Category Archives: Books

Camus on Freedom

Albert CamusThe following is an excerpt from Bread and Freedom, a speech given by Albert Camus at the Labor Exchange of Saint-Etienne on 10 May 1953. It was published in the 1960 collection of essays titled Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.

 

 

 

It is true that freedom, when it is made up principally of privileges, insults labor and separates it from culture. But freedom is not made up principally of privileges; it is made up especially of duties. And the moment each of us tries to give freedom’s duties precedence over its privileges, freedom joins together labor and culture and sets in motion the only force that can effectively serve justice. The rule of our action, the secret of our resistance can be easily stated: everything that humiliates labor also humiliates the intelligence, and vice versa. And the revolutionary struggle, the centuries-old straining toward liberation can be defined first of all as a double and constant rejection of humiliation.

To tell the truth, we have not yet cast off that humiliation. But the wheel turns, history changes, and a time is coming, I am sure, when we shall cease to be alone. For me, our gathering here today is in itself a sign. The fact that members of unions gather together and crowd around our freedoms to defend them is indeed reason enough for all to come here from all directions to illustrate their union and their hope. The way ahead of us is long. Yet if war does not come and mingle everything in its hideous confusion, we shall have time at last to give a form to the justice and freedom we need. But to achieve that we must henceforth categorically refuse, without anger but irrevocably, the lies with which we have been stuffed. No, freedom is not founded on concentration camps, or on the subjugated peoples of the colonies, or on the workers’ poverty! No, the doves of peace do not perch on gallows! No, the forces of freedom cannot mingle the sons of the victims with the executioners of Madrid and elsewhere! Of that, at least, we shall henceforth be sure, as we shall be sure that freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, oil on canvas, 349 cm × 776 cm (137.4 in × 305.5 in), 1937, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, oil on canvas, 349 cm × 776 cm (137.4 in × 305.5 in), 1937, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Galileo’s Dialogue

Frontispiece of Galileo Galilei's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,1632

Frontispiece of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,1632.

Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was first published in 1632, and the following year he was suspected of heresy by the Inquisition and sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life. He was ordered to recite Psalms each week for three years and, of course, to forget the notion that the sun was the center of the solar system. His book was placed on a forbidden list until 1835, and it took 300 years for the Roman Catholic Church to admit he was correct and clear his name.

Human progress and the expansion of knowledge still face such obstacles around the world from religious dogma, political and economic interests, and willful ignorance. Recently, however, the scientific community and the interested world at large were rewarded when proof finally came that gravitational waves, predicted a hundred years ago by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity, actually exist. So, with this new knowledge, Galileo, considered by Einstein to be the father of modern physics and science in general, is once more vindicated.

The following section of Galileo’s Dialogue is taken from The World’s Greatest Books, Vol. XV, Science edited by Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton, published 1910. The dialogue is between three men, with Salviatus acting as the voice of Galileo himself who explains the solar system to his two colleagues.

Does the Earth Move

Salviatus: Now, let Simplicius propound those doubts which dissuade him from believing that the earth may move, as the other planets, round a fixed centre.

Simplicius: The first and greatest difficulty is that it is impossible both to be in a centre and to be far from it. If the earth move in a circle it cannot remain in the centre of the zodiac; but Aristotle, Ptolemy and others have proved that it is in the centre of the zodiac.

Salviatus: There is no question that the earth cannot be in the centre of a circle round whose circumference it moves. But tell me what centre do you mean?

Simplicius: I mean the centre of the universe, of the whole world, of the starry sphere.

Salviatus: No one has ever proved that the universe is finite and figurative; but granting that it is finite and spherical, and has therefore a centre, we have still to give reasons why we should believe that the earth is at its centre.

Simplicius: Aristotle has proved in a hundred ways that the universe is finite and spherical.

Salviatus: Aristotle’s proof that the universe was finite and spherical was derived essentially from the consideration that it moved; and seeing that centre and figure were inferred by Aristotle from its mobility, it will be reasonable if we endeavour to find from the circular motions of mundane bodies the centre’s proper place. Aristotle himself came to the conclusion that all the celestial spheres revolve round the earth, which is placed at the centre of the universe. But tell me, Simplicius, supposing Aristotle found that one of the two propositions must be false, and that either the celestial spheres do not revolve or that the earth is not the centre round which they revolve, which proposition would he prefer to give up?

Simplicius: I believe that the Peripatetics——

Salviatus: I do not ask the Peripatetics, I ask Aristotle. As for the Peripatetics, they, as humble vassals of Aristotle, would deny all the experiments and all the observations in the world; nay, would also refuse to see them, and would say that the universe is as Aristotle writeth, and not as Nature will have it; for, deprived of the shield of his authority, with what do you think they would appear in the field? Tell me, therefore, what Aristotle himself would do.

Simplicius: To tell you the truth, I do not know how to decide which is the lesser inconvenience.

Salviatus: Seeing you do not know, let us examine which would be the more rational choice, and let us assume that Aristotle would have chosen so. Granting with Aristotle that the universe has a spherical figure and moveth circularly round a centre, it is reasonable to believe that the starry orbs move round the centre of the universe or round some separate centre?

Simplicius: I would say that it were much more reasonable to believe that they move with the universe round the centre of the universe.

Salviatus: But they move round the sun and not round the earth; therefore the sun and not the earth is the centre of the universe.

Simplicius: Whence, then, do you argue that it is the sun and not the earth that is the centre of the planetary revolutions?

Salviatus: I infer that the earth is not the centre of the planetary revolutions because the planets are at different times at very different distances from the earth. For instance, Venus, when it is farthest off, is six times more remote from us than when it is nearest, and Mars rises almost eight times as high at one time as at another.

Simplicius: And what are the signs that the planets revolve round the sun as centre?

Salviatus: We find that the three superior planets—Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—are always nearest to the earth when they are in opposition to the sun, and always farthest off when they are in conjunction; and so great is this approximation and recession that Mars, when near, appears very nearly sixty times greater than when remote. Venus and Mercury also certainly revolve round the sun, since they never move far from it, and appear now above and now below it.

Sagredus: I expect that more wonderful things depend on the annual revolution than upon the diurnal rotation of the earth.

Salviatus: YOU do not err therein. The effect of the diurnal rotation of the earth is to make the universe seem to rotate in the opposite direction; but the annual motion complicates the particular motions of all the planets. But to return to my proposition. I affirm that the centre of the celestial convolutions of the five planets—Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, and likewise of the earth—is the sun.

As for the moon, it goes round the earth, and yet does not cease to go round the sun with the earth. It being true, then, that the five planets do move about the sun as a centre, rest seems with so much more reason to belong to the said sun than to the earth, inasmuch as in a movable sphere it is more reasonable that the centre stand still than any place remote from the centre.

To the earth, therefore, may a yearly revolution be assigned, leaving the sun at rest. And if that be so, it follows that the diurnal motion likewise belongs to the earth; for if the sun stood still and the earth did not rotate, the year would consist of six months of day and six months of night. You may consider, likewise, how, in conformity with this scheme, the precipitate motion of twenty-four hours is taken away from the universe; and how the fixed stars, which are so many suns, are made, like our sun, to enjoy perpetual rest.

Sagredus: The scheme is simple and satisfactory; but, tell me, how is it that Pythagoras and Copernicus, who first brought it forward, could make so few converts?

Salviatus: If you know what frivolous reasons serve to make the vulgar, contumacious and indisposed to hearken, you would not wonder at the paucity of converts. The number of thick skulls is infinite, and we need neither record their follies nor endeavour to interest them in subtle and sublime ideas. No demonstrations can enlighten stupid brains.

My wonder, Sagredus, is different from yours. You wonder that so few are believers in the Pythagorean hypothesis; I wonder that there are any to embrace it. Nor can I sufficiently admire the super-eminence of those men’s wits that have received and held it to be true, and with the sprightliness of their judgments have offered such violence to their senses that they have been able to prefer that which their reason asserted to that which sensible experience manifested. I cannot find any bounds for my admiration how that reason was able, in Aristarchus and Copernicus, to commit such a rape upon their senses, as in despite thereof to make herself mistress of their credulity.

Sagredus: Will there still be strong opposition to the Copernican system?

Salviatus: Undoubtedly; for there are evident and sensible facts to oppose it, requiring a sense more sublime than the common and vulgar senses to assist reason.

Sagredus: Let us, then, join battle with those antagonistic facts.

Salviatus: I am ready. In the first place, Mars himself charges hotly against the truth of the Copernican system. According to the Copernican system, that planet should appear sixty times as large when at its nearest as when at its farthest; but this diversity of magnitude is not to be seen. The same difficulty is seen in the case of Venus. Further, if Venus be dark, and shine only with reflected light, like the moon, it should show lunar phases; but these do not appear.

Further, again, the moon prevents the whole order of the Copernican system by revolving round the earth instead of round the sun. And there are other serious and curious difficulties admitted by Copernicus himself. But even the three great difficulties I have named are not real. As a matter of fact, Mars and Venus do vary in magnitude as required by theory, and Venus does change its shape exactly like the moon.

Sagredus: But how came this to be concealed from Copernicus and revealed to you?

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans (1597–1681), oil on canvas,1636, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans (1597–1681), oil on canvas,1636, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Further reading:
Galileo Galilei: When the World Stood Still by Atle Næss
Einstein: His Life & Universe by Walter Isaacson

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Drinking Alone by Moonlight

Drinking Alone by Moonlight
By The Poet Li Po, also known as Li Bai (AD 701-762)
Translated by Arthur Waley in 1918

1.

A cup of wine, under the flowering-trees:
I drink alone, for no friend is near.
Raising my cup, I beckon the bright moon,
For he, with my shadow, will make three men.
The moon, alas! is no drinker of wine:
Listless, my shadow creeps about at my side.
Yet with the moon as friend and the shadow as slave
I must make merry before the Spring is spent.
To the songs I sing the moon flickers her beams;
In the dance I weave my shadow tangles and breaks.
While we were sober, three shared the fun;
Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the Sky.

2.

In the third month the town of Hsien-yang
Is thick-spread with a carpet of fallen flowers.
Who in Spring can bear to grieve alone?
Who, sober, look on sights like these?
Riches and Poverty, long or short life,
By the Maker of Things are portioned and disposed.
But a cup of wine levels life and death
And a thousand things obstinately hard to prove.
When I am drunk, I lose Heaven and Earth;
Motionless, I cleave to my lonely bed.
At last I forget that I exist at all,
And at that moment my joy is great indeed.

3.

If High Heaven had no love for wine,
There would not be a Wine Star in the sky.
If Earth herself had no love for wine,
There would not be a city called Wine Springs.
Since Heaven and Earth both love wine,
I can love wine, without shame before God.
Clear wine was once called “a Saint;”
Thick wine was once called “a Sage.”
Of Saint and Sage I have long quaffed deep,
What need for me to study spirits and hsien?
At the third cup I penetrate the Great Way;
A full gallon–Nature and I are one….
But the things I feel when wine possesses my soul
I will never tell to those who are not drunk.

Moonlight by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 93 × 110 cm (36.6 × 43.3 in), 1895, National Gallery of Norway, Oslo

Moonlight by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 93 × 110 cm (36.6 × 43.3 in), 1895, National Gallery of Norway, Oslo

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Simon Bening’s Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child, Attributed to Simon Bening, Oil on wood, 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), ca. 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Virgin and Child, Attributed to Simon Bening, Oil on wood, 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), ca. 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Measuring at just under the size of a piece of letter paper, this magic little painting sits quietly and unassumingly in Gallery 640 in the European Paintings Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The work is attributed to Simon Bening, the great Netherlandish miniaturist and son of illuminator, Alexander Bening. He is most widely known for creating books of hours for royal patrons and rulers.

One of the most remarkable qualities of this finely painted Virgin and Child is its plainness. Though her hair is golden, the mother is mostly unadorned. The child’s hair is also golden, but their are no halos. The scene is one of quiet, stillness, and knowing. The mother’s face, though somewhat idealized, is pensive, almost distracted, while the child turns his gaze outward with a glint of providence in his eye.

The landscape behind is meticulous and simple with each leaf singular and distinct. In the distance, a small cottage with its lone figure sits by a stream where two swans drift. The figures are seated on what could be a simple garden wall in any village.

The child extends his spoon toward us, and the accompanying text for the painting notes that…

…Mary is presented as the very model of a nurturing mother. A stream of milk flows from her breast to the lips of the Child, who turns toward the viewer and gestures with a spoon, linking physical nourishment with the spiritual nourishment he offers.

Other works by Simon Bening in the Met’s online collection can be found here…

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Sutro Baths

 

A view of the Sutro Baths from above at Lands End, San Francisco, CA

A view of the Sutro Baths from above at Lands End, San Francisco, CA

The Sutro Baths are relatively young for ruins. They were destroyed in a fire in 1966, and since then have been a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. On a recent trip to San Francisco, we walked the trails on the cliffs above at Lands End.

View of the rocky coast and the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliff trails at Lands End

View of the rocky coast and the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliff trails at Lands End

The views from the trail are stunning, and the walk through the woods and down to the beach is pleasant and not too strenuous. Barring a couple of vertigo inducing moments at the highest points where there is little tree cover, it was easy going.

The beach cliffs at Lands End near the baths

The beach cliffs at Lands End near the baths

From the beaches below, the views of the cliffs are sublime, and yet the jagged curves of the shoreline give the space an enclosed feeling. It can almost feel small when you are standing at sea level.

The cave at Sutro Baths

The cave at Sutro Baths

View through the crevice inside the cave

View through the crevice inside the cave

Just to the right of the ruins is a cave that once housed the pump for the baths. It’s a short walk through to the other side which stops at the edge of the rocky shore. Halfway in, there is a small overlook where you can watch the sea crashing through a sharp crevice, and the sound it makes is thunderous.

The baths with the Cliff House Restaurant in the background

The baths with the Cliff House Restaurant in the background

The old walls of the bath house are relatively low and have a somewhat labyrinthine feeling. I couldn’t help thinking that the place was a bit haunted…maybe not, but it was easy to confuse the wind and the crashing of the waves with what the laughter and splashing of the bathers might have sounded like. Above and to the left of the baths is the Cliff House restaurant where we had drinks after the hike.

The “Shoot” at Sutro Baths c. 1898

The “Shoot” at Sutro Baths c. 1898


Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Monochord

Robert FluddA single stringed instrument used to scientifically measure pitched tones, the monochord was also considered by some to be an important alchemical tool. The 16th and 17th century paracelsian physician Robert Fludd (1574–1637) made use of what he called his mundane monochord to express not only his theories of music but also his esoteric ideas about divine cosmic harmonies.

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1617, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1617, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1624, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1624, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An exhibition titled High Matter, Dark Language: The Philosophy of Robert Fludd was organized in 1984 at the Wellcome Library in London. The catalog for the exhibition states:

Fludd used the monochord mostly to depict the musical intervals and numerical
proportions, but he also went further than this and integrated other relationships such as
parts of the human body or the stars into the framework of the musical instrument… It is clear enough that Fludd meant to present in this way an ensemble of harmonies that was shown in its completest form in the Monochordum mundi. But he was never affected by the difference which exists for us between the harmony of an instrument and the symbolism of all the other harmonies.

Titlepage of Robert Fludd's "Utriusque cosmi maioris scilice, engraving by T. de Bry, 1617

Titlepage of Robert Fludd’s “Utriusque cosmi maioris scilice, engraving by T. de Bry, 1617

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Atkinson Grimshaw

Atkinson GrimshawBorn to a modest family in Leeds, John Atkinson Grimshaw (September 6, 1836 – October 13, 1893) left his railway job at twenty-four, against the wishes of his parents, to become a full-time painter. His early works, beginning about 1861, were highly detailed landscapes and still life paintings that show a strong Pre-Raphaelite influence. The paintings from this period, particularly the landscapes, were frequently exhibited and brought Grimshaw fast success. According to Alexander Robertson, who organized an exhibition of Grimshaw’s work in Leeds in 1979 and also  authored a monograph, “Grimshaw’s early success in these years has been seriously underrated, partly because, until recently, the 1860s paintings were relatively unknown.”

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Autumn Glory: The Old Mill, oil on canvas,  87.6 x 62.2 cm, 1869, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds, UK

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Autumn Glory: The Old Mill, oil on canvas, 87.6 x 62.2 cm, 1869, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds, UK

By 1868, he had begun to develop what are now referred to as his “Moonlights.” These paintings and later nighttime scenes of urban neighborhoods, often with lone figures cast in eerie glow and shadow, became Grimshaw’s most well-remembered works.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, At The Park Gate, oil on canvas,  51 × 61 cm, 1878, Private Collection

John Atkinson Grimshaw, At The Park Gate, oil on canvas, 51 × 61 cm, 1878, Private Collection

John Atkinson Grimshaw, November, oil on canvas,  76.2 × 62.9 cm, 1879, Private Collection

John Atkinson Grimshaw, November, oil on canvas, 76.2 × 62.9 cm, 1879, Private Collection

Atkinson Grimshaw, as he would eventually come to sign his paintings, was a popular artist during his career, but remained a mystery for many years, because most of his paintings were tucked away in private collections. More recently, however, there has been a renewed interest in his work, due in part to Robertson’s Leeds exhibition. In 2011 a retrospective exhibition was held at Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Sylvanus Griswold Morley: Spy Among the Ruins

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley (b. 1883) was an American archaeologist and pre-Columbian Mayan scholar. Some of his most important work included excavations of Chichen Itza on behalf of the Carnegie Institution and the study and publication of Mayan inscriptions. What is less known about Morley, is that he worked as a spy for the United States during World War I. Some time after his death, it became known that he had been employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence to track German and anti-U.S. Activities in Mexico. His cover as an archaeologist being a legitimate one, however, and despite new discoveries and re-evaluations of his work, his scholarly legacy remains intact. The following is an excerpt from his 1915 book, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs:

…there is encountered at the very outset in the study of these elements a condition which renders progress slow and results uncertain. In Egyptian texts of any given period the simple phonetic elements or signs are unchanging under all conditions of composition. Like the letters of our own alphabet, they never vary and may be recognized as unfailingly. On the other hand, in Maya texts each glyph is in itself a finished picture, dependent on no other for its meaning, and consequently the various elements entering into it undergo very considerable modifications in order that the resulting composite character may not only be a balanced and harmonious design, but also may exactly fill its allotted space. All such modifications probably in no way affect the meaning of the element thus mutilated.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Though Morley was an important figure in the study of Mayan culture and language, it seems that he devoted more time to his covert activities than to his archaeological research during the period of the Great War. During that time, it came to light that others in the field were also involved in espionage, and the practice of spying under the guise of science and exploration was, of course, controversial. In 1919, the well known anthropologist, Franz Boas, published a letter of protest in The Nation, stating:

…A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.

Much of Morley’s work and his publications on the Maya are now outdated, however he is still highly regarded for his important restoration work on Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, as well as for initiating research programs for the Carnegie Institution for Science. He is remembered favorably as a voice for the Mayan people and culture. Sylvanus Griswold Morley died in 1948 at the age of 65 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

The Vats

Two friends wandering the English countryside happen upon the inexplicable…

 

The Vats
by Walter de la Mare
1923

Many years ago now—in that once upon a time which is the memory of the imagination rather than of the workaday mind, I went walking with a friend. Of what passed before we set out I have nothing but the vaguest recollection. All I remember is that it was early morning, that we were happy to be in one another’s company, that there were bright green boughs overhead amongst which the birds floated and sang, and that the early dews still burned in their crystal in the sun.

We were taking our way almost at haphazard across country: there was now grass, now the faintly sparkling flinty dust of an English road, underfoot. With remarkably few humans to be seen, we trudged on, turning our eyes ever and again to glance laughingly, questioningly, or perplexedly at one another’s, then slanting them once more on the blue-canopied countryside. It was spring, in the month of May, I think, and we were talking of Time.

Michael Maier & Johann Theodor de Bry, Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 36, copper engraving on paper, 9.5 x 10.4 cm, 1687, Deutsche Fotothek, Dresden

Michael Maier & Johann Theodor de Bry, Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 36, copper engraving on paper, 9.5 x 10.4 cm, 1617, Deutsche Fotothek, Dresden

Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

In Unconsciousness by Alice Dunbar Nelson

Alice Dunbar-NelsonThere was a big booming in my ears, great heavy iron bells that swung to-and-fro on either side, and sent out deafening reverberations that steeped the senses in a musical melody of sonorous sound; to-and-fro, backward and forward, yet ever receding in a gradually widening circle, monotonous, mournful, weird, suffusing the soul with an unutterable sadness, as images of wailing processions, of weeping, empty-armed women, and widowed maidens flashed through the mind, and settled on the soul with a crushing, o’er-pressing weight of sorrow.

Now I lay floating, arms outstretched, on an illimitable waste of calm tranquil waters. Far away as eye could reach, there was naught but the pale, white-flecked, green waters of this ocean of eternity, and above the tender blue sky arched down in perfect love of its mistress, the ocean. Sky and sea, sea and sky, blue, calm, infinite, perfect sea, heaving its womanly bosom to the passionate kisses of its ardent sun-lover. Away into infinity stretched this perfectibility of love; into eternity, I was drifting, alone, silent, yet burdened still with the remembrance of the sadness of the bells.

Far away, they tolled out the incessant dirge, grown resignedly sweet now; so intense in its infinite peace, that a calm of love, beyond all human understanding and above all earthly passions, sank deep into my soul, and so permeated my whole being with rest and peace, that my lips smiled and my eyes drooped in access of fulsome joy. Into the illimitable space of infinity we drifted, my soul and I, borne along only by the network of auburn hair that floated about me in the green waters.


But now, a rude grasp from somewhere is laid upon me, pressing upon my face. Instantly the air grows gloomy, gray, and the ocean rocks menacingly, while the great bells grow harsh and strident, as they hint of a dark fate. I clasp my hands appealingly to the heavens; I moan and struggle with the unknown grasp; then there is peace and the sweet content of the infinite Nirvana.

Then slowly, softly, the net of auburn hair begins to drag me down below the surface of the sea. Oh! the skies are so sweet, and now that the tender stars are looking upon us, how fair to stay and sway upon the breast of eternity! But the net is inexorable, and gently, slowly pulls me down. Now we sink straight, now we whirl in slow, eddying circles, spiral-like; while at each turn those bells ring out clanging now in wild crescendo, then whispering dread secrets of the ocean’s depths. Oh, ye mighty bells, tell me from your learned lore of the hopes of mankind! Tell me what fruit he beareth from his strivings and yearnings; know not ye? Why ring ye now so joyful, so hopeful; then toll your dismal prophecies of o’er-cast skies?

Years have passed, and now centuries, too, are swallowed in the gulf of eternity, yet the auburn net still whirls me in eddying circles, down, down to the very womb of time; to the innermost recesses of the mighty ocean.


And now, peace, perfect, unconditioned, sublime peace, and rest, and silence. For to the great depths of the mighty ocean the solemn bells cannot penetrate, and no sound, not even the beatings of one’s own heart, is heard. In the heart of eternity there can be nothing to break the calm of frozen æons. In the great white hall I lay, silent, unexpectant, calm, and smiled in perfect content at the web of auburn hair which trailed across my couch. No passionate longing for life or love, no doubting question of heaven or hell, no strife for carnal needs,—only rest, content, peace—happiness, perfect, whole, complete, sublime.

And thus passed ages and ages, æons and æons. The great earth there in the dim distance above the ocean has toiled wearily about the sun, until its mechanism was failing, and the warm ardor of the lover’s eye was becoming pale and cold from age, while the air all about the fast dwindling sphere was heavy and thick with the sorrows and heartaches and woes of the humans upon its face. Heavy with the screams and roar of war; with the curses of the deceived of traitors; with the passionate sighs of unlawful love; with the crushing unrest of blighted hopes. Knowledge and contempt of all these things permeated even to the inmost depths of time, as I lay in the halls of rest and smiled at the web floating through my white fingers.


But hark! discord begins. There is a vague fear which springs from an unknown source and drifts into the depths of rest; fear, indefinable, unaccountable, unknowable, shuddering. Pain begins, for the heart springs into life, and fills the silence with the terror of its beatings, thick, knifing, frightful in its intense longing. Power of mind over soul, power of calm over fear avail nothing; suspense and misery, locked arm in arm, pervade æonic stillness, till all things else become subordinate, unnoticed.

Centuries drift away, and the giddy, old reprobate—earth, dying a hideous, ghastly death, with but one solitary human to shudder in unison with its last throes, to bask in the last pale rays of a cold sun, to inhale the last breath of a metallic atmosphere; totters, reels, falls into space, and is no more. Peal out, ye brazen bells, peal out the requiem of the sinner! Roll your mournful tones into the ears of the saddened angels, weeping with wing-covered eyes! Toll the requiem of the sinner, sinking swiftly, sobbingly into the depths of time’s ocean. Down, down, until the great groans which arose from the domes and Ionic roofs about me told that the sad old earth sought rest in eternity, while the universe shrugged its shoulders over the loss of another star.

And now, the great invisible fear became apparent, tangible, for all the sins, the woes, the miseries, the dreads, the dismal achings and throbbings, the dreariness and gloom of the lost star came together and like a huge geni took form and hideous shape—octopus-like—which slowly approached me, erstwhile happy—and hovered about my couch in fearful menace.


Oh, shining web of hair, burst loose your bonds and bid me move! Oh, time, cease not your calculations, but speed me on to deliverance! Oh, silence, vast, immense, infuse into your soul some sound other than the heavy throbbing of this fast disintegrating heart! Oh, pitiless stone arches, let fall your crushing weight upon this Stygian monster!

I pray to time, to eternity, to the frozen æons of the past. Useless. I am seized, forced to open my cold lips; there is agony,—supreme, mortal agony of nerve tension, and wrenching of vitality. I struggle, scream, and clutching the monster with superhuman strength, fling him aside, and rise, bleeding, screaming—but triumphant, and keenly mortal in every vein, alive and throbbing with consciousness and pain.


No, it was not opium, nor night-mare, but chloroform, a dentist, three obstinate molars, a pair of forceps, and a lively set of nerves.

Anne_Vallayer-Coster

Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744–1818), Still-Life with Tuft of Marine Plants, Shells and Corals, oil on canvas, Height: 130 cm (51.2 in). Width: 97 cm (38.2 in), 1769, Louvre Museum, Paris

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail