Hawthorn Fly Fishing & Angling Collection

A fisherman's creed Blake, W. H. (William Hume), 1861-1924 1923

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Array I
*5        BY
W: H. BLAKE  ^fe
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"*^_^—*«—^  FISHERMAN'S
The Spirit of Man is the Candle of the Lord. -*S%»3gp! ""l^"*PHp™P!W*!!^^W!^H!il^'""«fc
Author of "In a Fishing Country", etc.
By The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited
CREED  I! llfllllllllM
EOW WE should have
come to tap this unlikely
vein at such a time and
place, in truth I cannot tell.
Maybe some gentle compulsion
descended wit>h the cool of the
day, at the hour when God walks
in his garden, for we seemed to
drift into talk of the first and the
last things with no less naturalness than the fisherman turns of
an evening to his plans for the
The canvas lean-to, pitched
where the river's high bank cedes
a level spot in mid-ascent, for ten
days had been our home. A
carpet of caribou moss, patterned
with little clumps of the dwarfed
fir, was ankle-deep about it. We
looked down upon a bend in the
river and a pool, broad and still,
into which at the yonder end
the swift broken water tumbled
noisily. A few westerly clouds
were crimson in a sunset of late
June, and for a lovely moment
the afterglow was flushing rosy
on the white mossed slope, on
pool and rapid, on the dusky files
of spruces climbing range beyond range. Before the tent, the
pleasant flame of a well-laid fire
was leaping. My companion's
face was ruddy in it as he sat
whittling a pipeful of tobacco.
'You always cut your own ?'
'Yes, I like my baccy and my
theology off the plug. Baccy in
tins and the coarse or fine cut
and dried theology of books
don't seem to meet my case.'
'Are you able to recollect when
and how it came over you that
the  fate   of  every  book  hangs
3 -»
alone upon the reader's uptake
—when you ceased to accept
opinion upon the sheer weight
of authority? Was it a sudden
conversion ?'
'All in a minute at the last,
but conscience had long been
pricking. The event dazed me
like a blinding light and I
walked exulting. We were reading Locke's great Essay. I was
seventeen. Authority skulked
yet awhile in holes and corners,
but that was his death-blow.'
'Then you will agree with me
that every parson's bounden duty
is to caution his flock somewhat
on this wise: Beloved brethren,
I sincerely entreat you not to believe a word I say—only because
I say it.'
'And how some congregations
would stare and gasp! Invited to
engage in processes of troublesome thought! Church would no
longer be a place of rest ... Of
course the only religion of any
use or comfort to a man is the
one he fashions for himself: a
long job and a hard one, but it's
what we're here for.'
'Perhaps I understand. Perhaps not wholly. Would it bore
you to expound?' wmtm
'To expound my beliefs? I
am my belief.    Don't you see?'
'Not quite—yet.'
'Could you endure the hearing
of my little theosophy? Not
transferable, remember. Every
man makes, and is, his own
creed. Even if you have happened to arrive at the same
destination the road will have
been different.'
'Hold on till I get a drink
from the pail. Will you have
some? What a quality there is
in that spring! Stuff like it never
came through pipes. Another
log? How soon after sundown
the   chill   falls   at   this   height!
Well, go ahead.'
'Don't expect an ordered discourse. I've never sorted this
out, except in the roughest way.
Moreover it's alive and growing
—some of it forty years old and
more, some as young as to-day.
Fishing this very afternoon it
crossed my mind that one could
make as wooden an idol out of a
dogma, an institution, a book, as
any to which the heathen bow.
That would fit in somewhere.
But let me try for a beginning.
Take the saying of Kepler's: My
highest wash is to find within, the
God whom I find everywhere
without. A noble yearning; but
only to be felt by one with whom
God already was. How strange
the conception: God everywhere
except in the chief work of his
hands! No; before a man believes in God he must believe in
himself, must be -'aware of the
God in his heart; for like knows
like, and intuitively, and only the
God within can discern the God
without. There is no question
of definition. The Mohammedan
is wiser than the Christian when
he nakedly affirms that God is
God. To allege human attributes A     FISHERMAN'S     CREED
—the only ones we can know—is
to limit and not enlarge. "Infinite justice" is worse than a nonsense-phrase, in that it makes the
pretence of meaning something.
Better, too, that we should deny
God than clothe him in our own
tattered raiment, or, worse, in
garments we contemptuously
disown: the denial is merely
fruitless, the assertion mischievous. Even the noblest quality
in man — mercy — can only be
proclaimed of a God whose
justice has not been equal to the
occasion. But I saw that you
were not quite ready to go along
with me as to belief. Paul's
phrase is hackneyed — and misread: As the body without the
breath is dead so faith without
works is dead also. Yes, but
figuratively dead; dead in the
sense that it never had life. For
faith without works is no more
than a metaphysical abstraction
and as incapable of existing by
itself as is volition without
action. Faith and works are but
the two sides of one embracing
fact, and each alone discovers
each: wherefore was it truly said
"Ye shall know them by their
fruits;"  and,  again,  that  doing
10 1
"the will" and not the saying of
"Lord, Lord," is the. road "into
the Kingdom."'
'These are no pretty flowers of
speech to be admired and thrown
aside: the man who "believes" in
another world is seen living in
the expectation of it.'
'Are they not of the very
essence? Reason the heart out
of them and is anything left that
is worth the while? Of course
you perceive how I use a word
which is on the lips in many
senses; to be clumsily clear, perhaps I should speak of dynamic
faith, abiding in the unconscious A     FISHERMAN'S     CREED
self, moving the heart with constant and inevitable power as the
moon sways the sea. This vital
thing differs in kind from the
static "beliefs" lying within the
region of formal assent. Yet
these are they, shifting and
changing with the centuries,
which man -has ever sought to
impose upon his neighbour. Had
he been as urgent to teach the
Sermon on the Mount by the
practising of it, there would
have been no "hating each other
for the love of God" in the
world's history.'
'Killing  each   other  for  that
which has no bearing on righteousness— is irrelevant to the
ends of religion.'
'Is it not so? To hold or to
reject the etheric dogma, the
theory of a virgin birth, makes
no whit of difference in the conduct of our lives: believers and
unbelievers walk with equal
security upon the solid earth, are
neither more nor less merciful
and just. Christ applauded or
condemned doings, and never
doctrines. He lived and died to
show us how to live and die, as
alone such things can be taught,
by example;—not to  save men
from sin, nor the result of their
sin, but from sinning. The only
sins worth troubling about are
those we shall surely commit unless the commission of them be
remitted to us. Past sins will
take plentiful care of themselves
in their consequences; morality
would collapse were it otherwise. Salvation and damnation
are habits of the soul, slowly acquired by the inner self, becoming inveterate in the passage of
time. You recall how George
Eliot's Tito "was experiencing
the inexorable law.... that we
prepare   ourselves    for   sudden
deeds by the reiterated choice of
good or evil that determines
character." And who can say
what is great and what is small
in the process? Our customary
measures are likely to be far
astray. We have no skill to forecast what a seeming trifle will
draw in train.'
'Now and then we are reminded : you and I have known a
match flung by in carelessness to
kindle a forest fire which an army
of men fought with in vain; and a
word let fall at random and forgotten that glowed in a human
breast for a lifetime. Of a
surety there is neither small nor
great; wherefore is it not well to
keep the touchstone bright with
continual use!'
— 'the compass; growing the
more sensitive and quick-acting
as we con the ship by it, slower
and untrustworthy the less consulted.'
'When you spoke of knowing
the tree by its fruits it came to
me that the river offers a working rule where any judging of
others is laid upon us: the live
fish always head up stream, even
when the water is too heavy for
'And we, unable to gauge the
strength of the current in which
another swims, or his efforts to
overcome it, may only see that
he is being carried downward!
But, as our talk has strayed to
this question of being critical,
how much is interest sharpened
and the possibility of misjudg-
ment diminished when, taking
the positive side, we seek resemblances rather than differences. With people as with
nations, the feeblest intelligence
readily finds the unlike; it asks
some exercise of wits to discover
similarities. Pushing the re-
search, the matter for carping
draws in to the vanishing point,
and the critic is apt to perish in
the investigator. To my thinking, a League of the Nations
stands or falls for its success
upon the bare provisionment of
a meeting-place for the cultivation of understandings, of a clearing house for interchanging the
world's common currency of
goodwill. This universal store
is the sum of individual hoardings, whereof, throughout his
life, each man is a gatherer or a
scatterer. Felix qui potuit rerum
cognoscere causas is not a mere
18 mmm
sententious tag but a counsel of
passing shrewdness. And in
practising it we must be continually mindful that the truth
we are pursuing is a centre to
which there are infinite lines of
approach, all convergent, none
'Or, as one might differently
image it, that no two eyes beheld
the same rainbow since ever the
world was. But what say you as
to the churches?'
'The churches! There's the
pity. How plainly the war has
presented them as but one aspect
of the state, nor always the best!
■i*wwr ■ m*     w"m*numm[  aia **mm
Have you bethought you what
would happen the church that
dared seriously to oppose the
opinion of the moment—tried to
stem a running tide for peace or
war? The thing has not been
attempted these many centuries,
but I hazard the guess that it
would be as much as the venturesome church's job was worth.
Corporations having no souls in
their equipment, it is vain to seek
in them for corporate honesty
and conscience; hence there is
no surprise in finding that having borrowed from all sources
in their day they repudiate the
debts. It seems inevitable that
institutions should magnify the
rite and the ritualist to the obscuring of what they celebrate;
and so have they taken utter
simplicities like the welcoming of
a convert, a commemorative meal
of peasants' humble fare, and
made of them unlike and formidable pomps—"a commandment
of men which hath been taught
them". Had the careful Thomas
enquired as to the disposing of
the crumbs and the lees of a
certain memorable feast who can
doubt that the Master would
have smiled away his solicitude.
21 ■■i
In a dark age the churches
laboriously shackled about their
necks the millstones of Depravity, Hell Fire, Vicarious Punishment, Exclusive Salvation. This
long while have they been trying
to be rid of the cumber—when no
one was looking. It is our duty
to lend aid—we who are untrammelled—for none of these
doctrines is a quickening force,
and are they not all repellent to
the God-sent instincts of a child ?
And so these vast machines, with
fires dead or barely smouldering,
go lumbering on of their own
momentum; guided, for the most =*WP-
part, by opportunist hands in the
line of least resistance. Their
pitiful little hells, and yet more
pitiful heavens, have ceased to
terrify or to allure. Meanwhile
the Church, indifferent to institution and dogma, has an eternal
home in the soul of man. Its "I
believe", though empty of formal
predicate, uttered or unuttered in
what corner of the earth, in whatsoever Name or none, is yet a
living and a compelling creed.'
'So vague a thing as that ?'
'Not for all. Not long for
those who follow even such
faintest  leadings  as  no  one  is
without. Light will dawn and
strengthen. Presently must they
discover assurance of — a God
who made the heavens and the
earth; immanent in all his handiwork; the continuing source of
life, aspiration, power.
—an unceasing process of creation making towards an end we
approve to the infinitesimal degree we comprehend it; will
further approve, here or hereafter, with bettered understanding.
—the manifestation of God in
all men, but chiefly in the prophets of every age and race; most
abundant in the divinest man—
the Christ.'
'Mechanistic accounts of the
universe ask too much and explain too little . . .'
'Less and less do they satisfy
as they advance in learning and
ingenuity. A telescope to the eye
and knowledge to the mind only
serve to extend the borders of
the unknown. Near or far, a
miracle lies at the end of all enquiry. "Believe" you must; the
question is which incredibility
you shall prefer. For myself, I
find that the dogmas of out and
out materialism make the more
excessive demand. But these have
lost credit, and it is strange in
this age of mysticism to find
clerics still combating their ancient foe—the matter of a lifetime behind their happier congregations. Their training and vows
ossify opinion and forbid natural
growth. What chance have they?
What a chance they lose!'
'But you do not leave all, or
perhaps much, to the choice of
the mind amongst incredibles?'
'There is that within which
discerns the spirits; yet even our
time-serving guide, the reason,
has an easier task to persuade
itself that "Shakespeare" came by
a fortuitous concourse of letters
than that the universe tumbled
from the dice-box of blind chance.
Can the mind agree that such
small possessions as are ours of
charity and goodwill, of the
virtues we call Christian or
Pagan, have no ancestor but a
speck of jelly? Goodness and
beauty and truth are forever
awakening overtones:
—octaves of a mystic depth and height
Which step out grandly to the infinite
From the dark edges of the sensual ground.
Do not the chords gain enrichment  from  another  world—an-
27 r
other world and 3^et not alien?
Is there no consciousness of
touch with it, albeit feeble and
broken? Epictetus inspired the
lines on the headstone of John
Addington Symonds in Rome:
Lead thou me, God, law, motion, reason, life,
All names for thee alike are vain and
Lead me, for I will follow without strife,
Or if I strive, still must I blindly follow.
To each his inalienable share
in the fulfilment of a tremendous
purpose. "Thy will be done in
earth as heaven" is an intimately
personal asking, not a detached
expression of pious hope.'
•^ffiffi   Hi ■ilg'l'" A     FISHERMAN'S     CREED
'You mean that every one of
us has part in a common cause—
a cause he is continually furthering or thwarting—and that God
has need of him in the accomplishment of some lofty design. The idea is dim and vast,
and a conflict seems to lurk . . .'
'The old conflict! I wonder if
my groping attempt upon it
could have meaning for another.
Hegel gave a clue: "In absolute
light as in absolute darkness
nothing could be perceived." The
condition of vision is darkness in
light, light in darkness; I want
you to conceive of this as  the
29 f
condition of moral consciousness.
Are we not at liberty to imagine
that "in the beginning" God was
minded to bring into being a new
thing—the human soul—having
qualities in which neither God
nor angel shares? Relativity is
here as everywhere, and moral
good and ill are possible only
where their opposites are possible. Designing then to people
a world with this new creature—
man—he endowed us with a dual
nature and set us in this dark
battle-ground where the forces of
evil and of good wage unceasing
warfare without and within, to
30 ■■■
evolve our humanity in and
through the conflict. To this end
the whole creation groans and
travails. A million years has it
taken to yield a glimmering of
that toward which mankind is
tending; a million yet may be exhausted before the final choice is
made and the fruits are fit for
the gathering. In the long struggle, defect and limitation, all that
brings the stumbling and the sorrow, are real and positive and
necessary. Out of victory and defeat emerge whatever is of consequence in us—virtue, character.
*  11 flk. | ■HB^hBttHH|ta mm
Of a verity the beautiful things
are hard.'
'Are we alone, unhelped?'
'Most surely not. That the
framer of the purpose should
leave it to shift for itself, and
desert his co-workers is beyond
thinking. To deny a final triumph is the sin against the
spirit which bars the door to aid.
But we are left to ask, and to recognize the answer, coming perhaps in unexpected guise. Often
do we forget in the near-sightedness of our views how remote
may be the aim; hence doubt,
discouragement,   revolt.     When
the slinking wolf, Fear, is close
upon our steps and the soul
faints, we may bethink us that
Christ's own prayer won no response, that he knew himself forsaken of God, that he, too, descended into hell. . .'
'A half-burned log fell and
sent an eager swarm a-seeking
the white unhurried stars.'
'Even as the sparks fly upward,' mused my friend.
'And do we pass likewise ?'
'Who knows? For my part I
think not so; the very self can
scarcely perish. Shall we liken
it to the buried mass of the ice-
33 pa
berg beneath the surface turmoil,
driven mightily against wind and
sea by undiscoverable forces? In
that unconscious depth character
resides, habit builds; from this
seat of imagination and emotion
arise our aspirations and desires;
through it flows the great tide of
life upon which every moment
we depend. There is the secret
dwelling-place of the soul and
there the hope of survival. From
the beginnings of recorded
thought the old wisdom in
metaphor sundered the conscious
and the unconscious, mind and
heart.     Many had tossed  aside
these half-forgotten truths like
a handful of useless beads until
Coue or another strung them
into a serviceable necklace. Why
should it be less in accord with
nature—law—that prayer, meditation, suggestion, should have
answer in the unconscious than
that water should rise at the summons of an emptiness? As to the
formalities of the demand we
need have little concern. Our
good fellows in the tent over
there find it easier to petition a
gentle mother of sorrows or a
friendly   saint.     Nothing   goes
Jfeyftyi Hi
astray through defect of superscription.'
'You seem to make but little
of happiness.'
'No! No! To be at large in a
mood of contagious discontent is
an offence against our fellow-
creatures. Of all a man's duties
to his neighbour the most sacred
is to achieve the sum of his
attainable happiness and go clad
in it; how otherwise shall he pay
his debt in spreading abroad this
communicable thing? Joy is the
highest state to which we may
aspire, for it comes only through
being in conscious harmony with
the intent of God. The poles
meet: self and selflessness merge.
To a few, this earth is actually
a heaven/
'I am glad of your correcting
word, and indeed one remembers. .. You would say, again,
that conscious disharmony —
a final election against good, if
that be conceivable — is a hell
profound enough. To be irretrievably useless! Surely the torture is as far beyond imagining
as the fact is beyond credence!
A last question, though, before
we turn in: What manner of a
hereafter would content you?'
37 T
'O, plenty of work and plenty
of play—work of evident purpose
and sure result; and the finding
out a myriad things you want to
know; and laying mind to mind
without the stupid barriers and
misunderstandings of speech.
Better than that: some tiny bit
of creation were one fit for it.
There must be a lot to do in the
building of dawns and sunsets.
At the beginning, perhaps, you
might be given charge of a cloud
or a wave, or maybe the care of a
little river. The flowers in the
woods need a power of tending,
but I think that the white souls
of the little children look after
them. And surely this interlude
would never be so far forgot but
that we should still be wishing to
ease the burden of a sad heart on
earth. . .'
In the profound stillness the
rapid's voice, gathering a fullness of quiet tones unheard by
day, was tuned to harmony with
the night. The men's evening
litany had faintly reached our
ears, and now they slept—their
tent a blur of white among the
stunted tamaracks, or dully red
when the untended fire flickered
into flame. In the gulf of dark-
39 r*
ness below, the pool held the
image of a setting planet. It was
long since the leaders of the star-
battalions had appeared, and now
we stood to watch how far they
had wheeled their hosts across
the sky.
'If Light can thus deceive,
wherefore not Life,' murmured
my friend, spreading his hands
broadly to the stars—'What
a transcendent act of faith is
needed to affirm that those are
self-born and march unguided
through the void!'
'May peace be with you.'
'And with you, peace.'


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