I have had little occasion to mention my wife and child. It is a case of "happy the nation that has no history". Rose had proved an ideally perfect companion. Since the nurse's elopement she had had no one to help her with the baby. There was also a good deal for her to do in camp. We often travelled over twelve hours a day in really trying conditions; we encountered more than a little hardship, what with fatigue, cold, lack of food and general discomfort; she never gave in, she never complained, she never failed to do more than her her share of the work and she never made a mistake. She was in a class by herself as a comrade. Even Eckenstein was not so competent all round or so uniformly exultant.
We had been over four months away from civilization; and she had not only stood it but flourished exceedingly. When we started, she had been rather empty-headed and frivolous; while physically, though healthy, she could not be called an athlete. At the end she had acquired the kind of soul that is evoked by intimate contact with naked nature. Her figure was straight and supple, scorning corsets. Her limbs were lithe; her eyes bright and eager; her face aflame with the joy of perfect physical well-being and her heart exulting with the expectation of producing a new token of our tenderness before the end of the year.
In these four months I had been mildly indisposed with indigestion for two days. Rose had had one slight touch of fever, and a baby a cold in the head which laster three days, and some minor digestive trouble during our stay in Yunnanfu. Not many families living in the most hygienic conditions in England could show a cleaner bill of health. We had good reason for rejoicing and may be excused fro feeling decidedly proud.
The next day we went on the Lao Kay, where there is a good hotel, and more mosquitoes than I had seen for many a month. We hurried on by train to Yen Bay, a filthy hole with no redeeming feature. The whole country and its people are monotonously reddish brown; skin, clothes, food, roofs --- everything but the grass and the trees, which are all the same shade of dull green. The whole forms a curiously harmonious picture, very low in tone and undeniably depressing. The sky itself was uniformly leaden, though I suppose this was a question of the time of the year. There are few features in the scenery; a damp warmth broods upon the general dullness.
On the twentieth we reached Hanoi, the capital, but only stayed for lunch. There is nothing particularly interesting about the town to people who have
been uninterruptedly intoxicated for months upon the beauty and grandeur of one of the wildest and noblest countries of the earth. We took the after noon train to Haiphong, the seaport of Tonkin, and put up at the Hotel du Commerce. Haipong is much like any other Eastern port. There is the usual colonial atmosphere and the variety of races like so much jetsam flung upon the shores of the island of officialdom.
One deliciously colonial incident must be related. It gives the very atmosphere of Claude Farrère's Les Civilisés. A large corner building on the main street had been condemned and had to be blown up. The boss of the gang in charge went for instructions to the city engineer. He ran him to earth after prolonged search in a combination of drinking-hole and house of ill-fame. He was up to his neck in absinthe, which is not really a wholesome drink in that climate; but he was able to talk and readily agreed to calculate the charge of dynamite required for the house breaking. He took a stub of pencil and worked it out on the marble slab of his table. Strange as it may seem, he shifted a decimal point two place to the right without adequate excuse --- unless we accept the absinthe as an apology. The boss went off with his figures and put in a charge just a hundred times too big. The whole block was completely wrecked; and they were still clearing the street when we arrived.
We were lucky to find a ship on the twenty-second for Hong Kong, after which she was named. The boat was a dirty tramp tub; her skipper a drunken Italian who lived in flannel pyjamas which could not have seen a laundry for months and spent all his time in the smoke room, gambling and boozing. He came athwart my hawser once, refusing to listen to the complaint of Salama about the way he was treated in the fo'c'sle. I told him that I would throw him off his own ship unless he did what I said p. d. q. He cringed and complied.
How this ship ever made a voyage is a mystery. The chief engineer, a worn-out melancholy Scot, was as puzzled as I. He said his engines were "as rotten as the captain's guts". They moved like a one-legged man with St. Vitus' Dance and they sounded like tea trays being beaten, chains being rattled and fire irons being thrown about, all at once.
We could not even get clear of our moorings without tearing away the port companion. Twenty-four hours later we stopped. The captain freely admitted that he had lost his reckoning, didn't know where he was, didn't know how to find out and didn't see why he should worry about it. He went back to his cards, leaving a junior officer to get entangled with the sextant and chronometer. Whether he obtained any results will never be known, for during the day we drifted in sight of Hoiho. By some weird coincidence, this was our first port of call. There being no harbour, we stood half a mile out to sea, rolling and bucking sickeningly while boats came from shore
bringing our cargo; pigs in wicker crates which were stacked all over the ship three deep; and large baskets of poultry. It became quite impossible to move about the main deck at all, and even on the upper deck there was considerable crowding. The stench created by these animals, a number of which died on the voyage, was the limit.
In the afternoon there appeared a magnificent Fata Morgana stretching from west to south. There was a perfectly clear double image in the sky at an elevation of from ten to twenty degrees. The lower image of the shipping was upright and then close above it was the image reversed.
The rough sea and the utter incompetence of everybody concerned combined to keep up over four days hanging about off the islands. We got away on the twenty-seventh and made our way through a choppy sea, in horribly cold damp weather, to Hong Kong.
We were now in the midst of comfort and could lay our plans for the future. We decided the Rose should return to England by way of India, so as to pick up the baggage we had left at Calcutta; while I was to go via New York in the hope of interesting people there in the proposed expedition to Kangchenjunga. I accordingly left for Shanghai by my old friend the Nippon Maru on April 3rd. The further interest of my journey is concerned principally with my Magical career which is described in another chapter. There are, however, one or two tales to be told.
Our most distinguished passenger was a venerable missionary returning to America after many years labouring in the Lord's vineyard. He had just become celebrated, a riot having taken place in which his mission was destroyed. His wife and children, his native teachers and his converts were mostly murdered. He himself had, however, been preserved fro the Lord's service by the direct interposition of the Almighty, who had warned him at the first rumour of trouble to leave his family and block to their fate and flee to a convenient cavern where he could hide with only his head above water --- he could duck it when strangers looked in --- till order was restored. He was absolutely cock-a-whoop over this. It never occurred to him for a moment that his conduct was open to criticism, though for my part I could hardly believe my ears; that any man should tell such a story of himself and boast of it was beyond my experience.
In Shanghai I brought off a very remarkable test of the value of the Tarot in divination. The German postmaster, calling on my hostess, was very much upset by the loss of a packet containing eighty thousand roubles in notes sent by a bank in Peking to its head office in Shanghai. I offered to investigate the matter by the Tarot. I described accurately the two principal clerks who alone had access to the safe in which the postmaster had himself put the parcel immediately on its arrival and whence it had disappeared less than an hour later. That Tarot told me that the senior clerk was a steady-going
conscientious man, saving a fixed sum out of his salary, devoted to his work, free from vices and in no financial embarrassment. His junior was a careless youth, mixed up with women and known to be gambling heavily on the races. The postmaster confirmed this estimate of their characters.
I inquired further and found that the junior clerk was responsible for the disappearance of the packet; which seemed reasonable enough. But then the cards apparently went crazy. They said that this clerk should not suffer for his act. The postmaster admitted that it might indeed be difficult to bring the theft home to him; but so much the worse, since he himself would be held responsible for the loss. I inquired further and was met with another facer which completed the circle of impossibilities. They said that the postmaster would not suffer in reputation. The situation became inexplicable. I was frankly annoyed that, after so accurate a beginning, the divination should have turned out so as to insult our reason. I could only apologize, shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, they insist that it is all right for you."
A few days later, the mystery was cleared up. The return mail left for Peking one half-hour after its arrival, and the junior clerk, in his haste, had accidentally slipped the parcel into the mail bag, so that it went safely to the bank in Peking. The Tarot had vindicated itself in the most striking way. The junior clerk was responsible for the disappearance, yet he did not suffer in consequence, nor did the postmaster.
I was in some doubt as the whether to go to America via Honolulu or by the northern Pacific route to Vancouver. I longed to see Oahu again, and yet I felt it a sort of duty to cover fresh ground. While I hesitated, fate decided. The last berth for San Francisco via the Sandwich Islands was sold over my head. Alas! --- had I only known! A quarter of an hour's delay caused me to miss what might have been the most dramatic moment of my life. The ship I should have sailed by left Honolulu in due course and fetched up four days later outside the golden Gate --- to find San Francisco a raging flower of flame.
I sailed on April 21st by The Empress of India, took a flying glance at Japan and put out into the Pacific.
A savage sea without a sail,
...Grey gulphs and green aglittering.
We never sighted the slightest suggestion of life all the way to Vancouver, twelve days of chilly boredom, though there was a certain impressiveness in the very dreariness and desolation. There was a hint of the curious horror that emptiness always evokes, whether it is a space of starless night or a bleak and barren waste of land. The one exception is the Sahara Desert where, for some reason that I cannot name, the suggestion is not in the least of vacancy and barrenness, but rather of some subtle and secret spring of life.
Vancouver presents no interest to the casual visitor. It is severely Scotch. Its beauties lie in its surroundings.
I was very disappointed with the Rockies, of which I had heard such eloquent encomiums. They are singularly shapeless; and their proportions are unpleasing. There is too much colourless and brutal base; too little snowy shapely summit. As for the ghastly monotony of the wilderness beyond them, through Calgary and Winnipeg right on to Toronto --- words fortunately fail. The manners of the people are crude and offensive. They seem to resent the existence of civilized men; and show it by gratuitous insolence, which they mistake for a mark of manly independence. The whole country and its people are somehow cold and ill-favoured. The character of the mountains struck me as significant. Contrast them with the Alps where every peak is ringed by smug hamlets, hearty and hospitable, and every available approach is either a flowery meadow, a pasture pregnant with peaceful flocks and herds, or a centre of cultivation. In the Rockies, barren and treeless plains are suddenly blocked by ugly walls of rock. Nothing less inviting can be imagined. Contrast them again with the Himalayas. There we find no green Alps, no clustering cottages; but their stupendous sublimity takes the mind away from any expectation or desire of thoughts connected with humanity. The Rockies have no majesty; they do not elevate the mind to contemplation of Almighty God any more than they warm the heart by seeming sentinels to watch over the habitations of one's fellow men.
Toronto as a city carries out the idea of Canada as a country. It is a calculated crime both against the aspirations o the soul and the affections of the heart. I had been fed vilely on the train. I thought I would treat myself to a really first-class dinner. But all I could get was high-tea --- they had never heard the name of wine! Of all the loveless, lifeless lands that writhe beneath the wrath of God, commend me to Canada! (I understand that the eastern cities, having known French culture, are comparatively habitable. Not having been there I cannot say.)
I hustled on to Baffalo to see Niagara. Here I first struck the American newspaper reporter in full bloom, in his native haunts. Before I had been half an hour in my Hotel I was tackled by a half a dozen enthusiastic scribes. I naturally supposed that they had somehow heard of my Himalayan or Chinese adventures, and talked accordingly. It gradually dawned on me that somehow I was failing to fill the bill; and I presently discovered that they had mistaken me for some English lieutenant who was supposed to have crossed form Canada and from whom they wanted information about some local foolishness.
I took a pretty good look at Niagara. It is absurd to shriek at the desecration cause by building a few houses in the vicinity. It seemed to me that they helped rather than hindered one's appreciation. They supplied a standard of
comparison. All that has been said of the falls is, as the sayers admit, ridiculously below the reality. In their way they challenge comparison with the mountains of Asia themselves. They have the same air of being out of all proportion with the observer. They belong to a different scale; and they impress one with the same idea of utter indifference by nature. They fascinate, as all things vast beyond computation invariably do. I felt that if I lived with them for even a short time they would completely obsess me and possibly lure me to end my life with their eternity. I felt the same about the mountains of India, the expanse of China, the solitude of the Sahara. I feel as if the better part of me belonged to them, as if my dearest destiny would be to live and die with them.
I went on to New York on May 15th and spent a rather hectic ten days sampling the restaurants and theatres. But as for interesting people in the Himalayas, I might as well have joined the china Inland Mission. Nobody in New York had even heard of them, unless as meaningless items in his hated geography lessons. No one could see any sport in mountaineering at all, or any scientific object to be obtained by reaching great heights. After the first days I could not even find a listener. The town had gone completely mad; first over Upton Sinclair's The Jungle which had made canned food a drug on the market, though there was practically nothing else to eat; and secondly by the shooting of Stanford White, which let loose all the suppressed sexual hysteria of the whole population.
They would talk of nothing else. Everyone screamed in public and in private about satyrs and angel children, and vampires, and the unwritten law, and men higher up, and stamping out impurity. For the first time in my life I came into contact with mob madness. Modern morality and manners suppress all natural instincts, keep people ignorant of the facts of nature and make them fighting drunk on bogey tales. They consequently seize upon every incident of this kind to let off steam. Knowing nothing and fearing everything, they rant and rave and riot like so many maniacs. The subject does not matter. Any idea which gives them an excuse of getting excited will serve. They look for a victim to chivy, and howl him down, and finally lynch him in a sheer storm of sexual frenzy which they honestly imagine to be moral indignation, patriotic passion or some equally avowable emotion. It may be an innocent Negro, a Jew like Leo Frank, a harmless half-witted German; a Christ-like idealist of the type of Debs, an enthusiastic reformer like Emma Goldman or even a doctor whose views displease the Medial Trust.
I sailed for England in the Campania on May 26th, arriving in Liverpool on June 2nd after a pleasant voyage, during the latter part of which I wrote most of Rosa Coeli, to find letters awaiting me to tell me of the tragedy of which I have given an account elsewhere.
From the moment of landing I struck a sequence of physical shocks. As I struggled to my feet after the blasting bolt of my bereavement, I found myself with an infected gland in the groin which required excision. The first day I left the nursing home I got a chill in the right eye which obstructed a nasal duct and required a whole series of extremely painful operations which proved unsuccessful. In the course of these, I got neuralgia; this continued day and night for months, so violently that I felt myself going mad. After a bare months comparative health I acquired an ulcerated throat which knocked me out completely until the end of the year.
On the top of all this came the discovery that my wife was an hereditary dipsomaniac. When our baby was born it lay almost lifeless for more than three days and tat three weeks old nearly died of bronchitis. I had the sense to send for oxygen before the doctor arrived and this precaution probably saved the child's life. I fought like a fiend against death. The doctor gave the strictest orders that not more than one person should be in the sick room at one time. My mother-in-law refused to obey. I thought I had suffered enough. It was her hypocrisy that had sought to justify her tippling by giving her children a share of the champagne and thus implanted in Rose the infernal impulse which had wrecked her life and love, and mine. I made no bones about it; I took the hag by the shoulders and ran her out of the flat, assisting her down the stairs with my boot lest she should misinterpret my meaning.
So Lola Zaza lives today. May her life prove worth the pains I to to preserve it.
During my illness at Bournemouth, I wrote down from memory the bulk of Liber 777, the table of correspondences showing equivalents of the religious ideas and symbols of various peoples. Of course this rough draft needed considerable revision and additions. It was in fact two years in the press. But it stands today as the standard book of reference on the subject. I must admit to be thoroughly dissatisfied with it. It is my eager wish to issue a revised edition with an adequate comment and a key to its practical use. I refuse to feel any satisfaction at knowing that, published at ten shillings, it is now quoted at three pounds fifteen shillings as a minimum. (Then why mention it! Oh, shut up.)
In October of this year I began Clouds without Water, fully described elsewhere. But apart from these two books and a very few old lyrics, the year was barren in respect of literature. I was too intensely concentrated on the performance of the Operation of the Sacred Magick of Abra-Melin the Mage; perhaps too deeply shaken by my experience of the Abyss; and certainly too much occupied with the actualities of life to have the leisure or even to feel the impulse to distil from life that quintessence, limpid truth, opalescent with lyrical light, which constitutes poetry. Not until sickness and sorrow had sobered my spirit did I once again find myself free to extract
the elixir of ecstasy from experience and fulfil my faculties by expressing myself in rhythm.
I close this chapter with a sigh. For ten years my life had been a delirious dance to a maddening music with incarnate passion for my partner, and the boundless plain of the possible vibrating with the fervour of my feet. I had come through a thousand crises to the climax of my career. I had attained all my ambitions, proved myself at every point, dared every danger, enjoyed every ecstasy that earth has to offer; the rest of my life recedes from romance in that boyish idea of what romance should be. From this time, though much lay in store for me to accomplish, summit soaring beyond summit of spiritual success, giant ranged behind giant for me to challenge, I now learnt to look upon life with enlightened eyes. I had sought and I had found. I must now seek them who seek that they might also find. I must aspire, act and achieve, not only for myself to perfect my personality, but for my fellow men in whom alone I could possibly fulfil myself since I knew myself at last, not to be Aleister Crowley, an individual independent of the communion of cosmic consciousness, but merely one manifestation of the Universal Mind whose thought must be sterile unless sown broadcast to blossom and bear fruit in every acre of God's vineyard.
Back to index