In Defence of Dagon

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Szerző: Howard Phillips Lovecraft • Év: 1921

The Defence Reopens!

Jany. 1921

 

In replying to the adverse criticisms of my weird tale “Dagon”, I must begin by conceding that all such work is necessarily directed to a very limited section of the public. Fiction falls generally into three major divisions; romantic, realistic, and imaginative. The first is for those who value action and emotion for their own sake; who are interested in striking events which conform to a preconceived artificial pattern. These readers will accept psychological improbabilities and untruths, and even highly distorted objective happenings, but they demand a background of literalism. Romanticists are persons who on the one hand scorn the realist who says that moonlight is only reflected wave-motion in aether; but who on the other hand sit stolid and unmoved when a fantaisiste tells them that the moon is a hideous nightmare eye—watching... ever watching... They will say to the realist that he forgets the emotional influence of moonlight; but they will not be able to follow up subjectively a fantastic conception involving myth-making, so will be equally opposed to the teller of strange legends.

The second fictional school—the realism which rules the public today—is for those who are intellectual and analytical rather than poetical or emotional. It is scientific and literal, and laughs both at the romanticist and the myth-maker. It has the virtue of being close to life, but has the disadvantage of sinking into the commonplace and the unpleasant at times. Both romanticism and realism have the common quality of dealing almost wholly with the objective world—with things rather than with what things suggest. The poetic element is wanting. Romanticism calls on emotion, realism on pure reason; both ignore the imagination, which groups isolated impressions into gorgeous patterns and finds strange relations and associations among the objects of visible and invisible Nature. Phantasy exists to fulfil the demands of the imagination; but since imagination is so much less widely diffused than are emotion and analytical reason, it follows that such a literary type must be relatively rare, and decidedly restricted in its appeal. Imaginative artists have been few, and always unappreciated. Blake is woefully undervalued. Poe would never have been understood had not the French taken the pains to exalt and interpret him. Dunsany has met with nothing but coldness or lukewarm praise. And nine persons out of ten never heard of Ambrose Bierce, the greatest story writer except Poe whom America ever produced. The imaginative writer devotes himself to art in its most essential sense. It is not his business to fashion a pretty trifle to please the children, to point a useful moral, to concoct superficial “uplift” stuff for the mid-Victorian hold-over, or to rehash insolvable human problems didactically. He is a painter of moods and mind-pictures—a capturer and amplifier of elusive dreams and fancies—a voyager into those unheard-of lands which are glimpsed through the veil of actuality but rarely, and only by the most sensitive. He is one who not only sees objects, but follows up all the bizarre trails of associated ideas which encompass and lead away from them. He is the poet of twilight visions and childhood memories, but sings only for the sensitive. All moods are his to reproduce, be they bright or dark. “Wholesomeness” and “utility” are to him unknown words. He mirrors the rays that fall upon him, and does not ask their source or effect. He is not practical, poor fellow, and sometimes dies in poverty; for his friends all live in the City of Never above the sunset, or in the antique rock temples of Mycenae, or the crypts and catacombs of Egypt and Meroe. Most persons do not understand what he says, and most of those who do understand object because his statements and pictures are not always pleasant and sometimes quite impossible. But he exists not for praise, nor thinks of his readers. His only to paint the scenes that pass before his eyes.

Now far be it from me to claim the honour of being a real imaginative artist. It is my privilege only to admire from the abyss of mediocrity, and to copy in my feeble way. But what I have said of imaginative literature may help to explain what it is that I am feebly and unsuccessfully trying to do. It may explain why I do not tag my tales with copybook morals or try to confine the events to cheerful, everyday happenings of unimpeachable probability. As to criticism—I ask only that my reviewers observe the basic law of their craft; a comparison between design and achievement. No one is more acutely conscious than I of the inadequacy of my work. Nothing exasperates me more than the failure of my written products to duplicate the visions and nightmares that lie behind them. I am a self-confessed amateur and bungler, and have not much hope of improvement—but the visions clamour for expression and preservation, so what is one to do?

To come to details—Miss Taylor says that “Dagon” ‘does not awaken any responsive quiver of horror or repugnance’ in her. A writer in the September American Amateur, referring to my efforts, said:

 

“I recall that one night I let the moon shine in my eyes because I was afraid to get up and pull down the shade after reading one of his stories—`Dagon’, I think it was.”

 

“Who shall decide, when doctors disagree?” I paint what I dream, and will let the public settle the rest amongst themselves! About the bottom of the sea—one must use imagination in picturing the effect of an oceanic upheaval. The essence of the horrible is the unnatural. The thought of a rock walking is not necessarily repulsive, but in Dunsany’s “Gods of the Mountain” a man says with a great deal of terror and repulsion, “Rock should not walk in the evening!” In estimating the effect of the sea-bottom on the man in “Dagon”, we must remember that it has just been raised beneath his feet by some mysterious force—unnaturally raised from its age-long sleep in the darkness of ancient waters—and that it extends all around him as far as he can see. He does not know its extent—all is doubt, wonder, and unnatural mystery. This man might not be afraid to watch the tide go out on the beach at home; but under the circumstances of the tale, he is likely to be a rather badly scared sailor—or supercargo, to accept a Brunonian correction. Probably the worst thing is solitude in barren immensity. That has unhinged more than one mind. As to the fish—the assumption is correct. The earthquake killed some, and the rest died for want of water after the ocean bed rose to the air.

Mr. Brown is ‘unimpressed as to the reality’ of “Dagon”, since to him it seems quite impossible. In reply I might say that realism was not the desired effect, although in past geological ages large bodies of land have both risen above and sunk beneath the waves. Does Mr. Brown recall the legend of “Atlantis”? I have written a long story on that theme. About the ocean bed—I shall have to disagree with Mr. Brown, summoning the facts of physical geography to my aid. The deep-sea bottom is smooth and monotonous—a rolling plain with few topographical features. There is no life—water-pressure is too great—but there is a deposit of “ooze” consisting of the tiny shells of simple marine organisms which live near the surface. One physiographer—to choose a book almost at random from my shelves—says:

 

“The monotony, dreariness, and desolation of the deeper parts of this submarine scenery can scarcely be realised. The most barren terrestrial districts must seem diversified when compared with the vast expanse of ooze which covers the deeper parts of the ocean.”

 

Shallow-water conditions are not true of the deep sea.

Why should the hero of “Dagon” wish to escape from the Germans if well-treated? For one thing, he might prefer the chances of rescue to the certainties of a Hun prison-camp at the end of the voyage.

Miss Fidlar’s remark that war horrors have exhausted the capacity of the world for receiving new horrors may be answered in two ways—(1) I do not write for any particular age—I wrote as much before the war as after, and “Dagon” was written about the middle of it. (2) The physical horrors of war, no matter how extreme and unprecedented, hardly have a bearing on the entirely different realm of supernatural terror. Ghosts are still ghosts—the mind can get more thrills from unrealities than from realities!

Mr. Bullen’s criticism is greatly appreciated, and I am glad that poor “Dagon” did not bore everyone! He overestimates the didactic element a trifle—like Dunsany I protest that except in a few cases I have no thought of teaching. The story is first, and if any philosophy creeps in it is by accident. “The White Ship” was an exception. As to the criticisms—the hero-victim is sucked half into the mire, yet he does crawl! He pulls himself along in the detestable ooze, tenaciously though it cling to him. I know, for I dreamed that whole hideous crawl, and can yet feel the ooze sucking me down! Possibly my description lacked clearness. As to the expression “completeness of the stillness”—I wish to emphasise a peculiar condition paralleled only by that in Poe’s “Silence; a Fable”, and also to balance the phrase “homogeneity of the landscape”. “Certail” is a stenographic error—like the omission of “l” from Piltdown, which my critics overlooked. The suggestions anent the dubious word scientist and the phrase “whales and the like” are good, and will be acted on if the yarn is ever republished.

Mr. Munday asks the raison d’étre of “Dagon”—I will give it—purely and simply to reproduce a mood. Its object is the simplest in all art—portrayal. (I must read “The Grim Thirteen”. Has Mr. Munday read “Can Such Things Be?”, by Ambrose Bierce?)

I am glad that several liked “Old Christmas”. I would that Miss Taylor and Mr. Bullen were right about my being a poet, but must regretfully renounce the distinction. “Old Christmas” is a rhymed essay—light verse, verging on the whimsical. As to the poetic impossibility of such words as gastronomic and patriarchar—fully conceded! But investigation of Georgian and Queen-Anne verse will reveal the fountainhead of the venerable tradition I follow. I rejoice that Mr. Bullen, a native of the Mother Land, should find my pictures reasonably accurate. A comparative recluse, seeing little of any part of the world, is likely to take up his imaginative abode in whatever spot his main Interest lies, unhampered by the conditions of actual geography. As a devotee of the past, I have naturally read more English than American books, and have felt profoundly the charm of those scenes and events amongst which my race-stock was moulded and developed; so that my conception of home and of natural beauty has come to centre in that soil around which so vast a majority of ancestral associations hover—

 

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

 

The scenes of my tales—or such of them as do not relate to imaginary regions—are laid in about equal proportion in England and America. Some day I will copy for the Circulator my various verses on America and England, as published in amateur journals on both sides of the water. One of them appeared in the (professional) National Magazine in Boston, and brought me an offer (albeit an impracticable one) from the book-publishing house of Sherman, French, & Co.

Last of all I will touch upon the allusions to me made in the Conductor’s Notes. I trust that Mr. Bullen’s flattering description will not lead the various members to expect from me more than I can furnish, for I am only too undeserving of such encomium. My imperfect productions speak louder than a charitable conductor’s praise!

Regarding the Wickenden objections to my philosophical views, I am afraid I cannot be as much impressed as I should be, since most of the points on which I am attacked are really points of language rather than belief. Mr. Wickenden jeers in a cocksure fashion at my use of the word “know”, when of course that word was employed with a full recognition of the metaphysical and epistemological difficulties involved. It is the only adequate word, though any philosophical user of it must concede that it is largely relative. And Mr. Wickenden forgets that the absence of certain knowledge militates as strongly against dogmatic theism as against dogmatic atheism; or rather, while not forgetting it, he uses it as propaganda for a set of opinions much less intrinsically probable than those he dismisses as unproven. One should not take too seriously a belittling of the scientific leaders who disposed of theism in the nineteenth century—but perhaps their overpraise by many justifies or explains an impulsive reaction against them. They were certainly not demigods, or even innovators in the ultimate sense. Materialism has represented man’s most thoughtful attitude since the days of Leucippus and Democritus, and was the central phase of the Epicurean school. But Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel, and Spencer did perform a vast service in filling in details, systematising, and expounding. Their results were not necessarily perfect, for inaccuracy enters all speculations; yet to say they are “superseded” or “overthrown” is sheer nonsense. It is impossible to produce any subsequent discoveries which controvert their main tenets. Modern science has probed deeper, but the probing has not disestablished the principles. There is a difference between a developed theory and an overturned theory. The atomic theory of Dalton, for example, is not disturbed by the recent subdivision of the atom. The etymology of the word is embarrassed, but so far as the reality of the “atom” as a chemical unit is concerned, very little has happened. “Atoms” exist and combine as Dalton discovered. It is only in the case of radioactivity that we encounter the results of the development.

In dealing with the relative values of reason and intuition Mr. Wickenden is equally sophistical. Common evidence shews him that intuition is as apt to be false as true—that it is [as] apt to lead to subsequently demonstrable errors as to facts, and that emotion is closely allied to it. He knows that both intuition and emotion are erratic, irregular, and frequently completely contradictory; that they depend upon individual wishes and hopes easily explainable on materialistic grounds, and that they inspire obvious hallucinations as often as they produce sensible convictions. Is a lunatic Caesar or Napoleon because his intuitions tell him so? Contrary to the cleverly introduced insinuation of Mr. Wickenden, emotion and intuition DO “fit into my beautiful symmetrical pattern”. It would be impossible to conceive of the development of the intellect from the primitive neural functions of low organisms without the existence of these intermediate stages. They are not to be ignored, for they furnish important light on all biological and philosophical problems. The only rash thing is to accept their admittedly variable, contradictory, and nebulous evidence as a determinant of facts in opposition to genuine logic and reason, whose rigid consistency and reliability in every field cannot be disputed. A man may one day feel that there is a deity and another day feel that there is none. An Arab may feel that Mahomet is the only true prophet at the same time that an Englishman feels that Christ is. But none of these men can possibly differ as to the existence of land and water, or the sequence of the seasons. Reason has never yet failed. Intuition and emotion are constantly failing. Here is strong circumstantial evidence!

Mr. Wickenden asks how I “know” that oblivion awaits us. Again that needless objection to a word which has no literal meaning, and which is therefore permissible in this case. In reply, of course, I would have to say that while nothing in existence is certain, there is surely no ground for a notion as utterly extravagant and contrary to probability as that of immortality. We have no reason to think that the phenomena of consciousness and personality can arise from anything save complex organic evolution, or that they can exist apart from complex organic matter. All experience has taught us that consciousness and the organic brain are inseparable. A blow on the head can kill the qualities of consciousness and personality whilst the body and a few simple instincts vegetate on. The person is dead. Where is he—in heaven? And where were we before we existed—whence came the “immortal soul”? Likewise, since the notion of “soul” and immortality is so clearly akin to the conceptions of duality and eternity formed through dreams and dread of the unknown, what right have we to invent an artificial and less probable explanation, or to accept uncritically the animistic legends handed down from our savage and barbarian ancestors? In the face of such probabilities—all on the side of oblivion—it is rather disingenuous of Mr. Wickenden to call in the academic fact that nothing can be known. Still—that is true. We know nothing—surely nothing sufficient to justify the creation of a fanciful and elaborate eschatology! When we see a brain die and decay, is it more natural to assume that its functions have ceased, or to weave a story about the survival of the motions when the moving particles themselves are gone? Probability is not kind to Mr. Wickenden! But the question is open!!

As to the origin of a supposed deity—if one always existed and always will exist, how can he be developing creation from one definite state to another? Nothing but a cycle is in any case conceivable—a cycle or an infinite rearrangement, if that be a tenable thought. Nietzsche saw this when he spoke of the ewige wiederkunft. In absolute eternity there is neither starting-point nor destination.

Mr. Wickenden frankly amuses me when he compares my rejection of teleology to a small boy’s discarding and condemning a book he cannot understand—amuses me, because that is an excellent comparison for his own acceptance of teleology! He sees a process of evolution in operation at one particular cosmic moment in one particular point in space; and at once assumes gratuitously that all the cosmos is evolving steadily in one direction toward a fixed goal. Moreover, he feels that it all must amount to something—he calls it a thing of “heroism and splendour”! So when it is shewn that life on our world will (relatively) soon be extinct through the cooling of the sun; that space is full of such worlds which have died; that human life and the solar system itself are the merest novelties in an eternal cosmos; and that all indications point to a gradual breaking down of both matter and energy which will eventually nullify the results of evolution in any particular corner of space; when these things are shewn Mr. Wickenden recoils, and imitating the small boy of his own metaphor, cries out that it’s all nonsense—it just can’t be so!! But what of the actual probability, apart from man’s futile wishes? If we cannot prove that the universe means nothing, how can we prove that it means anything—what right have we to invent a notion of purpose in the utter absence of evidence? Of course our savage forefathers could not conceive of a cosmos without a purpose any more than they could conceive of one without an anthromorphic deity, but what place have their legends in 1921?

And then that Wickendenian sneer at my liking for Mark Twain’s ethical precept—which was materialistic because it truly recognised no motive in man but basic selfishness. Mr. W. says or furnishes evidence that it is Christian. I can furnish evidence that it is rationalistic, pre-Christian, and Confucian. It is merely a truth based on expediency, free for any ethical teacher to seize and use, be he theistic or atheistic.

At the end of his discourse Mr. Wickenden professes himself the complete agnostic and relies on circumstantial evidence. I am content to follow his method, though such evidence as I behold leads me in the opposite direction.

Chesterton is hard to take seriously in the field of science. By manipulating the evidence—playing up trifles and minimising important facts—one may make a very brilliant case; but when a man soberly tries to dismiss the results of Darwin we need not give him too much of our valuable time. The exact details of organic progress as described in “The Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Man” may admit of correction or amplification; but to attack the essential principle, which alone is of universal importance, is pathetic. And so in a lesser degree with Freud. The doctrines which Mr. Chesterton so sweepingly sets aside are indeed radical, and decidedly repellent to the average thinker. Certainly, they reduce man’s boasted nobility to a hollowness woeful to contemplate. But it is our business merely to observe impartially the extent to which the new views coincide with known phenomena, as compared with views hitherto held. When we do this we are forced to admit that the Freudians have in most respects excelled their predecessors, and that while many of Freud’s most important details may be erroneous—one should not be too hasty in substituting any single or simple instinct for the complex and dominant Wille zur Macht as the explanation of man’s motive force—he has nevertheless opened up a new path in psychology, devising a system whose doctrines more nearly approximate the real workings of the mind than any heretofore entertained. We may not like to accept Freud, but I fear we shall have to do so. It was only in the early seventeenth century that a Sizzi could refuse to look through Galileo’s telescope for fear he would be convinced against his will of the existence of Jupiter’s satellites!

 

And now let me insert my new contributions—three in number, a tale in prose, some weird stanzas, and a tale in rhyme. I regret sincerely that I have nothing “healthy” or “uplifting” to offer, but if I fall short of true artistic creation in those more “wholesome” fields, what am I to do? It is odd that my entire audience in the Circulator, save Mr. Bullen alone, should consist of realists and literalists. Perhaps in future I shall insert in this folio matter by other and more conventional members of the United Amateur Press Ass’n.

 

The Defence Remains Open!

 

April 1921

 

I note with interest the various comments upon my latest round of literary attempts, and am grateful for the charity of judgment shewn. Mr. Brown is right in saying that tales of ordinary characters would appeal to a larger class, but I have no wish to make such an appeal. The opinions of the masses are of no interest to me, for praise can truly gratify only when it conies from a mind sharing the author’s perspective. There are probably seven persons, in all, who really like my work; and they are enough. I should write even if I were the only patient reader, for my aim is merely self-expression. I could not write about “ordinary people” because I am not in the least interested in them. Without interest there can be no art. Man’s relations to man do not captivate my fancy. It is man’s relation to the cosmos—to the unknown—which alone arouses in me the spark of creative imagination. The humanocentric pose is impossible to me, for I cannot acquire the primitive myopia which magnifies the earth and ignores the background. Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty. Like the late Mr. Wilde, “I live in terror of not being misunderstood.”

I note with interest the predilection of Miss Taylor for tales of a psycho-analytical, telepathic, and hypnotic order. Telepathy, the only mythical member of this triad, may some time furnish me with a plot; but the other two are likely to become systematised by science in the course of the next few decades, hence will pass out of the realm of wonder into that of realism. I prefer to stick to a more fantastic kind of explanation of the dreamworld than that offered by Prof. Dr. Sigmund Freud—only illusions and insolvable mysteries are really fascinating to the imagination. I should not be surprised if hypnotism were to develop as an effective remedy for many disorders, since so many bodily functions are controlled wholly by cells of the brain. The only question, in my opinion, would be that of permanence; since the blind habits of cells are usually stronger in the end than the modes of motion set up by conscious thought or external forces. In some cases the new artificial habits might gain the ascendancy, but it would probably depend mainly on the temperament of the patient and the previous duration of the malady.

Mr. Bullen’s remarks are all of great interest to me, and I would appreciate it if he could later on send me his sheet of corrections—that I may act upon his suggestions when I have more leisure. At present I am about to investigate the status of through as used in “Psychopompos”, pending which I have adopted the alternative ending:

 

For Sieur de Blois (the old wife’s tale is o’er)

Was lost to mortal sight for evermore.

 

Regarding “The Tree”—Mr. Brown finds the climax insufficient, but I doubt if a tale of that type could possess a more obvious denouement. The climactic effect sought, is merely an emphasis—amounting to the first direct intimation—of the fact that there is something hidden behind the simple events of the tale; that the growing suspicion of Musides’ crime and recognition of Kalos’ posthumous vengeance is well-founded. It is to proclaim what has hitherto been doubtful—to shew that the things of Nature see behind human hypocrisy and perceive the baseness at the heart of outward virtue. All the world deems Musides a model of fraternal piety and devotion although in truth he poisoned Kalos when he saw his laurels in peril. Did not the Tegeans build to Musides a temple? But against all these illusions the trees whisper—the wise trees sacred to the gods—and reveal the truth to the midnight searcher as they chaunt knowingly over and over again “Oida! Oida!” This, then, is all the climax so nebulous a legend can possess. Mr. Bullen, referring to the motto, asks what it is that the fates find a way to accomplish—to which the obvious reply is, that their aim is the avenging of murdered Kalos. This is an old tragic theme with the Greeks—does Mr. B. not recall Anion and the dolphins and Ibycus and the cranes?

I observe Mr. Bullen’s complaint that no humour enters into my tales; which omission he deplores, assuming that these tales are designed to present a view of the universe. In reply, I would suggest that none of my narratives aims at scientific accuracy and inclusiveness, each being rather a mere transcript of an isolated mood or idea with its imaginative ramifications. Moreover, humour is itself but a superficial view of that which is in truth both tragic and terrible—the contrast between human pretence and cosmic mechanical reality. Humour is but the faint terrestrial echo of the hideous laughter of the blind mad gods that squat leeringly and sardonically in caverns beyond the Milky Way. It is a hollow thing, sweet on the outside, but filled with the pathos of fruitless aspiration. All great humorists are sad—Mark Twain was a cynic and agnostic, and wrote “The Mysterious Stranger” and “What Is Man”? When I was younger I wrote humorous matter—satire and light verse—and was known to many as a jester and parodist. I will enclose one of my old parodies, together with the piece I burlesqued, as an illustration of my comic side. But I cannot help seeing beyond the tinsel of humour, and recognising the pitiful basis of jest—the world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind. So when I delineate an intense mood I plough down to the subsoil and do not try to trifle with the layer of levity on top. Humour is the whistling of man to keep up his courage as he travels the dark road. I once wrote:

 

The wise to care a comic strain apply,

And shake with laughter, that they may not cry.

 

Let it not be thought that I fail to appreciate humour—indeed, I employ it in discourse; being regarded as satirical and given to repartee. Lest my readers deem me a creature wholly without counterpart, I will enclose a cutting about an infinitely greater person—Charles Baudelaire—some of whose qualities may perhaps explain or illuminate the character of one with a (very roughly) similar outlook.

My contributions to this round of the Circulator will consist of a weird tale, “The Nameless City”, some of my pseudonymous lines “On Religion”,—an echo of the current controversy—a brief parody of some lines by the U.A.P.A. poet Rheinhart Kleiner, and a specimen of my older and more conventional work—”Quinsnicket Park”, written in the Georgian manner in the year 1913, when I was 23 years of age. “Quinsnicket Park” has, of course, some of my pessimism; but there may be a youthful spirit and trace of “wholesomeness” lacking in the products of my riper years.

 

I perceive that Mr. Bullen and his lieutenants are anxious to carry on the contraversy regarding materialism and idealism, which is surely agreeable enough to me, however ill it may conform to the rules of the Circulator. If the practice of drawing on “outside talent” be permitted to both sides, it is possible that I may later introduce the arguments of a very brilliant young materialist—Alfred Galpin, Jr., 536 College Ave., Appleton, Wisconsin, President of the United Amateur Press Association. Mr. Galpin is at present a student at Lawrence College, but in spite of his youth is a person of attainments little short of marvellous—a genuine “boy prodigy”. He is now only 19, but I consider him already the most remarkable human being of my acquaintance, and believe he will become in time a critic and philosopher of international reputation. Mr. Galpin is a lineal descendant of Capt. James Cook, the celebrated explorer, who was killed by natives in the Sandwich Islands in 1776. His opinions are for the most part identical with my own.

That idealists should turn from the defensive to the offensive is something which cannot but benefit discussion. The tactics of the two attitudes differ, and a question cannot be displayed in its fulness till each antagonist has assumed both positions. Idealists were formerly on the defensive because, as the heirs of primitive tradition, they were first in the field and held all the territory. In their citadel of hereditary strength they were besieged by the materialists, a school of later growth whose doctrines sprang not from savage conjecture but from scientific observation. Now the citadel is captured, and the thinking world is materialistic. Realising that man possesses no innate knowledge, and that any claim regarding invisible and improbable phenomena must be supported by evidence, the victorious materialists hold the citadel and await the assaults of idealism, which now strikes back to regain the territory it has lost. But the strokes are strangely feeble, for the weapons of idealism melt in the sun of discovery.

Mr. Wickenden continues to attack me with more success than he attacks the ideas I utter, which are not of my creating. He points out some apparent ineptitude of rhetoric whereby I seem to arrogate to myself the title of “scientist”—which I certainly did not wish or intend to do—and thereupon fancies he has destroyed those other men’s theories which I merely repeated. When he declares it more improbable for carbonates to change to protoplasm than for an organic substance to possess a “soul” and “immortality”, he shews such an apparent misunderstanding of the principles involved that I despair of mutual comprehension. Perhaps a repetition of some basic facts might be clarifying—helping to define the conditions in each of the two cases. In the first place, no one assumes any volition on the part of a piece of chalk or other inorganic compound to change its mode of internal motion to the organic and vital type. The change, when it first occurred, must have been merely a rearrangement of moving particles incidental to the cooling and contraction of the whole planet; with no “volition” save the blind churning of electrons which constitutes all cosmic existence in the ultimate sense. Let Mr. Wickenden see very clearly that no radical change is involved—that nothing is either created or destroyed. The first appearance of life on any planet need be nothing more than a change of motion among certain molecules, atoms, and electrons. There is nothing new or occult. Since 1828 organic compounds have been synthesised, and he is indeed a bold speculator who will deny the possibility of actual abiogenesis as a future achievement of chemistry. Utterly different is the absurd conception of a “soul” or “immortality”—so different that Mr. Wickenden’s description of it as “comparatively easy” reads more like jest than like sober discussion. Remember that in theorising on the origin of life we have not had to consider anything more than a shifting of material particles. How, then, may we call it “easier” to assume in one wild guess the existence of a whole world of entity, distinct from any provable substance, giving no evidence of itself, and independent of the known laws of matter? If it was hard to conceive of life as the product of lifeless matter, is it indeed easier to conceive of the existence of an airy nothing which can have no source at all, but which is claimed without proof or probability to hover around certain substances for certain periods, and subsequently to retain the personality of the substance around which it last hovers? Or perhaps Mr. Wickenden thinks that the material body creates the “soul”—in which case it would be interesting to discover how he thinks the emanation can be non-material, or how—if it be energy and not matter—it can retain the personality of the parent matter. I will not accuse Mr. Wickenden of being so naive as to perpetrate the blunder of the “Lieut.-Colonel” of Mr. Bullen’s cutting—the assumption that the radiant heat emitted by a flame perpetuates in any way the flame itself. That betraying metaphor is ammunition for the materialist; for just as a candle burns itself out in smoke, vapour, and waves of thermal energy, leaving nothing to perpetuate its own individual qualities, so must a human brain burn itself out at last, after sending out irrecoverable ether-waves which disperse to the uttermost recesses of infinity. The tissues and cells which produced the motions of consciousness and personality—”the soul”—finally break down and dissociate, turning to liquid and gaseous decomposition-products and leaving nothing to mark their former temporary assemblage and motions. Can we imagine a continuance of motion when the moving particles are gone? Can we imagine a “soul” in existence after its parent body is dispersed—a candleflame still burning after its energy and incandescent particles are dispersed? Nothing in human mythology is more patently unthinkable, and yet Mr. Wickenden would have us compare this crude and impossible bit of animism with the wholly commonplace hypothesis that one kind of material motion may at some period have been changed to another kind of material motion! In considering the matter of material change—either that of a fish to a crocodile or of limestone to protoplasm—Mr. Wickenden is handicapped by his belief that internal volition and “divine” guidance are the only two possible alternatives. With this dogma he can get nowhere. He must recognise not only the element of chance in so-called natural selection, but also the fact that the initial change from inorganic to organic matter is probably accomplished by chemical and physical rather than biological laws. It is, in fact, only sensible to regard it as the transition from pure chemistry and physics to biology. Mr. Wickenden’s difficulty in understanding why there should be any internal volition in organic types, such as that of a fish for dry land, would be removed if he would realise that all volition is merely a neural molecular process—a blind material instinct or impulse. The universal craving of the organic cell is for expansion of activity—an increase in those conditions which give it the most pleasurable excitation. This blind life-impulse is so clearly correlated with the general run of cosmic forces both organic and inorganic—gravitation, affinity, cohesion, etc.—that it needs no special explanation. There is no distinguishing feature in any of the various local modifications of the universal churning of matter through the endless cycles of the cosmos. An organic being blindly acts in whatever manner gives him the most satisfaction, and so the fish—vivified by the oxygen dissolved in its native waves—strains for as much oxygen as it can get, and eventually tends toward land and the free air. The previous environment and history of each group engaged in the automatic quest no doubt determines its degree of success. Likewise, to the impulse of the animal should be added the modifications of the environment. Perhaps it is too hasty to attribute all evolutional changes to internal causes, since many may result from the animal’s struggle to adapt itself to changing surroundings. The recession or evaporation of a body of water, giving rise to a swamp, may be the cause of changing fishes to amphibia in the course of generations; just as the subsequent drying of the swamp into solid land may transform the amphibia to land animals—first of the lizard kind, then mammals, including man, and no one knows what later on, if the planet lasts long enough. Changes are accomplished by all sorts of selective processes, largely choice of mates, dictated by the environment and blind impulses of countless generations. Definite intelligent volition is out of the question, Mr. Wickenden to the contrary.

When Mr. Wickenden jumps to the conclusion that divine guidance must exist simply because there is no readily visible reason why a fish should spontaneously seek land, he is certainly displaying a vast eagerness to accept the more superficial conclusion before analysing the apparent objections which he finds in the other. It would be possible to cite many reasons which would drive fish to land. Should it be demonstrated that the oxygen of the air is an insufficient bait, much might be said for the light of the upper regions, with its increased possibilities of pleasurably affecting the eye. Mr. Wickenden displays his weakness in the assumption that fish are “perfectly comfortable” in water—an absurd statement, in view of the obvious lack of continuous comfort in all beings with complex neural development. There is in every phase of vertebrate organic life a constant chafing and unrest, since adaptation to the environment is never perfect. All life is struggle and combat—itself a disproof of divinity—and in this fray an organism fights both its fellows and its surroundings. When a certain act or change is of benefit in securing an advantage, and increasing the opportunities of pleasurable excitation, it is blindly persisted in through the universal tendency of following the line of least resistance. All organisms tend to do what secures them the most pleasure or best facilitates their continued existence; and in the end their course, determined by circumstance, produces various modifications of type. There is no conscious desire, no intelligent aspiration, no definite foreknowledge. It is all a process of stumbling in the dark—of recoiling from greater to lesser discomforts and dangers, and of groping for an increased amount of pleasures faintly tasted. To ignore this, and rush to the notion of divinity, is so rash that such a step may fairly be counted out of an argument. Mr. Wickenden depends on words rather than on facts and ideas, as witness his really delicious epigram about ‘explaining evolution’.

I hardly know whether a reply is needed for the statement regarding the anomalous expansion of water just above the freezing-point. Certainly this is an unusual thing, but no more so than countless others having no possible purposive significance. It is not definitely explained—but neither are dozens of other phenomena of molecular physics. Why are all the anomalies of science? Why do the satellites of Uranus move in a plane nearly perpendicular to that of the planet’s orbit, and why does Neptune’s satellite move backward? Why does the moon appear larger to the naked eye when near the horizon when micrometric measurement and theory unite in shewing the apparent disc as smaller? But I need not make a catalogue—it is too childish. No one talks of “intelligence” in these cases of phenomena whose causes are at present obscure. Why, then, does Mr. Wickenden make such a vital argument of the anomalous expansion of water? Simply because water happens to contain a few organisms edible by man, which it could not contain if its physical properties were less unusual! On this one chance circumstance Mr. Wickenden founds a system of theology, singles out the case of water from that of all the other anomalies in creation, and assumes that the most stable and important of chemical compounds received its properties solely in order that fishes might inhabit brooks! How inconsiderate of Nature not to fashion water so that man might walk through it and build railways on the floor of the Atlantic! The same “intelligence” that created brooks for fishes neglected to make all parts of the land habitable by man—strange oversight! Why are not the Sahara and the Antarctic Continent habitable, if it is the “divine” purpose to adapt everything to the sustenance of life? Conversely, what calamity would result if fishes did not inhabit brooks—or if lakes were permanently semi-glacial?

Mr. Wickenden is right in declaring that “it is easy to scoff at any attempted explanation of life, but tremendously difficult to offer any explanation that other people cannot scoff at.” In truth, knowledge has not yet extended very far below the surface, so that continual readjustments of thought are necessary. Beyond a certain limit knowledge may be impossible to acquire with man’s present sensory and intellectual equipment, so that in all likelihood the universe will never be explained. Perhaps it were wiser not to try, but merely to take life as it comes, enjoying the pleasure and forgetting the pain as best we can. Since, however, our curiosity does prompt us to make inquiries; it is certainly more sensible to build up our speculations humbly, step by step from the known to the unknown, than to cast aside probability and experience altogether and accept dogmatically and uncritically the primitive legends of early man—legends based on transparent analogies and personifications, and professing to solve offhand those cosmic mysteries which offer the least real evidence and involve the most intricate and gradual kind of investigation. All theories may indeed be open to scoffing; but surely those are weakest which claim most and have least corroboration, while those are strongest which depend most on solid observation and make the fewest claims regarding matters beyond actual knowledge. In the absence of proof, the likeliest theory is that which conflicts least with the small amount of knowledge we already have.

“Lieut.-Colonel’s” Open Letter contains one point so comic that I cannot forbear comment. After devoting several paragraphs to a vigorous condemnation of materialists who deny “spirit” because it cannot be seen and measured, he fails utterly to shew that Nature contains any phenomena establishing the existence of such an invisible and immensurable force! I might as easily assert the existence of a new ethereal entity called XYZABC, which makes the comets move; and defy any man to disprove it. Surely it could not be detected and measured by “calipers and balances”—therefore it is above truth!!!

Coming now to the old Atlantic Monthly article, “Whither” (in the General Discussion folio), I find much of genuine pathos. There is no real argument of importance in the harangue of the anonymous author, but the atmosphere of sorrow at the passing of the old illusions makes the whole complaint an absorbing human document. Certainly, there is much in the modern advance of knowledge which must of necessity shock and bewilder the mind accustomed to uncritical tradition. That the old illusions cheered and stimulated the average person to a more or less considerable degree cannot be denied—the dreamworld of our grandsires was undoubtedly a sort of artificial paradise for mediocrity. To supply deficiencies in real life there was an imaginary “soul life” or “inner life” which probably seemed very vivid and actual to the subject of the delusion, and which must have helped to render him insensible to the manifold pains of genuine existence. The phenomenon can be duplicated on a small scale by any imaginative person, and those who have succeeded in thus creating for the nonce an unreal world can fully appreciate the sense of relative security and peace existing among those who accepted deity and immortality as actual facts. It is a general objection to Christianity, that it stifled artistic freedom, trampled on healthy instincts, and set up false and unjust standards. On this assumption a friend of mine, Samuel Loveman, Esq., has written a magnificent ode “To Satan”. In truth, however, this stultifying effect injured only the most intelligent classes, who were capable of resisting it ultimately; so that we need not deny the narcotic comfort it brought to the less aspiring majority. The faith was, of course, in its details merely a symbol of that majority’s own standards and hopes—for all religious systems are the outgrowths rather than rulers of the races which hold them. Just as paganism is the ideal aristocratic attitude—the cult of true strength and beauty—so was Christianity the bourgeois ideal; the sklavmoral code of thrift and prudence. Its ultimate development was reached in the anaemic Massachusetts type of the nineteenth century—the Puritanical and Emersonian product which had so much “soul” that it mattered little. Nowadays these fellows, or their grandchildren, are amusing themselves with theosophy, “new thought”, Christian Science, and Persian Bahaism. They cannot tell facts when they meet them! But most of the old Christians were less fanatical, and have developed less fantastically. They held their old faith simply from lack of the recent scientific information which most clearly proves it false, so when the information gradually reached them as a result of the unparalleled discoveries of the past century, they simply modified their views and accepted the inevitable. When they saw that their castles were of air—that there `really is no Santa Claus’—they did not cry or cover up their eyes and ears, but bore the disillusionment like grown men. There had, indeed, been rare imaginative comfort in the old beliefs—but facts are facts! The withdrawal of the “spiritual” drug acted like the withdrawal of liquor from some topers—occasionally causing them to rise to greater mental heights by frankly facing things as they are. But as some lament prohibition, others lament philosophical disillusionment—in both cases a somewhat agreeable false stimulant has been withdrawn. The change has been very subtle; more often tacit than open, and affecting the all-important subconscious springs of thought and action rather than the outward qualities of apparent belief. Of the modern materialists a good majority probably attend some church and consider themselves Christians. That is because most persons never think accurately and searchingly. Their beliefs mean little—what matters is the deep inward disillusionment whereby they feel the change and dare not trust what they trusted before. Regrets are absolutely futile. The change is inevitable, because the last century brought to light facts never suspected before; which not only upset all the old notions, but explain with considerable clearness the psychological and anthropological reasons those notions were held in the past. The suddenness of the change is not surprising—its seeds were sown in the splendour of the Renaissance, when thought was emancipated and scientific progress begun. New instruments, exciting new zeal and opening up new vistas, have appeared in logical succession; and minds formerly applied to other arts have joined in the quest for truth. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries mark the logical culmination of the advance of 500 years—the growth of philosophies on the new data—so that he who would order us back to superstition is like Canute commanding the waves. Unfortunately or not, the illusion of spirituality is dead among the thinking classes. A phase of primitive allegory has retreated into the past, and we must make the best of what we cannot help. If we tried to believe now we should feel the sham, and despise ourselves for it—we simply know better, like the small boy deprived of “Santa Claus”. At the same time, we must not ignore the pathetic, sobbing intensity of the reaction among a certain emotionally delicate class. The wrench of disillusion is terrible for them, and according to their temperament they are driven either into blind occultism or passionate Christian apologetics. The author of “Whither” is of the latter type—seeking to stem the tide with sophistry, imperfect data, and weak logic. He weeps vainly for departed values, and pleads weakly for continuity in what he calls “spiritual evolution”. Alas! he does not see that the “spiritual” is exploded, and that continuity is never possible in matters of discovery. Before America was discovered it was unknown—then suddenly it was known! And so with the facts overturning religion. Searching “Whither” for a real argument, the reader finds only one amidst the manifold question-beggings, sophistries, regrets, and gratuitous assumptions of values. And tragically enough that argument is so easily and fully answerable by natural science that it is no sooner uttered than nullified. “Why,” asks the author, “may we not say, ‘Here are certain persistent hopes, inner needs, longings, which we can explain only on the assumption that the universe is a universe of spirit?’” Because, the realist replies, all those hopes, longings, and alleged “needs” are natural attributes of a certain stage of primitive development, early implanted in man, and wholly explainable as products of his unfolding mind as it reacted to his surroundings and limited information. This matter of the explanation of “spiritual” feelings is really the most important of all materialistic arguments; since the explanations are not only overwhelmingly forcible, but so adequate as to shew that man could not possibly have developed without acquiring just such false impressions. The idea of deity is a logical and inevitable result of ignorance, since the savage can conceive of no action save by a volition and personality like his own. Animism could not be avoided by any ignorant mind familiar with dreams, and immortality is an easy step once a dual existence is admitted. The savage has always, so far as he can recall, lived—and he cannot picture a state of not living. In this matter of eternal life he is also guided by his dread of extinction—he has seen dead bodies, and cannot think that such will be the end of his consciousness. Desire becomes accomplished fact in his simple opinions. Then, seething through his crudely animal and emotional nature, are a thousand blind organic forces such as made his fish ancestors seek air and his amphibian ancestors seek the dry hills. His mind is not nearly so powerful as the primal, vestigial urges and currents that rack him, and when these are not drained by combative or other uses, they turn on the nervous system and produce the frenzies and wild hallucinations known as “religious experience”. Freud has much to say of the share these primal urges play in forming thoughts when partly suppressed. As the savage progresses, he acquires experience and formulates codes of “right” and “wrong” from his memories of those courses which have helped or hurt him. His imagination becomes able to create pictures artificially, and as he dwells on the things he likes best he gradually conies to believe in a possible state of things where everything is homogeneously delightful, He usually places these ideal conditions in the past and future, where disproof is impossible—thus we have the “Golden Age” and “Elysium”. The “Garden of Eden” and “Heaven”. Then out of the principle of barter comes the illusion of “justice”—and so on, till at length we behold a whole system of theistic and idealistic legendry, developed gradually during man’s susceptible childhood, and fastened on him as a second nature by countless generations of inherited belief. There is nothing to wonder at in the long survival and hard death of such a system. Its overthrow conies only as a result of the most conclusive and gigantic array of contrary evidence. The wonderful thing is that it should have been extensively challenged by an important section of Greek philosophers as far back as Democritus. However—perhaps one should not wonder at anything Greek; the race was a super-race. In one way religion probably helped to defeat itself. By dividing and subdividing, and developing subtle and scholastic systems of dogmata, it acquired a tinge of rationality fatal to belief. The Papists with their blind faith are the exception. Then man’s whole trend has tended to refine him and tone down the brute impulses whose excesses gave rise to extreme religious ecstasy. There is less primal vitality in modern civilised man—we fight less, seldom “run amok”, and are generally more human and delicate. Greater delicacy means the subordination of simple protoplasmic cell-impulses to the more complex motions of cerebral tissue—the ascendancy of taste and reason over animal feeling—and as we thus grow away from the primitive, our chief urges toward religious grovelling are removed. All religious demonstrativeness and ceremony is basically orgiastic, as one may gather from the veiled or open symbolism of nearly every typical rite of every race.

But the survivors of Christianity take the whole question of modern change too seriously. Just how much of the possible decadence of this age may be traced to materialism it is impossible to say; at any rate, it cannot be helped. As a matter of fact, the connexion is probably other than causal. Progress and sophistication, arch-enemies of all illusion, have destroyed traditions of behaviour as well as of thought; and acting upon a sensitive and heterogeneous world have culminated in an inevitable bewilderment and realisation of futility. One cause may underlie decadence and materialism, but these two are sisters—not child and parent. No civilisation has lasted for ever, and perhaps our own is perishing of natural old age. If so, the end cannot well be deferred. On the other hand, we may be merely passing from youth to maturity—a period of more realistic and sophisticated life may lie ahead of us, filled with cynical resignation and dreams of languorous beauty rather than with the fire and faith of early life. We can neither predict nor determine, for we are but the creatures of blind destiny.

Materialism is not the tragedy—at least, not the utter tragedy—that idealists picture. It is grey rather than black, for even in the most idealistic ages a goodly share of the prevailing serenity came from physical and subconscious rather than conscious causes. No change of faith can dull the colours and magic of spring, or dampen the native exuberance of perfect health; and the consolations of taste and intellect are infinite. It is easy to remove the mind from harping on the lost illusion of immortality. The disciplined intellect fears nothing and craves no sugar-plum at the day’s end, but is content to accept life and serve society as best it may. Personally I should not care for immortality in the least. There is nothing better than oblivion, since in oblivion there is no wish unfulfilled. We had it before we were born, yet did not complain. Shall we then whine because we know it will return? It is Elysium enough for me, at any rate. Altogether, we have depended less than we think on Christian mythology. The French have done without it for a long time, yet their realistic culture maintains its brilliancy, and the national temperament has sunk to no perceptible degree. Our race is younger, but it is fast growing up—and I am confident that the Saxon can face maturity as bravely as the Gaul. If history teaches aright, he should do even better; for who were the victors at Agincourt, Crecy, Poictiers, and Trafalgar? Then, too, we overrate the religious influences we are losing. Stripping the past of its cloak of romantic rationalising and euphemism, we find that most human affairs have always been decided on wholly materialistic lines. Even the leading religious movements have their secret history—generally of a materialistic nature. The only human motive since the species has existed has been selfishness. If we are now less pious, we are also less hypocritical. One honest Nietzsche is worth a dozen mock-saints. And Greece, whose culture was the greatest of all, antedated Christianity and originated materialism.

Modern civilisation is the direct heir of Hellenic culture—all that we have is Greek. Since the transient Semitic importation of ascetic idealism has run its course, can we not recapture a trace of the old pagan lightheartedness that once sparkled by the AEgean? Surely we can think of life as having something of beauty, and only a glutton wants eternity.

 

Final Words

 

September 1921

 

Unlimited apologies are due the members of the Circulator for the vast delay to which I have subjected it on this round, and for the inadequate contributions which I am making to it. All I may offer as an excuse, is that the pressure of other imperative matters, both in the field of associational amateur journalism and in that of professional revision, has rendered greater celerity quite impossible. Indeed, so manifold are the duties with which I find myself now enveloped, that I fear a relinquishment of Circulator membership will be inevitable after this round. By attempting too many things one becomes unable to do any of them justice; therefore it is most advisable to relinquish newer interests in order to fulfil faithfully one’s older and accustomed pursuits. However, I am making a final contribution to the Circulator in the form of one more fantastic tale—”The Doom that Came to Sarnath”—which I insert not because of any particular merit, but because it has just won the Story Laureateship in the United Amateur Press Association; an honour which last year fell to my “White Ship”, also exhibited in the Circulator.

To those of my readers who have disliked the fantastic and macabre tone of my work, I proffer the sincerest apologies; and would defend myself only by pointing out that there is an artistic ideal apart from the “wholesomeness” and “instructiveness” beloved by the worthy generality of citizens. For the endorsement and interest of the public I care not at all, writing solely for my own satisfaction. Writing for any other motive could not possibly be art—the professional author is the ultimate antithesis of the artist. My own failure to be an artist results from limited genius rather than mischosen object. In his preface to “The Picture of Dorian Gray” Oscar Wilde says many things which bourgeois critics should learn by heart—

 

“No artist desires to prove anything... No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything... All art is at once surface and symbol... Those who read the symbol do so at their peril... It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors... All art is quite useless.”

 

Elsewhere Wilde says:

 

“A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most intense mode of individualism the world has ever known...

“From the point of view of style, a healthy work of art is one whose style recognises the beauty of the medium it employs, be that material one of words or of bronze, of colour or of ivory, and uses that beauty as a factor in producing the aesthetic effect. From the point of view of subject, a healthy work of art is one the choice of whose subject is conditioned by the temperament of the artist, and comes directly out of it... An unhealthy work of art, on the other hand, is a work whose style is obvious, old-fashioned, and common, and whose subject is deliberately chosen, not because the artist has any pleasure in it, but because he thinks that the public will pay him for it. In fact, the popular novel that the public calls healthy is always a thoroughly unhealthy production; and what the public calls an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.”

 

For Mrs. Ashley’s word in favour of the weird, I am very grateful. Under separate cover I am sending her some matter pertaining to the United Amateur Press Association; which I trust she will decide to join, and where may be found a variety of real artists of the most genuine kind. Some of my views on art will be found in my coming number of The Conservative, which I shall mail to the members of the Circulator. In bidding farewell to a discussion of the weird and the sombre, it may not be amiss to mention an excellent collection of tales to which my attention has just been drawn—”The Song of the Sirens, and Other Stories”, by Edward Lucas White (Dutton, 1919)—which possesses considerable charm, artistry, and scholarship. Most of them have a very clever and accurate setting in classical antiquity, or in mediaeval Italy.

Mr. Wickenden’s latest controversial assault is very interesting, and I accept with contrition the correction regarding “sneers”. As to the “know” controversy—I will let the objectionable polysyllables rest, and merely state that in my opinion (an opinion shared by increasing multitudes) there is no evidence whatever concerning an object or meaning in life and the universe. And in the absence of evidence, all assumptions are totally baseless; the idea of an object or meaning becoming absurd.

Mr. Wickenden tries to demolish this important argument by denying the obvious absurdity and incredibility of the common myths of soul, immortality, and teleology. In support of his contention he cites the many persons who, drawing their ideas from their empirical racial heritage rather than from abstract scientific truths, find the conception of materialism, annihilation, and purposelessness “utterly extravagant and contrary to probability”. This move is very clever, but its force dissolves upon analysis. Mr. Wickenden’s appeals are all to impression and metaphor—he rejects the obvious because it is obvious, and actually presents the spectacle of one defending the grotesque idea that the more improbable and indirect of two theories is to be preferred! He goes back to the age of the disputatious church fathers with their “credo quia impossibile est”. The phonograph metaphor is rhetorically brilliant—but that is all. Doubtless it could be “proved” in this way that Caruso himself was only a phonograph, and that we might still enjoy new songs from him if we could find the real singer behind his mortal form. But all this is futile. Metaphor and allegory are the smoke screen wherewith all mystics, theists, and obscurantists have shielded themselves from truth since the dawn of speculative thought. Materialism seems improbable only to those who think in terms of antique myths conceived in imperfect knowledge and utterly contrary to all the basic facts of science as subsequently discovered.

As to the matter of death and resuscitation—I had hardly expected this from Mr. Wickenden, who surely knows that many persons have been revived after a momentary cessation of heartbeats, and that true death is due either to a failure of the propelling energy or to a derangement of the organic mechanism. There IS, most decidedly, something missing from a body dead half an hour or even much less. Decomposition always begins at once, and it takes very little to ruin hopelessly the complex and delicate machinery of vital action. When a man dies by accident, as in drowning, there is always a question (a) as to whether the vital momentum suddenly lost can be successfully restored by the crude processes of artificial respiration, and (b) as to whether there be any loss due to the chemical and physical deterioration of the bodily machine. The loss is one either of matter or of energy. If there were a question of another loss—the loss of “soul”, as Mr. Wickenden hints—one might with equal ease ask where the “soul” originally came from—a matter which Haeckel treats very cleverly and amusingly.

To express incredulity that a chemical reaction could produce a Beethoven symphony proves absolutely nothing. In the first place, the reaction is probably more physical than chemical in its ultimate manifestation; but even assuming that it may all be chemical, we have before us merely a case of complexity. It seems to indicate a lack of constructive imagination when one cannot conceive of a material order involving all degrees of fineness in organisation, and rising eventually to the peak of what we know as psychic, intellectual, and aesthetic accomplishment. The steps between sounds and tears are more physical than chemical, and of course depend on the working of the vital cells. Why does not a dead man cry at sad music?... Why does not a still dynamo give current? To argue that one may prove the existence of the human “soul” from the fact that corpses do not weep when the orchestra plays “Hearts and Flowers”, is something hardly calculated to disturb the assurance of the mechanistic materialist! Mr. Wickenden avoids the ticklish question of the lower animal world. Here we have organisms for which not even the boldest theist tries to claim “souls”—yet among them we find psychic phenomena of a very advanced order. Even a Beethoven symphony affects many animals strongly—a case where Mr. W. would find difficulty in tracing the physico-chemical action connecting the sounds and the manifestations. One might ask, to the confounding of those who aver that men have “souls” whilst beasts have not, just what the difference may be betwixt the effect of music on man and on beast; and also just how the evolving organism began to acquire “spirit” after it crossed the boundary betwixt advanced ape and primitive human? It is rather hard to believe in “soul” when one has not a jot of evidence for its existence; when all the psychic life of man is demonstrated to be precisely analogous to that of other animals—presumably “soulless”. But all this is too childish. When we investigate both ontogeny and phylogeny we find that man has both individually and racially evolved from the unicellular condition. Every man living was at the beginning of his life a single protoplasmic cell, whose simple reflex sensitiveness is the source of all the neural and psychic activity which later develops through increasing complexity of organisation. We can easily trace the whole process of development from the irritability of the simple cell-wall through various intermediate stages of spinal and ganglial activity to the formation of a true brain and finally to the manifestation of those complex functions which we know as intellect and emotion. This development occurs both pre-natally and post-natally in the individual, and can be followed with much exactitude. In the species, we can follow it hardly less exactly by means of comparative anatomy and biology. Haeckel’s “Evolution of Man”, in its final edition, leaves very little to be said.

When Mr. Wickenden objects to my assumption that he dislikes to face the possibility of a mechanistic cosmos, he is of course not to be disputed; and I ask his pardon for having misrepresented his former utterances. But he is exceeding fact when he calls materialists “strange people” for asserting that most theists are afraid of the truth. This matter of “aletheiophobia” (if I may coin an Hellenism) is something about which the theists themselves leave no doubt—it is they who loudly complain that the materialist is tearing away all the precious values and safeguards of life!

In conclusion, I would urge Mr. Wickenden not to feel that my necessitated withdrawal from active Circulatorship means a desire to terminate the present controversy. Like him, I can always find time to fight in retirement; so that philosophical epistles addressed to 598 Angell St., Providence, R.I., will be ever welcome and never neglected. I am not by any means such a “solemn cuss” as Mr. W. infers from my somewhat archaic prose style—in fact, I have an idea that my respected foe would find me almost human if dealing with me less indirectly! (As proof I will enclose a page from The National Tribute, which our conductor may send to Mr. W. if he chooses. Note that I am capable of even a hearty laugh at an amateur convention!) if he chooses.

And now I must bid the Circulator a reluctant farewell, trusting that at some future time a readjustment of activities will permit me to resume a connexion so pleasing; and that our novelists, Messrs. Munday and Bullen, will have the abounding charity to shew me the remainder of their respective novels, concerning whose terminations I am in a wholesome state of suspense.

 

AVE . ATQVE . VALE .

IDIBVS . SEPTEMBRIBVS . MDCCCCXXI .

Legújabbak

Clark Ashton Smith:
Hasisevő, avagy a Gonosz Apokalipszise, A

Olvasás

Robert E. Howard:
Harp of Alfred, The

Olvasás

Robert E. Howard:
Red Thunder

Olvasás

Legolvasottabb

Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Cthulhu hívása

Ez az egyetlen történet Lovecraft részéről, amelyben jelentős szerepet kap a szörnyisten, Cthulhu. 1926 későnyarán, kora őszén íródhatott. A dokumentarista stílusban megírt történet nyomozója, Thurston, a szemita nyelvek egyetemi kutatója darabkáról darabkára rakja össze a rejtélyes kirakóst. A fiatal kutató egyre több tárgyi és írásos bizonyítékát leli a hírhedt Cthulhu-kultusz létezésének. A kultisták a Necronomicon szövege alapján a nagy szörnyisten eljövetelét várják. A történetek a megtestesült iszonyatról beszélnek, ami átrepült az űrön és letelepedett a Földön sok millió évvel ezelőtt. Most hosszú álmát alussza tengerborította városában: Ph’ngluimglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn, vagyis R'lyeh házában a tetszhalott Cthulhu álmodik. A Csendes-óceán déli részén néhány bátor tengerész megtalálta a várost és felébresztette a Nagy Öreget. Ennek hatására őrülethullám robogott végig a Földön, több ember lelte halálát ezekben az időkben. A találkozást csak egy tengerész élte túl, de ő is gyanús körülmények között halt meg. A fiatal kutató érzi, hogy ő is erre a sorsra juthat... A novellát nagy részben Lord Tennyson Kraken című költeménye inspirálta: Cthulhu is egy csápos, polipszerű szörny, egy alvó isten (ez a gondolat nagyban Lord Dunsany műveinek Lovecraftra gyakorolt hatásának köszönhető). S. T. Joshi felveti, hogy számottevő hatást váltott ki Lovecraftra Maupassant Horlája és Arthur Machen A fekete pecsét története című története is. Maga Lovecraft e történetet roppant középszerűnek, klisék halmazának titulálta. A Weird Tales szerkesztője, Farnsworth Wright először elutasította a közlését, és csak azután egyezett bele, hogy Lovecraft barátja, Donald Wandrei bebeszélte neki, hogy más magazinnál is érdeklődnek a sztori iránt.

Olvasás

Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
Őrület hegyei, Az; Hallucináció hegységei, A

Egy déli sarki kutatócsoport, köztük a narrátor, William Dyer a Miskatonic Egyetemről az Antarktiszra indul 1930/31 telén. A fagyott környezetben 14, a hideg által konzerválódott idegen lényre bukkannak. Miután a kutatók több csoportra oszlanak, és az egyikről nem érkezik hír, a megmaradt tagok felkeresik az eltűntek táborát, ahol szétmarcangolt emberi és állati maradványokat találnak - néhány idegen létformának pedig mindössze hűlt helyét... Legnagyobb döbbenetükre azonban a kutatás során feltárul előttük egy évmilliókkal régebben épített, hatalmas kőváros, amely a Nagy Öregek egykori lakóhelye lehetett. A kisregényt szokás Poe Arthur Gordon Pym című kisregényének folytatásaként tekinteni, az enigmatikus és meg nem magyarázott jelentésű kiáltás, a "Tekeli-li!" miatt. Eredetileg a Weird Talesbe szánta Lovecraft, de a szerkesztő túl hosszúnak találta, ezért öt éven át hevert a kisregény felhasználatlanul a fiókban. Az Astounding végül jelentősen megváltoztatva közölte a művet, több bekezdést (nagyjából ezer szót) kihagyott, a teljes, javított verzió először 1985-ben látott napvilágot.

Olvasás

Abraham Merritt:
Moon Pool, The

Amikor dr. David Throckmartin elmeséli egy csendes-óceáni civilizáció ősi romjain átélt hátborzongató élményeit, dr. Walter Goodwin, a regény narrátora azzal a meggyőződéssel hallgatja a hihetetlen történetet, hogy a nagy tudós valószínűleg megzavarodott. Azt állítja ugyanis, hogy feleségét és kutatócsoportjának több tagját magával vitte egy "fényjelenség", amely az úgynevezett Holdtóból emelkedik ki teliholdas éjszakákon. Amikor azonban Goodwin eleget tesz Throckmartin kérésének, és társaival a titokzatos szigetre utazik, fantasztikus, megdöbbentő kalandok sorozata veszi kezdetét.

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