The Miser

“GOD.” What a treasure-house of wealth lies buried in that word! what a mine of precious stones! — Ptah, Father of Beginnings, he who created the Sun and the Moon; Nu, blue, starry lady of Heaven, mistress and mother of the gods; Ea, Lord of the Deep; Istar — “O Thou who art set in the sky as a jewelled circlet of moonstone”; Brahma the golden, Vishnu the sombre, and Siva the crimson, lapped in seas of blood. Everywhere do we find Thee, O Thou one and awful Eidolon, who as Aormuzd once didst rule the sun-scorched plains of Euphrates, and as Odin the icy waves and the shrieking winds, round the frozen halls of the North.

Everywhere! — everywhere! And yet now Thou art again God, nameless to the elect — O Thou vast inscrutable Pleroma built in the Nothingness of our imagination! — and to the little ones, the children who play with the units of existence, but a myriad-named doll a cubit high, a little thing to play with — or else: an ancient, bearded Father, with hair as white as wool, and eyes like flames of fire; whose voice is as the sound of many waters, in whose right hand tremble the seven stars of Heaven, and out of whose mouth flashes forth a flaming sword of fire. There dost Thou sit counting the orbs of Space, and the souls of men: and we tremble before Thee, {170} worshipping, glorifying, supplicating, beseeching; lest perchance Thou cast us back into the furnace of destruction, and place us not among the gold and silver of Thy treasury.

True, Thou hast been the great Miser of the worlds, and the Balances of Thy treasure-house have weighed out Heaven and Hell. Thou hast amassed around Thee the spoil of the years, and the plunder of Time and of Space. All is Thine, and we own not even the breath of our nostrils, for it is but given us on the usury of our lives.

Still from the counting-house of Heaven Thou hast endowed us with a spirit of grandeur, an imagination of the vastness of Being. Thou hast taken us out of ourselves, and we have counted with Thee the starry hosts of night, and unbraided the tangled tresses of the comets in the fields of Space. We have walked with Thee at Mamre, and talked with Thee in Eden, and listened to Thy voice from out the midst of the whirlwind. And at times Thou hast been a Father unto us, a joy, strong as a mighty draught of ancient wine, and we have welcomed Thee!

But Thy servants — those self-seeking, priestly usurers — See! how they have blighted the hearts of men, and massed the treasure of Souls into the hands of the few, and piled up the coffers of the Church. How they racked from us the very emblems of joy, putting out our eyes with the hot irons of extortion, till every pound of human flesh was soaked as a thirsty sponge in a well of blood: and life became a hell, and men and women went singing, robed in the san-benito painted with flames and devils, to the stake; to seek in the fire the God of their forefathers — that stern Judge who with sworded hand was once wont to read out the names of the living from {171} the Book of Life, and exalt the humble on the golden throne of tyrants.

Yet in these ages of crucifix, of skull, and of candle; these ages of auto-da-fé and in pace; these ages when the tongue jabbered madness and the brain reeled in delirium, and the bones were split asunder, and the flesh was crushed to pulp, was there still in the darkness a glamour of truth, as a great and scarlet sunset seen through the memory of years. Life was a shroud of horror, yet it was life! Life! life in the awful hideous grandeur of gloom, until death severed the dull red thread with a crooked sword of cruel flame. And Love, a wild, mad ecstasy, broken-winged, fluttering before the eyeless sockets of Evil, as the souls of men were bought and sold and bartered for, till Heaven became a bauble of the rich, and Hell a debtor’s dungeon for the poor. Yet amongst those rotting bones in the oubliette, and in those purple palaces of papal lust, hovered that spirit of life, like a golden flame rolled in a cloud of smoke over the dark altar of decay.

Listen: “Have you got religion? … Are you saved? … Do you love Jesus?” … “Brother, God can save you. … Jesus is the sinner’s friend. … Rest your head on Jesus … dear, dear Jesus!” Curse till thunder shake the stars! curse till this blasphemy is cursed from the face of heaven! curse till the hissing name of Jesus, which writhes like a snake in a snare, is driven from the kingdom of faith! Once “Eloi, Eloi, Lamma Sabachthani” echoed through the gloom from the Cross of Agony; now Jerry McAuley, that man of God, ill-clothed in cheap Leeds shoddy, bobbing in a tin Bethel, bellows, “Do you love Jesus?” and talks of that mystic son of Him who set forth the sun and the moon, and {172} all the hosts of Heaven, as if he were first cousin to Mrs. Booth or to Aunt Sally herself.

Once man in the magic land of mystery sought the elixir and the balsam of life; now he seeks “spiritual milk for American babes, drawn from the breasts of both Testaments.” Once man, in his frenzy, drunken on the wine of Iacchus, would cry to the moon from the ruined summit of some temple of Zagraeus, “Evoe ho! Io Evoe!” But now instead, “Although I was quite full of drink, I knew that God’s work begun in me was not going to be wasted!”

Thus is the name of God belched forth in beer and bestial blasphemy. Who would not rather be a St. Besarion who spent forty days and nights in a thorn-bush, or a St. Francis picking lice from his sheepskin and praising God for the honour and glory of wearing such celestial pearls in his habit, than become a smug, well-oiled evangelical Christian genteel-man, walking to church to dear Jesus on a Sabbath morning, with Prayer-book, Bible, and umbrella, and a three-penny-bit in his glove? {173}

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Part I: Index | Preface | The Black Watch-Tower | The Miser | The Spendthrift | The Bankrupt | The Prude | The Child | The Wanton | The Slave | The Warrior | The King | The White Watch-Tower

The Temple of Solomon the King | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX


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