Produced by Paul Murray, Josephine Paolucci and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: NIGHT OVER THE BLACK SEA]
A TRAMP’S SKETCHES
This book was written chiefly whilst tramping along the Caucasian and Crimean shores of the Black Sea, and on a pilgrimage with Russian peasants to Jerusalem. Most of it was written in the open air, sitting on logs in the pine forests or on bridges over mountain streams, by the side of my morning fire or on the sea sand after the morning dip. It is not so much a book about Russia as about the tramp. It is the life of the wanderer and seeker, the walking hermit, the rebel against modern conditions and commercialism who has gone out into the wilderness.
I have tramped alone over the battlefields of the Crimea, visited the cemetery where lie so many British dead, wandered along the Black Sea shores a thousand miles to New Athos monastery and Batum, have been with seven thousand peasant pilgrims to Jerusalem, and lived their life in the hospitable Greek monasteries and in the great Russian hostelry at the Holy City, have bathed with them in Jordan where all were dressed in their death-shrouds, and have slept with them a whole night in the Sepulchre.
One cannot make such a journey without great experiences both spiritual and material. On every hand new significances are revealed, both of Russian life and of life itself.
It is with life itself that this volume is concerned. It is personal and friendly, and on that account craves indulgence. Here are the songs and sighs of the wanderer, many lyrical pages, and the very minimum of scientific and topographical matter. It is all written spontaneously and without study, and as such goes forth–all that a seeker could put down of his visions, or could tell of what he sought.
There will follow, if it is given to the author both to write and to publish, a full story of the places he visited along the Black Sea shore, and of the life of the pilgrims on the way to the shrine of the Sepulchre and at the shrine itself. It will be a continuation of the work begun in _Undiscovered Russia_.
Several of these sketches appeared in the _St. James’s Gazette_, two in _Country Life_, and one in _Collier’s_ of New York, being sent out to these papers from the places where they were written. The author thanks the Editors for permission to republish, and for their courtesy in dealing with MSS.
1. FAREWELL TO THE TOWN
2. NIGHTS OUT ON A PERFECT VAGABONDAGE 3. THE LORD’S PRAYER
5. THE QUESTION OK THE SCEPTIC
6. A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOR EVER 7. A STILL-CREATION-DAY
8. SUNSET FROM THE GATE OF BAIDARI
9. THE MEANING OF THE SEA
2. THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR MAN
3. A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT
4. SOCRATES OF ZUGDIDA
5. “HAVE YOU A LIGHT HAND?”
6. ST. SPIRIDON OF TREMIFOND
7. AT A FAIR.
8. A TURKISH COFFEE-HOUSE
9. AT A GREAT MONASTERY
1. THE BOY WHO NEVER GROWS OLD
3. THE LITTLE DEAD CHILD
4. HOW THE OLD PILGRIM REACHED BETHLEHEM
THE WANDERER’S STORY
(I.) MY COMPANION. (II.) HOW HE FOUND HIMSELF IN A COACH. (III.) IRRECONCILABLES.
(IV.) THE TOWNSMAN. (V.) HIS CONVERSION.
THE UNCONQUERABLE HOPE
THE PILGRIMAGE TO JERUSALEM
THE MESSAGE FROM THE HERMIT
* * * * *
NIGHT OVER THE BLACK SEA
FAREWELL TO THE TOWN
The town is one large house of which all the little houses are rooms. The streets are the stairs. Those who live always in the town are never out of doors even if they do take the air in the streets.
When I came into the town I found that in my soul were reflected its blank walls, its interminable stairways, and the shadows of hurrying traffic.
A thousand sights and impressions, unbidden, unwelcome, flooded through the eye-gate of my soul, and a thousand harsh sounds and noises came to me through my ears and echoed within me. I became aware of confused influences of all kinds striving to find some habitation in the temple of my being.
What had been my delight in the country, my receptivity and hospitality of consciousness, became in the town my misery and my despair.
For imagine! Within my own calm mirror a beautiful world had seen itself rebuilded. Mountains and valleys lay within me, robed in sunny and cloudy days or marching in the majesty of storm. I had inbreathed their mystery and outbreathed it again as my own. I had gazed at the wide foaming seas till they had gazed into me, and all their waves waved their proud crests within me. Beauteous plains had tempted, mysterious dark forests lured me, and I had loved them and given them habitation in my being. My soul had been wedded to the great strong sun and it had slumbered under the watchful stars.
The silence of vast lonely places was preserved in my breast. Or against the background of that silence resounded in my being the roar of the billows of the ocean. Great winds roared about my mountains, or the whispering snow hurried over them as over tents. In my valleys I heard the sound of rivulets; in my forests the birds. Choirs of birds sang within my breast. I had been a playfellow with God. God had played with me as with a child.
Bound by so intimate a tie, how terrible to have been betrayed to a town!
For now, fain would the evil city reflect itself in my calm soul, its commerce take up a place within the temple of my being. I had left God’s handiwork and come to the man-made town. I had left the inexplicable and come to the realm of the explained. In the holy temple were arcades of shops; through its precincts hurried the trams; the pictures of trade were displayed; men were building hoardings in my soul and posting notices of idol-worship, and hurrying throngs were reading books of the rites of idolatry. Instead of the mighty anthem of the ocean I heard the roar of traffic. Where had been mysterious forests now stood dark chimneys, and the songs of birds were exchanged for the shrill whistle of trains.
And my being began to express itself to itself in terms of commerce.
“Oh God,” I cried in my sorrow, “who did play with me among the mountains, refurnish my soul! Purge Thy Temple as Thou didst in Jerusalem of old time, when Thou didst overset the tables of the money-changers.”
Then the spirit drove me into the wilderness to my mountains and valleys, by the side of the great sea and by the haunted forests. Once more the vast dome of heaven became the roof of my house, and within the house was rebuilded that which my soul called beautiful. There I refound my God, and my being re-expressed itself to itself in terms of eternal Mysteries. I vowed I should never again belong to the town.
As upon a spring day the face of heaven is hid and a storm descends, winds ruffle the bosom of a pure lake, the flowers droop, wet, the birds cease singing, and rain rushes over all, and then anon the face of heaven clears, the sun shines forth, the flowers look up in tears, the birds sing again, and the pure lake reflects once more the pure depth of the sky, so now my glad soul, which had lost its sun, found it again and remembered its birds and its flowers.
NIGHTS OUT ON A PERFECT VAGABONDAGE
I have been a whole season in the wilds, tramping or idling on the Black Sea shore, living for whole days together on wild fruit, sleeping for the most part under the stars, bathing every morning and evening in the clear warm sea. It is difficult to tell the riches of the life I have had, the significance of the experience. I have felt pulse in my veins wild blood which my instincts had forgotten in the town. I have felt myself come back to Nature.
During the first month after my departure from the town I slept but thrice under man’s roof. I slept all alone, on the hillside, in the maize-fields, in the forest, in old deserted houses, in caves, ruins, like a wild animal gone far afield in search of prey. I never knew in advance where I should make my night couch; for I was Nature’s guest and my hostess kept her little secrets. Each night a new secret was opened, and in the secret lay some pleasant mystery. Some of the mysteries I guessed–there are many guesses in these pages–some I only tried to guess, and others I could only wonder over. All manner of mysterious things happen to us in sleep; the sick man is made well, the desperate hopeful, the dull man happy. These things happen in houses which are barred and shuttered and bolted. The power of the Night penetrates even into the luxurious apartments of kings, even into the cellars of the slums. But if it is potent in these, how much more is it potent in its free unrestricted domain, the open country. He who sleeps under the stars is bathed in the elemental forces which in houses only creep to us through keyholes. I may say from experience that he who has slept out of doors every day for a month, nay even for a week, is at the end of that time a new man. He has entered into new relationship with the world in which he lives, and has allowed the gentle creative hands of Nature to re-shape his soul.
The first of my nights after leaving the town was spent on a shaggy grass patch on a cliff, under three old twisted yew trees. Underfoot was an abundance of wild lavender and the air was laden with the scent. I am now at New Athos monastery, ten miles from Sukhum, and am writing this in the cell that the hospitable monks have given me. My last night was in a deep cavern at the base of a high rock on a desert shore.
The first night was warm and gentle, though it was followed by several that were stormy. Wrapped in my rug I felt not a shiver of cold, even at dawn. As I lay at my ease, I looked out over the far southern sea sinking to sleep in the dusk. The glistening and sparkling of the water passed away–the sea became a great bale of grey–blue silk, soft, smooth, dreamy, like the garment of a sorceress queen.
I slipped into sleep and slipped out again as easily as one goes from one room to another, sometimes sleeping one hour or half an hour at a time, or more often one moment asleep, one moment awake, like the movement of a boat on the waves.
Once when I wakened, I started at an unforeseen phenomenon. The moon in her youth was riding over the sea as bright as it is possible to be, and down below her she wrote upon the waves and expressed herself in new variety, a long splash of lemon-coloured light over the placid ocean, a dream picture, something of magic.
It was a marvellous sight, something of that which is indicated in pictures, but which one cannot recognise as belonging to the world of truth–something impressionistic. To waken to see something so beautiful is to waken for the first time, it is verily to be in part born; for therein the soul becomes aware of something it had not previously imagined: looking into the mirror of Nature, it sees itself anew.
Where my sleeping-place would be had been a secret, and this was the mystery in it, the further secret. I was definitely aware even on my first night out that I had entered a new world.
To sleep, to wake and find the moon still dreaming, to see the moon’s dream in the water, to sleep again and wake, so–till the dawn. Such was my night under the old yews, the first spent with these southern stars on a long vagabondage.
How different was last night, how full of weariness after heavy tramping through leagues of loose stones. I had been tramping from desolate Cape Pitsoonda over miles and miles of sea holly and scrub through a district where were no people. I had been living on crab-apples and sugar the whole day, for I could get no provisions. It is a comic diet. I should have liked to climb up inland to find a resting-place and seek out houses, but I was committed to the seashore, for the cliffs were sheer, and where the rivers made what might have been a passage, the forest tangles were so barbed that they would tear the clothes off one’s back. In many places the sea washed the cliffs and I had to undress in order to get past. It was with resignation that I gave up my day’s tramping and sought refuge for the night in a deep and shapely cavern.
There was plenty of dry clean sand on the floor, and there was a natural rock pillow. I spread out my blanket and lay at length, looking out to the sea. I lay so near the waves that at high tide I could have touched the foam with my staff. I watched the sun go down and felt pleased that I had given up my quest of houses and food until the morrow. As I lay so leisurely watching the sun, it occurred to me that there was no reason why man should not give up quests when he wanted to–he was not fixed in a definite course like the sun.
Sunset was beautiful, and dark-winged gulls continually alighted on the glowing waves, alighted and swam and flew again till the night. Then the moon lightened up the sea with silver, and all night long the waves rolled and rolled again, and broke and splashed and lapped. The deep cavern was filled with singing sounds that at first frightened me, but at last lulled me to sleep as if a nurse had sung them.
Between these two beds what a glorious Night picture-book, a book telling almost entirely of the doings of the moon. I remember how I slept once under a wild walnut-tree. In front of me rose to heaven forested hills, and the night clothed them in majesty. Presently the moon came gently from her apartments and put out a slender hand, grasped the tree-tops, and pulled herself up over the world. She showed herself to me in all her glory, and then in a minute was gone again; for she entered into a many-windowed cloud castle and roamed from room to room. As she passed from window to window I knew by the light where she was. A calm night. The moon went right across the sky and returned to her home. Rain came before the dawn, and then mists crept down over the forests and hid them from my view. Cold, cold! The mountains were hidden by a cloud. Loose stones rolled down a cliff continually and a wind sighed. I snuggled myself into my blanket and waited for an hour. Then the sun gained possession of the sky.
I went down to the river, gathered sticks–they were very damp–and made a fire. Once the fire began to burn it soon increased in size, for I had gathered a great pile of little twigs and they soon dried and burned. Then in their burning they dried bigger twigs, sticks, cudgels, logs. I boiled my kettle and made tea.
Whilst I bathed in the river the sun gave a vision of his splendour: a thousand mists trembled at his gaze. An hour later it was a very hot day, and the village folk coming out of their houses could scarcely have dreamed how reluctantly the night had retired at the dawn–with what cold and damp the morning had begun.
Another night, just after moonrise, a wind arose and drove in front of it the whole night long a great thunderstorm, with lightnings and rollings and grumblings and mutterings, but never a spot of rain. At dawn, when I looked out to sea, I saw the whole dreadful array of the storm standing to leeward like ships that had passed in the night, and as though baulked in pursuit the roll of the thunder came across the sky sullenly, though with a note of defeat.
The nights were often cold and wet, and it became necessary for me to make my couch under bridges or in caves or holes of the earth. On the skirts of the tobacco plantations and in the swampy malarial region where the ground never gets dry I slept beside bonfires. I learned of the natives to safeguard against fever by placing withered leaves on bark or wilted bracken leaves between myself and the ground. At a little settlement called Olginka I slept on an accumulation of logs outside the village church. On this occasion I wrapped myself up in all the clothes I possessed, and so saved myself from the damp. Next morning, however, my blanket was so wet with dew that I could wring it, though I had felt warm all night. I had always to guard against the possibility of rain, and I generally made my couch in pleasant proximity to some place of shelter–a bridge, a cave, or a house; and more than once I had to abandon my grass bed in the very depth of the night, and take up the alternative one in shelter.
A tremendous thunderstorm took place about a fortnight after I left home. I had built a stick fire and was making tea for myself at the end of a long cloudless summer day, and taking no care, when suddenly I looked up to the sky and saw the evening turning swiftly to night before my eyes. The sun was not due to set, but the western horizon seemed as it were to have risen and gone forth to meet it. A great black bank of cloud had come up out of the west and hidden away the sun before his time.
I hastened to put my tea things into my pack and take to the road, for it was necessary to find a convenient night place. In a quarter of an hour it was night. At regular intervals all along the road were the brightly lit lamps of glow-worms; they looked like miniature street lights, the fitting illumination of a road mostly occupied by hedgehogs.
I found a dry resting-place under a tree and laid myself out to sleep, watching the moon who had just risen perfectly, out of the East; but I had hardly settled myself when I was surprised by a gleam of lightning. Turning to the west, I saw the vast array of cloud that had overtaken the sun, coming forward into the night–eclipsing the sky.
A storm? Would it reach me? My wishes prompted comforting answers and I lay and stared at the sky, trying to find reassurance. I did not feel inclined to stir, but the clouds came on ominously. I marked out a bourne across the wide sky and resolved that if the shadow crept past certain bright planets in the north, south, and centre, I would take it as a sign, repack my wraps, and seek shelter in a farm-house. But the clouds came on and on. Slowly but surely the great army advanced and the lightnings became more frequent. My sky-line was passed. I rose sorrowfully, put all my things in the knapsack, and took the road once again.
The lightning rushed past on the road and, blazing over the forests, lit up the wide night all around. Overhead the sky was cut across: in the east was a perfectly clear sky except at the horizon where the moon seemed to have left behind fiery vapours; in the west and overhead lay the dense black mass of the storm cloud. The clouds came forward in regular array like an army. Nothing could hold them back; they came on–appallingly. And the moon looked at the steady advance and her light gleamed upon the front ranks as if she were lighting them with many lanterns.
I had lain down to sleep quite sober-hearted, but now as the lightnings played around I began to feel as excited as if I were in a theatre–my blood burned. I had tired feet, but I forgot them. I walked swiftly. I felt ready to run, to dance. Very strangely there was at the same time a presentiment that I might be struck by lightning. But all Nature was madly excited with me and also shared my presentiment of destruction. We lived together like the victim and the accomplices in a Dionysian sacrifice and orgy.
And the clouds kept on gaining! Far away I heard the storm wind and the clamour of the sea. The thunder moaned and sobbed. I hurried along the deserted road and asked my heart for a village, a house, a church, a cave, anything to shield from the oncoming drench.
Spying a light far away on a hill, I left the road and plunged towards it. I went over many maize-fields, by narrow paths through the tall waving grain, the lightning playing like firelight among the sheath-like leaves. I crossed a wide tobacco plantation and approached the light on the hill, by a long, heavily-rutted cart-track. This led right up to the doors of a farmhouse. Big surly dogs came rushing out at me, but I clumped them off with my stick, and having much doubt in my mind as to the sort of reception I should get, I knocked at the windows and doors. I expected to be met by a man with a gun, for the dogs had made such a rumpus that any one might have been alarmed.
The door was opened by a tall Russian peasant.
“May I spend the night here?” I asked.
The man smiled and put out his arms as if to embrace me.
“Yes, of course. Why ask? Come inside,” he replied.
“I thought of sleeping in the open air,” I added, “but the storm coming up I saw I should be drenched.”
“Why sleep outside when man is ready to receive you?” said the peasant. “It is unkind to pass our houses by. Why do you deny your brothers so? You said you slept in the fields, eh? That is bad. You shouldn’t. The earth here is full of evil, and the malaria comes up with the dampness. Your bones grow brittle and break, or they go all soft, you shrivel up and become white, or swellings come out on you and you get bigger and bigger until you die. No, no! God be thanked you came to me.”
He asked me would I sleep in the house or on the maize straw. His sons slept on the maize; it was covered, and so, sheltered from the rain. I could sleep in the house if I liked, but it was more comfortable on the straw. His three sons slept there, but as it was a festival they had not come home yet.
I agreed to the straw. My host led me to a sort of large open barn, a barn without walls, a seven-feet depth of hay and straw surmounted by a high roof on poles.
“If you feel cold, or if the rain comes in, just burrow down under the straw,” said the peasant. “Very glad I am that you have come to me, that you have done me the honour. Much better to ask hospitality than to sleep out.”
I quite agreed it was much better to sleep with man on such a night. The lightnings were now all about–never leaving a second’s pure darkness. The thunder grew more powerful and rolled forward from three sides.
My host stood by me after I had lain down, a whole hour. He was most hilarious, having partaken plentifully of festival fare. He warned me repeatedly against sleeping on the ground, and advised me to find bark or withered branches to lie upon if I would not seek shelter with man. The increasing storm did not seem to impress him in the slightest. He was all agog to tell me his family history and to compare the state of agriculture in England with that in Russia. Only when his sons came home and the heavy rain spots had begun to shower down upon him did he finally shake my hand, wish me well, cross himself, and stump off back to the house.
Three tall young men scrambled over me into the straw and buried themselves: two laughed and talked, the other was silent and frightened. There was no sleep. The thunder grew louder and louder, and the lightning rushed over our faces like the sudden glare of a searchlight. All four of us put our faces to the straw to shut out the light, and we tried to sleep. But we knew that the tempest at its worst had yet to break. Suddenly came a sharp premonitory crash just above us, near, astonishing. One of the young men, who had just dozed off, woke up and scratched his head, saying–
“The little bear has got into the maize. Eh, brothers, this is going to be a big piece of work.”
Then a great wind broke out of the sky and tore through the forests like armies of wild beasts. The trees within our view bent down as if they would break in two; the moon above them was overswept by the cloud. When the moon’s light had gone the night became darker and the lightning brighter. The framework of our shelter rocked to and fro in the gale and we felt as if upon the sea; the straw and the hay jumped up as if alive, and great lumps of thatch were rent out of the roof, showing the sky and letting in the rain. I looked for the ruin of our shelter.
But the hurricane passed on. The rain came in its place. The great forty-day flood re-accomplished itself in an hour. We heard the beat of the rain on the earth: in ten minutes it was the hiss of the rain on the flooded meadows. By the sulphurous illuminations we saw almost continuously the close-packed, drenching rain…. The wet came in. We burrowed deep down into the straw and slept like some new sort of animal.
On other nights heavy rain came on unexpectedly, and I discovered how pleasant a bed may be made just under the framework of a bridge. The bridge is a favourite resort of the Russian tramp and pilgrim, and I have often come across their comfortable hay or bracken beds there. Indeed I seldom go across a bridge at night without thinking there may be some such as myself beneath it.
When the weather is wet it is much more profitable to sleep in a village–there is hospitality there, and the peasant wife gives you hot soup and dries your clothes. But often villages are far apart, and when you are tramping through the forest there may be twenty miles without a human shelter. I remember I found empty houses, and though I used them they were most fearsome. I had more thrills in them than in the most lonely resting-places in the open. Some distance from Gagri I found an old ruined dwelling, floorless, almost roofless, but still affording shelter. I had many misgivings as I lay there. Was the house haunted? Was it some one else’s shelter? Had some family lived there and all died out? You may imagine the questions that assailed me, once I had lain down. But whether evil was connected with the house or no, it was innocuous for me. Nothing happened; only the moon looked through the open doorway; winds wandered among the broken rafters, and far away owls shrieked.
Again, on the way to Otchemchiri I came upon a beautiful cottage in the forest and went to ask hospitality, but found no one there. The front door was bolted but the back door was open. I walked in and took a seat. As there were red-hot embers in the fire some one had lately been there, and would no doubt come back–so I thought. But no one came: twilight grew to night in loneliness and I lay down on the long sleeping bench and slept. It was like the house of the three bears but that there was no hot porridge on the table. But no bears came; only next morning I was confronted by a half-dressed savage, a veritable Caliban by appearance but quite harmless, an idiot and deaf and dumb. I made signs to him and he went out and brought in wood, and we remade the fire together.
I have slept out in many places–in England, in the Caucasus where it was amongst the most lawless people in Europe, in North Russian forests where the bear is something to be reckoned with–but I have never come to harm. The most glorious and wonderful nights I ever had were almost sleepless ones, spent looking at the stars and tasting the new sensations. Yet even in respect of rest it seems to me I have thriven better out of doors. There is a real tranquillity on a mountain side after the sun has gone down, and a silence, even though the crickets whistle and owls cry, though the wind murmurs in the trees above or the waves on the shore below. The noises in houses are often intolerable and one has to wait all every noise in the house and in the street has died away. It is marvellous how easily one recuperates in the open air. Even the cold untires and refreshes. Then, even if one lies awake, the night passes with extraordinary rapidity. It is always a marvel to me how long the day seems by comparison with the night when I sleep out of doors. A sleepless night in a house is an eternity, but it is only a brief interlude under the stars. I believe the animal creation that sleeps in the field is so in harmony with nature and so unself-conscious that night does not seem more than a quarter of an hour and a little cloudy weather. Perhaps the butterflies do not even realise that night endures; darkness comes–they sleep; darkness flees–they wake again. I think they have no dreams.
It is peculiar, the tramp’s feeling about night. When the sun goes down he begins to have an awkward feeling, a sort of shame; he wants to hide himself, to put his head somewhere out of sight. He finds his night place, and even begins to fall asleep as he arranges it. He feels heavy, dull. The thoughts that were bright and shapely by day become dark and ill-proportioned like shadows. He tosses a while, and stares at the stars. At last the stars stare at him; his eyes close; he sleeps. Three hours pass–it is always a critical time, three hours after sunset; many sleeping things stir at that time. His thoughts are bright for a moment, but then fall heavy again. He wonders at the moon, and the moon wonders. She is hunting on a dark mountain side.
The next sleep is a long one, a deep one, and ghosts may pass over the sleeper, imps dance on his head, rats nibble at his provisions; he wakes not. He is under a charm–nought of evil can affect him, for he has prayed. Encompassed with dangers, the tramp always prays “Our Father,” and that he may be kept for the one who loves him. Prayers are strong out of doors at night, for they are made at heaven’s gate in the presence of the stars.
An hour before dawn a new awakening. Oh dear, night not gone! The tramp is vexed. The moon has finished her hunting, and is going out of the night with her dark huntsmen; she passes through the gate. Peerless hunter!
The sky is full of light, a sort of dull, paper-lantern light. In an hour it will be morning. The side on which I have been lying is sore. I turn over and reflect joyfully that when next I wake it will be day. Moths are flitting in the dawn twilight: yes, in an hour it will be day.
Ah, ha, ha! The sleeper yawns and looks up. There is blue in the clouds, pale blue like that of a baby’s eyes. A cart lumbers along the road, the first cart of the morning. I reflect that if I remain where I am people may come and look at me. Ten minutes hesitation, and then suddenly I make up my mind and rise.
I feel a miserable creature, a despicable sort of person, one who has lately been beaten, a beggar who has just been refused alms. In the half-light of dawn it seems I scarcely have a right to exist. Or I feel a sort of self-pity. How often have I said as I gathered up my stiff limbs and damp belongings in the mist of the morning, “And the poor old tramp lifts himself and takes to the road once more, trudge, trudge, trudge–a weary life!”
The mansion of my soul has been housing phantoms all the night. They may not stay after sunrise; they look out of my face with bleared eyes. It is they who gibber and chatter thus at dawn, leaving me with no more self-assurance than a man on ticket-of-leave.
But as the sun comes up, behold the spirits evaporate, the films pass away from my eyes, and I am lighter, blither, happier, stronger. Then in my heart birds begin to sing in chorus. I am myself once more.
A fire, a kettle, and while the kettle boils, into the sea, giving my limbs to the sparkling, buoyant water. Then am I super-self, if such an expression may be permitted. So passes the vagabond’s night.
Thus somehow one comes into new harmony with Nature, and the personal rhythm enters into connection with all things that sleep and wake under the stars. One lives a new life. It is something like the change from bachelor to married life. You are richer and stronger. When you move some one else moves with you, and that was unexpected. Whilst you live Nature lives with you.
I have written of the night, for the night hallows the day, and the day does not hallow the night except for those who toil.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
The Lord’s Prayer is a very intimate whispering of the soul with God. It is also the perfect child’s prayer, and the tramp being much of a child, it is his.
Many people have their private interpretations of the prayer, and I have heard preachers examine it clause by clause. It can mean many things. It must mean different things to people of different lives. It is something very precious to the tramp.
The tramp is the lonely one: walking along all by himself all day by the side of the sounding waves he is desolated by loneliness, and when he lies down at dusk all alone he feels the need of loving human friends. But his friends are far away. He becomes once more a little trusting child, one who, though he fears, looks up to the face of a great strong Father. He feels himself encompassed about by dangers: perhaps some one watched him as he smoothed out his bracken bed; or if he went into a cave a robber saw him and will come later in the night, when he is fast asleep, murder him, and throw his body into the sea; or he may have made his bed in the path of the bear or in the haunt of snakes. Many, many are the shapes of terror that assail the mind of the wanderer. How good to be a little boy who can trust in a great strong Father to “deliver him from evil”!
And each clause of that lovely prayer has its special reality. Thus “Give us this day our daily bread” causes him to think, not so much of getting wages on the morrow as of the kindly fruits of the earth that lie in the trees and bushes like anonymous gifts, and of the hospitality of man.
Most beautiful of all to the tramp is the wish–“Thy Kingdom come–Thy Will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” For it is thus understood: Thy Will be done in earth–I am that earth. “Thy Kingdom come” means Thy Kingdom come in me–may my soul lie like a pure mirror before the beauty of the world, may the beauty of the world be reflected in me till the whole beautiful world is my heart. Then shall my heart be pure, and that which I see will be God. Thy Will be done in me as it is done in heaven.
And the tramp asks himself as he lies full length on the earth and looks up at the stars–are you a yea-sayer? Do you say “Yes” to life? Do you raise your face in wonder to the beauty of the world? Do you stand with bare feet in sacred places? Do you remember always the mystery and wonder that is in your fellow-man whom you meet upon the road? … “Hallowed be Thy Name.”
Does the wanderer love all things? It is a condition of all things loving him. He must have perfect peace in his heart for the kingdom to be built there…. “Forgive us our trespasses.”
We may be tempted to forget Thee, may fear danger and our hearts be ruffled, may be tempted to forget that our fellow-man is one like ourselves, with our mystery and wonder, and having a very loving human heart either apparent or prevented. We may be tempted to forget the mystery of our own souls. The tramp prays to be led not into such temptation. For, with the Father above him, is the power, the kingdom, and the glory, for ever and ever. As I said, prayers are strong out of doors, made in the presence of all the stars. One is compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses. There is calm all around and in one’s own heart. The mysterious beauty of the starry sky reflects itself in the soul, and across its mirror sails the pale moon. My own body becomes a cradle in which the little Christ Child sleeps. There are angels everywhere. I am in universal keeping, for the stars are all looking and pointing to me. Because of the little Child the shepherds near by hear heavenly harmony, and journeying through the night to the land of dreams come the three wonderful old kings with gifts.
It is because I have been tempered by the coldness of the night that I am not overwhelmed by the heat of the day. Because the night is dark and cool and sweet I see the true colours of the day, and the noon sun does not dazzle me. The tramp’s eyes open and then they open again: at midday his eyes are wider than those of indoor folk. He is nearer to the birds because he has slept with them in the bush. They also are nearer to him, for the night has left her mysterious traces upon his face and garments, something which humans cannot see, not even the tramp himself, but which the wild things recognise right enough.
The tramp walks. His road is one that may only be walked upon. People on wheels are never on it: at least, I never met a wheel person who had seen on either side of the road what the tramp sees–and a road is not only a path, but that which is about it. The wheel is the great enemy of Nature, whether it be the wheel of a machine or of a vehicle. Nature abhors wheels. She will not be wooed by cyclists, motorists, goggled motor-cyclists, and the rest: she is not like a modern young lady who, despite ideals, _must_ marry, and will take men as they are found in her day and generation.
The woman of the woods who dresses herself in flowers, and whose voice is as birds’ songs, is the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow–not new-fangled. You must go to her; she will not come to you. You must live as she does.
Therefore the tramp moves _naturally_, on his feet. He comes into step. And sleeping out of doors, living in the sun, eating forest berries, washing in the stream or in the sea, all these are part of a coming into step.
How this _coming back_ develops the temperament! I left the town timid, almost a townsman, expecting not only the dangers that were but also all those that were not. I half believed all the tales by which stay-at-home people tried to warn or frighten me. Though taking the road with every aspect of carelessness and boldness, I confessed to my heart that I was a coward. Then came my first week’s tramping, and I emerged a different man. I felt bold. A few days later still I nursed a stick in my hand, saying, “If a robber comes, let him come! We’ll have a struggle.” Leaving the town I scanned the faces of the passers-by apprehensively, and said “Good-morning” or “Good-evening” very meekly to all dangerous-looking persons, but a fortnight later I was even strutting on the road with a smile almost malicious on my lips.
I felt myself growing wilder. The truth broke upon me in an introspective moment one morning as I was nearing Sotchi. I felt I had changed. I stopped to take stock of my new life and ways. I had been living in the forest and on the seashore, away from mankind, on Nature’s gifts. All my days from dawn to sunset I hunted for food. My life was food-hunting. I certainly wrote not a line and thought less. In my mind formed only such elementary ideas as “Soon more grapes,” “These berries are not the best,” “More walnuts,” “Oh, a spring; I must drink there.”
Something from the ancient past was awakened. I saw a bunch of wild grapes, my heart leapt, and without a thought I jumped to it and took it. Or I saw a fresh trickling stream pouring over the ledges of the rocks, and I rushed and pressed my lips to the bubbling water. There was no intermediary between Nature’s gifts and the man who needed them. Wish was translated into act without the aid of thought.
One day I was lost in the forest among the giant tangles and I was not at all anxious to find the way out again. Perhaps I might have lived there all the Autumn, and only when the berries and nuts were exhausted and the cold winter winds sought me out should I come skulking back to the haunts of men like some wild animal made tame by Winter.
I was aware, therefore, of a new experience, a modification in personality, a change of rhythm. I was walking with Nature, marching with her, with all her captains the great trees and her infantry the little bushes, and I caught in my ears her marching music. I was thrilled by the common chord that makes crowds act as one man, that in this case made my heart beat in unison with all the wild things. I may as well say at once I love them all and am ready to live with them and for them.
THE QUESTION OF THE SCEPTIC
“That’s all very well, but don’t you often get bored?” asked a sceptic. “I enjoy a weekend in the country, or a good Sunday tramp in Richmond Park or Epping Forest. I take my month on the Yorkshire moors with pleasure, or I spend a season in Switzerland or Spain, and I don’t mind sleeping under a bush and eating whatever I can get in shepherds’ cottages. I can well appreciate the simple life and the country life, but I’m perfectly sure I should pine away if I had to live it always. I couldn’t stand it. I’d rather be debarred from the country altogether than not go back to town. The town is much more indispensable to me. I feel the country life is very good in so far as it makes one stronger and fitter to work in town again, but as an end in itself it would be intolerable.”
This was a question I needed to answer not only to the sceptic but to myself. It is true the wanderer often feels bored, even in beautiful places. I am bored some days every year, no matter where I spend them, and I shall always be. I get tired of this world and want another. That is a common feeling, if not often analysed.
There is, however, another boredom, that of the weariness of the body, or its satiety of country air; the longing for the pleasures of the town, the tides of the soul attracted by the moon of habit. The tramp also confesses to that boredom. But when he gets back to the town to enjoy it for a while he swiftly finds it much more boring than the country.
If every one went to the country and lived the simple life when he was inclined, the size of European towns would be diminished to very small proportions. The evil of a town is that it establishes a tyranny and keeps its people against the people’s true desires.
I said to my sceptical friend: “Those who praise the simple life and those who scoff at it are both very extravagant as a rule. Let the matter be stated temperately. The tramp does not want a world of tramps–that would never do. The tramps–better call them the rebels against modern life–are perhaps only the first searchers for new life. They know themselves as necessarily only a few, the pioneers. Let the townsman give the simple life its place. Every one will benefit by a little more simplicity, and a little more living in communion with Nature, a little more of the country. I say, ‘Come to Nature altogether,’ but I am necessarily misunderstood by those who feel quickly bored. Good advice for all people is this–live the simple life as much as you can _till you’re bored_. Some people are soon bored: others never are. Whoever has known Nature once and loved her will return again to her. Love to her becomes more and more.”
But whoever has resolved the common illusions of the meaning of life, and has seen even in glimpses the naked mystery of our being, finds that he absolutely must live in the world which is outside city walls. He wants to explore this desert island in space, and with it to explore the unending significance of his deathless spirit.
A THING OF BEAUTY IS A JOY FOR EVER
Rostof on the Don is always beautiful when one leaves it to go south. Nothing can efface from my mind the picture of it as I saw it when first going to the Caucasus. The sunset illumined it with the hues of romance. All the multiplicity of its dingy buildings shone as if lit up from within, and their dank and mouldy greens and blues and yellows became burning living colours. The town lay spread out upon the high banks of the Don and every segment of it was crowned with a church. The gilt domes blazed in the sunlight and the crosses above them were changed into pure fire. Round about the town stretched the grey-green steppe, freshened by the river-side, but burned down to the suffering earth itself on the horizon. Then over all, like God’s mercy harmonising man’s sins, the effulgence of a light-blue southern sky.
By that scene I have understood the poet’s thought–
To draw one beauty into the heart’s core And keep it changeless.
* * * * *
Yet how transient is the appearance of beauty. It has an eternity not in itself but in the heart. Thus I look out at the ever-changing ocean and suddenly, involuntarily ejaculate, “How beautiful!” yet before I can call another to witness the scene it has changed. Only in the heart the beauty is preserved. Thus we see a woman in her youth and beauty, and then in a few years look again and find her worn and old. The beauty has passed away; its eternity is in the heart.
We have a choice, to live in the shadow and shine of the outer life where visions fade, or to live with all the beauty we have ever known, where it is treasured, in the heart. Choosing the former we at last perish with the world, but choosing the latter we ourselves receive an immortality in the here and now. The one who chooses the latter shall never grow old, and the beauty of his world can never pass away.
* * * * *
Nietzsche could not tolerate the doctrine of the “immaculate perception” of Beauty. To him Beauty was _une promesse de bonheur_; Beauty was a lure and a temptation, it had no virtue in itself, but its value lay in the service rendered to the ulterior aims of Nature. Thus the beauty hung in woman’s face was a device of the Life-force for the continuance of the race; strange beauty lured men to strange ends, and one of these ends the German philosopher divined and named as the Superman. Even the beauty of Nature was merely a temptation of man’s will. The Kantian conception of the disinterested contemplation of Beauty Nietzsche likened to the moon looking at the earth at night and giving the earth only dreams; but the Stendhalian conception of Beauty as a promise of happiness he likened to the sun looking at the earth and causing her to bear fruit.
Darwin as much as said, “Beauty has been the gleam which the instinct of the race has followed in its upward development. Beauty has been the genius of Evolution.” Thus science has lent its authority to philosophy. The idea is charming. In its power it is irresistible. It certainly dominates modern literary art, being the principal dynamic of Ibsen and Bernard Shaw and all their followers.
It is a very important matter. There can be nothing more important in literary art, and indeed in one’s articulate conception of the meaning of life, than the notion of what is beautiful. What if this conception be narrow, what if it be simply a generalisation, a generalisation from too few observations? What if the wish were father to the thought?
The only test of philosophy and art is experience. And it is the wanderer, the life-explorer without irrelevant preoccupations, who is the true naturalist, collecting experiences and making maps for spiritual eyes. What then does the wanderer note?
First, that the knowledge of the beautiful is an affirmation. Something in the soul suddenly rises up and ejaculates “Yes” to some outside phenomenon, and then he is aware that he is looking at Beauty. As he gazes he knows himself in communion with what he sees–sometimes that communion is a great joy and sometimes a great sadness. Thus, looking at the opening of dawn he is filled with gladness, his spirits rising with the sun; he wishes to shout and to sing. He is one with the birds that have begun singing and with all wild Nature waking refreshed after the night. But looking out at evening of the same day over the grey sea he is failed with unutterable sorrow.
I remember how all night long in the North region, where the light does not leave the sky, I looked out at the strange beauty of the white night and felt all the desolateness of the world, all the exiledom of man upon it. There was no lure, no temptation in that. The Aeolian harp of the heart does not always discourse battle music, and on this night it was as if an old sad minstrel sat before me and played unendingly one plaint, the story of a lost throne, of a lost family, lost children, a lost world. Thus a thought came to me: “We are all the children of kings; on our spiritual bodies are royal seals. Sometime or other we were abandoned on this beautiful garden, the world. We expected some one to return for us; but no one came. We lived on, and to forget homesickness devised means of pleasure, diversions, occupations, games. Some have entirely forgotten the lost heritage and the mystery of their abandonment; their games absorbed them, they have become gamblers, they have theories of chance, their talk is all of Progress of one sort or another. They forget the great mystery of life. We tramps and wanderers remember. It is our religion to remember, to count nothing as important beside the initial mystery. For us it is sweeter to remember than to forget. The towns would always have us forget, but in the country we always remember again. What is beautiful is every little rite that reminds us of our mysteries.”
This is a most persistent experience, and Beauty thereby promises us happiness, but in a strange way seems to tell of happiness past. It lures not forward unless to the exploration of the “prison-house” once more.
Even the beauty of woman is not always a lure. There is a beauty in woman which makes one glad, but there is the beauty that haunts one like a great sadness, besides the beauty that draws one nearer to her. There is the seductive beauty of Cleopatra, but there is also the almost repulsive beauty of Medea, and besides both there is the mysterious beauty of Helen or of Eve.
Beauty is also a great possession, and that is another conception, another mystery. We lie like a mirror in the presence of Beauty, and it builds the very temple of our souls. Beauty is the gold of earthly experience. It is essentially that which in looking round our eyes like best, that which they say swiftly “Yes” to. We enter into communion with the beautiful as with a beloved object. We make it part of ourselves. We absorb it into that which is integral and immortal–our very essence. “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: its loveliness can never pass away” is a truth of experience, not the idle fancy of the poet. For to have seen the beautiful is not inconsequential, it is not even a responsibility entirely your own; the beautiful thing has also seen you. Henceforth your life can never be quite the same, and the beautiful thing looked upon has either become less or more beautiful.
The blue-green sea is living velvet, and full of light-rings; it goes out to a distant mauve horizon, near which sea-gulls with white gleaming wings are flying. Many gulls are fluttering on the red buoys in the water.
It is late in a December afternoon on the south coast of the Crimea. It is Yalta, beloved of all Russians, and I have come tramping to it–which Russians never do–and I am intending to spend lazy days looking with the gay town and all its white villas at the glorious spectacle of the southern sea. All the rest of Russia is gripped by winter, but here there is sanctuary and forgiveness. I have been tramping on the cold, cold steppes, frozen, forced to get back into myself and hide like the trees, and when I came here it seemed somehow as if Nature herself had been angry with me, relented, and was now showing me all her tenderness again. All along the road I found violets in the little bushes, and I wore them as a forgiveness gift from a woman that I love.
When a woman smiles upon a man she bids him live, and when she frowns he can but die. To-day the woman of all women has smiled on me, Nature herself.
Along the road I had that pleasant life with myself that one has the day after one’s birthday, when one has kept good resolutions two days. My old self carried, as it were, within me a little child, and the child chattered and lisped to me.
Delightful tramping along a road high over the shore! Below me, stretching far to East and to West, blue and glorious like summer, was the immense sea, all in dazzling radiance under the noonday sun. A bank of grey-blue mist lay over the South, and marked the domain where winter was felt. Up above me stood great grey rocks, stained here and there the colour of rose porphyry. The tops of these rocks, even here as I look up at them from Yalta, are outlined with a bright white line–winter and hoar-frost hold sway there also.
I have been in the sight of nut-brown hillsides, something absolutely perfect, the warm living colour of thousands of little, closely packed French oak trees, all withered, and holding still their little withered leaves. The colour of these hills was the colour of Nature’s eyes.
There was silence too–such wonderful silence, one could hear one’s own heart beating. Such a morning was indeed what Richter calls a “still-creation-day,” that still silence of the heart that prefaces new revelation, as the brooding of the dove on the waters the creation of a world. You must know I saw the dawn, and have been with the sun all day. I slept at a Greek coffee-house, but was up whilst the sky was yet dark and the waves all cloudy purple. There was just one gleam of light in the dark sky, just one little promise. The great cliffs were all in their night cloaks, and night shapes were on the road. All Nature was in the night world, and I felt as if I were continuing my last night’s tramping, and not starting upon a new day. Yet in the night of my heart was also just that one gleam of whiteness in the East, one little promise. I knew the whiteness must get more and more, and the darkness less and less. I stood on the cliff road and watched the waves become all alive, playing with their shadows as the light diffused in the sky, and the white lines of the East turned to rosy ribbons. Then the dawn twilight came and the night shapes slunk away. The Tartars and Greeks took down their shutters in the little village hard by.
The sea became green, the rocks all grey, and then, as I watched, the rim of the sun rose over the horizon and the sea held it as a scimitar of fire. The white disc rose, a miracle; it looked very large, as if it had grown bigger in the night. It paused a moment in the sea and then suddenly seemed to bound up from it: it flooded the world with light. Then, as if from his hands angels were leaping, thousands of gulls were descried on the sea, their gleaming wings seeming to be the very meaning of morning. Out of the sea under the dawn, dark dolphins came leaping toward the shore. The sea became a grey expanse over which the sun made a silver roadway. There commenced the quiet, quiet morning, and the still-creation-day.
Now the day is ending, and the sun goes down behind the hills at Yalta, the mist bank over the southern horizon catches the reflection of true sunset tints, and transmits them to the velvety water, full of light-rings. I have been sitting on a pleasure seat on the sand all the afternoon, and now I go to the end of the long pier. There one may see another vision of the mystery of the day, for the sea-waves are full of living autumn colours, of luminous withered leaves and faded rose petals; they are still living velvet, the night garment of a queen. Black ducks are swimming mysteriously on the glowing dusky water.
In a moment, however, the scene has changed and the colours have been withdrawn. The presence in the world, the queen whom we call Day, has passed over the waves and disappeared; not even a fold of the long train of her dress is visible.
Some one has lighted a Roman candle at the far end of the pier, as a signal to a steamer whose white and red lanterns have just been descried upon the dark horizon. It is night: the day is over.
SUNSET FROM THE GATE OF BAIDARI
It was at the Gate of Baidari in the Crimea on the shortest day of the year that I saw the most wonderful sunset I have ever known, and entered most completely into the spirit of the dark, quiet night.
It was another vision of the sea, a presentment of the sea’s question in a new light.
A mild December afternoon. I had been some days wandering across pleasant tree-brown valleys and immense hollows mountain-walled. In the winter silence there was no murmur of the ocean, not even was there saltness in the air. I was out of the sight of the sea and had been so for several days. But this afternoon I climbed by a long road where were many berberry bushes vermilion with their berries, up to the pass over the hills, and there all at once by surprise, without the least expecting it, at a turn of the road I had a revelation of the whole sea.
It was a ravishment of the eyes, a scene on which one looks, at which one stares. The road came suddenly to a precipice, and sheer down, two thousand feet below, the waves foamed forward on the rocks, and from the foam to the remote horizon lay the mysterious sleeping sea–no, not sleeping, but rather causing all else to sleep in its presence, for it was full of serpent lines all moving toward the shore. The whole wild mountainous Crimean shore sat before the sea and dreamed.
And I realised slowly all that was in the evening. Below me lay the white tortuous road leading downward to the shore in coils, and clothing the road, the many woods, all hoary white because the sharp sea-breeze had breathed on them. Evening had long since settled on the road and on the wintry trees; it lay also about the grey temple which the Russians have put up on one of the platforms of the lower cliffs. The church looked so compact and small down below me that it seemed one could have held it in the palm of the hand. It was sunset, but the sky was full of blue-grey colour. The whole South caught a radiance from the hidden West and the sea was grey.
In a moment it is noticeable that the south is becoming rosier. The sea is now alight from the increase of sunset hues. In the shadow the lines of the sea are a sequence of wavings like the smoke of the snow blown over the steppes. In the hurrying clouds a great space clears, and along the south-west runs a great rosy fleece of sunset. It is rapidly darkening. The sea in the western corner is crimson, but all the vast south is silver and sombre. The horizon is like that seen from a balloon–pushed out to its furthermost, and there, where clouds and sky mingle, one sees fantastically as it were the sides of giant, shadowy fish.
The motor-coach, with its passengers from Sebastopol to Yalta, comes rushing and grumbling up behind me and stops five minutes, this being its half-way point. The passengers adjourn into the inn to drink vodka: “Remember, gentlemen, five minutes only,” says the chauffeur. “God help any one who gets left behind at Baidari….” Four minutes later there is a stamping of fat men in heavy overcoats round the brightly varnished ‘bus. “Are we going?” says a little man to the refreshed but purple-faced chauffeur. “Yes!” “That’s good. I’ve had enough of this.” The guard winds his horn, and after a preliminary squirm of the plump tyres on the soft road, the vehicle and its company goes tumbling down the road as if it were descending into a pit.
And the sunset! It develops with every instant. The lines on the sea seem to move more quickly, and the spaces between them to be larger. The west is full of storm. A closing cloud comes up out of the west: the western sea is utterly hopeless, the moving south inexorable. There is terror in the west.
Evening is more below me than above me. Night is coming to me over the dark woods. The foam on the rocks below is like a milk-white robe. As I walk the first miles downhill I begin to hear the sound of the waves. The sea is beginning to roar, and the wind rushing up to me tells me that the lines of the sea are its stormy waves ridden forward to the shore by a gale.
I stood on the platform where the many-domed temple was built, and watched the gathering night. Unnumbered trees lay beneath me, but it was so dusk I hardly knew them to be trees. The gigantic black cliff that shuts off the west stood blank into the heaven like a great door: to the east lay the ghostly fading coast-line of Aloopka. Among the black clouds overhead danced out happy fires, and, answering their brightness, windows lighted up in cottages far below, and lanterns gleamed on a little steamer just puffing over the horizon.
There came the pure December evening with frost and Christmas bells, and happy hearths somewhere in the background. The one star in the sky was a beckoning one: my heart yearned.
I dipped down upon the road, and in a few minutes was looking at the temple from below, seeing it entirely silhouetted against the sky. It was now indeed held up in a giant’s palm and looked at.
Far out at sea now lay a silver strand; the lines of the waves were all curves and heavily laden with shadows–they were, indeed, waves. Far above me the cliffs that I had left were mist-hidden, and in the midst shone a strange light from the last glow of sunset in the unseen west.
Night. At a word the sea became lineless and shapeless. The sunset sky was green-blue, and black strips of cloud lay athwart it. Looking up to the crags above me, I missed the church: it was in heaven or in the clouds. A great wind blew, and ceased, and came no more–the one gust that I felt of a whole day’s storm on the coast. Night chose to be calm, and though all the waves called in chorus upon the rocks, there was a silence and a peace within the evening that is beyond all words.
I walked with the night. I walked to find an inn, and yet cared not that the way was far and that men dwelt not in these parts. For something had entered into me from Nature, and I had lived an extra life after the day was done. It was not one person alone that, pack on back, walked that dark and quiet Crimean road. And the new spirit that was with me whispered promises and lingered over secrets half-revealed. I came to know that I should really enter into it, and be one with it, that I should be part of a description of night and part of night itself.
At one of the many turnings of the road I came upon five dreamy waggons, and Tartar waggoners walked by the horses, for their loads were heavy. I made friends with the third waggoner, and he asked me to carry his whip and take his place whilst he talked with one of his mates. For eight miles I walked by the side of the plodding horses, and encouraged them or whipped them, coaxed or scolded them, as they slowly dragged their lumberous merchandise along the dark and heavy roads.
I almost fell asleep, but at an inn half-way I drank tea with the waggoners “cheek by jowl and knee by knee,” and they saw me as one of themselves.
Once more on the road–we went nearly all the way to Aloopka. The Tartars sang songs, the beasts of burden toiled; on one side the cliffs overwhelmed us, and on the other lay the dark sea on which the stars were peeping. The still night held us all.
THE MEANING OF THE SEA
It is good to live ever in the sight of the sea. I have been tramping two months along seashores, and living a daily life in the presence of the Infinite. From Novorossisk to Batoum, eight hundred and fifty versts, I have explored all that coast of the Black Sea that lies at the feet of the Caucasus–to left of me the snow-peaked mountains shoulder to shoulder under heaven, to right the resplendent, magnificent sea.
“The sea cannot be described,” wrote Chekhov; “I once read in a child’s copy-book an essay on the sea, four words and a full stop–‘The sea is large’–and whenever I attempt a description, I am obliged to confess that I can do no better than the child.” The fact is, the sea describes us; that is why we cannot describe it. It is, itself, language and metaphor for the telling of our own longings and our own mysteries. In the sound of the waves is only the song of man’s life; in the endless variety of its appearance only the story of our own mystery.
Thus the sea is all things. They call this the Black Sea, and at evening when the clouds in the high heaven are reflected in it, it is indeed black. But it should be called the many-coloured, for indeed it is all colours. In the full heat of noon, as I write, it is white; it is covered with half-visible vapour through which a greenness is lost in pallor. The horizon is the black line of a broken arc. Other days it is blue as a great ripe plum, and the horizon is faint-pink, like down. On cloudy afternoons it is grey with unmingled sorrow; in early morning it is joyous as a young child. I have seen it from a distance piled up to the sky like a wall of hard sapphire. I have seen it near at hand faint away from the shore, colourless, lifeless, in the heart-searching of its ebb tide. It is all things, at all times, and to all persons.
At Dzhugba the sea was quiet as a little lake; at Dagomise it was many-crested and thundering in the majesty of storm. At Gudaout the sun rose over it as it might have done on the first morning of the world.
Every dawning I bathed, and each bathing was as a new baptism. And in multifarious places it was given to me to bathe; at Dzhugba, where the sun shone fiercely on green water and the dark seaweed washed to and fro on the rocks; at Olginka, the quietest little bay imaginable, where the sea was so clear that one could count the stones below it, the rippling water so crystalline that it tempted one to stoop down and drink–a dainty spot–even the stones, on long curves of the shore, seemed to have been nicely arranged by the sea the night before, and far as I swam out to sea I saw the bottom as through glass.
How different at Dagomise! All night long it had thundered. I slept under a wooden bridge that spanned a dried-up river. The lightning played all about me, the rain roared, the thunder crashed overhead. The storm passed, but as the thunder died away from the sky, it broke out from the sea and roared deafeningly all around. I could not bathe, for the sea was tremendous. A grand sight presented itself at dawn, the sea foaming forwards in thousands of billows. Along five miles of seashore the white horses galloped forward against the rocks, as if the whole sea were an army arrayed against the land. How the white pennons flew!
Later in the morning I undressed, and sitting in moderate safety on a shelf of rock, let the spent billows rush over me. The waves rushed up the steep beach like tigers for their prey, their eyes turned away from mine, but full of cruelty and anger. I was, deep in myself, afear’d.
At what an extraordinary rate the waves rushed up the shore, fast galloping after one another, accomplishing their fates! There is only one line I know that tells well of their rate, that glory of Swinburne:–
Where the dove dipped her wing and the oars won their way, Where the narrowing Symplegades whiten the straits of Propontis with spray.
At Osipovka, where I spent a whole long summer day sitting on a log on the seashore, I saw a vision of the sea and nymphs–a party of peasant girls came down and bathed. They were very pretty and frolicsome, taking to the water in a very different style from educated women. They were boisterous and wild. They went into the sea backwards, and let the great waves knock them down; they lay down and were buffeted by the surf; they ran about the shore, sang, shouted, yelled, waved their arms; they dived headlong into the waves, swam hand over hand among them, pulled one another by the legs. The sea does not know how to play games: it seemed like an ogre with his twelve princesses. They made sport of him, pulled his beard and his hair, tempted and evaded him, mocked him when he grabbed at them, befooled him when he captured them. I used to have an idea of nymphs behaving very artistically with really drawing-room manners, but I saw I was wrong. Nymphs are only artistic and alluring singly–one nymph on a rock before a gallant prince.
In numbers they are absolutely wild and have no manners at all. Lucky old ogre, to possess twelve such princesses, I thought; but as I looked at the gleam of their limbs as they mocked, and heard their hard laughter, I found him to be but a pitiable old greybeard, for he looked at beauty that he could scarce comprehend and never possess. The beauty of life has power greater than the beauty of the sea.
One night after I had made my bed on a grassy sand-bank above the sea and was waiting, in the thrilling and breathless twilight, to fall asleep, I suddenly heard a sound as of a child weeping somewhere. My heart bounded in horror. I lay scarce daring to breathe, and then when there was silence again, looked up and down the shore for the person who had cried. But I saw no one. I listened–listened, expecting to hear the cry again, but only the waves turned the stones, broke, rolled up, and turned the stones again. Evening crept over the sea, and the waves looked dark and shadowy; the silence grew more intense. I turned on one side to go to sleep, and then once more came a sad, despairing human cry as of a lost child. I sat bolt upright and looked about me, and even then, whilst I stared, the cry came again, and from the sea. “Is it possible there is a child down by the waves?” I thought, and I tried to distinguish some little human shape in the darkness that seemed hastening on the shoulders of the incoming waves. There came a terrible wail and another silence. I dared not go and search, but I lay and shuddered and felt terribly lonely. The waves followed one another and followed again, ever faster and faster as it seemed in the darkness–
Still on each wave followed the wave behind, And then another behind,
And then another behind….
They came forward fantastically, and I felt as if I were lying in the presence of something most ancient, most terrible.
Presently a bird with great dark wings flew noiselessly just over my head, and then over the sea rose the moon, young, new drest, and I forgot the strange cry in the presence of a familiar friend. It was as if a light had been brought into one’s bedroom. Probably the cry was that of an owl; it came no more. I slept.
There was my walk to the forlorn and lonely monastery of Pitsoonda on the promontory where the great lighthouse burns. Along the seashore were swamps overgrown with bamboos and giant grasses, twelve feet high. The sea was grey and calm. Lying on the sand, one saw the reflection, or the refracted images, of the grey stones at the bottom of the sea for twenty yards out and more. The sea had no power, it splashed in weak and hopeless waves, sucked itself away inward, came back again with a little run, and feebly toppled over. The high-water line was shown by a serpentine strip of jetsam winding along the whole of the shore. There was no yellow in the sands; clouds and sunshine struggled overhead, but beneath them all was grey. The wind rustled in the giant grasses like the sound of men on horseback, so that I was continually looking behind in apprehension.
A land that is lonelier than ruin,
A sea that is stranger than death.
At a lonely house, half-way to the monastery, I thought to obtain bread, but as I approached it twelve large brown mastiffs rushed out and assailed me. I was in a pitiable plight, warding them off with my stick, and did not escape without bites. I called for help, and some one then whistled from a window and called the dogs back. I don’t fear dogs, but these were powerful animals, and withal a tremendous surprise. I must have had a bad time had no one called them away.
I came to the river Bzib, deep and fast-running, and rowed myself across in a leaky and muddy boat. I ploughed my way through deep sand, or stepped from boulder to boulder, or crushed through miles of sea-holly and prickly shrub. I came to the sacred wood in which the Ahkbasians used to pray when they were pagans, but in which, since their conversion, they have chiefly committed murder. I passed through three strange woods, the first of juniper and wild pear; the second, all dead, bleached and impenetrable, of what had once been hawthorn, but now one jagged, fixed mass of awkward arms and cruel thorns; the third, a beautiful, spacious pine-wood, climbing over cliffs to the far verge of the cape where the lighthouse flashes. These were like woods in a fairy tale, and may well have had each their own particular elves and spirits. Each had a separate character: the first as of the earth, homely, full of gentle russet colours from the juniper and the wild fruit; the second, haggish, full of witches whose finger-nails had never been clipped; the third, queenly, as if beloved of Diana.
Evening grew to night as I plodded past these woods or struggled through them. The temptation was to go into the wood and walk on firmer soil–but the thickets were many, and not a furlong did it profit me. Then there were thorns, you must know, and abundant long-clawed creepers that grasped the legs and kept them fixed till they were tenderly extricated by the hand. When I came to the pine-wood it was night, and the many stars shone over the sea. I walked easily and gratefully over the soft pine needles, and I constantly sought with my eyes for the monastery domes. The moonlight through the pines looked like mist, and the forest climbed gradually over rising cliffs. Far away on the dark cape I saw the flash of the lighthouse….
No houses, no people, only a faint cart-track. That track bade me hope. I would follow it in any case. At last, suddenly, I thought I saw the cloud of white smoke of a bonfire. It was the far-away monastery wall, high and white, with a little lamp in one window. I bore up with the distance, forms grew distinct in the night; I entered the monastery by a five-hundred-yard avenue of cedars.
I met a novice in a long smock. He took me to the guest-rooms of the monastery, and there, to my joy, I was accommodated with a bed–the first for many weeks. I was introduced to a very fat and ancient monk who carried at his belt a bunch of keys. Though very stupid, and, as I learnt afterwards, quite illiterate, he was the spirit of hospitality. He kept the larder, and very gladly brought me milk and bread and cheese, roast beef, wine, and would apparently have brought me anything I asked for–all “for the love of God”: no monastery charges anything for its hospitality.
After my supper I was glad to stretch my limbs and sleep. I opened my window and lay for a while looking at the mysterious dark masses of the cedars and listening to the low sobbing of the waves. In the monastery buildings I heard the turnings of heavy keys. I slept. Next morning at sunrise I had breakfast in the refectory, and the abbot deigned to come in and talk about Pitsoonda. His was an ancient and beautiful monastery, built by the same hand that erected St. Sophia at Constantinople, Justinian the First. It was indeed a replica of that famous building, a fine specimen of Byzantine architecture. It had changed hands many times, belonging to the Greeks, the Turks, the Cherkesses, and finally to the Russians. Here formerly stood the fortified town of Pitius, scarcely a stone of which was now standing, though many were the weapons and household implements that had been found by the monks. It was now the scene of the quiet life of twenty or thirty brethren. No one ever visited them or sought them from without. Steamers never called–only occasional feluccas came in bringing Caucasian tribesmen from neighbouring villages, and there was no carriage-way to any town.
We talked later of present-day matters, the abbot being at once omniscient and omni-ignorant, and I finished my breakfast in time to accompany him to church. I went to morning service in the great high-walled cathedral and saw all the brothers pray. Of the people of the neighbourhood there were only three; these with the monks formed the whole congregation–there is no village at Pitsoonda. Imagine a gigantic and noble building fit to be the living heart of a great metropolis, and inside of it but a few little pictures, brightly painted, and a diminutive rood-screen, scarcely higher than a five-barred gate. On the ceiling of the great dome was painted a lively and striking picture of Christ, probably done of old time, but in countenance resembling, strangely enough, the accepted portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson–a Christ with a certain amount of cynicism, one who might have smoked upon occasion. No doubt it was painted by a Greek: a Russian would never have done anything so Western.
The monks, looking ancient and dwarf-like, for they had never cut their beards, were accommodated in little pews along the walls, and they could stand and rest their shoulders upon the high arms of the pews and doze, but could not sit, for there were no seats.
The service was beautiful, though I had little feeling of being in church–one needs many people in such a cathedral. I was more interested in the monks, their faces and appearances, and in the atmosphere of the monastery. Most of the monks were peasants, dedicated to the religion of Christ and leading particularly strict lives. It was difficult to understand how they lived. Their faces all bore witness to their religious exercises, and on some were evidences of spiritual meditation. They were all naturally rather stupid, and here more stupid than usual, because they were cut off from society, even from the society of their native villages. They did not study, or read, or write; they had no worldly life to occupy them–there was no means for it. They could gossip–yes, but I doubt if they even did that. Assuredly here the Middle Ages slept.
* * * * *
Round the monastery, behold, the ruins of a great fort, slowly crumbling away under the hand of Time. No fleets now sail against Pitius, no pirates land on the barren cape–there is nothing to steal. Even the monastery is without gold.
I cannot forget this walk of gloom and mystery, and my stay in this strange, sleeping monastery of the Middle Ages. But over and against it stands the bright morning of Gudaout, four days later.
Gudaout is encompassed by the highest Caucasus–its only refuge is the sea. It is a place most wonderful in the pageantry of dawn. Picture my life of one evening and morning. I left Gudaout at the dusk, and having bought myself a pound of purple grapes, strolled out along the dusty high road eating them. I made my bed on the seashore, and slept away the aches and pains of a heavy day’s tramping. Next day, in that sort of reflection of last evening which comes before the morning, I rose, for the coldest of October breezes had come down to me from the mountains. The dawn was all gold–a new dawn, I thought. But when I stood on my feet I saw below the gold the lovely bosom of the East, a beautiful, soft bed of creamy rose. It was an elemental sunrise, a veritable _first_ morning.
Distant mountains lay wrapped in dissolving mists, and seemed like the multifarious tents of a great army encamped on a plain–for the smooth sea was like a plain. The chamber of the dawn seemed gigantic, the mountains having lifted up the roof of heaven higher than I had ever seen it before, the sea having taken it out to a far horizon.
I stood looking over the shore before sunrise, and far out in the bay were three high-masted feluccas, looking like ships of the Spanish Armada. At the water’s edge, and yet silhouetted against the dawn sky, were Mahometans, washing themselves and praying–stark, black figures in the strange light.
I welcomed the sun.
He rose swiftly out of the waters, and shone across the bay, lighting up all the mountains that closed in north and south. He came full of promises, and after the coolness and damp of the night I had need of heat. I lay on a bank and gleaned sunshine. The morning came over the sea steadily, equably, like a good ship making for a sure harbour.
Then, ten miles from Gudaout, on a mountain, I looked out from the ruins of the Tower of Iver, over a vast resplendent sea, and saw below me the monastery of Novy Afon and all its buildings, looking like children’s toys. That tower was a stronghold of Christianity in the third century, and it was strange to think that Crusaders and mediaeval warriors had looked out from the same tower, over the same glorious sea. Assuredly from the watch-tower of ancient Time all buildings and man’s dwellings are but toys. I thought of that when I rowed across the river Phasis, and drank coffee at Poti on the site of Colchis. That Black Sea and that river were the same which Jason sailed with his heroes; and the Golden Fleece, those children’s toy, has now, forsooth, become a head-gear in these parts.
We all pass away, but the sea remains the same; and all our empires and literatures, arts and towns, crumble and decay, and are proved toys. Our consolation lies in our unconquerable souls, our glorious after-life beyond this world. But the sea has an immortality in the here and now. I shall never understand its secret.
A stage is reached when I cease to look at the sea, and allow the sea to look into me, when I give it habitation in my being, and am thereby proved, by virtue of my soul, something mightier than it.
But in vain do we try to take the sea’s mystery by storm. In vain do we search for its meaning with love. It lies beyond our mortal ken, deeper than ever plummet sounded.
“Is not the sea the very peacock of peacocks?” asks Nietzsche. “Even before the ugliest of all buffaloes it unfoldeth its tail and never wearieth of its lace fan of silver and gold.” But the sea is not moved by slander. “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!” sings Byron in praise, but the sea is not encouraged. It hearkeneth not, even unto kings. It is that which changes but is itself unchanged. It manifests itself continually in change, and yet it is itself ever the same, ever the same. It reveals itself to man in the majesty and terror of storm, or in the joyousness of peace; when with leaden eye it glowers upward at the leaden clouds, or when the rain sweeps over it in misery. But the secret of the sea lies beyond all these, hidden in the depths, profound, sublime.
I imagine that whilst the prodigal son sat at meat with his father and their guests, there may have come to the door a weary tramp begging food and lodging. The elder brother would probably refuse hospitality, saying, “You are not even my sinning brother, and shall I harbour _you_?” The father in his wine might cry a welcome–“Let him come in for the sake of my son found this day; he also was a tramp upon the road.” The prodigal would say to his steady-going, sober elder, “You say he is not your brother; but he is mine, he is my brother wanderer.” “Oh, come in then,” the elder brother would retort; “but you must do some work–we can’t encourage laziness. You may have shelter and food, but to-morrow you must work with us in the fields till midday.”
This counsel of the elder brother has endured, and is accounted wise. But this type of hospitality is not of that sort that was rewarded, say, in Eager Heart. It is scarcely what the writer to the Hebrews intended when he said, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Of those who wander about the world there are many ordinary men who would be ready to do a morning’s work for their board, but there are also gods in disguise. There are mysterious spirits who cannot reveal the necessities of their fate; souls whom if we could recognise in their celestial guise we should worship, falling down at their feet with the humility of the cry, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.”
There is another important objection to the complexion of the elder brother’s hospitality. Perhaps the tramp would of his own accord have volunteered to work with them next morning. If so, the tramp was deprived of his chance of giving in return. What would have been his gift has been made his price. He should not have been asked to pay. No one asks a brother to pay for food and shelter. And are we not all brothers? True hospitality is a sign of the brotherhood of man, and the open threshold symbolises the open heart. Inhospitality is the sign that man will not recognise the stranger as his brother.
There are two sorts of hospitality, that which gives all it has and that which gives what you want–the former growing out of the latter. The one is prodigal and overflowing generosity, almost embarrassing in its lavishness, the other the simple and ordinary kindness that will always give what it has when there is need; the one the hospitality of Mary who poured out the precious ointment, the other the simple hospitality and homely kindness of Martha; the one is the glory of sacrifice and is of one day in a year or of one day in a life, the other is a sacred due and is of every day. The latter should at least be universal hospitality. It ought to be possible for man to wander where he will over this little world of ours and never fail to find free food and shelter and love. I know no greater shame in national development than the commercialisation of the meal and the night’s lodging. It has been our great disinheritance.
But, of course, it would be folly to demand hospitality or to attempt to enforce it. It is like the drunken cobbler who said to his wife, “You don’t love me, curse you, but by God you shall if I have to kill you first.” Even if a paternal government made a law that hospitality was obligatory and that whoever asked a night’s lodging must be given it, then at one blow the whole idea of hospitality would be annihilated. Hospitality must be something freely given, flowing genially outward from the heart. When in the _Merchant of Venice_ the Duke says, “Then must the Jew be merciful!” and Shylock asks with true Jewish commercialism, “On what compulsion must I, tell me that?” then Portia gives the eternal answer–
The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Need it be said mercy and hospitality are in many respects one and the same, and that when Portia says, “We do pray for mercy and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy,” it is like saying, “We pray for hospitality in heaven and that prayer teaches us to render hospitality here,” like “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” We shall never be homeless, either here or hereafter, if we love one another.
The shelter and food given one for the love of God are “sanctified creatures.” Sleeping in a home for the love of God is more refreshing than sleeping at an inn for a price. One has been blessed and one has also blessed in return; for again, hospitality, like mercy, blesses both those who give and those who take. Throughout a night one has helped to constitute a home, and the angels of the home have guarded one. One has lain not merely in a house but in a Christian home, not only in a home but in the temple of the heart.
It is sweet in a far-away land to be treated like a son or a brother, to be taken for granted, to be embraced by strange men and blessed by strange women. Sweet also is it for the far-away man to recognise a new son or a new brother in the wanderer whom he has received. I remember one night at the remote village of Seraphimo in Archangel Government, how a peasant put both hands on my shoulders and, looking into my eyes, exclaimed, “How like he is to us!”
Tramping across the Crimean moors I lost my way in the mist near the monastery of St. George, and was conducted by a peasant to the Greek village of Kalon, well known to old campaigners–it is between Sebastopol and Balaklava. The village remains the same to-day as it was in the days of the Crimean War, and the same families as lived there then, or their descendants, live there now. I visited the _starosta_, and he indicated a home where I might sleep the night. I was taken in by an aged Greek woman and entertained among her family. They brought me bread and wine, and spread out the best couch for me. The sons told me of hunting exploits with the bear and the wild boar; they told me how at Christmas time the wild turkeys fly overhead in such numbers that it is the easiest thing in the world to shoot one’s Christmas dinner–and I thought that very convenient. When the sons were silent, or talking among themselves, the old dame told me about her youth: how she was only seventeen years old at the time of the war; how the English were the most handsome of all the soldiers, how the Turks were the most lazy and the most brutal, how the French and the Italians simpered; how the English soldiers were loved by the Greek girls, how they were also more generous than the other troops and gave freely clothes and tea and sugar and whatever was needed in the cottages and asked no money for it whatever; how in these days the little children played with the cannon-balls, rolling them over the moors and up the village street–all manner of gossip the good old lady told me, beguiling the hours and my ears till it was bedtime. Next day I offered to pay at least for my food, but the old lady, though poor, waved her hand and said, “Oh no, it is for the love of God!” How often have I had that said to me day after day in Russia, especially in the North!
Another day in Imeritia, when I passed at evening through a little Caucasian village and was beginning to wonder where I should have my supper and find a night’s lodging, a Georgian suddenly hailed me unexpectedly. He was sitting, not in his own house, but at a table in an inn. There were of course no windows to the inn, and all the company assembled could easily converse with the horsemen and pedestrians in the street below. He called out to me and I went up to him. A place was made for me at the table, and he ordered a chicken and a bottle of wine. I was just a little doubtful, for I had never seen the man before and his anticipation of my needs was surprising, but I accepted his invitation, drank his health, and ate my meal. He looked at me very pleasantly, and he was more sensible than a Russian, the sort of person who is marvellously interested in you, but who is so gentle that he will ask no questions lest you find some pain in answering him. But I told him about myself. After the meal he took me along to his house and gave me a spare bed. All was very disorderly and he apologised, saying, “It is untidy, but I am a bachelor. What is a bachelor to do? If I were married all would be different.” I spent a whole day with him, and in that short space he conceived for me as it seemed an eternal friendship.
“You are very good,” I said at parting. “You have been very hospitable. I don’t know how to thank you….” He stopped my words. “No, no,” he said, “it is only natural; it is no doubt what any one would do for me in your country were I a stranger there.”
“Would they?” I thought.
By the way, a curious example of inhospitality showed itself in this village where I met the Georgian. We were sitting round a pitcher of sweet rose-coloured wine, and one of us signalled to a rather morose Akhbasian prince who was passing, but he took no notice. “He will not drink wine with us,” said my friend. “His wife is so beautiful.”
“What _do_ you mean?” I asked.
“His wife is very beautiful and he is as jealous of her as she is beautiful. He is like a dog who growls when he has suddenly got something very good in his mouth: he fears any familiarity on the part of other dogs.”
As a tramp I have often felt how little I had to give materially for all the kindness I have received. But even such as myself have their opportunities of reciprocity, though they are of a humble kind. I call to mind a cold, wet day near Batoum, how I had a big bonfire by a stream under a bridge and I warmed myself, cooked food, and took shelter from the rain. A Caucasian man and woman, both tramps, came and sat by my fire a long while. The man took from his breast some green tobacco leaves, dried them by the fire, and put them in his pipe and smoked them. They spoke a language quite unintelligible to me and knew not a word of Russian. But they were nevertheless extremely demonstrative and told me all manner of things by signs and gestures. Very poor, even starving, and I gave them some bread and beef and some hot rice pudding from my pot. In return the man gave me five and a half walnuts! We seemed like children playing at being tramps, but I felt a very lively affection for these strange wanderers who had come so trustingly to my little home under the bridge.
One of the beautiful things about hospitality is that though we do not pay the giver of it directly, we do really pay him in the long run. A is hospitable to B, B to C, C to D, and so on, and at last Z is hospitable to A. It is largely a matter of “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.” It is significant that the Russian’s parting word equivalent to our “God be with you” is “Forgive!”
When St. Peter said to the beggar, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee,” it is not to be thought that he hadn’t a few coppers to spare. He meant, “Silver and gold are not my gifts; I have something other and more precious.” Thus the apostle indicated the deeper significance of charity.
There is hospitality of the mind as well as of the hand, though both spring from the heart. Hospitality of the hand is having a home with open doors, but that of the mind is having open the temple of the soul.
I once called upon a hermit and we talked of the significance of hospitality. At last he said to me: “You praise hospitality well, my brother, but there is another and a greater hospitality than you have yet mentioned. It is the will to take the wanderer not only into the house to feed but into the heart to comfort and love, the ability to listen when others are singing, to see when others are showing, to understand when others are suffering. It is what the writer to the Corinthians meant by charity.
“Thus–‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,’ is like saying, ‘Though I have all possible eloquence and yet do not understand mankind, do not take him to my heart, I am as sounding brass; unless my eloquence is music played upon the common chord I am but a tinkling cymbal.’
“‘And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing,’ is like saying, ‘Though I see into the future but misunderstand its significance; though I understand all mysteries, but not the mystery of the human heart; though I am able to remove obstacles by faith, I am simply like Napoleon, finishing up at St. Helena, I am nothing.’
“‘And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing,’ is like saying, ‘Organised philanthropy is not charity, neither is the will to be a martyr, unless these things spring from the will to feel how our brothers suffer.’
“‘Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
“‘Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth,’ for the truth refutes all uncharitable judgment, the truth shows us all as brothers, shows us all needing the love which one man can give to another.
“‘Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.'”
I understood the hermit though it seemed to me there was much that he left out. Had he been a tramp instead of a hermit he would probably have thought as I do. The world that he talked of was obviously one entirely of men and women, and he left out of account all that world which we call Nature.
It is well to receive men and shelter them and feed them, and well to understand their hearts, but when men are not near there is another beautiful world knocking at our doors and asking hospitality in our souls; it is the world of Nature. Oh ye young of all ages, be hospitable unto Nature, open your doors to her, take her to your hearts! She will rebuild your soul into a statelier mansion, making for herself a fitting habitation, she will make you all beautiful within. Then, when you extend the hospitality of your hearts, your _temples_, to man, they will be spacious temples and rich hearts. Nature comes first, for she heals hearts’ wounds; if you have not received her communion first you will not be so fit to receive man. The consumptive-bodied already go to the country, and we are nearly all of us, in this era of towns, consumptive-souled. We need whole hearts just as we need whole lungs. But what am I saying? I am bidding you bargain with Nature for a price, and that is wrong. You must love her, not for anything she can give you. What is more, you can never know what she will give you: she may even take away. When you see her you will love her as a bride. Be receptive to her beauty, be always Eager Heart. When any man receives her into himself there is born in his soul’s house the baby Christ, the most wonderful and transfiguring spirit that man has yet known upon a strange world.
THE STORY OF THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR MAN
On my way to Jerusalem I tramped through a rich residential region where wealthy Armenians, Turks, and Russians dwelt luxuriously in beautiful villas looking over the sea. I had been sleeping out, for the road was high and dry and healthy, but at last, entering a malarial region, I began to seek shelter more from man than from Nature.
One cold and cloudy night I came into the village of Ugba and sought hospitality. There were few houses and fewer lights, and some feeling of awkwardness, or perhaps simply a stray fancy, prompted me to do an unusual thing–to beg hospitality at one of the luxurious villas. I had nearly always gone to the poor man’s cottage rather than to the rich man’s mansion, but this night, the opportunity offering, I appealed to the rich.
I came to the house of a rich man, and as I saw him standing in the light of a front window I called out to him from a distance. In the dusk he could not make out who I was, but judging by my voice he took me for an educated man, one of his own class.
“Can you put me up for the night?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied cheerfully. “Come round by the side of the house, otherwise the dogs may get in your way.”
But when the rich man saw me on his threshold a cloud passed over his eyes and the welcome faded from his face. For I was dressed simply as a tramp and had feet so tired that I had not troubled to take the signs of travel from my garments. I had a great sack on my back, and in my hand a long staff.
The head of the house, a portly old gentleman with a long beard, interrogated me; his son, a limp smiling officer in white duck, peered over his shoulder; two or three others of the establishment looked on from various distances.
“What do you want?” asked the old gentleman curtly, as if he had not heard already.