List Of Contents | Contents of The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood
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familiar loveliness against which my subsequent disillusion of the
homeland set itself in such afflicting contrast. I remember, as we
entered the dim hall, the carriage lamps fell on, the flowering
horse-chestnut by the door; the bats were flitting; a big white moth
whirred softly against the brilliant glass as though you and I were
after it again with nets and killing-bottles. . .  and, helping mother out,
I noticed, besides her smallness, how slow and aged her movements were.

"Mother, let me help you. That's what I've come home for," I said,
feeling for her little hand. And she replied so quietly, so calmly it
was almost frigid, "Thank you, dear boy; your arm, perhaps--a moment.
They are so stupid about the lamps in the hall, I've had to speak so
often. There, now! It is an awkward step." I felt myself a giant beside
her. She seemed so tiny now. There was something very strong in her
silence and her calm; and though a portion of me liked it, another
portion resented it and felt afraid. Her attitude was like a refusal, a
denial, a refusal to live, a denial of life almost. A tinge of
depression, not far removed from melancholy, stole over my spirit. The
change in me, I realized then, indeed, was radical.

Now, lest this narrative should seem confused, you must understand that
my disillusions with regard to England were realized subsequently, when
I had moved about the counties, paid many solid visits, and tasted the
land and people in some detail. And the disappointment was the keener
owing to the fact that very soon after my arrival in the old Home Place,
the "thrill" came to me with a direct appeal that was disconcerting. For
coming unexpectedly, as it did, in this familiar scene where yet
previously I had never known it, it had the effect of marking the change
in me with a certainty from which there was no withdrawal possible. It
standardized this change. The new judgment was made uncompromisingly
clear; people and places must inevitably stand or fall by it. And the
first to fall--since the test lies beyond all control of affection or
respect--was our own dear, faithful mother.

You share my reverence and devotion, so you will feel no pain that I
would dishonour a tie that is sacred to us both in the old Bible sense.
But, also, you know what a sturdy and typical soul of England she has
proved herself, and that a sense of beauty is not, alas, by any stretch
of kindliest allowance, a national characteristic. Culture and knowledge
we may fairly claim, no doubt, but the imaginative sense of beauty is o
rare among us that its possession is a peculiarity good form would
suppress. It is a pose, an affectation, it is unmanly--it is not
English. We are too strong to thrill. And that one so near and dear to
me, so honoured and so deeply loved, should prove herself to my new
standard thus typically English, while it came as sharpest pain, ought
not, I suppose, to have caused me the surprise it did. It made me aware,
however, of the importance of my new criterion, while at the same time
aware of a lack of sympathy between us that amounted to disenchantment.
It was a shock, to put it plainly. A breath of solitude, of isolation,
stole on me and, close behind it, melancholy.

From the smallest clue imaginable the truth came into me, from a clue so
small, indeed, that you may smile to think I dared draw such big
deductions from premises so insignificant. You will probably deny me a
sense of humour even when you hear. So let me say at once, before you
judge me hastily, that the words, and the incident which drew them
forth, were admittedly inadequate to the deduction. Only, mark this,
please--I drew no deduction. Reason played no part. Cause and effect
were unrelated. It was simply that the truth flashed into me. I knew.

What did I know? Perhaps that the gulf between us lay as wide as that
between the earth and Sirius; perhaps that we were, individually, of a
kind so separate, so different, that mutual understanding was
impossible; perhaps that while she was of To-day and proud of it, I was
of another time, another century, and proud of that. I cannot say
precisely. Her words, while they increased my sense of isolation, of
solitude, of melancholy, at the same time also made me laugh, as
assuredly they will now make you laugh.

For, while she was behind me in the morning-room, fingering some letters
on the table, I stood six feet away beside the open window, listening to
the nightingales--the English nightingales--that sang across the quiet
garden in the dusk. The high-pitched clamour of the jungle choruses with
their monstrous turmoil, their prolific detail, came back to me in
startling contrast. This exquisite and delicious sound I now heard
belonged still to England. And it had not changed. "No hungry
generations tread thee down. . ." rose in some forgotten corner of my
mind, and my yearning that would be satisfied moved forth to catch the

"Listen, mother," I said, turning towards her.

She raised her head and smiled a little before reading the rest of the
letter that she held.

"I only pray they won't keep you awake, dear boy," she answered gently.
"They give us very little peace, I'm afraid, just now."

Perhaps she caught some expression in my face, for she added a trifle
more quickly: "That's the worst of the spring--our English spring--it
is so noisy!" Still smiling, she picked up her letter again, while I,
though still listening by the window, heard only the harsh scream and
rattle of the jungle voices, thousands and thousands of miles away
across the world.


IT was some little time after my arrival, as I shall presently relate,
that the experience I call the thrill came to me in England--and,
like all its predecessors, came through Nature. It came, that is,
through the only apparatus I possessed as yet that could respond.

The point, I think, is of special interest; I note it now, on looking
back upon the series as a whole, though at the time I did not note

For, compared with yourself at any rate, the aesthetic side of me is
somewhat raw; of pictures, sculpture, music I am untaught and
ignorant; with other Philistines, I "know what I like," but nothing
more. It is the honest but uncultured point of view. I am that
primitive thing, the mere male animal. It was my love of Nature,
therefore, that showed me beauty, since this was the only apparatus
in my temperament able to respond. Natural, simple things, as before,
were the channel through which beauty appealed to that latent store
of love and wisdom in me which, it almost seemed, were being slowly

The talks and intimacies with our mother, then, were largely over; the
re-knitting of an interrupted relationship was fairly accomplished;
she had asked her questions, and listened to my answers. All the
dropped threads had been picked up again, so that a pattern, similar
to the one laid aside, now lay spread more or less comfortably before
us. Outwardly, things seemed much as they were when I left home so
many years ago. One might have thought the interval had been one of
months, since her attitude refused to recognize all change, and
change, qud growth, was abhorrent to her type.  For whereas I had
altered, she had remained unmoved.

So unsatisfying was this state of things to me, however, that I felt
unable to confide my deepest, as now I can do easily to you--so that
during these few days of intercourse renewed, we had said, it seemed,
all that was to be said with regard to the past. My health was most
lovingly discussed, and then my immediate and remoter future. I was
aware of this point of view--that I was, of course, her own dear son,
but that I was also England's son. She was intensely patriotic in the
insular sense; my soul, I mean, belonged to the British Empire rather
than to humanity and the world at large. Doubtless, a very right and
natural way to look at things. . . . She expressed a real desire to "see
your photographs, my boy, of those outlandish places where they sent
you"; then, having asked certain questions about the few women
(officers' wives and so forth) who appeared in some of them, she
leaned back in her chair, and gave me her very definite hopes about
"my value to the country," my "duty to the family traditions," even
to the point, finally, of suggesting Parliament, in what she termed
with a certain touch of pride and dignity, "the true Conservative

"Men like yourself, Richard, are sorely needed now," she added,
looking at me with a restrained admiration; "I am sure the Party
would nominate you for this Constituency that your father and your
grandfather both represented before you. At any rate, they shall not
put you on the shelf!"

And before I went to bed--it was my second or third night, I
think--she had let me see plainly another hope that was equally dear
to her: that I should marry again.  There was an ominous reference to
my "ample means," a hint of regret that, since you were unavailable,
and Eva dead, our branch of the family could not continue to improve
the eastern counties and the world. At the back of her mind, indeed, I
think there hovered definite names, for a garden party in my honour
was suggested for the following week, to which the Chairman of the
Local Conservatives would come, and where various desirable
neighbours would be only too proud to make my acquaintance and press
my colonial and distinguished fingers.

In the interval between my arrival and the "experience" I shall
presently describe, I had meanwhile renewed my acquaintance with the
countryside. The emotions, however, I anticipated, had even cherished
and eagerly looked forward to, had not materialized. There was a
chill of disappointment over me. For the beauty I had longed for
seemed here so thickly veiled; and more than once I surprised in my
heart a certain regret that I had come home at all. I caught myself
thinking of that immense and trackless country I had left; I even
craved it sometimes, both physically and mentally, as though, for all
its luscious grossness, it held something that nourished and
stimulated, something large, free and untamed that was lacking in this
orderly land, so neatly fenced and parcelled out at home.

The imagined richness of my return, at any rate, was unfulfilled; the
tie with our mother, though deep, was uninspiring; while that other
more subtle and intangible link I had fondly dreamed might be
strengthened, if not wholly proved, was met with a flat denial that
seemed to classify it as nonexistent. Hope, in this particular
connection, returned upon me, blank and unrewarded. . . . The familiar
scenes woke no hint of pain, much less of questing sweetness. The
glamour of association did not operate.  No personal link was

And, when I visited the garden we had known together, the shady path
beneath the larches; saw, indeed, the very chairs that she and I had
used, the framed portrait in the morning-room, the harp itself, now
set with its limp and broken strings in my own chamber--I was unaware
of any ghostly thrill; least of all could I feel that "somebody was

Excursion farther afield deepened the disenchantment. The gorse was
out upon the Common, that Common where we played as boys, thinking it
vast and wonderful with the promise of high adventure behind every
prickly clump. The vastness, of course, was gone, but the power of
suggestion had gone likewise. It was merely a Common that deserved
its name. For though this was but the close of May, I found it worn
into threadbare patches, with edges unravelled like those of some old
carpet in a seaside lodging-house. The lanes that fed it were already
thick with dust as in thirsty August, and instead of eglantine,
wild-roses, and the rest, a smell of petrol hung upon hedges that
were quite lustreless. On the crest of the hill, whence we once
thought the view included heaven, I stood by those beaten pines we
named The Fort, counting jagged bits of glass and scraps of faded
newspaper that marred the bright green of the sprouting bracken.

This glorious spot, once sacred to our dreams, was like a great
backyard--the Backyard of the County--while the view we loved as the
birthplace of all possible adventure, seemed to me now without
spaciousness or distinction. The trees and hedges cramped the little
fields and broke their rhythm. No great winds ever swept them clean.
The landscape was confused: there was no adventure in it, suggestion
least of all. Everything had already happened there.

And on my way home, resentful perhaps yet eager still, I did a
dreadful thing.  Possibly I hoped still for that divine sensation
which refused to come. I visited the very field, the very poplar . . .
I found the scene quite unchanged, but found it also--lifeless.  The
glamour of association did not operate. I knew no poignancy, desire
lay inert.  The thrill held stubbornly aloof. No link was
strengthened. . . . I came home slowly, thinking instead of my mother's
plans and wishes for me, and of the clear intention to incorporate me
in the stolid and conventional formulas of what appeared to me as
uninspired English dullness. My disappointment crystallized into
something like revolt. A faint hostility even rose in me as we sat
together, talking of politics, of the London news just come to hand,
of the neighbours, of the weather too. I was conscious of opposition
to her stereotyped plans, and of resentment towards the lack of
understanding in her. I would shake free and follow beauty. The
yearning, for want of sympathy, and the hunger, for lack of
sustenance, grew very strong and urgent in me.

I longed passionately just then for beauty--and for that revelation of
it which included somewhere the personal emotion of a strangely eager


THIS, then, was somewhat my state of mind, when, after our late tea on
the verandah, I strolled out on to the lawn to enjoy my pipe in the
quiet of the garden paths. I felt dissatisfied and disappointed, yet
knew not entirely perhaps, the reason. I wished to be alone, but was
hungry for companionship as well. Mother saw me go and watched
attentively, but said no word, merely following me a moment with her
eyes above the edge of the Times she read, as of old, during the hours
between tea and dinner. The Spectator, her worldly Bible, lay ready to
her hand when the Times should have been finished. They were,
respectively, as always, her dictionary of opinion, and her
medicine-chest. Before I had gone a dozen yards, her head disappeared
behind the printed sheet again. The roses flowed between us.

I felt her following glance, as I felt also its withdrawal. Then I
forgot her. . . . A touch of melancholy stole on me, as the garden took me
in its charge. For a garden is a ghostly place, and an old-world garden,
above all, leads thought backwards among vanished memories rather than
forward among constructive hopes and joys.

I yielded, in any case, a little to this subtle pressure from the past,
and I must have strolled among the lilac and laburnums for a longer time
than I knew, since the gardener who had been trimming the flower-beds

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