First Paragraphs

How books begin, updated most days

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.

This Rome, that was the toil of many men,
The consummation of laborious years—
Fulfilment’s crown to visions of the dead,
And image of the wide desire of kings—
Is made my darkling dream’s effulgency,
Fuel of vision, brief embodiment
Of wandering will, and wastage of the strong
Fierce ecstacy of one tremendous hour,
When ages piled on ages were a flame
To all the years behind, and years to be.

It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman - madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium. Later some of my readers will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than I did after facing the evidence of that horror - that thing on the doorstep.

Although I knew nothing of chemistry, I listened fascinated. He picked up an Easter lily which Geneviève had brought that morning from Notre Dame, and dropped it into the basin. Instantly the liquid lost its crystalline clearness. For a second the lily was enveloped in a milk-white foam, which disappeared, leaving the fluid opalescent. Changing tints of orange and crimson played over the surface, and then what seemed to be a ray of pure sunlight struck through from the bottom where the lily was resting. At the same instant he plunged his hand into the basin and drew out the flower. “There is no danger,” he explained, “if you choose the right moment. That golden ray is the signal.”

I once had a strange dream. I dreamed that I was dead, and that dying I suddenly discovered all my preconceived ideas as to the future state to have been entirely erroneous, at any rate in so far as concerned such persons as myself—the respectable middle class, so to call it, of mundane sinners. Had I belonged to the aristocracy of piety and goodness, which, alas! I did not, or had I occupied a position at the lower end of the list, other things might have befallen me, better or worse, as the case deserved; but being, as I say, one of the decently respectable middle-class sinners, I was shown, in this foolish dream of mine, into a committee-room marked No. 2, and there informed that since I was neither very good nor very bad, my present destiny was to continue to inhabit this planet for a number of years—I forget how many—not, indeed, in my present corporeal form, but as a spiritual essence; and that I might select any place this side of the dark river, the Styx, as my temporary abode, there to live in Nature’s bosom and to assimilate and be assimilated until the simplicity and beauty of Nature, uncontaminated by man, should have purified me of all the harmful taints which I had acquired during my terrestrial existence among fellow-mortals.

In the days of good King Harry the Second of England—he of the warring sons—there were certain forests in the north country set aside for the King’s hunting, and no man might shoot deer therein under penalty of death. These forests were guarded by the King’s Foresters, the chief of whom, in each wood, was no mean man but equal in authority to the Sheriff in his walled town, or even to my lord Bishop in his abbey.

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

I propose, subject to the patience of the reader, to devote two or three articles to prophecy. Like all healthy-minded prophets, sacred and profane, I can only prophesy when I am in a rage and think things look ugly for everybody. And like all healthy-minded prophets, I prophesy in the hope that my prophecy may not come true. For the prediction made by the true soothsayer is like the warning given by a good doctor. And the doctor has really triumphed when the patient the condemned to death has revived to life. The threat is justified at the very moment when it is falsified. Now I have said again and again (and I shall continue to say again and again on all the most inappropriate occasions) that we must hit Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the plain and definite reason that it is growing stronger. Most of the excuses which serve the capitalists as masks are, of course, the excuses of hypocrites. They lie when they claim philanthropy; they no more feel any particular love of men than Albu felt an affection for Chinamen. They lie when they say they have reached their position through their own organising ability. They generally have to pay men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay men to go down it. They often lie about the present wealth, as they generally lie about their past poverty. But when they say that they are going in for a “constructive social policy,” they do not lie. They really are going in for a constructive social policy. And we must go in for an equally destructive social policy; and destroy, while it is still half constructed, the accursed thing which they construct.

—Il dottore era questa notte colla Giovanna,—disse la Ghita.

'Tis hard to say if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill,
But of the two less dangerous is the offense
To tire our patience than mislead our sense
Some few in that but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss,
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.