The Theosophical Forum – August 1940

"NOT WITHOUT DUST AND HEAT" — J. M. Prentice

In the cleaning out of a pigeonhole in my office, a spot long undisturbed, a piece of paper was dislodged which, on examination, revealed a series of quotations that had been written down long ago by one of my predecessors. Reading them over, a sense of kinship was revealed; I wondered what military officer it was who had been thinking thoughts curiously like my own. Some unconscious Theosophist, perchance, aiming at the expression of a philosophy, dimly sensed, as through a glass darkly.

The first quotation I recognised at sight. It was from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound and it must have comforted many thousands in the years that have passed since the genius of the poet took fire in the contemplation of a myth that is one of the treasures of the Race.

To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy power, which seems omnipotent;
To love and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates. . . .

Perhaps in some crisis in his life the one who had transcribed the lines so carefully had found comfort in learning "to love and bear," which is the key that unlocks the portal to all spiritual greatness. To love and bear up under all circumstances is to grow — it is the message of every World Teacher and is re-echoed by the genius of every generation.

The next quotation, put down some time later, by the color of the ink and the style of writing, suggests that the writer had found himself confronted by some momentous problem which could only be solved by action. It was vaguely familiar and was tracked down to Milton's Areopagitica — that superb plea for the freedom of the press and the right to express opinions freely and at length. Many people go through a whole life without being called upon to exercise their own wills and arrive at their own decisions. Such negative lives cannot but provide a negative Devachan — conventional lives that are never tested by any real temptations nor tried in the fires of adversity. Evidently it was not so with my predecessor — in the face of some Kurukshetra he had noted down Milton's words and drew from them (one is permitted to hope) the breath of the spirit that enabled him to perform his duty, without fear and without reproach, even unto death.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and un-breathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. . . .

Let us hope that he won his garland in whatever arena he strove in. Truly those great prizes of the spirit, which far surpass the victories of civil or military life, are not achieved without effort that tries one to the very limit of strength, "not without dust and heat."

The next quotation was in Latin and was construed slowly and painfully because in the years wherein the paper was reposing in its forgotten pigeonhole this scribe was engaged in work in which mere scholarship had little place. The writing had something of Cicero about it — maybe some reader will recognise it in one of the letters written to Atticus.

Longumque illud tempus, quum non ero, magis me movet quam hoc exiguum.

In our English tongue it loses (in my effort at translation anyhow) something of its classic charm, but the dream of the future is as true today as when it was written in Rome and copied down by one who perhaps made the Great Sacrifice in one of the battles of more than twenty years ago:

I care more for that long age which I shall never see than for the little of Time that I hold. It is the old, old problem of Time and Eternity — yet not the Eternity of the church, the long age which, without the teaching of Reincarnation, stretches bleakly ahead as far as they who contemplate are concerned, and which only a sublimely impersonal mind can regard as being something in which one can have no interest save that which is inspired by a desire to serve the well-being of the Race. If only Cicero (if he is our author), and my unknown friend could have realized that they and we are part of that long age and so can never escape from participation in it, because we are in ourselves timeless and of the Spirit.

Across the years we can greet the writer of these quotations and hope that he has gone to the Peace with duty done, with Dharma accomplished, inspired by the words of those who were perhaps the Theosophists of their periods. For Theosophy is the sum-total of that teaching that so often breaks through language and escapes, as far as mere words are concerned, but which takes root in human hearts and inspires men and women to do their duty under all circumstances, whether it be in the glare of the public places, or obscurely in the unlighted corners of the great world.


The Theosophical Forum

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