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We may now turn to this journey without the transcendental telescope. It was nothing to shout about as original, difficult or dangerous, but it certainly was one of the most delightful marches I ever made. Very few Europeans have any idea of foreign parts. They always wear thick veils of prejudice, and even prevent the possibility of enjoying really new experiences by their mere habit of life. They stick to the railway and see mere scraps of the country or travel in motors which blur the details of the day.
When one walks, one is brought into touch first of all with the essential relations between one's physical powers and the character of the country; one is compelled to see it as its natives do. Then every man one meets is an individual. One is no longer regarded by the whole population as an unapproachable and uninteresting animal to be cheated and robbed. One makes contact at every point with every stranger.
Of course, the more civilized classes, even in Algeria, are artificial. We learnt nothing from the French commandants and other officials whom we met, because their chief anxiety was to show what perfect gentlemen they were. We fraternized with them as when one goes to a new golf course. The attitude is cordiality at arm's length. And these people were all so ignorant of the country in which they lived that they unanimously warned us that we certainly should be murdered by brigands. To us this was a gigantic joke. We lay down on a patch of grass in the open, or a slope of soft sand, and slept feeling just as secure as we should have at the Savoy,
The Arabs also had their own fears for our safety. They have an ineradicable superstition that one is liable to be drowned in the desert. This sounds supremely absurd, water being the scantiest element of the Sahara. The root of the belief is that sometimes cloudbursts occur and sweep away camps which happen to have been pitched in ravines or depressions; but the most ordinary common sense tells one how to guard against any such accident. They are in terror of brigands and also of numerous varieties of devils.
I thought it polite to impress them with my majesty as a Magician. With this object I took Burton's hint that a star sapphire was universally venerated by Moslems, and having bought a very large and fine specimen of this stone in Ceylon and made it into a ring with a gold band of two interlaced serpents, I found that Burton was right. I had merely to exhibit this ring to command the greatest possible respect. On one occasion, in fact, a quarrel
in a coffee shop having developed into a sort of small riot, and knives being drawn, I walked into the scrimmage and drew sigils in the air with the ring while intoning a chapter of the Koran. The fuss stopped instantly, and a few minutes later the original parties to the dispute came to me and begged me to decide between them, for they saw that I was a saint.
I habitually observed the prescribed five prayers of the orthodox Mohammedan, and increased my reputation for piety by constantly reciting the Koran as I walked and performing various other practices proper to the highest class of dervish.
I soon saw the Neuburg with his shambling gait and erratic gestures, his hangdog look and his lunatic laugh, would damage me in the estimation of the natives. So I turned the liability into an asset by shaving his head except for two tufts on the temples, which I twisted up into horns. I was thus able to pass him off as a demon that I had tamed and trained to serve me as a familiar spirit. This greatly enhanced my eminence. The more eccentric and horrible Neuburg appeared, the more insanely and grotesquely he behaved, the more he inspired the inhabitants with respect for the Magician who had mastered so fantastic and fearful a genie.
Few tourists know even the most elementary facts about such simple matters as climate. I myself was amazed to find how many of the ideas which I had derived from my reading were utterly incorrect. Once, for instance we arrived at an inn late at night. It was shut. We had heard that when the coach arrived they would open, so we decided to wait for the half hour or so, as we needed food and sleep. It was a cold, drear night. To pass the time we took a stroll across the sand, intending to climb a small hill and get a moonlight panorama from the top. As we walked I awoke to the fact that my feet were freezing cold. I could not understand this at all — the rest of my body was comfortably warm. I was wearing thick woollen stockings with puttees and the Alpine boots which have proved adequate in the Himalayas. Like Keats,
<blockquote> > I stood in my shoes and I wondered; I wondered;\\ > I stood in my shoes and I wondered. </blockquote>
Wondering made them no warmer. At last I thought of putting my hand on the sand. I snatched it back as if I had touched a red hot plate. The surface was colder than any ice I had ever known. At that moment we heard the coach and ran back. I dashed in, tore off my boots and spent the next quarter of an hour rubbing life back into my toes. So much for the superstition that the Sahara is a sweltering furnace. On clear nights the radiation is so rapid in that dry air, that the temperature of the ground falls below freezing point, even when the air six feet above does not strike one as specially cold.
Bou Saƒda is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. It is frequented
by French painters more than any other place in Africa. Its isolation in the desert, which it beholds from the crest of a wave of the wilderness, gives an almost sacred character to its galaxy of white-walled houses. Below, a river rambles through a ravine, shaded by palms and bordered by gardens and orchards whose flowers and fruits are guarded by hedges of cactus. Between these gay green gladnesses, glowing with flowers that flame beneath the languid leaves of the fruit trees, bright with blossom or burdened with bounty, a labyrinth of paths invite the idle to wander as their whim may whisper, from one delicious prospect to another, assured that wherever one goes there is always some new beauty to delight the eye, some new token of truth for the ear; at every winding of the way some new perfume makes one's nostril twitch with pleasure. And yet the variations are so subtle that one soon comes to understand that the infinite diversity of one's impressions depends less on external objects than on the modulations of one's moods.
The solitude and silence of these shadowy groves soothe sense and thought so that the soul becomes aware of every modulation of its melody.
A few miles beyond Bou Saƒda there is no road. The last link with civilization is broken. It is no longer possible to pretend that the world is a mere stage where we may strut and scream without facing the facts. Each man must match himself, alone as at the hour of death, with each inexorable fact that nature flings in his face — brigands, sunstroke, hunger, thirst, sickness, accident: no one of these to be evaded or explained away, and no one to be propitiated, or from which we may shelter by appealing to others.
The traveller must train his senses to the finest possible point. His life may depend on his seeing a shadow flit across some far off slope of a sand dune, and thereby divining an ambush. The circles of the vulture must enable him to calculate his course. Nothing too trivial to be his teacher, too insignificant to be of infinite import! As one becomes familiar with the wilderness, nature herself reveals reality in a sense which one had never suspected. The complexity of experience in civilized countries prevents one from examining anything exhaustively. Impressions crowd each other out of the mind. One never gets more than a glimpse of the nature of anything in itself, but only of its relation to the rest.
In the desert each impression is beaten into one's brain with what at first seems maddening monotony. One feels starved; there are so few facts to feed on. One has to pass through an abyss of boredom. At last there comes a crisis. Suddenly the shroud is snatched away from one's soul and one enters upon an entirely new kind of life, in which one no longer regrets the titillation of the thoughts which tumble over each other in civilized surroundings, each preventing one undergoing the ordeal involved when it becomes necessary to penetrate beneath the shadow-show to the secret sanctuary of
the soul. I have explained these things in some detail in two essays, “The Soul of the Desert” and “The Camel”, which my wanderings in the Sahara inspired.
Part of the effect of crossing the Abyss is that it takes a lone time to connect the Master with what is left below the Abyss. Deprived of their ego, the mind and body of the man are somewhat at sea until, as one may say, the “wireless control” has been established. In the year 1910 Aleister Crowley was as a sheep not having a shepherd; the motives and controlling element had been removed and he was more or less cut off from the past. One thing seemed as good as another. He acted irresponsibly. He went on with his work more by force of habit than anything else, and the events of his life were, so to say, more chemical reactions between his character and his circumstances.
In the spring, a few days before the publication of number three of //The Equinox//, which contained the Ritual of the 5○ = 6□ degree of the old Order, Mathers served him with an injunction restraining publication. It did not interest him particularly. He instructed his lawyers and did not even trouble to go to court. Mr. Justice Bucknill, who heard the argument, happened to be an eminent freemason and though he had no idea what the fuss was about, it seemed to him, on general principles, that nobody ought to be allowed to publish anything which anyone else might wish to keep dark. He therefore confirmed the injunction. I appealed.
This time we went into court armed with the facts of the case. The judges were Vaughan, Williams, Fletcher, Moulton and Farwell. They admitted the difficulty of keeping a straight face and reversed Bucknill's decisions, with costs. The argument had been farcically funny and all the dailies had anything up to three columns on the case. On the very day of publication, for the first time, I found myself famous and my work in demand.
As a side issue, Mathers having claimed in court to be the Chief of the Rosicrucian Order, I was invaded by an innumerable concourse of the queerest imaginable people, each of whom independently asserted that he himself, and he alone, was that Chief. Having my own information on the subject, though communicating it to nobody else, I got rid of these pests as quickly as possible. One of my callers, however, did show some method in his madness; a man named Theodor Reuss — of whom more anon. Here I must simply mention that he was Grand Master of Germany of the combined Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim Rites of Freemasonry. I remembered that I had been made a Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the 33° and last degree of the Scottish Rite in Mexico ten years before, but I had never bothered my head about it, it being evident that all freemasonry was either vain pretence, tomfollery, an excuse for drunken rowdiness, or a sinister association for political intrigues and commercial pirates. Reuss told me a
good deal of the history of the various rites, which is just as confused and criminal as any other branch of history; but he did persuade me that there were a few men who took the matter seriously and believed that the foolish formalism concealed really important magical secrets.
This view was confirmed when The Arcane Schools of John Yarker came to me for review. I wrote to the author, who recognized my title to the 33° and conferred on me the grades of 95° Memphis and 90° Mizraim. It seemed as if I had somehow turned a tap. From this time on I lived in a perfect shower of diplomas, from Bucharest to Salt Lake City. I possess more exalted titles than I have ever been able to count. I am supposed to know more secret signs, tokens, passwords, grand-words, grips, and so on, than I could actually learn in a dozen lives. An elephant would break down under the insignia I am entitled to wear. The natural consequence of this was that, like Alice when she found the kings and queens and the rest showering upon her as a pack of cards, I woke up.
I went to Venice in May, breaking the homeward journey at Pallanza, where I wrote Household Gods, a poetical dramatic sketch. It is a sort of magical allegory, full of subtle ironies and mystifications; almost the only thing of its kind I have ever done — which perhaps accounts for my having a sneaking affection for it.
I had made a great many friends in London and the reconstructed Order was attracting aspirants from all classes of people, some silly loafers looking for a new sensation, but many most sincere and sensible. My inexperience led me into laxity in dealing with these people. I failed to enforce the strict rule of the Order: that probationers should be kept apart. I allowed them to meet in my studio and even to practise forms of Magick congregationally.
In the spring, on May 9th, an evocation of Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, was made, so successfully as to demand description. My assistants were Commander Marston, R.N., one of the highest officials of the Admiralty, and Leila Waddell, an Australian violinist whom I had just met and who appealed to my imagination.
I began at once to use her as a principal figure in my work. In the first week of our intimacy I wrote two stories about her: “The Vixen” and “The Violinist”. “The Vixen” is about a girl, an heiress in a fox-hunting shire, who tortures and uses for black magic a girl friend. She has a lover, Lord Eyre, whom she despises. She has some intimate relations with a phantom fox, who (to put it briefly) obsesses her. She yields to Eyre, who climbs into her room at night and finds that she is not a woman but a vixen. The effect is to turn him to a hound and he fastens his teeth in her throat. Hound and fox are found dead and nothing is every heard again of Eyre or his mistress. “The Violinist” is about a girl who invokes, by means of her music, a demon belonging to one of the Elemental Watch Towers. She become his mistress.
One day her husband returns to the house. He kisses her and falls dead. The demon has conferred this power upon her lips.
Excuse the digression: back to Bartzabel! In the Triangle was Frater Omnia Vincam, to serve as a material basis through which the spirit might manifest. Here was a startling innovation in tradition. I wrote, moreover, a ritual on entirely new principles. I retained the Cabbalistic names and formulae, but wrote most of the invocation in poetry. The idea was to work up the magical enthusiasm through the exhilaration induced by music.
I obtained a great deal of valuable knowledge from the spirit, but the most interesting item is this: Marston, remembering his official duty, asked “Will nation rise up against nation?”, followed by more detailed inquiries on receiving an affirmative answer. We thus learnt that within five years from that date there would be two wars; the storm centre of the first would be Turkey, and that of the second would be Germany, and the result would be the destruction of these two nations. I only rememberd this after reaching New York at the end of 1914. Luckily I had the ritual with question and answer written down at the time, and an account of these predictions, precisely fulfilled, appeared in the New York World. I may here remark that I have always been able to foretell the future by various methods of divination. Some give more satisfactory results than others, some are better suited to one class of inquiry, some to another. In all cases, constant practice, constant checking up of one's results, critical study of the conditions, elimination of one's personal bias, and so on, increase one's accuracy. I am always experimenting and have taught myself to get absolutely reliable results from several methods, especially the Yi King. Incidentally, I have interpreted and corrected the traditional methods themselves, thereby excluding sources of error which in the past have disheartened students; but there is some sort of curse on me as there was on Cassandra. I can foretell the issue of any given situation, and feel the utmost confidence in the correctness of my conclusion, but though I can and do act on these indications, when they concern my own conduct I cannot use my power to benefit myself in any of the obvious ways. That is, I cannot leave my work even for a couple of days in order to make a fortune in stocks. To give an idea of the detailed accuracy of my divinations, let me quote one recent case.
I asked the Yi King in May of 1922 what would happen to me in England, whither I was bound. I got the 21st Hexagram, which means the open manifestation of one's purpose. I was, in fact, able to re-enter public life after years of seclusion. It means “union by gnawing”, which I understood as bidding me to expect to spend my time in persevering efforts to establish relations with various people who could be useful to me, but not to expect to drop into success or to find the obstacles insuperable. This, too, came true. The comment in the Yi King promises successful progress and advises
recourse to law. My progress was beyond my utmost hopes and I found myself forced to begin several lawsuits. The further comment describes the successive phases of the affair. The first phase shows its subject fettered and without resource. During my first month in England I was penniless, without proper clothes to wear, and obliged to walk miles to save the cost of a telephone call or an omnibus. In the second phase one suddenly finds everything easy. All one's plans succeed. This, too, occurred. The third phase shows a man getting to grips with the real problems; he meets some rebuffs, has some disappointments, but makes no mistakes. The third stage of my campaign could not be better described. In phase four one gets down to work at one's task, aided by financial advances and contracts to do work of the kind one wants. This was fulfilled by my being commissioned to write The Diary of a Drug Fiend and the present book, as well as several things for the English Review. The fifth phase shows the man getting on with his work and obtaining renown and profit thereby, but it warns the inquirer that his position is perilous and bids him to be on his guard while not swerving from his course. From this I understood that the publication of my novel would arouse a rumpus, as it did. The sixth and last phase shows the subject reduced to impotence and cut off from his communications. This was fulfilled by the attacks on me in the press which followed the publication of the novel.
I could not foresee the exact form which these various forces would manifest, but I understood the sort of thing I might expect. I decided to take the journey rather than wait for a time when a more encouraging symbol might be given. I felt that in the circumstances I had no right to expect anything better. The symbol promised success. I ought not to complain at paying its price.
So much for what I can do. Now for what I can't. I used to test my methods by predicting the course of political and economic events. They confirmed my calculations. Theoretically, I should have been able to back my opinion and make a fortune in a few days on the rate of exchange and similar speculations; but though I did not doubt for a second that success was certain, I found myself constitutionally incapable of fixing my attention on subjects which my instincts tell me to be none of my business, no matter how emphatically my conscious mind urges the necessity and propriety of so doing. This apparent impotence is really, I doubt not, the result of years of ruthless repression of every impulse that is not integrated absolutely with my true will. Judged by obvious standards, this austere puritanism hampers me; but, considered more deeply, I feel that my concentration is intensified, my potential increased, by such methods, and that when the course of time allows me to see my career in perspective it will become evident that my temporary failures were stones in the pyramid of my eternal success.
I now see the events of 1910 in this light. I do not regret my futility or even my errors. The attainment of the Grade of Magister Templi had to be paid for, and I might congratulate myself that the cashier accepted such worthless paper money as the mistakes and misfortunes of a man.
My new methods of Magick were so successful that we became more ambitious every day. I wrote a ritual for invoking the moon. The climax of the ceremony was this: Leila Waddell was to be enthroned as a representative of the goddess and the lunar influence invoked into her by the appropriate lyrics. (I wrote “The Interpreter” and “Pan to Artemis”.) The violinist was to reply by expressing the divine nature through her art. She was a rough, ill-trained executant, and her playing coarse, crude, with no touch of subtlety to interpret or passion to exalt the sequence of sound. The most cynical critics present were simply stunned at hearing this fifth-rate fiddler play with a genius whose strength and sublimity was equal to anything in their experience. I quote from a half-article in the Sketch of August 24th. The writer is a financial journalist who thinks Magick a more brittle bubble than the most preposterous wild-cat scheme ever floated.
Crowley then made supplication to the goddess in a beautiful and unpublished poem. A dead silence ensued. After a long pause, the figure enthroned took a violin and played — played with passion and feeling, like a master. We were thrilled to our very bones. Once again the figure took the violin and played an Abendlied so beautifully, so gracefully and with such intense feeling that in very deed most of us experienced that ecstasy which Crowley so earnestly seeks. Then came a prolonged and intense silence, after which the Master of the Ceremonies dismissed us in these words: “By the power in me vested, I declare the Temple closed.”
So ended a really beautiful ceremony — beautifully conceived and beautifully carried out. If there is any higher form of artistic expression than great verse and great music I have yet to learn it. I do not pretend to understand the ritual that runs like a thread of magic through these meetings of the A.'. A.'.. I do not even know what the A.'. A.'. is. But I do know that the whole ceremony was impressive, artistic and produced in those present such a feeling as Crowley must have had when he wrote —
<blockquote> > So Shalt thou conquer space, and lastly climb,\\ > .............The walls of time:\\ > And by the golden path the great have trod\\ > .............Reach up to God! </blockquote>
I call special attention to this as evidence that Magick, properly understood,
performed and applied, is capable of producing results of quite practical kinds. More yet, these results involve no improbable theories. We can explain them in terms of well-known laws of nature. I have always been able to loose the genius which dwells in the inmost self of even the most imperfect artist, by taking the proper measures to prevent the interference of his conscious characteristics.
Neuburg himself furnishes a striking instance of this. When I met him he was writing feeble verses of hardly more than undergraduate merit. Under my training he produced some of the most passionate, intense, musical and lofty lyrics in the language. He left me; the dog hath returned to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire. His latest work is as lifeless and limp as it was before I took hold.
The success of this form of invocation led me to develop the method. A large number of masonic rituals were at my disposal, and their study showed that the ancients were accustomed to invoke the gods by a dramatic presentation or commemoration of their legends. I decided to bring this method up to date, while incidentally introducing into such rituals, passages whose sublimity would help to arouse the necessary enthusiasm by virtue of its own excellence. With these ideas in mind, I constructed seven rituals to the planets.
In two of these I was assisted by a man named George Rafflovitch, whose father was a Jewish banker of Odessa, and whose mother a countess descended from one of the ministers of finance under Napoleon. Born in Canes, he had been taken for the army very much against his will. The result was a notorious lawsuit to determine his status.
Coming of age, he had squandered his millions. No extravagance was too imbecile. At one time he bought a travelling circus with a menagerie and a collection of freaks. He should certainly have been the principal attraction. He had come almost to his last franc when he was pulled up by a conseil de famille. They saved a few thousand for the fool and kept him on short commons to teach him sense. He had snarled and become a socialist. I met him at the Gargotte off Holborn, being the only man there who looked at all like a gentleman. I paid him special attention. This suited him down to the ground. He saw a chance to cadge.
He agreed with me about socialism. It appeared that his motive in frequenting that milieu was identical with my own. He averred deep interest in Magick of which he had some slight dilettante knowledge. He won my sympathy in his controversy with his family. I promised to help him. I introduced him to influential people in high official positions who could help him to become naturalized. (As an Englishman he stood a better chance of getting free from the control of the conseil de famille.)
I also undertook the publication of some of his books. His talent was
considerable. His imperfect acquaintance with English resulted in his inventing curiously fascinating terms of phraseology. He had remarkable imagination and a brilliant ability to use the bizarre. He made me the hero of several short stories under the name of Elphenor Pistouillat de la Ratis-boisière and introduced several of my disciples. These stories describe in fantastic, exaggerated and distorted images the circle of which I was the centre. The curious may consult The Equinox, vol. I, Nos. II, III and IV, also his own book The Deuce and All.
I furthermore lent him considerable sums of money (of course without interest) at various times extending over three years by which time he had obtained possession of the salvage of his estate. He had also learnt the value of money. He repaid what I had lent him and then proposed to invest a portion of his capital in a joint stock company which I was at that time contemplating to run The Equinox on proper business lines. Negotiations were still in progress when I left London towards the end of 1909 for Algeria.
What was my amazement on my return to find that he had persuaded the people in charge that he had authority to act for me. They explained that he had come round and argued that he was going to be a director of the proposed company and therefore had power to conduct the business. The youth indubitably possessed the virtue of doing nothing by halves. He forged my name to endorse cheques payable to me, cashed them and enjoyed the proceeds. I gasped. I liked the man and had no quarrel with him, but I could not exactly pretend not to notice incidents of this kind. I tackled him about it. He played the innocent and really he was fundamentally such a half-witted creature that I could not be angry. Unfortunately, there was something worse — a matter that touched my honour. He had advertised Liber 777 and stated as an inducement to purchasers that less than one hundred copies remained for sale. That was a lie and I could not brook the association of my name with the shadow of a false pretence. But the mischief was done. The only way out was to make the statement true, which was done by his purchasing the number of copies necessary to reduce my stock to ninety.
He refused to understand my objections to his pastime of testing the intelligence of bank clerks in the matter of judging whether his imitation of my endorsement would pass muster. He indignantly withdrew from the proposed company and I saw him no more.
Not till long after did I discover that all this time while he was living on my bounty he had indefatigably intrigued against me. For insidious cunning he was unrivalled. He had insinuated a thousand malignant falsehoods about me, to the ears of my closest friends without their even suspecting his intention to injure me. In this way he had alienated several of my nearest and
dearest colleagues and his culminating triumph was that he succeeded in leading Fuller by the nose through a tortuous channel of dark devices to the gulf of a complete rupture.
Fuller had begun to behave in a totally unintelligible way. It was all so subtle that I could not put my finger on a single incident. It was a mere instinct that something was wrong. The climax came after Jones vs The Looking Glass. Fuller had urged me to take action myself. When the verdict justified my judgment. Fuller hinted that he could not afford to be openly associated with The Equinox. He also tried to interfere with my conduct of the magazine and made it a condition of his continuing with The Temple of Solomon the King that I should surrender my control. I saw that he had a swelled head and determined to show him that he was not indispensable. I quietly dropped the subject and wrote the section in number five myself. Hoping this demonstration had reduced the inflammation I resumed the discussion and we had practically come to an agreement when to my breathless amazement he fired pointblank at my head a document in which he agreed to continue his co-operation on condition that I refrain from mentioning his name in public or private under penalty of paying him a hundred pounds for each such offence. I sat down and poured in a broadside at close quarters.
“My dear man,” I said in effect, “do recover your sense of proportion, to say nothing of your sense of humour. Your contribution, indeed! I can do in two days what takes you six months, and my real reason for ever printing your work at all is my friendship for you. I wanted to give you a leg up the literary ladder. I have taken endless pain to teach you the first principles of writing. When I met you, you were not so much as a fifth-rate journalist, and now you can write quite good prose with no more than my blue pencil through two out of every three adjectives, and five out of every six commas. Another three years with me and I will make you a master, but please don't think that either I or the Work depend on you, any more than J.P.Morgan depends on his favourite clerk.”
To return, however, to the rituals. These seven were really seven acts of one play, for their order was necessary. The plot, briefly summarized, is this:
Man, unable to solve the Riddle of Existence, takes counsel of Saturn, extreme old age. Such answer as he can get is the one word “Despair”.
Is there more hope in the dignity and wisdom of Jupiter? No; for the noble senior lacks the vigour of Mars the warrior. Counsel is in vain without determination to carry it out.
Mars, invoked, is indeed capable of victory: but he has already lost the controlled wisdom of age; in a moment of conquest he wastes the fruits of it, in the arms of luxury.
It is through this weakness that the perfected man, the Sun, is of dual nature, and his evil twin slays him in his glory. So the triumphant Lord of Heaven, the beloved of Apollo and the Muses is brought down into the dust, and who shall mourn him but his Mother Nature, Venus, the lady of love and sorrow? Well is it if she bears within her the Secret of Resurrection!
But even Venus owes all her charm to the swift messenger of the gods, Mercury, the joyous and ambiguous boy whose tricks first scandalize and then delight Olympus.
But Mercury, too, is found wanting. Now in him alone is the secret cure for all the woe of the human race. Swift as ever, he passes, and gives place to the youngest of the gods, to the Virginal Moon.
Behold her, Madonna-like, throned and crowned, veiled, silent, awaiting the promise of the Future.
She is Isis and Mary, Istar and Bhavani, Artemis and Diana.
But Artemis is still barren of hope until the spirit of the Infinite All, great Pan, tears asunder the veil and displays the hope of humanity, the Crowned Child of the Future.
I throw myself no bouquets about these Rites of Eleusis. I should have given more weeks to their preparation than I did minutes. I diminished the importance of the dramatic elements; the dialogue and action were little more than a setting for the soloists. These were principally three; myself, reciting appropriate lyrics — this involved, by the way, my learning by heart many hundreds of lines of verse every week — Leila Waddell, violinist, and Neuburg, dancer. I sometimes suspect that he was the best of the three. He possessed extraordinary powers. He gave the impression that he did not touch the ground at all, and he would go round the circle at a pace so great that one constantly expected him to be shot off tangentially. In the absence of accurate measurements, one does not like to suggest that there was some unknown force at work, and yet I have seen so many undeniable magical phenomena take place in his presence that I feel quite sure in my own mind that he was generating energies of a very curious kind. The idea of his dance was, as a rule, to exhaust him completely. The climax was his flopping on the floor unconscious. Sometimes he failed to lose himself, in which case, of course, nothing happened; but when he succeeded the effect was superb. It was astounding to see his body suddenly collapse and shoot across the polished floor like a curling-stone.
The Rites of Saturn and Jupiter, repeated and revised constantly in the studio among ourselves, were admirable. Nothing of Maeterlinck's ever produced so overpowering an oppression as this invocation of the dark spirit of Time. The better one knew it, the more effective it was. Familiarity did not breed contempt. Even the sceptic was impressed when the officers circumambulate the temple and the audience are picked at random, one by
one, to join the procession, the last to do so being reminded, “Thou also must die!”
But what was sublimely effective when performed in private lost most of its power to impress when transferred to unsuitable surroundings. I had no available spare money, no knowledge of the tricks of stagecraft, no means of supplying the proper atmosphere. I would not condescend to theatricalism. I was much too hasty in preparing the latter rites and they were not thoroughly rehearsed. It may seem impossible that any creature possessed of a grain of common sense should have failed to foresee failure; but my incorrigible optimism persuaded me that the public were gifted with reverence, intelligence, imagination; and the gift of interpreting the most obscure symbolism.
The first rite was, however, on the whole a success. Most of the ceremony takes place in semi-obscurity, so that the audience were not worried by the uncongenial surroundings of Caxton hall; their attention was focused on the points of interest because of the illumination surrounding them, and the histrionic incompetence of the officers was mercifully concealed from them by the gloom, so that the sublime language of the rite made its full impression. The action again gave imagination every chance, because its minutiae were indistinct as was appropriate to their character. For instance, when a traitor is discovered and put to death on the spot, that would have been comic in full light, but there was only the sudden alarm which broke off the ceremony, the swift inspection, the rush, the gestures of the avenger, the scream and then silence, followed by the dragging of the carrion through the darkness. The illusion was perfect.
The ceremony proceeds and no hint is given of its nature. The omens are disquieting, but no one knows their import. Every question is answered in terms which imply ineluctable doom, every hope instantly crushed to the earth by despair against which no appeal can possibly succeed. All aspiration, all ambition ends equally in death. Help is sought from behind the veil where, as has been supposed, is a shrine upon whose altar dwells the unknown god. But the veil is rent, all is empty, and the chief officer declares, “Alas, there is no god!” An invocation is made that god may appear and the veil is rent from within. A figure is standing on the altar and he recites the paraphrase of one of Bradlaugh's sermons made by James Thomson in The City of Dreadful Night, “O melancholy brothers, dark, dark, dark.” This superb dirge ends:
<blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> > But if you would not this poor life fulfil,\\ > Lo, you are free to end it when you will,\\ > Without the fear of waking after death. </blockquote>
</blockquote></HTML> Darkness falls, complete and sudden; a wild dance to the tomtom ends in
the crash of the dancer's body at the foot of the altar. Silence. A shot. The ghastly flickering of incandescent sodium vapour then lights up the veil. The officers are seen with all the colour of their robes, and faces transformed to livid greens. The veil is drawn aside once more and there lies the Master himself, self-slain upon the altar, with the principal woman officer bending over him as Isis lamenting for Osiris. The light goes out once more and in the darkness the final dirge of utter helplessness wails on the violin. Silence again succeeds. Two officers, briefly and brutally, declare that the rite has been accomplished and the ceremony stops with startling suddenness.
It was certainly a stupendous idea, carried out in what, after all, was a simple, dignified, sublime and impressive manner. It might have been much better. Dramatic experience and command of accessories would have made it nothing short of tremendous. As it was the better class of newspapers and magazines wrote sympathetic and laudatory criticism of the most encouraging kind. If I had had the most ordinary common sense, I should have got a proper impresario to have it presented in proper surroundings by officers trained in the necessary technique. Had I done so I might have made an epoch in the drama, by restoring it to its historical importance as a means of arousing the highest religious enthusiasm.
There was, however, another side of London life which till that time I had hardly suspected: that certain newspapers rely for their income upon blackmail. And they thought me a suitable victim. In particular Horatio Bottomley, in John Bull, published a page of the foulest falsehoods. There is a large class of people in England who argue from their own personal experience that whenever human beings happen to be together in a subdued light they can have no idea in their minds by that of indecent assault.
Bottomley subsided at once on discovering that I was not likely to pay up and look pleasant; but there was at that time a paper, The Looking Glass, edited by an animal called De Wend Fenton. He printed a scurrilous attack on the ceremony and concluded by a threat to proceed to expose my personal misdeeds. He then rang up a mutual friend, and said that he hoped I was not offended, and that he would like to meet me at dinner to talk things over. My friend rang me up. I merely said, “I take it that you don't want me to be blackmailed over your coffee.”
Fenton accordingly proceeded to publish article after article, packed with the most stupid falsehoods about me; some of them deliberate distortions of fifth-hand fact; some simple invention. To my surprise many of my friends took fright and urged me to bring a lawsuit for libel. Fuller, in particular, to my great surprise, was almost dictatorial about my duty. He had probably been persuaded by his brother, who was a junior partner in the firm of solicitors who had represented me in the matter of Mathers. I did not care one way or the other what I did, but I took counsel with two men whose knowledge
of the world of men was indisputably great; one, a probationer, the Hon. Everard Fielding, the other, Raymond Radclyffe, who, though utterly indifferent to Magick, was passionately fond of poetry and thought mine first-class, and unrivalled in my generation. He edited a high-class financial weekly and was rightly reputed as the most incorruptible, high-minded and shrew critic of the city. Their opinion was identical and emphatic: “If you touch pitch you will be defiled,” said one. “Fenton has been warned off the turf and his city editor has just come out of jail,” said the other. There was nothing to gain. The Looking Glass was bankrupt, living from hand to mouth on hush money. Its public was composed of stable boys, counter-jumpers who fancied themselves as sportsmen, and people whose only literary recreation consisted in reading smutty stories and jokes, or licking their lips over the details of the most sordid divorces, and gloating generally over the wickedness of the aristocracy. Apart from this, my course had been made clear by my own Chiefs. It was almost as if they had foreseen the circumstances. The case was met by almost the last clause of “The Vision and the Voice”:
Mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty; yes, thrice and four times mighty art thou. He that riseth up against thee shall be thrown down, though thou raise not so much as thy little finger against him. And he that speaketh evil against thee shall be put to shame, though thy lips utter not the littlest syllable against him. And he that thinketh evil concerning thee shall be confounded in his thought, although in thy mind arise not the least thought of him. And they shall be brought unto subjection unto thee, and serve thee, though thou willest it not.
I saw no objection to stating my position for the sake of sincere and worthy people who might, through ignorance of the facts, be turned away from truth. I accordingly availed myself of the editor of a high-class illustrated weekly, the Bystander, and wrote two articles explaining what the Rites of Eleusis were; how people might cultivate their highest faculties by studying them. I also published the text of the rites as a supplement to number six of //The Equinox//. I could not condescend to reply to personal abuse. God ignored Bradlaugh's challenge to strike him dead within the next five minutes, and the king does not imprison every street-corner socialist who attacks him. Only when such rumours as that of his secret marriage to Miss. Beauchamp circulate among people sufficiently important to make it matter, does he deign to prosecute. The Headmaster of Eton had not protested when Bottomley accused him of advocating Platonic love. I was content to await the acquittal of history.
Again, as Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come
down.” I was up to my neck in every kind of business, from the editing of The Equinox to the superintendence of the Order, apart from my own literary labours. I had no time for lawsuits. Besides, preoccupation with such matters means anxiety and unfits one for calm concentration on one's real business. It was also in a sense a point of honour with me not to interfere with the Masters.
What has time to say? We know what happened to Horatio Bottomley. I am glad to recall that when I heard of his arrest I wrote to tell him that I bore no malice and that I hoped he would be able to prove his innocence. I am indeed sincerely sorry that a man with such great qualities should have turned them to such poor purpose. What is the summary of it all? So many fools confirmed in their folly, so many base, vile passions pandered to; so many simple-minded folk swindled out of their savings. And, on the other side, so many years consumed in cheap coarse pleasures, soured by constant fears of being found out, and crowned by utter ruin worse than death at the hands of a pettier scoundrel than himself. Even by the standards of the uttermost disregard of moral and spiritual success, it is the extreme stupidity to be dishonest.
The fate of Fenton is less notorious, but is no less striking a testimony to the vigilance and might of the Masters. One of Fenton's mistresses had an admirer, a peer of the realm, prodigiously wealthy and extremely aged. She arranged with Fenton to marry the old man; he would die in the course of nature without too tedious waiting and the charms of the lady might even shorten it. But the peer still adorns the peerage! It is Fenton that sleeps with his fathers! I do not know any man or woman who has attacked, betrayed, calumniated or otherwise opposed my Work, who has not met with disaster. Some are dead, some are insane, some are in jail. The only exceptions are those whom I have protected from retribution by taking up arms for myself and thus inducing the Masters to stand aside and see fair play.
There is another side to the medal. Fenton, seeing that I was not to be dragged down into his dirt, introduced into his filthy articles the names of Allan Bennett and George Cecil Jones. Bennett was described as a “rascally sham Buddhist monk” and it was suggested that (in common with everyone else I knew!) my relations with him were morally reprehensible. This was not likely to worry Allan meditating in his monastery upon the evils of existence and practising the precepts of the Buddha; but Jones was otherwise situated. He had married to the extent of four children. Family life and the contamination of commercial chemistry had insensibly drawn him from the straight path.
So he put on the armour of Saul, and Goliath made mincemeat of him. He went to a tame solicitor, a mild mystic addicted to alchemy; no doubt as congenial a companion for a chat in a club over a glass of lemonade as one
could have found between Swiss Cottage and Streatham Common, but the last man in the world to scrap with a ruffian who had no idea of fair fighting. He briefed a barrister who had only recently been admitted, having previously been a solicitor. This man had to face some of the most formidable talent at the Bar.
The case occupied two days. I sat in court hardly able to contain my laughter. The farcical folly of the proceedings eclipsed Gilbert's Trial by Jury. Mr. Schiller, an admirably adroit and aggressive advocate of the uncompromising, overbearing type, had everything his own way. He actually got the judge to admit the evidence of an alleged conversation which took place ten years earlier and had no reference whatever to Jones. The judge, Scrutton, was evidently bewildered by the outré character of the case. He even remarked that it was like the trial of Alice in Wonderland.
Mr. Schiller constantly referred to me as “that loathsome and abominable creature”, though I was not represented in the case. The evidence against me was, first, my alleged remark in the spring of 1910, which even if I had made it, might have meant anything or nothing in the absence of any context; and, secondly, that the initials of four Latin “finger-posts” out of several hundreds in one of my books made vulgar words, such as may be found in Sir Thomas Malory, John Keats, Robert Browning, Shakespeare, Urquhart, Motteux and a host of other infamous pornographers. It would have been equally fair to rearrange the letters of the judge's surname to make a sentence describing a deplorable fact in pathology, and accuse his lordship of outraging propriety every time he signed a cheque.
The judge made rather malicious fun of both sides. Every few minutes some mysterious fact would crop up which I could explain better than anyone else. “But surely,” the judge would murmur, “the proper person to tell the court about this is Mr. Crowley. Why don't you call Mr. Crowley?” And both sides would deplore the impossibility of discovering where Mr. Crowley was, though I was sitting in the court lippis et tonsoribus notus, thanks to my unmistakable peculiarities — I will not say the majesty and beauty of my presence; having been familiarized to everybody in England by innumerable photographs as an explorer, poet, Magician, publisher, religious reformer, dramatist, theatrical producer, reciter and publicist.
The Looking Glass, of course, could not call me, because I should have immediately disclosed that the libel on Jones was only an incident in an elaborate attempt to blackmail, and Jones would not call me because he was afraid that my contempt for conventions, my scorn of discretion as merely a euphemism for deceit, and my confidence in the power of truth and in the integrity and intelligence of men in general, would lead me to make some damaging admission.
He was ill advised. The intensity of my enthusiasm, my candour and my
sheer personality would have dominated the court. They would have been bound to understand that even my follies and faults testified to my good faith, high-mindedness and honour. No man with a personal axe to grind would have done such frank, fearless, imprudent things. I had never been conciliatory; I had never been a flatterer or an opportunist. Brand himself was not more contemptuous of compromise. Such a man may be misguided, wrong-headed, a maker of mischief, but he must be sincere. It would have been seen at once that the beliefs and prejudices of men meant nothing to me, that my eyes were fixed on the enternal, my mind conscious only of God, and my heart wholly filled with the love of the Light. However, he feared. He had forgotten the first words of his initiation, “Fear is failure and the forerunner of failure.” Therefore he failed.
The only allegation against him was that he was my friend and colleague and he read into this the suggestion that our relations were criminal. The defendants denied that they had ever meant to make any such suggestion. The judge said in his summing up that, obscure as the case might be in many ways, one things was clear: Mr. Jones had sworn emphatically that he was innocent of the offence in question, the defendants had sworn that they had never at any time, and did not now, intend to suggest that he was guilty of any such conduct.
The jury retired. Apparently they saw something sinister in the unanimity of plaintiff, defendant and judge. They breathed together, so to speak, and the Latin for that was conspiracy. If nobody had suggested this atrocity, it was time someone did! They returned as radiant as they had departed distressed. They declared that the defendants had perjured themselves in denying that they had accused Mr. Jones: that Mr. Jones had perjured himself in denying his guilt; that the judge had made a fool of himself by directing them to believe the evidence on either side; that The Looking Glass had meant to accuse Mr. Jones of felony; and, finally, that a felon he was.
My contact with civilization has taught me little and that little hardly worth learning. One sees only the superficial aspects of things and those as often as not are deceptive. One's comprehension is confused and incoherent; one's conclusions cancel each other out. But my two days in court did really add to my practical knowledge of homo sapiens. Jones had sworn so simply, sincerely, solemnly, earnestly and emphatically; Fuller had spoken up with soldierly straightforwardness. Against these were matched the almost insane pomposities of Mathers, a notorious rascal, the bombastic blusterings of Berridge, an ill-reputed doctor on the borders of quackery, who had blanched and stammered at the first word of cross-examination; the sly evasions of Cran, a solicitor whose shifty glance was itself enough to warn the veriest tyro in physiognomy not to believe a word he said; and the twelve good men and true had brought in a verdict against the evidence, against the
judge's direction, against the psychology of the witnesses. And the sole ground for their verdict was that the existence of entirely unsupported suspicion of so horrible a crime proved that it must be justified.
It was the psychology of the Middle Ages. A man might or might not be guilty of murder, but witchcraft was so unimaginable an abomination that it was unthinkable that anyone could accuse people of it unless it were true. I remembered the case of Eckenstein. He had committed a crime too frightful to put into words and therefore he must be guilty. I had found it much the same with myself. Nobody seemed to care whether I had or had not done various things which anyone might be expected to do, but nobody seemed to entertain a doubt of my having done things impossible in nature. Nobody troubled to find out the facts about the simplest matters. People printed falsehoods about my family, my fortune, the best-known events of my life. There was no attempt to be consistent or probable. To edit a newspaper while undergoing penal servitude seemed to strike nobody as beyond my ability, and so on ad nauseam. Still more absurdly, trifles which are true of hundreds of thousands of people became charged with the most sinister significance when applied to myself. I have been accused of living in a farmhouse, as if only assassins so far forget themselves. If I turned down the light, it must be to conceal my crimes. If I turn it up, it proves my shamelessness. If I go to London, I must be fleeing from the police in Paris; if to Paris, from the police in London.
The result of the Jones case neither surprised nor shocked me. It simply confirmed me in my determination to do my work and nothing else but my work. It was none of my business whether what I did was popular. The Pilgrim's Progress would have been no better if its author had been a generally respected churchwarden instead of a jailbird, and no worse if he had been a highwayman instead of a tinker. One cannot even help oneself to become famous by any given methods. One may, indeed, push oneself into society where one does not belong for the moment. Compare the careers of Swinburne and Alfred Austin. The later became Laureate, thanks to his sound Conservative principles and respectability, but it hasn't made any difference, even twenty years later, except to afford an instance of the utter absurdity, even from the most practical standpoint, of wasting a moment on anything but making one's work as perfect as possible.
Here is another paradox. There are plenty of people in the literary world who know all about this, yet they still expect intelligent people to do all these stupid things which they have just proved utterly useless, as if their efficacy had never been doubted. I remember one evening how somebody dropped in to tell me that I was being damaged by some silly scandal. I turned pale and began to breathe quickly, crossed to my bookcase and opened some volume of mine. I gave a great sigh of relief and came back,
my face flooded with joy. “Dear friend,” I said pointing to the page, “your fear is quite ill founded.” For a moment I thought that a semi-colon might have been changed into a comma.
As to the other point, I sometimes wonder whether I have not been affected by an incident of early childhood. My father used to go evangelizing the villages on foot. I would go with him. Sometimes he would give people tracts and otherwise deal straightforwardly, but sometimes he did a very cruel thing. He would notice somebody cheerfully engaged in some task and ask sympathetically its object. The victim would expand and say that he hoped for such and such a result. He was now in a trap. My father would say, “And then?” By repeating this question, he would ferret out the ambition of his prey to be mayor of his town or what not, and still came the inexorable “And then?” till the wretched individual thought to cut it short by saying as little uncomfortably as possible, “Oh well, by that time I shall be ready to die.” More solemnly than ever came the question, “And then?” In this way my father would break down the entire chain of causes and bring his interlocutor to realize the entire vanity of human effort. The moral was, of course, “Get right with God.”
At this time the consciences of men were much exercised, as our fathers put it, with regard to the monument which Jacob Epstein had made for the tomb of Oscar Wilde in Père-Lachaise. This monument had been on exhibition in his studio in London for some months and the most delicately minded dilettanti had detected nothing objectionable in it. No sooner had it been put in the cemetery than the guardian objected to it as indecent. The Prefect of the Seine upheld him. I went to see it. I did not greatly admire it; I thought the general design lumpish and top-heavy, but the modelling of the winged sphinx, or whatever it was, seemed admirably simple and subtle. The aesthetic point was, however, not at stake. The attitude of the authorities was an insult and outrage to the freedom of art. The entire innocence of the statue made their action less defensible, thought personally I do not believe in any restrictions based on prejudice. Great art is always outspoken and its effect on people depends on their minds alone. We have now discovered, in fact, that the most harmless phenomena of dreams really represent the most indecent and abominable ideas. If we choose to find an objectionable meaning in Alice in Wonderland, or determine to persuade ourselves that the frank oriental obscenities of the Bible are indecent, no one can stop us. Mankind can only rise above his lower self by facing the facts and mastering his instincts.
I was indignant at the insult to Epstein and to art in his person. I therefore resolved to make a gesture on behalf of the prerogatives of creative genius. I printed a manifesto:
AU NOM DE LA LIBERTÉ DE L'ART
L'Artiste a le droit de créer ce qu'il vent!
Le beau monument d'Oscar Wilde au Père-Lachaise, chef d'oeuvre du sculpteur Jacob Epstein, quoique déjà mutilé et dégradé par ordre du Préfet de la Seine, reste toujours voilé.
A midi, Mercredi prochain le 5 Novembre, M. Aleister Crowley, le poète Irlandais, va le dévoiler. Venez lui prêter votre sympathie et votre aide, venez protester contre la tyrannie pudibonde et pornophile des bourgeois, venez affirmer le droit de l'Artiste de créer ce qu'il veut.
Rendez-vous, Cimetière de Père-Lachaise, auprès du monument d'Oscar Wilde, à midi, Mercredi, 5 Novembre.
I had this distributed widely through Paris. My friend and landlord, M. Bourcier, shook his head very sadly. They would send soldiers, he said, “with cannon and bayonet” to form a cordon round the monument and prevent me from removing the tarpaulin. Oh, will they? said I. So I opened my mind to an enthusiastic young American, who agreed to help me. We bought a coil of extremely fine and strong steel wire, which would be practically invisible in the dull November gloom. We waited till the gates were closed and then proceeded to attach the wire to the tarpaulin, so that from the shelter of a tree a couple of hundred yards away, a gentle pull would suffice to bring it away, I having cut through the cords which kept it in place in such a way that they held only by a fibre, apparently uninjured. I was to make no attempt to rush the military forces of the Republic, but make a speech on the outskirts. When I threw up my arm to apostrophize the empyrean, he was to pull the wires from his lurking place. These arrangements completed, we got out by explaining to the gatekeeper that we had lost our way.
The next day at the appointed hour, I went to the cemetery with one or two desperate adherents. A distinguished concourse of enthusiasts was awaiting the Darling of Destiny, the Warden of the Worthiness of Wilde, the Emancipator of the Ebullition of Epstein. We marched in solemn procession to the tomb. I was amused to observe that the patrols, immediately they saw us, scuttled away like rabbits. I supposed at first that they had gone to give warning, and expected to be arrested before the conclusion of the entertainment, but when we got to the tomb I found no serried ranks of soldiers shouting, “Il ne passeront pas!” There was not a soul in sight!
I then understood that orders had been given on no account to interfere with the mad Irish poet. It rather took the wind out of my sails. I made my speech and unveiled Epstein's effort in the dull drizzling weather. It was a disheartening success. The affair, however, made a great noise in the newspapers, both in France and in England, and the funniest thing about it was
that Epstein himself, the one person above all others who should have been gratified, one would have supposed, took my action in rather bad part.
I have always found Epstein's psychology very puzzling. He is a German Jew, born in the lower East Side of New York City, and his genius, like Rodin's, is purely natural. His conscious ideas are out of keeping with it and destroy it whenever he allows them to interfere. Thus, at one time, he got into the worst set of pretentious humbugs in London, those nonentities who proclaim tirelessly at the top of their voices how great they are, and how their pedantic principles are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They theorize tediously in obscure caf‚s and produce either meaningless monstrosities or nothing at all.
Cubism, vorticism, dadaism, and such sectarian sillinesses all come to the same thing; they are embalmed intellectual fads, invented in order to prove that the imbecility of their adherents is sublime. Conscious of their incapacity they try to prove its perfection, just as a woman who squinted might try to persuade herself that cross eyes constitute a special charm. The fallacy lies in this: a work of art justifies itself by its direct magical effect on the observer. It is puerile to “prove” that Pope is a better poet than Shakespeare because his classicism is worthier than the “unhappy barbarism” (as Hume says) of the Elizabethan. Critical rules derived from analysis after the event are always impertinent. One cannot improve on Swinburne by using his merits more accurately than he did himself.
But Epstein allowed himself to be influenced by the pompous cocksureness of men who were not fit to cart his clay, and for a time tried to work on their principles instead of allowing his genius to express itself as it would, with disastrous results. I have myself made an ass of myself now and again, by trying to construct consciously according to my convictions. But at least I never let myself be influenced by the fashions of a clique.
I am reminded of an interesting circumstance which occurred in 1912. Epstein had made a Sun-God. Hearing this, I hurried to his studio. I thought it a sign that the ideas which moved me were independently penetrating other minds. “Hullo,” said I, as I entered the studio; “you've been doing the Man of Vitruvius, have you?” “Man of what?” said Epstein. “Vitruvius; you know — the Microcosm?” I might have been talking Choctaw. I could not believe that Epstein did not know all about it. But he did not know even which of his statues I was talking about. I pointed. “Nonsense,” said he, “that is my Sun-God. What has Besubius got to do with it?” I was struck dumb.
Vitruvius was (of course, but I suppose I had better explain!) the great Augustan architect, whose treatise on the subject is the supreme classic of its kind. He had discovered the rationale of beauty and similar moral ideas. He had demonstrated the necessity of adhering to certain proportions. It chanced that I had in my pocket a proof of one of the illustrations of my
Book Four, Part II. I pulled it out and put it under his nose. In all essentials it was identical with Epstein's idea of the Sun-God. The astounding thing is not this mere similarity, but the fact that Epstein had called it by that name; for the man of Vitruvius is really the Sun-God. It is the symbol which unifies the centre of our system with the true nature of man.
The genius of Epstein had expressed through him a mystical fact of supreme importance, without the aid of any intellectual process. It was one more instance of my theory that direct intuition is capable of discerning a priori truths as adequately as the inductive method of intellect reveals them a posteriori. Its results are equally reliable, or more so, when their medium is genius, and this in its turn is its own all-sufficient witness by virtue of its power to express itself in beauty. “Beauty is truth; truth, beauty” has thus a precise logical meaning; it is not merely a poetical fancy.
Our appreciation of a sonnet and a syllogism is aroused by identical qualities in our nature. The same principle applied to each impression produces reactions whose interrelation is necessary. It is not merely a matter of taste to prefer Rembrandt to Dana Gibson. It implies a corresponding perception of scientific and philosophical problems. When men who agree about Goya disagree about geology, one may deduce confidently that there is somewhere a failure of self-comprehension on one subject or the other, for all our opinions are partial expressions of our essential spiritual structure. This fact may be used to detect the sources of error in one's own mind. I have often been able to correct my views of some problem in mathematics or physics by referring them to some artistic standard. Having detected where the incompatibility lies, it becomes clear where to look for the misunderstanding.
The Oscar Wilde monument was fated to furnish further amusement. With unparalleled insolence, the authorities decided to mutilate Epstein's work. They employed a sculptor, who must, by the way, have been utterly lost to all sense of shame, to fix a bronze butterfly over the “objectionable” feature of the monument. This feature had been quite unnoticeable to any but the most prurient observer. The butterfly, being of different material and workmanship, clamoured for attention to exactly that which it was intended to make people forget.
This incidentally is a characteristic of puritan psychology. Nobody would notice that side of nature to which those folk whose goodness resents that of God, attach a “bad” meaning, if they did not persistently emphasize its existence. The bad taste of this outrage went even further. The butterfly was notoriously the emblem of Whistler, whose controversies with Wilde were so savagely witty. To put this on the very symbol of Wilde's creative genius was the most obscene insult which could have been imagined. Martial never composed an epigram so indecently mocking.
I did not know that this outrage had been perpetrated. I had gone to the cemetery simply to see if the tarpaulin had been replaced. I confess that I fully enjoyed the flavour of this foul jest. It was all the more pungent because unintentional. (The idea had been simply to make a quiet, inconspicuous modification. It is really strange how polite propriety is always stumbling into Rabelaisian jests. I remember, for instance, writing in some article for the New York Vanity Fair, “Science offers her virgin head to the caress of Magick.” The editor thought the word “virgin” a little risky and changed it to “maiden”!)
Recovering from the first spasm of cynical appreciation, I saw that there was only one thing to be done in the interests of common decency and respect for Epstein. I detached the butterfly and put it under my waistcoat. The gate keeper did not notice how portly I had become. When I reached London, I put on evening dress and affixed the butterfly to my own person in he same way as previously to the statue, in the interests of modesty, and then marched into the Café Royal, to the delight of the assembled multitude. Epstein himself happened to be there and it was a glorious evening. By this time he had understood my motives; that I was honestly indignant at the outrage to him and determined to uphold the privileges of the artist.
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