MAYNARD, after returning from his work, was in unusually high spirits the whole evening; talking incessantly, scarcely caring to be answered, and not in the least heeding the dreamy absent air that had come over Margaret and Noel.
‘It is always so when he is sending off a conductá,’ she said to Edmund, on James leaving the room for a short time. I don’t take any notice of it to him, because I like him to exercise his moods unconsciously. But I have observed of late that he has become more thoughtful and anxious each quarter as the time for making a shipment has approached, and that it has seemed as if a weight was off his mind directly it is despatched.’
‘I suppose, then, that it is tender the influence of his anxious moods that he has written the letters which have made my uncle fear the responsibility was weighing upon him. I have never named this to you, because I hoped to have ascertained the truth for myself. But so far as I can judge, he has not done himself justice in his letters home.’
‘I am vexed to hear that he has produced such an impression on Mr. Tresham,’ said Margaret; ‘but I feel sure that it is only with a view to carrying out his fixed idea of sending me home with the children, and staying in Mexico himself.’
Here Maynard returned and asked Margaret to give them some music. Finding what
she played somewhat doleful for his mood, he stopped her and would have no more.
Then he told Noel it was a pity that he would have no time for sketching, as
there were some fine views on the road to
‘And I suppose,’ he said to Noel, ‘that in case you change
your mind and go on home instead of returning here, the next thing we shall hear of you will be through some book in which we shall find life-like portraits of ourselves.’
‘Ah, that is always my difficulty,’ returned Noel. ‘I have seen plenty that is worth writing about, but people have always been so kind that I shrank from putting them into a book.’
‘Why so? Nothing pays like personalities.’
‘Besides, I do not care for mere travels, or adventures, as such. I want them to illustrate character, and indicate opinion and growth. Without such human interest a book of travels is to me but a guide-book, very useful in its way, but not such as I care to compile.’
‘You advocate individuality in literature, if not in conduct,’ said James, referring to their previous conversation.
‘I consider that the exercise of any faculty must be governed in its limitations by consideration for others, whether it be in the domain of conduct or of letters. Thus, I can imagine a man so dominated by an idea which he believes to belong to himself alone, as to devote his life to elaborating it in a book, and yet withholding it from publication as at least premature. People would find it painful or unintelligible.’
‘I see,’ said Maynard. ‘You consult people’s feelings, while I consider the interests of humanity. I prefer sacrificing the individual to the race, rather than the race to the individual. It is this consideration for the weak brother that has exalted ignorance and stupidity into the ruling power of society. Science has to hold its tongue because the majority are under the dominion of their prejudices and fancies. And Art has to subordinate truth to respectability, passion to propriety.’
‘Have you thought of any subject on which to write?’ asked Margaret of Edmund.
‘I have thought of several, but fixed on none. Every subject of real importance assumes such portentous dimensions as soon as one approaches it. One was suggested to me years ago in a talk with James; and has been working in my brain ever since. But I distrust my ability to carry on my scheme to my satisfaction.’
‘Scientific or artistic?’ asked James.
‘A combination of both.’
‘Founded on history, adventure, or character?’
‘Each and all. A romance, in short, of peculiar construction.’
‘There is no romance equal to that of people’s own lives. Do you mean to have a plot in it?’
‘Scarcely what is ordinarily called a plot; yet a decided plot to my mind, for it involves the development of character and growth of ideas amid the conflicting elements of man’s nature and history. I want to represent Humanity as a continuous Being, starting from primitive savagery, and at length, by the contact of his character with the external world, with his struggles and his blunders as stepping-stones, or rather as rungs in the ladder of his progress, attaining the highest development of which his nature is capable, yet never abandoning that nature.’
‘The general epitomised in the individual,’ observed Maynard. ‘Why, it is the Bible of all Humanity that you are contemplating.’
‘I want also to show how from the patent and rudimentary facts of existence man deduces the most abstruse, and detects the basis of his spiritual being even in the gross elements of his physical.’
‘You have not forgotten our
‘You perceive my meaning, then. I am glad of that, for I was so far from being intelligible to myself, that I scarcely expected to become intelligible to you.’
‘It will want some management to treat the subject at once scientifically, artistically, and popularly,’ said James. ‘Readers, some one has said, may be generally divided into two classes, the historical and the hysterical; those who are not afraid to go into the real facts; and those who are so contented with certain ideas suggested by a selection from the facts, as to shrink from all others.’
‘My scheme,’ said Noel, ‘involves a use of the old method whereby philosophers spoke with one meaning for the initiated among their pupils, and another for the novices. I believe it possible to write a romance containing both esoteric and exoteric significations, each alike interesting and instructive to those to whom it is addressed, and unintelligible to those by whom it is not intended to be understood.’
‘Such a phenomenon may be possible,’ observed Maynard, ‘because life is possible, and it is life in its heights and depths, its mysteries and its revelations, that you want to transfer to your pages. But the more successful you are, the more you must expect to incur the opprobrium which life has incurred,
and to accept your share of the total depravity which so many folks delight to attribute to man. You may seek to amuse people, if you will, without exciting reprobation. But if, leaving the domain of mere science or mere amusement, your object be really to enlighten, there will be plenty to point out to the world that its holiest, its dearest, or its usefullest, sentiments are being trampled on, and you will find yourself and your art consigned to perdition by the inevitable “weak brothers” who do not stop to consider whether they are capable of understanding you aright; or who care far less whether you have truth on your side, than whether you agree with them. You should determine, before you begin to write, at what kind of success you aim, or you may be sadly disappointed at the result. If at a commercial success, that is, to be read by the tens of thousands, you must be content with providing milk for babes, so far as any real thought is concerned. If at a literary or philosophical success, that is, to be praised on high grounds by high-class reviews, you must be content with a small audience. The way to look at the matter is this. Everybody is born. Most live through infancy to childhood. Many through childhood to manhood. Several to old age. A very few to extreme age. The size of your audience depends on which of there classes you address whether the million children; the thousand adults; the score of aged. The genius is rare, if not impossible, that can attract all. But there are other limitations with us. In literature, as the British world is at present constituted, you cannot at the same time serve God and Mammon. Real knowledge on the deepest of all subjects is tabooed. Your scheme, as I understand it, goes to the very root of things.’
‘It does indeed,’ said Edmund, with a slight laugh. ‘I must make the foundation the lowest, in order to be able to rear on it the loftiest superstructure.’
‘Foundations should be concealed, you know.’
‘True, but they must be there, and traceable. I aim at showing the divine shining through the human, the moral and spiritual through the animal, in every phase of man; taking his lower physical nature as representative to him of creative power, and his higher moral nature as representative of divine character; yet not merely representative but essentially identical. But it is a subject one may pass one’s life in meditating in, and never write at all.’
‘There is yet another limitation to your audience,’ said
Maynard, ‘in the absurd way we bring up our women. An author may gain the attention and even excite the enthusiasm of every intelligent man in the country, and yet the very mention of him be frowned down in society, because he surpasses the limits allowed to female education or comprehension. Woman, with her emotional nature morbidly stimulated by a vicious education of repression and concealment, keeps the world back in the regions of superstition. A man, to spare her feelings, conceals and arrests his own progress. And so humanity lingers on its road, as Adam shared the apple, that woman may not be left behind. You will not be shocked at what I am going to say, Margaret, for you are the veriest pagan. It is in this sense that the phrases, “Woman is the mother of God,” and “Ignorance is the mother of Devotion,” are identical in meaning. For the devotion that proceeds from ignorance is superstition; and the God that ignorant superstitious woman produces in her imagination, is no God and Father, recognisable in His works – the facts of nature, and adorable by the educated intellect of man. It is little wonder that so many of our youth in the passage between the feminine imaginations that have guided their childhood and the actualities of manhood, become hopelessly wrecked and lost for want of sounder knowledge of their own natures and the world’s meaning. I hope that whatever work you do, you who need not waste yourself in working for popularity and pay, it will include in its aim the intellectual emancipation of women as well as of men. It will avail little to help man to take a step forward, if he is thereby separated still farther from his natural complement, woman. Indeed, the very essence of your idea involves the coincidence of the sexes, and the natural relations between them, as the basis and sustenance of all higher existence. There are symptoms of the dawning of an era different from any that has yet occurred. Hitherto man has governed the world by himself, and a marvellous mess he has made of it. Some day he will let woman help him. I don’t mean by woman the aggregate of the accomplished dolls who are taught to consider life a success when they have secured the modern arma virumque, settlements and a man, all to themselves; or even of those who think to obtain happiness in the next world by practising the selfishness of the devotee in this; but woman with her finer perceptions and sympathies developed and disciplined by an education that shall teach her the real meaning and principles of human association. With women
more as they might be, there would come such an improvement in men that the very face of the world would be changed. However, humanity is very young yet. The very immensity of what there is to be done and known is the best indication that the time and the ability will not be wanting. The end cannot be yet, unless Nature is so far a failure as to be incapable of comprehending and fulfilling itself.’