The Jessica Letters
An Editor's Romance
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1904
Copyright, 1904 by G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS Published, April, 1904
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
For a little while like shadows we have played our parts on a shadowy stage, aping the passions and follies of actual life. And now, as the kind authors who gave us being withdraw their support and leave us to fade away into nothingness, the doubt arises whether our little comedy was not all in vain. I do not know. A wise poet of the real world once said that man's life was merely the dream of a shadow, yet somehow men persuade themselves that their own pursuits are greatly serious. Was our life any less than that, and were not our hopes and sorrows and tremulous joy as full of meaning to us as theirs to the creatures who strut upon the stage of the world? Again I say, I do not know: Only I am troubled that so fair an image as yours should prove after all a dream, a shadow's dream, and melt so swiftly away:—
In what strange lines of beauty should I draw thee? In what sad purple dreamshine paint thee true? How should I make them see who never saw thee? How should I make them know who never knew?
And my last word is a message. He who created me would convey in this, my farewell letter, his thanks to the creator of Jessica. He himself has found in our correspondence only pleasure, and, as he turns from this romance to other and different work of the pen, he hopes that she who made you will be encouraged by your charm to deal bravely with her imagination and to give the world other romances quite her own and without the alloy of his coarser wit.
PART I—Which shows how Jessica visits an editor in the city, and what comes of it 1
PART II—Which shows how the editor visits Jessica in the country, and how love and philosophy sometimes clash 83
PART III—Which shows how the editor again visits Jessica in the country, and how love is buffeted between philosophy and religion 212
The First Part
which shows how Jessica visits an editor in the city, and what comes of it.
PHILIP TO JESSICA
NEW YORK, April 20, 19—.
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
You will permit me to address you with this semblance of familiarity, I trust, for the frankness of our conversation in my office gives me some right to claim you as an acquaintance. And first of all let me tell you that we shall be glad to print your review of The Kentons, and shall be pleased to send you a long succession of novels for analysis if you can always use the scalpel with such atrocious cunning as in this case. I say atrocious cunning, for really you have treated Mr. Howells with a touch of that genial "process of vivisection" to which it pleases him to subject the lively creatures of his own brain.
"Mr. Howells," you say, "is singularly gifted in taking to pieces the spiritual machinery of unimpeachable ladies and gentlemen"; and really you have made of the author one of the good people of his own book! That is a malicious revenge for his "tedious accuracy," is it not? And you dare to speak of his "hypnotic power of illusion which is so essentially a freak element in his mode of expression that even in portraying the tubby, good-natured, elderly gentleman in this story he refines upon his vitals and sensibilities until the wretched victim becomes a sort of cataleptic." Now that is a "human unfairness" from a critic whom the most ungallant editor would be constrained to call fair!
I forget that I am asked to sit as adviser to you in a question of great moment. But be assured neither you nor your perplexing query has really slipped from my memory. Often while I sit at my desk in this dingy room with the sodden uproar of Printing House Square besieging my one barricadoed window, I recall the eagerness of your appeal to me as to one experienced in these matters: "Can you encourage me to give my life to literature?" Indeed, my brave votaress, there is something that disturbs me in the directness of that question, something ominous in those words, give my life. Literature is a despised goddess in these days to receive such devotion.
Naked and poor thou goest, Philosophy,
as Petrarch wrote, and as we may say of Literature. If you ask me whether it will pay you to employ the superfluities of your cleverness in writing reviews and sketches and stories,—why, certainly, do so by all means. I have no fear of your ultimate success in money and in the laughing honours of society. But if you mean literature in any sober sense of the word, God forbid that I should encourage the giving of your young life to such a consuming passion. Happiness and success in the pursuit of any ideal can only come to one who dwells in a sympathetic atmosphere. Do you think a people that lauds Mr. Spinster as a great novelist and Mr. Perchance as a great critic can have any knowledge of that deity you would follow, or any sympathy for the follower?
It has been my business to know many writers and readers of books. I have in all my experience met just four men who have given themselves to literature. One of these four lives in Cambridge, one is a hermit in the mountains, one teaches school in Nebraska, and one is an impecunious clerk in New York. They are each as isolated in the world as was ever an anchorite of the Thebaid; they have accomplished nothing, and are utterly unrecognised; they are, apart from the lonely solace of study, the unhappiest men of my acquaintance. The love of literature is a jealous passion, a self-abnegation as distinct from the mere pleasure of clever reading and clever writing as the religion of Pascal was distinct from the decorous worship of Versailles. The solitude of self-acknowledged failure is the sure penalty for pursuing an ideal out of harmony with the life about us. I speak bitterly; I feel as if an apology were due for such earnestness in writing to one who is, after all, practically a stranger to me.
Forgive my naive zeal; but I remember that you spoke to me on the subject with a note of restrained emotion which flatters me into thinking I may not be misunderstood. And, to seek pardon for this personal tone by an added personality, it distresses me to imagine a life like yours, with which the world must deal bountifully in mere gratitude for the joy it takes from you,—to imagine a life like yours, I say, sacrificed to any such grim Moloch. Write, and win applause for gay cleverness, but do not consider literature seriously. Above all, write me a word to assure me I have not given offence by this very uneditorial outburst of rhetoric.
Sincerely yours, PHILIP TOWERS.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MORNINGTOWN, GEORGIA, April 27, 19—.
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
Since my return home I have thought earnestly of my visit to New York. That was the first time I was ever far beyond the community boundaries of some Methodist church in Georgia. I think I mentioned to you that my father is an itinerant preacher. But for one brief day I was a small and insignificant part of the life in your great city, unnoted and unclassified. And you cannot know what that sensation means, if you were not brought up as a whole big unit in some small village. The sense of irresponsibility was delightful. I felt as if I had escaped through the buckle of my father's creed and for once was a happy maverick soul in the world at large, with no prayer-meeting responsibilities. I could have danced and glorified God on a curbstone, if such a manifestation of heathen spirituality would not have been unseemly.
But the chief event of that sensational day was my visit to you. Of course you cannot know how formidable the literary editor of a great newspaper appears to a friendless young writer. And from our brief correspondence I had already pictured you grim and elderly, with huge black brows bunched together as if your eyes were ready to spring upon me miserable. I even thought of adding a white beard,—you do use long graybeard words sometimes, and naturally I had associated them with your chin. You can imagine, then, my relief as I entered your office, with the last legs of my courage tottering, and beheld you, not in the least ferocious in appearance, and not even old! The revulsion from my fears and anxieties was so swift and complete that, you will remember, I gave both hands in salutation, and had I possessed a miraculous third, you should have had that also.
I am so pleased to have you confirm my judgment of Howells's novel; and that I am to have more books for review. I doubt, however, if Mr. Howells will ever reap the benefit of my criticisms, for not long since I read a note from him saying that he never looked into The Gazette. You must already have given offence by doubting his literary infallibility.
But on the whole you question the wisdom of my ambition to "give my life to literature." As to that I am inclined to follow Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler's opinion: "Writing is like flirting,—if you can't do it, nobody can teach you; and if you can do it, nobody can keep you from doing it." With a certain literary aspirant I know, writing is even more like flirting than that,—an artful folly with literature which will never rise to the dignity of a wedding sacrifice. She could no more give herself seriously to the demands of such a profession than a Southern mockingbird can take a serious view of music. He makes it quite independently of mind, gets his inspiration from the fairies, steals his notes, and dedicates the whole earth to the sky every morning with a green-tree ballad, utterly frivolous. Such a performance, my dear Mr. Towers, can never be termed a "sacrifice"; rather it is the wings and tail of humour expressed in a song. But who shall say the dear little wag has no vocation because his small feather-soul is expressed by a minuet instead of an anthem?
Therefore do not turn your editorial back upon me because I am incapable of the more earnest sacrifice. Even if I only chirrup a green-tree ballad, I shall need a chorister to aid me in winning those "laughing honours of society." And your supervision is all the more necessary, since, as you said to me, I live in a section where the literary point of view is more sentimental than accurate. This is accounted for, not by a lack of native wit, but by the fact that we have no scholarship or purely intellectual foundations. We are romanticists, but not students in life or art. We make no great distinctions between ideality and reality because with us existence itself is one long cheerful delusion. Now, while I suffer from these limitations more or less, my ignorance is not invincible, and I could learn much by disagreeing with you! Your letters would be antidotal, and thus, by a sort of mental allopathy, beneficial.
Sincerely, JESSICA DOANE.
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
There can be no doubt of it. Your reply, which I should have acknowledged sooner, gives substance to the self-reproach that came to me the moment my letter to you was out of my hands. All my friends complain that they can get nothing from me but "journalistic correspondence"; and now when once I lay aside the hurry and constraint of the editorial desk to respond to what seemed a personal demand in a new acquaintance, I quite lose myself and launch out into a lyrical disquisition which really applies more to my own experience than to yours. Will you not overlook this fault of egotism? Indeed I cannot quite promise that, if you receive many letters from me in the course of your reviewing, you may not have to make allowances more than once for a note of acrid personality, or egotism, if you please, welling up through the decorum of my editorial advisings. "If we shut nature out of the door, she will come in at the window," is an old saying, and it holds good of newspaper doors and windows, as you see.
But really, what I had in mind, or should have had in mind, was not the vague question whether you should "sacrifice your life to literature,"—that question you very properly answered in a tone of bantering sarcasm; but whether you should sacrifice your present manner of life to come and seek your fortune in this "literary metropolis"—Heaven save the mark! Let me say flatly, if I have not already said it, there is no literature in New York. There are millions of books manufactured here, and millions of them sold; but of literature the city has no sense—or has indeed only contempt. Some day I may try to explain what I mean by this sharp distinction between the making of books, or even the love of books, and the genuine aspiration of literature. The distinction is as real to my mind—has proved as lamentably real in my actual experience—as that conceived in the Middle Ages between the life of a religiosus, Thomas a Kempis, let us say, and of a faithful man of the world. But this is a mystery, and I will not trouble you with mysteries or personal experiences. You would write as your Southern mockingbird sings his "green-tree ballad"; the thought of that bird mewed in a city cage and taught to perform by rote and not for spontaneous joy, troubled me not a little. I am sending you by express several books....
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
I have said such harsh things about our present-day makers of books that I am going to send you, by way of palliative, a couple of volumes by living writers who really have some notion of literature. One is Brownell's Victorian Prose Masters, and the other is Santayana's Poetry and Religion. If they give you as much pleasure as they have given me, I know I shall win your gratitude, which I much desire. It is a little disheartening and a justification of my pessimism that neither of these men has received anything like the same general recognition as our fluent Mr. Perchance, that interpreter of literature to the American bourgeoisie. I will slip in also a volume or two of Matthew Arnold, as a good touchstone to try them on. Now that you are becoming a professional weigher of books yourself, you ought to be acquainted with these gentlemen.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
Do not reproach yourself for having written me a "journalistic" letter. I always think of an editor as having only ink-bottle insides, ever ready to turn winged fancies into printed matter, or to enter upon a "lyrical disquisition" concerning them. Your distinction consists in a disposition to abandon the formalities of the editorial desk that you may "respond to the personal demands of a new acquaintance." And this humane amiability leads me to make a naive confession. There are some people whose demands are always personal. I think it is their limitation, resulting from a state of naturalness, more or less primitive, out of which they have not yet evolved. They do not appeal to your judgment or wisdom or even to your sympathy, but to you. Their very spirits are composed of a sort of sunflower dust that settles everywhere. And if they have what we term the higher life at all, it is expressed by a woodland call to some tree-top spirit in you. Thus, here am I, really desirous of an abstract, artistic training of the mind, already taking liberties with the sacred corners of your editorial dignity by impressing personal demands.
And just so am I related to the whole of life,—even to the "publicans" in my father's congregation. Indeed, if the desire "to eat with sinners" insured salvation, there would be less cause for alarm about my miraculous future state. The attraction, you understand, depends not upon the fact of their being sinners, but upon the sincerity of their mortality. The more unassumingly these reprobates live in their share of the common flesh, far below spiritual pretences, the more does my wayward mind tip the scales of unregenerate humour in their direction. My instincts hobnob with their dust. But do not infer that I have identified you with these undisciplined characters. When I was a child, out of the rancour of a well-tutored Southern imagination I honestly believed that every man the other side of Mason and Dixon's line had a blue complexion, thin legs, and a long tail. And once when I was still very young, as I hurried from school through a lonely wood, I actually saw one of these monsters quite plainly. And I thought I observed that his tail was slightly forked at the end! I have long since forgiven you these terrifying caudal appendages, of course, but, for all that, I keep a wary eye upon my heavenly bodies and at least one wing stretched even unto this day when my guardian angel introduces a Northern man. My patriotic instincts recommend at once the wisdom of strategy. And it is well the "personal demands" come from me to you; for, had the direction been reversed, by this time I should have sought refuge somewhere in my last ditch and run up a little tattered flag of rebellion to signify the state of my mind.
It is just as well that you advise me against trying my fortunes in your "literary metropolis." My father is set with all his scriptures against the idea. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to eternal life"; and, having predestined me for a deaconess in his church, he is firmly convinced that the strait and narrow way for me does not lie in the direction of New York. However, I have already whispered to my confidential hole-in-the-ground that nothing but the extremity of old-maid desperation will ever induce me to accept the vocation of a deaconess. Thus do a man's children play hide and seek with the beam in his eye while he practises upon the mote in theirs! But if, some day when the heavens are doubtful between sun and rain, you espy a little ruffled rainbow, propelled by a goose-quill pen, coquetting northward with the retiring clouds, know that 'tis the spirit of Jessica Doane arched for another outing in your literary regions.
Meanwhile you amaze me with the charge that "of literature the city has no sense, or indeed only contempt," and I await the promised explanation with interest. For my own part, I often wonder if there will remain any opportunities for literary intelligence to expand at all when the happy (?) faculty of man's ingenuity has devastated all nature's countenance and resources with "improvements," cut down all the trees to make houses of, and turned all the green waterways into horse-power for machinery. Then we shall have cotton-mill epics, phonograph elegies from the tops of tall buildings; and then ragtime music, which interprets that divine art only for vulgar heels and toes, will take the place of anthems and great operas.
The books have come, and among them is another lady's literary effort to make a garden. Judith it is this time, following hard upon the sunburned heels of Elizabeth, Evelina, and I do not know how many more hairpin gardeners. Why does not some man with a real spade and hoe give his experience in a sure-enough garden? I am wearied of these little freckled-beauty diggers who use the same vocabulary to describe roses and lilies that they do in discussing evening toilets and millinery creations.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
We have had a visitor, Professor M——, the doctor of English literature in E—— College, which you will remember is not very far from Morningtown. He came to examine a few first editions father has of some old English classics—(I have neglected to tell you that this is father's one carnal indulgence, dead books printed in funny hunchbacked type!). He is a young man, but so bewhiskered that his face suggests a hermit intelligence staring at life through his own wilderness. His voice is pitched to a Browning tenor tone, and I have good reasons for believing that he is a bachelor.
Still we had some talk together, and that is how I came to practise a deceit upon you. Seeing a copy of The Gazette lying on the table this morning, Professor M—— was reminded to say that there was a "strong man," Philip Towers by name, connected with that paper now. I cocked my head at once like a starling listening to a new tune, for that was the first time I had heard your name praised by a literary man in the South. He went on to say that he had been delighted with your last book, Milton and His Generation, and asked if I had observed your work in the literary department of The Gazette. I admitted demurely that I had. He praised several reviews (all written by me!) particularly, and said that you were the only critic in America now who was telling the truth about modern fiction. Then he incensed me with this final comment:
"I do not understand how he does this newspaper work so forcefully, almost savagely, and is at the same time capable of writing such delicate, scholarly essays as this volume contains!"
"I have seen Mr. Towers," I remarked, mentally determining that you should suffer for that distinction.
"Indeed! what manner of man is he?"
"His dust has congealed, stiffened into a sort of plaster-of-Paris exterior, and he has what I call a disinterred intelligence!"
"A man whose very personality is a kind of mental reservation, and whose intelligence has been resurrected up through the thought and philosophy of three thousand years."
M—— looked awkward but impressed.
And I hoped he would ask how you actually looked, for I was in the mood to give a perfectly God-fearing description of you.
But from the foregoing you will see that I am capable of sharing your literary glory on the sly, and without compunction. Indeed, the false role created in me a perverse mood. And I entered into a literary discussion with M—— that outraged his pedantic soul. It was my way of perjuring his judgment, in return for his unwitting approval of my reviews. Besides, the assumption of infallibility by dull, scholarly men who have neither imagination nor genius has always amused me. And this one danced now as frantically as if he had unintentionally grasped a live wire that hurt and burned, but would not let go! Finally I said very engagingly:
"Doctor M——, I hope to improve in these matters by taking a course of instruction under you next year."
"Now God forbid that you should ever do such a thing, Miss Doane! I would sooner have you thrust dynamite under the chair of English Literature, than see you in one of my classes!"
Thus am I cast upon the barren primer commons of this cold world! And that reminds me to say that I have been reading the essays by Arnold and Brownell which you gave me, with no little animosity. Brownell's criticism of Thackeray is very suggestive, and brushes away a deal of trash that has been written about his lack of artistic method. But I never supposed such loose sentences would be characteristic of so acute a critic. They do not stick together naturally, but merely logically. And I am sure you would not tolerate them from me. But of all the books you have given me I like best George Santayana's Poetry and Religion. Who is he anyhow? It may be a disgraceful admission to make, but I never heard of him before. His name is foreign, and his style is not American. For when an American says a daring thing, particularly of religion, he says it impudently, with a vulgar bravado. But this man writes out his opinion coolly, simply, with that fine hauteur that will not condescend to know of opposition. I think that is admirable. Arnold's courtesy and satirical temperance in dealing with what he discredits is a pose by the side of this man's mental grace and courage. And you know how we usually denominate style: it is the little lace-frilled petticoat of the lady novelist's mincing passions, or the breeches that belong to a male author's mental respirations. But with this man, style is a spirit sword which cleaves between delusions and facts, which separates religion from reality and establishes it in our upper consciousness of ideality.
Is it not absurd for such a barbarian as I am to discuss these gospel-makers of literature with you? But it is much more remarkable that one or any of them should excite my admiration and respect. Really, if you must know it, Mr. Towers, this is where I grow humble-minded in your presence. I am fascinated with your ability to deal with the usually indefinable, the esoteric side of art,—the esoteric side of life by interpretation. And here I discover a shadowy, ghostly likeness between you and this George Santayana. You do not think toward the same ends, or write in the same style, but you know things alike, as if you had both drunk from the same Eastern fountain of mysteries.
And now I am about to change my gratitude into indignation. For I begin to suspect that you sent me these books to inculcate the doctrine of literary humility. If so, you have succeeded beyond your highest expectations. Until now, writing has been a series of desperate experiments with me. I progressed by inspiration. But these fellows—Arnold especially—discredit all such performances. And he does it with the air of an English gentleman inspecting a naked cannibal. He makes my flesh creep! He regards an inspiration as a sort of vulgarity that must be dressed and stretched before it can be used. From his point of view I infer that he considers genius as a dangerous kind of drunkenness that fascinates the world, but is really closely related to bad form in literature. On the other hand, father says that if Matthew Arnold had known of me he would have purchased me, placed me in a cage with a fountain pen, and exhibited me to his classes at Oxford as a literary freak!
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
I will remember your amused hostility to "hairpin gardeners" and see that no more out-of-door books come to you until I have one with a stimulating odour of burning cornstalks and rotting cabbages. Meanwhile let me assure you that your reviews of Elizabeth, Evelina, Judith, and their sisters have been none the less delightful for a vein of wicked impatience running through them. The books I am now sending....
You ought not to be amazed at my dismal comments on latter-day literature. The fact is, you have dissected our present book-makers better than I could do it myself, for the reason that I am too amiable (I presume, you see, that I have the wit) to judge my fellow-workers with such merciless veracity.
But I have just read an article in the Popular Science Monthly which throws an unexpected light on the subject. The paper is by Dr. Minot and is a biologist's comment on "The Problem of Consciousness." You might not suppose that an argument to show how "the function of consciousness is to dislocate in time the reactions from sensations" (!) would have much to do with the properties of literature, but it has. Let me copy out some of his words, as probably you have not seen the magazine:
"The communication between individuals is especially characteristic of vertebrates, and in the higher members of that subkingdom it plays a very great role in aiding the work of consciousness. In man, owing to articulate speech, the factor of communication has acquired a maximum importance. The value of language, our principal medium of communication, lies in its aiding the adjustment of the individual and the race to external reality. Human evolution is the continuation of animal evolution, and in both the dominant factor has been the increase of the resources available for consciousness."
Now that sounds pretty well for a scientist. It should seem to follow that literature, being, so to speak, the permanent mode of communication,—conveying ideas and emotions not merely from man to man, but from generation to generation,—is the predominant means by which this development of consciousness is attained. It is a pretty support we derive from the enemy. But mark the serpent in the grass—"the adjustment of the individual and the race to external reality." The real aim of evolution is purely external, the adjustment of man to environment; consciousness has value in so far as it promotes this adjustment. Flatly, to me, this is pure nonsense, a putting of the cart before the horse, a vulgar hysteron-proteron, none the less execrable because it is the working principle not of a single man, but of the whole of soctety to-day. Consciousness, I hold, is the supremely valuable thing, and progress, evolution, civilisation, etc., are only significant in so far as they afford nourishment to it. Literature is the self-sufficient fruit of this consciousness, I say; the world says it is a mere means of promoting our physical adjustment. You see I take up lightly the huge enmity of the world.
This is wild stuff to put into a journalistic letter, no doubt. If I were writing a treatise I would undertake to show that this difference of view in regard to consciousness and physical adjustment is the oldest and most serious debate of human intelligence. Saint Catharine, Thomas a Kempis, and all those religious fanatics who counted the world well lost, made a god of consciousness and thought very little of physical adjustment. The debate in their day was an equal one. To-day it is all on one side—and vae victis! I cry out—why should I not?—as one of the conquered, and I am charitable enough to advise another not to enter the combat. It is a poor consolation to wrap yourself in your virtue, mount a little pedestal, set your hand on your heart, and spout with Lucan: The winning cause for the gods, but the vanquished for me! Sometimes we begin to wonder whether, after all, the world may not be right, and at that moment the wind begins to blow pretty chill through our virtue.
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
Is my suspicion right? Was my last letter to you really a tangle of crude ideas? That has grown to be my way, until I begin to wonder whether the horrid noises of Park Row may not have thrown my mind a little out of balance. For my strength lay in silence and solitude. It is hard for me to establish any sufficient bond between my intellectual life and my personal relationships, and as a consequence my letters, when they cease to be mere journalistic memoranda, float out into a sea of unrestrained revery.
Yet I would ask you to be patient with me in this matter. From the first, even before I saw you here in New York, I felt that somehow you might, by mere patience and indulgence, if you would, re-establish the lost bond in my life; that somehow the shadow of your personality was fitted to move among the shadows of my intellectual world. What a strange compliment to send a young woman!—for compliment it seems in my eyes.
Meanwhile, as some explanation of this intellectual twilight into which I would so generously introduce you, I am sending you a little book I wrote and foolishly printed several years ago on the quiet life of the Hindus. The mood of the book still returns to me at times, though I have cast away its philosophy as impracticable. I look for peace in the way that Plato trod, and some day I shall write my palinode in that spirit. Let me, in this connection, copy out a few verses I wrote last night and the night before. It is my first digression into poetry since I was a boy:
THE THREE COMMANDS
Out of this meadow-land of teen and dole, Because my heart had harboured in its cell One prophet's word, an Angel bore my soul Through starry ways to God's high citadel.
There in the shadow of a thousand domes I walked, beyond the echo of earth's noise; While down the streets between the happy homes Only the murmur passed of infinite joys.
Then said my soul: "O fair-engirdled Guide! Show me the mansion where I, too, may won: Here in forgetful peace I would abide, And barter earth for God's sweet benison."
"Nay," he replied, "not thine the life Elysian, Live thou the world's life, holding yet thy vision A hope and memory, till thy course be run."
Then said my soul: "I faint and seek my rest; The glory of the vision veils mine eyes; These infinite murmurs beating at my breast Turn earthly music into plangent sighs.
"Because thou biddest, I will tread the maze With men my brothers, yet my hands withhold From building at the Babel towers they raise, And all my life within my heart infold."
The Angel answered: "Lo, as in a dream Thy feet have passed beyond the gates of flame; And evermore the toils of men must seem But wasteful folly in a path of shame.
"Yet I command thee, and vouchsafe no reason, Thou shalt endure the world's work for a season; Work thou, and leave to others fame and blame."
I bowed submission, dumb a little while. Then said my soul: "Thy will I dare not balk; I reach my hands to labours that defile, And help to rear a plant of barren stalk.
"Yet only I, because in life I bear The vision of that peace, may never feel The spur of keen ambition, never share The dread of loss that makes the world's work real.
"Therefore in scorn I draw my bitter breath, And sorrow cherish as my proudest right, Till scorn and sorrow fade in sweeter death." The Angel answered, turning as for flight:
"The labour sorrow-done is more than sterile, And scorn will change thy vision to soul's peril: Be glad; thy work is gladness, child of light!"
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
Many thanks for this copy of your book, The Forest Philosophers of India. I have just finished reading it, and now I understand you better. Your sense of reality has been destroyed by this mysticism of the East. The normal man has a more materialistic consciousness. But having lost that, your very spirit has dissolved into these strange illuminations which you call thought, but which I fear are only the ghostly rays of a Nirvana intelligence. With you life is but a breath without form, a whisper out of your long eternity. And I confess that to me the impression of a man not being at home in his own body is nothing short of terrifying.
You were not expecting so fierce a criticism of your own book from one of your own reviewers, I suspect. Ah, but your "Three Commands" have laid me under a spell. I cannot say anything about them without saying too much; and I am a little rebellious.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
I have not replied earlier to your letter on the problem of consciousness, because I was waiting to read Dr. Minot's article. At last I got hold of the magazine, and so far from finding your comments "a tangle of crude ideas," they have even proved suggestive—perhaps not in the way you expected. For following your line of thought, I wondered if it could have been some violent death-rate among our own species that has produced that desperate phenomenon, the literary consciousness of the historical novelist I have been reviewing for you. And, come to think of it, I do not know any other class of people whose problem of consciousness could be so readily reduced to a "bionomical" platitude. They all write for the same slaying purpose. Did you ever observe how few of their characters survive the ordeals of art? Usually it is the long-lost heroine, and the hero, "wounded unto death" however, and one has the impression that even these would not have lived so long but for the necessity of the final page.
But I must not fail to tell you of a dramatic episode in connection with my first venture into the realm of biological thought. The Popular Science Monthly has long been proscribed at the parsonage on account of its heretical tendencies. And my purpose was to keep a profound secret the fact that I had purchased a copy containing Minot's article. But some demon prompted me to inquire of my father the meaning of the term "epiphenomenon." Now a long association with the idea of omniscience has rendered him wiser in consciousness than in fact, which is a joke the imagination often plays upon serious people. But he could neither give a definition nor find the word in his ancient Webster. This dictionary is his only unquestioned authority outside the Holy Scriptures, and he declines to accept any word not vouched for by this venerable authority. Therefore he reasoned that "epiphenomenon" had been built up to accommodate some modern theory of thought, some new leprosy of the mind never dreamed of by the noble lexicographer. And so, fixing me with a pair of accusing glasses, he inquired:
"My daughter, where did you see this remarkable word?"
I do not question that I am a direct descendant from my fictitious grandmother, Eve! I am always being tempted by apples of information, and I have often known the mortifying sensation of wishing to hide my guilty countenance in my more modern petticoat on that account.
He read the "blasphemous" article through, only pausing to point out heresies and perversions of the sacred truth as he went along. But when he reached the sentence in which the author calmly asserts the theory of monism, he actually gagged with indignation: "My child, do you know that this godless wretch claims that the same principle of life which makes the cabbage also vitalises man?" I looked horrified, but I could barely restrain my laughter; for, indeed, there are "flat-dutch"-headed gentlemen in his congregation who might as well have come up at the end of a cabbage stalk for all the thinking they do. But I need not tell you that the magazine containing the profane treatise on consciousness was burned, while a livid picture was drawn of my own future if I persisted in stealing forbidden fruit from this particular tree of knowledge.
But your last letter put me into a more serious frame of mind. And I am complimented that you entertain the hope that I may be of assistance in re-establishing the lost bond between you and real life. But do you know that you have appealed to the missionary instincts of a barbarian? The attributes of patience and indulgence do not belong to natures like mine. Never has any affliction worked out patience in me, never has my strongest affection taken the form of indulgence. In me Love and Friendship, Sorrow and Gladness, take fiercer forms of expression.
But I will not conceal from you the fact that from the first I have felt in our relationship a curious sensation of magic in one opposed to mystery in the other. I have felt the abandon and madness of a happy dancer, whirling around the dim edge of your shadow-land in the wild expectation of beholding the disembodied spirit of you come forth to join me. It is not that I wished to work a charm, but the shadow of your mysterious life draws me into the opposition of a counter-influence. The gift of power is not in me to set foot across the magic line into the dim land of your soul, any more than I could dissolve into a breath of moonlit air, or a wave of the sea. For, in you, I seem to perceive some strange phenomenon of a spirit changed to twilight gloom which covers all your hills and valleys with the mournful shadow of approaching night. Often this conception appalls me, but more frequently I conceive a wild energy from the idea, as of one sent to rim the shadows in close and closer till some star shall shine down and bless them into heroic form and substance. And I have been amazed to find within my mind a witch's charm for working rainbow miracles upon your dim sky,—but so it is. There have always been mad moments in my life when I have felt all-powerful, as if I had got hold of the ribbon ends of an incantation! This is another one of my limitations at which you must not laugh. For a juggler must be taken seriously, or he juggles in vain; he must have an opportunity to create the necessary illusion in you to insure the success of his performance. Meanwhile, I go to make the circle of my dance smaller; who knows but to-morrow I may be a snow-bunting on your tall cliffs, or a little homeless wren seeking shelter in your valley.
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
So I am a disembodied ghost in your estimation, and you, "happy dancer," are whirling around the rim of my shadow-land with some sweet incantation learned in your Georgia woods to conjure me out into the visible world. Really I would call that a delicious bit of impertinence were I not afraid the word might be taken in the wrong sense.
And yet, I must confess it, there is too much truth in what you say. Some day, when I am bolder, I may unfold to you the whole story of my ruin—for it is a ruin to be disembodied, is it not? I may even indicate the single phrase, the mysterious word of all mysteries, that might evoke the spirit from the past and incarnate him in the living present. Do not try to guess the phrase, I beseech you, for it would frighten you now and so I should lose my one chance of reincarnation. When I visit you in the South, some day soon, I will tell you the magic word I have learned.
What hocus-pocus I must seem to be talking, as if there were some cheap tragedy in my life. Indeed there is nothing of the sort. I have lived as tamely as a house-cat, my only escapade having been an innocent attempt at playing Timon for a couple of years. The drama of my life has been a mere battling with shadows. Your relation of the effect produced in your home by Dr. Minot's heresies carries me back to the first act in that shadow fight, for I too was brought up by the strictest of parents, and, indeed, was myself, as a boy, a veritable prodigy of piety. What would you think of me as a preacher expounding the gospel over a piano-stool for pulpit to a rapt congregation of three? I could show you a sermon of that precocious Mr. Pound-text printed in the New York Observer when he was as much as nine years old—and the sermon might be worse.
I can recall these facts readily enough; but the battle of doubt and faith that I passed through a few years later I can no more realise than I can now realise your father's blessed assurance of heaven. I know vaguely that it was a time of unspeakable agony for me, a rending asunder, as it were, of soul and body. The doctrine was bred into my bones; I saw the folly of it intellectually, but the emotional comfort of it was the very quintessence of my life. The struggle came upon me alone and I was without help or guidance. Into those few years of boyish vacillation, I see now that the whole tragedy of more than a century of human experience was thrust. One day I sat in church listening to a sermon of appealing eloquence: "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Was I too deliberately turning my back on the light? I hid my face and cried. That was the end. I came out of the church free, but I had suffered too much. Something passed from my life that day which nothing can replace; for perfect faith, like love, comes to a man but once.
1 was empty of comfort and without resting-place for my spirit. Then said I: Look you, belief in this religion as dogma is gone; why not hold fast to its imaginative beauty! If revelation is a fraud, at least the intricacies of this catholic faith have grown up from the long yearning of the human heart, and possess this inner reality of corresponding with our spiritual needs. And for several years I wrought at Christian symbolism, trying to build up for my soul a home of poetical faith so to speak. But in the end this could not satisfy me; I knew that I was cherishing a sham, a pretty make-believe after the manner of children. Better the blindness of true religion than this illusion of the imagination. And I was now a grown man.
Then by some inner guidance I turned to India. How shall I tell you what I found in the philosophies of that land! One thing will surprise you. Instead of pessimism I found in India during a certain period of time a happiness, an exultation of happiness, such as the world to-day cannot even imagine. And I found that this happiness sprang from no pretended revelation but from a profound understanding of the heart. Do this, said the books, and you will feel thus, and so step by step to the consummation of ecstasy. I read and was amazed; I understood and knew that I too, if my will were strong, might slip from bondage and be blessed. But I saw further that the path lay away from this world, that I must renounce every desire which I had learned to call good, that I must strip my soul naked of all this civilisation which we have woven in a loom of three thousand years. The dying command of Buddha terrified me: "All things pass away; work out your own salvation diligently!" The words were spoken to comfort and strengthen the bereaved disciples, but to me they sounded as an imprecation, so different is the training of our society from theirs. The loneliness and austerity of the command appalled me; I would not take the first step, and turned back to seek the beautiful things of the eye.
And now at last I am caught up in the illusion of a new Western ideal—not Christianity, for that has passed away, strange as such a statement may sound to you in your orthodox home, but yet a legacy of Christ. Thou shalt love God with all thy heart and thy neighbour as thyself, was the law of Christianity. We have forgotten God and the responsibility of the individual soul to its own divinity; we have made a fetish of our neighbour's earthly welfare. We are not Christians but humanitarians, followers of a maimed and materialistic faith. This is the ideal of the world to-day, and from it I see but one door of escape—and none but a strong man shall open that door.
So I look at the world and life, but, even as I write, something like a foreboding shudder comes over me. I think of your home and your father and the straitness of the law under which you live, and I wonder whether after all the ghost of that fierce theology is yet laid. Can it be that this law which darkened my boyhood shall arise again and claim the joy of my maturer years?
Alas, you who venture to trip so gayly about the rim of my shadow-land with your brave incantations, behold what spirit of gloom and malignant mutterings you have evoked from the night. I have written more than I meant—too much, I fear.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
An evangelist has been here this week. He fell upon us like a howling dervish who had fed fanaticisms on locusts and wild honey. And he has stirred up the spiritual dust of this community by showing an intimacy with God's plans in regard to us very disconcerting to credulously minded sinners. As for me, I have passed this primer-state of religious emotion. I am sure a kind God made me, and so I belong to Him, good or bad. In any case I cannot change the whole spiritual economy of Heaven with my poor prayers and confessions. I try to think of my shortcomings, therefore, as merely the incidents of an eternal growth. I shall outlive them all in the course of time, quite naturally, perennially, as the trees outlive the blight of winter and put forth each year a new greenness of aspiring leaves. I dare not say that I know God, and I will not believe some doctrines taught concerning Him; but I keep within the principle of life and follow as best I can the natural order of things. And for the most part I feel as logically related to the divine order as the flowers are to the seasons. I know that if this really is His world,
should the chosen guide Be nothing better than a wandering cloud, I cannot miss my way.
Are you shocked, dear Shadow, at such a creed of sun and dust?—you, a dishoused soul, wandering like a vagrant ghost along life's green edge? After all, I doubt if I am so far behind you in spiritual experience. The difference is, I have two heavens, that orthodox one of my imagination, and this real heaven-earth of which I am so nearly a part. But you have forced the doors of mystery and escaped before your time. And you can never return to the old dust-and-daisy communion with nature, yet you are appalled at the loneliness and the terrible sacrifices made by a man in your situation. Your spiritual ambition has outstripped your courage. You are an adventurer, rather than an earnest pilgrim to Mecca.
And yet day after day as I have weathered farther and farther back in the church, like a little white boat with all my sails reefed to meet the gospel storm of damnation that has been raging from the pulpit, I have thought of you and your Indian philosophy, by way of contrast, almost as a haven of refuge. Our religion seems to me to have almost the limitations of personality. There can be no other disciples but Christian disciples. Our ethics are bounded by doctrines and dogmas. But, whether Buddhist or Christian, the final test of initiation is always the same—"All things pass away, work out your own salvation with diligence," "Die to the world," "Present your bodies a living sacrifice"—and you would not make these final renunciations. You "turned back to seek the beautiful things of the eye." Well, if one is only wise enough to know what the really beautiful things are, it is as good a way as any to spin up to God. Meanwhile, I doubt if that "Western ideal," the kind-hearted naturalism which "makes a fetish of our neighbour's welfare," will hold you long. Already you "see one door" of escape. I wonder into what starry desert of heaven it leads.
Do you know, I cannot rid myself of the notion that yours is an enchanted spirit, always seeking doors of escape; but at the moment of exit the wild wings that might have borne you out fail. Some earth spell casts you back, incarnate once more. A little duodecimal of fairy love divides the desires of your heart and draws one wing down. "The beautiful things of the eye," that is your little personal footnote, O stranger, which clings like a sweet prophecy to all your asceticism and philosophy. And prophecies cannot be evaded. They must be fulfilled. They are predestined sentences which shape our doom, quite independently of our prayers I sometimes think,—like the lily that determined to be a reed, and wished itself tall enough, only to be crowned at last with a white flag of blooms.
And do not expect me to pray you through these open ways of escape. I only watch them to wish you may never win through. Something has changed me and set my heart to a new tune. I must have already made my escape, for it seems to me that I am on the point of becoming immortal. As I pass along the world, I am Joy tapping the earth with happy heels. I am gifted all at once with I do not know what magic, so that all my days are changed to heaven. And almost I could start a resurrection of "beautiful things" only to see you so glad. But that will never be. There are always your wings to be reckoned with; and with them you are ever ready to answer the voices you hear calling you from the night heavens, from the temples and tombs of the East.
Yesterday I saw a woman sitting far back in the shadows of the church wearing such a look of sadness that she frightened me. It was not goodness but sorrow that had spiritualised her face. And to me she seemed a wan prisoner looking through the windows of her cell, despairing, like one who already knows his death sentence. "What if after all I am mistaken," I thought, "and there really is occasion for such grief as that!" I could think of nothing but that white mystery of sorrow piercing the gloom with mournful eyes. And when at last the "penitents" came crowding the altar with quaking cowardly knees, I fell upon mine and prayed: "Dear Lord, I am Thine, I will be good! Only take not from me the joy of living here in the green valleys of this present world!" Was such a prayer more selfish than the sobbing petitions of the penitents there about the church-rail, asking for heavenly peace? I have peace already, the ancient peace of the forests as sweet as the breath of God. I ask for no more.
You see, dear "Spirit of gloom," that I have sent you all my little scriptures in return for your "malignant mutterings." My God is a pastoral Divinity, while yours is a terrible Mystery, hidden behind systems of philosophy, vanishing before Eastern mysticism into an insensate Nirvana, revealing ways of escape too awful to contemplate. I could not survive the thoughts of such a God for my own. I am His heathen. By the way, did you ever think what an unmanageable estate that is—"And I will give you the heathen for your inheritance"?
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
What mental blindness led me to give you such a book? What demon of perversity tempted you to send me such a review of Miss Addams's Hull-House heresies? You know my abhorrence of our "kind-hearted materialism" (so you call it), yet you calmly write me a long panegyric on this last outbreak of humanitarian unrighteousness—unrighteousness, I say, vaunting materialism, undisciplined feminism, everything that denotes moral deliquescence. Of course I see the good, even the wise, things that are in the book, but why didn't you expose the serpent that lurks under the flowers?
As a matter of fact, what is good in the book is old, what is bad is new. Do you suppose that this love of humanity which has practically grown into the religion of men,—do you suppose that this was not known to the world before? The necessity of union and social adhesion was seen clearly enough in the Middle Ages. The notion that morality, in its lower working at least, is dependent on a man's relation to the community, was the basis of Aristotle's Ethics, who made of it a catchword with his politikon zoon (your father will translate it for you as "a political animal"). The "social compunction" is as ancient as the heart of man. How could we live peacefully in the world without it? Literature has reflected its existence in a thousand different ways. Here and there it will be found touched with that sense of universal pity which we look upon as a peculiar mark of its present manifestation. In that most perfect of all Latin passages does not Virgil call his countryman blessed because he is not tortured by beholding the poverty of the city—
neque ille Aut doluit miserans inopem, aut invidit habenti?
And is not the AEneid surcharged with pitying love for mankind, "the sense of tears in mortal things"? So the life and words of St. Francis of Assisi are full of the breath of brotherly love—not brotherhood with all men merely, but with the swallows and the coneys, the flowers, and even the inanimate things of nature. And the letters of St. Catherine of Siena are aflame with passionate love of suffering men.
But there is something deplorably new in these more modern books, something which makes of humanitarianism a cloak for what is most lax and materialistic in the age. I mean their false emphasis, their neglect of the individual soul's responsibility to itself, their setting up of human love in a shrine where hitherto we worshipped the image of God, their limiting of morality and religion to altruism. I deny flatly that "Democracy ... affords a rule of living as well as a test of faith," as Miss Addams says; I deny that "to attain individual morality in an age demanding social morality, to pride one's self on the results of personal effort when the time demands social adjustment, is utterly to fail to apprehend the situation"; I say we do not "know, at last, that we can only discover truth by rational and democratic interest in life." Why did you quote these sentences with approval? There is no distinction between individual and social morality, or, if there is, the order is quite the other way. All this democratic sympathy and social hysteria is merely the rumour in the lower rooms of our existence. Still to-day, as always, in the upper chamber, looking out on the sky, dwells the solitary soul, concerned with herself and her God. She passes down now and again into the noise and constant coming and going of the lower rooms to speak a word of encouragement or admonition, but she returns soon to her own silence and her own contemplation. (The heart of a St. Anthony in the desert of Egypt, the heart of many a lonely Hindu sage knows a divine joy of communication of which Hull House with its human sympathies has no conception.) Morality is the soul's debt to herself.
It is a striking and significant fact that these humanitarians are continually breaking the simplest rules of honesty and decent living. Rousseau, the father of them all, sending his children (the children of his body, I mean) to the foundling asylum, is a notorious example of this; and John Howard is another. I have in my own experience found these people impossible to live with.
Let me illustrate this tendency to forget the common laws of personal integrity by allusion to a novel which comes from another college-settlement source. It is a story called, I think, The Burden of Christopher, published three or four years ago,—a clever book withal and rather well written. The plot is simple. A young man, just from his university, inherits a shoe factory which, being imbued with college-settlement sentimentalism, he attempts to operate in accordance with the new religion. Business is dull and he is hard-pressed by competitive houses. An old lady has placed her little fortune in his hands to be held in trust for her. To prevent the closing down of his factory and the consequent distress of his people, he appropriates this trust money for his business. In the end he fails, the crash comes, and, as I recollect it, he commits suicide. All well and good; but in a paragraph toward the end of the book, indeed by the whole trend of the story, we discover that the humanitarian sympathy which led the hero to sacrifice his individual integrity for the weal of his work-people is a higher law in the author's estimation than the old moral sense which would have made his personal integrity of the first importance to himself and to the world.
I submit to you, my dear reviewer, that such notions are subversive of right thinking and are in fact the poisonous fruit of an era which has relaxed its hold on any ideal outside of material well-being. For that reason when I read in Miss Addams's book such words as these, "Evil does not shock us as it once did," I am filled with anger. I wonder at the blindness of the age when I read further such a perversion of truth as this: "We have learned since that time to measure by other standards, and have ceased to accord to the money-earning capacity exclusive respect."—Have we?
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
I am troubled lest the letter I wrote yesterday should have seemed to breathe more of personal bitterness than of philosophic judgment. Did I make clear that my hostility to modern humanitarianism is not due to any contempt for charity or for the desire of universal justice? I dislike and distrust it for its false emphasis and for its perversion of morality—and the two faults are practically one.
Last night I was reading in Piers Plowman and came upon a passage which exactly illustrates what I mean. The old Monk of Malvern might be called the very fountainhead in English letters of that stream of human brotherhood which has at last spread out into the stagnant pool of humanitarianism. He wrote when the rebellion of Wat Tyler and Jack Straw was fermenting, when the people were beginning to cry out for their rights, and his vision is instinct with the finest spirit of love for the downtrodden and the humble. Yet never once does his compassion or indignation lead him to neglect spiritual things for material. Let me copy out a few of his lines on "Poverte":
And alle the wise that evere were, By aught I kan aspye, Preiseden poverte for best lif, If pacience it folwed, And bothe bettre and blesseder By many fold than richesse. For though it be sour to suffre, Thereafter cometh swete; As on a walnote withoute Is a bitter barke, And after that bitter bark, Be the shelle aweye, Is a kernel of comfort Kynde to restore. So is after poverte or penaunce Paciently y-take; For it maketh a man to have mynde In God, and a gret wille To wepe and to wel bidde, Whereof wexeth mercy, Of which Christ is a kernelle To conforte the soule.
Imagine, if you can, such a speech in the precincts of Hull House! I am not concerned to exalt poverty, I know how much suffering it creates in the world; and yet I say that an age to which poverty is only a degradation without any possible spiritual compensation, is an age of materialism. I wish I might follow the use of the word comfort from its early nobility as you see it here down to its modern degeneracy, where it signifies the mere satisfaction of the body. The history of that word would be an eloquent sermon. Have I made myself clear? Do you understand what I mean by the false emphasis of our humanitarianism? And do you see why I could not stomach your review of Miss Addams's book?—I am sending by express several novels, among them....
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
Here in the South we are born into our traditions and we generally die by them. We never encourage the mental extravagance of adding new dimensions to our minds. When you have had an hour's conversation with any of us, or have exchanged three letters, you can be comfortably sure of what we think on any subject under the sun. Thus, you see, I was wholly unprepared for the point of view expressed in your last two letters. I thought you were a gentle disciple,—following the lights behind us indeed; but I did not suspect that you were bent upon this journey through the dust of centuries with the temper of a modern savage.
However, it seems a man must have either ass's ears or a cloven foot; and, soon or late, most of us expect to find our hero in Bottom's predicament. But I would rather have acknowledged the beam in my own eye than have discovered this diabolical split in your heel. All my life I have been familiar with the inhumanity of the merely spiritually minded. And I think it was because your own spirit was not denominational, nor fitted to any dogma of my acquaintance, that I trusted it. But really, the product is always the same. And I begin to wonder if there is not something fundamentally cruel in the law that governs soul-life. No matter what the age or the colour of the doctrine is, those most highly developed in this way generally show a conscientious selfishness that is dehumanising. They have no tender sense of touch, their relation to the world about them is obtuse; and for this reason, I think, they excite aversion in normally minded people.
I leave you, my dear sir, to "expose the serpent lurking under the flowers." For my part, I believe humanitarianism is the better part of any religion. And while my knowledge of social orders does not reach so far back into the grave-dust of the past, I am unwilling to agree with you that it is "coeval with human nature." But it is one of the ends toward which all religions must tend,—for if a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?—But I forget! Love is not essential to your sort of Nirvana mysticism. In you, spirituality is a sort of cruel aspiration toward personal perfection. Still, that little scripture represents the advance made by this modern religion of Christianity over your Hindu theosophy.
Do you know I think a man's religious philosophy ought to fit him particularly for his present environment of earth and flesh. One cannot tell so much about the life after death. It may be necessary to make us over in the twinkling of an eye, and even to change the very direction of all spirit life in us. But here, we know accurately what the needs are; and any sort of wisdom that fails to provide us with the right way of dealing with one another is defective. Thus your Buddhism seems to me more mesmeric than satisfying. It is a way men have of murdering themselves, while continuing to live, into peace and oblivion. There is a surrender, a negation of life, a denial of total responsibilities, or human obligations, which to my mind indicates a monstrous selfishness, none the less real because its manifestations are passive and dignified by a philosophic pose. You see I am reading your last two letters by the light of certain earlier confessions.
And again I do not think you can fairly complain of humanitarianism because in some books "it is synonymous with all that is lax and materialistic in the age." The author of a novel is never so concerned to tell the truth as he is to exploit and illustrate an interesting theory. You have no right to expect gospel from literary mountebanks. Nor can you judge the integrity of it by such disciples as Rousseau, who was merely a decadent soul fascinated by the contemplation of his own depravity. The scriptures of such a Solomon, however true in theory, are neither honest nor effective. But as a final climax of your argument, you declare that in your "own experience" you have found these humanitarians "impossible to live with." I do not wonder at that. A question far more to the point is, Did they find you impossible to live with? Come to think of it, I would rather live with a humanitarian, myself, even if his soul was carnally bow-legged. But my sort of charity is so perverse, so awry with humour, that the constant contemplation of a man trying to wriggle out of the flesh through some spiritual key-hole, made by his own imagination, into a form of existence much higher than agreeable, would be, to say the least of it, diverting.
You copy several sentences from the Hull-House book in your letter and cry to me in an accusing voice to know why I quoted them in my review "with approval." Suppose I did not comprehend their important relation to the subject from your point of view? But I do understand enough to know that the "social compunction" in Aristotle's day was a mere theory, a sublime doctrine practised by a few, whereas now it is a great governing principle, a dynamic power in the social order of mankind. And I challenge your accuracy in calling such social sympathy "only a rumour in the lower rooms of our existence." My notion is that the choir voice of it has already reached that grand third story of yours, and that the "solitary soul" in the "upper chamber" will presently find herself along with other traditions—in the attic! Oh, I know your sort! You stay in your upper chamber as long as atmospheric conditions make it comfortable. But before this time I have known you to sneak down into those same "lower rooms" to warm yourself by humanitarian hearthstones. And that you are not nearly so immortal as you think you are is proved by these winter chills along the spine. There come occasions when you get tired of your own stars and long to feel the thrill of that royal life-blood that leaps like a ruby river of love through the grimy, toiling, battling humanitarian world beneath you. Did you once intimate to me that if ever I conjured you out of the shadows which seem to surround you, I should be horrified at the vision? Well, I am!
PHILIP TO JESSICA
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
So your servant has a cloven hoof and just escapes the adornment of ass's ears! Dear, dear, what a temper! But, jesting aside, you must not suppose I abhor the cant of humanitarianism from any thin-blooded selfishness or outworn apathy. Have I not made this clear to you? It is the negative side of humanitarianism (the word itself is an offence!), and not its portion of human love that vexes my soul.
Through one of the crooked streets not far from Park Row that wind out from under the grim arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, I often pass on business. Here on the step at the entrance to a noisome court, where heaven knows how many families huddle together behind the walls of these monstrous printing-houses, there sits day after day a child, a little pale, peaked boy, who seems to belong to no one and to have nothing to do—sits staring out into the filthy street with silent, wistful eyes. There is only misery and endurance on his face, with some wan reflection of strange dreams smothered in his heart. He sits there, waiting and watching, and no man knows what world-old philosophy comforts his weary brain. The face haunts me; I see it at times in my working hours; it peers at me often from the surging night-throngs of upper Broadway; it passes dimly across my vision before I fall asleep. It has become a symbol to me of the long agony of human history. Because I know the misery of that face and the evil that has produced it, because I know that misery has been in the world from the beginning and shall endure to the end, and because my heart is sickened at the thought,—that is why I rebel so bitterly against a doctrine that turns away from all spiritual consolation for some vainly builded hope of a socialistic paradise on this earth. I have heard one of these humanitarians avow that he and practically all his friends were materialists, and such they are even when they will not admit it. Dear girl, believe me, I have lived over in my mind and suffered in my heart the long toil and agony which the human race has undergone in its effort to wrest some assurance of spiritual joy and peace from these clouds of illusion about us; I have read and felt what the Hindu ascetic has written of lonely conflict in the wilderness; I have heard the Greek philosophers reason their way to faith; I have comprehended the ecstasy of the early Christians; I have taken sides in the high warfare of mediaeval realists against the cheap victory of nominalism. I know that the word of deliverance has been spoken by all these and that it is always the same word. And now come these humanitarians, with their starved imaginations, who in practice, if not in speech, deny all the spiritual insight of the race and seek to lower the ideal of mankind to their fools' commonwealth of comfort in this world. Because I revolt from this false and canting conception of brotherly love, am I therefore devoted to "conscientious selfishness"? Ah, I beg you to revise your reading of this book of my heart, and to remodel your criticism.
But I am saying not a word of what is most in my thoughts. In two days I shall set out for a trip to the South which will bring me to Morningtown. Will you turn away in horror if you see a wretched creature hobbling with cloven hoof up the scented lane of your village? For sweet charity's sake, for your own sweeter sake, believe that his heart is full of love however wrong his mind may be.
 Much of the routine matter in regard to reviewing has been omitted from these letters. ————————————————————————————————————
The Second Part
which shows how the editor visits Jessica in the country, and how love and philosophy sometimes clash.
PHILIP TO JESSICA
WRITTEN AFTER RETURNING FROM MORNINGTOWN
MY DEAR MISS DOANE:
It is all different and the morning has forgotten to return since I left you where your village meets the great world. Have you kept God's common dayspring imprisoned among your garden trees and flowers? What shall I say? What shall I not say? Only this, that I gave my happiness into your hands and you have broken it and let it drop to the ground. See what a shipwreck I have suffered of all my dreams. These long years of solitary reading and study I have been gathering up in my imagination the passions and joys and hopes of a thousand dead lovers,—the longing of Menelaus for Helen, the outcry of Catullus for Lesbia, the worship of Dante for Beatrice—all these I have made my own, believing that some day my love of a woman should be rendered fair in her eyes by these borrowed colours; and now I have failed and lost; and what I would give, you have accounted as light and insufficient. Is there no speech left to tell you all the truth? I am a little bewildered, and have not been able to pluck up heart of courage. Write me some word of familiar consolation; do not quite shut the door upon me until my eyes grow accustomed to this darkness. All the light is with you, and the beauty that God has given the world, all the meaning of human life,—and I turn my back on this and go out into the night alone. Dear girl, I would not utter a word of reproach. I know that my love, which seemed to me so good, may be as nothing to you, is indeed not worthy of you, for you are more than all my dreams—and yet it was all that I had. I shall learn perhaps to write to you as a mere reviewer of books;—the irony of it.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
Can you believe it? I was absurdly glad to receive your letter this morning. Ever since you went away I have felt so brave and desolate—like a poor dryad who has fought her way out of her own little kingdom of love and peace and green silence, for the sake of a foreign ideal which really belongs to the world at large. (I shouldn't wonder if I did become a deaconess after all!) In my effort to escape a romantic sacrifice to a strange heathen divinity, I find myself offered upon this common altar in the name of a theory, Humanitarianism. My smoke arises. I have been consumed, and now I write you merely in the spirit,—you see I am learning your incantations.
But being disembodied, I may at least be truthful. Besides, it is sometimes wiser to make long-distance confessions than to tell the truth face to face. Then listen, dear Heart, it was not Philip, but poor Jessica who was vanquished that day as we walked through the lanes and fields around Morningtown. I do not know how to tell you, but of a sudden I am becoming learned in all the joys and griefs of this world. There is a sweetheart reason for them all, lying buried somewhere. For love is nature's vocation in us, I think. We cannot escape it. Our vision is already love-lit when the prince comes. All he needs do is to step within the radiant circle. Oh, my Heart, is it not terrible when you think of it, that we may keep our wills, but our hearts we cannot keep! They go from us happy pilgrims, and return unto us old and grey, sometimes lost and forsaken.
You came so fast upon the heels of your other letter that I did not have time to put on my shield and buckler before you were here in the flesh, formidable, real, cloven hoof and all! I was frightened and militant,—frightened lest you should win from me the freedom of my heart, militant for the freedom of my will. Well, at least I kept the latter, but I can tell you, it is making a poor bagpipe tune of the victory. When I went down to you that first evening, it was like going to meet an enemy, dear and terrible. I was divided between two impulses, both equally savage 1 think, either to stab or to fall upon your breast and weep. But you will bear me witness that my greeting in reality was conventionally awkward. In any case, your eyes would have saved me. They are wide and deep, and as you stood here by the window where I am writing now, with both my hands clasped in yours, I saw a bright beam leap up far within them like candles suddenly lighted in an open grave. You had not come merely to make peace with me, you had my capitulation ready, but I knew then I should never sign. Let the dead bury their dead; as for me, I am too much alive to die long and amicably with any ghost of a philosopher in the "upper chamber." I do not even belong in the "lower rooms," but outside under the skies of our ever green world. I have already determined that if there is nothing going on in heaven when I am translated thither, I will ask to be changed into a wreath of golden butterflies with permission to follow spring round and round the earth.
And that brings me to another part of my confession. You are aware that I do not really know you, only your mind. The time I saw you in New York does not count. For upon that occasion we only ran an editorial handicap just to try each other's intellectual paces, did we not? But when you ventured boldly down here upon my own heath—oh! that was a different matter. I meant to be as brave as a Douglas in his hall. You should not ride across my drawbridge and away again till I knew you. Well, you know the dull usual way of discovering what and who a stranger is, by asking his opinions or by classifying his face and expression according to biological records. Now, a man's features are only his great-grand somebody's modified or intensified, and his opinions, as in your case, may not represent him but his mental fallacies. So I invented a test of my own. I tried a man by a jury of my trees, not your peers exactly, but friends of mine who have become to me strong standards of excellence and virtue and repose in human nature. Dear Enemy, I coaxed you into my little heart-shaped forest, which you remember lies like a big lover's wreath on the Morningtown road beyond my father's church. And behold! it was as if we had come home together. We touched hands with the green boughs in friendly greeting. There was nothing to be said, no place now for a difference between us. For the rights and wrongs of the world did not reach beyond the shady rim of the silence there. Goodness and fidelity was the ground we trod upon, and we were native to it. Yet it was the first time I ever entered a little into sympathy with the exalted cruelty of your spiritual nature. For in the forest, ever present, is the intimation of Nature's indifference to pain. There is no charity in a commonwealth of trees. They live, decay, and die, and there is no sign of compassion anywhere. It is terrible, but there is a Spartan beauty in the fact.
But suddenly, as we sat there in the sweet green twilight, the thought pierced me like a pang that after all you are more nearly related to the life of the forest than I am. I merely love it, but you are like it in the cold, ruthless, upward aspiration of your soul. I long for a word with the trees, but you are so near and kin that your silence is speech. And then I asked myself this question: "What is the good, where is the wisdom in loving a tree man, who may shelter you, but never can be like you in life or love?" Always his arms are stretched upward to the heavens in a prayer to be nearer to the light. He is a sort of divine savage who cannot remember the earth heart that may love and die beneath him like the leaves upon the ground. Thus we came out of the wood, you who are made so that you can never really understand what you have lost, and I, with all my will in my wings, and stronger for the loss of my heart. Some day, perhaps, if I keep the wings, it will return, a little withered, but sound as a brownie's. Then, dear man of the trees, I shall bury it here in the forest like a precious seed. Who knows what it may come to be, my poor heart that was dead and shall live again,—a tall lady-tree as heartless as any man-oak, or only a poor vine!
JESSICA TO PHILIP
MY DEAR MR. TOWERS:
Imagine if you can the moral perversity of a young woman who never regrets a witty deception or a graceful subterfuge, but repents sometimes in sackcloth and ashes for her truth-telling. I'd give half my forest now to have back the letter I sent you yesterday. But since I cannot recall it, I wish you to bear in mind that what was true of a woman's heart yesterday, to-day may be only a little breach of sentiment with which to reproach her prudence. We are never lastingly true. The best you can expect is that we be generally true to the mood we are in.
When you were here, I could not beguile you into a discussion of the subject upon which we differ so widely. Pardon the malicious reference, but it seemed to me that you had closed the door of your "upper chamber" and hastened down here to confess your own reality. And no challenge, however ingenious, could provoke you into displaying the cloven hoof of your "higher nature." When my father, for instance, who has long suspected the soundness of your doctrines, laid down one of his lurid hell-fire premises as an active reason for seeking salvation, I observed that you showed the agility of a spiritual acrobat in avoiding the conflict.
Nevertheless, I return to the point of divergence between us. You are angry with the humanitarians for their materialism. But you forget who the Hull-House classes are,—people so poor and starved and cold that their very souls have perished. You cannot teach your little goblin-faced boy who sits under the bridge the philosophy of the Hindu ascetic until you have fed and vitalised him, and stretched his poor withered imagination across the fair fields of youth's summer years. Believe me, the humanitarian's calling seems stupid from your point of view because you are born five hundred years before your time. When the Hull-House principles have abolished the poor and the rich, and have transplanted the whole human race far and wide over the hills and valleys of this earth, then will be time enough for the spiritual luxury of such teachings as yours.
The last batch of books has come, Creelman's novel, Eagle Blood, among them. Evidently it is a story written to prove the intellectual and commercial ascendency of Americans over mere Anglo-Saxons. The heroine and a few romantic details are thrown in as a bait to the "average reader." Alas for the "average reader"! How many crimes of this sort are committed in his name! We can never hope to have a worthy literature until he has been eliminated from the consciousness of those who make it. In the days when he was not to be reckoned with, and men wrote for a very few appreciative admirers and some desperately cruel critics, then Carlyle began to swear at his "forty-million fool," and so attracted their attention, and ever since we have had them with us, forty-million average readers, calling for excitement and amusement. It is this same "forty-million fool" who has made historical romances an inexhaustible source of revenue to the writers of them. For he is naive, and has never suspected the real dime-novel character of such fiction. Can you not get some one to write an article outlining a plan by which the "average reader" may be abolished?
PHILIP TO JESSICA
I will not for any consideration of custom put such a breach between my dreams and reality as to go on addressing you in the old formal way. It will be idle to protest; I have bought the privilege with a great price; nay, I have even bought you, and no outcry of your rebel will shall ever redeem you from this bondage to my hopes. One thing I know: there is no power in all the world equal to love, and he who has this power may win through every opposition. And was ever a man in such a position as mine? Others have been compelled to overcome a prejudice against what was base or unworthy in themselves, but I am forced to defend myself for my best heritage of understanding. Would it help me in your esteem if I flung away all my hard-won philosophy and ranged myself with the sentimentalists of the day? I will not believe it. I will fight this upstart folly while breath is in me, and I will teach you to fight it with me. This morning I took that poor book of Miss Addams's and, in place of what you sent me, wrote such a review as will quite astound the "forty-million fool" you so despise—we agree there, at least. And all the while I was writing, I kept saying to myself, How will Jessica answer that? and, Will not Jessica believe now that my hatred of humanitarianism does not spring from selfishness or contempt, but from sympathy for mankind?
Yet if anything could bring me to hate my brothers it would be this monstrous certainty that my feeling towards them stands in the way of the one supreme, all consuming desire of my heart. I could cry out in the words of the Imitation:
"As often as I have gone among men, I have returned less a man"; for their foolish chatter has stolen from me the possession without which we are dwarfed and marred in our being. Your love is more to me than all the hopes of men. You must hearken to me. I have charged the winds with my passion; the scent of flowers shall tell you the sweetness of love; you shall not walk among your beloved trees but their whispering shall repeat the words they heard me speak. I will wrap you about with fancies and dreams and passionate thoughts till no way of escape is left you. You shall not read a book but some word of mine shall come between your eyes and the printed page. You shall not hear a simple song but you shall remember that music is the voice of love. You think that I have no heart for the many and can therefore have no heart for one. Dear girl, my love is so great that it has made me stronger a thousand times than you; there is no escape for you.
As I passed the little goblin boy this morning I dropped a coin in his hand and said: "It is from a lady in Georgia who loves you." His face lighted up with surprise at the words (not at the money, for I have given him that before), and I was glad to extend the benediction of your sweetness a little further in the world. Believe me, I am not so foolish as to despise charity or true efforts to increase the comfort of the poor; but I know that poverty and pain and wretchedness can never be driven from the world by any besom of the law, and I do see that humanitarianism, sprung as it is from materialism and sentimentalism (what a demonic crew of isms!) has bartered away the one valid consolation of mankind for an impossible hope that begets only discontent and mutual hatred among men. They are the followers of Simon Magus, these humanitarians; they would buy the gifts of Heaven with a price; and their creed is the real Simonism. Have you ever read the Imitation, and do you remember these verses?
For though I alone possessed all the comforts of the world and might enjoy all the delights thereof, yet it is certain that they could endure but a little.
Wherefore, O my soul, thou canst not be fully comforted, nor be perfectly refreshed, save in God, the comforter of the poor and the helper of the humble.
Let temporal things be for use, but set thy desire on the eternal.
Man draweth nearer to God so as he departeth further from all earthly comfort.
You have taught me to love, dear Heart; and now, as you see, you are teaching me to be orthodox. Do not think I shall give you up; there is only one power greater than my desire, and that is Death. I would not end with so ill-omened a word, but rather with your own sweet name, Jessica.
JESSICA TO PHILIP
DEAR FATHER CONFESSOR:
You observe, I do not retaliate by addressing you as Dear Philip. After reflecting, I conclude that this would be an undue concession to make, while the above title removes you to a safer sphere. It limits and qualifies your relationship and at the same time affords me the happy advantage of confessing my heart to you. Really, I have always felt the need of such an officer in my spiritual kingdom. I could never reconcile myself to the incongruity of confessing in our experience meetings. It seemed to me that sharing my confidence with so many people was heterodox to nature itself. For this reason I have always thought that while Protestantism is based upon a nobler theory of the truth, Roman Catholicism is founded upon a much shrewder knowledge of human nature.