The pureness of the beauty is unspotted. It is the direct opposite of the voluptuous beauty of Kashmir. No one would come here for repose and holiday. But we like to have been there once. We like to have attained even once in a lifetime to a world so refined and pure.
Cold it may be—and dangerous. But we soon forget the cold. And the dangers only string us up to meet them, so that we are in a peculiarly alert, observant mood. And we have a secret joy in watching Nature in her most threatening aspects and in measuring ourselves against her.
White it may be, but not colourless. For the whiteness of the snow is most exquisitely tinged with blue. The lakelets on the glacier are of deepest blue. They are encircled by miniature cliffs of ice of transparent green. The blue-ness of the sky is of a depth only seen in the highest regions. And the snowy summits of the mountains are tinged at sunset and dawn with finest flush of rose and primrose. So with all the whiteness there is, too, the most delicate colouring.
Standing thus on the glacier and looking up to the snowy peaks all round us, we think how, wholly unobserved by men, they have reared themselves to these high altitudes and there remain century by century unseen by any human being. From deep within the interior of the earth they have arisen. And they are only touched by the whitest snowflakes. They are only touched by snowflakes fashioned from the moisture which the sun's rays have raised off the surface of the Indian Ocean, and which the monsoon winds have transported in invisible currents, high above the plains of India, till they are gently precipitated on these far-distant heights.
"Blessed are the pure in heart," we are told, "for they shall see God." And blessed are they who are able to ascend to a region like this, for here they cannot but be pure in heart, and cannot help seeing God. For the time being at least, they have to be pure. In the spotless purity of that region they cannot harbour any thought that is sordid or unclean. And they pray that ever after they may maintain what they have reached. For they know that if they could maintain it they would see beauties which in the murky state of common life it is impossible to perceive. In the white purity which this high region exacts they are forced to pierce through the superficial and unimportant and they catch sight of the real.
They are in a remote and lofty solitude, and in touch with the naked elementals of which the world has built itself. But they do not feel alone. They feel themselves in a great Presence, and in a Presence with which they are most intimately in touch. And it is no dread Presence, but one which they delight to feel. Holiness is its essence, and their souls are purged and purified. They are suffused with it; it enters deeply into them, and translates them swiftly upward.
The remote glacier region gives us a sense of purity, and gives us, too, a vision of colour in its finest delicacy. But for depth, extent, and brilliancy of colour we must look to sunsets—and sunsets in those high desert regions where the outlook is widest and the atmosphere clearest.
In deserts everywhere marvellous sunsets may be seen, for the comparative absence of moisture in the atmosphere and the presence of invisible particles of dust gives these sunsets an especial brilliancy. In the middle of the day a desert in its uniform brownness is dreary and monotonous to a degree. But at dawn and sunset when the sun's rays slant across the scene the desert glows with colour of every shade and hue and in ever-changing combination. In the Gobi Desert of Central Asia, in the Egyptian Desert, in the Arabian Desert, in Arizona, I have seen sunsets that thrill one with delight. But nowhere have I seen more glorious sunsets than in the highlands of Tibet. And what makes them there so remarkable is that the plains themselves are 15,000 feet above sea-level, so that the atmosphere is exceptionally clear. Great distances are therefore combined with unusual clearness. The country is open enough and the air clear enough for us to see far distances. And extent is a prime essential in the glory of a sunset.
It is difficult to make those who have never been outside Europe understand what sunsets can be. In England, as Turner has shown, there are sunsets to be seen containing in abundance many such elements of beauty as varied and varying and great extent of colour. But the atmosphere here is so thick that the colours appear as if thrown on to a solid background. So the sunsets look opaque. On the continent of Europe the atmosphere is clearer and the opaqueness less pronounced. The colouring is in consequence more vivid. But—except in high Alpine regions—the clearness does not approach the clearness of Tibet. And neither in England nor on the Continent do we get the great distances of desert sunsets. And great distances increase immeasurably that feeling of infinity which is the chief glory in a sunset.
The clearness of the atmosphere is important in this respect also, that it produces the effect upon the colours of the sunset that they seem more like the colours we see in precious stones than the colours a painter throws on a canvas. There is no milkiness or murkiness in them. The sky is so clear that we see a colour as we see the red in a ruby. We see deep into the colour. The colour comes right out of the sky and has not the appearance of being merely plastered on the surface.
And the variety of the colours and the rapidity with which they change and merge and mingle into one another is another wonder of these desert sunsets. It would be wholly impossible to paint a picture of them which would adequately express the impression they give, for the main impression is derived from light, and the colours are therefore far more glowing than they could ever be reproduced on canvas. Nor can the changing effects be reproduced on a stationary medium. The nearest approach to the glory of a Tibet sunset which I have seen is a picture in pastel by Simon de Bussy a sunset in the Alps. But all pictures—even Turner's;—can only draw attention to the glory and show us what to look for. They cannot reproduce the impression in full. The medium through which the artist has to work—the paints and the canvas—are inadequate for his needs.
If we try to describe the impression in words we are no better off. We can, indeed, compare the sunset colours with the colours of flowers and precious stones. But here also we miss the light which is the very foundation of the sunset beauties. And we have neither the changefulness nor the vast extent of the sunset colouring.
To get the least idea of the variety of colours mixing, merging, and intermingling with one another we must go to the opal, though even there there is not the intensity of colour, and of course not the change nor extent. From an orange—especially a blood orange—we get a notion of the combined reds and yellows of the sunsets, though the reds may range deeper than orange into the reds of the ruby or the cardinal flower, and lighter into the pinks of the rose or the carnation; and the yellows range from the gold of the eseholtzia to the delicate hue of the primrose. And for the translucency of their yellower effects we must bring in the amber. Often there is a green which can only be matched by jade or emerald. And sometimes there is an effect with which only the amethyst can be compared. Then there are mauves and purples for which the precious stones have no parallel, and of which heliotrope, the harebell, and the violet give us the best idea. And the blues range from the deep blue of the sapphire and the gentian to the light blue of the turquoise and the forget-me-not.
In these stones and flowers we get something near the actual colour, but the depth, the clearness, the luminosity, and the vast extent are all wanting, and these are all essential features of the sunset's glories. So we must imagine all these colours glowing with light and never still—perpetually changing from one to the other and shading off from one into the other, one colour emerging, rising to the dominant position, and then disappearing to give place to another, and effecting these changes imperceptibly yet rapidly also, for if we take our eyes away for even a few minutes we find that the aspect has altogether altered.
From my camp in Tibet for weeks together I could be sure of witnessing every evening one of these glorious sunsets. For while the mighty monsoon clouds used to roll up on to the line of Himalayan peaks and pile themselves up there, billow upon billow, in magnificent array, dark and fearful in the general mass, but clear-edged and silver-tipped along the summits, yet beyond that line, in Tibet, the sky was nearly always clear and blue of the bluest. With nothing whatever to impede my view—no trees, nor houses, nor fences, nor obstacles of any kind—I could look out far over these open plains to distant hills; beyond them, again, to Mount Everest a hundred miles away; beyond it, again, to still more distant mountains; and, finally, behind them into the setting sun. And these far hills and snowy mountains, seen as they were across an absolutely open plain, seemed not to impede the view but only to heighten the impression of great distance. The eye would be led on from feature to feature, each receding farther into the distance till it seemed only a step from the farthest snowy mountain into the glowing sun itself.
Every evening, whenever I could, I used to walk out alone into the open plain to feast my soul on the splendid scene. In the stern glacier region round K2 had had to brace myself up and to summon up all that was toughest within me in order to cope with the terribly exacting conditions in which I found myself. In the presence of these calm but fervent sunsets there was a different feeling. I had a sense of expansion, a longing to let myself go. And I would feel myself craving to let myself go out all I could into these glowing depths of light and colour, and trying to open myself out to their beauty, that as much as possible of it should flow into me and glorify my whole being. I had the feeling that in those sunsets there was any length for my soul to go out to—that there was infinite room there for the soul's expansion. There was inexhaustible glory for the soul to absorb, and the soul was thirsting for it and could never have enough.
Evening after evening came to me, too—quite unconsciously, and as it were inevitably—Shelley's words (slightly altered):
"Be thou, spirit bright, My spirit! Be thou me, most glorious one! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy."
It was not that there was any particular message that I had to give. But there was aroused in me just this simple, insistent longing to let others know what glory there was in the world, and to be able to communicate to them something of the joy I was then feeling in beholding it. I was highly privileged in having this opportunity of witnessing a Tibetan sunset's splendours. I was yearning for others to share my enjoyment with me.
The white radiance of the glacier region instils into us a sense of purity, and without the purity of heart which that stern region exacts we cannot see the sunset's glory in all its fulness. But now in these Tibetan sunsets we have not purity alone, but warmth and richness as well. They give an impression of infinity of glory. We catch alight from their consuming glory, and our hearts flame up in correspondence with them. The fervent glow in the Heart of Nature kindles a like glow in our own hearts; and we are enraptured by the Beauty.
On our misty island we are apt to connect sunsets with coming darkness and a black end of things. And in gazing on them we are prone to have a sense of sadness mingled with our joy. They seem to mean for us a passage from light to darkness, and from life to death.
But in the deserts we have no such feeling. As day imperceptibly fades away it is not black darkness that succeeds, but a light that enables us to see farther, a mellower light that enables us to see the Universe at large. From this earthly life we are transported to a higher, intenser, ampler life among the stars.
And it is in the desert that we best live among the stars. In Europe we look up into the sky between trees and houses; and among the clouds and through a murky atmosphere we see a few stars. Even when we have a clear sky we seldom get a chance of seeing the whole expanse of the heavens all the way round. And even if we get this rare chance of a clear sky and a wide horizon we do not live with the stars in the open the night through and night after night.
In the Gobi Desert I had this precious opportunity. And I had it when my whole being was tuned up to highest pitch. I was not in the limp state of one who steps out into his garden and looks up casually to the stars. I was tense with high enterprise. I was passing through unknown country on a journey across the Chinese Empire from Peking to India. I was keen and alive in every faculty, in a state of high exhilaration, and both observant and receptive. It was a rare chance, and much I wish now I had made more of it.
My party in crossing the Gobi Desert consisted only of a Chinese guide, a Chinese servant, and a Mongol camel-man. As I had no European companion I was driven in upon myself. I had to explore a route never before traversed by Europeans, and the distance to be covered across the open steppes of Mongolia and over the Gobi Desert to the first town in Turkestan was twelve hundred miles. Beyond that was the whole length of Turkestan and the six-hundred-mile breadth of the Himalaya to be crossed before I should reach India. So I had a big task before me, and was stirring with the sense of high adventure and vast distances to overcome.
To enable my eight camels to feed by daylight, I used to start at five o'clock in the afternoon and march till one or two in the morning. Sometimes in order to reach water we had to march all through the night and well into the following day. Frequently there were terrific sandstorms, but there were seldom any clouds. So the atmosphere was clear. In the distance were sometimes hills. But for the most part all round the desert was absolutely open. I could see for what seemed an indefinite distance in any direction. The conditions were ideal for observing the stars.
Seated on my camel, or trudging along apart from my little caravan, I would watch the sun set in always varying splendour. No two sunsets were anything like the same. Each through the ascendancy of some one shade of colour, or through an unusual combination of colour, had a special beauty of its own. I would watch each ripening to the climax and then shade away into the beauty of the night. And when the day was over the night would reveal that higher, wider life which daylight only served to hide.
The sunset glow would fade away. Star after star would spring into sight till the whole vault of heaven was glistening with diamond points of light. Above me and all round me stars were shining out of the deep sapphire sky with a brilliance only surpassed by the stars in the high Himalayan solitudes I have already described. And a great stillness would be over all—a silence even completer than the silence among the mountains, for there it was often broken by creaking of the ice, whereas here in the desert it was so profound that, when at the end of many weeks I arrived at a patch of grass and trees, the twittering of the birds and the whirr of insects sounded like the roar of a London street.
In this unbroken stillness and with the eye free to rove all round with nothing in any direction to stay its vision, and being as I was many weeks' distance from any settled human habitation, I often had the feeling of being more connected with the starry firmament than with this Earth. In a curious way the bodily and the material seemed to exist no longer, and I would be in spirit among the stars. They served to guide us over the desert and I gradually became familiar with them. And I used to feel as much a part of the Stellar World as of this Earth. I lost all sense of being confined to Earth and took my place in the Universe at large. My home was the whole great Cosmos before me. The Cosmos, and not the Earth, was the whole to which I belonged.
And in that unbroken quiet and amid this bright company of heaven my spirit seemed to become intenser and more daring. Right high up in the zenith, to infinite height, it would soar unfettered. And right round to any distance in any direction it would pierce its way. The height and distance of the highest and farthest stars I knew had been measured. I knew that the resulting number of miles is something so immense as to be altogether beyond human conception. I knew also that the number of stars, besides those few thousands which I saw, had to be numbered in hundreds of millions. All this was astonishing, and the knowledge of it filled me with wonder at the immensity of the Starry Universe. But it was not the mere magnitude of this world that impressed me. What stirred me was the Presence, subtly felt, of some mighty all-pervading Influence which ordered the courses of the heavenly hosts and permeated every particle.
We cannot watch the sun go down day after day, and after it has set see the stars appear, rise to the meridian and disappear below the opposite horizon in regular procession, without being impressed by the order which prevails. We feel that the whole is kept together in punctual fashion, and is not mere chaos and chance. The presence of some Power upholding, sustaining, and directing the whole is deeply impressed upon us. And in this Presence so steadfast, so calm, so constant, we feel soothed and steadied. The frets and pains of ordinary life are stilled. Deep peace and satisfaction fill our souls.
Sandstorms so terrific that we cannot stand before them or see a thing a foot or two distant come whirling across the desert, and all for the time seems turmoil and confusion and nothing is visible. But behind all we know the stars still pursue their mighty way. At the back of everything we realise there is a Power constant and dependable in whom we can absolutely put our trust.
This is the impression—the impression of steadfastness, constancy, and reliability—which a nightly contemplation of the stars makes upon us. At the foundation of things is something dependable, something in which we can repose our faith. And so the sense of calm and confidence we feel.
And in the desert we have no feeling that the stars pursue their course in cold indifference to us—that the Power which sustains them works its soulless way unregardful of the frettings of us little men. Not thus are we who watch the desert stars impressed. Quite otherwise. For nowhere do we feel the Influence nearer, more intimate or more beneficent. We seem in the very midst of the great Presence. We are immersed in it. It is pervading us on every side. We do not expect it to alter the whole course of Nature for our private good. But we feel confident that the course of Nature is for good—that Nature is a beneficent and no callous Power, and has good at heart. Because the foundations are so sure and good we can each pursue our way in confidence. This is the impression we get.
And the Power which guides the stars upon their heavenly way, and which, in guiding them, guides us across the desert, does not reside, we feel, in lonely grandeur in the empty places of the heavens, but in the stars themselves—in their very constitution—in each individually and in all in their togetherness. It burns in each star and shines forth from it, and yet holds the whole together as we see it every night in that circling vault around us. The Activity does not appear to us to emanate from some Invisible Being dwelling wholly apart and isolated from the stars and this Earth, and sending forth invisible spiritual rays, as the Sun stands apart from the Earth but sends out rays of sunlight to it. It seems rather to dwell in the very heart and centre of each star, and the stars seem spiritual rather than material beings. So this Power, as we experience it in the desert, does not impress us as being awful and remote, gloomy and inexorable, enforcing unbending law and exacting terrible penalties. Our impression of it is that, though it preserves order with unfailing regularity, it is yet near and kindly, radiating with light and warmth. We not only feel it to be something steadfast, something on which we can rely and in which we may have confidence; we also feel warmed and kindled by it.
So what we get from a nightly contemplation of the stars is a sense of happy companionship with Nature. The Heart of Nature as here revealed is both dependable and kindly. Nature is our friend. And in her certain friendship the balm of peace falls softly on us. Our hearts blend tenderly with the Heart of Nature; and in their union we see Beauty of the gentlest and most reassuring kind.
The Artist in his quest for Natural Beauty will have pursued it in the remotest and wildest parts of the Earth, where he can see Nature in her primeval and most elemental simplicity. He will have seen her in many and most varied aspects—the grandest, the wildest, and the most luxuriant. And from these numerous and so different manifestations of Nature he will have been enabled more fully to understand her meaning and comprehend her soul. Moreover, this contemplation of Nature will have evoked from within himself much that he had never suspected he possessed, and thereby his own soul also he will have learned to understand. And from this completer comprehension of his own soul and hers will have emerged a fuller community of heart between him and Nature. He will have come to worship her with a still more ardent devotion, and through the intensity of his love discovered richer and richer Beauty in her.
But even yet he has not seen Natural Beauty where it can be found in its highest perfection. Only when there can be the most intimate possible relationship between him and the natural object he is contemplating can Beauty at its finest be seen. And this closest correspondence of all between him and Nature will only be when he is in the natural surroundings with which he has been familiar from childhood, and which have affected him in his most impressionable years.
The Artist will have seen Nature as she manifests herself in the teeming life of a tropical forest and the most varied races of men; in the highest mountains and the widest deserts; in the glory of sunsets and the calm of stars. But it is in none of these that he will see deepest into the true Heart of Nature and understand her best. It is amid scenery which he has loved since boyhood, in the hearts of his own countrymen in their own country, that he will see deepest into Nature. And deepest of all will he see when from among his countrywomen he has united himself to the one of his own deliberate choice, and in this union realised in its fulness, strength, and intensity that Creative Love which springs from Nature's very heart, and is the ultimate fount and source of all Natural Beauty.
We like to go out over all the Earth and see the wonders of it. And we learn to love the great mountains and rich forests and unfenced steppes and veldts and prairies. And we get to love also the various peoples among whom we have to work and travel. But in his heart of hearts each man likes to get back to the scenes of his childhood. The plainsman likes to get back again from the mountains to his level plains where the scene is closer and more intimate. The mountaineer likes to retire again from the plains into the mountains. The dweller on the veldt likes to get out of the forest on to the great open spaces once more. The inhabitant of the forest likes to get back there again from the plains. And the Englishman, though he loves the Alps and the Himalaya, is touched by nothing so deeply as by a Devonshire lane with its banks of primroses and violets. And he may have the greatest affection for peoples of other races among whom he may have had to work, yet it is his own countrymen that he will always really love.
So the Artist comes back to home surroundings and his own people. And he will return with his sense of beauty quickened and refined by this wide and varied experience of Nature. His sensibility to the beauties of Nature will now be of rarest delicacy, and his capacity for fine discrimination and his feeling for distinction and excellence sure and keen.
He will have been toned and tuned up to the highest pitch in his wrestling with Nature, and will have been purged and purified in the white region of the highest mountains. And in this high-strung state he will now see that creation and manifestation of Nature which of all natural objects will best declare her meaning, bring him into closer touch with her very Heart, and stir in him the deepest emotions. Between him and this object there will be possible the closest community of soul. Here then he will see Natural Beauty at its very finest.
The natural object in which he will see this consummation of Beauty will be the woman who will be to him a kindred spirit, and whom he will first admire and then love.
It was through the love of man and woman for each other in the far-off ages when love first came into the hearts of men that Natural Beauty also first dawned upon them. It is through that love that Natural Beauty has been continually growing in fulness and splendour. And it will be through that same love of man and woman for each other that the Artist will see Natural Beauty reach its highest perfection. For in this love man first learned to enter into the soul of another, to recognise samenesses between himself and another, and to live in communion with another. And so in time he came to recognise samenesses between what was in his heart and what was in the Heart of Nature, to enter into communion with Nature, and through the wedding of himself with Nature see the Beauty in her. He was able in some slight degree to be towards Nature what we see the midge buzzing round a man must be if that midge is to see the beauty of man. Just as the midge, if it is to see the beauty in man, must be able to recognise samenesses between its life and the life of man, so man to see Beauty in Nature had to recognise identity of life between him and Nature as he was first inspired to see it through the love of man and woman for each other. And now the Artist with his wide experience of Nature and united with his own countrywoman in his own country will recognise a still closer identity between himself and Nature, and so see an even fuller Beauty in her.
Assuming the man and woman, both by their upbringing and by outward circumstances, to have been able to develop the best capacities within them and to be meeting now under conditions most favourable for their union, we shall see how perfect is the Beauty which may be revealed. The man will be in the prime of his manhood, and the woman in the prime of her womanhood. The man manly and radiating manhood, the woman womanly and radiating womanhood: their manhood and womanhood welling up within them, each eager to answer the call of the other.
Hers will be no light and shallow beauty insipid as milk and water, but will be sweet as the violet, delicate as the primrose, pure as the lily, yet with all the sweetness, delicacy and purity, radiant as the sunrise. And they will be no pale and puny lovers, soft and mild as doves, and content to lead a dull and trivial life. They will be high of spirit, graceful, swift, and supple as the greyhound; and as keenly intent on living a full and varied life with every moment of it worth while as ever the greyhound is in pursuing its object. They will be capable of intense and passionate emotion, yet with all their eager impulsiveness they will have wills strong to keep themselves in hand, and to maintain their direction true through all the mazy intricacies of life and love.
In the bringing together of such a pair Natural Beauty will play a vitally important part. Of all objects that Nature has produced—of all the offspring of the Earth—such a man and woman are the most beautiful. And we may assume that as they are drawn to each other they will put forth the very best of themselves and give out the utmost beauty that is in them. Moreover, they will be more beautiful to each other than they are to anybody else. Unconsciously they will reveal to each other what they can reveal to none other but themselves. Insensibly the windows of their souls will be opened to each other. The lovelight in their eyes—the lovelight which can only be shown to each other—will discover to them hidden depths of beauty they had never gathered they possessed.
And this beauty will be something more than mere prettiness or handsomeness of face. The man will see the beauty of the woman —and she his—not only in the face and features, but in the presence, bearing, and carriage, in the gestures, movements, and behaviour. Behind the outward aspect he will see the inward spirit, the real self, the true nature, the radiant personality. And the beauty that he sees will fill him with a passionate yearning, both to give and to possess. He will want both to give the utmost and best of himself, and also to possess what so satisfies all the cravings of the soul. And whether it be to give or to possess that he most wants he will be unable to distinguish. But, in the craving to give and possess, the highest stimulus will be afforded him to exert every faculty to its limit. The effort will give zest, and with zest will come added powers of vision, so that he will be able to see both her and his inmost and utmost capabilities. And though the force of outward circumstances may prevent both her and him from ever completely fulfilling those latent possibilities, what they see of themselves and of each other in those divine moments may nevertheless be a perfectly true vision of their real and fundamental nature. Love is not so blind as is supposed. Love is capable of seeing clearer and deeper than any other faculty.
What the Artist now sees with the eyes of Love will be the ground upon which he will have to form his judgment in the most critical decision of his life. For the moment will now have come when he will have to decide whether of all others he will give himself to her, and whether he can presume to ask of her that she will give herself to him—and each to the other for all the rest of their lives. It is a momentous decision to have to make. With his highly developed power of vision he will have divined her true nature. But he will have now to exercise his judgment on it—whether it will satisfy the needs of his whole being and whether his whole being is sufficient to satisfy her needs. Each has to be sure that his peculiar nature satisfies—and satisfies fully—his or her own peculiar needs, and that his peculiar nature satisfies the other's needs. A wrong decision here is fatal. The responsibility is fearful. All will depend upon his keenness of vision, his capacity for discrimination, and his soundness of judgment. The decision may be arrived at swiftly and consciously, or it may be come to unconsciously, gradually, and imperceptibly. But shorter or longer the time, consciously or unconsciously the method, it will have in the end to be made in a perfectly definite fashion—yes or no—and from that decision there can be no going back. And on that clear decision will hang the future welfare not only of the one who makes it, but of both. Each, therefore, has to decide for the welfare of both.
This is the real Day of Judgment. And each is his own judge. Now all his and her past life and inborn nature is being put to the test in a fierce ordeal—and the fiery ordeal of love is more searching even than the ordeal of war. Every smallest blot and blemish, every slightest impurity is shown up in startling clearness. Every flaw at once betrays itself. What will not bear a strain immediately breaks down. There is not an imperfection which is not glaringly displayed. The other may not see it, but he himself will—and upon him is the responsibility.
No wonder that both the one and the other hesitate to commit themselves finally and irrevocably! Can he with all his blots and blemishes, his failings and weaknesses, offer to give himself to the other? Is he worthy to receive all that he would expect to receive in return? Is he justified in asking that the whole being and the most sacred thing in life should be given over utterly to him? It seems astounding that any man should ever have the impudence to answer such questions in the affirmative. Doubtless he would not have had such effrontery but for two considerations.
In the first place he knows that, imperfect as he may be—downright sinful as he may often have been—he is not bad at bottom. At heart, he knows for certain he has capacities for improvement which would come at once into being if only they had the opportunity for development. And he knows that the other could make those opportunities—could provide the stimulus which would awaken in him and bring to fruit many a hidden capability of good. Every faculty in him he now feels being quickened to an activity never known before. Blemishes he feels being purged away in the cleansing fires of pure love. He feels that with the other he will be, as he has never been before, his whole and his true self. And this is the first consideration which gives him confidence.
The second is that he feels himself now to a very special degree in direct and intimate touch with the central Heart of Nature. Something from what he feels by instinct is the Divine Source of Life and Love comes springing up within him, penetrating him through and through, supporting and upholding him and urging him forward. He feels that he directly springs from that Source, and that it will ever sustain him as long as he is true to his own real self, and works for those high ends towards which he feels himself impelled.
With strong faith, then, he makes his decision—with strong faith in himself, for he knows himself to be inspired by the same great Spirit which animates the whole world of which he is himself a part. And having in this faith made his decision, he girds himself for the poignant battle of love.
And as in war so in love men—and women—rise to altogether unexpected heights of courage, endurance, and devotion. War is a fine spur to excellence. But love is an even finer. Every faculty is quickened and refined. Every high quality brought into fullest exercise. Daring and caution, utter disregard of self and selfishness in the extreme, are alike required. For the two will never achieve full wedded union until they have fought their way through many an interposing obstacle. Adroitness, and that rare quality, social courage, will be needed in dealing with ever-recurring, complicated, painful, and nerve-straining situations. Even in their attitude towards one another as they gradually come together the finest address will be required. For each has necessarily to be comparing himself and comparing the object of his love with others; and each feels that he is being similarly compared. There can be no final assurance till the union is completed. A single ill-judged word or action may ruin all. At any moment another may be preferred—or at least one of the two may find the other inadequate or deficient.
All this will afford the highest stimulus to emulation. Each will strive to excel in what the other approves and appreciates—or at any rate to excel in what is his own particular line. He will be incited to show himself at his best and to be his best.
But before the bliss of completest union is attained anguish and rapture in exquisite extremes will be experienced. For the soul of each will be exposed in all its quivering sensitiveness, and any but the most delicate touch will be a torture to it. Fortitude of the firmest will be required to bear the wounds which must necessarily come from this exposure. Each, too, will have to bear the pain of the suffering they must inevitably be causing to some few others—and those others among their very dearest.
As the intimacy of union becomes closer and closer the call for bodily union will become more and more insistent. In the first instance—and this is a point which is specially worth noting—the desire was entirely for spiritual union, for union of the spirits of each. What each admired and loved in the other was his or her capacity for love. He realised what a wonderful love the other could give. And he yearned with all his heart to have that love directed towards himself. It was a purely spiritual union that his heart was set on. The thought of bodily union did not enter his head. But the need for bodily touch as a means of expressing human feeling is inherent in human nature, and becomes more and more urgent as the feeling becomes warmer. Friends have to shake hands with each other and pat each other on the back in order to show the warmth of their feeling for one another. Women affectionately embrace one another. Parents and children, brothers and sisters, kiss one another. It is impossible adequately to express affection without bodily touch. And in the case of lovers, as the love deepens so also deepens the compelling need to express this love in bodily union of the closest possible.
And so the supreme moment arrives when each gives himself wholly, utterly, and for ever to the other—body, soul, and spirit—and they twain are one. And the remarkable result ensues that each in giving himself to the other has become more completely and truly himself than he has ever been before. He strives to become more and more closely wedded with the other. He yearns to give himself more completely and longs that there was more of himself to give. And he gives himself as completely as he can. Yet he has never before been so fully himself. The closeness and intimacy of the union, and all that he has received, has enabled him to bring forth and give utterance to what had lain deep and dormant within him—all his fondest hopes, his dearest dreams, his highest aspirations. Each is more himself in the other. He is, indeed, not himself without the other. Each has won possession of the other. Each has with joy and gladness given himself to the other. Each belongs to the other. Each is all the world to the other—a treasure without price. He is ever after in her as her own being. And she is in him as his own being. Apart from each other they are never again themselves. They are absorbed in mutual joy in one another.
The intensity of delight is more than they can bear. It brims up and overflows and goes bursting out to all the world. By being able to be their whole selves they have become more closely in touch with the deepest Heart of Nature and nearest the Divine. In that hushed and sacred moment when the ecstasy of life and love is at its highest they have never felt stronger, purer, lighter, nearer the Divine. They have reached deep down to the most elemental part of their nature. And they have soared up highest to the most Divine. But Divine and elemental, spiritual and bodily, seem one. There seems to be nothing bodily which is not spiritual. And nothing elemental which is not Divine.
It is not often that they will attain these culminating heights of spiritual exaltation. Nor will they be able long to remain there. The lark, the eagle, the airman, have all to come to earth again. And they spend most of their lives on the earth. But the lovers will have known what it is to soar. They will have found their wings. They will have seen heaven once, and breathed its air. And all nature, all human relationships, will be for ever after transfigured in heaven's light.
The state of being to which these twain have now arrived is the highest and best in life. This spiritual union of man and woman—this union of their souls which their bodily union has made possible in completeness—is that which of all else has most value. The friendship of men for men and women for women is high up in the scale of being. But it is not at the supreme summit. The holy union of man and woman is higher still, because it is a relation of the whole being of each to the other, and because it brings both into direct and closest contact with the Primal Source of Things, and on the line which points them highest. The relationship satisfies the whole needs of the selves of each and satisfies the urgency of the Heart of Nature.
* * *
So now our Artist will have experienced true spirituality in its highest degree; and having experienced also the most elemental in his nature, he will perforce have come in touch with Nature along her whole range. And his soul being at the finest pitch of sensitiveness, he will be able to appreciate Natural Beauty as never before. And nothing less than natural beauties, and nothing less than these beauties at their best, will in his exalted mood be satisfying to him. He will be driven irresistibly into the open air and the warm sunshine, and to the bosom of Mother-Earth. And there in the blue of heaven and in dreamy clouds; in the wide sea, or in tranquil lakes; in ethereal mountains or in verdant woodlands; in the loveliness of flowers, and in the music of the birds, he will find that which his spirit seeks—that to which his spirit wants to give response. Only there in the open, in the midst of Nature, will he find horizons wide enough, heights high enough, beauties rich enough, for his soul's needs.
The flowers as he looks into them will disclose glories of colour, texture, form, and fragrance he never yet had seen. The comely forms of trees, their varying greenery, and the dancing sunlight on the leaves, will fill him with an intensity of delight that heretofore he had never known. And as once more he goes among his fellow-men he will see them in a newer and a truer light. His contact with them will be easier; his friendships deeper; his certainty of affection surer; and his capacity for entering into every joy and sorrow immeasurably enlarged.
Through his love, our ideal Artist will have been enabled to reach deeper into the Heart of Nature than he had ever reached before, and to feel more intimately at one with her. And being thus in warmest touch with her, Natural Beauty, strong, deep, and delicate as only finest love can disclose, will be revealed to him. Enjoyment of Natural Beauty in its perfection is the prize he will have won.
THE NATURE OF NATURE
The Artist is now in a position to take stock of Nature as a whole, of her nature, methods, and manner of working, of the motives which actuate her—of what, in short, she really is at heart. And having thus reviewed her, he will have to determine whether his wider and deeper knowledge of Nature confirms or detracts from the impression of her which he had gained from a contemplation of the forest's innumerable life. Upon this decision will depend his final attitude towards her. And upon his attitude towards her depends his capacity for enjoying Natural Beauty. For if he has any doubt in his mind as to the goodness of Nature or any hesitation about giving himself out to her, there is little prospect of his seeing Beauty in her. He will remain cold and unresponsive to her calls and enjoyment of Natural Beauty will not be for him.
And each of us—each for himself—just as much as the Artist will have to make up his mind on this fundamental question. If we are to get the full enjoyment we should expect out of Natural Beauty we must have a clear and firm conception in our minds of what Nature really is, what is her essential character, whether at heart she is cold and callous or warm and loving. So far as we were justified in drawing conclusions regarding the character of Nature as a whole from what we saw of her manifestations in the life of the forest, we came to the conclusion that she was not so hard and repellent as she assuredly would be to us if her guiding principle of action were the survival of the fittest. We inferred, rather, from our observations of her in the forest that she was actuated by an aspiration towards what we ourselves hold to be of most worth and value. We were therefore not disillusioned by closer familiarity with her, but more closely drawn towards her, and therefore prepared to see more Beauty in her. Now we have to review Nature as a whole—that is, in the Starry World as well as on this Earth—and see if the same conclusions hold good, and if we are therefore justified in loving Nature, or if we should view her with suspicion and distrust, hold ourselves aloof from her, and cultivate a stoic courage in face of a Power whose character we must cordially dislike.
There are men who hold that the appearance of life and love on this Earth is a mere flash in the pan and comes about by pure chance. They believe that life will be extinguished in a twinkling as we collide with some other star, or will simply flicker out again as the Sun's heat dies down and the Earth becomes cold. If this view be correct, then that impression of the reliability and kindliness of Nature which we formed when contemplating the stars in the desert would be a false impression; our feelings of friendship with Nature would at once freeze up and our vision of Beauty vanish like a wraith.
Fortunately Truth and Knowledge do not deal so cruel a blow at Beauty. Far from it: they take her side. There are no grounds for supposing that either chance or mechanism produces spirit, or that from merely physical and chemical combinations spirit can emerge. Spirit is no casual by-product of mechanical or chemical processes. Spirit is the governing factor regulating and controlling the physical movements—controlling them, indeed, with such orderliness that we may be apt from this very orderliness to regard the whole as a machine and fail to see that all is directed towards high spiritual ends.
If we are to appeal to reason, it is much more reasonable to assume that spirit always existed, and that the conditions for the emergence of life were brought about on purpose, than to assume that spirit is a mere excretion, like perspiration, of chemical processes. Certainly the former assumptions more clearly fit the facts of the case. For these facts are, firstly, that we spiritual selves exist, next that we have ideas of goodness and a determination to achieve it, next that plant as well as animal life on this Earth is purposive, then that the stars, numbering anything from a hundred to a thousand million, each of them a sun and many of them presumably with planets, are made of the same materials as this Earth, the plants, animals, and ourselves are composed of; that these materials have the same properties; that the same fundamental laws of gravitation, heat, motion, chemical and electrical action prevail there as here; and lastly that they are all connected with the Earth by some medium or continuum of energies, which enables vibrations, of which the most obvious are the vibrations of light, to reach the Earth from them. These facts point towards the conclusion that the whole Universe, as well as ourselves and the animals and plants on this Earth, is actuated by spirit. Goodness we have seen to be working itself out on the Earth; and there is nothing we see in the world of stars that prevents us from concluding that in the Universe as well as on the Earth what should be is the ground of what is.
Something higher than life, or life in some higher form than we know, may indeed have been brought into being among the stars. Life has appeared in an extraordinary variety of forms on this Earth, and it would necessarily appear in other forms elsewhere. And it is not difficult to imagine more perfect forms in which it might have developed. We men are the most highly developed beings on this planet. But our eyes and ears and other organs of sense take cognisance of only a few of the vibrations raining in upon our bodies from the outside world. There is a vast range of vibrations of the medium in which we are immersed of which our bodily organs take no cognisance whatever. If we had better developed organs we would be in much more intimate touch with the world about us, and be aware of influences and existences we are blind to now. Beings with these superior faculties may very possibly have come into existence among the stars.
Nor is there anything unreasonable in the assumption that from the inhabitants of these stars in their ensemble issue influences which directly affect conditions on this Earth; that in the all in its togetherness is Purpose; and that it was due to the working of this Purpose that conditions were produced on the Earth which made the emergence of life possible. To some it may seem that it was only by chance that the atoms and molecules happened to come together in such a particular way that from the combination the emergence of life was possible. To men of such restricted vision it would seem equally a matter of chance that a heavenly song resulted when a dozen choirboys came together, opened their mouths and made a noise. But men of wider vision would have seen that this song was no matter of chance, but was the result of the working out of a purpose; that the choirboys were brought together for a purpose; and that that purpose was resident in each of a large number of people scattered about a parish, but who, though scattered, were all animated by the same purpose of maintaining a choir to sing hymns. So it is not unreasonable to suppose that when the particles came together under conditions that life resulted, they had been brought together in those conditions to fulfil a purpose resident in each of a number of beings and groups of beings scattered about the Universe, but who, though scattered, were nevertheless animated by the same purpose. Anyhow, this seems a more reasonable assumption than the assumption that the particles came together by pure chance.
Beings with these superior faculties may very possibly have emerged among the stars. It would seem not at all improbable, therefore, that in some unrecognised way conditions on this Earth may be influenced in their general outlines by what is taking place in the Universe at large, in the same way as conditions in a village in India are affected by public opinion in England as epitomised in the decisions of the Cabinet. The remote Indian village is unaware that men in England have decided to grant responsible government to India in due course. And even if the villagers were told of this they would not realise the significance of the decision and how it would affect the fortunes of their village for good or ill during the next century or two. Conditions on this Earth may be similarly being affected by decisions made in other parts of the Universe—decisions the significance of which we would be as totally unable to recognise as the Indian villagers are to recognise the significance of the steps towards self-government which have just been made.
The Universe is so interconnected, and there is so much interaction between the parts and the whole, that the Earth may be more affected than we think by what goes on in the Universe at large. If there are higher levels of being among the stars, it may well be that the successive rises to higher levels on this Earth—from inorganic to organic, from organic to mental, and from the mental to the spiritual—have come about through this interaction between the parts and the whole. Conditions on this Earth may be more affected than we are aware of by the Universe in its ensemble, and by the actions of higher beings in other Earths.
In this very matter of Beauty, for example, it may quite possibly be the case that our intimation of Beauty has been received through the influence upon the most sensitive among us of beings in other parts of the Universe. We may be as unaware of the existence of those beings or of their having feelings towards us as the Indian villager is of the existence of the Cabinet in London or of the Cabinet's feelings towards him. But these stellar beings may be exerting their influence all the same. And it may be because of this influence that we men are able to see Beauty which escapes the eye of the eagle. Because of our higher receptiveness and responsiveness we may be able to receive and respond to spiritual calls from the Heart of Nature. And thus it may have been that we men learned to see Beauty, and now learn to see it more and more. There may be parts of the Universe where people live their lives in a blaze of Beauty, and are as anxious to impart to us their enjoyment of it as certain Freedom-loving Englishmen are to instil ideas of Freedom into the villagers of India.
These, at any rate, are among the possibilities of existence. It would be the veriest chance if on this little speck of an Earth the highest beings of all had come to birth. It may be so, of course. But the probabilities seem to be enormously great against it. It seems far more probable that among the myriads of stars some higher beings than ourselves have come into existence, and that conditions on this Earth are affected by the influence which they exert. We are under no compulsion whatever to believe that we men are completely at the mercy of blind forces or that chance rules supreme in Nature. We have firm ground for holding that it is spirit which is supreme, and that every smallest part and the whole together are animated by Purpose.
So when we view Nature in the tropical forests and in barren deserts, in mountains and in plains, in meadows and in woodlands, in seas and in stars, in animals and in men, we do not see Nature as a confused jumble with all her innumerable parts come together in haphazard fashion as the grains of sand shovelled into a heap—a chance aggregate of unrelated particles in which it is a mere toss-up which is next to which and how they are arranged. Nature is evidently not a chance collection of unrelated particles. We came to that conclusion when studying the forest, and a study of the stars shows nothing to weaken that conclusion. Nature is animated by Purpose.
Yet because Nature is animated by Purpose, we need not regard her as a machine, a piece of mechanism which has been designed and put together, wound up and set going by some outside mechanician, and regard ourselves as cogs on the wheels, watching all the other wheels go round and through the maze of machinery catching sight of the mechanician standing by and watching his handiwork. A cog on the wheel as it revolved would be rigidly confined in its operations: it would have no choice as to what means it should employ to carry out its end. Yet even plants have the power of choice, as we have seen, and use different means to achieve the same end. They also spend their entire lives in selecting and rejecting—in selecting and assimilating what will nourish their growth and enable them to propagate their kind, and in rejecting what would be useless or harmful. These are something more than mechanical operations; and if Nature were a machine, not even plants, much less animals and men, could have been produced. The operations of Nature, though orderly, are not mechanical only, and we cannot regard Nature as a machine.
And if Nature is purposive, she is at work at something more than the completion of a prearranged plan. We do not picture Nature as a structure, as a Cathedral, for example, designed by some super-architect, in process of construction. In a Cathedral each stone is perfectly and finally shaped and placed in a position in which it must ever after remain, and the whole shows signs of gradual completion as it is being built, and when it is built remains as it is. The architect has made I and carried out his plan, and there is an end of the matter. It is not thus that we view Nature, for everywhere we see signs of perfectibility in the component parts and in the whole together. Only if the Cathedral had in it the power to be continually making its foundations deeper, to be ever towering higher, and to be perpetually shaping itself into sublimer form, should we look on Nature as a Cathedral. But in that case the mind of the architect would have to dwell in each stone and in all together, and the Cathedral would be something more than a structure in the ordinary use of the word.
Nature is not a chance collection of particles, nor is she a mere machine, nor some kind of structure like a Cathedral in course of construction. But she is a Power of some kind, and what we have to determine is the kind of Power she is. Now we have seen that running through the life of the forest, controlling and directing the whole, is an Organising Activity. And our observation of the stars leads us to think that this same Organising Activity runs through them also. There is quite evidently an Activity at work keeping the whole together—the particles which go to form great suns, the particles which go to form a flower, and the particles which go to form a man; and all in their togetherness. Only we would not look upon this Activity as working anywhere outside Nature: we would look for it within her. We would not regard it as emanating from some kind of spiritual central sun situated among the stars midway between us and the farthest star we see—as irradiating from some sort of centrally-situated spiritual power-house. As we look up into the starry heavens we cannot imagine the Activity as residing in the empty space between the stars or between the stars and the Earth on which we stand. It seems absurd to picture its dwelling-place there. Equally absurd does it seem to regard the Activity as emanating from some spiritual sun situated far beyond the confines of the stars, and from there emitting spiritual rays upon Nature, including us men. As we look out upon Nature we see that the Activity which animates her does not issue from any outside source, but is actually in her.
We do not need to look for the seat of that animating Activity in the empty spaces of the starry heavens or anywhere beyond them. We look for it in the stars themselves, in our own star, in the Earth, in every particle of which the stars and Sun and Earth are composed, in every plant and animal, and in every human heart, and in the whole together. There it is—and especially in the human heart—that the soul of Nature resides. There is its dwelling-place. To each of us it is nearer than father is to son. It is as near as "I" am to each one of the myriad particles which in their togetherness go to make up the body and soul which is "me." The spirit of Nature is resident in no remoteness of cold and empty space. It is deep within us and all around us. It permeates everything and everybody, everywhere and always. And if we wish to be unmistakably aware of its presence, we have only to look within ourselves, and whenever we are conscious of a higher perfection which something within, responding to the influences impinging insistently on us, is urging us to achieve; whenever we have a vision of something more perfect, more lovely, more lovable, and feel ourselves urged on to reach after that greater perfection—we are in those moments directly and unmistakably experiencing the Divine Spirit of Nature. Whenever we feel the Spirit within us showing us greater perfectibility and prompting us to make ourselves and others more perfect than we have been we are, in that moment, being directly influenced by the Spirit of Nature itself. We are receiving inspiration direct from the genius of Nature, the driving Spirit which is continually urging her on, and the directing Spirit which guides her to an end. We are in touch with the true Heart of Nature.
So as we take a comprehensive view of Nature both in her outward bodily form and her inner spiritual reality, and find her to be an interconnected whole in which all the parts are interrelated with one another, one body and one mind, self-contained and self-conscious, and driven by a self-organising, self-governing, self-directing Activity—we should regard her as nothing less than a Personal Being. In ordinary language we speak of Nature as a Person, and when we so speak we should not regard ourselves as speaking figuratively: we should mean quite literally and as a fact that she is a Person. And we should look upon that Personal Being, in which we are ourselves included, as in process of realising an ideal hidden within her—an ideal which in its turn is ever perfecting itself.
* * *
What is meant by Nature being a Person, and a Person actuated by a hidden ideal, and being in process of realising that ideal, and what is meant by an ideal perfecting itself, may be best explained with the help of an illustration.
First it will be necessary to explain how we can regard Nature as a Person, or at least as nothing less than a Person—though possibly more. It is contended by many authorities that we cannot regard any collective being, such as a college or a regiment—and Nature is a collective being—as a true person. But their arguments are unconvincing. They allow that "I" am a person because "I" possess rationality and self-consciousness. But "I" am a system or organisation of innumerable beings—electrons, groupings of electrons, groups of groupings in rising complexity. "I"—the body and soul which makes up "me"—am nothing but a collective being myself. And if we take the case of "England" as an example of a collective being, we shall see that England has as much right to be considered a personal being as any single Englishman, composed as he is of innumerable separate beings.
Perhaps to one who is representing England among strange peoples the personality of England is more apparent than to those who are constantly living in England itself. To the foreign people among whom this representative is living England is a very real person. What she thinks about them, what she does, what her intentions are, what is her character and disposition, are matters of high interest; for upon England's good or ill will towards them may perhaps depend to a large extent their own future. Viewed from a distance like that, England quite obviously does possess a character of her own. She appears to some people large-hearted and generous; to others aggressive and domineering; to most solid, sensible, reasonable, steadfast, and steady. And to all she has a character quite distinctive and her own—quite different from the character of France or of Russia. And England with equal obviousness thinks. She forms her own opinions of other nations, of their character, intentions, activities, and feelings. She thinks over her own line of action in regard to them. She takes decisions. And she acts. She is for a long time suspicious of Russia, and takes measures to defend herself against any possible hostile Russian action. She later comes to the conclusion that there is no fundamental difference between her and Russia, so she takes steps to compose the superficial differences. Later still, when both she and Russia are being attacked by a common enemy, she deliberately places herself on terms of closest friendship with Russia, and both gives her help and receives help from her. At the same time, having come to the conclusion that Germany is threatening her very life, she makes war on Germany, and prosecutes that war with courage, endurance, steadfastness and intelligence, and with a determination to win at any cost. England has deep feeling, too. She had a feeling of high exaltation on the day she determined to fight for her life and freedom. She had a feeling of sadness and anxiety as things went against her at Mons, Ypres, Gallipoli, Kut. She was wild with joy when the war was victoriously concluded. And she was proud of herself as she thought how among the sister nations of the Empire of which she was the centre, and among the allied nations, she had played a great and noble part.
Now when a body, like England, can thus think for itself, form its own decisions, take action, establish friendships, fight enemies, and feel deeply, surely that body must possess personality. In ordinary language England is always spoken of as a person. And ordinary language speaks with perfect accuracy in this respect.
In her relations with individual Englishmen England also shows her personality. The representative abroad feels very vividly how she expects him to act in certain ways—ways in accordance with her character and her settled line of action. And she conveys these expectations to him not only in formal official instructions from her Government: the most important of those expectations are conveyed in a far more subtle and intimate but most unmistakable way. The English Government did not write officially to Nelson at Trafalgar that England expected every man to do his duty. But Nelson, standing there for England, knew very well that this was what England was expecting of him and of those serving under him. A representative would find it very hard to locate the exact dwelling-place of the heart and soul and mind of England, whether in Parliament, or in the Press, or in the Universities, or in factories, or in the villages. But that there is an England expecting him to behave himself in accordance with her traditions and character, and to act on certain general but quite definite lines, and who will admire and reward him if he acts faithfully to her expectations, and condemn and in extreme cases punish him if he is unfaithful, he has not the shadow of a doubt. Nor does he doubt that this England, besides expecting a certain general line of conduct, will and can constrain him to act in accordance with her settled determination—that she has authority and has power to give effect to her will.
And the official governmental representatives are not the only representatives of England. Every Englishman is a representative of England. How representative he is he will experience as he finds himself among strange peoples outside his own country. He will find then that he has certain traits and traditions and characteristics which clearly distinguish him from the people among whom he is travelling. And unofficial though he may be, he will yet feel England expecting him to behave as an Englishman. And though he may not be so vividly aware of it when he is at home, he is still a representative of England when he is in England itself. In everyday life he is being expected and constrained by England to act in certain ways.
Nor is it all a one-sided affair—England expecting so much of him and he having no say or control over what England does. On the contrary, the relationship is mutual. He goes to the making and shaping of England just as much as she goes to the making and shaping of him. He expects certain behaviour of her as she expects such of him. And if he has gained the confidence of his fellow-countrymen and has energy and determination, he may do much to affect her destiny.
England is therefore, so it seems, a person just as much as a single Englishman is a person. Englishmen, in fact, only attain their full personality in an England which has personality.
* * *
Now Nature, I suggest, in spite of what has been said against the view, is a Person in exactly the same way as England is a person. Nature is a collective being made up of component beings—self-active electrons, self-active atoms, self-active suns and planets, self-active cells, plants, animals, men, and groups and nations of men—as England is made up of the land of England and all that springs therefrom, including the Englishmen themselves. Nature thinks and feels and strives as England thinks and feels and strives. And Nature cares for her children as England looks after her sons. It is often said, indeed, that Nature is hard and cruel. But it is only through the unfailing regularity and reliability of her fundamental laws—of her "constitution"—that freedom and progress are possible. If we could not depend upon perfect law we could make no advance whatever. We should all be abroad and uncertain. Yet in spite of her unbending rigidity over fundamentals, she does also show mercy and pity. A child toddling along downhill unregardful of the force of gravitation falls on its face and screams with pain. But Nature, represented by the mother, rushes up, seizes the little thing in her arms, presses it lovingly to her bosom, rock it and coaxes it and covers it with kisses.
So if Nature can think and feel and strive and show mercy and loving-kindness, she is entitled to the dignity of personality. And when we stand back and regard Nature as a whole, we shall look upon her as a Person and nothing less.
* * *
We have now to understand what is meant by saying that Nature is a Person actuated by a hidden ideal and being in process of realising that ideal. When travelling across the Gobi Desert I found a yellow rose—a dwarf, simple, single rose. It is known to botanists as Rosa persica, and is believed to be the original of all roses. I found it on the extreme outlying spurs of the Altai Mountains. Now, a seed of the rose, partly under the influence of its surroundings (soil, moisture, air, sunshine) but chiefly by virtue of something which it contains within itself, something inherent in its very nature, will grow up into a rose-bush and give forth roses. The seed develops into a rose, not because some outside super-gardener takes hold of each one of the million million ultra-microscopic particles of which it is made up and puts it carefully into its appointed place, as a builder might put the stones of a building into their exact places according to the plans of an architect; but because each of those minutest ultimate particles has that within it which prompts it to act of its own accord in response to the call of the whole. Each of these electrons is in incessant and terrific motion, moving at the rate of something like 180,000 miles a second, so placing it in position would be a difficult matter. Besides which, each electron is not a tiny bit of matter as we ordinarily conceive matter—something which we can touch and handle. It is a mere centre or nucleus of energy. Any placing of it in position by a super-gardener is therefore out of the question. Each of those little particles moves and acts of itself in accordance with its own inner promptings, and in response to the influence of those other myriads of particles and groups of particles about it. And that system of these groups of particles which is enclosed within the rondure of the seed must have within it the ideal of the rose to be. Each particle will act on its own initiative, but all will act under the mutual influence of one another, and in their togetherness will make up the rose-spirit, being informed by the ideal of the rose which in its turn will suffuse the whole. And this rose-spirit—this rose-disposition—as it gives itself play, so controls and directs their movements that eventually the full-blown rose comes into being.
What happens is, we may imagine, much the same as what happened in the case of Australia. A handful of settlers from the mother-country formed the germ-seed from which the Australia of to-day has grown up. There was no external despot ordering each individual Australian to do this, that, and the other—to come this way and go that, and to stop in one place this year and in another place the next. Each Australian acting on his own initiative, and all in their togetherness, created the Australian spirit, which again reacting upon each Australian induced him to act in accordance with that spirit. And so in time Australia, assimilating individuals from outside and absorbing them into its texture, and imbuing them with the Australian spirit, grew up into manhood in the Great War and astonished the world by its strong individuality, its character, intelligence, determination, and good comradeship.
In the same way these particles of the rose-seed, each acting of itself, in their collectivity formed the rose-spirit. And each was in turn imbued by the rose-spirit. They had in them unconsciously the ideal of the rose-bush with its roots, stem, branches, leaves, flowers, fruit, seed. In all their activities they were actuated by this ideal. It was always constraining them in the given direction. By reason of the working of it in the particles they could by no possibility arrange themselves into a may tree or a lilac bush. There was an inner core of activity which persisted through all the countless changes of the process, which permeated the whole and which kept it directed to the particular end it had all the time in view. That activity had, in fact, a well-defined disposition, and that disposition was defined by the ideal of the rose, and was to form a rose-bush bearing roses.
That the rose-seed developed into the rose was due, therefore, not to the operation of any outside agent, but was due to the operation of the rose-spirit that it had within it, and which was persistently driving it to bring into actual being that ideal of the rose which was the essence of its spirit. The ideal of the rose was the motive-power of the whole process.
Where the rose-spirit derived from we shall later on enquire. Here we must note a point of the utmost importance. The seed of this Rosa persica is imbued with the spirit of Rosa persica. It has this ideal working within it. But it is not confined within the rigid limits of that ideal. It has that ideal, but something beyond also —something in the direction of that ideal, but stretching on ahead to an illimitable distance. The rose-seed developed riot only into the rose-flower, but through the flowers into numerous rose-seeds. And from the original Rosa persica seeds have sprung roses of scores of varieties. Roses of every variety of form, colour, habit, texture are constantly appearing. By purposeful mating, and supplying favourable conditions of soil, temperature, etc., almost any kind of variety can be produced. So we have not only yellow roses of every shade from gold and cream to lemon, but also white and red and pink roses of every hue. We have single roses and roses as full as small cabbages. And we have dwarf roses and roses climbing 50 or 60 feet in height.
From all this it is evident that within the original seed of Rosa persica was a rose-spirit which refused to be confined within the limits of Rosa persica only, but stretched out far beyond as well. The rose-spirit had latent in it, and was unconsciously stretching out to, all the beauties which roses have since attained to, and beyond that again to all the beauties that are yet to come. The horizon of the rose-spirit was never confined by a single plan—the plan of the Rosa persica—as the builder is confined by the plan of the architect, beyond which he cannot go. The rose-spirit could reach out along the line of roses to an unlimited extent. It could produce nothing but roses; it could not produce laburnums. But it could produce roses of unlimited variety, provided favourable conditions were available.
But the Rosa persica was itself the outcome of a long line of development from a far-away primordial plant-germ. From that original plant-germ have sprung all the ferns and grasses, the shrubs and trees and flowers, of the present day. So in that plant-germ must have resided the plant-spirit with an ideal of all this variety of plant-life actuating it—unconsciously, of course, but most effectively for all that. The particles of that original germ in their individual activities and in their mutual influence upon one another were in their togetherness actuated by a plant-spirit which had in mind—so to speak—not only the reproduction of a plant precisely similar to the original plant, but one with the possibilities of development and of reproducing others with possibilities of still further development. All that plant life has so far attained and all that it will attain to in future—perhaps also all that it might have attained to—must have been present in the plant-spirit of that original plant-germ. And it is through the working out—the realising—of this ideal which actuated that plant-spirit, and through the response which this spirit made to the stimulus of its surroundings that all the wonderful development of plant life has taken place. The plant-spirit had to keep within the lines of plant life; it could not stray beyond it to develop lions and tigers. But within the lines of plant life it could stretch out to illimitable distances. All that was wanted was the stimulus of favourable conditions, and from its surroundings it could select, reject, assimilate, all that would further its end.
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In the Gobi Desert I also saw the wild horse—Equus Prjevalskyi —supposed to be the original horse. And as the rose springs from the seed, so the horse develops from the ovum. And by virtue of the horse-spirit, the horse-ideal, by which all the innumerable particles of that ovum is actuated, it develops into a horse, and not into a donkey or a cow. But the ovum of the original Equus Prjevalskyi must have had in it the ideal of something more than the Equus Prjevalskyi, for from the original stock has sprung the great variety of horses we see to-day—race-horses, cart-horses, hunters, polo ponies, Shetland ponies, etc. And these are still varying. And the Equus Prjevalskyi was itself the outcome of a long line of development. Like all other animals, including man, it must have sprung from an original animal-germ. And the particles of that original animal-germ must have had in them the animal-spirit actuated by the ideal of all the animals of the present day, including man, and ready to develop as soon as favourable conditions provided the necessary stimulus to which the germ was ready to respond.
And both the original plant-germ and the original animal-germ sprang from an original plant-animal germ. And this, again, from the Earth itself. So that the Earth must always have had hidden in it the ideal of all plant and animal and human life—and not only the ideal of what it has reached at present, but of all it will become, and, it is important to note, of all it might become in future. It is the working of this ideal in the Earth, from the time five hundred million years or so ago when it budded off from the Sun as a fiery mist, that it has, under the influence of the light and heat of the Sun, and possibly also under the influences from the Stellar Universe as well, produced what we see to-day. The Earth-Spirit was inspired by this ideal, and in the ideal was this capacity for improving itself. And through the working of this ideal, and under the influence of the rest of the world, the Earth has developed from a flaming sphere into a molten ball, into a globe of barren land and sea, and so on into the verdure-covered and animal- and man-inhabited Earth of the present age. The Earth, like the rose-seed, contained within it a core of Activity which permeated every particle and constrained it with its fellow-particles to direct itself towards the ideal—a core of Activity which was animated by the ideal, while the ideal on its part had an innate faculty of perfecting itself.
But the Earth is itself only a minute mite even of the Solar System. And the Sun is only one of perhaps a thousand million other stars, some so distant that light travelling at the rate of 186,000 miles a second must have started from them before the birth of Christ to reach us to-day. Nevertheless the Earth is composed of the same ultimate particles of matter that even the most distant stars are made of. The Earth, the Sun and stars, are composed of electrons which are all alike. Doubtless there are individual differences between electrons as there are between men, but in a general way they are as much alike as all men appear alike to an eagle. And of these electrons the whole Universe is made as well as the Earth. The same laws of motion, of gravitation, and of electro-magnetic and chemical attraction, obtain there as here. The scale of the Stellar World is immensely larger than the scale we are accustomed to on this Earth. But the same fundamental laws everywhere prevail, and the Earth and stars are composed of the same material.
So it must have been from the Heart of Nature as a whole that the Earth-Spirit must have derived the ideal which actuated it. Deep in the Heart of Nature must have resided the ideal of the state of the Earth as it is to-day. In the great world as a whole, as in the rose-seed, must have been operating an ideal at least of what is on the Earth to-day, and of what this Earth will become and of what it might become; and possibly also of greater things which have already been realised, or will be realised and might be realised in the planets of other suns than our Sun. There must ever have been working throughout the Universe an Activity constraining the ultimate particles in a given direction. There must have been an Organising Activity, collecting the diffused particles together, grouping them into concentrated organisms and achieving loftier and loftier modes of being. Each of those inconceivably numerous and incredibly minute particles which make up the stars and the Earth and all on it—each one acted of itself. But each acted of itself under the influence of its fellows—that is, of every other particle; that is, of the whole. Each acted in response to its surroundings, but its surroundings were nothing short of the whole of Nature outside itself. Together they formed the Spirit of Nature with the ideal as its essence. And Nature in her turn acted on the particles—as Englishmen form the spirit of England and the spirit of England acts back upon individual Englishmen.
It was the working of this Spirit, with its self-improving ideal, that has produced Nature as we see her to-day. The distant ideal furnished the motive-power by which the whole is driven forward. And this ideal was itself built up by the unceasing interaction of the whole upon the parts and the parts upon the whole. What was in the parts responded to the stimulus of what was in the whole, and the whole was affected by the activity of the parts. What was immanent responded to what was transcendent. And the transcendence was affected by the immanence.
If we have been right so far, we have arrived at the position that Nature is a Personal Being in process of realising an ideal operating within herself. We have now to satisfy ourselves as to the character of that ideal. What is the full ideal working in the whole of Nature we cannot possibly know. We can only know so much of it as can be detected with our imperfect faculties on this minute atom of the Universe on which we dwell. We cannot be sure we have even discerned the highest levels of the ideal. For there may be higher beings than ourselves on the planets of the stars, and among those higher beings higher qualities than any we know of, or can conceive, may have emerged. Love is the highest quality we know. But love in any true sense of the word—love as a self-conscious activity—has only emerged with man, and man has only appeared within the last half-million of the Earth's four or five hundred million years of existence as the Earth. We cannot, therefore, presume to say what is the ideal in its highest development for the whole of Nature.
But from our experience here we can see what that ideal is up to (what for us is) a very high level, and we can make out what is apparently its fundamental characteristic. I obtained my best conception of it on the evening I left Lhasa at the conclusion of my Mission to Tibet in 1904, when I had an experience of such value for determining Nature's ideal, and, for me at any rate, so convincingly corroborative of the conclusions which others who have had similar experiences have drawn from them as to Nature's ideal, that I hope I may be excused for relating in some detail the circumstances in which it came to me.
These circumstances, though not the experience itself, were somewhat exceptional. I was at that particular moment at the highest pitch of existence—that is to say, of my own existence. I had had an unusually wide experience of the wild countries of that most interesting and varied of the continents—Asia, and for that reason had been specially selected for the charge of a Mission to Tibet. However ill-qualified I might be for other tasks, for this particular business of establishing neighbourly relations with a very secluded and seclusive Asiatic people, difficult of approach both on account of their natural disposition and of the mighty mountain barrier which stood between them and the rest of the world, I was esteemed to have peculiar qualifications. My comrades were also men selected for their special qualifications—one for his knowledge of the Tibetans, another for his knowledge of the Chinese, another for his knowledge of geology, and so on. The troops engaged were selected for their experience in frontier warfare, and each man had had to pass a medical test. We were at the top of our physical fitness and ripe in experience.
Besides British officers and a few British troops, there were among the soldiers Sikhs, Pathans, Gurkhas, a few Bengalis, a few Rajputs and Dogras; and among the followers were Bhutias and Lepchas from Sikkim, Baltis from Kashmir, Bhutanese from Bhutan. There were thus Christians, Mohammedans, Hindus, and Buddhists: men from an island in the Atlantic, and men from the remotest valleys of the Himalaya. And our destination had been a sacred city hidden two hundred miles behind the loftiest range of mountains in the world.
On our way we had had to battle with the elements of Nature in very nearly their extremest forms and in every variety. We started in the sweltering heat of the plains of India in the hottest season. We passed the lower outer ranges of the Himalaya in the midst of torrential rain, like the heaviest thunder-shower in England, continuing all day long and day after day with scarcely a break, and penetrating through a waterproof coat as if it were paper. Following this we had to cross the main axis of the Himalaya in January, to pass the winter at an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea-level, and face blizzards which cut through heavy fur coats and left us as if we were standing before it in our bare bones.
We had also had to battle with the Tibetans—not only in actual fighting, but in diplomacy as well. I had deliberately risked my life in order to effect a settlement by persuasion and without resort to arms. Officers and men at my request had done the same. Subsequently we had both attacked and been attacked. Five hundred of us had for two months to face the attacks of eight thousand Tibetans. Later, again, we had had a long, tough, diplomatic contest with the Tibetans.
Besides battling with the elements and with the Tibetans, I had also had to battle with my own people—as is always and inevitably the case on such occasions. Military and political considerations had to contend against each other. This local question between India and Tibet was part of the general international question of the relations of European nations, Russia, France, Germany, Italy, America, with China, for Tibet was under the suzerainty of China. Local considerations had therefore to contend with international considerations. Then from the local point of view the permanent settlement of this particular question was desirable, whereas those responsible for the international situation would not object to a temporary arrangement of this single question as long as the whole general situation could be favourably secured. The Tibetan question was part of the whole question of our relations with Russia. Our relations with Russia were connected with our relations with France. We were coming to an arrangement with France as regards Egypt and Morocco. If we did anything in Tibet which vexed Russia she might be troublesome as regards Egypt, and make it difficult to come to an arrangement with France and to bring off the Anglo-French Entente. Of all these international considerations I was kept aware by Government even in the heart of Tibet. But my position required that I should stand up for the political as against the military, the local as against the international, and the permanent settlement as against the temporary arrangement. It was my duty vigorously to battle for this—as it was equally the duty of the military and those responsible for international affairs to battle for their own point of view. And of course I had to submit, after contesting my standpoint, to the decision of those in authority; though I had to contend for the particular, it was the general which had to prevail.
In the end a settlement was reached, and in this remote city we had received congratulations from many different people in many different lands. The troops, my staff, and all about me were filled with delight at the success of our enterprise. Even the Tibetans themselves seemed pleased at the settlement; at any rate, they asked to be taken under our protection. On the morning we left Lhasa the Lama Regent, who in the absence of the Dalai Lama had conducted negotiations with us, paid us a farewell visit and gave us the impression of genuine goodwill towards us. We and the Tibetans had contended strongly against one another. But it seemed that a way had been found by which good relations between us could be maintained. We had discovered that fundamentally we were perfectly well-disposed towards each other, and means had been found for composing our differences. Throughout the Mission we had kept before us the supreme importance of securing this goodwill eventually. The Tibetan frontier runs with the Indian frontier for a thousand miles, and it would have been the height of folly to have stirred up in the Tibetans a lasting animosity. Far more important, then, than securing the actual treaty we regarded securing the permanent goodwill; and when I felt that through the exertion of my Staff and the good behaviour of the troops as well as through my own efforts the goodwill of the Tibetans really had been secured, my satisfaction was profound.
It was after enduring all these hardships, after running all these risks, and after battling in all these controversies, that this deep satisfaction came upon me. For though at times I felt, as every leader feels in like circumstances, that success must have been due to everyone else besides myself—to the backing and firm direction I had received from Government, to the sound advice and help of my Staff, to the bravery and endurance of the troops, without all or any one of which aids success would have been unattainable—yet I could not help also feeling that I had often on my own responsibility to make decisions and run risks, and to give advice to Government; and that if I had erred in my decisions or in the advice I gave or in taking the risks, success most assuredly would not have been achieved, however much support I received from elsewhere. I had, therefore, that satisfaction a man naturally feels when his special qualifications and training and the experience he has gained during the best part of his life have proved of acknowledged good to his country. And this was the frame of mind in which I rode out of Lhasa on our march homeward.
These were the circumstances in which I had the experience I now venture to describe. After arrival in camp I went off into the mountains alone. It was a heavenly evening. The sun was flooding the mountain slopes with slanting light. Calm and deep peace lay over the valley below me—the valley in which Lhasa lay. I seemed in tune with all the world and all the world seemed in tune with me. My experiences in many lands—in dear distant England; in India and China; in the forests of Manchuria, Kashmir, and Sikkim; in the desert of Gobi and the South African veldt; in the Himalaya mountains; and on many an ocean voyage; and experiences with such varied peoples as the Chinese and Boers, Tibetans and Mahrattas, Rajputs and Kirghiz—seemed all summed up in that moment. And yet here on the quiet mountain-side, filled as I was with the memories of many experiences that I had had in the high mountain solitudes and in the deserts of the world away from men, I seemed in touch with the wide Universe beyond this Earth as well.
After the high tension of the last fifteen months, I was free to let my soul relax. So I let it open itself out without restraint. And in its sensitive state it was receptive of the finest impressions and quickly responsive to every call. I seemed to be truly in harmony with the Heart of Nature. My vision seemed absolutely clear. I felt I was seeing deep into the true heart of things. With my soul's eye I seemed to see what was really in men's hearts, in the heart of mankind as a whole and in the Heart of Nature as a whole.
And my experience was this—and I try to describe it as accurately as I can. I had a curious sense of being literally in love with the world. There is no other way in which I can express what I then felt. I felt as if I could hardly contain myself for the love which was bursting within me. It seemed to me as if the world itself were nothing but love. We have all felt on some great occasion an ardent glow of patriotism. This was patriotism extended to the whole Universe. The country for which I was feeling this overwhelming intensity of love was the entire Universe. At the back and foundation of things I was certain was love—and not merely placid benevolence, but active, fervent, devoted love and nothing less. The whole world seemed in a blaze of love, and men's hearts were burning to be in touch with one another.
It was a remarkable experience I had on that evening. And it was not merely a passing roseate flush due to my being in high spirits, such as a man feels who has had a good breakfast or has heard that his investments have paid a big dividend. I am not sure that I was at the moment in what are usually called high spirits. What I felt was more of the nature of a deep inner soul-satisfaction. And what I saw amounted to this—that evil is the superficial, goodness the fundamental characteristic of the world; affection and not animosity the root disposition of men towards one another. Men are inherently good not inherently wicked, though they have an uphill fight of it to find scope and room for their goodness to declare itself, and though they are placed in hard conditions and want every help they can to bring their goodness out. Fundamentally men are consuming with affection for one another and only longing for opportunity to exert that affection. They want to behave straightly, honourably, and in a neighbourly fashion towards one another, and are only too thankful when means and conditions can be found which will let them indulge this inborn feeling of fellowship. Wickedness, of course, exists. But wickedness is not the essential characteristic of men. It is due to ignorance, immaturity, and neglect, like the naughtinesses of children. It springs from the conditions in which men find themselves, and not from any radical inclination within themselves. With maturity and reasonable conditions the innate goodness which is the essential characteristic will assert itself. This is what came to me with burning conviction. And it arose from no ephemeral sense of exhilaration, nor has it since evaporated away. It has remained with me for fifteen years, and so I suppose will last for the rest of my life. Of course in a sense there has been disillusionment, both as to myself and as to the world. As one comes into the dull round of everyday life the glow fades away and all seems grey and colourless. Nevertheless, the conviction remains that the glow was the real, and that the grey is the superficial. The glow was at the heart and is what some day will be—or, anyhow, might be.