My Life and Loves/Preface
|My Life and Loves by
Here in the blazing heat of an American August, amid the hurry and scurry of New York, I sit down to write my final declaration of Faith, as a preface or foreword to the Story of my Life. Ultimately it will be read in the spirit in which it has been written and I ask no better fortune. My journalism during the war and after the Armistice brought me prosecutions from the Federal Government. The authorities at Washington accused me of sedition and though the third Postmaster General, Ex-Governor Dockery, of Missouri who was chosen by the Department as the Judge, proclaimed my innocence and assured me I should not be prosecuted again, my magazine (Pearson's) was time and again held up in the post, and its circulation reduced thereby to one-third. I was brought to ruin by the illegal persecution of President Wilson and his Arch-Assistant Burleson, and was laughed at when I asked for compensation. The American Government, it appears, is too poor to pay for its dishonorable blunders.
I record the shameful fact for the benefit of those Rebels and Lovers of the Ideal who will surely find themselves in a similar plight in future emergencies. For myself I do not complain. On the whole I have received better treatment in life than the average man and more loving kindness than I perhaps deserved. I make no plaint.
If America had not reduced me to penury I should probably not have written this book as boldly as the ideal demanded. At the last push of Fate (I am much nearer seventy than sixty) we are all apt to sacrifice something of Truth for the sake of kindly recognition by our fellows and a peaceful ending. "Being that u wicked animal", as the French say, "who defends himself when he is attacked" I turn at length to bay, without any malice, I hope, but also without any fear such as might prompt compromise. I have always fought for the Holy Spirit of Truth and have been, as Heine said he was, a brave soldier in the Liberation War of Humanity: now one fight more, the best and the last.
There are two main traditions of English writing: the one of perfect liberty, that of Chaucer and Shakespeare, completely outspoken, with a certain liking for lascivious details and witty smut, a man's speech: the other emasculated more and more by Puritanism and since the French Revolution, gelded to tamest propriety; for that upheaval brought the illiterate middle-class to power and insured the domination of girl-readers. Under Victoria, English prose literature became half childish, as in stories of "Little Mary", or at best provincial, as anyone may see who cares to compare the influence of Dickens, Thackeray and Reade in the world with the influence of Balzac, Flaubert and Zola.
Foreign masterpieces such as "Les Coxites Drolatiques" and "L'Assommoir" were destroyed in London as obscene by a magistrate's order; even the Bible and Shakespeare were expurgated and all books dolled up to the prim decorum of the English Sunday school. And America with unbecoming humility worsened the disgraceful, brainless example.
All my life, I have rebelled against this old maid's canon of deportment, and my revolt has grown st longer with advancing years.
In the "Foreword" to "The Man Shakespeare" I tried to show how the Puritanism that had gone out of our morals had gone into the language, enfeebling English thought and impoverishing English speech.
At long last I am going back to the old English tradition. I am determined to tell the truth about my pilgrimage through this world, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, about myself and others, and I shall try to be at least as kindly to others as to myself.
Bernard Shaw assures me that no one is good enough or bad enough to tell the naked truth about himself; but I am beyond good and evil in this respect.
French literature is there to give the cue and inspiration: it is the freest of all in discussing matters of sex and chiefly by reason of its constant preoccupation with all that pertains to passion and desire, it has become the world literature to men of all races.
"Women and Love", Edmond de Goncourt writes in his journal, "always constitute the subject of conversation wherever there is a meeting of intellectual people socially brought together by eating and drinking. Our talk at dinner was at first smutty (polisonne) and Tourgueneff listened to us with the open-mouthed wonder (l'etonnement un peu meduse) of a barbarian who only makes love (fait l'amour) very naturally (tres naturellement)".
Whoever reads this passage carefully will understand the freedom I intend to use. But I shall not be tied down even to French conventions. Just as in painting, our knowledge of what the Chinese and Japanese have done, has altered our whole conception of the art, so the Hindoos and Burmese too have extended our understanding of the art of love. I remember going with Rodin through the British Museum and being surprised at the time he spent over the little idols and figures of the South Sea Islanders: "Some of them are trivial", he said, "but look at that, and that, and that — sheer masterpieces that anyone might be proud of — lovely things!"
Art has become coextensive with humanity, and some of my experiences with so-called savages may be of interest even to the most cultured Europeans.
I intend to tell what life has taught me, and if I begin at the A. B. C. of love, it is because I was brought up in Britain and the United States; I shall not stop there.
Of course I know the publication of such a book will at once justify the worst that my enemies have said about me. For forty years now I have championed nearly all the unpopular causes, and have thus made many enemies; now they will all be able to gratify their malice while taking credit for prevision. In itself the book is sure to disgust the "unco guid" and the mediocrities of every kind who have always been unfriendly to me. I have no doubt too, that many sincere lovers of literature who would be willing to accept such license as ordinary French writers use, will condemn me for going beyond this limit. Yet there are many reasons why I should use perfect freedom in this last book.
First of all, I made hideous blunders early in life and saw worse blunders made by other youths, out of sheer ignorance: I want to warn the young and impressionable against the shoals and hidden reefs of life's ocean and chart, so to speak, at the very beginning of the voyage when the danger is greatest, the 'unpath'd waters'.
On the other hand I have missed indescribable pleasures because the power to enjoy and to give delight is keenest early in life, while the understanding both of how to give and how to receive pleasure comes much later, when the faculties are already on the decline.
I used to illustrate the absurdity of our present system of educating the young by a quaint simile "When training me to shoot", I said, "my earthly father gave me a little single-barrelled gun, and when he saw that I had learned the mechanism and could be trusted, he gave me a double-barrelled shot-gun. After some years I came into possession of a magazine gun which could shoot half a dozen times if necessary without reloading, my efficiency increasing with my knowledge.
My Creator, or Heavenly Father, on the other hand, when I was wholly without experience and had only just entered my teens, gave me, so to speak, a magazine gun of sex, and hardly had I learned its use and enjoyment when he took it away from me forever. and gave me in its place a double-barrelled gun: after a few years, he took that away and gave me a single-barrelled gun with which I was forced to content myself for the best part of my life.
Towards the end the old single-barrel began to show signs of wear and age: sometimes it would go off too soon, sometimes it missed fire and shamed me, do what I would.
I want to teach youths how to use their magazine gun of sex so that it may last for years, and when they come to the double-barrel, how to take such care that the good weapon will do them liege service right into their fifties, and the single-barrel will then give them pleasure up to three score years and ten.
Moreover, not only do I desire in this way to increase the sum of happiness in the world while decreasing the pains and disabilities of men, but I wish also to set an example and encourage other writers to continue the work that I am sure is beneficent, as well as enjoyable.
W. L. George in "A Novelist on Novels" writes: "If a novelist Avere to develop his characters evenly the three hundred page novel might extend to five hundred, the additional two hundred pages would be made up entirely of the sex preoccupations of the characters. There would be as many scenes in the bedroom as in the drawing-room, probably more, as more time is passed in the sleeping apartment. The additional two hundred pages would offer pictures of the sex side of the characters and would compel them to become alive: at present they often fail to come to life because they only develop, say five sides out of six . . . Our literary characters are lop-sided because their ordinary traits are fully portrayed while their sex-life is cloaked, minimized or left out . . . Therefore the characters in modern novels are all false. They are megalocephalous and emasculate. English women speak a great deal about sex .... It is a cruel position for the English novel. The novelist may discuss any-thing but the main preoccupation of life. ... we are compelled to pad out with murder, theft and arson which as everybody knows, are perfectly moral things to write about."
Pure is the snow — till mixed with mire — But never half so pure as fire.
There are graver reasons than any I have yet given why the truth should be told boldly. The time has come when those who are, as Shakespeare called them, "God's Spies" having learned the mystery of things, should be called to counsel, for the ordinary political guides have led mankind to disaster: blind leaders of the blind!
Over Niagara we have plunged, as Carlyle predicted, and as every one with vision must have foreseen and now like driftwood we move round and round the whirlpool impotently without knowing whither or why.
One thing certain: we deserve the misery into which we have fallen. The laws of this world are inexorable and don't cheat! Where, when, how have we gone astray? The malady is as wide as civilization which fortunately narrows the enquiry to time.
Ever since our conquest of natural forces began, towards the end of the eighteenth century, and material wealth increased by leaps and bounds, our conduct has deteriorated. Up to that time we had done the gospel of Christ mouth-honor at least; and had to some slight extent shown consideration if not love to our fellowmen: we did not give tithes to charity; but we did give petty doles till suddenly science appeared to reinforce our selfishness with a new message: progress comes through the blotting out of the unfit, we were told, and self-assertion was preached as a duty: the idea of the Superman came into life and the Will to Power and thereby Christ's teaching of love and pity and gentleness was thrust into the background. At once we men gave ourselves over to wrong doing and our iniquity took monstrous forms.
The creed we professed and the creed we practised were poles apart. Never I believe in the world's history was there such confusion in man's thought about conduct, never were there so many different ideals put forward for his guidance. It is imperatively necessary for us to bring clearness into this muddle and see why we have gone wrong and where.
For the world-war is only the last of a series of diabolical acts which have shocked the conscience of humanity. The greatest crimes in recorded time have been committed during the last half century almost without protest by the most civilised nations, nations that still call themselves Christian. Whoever has watched human affairs in the last half century must acknowledge that our progress has been steadily hell-ward.
The hideous massacres and mutilations of tens of thousands of women and children in the Congo Free State without protest on the part of Great Britain who could have stopped it all with one word, is surely due to the same spirit that directed the abominable blockade (continued by both England and America long after the Armistice) which condemned hundreds and thousands of women and children of our own kith and kin to death by starvation. The unspeakable meanness and confessed fraud of the Peace of Versailles with its tragic consequences from Vladivostock to London and finally the shameless, dastardly war waged by all the Allies and by America on Russia, for money, show us that Ave have been assisting at the overthrow of morality itself and returning to the ethics of the wolf and the polity of the Thieves' Kitchen.
And our public acts as nations are paralleled by our treatment of our fellows within the community. For the small minority the pleasures of living have been increased in the most extraordinary way while the pains and sorrows of existence have been greatly mitigated, but the vast majority even of civilised peoples have hardly been admitted to any share in the benefits of our astounding material progress. The slums of our cities show the same spirit we have displayed in our treatment of the weaker races. It is no secret that over fifty per cent of English volunteers in the war were below the pigmy physical standard required and about one half of our American soldiers were morons with the intelligence of children under twelve years of age: "vae victis" has been our motto with the most appalling results. Clearly we have come to the end of a period and must take thought about the future.
The religion that directed or was supposed to direct our conduct for nineteen centuries has been finally discarded. Even the divine spirit of Jesus was thrown aside by Nietzsche as one throws the hatchet after the helve or to use the better German simile, the child was thrown out with the bath-water. The silly sex-morality of Paul has brought discredit upon the whole Gospel. Paul was impotent, boasted indeed that he had no sexual desires, wished that all men were even as he was in this respect, just as the fox in the fable who had lost his tail, wished that all other foxes should be mutilated in the same way in order to attain his perfection.
I often say that the Christian churches were offered two things: the spirit of Jesus and the idiotic morality of Paul, and they all rejected the highest inspiration and took to their hearts the incredibly base and stupid prohibition. Following Paul we have turned the Goddess of Love into a fiend and degraded the crowning impulse of our Being into a capital sin; yet everything high and ennobling in our nature springs directly out of the sexual instinct.
Grant Allan says rightly: "Its alliance is wholly with whatever is purest and most beautiful within us. To it we owe our love of bright colours, graceful form, melodious sound, rhythmic motion. To it we owe the evolution of music, of poetry, of romance, of belles lettres, of painting, of sculpture, of decorative art, of dramatic entertainment. To it we owe the entire existence of our aesthetic sense which in the last resort is a secondary sex-attribute. From it springs the love of beauty, around it all beautiful arts circle as their centre. Its subtle aroma pervades all literature. And to it we owe the paternal, maternal and marital relations, the growth of the affections, the love of little pattering feet and baby laughter." And this scientific statement is incomplete: not only is the sexual instinct the inspiring force of all art and literature; it is also our chief teacher of gentleness and tenderness, making loving kindness an ideal and so warring against cruelty and harshness and that misjudging of our fellows which we men call justice. To my mind, cruelty is the one diabolic sin which must be wiped out of life and made impossible.
Paul's condemnation of the body and its desires is in direct contradiction to the gentle teaching of Jesus and is in itself idiotic. I reject Paulism as passionately as I accept the gospel of Christ. In regard to the body I go back to the Pagan ideals, to Eros and Aphrodite and the fair humanities of old religions.
Paul and the Christian churches have dirtied desire, degraded women, debased procreation, vulgarized and vilified the best instinct in us.
"Priests in black gowns are going their rounds, And binding with briars, my joys and desires."
And the worst of it all is that the highest function of man has been degraded by foul words so that it is almost impossible to write the body's hymn of joy as it should be written. The poets have been almost as guilty in this respect as the priests: Aristophanes and Rabelais are ribald, dirty: Boccaccio cynical while Ovid leers cold-bloodedly and Zola like Chaucer finds it difficult to suit language to his desires. Walt Whitman is better though often merely commonplace. The Bible is the best of all; but not frank enough even in the noble Song of Solomon which now and then by sheer imagination manages to convey the ineffable!
We are beginning to reject Puritanism and its unspeakable, brainless pruderies; but Catholicism is just as bad. Go to the Vatican Gallery and the great Church of St. Peter in Rome and you will find the fairest figures of ancient art clothed in painted tin, as if the most essential organs of the body were disgusting and had to be concealed.
I say the body is beautiful and must be lifted and dignified by our reverence: I love the body more than any Pagan of them all and I love the soul and her aspirations as well; for me the body and the soul are alike beautiful, all dedicate to Love and her worship.
I have no divided allegiance and what I preach today amid the scorn and hatred of men will be universally accepted to-morrow; for in my vision, too, a thousand years are as one day.
We must unite the soul of Paganism, the love of beauty and art and literature with the soul of Christianity and its human loving-kindness in a new synthesis which shall include all the sweet and gentle and noble impulses in us.
What we all need is more of the spirit of Jesus: we must learn at length with Shakespeare: "Pardon's the word for all!"
I want to set this Pagan-Christian ideal before men as the highest and most human too.
Now one word to my own people and their peculiar shortcomings. Anglo-Saxon domineering combativeness is the greatest danger to Humanity in the world today. Americans are proud of having blotted out the red Indian and stolen his possessions and of burning and torturing negroes in the sacred name of equality. At all costs we must get rid of our hypocrisies and falsehoods and see ourselves as we are — a domineering race, vengeful and brutal, as exemplified in Haiti; we must study the inevitable effects of our soulless, brainless selfishness as shown in the world-war.
The Germanic ideal which is also the English and American ideal, of the conquering male that despises all weaker and less intelligent races and is eager to enslave or annihilate them, must be set aside. A hundred years ago, there were only fifteen millions of English and American folk; today there are nearly two hundred millions and it is plain that in another century or so, they will be the most numerous, as they are already by far the most powerful, race on earth.
The most numerous folk hitherto, the Chinese, has set a good example by remaining within its own boundaries, but these conquering, colonizing Anglo- Saxons threaten to overrun the earth and destroy all other varieties of the species man. Even now we annihilate the Red Indian because he is not subservient, while we are content to degrade the negro who doesn't threaten our domination.
Is it wise to desire only one flower in this garden of a world? Is it wise to blot out the better varieties while preserving the inferior?
And the Anglo-Saxon ideal for the individual is even baser and more inept. Intent on satisfying his own conquering lust, he has compelled the female of the species to an unnatural chastity of thought and deed and word. He has thus made of his wife a meek, upper-servant or slave(die Hausfrau), who has hardly any intellectual interests and whose spiritual being only finds a narrow outlet in her mother-instincts. The daughter he has labored to degrade into the strangest sort of two-legged tame fowl ever imagined: she must seek a mate while concealing or denying all her strongest sex-feelings: in fine, she should be as cold-blooded as a frog and as wily and ruthless as an Apache on the war-path.
The ideal he has set before himself is confused and confusing: really he desires to be healthy and strong while gratifying all his sexual appetites. The highest type, however, the English gentleman, has pretty constantly in mind the individualistic ideal of what he calls an "all-round man", a man whose body and mind is harmoniously developed and brought to a comparatively high state of efficiency.
He has no inkling of the supreme truth that every man and woman possesses some small facet of the soul which reflects life in a peculiar way or, to use the language of religion, sees God as no other soul born into the world, can ever see Him.
It is the first duty of every individual to develop all his faculties of body, mind and spirit as completely and harmoniously as possible; but it is a still higher duty for each of us to develop our special faculty to the uttermost consistent with health; for only by so doing shall we attain to the highest self-consciousness or be able to repay our debt to humanity. No Anglo-Saxon, so far as I know, has ever advocated this ideal or dreamed of regarding it as a duty. In fact, no teacher so far has even thought of helping men and women to find out the particular power which constitutes their essence and inbeing and justifies their existence. And so nine men and women out of ten go through life without realising their own special nature: they cannot lose their souls for they have never found them.
For every son of Adam, for every daughter of Eve, this is the supreme defeat, the final disaster. Yet no one, so far as I know, has ever warned of the danger or spoken of this ideal.
That's why I love this book in spite of all its shortcomings and all its faults: it is the first book ever written to glorify the body and its passionate desires and the soul as well and its sacred, climbing sympathies.
Give and forgive, I always say, is the supreme lesson of life.
I only wish I had begun the book five years ago, before I had been half drowned in the brackish flood of old age and become conscious of failing memory; but notwithstanding this handicap, I have tried to write the book I have always wanted to read, the first chapter in the Bible of Humanity. And so I front this foreword with the lovely figure of Venus Queen, and I close it with the face of Christ as seen by Rubens when He forgave the adulterous woman.
Hearken to good counsel: "Live out your whole free life, while yet on earth, Seize the quick Present, prize your one sure boon: Though brief, each day a golden sun has birth; Though dim, the night is gemmed with stars and moon."