Friday, 23/02/2024 - 13:40
11:09 | 03/10/2019

Sometimes in the night-time Gilliatt woke and peered into the darkness.

He felt a strange emotion.

His eyes were opened upon the black night; the situation was dismal; full of disquietude.

There is such a thing as the pressure of darkness.

A strange roof of shadow; a deep obscurity, which no diver can explore; a light mingled with that obscurity, of a strange, subdued, and sombre kind; floating atoms of rays, like a dust of seeds or of ashes; millions of lamps, but no illumining; a vast sprinkling of fire, of which no man knows the secret; a diffusion of shining points, like a drift of sparks arrested in their course; the disorder of the whirlwind, with the fixedness of death; a mysterious and abyssmal depth; an enigma, at once showing and concealing its face; the Infinite in its mask of darkness – these are the synonyms of night. Its weight lies heavily on the soul of man.

This union of all mysteries – the mystery of the Cosmos and the mystery of Fate – oppresses human reason.

The pressure of darkness acts in inverse proportion upon different kinds of natures. In the presence of night man feels his own incompleteness. He perceives the dark void and is sensible of infirmity. It is like the vacancy of blindness. Face to face with night, man bends, kneels, prostrates himself, crouches on the earth, crawls towards a cave, or seeks for wings. Almost always he shrinks from that vague presence of the Infinite Unknown. He asks himself what it is; he trembles and bows the head. Sometimes he desires to go to it.

To go whither?

He can only answer, “Yonder.”

But what is that? and what is there?

This curiosity is evidently forbidden to the spirit of man; for all around him the roads which bridge that gulf are broken up or gone. No arch exists for him to span the Infinite. But there is attraction in forbidden knowledge, as in the edge of the abyss. Where the footstep cannot tread, the eye may reach; where the eye can penetrate no further, the mind may soar. There is no man, however feeble or insufficient his resources, who does not essay. According to his nature he questions or recoils before that mystery. With some it has the effect of repressing; with others it enlarges the soul. The spectacle is sombre, indefinite.

Is the night calm and cloudless? It is then a depth of shadow. Is it stormy? It is then a sea of cloud. Its limitless deeps reveal themselves to us, and yet baffle our gaze: close themselves against research, but open to conjecture. Its innumerable dots of light only make deeper the obscurity beyond. Jewels, scintillations, stars; existences revealed in the unknown universes; dread defiances to man’s approach; landmarks of the infinite creation; boundaries there, where there are no bounds; sea-marks impossible, and yet real, numbering the fathoms of those infinite deeps. One microscopic glittering point; then another; then another; imperceptible, yet enormous. Yonder light is a focus; that focus is a star; that star is a sun; that sun is a universe; that universe is nothing. For all numbers are as zero in the presence of the Infinite.

These worlds, which yet are nothing, exist. Through this fact we feel the difference which separates the being nothing from the not to be.

The inaccessible joined to the inexplicable, such is the universe. From the contemplation of the universe is evolved a sublime phenomenon: the soul growing vast through its sense of wonder.[Pg 239] A reverent fear is peculiar to man; the beasts know no such fear.

His intelligence becomes conscious in this august terror of its own power and its own weakness.

Darkness has unity, hence arises horror; at the same time it is complex, and hence terror. Its unity weighs on the spirit and destroys all desire of resistance. Its complexity causes us to look around on all sides; apparently we have reason to fear sudden happenings. We yield and yet are on guard. We are in presence of the whole, hence submission; and of the many, hence defiance.

The unity of darkness contains a multiple, a mysterious plurality – visible in matter, realised in thought. Silence rules all; another reason for watchfulness.

Night – and he who writes this has said it elsewhere – is the right and normal condition of that special part of creation to which we belong. Light, brief of duration here as throughout space, is but the nearness of a star. This universal, prodigious night does not fulfil itself, without friction, and all such friction in such a mechanism means what we call evil. We feel this darkness to be evil, a latent denial of divine order, the implicit blasphemy of the real rebelling against the ideal. Evil complicates, by one knows not what hydra-headed monstrosity, the vast, cosmic whole.

Everywhere it arises and resists.

It is the tempest, and hinders the hastening ship; it is chaos, and trammels the birth of a world. Good is one; evil is ubiquitous. Evil dislocates the logic of Life. It causes the bird to devour the fly and the comet to destroy the planet. Evil is a blot on the page of creation.

The darkness of night is full of vertiginous uncertainty.

Whoso would sound its depths is submerged, and struggles therein.

What fatigue to be compared to this contemplation of shadows. It is the study of annihilation.

There is no sure hold on which the soul may rest. There are ports of departure, and no havens for arrival. The interlacing of contradictory solutions; all the branches of doubt seen at a glance; the ramifications of phenomena budding limitlessly from some undefined impulse; laws intersecting each other; an incomprehensible promiscuity causing the mineral to become vegetable; the vegetable to rise to higher life; thought to gather weight; love to shine and gravitation to attract; the[Pg 240] immense range presented to view by all questions, extending itself into the limitless obscurity; the half seen, suggesting the unknown; the cosmic correlation appearing clearly, not to sight but to intelligence, in the vast, dim space; the invisible become visible – these are the great overshadowing! Man lives beneath it. He is ignorant of detail, but he carries, in such proportion as he is able to bear, the weight of the monstrous whole. This obsession prompted the astronomy of the Chaldean shepherds. Involuntary revelations flow from creation; hints of science fall from it unconsciously and are absorbed by the ignorant. Every solitary, impregnated in this mysterious way, becomes, without being aware of it, a natural philosopher.

The darkness is indivisible. It is inhabited. Inhabited by the changeless absolute; inhabited also by change. Action exists there, disquieting thought! An awful creative will works out its phases. Premeditations, Powers, fore-ordained Destinies, elaborate there together an incommensurable work. A life of horror and terror is hidden therein. There are vast evolutions of suns; the stellar family, the planetary family; zodiacal pollen; the Quid Divinum of currents; effluvia, polarisations, and attractions; there are embraces and antagonisms; a magnificent flux and reflux of universal antithesis; the imponderable, free-floating around fixed centres; there is the sap of globes and light beyond globes; the wandering atom, the scattered germ, the processes of fecundity, meetings for union and for combat; unimagined profusion, distances which are as a dream, vertiginous orbits, the rush of worlds into the incalculable; marvels following each other in the obscurity. One mechanism works throughout in the breath of fleeing spheres, and the wheels that we know are turning. The sage conjectures; the ignorant man believes and trembles. These things exist and yet are hidden; they are inexpugnable, beyond reach, beyond approach.

We are convinced and oppressed – we feel, we know not what dark evidence within us; we realise nothing, but are crushed by the impalpable.

All is incomprehensible, but nothing is unintelligible.

And add to all that, the tremendous question: Is this immanent universe a Being?

We exist beneath the shadow. We look; we listen. And meanwhile the dark earth rolls onward. The flowers are conscious of this tremendous motion; the one opens at eleven in the evening and the other at five in the morning. Astounding sense of law! And in other depths of wonder, the drop of water is a world; the infusoria breed; animalculæ display gigantic fecundity, the imperceptible reveals its grandeur, immensity manifests itself, in an inverse sense; there are algæ that produce in an hour thirteen hundred millions of their kind. Every enigma is propounded in one. The irreducible is before us. Hence we are constrained to some kind of faith. An involuntary belief is the result. But belief does not ensure peace of mind. Faith has an extraordinary desire to take shape. Hence religions. Nothing is so overwhelming as a formless faith.

And despite of thought or desire or inward resistance, to look at the darkness is to fall into profound and wondering meditation. What can we make of these phenomena! How should we act beneath their united forces? To divide such weight of oppression is impossible. What reverie can follow all these mystic vistas? What abstruse revelations arise, stammering, and are obscure from their very mass, as a hesitating speech. Darkness is silence, but such a silence suggests everything. One majestic thought is the result: God – God is the irrepressible idea that springs within man’s soul. Syllogisms, feuds, negations, systems, religions cannot destroy it. This idea is affirmed by the whole dark universe. Yet unrest is everywhere in fearful immanence. The wondrous correlation of forces is manifested in the upholding of the balanced darkness. The universe is suspended and nothing falls. Incessant and immeasurable changes operate without accident or destruction. Man participates in the constant changes, and in experiencing such he names them Destiny. But where does destiny begin? And where does nature end? What difference is there between an event and a season? between a sorrow and a rainfall? between a virtue and a star? An hour, is it not a rolling wave? The wheels of creation revolve mechanically regardless of man. The starry sky is a vision of wheels, pendulums, and counterpoise.

He who contemplates it cannot but ponder upon it.

It is the whole reality and yet the whole abstraction. And nothing more. We are in prison and at the mercy of the darkness, and no evasion is possible.

We are an integral part of the working of this unknown whole; and we feel the mystery within us fraternising with the mystery beyond us. Hence the sublimity of Death. What anguish! And yet what bliss to belong to the Infinite, and through the sense of the Infinite to recognise our inevitable immortality, the possibility of an eternity; to grasp amid this prodigious deluge of universal life, the persistent, imperishable Me; to look at the stars and say, The living soul within me is akin to you; to gaze into darkness and cry, I am as unfathomable as thou! Such immensity is of night, and, added to solitude, weighed heavily on Gilliatt’s mind.

Did he understand it? No.

Did he feel it? Yes.

All these vague imaginings, increased and intensified by solitude, weighed upon Gilliatt.

He understood them little, but he felt them. His was a powerful intellect clouded; a great spirit wild and untaught.





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