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- Ideala - 1/37 -
BY SARAH GRAND
"L'esprit ne nous garantit pas des sottises de notre humeur."--VAUVENARGUES
You will ask me, perhaps, even you who are all charity, why parts of this book are what they are. I can only answer with another question: Why are we what we are? But I warn you that it would not be fair to take any of Ideala's opinions, here given, as final. Much of what she thought was the mere effervescence of a strong mind in a state of fermentation, a mind passing successively through the three stages of the process; the _vinous_, alcoholic, or excitable stage; the _acetous_, jaundiced, or embittered stage; and the _putrefactive_, or unwholesome stage; and also embodying, at different times, the characteristics of all three. But, even during its worst phase, it was an earnest mind, seeking the truth diligently, and not to be blamed for stumbling upon good and bad together by the way. It is, in fact, not a perfect, but a transitional state which I offer for your consideration, a state which has its repulsive features, but which, it may be hoped, would result in a beautiful deposit, when at last the inevitable effervescence had subsided.
But why exhibit the details of the process, you may ask. To encourage others, of course. What help is there in the contemplation of perfection ready made? It only disheartens us. We should lay down our arms, we should struggle no longer, we should be hopeless, despairing, reckless, if we never had a glimpse of growth, of those "stepping- stones of their dead selves" upon which men mount to higher things. The imperfections must be studied, because it is only from the details of the process that anything can be learned. Putting aside the people who criticise, not with a view to mending matters, but because a
... low desire Not to seem lowest makes them level all;
the people who judge, who condemn, who have no mercy on any faults and failings but their own, and who,
... if they find Some stain or blemish in a name of note, Not grieving that their greatest are so small, Inflate themselves with some insane delight,
and would ostracise a neighbour for the first offence by ruling that one mistake must mar a life--anybody's life but their own, of course; who have no peace in themselves, no habit of sweet thought; whose lives are one long agony of excitement, objection, envy, hate, and unrest; the decently clad devils of society who may be known by their eternal carping, and who are already in torment, and doing their utmost to drag others after them. Putting them aside, as any one may who has the courage to face them--for they are terrible cowards--and taking the best of us, and the best intentioned among us, we find that all are apt to make some one trait in the characters, some one trick in the manners, some one incident in the lives of people we meet the text of an objection to the whole person. And a state of objection is a miserable state, and a dangerous one, because it stops our growth by robbing us of half our power to love, in which lies all our strength, and which, with the delight of being loved, is the one thing worth living for. When we know in ourselves that love is heaven, and hate is hell, and all the intervals of like and dislike are antechambers to either, we possess the key to joy and sorrow, by which alone we can attain to the mystery that may not be mentioned here, but beyond which ecstasy awaits us.
This is why such details are necessary.
Doctors-spiritual must face the horrors of the dissecting-room, and learn before they can cure or teach; and even we, poor feeble creatures, who have no strength, however great our desire, to do either, can help at least a little by not hindering, if we attend to our own mental health, which we shall do all the better for knowing something of our moral anatomy, and the diseases to which it is liable. We hate and despise in our ignorance, and grow weak; but love and pity thrive on knowledge, and to love and pity we owe all the beauty of life, and all our highest power.
_"It is that life of custom and accident in which many of us pass much of our time in this world; that life in which we do what we have not purposed, and speak what we do not mean, and assent to what we do not understand; that life which is overlaid by the weight of things external to it, and is moulded by them, instead of assimilating them; that which, instead of growing and blossoming under any wholesome dew, is crystallised over with it, as with hoar frost, and becomes to the true life what an arborescence is to a tree, a candied agglomeration of thoughts and habits foreign to it, brittle, obstinate, and icy, which can neither bend nor grow, but must be crushed and broken to bits if it stands in our way. All men are liable to be in some degree frost-bitten in this sort; all are partly encumbered and crusted over with idle matter; only, if they have real life in them, they are always breaking this bark away in noble rents, until it becomes, like the black strips upon the birch tree, only a witness of their own inward strength."_ --RUSKIN.
She came among us without flourish of trumpets. She just slipped into her place, almost unnoticed, but once she was settled there it seemed as if we had got something we had wanted all our lives, and we should have missed her as you would miss the thrushes in the spring, or any other sweet familiar thing. But what the secret of her charm was I cannot say. She was full of inconsistencies. She disliked ostentation, and never wore those ornamental fidgets ladies delight in, but she would take a piece of priceless lace to cover her head when she went to water her flowers. And she said rings were a mistake; if your hands were ugly they drew attention to them, if pretty they hid their beauty; yet she wore half-a-dozen worthless ones habitually for the love of those who gave them, to her. It was said that she was striking in appearance, but cold and indifferent in manner. Some, on whom she had never turned her eyes, called her repellent. But it was noticed that men who took her down to dinner, or had any other opportunity of talking to her, were never very positive in, what they said of her afterwards. She made every one, men and women alike, feel, and she did it unconsciously. Without effort, without eccentricity, without anything you could name or define, she impressed you, and she held you --or at least she held _me_, always--expectant. Nothing about her ever seemed to be of the present. When she talked she made you wonder what her past had been, and when she was silent you began to speculate about her future. But she did not talk much as a rule, and when she did speak it was always some subject of interest, some fact that she wanted to ascertain accurately, or some beautiful idea, that occupied her; she had absolutely no small talk for any but her most intimate friends, whom she was wont at times to amuse with an endless stock of anecdotes and quaint observations; and this made people of limited capacity hard on her. Some of these called her a cold, ambitious, unsympathetic woman; and perhaps, from their point of view, she was so. She certainly aspired to something far above them, and had nothing but scorn for the dead level of dull mediocrity from which they would not try to rise.
"To be distinguished among these people," she once said, "it is only necessary to have one's heart
Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, The love of love.
There is no need to _do_ anything; if you have the right _feeling_ you may be as passive as a cow, and still excel them all, for they never thrill to a noble thought."
"Then, pity them," I said.
"No, despise them," she answered. "Pity is for affliction, for such shortcomings as are hereditary and can hardly be remedied--for the taint in nature which is all but hopeless. But these people are not afflicted. They could do better if they would. They know the higher walk, and deliberately pursue the lower. Their whole feeling is for themselves, and such things as have power to move them through the flesh only. I would almost rather sin on the impulse of a generous but misguided nature, and have the power to appreciate and the will to be better, than live a perfect, loveless woman, caring only for myself, like these. I should do more good."
They called Ideala unsympathetic, yet I have known her silent from excess of sympathy. She could walk with you, reading your heart and soul, sorrowing and rejoicing with you, and make you feel without a word that she did so. It was this power to sympathise, and the longing she had to find good in everything, that made her forgive the faults that were patent in a nature with which she was finally brought into contact, for the sake of the virtues which she discovered hidden away deep down under a slowly hardening crust of that kind of self- indulgence which mars a man.
But her own life was set to a tune that admitted of endless variations. Sometimes it was difficult even for those who knew her best to detect the original melody among the clashing cords that concealed it; but, let it be hidden as it might, one felt that it would resolve itself eventually, through many a jarring modulation and startling cadence, perhaps, back to the perfect key.
I saw her first at a garden party. She scarcely noticed me when we were introduced. There were great masses of white cloud drifting up over the blue above the garden, and she was wholly occupied with them when she could watch them without rudeness to those about her; and even when she was obliged to look away, I could see that she was still thinking of the sky. "Do you live much in cloudland?" I asked, and felt for a moment I had said a silly thing; but she turned to me quickly, and looked at me for the first time as if she saw me--and when I say she looked at me, I mean something more than an ordinary look, for Ideala's eyes were a wonder, affecting you as a poem does which has power to exalt.
"Ah, you feel it too," she said. "Are they not beautiful? Will you sit
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