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Since December 1914, I have thought, time and again, how best to make public my political actions in America and the motives which determined my policy. I should have settled any other question off-hand, but I am already sensitive about my loyalty to England. I hasten to explain that by loyalty I mean neither admiration, approval or anything amiable of any kind. I reserve the right to speak as severely as Milton, Wordsworth, Byron Shelley and Swinburne. All this does not touch the point. I am English, and that in a very special sense, as being the prophet and poet appointed by the gods to serve her. We do not accuse Isaiah of being unpatriotic because he thunders against Israel. Isaiah's motive is mine. There does not exist an essence which constitutes England, uncorrupted and incorruptible by any possible phenomenal facts. I feel myself to be an integral element of this England; what I do I do for her sake. I may have to scrub her face with yellow soap, open an abscess, or extirpate a cancer. Working as I do in a world of spiritual causes altogether beyond the comprehension of common people I am liable to be misunderstood.
The essence of my adventure in America may be put in a nutshell. From August to October 1914 I had tried every means to get the government to use me — without success.
In America chance showed me a way, for which I was peculiarly fitted, by which I might conceivably play as important a part in the war as any man living. The price of success was moral courage up to the theatrical limit. I must beggar myself of funds, friends and honour for the time being. I doubt whether I considered this clearly beforehand; I might have funked if I had. I do not want to claim undue credit for courage. I did what I did because it lay in my war to do it. My first step was the natural reaction to the opportunity. But this at least I do claim, that when I found how loathsome my work was, what humiliations and privations it involved, I set my teeth and stuck to the job.
Now then, as to the form of my report. From time to time I sketched various statements intended for various readers. I have chosen the one which I wrote in a moment of heartbreak, when, after my work had been crowned with success, I found that my two oldest friends understood me so little that they thought it their duty to urge me to justify my conduct to the world by bringing an action against the most scurrilous blackmailing weekly in London. I was the angrier because at the moment I was practically
penniless, and because I hoped by submitting in silence a little longer to calumny, to make myself again useful to England in a similar capacity if certain eventualities, which I then thought not impossible, should materialize.
Outraged in my most sensitive spot, I went to the Cadron Bleu at Fontainebleau, lunched, and began my reply to Horatio Bottomley. I found myself too indignant to write, so I went back to the house in the rue de Neuve which I had hired and got the Ape of Thoth to take down the tornado from dictation. When she wilted, her stable companion, Sister Cypris, took her place; and so on by turns till I was appeased, some twenty-four hours later.
One circumstance conspired with another to hold up the publication, but some two years later, intending to go to England, I revised it, with the idea of publishing it immediately on my arrival as a challenge to my critics. Fate once more interfered. Bottomley's long lease was about to expire. The constable he had outrun was on his heels. The blackmailer, attempting to resist being blackmailed, was beginning to see one of the magical virtues of silence. I couldn't publish an attack on a man in the witness-box which was evidently temporary accommodation on the way to the dock. So I held my peace and wrote to Bottomley to tell him that I bore no malice and hoped he would clear himself. I hope it comforted him in penal servitude to remember that one, at least, of the men whom he had wantonly wronged wished him well. I wish him well no less today, but alas that he cannot be hurt by the hard things I happen to say. Any alteration of my pamphlet would destroy the whole spirit of the spasm, the venomous virulence of my vituperation is the essay. I showed the manuscript to poor Tommy Earp who might have been a poet if he had not been a plutocrat. He said that “The Last Straw” was the limit in its line and my judgment jumps with his. Any considered statement, any documented plea, would lack the note of intensity and genuineness which my careless spontaneity and impulsive indignation taught me. I shall therefore print the scorpion as I wrote it. Its devil must excuse its indecorum. The savage contempt of Swift composed an indictment of human nature far exceeding the utmost ordered combination, and my “smashing blows” at my own best friends, at Bottomley, obscure officials in particular, and bureaucratic blockishness, may, I hope, by their very lack of philosophical proportion or aimed animosity, demonstrate into what blind rage my normally imperturbably spirit is whirled when any man whom I consider worth wasting a word on suggests that my loyalty to England could be brought in doubt by any aggregation of protoplasm whose intellectual level is above that of a Woodrow Wilson himself.
THE LAST STRAW
It is a shameful fact that in July 1914 there was an Englishman so dirtily
degenerate — I quote the Patriot Bottomley — that he was engaged in solitary climbs among the High Alps, daring native and foreigner, professional and amateur, to follow him. He did not do this to annoy anybody; he had too often already exposed the cowardice of the moneyed “Herren” of the English alpine Club; but he wanted to encourage the younger generation to climb alone, and to keep himself in good training for his third expedition to the Himalayan Mountains, which he intended to make in 1915.
The dirty degenerate, whom I shall hereafter designate by the first personal pronoun, had the idea that the war was a serious matter. He thought that he had ideas and virility, and that his country needed him.
The event indicates his fatuity. Descending the Jungfrau by the Rothsthal with a bruised toenail, for which it is not altogether fair to blame Messrs Dowie and Marshall, Bootmakers, West Strand, London, W.C., who are the best yet, and may be a pound or two on the wrong side of the ledger, which this advertisement should square, our degenerate, I mean I, went to Bern and asked the British Minister how to get home. The B. M. (which does not mean Blasted Mutt) did not know; he said it was impossible — there might be a train in six weeks. Would Mr. Crowley write his name in a book to reserve a seat in that phantasmagoric train? Mr Crowley wrote it; the B. M. might be hard up one day and get a meal — or an annuity — by selling my autograph.
But he didn't wait for the train. The “British Committee” — headed by two gentlemen who sounded like a vaudeville combination, Mr Whitehead and Mr Waggett — asked Mr Crowley what he would do. Mr Crowley would go to London; if there was a train, good; if not, he could walk and swim.
Luck — no, common sense! — favoured him; while twenty thousand English, and thirty thousand American, millionaires were stuck in dirty Switzerland for months, because they hadn't the sense to take a train to Paris, unable to cash their drafts, and living on the charity of calculating thieves — I refer to the Swiss hoteliers — he walked down to the station and took the train to Paris, as aforesaid.
I spent a week in Paris. I was amazed at the sang-froid of the people. They turned from peace to war as simply as a man turns over in his sleep. I arrived in London — I found that Bernard Shaw had told the truth. Twenty years of cheap newspapers had turned the British from the most stolid to the most hysterical nation in Europe. According to them the German was a monster like a bogey in a nightmare, and it was useless to struggle against him. At the same time, he was a coward who did not dare to advance unless behind a screen of Belgian nuns. He had no discipline, no morale, nothing but a talent for rape, torture, petty theft. His first line troops had been annihilated to a man by les braves Belges, whom we had hitherto only considered as
persons who cut off the hands and feet of the innocent natives of the Congo basin.
I was more than ever convinced that I was needed by my country, which is England, and to hell with everybody. In my excitement, I had the hallucination that England needed men. I found, on the contrary, that the guiding stars of England needed “business as usual”.
I was interrupted in my futile attempts to fight for my country as I had been interrupted in my attempts to climb the Alps, this time by an attack of phlebitis. I lay six weeks in bed, warned that the slightest movement might result in sudden death, and advised that in all probability I should never be able to climb a mountain again. The period of my illness covered September and most of October 1914.
At that time any man who suggested the advisability of conscription was regarded as a traitor. Conscription was the very thing we were fighting. Austin Harrison said that we were fighting for our golf and our weekends, Raymond Radclyffe said with, as it seemed to me, somewhat more plausibility that if we beat the Germans, it showed that the amateur was better than the professional.
From my sick bed I dictated an article called “Thorough” in allusion to the plan of the Earl of Strafford in the time of Charles the First. I said, “commandeer every man and every munition in the country.” I said, “This is not a continental quarrel — this is life and death for England. We don't want debates in the House of Commons, or even in Earlswood asylum. We want a dictator.” No editor would publish it.
Everyone wanted “business as usual”, while Europe was overrun by madmen, fired by commercial ambitions, as it had been a hundred years before, fired by the military ambition of a man greater than Bloody Bill. Napoleon, at least, stood for humanity and for civilization. He gave France a code of laws better than any since that which Manu gave to India. Wilhelm offered nothing but the Kultur of the pig-iron-brained Herr Professor, and the conception of woman as the Kuh of Küche, Kirche und Kinder. That was what we were fighting — not for our golf and for our weekends. There has been no golf since the introduction of Haskell ball — and if our weekends are to mean nothing but “adultry with home comforts” (in the great phrase of Frank Harris) I think Sunday a regrettable superstition.
I grew tired of the heroic defence of Liège. I looked at the map and I couldn't reconcile it with the folds of our ragged line of absent-minded beggars. I didn't like the way in which the journalists excused our “contemptible little army” for running away because of the treachery of French generals who were always being shot at sunrise, and always subsequently writing to the papers to say how much they liked the war. My phlebitis affected merely my left leg and the fact that I was a sharp-shooter and an
old artilleryman didn't interest the War Office. I couldn't use my leg — could I use my brains?
I was at dinner with an old friend, the Honourable A. B., the brother of the Earl of C. He mentioned that he was in the censor's office. I said, “What about me? I have some little reputation as a man of letters — as a critic — I am an expert in cipher — I read and write French as well as I write English (and the world knows how well that is) — I have a fair acquaintance with a dozen other languages, including Hindustani — my leg will keep me out of war as effectively as Mr Woodrow Wilson will keep America — is there nothing I can do to serve my country as it appears that you are serving her?”
He said, “I'm afraid you can't do anything — you see I started in the Navy — I had a year or two on a training ship before I became a barrister — I have a locus standi. You didn't even take honours at Cambridge, as the Patriot Bottomley will one day suppose you to have done — you did not even take the ordinary degree. You wear a short blue gown and and extremely battered mortarboard. You have an extraordinary personality — a reputation for having committed every crime from murder, barratry and arson to quaternio terminorum. You have the subtlest mind,the deepest knowledge of psychology and the most unusual way of brushing your hair in England. I cannot hold out any hopes that any way can be found whereby you might serve your country.”
He drank eight cups of coffee; he swallowed fifteen glasses of 1911 brandy. But he could not make me a naval lieutenant who had forgotten the difference between a powder monkey and a taffrail.
“You cannot serve your country.”
I said, “Lord Kitchener has asked for a hundred thousand volunteers. Damn this leg, but couldn't I write or talk?
He said, “Lord Kitchener is only bluffing. We don't want men; LiŠge is holding out.” (This was about a month after it fell.) “A million and a half Russians of the steam-roller brand passed through England last night in a first-class carriage on their way to Flanders. They travelled from St Petersburg to Archangel by a railway which has a single line and whose rolling stock consists of three engines, one tied up with really serviceable iron wire, and the others with pieces of excellent efficient string — and four trucks which aren't so bad, I honestly believe. And why they disembarked all those men in Scotland and sent them through England in a first-class carriage with the blinds drawn, instead of sending them direct to Dunkirk, I don't know.”
My leg and my Sunday School record alike conspiring to keep me out of the trenches, and my deplorable lack of stupidity disqualifying me for the Intelligence Department, I accepted an invitation to go to New York. It looked as though there might be fifteen or twenty million dollars in it, and
I had a feeling that my country, the richest in the world, would shortly be going, cap in hand, to the savages for cowries. I went to America by the Lusitania, on October 24th, 1914, expecting to stay a fortnight and return with the sinews of war. It did not take me forty-eight hours to discover that my egg was addled.
I had taken with me the equivalent of about fifty pounds in American coinage. As luck would have it, one of the first people I met in New York, Mr D, whom I knew as a collector of rare books, paintings and sculptures, including some of my own introuvable publications, showed an interest in the purchase of some of my unique editions and manuscripts. I arranged to stay in New York until these could be sent over for his approval. (As a matter of fact, I had understood him as offering to purchase them all outright. Money was at this time of considerable moment to me. In the upshot, he purchased between seven and eight hundred dollars' worth of my goods, instead of between three and four thousand dollars' worth, as I had expected; and this disappointment left me in great straits financially, as I had at that time no immediately available resources in England.)
The Patriot Bottomley is in error, I pray that he may pardon me if I indicate it. It is his kindness to me which seeks to flatter me unduly when he says that I took honours from Cambridge. Posterity will understand, on the contrary, that Cambridge has taken fresh honours from me. Nay, Patriot though thou be, Horatio, it is human to err. Homer and Jupiter have been known to nod. The Patriot Bottomley makes a worthy third to these. Put I did not even take the poll degree at Cambridge. I am an undergraduate of Trinity College. But I am a life member of that college; so much so, that when the Junior Dean attempted to prevent me from exercising my right to walk into its courts, I confronted him at the door of the chapel and called him a coward and a liar to his face. To rebuke the authorities of one's college is a distasteful duty; one too often imposed upon the modern undergraduate. But there is in me Roman virtue and I never shrink form a moral obligation.
I found myself, then, in New York, awaiting the arrival of my books and manuscripts, an event, unfortunately as I then thought, long delayed. So I bethought me whether I could not, irrationally, immorally, unphilosophically, with a game leg but with all my heart and brain, serve England.
I was furious at the stupidity of the British propaganda. It was worse in America than it had been in England. At its best, it was an exaggeration and sheer falsehood, so transparent that Woodrow Wilson himself, to say nothing of a legion of Italian bootblacks, saw through it.
As for the German propaganda, it was hardly noticeable. Was it that they did not understand the importance of America in the Wilhelmstrasse? Was
it that they had the good sense to rely upon the stupidity of the English apologists to defeat their intentions?
I had a considerable opinion of the intelligence of Germans, dating from the time in my boyhood when Helmholtz was the great name in physics, Haeckel in biology, Mommsen in history, Goethe in poetry, Bach, Beethoven and Wagner in music; the time when one might say that the whole of organic chemistry had been developed in Germany. I had further to remember that the German social system was considered by nearly all thinking Englishmen as a sublime model. German thought and action had been made immortal by Carlyle. German social economy had been slavishly adopted by Lloyd George in the Insurance Act. Great lawyers like Lord Haldane and talented errand boys like H. G. Wells mingled their voices (of course, in the latter case, with a somewhat cockney accent) to extol the greatness of Germany and to hold her up as a pattern to all good Englishmen. I reflected that Bismarck was not exactly a fool in politics, that von Moltke had been hardly an amateur in the art of war. I had read von Bernhardi with admiration, both for his intellectual ability and his moral simplicity. I did not argue whether or no he came from Italian stock. Nietzsche was to me almost an avatar of Thoth, the god of wisdom; and, whether or no he was a Polish Jew, Germany had possessed sufficient intelligence to profit by the thwackings that he gave her. Yes, I was almost convinced that the German directorate had decided to allow British hypocrisy and stupidity to win their battles for them by making themselves absurd and obscene in the eyes of all sensible people.
One day, I think early in 1915. I was seated on the top of what the American purists calls a stage, and we a bus. This vehicle was proceeding (or attempting to proceed) up Fifth Avenue, which is a sort of ditch lined with diamonds and over-rouged stenographers, all at a price totally disproportionate to the value of the article. I was not interested in these objects of merchandise; I was occupied by my own vanity. Somebody in England had sent me press cuttings which described me as the greatest poet, philosopher, blackguard, mountaineer, magician, degenerate and saint of all time; and I was thinking that, as in the case of the Queen of Sheba, when she visited King Solomon, the half had not been told.
I was aroused from this mood of mingled gratification and disappointment by a tap on the shoulder. A voice asked me to excuse its intrusion. Its owner explained that, seeing me reading cuttings with the superscription of a London firm, he assumed me to be at least English-speaking, in a city where Yiddish was the language of romance. If so, was I in favour of a square deal for Germany and Austria? I replied that I was. I have often thought how much nicer Germans and Austrians would be if they were cut up into little squares and made into soup.
I did not reveal to my interlocutor this interpretation of my reply, for at my initiation I was taught to be cautious. He, with the frank bonhomie of the Irishman, told me that his name was O'Brien, that he had to get off at 37th Street, but that if I could accept his card, he would be pleased to hold further conversation with me at his office. Like Jurgen in the master piece of James Branch Cabel, I am willing to taste any drink once, and I may incidentally remind my admirers that, if the drink should be Courvoisier over fifty years old, I will go on till something breaks and do good work all the time. So I went to see Mr O'Brien.
Mr O'Brien was not in. I think I never saw him again. But I discovered that his office was the office of a paper called The Fatherland, appearing weekly. To my surprise, the inmates seemed to know all about me; and, in the absence of Mr O'Brien, they produced the most extraordinary little amniote — half rat, half rabbit, if I am any zoologist at all — whose name is Joseph Bernard Rethy. I looked at this specimen of the handiwork of the Creator with somewhat mixed feelings, gradually sagging towards a pessimistic atheism, especially when I learned that, like anyone in New York who can string together a dozen words without sound or sense, he was a shining light of the Poetry Society. (But he is quite a nice boy.)
I must admit that I did not know how to talk to him. With all the quickness of his Jewish apprehension, he decided that I was meat for his master, for whom he sent by means of the complicated manual gestures which form the true language of Jews, and, pace Professor Garner, of the other anthropoids. To my surprise, this master of his recognized me and came forward with extend hands, bulging eyes and the kind of mouth which seems to have been an unfortunate afterthought. The name of this person was George Sylvester Viereck.
I have a decided admiration of sorts for this individual. He has the extraordinary faculty of awakening an instructive repulsion in most people similar to that which many feel with regard to a toad. He is mean and cowardly to an extent psychologically almost unfathomable; but his cowardice is so protected by cunning that he is able to execute a desperate purpose. I may arouse a storm of excration for saying so, but I believe him to be fundamentally one of the bravest of brave men. He runs away all the time, but he never forgets to “fight another day”. At one time he boasted that he was the grandson of the first German Emperor by an actress, Adele Viereck. The statement wounded America in its two worst places. It asserted superiority and defied propriety. Viereck has tried to live down his boast; but I believe that, in his heart of hearts, he fortifies himself in any crisis by saying secretly, “I am not of dregs like Americans.” His manners are pleasant, too much so to be a gentleman's. He is homosexual at heart — though I believe not so in practice — and conscious of this inferiority, which makes him
timid. This is accentuated by a nervous temperament. He has a remarkable gift for epigrammatic phrases, a strong sense of rhythm and a great critical ability, which is masked by his opportunism. His Confessions of a Barbarian is probably the cleverest book ever written by an American about Europe. Some of his poems are so simple and direct that, if they miss sublimity, which may or may not be the case, the blame is to be laid to the disastrous Jewish trait of conscious cleverness which came so near to shipwreck the greatness of Heine.
He recalled himself to my recollection by saying that he had met me in the office of Mr Austin Harrison, the editor of the English Review. It has been a lifelong rule of mine to take no notice of my contemporaries. My companions are the great men of antiquity and my children those of posterity. I did not remember him; but as it has been another lifelong rule of mine to be polite, even to poets, I feigned the recognition and enthusiasm which I judged appropriate.
Viereck is a man of considerable talent for conversation. He knows the world well. He is not deceived by the humbug of public men and the prostitute antics of the press. He is able to see both sides of any question. His point of view possesses the sanity which comes from the second rater's perception of the necessity of compromise. I was able to talk to him as I could have done with an Englishman of similar education.
But his intelligence was not sufficiently subtle to comprehend the moral paradox in myself. I praised Germany — I sympathized with Germany — I justified Germany — and he erroneously deduced, as the average Englishman might have done, that I was pro-German. He did not understand the attitude which I held. I can hardly blame him, for it would puzzle myself if I allowed myself to worry about it. I may or may not be a burglar; but even if I am, I am going to drill a hole through the householder who interrupts my in the exercise of my profession. This is my position. But Viereck could not guess it. I might be a high-souled cosmopolitan, like Romain Rolland; I might be an Irish fanatic, like Roger Casement; I might be a sordid traitor, like Mata Hari. But he could not understand my being sincere in thinking like Bernard Shaw would think if he could think, and equally so in acting like Sir Edward Grey would act if he could act.
During the conversation, it dawned upon my dull mind that here were the headquarters of the German propaganda. Viereck was a man of suave insinuating manners and address, a man of considerable political experience and immense intellectual capacity, fortified by the cunning of one who has studied long in the hard merciless school which the world throws open to homosexuals. Poor fool, his innocence had betrayed him into indiscretion! The homosexual is comically innocent, and cannot understand the loathing which which the average man regards what to him is a natural impulse.
More, it is not merely moral righteousness, but moral exaltation above what he considers the animal instinct of the normal man. So he had plucked violets from the grave of Oscar Wilde and framed them with an autograph copy of one of the sonnets written by Lord Alfred Douglas to the shade of that most distinguished of His Ludship's “Messieurs”. Is it imaginable that anyone should suppose that he can advertise himself and his sexual peculiarities on so crude a poster without obtaining the kind of publicity that will hurt him most with men of cruder sexual prejudices? But Viereck had learned his lesson. He had learned to deny everything. Even to me, knowing my reputation, totally undeserved as it happens to be, for similar abnormalities, he would admit nothing. This is a most remarkable circumstance, for the persecution attached to this passion has created a freemasonry among its devotees which makes them frank to the point of indiscretion when they think they recognize sympathy in an acquaintance. Bitter must have been Viereck's initiation that it should have taught him to be so extravagantly cautious; but it fitted him to handle the German propaganda.
I claim this credit, that from the first I recognized him as a master of craft, an opposite well worthy of every trick of fence. I am still unable to agree with Captain (now Commodore) Gaunt (Director of the British Intelligence for some time, including this time, in New York) in classing him “as one of the lesser jackals around von Papen”, as he wrote me during our correspondence on the subject. I claim further credit for perceiving the limitations of Viereck. Brilliant though he was, he was not old enough, solid enough or unselfish and high-minded enough to be trustworthy enough to handle a propaganda involving the destiny of a people.
I looked for what the Americans call the “man higher up”. I did not look in the direction of honest, well-meaning, sentimental von Bernstorff with all his capacity for routine, his noble credulity, his quite genuine desire to arrange everything amicably, and his hackneyed training in the diplomatic service with its hamstrings of etiquette and its chessboard punctilio. I did not look towards von Papen, with his stultifying conviction that he was so much cleverer than anybody else; still less towards Boy-Ed, who was a breezy naval ass with the instincts, ineradicable in the Turk, of a gentleman. Von Mack was a capable person of professional mind, adequate to gather and present statistics, and obsessed with the universal lust of the German university man to prove everything five times over after everybody else has ceased to take the smallest interest in the question. There were lots of small fry, good for subordinate positions. But was there not someone authentically anointed for the work, someone who had made a special study for years of the psychology of Americans, who had written books about them? Was there no man of master mind, ripe experience, balanced wisdom?
I found such a candidate for the secret director of the German propaganda in Professor Hugo Münsterberg. As it happened, the professor was an old enemy of mine. We had quarrelled about philosophy and physics. His mind was intensely positive, brutally matter-of-fact, but capable of appreciating subtlety, and far more open to new facts and theories than most of his opponents supposed. His arrogance was, to a great extent, the Freudian protection against his own uncertainty. He knew psychology, he knew men; he understood business; and in his capacity of instructor at Harvard, he had acquired the habit of forming and directing minds. So much I knew, and I pictured my duel with him in romantic terms of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty.
But the facts were less enthralling. The professor had the great German gift of Being Always Right. My task was simplified; I had merely to keep on telling him how very right he was. He soon ceased to gauge the temper of the community correctly, began to lay down the law instead of arguing with moderation and good sense, was hardened in arrogance by opposition, and became as violent and stupid on his side as our own chosen propagandists were on ours. My meat!
But I am overrunning myself. My immediate problem was to confirm Viereck in his conviction that I was pro-German. There was a very serious snag in the English Review for November 1914. There was a poem of mine called “An Appeal to the American Republic” inviting an Anglo-American alliance. This poem having been written in 1898, I had had to alter “the traitor Russian” to “the traitor Prussian”, to suit the political kaleidoscope. Fortunately I had no difficulty in persuading Viereck that this action was in the nature of camouflage, designed to exploit the stupidity of the British public in general and Austin Harrison in particular. His knowing Mr Austin Harrison made this easier.
But personally I was so terribly English! My accent betrayed me as his did Peter. My clothes were obviously Savile Row. I had not even taken the precaution to be sufficiently un-English to pay for them. I clutched at the straw of my name. From the myths of antiquity looms a phantom Crowley somewhere near Kilkenny where the cats come from, and though my particular Crowleys have been mercifully well-behaved in England since the bishop of that name who published his naughty epigrams in the time of Queen Elizabeth, there are lots of Crowleys in America who come direct from Ireland.
I found Viereck very sympathetic about Irish independence and I billed myself as the only and original Sinn Feiner. My trouble was that I knew nothing about the Irish question and possessed nothing by the hazy idea common to most Englishmen, including those who have studied Ireland most profoundly, that it was a devil of a mess and a devil of a nuisance. However,
Viereck wanted to believe; and he believed, like a Catholic who is afraid to sleep in the dark.
Having thus established myself as an Irish rebel and a pro-German, I went away and considered what I could do about it. I read The Fatherland; I found the German case presented with learning, with logic and with moderation. The motifs were scholarship, statistics and statesmanlike sobriety. It seemed to me that, in the peculiar temper of the United States, whose people, however ignorant and dishonest individually, are always, as a whole, curiously anxious to know the truth and to do justice, this propaganda was infernally dangerous to British interests. I talked to my friends about it. All they could say was that Viereck was personally despicable. Some, like Captain Gaunt, affected to ignore the importance of The Fatherland. Others, even more hopeless from my point of view, seemed to think that they could suppress “The Fatherland” by continuing their lifelong policy of omitting to invite Viereck to dinner parties which would have bored him and given him indigestion.
I decided on a course of action, which seemed to me the only one possible in a situation which I regarded as immensely serious. I would write for The Fatherland. By doing so, I should cut myself off temporarily from all my friends, from all sources of income, I should apparently dishonour a name which I considered it my destiny to make immortal, and I should have to associate on terms of friendship with people whose very physical appearance came near to reproducing in me the possibly beneficial results of crossing the Channel with a choppy sea.
But the German propaganda was being done as well as the British propaganda ill. With a little moral ascendancy over Viereck, I could spoil his game completely by doing as much mischief to Germany as the Patriot Bottomley and the other hoarse-throated fishwives of Fleet Street were doing to England. I met with more success than I had hoped.
Münsterberg was not Argus. I think moreover that folly is contagious. He could hardly keep his young men in hand, especially when apparent victory turned their heads. I found some of them incredibly silly. I had always know Paul Carus for an ass since he published The Gospel of Buddah, but I had no idea that he was such an ass! In The Open Court he published a fancy portrait from my pen of Bloody Bill as Parsifal! Poor old earnest Christian Endeavour Wilhelm, with his megalomania and his theatricalism and his fat-witted Lutheran Gott and his withered hand and his moving-picture-star galaxy of uniforms as the up-to-date Messiah! What a model for “King Arthur come again”, to give the heathen Schrecklichkeit!
I must have been beautifully drunk to write that. I don't remember anything about it — but I must have been much more than drunk when I sent it to Paul Carus. I suppose I had become acclimatized to the idea that all serious and eminent people are perfectly brainless. He swallowed it, hook, line and
sinker; and a poor little bookseller in London who had been agent for the paper for years, and had never read a line of it, got three months in prison! The truth is that the British lost all sense of humour when the war broke out. I wonder how many millions in blood and treasure it cost us to “jowk” with such “deeficulty”!
I worked up Viereck gradually from relativey reasonable attack on England to extravagances which achieved my object of revolting every comparatively sane human being on earth. I proved that the Lusitania was a man-of-war. I dug up all the atrocities of King Leopold of Belgium, from mutilated niggers in the Congo to Cléo de Mérode and Anna Robinson. I translated atrocity, not merely into military necessity, but into moral uplift. I put haloes on the statue of von Hindenburg with his wooden head and his nightgown of tintacks. But (on the whole) I took few chances of letting the Germans perceive the tongue in my cheek.
One day, however, I got genuinely drunk, not with alcohol but with indignation. It was the day of the murder of Edith Cavell. I sat down and wrote an article — a stained glass window representing von Bissing as Jesus Christ, “that great-hearted, simple-minded, trusting German”. He extends his hand to her; and says, with tears in his eyes, “Miss Cavell, I trust you!” Then she acts the part of Judas; and I conclude with a display of fireworks, in which she is welcomed to hell by Lucrezia Borgia and the Marchioness de Brinvilliers and several other vampires, whose names I have forgotten, having others closer to hand.
It makes me weep for Germany when I think the Viereck published such hideous and transparent irony without turning a hair! Americans do not understand irony at all. But Viereck should have done so, considering the Jewish hetaera and the wily old robber baron in his ancestry. But are any tears salt enough to weep for England when I think that none of my countrymen could read my bitterness and anger between the lines of that comic travesty of blasphemy?
I must explain here that I had more than one string to my bow. It was really a minor part of my programme to wreck the German propaganda on the proof of reductio ad absurdum. I had hoped to gain the full confidence of the conspirators whom I had identified and deal with them as somebody whose name I forget dealt with Cataline; and Lord Mount Eagle or whoever it was, with Guy Faux. But nobody in British Intelligence had sufficient of that quality to notice me.
I have always been unduly optimistic about England. I know such a lot of people who are far from being fools. But war seems to deaden perception. Men who are in ordinary times quite acute become ready to assume that anyone who is waving a Union Jack and singing “Britannia Rules the Waves” must be an Admiral of the Fleet. Everybody assumed that the irritating
balderdash I wrote for The Fatherland must be the stark treason that the Germans were stupid enough to think it was.
A person in my position is liable to see Sherlock Homes in the most beefwitted policeman. I did not feel that I was advancing in the confidence of the Germans. I got no secrets worth reporting to London, and I was not at all sure whether the cut of my clothes had not outweighed the eloquence of my conversation. I thought I would do something more public. I wrote a long parody on the Declaration of Independence and applied it to Ireland.
I invited a young lady violinist who has some Irish blood in her, behind the more evident stigmata of the ornithorhyncus and the wombat. Adding to our number about four other debauched persons on the verge of delirium tremens, we went out in a motor boat before dawn on the third of July to the rejected statue of Commerce for the Suez Canal, which Americans fondly suppose to be Liberty Enlightening The World.
There I read my Declaration of Independence. I threw an old envelope into the bay, pretending that it was my British passport. We hoisted the Irish flag. The violinist played the “Wearing of the Green”. The crews of the interned German ships cheered us all the way up the Hudson, probably because they estimated the degree of our intoxication with scientific precision. Finally, we went to Jack's for breakfast, and home to sleep it off. The New York Times gave us three columns and Viereck was distinctly friendly.
Over in England there was consternation. I cannot think what had happened to their sense of humour. To pretend to take it seriously was natural enough in New York, where everybody is afraid of the Irish, not knowing what they may do next. But London was having bombs dropped on it. There was, however, one person in England who knew me — also a joke when he saw it: the Honourable A. B., my old friend aforesaid. Owing to the confusion inevitably attached to the mud with which we always begin muddling through, this gentleman had been inadvertently assigned to the Intelligence Department.
When he saw the report in the New York Times, he wrote to me about it. I knew he would not talk. I knew he would not blunder. I wrote back explaining my position, with he immediately understood and approved. But intelligence such as his is a rare accident in an Intelligence Department. He could not authorize me to go ahead without appealing to his superiors. He put the case before them. They were quite unable to understand that I was merely in a position to get into the full confidence of the Germans if I had the right sort of assistance. They idiotically assumed that I already possessed a knowledge of the enemy's secrets and they sent me a test question on a matter of no importance — did I know who, if anybody, was passing under the name of so-and-so? I was not going to risk my precarious position asking questions. The official English idea of a secret agent seemed to be that he should act like
a newspaper reporter. The result was that the negotiations came to very little, though I turned in reports from time to time.1
There was a Temporary Gentleman named H…d in the British Military Mission with whom I had such dealings as is possible with the half-witted. He thought that he detected hostility in my attitude towards him, whereas it was merely the University Manner. It was this poor thing whom our secret service sent to interview me. I told him that I could find out exactly what the Germans were doing in America. I also told him that I had the absolute confidence, years old, of a man high in the German secret service — that I could go to Germany in the character of an Irish patriot and report on the conditions of the country. (There was desperate need of accurate information as to Germany's resources at this period.) He said, with the air of one detected in the act of adultery by sixteen separate sleuths, to say nothing of being doomed by the Black Hand, “But how do I know that you won't go straight to Viereck and tell him I have been to see you?”!!! I am loath to record accents of human speech so eloquent of mental undevelopment. I said to him, “What harm would that do? How would that save Bloody Bill from his predestined doom?” He did not know the answer to that. But then, he did not know the answer to anything else.
I must now return to the main subject of this report. Partially baffled by the failure of the British to apply common sense to my proposals, I was compelled to go on playing a lone hand. It was necessary to persuade the Germans that arrogance and violence were sound policy, that bad faith was the cleverest diplomacy, that insult was the true means of winning friendship, and direct injury the proper conjuration to call up gratitude. I could not have succeeded had they not been hardened by temporary success, duped by the rigidity of their own logic, and rendered arrogant by the conviction of their own uprightness.
But it succeeded. Von Bernstorff's superficiality could not estimate America. He was too much a gentleman. He knew indeed the unhappy truth that Wilson had been elected because he had kept America out of the war. I drummed it into both his donkey ears. But he was deceived by the humbug of “the world kept safe for democracy”. The people ruled — the people had voted against war. One can almost envy him his simple creed. Such a man might trust his wife and live happy ever afterwards.
He did not see that “the people” in America are salves who count for nothing in the minds of their masters. But America had lent fabulous sums to the Allies, and would get nothing if Germany won the war but the kicks which so much pusillanimity and selfishness deserved. He did not see that America wanted a pretext for calling the conduct of Germany intolerable. The scabby old camel, almost ready to start for its trip through dryness, was looking wistfully for the last straw.
- WEH note: There is a file of this correspondence in British Intelligence.
For some time I had been contemplating the military situation in its largest sense. I had been thinking of water, air and earth as units. I had been at some pains to study the question of the necessary limitations of the three arms of war. I knew the history of Napoleon gazing glumly across the Channel, after his triumphant snatch at Europe. I had written a paper in The Fatherland called “The Future of the Submarine”. I pointed out that hardly anyone had believed in the naval value of these craft until three British cruisers were sunk in fifteen minutes. I pointed out that this demonstration would convince treasuries. Every nation would mobilize all the brains and all the gold and all the influence to find a means of opening the wound. I prophesied a development of the submarine as astounding as that of railways and automobiles — which dated from the hour when they were proved practicable and useful.
On January 3rd, 1917, I returned to the charge with an article which was ostensibly a criticism of Count von Reventlow's Vampire, but in reality my own sermon on that text. The Patriot Bottomley has quoted one of my best passages, that in which I proposed to reduce England to the status of a German colony. (The Germans printed it without a smile!) I was very proud of that article. It proved that all island races were primarily fishermen, who lived by snatching fish and must therefore become pirates. The argument is quite in the style of a real German professor. I advocated the “Unrestricted Submarine Campaign”. I secretly calculated, rightly as the gods would have it, that so outrageous a violation of all law would be the last straw, and force America to throw off the burden of neutrality.
My German friends were loud in their congratulations. It was confidently whispered among the cognoscenti that von Bernstorff's judgment swayed at its impact. He withdrew his objections to that brutality, that insane savagery, that brought America into the war.
But there's a tick in every sleeping-bag. My countrymen stayed right with me to the finish! In what high glee did I not keep my secret rendezvous with a friend from a certain British consulate, waving my article, and crying, “The damned fools have printed it — and it's going to turn the trick!” He read it; his face fell; he turned disgustedly and growled, “I didn't know you were a German.”
The secret service people, while considering my application for employment, asked a friend of mine to explain my attitude. “We don't understand him,” they wailed piteously; “we don't understand him at all.” “Cheer up,” said my friend; “you're not the first people to fail to understand Mr. Aleister Crowley!”
It is rather irrelevant; but it is certainly very amusing and very characteristic, the following incident of my campaign. I had asked the Honourable A. B. to help me consolidate my position with the Germans by heating the
branding irons of infamy for me in the fire of publicity. I therefore attributed it to his ingenuity when I heard that the police had raided the office of an acquaintance of mine in Regent Street. They didn't know what I was after, took my articles at their face value, and thought to annoy, perhaps to intimidate my by the raid.
The person they arrested was a motherly old fool who had been prophesying with tea leaves for about twenty years at the same old stand, with the full knowledge of the police. The ordinary course in prosecuting a fortuneteller is for a polite young man to hand, with deference and apologies to his prospective victim, a summons to appear before a magistrate. But the charge against this woman was factitious. They wanted to get at me, at me barely more than three thousand miles away, and confidently supposed to be sitting in a luxurious suite at the Ritz-Carlton, quaffing beaker after beaker of champagne to the health of the Kaiser, as I conspired with the fanatical brewers of Milwaukee.
One would really have thought that modern education would have taught the police that the best zoologists agree unanimously that it is hard to please a tortoise by stroking its shell. And a comparatively brief course of logic might easily have enriched this theorem (by a syllogism containing the minor premise that tortoises are not so sympathetic and altruistic as, shall we say, policemen) with a corollary that it is even harder to please a tortoise by stroking the shell of another tortoise many miles away. Of course, there is no rigid proof of this. The premises may be disputed by the sceptic.
But at least the police should have heard of Sir Henry Hawkins, a being, after all, zoologically more akin to me that any tortoise. When he was presiding at the trial of some Fenian agitators, some of their friends planted a bomb on the doorstep of the Honourable Reginald Brett. Brett suggested that these earnest folk had committed one of those errors of judgment which seem inseparable from earnestness, and that the bomb had really been intended for Sir Henry. The judge replied, “Do they really think that they can intimidate me by putting a bomb on your doorstep?”
So, at the zero hour, reckless of peril, a devoted band of detectives, with revolvers drawn, went over the top, cheering wildly, to the third floor of 93 Regent Street, broke down the door, which I think was unlocked, and found a dozen mild old people trying to browse on the lush grass of my poetry.
The police did not even calculate on the possibility of my revenge. They imprudently entrusted the conduct of the raid to Inspector Currie, though they might have known that I was perfectly capable of some stupid joke about his being hot stuff. The Crown solicitor, too, who conducted the prosecution, was so named that I might have said, Their artillery is composed of an old rusty Muskett. But I matched my fortitude by my magnanimity and forbore.
However, I made the best of it. When I had done laughing, I made a wonderful scene of indignation in the office of The Fatherland, which helped me quite a little on my weary way. But I must admit that I was downhearted. How could we hope to win the war if London had got as hysterical as that? I looked at the Germans and took courage.
In the upshot, at last I got enough money to settle my affairs in New York, where I had been dodging starvation for five years. That legend of my growing fat on German gold! I lost no time in coming home to England. But I was not at ease. I was fed up with human beings. I resolved to disappear into the desert and give myself wholly to the religious life. I knew that my personal friends in England would understand what I had done in America: they would perhaps be proud of me. So far, so good.
But I supposed, from the conversation of some genuinely intelligent Englishmen in high official positions who were travelling with me across the Atlantic, that England had recovered sang froid and settled down to reconstruction and the enjoyment of the fruits of victory. I wrongly judged that authority would administer a stern rebuke to any maniacs who aimed at the perpetuation of bad feeling. Indeed, I saw little in London to remind me that there had ever been a war.
Was there one man who thought that it might still pay to work upon the baser passions of the mob? It seemed so: it was Christmas; there was a man who made a two-page splash about abolishing the wicked German Santa Claus!1 No! I was again in error. I must have misinterpreted the motives. The man was that great soul, the Patriot Bottomley!
Such a man would doubtless be as difficult to understand as others had found me. He must have had some noble reason for his apparently vile and baseless attacks on bishops, judges and ministers of the crown, to say nothing of firms like Waring and Gillow. I could not concur in the prevalent opinion that he was as much a blackmailer as De Wend Fenton. I could appreciate the eloquence and knowledge of law which, to the amused amazement of London, had thrice saved him from penal servitude at the hands of a British jury. I could not foresee that I should live to be horrified by the insults of that Shallow, Sir Charles Biron, “I cannot believe Mr Bottomley on his oath.”2
I did not think that anybody took his John Bull more seriously than we used to do the “Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday” which it has — not too advantageously — replaced in the affections of the people. I must confess that I was rather disgusted when my own solicitors sent me half a page of ravings about myself and asked the explanation of my crimes. They must have known that
- John Bull, Christmas number, 1919.
- I wrote this in January 1922, when Mr Bottomley was prosecuting Mr Bigland for criminal libel, and the magistrate made this remark.
there was hardly one statement which was true in fact. The article was full of careless blunders about matters within their knowledge.
But that was not what worried me. I kept on saying to myself, “Why only half a page?” The Headmaster of Eton had had a whole page about his advocating Platonic pleasures for boys. My own father-in-law, a charming old gentleman with not even a national reputation, and not an enemy in the world, but a worthless curate he had discharged, had had a whole page (inspired by the aforesaid curate) about the way in which he swindled his servant-girls out of their savings. I knew that if the great Patriot seemed to be not giving me my duty, it was from shortage of paper or writer's cramp, not from lack of kindness of heart.
I had indeed ample evidence of what wealth of magnanimity was buttoned beneath that patriotic waistcoat. A well-known journalist, who has never written a book on the Musical Glasses, a biography of either Lord Henry Somerset, Canon Aitken or F. E. Smith, any novel about Fenian dynamiters, or any short story about Portuguese matadors, had written various articles for the Patriot Bottomley; and he had not been paid. Now it came to pass in the fulness of time that the Patriot felt it his painful public duty to make weekly attacks upon the firm of Waring and Gillow. A few days before these attacks ceased, which they did very suddenly, the journalist chanced to pass the offices of John Bull in a taxi and saw Mr Sam Waring — the principal director of Waring and Gillow — descending the steps. Quick as thought, he paid off the chauffeur, bounced upstairs into the private office of the great Patriot and said firmly, though gently. “I've come for my three hundred pounds.”
“How did you know?” was the Patriot's only question.
“Never mind. I know.”
And Horatio handed over three hundred pounds in notes. This was indeed kindness of heart.
I could not doubt that if he seemed to be neglecting my publicity, it was inadvertence. However, the Patriot Bottomley doubtless felt that he had wronged me, for he made amends by publishing another article to refresh public enthusiasm about my crimes, a month later. I have not seen it, but I hope he pitched it strong.
My conscience was clear. I had been loyal to England. I had suffered for her sake as much as any man; I had “fought the good fight, despising the shame”, starvation and solitude of soul and body: I was content.
But, as in a Greek tragedy, just when I thought myself most safe, the last straw was gently but firmly placed on my back by two of my oldest friends. The first of these is named George Cecil Jones. I had known him intimately since the autumn of 1898. We had been co-workers in the most arduous task known to mankind: that which Bergson — so far as his ignorance allows —
described as “creating oneself a God”. But he had weakened in late years. He had married. Life to his optimistic eyes looked like a green field with a watering trough. Death in his mind became inseparably connected with the idea of mutton chops.
When De Wend Fenton was trying to blackmail me in 1910, he found to his chagrin that I would not even meet him at dinner, so that he might propose a “friendly arrangement” over the coffee and cigars, by which I should pay cash for credit, sovereigns for silence. Balked by my contempt, he cast about him for some less wary bird. If he could only get one of my friends to sue him for libel, he would be able to wriggle out of it somehow. Then, think of all the free publicity! Even if he lost the case, it didn't matter, for his paper was bankrupt anyhow. So he put in a paragraph so dexterously penned that anyone with a mind less clear than that of the solicitor who read it over, ad hoc, might have taken it to mean that Mr Jones was a sodomite.
Mr Jones ought to have known better than to waste his time in reading papers of this class. He ought to have known much better than to take any notice of such rubbish. He ought to have known very much better than to air his grievance in a court of law. His youngest baby ought to have known better than to employ a personal friend with no experience of such cases to act as his solicitor. And one would have thought that even such a solicitor would have known better than to brief a barrister of the kind that “will see the whole job through for a ten pound note”.
When the case came to trial, the defendants pleaded that they had not suggested that Mr Jones was a sodomite. They had not, and never had had, any intention of suggesting that Mr Jones was a sodomite. Mr Jones explained elaborately and excitedly that he was not a sodomite. The judge, summing up, said that, doubtful as the case might be on some points, one thing at least stood out sun-clear, that Mr Jones was not a sodomite. It was also evident that the expressions which had offended the plaintiff were inoffensive; that nobody had ever suggested that Mr Jones was a sodomite.
The jury then retired. They were dazed by suppressed sexual excitement. Their imaginations projected fascinating yet fearful phantasms. When this psychological delirium became articulate, each man was terrified lest he should let slip some phrase which might arouse suspicion of sympathy with sexual irregularities against the speaker. Instinct clamoured that a victim must be found on which to concentrate the frenzy of the crowd. Thus, obfuscated by panic, they stammered out confused and incoherent comments on the case.
They thought that there was something curious about the evidence. All parties breathed together that Mr Jones was not a sodomite. The Latin for breathe together is conspire. That's what it was — a conspiracy! So they brought in the verdict that the article was a libel and that it was justified!!! — such
verdict evidently implying that the defendants had perjured themselves, that the judge was a fool, and that Mr Jones was a sodomite after all!
I supinely thought that the farce was over, that the climax was perfect, that there could never be anything funnier than that. But the Lord keeps unsuspected bounties for them that love him, and my chalice overflowed when this very Mr Jones wrote me, in the tone of a dictator, that I ought to go to law to clear my character from the aspersions cast upon it by the Patriot Bottomley! If not, let me communicate no more with mine truly, G. Cecil Jones!
But in this jest of Mr Jones' pompous imbecility, there was something sad. He had induced my old friend Eckenstein to sign that silly letter. Eckenstein is a great man and my dearest friend. But he is an old man and (I fear me) a dying one.1 His judgment cannot be what it used to be; but if his memory has not failed him, I will remind him of certain events in our long friendship.
I met him at Wastdale Head during Easter week of 1898. We soon became climbing companions, a relation which endured so long as he was physically able to climb. We were together in the English, Welsh and Scottish mountains; in the Alps, in Mexico; and ultimately in the Himalayas. Between us, we hold all but one or two of the world's records for various feats of mountaineering, both amateur and professional. In 1898, I was barely more than a boy, pitiably innocent and ridiculously ambitious. (In a sense, I am so still!)
My other climbing friends, with hardly an exception, came to me and warned me to “have nothing to do with that scoundrel Eckenstein”. “Who is he anyhow? A dirty East End Jew.” (I quote Mr Morley Roberts, the cobbler of trashy novelettes, who said this to me at Zermatt.) Furthermore, Eckenstein had done something in India so bad that nobody could even guess what it was! But that Unspeakable Infamy was the real reason of his quitting the Conway expedition in 1892, and it was generally supposed that the murder of several natives, in cold blood, was one of the less unmentionable ingredients.
That was rather a hard test of comradeship, I think. But I knew my Eckenstein and I disdained to make investigations. I went on climbing with him as if the pompous humbugs of the English Alpine Club had never spoken. By paying guides to haul one over rocks like luggage, one can get a reputation — in England — as a hardy mountaineer. The envious snarls of such craven impostors did not disturb me.
Yet there was something in it, too! There was enough for Eckenstein to be arrested in India by a “superior person” whose Christian names were George Nathaniel. I never knew the truth of the business; and Eckenstein always
- This paper was first drafted in March 1920 e.v. I revised it finally in January 1922 e.v. in the interval Eckenstein had died. I prefer to leave the passages which relate to him as they stand. His death adds grief to my thoughts of him; nothing can add to the love I have always had for him, or the honour in which I have always held him.
protested that he did not know it himself. It didn't matter much then; it doesn't matter at all now. But I want to recall to Eckenstein that I stood pat! I did not ask him to vindicate himself. I do not empanel a jury of jackals to try a lion.
I do not believe that Eckenstein was in full possession of his senses when he signed that silly letter.
POSTSCRIPTUM: New Year, 1922; two years less two months since I wrote this paper. I “got it off my chest”; next day I had relapsed into my normal indifference to human imbecility. I never so much as troubled to revise it until yesterday. Then I rescued it from its dusty pigeon-hole simply because I heard from my representative in London that my supposed pro-Germanism was a bar to the recognition of my work in England.
I care nothing for public opinion. I care nothing for fame or success. I am perfectly happy in my retirement. The full leisure to work, the freedom from all interruption, the absence of temptations to distraction: Cefalu realizes my idea of heaven.
But I am pledged to give my life to the establishment of the Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” So, if the operations on behalf of that Law are being tampered by the insensate belief that I ever was, am, or ever could be, disloyal to my country, which I love with an unreasoning passion, altogether beyond the interference of my intellectual opinions, I am willing to make this public statement as to what I did in the war, and why I did it.
My attitude is unaltered by time. I still think the English pot as black as the German kettle, and I am still willing to die in defence of the pot. Mine is the loyalty of Bill Sikes' dog; you can't make me believe that my master is an injured innocent; and the fact that he starves and beats me doesn't alter the fact that I am his dog, and I love him.
Let the publication of this paper make clear my integrity! Let the British public come to honour me for my stubborn endurance of the shameful martyrdom, still cruel and still dear.
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