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keep alive the memory of their mighty dead, and to save their heroic deeds from oblivion ; an early manifestation of man's longing to give a longer term to the duration of his fleeting stay on earth.
Those who cut these inscriptions gave the name of 'Runes' to the symbols they used. The word ‘rune' originally meant secret knowledge, mystery, and as, to begin with, there were, no doubt, very few who knew the use of these symbols and their meaning, the name is easily explained.
For a long time these runes baffled all attempts to decipher them. To the modern world, too, they were, indeed and in truth, what their name impliedenigmatical signs, an unsolved mystery.
Unsolved mysteries all around us! The whole world seems covered with enigmatical inscriptions; all nature, the whole universe, one gigantic runic rock.
Who can read these runes, the runes of nature and of life? Who can answer the questions which have troubled the mind of man from the beginning: For what end was this world created ? Wherefore are we born into it? Whence do we come? and whither are we going? Why is there so much pain and sadness side by side with so much pleasure? Why are all the good things of life poured into the lap of one, while another strives in vain all his life long to attain them? Why is one carried off by the relentless hand of death in the flower of youth, with life's work half done or hardly begun, torn away from his beloved ones for whom life is dark and bitter without him ; while yonder lives the wretch whose life is a disgrace and danger to all around him, and the weary cripple who would welcome death as a deliverer is dragging on his
miserable existence ? Why are thousands carried away by the pitiless forces of Nature in earthquake or flood, and why does Nature bring forth thousands every hour to be swallowed up in the next ? Why, why, and again why ?
Many there are who believe they have found the key to the mystery. They consider our life in this world merely as the preparation for a higher life to
We are not here for the sake of this world, and our life on earth must never be taken by itself, or judged, except as a very small part of an invisible whole. All that is dark and contradictory here will be clear and intelligible there ; the incomplete will find its fulfilment : On the earth the broken arcs ; in the heaven the perfect round.'
Others view the problem with indifference. They are hardly conscious of it, and when it is forced upon their notice sit down contented with the thought that a solution is impossible. For them life and the world are the sport of mere chance, and the blind forces of Nature are all-powerfulWhy trouble one's self with questions to which no answer can be found ? Our life, they say, is like a wave rising up by chance out of the inexhaustible sea. For a moment the sun shines on it, the winds play round it, the storm hurls it whither it will, and then it sinks back again into the never-ending stream. Others will rise up continually; they, too, without aim or object, and sink back never to be seen again in the same form. Vain and empty is life, the struggle for glory folly, and for knowledge a childish dream.
Others, again, cannot bring themselves to accept the comforting belief in a revealed religion, but much less can they view with indifference life and its problems. The quest for light, the pondering over the mystery of life and death, is part of their very nature, and though ever doomed to failure, it can cease only with their breath.
According to them it may be that our life has an aim and object stretching away far beyond this brief earthly existence. It may be that death is not the end, but the gate leading to higher development. It may be that on the other side of the dark stream we shall find the answer to all the enigmas of earth. It may be; it would be rash to deny it. But it may be, too, that this life is all that is granted to us, that the aim of life is life itself, that nothing is in store for us beyond the light of the sun and the soft air of heaven, that once only it is given to us to wake to consciousness, and then sink back for ever into the great bosom of Nature whence we came.
One thing, however, is certain—we do live, and we live with our fellowmen; we can use for good or evil the gifts and opportunities we possess. This life, such as it is, is ours; we must take it and live it such as it is. Let us make the most of what is granted to us. Dark are the shadows, but the light is bright; many are the sorrows, but great also life's possibilities for joy and happiness. And one thing further is certainthis mortal life of ours is so very short, it is gone before fully realized. In the ocean of time the life of each individual is brief and transitory as a ray of sunshine.
The faultiness and harmfulness of the second view of life is evident. It is with regard to the first and third that we see the best men at variance. Jensen has obviously written his book to prove that the last, and not the first, is best and most likely to make human life happy and useful. An orthodox Lutheran pastor, representative of the first view, stands out in sharp contrast with Mother Walmot, who is typical of the third. Whether convinced or not by the author's arguments, one must confess that he has made out a good case for his opinion.
The scene of the novel is laid in a little lonely island off the Frisian coast, evidently intended to be symbolical of life in the ocean of time. The island is described as consisting of two halves, connected only by a narrow neck of land. On the eastern and larger half stands the village and the pastor's house ; on the western there is only one cottage—that in which Walmot dwells. It seems as if the author had striven to even outwardly mark the different worlds in which these two live. Though the name of the island is not given, we easily gather from descriptions that it is the island of Juist, between Borkum and Norderney.
The time is that of the Napoleonic wars, and thus the story is bound up with the most momentous events of our century. This in itself materially adds to the interest of the tale. But more than that: as every character in the course of the story is led to express his opinions with regard to these events, whatever is wrong in the views of life represented is brought out in much more glaring colours than could have been done without the help of this historic background.
Though the tendency of the book is unmistakable and not for a moment lost sight of by the author, yet it is not obtrusively forced upon the reader, and there is plenty of matter even for those who take no interest in controversial discussions, or would rather avoid them. They will find pleasure in the vigorous and well-sustained action, the striking, though maybe somewhat overdrawn characters, and, above all, in the beautiful descriptions of Nature.