THE welcome accorded to me by both husband and wife on my arrival at the
parsonage was more than cordial; it was eager, as if they had been already
impressed with a sense of results to follow from my visit no less desirable than
important. And while I had no difficulty in recognising in him the “Algie” whose
praises had been eloquently recited to me, a single glance at her sufficed to
assure me that, as regarded externals, so far from overrating her on our
previous meeting in
I was at once made free of her particular sanctum, wherein were gathered the tokens of her manifold activity. Everything that I saw there harmonised with the impression produced by herself. It was evidently not mere talent that she possessed. Talent is but cleverness, which shows itself in overcoming difficulties. It was genius – that divine faculty which knows no difficulties, for it means clear, direct vision. And hers was a genius at once exquisite and many-sided. Every product of it was as if her whole self had been put into it, and this a self which knew no limitations. But now all other pursuits had been laid
aside for science, and her work-table was covered with the insignia of her new engrossment.
Once assured of her auditor’s sympathy and appreciation, her self-revelations were unrestrained. And it soon became clear to me that one at least of the functions I was expected to fulfil was that of interpreter; she herself being both the propounder and the subject of the enigma to be solved, the Sphinx for whose benefit I was to enact the part of Oedipus. But, as the event proved, it was only when by her aid I had at length mastered the problem of the Sphinx that I was able to answer the riddle of herself. For the two were one, and belonged to the category of those long-lost but supreme knowledges for the recovery of which – as it proved – our association had been brought about.
She was enlarging one day on this frequent theme, having, as was her wont, her pet rodent, a guinea-pig, on her lap, as if in emulation of Minerva and her owl, when she abruptly interrupted her exposition and exclaimed –
“You will think me very fond of talking about myself, and I suppose I am, as someone once said that I was one of those persons who would sooner talk against themselves than not talk of themselves. But I do not think it is from vanity in my case, though it is quite true that l find myself much the most interesting person I know. But it is because I am such a puzzle to myself, and I want to be explained. I want to know why I am so different from everybody else that I ever knew or read of, and especially how it is that I am so many and such different kinds of people, and which of them all I really am or ought to be. For the many me’s in me are not even in agreement among themselves; but some of them actually hate each other, and some are as bad as others are good. So that, when you say that I remind you of the ‘passionate perfection’ which the Poet-Laureate calls King Arthur, I would have you know that, though I may be passionate, I am anything but perfect; and nothing would irritate me more than to be considered so, as I should be expected to pose accordingly, and I cannot pose. I am nothing if not spontaneous. The only ‘passionate perfection’ of which I am capable consists in being in love with certain ideals, and not at all in having realised them in myself. To see and to love an ideal is one thing; to be it is another. That is the difference
between the Magdalen and the Christ. I do not suppose that, if I had realised my ideal in myself, I should find this world the hell that it is to me, or consent to remain in it unless, indeed, it were for the sake of doing something to redeem it, out of love for it. But there is just my difficulty. I do not love men and women. I dislike them too much to care to do them any good. They seem to be my natural enemies. It is not for them that I am taking up medicine and science, not to cure their ailments; but for the animals and for knowledge generally. I want to rescue the animals from cruelty and injustice, which are for me the worst, if not the only sins. And I can’t love both the animals and those who systematically ill-treat them. Can I, Rufus dear?”
she exclaimed to her guinea-pig, and kissing it tenderly, as if to make some amends for the wrongs endured by its fellows at human hands.
All her life she cherished a warm affection for those little creatures, and carried one with her wherever she went. It seemed to me that there was some spiritual need in herself which craved the exercise of the feelings thus evoked. For, remarkable as was the development of her nature in some directions, there were evidently others in which she was still in the child-stage. And that she was not unaware of the fact was evidenced by a remark she made to me a little later, when I had actually adopted her mode of diet. “I was reading your story, By-and-By,” she told me, “and I was in such a rage with your heroine, Nannie, for her likeness to one of my selves, that I flung the book to the other end of the room. And then, after sitting and thinking for some time, I went and picked it up, and said to myself of the author, ‘That man shall become a vegetarian!’”
Her self-revelations betrayed no mark of a design to impress her auditor. They were far too spontaneous for that. No confessor could have been more impersonal or impalpable for his penitent. Clearly it was not the man that she sought, but her own answering image in the mirror of his mind. On himself she bestowed no more heed than she would on her looking-glass. A self-seeker would have been mortified beyond measure by her superb indifference. And she owned that she never looked at people sufficiently to know them again, and was often giving offence thereby. These and many other traits were a frequent source of perplexity and subject of study to me, until at length
the solution came which made all clear by exhibiting them as survivals of tendencies encouraged in previous lives.
The following is another belonging to the same category. From a child she had felt like a hunted soul against whom every hand was turned, and that, do what she might, it would surely be construed to her disadvantage. Suspicion and distrust were ingrained in her, and nothing but her intense ambition for high achievement withheld her from seeking refuge either in a convent or in suicide. Of death she had no fear; for, somehow, it seemed familiar to her, and as if she were accustomed to it, and knew by experience that it was nothing to be afraid of. She had no theory to account for these peculiarities, having never been able to convince herself of the soul’s reality and persistence, though intellectually attracted by the Pythagorean doctrine of pre-existence and transmigration.
Among the grounds of her pessimism was the fate which forbade her ever to remain
long enough in any place to feel that she had a home. As if her own
unrestfulness of spirit were insufficient to drive her forth, it was
supplemented by her bodily liabilities. Comparing herself to the
of Greek fable, she regarded her asthma as her gadfly, from which she was ever
seeking to escape by change of place. I learnt that, in her excesses of
suffering from this malady, she was forced sometimes to quit her home at
daybreak, after keeping the household up all night, and drive to the nearest
town in order to escape the suffocation induced by the proximity of foliage.
Indeed, it was only in a large city that she was safe from it. And now that the
medical authorities had seen fit to close their schools against women students,
her design of seeking a diploma in
him to absent himself for a part of the time.
And they knew of no one in Paris to whom she could go. Could I tell them of some
family residing there with whom she could make a home? Surely among my large
acquaintance I knew of some suitable people? The matter was pressing, not only
on account of the approach of the season when she would be compelled to fly the
countryside, but also on account of the imminence of the academical year at the
The ordinary obstacle to the separation involved in such a prospect, the husband’s objection to part from his wife, was not, it appeared, operative in their case. Her frequent illnesses and enforced absences had served to wean him from the need of her constant companionship. He had relieved her of all household duties by taking them upon himself, and intimated his contentment with relations fraternal merely, declaring that he desired only that she be happy in her own way, and follow what career she preferred, as by the terms of their engagement, as well also as by her endowments and aspirations, he considered her entitled to do. Even their possession of a child was no obstacle, the result of all the mother’s attempts to educate it herself having been to make it abundantly clear that it would be better for them both to commit her to the charge of a governess, owing to the incompatibility of their temperaments. This was a great additional disappointment to the mother, who had cherished high hopes of training her child after her own ideals. Recognising in all these crosses the hand of a destiny as yet inscrutable, she said to me tearfully, “You see I am not allowed to be as other women. I am compelled practically to be a wife without a husband, and a mother without a child, and to have a home in which I cannot dwell.”
Thus the one difficulty in the way of her following the career indicated to her was the want of a suitable protector. And this was a difficulty the solution of which, until it came, seemed impossible, even with the best will of all concerned; a solution which, when it came, seemed the most impossible of all solutions; but which, after it had come, was for those who bore part in it the one inevitable, because the clearly destined, solution. But for the present there was nothing to be done but to
wait for it, hoping that the old adage, Solvitur ambulando, would find timely vindication. If only as an intellectual problem, the situation engaged my profound interest. But it was more than this. It enlisted my warm sympathies on behalf of the actors themselves in the strange drama in the process of unfoldment. And I could not but consider that, if indeed the gods had destined her for some high mission requiring for her freedom of action in combination with the aid and protection of a husband, in him they had provided one exceptionally qualified for the office.
Meanwhile her self-revelations continued, being – as already intimated – evidently prompted at least as much by the desire to obtain some explanation of the mystery of herself as to elicit answering confidences from me. And they became with each disclosure more and more striking, until it was impossible for me to withstand the conviction that she was possessed of a faculty which, while identical in kind with that of which I had been conscious in myself as distinguishing me from others, far transcended it in degree, enabling her to attain to full and direct perception of conclusions at which I had arrived only after long and laborious quest. It was as if, while I had to mount the ladder of my thought to reach the light of my own inmost and highest, myself taking the initiative, in her case the light descended upon her of its own accord, without effort or even desire on her part. And notwithstanding the difference of method, the results were the same. We saw truth alike.
It proved to be the same with our respective aims in life. As I was bent on the construction of a system of thought at once scientific, philosophic, moral, and religious, and recognisable by the understanding as indubitably true, by reason of its being founded in first principles, she was bent on the construction of a rule of life equally obvious and binding, and recognisable by the sentiments as alone according with them, its basis being that sense of perfect justice which springs from perfect sympathy.
By which it will be seen that, while it was her aim to establish a perfect practice, which might or might not consist with a perfect doctrine, it was my aim to establish a perfect doctrine which would inevitably issue in a perfect practice, by at once defining it and supplying an all-compelling motive for its observance.
These, as we at once recognised, were the two indispensable
halves of one perfect whole. But we had yet to learn the nature and sense of the compelling motive for its enforcement.
This was a deficiency which was ultimately supplied by the knowledges we were enabled to acquire of the constitution of the nature of existence and man’s permanence as an individual. And that we were able to acquire such knowledges, and this in a manner, and degree, and with a certitude transcending all that at this time we could anticipate or imagine, proved to be due to our attitude in regard to one of the subjects which especially occupied us during my visit.
This was the subject of vivisection, of which I now heard for the first time. That savages, sorcerers, brigands, tyrants, religious fanatics, and corrupt priesthoods had always been wont to make torture their gain or their pastime I was well aware, and believed that evolution would sweep them and their practices away in its course. But the discovery now first made to me that identical barbarities are systematically perpetrated by the leaders of modern science on the pretext of benefiting humanity, in an age which claims to represent the summit of such evolution as has yet been accomplished; and that, after all its boasts, the best that science can do for the world is to convert it into a hell and its population into fiends, by the deliberate renunciation of the distinctive sentiments of humanity, – this was a discovery which filled me with unspeakable horror and amazement, and effectually extinguished any particle of dilettanteism that might have lurked in my system, compelling me to regard as of the utmost urgency all, and more than all, that I had hitherto contemplated doing deliberately. Hitherto I had rejected Materialism on grounds intellectual only. It failed to account for the facts of consciousness, and even for consciousness itself. But now I was revolted by it on grounds moral also. For I saw that vivisection was no accident of it, but its logical and inevitable outcome. It meant the exclusive worship of the body, and that one’s own body, at the cost of unspeakable torment to all others by the sacrifice of whom some advantage might possibly be derived for oneself, involving the systematic organisation of wholesale, protracted, uncompensatable torture, for ends purely selfish. Vivisection meant the demonisation of the race; the reconstitution of human society on the ethics of hell; the peopling of the earth with fiends instead of with beings really human.
It was the character of the mankind of the future that was at stake. Appalled at the sight of the abyss thus disclosed to me, I found my cherished love of the ideal indefinitely reinforced by the detestation now kindled in me for the actual, and under these two opposite, yet identical, influences I resolved to make the abolition of vivisection, and the system represented by it, thenceforth the leading aim of my life and work. And that I was able to do this without any abandonment of my previous standpoint, was because I recognised in vivisection but an extension to the plane of science of the tenet which had so inexpressibly revolted me on the plane of religion, that of vicarious atonement; – the principle of seeking one’s own salvation by the sacrifice of another, and that the innocent.
I had already been favourably disposed to give practical heed to the arguments put before me on behalf of the vegetarian regimen. But the further consideration that only as an abstainer from flesh-food could I with entire consistency contend against vivisection, was a potent factor in my decision. True, the distinction between death and torture was a broad one. But the statistics I now for the first time perused, of the slaughter-house and the cattle-traffic, showed beyond question that torture, and this prolonged and severe, is involved in the use of animals for food as well as for science. And over and above this was the instinctive perception of the probability that neither would they who had them killed, whether for food, for sport, or for clothing, be allowed the privilege of rescuing them from the hands of the physiologist; nor would the animals be allowed to accept their deliverance at the hands of those who thus used them. They who would save others, we felt, must first make sacrifice in themselves. And in presence of the joy of working to effect such salvation, sacrifice would cease to be sacrifice.
We were both under the impression at this time that the world had but to be informed of the facts of the case as regards the practices of the physiological laboratories, to rise in overwhelming indignation against them. But we had to learn by bitter experience how inveterate is the world’s prevailing selfishness; how great its blindness to the real meaning of humanity; how tremendous the power of falsehood, especially when uttered by a dominant caste resolutely bent on subordinating all other considerations to its own aggrandisement.
My adoption of my new friend’s most cherished views served greatly to enhance and consolidate the sympathy already subsisting between us; and she made no attempt to conceal her delight in having made a convert of one whom she believed to be both willing and able to take an active part in her proposed crusade. It was clear that even though, as she had said, she did not love men and women, she ardently loved that which men and women are either in the making or in the marring, in that her enthusiasm was for Humanity. But there was between us yet another point of contact and union, and one transcending even those already intimated, which proved to be the real cause for our being brought into relation with each other, and for the association to which we were destined. As a fourfold being, man consists of the physical, the intellectual, the moral, and the spiritual, of which the last is the inmost and highest. Only when this is attained does he reach and fulfil his true essential self. It is the heaven within in which all real marriages are made. That is no true union in which the spiritual centres of the parties to the contract do not coincide. It was the discovery that we were in perfect sympathy on this plane also that crowned the rising edifice. It was made in this wise.
The moment of contact between us was as critical for myself as for her; with the difference that for me the crisis was intellectual. The book on which I was engaged – The Keys of the Creeds, already named – brought my thought up to the extreme limits of a thought merely intellectual, to transcend which it would be necessary to penetrate the barrier between the worlds of sense and of spirit, supposing the latter to have any existence. For I had reached the conclusion that the phenomenal world cannot disclose its own secret. To find this, man must seek in that substantial world which lies within himself, since all that is real is within the man. From which it followed that if there is no within, or if that within be inaccessible, either there is no reality, or man has no organon of knowledge and is by constitution agnostic. Thus the question for me was, first: – Is there a Beyond as regards the sensible world? And next, if there be, by what means – if any – is it accessible? Now that I was doubly pledged against materialism, my grounds of objection being both intellectual and moral, these questions became of more importance to me than ever, being practical as well as theoretical.
My visit, which had lasted nearly a fortnight, was drawing to a close, and we were discussing the question of there being an inner and philosophical sense to Scripture and Dogma, which, if ascertained, would remove religion from its basis of authority and tradition, and establish it on the understanding. The question was prompted by the various Catholic symbols with which she had decorated her study, the chief of which was an image of the Virgin robed in sky-blue and holding a child in her bosom. Unable myself to accept the orthodox version of the legend, or to credit her with really accepting it, l suggested the possibility of its being a parable, the meaning of which, if only it could be discerned, might be altogether simple and obvious; in fact, some necessary and self-evident truth founded in the nature of existence. She admitted that she certainly did not accept it in the ordinary physical sense, but rather supposed that it veiled some spiritual truth. We held some further conversation respecting the possible presence in Scripture of an inner sense such as my book suggested, and which the Church had withheld, and the nature of the faculty requisite for discerning it, and the probability that, if there were such a sense and faculty, it was from the standpoint of these, and not that of the intellect and sense-nature, that the Bible was written. And then, as if just recollecting something which had escaped her memory, and might have relation to the subject of our conversation, she rose and fetched a manuscript of her own writing, asking me to read it, and tell her frankly what I thought of it. Having read and re-read it, I inquired how and where she had got it, to which she replied by asking my opinion of it. I answered with emphasis, that if there were such a thing as divine revelation, I knew of nothing that came nearer to my ideal of what it ought to be. It was exactly what the world was perishing for want of – a reasonable faith. She then told me that it had come to her in sleep, but whence or how she did not know; nor could she say whether she had seen it or heard it, but only that it had come suddenly into her mind without her having ever heard or thought of such teaching before. It was an exposition of the story of the Fall, exhibiting it as a parable having a significance purely spiritual, wholly reasonable, and of universal application, physical persons, things, and events described in it disappearing in favour of principles, processes, and States appertaining to the soul; no
mere local history, therefore, but an eternal verity. The experience, she went on to tell me, was far from being exceptional; she had received many things which had greatly struck and pleased her in the same way, and sometimes while in the waking state in a sort of day-dream.
This discovery of the sympathy subsisting between us on the spiritual plane was
also the discovery of the mind which my own had so long craved as its
supplement, complement, and indispensable mate. True, it was made under
conditions widely varying from those under which I had contemplated it. For,
while I was a free man, she was not a free woman. Nevertheless, my satisfaction
was profound, and I trusted confidently to the
I took my leave, and returned home pledged in mind, heart, and soul, as well as in word, to minister to my utmost to the fulfilment of her nature as that of one whose capacity for high and useful endeavour transcended that of any character whom I had ever known, read of, or imagined; yet, nevertheless, of one who, for lack of such ministration, was as surely destined to disaster and wreck as a ship set adrift on the ocean without rudder, compass, or helmsman. So strong was my sense of her need of assistance to enable her to possess and master her ideas instead of being possessed and mastered by them.