As we approached the city, it was possible for us to gather some idea of its extensive proportions. It was, I hardly need say, totally unlike anything I had yet seen. It consisted of a large number of stately buildings each of which was surrounded with magnificent gardens and trees, with here and there pools of glittering water, clear as crystal, yet reflecting every shade of color known to earth, with many other tints to be seen nowhere but in the realms of spirit.
It must not be imagined that these beautiful gardens bore the slightest resemblance to anything to be seen upon the earth-plane. Earthly gardens at their best and finest are of the very poorest by comparison with these that we now beheld, with their wealth of perfect colorings and their exhalations of heavenly perfumes. To walk upon the lawns with such a profusion of nature about us held us spellbound. I had imagined that the beauty of the countryside, wherein I had had all my experience of spirit lands so tar, could hardly be excelled anywhere.
My mind had reverted to the narrow streets and crowded pavements of the earth; the buildings huddled together because space is so valuable and costly; the heavy, tainted air, made worse by streams of traffic; I had thought of hurry and turmoil, and all the restlessness of commercial life and the excitement of passing pleasure. I had no conception of a city of eternal beauty, as far removed from an earthly city as the light of day is from black night. Here were fine broad thoroughfares of emerald green lawns in perfect cultivation, radiating, like the spokes of a wheel, from a central building which, as we could see, was the hub of the whole city. There was a great shaft of pure light descending upon the dome of this building, and we felt instinctively--without Edwin having to tell us--that in this temple we could together send up our thanks to the Great Source of all, and that there we should find one other than the Glory of God in Truth.
The buildings were not of any great height as we should measure rid compare with earthly structures, but they were for the most art extremely broad. It is impossible to tell of what materials they ere composed because they were essentially spiritual fabrics. The surface of each smooth as of marble, yet it had the delicate texture rid translucence of alabaster, while each building sent forth, as it were into the adjacent air, a stream of light of the palest shade of coloring. Some of the buildings were carved with designs of foliage and flowers, and others were lift almost unadorned, as far any smaller devices were concerned, relying upon their semi-classic nature for relief. And over all was the light of heaven shining evenly and uninterruptedly, so that nowhere were there dark places.
This city was devoted to the pursuit of learning, to the study and practice of the arts, and to the pleasures of all in this realm. It was elusive to none, but free for all to enjoy with equal right. Here was possible to carry on so many of those pleasant and fruitful occupations that had been commenced on the earth-plane. Here, too, many souls could indulge in some agreeable diversion which id been denied them, for a variety of reasons, whilst they were incarnate.
The first hall that Edwin took us into was concerned with the art painting. This hall was of very great size and contained a long gallery, on the walls of which were hanging every great masterpiece known to man. They were arranged in such a way that every step earthly progress could be followed in proper order, beginning with the earliest times and so continuing down to the present day. Every style of painting was represented, gathered from all points the earth. It must not be thought that such a collection, as we ire now viewing, is only of interest and service to people who give a full appreciation and understanding of the painter's art. Such could not be farther from the case.
There was a goodly number of people in the gallery when we entered, some of whom were moving about wherever their fancy took them. But there were many groups listening to the words of able teachers, who were demonstrating the various phases in the story of art as exemplified upon the walls, and they were, at the same time giving such a clear and interesting exposition that none could fail to understand.
A number of these pictures I recognized as I had seen their 'originals' in the earth's galleries. Ruth and I were astonished when Edwin told us that what we had seen in those galleries were not the originals at all! We were now seeing the originals for the first time. What we had seen was an earthly counterpart, which was perishable from the usual causes--for example, from fire or the general disintegration through the passage of time. But here we were viewing the direct results of the thoughts of the painter, created in the etheric before he actually transferred those thoughts to his earthly canvas. It could be plainly observed, in many cases, where the earthly picture fell short of that which the painter had in his mind. He had endeavored to reproduce his exact conception, but through physical limitations this exact conception had eluded him. In some instances it had been the pigments that had been at fault when, in the early times, the artist had been unable to procure or evolve the particular shade of color he wanted. But though he lacked physically, his mind had known precisely what he wished to do. He had built it up in the spirit--the results of which we were now able to see--while be had failed to do so on the material canvas.
That was one major difference that I noticed in the pictures, by comparison with what I had seen on the earth-plane. Another great point of dissimilarity--and the most important--was the fact that here all these pictures were alive. It is impossible to convey any idea of this paramount difference. These spirit pictures must be seen here to understand it. I can only just suggest an idea. These pictures, then, whether landscape or portrait, were never flat; that is, they did not seem to have been painted upon a flat canvas. They possessed, on the other hand, all the completeness of relief. The subject stood forth almost as though it were a model-- a model whereof one could take hold of all the elements that went to the making up of the subject of the picture. One felt that the shadows were real shadows cast by real objects. The colors glowed with life, even among the very early works before much progress had been made.
A problem came into my mind, for a solution of which I naturally turned to Edwin. It was this: as it would be undesirable, perhaps, as well as impracticable, to hang in these galleries every painting that emanated from the earth-plane, any idea of preferential treatment based upon the judgment of others did not seem quite consonant with spirit law, in so far as I was acquainted with it. What system is used for the selection of paintings to hang upon these walls? I was told that it was a question that is frequently asked by visitors to this gallery. The answer is that by the time an artist, whether he be good, bad, or just commonplace, has adjusted himself to his new life, he has no further illusions--if he ever harbored any--of his own work. Usually an extreme diffidence sets in, fostered by the immensity and the superlative beauty of this realm. So that in the end the problem becomes one of scarcity rather than superabundance!
When we gazed at the portraits of so many men and women whose names had worldwide fame, whether they lived in distant times or in the present day, it gave Ruth and me a strange feeling to think that we were now inhabitants of the same world as they, and that they, like ourselves, were very much alive, and not mere historic figures in the chronicles of the earth world.
In other parts of this same building were rooms wherein students of art could learn all that there is to be learnt. The joy of these students is great in their freedom from their earthly restrictions and bodily limitations. Here instruction is easy, and the acquisition and application of knowledge equally facile to those who wish to learn. Gone are all the struggles of the student in the surmounting of earthly difficulties both of the mind and of the hands, and progress towards proficiency is consequently smooth and rapid. The happiness of all the students whom we saw, itself spread happiness to all who beheld it, for there is no limit to their endeavors when that bugbear of earthly life--fleeting time--and all the petty vexations of the mundane existence have been abandoned for ever. Is there any wonder that artists within this hall, and, indeed, in every other hall in the city, were enjoying the golden hours of their spiritual reward?
To have made a really exhaustive study of all the pictures in the gallery would have taken us too long for our present purposes, which were to acquire as comprehensive an idea of this realm as we could, so that later we could find our way about the more easily, and return to such places as had the most attraction for us. This was Edwin's idea, and Ruth and I were heartily in agreement with it. And so we tarried no longer in the hall of painting, and we passed on to another immense building.
This was the hall of literature, and it contained every work worthy of the name. Its interior was divided into smaller rooms than in the hall of painting. Edwin led us into one spacious apartment which contained the histories of all the nations upon the earth-plane. To anyone who has a knowledge of earthly history, the volumes with which the shelves of this section of the great library were filled, would prove illuminating. The reader would be able to gain, for the first time, the truth about the history of his country. Every word contained in these books was the literal truth. Concealment is impossible, because nothing but the truth can enter these realms.
I have since returned to this library and spent much profitable time among its countless books. In particular I have dipped into history, and I was amazed when I started to read. I naturally expected to find that history would be treated in the manner with which we are all familiar, but with the essential difference that now I should be presented with the truth of all historical acts and events. The latter I soon discovered to be the case, but I made another discovery that for the first moment left me astounded. I found that side by side with the statements of pure fact of every act by persons of historical note, by statesmen in whose hands was the government of their countries, by kings who were at the head of those same countries, side by side with such statements was the blunt naked truth of each and every motive governing or underlying their numerous acts--the truth beyond disputation. Many of such motives were elevated, many, many of them were bitterly base; many were misconstrued, many distorted. Written indelibly upon these spirit annals were the true narratives of thousands upon thousands of human beings, who, whilst upon their early journey, had been active participants in the affairs of their country. Some were victims to others' treachery and baseness; some were the cause or origin of that treachery and baseness. None was spared, none omitted. It was all there for all to see--the truth, with nothing extenuated, nothing suppressed. These records had no respect for persons, whether it be king or commoner, churchman or layman. The writers had just set down the veridical story as it was. It required no adornment, no commentary. It spoke for itself. And I was profoundly thankful for one thing--that this truth had been kept from us until such time as we stood where we were now standing, when our minds would, in some measure, be prepared for revelations such as were here at hand.
So far I have mentioned only political history, but I also delved into church history, and the revelations I received in that direction were no better than those in the political sphere. They were, in fact, worse, considering in whose Name so many diabolical deeds were committed by men who, outwardly professing to serve God, were but instruments of men as base as themselves.
Edwin had forewarned me of what to expect in consulting these histories, but I had never anticipated the degree of fullness I should find in the narration of the true facts. The supposed motives given in our earthly history books were wide of the mark of the real motives on so many numberless occasions!
Although these books bore witness against the perpetrators of so many dark deeds in the earth world's history, they also bore witness to many deeds both great and noble. They were not there specifically for the purpose of providing evidence for and against, but because literature has become part of the fabric of human life. People take pleasure in reading. Is it not quite in accord with this life that there should be books for us to read? They may not be exactly the same as the earth books, but they are in precise keeping with all else here. And it is found that the pursuit of knowledge is far greater here than upon the earth-plane, since the necessity of turning our minds to the pressing needs and exigencies of incarnate life no longer exists here.
We passed through many other rooms where volumes upon every subject imaginable were at the disposal of all who wished to study them. And perhaps one of the most important subjects is that which has been called by some truly enlightened soul 'psychic science'--for science it is. I was astonished by the wealth of literature under this heading. Upon the shelves were books denying the existence of a spirit world, and denying the reality of spirit return. Many of the authors of them have since had the opportunity of looking again at their own works--but with very different feelings! They had become, in themselves, living witnesses against the contents of their own books.
We were very much struck by the beautiful bindings in which the books were encased, the material upon which they were inscribed, and the style of inscription. I turned to Edwin for information upon these points. He told me that the reproduction of books in the world of spirit was not the same process as in the case of paintings. I had seen for myself how the truth had been suppressed in the earthly volumes either through deliberate intent or through ignorance of the real facts. In the case of the paintings the artist had desired to depict in truth, so to speak, but through no real fault of his own he had been unable to do so. He had not perpetuated untruth, therefore; on the contrary, his mind had recorded what was entirely true. An author of a book would hardly write it with intentions diametrically opposed to those expressed within it. Who, then, writes the book of truth in spirit? The author of the earthly volume writes it--when he comes into the spirit world. And he is glad to do it. It becomes his work, and by such work he can gain the progress of his soul. He will have no difficulty with the facts, for they are here for him to record, and he records them--but the truth this time! There is no need to dissemble-- in fact, it would be useless.
As to inscribing the books, are there not printing machines upon the earth? Of course there are! Then surely the spirit world is not to be the worse provided for in this respect? We have our methods at printing, but they are totally unlike those of the earth. We have our experts, who are also artists at their work, and it is work they love doing, or else they would not be doing it. The method of reproduction here is wholly a process of the mind, as with all else, and author and printer work together in complete harmony. The books that result from this close co-operation are works of art; they are beautiful creations which, apart altogether from their literary contents, are lovely to look upon. The binding of the book is another expert process, carried out by more artists, in wonderful materials never seen upon the earth, since they are of spirit only. But the books thus produced are not dead things that require a concentration of the whole mind upon them. They live just as much as the paintings we saw were living. To pick up a book and begin reading from it meant also to perceive with the mind, in a way not possible on earth, the whole story as it was being told, whether it be history or science, or the arts. The book, once taken in the hand by the reader, instantly responds, in very much the same way as the flowers respond when one approaches close to them. The purpose is different, of course.
All the vast numbers of books we saw were there for all to use at their leisure and to their heart's delight. There were no restrictions, no tiresome rules and regulations. Standing with all this enormous wealth of knowledge about us, I was staggered at my own Ignorance, and Ruth felt the same. However, Edwin reassured me by telling us that we must not let the sight of so much knowledge frighten us, as we have the whole of eternity before us! It was a comforting reminder, and strange to say, a fact that one is inclined to overlook. It takes time to shake off finally that feeling of impermanence, of transience, that is so closely associated with the earth life. And in consequence we feel that we must see everything as quickly as we can, in spite of the fact that time, as a factor in our lives, has ceased to function.
By now Edwin thought it due to Ruth to show her something that would have an especial appeal to her, and so he took us into the hall of fabrics. This was equally spacious, but the rooms were of greater dimensions than those of the two halls we had just viewed. Here were contained the scores upon scores of beautiful materials and cloths woven throughout the centuries, and of which practically nothing remains upon the earth-plane. It was possible to see here specimens of the materials that we read about in histories and chronicles in the descriptions of state ceremonies and festive occasions. And whatever may be said for the change of style and taste that has taken place throughout the ages, the earth world has lost a vast deal of its color in exchange for a dull drabness.
The colorings in many of the old materials were simply superb, while the magnificently-wrought designs revealed to us the art that has been lost to earth. Though perishable to the earth, they are imperishable to the spirit world. After making due allowance for the etherealization of these fabrics by their being in the spirit world, there remained in our minds a sufficiently vivid conception of what these rich fabrics must have looked like in their earthly element. Here again, it was possible to observe the gradual progress made in the designing and making of earthly materials, and it must be admitted, as far as I was able to judge, that progress proceeded up to a point when a retrograde movement was noticeable. I am, of course, speaking in a general sense.
A room of tapestries contained some superb examples of the artists' genius, the earthly counterparts of which have long since gone out of existence. Annexed to this apartment were smaller rooms where many happy, industrious souls were studying and practicing the art of tapestry weaving, with other equally happy souls ever at their side to help and instruct. This was not a tedious work of pupil and teacher, but the enjoyment of pure pleasure, which both could terminate for other things at any time they so wished. Ruth said that she would dearly love to join one of the groups engaged upon a large tapestry, and she was told that she could do so whenever she wished, and that she would be welcomed with all the joy in the world into this community of friends. However, she would, for the present, remain with us upon our expeditions.
It may be thought that what we had seen as yet were nothing more than celestial museums, containing, it is true, magnificent specimens not to be seen upon earth, but museums, nevertheless. Now earthly museums are rather cheerless places. They have an aroma of mustiness and chemical preservatives, since their exhibits have to be protected from deterioration and decay. And they have to be protected from man, too, by uninspiring glass cases. But here there are no restrictions. All things within these halls are free and open for all to see and hold in the two hands. There is no mustiness, but the beauty of the objects themselves sends out many subtle perfumes, while the light of heaven streams in from all quarters to enhance the glories of man's handicrafts. No, these are no museums; very far from it. They are temples, rather, in which we spirit people are conscious of the eternal thanks that we owe to the Great Father for giving us such unbounded happiness in a land of which so many upon earth deny the reality. They would sweep all this away--for what? They know not. There are many, many beauties upon the earth-plane, but we in spirit must have none! Perhaps that is another reason why such deep sympathy is felt for us when we pass into spirit--because we have left behind us for ever all that is beautiful, to pass into a state of emptiness a celestial vacuum. All that is beautiful, then, becomes exclusive to the earth world. Man's intelligence is of no further use once he has passed to here, because here there is nothing upon which to exercise it! Just emptiness! No wonder that the realities and the immense fullness of the spirit world come as such a shock of revelation to those who were anticipating an eternity of celestial nothingness!
It is essential to understand that every occupation and every task performed by the inhabitants of this and higher realms is willingly, for the pure wish of doing so, and never from attitude of having to do it 'whether they like it or not'. There is no such thing as being compelled to undertake a task. Never unwillingness felt or expressed. That is not to say that the impossible is attempted. We may be able to see the outcome of some action or another--or if we cannot, there are others of greater wisdom and knowledge who can--and we shall know whether to commence our task or withhold for the time being never want here for help and advice. You may recall my suggestion earlier of trying to communicate with the earth to set right some matters in my own life, and that Edwin advised that I should seek advice later on upon the practicability of that course. So that it is the truth to say that the wish to do and to serve the keynote here. I mention these matters so that a better understanding may be obtained of a particular hall that Edwin took us into after we left the hall of fabrics.
This was, to all intents and purposes, a school where souls, had had the misfortune to miss the benefits of some earthly knowledge and learning, could here equip themselves intellectually.
Knowledge and learning, education or erudition do not connote spiritual worth, and the inability to read and write do not imply the absence of it. But when a soul has passed into this life, when he sees the great, broad spiritual thoroughfare opening before him with its opportunities both manifold and multiform, he sees also that knowledge can help him on his spiritual way. He may not be able to read. Are all those splendid books to remain for ever closed to him now that he has the opportunity to read, while lacking ability? Perhaps it will be asked: surely it is not necessary to be able to read in the spirit world? Things being what they are, there must be some form of mental perception to be gathered from books without the material aid of printed words? The same question might be asked of pictures and of all else here. Why the need for anything tangible? If we pursue this line of though it will take us to that state of vacuity I have just mentioned.
The man who is unable to read will feel with his mind that something is contained within the book that he takes into his hands, but he will not know instinctively, or in any other way, the contents of it. But one who can read will, immediately upon his commencing to do so, find himself en rapport with the author's thoughts as set down, and the book will thus respond to him who reads.
To be able to write is not necessary, and many who have been unable to do so before passing here, have not bothered to supply the omission after their arrival.
We found in this school many souls busy with their studies, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. To acquire knowledge here is not tedious, because the memory works perfectly--that is, unfailingly--and the powers of mental perception are no longer hampered and confined by a physical brain. Our faculties for understanding are sharpened, and intellectual expansion is sure and steady. The school was the home of realized ambitions to most of the students within it. I chatted with a number of them, and each told me that what he was studying now, he had longed to study on earth, but had been denied the opportunity for reasons that are all too familiar. Some had found that commercial activities had left no time, or that the struggle for a living had absorbed all the means to do so.
The school was very comfortably arranged; there was, of course, no hint of regimentation. Each student followed his own course of study independently of anyone else. He seated himself comfortably, or he went into the lovely gardens without. He began when he wanted, and he finished when he wanted, and the more he dipped into his studies, the more interested and fascinated he became. I can speak from personal experience of the latter, since here is much that I have studied in the great library since my first introduction to it.
As we left the school, Edwin suggested that we might like to sit in the grass beneath some fine trees and rest ourselves. That was simply his way--a perfectly natural one--of expressing it. We do not suffer bodily fatigue, but at the same time we do not continue endlessly at the same occupation; that would mean monotony, and there is no monotony here such as we used to endure on earth. But Edwin knew from experience the different emotions that take place in the minds of newly arrived souls into spirit lands, and so he halted for the time being our further explorations.