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   Chapter 3 No.3

On the Art of Writing / Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge 1913-1914 By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 3792

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Now the other and second great belief is, that the Universe, the macrocosm, cannot be apprehended at all except as its rays converge upon the eye, brain, soul of Man, the microcosm: on you, on me, on the tiny percipient centre upon which the immense cosmic circle focuses itself as the sun upon a burning-glass-and he is not shrivelled up! Other creatures, he notes, share in his sensations; but, so far as he can discover, not in his percipience -or not in any degree worth measuring. So far as he can discover, he is not only a bewildered actor in the great pageant but 'the ring enclosing all,' the sole intelligent spectator. Wonder of wonders, it is all meant for him!

I doubt if, among men of our nation, this truth was ever more clearly grasped than by the Cambridge Platonists who taught your forerunners of the 17th century. But I will quote you here two short passages from the work of a sort of poor relation of theirs, a humble Welsh parson of that time, Thomas Traherne- unknown until the day before yesterday-from whom I gave you one sentence in my first lecture. He is speaking of the fields and streets that were the scene of his childhood:

Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe…. The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me…. Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die….

The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were m

ine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars; and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.

Then:

News from a foreign country came,

As if my treasure and my wealth lay there;

So much it did my heart inflame,

'Twas wont to call my Soul into mine ear;

Which thither went to meet

The approaching sweet,

And on the threshold stood

To entertain the unknown Good….

What sacred instinct did inspire

My Soul in childhood with a hope to strong?

What secret force moved my desire

To expect new joys beyond the seas, so young?

Felicity I knew

Was out of view,

And being here alone,

I saw that happiness was gone

From me! For this

I thirsted absent bliss,

And thought that sure beyond the seas,

Or else in something near at hand-

I knew not yet (since naught did please

I knew) my Bliss did stand.

But little did the infant dream

That all the treasures of the world were by:

And that himself was so the cream

And crown of all which round about did lie.

Yet thus it was: the Gem,

The Diadem,

The Ring enclosing all

That stood upon this earthly ball,

The Heavenly Eye,

Much wider than the sky,

Wherein they all included were,

The glorious Soul, that was the King

Made to possess them, did appear

A small and little thing!

And then comes the noble sentence of which I promised you that it should fall into its place:

You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.

Man in short-you, I, any one of us-the heir of it all!

Tot circa unum caput tumultuantes deos!

Our best privilege to sing our short lives out in tune with the heavenly concert-and if to sing afterwards, then afterwards!

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