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Apologia Diffidentis
by W. Compton Leith
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[Transcriber's Note:

Greek words in this text have been transliterated into English and are found within { } brackets.]



Apologia Diffidentis



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Sirenica



Apologia Diffidentis

By W. Compton Leith

London: John Lane, The Bodley Head. New York: John Lane Company MCMXVII



Third Edition

Printed in Great Britain by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh



To One Whose Friendship is beyond Desert and above Requital



Apologia Diffidentis

"I am naturally bashful; nor hath conversation, age, or travel been able to effront or enharden me."

SIR THOMAS BROWNE

In the matter of avowals the diffident never speak if they can write. That is why my apology for a furtive existence is here set down in solitude instead of being told face to face. You have borne so many years with my unresponsive and incomprehensible ways that shame at last constrains me to this poor defence; for I must either justify myself in your sight, or go far away where even your kindness cannot reach me. The first alternative is hard, but the second too grievous for impaired powers of endurance; I must therefore find what expression I may, and tell you how my life has been beshrewed ever since, a boy of twelve, I first incurred the obloquy of being shy. The word slips easily from the pen though the lips refuse to frame it; for I think most men would rather plead guilty to a vice than to this weakness.

A doom of reticence is upon all our shy confraternity, and we seldom make confidences even to each other. It is only at rarest intervals that the spell is lifted, by silent sympathy, by a smile, by a tear, by I know not what. At such times our souls are like those deep pools of the shore, only open to the sky at lowest tides of still summer days, only to be approached across long stretches of wet sand and slippery shelves of rock. In their depths are delicate fronded seaweeds and shells tinted with hues of sundawn; but to see them you must bend low over the surface, which no lightest breath must furrow, or the vision is gone.

Few of the busy toilers of the world will leave the firm sands to see so little; but sometimes one weary of keen life will stray aside, and oftener a child will come splashing across the beach to peer down with artless curiosity and delight. Then the jealous ocean returns, and the still clear depths are confused once more with refluent waters; soon the waves are tossing above the quiet spot, and the child is gone home to sleep and forget. I cannot have you with me at these still hours of revelation; I must tell my tale as best I can with such success as fortune may bestow.

I shall say nothing of the miseries which embittered the life of the diffident boy. But I cannot pass in silence the deeper trouble of earliest manhood, when my soul first awoke to the dread that though other clouds might drift westward and dissolve, one would impend over me for ever. It was at the university that this vague misgiving crept upon me like a chill mist, until the hopes and aspirations of youth were one by one extinguished, as to a sailor putting out to sea the comfortable harbour lights vanish in the wracks of a tempestuous winter morning. I turned my face away from the gracious young life amidst which I moved, like a man possessed of a dark secret to his undoing. My heart, yet eager for the joy of living and yearning for affection, was daily starved of its need as by a power of deliberate and feline cruelty; and with every expansive impulse instantly restrained by this daemonic force, I was left at last unresponsive as a maltreated child, who flings his arms round no one, but shrinks back into his own world of solitary fancies.

I think there is no misery so great as that of youth surrounded by all opportunities for wholesome fellowship, endowed with natural faculties for enjoyment, yet repressed and thwarted at every turn by invincible self-consciousness and mistrust: surely no lost opportunities of manhood leave such aching voids as these. In the spring-time of life to feel day by day the slow erosion of the power of joy is of all pains most poignant; out of it grow anxieties, premature despairs, incongruous with fresh cheeks and a mind not yet mature. This misery was mine for those four years which to most men are the happiest of a whole career, but to me at every retrospect seem so beset with gloomy shadows that could I live my life again, I would not traverse them once more for all the gold of Ophir.

At first I writhed and strained in my bonds, and sometimes would make timid advances to the generous young hearts around me. But the tension always proved too sore; I never maintained the ground I had won, and with a perilous fatalism more and more readily accepted what I deemed inevitable failure. There were among them, I doubt it not now, Samaritans who would have tended my bruised limbs; but then they all seemed to be gliding over the black ice, too happy to stay and lift up the fallen. And bruised though I was, I still rose time and again and moved painfully among them, so that theirs was no culpable or merciless neglect.

Yet the end for me was illimitable dreariness; and like Archie in Weir of Hermiston, I seemed abroad in a world from which every hope of intimacy was banished. And as with every month the hopelessness of resistance was made plainer and plainer, there came upon me the recklessness of the condemned man who jests or blasphemes to hide his ruth. Overwrought continually by forebodings of coming pain, unstrung by strange revulsions, I would pass from burning wrath to cold despair, a most petulant and undisciplined sufferer. Uniting in one person the physical exuberance of youth and the melancholy of disillusioned manhood, I was deprived of the balanced energy proper to either age, and kept up a braggart courage with the headiest wine of literature. I could not bear the bland homilies of the preachers, but ranged myself with the apostles of rebellion who blew imperious trumpet blasts before the walls of ordered life.

Verily the violence of the blasts was sometimes such that the ramparts should have fallen down; and often in my exaltation I already saw them totter, as I strode along reciting the dithyrambs of men who like myself could find scarce a responsive heart-beat in all this throbbing world. Above all I gloried in the declamations of Queen Mab, which sanctioned by high poetic authority the waste of my affections and my moody defiance of life's most salutary law. With these upon my lips I roamed, an absurd pathetic figure, amid the haunts of the Scholar Gipsy, and the wayward upland breezes conspired with my truant moods. And while I sat by my lamp late into the night, I turned the pages of pessimists and cynics, for no principles are dearer to a man than those which allow him to profess contempt for the benefits which he cannot enjoy.

Yet by seeking amid such simples a balm for wounded pride, I did not really deceive myself, but lived as a sophist rather than a philosopher. And all the while I was digging graves for my better instincts, until my sexton's mood, confining me within churchyard walls, gave me over almost entirely to the company of mental bats and owls. The danger of it all was that though I was yet youthful, and should have been still pliant as a sapling, I was fostering the growth of those habits which, like rings in the grain, are the signature of unyielding years. Naturalists say that a bullfinch fed only on hempseed gradually loses his fair plumage and becomes black as a raven: so my soul, nourished on thoughts of rebellion, put off its bright and diverse enthusiasms and was clothed in the dark garment of despair.

When the long-desired hour of release came, and I was free to turn my back upon the spires of my prison city, I had already plumbed an abyss of misery. The very thought of life in the conflict of the world was abhorrent; and if I had been of the Roman Church I should have become a Benedictine and sought a lettered and cloistered peace. I despaired of finding anywhere upon earth the profound quietude, the absolute detachment, when a chance occasion seemed to crown my desire, and blind to all warnings of disillusion, I suddenly set sail for what I then thought might be a permanent sojourn in the East.

Within two months' time the whole environment of my life was changed, and I was established on a lonely plantation set high upon a range of hills whose slopes were clothed with primeval forests verging to a tropical sea. My home, a white-walled, red-roofed bungalow with a great columned verandah like a temple's peristyle, lay in the issue of an upper valley threaded by a clear stream, whence you may look far down over rolling plains to an horizon lost in the shimmering heat of noon. Immediately to the east rose the cone of a great solitary hill, always outlined against the sky with a majestic isolation that lent it an almost personal existence, and at the birth of every day bearing the orb of the rising sun upon its wooded shoulder. Round about, in scattered villages of thatched and mud-walled huts, dwelled brown men of ancient pagan ways, men who neither knew progress nor set any price upon time.

There I entered upon a wholly new existence as remote from all the social trials which beset shyness as if it were passed in some island of the uttermost sea. I had escaped from a harrying pursuit; I was free; and to the bliss of this recovered liberty I abandoned myself, without attempting to justify my flight to conscience or forming any scheme for future years. Like a deer which has eluded the hounds, I yearned only for rest and long oblivion of the chase; I wanted to live woodland days until, all the strain and panic of the past forgotten, I might rise refreshed and see a new way clear before me.

And this first abandonment was a time of ecstasy. The long tranquil days were crowned by nights of peace yet more desired. I lay beneath the verandah and watched the stars in their splendour, not the pin-points of cold light that pierce our misty western heavens, but bright orbs in innumerable companies hovering upon the tranced earth. Night after night I saw the incomparable vision; month after month the moon rose slowly over the high wall of the jungle, first a great globe imminent upon the trees, next soaring remote through the upper heavens, waning at last to a sphere of pale unquickening light. I would lie thus for hours motionless, with lulled mind, until the breeze forerunning the dawn, or the quavering wail of the jackal, recalled the startled thought to the prison bonds of self.

With the gentle lapse of months all these impersonal influences took dominion over me and gave me a quiet happiness never known before. The nights brought the greater light; but the days too had their glories. I would climb the rugged sides of the mountain, and emerging into a colder world sit beneath an overhanging rock and see the hot air quivering over leagues of plain; while in the nearer distance, far down beneath my feet, the rice-fields shone like emerald and the palm-fringed pools like shields of silver. Or I would stretch myself at early afternoon on the close-cropped grass on the jungle-edge, and watch the opposite sky take on an ever-deeper blue against the setting sun behind me. Often at such times I would hear a rushing in the highest branches, and turning very silently, see the outposts of a troop of monkeys peering down through the gleaming foliage. Then, if I moved, neither head nor limb, others would come, and yet others, leaping from branch to branch and plunging down from higher to lower levels like divers cleaving a deep green sea; until at last some slightest involuntary movement of mine would put the whole host to flight, and greybeards, young warriors, camp followers and mothers with their children on their backs would spring precipitate from tree to tree, screaming and gibbering like Homer's sapless dead. Then, when the stars rushed out and the darkness came on apace, it was sweet to wander home along those paths so dear to primitive men in all countries, narrow paths and sinuous, smoothed by the footfalls of centuries, winding patiently round every obstacle and never breaking through after the brutal manner of civilization. The fire-flies gleamed in the brushwood on either hand, and from every side rose that all-pervading hum of busy insects through which the tropic forest is never still.

Amid these surroundings, so peaceful and so new, my soul was stilled to that {galene} or ocean-calm which the old Greek philosopher found the highest good for man. And month by month the mere material side of life grew of less moment; the body fretted the spirit less, but often seemed a tissue of gossamer lightness through which it could pass at will, as the breeze through the gleaming spider-webs upon the bushes at dawn. There were times when the ideal of the mystic seemed well-nigh accomplished, when my body might almost have been abandoned by the soul for hours upon end. The words of Emerson seemed to be fulfilled: "By being assimilated to the original soul by whom and after whom all things subsist, the soul of man does then easily flow into all things and all things flow into it: they mix; and he is present and sympathetic with their structure and law."

As I write now amid the roar of London traffic, I well believe that to men who have never bathed in eastern moonlight, the description will sound hyperbolical and false. But when I think of those old days, how serene they were, how apart, I let the words stand: I am not artist enough to give them a more plausible simplicity. All conditions that a recluse might crave seemed now to be fulfilled for my benefit. The virgin forests and great hills were a perpetual joy, but there was a tranquil pleasure in the plantation which man's labour had reclaimed from these. That was a meet place indeed for the meditation of a quiet hour, and no more grateful refuge can be conceived than such a shady grove at the height of noon. You must not fancy an expanse of dusty land lined with prim rows of plants in the formal style of a nursery garden; but, spread over the lower slopes of the valleys, spacious woods of clean, grey-stemmed trees, with overarching branches thinned to cast a diaphanous shade over the sea of lustrous dark leaves below. The shrubs stood waist-high in serried, commingling ranks, their dark burnished leaves gleaming here and there in the sifted rays that found their way down through the vaults of foliage; the groves of Daphne had no more perfect sheen.

I learned to feel for this gracious place a love only second to that of the wilder jungle; for nature thus tamed to work side by side with man loses indeed her austerer charm, but not her calm and dignity: these she brings with her always to be a glory to the humblest associate of her labour. Often as I pruned a tree, or stripped its stem of suckers, I felt the soothing, quickening influence of this partnership, and my thoughts turned to others who had known a like satisfaction and relief; to Obermann forgetting his melancholy in the toil of the vintage, plucking the ripe clusters and wheeling them away as if he had never known the malady of thought; or to Edward Fitzgerald out with the dawn among his roses at Little Grange.

Amid these high dreams and simple occupations, time seemed to glide away like a brimming stream, and the only events that marked the passing of the years were wayfarings through the country-side, sojournings in strange, slumbrous native towns, expeditions of wider range to old white ports of Malabar still dreaming of the forgotten heroes whose story Camoens sang. After many such journeys the genius of this oriental land seemed to travel with us, so familiar did every aspect of this simple Indian life become. Our equipment was of set purpose the patriarchal gear of native fashion; narrow carts with great lumbering wheels were covered by matting arched upon bent saplings, and had within a depth of clean rice-straw on which at night mattresses were spread. Beneath each yoke went a pair of milk-white oxen with large mild eyes and pendulous dewlaps, great beasts of a fine Homeric dignity and worthy of Nausicaa's wain. They swung along with a leisurely rolling gait; and if their silent feet moved too slowly, the sleepy brown-skinned driver, crouching on the pole between them, would shame them into speed by scornful words about their ancestry, more prompt than blows in their effect on beasts of ancient and sacred lineage.

We travelled at night or in the freshness of early morning, regardless of the hours, unfretted by the tyrannous remembrances of appointed times. Milestones passed slowly, like things drifting, which ask no attention, and hardly perceived in the moment of their disappearance, serve only to enrich and replenish the mind's voluptuous repose. It was a joy to lie drowsily back upon the straw, awaiting sleep and looking out upon the stars through the open back of the cart, while the fire-flies darted across the feathery clusters of bamboo, and the cradling sound of wheels and footfalls called slumber up out of the darkness. And it was equal delight to spring from the cart at first flush of dawn, and see some far blue hill in the east lined like a cloud with broadening gold, until the resistless sun rose a full orb above it, flooding the grey plains and making the leaves of the banyans gleam with the lustre of old bronze. But though the sun was come, we would often press on for yet three hours, through belts of squirrel-haunted wood, beside great sheets of water with wild-duck floating far amidst, and borders starred with yellow nenuphars, across groves of mango and plantain trees into landscapes of tiny terraced plots, where the vivid green rice-blades stood thick in the well-soaked earth, and bowed brown figures diverted to their roots the thread-like rivulet from the great brown tank above.

Here would be a wayside shrine, a simple stuccoed portico with columns streaked in red, enclosing the sacred emblems with their offerings of golden marigold, and bearing upon each corner, carved in dark grey stone, Siva's recumbent bull. Here millet fields, with hedges of blue aloe or euphorbias like seven-branched candlesticks, announced a place of habitation; soon the village itself appeared, a long irregular line of white-walled houses roofed with thatch or tile, and here and there greater dwellings with carved balconies and barred verandahs, behind which impassive white-robed figures sat and seemed to ponder upon life. On the right, perhaps, would be a shop all open to the road, where, cross-legged upon a kind of dais, the merchant sat among his piled wares, unenterprising and unsolicitous, serenely confident in the balance-sheet of fate. On the left, in a shady corner, a barber would be bending over a half-shaven skull. Everywhere children of every shade from yellow to deep umber would be playing solemnly about the ways, turning upon the passing stranger their grave, unfathomable eyes.

Beyond the village there would be a rest-house maintained for the use of wayfaring white men, and here we would repose through the heat of the day, reclining with a book in rooms shaded with shutters, or with fine mats drenched from hour to hour with cooling sprays of water. Then with the sun's decline we would set out once more, meeting a file of blue-robed women erect as caryatides as they came up from the well, each bearing upon her back-thrown head a water-jar of earthen or brazen ware, staying her burden with a shapely brown arm circled with bangles of glass and silver. In the short hours before the darkness, we would encounter all the types of men which go to make up Indian country life—the red-slippered banker jogging on his pony beneath a white umbrella, the vendor of palm-wine urging a donkey almost lost beneath the swollen skins, barefooted ryots with silent feet and strident tongues, crowds of boys and children driving buffaloes and cows, all coming homeward from their labour with the evening.

And when these had gone by, and we rolled on through the scented air of the silent open country, we would come perhaps in the gathering darkness to a great river lapping and murmuring through the blackened rocks above the ford, and shining like a glorious path in the light of the rising moon. Silently, high above the banks, there would flit through the still air bands of flying foxes awakened for their nightly raid upon the plantain groves; and in the shadows of the further bank there would gleam a sudden light, or the echoes of a hailing voice would rise and then die away. Steeped in the poetry of all these things we would cross and emerge upon the opposite slope to begin the pilgrimage of the night anew. So to live tranquil days and unfretful, moving in quiet through a still land rich in old tradition—this was an experience of peace which no dreams of imagination could surpass, a freshness of joy penetrative as the fragrance of unplucked wayside flowers.

Sometimes we would set out on longer journeys by land and sea, crossing the wooded ghats and descending to some old port of historic name, Cochin or Mangalore or Calicut, white places of old memory, sleeping by the blue waves as if no Vasco de Gama had ever come sailing up out of the West to disturb their enchanted slumber. The approach to these dreamy shores was dark and tumultuous, as if nature had set an initiation of contrasting toil before the enjoyment of that light and peace. It followed the bed of a mountain stream, which began in a mere pleat of the hills, tumbling often in white cascades, and enduring no boat upon its waters until half its course was run. But here it challenged man to essay a fall; for where it burst its way over rocky slopes were channels jeopardous and hardly navigable, sequences of foaming rapids, races of wild water swirling round opposing boulders, and careering indignant of restraint between long walls of beetling rock. Here when the sun had gone down we would embark with a crew of lithe brown men in a boat hewn from a single tree, seamless and stoutly fashioned to be the unharmed plaything of such rocks and boisterous waters as these. In these rapids the river waked to consciousness of mighty life, tossing our little craft through a riot of dancing waves, whirling it round the base of perpendicular rocks set like adamant in the hissing waters, sweeping it helpless as a petal down some glassy plane stilled, as it were, into a concentrated wrath of movement. The men sprang from side to side, from bow to stern, staving the craft with a miraculous deftness from a projecting boulder, forcing her into a new course, steadying her as she reeled in the shock and strain of the conflict, while their long poles bent continually like willow wands against her battered sides. The steersman stood silent, except when he shouted above all the din some resonant, eruptive word of command; the men responded by breathless invocations to their gods, relaxing no tense sinew until the pent waters rushed out into some broad pool where the eased stream went brimming silently, gathering new strength in the darkness of its central deeps.

At such places the moon would perhaps be obscured by passing clouds, and we would land upon an eyot until she shone once more in a clear heaven. Stretched at length upon the fine white sand waiting for her return, we could hear the boom of waters in the distance calling us on to a renewal of the conflict. These periods of great stillness, interposed between tumults past and impending, had their own refinement of pleasure as far above the joys of fenced and covenanted ease as the bivouac of the hard campaign surpasses slumber in the fine linen of a captured city: they brought the wandering mind into communion with elemental forces, and seemed to hold it expectant of supernatural events. In that interlunar twilight there reigned a solemn sense of wonder evoked here eternally, one felt, from the ancient time, with the rustling of stirred foliage and the voice of those far waters for its music.

The lulled reason yielded place to reverie, and the whole rapt being abandoned itself like an Orphic worshipper to the guidance of an unseen mysteriarch. This acquiescence in the swift succession of calm to fury and stress, resembled the quiet which may be conceived to follow sudden death; the heightened sense of vicissitude in things summoned up and sustained a solemn mood. All the while that we lay charmed and half oppressed in this atmosphere as of an under-world, the clouds were drawing forward on their course; and as their last fringe trailed slowly by and the moon was revealed once more, the spell was broken in an instant by human voices calling us to re-embark. Again we glided to the verge of tumultuous falls, again we were flung through foaming narrows and labyrinthine passages of torn rocks, until, the last promontory turned with arrowy swiftness, we shot through a postern of the granite barrier and bounded far into still water fringed with trees of profoundest shadow. We put in to shore, for this stage of our journey was over; the dawn was near; the carts stood waiting on the road. But the influence of the wonderful night, clinging about us, would keep us long silent, as if awed by the passing of ancient Vedic gods.

I will not describe the later stages of these journeys: the coasting voyages in restful ships that seemed built to sail Maeander; the touchings at old wharfless ports; the visits to lone temples where Herodotus would have loved to linger; the rambles on the slopes of Adam's Peak; the meditations amid the ruins of Anaradhapura and Pollanarrua, ancient homes of kings, now stripped of every glory but that of these sonorous names—such are the records of every traveller, and are chronicled to satiety by a hundred hasty pens. A month of wandering within the fringe of civilization would be closed by a last week of patriarchal travel, bringing us back to our remote valley just as the clouds of the coming monsoon were ranging in denser ranks along the evening sky like the tents of a beleaguering army. Hardly had we time to settle down for the wet season, see to the stacking of fire-logs, and be sure that every tile on the roof was firm in its appointed place, when the embattled host seemed to break up from its last camp, and advance upon us along the whole line that the eye perceived.

One year I was witness of the first onset, which came in the late afternoon—an immediate shock of massed clouds without throwing forward of skirmishers or any prelude of the vanguard. Our home looked down upon a gentle incline of open grassy land to a broad belt of jungle in the middle distance; here the undergrowth and small trees had been newly cleared away, opening out a dim far view across an uncumbered leaf-strewn floor into the backward gloom of the forest. I sat with my eyes fixed upon the trees, drawing the rain on with the whole strength of desire to the parched country lying there faint with the exhaustion of three months of drought. While I watched, the deep line of cloud, at first distinct from the forest-top along which it came rolling, insensibly merged with the foliage, until every contour was lost in a common gloom, only the great bare stems below standing pale against the gathering darkness. There was an intense stillness everywhere like the silence of expectation which falls upon an awestruck crowd; the very insects had ceased their usual song. And now the ear caught a distant sound, vague and deep, coming up out of the mid darkness, and growing to a mighty volume as a sudden wind swept out from the sounding foliage into the open land and searched every cranny of the house as it passed. Then, as if drawn by the wind, there came into view among the nearest tree-stems a moving grey line advancing with a long roar until it hid the whole forest from sight: it was the wave of battle about to break upon us. It came on like a wall, enormous, irresistible; one instant, and it had devoured the intervening space; another, and we were lost in the deluge, and the great rain drops were spilled upon the roof with the noise of continuous thunder. As the deep sound reverberated through the roof above me, I went in exulting to a hearth piled with blazing logs, glad in the prospect of renewing for many weeks old and quiet habitudes of indoor life, rich with solace of books and tranquil meditation.

* * * * *

I have dwelt upon the outward aspects of my life in exile, because the sojourn of these years amid the hills and forests taught a natural leechcraft which was to stand me in good stead in coming years, and may stand in equal stead other souls desolate as mine. Like the Nile brimming over the fields, a flood of joy from nature overlaid my parched being, enriching it with a fertile loam, and shielding it from the irritations of the world. I lay fallow beneath the still, sunlit waters, unharrowed by teasing points of doubt, and porous to the influence of an all-encompassing peace. Exile had opened to me a new heaven and a new earth, whose freshness and calm charmed thought away from all vain questionings; the fascination of outward things had for a while cooled the useless ardour of introspection. But it was inevitable that the bland ease of such a contemplative life should bring no enduring satisfaction to the mind; it was not an end in itself, but a mere means to serenity, a breathing-space useful to the recovery of a long-lost fortitude. The time was now come when the hunted deer, refreshed in the quiet of his inaccessible glen, was to awake to new thought of the herd, and of the duties of a common life; when the peace of successful flight was to appear in its true light as a momentary release, and no longer as the ultimate goal imagined in the anguish of pursuit.

It was during this last monsoon that doubts began to stir within, interrupting my studies of the systems of Hindu philosophy and my porings over sacred books. The vague insistence of these misgivings made me surely aware that even in this eastern paradise all was not well; but at first I refused to listen, and plunged deep into the maze of the Vedanta to escape the importunate voice. Yet anxiety came up around me like a heavy atmosphere; an indescribable sense of disillusion, clinging as a damp mist, brought its mildew to the soul, until my new heaven was overcast and my new earth dispeopled of all pleasures. Then one day the fever struck me down, and of a sudden my mind became an arena in which memories of earlier life chased one another unceasingly in the round of a delirious dance. Trivial events impressed themselves on consciousness with strange precision; objects long forgotten rose before me outlined in fire—one, a pane of stained glass in Fairford Church, with a lost soul peering in anguish through the red bars of hell. Each and every apparition was of the old life; all were emissaries from the forsaken West summoning me back to my renounced allegiance. When the fever left me, returning reason slowly brought order amid the welter of confused ideas, as the ants sorted the grain for distracted Psyche, and for the first time I considered in the detachment of reminiscence the nature of my action in leaving England. I sifted the evidence at length as I lay under the verandah slowly recovering strength; and when at last judgment was delivered, it took the necessary form of condemnation.

I saw now that unless a man is prepared to discard every western usage, to slough off his inherited cast of thought, to renounce his faith, wholly and finally to abandon his country and his father's house, his flight is but the blind expedient of cowardice or pride. Here and there may be born one who can so cut himself off from the parent stem as to endure a fruitful grafting upon an oriental stock, but I knew that I at least was none such. I was no more prepared for so uncompromising a renunciation than any other weakling who seeks prestige by parade of exotic wisdom, and deems himself a seer if he can but name the Triad, or tell the avatars of Vishnu, I had not the credulity which may justify the honest renegade, and the western blood still ran too warmly in my veins. I felt that were I to stay in the East for fifty years, I should never reach the supreme heights of metaphysical abstraction whence men really appear as specks and life as a play; therefore to remain was to avow myself a runaway and to live henceforth despicable in my own eyes. For over the unfathomable deep of oriental custom the torrent of our civilization flows unblending, as in the Druid's legend the twin streams of Dee flow clear through Bala lake, and never mingle with its waters. Not for our use is that intricate mind which in logic needs more than two premises to a conclusion, and in art is intolerant of all void space, entangling its figures in labyrinths of ornament which Maya herself might have devised to distract the sight from truth.

The Hindu has the true dignity of contemplation, and superbly removes himself from the sordid greeds of life. But in imagining and reviling an abstraction called Matter, he abides in the errors of the first Greek sages, and mines so far beneath the trodden earth that when he looks up into middle day he sees only the stars above him. Could I have shared the eremite's belief that his prayers help not merely his own solitary soul but all souls travailing through all the world, I might yet have remained where I was, an alien living indifferent to the common rule, like a monk of some shunned exotic order. But with convictions like mine, to do so would have brought the drear sense of derogation. All the miseries of the past were as nothing to that; there was but one manly course—to return and gird my loins for a new struggle with western life. Within a month from the time when this course was seen to be a duty, I was standing on the deck of a homeward-bound steamer, watching the harbour lights recede into the distance.

* * * * *

Back once more in England, I threw aside the clinging robe of meditation, and falling upon work ravenously, indulged what genius of energy was still alive within me. I made haste to adore all that I had so lately burned, making life objective, revering personal ideals, and in the ordinance of material things finding the truest satisfaction of all endeavour. I saw in civilization the world's sole hope; its brisk life and abounding force took sudden hold of a fancy enervated by dreams. Again I found a new heaven and a new earth, though earth was now no more than man's dinted anvil, and heaven his reservoir of useful light. I lived for action and movement; I mingled eagerly with my fellows, and cursed the folly which had driven me to waste three years in an intellectual swoon. Now the day was not long enough for work, Lebanon was not sufficient to burn. I saw the western man with race-dust on his cheeks, or throned in the power-houses of the world, moving upon iron platforms and straight ladders in the mid throb and tumult of encompassing engines. One false step, and he must fall a crushed and mutilated thing. Yet unconcerned as one strolling at large, he controlled the great wheels and plunging pistons, and brought them to a standstill with a touch of his finger. The confidence and strenuous ease of such life compelled me to marvel and admire, and I who had so lately lain at the feet of eastern sages, set up this mechanician as my god. If I looked back at all to the land of dreams, the placid figure beneath the Tree of Enlightenment took on the aspect of a fool's idol, ignobly self-manacled, pitiful and irksome in remembrance.

But if once more I dreamed of finality in change I deceived myself, forgetting that God Himself cannot unmake the past or undo what is done. A year had hardly gone by in this new apprenticeship to life, when at moments of weariness or overstrain sharp doubts shot through me and were gone again, like twinges of sudden pain recalling old disease to one who has lulled himself with dreams of cure. The feeling of fellowship with men grew weaker, and as it waned I began to shrink once more from my kind. I still believed myself happy, but happiness seemed to need constant affirmation, as though it could make no way in my favour without display of token or credential to confirm its truth. There were pauses in the clatter and jangle of life; the revolutions of the great wheels sometimes slowed into silence; and as these interludes grew more frequent, I caught myself repeating that I really was content. The faint assurance given, I flung myself with devouring industry upon my allotted task, trying to stifle the forebodings which prophesied against my peace.

In one such pause my old self appeared before me again, like the face of an ancient enemy looking in from the darkness; stealthy footfalls which of late I had so often seemed to hear were now referred to their true cause as we saw each other eye to eye. The old Adam had awakened and was come for his inheritance; and the vision of him there across the pane gazing in upon his own, seemed to arraign me for disowning a brother and denying his indefeasible right. I recognized that with this familiar form cold reason had returned to oust the hopes and emotions which had usurped her office. My rush for freedom had ended, as such sallies often do, in exhaustion, capture and despair; upon the thrill and thunder of the charge followed the silence of the dungeon and the anguish of stiffening wounds. The truth, so simply written that a child might have spelled it, lay clear before me: I had left reformation till too late. I was too old to change.

Even a few years before, I might have dashed out, like Marmion, from the prison-fortress; but now the opportunity was past and the portcullis was down. My character with all its faults was formed within me; and the very years which I had passed in the wilderness, instead of averting the danger, had set the final seal upon my fate, for when a man has reached a certain point in life he is intractable to the reforming hand. But though at last I knew myself beaten, and helpless in the hands of an implacable power, I fluttered like a wounded bird and sought wildly for a loophole of escape. I could no longer hope to stand alone against destiny; that conceit was gone: could I find a comrade to help me through the press and lift me when I fell? But here the invincible pride of shyness barred the way, forbidding alike any confession of weakness or any appeal to man's compassion. I could not bring myself to say: I am unable to rule my life, do you undertake it for me. Was marriage a conceivable path of redemption? I had never envisaged it before, but now, in my desperation, I dreamed it for a moment a possible issue. I even fixed upon the person who should thus save me from myself, and beguiled many lonely hours by picturing her charms and enumerating her noble qualities.

She lived in a country house where I had been several times a guest, and she had one of those faces which, in Gray's beautiful expression, speak the language of all nations. Her features had that sunny charm which thaws mistrust; she was dowered with all graces and sweet qualities; and you could no more have doubted the immanent nobility of her nature than you could have dreamed a stain in the texture of a white petal. And with all her gentleness there was present I know not what sign and promise of strength, waking in those who saw her an intuitive trust in loyalty of uttermost proof. She would have flamed indignant against evil, but only evil could have moved her from that equal poise of soul which made her entrance into a room the prelude to higher thoughts and finer feelings. She was naturally kind without consciousness of a mission, neither seeking to enslave nor enfranchise, but by a silent outflowing of goodness ennobling whatever company she was in. Nor was her tongue the prattling servant of her beauty, but a guide of cheerful converse; for just as she charmed without device or scheme of fascination, so she possessed the art of speaking well without seeming to have ever studied it. In the chase after just and felicitous ideas, she could lead or follow over the most varied fields with the intuition of the huntress born. With all these excellences, her wit, her sincerity, her ardour for all things bright and true, she had no conceit of herself but kept her father's house in gladness and loved the country-side.

To her, in these days of imminent dismay, my thoughts flew out as to a fair protecting saint; until the inspiration of her visionary presence wrought in my fancy with such a dramaturgic power, that I seemed to walk daily with her, and to know all those delicate and sweet propinquities by which liking passes into affection and affection is glorified into love. So far did these happy day-dreams carry me, that they brought me to the extreme of imaginary bliss, and poured out for me the wine of untempered joy which thrills the hearts of lovers on the verge of their betrothal. The dreams that followed that magic draught denied me no convincing touch of circumstance, and projected upon a credible and familiar scene the bright possibilities to which fate denied a real existence. The scene was always the same, and the words and movements which entranced me followed each other with almost religious exactitude of detail which the adult demands of his day-dreams and the child of the fairy-tale he loves.

It was always a June afternoon when we went out together, into the meadows near her home; she moving with fluent grace as befitted a daughter of the woods, her eyes indrawing joy from all nature, her hair reflecting rich gold of the sunlight, her whole face lit with the pleasure of a bright hour; I a mere satellite attendant upon its central star. We strolled through the four home-meadows, crossed a high-banked lane and a dingle with a brook running down it, and then from an open common flooded with sunlight passed into a wood of tallest beeches. In that cool, shadowy place the sun, searching a way through crannies in the upper verdure, chequered with patches of silver light the even mast-strewn floor. The multitude of smooth grey stems rose aligned like cathedral columns; and the grateful dimness of the wood, succeeding the glare of day, wakened a sense of purposed protection and quietude pervading all things, which soothed the mind with the illusion that this was a sacred spot appointed for an offering of souls. Near one of those isles of sunlight we lingered; and as she looked up to the source of light, the movement brought her face near the slanting shaft of rays, until there was set round it an aureole of dancing beams. It seemed to me at this part of my dream that there came to both of us some gracious influence, for as her eyes met mine they dropped again, and were fixed for a moment upon the wild flowers she carried. Then my heart began to beat and my whole being to grow greater: impassioned words, to that hour unconceived, came rushing to my lips; the fire and glory of a new manhood were kindling in me to the transformation of my nature—when, in the very moment of utterance, a sheer barrier of doom descended between me and my joy; the fire was quenched, and my soul was poured out within me.

To this fatal point my fancy always brought me and no further, that coming thus to the threshold of the house of joy and hearing the bars shoot into their sockets I might thoroughly know my ineffectual self and leave untouched the forbidden latch. So far I came in my dream times without number; and always on the verge of joy there came that doom, and the shooting of those adamantine bolts.

Yet all the while I wove it, I knew that this texture of dreams must soon be drawn aside, and like the curtain in the tragedy reveal at last the horror concealed within. Such brooding was but the deception of a reluctant spirit dallying and delaying with any trifle by the way to put off the arrival at the hill of evil prospect. At last I learned the lesson of this abrupt ending to the dream at the point of full disillusion; it forced itself upon me with the power of an oracular utterance warning me to cease my palterings with fate. My reason now rebuked me like a stern judge, dissecting all false pleas and laying bare their weakness. What right had I, now knowing myself incurable, even to dream of easing my own pain by darkening and despoiling a second life? The love of solitude was now more to me than even the love of a wife; it would surely come between us like a strange woman, and fill a pure heart with bitterness. No smiling hopes of a possible redemption could annul the immutable decree, and if I disobeyed the warning, guilt as well as misery would be mine; for he is pitiful indeed who only weds that his wife may suck the poison from his wounds. If I married I should stand for ever condemned of an unutterable meanness. So I dispelled my dreams and looked reality in the face.

It was a dismal prospect that lay before me. Until then the future had held its possible secrets, its imaginable revelations of change, which, like the luminous suggestions in dark clouds, allured with a promise of a brief and penetrable gloom. In my darkest hours I had lulled fear by the thought of a haply interposing Providence, and drifted on from day to aimless day nursing the hope of some miraculous release upon the very steps of the scaffold. But now I was twice fallen; and as a man abandoned by the last illusion of deliverance calls ruin to him, and in the new leisure of despair calmly scans the features at which but now he dared not glance, so I saw as in a hard grey light the true outlines of my destiny. The wreathing mist, the profound soft shadows, the clouds with their promise of mutability, were now all gone, leaving the bare framework of a world arid and severe as a lunar landscape.

I seemed to be sitting in the dust, as in inmost Asia a sick man may crouch abandoned, while the caravan in which all his earthly hopes are centred goes inexorably upon its way. The blue sky flushes to deep purple before him; night falls; all colour is swallowed up in darkness, until the jingling camel-bells receding up the pass cross the dividing ridge, and for him the last silence is begun. Such then was the end of youthful ambition: for food a mouthful of ashes instead of the very marrow of joy; for home not the free ocean, but a stagnant pool ringed with weeping willows, a log's fit floating-place. Here to float, marking the weed creep onward until all from bank to bank was overfilmed, and there remained no clear water of space for reflection of a single star: to float, and feel the sodden fibres of life loosening in slow decay—this was to be the last state of the seedling which had sprung up on the mountain slopes with promise of mighty stem and overarching branches full of sap like the cedars of the Lord.

My life henceforth was to be ringed round and overhung with so heavy an air that joy and fancy should never fly in it, but fall dead as the birds above Avernus according to the ancient story. I seemed to see nothing upon the path of the future but the stern form of Renunciation drawing between me and the living world the impassable circle of death in life, the ultima linea rerum. It was the last decree, the irrevocable sentence, the absolute end: and I had not yet reached half the Psalmist's span; I had not yet forgotten the lost summer mornings when the breeze scented with lilac came blowing through the casement, bearing with it the sound of glad voices welcoming the day.

Philosophers are prone to gird at the animal in man, accusing it of dragging the soul down to the mire in which it wallows. They forget that by its brutal insistence upon physical needs it often preserves from madness, and timely arrests him who goes like a sleep-walker upon the verge of the abyss. Weariness and hunger are like brakes upon the car; they stop the dire momentum of grief, and insure that if misery will again drive us furiously, she must lash winded steeds anew. But what force should stay a disembodied sorrow, which unbreathed by period or alternation of despair, should be rapt onward in the whirlwind and the hurricane, gathering eternally a fresh impetus of woe? Let us rail at the body for its weakness if we will, but prize it also for its restraint of the distracted mind. In the worst hour of my dejection it was the body which called the lost reason home. I became hungry and ate, hardly knowing what I did; I slept exhaustion away; and after many hours awoke with clearer eyes, grateful to the weak flesh, and ready in its company to face life once more, a defeated but not a desperate man. I was glad to be thus reminded that the body could play this helpful part, and my gratitude for its timely rescue taught me in after days to endure its tyranny with a better grace. In the interlude between despair and new effort, I once more turned a dispassionate gaze upon myself, as upon some abandoned slave of a drug; and maintaining an attitude of half-amused detachment, sought by a diagnosis of my case to establish the real causes of my failure to lead a normal life.

At the outset I would make it clear that for me the only shyness that counts, is that which is so deeply ingrained, as to have outlasted youth. It may, indeed, be physically related to that transient bashfulness which haunts so many of us in our younger days only to vanish at maturity, swift as the belated ghost at cockcrow. But unlike this common accident of growth, it is no surface-defect, but an inward stain which dyes the very fibres of the being. It may, indeed, be somewhat bleached and diminished by a timely and skilful treatment, but is become too much a part of life to be ever wholly washed away. And the unhappy step-children of nature whose inheritance it is, seldom find a deliverer good at need; for as the world draws no distinction between their grave affliction and that other remediable misery of youth, it will sanction no other treatment than banter or mockery, which does but infuse yet more deeply the mournful dye. When this fails, it leaves its victims to the desolation which according to its judgment they have wilfully chosen; for the most part ignoring their existence, but often chastising them with scorpion-stings of disdain. Yet the subjects of this scorn, sufferers as I believe from a hereditary tendency matured by neglect into disease, deserve a more merciful usage than this, and their plea for extenuating circumstances should not be too impatiently rejected. For in them what is to most men a transient ailment has thrown down permanent roots to draw a nourishment from pain: and he who is fortunate enough to be whole should think twice before he makes sport of those in this distress.

To me this malady seems to arise from an antinomy between the physical and intellectual elements of the personality, from an unhappy marriage of mind and body, suffering the lower of the two partners to abase the life of the higher by the long-drawn misery of a hateful but indissoluble union. When the physical and mental natures in a man are happily attuned, there is a fair concord in his life and the outward expression of his being is an unimpeded process, to which, as to the functions of a healthy organism, no heedful thought is given. If both natures are of the finest temper, they find utterance in a noble amiability and ease of manner; if both are coarse in the grain, they blend in a naive freedom always sure of itself, the freedom of Sancho spreading himself in the duchess's boudoir. Between these two extremes there intervene a hundred compromises by which minds and bodies less equally yoked contrive to muffle the discordant notes of an inharmonious wedlock.

In most cases use gives to this politic agreement the peace and permanence of settled habit; the body proves itself so far amenable that it is accepted as a needful if uninspiring companion, and its plain usefulness ends by dulling the edged criticisms of the mind. But wherever there is a permanent incompatibility too profound for compromise, an elemental difference keeping the personality continually distraught, then shyness, in the sense in which I understand it, assumes its inalienable dominion. The flame of rebellion may smoulder unobserved while the sufferer is in his own home, but among strangers it will blaze fiercely, as the mind protests against the misinterpretations of its unworthy partner. This burning shame is not the proof of a foolish conceit, as unsympathetic criticism proclaims it, but the visible misery of a keen spirit thwarted by physical defect. The man who manifests it is angered with himself because through a physical hindrance he has failed to take the place which would otherwise be his. He is proud, it may be, but not fatuous; for shyness as a rule implies a comparative quickness and alertness of intellect: its exceeding sensibility is exclusive of dulness; and it is frequently due to the presence in a reluctant body of a mind endowed with active powers.

Inasmuch as diffidence appears where the subtler formalities of life are compulsory, it is clear that it essentially belongs to the class called gentle, for this class alone enforces that exacting code of etiquette to which our discomfiture is so largely due. Shyness has seldom place in the patriarchal life where men live, "sound, without care, every man under his own vine or his own fig-tree," nor among those who, perforce pursuing a too laborious existence, have no leisure for superficial refinements. Though here and there you may find a Joseph Poorgrass, it is rare among the simple; it is not a popular weakness, and therefore wins no popular sympathy. Such is its first social limitation: it is almost restricted to the classes which are outwardly refined.

But it has another limitation of equal importance which may be described as climatic; for this malady is not found in equal degrees all over the habitable globe. There are many lands where it hardly exists at all even among the class which is alone liable to it; and in its serious form it is found only over a small part of the earth. There are many causes which conduce to this partial distribution. In one country manners are not minutely schooled, women being held of secondary account, and men content without subtlety; in another, life is in itself too primitive to devise the artifices of refinement; in a third, the fundamental disunion between the mind and the physical organism is prevented by the kindly hand of nature. For these reasons all the savage world, all the East, and the whole of southern Europe have little knowledge of the diffident, and what zoologists would call the area of distribution of the species is confined within narrow geographical limits.

It is in fact chiefly in the north and west of our own continent that the haunts of the diffident are to be found, for there alone are all the conditions necessary to their maintenance fulfilled—a society sufficiently leisured and wealthy to have elaborated conventional rules of intercourse, the assemblage of both sexes upon an equal footing, and a climate which exaggerates the antagonism between the quick mind and the unresponsive body. Here the cold humid airs have produced a race with great limbs and great appetites, but compensated these gifts by a certain unreadiness in the delicate encounter of wits and graces. To these impassive natures all displays of the personality are distasteful, and the lighter social arts, seeming both insignificant and histrionic, are learned with difficulty and practised with repugnance. An awkwardness of address, in the uneducated almost bovine, becomes in the cultivated a painful reserve and self-consciousness, reflecting in open physical distress the uneasiness of the man's whole being.

And among the northern nations which are thus afflicted England has achieved an undesirable supremacy, having herself smoothed the path of her eminence by a school system which withdraws her youth from female influences during the years when the tendency to reserve may be combated with a certain hope of success. It would ill become one who has never recovered from the effects of such deprivation to assume on the ground of his own narrow experience any wide dissemination of similar defects among his countrymen; his testimony would be received with suspicion, and he would be condemned as one who to justify himself would drag others down to his own poor level. Let me therefore place myself on surer ground by calling as a witness an impartial observer from another country, one exceptionally trained in the analysis of national temperament and conduct.

When M. Taine visited England towards the close of the nineteenth century one of the first things to attract his notice was the bashfulness which he encountered in unexpected places. He was surprised to meet travelled and cultured men who were habitually embarrassed in society, and so reserved that you might live with them six months before you discovered half their excellent qualities. To unveil their true nature there was needed the steady breeze of a serious interest or the hurricane of perilous times; the faint airs of courtliness could not stir the heavy folds that hung before their hearts. These strong men could not join in delicate raillery, but shrank back afraid; as if a tortoise, startled by a shower of blossoms, should withdraw into that thick carapace which can bear the impact of a rock. There was one who stammered pitifully in a drawing-room, but the next day sought the suffrages of electors with an unembarrassed and fluent eloquence, so proving that his failure came not of folly or cowardice, but from lack of training in a certain school of fence. He needed the open air for the play of his broadsword; and to his hand, apt to another hilt, the foil appeared a woman's weapon. Speaking of high aims and national ideals, he moved in a large place oblivious of himself; but in the social arena he tripped with timid steps, like a man essaying an unfamiliar dance. On the platform he had the enthusiasm and confidence of an orator; on the carpet he could not string three sentences in any courtly language.

In the North the art of mercurial dialogue, which in the South is a natural gift, is only learned under favourable conditions, and is often condemned by those who have it not, as a popinjay's accomplishment. Immediate cordiality to strangers is frowned upon as tending to divorce courtesy from truth. It is otherwise with the southern peoples. While the Englishman conceals his benevolence by a frigid aloofness of manner, or blurts out friendliness like an indiscretion, the Italian is courtly without a second thought, and the Frenchman seems the comrade of a chance acquaintance from the moment when he has taken his hand. They are amiable without effort in the security of a harmonious nature, and if they encounter diffidence at all, observe it like an anthropologist confronted with a survival of primitive times in the culture of a civilized age.

Taine did not err when he found the home of shyness among the Teutonic peoples; he saw that it flourishes in climatic conditions acting hardly upon a vigorous race, and only allowing it to cultivate ease of manner by effort and outlay, just as they only allow it to raise under glass the grapes and oranges which more favoured peoples can grow in the open air. He saw too that this pain of diffidence becomes more subtle as the progress of culture makes us more sensitive to vague impressions from our environment, and tunes the nerves to a higher pitch. A shy nature upon this plane of susceptibility suffers anguish from an uncontrollable body; and even in peaceful moments the memory of the discomfitures so inflicted may distort a man's whole view of the world around him. He is impatient of the wit which demands a versatility in response beyond his powers, and persuades himself into contempt of those ephemeral arts to which his nature cannot be constrained. Irritated at the injustice which places so high in the general scale of values accomplishments which he cannot practise, shrinking from the suave devices of gesture and expression which in his own case might quickly pass into antic or grimace, he withdraws more and more from the places where such arts win esteem to live in a private world of inner sentiment. As he leaves this sure retreat but rarely himself, so he forbids ingress to others; and becoming yearly a greater recluse, he confines himself more and more within the walls of his forbidden city. The mind which may have been fitted to expand in the free play of intellectual debate or to explore the high peaks of idea, loses its power of flight in this cave where it dwells with a company of sad thoughts, until at last the sacrifice is complete and the perfect eremite is formed.

But the virile Teutonic spirit does not suffer things to reach this ultimate pass without stubborn resistance, and this is one reason why shyness is often so conspicuous, seeming deliberately to court an avoidable confusion. Over and over again it forces the recalcitrant body back into the arena, preferring repeated humiliation to a pusillanimous surrender. People often wonder at the recklessness with which the shy expose themselves to disaster, forgetting that in this insistence of a soul under discomfiture, there is evidence of a moral strength which is its own reward. What discipline is harder than that which conscientious diffidence imposes upon itself? To stand forth and endure, though every instinct implores retreat, is a true assertion of the higher self for the satisfaction of imperious duty. Such deliberate return towards suffering is no cowardice, but a triumph over weak flesh; and the awkward strife of diffidence may often prove a greater feat of arms than the supple fence of self-possession.

Like the physical obstacles, the mists, the snows and bleak winds, which have hardened the fibre of northern men, diffidence as an obstacle to ease has its place among the causes of strong character; and those who appear at a first glance weak and ineffectual as Hamlet, will often in the light of knowledge be found guided by the most inflexible moral determination. They see, as in a mirage, peace supreme and adorable, but may not tread the hermit's path that leads to her dwelling. Only a religious vow might justify the abandonment of the human struggle, and even that appears desertion. The stern genius of the North grudges immurement, even to great piety, remembering that Christ himself remained but forty days in the desert and then returned to deliver the world. If he had remained there all his life, and never met the Pharisees and high-priests, our forefathers would have rejected his law. For this reason there can be no more rest for the shy than for starving Tantalus; for this reason my flight into the East had been foredoomed to failure.

If shyness is thus affected by climate and geography, its birth and growth are also conditioned by historical causes. Just as it is the peculiar failing of northern and western peoples, so it is the creation of comparatively modern times; it had no place among the classified weaknesses of men until these peoples began in their turn to make history.

In Greece, where limb and thought were consentient in one grace of motion, the body was too perfect an expression of the mind to admit any consciousness of discord; the greater simplicity of a life passed largely in the open air, left no place for awkwardness in the franker converse of man with man. Moreover the seclusion of women rendered unnecessary that complicated code of manners which the freer intercourse of the sexes has built up in later times as a barrier against brutality or the unseemly selfishness of passion. In Greece the words of the witty and the wise could be heard in the market-place; good conversation was not for the few alone; and the common man might of unquestioned right approach the circle of Socrates or Plato. The sense of community was everywhere, overthrowing reserve, and propitious to the universal growth of fellowship.

In the Roman world things were changed; there were more closed doors and courts impenetrable of access. Insignia of office, gradations of wealth and rank, sundered those of high estate from classes which now acknowledged their own inferiority; privacies, exclusions, distinctions innumerable, altered the face of public life as the easy mos majorum was confined by the ordinances of encroaching fashion. It was now that women began to be cast for leading parts upon the great stage of life. Under the Empire, by the rapid removal of her disabilities the Roman matron achieved a position of independence which made her, according to her nature, a potent force of good or evil. It was now that the intricate threads of social prescription were woven into that ceremonial mantle which was afterwards to sit so uneasily on the shoulders of barbarian men.

But the time for shyness was not yet come, for Italy is a sunny land where clear air makes clear minds, blandly or keenly observant of the world, and never impelled by onset of outer mists and darkness to tend a flickering light within themselves. There was melancholy, high and stately, such as Lucretius knew, when he went lonely among the homesteads or along the shore; but it was too exalted to be one with diffidence, for he who will hold the sum of things in his thoughts walks on clouds above the heads of men, free of all misgiving. Perhaps beyond the Alps, in some Rhaetian upland where Roman dignity was interfused with old barbaric roughness, the first signs of our malady were perceived and the first ancestor of all the shy was born. But even yet the time was not ripe, nor the place prepared. Christianity had to come, turning men's eyes inwards and proclaiming the error of the objective pagan way. A new feeling, the sense of personal unworthiness before God, spreading through the Roman world, now stirred mankind to still communing with themselves, and sanctioned the stealing away from the noisy festivals of life. By enjoining a search into the depths of the heart, it encouraged the growth of a self-consciousness hitherto unknown. It was not always a panic of contrition, sweeping the joyous out of the sunlight into a monastic shade, which brought the troubled into a new way of peace, but sometimes a quiet joy in renunciation, congruous with a timid mood, leading by gradual allurement to cloisters of shadowy lanes and cells which were forest bowers. The new faith gave open sanction to evasion of the banquet, and thus fortified and increased those who loved not the ceremonial day. The spirit of solitude, no more a maenad, but a nun, sheltered earth's children in the folds of her robe, and no man said her nay.

Moreover, Christianity quickened the force of that feminine influence which Rome had first set flowing through the civilized world, but diverted the stream from irregular and torrential courses into a smooth channel gliding amid sacred groves. It clothed woman with ideal grace and virtue, and perceived in her powers which the virile mind could never wield. "Inesse quinetiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant, nec aut consilia earum aspernantur, nec responsa negligunt." So our ancestors held in the northern woods, and Christianity, purifying and expanding their belief, fulfilled it with a new perfection.

But this gradual binding of all men's limbs in silken cords of reverence, making a rude world civil, was now to inaugurate for diffidence its miserable career. Through the rough deference of the German camp, through the Provencal code of courtoisie, up to the modern law of fine manners, the drudge and chattel of the primeval tribe has risen to impose her law upon the modern world. Earth is better for this finer power, but social intercourse is less sincere. For woman, having curbed the brute man by conventional restraints of outward demeanour, has made human intercourse smooth and seemly, but imposed upon mankind the wearing of unnatural masks. Before the multitude of locked souls with labels of smiling faces the sensitive nature feels itself mocked, and is soon distraught. It cannot suffer convention gladly for an ultimate good, but is chilled by this everlasting urbanity, which must, it fancies, be compact of irony and conceal a disingenuous soul.

All this finished science of illusion is like an east wind to the confidences of the shy, and if they stay within its range they are blighted before their hearts have time to unfold. They long for a less biting air, for vernal hours in sheltered dells, where without sheaths and unguarded the hearts of flowers lie open to their neighbours and to heaven. There was once a simple day when religion set hearts interflowing, but now it can melt them only within the precincts; the fire which is carried from the altar is dead at the church door. The brotherliness of those early days is indeed often found in humble walks of life, but these we cannot continually tread, because our intellectual and artistic tastes find there no sufficient nurture. Among the cultured a cold convention often reigns, behind which only a more persistent nature than ours can pass. Unless, therefore, we find our way into some circle of gentle scholars or lovers of the beautiful quite simple in their tastes, a thing possible but not often granted by a niggard fortune, we are perforce thrown back upon our own company, and move towards the grave alone. For this we accuse none; nothing is more at fault than our own constitution. But to us society is a school of dames, who are not to be blamed if amid the crowd that clamours for their teaching, they find no time for the backward scholar. We are the dunces of the school, and are dismissed without learning the accomplishments set forth upon the prospectus. That is why in our northern streets so many seeming hats are cowls.

In England the loss of congenial intercourse is perhaps more certain than in other lands. For through his national reserve the highly-cultured Englishman has a cold perfection of good breeding to which heartiness is vulgarity; he emanates intimidation, and in courtesy is rather studious than spontaneous, seldom genial but in an ancient friendship. If you knew him to the concealed heart, and were suffered to assay the fine metal beneath this polished surface, you would win a golden friendship; but only on a desert island would he permit the operation. To the shy who may encumber his path his bearing seems marked by an indifference which they magnify into aversion, and are thereby the worse confounded. In a land where such convention reigns they go through life like persons afflicted with a partial deafness; between them and the happier world there is as it were a crystalline wall which the pleasant low voices of confidence can never traverse.

I say, then, that the real, the enduring shyness is that inveteration of reserve to which a few men in a few countries are miserably condemned. Others know it as a transient inconvenience, as the croup or measles of childhood; but in us it is obstinate and ineradicable as grave disease. If out of the long frustration of our efforts to be whole some strain of bitterness passes into our nature; if sometimes we burn with unjust resentment against the fate which, suffers such lives as ours to be prolonged, let it be remembered in extenuation that to those who bear a double burden human charity owes the larger kindliness. For though like you we bear our share of common troubles, O happier men and women, the common pleasures and compensations which are as wings upon your shoulders are heavy packs on ours. The cheerful contrasts are for you alone; for us the bright threads interwoven in the dark stuff of life were faded before they reached the loom.

You who have the friendships and affections without which you would not care to live a day, think more kindly of those to whom the interludes of toil are often harder than the toil itself. Of your charity believe our fate ordained and not the choice of our own perversity; for what man born of woman would choose a path so sad, were there not within him some guiding and possessing devil which he could in nowise cast out? Never will in maddest hours of freedom consented to such doom; we were condemned at birth, our threads were spoiled upon the fingers of the Norns.

* * * * *

Such in its broader outlines seemed the infirmity which had grown with my growth, and now had to be reckoned with, like the bridle of Theages, as a permanent hindrance to a reasonable happiness. Old hopes lay shattered about me—well, I had to pick up the fragments and piece together a less ambitious ideal.

I will not linger over the forces which helped my resolution, the great and general remedies which come to the relief of men in like evil case. Religion, philosophy, art, science, literature—all promised their anodynes against despair; slowly they stirred in me anew those springs of interest in life which disillusion seemed to have choked for ever. I rose up, and looking round upon the world saw that it was still good; and there came into my memory brave words which a golden book puts in the mouths of its indomitable knights: "I will take the adventure which God shall ordain me." I now perceived that if evil fortune had unhorsed me it had yet left me endurance to continue the combat on foot. My second failure was more final and disastrous than the first discomfiture in earlier life, but now the plague of pessimism was stayed by a greater recuperative power. Those long hours of the long eastern day, spent under the verandah with books of many ages and languages, had not been altogether fruitless; they had helped to mature a wider and more catholic taste than that of restless youth, the kind of culture that brings not rebellion but peace.

In my eastern watch-tower I had re-read the great books from a new point of vantage, and let the eye roam over fields of literature which lie beyond the undergraduate's bounds; by a still permeation of fine influence, my crude philosophy was unconsciously mellowed, as the surface of ivory, according to Roman belief, by the bland air of Tibur. For by the mere being in an atmosphere of serenity our nature grows porous to gracious influences streaming in we know not how or when, and taking their abode in our very grain and structure. And so without consciousness of good desert, I found myself confident in a new discipline, and looking for the word of command from wiser leaders than Byron or the youthful Shelley. Queen Mab was now the saddest rhetoric, and Childe Harold's plaint unseemly lamentation; I had erased from my calendar of saints the names of apostles of affliction once held in honour; the Caliph Amurath with his tale of fourteen happy days out of a long life of royal opportunity; Swift with his birthday lection from Jeremiah. Rather there trooped into memory with a quiet pomp and induction of joy, forms of men who, though justified in rebellion by every human suffrage, remained loyal to the end and proved by endurance a more imperial humanity. Socrates unperturbed by mortal injustice; Dante a deep harmonious voice amid jangling destinies; William the Silent serene in every desperate conjecture—these seemed now the more perfect captains. If exile had done no more than transfer my allegiance to such as these, I had not borne the lash in vain.

But at the first setting out upon this later stage I had still mistakes to make, and the ascent to tranquillity was not to be accomplished without stumbling. It was the old Roman creed which first drew me away from fretting memories; in its high restraint, as of a hushed yet mighty wind, it breathed a power of valiant endurance, and promised before nightfall the respite of a twilight hour. For stoicism has qualities which seem foreordained for the bracing of shy souls, as if the men who framed its austere laws had prescience of our frailty and consciously legislated to its intention. It is the philosophy of the individual standing by himself, as the shy must always stand, over against a world which he likes not but may not altogether shun. And in this proud estrangement it promises release from all the inquisition of morbid fears, and an imperturbable calm above the need of earthly friends or comfort or happiness; it plants the feet upon that path of nature along which a man may go strongly, consoled in solitude by a god-like sense of self-reliance. This immutable confidence is the essential power of stoicism, which does not, like the great oriental religions, tame personality by ruthless maiming, but teaches it to bear the brunt of adversities erect, like an athlete finely trained. Its very arrogance, its sufficiency, perforce commend it to those whose instinct urges to self-abasement: its lofty disregard of adverse circumstance is medical to their timidity.

And so in the hour of my bereavement its voice inspired to resistance like a bugle sounding the advance; its echoes rang with the assurance that man was not made to be the worm of Eden, darkly creeping in the dust, but rather its noblest creature, with the light crowning his head and the winds tossing his hair. And then its strong simplicity, so masculine and unemotional, was grateful to one now finally dismated, and so cruelly handled as to have, it seemed, no use for a heart any more. Better let feeling die than be betrayed by diffidence into the denial of its true allegiance, or into expressions of the inner life false and wry as the strange laughter which the doomed suitors in Ithaca could not control. Though it stifled feeling, the creed of Cleanthes exalted the intellect, which was all that now remained to me unimpaired; surely it was the appointed rule for one henceforth to be severed from the passions and enthusiasms through which humanity errs and is happy.

"The world," the wise Stoic seemed to say, "is twofold in its nature. Some things may be changed by man, others are by his utmost effort immutable. God has implanted in you a right reason by which, when it is well trained, you can infallibly distinguish between the two, avoiding thus all unworthy fretfulness and all idle kicking against the pricks. Therefore he has made you for happiness; for the joy of men is an achievement; and their misery in the coveting of the unattainable end. If you would fulfil his benevolent design, seek only what has been placed in your power, frankly resigning all that lies beyond; but be ever difficult in renunciation; test and sound well every issue, lest you leave a permitted good undone, than which nothing is a greater sin. To be loyal, to be contented, to acquiesce in all things save only in ameliorable evil, this is to live according to nature, which is God's administration. If you are assiduous in careful choosing, you will learn at last to make a right use of every event; you will be harassed no more by vain desire or unreasoning aversion, but will become God's coadjutor and be always of his mind. So, when external things have ceased to trouble your spirit, you will no longer be a competitor for vanities; but, enfranchised from all solicitude, you will have discarded envy and conceit and intolerance, which are the ill fruits of that vain rivalry. You will neither cringe before power nor covet great place, for alike from inordinate affection and from the fear of pain or death you will be free. Disenamoured of mundane things, you will live simply and unperturbed, in kindness and cheerfulness and in gratitude to Providence. Life will be to you as a feast or solemnity, and when it comes to a close, you will rise up saying, 'I have been well and nobly entertained, it is fit that I give place to another guest.'"

The strength and mastery thus promised raised my dejected spirits, as the words of a new and sanguine physician may hearten one who had long lain stricken yet now dares to hope for the day of recovery. This was a law which did not denounce the world as illusion or enjoin a cloistral seclusion upon the mind, but rather proposed each and every appearance as a touchstone on which the quality of personality should be unceasingly tried. By the constant application of a high standard to life, it seemed to implant an incorrupt seed of manliness, and to create in its disciples that saner mood which holds in equal aversion a Heliogabalus and a Simeon Stylites. So persuaded, I could join with the fervour of a neophyte in the Stoic's profession: "Good and evil are in choice alone, and there is no cause of sorrowing save in my own errant and wilful desires. When these shall have been overcome, I shall possess my soul in tranquillity, vexing myself in nowise if, in the world's illusive good, all men have the advantage over me. For all outward things I will bear with equal mind, even chains or insults or great pain, ashamed of this only, if reason shall not wholly free me from the servitude of care. Let others boast of material goods; mine is the privilege of not needing these or stooping to their control. I will have but a temperate desire of things open to choice, as they are good and present, and the tempter shall find no hold for his hands by which to draw me astray. I will be content with any sojourn or any company, for there is none, howsoever perilous, which may not prove and strengthen the defences of my soul. For I have built an impregnable citadel whence, if only I am true to myself, I can repel assaults from the four quarters of heaven. Who shall console one lifted above the range of grief, whom neither privation nor insolence can annoy? for he has peace as an inalienable possession, and by no earthly tyranny shall be perturbed. Bearing serenely all natural impediments to action, trespassing beyond no eternal landmark, by no foolishness provoked, he shall become a spectator and interpreter of God's works; he shall ripen to the harvest in the sunshine and wait tranquilly for the sickle, knowing that corn is only sown that it may be reaped, and man only born to die."

The mere repetition of these words, so instinct with the spirit of old Roman fortitude, roused me to a more immediate resolution than any other form of solace. There are times when a splendour of exaggeration is the best foil to truth. The Roman's pride is the best corrective to the earthward bias of the diffident; by its excess of an opposite defect it drives us soonest into the mean of a simple and manly confidence. It is better for us first to repeat, "Dare to look up to God and say: Make use of me for the future as Thou wilt, I am of the same mind, I am equal with Thee.... Lead me whither Thou wilt," than to dwell upon such words as these: "It is altogether necessary that thou have a true contempt for thyself if thou desire to prevail against flesh and blood"—or these: "If I abase myself ... and grind myself to the dust which I am, Thy grace will be favourable to me, and Thy light near unto my head.... By seeking Thee alone and purely loving Thee I have found both myself and Thee, and by that love have more deeply reduced myself to nothing."

This supreme abnegation may leave the saint unharmed, but it is ill fitted for those who droop already with the malady of dejection. The divine wisdom which knows the secrets of all hearts and their necessities infinitely various, shall exact obedience according to no adamantine law: it loves not the jots and tittles of formalism, nor the pretensions of those who would cast all things in one mould. From those made perfect, from the saints whose links with earth are almost severed, whose sight begins to pierce gross matter through, it may accept prostration and endless contrite tears, knowing that to these, upon the very verge of illumination, the forms of slavery have lost their vileness. But to those who are still of earth and can but conceive God's fatherhood according to earthly similitudes, it will not ordain a prone obeisance. Such it will require to stand erect even in contrition, in that posture which is the privilege of sons. We who are unperfected affront God supposing him pleased with the prostration of his children. It is the ignorance of a feudal age that ascribes to him a Byzantine love of adulation; but that age is no more, and he disserves the divine majesty who imputes to it a liking for the esprit d'antichambre.

I did not need to dwell upon my weakness and misery but rather upon the grandeur of humanity, whose kinship and collaboration God himself does not reject. The Stoic phase was a useful stage on the road of convalescence, and the majestic words of Epictetus more helpful to a manlier bearing than the confessions of the saintliest souls. If, as is not to be doubted, there are others who seek an issue from the same dark region where I wandered, I do not fear to point them to the Stoic way, which like a narrow gorge cold with perpetual shadow is yet their shortest path upward to the high slopes lit with sunlight. Let them enter it without fear and endure its shadows a while, for by other ways they will fetch a longer compass and come later to their release.

But when some interval had passed I became aware that this cold ideal was not the end, and that out of the gall of austerity sweetness should yet come forth. Wise men have said that all great systems of ethics meet upon a higher plane, as the branches of forest trees rustle together in the breeze; for though in the dark earth their roots creep apart, their summits are joined in the freedom of clear air. As I now struck inland from the iron shores of shipwreck, my heart warmed to a brighter and softer landscape, and with Landor I began to wish that I might walk with Epicurus on the right hand and Epictetus on the left. With a later thinker I reflected that if the Stoic knew more of the faith and hope of Christianity, the Epicurean came nearer to its charity. For it is true that Stoicism commands admiration rather than love. It was indeed too harsh a saying that "the ruggedness of the Stoic is only a silly affectation of being a god, to wind himself up by pulleys to an insensibility of suffering": that is the judgment of the bluff partisan, so shocked by the adversary's opinions that he feels absolved from any effort to understand them. But even those who in extremity have been roused to new valour by the precepts as by a Tyrtaean ode, for all the gratitude which they owe, will not impute to their deliverers an inhuman perfection. The Stoic does in truth wear a semblance of academic conceit, as though related to God not as a child to its father, but as a junior to a senior colleague. And with all its sufficiency, his philosophy seems too Fabian in its counsels; it is always withdrawing, passing by on the other side, avoiding battle—so that as a preparation for the uttermost ordeal it will often prove inferior to the reckless pugnacity of a narrow zealot.

Then, too, it acts like a frost not merely upon personal, but upon national ambition, and so keeps the wellspring from the root. Its assumption of a superhuman fortitude accords but ill with scientific truth, for if with one bound every man may become as God, he will despise that infinitely slow upward progression which is the only real advance. But, above all, it lives estranged from tenderness, in which alone at certain hours of torment the distracted mind finds God's face reflected. It preaches renunciation of all vain aversions and desires; but it repels sweet impulses that are not vain. By exalting apathy in regard to personal suffering, it becomes insensible to others' pain also. In the conviction that appeals for sympathy are avowals of unworthiness, it will have no part in the love of comrades, and it never discovered the truth that the strength and the compassion of the Divine are one perfection.

There is a favourite mediaeval legend depicted in one of the windows of the cathedral at Bourges, which exposes in a characteristic fashion this weakness of the Stoic's creed. The Evangelist St John, when at Ephesus, remarked in the forum the philosopher Cratinus giving a lesson of abnegation to certain rich young men. At the teacher's bidding the youths had converted all their wealth into precious stones, and these they were now bidden crush to dust with a heavy hammer in the presence of the assembled people, that so they might make public profession of their contempt for riches. But St John was angered at so wasteful a renunciation. "It is written," he said, "that whoso would be perfect should not destroy his possessions, but sell them, and give the proceeds to the poor." "If your master is the true God," replied Cratinus scornfully, "restore these gems again to their original form, and then they shall be bestowed according to your desire." St John prayed, and the precious stones lay there once more perfect in all their brilliance and splendour. The moral of the old tale is clear—that all virtue without charity is nothing worth; and that of virtue without charity, the Stoic's cold renunciation is the chief type and ensample.

The insight into this higher truth did not come by inspiration, but was gradually imparted during long summer days, when I wandered from dawn to dark among the fields and woods. Hoping at first no more than to tire the mind with the body and so win a whole repose, I became by degrees receptive of a new learning from nature, which created new sympathies and kindled fresh ambitions. Naturally I again read Wordsworth, and now for the first time since childhood I knew what joys intimacy brings. I was one of a brotherhood, and wherever I went was sure of a friendly salutation. Things that grew in silence became my friends; I was with them at all hours, in light and shadow, in warmth and cold, watching their gracious and responsive existences, which reject no good gift, but radiantly grow towards the light while it endures. Insensibly the spirit of this gentle expansive life was infused within me, until the heart which I had deemed useless and outworn, began to open like a flower scathed by frost, at the full coming of spring. The plants and trees were human to me, the brooks spoke with articulate voice; by that ancient witchery of animism, old as the relationship of man and nature, I was put to school again: until at last, absorbed in the vicissitudes of small things and surrendering reason to a host of pathetic fallacies, I was taught the great secret that life may not be centred in itself, but in the going out of the heart is wisdom. And as among human friends there are some to whom a man is bound by deeper and tenderer links than to the rest, so it is with these other friends which have no language, but only the wild-wood power of growing about the heart. Among their gracious company each man will discover his own affinity, and having found it will look on the rest of nature with brighter eyes. Some learn the great lessons from mountains, lakes, and sounding cataracts; others from broad rivers peacefully flowing to the sea. To me there spoke no such romantic voices. My wanderings led me through a country of simple rural charm, and the friends that became dearest to me were just our English elms.

Who but the solitary, artists alone excepted, understand the full charm of elms in an English landscape? To us there is an especial appeal in their loneliness, as they range apart along the hedgerows, embayed in blue air and sunlight which do but play upon the fringe of your huddling forest. See them on a breezy August morning across a tawny corn-field, printing their dark feathery contours on a blue sky and holding the shadows to their bosoms; or on a June evening get them between you and the setting sun, and mark the droop and poise of the upper foliage fretted black upon a ground of red fire. Here are no cones or hemispheres, or shapeless bulks of green, but living beings of articulated form, clothed in verdure as with the fine-wrought drapery that enhances rather than conceals the beauty of the statue.

Or at a still later hour, over against the harvest moon, see them rise congruous with the gentle night, casting round them not palls of ominous gloom, but clear translucent shadows sifted through traceries of leafage which do but veil the light. And what variety of form and structure sunders them from other trees, what irregular persuasive grace. Some are tall and straight, springing like fountains arrested in the moment when they turn to fall; others bend oblique without one perpendicular line, every branch by some subtle instinct evading the hard angles of earth-measurement as unmeet for that which frames the sky; others again spread to all the quarters of heaven their vast umbrageous arms. No trees are so companionable as the elms to the red-roofed homestead which nestles at their feet and is glad for them. Seen from a distance, how delightful is this association, how delicate the contrast of tile and leaf and timbered barn, each lending some complement to the other's fairest imperfection. Perhaps there will be a whole line of distinct trees, and then you will see as it were a cliff-side of verdure in which, beneath the billowy curves of lit foliage, there open caverns and cool deeps of shadow fit for a Dryad's rest.

To know the elm-tree you must not come too near, for it too is wild and does not reveal its nature lightly; you may be cooler in the shadow of the beech or stand drier beneath the red-stemmed leaves of the sycamore. Yet it suffers the clinging ivy; it was beloved of poets in old days, and painters love it still. It has not the walnut's vivid green nor the rare flush that lights up the pine-stem. Its leaves are rough and of no brilliance; its bark is rugged also. But in life the familiar guardian of home meadows, it has stood by our fathers' landmarks from generation to generation, and when fallen and hewn and stacked it sheds a fragrance which, wherever perceived in after years, brings back memories of wanderings in deep lanes and of the great dim barns where we played in childhood. In the dull winter days when only yews and cypresses wear their leaves, I sometimes wander to a place whose walls are hung with the works of many a seer and lover of elms; there seated before a few small frames I give them thanks for having read the dear trees truly, and glorified a close and barren gallery with all the breezes and colours of the fields: I am beyond all noise and murkiness, walking in the peace and spaciousness of unsullied air.

To a mind now happily reverted to the primitive confidence in souls everywhere indwelling and creating sympathies between all things, the bonds of kinship between man and nature were drawn ever closer, and it seemed a wholly natural belief that the changes of the visible universe, affecting things which lived an almost personal existence, should be instinct with the deeper meaning of events in the drama of human existence.

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