“Man is a monster”

Nearly all the fundamental facts of mankind are to be found in its fables. And there is a singularly sane truth in all the old stories of the monsters — such as centaurs, mermaids, sphinxes, and the rest.  It will be noted that in each of these the humanity, though imperfect in extent, is perfect in its quality.  The mermaid is half a lady and half a fish; but there is nothing fishy about the lady.  The centaur is half a gentleman and half a horse.  But there is nothing horsey about the gentleman.  The centaur is a manly sort of man — up to a certain point.  The mermaid is a womanly woman — so far as she goes.  The human parts of the monsters are handsome, like heroes, or lovely, like nymphs; their bestial appendages do not affect the full perfection of their humanity — what there is of it.  There is nothing humanly wrong with the centaur, except that he ride a horse without a head.  There is nothing humanly wrong with the mermaid; Hood put a good comic motto to his picture of a mermaid: “All’s well that ends well”.  It is, perhaps, quite true, it all depends which end.  Those old wild images included a crucial truth.  Man is a monster.  And he is all the more a monster because one part of him is perfect.  It is not true, as the evolutionists say, that man moves perpetually up a slope from imperfection to perfection, changing ceaselessly, so as to be suitable.  The immortal part of a man and the deadly part are jarringly distinct and have always been.

The Illustrated London News, 2 July 1910.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 6:03 am  Leave a Comment  

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