For once, in an elongated room with buff-colored walls--having scarlet hangings over its windows, and seeming larger than it was in reality, because of its many mirrors--they foregathered with Napoleon, on the evening of his coronation: the emperor of half-Europe was fretting over an awkward hitch in the day's ceremony, caused by his sisters' attempt to avoid carrying the Empress Josephine's train; and he was grumbling because the old French families continued to ignore him, as a parvenu. All in all, the Emperor had got no pleasure out of his day's work.
In a neglected orchard, sunsteeped and made drowsy by the murmer of bees, they talked with Shakespeare: the playwright, his nerves the worse for the preceding night's potations, was peevishly complaining of the meager success of his later comedies, he was worrying over Lord Pembroke's neglect of him, and he was trying to concoct a masque in the style of fat Ben Jonson, since that was evidently what the theater-patronizing public wanted; and, working thus against the grain, Shakespeare had got not any pleasyre out of his day's work.
Then they were with Pontius Pilate in Jersusalem on the evening of a day when the sky had been black and the earth had trembled; and Pilate, benevolent and replete with supper, was explaining the latest theories concerning eclipses and earthquakes to his little boy, and he was chuckling with fond pride in the youngsters intelligent questions, because Pontius Pilate was exceedingly well pleased with his day's work.
These three were a few among the prominent worthies of remoter days whom Kennaston was enabled to view as they appeared in the flesh; but, as a rule, chance thrust him into the company of mediocre people living ordinary lives amid surroundings which seeme d outlandish to him, but to them a matter of course. And everywhere, in every age, it seemed to him, men stumbld amiable and shatterpated through a jungle of miracles, blind to its wonderfulness, and intent to gain a little money, food and sleep, a trink et or two, some rare snatched fleeting moments of rantipole laughter, and at the last a decent bed to die in. He, and he only, it seemed to Felix Kennaston, could see the jungle and all its awe-inspiring beauty, wherethrough men scurried like feeble-mind ed ants.
He often wondered whether any other man had been so licensed as himself; and prowling, as he presently did, in odd byways of printed matter--for he found the library of his predecessor at Alcluid a mine rich-veined with strangness--Kennaston lighted on much that appeared to him significant. Even such apparently unrelated matters as the doctrine of metempsychosis, all the grotesque literature of witches, sorcerers and familiar spirits, and of muses who actually prompted artistic composition with audible voices, were beginning to fall into cloudily-discerned interlocking. Kennaston read much nowadays in his dead uncle's books; and he often wished that, even at the expense of Felix Kennaston's being reduced again to poverty, it were possible to revivify the man who had amassed and read these books. Kennaston wanted to talk with him.
Meanwhile, Kennaston read of Endymion and Numa, of Iason and Anchises, of Tannhauser, and Foulques Plantagent, and Raymondin de la Foret, and Olger Danske, and other mortal men to whom old legend-weavers, as if wistfully, accreditd the love of immortal m istresses--and of less fortunatte nympholepts, frail babbling planet-stricken folk, who had spied by accident upon an inhuman loveliness, and so, must pine away consumed by foiled desire of a beauty which the homes and cities and the tilled places of men did not afford, and life did not bring forth sufficingly. He read Talmundic tales of Sulieman-ben-Daoud--even in name transfigured out of any resemblance to an amasser of reliable axioms--that proud luxurious despot "who went daily to the comliest of the spirits for wisdom"; and of Arthur and the Lady Nimue; and of Thomas of Ercildoune, whom the Queen of Faery drew from the merchants' market-place with ambiguous kindnesses; and of John Faustus, who "through fantasies and deep cogitations" was enabled to woo successfully a woman that died long before his birth, and so won to his love, as the book recorded, "this stately pearl of Greece, fair Helena, the wife to King Menelaus."
And, as has been said, the old idea of muses who actually prompted artistic composition, with audible voices, took on another aspect. He came to suspect that other creative writers had shared such a divided life as his was now, for of this he seemed to f ind traces here and there. Colerdige offered at once an arresting parallel. Yes, Kennaston reflected; and Coleridge had no doubt spoken out in the first glow of wonder, astounded into a sort of treason, when he revealed how he wrote Kubla Khan; s o that thus perhaps Coleridge had told far more concerning the origin of this particular poem than he ever did as to his later compositions. Then, also, I have a volume of Herrick from Keennaston's library with curious comments penciled therein, relative to Lovers How They Come and Part and His Mistress Calling Him to Elysium; a copy of Marlowe's Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is similarly annotated; and on a fly-leaf in Forster's Life of Charles Dickens, apropos of passag es in the first chapter of the ninth book, Kennaston has inscribed strange speculations very ill suited to general reading. All that Kennaston cared to print, however, concerning the hypothesis he eventually evolved, you can find in The Tinctured Veil , where he has nicely refrained from too-explicit writing, and--of course--does not anywhere point-blank refer to his personal experiences.
Then Kennaston ran afoul on the Rosicrucians, and their quaint dogmas, which appeared so preposterous at first, took on vital meanings presently; and here too he seemed to surprise the cautious whispering of men who neither cared nor dared to speak with c andor of all they knew. It seemed to him he understood that whispering which was everywhere apparent in human history; for he too was initiate.
He wondered very often about his uncle....