There are, no doubt, regions of thought from which it is extremely difficult to exclude the word; but these, fortunately, are regions in which it is almost necessarily divested of its historical associations. As a term of pure philosophy, if safeguarded by careful definition, it is a convenient piece of shorthand, obviating the necessity for a constant recourse to cumbrous formulas. But politics is not one of these regions of thought; and it is precisely in politics that the intervention of God has from of old been most disastrous. "Theocracy" has always been the synonym for a bleak and narrow, if not a fierce and blood-stained, tyranny. Why seek to revive and rehabilitate a word of such a dismal connotation? I suggest that even if the Invisible King were a God, it would be tactful to pretend that he was not. As he is not a God, in any generally understood sense of the term, it seems a curious perversity to pretend that he is.
* * * * *
Even in the region of morals it is a backward step to restore God to the supremacy from which he has with the utmost difficulty been deposed. I am sure Mr. Wells does not in his heart believe that any theological sanction is required for the plain essentials of social well-doing, or any theological stimulus for the rare sublimities of virtue. Incalculable mischief has been wrought by the clerical endeavour to set up a necessary association between right conduct and orthodoxy, between heterodoxy and vice. This Mr. Wells knows as well as I do; yet he can use such phrases as "Without God, the 'Service of Man' is no better than a hobby or a sentimentality or a hypocrisy." No doubt he has carefully explained that he does not mean by God or religion what the clergy mean; but can he be sure that by imitating their phrases he may not imperceptibly slide into their frame of mind? or at any rate tempt the weaker brethren to do so? In using such an expression he comes perilously near the attitude adopted by the Bishop of London in a recent address to the sailors of the Grand Fleet. His Lordship told his hearers—we have it on his own authority—that "there was in everyone a good man and a bad man. And I have not known a case," he added, "where the good man conquered the bad man without religion." Can there be any doubt that the Bishop was either telling—well, not the truth—or shamelessly playing with words? Of course it may be said that any man who keeps his lower instincts in control does so by aid of a feeling that there are higher values in life than sensual gratification or direct self-gratification of any sort; and we may, if we are so minded, call this feeling religion. But it is a very inconvenient meaning to attach to the word, and we cannot take it to be the meaning the Bishop had in view. What he meant, in all probability—what he desired his simple-minded hearers to understand—was that he had never known a good man who did not believe, if not in all the dogmas of the Church of England, at any rate in the Christian Trinity, the fall of man, redemption from sin, and the inspiration of the Scriptures. He meant that no man could be good who did not believe that God has given us in writing a synopsis of his plan of world-government, and has himself sojourned on earth and submitted to an appearance of death, some two thousand years ago, in fulfilment of the said plan. If he did not mean that, he was, I repeat, playing with words and deceiving his hearers, who would certainly understand him to mean something to that effect; and if he did mean that, he departed very palpably from the truth. The Bishop of London is no recluse, shut up in a monastery among men of his own faith. He is a man of the modern world, and he must know, and know that he knows, scores of men as good as himself who have no belief in anything that he would recognize as religion. Perhaps he was not directly conscious of telling a falsehood, for "faith" plays such havoc with the intellect that men cease to attach any living meaning to words, and come to deal habitually in those unrealized phrases which we call cant. But whatever may have been his excuses to his conscience, he was saying a very noxious thing to the simple, gallant souls who heard him. Many of them must have been well aware that they had no faith that would have satisfied the Bishop of London, and that whatever religious ideas lurked in their minds were of very little use to them in struggling with the temptations of a sailor's life. Where was the sense in telling them that the ordinary motives which make for good conduct—prudence, self-respect, loyalty, etc., etc.—are of no avail, and that they must inevitably be bad men if they had not "found religion"? If such talk does no positive harm, it is only because men have learnt to discount the patter of theology. Yet here we find Mr. Wells, after vigorously disclaiming any participation in the Bishop's beliefs, falling into the common form of episcopal patter, and telling me, for example—a benighted but quite well-intentioned heathen—that I can do no good in my generation unless I believe in a God whom he and a number of Eastern sages, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and dwellers in Mesopotamia, have recently "synthetized" out of their inner consciousnesses! It is not Mr. Wells's fault if I do not abandon the steep and thorny track of austerity which I have hitherto pursued, invest all my spare cash either in whiskey or in whiskey shares, and go for my philosophy in future to the inspiring author of Musings without Method in "Blackwood."
It is not quite clear why Mr. Wells should accept so large a part of the Christian ethic and yet refuse to identify his Invisible King with Christ. One would have supposed it quite as easy to divest the Christ-figure of any inconvenient attributes as to eliminate omniscience and omnipotence from the God-idea. Mr. Wells constantly allows his thoughts to run into the stereotype moulds of biblical phraseology. We have seen how he talks of "the still small voice," of "the light of the world," "taking the sting from death" and of God coming "in his own time" and bringing "not rest but a sword." To those instances may be added such phrases as "death will be swallowed up in victory" (p. 39), "by the grace of the true God" (p. 44), "God is Love" (p. 65), "the Son of Man" (p. 86), "I become my brother's keeper" (p. 97), "he it is who can deliver us 'from the body of this death'" (p. 99). But the clearest indication of Christian influence is to be found in Mr. Wells's unhesitating and emphatic adoption of the idea that "Salvation is indeed to lose oneself" (p. 73). "The difference," he says, "between ... the unbeliever and the servant of the true God is this ... that the latter has experienced a complete turning away from self. This only difference is all the difference in the world" (p. 84). It is curious what a fascination this turn of phrase has exercised upon many and diverse intelligences. Mr. Bernard Shaw, for instance, adopts it with enthusiasm. Henrik Ibsen—if it is ever possible to tie a true dramatist down to a doctrine—preaches in Peer Gynt that "to be thyself is to slay thyself." Mr. Wells has a cloud of witnesses to back him up; and yet it is very doubtful whether the turn of phrase is a really helpful one—whether it does not rather get in the way of the natural man in his quest for a sound rule of life.
It is a commonplace that the entirely self-centred man—the Robinson Crusoe of a desert island of egoism—is unhappy. At least if he is not he belongs to a low intellectual and moral type: the proof being that all development above the level of the oyster and the slug has involved more or less surrender of the immediate claims of "number one" to some larger unity. Progress has always consisted, and still consists, in the widening of the ideal concept which appeals to our loyalty. Is it not Mr. Wells's endeavour in this very book to claim our devotion for the all-embracing and ultimate ideal—the human race? So far, we are all at one. But when we are told that "conversion" or "salvation" consists in a "complete turning away from self," common sense revolts. It is not true either in every-day life or in larger matters of conduct. In every-day life the incurably "unselfish" person is an intolerable nuisance. Here the common-sense rule is very simple: you have no right to seek your own "salvation," or, in non-theological terms, your own self-approval, at the cost of other people's; you have no business to offer sacrifices which the other party ought not to accept. It is true that in the application of this simple rule difficult problems may arise; but a little tact will generally go a long way towards solving them. In these matters an ounce of tact is worth a pound of casuistry. And in our every-day England, in all classes, it is my profound conviction that a reasonable selflessness is very far from uncommon, very far from being confined to the "converted" of any religion. For forty years I have watched it growing and spreading before my very eyes. Reading the other way The Roundabout Papers, I was greatly struck by the antiquated cast of the manners therein described. Of course Thackeray, in his day, was reputed a cynic, and supposed to have an over-partiality for studying the seamy side of things. But even if that had been true (which I do not believe) it would not have accounted for all the difference between the world he saw and that in which we move to-day. I suggest, then, that so far as the minor moralities are concerned, no new religion is required, and we have only to let things pursue their natural trend.
And what of the great selflessnesses? What of the ideal loyalties? What of the long-accumulated instincts which tell a man, in tones which brook no contradiction, that the shortest life and the cruellest death are better than the longest life of sensual self-contempt? Here, as it seems to me, Mr. Wells's apostolate of a new religion is very conspicuously superfluous—much more so than it would have been five years ago. For have not he and I been privileged to witness one of the most beautiful sights that the world ever saw—the flocking of Young England, in its hundreds upon hundreds of thousands, to endure the extremity of hardship and face the high probability of a cruel death, not for England alone, not even for England, France and Belgium, but for what they obscurely but very potently felt to be the highest interests of the very same ideal entity which Mr. Wells proposes to our devotion—the human race? I am sure he would be the last to minimize the significance of that splendid uprising. No doubt there were other motives at work: in some, the mere love of change and adventure; in others, the pressure of public opinion. But my own observation assures me that, on the whole, these unideal motives played a very small part. The young men simply felt that he who held back was unfaithful to his fathers and unworthy of his sons; and they "turned away from self" without a moment's hesitation, and streamed to the colors with all the more eagerness the longer the casualty-lists grew, and the more clearly the horrors they had to face were brought home to them. Has there been any voluntary "slaying of self" on so huge a scale since the world began? I have not heard of it. And Mr. Wells will scarcely tell me that these young men went through the experiences he describes as "conversion," and escaped from the burden of "over-individuation" by throwing themselves into the arms of a synthetic God! Many of them, no doubt, would have expressed their idealism, had they expressed it at all, in terms of Christianity; but that, we are told, is a delusion, and the only true God is the Invisible King. If that be so, the conclusion would seem to be that, in the present stage of the evolution of human character, no God at all is needed to enable millions of men, in whom the blood runs high and the joy of life is at its keenest, to achieve the conquest of self in one of its noblest forms. Or (what comes to the same thing) any sort of God will serve the purpose. Your God (divested of metaphysical attributes) is simply a name for your own better instincts and impulses. Many people, perhaps most, share Mr. Wells's tendency to externalize, objectivate, personify these impulses; and there may be no harm in doing so. But when it comes to asserting that your own personification is the only true one, then—I am not so sure.
Finally there arises the question whether the personification of the Invisible King can really, in any comprehensible sense, and for any considerable number of normal human beings, rob death of its sting, the grave of its victory? On this point discussion cannot possibly be conclusive, for the ultimate test is necessarily a personal one. If any sane and sincere person tells me that a certain idea, or emotion, or habit of mind, or even any rite or incantation, has deprived death of its terrors for him, I can only congratulate him, even if I have to confess that my own experience gives me no clue to his meaning. It is not even very profitable to enquire whether a man can be confident of his own attitude towards death unless he has either come very close to its brink himself, or known what it means to witness the extinction of a life on which his whole joy in the present and hope for the future depended. All one can do is to try to ascertain as nearly as possible what the contemner of death really means, and to consider whether his individual experience or feeling is, or is likely to become, typical.
One thing we must plainly realize, and that is that, for the purposes of his present argument, Mr. Wells conceives death to be a real extinction of the individual consciousness. He does not formally commit himself to a denial of personal immortality, but it is a contingency which he declines to take into account. Oddly enough, in trying to acclimatize our minds to the idea of such an absolutely incorporeal and immaterial, yet really existent, being as his Invisible King, he comes near to clearing away the one great obstacle to belief in survival after death. "From the earliest ages," he says, "man's mind has found little or no difficulty in the idea of something essential to the personality, a soul or a spirit or both, existing apart from the body and continuing after the destruction of the body, and being still a person and an individual" (p. 59). He does not actually say that there is no difficulty about this conception: he only says that, as a matter of history, the great mass of men have found it easy and natural to believe in ghosts. But it is hard to see any force in his argument at this point unless he means to imply that he himself finds "little or no difficulty" in conceiving the continued existence of a spiritual consciousness and individuality after the dissolution of the body to which it has been attached; and if he does mean this, it is hard to see why he does not take his stand beside Sir Oliver Lodge on the spiritist platform. To many of us, the extreme difficulty of such a conception is the one great barrier to the acceptance of the spiritist theory, for which remarkable evidence can certainly be adduced. This, however, is a digression. So far as God the Invisible King is concerned, Mr. Wells must be taken as ignoring, if not rejecting, the idea of personal immortality.
The victory over death, then, which the Invisible King is said to achieve, does not consist in its abolition. It may probably be best defined as the perfect reconcilement of the believer to the extinction of his individual consciousness. And what are the grounds of that reconcilement? Let us search the scriptures. Where the steps are described by which the catechumen approaches the full realization of God, it is said that at that stage he feels that "if there were such a being he would supply the needed consolation and direction, his continuing purpose would knit together the scattered effort of life, his immortality would take the sting from death" (p. 21-22). A little further on, the idea is elaborated in a high strain of mysticism. God, who "captains us but does not coddle us" (p. 42), will by no means undertake to hold the believer scatheless among the pitfalls and perils that beset our earthly pilgrimage. "But God will be with you nevertheless. In the reeling aeroplane, or the dark ice-cave, God will be your courage. Though you suffer or are killed, it is not an end. He will be with you as you face death; he will die with you as he has died already countless myriads of brave deaths. He will come so close to you that at the last you will not know whether it is you or he who dies, and the present death will be swallowed up in his victory" (p. 39). The passage has already been quoted in which it is written that, at the end of the fight for God's Kingdom, "we are altogether taken up into his being" (p. 68). In a discussion of "the religion of atheists" we are told that unregenerate man is "acutely aware of himself as an individual and unawakened to himself as a species," wherefore he "finds death frustration." His mistake is in not seeing that his own frustration "may be the success and triumph of his kind" (p. 72). At the point where we are told that "the first purpose of God is the attainment of clear knowledge," we are further informed that "he will apprehend more fully as time goes on" the purpose to which this knowledge is to be applied. But already it is possible to define "the broad outlines" of his purpose. "It is the conquest of death; first the overcoming of death in the individual by the incorporation of the motives of his life into an undying purpose" (p. 99), and then, as we saw before, the defeat of the threatened extinction of life through the cooling of the planet. These, I think, are the chief texts bearing directly on this particular matter; but there is one other remark which must not be overlooked. "A convicted criminal, frankly penitent," we are told, "... may still die well and bravely on the gallows, to the glory of God. He may step straight from that death into the immortal being of God."
To what, now, does all this amount? Is there any more substantial solace in it than in the "Oh, may I join the Choir Invisible" aspiration of mid-nineteenth-century positivism? Far be it from me to speak contemptuously of that aspiration. It gives a new orientation and consistency to thought and effort during life; and to the man who feels that his little note will melt into the world-harmony that is to be, that thought may impart a certain serenity under the shadow of the end. It is certainly better to feel at night, "I have done a fair day's work," than to lie down with the confession, "My day has been wasted, and worse." No one wants, I suppose, to say with Peer Gynt:—
Thou beautiful earth, be not angry with me, That I trampled thy grasses to no avail; Thou beautiful sun, thou hast squandered away Thy glory of light in an empty hut. Beautiful sun and beautiful earth, You were foolish to bear and give light to my mother.
But there is also another side to the question. The more surely you believe that "through the ages one increasing purpose runs"—the more intimately you have merged your individual will in what Mr. Wells would call the will of the Invisible King—the less do you relish the thought that you can never see that will worked out. The intenser your interest in the play, the greater your disinclination to leave the theatre just as the plot is thickening. Nor does it afford much consolation to know that the Producer is just (as it were) getting into his stride, and that, if the house should become too cold for comfort, arrangements will be made for the transference of the production to another theatre, with a better heating-apparatus.
Is there any real escape from the fact that for each of us the one thing that actually exists is our individual consciousness? It is our universe; and if its trembling flame is blown out, that particular universe is no more. If its limits of "individuation" are irrecoverably lost, what avails it to tell us that the flame is absorbed into the light of the world or the dayspring on high? Is it possible to imagine that the rain-drop which falls in the Atlantic thrills with a great rapture as its molecules disperse in the moment of coalescence, because it is now part of an infinite and immortal entity? Yes, it is possible to imagine it rejoicing that its "chagrins of egotism," as an individual drop, are now over; in fact, this is precisely the sort of thing that some poets love to imagine; but has it any real relevance to our sublunary lot? Can it minister any substantial comfort or fortification to the normal man in the moment of peril or agony? I ask; I do not answer. Can Mr. Wells put in the witness-box any flight-lieutenant who will swear that in his reeling aeroplane, as death seemed on the point of engulfing him, he felt uncertain whether it was God or he that was about to die, and gloriously certain that in any case he was about to "step straight into the immortal being of God"? And even if, in the excitement of violent action, such hallucinations do mean something to a peculiar type of mind, has any one dying of pneumonia or Bright's disease been known to declare that, though his mortal spark was on the point of extinction, he felt that "by the incorporation of the motives of his life into an undying purpose" he had triumphed over death and the grave? The simple soul who says "We shall meet in Heaven" no doubt enjoys such a triumph—and even if he fails to keep the appointment, no one is any the worse. But where are the men and women who feel the immortality of God, however we define or construct him, a rich compensation for their own mortality?
It may be said that I am applying shockingly terrestrial tests to Mr. Wells's soaring transcendentalisms. I am simply asking: "Will they work?" A world-religion cannot be what I have called a luxury for the intellectually wealthy. It must be within the reach of plain men and women; and plain men and women cannot, as the French say, "pay themselves with words." Take them all round, they do not make too much of death. With or without the aid of religion, they generally meet it with tolerable fortitude. But it will be hard to persuade them that annihilation is a thing to be faced with rapture, because a synthetic God is indestructible; or that death is not death because other people will be alive a hundred or a thousand years hence. Even if you cannot offer them another life, you may tell them of the grave as a place where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest, and they will understand. But will they understand if you tell them that we triumph over the grave because God dies with us and yet never dies? I fear it will need something clearer and more credible than this to make the undertaker a popular functionary.
The doctrines of "the modern religion" may give us a new motive for living; but how can they at the same time diminish our distaste for dying? That might be their effect, no doubt, in cases where we felt that our death was promoting some great and sacred cause more than our life could have done; but such cases must always be extremely rare. Even the soldier on the battlefield will help his country more by living than by dying, if he can do so without failing in his duty. His death is not a triumph, but only a lesser evil than cowardice and disgrace. And what shall we say, for example, of the case of a young biologist who dies of blood-poisoning on the eve of a great and beneficent discovery? Is not this a case in which the modern God might with advantage have swerved from his principles and (for once) played the part of Providence? It is better, no doubt, to die in a good cause than to throw away life in the pursuit of folly or vice; but is it not playing with words to say that even the end of a martyr to science like Captain Scott, or a martyr to humanity like Edith Cavell, is a triumph over death and the grave? It is a triumph over cowardice, baseness, the love of ease and safety, all the paltrier aspects of our nature; but a triumph over death it is not. If it be true (which I do not believe) that German soldiers sign a declaration devoting the glycerine in their dead bodies to their country's service, one may imagine that some of them feel a species of satisfaction in resolving upon this final proof of patriotism; but it will be a gloomy satisfaction at best; there will be a lack of exhilaration about it; if the Herr Hauptmann who witnesses their signatures congratulates them on having triumphed over death, they will be apt to think it a rather empty form of words. If they had had the advantage of reading Jane Austen, they would probably say with Mr. Bennet, "Let us take a more cheerful view of the subject, and suppose that I survive."
I fear that not even the companionship offered by the modern God in the act of dissolution will make death a cheerful experience, or induce ordinary, unaffected mortals to glory in their mortality. It is too much the habit of Gods to pretend to die when they don't really die at all—when, in fact, the whole idea is a mere intellectual hocus-pocus.
BACK TO THE VEILED BEING
Why has Mr. Wells partly goaded and partly hypnotized himself into the belief that he is the predestined prolocutor of a new hocus-pocus? Rightly or wrongly, I diagnose his case thus: What he really cares for is the future of humanity, or, in more concrete language, social betterment. He suffers more than most of us from the spectacle of the world of to-day, because he has the constructive imagination which can place alongside of that chaos of cupidities and stupidities a vision of a rational world-order which seems easily attainable if only some malignant spell could be lifted from the spirit of man. But he finds himself impotent in face of the crass inertia of things-as-they-are. Except the gift of oratory, he has all possible advantages for the part of a social regenerator. He has the pen of a ready and sometimes very impressive writer; he has a fair training in science; he has a fertile and inventive brain; his works of fiction have won for him a great public, both in Europe and America; yet he feels that his social philosophy, his ardent and enlightened meliorism, makes no more impression than the buzzing of a gnat in the ear of a drowsy mastodon. At the same time he has persuaded himself, whether on internal or on external evidence—partly, I daresay, on both—that men cannot thrive, either as individuals or as world-citizens, without some relation of reverence and affection to something outside and above themselves. He foresees that Christianity will come bankrupt out of the War, and yet that the huge, shattering experience will throw the minds of men open to spiritual influences. At the same time (of this one could point to several incidental evidences) he has come a good deal in contact with Indian religiosity, and learnt to know a type of mind to which God, in one form or another, is indeed an essential of life, while the particular form is a matter of comparative indifference. Then the idea strikes him: "Have we not here a great opportunity for placing the motive-power of spiritual fervor behind, or within, the sluggish framework of social idealism? Here it lies, well thought-out, carefully constructed, but inert, like an aeroplane without an engine. By giving the glow of supernaturalism, of the worship of a personal God, to the good old Religion of Humanity, may we not impart to our schemes for a well-ordered world precisely the uplift they at present lack? It was all very well for chilly New England transcendentalism to 'hitch its waggon to a star,' but the result is that Boston is governed by a Roman Catholic Archbishop. It is really much easier and more effective to hitch our waggon to God, who, being a synthesis of our own higher selves, will naturally pull it in whatever direction we want. Thus the mass of mankind will escape from that spiritual loneliness which is so discomfortable to them, and will find, in one and the same personification, a deity to listen to their prayers, and a 'boss,' in the Tammany sense of the term, to herd them to the polling-booths. What we want is collectivism touched with emotion. By proclaiming it to be the will of God, and identifying sound politics with ecstatic piety, we may shorten by several centuries the path to a new world-order."
This is a translation into plain English of the thoughts which would seem to have possessed Mr. Wells's mind during the past year or so. I do not for a moment mean that he put them to himself in plain English. That would be to accuse him of insincerity—a thought which I most sincerely disclaim. I have not the least doubt that the Invisible King does actually supply a "felt want" in his spiritual outfit, and that he is perfectly convinced that most other people are similarly constituted and will welcome this new object of loyalty and devotion. Time will show whether his psychology is correct. If it is, then he has indeed made an important discovery. To use a very homely illustration: a carrot dangled from the end of a stick before a donkey's nose makes no mechanical difference in the problem of traction presented by the costermonger's barrow. If anything, it adds to the weight to be drawn. But if the sight of it cheers, heartens, and inspires the donkey, helping him to overcome those fits of lethargy so characteristic of his race, then the carrot may quite appreciably accelerate the general rate of progress. It all depends on the psychology of the donkey.
Moses doubtless did very wisely in going up into Mount Sinai and abiding there forty days and forty nights. Whatever he may have seen and heard, the semblance of communion with a Higher Power unquestionably lent a prestige to his scheme of social reform which it could never have attained had he offered it on its inherent merits, as the project of a mere human legislator, or (still worse) of a man of letters. Moses, in fact, knew his Children of Israel. Does Mr. Wells know his modern Englishmen or Anglo-Americans?
That is the question.
Mr. Bernard Shaw has made a similar and very ingenious attempt, not exactly to found a new religion, but to place his ideas in a religious atmosphere. In the preface to Androcles and the Lion (a disquisition just about as long as God the Invisible King) he propounds the question, "Why not give Christianity a trial?" and opens the discussion thus: "The question seems a hopeless one after 2,000 years of resolute adherence to the old cry of 'Not this man, but Barabbas.' Yet it is beginning to look as if Barabbas was a failure, in spite of his strong right hand, his victories, his empires, his millions of money, and his moralities and churches and political constitutions. 'This man' has not been a failure yet; for nobody has ever been sane enough to try his way." Then he goes on to shew, by a course of very plausible reasoning, that the teaching of Jesus was, in all essentials, an exact anticipation of the economic and social philosophy of G. B. S.; so that, in giving political expression to that philosophy, we should be, for the first time, establishing the Kingdom of Christ upon earth. It is true that there are passages in the Gospels which no more accord with Mr. Shaw's sociology than do omnipotence and omniscience with the theology of Mr. Wells. But these passages do not embarrass Mr. Shaw. He simply points out that, at Matthew xvi, 16, where Peter hailed him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus went mad. Up to that fatal moment "his history is that of a man sane and interesting apart from his special gifts as orator, healer and prophet"; but from that point onward he set to work to live up to "his destiny as a god," part of which was to be killed and to rise again. Many other prophets have gone mad—for instance, Ruskin and Nietzsche. Therefore we can have no difficulty in simply eliminating as a morbid aberration whatever is un-Shavian in the message of Jesus, and accepting the rest as the sincere milk of the word. Mr. Shaw's attempt to place his philosophy under divine patronage is not so serious as Mr. Wells's; for Mr. Shaw can never take himself quite seriously for five pages together. But the motive, in each case, in manifestly the same—to obtain for a system of ideas the prestige, the power of insinuation, penetration, and stimulation, that attaches to the very name of religion.
The notion is a very tempting one. What every prophet wants, in the babel of latter-day thought, is a magic sounding-board which shall make his voice carry to the ends of the earth and penetrate to the dullest understanding. The more he believes in his own reason, the more he yearns for some method of out-shouting the unreason of his neighbours. German philosophy thought it had discovered the ideal reverberator in the artillery of Herr Krupp von Bohlen; but the world is curiously indisposed to conversion by cannon, and has retorted in a still louder roar of high-explosive arguments. God, as a politico-philosophical ally, is certainly cheaper than Herr Krupp; and, divested of his mediaeval sword and tinder-box, he is decidedly humaner. But is the glamour of his name quite what it once was? Or can it be restored to its pristine potency?
On a question, such as this, on which the evidence is too vague, too voluminous and too complex to be interpreted with any certainty, our wishes are apt to take control of our thoughts. Making all allowance for this source of error, I nevertheless venture to suggest to Mr. Wells that we may perhaps be passing out of, not into, an age of religiosity. May it not be that the time has come to give the name of God a rest? Is it not possible, and even probable, that, while the vast apocalypse of the observatory and the laboratory is proceeding with unexampled speed, thinking people may prefer to await its developments, rather than pin their faith to an interim, synthetic God, whom his own still, small voice must, in moments of candor, confess to be merely make-believe? Is it the fact that men, or even women, of our race are, as a rule, absolutely dependent for courage, energy, self-control and self-devotion, upon some "great brother" outside themselves, "a strongly-marked personality, loving, inspiring and lovable," whom they conceive to be always within call? In making this assumption, is not Mr. Wells ignoring the great mass of paganism in the world around him—not all of it, or even most of it, self-conscious and self-confessed, but none the less real on that account? He makes a curious remark as to the personage whom he calls "the benevolent atheist," which is, I take it, his nickname for the man who is not much interested in midway Gods between himself and the Veiled Being. This hapless fellow-creature, says Mr. Wells, "has not really given himself or got away from himself. He has no one to whom he can give himself. He is still a masterless man" (p. 83). As Mr. Wells has evidently read a good deal about Japan, he no doubt takes this expression from Japanese feudalism, which made a distinct class of the "ronin" or masterless man, who had, by death or otherwise, lost his feudal superior. But is it really, to our Western sense, a misfortune to be a masterless man? Does the healthy human spirit suffer from having no one to bow down to, no one to relieve it of the burden of choice, responsibility, self-control? If our feudal allegiance has terminated through the death of the Gods who asserted a hereditary claim upon it, must we make haste to build ourselves an idol, or synthetize a mosaic ikon, to serve as the recipient of our obeisances, genuflexions, osculations? I cannot believe that this is a general, and much less a universal, tendency. If any one is irked by the condition of a "masterless man," the Roman Catholic Church holds wide its doors for him. It seems very doubtful whether any less ancient, dogmatic, hieratic, spectacular form of make-believe will serve his turn.
It has sometimes seemed to me that the one great advantage of Western Christianity lies in the fact that nobody very seriously believes in it. "Nobody" is not a mathematically accurate expression, but it is quite in the line of the truth. You have to go to Asia to find out what religion means. If you cannot get so far, Russia will serve as a half-way house; but to study religion on its native heath, so to speak, you must go to India. Of course there may be some illusion in the matter, due to one's ignorance of the languages and inability to estimate the exact spiritual significance of outward manifestations; but I cannot believe that, anywhere between Suez and Singapore, there exists that healthy godlessness, that lack of any real effective dependence on any outward Power "dal tetto in su," which is so common in and around all Christian churches. In China and Japan it is another matter. There, I fancy, religious "ronins" are common enough. But in the lands of the Crescent and the land of "OM," anything like freedom of the human spirit is probably very rare and very difficult. The difference does not arise from any lesser stringency in the claims of Christianity to spiritual dominion, but rather, I imagine, from a deep-seated divergence in racial heredity. We Western Aryans have behind us the serene and splendid rationalisms of Greece and Rome. We are accustomed from childhood to the knowledge that our civilization was founded by two mighty aristocracies of intellect, to whom the religions of their day were, as they are to us, nothing but more or less graceful fairy-tales. We know that many of the greatest men the world ever saw, while phrasing their relation to the "deus absconditus" in various ways, were utterly free from that penitential, supplicatory abjectness which is the mark of Asian salvationism. And though of course the conscious filiation to Greece and Rome is rare, the habit of mind which holds up its head in the world and feels no childish craving to cling to the skirts of a God, is not rare at all. Therefore I conceive that people who are shaken out of their conventional, unrealized Christianity by the earthquake of the war will not, as a rule, be in any hurry to rush into the arms of the "great brother" constructed for them by Mr. Wells. It is easier to picture them flocking to the banner of the Fabian Jesus—the Christ uncrucified, and restored to sanity, of Mr. Bernard Shaw.
 Namque deos didici securum agere aevum, nec, siquid miri faciat natura, deos id tristes ex alto caeli demittere tecto. HORACE, Satires I., 5.
* * * * *
Does it really seem to Mr. Wells an arid and damnable "atheism" that finds in the very mystery of existence a subject of contemplation so inexhaustibly marvellous as to give life the fascination of a detective story? When Mr. Wells tells us that "the first purpose of God is the attainment of clear knowledge, of knowledge as a means to more knowledge, and of knowledge as a means to power," he states what is, to many of us, the first and last article of religion—only that we prefer to steer clear of hocus-pocus and substitute "Man" for "God." If we are almost, or even quite, reconciled to the cruelties and humiliations of life by the thought of its visual glories, its intellectual triumphs, and the mysteries with which it is surrounded, is that frame of mind wholly unworthy to be called religious? If it is, I, for one, shall not complain; for religion, like God, is a word that has been—
Defamed by every charlatan And soil'd with all ignoble use.
But it will be difficult to persuade me of the loftier spirituality, or even the more abiding solace, involved in ecstatic devotion to a figure of speech.
There are two elements of consolation in life: the things of which we are sure, and the things of which we are unsure. We are sure that man has somehow been launched upon the most romantic adventure that mind can conceive. He has set forth to conquer and subdue the world, including the stupidities and basenesses of his own nature. At first his progress was incalculably slow; then he came on with a rush in the great sub-tropical river basins; and presently, where the brine of the AEgean got into his blood, he achieved such miracles of thought and art that his subsequent history, for well-nigh two thousand years, bore the appearance of retrogression. I have already asked what the Invisible King was about when he suffered the glory that was Athens to sink in the fog-bank that was Alexandria. At all events, that wonderful false-start came to nothing. Rome succeeded to the world-leadership; and Rome, though energetic and capable, was never brilliant. With her, European free thought, investigation, science flickered out, and Asian religion took its place. Truly the slip-back from antiquity to the dark ages offers a specious argument to the atheists—the true and irredeemable atheists—who deny the reality of progress. Specious, but quite insubstantial; for we can analyze the terrestrial conditions which led to that catastrophe, and assure ourselves that the bugbear of their recurrence is nothing more than a bugbear. The printing-press alone is an inestimable safeguard. If the Greeks had hit upon the idea of movable types—and it is little to the credit of the Invisible King that they did not—the onrush of barbarism and Byzantinism would not have been half so disastrous. And even through the Dark Ages the bias towards betterment is still perceptible, though its operation was terribly hampered. Then, at last, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took up the thread of progress where antiquity had dropped it. Science revived, and bade defiance to dogma. The garnering of knowledge began afresh; and true knowledge has this to distinguish it from pseudo-sciences like astrology, theology, and philately, that it is instinct with procreative vigour. Knowledge breeds knowledge with ever-increasing rapidity; and the result is that the past hundred years have seen additions to man's control over the powers of nature which outstrip the wildest imaginings of Eastern romance. When Mr. Gladstone first went to Rome in 1832, his "transportation" was no swifter and scarcely more comfortable than that of Caesar in the fifties before Christ. Today he could fly over the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, and then cover the distance from Milan onwards at the rate of seventy miles an hour in a limousine as luxurious as an Empress's boudoir. We are piling up the knowledge which is power at an enormous rate—indeed rather too rapidly, since we have not yet the sense to discriminate between power for good and power for evil. But "burnt bairns dread the fire," and after the present awful experience, there is fair ground for hope that measures will be taken to provide strait-waistcoats for the criminal lunatics whose vanity and greed impel them to let loose the powers of destruction.
Can any thinking man say that the world is quite the same to him since the invention of wireless telegraphy? True it is only one among the multitude of phenomena behind which the Veiled Being dissembles himself. But is it not a phenomenon of a new and perhaps an epoch-marking order? It may not make the veil more diaphanous, but it somehow suggests an alteration—perhaps a progressive alteration—in its texture.
When we say we are sure of the fact of progress, the atheist comes down on us with the retort that we thereby confess ourselves naive and credulous optimists. As well say that when we express our confidence that the North Western Railway will carry us to Manchester, we thereby imply the belief that Manchester is the Earthly Paradise. It is quite possible—any one who is so minded may say it is quite probable—that progress means advance towards disillusion. What we are sure of is merely this: that life may be, and ought to be, a very different thing from what it now is, and that it is in our own power to make it so. We have not the least doubt that the generations which come after us will say:—
We will not cease from mortal strife, Nor shall the sword slip from our hand, Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land.
But whether, when they have built it, they will think Jerusalem worth the building is quite a different matter. It may be that Leopardi was right when he said, "Men are miserable by necessity, but resolute in believing themselves to be miserable by accident." That is a proposition which the individual can accept or reject so far as his own little span is concerned, but on which the race, as such, can pass no valid judgment. Life has never had a fair chance. It has always been so beset with accidental and corrigible evils that no man can say what life, in its ultimate essence, really is. All we know is that many of its miseries are factitious, inessential, eminently curable; and till these are eradicated, how are we to determine whether there are other evils too deep-rooted for our surgery? It may be, for example, that the elimination of Pain would only leave a vacuum for Tedium to rush in; but how are we to decide this a priori? Let us learn what are the true potentialities of life before we undertake to declare whether it is worth living or not.
Perhaps I may be allowed to quote at this point some words of my own which express the idea I am trying to convey as clearly as I am capable of putting it. They are part of the last paragraph of an address entitled Knowledge and Character: The Straight Road in Education:
The great, dominant, all-controlling fact of this life is the innate bias of the human spirit, not towards evil, as the theologians tell us, but towards good. But for this bias, man would never have been man; he would only have been one more species of wild animal ranging a savage, uncultivated globe, the reeking battle-ground of sheer instinct and appetite. But somehow and somewhere there germinated in his mind the idea that association, co-operation, would serve his ends better than unbridled egoism in the struggle for existence. Instead of "each man for himself" his motto became "each man for his family, or his tribe, or his nation, or—ultimately—for humankind." And, at a very early stage, what made for association, co-operation, brotherhood, came to be designated "good," while that which sinned against these upward tendencies was stigmatized as "evil." From that moment the battle was won, and the transfiguration of human life became only a matter of time. The prejudice in favour of the idea of good is the fundamental fact of our moral nature. It has an irresistible, a magical prestige. We have made, and are still making, a myriad mistakes—tragic and horrible mistakes—in striving for good things which are evils in disguise. A few of us (though relatively not very many) try to overcome the prejudice altogether, and say, "Evil, be thou my good!" But even these recreants and deserters from the great army of humanity have to express themselves in terms of good, and to take their stand on a sheer contradiction. Evil, as such, has simply not a fighting chance. The prestige of good is stupendous. We are all hypnotized by it; and the reason we are slow in realizing the ideal is, not that we are evil, but that we are stupid.
 London: George Allen and Unwin, 1916.
"Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens"—no one had a better right to say that than a German poet. But though the Invisible King has made a poor fight against human stupidity, it is not really unconquerable. If Gods cannot conquer it, men can. Its strongholds are falling one by one, and, though a long fight is before us, its end is not in doubt.
We may even hope, not without some plausibility, that moral progress may be all the more rapid in the future because the limit of what may be called mechanical progress cannot be so very far off. The conquest of distance is the great material fact that makes for world-organization; and distance cannot, after all, be more than annihilated—it cannot be reduced to a minus quantity. Now that we can whisper round the globe as we whisper round the dome of St. Paul's, we cannot get much further on that line of advance, until immaterial thought-transference shall enable us "to flash through one another in a moment as we will." We may before long have reduced the crossing of the Atlantic from five days to one, or even less; but in that direction, too, there is a limit to progress; no invention will enable us to arrive before we start. The conquest of physical disease seems to be well within view; the possibilities of intensive cultivation and selective breeding in plants and animals are likely to be rapidly developed. When such material problems cease to exercise the first fascination upon the enquiring mind, the mental sciences, psychology and sociology, with the great neglected art of education, may come into their kingdom. Then the atheism which avers that the world stands still, or moves only in a circle, will no longer be possible. Then all reasonable men will feel themselves soldiers in "a mighty army which has won splendid victories (though here and there chequered with defeats) on its march out of the dim and tragic past, and is clearly destined to far greater triumphs in the future, if only each man does, with unflinching loyalty, the duty assigned to him." That loyalty will then be the conscious and acknowledged rule of life, as it is now in an instinctive and half-realized fashion. It will help us, more than all the personifications in the world, to "turn away from self." It will not take the sting from death, but it will enable us to feel that we have earned our rest, and brought no disgrace upon the colors of our regiment.
Is it necessary to protest once more that this assurance of progress towards the good is not to be confounded with optimism? For it is clear that "good" is a question-begging word. The only possible definition of "good" is "that which makes for life"—for life, not only measured by quantity, but by quality and intensity—"that ye may have life more abundantly." Why is egoism evil? Because a world in which it reigned supreme would very soon come to an end, or at any rate could not support anything like the abundance of life which is rendered possible by mutual aid and co-operation. Why are order, justice, courage, humanity good? Because they enable more people to lead fuller lives than would be possible in the absence of such guiding principles. But in all this we assume the validity of the standard—"life"—which is precisely what pessimism denies. And pessimism may quite conceivably be in the right on't. It is quite conceivable that, having made the best that can possibly be made of life, a world-weary race might decide that the best was not good enough, and deliberately turn away from it. But that is a contingency, a speculation, which no sane man would allow to affect his action here and now, or to impair his loyalty to his comrades in the great terrestrial adventure.
And is not this question of the ultimate value of life precisely one of the uncertainties which lend—if the flippancy may be excused—a "sporting interest" to our position? I have said that we have two elements of consolation: the things which are sure and the things which are unsure: in other words, the axioms and the mysteries. Reason is all very well so far as it goes, and we do right to trust to it; but it may prove, after all, that the things that are behind and beyond and above reason are the things that really matter. Does this seem a concession to obscurantism? Not at all—for the things obscurantism glories in are things beneath reason, which is quite another affair. At the same time, we are too apt to think that reason has drawn a complete outline-map of its "sphere of influence," in which there are many details to be filled in, but no boundaries to be shifted, no regions wholly unexplored. It is, for instance, very unreasonable to hold that we can draw a hard and fast line between the materially possible and impossible. There is certainly a curious ragged edge to our purely scientific knowledge, and it may well be that in following up the frayed-out threads we may come upon things very surprising and important. For example, the question whether consciousness can exist detached from organized matter, or attached to some form of matter of which we have no knowledge, I regard as purely a question of evidence; and I not only admit but assert that the evidence pointing in that direction is worthy of careful examination. The interpretation which sees in it a proof of personal immortality may be wrong, but that does not prove that the right interpretation is not worth discovering. The spiritist voyagers may not have reached the Indies of their hopes, yet may have stumbled upon an unsuspected America. Nor does the fact that they are eager and credulous invalidate the whole, or anything like the whole, of their evidence.
After all, is it a greater miracle that consciousness should exist detached from matter than that it should exist attached to matter? Yet the latter miracle nobody doubts, except in the nursery games of the metaphysicians.
To define, or rather to adumbrate, the realm of mystery, which is yet as indisputably real as the realm of reason and sense, we naturally turn to the poets, the seers. Here is a glimpse of it through the eyes of Francis Thompson, that creature of transcendent vision who made a strange pretence of wearing the blinkers of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus he writes in his "Anthem of Earth":—
Ay, Mother! Mother! What is this Man, thy darling kissed and cuffed, Thou lustingly engender'st, To sweat, and make his brag, and rot, Crowned with all honour and all shamefulness? From nightly towers He dogs the secret footsteps of the heavens, Sifts in his hands the stars, weighs them as gold-dust, And yet is he successive unto nothing But patrimony of a little mould, And entail of four planks. Thou hast made his mouth Avid of all dominion and all mightiness, All sorrow, all delight, all topless grandeurs, All beauty and all starry majesties, And dim transtellar things;—even that it may, Filled in the ending with a puff of dust, Confess—"It is enough." The world left empty What that poor mouthful crams. His heart is builded For pride, for potency, infinity, All heights, all deeps, and all immensities, Arras'd with purple like the house of kings,— To stall the grey rat, and the carrion-worm Statelily lodge. Mother of mysteries! Sayer of dark sayings in a thousand tongues, Who bringest forth no saying yet so dark As we ourselves, thy darkest!
Surely this is the very truth. Man is a hieroglyph to which reason supplies no key—nay, reason itself is the heart of the enigma. And does not this lend a strange fascination to the adventure of life?
Another singer, in a very much simpler strain, puts something of the same idea:—
Marooned on an isle of mystery, From a stupor of sleep we woke, And gazed at each other wistfully, A wondering, wildered folk.
There were flowery valleys and mountains blue, And pastures, and herds galore, And fruits that were luscious to bite into, Though bitter at the core.
So we plucked up heart, and we dree'd our weird Through flickering gleam and gloom, And still for rescue we hoped—or feared— From our island home and tomb.
But never over the sailless sea Came messenger bark or schooner With news from the far-off realm whence we Set sail for that isle of mystery, Or a whisper of apology From our mute, malign marooner.
The strain of pessimism in this is even more marked than in Thompson's "Anthem"; and indeed it is hard to deny that the resolute silence of the "Veiled Being," the "Invisible King," and all the Gods and godlings ever propounded to mortal piety, is one of their most suspicious characteristics. Yet it may be that this reproach, however natural, does the Veiled Being—or the Younger Power of our alternative myth—a measure of injustice. It may be that the great Dramaturge keeps his plot to himself precisely in order that the interest may be maintained up to the fall of the curtain. It may be that its disclosure would upset the conditions of some vast experiment which he is working out. Where would be the interest of a race if its result were a foregone conclusion? Where the passion of a battle if its issue were foreknown? What if we should prove to be somnambulists treading some dizzy edge between two abysses, and able to reach the goal only on condition that we are unconscious of the process? Perhaps the sanest view of the problem is that presented in Bliss Carman's haunting poem
Look how he throws them up and up, The beautiful golden balls! They hang aloft in the purple air, And there never is one that falls.
He sends them hot from his steady hand, He teaches them all their curves; And whether the reach be little or long, There never is one that swerves.
Some, like the tiny red one there, He never lets go far; And some he has sent to the roof of the tent To swim without a jar.
So white and still they seem to hang, You wonder if he forgot To reckon the time of their return And measure their golden lot.
Can it be that, hurried or tired out, The hand of the juggler shook? O never you fear, his eye is clear, He knows them all like a book.
And they will home to his hand at last, For he pulls them by a cord Finer than silk and strong as fate, That is just the bid of his word.
Was ever there such a sight in the world? Like a wonderful winding skein,— The way he tangles them up together And ravels them out again!
* * * * *
If I could have him at the inn All by myself some night,— Inquire his country, and where in the world He came by that cunning sleight!
Where do you guess he learned the trick To hold us gaping here, Till our minds in the spell of his maze almost Have forgotten the time of year?
One never could have the least idea. Yet why he disposed to twit A fellow who does such wonderful things With the merest lack of wit?
Likely enough, when the show is done And the balls all back in his hand, He'll tell us why he is smiling so, And we shall understand.
I am not, perhaps, very firmly assured of this consummation. Yet I am much more hopeful of one day understanding the Juggler and the Balls than of ever getting into confidential relations with Mr. Wells's Invisible King.
* * * * *
One is conscious of a sort of churlishness in thus rejecting the advances of so amiable a character as the Invisible King. But is Mr. Wells, on his side, quite courteous, or even quite fair, to the Veiled Being? "Riddle me no riddles!" he seems to say; "I am tired of your guessing games. Let us have done with 'distressful enquiry into ultimate origins,' and 'bring our minds to the conception of a spontaneous and developing God'—one of whose existence and benevolence we are sure, since we made him ourselves. I want something to worship, to take me out of myself, to inspire me with brave phrases about death. How can one worship an insoluble problem? Will an enigma die with me in a reeling aeroplane? While you lurk obstinately behind that veil, how can I even know that your political views are sound? Whereas the Invisible King gives forth oracles of the highest political wisdom, in a voice which I can scarcely distinguish from my own. You are a remote, tantalizing entity with nothing comforting or stimulating about you. But as for my Invisible King, 'Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.'"
A little way back, I compared Mr. Wells to Moses; but, looked at from another point of view, he and his co-religionists may rather be likened to the Children of Israel. Tired of waiting for news from the God on the cloudy mountain-top, did they not make themselves a synthetic deity, finite, friendly, and very like the Invisible King, inasmuch as he seems to have worked no miracles, and done, in fact, nothing whatever? But the God on the mountain-top was wroth, and accused them of idolatry, surely not without reason. For what is idolatry if it be not manufacturing a God, whether out of golden earrings or out of humanitarian sentiments, and then bowing down and worshipping it?
The wrath of the tribal God against his bovine rival was certainly excessive—yet we cannot regard idolatry as one of the loftier manifestations of the religious spirit. The man who can bow down and worship the work of his hands shows a morbid craving for self-abasement. It is possible, no doubt, to plead that the graven image is a mere symbol of incorporeal, supersensible deity; and the plea is a good one, if, and in so far as, we can believe that the distinction between the sign and the thing signified is clear to the mind of the devotee. The difficulty lies in believing that the type of mind which is capable of focussing its devotion upon a statuette is also capable of distinguishing between the idea of a symbol and the idea of a portrait. But when we pass from the work of a man's hands to the work of his brain—from an actual piece of sculpture to a mental construction—the plea of symbolism can no longer be advanced. This graven image of the mind, so to speak, is the veritable God, or it is nothing; and Mr. Wells, as we have seen, is profuse in his assurances that it is the veritable God. That is what makes his whole attitude and argument so baffling. One can understand an idolater who says "I believe that my God inhabits yonder image," or "Yonder image is only a convenient point of concentration for the reverence, gratitude, and love which pass through it to the august and transcendent Spirit whom it symbolizes." But how are we to understand the idolater who adores, and claims actual divinity for, an emanation from his own brain and the brains of a certain number of like-minded persons? Is it not as though a ventriloquist were to prostrate himself before his own puppet?
This craving for something to worship points to an almost uncanny recrudescence of the spirit of Asia in a fine European intelligence. For my own part, as above stated, I cannot believe Mr. Wells's case to be typical; but in that I may be mistaken. It is possible that an epidemic of Asiatic religiosity may be one of the sequels of the War. If that be so—if there are many people who shrink from the condition of the spiritual "ronin," and are in search of a respectable "daimio" to whom to pay their devotion—I beg leave strongly to urge the claims of the Veiled Being as against the Invisible King.
He has at the outset the not inconsiderable advantage of being an entity instead of a non-entity. Whoever or whatever he may be, we are compelled by the very constitution of our minds to assume his (or its) existence; whereas there is manifestly no compulsion to assume the existence of the Invisible King.
Then, again, the Veiled Being is entirely unpretentious. There is no bluster and no cant about him. He does not claim our gratitude for the doubtful boon of life. He does not pretend to be just, while he is committing, or winking at, the most intolerable injustices. He does not set up to be long-suffering, while in fact he is childishly touchy. He does not profess to be merciful, while the incurable ward, the battlefield—nay, even the maternity home and the dentist's parlor—are there to give him the lie. (Here, of course, I am not contrasting him with the Invisible King, but with more ancient and still more Asian divinities.) It is the moral pretensions tagged on by the theologians to metaphysical Godhead that revolt and estrange reasonable men—Mr. Wells among the rest. If you tell us that behind the Veil we shall find a good-natured, indulgent old man, who chastens us only for our good, is pleased by our flatteries (with or without music), and is not more than suitably vexed at our naughtinesses in the Garden of Eden and elsewhere—we reply that this is a nursery tale which has been riddled, time out of mind, not by wicked sceptics, but by the spontaneous, irrepressible criticism of babes and sucklings. But if you divest the Veiled Being of all ethical—or in other words of all human—attributes, then there is no difficulty whatever in admiring, and even adoring, the marvels he has wrought. Tennyson went deeper than he realized into the nature of things when he wrote—
"For merit lives from man to man, But not from man, O Lord, to thee."
Once put aside all question of merit and demerit, of praise and blame, and more especially (but this will shock Mr. Wells) of salvation and damnation—and nothing can be easier than to pay to the works of the Veiled Being the meed of an illimitable wonder. When we think of the roaring vortices of flame that spangle the heavens night by night, at distances that beggar conception: when we think of our tiny earth, wrapped in its little film of atmosphere, spinning safely for ages untold amid all these appalling immensities: and when we think, on the other hand, of the battles of claw and maw going on, beneath the starry vault, in that most miraculous of jewels, a drop of water: we cannot but own that the Power which set all this whirl of atoms agoing is worthy of all admiration. And approbation? Ah, that is another matter; for there the moral element comes in. It is possible (and here lies the interest of the enigma) that the Veiled Being may one day justify himself even morally. Perhaps he is all the time doing so behind the veil. But on that it is absolutely useless to speculate. Light may one day come to us, but it will come through patient investigation, not through idle pondering and guessing. In the meantime, poised between the macrocosm and the microcosm, ourselves including both extremes, and being, perhaps, the most stupendous miracle of all, we cannot deny to this amazing frame of things the tribute of an unutterable awe. If that be religion, I profess myself as religious as Mr. Wells. I am even willing to join him in some outward, ceremonial expression of that sentiment, if he can suggest one that shall not be ridiculously inadequate. What about kneeling through the C Minor Symphony? That seems to me about as near as we can get. Or I will go with him to Primrose Hill some fine morning (like the Persian Ambassador fabled by Charles Lamb) and worship the Sun, chanting to him William Watson's magnificent hymn:—
"To thee as our Father we bow, Forbidden thy Father to see, Who is older and greater than thou, as thou Art greater and older than we."
The sun, at any rate, is not a figure of speech, and is a symbol which runs no risk of being mistaken for a portrait. If Mr. Wells would be content with some such "bright sciential idolatry," I would willingly declare myself a co-idolater. But alas! he is the hierophant of the Invisible King, and prayer to that impotent potentate is to me a moral impossibility. I would rather face damnation, especially in the mild form threatened by Mr. Wells, which consists (pp. 148-149) in not knowing that you are damned.
And if Mr. Wells maintains that in the worship of the non-moral Veiled Being there is no practical, pragmatic comfort, I reply that I am not so sure of that. When all is said and done, is there not more hope, more solace, in an enigma than in a facon de parler? I should be quite willing to accept the test of the reeling aeroplane. The aviator can say to his soul: "Here am I, one of the most amazing births of time, the culmination of an endless series of miracles. Perhaps I am on the verge of extinction—if so, what does it all matter? But perhaps, on the contrary, I am about to plunge into some new adventure, as marvellous as this. More marvellous it cannot be, but it may perhaps be more agreeable. At all events, there is something fascinating in this leap in the dark. Good bye, my soul! Good-bye, my memory!
'If we should meet again, why, we shall smile; If not, why then this parting was well made.'"
I cannot but think that there is as much religion and as much solace in such a shaking-off of "the bur o' the world" as in the thought that the last new patent God is going to die with you, and that you, unconsciously and indistinguishably merged in him, are going to live for ever.
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OTHERS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE NEW VERSE Edited by Alfred Kreymborg 1917 Issue
1. Passages in italics are surrounded by underscores.
2. The words amoeba, mythopoeic and prosopopoeia use "oe" ligature in the original text.
3. The following misprints have been corrected: "blackslides" corrected to "backslides" (page 40) "annhilated" corrected to "annihilated" (page 119)
4. Other than the corrections listed above, printer's inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and ligature usage have been retained.