The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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And here the crowded, muddled notebooks come to an end. The rest was action--and inevitable disaster.

The brief history of O'Malley's mad campaign may be imagined. To a writer who found interest in the study of forlorn hopes and their leaders, a detailed record of this particular one might seem worth while. For me personally it is too sad and too pathetic. I cannot bring myself to tell, much less to analyze the story of a broken heart, when that heart and story are those of a close and deeply admired intimate, a man who gave me genuine love and held my own.

Besides, although a curious chapter in uncommon human nature, it is not by any means a new one. It is the true story of many a poet and dreamer since the world began, though perhaps not often told nor even guessed. And only the poets themselves, especially the little poets who cannot utter half the fire that consumes them, may know the searing pain and passion and the true inwardness of it all.

Most of those months it chanced I was away, and only fragments of the foolish enterprise could reach me. But nothing, I think, could have stopped him, nor any worldly selfish wisdom made him even pause. The thing possessed him utterly; it had to flame its way out as best it could. To high and low, he preached by every means in his power the Simple Life; he preached the mystical life as well--that the true knowledge and the true progress are within, that they both pertain to the inner being and have no chief concern with external things. He preached it wildly, lopsidedly, in or out of season, knowing no half measures. His enthusiasm obscured his sense of proportion and the extravagance hid the germ of truth that undeniably lay in his message.

To put the movement on its feet at first he realized every possession that he had. It left him penniless, if he was not almost so already, and in the end it left him smothered beneath the glory of his blinding and unutterable Dream. He never understood that suggestion is more effective than a sledge-hammer. His faith was no mere little seed of mustard, but a full-fledged forest singing its message in a wind of thunder. He shouted it aloud to the world.

I think the acid disappointment that lies beneath that trite old phrase "a broken heart" was never really his; for indeed it seemed that his cruel, ludicrous failure merely served to strengthen hope and purpose by making him seek for a better method of imparting what he had to say. In the end he learned the bitter lesson to the full. But faith never trailed a single feather. Those jeering audiences in the Park; those empty benches in many a public hall, those brief, ignoring paragraphs in the few newspapers that filled a vacant corner by labeling him crank and long-haired prophet; even the silence that greeted his pamphlets, his letters to the Press, and all the rest, hurt him for others rather than for himself. His pain was altruistic, never personal. His dream and motive, his huge, unwieldy compassion, his genuine love for humanity, all were big enough for that.

And so, I think, he missed the personal mortification that disappointment so deep might bring to dreamers with an aim less unadulteratedly pure. His eye was single to the end. He attributed only the highest motives to all who offered help. The very quacks and fools who flocked to his banner, eager to exploit their smaller fads by joining them to his own, he welcomed, only regretting that, as Stahl had warned him, he could not attract a better class of mind. He did not even see through the manoeuvres of the occasional women of wealth and title who sought to conceal their own mediocrity by advertising in their drawing-rooms the eccentricities of men like himself. And to the end he had the courage of his glorious convictions.

The change of method that he learned at last, moreover, was characteristic of this faith and courage.

"I've begun at the wrong end," he said; "I shall never reach men through their intellects. Their brains today are occupied by the machine-made gods of civilization. I cannot change the direction of their thoughts and lusts from outside; the momentum is too great to stop that way. I must get at them from within. To reach their hearts, the new ideas must rise up from within. I see the truer way. I must do it from the other side. It must come to them--in Beauty."

For he was to the last convinced that death would merge him in the being of the Earth's Collective Consciousness, and that, lost in her deep eternal beauty, he thus might reach the hearts of men in some stray glimpse of nature's loveliness, and register his flaming message. He loved to quote from Adonais:

"He is made one with Nature: there is heard: His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night's sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known
In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,

Spreading itself where'er that Power may move
Which has withdrawn his being to its own.
He is a portion of the loveliness
Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear
His part, while the one Spirit's plastic stress
Sweeps through the dull dense world..."

And this thought, phrased in a dozen different ways, was always on his lips. To dream was right and useful, even to dream alone, because the beauty of the dream must add to the beauty of the Whole of which it is a part and an interpretation. It was not really lost or vain. All must come back in time to feed the world. He had known gracious thoughts of Earth too big to utter, almost too big to hold. Such thoughts could not ever be really told; they were incommunicable. For the mystical revelation is incommunicable. It has authority only for him who feels it. A corporate revelation is impossible. Only those among men could know, in whose hearts it rose intuitively and made its presence felt as innate ideas. Inspiration brings it, and beauty is the vehicle. Their hearts must change before their minds could be reached.

"I can work it better from the other side--from that old, old Garden which is the Mother's heart. In this way I can help at any rate...!"

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