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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Again the Narrative is Retarded

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Isn't that noble? You see what I am dumbly groping for--some way of thinking about the War that will make it seem (to future ages) a purification for humanity rather than a mere blackness of stinking cinders and tortured flesh and men shot to ribbons in marshes of blood and sewage. Out of such unspeakable desolation men MUST rise to some new conception of national neighbourhood. I hear so much apprehension that Germany won't be punished sufficiently for her crime. But how can any punishment be devised or imposed for such a huge panorama of sorrow? I think she has already punished herself horribly, and will continue to do so. My prayer is that what we have gone through will startle the world into some new realization of the sanctity of life--all life, animal as well as human. Don't you find that a visit to a zoo can humble and astound you with all that amazing and grotesque variety of living energy?

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What is it that we find in every form of life? Desire of some sort-- some unexplained motive power that impels even the smallest insect on its queer travels. You must have watched some infinitesimal red spider on a fence rail, bustling along--why and whither? Who knows? And when you come to man, what a chaos of hungers and impulses keep thrusting him through his cycle of quaint tasks! And in every human heart you find some sorrow, some frustration, some lurking pang. I often think of Lafcadio Hearn's story of his Japanese cook. Hearn was talking of the Japanese habit of not showing their emotions on their faces. His cook was a smiling, healthy, agreeable-looking young fellow whose face was always cheerful. Then one day, by chance, Hearn happened to look through a hole in the wall and saw his cook alone. His face was not the same face. It was thin and drawn and showed strange lines worn by old hardships or sufferings. Hearn thought to himself, "He will look just like that when he is dead." He went into the kitchen to see him, and instantly the cook was all changed, young and happy again. Never again did Hearn see that face of trouble; but he knew the man wore it when he was alone.

Don't you think there is a kind of parable there for the race as a whole? Have you ever met a man without wondering what shining sorrows he hides from the world, what contrast between vision and accomplishment torments him? Behind every smiling mask is there not some cryptic grimace of pain? Henry Adams puts it tersely. He says the human mind appears suddenly and inexplicably out of some unknown and unimaginable void. It passes half its known life in the mental chaos of sleep. Even when awake it is a victim of its own ill-adjustment, of disease, of age, of external suggestion, of nature's compulsions; it doubts its own sensations and trusts only in instruments and averages. After sixty years or so of growing astonishment the mind wakes to find itself looking blankly into the void of death. And, as Adams says, that it should profess itself pleased by this performance is all that the highest rules of good breeding can ask. That the mind should actually be satisfied would prove that it exists only as idiocy!

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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