Chapter 73

In the early part of 1913, my work had apparently settled down to a regular routine. Everything went very well but nothing startling occurred. On March 3rd, the “Ragged Ragtime Girls” opened at the Old Tivoli. It was an immediate success and relieved my mind of all preoccupations with worldly affairs. Most of my time was devoted to developing the work of the O.T.O. In May I took a short holiday in France and the Channel Islands. Only one incident is worthy of record. I had gone down to my beloved Forest of Fontainebleau for a walk. One morning, climbing the Rocher d'Avon, I saw a serpent cross my path. A little higher the same thing happened. This time I was impelled to kill the reptile, which I did.

I took it into my head that the Masters had sent this as a warning that treachery was at work in London. I returned and found that Cremers was intriguing against me; and that, in particular, she had corrupted the heart of Leila Waddell. The O.H.O., moreover, had found out that the Grand Hierophant of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Masonry, John Yarker, had died some months earlier and that his death had been concealed from his colleagues by the machinations of a sort of man named Wedgwood, in the interest of Annie Besant who wanted to obtain control of the Rite. The outrage was baroque, it being the first condition of membership that the candidate should be a freemason in good standing under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of England. However the conspirators had illegally convened a secret council at Manchester to elect a successor to Yarker. I was deputed to attend and convey the protests of the various Grand Masters on the continent. I did so. I challenged the legality of the council. I showed that Wedgwood was not a freemason at all. I exposed the whole intrigue. At the conclusion of my speech (printed in The Equinox, vol. I, No. X) the meeting was adjourned sine die. A council was then legally convened; and a man designated by Yarker himself as his successor in one of his last letters to me was elected Grand Master for Britain, with myself as his principal officer. Yarker's office as Grand Hierophant was filled by Dr. Encausse (Papus), the Grand Master of France.

Having accomplished these duties, I was free to accompany the “Ragged Ragtime Girls” to Moscow, where they were engaged for the summer, at the Aquarium. They were badly in need of protection. Leila Waddell was the only one with a head on her shoulders. Of the other six, three were dipsomanics, four nymphomaniacs, two hysterically prudish, and all {711} ineradicably convinced that outside England everyone was a robber, ravisher and assassin. They all carried revolvers, which they did not know how to use; though prepared to do so on the first person who spoke to them.

At the Russian frontier, we plunged from civilization and order, headlong into confusion and anarchy. No one on the train could speak a word even of German. We were thrown out at Warsaw into a desolation which could hardly have been exceeded had we dropped on the moon. At last we found a loafer who spoke a little German, but no man knew or cared about the trains to Moscow. We ultimately drove to another station. A train was due to leave, but they would not find us accommodation. We drove once more across the incoherent city and this time found room in a train which hoped to go to Moscow at the average rate of some ten miles an hour. The compartment contained shelves covered with loose dirty straw on which the passengers indiscriminately drank, gambled, quarrelled and made love. There was no discipline, no order, no convenience. At first I blamed myself, my ignorance of the language and so on, for the muddle in Warsaw; but the British counsul told me that he had himself been held up there by railway mismanagement on one occasion for forty-eight hours. When we reached Moscow there was no one at the station who could take charge of our part. We found an hotel for ourselves, and rooms for the girls, more by good luck than design. About one in the morning they sent for Leila to rescue them. She found them standing on rickety tables, screaming with fear. The had been attacked by bed-bugs. Luckily I had warned Leila that in Russia the bug is as inseparable from the bed as the snail from his shell.

In a day or two things calmed down. Then there came suddenly upon me a period of stupendous spiritual impulse — even more concentrated than that of 1911. In a café, I met a young Hungarian girl named Anny Ringler; tall, tense, lean as a starving leopardess, with wild insatiable eyes and a long straight thin mouth, a scarlet scar which seemed to ache with the anguish of hunger for some satisfaction beyond earth's power to supply. We came together with irresistible magnetism. We could not converse in human language. I had forgotten nearly all my Russian; and her German was confined to a few broken cries. But we had not need of speech. The love between us was ineffably intense. It still inflames my inmost spirit. She had passed beyond the region where pleasure had meaning for her. She could only feel through pain, and my own means of making her happy was to inflict physical cruelties as she directed. This kind of relation was altogether new to me; and it was perhaps because of this, intensified as it was by the environment of the self-torturing soul of Russia, that I became inspired to create for the next six weeks.

How stupid it is, by the way, that one is obliged to use words in senses inappropriate to, and sometimes incompatible with, the meaning which {712} one wishes to convey! Thus the idea of cruelty is bound up with that of the unwillingness of the patient, so that in the case of masochism the use of the word is ridiculous. We fail to see straight on such points whenever they concern emotional complexes like love. Love, that is, as the wrong- headed Anglo-Saxon defines it. We do not call it cruel to offer a man a cigar, though a small boy may suffer intensely from smoking one. An enormous amount of erroneous thinking springs from the mental laziness which allows us to acquiesce in a standardized relation between two things which is, in fact, dependent upon occasional conditions.

This constantly leads to the grossest injustice and stupidity. Words like “miscreant”, “atheist” and similar terms of abuse in matters which excite the emotions of the vulgar, are constantly applied as labels to people whom they nowise fit. For instance, Huxley was branded as a materialist, Thomas Paine as an atheist, when they were nothing of the sort. It was particularly annoying during the war to observe the indiscriminate plastering of people with such mud as “pro-German”, “pacifist”, “Bolshevist”, etc., without the slightest reference to their actual opinions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; my relations with Anny must be judged by their fruits; happiness, inspiration, spirituality and romantic idealism.

I saw Anny almost every day for an hour or so. The rest of my time I spent (for the most part) in the gardens of the Hermitage or the Aquarium, writing for dear life. In Moscow, in the summer months, day fades into night, night brightens into day with imperceptible subtlety. There is a spiritual clarity in the air itself which is indescribable. From time to time the bells reinforce the silence with an unearthly music which never jars or tires. The hours stream by so intoxicatingly that the idea of time itself disappears from consciousness.

In all that I wrote in those six weeks, I doubt if there is a single word of Anny. She was the soul of my expression, and so beyond the possibility of speech; but she lifted me to heights of ecstasy that I had never before consciously attained and revealed to me secrets deeper than I ever deemed. I wrote things that I knew not and made no mistake. My work was infinitely varied, yet uniformly distinguished. I expressed the soul of Moscow in a poem “The City of God<”, published some months afterwards in the English Review. It is a “hashish dream come true”. Every object of sense, from the desolation of the steppes and the sheer architecture of the city, to the art, attitude and amusements of the people, stings one to the soul, each an essential element of a supreme sacrament. At the same time, the reality of all these things, using the word in its grossest sense, consummates the marriage of the original antinomies which exist in one's mind between the ideal and the actual.

A prose pendant to this poem is my essay “The Heart of Holy Russia”, {713} which many Russians competent to judge have assured me struck surer to the soul of Russia than anything of Dostoyevsky. Their witness fills me with more satisfaction as to the worth of my work than anything else has ever done.

Another poem, “Morphia”, has no ostensible reference to Russia, but the insight into the psychology of the “addict” was indubitably conferred by my illumination. I had no experience, even at second hand, of the effects of the drug; yet I was assured by a distinguished man of letters who had himself suffered from its malice, that I have expressed to the utmost the terrific truth. He could hardly believe at first that I had written it without actual knowledge.

During this period the full interpretation of the central mystery of freemasonry became clear in consciousness, and I expressed it in dramatic form in “the Ship”. The lyrical climax is in some respects my supreme achievement in invocation; in fact, the chorus beginning:

Thou who art I beyond all I am …

seemed to me worthy to be introduced as the anthem into the Ritual of the Gnostic Catholic Church which, later in the year, I prepared for the use of the O.T.O., the central ceremony of its public and private celebration, corresponding to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church.

While dealing with this subject I may as well outline its scope completely. Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I wished therefore to construct a ritual through which people might enter into ecstasy as they have always done under the influence of appropriate ritual. In recent years, there has been an increasing failure to attain this object, because the established cults shock their intellectual convictions and outrage their common sense. Thus their minds criticize their enthusiasm; they are unable to consummate the union of their individual souls with the universal soul as a bridegroom would be to consummate his marriage if his love were constantly reminded that its assumptions were intellectually absurd.

I resolved that my ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity. (This ritual has been published in The International, New York, March 1918, and in The Equinox, vol. III, No. 1.) {714}

Numerous other poems, essays and short stories were written during this summer. In particular there is a sort of novel, The Lost Continent, purporting to give an account of the civilization of Atlantis. I sometimes feel that this lacks artistic unity. At times it is a fantastic rhapsody describing my ideals of Utopian society; but some passages are a satire on the conditions of our existing civilization, while others convey hints of certain profound magical secrets, or anticipations of discoveries in science.

From my brief description of the conditions of travel in Russia, the intelligent should be able to deduce what I thought of the immediate political future of the country. I returned to England with the settled conviction that in the event of a serious war (the scrap with Japan was really an affair of outposts, like our own Boer War) the ataxic giant would collapse within a few months. England's traditional fear of Slav aggression seemed to me ridiculous; and France's faith in her ally, pathetic. The event has more than justified my vision. I have no detailed knowledge of politics;, but, just as my essay, “The Heart of Holy Russia”, told the inmost truth without even superficial knowledge of the facts which were its symptoms, so I possess an immediate intuition of the of the state of a country without cognizance of the statistics. I am thus in the position of Cassandra, foreseeing and foretelling fate, while utterly unable to compel conviction.

I cannot leave the subject of Russia without rescuing from oblivion some of the significant stories which I had from the excellent British consul, Mr. Groves. The most deliciously fantastic is that of what I may call the phantom battleship. This vessel cost well over two million sterling. She was to be the last word in naval construction. She was launched at Odessa in the presence of a great gathering of notables, and the scene lavishly photographed and described in the newspapers. Alas! upon her maiden cruise she was spurlos versenkt. The fact of the matter was that she had never existed! Her cost had gone straight into the pockets of the various officials, the photographs were simply faked, and the descriptions imaginary.

Here is another ray of searchlight on Russian rottenness. A crisis had arisen between England and France. A strong Chauvinist element was urging the government to hurl a flat defiance at St James'. The Minister of Marine was asked to report on the readiness of the French navy. He replied in terms of absolute confidence; but within an hour of his doing so, one of his officers came to him in agitation and begged him to make a personal inspection of the arsenal at Toulon. He rushed south on an express engine and found that the fortress was absolutely denuded of munitions. They had been quietly sold off by a gang of dishonest officials and the reports systematically falsified.

On this discovery, he advised the President to agree with England quickly while he was in the way with her, which was done. The Russian ambassador {715} got wind of this affair; it suddenly struck him that Sebastopol might be in the same street as Toulon; he hurried to St Petersburg and put the matter personally before the Tsar. Investigation proved his fears well-founded. The Tsar was roused to bite. Every officer above a certain rank was left in a room with a revolver. They had the choice between suicide and shameful execution. Naturally, they all chose the former and the whole affair was hushed up by reporting their decease from sickness, accident and so on during the next few weeks.

At Vladivostok corruption was so universal and open that on pay day an agent of the contractor sat at the next desk to the naval paymaster and handed each man his share of the profits of the organized system of swindling the government.

One last luminous anecdote. The representative of a Birmingham munition factory called on our consul about some permit or other, and told him the following story. The Russian naval agent in England had accepted the tender of his firm for supplying an immense number of shells. “About the price, now,” he said to the managing director, “of course we pay you a hundred and fifty thousand pounds” (or whatever it was) “but understand that so much of this must go to Admiral A., so much to Councillor B., so much to the Grand Duke C.” — a long list followed. “My dear sir,” cried the Englishman, aghast, “surely I have made it plain that our price is bed rock. We shan't take a penny of profit. We only put in so low a tender because trade is so bad and we don't want to shut down.” The Russian spread his hands mournfully. “Why, hang it,” exclaimed the manufacturer. “If we were to allow you all those rake-offs, we should have to make the shells of tinfoil and load them with sawdust.” The Russian brightened instantly. “But exactly,” said he; “how I admire you practical English! I knew you would find a way out.” And that was how they settled the business, and those were the shells with which Rodjiestvenski was sent round the world to meet the navy of Japan.

Our own red tape was responsible for a really Gilbertian stupidity in consular matters. It had been decided to raise Moscow from a consulate to a consulate-general. Mr Groves had been for many years in Moscow and spoke practically no Polish. Our consul at Warsaw had been in that city also for many years and spoke practically no Russian. But he was senior in the service to Groves by a year or so. It was therefore impossible to continue Groves at Moscow over the head of the man in Warsaw, and they were therefore ordered to change their position, each being ejected from the city whose language he spoke, and whose affairs he had by heart, into one where the conditions were utterly unfamiliar and the language unintelligible.

From early boyhood my imagination had been excited by accounts of the Great Fair at Nijni Novgorod. Finding “the time and the place and the {716} loved one all together”, at the cost of a slight effort, I decided to trot off and see “The Fun of the Fair”, by which title I called the poem in which I describe my excursion. The way in which I wrote it is, I imagine, unique in literature. I wrote down in heroic couplets every incident of the adventure exactly as it occurred and when it occurred. The only variation is that occasionally I permit myself to exaggerate the facts (as in enumerating the races of men whom I met) when the spirit of humour takes charge.

This poem should have appeared in the English Review in the autumn of 1914. It was pushed out to make way for my “Appeal to the American Republic”, reprinted from boyhood's happy days, with such politically necessary revisions as “the traitor Prussian” instead of “the traitor Russian”. It has thus never yet seen the light.


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