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make notes. It is possible though to plan out a certain amount beforehand and let the idea flow down this prepared channel. Sometimes I start with only half an idea or none, and it clicks just in time to save confusion. As I work out the idea, I don't think at all, in a way I feel. I feel the shape of things sometimes I almost become the thing I am painting. If the idea is a very strong one I find the effort of expressing it very great. I feel sick and wish I had not undertaken it-when the idea leaves me I am very tired.
This effort is not a difficulty of concentration-nor is it the struggle of my technique to keep up with the idea. I have felt both these difficulties and they are different. I don't think about technique when I am following an idea.
This seems to give a fairly convincing picture of the conscious and unconscious interaction in creative work.
Apart from this, a connection between creative work and the sex life has long been recognised to exist. The Freudian school has elaborated the connection very amply but on an exclusively psychological basis. Those of us who are physicians must recognise a certain fundamental biological factor-one that is just as fundamental to artistic creation as is the gonad hormone to procreation. It seems to me that the problem of creative art—if we admit that there is such a thing or that it constitutes a problem-turns on the conception of surrender, and as such is the complete antithesis of power. Hence it follows that creative art is bound up with femininity as certainly as logic and reason are bound up with masculinity. Real virility may admit of excellent design, construction and formulation, but the liberation of the intuitive demands an attitude of surrender incompatible with the complete male psychology. I do not propose to follow this line of thought: I am perfectly aware of the numerous and obvious objections to the theory in appearance. I merely mention it because of its relevance to Fiona Macleod's story.
This unconscious activity appears in such independence of conscious mental processes that it is as though a separate personality were at work. Socrates and his daemon, Stevenson and his Brownies, Barrie and McConachie there are numerous instances of the personification of the unconscious self as a kind of independent entity. William Sharp was well aware of the influence of the unconscious factor upon his work. His wife tells how "a dream, a sudden inner vision, an idea that had lain dormant in what he called 'the mind behind the mind' would suddenly visualise itself, and blot out everything else." Beyond the normal interplay of conscious and unconscious, his experience reveals something more acute and painful—an actual division of personality-in fact a partial dissociation. The outlines of this history of minor discord can be traced in what is known of his life.
William Sharp's heredity was partly Scandinavian and partly Celt. Physically he was a Norseman spiritually, a Gael. Had his Norse
physique served him well, his history might have been very different from what it was. But he was a great invalid, with intervals of remarkable well-being. Judging from what we can gather of his illnesses he was from adolescence a case of chronic streptococcal infection, and if his tonsils had been enucleated at the age of 12, his career might have been a happier but hardly a more prolific one. He was of course a psychasthenic and his sensitiveness to environment is a characteristic feature of his whole life. It has been suggested that he was fundamentally a manic depressive, but this is untenable in that every change of circumstance and environment produced its reaction on him. It is to be noted in this connection that the Fiona Macleod phase could never flourish or even persist in London.
As a child he was imaginative and dreamy as well as active and insubordinate. He soon learned that not only uncomprehending adults but also other children of his age disbelieved in the visions that were so real a part of his experience. His father called him a liar in connection with these visions. So we can well see how the sensitive little visionary soon became introverted and rebellious and how he early developed a sense of inferiority. Long years after he wrote: "And after all why am I to be considered inferior to my fellows because I love passionately in her every manifestation the mother who has borne us all, and to whom much that is noblest in art is due?"
"The first tragedy in my life," he writes, "was when I was captured for the sacrifice of school." At eighteen he escaped to the heather for some months with a gipsy tribe, then he was recaptured for a lawyer's office and subsequently for a bank. Of an occasion when he had an important decision about his future work to report to the manager he writes: "I had not heard the cuckoo that season, so I resolved to forget business for the day...." The manager's comment is memorable: "We can't do with one who puts the call of the cuckoo before business."
Nevertheless, William Sharp had undoubted practical ability which even the bank recognised, and in the years that followed, the pressure of life's demands kept him in the full tide of activity for a while. After a nine years' engagement, he married his cousin, and having chosen literature as his work, was hard put to it to make a living. A memoir of Rossetti, for whom he had had an intimate admiration, helped to make his name known. He travelled, made many literary friends and tried his hand at many branches of literary work.
This period of eager and active living was broken by spells of illhealth. At these times the dreaming self would take the field of con
sciousness; William Sharp slept and Fiona Macleod awoke. A glimpse of the conflict of incompatibility between these two selves is to be found in an account of one of these experiences. "He felt himself to be practically dead to the material world and actually alive on the other side of things in the greater, freer universe. He had no desire to return, and rejoiced in his freedom and greater powers; but as he described it afterwards, a hand suddenly restrained him: 'Not yet; you must return.' We begin to recognise the psychological significance of Eochaidh's conflict when he is minded to follow Dalua; but is almost turned back by the call of the spirit voice:
Return, O Eochaidh Airemh, wandering King!
It becomes evident that the distinction between William Sharp, the clever and prolific writer and critic, and Fiona Macleod, the dreamer and creative artist, is not based upon any mere contrast of literary styles, but goes very much deeper. One aspect of it is the contrast between the male and the female elements in William Sharp's temperament. At twenty-five he writes: "Don't depise me if I say that in some things I am more a woman than a man." And a year later: "Sometimes I forget I am not the woman I am trying to imagine." More than ten years later there came the emotional crisis in his life to which he attributes the emergence of Fiona Macleod as a separate psychic entity. Of the friend who brought this new element into his life he writes: "To her I owe my development as Fiona Macleod, though in a sense of course that began long before I knew her, and indeed while I was still a child." During this period he says again: "I am tempted to believe I am half a woman." He expresses his sense of the reality of his other self: "It is as though Fiona were asleep in another room." He speaks of her as "the kinswoman." To this period belongs the acute conflict which reveals itself in Eochaidh's reference to "love aflame and love at peace," and it may be accepted as a fact that from this time on the bond with Mrs Sharp became largely filial in character. Perhaps later it may be possible to expand this theme.
William Sharp's problem was to fuse the contrasting elements in his temperament into a single harmonious personality. The failure to overcome such discords may ultimately lead to complete dissociation, destroying sanity. William Sharp's insight into his own mental processes up to a certain point helped to save him from the extreme result of conflict. It did not save him from the tragedy of failure to synthesise the marvellous qualities which he possessed. The tragedy lies not in the loss to society -for society has gained by the writings of the fantasy-self, Fiona Macleod
--but in the
The man with a rich life of fantasy is confronted inevitably with the challenge to bring out of it something that makes for a better reality. Fantasy, then, must come down and fight for its life somewhere on the stubborn field of experience. In William Sharp's case there was a growing tendency for fantasy to ignore this challenge, to give up the problem of reconciling thoughts and things, and to keep the two aspects of life distinct and separate. It is of great interest to note a letter which was written to William Sharp in this connection by George Russell, "A. E.,” pre-eminently a mystic who carried vision into practice. "These alluring visions and thoughts," he writes, "are of little import unless they link themselves unto our humanity. It means only madness in the end...." And in another passage A. E. claimed to value "the art of living more than the art of the artists." Here we have very succinctly expressed the conflict of which The Immortal Hour is the symbolical expression.
Eochaidh pursues unsuccessfully beauty which is to fuse with his life. But Etain ultimately retreats from "the art of Living" to "the art of the artists" just as Fiona Macleod retreated from the life of William Sharp. In his own words the Fiona quest was "To live in beauty-which is to put into four words all the dream and spiritual effort of the soul of man." This is indeed an unreserved statement of the "art of the artists." It is wholly incompatible with the outlook, not only of George Russell, but of men such as Morris, Ruskin, Browning and Stevenson. Any one of these would, we may surmise, have repudiated energetically the view that William Sharp expressed in a letter to a friend in 1898. "But then life is just like that. It is glad only 'in the open,' and beautiful only because of its dreams." To Shelley, whose artistic orientation was akin to his own, he wrote: "Perhaps this almost fantastic yearning for the unattainable-this desire of the moth for the star-is the heritage of many of us. It is a longing that shall be insatiable even in death...the error...consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of what is perhaps eternal." But this is an 'error' which has been committed by many a great man and many a true artist.
We may remember Mazzini's words: "We are here on earth not to contemplate but to transform created things: to found, as far as in us lies, the kingdom of God on earth, not to admire earth's contrasts...our world is not a spectacle, it is a field of battle, upon which all who in their hearts love justice, beauty and holiness, are bound, whether as leaders or soldiers, conquerors or martyrs, to play their part."
The key to the drama of The Immortal Hour-and of the author's life-lies in a sentence of one of his letters: "The imperative need of Fiona Macleod and William Sharp for greater isolation grows." In the drama we find these conflicting principles in the author's life taking dramatic shape in the persons of Etain and Eochaidh. Different readers will make the cross section at different points, but the following list indicates broadly the symbolical value of each of the symbols: