The Child of the Dawn by Arthur Christopher Benson


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Page 1

It is easy to learn this, to attain to a sense of certainty about it,
and yet to be unable to put it into practice as simply and frankly as
one desires to do! The body grows strong again and reasserts itself; but
the blessed consciousness of a great possibility apprehended and grasped

There came to me, too, a sense that one of the saddest effects of
what is practically a widespread disbelief in immortality, which
affects many people who would nominally disclaim it, is that we think
of the soul after death as a thing so altered as to be practically
unrecognisable--as a meek and pious emanation, without qualities or aims
or passions or traits--as a sort of amiable and weak-kneed sacristan in
the temple of God; and this is the unhappy result of our so often making
religion a pursuit apart from life--an occupation, not an atmosphere; so
that it seems impious to think of the departed spirit as interested in
anything but a vague species of liturgical exercise.

I read the other day the account of the death-bed of a great statesman,
which was written from what I may call a somewhat clerical point of
view. It was recorded with much gusto that the dying politician took no
interest in his schemes of government and cares of State, but found
perpetual solace in the repetition of childish hymns. This fact had, or
might have had, a certain beauty of its own, if it had been expressly
stated that it was a proof that the tired and broken mind fell back upon
old, simple, and dear recollections of bygone love. But there was
manifest in the record a kind of sanctimonious triumph in the extinction
of all the great man's insight and wisdom. It seemed to me that the
right treatment of the episode was rather to insist that those great
qualities, won by brave experience and unselfish effort, were only
temporarily obscured, and belonged actually and essentially to the
spirit of the man; and that if heaven is indeed, as we may thankfully
believe, a place of work and progress, those qualities would be actively
and energetically employed as soon as the soul was freed from the
trammels of the failing body.

Another point may also be mentioned. The idea of transmigration and
reincarnation is here used as a possible solution for the extreme
difficulties which beset the question of the apparently fortuitous
brevity of some human lives. I do not, of course, propound it as
literally and precisely as it is here set down--it is not a forecast of
the future, so much as a symbolising of the forces of life--but _the
renewal of conscious experience_, in some form or other, seems to be the
only way out of the difficulty, and it is that which is here indicated.
If life is a probation for those who have to face experience and
temptation, how can it be a probation for infants and children, who die
before the faculty of moral choice is developed? Again, I find it very
hard to believe in any multiplication of human souls. It is even more
difficult for me to believe in the creation of new souls than in the
creation of new matter. Science has shown us that there is no actual
addition made to the sum of matter, and that the apparent creation of
new forms of plants or animals is nothing more than a rearrangement of
existing particles--that if a new form appears in one place, it merely
means that so much matter is transferred thither from another place. I
find it, I say, hard to believe that the sum total of life is actually
increased. To put it very simply for the sake of clearness, and
accepting the assumption that human life had some time a beginning on
this planet, it seems impossible to think that when, let us say, the two
first progenitors of the race died, there were but two souls in heaven;
that when the next generation died there were, let us say, ten souls in
heaven; and that this number has been added to by thousands and
millions, until the unseen world is peopled, as it must be now, if no
reincarnation is possible, by myriads of human identities, who, after
a single brief taste of incarnate life, join some vast community of
spirits in which they eternally reside. I do not say that this latter
belief may not be true; I only say that in default of evidence, it seems
to me a difficult faith to hold; while a reincarnation of spirits, if
one could believe it, would seem to me both to equalise the inequalities
of human experience, and give one a lively belief in the virtue and
worth of human endeavour. But all this is set down, as I say, in a
tentative and not in a philosophical form.

And I have also in these pages kept advisedly clear of Christian
doctrines and beliefs; not because I do not believe wholeheartedly in
the divine origin and unexhausted vitality of the Christian revelation,
but because I do not intend to lay rash and profane hands upon the
highest and holiest of mysteries.

I will add one word about the genesis of the book. Some time ago I
wrote a number of short tales of an allegorical type. It was a curious
experience. I seemed to have come upon them in my mind, as one comes
upon a covey of birds in a field. One by one they took wings and flew;
and when I had finished, though I was anxious to write more tales, I
could not discover any more, though I beat the covert patiently to
dislodge them.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 25th Feb 2020, 5:36