More Selections from The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc
Could this book be infinite, as my voyage was infinite, I would tell you about the shifty priest whom I met on the platform of the church where a cliff overhangs the valley, and of the anarchist whom I met when I recovered the highroad—he was a sad, good man, who had committed some sudden crime and so had left France, and his hankering for France all those years had soured his temper, and he said he wished there were no property, no armies, and no governments.
But I said that we live as parts of a nation, and that there was no fate so wretched as to be without a country of one’s own—what else was exile which so many noble men have thought worse than death, and which all have feared? I also told him that armies fighting in a just cause were the happiest places for living, and that a good battle for justice was the beginning of all great songs; and that as for property, a man on his own land was the nearest to God.
He therefore not convinced, and I loving and pitying him, we separated; I had not time to preach my full doctrine, but gave him instead a deep and misty glass of cool beer, and pledged him brotherhood, freedom, and an equal law. Then I went on my way, praying God that all these rending quarrels might be appeased. For they would certainly be appeased if we once again had a united doctrine in Europe, since economics are but an expression of the mind and do not (as the poor blind slaves of the great cities think) mould the mind. What is more, nothing makes property run into a few hands but the worst of the capital sins, and you who say it is “the modern facilities of distribution” are like men who cannot read large print without spectacles; or again, you are like men who should say that their drunkenness was due to their drink, or that arson was caused by matches.
But, frankly, do you suppose I came all this way over so many hills to talk economics? Very far from it! I will pray for all poor men when I get to St. Peter’s in Rome (I should like to know what capital St. Peter had in that highly capitalistic first century), and, meanwhile, do you discuss the margin of production while I go on the open way; there are no landlords here, and if you would learn at least one foreign language, and travel but five miles off a railway, you town-talkers, you would find how much landlordism has to do with your “necessities” and your “laws.”
LECTOR. I thought you said you were not going to talk economics?
AUCTOR. Neither am I. It is but the backwash of a wave . . . Well, then, I went up the open way. . .
Now outside St. Ursanne, if one would go along the top of the river bend and so up to the other side of the gorge, is a kind of subsidiary ravine—awful, deep, and narrow—and this was crossed, I could see, by a very high railway bridge.
Not suspecting any evil, and desiring to avoid the long descent into the ravine, the looking for a bridge or ford, and the steep climb up the other side, I made in my folly for the station which stood just where the railway left solid ground to go over this high, high bridge. I asked leave of the stationmaster to cross it, who said it was strictly forbidden, but that he was not a policeman, and that I might do it at my own risk. Thanking him, therefore, and considering how charming was the loose habit of small uncentralized societies, I went merrily on to the bridge, meaning to walk across it by stepping from sleeper to sleeper. But it was not to be so simple. The powers of the air, that hate to have their kingdom disturbed, watched me as I began.
I had not been engaged upon it a dozen yards when I was seized with terror.
I have much to say further on in this book concerning terror: the panic that haunts high places and the spell of many angry men. This horrible affection of the mind is the delight of our modern scribblers; it is half the plot of their insane “short stories,” and is at the root of their worship of what they call “strength,” a cowardly craving for protection, or the much more despicable fascination of brutality. For my part I have always disregarded it as something impure and devilish, unworthy of a Christian. Fear I think, indeed, to be in the nature of things, and it is as much part of my experience to be afraid of the sea or of an untried horse as it is to eat and sleep; but terror, which is a sudden madness and paralysis of the soul, that I say is from hell, and not to be played with or considered or put in pictures or described in stories. All this I say to preface what happened, and especially to point out how terror is in the nature of a possession and is unreasonable.
For in the crossing of this bridge there was nothing in itself perilous. The sleepers lay very close together—I doubt if a man could have slipped between them; but, I know not how many hundred feet below, was the flashing of the torrent, and it turned my brain. For the only parapet there was a light line or pipe, quite slender and low down, running from one spare iron upright to another. These rather emphasized than encouraged my mood. And still as I resolutely put one foot in front of the other, and resolutely kept my eyes off the abyss and fixed on the opposing hill, and as the long curve before me was diminished by successive sharp advances, still my heart was caught half-way in every breath, and whatever it is that moves a man went uncertainly within me, mechanical and half-paralysed. The great height with that narrow unprotected ribbon across it was more than I could bear.
I dared not turn round and I dared not stop. Words and phrases began repeating themselves in my head as they will under a strain: so I know at sea a man perilously hanging on to the tiller makes a kind of litany of his instructions. The central part was passed, the three-quarters; the tension of that enduring effort had grown intolerable, and I doubted my ability to complete the task. Why? What could prevent me? I cannot say; it was all a bundle of imaginaries. Perhaps at bottom what I feared was sudden giddiness and the fall———
At any rate at this last supreme part I vowed one candle to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour if she would see that all went well, and this candle I later paid in Rome; finding Our Lady of Succour not hung up in a public place and known to all, as I thought She would be, but peculiar to a little church belonging to a Scotchman and standing above his high altar. Yet it is a very famous picture, and extremely old.
Well, then, having made this vow I still went on, with panic aiding me, till I saw that the bank beneath had risen to within a few feet of the bridge, and that dry land was not twenty yards away. Then my resolution left me and I ran, or rather stumbled, rapidly from sleeper to sleeper till I could take a deep breath on the solid earth beyond.
I stood and gazed back over the abyss; I saw the little horrible strip between heaven and hell—the perspective of its rails. I was made ill by the relief from terror. Yet I suppose railway-men cross and recross it twenty times a day. Better for them than for me!
Well, as I was saying, everything surrounding me was domestic and grateful, and I was therefore in a mood for charity and companionship when I came down the last dip and entered Glovelier. But Glovelier is a place of no excellence whatever, and if the thought did not seem extravagant I should be for putting it to the sword and burning it all down.
For just as I was going along full of kindly thoughts, and had turned into the sign of (I think it was) the “Sun” to drink wine and leave them my benediction———
LECTOR. Why your benediction?
AUCTOR. Who else can give benedictions if people cannot when they are on pilgrimage? Learn that there are three avenues by which blessing can be bestowed, and three kinds of men who can bestow it.
(1) There is the good man, whose goodness makes him of himself a giver of blessings. His power is not conferred or of office, but is inhaerens persona; part of the stuff of his mind. This kind can confer the solemn benediction, or Benedictio major, if they choose; but besides this their every kind thought, word, or action is a Benedictio generalis; and even their frowns, curses, angry looks and irritable gestures may be called Benedictiones minores vel incerti. I believe I am within the definitions. I avoid heresy. All this is sound theology. I do not smell of the faggot. And this kind of Benedictory Power is the fount or type or natural origin, as it were, of all others.
(2) There is the Official of Religion who, in the exercise of his office———
LECTOR. For Heaven’s sake———
AUCTOR. Who began it? You protested my power to give benediction, and I must now prove it at length; otherwise I should fall under the accusation of lesser Simony—that is, the false assumption of particular powers. Well, then, there is the Official who ex officio, and when he makes it quite clear that it is quâ sponsus and not sicut ut ipse, can give formal benediction. This power belongs certainly to all Bishops, mitred Abbots, and Archimandrites; to Patriarchs of course, and à fortiori to the Pope. In Rome they will have it that Monsignores also can so bless, and I have heard it debated whether or no the same were not true in some rustic way of parish priests. However this may be, all their power proceeds, not from themselves, but from the accumulation of goodness left as a deposit by the multitudes of exceptionally good men who have lived in times past, and who have now no use for it.
(3) Thirdly—and this is my point—any one, good or bad, official or non-official, who is for the moment engaged in an opus faustum can act certainly as a conductor or medium, and the influence of what he is touching or doing passes to you from him. This is admitted by every one who worships trees, wells, and stones; and indeed it stands to reason, for it is but a branch of the well-known “Sanctificatio ex loco, opere, tactu vel conditione.” I will admit that this power is but vague, slight, tenuous, and dissipatory, still there it is: though of course its poor effect is to that of the Benedictio major what a cat’s-paw in the Solent is to a north-east snorter on Lindsey Deeps.
I am sorry to have been at such length, but it is necessary to have these things thrashed out once for all. So now you see how I, being on pilgrimage, could give a kind of little creeping blessing to the people on the way, though, as St. Louis said to the Hascisch-eaters, “May it be a long time before you can kiss my bones.”
So I entered the “Sun” inn and saw there a woman sewing, a great dull-faced man like an ox, and a youth writing down figures in a little book. I said———
“Good morning, madam, and sirs, and the company. Could you give me a little red wine?” Not a head moved.
True I was very dirty and tired, and they may have thought me a beggar, to whom, like good sensible Christians who had no nonsense about them, they would rather have given a handsome kick than a cup of cold water. However, I think it was not only my poverty but a native churlishness which bound their bovine souls in that valley.
I sat down at a very clean table. I notice that those whom the Devil has made his own are always spick and span, just as firemen who have to go into great furnaces have to keep all their gear highly polished. I sat down at it, and said again, still gently—
“It is, indeed, a fine country this of yours. Could you give me a little red wine?”
Then the ox-faced man who had his back turned to me, and was the worst of the lot, said sulkily, not to me, but to the woman—
“He wants wine.”
The woman as sulkily said to me, not looking me in the eyes—
“How much will you pay?”
I said, “Bring the wine. Set it here. See me drink it. Charge me your due.”
I found that this brutal way of speaking was just what was needed for the kine and cattle of this pen. She skipped off to a cupboard, and set wine before me, and a glass. I drank quite quietly till I had had enough, and asked what there was to pay. She said “Threepence,” and I said “Too much,” as I paid it. At this the ox-faced man grunted and frowned, and I was afraid; but hiding my fear I walked out boldly and slowly, and made a noise with my stick upon the floor of the hall without. Neither did I bid them farewell. But I made a sign at the house as I left it. Whether it suffered from this as did the house at Dorchester which the man in the boat caused to wither in one night, is more than I can tell.
While I was occupied sketching the slabs of limestone, I heard wheels coming up behind me, and a boy in a waggon stopped and hailed me.
What the boy wanted to know was whether I would take a lift, and this he said in such curious French that I shuddered to think how far I had pierced into the heart of the hills, and how soon I might come to quite strange people. I was greatly tempted to get into his cart, but though I had broken so many of my vows one remained yet whole and sound, which was that I would ride upon no wheeled thing. Remembering this, therefore, and considering that the Faith is rich in interpretation, I clung on to the waggon in such a manner that it did all my work for me, and yet could not be said to be actually carrying me. Distinguo. The essence of a vow is its literal meaning. The spirit and intention are for the major morality, and concern Natural Religion, but when upon a point of ritual or of dedication or special worship a man talks to you of the Spirit and Intention, and complains of the dryness of the Word, look at him askance. He is not far removed from Heresy.
I knew a man once that was given to drinking, and I made up this rule for him to distinguish between Bacchus and the Devil. To wit: that he should never drink what has been made and sold since the Reformation—I mean especially spirits and champagne. Let him (said I) drink red wine and white, good beer and mead—if he could get it—liqueurs made by monks, and, in a word, all those feeding, fortifying, and confirming beverages that our fathers drank in old time; but not whisky, nor brandy, nor sparkling wines, not absinthe, nor the kind of drink called gin. This he promised to do, and all went well. He became a merry companion, and began to write odes. His prose clarified and set, that had before been very mixed and cloudy. He slept well; he comprehended divine things; he was already half a republican, when one fatal day—it was the feast of the eleven thousand virgins, and they were too busy up in heaven to consider the needs of us poor hobbling, polyktonous and betempted wretches of men—I went with him to the Society for the Prevention of Annoyances to the Rich, where a certain usurer’s son was to read a paper on the cruelty of Spaniards to their mules. As we were all seated there round a table with a staring green cloth on it, and a damnable gas pendant above, the host of that evening offered him whisky and water, and, my back being turned, he took it. Then when I would have taken it from him he used these words—
“After all, it is the intention of a pledge that matters;” and I saw that all was over, for he had abandoned definition, and was plunged back into the horrible mazes of Conscience and Natural Religion.
What do you think, then, was the consequence? Why, he had to take some nasty pledge or other to drink nothing whatever, and become a spectacle and a judgement, whereas if he had kept his exact word he might by this time have been a happy man.
Remembering him and pondering upon the advantage of strict rule, I hung on to my cart, taking care to let my feet still feel the road, and so passed through the high limestone gates of the gorge, and was in the fourth valley of the Jura, with the fifth ridge standing up black and huge before me against the last of the daylight. There were as yet no stars.
There, in this silent place, was the little village of Undervelier, and I thanked the boy, withdrew from his cart, and painfully approached the inn, where I asked the woman if she could give me something to eat . . .
In Ulrichen was a warm, wooden, deep-eaved, frousty, comfortable, ramshackle, dark, anyhow kind of a little inn called “The Bear”. And entering, I saw one of the women whom God loves.
She was of middle age, very honest and simple in the face, kindly and good. She was messing about with cooking and stuff, and she came up to me stooping a little, her eyes wide and innocent, and a great spoon in her hand. Her face was extremely broad and flat, and I have never seen eyes set so far apart. Her whole gait, manner, and accent proved her to be extremely good, and on the straight road to heaven. I saluted her in the French tongue. She answered me in the same, but very broken and rustic, for her natural speech was a kind of mountain German. She spoke very slowly, and had a nice soft voice, and she did what only good people do, I mean, looked you in the eyes as she spoke to you.
Beware of shifty-eyed people. It is not only nervousness, it is also a kind of wickedness. Such people come to no good. I have three of them now in my mind as I write. One is a Professor.
And, by the way, would you like to know why universities suffer from this curse of nervous disease? Why the great personages stammer or have St. Vitus’ dance, or jabber at the lips, or hop in their walk, or have their heads screwed round, or tremble in the fingers, or go through life with great goggles like a motor car? Eh? I will tell you. It is the punishment of their intellectual pride, than which no sin is more offensive to the angels.
What! here are we with the jolly world of God all round us, able to sing, to draw, to paint, to hammer and build, to sail, to ride horses, to run, to leap; having for our splendid inheritance love in youth and memory in old age, and we are to take one miserable little faculty, our one-legged, knock-kneed, gimcrack, purblind, rough-skinned, underfed, and perpetually irritated and grumpy intellect, or analytical curiosity rather (a diseased appetite), and let it swell till it eats up every other function? Away with such foolery.
LECTOR. When shall we get on to . . .
AUCTOR. Wait a moment. I say, away with such foolery. Note that pedants lose all proportion. They never can keep sane in a discussion. They will go wild on matters they are wholly unable to judge, such as Armenian Religion or the Politics of Paris or what not. Never do they use one of those three phrases which keep a man steady and balance his mind, I mean the words (1) After all it is not my business. (2) Tut! tut! You don’t say so! and (3) Credo in Unum Deum Patrem Omnipotentem, Factorem omnium visibilium atque invisibilium; in which last there is a power of synthesis that can jam all their analytical dust-heap into such a fine, tight, and compact body as would make them stare to see. I understand that they need six months’ holiday a year. Had I my way they should take twelve, and an extra day on leap years.
LECTOR. Pray, pray return to the woman at the inn.
AUCTOR. I will, and by this road: to say that on the day of Judgement, when St. Michael weighs souls in his scales, and the wicked are led off by the Devil with a great rope, as you may see them over the main porch of Notre Dame (I will heave a stone after them myself I hope), all the souls of the pedants together will not weigh as heavy and sound as the one soul of this good woman at the inn.
She put food before me and wine. The wine was good, but in the food was some fearful herb or other I had never tasted before—a pure spice or scent, and a nasty one. One could taste nothing else, and it was revolting; but I ate it for her sake.
Then, very much refreshed, I rose, seized my great staff, shook myself and said, “Now it is about noon, and I am off for the frontier.”
So I went on till I got to the lake, and there I found a little port about as big as a dining-room (for the Italian lakes play at being little seas. They have little ports, little lighthouses, little fleets for war, and little custom-houses, and little storms and little lines of steamers. Indeed, if one wanted to give a rich child a perfect model or toy, one could not give him anything better than an Italian lake), and when I had long gazed at the town, standing, as it seemed, right in the lake, I felt giddy, and said to myself, “This is the lack of food,” for I had eaten nothing but my coffee and bread eleven miles before, at dawn.
So I pulled out my two francs, and going into a little shop, I bought bread, sausage, and a very little wine for fourpence, and with one franc eighty left I stood in the street eating and wondering what my next step should be.
It seemed on the map perhaps twenty-five, perhaps twenty-six miles to Milan. It was now nearly noon, and as hot as could be. I might, if I held out, cover the distance in eight or nine hours, but I did not see myself walking in the middle heat on the plain of Lombardy, and even if I had been able I should only have got into Milan at dark or later, when the post office (with my money in it) would be shut; and where could I sleep, for my one franc eighty would be gone? A man covering these distances must have one good meal a day or he falls ill. I could beg, but there was the risk of being arrested, and that means an indefinite waste of time, perhaps several days; and time, that had defeated me at the Gries, threatened me here again. I had nothing to sell or to pawn, and I had no friends. The Consul I would not attempt; I knew too much of such things as Consuls when poor and dirty men try them. Besides which, there was no Consul. I pondered.
I went into the cool of the cathedral to sit in its fine darkness and think better. I sat before a shrine where candles were burning, put up for their private intentions by the faithful. Of many, two had nearly burnt out. I watched them in their slow race for extinction when a thought took me.
“I will,” said I to myself, “use these candles for an ordeal or heavenly judgement. The left hand one shall be for attempting the road at the risk of illness or very dangerous failure; the right hand one shall stand for my going by rail till I come to that point on the railway where one franc eighty will take me, and thence walking into Milan:—and heaven defend the right.”
They were a long time going out, and they fell evenly. At last the right hand one shot up the long flame that precedes the death of candles; the contest took on interest, and even excitement, when, just as I thought the left hand certain of winning, it went out without guess or warning, like a second-rate person leaving this world for another. The right hand candle waved its flame still higher, as though in triumph, outlived its colleague just the moment to enjoy glory, and then in its turn went fluttering down the dark way from which they say there is no return.
None may protest against the voice of the Gods. I went straight to the nearest railway station (for there are two), and putting down one franc eighty, asked in French for a ticket to whatever station that sum would reach down the line. The ticket came out marked Milan, and I admitted the miracle and confessed the finger of Providence. There was no change, and as I got into the train I had become that rarest and ultimate kind of traveller, the man without any money whatsoever—without passport, without letters, without food or wine; it would be interesting to see what would follow if the train broke down.
I had marched 378 miles and some three furlongs, or thereabouts.
Thus did I break—but by a direct command—the last and dearest of my vows, and as the train rumbled off, I took luxury in the rolling wheels.
I thought of that other medieval and papistical pilgrim hobbling along rather than “take advantage of any wheeled thing,” and I laughed at him. Now if Moroso-Malodoroso or any other Non-Aryan, Antichristian, over-inductive, statistical, brittle-minded man and scientist, sees anything remarkable in one self laughing at another self, let me tell him and all such for their wide-eyed edification and astonishment that I knew a man once that had fifty-six selves (there would have been fifty-seven, but for the poet in him that died young)—he could evolve them at will, and they were very useful to lend to the parish priest when he wished to make up a respectable Procession on Holy-days. And I knew another man that could make himself so tall as to look over the heads of the scientists as a pine-tree looks over grasses, and again so small as to discern very clearly the thick coating or dust of wicked pride that covers them up in a fine impenetrable coat. So much for the moderns.
The sun rose as I passed under the ruined walls of the castle. In the little town itself, early as was the hour, many people were stirring. One gave me good-morning—a man of singular character, for here, in the very peep of day, he was sitting on a doorstep, idle, lazy and contented, as though it was full noon. Another was yoking oxen; a third going out singing to work in the fields.
I did not linger in this crow’s nest, but going out by the low and aged southern gate, another deeper valley, even drier and more dead than the last, appeared under the rising sun. It was enough to make one despair! And when I thought of the day’s sleep in that wilderness, of the next night’s toil through it———
LECTOR. What about the Brigand of Radicofani of whom you spoke in Lorraine, and of whom I am waiting to hear?
AUCTOR. What about him? Why, he was captured long ago, and has since died of old age. I am surprised at your interrupting me with such questions. Pray ask for no more tales till we get to the really absorbing story of the Hungry Student.
Well, as I was saying, I was in some despair at the sight of that valley, which had to be crossed before I could reach the town of Acquapendente, or Hanging-water, which I knew to lie somewhere on the hills beyond. The sun was conquering me, and I was looking hopelessly for a place to sleep, when a cart drawn by two oxen at about one mile an hour came creaking by. The driver was asleep, his head on the shady side. The devil tempted me, and without one struggle against temptation, nay with cynical and congratulatory feelings, I jumped up behind, and putting my head also on the shady side (there were soft sacks for a bed) I very soon was pleasantly asleep.
We lay side by side for hour after hour, and the day rose on to noon; the sun beat upon our feet, but our heads were in the shade and we slept heavily a good and honest sleep: he thinking that he was alone, but I knowing that I was in company (a far preferable thing), and I was right and he was wrong. And the heat grew, and sleep came out of that hot sun more surely than it does out of the night air in the north. But no dreams wander under the noon.
From time to time one or the other of us would open our eyes drowsily and wonder, but sleep was heavy on us both, and our minds were sunk in calm like old hulls in the dark depths of the sea where there are no storms.
We neither of us really woke until, at the bottom of the hill which rises into Acquapendente, the oxen stopped. This halt woke us up; first me and then my companion. He looked at me a moment and laughed. He seemed to have thought all this while that I was some country friend of his who had taken a lift; and I, for my part, had made more or less certain that he was a good fellow who would do me no harm. I was right, and he was wrong. I knew not what offering to make him to compensate him for this trouble which his heavy oxen had taken. After some thought I brought a cigar out of my pocket, which he smoked with extreme pleasure. The oxen meanwhile had been urged up the slow hill, and it was in this way that we reached the famous town of Acquapendente. But why it should be called famous is more than I can understand. It may be that in one of those narrow streets there is a picture or a church, or one of those things which so attract unbelieving men. To the pilgrim it is simply a group of houses. Into one of these I went, and, upon my soul, I have nothing to say of it except that they furnished me with food.
I do not pretend to have counted the flies, though they were numerous; and, even had I done so, what interest would the number have, save to the statisticians? Now as these are patient men and foolish, I heartily recommend them to go and count the flies for themselves.
I found a stream running very sluggish between tall trees, and this sight sufficiently reminded me of my own country to permit repose. Lying down there I slept till the end of the day, or rather to that same time of evening which had now become my usual waking hour . . . And now tell me, Lector, shall I leave out altogether, or shall I give you some description of, the next few miles to San Lorenzo?
LECTOR. Why, if I were you I would put the matter shortly and simply, for it is the business of one describing a pilgrimage or any other matter not to puff himself up with vain conceit, nor to be always picking about for picturesque situations, but to set down plainly and shortly what he has seen and heard, describing the whole matter.
AUCTOR. But remember, Lector, that the artist is known not only by what he puts in but by what he leaves out.
LECTOR. That is all very well for the artist, but you have no business to meddle with such people.
AUCTOR. How then would you write such a book if you had the writing of it?
LECTOR. I would not introduce myself at all; I would not tell stories at random, nor go in for long descriptions of emotions, which I am sure other men have felt as well as I. I would be careful to visit those things my readers had already heard of (AUCTOR. The pictures! the remarkable pictures! All that is meant by culture! The brown photographs! Oh! Lector, indeed I have done you a wrong!), and I would certainly not have the bad taste to say anything upon religion. Above all, I would be terse.
AUCTOR. I see. You would not pile words one on the other, qualifying, exaggerating, conditioning, superlativing, diminishing, connecting, amplifying, condensing, mouthing, and glorifying the mere sound: you would be terse. You should be known for your self-restraint. There should be no verbosity in your style (God forbid!), still less pomposity, animosity, curiosity, or ferocity; you would have it neat, exact, and scholarly, and, above all, chiselled to the nail. A fig (say you), the pip of a fig, for the rambling style. You would be led into no hilarity, charity, vulgarity, or barbarity. Eh! my jolly Lector? You would simply say what you had to say?
LECTOR. Precisely; I would say a plain thing in a plain way.
AUCTOR. So you think one can say a plain thing in a plain way? You think that words mean nothing more than themselves, and that you can talk without ellipsis, and that customary phrases have not their connotations? You think that, do you? Listen then to the tale of Mr Benjamin Franklin Hard, a kindly merchant of Cincinnati, O., who had no particular religion, but who had accumulated a fortune of six hundred thousand dollars, and who had a horror of breaking the Sabbath. He was not “a kind husband and a good father,” for he was unmarried; nor had he any children. But he was all that those words connote.
This man Hard at the age of fifty-four retired from business, and determined to treat himself to a visit to Europe. He had not been in Europe five weeks before he ran bang up against the Catholic Church. He was never more surprised in his life. I do not mean that I have exactly weighed all his surprises all his life through. I mean that he was very much surprised indeed—and that is all that these words connote.
He studied the Catholic Church with extreme interest. He watched High Mass at several places (hoping it might be different). He thought it was what it was not, and then, contrariwise, he thought it was not what it was. He talked to poor Catholics, rich Catholics, middle-class Catholics, and elusive, wellborn, penniless, neatly dressed, successful Catholics; also to pompous, vain Catholics; humble, uncertain Catholics; sneaking, pad-footed Catholics; healthy, howling, combative Catholics; doubtful, shoulder-shrugging, but devout Catholics; fixed, crabbed, and dangerous Catholics; easy, jovial, and shone-upon-by-the-heavenly-light Catholics; subtle Catholics; strange Catholics, and (quod tibi manifeste absurdum videtur) intellectual, pince-nez, jejune, twisted, analytical, yellow, cranky, and introspective Catholics: in fine, he talked to all Catholics. And when I say “all Catholics” I do not mean that he talked to every individual Catholic, but that he got a good, integrative grip of the Church militant, which is all that the words connote.
Well, this man Hard got to know, among others, a certain good priest that loved a good bottle of wine, a fine deep dish of poulet à la casserole, and a kind of egg done with cream in a little platter; and eating such things, this priest said to him one day: “Mr Hard, what you want is to read some books on Catholicism.” And Hard, who was on the point of being received into the Church as the final solution of human difficulties, thought it would be a very good thing to instruct his mind before baptism. So he gave the priest a note to a bookseller whom an American friend had told him of; and this American friend had said:
“You will find Mr Fingle (for such was the bookseller’s name) a hard-headed, honest, business man. He can say a plain thing in a plain way.”
“Here,” said Mr Hard to the priest, “is ten pounds. Send it to this bookseller Fingle and he shall choose books on Catholicism to that amount, and you shall receive them, and I will come and read them here with you.”
So the priest sent the money, and in four days the books came, and Mr Hard and the priest opened the package, and these were the books inside:———
Auricular Confession: a History. By a Brand Saved from the Burning.
Isabella; or, The Little Female Jesuit. By “Hephzibah.”
Elisha MacNab: a Tale of the French Huguenots.
England and Rome. By the Rev. Ebenezer Catchpole of Emmanuel, Birmingham.
Nuns and Nunneries. By “Ruth,” with a Preface by Miss Carran, lately rescued from a Canadian Convent.
History of the Inquisition. By Llorente.
The Beast with Seven Heads; or, the Apocalyptical Warning.
No Truce with the Vatican.
The True Cause of Irish Disaffection.
Decline of the Latin Nations. Anglo-Saxons the Chosen Race, and their connection with the Ten Lost Tribes: with a map.
Finally, a very large book at the bottom of the case called Giant Pope.
And it was no use asking for the money back or protesting. Mr Fingle was an honest, straightforward man, who said a plain thing in a plain way. They had left him to choose a suitable collection of books on Catholicism, and he had chosen the best he knew. And thus did Mr Hard (who has recently given a hideous font to the new Catholic church at Bismarckville) learn the importance of estimating what words connote.
LECTOR. But all that does not excuse an intolerable prolixity?
AUCTOR. Neither did I say it did, dear Lector. My object was merely to get you to San Lorenzo where I bought that wine, and where, going out of the gate on the south, I saw suddenly the wide lake of Bolsena all below.
There, from the summit, between the high villa walls on either side—at my very feet I saw the City.
And now all you people whatsoever that are presently reading, may have read, or shall in the future read, this my many-sided but now-ending book; all you also that in the mysterious designs of Providence may not be fated to read it for some very long time to come; you then I say, entire, englobed, and universal race of men both in gross and regardant, not only living and seeing the sunlight, but dead also under the earth; shades, or to come in procession afterwards out of the dark places into the day for a little, swarms of you, an army without end; all you black and white, red, yellow and brown, men, women, children and poets—all of you, wherever you are now, or have been, or shall be in your myriads and deka myriads and hendeka myriads, the time has come when I must bid you farewell—
Ludisti satis, edisti satis, atque bibisti;
Tempus abire tibi est . . ..
Only Lector I keep by me for a very little while longer with a special purpose, but even he must soon leave me; for all good things come to an end, and this book is coming to an end—has come to an end. The leaves fall, and they are renewed; the sun sets on the Vexin hills, but he rises again over the woods of Marly. Human companionship once broken can never be restored, and you and I shall not meet or understand each other again. It is so of all the poor links whereby we try to bridge the impassable gulf between soul and soul. Oh! we spin something, I know, but it is very gossamer, thin and strained, and even if it does not snap time will at last dissolve it.
Indeed, there is a song on it which you should know, and which runs———
[Bar of music]
So my little human race, both you that have read this book and you that have not, good-bye in charity. I loved you all as I wrote. Did you all love me as much as I have loved you, by the black stone of Rennes I should be rich by now. Indeed, indeed, I have loved you all! You, the workers, all puffed up and dyspeptic and ready for the asylums; and you, the good-for-nothing lazy drones; you, the strong silent men, who have heads quite empty, like gourds; and you also, the frivolous, useless men that chatter and gabble to no purpose all day long. Even you, that, having begun to read this book, could get no further than page 47, and especially you who have read it manfully in spite of the flesh, I love you all, and give you here and now my final, complete, full, absolving, and comfortable benediction.
To tell the truth, I have noticed one little fault about you. I will not call it fatuous, inane, and exasperating vanity or self-absorption; I will put it in the form of a parable. Sit you round attentively and listen, dispersing yourselves all in order, and do not crowd or jostle.
Once, before we humans became the good and self-respecting people we are, the Padre Eterno was sitting in heaven with St. Michael beside him, and He watched the abyss from His great throne, and saw shining in the void one far point of light amid some seventeen million others, and He said:
“What is that?”
And St. Michael answered:
“That is the Earth,” for he felt some pride in it.
“The Earth?” said the Padre Eterno, a little puzzled . . . “The Earth? . . .? . . . I do not remember very exactly . . .”
“Why,” answered St. Michael, with as much reverence as his annoyance could command, “surely you must recollect the Earth and all the pother there was in heaven when it was first suggested to create it, and all about Lucifer———”
“Ah!” said the Padre Eterno, thinking twice, “yes. It is attached to Sirius, and———”
“No, no,” said St. Michael, quite visibly put out. “It is the Earth. The Earth which has that changing moon and the thing called the sea.”
“Of course, of course,” answered the Padre Eterno quickly, “I said Sirius by a slip of the tongue. Dear me! So that is the Earth! Well, well! It is years ago now . . . Michael, what are those little things swarming up and down all over it?”
“Those,” said St. Michael, “are Men.”
“Men?” said the Padre Eterno, “Men . . . I know the word as well as any one, but somehow the connexion escapes me. Men . . .” and He mused.
St Michael, with perfect self-restraint, said a few things a trifle staccato, defining Man, his dual destiny, his hope of heaven, and all the great business in which he himself had fought hard. But from a fine military tradition, he said nothing of his actions, nor even of his shrine in Normandy, of which he is naturally extremely proud: and well he may be. What a hill!
“I really beg your pardon,” said the Padre Eterno, when he saw the importance attached to these little creatures. “I am sure they are worthy of the very fullest attention, and” (he added, for he was sorry to have offended) “how sensible they seem, Michael! There they go, buying and selling, and sailing, driving, and wiving, and riding, and dancing, and singing, and the rest of it; indeed, they are most practical, business-like, and satisfactory little beings. But I notice one odd thing. Here and there are some not doing as the rest, or attending to their business, but throwing themselves into all manner of attitudes, making the most extraordinary sounds, and clothing themselves in the quaintest of garments. What is the meaning of that?”
“Sire!” cried St. Michael, in a voice that shook the architraves of heaven, “they are worshipping You!”
“Oh! they are worshipping me! Well, that is the most sensible thing I have heard of them yet, and I altogether commend them. Continuez,” said the Padre Eterno, “continuez!”
And since then all has been well with the world; at least where ils continuent.
And so, carissimi, multitudes, all of you good-bye; the day has long dawned on the Via Cassia, this dense mist has risen, the city is before me, and I am on the threshold of a great experience; I would rather be alone. Good-bye my readers; good-bye the world.
* * * * * * *
At the foot of the hill I prepared to enter the city, and I lifted up my heart.
There was an open space; a tramway: a tram upon it about to be drawn by two lean and tired horses whom in the heat many flies disturbed. There was dust on everything around.
A bridge was immediately in front. It was adorned with statues in soft stone, half-eaten away, but still gesticulating in corruption, after the manner of the seventeenth century. Beneath the bridge there tumbled and swelled and ran fast a great confusion of yellow water: it was the Tiber. Far on the right were white barracks of huge and of hideous appearance; over these the Dome of St. Peter’s rose and looked like something newly built. It was of a delicate blue, but made a metallic contrast against the sky.
Then (along a road perfectly straight and bounded by factories, mean houses and distempered walls: a road littered with many scraps of paper, bones, dirt, and refuse) I went on for several hundred yards, having the old wall of Rome before me all this time, till I came right under it at last; and with the hesitation that befits all great actions I entered, putting the right foot first lest I should bring further misfortune upon that capital of all our fortunes.
And so the journey ended.
* * * * * * *
It was the Gate of the Poplar—not of the People. (Ho, Pedant! Did you think I missed you, hiding and lurking there?) Many churches were to hand; I took the most immediate, which stood just within the wall and was called Our Lady of the People—(not “of the Poplar.” Another fall for the learned! Professor, things go ill with you to-day!). Inside were many fine pictures, not in the niminy-piminy manner, but strong, full-coloured, and just.
To my chagrin, Mass was ending. I approached a priest and said to him:
“Pater, quando vel a quella hora e la prossimma Missa?”
“Ad nonas,” said he.
“Pol! Hercle!” (thought I), “I have yet twenty minutes to wait! Well, as a pilgrimage cannot be said to be over till the first Mass is heard in Rome, I have twenty minutes to add to my book.”
So, passing an Egyptian obelisk which the great Augustus had nobly dedicated to the Sun, I entered . . .
LECTOR. But do you intend to tell us nothing of Rome?
AUCTOR. Nothing, dear Lector.
LECTOR. Tell me at least one thing; did you see the Coliseum?
AUCTOR. . . . I entered a cafe at the right hand of a very long, straight street, called for bread, coffee, and brandy, and contemplating my boots and worshipping my staff that had been friends of mine so long, and friends like all true friends inanimate, I spent the few minutes remaining to my happy, common, unshriven, exterior, and natural life, in writing down this
LOUD AND FINAL SONG
DITHYRAMBIC EPITHALAMIUM OR THRENODY
In these boots, and with this staff
Two hundred leaguers and a half——
(That means, two and a half hundred leagues. You follow? Not two hundred and one half league . . . . Well——)
Two hundred leaguers and a half
Walked I, went I, paced I, tripped I,
Marched I, held I, skelped I, slipped I,
Pushed I, panted, swung and dashed I;
Picked I, forded, swam and splashed I,
Strolled I, climbed I, crawled and scrambled,
Dropped and dipped I, ranged and rambled;
Plodded I, hobbled I, trudged and tramped I,
And in lonely spinnies camped I,
And in haunted pinewoods slept I,
Lingered, loitered, limped and crept I,
Clambered, halted, stepped and leapt I;
Slowly sauntered, roundly strode I,
And . . .
(Oh! Patron saints and Angels
That protect the four evangels!
And you Prophets vel majores
Vel incerti, vel minores,
Virgines ac confessores
Chief of whose peculiar glories
Est in Aula Regis stare
Atque orare et exorare
Et clamare et conclamare
Clamantes cum clamoribus
Pro nobis peccatoribus.)
Let me not conceal it . . . Rode I.
(For who but critics could complain
Of “riding” in a railway train?)
Across the valleys and the high-land,
With all the world on either hand.
Drinking when I had a mind to,
Singing when I felt inclined to;
Nor ever turned my face to home
Till I had slaked my heart at Rome.
LECTOR. But this is dogg———
AUCTOR. Not a word!
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