I must give an instance or two of the astounding character of my memory. It is absolutely first rate wherever my true interests are concerned, and also first rate in a very different sense, in elimination other things so as not to overload the mind. But ---
I think it was on returning to Boleskine from Paris after taking the Grade of 5° = 6☐ that I asked Eckenstein to join me for the ski-läufing and salmon. We left London together in a sleeper. I had one hundred and fifty pounds in bank notes in my pocket book, which I put under my pillow. In the morning I dressed hurriedly, still half asleep, and left the book behind. I discovered the loss a few minutes later and shrugged my shoulders. I have always had a conviction that it is utterly useless to look for anything that has once been lost. I made up my mind immediately to forget about it; I take it as a matter of fact that anyone who has found anything would steal it; yet equally as a matter of course that it would be returned to me by the finder as simply as one would hand a lady the fan she had dropped, with no question of honesty or reward. But Eckenstein insisted on my going back to the station immediately. We saw the station master and got permission to walk up the tracks --- quite a long distance, hardly less than a quarter of a mile --- to the siding where the sleeper had been shunted. The pocket book was found intact under my pillow.
Some time in 1913 or '14 Eckenstein referred to this incident and immediately noticed that I did not catch on. He tackled me pointedly; and I denied all knowledge of the affair with the emphasis of St. Peter! Eckenstein repeated the facts given in the above paragraph and as he did so the whole thing cam back to me. But I would certainly have gone into the witness-box and sworn point blank that no such thing had ever happened. Every detail was and is perfect in my memory. At this moment I can see the car, the siding, the general appearance of the maze of lines, the lowering grey weather, the tumbled bed, the cleaner who had just begun his work. I remember thrusting my hand under the pillow and the exact state of emotion at finding the book, relief mingled with mild surprise and a strong sense of shame at having made such a fool of myself in the presence of Eckenstein.
But the entire packet had been sealed up and stowed away at the back of the safe, in accordance with the routine of the office never to allow the mind to feed upon thoughts connected with money. I know that this seems farfetched and many people will find it entirely unintelligible; but it is the fact.
The ultimate secret of my life is that I really live up to my principles. I decide that it is disgraceful to allow financial considerations to dictate my conduct; but instead of allowing this to remain a pious opinion, I am at pains to invent a regular technique for dismissing them.
Another incident. In returning to Zapotlan we had ridden a hundred and twenty miles in the broiling sun. I had outridden O.E., who was amazed and irritated at my power to endure heat and thirst. I became alarmed when I found he was nowhere to be seen and rode back a good many miles, managing (as luck would have it) to miss him in one small patch of woodland which diversified the desert. When I reached Zapotlan I had to be lifted off my horse. We were to start the next morning, as we were in rather a hurry to get back to Mexico City.
I woke before six o'clock and found the whole place in darkness. I opened the big gateway, fed the horses, saddled them and then, finding that nobody was stirring, thought I would lie down on my bed for a minute or so till breakfast was ready. I went to sleep. Eckenstein had some difficulty in arousing me.
The point of the story is this: that I had done nothing of the sort. Eckenstein proved to me (and a difficult task he had) that I had never wakened at all and that the whole of my early morning's activities were a mere wish phantasm; being too sleepy to do my duty, I dreamt that I had done so.
This last incident is very typical. Not once nor twice in my fair island story have I hound myself in honest doubt which, believe me, is worth half the creeds, as to whether any given incident took place in sleep or waking. It may be thought that my accounts of various magical incidents are under suspicion; but being aware of my peculiarities, I have naturally been at great pains to eliminate any such source of error. Eckenstein's proof that I was dreaming depended on the physical evidence of the closed doorway and the unsaddled horses. It is of course easy to reply that I may have been asleep the second time as well as the first! And of course there is no answer to that any more than there is to the argument that we are all part of the Red King's Dram, as Lewis Carroll puts the fable of Kwang-Tze. (Kwang-Tze once said to his disciples on awakening: "Just now I was dreaming that I was a butterfly: but is it so, or am I a butterfly dreaming that it is Kwang-Tze?")
To return to the wicked city of Paris. J.W.Morrice, as a painter, does not possess the sternly intense passion of O'Conor. His vision lacks the blazing brilliance of beauties which imposes itself on the beholder in O'Conor's best work. Morrice is a homo unius tabulae. He has only seen one thing in his life --- it is the rosy dream which Venus and Bacchus bestow upon their favourites. His pictures swim in a mist of rich soft delicate colour which heightens the effect of the character of his draughtsmanship; and that suggests the same qualities by means of a different system of hieroglyphics.
The most prominent member of the Chat Blanc symposia, after these, was Paul Bartlett. I found him brilliant and good natured; and his caustic speech gave a spice to his geniality. I thought very highly of his work; but he might have gone much further had it not been for the social and artistic success which acts as a soporific on all artists whose vigilance is unequal to the strain. It is hard indeed for the strongest of us to be ungracious to our admirers. Neglect and poverty, moreover, injure a man's art if they continue for more than a certain number of years. It is best for a man if he begins to taste success in the early forties; but he must have begun with "the thwackings", as Meredith so profoundly sets forth in that superb magical apologue, The Shaving of Shagpat; and he should have learnt their lesson that the applause of mankind is as contemptible as its abuse. "Just so many asinine hee-haws", as Browning said. The artist must live continually in such intense intimacy with the God-head that he is not to be disturbed either by starvation or success.
There were of course a number of fleas on the Chat Blanc; men whose association with art was a sort of superstition, men who bored us and yet were as difficult to get rid of as the lumber that accumulates in a house. But sometimes a stranger would introduce a new note of genuine amusement.
One day one of the Americans introduced the "great American artist, Penrhyn Stanlaws". His name was Stanley Adamson and his birthplace Dundee. He had begun his life in the traditional manner of the great by holding horses' heads and earning dimes. Somehow or other, while quite a youth, he had sprung into popular favour and was already earning two thousand pounds a year or more by dashing off a succession of spidery scrawls representing fluffy American flappers in various attitudes. He had come to Paris to study art seriously.
I was delighted with him. He was Pinkerton of The Wrecker, with every t crossed and every i dotted. His innocent earnestness, without any root to it, his infatuation for "uplift", his total ignorance of the morality of the artist, his crude prejudices based upon Sunday School, his attitude to everything assumed in blissful unconsciousness of a background: this was all perfectly charming. He had all the fascination of a new penny toy.
Now, at this time, Gerald Kelly was in his Whistler-Velasquez period. Kelly's mind is in no way creative or even critical in the true sense of the word. He was a scholar. He would convince himself by elaborate argument that So-and-so was the greatest of all artists; and he would then endeavour to discover the secrets of the master in the spirit of the analytical chemist, and proceed to paint with the most pitiful perseverance in the style of his latest hero. I possess sketches by Kelly which I defy the world to distinguish from Beardsley, Rossetti, Morris, G.F.Watts, etc. Robbie Ross once told me of a man who collected fans by Charles Conder. He had twenty-three when he
died; four of them Conders, five doubtful, but the remaining fourteen genuine Kellys.
At this particular moment he was aiming at the "low tone" of Whistler and Velasquez and his method was to keep on darkening his palette. Ultimately he would use paint the colour of Thames mud for the highlight on the cheek of a blonde. He once picked out an old canvas to paint over and had gone some distance before he discovered that it was his favourite portrait of the Hon. Eileen Grey. His knowledge of art was encyclopaedic; and he laid down the law and more unction and emphasis than anyone else I have every heard. He took Stanlaws under his wing and started to teach him to paint.
Stanlaws possessed the characteristic American faculty of doing anything and everything easily; of scoring superficial success. One day I called on him and found a large easel in his studio on which stood a vast canvas --- evidently by Kelly. I congratulated him on his acquisition. He replied, rather huffily, that he had painted it himself. And the cream of the jest is that this hasty imitation of Kelly's imitations of Velasquez was accepted in the Salon on the strength of Stanlaws' American reputation!
I gradually sickened of the atmosphere of Paris. It was all too easy. I flitted restlessly to London and back, and found no rest for the sole of my foot. I had even got engaged to be married, but returning after a week in London I was partly too shy to resume relations with my fiancée, and partly awake to the fact that we had drifted under the lee shore of matrimony out of sheer lack of moral energy. This lady claims notice principally as the model for several poems, notably (in Rosa Mundi, and other Love Songs) "The Kiss", "Eileen" and the poems numbered 14, 15, 16, 18, 21 to 28. She was also the "Star" in The Star and the Garter, Which I wrote at this time; and the three women connected with the "Garter" were an English lady with a passion for either, an acrobat and model whom I called my boot-button girl because her face was "round and hard and small and pretty", and thirdly Nina Olivier. Nina is described in the poem itself and also in several lyrics, notably "The Rondel" --- "You laughing little light of wickedness". My adoration of Nina made her the most famous girl in the quarter for a dozen years and more. She figures, by the way, in my "Ordeal of Ida Pendragon".
The Star and the Garter contains some of my best lyrics and is also important as marking a new step in my poetic path. I had mastered form better than I had ever done before; I had welded lyrics into a continuous opus with an integral purpose, without artificiality, such as to some extent mars Orpheus and even Alice. I spent two days writing the poem; but I do not consider it a waste of time.
Some time later I added an appendix of a very obscure kind. The people of our circle, from Kathleen Bruce (since Lady Scott and Mrs. Hilton Young)
to Sybil Muggins and Hener-Skene (later, accompanist to Isadora Duncan) are satirized. Their names are introduced by means of puns or allusions and every line is loaded with cryptic criticism. Gerald and I, as educated men, were frightfully fed up with the presumption and poses of the average ass --- male or female --- of the quarter.
One incident became immortal. One incident became immortal. I wrote in The Sword of Song that I "read Lévi and the Cryptic Coptic", and lent the manuscript to my financ´e, who was sitting for Gerald Kelly. During the pose she asked him what Coptic meant. "The language spoken by the ancient Copts," replied Kelly and redoubled his aesthetic ardours. A long pause --- then she asked, "What does cryptic mean?" "The language spoken by the ancient Crypts," roared the rapin and abandoned hope of humanity.
Another affectation of the women art students was to claim to be treated exactly as if they were men in every respect. Gerald, always eager to oblige, addressed one of his models as old fellow, to her great satisfaction. Then he excused himself for a momentary absence in the terms which he would have used to another man. On his return, the lady had recovered her "sex and character", and had bolted. Woman can only mix with men on equal terms when adopts his morality lock, stock and barrel, and ceases to set an extravagant artificial value on her animal functions. The most high-principled woman (alleged) insists on the supreme value of an asset which is notoriously of no value whatever in itself.
The Star and the Garter deals frankly with this problem, among others. As far as sexual charm is concerned, it is only reasonable to expect the expert to be more satisfactory than the new chum; and even, class for class, the professional than the amateur. The desire for exclusive possession is one of the most idiotic and bestial pieces of vanity in human psychology. But love can exist between man and woman entirely independent of any sexual relations between them. The condition of this love is that both parties should have completely mastered their sexual natures; for otherwise their mutual relations are not free to love decently until they have analysed themselves completely and swept away ever\ trace of mystery from sex; and this means the acquisition of a profound philosophical theory based on wide reading of anthropology and enlightened practice.
My travels had doubtless done much to open my eyes. I had already studied the characteristics of fifty-seven separate races, a number which I subsequently increased to eighty or ninety, when it became difficult to define the word "race". My ethnological results are not particularly striking; but the course of the research certainly helped to make it clear that no proposition could be judged as right or wrong, or even as true or false. It is always possible to derive a point of view from the circumstances of its holder.
The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandu,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.
Every conceivable moral principle is held somewhere by somebody; and it is the ineluctable conclusion from that somebody's premisses. His circumstances are unique; and so are his hereditary tendencies, his environment, his training and the character of his mental processes. Whether we hold free will or determinism, we equally ratify every type of opinion and conduct.
I had not at this time consciously reached this freedom. I was still a romantic, still seeking true love. Observe a curious analogy to the time when I invoked the adepts, and one actually by my side; so now, invoking true love, there lurked unsuspected in my circle the woman destined to satisfy my aspirations; and just as in aspiring to the Path of the Wise I had not realized the nature of that Path, so also I did not understand what the words true love might mean.
True love with black inchauntments filled,
....Its hellish rout of shrieks and groans,
Its vials of poison death-distilled,
....Its rattling chains and skeletons.
I made comparatively few notes of this period --- November 1902 to April 1903. It seems rather strange that I should have been able to get such an epitome of life into so short a period; at least I reached old age. I went back to Boleskine almost as a ghost might retire to his tomb at cock-crow. In May I wrote a very clear résumé of my progress. It will be as well to quote it.
In the year 1899 I came to Boleskine House and put everything in order with the object of carrying out the Operation of Abra-Melin the Mage.
I had studied Ceremonial Magick and had obtained remarkable success.
My gods were those of Egypt, interpreted on lines closely akin to those of Greece.
In philosophy I was a realist of the Cabbalistic school.
In 1900 I left England for Mexico, and later the Far East, Ceylon, India, Burma, Baltistan, Egypt and France. It is idle there to detail the corresponding progress of my thought; and passing through a stage of Hinduism, I had discarded all deities as unimportant, and in philosophy was an uncompromising nominalist. I had arrived at what I may describe as the position of an orthodox Buddhist; but with the following reservations.
1. I cannot deny that certain phenomena do accompany the use of
certain rituals; I only deny the usefulness of such methods to the White Adept.
2. I consider Hindu methods of meditation as possibly useful to the beginner and should not therefore recommend them to be discarded at once.
With regard to my advancement, the redemption of the cosmos, etc. etc. I leave for ever the "Blossom and Fruit" theory and appear in the character of an inquirer on strictly scientific lines.
This is unhappily calculated to damp the enthusiasm; but as I so carefully of old, for the Magical Path, excluded from my life all other interests, that life has now no particular meaning; and the path of Research, on the only lines I can now approve of, remains the one Path possible for me to tread.
(By the Blossom and Fruit theory, I mean the existence of a body of initiates pledged to devote themselves to the redemption of mankind.)
It sounds as if I had become a bit of a prig. I expect a good deal of my attitude was due to exhausted vitality. Chogo Ri was perhaps still taking his revenge.
I had picked out Boleskine for its loneliness. Lord Lovat and Mrs. Fraser-Tyler, my nearest neighbours, were eight miles away, while Grant of Glenmoriston was on the other side of Loch Ness. Besides, Boleskine was already the centre of a thousand legends.
Even before I came there there was a fine crop of the regular Highland superstitions.
The howl of a bulldog, exactly like the crying of a child, is heard far off.
|GEORGE.||All right. It's only that damned dog of M'Alister's. He does it every night.|
|FENELLA.||He sees the ghost of old Lord Lovat.|
|GEORGE.||Old Lord Lovat?|
|FENELLA.||Yes; they beheaded him after the '45. He rolls his head up and down the corridors.|
|FENELLA.||What else is a man to do?|
|GEORGE.||What's that tapping?|
|(He stops to listen.)|
|FENELLA.||Go on! It's only the old woman.|
|GEORGE.||What old woman?|
|FENELLA.||Her son was a lunatic. They let him out cured, as they thought. His mother came up here with him to lay flowers on his father's grave; and he caught her legs and smashed her brains against the wall.|
|GEORGE.||Oh damn it!|
|FENELLA.||You baby! So, ever since, she comes from time to time to try and pick her brains off the wall.|
I certainly used to hear the "rolling of the head", but when I put in a billiard table, the old gentleman preferred it to the corridor and confined his amusements to the gunroom. Even before that, he had always stopped at the Pylon of the corridor which marked off from the rest of the house the wing which was consecrated to Abra-Melin. I have never discovered any explanation of these noises. We used to listen at the door of the gun room, and the bead would roll merrily up and down the table with untiring energy. The moment we opened the door the noise would stop; but there would be no visible cause.
During my absence, the reputation of the house had become more formidable than ever before. I have little doubt that the Abra-Melin devils, whatever they are, use the place as convenient headquarters and put in some of their spare time in terrifying the natives. No one would pass the house after dark. Folk got into the habit of going round through Strath Errick, a detour of several miles. There were a great many definite legends; but I made rather a point of refraining from making a collection. I was completely committed to rationalism and the occurrence of miracles was a nuisance. I should have like to deny the reality of the whole Abra-Melin business, but the phenomena were just as patent as the stones of the house.
I lived the life of the ordinary Scottish laird in a dull mechanical way and drifted into beginning meditation on Buddhist lines; rather because I had nothing better to do than for any more positive reason. The record of the period from June 16th to July 13th is curiously dull. One notices chiefly the lack of driving force and the complete disappearance of any enthusiasm.
I had completed The Sword of song before I left Paris and left it to be printed with Philippe Renouard, one of the best men in Paris. I intended to issue it privately. I had no longer any ideas about the "best publisher". I felt in a dull way that it was a sort of duty to make my work accessible to humanity; but I had no idea of reaping profit or fame thereby.
Back to index