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It is part of my character to rest on my oars at the very moment when a spurt would take me past the post. I begin to be recognized as the one poet in England: “Good,” I say to myself, “I needn't bother about that any more.” I acquire most of the world's records as a mountaineer — that lets me out. Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus. I reach eminence in Magick; it is the signal for me to drop it; in mysticism, and I lose my interest. Now, charged by the Secret Chiefs of the Third Order with a mission of such importance that the last event in the world's history of importance, even approaching it, was Mohammed's, I get cold feet, carry out my instructions as perfunctorily as possible, and even try to find excuses for postponing such work as I could not actually avoid.
I made a certain number of studies of The Book of the Law; for even then I was bound to admit that Aiwass had shown a knowledge of the Cabbala immeasurably superior to my own. I had the manuscript typed. I issued a circular letter to a number of my friends, something in the nature of a proclamation of the New Aeon, but I took no trouble to follow it up. I took a certain number of wide-reaching plans for assuming responsibility, but they remained in the stage of reverie. I dropped the whole business, to all intents and purposes. I completely abandoned my diary. I even neglected a really first-rate opportunity for bringing The Book of the Law into public notice, for Mrs. Besant was on the ship by which Ouarda and I returned to Europe, and I conversed a great deal with her about sacred subjects. In Paris, I wrote a formal letter to Mathers informing him that the Secret Chiefs had appointed me visible head of the Order, and declared a new Magical Formula. I did not expect or receive an answer. I declared war on Mathers accordingly, but it was a brutum fulmen.
The fact of the matter was that I resented The Book of the Law with my whole soul. For one thing, it knocked my Buddhism completely on the head. Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.
I was bitterly opposed to the principles of the Book on almost every [point of morality. The third chapter seemed to me gratuitously atrocious. My soul, infinitely sad at the universal sorrow, was passionately eager to raise humanity. And lo! the Magical Formula denounced pity as damnable, acclaimed war as admirable and in almost every other way was utterly repugnant to my ideas. I did not understand the fundamental principles of
the initiation of mankind; and (in my own case) I did not realize that Aiwass was not necessarily responsible for the character of his message any more than the newspaper for reporting an earthquake.
The Secret Chiefs had informed me that a New Aeon implied the breaking up of the civilization existing at the time; obviously to change the Magical Formula of the planet is to change all moral sanctions and the result is bound to appear disastrous. The Cult of The Dying God introduced by Dionysus destroyed the Roman virtue and smashed the Roman culture. (Possibly the introduction of the worship of Osiris in an earlier epoch was primarily responsible for the decay of Egyptian civilization.) The nature of Horus being “Force and Fire”, his aeon would be marked by the collapse of humanitarianism. The first act of his reign would naturally be to plunge the world into the catastrophe of a huge and ruthless war.
The Secret Chiefs told me that this war was imminent and that they had chosen me as their representative on account of my comprehensive knowledge of the mysteries, my correct understanding of their real import and my literary ability. The chief duty which they laid upon me was to publish the Secret Wisdom of the Ages in such a form that after the wreck of civilization the scholars of subsequent generations would be able to restore the traditions. I was to issue a compendium of the methods by which man may attain the God-head. The released me from my obligation of secrecy.
The responsibility of this, apart from anything else, was sufficient to stagger me. I had been taught to dread the result of publishing the least part of the Secret Knowledge: in unworthy hands the most appalling mischief was only too likely to ensue. I had been almost absurdly scrupulous with regard to the secrets entrusted to me; indeed my experience had already shown me what shocking messes had been made by apparently trivial indiscretions on the part of others. I was not even proud that the choice of the Secret Chiefs had fallen upon me; I was too well aware of my incapacity and indolence.
The task of reducing the Magical and mystical methods of every time and clime to a coherent and intelligible form frightened me. On the one hand, I was reluctant to attempt to ambitious a work; on the other, acutely anxious lest I should prove unworthy of my office.
I have always been utterly contemptuous of the criticism of people whom I do not respect. I frankly despise Keats for having been upset by the review of “Endymion”; but the correlative of this is over-sensitiveness about people whom I regard as authorities. The least word of admonition of Eckenstein about climbing would throw me into agonies of self-reproach. When Allan reproved me for some error in Yoga, I was overwhelmed with shame.
My position was therefore very difficult. I was bound to the Secret Chiefs by the most solemn of obligations. I never dreamt of trying to minimize
my responsibility to them, yet they had cut across the whole trend of my aspiration. The magical part o me was, in a manner of speaking, stunned.
My wife and I passed a short time in Paris and renewed old ties. One incident stands out in my memory as peculiarly amusing. We asked Arnold Bennett to lunch at Paillard's. He was completely overpowered by the deference of the Maître d'hôtel, who knew me very well, and his embarrassment at being introduced to such splendours was childishly charming. He was, of course, enormously pleased and very kindly offered to give me an introduction to H. G. Wells. As Arnold Bennett had gratified the public with a highly spiced description of me in Paris Nights, hope that he will take it as a compliment if I imitate his frankness in the matter of personalities. His accent and dialect made his English delightfully difficult. As we were leaving the restaurant, he told me that there was one thing about Wells that I mustn't mind: he spoke English with an accent.
<blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> > //59 rue de Grenelle, Paris// </blockquote>
14 Feby 1911
Dear Aleister Crowley,
Many thanks. I am very glad to have the volume. I will mention it in The New Age, but I no longer write for T. P's. Weekly. Not a portrait of you — my dear Crowley — in the English Review! for all you sat for was the waistcoat, the title and the poetry. All these portraits are composite.
Alas! I lack the literary skill to construct composite portraits. My own poor effort is the most crude photography. Also, I beg him to excuse my personalities. He is too great a man at heart to resent jests at the expense of his perishable vehicle; he is himself a star bright-blazing, the more glorious for the thickness of the terrestrial vapours which it has had to pierce.
We wandered back to Boleskine, after arranging with a doctor named Percival Bott to come and stay with us and undertake the accouchement. I asked my Aunt Annie to preside over the household, and an old friend of Gerald's (Kelly) and mine, Ivor Back, at this time a surgeon at St. George's, to make up the house party. Ivor Back is one of the most amusing companions possible, to those who can stand him. He knows a good deal about literature and had published in The Hospital magazine some of the poems in which I had celebrated various diseases. I dedicated my In Residence, a collection of my undergraduate verses, to him, and he collaborated with me to a certain extent in the composition of various masterpieces of the lighter kind. He and Gerald are also responsible for numberous improvements in the preface
to Alice, An Adultery. He also edited the three volumes of my Collected Works, supplying learned notes to divers obscure passages.
My activities as a publisher were at this time remarkable. I had issued The God-Eater and The Star & the Garter through Charles Watts & Co. of the Rationalist Press Association, but there was still no such demand for my books as to indicate that I had touched the great heart of the British public. I decided that it would save trouble to publish them myself. I decided to call myself the Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth, and issued The Argonauts, The Sword of Song, the Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King, Why Jesus Wept, Oracles, Orpheus, Gargoyles and The Collected Works. I had simply no idea of business. Besides this, I was in no need of money; my responsibility to the gods was to write as I was inspired; my responsibility to mankind was to publish what I wrote. But it ended there. As long as what I wrote was technically accessible to the public through the British Museum, and such places, my hands were clean.
And yet I took a course implying a diametrically opposite state of mind. I printed a large edition of The Star & the Garter, and issued it at a shilling, with the idea of reaching the people who might have been unable to buy my more expensive books. I printed a leaflet and circularized the educated classes. (I have no copy available.) The meat of the circular was the offer of one hundred pounds for the best essay on my work. The business idea was to induce people to buy my Collected Works in order to have material for the essay. This offer led ultimately to far-reaching results; in fact, it determined the course of my life for a number of years. The winner of the prize became an intimate friend and colleague. His scholarship, acumen, enthusiasm and indefatigability proved most important factors in the execution of the orders of the Secret Chiefs.
Meanwhile, we had a glorious time at Boleskine. What with the salmon and the venison and my cellar, billiards and rock scrambling, the good company and the perfect summer, life passed like an ecstatic dream. In summer in the Highlands, time seems to forgive. At midnight one can sit and read in the open air even in the absence of the moon. Night is “one faint eternal eventide of gems”.
One of our adventures is worthy of record. It is one of the most startling incidents that I have ever known in all my experience of climbing. Beyond the Italian garden I had constructed a large trout pond, with Canadian canoe and sacred spring complete. From the farther bank, a short slope leads to a precipitous cliff which affords an admirable variety of rock problems. Having taught Bott and Back the elements of the sport, we decided to attempt a more serious climb. Across the loch, beyond Glen Moriston, is a well-marked gully, through which pours a torrent from Mealfuarvonie. Eckenstein and I marked this down; but during his visits it had always been merely
a frantic waterfall. The long spell of dry weather made me think there was a chance to climb it, so I rowed over with Bott and Back, and started on the lowest pitch. This is a broad precipice of water-worn rock, perhaps a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet high. A good deal of water was coming over, but there seemed a possible way up. Starting outside the true left of the stream, I hoped to work my way up the bare slabs to within twenty feet of the edge, where the stream pitched over, and then climb obliquely to the left until I was actually in the torrent; for its broken character indicated good hold (for both hand and foot) which I trusted would prove sufficient to enable me to pull myself up despite the weight of the water.
At the best the climb was very exposed and I ought not really to have attempted it in any but first-class company. There was no alternative to my proposed route. Where the water had not washed the rock clean, the pitch was a dripping precipice of greasy, mossy slabs, set at a frightful angle, with practically no hand-hold or foot-hold at all. Such cracks as existed gave obvious evidence of disintegration, so that any apparent hold must certainly be rotten. I would not have attempted it with Eckenstein, and I would have refused to follow him had he wished to attempt it himself!
I led up the pitch with Bott as second man and Back as third. I reached the most critical part of the climb. My holds were the merest friction holds. I could not have supported a rabbit. I half expected to come off; and I knew that Bott (though reasonably safe himself, or I should not have gone on) could no nothing to save me if I fell. Back, in a perfectly safe position far below (we had a long rope), saw how insecure I was. He completely lost his nerve. He began to utter incoherent cries and to untie himself from the rope. The act was, of course, outrageous, but he was not responsible. He took no notice of my orders to keep quiet and not be a damphool. I could not even come down with any safety, Bott being naturally upset by Back's hysteria, so I called to Ivor to stay where he was and we would come round for him.
In the circumstances, my best course was to finish the climb as quickly as I could and I went on at my best pace. In the roar of the falling water which swamped me, I could, of course, see and hear nothing. I dragged myself up the water fall by sheer force; I had to trust for hand-and foot-hold to my previous observations, for I had to keep my eyes shut against the rush of the torrent. I hauled myself through the gap on the brink and wedged myself against the rocks which confined it, head first. I found myself in a sort of cauldron where I could stand with my head and shoulders above water. I had climbed the pitch. I called to Bott to come on, and pulled him up the slabs on the rope. It had been a terrific climb; one of the most dangerous I had ever done.
My anxiety had been increased by seeing that Back, having untied himself,
had not sat down quietly as ordered, but started to scramble towards the utterly unclimbable and dangerously deceptive slabs of dripping moss. Bott and I extricated ourselves from the cauldron without further difficulty. And then I began to wonder whether the nymph of the waterfall had not played me a trick! I was certainly suffering from some kind of hallucination. Had my anxiety about Back created a phantasm? For there, on the slopes above us was an apparition in his shape, gesticulating, muttering and shouting by turns. But it was Back in the flesh! He had done the impossible thing: he had climbed the unclimbable cliff! so incredible was the feat that I was at pains to go round and look at the place again from below. My judgment had not deceived me — there was no sort of way up — yet the torn moss and a few fresh broken bits of rotten rock proved his passage. To this day I regard the facts as the least credible of any that have ever come my way.
When Rose and I first arrived at Boleskine, we had made a sort of sporadic effort to carry out some of the injunction of Aiwass. We had arranged before leaving Egypt for the “abstruction” of the Stele of Revealing. I did not understand the word or the context, and contented myself with having a replica made by one of the artists attached to the museum. We now proceeded to prepare the “perfume” and the “Cakes” according to the prescription given in chapter III, verses 23-9.
We had resumed Magical work, in a desultory way, on finding that Mathers was attacking us. He succeeded in killing most of the dogs. (At this time I kept a pack of bloodhounds and went man-hunting over the moors.) The servants too were constantly being made ill, one in one way, and one in another. We therefore employed the appropriate talismans from The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin against him, evoking Beelzebub and his forty-nine servitors. Rose had suddenly acquired the power of clairvoyance. Her description of these servitors is printed in The Bagh-i-Muattar, pages 39, 40. (I may mention: Nimorup, a stunted dwarf with large head and ears. His lips are greeny bronze and slobbery. Nominon, a large red spongy jelly-fish with one greenish luminous spot like a nasty mess. Holastri, an enormous pink bug.) As to this perfume of The Book of the Law, “let it be laid before me, and kept thick with perfumes of your orison: it shall become full of beetles as it were and creeping things sacred unto me.” One day, to my amazement, having gone into the bathroom to bathe, I discovered a beetle. As I have said, I take no interest in natural history and know nothing of it.
But this beetle attracted my attention at once. I had never seen anything like it before. It was about an inch and a half long and had a single horn nearly as long as itself. The horn ended in a small sphere suggestive of an eye. From the moment, for about a fortnight, there was an absolute plague of these beetles. They were not merely in the house, they were on the rocks,
in the gardens, by the sacred spring, everywhere! But I never saw one outside the estate. I sent a specimen to London by the experts were unable to identify the species.
Here was a tangible piece of Magick. It ought to have convinced me that The Book of the Law meant business. Instead, it left me absolutely cold. I experienced a certain proud glee, much as I had in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid, but there it stopped. I took the necessary measures to protect Rose against the murderous attack of Mathers, and went on playing billiards. The attack was, however, prolonged and deadly. We were putting central heating into the house, and attempting to construct a small golf course on the estate. (Idiot! why not a tennis court on the Ennerdale Face of the Pillar?)
Ivor and I were playing billiards one morning after breakfast, when we heard screams and oaths from the direction the the kitchen. I snatched up a salmon gaff as the readiest weapon and we hurried out. One of the workmen had become suddenly maniacal and attacked my wife, who was making her usual inspection of the offices. It was the work of a moment to gaff the offender and thrust him into the coal cellar, and send for the police. As they were a long time in coming, the animal made several attempts to crawl out of the chute, but our vigilance succeeded in baffling him, and he was duly handed into custody. But nothing followed! It is one of the peculiarities of Scotch law that there is no private prosecution unless the police choose to take up any give case; you can be murdered ad libitum without possibility of redress. As the police in the Highlands are largely recruited from the assassin class — there is no other — one can well understand why the gentry maintain, to a great extent, the ancient custom of surrounding themselves with armed retainers.
As soon as Beelzebub got on the job, the magical assaults ceased; and, deprived of the stimulus to perform Magick, my interest faded once more. We spent out time in sport an society, tempered by pregnancy, as if there were no hereafter. I used my official titles and position without emphasis, very much as a peer takes advantage of his social privileges without ever giving a thought to the Hose of Lords as a political institution.
On July 28th my wife gave birth to a girl, called Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith. Nuit was given in homage to our Lady of the Stars; Ma, goddess of Justice, because the sign of Libra was rising; Ahathoor, goddess of Love and Beauty, because Venus rules Libra; I'm not sure abut the name Hecate, but it may have been as a compliment to the infernal gods; a poet could hardly do less than commemorate the only lady who ever wrote poetry, Sappho; Jezebel still held her place as my favourite character in Scripture; and Lilith, of course, holds undisputed possession of my affections in the realm of demons.
Duncombe Jewell remarked later on that she had died of acute nomenclature. Cad. In my ears rang that terrible cry of Macduff, “He had no children.”
Everything had gone as well as possible, and we were the happiest house party in the Highlands. There was only one problem, that of keeping my wife amused during her convalescence. She was normally an intensely active, joyous being, but she had absolutely no resources. She could not play even the simplest game of cards, and of my whole library of three thousand books and more there were only some half dozen that she cared to read. Hill Caine was too deep for her. It was up to me to produce an example of the only kind of literature she understood.
Now the objection to this form of art is its monotony; its preoccupation with detailed incident precludes a plot, and the range of its characters is deplorably limited. The men are nearly always priests or peers; the women countesses, school mistresses or milliners. These books possess the merit of frankness of the most engaging kind; but they frequently strain one's credulity. The heroes of medieval romance are not so inhumanly disproportionate to the facts of life; that the author could claim the title of realist only ads to one's disgust. They arose every instinct of my puritanism with almost insane intensity. I suppose I was really furious at the fact that the wife whom I loved so passionately and honoured so profoundly should be intellectually circumscribed in this way. My only remedy was a reductio ad absurdum. I resolved to write a novel myself — one of this kind, but it should be very much better and bigger. And damn the expense. No priest nor monk should be my hero. I would have an archbishop. He should not be as superhuman as six men; he should do better than six hundred. My models had annoyed my by the pathetic paucity of their vocabulary. Having the excellent dictionary of John B. Farmer and W. E. Henley, I was able to avoid repeating myself. However, I took the liberty of inventing many new words and phrases to add further variety. So for every detail, I would show up the imbecile ineptitude to this type of literature by exaggerating its faults at every point.
I pounded off a chapter a day of this novel on my typewriter and read it to my wife, Gerald, Ivor and the rest of the house party, except my aunt, who shared the psychology of my wife, only on the other side of the fence. Rose could not see in the least what I meant; like Colonel Gormley, anything whatever that turned her mind towards the subject of love produced a direct excitement and was pleasing. The effect was the same on my aunt, except that she had schooled herself to pretend that it was unpleasing.
Even in France the pudibond fury of the bourgeoisie is rampant. Part of the public horror of sexual irregularity so-called is due to the fact that everyone knows himself essentially guilty. “Methings the lady doth protest too much.” If men would face the facts of life, including their own constitutions
ad they are, practically all abuse and perversions would disappear. They are for the most part morbid phantasms of putrefaction, aggravated by the attempt at suppression. The wound of Amfortas will not heal because it has never been properly opened and rendered aseptic.
Madame Bovary was assumed to be a provincial Phryne. The story of her adultery was condemned as “immoral”, as tending to incite illicit passions. Its critics had been simply unable to read the book. Flaubert was in reality grinding his heel into the woman's foolish face; he was showing that her conduct was not romantic and voluptuous, but sordid, stupid, bestial and anaphrodisiac. What could be more puritanical than Ghosts? It is the most frightful indictment of immorality that has ever been penned. Yet to the Anglo-Saxon it is “immoral”. They don't understand a word, but it makes them think of their own beastliness; with the result that they discuss it furtively, licking their lips, and cry in the market place that it is an offence to their purity.
I have never been able to comply with these foully perverse conventions. I face anything frankly and the phantasm fades. I do not permit any author to play on my passions. I read a book with my soul, and only those books appeal to me whose authors speak sincerely and sanely such truth as has been given them. I utterly loathe the author who practises on popular psychology. The sentimentalism of Charles Dickens, the eroticism of D. H. Lawrence, the pornographic religiosity of Mrs. Humphry Ward1 seem to me to be appeals to the appetites of the unintelligent. They prostitute their scrap of art exactly as quacks do when they try to persuade people that a pain in the back always means Bright's disease; or that every trifling symptom, from headache to ingrowing toe-nails, is the result of secret vice.
The plain truth of the matter is that love stories are only fit for the solace of people in the insanity of puberty. No healthy adult human being can really care whether so-and-so does or does not succeed in satisfying his physiological uneasiness by the aid of some particular person or not. The Woman in White and The Moonstone illustrate the situation with singular clearness. Despite the astounding power of Wilkie Collins to draw characters, he cannot make the heroine interesting. Laura Fairlie is little better than an imbecile even when not actually suffering from dementia.
The artist's subconscious mind play this sort of thing on him as a joke. He gets so disgusted with himself that he avenges himself on the dummy which offends him. In these tow novels, the heroes are represented as exceptionally fine fellows in every way, but for all their heroic deeds they seem wishy-washy, sordid dummies; for the simple reason that they have no object in life but to attain sexual possession of so many pounds of flesh. Nor does the interest of these books really depend on love. Great artists
- I have never read a word of her. But somehow I don't like the idea.
always find more serious themes. Sex is a means of intoxication; it is therefore proper to celebrate it in lyrics. But when one is sober, as one is when reading a novel, one doesn't want sex thrust down one's throat. One doesn't mind white wine in the sauce of the fish, and the man who is upset by its presence is a neurotic. As for the man who wants his cook to make his sauce so that he can get drunk on it — I simply don't want to meet him. But that is what the Anglo-Saxon public does, and that is why I don't want to meet it.
Shakespeare has few stories of which the interest depends on love; when it does, the love always implies ruin, as in Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra and Othello. His only love stories with a happy ending, bar absolutely mechanical d‚nouements, are where he is secretly gratifying his secret perversity, as in Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Our greatest novelists have complied with convention by inserting a love interest ready made; Tom Jones, Roderick Random and so on; but the interest is hardly even secondary. All our greatest masterpieces treat love in its proper relation to life. Jonathan Wild, Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe, Tristram Shandy, Gulliver's Travels, A Tail of a Tub, The Pilgrim's Progress, The Pickwick Papers, Vanity Fair, Armadale, The Shaving of Shagpat, The Way of all Flesh, the Cabell epic: what have these to do with love?
In France it is the same. It can be done once. Aucassin and Nicolette. But afterwards! Think of a nice young girl introduced into La Peau de chagrin, La Cousine Bette, Le Cousin Pons, Le Père Goriot, Eugénie Grandet, Le Colonel Chabert. There is not one story in all Balzac where love is the saving or even the main motive. Dumas — think of d'Artagnan in love with a nice young lady and living happy ever after! (The love interest in A Gentleman of France and Under the Red Robe explains why Stanley Weyman's imitations of Dumas are so deplorably vulgar.) What happens to the Vicomte de Bragelonne (will all the virtues) when he falls in love? Russia supplies the extreme case, for in that country love has always been understood as a definitely diabolical pitfall.
It is true that there is a modern school founded by Emily Brontë, from Thomas Hardy to D. H. Lawrence, whose plots turn on the sexual relation of the characters, but wherever such books are healthy, the theme is that the exaggeration of the importance of such relations leads to disaster.
To return to my jeu d'esprit and the psychology involved. I have for my solicitor one of the most acute observers in the world. He said to me the other day, “You seem never to be able to do anything as anyone else would.” I retorted, “No; nor by halves,” which was smart — but hardly a rebuttal. The fact is, I consider everything sub specie universali, sub specie aeternitatis. It come natural to me to write an article on the parish council election in Little Piddlington for the eyes of the philosophers of two centuries hence.
I cannot bring myself to believe that anything which is going on at the present time has any real existence. It is a meaningless letter in a word and its value depends on the rest of the letters. “A” and “O” are in themselves mere varieties of breathing, yet one helps to make “hag”, and the other “hog” — one “cot”, and the other “cat”. Unless I know the consonants I cannot tell whether I need an “a” or an “o”.
Now this perception is obvious to everybody, yet everybody acts as if he knew exactly what would be the result of writing “a” instead of “o”, assuming that he is free to choose which he will do — which he isn't. But I bring this principle into my life; it governs me in every action outside my regular reflexes. I am really aware that I do not know whether it would be to my advantage to be hanged. I have only attained to a standard of conduct by referring all my judgments to my will, and until I knew what my true will was, I was utterly at sea.
To apply these ideas to the issue which we are discussing. I knew that a poet is incapable of recognizing his best work, but I knew also that though good technique does not mean good work bad technique does mean bad work. So I used to experiment with new forms by choosing a ridiculous or obscene subject, lest I should be tempted to publish a poem whose technique showed inexperience.
Ivor and I, with some assistance from Gerald, collected such of these manuscripts as had not been destroyed, and with “the Nameless Novel”, we composed a volume1 to carry on the literary form of White Stains and Alice; that is, we invented a perpetrator for the atrocities.
I do now know what mischievous whim induced me to have the book printed, but I was absolutely innocent of any desire to rival the exploit of Alfred de Musset and George Sand, the Femmes and Hombres of Verlain, or the jeu d'esprit of Mark Twain of which Sir Walter Raleigh is the hero. I did not even hope to get the British government to give me a pension of four thousand pounds a year, as id did to John Cleland.
This literary diversion, and the regular sports of the Highlands, kept us happy; but, as the summer faded, we broke up. I did not want Rose and the baby to have to endure a Highland winter and towards the end of October went off to St. Moritz to make arrangements for them to come out. Rose, however, decided to take a holiday from nursing and left the child with her parents under the charge of the nurse, who was of course a very highly trained woman. She joined me at St. Moritz in November. I had always been enthusiastic about winter sports of every kind with the exception of “ski-” “l„ufing”, which I appreciate as a means of covering necessary distances, but not otherwise. I like swooping down the slopes, and an occasional jump is rather good fun. But to go back up hill again! No, thank you!
- Snowdrops from a Curate's Garden.
The Cresta run was great joy and the sports committee paid me the greatest compliment of asking my advice about its construction. But it seemed to me ideally perfect. The only suggestions which I had to make were connected with safety; and, in fact, several men have been killed since through the precautions proposed by me not having been taken. I cannot blame anyone; my ideas were perhaps hardly practicable. Something should doubtless have been done about the level crossing, where a man going at sixty miles an hour or so came off second best when he hit a cart. But that is a rare chance. The constant danger is that an unskilful rider thrown over the walls of Battledore and Shuttlecock may strike the same place as a previous misadventurer. In this case he will land, not on soft snow but on an irregular mass of regelated ice. He is sure to cut himself and may easily get killed. The walls of the run should be sufficiently high and steep to make it impossible for a toboggan to leave the trough, in which case he would have to be very clever to come to much harm, provided he is properly clothed and hangs on to his seat. The difficulty is that men are so keen for the season to open that the run is often built when there is not nearly enough snow.
The frost began to break and we went back to England. I propose to mention an incident, despite its strictly medical character, as a warning to the world of the utter idiocy of woman as a class and the criminal idiocy of trained nurses in particular. They are the most dangerous animals in the community. They are so proud of their disconnected scraps of medical knowledge that they are always trying to usurp the position of the physician. In the present instance my wife came within an ace of death on a false alarm which two words from a qualified practitioner would have dispelled.
Since the birth of the baby, she had not settled down into the normal course of her physiological life. She jumped to the conclusion that she was pregnant again, though her symptoms, of course, implied nothing of the sort. Instead of seeking a doctor she went hysterically to the nurse who proceeded to dose her with ergot. As no abortion took place she redoubled her efforts. I had been away on business for two or three days and returned to find her in a perfectly frightened condition. I forced a confession and dragged her to the station (we were staying with her family near Bournemouth) and got her to the Savoy before midnight. Bott and Back, summoned by telegram, were waiting for us. They were frankly delighted, never having seen such a bad case of ergot poisoning in their lives.
I really don't know why I didn't prosecute that filthy nurse. Even if her diagnosis had been correct, I consider criminal abortion in any circumstances soever as one of the foulest kinds of murder. Apart from anything else, it nearly always ruins the health of the woman, when it fails to kill her.
The vigour of my views on this point strengthens my general attitude on the question of sexual freedom. I believe that very few women, left to themselves, would be so vile as to commit this sin against the Holy Ghost; to thwart the deepest instincts of nature at the risk of health and Life, to say nothing of imprisonment. Yet criminal abortion is one of the commonest of crimes and one most generally condoned by what I must paradoxically call secret public opinion. And the reason is that our social system makes it shameful and punishable by poverty for a woman to do what evolution has spent ages in constructing her to do, save under conditions with which the vast majority of women cannot possibly comply. The remedy lies entirely with public opinion. Let motherhood be recognized as honourable in itself, and even the pressure of poverty would not prevent any but a few degenerate women, with perverse appetites for pleasure, from fulfilling their function. In the case of such it would indeed be better that they and their children perish.
There is yet a further point. My marriage taught me many lessons, and this not the least: when women are not devoted to children — a few rare individuals are capable of other interests — they take a morbid pleasure in conspiring against a husband, especially if he be a father. They take advantage of his preoccupation with his work in the world to conceive and execute every kind of criminally cunning abomination. The belief in witchcraft was not all superstition; its psychological roots were sound. Women who are thwarted in their natural instincts turn inevitably to all kinds of malignant mischief, from slander to domestic destruction.
I am afraid that my adventures have lost me the citizenship of the world. Alastor is my name, the Spirit of solitude, the Wanderer in the Waste. I am only at home in the Elysian Fields, conversing with the mighty men of old. I dislike London, not because it is busy and noisy and dirty and dark and sordid, ad so on, but because it is so pettily provincial. I live in a city beyond time and space; how much more beyond the ticking centuries and the itching inches of London! I have accustomed myself so long to look at the universe as a while that its parts have become imperceptible. When I am reminded of them, it is like being reminded of one's eye by getting a fly in it. That is what I mean when I say that London gives me a pain.
I was very glad to be back in Boleskine. I had no particular plans; I had really settled down. If I had a tendency at all, it was to play little practical jokes. They were the outcome of my happiness. I put up a signboard in a field across the road:
This way to the Kooloomooloomavlock (does not bite), in the hope that the wayfarer might amuse my by going to look for it. As a matter of fact, this animal created the greatest terror in the neighbourhood, the more so that it remained invisible. After my departure in 1905, the hotel
keeper of Foyers determined to abate the nuisance and took his gun and tried to stalk it. He was observed from the hill by my ghillie and piper, Hugh gillies, the best servant I ever had in Europe, advancing by short rushes and in every way comporting himself as the military necessities of the situation required. “She may no bite,” quoth Gillies, “but a'm thinking she pu's legs.”
My activities as a publisher were in themselves a sort of practical joke. It amused me to bewilder and shock people. I took nothing seriously except my occult life at any time and that was at present more or less in abeyance. I wrote one or two poems at this time, notably Rosa Inferni, before Rose joined me in St. Moritz, and somehow or other I had written the fourth book of Orpheus part of which is inspired by my experience in Egypt. I published them at once. They had never satisfied me; the form was theoretically impossible. On the other hand, the lyrics and some of the dramatic dialogue are as good as anything in my work. I felt that one part of my life was drawing to a close. I made a clean sweep of my literary dustbin. I had its contents carted away and dumped on the public. I felt myself to be on the brink of a new birth and in Gargoyles will be found the first fruits of that new life.
But at this particular time I was much too happy to create. Creation is the effect of physiological dissatisfaction. That is why it comes as a relief. The creation of the universe, love, sea-sickness, are all of the same order of phenomena. I was at this time like the Eternal, lapped in calm bliss and enjoying his own perfection. But to such states there always arrives a period when discomfort arises from the accumulation of the secretions produced by the metabolism of one's elements. Presently one become conscious of the need to sneeze or what not, and in course of time one has to sneeze.
It is a very curious thing, by the way, that the average man accepts quite calmly the heresies of the average thinker with perfect equanimity. Bernard Shaw's attacks of religion and morality are taken as a matter of course. But when people like Ibsen, Nietzsche and myself say the same things, we are held up to popular execration.
There was no snake in my Eden; the impulse which drove me out took the positive form of Opportunity. From time to time, various friends had visited us: Gerald Kelly and his mother, Eckenstein, and so on, and a quite insignificant creature named Lieutenant-Colonel Gormley, who was destined to play a curious part in my life. He was a medical soldier and had spend countless years in India, Burma and South Africa without acquiring a single fact of interest. He was incapable of appreciating so much as a funny story, even an improper one if there were any touch of wit in it. But if anyone introduced an obscene word into the conversation on any pretext soever, he would rock with laughter and continue to titter for an indefinite period.
He was the first masochist I had ever met; in fact I have only met one other, and it is not for me to decide which was the filthier fool. Gormley claimed to have been flagellated by over two thousand women. I rather suspect him of vaingloriousness: it seems a very large number. He was in love with my wife, chiefly because she treated him with such disgust and contempt. He had proposed to her several times a week, even before her first marriage, and he saw no reason why he should abandon this habit merely on account of Major Skerrett and myself. I don't know why I tolerated him; I don't know why anyone tolerated him. Perhaps it was the subconscious feeling that one cannot be unkind to anything so pitiable.
On April 27th, the good Tartarin, who had published a book (in the Swiss language) on our expedition to Chogo Ri, illustrated with many admirable photographs but not distinguished by literary quality or accuracy (in many respects), and had lectured in Paris and other capitals on Chogo Ri, dropped in. I was heartily glad to see him. He was the same cheerful ass as ever, but he had got a bit of a swelled head and was extremely annoyed with me for not leading him instantly to stalk the sinister stag, to grapple with the grievous grouse, and to set my ferrets on the fearful pheasant. He could not understand the game laws. Well, I'm a poet; I determined to create sport since it id not exist. More, it should be unique.
I opened the campaign as follows. Tartarin knew the origin of the wild buffalo of Burma. When the British destroyed the villages, their cattle escaped the bayonet and starvation by taking to the jungle, where they had become practically a new species. After the '45 the British had pursued the same policy of extermination — I mean pacification — in the Highlands, and I thought it plausible to invent a wild sheep on the analogy of the wild buffalo. And more, the beast should be already famous. I described its rarity, its shyness, its ferocity, etc., etc. — “You have doubtless heard of it,” I ended; “it is called the haggis.” My '52 Johannesburg completed that part of the “come-on”. Tartarin dreamt all night of scaling a lonely and precipitous pinnacle and dragging a lordly haggis from his lair. For my part, like Judas in the famous story of the Sepher Toldoth Jeschu, I did not dream at all: I did better!
Two mornings later, Hugh Gillies, with disordered dress and wild eyes, came rushing into the billiard room after breakfast. He exploded breathlessly, “There's a haggis on the hill, my lord!”
We dropped our cues and dashed to the gun case. Trusting to my skill, I contented myself with the .577 Double Express, and gave Tartarin the principal weapon of my battery, a 10-bore Paradox, with steel-core bullets. It is a reliable weapon, it will bring an elephant up short with a mere shock, even if he is not hit in a vital part. With such an arm, my friend could advance fearlessly against the most formidable haggis in the Highlands.
Not a moment was to be lost. Gillies, followed by the doctor, myself and my wife, tiptoed, crouching low, out of the front door and stalked the fearsome beast across the Italian garden.
The icy rain chilled us to the bone before we reached the edge of the artificial trout lake. I insisted on wading through this – up to the neck, guns held high — on the ground that we should thus throw the haggis off our scent!
We emerged dripping and proceeded to climb the hill on all fours. Every time anyone breathed, we all stopped and lay low for several minutes. It was a chilly performance, but it was worth it! Tartarin soon reached the point where every bent twig looked to him like one of the horns of our haggis. I crawled and dripped and choked back my laughter. The idiocy of the whole adventure was intensified by the physical discomfort and the impossibility of relieving one's feelings. That interminable crawl! The rain never let up for a single second; and the wind came in gusts wilder and more hitter with every yard of ascent. I explained to Tartarin that if it should shift a few degrees, the haggis would infallibly get our scent and be off. I implored him to camouflage his posteriors, which arose in front for my balaclava, heaving like the hump of a dying camel. The resulting wiggles would have driven Isidora Duncan to despair; the poor man was indeed acutely conscious that, anatomically, he had not been constructed with the main idea of escaping notice.
However, after an hour and a half, we reached the top of the hill, three hundred feet above the house, without hearing that hideous scream-whistle of alarm by which (so I had been careful to explain) the haggis announces that he has detected the presence of an alien enemy.
Breathlessly, we crawled towards the hollow space of grassy and heathery knolls that lay behind the huge rock buttress that towers above the garden and the lake, that space whose richness had tempted our distinguished visitor to approach so near to human habitation.
The mist drove wildly and fiercely across the hillside towards us. It magnified every object to an enormous size, the more impressively that the background was wholly blotted out. Suddenly Gilles rolled stealthily over to the right, his finger pointed tremulously to where, amid the unfurling wreaths of greyness, stood …
Tartarin brought forward the 10-bore with infinite precision. The haggis loomed gargantuan in the mist; it was barely fifty yards away. Even I had somehow half hypnotized myself into a sort of perverse excitement. I could have sworn the brute was the size of a bear.
Guillarmod pressed both triggers. He had made no mistake. Both bullets struck and expanded; he had blown completely away the entire rear section of Farmer McNab's prize ram.
We rushed forward, cheering frantically. Gillies had to be first in at the death; the supply of oats with which he had induced our latest purchase to feed in that spot all the morning without moving, might, if observed, have detracted from the uncanny glory of that romantic scene. But next day at dinner, when we ate that haggis, the general hilarity passed unchallenged. The atmosphere had become wholly Homeric; there was no reason why the wildest glee should seem out of place.
Tartarin sent the ram's head to be stuffed and mounted; a suitable inscription was to be engraved upon a plate of massive gold. For had not the gallant Swiss vindicated their race once more? Would not the Gazette de Lausanne literally foam at the mouth with the recital of so doughty an exploit?
And so the contented Tartarin developed his plans for renewing the attack upon the Himalayas. Eckenstein had been approached, but for one reason or another had refused. I should have preferred it vastly if he had accepted; but I was a keen as ever to capture the only world's record which he and I did not, severally or jointly, hold; that of having reached a higher point on mountains than any other climbers. (This record was held either by Graham on Kebru — a doubtful case — or by Matthias Zurbriggen, the guide whom Eckenstein had trained to mountaincraft, on Aconcagua.)
Mindful, however, of Tartarin's misadventure in 1902, I made the strictest conditions before agreeing to join the new expedition. A document was drawn up and signed by which I should be acknowledged leader of the party. I was to be obeyed implicitly in all matters relating to the actual conduct of the expedition on the mountain. It was a deliberate breach of this agreement which caused directly its failure and the disaster which disgraced it.
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