P. WYNDHAM LEWIS
THE EGOIST LTD.
23 ADELPHI TERRACE HOUSE, W.C.
THE COMPLETE PRESS
WEST NORWOOD, S.E.
L’ouvrage eust été moins mien: et sa fin principale etperfection, c’est d’estre exactement mien. Je corrigeroisbien une erreur accidentale, dequoy je suis plain,ainsi que je cours inadvertemment; mais les imperfectionsqui sont en moy ordinaires et constantes,ce seroit trahison de les oster. Quand on m’a dit ouque moy-mesme me suis dict: “Tu es trop espais enfigures: Voilà un mot du cru de Gascoingne: Voilàune frase dangereuse (je n’en refuis aucune de cellesqui s’usent emmy les rues françoises; ceux qui veulentcombattre l’usage par la grammaire se mocquent):Voilà un discours ignorant: Voilà un discours paradoxe:En voilà un trop fol. [Tu te joues souvent, on estimeraque tu dies à droit ce que tu dis à feinte.]—Ouy, fais-je,mais je corrige les fautes d’inadvertence non cellesde coustume. Est-ce pas ainsi que je parle par tout?Me represente-je pas vivement? suffit.”
Montaigne, Liv. III, ch. v.
Le plus simplement se commettre à nature, c’ests’y commettre la plus sagement. O que c’est undoux et mol chevet, et sain, que l’ignorance etl’incuriosité, à reposer une teste bien faicte!
Montaigne, Liv. II, ch. xiii, “De l’expérience.”
|II.||DOOMED, EVIDENTLY. THE “FRAC”||65|
|IV.||A JEST TOO DEEP FOR LAUGHTER||150|
|V.||A MEGRIM OF HUMOUR||199|
This book was begun eight years ago; so I havenot produced this disagreeable German for thegratification of primitive partisanship aroused by thewar. On the other hand, having had him up mysleeve for so long, I let him out at this moment inthe undisguised belief that he is very apposite. I amincidentally glad to get rid of him. He has been onmy conscience (my conscience as an artist, it is true)for a long time.
The myriads of Prussian germs, gases, and gangrenesreleased into the air and for the past yearobsessing everything, revived my quiescent creation.I was moved to vomit Kreisler forth. It is one biggerm more. May the flames of Louvain help toilluminate (and illustrate) my hapless protagonist!His misdemeanours too, which might appear tooharshly real at ordinary times, have, just now, tooobvious confirmations to be questioned.
Germany’s large leaden brain booms away in thecentre of Europe. Her brain-waves and titanic orchestrationshave broken round us for too long not to havehad their effect. As we never think ourselves, excepta stray Irishman or American, we should long agohave been swamped had it not been for the sea. Thehabits and vitality of the seaman’s life and thisvigorous element have protected us intellectually asthe blue water has politically.
In Europe Nietzsche’s gospel of desperation, thebeyond-law-man, etc., has deeply influenced theParis apache, the Italian Futurist littérateur, the[x]Russian revolutionary. Nietzsche’s books are full ofseductions and sugar-plums. They have made “aristocrats”of people who would otherwise have beenonly mild snobs or meddlesome prigs; as much as, ifnot more than, other writings, they have made“expropriators” of what would otherwise merelyhave been Arsène Lupins: and they have made anOver-man of every vulgarly energetic grocer inEurope. The commercial and military success ofPrussia has deeply influenced the French, as it isgradually winning the imagination of the English.The fascination of material power is, for the irreligiousmodern man, almost impossible to resist.
There is much to be said for this eruption of greedy,fleshy, frantic strength in the midst of discourageddelicacies. Germany has its mission and its beauty.We will hope that the English may benefit by thispower and passion, without being unnecessarily gratefulfor a gift that has been bought with best Englishblood, and which is not as important or unique as thegreat English gift bestowed centuries ago.
As to the Prophet of War, the tone of Nietzsche’sbooks should have discredited his philosophy. Themodern Prussian advocate of the Aristocratic andTyrannic took everybody into his confidence. Thenhe would coquet: he gave special prizes. Everybodycouldn’t be a follower of his! No: only the minority:that is the minority who read his books, which hassteadily grown till it comprises certainly (or wouldwere it collected together) the ungainliest andstrangest aristocratic caste any world could hope tosee!
Kreisler in this book is a German and nothing else.Tarr is the individual in the book, and is at the sametime one of the showmen of the author. His privatelife, however, I am in no way responsible for. Thelong drawn-out struggle in which we find this youngman engaged is illuminated from start to finish by thehero of it. His theory, put in another way, is that anartist requires more energy than civilization provides,or than the civilized mode of life implies: more naïveté,[xi]freshness, and unconsciousness. So Nature agrees toforce his sensibility and intelligence, on the one hand,to the utmost pitch, leaving him, on the other, anuncultivated and ungregarious tract where he canrun wild and renew his forces and remain unspoilt.
Tarr, in his analysis of the anomalies of taste, givesthe key to a crowd of other variants and twists towhich most of the misunderstandings and stupiditiesin the deciphering of men are due. He exaggerateshis own departure from perfect sense and taste intoan unnecessary image of Shame and Disgust, beforewhich he publicly castigates himself. He is a primitivefigure, coupled with a modern type of flabby sophistication:that is Bertha Lunkin. The Münich GermanMadonna stands nude, too, in the market-place, witha pained distortion of the face.
Tarr’s message, as a character in a book, is this.Under the camouflage of a monotonous intrigue hepoints a permanent opposition, of life outstripped,and art become lonely. He incidentally is intendedto bring some comfort of analysis amongst less siftedand more ominous perplexities of our time. Hismessage, as he discourses, laughs, and picks his waythrough the heavily obstructed land of this story, isthe message of a figure of health. His introspectionis not melancholy; for the strange and, as with hispedagogic wand he points out, hideously unsatisfactoryfigures that are given ingress to his innermost apartmentsbecome assimilated at once to a life in whichhe has the profoundest confidence. He exalts Lifeinto a Comedy, when otherwise it is, to his mind,a tawdry zone of half-art, or a silly Tragedy. Art isthe only thing worth the tragic impulse, for him;and, as he says, it is his drama. Should art, that issome finely-adjusted creative will, suddenly becomethe drama of the youth infatuated with his maiden,what different dispositions would have to be made;what contradictory tremors would invade his amorousframe; what portions of that frame would stillsmoulder amorously? These questions Tarr disposesof to his satisfaction.
So much by way of warning before the curtain rises.Even if the necessary tragic thrill of misgiving iscaused thereby (or are we going to be “shocked” inthe right way once again, not in Shaw’s “bloody,”schoolgirl way?), it may extenuate the at timesseemingly needless nucleus of blood and tears.
P. Wyndham Lewis
Paris hints of sacrifice.—But here we deal withthat large dusty facet known to indulgent andcongruous kind. It is in its capacity of deliciousinn and majestic Baedeker, where western Venusestwang its responsive streets and hush to soft growlbefore its statues, that it is seen. It is not acrossits Thébaïde that the unscrupulous heroes chase eachother’s shadows. They are largely ignorant of allbut their restless personal lives.
Inconceivably generous and naïve faces haunt theKnackfus Quarter.—We are not, however, in a Selimor Vitagraph camp (though “guns” tap rhythmicallythe buttocks).—Art is being studied.—Art is thesmell of oil paint, Henri Murger’s Vie de Bohème,corduroy trousers, the operatic Italian model. Butthe poetry, above all, of linseed oil and turpentine.
The Knackfus Quarter is given up to Art.—Lettersand other things are round the corner.—Its rent ishalf paid by America. Germany occupies a sensibleapartment on the second floor. A hundred squareyards at its centre is a convenient space, where theBoulevard du Paradis and Boulevard Pfeifer crosswith their electric trams.—In the middle is a pavementisland, like vestige of submerged masonry.—Italianmodels festoon it in symmetrical humangroups; it is also their club.—The Café Berne, atone side, is the club of the “Grands messieurs DuBerne.” So you have the clap-trap and amorphousCampagnia tribe outside, in the café twenty sluggishcommon-sense Germans, a Vitagraph group or two,drinking and playing billiards. These are the mostpermanent tableaux of this place, disheartening andadmonitory as a Tussaud’s of The Flood.
Hobson and Tarr met in the Boulevard du Paradis.—Theymet in a gingerly, shuffling fashion. Theyhad so many good reasons for not slowing down whenthey met: crowds of little antecedent meetings allrevivifying like the bacilli of a harmless fever at thesight of each other: pointing to why they should crushtheir hats over their eyes and hurry on, so that it wasa defeat and insanitary to have their bodies shufflingand gesticulating there. “Why cannot most people,having talked and annoyed each other once or twice,rebecome strangers simply? Oh, for multitudes ofdivorces in our mœurs, more than the old vexed sexones! Ah, yes: ah, yes—!” had not Tarr once putforward, and Hobson agreed?
“Have you been back long?” Tarr asked withdespondent slowness.
“No. I got back yesterday,” said Hobson, withpleasantly twisted scowl.
(“Heavens: One day here only, and lo! I meethim.”)
“How is London looking, then?”
“Very much as usual.—I wasn’t there the wholetime.—I was in Cambridge last week.”
(“I wish you’d go to perdition from time to time,instead of Cambridge, as it always is, you grim, grimdog!” Tarr wished behind the veil.)
They went to the Berne to have a drink.
They sat for some minutes with what appeared astately discomfort of self-consciousness, staring infront of them.—It was really only a dreary, boilinganger with themselves, with the contradictions ofcivilized life, the immense and intricate camouflageover the hatred that personal diversities engender.“Phew, phew!” A tenuous howl, like a subterraneanwind, rose from the borderland of theirconsciousness. They were there on the point ofopening with tired, ashamed fingers, well-worn pagesof their souls, soon to be muttering between their teeththe hackneyed pages to each other: resentful indifferent degrees and disproportionate ways.
And so they sat with this absurd travesty of aQuaker’s meeting: shyness appearing to emanatemasterfully from Tarr. And in another case, withalmost any one but Hobson, it might have been shyness.For Tarr had a gauche, Puritanical ritual ofself, the result of solitary habits. Certain observanceswere demanded of those approaching, and quitegratuitously observed in return. The fetish within—soul-dwellerthat is strikingly like wood-dweller, andwho was not often enough disturbed to have hadsylvan shyness mitigated—would still cling to theseforms. Sometimes Tarr’s cunning idol, aghast at itsnakedness, would manage to borrow or purloin someshape of covering from elegantly draped visitor.
But for Hobson’s outfit he had the greatestcontempt.
This was Alan Hobson’s outfit.—A Cambridge cutdisfigured his originally manly and melodramaticform. His father was a wealthy merchant somewherein Egypt. He was very athletic, and his dark andcavernous features had been constructed by Natureas a lurking-place for villainies and passions. He wasuntrue to his rascally, sinuous body. He slouchedand ambled along, neglecting his muscles: and hisdastardly face attempted to portray delicacies