Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Reflections on a Battlefield
By Charles Kingsley (18191875)
THIS hopeful oration was delivered in a fitting lecture-room. Between the bare walls of a doleful fire-scarred tower in the Campagna of Rome, standing upon a knoll of dry brown grass, ringed with a few grim pines, blasted and black with smoke; there sat Raphael Aben-Ezra, working out the last formula of the great world problemGiven self to find God. Through the doorless stone archway he could see a long vista of the plain below, covered with broken trees, trampled crops, smoking villas, and all the ugly scars of recent war, far onward to the quiet purple mountains and the silver sea, towards which struggled, far in the distance, long dark lines of moving specks, flowing together, breaking up, stopping short, recoiling back to surge forward by some fresh channel, while now and then a glitter of keen white sparks ran through the dense black masses The Count of Africa had thrown for the empire of the worldand lost.
Brave old Sun! said Raphael, how merrily he flashes off the sword-blades yonder, and never cares that every tiny sparkle brings a death shriek after it! Why should he? It is no concern of his. Astrologers are fools. His business is to shine; and on the whole, he is one of my few satisfactory sensations. How now? this is questionably pleasant!
If these new sensations of mine find me here, they will infallibly produce in me a new sensation, which will render all further ones impossible Well? what kinder thing could they do for me? Aybut how do I know that they would do it? What possible proof is there, that if a two-legged phantasm pokes a hard iron-gray phantasm in among my sensations, those sensations will be my last? Is the fact of my turning pale, and lying still, and being in a day or two converted into crows flesh, any reason why I should not feel? And how do I know that would happen? It seems to happen to certain sensations of my eyeballor something elsewho cares! which I call soldiers; but what possible analogy can there be between what seems to happen to those single sensations called soldiers, and what may or may not really happen to all my sensations put together, which I call me? Should I bear apples if a phantasm seemed to come and plant me? Then why should I die if another phantasm seemed to come and poke me in the ribs?
Still I dont intend to deny it I am no dogmatist. Positively the phantasms are marching straight for my tower! Well, it may be safer to run away, on the chance. But as for losing feeling, continued he, rising and cramming a few mouldy crusts into his wallet, that, like everything else, is past proof. Whyif now, when I have some sort of excuse for fancying myself one thing in one place, I am driven mad with the number of my sensations, what will it be when I am eaten, and turned to dust, and undeniably many things in many places? Will not the sensations be multiplied byunbearable! I would swear at the thought, if I had anything to swear by! To be transmuted into the sensoria of forty different nasty carrion crows, besides two or three foxes, and a large blackbeetle! Ill run away just like anybody else if anybody existed. Come, Bran!
Bran! where are you; unlucky inseparable sensation of mine? Picking up a dinner already off these dead soldiers. Well, the pity is that this foolish contradictory taste of mine, while it makes me hungry, forbids me to follow your example. Why am I to take lessons from my soldier-phantasms, and not from my canine one? Illogical! Bran! Bran! and he went out and whistled in vain for the dog.
Bran! unhappy phantom, who will not vanish by night or day, lying on my chest even in dreams; and who would not even let me vanish, and solve the problemthough I dont believe there is anywhy did you drag me out of the sea there at Ostia? Why did you not let me become a whole shoal of crabs? How did you know, or I either, that they may not be very jolly fellows, and not in the least troubled with philosophic doubts? But perhaps there are no crabs, but only phantasms of crabs . And, on the other hand, if the crab-phantasms give jolly sensations, why should not the crow-phantasms? So whichever way it turns out, no matter; and I may as well wait here, and seem to become crows, as I certainly shall do. Bran! Why should I wait for her? What pleasure can it be to me to have the feeling of a four-legged, brindled lop-eared, toad-mouthed thing always between what seem to be my legs? There she is! Where have you been, madam? Dont you see I am in marching order, with staff and wallet ready shouldered? Come!
Whats this? Here is a new sensation with a vengeance! O storm and cloud of material appearances, were there not enough of you already, that you must add to your number these also? Bran! Bran! Could you find no other day in the year but this, whereon to present my ears with the squeals of onetwothreenine blind puppies?