De Profundis

DE PROFUNDIS


. . . Suffering is one very long moment.  We cannot
divide it by seasons.  We can only record its moods, and
chronicle their return.  With us time itself does not
progress.  It revolves.  It seems to circle round one
centre of pain.  The paralysing immobility of a life every
circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern,
so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least
for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula:
this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very
minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to
those external forces the very essence of whose existence is
ceaseless change.  Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers
bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through
the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken
blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing
and can know nothing.


For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. 
The very sun and moon seem taken from us.  Outside, the day
may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the
thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath
which one sits is grey and niggard.  It is always twilight
in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s
heart.  And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the
sphere of time, motion is no more.  The thing that you
personally have long ago forgotten, or can easily forget, is
happening to me now, and will happen to me again to-morrow. 
Remember this, and you will be able to understand a little of why
I am writing, and in this manner writing. . . .


A week later, I am transferred here.  Three more months
go over and my mother dies.  No one knew how deeply I loved
and honoured her.  Her death was terrible to me; but I, once
a lord of language, have no words in which to express my anguish
and my shame.  She and my father had bequeathed me a name
they had made noble and honoured, not merely in literature, art,
archaeology, and science, but in the public history of my own
country, in its evolution as a nation.  I had disgraced that
name eternally.  I had made it a low by-word among low
people.  I had dragged it through the very mire.  I had
given it to brutes that they might make it brutal, and to fools
that they might turn it into a synonym for folly.  What I
suffered then, and still suffer, is not for pen to write or paper
to record.  My wife, always kind and gentle to me, rather
than that I should hear the news from indifferent lips,
travelled, ill as she was, all the way from Genoa to England to
break to me herself the tidings of so irreparable, so
irremediable, a loss.  Messages of sympathy reached me from
all who had still affection for me.  Even people who had not
known me personally, hearing that a new sorrow had broken into my
life, wrote to ask that some expression of their condolence
should be conveyed to me. . . .


Three months go over.  The calendar of my daily conduct
and labour that hangs on the outside of my cell door, with my
name and sentence written upon it, tells me that it is May. . .
.


Prosperity, pleasure and success, may be rough of grain and
common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created
things.  There is nothing that stirs in the whole world of
thought to which sorrow does not vibrate in terrible and
exquisite pulsation.  The thin beaten-out leaf of tremulous
gold that chronicles the direction of forces the eye cannot see
is in comparison coarse.  It is a wound that bleeds when any
hand but that of love touches it, and even then must bleed again,
though not in pain.


Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.  Some day
people will realise what that means.  They will know nothing
of life till they do,—and natures like his can realise
it.  When I was brought down from my prison to the Court of
Bankruptcy, between two policemen,—waited in the long
dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd, whom an action so
sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might gravely raise his
hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him
by.  Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than
that.  It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love,
that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor, or
stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek.  I have never said
one single word to him about what he did.  I do not know to
the present moment whether he is aware that I was even conscious
of his action.  It is not a thing for which one can render
formal thanks in formal words.  I store it in the
treasure-house of my heart.  I keep it there as a secret
debt that I am glad to think I can never possibly repay.  It
is embalmed and kept sweet by the myrrh and cassia of many
tears.  When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy
barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to
give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of
that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all
the wells of pity: made the desert blossom like a rose, and
brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony
with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world. 
When people are able to understand, not merely how beautiful
---’s action was, but why it meant so much to me, and
always will mean so much, then, perhaps, they will realise how
and in what spirit they should approach me. . . .


The poor are wise, more charitable, more kind, more sensitive
than we are.  In their eyes prison is a tragedy in a
man’s life, a misfortune, a casuality, something that calls
for sympathy in others.  They speak of one who is in prison
as of one who is ‘in trouble’ simply.  It is the
phrase they always use, and the expression has the perfect wisdom
of love in it.  With people of our own rank it is
different.  With us, prison makes a man a pariah.  I,
and such as I am, have hardly any right to air and sun.  Our
presence taints the pleasures of others.  We are unwelcome
when we reappear.  To revisit the glimpses of the moon is
not for us.  Our very children are taken away.  Those
lovely links with humanity are broken.  We are doomed to be
solitary, while our sons still live.  We are denied the one
thing that might heal us and keep us, that might bring balm to
the bruised heart, and peace to the soul in pain. . . .


I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody
great or small can be ruined except by his own hand.  I am
quite ready to say so.  I am trying to say so, though they
may not think it at the present moment.  This pitiless
indictment I bring without pity against myself.  Terrible as
was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more
terrible still.


I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and
culture of my age.  I had realised this for myself at the
very dawn of my manhood, and had forced my age to realise it
afterwards.  Few men hold such a position in their own
lifetime, and have it so acknowledged.  It is usually
discerned, if discerned at all, by the historian, or the critic,
long after both the man and his age have passed away.  With
me it was different.  I felt it myself, and made others feel
it.  Byron was a symbolic figure, but his relations were to
the passion of his age and its weariness of passion.  Mine
were to something more noble, more permanent, of more vital
issue, of larger scope.


The gods had given me almost everything.  But I let
myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual
ease.  I amused myself with being a flâneur, a
dandy, a man of fashion.  I surrounded myself with the
smaller natures and the meaner minds.  I became the
spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave
me a curious joy.  Tired of being on the heights, I
deliberately went to the depths in the search for new
sensation.  What the paradox was to me in the sphere of
thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. 
Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both.  I
grew careless of the lives of others.  I took pleasure where
it pleased me, and passed on.  I forgot that every little
action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that
therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some
day to cry aloud on the housetop.  I ceased to be lord over
myself.  I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not
know it.  I allowed pleasure to dominate me.  I ended
in horrible disgrace.  There is only one thing for me now,
absolute humility.


I have lain in prison for nearly two years.  Out of my
nature has come wild despair; an abandonment to grief that was
piteous even to look at; terrible and impotent rage; bitterness
and scorn; anguish that wept aloud; misery that could find no
voice; sorrow that was dumb.  I have passed through every
possible mood of suffering.  Better than Wordsworth himself
I know what Wordsworth meant when he said—


‘Suffering is permanent, obscure, and
dark

And has the nature of infinity.’



But while there were times when I rejoiced in the idea that my
sufferings were to be endless, I could not bear them to be
without meaning.  Now I find hidden somewhere away in my
nature something that tells me that nothing in the whole world is
meaningless, and suffering least of all.  That something
hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a field, is
Humility.


It is the last thing left in me, and the best: the ultimate
discovery at which I have arrived, the starting-point for a fresh
development.  It has come to me right out of myself, so I
know that it has come at the proper time.  It could not have
come before, nor later.  Had any one told me of it, I would
have rejected it.  Had it been brought to me, I would have
refused it.  As I found it, I want to keep it.  I must
do so.  It is the one thing that has in it the elements of
life, of a new life, Vita Nuova for me.  Of all
things it is the strangest.  One cannot acquire it, except
by surrendering everything that one has.  It is only when
one has lost all things, that one knows that one possesses
it.


Now I have realised that it is in me, I see quite clearly what
I ought to do; in fact, must do.  And when I use such a
phrase as that, I need not say that I am not alluding to any
external sanction or command.  I admit none.  I am far
more of an individualist than I ever was.  Nothing seems to
me of the smallest value except what one gets out of
oneself.  My nature is seeking a fresh mode of
self-realisation.  That is all I am concerned with. 
And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from
any possible bitterness of feeling against the world.


I am completely penniless, and absolutely homeless.  Yet
there are worse things in the world than that.  I am quite
candid when I say that rather than go out from this prison with
bitterness in my heart against the world, I would gladly and
readily beg my bread from door to door.  If I got nothing
from the house of the rich I would get something at the house of
the poor.  Those who have much are often greedy; those who
have little always share.  I would not a bit mind sleeping
in the cool grass in summer, and when winter came on sheltering
myself by the warm close-thatched rick, or under the penthouse of
a great barn, provided I had love in my heart.  The external
things of life seem to me now of no importance at all.  You
can see to what intensity of individualism I have
arrived—or am arriving rather, for the journey is long, and
‘where I walk there are thorns.’


Of course I know that to ask alms on the highway is not to be
my lot, and that if ever I lie in the cool grass at night-time it
will be to write sonnets to the moon.  When I go out of
prison, R--- will be waiting for me on the other side of the big
iron-studded gate, and he is the symbol, not merely of his own
affection, but of the affection of many others besides.  I
believe I am to have enough to live on for about eighteen months
at any rate, so that if I may not write beautiful books, I may at
least read beautiful books; and what joy can be greater? 
After that, I hope to be able to recreate my creative
faculty.


But were things different: had I not a friend left in the
world; were there not a single house open to me in pity; had I to
accept the wallet and ragged cloak of sheer penury: as long as I
am free from all resentment, hardness and scorn, I would be able
to face the life with much more calm and confidence than I would
were my body in purple and fine linen, and the soul within me
sick with hate.


And I really shall have no difficulty.  When you really
want love you will find it waiting for you.


I need not say that my task does not end there.  It would
be comparatively easy if it did.  There is much more before
me.  I have hills far steeper to climb, valleys much darker
to pass through.  And I have to get it all out of
myself.  Neither religion, morality, nor reason can help me
at all.


Morality does not help me.  I am a born antinomian. 
I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for
laws.  But while I see that there is nothing wrong in what
one does, I see that there is something wrong in what one
becomes.  It is well to have learned that.


Religion does not help me.  The faith that others give to
what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at. 
My gods dwell in temples made with hands; and within the circle
of actual experience is my creed made perfect and complete: too
complete, it may be, for like many or all of those who have
placed their heaven in this earth, I have found in it not merely
the beauty of heaven, but the horror of hell also.  When I
think about religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found
an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity
of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which
no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling,
might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of
wine.  Every thing to be true must become a religion. 
And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith. 
It has sown its martyrs, it should reap its saints, and praise
God daily for having hidden Himself from man.  But whether
it be faith or agnosticism, it must be nothing external to
me.  Its symbols must be of my own creating.  Only that
is spiritual which makes its own form.  If I may not find
its secret within myself, I shall never find it: if I have not
got it already, it will never come to me.


Reason does not help me.  It tells me that the laws under
which I am convicted are wrong and unjust laws, and the system
under which I have suffered a wrong and unjust system.  But,
somehow, I have got to make both of these things just and right
to me.  And exactly as in Art one is only concerned with
what a particular thing is at a particular moment to oneself, so
it is also in the ethical evolution of one’s
character.  I have got to make everything that has happened
to me good for me.  The plank bed, the loathsome food, the
hard ropes shredded into oakum till one’s finger-tips grow
dull with pain, the menial offices with which each day begins and
finishes, the harsh orders that routine seems to necessitate, the
dreadful dress that makes sorrow grotesque to look at, the
silence, the solitude, the shame—each and all of these
things I have to transform into a spiritual experience. 
There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not
try and make into a spiritualising of the soul.


I want to get to the point when I shall be able to say quite
simply, and without affectation that the two great turning-points
in my life were when my father sent me to Oxford, and when
society sent me to prison.  I will not say that prison is
the best thing that could have happened to me: for that phrase
would savour of too great bitterness towards myself.  I
would sooner say, or hear it said of me, that I was so typical a
child of my age, that in my perversity, and for that
perversity’s sake, I turned the good things of my life to
evil, and the evil things of my life to good.


What is said, however, by myself or by others, matters
little.  The important thing, the thing that lies before me,
the thing that I have to do, if the brief remainder of my days is
not to be maimed, marred, and incomplete, is to absorb into my
nature all that has been done to me, to make it part of me, to
accept it without complaint, fear, or reluctance.  The
supreme vice is shallowness.  Whatever is realised is
right.


When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try
and forget who I was.  It was ruinous advice.  It is
only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any
kind.  Now I am advised by others to try on my release to
forget that I have ever been in a prison at all.  I know
that would be equally fatal.  It would mean that I would
always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that
those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody
else—the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the
seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights,
the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the
grass and making it silver—would all be tainted for me, and
lose their healing power, and their power of communicating
joy.  To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest
one’s own development.  To deny one’s own
experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own
life.  It is no less than a denial of the soul.


For just as the body absorbs things of all kinds, things
common and unclean no less than those that the priest or a vision
has cleansed, and converts them into swiftness or strength, into
the play of beautiful muscles and the moulding of fair flesh,
into the curves and colours of the hair, the lips, the eye; so
the soul in its turn has its nutritive functions also, and can
transform into noble moods of thought and passions of high import
what in itself is base, cruel and degrading; nay, more, may find
in these its most august modes of assertion, and can often reveal
itself most perfectly through what was intended to desecrate or
destroy.


The fact of my having been the common prisoner of a common
gaol I must frankly accept, and, curious as it may seem, one of
the things I shall have to teach myself is not to be ashamed of
it.  I must accept it as a punishment, and if one is ashamed
of having been punished, one might just as well never have been
punished at all.  Of course there are many things of which I
was convicted that I had not done, but then there are many things
of which I was convicted that I had done, and a still greater
number of things in my life for which I was never indicted at
all.  And as the gods are strange, and punish us for what is
good and humane in us as much as for what is evil and perverse, I
must accept the fact that one is punished for the good as well as
for the evil that one does.  I have no doubt that it is
quite right one should be.  It helps one, or should help
one, to realise both, and not to be too conceited about
either.  And if I then am not ashamed of my punishment, as I
hope not to be, I shall be able to think, and walk, and live with
freedom.


Many men on their release carry their prison about with them
into the air, and hide it as a secret disgrace in their hearts,
and at length, like poor poisoned things, creep into some hole
and die.  It is wretched that they should have to do so, and
it is wrong, terribly wrong, of society that it should force them
to do so.  Society takes upon itself the right to inflict
appalling punishment on the individual, but it also has the
supreme vice of shallowness, and fails to realise what it has
done.  When the man’s punishment is over, it leaves
him to himself; that is to say, it abandons him at the very
moment when its highest duty towards him begins.  It is
really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those whom it has
punished, as people shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay,
or one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, an
irremediable wrong.  I can claim on my side that if I
realise what I have suffered, society should realise what it has
inflicted on me; and that there should be no bitterness or hate
on either side.


Of course I know that from one point of view things will be
made different for me than for others; must indeed, by the very
nature of the case, be made so.  The poor thieves and
outcasts who are imprisoned here with me are in many respects
more fortunate than I am.  The little way in grey city or
green field that saw their sin is small; to find those who know
nothing of what they have done they need go no further than a
bird might fly between the twilight and the dawn; but for me the
world is shrivelled to a handsbreadth, and everywhere I turn my
name is written on the rocks in lead.  For I have come, not
from obscurity into the momentary notoriety of crime, but from a
sort of eternity of fame to a sort of eternity of infamy, and
sometimes seem to myself to have shown, if indeed it required
showing, that between the famous and the infamous there is but
one step, if as much as one.


Still, in the very fact that people will recognise me wherever
I go, and know all about my life, as far as its follies go, I can
discern something good for me.  It will force on me the
necessity of again asserting myself as an artist, and as soon as
I possibly can.  If I can produce only one beautiful work of
art I shall be able to rob malice of its venom, and cowardice of
its sneer, and to pluck out the tongue of scorn by the roots.


And if life be, as it surely is, a problem to me, I am no less
a problem to life.  People must adopt some attitude towards
me, and so pass judgment, both on themselves and me.  I need
not say I am not talking of particular individuals.  The
only people I would care to be with now are artists and people
who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who
know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.  Nor am I
making any demands on life.  In all that I have said I am
simply concerned with my own mental attitude towards life as a
whole; and I feel that not to be ashamed of having been punished
is one of the first points I must attain to, for the sake of my
own perfection, and because I am so imperfect.


Then I must learn how to be happy.  Once I knew it, or
thought I knew it, by instinct.  It was always springtime
once in my heart.  My temperament was akin to joy.  I
filled my life to the very brim with pleasure, as one might fill
a cup to the very brim with wine.  Now I am approaching life
from a completely new standpoint, and even to conceive happiness
is often extremely difficult for me.  I remember during my
first term at Oxford reading in Pater’s
Renaissance—that book which has had such strange
influence over my life—how Dante places low in the Inferno
those who wilfully live in sadness; and going to the college
library and turning to the passage in the Divine Comedy
where beneath the dreary marsh lie those who were ‘sullen
in the sweet air,’ saying for ever and ever through their
sighs—


‘Tristi fummo

Nell aer dolce che dal sol s’allegra.’



I knew the church condemned accidia, but the whole idea
seemed to me quite fantastic, just the sort of sin, I fancied, a
priest who knew nothing about real life would invent.  Nor
could I understand how Dante, who says that ‘sorrow
remarries us to God,’ could have been so harsh to those who
were enamoured of melancholy, if any such there really
were.  I had no idea that some day this would become to me
one of the greatest temptations of my life.


While I was in Wandsworth prison I longed to die.  It was
my one desire.  When after two months in the infirmary I was
transferred here, and found myself growing gradually better in
physical health, I was filled with rage.  I determined to
commit suicide on the very day on which I left prison. 
After a time that evil mood passed away, and I made up my mind to
live, but to wear gloom as a king wears purple: never to smile
again: to turn whatever house I entered into a house of mourning:
to make my friends walk slowly in sadness with me: to teach them
that melancholy is the true secret of life: to maim them with an
alien sorrow: to mar them with my own pain.  Now I feel
quite differently.  I see it would be both ungrateful and
unkind of me to pull so long a face that when my friends came to
see me they would have to make their faces still longer in order
to show their sympathy; or, if I desired to entertain them, to
invite them to sit down silently to bitter herbs and funeral
baked meats.  I must learn how to be cheerful and happy.


The last two occasions on which I was allowed to see my
friends here, I tried to be as cheerful as possible, and to show
my cheerfulness, in order to make them some slight return for
their trouble in coming all the way from town to see me.  It
is only a slight return, I know, but it is the one, I feel
certain, that pleases them most.  I saw R--- for an hour on
Saturday week, and I tried to give the fullest possible
expression of the delight I really felt at our meeting.  And
that, in the views and ideas I am here shaping for myself, I am
quite right is shown to me by the fact that now for the first
time since my imprisonment I have a real desire for life.


There is before me so much to do, that I would regard it as a
terrible tragedy if I died before I was allowed to complete at
any rate a little of it.  I see new developments in art and
life, each one of which is a fresh mode of perfection.  I
long to live so that I can explore what is no less than a new
world to me.  Do you want to know what this new world
is?  I think you can guess what it is.  It is the world
in which I have been living.  Sorrow, then, and all that it
teaches one, is my new world.


I used to live entirely for pleasure.  I shunned
suffering and sorrow of every kind.  I hated both.  I
resolved to ignore them as far as possible: to treat them, that
is to say, as modes of imperfection.  They were not part of
my scheme of life.  They had no place in my
philosophy.  My mother, who knew life as a whole, used often
to quote to me Goethe’s lines—written by Carlyle in a
book he had given her years ago, and translated by him, I fancy,
also:—


‘Who never ate his bread in sorrow,

Who never spent the midnight hours

Weeping and waiting for the morrow,—

He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.’



They were the lines which that noble Queen of Prussia, whom
Napoleon treated with such coarse brutality, used to quote in her
humiliation and exile; they were the lines my mother often quoted
in the troubles of her later life.  I absolutely declined to
accept or admit the enormous truth hidden in them.  I could
not understand it.  I remember quite well how I used to tell
her that I did not want to eat my bread in sorrow, or to pass any
night weeping and watching for a more bitter dawn.


I had no idea that it was one of the special things that the
Fates had in store for me: that for a whole year of my life,
indeed, I was to do little else.  But so has my portion been
meted out to me; and during the last few months I have, after
terrible difficulties and struggles, been able to comprehend some
of the lessons hidden in the heart of pain.  Clergymen and
people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk of suffering
as a mystery.  It is really a revelation.  One discerns
things one never discerned before.  One approaches the whole
of history from a different standpoint.  What one had felt
dimly, through instinct, about art, is intellectually and
emotionally realised with perfect clearness of vision and
absolute intensity of apprehension.


I now see that sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man
is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art. 
What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in
which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward
is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals.  Of such
modes of existence there are not a few: youth and the arts
preoccupied with youth may serve as a model for us at one moment:
at another we may like to think that, in its subtlety and
sensitiveness of impression, its suggestion of a spirit dwelling
in external things and making its raiment of earth and air, of
mist and city alike, and in its morbid sympathy of its moods, and
tones, and colours, modern landscape art is realising for us
pictorially what was realised in such plastic perfection by the
Greeks.  Music, in which all subject is absorbed in
expression and cannot be separated from it, is a complex example,
and a flower or a child a simple example, of what I mean; but
sorrow is the ultimate type both in life and art.


Behind joy and laughter there may be a temperament, coarse,
hard and callous.  But behind sorrow there is always
sorrow.  Pain, unlike pleasure, wears no mask.  Truth
in art is not any correspondence between the essential idea and
the accidental existence; it is not the resemblance of shape to
shadow, or of the form mirrored in the crystal to the form
itself; it is no echo coming from a hollow hill, any more than it
is a silver well of water in the valley that shows the moon to
the moon and Narcissus to Narcissus.  Truth in art is the
unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of
the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with
spirit.  For this reason there is no truth comparable to
sorrow.  There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the
only truth.  Other things may be illusions of the eye or the
appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the other, but out of
sorrow have the worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or
a star there is pain.


More than this, there is about sorrow an intense, an
extraordinary reality.  I have said of myself that I was one
who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my
age.  There is not a single wretched man in this wretched
place along with me who does not stand in symbolic relation to
the very secret of life.  For the secret of life is
suffering.  It is what is hidden behind everything. 
When we begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, and what
is bitter so bitter, that we inevitably direct all our desires
towards pleasures, and seek not merely for a ‘month or
twain to feed on honeycomb,’ but for all our years to taste
no other food, ignorant all the while that we may really be
starving the soul.


I remember talking once on this subject to one of the most
beautiful personalities I have ever known: a woman, whose
sympathy and noble kindness to me, both before and since the
tragedy of my imprisonment, have been beyond power and
description; one who has really assisted me, though she does not
know it, to bear the burden of my troubles more than any one else
in the whole world has, and all through the mere fact of her
existence, through her being what she is—partly an ideal
and partly an influence: a suggestion of what one might become as
well as a real help towards becoming it; a soul that renders the
common air sweet, and makes what is spiritual seem as simple and
natural as sunlight or the sea: one for whom beauty and sorrow
walk hand in hand, and have the same message.  On the
occasion of which I am thinking I recall distinctly how I said to
her that there was enough suffering in one narrow London lane to
show that God did not love man, and that wherever there was any
sorrow, though but that of a child, in some little garden weeping
over a fault that it had or had not committed, the whole face of
creation was completely marred.  I was entirely wrong. 
She told me so, but I could not believe her.  I was not in
the sphere in which such belief was to be attained to.  Now
it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible
explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there
is in the world.  I cannot conceive of any other
explanation.  I am convinced that there is no other, and
that if the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of
sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no
other way could the soul of man, for whom the world was made,
reach the full stature of its perfection.  Pleasure for the
beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful soul.


When I say that I am convinced of these things I speak with
too much pride.  Far off, like a perfect pearl, one can see
the city of God.  It is so wonderful that it seems as if a
child could reach it in a summer’s day.  And so a
child could.  But with me and such as me it is
different.  One can realise a thing in a single moment, but
one loses it in the long hours that follow with leaden
feet.  It is so difficult to keep ‘heights that the
soul is competent to gain.’  We think in eternity, but
we move slowly through time; and how slowly time goes with us who
lie in prison I need not tell again, nor of the weariness and
despair that creep back into one’s cell, and into the cell
of one’s heart, with such strange insistence that one has,
as it were, to garnish and sweep one’s house for their
coming, as for an unwelcome guest, or a bitter master, or a slave
whose slave it is one’s chance or choice to be.


And, though at present my friends may find it a hard thing to
believe, it is true none the less, that for them living in
freedom and idleness and comfort it is more easy to learn the
lessons of humility than it is for me, who begin the day by going
down on my knees and washing the floor of my cell.  For
prison life with its endless privations and restrictions makes
one rebellious.  The most terrible thing about it is not
that it breaks one’s heart—hearts are made to be
broken—but that it turns one’s heart to stone. 
One sometimes feels that it is only with a front of brass and a
lip of scorn that one can get through the day at all.  And
he who is in a state of rebellion cannot receive grace, to use
the phrase of which the Church is so fond—so rightly fond,
I dare say—for in life as in art the mood of rebellion
closes up the channels of the soul, and shuts out the airs of
heaven.  Yet I must learn these lessons here, if I am to
learn them anywhere, and must be filled with joy if my feet are
on the right road and my face set towards ‘the gate which
is called beautiful,’ though I may fall many times in the
mire and often in the mist go astray.


This New Life, as through my love of Dante I like sometimes to
call it, is of course no new life at all, but simply the
continuance, by means of development, and evolution, of my former
life.  I remember when I was at Oxford saying to one of my
friends as we were strolling round Magdalen’s narrow
bird-haunted walks one morning in the year before I took my
degree, that I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the
garden of the world, and that I was going out into the world with
that passion in my soul.  And so, indeed, I went out, and so
I lived.  My only mistake was that I confined myself so
exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of
the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its
gloom.  Failure, disgrace, poverty, sorrow, despair,
suffering, tears even, the broken words that come from lips in
pain, remorse that makes one walk on thorns, conscience that
condemns, self-abasement that punishes, the misery that puts
ashes on its head, the anguish that chooses sack-cloth for its
raiment and into its own drink puts gall:—all these were
things of which I was afraid.  And as I had determined to
know nothing of them, I was forced to taste each of them in turn,
to feed on them, to have for a season, indeed, no other food at
all.


I don’t regret for a single moment having lived for
pleasure.  I did it to the full, as one should do everything
that one does.  There was no pleasure I did not
experience.  I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of
wine.  I went down the primrose path to the sound of
flutes.  I lived on honeycomb.  But to have continued
the same life would have been wrong because it would have been
limiting.  I had to pass on.  The other half of the
garden had its secrets for me also.  Of course all this is
foreshadowed and prefigured in my books.  Some of it is in
The Happy Prince, some of it in The Young King,
notably in the passage where the bishop says to the kneeling boy,
‘Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art’? a
phrase which when I wrote it seemed to me little more than a
phrase; a great deal of it is hidden away in the note of doom
that like a purple thread runs through the texture of Dorian
Gray
; in The Critic as Artist it is set forth in many
colours; in The Soul of Man it is written down, and in
letters too easy to read; it is one of the refrains whose
recurring motifs make Salome so like a piece of
music and bind it together as a ballad; in the prose poem of the
man who from the bronze of the image of the ‘Pleasure that
liveth for a moment’ has to make the image of the
‘Sorrow that abideth for ever’ it is incarnate. 
It could not have been otherwise.  At every single moment of
one’s life one is what one is going to be no less than what
one has been.  Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol.


It is, if I can fully attain to it, the ultimate realisation
of the artistic life.  For the artistic life is simply
self-development.  Humility in the artist is his frank
acceptance of all experiences, just as love in the artist is
simply the sense of beauty that reveals to the world its body and
its soul.  In Marius the Epicurean Pater seeks to
reconcile the artistic life with the life of religion, in the
deep, sweet, and austere sense of the word.  But Marius is
little more than a spectator: an ideal spectator indeed, and one
to whom it is given ‘to contemplate the spectacle of life
with appropriate emotions,’ which Wordsworth defines as the
poet’s true aim; yet a spectator merely, and perhaps a
little too much occupied with the comeliness of the benches of
the sanctuary to notice that it is the sanctuary of sorrow that
he is gazing at.


I see a far more intimate and immediate connection between the
true life of Christ and the true life of the artist; and I take a
keen pleasure in the reflection that long before sorrow had made
my days her own and bound me to her wheel I had written in The
Soul of Man
that he who would lead a Christ-like life must be
entirely and absolutely himself, and had taken as my types not
merely the shepherd on the hillside and the prisoner in his cell,
but also the painter to whom the world is a pageant and the poet
for whom the world is a song.  I remember saying once to
André Gide, as we sat together in some Paris
café, that while meta-physics had but little real
interest for me, and morality absolutely none, there was nothing
that either Plato or Christ had said that could not be
transferred immediately into the sphere of Art and there find its
complete fulfilment.


Nor is it merely that we can discern in Christ that close
union of personality with perfection which forms the real
distinction between the classical and romantic movement in life,
but the very basis of his nature was the same as that of the
nature of the artist—an intense and flamelike
imagination.  He realised in the entire sphere of human
relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is
the sole secret of creation.  He understood the leprosy of
the leper, the darkness of the blind, the fierce misery of those
who live for pleasure, the strange poverty of the rich. 
Some one wrote to me in trouble, ‘When you are not on your
pedestal you are not interesting.’  How remote was the
writer from what Matthew Arnold calls ‘the Secret of
Jesus.’  Either would have taught him that whatever
happens to another happens to oneself, and if you want an
inscription to read at dawn and at night-time, and for pleasure
or for pain, write up on the walls of your house in letters for
the sun to gild and the moon to silver, ‘Whatever happens
to oneself happens to another.’


Christ’s place indeed is with the poets.  His whole
conception of Humanity sprang right out of the imagination and
can only be realised by it.  What God was to the pantheist,
man was to Him.  He was the first to conceive the divided
races as a unity.  Before his time there had been gods and
men, and, feeling through the mysticism of sympathy that in
himself each had been made incarnate, he calls himself the Son of
the one or the Son of the other, according to his mood. 
More than any one else in history he wakes in us that temper of
wonder to which romance always appeals.  There is still
something to me almost incredible in the idea of a young Galilean
peasant imagining that he could bear on his own shoulders the
burden of the entire world; all that had already been done and
suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered: the sins
of Nero, of Caesar Borgia, of Alexander VI., and of him who was
Emperor of Rome and Priest of the Sun: the sufferings of those
whose names are legion and whose dwelling is among the tombs:
oppressed nationalities, factory children, thieves, people in
prison, outcasts, those who are dumb under oppression and whose
silence is heard only of God; and not merely imagining this but
actually achieving it, so that at the present moment all who come
in contact with his personality, even though they may neither bow
to his altar nor kneel before his priest, in some way find that
the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the beauty of their
sorrow revealed to them.


I had said of Christ that he ranks with the poets.  That
is true.  Shelley and Sophocles are of his company. 
But his entire life also is the most wonderful of poems. 
For ‘pity and terror’ there is nothing in the entire
cycle of Greek tragedy to touch it.  The absolute purity of
the protagonist raises the entire scheme to a height of romantic
art from which the sufferings of Thebes and Pelops’ line
are by their very horror excluded, and shows how wrong Aristotle
was when he said in his treatise on the drama that it would be
impossible to bear the spectacle of one blameless in pain. 
Nor in Æschylus nor Dante, those stern masters of
tenderness, in Shakespeare, the most purely human of all the
great artists, in the whole of Celtic myth and legend, where the
loveliness of the world is shown through a mist of tears, and the
life of a man is no more than the life of a flower, is there
anything that, for sheer simplicity of pathos wedded and made one
with sublimity of tragic effect, can be said to equal or even
approach the last act of Christ’s passion.  The little
supper with his companions, one of whom has already sold him for
a price; the anguish in the quiet moon-lit garden; the false
friend coming close to him so as to betray him with a kiss; the
friend who still believed in him, and on whom as on a rock he had
hoped to build a house of refuge for Man, denying him as the bird
cried to the dawn; his own utter loneliness, his submission, his
acceptance of everything; and along with it all such scenes as
the high priest of orthodoxy rending his raiment in wrath, and
the magistrate of civil justice calling for water in the vain
hope of cleansing himself of that stain of innocent blood that
makes him the scarlet figure of history; the coronation ceremony
of sorrow, one of the most wonderful things in the whole of
recorded time; the crucifixion of the Innocent One before the
eyes of his mother and of the disciple whom he loved; the
soldiers gambling and throwing dice for his clothes; the terrible
death by which he gave the world its most eternal symbol; and his
final burial in the tomb of the rich man, his body swathed in
Egyptian linen with costly spices and perfumes as though he had
been a king’s son.  When one contemplates all this
from the point of view of art alone one cannot but be grateful
that the supreme office of the Church should be the playing of
the tragedy without the shedding of blood: the mystical
presentation, by means of dialogue and costume and gesture even,
of the Passion of her Lord; and it is always a source of pleasure
and awe to me to remember that the ultimate survival of the Greek
chorus, lost elsewhere to art, is to be found in the servitor
answering the priest at Mass.


Yet the whole life of Christ—so entirely may sorrow and
beauty be made one in their meaning and manifestation—is
really an idyll, though it ends with the veil of the temple being
rent, and the darkness coming over the face of the earth, and the
stone rolled to the door of the sepulchre.  One always
thinks of him as a young bridegroom with his companions, as
indeed he somewhere describes himself; as a shepherd straying
through a valley with his sheep in search of green meadow or cool
stream; as a singer trying to build out of the music the walls of
the City of God; or as a lover for whose love the whole world was
too small.  His miracles seem to me to be as exquisite as
the coming of spring, and quite as natural.  I see no
difficulty at all in believing that such was the charm of his
personality that his mere presence could bring peace to souls in
anguish, and that those who touched his garments or his hands
forgot their pain; or that as he passed by on the highway of life
people who had seen nothing of life’s mystery, saw it
clearly, and others who had been deaf to every voice but that of
pleasure heard for the first time the voice of love and found it
as ‘musical as Apollo’s lute’; or that evil
passions fled at his approach, and men whose dull unimaginative
lives had been but a mode of death rose as it were from the grave
when he called them; or that when he taught on the hillside the
multitude forgot their hunger and thirst and the cares of this
world, and that to his friends who listened to him as he sat at
meat the coarse food seemed delicate, and the water had the taste
of good wine, and the whole house became full of the odour and
sweetness of nard.


Renan in his Vie de Jesus—that gracious fifth
gospel, the gospel according to St. Thomas, one might call
it—says somewhere that Christ’s great achievement was
that he made himself as much loved after his death as he had been
during his lifetime.  And certainly, if his place is among
the poets, he is the leader of all the lovers.  He saw that
love was the first secret of the world for which the wise men had
been looking, and that it was only through love that one could
approach either the heart of the leper or the feet of God.


And above all, Christ is the most supreme of
individualists.  Humility, like the artistic, acceptance of
all experiences, is merely a mode of manifestation.  It is
man’s soul that Christ is always looking for.  He
calls it ‘God’s Kingdom,’ and finds it in every
one.  He compares it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a
handful of leaven, to a pearl.  That is because one realises
one’s soul only by getting rid of all alien passions, all
acquired culture, and all external possessions, be they good or
evil.


I bore up against everything with some stubbornness of will
and much rebellion of nature, till I had absolutely nothing left
in the world but one thing.  I had lost my name, my
position, my happiness, my freedom, my wealth.  I was a
prisoner and a pauper.  But I still had my children
left.  Suddenly they were taken away from me by the
law.  It was a blow so appalling that I did not know what to
do, so I flung myself on my knees, and bowed my head, and wept,
and said, ‘The body of a child is as the body of the Lord:
I am not worthy of either.’  That moment seemed to
save me.  I saw then that the only thing for me was to
accept everything.  Since then—curious as it will no
doubt sound—I have been happier.  It was of course my
soul in its ultimate essence that I had reached.  In many
ways I had been its enemy, but I found it waiting for me as a
friend.  When one comes in contact with the soul it makes
one simple as a child, as Christ said one should be.


It is tragic how few people ever ‘possess their
souls’ before they die.  ‘Nothing is more rare
in any man,’ says Emerson, ‘than an act of his
own.’  It is quite true.  Most people are other
people.  Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions,
their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.  Christ
was not merely the supreme individualist, but he was the first
individualist in history.  People have tried to make him out
an ordinary philanthropist, or ranked him as an altruist with the
scientific and sentimental.  But he was really neither one
nor the other.  Pity he has, of course, for the poor, for
those who are shut up in prisons, for the lowly, for the
wretched; but he has far more pity for the rich, for the hard
hedonists, for those who waste their freedom in becoming slaves
to things, for those who wear soft raiment and live in
kings’ houses.  Riches and pleasure seemed to him to
be really greater tragedies than poverty or sorrow.  And as
for altruism, who knew better than he that it is vocation not
volition that determines us, and that one cannot gather grapes of
thorns or figs from thistles?


To live for others as a definite self-conscious aim was not
his creed.  It was not the basis of his creed.  When he
says, ‘Forgive your enemies,’ it is not for the sake
of the enemy, but for one’s own sake that he says so, and
because love is more beautiful than hate.  In his own
entreaty to the young man, ‘Sell all that thou hast and
give to the poor,’ it is not of the state of the poor that
he is thinking but of the soul of the young man, the soul that
wealth was marring.  In his view of life he is one with the
artist who knows that by the inevitable law of self-perfection,
the poet must sing, and the sculptor think in bronze, and the
painter make the world a mirror for his moods, as surely and as
certainly as the hawthorn must blossom in spring, and the corn
turn to gold at harvest-time, and the moon in her ordered
wanderings change from shield to sickle, and from sickle to
shield.


But while Christ did not say to men, ‘Live for
others,’ he pointed out that there was no difference at all
between the lives of others and one’s own life.  By
this means he gave to man an extended, a Titan personality. 
Since his coming the history of each separate individual is, or
can be made, the history of the world.  Of course, culture
has intensified the personality of man.  Art has made us
myriad-minded.  Those who have the artistic temperament go
into exile with Dante and learn how salt is the bread of others,
and how steep their stairs; they catch for a moment the serenity
and calm of Goethe, and yet know but too well that Baudelaire
cried to God—


‘O Seigneur, donnez moi la force et le
courage

De contempler mon corps et mon coeur sans
dégoût.’



Out of Shakespeare’s sonnets they draw, to their own
hurt it may be, the secret of his love and make it their own;
they look with new eyes on modern life, because they have
listened to one of Chopin’s nocturnes, or handled Greek
things, or read the story of the passion of some dead man for
some dead woman whose hair was like threads of fine gold, and
whose mouth was as a pomegranate.  But the sympathy of the
artistic temperament is necessarily with what has found
expression.  In words or in colours, in music or in marble,
behind the painted masks of an Æschylean play, or through
some Sicilian shepherds’ pierced and jointed reeds, the man
and his message must have been revealed.


To the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can
conceive life at all.  To him what is dumb is dead. 
But to Christ it was not so.  With a width and wonder of
imagination that fills one almost with awe, he took the entire
world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his
kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece.  Those
of whom I have spoken, who are dumb under oppression, and
‘whose silence is heard only of God,’ he chose as his
brothers.  He sought to become eyes to the blind, ears to
the deaf, and a cry in the lips of those whose tongues had been
tied.  His desire was to be to the myriads who had found no
utterance a very trumpet through which they might call to
heaven.  And feeling, with the artistic nature of one to
whom suffering and sorrow were modes through which he could
realise his conception of the beautiful, that an idea is of no
value till it becomes incarnate and is made an image, he made of
himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and as such has
fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in
doing.


For the Greek gods, in spite of the white and red of their
fair fleet limbs, were not really what they appeared to be. 
The curved brow of Apollo was like the sun’s disc crescent
over a hill at dawn, and his feet were as the wings of the
morning, but he himself had been cruel to Marsyas and had made
Niobe childless.  In the steel shields of Athena’s
eyes there had been no pity for Arachne; the pomp and peacocks of
Hera were all that was really noble about her; and the Father of
the Gods himself had been too fond of the daughters of men. 
The two most deeply suggestive figures of Greek Mythology were,
for religion, Demeter, an Earth Goddess, not one of the
Olympians, and for art, Dionysus, the son of a mortal woman to
whom the moment of his birth had proved also the moment of her
death.


But Life itself from its lowliest and most humble sphere
produced one far more marvellous than the mother of Proserpina or
the son of Semele.  Out of the Carpenter’s shop at
Nazareth had come a personality infinitely greater than any made
by myth and legend, and one, strangely enough, destined to reveal
to the world the mystical meaning of wine and the real beauties
of the lilies of the field as none, either on Cithaeron or at
Enna, had ever done.


The song of Isaiah, ‘He is despised and rejected of men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were
our faces from him,’ had seemed to him to prefigure
himself, and in him the prophecy was fulfilled.  We must not
be afraid of such a phrase.  Every single work of art is the
fulfilment of a prophecy: for every work of art is the conversion
of an idea into an image.  Every single human being should
be the fulfilment of a prophecy: for every human being should be
the realisation of some ideal, either in the mind of God or in
the mind of man.  Christ found the type and fixed it, and
the dream of a Virgilian poet, either at Jerusalem or at Babylon,
became in the long progress of the centuries incarnate in him for
whom the world was waiting.


To me one of the things in history the most to be regretted is
that the Christ’s own renaissance, which has produced the
Cathedral at Chartres, the Arthurian cycle of legends, the life
of St. Francis of Assisi, the art of Giotto, and Dante’s
Divine Comedy, was not allowed to develop on its own
lines, but was interrupted and spoiled by the dreary classical
Renaissance that gave us Petrarch, and Raphael’s frescoes,
and Palladian architecture, and formal French tragedy, and St.
Paul’s Cathedral, and Pope’s poetry, and everything
that is made from without and by dead rules, and does not spring
from within through some spirit informing it.  But wherever
there is a romantic movement in art there somehow, and under some
form, is Christ, or the soul of Christ.  He is in Romeo
and Juliet
, in the Winter’s Tale, in
Provençal poetry, in the Ancient Mariner, in La
Belle Dame sans merci
, and in Chatterton’s Ballad of
Charity
.


We owe to him the most diverse things and people. 
Hugo’s Les Misérables, Baudelaire’s
Fleurs du Mal, the note of pity in Russian novels,
Verlaine and Verlaine’s poems, the stained glass and
tapestries and the quattro-cento work of Burne-Jones and Morris,
belong to him no less than the tower of Giotto, Lancelot and
Guinevere, Tannhäuser, the troubled romantic marbles of
Michael Angelo, pointed architecture, and the love of children
and flowers—for both of which, indeed, in classical art
there was but little place, hardly enough for them to grow or
play in, but which, from the twelfth century down to our own day,
have been continually making their appearances in art, under
various modes and at various times, coming fitfully and wilfully,
as children, as flowers, are apt to do: spring always seeming to
one as if the flowers had been in hiding, and only came out into
the sun because they were afraid that grown up people would grow
tired of looking for them and give up the search; and the life of
a child being no more than an April day on which there is both
rain and sun for the narcissus.


It is the imaginative quality of Christ’s own nature
that makes him this palpitating centre of romance.  The
strange figures of poetic drama and ballad are made by the
imagination of others, but out of his own imagination entirely
did Jesus of Nazareth create himself.  The cry of Isaiah had
really no more to do with his coming than the song of the
nightingale has to do with the rising of the moon—no more,
though perhaps no less.  He was the denial as well as the
affirmation of prophecy.  For every expectation that he
fulfilled there was another that he destroyed.  ‘In
all beauty,’ says Bacon, ‘there is some strangeness
of proportion,’ and of those who are born of the
spirit—of those, that is to say, who like himself are
dynamic forces—Christ says that they are like the wind that
‘bloweth where it listeth, and no man can tell whence it
cometh and whither it goeth.’  That is why he is so
fascinating to artists.  He has all the colour elements of
life: mystery, strangeness, pathos, suggestion, ecstasy,
love.  He appeals to the temper of wonder, and creates that
mood in which alone he can be understood.


And to me it is a joy to remember that if he is ‘of
imagination all compact,’ the world itself is of the same
substance.  I said in Dorian Gray that the great sins
of the world take place in the brain: but it is in the brain that
everything takes place.  We know now that we do not see with
the eyes or hear with the ears.  They are really channels
for the transmission, adequate or inadequate, of sense
impressions.  It is in the brain that the poppy is red, that
the apple is odorous, that the skylark sings.


Of late I have been studying with diligence the four prose
poems about Christ.  At Christmas I managed to get hold of a
Greek Testament, and every morning, after I had cleaned my cell
and polished my tins, I read a little of the Gospels, a dozen
verses taken by chance anywhere.  It is a delightful way of
opening the day.  Every one, even in a turbulent,
ill-disciplined life, should do the same.  Endless
repetition, in and out of season, has spoiled for us the
freshness, the naïveté, the simple romantic charm of
the Gospels.  We hear them read far too often and far too
badly, and all repetition is anti-spiritual.  When one
returns to the Greek; it is like going into a garden of lilies
out of some, narrow and dark house.


And to me, the pleasure is doubled by the reflection that it
is extremely probable that we have the actual terms, the
ipsissima verba, used by Christ.  It was always
supposed that Christ talked in Aramaic.  Even Renan thought
so.  But now we know that the Galilean peasants, like the
Irish peasants of our own day, were bilingual, and that Greek was
the ordinary language of intercourse all over Palestine, as
indeed all over the Eastern world.  I never liked the idea
that we knew of Christ’s own words only through a
translation of a translation.  It is a delight to me to
think that as far as his conversation was concerned, Charmides
might have listened to him, and Socrates reasoned with him, and
Plato understood him: that he really said εyω
ειμι ο
ποιμην ο
καλος, that when he thought of
the lilies of the field and how they neither toil nor spin, his
absolute expression was
καταyαθετε
τα κρίνα
του αγρου
τως
αυξανει ου
κοπιυ
ουδε
νηθει, and that his last word when he
cried out ‘my life has been completed, has reached its
fulfilment, has been perfected,’ was exactly as St. John
tells us it was:
τετέλεσται—no
more.


While in reading the Gospels—particularly that of St.
John himself, or whatever early Gnostic took his name and
mantle—I see the continual assertion of the imagination as
the basis of all spiritual and material life, I see also that to
Christ imagination was simply a form of love, and that to him
love was lord in the fullest meaning of the phrase.  Some
six weeks ago I was allowed by the doctor to have white bread to
eat instead of the coarse black or brown bread of ordinary prison
fare.  It is a great delicacy.  It will sound strange
that dry bread could possibly be a delicacy to any one.  To
me it is so much so that at the close of each meal I carefully
eat whatever crumbs may be left on my tin plate, or have fallen
on the rough towel that one uses as a cloth so as not to soil
one’s table; and I do so not from hunger—I get now
quite sufficient food—but simply in order that nothing
should be wasted of what is given to me.  So one should look
on love.


Christ, like all fascinating personalities, had the power of
not merely saying beautiful things himself, but of making other
people say beautiful things to him; and I love the story St. Mark
tells us about the Greek woman, who, when as a trial of her faith
he said to her that he could not give her the bread of the
children of Israel, answered him that the little
dogs—(κυναρια,
‘little dogs’ it should be rendered)—who are
under the table eat of the crumbs that the children let
fall.  Most people live for love and admiration.  But
it is by love and admiration that we should live.  If any
love is shown us we should recognise that we are quite unworthy
of it.  Nobody is worthy to be loved.  The fact that
God loves man shows us that in the divine order of ideal things
it is written that eternal love is to be given to what is
eternally unworthy.  Or if that phrase seems to be a bitter
one to bear, let us say that every one is worthy of love, except
him who thinks that he is.  Love is a sacrament that should
be taken kneeling, and Domine, non sum dignus should be on
the lips and in the hearts of those who receive it.


If ever I write again, in the sense of producing artistic
work, there are just two subjects on which and through which I
desire to express myself: one is ‘Christ as the precursor
of the romantic movement in life’: the other is ‘The
artistic life considered in its relation to conduct.’ 
The first is, of course, intensely fascinating, for I see in
Christ not merely the essentials of the supreme romantic type,
but all the accidents, the wilfulnesses even, of the romantic
temperament also.  He was the first person who ever said to
people that they should live ‘flower-like
lives.’  He fixed the phrase.  He took children
as the type of what people should try to become.  He held
them up as examples to their elders, which I myself have always
thought the chief use of children, if what is perfect should have
a use.  Dante describes the soul of a man as coming from the
hand of God ‘weeping and laughing like a little
child,’ and Christ also saw that the soul of each one
should be a guisa di fanciulla che piangendo e ridendo
pargoleggia
.  He felt that life was changeful, fluid,
active, and that to allow it to be stereotyped into any form was
death.  He saw that people should not be too serious over
material, common interests: that to be unpractical was to be a
great thing: that one should not bother too much over
affairs.  The birds didn’t, why should man?  He
is charming when he says, ‘Take no thought for the morrow;
is not the soul more than meat? is not the body more than
raiment?’  A Greek might have used the latter
phrase.  It is full of Greek feeling.  But only Christ
could have said both, and so summed up life perfectly for us.


His morality is all sympathy, just what morality should
be.  If the only thing that he ever said had been,
‘Her sins are forgiven her because she loved much,’
it would have been worth while dying to have said it.  His
justice is all poetical justice, exactly what justice should
be.  The beggar goes to heaven because he has been
unhappy.  I cannot conceive a better reason for his being
sent there.  The people who work for an hour in the vineyard
in the cool of the evening receive just as much reward as those
who have toiled there all day long in the hot sun.  Why
shouldn’t they?  Probably no one deserved
anything.  Or perhaps they were a different kind of
people.  Christ had no patience with the dull lifeless
mechanical systems that treat people as if they were things, and
so treat everybody alike: for him there were no laws: there were
exceptions merely, as if anybody, or anything, for that matter,
was like aught else in the world!


That which is the very keynote of romantic art was to him the
proper basis of natural life.  He saw no other basis. 
And when they brought him one, taken in the very act of sin and
showed him her sentence written in the law, and asked him what
was to be done, he wrote with his finger on the ground as though
he did not hear them, and finally, when they pressed him again,
looked up and said, ‘Let him of you who has never sinned be
the first to throw the stone at her.’  It was worth
while living to have said that.


Like all poetical natures he loved ignorant people.  He
knew that in the soul of one who is ignorant there is always room
for a great idea.  But he could not stand stupid people,
especially those who are made stupid by education: people who are
full of opinions not one of which they even understand, a
peculiarly modern type, summed up by Christ when he describes it
as the type of one who has the key of knowledge, cannot use it
himself, and does not allow other people to use it, though it may
be made to open the gate of God’s Kingdom.  His chief
war was against the Philistines.  That is the war every
child of light has to wage.  Philistinism was the note of
the age and community in which he lived.  In their heavy
inaccessibility to ideas, their dull respectability, their
tedious orthodoxy, their worship of vulgar success, their entire
preoccupation with the gross materialistic side of life, and
their ridiculous estimate of themselves and their importance, the
Jews of Jerusalem in Christ’s day were the exact
counterpart of the British Philistine of our own.  Christ
mocked at the ‘whited sepulchre’ of respectability,
and fixed that phrase for ever.  He treated worldly success
as a thing absolutely to be despised.  He saw nothing in it
at all.  He looked on wealth as an encumbrance to a
man.  He would not hear of life being sacrificed to any
system of thought or morals.  He pointed out that forms and
ceremonies were made for man, not man for forms and
ceremonies.  He took sabbatarianism as a type of the things
that should be set at nought.  The cold philanthropies, the
ostentatious public charities, the tedious formalisms so dear to
the middle-class mind, he exposed with utter and relentless
scorn.  To us, what is termed orthodoxy is merely a facile
unintelligent acquiescence; but to them, and in their hands, it
was a terrible and paralysing tyranny.  Christ swept it
aside.  He showed that the spirit alone was of value. 
He took a keen pleasure in pointing out to them that though they
were always reading the law and the prophets, they had not really
the smallest idea of what either of them meant.  In
opposition to their tithing of each separate day into the fixed
routine of prescribed duties, as they tithe mint and rue, he
preached the enormous importance of living completely for the
moment.


Those whom he saved from their sins are saved simply for
beautiful moments in their lives.  Mary Magdalen, when she
sees Christ, breaks the rich vase of alabaster that one of her
seven lovers had given her, and spills the odorous spices over
his tired dusty feet, and for that one moment’s sake sits
for ever with Ruth and Beatrice in the tresses of the snow-white
rose of Paradise.  All that Christ says to us by the way of
a little warning is that every moment should be beautiful, that
the soul should always be ready for the coming of the bridegroom,
always waiting for the voice of the lover, Philistinism being
simply that side of man’s nature that is not illumined by
the imagination.  He sees all the lovely influences of life
as modes of light: the imagination itself is the world of
light.  The world is made by it, and yet the world cannot
understand it: that is because the imagination is simply a
manifestation of love, and it is love and the capacity for it
that distinguishes one human being from another.


But it is when he deals with a sinner that Christ is most
romantic, in the sense of most real.  The world had always
loved the saint as being the nearest possible approach to the
perfection of God.  Christ, through some divine instinct in
him, seems to have always loved the sinner as being the nearest
possible approach to the perfection of man.  His primary
desire was not to reform people, any more than his primary desire
was to a relieve suffering.  To turn an interesting thief
into a tedious honest man was not his aim.  He would have
thought little of the Prisoners’ Aid Society and other
modern movements of the kind.  The conversion of a publican
into a Pharisee would not have seemed to him a great
achievement.  But in a manner not yet understood of the
world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves
beautiful holy things and modes of perfection.


It seems a very dangerous idea.  It is—all great
ideas are dangerous.  That it was Christ’s creed
admits of no doubt.  That it is the true creed I don’t
doubt myself.


Of course the sinner must repent.  But why?  Simply
because otherwise he would be unable to realise what he had
done.  The moment of repentance is the moment of
initiation.  More than that: it is the means by which one
alters one’s past.  The Greeks thought that
impossible.  They often say in their Gnomic aphorisms,
‘Even the Gods cannot alter the past.’  Christ
showed that the commonest sinner could do it, that it was the one
thing he could do.  Christ, had he been asked, would have
said—I feel quite certain about it—that the moment
the prodigal son fell on his knees and wept, he made his having
wasted his substance with harlots, his swine-herding and
hungering for the husks they ate, beautiful and holy moments in
his life.  It is difficult for most people to grasp the
idea.  I dare say one has to go to prison to understand
it.  If so, it may be worth while going to prison.


There is something so unique about Christ.  Of course
just as there are false dawns before the dawn itself, and winter
days so full of sudden sunlight that they will cheat the wise
crocus into squandering its gold before its time, and make some
foolish bird call to its mate to build on barren boughs, so there
were Christians before Christ.  For that we should be
grateful.  The unfortunate thing is that there have been
none since.  I make one exception, St. Francis of
Assisi.  But then God had given him at his birth the soul of
a poet, as he himself when quite young had in mystical marriage
taken poverty as his bride: and with the soul of a poet and the
body of a beggar he found the way to perfection not
difficult.  He understood Christ, and so he became like
him.  We do not require the Liber Conformitatum to teach us
that the life of St. Francis was the true Imitatio
Christi
, a poem compared to which the book of that name is
merely prose.


Indeed, that is the charm about Christ, when all is said: he
is just like a work of art.  He does not really teach one
anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes
something.  And everybody is predestined to his
presence.  Once at least in his life each man walks with
Christ to Emmaus.


As regards the other subject, the Relation of the Artistic
Life to Conduct, it will no doubt seem strange to you that I
should select it.  People point to Reading Gaol and say,
‘That is where the artistic life leads a man.’ 
Well, it might lead to worse places.  The more mechanical
people to whom life is a shrewd speculation depending on a
careful calculation of ways and means, always know where they are
going, and go there.  They start with the ideal desire of
being the parish beadle, and in whatever sphere they are placed
they succeed in being the parish beadle and no more.  A man
whose desire is to be something separate from himself, to be a
member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or a prominent
solicitor, or a judge, or something equally tedious, invariably
succeeds in being what he wants to be.  That is his
punishment.  Those who want a mask have to wear it.


But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those
dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different.  People
whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they
are going.  They can’t know.  In one sense of the
word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know
oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge.  But to
recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate
achievement of wisdom.  The final mystery is oneself. 
When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the
steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star,
there still remains oneself.  Who can calculate the orbit of
his own soul?  When the son went out to look for his
father’s asses, he did not know that a man of God was
waiting for him with the very chrism of coronation, and that his
own soul was already the soul of a king.


I hope to live long enough and to produce work of such a
character that I shall be able at the end of my days to say,
‘Yes! this is just where the artistic life leads a
man!’  Two of the most perfect lives I have come
across in my own experience are the lives of Verlaine and of
Prince Kropotkin: both of them men who have passed years in
prison: the first, the one Christian poet since Dante; the other,
a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems
coming out of Russia.  And for the last seven or eight
months, in spite of a succession of great troubles reaching me
from the outside world almost without intermission, I have been
placed in direct contact with a new spirit working in this prison
through man and things, that has helped me beyond any possibility
of expression in words: so that while for the first year of my
imprisonment I did nothing else, and can remember doing nothing
else, but wring my hands in impotent despair, and say,
‘What an ending, what an appalling ending!’ now I try
to say to myself, and sometimes when I am not torturing myself do
really and sincerely say, ‘What a beginning, what a
wonderful beginning!’  It may really be so.  It
may become so.  If it does I shall owe much to this new
personality that has altered every man’s life in this
place.


You may realise it when I say that had I been released last
May, as I tried to be, I would have left this place loathing it
and every official in it with a bitterness of hatred that would
have poisoned my life.  I have had a year longer of
imprisonment, but humanity has been in the prison along with us
all, and now when I go out I shall always remember great
kindnesses that I have received here from almost everybody, and
on the day of my release I shall give many thanks to many people,
and ask to be remembered by them in turn.


The prison style is absolutely and entirely wrong.  I
would give anything to be able to alter it when I go out.  I
intend to try.  But there is nothing in the world so wrong
but that the spirit of humanity, which is the spirit of love, the
spirit of the Christ who is not in churches, may make it, if not
right, at least possible to be borne without too much bitterness
of heart.


I know also that much is waiting for me outside that is very
delightful, from what St. Francis of Assisi calls ‘my
brother the wind, and my sister the rain,’ lovely things
both of them, down to the shop-windows and sunsets of great
cities.  If I made a list of all that still remains to me, I
don’t know where I should stop: for, indeed, God made the
world just as much for me as for any one else.  Perhaps I
may go out with something that I had not got before.  I need
not tell you that to me reformations in morals are as meaningless
and vulgar as Reformations in theology.  But while to
propose to be a better man is a piece of unscientific cant, to
have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have
suffered.  And such I think I have become.


If after I am free a friend of mine gave a feast, and did not
invite me to it, I should not mind a bit.  I can be
perfectly happy by myself.  With freedom, flowers, books,
and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?  Besides,
feasts are not for me any more.  I have given too many to
care about them.  That side of life is over for me, very
fortunately, I dare say.  But if after I am free a friend of
mine had a sorrow and refused to allow me to share it, I should
feel it most bitterly.  If he shut the doors of the house of
mourning against me, I would come back again and again and beg to
be admitted, so that I might share in what I was entitled to
share in.  If he thought me unworthy, unfit to weep with
him, I should feel it as the most poignant humiliation, as the
most terrible mode in which disgrace could be inflicted on
me.  But that could not be.  I have a right to share in
sorrow, and he who can look at the loveliness of the world and
share its sorrow, and realise something of the wonder of both, is
in immediate contact with divine things, and has got as near to
God’s secret as any one can get.


Perhaps there may come into my art also, no less than into my
life, a still deeper note, one of greater unity of passion, and
directness of impulse.  Not width but intensity is the true
aim of modern art.  We are no longer in art concerned with
the type.  It is with the exception that we have to
do.  I cannot put my sufferings into any form they took, I
need hardly say.  Art only begins where Imitation ends, but
something must come into my work, of fuller memory of words
perhaps, of richer cadences, of more curious effects, of simpler
architectural order, of some aesthetic quality at any rate.


When Marsyas was ‘torn from the scabbard of his
limbs’—della vagina della membre sue, to use
one of Dante’s most terrible Tacitean phrases—he had
no more song, the Greek said.  Apollo had been victor. 
The lyre had vanquished the reed.  But perhaps the Greeks
were mistaken.  I hear in much modern Art the cry of
Marsyas.  It is bitter in Baudelaire, sweet and plaintive in
Lamartine, mystic in Verlaine.  It is in the deferred
resolutions of Chopin’s music.  It is in the
discontent that haunts Burne-Jones’s women.  Even
Matthew Arnold, whose song of Callicles tells of ‘the
triumph of the sweet persuasive lyre,’ and the
‘famous final victory,’ in such a clear note of
lyrical beauty, has not a little of it; in the troubled undertone
of doubt and distress that haunts his verses, neither Goethe nor
Wordsworth could help him, though he followed each in turn, and
when he seeks to mourn for Thyrsis or to sing of the
Scholar Gipsy, it is the reed that he has to take for the
rendering of his strain.  But whether or not the Phrygian
Faun was silent, I cannot be.  Expression is as necessary to
me as leaf and blossoms are to the black branches of the trees
that show themselves above the prison walls and are so restless
in the wind.  Between my art and the world there is now a
wide gulf, but between art and myself there is none.  I hope
at least that there is none.


To each of us different fates are meted out.  My lot has
been one of public infamy, of long imprisonment, of misery, of
ruin, of disgrace, but I am not worthy of it—not yet, at
any rate.  I remember that I used to say that I thought I
could bear a real tragedy if it came to me with purple pall and a
mask of noble sorrow, but that the dreadful thing about modernity
was that it put tragedy into the raiment of comedy, so that the
great realities seemed commonplace or grotesque or lacking in
style.  It is quite true about modernity.  It has
probably always been true about actual life.  It is said
that all martyrdoms seemed mean to the looker on.  The
nineteenth century is no exception to the rule.


Everything about my tragedy has been hideous, mean, repellent,
lacking in style; our very dress makes us grotesque.  We are
the zanies of sorrow.  We are clowns whose hearts are
broken.  We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of
humour.  On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here
from London.  From two o’clock till half-past two on
that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham
Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look
at.  I had been taken out of the hospital ward without a
moment’s notice being given to me.  Of all possible
objects I was the most grotesque.  When people saw me they
laughed.  Each train as it came up swelled the
audience.  Nothing could exceed their amusement.  That
was, of course, before they knew who I was.  As soon as they
had been informed they laughed still more.  For half an hour
I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering
mob.


For a year after that was done to me I wept every day at the
same hour and for the same space of time.  That is not such
a tragic thing as possibly it sounds to you.  To those who
are in prison tears are a part of every day’s
experience.  A day in prison on which one does not weep is a
day on which one’s heart is hard, not a day on which
one’s heart is happy.


Well, now I am really beginning to feel more regret for the
people who laughed than for myself.  Of course when they saw
me I was not on my pedestal, I was in the pillory.  But it
is a very unimaginative nature that only cares for people on
their pedestals.  A pedestal may be a very unreal
thing.  A pillory is a terrific reality.  They should
have known also how to interpret sorrow better.  I have said
that behind sorrow there is always sorrow.  It were wiser
still to say that behind sorrow there is always a soul.  And
to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing.  In the
strangely simple economy of the world people only get what they
give, and to those who have not enough imagination to penetrate
the mere outward of things, and feel pity, what pity can be given
save that of scorn?


I write this account of the mode of my being transferred here
simply that it should be realised how hard it has been for me to
get anything out of my punishment but bitterness and
despair.  I have, however, to do it, and now and then I have
moments of submission and acceptance.  All the spring may be
hidden in the single bud, and the low ground nest of the lark may
hold the joy that is to herald the feet of many rose-red
dawns.  So perhaps whatever beauty of life still remains to
me is contained in some moment of surrender, abasement, and
humiliation.  I can, at any rate, merely proceed on the
lines of my own development, and, accepting all that has happened
to me, make myself worthy of it.


People used to say of me that I was too individualistic. 
I must be far more of an individualist than ever I was.  I
must get far more out of myself than ever I got, and ask far less
of the world than ever I asked.  Indeed, my ruin came not
from too great individualism of life, but from too little. 
The one disgraceful, unpardonable, and to all time contemptible
action of my life was to allow myself to appeal to society for
help and protection.  To have made such an appeal would have
been from the individualist point of view bad enough, but what
excuse can there ever be put forward for having made it?  Of
course once I had put into motion the forces of society, society
turned on me and said, ‘Have you been living all this time
in defiance of my laws, and do you now appeal to those laws for
protection?  You shall have those laws exercised to the
full.  You shall abide by what you have appealed
to.’  The result is I am in gaol.  Certainly no
man ever fell so ignobly, and by such ignoble instruments, as I
did.


The Philistine element in life is not the failure to
understand art.  Charming people, such as fishermen,
shepherds, ploughboys, peasants and the like, know nothing about
art, and are the very salt of the earth.  He is the
Philistine who upholds and aids the heavy, cumbrous, blind,
mechanical forces of society, and who does not recognise dynamic
force when he meets it either in a man or a movement.


People thought it dreadful of me to have entertained at dinner
the evil things of life, and to have found pleasure in their
company.  But then, from the point of view through which I,
as an artist in life, approach them they were delightfully
suggestive and stimulating.  The danger was half the
excitement. . . . My business as an artist was with Ariel. 
I set myself to wrestle with Caliban. . . .


A great friend of mine—a friend of ten years’
standing—came to see me some time ago, and told me that he
did not believe a single word of what was said against me, and
wished me to know that he considered me quite innocent, and the
victim of a hideous plot.  I burst into tears at what he
said, and told him that while there was much amongst the definite
charges that was quite untrue and transferred to me by revolting
malice, still that my life had been full of perverse pleasures,
and that unless he accepted that as a fact about me and realised
it to the full I could not possibly be friends with him any more,
or ever be in his company.  It was a terrible shock to him,
but we are friends, and I have not got his friendship on false
pretences.


Emotional forces, as I say somewhere in Intentions, are
as limited in extent and duration as the forces of physical
energy.  The little cup that is made to hold so much can
hold so much and no more, though all the purple vats of Burgundy
be filled with wine to the brim, and the treaders stand knee-deep
in the gathered grapes of the stony vineyards of Spain. 
There is no error more common than that of thinking that those
who are the causes or occasions of great tragedies share in the
feelings suitable to the tragic mood: no error more fatal than
expecting it of them.  The martyr in his ‘shirt of
flame’ may be looking on the face of God, but to him who is
piling the faggots or loosening the logs for the blast the whole
scene is no more than the slaying of an ox is to the butcher, or
the felling of a tree to the charcoal burner in the forest, or
the fall of a flower to one who is mowing down the grass with a
scythe.  Great passions are for the great of soul, and great
events can be seen only by those who are on a level with
them.


* * * * *


I know of nothing in all drama more incomparable from the
point of view of art, nothing more suggestive in its subtlety of
observation, than Shakespeare’s drawing of Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern.  They are Hamlet’s college
friends.  They have been his companions.  They bring
with them memories of pleasant days together.  At the moment
when they come across him in the play he is staggering under the
weight of a burden intolerable to one of his temperament. 
The dead have come armed out of the grave to impose on him a
mission at once too great and too mean for him.  He is a
dreamer, and he is called upon to act.  He has the nature of
the poet, and he is asked to grapple with the common complexity
of cause and effect, with life in its practical realisation, of
which he knows nothing, not with life in its ideal essence, of
which he knows so much.  He has no conception of what to do,
and his folly is to feign folly.  Brutus used madness as a
cloak to conceal the sword of his purpose, the dagger of his
will, but the Hamlet madness is a mere mask for the hiding of
weakness.  In the making of fancies and jests he sees a
chance of delay.  He keeps playing with action as an artist
plays with a theory.  He makes himself the spy of his proper
actions, and listening to his own words knows them to be but
‘words, words, words.’  Instead of trying to be
the hero of his own history, he seeks to be the spectator of his
own tragedy.  He disbelieves in everything, including
himself, and yet his doubt helps him not, as it comes not from
scepticism but from a divided will.


Of all this Guildenstern and Rosencrantz realise
nothing.  They bow and smirk and smile, and what the one
says the other echoes with sickliest intonation.  When, at
last, by means of the play within the play, and the puppets in
their dalliance, Hamlet ‘catches the conscience’ of
the King, and drives the wretched man in terror from his throne,
Guildenstern and Rosencrantz see no more in his conduct than a
rather painful breach of Court etiquette.  That is as far as
they can attain to in ‘the contemplation of the spectacle
of life with appropriate emotions.’  They are close to
his very secret and know nothing of it.  Nor would there be
any use in telling them.  They are the little cups that can
hold so much and no more.  Towards the close it is suggested
that, caught in a cunning spring set for another, they have met,
or may meet, with a violent and sudden death.  But a tragic
ending of this kind, though touched by Hamlet’s humour with
something of the surprise and justice of comedy, is really not
for such as they.  They never die.  Horatio, who in
order to ‘report Hamlet and his cause aright to the
unsatisfied,’


‘Absents him from felicity a while,

And in this harsh world draws his breath in pain,’



dies, but Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are as immortal as
Angelo and Tartuffe, and should rank with them.  They are
what modern life has contributed to the antique ideal of
friendship.  He who writes a new De Amicitia must
find a niche for them, and praise them in Tusculan prose. 
They are types fixed for all time.  To censure them would
show ‘a lack of appreciation.’  They are merely
out of their sphere: that is all.  In sublimity of soul
there is no contagion.  High thoughts and high emotions are
by their very existence isolated.


* * * * *


I am to be released, if all goes well with me, towards the end
of May, and hope to go at once to some little sea-side village
abroad with R--- and M---.


The sea, as Euripides says in one of his plays about
Iphigeneia, washes away the stains and wounds of the world.


I hope to be at least a month with my friends, and to gain
peace and balance, and a less troubled heart, and a sweeter
mood.  I have a strange longing for the great simple
primeval things, such as the sea, to me no less of a mother than
the Earth.  It seems to me that we all look at Nature too
much, and live with her too little.  I discern great sanity
in the Greek attitude.  They never chattered about sunsets,
or discussed whether the shadows on the grass were really mauve
or not.  But they saw that the sea was for the swimmer, and
the sand for the feet of the runner.  They loved the trees
for the shadow that they cast, and the forest for its silence at
noon.  The vineyard-dresser wreathed his hair with ivy that
he might keep off the rays of the sun as he stooped over the
young shoots, and for the artist and the athlete, the two types
that Greece gave us, they plaited with garlands the leaves of the
bitter laurel and of the wild parsley, which else had been of no
service to men.


We call ours a utilitarian age, and we do not know the uses of
any single thing.  We have forgotten that water can cleanse,
and fire purify, and that the Earth is mother to us all.  As
a consequence our art is of the moon and plays with shadows,
while Greek art is of the sun and deals directly with
things.  I feel sure that in elemental forces there is
purification, and I want to go back to them and live in their
presence.


Of course to one so modern as I am, ‘Enfant de mon
siècle,’ merely to look at the world will be always
lovely.  I tremble with pleasure when I think that on the
very day of my leaving prison both the laburnum and the lilac
will be blooming in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind
stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of the one, and make
the other toss the pale purple of its plumes, so that all the air
shall be Arabia for me.  Linnaeus fell on his knees and wept
for joy when he saw for the first time the long heath of some
English upland made yellow with the tawny aromatic brooms of the
common furze; and I know that for me, to whom flowers are part of
desire, there are tears waiting in the petals of some rose. 
It has always been so with me from my boyhood.  There is not
a single colour hidden away in the chalice of a flower, or the
curve of a shell, to which, by some subtle sympathy with the very
soul of things, my nature does not answer.  Like Gautier, I
have always been one of those ‘pour qui le monde visible
existe.’


Still, I am conscious now that behind all this beauty,
satisfying though it may be, there is some spirit hidden of which
the painted forms and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and
it is with this spirit that I desire to become in harmony. 
I have grown tired of the articulate utterances of men and
things.  The Mystical in Art, the Mystical in Life, the
Mystical in Nature this is what I am looking for.  It is
absolutely necessary for me to find it somewhere.


All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all
sentences are sentences of death; and three times have I been
tried.  The first time I left the box to be arrested, the
second time to be led back to the house of detention, the third
time to pass into a prison for two years.  Society, as we
have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to
offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just
alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret
valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed.  She will
hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the
darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints
so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in
great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.

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