7 February 2014

Offspring of Body, Mind, and Heart

W. Compton Leith (pseudonym of Ormonde Maddock Dalton, 1866-1945), Apologia Diffidentis (London: John Lane, 1917), pp. 121-123:
As my reading is incessant, so also is my writing. For the happiness of man is in his fertility, and of barrenness comes the worst despair. To be happy is to have issue—children, or books written, or things beautifully wrought, or monuments of goodness to live after you, if only in the memory of some tiny hamlet of the folded hills. This is the law of life that Diotima knew, by which flower and tree, animal and man, fulfil the end of their creation; and man in nothing more surely proves his lordship than by his many-handed hold upon posterity. For the lower creation is procreant in one way, but man in many; who may have offspring not of body alone but of mind and heart, and be so redeemed from the grim dismay of childlessness. The greatest human happiness is to be fertile in every way, a thing granted rarely in the world we know; the next, perhaps, is that of the parent who gives all of himself to his family, not tilling any field beyond the charmed walls confining his desire. The author sure of his fame, the born artist, the benefactor of his kind, are also happy, seeing their offspring grow in years and in the power of making a brighter world.

But he is miserable who, aspiring to follow these, feels his force wane within him while he remains yet fatherless; or who has sons stillborn, or weakly, or dishonoured. I question whether sheer degradation into evil brings more pain to man than such sense of sterility or frustrate parentage. But it is no small part of human redemption that none need know the interminable misery. A man may have neither sons nor genius, but in the dark hour he can go out and give, if it be only a penny or a kind word, and on that foundation build a temple to receive his thanksgiving. To give of yourself is good. This is that grand agreement and œcumenical consent to which those words quod ab omnibus quod ubique in deed and truth may be applied. For this reason meanness is of the deeps, and avarice groans in the lowest zone of hell. And if there are faces of blank and permanent despair upon your path, be sure that these are not masks of whole men, but of those who wilfully abstained from joy and have received the greater damnation. My children are mostly writings, poor weakly creatures dying inarticulate and unchristened, tenderly remembered by myself only, but at least no nuisance to the world. I loved them at their birth, I hold them in remembrance, though they were ever of a hectic and uncertain beauty.
Title page of Apologia Diffidentis