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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.