Notes on Life and Letters HTML version

A Happy Wanderer—1910
Converts are interesting people. Most of us, if you will pardon me for betraying
the universal secret, have, at some time or other, discovered in ourselves a
readiness to stray far, ever so far, on the wrong road. And what did we do in our
pride and our cowardice? Casting fearful glances and waiting for a dark moment,
we buried our discovery discreetly, and kept on in the old direction, on that old,
beaten track we have not had courage enough to leave, and which we perceive
now more clearly than before to be but the arid way of the grave.
The convert, the man capable of grace (I am speaking here in a secular sense),
is not discreet. His pride is of another kind; he jumps gladly off the track--the
touch of grace is mostly sudden-- and facing about in a new direction may even
attain the illusion of having turned his back on Death itself.
Some converts have, indeed, earned immortality by their exquisite indiscretion.
The most illustrious example of a convert, that Flower of chivalry, Don Quixote de
la Mancha, remains for all the world the only genuine immortal hidalgo. The
delectable Knight of Spain became converted, as you know, from the ways of a
small country squire to an imperative faith in a tender and sublime mission.
Forthwith he was beaten with sticks and in due course shut up in a wooden cage
by the Barber and the Priest, the fit ministers of a justly shocked social order. I do
not know if it has occurred to anybody yet to shut up Mr. Luffmann in a wooden
cage. {4} I do not raise the point because I wish him any harm. Quite the
contrary. I am a humane person. Let him take it as the highest praise--but I must
say that he richly deserves that sort of attention.
On the other hand I would not have him unduly puffed up with the pride of the
exalted association. The grave wisdom, the admirable amenity, the serene grace
of the secular patron-saint of all mortals converted to noble visions are not his.
Mr. Luffmann has no mission. He is no Knight sublimely Errant. But he is an
excellent Vagabond. He is full of merit. That peripatetic guide, philosopher and
friend of all nations, Mr. Roosevelt, would promptly excommunicate him with a
big stick. The truth is that the ex-autocrat of all the States does not like rebels
against the sullen order of our universe. Make the best of it or perish--he cries. A
sane lineal successor of the Barber and the Priest, and a sagacious political heir
of the incomparable Sancho Panza (another great Governor), that distinguished
litterateur has no mercy for dreamers. And our author happens to be a man of
(you may trace them in his books) some rather fine reveries.
Every convert begins by being a rebel, and I do not see myself how any mercy
can possibly be extended to Mr. Luffmann. He is a convert from the creed of
strenuous life. For this renegade the body is of little account; to him work appears
criminal when it suppresses the demands of the inner life; while he was young he
did grind virtuously at the sacred handle, and now, he says, he has fallen into
disgrace with some people because he believes no longer in toil without end.
Certain respectable folk hate him--so he says--because he dares to think that
"poetry, beauty, and the broad face of the world are the best things to be in love
with." He confesses to loving Spain on the ground that she is "the land of to-