THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE MIND
Toward the Illimitable
Although the symbolism of Fiona Macleod's "land of heart's desire" was artistically precarious, it was nonetheless morally and intellectually sound. It represented Sharp's effort to reconcile the conflict between his desire to express himself in national or racial terms and his equally compelling desire to perceive widely the value of all racial and national literatures. His reconciliation through symbolism was one instance of an advance over Texte, who had appeared to make nationality in art and cosmopolitanism in criticism the aims of two entirely separate activities. However necessary for criticism Texte found "absolute detachment from the national bond," it was precisely to the intensification of nationality that he credited the production of the best creative work: "that which differentiates races, is, strictly, literature or art, that is to say, the expression of their manners and inherent genius, what unites them, on the other hand, is the philosophic or scientific spirit. Art is infinitely various, philosophy is one. The relativity of the former is opposed to the universality of the latter."1 This dogmatic utterance plants an enormous gulf between critic and creator-a gulf that possibly no single man can span though he may choose to exercise both faculties. Sharp's literary duality seems to make him a paragon of such schizophrenia. Superficially, in fact, his work might convey the ready impression that he actually sought to enact the Texte proposition, with the art of Fiona Macleod realizing the national spirit to which Sharp was allied, and William Sharp realizing the national disinterestedness allegedly demanded of criticism. Had Sharp not urged the transcendent nature of Fiona Macleod's Celtic nationalisms subtle concept anyway---readers could easily have mistaken it (and did mistake it) for a nationalism like any other nationalism. Texte's thesis, in fact, would have tended only to make such a critical misapprehension of Sharp's intention more likely, and Sharp's pursuit of anything but Texte's course more difficult. As long as educated opinion supported Texte's view that "by eliminating this essential notion of race, we surrender . . . all possibility of accounting for anything beyond the individual,"2 then Sharp's mind, no less than the popular mind, would have to struggle with the conflicting literary values that were corollary. Here was a Texte, a persuasive and sympathetic literary student, condemning Voltaire because he "always obstinately refused to admit that the object of literary criticism is to make us admire what is most national in the genius of each people,"3 and alleging that, "to a large extent, the differences between literatures are bound up with the profound differences."4 As a writer groping for principles of artistic conduct between peoples to which such distinctions were crucial, Sharp must have felt the full force of such ideas and been compelled by the need to work out a viable challenge to them if he could not accept them.
It was an unfortunate distinction to make, that of art and nationality on the one side and cosmopolitanism and science on the other, a distinction in this case unlike the others Texte made in being applicable to the French eighteenth century but daily losing its appropriateness to the nineteenth. But Sharp's critical instincts were good. In spite of his apparently conscious aim to apply such views at first, he proved himself capable of going beyond them, and in his later years as critic he demonstrated an increasing awareness that symbolism was his new and saving artistic dispensation. As he allowed Fiona Macleod to say, "There is no racial road to beauty"; and beauty alone was the land "with the light of home upon it."
The combination of Texte's principles with his own was perhaps most apparent in a volume of art criticism on which be worked through 1899 and 1900. The Progress of Art in the Nineteenth Century was an explicit realization of Texte's statement that "the object of criticism is to make us admire what is most national in the genius of each people." The book's structure was based on a division of art into national groups, and its statements were designed to express the qualities peculiar to each of the nationalities studied. Yet the book was prefaced by an "Author's Note" that seemed to belie that very design: "Art," he says, "does not grow this way in England or America, or that way in France or Germany or Holland, but is continually and inevitably interrelated."5 Sharp was not, of course, asserting the identity of artistic production in all countries. But he was referring to the fact of "influence," a fact in itself disturbing to the strict theory of separate and distinct national cultures. The Progress of Art was largely based on the premise of "influence," and cohered by way of the supposition that "all that is great in contemporary art" derived originally from John Constable.6
In so saying, Sharp was indeed handing the laurel of artistic preeminence in the nineteenth century to the English, but that was obviously not his only intention. The volume does not open with a study of Constable per se, but with an analysis of Nature as the one concept that unites all the varieties of artistic experience, and on which Constable might merely be credited with throwing new light.
As a concept for analyzing the vicissitudes of artistic development on the basis of a single constant, "Nature" is anything but new and anything but applicable to the nineteenth century alone. Yet it is important to see what value Sharp placed upon it and why Constable was therefore such an important starting point. "Nature," Sharp says early in the volume, "is a profound symbol, a symbolic word of many interpretations."7 Constable, he continues, "recognized the paramount value of atmosphere," emphasized "the play of light and shadow," in short, validated the subjective exploitation of natural phenomena for the purpose of revealing internal truth. This conclusion becomes clearer when Sharp adds that "others are so preoccupied with being faithful that they lose all synthetic vision."8 Even Constable's predecessor Thomas Gainsborough had assisted this development by teaching that "how you saw it," the "impression" and not "an arbitrary pictorialism," was the desired end of art.9
One implication in this form of criticism, that the capacity to have such insights belonged to a special English susceptibility to nature, might well have been provoked by Texte's statement that "certain races, prepared by certain climates or certain conditions of social life, can more easily sustain that abrupt disturbance of the moral equilibrium which must precede the love of physical nature."10 Yet Sharp, no matter how much moved in his later years by the peacemaking spirit, could never be conceived of as a mere apologist for the English race and character. If moved at all by the conviction of English supremacy in this area, he was probably moved much more by the deep certainty that, whatever this "race" of artists who understood nature, he himself was of it.
Sharp's bias in favor of certain methods of handling landscape points up his deviation from the tenets of Texte's cosmopolitan esthetic. He devised a distinction of some value between what he termed the "idyllist" view of nature and the "pastoralist" or "naturist" view, which he preferred-a distinction that bore no especial parallel to national differences. "Both approach nature as a poetic and beautiful reality that has to be interpreted through the poetic and beautiful medium of the imagination . . . But the pastoralists are content with less poignancy, with less emotion, with less human interest," in short, less sentimentality. "Their art, therefore, is generally more serene, more broad and virile. Moreover, even where they paint subjects of direct human interest they subordinate this to the sense of something greater beyond, either solemn and austere beauty of unchanging nature, or the tragically indifferent operation of mysterious laws." Sharp's choice of Millet's Angelus as an example clearly involves a distinction between pathos and sentimentality. In this work, he says, what we are aware of is the deep implicit pathos of those hardship-worn lives, that seem as absolutely of the soil as the brown fallows or the seeding grain or the trampled grass and yet have their dreams of a nature beyond this nature, a life beyond this life . . . There is the melancholy, too, that all great modern art has. If the melancholy is not obvious in the poetic and plastic art of Greece, it is because in these later ages the soul . . . has looked inward, and so has had a new vision and known a new ache.11
We see in ourselves, be goes on, impermanence, and we seek in nature the truth embodied in "the vast unchanging scope of natural laws."12 Thus, through the "naturist" approach, nature in art receives a new dimension: "More and more, we may be sure, the world of nature and the world of man will be interpreted as indissolubly wedded companions."13
The dimension Sharp speaks of is not so new, of course, if conceived as the ancient theory of correspondence and symbol merely reinterpreted for modern art. Yet it serves as a reminder that symbolism as a phenomenon of the later nineteenth century begins with the seemingly innocuous love for nature and for landscape that characterizes much of its art. The sense of "new dimension" had also derived support from the cosmic philosophies of which Sharp's cosmopolitanism was itself so redolent. These had emphasized man's intuitive capacity to vibrate in sympathy with the macrocosm. Edward Carpenter was, in effect, summarizing such views, prevalent throughout the later part of the century, when he wrote in 1904:
Such "anthropomorphism," said Carpenter, was "wisdom"---"the primitive recognition of the single really tenable view of matter as a supply of intelligences, beings, 'selves' relating to our own."15 Simply as a generalized philosophic statement, Carpenter's throws another light entirely upon the supposedly "peculiar," "uncanny," and "protean" capacity Sharp possessed for reflecting his surroundings, and to which he had been giving vent from his earliest years. Rather than following what critics of romanticism like Irving Babbitt were to consider the traditional romantic drift toward increased eccentricity, he was aiming more and more at a fixed and permanent center amid the flux of experience.
Sharp's fully conscious perception of the symbolic uses of nature affected his literary as well as his art criticism. Well-known by the turn of the century as a traveler and nature-lover, as well as a broadly appreciative reader of modern literatures, he was commissioned by Pall Mall Magazine to write a series of essays on "place" in literature for its 1903 to 1904 numbers. These twelve essays, later bound and published by Pall Mall under the title Literary Geography, were generally ancedotal, geared in their tone to the superficially eclectic popular taste. But there was also apparent in them Sharp's developed tendency to see the use of particular place in fiction as symbolic, and not as a submission to the call for the picturesque. For him, the writer best seized nature when he appropriated it to his imaginative conception, when he made it, in other words, the servant of his theme and subject and placed it under the control of his imagination. Thus Sharp could avoid lumping together all fiction that was in any way scenic. He could logically separate what was mere vicarious expedition into the foreign and exotic from what made place the inevitable concomitant of human action. His distinction was elaborated early in the volume, in a discussion of Meredithian "geography":
In a later essay Sharp laments that Thackeray did not have, like his two great contemporaries, Dickens and Charlotte Brontė, that sense for the "imaginative value of background," "that larger vision and deeper intellectual and artistic sentiment which has since been so distinguishing a feature of every great achievement in contemporary imaginative fiction." In Thackeray's work we remain unaware, he continues, as we are so distinctly aware in Dickens, in Brontė, and also in Robert Louis Stevenson, of the "indescribable presence and secret influence" of nature.17
But Sharp did not always limit himself to the "indescribable" and "secret." He was aware in the Brontės' work of the precise character of the "places" and of what they contribute to and elicit from the drama of the lives of the characters themselves. He recognized the "arrogant independence," that the moors leave as their heritage to the moorlanders and the solitude, the wildness of those "great spaces," where the breath is free, and yet the spirit depressed.18 "The reader" he explained in still another essay, this one on Aylwin, "knows the difference between what is merely depicted, however beautiful, and what is thought in." In the East Anglian scenery drawn by Theodore Watts-Dunton, the reader recognizes ("naturistically," as it were) "the sense of something tragical in nature . . . The spirit is . . . uplifted to those unpassing things of which great solitary places and still lonelinesses, and all the sombre phantasmagoria of land and sky are symbolic."19 "It all," he said, "strikes the note of correspondence."20
Sharp's use of natural symbolism in his own fiction was, as one might later expect, much more deliberate and pervasive in his later work than in any written during the eighties. Though he gave by far the greater share to his work as Fiona Macleod, he did admit one opportunity during the Macleod period for William Sharp to exploit this sensibility. Silence Farm, his last novel and his last significant imaginative work as William Sharp was---as its title suggests---designed to convey symbolic force through natural place. Silence Farm is no mere background; nor is it simply an "environment" that must be there to supply the physical needs of those who dwell in it.21 It is, rather, a spiritual force in itself, personal and inexorable, exercising its gloomy and unhealthy influence upon all its inhabitants: "It is there we are to live; it is there we are to grow old in weariness and the dull round of unchanging days.22 When the heroine, Margaret Gray, at last returns to work as a hand on the farm that her father had once owned, it is as though she were a part of the very earth of the farm itself, as though her return symbolized a resignation to the inevitability of her union with the soil. In a manner suggestive of Hardy, Sharp ends the novel with a picture of the girl standing barefoot in the furrows, sensible of the clods of earth under her feet and of the wind blowing through her hair.
Sharp's sensitivity to the correspondent uses of nature, implicit in this novel and expressed in Literary Geography, had, of course, gone through many years of evolution. Such exploitation of atmosphere had always played a considerable part in his use of place. But as a principle of critical perception to be applied to the work of others and to be deliberately and consciously exploited in his own, it seemed to crystallize, like so much of his thought, when he encountered the Belgian dramatists. His comments on Auguste Jenart's Le Barbare in 1893 were instinct with the pleasure of discovery that he himself was but one member of a race of "naturists":
The perception had then proceeded with increasing sureness via the "natural magic" of Fiona Macleod's fiction. In Green Fire (1896) he had theorized that the Celts were perishing as a visionary clan because of the "slow waning of our joy, of our passionate delight in the Beauty of the World."
Other early Macleod works sought to partake of this inheritance. A series of brief pieces collectively entitled "Tragic Landscapes," "The Sin-Eater and Other Tales (1895), succeeded in evoking through several of the moods of nature some of the more obvious moods of the human spirit, the character of which is suggested by their subtitles: "The Tempest," "Mist," and "Summer Sleep."25 These, and the sketches included in The Silence of Amor (1896), have much in common with the sensitive visualizations of "Earth's Voices" and "Transcripts from Nature" that had formed a principal part of Sharp's second volume of verse, far back in 1884. But there is a significant difference. The earlier sketches were in verse and were united by the attempt to find a lyric equivalent for natural images; the later sketches were instead written in prose. Sharp was moving obviously within the impressionistic sphere opened by the French in calling these "prose-poetry" and considering them a distinct form responding to the need "under the stress of emotion" for "an inevitable reversion to the impulse of chant."26 The use of the word "chant," with its overtones of poetic vision and prophecy and its associations with the "mythopoeic faculty," was Sharp's way of emphasizing that these prose-poems were no mere evocations of natural scene, but that they used images clearly symbolic or of symbolic suggestiveness, and carried the burden of a message which might be termed philosophic or metaphysical. One such prose-poem in The Silence of Amor, called simply "Nocturne," posits a universal order through images representing a formula for harmony, somewhat in the manner of Japanese haiku. Another, "The White Merle," employs a bird symbol that sharply recalls Hopkins' "Windhoven," and suggests the indwelling of deity and the repetition of the mystery of sacrifice.
Still another, "The Reed-Player," stirs up a vague but accessible sense of the artist as symbolically both priest and victim with its portrait of a rustic "myth-maker":
The use of "chant" is itself intimately connected with the pervasive tendency of the Celts, as Sharp often described them, to see "the thing beyond the thing," to view surface phenomena as signs and symbols, a tendency which was quite legitimately extended to language. The passion for the study of language, especially poetic language, as symbol was primitively demonstrated in a Fiona Macleod work called "The Lynn of Dreams" (1902). Here a young writer seeks the "secret" of words, first in all language, then in his own work, and at last in the "other world." He is given, through the agency of Dalua, the Celtic personification of the power of illusion, a glimpse into the immortal shape and color of words-into a kind of sphere of Platonic ideas. The experience is at first deceptively revivifying. But as the writer attempts to re-evolve the shapes of his vision in his own writing, he fails miserably:
The last lines of this equivocal story can, in one way, be used as an epigraph to all the later imaginative work of Fiona Macleod, which is so much marked by a condition of futility. They suggest that the power of the "seer" is also a threat, and well they might. Sharp's own efforts at to re-evoke, consciously and deliberately, the ecstatic inspiration that had produced Fiona Macleod's first and best novels and short stories in the mid-nineties had yielded nothing but frustration. Unable, however, to sacrifice the pseudonym, he continued to exercise the symbolic vision, but in work that more and more blurred the line between artist and philosopher-critic.29
Fiona Macleod's first forays into literary criticism, in the late nineties, were symptomatic of this shift. They indicate Sharp's awareness from the vantage point of his whole imaginative vision that even if he could only look in retrospect upon his best imaginative work, he could still articulate the principles behind it and encourage their application by others. "The arts have become religious," Fiona Macleod, in "Celtic," quoted Yeats as saying (though the idea was nothing if not widespread among the contemporary avant-garde). They must, Fiona Macleod continued, "as religious thought has always done, utter themselves through legends; and the Gaelic legends have so much of a new beauty that they may well give the opening century its most memorable symbols."30
Sharp's later efforts under his pseudonym seem to have been designed as a way of making Fiona Macleod continue as handmaiden to the movement she had earlier led. They form a compendium of all the legendry, Gaelic mainly but not exclusively that could convey the religiosity of symbol and assist or explicate the work of others. "Iona," "By Sundown Shores," "The Sunset of Old Tales," and similar pieces were the residue of Fiona Macleod's Gaelic memory and imagination. But universality was the keynote of a series of evocative essays called Where the Forest Murmurs (1904-1905). Their title, which might make them immediately suspect as sentimental descriptions of nature in the vein Sharp himself had described as "idyllist," was completely deceptive. The essays actually displayed an intimate firsthand knowledge of natural phenomena that was as tough-minded as scientific disquisition---with this difference, that into them Fiona Macleod also deftly spun the mythology of nature and the folklores of innumerable countries. Through them Sharp bore witness to his belief in the unity underlying all primitive perceptions that nature is the veil of another kind of wisdom.
Notable among these essays is one called "The Mountain Charm," in which the author analyzes in psychological terms the influence mountains seem to exert, "the overwhelming sense of their imagined eternity," and in which he perceives the shift in sensibility that caused the nineteenth century to make mountains a special medium for conveying the experience of the romantic. The sea, and water in general, receives its share of scrutiny in several other essays. With a detachment and straightforward power unmatched by much of his fictional writing as Fiona Macleod, Sharp studies the tendency to see in the ebb and flow of water "the secret of life," and in its continuum "the secret of eternity." "The Sea Spell" pursues the "influence" of water, analyzing its relation to womanhood, as "Still Waters" analyzes various other kinds of anthropomorphic life-parallels evoked by pools, tarns, and quiet waters in forest places. Sharp ranges through the year, casually and with a pleasant sureness in his knowledge. He succeeds in expressing the vitality of nature even in winter, giving a form of symbolic life to the phenomena of ice, wind, clouds, stars, birds. Whether symbols of joy or symbols of sorrow or evil, or complex, reverberating symbols of both, they call us, he says with suggestive power, to "the wastes of the imagination."31 This image has a rich, double-edged significance that, in its relevance to modern literature, might give one cause to wonder whether the "wasteland" is not wrongly construed as a metaphor for desolation.
Regardless of its debt to Frazer and other collectors of and commentators upon folklore, a debt that clearly was great, Where the Forest Murmurs is a worthy transposition of anthropology into another key and on another instrument. The essays are prophetic in their recognition of the scope of natural symbols---particularly of the way natural symbols have of accreting meaning and suggestiveness.
For nothing is more strange than the life of natural symbols. We may discern in them a new illusion, a new meaning: the thought we slip into them may be shaped to a new desire and coloured with some new fantasy of dreams or of the unspoken and nameless longing in the heart: but the symbol has seen a multitude of desires come and go like shadows, has been troubled with many longings and baffled wings of the veiled passions of the soul.32
This passage is from the essay "Rosa Mystica," which disengages from the rest and explores, with a steady control of very eclectic materials, the one "eternal and unchanging symbol" that has seemed to possess a peculiar fascination for modern writers and scholars.
This catalogue of Sharp's views of nature in literature and art represents his underlying religious respect for the imagination of the artist. It is the imagination that not only responds to the data provided by the senses but stores up and recasts past experiences, associations, and feelings, and that recognizes them as a part---perhaps the more important part---of the present. Moreover, it has a visionary power: "with the second sight of the imagination we can often see more clearly in the perspectives of the past than in the maze of the present"---we can see what lies "below the accidents of time and circumstance."33
But a still more remarkable power of the imagination is its freedom to range internally as well as externally. The enterprise of the artist is, in other words, not only to return nature and natural phenomena to their imaginative correlatives but to create shapes and embodiments for strictly imaginative concepts. This was the intent of Fiona Macleod's "The Divine Adventure" (1899), a drama of inner division and reconciliation, a journey through psychic space of the three faculties of Body, Will, and Soul.
In an apologia for this piece, Fiona Macleod curiously asserted that its author, as symbolist, was "supremely a realist." He claimed to abhor the "vague" and to be incapable of disregarding "the actual reality as it seems."34 These were strange claims indeed to make of a tale where the only verisimilitude lay in the truth of the existence of an inner life. Beyond that it was an allegory in the traditional sense. But there is a persistence in Sharp's application of the terms "realist" and "reality" that, however strange, characterizes all of his remarks on the uses of the imagination and that must be reckoned with. Commenting, in the context of his discussion of "The Divine Adventure," upon an earlier story, "The Book of the Opal," he called it "a sketch true in essentials, but having at its close an arbitrary interpolation of external symbolism which I now regard as superfluous. I have since realized that the only living and convincing symbol is that which is conceived of the spirit, and not imagined by the mind."35 Perhaps Sharp considered the spirit "realist" in its technique because it stored up experience for symbolic re-use. In this case, the distinction between "spirit" and "mind" might well be construed as a premise derived in reverse fashion from a conclusion---that is, that there are symbols more "living and convincing," more "real" in short, than others. The problem of defining his meaning is compounded by one of application---of the appropriateness of a given symbol in a given place. The four symbols of stone, sword, spear, and cup, for the four cultures of North, East, South, and West, were those he had rejected as "superfluous" in "The Book of the Opal." Yet he employed them again, to his own apparent satisfaction, in a Fiona Macleod poem called "The Dirge of the Four Cities."36
Sharp's increasing efforts to work Fiona Macleod as literary critic gave him, however, further opportunities to analyze the distinction between the true and the false symbol. This distinction was elaborated in an essay, "The Later Work of Mr. Yeats" (1902), where Fiona Macleod spoke of Yeats as a "priest" of the symbolic, as one of those poets who see and dream in a reality so vivid that it is called imagination . . . With him the imagination is in truth the second-sight of the mind. Thus it is that he lives with symbols, as unimaginative natures live with facts." Then he proceeded to the crucial issue:
"One may speak with the tongue of angels," he added, "but the accent must be human and familiar."37
In the case of the Celtic writer, symbolism could thus be very much a two-way street. Accepted and traditional symbols of accreted significance, so long as that significance was not too esoteric (as Fiona Macleod claimed many of Yeats's were), could be used to "realize" human experience of a spiritual or an emotional nature. But conversely, one might start with the imaginative emotional or spiritual experience and translate it by way of a new synthesis of commonplace "fact," thereby making that "fact" symbolic.
In explaining such a technique of imaginative translation, Sharp is perhaps no clearer than anyone has ever been. Yet whatever his meaning, he evidently believed that psychic figments possessed a reality so virtual that they could be dramatized into what he called the "psychic" or symbolic drama. Here his comments on Yeats are again appropriate, for one of the "later" works he was studying in this essay was "The Shadowy Waters." This was not, he said, a drama in the usual sense, but "lyrical thought become continuous, because it is the symbolic reflection of what is in the poet's mind, rather than the architectonic revelation of what his imagination has definitely shaped. It is not, strictly, a poetical drama, even structurally, for action and speech are subservient to the writer's entranced vision of the symbolism of the action and of the speeches." At this point, Fiona Macleod pointed allusively to Sharp's own earlier work in the impressionistic drama:
Sharp's Vistas (1984) had been like attempts to give "reality" to the "dramas of the mind." They strongly resembled the dramas of the Belgian school be championed so firmly, although his earliest efforts in this vein antedated his acquaintance with the work of Maeterlinck. For modern readers these would no longer be "new and strange utterances." Their manner, if not their matter, is extremely familiar, for Sharp's later prophecy that the theater would reject mere social history and attempt more and more the dramatization of psychological experience has to a great extent been realized. Modern dramatists have crossed the line between fantasy and what is normally considered reality, to give their stage conceptions the associative and imaginative value of dreams and to exploit rather than ignore the stage's basis in illusion. Sharp's work differed from theirs only in having less breadth or complexity of plot, as well, perhaps, as less assistance from advances in stagecraft. He had, it may be remembered, defended the inferior stage effects of his favored Belgians on the grounds that their dramas were not intended for production, and he was probably uncertain of the playability of works like his own.
Though the only two completed dramas of Fiona Macleod, The House of Usna and The Immortal Hour, differ from Vistas in having their plot basis in Celtic myth, they are actually "psychic" dramas in the same sense as Vistas, and in the sense in which Sharp defined Yeats's "Shadowy Waters." In The House of Usna the essential action related to the myth, the death of Deirdre, has already taken place before the play opens. It only remains for the author to lyricize on her death and to use "the fall of the House" as part of an elegiac theme, repeated in various moods and tempos.39 The Immortal Hour is similarly evasive in plot, although more of the essential action takes place within the drama itself. The latter play bears special resemblance to the D'Annunzian drama, by which both must also have been influenced, n which sonorous, oracular, almost somnambulistic speeches are uttered by abstracted figures.40
It is extremely difficult to judge this type of drama by ordinary theatrical standards. The plays are not especially moving when read, though strictly as literature they evince a certain compelling quality in their atmosphere of doom---something compelling even in the obscurity of their verse. Dorothy Hoare, in her study of the uses and abuses of myth in modern literature, may have been justified in dismissing these works as vague and pretentious.41 Critics of D'Annunzio have done the same. Yet the experience of one "captive" spectator of D'Annunzian drama, Carlo Levi, testifies to the power of this drama as played by a traveling Sicilian family that performed throughout southern Italy in simple peasant settings not unlike those in which the dramas were conceived.42 One wonders, thinking of Fiona Macleod's plays, if such a native and deeply-felt performance might not also evoke from them what the distant and detached critic cannot conceive by himself.
Even, however, if one grants that the Celtic mythology did not prove a fruitful field for drama, the reader attempting to judge the validity of Sharp's theories must still reckon with the substantial modern success of the dramatic retelling of Greek legend. This might suggest that the weakness of the Celtic drama resulted from the limited diffusion and comprehension of the myths themselves and that Sharp was basically justified in his intentions insofar as he saw the modern dramatist's rejuvenation in a new kind of symbolic tragedy that might, if it chose, exploit the permanence and universality of ancient myth. "In tragic drama," he asserted, "it is authenticity of emotion and not authenticity of episode that matters."43 What all heroic mythologies have in common, in other words, is emotional correspondence. "The tradition of accursed families is not the fantasy of one dramatist or of one country or of one time."44 It is rather a basic theme of the potency and fatality of blood in which "the names stand for the elemental passions,"45 and which numerous playwrights, in numerous civilizations, in numerous eras, have successfully transposed. What the modern "psychic" dramatist will attempt, Sharp forecasts, is to reproduce the validity of the emotions attendant on such stories as the Oresteia. This "Psychic Drama shall not be less nervous," less energetic, than the theater of the intellect, "but the emotional energy shall be along the nerves of the spirit, which sees beneath, above, and beyond, rather than merely along the nerves of material life, which sees only that which is in the line of sight."46 This drama has but one limitation be yet hopes may eventually be overcome: "The poet, the dramatist, is not able---is not yet able---to express in beauty and convey in symbol the visible energy of these emotions without resort to the artifice of men and women set in array, with harmonious and arbitrary speech given to them, and a background of illusion made unreal by being made emphatic."47 Someday, he says, the spectator's imagination may not require these props, and the dramatist will be permitted the "naked" expression of elemental passions.
Exactly how this was to be accomplished Sharp did not fully explain. Though he was to some extent anticipating the actual experience of twentieth-century theater, his language is still too radical to have perfect application to it. Perhaps once again he had in mind something like the cosmic consciousness of Edward Carpenter, whose elementary premise in The Art of Creation was that artistic creation was "the embodying forth of feeling" through matter. Carpenter posed such a hypothetical question as that implied by Fiona Macleod's "naked" expression of elemental passions:
Although this prophecy, which would seem so consistent with Sharp's otherwise cryptic words, still strains credibility, there was, nevertheless, soundness to Sharp's estimate of the direction modern theater would take. For him, a new theater was coming; the theater of the intellect (which he, like many of his contemporaries, equated with Ibsen) was "outworn." "The inherent tendency to demonstrate intellectually from a series of incontrovertible facts is not adequate for those who would see in the drama the means to demonstrate symbolically from a sequence of intuitive perceptions."49 Quoting Chateaubriand's mysterious statement "To recover the desert, I took refuge in the theater, "Sharp alleges that "the whole effort of a civilization become anaemic and disillusioned must be 'to recover the desert."' Chateaubriand knew "that in the théątre de l'āme lay the subtlest and most searching means for the imagination to compel reality to dreams, to compel actuality to vision, to compel the symbolic congregation of words to the bewildered throng of wandering and illusive thoughts and ideas."50 Like most of Sharp's geographic metaphors, this one, though borrowed, has a singular appropriateness for his mind. Reminiscent of his reference, in Where the Forest Murmurs, to "the wastes of the imagination," the image reminds us that though the desert is a "wasteland" it is also akin to the "vast spaces" Sharp had professed to love many years before, and which he now seemed to see as "that wilderness, that actual or symbolic solitude, to which the creative imagination goes as the curlew to the wastes or as the mew to foam and wind."51 These would be the spaces that liberate the modern soul from forms accreted and alien to it, the flatlands on which everything might be built anew.
The conviction on which Sharp's vision of the new drama was based, that in both its literary and pictorial forms art is the expression of the "reality" of inner and imaginative life, informs almost every critical essay Sharp wrote under either name from about 1898 until his death. Modern criticism uses Hopkins' word "inscape," one that it is no surprise was formulated in Sharp's era; Sharp would have been peculiarly grateful for it had it been available to him then. When Stephen Phillips, in an article in the Dome for February 1899, claimed to have discovered the inner life as a subject for poetry, Fiona Macleod "sharply" responded that Celtic literature had always recognized "a compelling sense of the paramount reality of the life of the spirit" and that modern poets like Yeats and A.E. had long worked from that recognition.52
It was an indication of how alien still was the general critical atmosphere in which he spoke that Sharp felt it necessary at the same time to express the fear that the poetry "of the spirit" so-called would be mistaken for a poetry of spiritualism: "I would rather see poetry sink to become the province of the skilled artificer than that the singer, the maker, the seer, should relinquish it to the mental drunkard the spiritual epileptic."53 Yet this important qualification served only as a moderately efficient warning to some of Fiona Macleod's would-be admirers. Even as late as 1919, one such admirer used a spiritualist theory of "possession" to explain the extraordinary compassion for women expressed by Sharp under his pseudonyms.54 That his purpose should be so mistaken was probably in part the fault of a vocabulary that is now familiar to literary criticism, but which spiritualists had for a time preempted. Like William Blake and like many late Victorian neo-romantics, for whom Blake was a prophet in every sense, Sharp laid emphasis, in Fiona Macleod's Dome article and elsewhere, on the poet as "seer" and on poetry as prophecy and revelation. His Fiona Macleod writings were filled with characterizations of prophetic, often mad poets, capable of extraordinary psychic experiences, not the least of which was second sight. These same poets were given the character, if not the name, of the Celtic type of the poet-madman, the "Amadan." Moreover, a series of semi-autobiographical tales in one Fiona Macleod volume, The Sin-Eater (1895), was dedicated to the phenomenon of the "sight" and those who possessed it. The passion for endowing the poet with special tools of wisdom and vision was a means for expressing Sharp's own view of his duty as an artist to see-as he put it, "with the second sight of the imagination"---the truth revealed in natural phenomena. Nevertheless, it so served to encourage the spiritualist view of his work that Yeats, himself an early devotee of the occult, thought he was doing Sharp no harm when he said of him after his death that he was "the most extraordinary psychic he had ever encountercd."55
Sharp qua Sharp, of course, steered clear of the dangerous spiritualist vocabulary. Even had it offered no latitude for misinterpretation, his effort to avoid any confounding of his two literary personalities would have kept that vocabulary from the "bread-and-butter-making" side of his work. But he placed no restraint on his effort to promote the symbolic view of art. This course is evident in essays on Edward Burne-Jones and Puvis de Chavannes in 1898, both of them demigods of the prevailing esthetic avant-garde. Burne-Jones he considered preeminently a painter of "otherworldliness," a man for whom "the reality of dreams was much more . . . than outward actuality."56 Though he hesitated to commit himself totally on an estimate of Burne-Jones's future fame, it would have been unlike Sharp not to suggest, in accord with his sentiments on the direction of modern art, that Burne-Jones had "bequeathed a great heritage" to the future and had already exerted an influence that, whether or not as part of his personal reputation, would continue to be felt. There is an echo of Fiona Macleod's testimony as to the new symbolic dispensation in some of Sharp's further comments. "From the outset," he says, Burne-Jones "saw life symbolically." He is "in the truest sense a profound realist---only his realism is not that aggregating observation of the detective intelligence, but the perceiving and unifying vision of the imagination."57 "To us," he continues, "his work is ideal; to himself, real, verily existent," filled with a "new, almost hieratic vision."58
In connection with Burne-Jones, Sharp makes an observation that is of continuing significance to the modern reader seeking to unify the varying artistic products of the nineteenth century. Quoting in curious juxtaposition both the transcendentalist's phrase that the world is "the garment of God" and Pater's statement that "all the acts and accidents of daily life borrow a sacred color and significance,"59 Sharp asserts that what is called the esthetic or romantic movement is no more than a simultaneous accord among many artists that the commonplace is itself symbolical. He perceived, in other words, that an equal fundamental concern with the commonplace was the point where the so-called esthete and the realist or naturalist met. As Sharp observed, they shared the common effort to evoke the "deep and poignant sense of the tragic piteousness of life," though only one of the schools felt the need to sublimate and purify it---"the imperative need to interpret through beauty its spiritual correspondenccs."60
The view of Burne-Jones that gave rise to these insights is to a large extent reiterated in Sharp's study of Puvis de Chavannes: "He worked through and towards an ideal vision . . . [But] though so dreamlike in many of his creations, Puvis de Chavannes was a realist in the truest sense. Everything he did was studied from nature, and his imagination was always based on actuality." Confronted with the complaint that Chavannes "traduced life by overmuch beauty," Sharp recalls Chavannes' own reply: "There is ample room between Hogarth and Lionardo,"61 implying that truth to life is not the exclusive province of the realist and that it embraces an extraordinarily wide range of vision and expression.
"Ample room" was a necessity for the William Sharp of life as of literature. If "the wastes of the imagination," yielding so many possibilities of expression of truth, had as yet found no corroboration or counterpart in common experience, they had found their counterpart in his. Sharp's vision, which had always been focused on the outside world, had also always been in search of a landscape that could express the limitlessly complex geography of the inner man---indeed that could express the uncertain, often perilous geography of the soul of modern man. For this reason one comes very close to Sharp's interpretation of the needs of that man by reading the scattered travel articles that, along with Literary Geography, were the main preoccupation of Sharp's last years. These articles illustrate his characteristic ability to translate nature into symbol, to reconstruct out of the earth around him a vivid reflection of the breadth and range of his own imaginative vision.
Intermittently ill from 1896 on, and requiring the resuscitating agency of frequent trips to the warm south, Sharp finally found his preferred place of rest in Sicily. Many years of experience with a travel-hungry British public had made him something of an opportunist, and despite his illness he could not resist luring them with descriptions of this fascinating island, still barely touched by tourism. The resulting articles tell why Sicily held such an attraction for him. Here the primitive element was strong; here he could find, as he had found in the Tuscan and Umbrian bills, the remains of an ancient, Dionysiac, ritualistic civilization, with closer and surer ties to his beloved Greeks than even the Etruscans could boast; here was a civilization steeped in "mystery cults," fatalism, and earth symbolism.62
Sharp's imagination was especially stirred by the ruined shrine of Venus at Erice. If Iona had been the island mecca of the Gael, this was the island mecca of all of western civilization, host through millennia of changing cultures to worshippers of the Goddess of Love and Death, Aphrodite, Astarte, Venus, and finally the Madonna berself.63 But this variety of worship was only a single illustration of what all of Sicily seemed uniquely to symbolize for Sharp, the simultaneous existence and interplay of all religious, historical, and racial truth. It was in what he called the Sicilian Highlands that he felt the thrill of encountering "abrupt racial contrasts."64 It was here in Sicily that the poles of civilization crossed, here that the Norman and Saracen met. Here, ever present, was the sense of "the things of the spirit that do not fade, the remembrance of great names, great deeds, terrible events, monumental heroisms, monumental sorrows."65 Here every fragment of the symbology of the "elemental passions" had been stored and preserved. For Sharp Sicily was as near as man could come to the geography of the universal mind.
During the first years of the twentieth century, the last years of his life, Sharp spent the greater part of his time in and around Taormina, particularly at the Castello di Maniace, near Etna, as a guest in the villa of Alexander Nelson Hood, the Duke of Bronte. The Sharps no doubt had good practical reasons for finding the place especially convenient, for, apart from the sheer physical allure of the land, the villa offered the comforts only a wealthy Englishman could maintain and proximity to one of the few Sicilian resorts then developed to any "tent.
But Sharp's last essay reveals that it was not Taormina's convenience and charm that held the secret of its hold upon his imagination. Written just before his death, that essay, "The Garden of the Sun," shows the inevitable effects of Sharp's physical decline. Its uneven surface poignantly conveys the struggle between his consciousness of the ephemeral and pedestrian nature of travel writing and his yearning to transcribe into words a vision he may never find a means of expressing again. To the reader who understands Sharp, it is no guide-book exercise? but a cry of discovery. Taormina, in the shelter of "Mother Etna...... the soul of Sicily, the soul of Italy, the soul of Greece," had become not merely a place but "a spirit, a presence, a Past that is the Present, a Present that is the Past." It was the same unchanging, most lovely coign where Pythagoras himself once taught, where the dark searching eyes of St. Paul wandered for some sign of the Unknown God, where the Greek adventurers of old landed and founded a city and raised a great fane to Apollo, and where, in the dim, impenetrable past, a mysterious race worshipped a mysterious goddess of the sea whose very name has passed from the memory of man.66
In short, Taormina was a place where the mind and spirit, in search of the freedom to range in all the dimensions of experience, in both time and space, could be liberated for their excursions.
Long ago the unknown town built on the scarps of Taurus merged into Tauremenion, and Tauremenion has known the Sikel, the Greek, the Carthaginian, the Roman, the Saracen, the Moor, the Spaniard, the Neapolitan, the Italian of the North.
Within that history was variety, yet within that variety, permanence: "These races, these dynasties, these triumphs and disasters, pass away like the dust of storms. Taormina remains."67
Before he died on December 5, 1905, Sharp selected for his epitaph two inscriptions he himself had composed. One of these had been a favorite among some of the more oracular and cryptic phrases of Fiona Macleod: "Love is greater than we conceive, and Death is the keeper of unknown redemptions." The other was subscribed "W.S." and read:
Both of these, but particularly the last, were profoundly wise and self-knowing for one whose search for the "illimitable" had been consuming. But in another sense, the inscription of "W.S." was no more than a sonorous footnote to his last experiment in locating a correspondent natural counterpart for his frenetic need of space, even if the place be found was after all but partially fulfilling, and once seen, already "known and exhausted." His coming to rest at last on a hillside near Etna was remarkably fitting. The resolution of his last years, the appropriation of Taormina as the supreme representative of the variety of his own identity, was the only resolution available to a man whose temperament and time forced him into the lonely role of precursor rather than participator in a movement. Taormina was a refuge of moral as well as of physical health. Taormina was a symbolic consummation of all that be felt was potential in himself.
Sharp died probably unaware how much the lure of the "unknown and illimitable" was already beginning to be felt by others. The art and literature of the near future was yet to prove Death not the only keeper of redemptions for those imaginations seeking freedom from the limits of their place, their time, their plot, however "blessed" it might be.