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THE MAN HIMSELF
I have before me the absorbing task of writing my impressions concerning a man who has reached a degree of human evolution so greatly in advance of his fellow-creatures that one might regard him almost as a living refutation of the old catch-phrase: "Nobody is perfect in the whole world." The fact is, like many catch-phrases, the assertion involved is so far incorrect that one of the objects of this book is an attempt to prove its incorrectness.
Whether Justin Moreward Haig (I am not permitted to reveal his real name) was what occultists call an Adept, this I cannot say: for in all honesty I do not know, the reason being that in matters concerning himself he was exceptionally reticent. But I do know that if one could erase the many unsatisfactory associations connected with the word saint, and rid the word "Superman" of its equally unsatisfactory ones, Justin Moreward Haig (I usually called him Moreward) might with perfect right be called either of these, or both. Indeed, my association with this truly wonderful man showed me that a saint could exist without exhibiting an ultra-devotional temperament, carrying itself almost to a degree of unpleasantness, and a superman could exist likewise, without that arrogant love of power which is so characteristic of the Nietzschean ideal. But there is one thing, however, without which neither saint nor superman could come into being, and that is an inherent spirituality; and although the wisdom-religion of Moreward Haig was as different from the piety of the average parson as a genius is from a man of very meagre intelligence, to deny him a religion at all were to grossly misrepresent a certain side of his almost unique personality.
All the same, in speaking of religion and perfection we must not forget there are certain unreflective persons who imagine that to be perfect means of necessity to be tedious at the same time; they quite fail to realise that dullness is an attribute of imperfection rather than perfection, and that they might with equal lack of rectitude say that to be white is of necessity to be black, or that to live in the Nirvana of perpetual bliss would be to live in the tedium of a perpetual hell. If there was one thing which Moreward was not, it was tedious; such an epithet cannot apply—he was too unexpected in all his opinions and in most of his actions. He was not a man who merely talked poetry (for true poetry always has an element of the unexpected, otherwise it would be a banality), but his life itself was a continual poem—the poem which the highest ethics would demand that it should be, yet which the most exceptional human being hardly ever lives up to; for really to live up to that demand, and without any apparent effort, would be to do one of the most unexpected things on earth.
The story, if so it can be called, then, of this so exceptional man is a true one, in so far that such a person does exist, although, as explained later, I am compelled for many reasons to conceal his identity. But I feel constrained to emphasise the fact of his actual existence because there are a number of people who may doubt the possibility of attaining to that degree of perfection which he assuredly manifested, and so may regard him as merely another romantic and improbable creation of mere fiction. All the same, however much an actual living person Justin Moreward Haig may be, I must apprise my readers at the outset that I, on my part, am neither a species of Boswell to a present-day Dr Johnson nor a Dr Watson to Sherlock Holmes; I never lived in the same house—except for a day or two now and again—with Moreward, and therefore I could not follow him in all his adventures—if he had any—and relate them afterwards. All I set out to do is to record his opinions, and the way he lived up to those opinions as far as I have come into contact with them, and no further. I cannot write the story of his life, for the simple reason that I do not know that story; I can only surmise it may have been a very remarkable one, and there the matter ends. As to the description of the man himself: as regards personal appearance, I am requested not to give too much detail; and apart from that request, I think it expedient to allow the reader the full play of imagination: let him, in other words, form his own portrait of this remarkable man from the perusal of his sayings and actions. One has often noticed in life how many personal idiosyncrasies exist in connection with a preference for this or that physical type; and many a hero of a novel has been spoilt for certain people by a description of the very type of personal physiognomy which they happen cordially to dislike. So that, in the present instance, I think such a thing is especially to be avoided; and, although I grant this course is far from usual, my plea is that expediency is weightier than convention. It is not a very difficult matter to establish the connection between what a man is and what a man looks; and when I present a human being who never indulged in the folly of worrying, and who was moderate in all things, the first supposition concerning him would be that he presented an appearance of perfect health. In addition to this, if I say that during the years I have known him, not once have I seen him sorrowful except with the pleasant and mild sorrow of perfect compassion, it is not difficult to imagine that his face was one of serene happiness, with that beauty of expression which corresponds invariably to such a state of tranquil mind. As to the psychic element in his personality, let those who have the notion that psychic faculties can only exist with an unpleasant concomitant of hysteria and the outward appearance which goes hand in hand with it, rid themselves of a notion so false; psychic faculties to be entirely reliable must be accompanied, save in very exceptional circumstances, by perfect health and by nothing short of it.
For the rest, I would add that Justin Moreward Haig entered my life some twenty years ago, and left it about ten years later for activities in another part of the world. Although I have his permission to write these impressions, yet at the same time he requests me to refrain from any description that would disclose his identity and the identities of those with whom he associated. Nor, as to the latter, could I well do otherwise, since no doubt many of them are still alive, and my allusions to some of their weaknesses might not be entirely to their liking. As to the former being thus restricted, I can but leave my readers to guess who this remarkable personage is, if in the course of their wanderings they have ever come across one who resembles him in Wisdom and Love.
I may add one word more, explanatory of how these impressions came to be written, for, should I omit this, my readers may credit me with a perfection of memory I make no claim to possess. The fact is, when I realised I had come into contact with a man of such exceptional wisdom—at least in my opinion—I made use of certain facilities I had acquired in connection with shorthand, jotting down many of his sayings whenever occasion presented itself. True it is, I was compelled very often to rely entirely on memory, seeing I could hardly bring out a notebook in the presence of others, but the strain on my memory was at any rate only slight, for, having kept a diary for a number of years, it had become a habit of mine to write the events of each day in the evening before retiring to bed. For the rest, it is only right I should inform my readers that on certain occasions my memory may have played me false, and therefore the record has proved inaccurate as a result, and possibly I have then put words into the mouth of Justin Moreward Haig which he never uttered. Should this be so, then the fault is mine and not his, and that being the case I prefer to call this book "Impressions" rather than any more presumptive title.
As to the anonymity of the Author, I think I need make no apology respecting this, for were I to reveal my own identity I should be in great danger of revealing the identity of its "Hero" as well. Moreover, in books of a moral-philosophical nature, the personal is not only uninteresting, but may often prove an obstacle, in that hardly a human being on earth is entirely without enemies. Often have I heard the remark, "If such and such a book is by that man, certainly I shall not read it" and through this fact that avowed authorship may evoke such a reflection, one is constrained to feel how disadvantageous is the personal element. For the man who writes alone for his friends, and not for his enemies as well, falls short of being a true philosopher, by reason of the fact that all real philosophy has missed its goal unless it brings us Peace.
THE WISE INNOCENT
IT is quite a mistake to suppose that the romantic can only come into being through a combination of perfectly congruous circumstances, for there is a species of Romance which is born from the entirely unexpected. To find a great sage living on a lonely mountainside is to find the obviously romantic, but to meet a great sage in the most mundane London drawing-room is to find the unexpectedly so: the lonely mountainside acts as a frame to the central picture, the frivolous London drawing-room acts as a foil—that is the only difference.
How Justin Moreward Haig came to be in the drawing-room of one of the most worldly women in London is a secret I shall disclose at a later period in the progress of this narrative—suffice it to say, I am indebted to Lady Eddisfield's hospitality for the most valuable friendship of my life. Nor have the details of this strange meeting escaped my memory. I can recall how, at the end of the most unmusical of all musical performances, I found myself encumbered with a companion of a far from sympathetic type; a species of ill-fortune which fell to my lot as the result of that pairing together of people on the part of hostesses, irrespective of whether they be suited to one another or not. And so it was, we found ourselves at one of those round supper tables with a party of four others: the man I have called in this episode "the Wise Innocent," and three women, who remain in my memory, because they struck me at the time as being a sort of trinity of superlatives. One seemed to me the most corpulent woman I had ever beheld; the second, the tallest; and the third, the darkest, outside the category of negresses and Indians.
He was talking what the three ladies, who leant with enthusiastic curiosity in his direction, seemed to regard as extraordinary wisdom; as for me, I merely regarded it as extraordinary at the time—minus the wisdom.
"A certain point of view," he was saying, "is a prophylactic against all sorrow" (I could see one of the ladies had never heard the word prophylactic before), "and to acquire the right point of view," he continued, "is the object of all mature thinking. That being so, mental pain is the result of a certain sort of childishness, and a grown-up soul would be as incapable of suffering over the thing you spoke of, as a grown-up person over the breaking of a doll."
"You mean, I suppose, by a grown-up soul," said the stout lady, "a philosopher?"
"Precisely: I mean a sage, or a saint or philosopher," was his answer; "in other words, a man who has identified his mind with that unconditional happiness which is within, and which is the birthright of every human soul."
I pricked up my ears and looked significantly at my companion for a moment, and then I asked a question.
"You suggest," I said, "that all mental pain is a form of childishness; then why isn't happiness the same?"
He turned his strangely gentle but forceful eyes upon me. "Pain," he replied, "belongs to the illusory things of life; and it is a characteristic of children to like illusions; their very games consist in pretending to be kings or soldiers or what not. Contentedness, on the other hand, is one of the qualities of maturity, and ..."
"I can't see," interposed one of the ladies, "where the illusion comes in if Wilfrid's wife has ceased to love him and fallen in love with another man."
"The illusion comes in," he replied dispassionately and smiling, "in his being upset by the fact."
"Well really?" ejaculated the stout lady.
"Jealousy," he continued, "is also, of course, a form of childishness."
"But Wilfrid never was jealous," pursued the first lady.
He smiled upon her with a benign friendliness. "Jealousy exists in two degrees," he said; "one where there is no cause for it, and the other where there is—only he who is unperturbed when there is real cause for jealousy is in truth an unjealous man."
"I should hate to marry a man who wasn't a bit jealous," said my companion somewhat hotly, turning to me.
"Yes," he said, casting his benign smile in her direction, "and there are many women who say the same thing. You see they think jealousy is a compliment to them, but that again is an illusion—the real compliment would only exist if a man loved a woman so much that he always put her happiness before his own."
"I should hardly think there are many such husbands running round," said I.
"And if there were," urged my companion, "they would be more like fish than husbands. At any rate I should hate to have one of that sort."
"That is only because perhaps you have never thought about it very particularly," he replied soothingly. "You see," he continued with a touch of chivalry, "a noble woman would never wish her husband to be troubled by both a painful and a rather deplorable emotion—simply in order to gratify her vanity."
At which juncture my companion took refuge in a laugh. "You are certainly very clever," she said.
He waved the compliment aside with a suave gesture. "I am merely one of those fortunate or unfortunate creatures who can't help seeing things exactly as they are," was his answer.
"Then you lack the artistic," said one of the ladies. "You can't, like a modern painter can, see a factory chimney as if it were an old castle."
"Alas! Perhaps you have hit the nail on the head," he admitted. "In fact, I am troubled with an innocence which makes it very difficult for me to realise how people can believe things that are palpably untrue."
"For instance?" I queried.
"Why, for one, that a man can never be really in love unless he be jealous."
"It is obvious you are not married yourself," I inferred with a touch of inner maliciousness.
"I was married," came his somewhat tardy reply (and for the fraction of a moment the word "divorced" entered my mind and the thought "Now I have put my foot in it"); but he continued, "I am a widower." (And then we all exchanged hasty glances.) "That being so," he pursued, as if to put us at our ease, "my matrimonial ideas are not of necessity mere theories."
"In fact," said one of the ladies, "you were a very magnanimous husband."
Again he waived the compliment aside. "I was merely a practical husband because I have always felt that it never pays to be anything else but what you flatteringly call magnanimous. Besides," he added, "the sense of possession is again a childish attribute."
"What do you mean by that?" queried my companion.
"Why, that you might as well try to own the moon as to try to own another human being: every human soul belongs to itself, and to itself only."
"Then why marry at all ?" said I.
"So that you may live with the person you love without bringing scandal upon her," came the ready reply.
And here, somewhat to my annoyance, the voice of a flunkey interrupted me by the whispered information that I was desired by the hostess to complete a bridge quartet. I arose, with the customary civilities, and departed.
It was only as I was standing in the hall at a very late hour, waiting for a cab, that my whetted curiosity was to some extent gratified, for one of the three ladies was standing there for the same purpose.
"Who on earth was that extraordinary young man?" I asked in an undertone.
"Young?" she said. "I happen to know he is well over fifty-five."
"That makes him more extraordinary still—but who on earth is he?"
"Well, his name is Justin Moreward Haig, and he came from Rome two months ago—that is all I know about him," was her answer.
But this very meagre bit of information did not satisfy me, and I felt that this stout lady, who looked as if an utter absence of curiosity in her make-up was hardly to be expected, must be with holding from me, at any rate, what people say, or what they say, as it is colloquially expressed. A man like that could hardly be seen, and especially heard, at a number of parties in London society, where tongues wagged with an ungaugeable velocity, without at least some stories getting abroad about him in one way or another. They would probably be more or less false, exaggerated or unbelievable, but, all the same, somebody must have launched a few on the ever-restless waters of social gossip; any contrary notion was inconceivable. Besides, this lady of such large dimensions had used the phrase "I happen to know" when questioned respecting his age, and this might be significant. Although I had only seen this man for at most twenty minutes, and heard him taking large portions of gilt off the gingerbread of some of our most precious prejudices in addition (a procedure at that time of my life which struck me as almost laughable), yet there was a magnetism, a gentleness, and at once also a strength about his entire personality, which drew me towards him in a manner I could not get away from. He made one feel, in spite of one's utter disagreement with the things he said, as if he were profoundly wise, and yet, through the very saying of them at a supper party, and before two entire strangers at that, as if he were also most strangely innocent. It even struck me, as it afterwards struck me for a moment at our next meeting, that he might be a little mad, and was endowed with that very sincerity which is a sign of madness. It is, in fact, only mad people who can make the most unheard-of statements with absolute sincerity, they alone being convinced that what they are saying is absolutely true.
Excerpted from The Initiate by Cyril Scott. Copyright © 1971 Cyril Scott. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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Part 1. Justin Moreward Haig.
I. The Man Himself
II. The Wise Innocent
III. The Second Meeting
IV. The Conventions of Mrs. Darnlcy
V. The Garden Party
VI. The Figure in the Room
VII. Daisy Templemore's Rebuff
VIII. The Unchristian piety of Archdeacon Wilton
IX. The Philosophy of Death
X. The Chagrin of Major Buckingham
XI. The Triumph of Nobility
XII. The Strange Alteration in Justin Moreward Haig
XIII. My Sister's Letter
XIV. The Re-Meeting of Gord on and Gladys
XV. The Self-Imprisonment of Mrs. Burton
XVI. The Conversion of Flossie Macdonald
XVII. The Prelude to the Story
XVIII. The Departure of Justin Moreward Haig
Part II. The Circuitous Journey