1930 August 24 – The Freethinker

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THE LEGEND OF ALEISTER CROWLEY.

A FAIR PLEA FOR FAIR PLAY.

The portly and voluminous  poet, mystic, magician, explorer, scholar and publicist, Aleister Crowley, here  has his Legend given to the world before the trifling formality of his death.

It is at once the strength and weakness of this decorously-tempered panegyric  that it is the work of an instructed advocate rather than an impartial judge.  In considering, criticising and appraising this unique and bulky figure we have to bear in mind – and it is only fair that we should thus bear in mind – the  character, or rather the characteristics, of his countrymen.

Critics of life so diverse as Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s, and Thomas  Babington, Lord Macaulay, have in their several ways noted the proneness of  the English mob to single out an object of hatred, and to howl at that unfortunate  figure until they have either slain it, or cast it into the limbo of unreturning  exile.

For us Freethinkers, it should suffice to recall the names of certain of our own heroes and martyrs who have thus enjoyed the favour of this distinguishing mark of approbation at the stone-filled hands and patriotic voices of their  grateful fellow-countrymen, who never forgive genius, originality, or Independance of thought. Byron, Shelley, Richard Carlile, Charles Bradlaugh, are names among  a score or two that might be given that indicate what are the real feelings  of the man in the street towards his saviours and benefactors. Mob psychology  is an inferiority complex magnified to the nth power; and in England, at least, there are not enough people of exalted temperament to prevent the martyrdom of the “sports” and leaders among mankind.

At one time we knew Aleister Crowley pretty well, as is plain from this book;  and although in some respects he was perhaps “not quite nice to know,” as the  slang phrase goes, we do not think that it is quite fair to charge him with murder, cannibalism, black magical practices, moral aberrations, treachery,  druggery; as is the custom among the cunninger and more degraded jackals of  Fleet Street. We know something of journalists, but we know very few members  of the newspaper craft who would not sell themselves for twenty guineas down if it were quite “safe.”

Rigid moralists, like the good Horatio Bottomley and the Almost-Reverend James  Douglas, it seems to us, really protest too much in their religious efforts to keep England pure and holy; and for this reason , differing as we do from very much that is taught and advocated by Aleister Crowley, we respectfully  decline to join the howling mob of interested pietists who every now and then  raise the wind in the Silly Season by shrieking with inspired vituperation at  the poet under discussion. If a fraction of the charges brought against Crowley  were true, he should be exiled from every country in the world, and, after judicious  application to his reason of various Chinese tortures, he should be hanged,  drawn and quartered first, broken on the wheel afterwards, and the remains sown with salt before being cast into the infernal pit; but somehow we have an instinct  against accepting the unsupported assertions of the professional moralists of  our popular journals, and we do not know that Mr. Douglas, Mr. Bottomley and the lesser lights of cheap journalism have not proved their case up to the hilt.  In these circumstances we venture publicly to the record our opinion that the  poet might be allowed to follow his paths in comparative peace until something  definitely criminal can be proved against him, when the police, no doubt, will be quite capable of dealing with the case. Crowley is at least as important a figure as the late D. H. Lawrence and Mr. James Joyce, both unquestionably men of genius; and when we remember the kinds of things said against these artists in our cheaper prints, we hesitate to acquiesce in the Sunday newspaper verdict  of Aleister Crowley.

Mr. Stephenson gives an amusing and interesting, if one sided and partial, account  of his subject; and the book will have it’s place when the history, literary and social, of the early twentieth century comes to be written.

A final note: we ourselves differ profoundly on many points – on most points,  indeed – from Crowley; we do not see why he should not have a fair share of  this notice therefore is written solely in the interests of fair play, by one  who is in no respect a follower or partisan. It is a plea from ordinary human  tolerance addressed by a Freethinker to his fellow Freethinkers. Those of them who feel inclined to quarrel with this estimate of Crowley’s genius might inform themselves by glancing at his latest published book, Confessions. This work, now in course of publication, is , in my considered judgement, the greatest  autobiography that the world has ever seen. We have not the least doubt that posterity will endorse this finding.

Victor. B. Neuburg.

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