I am informed that in criticizing that literature which preys on
strange people and prowls in far-off countries, under the shade of
palms, in the unsheltered glare of sunbeaten beaches, amongst honest
cannibals and the more sophisticated pioneers of our glorious virtues, a
lady--distinguished in the world of letters--summed up her disapproval
of it by saying that the tales it produced were "de-civilized." And in
that sentence not only the tales but, I apprehend, the strange people
and the far-off countries also, are finally condemned in a verdict of
A woman's judgment: intuitive, clever, expressed with felicitous
charm--infallible. A judgment that has nothing to do with justice. The
critic and the judge seems to think that in those distant lands all joy
is a yell and a war dance, all pathos is a howl and a ghastly grin of
filed teeth, and that the solution of all problems is found in the
barrel of a revolver or on the point of an assegai. And yet it is not
so. But the erring magistrate may plead in excuse the misleading nature
of the evidence.
The picture of life, there as here, is drawn with the same elaboration
of detail, coloured with the same tints. Only in the cruel serenity of
the sky, under the merciless brilliance of the sun, the dazzled eye
misses the delicate detail, sees only the strong outlines, while the
colours, in the steady light, seem crude and-without shadow.
Nevertheless it is the same picture.
And there is a bond between us and that humanity so far away. I am
speaking here of men and women--not of the charming and graceful
phantoms that move about in our mud and smoke and are softly luminous
with the radiance of all our virtues; that are possessed of all
refinements, of all sensibilities, of all wisdom--but, being only
phantoms, possess no heart.
The sympathies of those are (probably) with the immortals: with the
angels above or the devils below. I am content to sympathize with
common mortals, no matter where they live; in houses or in tents, in the
streets under a fog, or in the forests behind the dark line of dismal
mangroves that fringe the vast solitude of the sea. For, their
land--like ours--lies under the inscrutable eyes of the Most High. Their
hearts--like ours--must endure the load of the gifts from Heaven: the
curse of facts and the blessing of illusions, the bitterness of our
wisdom and the deceptive consolation of our folly.
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