SOUL OF A BISHOP
SOUL OF A BISHOP
H. G. WELLS
CHAPTER THE FIRST - THE DREAM
IT was a scene of bitter disputation. A hawk-nosed young man
with a pointing finger was prominent. His face worked violently
his lips moved very rapidly but what he said was inaudible.
Behind him the little rufous man with the big eyes twitched at
his robe and offered suggestions.
And behind these two clustered a great multitude of heated
excited swarthy faces....
The emperor sat on his golden throne in the midst of the
gathering commanding silence by gestures speaking inaudibly to
them in a tongue the majority did not use and then prevailing.
They ceased their interruptions and the old man Arius took up
the debate. For a time all those impassioned faces were intent
upon him; they listened as though they sought occasion and
suddenly as if by a preconcerted arrangement they were all
thrusting their fingers into their ears and knitting their brows
in assumed horror; some were crying aloud and making as if to
fly. Some indeed tucked up their garments and fled. They spread
out into a pattern. They were like the little monks who run from
St. Jerome's lion in the picture by Carpaccio. Then one zealot
rushed forward and smote the old man heavily upon the mouth....
The hall seemed to grow vaster and vaster the disputing
infuriated figures multiplied to an innumerable assembly they
drove about like snowflakes in a gale they whirled in
argumentative couples they spun in eddies of contradiction they
made extraordinary patterns and then amidst the cloudy darkness
of the unfathomable dome above them there appeared and increased
a radiant triangle in which shone an eye. The eye and the
triangle filled the heavens sent out flickering rays glowed to
a blinding incandescence seemed to be speaking words of thunder
that were nevertheless inaudible. It was as if that thunder
filled the heavens it was as if it were nothing but the beating
artery in the sleeper's ear. The attention strained to hear and
comprehend and on the very verge of comprehension snapped like a
The word remained like a little ash after a flare.
The sleeper had awakened and lay very still oppressed by a
sense of intellectual effort that had survived the dream in which
it had arisen. Was it so that things had happened? The slumber-
shadowed mind moving obscurely could not determine whether it
was so or not. Had they indeed behaved in this manner when the
great mystery was established? Who said they stopped their ears
with their fingers and fled shouting with horror? Shouting? Was
it Eusebius or Athanasius? Or Sozomen.... Some letter or apology
by Athanasius?... And surely it was impossible that the Trinity
could have appeared visibly as a triangle and an eye. Above such
That was mere dreaming of course. Was it dreaming after
Raphael? After Raphael? The drowsy mind wandered into a side
issue. Was the picture that had suggested this dream the one in
the Vatican where all the Fathers of the Church are shown
disputing together? But there surely God and the Son themselves
were painted with a symbol--some symbol--also? But was that
disputation about the Trinity at all? Wasn't it rather about a
chalice and a dove? Of course it was a chalice and a dove! Then
where did one see the triangle and the eye? And men disputing?
Some such picture there was....
What a lot of disputing there had been! What endless disputing!
Which had gone on. Until last night. When this very disagreeable
young man with the hawk nose and the pointing finger had tackled
one when one was sorely fagged and disputed; disputed. Rebuked
and disputed. "Answer me this" he had said.... And still one's
poor brains disputed and would not rest.... About the Trinity....
The brain upon the pillow was now wearily awake. It was at once
hopelessly awake and active and hopelessly unprogressive. It was
like some floating stick that had got caught in an eddy in a
river going round and round and round. And round. Eternally--
"But what possible meaning do you attach then to such a phrase
as eternally begotten?"
The brain upon the pillow stared hopelessly at this question
without an answer without an escape. The three repetitions spun
round and round became a swiftly revolving triangle like some
electric sign that had got beyond control in the midst of which
stared an unwinking and resentful eye.
Every one knows that expedient of the sleepless the counting
You lie quite still you breathe regularly you imagine sheep
jumping over a gate one after another you count them quietly
and slowly until you count yourself off through a fading string
of phantom numbers to number Nod....
But sheep alas! suggest an episcopal crook.
And presently a black sheep had got into the succession and was
struggling violently with the crook about its leg a hawk-nosed
black sheep full of reproof with disordered hair and a pointing
finger. A young man with a most disagreeable voice.
At which the other sheep took heart and deserting the numbered
succession came and sat about the fire in a big drawing-room and
argued also. In particular there was Lady Sunderbund a pretty
fragile tall woman in the corner richly jewelled who sat with
her pretty eyes watching and her lips compressed. What had she
thought of it? She had said very little.
It is an unusual thing for a mixed gathering of this sort to
argue about the Trinity. Simply because a tired bishop had fallen
into their party. It was not fair to him to pretend that the
atmosphere was a liberal and inquiring one when the young man
who had sat still and dormant by the table was in reality a keen
and bitter Irish Roman Catholic. Then the question a
question-begging question was put quite suddenly without
preparation or prelude by surprise. "Why Bishop was the
Spermaticos Logos identified with the Second and not the Third
Person of the Trinity?"
It was indiscreet it was silly to turn upon the speaker and
affect an air of disengagement and modernity and to say: "Ah
that indeed is the unfortunate aspect of the whole affair."
Whereupon the fierce young man had exploded with:
"To that is it that you Anglicans have come?"
The whole gathering had given itself up to the disputation
Lady Sunderbund an actress a dancer--though she it is true
did not say very much--a novelist a mechanical expert of some
sort a railway peer geniuses hairy and Celtic people of no
clearly definable position but all quite unequal to the task of
maintaining that air of reverent vagueness that tenderness of
touch which is by all Anglican standards imperative in so deep
so mysterious and nowadays in mixed society at least so
infrequent a discussion.
It was like animals breaking down a fence about some sacred
spot. Within a couple of minutes the affair had become highly
improper. They had raised their voices they had spoken with the
utmost familiarity of almost unspeakable things. There had been
even attempts at epigram. Athanasian epigrams. Bent the novelist
had doubted if originally there had been a Third Person in the
Trinity at all. He suggested a reaction from a too-Manichaean
dualism at some date after the time of St. John's Gospel. He
maintained obstinately that that Gospel was dualistic.
The unpleasant quality of the talk was far more manifest in the
retrospect than it had been at the time. It had seemed then bold
and strange but not impossible; now in the cold darkness it
seemed sacrilegious. And the bishop's share which was indeed
only the weak yielding of a tired man to an atmosphere he had
misjudged became a disgraceful display of levity and bad faith.
They had baited him. Some one had said that nowadays every one
was an Arian knowingly or unknowingly. They had not concealed
their conviction that the bishop did not really believe in the
Creeds he uttered.
And that unfortunate first admission stuck terribly in his
Oh! Why had he made it?
Sleep had gone.
The awakened sleeper groaned sat up in the darkness and felt
gropingly in this unaccustomed bed and bedroom first for the edge
of the bed and then for the electric light that was possibly on
the little bedside table.
The searching hand touched something. A water-bottle. The hand
resumed its exploration. Here was something metallic and smooth
a stem. Either above or below there must be a switch....
The switch was found grasped and turned.
The darkness fled.
In a mirror the sleeper saw the reflection of his face and a
corner of the bed in which he lay. The lamp had a tilted shade
that threw a slanting bar of shadow across the field of
reflection lighting a right-angled triangle very brightly and
leaving the rest obscure. The bed was a very great one a bed for
the Anakim. It had a canopy with yellow silk curtains surmounted
by a gilded crown of carved wood. Between the curtains was a
man's face clean-shaven pale with disordered brown hair and
weary pale-blue eyes. He was clad in purple pyjamas and the
hand that now ran its fingers through the brown hair was long and
lean and shapely.
Beside the bed was a convenient little table bearing the light
a water-bottle and glass a bunch of keys a congested pocket-
book a gold-banded fountain pen and a gold watch that indicated
a quarter past three. On the lower edge of the picture in the
mirror appeared the back of a gilt chair over which a garment of
peculiar construction had been carelessly thrown. It was in the