But the clearest and most convenient example to start with is this popular one
of what the cave-man really did in his cave. It means that somehow or other a
new thing had appeared in the cavernous night of nature, a mind that is like a mirror.
It is like a mirror because it is truly a thing of reflection. It is like a mirror because in
it alone all the other shapes can be seen like shining shadows in a vision. Above all,
it is like a mirror because it is the only thing of its kind. Other things may resemble
it or resemble each other in various ways; other things may excel it or excel each other
in various ways; just as in the furniture of a room a table may be round like a mirror
or a cupboard may be larger than a mirror. But the mirror is the only thing that can
contain them all. Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things...
That is the simplest lesson to learn in the cavern of the colored pictures;
only it is too simple to be learnt. It is the simple truth that man does differ
from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it
sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a
monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey
drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared;
and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.
But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what
the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel,
consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that
his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural
mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or
within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it;
that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.
The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship;
even natural to worship unnatural things.
The posture of the idol might be stiff and strange;
but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and beautiful.
He not only felt freer when he bent; he actually felt taller when he bowed.
Henceforth anything that took away the gesture
of worship would stunt and even maim him for ever.
Henceforth being merely secular would be a servitude and an inhibition.
If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel he is in irons.
There is more of the wisdom that is one with surprise in any simple person,
full of the sensitiveness of simplicity, who should expect the grass to wither
and the birds to drop dead out of the air, when a strolling carpenter's apprentice
said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder:
'Before Abraham was, I am.'
For the pleasure of pedantry I will call it the Doctrine of Conditional Joy.
Touchstone talked of much virtue in an "if"; according to the elfin ethics
all virtue is in an "if." The note of the fairy utterance always is, "you may live
in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word 'cow'," or "you
may live happily with the King's daughter, if you do not show her an onion."
The vision always hangs on a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things
conceded depend on one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling
things that are let loose depend upon the one thing that is forbidden.