|MY DAYS AND DREAM|
Edward Carpenter's Autobiography
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
WHAT I have just said might seem to suggest a sort of perpetual garden-party going on at Millthorpe. But this of course was by no means the case, and for weeks at a time we would often be quiet enough. A distance of four miles from the nearest railway-station is a good defence ; especially in winter with snow on the ground; also the general rule of not seeing visitors till the afternoon. Still we were liable to incursions. To Job are ascribed the pregnant words (xxxi. 35) "0 that mine adversary had written a book!" And I am afraid that I had in some such way laid myself open to attack. The ubiquitous American who (to adopt the style of Bernard Shaw) only stayed in England to visit Millthorpe and Stratford-on-Avon, was much in evidence. And faddists of all sorts and kinds considered me their special prey. I don't know what I had done to deserve this - but so it was. Vegetarians, dress reformers, temperance orators, spiritualists, secularists, anti-vivisectionists, socialists, anarchists - and others of very serious mien and character - would call and insist in the most determined way on my joining their crusades - so that some-times I had almost to barricade myself against them. A friend suggested (and the idea was not a bad one) that I should put up at the gate a board bearing the legend "To the Asylum" on it. Then the real lunatics would probably avoid the neighborhood.
Nevertheless on the whole we got a good deal of fun out of these incursions, and occasionally some real and solid advance.
On one occasion - it was when the Fearnehoughs were living with me - we were sitting quietly at our humble dinner of carrots or what-not, in the middle of the day, when I saw two young ladies pass the window. There came a knock at the door, and I opened it. There stood a very good-looking elegantly dressed girl of twenty-three or twenty-four, with terracotta frock and gainsborough hat, rather Londony in style; with a less showy companion beside her. Said number one: "Does Mr. Carp--" and then breaking off, "Oh! I see you are Mr. Carpenter. You know, I heard you once speak at the Fabian Society. I belong to the Fabian Society. And my cousin and I were near here, and thought perhaps we might call."
"Very glad to see you, I'm sure."
"And is this really where you carry on your Simplification of Life? Oh! Madge! isn't it interesting " (this last thrown in as an interjection).
"I don't know about that; but won't you come in and sit down?"
"Thank you so much, I should be glad of a rest."
"Will you have a bit of cake and a glass of milk?"
"Oh no I but I should like a piece of dry bread."
"Well, you need not 'simplify ' so much as that."
"Oh I but I am so fond of dry bread!
Then it came out that the Uncle and Aunt were waiting outside, so they had to be got in, and ultimately the party were all safely landed in my study - where after the simplification trouble had been got over, we made a reasonable acquaintance with each other.
But I never afterwards quite forgot that expression Is this where you carry on your?" etc. - as if one hung a flag out of the window. On another occasion, it being summer-time, a party of forty Spiritualists came over from Manchester to spend Sunday at a neighboring farmhouse, and with the intention of digging me out in the course of the afternoon. Providence however interposed and sent pelting rain all day, and the poor things having to walk several miles from the station arrived at their farmhouse simply drenched; and when they had had their dinner, and partially dried their clothes, were naturally in no mood or condition to turn out again - with the exception of ten or twelve of the more heroic, who came on and called on me. What I had done to merit this honour I do not know, as I had had very little experience of Spiritualism; but they sat round and told me all sorts of wonderful stories. In the middle of it all, a plashing was heard outside in the rain, a knock at the door, and a young lady sandal-enthusiast arrived. She was a neat-looking well-made girl, in sandals, with bare, unstockinged feet, and she wore a simple navy blue serge dress; but of course she was wringing wet. We had not seen her before; her name was Swanhilda Something (somehow it sounded appropriate) she had set out to walk all the way from Sheffield (nine miles). On the way the rain had come on, and the sandals had nearly come off. She had no umbrella or waterproof; and she was decidedly more than damp. Mrs. Adams, who was then in charge of our menage, took her upstairs and gave her a change, and she presently joined the Spiritualist party, looking it must be confessed somewhat like a ghost; but full of spirit and pluck. Her pluck (as I found afterwards) as a dress-reformer was really splendid. On this occasion, after tea, she refused all offers of a bed for the night, donned her still damp clothes and her sandals, and joining the forty Spiritualists, they all splashed back across the hills to the station.
One of the pathetic things of the Socialist movement is the way in which it has caused not a few people of upper class birth and training to try and leave their own ranks and join those of the workers, when - by their very birth and training being unable to bridge the gulf - the result has been that they, belonging neither to one class nor the other, outcasts from one, and more or less pitied or ridiculed by the other, have fallen into a kind of limbo between. I have known several cases of young men of this kind. One of them I may describe under the name of 'Bryan.' His father, being a country squire, wanted Bryan to go into the army. The boy had ideas of his own about the matter, and simply refused. Differences ensued, and ultimately the father offered him £100 a year for three years, and told him to find his own way into life. The youth drifted to London, fell in with the Socialists at a street corner, became inspired with their 'cause,' and sought to identify himself thenceforth with the working class. He came and spent a year or more in our neighborhood at Millthorpe. He was a good fellow - his heart, as they say, in the right place; but whether owing to the wretched character of his training, or to native want of skill or perseverance, he never could or would shape himself to do any solid work. He would dabble a little at the joiner's bench, or in the garden, or with the woodmen in the woods - but only a little. When we urged him to learn some one trade thoroughly - if only cobbling or cabinet-making-he would always say "Ah! but things will be different when the Revolution comes - we shall all go barefoot, or these things will be done by machinery"; and so one got no nearer any practical result. On one occasion being in the neighborhood of his family home, I went and called on his father, thinking I might be of some use, but found him in a state of despair.
"Oh, Bryan," he said, "I don't know what has taken the boy. Why the other day he came to see us in our London house, and the first thing he said was 'Father, all these houses ought to be burnt down.'
“'Burnt down,' I replied; 'are you mad?'
“'Well, they ought to be,' he said, 'and the people made to do some honest work instead of idling their lives away on other folk's labour.'
“'And pray what sort of work would you set them to, young man?'
“'Oh, anything,' he said, 'any straightforward work like mending the roads or breaking stones.'
“'Then I suppose you Socialists would take an old man like me, seventy years of age, and turn me out of house and home, and set me to break stones on the roads - nice "saviours of society" you are I'
“'Well,' he replied, 'of course there would be exceptions - I daresay we should allow you a pension, say £100 a year, on account of your age and infirmity!'
"Think of that, Mr. Carpenter, think of your own son offering you £100 a year, and in the name of these rascally Socialists!”
Needless to say I deeply sympathized - (I don't think in fact he suspected me of being a Socialist)! but I saw that nothing useful could be done, and at an early opportunity I retired.
Bryan drifted out to Topolobampo, a socialist colony on the Gulf of California; and when that broke up he floated about the borders of Mexico and California, living on chance luck and occasional remittances until family changes brought him finally home.
Another case of a somewhat similar kind was that of a young R.E. captain, Captain Peterson, let us call him, who had read Tolstoy and convinced himself that a military life was wrong, and that he must leave the Army. Being at the time Adjutant of Volunteers in a neighboring town, he used to come up to Millthorpe to discuss these questions and as to how he should ordain his life when once free. I admired his enthusiasm, but felt obliged to warn him not to be in too great a hurry; for it was easy to see that in practical matters he was a mere babe. Certainly the Army was not the place for him. Anything but 'correct' in dress; with generally a large gap between his waistcoat and his trousers, and again another between his trousers and his boots, with projecting schoolboy ears and red nose, he was just the man who would be unmercifully chaffed or even ‘ragged' by his fellow-officers. But on the other hand his capacity for battling his way in the world, or for earning his own living, was evidently of the smallest; and his schemes for the future were of the most wild-cat kind. He was going to build a house - but as he would have no money to pay for it, he should get together a little group of workmen (who desired to improve their minds) on the condition that he should teach them elementary mathematics, surveying, etc., during one half of the day, while they should set bricks and mortar for him during the other half! (A charming scheme! but I think I see the British workman agreeing to it!) His house, according to the plan which he drew out of his pocket, was more like a greenhouse than anything else - with walls and roof largely glass; and when I suggested that it might prove rather hot in summer (!) he seemed to have no difficulty in imagining plentiful vines trailing overhead, with foliage and hanging bunches of grapes, to ward off the sun's rays. For the floor of his room be had a device of which he was quite proud. "It is often convenient," he said, "to have two carpets - a rough one for ordinary use, and a better one for special occasions."
I assented to this rather dubious premise, for the sake of seeing what would follow!
“Well" he continued "my idea is to sew these two carpets together like a roller towel, and have them passing over rollers at the two opposite ends of the room, so that one carpet should be on the floor, and the other underneath. Then, you know, when you saw visitors coming, all you would have to do would be to turn the crank (suiting the action to the word), and you would have your best carpet on in a jiffey!
Too amazed and speechless to make any objection, I could only see with my mind's eye, a cottage piano and a table and an armchair or two gaily sailing across the room, as the crank was being turned.
"Meanwhile "he went on" as carpets are always wanting brushing I intend to have brushes fixed underneath the floor, so that every time the carpet is changed it will be automatically brushed. Nothing could be simpler."
It would have been cruel to make further objections to schemes so indeed transparently simple. But they will give the reader an idea of the difficulties and dangers attending the metamorphosis from the condition of an army officer to that of a private in the peaceful regiments of humanity. What has become now of our friend Peterson I cannot certainly say. That he nobly and consistently abandoned his life in the army I know; but whether he succeeded in getting a house built on the Principles of Euclid is doubtful.
Peterson was also connected with an occurrence which at the time was rather mysterious, and caused us some puzzlement. My friend George Merrill had come to live with me, and we two were occupying the house alone. One evening, late in the summer, we bad just returned from Sheffield, and tired had thrown ourselves for a moment into chairs, when almost at once a knock came at the door - so soon indeed that we wondered how the visitor could have been so close behind. George went to the door and then turning to me said "A lady wants to see you." At once a voice from outside said very distinctly, "A woman, if you please." Roused to a sense of serious events impending, I went forward, and saw, as well as the falling dusk would allow, what appeared to be a fairly pleasant-looking woman of about thirty-five, but somewhat dishevelled and untidy in dress; and said-
"Can I do anything for you?"
"You can," she replied, "I'm lost, I'm an outcast from the world, will you befriend me?”
"I will if I can," I said, "but tell me first about yourself - what is your name? do you come from Sheffield?"
"You," she exclaimed, "Mr. Carpenter, the author of Towards Democracy - and you won't help me, till you know my name and all about me!"
I looked at George with a wild surmise. “Certainly," I said, "I can't very well help you till I know what is the matter."
“I tell you," she rejoined with increasing emphasis, "I'm lost, I'm an outcast, I can never go back to the world again. Ah!" (pointing to the garden and the rising moon) "if I could only live here in this beautiful scene, with you, far away from the town and all its belongings. Mr. Carpenter, will you befriend me?"
What an appeal to a lone bachelor! Luckily I resisted the temptation to a too ready sympathy, and leaning forward said again, "But still you have not told me anything about yourself and your troubles."
As I did so I caught a distinct and strong waft of liquor.
"Is it not enough that I am lost?" she replied.
The situation was really embarrassing. At last I said:-
"Well, you know, I and my friend have only just come back from Sheffield, and are very tired; will you come again to-morrow, or any day you like to name, when we shall have more time, and tell me your whole story."
At this she threw up her head with a kind of snort, and said: "And you are Mr. Carpenter I and you say come to-morrow-and to-morrow perhaps I shall be dead!" And thus saying she strode off to the gate with the air of a tragedy queen.
Nevertheless for some days we could not help feeling a little uncomfortable. The people at the neighboring inn told us that she had come from the Sheffield direction during the afternoon, and had been hanging about waiting for our return for some hours, doubtless had been in the garden on our arrival - which accounted for her sudden appearance - but no one knew who she was; nor did tidings of her, or of any mischance to her, reach us for some weeks - till at last the memory of the incident died out.
Then one afternoon, the said Captain Peterson having turned up and being engaged in expounding his theories over a cup of tea - my attention (which had quite wandered from his conversation) was suddenly caught by the words "and there's that woman, she gets drunk, and then comes to my house, and won't go away - it's very awkward! - and she has read your Towards Democracy too."
That's the woman," I exclaimed, "tell me about her " and a few explanations soon disclosed the fact that my mysterious visitor was the wife of Peterson's colour-sergeant - a decent sort of body apparently, and all right except for occasional drinking-bouts, when she became liable to these vespertinal excursions.
During the first year or so after Merrill's arrival, and for a year or two before that, we had a young Russian, or Russian Jew, staying in the house. Invalided with consumption he had somehow taken refuge with us. He went by the name of Max Flint. He was of that fine and delicate type of Jew (somewhat perhaps like Mordecai in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda) which one associates with Polish origin - a sensitive face with slender nose (not the Jewish proboscis), arched fine eyebrows and brown pensive eyes, well-formed features on the whole, and hands the same-something refined and almost womanly about him. He was handy in a house, and skilful with a needle ; for indeed he was a tailor by trade. His history is worth relating if only because typical of hundreds and thousands of similar cases.
His father, who was a Jewish butcher by trade, "very religious" according to Max "and always lending money and always losing it," lived at Slobodka across the river from Kovno, and not far from the German frontier. Slobodka was the Jewish quarter and consisted of small wooden houses, two stories at most, but even so not unfrequently each occupied by more than one family. Noah Flynck however and his wife and the eight children were proud to have a house all to themselves. The mother died early but Max remembered her telling stories in which she recalled the subjugation of Poland. How Polish 'gentlemen,' landowners, took refuge in Slobodka, were hunted down by the Russian soldiers and hanged, and their lands appropriated - especially one well-known old story of a Polish noble who concealed himself in the interior of a haystack. The troops surrounded and searched his house and farmyard, but could not find him, till at last his little dog (who had smelt him out) was seen scratching and routing on the top of the stack, and he was betrayed!
When Max was about sixteen or seventeen the terror of the Russian conscription came upon him. Few people realize what this nightmare is to the Russian peasantry. Even in the late Japanese war, villages were surrounded at midnight by Cossacks and police, houses if not opened immediately were broken into, men roused from sleep, and all between the ages of twenty-one and forty three taken away, in most cases never to be heard of again! In Max's time it was as bad, if not worse. The same thing went on. At any moment, at dead of night, the home might be broken into and plundered - the young men snatched away for ever. Bribes might defer your fate for a time - but only for a time. As to passports, you could not move without a passport - even to go from one village to another.
Max determined - even against old Noah's wish - to get away to England; and he managed to effect the escape. There are of course professional smugglers who undertake this business for you; and Max often told the story of how he paid three roubles to one of these for the job. He was instructed to be at a certain village close to the river Memel on a certain evening. He gave his family the slip, and arrived there to time; met the agent all right, and with twenty others bound on the same errand was packed in a stable for the night. Half of the company went off in the small hours of the morning, but Max and the remaining half had to remain there all the next day and night till 2 a.m., when the man came and gave them the signal to follow. They crept through the deserted street and along the road till they came to the bridge which alone divided them from Germany. But how to cross this in face of the Russian sentinel keeping watch at the near end? Needless to say it was a question of bribes. Of the three roubles the soldier was to have one. And Max with a kind of glee used to describe how he saw the man sitting there in his box as they crept by, and pretending to be asleep, yet visibly peeping with one eye through his fingers to see that only the bargained number got through. Once on the German side they were all right, and could breathe again freely. They met at an inn, counted up their remaining monies, and went on in parties together.
Max came to Leeds. Of the hundreds of Russian Jews there he knew a little about some. He changed his name from Flynck to Flint, to suit the English ear, and soon settled down into sweated work in a Jewish tailors' den.
One must hope and suppose that the move was for the better; but what a long crucifixion is the life of the people! You escape from the horrors of the Russian army - from being preyed upon by human and insect vermin, as well as becoming food for powder - only to sit cross-legged for the rest of your life in a dirty, evil-smelling workshop, with gas flaring, stoves superheated (for making the irons hot), and windows all tightly shut - and that, in the heart of a sad-eyed smoke-ridden manufacturing town in the North of England. The wages I believe, in Max's case, were not so bad as in some such dens, but the 'drive' and the pressure were incessant, the machine-work was exhausting, and the hours amounted to ten and a half per day. Little wonder that in a few years he developed the seeds of phthisis, and was practically marked down as its victim.
Turning into a rebel and a hater of the present order (or disorder) of things, he joined the Socialist club in Leeds and became a worker in the cause. That led to his abandoning his own religion, lodging with Christians, and doing such outrageous things as poking the fire or preparing his own meals on the Sabbath Day - which in turn led to the Jewish community slandering and persecuting him! They threw mud and stones at him in the streets; and he became an outcast among his own people. The Jewish girl he was courting refused to consort with him any more and went off with another man, driving him so mad that (as Max told me himself) he on one occasion nearly killed her.
It was somewhere about this time that, in connection with the said Socialist club, I happened to meet him. It was at the deathbed of another Socialist; and perceiving his distress and evident need of a change I asked him for a short holiday to Millthorpe. After that he came again, and again. There was something so gentle and helpful about him that he was always gratefully received by my friends; and the stories of his life and times were always interesting. Once or twice I wrote in my best German-to his father (at Kovno, or Slobodka, now alas! Ravaged by the German invasion); and the innocent joy of the old man (in his replies) was touching. But naturally Max did not get stronger-and a time came when after being here a week or two he obviously could not go to work again and had to stay on rather indefinitely. The Adams' and he became great friends, and he even helped a little in the sandal-work. Then later, when this was too laborious for him, he took up basket-making, and turned out quite a number of useful baskets; and as many of these were "waste-paper baskets," one must feel that in this alone - in the providing receptacles for the printed rubbish of the day - he performed a useful service! Gradually however he got weaker, and had to give up all work. Then it became necessary for him to go to a convalescent Home at Bournemouth; and there after some months he died.
It is often the case that invalids and old people feel themselves a burden on the household in which they live, think they are no good in the world, and wish themselves out of the way; and yet all the time the opposite may be the fact. Often they form a point of real interest in the house, they call out people's sympathy and helpfulness, and their own pluck and sociability under failing health gives courage to others who are stronger. Something of this was true of Max. Though depressed at times his quaint and delicate humour was a joy to his friends and acquaintances. One event, which might have proved prematurely fatal to him, he would frequently recount with pleasure. It was one Christmas; a time when the Village Band is in the habit of coming round to each house in turn and playing its rather fearsome tunes! As it happened Max's bedroom, being at one end of the house, was over a more or less open shed. It was evening and he was composing himself to sleep; when the band arrived. But, snow being on the ground, their footsteps were not heard; and the bandmen very naturally disposed themselves, for more shelter, inside the shed, quite unconscious of course that they were exactly underneath the bed on which an invalid was sleeping. All of a sudden they struck up with a tremendous blare " Christians, Awake!" or some such tune. It was like St. Jerome hearing the last Trump. Poor Max was nearly lifted out of bed by the shock. For a moment he did not know whether he was in this world or the next. When he concluded in favour of this one he found himself lying there in the old bedroom, but his heart palpitating so violently that, combined with the fit of laughter which also seized him, he was quite a wreck for some days after.
There was something ironical in the idea of a Christian hymn proving so nearly fatal to a Jew; but a similar irony, curiously enough, pursued him to his end at Bournemouth. At the Home there - in order to avoid unpleasant questionings, and also because to him the matter was of no importance - he had said nothing about his Jewish connection but had declared himself a Christian, and had received in a friendly way the visits of the chaplain. When he died the Home made the usual arrangements for his interment in the Protestant Cemetery. But - and the story shows how the Jewish community hangs together - the Jews at Leeds and Manchester got to know somehow about it all, and telegraphed to the synagogue at Southampton to stop the infamy of Christian burial. A deputation came over from Southampton and arrived at the Bournemouth home only an hour or two before the funeral - to claim the body for removal to Southampton and burial with Jewish rites. I of course was on the spot and a nice position I was in! The matron of the Home and the Chaplain on the one hand had “always understood" that he was a Christian ; the Chief Rabbi and his friends insisted absolutely that he was a Jew; the funeral car was already waiting in the yard; and Max himself lay there in the mortuary chapel with his features in death finer and paler than ever, and wearing such an expression of high calm and indifference as might well represent his own actual feeling in the matter. I, of course, to all the parties concerned was obviously the "guilty" person-guilty of having got them into such a coil - and they looked at me with eyes of blame. But - though really just as indifferent as Max himself - I thought it best to 'play the game'; and insisted that as he had openly declared himself a Christian he was a Christian and should be buried as such. The Jewish party on its side brought arguments to show that a mere declaration on such a matter counted for nothing; and soon we plunged into a long discussion which I kept up for some time in order (partly) to hear what they would say. When I perceived however how tremendously seriously the Jews took the whole matter, and reflected also that Max's father would be brokenhearted if he heard that his son had been put in a Christian grave, I thought it best to give way. The Chaplain and the matron agreed, and were indeed quite sensible about it all - and finally poor Max's mortal remains were carried off in triumph by his own people.
In conclusion of this chapter I may relate a curious story which perhaps helps to show how the elements of real inspiration and of mental aberration may sometimes get mixed up in the same person.
I had received a letter from London from a man who described himself as a gold-miner from the Sierra Nevada, saying that he had just arrived in England, and was wishful to see me, as he had a message to deliver, and proposing to come on immediately to Milithorpe. As it happened I was just starting for Glasgow and Edinburgh on a lecturing tour. So I wrote at once telling him to wait a week for my return, and to employ his time meanwhile in sight-seeing. But on my return I found to my surprise that he had already been in the village some days, that he had taken a lodging, and was awaiting my arrival. The next day, November 21, 1910, he walked into my yard - obviously an American of a manual worker type, thin, sandy-haired and tall, with dark clothes and black slouch hat, somewhat horny-handed, but with a certain refinement of figure and physiognomy. Also there was a slightly "fallen in” and tired look about him which puzzled me at the moment, but was soon explained. He began almost immediately - as soon as we were sat down - telling me a long story - of which I can only give the outlines.
It seemed that he had been working for a good many years in a gold-mine (probably as part-owner of it) - a mine up 10,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada. One day - six years before the events which he was about to narrate - a strange vision came to him. He had lost his way on the Nevada sandhills, and was searching about in some anxiety, when a sudden transformation of the landscape occurred, and he was transported into a new world, which he could only describe as 'heaven.' On several succeeding occasions the same vision came to him. Meanwhile, he said, he had been fighting hard against the three great temptations of a miner's life - drink, tobacco, and an irascible temper. Each of these troubles in turn disappeared finally with a sudden deliverance and certain assurance of success. Then, only a couple of months before coming to England, more frequent visions came to him, accompanied by voices and the affair culminated in his getting hold of Dr. Bucke's book on Cosmic Consciousness when he read the chapters about Buddha and Jesus. Then followed what he described as “seven days of ecstasy, agonizing ecstasy - tears of peace and joy streaming down my face - in which I saw everything, everything." After that he read one day in the same book the chapter on E. C.
Then one morning-as he was going up the mountain to his work from the camp below (Victor, Colorado), he heard the voices again shouting They came surging up close to my ears, and then faded away into the far distance, and then came close again - and two of the voices were God's, and one was my own [!], and they were shouting Edward Carpenter, Edward Carpenter, go and see E. C., go and see, etc., etc. And I at the same time was shouting Brother E. C. - God's beloved Son, I am coming to you."
[George and I looked at each other again with a wild surmise Another case for the Asylum !]
"And all this," he continued, " kept being repeated as I walked up the hill, over and over again, till at last it faded away in the distance. And all the morning over my work I was in tears - tears of joy and pain - and had to conceal my face from my mates. But as I turned the crusher I felt enormous strength, and was quite unconscious of effort." Then followed all sorts of stories about God telling him to do this and that, and the Devil telling him to do this and that, and of temptations and tests to which he had been subjected. But in the end, he said, he had been impelled to come and see me, and he had come. One day he just threw down his tools and left them lying there, went and said good-bye to his mother (and she evidently did not want him to go) and set sail for England. And now we two (he and I) were to lead a mission round the world - he had some idea about a new Messiah - and to preach and convert the nations together.
Things were evidently getting serious! Yet I hardly knew what to do. He was such a very decent fellow, quiet and kindly and essentially reasonable, and by no means a fanatic; and most obviously genuine and spontaneous. I hardly knew how to attack him.
Then George Merrill saved the situation. He asked Grogan (C. E. Grogan was his name) to have some tea; and the answer gave the needed clue.
"Tea? No, thank you, I haven't taken tea or any food for three weeks." [Afterwards on inquiry at his village-lodgings I found his landlady had been dreadfully disturbed at his not touching a crumb of anything all the time he was there.]
“But if you won't eat, you'll have a cup of tea, or something to drink?”
“No, nothing - except a glass of water - I haven't eaten anything for three weeks, and I don't think I shall ever eat again."
The cat was out; and the line of action was clear. “Look here!" I said, "I quite understand you, and sympathize with your experiences - and I think indeed you have had some very real experiences, and some realizations of another kind of consciousness; but you must be careful, and have some idea of what you are doing. There is no doubt that sometimes abstinence from food will help to develop internal faculties. On the other hand to go too far and to weaken the body, perhaps permanently, may he most foolish, and dangerous. The body is there to give expression to the soul, and if you have any important spiritual revelation to express you want all the faculties of your body in good order for the purpose. Starvation, it is well known, engenders visions and voices, often of a very delusive character. You must not give yourself away to all that. How do you know that what you say is of God is not of the Devil; and vice versa? And how do I know?"
So I went on at him; making him plainly understand that I was not going to join in his crusade-whatever it was. "Besides," I said, "I still do not see what made you come here. You say you have not read any of my writing-except what was contained in Dr. Bucke's book. What do you know about me?
Then he leaped out again. "Oh, I know all about you. I know that you will never die!"
“That is not a very cheerful prospect," said I, gently laughing.
“Oh, well," he replied, "you will at any rate live four hundred years. It is like this: The earth and all that are in it, are from this day passing gradually into a new and higher plane of existence. That process will complete itself in four hundred years, and at the end of that time the earth will be absorbed into the Sun and the ethereal life. A wonderful period of new life will arrive; and all those who are living then will be transformed without passing through Death."
He spoke earnestly and with conviction. I did not oppose him; but warned him again about going too far with his abstinence, and advised deliberation in his conclusions. He did not seem inclined to give way about food-said he thought he should never require it again, and maintained that the internal breathing (prana) came to him with a wonderful sense of fragrance and refreshment.
He was extraordinarily good; for though I had refused, almost rudely, to join in his schemes, he took no offence-simply said that he was satisfied now, that he had given the message he had been told to give, and would return to America "to-morrow."
Having then made my negative attitude quite clear, so that there should be no misunderstanding, I now adopted a positive line; and talked to him for some little time about experiences of the kind he had described. Then I went and fetched some books - the Bhagavat Gita, some of the Upahishads, and other works. He had never even heard their names. I opened the Bhagavat Gita, almost at random, and pointed him out a passage. He almost clapped his hands for joy. "Oh yes, that is exactly what I feel." He seized the book, and turned over the pages, pouncing on passage after passage with delight. "Yes, yes, that is just it" There was no doubt about his sincere and instant appreciation. Then I showed him the passage in the Bhagavat Gita about moderation in eating and moderation in abstinence; but he did not seem inclined to agree. “I just do what God tells me."
Finally I gave him the Gita, and some other books of similar character. And he on his side decided to return to America "to-morrow" - and insisted on my writing at once for a cab. I did not attempt to dissuade him - feeling that perhaps he was right - also that his friends in America would be more satisfied if he returned.
Meanwhile he looked ever so much better than when he came into the house - and evidently was so "glad to have carried out what he had to do," he said. I told him that on board ship his mind would settle itself; and he went off.
He wrote from Liverpool next day, saying he was very happy; and a month or so later from Colorado - in which letter he said, "The unseen force which caused me to quit eating caused me to begin again (as suddenly as I quit). My fast was merely a part of the lesson which is continually before me." Since then I have heard from him from time to time. In one letter he says : "I am feeling fine, and slowly but surely am I (as a child) permitted to learn the a, b, c of real life. It is my belief that we are all permitted to pierce the veil that conceals real Life from our view, only accordingly as our minds are ready to absorb the knowledge gained thereby. From a point of view of Cosmic Consciousness I am beginning my life all over again, and am only beginning in a small way to see and understand some of the simpler truths of the same but I have lost much of that feeling of haste, and learning with the idea in mind that I have all eternity to learn in. My folk and relatives all glad that I am home and quit my wanderings for the present. I think I shall engage in mining again in a small way. This mining camp is about 10,000 feet altitude, and the weather is beautiful, plenty sunshine, and not cold winter weather."
In his latest to me he says :
"You will remember when I visited you I said you would never die. I still feel same way and see no chance of my dying, personally it is a matter of indifference whether I live or die. If I must die in order to live again, so be it, but may we not be permitted to enjoy eternal life here and now? I think so. I think the Harvest of the world is ripe, but such great changes are slow and almost unnoticeable and I think overlap each other, so that harvest or death of one thing is the Birth of another, that is consciousness of Eternal Life becoming more general. Well, I think that I have written enough that you may see the drift of my mind, and I think that is what you want. Love to Mr. Merrill and yourself,
yours truly, C.E. GROGAN."
To which words of Grogan's I would only add:
No doubt we are permitted to enjoy eternal life here and now - even in this tiniest corner, wherever it may be, of space and time."