God made man in His own image.-The Book of Genesis.
What a piece of work is a man! ... in apprehension how like a god!-WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Hamlet.
I have thought some of nature's journeymen had made men and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably. Ibid.
Except a man believe rightly, he cannot be saved. - Quicunque Vult.
The father-similtude of Godhead points to the perfect human parent; though this phenomenon is as rare as that normal eyesight by which, as a never-witnessed yet faithfully worshipped ideal, the oculist measures all the actual vision he has to deal with. So the Creator - similitude points to the perfect human artist.. There are, however, no perfect artists-a fact on which literary criticism (an art-form with an exceptionally strong bias to death and destruction) tends to lay an almost exaggerated emphasis. The imperfections of the artist may be conveniently classified as imperfections in his trinity - a trinity which, like that Other to which it serves as analogy, must, if the work is to be saved, be thought of as having all its persons consubstantial and co-equal. The co-equality of the Divine Trinity is represented in pictures and in Masonic emblems as an equilateral triangle; but the trinity of the writer is seldom anything but scalene, and is sometimes of quite fantastic irregularity.
At the end of Chapter 8, I quoted a verse of the Quicunque Vult. In my childhood, I remember feeling that this verse formed a serious blot upon a fascinating and majestic mystery. It was, I felt, quite unnecessary to warn anybody that there was "one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Ghost, not three holy ghosts". The suggestion seemed quite foolish. It was difficult enough to imagine a God who was Three and yet One; did anybody exist so demented as to conceive of a ninefold deity? Three fathers was a plurality excessive even to absurdity; I found myself blushing faintly at the recitation of words so wildly unrelated to anything that the queerest heathen in his blindness was likely to fancy for himself. But critical experience has persuaded me that the Fathers of the Western Church knew more about human nature than I did. So far as the analogy of the human creator goes, their warning is justified. Writer after writer comes to grief through the delusion that what Chesterfield calls a "whiffling Activity" will do the work of the Idea; that the Power of the Idea in his own mind will compensate for a disorderly Energy in manifestation; or that an Idea is a book in its own right, even when expressed without Energy and experienced without Power. Many an unreadable monument of scholarship is exposed as the creature of three fathers; many a column of sob-stuff betrays the uncontrolled sensibility of three impressionable ghosts; many a whirlwind bustle of incoherent episode indicates the presence of three sons at the head of affairs. None of the works thus produced need be a bad book in the sense of being written with wilful carelessness or in open contempt of artistic truth: "there are many ways in which poetry can go wrong, and an impurity in the intention is only one of them." (C. S. Lewis: The Allegory of Love) Their writers are not artistic atheists, but only heretics, clinging with invincible ignorance to a unitarian doctrine of creation. And it is true that even in them a complete trinity must be to some extent engaged upon the work, otherwise they could not write at all. But their work is hampered by their lop-sided doctrine, and they create wrongly because they do not "rightly believe". We may properly and profitably amuse ourselves by distinguishing those writers who are respectively "father-ridden", "son-ridden", and "ghost-ridden". It is the mark of the father-ridden that they endeavour to impose the Idea directly upon the mind and senses, believing that that this is the whole of the work. In their very different ways, the dry-as-dust scholar is a type of these, and so is Blake wrestling with the huge cloudy cosmogonies and highly-personal symbolisms of the Prophetic Books. It is as though they were trying to get their message through without the full mediation of the son; while their ghost only mutters to their own souls in the secret places of the innermost, and is never poured out in power on the earth. Father-ridden also is that very familiar and faintly comic figure of the man who "has the most marvellous idea for a book, if only he had time to sit down and write it *. I He genuinely believes that to the operations of the Energy time and a chair are the sole necessities, and that the son, like the father, is without sweat or passion. (* When the artist has the book complete in his head before writing it down (see Ch. 3) the son is, of course, present in full activity with much of the work (e.g. style, characterisation, sequence of episodes) already consciously realised; but this is not the case with the ingenuous gentleman in question, as we soon discover if we ask him to explain his idea. What is lacking in him is not time or a chair, but the first notion of how to set about the job.)
Among the son-ridden, we may place such writers as Swinburne, in whom the immense ingenuity and sensuous loveliness of the manner is developed out of all proportion to the tenuity of the ruling idea; their ghosts enjoy a kind of false Pentecost, thrilling and moving the senses but producing no genuine rebirth of the spirit. Of these, too, are the Euphuists and the empty wits; the prestidigitators of verbal arabesque and rime leonine; the alembicated, the pretentious and the precious, and those who (like Meredith at his worst) wrap up the commonplace in tortuous complexities-all those, in fact, whose manner has degenerated into mannerism. So also are the poets who startle the eye with nice derangements of capital letters and epithets staggered about the page. Here, I think, we must class the portmanteau-wordage of James Joyce, in which the use of verbal and syllabic association is carried so far that its power of unconscious persuasion is lost and the reader's response is diverted by a conscious ecstasy of enigma-hunting, like a pig rooting for truffles.
Anna Livia Plurabelle is at once womankind and the river Liffey (amnis Livia in Latin) and the beauty made of many beauties, as the river is the confluence of many streams. As the two washerwomen-themselves semi-mythological figures -recount her story to their paddling of the dirty clothes on the stones, they bring the names of hundreds of rivers into their talk. One of them cannot hear well, for the cotton in her ears: "It's that irrawaddy I've stoke in my aars. It all but husheth the lethest sound," she says. This is not mere rendering into a lisping brogue of the words: "It's this here wadding I've stuck in my ears. It all but hushes the least sound": it is the evocation of Lethe, the stream that flows through Hades, of the Aar river in Switzerland, of the Stoke, in England, and of an Indo-Chinese river, the Irawaddy. (Babette Deutsch. This Modern Poetry.)
How clever, we admit; how ingenious and entertaining) Educative, too, like the more instructional kind of crossword, if one were to go conscientiously through the "hundreds of rivers" with a gazetteer and an atlas; it would make a good "spotting" competition for the schoolroom. But what will become of the mood which the evocation of Lethe should engender?
The apologist continues: "Some of Joyce's neologisms need no elucidation. . . . A word like thonthorstrok carries more literary suggestions, combining as it does the idea of thunderbolt, stroke of lightning and Thor, the Hammerer, the Norse God of thunder." Well, so it does: but no more than the word "thunderstroke" carries in itself, and in fact considerably less, since the neologism limits the associations to those to which its eccentricity draws conscious attention, whereas "thunderstroke" calls up to the subliminal memory not only the associations "thunder", "lightning", and "Thor", but also every verbal and visual image accrued to it through many centuries, from Jupiter Tonans to the cannon in the Valley of Death, from Job and the Psalms to the, two Boanerges and the apocalyptic thunderings that proceeded out of the Throne. In the intellectual pastime of dissecting out "thonthorstrok" we become actively alert and thus impervious to subconscious suggestion; so that in our astonishment we are scarcely even receptive to our own kinship with Robinson Crusoe, who, beholding a like unprecedented phenomenon, "stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition". In thus attempting to do by mechanical contrivance the work that should be done by "the response in the lively soul", the son usurps the domain of the spirit, and the father is smothered and lost in the dusty struggle.
The ghost-ridden writer, on the other hand, conceives that the emotion which he feels is in itself sufficient to awaken response, without undergoing discipline of a thorough incarnation, and without the coherence that derives from reference to a controlling idea. Such a man may write with the tears streaming down his cheeks, and yet produce nothing but turgid rhetoric, flat insipidity, or the absurdities of an Amanda Ros. The actor who passionately feels every line he speaks, so that sobs choke his utterance and agitation paralyses his limbs will, if he relies solely upon this personal responsiveness, succeed only in choking and paralysing the response of his audience. There is perpetual argument on this point: whether or not the actor should "live" his part; whether it is necessary to feel in order (as the common phrase goes) "to play with feeling". It is true that an implicit reliance on technique (which is the besetting heresy of the son-ridden) will reduce the art of acting to an assemblage of mechanical tricks, but, says Coquelin, "if I refuse to believe in art without nature I will not in the theatre have nature without art". And he tells the following tale about Edwin Booth, who, let us remember, was no incompetent, but one of the leading tragedians of his period:
One night he was playing Le Roi S'Amuse. The part was one of his best, and he enjoyed playing it. This time he satisfied himself even better than usual; the force of the situations, the pathos of the language worked on him so powerfully that he identified himself completely with his character. Real tears fell from his eyes, his voice was broken with emotion; real sobs choked him, and it seemed to him that he had never played so well. The performance over, he saw his daughter hurrying towards him; she, his truest critic, had been watching the scene from a box and was hastening anxiously to inquire what was the matter, and how that it happened that he had played so badly that night.. (Constant Coquelin: L'Arl du Comedien)
Coquelin's conclusion is "that in order to call forth emotion we ourselves must not feel it"; he does not say that we must never have felt it, but only that, "the actor must in all circumstances remain the absolute master of himself". What he is trying to tell us is that the artist must not attempt to force response by direct contact with any response of his own; for spirit cannot speak to spirit without intermediary. To interpret sensibility to sensibility we must have, not only the controlled technique of the Energy ordering the material expression, but also the controlling Idea, "without parts or passions" that, moving all things, "doth itself unmoved abide". There must, in all art, be this hard core or containing sphere (whichever metaphor is preferred) of the unimpassioned; otherwise the response of the ghost to the son is uncritical, lacking any standard of self-measurement.
It is, of course, only from time to time that the work of good writers becomes "ridden" by one or other person of their trinity; though this does occasionally happen even to the best of them, when it causes them to produce what look like unkind parodies of their own style. But all writers (being human, however good) tend to have their trinities permanently a little out of true-slightly scalene -so that they may be divided into the father-centred, the son-centred and the ghost-centred. Thus, Blake at his most lucid, tender and lyrical, still displays the close-knit intellectual coherence and the serene detachment of the fatherhood: his fiercest passions have something cosmic and impersonal about them; it is probably this quality that provokes Lytton Strachey to charge him with being "inhuman." (It ought not to be, but probably is, necessary to make plain at this point that it is not loftiness of theme and language that is the distinguishing characteristic of the father-centred, but the fact that all the writer's work and every part of it can be referred to a coherent and controlling unity of Idea. Blake, Aquinas, Euclid, and Bach are all patricentric, and so is Lewis Carroll in the "Alice" books; but Milton is not, nor Donne, though the father is powerful in both of them.) Much of the somewhat meaningless controversy between the Classicists and the Romanticists is at bottom a temperamental incompatibility between the father-centred and the ghost-centred. And, on the other hand, many writers whose work is in general lop-sided and unsatisfactory will every so often achieve a stray poem or isolated phrase in which everything that was dim and scattered seems to come suddenly into focus, and which stands out from all their other performance with a unique brilliance and "rightness", like the image in a stereoscope at the moment of perfect superimposition. These, I fancy, are the moments when the writer's trinity has temporarily adjusted itself when, for once, Idea, Energy and Power are consubstantial and co-equal. The effect, when it does occur, is so dramatic that we may find it hard to believe that we are still dealing with the same writer; critics of Elizabethan Drama, in fact, seldom even try to believe it, but promptly attribute the dazzling intruder to the interpolating hand of Shakespeare. Yet the phenomenon undoubtedly occurs, the best-known instance being, I suppose, the famous line:
A rose-red city half as old as time -
ten syllables which have sufficed to render their creator immortal, though nowhere else in the poem, nor (so far as I know) in the rest of his creation, did the worthy gentleman present to the world a single memorable phrase. (Dean Burgon: Petra: Newdigate Prize Poem, 1845.)
To be father-centred, son-centred, or ghost-centred is not a major heresy or a mortal sin; in the general imperfection of human nature it is at most to be classed as the venial and unavoidable effect of original sinfulness. The image of God is a little out of drawing: if it were not, we should not merely become "as gods"-we should be gods. What is really damaging to a writer's creation is a serious and settled weakness in any side of his Trinity. Thus, a confirmed feebleness in the "father", or Idea, betrays itself in diffusion, in incoherence, in the breach of the Aristotelian unity of action or, still more disastrously, of the over-riding unity of theme. Not all works of rambling and episodic form are "fatherless" creations; form is the domain of the son, and a rambling form, like that of the picaresque novel, may be exquisitely and rightly adapted to the exact expression of the Idea. But if there is no unity of Idea within which the whole meandering structure can be included; or if the work, having started out as one kind of thing, ends up as another kind of thing; or if it contradicts its own nature and purpose in the process of development; or if (and this happens curiously often) it enchants us in the reading by the elegant succession of its parts, and yet leaves in our memories no distinct impression of itself as a whole-in such cases, there is something radically wrong with its paternal Idea. There are, of course, writers who pride themselves on never planning out a book beforehand; if they are telling the truth, they are heretics-but very often they make these claims with their tongues in their cheeks; it is easy enough to test their statements. When their creation is successful as a work of art, the end-product will always disclose a unity of tone and theme which quite certainly did not come there by accident. Tristram Shandy, for example, the most wilful of all these pretenders to incoherence, is held together by a bland uniformity of style and a methodical lack of method that bear witness to the cunning co-operation of father and son in its creation. For genuine incoherence and atrophy of the fatherhood, we must go to such an example as the huge, helpless collection of disconnected beauties that make up the scattered corpus of Beddoes' Dramas. Here, everything is lovely, everything is powerful in fragments; but the power and beauty of the work as a whole scarcely exist. It is a scrap-heap of discarded beginnings, cancelled endings, episodes without connection, connecting passages that link nothing, actions without motive, scenes that lead up to situations which never occur, speeches that contradict the character of the speakers, characters whose aspect is only a looming bulk of form without feature. There is no unity, unless a general morbid preoccupation with death can be held to constitute unity; there is no real direction of the Energy, and no wholeness of conception. Kelsey's description of Beddoes' creative behaviour shows clearly enough where the weakness lies:
His poetic composition was then [in his youth] exceedingly facile: More than once or twice has he taken home with him at night some unfinished act of a drama, in which the editor ( Kelsall himself) had found much to admire, and, at the next meeting, has produced a new one, similar in design, but filled with other thoughts and fancies, which his teeming imagination had projected, in its sheer abundance, and not from any feeling, right or fastidious, of unworthiness in its predecessor. Of several of these very striking fragments, large and grand in their aspect as they each started into form,
Like the red outline of beginning Adam,
... the only trace remaining is literally the impression thus deeply cut into their one observer's mind.
This is the picture of a brilliant Energy, accompanied by an impressive Power, but disintegrated by lack of reference to a strong Idea. In later life, the easy fluidity that could thus carelessly create and destroy becomes a restless dissatisfaction; the writer refers irritably to his own work: "My cursed fellows in the jest-book [the unfinished drama, Death's Jest-book] would palaver immeasurably, and I could not prevent them"; "I often very shrewdly suspect that I have no real poetical call"; "I have no business to expect any great distinction as a writer . . . read only an act of Shakespear . . . or in fact anything deeply, naturally, sociably felt, and then take to these Jest-books -you will feel at once how forced, artificial, insipid, etc, etc, all such things are"; "the never-ending Death's Jest-book . . . the ill-fated play" . . . "a volume of prosaic poetry and poetical prose. It will contain half a dozen tales, comic, tragic and dithyrambic, satirical and semi-moral: perhaps half a hundred lyrical Jews - harpings in various styles and humours, and the still-born D.J.B."; "the endless D.J.B."; "the unhappy Jest-book"; and finally, after his second attempt at suicide: "I ought to have been among other things a good poet; life was too great a bore .. "(Letters: Passim.) None of his dramas was, in fact, ever finished, except the early work, The Brides' Tragedy, nor was the contemplated volume of poetry and prose ever published; his whole creative history is that of great rivers running into the sand: "Dissatisfaction", he wrote, "is the lot of the poet, if it be that of any being; and therefore the gushings of the spirit, these pourings out of their innermost on imaginary topics, because there was no altar in their home worthy of the libation." It is certain that no poet whose trinity was strongly "fathered" could have written that last sentence; yet in everything but that absence of Idea, purpose, integrating wholeness, Beddoes had the quality of a great poet.
It is noticeable, by the way, that Beddoes was always eager for criticism and expressed himself surprisingly ready to alter his work to conform with other people's opinion. "Am I right in supposing that you would denounce, and order to be re-written, all the prose scenes and passages?-almost all the 1st and 2nd, great part of the 3rd act, much of the two principal scenes of the 4th, and the 5th to be strengthened and its opportunities better worked on? But you see this is no trifle, though I believe it ought to be done." (Letter to Proctor, 19.4.29.) "You will probably by this time have heard from Proctor and Bourne the decision of the higher powers . . . the play is to be revised and improved. . . . I have requested Proctor . . . to specify his objections, and as soon as he has done that, I shall do the same by you-What you have brought forward is, I believe, quite right and shall be adopted. . Proctor has denounced the carrion crows: 2 - I can spare them: but he has also as `absolutely objectionable' anathematised Squats on a Toadstool, (Song in Death's Jest-book ) with its crocodile-which I regard as almost necessary to the vitality of the piece. What say you? If a majority decide against it, I am probably wrong." (Letter to Kelsall, 30.4.29.) And so forth. It is true that the majority of these drastic reconstructions were never carried out; but what writer whose trinity was strongly co-ordinated would even dream of revising his work to conform with the majority report of a committee? Those whose Idea is in full control are especially obstinate and impervious to criticism; for in speaking for the father they speak with authority and not as the scribblers. One has only to compare the indifference and indecision of Beddoes with the independence of Blake, engraving his own verses in a stubborn isolation and damning the well-meant suggestions of his friends, to realize the gulf that yawns between the unfathered and the father-centred artist.
Blake and Beddoes present themselves very conveniently for the comparison of strength and weakness in the fatherhood. They were almost contemporaries (their lives overlapping by twenty years); they were equally isolated from the spirit of their age; and they were both poets of lofty and puissant quality. It is very much more difficult to find memorable examples of comparative strength and weakness in the sonhood. Everything in the visible structure of the work belongs to the son; so that a really disastrous failure in this person of the trinity produces not a good writer with a weakness, but simply a bad writer. There are too many of these for easy selection; moreover, the judgment upon bad writing is oblivion, so that the dreadful example, when found, it not likely to be familiar. We are, however, sufficiently familiar with those in whom the son is, to all intents and purposes, lacking altogether. They are the "mute, inglorious Miltons", of whom we, in our uncritical way, are rather apt to imagine that (like the monkey) they could say a great deal if they only chose, or if some accident of circumstance did not prevent them. That is a complete misunderstanding. They could not ever speak, for the thing wanting in them is precisely the activity of speech. Indeed, the phrase "mute Miltons" is either misleading or else apt by sheer force of self-contradiction; Milton being, as it happens, a poet in whom the son is particularly strong. What is actually meant is that these unfortunate people are, in their way, capable of entertaining an Idea and of feeling its responsive Power, but that they cannot give expression to it in creation, because they are empty 'of that Energy "by whom all things are made". The adjective "inglorious" is right-even more comprehensively right that we usually realise. It is not merely that they receive no glory of men; it is that they cannot themselves glorify the Idea or evoke its Power in glory within the universe; for the father can be glorified only in the son.
Thus, taking the mute Miltons as our starting-point, we can go on to observe that the distinguishing mark of the sonless is to be frustrate and inexpressive. They are those unhappiest of living men, the uncreative artists. The common man, who knows and dreads them, has his own word for them: he recognises them as the wretched possessors of the "artistic temperament", with no creative output to give it vent and justify it. Like Beddoes, they feel themselves to be failures, but not in the same way or for the same reason. He knew his failure to be within him, and despaired of his own vocation. They believe the failure to be outside them, and despair of other men; they resent the world's refusal to recognise that vocation which to them is an inward certainty. They know, and continually assert, that they "have something there" which they desire to make manifest; but the manifestation is beyond their capacity. They are their own prisoners, languishing incommunicado.
Such men are dangerous; since Energy, if it cannot issue in creation, may contrive to burst its prison somehow and issue in its own opposite. The uncreative artist is the destroyer of all things, the active negation; when the Energy is not Christ, it is Antichrist, assuming leadership of the universe in the mad rush back to Chaos.
It is sometimes possible, when an Energy has been imprisoned and has issued violently in uncreation, to lead it back into creativeness and thus to restore it to harmony with the rest of its trinity. This is, or should be, the work of the psychiatrist, whose business it is to discover and unlock the prison-house, and to follow up this psychoanalysis by establishing a psycho-synthesis of creation. In the meantime, we may note the chaotic and destructive tendency of much of that "surrealist" art and literature which openly claims to derive its inspiration from the madhouse. The madhouse is a place of restraint; and the mad brain, essentially a cramped brain, turning like a caged brute within the close circle of an iron-bound logic. The common man (rightly) complains that this kind of art is unintelligible; it cannot be otherwise, since the son is imprisoned and can only whisper to his own imprisoned ghost. But the art itself represents the prisoner's effort to escape; the danger is lest he escape only into the activity of negation. ( The psychology of destruction and its connection with Surrealist Art has been studied by. Dr. G. W. Pailthorpe. A volume for this series is in preparation.)
Distinct from this total and perilous frustration, and (mercifully) much more common, is partial and, as it were, localised weakness in the sonhood, which assumes innumerable forms, and from which no writer is absolutely free. Every failure in form and expression is a failure in the son, from cliches and bad grammar to an ill-constructed plot. It would be idle to try and enumerate them all, but we may look at a few typical weaknesses. The most striking and the most important for our purpose is perhaps the very common weakness which sets the artist at odds with his material. This is a trouble seated at the very heart of the sonhood, because the son is the agent for the interpretation of the Idea in terms of time-space-matter. The department of the writer's job where this weakness shows most conspicuously is, naturally enough, the theatre, where the material factors that have to be handled are especially numerous, varied, and stubborn. So we will borrow a few illustrations from the drama.
We have already noticed (Ch. 5) the mysterious difference between plays which are "good theatre" and plays which are merely "good literature". We then attributed the playwright's failure to a general failure in love for the human and material medium in which he works. We may now inquire in more detail how this general failure corresponds to a failure in his trinity.
There may, I think, be two answers. The first concerns a failure of the ghost-the playwright has not been able to "sit in the stalls" as he writes (Ch. 4 & later in this Ch.) and watch the effect of his work as a completed "response in Power". We shall come to this later on. But the second concerns a failure of the son-the playwright has not moved with his characters on the stage, and has, perhaps, actually forgotten the stage and the actors when working out his idea. Indeed, I have heard of playwrights who positively resented the presence of the players and the scenery as so many intrusive nuisances-necessary but tiresome obstructions which had to be negotiated, and whose very existence marred the beauties which they were called on to interpret. Now, actors and scenery are fully imbued with the general tiresomeness of all material things; in the random landslide to chaos they are particularly slippery and hard to check; and I suppose there is no good playwright from Aeschylus to Noel Coward who has not, at various agitated moments, heartily wished his company in hades. This kind of tussling and wrestling is all part of the creative game. But it is doubtful whether anybody ever yet wrote a good play who did not gladly think in terms of the stage while he was writing-who did not lovingly embrace the actress as well as the heroine, and who had not a lively affection for grease-paint and lathand-plaster.
The son works simultaneously in heaven and on earth; this needs to be unceasingly reaffirmed, artistically as well as theologically. He is in perpetual communion, both with the Father-Idea and with all matter. Not just with some particular sort of etherealised and refined matter with things enskied and sainted - but with all matter; with flesh and blood and lath-and-plaster, as well as with words and thoughts. Accordingly, the playwright must keep his sonhood constantly and simultaneously active on two planes and equally energetic on both. Let us suppose, for example, that he is writing a Nativity Play, and that he desires-a thing I would by no means advise, since the technical problems involved are very tricky-to show on the stage the appearance of the Angel to the watching shepherds. In his mind's eye he will doubtless have a vast and brilliant picture of "the real thing"; he will see the "fields" outside Bethlehem, with the little city in the distance and the domed sky over them, adorned with the Star of the Nativity as well as all the usual constellations. In the fields, there will be the shepherds and a herd of real sheep. And "lo" (that is, with an effect of overwhelming surprise) the Angel of the Lord "comes upon them", and "the glory of the Lord shines upon them"; imagination presents to him a form immense and lucid, probably wafted earthwards on rainbow wings, and bathed in the "light that never was on sea or land". That is all very well, and it is right that he should have that vision; but he is going to make trouble for himself and the producer if, having written: "Scene: Fields near Bethlehem; shepherds and sheep discovered. . . . Enter an Angel out of Heaven, in glory", he expects to see on the stage precisely what he saw in his mind. If he is not to suffer bitter disappointment he must see, while writing, and at the same time as the vision, the following mundane and material objects:
A wooden stage, perhaps 26ft. wide x 17ft. deep;
A painted sky-cloth or cyclorama, and a set of skyborders;
A number of canvas flats and a ground-row; with some wooden rostrums;
A flock of hired or property sheep (and if he is wise, he will dismiss this horrid imagination at once, and substitute an effects-man to bleat "off");
Three actors or thereabouts, with appropriate wigs and costumes;
Another actor, of ordinary human stature, and weighing some 12 stone of solid animal matter, draped in furniture satin, and supporting on his shoulders wings made of wood and paper (which are effective, but heavy) or gauze (which is light and transparent, but has an undignified tendency to wobble);
A rope to lower this unfortunate mummer, or a device which can open and reveal him suddenly at an appropriate height without displaying its mechanism to any part of the house (bearing in mind the line of sight from the front row of the stalls and the back row of the gallery respectively);
Lighting equipment; comprising battens, spot-batten, floats, floods, perches, movable and front-of-house spots, and that exceedingly useful strength and stay of all celestial phenomena known as an actingarea flood; together with their gelatines, frosts and dimmers, and all possible combinations of all or any of them that can be contrived in the average theatre without employing more than, say, two electricians on the bridge and one on the spotboard.
I do not say that the playwright need be personally acquainted with every mechanical trick in the stage manager's trade (though it will do him no harm if he is); but unless he knows what can and what can not be done in the theatre, the effect engineered for him by the producer will probably be very unlike the effect he hoped to see. Whereas, generally speaking, the more closely he thinks in terms of flesh and canvas and the Strand Electric catalogue, the more readily will the audience apprehend his vision in terms of the light invisible. The glory of the sonhood is manifest in the perfection of the flesh; and in insisting on the perfect Manhood, theologians are labouring no academic thesis, but one which is abundantly supported by theatrical experience.
In the case of our example, the reason is perfectly clear; by working with the material means in mind, the writer can so frame his words and action as to use all the strength of the stage medium and avoid all its weaknesses; that is, he is enlisting on his side the theatre's will to creation. Oddly enough, for those who genuinely love the stage, this business of working and thinking on two planes at once presents no difficulty of any kind; nor does the material vision, as might be supposed, impair or destroy the ideal vision. Both co-exist independently, and remain distinguishable. The stage set does not substitute itself for the imagined Bethlehem; and from those boundless pastures of the mind the visionary sheep are not banished.
I stress this matter, because the public mind is curiously confused
about it. The playwright is frequently asked:
"Doesn't it distress you to hear clumsy actors spoiling your beautiful lines?" If the actors really are clumsy and do spoil the lines, then distress is a mild term; but this is not what the questioner means. What he actually means is: "Don't you resent the intrusion of earthly and commonplace actors-as-such upon your spiritual fancies?" To ask the question is to insinuate that the playwright has mistaken his calling, since anybody who feels like that has no business on the working side of the pass-door. Such playwrights exist, but to be supposed one of them is no compliment. Those who take this view of the drama practise a kind of artistic Gnosticism-they consider that it is beneath the dignity of the son to dwell in a limited material body, and postulate for him a body which is a pure psychical manifestation, retaining all the supernatural qualities of the divinity.
Gnostic dramatists can produce very strange and absurd phenomena. St. John Ervine quotes an instance so sublime that it might be held incredible, if any human folly could be incredible:
I once read the manuscript of a five-act tragedy by a young author,
which, apart from the time taken in changing the scenery, could have been acted
in twenty minutes. The following is the whole of the second act:
The scene is a girl's room in a cottage. The room is in darkness: the heroine is in bed. She opens her eyes, she shuts her eyes: she clenches her hands and unclenches them: she tosses and turns, and then exclaims aloud:
Oh God! help me to be brave!
The play was written by an adult who had written a good deal of poetry, and was, presumably, capable of exercising some judgment: but the account I have given of his play will indicate that, when he came to writing drama, he had no judgment at all. He evidently imagined that a great deal of time would be occupied by the "business" of the girl's agitation. But time on the stage is briefer than time in life.''.(St. John Ervine: How to Write a Play.)
After discussing the question of the "time-illusion" in drama, the critic goes on:
There is another important point to be noted about this brief act, which is that, even if it could be adequately lengthened by pauses, by opening eyes and shutting eyes, clenching and unclenching fists, there would not be any point in all this business, for the simple reason that the entire scene is not only played in bed-where the scope for dramatic gestures is somewhat restricted-but in total darkness. ( Ibid)
And here we put our finger on the very nub of the matter. It is clear that the writer has not seen his stage at all-never even glanced at it, for if he had, he would have noticed at once that it was pitch dark. He has not looked upon his creation with the eyes of a man; he has looked only upon his ideal vision with the God's-eye of the author, which can see in darkness. The disregard of time and disregard of matter prove plainly that the failure is in the son, whose peculiar attribute is precisely to manifest the uncreate in matter and the timeless in time. It is noteworthy that the playwright "had written a good deal of poetry". The material body of "poetry", consisting as it does of the written or spoken word alone, is much less gross and much less complicated than the material body of drama. The critic does not mention whether the poetry was good poetry; in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we may presume that it was, and that the author's sonhood was adequate for this more tenuous manifestation, but not robust enough to deal with the great blocks of time and matter that have to be man-handled about the stage.
We shall notice that there is here also a weakness in the ghost, since the playwright was quite obviously not "sitting in the stalls" at his own show. That is only to be expected. Any weakness in the son will inevitably affect the ghost. Indeed, if the creative artists had been called in to give evidence about the filioque clause, they must have come down heavily on the Western side of the controversy, since their experience leaves them in no doubt about the procession of the ghost from the son. Actually, however, our playwright was not lacking in response to his own Idea. One might say that, within "the heaven of his mind", the response was, if anything, over-powerful. He reacted strongly to the situation (whatever it was) and to the emotions that he had imagined for his heroine, but (because his son was not materially manifest), the response remained within him and could not be communicated socially in a Pentecost of power.
A bodiless Gnosticism is the besetting heresy of the "literary" dramatist and assumes many forms: such as, for example, the "literary" dialogue, which reads elegantly, but which no living actor can get his tongue round, and the "literary" stage-direction, which requires the actor to impart, by face and gesture, complicated states of mind or detailed bulletins of information which it would strain the combined resources of a Henry James and a Gibbon to compress into a paragraph. What the actor is required to practise is, in fact, a species of telepathy. The dramatic Gnostic has been ruthlessly pilloried for all time in Mr. Puff:
Lord Burleigh comes forward, shakes his head, and
SNEER: He is very perfect indeed! Now, pray, what did he mean by that?
PUFF: You don't take it?
SNEER: No, I don't, upon my soul.
PUFF: Why, by that shake of the head, he gave you to understand that even though they had more justice in their cause, and wisdom in their measures-yet, if there was not a greater spirit shown on the part of the people, the country would at last fall a sacrifice to the hostile ambition of the Spanish monarchy.
SNEER: The devil? Did he mean all that by shaking his head?
PUFF: Every word of it - if he shook his head as I taught him." (Sheridan: The Critic, Act III)
Gnostic also is the preposterous stage-direction at the end of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Drama of Exile. This is scarcely a fair example, since it is not likely that she ever seriously contemplated production on any commercial stage; but it is a rich pleasure to quote it:
The stars shine on brightly while ADAM and EVE pursue their way into the far wilderness. There is a sound through the silence, as of the falling tears of an angel.
"How much noise," inquires G. K. Chesterton with brutal common sense, "is made by angel's tears? Is it a sound of emptied buckets, or of garden hoses, or of mountain cataracts?" That, unhappily, is just the sort of brutal question which a theatrical producer is obliged to ask. The "sound of a breaking harp-string" which brings down the curtain on The Cherry Orchard is a sufficiently queasy bit of "business"-but here at least, Tchekov's sonhood is stout enough to materialise into something definable.
It would be a fascinating entertainment to supply all the major Christological heresies with their artistic parallels. There is, for instance, artistic Arianism-all technique and no vision, like the machine-made French bedroom comedies and that slicker and more mechanical kind of detective-story which is nothing but an arrangement of material clues. There are the propaganda writers -particularly the propaganda novelists and dramatists - Manichees, whose son assumes what looks like a genuine human body, but is in fact a hollow simulacrum that cannot truly live, love or suffer, but only perform exemplary gestures symbolical of the Idea. There are the Patripassians, who involve the Father-Idea in the vicissitudes and torments of the creative Activity. Patripassian authors are those who (in the common phrase) "make it up as they go along"; serial writers are strongly tempted to this heresy.(Patripassianism is the heresy which maintains that God the Father suffered on the cross with God the Son. Here it will be well to remind ourselves again that in our analogy "vicissitudes and torments" mean those which attend literary creation, and have nothing to do with the subject of the work or the emotions of the author's personal life.) We might, I think, also c lass as Patripassian those works in which the Idea insensibly undergoes a change in the course of writing, so that the cumulative effect of the whole thing when read is something other than the effect to which all its parts are supposed to be working. This peculiarity is a little difficult to convey clearly, but here is an example of it as noted by G. K. Chesterton, who (possibly because of his sound Trinitarian theology) is an exceptionally shrewd observer of scalene irregularities in other writers:
Take the case of 'In Memoriam.... I will quote one verse... which has always seemed to me splendid, and which does express what the whole poem should express - but hardly does.
"That we may lift from out of dust
A voice as unto him that hears
A cry above the conquer'd years
To one that with us works, and trust-"
The poem should have been a cry above the conquered years. It might well have been that if the poet could have said sharply at the end of it, as a pure piece of dogma, "I've forgotten every feature of the man's face: I know God holds him alive." But under the influence of the mere leisurely length of the thing, the reader does rather receive the impression that the wound has been healed only by time; that the victor hours can boast that this is the man that loved and lost, but all he was is overworn. This is not the truth; and Tennyson did not intend it for the truth. It is simply the result of the lack of something militant, dogmatic and structural in him: whereby he could not be trusted with the trail of a very long literary process without entangling himself like a kitten playing cats'-cradle. (G. K. Chesterton- The Victorian Age in Literature)
This curious literary result might be put forward as an example of father-weakness; but G. K. C. instinctively pigeon-holes it as a heretical imperfection in the son"the lack of something structural", "the trail of a long literary process"-and I believe he is right: however it comes about it is Patripassianism. (On the other hand, the case of J. D. Beresford in Writing Aloud (see Ch. 5 ) is, I think, a Patripassianism deriving from father-weakness. The Idea was not sufficiently powerful in the writer's mind to control the Energy; so that the son, instead of "doing the will of the father" was doing his own will and that of the characters. Patripassianism must, in any case, imply a certain weakness in the father, since it is a heresy that denies and confounds the father's persona.)
The drag of space and time must wrench us away from this enthralling sport of heresy-hunting. But we must say something about the third side of the Scalene Trinity -the imperfection of the ghost.
This, like everything to do with the ghost, is (for the reasons already given in Ch. 8) difficult to pin down for examination; which is unfortunate, seeing that failure in the ghost is more utterly and hopelessly disastrous than failure elsewhere-again, for the reasons given. For the ghost is the medium in and by which both father and son are creative, so that failure in this quarter is, of its own nature, remediless. It may serve as a starting-point to say that, whereas failure in the father may be roughly summed up as a failure in Thought and failure in the son as a failure in Action, failure in the ghost is a failure in Wisdom-not the wisdom of the brain, but the more intimate and instinctive wisdom of the heart and bowels. The unghosted are not unintelligent, nor yet idle or unskilled; it is simply that there are certain things which they do not know and seem incapable of knowing. Under the terms of our analogy, failure in the ghost is the characteristic failure of the unliterary writer and the inartistic artist. I do not mean the "natural", untrained artist as distinct from the bookish or academic kind; I mean the men who use words without inspiration and without sympathy. They may be compared to the man who "has no feeling for" machinery; either he cannot make it work at all, or he wrenches and damages it in the handling, or (worst of all) he irresponsibly sets it going and turns it loose, without controlling it or noticing what has become of it. (It is, by the way, singularly unfortunate that much of our social machinery, including the material machines themselves, has in these days been given over into the hands of the unghosted.)
The unghosted writer is thus not only uninspired, but also uncritical. The notion that self-criticism is necessarily a clog upon inspiration is quite erroneous, and is honoured only in the mind of the fifth-rate poetaster. Creative criticism is the Spirit's continual response to its own creation; the purely destructive and inhibiting kind of criticism being, like all destructive forces, merely the diabolic antitype of its divine archetype.
It is the deadness of the unghosted that hangs like a millstone upon the eloquence of pedestrian politicians and of conscientious parsons who have no gift for preaching. Words which should be living fall from their lips like stones, lacking the spirit of wisdom, which is the life. It is as though the speaker could not hear what he was saying-still less, hear himself with the ears of his listeners. The spirit is poured out neither -in heaven nor in earth. In the theatre of creation, the father sits aloof, insulated from contact; the son, like an automaton, exhibits a meaningless pattern of word and gesture; the stalls are empty, and the dust-covers pulled over them.
What do you read, my lord?-Words, words, words.
A distressing trait of the unghosted is their complacency; they walk and talk, and do not know that they are dead. Neither, of course, are they alive to the deadness of their own creation. How should they be? Only the living can draw any distinction between death and life. Hence the lifeless sermons, the inanimate speeches, cumbered with the carcases of worn-out metaphor and flowers of rhetoric trampled to death; hence the movement into urgent battle of the embalmed mummies of sentiment, horsed like the dead Cid, and rigid in their grave-bands beneath the imposing panoply. Hence (more amusingly) those humourless juxtapositions of dead and living imagery which-to the astonished chagrin of the perpetrator-are hailed as mixed metaphor by the joyous and ribald ear of the live reader:
No doubt he has a hawk-like desire for action, without bridle and without saddle, across the Atlantic; 1
the unfortunate verbal associations:
The [something] torrent, leaping in the air,
Left the astounded river's bottom bare; 2
the unconscious blasphemies of the pious:
That God from aye, to aye,. may carry on
Th' amazing work that HARRIS hath begun; 3
hence also pomposity, pedestrianism, anti-climax, and those ill-timed
"lines" in stage-plays which provoke laughter in the wrong place.
(1 Ramsay MacDonald, in a debate on Unemployment, 16.2.33. Hansard, Vol. 274, p1312.
2 Some minor eighteenth-century poet, I think, on the subject of the Ark crossing Jordan. I have forgotten the reference, but the lapidary phrase itself is stamped indelibly on the memory.
3 Jane Cave: Poems on Various Subjects, Entertaining, Elegiac, and Religious, 1783. J. 0. Squire is the benefactor who has rescued this treasure from oblivion, Life and Letters, Art. "Jane Cave".)
All this, indeed, comes back to that which is the very essence of the ghost's persona: the power to know good from evil. (4 ) It is the failure of this power which cuts off inspiration by cutting off contact with the father, who is the positive goodness in creation, and which destroys critical judgment by destroying the disjunction between negative and positive, between chaos and creation. (4 In this context, of course, artistic good and evil; the unghosted of letters are frequently persons of a stiffly critical judgment in the sphere of morality.)
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