "Peace" I did not really mean "Harmony."

At this phrase a suspicion rose in my mind; it seemed to me that I
knew the school that had bred him, and that he and I should be
acquainted. So I was appeased and told him I did not mean Harmony,
for Harmony suggested that we had to suit ourselves to the things
around us or to get suited to them. I told him what I was after was
no such German Business, but something which was Fruition and more
than Fruition--full power to create and at the same time to enjoy, a
co-existence of new delight and of memory, of growth, and yet of
foreknowledge and an increasing reverence that should be
increasingly upstanding, and high hatred as well as high love
justified; for surely this Peace is not a lessening into which we
sink, but an enlargement which we merit and into which we rise and
enter--"and this," I ended, "I am determined to obtain before I get
to Bablock Hythe."

He shook his head determinedly and said my quest was hopeless.

"Sir," said I, "are you acquainted with the Use of Sarum?"

"I have read it," he said, "but I do not remember it well." Then,
indeed, indeed I knew that he was of my own University and of my own
college, and my heart warmed to him as I continued:

"It is in Latin; but, after all, that was the custom of the time."

"Latin," he answered, "was in the Middle Ages a universal tongue."

"Do you know," said I, "that passage which begins 'Illam Pacem----'?"

At this moment the float, which I had almost forgotten but which he
in the course of our speeches had more and more remembered, began to
bob up and down violently, and, if I may so express myself, the
Philosopher in him was suddenly swamped by the Fisherman. He struck
with the zeal and accuracy of a conqueror; he did something
dexterous with his rod, flourished the line and landed a
magnificent--ah! There the whole story fails, for what on earth was
the fish?

Had it been a pike or a trout I could have told it, for I am well
acquainted with both; but this fish was to me as a human being is to
a politician: this fish was to me unknown....


In a valley of the Apennines, a little before it was day, I went
down by the side of a torrent wondering where I should find repose;
for it was now some hours since I had given up all hope of
discovering a place for proper human rest and for the passing of the
night, but at least I hoped to light upon a dry bed of sand under
some overhanging rock, or possibly of pine needles beneath closely
woven trees, where one might get sleep until the rising of the sun.

As I still trudged, half expectant and half careless, a man came up
behind me, walking quickly as do mountain men: for throughout the
world (I cannot tell why) I have noticed that the men of the
mountains walk quickly and in a sprightly manner, arching the foot,
and with a light and general gait as though the hills were waves and
as though they were in thought springing upon the crests of them.
This is true of all mountaineers. They are but few.

This man, I say, came up behind me and asked me whether I were going
towards a certain town of which he gave me the name, but as I had
not so much as heard of this town I told him I knew nothing of it. I
had no map, for there was no good map of that district, and a bad
map is worse than none. I knew the names of no towns except the
large towns on the coast. So I said to him:

"I cannot tell anything about this town, I am not making towards it.
But I desire to reach the sea coast, which I know to be many hours
away, and I had hoped to sleep overnight under some roof or at least
in some cavern, and to start with the early morning; but here I am,
at the end of the night, without repose and wondering whether I can
go on."

He answered me:

"It is four hours to the sea coast, but before you reach it you will
find a lane branching to the right, and if you will go up it (for it
climbs the hill) you will find a hermitage. Now by the time you are
there the hermit will be risen."

"Will he be at his prayers?" said I.

"He says no prayers to my knowledge," said my companion lightly;
"for he is not a hermit of that kind. Hermits are many and prayers
are few. But you will find him bustling about, and he is a very
hospitable man. Now as it so happens that the road to the sea coast
bends here round along the foot of the hills, you will, in his
company, perceive the port below you and the populace and the high
road, and yet you will be saving a good hour in distance of time,
and will have ample rest before reaching your vessel, if it is a
vessel indeed that you intend to take."

When he had said these things I thanked him and gave him a bit of
sausage and went along my way, for as he had walked faster than me
before our meeting and while I was still in the dumps, so now I
walked faster than him, having received good news.

All happened just as he had described. The dawn broke behind me over
the noble but sedate peaks of the Apennines; it first defined the
heights against the growing colours of the sun, it next produced a
general warmth and geniality in the air about me; it last displayed
the downward opening of the valley, and, very far off, a plain that
sloped towards the sea.

Invigorated by the new presence of the day I went forward more
rapidly, and came at last to a place where a sculptured panel made
out of marble, very clever and modern, and representing a mystery,
marked the division between two ways; and I took the lane to my
right as my companion of the night hours had advised me.

For perhaps a mile or a little more the lane rose continually
between rough walls intercepted by high banks of thorn, with here
and there a vineyard, and as it rose one had between the breaches of
the wall glimpses of an ever-growing sea: for, as one rose, the sea
became a broader and a broader belt, and the very distant islands,
which at first had been but little clouds along the horizon, stood
out and became parts of the landscape, and, as it were, framed all
the bay.

Then at last, when I had come to the height of the hill, to where it
turned a corner and ran level along the escarpment of the cliffs
that dominated the sea plain, I saw below me a considerable stretch
of country, between the fall of the ground and the distant shore,
and under the daylight which was now full and clear one could
perceive that all this plain was packed with an intense cultivation,
with houses, happiness and men.

Far off, a little to the northward, lay the mass of a town; and
stretching out into the Mediterranean with a gesture of command and
of desire were the new arms of the harbour.

To see such things filled me with a complete content. I know not
whether it be the effect of long vigil, or whether it be the effect
of contrast between the darkness and the light, but certainly to
come out of a lonely night spent on the mountains, down with the
sunlight into the civilisation of the plain, is, for any man that
cares to undergo the suffering and the consolation, as good as any
experience that life affords. Hardly had I so conceived the view
before me when I became aware, upon my right, of a sort of cavern,
or rather a little and carefully minded shrine, from which a
greeting proceeded.

I turned round and saw there a man of no great age and yet of a
venerable appearance. He was perhaps fifty-five years old, or
possibly a little less, but he had let his grey-white hair grow
longish and his beard was very ample and fine. It was he that had
addressed me. He sat dressed in a long gown in a modern and rather
luxurious chair at a low long table of chestnut wood, on which he
had placed a few books, which I saw were in several languages and
two of them not only in English, but having upon them the mark of an
English circulating library which did business in the great town at
our feet. There was also upon the table a breakfast ready of white
bread and honey, a large brown coffee-pot, two white cups, and some
goat's milk in a bowl of silver. This meal he asked me to share.

"It is my custom," he said, "when I see a traveller coming up my
mountain road to get out a cup and a plate for him, or, if it is
midday, a glass. At evening, however, no one ever comes."

"Why not?" said I.

"Because," he answered, "this lane goes but a few yards further
round the edge of the cliff, and there it ends in a precipice; the
little platform where we are is all but the end of the way. Indeed,
I chose it upon that account, seeing, when I first came here, that
from its height and isolation it was well fitted for my retreat."

I asked him how long ago that was, and he said nearly twenty years.
For all that time, he added, he had lived there, going down into the
plain but once or twice in a season and having for his rare
companions those who brought him food and the peasants on such days
as they toiled up to work at their plots towards the summit; also,
from time to time, a chance traveller like myself. But these, he
said, made but poor companions, for they were usually such as had
missed their way at the turning and arrived at that high place of
his out of breath and angry. I assured him that this was not my
case, for a man had told me in the night how to find his hermitage
and I had come of set purpose to see him. At this he smiled.

We were now seated together at table eating and talking so, when I
asked him whether he had a reputation for sanctity and whether the
people brought him food. He answered with a little hesitation that
he had a reputation, he thought, for necromancy rather than anything
else, and that upon this account it was not always easy to persuade
a messenger to bring him the books in French and English which he
ordered from below, though these were innocent enough, being, as a
rule, novels written by women or academicians, records of travel,
the classics of the Eighteenth Century, or the biographies of aged
statesmen. As for food, the people of the place did indeed bring it
to him, but not, as in an idyll, for courtesy; contrariwise, they
demanded heavy payment, and his chief difficulty was with bread;
for stale bread was intolerable to him. In the matter of religion he
would not say that he had none, but rather that he had several
religions; only at this season of the year, when everything was
fresh, pleasant and entertaining, he did not make use of any of
them, but laid them all aside. As this last saying of his had no
meaning for me I turned to another matter and said to him:

"In any solitude contemplation is the chief business of the soul.
How, then, do you, who say you practise no rites, fill up your
loneliness here?"

In answer to this question he became more animated, spoke with a
sort of laugh in his voice, and seemed as though he were young again
and as though my question had aroused a whole lifetime of good

"My contemplation," he said, not without large gestures, "is this
wide and prosperous plain below: the great city with its harbour and
ceaseless traffic of ships, the roads, the houses building, the
fields yielding every year to husbandry, the perpetual activities of
men. I watch my kind and I glory in them, too far off to be
disturbed by the friction of individuals, yet near enough to have a
daily companionship in the spectacle of so much life. The mornings,
when they are all at labour, I am inspired by their energy; in the
noons and afternoons I feel a part of their patient and vigorous
endurance; and when the sun broadens near the rim of the sea at
evening, and all work ceases, I am filled with their repose. The
lights along the harbour front in the twilight and on into the
darkness remind me of them when I can no longer see their crowds and
movements, and so does the music which they love to play in their
recreation after the fatigues of the day, and the distant songs
which they sing far into the night.

"I was about thirty years of age, and had seen (in a career of
diplomacy) many places and men; I had a fortune quite insufficient
for a life among my equals. My youth had been, therefore, anxious,
humiliated, and worn when, upon a feverish and unhappy holiday taken
from the capital of this State, I came by accident to the cave and
platform which you see. It was one of those days in which the air
exhales revelation, and I clearly saw that happiness inhabited the
mountain corner. I determined to remain for ever in so rare a
companionship, and from that day she has never abandoned me. For a
little while I kept a touch with the world by purchasing those
newspapers in which I was reported shot by brigands or devoured by
wild beasts, but the amusement soon wearied me, and now I have
forgotten the very names of my companions."

We were silent then until I said: "But some day you will die here
all alone."

"And why not?" he answered calmly. "It will be a nuisance for those
who find me, but I shall be indifferent altogether."

"That is blasphemy," says I.

"So says the priest of St. Anthony," he immediately replied--but
whether as a reproach, an argument, or a mere commentary I could not

In a little while he advised me to go down to the plain before the
heat should incommode my journey. I left him, therefore, reading a
book of Jane Austen's, and I have never seen him since.

Of the many strange men I have met in my travels he was one of the
most strange and not the least fortunate. Every word I have written
about him is true.


Ten years ago, I think, or perhaps a little less or perhaps a little
more, I came in the Euston Road--that thoroughfare of Empire--upon a
young man a little younger than myself whom I knew, though I did not
know him very well. It was drizzling and the second-hand booksellers
(who are rare in this thoroughfare) were beginning to put out the
waterproof covers over their wares. This disturbed my acquaintance,
because he was engaged upon buying a cheap book that should really
satisfy him.

Now this was difficult, for he had no hobby, and the book which
should satisfy him must be one that should describe or summon up,
or, it is better to say, hint at--or, the theologians would say,
reveal, or the Platonists would say _recall_--the Unknown Country,
which he thought was his very home.

I had known his habit of seeking such books for two years, and had
half wondered at it and half sympathised. It was an appetite partly
satisfied by almost any work that brought to him the vision of a
place in the mind which he had always intensely desired, but to
which, as he had then long guessed, and as he is now quite certain,
no human paths directly lead. He would buy with avidity travels to
the moon and to the planets, from the most worthless to the best. He
loved Utopias and did not disregard even so prosaic a category as
books of real travel, so long as by exaggeration or by a glamour in
the style they gave him a full draught of that drug which he
desired. Whether this satisfaction the young man sought was a
satisfaction in illusion (I have used the word "drug" with
hesitation), or whether it was, as he persistently maintained, the
satisfaction of a memory, or whether it was, as I am often tempted
to think, the satisfaction of a thirst which will ultimately be
quenched in every human soul I cannot tell. Whatever it was, he
sought it with more than the appetite with which a hungry man seeks
food. He sought it with something that was not hunger but passion.

That evening he found a book.

It is well known that men purchase with difficulty second-hand books
upon the stalls, and that in some mysterious way the sellers of
these books are content to provide a kind of library for the poorer
and more eager of the public, and a library admirable in this, that
it is accessible upon every shelf and exposes a man to no control,
except that he must not steal, and even in this it is nothing but
the force of public law that interferes. My friend therefore would
in the natural course of things have dipped into the book and left
it there; but a better luck persuaded him. Whether it was the
beginning of the rain or a sudden loneliness in such terrible
weather and in such a terrible town, compelling him to seek a more
permanent companionship with another mind, or whether it was my
sudden arrival and shame lest his poverty should appear in his
refusing to buy the book--whatever it was, he bought that same. And
since he bought the Book I also have known it and have found in it,
as he did, the most complete expression that I know of the Unknown
Country, of which he was a citizen--oddly a citizen, as I then
thought, wisely as I now conceive.

All that can best be expressed in words should be expressed in
verse, but verse is a slow thing to create; nay, it is not really
created: it is a secretion of the mind, it is a pearl that gathers
round some irritant and slowly expresses the very essence of beauty
and of desire that has lain long, potential and unexpressed, in the
mind of the man who secretes it. God knows that this Unknown Country
has been hit off in verse a hundred times. If I were perfectly sure
of my accents I would quote two lines from the Odyssey in which the
Unknown Country stands out as clear as does a sudden vision from a
mountain ridge when the mist lifts after a long climb and one sees
beneath one an unexpected and glorious land; such a vision as greets
a man when he comes over the Saldeu into the simple and secluded
Republic of the Andorrans. Then, again, the Germans in their idioms
have flashed it out, I am assured, for I remember a woman telling me
that there was a song by Schiller which exactly gave the revelation
of which I speak. In English, thank Heaven, emotion of this kind,
emotion necessary to the life of the soul, is very abundantly
furnished. As, who does not know the lines:

Blessed with that which is not in the word
Of man nor his conception: Blessed Land!

Then there is also the whole group of glimpses which Shakespeare
amused himself by scattering as might a man who had a great oak
chest full of jewels and who now and then, out of kindly fun, poured
out a handful and gave them to his guests. I quote from memory, but
I think certain of the lines run more or less like this:

Look how the dawn in russet mantle clad
Stands on the steep of yon high eastern hill.

And again:

Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Which moves me to digress.... How on earth did any living man pull
it off as well as that? I remember arguing with a man who very
genuinely thought the talent of Shakespeare was exaggerated in
public opinion, and discovering at the end of a long wrangle that he
was not considering Shakespeare as a poet. But as a poet, then, how
on earth did he manage it?

Keats did it continually, especially in the _Hyperion_. Milton
does it so well in the Fourth Book of _Paradise Lost_ that I
defy any man of a sane understanding to read the whole of that book
before going to bed and not to wake up next morning as though he had
been on a journey. William Morris does it, especially in the verses
about a prayer over the corn; and as for Virgil, the poet Virgil, he
does it continually like a man whose very trade it is. Who does not
remember the swimmer who saw Italy from the top of the wave?

Here also let me digress. How do the poets do it? (I do not mean
where do they get their power, as I was asking just now of
Shakespeare, but how do the words, simple or complex, produce that
effect?) Very often there is not any adjective, sometimes not any
qualification at all: often only one subject with its predicate and
its statement and its object. There is never any detail of
description, but the scene rises, more vivid in colour, more exact
in outline, more wonderful in influence, than anything we can see
with our eyes, except perhaps those things we see in the few moments
of intense emotion which come to us, we know not whence, and expand
out into completion and into manhood.

Catullus does it. He does it so powerfully in the opening lines of

_Vesper adest_ ...

that a man reads the first couplet of that Hymeneal, and immediately
perceives the Apennines.

The nameless translator of the Highland song does it, especially
when he advances that battering line--

And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.

They all do it, bless their hearts, the poets, which leads me back
again to the mournful reflection that it cannot be done in prose....

Little friends, my readers, I wish it could be done in prose, for if
it could, and if I knew how to do it, I would here present to you
that Unknown Country in such a fashion that every landscape which
you should see henceforth would be transformed, by the appearing
through it, the shining and uplifting through it, of the Unknown
Country upon which reposes this tedious and repetitive world.

Now you may say to me that prose can do it, and you may quote to me
the end of the _Pilgrim's Progress_, a very remarkable piece of
writing. Or, better still, as we shall be more agreed upon it, the
general impression left upon the mind by the book which set me
writing--Mr. Hudson's _Crystal Age_. I do not deny that prose
can do it, but when it does it, it is hardly to be called prose, for
it is inspired. Note carefully the passages in which the trick is
worked in prose (for instance, in the story of Ruth in the Bible,
where it is done with complete success), you will perceive an
incantation and a spell. Indeed this same episode of Ruth in exile
has inspired two splendid passages of European verse, of which it is
difficult to say which is the more national, and therefore the
greatest, Victor Hugo's in the _Legende des Siecles_ or Keats's
astounding four lines.

There was a shepherd the other day up at Findon Fair who had come
from the east by Lewes with sheep, and who had in his eyes that
reminiscence of horizons which makes the eyes of shepherds and of
mountaineers different from the eyes of other men. He was occupied
when I came upon him in pulling Mr. Fulton's sheep by one hind leg
so that they should go the way they were desired to go. It happened
that day that Mr. Fulton's sheep were not sold, and the shepherd
went driving them back through Findon Village, and up on to the high
Downs. I went with him to hear what he had to say, for shepherds
talk quite differently from other men. And when we came on to the
shoulder of Chanctonbury and looked down upon the Weald, which
stretched out like the Plains of Heaven, he said to me: "I never
come here but it seems like a different place down below, and as
though it were not the place where I have gone afoot with sheep
under the hills. It seems different when you are looking down at
it." He added that he had never known why. Then I knew that he, like
myself, was perpetually in perception of the Unknown Country, and I
was very pleased. But we did not say anything more to each other
about it until we got down into Steyning. There we drank together
and we still said nothing more about it, so that to this day all we
know of the matter is what we knew when we started, and what you
knew when I began to write this, and what you are now no further
informed upon, namely, that there is an Unknown Country lying
beneath the places that we know, and appearing only in moments of

Whether we shall reach this country at last or whether we shall not,
it is impossible to determine.


A woman whose presence in English letters will continue to increase
wrote of a cause to which she had dedicated her life that it was
like that Faery Castle of which men became aware when they wandered
upon a certain moor. In that deserted place (the picture was taken
from the writings of Sir Walter Scott) the lonely traveller heard
above him a noise of bugles in the air, and thus a Faery Castle was
revealed; but again, when the traveller would reach it, a doom comes
upon him, and in the act of its attainment it vanishes away.

We are northern, full of dreams in the darkness; this Castle is
caught in glimpses, a misty thing. It is seen a moment--then it
mixes once again with the mist of our northern air, and when that
mist has lifted from the heath there is nothing before the watcher
but a bare upland open to the wind and roofed only by hurrying
cloud. Yet in the moment of revelation most certainly the traveller
perceived it, and the call of its bugle-guard was very clear. He
continues his way perceiving only the things he knows--trees bent by
the gale, rude heather, the gravel of the path, and mountains all
around. In that landscape he has no companion; yet he cannot but be
haunted, as he goes, by towers upon which he surely looked, and by
the sharp memory of bugle-notes that still seem to startle his

In our legends of Western Europe this Castle perpetually returns. It
has been seen not only on the highlands of Ireland, of Wales, of
Brittany, of the Asturias, of Normandy, and of Auvergne, but in the
plains also, and on those river meadows where wealth comes so fast
that even simple men early forget the visions of the hills. The
imagination, or rather the speech, of our race has created or
recognised throughout our territory this stronghold which was not
altogether of the world.

Queen Iseult, as she sat with Tristan in a Castle Garden, towards
the end of a summer night, whispered to him: "Tristan, they say that
this Castle is Faery; it is revealed at the sound of a Trumpet, but
presently it vanishes away," and as she said it the bugles rang

Raymond of Saragossa saw this Castle, also, as he came down from the
wooded hills after he had found the water of life and was bearing it
towards the plain. He saw the towers quite clearly and also thought
he heard the call upon that downward road at whose end he was to
meet with Bramimonde. But he saw it thence only, in the exaltation
of the summits as he looked over the falling forest to the plain and
the Sierra miles beyond. He saw it thence only. Never after upon
either bank of Ebro could he come upon it, nor could any man assure
him of the way.

In the Story of Val-es-Dunes, Hugh the Fortinbras out of the
Cotentin had a castle of this kind. For when, after the battle, they
count the dead, the Priest finds in the sea-grass among other bodies
that of this old Lord....

... and Hugh that trusted in his glass,
But rode not home the day;
Whose title was the Fortinbras
With the Lords of his Array.

This was that old Hugh the Fortinbras who had been Lord to the
Priest's father, so that when the battle was engaged the Priest
watched him from the opposing rank, and saw him fall, far off, just
as the line broke and before the men of the Caux country had room to
charge. It was easy to see him, for he rode a high horse and was
taller than other Normans, and when his horse was wounded....

... The girth severed and the saddle swung
And he went down;
He never more sang winter songs
In his High Town.

In his High Town that Faery is
And stands on Harcourt Lea;
To summon him up his arrier-ban
His writ beyond the mountain ran.
My father was his serving-man;
Although the farm was free.
Before the angry wars began
He was a friend to me!

In his High Town that Faery is
And stands on Harcourt bay;
The Fisher driving through the night
Makes harbour by that castle height
And moors him till the day:
But with the broadening of the light
It vanishes away.

So the Faery Castle comes in by an illusion in the Ballad of the
Battle of Val-es-Dunes.

* * * * *

What is this vision which our race has so symbolised or so seen and
to which are thus attached its oldest memories? It is the miraculous
moment of intense emotion in which whether we are duped or
transfigured we are in touch with a reality firmer than the reality
of this world. The Faery Castle is the counterpart and the example
of those glimpses which every man has enjoyed, especially in youth,
and which no man even in the dust of middle age can quite forget. In
these were found a complete harmony and satisfaction which were not
negative nor dependent upon the absence of discord--such completion
as criticism may conceive--but as positive as colour or as music,
and clothed as it were in a living body of joy.

The vision may be unreal or real, in either case it is valid: if it
is unreal it is a symbol of the world behind the world. But it is no
less a symbol; even if it is unreal it is a sudden seeing of the
place to which our faces are set during this unbroken marching of

Once on the Sacramento River a little before sunrise I looked
eastward from a boat and saw along the dawn the black edge of the
Sierras. The peaks were as sharp as are the Malvern from the
Cotswold, though they were days and days away. They made a broad
jagged band intensely black against the glow of the sky. I drew them
so. A tiny corner of the sun appeared between two central peaks:--at
once the whole range was suffused with glory. The sun was wholly
risen and the mountains had completely disappeared,--in the place
where they had been was the sky of the horizon.

At another time, also in a boat, I saw beyond a spit of the Tunisian
coast, as it seemed a flat island. Through the heat, with which the
air trembled, was a low gleam of sand, a palm or two, and, less
certainly, the flats and domes of a white native village. Our
course, which was to round the point, went straight for this island,
and, as we approached, it became first doubtful, then flickering,
then a play of light upon the waves. It was a mirage, and it had
melted into the air.

* * * * *

There is a part of us, as all the world knows, which is immixed with
change and by change only can live. There is another part which lies
behind motion and time, and that part is ourselves. This diviner
part has surely a stronghold which is also an inheritance. It has a
home which perhaps it remembers and which certainly it conceives at
rare moments during our path over the moor.

This is that Faery Castle. It is revealed at the sound of a trumpet;
we turn our eyes, we glance and we perceive it; we strain to reach
it--in the very effort of our going the doom of human labour falls
upon us and it vanishes away.

It is real or unreal. It is unreal like that island which I thought
to see some miles from Africa, but which was not truly there: for
the ship when it came to the place that island had occupied sailed
easily over an empty sea. It is real, like those high Sierras which
I drew from the Sacramento River at the turn of the night and which
were suddenly obliterated by the rising sun.

Where the vision is but mirage, even there it is a symbol of our
goal; where it stands fast and true, for however brief a moment, it
can illumine, and should determine the whole of our lives. For such
sights are the manifestation of that glory which lies permanent
beyond the changing of the world. Of such a sort are the young
passionate intentions to relieve the burden of mankind, first love,
the mood created by certain strains of music, and--as I am willing
to believe--the Walls of Heaven.


The ship had sailed northward in an even manner and under a sky that
was full of stars, when the dawn broke and the full day quickly
broadened over the Mediterranean. With the advent of the light the
salt of the sea seemed stronger, and there certainly arose a new
freshness in the following air; but as yet no land appeared. Until
at last, seated as I was alone in the fore part of the vessel, I
clearly saw a small unchanging shape far off before me, peaked upon
the horizon and grey like a cloud. This I watched, wondering what
its name might be, who lived upon it, or what its fame was; for it
was certainly land.

I watched in this manner for some hours--perhaps for two--when the
island, now grown higher, was so near that I could see trees upon
it; but they were set sparsely, as trees are on a dry land, and most
of them seemed to be thorn trees.

It was at this moment that a man who had been singing to himself in
a low tone aft came up to me and told me that this island was called
the Island of Goats and that there were no men upon it to his
knowledge, that it was a lonely place and worth little. But by this
time there had risen beyond the Island of Goats another and much
larger land.

It lay all along the north in a mountainous belt of blue, and any
man coming to it for the first time or unacquainted with maps would
have said to himself: "I have found a considerable place." And,
indeed, the name of the island indicates this, for it is called
Majorca, "The Larger Land." Towards this, past the Island of Goats,
and past the Strait, we continued to sail with a light breeze for
hours, until at last we could see on this shore also sparse trees;
but most of them were olive trees, and they were relieved with the
green of cultivation up the high mountain sides and with the white
houses of men.

The deck was now crowded with people, most of whom were coming back
to their own country after an exile in Africa among un-Christian and
dangerous things. The little children who had not yet known Europe,
having been born beyond the sea, were full of wonder; but their
parents, who knew the shortness of human life and its trouble, were
happy because they had come back at last and saw before them the
known jetties and the familiar hills of home. As I was surrounded by
so much happiness, I myself felt as though I had come to the end of
a long journey and was reaching my own place, though I was, in
reality, bound for Barcelona, and after that up northward through
the Cerdagne, and after that to Perigord, and after that to the
Channel, and so to Sussex, where all journeys end.

The harbour had about it that Mediterranean-go-as-you-please which
everywhere in the Mediterranean distinguishes harbours. It was as
though the men of that sea had said: "It never blows for long: let
us build ourselves a rough refuge and to-morrow sail away." We
neared this harbour, but we flew no flag and made no signal. Beneath
us the water was so clear that all one need have done to have
brought the vessel in if one had not known the channel would have
been to lean over the side and to keep the boy at the helm off the
very evident shallows and the crusted rocks by gestures of one's
hands, for the fairway was like a trench, deep and blue. So we slid
into Palma haven, and as we rounded the pier the light wind took us
first abeam and then forward; then we let go and she swung up and
was still. They lowered the sails.

The people who were returning were so full of activity and joy that
it was like a hive of bees; but I no longer felt this as I had felt
their earlier and more subdued emotion, for the place was no longer
distant or mysterious as it had been when first its sons and
daughters had come up on deck to welcome it and had given me part of
their delight. It was now an evident and noisy town; hot, violent,
and strong. The houses had about them a certain splendour, the
citizens upon the quays a satisfied and prosperous look. Its
streets, where they ran down towards the sea, were charmingly clean
and cared for, and the architecture of its wealthier mansions seemed
to me at once unusual and beautiful, for I had not yet seen Spain.
Each house, so far as I could make out from the water, was entered
by a fine sculptured porch which gave into a cool courtyard with
arcades under it, and most of the larger houses had escutcheons
carved in stone upon their walls.

But what most pleased me and also seemed most strange was to see
against the East a vast cathedral quite Northern in outline, except
for a severity and discipline of which the North is incapable save
when it has steeped itself in the terseness of the classics.

This monument was far larger than anything in the town. It stood out
separate from the town and dominated it upon its seaward side,
somewhat as might an isolated hill, a shore fortress of rock. It was
almost bare of ornament; its stones were very carefully worked and
closely fitted, and little waves broke ceaselessly along the base of
its rampart. Landwards, a mass of low houses which seemed to touch
the body of the building did but emphasise its height. When I had
landed I made at once for this cathedral, and with every step it
grew greater.

We who are of the North are accustomed to the enormous; we have
unearthly sunsets and the clouds magnify our hills. The Southern men
see nothing but misproportion in what is enormous. They love to have
things in order, and violence in art is odious to them. This high
and dreadful roof had not been raised under the influences of the
island; it had surely been designed just after the re-conquest from
the Mohammedans, when a turbulent army, not only of Gascons and
Catalans, but of Normans also and of Frisians, and of Rhenish men,
had poured across the water and had stormed the sea-walls. On this
account the cathedral had about it in its sky-line and in its
immensity, and in the Gothic point of its windows, a Northern air.
But in its austerity and in its magnificence it was Spaniard.

As I passed the little porch of entry in the side wall I saw a man.
He was standing silent and alone; he was not blind and perhaps not
poor, and as I passed he begged the charity not of money but of
prayers. When I had entered the cool and darkness of the nave, his
figure still remained in my mind, and I could not forget it. I
remembered the straw hat upon his head and the suit of blue canvas
which he wore, and the rough staff of wood in his hand. I was
especially haunted by his expression, which was patient and masqued
as though he were enduring a pain and chose to hide it.

The nave was empty. It was a great hollow that echoed and re-echoed;
there were no shrines and no lamps, and no men or women praying, and
therefore the figure at the door filled my mind more and more, until
I went out and asked him if he was in need of money, of which at
that moment I had none. He answered that his need was not for money
but only for prayers.

"Why," said I, "do you need prayers?"

He said it was because his fate was upon him.

I think he spoke the truth. He was standing erect and with dignity,
his eyes were not disturbed, and he repeatedly refused the alms of

"No one" said I, "should yield to these moods."

He answered nothing, but looked pensive like a man gazing at a
landscape and remembering his life.

But it was now the hour when the ship was to be sailing again, and I
could not linger, though I wished very much to talk more with him. I
begged him to name a shrine where a gift might be of especial value
to him. He said that he was attached to no one shrine more than to
any other, and then I went away regretfully, remembering how
earnestly he had asked for prayers.

This was in Palma of Majorca not two years ago. There are many such
men, but few who speak so humbly.

When I had got aboard again the ship sailed out and rounded a
lighthouse point and then made north to Barcelona. The night fell,
and next morning there rose before us the winged figures that crown
the Custom House of that port and are an introduction to the glories
of Spain.


A Young Man of my acquaintance having passed his twenty-eighth
birthday, and wrongly imagining this date to represent the Grand
Climacteric, went by night in some perturbation to an Older Man and
spoke to him as follows:

"Sir! I have intruded upon your leisure in order to ask your advice
upon certain matters."

The Older Man, whose thoughts were at that moment intently set upon
money, looked up in a startled way and attempted to excuse himself,
suffering as he did from the delusion that the Young Man was after a
loan. But the Young Man, whose mind was miles away from all such
trifling things, continued to press him anxiously without so much as
noticing that he had perturbed his Senior.

"I have come, Sir," said he, "to ask your opinion, advice,
experience, and guidance upon something very serious which has
entered into my life, which is, briefly, that I feel myself to be
growing old."

Upon hearing this so comforting and so reasonable a statement the
Older Man heaved a profound sigh of relief and turning to him a
mature and smiling visage (as also turning towards him his person
and in so doing turning his Polished American Hickory Wood Office
Chair), answered with a peculiar refinement, but not without
sadness, "I shall be happy to be of any use I can"; from which order
and choice of words the reader might imagine that the Older Man was
himself a Colonial, like his chair. In this imagination the reader,
should he entertain it, would be deceived.

The Younger Man then proceeded, knotting his forehead and putting
into his eyes that troubled look which is proper to virtue and to

"Oh, Sir! I cannot tell you how things seem to be slipping from me!
I smell less keenly and taste less keenly, I enjoy less keenly and
suffer less keenly than I did. Of many things which I certainly
desired I can only say that I now desire them in a more confused
manner. Of certain propositions in which I intensely believed I can
only say that I now see them interfered with and criticised
perpetually, not, as was formerly the case, by my enemies, but by
the plain observance of life, and what is worse, I find growing in
me a habit of reflection for reflection's sake, leading nowhere--and
a sort of sedentary attitude in which I watch but neither judge nor
support nor attack any portion of mankind."

The Older Man, hearing this speech, congratulated his visitor upon
his terse and accurate methods of expression, detailed to him the
careers in which such habits of terminology are valuable, and also
those in which they are a fatal fault.

"Having heard you," he said, "it is my advice to you, drawn from a
long experience of men, to enter the legal profession, and, having
entered it, to supplement your income with writing occasional
articles for the more dignified organs of the Press. But if this
prospect does not attract you (and, indeed, there are many whom it
has repelled) I would offer you as an alternative that you should
produce slowly, at about the rate of one in every two years, short
books compact of irony, yet having running through them like a
twisted thread up and down, emerging, hidden, and re-emerging in the
stuff of your writing, a memory of those early certitudes and even
of passion for those earlier revelations."

When the Older Man had said this he sat silent for a few moments and
then added gravely, "But I must warn you that for such a career you
need an accumulated capital of at least L30,000."

The Young Man was not comforted by advice of this sort, and was
determined to make a kind of war upon the doctrine which seemed to
underlie it. He said in effect that if he could not be restored to
the pristine condition which he felt to be slipping from him he
would as lief stop living.

On hearing this second statement the Older Man became extremely

"Young Man," said he, "Young Man, consider well what you are saying!
The poet Shakespeare in his most remarkable effort, which, I need
hardly tell you, is the tragedy of _Hamlet, or the Prince of
Denmark,_ has remarked that the thousand doors of death stand
open. I may be misquoting the words, and if I am I do so boldly and
without fear, for any fool with a book at his elbow can get the
words right and yet not understand their meaning. Let me assure you
that the doors of death are not so simply hinged, and that any
determination to force them involves the destruction of much more
than these light though divine memories of which you speak; they
involve, indeed, the destruction of the very soul which conceives
them. And let me assure you, not upon my own experience, but upon
that of those who have drowned themselves imperfectly, who have
enlisted in really dangerous wars, or who have fired revolvers at
themselves in a twisted fashion with their right hands, that, quite
apart from that evil to the soul of which I speak, the evil to the
mere body in such experiments is so considerable that a man would
rather go to the dentist than experience them.... You will forgive
me," he added earnestly, "for speaking in this gay manner upon an
important philosophical subject, but long hours of work at the
earning of my living force me to some relaxation towards the end of
the day, and I cannot restrain a frivolous spirit even in the
discussion of such fundamental things.... No, do not, as you put it,
'stop living.' It hurts, and no one has the least conception of
whether it is a remedy. What is more, the life in front of you will
prove, after a few years, as entertaining as the life which you are
rapidly leaving."

The Young Man caught on to this last phrase, and said, "What do you
mean by 'entertaining'?"

"I intend," said the Older Man, "to keep my advice to you in the
note to which I think such advice should be set. I will not burden
it with anything awful, nor weight an imperfect diction with
absolute verities in which I do indeed believe, but which would be
altogether out of place at this hour of the evening. I will not deny
that from eleven till one, and especially if one be delivering an
historical, or, better still, a theological lecture, one can without
loss of dignity allude to the permanent truth, the permanent beauty,
and the permanent security without which human life wreathes up like
mist and is at the best futile, at the worst tortured. But you must
remember that you have come to me suddenly with a most important
question, after dinner, that I have but just completed an essay upon
the economic effect of the development of the Manchurian coalfields,
and that (what is more important) all this talk began in a certain
key, and that to change one's key is among the most difficult of
creative actions.... No, Young Man, I shall not venture upon the
true reply to your question."

On hearing this answer the Young Man began to curse and to swear and
to say that he had looked everywhere for help and had never found
it; that he was minded to live his own life and to see what would
come of it; that he thought the Older Man knew nothing of what he
was talking about, but was wrapping it all up in words; that he had
clearly recognised in the Older Man's intolerable prolixity several
cliches or ready-made phrases; that he hoped on reaching the Older
Man's age he would not have been so utterly winnowed of all
substance as to talk so aimlessly; and finally that he prayed God
for a personal development more full of justice, of life, and of
stuff than that which the Older Man appeared to have suffered or

On hearing these words the Older Man leapt to his feet (which was
not an easy thing for him to do) and as one overjoyed grasped the
Younger Man by the hand, though the latter very much resented such
antics on the part of Age.

"That is it! That is it!" cried the Older Man, looking now far too
old for his years. "If I have summoned up in you that spirit I have
not done ill! Get you forward in that mood and when you come to my
time of life you will be as rotund and hopeful a fellow as I am

But having heard these words the Young Man left him in disgust.

The Older Man, considering all these things as he looked into the
fire when he was alone, earnestly desired that he could have told
the Young Man the exact truth, have printed it, and have produced a
proper Gospel. But considering the mountains of impossibility that
lay in the way of such public action, he sighed deeply and took to
the more indirect method. He turned to his work and continued to
perform his own duty before God and for the help of mankind. This,
on that evening, was for him a review upon the interpretation of the
word _haga_ in the Domesday Inquest. This kept him up till a
quarter past one, and as he had to take a train to Newcastle at
eight next morning it is probable that much will be forgiven him
when things are cleared.


_C'est ma Jeunesse qui s'en va.
Adieu! la tres gente compagne--
Oncques ne suis moins gai pour ca
(C'est ma Jeunesse qui s'en va)
Et lon-lon-laire, et lon-lon-la
Peut-etre perd's; peut-etre gagne.
C'est ma Jeunesse qui s'en va._

(From the Author's MSS. In the library of the Abbey of Theleme.)

Host: Well, Youth, I see you are about to leave me, and since it is
in the terms of your service by no means to exceed a certain period
in my house, I must make up my mind to bid you farewell.

Youth: Indeed, I would stay if I could; but the matter lies as you
know in other hands, and I may not stay.

Host: I trust, dear Youth, that you have found all comfortable while
you were my guest, that the air has suited you and the company?

Youth: I thank you, I have never enjoyed a visit more; you may say
that I have been most unusually happy.

Host: Then let me ring for the servant who shall bring down your

Youth: I thank you civilly! I have brought them down already--see,
they are here. I have but two, one very large bag and this other
small one.

Host: Why, you have not locked the small one! See it gapes!

Youth (_somewhat embarrassed_): My dear Host ... to tell the
truth ... I usually put it off till the end of my visits ... but the
truth ... to tell the truth, my luggage is of two kinds.

Host: I do not see why that need so greatly confuse you.

Youth (_still more embarrassed_): But you see--the fact is--I
stay with people so long that--well, that very often they forget
which things are mine and which belong to the house ... And--well,
the truth is that I have to take away with me a number of things
which ... which, in a word, you may possibly have thought your own.

Host (_coldly_): Oh!

Youth (_eagerly_): Pray do not think the worse of me--you know
how strict are my orders.

Host (_sadly_): Yes, I know; you will plead that Master of
yours, and no doubt you are right.... But tell me, Youth, what are
those things?

Youth: They fill this big bag. But I am not so ungracious as you
think. See, in this little bag, which I have purposely left open,
are a number of things properly mine, yet of which I am allowed to
make gifts to those with whom I lingered--you shall choose among
them, or if you will, you shall have them all.

Host: Well, first tell me what you have packed in the big bag and
mean to take away.

Youth: I will open it and let you see. (_He unlocks it and pulls
the things out_.) I fear they are familiar to you.

Host: Oh! Youth! Youth! Must you take away all of these? Why, you
are taking away, as it were, my very self! Here is the love of
women, as deep and changeable as an opal; and here is carelessness
that looks like a shower of pearls. And here I see--Oh! Youth, for
shame!--you are taking away that silken stuff which used to wrap up
the whole and which you once told me had no name, but which lent to
everything it held plenitude and satisfaction. Without it surely
pleasures are not all themselves. Leave me that at least.

Youth: No, I must take it, for it is not yours, though from courtesy
I forbore to tell you so till now. These also go: Facility, the
ointment; Sleep, the drug; Full Laughter, that tolerated all
follies. It was the only musical thing in the house. And I must
take--yes, I fear I must take Verse.

HOST: Then there is nothing left!

YOUTH: Oh! yes! See this little open bag which you may choose from!
Feel it!

HOST (_lifting it_): Certainly it is very heavy, but it rattles
and is uncertain.

YOUTH: That is because it is made up of divers things having no
similarity; and you may take all or leave all, or choose as you
will. Here (_holding up a clout_) is Ambition: Will you have

HOST (_doubtfully_): I cannot tell.... It has been mine and yet
... without those other things....

YOUTH (_cheerfully_): Very well, I will leave it. You shall
decide on it a few years hence. Then, here is the perfume Pride.
Will you have that?

HOST: No; I will have none of it. It is false and corrupt, and only
yesterday I was for throwing it out of window to sweeten the air in
my room.

YOUTH: So far you have chosen well; now pray choose more.

HOST: I will have this--and this--and this. I will take Health
(_takes it out of the bag_), not that it is of much use to me
without those other things, but I have grown used to it. Then I will
take this (_takes out a plain steel purse and chain_), which is
the tradition of my family, and which I desire to leave to my son. I
must have it cleaned. Then I will take this (_pulls out a trinket_),
which is the Sense of Form and Colour. I am told it is of less value
later on, but it is a pleasant ornament ... And so, Youth, goodbye.

Youth (_with a mysterious smile_): Wait--I have something else
for you (_he feels in his ticket pocket_); no less a thing
(_he feels again in his watch pocket_) than (_he looks a trifle anxious
and feels in his waistcoat pockets_) a promise from my Master, signed
and sealed, to give you back all I take and more in Immortality! (_He
feels in his handkerchief pocket._)

Host: Oh! Youth!

Youth (_still feeling_): Do not thank me! It is my Master you
should thank. (_Frowns_.) Dear me! I hope I have not lost it!
(_Feels in his trousers pockets._)

Host (_loudly_): Lost it?

Youth (_pettishly_): I did not say I had lost it! I said I
hoped I had not ... (_feels in his great-coat pocket, and pulls
out an envelope_). Ah! Here it is! (_His face clouds over_.)
No, that is the message to Mrs. George, telling her the time has
come to get a wig ... (_Hopelessly_): Do you know I am afraid I
have lost it! I am really very sorry--I cannot wait. (_He goes


I knew a man once who made a great case of Death, saying that he
esteemed a country according to its regard for the conception of
Death, and according to the respect which it paid to that
conception. He also said that he considered individuals by much the
same standard, but that he did not judge them so strictly in the
matter, because (said he) great masses of men are more permanently
concerned with great issues; whereas private citizens are disturbed
by little particular things which interfere with their little
particular lives, and so distract them from the general end.

This was upon a river called Boutonne, in Vendee, and at the time I
did not understand what he meant because as yet I had had no
experience of these things. But this man to whom I spoke had had
three kinds of experience; first, he had himself been very probably
the occasion of Death in others, for he had been a soldier in a war
of conquest where the Europeans were few and the Barbarians many!
secondly, he had been himself very often wounded, and more than once
all but killed; thirdly, he was at the time he told me this thing an
old man who must in any case soon come to that experience or
catastrophe of which he spoke.

He was an innkeeper, the father of two daughters, and his inn was by
the side of the river, but the road ran between. His face was more
anxiously earnest than is commonly the face of a French peasant, as
though he had suffered more than do ordinarily that very prosperous,
very virile, and very self-governing race of men. He had also about
him what many men show who have come sharply against the great
realities, that is, a sort of diffidence in talking of ordinary
things. I could see that in the matters of his household he allowed
himself to be led by women. Meanwhile he continued to talk to me
over the table upon this business of Death, and as he talked he
showed that desire to persuade which is in itself the strongest
motive of interest in any human discourse.

He said to me that those who affected to despise the consideration
of Death knew nothing of it; that they had never seen it close and
might be compared to men who spoke of battles when they had only
read books about battles, or who spoke of sea-sickness though they
had never seen the sea. This last metaphor he used with some pride,
for he had crossed the Mediterranean from Provence to Africa some
five or six times, and had upon each occasion suffered horribly;
for, of course, his garrison had been upon the edge of the desert,
and he had been a soldier beyond the Atlas. He told me that those
who affected to neglect or to despise Death were worse than children
talking of grown-up things, and were more like prigs talking of
physical things of which they knew nothing.

I told him then that there were many such men, especially in the
town of Geneva. This, he said, he could well believe, though he had
never travelled there, and had hardly heard the name of the place.
But he knew it for some foreign town. He told me, also, that there
were men about in his own part of the world who pretended that since
Death was an accident like any other, and, moreover, one as certain
as hunger or as sleep, it was not to be considered. These, he said,
were the worst debaters upon his favourite subject.

Now as he talked in this fashion I confess that I was very bored. I
had desired to go on to Angouleme upon my bicycle, and I was at that
age when all human beings think themselves immortal. I had desired
to get off the main high road into the hills upon the left, to the
east of it, and I was at an age when the cessation of mundane
experience is not a conceivable thing. Moreover, this innkeeper had
been pointed out to me as a man who could give very useful
information upon the nature of the roads I had to travel, and it had
never occurred to me that he would switch me off after dinner upon a
hobby of his own. To-day, after a wider travel, I know well that all
innkeepers have hobbies, and that an abstract or mystical hobby of
this sort is amongst the best with which to pass an evening. But no
matter, I am talking of then and not now. He kept me, therefore,
uninterested as I was, and continued:

"People who put Death away from them, who do not neglect or despise
it but who stop thinking about it, annoy me very much. We have in
this village a chemist of such a kind. He will have it that, five
minutes afterwards, a man thinks no more about it." Having gone so
far, the innkeeper, clenching his hands and fixing me with a
brilliant glance from his old eyes, said:

"With such men I will have nothing to do!"

Indeed, that his chief subject should be treated in such a fashion
was odious to him, and rightly, for of the half-dozen things worth
strict consideration, there is no doubt that his hobby was the
chief, and to have one's hobby vulgarly despised is intolerable.

The innkeeper then went on to tell me that so far as he could make
out it was a man's business to consider this subject of Death
continually, to wonder upon it, and, if he could, to extract its
meaning. Of the men I had met so far in life, only the Scotch and
certain of the Western French went on in this metaphysical manner:
thus a Breton, a Basque, and a man in Ecclefechan (I hope I spell it
right) and another in Jedburgh had already each of them sent me to
my bed confused upon the matter of free will. So this Western
innkeeper refused to leave his thesis. It was incredible to him that
a Sentient Being who perpetually accumulated experience, who grew
riper and riper, more and more full of such knowledge as was native
to himself and complementary to his nature, should at the very
crisis of his success in all things intellectual and emotional,
cease suddenly. It was further an object to him of vast curiosity
why such a being, since a future was essential to it, should find
that future veiled.

He presented to me a picture of men perpetually passing through a
field of vision out of the dark and into the dark. He showed me
these men, not growing and falling as fruits do (so the modern
vulgar conception goes) but alive throughout their transit: pouring
like an unbroken river from one sharp limit of the horizon whence
they entered into life to that other sharp limit where they poured
out from life, not through decay, but through a sudden catastrophe.

"I," said he, "shall die, I do suppose, with a full consciousness of
my being and with a great fear in my eyes. And though many die
decrepit and senile, that is not the normal death of men, for men
have in them something of a self-creative power, which pushes them
on to the further realisation of themselves, right up to the edge of
their doom."

I put his words in English after a great many years, but they were
something of this kind, for he was a metaphysical sort of man.

It was now near midnight, and I could bear with such discussions no
longer; my fatigue was great and the hour at which I had to rise
next day was early. It was, therefore, in but a drowsy state that I
heard him continue his discourse. He told me a long story of how he
had seen one day a company of young men of the New Army, the
conscripts, go marching past his house along the river through a
driving snow. He said that first he heard them singing long before
he saw them, that then they came out like ghosts for a moment
through the drift, that then in the half light of the winter dawn
they clearly appeared, all in step for once, swinging forward,
muffled in their dark blue coats, and still singing to the lift of
their feet; that then on their way to the seaport, they passed again
into the blinding scurry of the snow, that they seemed like ghosts
again for a moment behind the veil of it, and that long after they
had disappeared their singing could still be heard.

By this time I was most confused as to what lesson he would convey,
and sleep had nearly overcome me, but I remember his telling me that
such a sight stood to him at the moment and did still stand for the
passage of the French Armies perpetually on into the dark, century
after century, destroyed for the most part upon fields of battle. He
told me that he felt like one who had seen the retreat from Moscow,
and he would, I am sure, had I not determined to leave him and to
take at least some little sleep, have asked me what fate there was
for those single private soldiers, each real, each existent, while
the Army which they made up and of whose "destruction" men spoke,
was but a number, a notion, a name. He would have pestered me, if my
mind had still been active, as to what their secret destinies were
who lay, each man alone, twisted round the guns after the failure to
hold the Bridge of the Beresina. He might have gone deeper, but I
was too tired to listen to him any more.

This human debate of ours (and very one-sided it was!) is now
resolved, for in the interval since it was engaged the innkeeper
himself has died.


Of all the simple actions in the world! Of all the simple actions in
the world!

One would think it could be done with less effort than the heaving
of a sigh.... Well--then, one would be wrong.

There is no case of Coming to an End but has about it something of
an effort and a jerk, as though Nature abhorred it, and though it be
true that some achieve a quiet and a perfect end to one thing or
another (as, for instance, to Life), yet this achievement is not
arrived at save through the utmost toil, and consequent upon the
most persevering and exquisite art.

Now you can say that this may be true of sentient things but not of
things inanimate. It is true even of things inanimate.

Look down some straight railway line for a vanishing point to the
perspective: you will never find it. Or try to mark the moment when
a small target becomes invisible. There is no gradation; a moment it
was there, and you missed it--possibly because the Authorities were
not going in for journalism that day, and had not chosen a dead calm
with the light full on the canvas. A moment it was there and then,
as you steamed on, it was gone. The same is true of a lark in the
air. You see it and then you do not see it, you only hear its song.
And the same is true of that song: you hear it and then suddenly you
do not hear it. It is true of a human voice, which is familiar in
your ear, living and inhabiting the rooms of your house. There comes
a day when it ceases altogether--and how positive, how definite and
hard is that Coming to an End.

It does not leave an echo behind it, but a sharp edge of emptiness,
and very often as one sits beside the fire the memory of that voice
suddenly returning gives to the silence about one a personal force,
as it were, of obsession and of control. So much happens when even
one of all our million voices Comes to an End.

It is necessary, it is august and it is reasonable that the great
story of our lives also should be accomplished and should reach a
term: and yet there is something in that hidden duality of ours
which makes the prospect of so natural a conclusion terrible, and it
is the better judgment of mankind and the mature conclusion of
civilisations in their age that there is not only a conclusion here
but something of an adventure also. It may be so.

Those who solace mankind and are the principal benefactors of it, I
mean the poets and the musicians, have attempted always to ease the
prospect of Coming to an End, whether it were the Coming to an End
of the things we love or of that daily habit and conversation which
is our life and is the atmosphere wherein we loved them. Indeed this
is a clear test whereby you may distinguish the great artists from
the mean hucksters and charlatans, that the first approach and
reveal what is dreadful with calm and, as it were, with a purpose to
use it for good while the vulgar catchpenny fellows must liven up
their bad dishes as with a cheap sauce of the horrible, caring
nothing, so that their shrieks sell, whether we are the better for
them or no.

The great poets, I say, bring us easily or grandly to the gate: as
in that _Ode to a Nightingale_ where it is thought good (in an
immortal phrase) to pass painlessly at midnight, or, in the glorious
line which Ronsard uses, like a salute with the sword, hailing "la
profitable mort."

The noblest or the most perfect of English elegies leaves, as a sort
of savour after the reading of it, no terror at all nor even too
much regret, but the landscape of England at evening, when the smoke
of the cottages mixes with autumn vapours among the elms; and even
that gloomy modern _Ode to the West Wind_, unfinished and
touched with despair, though it will speak of--

... that outer place forlorn
Which, like an infinite grey sea, surrounds
With everlasting calm the land of human sounds;

yet also returns to the sacramental earth of one's childhood where
it says:

For now the Night completed tells her tale
Of rest and dissolution: gathering round
Her mist in such persuasion that the ground
Of Home consents to falter and grow pale.
And the stars are put out and the trees fail.
Nor anything remains but that which drones
Enormous through the dark....

And again, in another place, where it prays that one may at the last
be fed with beauty---

... as the flowers are fed
That fill their falling-time with generous breath:
Let me attain a natural end of death,
And on the mighty breast, as on a bed,
Lay decently at last a drowsy head,
Content to lapse in somnolence and fade
In dreaming once again the dream of all things made.

The most careful philosophy, the most heavenly music, the best
choice of poetic or prosaic phrase prepare men properly for man's
perpetual loss of this and of that, and introduce us proudly to the
similar and greater business of departure from them all, from
whatever of them all remains at the close.

To be introduced, to be prepared, to be armoured, all these are
excellent things, but there is a question no foresight can answer
nor any comprehension resolve. It is right to gather upon that
question the varied affections or perceptions of varying men.

I knew a man once in the Tourdenoise, a gloomy man, but very rich,
who cared little for the things he knew. This man took no pleasure
in his fruitful orchards and his carefully ploughed fields and his
harvests. He took pleasure in pine trees; he was a man of groves and
of the dark. For him that things should come to an end was but part
of an universal rhythm; a part pleasing to the general harmony, and
making in the music of the world about him a solemn and, oh, a
conclusive chord. This man would study the sky at night and take
from it a larger and a larger draught of infinitude, finding in this
exercise not a mere satisfaction, but an object and goal for the
mind; when he had so wandered for a while under the night he seemed,
for the moment, to have reached the object of his being.

And I knew another man in the Weald who worked with his hands, and
was always kind, and knew his trade well; he smiled when he talked
of scythes, and he could thatch. He could fish also, and he knew
about grafting, and about the seasons of plants, and birds, and the
way of seed. He had a face full of weather, he fatigued his body, he
watched his land. He would not talk much of mysteries, he would
rather hum songs. He loved new friends and old. He had lived with
one wife for fifty years, and he had five children, who were a
policeman, a schoolmistress, a son at home, and two who were
sailors. This man said that what a man did and the life in which he
did it was like the farmwork upon a summer's day. He said one works
a little and rests, and works a little again, and one drinks, and
there is a perpetual talk with those about one. Then (he would say)
the shadows lengthen at evening, the wind falls, the birds get back
home. And as for ourselves, we are sleepy before it is dark.

Then also I knew a third man who lived in a town and was clerical
and did no work, for he had money of his own. This man said that all
we do and the time in which we do it is rather a night than a day.
He said that when we came to an end we vanished, we and our works,
but that we vanished into a broadening light.

Which of these three knew best the nature of man and of his works,
and which knew best of what nature was the end?

* * * * *

Why so glum, my Lad, or my Lass (as the case may be), why so heavy
at heart? Did you not know that you also must Come to an End?

Why, that woman of Etaples who sold such Southern wine for the
dissipation of the Picardian Mist, her time is over and gone and the
wine has been drunk long ago and the singers in her house have
departed, and the wind of the sea moans in and fills their hall. The
Lords who died in Roncesvalles have been dead these thousand years
and more, and the loud song about them grew very faint and dwindled
and is silent now: there is nothing at all remains.

It is certain that the hills decay and that rivers as the dusty
years proceed run feebly and lose themselves at last in desert
sands; and in its aeons the very firmament grows old. But evil also
is perishable and bad men meet their judge. Be comforted.

Now of all endings, of all Comings to an End none is so hesitating
as the ending of a book which the Publisher will have so long and
the writer so short: and the Public (God Bless the Public) will have
whatever it is given.

Books, however much their lingering, books also must Come to an End.
It is abhorrent to their nature as to the life of man. They must be
sharply cut off. Let it be done at once and fixed as by a spell and
the power of a Word; the word


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