It does not, however, need the advent of the jaguar to introduce the element of sheer tragedy into luxurious life. In his Conspiracy of Pontiac, Parkman tells with rare eloquence the character of the Ojibwa Indians: “In the calm days of summer, the Ojibwa fisherman pushes out his birch canoe upon the great inland ocean of the North; ... or he lifts his canoe from the sandy beach, and, while his camp-fire crackles on the grass-plot, reclines beneath the trees, and smokes and laughs away the sultry hours, in a lazy luxury of enjoyment.... But when winter descends upon the North, sealing up the fountains ... now the hunter can fight no more against the nipping cold and blinding sleet. Stiff and stark, with haggard cheek and shrivelled lip, he lies among the snow-drifts; till, with tooth and claw, the famished wild-cat strives in vain to pierce the frigid marble of his limbs.”
Meredith tells of a bird, playing with a magic ring, and all the time trying to sing its song; but the ring falls and has to be picked up again, and the song is broken. It is a good parable of life, that impossible compromise between the magic ring and the simple song. Those who choose the earth-magic of Omar’s epicureanism will find that the song of the spirit is broken, until they cease from the vain attempt at singing and fall into an earth-bound silence.
Thus Omar Kayyam has brought us a rich treasure from the East, of splendid diction and much delightful and fascinating sweetness of poetry. All such gifts are an enrichment to the language and a decoration to the thought of a people. When, however, they are taken more seriously, they may certainly bring plague with them, as other Eastern things have sometimes done.
To turn suddenly from this curious Persian life and thought to the still more curious life and thought of ancient Scotland is indeed a violent change. Nothing could be more dissimilar than the two types of paganism out of which they spring; and if Fiona Macleod’s work may have its dangers for the precarious faith of modern days, they are certainly dangers which attack the soul in a different fashion from those of Omar.
The revelation of Fiona Macleod’s identity with William Sharp came upon the English-reading world as a complete surprise. Few deaths have been more lamented in the literary world than his, and that for many reasons. His biography is one of the most fascinating that could be imagined. His personality was a singularly attractive one,—so vital, so indefatigable,—with interests so many-sided, and a heart so sound in all of them. It is characteristic of him that in his young days he ran away for a time with gipsies, for he tells us, “I suppose I was a gipsy once, and before that a wild man of the woods.” The two great influences of his life were Shelley and D.G. Rossetti. The story of his literary struggles is brimful of courage and romance, and the impression of the book is mainly that of ubiquity. His insatiable curiosity seems to have led him to know everybody, and every place, and everything.