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A Happy Wanderer

1910


Converts are interesting people. Most of us, if you will pardon me for
betraying the universal secret, have, at some time or other, discovered
in ourselves a readiness to stray far, ever so far, on the wrong road.
And what did we do in our pride and our cowardice? Casting fearful
glances and waiting for a dark moment, we buried our discovery
discreetly, and kept on in the old direction, on that old, beaten track
we have not had courage enough to leave, and which we perceive now more
clearly than before to be but the arid way of the grave.

The convert, the man capable of grace (I am speaking here in a secular
sense), is not discreet. His pride is of another kind; he jumps gladly
off the track--the touch of grace is mostly sudden--and facing about in a
new direction may even attain the illusion of having turned his back on
Death itself.

Some converts have, indeed, earned immortality by their exquisite
indiscretion. The most illustrious example of a convert, that Flower of
chivalry, Don Quixote de la Mancha, remains for all the world the only
genuine immortal hidalgo. The delectable Knight of Spain became
converted, as you know, from the ways of a small country squire to an
imperative faith in a tender and sublime mission. Forthwith he was
beaten with sticks and in due course shut up in a wooden cage by the
Barber and the Priest, the fit ministers of a justly shocked social
order. I do not know if it has occurred to anybody yet to shut up Mr.
Luffmann in a wooden cage. {4} I do not raise the point because I wish
him any harm. Quite the contrary. I am a humane person. Let him take
it as the highest praise--but I must say that he richly deserves that
sort of attention.

On the other hand I would not have him unduly puffed up with the pride of
the exalted association. The grave wisdom, the admirable amenity, the
serene grace of the secular patron-saint of all mortals converted to
noble visions are not his. Mr. Luffmann has no mission. He is no Knight
sublimely Errant. But he is an excellent Vagabond. He is full of merit.
That peripatetic guide, philosopher and friend of all nations, Mr.
Roosevelt, would promptly excommunicate him with a big stick. The truth
is that the ex-autocrat of all the States does not like rebels against
the sullen order of our universe. Make the best of it or perish--he
cries. A sane lineal successor of the Barber and the Priest, and a
sagacious political heir of the incomparable Sancho Panza (another great
Governor), that distinguished litterateur has no mercy for dreamers. And
our author happens to be a man of (you may trace them in his books) some
rather fine reveries.

Every convert begins by being a rebel, and I do not see myself how any
mercy can possibly be extended to Mr. Luffmann. He is a convert from the
creed of strenuous life. For this renegade the body is of little
account; to him work appears criminal when it suppresses the demands of
the inner life; while he was young he did grind virtuously at the sacred
handle, and now, he says, he has fallen into disgrace with some people
because he believes no longer in toil without end. Certain respectable
folk hate him--so he says--because he dares to think that "poetry,
beauty, and the broad face of the world are the best things to be in love
with." He confesses to loving Spain on the ground that she is "the land
of to-morrow, and holds the gospel of never-mind." The universal
striving to push ahead he considers mere vulgar folly. Didn't I tell you
he was a fit subject for the cage?

It is a relief (we are all humane, are we not?) to discover that this
desperate character is not altogether an outcast. Little girls seem to
like him. One of them, after listening to some of his tales, remarked to
her mother, "Wouldn't it be lovely if what he says were true!" Here you
have Woman! The charming creatures will neither strain at a camel nor
swallow a gnat. Not publicly. These operations, without which the world
they have such a large share in could not go on for ten minutes, are left
to us--men. And then we are chided for being coarse. This is a refined
objection but does not seem fair. Another little girl--or perhaps the
same little girl--wrote to him in Cordova, "I hope Poste-Restante is a
nice place, and that you are very comfortable." Woman again! I have in
my time told some stories which are (I hate false modesty) both true and
lovely. Yet no little girl ever wrote to me in kindly terms. And why?
Simply because I am not enough of a Vagabond. The dear despots of the
fireside have a weakness for lawless characters. This is amiable, but
does not seem rational.

Being Quixotic, Mr. Luffmann is no Impressionist. He is far too earnest
in his heart, and not half sufficiently precise in his style to be that.
But he is an excellent narrator. More than any Vagabond I have ever met,
he knows what he is about. There is not one of his quiet days which is
dull. You will find in them a love-story not made up, the
_coup-de-foudre_, the lightning-stroke of Spanish love; and you will
marvel how a spell so sudden and vehement can be at the same time so
tragically delicate. You will find there landladies devoured with
jealousy, astute housekeepers, delightful boys, wise peasants, touchy
shopkeepers, all the _cosas de Espana_--and, in addition, the pale girl
Rosario. I recommend that pathetic and silent victim of fate to your
benevolent compassion. You will find in his pages the humours of
starving workers of the soil, the vision among the mountains of an
exulting mad spirit in a mighty body, and many other visions worthy of
attention. And they are exact visions, for this idealist is no
visionary. He is in sympathy with suffering mankind, and has a grasp on
real human affairs. I mean the great and pitiful affairs concerned with
bread, love, and the obscure, unexpressed needs which drive great crowds
to prayer in the holy places of the earth.

But I like his conception of what a "quiet" life is like! His quiet days
require no fewer than forty-two of the forty-nine provinces of Spain to
take their ease in. For his unquiet days, I presume, the seven--or is it
nine?--crystal spheres of Alexandrian cosmogony would afford, but a
wretchedly straitened space. A most unconventional thing is his notion
of quietness. One would take it as a joke; only that, perchance, to the
author of _Quiet Days in Spain_ all days may seem quiet, because, a
courageous convert, he is now at peace with himself.

How better can we take leave of this interesting Vagabond than with the
road salutation of passing wayfarers: "And on you be peace! . . . You
have chosen your ideal, and it is a good choice. There's nothing like
giving up one's life to an unselfish passion. Let the rich and the
powerful of this globe preach their sound gospel of palpable progress.
The part of the ideal you embrace is the better one, if only in its
illusions. No great passion can be barren. May a world of gracious and
poignant images attend the lofty solitude of your renunciation!"


Joseph Conrad