Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Rupert Brooke > Text of Outside

An essay by Rupert Brooke


Title:     Outside
Author: Rupert Brooke [More Titles by Brooke]

I had visited New York, Boston, Quebec, Montreal, and Toronto. In Winnipeg I found a friend, who was tired of cities. So was I. In Canada the remedy lies close at hand. We took ancient clothes--and I, Ben Jonson and Jane Austen to keep me English--and departed northward for a lodge, reported to exist in a region of lakes and hills and forests and caribou and Indians and a few people. At first the train sauntered through a smiling plain, intermittently cultivated, and dotted with little new villages. Over this country are thrown little pools of that flood of European immigration that pours through Winnipeg, to remain separate or be absorbed, as destiny wills. The problem of immigration here reveals that purposelessness that exists in the affairs of Canada even more than those of other nations. The multitude from South or East Europe flocks in. Some make money and return. The most remain, often in inassimilable lumps. There is every sign that these lumps may poison the health of Canada as dangerously as they have that of the United States. For Canada there is the peril of too large an element of foreign blood and traditions in a small nation already little more than half composed of British blood and descent. Nationalities seem to teach one another only their worst. If the Italians gave the Canadians of their good manners, and the Doukhobors or Poles inoculated them with idealism and the love of beauty, and received from them British romanticism and sense of responsibility!.... But they only seem to increase the anarchy, these 'foreigners,' and to learn the American twang and method of spitting. And there is the peril of politics. Upon these scattered exotic communities, ignorant of the problems of their adopted land, ignorant even of its language, swoop the agents of political parties, with their one effectual argument--bad whisky. This baptism is the immigrants' only organised welcome into their new liberties. Occasionally some Church raises a thin protest. But the 'Anglo-Saxon' continues to take up his burden; and the floods from Europe pour in. Canadians regard this influx with that queer fatalism which men adopt under plutocracy. "How could they stop it? It pays the steamship and railway companies. It may, or may not, be good for Canada. Who knows? In any case, it will go on. Our masters wish it...."

It is noteworthy that Icelanders are found to be far the readiest to mingle and become Canadian. After them, Norwegians and Swedes. With other immigrant nationalities, hope lies with the younger generation; but these acclimatise immediately.

Our train was boarded by a crowd of Ruthenians or Galicians, brown-eyed and beautiful people, not yet wholly civilised out of their own costume. The girls chatted together in a swift, lovely language, and the children danced about, tossing their queer brown mops of hair. They clattered out at a little village that seemed to belong to them, and stood waving and laughing us out of sight. I pondered on their feelings, and looked for the name of the little Utopia these aliens had found in a new world. It was called (for the railway companies name towns in this country) 'Milner.'

We wandered into rougher country, where the rocks begin to show through the surface, and scrub pine abounds. At the end of our side-line was another, and at the end of that a village, the ultimate outpost of civilisation. Here, on the way back, some weeks later, we had to spend the night in a little hotel which 'accommodated transients.' It was a rough affair of planks, inhabited by whatever wandering workman from construction-camps or other labour in the region wanted shelter for the night. You slept in a sort of dormitory, each bed partitioned off from the rest by walls that were some feet short of the ceiling. Swedes, Germans, Welsh, Italians, and Poles occupied the other partitions, each blaspheming the works of the Lord in his own tongue. About midnight two pairs of feet crashed into the cell opposite mine; and a high, sleepless voice, with an accent I knew, continued an interminable argument on theology. "I' beginning wash word," it proclaimed with all the melancholy of drunkenness. The other disputant was German or Norwegian, and uninterested, though very kindly. "Right-o!" he said. "Let's go sleep!"

"_What_ word?" pondered the Englishman. The Norwegian suggested several, sleepily. "Logos," wailed the other, "_What_ Logos?" and wept. They persisted, hour by hour, disconnected voices in the void and darkness, lonely and chance companions in the back-blocks of Canada, the one who couldn't, and the one who didn't want to, understand. A little before dawn I woke again. That thin voice, in patient soliloquy, was discussing Female Suffrage, going very far down into the roots of the matter. I met its owner next morning. He was tall and dark and lachrymose, with bloodshot eyes, and breath that stank of gin. He had played scrum-half for --- College in '98; and had prepared for ordination. "You'll understand, old man," he said, "how out of place I am amongst this scum--hoi polloi--we're not of the hoi polloi, are we?" It seemed nicer to agree. "Oh, I know Greek!"--he was too eagerly the gentleman--"ho cosmos tes adikias--the last thing I learnt for ordination--this world of injustice--that's right, isn't it?" He laughed sickly. "I say as one 'Varsity man to another--we're not hoi polloi--could you lend me some money?"

We had to press on thirty miles up a 'light railway' to a power-station, a settlement by a waterfall in the wild. An engine and an ancient luggage-van conveyed us. The van held us, three crates, and some sacks, four half-breeds in black slouch hats, who curled up on the floor like dogs and slept, and an aged Italian. This last knew no word of English. He had travelled all the way from Naples, Heaven knows how, to find his two sons, supposed to be working in the power-station. So much was written on a piece of paper. We gave him chocolate, and at intervals I repeated to him my only Italian, the first line of the _Divina Commedia_. He seemed cheered. The van jolted on through the fading light. Once a man stepped out on to the track, stopped us, and clambered silently up. We went on. It was the doctor, who had been visiting some lonely hut in the woods. Later, another figure was seen staggering between the rails. We slowed up, shouted, and finally stopped, butting him gently on the back with our buffers, and causing him to fall. He was very drunk. The driver and the doctor helped him into the van. There he stood, and looking round, said very distinctly, "I do not wish to travel on your --- --- train." So we put him off again, and proceeded. Such is the West.

We rattled interminably through the darkness. The unpeopled woods closed about us, snatched with lean branches, and opened out again to a windy space. Once or twice the ground fell away, and there was, for a moment, the mysterious gleam and stir of water. Canadian stars are remote and virginal. Everyone slumbered. Arrival at the great concrete building and the little shacks of the power-station shook us to our feet. The Italian vanished into the darkness. Whether he found his sons or fell into the river no one knew, and no one seemed to care.

An Indian, taciturn and Mongolian, led us on next day, by boat and on foot, to the lonely log-house we aimed at. It stood on high rocks, above a lake six miles by two. There was an Indian somewhere, by a river three miles west, and a trapper to the east, and a family encamped on an island in the lake. Else nobody.

It is that feeling of fresh loneliness that impresses itself before any detail of the wild. The soul--or the personality--seems to have indefinite room to expand. There is no one else within reach, there never has been anyone; no one else is _thinking_ of the lakes and hills you see before you. They have no tradition, no names even; they are only pools of water and lumps of earth, some day, perhaps, to be clothed with loves and memories and the comings and goings of men, but now dumbly waiting their Wordsworth or their Acropolis to give them individuality, and a soul. In such country as this there is a rarefied clean sweetness. The air is unbreathed, and the earth untrodden. All things share this childlike loveliness, the grey whispering reeds, the pure blue of the sky, the birches and thin fir-trees that make up these forests, even the brisk touch of the clear water as you dive.

That last sensation, indeed, and none of sight or hearing, has impressed itself as the token of Canada, the land. Every swimmer knows it. It is not languorous, like bathing in a warm Southern sea; nor grateful, like a river in a hot climate; nor strange, as the ocean always is; nor startling, like very cold water. But it touches the body continually with freshness, and it seems to be charged with a subtle and unexhausted energy. It is colourless, faintly stinging, hard and grey, like the rocks around, full of vitality, and sweet. It has the tint and sensation of a pale dawn before the sun is up. Such is the wild of Canada. It awaits the sun, the end for which Heaven made it, the blessing of civilisation. Some day it will be sold in large portions, and the timber given to a friend of ---'s, and cut down and made into paper, on which shall be printed the praise of prosperity; and the land itself shall be divided into town-lots and sold, and sub-divided and sold again, and boomed and resold, and boosted and distributed to fishy young men who will vend it in distant parts of the country; and then such portions as can never be built upon shall be given in exchange for great sums of money to old ladies in the quieter parts of England, but the central parts of towns shall remain in the hands of the wise. And on these shall churches, hotels, and a great many ugly skyscrapers be built, and hovels for the poor, and houses for the rich, none beautiful, and there shall ugly objects be manufactured, rather hurriedly, and sold to the people at more than they are worth, because similar and cheaper objects made in other countries are kept out by a tariff....

But at present there are only the wrinkled, grey-blue lake, sliding ever sideways, and the grey rocks, and the cliffs and hills, covered with birch-trees, and the fresh wind among the birches, and quiet, and that unseizable virginity. Dawn is always a lost pearly glow in the ashen skies, and sunset a multitude of softly-tinted mists sliding before a remotely golden West. They follow one another with an infinite loneliness. And there is a far and solitary beach of dark, golden sand, close by a deserted Indian camp, where, if you drift quietly round the corner in a canoe, you may see a bear stumbling along, or a great caribou, or a little red deer coming down to the water to drink, treading the wild edge of lake and forest with a light, secret, and melancholy grace.

[The end]
Rupert Brooke's essay: Outside