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- A Modern Utopia - 40/51 -
Certain great areas are set apart for these yearly pilgrimages beyond the securities of the State. There are thousands of square miles of sandy desert in Africa and Asia set apart; much of the Arctic and Antarctic circles; vast areas of mountain land and frozen marsh; secluded reserves of forest, and innumerable unfrequented lines upon the sea. Some are dangerous and laborious routes; some merely desolate; and there are even some sea journeys that one may take in the halcyon days as one drifts through a dream. Upon the seas one must go in a little undecked sailing boat, that may be rowed in a calm; all the other journeys one must do afoot, none aiding. There are, about all these desert regions and along most coasts, little offices at which the samurai says good-bye to the world of men, and at which they arrive after their minimum time of silence is overpast. For the intervening days they must be alone with Nature, necessity, and their own thoughts.
"It is good?" I said.
"It is good," my double answered. "We civilised men go back to the stark Mother that so many of us would have forgotten were it not for this Rule. And one thinks.... Only two weeks ago I did my journey for the year. I went with my gear by sea to Tromso, and then inland to a starting-place, and took my ice-axe and rucksack, and said good-bye to the world. I crossed over four glaciers; I climbed three high mountain passes, and slept on moss in desolate valleys. I saw no human being for seven days. Then I came down through pine woods to the head of a road that runs to the Baltic shore. Altogether it was thirteen days before I reported myself again, and had speech with fellow creatures."
"And the women do this?"
"The women who are truly samurai--yes. Equally with the men. Unless the coming of children intervenes."
I asked him how it had seemed to him, and what he thought about during the journey.
"There is always a sense of effort for me," he said, "when I leave the world at the outset of the journey. I turn back again and again, and look at the little office as I go up my mountain side. The first day and night I'm a little disposed to shirk the job--every year it's the same--a little disposed, for example, to sling my pack from my back, and sit down, and go through its contents, and make sure I've got all my equipment."
"There's no chance of anyone overtaking you?"
"Two men mustn't start from the same office on the same route within six hours of each other. If they come within sight of each other, they must shun an encounter, and make no sign--unless life is in danger. All that is arranged beforehand."
"It would be, of course. Go on telling me of your journey."
"I dread the night. I dread discomfort and bad weather. I only begin to brace up after the second day."
"Don't you worry about losing your way?"
"No. There are cairns and skyline signs. If it wasn't for that, of course we should be worrying with maps the whole time. But I'm only sure of being a man after the second night, and sure of my power to go through."
"Then one begins to get into it. The first two days one is apt to have the events of one's journey, little incidents of travel, and thoughts of one's work and affairs, rising and fading and coming again; but then the perspectives begin. I don't sleep much at nights on these journeys; I lie awake and stare at the stars. About dawn, perhaps, and in the morning sunshine, I sleep! The nights this last time were very short, never more than twilight, and I saw the glow of the sun always, just over the edge of the world. But I had chosen the days of the new moon, so that I could have a glimpse of the stars.... Years ago, I went from the Nile across the Libyan Desert east, and then the stars--the stars in the later days of that journey--brought me near weeping.... You begin to feel alone on the third day, when you find yourself out on some shining snowfield, and nothing of mankind visible in the whole world save one landmark, one remote thin red triangle of iron, perhaps, in the saddle of the ridge against the sky. All this busy world that has done so much and so marvellously, and is still so little--you see it little as it is--and far off. All day long you go and the night comes, and it might be another planet. Then, in the quiet, waking hours, one thinks of one's self and the great external things, of space and eternity, and what one means by God."
"You think of death?"
"Not of my own. But when I go among snows and desolations--and usually I take my pilgrimage in mountains or the north--I think very much of the Night of this World--the time when our sun will be red and dull, and air and water will lie frozen together in a common snowfield where now the forests of the tropics are steaming.... I think very much of that, and whether it is indeed God's purpose that our kind should end, and the cities we have built, the books we have written, all that we have given substance and a form, should lie dead beneath the snows."
"You don't believe that?"
"No. But if it is not so----. I went threading my way among gorges and precipices, with my poor brain dreaming of what the alternative should be, with my imagination straining and failing. Yet, in those high airs and in such solitude, a kind of exaltation comes to men.... I remember that one night I sat up and told the rascal stars very earnestly how they should not escape us in the end."
He glanced at me for a moment as though he doubted I should understand.
"One becomes a personification up there," he said. "One becomes the ambassador of mankind to the outer world.
"There is time to think over a lot of things. One puts one's self and one's ambition in a new pair of scales....
"Then there are hours when one is just exploring the wilderness like a child. Sometimes perhaps one gets a glimpse from some precipice edge of the plains far away, and houses and roadways, and remembers there is still a busy world of men. And at last one turns one's feet down some slope, some gorge that leads back. You come down, perhaps, into a pine forest, and hear that queer clatter reindeer make--and then, it may be, see a herdsman very far away, watching you. You wear your pilgrim's badge, and he makes no sign of seeing you....
"You know, after these solitudes, I feel just the same queer disinclination to go back to the world of men that I feel when I have to leave it. I think of dusty roads and hot valleys, and being looked at by many people. I think of the trouble of working with colleagues and opponents. This last journey I outstayed my time, camping in the pine woods for six days. Then my thoughts came round to my proper work again. I got keen to go on with it, and so I came back into the world. You come back physically clean--as though you had had your arteries and veins washed out. And your brain has been cleaned, too.... I shall stick to the mountains now until I am old, and then I shall sail a boat in Polynesia. That is what so many old men do. Only last year one of the great leaders of the samurai--a white-haired man, who followed the Rule in spite of his one hundred and eleven years--was found dead in his boat far away from any land, far to the south, lying like a child asleep...."
"That's better than a tumbled bed," said I, "and some boy of a doctor jabbing you with injections, and distressful people hovering about you."
"Yes," said my double; "in Utopia we who are samurai die better than that.... Is that how your great men die?"
It came to me suddenly as very strange that, even as we sat and talked, across deserted seas, on burning sands, through the still aisles of forests, and in all the high and lonely places of the world, beyond the margin where the ways and houses go, solitary men and women sailed alone or marched alone, or clambered--quiet, resolute exiles; they stood alone amidst wildernesses of ice, on the precipitous banks of roaring torrents, in monstrous caverns, or steering a tossing boat in the little circle of the horizon amidst the tumbled, incessant sea, all in their several ways communing with the emptiness, the enigmatic spaces and silences, the winds and torrents and soulless forces that lie about the lit and ordered life of men.
I saw more clearly now something I had seen dimly already, in the bearing and the faces of this Utopian chivalry, a faint persistent tinge of detachment from the immediate heats and hurries, the little graces and delights, the tensions and stimulations of the daily world. It pleased me strangely to think of this steadfast yearly pilgrimage of solitude, and how near men might come then to the high distances of God.
After that I remember we fell talking of the discipline of the Rule, of the Courts that try breaches of it, and interpret doubtful cases--for, though a man may resign with due notice and be free after a certain time to rejoin again, one deliberate breach may exclude a man for ever--of the system of law that has grown up about such trials, and of the triennial council that revises and alters the Rule. From that we passed to the discussion of the general constitution of this World State. Practically all political power vests in the samurai. Not only are they the only administrators, lawyers, practising doctors, and public officials of almost all kinds, but they are the only voters. Yet, by a curious exception, the supreme legislative assembly must have one-tenth, and may have one-half of its members outside the order, because, it is alleged, there is a sort of wisdom that comes of sin and laxness, which is necessary to the perfect ruling of life. My double quoted me a verse from the Canon on this matter that my unfortunate verbal memory did not retain, but it was in the nature of a prayer to save the world from "unfermented men." It would seem that Aristotle's idea of a rotation of rulers, an idea that crops up again in Harrington's Oceana, that first Utopia of "the sovereign people" (a Utopia that, through Danton's readings in English, played a disastrous part in
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