List Of Contents | Contents of The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood
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stood behind her while she lived. It stands behind not only her, but
equally behind all those peerless, exquisite manifestations of self-less
love that give bountifully of their best without hope or expectation of
reward in kind. No human love of this description, though it find no
object to receive it, nor one single flower that "wastes" its sweetness
on the desert air, but acknowledges this inexhaustible and spendthrift
source. Its evidence lies strewn so thick, so prodigally, about our
world, that not one among us, whatever his surroundings and conditions,
but sooner or later must encounter at least one marvellous instance of
its uplifting presence. Some at once acknowledge the exquisite flash and
are aware; others remain blind and deaf, till some experience, probably
of pain, shall have prepared and sensitized their receptive quality. To
all, however, one day, comes the magical appeal. As in my own case,
there was apparently some kind of preparation before I grew conscious of
that hunger for beauty which, awakening intuition, opened the heart to
truth and so to wisdom. It then came softly, delicately, whispering like
the dawn, yet rich with a promise I could, at first, not easily fathom,
though as sure of fulfilment as that promise of day that steals upon the
world when night is passing.

I have tried to tell you something of this mystery. I cannot add to
that. I was lifted, as it were, towards some region or some state of
being, wherein I was momentarily aware of a vaster outlook upon life, of
a deeper insight into the troubles of my fellow-creatures, where,
indeed, there burst upon me a comprehension of life's pains and
difficulties so complete that I may best describe it as that full
understanding which involves also full forgiveness, and that sympathy
which is love, God's love.

This exaltation passed, of course, with the passing of the thrill that
made it possible; it was truly instantaneous; a point of ecstasy,
perhaps, in some category not of time at all, but of some state of
consciousness that lifted me above, outside of, self. But it was real,
as a thunderstorm is real. For, with this glimpse of beauty that I call
the "thrill," I touched, for an instant so brief that it seemed timeless
in the sense of having no duration, a pinnacle of joy, of vision, beyond
anything attainable by desire or by. intellect alone. I stood aware of
power, wisdom, love; and more, this power, wisdom, love were mine to
draw upon and use, not in some future heaven, but here and now.


I RETURNED to England with an expectant hunger born of this love of
beauty that was now ingrained in me. I came home with the belief that
my yearning would be satisfied in a deeper measure; and more--that,
somehow, it would be justified and explained. I may put it plainly,
if only to show how difficult this confession would have been to any
one but yourself; it sounds so visionary from a mere soldier and man
of action such as I am. For my belief included a singular dream that,
in the familiar scenes I now revisited, some link, already half
established, would be strengthened, and might probably be realized,
even proved.

In Africa, as you know, I had been set upon the clue at home in
England. Among the places and conditions where this link had been
first established in the flesh, must surely come a fuller revelation.
Beauty, the channel of my inspiration, but this time the old sweet
English beauty, so intimate, so woven through with the fresh wonder
of earliest childhood days, would reveal the cause of my first
failure to respond, and so, perhaps, the intention of those final
pathetic sentences that still haunted me with their freight of
undelivered meaning. In England, T believed, my "thrill" must bring
authentic revelation.

I came back, that precarious entity, a successful man. I was to be
that thing we used to laugh about together in your Cambridge days, a
distinguished personality; I should belong to the breed of little
lions. Yet, during the long, tedious voyage, I realized that this
held no meaning for me; I did not feel myself a little lion, the idea
only proved that the boy in me was not yet dead. My one desire,
though inarticulate until this moment of confessing it, was to renew
the thrills, and so to gather from an intenser, sweeter beauty some
measure of greater understanding they seemed to promise. It was a
personal hope, a personal desire; and, deep at the heart of it,
Memory, passionate though elusive, flashed her strange signal of a
personal love. In this dream that mocked at time, this yearning that
forgot the intervening years, I nursed the impossible illusion that,
somehow or other, I should become aware of Marion.

Now, I have treated you in this letter as though you were a woman who
reads a novel, for in my first pages I have let you turn to the end
and see that the climax is a happy one, lest you should faint by the
way and close my story with a yawn. You need not do that, however,
since you already know this in advance. You will bear with me, too,
when I tell you that my return to England was in the nature of a
failure that, at first, involved sharpest disappointment. I was
unaware, as a whole, of the thrills I had anticipated with such
longing. The sweet picture of English loveliness I had cherished with
sentimental passion during my long exile hardly materialized.

That I was not a lion, but an insignificant quasi-colonial adventurer
among many others, may have sprinkled acid upon my daily diet of
sensation, but you will do me the justice to believe that this
wounded vanity was the smallest item in my disenchantment. Ten years,
especially in primitive, godforsaken Africa, is a considerable
interval; I found the relationship between myself and my beloved
home-land changed, and in an unexpected way.

I was not missed for one thing, I had been forgotten. Except from our
mother and yourself, I had no welcome. But, apart from this immediate
circle, and apart from the deep, comfortable glow experienced at the
first sight of the "old country," I found England and the English
dull, conventional, and uninspired. There was no poignancy.  The
habits and the outlook stood precisely where I had left them. The
English had not moved. They played golf as of yore, they went to the
races at the appointed time and in the appointed garb, they gave
heavy dinner-parties, they wrote letters to the Times, and ignored an
outside world beyond their island. Their estimate of themselves and
of foreigners remained unaltered, their estimate of rich or
influential neighbours was what it always had been, there were many
more motor-cars and a few more peers, it was more difficult than
formerly to get into a good club; but otherwise, God bless them, they
were worthier than ever. The "dear old country," that which "out
there" we had loved and venerated, worked and fought for, was stolid
and unshaken; the stream of advancing life that elsewhere rushed, had
left England complaisantly unmoved and unresponsive.

You have no idea how vividly--and in what curious minor details--the
general note of England strikes a traveller returning after an
interval of years. Later, of course, the single impression is
modified and obscured by other feelings. I give it, therefore, before
it was forgotten. England had not budged. Had it been winter instead
of early spring, I might sum up for you what I mean in one short
sentence: I travelled to London in a third-class railway carriage
that had no heating apparatus.

But to all this, and with a touch of something akin to pride in me, I
speedily adjusted myself. I had been exiled, I had come home. As our
old nurse, aged and withered, but otherwise unaltered, said to me
quietly by way of greeting: "Well, they didn't kill you, Master
Richard!" I was, therefore, alive. It was for me, the unimportant
atom, to recover my place in the parent mass. I did so. I was
English. I recovered proportion. I wore the accustomed mask; I hid
both my person and my new emotions, as was obviously expected of me.
Having reported my insignificance to the Foreign Office. . . . I came
down to the Manor House.

Yet, having changed, and knowing that I had changed, I was aware of a
cleft between me and my native stock. Something un-English was alive
in me and eager to assert itself. Another essence in my blood had
quickened, a secret yearning that I dared not mention to my kind, a
new hunger in my heart that clamoured to be satisfied, yet remained,
speaking generally, un-nourished. Looking for beauty among my
surroundings and among my kith and kin, I found it not; there was no
great Thrill from England or from home. The slowness, the absence of
colour, imagination, rhythm, baffled me, while the ugliness of common
things and common usages afflicted my new sensitiveness. Not that I
am peculiarly alert to beauty, nor claim superior perception--I am no
artist, either by virtue of vision or power of expression--but that a
certain stagnant obtuseness, a kind of sordid and conservative
veneration of the ugly that the English favour, distressed and even
tortured me in a way I had never realized formerly. They were so
proud to live without perception. An artist was a curiosity, not a
leader, far less a prophet. There was no imagination.

In little things, as I said, a change was manifest, however. Much that
tradition had made lovely with the perfume of many centuries I found
modernized until the ancient spirit had entirely fled, leaving a
shell that was artificial to the point of being false. The sanction
of olden time that used to haunt with beauty was deceived by a mockery
I found almost hideous. The ancient inns, for instance, adapted to
week-end motor traffic, were pretentious and uncomfortable, their
"menus" of inferior food written elaborately in French. The
courtliness had vanished, and the cost had come.  Telephones
everywhere not only destroyed privacy, but brought dismay into
countless gentle intimacies, their nuisance hardly justified by their
usefulness. Life, it seemed, in a frantic hurry, had been cheapened,
not improved; there was no real progress, but only more unrest.
England--too solid to go fast, had made ungainly efforts; but she had
moved towards ungraciousness where she had moved at all; I found her
a cross between a museum and an American mushroom town that
advertises all the modern comforts with a violent insistence that is
meant to cloak their very absence.

This, my first impression, toned down, of course, a little later; but
it was my first impression. The people, however, even in the
countryside, seemed proud both of mushroom and museum, and commercial
ugliness, greedy and unashamed, now distorted every old-world
village. The natives were pleased to the point of vanity.

For myself, I could not manage this atrocious compromise, and looking
for the dear old England of our boyhood days, I found it not. The
change, of course, was not in the country only, but in myself. The
soul in me, awakened to a new standard, had turned round to face
another way.

The Manor House was very still when I arrived from London--& late May
evening between the sunset and the dark. Mother, as you know, met me
at the station, for they had stopped the down-train by special
orders, so that I stepped out upon the deserted platform of the
countryside quite alone, a distinguished man, with my rug and
umbrella. A strange footman touched his hat, an old, stooping porter
stared hard at me, then smiled vaguely, while the guard, eyeing
respectfully the individual for whom his train had halted, waved his
red flag, and swung himself into the disappearing van with the
approved manner we once thought marvellous. I left the empty
platform, gave up my ticket to an untidy boy, and crossed the gloomy
booking-hall. The mournfulness of the whole place was depressing. I
heard a blackbird whistle in a bush against the signal-box. It seemed
to scream.

Mother I first saw, seated in the big barouche. She was leaning back,
but sat forwards as I came. She looked into my face across the wide
interval of years now ended, and my heart gave a great boyish leap,
then sank into stillness again abruptly.  She seemed to me exactly
the same as usual--only so much smaller. We embraced with a kind of

"So here you are, my boy, at last," I heard her say in a quiet voice,
and as though she had seen me a month or two ago, "and very, very
tired, I'll be bound."

I took my seat beside her. I felt awkward, stiff, self-conscious;
there was disappointment somewhere.

"Oh, I'm all right, mother, thanks," I answered. "But how are you?" And
the next moment, it seemed to me, I heard her asking if I was hungry;--
whereupon, absurd as it must sound, I was aware of an immense emotion
that interfered with my breathing. It broke up through some repressive
layer that had apparently concealed it, and made me feel--well, had I
been thirty-five years younger, I could have cried--for pleasure.
Mother, I think, forgot those years perhaps. To her I was still in
overalls and wanted food. We drove, then, in comparative silence the
four miles behind the big pair of greys, the only remark that memory
credits me with being an enquiry about the identity of the coachman
whose dim outline I saw looming in the darkness just above me. The
lamplight showed one shoulder, one arm, one ear, the rest concealed; but
the way he drove was, of course, unmistakeable; slowly, more cautiously,
perhaps, but with the same flourish of the whip, the same air of untold
responsibility as ever. And, will you believe it, my chief memory of all
that scene of anticipated tenderness and home-emotion is the few words
he gave in reply to my enquiry and recognition when at length the
carriage stopped and I got out:

"Well, Brown, I'm glad to see you again. All well at home, I hope?"
followed by something of sympathy about his beloved horses.

He looked down sideways at me from the box, touching his cockade with
the long yellow whip in his thick, gloved hand. I can hear his warm,
respectful answer now; I can see the gleam of proud pleasure in his eye:

"Yes, sir, thank you, Sir Richard, and glad to see you back again, sir,
and with such success upon you."

I moved back to help our mother out. I remember thinking how calm, how
solid, how characteristically inarticulate it all was. Did I wish it
otherwise? I think not. Only there was something in me beating its wings
impatiently like a wild bird that felt the bars close round it. . . .
Mother, I realized, could not have said even what the old coachman had
said to save her life, and I remember wondering what would move her into
the expression of natural joy. All that half-hour, as the hoofs echoed
along the silence of the country road, and the old familiar woods and
fields slid past, no sign of deep emotion had escaped her. She had asked
if I was hungry. . . .

And then the smells! The sweet, faint garden smell in the English
twilight:--of laurels and laurestinus, of lilac, pinks, and the heavy
scent of May, wall-flowers and sweet william too--these, with the
poignant aroma of the old childhood house, were the background of

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