Puslapio vaizdai

querable dignity, offset by the grotesque tragedy, of man's life upon earth is something that never grows stale to him. "My illness," he writes in the "Confessions," "had sharpened my wits. At night when I looked at the stars, I understood the background which belonged to our planet, sailing on to extinction either by some catastrophic celestial collision or by slow senseless withering, and each man, each woman and each child destined also sooner or later to wear white stockings and be carried away to the churchyard."


In the sketch entitled "Death" in “Ebony and Ivory," we come upon the following drastic question and emphatic answer: "What if the world does contain no purpose, but only a series of sensations for the elect, the chosen, to experience during an inconsequent transit? . . . For us the dread of death adds a tang and relish to life-to the only life for which we care. We accept these terms, we delight in them. The very pride of man indeed rests upon his mortality, for so and only so, does he appear an heroic figure under the sun."

His appreciation of Thomas Hardy in "Thirteen Worthies" contains passages that might well apply to his own work. "For Thomas Hardy writes like a countryman, thinks like a countryman, and has the imagination of a countryman. From first to last the essential element of the drama of existence has been for him nothing more than the simple spectacle of mortal man and mortal woman, passionate and bewildered, moving against a background of immemorial nature. ... His is the deep, shrewd outlook of an old shepherd, whose native observations of life and death have sup

plied him with a tough, idiosyncratic, earth-bound philosophy."

Even in "Black Laughter," in the African jungle, the same note is struck. "Had some over-sagacious negro a thousand moons ago peered up at the night skies and come to the conclusion that the ultimate question could never be answered, and that it was man's wisest course to cease from speculation and enjoy, without asking questions, the delicate flavour of goat's milk, the grateful warmth of a fire, and the sweet delights of love-making?"

The conclusion, in fact, of all Llewelyn Powys's philosophizing amounts to the old Shaksperian acceptance of fate, implicit in Falstaff's "Mortal men! Mortal men!" and more ideally expressed in that "Man must abide his going hence, even as his coming hither. Ripeness is all."

I seem to detect four main literary influences in my brother's work, that of Charles Lamb, that of Walter Pater, that of Guy de Maupassant, and that of Lytton Strachey. But it appears to me that it is that of Charles Lamb which has sunk the deepest into his mind. And yet where he is most entirely himself is, I think, in “Confessions" and "Black Laughter," the autobiographical or diaristic portions of his work, where not one of the above influences leaves the faintest trace. In these he appears as the insatiable amateur, the incorrigible adventurer, the life-intoxicated world-child, for whom style and questions of style must all of them fall into a secondary position compared with a certain tough and yet timid curiosity, such as makes use of the tricks of style merely as feelers or antennæ to come in contact with the very skin of reality; a curiosity occupied with the actual ways of

men and beasts and birds, both as he remembers them in the land of his birth and as he finds them in remote and alien localities.

My brother's unmitigated hostility to metaphysical speculation, his complete indifference to both science and politics, his vigorous championship of the pleasures of the senses against every species of idealism, result, it must be admitted, in a somewhat narrow and unholy hedonism. And yet so penetrating and tender is his sympathy with the primordial physical desires of all living things,-the sensitiveness of their skins, the hunger of their maws, the unappeased craving of their shameless eroticism,-so large and sturdy is his poetic feeling for the diurnal and perennial panorama of earth-life, one is continually haunted by the suspicion, as one reads these racy and idiomatic pages, that it is rather the erudite specialists of our disordered time who are refusing "to see life steadily and see it whole" than this stubborn disciple of Chaucer, with his quirks, his whimsies, and his rock-based realism.

No one can read Llewelyn Powys's books without detecting the presence in his temperament of a most charming vein of what is nowadays entitled "infantile fixation."

Beneath his carefully hammered style, redolent of the old masters, one is aware of repeated shocks of childish wonder in him that men and animals and birds and fishes and winds and waters and the high remote constellations should be just what they are and not otherwise. One is even aware of a sort of grave and humorous amazement that it should have been permitted to him to Llewelyn Powys of Dorchester, Dorset―to express this primi

tive wonder in intelligible words at all.

And along with this astonishment that pebbles should be round and grass should be green, which is, after all, nothing else than the very heart of authentic poetry, there slips in now and then a most winning note of sheer childish "narcissism”—a note that is all the more effective when it is consciously exploited. "And I, a small child," he writes in "Threnody," "drifting in and out through the tall French windows, regarded shrewdly all this and came to my own conclusions. If our days in the garden of the earth are in reality so uncertain, so brief, if there is indeed so little time for any of us to play under the blackthorn .. then surely-" But we know well enough what these "brown Satyrs" have to say over the graves of their Hamadryads.

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Leaving Llewelyn for A. R. Powys, it is indeed not without interest to note how that rustic or agrarian quality in us all, which is at once so traditional and so antinomian, hardens into adamantine rigidity in the Roman disposition of this least pliable one of his tribe.

Preoccupied, both as the preserver of old and the designer of new buildings, with technical rather than with literary problems, A. R. Powys has found for several years in the pages of the "London Mercury" a sort of ex cathedra chair from which he alternately scolds and encourages his architectural colleagues.

Both as an artist and as a critic of art one is, with him, always aware of those "adzes and axes, hand-chisels, gouges, saws, drills, files, also footrules, plumb-bobs and planes,” such

as, he is delighted to discover, revert in unbroken continuity to the Roman occupation of our much built-over Isles! There is a kind of austere, hieratic severity, too, about his allusions to the sacred materials those mystic-chemic evocations of "this tough world," wrought into shape by these "hand-chisels, gouges, drills, files, plumb-bobs and planes." They seem to carry with them, these materials, as one reads his laconic directions, the quietude and durability of their long planetary gestation into the very lines and curves of the buildings they hold together.

And in his choice of "periods," of favorite "modes,"-after the Roman occupation-one finds this critic's preferences turning inevitably to such epochs as would best please a countryman's taste.

Economy, natural simplicity, the use of local material, unadorned directness, mass and weight of unaffected intention-such are the desiderata which approach nearest to perfection, remembering the way it is with plows, carts, barns, sheds, haystacks, and wheat-shocks.

It is salutary to hear this stubborn offspring of an early-Victorian vicarage defend that great and abused age1810 to 1850-upon whose solid, organic, unfeverish tradition, "following the custom of the Adam Brothers," the ill-starred Gothic Revival worked so much harm. How significant, too, from this Roman-minded craftsman, is the praise he gives to that monument of proportion and reserve, where the very spirit of æquanimitas regulates the blending of architecture and engineering, the old Waterloo Bridge! "The bridge is one of the perfect buildings of the world. The spring and sweep of

its arches between the level road and the surface of the water is a natural response to the demands of granite buildings. Its beauty is the result of the right relationship of width to span; it is derived from mass-form rather than from decoration and in addition the very fine columns, cornice, balustrade and arched abutments express this; they are part of the whole rather than applied design. . . . The danger of specialized training seems to be that those so taught forget they are first of all free men with free minds. It would seem they forget the use of any but one faculty; and that faculty becomes so strained as to hurt or atrophy the remainder."

A man-made edifice, according to A. R. Powys, should be as much of an indigenous growth out of the very structure of the planetary soil as is a forest tree; only the laws regulating its growth must have passed through the emotional medium of a particular man's mind.

The obstinate pietas, in the old Roman sense, of the true craftsman must make him aware, so my brother thinks, of the very tutelary genius, with all its occult sympathies and antipathies, of every piece of stone or metal or wood which he uses in his work.

"An architect," he says, in speaking of the true relation between antiquarianism and art, "should study ancient buildings . . . to find out why this or that material was used. In this way he will notice that each innovation was a more convenient or more economical way of gaining the end in view."

This "end in view" with modern architects, as soon as they have satisfied the claims of their indigenous material, should always be, according

to the organic link my brother insists upon between the evolution of society and the forms of its art, nothing less than to display "the body and pressure" of a man's own age, realized as the inevitable outgrowth of an undying past, rarefied and transformed by individual imagination. Behind all A. R. Powys's theories and practice lurks that thrill of direct physical contact, as if he were one of William Blake's heroic naked figures, with the so-called "inanimate" materials of his art, a thrill so deep and stirring that it would almost seem to imply the presence in these "inanimates" of certain responsive "souls" of wood, of stone, of metal, of marble.

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To pass from the abrupt ex cathedra utterances of A. R. Powys to the supersophisticated, elusive, provocative, bewildering art of T. F. Powys is to pass from the stern metallic commands of some Roman centurion to the darkly muttered mystical resentments, low-voiced out of supernatural clairvoyance, of some Druidic captive. In the three long short-stories of "The Left Leg," in "Black Bryony," and in "Mark Only," my brother Theodore has already established his position as one of the most arresting and formidable of modern writers of fiction.

Of the four of us he is undoubtedly the most original. He is indeed so original both in subject matter and in style that it is hard to find any literary analogies or comparisons wherewith to throw his extraordinary work into critical perspective.

Dealing with the same locale as has been so triumphantly exploited by Thomas Hardy, there is nothing even remotely Hardyesque about his man

ner of presentation. He seems to write of Dorset scenery and of Dorset peasants from a point of view that isolates that devoted section of the earth as completely from all others as the Limbo in Dante's "Divine Comedy" is isolated from earth and hell and purgatory and heaven. The stretch of country occupied by these luckless hamlets, overshadowed by the merciless "moods" of God, seems in fact to be lifted up or lowered down beyond the common earth-level; until it is so soaked by fairy rains and so blighted by magic moons as to become rather a projection of one man's creative mind than a reproduction of any actual human province. The country dialect, as T. F. Powys uses it, becomes itself a sort of modifying and transfiguring medium through which the events are seen remotely, at a distance, as if through a filmy mist. But within that mist, within this magic circle, how we become aware of every least gesture of these fantastic and unhappy persons, of every stick and stone in these haunted roads, of every crack and cranny in these persecuted houses!

My brother's humor, wrinkling his tragic mask, is utterly unlike any other humor that I have ever encountered. It has a directness that approaches its object with the tap of a raven's beak. It divides the just from the unjust with the physical assurance of a fork dividing a beard. It brings you into such palpable impact with the reality in question that you start back under the shock of it as if from the laugh of a hobgoblin when you are robbing a henroost, or from the "droppings” of an owl in a high tree when you 're playing Peeping Tom. It is a humor that has a deep, sweet-bitter subterranean malice in it; a malice that moves close up to

the thing it is handling and catches it off-guard and disarrayed; catches it, if it is alive, sneezing, gobbling, scratching, stretching, shivering with fear or with desire, prowling off on some affair "that has no relish of salvation in't."

And always, in these extraordinary books, one is uneasily aware, out there in the dim background, of the furtive hoofs of the great god Pan. The hills may lie lovely and quiet in the noon heat. The valleys may laugh and sing with daisies and children. Over the green bracken, amid the white clover, go those mysterious hoof-thuds, bringing a tremor of the dark underworld into every heart that hears them. For although religion enters profoundly into the texture of these stories, it cannot be said, except in the case of the allegorical and ambiguous Mr. Jar, that it enters with any reassurance or comfort. It "scatters hoarfrost like ashes"; and the good and the bad alike whinny and bleat as it skulks around their threshold.

There is something almost Manichean about T. F. Powys's attitude to life. "Pure Love," as in some Saturnian Pilgrim's Progress, finds herself so absolutely separated from her wicked brother "Profane Love" that a kind of dark Pauline curse falls upon all natural and normal sex impulses. And this vein is further accentuated by the presence of a deep-bitten, uncompromising, inveterate hostility to every form of careless strength or casual well-being.

Theodore Powys's world is indeed a world projected whole and entire out of the shadowy recesses of his own unusual subconsciousness. So original is his vision of things, so saturated with his extraordinary personality is every word he writes, that one feels certain

that these strange tales are assured, if anything is assured, of a lasting hold upon certain troubled minds. The passages that are least affected by this unceasing and remorseless pursuit of the weak by the strong, this dark hunt that we follow with such mingled emotions for the human heart is a colosseum of contradictions-are the passages in which the rambling choruses of old men and old women exchange their comments upon it all. In the "Left Leg" the women meet in the village shop. In "Hester Dominy" the men meet in the pound, in "Mark Only," in Mark's stable. While in "Black Bryony" the meeting-place of men and women alike is the motor-van of the carrier. In all these scenes, where the gloom of the plot is relieved by a unique and elfish humor, one is aware of something mysteriously simple and yet mysteriously profound in the writer's philosophy-a philosophy to which door-handles and loaves of bread and wooden settles and church-porchbiers and spades and mugs and platters and pitchforks and horse-dung all contribute their quota of mystic intimation. It is a Hans Andersen world rather than a Grimm's fairy-tale world; for over it all hangs the shadow of the projection of man's heart, which remains desperately and stupidly wicked; but it is a world where there are Hester Dominys and where there are Mr. Thomases, and though their days on the earth are few and evil, and though none throw incense on their sacrifices, that they have existed at all redeems a little more perhaps than we know— the pressure of the will to live.

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How indolent, how careless, how occasional, appear my own writings

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