Early Cultural Writings
(1890 — 1910)
Part One. The Harmony of Virtue
The Harmony of Virtue
Keshav Ganesh — Broome Wilson
Keshav — My dear Broome, how opportune is your arrival! You will save me from the malady of work, it may be, from the dangerous opium of solitude. How is it I have not seen you for the last fortnight?
Wilson — Surely, Keshav, you can understand the exigencies of the Tripos?
Keshav — Ah, you are a happy man. You can do what you are told. But put off your academical aspirations until tomorrow and we will talk. The cigarettes are on the mantelpiece — pardon my indolence!1 — and the lucifers are probably stowed2 on the fruit-shelf. And here is coffee and a choice between cake and biscuits. Are you perfectly happy?
Wilson — In Elysium. But do not let the cigarettes run dry; the alliance of a warm fire and luxurious cushions will be too strong for my vigilance. Do you mean to tell me you can work here?
Keshav — Life is too precious to be wasted in labour, and above all this especial moment of life, the hour after dinner, when we have only just enough energy to be idle. Why, it is only for this I tolerate the wearisome activity of the previous twelve hours.
Wilson — You are a living paradox. Is it not just like you to pervert indolence into the aim of life?
Keshav — Why, what other aim can there be?
Wilson — Duty, I presume.
Keshav — I cannot consent to cherish an opinion until I realise the meaning of duty.
Wilson — I suppose I have pledged myself to an evening of metaphysics. We do our duty when we do what we ought to do.
Keshav — A very lucid explanation; but how do we know that we are doing what we ought to do?
Wilson — Why, we must do what society requires of us.
Keshav — And must we do that, even when society requires something dissonant with our nature or repugnant to our convictions?
Wilson — I conceive so.
Keshav — And if society requires us to sacrifice our children or to compel a widow to burn herself we are bound to comply?
Wilson — No; we should only do what is just and good.
Keshav — Then the fiat of society is not valid; duty really depends on something quite different.
Wilson — It appears so.
Keshav — Then what is your idea of that something quite different on which duty depends?
Wilson — Would it be wrong to select morality?
Keshav — Let us inquire. But before that is possible, let me know what morality is or I shall not know my own meaning.
Wilson — Morality is the conduct our ethical principles require of us.
Keshav — Take me with you. This ethical principle is then personal, not universal?
Wilson — I think so. For different localities different ethics. I am not a bigot to claim infallibility for my own country.
Keshav — So we must act in harmony with the code of ethics received as ideal by the society we move in?
Wilson — I suppose it comes to that.
Keshav — But, my dear Broome, does not that bring us back to your previous theory that we should do what society requires of us?
Wilson — I am painfully afraid it does.
Keshav — And we are agreed that this is not3 an accurate plumbline?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — You see the consequence?
Wilson — I see I must change my ground and say that we must do what our personal sense of the right and just requires of us.
Keshav — For example if my personal sense of the right and just, tells me that to lie is meritorious, it is4 my duty to lie to the best of my ability.
Wilson — But no one could possibly think that.
Keshav — I think that the soul of Ithacan Ulysses has not yet completed the cycle of his transmigrations, nor would I wrong the author of the Hippias5 by ignoring his conclusions. Or why go to dead men for an example? The mould has not fallen on the musical lips of the Irish Plato nor is Dorian Gray forgotten on6 the hundred tongues of Rumour.
Wilson — If our sense of right is really so prone to error, we should not rely upon it.
Keshav — Then, to quote Mrs. Mountstuart, you have just succeeded in telling me nothing. Duty is not based on our personal sense of the right and just.
Wilson — I allow it is not.
Keshav — But surely there is some species of touchstone by which we can discern between the false and the true?
Wilson — If there is I cannot discover it.
Keshav — Ah, but do try again. There is luck in odd numbers.
Wilson — The only other touchstone I can imagine is religion; and now I come to think of it, religion is an infallible touchstone.
Keshav — I am glad you think so; for all I know at present you are very probably right. But have you any reason for your conviction?
Wilson — A code of morality built upon religion has no commerce with the demands of society or our personal sense of the right and just, but is the very law of God.
Keshav — I will not at present deny the reality of a personal God endowed with passions and prejudices; that is not indispensable to our argument. But are there not many religions and have they not all their peculiar schemes of morality?
Wilson — No doubt, but some are more excellent than others.
Keshav — And do you cherish the opinion that your own peculiar creed — I believe it to be Christianity without Christ — is indubitably the most excellent of all religions?7
Wilson — By far the most excellent.
Keshav — And your own ethical scheme, again the Christian without the emotional element, the best of all ethical schemes?
Wilson — I have no doubt of it.
Keshav — And they are many who dissent from you, are there8 not?
Wilson — Oh without doubt.
Keshav — And you would impose your ethical scheme on them?
Wilson — No; but I imagine it to be the goal whither all humanity is tending.
Keshav — That is a very different question. Do you think that when a man’s life is in harmony with his own creed, but not with yours, he is therefore not virtuous, or in your own phrase, deviates from his duty?
Wilson — God forbid!
Keshav — Then you really do believe that a man does his duty when he lives in harmony with the ethical scheme patronised by his own religion, as a Mohammadan if he follows the injunctions of the Prophet, a Hindu if he obeys the Vedic Scriptures, a Christian, if his life is a long self-denial.
Wilson — That I admit.
Keshav — Then the ethical scheme of Islam is as much the very law of God, as the ethical scheme of Christianity, and the morals of Hinduism are not less divine than the morals of Islam.
Wilson — I hardly understand how you arrive at that conclusion.
Keshav — Did you not say, Broome, that religion is an infallible test of duty, because it is the very law of God?
Wilson — I still say so.
Keshav — And that everyone must adopt his own religion as the test of what he should do or not do?
Wilson — I cannot deny it.
Keshav — Then must you not either admit the reason to be invalid or that anyone’s peculiar religion, to whatever species it may belong9, is the very law of God?
Wilson — I prefer the second branch of the dilemma.
Keshav — But tho’ every religion is the very law of God, nevertheless you will often find one enjoining a practice which to another is an abomination. And can God contradict himself?
Wilson — You mistake the point. Islam, Hinduism, indeed all Scriptural religions were given, because the peoples10 professing them were not capable of receiving a11 higher light.
Keshav — Is not God omnipotent?
Wilson — A limited God is not God at all.
Keshav — Then was it not within his omnipotent power to so guide the world, that there would be no necessity for different dealings with different peoples12?
Wilson — It was within his power, but he did not choose.
Keshav — Exactly: he did not choose. He of set purpose preferred a method which he knew would bring13 him to falsehood and injustice.
Wilson — What words you use! The truth is merely that God set man to develop under certain conditions and suited his methods to those conditions.
Keshav — Oh, then God is practically a scientist making an experiment; and you demand for him reverence and obedience from the creature vivisected. Then I can only see one other explanation. Having created certain conditions he could not receive the homage of mankind without various and mutually dissentient revelations of his will.
Now imagine a physician with theosophical power who for purposes of gain so modified the climatic features of Judaea and Arabia that the same disease required two distinct methods of treatment in the one and the other. This he does wilfully and deliberately and with foreknowledge of the result. As soon as his end is assured, our physician goes to Judaea and gives the people a drug which, he tells them, is the sole remedy for their disease, but all others are the property of quacks and will eventually induce an increase14 of the malady. Five years later the same physician goes off to Arabia and here he gives them another drug of an accurately opposite nature about which he imparts the same instructions. Now if we remember that the climatic conditions which necessitated the deception, were the deliberate work of the deceiver, shall we not call that physician a liar and an impostor? Is God a liar? or an impostor?
Wilson — We must not measure the Almighty by our poor mortal standards.
Keshav — Pshaw, Broome, if the legislator overrides his own laws, how can you hope that others will observe them?
Wilson — But if God in his incomprehensible wisdom and goodness —
Keshav — Incomprehensible indeed! If there is any meaning in words, the God you have described,15 can neither be wise nor good. Will you show me the flaw in my position?
Wilson — I cannot discover it.
Keshav — Then your suspicion is born of your disgust at the conclusion to which I have forced you16.
Wilson — I am afraid it is.
Keshav — Well, shall we go on with the discussion or should I stop here?
Wilson — Certainly let us go on. I need not shy17 at a truth however disagreeable.
Keshav — First let me give you a glass of this champagne. I do not keep any of those infernal concoctions of alcohol and perdition of which you in Europe are so enamoured. Now here is the conclusion I draw from all that we have been saying: There are two positions open to you. One is that of the fanatic. You may say that you and those who believe with you are the specially chosen of God to be the receptacles of his grace and that all who have heard and rejected his gospel together with those who have not so much as imagined its possibility must share a similar fate and go into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. If that is the line you take up, my answer is that God is an unjust God and the wise will prefer the torments18 of the damned to any communion with him. The fanatic of course would be ready with his retort that the potter has a right to do what he will with his vessels. At that point I usually abandon the conversation; to tell him that a metaphor is no argument would be futile. Even if he saw it, he would reply that God’s ways are incomprehensible and therefore we should accept them without a murmur. That is a position which I have not the patience to undermine, nor if I had it, have I sufficient self-control to preserve my gravity under the ordeal.
Wilson — I at least, Keshav, am not in danger of burdening your patience. I have no wish to evade you by such a back-door as that.
Keshav — Then is it not plain to you, that you must abandon the religious basis as unsound?
Wilson — Yes, for you have convinced me that I have been talking nonsense the whole evening.
Keshav — Not at all, Broome: only you like most men have not accustomed yourself to clear and rigorous thought.
Wilson — I am afraid, logic is not sufficiently studied.
Keshav — Is it not studied too much? Logic dwindles the river of thought into a mere canal. The logician thinks so accurately that he is seldom right. No, what we want is some more of that sense which it is a mockery to call common.
Wilson — But if we were to eliminate the divine element from the balance, would not religion be a possible basis?
Keshav — No, for religious ethics would then be a mere expression of will on the part of Society. And that is open to the criticism that the commands of Society may be revolting to the right and just or inconsistent with the harmony of life.
Wilson — But supposing everyone to interpret for himself the ethics approved by his own creed?
Keshav — The Inquisitors did that. Do you consider the result justified the method?
Wilson — The Inquisitors?
Keshav — They were a class of men than whom you will19 find none more scrupulous or in their private lives20 more gentle, chivalrous and honourable, or in their public conduct more obedient to their sense of duty. They tortured the bodies of a few, that the souls of thousands might live. They did murder in the sight of the Lord and looked upon their handiwork and saw that it was good.
Wilson — My dear Keshav, surely that is extravagant.
Keshav — Why, do you imagine that they were actuated by any other motive?
Wilson — Yes, by the desire to preserve the integrity of the Church.
Keshav — And is not that the first duty of every Christian?
Wilson — Only by the permissible method of persuasion.
Keshav — That is your opinion but was it theirs? Duty is a phantasm spawned in the green morass of human weakness and ignorance, but perpetuated by vague thought and vaguer sentiment. And so long as we are imperatively told to do our21 duty, without knowing why we should do it, the vagueness of private judgment22, the cruelty of social coercion will be the sole arbiters23 and the saint will be a worse enemy of virtue than the sinner.
Will you have another cigarette?
Wilson — Thanks, I will.
But, Keshav, I am not disposed to leave the discussion with this purely negative result. Surely there is some guiding principle which should modify and harmonize our actions. Or are you favourable to an anarchy in morals?
Keshav — No, Broome. If culture and taste were universal, principle would then be a superfluous note in the world’s composition. But so long as men are crude, without tact, formless, incapable of a balanced personality, so long the banner of the ideal must be waved obtrusively before the eyes of men, and education remain a necessity, so long must the hateful phrase, a higher morality, mean something more than empty jargon of sciolists24. Yes, I think there is that guiding principle you speak of, or at least we may arrive at something like it, if we look long enough.
Wilson — Then do look for it, Keshav. I am sure you will find something original and beautiful. Come, I will be idle tonight and abandon the pursuit of knowledge to waste time in the pursuit of thought. Begin and I will follow my leader.
Keshav — Before I begin, let me remove one or two of those popular fallacies born of indolence which encumber the wings of the speculator. And first let me say, I will not talk of duty: it is a word I do not like, for it is always used in antagonism to pleasure, and brings back the noisome25 savour of the days when to do what I was told, was held out as my highest legitimate aspiration. I will use instead the word virtue, whose inherent meaning is manliness, in other words, the perfect evolution by the human being of the inborn qualities and powers native to his humanity.
Another thing I would like to avoid is the assumption that there is somewhere and somehow an ideal morality, which draws an absolute and a sharp distinction between good and evil. Thus it is easy to say that chastity is good, licence is evil. But what if someone were to protest that this is a mistake, that chastity is bad, licence is good. How are you going to refute him? If you appeal to authority, he will deny that your authority is valid; if you quote religion, he will remind you that your religion is one of a multitude; if you talk of natural perception, he will retort that natural perception cancels itself by arriving at opposite results. How will you unseat him from his position?
Wilson — Yes, you can show that good is profitable, while evil is hurtful.
Keshav — You mean the appeal to utility?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — That is without doubt an advance. Now can you show that good is profitable, that is to say, has good effects, while evil is hurtful, that is to say, has bad effects?
Wilson — Easily. Take your instance of chastity and licence. One is the ground-work of that confidence which is the basis of marriage and therefore the keystone of society; the other kills confidence and infects the community with a bad example.
Keshav — You fly too fast for me, Broome. You say chastity is the basis of marriage?
Wilson — Surely you will not deny it?
Keshav — And licence in one leads to prevalent unchastity?
Wilson — It has that tendency.
Keshav — And you think you have proved chastity to be profitable and licence hurtful?
Wilson — Why, yes. Do not you?
Keshav — No, my friend; for I have not convinced myself that marriage is a good effect and prevalent unchastity a bad effect.
Wilson — Only paradox can throw any doubt on that. Assuredly you will not deny that without marriage and public decency, society is unimaginable?
Keshav — I suppose you will allow that in Roman society under the Emperors marriage was extant? And yet will you tell me that in those ages chastity was the basis of marriage?
Wilson — I should say that marriage in the real sense of the word was not extant.
Keshav — Then what becomes of your postulate that without marriage and public decency society is unimaginable?
Wilson — Can you bestow the name on the world of Nero and Caracalla?
Keshav — Certainly, if I understand the significance of the word. Wherever the mutual dependence of men builds up a community cemented by a chain of rights and liabilities, that, I imagine, is a society.
Wilson — Certainly, that is a society.
Keshav — And will you then hesitate to concede the name to imperial Italy?
Wilson — Yes, but you will not deny that from the unreality of marriage and the impudent disregard of common decency, — at once its cause and effect — there grew up a prevalence of moral corruption, but for which the Roman world would not have succumbed with such nerveless ease to Scythia and its populous multitude26.
Keshav — What then? I do not deny it.
Wilson — Was not that a bad effect?
Keshav — By bad, I presume you mean undesirable?
Wilson — That of course.
Keshav — Perhaps it was, but should we not say that Rome fell because barbarism was strong not because she was feeble?
Wilson — Rome uncorrupted was able to laugh at similar perils.
Keshav — Then to have Rome safe, you would have had her remain barbarous27?
Wilson — Did I say so?
Keshav — You implied it. In Rome the triumphal chariot of Corruption was drawn by the winged horses, Culture and Art. And it is always so. From the evergreen foliage of the Periclean era there bloomed that gorgeous and overblown flower, Athens of the philosophers, a corrupt luxurious city, the easy vassal of Macedon, the easier slave of Rome. From the blending of Hellenic with Persian culture was derived that Oriental pomp and lavish magnificence which ruined the kingdoms of the East. And Rome, their conqueror, she too when the Roman in her died and the Italian lived, when the city of wolves became the abode of men, bartered her savage prosperity for a splendid decline. Yes, the fulness of the flower is the sure prelude of decay.
Look at the India of Vikramaditya. How gorgeous was her beauty! how Olympian the voices of her poets! how sensuous the pencil of her painters! how languidly voluptuous the outlines of her sculpture! In those days every man was marvellous to himself and many were marvellous to their fellows; but the mightiest marvel of all were the philosophers. What a Philosophy was that! For she scaled the empyrean on the wingèd sandals of meditation, soared above the wide fires of the sun and above the whirling stars, up where the flaming walls of the universe are guiltless of wind or cloud, and there in the burning core of existence saw the face of the most high God. She saw God and did not perish; rather fell back to earth, not blasted with excess of light, but with a mystic burden on her murmuring lips too large for human speech to utter or for the human brain to understand. Such was she then. Yet five rolling centuries had not passed when sleepless, all-beholding Surya saw the sons of Mahomet pour like locusts over the green fields of her glory and the wrecks of that mighty fabric whirling down the rapids of barbarism into the shores of night. They were barbarous, therefore mighty: we were civilized, therefore feeble.
Wilson — But was not your civilization premature? The building too hastily raised disintegrates and collapses, for it has the seeds of death in its origin. May not the utilitarian justly condemn it as evil?
Keshav — What the utilitarian may not justly do, it is beyond the limits of my intellect to discover. Had it not been for these premature civilizations, had it not been for the Athens of Plato, the Rome of the Caesars, the India of Vikramaditya, what would the world be now? It was premature, because barbarism was yet predominant in the world; and it is wholly due to our premature efflorescence that your utilitarians can mount the high stool of folly and defile the memory of the great. When I remember that, I do not think I can deny that we were premature. I trust and believe that the civilization of the future will not come too late rather than too early. No, the utilitarian with his sordid creed may exalt the barbarian28 and spit his livid contempt upon culture, but the great heart of the world will ever beat more responsive to the flame-wingèd words of the genius than to the musty musings of the moralists. It is better to be great and perish, than to be little and live. But where was I when the wind of tirade carried me out of my course?
Wilson — You were breaching the defences of utilitarian morality.
Keshav — Ah, I remember. What I mean is this; the utilitarian arrives at his results by an arbitrary application of the epithets “good” and “bad”.29 This mistake is of perpetual occurrence in Bentham and gives the basis for the most monstrous and shocking of his theories. For example the servitude of women is justified by the impossibility of marriage without it. Again he condemns theft by a starving man as a heinous offence because it is likely to disturb security. He quite forgets to convince us, as the author of a system professedly grounded on logic should have done, that the survival of marriage is a desirable effect or property more valuable than life.
Wilson — I confess that Bentham on those two subjects is far too cavalier and offhand to please me, but the utilitarian system can stand on another basis than Bentham supplies.
Keshav — Yours is a curious position, Broome. You are one of those who would expunge the part of Hamlet from the play that bears his name. Your religion is Christianity without Christ, your morality Benthamism without Bentham. Nevertheless my guns are so pointed that they will breach any wall you choose to set up. For this is common to all utilitarians that they lose sight of a paramount consideration: the epithets “good” and “bad” are purely conventional and have no absolute sense, but their meaning may be shifted at the will of the speaker. Indeed they have been the root of so many revolting ideas and of so many and such monstrous social tyrannies, that I should not be sorry to see them expelled from the language, as unfit to be in the company of decent words. Why do you smile?
Wilson — The novelty of the idea amused me.
Keshav — Yes, I know that “original” and “fool” are synonymous in the world’s vocabulary.
Wilson — That was a nasty one for me. However I am afraid I shall be compelled to agree with you.
Keshav — Do you admit that there is only one alternative, faith without reason or the recognition of morality as a conventional term without any absolute meaning?
Wilson — I should rather say that morality is the idea of what is just and right in vogue among a given number of people.
Keshav — You have exactly described it. Are you content to take this as your touchstone?
Wilson — Neither this, nor faith without reason.
Keshav — Two positions abandoned at a blow? That is more than I had the right to expect. Now, as the time is slipping by, let us set out on the discovery of some law, or should I not rather say, some indicating tendency by which we may arrive at a principle of life?
Wilson — I am anxious to hear it.
Keshav — Let us furnish ourselves with another glass of claret for the voyage. You will have some?
Wilson — Thanks.
Keshav — My first difficulty when I set out on a voyage of discovery is to select the most probable route. I look at my chart and I see one marked justice along which the trade winds blow; but whoever has weighed anchor on this path has arrived like Columbus at another than the intended destination, without making half so30 valuable a discovery. Another route is called “beauty” and along this no-one has yet sailed. An Irish navigator has indeed attempted it and made some remarkable discoveries, but he has clothed his account in such iridescent wit and humour, that our good serious English audience either grin foolishly at him from a vague idea that they ought to feel amused or else shake their heads and grumble that the fellow is corrupting the youth and ruining their good old Saxon gravity; why he actually makes people laugh at the beliefs they have been taught by their venerable and aged grandmothers. But as for believing his traveller’s tales — they believe them not a whit. Possibly if we who do not possess this dangerous gift of humour, were to follow the path called beauty, we might hit the target of our desires: if not we might at least discover things wonderful and new to repay us for our labour. And so on with other possible routes. Now which shall we choose? for much hangs on our selection. Shall we say justice?
Wilson — Let me know first what justice is.
Keshav — I do not know, but I think no-one would hesitate to describe it as forbearance from interfering with the rights of others.
Wilson — That is a good description.
Keshav — Possibly, but so long as we do not know what are the rights of others, the description, however good, can have no meaning.
Wilson — Can we not discover, what are the rights of others?
Keshav — We have been trying for the last three-thousand years; with how much or how little success, I do not like to say.
Wilson — Then let us try another tack.
Keshav — Can you tell me which one we should choose? My own idea is that the word “beauty” is replete with hopeful possibilities.
Wilson — Is not that because it is used in a hundred different senses?
Keshav — I own that the word, as used today, is like so many others a relative term. But if we were to fix a permanent and absolute meaning on it, should we not say that beauty is that which fills us with a sense of satisfying pleasure and perfect fitness?
Wilson — Yes, I think beauty must certainly be judged by its effects.
Keshav — But are there not minds so moulded that they are dead to all beauty and find more charm in the showy and vulgar than in what is genuinely perfect and symmetrical?
Wilson — There can be no doubt of that.
Keshav — Then beauty still remains a relative term?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — That is unfortunate. Let us try and find some other test for it. And in order to arrive at this, should we not take something recognized by all to be beautiful and examine in what its beauty lies?
Wilson — That is distinctly our best course. Let us take the commonest type of beauty, a rose.
Keshav — Then in what lies the beauty of a rose if not in its symmetry? Why has the whole effect that satisfying completeness which subjugates the senses, if not because Nature has blended in harmonious proportion the three elements of beauty; colour, perfume, and form? Now beauty may exist separately in any two of these elements and where it does so, the accession of the third would probably mar the perfection of that species of beauty; as in sculpture where form in its separate existence finds a complete expression and is blended harmoniously with perfume — for character or emotion is the perfume of the human form; just as sound is the perfume of poetry and music — but if a sculptor tints his statue, the effect displeases us, because it seems gaudy or tinsel, or in plain words disproportionate.
In some cases beauty seems to have only one of these elements, for example frankincense and music which seem to possess perfume only, but in reality we shall find that they have each one or both of the other elements. For incense would not be half so beautiful, if we did not see the curling folds of smoke floating like loose drapery in the air, nor would music be music if not harmoniously blended with form and colour, or as we usually call them, technique and meaning. Again there are other cases in which beauty undoubtedly has one only of the three elements: and such are certain scents like myrrh, eucalyptus and others, which possess neither colour nor form, isolated hues such as the green and purple and violet painted on floor and walls by the afternoon sun and architectural designs which have no beauty but the isolated beauty of form.
The criticism of ages has shown a fit appreciation of these harmonies by adjudging the highest scale of beauty to those forms which blend the three elements and the lowest to those which boast only of one. Thus sculpture is a far nobler art than architecture, for while both may compass an equal perfection of form, sculpture alone possesses the larger harmony derived by the union of form and perfume. Similarly the human form is more divine than sculpture because it has the third element, colour; and the painting of figures is more beautiful than the portrayal of landscapes, because the latter is destitute of perfume, while figures of life have always that character or emotion which we have called the perfume of the living form.
Again if we take two forms of beauty otherwise exactly on the same level, we shall find that the more beautiful in which the three elements are more31 harmoniously blended. As for instance a perfect human form and a perfect poem; whichever we may admire, we shall find our reason, if we probe for it, to be that the whole is more perfectly blended and the result a more satisfying completeness.
If we think of all this, it will assuredly not be too rash to describe beauty by calling the general effect harmony and the ulterior cause proportion. What is your opinion, Broome?
Wilson — Your idea is certainly remarkable and novel, but the language you have selected is so intricate that I am in the dark as to whether it admits of invariable application.
Keshav — The usual effect of endeavouring to be too explicit is to mystify the hearer. I will try to dive into less abysmal depths. Can you tell me, why a curve is considered more beautiful than a straight line?
Wilson — No, except that the effect is more pleasing.
Keshav — Ah yes, but why should it be more pleasing?
Wilson — I cannot tell.
Keshav — I will tell you. It is because a curve possesses that variety which is the soul of proportion. It rises, swells and falls with an exact propriety — it is at once various and regular as rolling water; while the stiff monotony of a straight line disgusts the soul by its meaningless rigidity and want of proportion. On the other hand a system of similar curves, unless very delicately managed, cannot possibly suggest the idea of beauty: and that is because there is no proportion, for proportion, I would impress on32 you, consists in a regular variety. And thus a straight line, tho’ in itself ugly, can be very beautiful if properly combined with curves. Here again the like principle applies.
Do you now understand?
Wilson — Yes, I admit that your theory is wonderfully complete and consistent.
Keshav — If you want a farther illustration, I will give you one. And just as before we selected the most commonly received type of beauty, I will now select the most perfect: and that, I think, is a perfect poem. Would you not agree with me?
Wilson — No, I should give the palm to a perfectly beautiful face.
Keshav — I think you are wrong.
Wilson — Have you any reason for thinking so?
Keshav — Yes, and to me a very satisfying reason. The three elements of beauty do not blend with absolutely perfect harmony in a human face. Have you not frequently noticed that those faces which express the most soul, the most genius, the most character, are not perfectly harmonious in their form?
Wilson — Yes, the exceptions are rare.
Keshav — And the reason is that to emphasize the character, the divine artist has found himself compelled to emphasize certain of the features above the others, for instance, the lips, the eyes, the forehead, the chin, and to give them an undue prominence which destroys that proportion without which there can be no perfect harmony. Do you perceive my meaning?
Wilson — Yes, and I do not think your conclusions can be disputed.
Keshav — In a perfectly beautiful face the emotion has to be modified and discouraged, so as not to disturb the harmony of form: but in a perfectly beautiful poem the maker has indeed to blend with exquisite nicety the three elements of beauty, but though the colour may be gorgeous, the emotion piercingly vivid, the form deliriously lovely, yet each of these has so just a share of the effect, that we should find it difficult to add to or to detract from any one of them33 without fatally injuring the perfection of the whole.
And so it is with every form of beauty that is not originally imperfect; to detract or add would be alike fatal; for alteration means abolition. Each syllable is a key-stone and being removed, the whole imposing structure crumbles in a moment to the ground.
Can we better describe this perfect blending of parts than by the word proportion? or is its entire effect anything but harmony?
Wilson — There are indeed no better words.
Keshav — And this harmony runs through the warp and woof of Nature. Look at the stars, the brain of heaven, as Meredith calls them. How they march tossing on high their golden censers to perfume night with the frankincense of beauty! They are a host of wingèd insects crawling on the blue papyrus of heaven, a swarm of golden gnats, a cloud of burning dust, a wonderful effect of sparkling atoms caught and perpetuated by the instantaneous pencil of Nature. And yet they are none of all these, but a vast and interdependent economy of worlds. Those burning globes as they roll in silent orbits through the infinite inane, are separated by an eternity of space. They are individual and alone, but from each to each thrill influences unfathomed and unconscious, marvellous magnetisms, curious repulsions that check like adverse gales or propel like wind in bellying canvas, and bind these solitary splendours into one supernal harmony of worlds. The solar harmony we know. How gloriously perfect it is, how united in isolation, how individual in unity! How star answers to star and the seven wandering dynasts of destiny as they roll millions of leagues apart, drag with them the invisible magnetic cord which binds them for ever to the sun. We believe that those lights we call fixed are each a sun with a rhythmic harmony of planets dancing in immeasurable gyrations around one immovable, immortal star. More, is it extravagant to guess that what to us is fixed, is a planet to God? Perhaps to the inhabitants of the moon this tumbling earth of ours is a fixed and constant light, and perhaps the glorious ball of fire we worship as the Lord of Light, is the satrap of some majesty more luminous and more large. Thus we may conceive of the universe as a series of subordinate harmonies, each perfect in itself and helping to consummate the harmony which is one and universal.
Well may the poet give the stars that majestic synonym
The army of unalterable law.
But the law that governs the perishable flower, the ephemeral moth, is not more changeful than the law that disciplines the movements of the eternal fires. The rose burns in her season; the moth lives in his hour: not even the wind bloweth where it listeth unless it preserve the boundaries prescribed by Nature. Each is a separate syllable in the grand poem of the universe: and it is all34 so inalterable because it is so perfect. Yes, Tennyson was right, tho’ like most poets, he knew not what he said, when he wrote those lines on the flower in the crannies: if we know what the flower is, we know also what God is and what man.
Wilson — I begin to catch a glimpse of your drift. But is there no discordant element in this universal harmony?
Keshav — There is. As soon as we come to life, we find that God’s imagination is no longer unerring; we almost think that he has reached a conception which it is beyond his power to execute. It is true that there are grand and beautiful lines in the vast epic of life, but others there are so unmusical and discordant that we can scarcely believe but that Chance was the author of existence. The beautiful lines are no doubt wonderful; among the insects the peacock-winged butterfly, the light spendthrift of unclouded hours; the angry wasp, that striped and perilous tiger of the air; the slow murmuring bee, an artist in honey and with the true artist’s indolence outside his art: and then the birds — the tawny eagle shouting his clangorous aspiration against the sun; the cruel shrike, his talons painted in murder; the murmuring dove robed in the pure and delicate hue of constancy: the inspired skylark with his matin-song descending like a rain of fire from the blushing bosom of the dawn. Nay the beasts too are not without their fine individualities: the fire-eyed lion, the creeping panther, the shy fawn, the majestic elephant; each fill a line of the great poem and by contrast enhance harmony.
But what shall we say of the imaginations that inspire nothing but disgust, the grub, the jackal, the vulture? And when we come to man, we are half inclined to throw up our theory in despair. For we only see a hideous dissonance, a creaking melody, a ghastly failure. We see the philosopher wearing a crown of thorns and the fool robed in purple and fine linen: the artist drudging at a desk and the average driving his quill thro’ reams of innocent paper: we see genius thrust aside into the hedges and stupidity driving her triumphal chariot on the beaten paths of social existence. Once we might have said that nature like a novice in art was rising through failures and imperfections into an artistic consummation and that when Evolution had exhausted her energies, her eyes would gaze on a perfect universe. But when we come to the human being, her most ambitious essay, the cynicism of frustrated hope steals slowly over us. I am reminded of some lines in a sonnet more remarkable for power than for felicitous expression.
She crowned her wild work with one foulest wrong
When first she lighted on a seeming goal
And darkly blundered on man’s suffering soul.
It is as if nature in admitting action into her universe were in the position of a poet who trusted blindly to inspiration without subjecting his work to the instincts of art or the admonitions of the critical faculty; but once dissatisfied with his work begins to pass his pen repeatedly thro’ his after performances, until he seems at last to have lighted on a perfect inspiration. His greatest essay completed he suddenly discovers that one touch of realism running thro’ the whole work has fatally injured its beauty. Similarly Nature in moulding man, made a mistake of the first importance. She gave him the faculty of reason and by the use of her gift he has stultified the beauty of her splendid imaginations.
Tennyson, by one of his felicitous blunders, has again hit upon the truth when he conceives the solemn wail of a heaven-born spirit in the agony of his disillusioning.
I saw him in the shining of his stars,
I marked him in the flowering of his fields,
But in his ways with men I found him not.
How true is35 every syllable! God burns in the star, God blossoms in the rose: the cloud is the rushing dust of his chariot, the sea is the spuming mirror of his moods. His breath whistles in the wind, his passion reddens in the sunset, his anguish drops in the rain. The darkness is the soft fall of his eyelashes over the purple magnificence of his eyes: the sanguine dawn is his flushed and happy face as he leaves the flowery pillow of sleep; the moonlight is nothing but the slumberous glint of his burning tresses when thro’ them glimmer the heaving breasts of Eternity. What to him are the petty imaginings of human aspiration; our puny frets, our pitiable furies, our melodramatic passions? If he deigns to think of us, it is as incompetent actors who have wholly misunderstood the bent of our powers. The comedian rants in the vein of Bombastes; the tragic artist plays the buffoon in the pauses of a pantomime, and the genius that might have limned the passion of a Romeo, moulds the lumpish ineptitude of a Cloten. God lifting his happy curls from the white bosom of Beauty, shoots the lightning of his glance upon our antics and we hear his mockery hooting at us in the thunder. Why should he squander a serious thought on a farce so absurd and extravagant?
Wilson — And are these the ultimate syllables of Philosophy?
Keshav — You are impatient, Broome. What I have arrived at is the discovery that human life is, if not the only, at any rate the principal note in Nature that jars with the grand idea underlying her harmony. Do you agree with me?
Wilson — He would be a hopeless optimist who did not.
Keshav — And are you of the opinion that it is the exercise by man of his will-power to which we owe the discord?
Wilson — No, I would throw the blame on Nature.
Keshav — After the example of Adam? “The woman tempted me and I did eat.” I too am a son of Adam and would throw the blame on Nature. But once her fault is admitted, has not the human will been manifestly her accomplice?
Wilson — Her instrument rather.
Keshav — Very well, her instrument. You admit that?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Then if the human will, prompted by Nature or her servant, False Reason, has marred the universal harmony, may not the human will, prompted by Right Reason who is also the servant of Nature, mend the harmony he has marred? Or if that puzzles you, let me put the question in another form. Does not a wilful choice of sensuality imply an alternative of purity?
Wilson — It does.
Keshav — And a wilful choice of unbelief an alternative of belief?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Then on the same principle, if the human will chose to mar the harmony of nature, was it not within its power to choose the opposite course and fulfil the harmony?
Wilson — Certainly that follows.
Keshav — And through ignorance and the promptings of False Reason we preferred to spoil rather than to fulfil?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — And we can mend what we mar?
Wilson — Sometimes.
Keshav — Well then, can we not choose to mend the harmony we originally chose to mar?
Wilson — I do not think it probable.
Keshav — An admission that it is possible, is all I want36 to elicit from you.
Wilson — I do not know that.
Keshav — Have not some episodes of the great epic rung more in unison with the grand harmony than others?
Wilson — Yes; the old-world Greeks were more in tune with the Universe than we.
Keshav — The name of the episode does not signify. You admit a race or an epoch which has fallen into the harmony more than others?
Wilson — Freely.
Keshav — Then as you admit the more and the less, will you not admit that the more may become in its turn37 the less — that there may be the yet more? May we not attain to a more perfect harmony with the universe than those who have been most in harmony with it?
Wilson — It is possible.
Keshav — If it is possible, should we not go on and inquire how it is possible?
Wilson — That is the next step.
Keshav — And when we have found an answer to our inquiries, shall we not have solved this difficult question of a new basis for morality?
Wilson — Yes, we shall: for I see now that to be in harmony with beauty, or, in other words, to take the guiding principle of the universe as the guiding principle of human life, is the final and perfect aim of the human species.
Keshav — Broome, you have the scent of a sleuth-hound.
Wilson — I am afraid that is ironical38. You must remember that we are not all philosophers yet. Still I should have liked to see how the idea came out in practice.
Keshav — If you can spare me another night or it may be two, we will pursue the idea through its evolutions. I am deeply interested, for to me as to you it is perfectly novel.
Wilson — Shall you be free on Thursday night?
Keshav — As free as the wind.
Wilson — Then I will come. Goodnight.
Keshav — Goodnight, and God reward you for giving me your company.
End of Book the First
Keshav Ganesh [Desai] — Trevor — Broome Wilson
Keshav — Ah, Broome, so the magnetism of thought has broken the chains of duty? May I introduce you? Mr. Trevor of Kings, Mr. Broome Wilson of Jesus. Would you like wine or coffee?
Wilson — Perhaps for an evening of metaphysics wine is the most appropriate prelude.
Keshav — You agree then with the Scythians who made a point of deliberating when drunk? They were perhaps right; one is inclined to think that most men are wiser drunk than sober. I have been endeavouring to explain my line of argument to Trevor, I am afraid with indifferent success.
Wilson — Can I do anything to help you?
Keshav — I have no doubt you can. Would you mind stating your difficulty, Trevor? I think you allow39 that every other basis of morality is unsound but uphold the utilitarian model as perfectly logical and consistent.
Trevor — Yes, that is what I hold to, and I do not think, Desai, you have at all shaken its validity.
Keshav — You do not admit that the epithets “good” and “bad” have a purely conventional force.
Trevor — Yes, I admit that, but I add that we have fixed a definite meaning on the epithets and adhered to it all through our system.
Keshav — If so, you are fortunate. Can you tell me the definite meaning to which you refer?
Trevor — The basis of our system is this, that whatever is profitable, is good, whatever is the reverse, is evil. Is not that an unassailable basis?
Keshav — I do not think so; for two ambiguous words you have merely substituted two others only less ambiguous.
Trevor — I fail to see your reasoning.
Keshav — I will endeavour to show you what I mean. You will admit that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, will you not?
Trevor — Yes, and that is where our system works so beautifully; for we bring in our arithmetical solution of balancing the good and the evil of an action and if the scale of the evil rises, we stamp it as good, if the scale of the good rises, we brand it as evil. What do you say to that?
Keshav — Dear me! that does indeed sound simple and satisfying. I am afraid, Broome, we shall have to throw up our theory in favour of Bentham’s. Your system is really so attractive and transparent, Trevor, that I should dearly like to learn more about it.
Trevor — Now you are indulging in irony, Desai; you know Bentham as well as I do.
Keshav — Not quite so well as all that; but I avow I have studied him very carefully. Yet from some cause I have not discovered, his arguments seldom seemed to me to have any force, while you on the other hand do really strike home to the judgment. And therefore I should like to see whether you are entirely at one with Bentham. For example I believe you prefer the good of the community to the good of the individual, do you not?
Trevor — Not at all: it is the individuals who are the community.
Keshav — It is gratifying to learn that: but if the interests of a few individuals conflict with the interests of the general body, you prefer the interests of the general body, do you not?
Trevor — As a matter of course.
Keshav — And, as a general rule, if you have to deal with a number of persons and the good of some is not reconcilable with the good of others, you prefer the good of the greater number?
Trevor — That again is obvious.
Keshav — So you accept the dogma “the greatest good of the greatest number”, for if one interest of a given person or number of persons conflict with another interest, you prefer the greater?
Trevor — Without hesitation.
Keshav — And so the Athenians were right when they put Socrates to death.
Trevor — What makes you advance so absurd a paradox?
Keshav — Why, your40 arithmetical system of balancing the good and the evil. The injury to Socrates is not to be put in comparison with the profit to the State, for we prefer the good of the greater number, and the pleasure experienced by the youths he corrupted in his discourse and the enjoyment of their corruption is not to be so much considered as the pain they would experience from the effects of their corruption and the pain inflicted on the state by the rising generation growing up corrupt and dissolute, for among conflicting interests we prefer the greatest.
Trevor — But Socrates did not corrupt the youth of Athens.
Keshav — The Athenians thought he was corrupting their youth and they were bound to act on their opinion.
Trevor — They were not bound to act on their opinion, but on the facts.
Keshav — What is this you are telling me, Trevor? We are then only to act when we have a correct opinion, and, seeing that a definitely correct opinion can only be formed by posterity after we are dead, we are not to use your arithmetical balance or at least can only use it when we are dead? Then I do not see much utility in your arithmetical balance.
Trevor — Now I come to think of it, the Athenians were right in putting Socrates to death.
Keshav — And the Jews in crucifying Christ?
Trevor — Yes.
Keshav — I admire your fortitude, my dear Trevor. And if the English people had thought Bentham was corrupting their youth, they would have been right in hanging Bentham, would they not?
Trevor — What a fellow you are, Desai! Of course what I mean is that the Athenians and the Jews did not listen to their honest opinion but purely to the voice41 of malice.
Keshav — Then if these wicked people who put wise men to death not in honest folly but from malice, were to have said to you, “Come now, you who accuse us of pure malice, are you not actuated by pure benevolence? If our approval is founded on sentiment, your disapproval is founded on the same flimsy basis; you42 have no reasonable objection to the poisoning of Socrates or the crucifixion of Christ or the hanging of Bentham as the case may be” and you43 were to tell them that your arithmetical balance said it was not profitable, would they not be justified in asking whether your arithmetical balance was infallible and whether you had a satisfactory principle which guided your calculations?
Trevor — Yes, and I should tell them that I valued44 as profitable what conduces to happiness and as unprofitable what detracts from or does not add to happiness.
Keshav — I am afraid that would not satisfy them, for the nature of happiness is just as disputable as the nature of profit. You do not think so? Well, for example do not some think that happiness lies in material comfort, while others look for it in the province of the intellect?
Trevor — These distinctions are mere nonsense; both are alike essential.
Keshav — Indeed we have reason to thank heaven that there are still some of the sages left who are sufficiently impartial to condemn every opinion but their own. Yet under correction, I should like to venture on a question; if the good that conduces to material comfort is not reconcilable with the good that conduces to intellectual pleasure, how do you manage your arithmetical balance?
Trevor — Material comfort before all things! that is a necessity, intellect a luxury.
Keshav — You are a consistent change-artist, Trevor; yet may there not be diverse opinions on the point?
Trevor — I do not see how it is possible. The human race may be happy without intellectual pleasure, but never without material comfort.
Keshav — Have you any historical data to bear out your generalisation?
Trevor — I cannot say I have, but I appeal to common sense.
Keshav — Oh, if you appeal to Caesar, I am lost; but be sure that if you bring your case before the tribunal of common sense, I will appeal not to common, but to uncommon sense — and that will arbitrate in my favour.
Trevor — Well, we must agree to differ.
Keshav — At any rate we have arrived at this, that you assign material comfort as the most important element in happiness, while I assign the free play of the intellect.
Trevor — So it seems.
Keshav — And you maintain that I am wrong because I disagree with you?
Trevor — No, because you disagree with reason.
Keshav — That is, with reason as you see it.
Trevor — If you like.
Keshav — And you think I am unique in my opinion?
Trevor — No indeed! there are too many who agree with you.
Keshav — Now we have gone a step farther. Apparently the nature of happiness is a matter of opinion.
Trevor — Oh, of course, if you like to say so.
Keshav — And happiness is the basis of morality. You agree? Very well, the nature of the basis is a matter of opinion, and it seems to follow that morality itself is a matter of opinion. And so we have come to this, that after rejecting as a basis of morality our individual sense of what is just and right, we have accepted our individual sense of what conduces to happiness. Therefore it is moral for you to refrain from stealing and for me to steal.
Trevor — That is a comfortable conclusion at any rate.
Keshav — Yet I think it is borne out by our premisses45. Do you not imagine the security of property to be essential to happiness and anything that disturbs it immoral?
Trevor — That goes without saying and I admit that it is immoral for me to steal.
Keshav — Now I on the other hand am indeed of the opinion that material comfort is essential to happiness, for without it the intellect cannot have free play, but believing as I do that the system of private property conduces to the comfort of the few, but its abolition will conduce to the comfort of the many, I, on the principle you have accepted, the greatest good of the greatest number, am opposed to the system of private property. And I believe that the prevalence of crimes against property will accelerate the day of abolition. I recognise indeed that the immediate effects will be evil, but put a greater value on the ultimate good than on the immediate evil. It follows that, if my reasoning be correct and we agreed that individual judgment must be the arbiter, it is perfectly moral for me to steal.
Trevor — There is no arguing with you, Desai. You wrest the meaning of words until one does not remember what one is talking about. The enormous length to which you carry your sophistries is appalling. If I had time, I would stop and refute you. As it is, I will leave you to pour your absurdities into more congenial ears.
Keshav — You are not going, Trevor?
Trevor — I am afraid I must. Goodnight.
Keshav — Goodnight.
That was rather brisker towards the close. I hope you were not bored, Broome.
Wilson — No, I was excellently amused. But do your arguments with him usually terminate in this abrupt fashion?
Keshav — Very often they do so terminate. Trevor is a good fellow — a fine intellect spoiled — but he cannot bear adversity with an equal mind. Now let us resume our inquiry.
I think we had gone so far as to discover that human life is the great element of discord in the Cosmos, and the best system of morality is that which really tends to restore the harmony of the universe, and we agreed that if we apply the principles governing the universe to human life, we shall discover the highest principle of conduct. That was the point where we broke off, was it not?
Wilson — Yes, we broke off just there.
Keshav — So we profess to have found a sense in which the theory advanced by philosophers of every age has become true, that life ought to be lived in accordance with nature and not in accordance with convention. The error we impute to them was that they failed to keep nature distinct from human nature and forgot that the latter was complicated by the presence of that fallible reason, of which conventions are the natural children. Thus men of genius like Rousseau reverted to the savage for a model and gave weight to the paradox that civilization is a mistake. Let us not forget that it is useless to look for unalloyed nature in the savage, so long as we cannot trace human development from its origin: to the original man the savage would seem nothing but a mass of conventions. We have nothing to learn from savages; but there is a vast deal to be learned from the errors of civilized peoples. Civilization is a failure, not a mistake.
Wilson — That is a subtle distinction.
Keshav — Not at all. Civilization was necessary, if the human race was to progress at all. The pity of it is that it has taken the wrong turn and fallen into the waters of convention. There lies the failure. When man at the very first step of his history used his reason to confound the all-pervading Cosmos or harmonious arrangement of Nature, conventions became necessary in order to allure him into less faulty modes of reasoning, by which alone he could learn to rectify46 his error. But after the torrent had rolled for a time along its natural course and two broad rivers of Thought, the Greek and the Hindu, were losing themselves in the grand harmony, there was a gradual but perceptible swerve, and the forces of convention which had guided, began to misguide, and the Sophists in Greece, in India the Brahmans availed themselves of these mighty forces to compass their own supremacy, and once at the helm of thought gave permanence to the power by which they stood, until two religions, the most hostile to Nature, in the east Buddhism, her step-child Christianity in the west, completed the evil their predecessors had begun.
Hear the legend of Purush, the son of Prithivi, and his journey to the land of Beulah, the land of blooming gardens and yellow-vested acres and wavering tree-tops, and two roads lead to it. One road is very simple, very brief, very direct, and this leads over the smiling summit of a double-headed peak, but the other through the gaping abysses of a lion-throated antre and it is very long, very painful, very circuitous. Now the wise and beautiful instructress of Purush had indeed warned him that all other wayfarers had chosen the ascent of the beautiful hill, but had not explicitly forbidden him to select the untried and perilous route. And the man was indolent and thought it more facile to journey smoothly through a tunnel than to breast with arduous effort the tardy and panting slope, yet plumed himself on a nobler nature than all who had gone before him, because they had obeyed their monitress, but he was guided by his reason and honourably preferred the unknown and perilous to the safe and familiar. From this tangle of motives he chose the cavernous47 lion-throat of the gaping antre, not the swelling breasts of the fruitful mother.
Very gaily he entered the cave singing wild ballads of the deeds his fathers wrought, of Krishna and Arjun and Ram and Ravan and their glory and their fall, but not so merrily did he journey in its entrails, but rather in hunger and thirst groped wearily with the unsleeping beak of the vulture Misery in his heart, and only now and then caught glimpses of an elusive light, yet did not realise his error but pursued with querulous reproaches the beautiful gods his happy imagination had moulded or bitterly reviled the double-dealing he imputed to his lovely and wise instructress — “for she it was” he complained “who told me of the route through the cavern”. None the less he persévered until he was warmed by the genuine smiles of daylight and joy blossoming in his heart, made his step firmer and his body more erect.
And he strode on until he arrived where the antre split in two branches, the one seeming dark as Erebus to his eyes, though indeed it was white and glorious as a naked girl and suffused by the light of the upper heaven with seas of billowing splendour, had not his eyes, grown dim from holding communion with the night and blinded by the unaccustomed brilliance, believed that the light was darkness, through which if he had persévered, he had arrived in brief space among the blooming gardens and the wavering tree-tops and the acres in their glorious golden garb and all the imperishable beauty of Beulah. And the other branch he thought the avenue of the sunlight, because the glimmer was feeble enough to be visible, like a white arm through a sleeve of black lace. And down this branch he went, for ever allured by unreal glimpses of a dawning glory, until he has descended into the abysmal darkness and the throne of ancient night, where he walks blindly like a machine, carrying the white ashes of hope in the funeral urn of youth, and knows not whence to expect a rescue, seeing the only heaven above him is the terrible pillared roof, the only horizon around him the antre with its hateful unending columns and demogorgon veil of visible darkness, and the beautiful gods he imagined are dead and his heart is no longer sweetened with prayers, and his throat no longer bubbles with hymns of praise. His beautiful gods are dead and her who was his lovely guide and wise monitress, he no longer sees as the sweet and smiling friend of his boyhood, but as a fury slinging flame and a blind Cyclops hurling stones she knows not whither nor why and a ghastly skeleton only the more horrible for its hideous mimicry of life. He sends a wailing cry to heaven, but only jeering echoes fall from the impenetrable ceiling, for there is no heaven, and he sends a hoarse shriek for aid to hell, but only a gurgling horror rises from the impenetrable floor, for there is no hell, and he looks around for God, but his eyes cannot find him, and he gropes for God in the darkness, but his fingers cannot find him but only the clammy fingers of night, and goblin fancies are rioting in his brain, and hateful shapes pursue him with clutching fingers, and horrible figures go rustling past him half-discerned in the familiar gloom. He is weary of the dreadful vaulted ceiling, he is weary of the dreadful endless floor. And what shall he do but lie down and die, who if he goes on, will soon perish of weariness and famine and thirst? Yet did he but know it, he has only to turn back at a certain angle and he will see through a chink of the cavern a crocus moon with a triple zone of burning stars, which if he will follow, after not so very painful a journey, not so very long an elapse of hours, he will come into a land of perennial fountains, where he may quench his thirst, and glistening fruit-groves where he may fill his hunger, and sweet cool grass where he may solace his weariness, and so pursue his journey by the nearest way to the wavering tree-tops, and the blooming gardens and the acres in their yellow gaberdines for which his soul has long panted.
This is the legend of Purush, the son of Prithivi and his journey to the land of Beulah.
Wilson — That is a fine apologue, Keshav; is it48 your own, may I ask?
Keshav — It is an allegory conceived by Vallabha49 Swami, the Indian Epicurus, and revealed to me by him in a vision.
Wilson — There we see the false economy of Nature; only they are privileged to see these beautiful visions, who can without any prompting conceive images not a whit less beautiful.
Keshav — The germ of the story was really a dream, but the form and application are my own. The myth means, as I dare say you have found out, that our present servitude to conventions which are the machinery of thought and action, is principally due to weaknesses forming a large element in human nature. Our lives ought not to be lived in accordance with human nature which can nowhere be found apart from the disturbing element of reason, but according to nature at large where we find the principle of harmony pure and undefiled.
Wilson — On that we are both at one; let us start directly from this base of operations. I am impatient to follow the crocus moon with her triple zone of burning stars into the Eden of murmuring brooks and golden groves and fields of asphodel.
Keshav — The basis of morality is then the application to human life of the principles governing the universe; and the great principle of the universe is beauty, is it not?
Wilson — So we have discovered.
Keshav — And we described beauty as harmony in effect and proportion in detail.
Wilson — That was our description.
Keshav — Then the aim of morality must be to make human life harmonious. Now the other types in the universe are harmonious not merely in relation to their internal parts, but in relation to each other and the sum of the universe, are they not?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — We mean, I suppose, that the star fills its place in the Cosmos and the rose fills her place, but man does not fill his.
Wilson — That is what we mean.
Keshav — Then the human race must not only be harmonious within itself, but must50 be harmonious in relation to the star and the rose and so fill its place as to perfect the harmony of the universe.
Wilson — Are we not repeating ourselves?
Keshav — No, but we are in danger of it. I am aiming at a clear and accurate wording of my position and that is not easy to acquire at a moment’s notice. I think our best way would be to consider the harmony of man with the universe and leave the internal harmony of the race for subsequent inquiry.
Wilson — Perhaps it would be best.
Keshav — When we say that man should fill his place in the Cosmos, we mean that he should be in proportion with its other elements, just as the thorn is in proportion to the leaf and the leaf to the rose, for proportion is the ulterior cause of harmony. And we described proportion as a regular variety, or to use a more vivid phrase, a method in madness. If this is so, it is incumbent on man to be various in his development from the star, the rose and the other elements of the Cosmos, in a word to be original.
Wilson — That follows.
Keshav — But is it enough to be merely original? For instance if he were to hoist himself into the air by some mechanical contrivance and turn somersaults unto all eternity, that would be original, but he would not be helping much towards universal harmony, would he?
Wilson — Well, not altogether.
Keshav — Then if we want to describe the abstract idea of virtue, we want something more than originality. I think we said that proportion is not merely variety, but regular variety?
Wilson — Yes, that is obvious.
Keshav — Then man must be not merely original but regular in his originality.
Wilson — I cannot exactly see what you mean.
Keshav — I cannot at all see what I mean; yet, unless our whole theory is unsound, and that I am loth to believe, I must mean something. Let us try the plan we have already adopted with such success, when we discovered the nature of beauty. We will take some form of harmony and inquire how regularity enters into it; and it occurs to me that the art of calligraphy will be useful for the purpose, for a beautifully-written sentence has many letters just as the universe has many types and it seems that proportion is just as necessary to it.
Wilson — Yes, calligraphy will do very well.
Keshav — I recollect that we supposed beauty to have three elements, of which every type must possess at least one, better two, and as a counsel of perfection all three. If we inquire, we shall find that form is absolutely imperative, seeing that if the form of the letters is not beautiful or the arrangement of the lines not harmonious, then the sentence is not beautifully written. Colour too may be an element of calligraphy, for we all know what different effects we can produce by using inks of various colours. And if the art is to be perfect, I think that perfume will have to enter very largely into it. Let us write the word “beautiful”. Here you see the letters are beautifully formed, their arrangement is beautiful, this bright green ink I am using harmonizes well with the word, and moreover the sight of this peculiar combination of letters written in this peculiar way brings to my mind a peculiar association of ideas, which I call the perfume of the written word.
Wilson — But is it not the combination, not of letters but of sounds, which lingers in your mind and calls up the idea?
Keshav — I do not think so, for I often find sentences that seem to me beautiful in writing or in print, but, once I utter them aloud, become harsh and unmusical; and sometimes the reverse happens, especially in Meredith, in whom I have often at first sight condemned a sentence as harsh and ugly, which, when I read it aloud, I was surprised to find apt and harmonious. From this I infer that if a writer’s works appear beautiful in print or manuscript, but not beautiful when read aloud, he may be set down as a good artist in calligraphy, but a bad artist in literature, since suggestion to the eye is the perfume of the written, but suggestion to the ear the perfume of the spoken word.
In this however I seem to have been digressing to no purpose; for whatever else is uncertain, this much is certain, that form is essential to calligraphy, and this is really all that concerns us. Now if the form is to be beautiful it must be harmonious in effect, and to be harmonious in effect it must be proportionate in detail, and to be proportionate in detail, the words and letters of which it is made must exhibit a regular variety. We can easily see that the letters and words in a sentence are various, but how can they be said to be regular in their variety?
Wilson — I do not know at present, but I can see that the variety is regular.
Keshav — This we must find out without delay. Let us take the alphabet and see if the secret is patent there.
Wilson — That is indeed looking for Truth at the bottom of a well.
Keshav — Do you not see at a glance that the letters in the Latin alphabet are regular in this sense, that the dominant line is the curve and there is no written letter without it, for the straight lines are only used to prevent the monotony generated by an unrelieved system of curves? In the Bengali alphabet again, which is more elaborate, but less perfect than the Latin, there is a dominant combination of one or more straight lines with one or more curves and to obviate monotony letters purely composed of straight lines are set off by others purely composed of curves. In the Burmese and other dialects, I believe but from hearsay only, no line but the curve is admitted and I am told that the effect is undeniably pretty but a trifle monotonous. Here then we have a clue. If we consider, as we have previously considered, every type in the universe to be a word, then, if the sentence is to be beautifully written each word must not only be various from its near companions51 but must allow one dominant principle to determine the lines on which it must vary; and to avoid monotony there must be straight lines in the letters, that is to say each type must have individual types within it departing from the general type by acknowledging another dominant principle. I am afraid this is rather intricate. Would you like it to be made clearer?
Wilson — No, I perfectly understand; but I should like to guard myself against being misled by the analogy between a beautifully-written sentence and the beautifully-arranged universe. If this rule does not apply to every other form of beauty, we may not justly compare the universe to one in which it does happen to apply.
Keshav — I hope you will only require me to adduce examples52 of perfect beauty, for the aim of morality is to arrange a perfect, not an imperfect harmony.
Wilson — Oh certainly, that is all I am entitled to require.
Keshav — Then you will admit that the stars are various, yet built on a dominant principle?
Wilson — Without doubt.
Keshav — And in making the flowers so various, the divine artist did not fail to remember a dominant principle which prevails in the structure and character of his episode in flowers.
Wilson — But this is merely to take an unfair advantage of the method of species so largely indulged in by Nature.
Keshav — Well, if you prefer particulars to generals, we will inquire into the beauty of a Greek design, for the Greeks were the only painters who understood the value of design, and we will as usual take an example of perfect beauty. Do you know the Nereid and Sea-Horse?
Wilson — Very intimately.
Keshav — Then, if you have not forgotten how in that incomparable work of art to every mass there is another and answering mass and to the limbs floating forward limbs floating backwards and to every wisp of drapery an answering wisp of drapery, and in short how the whole design is built on the satisfying principle of balancing like by like, you will admit that here is a dominant idea regulating variety. And the principle of balancing like with like is not peculiar to Greek designing but prevalent in the designs of Nature, for example, the human face, where eye answers to luminous eye and both are luminous with one and the same brilliance, nor is one hazel while the other is azure, and the porches of hearing are two but similar in their curious workmanship, and the sweep of the brow to one ear does not vary from the sweep of the brow to the other and the divergence of the chin describes a similar curve on either face of the design, nor is one cheek pallid with the touch of fear while the other blushes with the flag of joy and health, but in everything the artist has remembered the principle of balancing like with like, both here and in the emerald leaf and swaying apple which if you tear along the fibrous spine or slice through the centre of the core, will leave in your hands two portions, diverse in entity but alike in material and workmanship. And yet the impertinent criticism of the moderns claims for themselves a keener appreciation of Nature, than those great pupils who learned her lessons so gloriously well. If you would like farther53 examples of the dominant principle regulating variety in a design, you need only look at a blowing rose, a wind-inspired frigate, an evergreen poem, and you will not be disappointed. With all this in your mind, you will surely admit that even if we compare the universe to a system of designs we shall not arrive at other results than when we compared it to God’s episode in flowers and his marshalled pomp of stars and a sentence beautifully written.
Wilson — Yet I should like to ask one more question.
Keshav — My dear Broome, you are at liberty to ask a thousand, for I am always ready to answer.
Wilson — A single answer will satisfy me. Why do you compare the universe to a system of designs and not to a single design?
Keshav — The universe itself is a system of designs, first the harmony of worlds and within it the lands and seas and on that the life of flowers and trees and the life of birds and beasts and fishes and the life of human beings. Imagine the Greeks in search of a dominant idea to regulate the variety of their designs and hitting on the human figure as their model; would they not have been foolish, if they had gone away from their study of the human figure and drawn a system, balancing like design by like design?
Wilson — I suppose they would.
Keshav — Nor should we be less foolish to draw up an ideal universe or system54 of designs on the principle of a single design. Are you satisfied?
Wilson — Perfectly.
Keshav — And our conclusion is that we ought to regulate the variety of the types in the universe, not by balancing like with like, but by determining the lines of variance on one dominant principle.
Wilson — That is the indisputable conclusion.
Keshav — And so, now we have panted up to the ridge we once thought the crowning summit, we find that we have to climb another slope as arduous which was lying in wait for us behind. We have discovered the presence of a dominant idea in the variety of types, but we do not know what the idea may be.
Wilson — That is what we have to find.
Keshav — But if we find that all the diverging55 types observe a single requisite in divergence, shall we not infer that we have found the idea of which we are inquisitive?
Wilson — Obviously.
Keshav — And we shall find it most easily by comparing one type with another, shall we not?
Wilson — That is our first idea.
Keshav — But if we compare a rose to a star, we shall not find them agree in any respect except the brilliance of their hues and that is not likely to be the dominant idea.
Wilson — They are both beautiful.
Keshav — Exactly, but we wish to learn the elements of their beauty, and we agreed that these were variety, to begin with, and method in variety. Now we are inquiring what the method is they observe in their variety. We know that they are both beautiful; but we wish to know why they are both beautiful.
Wilson — And how are you going to do it?
Keshav — Well, since it will not do to compare a rose with a star, we will compare a star with a star; and here we find, that, however widely they differ, there is a large residuum of properties, such as brilliance and light, which are invariably present in one and the other, and they diverge not in the possession and absence of properties peculiar to a star, but in things accidental, in their size and the exactness of their shape and the measure of their brilliance and the character of the orbits they are describing. And if we compare flower with flower, we shall find a residuum of properties invariably present in one and the other but the divergence of flower from flower, just like the divergence of star from star, not in properties peculiar to a flower, but in accidents like size and peculiarities of shape and varying vividness of hues and time and length of efflorescence. Moreover we perceive that the star is content to pierce the darkness with its rays and to burn like a brilliant diamond in the bodice of heaven, and is not ambitious to shed sweet perfumes upon space or to burden the heart of the night with song, but develops the virtues of a star without aspiring to the virtues of a flower or a bird, and the rose content56 to be an empress in colour and perfume and a gorgeous harmony of petals and is not ambitious to give light in the darkness or to murmur a noontide song in response to the bee, but develops the virtues of a rose without aspiring to the virtue57 of a bee or a star. And so if we compare with the help of this new light the rose and the star, we see that they are both alike in developing their own virtues without aspiring to the virtues of one another. And this is the case with every natural form of beauty animate or inanimate, is it not?
Wilson — There can be no doubt of that.
Keshav — Then have we not found the dominant idea which governs the variety of types?
Wilson — I really believe we have.
Keshav — And man if he wishes to be in proportion with the other elements of the Cosmos, must be content to develop the virtues of a man without aspiring to the virtues of a rose or a star, or any other element of the Cosmos?
Wilson — So it seems.
Keshav — And when we talk of the virtues of a star, do we not mean the inborn qualities and powers which are native to its sidereal character, for example brilliance and light?
Wilson — Of course.
Keshav — And by the virtues of a flower the inborn qualities and powers which are native to its floral character, such as fragrance, colour, delicacy of texture?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Then by the virtues58 of a man we shall have to mean the inborn qualities and powers which are native to his humanity, such as — what shall we say?
Wilson — That we can discover afterwards.
Keshav — Very well; but at any rate we can see already that some things are not inborn qualities and powers native to our humanity; and we know now why it is not an act of splendid virtue to turn somersaults in the air without any visible means of support; for if we did that, we should not be developing the virtues of a man, but we should be aspiring to the virtues of a kite; or, to use one of our phrases, we should be mad without method.
Wilson — That is evident.
Keshav — So a man’s virtue lies not in turning somersaults without any visible means of support, but in the perfect evolution of the inborn qualities and powers which are native to his humanity.
Wilson — Yes, and I believe these are the very words in which you described virtue before we started on our voyage of discovery.
Keshav — That is indeed gratifying: and if we have shown any constancy and perseverance in following our clue through the labyrinth, I at least am amply rewarded, who feel convinced by the identity of the idea I have derived from the pedestrian processes of logical inference with the idea I once caught on the wings of thought and instinct, that as far as human eyes are allowed to gaze on the glorious visage of Truth unveiled, we shall be privileged to unveil her and embrace her spiritual presence, and are not following a will-o’-the-wisp of the imagination to perish at last in a quagmire.
We have then laid a firm hold on that clear and accurate wording, for which we were recently groping as blindly as Purush in his delusive cavern. And since the human brain is impatient of abstract ideas but easily fixed and taken by concrete images, let me embody our ideas in a simile. I have an accurate remembrance of climbing a very steep and ragged rock on the Yorkshire beaches, where my only foothold was a ladder carved in the rock with the rungs so wide apart that I had to grasp tightly the juts and jags and so haul myself up as slowly as a lizard, if I did not prefer by a false step or misplaced confidence to drop down some thirty feet on a rough sediment of sharp and polished pebbles. It occurs to me that what I did then in the body, I am doing now in the spirit, and it is a reason for self-gratulation that I have mounted safely to the second rung of the perilous ladder and am not lying shattered on the harsh and rasping pebbles of disappointment. And if I aspire to the third rung, I shall have less cause for apprehension than in my Yorkshire peril, since I can hardly fall to the beach but shall merely slip back to the rung from which I am mounting. Let us then estimate our progress. Our first rung was the basis of morality which we may describe by the golden rule “apply to human life the principles dominant in the Cosmos”, and our second, as we now see, is the conception of abstract virtue or the perfect expression of the human being as a type in the Cosmos, and this we describe as “the consistent evolution of the inborn qualities and powers native to our humanity”.
Here then we have two rungs of the ladder, we must now be very careful in our selection of the third.
Wilson — Is it not obviously the next stage to discover what are the inborn qualities and powers native to our humanity?
Keshav — Possibly. Yet have we not forgotten a signal omission we made when we drew inferences from the comparison of a beautifully written sentence to the beautifully arranged universe?
Wilson — I am afraid I at least have forgotten. What was it?
Keshav — Did we not compare the broad types in the Cosmos to the words in a sentence and infer that as the dominant principle governing the word was the prevalence of the curve, so there must be a dominant principle59 governing the type?
Wilson — We did.
Keshav — And also that as in the letters within the word there were two prevalent lines, the curve and the straight line, so within the broad or generic type there are individual types governed by quite another principle.
Wilson — That also. But surely you are not going to argue from analogies?
Keshav — Did we not argue from the beautifully written sentence merely because the principles of calligraphy proved to be the principles of every sort of harmony?
Wilson — I confess we did; otherwise all we have been saying would be merely a brilliant explosion of fancy.
Keshav — Then we are logically justified in what we have been doing. Consider then how in a system of harmony, every part has to be harmonious in itself or else mar the universal music.
Wilson — That is true.
Keshav — And the human race is a part of such a system, is it not?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Then must the human race become harmonious within itself or continue to spoil the universal harmony.
Wilson — Of course. How foolish of me to lose sight of that.
Keshav — And so we have been elucidating the harmony of man with the Cosmos and saying nothing about the harmony of man with man?
Wilson — Did we not relegate that for subsequent inquiry?
Keshav — We did, but I think the time for subsequent inquiry has come.
Wilson — It is too late in the day for me to distrust your guidance.
Keshav — I do not think you will have reason to regret your confidence in me. Our line then will be to consider the internal harmony of the race before we proceed farther.
Wilson — So it is best.
Keshav — Here again we must start from our description of beauty as harmony in effect and proportion in detail and our description of the latter as a regular variety or method in madness. Then just as in the Cosmos, the individual type must vary from all the other types, so in the human Cosmos the individual man must vary from all other men.
Wilson — That is rather startling. Do you mean that there ought to be no point of contact?
Keshav — No, Broome; for we must always remember that the elements of a generic type must have certain virtues without which they would not belong to the type: as the poet says
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
Wilson — Then where do you find your variety?
Keshav — If you will compare the elements of those types in which the harmony is perfect, your ignorance will vanish like a mist. You will see at once that every planet develops indeed his planetary qualities, but varies from every other planet, and if Venus be the name and the star be feminine, is a dovelike white in complexion and yields an effulgence more tender than a girl’s blush, but if he is Mars, burns with the sanguine fire of battle and rolls like a bloodshot eye through space, and if he is Saturn, has seven moons in his starry seraglio, and is richly orange in complexion like vapour coloured by the sun’s pencil when he sets, and wears a sevenfold girdle of burning fire blue as a witch’s eye and green as Love’s parrot and red as the lips of Cleopatra and indeed of all manner of beautiful colours, and if he is Jupiter or any one of the planets, has the qualities of that planet and has not the qualities of another, but develops his own personality and has no regard for any model or the example of any other planet.
And if you drop your eyes from the sublimer astral spaces to the modest gauds of Earth our mother, you will see that every flower has indeed the qualities of its floral nature, but varies widely from her sister beauties, and if she is a lily, hides in her argent beaker a treasure of golden dust and her beauty is a young and innocent bride on her marriage-morning, but if she is a crocus, has a bell-like beauty and is absorbed in the intoxication of her own loveliness and wears now the gleaming robe of sunrise and now a dark and delicate purple, and now a soft and sorrowful pallor, but, if she is a rose, has the fragrance of a beautiful soul and the vivid colour of a gorgeous poem, yet conceals a sharp sting beneath the nestling luxury of her glorious petals, and if she is a hyacinth or honeysuckle or meadow-sweet, has the poisonous perfume of the meadow-sweet or the soul-subduing fragrance of the honeysuckle or the passionate cry of the hyacinth, and not the beautiful egoism of the crocus or the oriental splendour of the rose, but develops her own qualities without aspiring to the qualities of any and every flower.
May we not then say that the dominant principle regulating the variety of individual types is the evolution of individual60 as distinct from generic virtues?
Wilson — That is the logical consequence.
Keshav — Then the description of individual virtue runs thus, the evolution by the human being of the inborn qualities and powers native to his personality; that is to say, just as every beautiful building has the solid earth for its basis but is built in a distinct style of architecture, so the beautiful human soul will rest on the solid basis of humanity but build up for itself a personality distinct and individual.
Wilson — That is exactly what the virtuous man must do.
Keshav — And so with infinite ease and smoothness we have glided up to the third rung of our ladder, as if we were running up a broad and marble stair-case. Here then let us stop and reflect on all we have said and consider whether from confusion of mind or inability to comprehend the whole situation we have made any mistake or omission. For my part I avow that my thoughts have not been so lucid tonight as I could have wished. We are then to continue the inquiry in the Gardens on Tuesday afternoon? I think that was what you suggested.
Wilson — Yes, on Tuesday at half-past two.
Keshav — Would you mind my bringing Prince Paradox with me? He is anxious to hear how we are dealing with our idea and as he will be perfectly willing to go the61 lengths we have so far gone, we need not fear that he will be a drag on us.
Wilson — I am perfectly willing that he should come. The more, the merrier.
Keshav — Not at this stage; for this intellectual ascent up the precipice of discovery, is indeed very exciting and pleasant, but strains the muscles of the mind more than a year’s academical work; and I trust that next time we shall bring it to a satisfying conclusion.
End of the Second Book
Keshav Ganesh — Broome Wilson — Treneth
Treneth — But we must not forget our purpose in being here.
Keshav — Well, Broome, what do you say to our resuming our cruise for the discovery of virtue? I avow the speculation weighs on me, and I am impatient to see the last of it.
Wilson — I have not to learn that you are the most indolent of men. No sooner are you in a novel current of thought than you tire and swim back to the shore. I am indignant with Nature for wasting on you a genius you so little appreciate.
Treneth — Ah but you are really quite wrong, Wilson. Genius is a capacity for being indolent.
Wilson — Enter Prince Paradox! But seriously, Keshav, I think the argument will live beyond this afternoon and I give warning that I shall drag you all over the field of ethics before we have done with it.
Keshav — It will be the corpse of my intellect you will maltreat. But in extremity I rely upon Treneth to slay my Argus with the bright edge of a paradox.
Wilson — We were at the third rung of the ladder, were we not?
Keshav — Yes, thou slave-driving Ishmaelite. I declare it is impious on a day like this to bury ourselves in the gloomy vaults of speculation. But as you will.
To remember how far we have climbed, is the best incentive to climb farther, and will give Treneth an idea of the situation. We happened to be weighing the ordinary principles of morality and finding them all wanting cast about for a new principle and discovered that beauty was the sole morality of the universe, and it had colour, form and perfume as elements, harmony as its general effect and proportion, which we described as regular variety or method in madness, as the ulterior cause of the harmony, and we ventured to imagine that as all the other elements of the universe were harmonious notes in a perfect sonata, but the human element had wilfully chosen to jar upon and ruin the exquisite music, the right principle of virtue was wilfully to choose to mend the harmony we had ruined.
With these projections from the rock of speculation to help us we climbed up the three steep and difficult rungs I am going to describe to you. We argued that the only way to remedy a note that rebels against the spirit of the composition is to reduce it into harmony with that spirit, and so arrived at the conclusion that the principle of morality is to apply to human life the principles that govern the rest of the Cosmos. There you have the first rung of our ladder.
We recommenced from this basis and by remembrance of the nature of proportion or regular variety which is the cause of harmony and throughout62 every natural type of beauty appears in the common principle which determines their line of variance from each other, we thought that in the elements of the Cosmos there must be such a common principle and found it to be the evolution by each element of its own peculiar virtue as distinct from the peculiar virtues of every other element, and so reached our second conclusion, that just as astral virtue lies in the evolution by the star of the inborn qualities and powers native to its astral character, just so human virtue lies in the evolution by the human being of the inborn qualities and powers native to his humanity. This is the second rung of our ladder.
With this second secure basis behind us, we went on to discover that within generic types such as the star, the flower, the human being, there were individual types governed by the similar but different principle of evolving the individual as distinct from the generic virtues, or, when applied to the human being, of evolving the inborn qualities and powers native to his personality. This is the third rung of our ladder.
Have I been correct in my statement, Broome?
Wilson — Perfectly correct.
Treneth — My only quarrel with your conclusions is that you have wasted a couple of evenings in arriving at them. Why, except the first they are mere axioms.
Keshav — Yes, to the seeing eye they are axioms, but to the unseeing eye they are paradoxes. The truths that are old and stale to the philosopher, are to the multitude new and startling and dangerous. But now that we have all mounted to the same rung, let us pursue the ascent. And I suppose our immediate step will be to find whether the mere evolution of the inborn qualities and powers is or is not the sole requisite for virtue.
Wilson — Before we go to that, Keshav, you will have to meet a difficulty which you show every sign of evading.
Keshav — Whatever difficulty there is, I am ready to solve, but I cannot guess to what you refer.
Wilson — I suppose you will admit that a definition, to be adequate, must have nothing vague or indefinite about it?
Keshav — If there is anything vague, it must be elucidated or our statement falls to the ground.
Treneth — I dissent: a definite definition is a contradiction in terms. I am for definite indefinitions.
Keshav — I am not in extremities yet, Prince Paradox.
Wilson — Well now, is not your phrasing “the inborn qualities and powers native to our humanity” very vague and indefinite?
Keshav — Indefinite, I admit, and I cannot think that an objection but I plead not guilty to the charge of vagueness.
Wilson — You think with Treneth that a definition should not be definite?
Keshav — If by being definite is implied reduction to its primal elements you will agree with me that a definition need not be definite: or do you want me to enumerate the qualities native to our humanity such as physical vigour, and the faculty of inference and sexual passion and I do not know how many more?
Wilson — You shall not escape me so easily, Keshav. You are merely spinning dialectical cobwebs which give a specious appearance to the pit in which you would have us fall.
Keshav — Then by pointing out the trap, you can easily sweep away my sophistical cobwebs, my good Broome.
Treneth — What penalty for a pun?
Keshav — No penalty, for to punish a lie on the information of Beelzebub is to do God’s work at the devil’s bidding.
Wilson — Yes, a penalty: you shall be taken at your word. You are setting a trap for us, when you try to shuffle in your phrase about the qualities native to our humanity. If we leave this inexplicit and unlimited, you will be at liberty to describe any quality you choose as a virtue and any other quality you choose as a defect by assuming in your own insinuating manner that it is or is not native to our humanity. And in reality there is a very distinct gulf between those of our qualities which are native to our humanity and those others which belong to the animal nature we are working out of our composition; for example between lust and love, of which one belongs to the lower animal nature and the other to the higher spiritual. You are ignoring the distinction and by ignoring it, you ignore the patent fact of evolution.
Treneth — To ignore facts is the beginning of thought.
Keshav — No, but to forget facts for the time being — that is the beginning of thought.
Wilson — My dear Keshav, pray don’t trail a red paradox across the path.
Keshav — It was the other boy who did it. To return to the subject, are you really unconscious of the flagrant errors of which you have been so lavish in a little space?
Wilson — I am quite unconscious of any error.
Keshav — You have made three to my knowledge, and the first is your assumption that what is animal, cannot be human.
Wilson — Can you disprove it?
Keshav — Can you prove it? In the first place you cannot tell what is animal and what is not.
Wilson — Why, the qualities possessed by human beings as distinct from animals are those which are not animal.
Keshav — And, I suppose, qualities possessed in common by human beings and animals, are animal?
Wilson — You are right.
Keshav — And such qualities ought to be worked out of our composition?
Wilson — Yes, as Tennyson says, we ought to be
The tiger and the ape.
Keshav — Then we ought to get rid of fidelity, ought we not?
Wilson — Why so?
Keshav — Because it is a quality possessed in common by the dog and the human being, and the dog is an animal.
Treneth — Of course we should. Fidelity is a disease like conscience.
Keshav — And infidelity is a quality possessed in common by the cat and the human being, and therefore we ought to get rid of infidelity.
Treneth — Again of course; for infidelity is merely a relative term, and if fidelity is not, then how can infidelity be?
Keshav — And so we must get rid of all opposing qualities and acquire a dead neutrality? Your ambition then is not to be a personality, but to be a — negative?
Treneth — I confess you have taken me63 in the flank: even my paradoxes will not carry me so far.
Keshav — And you, Broome, are you willing to break down the ladder by which we are climbing?
Wilson — Not for a moment. What I mean is that the qualities possessed in common by all the animals and the human being are animal.
Keshav — Is not the human being an animal?
Wilson — Yes, scientifically.
Keshav — But not really?
Wilson — Well, he is something more than an animal.
Keshav — You mean he has other qualities besides those which belong to the animal type?
Wilson — That is what I mean.
Keshav — And has not the planet other qualities besides64 those which belong to the astral type?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Does that warrant us in saying that a planet is not really a star?
Wilson — No.
Keshav — And are we warranted in saying that man is not really an animal?
Wilson — We are not.
Keshav — And the animal world is an element in the Cosmos, is it not?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Is it not then the virtue of an animal to evolve the qualities and powers native to his animality?
Wilson — I suppose so.
Keshav — And man, being an animal, ought also to evolve the qualities and powers native to his animality?
Wilson — That seems to follow, but is not this to cancel our old description of human virtue and break down our second rung?
Keshav — No, for just as the qualities native to a planet include the qualities native to a star, so the qualities native to the human type include the qualities native to the animal type.
Wilson — I quite agree with you now. What was my second error?
Keshav — You talked of the lower animal nature and the higher spiritual nature and in so talking assumed that the qualities peculiar to the human being are higher than the qualities he shares with some or all of the animals. Is dissimulation higher than love? You reject the idea with contempt: yet dissimulation is peculiar to the human being but love, and love of the most spiritual kind, he shares with the turtle-dove and with the wild-duck of the Indian marshes, who cannot sleep the live-long night because Nature has severed him from his mate but ever wails across the cold and lapping water with passionate entreaty that she may solace his anguish with even a word, and travellers straying in the forest hear his forlorn cry “Love, speak to me!” No, we can only say of varying qualities that one is beautiful and another less beautiful, or not beautiful at all; and beauty does not reside in being animal or being more than animal but in something very different.
Wilson — And my third error?
Keshav — Your third error was to confound evolution with elimination.
Wilson — And does it not really come to that?
Keshav — The vulgar opinion, which finds a voice as usual in Tennyson — what opinion of the British average does he not echo? — the vulgar opinion learns that the principle of evolution or gradual perfection is the reigning principle of life and adapts65 the idea to its own stupid fallacy that perfection implies the elimination of all that is vivid and picturesque and likely to foster a personality. Evolution does not eliminate but perfects.
Wilson — But surely perfection tends to eliminate what is imperfect?
Keshav — Oh I don’t deny that we have lost our tails, but so has a Manx cat.
Treneth — Dear me! that is a fruitful idea. A dissertation proving that the Manx cat is the crowning effort of Evolution might get me a Fellowship.
Keshav — It would deserve it for its originality. Moreover if we have lost our tails, we have also lost our wings.
Treneth — I maintain that the tails are the more serious loss. Wings would have been useful and we do not want them but we do want tails, for they would have been lovely appendages and a magnificent final flourish to the beauty of the human figure. Just fancy the Dean and Provost pacing up to the Communion Table with a fine long tail swishing about their ears! What a glorious lesson! What a sublime and instructive spectacle!
Wilson — You are incorrigibly frivolous, Treneth.
Keshav — If Prince Paradox is frivolous, he is virtuous, insofar as he is developing the virtue most intimately native to his personality; and the inquiry is dull enough at present to bear occasional touches of enlivening laughter.
Wilson — Yet the inquiry must pass through stifling underground galleries and to avoid them is puerile.
Keshav — I am at one with you, but if we must dive under the ground, there is no need to linger there.
Evolution does not eliminate, but perfects. The cruelty that blossoms out in the tiger, has its seeds deep down in the nature of man and if it is minimised in one generation will expand in another, nor is it possible for man to eradicate cruelty without pulling up in the same moment the bleeding roots of his own being. Yet the brute ferocity that in the tiger is graceful and just and artistic, is in the man savage and crude and inharmonious and must be cultured and refined, until it becomes a virtue and fits as gracefully and harmlessly into the perfect character, as its twin-brother physical courage and physical love, its remote relative.
Wilson — You are growing almost as paradoxical as Prince Paradox, Keshav.
Keshav — Look for Truth and you will find her at the bottom of a paradox. Are you convinced that animal qualities are not the worse for being animal?
Wilson — Perfectly convinced.
Keshav — And here I cannot do better than quote a sentence that like so many of Meredith’s sentences, goes like a knife to the root of the matter. “As she grows in the flesh when discreetly tended, nature is unimpeachable, flowerlike, yet not too decoratively a flower; you must have her with the stem, the thorns, the roots, and the fat bedding of roses.” And since I have quoted that immortal chapter so overloaded with truth critical, truth psychologic and truth philosophic, let me use two other sentences to point the moral of this argument and bid you embrace “Reality’s infinite sweetness” and “touch the skirts of Philosophy by sharing her hatred of the sham decent, her derision of sentimentalism.” May we not now ascend to the fourth rung?
Wilson — Yes, I think we may go on.
Keshav — I am especially eager to do so because I am more and more convinced that our description of virtue is no longer adequate: for if the only requisite is to evolve our innate qualities, will it not be enough to be merely cruel and not to be cruel in a refined and beautiful manner?
Wilson — Plainly it will.
Keshav — And is it really enough to be merely cruel?
Treneth — No, for to be inartistic is the only sin.
Keshav — Your paradox cuts to the heart of the truth. Can you tell me, Broome, whether is the rose more beautiful than the bramble or the bramble than the rose?
Wilson — Obviously the rose than the bramble.
Keshav — And why is this? Is it not because the thorn develops unduly the thorn and does not harmonize it with leaves but is careless of proportion and the eternal principle of harmony, and is beautiful indeed as an element in the harmony of plants but has no pretensions to personal beauty but the rose subdues the thorn into harmony with the leaf and the blossom66 and is perfectly beautiful in herself no less than as an element in the harmony of flowers?
Wilson — I believe you are right.
Keshav — And must not cruelty, the thorn of our beautiful human rose, be subdued into harmony with his other qualities and among them tenderness and clemency and generous forbearance and other qualities seemingly the most opposed to cruelty and then only will it be a real virtue but until then nothing more than a potential virtue?
Wilson — You are right; then only will it be a real virtue.
Keshav — So we must modify our description of virtue by affixing an epithet to the word “evolution”, and preferably I think the epithet “perfect” which does not imply size or degree or intensity or anything but justness of harmony, for example in a poem, which is not called perfect when it is merely long-drawn-out or overflowing with passion or gorgeous even to swooning, but when it blends all the elements of beauty into an irreproachable harmony. We shall then describe virtue as the perfect evolution by the human being of the inborn qualities and powers native to his personality.
Wilson — With that I have no quarrel, but am I too inquisitive when I ask you how cruelty and tenderness can live together?
Keshav — My dear Broome, I shall never think you too inquisitive but above all things desire that you should have a clear intelligence of my meaning. Have you never learned by experience or otherwise how a girl will torment her favoured lover by a delicate and impalpable evasion of his desires and will not give him even the loan of a kiss without wooing, but must be infinitely entreated and stretch him on the rack of a half-serious refusal and torture him with the pangs of hope just as a cat will torture a mouse, yet all the while means to give him everything he asks for and would indeed be more bitterly disappointed than he, if any accident precluded her from making him happy?
Wilson — Yes, I know, some women are like that.
Keshav — If you had said most women were67 like that, you would have hit the truth more nearly. And this trait in women we impute to feminine insincerity and to maiden coyness and to everything but the real motive, and that is the primitive and eternal passion of cruelty appearing in the coarse fibre of man as crude and inartistic barbarity, but in the sweet and delicate soul of woman as a refined and beautiful playfulness and the inseparable correlative of a gentle and suave disposition.
Wilson — But I am inclined to credit the girl with the purpose of giving a keener relish to the gratified desire by enhancing the difficulty of attainment, and in that case she will be actuated not by cruelty but always by tenderness.
Keshav — You think she is actuated by the principles of Political Economy? I cannot agree with you.
Treneth — And I deny the truth of the principle. A precious thing easily acquired is treasured for its beauty and worth, but if acquired with pain and labour, the memory of the effort leaves a bad taste in the mouth which it is difficult to expunge. I read Vergil at school and never read a line of him now but Catullus I skimmed through in my arm-chair and love and appreciate.
Keshav — Your distinction is subtle and suggestive, Treneth, but it never occurred to me in that light before.
Treneth — It never occurred to me in that light before.
Keshav — Yet I do not think it applies to our lovers, and it does not apply always, for the poem I have perfected with labour and thought is surely dearer to me than the light carol thrown off in the happy inspiration of the moment. Rapid generalities seldom cover more than a few cases. So I will take Broome on his own ground, not because I cannot adduce other instances of cruelty and tenderness living in wedded felicity, but because I do not want to fatigue myself by recollecting them.
And now, Broome, will you say that a tyrant who desires to give his favourite a keener relish of luxury and strains him on the rack and washes him with scalding oil and dries him with nettles and flays him with whips and then only comforts him with the luxury of downy pillows and velvet cushions and perfect repose, has not been actuated by cruelty but always by tenderness?
Wilson — Oh, of course, if you cite extravagant instances — !
Keshav — And will you say that the girl who wishes to give her kiss a sweeter savour on the lips of her favourite and strains him on the rack of suspense and washes him with the scalding oil of despair and dries him with the nettles of hope and flays him with the whips of desire and then only comforts him with the velvet luxury of a kiss and the downy cushion of an embrace and the perfect repose of desire fulfilled, has not been actuated by cruelty but always by tenderness and not rather that all unnecessary pain is cruelty to the sufferer?
Wilson — Certainly, unnecessary pain is cruelty.
Keshav — Are you perfectly satisfied?
Wilson — Perfectly satisfied.
Keshav — We have discovered then that perfect evolution is requisite for perfect virtue, but I do not think we have distilled its full flavour into the epithet. Or are you of the opinion that we want nothing more than the harmonizing of all the inborn qualities?
Wilson — I cannot think of any other requisite.
Keshav — Can you, Treneth?
Treneth — I was much attracted by something you said in the beginning about the elements of beauty and I suspect it is these we want now.
Keshav — You have exactly hit it. We described it as not merely harmony in effect and proportion in detail but as possessed of one of the three elements, colour, perfume and form, and in most types combining at least two and in many all three. But in confining our outlook to harmony and proportion we have talked as if human virtue were merely possessed of one of the elements; yet is there any reason to suppose that human virtue does not possess the whole three?
Wilson — No reason whatever.
Keshav — Well, might we not inquire whether it does possess all three, and if it does not, whether it may not legitimately or, to speak more properly, may not artistically possess all three?
Wilson — By all means, let us inquire.
Keshav — And if we find that it may artistically possess them, then, if our theory that beauty should be the governing principle in all things, is really correct, must we not say that they not only may but ought to possess all three?
Wilson — Evidently we must.
Treneth — That is as plain as a Cambridge laundress.
Keshav — And it is clear that all qualities may, with diligence, be entirely divested of colour, form and perfume, and when they have reached the stage of wanting every single element of beauty, we need take no notice of them, for they have no longer anything to do with virtue, until they begin to redevelop.
Wilson — Obviously, for we are talking of perfect virtue or perfect beauty of character.
Keshav — Now if we have not the qualities requisite for a given action, we shall not achieve the action, supposing we attempt it, but shall only achieve a blunder, is it not so?
Wilson — Clearly.
Keshav — But if we have the qualities, we are likely to achieve the action?
Wilson — Necessarily.
Keshav — Then is not action the outward manifestation of a quality, and I include in action any movement physical or intellectual which is visible or whose effects are visible to the human understanding?
Wilson — Yes, but may not an action manifest the want of a quality?
Keshav — No doubt, but we need not touch on those, since we have not to develop defects in order to be virtuous, or do you think we need?
Treneth — Clearly not: negatives cannot be virtues.
Keshav — That is a very just sentiment and I shall have occasion to recall it. Now is not a battle the outward manifestation of the warlike qualities?
Wilson — Evidently.
Keshav — And composition the outward manifestation of the poetical qualities, I mean, of course, the qualities of a maker?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — And do we not mean that the poetical qualities express themselves in composition just as the sidereal in a star?
Wilson — We do.
Keshav — And is not the star the form of the sidereal qualities?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Then is not composition the form of the poetical qualities?
Wilson — That follows.
Keshav — And battle of the warlike qualities?
Wilson — That also.
Keshav — Then is not action the form of a quality, that is to say the shape in which it expresses itself?
Wilson — So it seems.
Keshav — So we find that virtue has a form.
Wilson — But may not qualities have a form apart from action?
Treneth — For example, thought.
Keshav — But the expression of thought is included in action for our purpose.
Treneth — For our purpose only.
Keshav — As you please. I merely want to use one projection from the rock and not imperil my neck by clutching two in one hand.
Treneth — I am satisfied.
Keshav — I suppose, Broome, you mean by form a concrete shape?
Wilson — I suppose so.
Keshav — Then you must see that qualities unexpressed in action are wholly chaotic and formless; and I mean within the scope of action, the expression of thought and the act of sitting or standing or lying down and the act of being indolent and anything that by any legitimate stretch of language may be called an act.
Wilson — I too am satisfied.
Keshav — Then we are agreed that a quality must possess form, that is to say, express itself in action or it will not be a virtue?
Treneth — May it not prefer to express itself in perfume and colour?
Keshav — I had forgotten that.
Now if we inquire what colour is, we shall see that it is nothing concrete but merely an effect on the retina of the eye, and its prosperity lies in the eye that sees it, and if the retina of the eye is perfect, every different shade impresses itself, but if imperfect, then the eye is blind to one or more colours. Will you agree with me when I say that anything to which we give the name of colour must be the reverse of concrete?
Wilson — That follows.
Keshav — Then the colour of a virtue must be the reverse of concrete.
Wilson — Evidently.
Keshav — Now let us take metaphor into our counsel, for metaphor has sometimes an intuitive way of chiming consonantly with the truth; and metaphor tells us that we often talk of a scarlet and sinful character and of a white and innocent character and of a neutral68 and drab-coloured character, and assign various colours to various women and call one woman a splendid carnation, for we are fond of comparing women to flowers and another a beautiful and gorgeous rose, and a third a pure and sinless lily and yet another a modest violet betraying herself only by her fragrance, and are all the while implying that to the imaginative eye, if the retina is perfect, various characters have various colours. Do you follow me?
Treneth — Yes, the idea is fine.
Wilson — And true.
Treneth — That is immaterial.
Keshav — And character is the composition of qualities just as a poem is the composition of sounds and a painting the composition of pigments.
Wilson — Yes, just in that sense.
Keshav — Then is it not plain that if a character has colour, the qualities of which it is composed must have colour.
Wilson — I think it is.
Keshav — And colour is not concrete, but an effect on the retina of the eye?
Wilson — So we said.
Keshav — Then is not the colour of a quality its effect on the retina of the imaginative eye?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — And a quality in itself may be formless?
Wilson — Yes.
Keshav — Then to the imaginative eye is not a quality pure colour?
Wilson — I suppose so.
Keshav — But the imaginative eye is not one with69 the perceptive eye70, for it perceives what does not exist, but the perceptive eye only what does exist.
Wilson — You are right.
Keshav — I mean that nothing without form can have an effect on the retina of the perceptive eye.
Wilson — That is evident.
Keshav — Then to be visible to the perceptive eye, the colour of a quality, which is really the soul of the quality, must suffuse the action which expresses it, which is the body of the quality.
Wilson — It must.
Keshav — And is colour without form a perfect type of beauty?
Wilson — No.
Keshav — Then a quality must suffuse its body with its soul, or, since the word action is growing ambiguous, its expression with its colour.
Wilson — Yes, I agree to that.
Keshav — And so the quality will so suffuse its expression as to be visible to the perceptive eye, just as the soul of a rose, which is the effect on the retina of the imaginative eye, suffuses her form with colour which is the effect on the retina of the perceptive eye, and varies according to the variety of colours, and if two roses have the same form but one is crimson and the other yellow, the soul of the red rose is seen to be scarlet with unholy passion, but the soul of the yellow rose is seen to be dull and blanched and languid, like the reaction after intensely71 voluptuous enjoyment.
And so virtue may possess both form and colour, and, I suppose, may artistically possess both, or will colour be detrimental to the perfection of virtue as tinting to the perfection of sculpture?
Treneth — By no means; for qualities are not hewn out of72 marble or cast in beaten gold or chiselled in Indian ivory, but are moulded in the delicate and flower-like texture of human emotion and, if colourless, are scarcely beautiful.
Keshav — Then we are agreed that a quality must possess both form and colour, or will not be a perfect virtue?
Treneth — Plainly.
Wilson — I am afraid I hardly understand what we are saying.
Keshav — I am certain I do not; but we must follow where the argument leads us, and I have a glimmering intelligence which I hope to see expanding into perfect daylight; but I do not want any side issue to distract my thoughts and will go on to inquire what is the perfume of a quality: for I am like a frail canoe that wavers through a tranquil to be buffeted outside by the swelling waters and have with difficulty plunged through these two waves of form and colour, when I see rolling down on me with its curled forehead this third wave of perfume which I do not hope to outlive. But to the venturous Fortune is as compliant as a captive Briseis and I will boldly plunge into the crash of the breaking water and call manner the perfume of a quality, for in manner resides the subtle aroma and sense of something delicious but impalpable which is what we mean by perfume.
Treneth — With your usual good luck you have notched your mark in the centre.
Keshav — So by audacity I have outlived the third wave and am more than ever convinced that you must take liberties with Fortune before she will love you.
I suppose you will agree with me that for a virtue to be beautiful, there must be a perfect harmony in the elements of beauty, and the colour not too subdued as in the clover nor too glaring as in the sunflower, and the perfume not too slight to be noticeable as in the pansy nor too intense for endurance as in the meadow-sweet, and the form not too monotonous as in a canal or too irregular as in the leafless tree, but all perfectly harmonious in themselves and in fit proportion to each other?
Wilson — From our description of beauty, that is evident.
Treneth — I plead not guilty on behalf of the sunflower, but agree with the sentiment.
Keshav — And now since Broome and I are at a loss to conjecture what we mean, do you not think we shall be enlightened by a concrete example?
Treneth — It is likely.
Wilson — Let us at least make an attempt.
Keshav — We will call on the stage the girl and her lover, who have been so useful to us. It is clear at once that if she is not virtuous but harmonizes the elements of beauty unskilfully, the passion of her favourite will wither and not expand.
Wilson — That is clear.
Keshav — What then will be her manner of harmonizing them?
Wilson — I return the question to you.
Keshav — Well now, will she not harmonize the phases of her dalliance, and hesitate on the brink of yielding just at the proper pitch of his despair, and elude his kiss just at the proper pitch of his expectancy, and fan his longing when it sinks, and check it when it rises, and surrender herself when he is smouldering with hopeless passion?
Wilson — That is probably what she will do.
Keshav — And is not that to cast her dalliance in a beautiful form?
Wilson — It is.
Keshav — But she will not do this grossly and palpably, but will lead up to everything by looks and tones and gestures so as to glide from one to the other without his perceiving and will sweeten the hard and obvious form by the flavour of the simple and natural, yet will be all the while the veriest coquette and artist in flirtation.
Wilson — Yes, that is what a girl like that would do.
Keshav — And is not that to give a subtle perfume to her dalliance?
Wilson — I suppose it is.
Keshav — But if she is perfect in the art, will she not, even when repulsing him most cruelly, allow a secret tenderness to run through her words and manner, and when she is most tenderly yielding, will she not show the sharp edge of asperity through the flowers, and in a word allow the blended cruelty and sweetness of her soul to be just palpable to his perceptive senses?
Wilson — She will.
Keshav — And is not that to suffuse her dalliance with colour?
Wilson — Plainly.
Keshav — And moreover she will not allow her affectation of the natural to be too imperfect to conceal her art or so heavily scented as to betray the intention, or the colour to be unnoticeable from slightness or from intensity to spoil the delicate effect of her perverseness, or the form to engross too largely the attention, or indeed any element to fall too short or carry too far, but will subdue the whole trio into a just and appropriate harmony.
Wilson — If she wants to be a perfect flirt, that is what she will do.
Keshav — And if coquetry is native in her, to be a perfect flirt will be highest pinnacle of virtue.
Wilson — That follows from the premisses73.
Keshav — And so here we have a concrete example of perfect virtue, and begin to understand what we mean by the perfect evolution of an inborn quality, or are you still unenlightened?
Wilson — No, I perfectly understand.
Keshav — Hither then we have climbed with much more laborious effort and have almost cut our hands in two on the projections, but do at last really stand on the fourth and last rung of the ladder.
Wilson — The last? I rather fancy we are only half way up and shall have to ascend another three or four rungs before we are kissed by the fresh winds that carol on the brow. I have many things to ask you and you have as yet spoken nothing of the relations between man and man and how this new morality is to be modified by the needs of society and what justice means and what self-sacrifice and indeed a thousand things which will need many hours to investigate.
Keshav — I am Frankenstein saddled with a monster of my own making and have made a man to my ruin and a young man to my hurt. Nevertheless “lead on, monster: we’ll follow.”
Treneth — Will you not rest on the fourth rung and have a cup of tea in my rooms before you resume?
Keshav — But shall we not put a stop to your spheroids and trianguloids and asinoids and all the other figures of mathematical ingenuity?
Treneth — I am at present watching a body which revolves on six screws and is consequently very drunk, and a day off will sensibly assist my speculations.
Keshav — So let it be, but before we go I may as well recall to you at a glance what is our fourth rung.
We have expanded our description of virtue as the evolution of the inborn qualities native to our personality, by throwing in the epithet “perfect”, and have interpreted the full flavour of the epithet in words to the effect that qualities in their evolved perfection must be harmonious one with another and have a beautiful form or expression, and a beautiful colour or revelation of the soul, and a beautiful perfume or justly-attempered manner and must subdue all three into a just and appropriate74 harmony.
With this conviction in our souls we will journey on, despising the censure and alarm of the reputable, and evolve our inborn qualities and powers into a beautiful and harmonious perfection, until we walk delicately like living poems through a radiant air, and will not stunt the growth of any branch or blossom, but will prefer to the perishable laurels of this world a living crown of glory, and hear through the chaotic murmur of the ages the solemn question of Christ “What profiteth it a man if he own the whole world and lose his own soul?” and will answer according to the melodious doctrines of philosophy and acquire by a life of perfect beauty the peace of God that passeth all understanding.
Earlier edition of this work: Sri Aurobindo Birth Century Library: Set in 30 volumes.- Volume 3.- The Harmony of Virtue: Early Cultural Writings — 1890-1910.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Asram, 1972.- 489 p.
1 1992 ed.: excuse my laziness
2 1992 ed.: stocked in
3 1992 ed.: is an accurate plumbline
4 1992 ed.: is it
5 1992 ed.: authority of Hippias
6 1992 ed.: in
7 1992 ed.: the most excellent?
8 1992 ed.: they
9 1992 ed.: whatever species it may belong to
10 1992 ed.: people
11 1992 ed.: receiving higher light
12 1992 ed.: people
13 1992 ed.: lead
14 1992 ed.: induce increase
15 1992 ed.: inscribed
16 1992 ed.: I have forced you, and your dislike of my method: for I am taking nothing for granted, but am going to the root of things
17 1992 ed.: go on and not shy
18 1992 ed.: torment
19 1992 ed.: would
20 1992 ed.: life
21 1992 ed.: any
22 1992 ed.: we should as is the argument of private judgement
23 1992 ed.: arbiter
24 1992 ed.: socialists
25 1992 ed.: awesome
26 1992 ed.: multitudes
27 1992 ed.: barbaric
28 1992 ed.: barbarism
29 The following passage was written at the top of the manuscript page. Its place of insertion was not marked:
When we say a fruit is wholesome or unwholesome, we mean that it is harmless and nutritious food or that it tends to dysentery and colic, but when we say that anything is good or bad, we apply the epithets like tickets without inquiring what we mean by them; we have no moral touchstone that tells gold from spurious metal.
30 1992 ed.: as
31 1992 ed.: most
32 1992 ed.: upon
33 1992 ed.: any of them
34 1992 ed.: it is all (without and)
35 1992 ed.: in
36 1992 ed.: is all that I want
37 1992 ed.: its own turn
38 1992 ed.: that it is ironical
39 1992 ed.: allowed
40 1992 ed.: Why, by your
41 1992 ed.: purely the voice
42 1992 ed.: basis, and you
43 1992 ed.: and if you
44 1992 ed.: value
45 1992 ed.: premises
46 1992 ed.: could rectify
47 1992 ed.: enormous
48 1992 ed.: it is
49 1992 ed.: Vallabh
50 1992 ed.: but it must
51 1992 ed.: companion
52 1992 ed.: example
53 1992 ed.: further
54 1992 ed.: or a system
55 1992 ed.: all diverging
56 1992 ed.: rose is content
57 1992 ed.: virtues
58 1992 ed.: virtue
59 1992 ed.: a principle
60 1992 ed.: of the individual
61 1992 ed.: go to the
62 1992 ed.: and appears throughout
63 1992 ed.: one
64 1992 ed.: beside
65 1992 ed.: adopts
66 1992 ed.: blossoms
67 1992 ed.: are
68 1992 ed.: of neutral
69 1992 ed.: of
70 1992 ed.: eyes
71 1992 ed.: extremely
72 1992 ed.: hewn of
73 1992 ed.: premises
74 1992 ed.: just appropriate