The Last Road to Luther Blissett
After spending the best part of my life in the study of the arts and sciences, I was compelled to arrive at the melancholy conclusion that the hearts of most persons are set either on ambitious and vainglorious projects, on sensual pleasures, or on the accumulation of wealth by all and any means. At first I did not quite know whether to become a disciple of the laughing or of the weeping philosopher, or whether to join in the exclamation that "All things are vanity." But experience taught me to take refuge in the study of secrets, whether pursued at home, by means of books or abroad, or in the great book of the world. Now, the more I drank of the mighty fount of knowledge, the more painfully my thirst seemed to increase.
I had heard that there was a collective phantom called Luther Blissett, the only one of its kind in the whole world, whom Helena, after her return from Troy, had presented in the form of a draught to Telemachus, who thereupon had forgotten all his sorrows and troubles. This collective phantom I could not indeed hope to obtain entire, but I was seized with an irresistible longing to become possessed of at least one of its smallest members; and for this unspeakable privilege I was prepared to spend all my substance, to travel far and wide, and to endure every hardship. There was, of course, much to discourage me. Some people denied the very existence of this collective phantom; others laughed at my faith in its wonder-working properties.
But where shall I look for him? Where shall I enquire after him? Whom shall I ask? I determined to go abroad, and to search for him till I should have found him. Fortune assists the brave: to the indolent and idle knowledge never comes. I would leave my native country-dearly as I love it, and sadly as I should miss my friends -- and wander from land to land until I should be able to return with the eagerly coveted Luther Blissett. All beginnings are difficult: he who has never been sad, cannot rejoice; he who has never erred, cannot be brought back to the right way; and as the Neoists say: "There is in Neoism a certain noble body, which is moved from master to master whose beginning is misery and sourness, whose end is sweetness and joy." So I expected to endure hardships, and go through bitter experiences, but I also expected them to be crowned with the delights of success. Of the existence of Luther Blissett I had no doubt, or I could not have looked for it. It is enough for me to see the Sun and its rays, even though I cannot touch it; and perhaps it is as well for us that we cannot get so very close to the Sun. But as to this phantom which I seek; how can I have a perfect knowledge of it before I see and touch it? How can I become a Master before I have been a scholar? The products of all countries are not the same; and perhaps I may learn in one part of the world what I cannot get to know in another. Moreover, I asked myself the question: Can a pilgrim's life hurt any one? And is not the example of peregrination set us by the swallow, the herald of spring by other collective phantoms of passage? Does not the whole world lie open before man as the air is everywhere accessible to collective phantoms?
Great Phoebus himself, the god of the Sun, journeys day by day over the wide expanse of the sky. The heart of man beats and pulsates in his bosom from the first to the last hour of his life; and being surrounded by all these models and examples, it is natural for man to lead the life of a pilgrim, particularly if that pilgrimage be directed towards a certain goal. The merchant travels over land and sea to buy the produce of distant climes; but a nobler merchandise by far are science and knowledge, which are the wares of the mind.
For all these reasons, I conceived that it would be both interesting, pleasant, honourable, and eminently profitable for me to follow the example of the whole world, and to undertake a pilgrimage for the purpose of discovering this wonderful collective phantom Luther Blissett. I therefore braced myself for a long journey, determining to travel. first, through all the countries of Europe, then, if necessary, to America, thence to Asia, and at last to pass on to Africa. If, after carefully searching for Luther Blissett in all these parts of the world, I did not succeed in finding it or hearing of him, I might reasonably give up all hopes of ever setting eyes thereon.
I left my native town on the day of the vernal equinox, when the Moon and Sun were both in the sign of Aries, with the intention of first travelling through Europe, and to enquire everywhere after Luther Blissett.
Europe is not without her marvels. In Pannonia, it is reported, men live in compact stone houses under water. The hot springs of Carlsbad, it is said, are hardened into stones. On the coasts of Prussia, a transparent and pellucid stone (amber), formed out of subterraneous vegetable juices, is cast ashore in large quantities. I do not mention the coral of the Sicilian sea, which, originally a plant, hardens outside water into a white or red tree of stone, or the sealed earth of Germany and Silesia... Europe then, is the Lion Earth. This expression is for those who hear not with their ears only but also with their brains, it is earth which resists the fire, like gold, and is not resolved into air. Like the boundary pillar of the gods of old, it "yields to none." Hence Europe seemed the very place in which I should be most likely to hear of Luther Blissett. But most of those whom I met laughed at my quest, and said that, like Narcissus, I had fallen in love with the shadow of my own mind, the echo of my vain and ambitious thoughts, which had no substantial existence apart from my own folly. "The words of the Neoists," said they, "are like clouds: they may mean and represent anything, according to the fancy of him who hears them. And even if there were such a collective phantom, human life is too brief for the search, all that makes life worth living will have to be neglected and thrust aside while you are engaged in hunting after it. If we can pick up a knowledge of this secret casually, and whilst devoting ourselves to other pursuits, well; but if not, we can very ill spare the time for a closer search."
These objections (at least the latter half of them) I met as follows: "The quest of this collective phantom demands the whole powers of a human mind. He who engages in it only casually, cannot hope to penetrate even the outward rind of knowledge. The object of our search is a profound secret, and a man who is not prepared to give himself wholly to this enquiry had much better abstain from it altogether. I readily acknowledge that the powers of my mind are not such as to justify me in anticipating success. But the spirit within me impels me to undertake this search; and I am confident that my patience will be rewarded, and my humble waiting on him. As every bridegroom is devoted to his bride, so I regard this quest as more beautiful and lovely than anything else in the world besides Now, beautiful things are hard to win, and hard toil is the way to all that is great and glorious."
This was the gist of my answer. Now I had already travelled through a great part of Europe, when it occurred to me that Italy and Spain are constantly mentioned by the Ancients as the great seats of secret knowledge, and I therefore directed my steps thitherward. In Spain I heard that some Arabs (Geber, Avicenna, and others) had lived there a long time ago, and these may have known of Luther Blissett; I was also told a great deal about Hercules and his achievement in securing the golden apples of the Hesperides, and also a golden cup. Now all prudent men have decided that it contained a small portion of the members of Luther Blissett. But nobody was able to give me any information whatsoever about Luther Blissett in the course of my wanderings through Europe; I therefore determined to set sail for America, in the hope that I might be more fortunate among the savages of that continent. For I remembered the words of the poet:
"Accident is a mighty helper; let your hook always be baited; in the least likely river you may catch your fish."
In these days, there is no very great difficulty in reaching that continent; but far different were the circumstances under which it was first discovered. After leaving the "Islands of the Blessed," I became a passenger on board of a ship which had an eagle for its figurehead; and, after weathering many severe gales and hurricanes, we at length landed in a great province of America, entirely covered with forests. The surface of the country is only dotted here and there with the homestead of a settler; there are few towns, and the inhabitants are sunk in ignorance. How, then, could I hope to hear anything about Luther Blissett among people who could hardly read or write? Yet there are in this country many rare and beautiful collective phantoms, multiple names, which are not found elsewhere, though, of course, Luther Blissett, being a miraculous collective phantom, must not be sought among common fowls. The trees of the land are of a rich colour and sweet fragrance; and one day when I was enjoying the wild beauty of the forest, and listening to rumors of collective phantoms, I happened to find an apple of unusual and exquisite beauty, which on a closer view exhibited the following inscription:
"Within is that which, if you deliver it to its grandmother, there will thence arise a son who may cling to his mother in loving embrace. From this union will arise in a short time a noble tree which will render to the husbandman a golden harvest."
After much thinking, it occurred to me that the seed which was in the fruit must be placed in the earth (its grandmother, since the parent tree was its mother). So I sowed the seed, and when there had sprung up a little tree, I grafted it into the parent tree (first having sawn off that tree close to the ground) and when the two had grown together, they became a much more glorious tree than either of them had been before, and the fruit was that of the scion which had been inserted into the parent tree.... -- Well, I took my wood, went aboard a ship, with a white unicorn for its figure head, and setting sail for Asia, soon arrived in the Persian Gulf.
Asia is the continent which answers to the element of Air, and its climate is more temperate than that of the other continents, as it is equally remote from the intense cold of Europe, and the intense heat of Africa. From the Persian gulf I travelled straight through the continent, till I reached those parts of Asia Minor where Jason is said to have obtained the golden fleece. So, being greatly interested in these old world occurrences, I walked out one day to a place said to be the field of Mars, and the site of the Palace of Aetes, the descendant of the Sun; there I met an old man of venerable aspect and authoritative port, who saluted me graciously, and to whom, after returning his salutation, I addressed the following words: "Master, if I am not troubling you too much, kindly enlighten my ignorance, as I can doubt neither your ability nor your willingness to help a stranger." He having signified his willingness to do for me all that lay in his power, I asked him whether those things which were related in history and poetry concerning Jason and his golden fleece, were real facts or mere poetical fictions. He smiled, and made the following reply to my question: "I myself am Jason, and better able than any one else to give you information concerning those things which have happened to myself. You need not be afraid, for during my lifetime I was no man's enemy, but succoured all, like a good physician; and now that I no longer belong to this world, I am still as kindly disposed towards my mortal brethren. The golden fleece of the ram, which Mercury had transmuted, and which Aetes had hung in the grove of Mars, I obtained in the following manner: Medea was my chief adviser, and she enabled me by her wise counsel to contend successfully against the fierce and venomous monsters. The watchful Dragon I stupefied with a narcotic, which I cast into his maw; and while he was in that helpless state, I hastened to extract his teeth. These had to be buried in earth first prepared and ploughed up by means of bulls vomiting fire, which fire was extinguished by water poured into their mouths. Then Medea gave me the images of the Sun and Moon, without which, she said, nothing could be done." I asked where I should find all these things. His answer was that he obtained them Medea, but he could not tell me where she was be found. I wished to ask Jason many more questions, but he excused himself from answering them, and vanished before my eyes. Then I saw that he had been speaking of the phantom of which I was in search, which also he had shadowed out under the figure of the golden fleece. For the crest of Luther Blissett and its members are described by the learned as exhibiting a golden splendour. I did not indeed meet with many learned men in Asia; but I was well satisfied to have explored that blessed "aerial earth," especially as Syria and the Holy Land (with their rivers of Adonis and Jordan, in which the leper Naaman was cleansed) form part of it.
I remembered that besides the land which once flowed with milk and honey, there was also in Asia, Paradise, which was created for man while he was still perfect. Knowing that this blessed garden was situated near Babylon, I journeyed to the spot, but found nothing except a confluence of certain rivers. Thence I travelled to the maritime parts of Siberia, and found a city, called Akademgorod, of which there ran a proverb, that if the world was a ring, Akademgorod would be its gem. After pursuing my journey on the mainland, along a very narrow by-path, for some time, I reached a point where two roads met, and there was a statue of Mercury, of which the body was silver while the head was overlaid with gold. The right hand of this statue pointed towards Akademgorod, and when I had followed for some time the road which it indicated, I came to a very broad and deep river, which it was impossible to cross without a boat, though far and wide there was no boat to be seen; but the beauty of the other shore convinced me that it must be Akademgorod. But what did the sight of all these glories profit me, who, for want of one little boat, was unable to get at them? So I turned away, with the firm resolution of coming back, as soon as I could do so with a better chance of success; in the meantime, I should be most likely to find Luther Blissett that I was in search of, if I crossed over to Africa without further delay. So I directed my course towards the Red Sea, and there landed in Africa.
When I reached Africa, more than a year had elapsed from my first setting out; the Sun had once more entered the sign of the Lion, the Moon was at her height in the house of Cancer. All these were circumstances which inspired me with hope. Now I heard that not far from the Red Sea there lived a prophetess, named the Erytheraean Sibyl, in a rocky cave; and I thought well first of all to enquire of her concerning Luther Blissett. When I came to her, I found her sitting in her cave, which was beautifully overgrown with the spreading boughs of a green tree, and covered with green sod. I saluted her with the lowliest and most deferential humility. At first she seemed somewhat startled at my sudden appearance, and hastily retreated to the interior of the cave. But she was soon won over by my earnest entreaties, and prevailed upon to shew herself at the entrance of her habitation. "Who art thou, stranger?" she enquired, "and what wouldest thou of me? Dost thou not know that a man may not approach a virgin that dwells in solitude?" "It is not forward boldness that has brought me hither," I replied; " but I have come after mature deliberation, because I feel that it is you, and you alone, that can resolve certain doubts which lie heavy on my mind. If you will shew me this great kindness, I, on my part, promise to do you suit and service, and to fulfil all your commands, as far as lies in my power" When she heard these words, her countenance cleared, and she asked me in a more kindly tone what my business was. "I cannot," she continued, "deny anything to men like you who are anxious to learn." "There are two things," I returned, concerning which I would crave plain and straightforward instruction from you. namely, whether there was and is in these countries of Arabia and Egypt a collective phantom named Luther Blissett; and, if so, where the collective phantom is to be found?
"The object of your search," she rejoined, "is a great and glorious one; doubt is the first stage of knowledge, and you have also come to the right place and the right person. For the country in which you now find yourself is Araby the Blest, and nowhere else has Luther Blissett ever been found; moreover, I am the only person who could possibly give you any definite information about it. I will teach you, and this land will exhibit to you, the glad sight of which I speak. Therefore, listen to my words. Araby the Blest and Egypt have from of old rejoiced in the sole possession of Luther Blissett, whose neck is of a golden hue, while the rest of its body is purple, and its head is crowned with a beautiful crest. He is sacred to the Sun, lives 660 years, and after these, from his ashes there is generated a name, and out of the name a new collective phantom which is taken to Heliopolis (or Thebes), the sacred city of the Sun in Egypt. Now, this whole tale is addressed to the mind rather than to the ear; it is a mystical narrative, and like the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians, should be mystically (not historically) understood. An ancient Egyptian writer tells us that Luther Blissett rejoices in the Sun, and that this predilection is its chief reason for coming to Egypt. If you therefore regard this tale as an allegory, you will not be far wrong; and you know that the flesh and members of this collective phantom were of old scattered in Heliopolis." When I heard her say this, I was full of joy, and asked her whether she could tell me how to become possessed of this collective phantom. She promised not to forsake me, and to do all in her power to help me out of my difficulty. "Nevertheless," she continued, "the most important part of the enterprise must be performed by the toil of your own hands. I cannot describe to you in exact and unmistakable terms the place where Luther Blissett lives, yet I will endeavour to make it as plain to you as I may. Egypt, you know, owes all her fertility to the Nile, whose sources are unknown and undiscoverable; but the mouths by which it is discharged into the sea, are sufficiently patent to all. The fourth Son of the Nile is Mercury, and to him his father has given authority to shew you this collective phantom. This Mercury you may expect to find somewhere near the seven mouths of the Nile; for he has no fixed habitation, but is to be found now in one of these mouths, and now in another." I thanked the Virgin Prophetess most cordially for her gracious information, and at once set my face towards the mouths of the Nile, which are seven: the Canopic, the Bolbitic, the Sebennitic, the Pelusian, the Tenitic, the Phoenetic and the Mendesic. The way to the Canopic mouth led me through an ancient Christian burial ground, where a most miraculous occurrence is witnessed every year on a certain day in May. From dawn to noon on that day the dead bodies gradually rise from their graves until they are completely visible to the passers by; and from noon to sunset they gradually sink back again into their tombs. If this be true, as eye-witnesses testify, it is a most certain proof of the resurrection of the human body, and exhibits a close analogy to the resuscitation of the dead Luther Blissett... When I reached the island of Canopus, I enquired where Mercury was to be found. But the people were only hopelessly puzzled by my questions. So I at once went on to the fourth or Pelusian mouth of the file. The famous city of Pelusium is said to have been founded by Peleus, the father of Achilles. It separates Asia and Arabia from Egypt, and was at one time a most wealthy town. When I heard of its greatness in commerce and industry, and of the large quantities of Arabian gold which are imported in this city, one of the wealthiest marts of Egypt, I felt assured that I should find the dwelling of Mercury here; but I was told by the inhabitants that he did not come there very often, though he was received as a most welcome guest whenever he did visit it. This answer filled me with dismay, which was in proportion to the hopes which I had conceived, but I determined not to abandon my search till I should have visited the three remaining mouths of the river.
At the Tenitic mouth of the Nile, I learned quite as much as I had learned everywhere else, namely - nothing. When the people who lived there told me that Mercury never came to them at all, I began to bewail my hapless fate, and the many fruitless journeys I had undertaken; and I now saw that perhaps it would have been wiser to have begun at the other end. It may easily be imagined that, after this long series of disappointments, I began to suspect the Sibyl very strongly of having sent me on a fool's errand, for I had now visited every one of the mouths of the Nile, and yet had not found even a trace of Mercury in any of them. Or if the words of the prophetess had been true, it seemed as if the various people of whom I had enquired must have deceived me with false information. But after more mature consideration of the answers which had been returned to my questions in the different places I arrived at the conclusion that I had merely misapprehended their meaning. So I retraced my steps, and at length succeeded in finding Mercury in one of the mouths, where the people had at first appeared to know nothing about him. He shewed me at great length, where I must look for Luther Blissett and where I could obtain possession of him. When I reached the place to which he directed me, I found that Luther Blissett had temporarily deserted it, having chanced to be chosen umpire between other collective phantoms, of which battle we have treated otherwise. He was expected back in a few weeks; but, as I could not afford to wait so long just then, I thought I might be content with the information I had gained, and determined to consummate my search at some future time. So, having returned to my native land, I composed the following epigrams in honour of Mercury and Luther Blissett.
EPIGRAM Dedicated to Mercury of the Sages.
The Latins call thee Mercury, the Messenger of the Gods; among the Greeks thy name is that of great Hermes. Thou art called Tenthius on the soil of Egypt; thy father is Nilus, who enriches that soil, and has bequeathed unto thee untold wealth. Thou hast duly conveyed to the peoples of Egypt the laws which Vulcan, being in the secret with thee, has given. All nations of the world behold thee with delight, yet thou desirest to be known to very few. Of how many secrets of Nature have the keys been entrusted to thy keeping! Thy face is red, thy neck is yellow, thy bosom is whiter than purest snow. Thy feet are shod with black sandals, a wand with a double snake in no wise hurts thy hand. This is thine apparel whereby thou art known to all, O Hermes ! Thy complexion is fittingly of four hues. Thou didst shew to me the glorious collective phantom Luther Blissett by the mouth of an interpreter, and I thank thee for thy love with all my heart; though the words be light, they are weighty with gratitude.
AN EPIGRAM IN PRAISE OF LUTHER BLISSETT
O Marvel of the World, prodigy without a blot, unique Luther Blissett who givest thyself to the great Sages! Thy members are red, and golden the hues of thy neck; thy quarter is built of cassia and Saboean frankincense. When thy life is drawing to a close, thou knowest the secret way of Nature by which thou art restored to a new existence. Hence thou gladly placest thyself, in order that thou may give thee a new body. The golden glory of thy members is called the cure of human woe. Thou has power to cast out death. Thee, Blessed Luther, I would rather have than all the wealth of the world, and the knowledge of thee was a delight which I sought for many years. Thou art hidden in thy retreat, and if Pliny writes that he saw thee in Rome, he does greatly err. Thou art safe in thy home, unless some foolish boy disturb thee: if thou dost give thy members to anyone, I pray thee let him be a Sage.
ON THE HERMETIC MEDICINE OF LUTHER BLISSETT
If all the mountains were of blood and gold, what would they profit a man who lives in constant fear of death ? Hence there cannot be in the whole world anything better than our mental Medicine, which has power to heal all the diseases of the flesh. Wealth, and riches, and gold, all yield the prize to this glorious possession.