“What stunted little men met my eye, their skin all striped with livid scars, their backs a mass of sores, with tattered patchwork clothing that gave them shade rather than covering! ... Letters were branded on their foreheads, their heads were half shaven, iron rings were welded about their ankles, they were hideously pale, and the smoky darkness of that steaming, gloomy den had ulcerated their eyelids: their sight was impaired, and their bodies smeared and filthy white with the powdered meal, making them look like boxers who sprinkle themselves with dust before they fight.”
Even to animals the same pity for their sufferings is extended—a pity unusual among the ancients, and still hardly known around the Mediterranean. Yet Apuleius counted the sorrows of the ill-used ass, and, speaking of the same flour mill, he describes the old mules and pack-horses labouring there, with drooping heads, their necks swollen with gangrenes and putrid sores, their nostrils panting with the harsh cough that continually racked them, their chests ulcerated by the ceaseless rubbing of their hempen harness, their hoofs swollen to an enormous size as the result of their long journeys round the mill, their ribs laid bare even to the bone by their endless floggings, and all their hides rough with the scab of neglect and decay.
The first writer of the modern novel—first of romanticists—Apuleius has been called. Romance! If we must keep those rather futile distinctions, it is as the first of realists that we would remember him. For, as in a dream, he has shown us the actual life that mankind led in the temple, the workshop, the market-place, and the forest, during the century after the Apostles died. And we find it much the same as the actual life of toiling mankind in all ages—full of unwelcome labour and suffering and continual apprehension, haunted by ghostly fears and self-imagined horrors, but illuminated by sudden laughter, and continually goaded on by an inexplicable desire to submit itself to that hard service of perfection under which, as the priest of the goddess informed Lucius in the story, man may perceive most fully the greatness of his liberty.
It is horrible. We are being overpopulated with spirits. Day by day, hundreds of newly-created ghosts issue into the world—not the poor relics and incorporeal shadows of the dead, but real living ghosts, who never had any other existence except as they now appear. They are creations of the mind—figments they are sometimes called—but they have as real an existence as any other created thing. We love them or hate them, we talk about them, we quote them, we discuss their characters. To many people they are much more alive than the solid human beings whom in some respects they resemble. Obviously they are more interesting, else the travellers in a railway carriage would converse instead of reading.