I’m a sucker for rescuing from second-hand book shops old books that nobody else ever reads; apart from an overwhelmingly sentimental feeling for neglected things, neglected books & authors, neglected music, neglected children, dogs & cats, old houses & their neglected gardens, it seems to me that there is strength & bouyancy in all neglected things—something there is that helps them survive in-spite-of.
In the case of books, I take the view that since there is nothing new under the sun you might as well dig for treasure in second-hand bookshops (while they do still exist) as read the very latest e-thing which is probably only fit to be used as kindling.
So it was I came across a very handleable little book in Bury St Edmunds with waterproof tough covers and pages just torn to shape on the outside and smelling of their age—100 years old last year (2011). £10 First Edition.
You’d have to fall for a book with a title like that, would you not? Well, contrary to all appearances, I am in fact a sentimental old romantic, so I fell for it.
The opening lines made me realise that this was my kind of book; a non-theoretical workout of the archetype of House as emblematic of one’s very Being: as your conceptual house is so you are; a biblical idea; a Jungian concept. An archetype.
The home of the Inner Life is an ancient House of many chambers. It stands remote from other habitation, hill-placed, gazing on the green plain, with the silent deep river graving a winding way across the great expanse, seeking the line of light that is the distant sea. Overhead is the wind-swept sky: on angel wings soft and strong the great winds pass across the blue; and high in upper air hang the pennant flights of birds.
The walls of that ancient House are crimson-dyed with eternities of sunset and sunrise, and the high grave windows look upon the curve of sheltering wood, look upon the trees that pilgrim-wise ascend the hill…
Sold to the Man with the Big Beard, Biggles Hat & Goggles
…look to the far-away snaky road, gaze upon the great plain and the glittering line of sea.
Stone steps, way-worn, lead to the yawning door, and to the echoing hall. An embracing sense of well being, of joyous peace, enfolds the spirit returning homeward. Here is the many-chambered House that encloses rooms so dear, so familiar. Vast saloons, rooms recessed and alcoved rooms lit with candles set in hanging crystal and pictured in mirrors, bare white rooms full of sunshine, majestic galleries picture hung, vast tapestry-lined halls blue-green and wonderful, and the shadowy spaces, with high arched roof on angel heads, through whose dusk shines altar light and spiral incense-smoke aspires and twines.
Here in room and corridor and on the creaking stairs, are sounds of voices, familiar intonations, light steps, crooning laughs, jovial cries, the beat of music, the echo of fire-warm words, the steps of the old. Here, too, are empty chambers in hushed silence, and here are sacred chambers that sometimes, but not ever, are peopled with beloved presences that life denies, and that death hides.
Close the outer door, O my spirit; veil the windows of this vast House, turn thine eyes inward to reality, and never wander more…
Never wander more… Why would one want to?
Years ago, as an exercise with top executives & high-powered people in industry & education, I used to run an exercise which in part entailed having them write a description of a house they found at the end of a long journey which they constructed as though writing a fiction for homework: some of them found squalid little two-up, two-down, shacks; for some the walls of a modern Frank Lloyd Wright type piece of modernity were totally bare; for others their house was like a museum or it was a little thatched cottage, and so on. They did not know it as they were writing but what they were depicting was an image of their own way of life; in discussion this proved to be a very accurate psychological study.
The comment was often made that doing this homework task helped these high-powered people to return to childhood and savour its freedom again.
Though of course I knew what I was doing, I used to practise the exercise with them, returning each time to what I had written during a previous course and therefore gradually increasing the size of my discovered house. It was not till I found Frances Frith ‘s book years later that I found its perfect description!
The child hides in the hay in the loft, or squats in an empty box in the lumber-room, or crouches behind a half-drawn curtain, or climbs a great yew-tree and finds there a retreat where the book’s illusion is not dispelled, nor the vision of the imaginary life shattered. In life there is much of loneliness and little of retirement, and the difficulties in the way of attaining the latter set the invention and fancy to work.
The child is not content with visible hiding-places only, but seeks for them in the city of refuge of the inner Life.
How many of us would say, with PDOuspensky, ‘There must be something more to life than this?’ The city of refuge of the inner life is the place where our ‘real selves’ can exist and perhaps life is a constant effort towards making the inner life refuge congruent with ‘real’ life. Perhaps…
If I were as rich as I could tell as the rhyme says, I would realise a vision.
In my dream-palace should be a long gallery, lined with statuary on pedestals to accentuate the length of it, with a distant perspective through an archway of a white marble staircase of fifty-two steps, spaced by landings, in which the ascending and descending figures of people are reduced to the size of bright pencil-lines, moving in an atmosphere of remote clear greyness, exactly like the reflection given by a convex mirror…
Imagine, if you will, a Being as capacious as that! The endless rooms of your being thus…
Frances Frith’s beautiful book is a combination of dream-reality and a depiction of her sensitivities to life as it was for her. Memories, observations, vividities, haiku-like specific moments…
Certain moments will be remembered simply because of the brief pleasurable sensation passing like a gleam of sunlight over a brooding moor, or like the sudden, warm, light of candles in a darkening room. Nothing else remains in memory, all else has fallen into the oubliette of forgetfulness, only the vivid moment when imagination was stimulated.
This October morning the sky was of a pale blue, covered towards the west with white clouds drifting before a fresh wind. The great aspen-tree near to the windows had lost nearly all the leaves on the lower branches, only a few leaves quivering at the tips. The upper part of the tree was still leafy, and full of rumour and unexpected silences. It drowsed and dreamed and awakened and vibrated like the spirit of man to every call from without. The apple-trees scarcely moving, but at the horizon the tall poplars were bowmg in the wind and the leafy edges shivering like surfaces of water.
of pale blue
The early morning was chilly, but warmed by intermittent bursts of sunshine, and under the apple-tree was an expanse of sun-warmed grass, with the saucer’s oval brimming with wind-shaken water, reflecting the light in patches. The white dog lay hard by outstretched in perfect comfort. The black cat, high- shouldered, impassive and majestic as Pasht, sat on the warm earth of the flower-ravished borders, and contemplated with disillusioned eyes… A feeling of gratitude for the household’s animals’ beauty and grave content heartened me, as if the warmth of the October sunshine had power to penetrate within…
early morning chill
with bursts of sun—
dog under the apple-tree
on the warm earth
of the flower-ravished borders
And then the Shock of Recognition
Frances Frith lived somewhere near to where I live in the house of my dreams!
How often in past November days have I braved the cruel Lincolnshire cold, the biting wind blowing over the Fens from the North Sea, to run down the garden path to the bed sheltered by the high privet hedge where grew chrysanthemums, in order to shake off the first snow of the year that was freezing the heart of the warm-scented flowers…
Back in the Real World
A few days after I bought the book I read this in The Observer of 30th November 2008:-
The capitalist world is crumbling before our very eyes; materialism, consumerism, the bubbles it has blown, are bursting all around its global community. And the violent protests that will follow have started…
The governments of Turkey, Hungary and Iceland, three of the countries hit hardest by the global economic downturn, faced mass demonstrations against austerity measures yesterday. Thousands of Turkish workers clashed with police in Ankara, at a demonstration held by the two biggest unions to protest against a possible International Monetary Fund deal. The IMF is negotiating with Turkey on a loan to stem the impact of the global financial crisis on the country. Six police officers and several protesters were injured and are being treated in hospital, the state news agency reported. The rising price of basic commodities such as gas, oil, wheat and rice has hurt consumers and the government is working on a stimulus package to curb rising unemployment, which is hovering at 10 per cent. In Budapest, thousands of fire-fighters, teachers and other public employees demonstrated outside Hungary’s parliament to protest against austerity measures. To reduce the state budget deficit, the government plans to temporarily suspend or limit wage bonuses and pensions, among other steps. Icelanders gathered outside their parliament to demand the resignation of the government they blame for1eading their country into an economic abyss..Violence flared as protesters tried to storm a police station to free an arrested demonstrator. At least five people were injured…
Such demonstrations of unrest are kept hidden away on the insides of papers lest justified anger at the antics of the Global Capitalist Conspirators spread like wildfire.
What I am really interested in, by stark contrast, is who Frances Firth was and whereabouts in Lincolnshire she lived—somewhere in the Fen country, north of Ely, south of Marshland? Grantham or Sleaford way? No other clues! The biting wind over the Fens that reaches Marshland would come from the south therefore not ‘off the North Sea’…
All day long a cruel wind has blown from the north-east, entering the house irresistibly through window-frame, crevice and cranny, withering in me through physical suffering every better impulse, every feeling of common humanity or courtesy; shrivelling all desire to act, enjoy, or create. The morning and the afternoon were a veritable Purgatory of suffering, and the mind became as numbed as the body. In my frozen thoughts but one idea torpidly persisted. Had the sun at any remote period ever flooded the house with waves of light and warmth? Had not this icy wind blown from the creation of things? There was no remembrance or power to reconstruct the sun-filled past in which my body had rejoiced in warmth, my inner life bourgeoned, and high hope was still mine. Now deep in a relentless grave lay imprisoned stricken hope, dead dreams; and beside the heaped-up mound of bare clay I lay in a silent passion of grief. Dreadful morning passed into withered afternoon, and afternoon at last died into weary evening. Then came the merciful black oblivion of night.
So it is in this house when the cruel wind blows sometimes from the southern deserts and sometimes from the Arctic wastes—often on alternate days… More and more as I grow old I look forward to spring… But October and the fall of leaves remains my favourite month.
it was like a dream
—my life: whole years are blotted out
in my mind… I would like
to have the power of feeling meaning
in all the experiences I had
if I could relive my life
said Mr O:
but we are never at home
(or very rarely)—we are
nearly always out… so our experiences
have little or no meaning for us
I had never thought
of life as a thing to think of:
I took it all for granted
Mr O replied: you were simply
carried along by it as by a torrent
thinking you were going somewhere
to some clear goal…
but it is only when you realise
that life is taking you nowhere
that it begins to have meaning
(Maurice Nicoll in conversation with PDOuspensky
sometime in the 1940’s)