Category Archives: The Vault

The Characteristics of Robert Louis Stevenson

This article is taken from the 1902 book that G. K. Chesterton wrote with the Scottish minister W. Robertson Nicoll. The book was one of a series of eight books called “The Bookman Biographies,” six of which Chesterton co-wrote in 1902 and 1903 in collaboration other men of letters. The “Bookman Biography” on Robert Louis Stevenson was his second or third book of non-fiction.

This article is re-posted here because it epitomizes Chesterton’s philosophy of life, and the book is difficult to obtain; it is also easy to confuse with Chesterton’s much longer solo-authored book on Robert Louis Stevenson, which was published 25 years later, in 1927.

All things and all men are underrated, much by others, especially by themselves; and men grow tired of men just as they do of green grass, so that they have to seek for green carnations. All great men possess in themselves the qualities which will certainly lay them open to censure and diminishment; but these inevitable deficiencies in the greatness of great men vary in the widest degree of variety. Stevenson is open to a particularly subtle, a particularly effective and a particularly unjust disparagement.

The advantage of great men like Blake or Browning or Walt Whitman is that they did not observe the niceties of technical literature. The far greater disadvantage of Stevenson is that he did. Because he had a conscience about small matters in art, he is conceived not to have had an imagination about big ones. It is assumed by some that he must have been a bad architect, and the only reason that they can assign is that he was a good workman.

The mistake which has given rise to this conception is one that has much to answer for in numerous departments of modern art, literature, religion, philosophy, and politics. The supreme and splendid characteristic of Stevenson, was his levity; and his levity was the flower of a hundred grave philosophies. The strong man is always light: the weak man is always heavy. A swift and casual agility is the mark of bodily strength: a humane levity is the mark of spiritual strength. A thoroughly strong man swinging a sledge-hammer can tap the top of an eggshell. A weaker man swinging a sledge-hammer will break the table on which it stands into pieces. Also, if he is a very weak man, he will be proud of having broken the table, and call himself a strong man dowered with the destructive power of an Imperial race.

This is, superficially speaking, the peculiar interest of Stevenson. He had what may be called a perfect mental athleticism, which enabled him to leap from crag to crag, and to trust himself anywhere and upon any question. His splendid quality as an essayist and controversialist was that he could always recover his weapon.

He was not like the average swashbuckler of the current parties, tugged at the tail of his own sword. This is what tends, for example, to make him stand out so well beside his unhappy friend Mr. Henley, whose true and unquestionable affection has lately taken so bitter and feminine a form. Mr. Henley, an admirable poet and critic, is, nevertheless, the man par excellence who breaks the table instead of tapping the egg. In his recent article on Stevenson he entirely misses this peculiar and supreme point about his subject.

He there indulged in a very emotional remonstrance against the reverence almost universally paid to the physical misfortunes of his celebrated friend. “If Stevenson was a stricken man,” he said, “are we not all stricken men?” And he proceeded to call up the images of the poor and sick, and of their stoicism under their misfortunes. If sentimentalism be definable as the permitting of an emotional movement to cloud a clear intellectual distinction, this most assuredly is sentimentalism, for it would be impossible more completely to misunderstand the real nature of the cult of the courage of Stevenson. The reason that Stevenson has been selected out of the whole of suffering humanity as the type of this more modern and occult martyrdom is a very simple one.

It is not that he merely contrived, like any other man of reasonable manliness, to support pain and limitation without whimpering or committing suicide or taking to drink. In that sense of course we are all stricken men and we are all stoics. The ground of Stevenson’s particular fascination in this matter was that he was the exponent, and the successful exponent, not merely of negative manliness, but of a positive and lyric gaiety.

This wounded soldier did not merely refrain from groans, he gave forth instead a war song, so juvenile and inspiriting that thousands of men without a scratch went back into the battle. This cripple did not merely bear his own burdens, but those of thousands of contemporary men. No one can feel anything but the most inexpressible kind of reverence for the patience of the asthmatic charwoman or the consumptive tailor’s assistant. Still the charwoman does not write “Aes Triplex,” nor the tailor “The Child’s Garden of Verses.”

Their stoicism is magnificent, but it is stoicism. But Stevenson did not face his troubles as a stoic, he faced them as an Epicurean. He practised with an austere triumph that terrible asceticism of frivolity which is so much more difficult than the asceticism of gloom. His resignation can only be called an active and uproarious resignation. It was not merely self-sufficing, it was infectious. His triumph was, not that he went through his misfortunes without becoming a cynic or a poltroon, but that he went through his misfortunes and emerged quite exceptionally cheerful and reasonable and courteous, quite exceptionally light-hearted and liberal-minded. His triumph was, in other words, that he went through his misfortunes and did not become like Mr. Henley.

There is one aspect of this matter in particular, which it is as well to put somewhat more clearly before ourselves. This triumph of Stevenson’s over his physical disadvantages is commonly spoken of with reference only to the elements of joy and faith, and what may be called the new and essential virtue of cosmic courage. But as a matter of fact the peculiarly interesting detachment of Stevenson from his own body, is exhibited in a quite equally striking way in its purely intellectual aspect.

Apart from any moral qualities, Stevenson was characterised by a certain airy wisdom, a certain light and cool rationality, which is very rare and very difficult indeed to those who are greatly thwarted or tormented in life. It is possible to find an invalid capable of the work of a strong man, but it is very rare to find an invalid capable of the idleness of a strong man.

It is possible to find an invalid who has the faith which removes mountains, but not easy to find an invalid who has the faith that puts up with pessimists. It may not be impossible or even unusual for a man to lie on his back on a sick bed in a dark room and be an optimist. But it is very unusual indeed for a man to lie on his back on a sick bed in a dark room and be a reasonable optimist: and that is what Stevenson, almost alone of modern optimists, succeeded in being.

The faith of Stevenson, like that of a great number of very sane men, was founded on what is called a paradox—the paradox that existence was splendid because it was, to all outward appearance, desperate. Paradox, so far from being a modern and fanciful matter, is inherent in all the great hypotheses of humanity. The Athanasian Creed, for example, the supreme testimony of Catholic Christianity, sparkles with paradox like a modern society comedy. Thus, in the same manner, scientific philosophy tells us that finite space is unthinkable and infinite space is unthinkable. Thus the most influential modern metaphysician, Hegel, declares without hesitation, when the last rag of theology is abandoned, and the last point of philosophy passed, that existence is the same as non-existence.

Thus the brilliant author of “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” in the electric glare of modernity, finds that life is much too important to be taken seriously. Thus Tertullian, in the first ages of faith, said “Credo quia impossibile.”

We must not, therefore, be immediately repelled by this paradoxical character of Stevenson’s optimism, or imagine for a moment that it was merely a part of that artistic foppery or “fuddling hedonism” with which he has been ridiculously credited. His optimism was one which, so far from dwelling upon those flowers and sunbeams which form the stock-in-trade of conventional optimism, took a peculiar pleasure in the contemplation of skulls, and cudgels, and gallows.

It is one thing to be the kind of optimist who can divert his mind from personal suffering by dreaming of the face of an angel, and quite another thing to be the kind of optimist who can divert it by dreaming of the face of an angel, and quite another thing to be the kind of optimist who can divert it by dreaming of the foul fat face of Long John Silver. And this faith of his had a very definite and a very original philosophical purport. Other men have justified existence because it was a harmony.

He justified it because it was a battle, because it was an inspiring and melodious discord. He appealed to a certain set of facts which lie far deeper than any logic—the great paradoxes of the soul. For the singular fact is that the spirit of man is in reality depressed by all the things which, logically speaking, should encourage it, and encouraged by all the things which, logically speaking, should depress it.

Nothing, for example, can be conceived more really dispiriting than that rationalistic explanation of pain which conceives it as a thing laid by Providence upon the worst people. Nothing, on the other hand, can be conceived as more exalting and reassuring than that great mystical doctrine which teaches that pain is a thing laid by Providence upon the best. We can accept the agony of heroes, while we revolt against the agony of culprits. We can all endure to regard pain when it is mysterious; our deepest nature protests against it the moment that it is rational.

This doctrine that the best man suffers most is, of course, the supreme doctrine of Christianity; millions have found not merely an elevating but a soothing story in the undeserved sufferings of Christ; had the sufferings been deserved we should all have been pessimists.

Stevenson’s great ethical and philosophical value lies in the fact that he realised this great paradox that life becomes more fascinating the darker it grows, that life is worth living only so far as it is difficult to live. The more steadfastly and gloomily men clung to their sinister visions of duty, the more, in his eyes, they swelled the chorus of the praise of things. He was an optimist because to him everything was heroic, and nothing more heroic than the pessimist.

To Stevenson, the optimist, belong the most frightful epigrams of pessimism. It was he who said that this planet on which we live was more drenched with blood, animal and vegetable, than a pirate ship. It was he who said that man was a disease of the agglutinated dust. And his supreme position and his supreme difference from all common optimists is merely this, that all common optimists say that life is glorious in spite of these things, but he said that all life was glorious because of them. He discovered that a battle is more comforting than a truce. He discovered the same great fact which was discovered by a man so fantastically different from him that the mere name of him may raise a legitimate laugh—General Booth.

He discovered, that is to say, that religious evolution might tend at last to the discovery, that the peace given in the churches was less attractive to the religious spirit than the war promised outside; that for one man who wanted to be comforted a hundred wanted to be stirred; that men, even ordinary men, wanted in the last resort, not life or death, but drums.

It may reasonably be said that of all outrageous comparisons one of the most curious must be this between the old evangelical despot and enthusiast and the elegant and almost hedonistic man of letters. But these far-fetched comparisons are infinitely the sanest, for they remind us of the sanest of all conceptions, the unity of things.

A splendid and pathetic prince of India, living in far-off aeons, came to many of the same conceptions as a rather dingy German professor in the nineteenth century; for there are many essential resemblances between Buddha and Schopenhauer. And if any one should urge that lapse of time might produce mere imitation, it is easy to point out that the same great theory of evolution was pronounced simultaneously by Darwin, who became so grim a rationalist that he ceased even to care for the arts, and by Wallace, who has become so fiery a spiritualist that he yearns after astrology and table-rapping.

Men of the most widely divergent types are connected by these invisible cords across the world, and Stevenson was essentially a Colonel in the Salvation Army. He believed, that is to say, in making religion a military affair. His militarism, of course, needs to be carefully understood. It was considered entirely from the point of view of the person righting.

It had none of that evil pleasure in contemplating the killed and wounded, in realising the agonies of the vanquished, which has been turned by some modern writers into an art, a literary sin, which, though only painted in black ink on white paper, is far worse than the mere sin of murder. Stevenson’s militarism was as free from all the mere poetry of conquest and dominion as the militarism of an actual common soldier. It was mainly, that is to say, a poetry of watches and parades and camp-fires. He knew he was in the hosts of the Lord: he did not trouble much about the enemy. Here is his resemblance to that Church Militant, which, secure only in its own rectitude, wages war upon the nameless thing which has tormented and bewildered us from the beginning of the world.

Of course, this Stevensonian view of war suggests in itself that other question, touching which so much has been written about him, the subject of childishness and the child. It is true, of course, that the splendidly infantile character of Stevenson’s mind saved him from any evil arising from his militarism. A child can hit his nurse hard with a wooden sword without being an aesthete of violence. He may enjoy a hard whack, but he need not enjoy the colour harmonies of black and blue as they are presented in a bruise. It is undoubtedly the truth, of course, that Stevenson’s interest in this fighting side of human nature was mainly childish, that is to say, mainly subjective.

He thought of the whole matter in the primary colours of poetic simplicity. He said with splendid gusto in one of his finest letters:

“Shall we never taste blood?” But he did not really want blood. He wanted crimson-lake.

But of course, in the case of so light and elusive a figure as Stevenson, even the terms which have been most definitely attached to him tend to become misleading and inadequate, and the terms “childlike” or “childish,” true as they are down to a very fundamental truth, are yet the origin of a certain confusion. One of the greatest errors in existing literary philosophy is that of confusing the child with the boy.

Many great moral teachers, beginning with Jesus Christ, have perceived the profound philosophical importance of the child. The child sees everything freshly and fully; as we advance in life it is true that we see things in some degree less and less, that we are afflicted, spiritually and morally, with the myopia of the student. But the problem of the boy is essentially different from that of the child.

The boy represents the earliest growth of the earthly, unmanageable qualities, poetic still, but not so simple or so universal. The child enjoys the plain picture of the world: the boy wants the secret, the end of the story. The child wishes to dance in the sun; but the boy wishes to sail after buried treasure. The child enjoys a flower, and the boy a mechanical engine. And the finest and most peculiar work of Stevenson is rather that he was the first writer to treat seriously and poetically the aesthetic instincts of the boy.

He celebrated the toy gun rather than the rattle. Around the child and his rattle there has gathered a splendid service of literature and art; Hans Andersen and Charles Kingsley and George Macdonald and Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway and a list of celebrities a mile long bring their splendid gifts to the christening. But the tragedy of the helpless infant (if it be a male infant—girls are quite a different matter) is simply this, that, having been fed on literature and art, as fine in its way as Shelley and Turner up to the age of seven, he feels within him new impulses and interests growing, a hunger for action and knowledge, for fighting and discovery, for the witchery of facts and the wild poetry of geography. And then he is suddenly dropped with a crash out of literature, and can read nothing but “Jack Valiant among the Indians.” For in the whole scene there is only one book which is at once literature, like Hans Andersen, and yet a book for boys and not for children, and its name is “Treasure Island.”

G.K. Chesterton.

New Worlds Waiting

“The well-read man reads, not that he may boast of the books that he has read, nor that he may quote them or criticize them or discuss them or in any other way display with elation his familiarity with them, nor even in order that he may enlarge the range of his own mind and multiply the number of his own ideas, but just because here are new worlds waiting— worlds so wonderful that he cannot deny himself the raptures that they offer.”

F. W. Boreham, Ships of Pearl.

The Creation of the Angels

In pulses deep of threefold Love,
Self-hushed and self-possessed,
The mighty, unbeginning God
Had lived in silent rest.
With His own greatness all alone
The sight of Self had been
Beauty of beauties, joy of joys,
Before His eye serene.
He lay before Himself, and gazed
As ravished with the sight,
Brooding on His own attributes
With dread untold delight.
No ties were on His bliss, for He
Had neither end nor cause;
For His own glory ’twas enough
That He was what He was.
His glory was full grown;
His light Had owned no dawning dim;
His love did not outgrow Himself,
For naught could grow in Him.
He stirred—and yet we know not how
Nor wherefore He should move;
In our poor human words, it was
An overflow of love.
It was the first outspoken word
That broke that peace sublime,
An outflow of eternal love
Into the lap of time.
He stirred; and beauty all at once
Forth from His Being broke;
Spirit and strength, and living life,
Created things awoke.
Order and multitude and light
In beauteous showers outstreamed;
And realms of newly-fashioned space
With radiant angels beamed.
How wonderful is life in Heaven
Amid the angelic choirs,
Where uncreated Love has crowned
His first created fires!
But, see! new marvels gather there!
The wisdom of the Son
With Heaven’s completest wonder ends
The work so well begun.

The Father of Evangelical Missions—And It’s Not William Carey!

321 years ago, on September 19, 1698, the Francke Foundation’s orphanage was officially chartered in Halle (now Germany) by the King of Prussia. Most evangelicals haven’t heard of August Hermann Francke, but in 1893, the Missionary Review of the World called him “the father of evangelical missions.” Here are a few of the things accomplished under the umbrella of Francke’s multifaceted foundations:
• Along with many friends A. H. Francke was at the epicenter of an evangelical revival among university students at the University of Leipzig. The keynotes of the movement were love of the Bible and personal conversions: “collegia philobiblica” was the name used for their Bible study sessions, and many testified of being “born again” through these meetings.
• At the revival in Leipzig, they were first called “Pietists” (Pietisten). Count Zinzendorf’s parents were connected to the Pietist movement, and so the influence of Pietism on the Moravians, and afterwards the Methodists, is incalculable; John Wesley also personally edited and published some of A. H. Francke’s works.
• Professor Francke was eventually forced out of Leipzig because of institutional disdain for their small group-style meetings.
• Francke started providing personally for orphans in 1695 after he found that the poor in his city did not know the most foundational truths of the Christian faith.
• Francke funded his orphanage “by faith” along the lines of Hudson Taylor and George Müller, although he preceded them both by more than a century. The account of his many answered prayers was published in English as The Footsteps of Divine Providence.
• Francke personally chose the first Lutheran missionaries for the Tranquebar mission, including Bartholomew Ziegenbalg who went to India in 1706—87 years before William Carey sailed for the region.
• Francke relentlessly supported the Tranquebar mission with his famous “Halle Reports.” After corresponding with the missionaries, Francke (and his son after him) published reports of their progress in India, which perhaps did more than anything to make Europeans aware of the possibilities overseas missions.
• A friend volunteered to set up a printing press and bookshop, funded by Francke’s Foundations. Over the years, this printing press distributed more than a million copies of Scripture in Europe.
• Although the Reformation had been around for almost two centuries, the “Pietists” of Germany were the first European Christians whose theology closely aligned with the distinctives of modern evangelicals: personal prayer life, daily Bible reading, overseas missions, and the importance of conversion.
If this summary of A. H. Francke’s life has piqued your interest, you can read a 55-page biography of Francke in the Kindle Store for just $5.99.
Be on the lookout, too, for an announcement about Francke’s remarkable account of his orphanage, Footsteps of Divine Providence, which we hope to put back in print as well!

Douglas Hooper’s Plan for East Africa

Douglas Hooper went to British East Africa in 1885, where he was appointed Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa. He was the second to hold that bishopric, his predecessor having been speared to death on his arrival in Uganda. Hooper went as a self-funded missionary, and also funded another missionary to come with him. He was also a close friend of Handley Moule, the prolific New Testament scholar, Keswick speaker, and supporter of evangelical missions. Hooper’s son, Handley,and his grandson, Cyril, both followed in his footsteps in serving in Kenya as missionaries.

Hooper was converted during Moody and Sankey’s Cambridge mission in 1882, an oft-forgotten watershed moment for the global evangelical movement. The revival atmosphere at Cambridge led to the commissioning of a host of new missionaries, such as the C. T. Studd and the “Cambridge Seven,” Douglas Thornton, and Ion Keith-Falconer (to name just a few!). With such an outpouring at one of the world’s top universities, and such a key moment for world missions, it should come as no surprise that Hooper’s four strategic concerns—team mentality, pre-field training, apostolic focus, and indigenous methods—have lost none of their relevance. Although, I would add to #2, that I am quite sure East Africa needed women just as sorely as “men.”

Douglas Hooper (an old Harrovian and Trinity Hall man) has come home, some months ago, from Africa, where he has been working under the Church Missionary Society for four years.

He has come back with a new plan of work on the East of Africa, which he has laid before the Church Missionary Society, and which they have accepted and promised to supply the necessaries for, if he can find the men. It is to take five or six Cambridge men and make a station on a new route to the Victoria Nyanza, between Frere Town and the Lake: on the  principle of living as simply and as much in native style as is possible. There are four points in his plan on which he lays stress:—

(1.) Not less than five or six men.—The deadening effect of heathendom is such that isolated men succumb to it.

(2.) Cambridge men.—Experience has convinced him that educated gentlemen are absolutely needed for Africa.

(3.) A new route.—Virgin soil—because, on the old routes, the natives are so habituated to the old system of buying the chiefs’ favour by innumerable presents, that those who go on another principle are not tolerated.

(4.) Native style.—As far cheaper and healthier—so he says by experience—and also as the right way of getting into touch with the natives.

Source: Letter of George L. Pilkington to his father. Dated November 3, 1889. Pilkington of Uganda.

The Order of Melchizedek


Never again!’ exclaimed Nettie Campbell, with the air of one who, by the skin of her teeth, has escaped with her life. On coming down to hard facts it turned out that, in a weak moment, Nettie had invited the boys in her Sunday-school class to ask questions concerning points that seemed to them obscure. She was astonished at the complexity of the problems that were immediately raised. Like the brave little woman that she is, Nettie grappled valiantly with these profound and ponderous enigmas, and was, as she fancied, approaching firm ground on the other side of the quagmire into which she had inadvertently plunged, when Ted Pringle, who had been relieving the tedium of these abstruse discussions by turning the pages of the epistle to the Hebrews, raised a new spectre with which to paralyse poor Nettie’s powers.

‘What,’ he demanded, ‘is the order of Melchisedek?’

Sparring for time, Nettie suggested that they should look up the passages in which the cryptic phrase occurs. ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek.’ ‘Another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedek and not be called after the order of Aaron.’ And so on. The expression is used ten times within the compass of a couple of pages, and it was probably this frequent repetition that had caught Ted Pringle’s restless eye.

‘What,’ he blurted out, ‘is the order of Melchisedek?’

Nettie, to show that her discretion was at least equal to her valor, diplomatically replied that she would have to compare the various passages carefully before venturing upon a complete explanation, and, soothing Ted’s troubled mind with a winning and characteristic smile, she promised to deal with the point on the following Sunday. This accounts for her presence at the Manse on the Monday evening.


This, of course, is an experience of long ago. But, in the years that have followed, it has often recurred to my mind. I recalled it, for example, in Canada. On the train between Toronto and Montreal, we noticed opposite us a young man and woman, making such strenuous efforts not to look self-conscious that they made us feel how terribly self-conscious they really were. My companion, whose verdicts in such matters I never dispute, explained to me that they were a honeymoon couple; and, seeing that such an elucidation would have never occurred to me, I thanked her for information that made clear much that would otherwise have remained incomprehensible.

From that moment I felt irresistibly drawn to these young people. He was a dapper little fellow, of pleasant countenance and quick nervous movement, nattily dressed, everything about him being brand new. Her apparel was also new; but, somehow, in her case, that factor seemed less pronounced. She was a pretty little thing with very fair hair and pale blue eyes. She tried, almost frantically, to give us the impression that she was completely mistress of herself; and it was no fault of hers that she so pitifully failed. After all, the best of us can only try. In the bustle incidental to the train’s arrival at Montreal, they vanished; and, in their case at least, to be out of sight was to be out of mind. We were ships that had passed in the night, and we never expected to cross each other’s paths again.

In continuing our journey next day, however, we alighted at Quebec to post some letters, and to enjoy a few minutes in the open air, when, whom should we see, similarly employed, but our honeymoon couple of the day before! We fancied that they were a little more at their ease this time, and they even summoned up courage to favor us with a faint smile of recognition. At Sackville, New Brunswick, we left the express and took the local train that conveys those so destined to the ferry that crosses to Prince Edward Island. On this local train we found ourselves again sharing a carriage with the young people. On the boat from Cape Tormentine to Borden we met them several times on deck and in the saloon. On the train from Borden to Charlottetown we were thrown together once more; and, that evening, when we went down to dinner at our hotel at Charlottetown, we found our near friends seated at a table within a few feet of us!

Here the story ends! We never once spoke to them nor they to us. We smiled—they to us and we to them—whenever we met: how could we help it? We got to know their Christian names, for had we not frequently heard them address each other? We felt the deepest interest in them, for, on long journeys, the mind readily concentrates on anything that attracts interest or awakens curiosity. We felt a kind of possessive concern for them. We caught ourselves speaking of them as our honeymoon couple, and, long after we had left the Gulf of St. Lawrence behind us, we would hazard speculation as to how the bride and bridegroom were getting on.

That tour through Eastern Canada was full of fascination and wonder: the views of green hills, blue waters and forest of maple are indelibly imprinted upon our minds. Yet whenever those enchanting scenes rush back upon our memories, we invariably descry our timid little honeymoon couple moving up and down among them. Their romance is our romance. And yet how little we know! And how much there is that we should dearly like to know! How did they meet, and where? How long have they known each other? Is he in a good position, or have they to awaken from their rainbow-tinted dream to face a grim and patient struggle? What led up to this courtship and marriage? And again—where are they now? Has it all turned out as happily as we could wish? Are they both well—and happy—and happy in each other? Has the hand of a little child yet led them into an even deeper and richer felicity? The answers to these questions would be as captivating—at least to us—as the pages of any novel. But these questions can never be answered. The fond pair emerged from the everywhere and vanished into the everywhere again. Like meteors flashing across the evening sky, they shot out of the Vast and into the Vast returned. For us their sweet romance had no beginning and no ending. We cannot trace it back to its source nor pursue it to its climax. It stands there, birthless, deathless. It is a love story after the order of Melchisedek.


I remember an afternoon, years ago, in which it fell to my lot to entertain a group of children. It was a birthday, but its joys had been clouded. There were to have been guests, but a variety of reasons had prevented their appearance. Moreover, the day was wet and dreary; and out-of-door frolics were impossible. Suddenly we were startled by a naive suggestion. ‘Take us to the picture!’ cried one of the disappointed youngsters. Straightway they began to tell of the wonderful film that was to be exhibited. Had they not stood open-mouthed before the thrilling and highly-colored portrayals on the hoardings?

The film was entitled The Song of the Circus. Seeing that they had set their hearts upon it, and unwilling to add still further to their disappointments, I feebly took the line of least resistance, and we set out. In the darkened hall, amidst the felicities of chocolates and ice creams, the bleak drizzle and the absent guests were soon forgotten, and, after a comedy or two, The Song of the Circus made its appearance.

The first thing that struck me was that the producer appeared to be taking a good deal for granted. I found it difficult to grasp the relationships in which the various characters stood to one another. Much of the movement completely mystified me, and I could see that my young companions were similarly bewildered.

The second thing that struck me was that our perplexity was evidently not shared by the audience as a whole. Lots of people round about us were applauding excitedly incidents that we were at a loss to understand.

After a while, however, we began to pick up the threads of the story, and were just beginning to feel the thrill of things, when the characters all vanished from the screen, and, in their place, we read a legend to this effect: ‘The Fourth Installment of The Song of the Circuswill appear on Thursday’

It was a serial! We could not return on the Thursday. And so, for us, the story had no beginning and no end. The spice of pathos and humor and tragedy that we had that afternoon tasted was but a part of a larger whole. In our perplexity we attempted to conceive of the instalments that we had not witnessed, and of the instalments yet to come; but it was an utter failure. Our little spoonful of romance had emerged from the Vast and vanished into the Vast again. It was a picture after the order of Melchisedek.


Sitting at the fireside the other evening I picked up a religious journal that my bookseller had just delivered. After glancing over the articles and the news, I found my attention engrossed by the correspondence columns. Two vigorous controversies were in progress. One concerned the matter of Evolution: the other related to the Second Coming of Christ. One of these controversies, that is to say, had to do with the stupendous Programme of the Past; the other had to do with the no less impressive Programme of the Future. As I glanced over the letters that these excellent people had addressed to the editor, I was amazed at the assurance with which many of them tabulated and detailed the things that happened millions of years ago and the things that are to happen in eras yet unborn.

Personally, I have to confess that I simply do not know. I see the remote Past only in shadowy outline; and I see the remote Future through a golden haze. I find a vague hint here and a vague hint there; and, whether looking Backwards or Forwards, I find the study exceedingly captivating. But I swiftly lose myself in infinity. I cannot see at all clearly what happened in the dawn of Time: I cannot see at all distinctly what will happen when Time’s twilight gathers. I see the universe as it now is: I cannot see how it came to be or how at last it will reach its climax and its close. It issues from an obscurity so immense that my little mind staggers in the attempt to comprehend it: it moves towards a destiny so august and so dazzling that I am blinded by excess of light. It is a universe after the order of Melchisedek.


In point of fact, I belong to the same order myself. Here I am! There can be no doubt about that. But what of my origin? And what of my destiny? It is as clear as clear can be that my birth was not the beginning of me; and it is no less clear that my death will not be the end of me.

In the course of our stay in Canada, I found myself one afternoon in conversation with an elderly missionary, away in the depths of the great forests. The wine-colored tints of the maples were imparting to the woods their most gorgeous autumn splendor. After watching for a while the antics of the coal-black squirrels gambolling around us, my old friend began to tell of his work, years ago, among the Indians. Nothing had impressed him more, he said, than the fact that the red man always felt, in some vague way, that he had come from Somewhere and was going Somewhere. Out of what immensity had he sprung? Into what infinity was he about to plunge?

‘I remember,’ my companion continued, after directing my attention to the behavior of a chipmunk at the foot of a neighboring hemlock and of a skunk some little distance along the track, ‘I remember being called to an old chief who was dying in his wigwam on the shores of Lake Huron. As I bent over his strangely wrinkled, strangely tattooed and strangely scarred visage, he asked me to repeat to him all that I had said at different times about the human spirit—the real self—the soul that is so much more than the body. He listened with strained attention as I attempted to unfold the mystery.

‘“Yes,” he murmured, “it must be so; it must be so! But where does it come from? Tell me that! Where does it come from? And where does it go to?” He lay perfectly still for a moment, his fine eyes closed and his bronzed countenance looking puzzled but passive. Then suddenly he startled me in a way that I shall never forget. To my astonishment he sat bolt upright, glared at me with eyes that flamed with intensity—almost with anger —and demanded once more, with ten times his former passion, “Where does it come from? And where is it going to?”

‘In the consciousness of his imminent departure, the problem had assumed in the old warrior’s mind, not merely an academic, but a sternly practical, interest. To this day I am often haunted in my sleep by the fire that flashed from his piercing eyes as, in the very act of death, he hurled at me his burning questions.

The red men in their wigwams felt, as we each feel, that we are pilgrims of eternity. Out of the Vast we come: into the Vast we go. By the ordination of a divine will, and by the act of a divine hand, we are made members of the order of Melchisedek.


And He, my Saviour and my Lord, is—so these passages declare—a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek. I see now the meaning of the phrase. It means that I am to take all that I know of Him and project that knowledge into infinity. The order is named after Melchisedek because of the meagreness of our knowledge, and the spaciousness of our ignorance, concerning that royal priest of Salem. He flashes upon our sight in connexion with a single episode. Whence came he? Whither went he? What manner of man was he? What of his parents? What of his children? Who were his predecessors? Who were his successors? Who were his colleagues? It is all hidden from us.

What we know is as nothing when compared with what we do not know. That is the point. What we see of the moth, as it flutters through the shaft of sunlight that streams across the dimly-lighted room, is as nothing in comparison with the entire life-history of the tiny creature. What we saw of the honeymoon couple in Canada was as nothing in comparison with their entire experience and romance. What I know of the universe is as nothing in comparison with the long drama of its age-long progress and development. And, in the same way, what I know of Christ, amazing though it be, is as nothing in comparison with the wealth of revelation that yet awaits my wondering and adoring eyes. All that my Bible, my experience, my teachers, and the testimonies of those who have loved and trusted Him, have unfolded to me of His love and grace and power must be multiplied a million-million-fold; it must be projected back into the eternal Past and forward into the eternal Future.

The revealed is but a drop in the ocean as compared with the unrevealed. We miss the glory of the whole scheme of revelation when we fancy that the sweetest story ever told begins at Bethlehem and ends at Calvary. Like the flight of the tiny moth across the shaft of light, that was merely a sudden and fitful emergence into visibility. He Himself is the kingly head of that most mysterious and most splendid of all ancient orders—the royal and priestly Order of Melchisedek.

Source: F. W. Boreham. When the Swans Fly High. Part I, Chapter I. Public domain in the United States.

Gairdner at Niagara

Temple Gairdner was a prolific writer, an erudite scholar, and a committed missionary to the people of Egypt. The following is Temple Gairdner’s thoughtful account of visiting The Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls. He reflects on climbing into a dangerous cave, where winds can reach up to 68 mph. According to Wikipedia, guided tours were conducted there from 1841, but the cave was closed permanently in 1954 after a massive rockfall, making Gairdner’s description all the more precious.

I feel the same reluctance to begin writing about Niagara as I felt to approaching it. I hung about and finally approached the river above the Falls themselves—as bashfully as one approaches a mistress. And how shall I begin to write of it?

It is a roaring sea tilted up, seething down in great billows, gigantic waves leaping madly, not because they strike a rock but simply because they are burst upwards by the intolerable pressure of the furious waters beneath, all tearing pell-mell down, shoving each other down, up, aside, in the rush for annihilation over the fatal brink. And weirder and more terrific than the noise and the commotion of the rapid, is the silence, the helplessness with which they finally disappear over that edge. It is in the curve of that Horse-Shoe Fall that the waters really heap up, and that you realise the quantities that are going over. It is there that the water, as it seems to pause for an infinitesimal moment, shows the clear, deep body that reminded me again and again of that astounding description in Exodus “as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.”

When the audacious mortal tries to force an entrance into the very arcanum of Niagara, and dares the passage behind the Fall! That is the most thrilling—and the most baffled moment—of all.

This is the entrance into what is called the Cave of the Winds. Why it is so called will be clear in a moment. It is situated behind a small section of the American Fall, about fifty feet broad, isolated from the remainder by the occurrence of a very small islet above. One goes over to Goat Island, enters a changing-room, takes off every stitch of one’s clothing and dons a suit of flannels with a complete oilskin which is drawn over the head, and weird canvas shoes which make one’s two feet look like the tail of a seal. Then comes the descent by a spiral staircase enclosed in a chimney of wood, down the face of the cliff of Goat Island, till the screes at the bottom are reached.

We turn to the right and make towards the corner of the American Fall. Where it hits the screes, it divides into two or three cascades which come foaming down the rocks in two or three channels. These are spanned by small wooden bridges. Then, as we set foot on the first of them we are immediately enveloped in fine spray-mist. . . . We penetrate into the middle of the cloud. . . .

And then—oh wonder! Marvel of beauteous marvels! What sight is this? A rainbow. But what a rainbow! The like was never seen, save by S. John, around the Throne. A brilliant sun is shining overhead. Its rays of intense light fall on and suffuse this saturation of fine spray in the midst of which we stand, and the result is a rainbow of unimaginable intensity and brilliance—a double Rainbow. But—how shall I put the rapturous sight into words—it is not an arch! It is a circle! It bends about me on this side and on that side, yea, seems almost to meet behind me at my very feet! And oh ye gods, what is this? It moves, it moves as I move!!! It surrounds me and moves with me!! When I go forward my rainbow goeth forward!! It is my rainbow! I go back, it goeth back, for it will by no means leave its lord. Ha! What is this? Am I a god? By Jupiter—I am Jupiter! What ho, Ganymede! Bring me my golden flagon of nectar! My eagle, perch on my right hand! Hither to me, Lady Juno, and hear the behest of the rainbow-encircled one . . . Heavens! It was a godlike moment. The oil-skinned one with fishlike tail of canvas yelled with exultation against the bellow of the cataract, and cavorted, encaged in his rainbow, upon that slippery bridge.

Oh godlike moment, must thou pass? Yes, for I came to discover not a divinity for myself, but to track down the divinity of Niagara within her own temple. The Valhalla of this goddess is not the Rainbow-bridge on which I stand, but the deep mysterious recess to which this Rainbow is but the bridge. On, then, again.

I crossed the bridge and began to go up the path by the cascade direct towards the Fall. Already on the bridge one had been drenched from head to foot, in spite of the oilskins: a torrent of water had at once found its way down by the neck over one’s whole body. But torrential though the rain of spray on the footbridge was, it was child’s play to what followed. As I approached the foot of the cataract I was assailed by a perfect blizzard of wind and water, hurricaned across the path by the impact of the falling water on the rocks. One must half shut one’s eyelids and sidle along by the hand-rail peering and blinking. And yet that again was child’s play—only the vestibule to this tempest-goddess’s shrine. We now prepared to pass right behind the Fall, or rather, you understand, that small band of it which is isolated by the two islands above. The passage into this Cave of the Winds is made possible by the occurrence of a hollow, which the cataract clears in its leap from the ledge above. Into this veritable Hall of Aeolus, we now struggle.

A fight it is indeed. We have only some fifty feet to go, but they must be struggled through. The Cave of the Winds! Justly named! A perfect hurricane is blowing; this is no metaphor; the speed of the wind is that of a violent gale: it is the air that has been violently driven down by the falling water, packed and compressed, and now has been turned inwards and, being liberated, smashes obliquely, up and across, towards the opposite cliff-wall, bouncing off from that again, meeting the opposing current, fighting it, and with it producing a wind-inferno. With this alone one would have had almost to close one’s eyes and grope along by the hand-rail; but that is not all; these winds carry along with them flying gallons of thick drenching spray. It dashes itself against one’s face; it assails and assaults the eyes till they smart: mouth and nostrils are smitten till breathing labours; while the ears are deafened and the brain cleaved by the shrieking of the blast and the pelting-sound of the driven water striking the cliff, far more (apparently) than the noise of the Fall itself. The very senses with which one must look upon the goddess are giving out, used up and paralysed by the goddess’s mere attendant slaves. Nevertheless I made one last, and supreme, effort to behold her. Standing fairly in the centre of the footway, where the fury and the din were at their height, I faced—not so much the Fall, as the direction where I knew the Fall was. Disregarding the shrieking and the buffeting, I slowly pulled my eyelids apart and forced the smarting eyes to look straight ahead. . . . In vain! Utterly and entirely in vain! Niagara I saw not: only a vague dimness and obscurity, flying scud, and infernal, elemental din: that was no more Niagara than to stand on a dark night in a gale on a spray-swept deck. No! Divinity Veils itself by excess of light, and blinds the powers of perception that would scan it, not by taking them away but by the intolerable over-supply of the percept. Niagara I found not—saw not (unlike Gerontius) even “for one moment.” I only saw her terrible attendants. Lo, these were but the outskirts of her ways; but the thunder of her mighty power who can comprehend?

Source: William Henry Temple Gairdner. W. H. T. G. To His Friends: Some Letters & Informal Writings of Canon W. H. Temple Gairdner of Cairo, 1873-1928. Ed. Constance E. Padwick. London: SPCK, 1930.

The Ideal Christianity

“… who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” (Ps. 12:4)

That is the beginning of the iniquity. When we mistake our proprietorship we cease to be religious, and we give up the possibility of being religious. What is the first lesson in true Christian religion? The first lesson is that we are not our own, have no right, title, or claim to ourselves; we are branded: we have the burnt-in mark upon us that we belong to Christ Jesus, that we are blood-bought, that we are not our own; we have not a moment of time, not a single energy, thought, wish, will, desire that is our own. That is the ideal Christianity, the very purpose and consummation of Christ’s priesthood, the true meaning—that is, the large and complete meaning—of self-denial, saying No when anything within us claims to have an existence or a right of its own. But this cannot be taught in lectures, nor can men receive it through the medium of preaching; this is the last lesson as well as the first doctrine which is to be learned in the school of Christ. We can only learn what it is to have no right in ourselves, not after we have been to church, but after we have been nailed to the Cross of Christ in the very presence and companionship of Christ. Who can attain this wisdom? Who will not say before attaining it, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Who does not know that before obtaining this there are Gethsemane days, sweltering of blood, sense of loneliness, and, at the last, crashing temples and opening tombs, and a whole apocalypse of wonder and transformation? So long as we think that our lips are our own we shall speak what we please; when we begin to learn that our lips are not our own, nor our hands, nor feet, nor head, nor heart, we shall have but one question: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Tell me, and give me strength to do it.” That will be the day of jubilee, the morning of coronation.

Source: Joseph Parker. The People’s Bible: Psalms. “The Ideal Christianity.”

Wounded Healers

“They who, themselves, have trodden with bleeding feet the Via Crucis [Way of the Cross] know best how to pity. Thackeray wrote: ‘Most likely the Good Samaritan was a man who had been robbed and beaten on life’s road and knew what it was to lie stripped and bruised by the wayside.’ The superintendent of a large hospital reports that most of the gifts for buildings or endowments come from bereaved or otherwise afflicted people. It is said that most of the improvements in artificial limbs have been invented by the first man who lost a limb on the Confederate side in our Civil War [James Edward Hanger]. Out of his crippled condition benefits have emerged for thousands of maimed. Out of Senator Leland Stanford’s loss of his only child came limitless benefit to endless generations of boys by the building of Leland Stanford, Jr., University. Out of A. R. Crittenton’s loss of a loved daughter came his impulse to father thousands of friendless girls by the establishment of Florence Crittenton Homes in near a hundred cities for a class most in need of true friends and least likely to have them. Out of George Matheson’s bitterest hour of anguish comes one of the great hymns of the ages to comfort the anguish of countless souls with the ‘Love that wilt not let me go.’ . . . It was because Miss Sullivan had suffered an attack of blindness lasting several years that she was moved with sympathy toward a little blind deaf-mute child in Tuscumbia, Alabama; whereby Helen Keller got a teacher who brought her out of darkness into the marvelous light of a wonderful life.”

Source: William Valentine Kelley, A Salute to the Valiant

God Forsaken of God (G. K. Chesterton)

“Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point–and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologise in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

Source: G. K. Chesterton, “The Romance of Orthodoxy.” Chapter 8 in Orthodoxy. 1908.