The World is Mired
…in the growth of what can justifiably be called ‘fascism’, there are starving millions, anti-human activity perpetrated by people who imagine they are human, people being blown up or killed in plane crashes and nobody asks what it’s all about; the few who sit quietly doing nothing can lose themselves in the horror of it all.
Sometime in the summer of 1955, quite by chance, in a secondhand bookshop in Shaftesbury Avenue in London I came across a Thomas Nelson pocket book of The Four Men by Hilaire Belloc. It is a ‘farago’ – a journey of the mind undertaken by four of Hilaire Belloc’s Multiple-I’s. I read it every year at this time since it is supposed to have taken place between the 29th October 1902 and the 2nd November 1902 – a date a day…
This I do to re-affirm my own belief in what human existence is about. At the end of October for many years since 1955 I feel like I have come home to The Four Men the nature of which has been built in to all the various formal philosophies I have espoused and attempted to put together syncretically to make the result my own.
station concourse –
I surprise the chap who asks
what life is all about
The text for today is the first part of The Four Men:-
THE TWENTY-NINTH OF OCTOBER 1902
Nine years ago, as I was sitting in The George at Robertsbridge, drinking that port of theirs and staring at the fire, there arose in me a multitude of thoughts through which at last came floating a vision of the woods of home and of another place – the lake where the Arun rises.
And I said to myself, inside my own mind: “What are you doing? You are upon some business that takes you far, not even for ambition or for adventure, but only to earn. And you will cross the sea and earn your money, and you will come back and spend more than you have earned. But all the while your life runs past you like a river and the things that are of moment to men you do not heed at all.”
As I thought this kind of thing and still drank up that port, the woods that overhang the reaches of my river came back to me so clearly that for the sake of them, and to enjoy their beauty, I put my hand in front of my eyes, and I saw with every delicate appeal that one’s own woods can offer, the steep bank over Stoke, the valley, the high ridge which hides a man from Arundel, and Arun turning and hurrying below. I smelt the tide.
Not ever, in a better time, when I had seen it of reality and before my own eyes living, had that good picture stood so plain; and even the colours of it were more vivid than they commonly are in our English air; but because it was a vision there was no sound, nor could I even hear the rustling of the leaves, though I saw the breeze gusty on the water-meadow banks, and ruffling up a force against the stream.
Then I said to myself again: “What you are doing is not worth while, and nothing is worth while on this unhappy earth except the fulfilment of one’s desire. Consider how many years it is since you saw your home, and for how short a time, perhaps, its perfection will remain. Get up and go back to your own place if only for one day; for you have this great chance that you are already upon the soil of your own country, and that Kent is a mile or two behind.”
As I said these things to myself I felt as that man felt of whom everybody has read in Homer with an answering heart: that ‘he longed as he journeyed to see once more the smoke going up from his own land, and after that to die.’
Then I hit the table there with my hand, and as though there were no duty nor any engagements in the world, and I spoke out loud (for I thought myself alone). I said: “I will go from this place to my home.”
When I had said this the deeper voice of an older man answered: “And since I am going to that same place, let us journey there together.”
I turned round, and I was angry, for there had been no one with me when I had entered upon this reverie, and I had thought myself alone.
I saw then, sitting beyond the table; a tall man and spare, well on in years, vigorous; his eyes were deep set in his head; they were full of travel and of sadness; his hair was of the colour of steel; it was curled and plentiful, and on his chin was a strong, full beard, as grey and stiff as the hair of his head.
“I did not know that you were here,” I said, “nor do I know how you came in, nor who you are; “but if you wish to know what it was made me speak aloud although I thought myself alone, it was the memory of this county, on the edge of which I happen now to be by accident for one short hour, till a train shall take me out of it.”
Then he answered, in the same grave way that he had spoken before: “For the matter of that it is my county also and I heard you say more than that.”
“Yes, I said more than that, and since you heard me you know what I said. I said that all the world could be thrown over but that I would see my own land again, and tread my own county from here and from now, and since you have asked me what part especially, I will tell you. My part of Sussex is all that part from the valley of Arun, and up the Western Rother too, and so over the steep of the Downs to the Norewood, and the lonely place called No Man’s Land.”
He said to me, nodding slowly: “I know these also,” and then he went on: “A man is more himself if he is one of a number; so let us take that road together, and, as we go, gather what company we can find.”
I was willing enough, for all companionship is good, but chance companionship is the best of all; but I said to him: “If we are to be together for three days or four (since it will take us that at least to measure the whole length of Sussex), tell me your name, and I will tell you mine.”
He put on the little smile which is worn by men who have talked to very many different kinds of their fellows, and he said: “My name is of a sort that tells very little, and if I told it it would not be worth telling. What is your name?”
“My name,” I said to him, “is of importance only to those who need to know it; it might be of importance to my masters had I such, but I have none. It is not of importance to my equals. And since you will not tell me yours, and we must call each other something, I shall call you Grizzlebeard, which fixes you very well in my mind.”
“And what shall I call you,” he said, “during so short a journey?”
“You may call me Myself,” I answered, “for that is the name I shall give to my own person and my own soul, as you will find when I first begin speaking of them as occasion serves.”
It was agreed thus between us that we should walk through the whole county to the place we knew, and recover, while yet they could be recovered, the principal joys of the soul, and gather, if we could gather it, some further company; and it was agreed that, as our friendship was chance, so chance it should remain, and that these foolish titles should be enough for us to know each other by.
When, therefore, we had made a kind of pact (but not before) I poured out a great deal of my port for him into a silver mug which he habitually kept in his pocket, and drinking the rest from my own glass, agreed with him that we would start the next day at dawn, with our faces westward along the Brightling road – that is, up into the woods and to the high sandy land from which first, a long way off, one sees the Downs.
All this was on the evening of the 29th October in the year 1902 ; the air was sharp, but not frosty, and, outside, drove the last clouds of, what had been for three days a great gale.
Next morning, having slept profoundly, without giving a warning to any one who had engaged us or whom we had engaged, but cutting ourselves quite apart from care and from the world, we set out with our faces westward, to reach at last the valley of the Arun and the things we knew.
I once got out of a train at Robertsbridge hoping to find Myself and Grizzlebeard in The George drinking port but they had gone off towards Arundel just before I got there.