An appetite for knowledge is apt to rush one off one’s feet, like any other appetite if not curbed. I often stand in the in the centre of the Library here and think despairingly how impossible it is ever to become possessed of all the wealth of facts and ideas contained in the books surrounding me on every hand.
How I hate the man who talks about the ‘brute creation’, with an ugly emphasis on Brute. Only Christians are capable of it. As for me, I am proud of my close kinship with other animals. I take a jealous pride in my Simian ancestry. I like to think that I was once a magnificent hairy fellow living in the trees and that my frame has come down through geological time via sea jelly and worms and Amphioxus, Fish, Dinosaurs, and Apes. Who would exchange these for the pallid couple in the Garden of Eden?
Suddenly I awake to a stark amazement at everything… To be alive is so incredible that all I can do is to lie still and merely breathe.
Sometimes I think I am going mad. I live for days in the mystery and tears of things so that the commonest object, the most familiar face- even my own- become ghostly, unreal, enigmatic. I get into an attitude of almost total scepticism, nescience, solipsism, in a world of dumb, sphinx-like things that cannot explain themselves. The discovery of how I am situated- a sentient being on a globe in space overshadows me. I wish I were just nothing.
Suppose the hellfire of the orthodox really existed! We have no assurance that it does not! It seems incredible, but many incredible things are true. We do not know that God is not as cruel as a Spanish inquisitor. Suppose, then, He is! If, after Death, we wicked ones were shovelled into a furnace of fire- we should have to burn. There would be no redress. It would simply be the Divine Order of things. It is outrageous that we should be so helpless and so dependent on any one- even God.
In the enfranchised mind of the scientific naturalist, the usual feelings of repugnance simply do not exist. Curiosity conquers prejudice.
Youth is an intoxication without wine, someone says. Life is an intoxication. The only sober man is the melancholiac, who, disenchanted, looks at life, sees it as it really is, and cuts his throat. If this be so, I want to be very drunk. The great thing is to live, to clutch at our existence and race away with it in some great and enthralling pursuit. Above all, I must beware of all ultimate questions- they are too maddeningly unanswerable- let me eschew philosophy and burn Omar.
The porter spends his days in the Library keeping strict vigil over this catacomb of books, passing along between the shelves and yet never paying heed to the almost audible susurrus of desire- the desire every book has to be taken down and read, to live, to come into being in somebody’s mind. He even hands the volumes over the counter, seeks them out in their proper places or returns them there without once realising that a Book is a Person and not a Thing.
My confessions are shameless. I confess, but do not repent. The fact is, my confessions are prompted, not by ethical motives, butintellectual. The confessions are to me the interesting records of a self-investigator.
I waste much time gaping and wondering. During a walk or in a book or in the middle of an embrace, suddenly I awake to a stark amazement at everything. The bare fact of existence paralyses me- holds my mind in mortmain. To be alive is so incredible that all I do is to lie still and merely breathe- like an infant on its back in a cot. It is impossible to be interested in anything in particular while overhead the sun shines or underneath my feet grows a single blade of grass.
As soon as we are born, if we could but get up, bath, dress, shave, breakfast once for all, if we could ‘cut’ these monotonous cycles of routine. If the sun rose it would stay up, or once we were alive we were immortal!
I can remember wondering as a child if I were a young Macaulay or Ruskin and secretly deciding that I was. My infant mind even was bitter with those who insisted on regarding me as a normal child and not as a prodigy.
From the drawing-room window I see pass almost daily an old gentleman with white hair, a firm step, broad shoulders, healthy pink skin, a sunny smile – always singing to himself as he goes – a happy, rosy-cheeked old fellow, with a rosy-cheeked mind I should like to throw mud at him.