The New Word, by Allen Upward, , at sacred-texts.com
Diagnosis.—1. Worship of Death.—2. Madness.—3. Making and Breaking.—4. The Devil.—5. The Word of the Black Man.—6. The Puritan.
ONE of those poets who receive honorary degrees from Oxford, and peerages from England, and pensions from Royal Funds, one of those idealists who are found foregathering with archbishops in Metaphysical Societies, gave the last generation this advice:
[paragraph continues] It is Well-meant advice. It is kindly advice. It is the advice which the kind-hearted Idealist is always being tempted to take. The question is whether it is for the benefit of mankind that he should take it.
If that kneeling sister were nothing but a Sister, if when she rose from her knees her life were to be spent in a cloister, or in the holier cloister of the homes of the widowed and the fatherless, ministering to them in their affliction, who is there so sure that he has heard the Man Outside aright, as to
interrupt her with the message? But if her very prayers and offices of kindness are offered as tribute to a Power that is the enemy of mankind; or if, when she rises from her knees, it is to go through the world as wife and mother, teaching her children and her brothers' children to pray falsely in their turn, it may not be so well to leave her her early Hell, and her unhappy views. Is there no heresy in making the Mother more sacred than the Child?
It was not, persuaded by such advice, that those Idealists who first saw that Heaven of hers, and strenuously embraced the happy and unhappy views, went forth into all the world, and preached their gospel to every creature. Not in obedience to such advice did he who had heard glad tidings of great joy and fearful tidings of damnation, leave his sister her false Olympus and her devilish mythology, while she prayed to Zeus or Isis. Not to such music beat the hearts of those who compassed sea and land, crossed deserts, braved angry mobs, confronted Roman judges, fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, and alas! fought like wild beasts on the same spot thereafter. The advice is well meant, but it comes two thousand years too late. It should have been offered to Saint Paul.
The poet who gave that advice acted like a physician who should give the patient up. It is easy to see what was in his mind. If the bandages that have been used to stunt the growth of the Chinese girl's foot are removed in later life, the effort of
the foot to regain its natural growth and shape causes her intense pain. It was that pain which the last generation had to suffer when it read Darwin's book.
And this explanation shows us the ultimate nature of the disease which the Idealist is called in to cure.
The disease lies deeper than that old tabu of religion. It is older than the Catholic Church. It is at least as old as the Great Pyramid, which is also a Catholic Church. And the true name of the disease is not Fear, but Fixity. It is Materialism in its idealistic shape, because it is the fixture of Hope.
The doctors, whose science is so honourable, but whose language is so wretched, know a disease, not easy to be cured, by the name of atrophy. This word is on the face of it the contradiction of metastrophe. But the specialist is so exact, the teacher is so slow to learn, the microscope-minded man finds it so hard to put two and two together, that we must help him to understand the doctor's word.
According to that sepulchre of sense, the lexicon, atrophy means wasting away for want of nourishment, and comes from the imaginary root tark, to fill up. But as soon as we make bold to spell the word atropy, the lexicon betrays its secret, confessing that atropy means unchanging, or ceasing to
turn. -Tropy (without the a), it says, is turning and -trophy (without the a) is hardening. But let us not stay bewildered there. This very hardening is the hardening of milk into butter in the churn. -Tropy is turning, and -trophy is churning; the English words sound as well together as the Greek; and the makers of words had an ear for Rhyme, if the historians of words have none. And what then is the real difference? The dairymaid will tell us that the whole art in churning is in turning the milk always the same way; if you turn it this way and that it will not harden so quickly into butter. Thus the mystery of the universe is revealed in the dairymaid's churn. The word Universe means Churn. It is the whirl without the swirl.
Atrophy, then, is softening instead of hardening. It is weakness rather than emptiness, the want of power to use food rather than the want of food, in short it is voluntary starvation. Perhaps the doctors of the body understand their word better than the doctors of speech.
Atrophy is hardening instead of softening. It is the kind of hardening that comes of ceasing to turn. The milk has become thick by stagnation. And that is the disease that we are dealing with. It is an apoplexy of the mind. It is the relaxation of paralysis.
Pure fixture would be Death. And we have seen that there is no pure fixture. The turning movement, like the forward one, is changed into pressure.
[paragraph continues] The fixture of hope intensifies it, and the intensity is one side of the disease.
We can now see the danger lurking in the word Ideal, which is so like the fixed Idea. Here the Idealist must begin to be wise, for this is his own disease. The hardness of his mind is not the bluntness of the rock, but the severity of the flame, which wavers in every breath of air, and yet can melt the diamond.
Pure Fixture is an ideal. It is idealism in its materialistic shape. The Hope of Death is the death of hope. And it is the language of Death, and of the olden worship of Death, which we meet with in certain words familiar to most of us; it is Death in whom there is no variableness, "neither shadow of turning." We have seen that there is no real death; it is only an ideal, the ideal of those who are tired of living. Death is an Andronican word, and once meant deafness, if philology will pardon me the rhyme. That which we speak of as dying is a metastrophe too sharp for us to measure.
I doubt if any man has ever thoroughly believed in Death. All men believe in dying, although they view it with widely different feelings. Those Yellow men, to whom we are sending out to teach the truth about Hell, will offer to die for a few shillings; the woman who was for forty years Head of the Church of England offered a million of money to be let off dying for one moment. On the whole the language of death-worship seems to have
strengthened the dread of dying. There have been no terrible death-beds in the world except those of Christians.
Well may those who worship Death worship in dead languages. As if there were ever a dead language, or a fixed language. As if any generation had ever used the same language as the past generation! As if one man had ever used the same language as any other man!—Away with these dead words about dead Gods! Away with all dead books, beginning with dead lexicons, and ending with dead liturgies, for they are one and the same.—I claim this Bequest for works of a living tendency.
The Cell is more than the Shell. When one of these twain must perish, let us see to it that it be the Shell.
Faith, says the arch-antagonist of Jesus of Nazareth, faith is certainty. It is the certainty that in the long run kills the hope. Faith, fixture, Matter, death—all these are names for the same fatal tendency. The materialistic belief in the resurrection of the body has ended in almost strangling the natural belief in the immortality of the soul.
A defender of dead words about God, whose book was for long, and may be still, put into the hands of students in our Anglo-Roman colleges,
wishing to prove that there was such a person as God, likened man to a watch. It was a clever likeness from his point of view; the watch was the nearest he could get to a seeming life that should be yet mere dead "energy of motion." But it was a fatal likeness for him, because the strong untaught sense of one of those idol-breakers who wish to prove that men really are dead, turned it against him by asking,—"When the watch stops, what becomes of the go?" It is said that most of the students into whose hands this book is put turn atheists for a time, after reading it; and it sounds likely. The Elf Inside rebels against what Poe wisely named rectangular obscenities.
The watch is nearly at the bottom of the mischief, but not quite. We must look further than that unlucky apologist.
The most widely read book written in the last century was a story called Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is a story written by a very good white woman who was certain that black folks ought to be just the same as white folks, and who was found willing to kill a hundred thousand men to realise her ideal. And in the story there is a very good white woman who is trying to make one little black girl like herself, and who thinks the way to do it is to teach the little girl Mediterranean folk-lore which the good woman herself of course did not understand. So she begins by saying to the little black,—
"Who made you?"
And does any one remember what the little black answers?—
"Spects I growed."
How all Christendom laughed over that answer fifty years ago! And about the same time Darwin was giving the same answer in more measured words. It was the full metastrophe. Instinct had turned into faith and returned into science. It does not do to mind the laughter of all Christendom. They laugh best who laugh last.
The good woman, we can see, had got Materialism on the brain. She had got that ugly rectangle in her own mind, and she wanted to put it into the round mind of the little black. She was trying to tell that black child that she was something like a watch, whereas the child knew very well that she was something like a flower. The question she really put to the child was,—
"Who killed you?"
And the child's answer really was,—
"I am living."
That good white woman is not dead. She is still with us, and she is still spending vast sums of money every year in telling black children that they are rather dead than living, and scrawling over that precious manuscript of the Man Outside, the black mind, with the bad language of the Salvation Army. She is trying to tell the Hindus, who are the most devout people in the world, that ugly story, and as fast as she succeeds they turn into criminals. She
is trying to tell it to the Chinese, and when they do not want to hear it she is as ready as ever to pass from ugly words to ugly deeds, and kill everybody who hinders her, as long as they are too far away for her to hear the cries and smell the blood. Now why does that good woman—that otherwise beautiful woman—behave in that ugly way?
It is all part of the same question. The poison is in her word made." It is no other than the word mad. We catch the sense in saying that her mind is made up. The man who has so far made up his mind about anything that it can no longer reckon freely about that thing, is mad where that thing is concerned; and if he is alone in his madness, and his madness threatens us with mischief, we put him in a madhouse.—Madness is the besetting sin of the Idealist. Let him take warning by this good madwoman.
There is another word, creation, but we need not look into it. Whatever it may have meant for those who wrote it—and the Hebrew word seems formerly to have meant shaped or measured out—the good woman's words are Made, and Maker, and Almighty. Let us look into them.
When I was seeking in my Dutch word-book for some light on the word strength, I found two words
for it, magt and kracht. Magt seems to be the English might, but we have lost kracht as a thing-word. The sense is the making and the cracking strength, or, as we now should rather say, making and breaking. These are the whirl and the swirl. I even found this further entry—ziel kracht, with the meaning, "faculty of the soul." It is the Elf Inside breaking through his shell, as the bud cracks its green sheath to burst into a flower.
What the English language has done is to exchange crack for break. The English for kracht, therefore, ought to be bright.
English philology, it is true, refers bright to beorht, meaning to shine. I do not know if I am bound to go on quarrelling with Doctor Latham; he was a learned man; no doubt he had read his old English texts faithfully; but his fault is that he was an exact philologist, that is to say, he was a mad philologist. However, I think I have read in the Song of Brunanburh,—
[paragraph continues] God's candle, like other candles, burnt, and no doubt burnt brightly. Indeed, philology admits that the word beorht is of kin with flame. Burning is a kind of breaking; as I have said, a flame leaves a worse bruise than an iron hammer. And heat is of kin with light. But it is when the day breaks that
the shadows flee away, and an old form of day. break is day-bright.
A later and better authority, also writing in his sleep, tracks bright back to an imaginary Aryan root bhrag, meaning to blaze, and tracks break to another imaginary Aryan root bhrag, meaning to break; and so perhaps some future and still better authority may detect a certain likeness of sound and spelling between these two imaginary roots, as I have detected a likeness of sense. It is a pleasure to add that even philology allows a common origin to make and might.
I deem it not irrelevant to this inquiry, it is perhaps the soul of this inquiry, to demonstrate time after time, how true, how strong, how bright as well as mighty, are these heirlooms of ours, these daily words which have so long been snubbed and overlooked by men whose eyes were dazzled by that Alexandrian candle. They have come down to us burning with the long thoughts of a thousand Baltic generations. They say to us, and for us, more than we see them saying. They go deeper than reckoning. They stir that in us which music stirs, and the light of sunrise and sunset stirs, and the scent of northern violets, and the touch of a dear and long lost hand. They are a glorious kind of covenant. We helped to make them, with the Man Outside also helping. They are his revelation, and our prayers.—Cinderella has sat in the ashes long enough, while her ugly step-sisters flaunted it in the
king's halls. Let her come forth. Dress her in silk and gems, and set a crown upon her head. She is the true bride of the Prince.
When we look deep enough we find only two sounds beneath all spoken words, one made by in-breathing, and the other by breathing-out. That is the whirl-swirl in language. And when you make those sounds you find that one is depression, and the other is expression. They are the sounds of sorrow and of joy. These are the two sounds that underlie Might and Bright.
The word Almighty doubles the stress on Maker. And it is that stress which we press upon the child's brain, fresh from its mother's womb, having coiled up within it as within a seed the memories of sempiternity. To whom we say that Life is Death.
It is not so.
We are not made, we are makers. We help to make Life; the Man Outside calls us to help him, calls to us in a thousand voices to partake the glorious toil of creation, to strike blow for blow upon the anvil, and forge the crown we are to wear.
The words are no sooner said than they have to be unsaid by another word which, in mythology if not in philology, once meant the Bright One; and so we have the Devil at work breaking what the Almighty makes.
It is significant that many good men are now crossing the word Devil out of their Bibles, because they find it too ugly. But it was not always ugly. That Devil was not always so black as he has been painted by the theologians. As they themselves confess, he was formerly in Heaven. There was a time when he was the Light-Bringer, and Lord of the Ascendant.
This Man Outside is not altogether a child of the Mediterranean. Do not the Scandinavians still say when lightning strikes the trees,—"Loki is beating his children."—How shall we deal with that learned professor in Christiania, who has told us seriously that this old God of the North drew his name and nature from the writings of certain half-Christian Anglo-Irish bards in the tenth century, and that Loki is a shortening of Lucifer? He has looked through the wrong end of the telescope. Folk sayings of that kind are older than any writings in the world. The Roman lucus, as an ancient jest reminds us, was a wood, and as the ancient men drew light from logs—lucendus a luco—the wood is the fire-spirit's natural dwelling-place. Loki is the fire-spirit, and so Lucifer may have been, in his first avatar, long before ever he ascended into Heaven as the morning-star, and then again descended into Hell, resuming, as it were, his fiery shape. I do not know if the Anglo-Irish bards have mixed up these two avatars, but I am sure the professor has. How can Norwegian folk-lore spring from foreign
poems whose vogue was cut short in the next generation by St. Olaf? The true explanation of Loki's late appearance in the Norse pantheon is, not that he was a newer god than the Aesir, but that he was a far older one, whose cult revived like that of the old Pelasgic gods, on the decay of the Olympians. Loki has outlived Odin, and he is outliving Yahweh. For his English name is Luck.
We see that, after all, words cannot be fixed altogether, nor idols altogether broken. The Gods play a strange game of Puss-in-the-Corner with each other; the hopes of one age pass into the fears of the next, and back again into the hopes; the world turns round, and as it turns the old constellations go down into the deep, and other, older Shining Ones rise up.
Not to know this, to be afraid of this, is Atropy. The suffering of the past—perhaps I ought to write the present—generation is like the pain with which the snake sloughs its old skin, ere it puts on a new one better fitted to its needs. It is like that with which our little fellow-creature the lobster breaks out of the old shell it has outgrown, while yet the new one has not hardened round it.—Such is the disease.
The best remedy for disease is prevention. And that is why I am writing against what is falsely called Science as well as against what is falsely called Religion. I am thinking of the new shell as well as of the old. I am looking a thousand years
ahead, and watching other generations breaking asunder other swaddling bands. I want those bands to be less hard to break. Hardmindedness is the particular shape of Materialism that I dislike most, and deem to be the greatest foe to happiness. If we were less hardminded towards the Man Outside, and less so towards ourselves, it would follow that we should be less so towards our fellow men.
Unwillingness to learn is deafness towards the Man Outside. And the Deaf are no other than the Dead.
The explorers of the old Egyptian tombs tell us that they can see this shadow falling across the valley of the Nile, thousands of years ago, though whence it fell is still obscure to them. They can see the dark mist of Death-Worship blotting out the old happy pictures of a life beyond the grave not unlike this life, and replacing them by monstrous visions of purgatory and judgment. And so I find the focus of this long metastrophe of knowledge in the Egyptian Pyramid, itself a giant Tomb.
It is the mightiest building upon earth. It is the greatest monument of the most long-lasting Mediterranean Power. Hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed in building it; its founder went to sleep in it, wrapped in the curse of mankind, believing that he had secured himself an everlasting
death. And to-day it stands empty; there is no corpse of any slave huddled into the sand, till the hyena comes to scratch it up, that is not more secure than that proud Pharaoh.
It is an astronomer's building, an eternal kalendar. And since it was built, the very pole of heaven has shifted, and the kalendar has been thrice reformed.
It is a sermon in stone, an architectural bible. And it has witnessed the rise and fall of three religions, not one of which has known what it owed to the Masons of the Pyramid.
This Delta raised in three dimensions is the embodiment of Pure Measure; the idol of Fixity; the shell of Logic and Theology. This frozen flame is the perfect Denial of Change.
It is the Last Word of the Black Man.
Europe has got this Pyramid upon the brain. Here is the ogre's fortress, and not in any mushroom city on the Seven Hills; and here a foe worthy of the White Knight's steel. If those poor mad Idealists who call themselves Anarchists could see this, as I see it, they would leave off throwing their bombs at better Idealists than they are. They would bring their bombs here, and find a safer cock-shy. They will break their teeth before they do much damage to old Khufu.
A little child of six once brought me a toy that had been screwed fast, and asked me to untighten it. There was a new word not to be found in any
of the word-books; the child made it for himself; but his authority is good enough for me. I am not an exact philologist. It happens to be the very word I am in need of now. For I also am an anarchist, and my bomb is one small seed; and seeds have this strange power that in the long-run they can unlock the mightiest masonry. Give me leave to sow my seed right under the base of Khufu's Pyramid, and have patience. We shall untighten it.
Why are my poor mad friends in such a hurry? Have we not half eternity before us?
The Pyramid, according to philology, has no imaginary Aryan root, nor any known Egyptian one. But this time psychology is on the side of the imaginary Aryans. For when the Greeks gave the word the spelling which we still use, they were thinking of their own pyre, or funeral fire, and dimly or clearly recognising in the pyramid a granite flame. In this way it comes about that he who has this pyramid upon the brain is rightly called a Puritan. For there are more Rhymes in heaven and earth than are dreamt of by etymology.
Now, as I have said, the pyramid is the Black man's word, and it does no harm to the Black man. When the Black Puritan takes a vow of celibacy, and tortures and starves himself to death in the lethal chamber of the monastery, he is acting for the benefit of mankind, and doing just what science
ought to wish him to do. I hold it unscientific, and I am sure it is inhuman, to drag him out of his own self-chosen lethal chamber, and put him into some other one devised by us; and it is the very crime of crimes to order him to go out into the world and beget children, for us to torture and imprison and lethalise in their turn.
The Black man has learnt this lesson long ago, and he can worship the fakir without becoming one.
But the White man's natural symbol is the living flame, and not the granite one. He is a raw apprentice in fakir-worship, and a blunderer. And so the White fakir wants to make every one else a fakir against their will; and he takes a vow of marriage, that he may beget children and train them up as fakirs. That is his mistake, and that is the mistake to be set right.
The White fakir is less thorough-going than the Black fakir, but he is a lesser nuisance to himself in order that he may be a greater nuisance to his neighbours. And so we find that what the White man has gained in freedom of thought he has lost in freedom of action. The Puritan thinks what he likes, and the Catholic does what he likes, like the Prussians and Frederick the Great.
The Black mind seems to be past curing. They that are sick unto death need not a physician. It is a case for the altruistic principle once more. I want to untighten the Puritan brain, because I think it is the brain of a good man.