by Lisa Lewis)
|notes on the text|
If ever I held back, Ananias fashion, anything of myself (even though I had to throw it out afterwards) I paid for it by missing what I then knew the tale lacked. As an instance, many years later I wrote about a mediaeval artist, a monastery, and the premature discovery of the microscope. (“The Eye of Allah.”)The manuscript does not greatly differ from the published story, except for the deleted title “God.”
Again and again it went dead under my hand, and for the life of me I could not see why. I put it away and waited. Then said my Daemon – and I was meditating something else at the time – “Treat it as an illuminated manuscript.”
I had ridden off on hard black-and-white decoration, instead of pumicing the whole thing ivory-smooth, and loading it with thick colour and gilt.
Swammerdam, half-crazed at the sight of the marvels his microscope showed him in a drop of water, shutting his notebook and vowing such revelations were not to be communicated to mankind. [“The Classics and the Sciences,” A Book of Words].Swammerdam was a 17th century Dutch naturalist who wrote a famous book on insects, but he also studied medicine and gained his doctorate for anatomical dissection. Swammerdam pioneered a technique of floating materials in water to see them through a microscope more clearly. In later life, however, he adopted a more extreme religion and gave up science for good [Jan Swammerdam, The Book of Nature, or the History of Insects, tr. Thomas Flloyd, (London 1758), with an introductory life of the author by H. Boerhaave.]
A supposedly mediaeval illustrated book, "The Voynich Manuscript", written in a code that has never been successfully decyphered, has been the subject of many theories. (See Wikipedia; see also Kennedy and Churchill, The Voynich Manuscript: The Unsolved Riddle of an Extraordinary 16th Century Book Which Even Today Defies Interpretation, Orion 2005.)This would certainly have interested Kipling if he knew of it, for several reasons. There is, however, no evidence that he did know of it. [Ed.]
One theory, current in the 1920s but by now more or less completely discredited, ascribes it to Roger Bacon. It is 'supported' by a possibly forged letter dated 1665 or 1666 (which does not make a definite ascription.) This theory was espoused by Willliam Newbold, one of the earliest researchers to study the VMS. For some time after the manuscript's appearance in 1912, it was the dominant theory of authorship.
Newbold believed that he had discovered a micrographic shorthand within the letters of the text (modern researchers believe this to be merely the result of the rough surface of the vellum affecting the ink.) He believed that both the creation of the text, and the observations that it recorded, were performed by Bacon using a compound microscope. He gave a lecture to to College of Physicians of Philadelphia on the subject on April 20, 1921 (Kennedy & Churchill pp. 36-37), and also announced his theories elsewhere. It was not until 1931, well after Newbold's 1926 death, that any published article demonstrated the serious flaws in Newbold's theory.
Since Kipling was working on "The Eye of Allah" in July 1924 - not so long after Newbold's announcement of his theory - it is interesting to speculate on whether it was the original inspiration for this story? It does not seem improbable.
I note also Kipling's reference in Something of Myself of his Daemon's advice to "Treat it an an illuminated manuscript". An interesting coincidence or a natural association? [R.D.]
it does not equal the best in that volume, still less the best of “Puck of Pook’s Hill.” There is a certain stiffness about it, whereof the origin would seem to be increased recourse to the book-shelf. Though it is a noble tale, though a noble allegory is within it, we greatly prefer the simplicity of “The Gardener.”J.M.S. Tompkins [p. 168] found the story “complex,” since:
it is doing several things at once. The scientist is contrasted not only with Abbot Stephen, the administrator, but with John of Burgos, the artist, “to whom men were but matter for drawings.” … It is not only that the audacious scientist would face the fire, but that in the struggle what order there is would be shaken and debased. The Eye of Allah would but bring “more division and greater darkness in this dark age.” Western man is not yet ready to see with it [pp. 168-9].C.A. Bodelsen also saw the story as “many-layered,” and “permeated with symbolic meanings and recurrent similes and themes” [p. 91]:
[it] is, on one level, a story about what happens to a group of people in a mediaeval monastery; on another level it is a story about a premature discovery; on a third it is about the impact of the Renaissance on the mediaeval world picture; on a fourth about the attitude of the artist, the physician, and the philosopher to science; and on the fifth about four aspects of civilization, personified as the artist, the scientist, the philosopher and the church dignitary and statesman, and illustrated by confronting them with an emblem of the new science: the microscope [pp. 91-2].Philip Mason placed it among the eight best of Kipling’s late work [p. 210]. The necessary destruction of the microscope:
though it is the main theme, is only one of many in a story that is in danger of being too rich. There is also a variation on the most frequent of all Kipling themes – man going on with his craft or art or duty against the background of death and personal sorrow, both for the artist John and for the Abbot. And for almost everyone in the story there is conflict between the single-hearted pursuit of his special craft and the pressures of the world, or the church, or both … but sanity and healing run through the story like the kingfisher atilt through the irises and the freed man stretching his limbs [pp. 262-3].Mason compared the story to Browning’s “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”:
With all this richness, the central message is simple and it is pure Blougramism. If the world is not yet ready for a truth or a discovery, it may be better to jettison the discovery than to try to change a world that is far too big and complicated for one man to alter [p. 263].John Coates argued that, in indicating the date of the story:
Kipling builds a number of allusions and suggestions around this precise dating that impart a specific quality to the story, [p. 101].The monastery, he pointed out:
is a world of ardent specialists… a collegiate body with an atmosphere somewhat resenbling the one a university was once ideally supposed to achieve, and sometimes did. It is a place in which individuals pursue their own studies to the highest point of perfection while regarding those of others with indifference or bemused toleration. Yet the monastery is still a body. The specialists live under a corporate discipline and their skills serve and glorify the religion that they share. “The Eye of Allah” is concerned with imperiled but valuable balance between the appetites and enthusiasms of individuals and the claims of the community, as much as it is with the balance or unity between sacred and profane within the individual sensibility. [pp. 105-6].Coates noticed that:
The story catches the very moment of poise in a civilization between germination and decay … What the tale implies about such a moment is that it is one of peculiar value, when the ripest fruits appear and the culture gives of its best [p. 107].
“The Eye of Allah” is set within the last years of Thomas Aquinas’s life and at the culmination of his career, during which he was engaged on the Summa Contra Gentiles and the Summa Theologica. These great works of synthesis represent, among much else, answers to “the panic upon the Aristotelian peril, that had passed across the high places of the Church.This panic was because:
[the Moslem scientist] Averroes had taken a statement in the third book of Aristotle’s De Anima “as meaning that there is one immortal intellect which enters into temporary union with, or performs a function in, individual men. There is therefore no personal immortality.” [p. 110].This was also seen by Moslems, Coates noted, as dangerous:
Averroes tried to evade the charge of heresy by formulating the third of his ‘pernicious’ doctrines, that of the ‘double truth’ of science and theology. [p. 111].In this story, argued Coates:
Kipling demonstrates not merely the psychological perception and deliberate ambivalence all readers detect and most readers admire in his later fiction, but a depth of historical and cultural understanding less often noticed but equally striking [p. 119].