My young friend shut up the little book which he had been holding in his hand.
“Yes,” he said, “that would be a great thing; but one can’t get at things in that way now. We must all specialise; and if you want to follow the new aims and ideals of art, you must put aside a great deal of what is called our common humanity, and you must be content to follow a very narrow path among the stars. I do not mind speaking quite frankly. I do not think you understand what art is. It is essentially a mystery, and the artist is a sort of hermit in the world. It is not a case of ‘joys in widest commonalty spread,’ as Daddy Wordsworth said. That is quite a different affair; but art has got to withdraw itself, to be content to be misunderstood; and I think that you have just as much parted company with it as your old friend the banker.”
“Well,” I said, “we shall see. Anyhow, I will give your new poets a careful reading, and I shall be glad if I can really admire them, because, indeed, I don’t want to be stranded on a lee shore.”
And so my friend departed; and I began to wonder whether the art of which he spoke was not, after all, as real a thing as the beauty of my almond-flower and my mezereons! If so, I should like to be able to include it and understand it, though I do not want to think that it is the end.
There come days and hours in the lives of the busiest, most active, most eager of us, when we suddenly realise with a shock or a shudder, it may be, or perhaps with a sense of solemn mystery, that has something vast, inspiring, hopeful about it, the solidity and the isolation of our own identity. Much of our civilised life is an attempt, not deliberate but instinctive, to escape from this. We organise ourselves into nations and parties, into sects and societies, into families and companies, that we may try to persuade ourselves that we are not alone; and we get nearest to persuading ourselves that we are at one, when we enter into the secrets of love or friendship, and feel that we know as we are known. But even that vision fades, and we become aware, at sad moments, that the comradeship is over; the soul that came so close to us, smiled in our eyes, was clasped to our heart, has left us, has passed into the darkness, or if it still lives and breathes, has drawn away into the crowd. And then one sees that no fusion is possible, that half the secrets of the heart must remain unguessed and untold. That even if one had the words to do it, one could not express the sense of our personality, much of which escapes even our own conscious and critical thought. One has, let us say, a serious quarrel with a close friend, and one hears him explaining and protesting, and yet he does not know what has happened, cannot understand, cannot even perceive where the offence lay; and at such a moment it may dawn on us that we too do not