A Modern Utopia

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7.

So much my double told me readily.

But now he came to the heart of all his explanations, to the will and motives at the centre that made men and women ready to undergo discipline, to renounce the richness and elaboration of the sensuous life, to master emotions and control impulses, to keep in the key of effort while they had abundance about them to rouse and satisfy all desires, and his exposition was more difficult.

He tried to make his religion clear to me.

The leading principle of the Utopian religion is the repudiation of the doctrine of original sin; the Utopians hold that man, on the whole, is good. That is their cardinal belief. Man has pride and conscience, they hold, that you may refine by training as you refine his eye and ear; he has remorse and sorrow in his being, coming on the heels of all inconsequent enjoyments. How can one think of him as bad? He is religious; religion is as natural to him as lust and anger, less intense, indeed, but coming with a wide-sweeping inevitableness as peace comes after all tumults and noises. And in Utopia they understand this, or, at least, the samurai do, clearly. They accept Religion as they accept Thirst, as something inseparably in the mysterious rhythms of life. And just as thirst and pride and all desires may be perverted in an age of abundant opportunities, and men may be degraded and wasted by intemperance in drinking, by display, or by ambition, so too the nobler complex of desires that constitutes religion may be turned to evil by the dull, the base, and the careless. Slovenly indulgence in religious inclinations, a failure to think hard and discriminate as fairly as possible in religious matters, is just as alien to the men under the Rule as it would be to drink deeply because they were thirsty, eat until glutted, evade a bath because the day was chilly, or make love to any bright-eyed girl who chanced to look pretty in the dusk. Utopia, which is to have every type of character that one finds on earth, will have its temples and its priests, just as it will have its actresses and wine, but the samurai will be forbidden the religion of dramatically lit altars, organ music, and incense, as distinctly as they are forbidden the love of painted women, or the consolations of brandy. And to all the things that are less than religion and that seek to comprehend it, to cosmogonies and philosophies, to creeds and formulæ, to catechisms and easy explanations, the attitude of the samurai, the note of the Book of Samurai, will be distrust. These things, the samurai will say, are part of the indulgences that should come before a man submits himself to the Rule; they are like the early gratifications of young men, experiences to establish renunciation. The samurai will have emerged above these things.

The theology of the Utopian rulers will be saturated with that same philosophy of uniqueness, that repudiation of anything beyond similarities and practical parallelisms, that saturates all their institutions. They will have analysed exhaustively those fallacies and assumptions that arise between the One and the Many, that have troubled philosophy since philosophy began. Just as they will have escaped that delusive unification of every species under its specific definition that has dominated earthly reasoning, so they will have escaped the delusive simplification of God that vitiates all terrestrial theology. They will hold God to be complex and of an endless variety of aspects, to be expressed by no universal formula nor approved in any uniform manner. Just as the language of Utopia will be a synthesis, even so will its God be. The aspect of God is different in the measure of every man's individuality, and the intimate thing of religion must, therefore, exist in human solitude, between man and God alone. Religion in its quintessence is a relation between God and man; it is perversion to make it a relation between man and man, and a man may no more reach God through a priest than love his wife through a priest. But just as a man in love may refine the interpretation of his feelings and borrow expression from the poems and music of poietic men, so an individual man may at his discretion read books of devotion and hear music that is in harmony with his inchoate feelings. Many of the samurai, therefore, will set themselves private regimens that will help their secret religious life, will pray habitually, and read books of devotion, but with these things the Rule of the order will have nothing to do.

Clearly the God of the samurai is a transcendental and mystical God. So far as the samurai have a purpose in common in maintaining the State, and the order and progress of the world, so far, by their discipline and denial, by their public work and effort, they worship God together. But the fount of motives lies in the individual life, it lies in silent and deliberate reflections, and at this, the most striking of all the rules of the samurai aims. For seven consecutive days in the year, at least, each man or woman under the Rule must go right out of all the life of man into some wild and solitary place, must speak to no man or woman, and have no sort of intercourse with mankind. They must go bookless and weaponless, without pen or paper, or money. Provisions must be taken for the period of the journey, a rug or sleeping sack—for they must sleep under the open sky—but no means of making a fire. They may study maps beforehand to guide them, showing any difficulties and dangers in the journey, but they may not carry such helps. They must not go by beaten ways or wherever there are inhabited houses, but into the bare, quiet places of the globe—the regions set apart for them.

This discipline, my double said, was invented to secure a certain stoutness of heart and body in the members of the order, which otherwise might have lain open to too many timorous, merely abstemious, men and women. Many things had been suggested, swordplay and tests that verged on torture, climbing in giddy places and the like, before this was chosen. Partly, it is to ensure good training and sturdiness of body and mind, but partly, also, it is to draw their minds for a space from the insistent details of life, from the intricate arguments and the fretting effort to work, from personal quarrels and personal affections, and the things of the heated room. Out they must go, clean out of the world.

Certain great areas are set apart for these yearly pilgrimages beyond the securities of the State. There are thousands of square miles of sandy desert in Africa and Asia set apart; much of the Arctic and Antarctic circles; vast areas of mountain land and frozen marsh; secluded reserves of forest, and innumerable unfrequented lines upon the sea. Some are dangerous and laborious routes; some merely desolate; and there are even some sea journeys that one may take in the halcyon days as one drifts through a dream. Upon the seas one must go in a little undecked sailing boat, that may be rowed in a calm; all the other journeys one must do afoot, none aiding. There are, about all these desert regions and along most coasts, little offices at which the samurai says good-bye to the world of men, and at which they arrive after their minimum time of silence is overpast. For the intervening days they must be alone with Nature, necessity, and their own thoughts.

“It is good?” I said.

“It is good,” my double answered. “We civilised men go back to the stark Mother that so many of us would have forgotten were it not for this Rule. And one thinks… . Only two weeks ago I did my journey for the year. I went with my gear by sea to Tromso, and then inland to a starting-place, and took my ice-axe and rücksack, and said good-bye to the world. I crossed over four glaciers; I climbed three high mountain passes, and slept on moss in desolate valleys. I saw no human being for seven days. Then I came down through pine woods to the head of a road that runs to the Baltic shore. Altogether it was thirteen days before I reported myself again, and had speech with fellow creatures.”

“And the women do this?”

“The women who are truly samurai—yes. Equally with the men. Unless the coming of children intervenes.”

I asked him how it had seemed to him, and what he thought about during the journey.

“There is always a sense of effort for me,” he said, “when I leave the world at the outset of the journey. I turn back again and again, and look at the little office as I go up my mountain side. The first day and night I'm a little disposed to shirk the job—every year it's the same—a little disposed, for example, to sling my pack from my back, and sit down, and go through its contents, and make sure I've got all my equipment.”

“There's no chance of anyone overtaking you?”

“Two men mustn't start from the same office on the same route within six hours of each other. If they come within sight of each other, they must shun an encounter, and make no sign—unless life is in danger. All that is arranged beforehand.”

“It would be, of course. Go on telling me of your journey.”

“I dread the night. I dread discomfort and bad weather. I only begin to brace up after the second day.”

“Don't you worry about losing your way?”

“No. There are cairns and skyline signs. If it wasn't for that, of course we should be worrying with maps the whole time. But I'm only sure of being a man after the second night, and sure of my power to go through.”

“And then?”

“Then one begins to get into it. The first two days one is apt to have the events of one's journey, little incidents of travel, and thoughts of one's work and affairs, rising and fading and coming again; but then the perspectives begin. I don't sleep much at nights on these journeys; I lie awake and stare at the stars. About dawn, perhaps, and in the morning sunshine, I sleep! The nights this last time were very short, never more than twilight, and I saw the glow of the sun always, just over the edge of the world. But I had chosen the days of the new moon, so that I could have a glimpse of the stars… . Years ago, I went from the Nile across the Libyan Desert east, and then the stars—the stars in the later days of that journey—brought me near weeping… . You begin to feel alone on the third day, when you find yourself out on some shining snowfield, and nothing of mankind visible in the whole world save one landmark, one remote thin red triangle of iron, perhaps, in the saddle of the ridge against the sky. All this busy world that has done so much and so marvellously, and is still so little—you see it little as it is—and far off. All day long you go and the night comes, and it might be another planet. Then, in the quiet, waking hours, one thinks of one's self and the great external things, of space and eternity, and what one means by God.”

He mused.

“You think of death?”

“Not of my own. But when I go among snows and desolations—and usually I take my pilgrimage in mountains or the north—I think very much of the Night of this World—the time when our sun will be red and dull, and air and water will lie frozen together in a common snowfield where now the forests of the tropics are steaming… . I think very much of that, and whether it is indeed God's purpose that our kind should end, and the cities we have built, the books we have written, all that we have given substance and a form, should lie dead beneath the snows.”

“You don't believe that?”

“No. But if it is not so―. I went threading my way among gorges and precipices, with my poor brain dreaming of what the alternative should be, with my imagination straining and failing. Yet, in those high airs and in such solitude, a kind of exaltation comes to men… . I remember that one night I sat up and told the rascal stars very earnestly how they should not escape us in the end.”

He glanced at me for a moment as though he doubted I should understand.

“One becomes a personification up there,” he said. “One becomes the ambassador of mankind to the outer world.

“There is time to think over a lot of things. One puts one's self and one's ambition in a new pair of scales… .

“Then there are hours when one is just exploring the wilderness like a child. Sometimes perhaps one gets a glimpse from some precipice edge of the plains far away, and houses and roadways, and remembers there is still a busy world of men. And at last one turns one's feet down some slope, some gorge that leads back. You come down, perhaps, into a pine forest, and hear that queer clatter reindeer make—and then, it may be, see a herdsman very far away, watching you. You wear your pilgrim's badge, and he makes no sign of seeing you… .

“You know, after these solitudes, I feel just the same queer disinclination to go back to the world of men that I feel when I have to leave it. I think of dusty roads and hot valleys, and being looked at by many people. I think of the trouble of working with colleagues and opponents. This last journey I outstayed my time, camping in the pine woods for six days. Then my thoughts came round to my proper work again. I got keen to go on with it, and so I came back into the world. You come back physically clean—as though you had had your arteries and veins washed out. And your brain has been cleaned, too… . I shall stick to the mountains now until I am old, and then I shall sail a boat in Polynesia. That is what so many old men do. Only last year one of the great leaders of the samurai—a white-haired man, who followed the Rule in spite of his one hundred and eleven years—was found dead in his boat far away from any land, far to the south, lying like a child asleep… .”

“That's better than a tumbled bed,” said I, “and some boy of a doctor jabbing you with injections, and distressful people hovering about you.”

“Yes,” said my double; “in Utopia we who are samurai die better than that… . Is that how your great men die?”

It came to me suddenly as very strange that, even as we sat and talked, across deserted seas, on burning sands, through the still aisles of forests, and in all the high and lonely places of the world, beyond the margin where the ways and houses go, solitary men and women sailed alone or marched alone, or clambered—quiet, resolute exiles; they stood alone amidst wildernesses of ice, on the precipitous banks of roaring torrents, in monstrous caverns, or steering a tossing boat in the little circle of the horizon amidst the tumbled, incessant sea, all in their several ways communing with the emptiness, the enigmatic spaces and silences, the winds and torrents and soulless forces that lie about the lit and ordered life of men.

I saw more clearly now something I had seen dimly already, in the bearing and the faces of this Utopian chivalry, a faint persistent tinge of detachment from the immediate heats and hurries, the little graces and delights, the tensions and stimulations of the daily world. It pleased me strangely to think of this steadfast yearly pilgrimage of solitude, and how near men might come then to the high distances of God.

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