of arts and arms praised by the Greek poets; the historic
heritage of both descended only to the Greek Fathers.
In those wild times and places, the thing that preserved
both was the only thing that would have permanently
preserved either. It was but part of the same
story when we passed the hoary hills that held the
primeval culture of Crete, and remembered that it
may well have been the first home of the Philistines.
It mattered the less by now whether the pagans were
best represented by Poseidon the deity or by Dagon
the demon. It mattered the less what gods had
blessed the Greeks in their youth and liberty; for
I knew what god had blessed them in their despair.
I knew by what sign they had survived the long slavery
under Ottoman orientalism; and upon what name they
had called in the darkness, when there was no light
but the horned moon of Mahound. If the glory
of Greece has survived in some sense, I knew why it
had ever survived in any sense. Nor did this
feeling of our fixed formation fail me when I came
to the very gates of Asia and of Africa; when there
rose out of the same blue seas the great harbour of
Alexandria; where had shone the Pharos like the star
of Hellas, and where men had heard from the lips of
Hypatia the last words of Plato. I know the Christians
tore Hypatia in pieces; but they did not tear Plato
in pieces. The wild men that rode behind Omar
the Arab would have thought nothing of tearing every
page of Plato in pieces. For it is the nature
of all this outer nomadic anarchy that it is capable
sooner or later of tearing anything and everything
in pieces; it has no instinct of preservation or of
the permanent needs of men. Where it has passed
the ruins remain ruins and are not renewed; where
it has been resisted and rolled back, the links of
our long history are never lost. As I went forward
the vision of our own civilisation, in the form in
which it finally found unity, grew clearer and clearer;
nor did I ever know it more certainly than when I
had left it behind.
For the vision was that of a shape appearing and reappearing
among shapeless things; and it was a shape I knew.
The imagination was forced to rise into altitudes
infinitely ancient and dizzy with distance, as if
into the cold colours of primeval dawns, or into the
upper strata and dead spaces of a daylight older than
the sun and moon. But the character of that central
clearance still became clearer and clearer.
And my memory turned again homewards; and I thought
it was like the vision of a man flying from Northolt,
over that little market-place beside my own door;
who can see nothing below him but a waste as of grey
forests, and the pale pattern of a cross.
THE WAY OF THE DESERT