NOTEBOOKS HAVE THEIR USES
HERE AND HEREAFTER
HELLS AND HEAVENS
GOOD PLUS EVIL AND THE GERMANS
THE GATE KEEPERS
AGAIN THE GERMANS
THE FALSE MASK
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
WHERE YEATS GOT HIS CONCEPT OF THE TWO MASKS
POSTSCRIPT TO THE FOREGOING THESIS ON ATLANTIS
A PROSAIC BUSINESS
CREATION’S DEBT TO DESTRUCTION
NECESSITY VERSUS CHANCE AND ACCIDENT
ART’S PRIME ESSENTIAL
TWO TIME FACTORS IN ONE
AND ENERGY WAS RESTORED
THE AMERICAN NOVEL
HALF A CENTURY OF THE NOVEL
PORNOGRAPHY VERSUS BAWDY
POST-MORTEM ON POST-IMPRESSIONISM
AND WHAT NOW?
When I began this book, I had no intention of publishing it. The urge to scribble was no more than a device for using up useless time. But I found, as I went on writing, that my thoughts insisted on coalescing into two definite themes. Those are (a) that the conflict principle between energy and inertia is that which holds Man and Matter in an equilibrium which only universal cataclysm can throw off balance, and that (b) there is a guided principle behind the slow progressive action of creative art which has enlarged human consciousness from that of primitive man to his status as a civilised being. And that consciousness, so developed, is the imperative compulsion for the existence of human life on this earth.
But I found, also, that in arriving at these conclusions, I had been forced to assume the intrusion of certain ultramundane powers in active operation on our affairs here, and assumptions of that sort are apt to bring down on themselves the stigmata of occultism, and it was funk at having that bludgeon applied to my cranium that was behind my reluctance to publish this book.
But as I have never made any concessions to popular opinion over my pictorial works, I have decided to abide by that rule in my writings, and to publish this book.
NOTEBOOKS HAVE THEIR USES
Having just come across this virgin notebook among a muddle of MSS. where I toss such things, it invites me to indulge an uninspired urge to scribble.
For the last few years, the urge to entertain myself by writing novels and short stories has dried up. Yet that same urge to seek self-expression in words still nags at me, and the only release I have for it is in writing letters to the very few friends whose letters to me I value highly. I count them the one genuine pleasure remaining to me at this final stage of existence. I am 84 years old, and can’t expect to be kept hanging about much longer on this earth’s crust. Nor do I desire any further extension of useless time. My major resource for using it up has always been the production of those art wares by which I have made a living, and thereby exercised whatever may be of a special faculty for their creation. It has been a driven business; a satanic obsession, under the most damnable of all imperatives; that of seeking an unattainable objective, essentially unattainable. If it could be attained, we would reach satiation point with the desire for further effort, with the desire for life itself.
And this I conceive to be the imperative under which all consciousness exists, both on this earth, and on all the infinite stages of existence elsewhere in space.
First Causes! That is the carrot dangled eternally beyond the reach of both asses and human beings.
All muddled thinking begins with them. The creation of something out of nothing has maddened whatever powers of ratiocination mankind has exercised, be it those of the primitive savage or those of the product of what we call civilisation.
For myself, I consider that the enigma of life itself never will be explained. Never can be explained. No matter to what lofty heights of speculation the power of ratiocination may attain in its progress through higher and more exalted conditions of space, it will still be questioning that elusive enigma. At the same time, it will doubtless have plenty of other fascinating subjects of speculation in the conditions under which it exists to keep it interested and active on precisely the same terms as we on this earth are kept busy and interested.
For no doubt this earth is a microcosm of all other conditions in space on which human consciousness exists. In fact, we have on it all stages of that consciousness from the most primitive savage to its highest development in the creative powers of a Shakespeare, a Beethoven, or a Rubens—those who have carried self-expression in the Word, the Sound and the Form to a supreme standard of achievement. For with those three mediums of expression developed out of the meagre allowance of our five senses, the human mind has been built.
There is certainly no enigma about a reason for the existence of this earth. It is a preparatory school for the development of all special faculties. There are many of those, and they cover all human activities in the creation of a civilisation. We have under our eyes an exact documentation of the procedure which developed this present episode of civilisation, from its dawn with Homer and the later Greeks, and which passed from them to the Romans, down to this present moment.
No matter with what madhouse the conflict by war among the peoples of this earth may have disrupted the continuity of civilisation, its principles, devised by those two peoples, have lever ceased to function.
Wherever there is high thinking, high creativeness in the Arts, the Greek is still in action. Whenever there is good government, and constructiveness in the creation of civilised conditions of existence, the Roman still dominates. Geographic localities no longer have any significance in these relations. Minds generated by the two great initial episodes of civilisation have penetrated all the Western nations of this earth, for there is a division between them and the Eastern peoples which is as absolute as a wall of brass. India is not included in that division between East and West, for the high-class Indian races derive from the same source as that of the Greeks and Romans. The three great genetic languages, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, are evidence of that, but here I am not going into the problem of those migrations from the North which carried with them such perfectly constructed languages that only a high civilisation could have created them. There is plenty of evidence that such a civilisation perished by cataclysm about fifteen thousand years ago. The Chinese, and other Oriental peoples racially related to them, were never reached by the sources of Western civilisation.
They devised their own sources and, such as they were, they were sufficient for the peculiar psychology of the Oriental mind. Only quite recently, during my own lifetime, the Western principles of a civilisation have reached the Chinese and Japanese. Whether they are going to have any effect on the Oriental mentality remains to be seen.
There are many special faculties secreted in Man’s mental processes, but those who exercise them are very few. About two per cent of the whole population of our earth, I assume. The mass of that population is static, intent only on securing the means of existence. It is still palaeolithic man, who must wait for countless centuries the arrival of neolithic man; the metal-worker, weaver, potter and maker of artifacts, agriculturist, pastoralist, shipbuilder, navigator, and finally thinker, lawgiver, city builder, and creative expressionist in the Word, the Form and the Sound.
Civilisations are created by a very small, central core of the creators, and those alone have powers of movement in time and space. The great mass of mankind exists on a pendulum swing from life to death and back to life again. Doubtless it is the same mass. The principle of fecundity which has produced it is not going to the needless exertion of creating a fresh mass with every generation of the world’s population. That population increases or decreases in relation to the supply of food available for it. If it overtakes the food supply, then such devices as war, epidemics or cataclysm are resorted to in order to get rid of its surplus of bellies. We appear to be facing some such crisis in this present age, judging by the way sanitary measures and prophylactics in the prevention of disease have quadruplicated the birth-rate in the last fifty years. Nature, however, is apt to ignore these evidences of human ingenuity when any stress is put on its economics.
My idle meditations here are not concerned with nature’s dramatisations of the struggle for existence, but with what may be observed from this vantage point in space—of mankind’s evolution from the primitive savage to the status of a civilised being. His own efforts to try to account for his arrival at that status have remained at a conflict of opinion on two presumptions—Predestination or Freewill.
The ferocity with which these presumptions, or assumptions (I’ve never been able to discover what variation of meaning there may be between these two terms), have been contested has been based on the fatuity of insisting that one irrevocable law must govern the psychological compulsions of all mankind. Those compulsions are as variable as there are variations of type, class, personality and mentality in the human species, and each moves and has its being under the terms imposed on it by those variations.
For palaeolithic man, predestination is the only law under which he can exist. It is governed by the simple needs of his existence, which are food, protection from the weather, and the procreation of his species, and these he can satisfy equally by chewing raw meat in a cave, or eating it cooked in a present-day custom-built house. The act of procreation is common to all classes of mankind, low, medium or high.
It is the possession of a special faculty of mind which enforces on higher man a self-elected destiny. The individual who possesses such a faculty will choose the time of his arrival on earth which will give him the best conditions for exercising it. He will even select his parents for the same reason, and because they or their progenitors have already experimented with his special faculty. The tracing of genealogies will evidence its reappearance in members of the same family, past or present. We say that he, the present exponent of it, throws back to this or that past progenitor. Maybe he is that past progenitor returning for a fresh exercise in the faculty; though, in most cases where the creative faculty is a highly developed one, the faculty may be carried from one generation to another by all sorts of devious changes in ancestry, till the original exponent of it can no longer be traced. In any case he has no need for a fresh exercise of it on earth. He has gone elsewhere, to fresh developments of his whole mental equipment, having left behind him the essential mental and physical equipment of hand and eye and auditory nerves, and a trained sensory perceptivity of the conditions which surround him for a fresh achievement in creative effort.
And here alone the word Progress can have a meaning. Both Homer and Shakespeare are of the same high standard of that creative achievement. Its theme is Man, and the direction of his soul, to use Da Vinci’s authoritative definition of the function of art. But Homer had to select his subject matter from a less complex state of social and intellectual conditions than that from which Shakespeare derived his material. Homer’s forerunners were the folk balladists and mythologists who prepared the way for all fresh expressions in the arts. He took war and love for his central theme, and dramatised it by drawing together all the salient types of human identity.
From Homer, the great Greek dramatists derived their subject matter, adding to it subtleties of psychological revelation in human behaviour which Homer had already sensitised man to be aware of.
These, slowly permeating the higher consciousness of mankind, through all those nationalities which have been given the impetus of civilisation from the Greeks and Romans, with the mixture of races by war and conflict, not only created a vast mass of new material for Shakespeare’s use, but built up for him a language which gave him the richest vocabulary ever awarded to poetry, and which allowed him to elaborate the subtleties of revelation in human behaviour at the point where Homer and the Greek dramatists had left them.
Browning is the next great poet to pick up those subtleties from Shakespeare and add to them much that the later behaviour of mankind had exposed. But it was Browning’s misfortune that he arrived in a mean age, which had clamped down on all freedom of expression in the arts, and therefore made the wars of this present century an inevitability.
For if art does not release the emotional expressions of mankind, by forcing it to realise and understand the compulsions which beget them, they are driven inward till they reach combustion-point, and that must mean the violence of social cataclysm by war and revolution.
For all the crippling effect of his age in free expression, Browning did cover the full gamut of human passion for good or evil in his poetry, and with that passed on to the present age a fresh poetic idiom, that of words used in the order in which they are spoken.
And our poets in this country—those who have written major poetry—have picked up where Browning left off, and have added to that material derived from the terrific brutality and violence of this past half century of war and revolution. Time will vindicate the quality of the poetry written here in the terms by which I don’t hesitate to acclaim it, which is that it comes in succession to the great tradition established by Homer. And that is Progress.
HERE AND HEREAFTER
But I prefer to amuse myself with these scribblings, which assist to keep boredom at bay, at least while scribbling. And one of the speculations which often entertains me is that which deals with our departure for unknown spaces elsewhere. I assume, if anybody ever reads them, that the reader will be one who has disposed of any quavering doubts about our survival after the undertaker has done his little job on our used up carcase. My conviction on this score is absolute, and has nothing to do with evidential phenomena as claimed by the Spook Mongers. That can never be established. For that matter, it must not be established, if it could be—it would demoralise concentration on existence here, and that is the whole reason for which we are here. No, my conviction is based on the simple premise that the universe could not exist unless we were aware of its existence. If any goon of a scientist prefers to conceive it as a sentient mass of atomic matter whirling on endlessly in space by some automatic momentum begotten by itself, he is welcome to obfuscate his mental processes by such an imbecility. What its mechanics may be does not interest me. That it does exist because I am aware of it is sufficient for me. And such microcosms as this earth—and there must be many of them—exist for the prime purpose of generating consciousness of all existing phenomena including ourselves. And what quality of consciousness we thereby generate becomes the momentum of a fresh adventure in consciousness elsewhere.
That destination is already generated in ourselves. We go to what we are. We have recklessly indulged in an act of self-creation and now must face the consequences. I can’t say I find the prospect alluring. I go all the way with that son of Darwin’s who, when expostulated with by a friend for not desiring immortality, said “Well, I don’t like being myself much as I am, and I can’t bear the idea of going on being myself for ever.”
By what special faculty I possess, I am an artist. I have worked like hell all my life to develop that faculty. I have tried my hand at all the mediums; pen and ink, etching, water colours, oils, lithography, and even wood engravings. I have done the work of two life-times in one, and that by economising time. In the normal divisions of time in a working life, a third is passed in sleep, a third in making a living, and a third in resting, idling or seeking entertainment.
I cut out that last third, and tacked it on to my working third, and observed a rigid rule of never allowing any intrusion on my studio, save that of the model. When the episode of youth was over, and I had garnered all the experience I needed in mixing at large with all sorts and conditions of human beings, men and women (and as a working journalist, that covered all classes), I settled down to work in my early thirties, and with only one bad break in my fifties, when inspiration dried up in me because I had worked it to death (and I recaptured it only after an interval of some four or five years), I have continued to work on the same principle of excluding all intrusion on my working hours. I still work, but that is rather one of the desperation devices for killing time.
The truth is, I have reached satiation point with my chosen métier. Who could say he liked a métier which enforced an intense physical and mental concentration on hand and eye for hours at a time. There were times when etching—or the sort of etchings I did, demanding a meticulous technique—inflicted on me the blackest depression. Whenever I pulled a first proof, I could only spit venom at it. I had been working for days on that plate, in and out of the acid, without knowing what was really happening to it till the proof was pulled. And that was never what I had hoped it to be. Water colour is the kindest of all mediums, because, while the wash runs, one can see what is happening to it. One can’t dawdle over a water colour, if one mixes the variations of colour on the paper while it is still wet. If the first wash does not come right, one throws it aside, and no harm is done. With oils—a “pissy medium” as Delacroix called it—covering a canvas is a slow process, and, if it is a large one, there are months of work on it sometimes. I hate the damned medium and for that reason I have been constantly driven to exploit it.
With all this in mind, therefore, I do not look forward to beginning again at the point where I leave off here. For it is one of my convictions that all the special faculties which are developed on this earth are needed elsewhere. And if the same sort of driven compulsion to do the sort of work one has elected to do here operates over there, I suppose I’m in for another life sentence to start all over again with the same old business.
Still, I have one possible alternative up my sleeve. I like writing. I’ve written some fairly competent novels, and at least two little works which have become classics in my own lifetime. At least, in this country. The one is a story for kids called The Magic Pudding, and the other a story about kids called Saturdee. And I like the company of writers, while I can’t stand that of artists. They have blocked-in minds. What thinking faculties they have never go beyond the present-moment “movement” in painting, and what technicalities that may be garnered from it of use to their own work. Otherwise, they are desperately concerned with the selling of their art wares, and suffer the torments of jealousy for those whose works sell well. The whole world of ideas is a blank to them. I never knew one artist who was a reader. Courbet voiced their attitude to literature by saying that he hated the sight of a book, while he denounced anyone who listened to music as a feckless dilettante. In the whole range of the art world, there are only three artists who left behind them evidence of having highly cultivated minds, and those are Da Vinci, Rubens, and Delacroix. Pirkheimer, Dürer’s friend, credits him with having been able to meet the best scholars and thinkers of his time on equal terms, but he left no evidence of that behind him in his writings.
It is a self-evident commonplace to say that, unless a man has covered all that is greatest in the world of literature, he has not got a truly civilised mind. I will concede to the wretched artist that he, of all exponents of the other arts, has been given the most severe ordeal in mastering his medium, which is a training of the hand and eye to act in unison. No matter what high faculty an artist may arrive with, he must sweat over its technical expression for years before he can claim to have mastered it. Once a poet has acquired a vocabulary, which is an automatic procedure in merely growing up, he can write poetry of quality in his teens. A composer of music has merely to master the simple rules of counterpoint and he can start off writing competent music in his youth. But a painter must put in at least ten years’ hard study before he can master his brush or his pencil. I chose pen and ink in my youth as my special medium, and it took me twenty years to have full control of the pen. One begins that exercise by resting the hand on the paper, which gives one a radius of about three inches in which to swing a stroke. Gradually one learns to lift the hand and work from the elbow, which gives one an area of about a foot to play about with. With me, finally, I could work at arm’s length, muscles of the fingers, wrist and arm all working in unison. And, be it noted, to maintain that dexterity I had to practise as assiduously as a pianist to keep a limber control over my hand and arm. For that reason, I kept on turning out pen drawings for The Bulletin long after I had no need for the money earned by them, which was a trifle to the income my art wares returned me. At this date, when I have long given over pen and ink work, I could not turn out even a tolerable drawing in that medium. And that returns me to the intolerable notion of starting off for another exercise in the control of that most exacting and difficult of all art tools of trade, the pen. I won’t do any such thing—that’s that.
Of course, I know very well why that special faculty is being trained in the art world here, and that is to develop the constructive sense of form. Whatever civilisations this earth has seen have been based on that same constructive faculty, and I assume that civilisations elsewhere will need it also. They don’t want the job of training a lot of bungling beginners in the practice of constructive form. They! And who are They? I prefer Yeats’ label for them, “The Gate Keepers” who are the daemonic controllers of all high creative efforts. Opposing them, he has their destructive complement of “The Frustrators.” Of those I will have to say more later. For they define the two compensating principles we have to struggle with on this earth, and both, it is obvious, continue the same conflict elsewhere.
HELLS AND HEAVENS
And that brings these idle maunderings to the contemplation of the people’s pantomime Hells and Heavens. Those fanatic loons, the Hebrew prophets, perpetrated the most satanic of all jokes on the inhabitants of this earth with their anthropomorphic Jew God sitting in judgment on them and apportioning each to whatever Hell or Heaven he has devised for their accommodation.
It is so damned funny—so supremely inane that it would exhaust the exercise of sense of humour but for one significance involved in it, and that is the construction of the human body.
It was devised with, or had devised for itself, an extreme sensitivity to physical pain. We realise the law of necessity which is responsible for that device. Man could never have become a civilised creature without it. To the physiologist, of course, it is a protective mechanism, warning man against taking risks with his tender epidermis. It can kill itself with the greatest ease, but in reality it is not the body, but the mind, which is sensitive to pain. Hypnotise the mind, and you can cut the body’s leg off without the mind being aware of it. But the mind, on leaving the body, does not carry its wretched mechanism with it. It acquires another body, drawn from the elements and substances of the area in space it now inhabits, just as it clothes itself in the elements and substances of this earth on arriving in it. Doubtless it leaves the body en a tangible substance of some sort, probably extracted from the glandular secretions. That, under certain conditions, this substance may attain a degree of visibility accounts for the spooks and phantasms, which are definitely a physical phenomenon, and not an hallucination of the onlooker’s senses.
There is only one event in this separation of mind and body in which the body can exact a terrible nemesis in the mind, and that is the act of suicide. For suicide is the only act of will which brings two degrees of time, the present and the future, into an instant and violent conflict. A resolution of the will is projected into the future. However short the time-space may be between that projection and the act which accomplishes, it compacts both living and dying into one instant crisis, which is to try to accomplish the impossible feat of taking a step forward and a step backward simultaneously. Thus the suicider remains suspended in the act of suicide.
Man has always been aware intuitively, or by some inherited knowledge secreted in his subconscious, that suicide is no escape from the ills and evils of existence on earth. If escape were as easy as that, there would be no moral problem in the endurance test of facing them. There is no divine law of retribution involved in Man’s eternal vacillations between good and evil, as human law adjudicates on such extremes in human behaviour. Man himself is the only adjudicator, for he carries his own little hells and heavens with him wherever he goes in time and space. He goes to what he is.
And that makes a supreme joke of all the threats of hellfire by which priestcraft tries to scare the human herd into subjection to its religious doctrines and codes of behaviour by suspending it on a finality between eternal damnation or eternal bliss. I have no quarrel with priestcraft on that score, for the herd must be given some sort of solvent to its terror of the unknown by handing it over to the authority of its priest, who thereby relieves it of any further responsibility for thinking about the damned business. But where priestcraft seeks to intrude on my earth, which is one of self-expression in the arts, and impose on them its own interdictions and anathemas, then I am at war with it. As all who seek self-creation have been.
Otherwise I get a good deal of entertainment out of speculating on what sort of a shock the priestly mentality is going to get when it arrives over the border of that space immediately in conjunction with this earth, and finds that all those fulminations of hellfire and eternal bliss are a phantasm of its own begetting. Possibly, they may still present themselves to the priest and his flock as a phantasm in being and, as one, so far a reality to his perception of them. There is no limit to the human capacity for self-hypnotism.
But disillusion, or illusion, or an acceptance of reality as it appears to us, are processes that all must experience on an adventure into the unknown. I can conceive the space in immediate relation to this earth, a sort of outer circle to it, to be a sorting-out place for all the variations in human mentality—and there must be as many variations in space as there are in those of the human ego, and the sorting-out place must be a purely mental experience, permeated by matter which is responsive to mental vibrations, so that all sorts of illusions are possible in it. Some such tenuous matter, invisible to us, must also penetrate matter here, else there is no other explanation for the phenomenon of hypnotic vision, which is a mental image projected outwards, with a definite locality in space.
In these speculations, I have adduced nothing that is not fundamentally a condition already existing on earth. And many experiences awaiting our departure from it are already forecast here as an inevitability. And not at all a pleasing one to contemplate—such as that ordeal which enforces itself on us in the dead, dark silence of the night, when sleep evades us, and all the petty, silly, mean, malicious and ignominious things we have said and done gibber at us and refuse to be exorcised. We know already that we secrete in our brain cells a perfected sequence in memory of the whole course of our lives from birth to death. In action here, we use only a very small portion of it; that portion we need as the stored material for work, and for dealing with its repetition by experience in the action of affairs. But the damned thing is there, waiting to unroll its record with a ruthless clarity from which there is no escape.
Oh, yes, I daresay there are also some very pleasing experiences waiting for us, such as we have already experienced on earth. The best of those was, and is, the meeting of minds congenial to our own. Possibly a reunion with some that we have already met here, but I’m damned if I can think of many people I’ve known here that I would care to meet again. Communion with even the best minds I have known has its limits of desirability, because we very soon exhaust subject matter in the exchange of opinion and ideas, and need an interval before we have garnered a fresh supply of talkable material. This is the case in maturity, anyway. I’m always glad to meet one of the few friends I greatly esteem, but I’m also glad to see them go. From my early youth, I’ve always bound isolation, when it can be obtained, the most pleasing state of existence. Pleasing is not the right word. Tolerable is, perhaps, the right one. But even in isolation I have now, and till have, my worst bouts of the intolerable, for there is no escape from the evils of thinking when one is alone. I do not wonder that man in the mass seeks to submerge himself in the mass, for thereby he escapes the curse of being alone with himself, and those are times when I am fit for no company, especially my own. I say hurriedly here that never in my life have I shown that black side of myself to others. Self-esteem demands that one puts on an act of impersonating oneself in the character of a cheerful fellow. I hold it to be an unpardonable action to inflict states of depression on others.
There is only one association in which that is permissible, and that is with one’s wife, because, in any case, she knows one too well to be duped by any act of false impersonation one may put on. That is the case with myself and my wife, Rose. And I will add that she is just as free from false impersonations of herself as I am, when we are together. We have ways slanged each other viciously as a release from the tension of nerves, and that is the very good thing that marriage lows us to do. Behind it all, she respects my work, and I respect her integrity of mind and her amazing capacity to handle all the affairs it has involved, a thing I am incapable of doing. There never has been any sentimentality involved in our relations, barring the initial period of lyricism in youth. In that damnable period of middle age when emotional and mental sterilisation sets in, and one must either resign oneself to a moribund existence or else smash it and make a desperate effort to start again, our marriage did smash up for a period, and we parted, to go separate ways till I found my way back to work again, with a fresh inspiration to its attack, and Rose returned to join up with me and take charge of its action, as she had done in the past.
In that event, one sees a man and a woman responding to the universal law under which mankind exists, and that is the one of Smash and Build. When any sterilisation of effort sets in among the peoples of this earth, and there is a universal discontent with the conditions of existence, an excuse is found to bring those to a crisis of action, which means war and revolution; and, with the powers of destruction war has today, the smash-up is pretty devastating. But when all the uproar is over, the peoples begin building up again with fresh optimism and energy, assuring themselves that this is the last time they’ll ever be fools enough to start another smashing procedure. But of course, they will.
No, I’m not going to start prophesying here. It will be sufficient if the world is given an interlude of peace to allow creative energy in the arts to manifest itself.
I note that in the foregoing I slipped into the autobiographical, but that concerns me only where my experience of a long life here may indicate premonitions of another experience elsewhere.
And one thing I cannot conceive there is a state of bliss. The human ego is not constituted to endure prolonged bliss without becoming bored to hell with it. To be bliss it must have its compensating principle of some disruptive element in conflict with it. I dare say it is possible that in a much more highly cultivated state of existence we may develop a much more sensitive sensory equipment, which will include our sense of sexual pleasure also. On earth, the pistol-flash of the orgasm is not much to make a fuss about, but if that were too prolonged we would very soon arrive at satiation point with it. And that refers to all our responses to physical and mental phenomena. The most potent of our sensory equipment are the auditory nerves, but those can only respond for a brief period to even the highest creations in music, Beethoven’s symphonies and Wagner’s operas. Three hours is the limit of my ability to sustain a full appreciation of their tonic and melodic harmonics. With poetry, that also is about the time-limit of our intellectual responses. As for pictorial art, that uses them up very swiftly. Prose is the one art which does not put much stress on a sustained interest. Today, when age has greatly debilitated my emotional responses to both life and art, prose is the one art, if it is good prose, which does not put any stress on those responses. Quite otherwise: it sustains and refreshes them. But I am not on oath any longer about the higher values in any of the arts. All I demand is entertainment value, and I get that best from literature. And not always the best literature. I can claim to have read all that is best in the world’s literature, from the Greeks down to the present day. Not much of a claim, after all, for the best makes up a very small proportion of the vast mass of the written and preserved word. And ephemeral as that mass must be, it does produce a good deal of entertaining matter. And that suffices as the most satisfactory means of getting through useless time.
GOOD PLUS EVIL AND THE GERMANS
And, still striving to conceive what may be the compensating principles between the desirable and the damnable in other conditions of space from the view point of this earth, there are those which come under the headings of Good and Evil.
Given as understood that Good can’t exist as a thing in itself, for if it tried to do that it must arrive at inertia, it must have Evil as the conflict content to energise it. It is interesting, then, to apply that essential conflict between energy and inertia as practised on this earth, and I take as a firsthand evidence of that conflict the phenomenon of the man Hitler.
I have had under inspection half a century of one of the most disrupted periods this earth has ever had inflicted on it, and the core of that disruption has been the German people.
That people unquestionably becomes at intervals surcharged with a universal blood lust; a need to go forth and kill. From the dawn of history, they have manifested that imperative urge to see blood flow—their own, as well as that of others. Once that urge is satiated, they become a seemingly peaceable people, friendly, industrious and hospitable, but only subjective to one sort of government among themselves, and that is a species of serfdom under the leadership of an Imperator who selects his governing class from the military caste, which makes a complete obeisance to his arbitrary rule, and which constitutes its own power over the people at large.
In short, the earliest and most primitive system of government—necessary under primitive conditions, but impossible when surrounded by the more civilised nations, who have constituted the only practical system of government tolerable to all classes, which is to elect their own parliaments, and those elect their own Prime Ministers. While there were still Royalties functioning as national figureheads, but without powers of interference with their governments, it was still possible for the nations to get along with Germany by the influence of marriage among all the European Royal families, but with the 1914 war all that went by the board. Most of the nations deposed their Royalties by revolutions; the Russians murdered theirs, and those of Germany (including that ass of an Emperor who had caused all the uproar) were ostracised and went into hiding.
All the nations involved in that war, except Russia, restored the normal conditions of government, but Germany was left with an army of occupation and no resources whatever for self-government. The Germans could only think of government under an Imperator, and they hadn’t got one.
We know why the Germans remained the most politically backward of the nations. The Romans had never been there. When the Romans decided on the limitations of their Empire, they left Germany out of it. They had enough trouble on their lands keeping order in those nations in which they had instituted their own sound system of government, and refused to take over that vast horde of semi-barbarians, the Germanic peoples, leaving that as an Imperial legacy for this present century to grapple with.
THE GATE KEEPERS
And here I must return to Yeats’ Gate Keepers, for what part it seems feasible to assume that they take in this world’s affairs.
By Yeats’ account, the Gate Keepers are an organisation of adepts who function as guides, inspirers and protectors of all those gifted with the higher creative faculties in the arts. There is no assumption of anything divine or omniscient in their constitution. They are the product of great past civilisations which have flourished and perished in the timelessness of this earth’s periodic pendulum swing between continental security and cataclysmic chaos, the evidence of which is written on its strata; its mountains which have been sea-bottoms, and which have been heaved up again to become mountains, while all life generated has returned to its initial protoplasm and germinations, there to await another slow progression from the reptile to the human body again. That done, Mind from other spaces returns to inhabit the body, developing it from that of a mindless animal to that of a civilised being.
We know all about that procedure. Industrious investigation by trained observers of all natural phenomena has documented the whole evolutionary process, while geologists and astronomers have given up the desperate proposal to estimate time-factors and light years and have flatly accepted the term Eternity to cover both.
I think all that sort of thing is interesting but not very important. If it helps to enlarge the perceptive faculties, so much the better, but our main business on this earth is to enlarge the human ego in all that pertains to self-creation, and that is the function of creative art, which also includes the thinking processes.
The Gate Keepers have nothing to do with Man in the mass and the turmoil of conflict under which he exists. Their only concern with that is to select periods which will dramatise the best spectacle of life as material for creative effort, for that material, provided by Man, will be returned to him in terms which will clarify his understanding of his own motives and actions, and that is the procedure by which a civilisation is created.
There is only one other faculty in which the Gate Keepers are concerned, and that is Perception.
Perception is the other half of creation. Neither could exist without the other.
There is nothing very esoteric about the function of the Gate Keepers. It is only a more subtle and rarefied procedure which is also practised in the same terms on earth. We know that, whenever a new expression in Creative Word, Form or Sound has appeared, there has always been a small minority of perceptive minds to recognise and acclaim its quality. I have seen this happen in several notable instances, and have marvelled at the instant and assured valuation of a novel, a poem, or a picture, or a piece of music, by that small group of perceptive minds, which may take years, in some instances, before it is an established precedent in the world of aesthetics.
That influence by the Gate Keepers is limited in its action to what effect chance and accident have on it, and to what extent free will in their own people may respond to or reject it.
For the equipment of the creative faculty is defined by Yeats under these headings: The Body of Fate, The Creative Mind, The True Mask and The False Mask.
The Body of Fate is predetermined by the psychological and emotional contents of the Creative Mind. It will react inevitably to the conditions of existence by the constitution of its being, mental and physical. Its physical constitution is a fixed quality, already stamped on the palms of its hands. Its mental reaction to the conditions under which it must do its work will be defined by the integrity with which it seeks self-expression, in whatever art it has elected for the exercise of the special faculty. It will have made that compact of integrity with itself before it ever arrives on this earth. Therefore conscience must be deeply involved in the terms under which it fulfils that compact.
These are the conditions of its fulfilment. He who possesses this creative faculty must lead a full life, else he will not have the materials for self-expression. He must, in youth, charge the adventure of existence with a disregard for the poltroonery of that slogan of “Safety First.” He must experience at first hand all that is desirable and damnable in it. He must know love and hate, desire and disgust, all that is petty as well as all that may be dignified. He must, in short, be Man in order to understand man, and the gamut of passions and aspirations which drive him into action.
He must refuse to make any concessions to what may be popular morality or popular aesthetics, or to any of the taboos and interdictions against free expression in his art which Man in the mass may seek to impose on it. And Man in the mass has always sought to impose these on the integrity of free expression in the individual mind, and has not hesitated to use his powers, secular and religious, to incriminate and suppress it. If the individual mind retains its integrity, it will be wearing what Yeats calls its True Mask, and that will ensure the protection of the Gate Keepers as far as that may function in the crude struggle for existence in a man-made earth. All through the whole proceeding, the Creative Mind must never cease to struggle with the technical difficulties imposed in its métier. That must be a life-long obsession, incessantly exercised, incessantly seeking that impossible objective, Perfection. And for what little exultation achievement in a métier may award it, it must plumb an abyss of the blackest depression.
In that queer book of his, A Vision, Yeats uses the twenty-eight Phases of the Moon to define the phases of mind which the creative faculty must go through if it is wearing its True Mask, and those cover the whole experience of human life in all that is desirable and damnable in it.
But if the endurance test becomes too much for it to face, then it resorts to the False Mask as an escape from further stress.
Under the False Mask, it is no longer on oath to the integrity of self-expression. It no longer defies the forces of a man-made earth to make it submit to their cults, taboos and ordinances. It makes all concessions demanded of it by popular morality and popular social ethics. It may even go over to what may be the popular movement in its art. And at last it is reprieved from the eternal struggle with its métier.
In reversing its mask, it will reverse its personality, and its behaviour in the action of affairs. And the Gate Keepers can do nothing whatever to try to restore the True Mask to this renegade. He vindicates the evidence of Free Will in this reversal of Masks; the will to self-creation and the will to self-destruction. In short, he vindicates a universal law common to all mankind. There can be no other moral problem than the vacillation of the human will between creative and destructive forces.
AGAIN THE GERMANS
And that brings me back to the German people, for they evidence destructive forces in the mass action of world affairs which play hell under the function of the Gate Keepers in their efforts to protect their own people on earth in the madhouse of war and revolution in which they must be involved. Here the whole thing is handed over to the man of action—the Soldier, the Statesman, the Organiser—and to the pugnacity of the peoples who rush to defend their countries from attack. All that stands for what we call civilisation must go by the board, or into hiding, till the inferno of killing has exhausted itself, and the forces of destruction are arrested.
At the same time, the Gate Keepers send their people to earth during such explosions of violence, for out of those they garner their best material, in the revelation of all that is worst and best in the constitution of Man. While the world is in a state of turmoil, it is not worth while sending the works of their people into action; that must wait for the interlude of peace that follows to be established.
Well, we, in this age, have looked on at the spectacle of social and political cataclysm for half a century, and such of us who have the creative faculty have extracted all the material we need from it. Only one thing threatens its future, and that is another upsurge of violence from the German people. But that has been attended to effectively, I think. The man Hitler was essential to the procedure of civilising Germany politically. His function was to show the German people that their serfdom to an Imperator must cease, by the crude brutality in which he enforced it on them. A smart little Italian journalist named Mussolini had shown him how to gain power in a period of political unrest, and this was no more than the principle of gangsterism—blackmail by the intimidation of an armed mob.
The fear of Communist Russia made the moneyed powers turn to the gangster for protection, and in a very short time Mussolini and his gang were ruling Italy.
And, in an equally short time, Hitler and his gang were ruling Germany. And what a gang! A house-painter, a fowl-breeder, a wine-salesman, a club-footed journalist and a drug-sodden airman. Under the slogan of Protection against Communism, they took over control of industries, using an armed mob to beat up any opposition to their tactics. The Military Caste, still powerful in beaten Germany, were seduced into submission to the gangsters by reinstatement in their professional function of building up an army.
And the rest of Europe looked on, dazed at the spectacle of Germany restored to its status of a fully armed power, and unable to do anything about it without resorting to war.
And of course war eventuated, forced on the nations by the now megalomaniac Hitler, drunk with the concept of himself as a modern Genghis Khan, conquering the whole world. . . . And it took all the powers and potentialities of the free Western world, Britain and America, to quell the brute, allied as he was with the Japanese, the most powerfully armed Eastern people, and dragging the unfortunate Italian people along with him—for there, by an exquisite irony, Mussolini was bludgeoned into subjection by the German gangsters; creatures begotten by his own political sapience.
Now that it is all over and peace restored, Roman rule has at last reached Germany by an English and American army of occupation and English and American jurisprudence, instructing it in the only possible precedent for sound government, that which the Greeks inaugurated, and the Romans established among the other European peoples. And the German people, terrified at last by their own potentialities of raising hell, have rushed to affirm the political evangel of Democracy. And Hitler’s last act was to eliminate its most dangerous potentiality, the Prussian military caste. By its failure to eliminate him with a bomb, he wiped out the whole of the Prussian aristocracy at a stroke.
Can we see the sound logic of predestined events behind the rise and fall of Hitler and its finality in the end of the last of the Imperators, Stalin? I, at least, think so. I do not assume that the Gate Keepers had anything to do with it. They never meddle in Man’s affairs. There was no need for them to do so, for those can always be left to their own enemies, the Frustrators. And those have had a high old time this last fifty years, stirring up disruption in their chosen people, the discontented, the frustrated, the revolts in all states of being, political, social and aesthetic. And a very effective job they made of it, having the perfect instrument at hand in the moral collapse of the French people, whose leaders went on their bellies to Hitler—and the German forces took over France.
But France had never morally survived the first world war of 1914. It ravaged their country as far as the Germans penetrated it. Only the indomitable resolution of the British fighting forces kept the French forces in action till the Americans entered the war.
But it left the French people demoralised. If this sort of thing could happen to them, then to hell with all established values, human and aesthetic, which they held as being responsible for the whole debacle. Life itself was a fraud—a dirty trick perpetrated on them by cosmic malice. Let us retort the joke on life then, said the Parisian studio world, and hold up to derision all established precedents in the arts; all its dictums in the control of human behaviour. From the dawn of the nineteenth century, Paris has taken over from Rome its claim to be the dominating centre of the Art world. That claim was justified by its writers and artists; Balzac and Hugo and a brilliant group of lesser poets and prose writers in literature, with Ingres and Delacroix as leaders of the two schools of paintings, the Classic and Romantic. And that claim to leadership in the arts was still potent up to the 1914 war, and the world in general still endorsed it, even in the face of that lunatic reversal of all values, the Post-Impressionist Movement, which has thrown the whole art world into chaos for over fifty years.
But no movement in the arts, good or bad, survives the generation that inaugurated it. At this focal point in time, the whole movement of what has been labelled Modernistic or Contemporary Art, has come to a dead end with the Abstractionists. The very selection of that label is its final confession to defeat.
What now, then? An interlude of peace has already endured for two decades, and the nations involved in the last war have rebuilt their destroyed cities and established order in their affairs. I can only ask myself the question—will the Gate Keepers consider that the time is now propitious to set in action such creative works as have been in abeyance since the first world war, and to stimulate fresh creative efforts to come? There are only two alternatives for them to choose. Another episode in civilisation, or chaos. For, if they are not going to exert what powers they have to restore energy and values to the Arts, then the Frustrators will take over, and Man has now devised for their use terrific potentialities for his own destruction. The Scientist now dominates world affairs, and a more dangerous species of Homo Sapiens it would be hard to find. For the Scientist, working on a thesis which has to do with natural forces, cannot forecast the effect of his experiments till he has seen the effect of one in action. The man who constructed the Hiroshima bomb committed suicide, faced with unendurable horror of his own begetting. The present day Scientist, still at work creating bigger and better bombs, has a pretty good notion of what to expect when one of them is exploded, and he is now seeking to contrive a defence against it, but he has no notion whether that may be effective. The only possible defence is the universal terror of the atomic bomb, which may create a stalemate in a resort to it. A pretty thin defence to trust to, in my opinion.
Anyway, the Gate Keepers know already what is to happen in the future, for the cause of that happening is already in action at this moment. Even here, on earth, it is possible to forecast future events on the evidence of the present moment’s actions. I have done a little of that myself, in a modest way. In a novel that I wrote during the 1914 war, I forecast the atomic bomb; and that on the present-moment evidence that a reckless scientist had set up a cone in Sheffield in which he proposed to split the atom. I never read a hint anywhere that the scientific mind had foreseen that to devise a means of disintegrating the force which held all matter in a state of integration was to let loose a force which could explode this fragile earth like a rotten tomato. Again, in 1923, I wrote an article in a publication called Art in Australia, which forecast all that was to happen in the second world war. All that was apparent to me in the action of present-moment conditions of conflict in abeyance between the nations.
If one can do that sort of thing while stranded on the surface of this earth, how simple it must be from an altitude which can overlook everything of significance which is happening on it. So, if it is any consolation to those who are given to meditating on possible future events already destined to happen by present-moment actions, we can either expect lather episode of civilisation or resign ourselves to a cataclysm which will defer its survival to uncountable centuries. Time on earth is a continuity in eternal recurrence. All higher altitudes of space are timeless.
If I irritate any possible reader of these random meditations by stating opinions in them without such reservations as “It may be assumed,” or, “It is permissible to suppose,” it is because I prefer to state opinion in terms of conviction, however wrong it may be.
* * *
Yeats’ theory of the effect the Gate Keepers have on the lives of their people on earth is that they are utterly ruthless in forcing them to undergo any experience which is essential to expression of it in Art. Under that assumption, they inflict deafness and syphilis on Beethoven so that, once he has assimilated the full gamut of the tone scale in sounds, and all keys in which that scale may most effectively interpret a theme, they shut up the whole garnering of material in his mind, so that no creations by other composers may intrude on it and unconsciously impose plagiarism on the stark originality his own compositions. As for syphilis, that cut him off from spiritual release of a love-affair. He had had affairs with women, but the one woman he loved deeply he had to resign, that resignation extorted from him one of the greatest feats creative music, “The Apassionata.” Man’s conflict with Fate, and his defiance of its efforts to corrupt his will, are the basic motif of all his music, and his Fate—or rather his “Body of Fate” to use Yeats’ term for an earth-experience of life—inflicted on him every experience of the damnable in order to rut his powers of endurance, while giving a fresh impetus to his defiance of its malice. It never succeeded in weakening the resolution of his spirit, and his last and greatest work, the Ninth Symphony, is a paean of exultation for the creation of life itself.
For myself, I refuse to endorse Yeats’ assumption that the Gate Keepers deliberately enforced on Beethoven such a bloody awful existence as an endurance test, and as subject-matter for his art. That is to belittle the whole concept of Free Will. The Creator, wearing his True Mask, seeks every experience which will give him a full gamut of the emotional intensity essential to its expression in Art. Beethoven is the perfect example of self-ruthlessness in seeking the experience he needed. And if that expression needs an experience the very opposite of that sought by Beethoven, the Creator will seek it, and get it, if it is essential to his self-expression and the métier which defines it. Rubens is an example of such a self-sought existence, and one which was already prepared for his arrival on earth. From the start he mixed on equal terms with kings, princes and nobles. Only their palaces could house the splendour of his paintings; only all that was rich in concept and subject-matter could supply the material for his superb draughtsmanship, his power over constructive composition, and the fluent sweep of his brushwork. He lived like a prince himself, and was given the status of ambassador in exchanges between princes.
Again, as evidence that the Creator seeks the sort of existence he needs for his work, take Rembrandt, who lived in the same town with Rubens. He started off with smooth brushwork and was rewarded by the rich burghers whose portraits he painted. But that sort of brushwork, and painting group portraits of fat and opulent citizens, was not either the métier or the material he needed for his special faculty as a painter. So he squandered the money he earned, throwing it away by handfuls, and quarrelled with the fat citizens, and deliberately reduced himself to poverty, living in the slums and painting their denizens with a loaded paintbrush and in a penumbra that simplified the play of light and shadow, focussing attention only on the face, and sinking all other details in the general key of penumbra from which the figure emerged, and so created the greatest exhibits of portraiture ever contrived out of a few earth pigments applied to canvas.
One could multiply these contrasts in a self-sought existence by those gifted with the creative faculty. Chaucer and Villon supply an instructive example, for both were forerunners preparing the way for others in subject-matter and expression. Here, that involved a transfiguration of the written word in two different languages—English and French.
Chaucer, forerunner to Shakespeare, needed a wide area of types and characters of all classes, high, middle and low, for his gay bawdy stories in verse, and for the march of his Canterbury Pilgrims across the England of his time, while building into his narrative all the polyglot amalgam of racial tongues which to this day makes English the richest of all spoken and written languages. His union of them compacted the spoils of sixteen centuries in the metier of words and gave Shakespeare the perfect medium for his poetry, which he also enlarged, and with it covered a survey of the whole mass of humanity as that is typified in its speech, actions, psychological compulsions and idiosyncratic identity.
Villon chose quite a different stratum of humanity for his material, that of the students, thieves, whores and scallywags of the slums of old Paris. The respectable classes were no use to him. He wanted life in the raw, speech without reticence on the crude factualities of existence. A reckless fellow, taking the adventure of life at all odds against the mean slogan of “Safety First,” and abolishing at a stroke with his sparkling verses all that dull medieval pedantry and tapestry-patterned poetry of the Roman de La Rose order, prinking on tiptoe over the mud of earth with its lovelorn knights and ladies and its castles of plaisance. Greatest achievement of all, by his presentation of life in the raw he liberated the way for that roar of laughter that we call Rabelais; the man taking the title of the works he created.
No, the Gate Keepers did not throw Villon into a dank, underground, bottle-shaped prison, which wrecked what physical constitution he had left from liquor, malnutrition and a poverty-stricken existence. He had to know what thieves and ruffians know, when the law catches up with them and strings them up like carrion on a gallows. He got that tremendous ballad out of it which envisioned himself on the gallows, in which every line quivers with the intensity of its preconception. And he also got out of it the well-deserved reward of an early death. Why hang about in a state of excessive physical discomfort once one’s job is done?
Byron and Burns are other examples of extremes in a self-elected Body of Fate, the one as an aristocrat and the other as a peasant, Byron needed a sophisticated social idiom for his poetry, and Burns the racy, vigorous Scotch dialect for his. They, it may be added, got out early, having done their best work in both mediums.
There is not much to be said for the adventure of life on earth unless it has been an act of Free Will, and the destiny it forecasts is a self-elected one. To be taken by the scruff of the neck and tossed into the muddled mass of mankind by an ultramundane power is to degrade the whole business. I refer only to those who have developed a special faculty of some sort, covering all the crafts, professions and intellectual specialities. I have dealt with instances relating to the Arts because my own special faculty has to do with them. For the mass of mankind, the biological function alone suffices to account for its arrivals and departures, but wherever there is a special faculty involved an act of will is involved also.
When the struggle for existence, the ills of life and its eternal threat and suspense become unbearable, it is a common device among the weak-willed and the depressed to shove the whole thing on to their parents who have imposed it on them without their consent.
A pusillanimous howl! They probably imposed themselves on the parents without their consent.
* * *
It is apparent that the Gate Keepers have considerable powers of telepathic communication with their people on earth, from which, I suspect, a good deal of what we call inspiration comes. Also, they are able to protect us to a certain extent when we come into conflict with mankind’s interdictions against a freed expression in the mediums of forms and words. Music can say what it pleases without Man being aware of it, other than the emotional responses it evokes in him. If he knew what some of Wagner’s music was saying in Tristan and Isolde, he would howl for its suppression. For man in the mass, who has been taught only to ape the externals of a civilised being, must walk in a straitjacket of the creeds and codes of behaviour, and his highest standard of morality and conduct is that he does not rob, murder, rape, and leave his poor old mother to starve. He is dimly aware that higher man, who has powers of ratiocination over self-knowledge, does not need any straitjacket to cramp his freedom of thought and action, and for that reason man is always seeking to impose his own little narrow creeds and codes on all freedom of self-expression in both life and art. If he only knew it, he is taking a considerable risk when he carries his witch-hunting activities too far, for the Gate Keepers are not above applying a bludgeon to his silly cranium when he tries to suppress or incriminate one of their people. It always gives me pleasure to recall Mencken’s comment on the fate of some of the pests who tried to obstruct his splendid achievement in clearing the road for a freed literature in his country “We killed the son of a bitch,” he would remark with a chuckle. . . .
THE FALSE MASK
I have dealt so far only with those creators who sustained their True Mask in the struggle to achieve. So what about those who reversed their Masks in that struggle, or those who from the start rejected it and lived their lives through under cover of False Masks? This is a depressing subject and presents its investigation as one morally castigating others for what may have been a lapse of integrity in himself, for no man can know whether he has truly fulfilled that compact made with his own conscience, which is that he will make no concessions to any interdiction by man against a free expression of his concept of life in art.
Some reversions from the True to the False Mask in painters are so apparent that even critical opinion on earth has commented on them. The case of Millais is starkly apparent. He arrived on earth fully equipped for expression in his special faculty, the difficult medium of oil painting. Even in youth he was a finished painter. The preliminary struggle to master his medium was not enforced on him. And the paintings he turned out in his early period of the Pre-Raphaelite movement are masterly. But when that movement was attacked by the obtuse critical pedantry of his day, matured by the stale conventions of a moribund period in the arts, he submitted to funk, and went over to the popular demand for false sentiment in subject-matter and an uninspired technique which turned out the sort of potboilers the public demanded, and by which he made a fortune.
Another painter of his generation, Leighton, remains an enigma. We do not know whether lie ever had a True Mask, or whether he imposed the False Mask on himself from the first.
His enigma involves also a portent of the first importance, and that is the function of the Nude in Art. From the start, Greek art was based on the naked human figure, male or female. Its symbol remains to us as a freed mind in a freed body. By the proportions of the human body, as the most perfect of all forms, it dictated the principle of beauty even in architecture. And the poets and dramatists took over that principle in the beauty and power of words to reveal all the emotional potentialities of the human ego, and thereby evoke the first of all moral obligations, “Know thyself.”
Leighton arrived at an age when the Nude in Art had petered out into the pretty-pretty little shepherds and shepherdesses of the eighteenth century as painted by Fragonard and Boucher. Pleasing enough, but they evoke no imagery of passion and desire.
By the way the Victorian age sought to interdict all freedom of expression in the arts and anathematised even the mention of sex, it is a wonder that a painter so lacking in seeming pugnacity as Etty survived and continued quietly to paint the Nude with the true sense of its limber modulations, its reality, and with great charm of colour. He was attacked, of course, but all he said in retort was that he painted the nude feminine figure because it was the most beautiful of all created images, and so continued to paint it in old age, still working as an academy student among students. As a student of the Nude he remained, because he lacked any conceptual power in a large sense. For that reason he remained an isolate in the art world of his era, the greatest creations of which were in landscape, with Turner as its greatest master. And he still remains its greatest master—the Homer of landscape painting.
We know how Dickens and the novelists were infected by false sentiment and prudery in any presentation of the feminine in relation to sex, and the popular painters went a stage lower, in the sickly sentimentality of the cheap suburbs, and with Nudes made by some pink substance stuffed with cotton wool. “Purity” was the sneaking excuse under which they fabricated those products of the people’s world, and for that reason they are of no account. Only one painter of that era got reality into his Nudes—Solomon J. Solomon—but he did not have enough conceptual power to dominate a period and give it a fresh impetus where it was needed most. And that was in the Nude.
And it seems clear enough that Leighton did have that conceptual power. He was a fine draughtsman, and the Nude, male or female, was the inspirational source of nearly all his compositions. Yet they remain static, passionless works, sterilised of all emotional appeal. And the man himself, as far as his life has been investigated, was as sexually sterilised as his work. Even his brushwork partook of this same lack of emotional vitality. He was born in the thirties of last century, yet the fiery energy with which Delacroix’s brush inspired the art of that era in his own country left Leighton untouched. His pictures are machine-made and the creative gifts with which he was endowed went for nothing.
If one could only detect some evidence of bad conscience behind the conscious façade which produced those works, we might arrive at some evidence of the Mask under which they were conceived, but we never get a hint of any such thing. A bland air of complacence covered the whole performance, and (as evidence of the sterility of his work) the age made obeisance to him as a great man. He made a large fortune, built a palatial residence and was ennobled by Royalty.
But this much must be said in accusation of him. As with all sterilisers, the evil he did to the Nude lived after him. I can give firsthand evidence of that, by the stigma of “indecency” I had hurled at me over my own nudes. Whistler, and the Impressionist movement he led in England in rebellion against Leighton, never tackled the Nude. They were no use at all to my effort in seeking to restore the feminine image to its place in Art. Nor was there any lead elsewhere to stimulate that effort. It was the same public created by Leighton and his kind in this country which would have inflicted a gaol sentence on me, if it could have brought it about. It came near to doing that once.
But to the devil with autobiographical splenetics. I am not concerned with them here, though I came up against an instance of them once, over a little gentleman in the arts who had reversed his True for his False Mask with disastrous effects to himself. That was Orpen, the portrait-painter.
Orpen’s portraits painted prior to the 1914 war were some of the most subtle psychological revelations of personality that ever emanated from a painter’s brush. They were also brilliantly painted, with a complete mastery over draughtsmanship and technical excellence.
And Orpen himself was designed physically and mentally with a perfect disguise for luring the sitter into a sense of security against all detection. He was a stunted little man with the ugly mug of an Irish peasant, and apparently with the sort of mental equivalent to his externals, for he was inarticulate, spoke with a brogue, and could crack only simple low comedian jokes. Also, he had a modest estimate of his own capacities as a painter.
In short, the sitter’s consciousness of immense superiority to this little buffoon allowed him to relax on all postures of superiority. There was no need for such defences here. And the subtlety of the whole proceeding was that Orpen was also the dupe of his own mental processes, such as they were. The sitters could make a fool of those, for he was amazingly wrong in the conscious estimate he made of their psychological makeup. That is revealed in a little book of reminiscences he wrote, and anybody who reads it will be entertained by his innocent comments on the people he painted. But his eye and his hand never made any mistake about them.
It was apparently the 1914 war which threw him off balance and made him reverse his True Mask for a very crude False one. From being modest and reticent, he became arrogant and noisy, and he took to booze with such intemperance that he became a hopeless alcoholic. And his portraits, which had dwelt in their canvases as in an airy room, came to the surface with a brassy finish against airless black backgrounds. They were colour-photographs seen with a sharp focus, under a hard, artificial light. When I looked at some colour-reproductions of his later portraits of women, I took them for colour-photographs, and could not believe the evidence of my eyes when I recalled such lovely creations of femininity as those of the young girl in the blue hat, marvelling that paint could recreate the tender sweetness of such lips and skin and eyes.
Orpen’s end was deplorable. In that phrase which is the epitaph of all despairing and frightened little frustrates, he “went over to the Catholic Church.” He had an altar built in his house and wallowed in abasement to the joss of the Virgin Mother of a communist Jew named Jesus. He even did a painting of that Jew mounted on an ass—a painting so bad that it evidenced the death of all virtuosity in what had once been the brush of a master-painter.
I have referred to coming up against Orpen’s False Mask in personal terms, and that was over an exhibition of Australian Art in London in the year 1924, in which was a selected exhibit of my work. For six months before this exhibition was sent, the whole press and public in this country went into an hysterical frenzy, execrating my works and demanding that the authorities here, police and politicians, debar them from inclusion in the exhibition. But they were included, and the same hysterical opposition was aroused against them by the English Press, and the English art world. And the loudest howl there came from Orpen, who ordered the public to ignore my work—they were not even to look at it.
Orpen’s intellectual status may be estimated by that imbecile attack. It operated on the public curiosity as a powerful stimulant which crowded the Gallery daily. And I sold every exhibit. On hearing that, poor Orpen burst into tears, tears of self-pity.
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In literature, it is harder to adduce evidence of a reversion to the False Mask, because an assured command of words may hide in the writer what the brush of a painter starkly exposes. I will take only two apparent instances of the False Mask in literature, and the first of these is Sam Johnson, the great lexicographer.
The variation between True and False Masks in Sam Johnson is apparent in his written and spoken words.
The spoken words, where those deal with the spectacle of life and the constitution of Man, derive from a sardonic mind, richly endowed with a knowledge of human behaviour and all that is fraudulent between its intentions and pretensions; its claims to virtue where those mask its vices, and all its devices for maintaining a reputable front behind which to practise its chicaneries and false pretences to generous emotion. A lady, alarmed by some of Johnson’s strictures on mankind in general, asked, “Is no man born good?” “No, Madam, no more than a dog is born good.”
I quote from memory, since it is too much trouble to look up Boswell’s “Life,” but those are the valid terms of that brief exchange, which are the key to Johnson’s viewpoint on the human ego. Indeed, all his talk is in the same vigorous key; compact, epigrammatic, lucid, and without qualification on the opinion stated.
In short, all that is best in good prose and good, decisive thinking. Put such an idiom into the written word, and the result would be to startle and alarm attention in the whole literary, social and political world of the day. And in doing that, to arouse violent antagonisms against the iconoclast who had disturbed its complaisance and violated its self-esteem.
The late Eighteenth Century needed such a disturbance of its inertia. It was an era of postures, stylisms, sentimentality and unreality in its whole concept of life as that is defined in the arts. Worst of all in England, its literature was clogged with sermons, the worst exhibits of crooked thinking and false dialectics ever imposed on the printed word, and everybody read the damned things. They were what are called today “best sellers.” The whole literary world discussed their writers’ qualities of style, eloquence and theological subtlety, crowding the churches for entertainment in the pragmatical art of pulpit oratory.
But already there was evidence of a restless spirit of revolt against this domination by the church. Swift had ejected at it his vitriolic Tale of a Tub, and at mankind his Gulliver’s Travels, a vicious travesty on man’s pretensions to be a civilised creature. Fielding had restored reality to the novel in the picaresque key of Don Quixote. In a frivolous way, Sterne had satirised sentimentally in his Sentimental Journey. Hogarth, in art, had bludgeoned the perfumed world of perukes and lace ruffles with his brutal presentation of life in the raw. All that these stirrings of a new spirit needed was a leader; a mind which could synthesise them into a concerted movement and attack all retrogressive opposition to it.
Johnson was perfectly designed for such a job. He was pugnacious and courageous, mentally and physically. He had great powers of ratiocination. He had voracious powers of absorbing knowledge from all aspects. He was early tossed into a rough struggle for existence, a most essential experience which gives its subject a viewpoint from which to scan the spectacle of life without illusion. In journalism, he already had the best medium for the exercise of his special faculty, which was designed for incisive criticism of the whole social and cultural structure of his period, and for attack on all that he conceived to be rotten in it. We know by his talk how magnificently he could have done that job and cleared the way for a fresh impetus in civilisation. That was his True Mask, as Boswell’s ruthless inspection of him in unbuttoned moments reveals to us. And he staggers us with the spectacle of Johnson turning right about in his tracks and reversing every facet of his special faculty; affirming everything that it was designed to attack, and attacking everything it was designed to affirm.
The very style of his writing is evidence of this antithetical conflict between the written and the spoken word. A worse style was never evolved, for it evaded all precision of statement by equivocation and imposed a qualification on every equivocation. It rolls along with a ponderous monotony, evoking a maddening reiteration in the reader’s mind, till it throws up the job of keeping attention on it, craving for some simple, clarified statement evidencing resolution of thought.
And its subject-matter—little moral essays in the idiom of the pulpit sermon. And, while exhausting eulogy on sermons themselves, he attacked every free expression of thought in such fine thinkers as Hume and Gibbon, every fine creative expression in literature which has endured to this day, that of Swift, Sterne and Fielding, while praising all that was worst in it, from Richardson to Fanny Burney.
Why go on with the lamentable spectacle of Johnson bun-thundering the drivel imposed on him by his False Mask? His True Mask constituted the same special faculty as that of Voltaire’s—and what superb exercise Voltaire made of it? He was given the same difficult task as Johnson; that of clearing the way for a new and vital episode of civilisation; and, by observing the superb way he did it, we have in precise terms the evidence of all Johnson did not do.
That new movement of energy in a stagnating world was timed to arrive at full expression in the Nineteenth Century, both in France and England. Its avatars in England were Burns, Byron, Shelley and Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge in poetry, with Scott and Dickens in the novel, with Constable and Turner in landscape. In France, poetry has never been a major national expression. France’s contributions to civilisation have been in the mediums of prose and painting. In both countries, these dominants energised a big movement in the arts, but where in France Voltaire had clarified the whole concept of life for them, in England the avatars were left floundering in a fog of confused aesthetic and ethical values. None of them, except perhaps Burns, can be said to have achieved full expression without some corrupting taint from the preceding century and Byron, in his great free novel in verse, Don Juan. Keats threw up his job from the start, after a few minor poems which evidence the power of his creative faculty. Coleridge, with greater gifts than Keats, produced only one narrative poem and the fragment of another and then took to drugs for the rest of his life. Byron had to fight his way through a jungle of false starts before he arrived at full expression with Don Juan. Wordsworth did arrive at major poetry at his best, though with some deplorable experiments to find the key he was searching for. As for Scott and Dickens, they never freed themselves from prudery and false sentiment in any relation of sex to the theme of a novel—though between them they created the greatest gallery of what the petty spite of minor novelists has called “minor characters” in the whole tradition of the novel. We have only to glance at what Balzac did with his women to face the melancholy spectacle of what Scott and Dickens did, and did not do, with theirs.
And all the muddle and struggle and false values in the literature of the Nineteenth Century because Johnson did not clarify the spectacle of life for it by clearing away all the dead rubbish which accumulates at the petering out of a century!
A damnable accusation to hurl at any man, and one which must be qualified. If Johnson was the destined forerunner to the Nineteenth Century, he himself was given no forerunner; or no such forerunners as Voltaire was given. Voltaire was preceded by two of the clearest thinkers who have ever contemplated a man-made spectacle of life—Rabelais and Montaigne. The Roman Catholic Church, and priestcraft in general, never regained any power in France after Rabelais had slaughtered it with laughter, while all the psychological pedantry of today has never reached the subtlety with which Montaigne revealed the driving compulsions of the human ego.
All Johnson was given were the tired and ineffectual essays by Bacon, which have never to this day had any effect on the English intellectual world. For an obvious reason. Bacon was a homosexual, and no homosexual can make a constructive unity in any form of self-expression. But that peculiar disruption of the bi-sexual constitution of man must be deferred for investigation elsewhere, Hobbes’ Leviathan was not much use to Johnson. It was too laborious and obtuse to have carried further than the few intellectuals of its own generation who read it, and no creative expression can have any effect on civilisation unless it can penetrate that content of all periods, the intellectual minority. It must be expressed in terms intelligible to both simple and subtle minds, and that enforces on the creator one of his most infernal technical problems in lucidity, whether his medium be the form, the sound or the word.
No doubt, when Johnson contemplated the amount of pick and shovel work he would have to do in clearing a way through the accumulated rubbish of two centuries, his courage fainted. He lacked faith in the métier of words to perform such a gargantuan task, for all that he was gifted with a potent armament of them with which to make his attack on it. And that armament he squandered on the puerile exercise of compiling a dictionary; a hack job which any little group of philologists could have done better.
Enough of stating the case against Johnson’s failure to do his job. He paid a heavy price for that failure, for he was the most unhappy of men, tormented by bad conscience, which took the form of a terror of death.
And a terror of loneliness. That terror he sought to submerge in the sound of his own voice, talk, talk, talking; talking about anything or nothing, in a selected group of intimates and sycophants. He was an inveterate diner-out and a tremendous gourmand. As the great Panjandrum of Literature, his company was much sought, and he wallowed in any social function in which he could hide from himself and do all the talking. If anyone controverted an opinion, he roared him down. Fright was the impetus of his pugnacity; he dared not listen to anything which might twitch the False Mask off his face and expose him to the taunting derision of his True Mask. In his own house, he harboured a number of squabbling old women, and pensioned a little quack doctor to dwell with him; desperate devices to stall off the terror of being alone.
And I conceive that the Gate Keepers looked on at the whole procedure of escapism in a considerable state of exasperation, for it is clear that Johnson defeated whatever efforts they may have made to make him adjust his True Mask and get on with his job. But at least it evidences free will in Johnson, and that at least dignifies the castigation he inflicted on himself for having renegaded against a self-created destiny. An infernal business, from whatever aspect one views it, but at least it does dispose of any ultramundane omnipotence working its will on human affairs, either for good or evil. Let the mass of mankind by all means throw off responsibility for its affairs on omnipotence, but for us, who seek self-expression in a self-created adventure on earth, there can be no comfortable evasion of responsibility. Within us, we have a recording machine which never ceases clicking a documentary of our whole antics, from the cradle to the grave, and it is quite impervious to any feelings we may have about its exposures and revelations. We can’t excuse any painful or ignominious experience by accusing others of having inflicted it on us, for it is unaware of the existence of any other entity but ourselves.
Looking back as far as my memory may be relied on, the only virtue I can claim is that I worked hard and gave myself up to the best exercises in my special faculty that I was capable of performing. But I am quite incapable of placing a valuation on the work produced, or what evasions I may have made in the integrity of its expression. I never have any difficulty in seeing what is bad technically in a work, but what may be good in its achievement evades me.
I don’t know, for instance, whether it may be a good or a bad thing to be writing down this concept of the conditions under which our work is done here, and its implication of ultramundane entities intruding on its action, doing the best they can to stimulate and protect us on the one hand, while entities in opposition to them do everything they can to frustrate and bedevil the whole procedure.
What I have written about it may be scoffed at as fantasy-mongering or, worse still, occultism. If that is the case, I have failed to make clear that there is nothing either esoteric or occult in my concept of those ultramundane entities whom I conceive to be as human as ourselves, and who have at one time had a full experience of life on earth, and have dedicated themselves to its service as exemplified by our works. Those are Yeats’ Gate Keepers. The Frustrators are also those who have been through the gamut of an earth-life and have become vicious and embittered by failure to achieve self-expression or the development of a special faculty, and so have dedicated themselves to playing hell with it while it is still struggling for achievement on earth.
Nothing very occult about that conflict of forces. We see it going on here, under our noses, in every procedure of human endeavour. And the Frustrators perform an essential office in providing that conflict of forces which tests out endurance and invigorates energy in the struggle to achieve. Inertia is the prime evil of all states of being. And let it be said that, if the Gate Keepers did a superb job in assisting Shakespeare to carry through the creation of his poetry, the Frustrators did an equally efficient job with their special minion, Milton, who was the destructive opposition to the creation of Shakespeare’s concept of life, with its blaze of enlightenment on every passion and aspiration which drive mankind on into the adventure of self-creation in the seeming mad inconsequence of an earthly existence.
And Milton, let it also be said here, imposed on Sam Johnson his most infernal quandary, for Milton had at his time almost ousted Shakespeare as the dominant revelation of human consciousness. Certainly he had done that evil thing to the English people.
Milton was that anomaly in the world of art, a man gifted with the idiom of self-expression but not the conceptual faculty on which to express it. His early poems reveal his sense of the melodic rhythm of vocal sounds and the majestic march of words—but, when he looked about for a big theme on which to exploit his technical efficiency, he could not find one. An arrogant isolate, he lacked any ease of communion with man or woman, and so had no means of extracting from them the material of creative poetry. A rancid Puritan driven by lust, he hated woman, yet could not do without one. Having possessed her sexually, he loathed her. Out of such a conflict between desire and disgust, the sexual sadist is born.
He thought of taking Macbeth for a theme in poetic drama, in competition with Shakespeare, which gives us the measure of his insensate pride. Only the highest must be selected to take a second place to himself. Whatever experiments he tried with Macbeth, nothing came of them. Leaving England, he wandered off to Italy, and there lighted on a poetic drama by a competent dramatist, its theme being the ejection of Adam and Eve from Paradise.
Milton stole not only the theme but the Italian poet’s use of it, for he paraphrased large sections of it into his own Paradise Lost. His frustrated sex-life had already made him a hater of life—a hater of all great creative expression beyond his powers to compete with it. Hate became the driving compulsion of his being, and the only vital figure in his Paradise Lost is Satan, an idealised self-portrait. In the action of life, he found a release for the stultifications of hate in the underworld Puritan revolution, which for a short time established a military autocracy—and, as such autocracies must do, arrested all cultural activity in the country till it was overthrown. While it lasted, Milton, the favoured minion of Cromwell, wrote such pamphlets as Killing no Murder, and screamed gutter abuse at any controversial opinion on them. Read the printed record of that abuse and discover what a mean and petty little mind may lurk under the command of a rich and rolling poetic rhetoric.
If it had only ended there, it merely meant that a couple of long and boring metaphysical works had been imposed on English literature. But it did not end there. Puritanism is the national vice of the English people, and Milton’s poetry was read with avidity. Its abstractions for all human passions and aspirations displaced the terminology of reality—displaced Shakespeare’s richly coloured pageantry of human life in all its manifestations, and in all possible facets of human personality, touching on every profundity which can startle self-knowledge in the human mind, the most vital impetus ever given to the human consciousness. All that in exchange for a metaphysical squabble over the stalest of all themes, Good and Evil as conceived by a primitive Hebrew people, with their anthropomorphic God opposed to priestcraft’s pantomime concept of the devil as the Prince of Evil.
Nietzsche defined Christianity as the one immortal folly of mankind. And I think that the blind pedantry of a people which to this day ranks the abominable Milton on equal terms with Shakespeare, as their next greatest poet, outmatches Nietzsche’s concept of an immortal folly for its rank imbecility.
It took two centuries to eliminate from English poetry the evil Milton did to it, and even with the dawn of the next great movement in poetry after that of the Elizabethans, the virus of Milton was still at work, muddling both Keats and Byron, and infecting Shelley with all his off-the-earth fantasies. It had sterilised and stylised all eighteenth century poetry. Even if Sam Johnson had done his job in clearing away other stultifications to a fresh movement in poetry, I doubt if he could have shifted the dead weight of Milton off the national mind. Even his modified attack on Milton as a man raised howls of indignation. And his own poetry, such as it was, was badly infected by Miltonic abstract terminologies.
That reference to Bacon in the foregoing recalls me to the destructive effect homosexuality has on the creative faculty. It is based on the unisexuality of the homosexual—he is either all man, or all woman, no matter what his external sex implies.
Normally sexed men and women are bi-sexual; each is both man and woman. It is this duality in sex which makes the sex union between them possible, because it makes for a mutual understanding of each other, quite apart from the embrace of bodies. It is the content of femininity in the male which makes a bridge of understanding with the woman, and the content of masculinity in the woman makes the same sympathetic bridge with the man. Thus each is able to dramatise internally all the external exchanges between them. Applied to the creative problem, it means that Shakespeare can be both Antony and Cleopatra as he reveals the emotional and mental states of each in their speech and actions.
In the Greek concept of bi-sexuality, the Daemon of the man is feminine, and the Daemon of the woman masculine. With Socrates, the Daemon is a living entity; an invisible presence, coming to his aid when a decision must be made in the conflict of existence. With modern psychology the Daemon is the subconscious. I prefer to affirm the Greek concept of this guiding principle, not only because it confirms that of Yeats’ Gate Keepers but because I utterly reject the Freudian concept of the subconscious dominating the action of the conscious. Only a Jew could have conceived such a transfiguration of the Hebrew God, Jehovah, for it transfers omnipotence to the subconscious, making the conscious its feeble subjective, no longer morally responsible for its behaviour. Worse even than that, it gave its authority to the underworld of art in its attack on all established values in creative art; the most salient evidence of the Dark Age we have endured for half a century.
The homosexual has no Daemon, being either all man or all woman. He has no power therefore to dramatise internal conflict, from which all creative concept of life is derived. He can only strive to externalise that conflict by play-acting the parts of male and female, but intensity of emotion can’t be inspired from such a febrile source. A homosexual may have technical excellence in the practice of an art, but he has no power to weld all its component parts into a symphonic unity.
This incompetence has been exemplified in the two greatest homosexuals in the history of art, Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo.
Da Vinci, who had by far the greater mind of the two, left behind him only one portrait of a woman, one composition, and a few fragments of drawings and paintings. For the rest, he idled a long life away in the investigation of natural phenomena, or experiments in mathematics. What a waste of life, what a loss to us in what might have been achieved, given the conceptual faculty! He sought to find some principle of construction in geometry, which was the device of desperation. His one composition is based on the equilateral triangle. After that one experiment he gave it up.
Michael Angelo was a very different species of homosexual, violent, rough-tongued, ultra-male. His gigantesque painting of the Last Judgment is a patent exposure of his lack of that constructional faculty which makes a completed unity of a work of art. It is just an explosion of forms, thrown here, there and anywhere on the wall, without sequence in relation to each other and with no rhythms drawing the eye to a focal point.
His single figure sculptures are his best work, but those, again, evidence the lack of any conceptual faculty in him. Most of them were designed to decorate a Pope’s tomb, but when it came to designing the tomb even mechanical invention failed him. All he could think of was a square box with a figure dumped at each corner. The tomb never was completed.
But one very important distinction must be made between Da Vinci and Angelo. Da Vinci grappled so far with his unfortunate homosexuality in his love for the beauty of women. The heads he left of them are of an infinite tenderness.
Angelo hated the feminine form. He created only one that has some sex allure, his “Leda and the Swan,” but even she had more substratum of male than female in her body. All the rest of his women are just hulking males with a disgusting pair of flabby breasts stuck on anyhow. Sex allure for him was the adolescent boy, and he squandered them all over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, suspending his immature but lovingly painted sexual parts over the heads of the devout.
A crude fellow, who probably got his broken nose in a tavern brawl.
The problem of the True and False Mask does not touch the homosexual, since he has no power of choice between them. A lack of the conceptual faculty denies him that choice. All he can do is exercise his technical equipment and leave it at that. And that would imply that homosexuality was not his choice but was due to some crisis of conflict between his parents during the moment of his conception. If he is the ultra-feminine, he certainly arrives at birth as a homosexual. But where the ultra-male is dominant the practice of homosexuality may be deferred for a time. Many of these ultra-males marry and have children, but the marriage never endures for long. While it does endure, they sometimes show some evidence of the constructive faculty, if they seek self-expression in the arts. But once they turn from women to their own sex, or at least its externality in the pretty boy, the constructive faculty dies. I have seen evidence of this myself.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
Before leaving those two dominant figures of the Renaissance, Da Vinci and Angelo, something must be said of the effect the Catholic Church has had on the creative principle in life and art.
The Catholic Church of the Renaissance was the freest and most tolerant of institutions. It was political rather than religious; its Cardinals were statesmen rather than Churchmen. The governing principle of the Roman empire had gone into the Church because it alone centralised power over the crude mass of mankind. This it had done by the only compulsion which can control the primitive brute in man, and that is pain and terror. It let loose all the devils of hell on him, with the faggot and the stake, the thumbscrew and the rack, for enforcing subjection to its mandates. Instead of Centurions, it sent forth Bishops to restore order in a world given over to anarchy and tribal warfare with the departure of the Centurions and their troops. That was the Dark Age—the age of witch turnings and heretic huntings, and the Creative Spirit in higher man went under cover till order was finally restored. Only then did the progressive principle of civilisation reassert itself with the restoration of the Greek classics; the Greek sanity and humanity and love of all things that dignify the human ego. And that, first of all, is full freedom of self-expression in the arts. . . .
Montaigne and Rabelais flourished under it—two of the world’s greatest minds. The painters, most of all, vindicated delight in life and with its supreme symbol—the naked human body. As long as the Church got its fair supply of Crucifixions and Madonnas and martyred saints the painters were free to disport themselves as they pleased with the glorious wealth of inspiration in Greek poetry, Mythology, and the Greek Gods, turning in a breath from Jesus to Apollo, and from the Madonna and Child to Venus and Cupid; the source of the Mother and Child myth, and of all cults of the mother goddess.
The Reformation smashed that fine spirit of tolerance in life and art, letting loose as it did the virulent hatreds of Puritanism. And in return, forcing Puritanism on the Catholic Church in defence against the anarchy of Protestant creeds, all fighting among themselves for the possession of the only true God, and seeking to impose their taboos on all freedom of mind or self-expression in the arts.
And a very good thing it was, this mass hysteria of religious mania which swept through all Protestant peoples like a virus, for the howlings and breast beatings of its bigoted fanatics so disgusted all higher orders of mankind that they rejected any further authority from Church or clergy, and so achieved freedom of mind at a stroke. And with that freedom all clear thinking on the problem of human destiny has been derived. The law of compensations was vindicated. Since the Reformation, all great achievement in the arts has come from the Protestant peoples, while the creative urge has become moribund in all peoples still dominated by the Catholic Church, as evident in such countries as Spain, Portugal, and South America.
The Puritanic hardening of doctrine in the Catholic Church, due to alarm over the revolt of the Reformation, has clamped the Catholic mind in a mental straitjacket. It must not think for itself over the enigma of life. All authority there is vindicated by the priest. He is the keeper of the mass conscience. Vastly relieving as that may be to the mass, it has debilitated free will in the individual. If he dare move outside the rigid ordinances of his faith, he is cast out from the herd as heretic and criminal. How can any creative energy be expected from such an enfeebled source.
All these conflicts between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy have been so recent—three or four hundred years at most, that none of the Churches has been able to catch up with them. And the Catholic Church least of all, by the very rigidity of doctrine which has paralysed its action in affairs. And there it has come up against a conundrum for which the best wits of the Vatican can find no solution, and that is the Contraceptive.
Here it is not human obduracy that the Church must face, but the ruthless indifference of nature to all man-made laws. For over-population of the earth nature has resorted to the epidemic, to famine, to cataclysm, to kill off a surplus of population for which there is not sufficient food. To those resources, man has added war. But such has been his ingenuity in later years over hygiene and infant mortality that he has quadrupled the birth rate to such an extent that statistics can now calculate just how long the food supply will last at the present rate of over-population.
Here it is useless for the Church to call on God’s law to preserve the unwanted embryo. After two world wars, no sentient mind believes any longer in God. That Omnipotent devised by an obscure tribe of Hebrews some three thousand years ago has become a futile old Bogy for sinners to cock a thumb at. More potent than any man-made law, women—and Catholic women at that, are in revolt at the priestly ordinance against the Contraceptive. And the women will win—make no mistake about that. Else the only other solution at hand is another world war, and we know precisely what that is going to do to this bedevilled problem of over-population.
It is a queer quirk in the action of affairs that has made the Catholic Church so militant against Communism, for we see in both creeds what happens to a people who submerge the individual in the mass, and pronounce excommunication on any member of it who dares to raise a voice against its ordinances and interdictions. The civilising principle is arrested.
Civilisations are not created by creeds and codes, religious or political. They are the product of a very small central core in a people of inspired minds; thinkers, law givers, poets, artists, craftsmen, strong men of action as leaders in conflict with other peoples; in short, all that makes for creating a stable state of existence out of primitive chaos.
In this present conflict between Catholic and Communist, it is the Communist who is the most relentless doctrinist, for where the Catholic merely pronounces anathema against the apostate, and ejects him from the corporate body of the Church, the Communist puts him up against a wall and shoots him.
And that procedure which quells all individual self-expression in a people should be very reassuring to the Western world over any threat to its stability by the Russian Communist. A people which has no central core of civilisation has no source of vital energy on which to draw for intellectual stimulus. Under the Tsars Russia had a civilisation. It had poets, novelists, and composers of distinction. Even a few painters of quality. Now it has nothing. Just a barren mass of people bullied into slavery by a few autocratic demagogues, maintaining power by a police force. Even the mechanisation of their state is not of their own begetting. They’ve had to borrow everything of that sort from the West. Machines do not make civilisations, and the civilising principle is the one thing that counts for maintaining stability on this earth. That principle is only apparent in the Western peoples, and its most potent evidence is in America. The Roman principle of government, maintained for three centuries by Britain, has gone across the Atlantic to a people whose major ancestral source was British.
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Reverting to the Contraceptive, I find it entertaining at this date to review its furtive emergence in the Nineties of last century as a criminalised commodity, the vending of which brought down a gaol sentence on the vendor, if caught at it. At that time, as an art student in Melbourne, I made a meagre living out of commissions from printers for pictorial designs advertising hair restorers, booze, patent medicines, and suchlike trade products, which brought me to the attention of a gentleman who had invented a contraceptive that he desired to put on the market by some devious device which would not bring down on him a clout from the law’s bludgeon. Its trade name was to be the single word “Solvit,” and that was all I had for pictorial inspiration. The best I could do was to present a hoarding emblazoned with the word in large letters with a mature matron earnestly inviting the attention of a young woman to its mystic message. The idea was that feminine curiosity would be aroused to inquire what Solvit was, and of course, find out. It was put forth in the form of a small poster, and unfortunately, police curiosity got in first, and grabbed the inventor of Solvit and his wares before he could get them on the market, and gave him six months quad for his antidote to the undesired embryo. And I never got paid for my modest contribution to his inspired mission.
WHERE YEATS GOT HIS CONCEPT OF THE TWO MASKS
When Yeats first put forth his concept of the constitution of the creative faculty by its Body of Fate, Creative Mind, True Mask and False Mask, and with it all the phases of existence which it must go through in relation to the phases of the moon, it was in his book entitled A Vision. In the preface of that, he claims to have garnered all this astrological knowledge from a learned Arab.
Later on, by a seeming attack of conscience for having falsified the source of that knowledge, he published a small book telling where he really got it from. His wife had the queer psychic accomplishment of going into states of trance, and it was by her voice when in the trance that the Gate Keepers themselves gave Yeats all the material of his book, and he wrote it down as it was given.
This was either during, or shortly after, the 1914 war, when a horrified humanity was striving to find some faith in an existence which could inflict on it such a vile experience of stagnation by blood and mud in the trenches, and pestilence all over the earth, killing off more people than the explosions and poison gases of war. The effect of that black depression was the desperate recourse to all forms of spiritualism, and books derived from it, by the hundred, lumbered the bookshops, all attesting evidence of survival after death.
All such stuff is, of course, worthless in its claims of evidential phenomena and its revelations of life in other dimensions of space, but here it did save the mass of people from despair. When stability had been re-established in the normal procedure of existence, it vanished from the bookshops, and I was glad to observe that in the second world war there was no revival of it. That war was accepted in a purely realistic spirit, and it was not a war of stagnation but of brisk action, and its effect has been to stimulate faith in life, as a thing well worth fighting for.
But I am not going to allow Yeats’ work, A Vision, to come under the heading of spiritual phenomena. It was not a work written for the people, but for those few minds which had struggled with the creative faculty, such as mine. Moreover, I have a profound respect for anything a poet of high quality has to say about the enigma of life, and Yeats is such a poet. Poetry, at its highest, is the highest expression of human consciousness, and therefore poets are especially endowed with an ultramundane knowledge of the direction of man’s soul. They do not put it in metaphysical terminologies, but into the imagery of their poetry, and those who can read poetry are always aware of that sudden flash of illumination which an image may evoke; and which carries with it a conviction of profound knowledge that refuses to formulate itself into the pedantic confirmation of speech.
For Yeats’ whole concept is the only rational assumption in relation to my concept of Progress, which I have suggested elsewhere. It accepts the understanding of an organisation of extremely efficient people—people, I emphasise, not disembodied spirits—who have a specialised job to do, which is to support, encourage and protect the creative faculty during its sojourn on this unstable foothold in space. That special faculty is sent here, or comes here of its own accord, at such times that may be propitious for its exercise. From our viewpoint here, it seems to be an extremely sporadic procedure, with long gaps between its periods of functioning, and involved in the inconsequential muddle of earthly affairs—affairs governed purely by mankind’s dominant men of action. With these, the Gate Keepers’ organisation has nothing to do, unless they threaten a disruption in their affairs, and then, I don’t doubt, they have powers of influencing actions by influencing the actors in them; a simple procedure, for our minds are wide open to all sorts of telepathic radiations. Half the thoughts we think are from such sources, and they account for most mass movements in times of turmoil and disruption.
However sporadically the organisation behind the creative faculty may seem to move, I believe it moves on a very orderly sequence of forecast events—forecast but not for that reason ordained to happen. Therein lies the whole spirit of adventure in the business, both for us on earth and the organising Gate Keepers elsewhere. There are all sorts of obstructive forces to be encountered here, and there. And we, who have taken over a job forecast for us, may funk it or evade it, or make a mess of it, and so jack up all their careful premeditations for its culmination. That is the sporting element in it which can’t be forecast, and must make it an exciting, if sometimes an exasperating, procedure for them. There could be nothing much in it if they had the power to enforce the preconception of a desired finality. They leave all that to the omnisciences of the people’s josses. If we change the True for the False Masks they can do nothing about it, except probably to damn us for throwing a spanner into their works. But if they carry through a Shakespeare or a Beethoven successfully, what a triumph! On the whole, if one studies carefully the creative achievement on this earth since the Gate Keepers launched Homer on it, as their great forerunner to an episode in civilisation, they’ve done a pretty efficient job of it up to date.
Its progressive movement is apparent in that, with each new creation in the arts, an enlargement is added to its individual expression extracted from material created by the effect of its preceding creation in whatever may be its special métier.
Perhaps music offers the best example of this progressive principle. Putting aside Palestrina and medieval church music, which doubtless derives from the Greek chorus chants, Bach is the forerunner of all great expressions in music. He did his job well, by the variety of his exercises in the tone scale, training the human ear to a more sensitive response to its graduations of sound. That done, the way was prepared for Mozart, who added human emotion to the academic structure created by Bach, using the human voice to accent emotion and vastly enlarging the conceptual range in music with the sonata and symphonic forms. Haydn, in a lesser way, contributed to Mozart’s splendid performance.
All was in order now for Beethoven’s arrival, and here the symphonic form achieved Olympian perfection, taking the whole drama of man’s conflict with destiny as its theme: performing in sounds the vast enlargement in human consciousness which Shakespeare had already done in words.
Then came Wagner, again adding the human voice to its orchestral complement. But where Mozart had carried human drama no further than any of the eighteenth century poets and artists—a graceful achievement, but not a profound one—Wagner added a Shakespearian intensity of human emotion and drama to his operas, which the Italian composers had been striving for, and doing fairly well, but never reaching the range and power over orchestral harmonies and the profundity in human drama that were Wagner’s great contribution to civilisation.
Not one of those composers could have been displaced from his position in the Time sequence of his arrival. Each one enlarged the aural sensitivity to the tone scale, while educating it to relating the sound to its emotional equivalent. If Mozart had arrived before Bach, his music would have been a violent discordance on the auditory nerves. Even with Mozart and Beethoven training the ear to melodic harmony, Wagner, who created some of the most exquisite melodies in music, was denounced for the discordance of his themes.
Here is perfect progression, forecast and controlled. I have referred to the same evidence of it in poetry, and it can be also observed in painting and pictorial art. In Form, Sound and Word, the content of consciousness in the human ego has been steadily enlarged under our inspection for over two thousand years. That is to say, in those perceptive minds which have the mental and sensory equipment to understand and respond to its creative message.
The confusing element in the Time sequence of the creative principle is that the mass of mankind does not progress with it. Whenever there is disruption in the world of affairs, and the normal struggle for existence is threatened, the primitive, predatory urge in one people to attack another will take possession of it, arousing in return a pugnacious antagonism in the one attacked. Then the professional fighting man takes command of the whole situation, till one of the other peoples capitulates. These temporary human cataclysms can’t be called a bad thing, because they evoke one of mankind’s highest endowments, courage to face death in battle. In the universal code of behaviour among all peoples, primitive or civilised, cowardice has always been the stigma of a mean or base mind. And that applies to moral as well as physical behaviour. For all the tub-thumping of Utopian altruists, a state of existence which reduced mankind to a timorous, pacific, cautious, safety-first creature would destroy every principle which dignifies the adventure of life itself on this planet, or any reason for that planet’s existence. If the Columbus in man, ever seeking the unknown, ever questing the enigma of life itself, were to falter, life would become a spiritless procedure of merely keeping alive in a state of security for a brief period between birth and death. The universal law which sustains the equilibrium between energy and inertia would automatically destroy so worthless a creature.
Since the dawn of this episode in civilisation in which we are existing, war has been the constant principle of energising states of inertia. There has always been a sufficient area of stability even during the disruption of war in which the creative faculty has functioned, drawing its most dramatic subject-matter from conflict between peoples and. within peoples themselves.
And, since the concept of life I have been trying to define in these random scribblings accepts this earth to be a microcosm of all states of existence elsewhere, then warfare must also be essential to those states. And this allows us to perceive—or conceive—a progressive principle in the mass of mankind.
That progressive principle would rest on the Man of Action, as it does here. He also, along with the perceptive mind, is an essential content of the creative faculty, whether he sides with the Gate Keepers or the Frustrators as the dominant forces in its direction between success or failure.
It is absurd to assume that the spirit of adventure into the unknown has had to limit its action to the meagre space of this earth. Already it has exhausted all unknown spaces here, from pole to pole, and is now taking to the air and under the water for what may be discovered in both elements. The mere trivial moment of arrest in its action, which we call death, is not going to quell such a fiery spirit. The Columbus in man may find superb quests into the unknown awaiting it in space.
These considerations have forced us to accept the staticism of the greater mass of mankind, as seeking, and desiring, no other objects in life than those essential to existence itself, and the ability to defend itself against anything in man or nature that attacks its security. Also, some entertainment devised by itself, and the ritual of sex union, on which the continuity of that existence is assured. The Australian Aboriginal is the perfect exemplification of such a static continuity, and a completely satisfactory one, for it has been maintained in this country for countless millenniums. The Aboriginal is infinitely better off than his prototype existing within the radius of a civilised state, for there he must become the slave of its social ordinances and work for the necessities of existence. Hence the eternal discontent of the lower orders of mankind, and their periodic outbreaks into rebellion against this enforced slavery of work, which are fostered by the astute scoundrelism of the revolutionary politician, seeking power by promising the slaves immunity from slavery and all the rewards of existence without the penalty of working for them. Once the politician has acquired that power, he clamps down on the slaves those ordinances which again enforce them to work harder than ever for the necessities of existence. No system of governing the mass of mankind has ever varied these devices for keeping it in subjection and coercing it into performing the services essential to the maintenance of the state.
The Aboriginal is immune from all such disciplinary measures of compulsion to anything but his simple tribal laws, which he obeys willingly, for they ensure him of not only protection against other tribes but the eternal stability of his existence. As for warfare against other tribes, he indulges in it with exultation, because it establishes his tribal worth in the code of the warrior—bravery in battle.
Lurking forever behind the mass mind is its palaeolithic memory of the time when each man was a free creature, enforced to no other exertion than gathering the food nature provided for him, and awarding him what is still his greatest pleasure, the skill of the hunter, killing those warm-blooded animals which are still mankind’s staple source of food.
By the mass mind, we define only that lower order of mentality which has no special faculty to be developed. It can be taught to perform all sorts of tasks devised for it by the constructive procedure of a civilisation, and no civilisation could be built without a vast army of such physical labourers to do all its rough work—and no doubt individual units do emerge from it with the energy and capacity to develop one of the many faculties essential to a civilisation. But the greater mass remains inert, dimly conscious of its inferiority and harbouring a vicious resentment against all superior classes of a social system which in times of revolution indulges in a debauch of killing designed to reduce the superior classes to its own inferior level.
This fantasy of a universal revenge on higher man by the underworld of slavery remains one of the most potent dangers a civilisation must grapple with. It has, without doubt, destroyed many past civilisations, and will destroy many future ones when it gets beyond the control of higher man. Plato’s account of the destruction of the Atlantean civilisation epitomises the procedure which brings about such a universal cataclysm, which is not due to a sudden domination by power in the mass mind, but by a relaxing in the higher mind of its creative functions and its control over the mass mind.
Atlantis has been dismissed as a fantasy by archaeological investigation because it can unearth no factual evidence of its existence. But such factual evidence does exist, not in the earth’s crust, but in the present status of the civilised mind. I will put down my concept of that evidence later. For the moment, there is still something to be said about the Australian Aboriginal.
From what I have read of him, and observed myself, I don’t doubt that he is the survival of a long past civilisation, destroyed by cataclysm. His genesis does not go back to a black-skinned primitive people, such as the Negroid African races. His skin was once white, for he breeds back to the white, when the white man has sexual relations with the Aboriginal woman. Centuries of exposure of his whole body to the sun has darkened it, as one can see it darkening the present day devotees of sun-bathing. Moreover, among pure-bred Aboriginals individual face-formations of the European type are to be found; a little coarsened externally, but with a civilised bone structure under them. My friend, Rayner Hoff, the sculptor, modelled a number of Aboriginal heads and he told me that the measurements of their skulls conformed to a classical canon of proportions. I have had half-bred Aboriginal girls as my models, and there was very little of the Aboriginal left in their features. One had the classical perfection of a Greek sculptured head.
I do not assume that the cataclysm which sank the Atlantean civilisation had anything to do with the civilisation of which the Aboriginals are the last lingering survival. That goes back through an immense period of time, and survives in the myth of the Lost Continent of Lemuria, assumed to have existed between the west coast of Australia and the island of Madagascar. Certainly the west coast of Australia is one of the oldest geological formations in the earth’s crust. A distinction must be made relating to periodic cataclysm, which is an eternal recurrence of a periodic swing between continental and cataclysmic periods, covering such immense tracts of time, as that is measured on earth, that geologists have given up trying to compute it, and have arrived at the desperation time-factor of Eternity. Local cataclysms, affecting only certain sections of the earth’s crust, have been frequent; there have been two of them in our own historical time, with the destructive action of earthquakes, volcanoes and tidal waves. The earlier one was the Biblical flood, occurring about five or six thousand years ago. The later one was not so disastrous, having its effect mainly in Egypt and Crete. But from what we now know of the destructive power of the atomic bomb, it is feasible to believe that the cataclysm which sank Atlantis was a man-made one. The evidence of an Atlantean civilisation does not rest on Plato’s account of it. There is factual evidence of its existence which cannot be disputed. First of all, there are the three great generic languages, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit.
Primitive peoples do not create great languages. At most, a couple of hundred words, or even less, cover all they need for exchanges in speech, and for reference to the conditions under which they exist.
A language which reveals an understanding of the whole constitution of human ego, its passions and aspirations, its idiosyncratic variation of types and personalities, the whole phenomenon of nature and a subtle observation of its externality, and even a knowledge of the physical conditions under which it functions, is the product of centuries, and of civilised conditions. Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 10,000 words, and it took sixteen centuries to create that vocabulary from the racial intermixture of peoples who built up the British race.
When Homer arrived, he had just such another language as the medium of self-expression in poetry, preserved for him by the ballad singers, the folk-lorists and the lesser poets whose works have not survived.
Latin and Sanskrit are as rich as Greek in all that evidences their genesis in a high civilisation.
These three languages were carried by migrations from the north. One migration swerved to the west and arrived at Italy. Another was arrested at Greece. The third passed over into Asia and arrived at India. Wherever that migration settled on its course southward, a civilisation was developed. In all such arrests, the migrants intermixed with the aboriginal peoples, so that at this date it is hard to separate the civilising migrants from the aboriginals.
Those were mainly Semitic, the red races, and from their inter-mixture with the civilising migrants we have the Hebrews, Phoenicians, Arabs, Assyrians, and Persians, and the Indo-Europeans of India. The highest intellectual content of the migrants was in the white race, which is still the dominating power in our present civilisation.
The significant portent of the white race is that it came from the north, but the linguistic sources of the three great generic languages cannot be traced to any of the Nordic peoples, Germanic or Scandinavian. The disappearance of that generic source is starkly evident; it perished by cataclysm. In all the ocean-bottoms, there is only one in which there is evidence of a comparatively recent submergence of the earth’s crust, and that is in the shallow North Sea, where it averages about twenty-four fathoms, if I remember rightly. And already one underwater explorer, Jurgan Spanuth, claims to have found evidence of a submerged city.
For other evidence of their submergence, there are the masses of amber which are still to be found on the Baltic coasts; gum from the sunken forests of the pine tree. And, at the period of that sinkage, the climate was sub-tropical, capable of producing all the fruits of the earth and all the other agricultural products which are still the source of good food stuffs on this earth.
And those raise the most portentous query of all. Where did they derive from? Who were the people who took the crude herbs and roots, grasses and berries, the primitive products of the earth, and developed them into the rich, succulent and nutritive edibles on which we exist today? Our civilisation inherited them in the very dawn of its genesis, accepting them without question as nature’s own gifts to them. Nature’s gift was the crab-apple. It was man who created the apple and all other fruits and vegetables and grains, and he still goes on experimenting with their development today. Plato states that it was the Atlanteans who developed them.
Anyone who questions the foregoing evidence of a lost civilisation that preceded the present one is a factualistic moron. I hold that it is archaeology’s special job to demonstrate the survivals of that civilisation in Neolithic man.
Neolithic man is not generated from Palaeolithic man. Stone Age man is a static creature and has no progressive impetus to advance beyond his few wood and stone implements.
Neolithic man emerges dramatically into this present episode of civilisation, fully equipped to take his place in it. Evans’ excavations at Knossos reveal that in irrefutable terms. Digging through the 2,500 years of the Minoan civilisation, he arrived at about 14,000 years of Neolithic man. There he bottoms suddenly on Palaeolithic man, with his stone axes and arrowheads. There is no evolutionary interval between them.
Neolithic man was the weaver, potter, metal worker, agriculturist and pastoralist. He was also the shipbuilder and navigator. He was also the itinerant merchant, travelling the known world with his wares, bronze swords and utility implements, mainly in the panniers of his horse or ass, and trading them for gold, silver, amber or other trade commodities among the peoples he dealt with.
That Plato’s account of the Atlantean civilisation should have been held a myth, or an ingenious bit of fiction, is only another evidence of the ineradicable wrongheadedness of the pedantic mind. It is an historical document of the highest importance, and its sources come from one of the greatest avatars of our civilisation, Solon, the great law-giver. He got its data from the Egyptian priests, who claimed that their records went back twelve thousand years.
Critias was Solon’s nephew, or grandson, I forget which. He was a scholar, and Plato’s intimate friend, and he must have had access to Solon’s literary and historical MSS. No doubt that he and Plato were fascinated by those which had to do with Atlantis, and Plato put them into the narrative that has come down to us.
The revolution which destroyed the Atlantean empire was a communist uprising of the lower orders. If the Atlantean adepts—we call them scientists—were the people who generated all the fruits and vegetables and grains which we have inherited, and also built up all the higher animals, as Plato said they did, then they knew everything that can be known about the whole economy of this earth, chemical, vegetable, animal and mineral. They knew all about the evolutionary principle which governs the growth of all living things, from the reptilian up to the human body. They knew all about the atomic principle which integrates matter (that knowledge was known to the Greeks) which implies that they also knew the principle which disintegrates matter by releasing the explosive potentialities of the atom.
All that is a fixed content in the constitution of an earth, and therefore every recurrence of a civilised epoch will discover the same physical laws involved in it.
So the conclusion is inevitable. The Atlanteans had finally resorted to atomic warfare!
The Atlantean civilisation was an island one, because a sea-girt land was protected against the primitive peoples on the mainland. And those were of as many races as people the earth today.
It developed into a maritime empire, with conquest over many of those peoples and the planting of colonies among them, just as the British empire expanded by conquest and colonisation. It doubtless flourished for centuries, till the inevitable decadence of inertia set in which overtakes all peoples who have reached their apex of creative effort. The inevitable effect of that is revolt among the conquered peoples, or revolt among the lower orders of the conquerors. By Plato’s account, it was a series of cataclysms which sank the island empire, so that world warfare arrived at anarchy. It certainly smashed all the cities that had been created on the mainland, for all evidence of them has long since been absorbed into the earth’s crust.
Factual scepticism can’t bring itself to believe that such a universal disintegration of an earth civilisation can have vanished without leaving a trace. That is because the factual mind lacks the imaginative faculty of evoking what must have happened in a state of world cataclysm.
Apart from the destructive effects of atomic warfare, the death rate from the natural forces of earthquake, volcanic activity and tidal waves must have almost depopulated the earth. Waves of lava also rolled down on the valleys and plains, where the foodstuffs were cultured and the cattle pastured. The survivors scrambled up any mountains that remained stable, and were obsessed with one imperative need—immediate food to stave off starvation. There was very little of that to be had, and within one generation all civilised peoples were back at the state of Neolithic man, while the outlying primitive peoples reverted to Palaeolithic man; as we find them today, in New Guinea and the South American forests and Australia.
All higher cultures perished. By the time the cataclysm subsided, the peoples resumed the various occupations which provided the necessities of existence. The nationalities re-established themselves geographically, as they exist today. But if the higher minds among them ceased to function, and all their recorded knowledge had perished, the creative faculties still remained dormant in their memory cells, awaiting the time when sufficient social and economic stability had been established for another episode of civilisation. They had retained their languages, even if their past histories had become myths, but those were sufficient to keep alive the legends and folksongs which are the substance of poetry and written word.
The handicrafts allowed them to practise that muscular dexterity and unison of action between hand and eye from which the fine arts are created. The harmonic tone scale remained in their songs and simple pipe music.
Do the Gate Keepers play any part in these episodes of cataclysm? I don’t think so. Their function is timeless. Our system of computing the passage of time has no effect on it. If man smashes an episode of civilisation, that is entirely his affair. Like a laborious species of ant, he must build it up again to a state of stability before they decide to revive the creative faculty. Their people return to earth on a carefully organised system of precedence; the poets first, then the artists, later the musicians. In the Greek words, “These are the Olympians who descended on earth to slay the dragon’s brood.” How perfectly Greek art symbolised that descent with Apollo, the bright and beautiful, standing beside an Omphalos round which is twined a snake! Greek form symbolism, to me, is authentic evidence of its Atlantean derivation.
Norman Douglas wondered why the Greek nature-images stopped short at the Dragon, the Satyr, the Sphinx, the Siren, the Centaur and the Mermaid. It stopped short there because these cover the whole animal species in a division half-animal half-human; the genitals of the animal surmounted by the human braincase. In short, the development of all the higher animals from their primitive ancestry. The Dragon (the first of the vertebrates) is not given a braincase, because it was the rough material out of which all the other primates were begotten.
Was there any definite leak over from the Atlantean empire? I think possibly in two peoples, the Egyptian and Maya races. The racial origin of the Egyptians has never been traced, but they are alike in facial types with Maya faces as modelled on pots and. on sculptures, and both peoples were pyramid-builders and trained to the handling of great blocks of stone. The Egyptians may have been transported from South America for that reason. And probably South America, an outlying colony furthest from the European cataclysm, may have suffered least from it. If this is the case, it retained the architectural faculty when it had perished in Europe, as the remains of it still extant suggest.
Whatever the Maya races may have been in the great period of the Atlantean empire, by the time they appear in history they had degenerated into a horrible people, their whole religion based on human sacrifice and the death-image—the human skull. They were a race of mathematicians, as their hieroglyphics testify; and the mathematical faculty, that which thinks in figures, which are abstractions, is furthest from the humanistic mind which thinks in words. In the whole of the Maya sculptures, there is not one feminine image; that image which in all other peoples is the symbol of fecundity, of the eternal continuity of life itself. There never was a better deserved Nemesis than that which brought the Spaniards down on the Maya-Aztec races, to wipe out what remained of their blood-drenched religious rituals.
Today, the mathematician is the most dominant figure in a mechanised civilisation. Draw what conclusions you like from that. He has already provided mankind with the power to wipe out our present episode in civilisation.
For myself, the quandary there is a simple one, permitting of only two conclusions. If it is a civilisation worth preserving, it will be preserved. And only a Renaissance of the creative faculties in Art can make it worth preserving.
There is one aspect of the Atlantean cataclysm that I have overlooked. That of climate. I suspect that the discharge of atomic energy released masses of the polar icecaps; and, from sub-tropical, the climate became the cold climate it is today, thereby driving those migrations south in quest of warmth. Already the few experiments in exploding nuclear fission are affecting our climates, even as far south as Australia. It is becoming much colder.
As for the earth’s power to absorb all structures in stone and metal, the diggings of archaeology have shown how swiftly that may be accomplished in the space of 3,000 years or less. As for metals, we know that their chemical decomposition completes a cycle from uranium to lead. They all go back to their original constituents, into the rock strata from which they had been extracted. The constituents of an earth are a constant content. Its weight never varies from one continental epoch to another. The very metals which we are digging up today may have serviced the Arts and utilities of a long dead civilisation.
How such assumptions shock the factual rationalist! I have aired such speculations with them and I find that their minds—bemused by the spectacle of this present civilisation, with all its ingenuity in mechanical construction, its control of natural forces and substances from which to extract energy to drive its combustion engines, its skyscraper buildings and iron ships carrying populations of passengers, the stored knowledge of their libraries and museums—cannot conceive all this concrete mass blown away like smoke before a gale of wind.
Solid earth! How that reassuring caption has confounded the perception of how unstable our foothold is on its structure, so loosely held together by a thin cuticle of rock, barely holding in check its core of fire, and its outer crust covered with a few feet deep of decayed matter from its vegetable growths and disintegrated surface rocks. Shake the whole thing up with a universal cataclysm and every man-made erection would be in shattered fragments, all its sources of knowledge buried under them.
And those sources of knowledge still retained in the brain cells of its few survivors, what of them? Even if the generation which survived the cataclysm still retained knowledge of these, what use could it make of such knowledge without all the constructive mechanism on which it functioned? To the second generation, they would be meaningless fantasies, fading into myth with each succeeding generation.
Depressing stuff, these drivellings of an idle mind? Are they? I don’t know. Hugh McCrae once said to me with a shiver of horror, “There is so much that we must not know.” I’ve been living with such stuff’ as I’m writing here since I first read of Rutherford’s experiments in splitting the atom. Bernard Berenson, one of the few wise men of my generation, wrote in his wartime diary that when, as a youth, he read that they had succeeded in splitting the atom, he had an attack of vertigo, as if the earth was no longer solid substance beneath his feet.
I have detested the name of Rutherford for all the depressed moods he has inflicted on me. Yet Douglas Stewart has written a powerful poem presenting Rutherford in the godlike posture of an arbiter of human destiny on this planet, saying in effect to man “We have given you the choice between survival or annihilation.”
To me, a monstrous assertion of arrogance. The biographer of Conan Doyle asserts that Doyle drew the character of Professor Challenger, in his fanciful adventure story of The Lost World, from Rutherford. As a medical student, Doyle had attended lectures by Rutherford, who made a potent figure in the university pontificates of that era. Here is Doyle’s portrait of him:
“His head was enormous, the largest I have ever seen. He had the face and beard I associated with an Assyrian bull . . . the latter so black as almost to have a suspicion of blue, spade shaped, and rippling over his chest. The eyes were blue-grey, under great black tufts, very clear, very critical, very masterful. A huge spread of shoulders and a chest like a barrel, with two enormous hands, covered with black hair. This, and a bellowing, roaring, rumbling voice, made up my first impression of Professor Challenger.”
A later comment adds to this picture “He had a mincing walk, turning his toes out.”
That final touch about the walk convinces me that the portrait was drawn from life. It is the strut of an insensately conceited man.
We have yet to discover whether the principle of conflict between Energy and Inertia made Rutherford’s contribution to it a necessity. Something has to be done about any more world wars, if this earth is to continue its function in the development of special faculties in mankind, and only the threat of universal extinction may knock some sense into its nationalistic animosities.
POSTSCRIPT TO THE FOREGOING THESIS ON ATLANTIS
In a brief exchange of letters with Leonard Cottrell I had referred to Atlantis. He wrote back to say that he had no belief in the myth of Atlantis, for archaeology had never discovered any factual evidence of its existence.
Leonard Cottrell has done magnificent work as the historian of archaeology, and of all the past civilisations revealed by its excavations. His great work The Anvil of Civilisation is a compact synthesis of the whole past procedure from which our present-day civilisation is derived, and the fine, lucid quality of his prose is matched by the profundity of his erudition. He is right, of course, in saying that no factual evidence of Atlantis exists, for by factual evidence he means the pottery and other artifacts dug up on the sites of long buried cities. Those cities have gone thirty-forty-fifty or more feet underground. If they can sink so far in a mere 3,000 years, what possibility would there be of any factual evidence of a civilisation which perished 20,000 years ago. By this time, it must be hundreds of feet underground, and every vestige of it in the way of carved stone, pottery, and moulded metal work crushed into its genetic state by the weight of strata above it. And according to my thesis, the empire of Atlantis perished by cataclysm 20,000 years ago.
I have adduced all the evidence of a past civilisation from which our civilisation derived in the previous essay, and won’t repeat it here. The one thing I lacked was evidence which would confirm the date of that lost civilisation, and archaeology itself has at last supplied that evidence. It is contained in a work entitled Discovering Art, now being published in parts, and it covers all recent archaeological discoveries as well as those of the past. And for the past two decades, archaeology has been a state subsidised activity in most, if not all, European and Asian nationalities, who are digging into their own past with a feverish energy which is not purely inspired by archaeological ardour. We need not search far for the urge behind it. That is fear, inspired by the atomic bomb. A submerged racial memory in all those nations is muttering “We did it once before. Are we going to do it again?”
The time factor of most importance established by them is that of the arrival of the city builders, and that factor is the same among all the nations. It goes back to 6,000 years; the earliest dating of the civilisations that were to follow. And all started building cities at about the same date. The procedure of city building moves with its advancing civilisation, revealed by its pottery, its metal work, its architecture, and its statuary. The earliest cities are sprawling settlements of adobe huts and narrow alleyways, and its few artifacts are crude and primitive. Its significance is that the survivors of cataclysm are no longer small tribal communities, and that by the growth of populations and the stabilising of the food supply, they have arrived at centralising the state by a civic organisation of government. Also that the nations have reformed themselves on the lands of their original generation. And that implies conflict and war with other nations. The later, well built cities are evidence of that conflict. They are strong, stone built constructions, created by capable military architects for defence, and big enough to harbour in wartime the land workers who produce the nation’s food supply. From then on begins their recorded history which we know so much about, and so allows us to study the swift growth of culture in all nations, the most notable being that of the Greeks. It is front them, almost alone, that our present civilisation was begotten. In just 1,000 years B.C., we see their civilisation reach its apex in architecture, sculpture, craftsmanship, poetry, drama, philosophy, law giving, jurisprudence, and initial experiment in the sciences, No other nation since has reached the cultural perfection of that small group of people inhabiting a rocky promontory and a number of scattered islands, enforced to live a Spartan existence by the limited nature of its food supply. And it is from one of those Greeks, Solon, the great law giver, that we derive the figures which allow us to date the cataclysm which sank the island empire of Atlantis. Two thousand years later Evans was to confirm Solon’s time factors by his excavations at Knossos. Those were as follows. 14,000 years of Neolithic man. 3,000 years of the Cretan civilisation. 2,000 years A.D. which gives us 19,000 years. Solon’s figures are 12,000 years of the Egyptian priests’ records, 6,000 years of the earliest Greek city builders to Solon’s time, and our 2,000 years A.D. which gives us 20,000 years.
These figures are too close to be coincidental. There may be some confusion over the Egyptian priests’ use of the term Atlantean. To the Egyptians, Atlantean would cover all northern peoples. They spoke of the Greeks having fought the Atlanteans. Without doubt, these would be the horned helmeted Nordic peoples of the mainland, who had harried the Egyptians themselves, as their wall carvings attest. In later years, they appear as those periodical pests the Goths, who were to assist in dismembering the Roman, and later, the Byzantine Empire. In our time they have brought about two world wars.
The above factualities confirm the assertion that Neolithic man, so termed, is the survivor of a civilisation that perished by cataclysm.
Periodic cataclysm must not be confused with those spasmodic seismic disturbances of the earth’s crust which are a normal hazard to existence on this planet. They are sudden and violent and may be destructive, but they subside quickly, leaving the surface of the earth very much as it was before their emergence. Periodic Cataclysm covers immense periods of time in its slow swing from chaos back to continental stability again. It raises sea bottoms and sinks mountains—submerges vast tracts of land and raises others. Certain areas of land may remain stable through several periods of cataclysm. Joly, an inspired geologist in my opinion, claims that there is evidence of six periodic cataclysms in the American Rocky Mountains. He has also advanced the only feasible explanation of the cause of periodic cataclysm. Mention Joly to the average geological pedant and he will exclaim “Not proven,” as if proof could be obtained of a procedure which happened twenty or more million years ago. I am not going to synthesise Joly’s thesis on periodic cataclysm here; read his own book, if the problem interests you. One thing at least we can be sure of as due to the terrific heat liberated by the radio energy released by volcanic action from the earth’s molten core of fire. All life on this planet retrogresses to its protoplasmic genesis, there to remain dormant till the earth cools, its crust is stabilised, and life begins its slow progression back from the amoeba to man. With amazing patience and industry, the evolutionists have traced the whole procedure by which a continental period is established on earth. Once Palaeolithic man has been firmly established in his special function of creating a physical habitation for the arrival of Neolithic man, a fresh episode in civilisation is inaugurated.
Fatuity can hardly go further than to assume that our present civilisation is the oily one that has been generated during the countless millenniums in which this earth had endured as a continental structure safe for the production of civilised man. Many civilisations have risen, flourished, and relapsed into a state of inertia, which insures their extinction, either by man-made cataclysm or natural forces. Let the Utopian fanatic howl his loudest at this drastic dismissal of any humanistic sentiment over the law of necessity which operates in the conflict between energy and inertia. Let him be consoled by the fact that Palaeolithic man, and woman, survives the destruction of all civilisations that have gone rotten, and which no longer generate the special faculties which are needed elsewhere. For myself, I can conceive mass death in cataclysm to be a humane procedure, infinitely preferable to the many horrible forms of death which are endured with more or less stoicism. We are inured to mass death by war and pestilence—why should we specialise in horror over its occurrence in cataclysm? There populations are mainly wiped out by drowning—the easiest of all deaths.
There may be long or short periods between the minor cataclysms which wipe out one civilisation and start another. The interval between the destruction of Atlantis and its revival by the Greeks, Romans and Indo-Europeans was a very short one—a mere 20,000 years. There was a minor one which swept the Mediterranean about five thousand years ago, from which the Jews date their tribal genesis, conceiving themselves to be the only people who survived it, and thereby awarding themselves the distinction of being the Chosen of God, and bringing down on themselves the devastating quip of
There never has been a more satanic joke perpetrated on besotted humanity than the Jew’s Bible, which has stirred up more hatred between people and peoples than any other source of conflict. However, man being what he is, and requiring conflict of some sort to stir him into action, he would have found other stimulus for it if the Jew had not provided him one ready made.
It is the uniform time factors in all nations which evidence that all were subjected to the same procedure by cataclysm from a primitive neolithic state to a civilised one. Neolithic man arrives with all the faculties essential to the creation of a civilisation. Among the small groups of survivors from cataclysm there would be all types of minds, from the highly developed intellectual to the pick and shovel labourer. It is the intellectuals who will transmit to their offspring the legend of their lost civilisation, and some of its accomplishments in the form of folk song, poetry, music and, most of all, language. It will tell the story of all its other creative achievements, its Gods, rituals, festivals, in short, all the past legends and traditions which in a few generations will fade out into the myths which have come down to us from the Greeks. In all other nations the same procedure has been followed, accounting for the multiplicity of Gods and religions which still befuddle humanity. Mencken has compiled a list of them, which disposes of omnipotence from any tribal God. That, the people at large must have some such benevolent bogy we concede, and they are welcome to it, as long as they are not allowed to bludgeon the individual mind into obeisance to it.
A PROSAIC BUSINESS
What I have tried to do is the very thing that the factual rationalist revolts against, and that is to rationalise the action of ultramundane beings in contact with this earth, and playing a big part in the expression of Creative effort here. A prosaic enough suggestion.
Our arrival on this earth is a very prosaic business, assisted by the midwife and the doctor’s forceps. There is nothing at all occult or esoteric about it. Every infant born on this earth arrives as an individual identity and not merely as the spawn of the biological functions. Its thumbprints prove that contention. If it has any special faculty that was there at birth, he or she merely develops it here, or is fully equipped for its expression on arriving at early maturity. Even if it is only a variation on the mass mind, that variation will be evidenced by its response to external stimuli and by the infinite variations in human personality.
Certainly all, high or low, inherit ancestral traits, mental or physical. A great percentage of them, all probably, have had past experiences of earth-life. Those past experiences can be recovered by hypnosis. There are freak cases of the recurrence of such experiences in one present-moment identity, very often to its extreme confusion, as one past identity ousts the others, or takes a periodic possession of its body. All that sort of thing belongs to the psychological clinics, and its value here is that it evidences the very prosaic nature of our arrivals on this planet.
And it allows us to assume that the procedure of our departure from it and arrival elsewhere in space will be equally prosaic. There were many interesting things to be discovered on this earth. There will be many interesting things to be discovered elsewhere. And what discoveries we make there will be proportionate to our powers of observation and ratiocination, as they are here. My rationalism disposes altogether of the lunatic illusion of the people’s creed that “all will be revealed there.”
Revelation is not given. It is an intellectual attainment, developed by an intense preoccupation with the spectacle of life, the peculiar constitution of the human ego, and by all that is best in what other thinkers have written about it, or dramatised in the symbolisms of words, forms and sounds. What enlargement of consciousness we have acquired by such sources of knowledge will be the impetus on which we set out for another adventure of the same sort, but under different conditions of time and space.
I don’t think my rationalism need go further than that. If the factual rationalist won’t have anything to do with it, then he is thrown back on the assumption of a divine revelation awaiting him, and that will land him plump into the hundreds of divine revelations of the people’s creeds—and a fine old madhouse that must be, with each one tub-thumping its own evangel, as violently antagonistic there as they were here, for nothing can avert the law that man goes to what he is.
And the factual rationalist will find his brother factualist there, busily computing, as ever, reality by the evidence of their sensory response to its externality. Doubtless they will find that they are now endowed with several additional senses to augment the operation of the five senses which are their earthly equipment for the same essential exercises; extra senses for responding to extra subtleties in force and matter. And there, no doubt, he will perform the same useful function that he did on earth, which is to keep a sane balance between all fanaticisms in the conflict of opinion below or above the normal average of intelligence.
Irritating as he may be in rejecting any hypothesis which does not conform to that average, he performs an excellent service in keeping a stern eye on those moonstruck halfwits, the spiritualists and occultists, who are the extreme antithesis to the brand of rationalism I am trying to define in these scribblings. But then, I am not addressing myself to them, but to those few who are struggling to find self-expression in either the Word, the Form, or the Sound, for which they must use the same sensory equipment as the factualist in garnering the material which will define an individual concept of life itself.
And the creative faculty, like all other faculties, will no doubt suffer a considerable confusion in finding the way to a fresh exercise in it when effecting a landing on the other side of space after its flight from earth. In that sorting-out space for all the variations of the human ego, there must be some fascinating revelations of that ego to reward the spectator, if he is allowed to stand by and look on at its spectacle as the intelligent observer of it has done on earth. There, I confess, to an unappeasable curiosity which has lasted a long lifetime and is still the major interest of existence for me.
For on earth man is a hiding animal, and very effectively he adjusts the masks behind which he lurks. His multifarious activities in the world of affairs give him an equal number of disguises for playing his character-part in the human comedy. All his pretensions to worth and distinction are involved in the way he plays that part and the social status it awards him.
But he can’t carry his histrionic abilities and all its theatrical properties with him when the undertaker has performed his office on the naked carcase they have so effectively hidden from inspection. He can take nothing with him but that peculiar governing principle of the ego’s conscious processes, the mind. And that will automatically relegate him to his real status of worth, or worthlessness, in the ranking values of the human ego.
I concede that we could not get along on earth without those capable performers in the action of affairs. It is their special function. Let anyone of the higher minds seek to grapple with them and he will make a deplorable mess of it, as Plato did when he tried to organise his New Republic, which could only function with a public of philosophers like himself.
Only tough, power-craving men can do anything with the bedevilled mass of the human species, and when such men attain absolute power they invariably play hell with the action of affairs, till the same capable men of action catch up with them and liquidate them (to use the current term for killing). And how sensitive these gentry who indulge in mass killings are to the terms in which they are performed! “Murder” is offensive to the high sense of social morality which dictates the order to kill. “Execution” won’t do, since that implies calling on the ponderous authority of the law. Machineguns are much more effective and the whole thing is done quickly, if a trifle messily, and shoved underground before any restrictive action can interfere with its performance.
I would be wandering into the area of the people’s jurisdiction on Good and Evil if I indulged speculation on the destination in space of those megalomaniacs such as the German Emperor and Hitler, who in my time have let loose two world wars on the denizens of this earth in terms of destruction unparalleled in its past history of warfare. Looking on at the whole spectacle instigated by two such puerile creatures, one is tempted to say, “There is no hole in hell deep enough for the bastards!”
Such clichés in thinking are automatic, and express the ardent desire to see retribution catch up with the malefactors, which is an essential catharsis to a repressed emotion. Even when the simple crude murderer is hanged, there is a sense of satisfaction at all breakfast tables where the morning paper announces that justice has been done on one minor killer. Those sentimental halfwits, the Freudian physicians who are mainly responsible for doing away with the death sentence for a capital crime, are doing a worse thing by absolving the criminal from any conscious responsibility for his act and relegating that to uncontrollable compulsions in the subconscious. And, at the same time, imposing on the non-criminal mass of mankind a repressed anger that the killer has been reprieved from the death he inflicted on another. A prison sentence is not a just reprisal for such an. act. Murder should be dramatised by the finality of death for the murderer. We owe much that is great in poetic drama to that dictum.
And since man manufactures his own hells and heavens on earth, he must carry them as the indestructible content of his mind when he makes his exit from earth—which means that he must sit in judgment on them himself. And that judgment will depend on what integrity he may have for facing self-knowledge. Even in the struggle of existence on earth, we are aware that the whole conscience-problem in life and art depends on self-knowledge, for there is no enlargement of consciousness without it. And, since we advance here solely by that enlargement, we must advance elsewhere by the same impetus, and I dare say that all higher men do face up honestly enough to their conscience-problems, whether they are humanistic or aesthetic. Both impose a standard of values which are immutable and dare not be tampered with. If they are tampered with, so much the worse for the tamperer, but that is a personal and private affair with him and does not affect the lives of others.
But what of those arrogant dominants in the action of affairs whose own actions have a drastic effect on whole masses of people? I can’t see that self-knowledge can have been a governing principle in their mental and moral constitutions. I can’t see under any terms a German Emperor or a Hitler ever facing up to a knowledge of the sort of creatures they really are, even when a completed memory puts the record of their behaviour in ruthless terms before them. A megalomaniac conceit is the whole substance of their being. How could self-knowledge penetrate such an armour? One can only assume them to be a species of human automaton in which are concentrated the blind urges of the mass mind; because those must have some focal apex of expression. In themselves, the Hiders and German Emperors are too petty to be awarded the distinction of monsters. One might even conceive them to be the victims of an explosion of natural forces, driving them before it because they happen to be in its forefront.
And such violent convulsions in mankind must come under the law of necessity, and that law must derive from the universal principle which sustains the balance between energy and inertia. That equilibrium refers to Man as well as Matter, and man’s consciousness of himself in relation to matter is one effect of it. The other effect, the moral one, is its vital effect on man’s consciousness of himself.
CREATION’S DEBT TO DESTRUCTION
The 1914 war revealed that truth to me, for I found that I epitomised every other man who had developed the faculty of ratiocination. It was brought home to me in simple terms in a talk I had with such a man during the war. I drop into personal reminiscence here because it instances in the individual a general principle of creative self-expression in both life and art. That talk was in a railway-train which was so crowded that I had to stand up in the passage, along with others. Beside me was a young returned soldier, and I got into talk with him. It was in the days before conscription, and men joined the army of their own volition. He told me he was one of three brothers, all working on the land, and they decided that one of them must join up. To decide the issue, they tossed a coin, and he lost the toss and went to war. He was a slow-spoken, reflective youth, and he said: “I was the lucky one, losing out on that toss. I wouldn’t have missed this war for anything you could give me. I got something out of it I never could have got if I’d stayed home just working with the others.”
Not being gifted with any ease in self-expression, he did not attempt to define what the “something” was that he had got out of facing death in battle. I did not need to be told, for the spectacle of that violent disruption in human conflict, bringing to the surface all intensities of human emotion, testing out ail powers of endurance, physical and mental, bringing the normal threat and suspense to a dramatic crescendo, presented me with a concept of life itself that a safe and peaceful existence never could have revealed to me. It gave me the very substance of self-expression in Art.
* * *
I had practised my faculty for self-expression and was fairly efficient in its medium, which was at that time pen and ink draughtsmanship. But I had exercised it only on the inspiration of the writers I delighted in, Petronius, Rabelais, Villon and others.
I had reached a stage of satiation with the practice of pen strokes that very nearly killed me. With the drying up of interest in my metier, my physical vitality petered out with it, and I spent three months on my back in hospital before the medicos extracted the virus of inertia from my carcase, if not from my mind.
I crawled forth to a physical convalescence which was so pleasant that I ceased to bother my head over the damned foolery of scratching pictures on paper with a pen. Throwing overboard one’s conscience can reward one with the luxurious art of loafing.
The 1914 war exploded on that gracious interlude with the effect on me of a clout from a bludgeon. Luckily for myself, my ingenious Daemon had fitted me out with a carcase quite incapable of enduring the physical exertion of even lugging a heavy rifle about with me. If I was exempt from taking any part in it, I could think of nothing but that blasted war, with its mounting horrors of mud and blood and pestilence, revealing with it the volcanic furies which underlie a surface substratum of a civilisation, as they underlie the thin substructure of rock on which it exists.
The finality of that war left my mind in a ferment which had to find an outlet somewhere, and the only one at my command was the faculty of transforming my thought-processes into the language of a form imagery. For the Word and the Form are one thing, and neither can have validity without the other. Now I had rather more material for a concept of life than I could grapple with. Its effect was a fanatic debauch of work. For the next ten years I worked from dawn to dusk in three mediums, pen and ink, etchings and water colours, and did the work of three men in them, as the work itself attests. When events moved on to the next world war, I took to oils. I had forecast the inevitability of that war and the course it would take, bringing America and Australia into it, in an article written in 1923 in the Art in Australia magazine. When it arrived, I ignored it, beyond glancing at a newspaper now and then. I had no longer any need for it as an intellectual dynamic. But I saw its effect on Douglas Stewart, every one of whose works I read in MS. as they were written. He had produced some minor verses and one radio verse-drama entitled Fire on the Snow, based on Scott’s tragic failure to reach the South Pole. It has since gone round the world many times, and has been translated even into the Eskimo language. Up to that, he had not found his direction.
The war gave him that. It affected him as the 1914 war had affected me, and at a stroke he found full expression in poetic drama. I am not concerned with critical values here, and will say only that those verse-dramas convinced me that they were the greatest in that idiom since the Shakespearian era.
I concede that no man can be great in his own lifetime and that only time can establish what may be the enduring qualities in his work. But I hold that it is within the right of the critic to acclaim what he considers great in those qualities, with the proviso that only time can affirm his valuation of them.
But the significance here is that they confirmed for me my conviction of progress as an enlargement in human consciousness by an enlarged perception of the constitution of man in the progressive movement in Art. As each movement penetrated the mass consciousness, directly affecting the action of life, it added new material for a fresh expression in the Arts, thereby constituting a deeper understanding of the constitution of the human ego.
Two instances of that understanding will be sufficient evidence of its validity here, and those were evoked by the spectacle of war in Douglas Stewart’s concept of them. They come under the headings of Murder and Rape.
In the Shakespearian comedy, Murder was the act of one individual against another begotten by such motives as hate, fear, political antagonism or the mere desire to rob.
Under the same concept, Rape was an individual act begotten by sexual lust in a man for an individual woman, In an age which demanded virginity in a woman as evidence of her worth in marriage, the loss of it either by surrender to a lover or by the violation of rape depreciated her status in the marriage market. She was soiled goods, and in her own estimation a destroyed creature, or so popular sentiment assumed her to be.
In Douglas Stewart’s verse-drama Ned Kelly, the theme of murder is viewed from two aspects: as an individual act, and as a compulsion in the mass mind. Ned Kelly himself is still its protagonist in the Shakespearian concept, and he defends his right to kill as just revenge for evils done to him by others. Other characters, representing the legal, social and moral orders of society, band themselves against the outlaw’s violation of the ordinances of a civilised state. The theme is then lifted to that of the act of killing as a major imperative when that civilised state is thrown into disruption by war and revolution. Here its theme is voiced by two characters in the drama, young Joe Byrne, a member of the Kelly Gang, and Living, the cashier of the bank they have robbed.
Joe Byrne epitomises dangerous and danger-loving man; reckless man, the restless urge for adventure in youth; the desire for a full life, love of women, a contempt for all the petty interdictions of the social order against the free indulgence of his desires. In the drama, he kills the man who has informed against the gang to the police.
Living epitomises “safety first” man; cautious man, the wage slave, meekly submitting to all the ordinances begotten by his own order of the human species for its own protection.
In times of disruption, it is not Living who is called on to face the chaos they impose on a civilised state, but Joe Byrne, who achieves the status of heroic man in warfare, where killing becomes its prime imperative.
Here we have something new added to the theme of murder since Shakespeare’s concept of it. Man himself has added that new material to its concept. In Shakespeare’s time, the social order was divided into three classes, high, middle and low. All action was dictated by individual members of the high class, kings, soldiers and clerics, therefore murder, in no matter what class it was perpetrated, became the act of an individual.
Today the social order has become much more complex. The rise of populations, the economy which supports them, the industrial revolution by a mechanised industry, has intermixed all classes, and democratic rule by the people, who elect their own rulers, has submerged the individual in the mass and the mass has absorbed the emotional compulsions of the individual. In the drama of Ned Kelly, we see these two compulsions, individual and mass, presented in the action of the drama,
Here it is the poet, as always, who reveals the constitution of the human ego as the passage of time and events impose on it their complexities in the action of life.
In Stewart’s other drama, Shipwreck, the theme is one of murder under mob misrule, in revolution against constituted authority, with the theme of rape added as an inevitable content of revolution.
A Dutch ship containing men and women passengers is wrecked on a desert island off the shores of Australia, and the whole event is historical. The ship’s officers go off in one of the smaller ship’s boats in quest of a vessel large enough to rescue the marooned crew and passengers, leaving the ship’s supercargo in charge of them. He takes over the title of Captain General and heads the mutineers among the crew, who murder all its faithful members who failed to escape to a smaller island, murdering also the husbands of the wives among the passengers. The tougher leaders of the mutiny share out the women among themselves.
There are six women characters, all definite personalities in themselves and salient types of the feminine ego, so that all react to the ordeal of rape according to the psychological constitutions of their being as both woman and women.
And they survive the ordeal, and are not morally destroyed by it and when rescued take their place in the normal procedure of existence. They are even given heroic status, as women who have bravely faced the brutalities of war.
This, too, is something added to the spectacle of life since Shakespeare’s time. Women today are no longer pawns in a man-made order of society. They have achieved freedom of action by the need the industrial revolution has for their services, and by their own revolt against man’s domination over the emotional needs of their being. And that revolt had a great deal to do with the debacle which brought about the 1914 war, as I will try to elucidate, at least for my own satisfaction, when seeking an explanation for the principle of necessity which imposes such cataclysms on the normal procedure of our existence.
NECESSITY VERSUS CHANCE AND ACCIDENT
There are two questions to be asked of that principle of necessity, for only necessity can justify its recurrence.
Is there a directing agency behind them, or do they operate mechanically on the conflict-principle of energy versus inertia?
We have been so long corrupted by the people’s creed of a benevolent God opposed by a malevolent Devil in the action of human life that we have automatically come to think of Good and Evil in purely humanistic terms.
I am prepared to concede that these ultramundane human minds operate in the action of human affairs on earth precisely in the same terms as their human equivalents on earth intrude on its action. For those, I have already accepted Yeats’ denominations of the Gate Keepers and the Frustrators. But I refuse to accept them on any terms as directing agencies in human affairs here. My conviction is that those are automatic, due to a relaxation of energy in Higher man and a resurgence of energy in Lower man; the simple procedure by which all revolutions are brought about.
That relaxation of energy is most apparent in the arts, where those make concessions to Lower man. And we saw that happening all through the Victorian era in England, and in other countries, chiefly France and Germany.
All those countries, from the tail-end of the eighteenth century and for three decades of the nineteenth, had set off with a fine impetus in poetry, prose, music and plastic art. I need not tabulate all the great creative names of those who functioned in the arts up to the time when their initial energy petered out. That was most apparent in England, and in the novels of Dickens. He, gifted with a superb creative faculty for the métier of the novelist, and clearly designed to link up with the English novel where Fielding left it—as his first picaresque novel, The Pickwick Papers attests—turned rightabout face and wrote that dismal, gloomy melodrama of sentimentality about the denizens of the slums, Oliver Twist. “Twist” is the keyword for that wretched performance, which he could not help infusing with his great powers as a novelist.
It was almost as if the ultimatum had gone forth, interdicting a truthful revelation of all the factual and emotional realities of life. And most of all, the realities of sex. And no work of art, and especially the novel, can be great unless it deals truthfully with the greatest of all human emotions: the conflict and union between the male and female ego.
All the other novelists gifted with a métier for the novel, Thackeray, Charles Reade, Trollope, followed Dickens in interdicting what are today called “The Facts of Life,” and which are the common property of present-day adolescents. The painters followed the writers in plastering their works with an emulcent prudery, prettiness and maudlin sentimentality. I have gone into all that elsewhere, and we know where the demand for it came from: the money market, which was in the hands of those crude human products the industrialists, themselves newly arisen from the slums by a superior cunning over their slum fellows and now refusing to countenance any reality in art which reminded them of their origin. The artists and writers went on their bellies to them and were handsomely rewarded for their sycophancy.
I know all about it, for I had the whole blasted business on my neck when I set out to try to define my concept of life without any concessions to popular sentiment and its official censorship over the arts. And today free expression has come to them, or is coming, by what incipient evidences of its arrival may be detected. And, of course, the intellectual slum denizens in the literary world have rushed in to substitute pornographic licence for controlled free expression, and that is just one of the dirty little tricks the mob mind plays on us. It derives from repressed puritanism which has gone rancid.
Yes, the arts have free expression today. Are they going to vindicate it as another episode of creative energy? If they don’t, we know what Lower man will do about it. Everywhere today Lower man is proclaiming that this is his age—the age of the Little Man. Little men don’t create civilisations; they destroy them.
There is one factor in the automatic pendulum swing between energy and inertia to which I will not concede any tolerance, and that is the forerunner of revolution which gives it the good conscience to begin by cutting all the throats of Higher man that it can get hold of. Two examples of those forerunners are Rousseau and Marx. Those gentry know very well what they are about, submerging a hatred for life under the mask of love for man. I am sure that Rousseau was the portent which frightened Sam Johnson against meddling with the affairs of man in the mass, which he would have had to do if he had attacked the intellectual inertia of his period. For even the highest minds may be lured into meddling with the affairs of the rabble, as Plato did with his New Republic, and Nietzsche with his Superman, which Hitler took over as his destined role in comic publications for children. It is hard even for philosophers to get through this human madhouse without getting their feet into that sort of mud.
As for the Lenins and Stalins who rush in when the pendulum swing of energy goes over to the mob, and whoop it into a frenzy of wholesale murder, I reject tolerance for them also. Humanism claims that the rich brought down that nemesis on themselves by their indifference to the sufferings of the poor, and that an abstract law of justice is at work here. That may be true, where that law refers to the economic problem of the human belly. But quite another law is involved where the problem shifts to the cultured section of the human race. That a superior class of people, graceful in their behaviour, responsive to the arts, alive to the sense of beauty—in short, the civilised minority of any people—should be massacred by a brutal and mindless mob is a revolting spectacle, and not to be condoned by any abstract law of justice.
Not by me, anyway. And though it seems fantastic to assume that the penal laws of earth might operate elsewhere, I can’t think of any other system which could restrain the revolutionary leader from making trouble in the human rabble into which he is ejected. Like every other unit of it, he does not cease to be the thing he is by being transported into another degree of space. Since he carries with him the sort of mentality that makes him a revolutionary, its compulsions will be intensified rather than lessened. He is basically a bad brute while on earth and will be one on leaving it.
ART’S PRIME ESSENTIAL
The creative faculty here is concerned with “Man and the direction of his Soul,” and will be equally concerned with its direction through all its adventures in space. There must be a very rich accumulation over there of the material for art. A damned dull business our adventure into the unknown would be without it. And I don’t doubt that man’s messiahs, whether political or religious, will figure there in the same role as the villains of drama, or even melodrama, figure here. Consider the tension of that drama in its simplest form, when murderer and murderee meet face to face.
And what superb comedy there must be when the conceited pontificates of the art world here, who have bulked most largely in their generation, arrive to find themselves dumped down among their own intellectual prototypes! The most obnoxious specimen of swollen-headed arrogance of my generation was G. B. Shaw, who claimed to have superseded Shakespeare as the world’s greatest dramatist, and who once swaggered up to Conrad with the insolent greeting of “My dear fellah, your novels really will not do.” In those terms, I am convinced that his treasured fantasy was of swaggering up to Shakespeare, with all the other great Elizabethans grouped about him as an admiring audience.
Conceive, then, his fury at finding a deputation of blue-nosed Presbyterian and bottle-nosed Methodist parsons greeting him with glad cries of “Dear brother!,” for he never was anything but a pulpit-thumping steriliser of the passions and a sexual impotent who spat derision at all lyricism between lovers.
How Max Beerbohm must have enjoyed the spectacle of the crash of Shaw’s fantasy, for Max was the only critic of Shaw’s generation who saw through his fraudulent postures as a great man and who derided his plays as the gritty socialistic tracts that they are. Max, I am convinced, would not have missed being in the front row of the stalls to observe the fulfilment of his critical astuteness in the slapstick low comedy of Shaw’s arrival on the other side of space.
And I confess to the hope of a gratified wish-fulfilment in being on hand for the arrival elsewhere of that pestilent little studio clown Picasso, who for half a lifetime has made me grit my teeth with disgust for having been forced to function under the degraded label of an artist. For though there has been bad art in all periods, as though the whole faculty of craftsmanship had lapsed, there was no deliberate effort to repudiate craftsmanship and to seek deformation of form as an objective in itself and as a deliberate effort to disrupt the union between seeing and knowing. And as far as the whole studio world was concerned, and that noisy semi-intelligent section of it, the Intelligentsia, which dictates critical opinion to the people’s newspapers, it has succeeded in its objective. I do not say that the intelligent minority, which is the core of a civilisation, have accepted the whole art movement of the last half-century, but it has not found one authoritative voice to denounce its imbecilities, and there the intelligent minority must accept the stigma of moral cowardice. The hypnotic effect of a mass movement has silenced it.
It is not a pleasant ordeal to look on at these mass movements when they seek to degrade all great values in the arts. That those values remain serenely untouched by them does not palliate the anger we feel when we are faced with the disgusting spectacle of slum denizens of the art world throwing mud at them. For all the knowledge we have of their automatic genesis in the collapse of a civilisation, in which human values have also been degraded, the emotional recoil on us is one of depreciated self-esteem. We are not designed to look on at such a spectacle with Olympian detachment. I speak for those who still adore and reverence all great past achievement in creative effort. We want to see some evidence of a revulsion against this triumph of the underworld, at least in its surface action as the accepted art movement of its era.
If there is to be a renaissance in the arts, that revulsion will inevitably come—but I won’t be here to see it. And that is what angers me as I sit here scribbling. I want to see that wretched little runt Picasso tumbled in the mud of his own begetting, and his works consigned to the rubbish tip. But that can’t happen in the little time left me on this earth’s crust, so I must resign myself to seeing the law of nemesis operating on him when he also departs from it. And that, I am convinced, will be something in the nature of a clinical revelation of the structural formation of the mind.
For the mind, wherever it goes in space, must operate on physical tissue. We know what happens when the physical tissue it uses here gets diseased. Therefore, if a mind is subjected to a long process of deformation here, as evidenced by the documentary exposure of its product in the art world, it must be in a state of disintegration once it is detached from the physical body.
And that must be rather a horrible spectacle, though an extremely fascinating one in its revelation of the principle on which consciousness functions. That a Picasso should bring such a devastating penalty on himself is simple justice. But it hardly seems just that all the poor deluded halfwits of the studio world should have had the better half of their wits addled by the glad tidings that anybody could be an artist who stuck a palette on his thumb. The studio world has nowhere to go unless it follows the popular art movement of its time. The staggering phenomenon of the whole inane business is that the world of culture, such as it is, accepted this attack on art as an art movement in itself.
But why should we find anything astonishing in this evidence of the individual submerged in the mass, when for twenty centuries millions have accepted the miracle of a few loaves and fishes being magically multiplified to feed a multitude of people? Or any other mad violation of credibility imposed on the people by religious mumbo jumbo. There could be no more valid evidence of the static primitivism of the mass mind than this blind subjection to the inertia of what it calls “faith.” For my part, I endorse the whole procedure of staticism in mass mind as long as it does not intrude the virus of inertia on the energy principle which creates a civilisation. That principle is its progressive action, apparent in the enlargement of consciousness in the individual mind by its response to an enlargement of subject-matter in creative art. At present, it seems very apparent that such an exchange between creation and perception has been arrested, and that can only mean that creative art of sufficient power to stir up a response from the perceptive mind has failed to manifest itself. A damned depressing reflection for anyone who has striven to create a concept of life in a form-imagery. There must be something bloody well wrong with the concept. No other conclusion is possible when it is the production of a long life, such as mine.
On that note of pessimism I may as well end this scribbled MS. It has served its purpose in using up a slab of useless time. And if anyone is fool enough to waste time reading it, I hasten here to assure him that I would heartily endorse his rejection of the general thesis which has emerged from it, which may be labelled under these headings:—
1. That the universe exists because we are conscious of it, and therefore the development of consciousness in the human mind is a first essential to the existence of the universe.
2. That an earth is designed as a preparatory school in which consciousness may be developed.
3. That only by a clarified understanding of the three symbolisms by which consciousness expresses itself—the Word, the Form and the Sound—can consciousness be developed.
4. That human life provides the material by which those three symbols are expressed in terms which convey enlightenment to the human mind over the constitution of its own being and the physical conditions under which it exists.
5. That the word Progress can have only one meaning and that is the enlargement of consciousness by repeated exercises in the symbolisms by which it is expressed, for as earth-life moves through time it constantly throws up fresh material for their expression. By this procedure, civilisations are created.
6. That the continuity of life on earth is based on keeping the balance between energy and inertia. If that balance is not maintained, the disruption of life, and possibly matter, is inevitable.
7. That disruption finds a release in conflict between Higher Man and Lower Man. It is Higher Man who has developed consciousness by self-expression in its symbolisms, and who thereby creates a higher class of men. It is this higher class of men which takes over the action by which a civilisation is created.
8. But higher-class men are very few in comparison with the vast mass of lower-class men. It is only by exercising their power to command obedience from lower-class man that a civilisation can be maintained.
And since lower-class man has very little powers of response to the symbolisms by which consciousness is developed, and is concerned only with the basic needs of existence (which to him are food, material prosperity and the biological propagation of his species) he harbours resentment against Higher Man for forcing on him all the social ordinances of a civilisation and also all the physical labour required in building it and maintaining it. He remains subjective enough just as long as Higher Man continues to exercise his creative faculty, out of which all constructive principles are developed and by which he maintains his authority over Lower Man. If he relaxes in the maintenance of that authority, by relaxing the creative faculty and all it implies in the way of mental energy, he relaxes his hold on Lower Man, who snatches his opportunity to rebel, excited into action by revolutionary leaders in his own class.
Let it be said here that what is called Applied Science has added nothing of value to the enlargement of consciousness. Apart from its invention of utilities, its main service has been to the man of action, exciting in him an ardour for what the newsrags call the conquest of space.
I dare say it will be his destiny to adventure into the unknown of space, but not caged in the pilot seat of a flying-machine. There are doubtless much swifter modes of transit elsewhere, where travel is not clogged with the necessity of punching a path through the obstructive action of the hydrogen atom.
Nor has mathematics contributed anything to consciousness, other than exercising its thinking faculties over obtruse theorems relating to force and matter.
The only section of thinkers under the general heading of Science who have contributed largely to consciousness are the observers of natural phenomena, which have to do with all living creatures from insects up to man himself. And the medical faculty for all that it has done to palliate physical pain.
The pessimistic assumption of this present age is that of a drawn battle between Science and Art. There is no validity in such an assumption. Science has been pushed into prominence because Art has gone flat on its belly in the mud of primitivism. The artist must give evidence that he is a civilised human being if he is to displace the scientist.
* * *
All the above is just a compaction of the commonplace understanding of the sociological evolution by which a civilisation emerges from primitivism. But I have added a good deal to it in the concept of an ordered control governing the Time factors in which the creative faculty manifests itself on earth, a control exercised by human minds operating in a higher degree of space. I claim that the evidence of that control is starkly apparent to any mind which has studied the progressive action of the creative faculty since the dawn of this present episode in civilisation. It has been a controlled procedure, and a progressive one.
At the same time I concede that any assumptions relating to an ultramundane contact with this earth are of very little value, and in their time have inflicted on it all that can be most disruptive in the action of human life.
Also, they attack its most imperative ordinance, which is that our mental feet should remain firmly planted on the earth and all our interests concentrated on the spectacle of life there, and that we should reject any mystery-mongering of what may happen to us when we depart from it.
I take Mencken’s outlook on that ordinance to be the soundest that can be stated in simple terms.
This life, he says, is good enough for him. He has enjoyed it, extracted a vast amount of entertainment out of it and would not have it to be anything other than the thing it is. He has no belief in a future life after death and no desire for such a thing. Death is a rational finality to it.
But he adds a typical Menckenian footnote to the above. If, when he gets over the border, he finds the whole thing still going on, he will say handsomely: “Gentlemen, I was wrong.”
On the other hand, we have Somerset Maugham vacillating in a limbo of doubt as to whether or not he believes in the continuity of life elsewhere than on this planet. Actually, he believes in the Hindu concept of reincarnation, though he has not the courage to say so. Repeatedly in his writings he gingerly approaches a confirmation of that concept, and then backs hurriedly away from it, fearful of being accounted an occultist. He did get to the point of saying that the damnable things that can happen to man can only be justified as self-sought penalties for the evil he has done in his past lives on earth. That is a rational assumption. I believe in it myself, but it applies only to the crude mass of humanity, where good and evil have to do solely with humanistic values, and a man is accounted virtuous because he does not murder, rape, rob and leave his poor old mother to starve. It certainly does not apply to the higher individual mind, where conscience is concerned only with its integrity to a self-sought destiny; defined by its will to action in a present moment existence on earth.
So that the stuff I have written in these notebooks is a deliberate violation of my own interdiction against theorising over the unknown and the unknowable. And the whole outlook on life in my pictorial concept of it also rejects it emphatically. That is wholly derived from the spectacle of life here; and my concept of it endorses Mencken’s summation of it as a good thing, vastly entertaining, and that all that is damnable in it enhances all that is desirable.
I have been violently attacked in my time because I have taken the full gamut of human passions as my subject-matter and have made no concessions to man’s sentimental evasion of them, or to his groans of self-pity for the hardships of life and the stresses it inflicts on the struggle for existence. And I have insisted on the accent of humour as the supreme test of endurance. All that does not assume that I have gone through life in a rollicking spirit of gaiety. I have gone through all its minor hells of black depression, of frustration, and the physical hells of pain and illness my carcase has inflicted on me. But those merely force on me the first question of conscience in a self-chosen destiny, the slogan of which was to affirm life in spite of the worst it can do to one. Without that test, there would be no test of worth in facing the adventure of life.
If I can claim that my work does vindicate my affirmation of that adventure, then what I have to say about the mechanism under which it is made is a side-issue, an intellectual diversion, a tossing of words down on paper instead of into the vacuum of talk. I’ve done a good deal of that in my time, and friends have had to put up with it. For I will not deny that Time, Space and Matter do invite what powers of ratiocination I possess to speculate on the peculiar laws under which they function. Why, even the physicists today have discovered that time is timeless, and that there is no such thing as a vacuum in the continuity of matter, and that the diversions between one section of space and another are purely the effect of different velocities in the radiations of force on matter. That variation, by the way, does away with any mystery under the heading of invisibility and the permeation of matter by matter.
But I am not going to waste speculation on the physical laws under which the universe functions. I don’t think they are important, except to physicists, and. I heartily dislike that breed of the human ego, with its feckless tampering with the forces that integrate matter. My interest is concerned wholly with the constitution of the human ego as it has functioned under conditions observed by the most subtle observers of such civilisation, of which they are the creators. That interest remains supreme over all the scepticisms of value imposed on it by itself. It does not do to submit to Nietzsche’s shudder of disgust in his axiom “All wells are poisoned where the rabble drink.” Or his desperate wail of “Oh, for an art only for artists!” That won’t do at all, if we are to use the vital material for art which we get in its raw crudity from the rabble, and not in the mental sanitation where the refined dwell. And where-ever the human ego dwells, here or elsewhere, that will still constitute a supreme fascination for us, though my sense of humour insists that, for all our smug convictions of intellectual superiority, we also will be under inspection as interesting products of the human species.
TWO TIME FACTORS IN ONE
I thought I had done with these scribblings when putting them aside after the last essay, but trains of thought, once set in action, are not so easily disposed of. They set up an irritation which will not be eased till one has written down their nagging reiterations.
In the previous essays, I have been concerned only with the past. They express states of mind generated by the 1914 war, and the contemplation of existence since that explosive event, and the state of existence preceding it which made it inevitable. The humanistic content involved in it can be set aside. It was a dramatic crisis between the forces of Energy and Inertia.
Blaming Germany alone for having caused it will not do. England, France and America were equally culpable in begetting it. The moral inertia of those countries had set in during the later Victorian era. I spent a year in England, 1910–1912, and saw the tail end of a civilisation going rotten before my eyes. Not that I was gifted at the time with the sapience to understand what I was looking at. All I was aware of was that for my sort of mind, this place was the ultimate limbo of the damnable.
I had gone to England to find a publisher for an illustrated edition of the Satyricon of Petronius, and succeeded in getting it produced on a private press. It was edited by a Cambridge Don in both the Latin and English texts, and sold out on the day of publication in a limited edition, which was never handled by the book-selling trade.
That was well enough, but was no test of integrity in the expression of a special faculty, which is that it must face up to a public exhibition of its works, and take what may be their effect of success or failure, in affirmation or attack. And attack I would assuredly get from the English national ego, for I already had that in Australia from the press and public; a public compounded of English Nonconformists, Scotch Presbyterians, Irish Catholics, and a tail-end of the convict system. I knew at least what to expect there, but from the rank prurience and puritanism of the English people, it was quite within order to get a gaol sentence for any free expression in art. Vitzatelly, a publisher, had gone to gaol for publishing Zola’s novels. A translation of Casanova’s Memoirs, though privately printed, had been seized and destroyed. The libraries exercised such a censorship over the novel that only rubbish with a popular appeal had any chance of publication, since the publishers were on their bellies to the libraries, which took the larger portion of their circulations. Here are two instances of what any sort of free pictorial expression must expect:
John Lane, that old pirate who made a fat living by exploiting young talent, under the lure of “I alone can introduce you to the world of Belles Lettres” had reached out to get his clutch on me for the publication of a weekly journal to be called The Battlecock, which was to have for its crest a crowing cock. It was to publish no letterpress, but only a series of cartoons dealing with whatever state of things engaged the public attention for the moment. The first edition was to come out with an attack on the library censorships, and I was given a free hand to say what I pleased about it in my cartoons. When I turned in those series of them, Lane hit the roof with outcries of alarm. They would never do for an English public, he assured me.
They were merely the sort of cartoons I had been doing for years in The Bulletin, under the editorship of J. F. Archibald, in that paper’s attack on the retrogressive forces which strive to criminalise all free expression of the individual mind, both in life and art. In this country we call them Wowsers: the stigmata term for those pests who release their repressed lusts and hatreds on the people at large. America knows all about them, with their Anti-Saloon fanatics, Purity Leagues and book censorships which brought about Prohibition, and for a period reduced conditions in America to anarchy.
But to old John Lane, accustomed to a milk-toast diet of Punch cartoons, mine were too strong for his enfeebled stomach, so I refused to have anything more to do with his barnyard Battlecock.
The other instance I referred to of prurience in the English mentality came from another publisher, Heinemann. He was producing Shakespeare’s plays in a series, with coloured illustrations, and he commissioned me to illustrate Othello. I rejected Othello, a play I never cared for. He asked me to select one, and I chose Henry IV. Oh no, that would never do; impossible to introduce Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet into a pure English home. So I selected Antony and Cleopatra, and again, that would not do. There was that bawdy talk between Cleopatra’s girls and the soothsayer.
That is where I gave up any proposal to have further dealings with the English national ego. Those two plays—two of the greatest ever written, and by that great mind which had built up the English civilisation and all that was best in the national character, rejected as a pornographer to be excluded from the English home. I couldn’t get out of England quick enough after that experience.
In any case, a man should work out his destiny in the land of his birth. Else why elect to be born there? Every procedure in the action of a special faculty is an act of will. An expatriate loses half his identity. In returning to Australia, I was returning to conflict with the Wowser en masse. I had lambasted him with my Bulletin cartoons, but with the weight of The Bulletin behind me, he could not get at me. Now that I came out in the open with exhibitions of my pictorial works, he rushed to the attack for which I had no defence. Well, I suppose that was fair enough, for warfare has only one dictum—kill or be killed. He did not kill me, but I must have had a good deal to do in killing him, for he has very little voice in suppressing free expression in the present day Australia. Just a squeak or two at intervals over censoring a novel, which does not remain censored for long. But all that is outside what I am trying to say of moral stagnation in the nineties of last century.
Consider the state of English literature at the time. Its notable figures were G. B. Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Arnold Bennett. Shaw I have dealt with elsewhere; a sexually impotent wowser who shuddered abhorrence of the sexual embrace and who said that he could not understand how a man who had possessed his wife at night could face her at the breakfast table next morning. Wells, a small science student and a Fabian socialist, set out to reconstitute mankind on a pattern of his own begetting. No lesser objective could serve his Utopian imbecility, which brought down on him Max Beerbohm’s devastating parody of Perkins and Mankind. He started by writing a series of science fantasies, thereby inaugurating what is today called science fiction; pabulum for mental adolescents. With those, he was producing a series of Utopian extravaganzas, forecasting an earth recreated by the wizard Wells, where a sanitated humanity dressed in Jaeger wool, and smelling of carbolic, devoted themselves to the creation of a Wellsian Millennium. At the same time he was turning out sociological novels with both hands, for only some such ambidexterity could account for the mass of them he produced. They were written in the buttonholing style of a bagman selling the latest thing in hoovers and washing machines, and their subject-matter came hot from the daily newspaper, and for anyone with a cultivated taste for good prose they made unbearable reading. As a trifling side issue to such activities he wrote a history of mankind, and edited works on the Wonders of Science, and lived just long enough to see one of its wonders, the Hiroshima bomb, blow his jerrybuilt Utopia to blazes.
Bennett was much superior to Wells as a writer, and did write one novel which will live—The Old Wives’ Tale. From that he turned himself into a purveyor of machine-made fiction of all sorts, the best being a trilogy dealing with the denizens of his natal place, the Five Towns. From that he became obsessed by disease, and wrote a series with such themes as appendicitis, cancer, heart disease—but I had ceased to read him by that time. By an ironic dispensation, he finished himself off by a wilfully acquired disease, typhoid. Warned not to drink water in a Parisian hotel, he drank a couple of glassfuls, and was dead in a week or so.
Galsworthy, a plodding chronicler of his own social class, wrote weighty trilogies dealing with it, which are unreadable today. And let this be noted of those literary notabilities of the nineties. Each one of them was very careful not to invite the library censorship over the novel. The “facts of life” were rigorously excluded from their works.
French literature of that era was even a grade lower than that of England. It is difficult to recall its practitioners. Marcel Provost, Pierre Loti, the writer of Tartarin of Tarascon—I forget his name. All third-raters. Then there was Zola, with his laborious documentations of “vice”—booze, prostitution, and criminalities in general. The French wowsers came down on him with a crimination for writing indecent works, and he had to take sanctuary in England.
What American popular literature was like in the nineties and nineteen hundreds I don’t know, for none of it came my way, but after reading Mencken’s drastic comments on it later, I realised that it was on about the same level as its English equivalent.
As for art’s contribution to those dreary decades, that was the slow petering out of the Impressionist Movement with the works of Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Matisse. Those made a bridge for the Post-Impressionist Movement, and with that, stagnation reached its all-time low. An episode of civilisation was ended. Only violence could startle it out of its moribund state into a resurgence of energy.
Violence it got. Germany was a fully armed nation, with troops drilled to an ultra efficiency; a crackpot Emperor envisioning himself as a War-lord, and an arrogant military caste clanking sabres and pushing citizens off the sidewalk into the gutter. France had an army rotten with corruption and England a bare handful of trained troops. Ever since the 1870 war with France, Germany had been itching to have another debauch of goosestepping on French soil, for that war had paid a handsome dividend. And Germany had an army of three to one against the combined armies of France and England. Victory, on paper, was a foregone inevitability.
A concept of America entering the war was too fatuous to be considered. America had no standing army and its Constitution interdicted any interference with the affairs of other nations. And so the 1914 war exploded its energy principle on civilisation’s collapse into inertia.
AND ENERGY WAS RESTORED
I have defined elsewhere the effect of that restoration on myself, but its world effect was instantaneous. England and France had no time for their puritanic censorships on free expression in the arts. By a tremendous impromptu organisation, British and French troops were rushed to the front and the German invasion was arrested. Australia became an armed camp overnight. There were enough officers and non-coms surviving from the Boer War contingents to train a voluntary army. And when Gallipoli and the French trenches revealed that the Australian is an indomitable fighting man (the Americans were to discover that about their own troops later) a wave of national exultation swept Australia. That was the point in time where Australia became a nation, and not a mere colonial outpost of the British Empire. National integrity must manifest itself first by courage in battle.
And for the small groups of artists here, an amazing phenomenon was to follow. Our pictures began to sell. Up to that time, the small Art Societies held yearly exhibitions, financed by themselves. A picture or two might be sold, but that was not expected. Artists maintained themselves by holding art classes, by commercial work, or by pictorial journalism. An increasing group of collectors continued to support our art movement and the union of Perception and Creation was established. And functions to this day.
Visitors to Australia are advised not to expect much evidence of a national art movement here in its National Galleries. Those parochial institutions are still under the illusion that Europe dictates all values in the art world. News has not yet reached them that the European art world is dead on its feet. All the best works of our art movement for the last fifty years are locked up in private collections. As the collectors die off, their collections are beginning to arrive in the auction rooms, and it is pleasing to observe that the works we sold for comparatively small sums have quadrupled their financial value, and are eagerly snapped up by buyers.
In England, the resurgence of energy was manifested by such freed works as The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by Lawrence of Arabia, the novels of D. H. Lawrence, a refreshed expression in poetic idiom, and a free translation of the Greek and Roman classics. There, my illustrations to Lysistrata passed without a blink from the prostrate forms of puritanism. In pre-war England, they would have been burned by the common hangman and the publisher would certainly have got a gaol sentence. What the law would have done to me if it could have got its clutches on me I don’t know. Anything was possible in the deplorable collapse of moral energy in the England of that era. And the most significant evidence of its restoration to health is the free translation of all the world classics that has been going on since. Its portent of a return to civilisation is also a return to the Greek ordinance of the freed mind in a freed body. The censorship of clothes has no longer any potency. Both men and women have tossed them off and given their bodies to the sun wherever climate and the seasons invite the performance of that oblation.
The effect of war on a freed literature in America was delayed for a time, because there was an obstruction blocking its action which made another world war inevitable, and that was France.
Instead of a resurgence in energy, France relapsed yet deeper into the sloth of inertia in all that is implied by the word civilisation. It was obsessed solely by the national vice of avarice, and infuriated by its inability to extort a war indemnity from Germany; a country reduced to penury by having expended all its resources of wealth in its war effort. It was the petty spite against a beaten people by the French army of occupation which alone made a Hitler inevitable. That was bad enough, but its attack on all values in life and art by their degradation to formlessness and obscurantism was an attack on the very principles which beget a civilisation. Picasso and the Parisian clowns of art and literature had a glorious time, smashing every ordinance in discipline which had developed man from the primitive brute to the status of a civilised being, and proclaiming the negro to be the avatar in the new evangel of an art world in chaos.
And this apocalyptic imbecility did succeed in capturing the wretched studio world, with its doctrine of creation without toil. And of course carried with it that bird-brained section of a public, the Intelligentsia, to whom the new thing must be the best thing. For a while it puzzled the intelligent minority, on the vague assumption that there might be something in it. There was something in it all right—a core of rottenness in a people who have thrown up the struggle for self-creation as that is manifested by creation in the arts. Its effect was to have exhausted all vitality in the French people. Under the test of another world war, they went flat in the mud under the soles of Hitler’s jackboots.
It is no use that old posturer De Gaulle thinking he can pull the French people out of that mud. Politicians can’t perform miracles by arrangement. Nor can a people contribute to civilisation when they have destroyed the civilising principle within themselves. The phenomenon of that destruction awaits analysis by the psychologist and the pathologist.
THE AMERICAN NOVEL
Before leaving the dead and damned nineties, something must be said of that great and lonely figure, Joseph Conrad, who worked steadily all that decade and well on into the present century. In his time, the quality of his novels was recognised by only a small group of readers, and he made no more than a bare living out of them. Today, perception of the greatness of his achievement is being realised, and that realisation must have a revitalising effect on the novel. A master mariner up to middle age, he had to grapple with the difficult technique of the novel at one step, and even so, his early novels reveal the profundity of his mind and his command over the art of prose. In the works of the two preceding great novelists, Dickens and Balzac, there are fluctuations between greatness and littleness which embarrass even their most ardent idolators, but there are none such gaucheries in the novels of Conrad. No novelist yet has succeeded in creating such a succession of masterpieces as The Nigger of the Narcissus, Lord Jim, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, Typhoon, and Heart of Darkness. And in a prose so exquisitely controlled that its fascination is inexhaustible. Its power to evoke an image of the thing seen, the emotion felt, and the complexities of human drama understood, is a conquest over the métier of the written word. And how few the words at its command; words stale, shopworn, vulgarised by common speech and bludgeoned into the service of that mountainous mass of newsprint which threatens to smother mankind under its accumulations.
Finally, Conrad is unique in that he has no nationality. That he was born a Pole is of no significance. His allegiance was not to a people but to a language. He chose the English language because it is the most plastic of all languages; flexible, and rich in its accumulation of words pirated from other languages. And he chose to become a sailor in the British Merchant Marine because it allowed him to circle the globe, and study at first hand the peoples who supplied him with the materials for his novels.
Conrad stands alone against the understanding that great achievement in the arts is the explicit product of a national ego. In England, that has been poetry. In Germany, music. In France, painting. And in America, prose. This estimate refers only to the nations most productive in the arts during the nineteenth century, because only in that century has America entered into cultural competition with them.
The creation of two novels alone makes it evident that prose is the chosen métier of the American people in self-expression. Those two first novels are Moby Dick and Huck Finn. No two novels could be further apart than the homespun colloquialism of Huck Finn, and the satanic vitality which emanates from the prose of Moby Dick, yet both could have been written only by Americans. And such is the potency of works which vindicate the constitution of a national ego that they alone become world classics. Babbitt is a stark evidence of a single novel to startle the whole world into an awareness of America and the American people, and the American people into an equally startled awareness of themselves. I recall Dorothy Thompson telling me that Lewis’ first novel, Main Street, sold two million copies in Russia alone. Every small town on this earth has a Main Street peopled by the same types and personalities as in the novel so named.
The resurgence of vitality in the American novel arrived to me first by Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, a work written in the nineties, and thus an avatar of works to come. Its vivid and coloured reality made pallid the English popular novel. But poor Crane, a dying man, had not the weight to vitalise the prose of his own country. It was Mencken’s attack on the powers of darkness which were obstructing free expression in the written word which did finally free the American novel to become what it is today.
The year I spent in America from 1929–1930 imposed on me only one grievance, which was that I could never get any credence to my insistence that Mencken was a great man. It was met by a blank stare, and the rejective comment of “He’s only a journalist.” And what validity could opinion from a man in the moon (Australia was rather further off from America than the moon at that time) have on the American literary scene of that era?
But I think my isolation gave me a better overall view of it than that of the men who figured in it themselves. It was detached, immune from personal prejudice, and I saw it compactly, in a continuity which was not disrupted by action in the world of affairs. From the Smart Set days, into those of the American Mercury, I had followed Mencken, and read every work he had published. And depressed as I was during the twenties with my own squalid fight with the wowser, it was a joyous thing to see Mencken charging the massed hordes of wowserism with a rapier in one hand and a brickbat in the other. His blind spots mattered nothing to me; his insensibility to poetry, his dismissal of pictorial art as a thing of no consequence, and his refusal to see anything wrong with the German people. It was sufficient that he had a perfect response to music and prose, and that by freeing the word alone, freedom would come to sound and form imagery.
I have not missed any American novel of quality since those days, but a tabulation of its best writers is beyond the scope of such brief essays as these. I will take for a short analysis the two greatest of them who have functioned in my time, and those are Sinclair Lewis and J. Gould Cozzens.
But a sharp division must be made in the quality of their achievements. Lewis wrote a series of high-class novels in Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and Martin Arrowsmith, but he also wrote some of the most deplorable rubbish which ever disgraced the printed page, while Cozzens never wrote a line which did not evidence a highly civilised mind and a mastery of prose in the métier of the novel.
To account for this anomaly between two novelists, we must go to the genus from which they derive. Lewis is begotten from the genus of Dickens, while Cozzens gets his impetus from the same source as Conrad.
The distinction here is that the genus Dickens writes by the eye, and by the emotion excited by the spectacle of life. The Conradian genus views that spectacle with detachment, but with equal powers of visualising its externality. The Dickensian goes all to pieces when it tries to think about the thing seen, while the Conradian seeks to reveal all the profundities of human passion which underlie the surface spectacle of existence. In short, the conflict principle between the two outlooks on life is that of reality versus sentimentality, and from sentimentality comes all that is detestable in the métier of the novelist.
With a first reading of The Just and The Unjust, I read every published work by Cozzens, and with The Last Adam, and the Balzacian creation of The Old Doctor, I was puzzled by never finding any reference to Cozzens in the literary reviews. But when Guard of Honour arrived, the blank indifference of the literary world to it was not to be accounted for. If it was noticed at all it was accepted as just an average novel of the time, but rather outside the present movement in literary style. And we know what that was. Just as Conrad’s novels were swamped by that vulgar little journalist Wells flooding the market with his wares and demoralising the critical taste for good prose, the novels of Cozzens were subjected to the same blighting effect by that crude lout Hemingway splurging his own publicity over the literary world; vociferating his claim to be the representative American novelist, and capturing public sentimentality by weeping maudlin tears over the sad lives of prizefighters, bullfighters, gangsters, bartenders, and alcoholics, with his dumb-ox first person singular letting loose a burst dam of first person singular dumb oxes, all vindicating the slogan of the Correspondence School for teaching how to write—“Anybody can become a writer. Hemingway did it. Why not you?”
It was not only with Hemingway that the American novel of the thirties reached a zero in obnoxiousness. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with its disgusting amalgam of homosexuality and sob-sister sentimentality over the cretin Lenny, who squeezes mice to death in his pocket, is the most revolting work that ever degraded the printed page. Faulkner’s Sanctuary, though deriving from a much better mind than Steinbeck’s, reached another level in disgust for sex and women by his clinical exhibit of that notorious corncob. A freed literature is not helped, but retarded by delving into the crudities of the looney bin and the subhuman brute.
Faulkner continued to write a series of novels dealing with the “dark” south, but whether that term applies to the negro, or to a sense of doom and gloom and sin in the white southerner is not apparent. Where did that dreadful consciousness of guilt come from which infects the white characters in a Faulkner novel? A horror of infection by negro blood appears to have something to do with it, but that can’t have carried very far in the higher class of the white population. Today, the problem of the negro has reverted from the biological to the political in America, and a hell of a problem it is proving to be. My concern with Faulkner’s novels is purely aesthetic, and on that score they come under the heading of the “serious” novel, or what the newspaper critics call “a novel to be taken seriously.”
The content there is that of the novelist who takes himself seriously. He feels himself to be a man apart from the common herd; a seer, a yogi, one gifted with a divine mission. The term “weight” as applied to quality in a novel or a poem, in the serious novel becomes “weighted,” a matter of avoirdupois rather than spirit. The competent novelist takes his métier seriously, but knows that within himself he must compact man in the mass, else his novels will have no material worth using. To know man he must be man. All creation in art is based on that imperative. Also, the novelist must know himself.
There were two English novelists of some distinction producing novels all through that period, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, but neither had the power to affect the American novel. Huxley’s novels do not deal with the eternal profundities of the human ego, as manifested by its actions. They get their material from present-moment affairs, and are mainly animated discussions on them by the characters, very much in the key of talk in a university common room. Huxley shrank from any contact with man in the mass; the only source from which a knowledge of life and the subject matter of art may be derived. I believe he ended up by trying to extract some sort of religious creed from the bedevilled spectacle of this last half-century, but I never read any of his later works.
Maugham did have contact with the cruder realities of life as a medical student, and his first novel, Of Human Bondage, will, I think, endure. But he got success too early with it, and in his haste to capitalise it, slopped into the most slovenly method for the novel, the first person singular.
It is slovenly because it avoids facing the most difficult technical problem in the novel, which is construction. It gives the illusion of constructive continuity because the narrator is always before the reader continuously talking. The characters do not enact their parts in the presence of the reader. At times, they are allowed to tell the first person singular about themselves, but that merely transfers to them the role of a first person singular. What they tell about themselves and he tells the reader about them has no validity. Only action can reveal the truth about them.
Moreover, there is one trap that the first person singular can’t escape from, and that is presenting his own idealised self-portrait. He alone is gifted with the wisdom to analyse the motives behind human behaviour, and reveal them to the reader. Maugham is aware of this, and he does his best to present a modest demeanour—that of the detached onlooker, but he still remains the most important personage in his novels. And for that reason his characters never arrive at full reality as three-dimensional creatures.
Maugham is a good psychologist, and understands very well the people he writes about, for most derive from his own social class. His range above or below that is very small. He has an excellent, lucid style but that, again, corrupts his metier as a novelist, for all his characters talk Somerset Maugham. He appears to be quite accent-deaf to the idiosyncrasies of human speech. And that must be the revealing content of a character’s class, background and mentality.
The first person singular is only effective when the writer deals with autobiographical material, as in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or in Lord Jim. Material seen at first hand. It went all wrong in his novel Chance, where Marlow, the narrator, had to guess at what the characters had done offstage. It put Conrad to such desperate stagecraft that in one event it arrives at outright absurdity. That is where Flora de Barral tells Marlow of how she and Captain Anthony came together with a pact to marry. Flora is a reticent girl, almost speechless, and Marlow has met her only once before, and has hardly exchanged half a dozen words with her. Yet when he meets her in a dockside street, jostled by hurrying people, and with loaded lorries thundering by to the wharves, she tells him all about how she met Anthony at Mrs. Fyne’s country house, and of how she sought to escape Anthony, and of how he swept her off her feet in a most improbable courtship.
But all that is by the way of the American novel of the thirties, and the Conradian principle in its creation had not yet emerged.
The war demolished Hemingway, with its tough fighting men making a joke of his pose of toughness, so the man who had been shouting all his life “See how brave I am shooting wild animals” put a finish to his life with a shotgun.
It was with By Love Possessed that America discovered that it had a great novelist. And there again the emergence of Cozzens from obscurity paralleled that of Conrad, whose novel Chance brought him recognition and financial security for the last years of his life.
Chance is not one of Conrad’s best novels, nor can By Love Possessed equal the great achievement of Guard of Honour. In it, Cozzens set himself a problem that has never been satisfactorily solved by a novelist, and that is to make a good man the central character in a novel. Goodness is a negative quality, and only the positive assertion of personality can make a character in fiction come to life. Positive assertion is given to Arthur Winner’s partner in their law fim, Julius Penrose, but Penrose is paralysed from the waist down, so action is denied him. He can only monologue. Conrad knew that action is essential to startling a negative character into vitality, for in his story of Because of the Dollars, he makes his good man, Captain Davidson, shoot the Frenchman without hands who has murdered Laughing Annie.
Every character in Guard of Honour is spurred into action at some point. Every major character has been given a moral or emotional quandary which is brought to the crisis of action. In By Love Possessed, Arthur Winner is faced with the moral quandary of either risking a trial by law for a criminal misuse of funds entrusted to the firm (which have been left in the hands of the third law partner, old Noah Tuttle) or trying to smother up the delinquency by legal chicanery. No decision is arrived at in the novel, which peters out with the vague assumption that Arthur Winner will do his best to wriggle out of the quandary imposed on him by old Noah Tuttle.
I have read Guard of Honour four times, and always with a refreshed interest. Its entertainment value equals its profundity in psychological subtlety. For a feat in construction alone, I can only think of Conrad’s Nostromo as comparable to it. The great area in space it covers, the full-length portraiture of its major characters, the brilliant sketches of its host of minor characters, the intricate relations of the individual with the mass, and the way the whole action is kept moving in a continuous narrative confounds an effort to analyse the technical achievement alone of this novel.
It has two themes, psychological and sociological, which involve each other, and both are struck in the opening chapter of the novel, as all themes in the novel must be. The constructive rule there is as potent as in music. The major characters who carry both themes are compactly grouped in an airplane. Those are General Beal, the young general who is in command over the great training camp of Ocanara, Bennie Carricker, a fighter pilot who has already won great distinction in the war by the number of enemy planes he has shot down, Colonel Ross, a judge in civil life, and now ranking as Air Inspector, Nathaniel Hicks, in civil life the editor of a magazine, but here in charge of the publicity department, Amanda Turck, with the rank of a Lieutenant in the WAC, who is yet to impose on Hicks an unpremeditated love affair, Corporal McIntyre, a negro who has been given a lift back to Ocanara by the kindness of Hicks, and is here only a symbol of the quandary awaiting solution in the novel, that of equality between the black and white air personnel, and finally, Dominic Pallerino, General Beal’s crew chief, a representative figure of the trained mechanic who services the fighter planes.
Colonel Ross is used all through the novel as the author’s voice in analysing the actions and moves of the other characters, and it is through his meditations about General Beal, the youngest three-star general in the army, that we get General Beal’s background.
As a man of action, General Beal has a brilliant record. In the deadly period of stalemate after the Japs had destroyed America’s only efficient air force at Nichols Field, Beal, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, had shown himself swift to make decisions and carry them out himself, however reckless and desperate they were, when he could have allotted them to others. In a knowledge of air fighting at that date, and his proved efficiency as a fighter pilot, he was the best candidate the higher command had for selection in taking over the command of a training camp for building up with speed both warplanes and fighter pilots to compete with the enemy’s best. And that must involve making equally swift decisions in the action of affairs and, as yet, General Beal had not been tested out in such an emergency.
That test is now about to be applied. And by his most adored fighter pilot, Bennie Carricker. For Carricker, apart from his brilliance as an airman, is just a crude tough, apt to be insubordinate to authority, and with a hair-trigger temper over which he has very little control.
It is dark when they arrive at Ocanara, and General Beal is given his directions for a landing from the tower. As the plane descends to its base, Carricker detects the dark mass of another plane ahead of it making for the same base, and snatches the controls from Beal just in time to avert a collision. The plane circles the tower and is given another landing directive. As the company descend from it, the intruding airplane is observed on the next runway with a group of dark figures standing about it, and among them a couple of MP’s. Carricker walks across to it. The event is then finalised swiftly.
Carricker is seen to address the group. A tall figure steps forward and salutes him. In the glare of the floodlights, he is seen to be wearing the bar of a second lieutenant on his collar, and wings over his pocket. There Carricker moves quickly.
“He dropped one hand, his shoulder swung, and he hit the lieutenant in the face with a clear solid smack. The tall figure went down backwards. The other four recoiled. The two MP’s stood staring.
“ ‘Bennie,’ shouted General Beal. Then he shouted, ‘What are you MP’s doing? Break it up!’ To Colonel Ross he said, ‘Now, by God, he is under arrest.’ ”
That is the crisis now exploded on General Beal. Carricker has committed an act unpardonable in wartime—he has struck a fellow officer. And that officer a negro. The course of action now imposed on General Beal is irrevocable; he must cashier his adored Bennie, his honey of a fighter pilot. And strive to enforce the ordinance that the negro fighter must be given equal status with the white officers.
And he can’t face either imperative. He runs away from them and leaves Colonel Ross to grapple with his dilemma over Carricker, and find a solution to it. As for enforcing the ordinance of equality between black and white troops under his command, that is beyond his power to do. And beyond the powers vested in the American Government to do. Cozzens, who has viewed this problem at first hand with detachment from race prejudice, makes it apparent in this novel that under no terms can the negro be given equality with the white race.
Cozzens is a wise man—wise as Montaigne is wise. If a people will not endorse the wisdom of their best thinkers, they are committed to the inevitable consequences of their folly.
Of all the mass imbecilities which have demoralised mankind, this of racial equality between all peoples, White, Black, Red and Yellow, is the most inane. Politically, it has already stirred up all the minor races into a state of belligerence and discontent which will impose minor wars on the dominant nations for years to come. But when it comes to racial integration between the White and Black races, sanity has descended to the looney bin of the impossible, because the intermixture of blood between those races must degrade the White race to the level of the Negro and cannot raise the Negro to the level of the White. Where today we see some evidence of the effect of education on the Negro it is the White blood in him that stirs some animation in his sluggish mental faculties, but the Negro pure, as he exists in Africa, cannot be educated even up to the standard of the lowest content of the White race. He may learn to parrot all the political and sociological clichés of today, but unless he is buttressed by the White race, and policed by it, he must relapse back to the jungle, which is his predestined habitat.
There appears to be an illusion today that this age is the first one in which the Negro has come into contact with a White civilisation, and so had a chance to benefit by its cultural and sociological ordinances. This is not the case. Since the genesis of this present civilisation some six or seven thousand years ago, the Negro has had contact with many past episodes of civilisation, but always, as each subsided, he has relapsed back to the jungle. The other three races, White, Yellow and Red, have devised their own civilisations, and have maintained them through the ages, but it is only in quite recent years that the Negro has come into relations with them. As in the past, his status has been one of slavery, because he has never been able to compete culturally with their achievements in the arts and crafts and intellectual standards. Nor can he compete today with those same achievements, because he utterly lacks the creative faculty: he has no thumbs. The only thing he ever learned to do was to smelt iron ore and hammer out his spear heads. That weapon was essential to the preservation of his existence in his tribal wars, and his food derived from wild animals able to defend themselves with teeth and claws.
Save for the Chinese, and other Asiatic peoples, all other civilisations were generated on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Negro penetration of them was very slight, except, perhaps, with the Egyptians, who were themselves a dark coloured race, but with no relation to the Negroid peoples. Only the Moors and Arabs, because of their geographical contiguity with Africa, have kept up the slave trade with Negroes, but sexual union with them was strictly prohibited. Or impossible for that matter. By a very simple clinical ritual, the Negro became a harmless guard and menial to the Harem. It is only since the colonisation of Africa by the British, Dutch, French and Belgian peoples that the Negro has become a momentous world problem within the last two decades. The British, French and Belgian peoples solved it for themselves by handing their colonies over to the Negroes. The Dutch could not do that. They had been so long in South Africa that they had built up another white race there—the Boers. And there, the world may be assured, they will remain, and the Negro will not be permitted racial equality with them. What must happen shortly between those peoples is already predestined. The only other country on which the full weight of the Negro falls is America.
And the Politician’s solution to it of race integration is a desperation measure which never can succeed, as the politicians themselves know, but at present, they dare not do anything about it, for President Johnson won the presidential campaign by handing himself over to the largest section of the community to command the vote, just as Roosevelt did to capture the presidential chair. We know that section, which is the pestilential problem of all peoples who seek to keep a sane balance of rationality in the conduct of their political and sociological affairs. In Australia, we call them Wowsers—a stigma word which Mencken incorporated in his American Language, but as yet Americans have not adopted it. A stigma word has great power.
In America the Wowser is the self-elected Dogooder—the temperance crank, the Purity Leaguer, the anti-saloon leaguer, the Comstock bookshop smasher and picture slasher; in short, that chapel product of the cheap suburbs and the rural back blocks which seeks to impose its own horrible codes and doctrines on all that makes life tolerable for well constituted humanity. They are the people who imposed Prohibition on America and very nearly wrecked the country. In Russia, they were largely responsible for the Revolution by cutting off the people’s need for liquor during the 194 war. They are the Pacifists—the peace at any pricers, the appeasers at any threat of war which thereby makes it inevitable by inviting aggression from piratically inclined nations. They are today trying to cripple Johnson’s handling of the Viet Nam war: the finest piece of statecraft since the great days of England as a world power, when half a dozen words from Lord Salisbury was enough to send Russia scuttling back from the Oxus. It is a great pleasure to know that our men are fighting with the Yanks, and that more are being trained to follow, if needed.
It is the Wowser, then, to use one stigma term for a generic type common to America, England, and Australia, who is doing all the mischief today by inflating the Negro with a state of megalomania which convinces him that he is the victim of monstrous injustice by the white peoples, and all revenges on them are his by right of martyrdom. And that revenge he will take whenever he has power to do so.
We must concede him injustice so far in that the Whites have invaded his country and taken possession of large sections of it. In the past, they made a commodity of him in the slave market. Those same Whites have now handed back to him the sections of country they had occupied and have freed him from slavery. Justice can go no further than that.
But America, swung off a sane balance of rationality by the maudlin sentimentality of the Wowsers for the assumed sad lot of the Negroes, has allowed its politicians to establish them in equal civil and social rights with the Whites. They have ordained that the white children must consort intimately with the black offspring from infancy to adolescence, and that alone insures sexual intimacy between the two races. That American mothers—always so passionately possessive over their young—should have allowed them to do such a noxious thing is evidence that they are too dazed by the bulldozing tactics of the politicians to realise its inevitable consequences. It is assumed that education will dispose of the physiological compulsions inherent in all such propinquity of the human species.
Education! This age has become besotted over its assumed potentialities to perform a universal miracle, which is that text books alone can create a civilisation. It ignores the irrefutable evidence that only a civilised mind can be educated. Education is nothing more than a procedure for exercising intellectual faculties which are a content of the mind at birth. It has taken the white race six thousand years to develop those special faculties on which all civilisations have been built. The craftsman’s fingers, the musician’s ear, the artist’s hand and eye, the scientist’s investigation of all natural phenomena are inherited from progenitors who have left behind them the brain cells, and the muscular reflexes essential to all creative effort. And it is now assumed that education, in a generation or two, will allow the wretched Negro to develop those special faculties and so allow him to compete on equal terms with the White race as a civilised being. Imbecility can go no further than such a preposterous assumption.
Already the Negro mass is in a vicious state of resentment because it has not straightway been vested in all the rights and privileges of the Whites. The Los Angeles episode is a sufficient evidence of a universal state of mind among the Negroes. And that is only the beginning of the trouble. When he finds that the higher-class whites will not consort with him on equal terms, and that there is no place for him among the trained working class, no police force in the world will be adequate to control him.
Americans are not a docile people when politicians impose arbitrary interdictions on the free conduct of their civic rights and their private lives. The politicians’ failure to inflict Prohibition on the American people is evidence of what they must expect by this proposal to impose racial integration with the Negroes on them. It only required an adjustment of the legal code to dispose of Prohibition, but no such adjustment can solve the Negro problem for them. There is only one possible solution to that, but I am not going to take it on myself to suggest it. It must be already pregnant in the minds of all higher class American thinkers today.
HALF A CENTURY OF THE NOVEL
I have read through six decades of the novel, both in its popular form, and in those selected words affirmed by the Intellectual Elect.
I must capitalise the three classes of readers, for they are a fixed quantity in all times and places. At the lowest, there are just those members of a public who have learned to read and demand only entertainment, with no discrimination in its literary qualities. Above them are the Intelligentsia. These are the noisy, busy, contentious units of a public who respond only to the latest movements in the arts and can read no works save those written by themselves. Above them are the Intellectual Elect, who select from the vast mass of printed matter a very small group of poets and novelists whom they acclaim to be masters in the written word. Above them there is the Intelligent Minority, which ignores the pontifications of the Intellectual Elect, because it derives from all past traditions which have established the irrevocable values in great art. The Intelligent Minority is that Perception which is the other half of Creation. Only works approved by it will endure, because it is a timeless quantity of mind indifferent to time ticked off on clocks and calendars.
In my student days in the nineties of last century, the two masters of the English novel acclaimed by the Intellectual Elect were Meredith and Walter Pater. The Egoist and Marius the Epicurean were a must for all who aspired to the life intellectual. I read them myself and was much impressed by them. Or thought I was. Now the dead weight of literary consciousness in them makes them unreadable to me. Meredith’s efforts to impose the bizarre on the commonplace by tortured similitudes are just silly, while Max Beerbohm’s comment on Pater that “He wrote English as if it was a dead language” disposes of any need for opinion by me. Francophile taste in the British literary world plumped for Flaubert as the one and only great novelist. Russophiles were on their knees to Dostoevsky and the Russians generally. Playwrights were all for Ibsen. I can’t recall any special poet affirmed by the Intellectual Elect, unless it was Baudelaire.
By an unwritten law, the Intellectual Elect approve most of the works which the Intelligent Minority reject. To use a cliché common to my father’s generation, they can only savour works which are “caviar to the general.” Their fastidious stomachs can’t digest any pabulum approved of by what the word “general” assumes to define. Brought down to a precise definition, it means just common sense—a sane view of reality derived from a full experience of life, which affirms the law of compensations in that there is a fair enough balance kept between the desirable and the damnable, and. that life is tolerable, and even enjoyable to the normal mass of mankind. Only in cataclysmic times of war and pestilence, and the infliction of physical pain, it becomes an unqualified hell. There are times when we feel that no necessity can palliate the law of necessity.
Those writers and artists most approved of by the Intellectual Elect of the last half century can be itemised. In the novel, those are James Joyce, Proust, Henry James and, of course, Dostoevsky. In poetry, T. S. Eliot. In painting, Picasso. In sculpture, Henry Moore. In music, Stravinsky.
Joyce is the direct product of Roman Catholic puritanism. Proust was a homosexual; a concept of the normal sex relations was therefore denied him. Henry James was a celibate; sex relations remained for him an unfathomable mystery. He spent a long life dodging about behind women’s skirts, striving to discover by divination what went on under them. T. S. Eliot is a High Church curate. Picasso I pass for the moment; he is not an identity. Though a Spaniard, he is a propulsion from the French national ego. Stravinsky I pass, for beyond some pleasing enough ballet music, I refuse to annoy my ears with the jargon of noise which is his concept of sound. As for Henry Moore, he is the reincarnation of a rancorous medieval monk, loathing the human body and presenting it as a physical horror, with the flesh rotten on its bones. His chosen image for the feminine body was a vast swollen belly, a pair of enormous udders for breasts, handless and footless, with an insect-sized head. Woman to him was a mindless abortion for spawning life as ants’ eggs are spawned. Hatred of life has never before created such a vile image of life. And the English Intellectual Elect have claimed for the man Moore that he has placed English sculpture on the map of Europe. A just estimate of its worthlessness.
As for Dostoevsky, still surviving from the last century into the present one, he is the only novelist of whom it can be said that he transferred to the novel the giantesque of a Milton in poetry or a Michael Angelo in painting. No human being, other than a paranoic, could exist at the emotional tension of the characters in a Dostoevsky novel. Physical and nervous exhaustion would devitalise them. Shakespeare knew that when he sent Lear mad. It goes beyond such powers of comprehension allotted to me to account for the Western mind, begotten by the Greek dictum of “nothing in excess,” finding psychological profundities in the ravings, the pessimism, the sadism and masochism, compounded of the Yes-No amalgam of Slav and Mongol. Idolatry, it seems, can do strange things to the critical faculty. But I suspect that the Western adoration of Dostoevsky derives from the terms in which John Cowper Powys affirmed it. He said that he accepted Dostoevsky as the greatest of novelists, but that, personally, he detested him and could hardly bear to read him.
And let it be expressly noted that in all that group of poets, novelists and artists selected for adulation by the Intellectual Elect the only two great figures who functioned with them, Conrad and Cozzens, were ignored. And let this also be expressly noted. Where Conrad and Cozzens exalted the feminine image, all those others debased it.
In an age where the word Beauty, and especially the beauty a women, becomes a stigma label, that age is doomed and damned to a descent into hell—the hell of world war, and utter disruption in world affairs.
That was inevitable. Where the feminine image is degraded, its function in the continuity of life itself is attacked. And no age has attacked it so viciously as in this present century. James Joyce could not mention woman without spitting disgust at her. In Hemingway, crude as he is, repressed homosexuality emanates the same physical loathing for woman. Celibates such as Henry James and T. S. Eliot are harmless enough, but harmlessness there is the effect of debility. In G. B. Shaw, another portent of adulation by the Intellectual Elect, sexual impotence sterilised the feminine image into a horrible little gritty creature, physically and mentally insensible from the waist downward. As for the artists, there are Henry Moore’s brutal abortions of the human form, Picasso’s disarticulations which hack the feminine form into formlessness, or split the feminine face into two sections with an axe, and Dali’s disgusting expression of his own disgust for women which portrays the nude feminine figure with its belly ripped open and its bloody bowels dripping out.
Enough of these wretched exhibits of a hatred and horror of life, even if, in some cases, they have contributed experiments of some value to the generation that succeeds them. Dali’s use of surrealism is of value to conceptual art. Poets have found a use for T. S. Eliot’s simplification of the poetic idiom, and its application to the immediate spectacle of life, though he performed that feat by jumbling together fragments of phrases stolen haphazard from other writers; in one instance, in his Murder in the Cathedral, condescending to lift a junk of prose out of one of the Sherlock Holmes stories. As for James, he did insist that the function of the novel was the unravelling and revealing of the motives behind human behaviour, but for the rest his contribution to literature is the negative one of how not to use the English language.
For me, the appeal of a James novel is to my sense of humour. It is not the novel, but the spectacle of James in the act of writing it which engages my sense of entertainment value in his novel. A Herculean figure he makes, sweating literary consciousness at every pore, heaving and panting, doggedly delving into similitudes and qualifications, and piling paraphrase on paraphrase, till with a gasp of relief, he gets at the “word” which will illuminate the idea he is in quest of. And the idea, when captured, is one that half a dozen simple words could have expressed. But half a dozen simple words would have brought the whole cumbrous edifice of words toppling down. And that would have demolished James’ concept of the novel, which is that the profundities of the human ego are buried so deep that only arduous pick and shovel work can get at them. In short, novel writing to James was a religious cult, and not the mere exercise of a literary faculty.
Lucidity must be the supreme test of good prose—lucidity as Hazlitt, one of the greatest masters of prose, understood the application of that word. And a lucidity which has the control of a vocabulary that covers all aspects of the spectacle of life. But even lucidity can be degraded when reduced to the infantilism of a Hemingway, who is at the extreme opposite pole to a James. The mastery of any medium in the arts is by a perception of its limitations, and to what extent those can be to expression in the form, the word and the sound.
Conrad and Cozzens are the only prose writers in my time who have paid their fealty to the world of femininity. To both, women are fascinating, lovely, and desirable. Conrad’s women may be a little too fine, a little off the earth, but that is the effect of that “pathos of distance” in the sailor’s isolation from easy communication with women. But the women of a Cozzens novel have their feet firmly planted on the earth. Every feminine figure, however slight its place in his novels, is alight with charm and perfectly understood. And he is the only novelist known to me who can carry to a reader the conviction of desire between man and woman, husband and wife, lasting into middle age. In The Last Adam, it is exemplified between the tough old Doctor, George Bull, and his mature friend, Janet Cardmaker. In Guard of Honour, its protagonists are Judge Ross and his wife, and in By Love Possessed, it is alive between the middle-aged Arthur Winner and his younger wife, Clarissa, a woman of thirty, who has only reached sexual maturity in her union with Winner. There is a delightful instance of it in the little scene where Clarissa is undressing out of a swimsuit while chatting with Arthur Winner. She is a Games Mistress, and the grace of movement in the muscular co-ordinations of her beautiful body inspire Winner with the sudden desire to possess her, which he has to quell, because of a possible intrusion on them from a houseful of people. It is so apparent that Clarissa, so gay and vital, would delight in such an impromptu tumble in the hay, that her desirability is conveyed to the reader. And what a difficult thing that is to do with perfect good taste in the cramped allowance of words at a writer’s disposal.
The status of a country’s culture is vindicated by its individual expression in the arts. Mass movements in them are worthless; they emanate from the rabble. Wherever a high state of civilisation is attained, at the top of it there will be a very small group of highly developed minds, and they alone can command deference and respect from a world culture.
That degradation of the feminine image in European art which I have sought to define is the final evidence of the death of a civilisation; its collapse into that Inertia which only the violence of war could revitalise into Energy. America and Australia are the only two countries which did not submit to Inertia. By the novels of J. Gould Cozzens alone, exalting the desirability of woman in perfect prose, and by the love lyrics of Hugh McCrae, and by Douglas Stewart’s verse play The Golden Lover in perfect poetry, we know that the tide of Energy is rising in America and Australia.
PORNOGRAPHY VERSUS BAWDY
When, after a hard struggle, Higher Man has achieved his right to freedom of expression in the arts, Lower Man has attacked him by seeking to debase freedom into licence.
Pornography and puritanism derive from the same source. Lust, driven inwards by the priestly hatred of the human body, can only find its release by ravishing a woman and then hating her for an inability to revive desire by a lyrical delight in her body. In its crudest form, this degradation of the love embrace resorts to colloquialisms used by the vulgar in reference to all the physical functions of the body, sexual or excretory. They are not many—about half a dozen four letter words legally tabooed as obscene. Where a superior diction is used, it turns to a clinical terminology, and elaborates in brutal factuality the simple procedure of the love embrace, which only the lyrical imagery of poetry, or the reticent charm of good prose can evidence as mastery over the written word. As for the simple smut monger, he is just a low fellow who has acquired the Hemingway equipment of a vocabulary of about two hundred words, with which he turns out fiction of the “thriller” order, for the delectation of an underworld mob of readers. His nuisance content is that his crudities are apt to arouse those aldermanic censorships over the novel which can see no difference between the smut monger and a perfectly controlled freedom of the higher literary faculty.
It is quite another thing when a member of the Intellectual Elect descends from his judicial status to try an experiment in creative fiction. The most awful example there is Edmund Wilson, in his Memoirs of Hecate County, a work which gave me such an attack of mental nausea that I could not go on reading it. Deplorable that a man with such erudition and scholarship, capable of producing works so admirable as To the Finland Station, and The Scrolls from the Dead Sea, could wallow in such a mud puddle as the sex episodes in Hecate County. I have most of Wilson’s works on my bookshelves, but I can never glance at one without a certain embarrassment: the sort of embarrassment which would afflict one when, walking abroad with a gentleman hitherto noted for a dignified deportment, he suddenly decides to perform in public what the law calls an indecent exposure of the person.
Bawdy is so extreme from pornography that only the greatest masters of prose and poetry can handle it with ease and assurance. It is one of the supreme tests in literary good taste, both in prose and poetry. In prose, its masters have been Petronius, Rabelais, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Fielding, and Balzac in his Contes Drolatiques. In poetry, those have been Chaucer, Shakespeare, Burns and Byron. Its key is always one of humour. Only gaiety of soul can evoke it; laughter is its chant of exultation. No prose writer since Fielding, or poet since Byron wrote Don Juan, has succeeded in using its difficult idiom. Without it, the Word is depleted of one of its most vital elements.
POST-MORTEM ON POST-IMPRESSIONISM
Argument can be dispensed with when simple factualities can state a case on irrefutable terms of validity. Here are those terms so stated.
Constructive integration of forms
Disintegration of forms.
Lucidity of Theme
Obscurantism of Theme.
Tone dispensed with. Colour an arbitrary discordance of pigments.
Careful training in craftsmanship
No training at all.
Technical dexterity and practised knowledge of the medium used
Technical dexterity and practised knowledge dispensed with.
Concretion of external reality in the relation of Seeing and Knowing
Hieroglyphic abstractions having no relation to reality, or to seeing and knowing.
Let the gentry responsible for reversing the dictionary’s definition of the word Art speak for themselves.
Picasso and a couple of his studio clowns are examining a piece of negro carving representing the female form. Says one clown solemnly “It’s as good as the Venus of Milo.” Says Picasso “It’s much better.”
Says a lady to Matisse in reference to one of his paintings “But it looks as if a child had done it.” Says Matisse “Madame, when I can paint as well as my little daughter I will call myself an artist.”
Dali on himself: “To be a great artist it is necessary to be a Spaniard and named Dali.”
Cézanne awakening his family in the middle of the night by roaring “I am the greatest artist who ever lived.”
Van Gogh, having cut off one of his ears, sends it to Gauguin as a present.
Enough. The phenomenon of Post-Impressionism does not lie with the above witless asses, but with the generation that apparently took it seriously as an art movement. That the newspaper critics rushed to affirm it is understood. They are inevitably frustrated artists who are enchanted to attack values in art with which they can’t compete.
Since the era of the newspaper, from its dawn a century and a half ago, that procedure has been formalised. Only art works attacked by the critics have survived—all those praised by them have gone down the drain of a dead generation.
I can take an air of derision today for Post-Impressionism, but there was nothing to deride in it when one saw it as a portent in the crash of European civilisation, and when the French collapsed and England alone faced Hitler’s perfectly equipped armies, which England had to fight while building up her own. Australia and New Zealand sent their own men to the Middle East where Rommel had things all going his way, so there was nothing to stop the Japs from just walking in and taking over this country if they had not bombed Pearl Harbour first. And then the Yanks walked in, and what a blessed sight that was.
But I am not concerned with world affairs in these essays, which deal only with the febrile fluctuations of the civilising principle during those affairs. America proved to be a great fighting nation once roused, but there was little one could say for its culture during the decades preceding the war. And the depressing thing was that America bought Post-Impressionist rubbish by the cartload, and apparently still does, to judge by the examples of it which constantly appear in its otherwise reputable journals. I dare say that the peculiar obsession Americans have always had for that pest-hole, Paris, has a good deal to do with their meek submission to the illusion that Paris is still a cultural centre in art as well as dress styles. It was pleasing to see that De Gaulle’s petty spite against England and America has at last stung America into publishing the reasons why Churchill and Roosevelt refused to trust him with any knowledge of their strategy during the war, and that is a plaster of ignominy which the old fool won’t pull off in a hurry.
Post-Impressionism has had no effect whatever on Australia, except in the studio world, which does not count.
Over the years the French have persisted in sending us exhibitions of it, and have never sold us an exhibit. One arrived only the other day, which was so utterly inane that it did not even raise a laugh.
One canvas, for instance, had just a straight line drawn down the centre. The only assumption feasible is that the French are driven by a masochistic compulsion to debase themselves in the eyes of other nations by such exhibits of imbecility.
It has taken Australians a long time to realise the quality of poetry written here, but now, at last, it is selling well, and is lectured on in the universities. But the queer thing is that from the start of our art movement it has been backed up by buyers of genuine aesthetic taste, and that is a distinction rare in any public, for where the ratio will be a hundred with good taste in literature, and two hundred with an equal response to music, there will be only one with assured taste in art.
And I believe that explains why no voices have been raised against the insulting crudity of Post-Impressionism, for art collectors of good taste have ignored it, and do not write articles about it.
The biggest proportion of art buyers in Australia have been doctors, and that is of a significance, for the Greeks made Apollo the God of Art and Medicine. In other words, the human mind and the human body are one thing, and mind must find conscious expression through the sensory equipment of the body.
Australian artists can have no quarrel with the destiny which elected that they be born into a country without a civilisation, and was struggling to create one out of primitive conditions.
The clear, actinic air of Australia made a school of landscape painters inevitable, and we have such a school in the paintings of Gruner, Heysen, and Streeton.
I know the world’s art, for I have travelled the world and seen all its great galleries, but I have never seen any landscapes to equal the sense of infinity in Gruner’s dawn skies. Dawn light in spring and autumn, when nature is at peace, is colourless, yet Gruner found a key in which to paint it.
Heysen’s watercolours of a man-made earth—its fields and farms—show a complete mastership over that difficult medium, and Streeton taught the Australian eye to see its own bush, painted often at midday, with the blaze of sunlight on it. English-born artists could not manage its tree forms and masses, which they continued to try to paint with an eye trained on English landscape.
In Longstaff and Lambert, Australian art has had two portrait painters of unqualified distinction. All that will be apparent enough to other nations once Australian publishers have the wit to dig out examples of the above painters’ works from private collections and reproduce them in colour facsimiles in the art book format.
J. Gould Cozzens has established the high standard of American literature by his novels. Such post-war novels as The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk, and The Young Lions, by Irwin Shaw, with its illuminating study of the Nazi mentality, are also in the Conradian tradition.
It is now revealed that America has one artist who has ignored the Post-Impressionist looney bin, and has gone on quietly producing paintings of the rarest distinction. That is Andrew Wyeth, whose paintings in reproduction I have just come upon in a magazine.
An exquisite sense of three-dimensional space of atmospheric values, textural surfaces, factual as well as conceptual reality, draughtsmanship of the finest, and a control of the medium in which all these are expressed which arrives at perfection.
There is one painting alone which is not only a technical masterpiece, but which adds an innovation to the study of atmospherics never before achieved by a painter. It is that of some windblown curtains seen through an open window. The curtains are of a fragile lacy pattern, and they are flapping freely in the wind. Of all technical problems attacked by a painter, I can’t think of a more difficult one.
Only a magical union of hand and eye could have achieved it, for it has also achieved the seemingly impossible. It has painted wind!
The recognition of Cozzens as a great novelist, the quality of American post-war novels, and finally these paintings by Wyeth have been so recent that it has been difficult to make an optimistic forecast of what they may portend. But these paintings by Wyeth, being in my own métier, reassure me. The changeover from a dead movement in the arts to a revitalised one has come.
And now will follow one of the greatest landslides into the bottomless pit where all the bad art of a generation goes. American buyers of Post-Impressionism are advised to get out from under before it starts, and unload their speculations in rubbish while the market is fairly sound. It won’t remain sound much longer.
“Tis the Last Judgement’s fire must cure this place,
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”
It was in the middle years of last century that Browning wrote that forecast of what must happen to this present century by the present-moment evidence under his eyes. That tremendous poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is an indictment of Higher Man’s refusal to face the realities of life as those may be revealed in art.
The eighteenth century petered out under the dead weight of Miltonic abstractionism, thereby making inevitable that it must be subjected to the shock of war and revolution to revitalise its enfeebled energies. Smash and build is mankind’s response to the conflict between energy and inertia. Its pattern never varies. The war between England and Spain in the seventeenth century, the Napoleonic wars of the nineteenth century, the Germanic wars in our own time. Predestination is the inevitable consequence of present moment events, and Browning, alone, forecast what must happen in the future by what was happening in his own time.
Browning was born in the year 1812. He was one of the group of poets self-elected to reanimate the poetic idiom and restore reality to the written word. The forerunner to that group was Burns. Then followed Keats, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. And, save for Byron, a pusillanimous lot they were. Keats, after one glance at the job in front of him, and a few half-hearted experiments in verse, made a hurried escape via tuberculosis. Shelley, after first getting off the earth in his poetry, took the easiest of all ways out by getting drowned. One can only guess at the phantasm of horror which frightened Coleridge into a drug-sodden existence, leaving only two confessions of bad conscience behind him: the man who killed the albatross in his own soul, and decreed a noble pleasure house which was never built. Byron, after a heroic struggle to get out of the Miltonic miasma, got off at last on a magnificent start with his Don Juan. Here is the freed word at its best, the gay note of bawdy, the most enchanting girls and women since Shakespeare. But the puritanic howls which greeted the publication of its first four cantos, not only from the public but from his own intimate group of friends, so disgusted and disheartened him that he threw aside the plan of a picaresque novel in verse, and after letting the verse drift off into a semi-biography, he threw it aside and went off to Missolonghi and a self-sought death. The test of a freed imagery in human drama did not apply to Wordsworth. His job was to bring reality back to nature, which in the eighteenth century had been nothing but a stage setting, and he achieved the greatest nature poetry yet written.
The above merely puts into flat prose the whole theme of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came; the dark tower which is Self, towards which the creative urge must struggle to achieve full expression in art. Browning found it, and that through a morass of stagnation, uglification, and moral cowardice in facing the realities of life which posited mediocrity as the standard which brought all expression in the arts down to its own level. Those, in poetry, were the inanities of Moore and the platitudinous verbiage of Southey, which Tennyson carried on in his tapestry-patterned Arthurian legends. Tennyson at least was a craftsman in words, but he had a commonplace mind, and whooped on the industrial age, speeding down his “ringing grooves of time” to its debacle in the 1914 war. His cloak and sombrero postures as the Bard, his device of inviting publicity by a pretence of avoiding it, his petted and coddled existence so disgusted Browning with the profession of poet that he dressed the part of a reputable citizen in a top hat, polished boots and clothes cut by the best tailors, and played the part of a man about town and a diner-out so effectively that he tricked that fat clown Chesterton into labelling him “the man in the street.”
Browning revitalised poetry by transferring the written to the spoken word, and words in the order in which they are spoken, as in his great series of monologues. By the very mass of his work, by the profundity of his thought, by his subtle understanding of man and woman, and by his love for woman, he is “next poet” to Shakespeare, though he rejected such a claim made for him by the very few who understood his poetry. Up to his last years, it was either viciously attacked or ignored. If it was read at all, only the wrong people read it, or misread it, trying to find what they called a “mission” in it. He never explained it and ignored all attacks on it. No other poet ever stood up to such an endurance test, sustained by equanimity and contempt for the age he lived in. He knew that he was the poet of the future, and still is, and his influence is vitally alive today. I can see its idiom of the spoken word all through the poetry written in Australia, though the poets themselves may not be aware of it themselves.
They are the prisoners set free from the Last Judgment’s fire that has calcined the clods of this half-century. That goes for the poets and prose writers at least. But the great prose writers in the English language of the nineteenth century did nothing to free it from prurience and prudery in all that has to do with sex relations between men and women, though the two greatest, Scott and Dickens, were of Shakespearian stature in their individual character creations. Balzac alone brought his women vitally alive to love and sex. Goethe, the other great novelist of that era, was corrupted by its false sentiment and sentimentality. He failed to profit by his own adage, that everything bad in our work we derive from our own age; all that is good in it derives from the timelessness of art. He remains one of the world’s greatest thinkers, though he did footle his time away over matters best left to the plodding investigators of natural phenomena. Queerly enough, it remained for two women novelists of that era, at least in the English novel, to create women alive to the special function of the feminine ego, which is the capture of the male. Those are Jane Austen and Emily Brontë.
Jane liberated women in her novels. They are all vital creatures, young or old, perfectly visualised and understood, avidly intent on woman’s one road to security and self-assurance—marriage. Unfortunately for the validity of that quest, Jane’s marriageable males are all stuffed dummies, hardly worth capturing, though her older men, fathers or what nor, are well done.
Emily Brontë’s men and women are satanically alive, and her one novel, Wuthering Heights, is a unique production, not comparable to any other novel. It achieves a startling revelation of the feminine soul, which only a woman could reveal. That is its possession by desire realised in fantasy. That fantasy is the universal feminine secret, never revealed, for all the snooping investigation of the professional psychiatrist. The tormented celibacy of youth has whispered it to their bed pillows, but never in the bold recklessness of the printed page. Emily released it in one passionate outburst, and died, exhausted by her love affair with a phantom lover. She died on her feet, collapsing only on the last day of her life. A brave girl—I have a great love and admiration for her.
AND WHAT NOW?
A hundred years ago Browning forecast the point in time at which we stand today. At that point, the future is already predestined by us. The test is yet to come which may ensure that our works have the energy to carry on into the coming generation. That must be involved in the political problems facing both America and Australia, enforced on them by their geographical situation in the Pacific. The eternal conflict principle between the nations has shifted there also, and is no longer one of nations, but of races. In short, between the white Western peoples and the yellow Asiatics of the East.
Those are already in a ferment, stirred up by the Chinese Communists. Australia, with a coastline bordering on that of Indonesia, will bear the brunt of their attack, in an alliance already made with America and American men of action have taken it over. There won’t be any European vacillations over what to do in the event of a threatened war. The American mind is not built that way. One has only to look at the faces of the men in control of affairs in America to see living portrait busts of Romans of the Imperial Augustan age.
But more important than the political bridge between our countries is the sympathetic bridge between their cultures. And that, too, is being built by exchanges between universities in lecturers, and by the activities between publishers. We, in Australia, have an intimate knowledge of American literature, while America knows hardly anything of ours. And, strange as it may appear, Australia owes one of its important initial expressions in literature to two American writers, Mark Twain and Brett Hart.
It was the coincidence of the Californian and Australian goldfields that brought Brett Hart into prominence here, with his Luck of Roaring Camp short stories, which gave the impetus to Edward Dyson’s Below and On Top stories of the mining days, for in his youth he had worked as a trucker in some of the biggest deep sinkings. Henry Lawson was writing his stories of the Outback at the same time, but the idiom of both writers was that of Mark Twain’s innocently ironic deadpan accent on humour. I was born in a mining town, and I only discovered by reading Mencken’s American Language that all the mining terminologies common to the Australian vocabulary were carried here from the Californian goldfields, which preceded those of Australia.
I can’t resist stepping aside here from the general to the particular in the case of Mark Twain, for at the age of eleven, I was taken to hear one of his lectures. My father, a horse-and-buggy doctor, drove me and a lawyer friend of his the twelve miles between my natal township of Creswick to the big town of Ballarat to hear Mark, and the vital impression of his unique personality is alight in my mind as I write. A very handsome old man, very tall, very much at his ease; his casual drawl which rejected all oratorical flourishes never accented the climax of a humorous story till its unexpected arrival sent the audience into howls of laughter. That was a great event to me, for I was steeped to the eyebrows in Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and though Tom Sawyer does not carry very far these days, I can’t pick up Huck Finn without reading it again.
In the exchanges of national egos we in Australia are much closer to the American than to the English. For myself, I have never met an American with whom I was not at ease after ten minutes’ talk with him, while I believe that the only Englishman with whom I could exchange talk in equal terms of understanding was Max Beerbohm. To an Englishman an Australian is a Colonial—an inferior being, and always will be. At the back of his mind he is still of Doctor Johnson’s opinion on America when he wrote his Taxation No Tyranny. Is it worth noting here that in the Roman Augustan age which produced all that is great in Roman literature, of all its literary notabilities, Suetonius was the only born Roman—all the rest were either Colonials or Provincials?
No matter for that. The English, because they are of the Roman genus, have been the greatest civilising power since the Roman Empire. And that power is still vindicated in the English language. That is the sympathetic bridge between all English speaking people. And the future of world civilisation rests on maintaining that bridge.