STRANGENESS AND CHARM
Of course the conditions of which I speak are now passing away; but they are still to be found in the remoter districts. I have lived in districts where no case of theft had occurred for hundreds of years, - where the newly-built prisons of Meiji remained empty and useless, - where the people left their doors unfastened by night as well as by day. These facts are familiar to every Japanese. In such a district, you might recognize that the kindness shown to you, as a stranger, is the consequence of official command; but how explain the goodness of the people to each other? When you discover no harshness, no rudeness, no dishonesty, no breaking of laws, and learn that this social condition has been the same for centuries, you are tempted to believe that you have entered into the domain of a morally superior humanity. All this soft urbanity, impeccable honesty, ingenuous kindliness of speech and act, you might naturally interpret as conduct directed by perfect goodness of heart. And the simplicity that delights you is no simplicity of barbarism. Here every one has been taught; every one knows how to write and speak beautifully, how to compose poetry, how to behave politely; there is everywhere cleanliness and good taste; interiors are bright and pure; the daily use of the hot bath is universal. How refuse to be charmed by a civilization in which every relation appears to be governed by altruism, every action directed by duty, and every object shaped by art? You cannot help being delighted by such conditions, or feeling indignant at hearing them denounced as "heathen." And according to the degree of altruism within yourself, these good folk will be able, without any apparent effort, to make you happy. The mere sensation of the milieu is a placid happiness: it is like the sensation of a dream in which people greet us exactly as we like to be greeted, and say to us all that we like to hear, and do for us all that we wish to have done, - people moving soundlessly through spaces of perfect repose, all bathed in vapoury light. Yes - for no little time these fairy-folk can give you all the soft bliss of sleep. But sooner or later, if you dwell long with them, your contentment will prove to have much in common with the happiness of dreams. You will never forget the dream, - never; but it will lift at last, like those vapours of spring which lend preternatural loveliness to a Japanese landscape in the forenoon of radiant days. Really you are happy because you have entered bodily into Fairyland, - into a world that is not, and never could be your own. You have been transported out of your own century - over spaces enormous of perished time - into an era forgotten, into a vanished age, - back to something ancient as Egypt or Nineveh. That is the secret of the strangeness and beauty of things, - the secret of the thrill they give, - the secret of the elfish charm of the people and their ways. Fortunate mortal! the tide of Time has turned for you! But remember that here all is enchantment, - that you have fallen under the spell of the dead, - that the lights and the colours and the voices must fade away at last into emptiness and silence.
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Some of us, at least, have often wished that it were possible to live for a season in the beautiful vanished world of Greek culture. Inspired by our first acquaintance with the charm of Greek art and thought, this wish comes to us even before we are capable of imagining the true conditions of the antique civilization. If the wish could be realized, we should certainly find it impossible to accommodate ourselves to those conditions, - not so much because of the difficulty of learning the environment, as because of the much greater difficulty of feeling just as people used to feel some thirty centuries ago. In spite of all that has been done for Greek studies since the Renaissance, we are still unable to understand many aspects of the old Greek life: no modern mind can really feel, for example, those sentiments and emotions to which the great tragedy of Oedipus made appeal. Nevertheless we are much in advance of our forefathers of the eighteenth century, as regards the knowledge of Greek civilization. In the time of the French revolution, it was thought possible to reestablish in France the conditions of a Greek republic, and to educate children according to the system of Sparta. To-day we are well aware that no mind developed by modern civilization could find happiness under any of those socialistic despotisms which existed in all the cities of the ancient world before the Roman conquest. We could no more mingle with the old Greek life, if it were resurrected for us, - no more become a part of it, - than we could change our mental identities. But how much would we not give for the delight of beholding it, - for the joy of attending one festival in Corinth, or of witnessing the Pan-Hellenic games? ... And yet, to witness the revival of some perished Greek civilization, - to walk about the very Crotona of Pythagoras, - to wander through the Syracuse of Theocritus, - were not any more of a privilege than is the opportunity actually afforded us to study Japanese life. Indeed, from the evolutional point of view, it were less of a privilege, - since Japan offers us the living spectacle of conditions older, and psychologically much farther away from us, than those of any Greek period with which art and literature have made us closely acquainted.