Chapter 78

New Orleans and San Antonio are said to be the only two towns in the United States which possess souls of their own. That of New Orleans was already being driven out under my eyes, and I dare say that by this time the work of destruction is complete. Probably San Antonio has shared its fate. The most depressing feature in the country is the uniformity of the towns. However singular the geographical situation and its topographical peculiarities, the possibilities of beauty have been nullified by the determination of the people to do everything just right, according to the measure in fashion. Wherever one is, sooner or later, one gets tired of one's surroundings. In Europe, the cure is easy. One toddles along to the next place sure of finding some novelty. In America, however far one goes, the same hideous homogeneity disappoints one. The relief conferred by the old quarter of New Orleans threw me instantly into an ecstasy of creative energy. I wrote day and night continuously — poems, essays and short stories. My principal invention was the detective “Simon Iff” whose method of discovering the solution of a problem was calculation of the mental and moral energies of the people concerned.

I wrote a series of six stories about his exploits and followed it by The Butterfly Net or the Net, a novel in which he is a secondary character. In this novel I have given an elaborate description of modern magical theories and practices. Most of the characters are real people whom I have known and many of the incidents taken from experience.

During this time, I was also granted what mystics describe as “the Beatific Vision” which is the most characteristic of those attributed to Tiphereth, the archetypal idea of beauty and harmony. In this vision one retains one's normal consciousness, but every impression of daily life is as enchanting and exquisite as an ode of Keats. The incidents of life become a harmonious unity; one is lost in a rosy dream of romantic happiness. One may compare it to the effect produced by wine on some people. There is, however, no unreality in the vision. One is not blinded to the facts of existence. It is simply that the normal incoherence and discrepancy between them has been harmonized.

While on this subject, let me mention that Tiphereth corresponds to the grade of initiation on the Threshold of the Order of R. R. et A. C., and to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. It therefore marks a critically important stage in initiation. Only one other is equally {777} cardinal: the grade of Master of the Temple, which is the Threshold of the Order of the A∴ A∴. I have called the vision corresponding to this the “Vision of Wonder” which permeates one's daily life in a similar way. The difference is that penetrating beyond sensory perceptions, one is aware of the mechanism of events, of the subtle chain of causes which connect them. One perceives in detail how each impression necessarily succeeds its forerunner. The effect is that one is lost in wonder at the ingenuity of the universe, to use a very inadequate word, as being the only one available. One feels the intense awed admiration which the greatest masterpieces of Kant, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Riemann, Kelvin, and such as they inspired, with this difference: that all impressions are equally puissant to produce it.

My best essay was “The Green Goddess” written in the old Absinthe House itself, and adorning its main theme the philosophical reflections suggested by absinthe with descriptions of the inn, its guests, and the city.

From New Orleans I went to stay with my cousin Lawrence Bishop on his orange and grapefruit plantation in Florida. I shall describe elsewhere the spiritual abyss in which these lost souls were plunged. I cannot think of Florida, but in my ears rings the exceeding bitter cry of poor little sixteen-year-old Alma, “I've found it doesn't pay to tell the truth.”

This visit opened up an expanse and depth of heartache which I had thought impossible. Cousin Lawrence saw how ill I was. The family fed on offal which I would not have thrown to a decent pig. He had stayed with us in England and realized that I could not be expected to eat such garbage, so he asked me kindly what I would like to eat so as to build up my strength. I said, “Don't bother about that. All I need is plenty of fruit and milk.” It seems too rotten to be true but his wife made a point of cutting me off from milk as much as she dared, and went to the utmost pains to hide the supply, so as to cheat me out of the glass of milk I was supposed to have before going to bed. (I always stayed up late working.)

The mean malice of his hag is too dreadful to contemplate, yet all things serve the poet's turn. She gave me the idea of one of my best Simon Iff in America stories, “Suffer the Little Children”.

Let us hurry back to New York. I arrived there in the spring still sick of some malady which produced depression and weakness and took the spirit out of me without showing any obvious symptoms. I found once more that I was a stranger. I had nothing definite to do, no plausible plans. I wandered wearily through the weeks utterly powerless to concentrate on anything, to interest myself in anything: I simply suffered. Things got worse and worse. My resources came to an end.

One of my old disciples, Leon Engars Kennedy, a portrait painter, had arrived from Europe. We renewed our friendship. Indeed he needed my {778} help badly enough. His moral tone, never high, had been almost destroyed by the war. The trouble with him was that he had never grown up; he was in receipt of an ample allowance from his family, but it was always gone before it arrived, and he dragged on from month to month borrowing a dollar here and a dollar there from everyone he met.

I remember a scene almost too humiliating to tell. The janitor of his studio was a crippled lad, with a large family — a half-starved creature with the pathetic eyes of a wounded fawn. It was horrible to hear Kennedy, the adopted son of a multi-millionare, pleading almost on his knees with eloquent appeals for pity, mingled with the cunning arguments of a confidence man, for a loan of two dollars. I am glad to think that I helped the boy both spiritually and practically. I badgered him into working regularly at his art, arranged an exhibition for him, interested a number of influential people in him, persuaded others to help him out, wrote him up in The International, and otherwise pulled him through. I failed, however, to keep him out of the clutches of a very beautiful red-headed Irish typist, hysterical from sexual suppression. She finally persuaded him to marry her, and I am afraid his last chance of a career is among the dusty documents in the files of the marriage bureau at City Hall. At least, I have heard no more of him since his return to Holland.

He, in his turn, showed me great kindness. When it came to the point where I could not pay for a bed, he let me sleep on the sofa in his studio. This was a garret in an old half-decayed house on Fifth Avenue, lacking even a water supply. But to me it was a paradise. Its poverty and discomfort were transformed into luxury by the thought of Kennedy's kindness. I slept here for quite a long time. My health picked up gradually and, as the result of a Magical Operation on May 27th, became suddenly perfect. I was thus able, on May 28th and 30th, to perform two important Magical Operations completed by a third a few days later, with the object of giving effect to my will to establish the Law of Thelema. The result was that I secured control of The International and became contributing editor (implying practically sole responsibility for the contents) in August.

This magazine was originally the organ of pure literature, the only one in the United States of any authority. Unfortunately, the editor — and to all intents and purposes the proprietor — was Mr George Sylvester Viereck. At the outbreak of the war, he transformed the character of The International, introduced pro-German propaganda and thus ruined its reputation. It was now on the black list in Canada and refused admission by the postal authorities of the colony. Its best friends had withdrawn their support; its circulation had dwindled almost to nothing, and it staggered on mechanically from month to month without heart or hope. In eight months I pulled it up so {779} successfully that it became saleable. It was bought by Professor Keasbey, who issued one number so dreary, unintelligible and futile that it died on the spot.

Keasbey had been professor of institutional history in the University of Austin, Texas. He was a charming and cultured man, but full of cranky notions about socialism, which he held with arrogant obstinacy. His literary style, on which he prided himself, as would have been ridiculous in Ruskin or Walter Pater, was turgid, convoluted, incoherent, over-loaded, redundant and beyond the wit of the most earnest and expert reader to comprehend. He was not far behind William Howell Williams, elsewhere mentioned, in his power to baffle inquiries. Frank Harris agreed on this point, no less than all the other people to whom I put it. He told me with amazement that he had been badgered into printing a half-page article of Keasbey's in “Pearson's”, of which he was then treasurer, able, therefore, to put pressure on the editor. This number came under the censure of Burleon. He had gone to Washington to justify himself. Burleon had shown him the copy which had been submitted to the censors. Keasbey's article was marked as objectionable by all three pencils. Harris exploded. “You can't understand it,” he raged. “I can't understand it. I don't believe there's any man alive who could make head or tail of a single sentence. How can it do any harm?”

Keasbey's social opinions had cost him his chair at Austin. He had read and admired some of my work, and sought me out in my cottage by Lake Pasquaney. We spent three delightful days without even stopping talking, bar odd snatches of sleep. In conversation, he was delightful, breezy and instructive. Our acquaintance had ripened into something like friendship. He behaved very strangely in this matter of The International. He professed the warmest friendship for me, spent sometime almost every day in my office chatting; we lunched and dined together quite often, but he never breathed one word of his intention to buy The International, and when the transaction became public, he went one better. He asked me to continue my contributions and even suggested that I should work jointly with him, yet all the time, his idea was to oust me altogether. He refused to print a single line from my pen, and that, although he was in despair about filling the number. He must too have known that the success of the paper was entirely due to my personality; he knew that I had written nearly everything myself, and that the only other important elements had been given to me by their authors purely as a token of their personal admiration and friendship for me. I suppose he was utterly blinded by his conceit, which he possessed to a degree to which I can recall no parallel. However that may be, the result was that the May number was a monument of incomprehensible, worthless and unreadable rubbish, and that he found himself in his brand new and portentous offices, monarch of all he surveyed, with his overlaid infant a corpse at his feet. The episode is excellently mirthful. {780}

I shall describe in its due place the course of my friendship with Maitland Ambrose Payne. One day he told me of a Singalese joint on 8th Avenue where they made real curry. I began to frequent it and thus met the lady who appears, in “The Urn”, as the “Dog-headed Hermes or Anubis”. She was a Pennsylvanian Dutch girl, the only member of her family not actually insane. We joined forces and took a furnished apartment in a corner house on Central Park West near its northern limit at 110th Street. From the bow window of the drawing-room trees only were to be seen. They rested and rejoiced my spirit. I could forget New York, although within half an hour from my office.

My salary was twenty dollars a week; two dollars more than that of my typist. Life had taught me to enjoy outrages of this kind. It gave me pleasure to contrast my own generosity with the meanness of the rich and to take pride in my ability to accept smilingly such insults and privations. During this autumn as fully detailed in another place, the passion to express myself through art was born in me. The months passed in a pageant of delight.

My liaison with the Dog came suddenly to an end. Exactly as in the case of my wife, the half-suppressed strain of madness in her blood came to the surface. She took to orgies of solitary drunkenness. This was nothing new; in fact, when I met her they were of almost daily occurrence. I succeeded in pulling her together for a time, but she relapsed. When I found this out, I told her the story of my wife and put my foot down. I gave her to understand that if it happened again I was through. She knew me for a man of my word an quit, but a few days later it was as bad as ever. I gave her one more chance, but of course in vain.

Early in October, I broke up the menage and transferred my headquarters to a studio in West 9th Street, which I shared with a friend of the Dog's, hereafter described as the Camel.

Her name was Roddie Minor, a married woman living apart from her husband, a near artist of German extraction. She was physically a magnificent animal, with a man's brain well stocked with general knowledge and a special comprehension of chemistry and pharmacy. She was at this time employed in the pathological laboratory of a famous doctor, but afterwards became managing chemist to a prominent firm of perfumery manufactures.

I have said that she had a man's brain, but despite every effort, there was still one dark corner in which her femininity had taken refuge and defied her to expel it. From time to time the garrison made a desperate sortie. At such moments her womanhood avenged itself savagely on her ambition. She was more frantically feminine than any avowed woman could possibly be. She was ruthlessly irrational. Such attacks were fortunately as short as they were severe, but unfortunately too often did irreparable damage.

In the upshot, this characteristic led to our separation. I treated her as an {781} equal in all respects, and for some months everything went as smoothly as if she had been really a man. But that beleaguered section of her brain sent out spies under cover of night, and whispered to the besiegers sinister suggestions, to shake their confidence in themselves. The idea was born and grew that she was essentially my inferior. She began to feel my personality as an obsession. She began to dread being dominated, though perfectly well aware that I wished nothing less, that her freedom was necessary to my enjoyment of my own. But she failed to rid herself of this hallucination, and when I decided to make a Great Magical Retirement on the Hudson, in a canoe, in the summer of 1918, we agreed to part. There was no quarrel. Our friendship and even our intimacy continued. My last night in New York before leaving for Europe was spent in here arms.

Such weekends as she could manage were passed in my camp on Oesopus Island. Her first visit was rather an adventure. She had brought up supplies of canned stuff from New York to Staatsburg, where I met her with the canoe. She had understood from my letter that the island was close to this town, and had foolishly failed to consult a map. She was tired with her week's work and the long journey; the train was late, night was falling, the wind was getting up, and the rain beginning to skirmish. The canoe was loaded down within an inch of the gunwale. The wind blew dead in our teeth. The river began to roughen and the rain to come down more steadily. Our progress was tediously slow and the journey not without peril. At one point the stream is bayed out so that for something like a mile one is right out of reach of land. The slightest accident would have been critical. We hardly dared paddle with our full strength. We took something like five hours to reach the island using our utmost effort. It was after eleven o'clock when we beached the canoe. By this time the poor girl was drenched to the skin, completely exhausted and almost starving. Her femininity took advantage of the weariness of the besieging army to sally forth from the main gate. She wanted to curse God and die, and, presumably to get into training, cursed me. I could not comfort her. She threw herself on my couch and collapsed. I covered her with rugs and watched by her side all night. Refreshed by sleep, she was herself again when the sun struck the rocky ridge which walled the lilied creek which my camp overlooked. The sky had cleared, the rain dried off the rocks. We brought the provisions across from the southern inlet and made breakfast. We patted our bellies, contemplated life and behold it was very good.


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