“Ah! what avails
the sceptred race
And what the form divine?...”
But it must be quite intolerable when a story leaves us demanding, “What avail native innocence, truthfulness, chastity, when all these can be changed into guile and uncleanliness at the mere suggestion of a dirty mesmerist?”
The answer to this, I suppose, will be, “But hypnotism is a scientific fact. People can be hypnotized, and are hypnotized. Are you one of those who would exclude the novelist from this and that field of human experience?” And then I am quite prepared to hear the old tag, “Homo sum,” etc., once more misapplied.
Limitation of Hypnotic Fiction.
Let us distinguish. Hypnotism is a proved fact: people are hypnotized. Hypnotism is not a delimited fact: nobody yet knows precisely its conditions or its effects; or, if the discovery has been made, it has certainly not yet found its way to the novelists. For them it is as yet chiefly a field of fancy. They invent vagaries for it as they invent ghosts. And as for the “humananum nihil a me alienum” defence, my strongest objection to hypnotic fiction is its inhumanity. An experience is not human in the proper artistic sense (with which alone we are concerned) merely because it has befallen a man or a woman. There was an Irishman, the other day, who through mere inadvertence cut off his own head with a scythe. But the story is rather inhuman than not. Still less right have we to call everything human which can be supposed by the most liberal stretch of the imagination to have happened to a man or a woman. A story is only human in so far as it is governed by the laws which are recognized as determining human action. Now according as we regard human action, its two great determinants will be free will or necessity. But hypnotism entirely does away with free will: and for necessity, fatal or circumstantial, it substitutes the lawless and irresponsible imperative of a casual individual man, who (in fiction) usually happens to be a scoundrel.
A story may be human even though it discard one or more of the recognized conditions of human life. Thus in the confessedly supernatural story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the conflict between the two Jekylls is human enough and morally significant, because it answers to a conflict which is waged day by day—though as a rule less tremendously—in the soul of every human being. But the double Trilby signifies nothing. She is naturally in love with Little Billee: she is also in love with Svengali, but quite unnaturally and irresponsibly. There is no real conflict. As Gecko says of Svengali—