The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
"And your reason?" I demanded.
Not receiving an immediate answer, I turned to my mystic companion, and the Laughing One was gone, and in his stead was the sharp-visaged Tenebrosa, who replied,
"They are going to amuse themselves with what is worse than an error as they practise it, and which, if they did practise rightly, it is not a matter for amusement."
"Well, it is one of the foibles of the time to communicate with departed spirits," I said. "One of these days they may get hold of you as I have done."
"Never," answered my cold, uncomely Mate, with his low, mocking laugh. "Never. They are not equal even to the Witch of Endor."
I may not say what further passed between us on this subject. Suffice it to observe, that it moved my curiosity with respect to the being of this Strange Existence with whom I associated, and that he promised to satisfy me that very evening.
As to the communication with spirits, so prevalent in the nation before its fall, it was not undertaken with the view of giving information for the quickening of page 112 conscience, the guide of conduct, or the unveiling of a mystery, but rather as a diversion. They did not deal with the spirits voice to voice, but by means of raps upon tables and walls; accompaniments to vulgar songs on musical instruments; marks on arms and feet; and the object was generally to specify amounts of money, names, ages of persons, and so forth (for which purpose, also, in all times ingenious people had educated quadrupeds); but in no instance had the communications the correctness, utility, or honesty of a schoolmaster.
It was acknowledged by the devotees of the art, that many of these communications were contradictious, equivocating, and lying. Therefore, it began to be set down that these communications were the work of drudging, deceiving, evil spirits,—of which the hierarch of their writers gave a foreshadowing in the character of Caliban,—and that their disposition in this, their menial employment, would be to mislead and annoy mortals.
It is to be regretted that these enforced spirits were not made to lift stones as well as tables; build houses as well as theories; overturn armies as well as doubts. But much more sad was it that the good, the beneficent spirits, were not evoked. As, however, communications were obtained only by means of a qualified person called a medium, we may infer that the spiritual condition of the mediums was fitted for evil spirits alone, and perhaps some will find in this the reason of the nation's fall.
This subject being finished between us, I said,—
"As we have not been able to find candour and page 113 innocence in the city, let us seek it in the bosom of Nature.'
And as it was in the heat of a fine August day, we retired to the shady side of a lake in a quiet park.
A palatial structure looked down on half-a-dozen soldiers, parading in front; and the soldiers looked down on the water below. Sweet trees and ample lawns; water plants and fowls; islets green and fretted by the crystal water, made a rural scene, which gratified the senses long tainted by busy habits.
A venerable gentleman (Mr. Worldwise, as we after-wards learnt) was seated within the umbrageous coolness of a tree, upon a free seat,—the vendor of seats looked upon him as a loss,—and he gazed upon the sailing ducks with a kindly eye. We shared his seat and participated in his thoughts, which he freely unbosomed. Tenebrosa contrasted the turmoil of the adjacent city with the calm and innocence around.
"Ah, yes!" said our new acquaintance, "and it might be painful to think what sin is going on there, whilst all is so pure here—that is to say, if this was not really so pleasant as to eradicate all unpleasant feelings."
"If they could only taste this as we taste it," said Archimago, "what good it would do them."
"Yes, I would love to see the multitude here, and in the enjoyment of such pleasures," remarked Mr. Worldwise. "Still, it might be incommodious—but why not have enjoyment where they are? That's what I say. It is only their wicked practices that make them so unhappy."
"You are right, sir," replied the Incarnate Guile, page 114 demurely shaking his head, and slowly adding, "Wicked practices do produce unhappiness."
At these words the gentleman for a moment lost his sedateness, gladdened in feature, and grew shriller in voice.
"Yes, sir, whenever a man comes to me," he cried, "and says he is unhappy, I tell him he must have been wicked, and I can have nothing more to say to him. If he says it is because he is poor, I give him the same answer. I am happy—always happy—I tell them so—and I tell them what makes me happy, and what will make them happy. It is a great secret I have—a golden maxim—that was taught me when I was a boy. I have stuck to it through life, and I am rich as well as happy by it. It is this,"—and we both leaned earnestly towards the blessed being that we might not lose a syllable, and he gravely, grandly, uttered these words, as if for the first time they had been spoken in the universe,—"Honesty is the best Policy."
Then Tenebrosa laid his hand on Mr. Worldwise's knee, and looked intently in his face, as though he had unfolded to him the mystery of man's destiny.
"You are right sir," he said. "That is a helm which if a man holds by he will ascend to riches, walk in a race of usefulness, have all a soldier's virtues under Providence, and spend his sere and yellow leaf in halls of contentment."
"It has been all that to me," cried Mr. Worldwise. "I uttered it every day when I was a boy, and through it got more favours than any of my playmates. When I was a young man I did the same, and was page 115 trusted with untold sums, whilst it rendered all my fellows suspected. It was harvest and fruit to me; and my master dying, left me his estate past all his friends and relations. It was indeed fruit and harvest to me. They were all disappointed, and mostly left poor, especially his sisters. But it only proved the value of the glorious maxim, for they had never broadly asserted it, nor stood on the platform of its truth."
"You are wise, you are happy," cried Archimago, seizing Mr. Worldwise's hand with both of his. "I must hear no more, lest I be envious."
"That is a maxim I have always admired as much as our acquaintance," I said, as we wandered over the Park towards Whitehall. "And he is a singular instance of its correctness."
"Bad proverbs have pleasant illustrations, as obscene books have fine plates; if it was not so, where would be their utility?" answered the Inscrutable.
"I am puzzled at your language," I cried. "Has that man done wrong in acting upon the proverb? Is the proverb itself a part of your artillery?"
"Certainly. The man who concocted it is as dear to me as the man who injected the thought of the Tower of Babel into his nation, and brought about the confusion of tongues. Think for a moment of what he achieved. Honesty was the sheet-anchor of man's salvation. It was the offspring of a pure heart. That man made it a 'policy'—the offspring of a corrupt one. He was one of those conquerors of the human soul, unknown, unheard of, with wider conquests than ever honoured the standards of an Alexander or a Cæsar, and unconfined here, like their short arms, by the force page 116 of death. Alp Arslan called himself the Seourge of God,—that man was the Scourge of Archimago. Logicians analyse matters of trivial consequence rather to show their own art than to improve their neighbours. They might be of some use to man in this instance, thus—but keep the secret.
"Look in your lexicon. Policy is an 'art,' a 'management;' it is 'prudence,' it is 'strategy.' So then—
"Policy is a strategy.
"Honesty is the best policy. Therefore—
"Honesty is the best strategy.
"Treated, then, as it is advised and acted upon,—not as the impulse of a pure mind, but as an art,—we have to take it as a mere appearance, which results thus—'the appearance of honesty is the best policy.' Was there, could there ever be, so fine a formula for making—my subjects? Suited equally for the platform, the haunt of business, the family circle, and the pulpit."
"Silence," said I, for whilst he spoke, night had come upon the earth. A deep unwonted quiet held our ears,—as in the momentary pause between the ebbing and the flow of waters, their turbulence and noise is stilled, so was there a transitory peace between the tides of daily life retired, and the tides of nightly strife still pent. The stars of heaven glimmered upon us in their golden courses, and a voice, as 'twere the voice of thought speaking to thought, came from the infinite which brooded on my sight,—so that I silenced Archimago, and gazed and listened heavenwards in awe.
"Methinks it is no vain belief that there is harmony in the motion of those bright orbs. That there is sym- page 117 pathy, too, between their order and the pure action of the law in human affairs. So nicely balanced are they all, it seems to me as if one atom less or more would confuse the whole of the mighty system,—even as in our physical being a trifling superfluity or want shakes the nice point of certain health."
"Thanks for your interruption," said the Mind-born Phantasy, "which brings us exactly to where we were. It is just so with the intellectual system. Add one false proposition, and everything is reduced to original chaos, without form and void. This has been accomplished by the proverb on which we have been speaking. . . . As to policy, if the interpretation of the lexicon does not suit you, go enquire there where it reigns, behind a throne although not upon one."
We had issued from out of the gateway of the Horse Guards, and looking in the direction indicated by Archimago, I saw the Tower of the Legislature of the land gazing upon us with two flaming faces.
I was wearied, and desired Archimago to accompany me to my lodgings.
"And now," said I, "what will you drink,—Madeira with Peter the Great, Malvoise with Cromwell, Romanee with Cardinal Richlieu, Chateau-Margau with Talleyrand? or, Chambertin with the great Napoleon, Tokay with the great Frederick, Lurenne with Henry IV., Sherry with Francois I., Alicante with Charles V., Medoe with Marshal de Richelieu, Champagne with Marshal de Saxe? or, Old Chablais with Rabelais, Marsala with Rubens, Montepulciano with Cervantes, Chianti with Le Sage, Sauterne with Humbolt, Vou-vray with Balzac, Johannisberg with Goethe, Port with page 118 Byron, Malmsey with Shakspeare, Ale with Burns, Coffee with Milton, or Water with Shelly?"
"Old Chablais, without doubt," replied Archimago.
"Ah! rare stuff to thaw the soul and loosen the tongue. I must have a chirrup."
June brought in by wind and hail;
Roses blighted ere born;
Day-dawn breaking cold and pale;
In the nightingale's breast the thorn—
Beauty dead in beauty's birth;
Music silent in hall and grove—
What care we?—ha! ha!—our mirth
Sparkles up in the red wine cup,
And we know all that man can know
Of worth, of wit, of love.
Masks of hate with winning smiles;
Lies for gain and power;
Sweethearts', traders', neighbours' guiles;
The golden sting of fortune's hour—
Hearts reft of life, life twisted in brain,
Hypocrisy in hands, hearts, faces—
What care we?—ha! ha!—our gain
Is so divine from the red, red wine,
That age wins youth, falseness learns truth,
And we sing with the Muses and dance with the Graces.
"I fear your dance will only be a reeling dizziness," I said.
"Come, come, respond in verse," cried Archimago.page 119
"Well, if the singing in your ears does not prevent your hearing, I will oblige you."
Pray talk no more of wine and madness;
Wild thoughts and beatific vision;
Their glory is but crowned with sadness,
Their laughter dies in fierce derision.
Drink, when nature doth require,
And let the murmuring streams,
Translucent as Apollo's beams,
Quench the desire.
Under no other inspiration
Let us survey men's minds and actions,
Sift fraud, unveil equivocation,
And search the springs of loves and factions.
Be calm as is the calm deceiver;
See beauty with pure eyes,
And hear the poet's melodies
In solemn mood,—in honour to the giver.
"Now change the measure and the theme," said the Sovereign Mover of Men. "My promise——as to myself——"