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Another Note on Cabell


The Reviewer



Type of Media:




The Reviewer.



Volume III, Number 11-12.



July 1923.





Published At:

Richmond, Virginia.



Pages 907-914.




















Comments by



     One other figure stands apart, Olympic and titanic in one. As I have tried to show in my essay (The Reviewer, July 1923) James Branch Cabell is a world genius of commanding stature. He comes of famous stock and occupies an excellent social position, being secluded on his own property in Virginia. The turmoil of Main Street and the animal noises of the jungle are born to him as echoes from afar. The realities of modern America consequently occupy only one salient of his battle front, which extends from the seat of Jove himself to deepest Tartarus. All periods of history contribute to his pages and his characters include personifications of eternal principles, legendary demons an monsters of every type; eponymous heroes of fables and romance, and the everyday individuals of the modern world. Between these infinitely diverse orders of being, he makes no difference. All are equally real and mingle freely with each other. His epic includes Mother Cerida, one of the seven powers of destiny, her function being to cancel everything out. Helen of Troy, Merlin, the tyrant Dionysys and President Roosevelt fall each one in the proper place. His thesis covers the whole field of philosophy, but its ultimate conclusion — to date — seems to be almost identical with that of Main Street: that all aspiration is futile, attainment impossible in the nature of things.

     Like James Thomson, however, as I have demonstrated in my essay on him, he has so extended the scope of his argument as to leave no possible escape by withdrawal to some loftier plane. Nevertheless, his intellectual acquiescence in the ineluctable futility of life, his gentle blood and his godlike genius compel him to make an irrational exception of this law in some quite inexplicable manner, and heroism wins through. Even as things stand, I regard Cabell as by far the greatest genius of his genus that has yet appeared on this planet. Before him nobody ever conceived so all-embracing a theme. Yet I am still unsatisfied! I demand that he shall be developed towards the solution of his problem, and perceive that the contradictory thesis is equally true: that the most trivial, vain and fatuous events, if rightly understood, are sublime; that the slough of despond is but an optical illusion created by the shadow of the snow-pure summits of success.

     I have been accused of exaggerated enthusiasm for Cabell. The more stupid and mean-minded have even explained my ardour by my appreciation of the compliment which Mr Cabell paid me by using my Gnostic Mass as the material for Chapter XXII of his Jurgen. The suggestion is utter rubbish; though, at the same time, I admit cordially that no other form of appreciation of my work would have pleased me half so well.

     I regard his epic of such supreme importance to mankind as an exposition of the nature of the universe that I have not only sent him a copy of The Book of the Law in the hope that he may find in it the way out of his Buddhistic demonstration that "everything is sorrow" but followed it up by letter after letter urging him to use it, for his work cannot attain perfection until it culminates in a positive conclusion.

     For many years he toiled at his task almost neglected. It is hardly nice to reflect that he only became famous when the smut-smeller society succeeded in suppressing "Jurgen" as obscene. I must admit, none the less, that when Beyond Life was sent me for review (the first I had heard of him) while perceiving straight away its excellence, I had no idea of its importance. It let the matter rest there. Then Jurgen reached me and I saw at once not only that the book was a supreme masterpiece, but extended my understanding of its stable companion. I proceeded to grab as many of his books as I could. Each volume opened a new world to my vision. It was not clear why he had not impressed even the best critics as he deserved. Nobody had seen that each volume, apparently self-sufficient, was in reality one chapter, a single vast epic. The more I read and re-read, the more fully I realize the extent of his empire.

     I have gone into this at some length in order to firstly stress the importance of the work, and to prevent any reader supposing that any one book will give an adequate idea of his genius.

     — The Confessions of Aleister Crowley.  New York, NY.  Hill and Wang, 1969.  Pages 738-739.






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