It is significant comment on the victory of science over magic that were someone to say ‘if I put this pill in your beer it will explode,’ we might believe them; but were they to cry ‘if I pronounce this spell over your beer it will go flat,’ we should remain incredulous and Paracelsus, the Alchemists, Aleister Crowley and all the Magi have lived in vain. Yet when I read science I turn magical; when I study magic, scientific.
When I contemplate the accumulation of guilt and remorse which, like a garbage-can, I carry through life, and which is fed not only by the lightest action but by the most harmless pleasure, I feel Man to be of all living things the most biologically incompetent and ill-organized. Why has he acquired a seventy years life-span only to poison it incurably by the mere being of himself? Why has he thrown Conscience, like a dead rat, to putrefy in the well?
A stone lies in a river; a piece of wood is jammed against it; dead leaves, drifting logs, and branches caked with mud collect; weeds settle there, and soon birds have made a nest and are feeding their young among the blossoming water plants. Then the river rises and the earth is washed away. The birds depart, the flowers wither, the branches are dislodged and drift downward; no trace is left of the floating island but a stone submerged by the water; - such is our personality.
Were I to deduce any system from my feelings on leaving Eton, it might be called The Theory of Permanent Adolescence. It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools, their glories and disappointments, are so intense as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development. From these it results that the greater part of the ruling class remains adolescent, school-minded, self-conscious, cowardly, sentimental, and in the last analysis homosexual.
In the sex-war, thoughtlessness is a weapon of the male, vindictiveness of the female. Both are reciprocally generated, but a woman's desire for revenge outlasts all other emotion. Yet when every unkind word about women has been said, we have still to admit, with Byron, that they are nicer than men. They are more devoted, more unselfish and more emotionally sincere. When the long fuse of cruelty, deceit and revenge is set alight, it is male thoughtlessness which has fired it.
The detective story itself is in a dilemma. It is a vein which is in danger of being worked out, the demand is constant, the powers of supply variable, and the reader, with each one he absorbs, grows a little more sophisticated and harder to please, while the novelist, after each one he writes, becomes a little more exhausted.
In America every woman has her set of girl-friends; some are cousins, the rest are gained at school. These form a permanent committee who sit on each other's affairs, who come out together, marry and divorce together, and who end as those groups of bustling, heartless well-informed club-women who govern society. Against them the Couple of Ehepaar is helpless and Man in their eyes but a biological interlude.
A mutually fulfilled sexual union between two people is the rarest sensation which life can provide. But it is not quite real. It stops when the telephone rings. Such a passion can be kept at its early strength only by adding to it either more and more unhappiness (jealousy, separation, doubt, renunciation), or more and more artificiality (drink, technique, stage-illusions). Whoever has missed this has never lived, who lives for it alone is but partly alive.
In the dream of approaching forty I saw myself as about to die and realized that I was no longer myself, but a creature inhabited entirely by parasites, as a caterpillar is occupied by the grubs of the ichneumon fly. Gin, whisky, sloth, fear, guilt, tobacco, had made themselves my inquilines; alcohol sloshed about within, while tendrils of melon and vine grew out of ears and nostrils; my mind was a worn gramophone record, my true self was such a ruin as to seem non-existent, and all this had happened in the last three years.
Two weeks before his death, a friend asked him half jokingly if he had discovered any meaning in life. "Yes," he replied, "there is a meaning; at least, for me, there is one thing that matters - to set a chime of words tinkling in the minds of a few fastidious people."
There is no pain equal to that which two lovers can inflict on one another... It is when we begin to hurt those whom we love that the guilt with which we are born becomes intolerable, and since all those whom we love intensely and continuously grow part of us, and since we hate ourselves in them, so we torture ourselves and them together.