Bookmark this page on these social networks
In 1908 I began to be a little restless. The Himalayas had cured me of the habit of going to the Alps. I could not play any longer with dolls after wooing such grown-up girls as Chogo Ri and Kangchenjunga. I tried to settle down in the Latin Quarter, finding a real home at 50 rue Vavin with M. and Madame Bourcier, people in whom the spirit of the early days of d'Artagnan was still alive. There is a peculiar relation between the best bourgeois of this type and the wandering gentilhomme, who is seeking his fortune in one way or another and requires a pied à terre. It is one which implies great mutual respect and affection, and, alas, the qualities which make such relations possible are becoming very rare in the world. Despite all its drawbacks, there was never a better social system than the feudal, so far as it derived from the patriarchal. In getting rid of its abuses, we have also got rid of the noblest springs of action and the most congenial code of manners. The war destroyed this relation altogether. The Bourciers ended by being as disgusting as any other French people.
In April I wandered from Paris to Deal and played golf enthusiastically. Rose was going from bad to worse. I had begun to learn to detect the smell of alcohol, but her cunning was so extraordinary that I was never able to catch her in the act of drinking. During the whole period, in fact, I only did so twice. The second occasion makes an interesting story. It shows the extent to which the obsessing demon can conceal his presence.
It was one evening in our house at 21 Warwick Road. Rose and I were sitting in my library on the ground floor in the front of the house. The dining-room and kitchen were in the basement, the whisky being kept in the sideboard. Rose said that she would go and lock up the house, and went downstairs. I put off my slippers and followed stealthily. The stair case was partly illuminated, a shadow being cast diagonally across it. I heard the dining-room door open and began to descend. Rose came quickly back and looked up the stairs; but luckily I was in the shadow and she did not see me. She then went very quickly back into the dining-room, leaving the door open, and I went down the stairs as quickly as possible, hoping to catch her in the act. As I reached the foot, whence I could see into the dining-room, I heard the noise of a door being closed. Rose was standing by the sideboard; but there was no evidence of her act except an empty wet glass. During the few seconds it had taken me to descend the stairs, she had opened the sideboard, uncorked the bottle, poured out and drunk the whisky, and restored
everything to its normal condition. It was an act of prestidigitation and nothing else.
I was at my wits' end. She was no better than before she went to Leicester. I thought I would try moral pressure and took counsel of Fuller, Eckenstein and Gerald Kelly, as well as her doctor. They were none of them very hopeful, but they agreed that it might do some good to leave her and refuse to return until guarantees were given that she had stopped drinking. There did really seem some hope; the power of love might work the miracle, and certainly my love for Rose was stronger than ever, although cut away completely from its physical support. I have always been peculiarly sensitive about trifles in my rapports with women; the most trivial thing can put me off completely. (Alexander Harvey has a superb story, “The Mustache”, in which this psychology is admirably set forth.) I could have borne her death more philosophically. I was constantly tortured by the “memory of the Rose-red hours”. I was not allowed to forget. There was the possibility of paradise at my elbow and there was nothing there but the reek of hell.
<blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> > I reel back beneath the blow of her breath\\ > As she comes smiling to me, that disgust\\ > Changes her drunken lust\\ > Into a shriek of hate --- half conscious still\\ > (Beneath the obsession of her will)\\ > Of all she was --- before her death, her death! </blockquote>
</blockquote></HTML> I hated to go away; in my diary, April 26th I find: “Gerald at twenty-one. Wonders I didn't put my foot down a year ago. But Rose's tenderness is such, and I love her so dearly.” However, I left on the twenty-eighth for Paris.
Late in 1908 I picked up a book. The title attracted me strongly, The Magician. The author, bless my soul! No other than my old and valued friend. William Somerset Maugham, my nice young doctor whom I remembered so well from the dear old days of the Chat Blanc. So he had really written a book — who would have believed it! I carried it off to Scott's. In my excitement, I actually paid for it.
I think I ate two dozen oysters and a pheasant, and drank a bottle of No. III, one of the happiest champagnes in the famous — can you say “caterer's”? Yes: — I mean caterer's cellar. Yes, I did myself proud, for the Magician, Oliver Haddo, was Aleister Crowley; his house “Skene” was Boleskine. The hero's witty remarks were, many of them, my own. He had, like Arnold Bennett, not spared his shirt cuff.
But I had jumped too hastily to conclusions when I said, “Maugham has written a book.” I found phrase after phrase, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, bewilderingly familiar; and then I remembered that in my early days of the G.'. D.'. I had introduced Gerald Kelly to the Order and
reflected that Maugham had become a great friend of Kelly's, and stayed with him at Camberwell Vicarage. Maugham had taken some of the most private and personal incidents of my life, my marriage, my explorations, my adventures with big game, my magical opinions, ambitions and exploits, and so on. He had added a number of the many absurd legends of which I was the central figure. He had patched all these together by innumerable strips of paper clipped from the books which I had told Gerald to buy. I had never supposed that plagiarism could have been so varied, extensive and shameless. The Memoirs of a Physician, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Blossom an the Fruit, and numerous other more or less occult works of fiction had supplied the plot, and many of them the incidents. The Kabbalah Unveiled1 The Life of Paracelsus, The Ritual and Dogma of Transcendental Magic and others had been transcribed, whole pages at a time, with such slight changes as “failed” for “resulted in failure”, and occasional additions or omissions.
I like Maugham well enough personally, though many people resent a curious trick which he has of saying spiteful things about everybody. I always feel that he, like myself, makes such remarks without malice, for the sake of their cleverness. I was not in the least offended by the attempts of the book to represent me as, in many ways, the most atrocious scoundrel, for he had done more than justice to the qualities of which I was proud; and despite himself he had been compelled, like Balaam, to prophesy concerning me. He attributed to me certain characteristics which he meant to represent as abominable, but were actually superb.
He represented me as having treated my wife as Dumas makes Cagliostro treat his, with the object of producing homunculi, artificial living human beings — “Was it for these vile monstrosities that Margot was sacrificed in all her loveliness?” Well, comeliness is a cheap after all. To discover the secret of life, who would not pitch two thirds of our “maudite race” into the bottomless pit of oblivion, for which, in any case, they are bound?
The Magician was, in fact, an appreciation of my genius such as I had never dreamed of inspiring. It showed me how sublime were my ambitions and reassured me on a point which sometimes worried me — whether my work was worth while in a worldly sense. I had at times feared lest, superbly as my science had satisfied my own soul, it might yet miss the mark of making mankind master of its destiny.
Well, Maugham had had his fun with me; I would have mine with him. I wrote an article for Vanity Fair (December 30th, 1908) in which I disclosed the method by which the book had been manufactured and gave parallel passages. Frank Harris would not believe that I was serious. He swore I must be making it up. He could not believe that any man would have the impudence to publish such strings of plagiarism. I had to bring a little library
- WEH note: Itself a plagiarism entire!
round to the office to prove my proposition, and Harris sat and stared, and gasped like a fish at each fresh outrage. He cut down the article to two and a half pages, but even so it was the most damning exposure of a literary crime that had ever been known. No author of even mediocre repute had ever risked his reputation by such flagrant stupra.
Maugham took my riposte in good part. We met by chance a few weeks later, and he merely remarked that there were many thefts besides those which I had pointed out. I told him that Harris had cut down my article by two thirds for lack of space. “I almost wish”, I said, “that you were an important writer.”
I had begun, I do not in the least remember how, to try my hand at short stories. Even today having written more than seventy such, I do not quite understand why this form of art should appeal to me. I take fits of it. I go for a month without thinking of the subject at all, and then all of a sudden I find myself with ideas and writing them down. I entirely agree that the short story is one of the most delicate and powerful forms of expression. It forms a link with poetry because one can work up to ecstasy of one kind or another in a more lyric manner than is possible in a novel; the emotion evoked is doubtless more limited, but it can be made for this very reason better defined. The ecstasy of Wuthering Heights, The House with the Green Shutters and Tess of the D'Urbervilles is altogether on a larger scale. It is built up of more and more varied material and it is evidently possible to obtain a great general effect. On the other hand, the novel loses in poignancy. Such incidents as the hand at the window in Wuthering Heights and Mrs. Gourlay's exclamation in Douglas's masterpiece are almost out of keeping with the general plan.
In Paris I wrote “The Soul Hunter”, the diary of an insane doctor who has drugged his enemy, certified his death, got possession of the corpse, embedded it in plaster of Paris, and vivisects the brain in order to discover the seat of the soul — a nice Christmassy idea.
Paris disgusted me. I tried to find peace at Morêt, but found only boredom, and went off to Venice with a bad throat which gave me the idea of the story “Cancer?” In this a distinguished painter imagines himself to have cancer of the throat — and anywhere else of which he is reminded by some trifling irritation. (Eugène Carrière is doubtless responsible in part for the theme.) He works himself into all kinds of mental fever, but luckily goes to a doctor — drawn from my own doctor, Edmund L. Gros, the famous American physician of Paris — who pronounces him neurasthenic but otherwise healthy and prescribes a motoring tour, sending his own brother to take charge of the patient. They reach the Pyrenees. He is so exhilarated that he can think of nothing better to do than cut his throat. Another Christmassy idea.
Venice bored me as badly as Morêt. That was, in fact, the essence of my
stories: that I was incurably sad about Rose. So I got back to Paris and forgot my sorrows in the kindness of Nina Olivier and various friends. I wrote “The Dream Circean”. This is a bigger and better story than either of the others. A young man full of romantic ideas of honour and purity has an adventure in which he rescues a girl from the malice of her mother. This involves a fight with the servant. But after he has won he cannot find the house. He searches vainly and becomes a monomaniac. Then he meets Eliphas Lévi, who promises to cure him, provided that he swears never to enter the street where he imagined the house to be as long as he should live. He is, in fact, cured; but one day after Lévi's death he finds himself in the neighbourhood of the street, and decides to walk through it merely to celebrate the fact that he is cured, and that it means no more to him than any other street. Instantly the old obsession seizes him, and for the rest of his life he searches through Paris for the girl with golden hair, though he knows quite well that even if he found her she would be an old woman.
Rose's family and my friends had put pressure on her, and her father wrote to me that I could come back, which I did; but I found that she had simply become more cunning than ever.
It was really beyond belief. It had been hard to convince myself that she was in the grip of this disease. I had been told about it in more or less plain terms by quite a number of people, and had merely been angry with them. Now, when I knew it myself, I found other people equally incredulous. Haynes told me that he simply could not believe the facts, though he knew all about her two months in Leicester, and the rest. Her doctor told me that she would come to him and beg him, with tears in her eyes and tones of desperate sincerity, to cure her; and all the while she would be drinking under cover of her handkerchief. I took her down to Sandwich for a fortnight in June and July, but there was nothing to be done. One could not even watch her. She would go out in the early hours of the morning and appear at the breakfast table hardly able to speak.
I went back to Paris on July 8th. I worked on Clouds Without Water, Sir Palamedes, The World's Tragedy and “Mr. Todd”. In particular, I wrote the autobiographical preface to The World's Tragedy, some ten thousand words, at a stretch; and certain lyrics, mostly about Dorothy, of whom more in a moment. “Mr. Todd”, as the name implies, is a personification of death an the idea of the play is to introduce him as deus ex machina, helping the characters one by one out of their various troubles. The idea sounds a good one, but apart from availing myself of my opportunities for double entendre (“I was told the other day that he held a lot of land in London and has more tenants than the Duke of Westminister!”), I could not make much of it. The repetition of the idea was bound to be rather ridiculous. It is my one failure in this period.
The truth doubtless is that I had used up the energy accumulated in my wanderings, and written myself out: i.e., as far as anything big was concerned. I was in excellent form with lyrics and wrote several as good as anything I had ever done. In particular “After Judgment”, to the honour and glory of Dorothy, will stand in English literature as one of the most passionate poems in the language.
It was certainly time that I went for a walk in the country. Paris is not a stimulant to a poet of my calibre; I need to be face to face with God and see Him, and live. For when it is said that no man shall look upon His face and live, the emphasis must be on the word “man”. It is the privilege of the poet that his life is fed by direct communication with nature, as a child in the womb of its mother. The man who is separate from nature, and is nourished by the gross food of his conscious impressions, produces only second-rate stuff. I feel the necessity of being absolutely shut off from the external universe — “My life is hid with Christ in God”, to borrow the phraseology of the Christian mystic. I received my inspiration directly, without even needing an intellectual peg on which to hang it. My consciously conceived work is always inferior; it only exists because when I come to the point of actual writing, my pen runs away with me.
So I wanted to get back to the tall timber, but I did not know where to go. My course was determined by the necessities of Neuburg's initiation. He had joined me in Paris and I proceeded to instruct him without losing a moment. He had taken an honours degree in medieval and modern languages, and he could not order his dinner. I remember his asking for red cabbage by he name of “rouge ko-bazhe” — which is the nearest I can get to it phonetically.
He had been warned against drinking absinthe and we told him that was quite right, but (we added) many other drinks in Paris are terribly dangerous, especially to a nice young man like you; there is only one really safe, mild, harmless beverage and you can drink as much of that as you like without running the slightest risk, and what you say when you want it is, “Garçon! Un Pernod1.” I forbear to remark on the result, beyond mentioning that I took Nina and a lady whom I will call Dorothy, as she figures under that name in numerous lyrics, to the Bal Bullier. He had had two double absinthes and they made him bold. (One of my wittiest remarks was made one Boat Race Night at the Empire when accosted by two charming ladies. I exclaimed to my friend, “That which hath made them bold hath made me drunk.”)
Neuburg wished to acquire the affections of one of my two girls, but he could not tell them apart, and he wooed them alternately in the most extravagantly jejune fashion. Thanks to his various phobias, he had never made love satisfactorily to any woman in his life. He did not know what to
- WEH NOTE: At the time, a particularly good brand of absinthe. Pernod is still widely sold, but the wormwood has been excluded and the proof cut drasticly from the 186 proof of absinthe.
say or do. He made all sorts of clumsy advances, which the girls cruelly repressed. Dorothy reproached him sadly:
“Surely, Mr. Neuburg, you would not say such things to your dons' wives at Cambridge!”
Baffled in this direction, he made a supreme appeal to Nina by offering her two francs and twenty-five centimes.
We then went to our respective hotels to bed and the reaction began. He was in bed the whole of the next day, and when I called on him the morning of the day after that I found nothing had been done to cast a veil over the natural results of his indiscretion. But that was Neuburg all over. He was physically the filthiest animal that I have ever known. His gifts were supernatural. I remember giving him a saucer to clean: it had a very small quantity of yellow oil pint in it, left over from painting some talisman. He was a long while away and we went into the bedroom to see how he was getting on. The saucer seemed as full of paint as before, like the widow's curse: nay, more he had repeated the miracle of the loaves and fishes, for he had covered the whole of his dress and his person with this paint. It was all over the washstand, all over the walls and floor, and even to some extent on the ceiling. This is not a joke. I do not offer any explanation; I doubt if there is one. I simply state the facts and leave the world to admire.
Dorothy would have been a grande passion had it not been that my instinct warned me that she was incapable of true love. She was incomparably beautiful. Agustus John has painted her again and again, and no more exquisite loveliness has ever adorned any canvas. She was capable of stimulating the greatest extravagances of passion. Indeed, the transports were genuine enough; but they were carefully isolated from the rest of life, so that she was in no way compromised by them. At the time I rather resented this; I was inclined to call her shallow and even to feel somewhat insulted; but now I see that she was in reality acting like an adept, keeping the planes well apart. She was an extremely good friend, though she never allowed her friendship to interfere with her interests. In other words, she was a thoroughly sensible and extremely charming girl.
She was, in addition, one of the best companions that a man can possibly have. Without pretence of being a blue-stocking, she could hold her own in any conversation about art, literature or music. She was the very soul of gaiety, and an incomparable comedienne. One of my most delightful memories is the matching of our wits. It was rapture to compete with her in what we called “leg-pulling”, which may be defined as inducing someone to make a fool of himself. We carried this out with all due regard for honour and good feeling; we never did anyone any harm, and we often did people a great deal of good.
Neuburg was, so to speak, born for our benefit, and this is what we did. We
began thus; I told Neuburg with the utmost delicacy that Dorothy had been wounded to the heart by his gross manner of wooing, not only because of her almost morbid modesty, but because she had fallen in love with him at first sight. I urged him to make amends by paying respectful court to her, which he proceeded to do, she playing up to it with sublime fantasy, but pretending the greatest reluctance to admit that she was in love with him. Little by little she yielded and they became engaged. (She had a husband round the corner, but one ignores such flim-flam in Montparnasse.)
In the meanwhile I went on the other tack and urged Neuburg to take the obvious measures to get rid of the cause of his neurosis, and ultimately persuaded him to go down to the rue des Quatre Vents and ask an old friend of mine named Marcelle to undertake his cure. No sooner had he done this than I pretended to discover his engagement to Dorothy and brought to him a sense of the grievous wrong which he had done her by his infidelity. I persuaded him that the only manly and honourable course was to tell her frankly what he had done. So we arranged a dinner party at which he should do so. She insisted on his going into every possible detail of his misdemeanour. Considering that he was the shyest man alive with women and that, furthermore, he supposed her to be even more delicate in repression, the dinner was excruciatingly funny. I admitted with sombre remorse my share in persuading him to disgrace himself and Dorothy took the severest view of my conduct. I as the older man, I in charge of his conscience, I responsible to his parents, etc. etc. She said she would never speak to me again and walked home up the boulevard with Neuburg, with me hanging on the outskirts, pleading and gesticulating to be forgiven, and always receiving the most austere rebuffs. At the same time she could not forgive Neuburg either. He took it absolutely to heart; he would never be able to get over having insulted the fairest and dearest and purest of God's creatures. Of course he would never speak to me again either.
I let him suffer for two or three days, then one afternoon I went across to his hotel and told him that this nonsense had gone on long enough; and it was time for him to learn something of life; I told him the facts. He regarded them as outrageous lies. I pointed out a hundred indications that they were true, but he was absolutely convinced of her purity and my infamy. I realized that I was wasting my breath.
“Come across the road”, I said wearily, “and see with your own eyes.”
I was almost obliged to use actual force, but he came; and there was Dorothy, unadorned, smoking a cigarette on my bed. The boy was absolutely stunned. Even with the evidence in front of his eyes, he was loth to admit the truth. His ideal woman was shattered thoroughly and for ever.
The boy had suffered frightfully, but that was not my fault. It was the fault of his own romantic idealism; and had I not destroyed it in this drastic way,
he would have been the prey of one vampire after another as long as he lived. As it was, his physical health became superb, his nerves stopped playing him tricks, he got rid of all his fads about food, dress and conduct, his genius soared free of all its silly inhibitions, his magical powers developed unhindered by the delusions bred of insisting that nature is what one thinks it ought to be, and his relations with humanity became reasonable.
Peace being made, and Neuburg trained, so far as Paris offered a suitable theatre, I determined to put him up against reality of another kind. He had always been accustomed to have everything come to him; he had been allowed to assume that the world was constituted for his convenience and comfort. He had never met any real people at all. He admitted, so to speak, the existence of a baker, but he did not really understand that bread was made with flour and that flour was made from corn by a miller (whom he had hitherto regarded merely as the father of a miller's daughter in a poem), and that corn was grown by actual human beings. So I proposed to him to walk through the wildest parts of Spain. We agreed to start from Bayonne with less than five pounds between us, and managed to make our way to Madrid on foot, avoiding as far as possible the line of the railway.
We left Paris for Bordeaux on the last day of July, went on to Bayonne the next morning, and started the same afternoon for the frontier, reaching Ustaritz that night. Three days' walk took us across the Pyrenees to Pamplona. The people of the mountain villages seemed to have no experience of strangers, especially of strangers on foot. Of course we were not very beautiful objects to the uninitiated eye. I was in my climbing clothes, save that I replaced tweed by buckskin breeches, the same pair as I am wearing today. As for Neuburg, I cannot say what he looked like, because when God made him he broke the mould.
So the people almost everywhere outside the larger towns supposed us to be beggars. It took me some time to discover why my requests for food and shelter were received with such disfavour. I spoke Spanish fairly well as soon as I picked up my Mexican memories; but naturally the people didn't tell me to my face what was the matter; and having been accustomed to be treated everywhere as a great lord, it never entered my head for a moment that they could suppose anything else. When I found out, I said to myself: Well, that is easy enough: I will show them some money. However, they still regarded us with great suspicion. They gave us what we wanted, but did not seem in the least happy about it. Further investigation, however, finally revealed that having money, they thought we must be brigands. We let it go at that.
However, misunderstandings were not yet over. Three times on the road we were arrested as anarchists. The soldiers could not understand why anyone should want to go to Madrid except to kill Alphonso, and I suppose there
is something really to be said for this point of view. They gave us no real annoyance, our passports being as impressive as they were unintelligible. Of course they didn't really think we were anarchists, and they would not have cared if we had been; but most of these unhappy men were marooned for indefinite periods in ghastly districts where there was absolutely no amusement of any kind. To arrest us was a good excuse to have someone to talk to. That, incidentally, is more or less the case with idle officials everywhere, but in countries like England and America they have to pretend to take their silly formalities seriously, and so what was originally no more than désoeuvrement becomes deliberate annoyance. The pettier minds get to enjoy the exercise of this tuppenny-ha'penny authority, and the regulations which were perhaps instituted in an emergency survive their usefulness, like the vermiform appendix, and become the most tedious and irritating tyranny.
The Pyrenean frontiers of Spain at this point are delightfully picturesque, though the mountains are anything but imposing. (Damn those Himalayas; they have spoilt me for scenery.) Some of the mountain villages are filthier and more savage than anything even in German Switzerland. The people are neither polite nor picturesque — they snarl and stink.
We had a longish day into Pamplona, forty-two kilometres, and got the first decent meal since leaving Bayonne. The poverty of the country is really pitiful. As George Borrow recounts, the Church sucks the life-blood of the people. One can quite understand the moralizing of Protestant travellers. Prosperity varies inversely with piety. Italy is only flourishing today in those districts where the alimentary canal of industry has been cleared of the taeniae of Christianity. The only city of Spain which holds its own with the rest of the world today is Barcelona, a notorious hotbed of infidelity and freemasonry. It is to the last degree unfortunate that these things should be connected in the minds of the unthinking with anarchy and other cults implying social disorder. Lord Morley was an atheist, Huxley an agnostic, and Edward the Seventh a freemason; but it would be hard to pick three men more genuinely enlightened or more truly conservative.
From Pamplona it is three days' easy walking to Logrono. We left our hotel after dinner and walked in the cool of the night about ten kilometres to a place which we christened “Bats' Culvert” in honour of our shelter. It was big enough almost to be called a tunnel. Delightfully warm and dry, I do not blame the bats for their choice of habitation.
The road to Logrono is very varied and picturesque. In particular there is one fine rock peak which reminded me of Tryfan. We found the days terribly hot and dusty. In order to test our endurance to the highest point, we talked to each other about the ices of Trinity College kitchen, which are the best in the world, with those of Rumpelmayer in Paris for a poor second, and the rest absolutely nowhere. The walk did me all the good imaginable,
but the diet was a little too much for my young friend, who developed chronic indigestion.
The people live in the most poverty-stricken circumstances; they cannot even understand that there may be others differently situated. In one place they told us at the hotel that they could give us nothing whatever to eat. The courtyard was running wild with poultry, and I told the woman to slay a couple of birds and roast them. It must have taken me a good quarter of an hour to get it into her head that this was a serious order, and by the time the meal was served the entire village had collected to see the eccentric millionaires who spent one and fourpence on food at a stroke.
Logrono will always live in my memory. The situation of the town is very impressive, with its large lazy river, almost dry at that season of the year, affording a measure of the landscape. The people were, if anything, lazier still. The entire population seemed to be sprawling on the terraces of the caf‚s drinking the wine of the country, a type of Burgundy which has more than a little merit. It is a strong, rough, harsh wine; but the flavour of the soil is as apparent as that of peat in Irish whiskey, and it has the advantage of being absolutely genuine.
The spirit of Logrono was so broad and idle that it was very hard to drag ourselves away from it, but we managed it somehow and walked in the cool of the evening of August 9th to a place that we called “Jack Straw's Castle”, at the opening of a magnificent ravine through mighty cliffs of earth.
The following day the road led over a high pass, a barren wilderness of bizarre beauty. It was nearly nightfall when we reached a wretched hamlet, so poor that there was really no food to be had. There was not even any pretence of an inn, and it was only by long negotiation and the display of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, in the shape of a silver dollar, that we persuaded the inhabitants to let us have a cup of goat's milk apiece, a small scrap of dry bread, and a bed in the straw in a horribly dirty barn. It was a glorious meal and a very heaven of repose. On the third day we completed the one hundred and fifty kilometres on the road from Logrono to Soria. The last few hours of the walk were made splendid by the thunderstorm which I have already described.
I should have liked to stay in Soria for an unlimited time. The town is a stupendous relic of the rugged grandeur of the past. The people were, beyond all praise, sympathetic, and I cannot even begin to describe my appreciation of the cook in our hotel. It may have been that he was benefited by the proverb, “Hunger is the best sauce”, but I cannot help that.
We now found ourselves in danger of striking the main road, so we turned aside from the direct line to Madrid and struck out for Burgo de Osma. Our first night was spent at a place which we called “Witches' Kitchen Village”. We got lodgings in a house whose sinister aspect was only surpassed by that
of its inhabitants. We were so doubtful about their intentions that we barricaded ourselves for the night in the main room. There were considerable alarums and excursions; but when they found we meant business they decided to leave us alone and in the morning everyone was all smiles. We had forty-four kilometres to walk, most of the way over scrub desert without a drop of water or a hint of shelter. It was extraordinarily dreary and wearisome.
Burgo de Osma is a lovely little town tucked away in a fold of the cloak of nowhere. We had arrived at the psychological moment. It was about to celebrate its annual two days of festival.
The smaller towns of Spain have preserved their distinct characteristics, their amour propre. They are not entirely servile suburbs of Madrid. They do not drain themselves of their best blood to supply the court with sycophants. It is for this reason that, although Spain has been torn by civil and dynastic wars, it maintains a certain rugged resistance to the forces of autocracy on the one hand, and to revolution on the other.
Burgo de Osma was an excellent example of the cell on whose welfare and whose differentiation from sister cells, the integrity of the organism depends. The pride of the Spanish character is the most valuable factor in its preservation. Spain, almost alone of European countries, does not exude a horde of emigrants upon America. The pride of the individual is personal, family and local as well as national. He prefers haughty poverty to servile prosperity, and this quality may yet restore him to his former greatness, when the tide of economics flows once more in his direction, after Europe has been ruined by the expedients which at present buttress her artificial system of centralization and standardization.
At the moment, Spain was deeply exercised with the matter of base coinage. It appears that a certain cabinet minister had a brother in Mexico who eked out a precarious livelihood by exporting brass bedsteads. The calibre of the uprights was such that silver pesos could be neatly packed therein, and the influence of the minister prevented the custom house being surprised at the weight. These silver pesos were of the same quality as those from the government mint; and at the then price of silver, there was over one hundred per cent profit on each coin put into circulation. It was quite impossible to distinguish the good money from the bad, except that the coiners had thoughtlessly struck one dollar of Amadeo II, who lived so long ago that his coins should have been more worn than these were.
As we approached Madrid we found the people increasingly suspicious and unwilling to accept our pesos, and in the last hundred kilometres of so it was extremely difficult to get them to take our money at all and, therefore, to get food or shelter. But when we came to the city itself, instead of the nuisance reaching a climax, we found that it disappeared altogether. The
Madrilenes were not going to worry their heads as to whether money was good or bad. It doesn't matter, they argued, so long as we agree to take it, and all the desperate efforts of the government to call in the bad coinage fell flat.
Forgive the digression! We were at Burgo de Osma and the fiesta was in full swing. I enjoyed every minute heartily. For the first time I was able to see a bull-fight without the accretions of snobbishness when the famous matador steps forth to exhibit his skill in the presence of royalty, and the game is not a game but an excuse for servility and intrigue. It was all the difference between house football at a public school and a cup final. I was able to understand the direct appeal which the sport makes to the primitive passions.
There was no excitement and no disgust for me. I had reached a spiritual stage in which Sanna — pure perception — had ousted Vedana — sensation — I had learnt to look on the world without being affected by events. I was able to observe what went on as few people can, for the average man's senses are deceived by his emotions. He gets things out of proportion and he exaggerates them even when he is able to appreciate them at all. I made up my mind that it should be an essential part of my system of initiation to force my pupils to be familiar with just those things which excite or upset them, until they have acquired the power of perceiving them accurately without interference from the emotions. It is all a branch of the art of concentration, no doubt; but it is one which has been very much neglected, and it is of supreme importance when the aspirant arrives at the higher levels, where it is a question of “making no difference between any one thing and any other thing”, and uniting oneself with each and every possible idea. For as long as anything soever escapes assimilation there remains separateness and duality, or the potentiality of such. Evil can only be destroyed by “love under will”; and so long as it is feared and hated, so long as we insist on attributing a real and irreconcilable existence to it, so long will it remain evil for us. The same of course applies to what we call “good”. Good is itself evil in so far as it is separate from other ideas.
Through this course of initiation I was brought into great happiness. I was able to perceive a fact which I had never guessed: that blood on the shoulder of a bull in the Spanish summer sunlight is the most beautiful colour that exists. In the whole of my memories I had only one fact to set against it; the green of a certain lizard which ran across my path on a hillside in Mexico. It is, in fact, very rare to see pure colours in nature; they are nearly always mixed or toned down. But when they do appear they are overwhelming.
Hosted by Hermetic.com
All Aleister Crowley material is Copyright © Ordo Templi Orientis. This site is not an official O.T.O. website, and is neither sponsored by nor controlled by Ordo Templi Orientis.
The text of this Aleister Crowley material is made available here only for personal and non-commercial use. This material is provided here in a convenient searchable form as a study resource for those seekers looking for it in their research. For any commercial use, please contact Ordo Templi Orientis.
If you have found this material useful or enlightening, you may also be interested in
— fileinfo: path: '../hermetic.com/crowley/confessions/chapter63.html' created: 2016-03-15 modified: 2016-03-15 …
Ordo Templi Orientis, O.T.O., and the O.T.O. Lamen design are registered trademarks of Ordo Templi Orientis.
All copyrights on Aleister Crowley material are held by Ordo Templi Orientis. This site is not an official O.T.O. website, and is neither sponsored by nor controlled by Ordo Templi Orientis.
The text of this Aleister Crowley material is made available here only for personal and non-commercial use. This material is provided here in a convenient searchable form as a study resource for those seekers looking for it in their research. For any commercial use, please contact Ordo Templi Orientis.