The Arrow of Gold

By JOSEPH CONRAD. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1919. l2mo, iv+385 pp. $1.50.
‘THAT fellow is a primitive nature, but he may be an artist in a sense. He has broken away from his conventions. He is trying to put a special vibration and his own notion of color into his life; and perhaps even to give it a modeling according to his own ideas. And for all you know he may be on the track of a masterpiece; but observe: if it happens to be one, nobody will see it. It can be only for himself. And even he won’t be able to see it in its completeness except on his death-bed. There is something fine in that.’
These remarks, spoken in all casualness by a certain ‘confirmed’ Bohemian, about the young adventuring hero of The Arrow of Gold, have a still more probingly truthful application to Mr. Conrad himself. The masterpiece of his career — of which his books are only one large phase — is not visible as a complete thing, even thus far, for the reason that it is always becoming a somewhat different masterpiece. Every new achievement gives a different coloring to the whole, reödits the beginnings and all the midway stages. This is the striking difference between Conrad and other mortals. His youth is always becoming a slightly different youth, as he becomes more and more deeply an artist in the contemplation of it. So with all his past. Not only did he break away from his conventions: he has likewise broken away from all his previous breakings-away, become detached from all his earlier detachments. The Arrow of Gold re-creates the significance of his youth, of youth itself; it redistributes the elements which make up one’s image of the whole man. His past exists as something for him to have present adventures in, not as something over and done with and standing fixed in the memory. The Arrow of Gold is one of the most astounding of all the subsequent spiritual adventures — the most astounding since Nostromo.
Because, in this author, all the consequential adventures are of the spirit and not of the body, it is going to be amusing to watch the impudently intrusive, clue-hunting, biographical sort of critic break his teeth on The Arrow of Gold. The tale is of Marseilles in the middle eighteen-seventies, and it is the love-story of a young seafaring adventurer, who serves the cause of Don Carlos de Bourbon, Pretender to the Spanish throne, by smuggling guns to the Legitimist forces.
It is true enough — so far as the fact goes — that the events and characters teem with exact details caught up out of one phase of Conrad’s own past, a phase which is plainly recorded in The Mirror of the Sea. But it is also true that the reality of Conrad is elsewhere than in such resemblances. They have nothing more to do with his present meanings than the arrow of gold in Doña Rita’s hair has to do with the quintessence of that most glowingly intense of the women he has created.
Conrad’s personality will seem in time as enigmatical as that of Shakespeare, because it needs to be read, not in the light of biographic facts, but in the light shed on those facts from the depths of a nature which constantly grows, changes, and deepens. And the laws by which these processes go on in such a nature are to the last degree inscrutable. W. F.