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Aischrolatreia

( Originally Published 1916 )

AISCHROLATREIA is a word used by Frederic Harrison, and his definition of it is "the worship of the ugly, the nasty, and the brutal."

The human soul has its laws as fixed as the laws of the human body. Feed the body enough alcohol and you will get delirium tremens. Feed the soul enough sensual emotion, and cultivate it with introspection, and you get aischrolatreia.

Any egotism is bad, but emotional egotism is poison.

The best part of life is feeling, but it is al-ways the best things that are most liable to excess. Beyond a certain point enthusiasm becomes madness, love becomes perversion, and the taste for beauty becomes the taste for the hideous.

Even in religious emotion this is true. As Charles H. Spurgeon said, "Excessive spirituality is akin to sensuality."

The antidote to toxic emotion is work, accomplishment, activity. Where one has no task, no pressure of duty, the soul rots. It is the idle class that is the dangerous class, because having no work the soul gives itself over to the search for new sensations. This is as bad as taking opium, cocaine, or whiskey.

The first buds of passion in the soul are the most exquisitely beautiful of all human experience. Give yourself over to the pursuit of passion, however, and your end will be the most horrible torture conceivable.

Cubism and Futurism in art are the results of unrestrained love of beauty; they are that hideousness into which egoistic emotional drunkenness leads. After a while the art drunkard finds no satisfaction in the simplicities of nature; nothing but the distorted can arouse him, just as after a while the victim of alcoholism has no taste for beer or honest wine, but must have absinthe, mescal, or vodka.

It was because of the cumulative danger of pleasure, when followed solely, that the Puritans sought to prohibit it. But the master word of morality is not prohibition; it is self-control. Life needs love, beauty, laughter, and its measure of rational inebriation. Without these the soul hardens. Yet with these, and without self-control, the soul fevers and decays.

The law of life is not "Never!" It is "Never too much !" This was the motto of Socrates.

A good example of the ruin of over-emotionalism is found in the poet Baudelaire. He gave himself up to feeling and to analyzing the emotions of his inner life. Typical of his philosophy are these words from one of his prose-poems:

"One must ever be drunken. Everything is in that; it is the only question. In order not to feel the horrible burden of Time that is breaking your shoulders, bending you earthwards, you must be ceaselessly drunken.

"But with what? With wine, poetry, or virtue, as you will—only intoxicate yourself ; and if sometimes, on the steps of a palace, on the green-sward of a grave, or in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake to find the intoxication diminished or vanished, ask of the wind, or the wave, or the star, or the bird, or the clock ask what time it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, and clock will tell you: `It is time to be drunken.' Lest you should be the martyred slaves of Time, be ceaselessly drunken! With wine, poetry, or virtue, as you will."

The life of Baudelaire went out in the impotence of despair, the agony of self-torture. His beauty worship finished in aischrolatreia. His sterile genius left nothing to mankind.

Compare his sentiment with that of another man who gave as his life-motive: "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day; for the night cometh when no man can work." The life of this man has been a fountain of in-exhausted passion for a thousand years.



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