Edward FitzGerald once said that a fault of modern writing was that it tried to compress too many good things into a page, and aimed too much at omitting the homelier interspaces. We must not try to make our lives into a perpetual feast; at least we must try to do so, but it must be by conquest rather than by inglorious flight; we must face the fact that the stuff of life is both homely and indeed amiss, and realise, if we can, that our happiness is bound up with energetically trying to escape from conditions which we cannot avoid. When we are young and fiery-hearted, we think that a tame counsel; but, like all great truths, it dawns on us slowly. Not until we begin to ascend the hill do we grasp how huge, how complicated, how intricate the plain, with all its fields, woods, hamlets, and streams is; we are happy men and women if in middle age we even faintly grasp that the actual truth about life is vastly larger and finer than any impatient youthful fancies about it are, though it is good to have indulged our splendid fancies in youth, if only for the delight of learning how much more magnificent is the real design.
In the Pilgrim’s Progress, at the very outset of the journey, Evangelist asks Christian why he is standing still. He replies:
“Because I know not whither to go.”
Evangelist, with a certain grimness of humour, thereupon hands him a parchment roll. One supposes that it will be a map or a paper of directions, but all that it has written in it is, “Fly from the wrath to come!”
Well, it is no longer that of which we are afraid, a rain of fire and brimstone, storm and tempest! The Power behind the world has better gifts than these; but we still have to fly, where we can and as fast as we can; and when we have traversed the dim leagues, and have seen things wonderful at every turn, and have passed through the bitter flood, we shall find—at least this is my hope—no guarded city of God from which we shall go no more out, but another road passing into wider fields and dimmer uplands, and to things more and more wonderful and strange and unknown.
LITERATURE AND LIFE
There is a tendency, not by any means among the greater writers, but among what may be called the epigoni,—the satellites of literature, the men who would be great if they knew how,—to speak of the business of writing as if it were a sacred mystery, pontifically celebrated, something remote and secret, which must be guarded from the vulgar and the profane, and which requires an initiation to comprehend. I always feel rather suspicious of this attitude; it seems to me something of a pose, adopted in order to make other people envious and respectful. It is the same sort of precaution as the “properties” of the wizard, his gown and wand, the stuffed crocodile and the skeleton in the corner; for if there is a great fuss made about locking and double-locking a