The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
The revelations of Archimago laid me deep in the mire of despondency. Prostrate and despairing, I kept my chamber; nor caring, nor daring to call up the Mind-Seer. Time stood not still, but the busy, the merciless, deaf, cold-handed Fates kept weaving the minutes and the hours into the sad sackcloth wherewith man shall be clad in the mystical eternity; and thus two weeks sped from their swift shuttle. Then called I on the dread Spirit once more.
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I was astounded, on coming into the busy city once more, to observe great changes wrought in its appearance. Some of the bridges over the river, that I had left intact, were nearly demolished, and others were springing up to supplant them. Market-places, hotels, and houses, were in ruins, or had put on a new aspect. Arches had risen over many thoroughfares, and steam-trains swept above and between houses, to the jeopardy of upper tenements and tenants. What with digging up and pulling down, building and improving, restoring and adding, I could scarce recognise the old streets, or the old stream. These alterations, I remembered, had always been going on during my daily page 53 travels; but daily use habituated the eye to the work, so that it knew it not. My absence made the revolution seem a miracle. In their last days, this people were great changers; their metropolis, indeed, became the Hospital of Cities.
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The disappointment of my high expectations, that invariably arose when I lighted on some new prospect, but more especially on the revolting discovery of the desires and motives of those to whom I applied for an engagement, so sickened my heart, that I could rarely find resolution to pursue my inquiry further than one person each day. Being then left alone,—for, in my disquiet, I invariably dismissed the Arch Interpreter,—the burden of reflection would oppress me heavily; and the approach of a period when my means would be inadequate to provide for the wants of the body, often made me consider the advisability of assigning it over to my creditors, and beginning a new existence. This I should often have done unhesitatingly, had not the appearance of my balance sheet at the Final Audit made me fear that a composition of that kind would be very unfortunate for me in the eye of the Great Judge.
At last, to relieve myself from the agony of thought, with a habit common in that nation, I determined to seek new adventures; nor would I permit Archimago to leave me, until I retired to my lodgings, wearied and worn, late in the reign of night. This was of double benefit to me; since his skill never failed to introduce us, on the monitions of hunger, to some company or page 54 other, at whose expense we could eat and drink freely; and he ever represented to me the real objects of men in doing and suffering.
The tone of my thoughts having been sad when I met Archimago Tenebrosa one morning,—for he appeared to me unwished for and unsought, as I wended my way through Gray's Inn Lane,—I said to him :—
"Your remarks on our first acquaintance, about the history of the nation, have troubled me very much. I have often desired to speak to you upon the subject, but something always came, just like that man, as I am speaking, unlooked for between us, and turned the discourse. Are there none who expose the danger to the nation from the commission of such acts as you name?"
"Many," replied the Inscrutable.
"Who are they?" I demanded.
"The adherents of the party opposed to the governing party."
"I am glad to hear that," I said. "And what do they propose as a remedy? Doubtless they would punish the criminals."
"Oh, no!" answered the Arch Spirit. "We shall see many of them afterwards; and you will find that the only object they have in their denunciations is to dispossess their opponents of power and annex it to themselves, so that they may commit the same acts. Inwardly, they rejoice at what horrifies you."
"How is that?" I asked, very much astonished.
"Because it will give them impunity when they do likewise."
"Then that is not the class of men I meant by the page 55 question," said I. "In my reading, I have met with one Socrates, of Greece, who spoke of justice as the safeguard of the State, and affirmed that philosophers were only just men. Are there any philosophers now?"
"Hundreds," replied he. "I am going to call on one this morning."
I hurried Tenebrosa, with all possible speed, to the house of the Philosopher, assured that I would hear a full exposition of the terrible acts that had disturbed me, and their effects on the mind of the nation.
In appearance, Mr. Malraison was of . . . . . . . . . . . he is amongst us still . . . . . . . . and his smile told you that he knew more than you, or any living man.
I was astounded to find that he had not heard a word of the Bombardment, nor of the Capture. On my stating the cases to him, he remarked that it was a very small matter, and that the theory of government was of infinitely more importance. He spoke—he spoke beautifully when he came to this, and hinted at many reviews of his last book, which he said would show me how to understand his writings. I was rather nettled at his evasion, and I told him that I hoped to admire him more, at my leisure, but I pressed the subjects home to him.
"And what does all this amount to?" said he. "Ships sail; hands let off guns; guns send shot and shell against houses and human beings, and destroy them. That is all. Now what are ships, and guns, and shot, and shell, and houses, but matter? and what are human bodies, but matter? This is a difficulty with page 56 many men, which I have resolved long ago; and my explanation applies to all circumstances, in all times and places. To Persia and Marathon, Greece and Pydna, Carthage and Zama, Rome and a score of fields. It is of little consequence that armies are embattled,—that seas are bridged over,—or, as in the case in point, that wind or steam propel ships—or that they go to a place with or without a helm. Of as little consequence is it whether a man is killed by a brick from a house top, or by a round ball from a gun. I put my proposition in a few words—War is but a contention of matter. But far different is it with the human mind, which applies itself to the theory of government."
I would have said, "What of the people;" but Archimago interrupted the philosopher, crying—
"No more, no more! You are convincing beyond belief. We must not detain you longer. My friend, I see, is overwhelmed by your arguments."
The philosopher shook us heartily by the hand at departing, and his face was lustrous with triumph.
"Why did you hurry me away so abruptly?" I demanded of Archimago, when we were alone. "I was not convinced. I had a word for him."
"No doubt," he said. "But do you suppose I would let you destroy the fabric, when I had introduced you to the builder? "
"If that is all," I answered, "I will return, and relieve you from responsibility."
A footman opened the door, and in a few minutes he brought me the answer that the Philosopher was engaged in study; and, as I was unknown to him and did not bring an introduction, he could not be disturbed.page 57
"How comes this?" I asked of Archimago, on rejoining him. "Has your Philosopher so short a memory?"
"He suspects the cause of your return from your late manner," said he. "You must understand, too, that to such a person you must bring credentials of your admiration for him before he grants an interview."
"Then at least he is sincere, and belongs not to you," I replied.
"Does he profess to court admiration, then?" asked Tenebrosa, with a sneer.
"Enough! Do you say he is a philosopher?"
"A political philosopher."
"Don't despair," said Archimago. "Here we have luckily met with another philosopher, who will sympathise strongly with you. Good morning, Mr. Finesse. Here is a friend of mine deeply deploring these aggressions of our arms in the east."
Mr. Finesse clutched my hand, and looked in my eyes eagerly. His figure was . . . . . . . more upright than he is now . . . . . . in speech . . . . . . void of figure . . . . . . lack of imagination.
"I am delighted to find one conscience in the nation," said he. "Yet it surprises me beyond measure to find so great a dearth; for all men seek after money, and if money does not rouse the conscience, nothing ought. Mr. Malraison proposes schemes that never entered into man's mind before, much less have they ever been practised. He can afford, too, to ridicule the page 58 past governments of the world, since he has the patronage of the present one, whose shortcomings it is not the business of his theories to expose. Now take a matter of fact view. These expeditions have cost us several thousands of pounds . . . . . . . ."
He was quite correct as far as he went, but he would not acknowledge that there was any guilt in the acts beyond the squandering of money, in which he saw national ruin. My words were ineffectual. I could not make him see anything else than he desired to see, and, mutually disappointed, I parted from this gentleman, who Archimago told me was an eminent Financial Philosopher.
We met another gentleman on a subsequent occasion near the Central Bank of the Kingdom, who bore the same title as Mr. Finesse—viz., F. P.; although these initials belonged to a Society tacitly rather than formally organised. So far, however, from representing the spending of money recklessly as foolish or dangerous, this F. P. regarded it as judicious and beneficial for the nation; and his maxim was, "The greater the loss, the greater the development of resources, therefore, the greater the profit."
I found in my travels that Philosophy advocated two adverse propositions, and therefore had become a nullity—if philosophy it were.