In the Grand Canyon of Arizona, that
most exhilarating of all natural phenomena, Nature
has for once so focussed her effects, that the result
is a framed and final work of Art. For there,
between two high lines of plateau, level as the sea,
are sunk the wrought thrones of the innumerable gods,
couchant, and for ever revering, in their million moods
of light and colour, the Master Mystery.
Having seen this culmination, I realize
why many people either recoil before it, and take
the first train home, or speak of it as a “remarkable
formation.” For, though mankind at large
craves finality, it does not crave the sort that bends
the knee to Mystery. In Nature, in Religion, in
Art, in Life, the common cry is: “Tell me
precisely where I am, what doing, and where going!
Let me be free of this fearful untidiness of not
knowing all about it!” The favoured religions
are always those whose message is most finite.
The fashionable professions they that end
us in assured positions. The most popular works
of fiction, such as leave nothing to our imagination.
And to this craving after prose, who would not be
lenient, that has at all known life, with its usual
predominance of our lower and less courageous selves,
our constant hankering after the cosey closed door
and line of least resistance? We are continually
begging to be allowed to know for certain; though,
if our prayer were granted, and Mystery no longer
hovered, made blue the hills, and turned day into
night, we should, as surely, wail at once to be delivered
of that ghastliness of knowing things for certain!
Now, in Art, I would never quarrel
with a certain living writer who demands of it the
kind of finality implied in what he calls a “moral
discovery” using, no doubt, the words
in their widest sense. I would maintain, however,
that such finality is not confined to positively discovering
the true conclusion of premises laid down; but that
it may also distil gradually, negatively from the
whole work, in a moral discovery, as it were, of Author.
In other words, that, permeation by an essential
point of view, by emanation of author, may so unify
and vitalize a work, as to give it all the finality
that need be required of Art. For the finality
that is requisite to Art, be it positive or negative,
is not the finality of dogma, nor the finality of fact,
it is ever the finality of feeling of a
spiritual light, subtly gleaned by the spectator out
of that queer luminous haze which one man’s nature
must ever be to others. And herein, incidentally,
it is that Art acquires also that quality of mystery,
more needful to it even than finality, for the mystery
that wraps a work of Art is the mystery of its maker,
and the mystery of its maker is the difference between
that maker’s soul and every other soul.
But let me take an illustration of
what I mean by these two kinds of finality that Art
may have, and show that in essence they are but two
halves of the same thing. The term “a work
of Art” will not be denied, I think, to that
early novel of M. Anatole France, “Le Lys
Rouge.” Now, that novel has positive
finality, since the spiritual conclusion from its
premises strikes one as true. But neither will
the term “a work of Art” be denied to
the same writer’s four “Bergeret”
volumes, whose negative finality consists only in
the temperamental atmosphere wherein they are soaked.
Now, if the theme of “Le Lys Rouge”
had been treated by Tolstoy, Meredith, or Turgenev,
we should have had spiritual conclusions from the
same factual premises so different from M. France’s
as prunes from prisms, and yet, being the work of
equally great artists, they would, doubtless, have
struck us as equally true. Is not, then, the
positive finality of “Le Lys Rouge,”
though expressed in terms of a different craftsmanship,
the same, in essence, as the negative finality of the
“Bergeret” volumes? Are not both,
in fact, merely flower of author true to himself?
So long as the scent, colour, form of that flower
is strong and fine enough to affect the senses of
our spirit, then all the rest, surely, is academic I
would say, immaterial.
But here, in regard to Art, is where
mankind at large comes on the field. “‘Flower
of author,’” it says, “‘Senses
of the spirit!’ Phew! Give me something
I can understand! Let me know where I am getting
to!” In a word, it wants a finality different
from that which Art can give. It will ask the
artist, with irritation, what his solution, or his
lesson, or his meaning, really is, having omitted
to notice that the poor creature has been giving all
the meaning that he can, in every sentence. It
will demand to know why it was not told definitely
what became of Charles or Mary in whom it had grown
so interested; and will be almost frightened to learn
that the artist knows no more than itself. And
if by any chance it be required to dip its mind into
a philosophy that does not promise it a defined position
both in this world and the next, it will assuredly
recoil, and with a certain contempt say: “No,
sir! This means nothing to me; and if it means
anything to you which I very much doubt I
am sorry for you!”
It must have facts, and again facts,
not only in the present and the past, but in the future.
And it demands facts of that, which alone cannot
glibly give it facts. It goes on asking facts
of Art, or, rather, such facts as Art cannot give for,
after all, even “flower of author” is
fact in a sort of way.
Consider, for instance, Synge’s
masterpiece, “The Playboy of the Western World!”
There is flower of author! What is it for mankind
at large? An attack on the Irish character!
A pretty piece of writing! An amusing farce!
Enigmatic cynicism leading nowhere! A puzzling
fellow wrote it! Mankind at large has little
patience with puzzling fellows.
Few, in fact, want flower of author.
Moreover, it is a quality that may well be looked
for where it does not exist. To say that the
finality which Art requires is merely an enwrapping
mood, or flower of author, is not by any means to
say that any robust fellow, slamming his notions down
in ink, can give us these. Indeed, no!
So long as we see the author’s proper person
in his work, we do not see the flower of him.
Let him retreat himself, if he pretend to be an artist.
There is no less of subtle skill, no less impersonality,
in the “Bergeret” volumes than in “Le
Lys Rouge.” No less labour and
mental torturing went to their making, page by page,
in order that they might exhale their perfume of mysterious
finality, their withdrawn but implicit judgment.
Flower of author is not quite so common as the buttercup,
the Californian poppy, or the gay Texan gaillardia,
and for that very reason the finality it gives off
will never be robust enough for a mankind at large
that would have things cut and dried, and labelled
in thick letters. For, consider to
take one phase alone of this demand for factual finality how
continual and insistent is the cry for characters
that can be worshipped; how intense and persistent
the desire to be told that Charles was a real hero;
and how bitter the regret that Mary was no better than
she should be! Mankind at large wants heroes
that are heroes, and heroines that are heroines and
nothing so inappropriate to them as unhappy endings.
Travelling away, I remember, from
that Grand Canyon of Arizona were a young man and
a young woman, evidently in love. He was sitting
very close to her, and reading aloud for her pleasure,
from a paper-covered novel, heroically oblivious of
“‘Sir Robert,’ she
murmured, lifting her beauteous eyes, ’I may
not tempt you, for you are too dear to me!’
Sir Robert held her lovely face between his two strong
hands. ‘Farewell!’ he said, and went
out into the night. But something told them both
that, when he had fulfilled his duty, Sir Robert would
return . . . .” He had not returned
before we reached the Junction, but there was finality
about that baronet, and we well knew that he ultimately
would. And, long after the sound of that young
man’s faithful reading had died out of our ears,
we meditated on Sir Robert, and compared him with
the famous characters of fiction, slowly perceiving
that they were none of them so final in their heroism
as he. No, none of them reached that apex.
For Hamlet was a most unfinished fellow, and Lear
extremely violent. Pickwick addicted to punch,
and Sam Weller to lying; Bazarof actually a Nihilist,
and Irina ! Levin and Anna, Pierre
and Natasha, all of them stormy and unsatisfactory
at times. “Un Coeur Simple” nothing
but a servant, and an old maid at that; “Saint
Julien l’Hospitalier” a sheer fanatic.
Colonel Newcome too irritable and too simple altogether.
Don Quixote certified insane. Hilda Wangel, Nora,
Hedda Sir Robert would never even have spoken
to such baggages! Mon sieur Bergeret an
amiable weak thing! D’Artagnan a
true swashbuckler! Tom Jones, Faust, Don Juan we
might not even think of them: And those poor
Greeks: Prometheus shocking rebel.
OEdipus for a long time banished by the Censor.
Phaedra and Elektra, not even so virtuous as Mary,
who failed of being what she should be! And coming
to more familiar persons Joseph and Moses, David and
Elijah, all of them lacked his finality of true heroism none
could quite pass muster beside Sir Robert . . .
. Long we meditated, and, reflecting that an
author must ever be superior to the creatures of his
brain, were refreshed to think that there were so
many living authors capable of giving birth to Sir
Robert; for indeed, Sir Robert and finality like his no
doubtful heroes, no flower of author, and no mystery
is what mankind at large has always wanted from Letters,
and will always want.
As truly as that oil and water do
not mix, there are two kinds of men. The main
cleavage in the whole tale of life is this subtle,
all pervading division of mankind into the man of
facts and the man of feeling. And not by what
they are or do can they be told one from the other,
but just by their attitude toward finality.
Fortunately most of us are neither quite the one nor
quite the other. But between the pure-blooded
of each kind there is real antipathy, far deeper than
the antipathies of race, politics, or religion an
antipathy that not circumstance, love, goodwill, or
necessity will ever quite get rid of. Sooner
shall the panther agree with the bull than that other
one with the man of facts. There is no bridging
the gorge that divides these worlds.
Nor is it so easy to tell, of each,
to which world he belongs, as it was to place the
lady, who held out her finger over that gorge called
Grand Canyon, and said:
“It doesn’t look thirteen
miles; but they measured it just there! Excuse
my pointing!” 1912.