The Twilight of the Gods
by Richard Garnett
By T. E. Lawrence
as summarized by Carl Coon
(in the unlikely event anyone wants the whole text of this introduction, ask me for it)
How kind a nurse has the British Museum been, sometimes, to poets! …Dr. Garnett’s department, the Reading Room, is one which forces a sympathetic president to be somewhat universal. Rome and Greece, Chaldea and Egypt: those were real enough to him; but their reality was not exclusive…His dealings throughout the open hours were with living people, inquirers all, whether they were great scholars with minds so deep in the well of learning that never could they be raised to the life of day, or simple souls who had perhaps not heard of Sanchoniathon or Vopiscus. People would sidle up to him at his desk to ask for the best book upon caterpillars, for a Keats manuscript, to know how many protons might be in a cubic foot of Bessemer steel. The Library is the ultimate reference book of the world, and its presiding genius the index.
Courteously and unerringly Dr. Garnett would advise upon bee-keeping or bimetallism, while inwardly his mind was picturing Caucasus or Pandemonium and little themes of Albert of Aix or Hesychius were running through his head. Never did he abdicate from his chair of scholarship. In this book are his obiter scripta, reactions of his spirit against drudgery, and what a bouquet and flavour they have! Book-learned in the best sense, he was a worthy priest of the Museum, that last temple of the classical theogony…
The scholarship in these tales is beautiful: so deep, so unobtrusive, so easy and exact. The high-roads of the classic have been much trodden, so that they are become white, straight, dusty tracks. Scholarship which is sure of itself, and not ambitious to go far or fast, often takes more delight in by-ways where there are winding paths, quaint resting-places, a luxuriance of overgrown foliage. Dr. Garnett was a very sure scholar, who had done the plain things and the big things and was tired of them. In this book lies his leisure, as much for our delight as his. It wants no learning to enjoy the Twilight of the Gods; but the more learning you have, the more odd corners and hidden delights you will find in it.
The Gods are the main element. Poisons, the science of toxins, are perhaps third element. Second place, I think, falls to black magic. Here again, so far as my competence extends, Dr. Garnett is serious. His spells are real, his sorcery accurate, according to the best dark-age models. His curious mind must have found another escape from the reading-desk in the attempts of our ancestors to see through the veil of flesh, downwards.
“It will be a tough business,” observed the sorcerer. “It will require fumigations.”
“Yes,” said the bishop, “and suffumigations.”
“Aloes and mastic,” advised the sorcerer.
“Aye,” assented the bishop, “and red sanders.”
“We must call in Primoumaton,” said the warlock.
“Clearly,” said the bishop, “and Amioram.”
“Triangles,” said thc sorcerer.
“Pentacles,” said the bishop.
“In the hour of Methon,” said the sorcerer.
“I should have thought Tafrac,” suggested the bishop, “but I defer to your better judgment.”
“I can have the blood of a goat?” queried the wizard.
“Yes,” said the bishop, “and of a monkey also.”
“Does your Lordship think that one might venture to go so far as a little unweaned child?”
“If absolutely necessary,” said the bishop.
“I am delighted to find such liberality of sentiment on your Lordship’s part,” said the sorcerer. “Your Lordship is evidently of the profession.”
It seems to me that the learned Doctor would have been in some danger, too, if the nineteenth ccutury had been the ninth or the seventeenth…
24th May, 1924