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A SYRUP OF THE BEES
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT
F. W. BAIN
Love was the wine, and Jealousy the lees,
Bitter of brine, and syrup of the bees.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
The Knickerbocker Press
F. W. BAIN
MRS. THEODORE BECK
THE Young Barbarians, when Rome's ecclesiastical polity got hold of them, were persuaded by their anxious foster-mother to sell their Scandinavian birthright of imagination for an unintelligible, theopathic mess of mystic Græco-Syrian pottage. But the "demons," though driven generally from the field, lurked about in holes and corners, watching their opportunity. They took refuge in by-paths, leaving the high road: they lay in ambush in a thicket, whence nothing ever could dislodge them: that of fairy tales and fables.
In India, the "demons," i.e., the fairy tales and fables, have never had to hide. But the fairy tales of India differ from the fairy tales of England, much as their fairies do themselves. The fairies of Europe are children, little people: and it is to children that fairy stories are addressed. The child is the agent, as well as the appeal. In India it is otherwise; the fairy stories are addressed to the grown-up, and the fairies resemble their audience: they are grown up too. They form an intermediate, and, so to say, irresponsible class of beings, half-way between the mortals and the gods. These last two are very serious things: they have their work to do: not so the fairies, who exist as it were for the sake of existence" art for art's sake" — and have nothing to do but what people who have nothing to do always do do — to get themselves and other people into mischief. They are distinguished by three noteworthy characteristics. In the first place, they are possessors of the sciences, i.e., magic, and this it is which gives them their proper name (Widyádhara),1 which is almost equivalent to our wizard. Secondly, every Widyádhara can change his shape at will into anything he pleases: they are all shape-changers (Kámarupa). And finally, their element is air: they live in the air, and are thus denominated, sky-goers, sky-roomers, air-wanderers, in innumerable synonyms. These are the peculiar attributes of the fairies of Ind.
Like many other persons in India (and out of it) who are far from being either fairies or wizards, they are extraordinarily touchy, and violently resentful of scorn or slight: things not nice to anybody, but the Wizards are not Christians and generally take dire revenge. A very trifling provocation will set them in a flame. The Widyádharí lady is jealousy incarnate. Jealousy, be it noted, is a thing that many people much misunderstand. Ask anyone the question, where in literature is jealousy best illustrated, and ninety-nine people in a hundred will reply, Othello. But, as Pushkin excellently says, Othello is not naturally a jealous man at all: he is his exact antipodes, a confiding, unsuspicious nature.2 Jealousy not only distrusts on evidence; it distrusts before evidence and without it; it anticipates evidence and condemns without a trial: it does not wait even for "trifles light as air," but constructs them for itself out of nonentity. Its essence is causeless and irrational suspicion. Your true jealous nature never trusts anything or anybody for an instant. Othello is of noble soul: no jealous man ever was or could be. With women, it is not quite the same; but even here, real nobility of character excludes the possibility of jealousy, because it trusts, until it is deceived, and then its glass is shattered, and its love gone beyond recall: sympathy is annihilated. Compare Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth: the one, the noblest, the other, the meanest creature that ever sat upon a throne. Mary trusted even Darnley till she discovered that he was beneath every sentiment but one. Good Queen Bess never trusted anyone at all. Mauvaise espèce de femme!
And so, they are not much to be depended on, these Wizards; anybody taking up with one of them, male or female, had better be careful. You can never tell where you are with them; their affection is unstable; they are fickle, as might be expected from creatures of the air; their feelings are as variable as their shapes. They can be just as hideously ugly as unimaginably beautiful. The stories that deal with them contain a moral entirely in harmony with all Indian ideas: it is a mistake not to stick to your own caste. When two of different castes are thrown together, the trouble inevitably begins. The gipsies, who came apparently from Sind, brought this notion into Europe, in a form not previously familiar to it. That difference of kind is insurmountable, is the fundamental axiom of Indian theory and practice. The owl to the owl, the crow to the crow: otherwise, Nemesis and catastrophe. A Syrup of the Bees3 is another instance.
Everywhere to-day we hear people singing a very different song: from all sides is dinned into our ears the cant of humanity, "our common humanity." In the meantime, men differ in many ways more than they agree, and the differences of humanity are practically far more vital than the common base. Just as, though all men have weight, yet gravitation simply by reason of its universality does not constitute an element of politics, and is altogether a negligible quantity, fact though it be, so is it with humanity: the generic identity is nothing, the peculiar distinctions all. The world is not like a plain, but an irregular region such as that of the Alps or Himalayas, consisting of inaccessible peaks that separate deep valleys, at the bottom of which live parcels of humanity drowned in thick fogs or mists of totally different colours and intensities, that distort and transmogrify everything they see: so that if here and there any single individual succeeds in climbing, by dint of toil or special circumstances, to the tops, where in the clear ether all the situation lies spread out in its truth before his eye, he will find that he has thereby only cut himself absolutely off from communion and sympathy, not only with the denizens of his own valley, but that of all the others too. From that moment he ceases to be intelligible to the rest. No reasoning of his can ever touch them, or succeed in opening their eyes, because their error is not one of reason, but of perception: they cannot, because they do not, see things as he sees them: the mists,4 with all their refraction and delusive transformation, are always there. Say what he will, he will not awake them: he will gain nothing in return for all his efforts but ridicule, abuse, or neglect. So Disraeli, in his generation, seemed to himself to be like one pouring, from a golden goblet, water upon sand. To be above the level of humanity is to be counted, till after you are dead, as one who is below.
And this is the exact condition in the India of to-day. The irony of fate has thrown together, as though by some vast geological convulsion, the dwellers in two valleys, one of whom sees everything through, so to say, a red mist, and the other through a blue: they move about and mix in a way together, totally unable to see things in the same light: and all the while this melancholy cuckoo-cry of common humanity fills the air with its reiteration, and people persist in handling the situation with a wilful and almost criminal determination to ignore what stares them in the face, and by so doing, still further accentuate the very thing they will not see. If you take two men who are infinitely far from being brothers, and forcibly unite them on the pretext that they are, you will produce by irritation an enmity between them that would never have existed, had they been let alone.
I stood, a little while since, on the very edge of a plateau, that fell down sheer four thousand feet or more, into the valley of Mysore. Far in the distance to the north, the dense dark green forest jungle stretched away like a carpet, intersected here and there by Moyar's silver streams, with here and there a velvet boss, where a rounded hill stood up out of the plain. That carpet, as it seemed from the height, so uniform and close in its texture, is made of great trees, under which wander wild elephants in herds. To right and left, the valley ran both ways out of sight, like a monster chasm with one side removed. And in the air below, above, around, light wreaths and ragged fragments of cloud and mist floated and streamed and drifted, casting the most beautifully deep blue shifting shadows not only on the earth, but on the air, like waterfalls of colour, half hiding and half framing the distant view, and cutting the sunlight into intermittent fountains of a golden semi-purple rain that fell and changed, now here, now there, now, as you looked upon them, gone, now suddenly shooting out elsewhere to transform every colour that they touched into something other than it was, like a magic show suddenly thrown out by the Creator in the silent and unfrequented solitude of his hills, for sheer delight and as it were simply for his own amusement, not caring in the least whether there might be any eye open to catch and worship such a beautiful profusion of his power, or not. For, strange! the spell and mysterious appeal of all such momentary glimpses lies, not in what you see, but in what you do not hear: it is the dead silence, the stillness, that by a paradox seems to be the undertone, or background, of moving mist and lonely mountain peaks.
So as I stood, gazing, there came suddenly from the east, a whisper, a mutter; a low sound that suggested a distant mixture of wind and sea. And I turned round, and looked, and I saw a sight that I never shall see again; such a sight as a man can hardly expect to see twice, in the time of a single life. Rain — but was it rain? — rain in a terrific wall, a dark precipice of appalling gloom, rain that rose like a colossal curtain from earth to heaven and north to south, was coming up the valley straight towards me, and it struck me, as I saw it, with a thrill that was almost dread. That was what the people saw, long ago, when the Deluge suddenly came upon them. It came on, steadily, swiftly, like a thing with orders to carry out, and a purpose to fulfil, cutting the valley athwart with the edge of its solid front, sharp as that of a knife laid on a slice of bread: a black ominous mass of elemental obliteration, out of which there came a voice like the rushing of a flood and the beating of wings, mixed with a kind of wail, like the noise of the cordage of a ship, in a gale at sea. It blotted out creation, and in the phrase of old Herodotus, day suddenly became night. A moment later, I stood in whirling rain and fog that made sight useless a yard away, as wet as one just risen from the sea, with a soul on the very verge of cursing the Creator, for so abruptly dropping the curtain on his show: forgetting, in my ingratitude, first, the favour he had done me; secondly, how many were those who had not seen; lastly, and above all, that it was the very dropping of that stupendous curtain that gave its finishing touch and climax to the show. For he knows best, after all. Introduce into Nature were it but a single atom of stint, of parsimony, of preservation, of regret for loss; and the power, and with it, the sublimity of the infinite is gone. Were Nature to pose, to attitudinise for contemplation, even for the fraction of a second, she would annihilate the condition on which reposes all her charm. Ruthless destruction, even of her own choicest works, is the badge of her inexhaustible omnipotence: add but a touch of pity, and you fall back to the littleness and feebleness of man.
And I mused, as I departed: How can that be communicated to others, which cannot even be described at all? And if so, in the things of the body, how much more with the things of the soul? Who shall convey to the souls that stumble and jostle in the foggy valleys, any glimpse of the visions, denied to them, above; any spark of comprehension of the things that they might discern, on the tops of the pure and silent hills, that stand uncomprehended, kissing heaven above the fog?
1 Some kindly critics of these stories have objected to the W, here or elsewhere. The answer to this is, that European scholars have taught everybody to pronounce everything wrong, by, e.g., introducing into Sanskrit a letter that it does not contain. There is no V in Sanskrit, nor can any Hindoo, without special training, pronounce it: he says, for instance, walwe for valve.
2 This "detached reflection" of Russia's national poet is endorsed by Dostoyeffsky, the greatest master of jealousy that the world has ever seen.
3 The title has a secondary meaning (with reference to its place in the series), she that is loaded with the nectar of Maheshwara, i. e., the moon that he wears.
4 No mere learning will remove them. Pundits, as a rule, end where they began, "lost in the gloom of uninspired research."
And I rove on the breeze with the world of bees
like the shadow of a bee:
For a dead moonflower which the worms devour
is the tomb of the soul of me.
O the hum of the bees in the mango trees
it murmurs taboo! taboo!
Should a dead moonflower which the worms devour
smell sweet as the mangoes do?
What! shall I deem my flower a dream
when I do find, each morn,
Wet honey sips left on my lips,
and in my heart, a thorn?