BY AMOS WATERS
[Extracted from Paul Carus, The Open Court, 1887, pp. 4789-90.]
The proverbial ingratitude of democracies, allied to the jealousies of the literary mutual-admiration society against eminent "outsiders," has been vividly illustrated in the later years of Gerald Massey, poet, Egyptologist, Shakesperian philosopher, and evangelist of the Higher Spiritualism. Hither and thither for Tennyson's successor the critics have cast, log-rollers have advertised their superior article, minor bards have self-consciously assisted the chorus of discussion with tongue-in-cheek: a serene conspiracy of silence has, all the while, concealed the very existence of Massey from court and people. To adopt the oblique sneer of Rudyard Kipling, Massey "does not advertise." Yet many of a former generation held his singing-voice as the sweetest in the land. Some observant ones held that the right of reversion belonged, by way of separation, to Massey when Tennyson should resign his crown. The charge of plagiarism always singularly irritated the late Laureate. Yet, years before Tennyson penned three of his more famous war-songs—"The Revenge," "The Defence of Lucknow," and "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade," Massey conceived and published "Sir Richard Grenville's Last Fight," "The Relief," and "Scarlett's Three Hundred." The unique coincidence of lilt and imagery convict the laggard, if more eminent minstrel, of "lifting" from the more obscure and original bard.
Gerald Massey was one of the pioneers of Chartism over fifty years backward, a colleague of the late General Trumbull whose pen embellished the pages of The Open Court, and of George Julian Harney, now of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle. Apart from his poems My Lyrical Life,* Mr. Massey is esteemed for his Secret Drama of Shakespeare's Sonnets,** a brilliant plea against the revolting "autobiographical theory" of the sonnets, and a noble vindication of elevated drama against neurotic analysis. This "labour of love" is monumental in scheme and scope. His muse is universal, reaching all heads; his interpretation of Shakespeare appeals to cultured students. Yet his massive claim to be counted on the roll of heroic speculators is unquestionable, when we consider his contributions to the profounder aspects and results of evolution. In four mighty volumes,*** he writes as "an evolutionist for evolutionists" an attempt to recover and reconstitute the missing origins of myth and mystery, type and symbol, religion and language. In Africa he finds the birthplace, in Egypt the mouthpiece. He battles for evolution with original and aboriginal evidence rescued, whether truth or illusion, as audacious divers rescue portents from the perilous depths of mysterious seas. Herr Pietschmann with some truth said the Book of the Beginnings was "inspired by an unrestrained thirst for discovery"; a judgment which may suggest itself to all who weigh the stupendous mass of evidence accumulated by the author, during the dozen years of labour when, like Livingstone, he disappeared from public gaze.
Roughly outlined, Mr. Massey's contentions are that the black race is first and emerged in Africa, swarming thence into Egypt, this exodus being the precursor of language, religion, literature, and civilisation. He is not content as Captain Burton said, to allow the Sanskrit edifice to fall by its own weight but rides at it lance at rest. Every name, tradition, symbol, observance, is ingeniously traced to Egyptian origin. Occasionally conclusions are historically startling—such, for example, as the identification of the Arsu ruling in the anarchic interval preceding the reign of Seli-Nekht with Moses. His key of Kamite typology is applied to type-names of places, rivers, caves, and hills in Britain, to demonstrate that the most ancient of these names are not Aryan nor Semite but are still extant in Africa. Root-words run through all languages, which points to unity of origin. The types and symbols preceding languages yet remain and the words they represent are held as valuable in evidence as archaic coins. This method is enlarged into such all-embracing conclusions, as that the true subject-matter of various scriptures is astronomical mythology converted—or perverted—into human history. Mythology is the mirror of prehistoric sociology, which reflects the minutest details of origins: the signs of gesture-language and typical figures, these becoming sacred in the course of time and passing into the fetishistic phase. In Mr. Massey's profound interpretation phallic foundations are disclosed with a curious and simple necessity, which subdues the "grin of the satyr in Greece, or the libidinous leer of the subject in its Italian phase." The final application of the whole method to the creed of Christendom concludes one of the most remarkable departures of modern speculation.
In Ten Lectures,**** now widely circulating, Mr. Massey in such subjects as "Luniolatry Ancient and Modern," and "Man in Search of His Soul During Fifty Thousand Years, and How He Found It," popularly reviews certain results of his researches and colours such results with ethics and humanitarian sentiments. The spiritualism that dawns on many pages is not the vulgar cult of the hired medium, but the affirmation of eternal soul against shallow and now discarded materialism. These lectures, when verbally delivered, attracted cultured audiences in America, Australia, and England.
* Two volumes, Kegan Paul, Trench & Co.
** Same publishers.
*** A Book of Beginnings and The Natural Genesis, Williams & Norgate, publishers.
**** Watts & Co., publishers.