On Impulse

IMPULSES are pixies that splash in black water. They are shooting stars that flare and tumble earthward in an instant. They are orchids that hang their palpitating blossoms on the blackness of deflowered trees. And these pixies, these stars, these orchids, with their white and gold and lavender, are all that lend color and movement to the drab pattern of life. They are the brilliant warp whereof the gray woof is reason.

On impulse we do those things that we remember, and still remember, in the monotony of many succeeding years. They are the bas-reliefs and the high reliefs of our level days; they cause the only actions that we cannot regret; for it is impossible sincerely to regret anything that has once for a moment struck a little train of golden sparks, kindled a sudden fire of happiness. Indeed, we should be much more and oftener light-hearted if we did not fear to yield to impulse when it urges us. How much better, for example, if we ate our meals when we would, if we dared feast, delightfully on soup for breakfast and cereal for lunch! But man is a rational animal, and instead of eating when he feels hungry he must sit down willy-nilly to three meals a day: and he must cat cereal for breakfast and soup for dinner.

To be sure, there is a story of an Oriental prince, who was traveling in England, and in whose honor a great feast was given one night. The guests were assembled, a delicious and spicy meal was smoking in the kitchen; but the prince — the prince never appeared. The next day some one of the guests saw him, and said, ‘But, your Majesty, you were ill? You did not come to the feast that was held for you.’ And the prince said simply, ‘No; I was not hungry.’

What uncivilized truthfulness, what barbaric logic! Not to eat merely because he was not hungry! What an unpardonable social blunder!

But the prince was only obeying the same unconventional impulse that has tagged at the heels of us all on one occasion or another — a ‘ poodle-esque’ impulse, with shaven body and tasseled tail, that hid behind our feet and lurked in mortal terror beneath our chair, recovering only enough courage to lick the figurative blacking from our shoes, and spoil our glossy self-respect! For in truth, restrained and muzzled impulses develop a gnomish sort of hydrophobia: they romp through the mind and cut mad capers, they wag deceitful tails when it is only the polite muzzle that restrains them from showing their fangs in a hideous growl.

And after all, if for one day we should follow all our delightful, disgraceful whims, would not the memory be pungent enough to outlast and outsavor any possible consequences? To speak the truth impishly all day long: ‘No, I did not have a good time; your party was stupid, and you are the homeliest woman I have ever seen; why must you have parties? ‘ ‘No, that joke was not funny, and I refuse to laugh; and even if it were, it dates from the youth of my ministerial great-great-grandfather.’ ‘You are quite irresistibly adorable, and I shall edify Main Street by clasping you in my arms and kissing you here and now.’ Or to start for a musty walk with a musty acquaintance; to remark suddenly, ‘Well, what did the crocodile have for breakfast?’ To snap your fingers in the astounded musty face of your acquaintance, and go fishing, a solitary radical, from the green banks of a little river, throwing a silvery enchanted line into the sunset-colored water! Or, indeed, to do anything unconventional, amazing, rude; for these are picayune examples, only points of departure, at best. Anyone with imagination — or impulses — can heighten, intensify, expand them.

The difficulty is that people are pitifully limited in their conception of these dartling desires. They forget the close-woven connection that binds impulse to its Siamese twin, imagination. They forget that Nature and Poetry are the foster parents of both of the fantastic pair; that the soul of caprice is lyric, as the heart of imagination is wingèd. They do not realize that impulse is creative as reason is destructive, that imagination is an artist, whereas intellect is an artisan. In brief, they worship at the Mammon altar of common sense; and the flowery pagan shrine of impulse wastes its sweetness and sheds its neglected roses. Anathema on the rational! The curse of a thousand black witches shaking their gnarled fingers at the world, and crying maledictions, imprecations, vituperations! Analyze all beauty, all adventure, all desire, and find at its heart — impulse! Is not a pixie the whim of a poet, an orchid the caprice of a moonbeam, a falling star the impulse of a God?