WHEN THE writer’s Idea is revealed or incarnate by his Energy,
then, and only then, can his Power work on the world. More briefly
and obviously, a book has no influence till somebody can read it.
Before the Energy was revealed or incarnate it was, as we have seen,
already present in Power within the creator’s mind, but now that Power
is released for communication to other men, and returns from their minds
to his with a new response. It dwells in them and works upon them
with creative energy, producing in them fresh manifestations of Power.
This is the Power of the Word, and it is dangerous. Every word—even
every idle word—will be accounted for at the day of judgment, because the
word itself has power to bring to judgment. It is of the nature of
the word to reveal itself and to incarnate itself—to assume material form.
Its judgment is therefore an intellectual, but also a material judgment.
The habit, very prevalent to-day, of dismissing words as “just words” takes
no account of their power. But once the Idea has entered into other
minds, it will tend to reincarnate itself there with ever-increasing Energy
and ever-increasing Power. It may for some time only incarnate itself
in more words, more books, more speeches; but the day comes when it incarnates
itself in actions, and this is its day of judgment. At the time when
these words are being written, we are witnessing a fearful judgment of
blood, resulting from the incarnation in deeds of an Idea to which, when
it was content with a verbal revelation, we paid singularly little heed.
Which Ideas are (morally) Good and which are anti-Good it is not the purpose
of this book to discuss; what is now abundantly manifest is the Power.
Any Idea whose Energy manifests itself in a Pentecost of Power is good
from its own point of view. It shows itself to be a true act of creation,
although, if it is an evil Idea, it will create to a large extent by active
negation—that is to say, by destruction. The fact, however, that
“all activity is of God” means that no creative Idea can be wholly destructive:
some creation will be produced together with the destruction; and it is
the work of the creative mind to see that the destruction is redeemed by
its creative elements.
It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost. Unhappily,
there is something about educational syllabuses, and especially about examination
papers, which seems to be rather out of harmony with Pentecostal manifestations.
The Energy of Ideas does not seem to descend into the receptive mind with
quite that rush of cloven fire which we ought to expect. Possibly
there is something lacking in our Idea of education; possibly something
inhibiting has happened to the Energy. But Pentecost will happen,
whether within or without official education. From some quarter or
other, the Power will descend, to flame or to smoulder until it is ready
to issue in a new revelation. We need not suppose that, because the
mind of the reader is inert to Plato, it will therefore be inert to Nietzsche
or Karl Marx; failing those, it may respond to Wilhelmina Stitch or to
Hollywood. No incarnate Idea is altogether devoid of Power; if the
Idea is feeble, the Energy dispersed, and the Power dim, the indwelling
spirit will be dim, dispersed and feeble—but such as it is, so its response
will be and such will be its manifestation in the world.
It is through the Power that we get a reflection in the mind of the
world of the original Trinity in the mind of the writer. For the
reader, that is, the book itself is presented as a threefold being.
First: the Book as Thought—the Idea of the book existing in the writer’s
mind. Of this, the reader can be aware only by faith. He knows
that it does exist, but it is unknowable to him except in its manifestations.
He can, of course, suppose if he likes that the book corresponds to nothing
at all in the writer’s mind; he can, if he likes, think that it got into
its visible form by accident and that there is not and never was any such
person as the writer. He is perfectly free to think these things,
though in practice he seldom avails himself of this freedom. Where
a book is concerned, the average man is a confirmed theist. There
was, certainly, a little time ago, a faint tendency to polytheism among
the learned. In particular cases, that is, where there was no exterior
evidence about the writer, the theory was put forward that the Iliad, for
example, and the Song of Roland were written by “the folk”; some extremists
actually suggested that they “just happened”—though even such people were
forced to allow the mediation of a little democracy of godlets to account
for the material form in which these manifestations presented themselves.
To-day, the polytheistic doctrine is rather at a discount; at any rate
it is generally conceded that the Energy exhibited in written works must
have emanated from some kind of Idea in a personal mind.
Secondly: the Book as Written—the Energy or Word incarnate, the express
image of the Idea. This is the book that stands upon our shelves,
and everything within and about it: characters, episodes, the succession
of words and phrases, style, grammar, paper and ink, and, of course, the
story itself. The incarnation of the Energy stands wholly within
the space-time frame: it is written by a material pen and printed by a
material machine upon material paper; the words were produced as a succession
of events succeeding one another in time. Any timelessness, illimitability
or uncreatedness which may characterise the book belongs not here but in
the mind; the body of the Energy is a created thing, strictly limited by
time and space, and subject to any accident that may befall matter.
If we do not like it, we are at liberty to burn it in the market-place,
or subject it to any other indignity, such as neglecting it, denying it,
spitting upon it, or writing hostile reviews about it. We must, however,
be careful to see that nobody reads it before we take steps to eliminate
it; otherwise, it may disconcert us by rising again-either as a new Idea
in somebody’s mind, or even (if somebody has a good memory) in a resurrected
body, substantially the same though made of new materials. In this
respect, Herod showed himself much more competent and realistic than Pilate
or Caiaphas. He grasped the principle that if you are to destroy
the Word, you must do so before it has time to communicate itself.
Crucifixion gets there too late.
Thirdly: the Book as Read—the Power of its effect upon and in the responsive
mind. This is a very difficult thing to examine and analyse, because
our own perception of the thing is precisely what we are trying to perceive.
We can, as it were, note various detached aspects of it; what we cannot
pin down and look at is the movement of our own mind. In the same
way, we cannot follow the movement of our own eyes in a mirror. We
can, by turning our head, observe them in this position and in that position
with respect to our body, but never in the act of moving themselves from
one position to the other, and never in the act of gazing at anything but
the mirror. Thus our idea of ourself is bound to be falsified, since
what to others appears the most lively and mobile part of ourself, appears
to us unnaturally fixed. The eye is the instrument by which we see
everything, and for that reason it is the one thing we, cannot see with
truth. The same thing is true of our Power of response to a book,
or to anything else; incidentally, this is why books about the Holy Ghost
are apt to be curiously difficult and unsatisfactory—we cannot really look
at the movement of the Spirit, just because It is the Power by which we
do the looking.
We may, however, note one or two things—fixed aspects of the Power.
Like the Idea itself, it is immaterial and timeless. When we say
we “know Hamlet”, we do not mean merely that we can memorise the whole
succession of words and events in Hamlet. We mean that we have in
our minds an awareness of Hamlet as a complete whole—“the end in the beginning”.
We can prove this by observing how differently we feel when seeing a performance
of Hamlet on the one hand and an entirely new play on the other.
While watching the new play we are in contact with the Energy, which we
experience as a sequence in time; we wonder “how it is going to work out”.
If, during the interval, we are asked what we think of it, we can only
give a very incomplete answer. Everything depends, we feel, on the
last act. But when the final curtain has come down, we feel quite
differently towards the play—we can think of it as a whole, and see how
all the episodes are related to one another to produce something inside
our mind which is more than the sum-total of the emotions we experienced
while sitting in the stalls. It is in this timeless and complete
form that it remains in our recollection: the Energy is now related to
the Idea more or less as it was in the mind of the playwright: the Word
has returned to the Father.
When we see Hamlet (or any other play that we already “know”) we start
already in this frame of mind. We are able, as the performance proceeds,
to relate the part. to the whole and the time-sequence to eternity
at every point. Just as the writer realised while writing that there
was a complete Idea in his mind, because, step by step, he found himself
relating the progress of his work to that Idea, so also we realise while
watching the play that there is a “whole Hamlet” in our own minds to which
we are busily referring every word and action as it passes before us.
Our knowledge of how the whole thing “hangs together” gives us a deeper
understanding and a better judgment of each part, because we can now refer
it, not only to the past but also to the future; and, more than that, to
a unity of the work which exists for us right outside the sequence of time.
It is as though the writer’s. Idea had passed from eternity into
time and then back into eternity again—still the same Idea, but charged
with a different emphasis of Power derived from our own response.
Not only that: if it is a play like Hamlet, which has already stimulated
powerful responses in the minds of other men, our personal response will
be related to a greater unity which includes all those other foci of Power.
Every scholar and critic who has written about Hamlet, every great actor
who has ever played the part, every painter or musician who has found a
source of power in Hamlet, retransmits that power to the spectator, in
accordance with the capacity for response that is in each.
It is by this kind of process that words and phrases become charged
with the Power acquired by passing through the minds of successive writers.
Pure scientists (who find this particular kind of power embarrassing to
them) are always struggling in vain to rid words of their power of association;
and the ugly formations which they devise for this purpose have as their
excuse their comparative freedom from the artist’s brand of creative power.
Here is a trifling example. I was once taken to task by an arms expert
for using the word “dynamite” as a symbol of explosive force. He
contended, very justly, that dynamite was out, of date; we now knew a great
many substances that exploded more readily and with more devastating effect.
My defence was that the newer words, though associated with more material
power, had fewer associations of literary power. “Dynamite” carries
with it the accumulated power flowing from the Greek dynamis—such concepts,
for example, as belong to the words dynamo, dynamic, dynasty, and so forth,
and such literary associations as Hardy’s The Dynasts. Hardy's poem
brings with it the thought of Napoleon’s explosion of power; “dynasty”
taps the power of ancient Egypt as it is interpreted in our minds.
The expression “tri-nitro-toluol” (which I might have chosen) is, at present
at any rate, much less rich in verbal associative power; also, - its actual
syllables unfortunately associate themselves with such jingling compounds
as “tol-de-rol” and “tooralooral”—formations which, however powerful in
their own sphere, contribute little to the energetic expression of “explosive
It is interesting to rake into one’s own mind and discover, if one pane
what were the combined sources of power on which one, consciously or unconsciously,
drew while endeavouring to express an’ idea in writing. Here, for
instance, is a whole string of familiar passages which were obviously hovering
about in my memory when I wrote a phrase in The Nine Tailors.
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God
shouted for joy.—Book of Job.
Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he
covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he
did fly.—Book of the Prophet Isaiah.
He rode upon the cherubims and did fly; He came flying upon the wings
of the wind.—Psalms of David.
With Saintly shout and solemn Jubily,
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal Harps of golden wires,
With those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms,
Hymns devout and holy Psalms
Milton: At a Solemn Musick.
The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Stand, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.
Keats: The Eve of St. Agnes.
Only they see not God, I know,
Nor all that chivalry of His,
The soldier-saints who, row on row,
Burn upward each to his point of bliss.
Browning: The Statue and the Bust.
...incredibly aloof, flinging back the light in a dusky shimmer of bright
hair and gilded outspread wings, soared the ranked angels, cherubim and
seraphim, choir over choir, from corbel and hammer-beam floating face to
face uplifted.—The Nine Tailors.
In addition to the passages quoted, there is, of course, the direct
association with actual angel-roofs, such as that in March Parish Church,
which I know well, and pictures of others, such as that at Needham Market.
Vaguely, too, I fancy, there was an echo of other, remoter associations:
all the dim rich city, roof by roof,
It is, of course, open to anyone to point out that these great streams
of power have been much diminished by pouring through my narrow channel.
That is quite true, and is partly a measure of my lack of capacity and
partly a recognition of the fact that any passage within a work demands
a volume of power appropriate to its place in the unity of that work and
no more. (Readers who are interested in studying how a great
writer may incorporate and enhance the power of former writers, as well
as of his own previous achievements, should study M. B. Ridley’s books
Keats' Craftsmanship.) But what is important, and not always
understood in these days, is that a reminiscent passage of this kind is
intended to recall to the reader all the associated passages, and so put
him in touch with the sources of power behind and beyond the writer.
The demand for “originality”—with the implication that the reminiscence
of other writers is a sin against originality and a defect in the work—is
a recent one and would have seemed quite ludicrous to poets of the Augustan
Age, or of Shakespeare’s time. The traditional view is that each
new work should be a fresh focus of power through which former streams
of beauty, emotion, and reflection are directed. This view is adopted,
and perhaps carried to excess, by writers like T. S. Eliot, some of whose
poems are a close web of quotations and adaptations, chosen for their associative
value, or like James Joyce, who makes great use of the associative value
of sounds and syllables. The criterion is, not whether the associations
are called up, but whether the spirits invoked by this kind of verbal incantation
are charged with personal power by the magician who speeds them about their
Tower after tower, spire beyond spire,
By grove and garden-lawn and rushing brook,
Climbs to the mighty hail that Merlin built.
And four great zones of sculpture, set betwixt
With many a mystic symbol, gird the hail:
And in the lowest, beasts are slaying men,
And in the second, men are slaying beasts,
And on the third are warriors, perfect men,
And on the fourth are men with growing wings,
And over all one statue in the mould
Of Arthur, made by Merlin, with a crown,
And peaked wings pointed to the Northern Star.
Tennyson: The Holy Grail.
Four great figures the corners on,
Matthew and Mark and Luke and John.
Where the walls
Camila Doyle (a poem read years ago, the title of which I have
quite forgotten. This is itself “associated” with the children’s
rhyme about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.
T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land.
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone.
John Donne: The Funeral.
The Power—the Spirit—is thus a social power, working to bring all minds
into its own unity, sometimes by similarity and at other times by contrast.
There is a diversity of gifts, but the same spirit. Sometimes we
feel that a critic or student of a man’s work has “read into it” a good
deal more than the first writer “meant”. This is, perhaps, to have
a rather confined apprehension of the unity and diversity of the Power.
In the narrower sense, it is doubtless true that when Solomon or somebody
wrote the Song of Songs he did not “mean” to write an epithalamium
on the mystic nuptials of Christ with His Church. By the same process
of reasoning, when Drayton wrote:
Since there’s no help, come, let us kiss and part;
he did not mean to express the complicated emotion of impatience,
relief, acceptance and forlorn hope which you experienced “at the
last gasp of Love’s latest breath”. Nevertheless, he was a true prophet
of your emotion, since he did express it, so that you feel the lines
to have been written “for you”. In coming into contact with his Power,
through the ink-and-paper body of his Energy, you are taken up into the
eternal unity of Drayton’s Idea. You now lie within the orbit of
the Power, which (immanent and transcendent) is also within you, and your
response to it will bring forth further power, according to your own capacity
and energy. If you react to it creatively, your response will again
assume the form of: an Idea in your mind, the manifestation of that Idea
in some form of Energy or Activity (speech, behaviour or what not), and
a communication of Power to the world about you.
Nay, I have done: You get no more of me...
This threefoldness in the reader’s mind corresponds to the threefoldness
of the work (Book-as-Thought, Book-as-Written, Book-as-Read), and that
again to the original threefoldness in the mind of the writer (Idea, Energy,
Power). It is bound to be so, because that is the structure of the
creative mind. When, therefore, we consider Trinitarian doctrine
about the universal Creator, this is what we are driving at. We are
arguing on the analogy of something perfectly familiar to our experience.
The implication is that we find the threefold structure in ourselves (the-Book-as-Read)
because that is the actual structure of the universe (the-Book-as-Written),
and that it is in the universe because it is in God’s Idea about the universe
(the-Book-as-Thought); further, that this structure is in God’s Idea because
it is the structure of God’s mind.
This is what the doctrine means; whether it is true or mistaken
is another matter, but this is the Idea that is put forward for our response.
There is nothing mythological about Christian Trinitarian doctrine: it
is analogical. It offers itself freely for meditation and discussion;
but it is desirable that we should avoid the bewildered frame of, mind
of the apocryphal Japanese gentleman who complained:
“Honourable Father, very good; Honourable Son, very good; but Honourable
Bird I do not understand at all.”
“Honourable Bird”, however, has certain advantages as a pictorial symbol,
since, besides reminding us of those realities which it does symbolise,
it also reminds us that the whole picture is a symbol and no more.
There have been people so literal-minded as to suppose that God the Father
really is an old man with a beard, but remarkably few adult persons can
ever have believed that the Holy Ghost really was a dove. In what
we may call the “standard” pictorial symbol of the Holy Trinity, the emphasis
is rather upon the diversity than upon the identity; it depicts the Unity-in-Trinity.
The Father, usually conceived as an aged priest, robed and crowned, holds
upon His knees the figure of Christ crucified; between them hovers the
Dove. The pictures of the First and the Third Persons are pure intellectual
symbol— they represent nothing in time-space-matter; but the picture of
the Second Person is living symbol: it represents an event in history.
This is what our analogy would lead us to expect: it is only the Energy
that issues in a material Book-as-Written; the Idea and the Power remain
immaterial and timeless in their reflected natures as the Book-as-Thought
and the Book-as-Read.
A set of miniatures by Fouquet in the Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier,
presents us, on the other hand, with a very interesting pictorial symbol
of the identity of the diversity, the Trinity-in-Unity: here, Father, Son
and Holy Ghost are shown as all human, all young and all exactly alike.
This is the Trinity in the mind—the essential identity of Idea, Energy
and Power, which is reflected as a Trinity in the work—the Book being the
same book, whether thought, written or read.
Of these two pictorial symbols, the former operates to prevent the spectator
from “confounding the Persons”, and the latter, to prevent him from “dividing
“So that” (as the Quicunque Vult observes, in what looks like
a glimpse of the obvious, but is really as complex and profound as the
obvious usually turns out to be) “there is one Father, not three fathers,
one Son, not three sons, one Holy Ghost, not three holy ghosts. And...the
whole three Persons are consubstantial together, and co-equal.”