The Harlot

III

The Chapter known as
The Harlot

In which chapter it is related how she decked and betired her worn carrion, and how she standeth at the corners by the parting of the ways, beguiling those who are simple in mind and virtuous, and how she feasteth on their innocence and converteth all she eateth into dung.

In that masterpiece “Tannhäuser,” without any request whatsoever, and without any idiotic introduction, the song of an unknown minstrel breaks unheralded on the astonished ears of the Landgrave’s Court:

Tender the phrase, and faint the melody,
When poets praise a maiden’s purity;
Platitude linked to imbecility.1)

Murmurs of surprise arise, but it is not till he sings,

As ‘mongst spring’s sprigs sprouts sunshine’s constant face;
Or as a mill grinds on, with steady pace;
So sprouts, so grinds, the unblushing commonplace.2)

that the murmurs break into an indignant uproar. Insolent scoundrel, rude upstart, abusing our ears with your insults! Crucify him! boycott him! cut him!

The Landgrave’s society was shocked by that rude minstrel, and our society is no doubt shocked by the satire of Aleister Crowley. On our book-shelves his works stand literary pickled birches, to administer to our mental ultimatums a corrective dose. A good purgative is an excellent thing taken now and again, it keeps both the bowels free and the mind clear, and Mrs. Grundy is nothing if she be not constipated.

“Thou poisonous bitch,” says Crowley, when be addresses a Spenserian verse to Mrs. Sally G—d, “The gawk and dowdy with the long grey teeth,” who jumps to conclusion, instant, out of hand, that: “There is some nasty secret underneath.”3). If Mrs. G—d, or Mrs. Grundy, should happen to peruse this verse in “Why Jesus Wept,” she might not be overpleased. If she perused it at all, the violent Cascarian properties of this social drama would probably prove as efficacious as a No. 9 would to the hide-bound bowels of Mr. Atkins. Due invitation is also made, and the following should even entice her prudish cerebellum:

But stow your prudery, wives and mothers,
You know as much muck as – those others!
Your modest homes are dull; you need me!
Don’t let your husbands know; but – read me!4)

In this extraordinary volume, which seems to be the child of a promise made to Mr. Chesterton in “The Sword of Song,” we find a deeply cynical satire castigating with no little severity the menial servility of modern society, as scathing as a Beverland, as cynical as a Carlyle, and as satirical as a Butler.

Its great theme is the contest “of age and sense with flatulence and youth.” We have already shaken hands with Percy, Molly, and Lady Baird (Angela); we have still to be introduced to Lord Glenstrae. The first two form the flatulent element, the latter two the constipated substance of this drama. Angela, the female quantity; Glenstrae the male: both are outwardly highly moral; both are ready to lay their morality aside with skirt and shirt when opportunity should offer.

When Percy fell in love with Molly, we saw how Lady Angela enticed him from her by her maturer wisdom. Utterly false, the social hag of sixty totally eclipses the girl of sixteen; she backs her knowledge against the latter’s innocence, and wins in a canter. So much for morality.

A woman is only as old as she feels; and grey hairs do not count so long as they can be counted; such was the innocence of our early Victorian grandmothers. Nowadays a woman is as young in manner as she is old in years; and as for hair ask the coiffeurs. As cats grow cantankerous in old age, so do women, and Angela is a good example of one of the many vicious, crafty, and crabbed old vixens who monopolize society. When she hears Percy murmur words of love to Molly, she hisses:

Ah! if there were a devil to buy souls,
Or if I had not sold mine! Quick bargain, God!
Hell catch the jade! Blister her fat red cheeks!
Rot her snub nose! Poison devour her guts!
Wither her fresh clean face with old grey scabs,
And venomous ulcers gnaw the baby breasts!5)

Most charitable! But such is the Kingdom of Society.

“Angela” is a lovely name (so thinks inexperienced Percy), and correspondingly the owner must have a lovely nature; and when he has discovered what an abyss yawns between “girl” and “village girl” he throws himself into the arms of the lovely Angela and listens to her murmuring sighs as she stumbles:

Ay, love, it is to feel your strength support me! [Aside.
Will the doctors never catch up with the coiffeurs?6)

Percy, the now distraught lover of Angela, turns to his first moony love, and withdrawing his heart proffers her his purse: Buy yourself a pretty hat! Forget my pretty speeches!7)

The above needs no comment. Most men will understand it well enough; for there are a hundred thousand women in London who need no editor’s appendix or translator’s footnote.

Enter GLENSTRAE.
(To conceive him asketh not
Imagination’s waistcoat buttons undone!
Any old gentleman in any club in London.)8)

Meeting Molly he asks her for a glass of milk, and comforts her on hearing that she intends going into service, saying: “And so you shall, my dear, so you shall. Come and live with my wife as her companion, and we will try and find your lover for you. No doubt the arts of this – er – designing female will soon lose their power – there, there, no thanks, I beg! I never could bear to see a pretty wench cry – there, there!”9) We have now thoroughly grasped the quality of the male element, and the two together, the harlot and the lecher, produce the social code and seven-eighths of the social woes.

“Must I, must I? Oh, sir, have pity!” sobs the poor disillusionized Molly, as the male element who has enjoyed her, now shoves her aside “with the dishes and the wine,” a thousand a year, and a flat in Mayfair – quite a lucky girl!

Two years later a woman shouts out, “Won’t you come with me, ducky?” This is Molly; a morphia-maniac also appears – this is Percy. Glenstrae is now the President of the Children’s Special Service Mission – suffer the little children, etc. And Angela the head of a Zenana Mission. “Think of the poor heathen kept in such terrible seclusion!” The end is as farcical as Society herself. Angela is suffocated in sulphuric acid whilst washing off her enamel, and Glenstrae sawn into thirty-eight pieces whilst playing with little children, by stumbling against a circular saw.

“His Lordship was very fond of children, as you may know. It seems he was pursuing – it is, I am told, an innocent child’s game! – one of the factory hands; and – he stumbled.”10)

Molly is pronounced virgo intacta by twenty-three eminent physicians,11). and marries Percy who is of course quite reformed.12)

Farewell, you filthy-minded people!
I know a stable from a steeple.
Farewell, my decent-minded friends!
I know arc lights from candle ends.
Farewell! a poet begs your alms,
Will walk awhile among the palms.
An honest love, a loyal kiss,
Can show him better worlds than this;
Nor will he come again to yours
While he knows champak-stars from sewers.13)

Aleister Crowley’s estimate of society is certainly not a very high one, and more especially so when he takes into consideration the pudibonderie of the English. Society is but a gaping and toothed gin, as he well shows in “The Honourable Adulterers” where women, the frailer sex, are the unfortunate victims. Man made God, and God made woman out of one of man’s wretched little ribs. Regardless of manners, man sucks the wretched little bone as he would the leg of a chicken, tears off the flesh and casts it into the bin. The masses are but sheep, following the bell-wether convention; deprive them of their initial, and they become neither lambs nor tigers but merely asses. Ahinoam in “Jephthah” well described them when he addressed the assembled multitude as:

Ye are as children… I never hear your voice but know
Some geese are gabbling.14)

Or again, in “The Nameless Quest,”

God’s heart! the antics, as they toil and shove!
One grabs a coin, one life, another love.
All shriek.15)

Cora Vavasour made a pretty just estimate of society when she called its stulti “prurient licksores of society,” for that is exactly what they are; when poor, squalid; when rich, vulgar; the men fond of kitchen-maids, and the women painted and cosmeticized, not only to hide the ravages of debauchery, but to catch new lovers; the boys a breed of cads, and the girls a breed of prudes.

The following is Crowley’s estimate of the greatest nation on earth:

O England! England, mighty England falls!
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Her days of wealth and majesty are done:
Men trample her for mire!16)

and for her eldest daughter, America, he also has but scant praise,

Thou heart of coin beneath a brazen breast!
Rotten republic, prostitute of gain!17)

Wealth and luxury are her curse, as they are everywhere else:

The politician and the millionaire
Regain maternal dung.18)

Nevertheless in a patriotic poem entitled “An Appeal to the American Republic,” he strongly urges union between Great Britain and the United States.

That friendship and dominion shall be wrought
      Out of the womb of thought,
And all the bygone days be held as things of nought.19)
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Are we not weary of the fangéd pen?
      Are we not friends, and men?
Let us look frankly face to face – and quarrel then!20)

Strongly advocating fraternity between the two great nations, he vehemently deprecates “The hireling quillmen and the jingo crowd.”

In a poem called “A Valentine” in “Mysteries: Lyrical and Dramatic” – though a footnote winks, “nothing more; be it well remembered!” – we find embedded in a slight verse of four lines the nucleus of all true patriotism, greater than power, wealth, or dominion, and that is motherhood:

Fiercer desires may cast away
      All things most good;
A people may forget to-day
      Their motherhood.21)

This is the condition of the England of to-day: “O England! England, mighty England falls!” because she no longer knows how to bear Englishmen. Wealth cries for luxury, and luxury sniffs at the hem of lust, and lust rises o’er us a vampire kite to drink dry the blood of our veins.

The two great ideals of our country, as Geoffrey Mortimer rightly says, are the commercial, and the voluptuous.22) Every man striving against his brother, struggling and elbowing his way through the seething crowds of human life to satisfy his own personal lusts.

Gentility has become the lowest plane of mental degradation, and so as the monde sinks in this social earthquake does the demi-monde rise. Phryne trips lightly to-day down Piccadilly, bringing with her no little of the beauties of Praxiteles, and the craft of Apelles. We see her no longer the draggle-tailed prostitute of the more eminently Christian centuries, but as a Venus Anadyomene rising from the sea of human corruption. It was Phryne who uttered those memorable words over the ruins of Thebes: “Alexander diruit, sed meretrix Phryne refecit”; and it is now Alice and Rosie, who are uttering them over the ruins of the temple of Vesta. Thais cajoled Alexander into burning the royal palace of Persepolis, and after his death married Ptolemy, King of Egypt; and was it not at the feet of Lais that such men as Demosthenes and Diogenes were to be found? Was it not also Catullus who sang to the fickle Lesbia:

Give me kisses thousand fold,
      Add to them a hundred more;
Other thousands still be told,
      Other hundreds o’er and o’er.

And Propertius to the wayward Cynthia:

Cynthia’s unsnaring eyes my bondage tied:
      Ah wretch! no loves, till then, had touched my breast,
Love bent to earth these looks of steadfast pride,
      And on my neck his foot triumphant press’d.

So it is to-day. Conventionalism is passing along its way chaotic and disordered. Mutinus is worshipped at every street corner, and the goat of Mendes slavers over the revellers as they wend their way home with their Gitons and Messalinas.

“The decay of a people, as well as a family, begins with the preponderance of selfishness,”23) so says Max Nordau; and similarly Paul Carus writes, “We know of no decline of any nation on earth, unless it was preceded by an intellectual and moral rottenness, which took the shape of some negative creed or scepticism, teaching the maxim that man lives for the pleasure of living, and that the purpose of our life is merely to enjoy ourselves.”24) Even as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, Adrian Beverland in his Justinianœi de stolatae Virginitatis [sic] noticed this social collapse: “dum puellas nostrates adeo verecundiam suam perfricta fronte excutiant, ut a lupis, tremula clune extentoque collo saltantibus, vix discerni possint.”25) When the rich approach the poor, “altera manu fert panem, penem ostentat altera.” Such is another Pantagruelism of Beverland, crude yet to the point. “The girl who of her own accord presents herself to student, soldier or artist, is considered, by Jove! to give a headlong consent to debauchery.”26) So we see that whilst the upper classes are prostituting themselves for social position, rank, and riches, the lower are doing so for a few wretched coins; and the difference? One eats bread, and the other bread and butter. The “unco gude” thrive and heap execrations on the “unco bad.” In “Oracles,” Crowley states this with the straightforwardness of a Burns:

What fierce temptations might not lovers bring
      In London’s wicked city?
Perhaps you might yourself have one wee fling,
      If you were pretty.
What might not hard starvation drive you to,
      With Death so near and sure?
Perhaps it might drive even virtuous you,
      If you were poor.27)

And in “Orpheus” he well describes the social trinity:

Nay! virtue is the devil’s name for vice,
And all your righteousness is filthy rags
Wherein ye strut, and hide the one base thought.
To mask the truth, to worship, to forget;
These three are one.28)

The moral character of a nation is its true capital, and the two great laws of existence are – “The struggle for Life,” and “The struggle for the Ideal,” if then the ideal is low, the capital is also wanting, and moral bankruptcy is at hand.

It has been said,

Donna ociosa non può esser virtuossa.
(A woman of leisure cannot be virtuous.)

Which is very true, and neither can a nation. The present ages are peopled with fiends and fools, living outwardly in precadian innocence, but inwardly

in all the knowledge of the cities of the plains. The fiend crawls in the slimy dark, and the fool pulls the white sheets of credulity over his head, and like the gaby ostrich chuckles: “I can’t see them, they can’t see me” – he forgets his odour. Crowley has torn the veil of mock-modesty from off the face of Pseudo-morality, leaving her as bare and hideous to the gaze as the face of the prophet of Khorassan. He has seized the social harlot and hurled her from her throne; has forced open her jaws, and administered a sharp emetic, a mental purgative, a rouser! Let us hope it will clean her out, and do her good.


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1) , 2)
Tannhäuser, vol. i, p. 249.
3)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 24.
4)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 22. Cf. Martial, Epigrams, XI. 16:
Erubuit, posuitque meum Lucretia librum,
Sed coram Bruto; Brute, recede, leget.
5)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 30.
6)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 35.
7)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 38. – “My mind lay there as exhausted as my body! He covered my blushes by the offer of a tiny remuneration.” —Beverland, p. 405.
“If your heart were as big as your feet, you would have given me five francs instead of five sous.” —Frou-Frou.
8)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 38.
9)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 39. Vide, The Martyrs of Hell’s Highway.
10)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 48.
11)
Twenty-three Sanhedrin judges.
12)
The satire is against the belief that conversion can put the clock back.
13)
Why Jesus Wept, vol. iii, p. 50.
14)
Jephthah, vol. i, p. 81.
15)
The Temple of the Holy Ghost, vol. i, p. 189.
16)
Carmen Saeculare, vol. i, p. 215.
17) , 18)
Carmen Saeculare, vol. i, p. 217.
19)
An Appeal to the American Republic, vol. i, p. 137.
20)
Ibid, vol. i, p. 139.
21)
Mysteries: Lyrical and Dramatic, vol. i, p. 121.
22)
Blight of Respectability, p. 110.
23)
Conventional Lies. Max Nordau.
24)
Fundamental Problems, p. vii.
25)
Beverland, 238.
26)
Ibid. 414.
27)
Oracles, vol. ii, p. 5.
28)
Orpheus, vol. iii, p. 208.