Lord Jim HTML version

Chapter 22
'The conquest of love, honour, men's confidence--the pride of it, the power of it,
are fit materials for a heroic tale; only our minds are struck by the externals of
such a success, and to Jim's successes there were no externals. Thirty miles of
forest shut it off from the sight of an indifferent world, and the noise of the white
surf along the coast overpowered the voice of fame. The stream of civilisation, as
if divided on a headland a hundred miles north of Patusan, branches east and
south-east, leaving its plains and valleys, its old trees and its old mankind,
neglected and isolated, such as an insignificant and crumbling islet between the
two branches of a mighty, devouring stream. You find the name of the country
pretty often in collections of old voyages. The seventeenth-century traders went
there for pepper, because the passion for pepper seemed to burn like a flame of
love in the breast of Dutch and English adventurers about the time of James the
First. Where wouldn't they go for pepper! For a bag of pepper they would cut
each other's throats without hesitation, and would forswear their souls, of which
they were so careful otherwise: the bizarre obstinacy of that desire made them
defy death in a thousand shapes--the unknown seas, the loathsome and strange
diseases; wounds, captivity, hunger, pestilence, and despair. It made them great!
By heavens! it made them heroic; and it made them pathetic too in their craving
for trade with the inflexible death levying its toll on young and old. It seems
impossible to believe that mere greed could hold men to such a steadfastness of
purpose, to such a blind persistence in endeavour and sacrifice. And indeed
those who adventured their persons and lives risked all they had for a slender
reward. They left their bones to lie bleaching on distant shores, so that wealth
might flow to the living at home. To us, their less tried successors, they appear
magnified, not as agents of trade but as instruments of a recorded destiny,
pushing out into the unknown in obedience to an inward voice, to an impulse
beating in the blood, to a dream of the future. They were wonderful; and it must
be owned they were ready for the wonderful. They recorded it complacently in
their sufferings, in the aspect of the seas, in the customs of strange nations, in
the glory of splendid rulers.
'In Patusan they had found lots of pepper, and had been impressed by the
magnificence and the wisdom of the Sultan; but somehow, after a century of
chequered intercourse, the country seems to drop gradually out of the trade.
Perhaps the pepper had given out. Be it as it may, nobody cares for it now; the
glory has departed, the Sultan is an imbecile youth with two thumbs on his left
hand and an uncertain and beggarly revenue extorted from a miserable
population and stolen from him by his many uncles.
'This of course I have from Stein. He gave me their names and a short sketch of
the life and character of each. He was as full of information about native states
as an official report, but infinitely more amusing. He had to know. He traded in so