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´╗┐Title: Obiter Dicta - Second Series
Author: Birrell, Augustine, 1850-1933
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Obiter Dicta - Second Series" ***

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Transcribed from the 1896 Elliot Stock edition by David Price, email



_Cheap Edition_.



I am sorry not to have been able to persuade my old friend, George
Radford, who wrote the paper on 'Falstaff' in the former volume, to
contribute anything to the second series of _Obiter Dicta_.  In order to
enjoy the pleasure of reading your own books over and over again, it is
essential that they should be written either wholly or in part by
somebody else.

Critics will probably be found ready to assert that this little book has
no right to exist, since it exhibits nothing worthy of the name of
research, being written by one who has never been inside the reading-room
of the British Museum.  Neither does it expound any theory, save the
unworthy one that literature ought to please; nor does it so much as
introduce any new name or forgotten author to the attention of what is
facetiously called 'the reading public.'

But I shall be satisfied with a mere _de facto_ existence for the book,
if only it prove a little interesting to men and women who, called upon
to pursue, somewhat too rigorously for their liking, their daily duties,
are glad, every now and again, when their feet are on the fender, and
they are surrounded by such small luxuries as their theories of life will
allow them to enjoy, to be reminded of things they once knew more
familiarly than now, of books they once had by heart, and of authors they
must ever love.

The first two papers are here printed for the first time; the others have
been so treated before, and now reappear, pulled about a little, with the
kind permission of the proper parties.

_April_, 1887.


It is now more than sixty years ago since Mr. Carlyle took occasion to
observe, in his Life of Schiller, that, except the Newgate Calendar,
there was no more sickening reading than the biographies of authors.

Allowing for the vivacity of the comparison, and only remarking, with
reference to the Newgate Calendar, that its compilers have usually been
very inferior wits, in fact attorneys, it must be owned that great
creative and inventive genius, the most brilliant gifts of bright fancy
and happy expression, and a glorious imagination, well-nigh seeming as if
it must be inspired, have too often been found most unsuitably lodged in
ill-living and scandalous mortals.  Though few things, even in what is
called Literature, are more disgusting than to hear small critics, who
earn their bite and sup by acting as the self-appointed showmen of the
works of their betters, heaping terms of moral opprobrium upon those
whose genius is, if not exactly a lamp unto our feet, at all events a joy
to our hearts,--still, not even genius can repeal the Decalogue, or re-
write the sentence of doom, 'He which is filthy, let him be filthy
still.'  It is therefore permissible to wish that some of our great
authors had been better men.

It is possible to dislike John Milton.  Men have been found able to do
so, and women too; amongst these latter his daughters, or one of them at
least, must even be included.  But there is nothing sickening about his
biography, for it is the life of one who early consecrated himself to the
service of the highest Muses, who took labour and intent study as his
portion, who aspired himself to be a noble poem, who, Republican though
he became, is what Carlyle called him, the moral king of English

Milton was born in Bread Street, Cheapside, on the 9th of December, 1608.
This is most satisfactory, though indeed what might have been expected.
There is a notable disposition nowadays, amongst the meaner-minded
provincials, to carp and gird at the claims of London to be considered
the mother-city of the Anglo-Saxon race, to regret her pre-eminence, and
sneer at her fame.  In the matters of municipal government, gas, water,
fog, and snow, much can be alleged and proved against the English
capital, but in the domain of poetry, which I take to be a nation's best
guaranteed stock, it may safely be said that there are but two shrines in
England whither it is necessary for the literary pilgrim to carry his
cockle hat and shoon--London, the birthplace of Chaucer, Spenser, Ben
Jonson, Milton, Herrick, Pope, Gray, Blake, Keats, and Browning, and
Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.  Of English poets it
may be said generally they are either born in London or remote country
places.  The large provincial towns know them not.  Indeed, nothing is
more pathetic than the way in which these dim, destitute places hug the
memory of any puny whipster of a poet who may have been born within their
statutory boundaries.  This has its advantages, for it keeps alive in
certain localities fames that would otherwise have utterly perished.
Parnassus has forgotten all about poor Henry Kirke White, but the lace
manufacturers of Nottingham still name him with whatever degree of
reverence they may respectively consider to be the due of letters.
Manchester is yet mindful of Dr. John Byrom.  Liverpool clings to Roscoe.

Milton remained faithful to his birth-city, though, like many another
Londoner, when he was persecuted in one house he fled into another.  From
Bread Street he moved to St. Bride's Churchyard, Fleet Street; from Fleet
Street to Aldersgate Street; from Aldersgate Street to the Barbican; from
the Barbican to the south side of Holborn; from the south side of Holborn
to what is now called York Street, Westminster; from York Street,
Westminster, to the north side of Holborn; from the north side of Holborn
to Jewin Street; from Jewin Street to his last abode in Bunhill Fields.
These are not vain repetitions if they serve to remind a single reader
how all the enchantments of association lie about him.  Englishwomen have
been found searching about Florence for the street where George Eliot
represents Romola as having lived, who have admitted never having been to
Jewin Street, where the author of _Lycidas_ and _Paradise Lost_ did in
fact live.

Milton's father was the right kind of father, amiable, accomplished, and
well-to-do.  He was by business what was then called a scrivener, a term
which has received judicial interpretation, and imported a person who
arranged loans on mortgage, receiving a commission for so doing.  The
poet's mother, whose baptismal name was Sarah (his father was, like
himself, John), was a lady of good extraction, and approved excellence
and virtue.  We do not know very much about her, for the poet was one of
those rare men of genius who are prepared to do justice to their fathers.
Though Sarah Milton did not die till 1637, she only knew her son as the
author of _Comus_, though it is surely a duty to believe that no son
would have poems like _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_ in his desk, and not
at least once produce them and read them aloud to his mother.  These
poems, though not published till 1645, were certainly composed in his
mother's life.  She died before the troubles began, the strife and
contention in which her well-graced son, the poet, the dreamer of all
things beautiful and cultured, the author of the glancing, tripping

   'Haste thee, nymph, and bring with thee
   Jest and youthful jollity'--

was destined to take a part, so eager and so fierce, and for which he was
to sacrifice twenty years of a poet's life.

The poet was sent to St. Paul's School, where he had excellent teaching
of a humane and expanding character, and he early became, what he
remained until his sight left him, a strenuous reader and a late student.

   'Or let my lamp at midnight hour
   Be seen on some high, lonely tower,
   Where I may oft outwatch the Bear.'

Whether the maid who was told off by the elder Milton to sit up till
twelve or one o'clock in the morning for this wonderful Pauline realized
that she was a kind of doorkeeper in the house of genius, and blessed
accordingly, is not known, and may be doubted.  When sixteen years old
Milton proceeded to Christ's College, Cambridge, where his memory is
still cherished; and a mulberry-tree, supposed in some way to be his,
rather unkindly kept alive.  Milton was not a submissive pupil; in fact,
he was never a submissive anything, for there is point in Dr. Johnson's
malicious remark, that man in Milton's opinion was born to be a rebel,
and woman a slave.

But in most cases, at all events, the rebel did well to be rebellious,
and perhaps he was never so entirely in the right as when he protested
against the slavish traditions of Cambridge educational methods in 1625.

Universities must, however, at all times prove disappointing places to
the young and ingenuous soul, who goes up to them eager for literature,
seeing in every don a devotee to intellectual beauty, and hoping that
lectures will, by some occult process--the _genius loci_--initiate him
into the mysteries of taste and the storehouses of culture.  And then the
improving conversation, the flashing wit, the friction of mind with
mind,--these are looked for, but hardly found; and the young scholar
groans in spirit, and perhaps does as Milton did--quarrels with his
tutor.  But if he is wise he will, as Milton also did, make it up again,
and get the most that he can from his stony-hearted stepmother before the
time comes for him to bid her his _Vale vale et aeternum vale_.

Milton remained seven years at Cambridge--from 1625 to 1632--from his
seventeenth to his twenty-fourth year.  Any intention or thought he ever
may have had of taking orders he seems early to have rejected with a
characteristic scorn.  He considered a state of subscription to articles
a state of slavery, and Milton was always determined, whatever else he
was or might become, to be his own man.  Though never in sympathy with
the governing tone of the place, there is no reason to suppose that
Milton (any more than others) found this lack seriously to interfere with
a fair amount of good solid enjoyment from day to day.  He had friends
who courted his society, and pursuits both grave and gay to occupy his
hours of study and relaxation.  He was called the 'Lady' of his college,
on account of his personal beauty and the purity and daintiness of his
life and conversation.

After leaving Cambridge Milton began his life, so attractive to one's
thoughts, at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, where his father had a house in
which his mother was living.  Here, for five years, from his
twenty-fourth to his twenty-ninth year--a period often stormy in the
lives of poets--he continued his work of self-education.  Some of his
Cambridge friends appear to have grown a little anxious, on seeing one
who had distinction stamped upon his brow, doing what the world calls
nothing; and Milton himself was watchful, and even suspicious.  His
second sonnet records this state of feeling:

   'How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth,
   Stolen on his wing my three-and-twentieth year!
   My hasting days fly on with full career,
   But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.'

And yet no poet had ever a more beautiful springtide, though it was
restless, as spring should be, with the promise of greater things and
'high midsummer pomps.'  These latter it was that were postponed almost
too long.

Milton at Horton made up his mind to be a great poet--neither more nor
less; and with that end in view he toiled unceasingly.  A more solemn
dedication of a man by himself to the poetical office cannot be imagined.
Everything about him became, as it were, pontifical, almost sacramental.
A poet's soul must contain the perfect shape of all things good, wise,
and just.  His body must be spotless and without blemish, his life pure,
his thoughts high, his studies intense.  There was no drinking at the
'Mermaid' for John Milton.  His thoughts, like his joys, were not those

   'are in widest commonalty spread.'

When in his walks he met the Hodge of his period, he is more likely to
have thought of a line in Virgil than of stopping to have a chat with the
poor fellow.  He became a student of the Italian language, and writes to
a friend: 'I who certainly have not merely wetted the tip of my lips in
the stream of these (the classical) languages, but in proportion to my
years have swallowed the most copious draughts, can yet sometimes retire
with avidity and delight to feast on Dante, Petrarch, and many others;
nor has Athens itself been able to confine me to the transparent waves of
its Ilissus, nor ancient Rome to the banks of its Tiber, so as to prevent
my visiting with delight the streams of the Arno and the hills of

Now it was that he, in his often-quoted words written to the young
Deodati, doomed to an early death, was meditating 'an immortality of
fame,' letting his wings grow and preparing to fly.  But dreaming though
he ever was of things to come, none the less, it was at Horton he
composed _Comus_, _Lycidas_, _L'Allegro_, and _Il Penseroso_, poems which
enable us half sadly to realize how much went and how much was sacrificed
to make the author of _Paradise Lost_.

After five years' retirement Milton began to feel the want of a little
society, of the kind that is 'quiet, wise, and good,' and he meditated
taking chambers in one of the Inns of Court, where he could have a
pleasant and shady walk under 'immemorial elms,' and also enjoy the
advantages of a few choice associates at home and an elegant society
abroad.  The death of his mother in 1637 gave his thoughts another
direction, and he obtained his father's permission to travel to Italy,
'that woman-country, wooed not wed,' which has been the mistress of so
many poetical hearts, and was so of John Milton's.  His friends and
relatives saw but one difficulty in the way.  John Milton the younger,
though not at this time a Nonconformist, was a stern and unbending
Protestant, and was as bitter an opponent of His Holiness the Pope as he
certainly would have been, had his days been prolonged, of His Majesty
the Pretender.

There is something very characteristic in this almost inflamed hostility
in the case of a man with such love of beauty and passion for
architecture and music as always abided in Milton, and who could write:

   'But let my due feet never fail
   To walk the studious cloisters' pale,
   And love the high embowed roof,
   With antique pillars massy-proof,
   And storied windows richly dight,
   Casting a dim, religious light.
   There let the pealing organ blow
   To the full-voiced quire below,
   In service high and anthems clear,
   As may with sweetness, through mine ear,
   Dissolve me into ecstasies,
   And bring all heaven before my eyes.'

Here surely is proof of an aesthetic nature beyond most of our modern
raptures; but none the less, and at the very same time, Rome was for
Milton the 'grim wolf' who, 'with privy paw, daily devours apace.'  It is
with a sigh of sad sincerity that Dr. Newman admits that Milton breathes
through his pages a hatred of the Catholic Church, and consequently the
Cardinal feels free to call him a proud and rebellious creature of God.
That Milton was both proud and rebellious cannot be disputed.
Nonconformists need not claim him for their own with much eagerness.  What
he thought of Presbyterians we know, and he was never a church member, or
indeed a church-goer.  Dr. Newman has admitted that the poet Pope was an
unsatisfactory Catholic; Milton was certainly an unsatisfactory
Dissenter.  Let us be candid in these matters.  Milton was therefore
bidden by his friends, and by those with whom he took counsel, to hold
his peace whilst in Rome about the 'grim wolf,' and he promised to do so,
adding, however, the Miltonic proviso that this was on condition that the
Papists did not attack his religion first.  'If anyone,' he wrote, 'in
the very city of the Pope attacked the orthodox religion, I defended it
most freely.'  To call the Protestant religion, which had not yet
attained to its second century, the orthodox religion under the shadow of
the Vatican was to have the courage of his opinions.  But Milton was not
a man to be frightened of schism.  That his religious opinions should be
peculiar probably seemed to him to be almost inevitable, and not
unbecoming.  He would have agreed with Emerson, who declares that would
man be great he must be a Nonconformist.

There is something very fascinating in the records we have of Milton's
one visit to the Continent.  A more impressive Englishman never left our
shores.  Sir Philip Sidney perhaps approaches him nearest.  Beautiful
beyond praise, and just sufficiently conscious of it to be careful never
to appear at a disadvantage, dignified in manners, versed in foreign
tongues, yet full of the ancient learning--a gentleman, a scholar, a
poet, a musician, and a Christian--he moved about in a leisurely manner
from city to city, writing Latin verses for his hosts and Italian sonnets
in their ladies' albums, buying books and music, and creating, one cannot
doubt, an all too flattering impression of an English Protestant.  To
travel in Italy with Montaigne or Milton, or Evelyn or Gray, or Shelley,
or, pathetic as it is, with the dying Sir Walter, is perhaps more
instructive than to go there for yourself with a tourist's ticket.  Old
Montaigne, who was but forty-seven when he made his journey, and whom
therefore I would not call old had not Pope done so before me, is the
most delightful of travelling companions, and as easy as an old shoe.  A
humaner man than Milton, a wiser man than Evelyn--with none of the
constraint of Gray, or the strange, though fascinating, outlandishness of
Shelley--he perhaps was more akin to Scott than any of the other
travellers; but Scott went to Italy an overwhelmed man, whose only fear
was he might die away from the heather and the murmur of Tweed.  However,
Milton is the most improving companion of them all, and amidst the
impurities of Italy, 'in all the places where vice meets with so little
discouragement, and is protected with so little shame,' he remained the
Milton of Cambridge and Horton, and did nothing to pollute the pure
temple of a poet's mind.  He visited Paris, Nice, Genoa, Pisa, and
Florence, staying in the last city two months, and living on terms of
great intimacy with seven young Italians, whose musical names he duly
records.  These were the months of August and September, not nowadays
reckoned safe months for Englishmen to be in Florence--modern lives being
raised in price.  From Florence he proceeded through Siena to Rome, where
he also stayed two months.  There he was present at a magnificent
entertainment given by the Cardinal Francesco Barberini in his palace,
and heard the singing of the celebrated Leonora Baroni.  It is not for
one moment to be supposed that he sought an interview with the Pope, as
Montaigne had done, who was exhorted by His Holiness 'to persevere in the
devotion he had ever manifested in the cause of the Church;' and yet
perhaps Montaigne by his essays did more to sap the authority of Peter's
chair than Milton, however willing, was able to do.

It has been remarked that Milton's chief enthusiasm in Italy was not art,
but music, which falls in with Coleridge's _dictum_, that Milton is not
so much a picturesque as a musical poet--meaning thereby, I suppose, that
the effects which he produces and the scenes which he portrays are rather
suggested to us by the rhythm of his lines than by actual verbal
descriptions.  From Rome Milton went to Naples, whence he had intended to
go to Sicily and Greece; but the troubles beginning at home he forewent
this pleasure, and consequently never saw Athens, which was surely a
great pity.  He returned to Rome, where, troubles or no troubles, he
stayed another two months.  From Rome he went back to Florence, which he
found too pleasant to leave under two more months.  Then he went to
Lucca, and so to Venice, where he was very stern with himself, and only
lingered a month.  From Venice he went to Milan, and then over the Alps
to Geneva, where he had dear friends.  He was back in London in August,
1639, after an absence of fifteen months.

The times were troubled enough.  Charles I., whose literary taste was so
good that one must regret the mischance that placed a crown upon his
comely head, was trying hard, at the bidding of a priest, to thrust
Episcopacy down Scottish throats, who would not have it at any price.  He
was desperately in need of money, and the House of Commons (which had
then a _raison d'etre_) was not prepared to give him any except on terms.
Altogether it was an exciting time, but Milton was in no way specially
concerned in it.  Milton looms so large in our imagination amongst the
figures of the period that, despite Dr. Johnson's sneers, we are apt to
forget his political insignificance, and to fancy him curtailing his tour
and returning home to take his place amongst the leaders of the
Parliament men.  Return home he did, but it was, as another pedagogue has
reminded us, to receive boys 'to be boarded and instructed.'  Dr. Johnson
tells us that we ought not to allow our veneration for Milton to rob us
of a joke at the expense of a man 'who hastens home because his
countrymen are contending for their liberty, and when he reaches the
scene of action vapours away his patriotism in a private
boarding-school;' but that this observation was dictated by the good
Doctor's spleen is made plain by his immediately proceeding to point out,
with his accustomed good sense, that there is really nothing to laugh at,
since it was desirable that Milton, whose father was alive and could only
make him a small allowance, should do something, and there was no shame
in his adopting an honest and useful employment.

To be a Parliament man was no part of the ambition of one who still
aspired to be a poet; who was not yet blind to the heavenly vision; who
was still meditating what should be his theme, and who in the meantime
chastised his sister's sons, unruly lads, who did him no credit and bore
him no great love.

The Long Parliament met in November, 1640, and began its work--brought
Strafford to the scaffold, clapped Laud into the Tower, Archbishop though
he was, and secured as best they could the permanency of Parliamentary
institutions.  None of these things specially concerned John Milton.  But
there also uprose the eternal Church question, 'What sort of Church are
we to have?'  The fierce controversy raged, and 'its fair enticing
fruit,' spread round 'with liberal hand,' proved too much for the father
of English epic.

         'He scrupled not to eat
   Against his better knowledge.'

In other words, he commenced pamphleteer, and between May, 1641, and the
following March he had written five pamphlets against Episcopacy, and
used an intolerable deal of bad language, which, however excusable in a
heated controversialist, ill became the author of _Comus_.

The war broke out in 1642, but Milton kept house.  The 'tented field' had
no attractions for him.

In the summer of 1643 he took a sudden journey into the country, and
returned home to his boys with a wife, the daughter of an Oxfordshire
Cavalier.  Poor Mary Powell was but seventeen, her poetic lord was thirty-
five.  From the country-house of a rollicking squire to Aldersgate Street
was somewhat too violent a change.  She had left ten brothers and sisters
behind her, the eldest twenty-one, the youngest four.  As one looks upon
this picture and on that, there is no need to wonder that the poor girl
was unhappy.  The poet, though keenly alive to the subtle charm of a
woman's personality, was unpractised in the arts of daily companionship.
He expected to find much more than he brought of general good-fellowship.
He had an ideal ever in his mind of both bodily and spiritual excellence,
and he was almost greedy to realize both, but he knew not how.  One of
his complaints was that his wife was mute and insensate, and sat silent
at his board.  It must, no doubt, have been deadly dull, that house in
Aldersgate Street.  Silence reigned, save when broken by the cries of the
younger Phillips sustaining chastisement.  Milton had none of that noble
humanitarian spirit which had led Montaigne long years before him to
protest against the cowardly traditions of the schoolroom.  After a month
of Aldersgate Street, Mrs. Milton begged to go home.  Her wish was
granted, and she ran back to her ten brothers and sisters, and when her
leave of absence was up refused to return.  Her husband was furiously
angry; and in a time so short as almost to enforce the belief that he
began the work during the honeymoon, was ready with his celebrated
pamphlet, _The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce restored to the good of
both sexes_.  He is even said, with his accustomed courage, to have paid
attentions to a Miss Davis, who is described as a very handsome and witty
gentlewoman, and therefore not one likely to sit silent at his board; but
she was a sensible girl as well, and had no notion of a married suitor.
Of Milton's pamphlet it is everyone's duty to speak with profound
respect.  It is a noble and passionate cry for a high ideal of married
life, which, so he argued, had by inflexible laws been changed into a
drooping and disconsolate household captivity, without refuge or
redemption.  He shuddered at the thought of a man and woman being
condemned, for a mistake of judgment, to be bound together to their
unspeakable wearisomeness and despair, for, he says, not to be beloved
and yet retained is the greatest injury to a gentle spirit.  Our present
doctrine of divorce, which sets the household captive free on payment of
a broken vow, but on no less ignoble terms, is not founded on the
congruous, and is indeed already discredited, if not disgraced.

This pamphlet on divorce marks the beginning of Milton's mental
isolation.  Nobody had a word to say for it.  Episcopalian, Presbyterian,
and Independent held his doctrine in as much abhorrence as did the
Catholic, and all alike regarded its author as either an impracticable
dreamer or worse.  It was written certainly in too great haste, for his
errant wife, actuated by what motives cannot now be said, returned to her
allegiance, was mindful of her plighted troth, and, suddenly entering his
room, fell at his feet and begged to be forgiven.  She was only nineteen,
and she said it was all her mother's fault.  Milton was not a sour man,
and though perhaps too apt to insist upon repentance preceding
forgiveness, yet when it did so he could forgive divinely.  In a very
short time the whole family of Powells, whom the war had reduced to low
estate, were living under his roof in the Barbican, whither he moved on
the Aldersgate house proving too small for his varied belongings.  The
poet's father also lived with his son.

Mrs. Milton had four children, three of whom, all daughters, lived to
grow up.  The mother died in childbirth in 1652, being then twenty-six
years of age.

The _Areopagitica_, _a Speech for Unlicensed Printing_, followed the
divorce pamphlet, but it also fell upon deaf ears.  Of all religious
sects the Presbyterians, who were then dominant, are perhaps the least
likely to forego the privilege of interference in the affairs of others.
Instead of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, instead
of 'a lordly Imprimatur, one from Lambeth House, another from the west
end of Paul's,' there was appointed a commission of twenty Presbyterians
to act as State Licensers.  Then was Milton's soul stirred within him to
a noble rage.  His was a threefold protest--as a citizen of a State he
fondly hoped had been free, as an author, and as a reader.  As a citizen
he protested against so unnecessary and improper an interference.  It is
not, he cried, 'the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitring of a bishop,
that will make us a happy nation,' but the practice of virtue, and virtue
means freedom to choose.  Milton was a manly politician, and detested
with his whole soul grandmotherly legislation.  'He who is not trusted
with his own actions, his drift not being known to be evil, and standing
to the hazard of law and penalty, has no great argument to think himself
reputed in the commonwealth wherein he was born, for other than a fool or
a foreigner.'  'They are not skilful considerers of human things who
imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin.'  'And were I the
chooser, a dram of well-doing should be preferred before many times as
much the forcible hindrance of evil doing.'  These are texts upon which
sermons, not inapplicable to our own day, might be preached.  Milton has
made our first parent so peculiarly his own, that any observations of his
about Adam are interesting.  'Many there be that complain of Divine
Providence for suffering Adam to transgress.  Foolish tongues!  When God
gave him reason He gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but
choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam.  We ourselves esteem
not of that obedience a love or gift which is of force.  God therefore
left him free, set before him a provoking object ever almost in his eyes;
herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of
his abstinence.'  So that according to Milton even Eden was a state of
trial.  As an author, Milton's protest has great force.  'And what if the
author shall be one so copious of fancy as to have many things well worth
the adding come into his mind after licensing, while the book is yet
under the press, which not seldom happens to the best and diligentest
writers, and that perhaps a dozen times in one book?  The printer dares
not go beyond his licensed copy.  So often then must the author trudge to
his leave-giver that those his new insertions may be viewed, and many a
jaunt will be made ere that licenser--for it must be the same man--can
either be found, or found at leisure; meanwhile either the press must
stand still, which is no small damage, or the author lose his accuratest
thoughts, and send forth the book worse than he made it, which to a
diligent writer is the greatest melancholy and vexation that can befall.'

Milton would have had no licensers.  Every book should bear the printer's
name, and 'mischievous and libellous books' were to be burnt by the
common hangman, not as an effectual remedy, but as the 'most effectual
remedy man's prevention can use.'

The noblest pamphlet in 'our English, the language of men ever famous and
foremost in the achievements of liberty,' accomplished nothing, and its
author must already have thought himself fallen on evil days.

In the year 1645, the year of Naseby, as Mr. Pattison reminds us,
appeared the first edition of Milton's Poems.  Then, for the first time,
were printed _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, the _Ode on the Morning of
Christ's Nativity_, and various of the sonnets.  The little volume also
contained _Comus_ and _Lycidas_, which had been previously printed.  With
the exception of three sonnets and a few scraps of translation, Milton
had written nothing but pamphlets since his return from Italy.  At the
beginning of the volume, which is a small octavo, was a portrait of the
poet, most villainously executed.  He was really thirty-seven, but
flattered himself, as men of that age will, that he looked ten years
younger; he was therefore much chagrined to find himself represented as a
grim-looking gentleman of at least fifty.  The way he revenged himself
upon the hapless artist is well known.  The volume, with the portrait, is
now very scarce, almost rare.

In 1647 Milton removed from the Barbican, both his father and his father-
in-law being dead, to a smaller house in Holborn, backing upon Lincoln's
Inn Fields, close to where the Inns of Court Hotel now stands, and not
far from the spot which was destined to witness the terrible tragedy
which was at once to darken and glorify the life of one of Milton's most
fervent lovers, Charles Lamb.  About this time he is supposed to have
abandoned pedagogy.  The habit of pamphleteering stuck to him; indeed, it
is one seldom thrown off.  It is much easier to throw off the pamphlets.

In 1649 Milton became a public servant, receiving the appointment of
Latin Secretary to the Council of Foreign Affairs.  He knew some member
of the Committee, who obtained his nomination.  His duties were purely
clerkly.  It was his business to translate English despatches into Latin,
and foreign despatches into English.  He had nothing whatever to do with
the shaping of the foreign policy of the Commonwealth.  He was not even
employed in translating the most important of the State papers.  There is
no reason for supposing that he even knew the leading politicians of his
time.  There is a print one sees about, representing Oliver Cromwell
dictating a foreign despatch to John Milton; but it is all imagination,
nor is there anything to prove that Cromwell and Milton, the body and
soul of English Republicanism, were ever in the same room together, or
exchanged words with one another.  Milton's name does not occur in the
great history of Lord Clarendon.  Whitelocke, who was the leading member
of the Committee which Milton served, only mentions him once.  Thurloe
spoke of him as a blind man who wrote Latin letters.  Richard Baxter, in
his folio history of his Life and Times, never mentions Milton at all.
{27}  He was just a clerk in the service of the Commonwealth, of a
scholarly bent, peculiar habit of thought, and somewhat of an odd temper.
He was not the man to cultivate great acquaintances, or to flitter away
his time waiting the convenience of other people.  When once asked to use
his influence to obtain for a friend an appointment, he replied he had no
influence, '_propter paucissimas familiaritates meas cum gratiosis_, _qui
domi fere_, _idque libenter_, _me contineo_.'  The busy great men of the
day would have been more than astonished, they would have been disgusted,
had they been told that posterity would refer to most of them
compendiously, as having lived in the age of Milton.  But this need not
trouble us.

On the Continent Milton enjoyed a wider reputation, on account of his
controversy with the great European scholar, Salmasius, on the
sufficiently important and interesting, and then novel, subject of the
execution of Charles I.  Was it justifiable?  Salmasius, a scholar and a
Protestant, though of an easy-going description, was employed, or rather,
as he had no wages (Milton's hundred _Jacobuses_ being fictitious),
nominated by Charles, afterwards the Second, to indict the regicides at
the bar of European opinion, which accordingly he did in the Latin
language.  The work reached this country in the autumn of 1649, and it
evidently became the duty of somebody to answer it.  Two qualifications
were necessary--the replier must be able to read Latin, and to write it
after a manner which should escape the ridicule of the scholars of
Leyden, Geneva, and Paris.  Milton occurred to somebody's mind, and the
task was entrusted to him.  It is not to be supposed that Cromwell was
ever at the pains to read Salmasius for himself, but still it would not
have done to have it said that the _Defensio Regia_ of so celebrated a
scholar as Salmasius remained unanswered, and so the appointment was
confirmed, and Milton, no new hand at a pamphlet, set to work.  In March,
1651, his first _Defence of the English People_ was in print.  In this
great pamphlet Milton asserts, as against the doctrine of the divine
right of kings, the undisputed sovereignty of the people; and he
maintains the proposition that, as well by the law of God, as by the law
of nations, and the law of England, a king of England may be brought to
trial and death, the people being discharged from all obligations of
loyalty when a lawful prince becomes a tyrant, or gives himself over to
sloth and voluptuousness.  This noble argument, alike worthy of the man
and the occasion, is doubtless over-clouded and disfigured by personal
abuse of Salmasius, whose relations with his wife had surely as little to
do with the head of Charles I. as had poor Mr. Dick's memorial.
Salmasius, it appears, was henpecked, and to allow yourself to be
henpecked was, in Milton's opinion, a high crime and misdemeanour against
humanity, and one which rendered a man infamous, and disqualified him
from taking part in debate.

It has always been reported that Salmasius, who was getting on in years,
and had many things to trouble him besides his own wife, perished in the
effort of writing a reply to Milton, in which he made use of language
quite as bad as any of his opponent's; but it now appears that this is
not so.  Indeed, it is generally rash to attribute a man's death to a
pamphlet, or an article, either of his own or anybody else's.

Salmasius, however, died, though from natural causes, and his reply was
not published till after the Restoration, when the question had become,
what it has ever since remained, academical.

Other pens were quicker, and to their productions Milton, in 1654,
replied with his _Second Defence of the English People_, a tract
containing autobiographical details of immense interest and charm.  By
this time he was totally blind, though, with a touch of that personal
sensitiveness ever characteristic of him, he is careful to tell Europe,
in the _Second Defence_, that externally his eyes were uninjured, and
shone with an unclouded light.

Milton's _Defences of the English People_ are rendered provoking by his
extraordinary language concerning his opponents.  'Numskull,' 'beast,'
'fool,' 'puppy,' 'knave,' 'ass,' 'mongrel-cur,' are but a few of the
epithets employed.  This is doubtless mere matter of pleading, a rule of
the forum where controversies between scholars are conducted; but for
that very reason it makes the pamphlets as provoking to an ordinary
reader as an old bill of complaint in Chancery must have been to an
impatient suitor who wanted his money.  The main issues, when cleared of
personalities, are important enough, and are stated by Milton with great
clearness.  'Our king made not us, but we him.  Nature has given fathers
to us all, but we ourselves appointed our own king; so that the people is
not for the king, but the king for them.'  It was made a matter of great
offence amongst monarchs and monarchical persons that Charles was subject
to the indignity of a trial.  With murders and poisonings kings were long
familiar.  These were part of the perils of the voyage, for which they
were prepared, but, as Salmasius put it, 'for a king to be arraigned in a
court of judicature, to be put to plead for his life, to have sentence of
death pronounced against him, and that sentence executed,'--oh! horrible
impiety.  To this Milton replies: 'Tell me, thou superlative fool,
whether it be not more just, more agreeable to the rules of humanity and
the laws of all human societies, to bring a criminal, be his offence what
it will, before a court of justice, to give him leave to speak for
himself, and if the law condemns him, then to put him to death as he has
deserved, so as he may have time to repent or to recollect himself; than
presently, as soon as ever he is taken, to butcher him without more ado?'

But a king of any spirit would probably answer that he preferred to have
his despotism tempered by assassination than by the mercy of a court of
John Miltons.  To which answer Milton would have rejoined, 'Despotism, I
know you not, since we are as free as any people under heaven.'

The weakest part in Milton's case is his having to admit that the
Parliament was overawed by the army, which he says was wiser than the

Milton's address to his countrymen, with which he concludes the first
defence, is veritably in his grand style:

   'He has gloriously delivered you, the first of nations, from the two
   greatest mischiefs of this life--tyranny and superstition.  He has
   endued you with greatness of mind to be First of Mankind, who after
   having confined their own king and having had him delivered into their
   hands, have not scrupled to condemn him judicially, and pursuant to
   that sentence of condemnation to put him to death.  After performing
   so glorious an action as this, you ought to do nothing that's mean and
   little; you ought not to think of, much less do, anything but what is
   great and sublime.  Which to attain to, this is your only way: as you
   have subdued your enemies in the field, so to make it appear that you
   of all mankind are best able to subdue Ambition, Avarice, the love of
   Riches, and can best avoid the corruptions that prosperity is apt to
   introduce.  These are the only arguments by which you will be able to
   evince that you are not such persons as this fellow represents you,
   traitors, robbers, murderers, parricides, madmen, that you did not put
   your king to death out of any ambitious design--that it was not an act
   of fury or madness, but that it was wholly out of love to your
   liberty, your religion, to justice, virtue, and your country, that you
   punished a tyrant.  But if it should fall out otherwise (which God
   forbid), if, as you have been valiant in war, you should grow
   debauched in peace, and that you should not have learnt, by so
   eminent, so remarkable an example before your eyes, to fear God, and
   work righteousness; for my part I shall easily grant and confess (for
   I cannot deny it), whatever ill men may speak or think of you, to be
   very true.  And you will find in time that God's displeasure against
   you will be greater than it has been against your adversaries--greater
   than His grace and favour have been to yourseves, which you have had
   larger experience of than any other nation under heaven.'

This controversy naturally excited greater interest abroad, where Latin
was familiarly known, than ever it did here at home.  Though it cost
Milton his sight, or at all events accelerated the hour of his blindness,
he appears greatly to have enjoyed conducting a high dispute in the face
of Europe.  'I am,' so he says, 'spreading abroad amongst the cities, the
kingdoms, and nations, the restored culture of civility and freedom of
life.'  We certainly managed in this affair of the execution of Charles
to get rid of that note of insularity which renders our politics
uninviting to the stranger.

Milton, despite his blindness, remained in the public service until after
the death of Cromwell; in fact, he did not formally resign until after
the Restoration.  He played no part, having none to play, in the
performances that occurred between those events.  He poured forth
pamphlets, but there is no reason to believe that they were read
otherwise than carelessly and by few.  His ideas were his own, and never
had a chance of becoming fruitful.  There seemed to him to be a ready and
an easy way to establish a free Commonwealth, but on the whole it turned
out that the easiest thing to do was to invite Charles Stuart to reascend
the throne of his ancestors, which he did, and Milton went into hiding.

It is terrible to think how risky the situation was.  Milton was
undoubtedly in danger of his life, and _Paradise Lost_ was unwritten.  He
was for a time under arrest.  But after all he was not one of the
regicides--he was only a scribe who had defended regicide.  Neither was
he a man well associated.  He was a solitary, and, for the most part, an
unpopular thinker, and blind withal.  He was left alone for the rest of
his days.  He lived first in Jewin Street, off Aldersgate Street; and
finally in Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields.  He had married, four years
after his first wife's death, a lady who died within a twelvemonth,
though her memory is kept ever fresh, generation after generation, by her
husband's sonnet beginning,

   'Methought I saw my late espoused saint.'

Dr. Johnson, it is really worth remembering, called this a poor sonnet.
In 1664 Milton married a third and last wife, a lady he had never seen,
and who survived her husband for no less a period than fifty-three years,
not dying till the year 1727.  The poet's household, like his country,
never realized any of his ideals.  His third wife took decent care of
him, and there the matter ended.  He did not belong to the category of
adored fathers.  His daughters did not love him--it seems even probable
they disliked him.  Mr. Pattison has pointed out that Milton never was on
terms even with the scholars of his age.  Political acquaintances he had
none.  He was, in Puritan language, 'unconnected with any place of
worship,' and had therefore no pastoral visits to receive, or sermons to
discuss.  The few friends he had were mostly young men who were attracted
to him, and were glad to give him their company; and it is well that he
had this pleasure, for he was ever in his wishes a social man--not
intended to live alone, and blindness must have made society little short
of a necessity for him.

Now it was, in the evening of his days, with a Stuart once more upon the
throne, and Episcopacy finally installed, that Milton, a defeated
thinker, a baffled pamphleteer--for had not Salmasius triumphed?--with
Horton and Italy far, far behind him, set himself to keep the promise of
his glorious youth, and compose a poem the world should not willingly let
die.  His manner of life was this.  In summer he rose at four, in winter
at five.  He went to bed at nine.  He began the day with having the
Hebrew Scriptures read to him.  Then he contemplated.  At seven his man
came to him again, and he read and wrote till an early dinner.  For
exercise he either walked in the garden or swung in a machine.  Besides
conversation, his only other recreation was music.  He played the organ
and the bass viol.  He would sometimes sing himself.  After recreation of
this kind he would return to his study to be read to till six.  After six
his friends were admitted, and would sit with him till eight.  At eight
he had his supper--olives or something light.  He was very abstemious.
After supper he smoked a pipe of tobacco, drank a glass of water, and
went to bed.  He found the night a favourable time for composition, and
what he composed at night he dictated in the day, sitting obliquely in an
elbow chair with his leg thrown over the arm.

In 1664 _Paradise Lost_ was finished, but as in 1665 came the Great
Plague, and after the Great Plague the Great Fire, it was long before the
MS. found its way into the hands of the licenser.  It is interesting to
note that the first member of the general public who read _Paradise
Lost_, I hope all through, was a clergyman of the name of Tomkyns, the
deputy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Sheldon.  The Archbishop was
the State Licenser for religious books, but of course did not do the work
himself.  Tomkyns did the work, and was for a good while puzzled what to
make of the old Republican's poem.  At last, and after some singularly
futile criticisms, Tomkyns consented to allow the publication of
_Paradise Lost_, which accordingly appeared in 1667, admirably printed,
and at the price of 3_s._ a copy.  The author's agreement with the
publisher is in writing--as Mr. Besant tells us all agreements with
publishers should be--and may be seen in the British Museum.  Its terms
are clear.  The poet was to have 5 down pounds; another 5 pounds when the
first edition, which was not to exceed 1,500 copies, was sold; a third 5
pounds when a second edition was sold; and a fourth and last 5 pounds
when a third edition was sold.  He got his first 5 pounds, also his
second, and after his death his widow sold all her rights for 5 pounds.
Consequently 18 pounds, which represents perhaps 50 pounds of our present
currency, was Milton's share of all the money that has been made by the
sale of his great poem.  But the praise is still his.  The sale was very
considerable.  The 'general reader' no doubt preferred the poems of
Cleaveland and Flatman, but Milton found an audience which was fit and
not fewer than ever is the case when noble poetry is first produced.

_Paradise Regained_ was begun upon the completion of _Paradise Lost_, and
appeared with _Samson Agonistes_ in 1671, and here ended Milton's life as
a producing poet.  He lived on till Sunday, 8th November, 1674, when the
gout, or what was then called gout, struck in and he died, and was buried
beside his father in the Church of St. Giles's, Cripplegate.  He remained
laborious to the last, and imposed upon himself all kinds of drudgery,
compiling dictionaries, histories of Britain and Russia.  He must have
worked not so much from love of his subjects as from dread of idleness.
But he had hours of relaxation, of social intercourse, and of music; and
it is pleasant to remember that one pipe of tobacco.  It consecrates your

Against Milton's great poem it is sometimes alleged that it is not read;
and yet it must, I think, be admitted that for one person who has read
Spenser's _Fairy Queen_, ten thousand might easily be found who have read
_Paradise Lost_.  Its popularity has been widespread.  Mr. Mark Pattison
and Mr. John Bright measure some ground between them.  No other poem can
be mentioned which has so coloured English thought as Milton's, and yet,
according to the French senator whom Mr. Arnold has introduced to the
plain reader, '_Paradise Lost_ is a false poem, a grotesque poem, a
tiresome poem.'  It is not easy for those who have a touch of Milton's
temper, though none of his genius, to listen to this foreign criticism
quite coolly.  Milton was very angry with Salmasius for venturing to find
fault with the Long Parliament for having repealed so many laws, and so
far forgot himself as to say, '_Nam nostrae leges_, _Ole_, _quid ad te_?'
But there is nothing municipal about _Paradise Lost_.  All the world has
a right to be interested in it and to find fault with it.  But the fact
that the people for whom primarily it was written have taken it to their
hearts and have it on their lips ought to have prevented it being called
tiresome by a senator of France.

But what is the matter with our great epic?  That nobody ever wished it
longer is no real accusation.  Nobody ever did wish an epic longer.  The
most popular books in the world are generally accounted too long--_Don
Quixote_, the _Pilgrim's Progress_, _Tom Jones_.  But, says Mr. Arnold,
the whole real interest of the poem depends upon our being able to take
it literally; and again, 'Merely as matter of poetry, the story of the
Fall has no special force or effectiveness--its effectiveness for us
comes, and can only come, from our taking it all as the literal narrative
of what positively happened.'  These bewildering utterances make one rub
one's eyes.  Carlyle comes to our relief: 'All which propositions I for
the present content myself with modestly, but peremptorily and
irrevocably denying.'

Mr. Pattison surely speaks the language of ordinary good sense when he
writes: 'For the world of _Paradise Lost_ is an ideal, conventional world
quite as much as the world of the _Arabian Nights_, or the world of the
chivalrous romance, or that of the pastoral novel.'

Coleridge, in the twenty-second chapter of the _Biographia Literaria_,
points out that the fable and characters of _Paradise Lost_ are not
derived from Scripture, as in the _Messiah_ of Klopstock, but merely
suggested by it--the illusion on which all poetry is founded being thus
never contradicted.  The poem proceeds upon a legend, ancient and
fascinating, and to call it a commentary upon a few texts in Genesis is a
marvellous criticism.

The story of the Fall of Man, as recorded in the Semitic legend, is to me
more attractive as a story than the Tale of Troy, and I find the
rebellion of Satan and his dire revenge more to my mind than the circles
of Dante.  Eve is, I think, more interesting than 'Heaven-born Helen,
Sparta's queen'--I mean in herself, and as a woman to write poetry about.

The execution of the poem is another matter.  So far as style is
concerned its merits have not yet been questioned.  As a matter of style
and diction, Milton is as safe as Virgil.  The handling of the story is
more vulnerable.  The long speeches put in the mouth of the Almighty are
never pleasing, and seldom effective.  The weak point about argument is
that it usually admits of being answered.  For Milton to essay to justify
the ways of God to man was well and pious enough, but to represent God
Himself as doing so by argumentative process was not so well, and was to
expose the Almighty to possible rebuff.  The king is always present in
his own courts, but as judge, not as advocate; hence the royal dignity
never suffers.

It is narrated of an eminent barrister, who became a most polished judge,
Mr. Knight Bruce, that once, when at the very head of his profession, he
was taken in before a Master in Chancery, an office since abolished, and
found himself pitted against a little snip of an attorney's clerk, scarce
higher than the table, who, nothing daunted, and by the aid of
authorities he cited from a bundle of books as big as himself, succeeded
in worsting Knight Bruce, whom he persisted in calling over again and
again 'my learned friend.'  Mr. Bruce treated the imp with that courtesy
which is always an opponent's due, but he never went before the Masters
any more.

The Archangel has not escaped the reproach often brought against affable
persons of being a bit of a bore, and though this is to speak
unbecomingly, it must be owned that the reader is glad whenever Adam
plucks up heart of grace and gets in a word edgeways.  Mr. Bagehot has
complained of Milton's angels.  He says they are silly.  But this is, I
think, to intellectualize too much.  There are some classes who are
fairly exempted from all obligation to be intelligent, and these airy
messengers are surely amongst that number.  The retinue of a prince or of
a bride justify their choice if they are well-looking and group nicely.

But these objections do not touch the main issue.  Here is the story of
the loss of Eden, told enchantingly, musically, and in the grand style.
'Who,' says M. Scherer, in a passage quoted by Mr. Arnold, 'can read the
eleventh and twelfth books without yawning?'  People, of course, are free
to yawn when they please, provided they put their hands to their mouths;
but in answer to this insulting question one is glad to be able to
remember how Coleridge has singled out Adam's vision of future events
contained in these books as especially deserving of attention.  But to
read them is to repel the charge.

There was no need for Mr. Arnold, of all men, to express dissatisfaction
with Milton:

   'Words which no ear ever to hear in heaven
   Expected; least of all from thee, ingrate,
   In place thyself so high above thy peers.'

The first thing for people to be taught is to enjoy great things greatly.
The spots on the sun may be an interesting study, but anyhow the sun is
not all spots.  Indeed, sometimes in the early year, when he breaks forth

   'And winter, slumbering in the open air,
   Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring,

we are apt to forget that he has any spots at all, and, as he shines, are
perhaps reminded of the blind poet sitting in his darkness, in this
prosaic city of ours, swinging his leg over the arm of his chair, and
dictating the lines:

   'Seasons return, but not to me returns
   Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
   Or sight of vernal bloom or summer's rose,
   Or flocks or herds, or human face divine.
   But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
   Surrounds me--from the cheerful ways of men
   Cut off; and for the book of knowledge fair
   Presented with a universal blank
   Of nature's works, to me expunged and razed
   And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
   So much the rather, Thou, Celestial Light,
   Shine inwards, and the mind through all her powers
   Irradiate--_there_ plant eyes; all mist from thence
   Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
   Of things invisible to mortal sight.'

Coleridge added a note to his beautiful poem, 'The Nightingale,' lest he
should be supposed capable of speaking with levity of a single line in
Milton.  The note was hardly necessary, but one loves the spirit that
prompted him to make it.  Sainte-Beuve remarks: 'Parler des poetes est
toujours une chose bien delicate, et surtout quand on l'a ete un peu soi-
meme.'  But though it does not matter what the little poets do, great
ones should never pass one another without a royal salute.


_A Lecture delivered at Birmingham before the Midland Institute_.

The eighteenth century has been well abused by the nineteenth.  So far as
I can gather, it is the settled practice of every century to speak evil
of her immediate predecessor, and I have small doubt that, had we gone
groping about in the tenth century, we should yet have been found hinting
that the ninth was darker than she had any need to be.

But our tone of speaking about the last century has lately undergone an
alteration.  The fact is, we are drawing near our own latter end.  The
Head Master of Harrow lately thrilled an audience by informing them that
he had, that very day, entered an existing _bona fide_ boy upon the
school books, whose education, however, would not begin till the
twentieth century.  As a parent was overheard to observe, 'An
illustration of that sort comes home to one.'  The older we grow the less
confident we become, the readier to believe that our judgments are
probably wrong, and liable, and even likely, to be reversed; the better
disposed to live and let live.  The child, as Mr. Browning has somewhere
elaborated, cries for the moon and beats its nurse, but the old man sips
his gruel with avidity and thanks Heaven if nobody beats him.  And so we
have left off beating the eighteenth century.  It was not so, however, in
our lusty prime.  Carlyle, historian though he was of Frederick the Great
and the French Revolution, revenged himself for the trouble it gave him
by loading it with all vile epithets.  If it had been a cock or a cook he
could not have called it harder names.  It was century spendthrift,
fraudulent, bankrupt, a swindler century, which did but one true action,
'namely, to blow its brains out in that grand universal suicide named
French Revolution.'

The leaders of the neo-Catholic movement very properly shuddered at a
century which whitewashed its churches and thought even monthly
communions affected.  The ardent Liberal could not but despise a century
which did without the franchise, and, despite the most splendid
materials, had no Financial Reform Almanack.  The sentimental Tory found
little to please him in the House of Hanover and Whig domination.  The
lovers of poetry, with Shelley in their ears and Wordsworth at their
hearts, made merry with the trim muses of Queen Anne, with their sham
pastorals, their dilapidated classicism, and still more with their town-
bred descriptions of the country, with its purling brooks and nodding
groves, and, hanging over all, the moon--not Shelley's 'orbed maiden,'
but 'the refulgent lamp of night.'  And so, on all hands, the poor
century was weighed in a hundred different balances and found wanting.  It
lacked inspiration, unction, and generally all those things for which it
was thought certain the twentieth century would commend us.  But we do
not talk like that now.  The waters of the sullen Lethe, rolling doom,
are sounding too loudly in our own ears.  We would die at peace with all
centuries.  Mr. Frederic Harrison writes a formal _Defence of the
Eighteenth Century_, Mr. Matthew Arnold reprints half a dozen of Dr.
Johnson's _Lives of the Poets_.  Mr. Leslie Stephen composes a history of
thought during this objurgated period, and also edits, in sumptuously
inconvenient volumes, the works of its two great novelists, Richardson
and Fielding; and, finally, there now trembles on the very verge of
completion a splendid and long-laboured edition of the poems and letters
of the great poet of the eighteenth century, the abstract and brief
chronicle of his time, a man who had some of its virtues and most of its
vices, one whom it is easy to hate, but still easier to quote--Alexander

Twenty years ago the chances were that a lecturer on Pope began by asking
the, perhaps not impertinent, question, 'Was he a poet?'  And the method
had its merits, for the question once asked, it was easy for the
lecturer, like an incendiary who has just fired a haystack, to steal away
amidst the cracklings of a familiar controversy.  It was not unfitting
that so quarrelsome a man as Pope should have been the occasion of so
much quarrelsomeness in others.  For long the battle waged as fiercely
over Pope's poetry as erst it did in his own _Homer_ over the body of the
slain Patroclus.  Stout men took part in it, notably Lord Byron, whose
letters to Mr. Bowles on the subject, though composed in his lordship's
most ruffianly vein, still make good reading--of a sort.  But the battle
is over, at all events for the present.  It is not now our humour to
inquire too curiously about first causes or primal elements.  As we are
not prepared with a definition of poetry, we feel how impossible it would
be for us to deny the rank of a poet to one whose lines not infrequently
scan and almost always rhyme.  For my part, I should as soon think of
asking whether a centipede has legs or a wasp a sting as whether the
author of the _Rape of the Lock_ and the _Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot_ was
or was not a poet.

Pope's life has been described as a succession of petty secrets and third-
rate problems, but there seems to be no doubt that it began on May 21st,
1688, in Lombard Street, in the city of London.  But this event over,
mystery steps in with the question, What was his father?  The occupation
of the elder Pope occasioned nearly as fierce a controversy as the
poetical legitimacy of the younger.  Malice has even hinted that old Pope
was a hatter.  The poet, of course, knew, but wouldn't tell, being always
more ready, as Johnson observes, to say what his father was not than what
he was.  He denied the hatter, and said his father was of the family of
the Earls of Downe; but on this statement being communicated to a
relative of the poet, the brutal fellow, who was probably without a
tincture of polite learning, said he heard of the relationship for the
first time!  'Hard as thy heart, and as thy birth obscure,' sang one of
Pope's too numerous enemies in the easy numbers he had taught his age.  It
is, however, now taken as settled that the elder Pope, like Izaak Walton
and John Gilpin, and many other good fellows, was a linen-draper.  He
made money, and one would like to know how he did it in the troublesome
times he lived in; but _his_ books have all perished.  He was a Roman
Catholic, as also was the poet's mother, who was her husband's second
wife, and came out of Yorkshire.  It used to be confidently asserted that
the elder Pope, on retiring from business, which he did early in the
poet's childhood, put his fortune in a box and spent it as he needed
it,--a course of conduct the real merits of which are likely to be hid
from a lineal descendant.  Old Pope, however, did nothing of the kind,
but invested money in the French funds, his conscience not allowing him
to do so in the English, and he also lent sums on bond to
fellow-Catholics, one of whom used to remit him his half-year's interest
calculated at the rate of 4 pounds per cent. per annum, whereas by the
terms of the bond he was to pay 4.25 pounds per cent. per annum.  On
another occasion the same borrower deducted from the interest accrued due
a pound he said he had lent the youthful poet.  These things annoyed the
old gentleman, as they would most old gentlemen of my acquaintance.  The
poet was the only child of his mother, and a queerly constituted mortal
he was.  Dr. Johnson has recorded the long list of his infirmities with
an almost chilling bluntness; but, alas! so malformed was Pope's
character, so tortuous and twisted were his ways, so elaborately
artificial and detestably petty many of his devices, that it is not
malice, but charity, that bids us remember that, during his whole
maturity, he could neither dress nor undress himself, go to bed or get up
without help, and that on rising he had to be invested with a stiff
canvas bodice and tightly laced, and have put on him a fur doublet and
numerous stockings to keep off the cold and fill out his shrunken form.
If ever there was a man whose life was one long provocation, that man was
the author of the _Dunciad_.  Pope had no means of self-defence save his
wit.  Dr. Johnson was a queer fellow enough, having inherited, as he
tells us, a vile melancholy from his father, and he certainly was no
Adonis to look at, but those who laughed at him were careful to do so
behind his gigantic back.  When a rapacious bookseller insulted him he
knocked him down.  When the caricaturist Foote threatened to take him off
upon the stage, the most Christian of lexicographers caused it to be
intimated to him that if he did the author of _Rasselas_ would thrash him
in the public street, and the buffoon desisted.  'Did not Foote,' asked
Boswell, 'think of exhibiting you, sir?' and our great moralist replied,
'Sir, fear restrained him; he knew I would have broken his bones.'  When
he denounced Macpherson for his _Ossian_ frauds, and the irate Celt said
something about personal chastisement, Johnson told him, in writing, that
he was not to be deterred from detecting a cheat by the menaces of a
ruffian, and by way of a temporary provision for his self-defence
selected a most grievous cudgel, six feet in height, and terminating in a
head (once the root) of the size of a large orange.  The possession of
great physical strength is no mean assistance to a straightforward life.
The late Professor Fawcett, who, though blind, delighted, arm-in-arm with
a friend, to skate furiously on the fens, never could be brought to share
the fears entertained on his behalf by some of the less stalwart of his
acquaintances.  'Why,' he used to exclaim apologetically, 'even if I do
run up against anybody, it is always the other fellow who gets the worst
of it.'  But poor Pope, whom a child could hustle, had no such resources.
We should always remember this; it is brutal to forget it.

Pope's parents found in their only son the vocation of their later life.
He might be anything he liked.  Did he lisp in numbers, the boyish rhymes
were duly scanned and criticised; had he a turn for painting, lessons
were provided.  He might be anything he chose, and everything by turns.
Many of us have been lately reading chapters from the life of another
only son, and though the comparison may not bear working out, still, that
there were points of strong similarity between the days of the youthful
poet at Binfield and those of Ruskin at Herne Hill may be suspected.
Pope's education was, of course, private, for a double reason--his
proscribed faith and his frail form.  Mr. Leslie Stephen, with a touching
faith in public schools, has the hardihood to regret that it was
obviously impossible to send Pope to Westminster.  One shudders at the
thought.  It could only have ended in an inquest.  As it was, the poor
little cripple was whipped at Twyford for lampooning his master.  Pope
was extraordinarily sensitive.  Cruelty to animals he abhorred.  Every
kind of sport, from spinning cockchafers to coursing hares, he held in
loathing, and one cannot but be thankful that the childhood of this
supersensitive poet was shielded from the ruffianism of the nether world
of boys as that brood then existed.  Westminster had not long to wait for
Cowper.  Pope was taught his rudiments by stray priests and at small
seminaries, where, at all events, he had his bent, and escaped the
contagious error that Homer wrote in Greek in order that English boys
might be beaten.  Of course he did not become a scholar.  Had he done so
he probably would not have translated Homer, though he might have
lectured on how not to do it.  Indeed, the only evidence we have that
Pope knew Greek at all is that he translated Homer, and was accustomed to
carry about with him a small pocket edition of the bard in the original.
Latin he could probably read with decent comfort, though it is noticeable
that if he had occasion to refer to a Latin book, and there was a French
translation, he preferred the latter version to the original.  Voltaire,
who knew Pope, asserts that he could not speak a word of French, and
could hardly read it; but Voltaire was not a truthful man, and on one
occasion told lies in an affidavit.  The fact is, Pope's curiosity was
too inordinate--his desire to know everything all at once too strong--to
admit of the delay of learning a foreign language; and he was
consequently a reader of translations, and he lived in an age of
translations.  He was, as a boy, a simply ferocious reader, and was early
acquainted with the contents of the great poets, both of antiquity and
the modern world.  His studies, at once intense, prolonged, and exciting,
injured his feeble health, and made him the lifelong sufferer he was.  It
was a noble zeal, and arose from the immense interest Pope ever took in
human things.

From 1700 to 1715, that is, from his fourteenth to his twenty-ninth year,
he lived with his father and mother at Binfield, on the borders of
Windsor Forest, which he made the subject of one of his early poems,
against which it was alleged, with surely some force, that it has nothing
distinctive about it, and might as easily have been written about any
other forest; to which, however, Dr. Johnson characteristically replied
that the _onus_ lay upon the critic of first proving that there is
anything distinctive about Windsor Forest, which personally he doubted,
one green field in the Doctor's opinion being just like another.  In 1715
Pope moved with his parents to Chiswick, where, in 1717, his father, aged
seventy-five, died.  The following year the poet again moved with his
mother to the celebrated villa at Twickenham, where in 1733 she died, in
her ninety-third year.  Ten years later Pope's long disease, his life,
came to its appointed end.  His poetical dates may be briefly summarized
thus: his _Pastorals_, 1709; the _Essay on Criticism_, 1711; the first
version of the _Rape of the Lock_, 1712; the second, 1714; the _Iliad_,
begun in 1715, was finished 1720; _Eloisa_, 1717; the _Elegy_ to the
memory of an _Unfortunate Lady_ and the _Dunciad_, 1728; the _Essay on
Man_, 1732; and then the _Epistles_ and _Satires_.  Of all Pope's
biographers, Dr. Johnson is still, and will probably ever remain, the
best.  The _Life_, indeed, like the rest of the _Lives of the Poets_, is
a lazy performance.  It is not the strenuous work of a young author eager
for fame.  When Johnson sat down, at the instance of the London
booksellers, to write the lives of those poets whose works his employers
thought it well to publish, he had long been an author at grass, and had
no mind whatever again to wear the collar.  He had great reading and an
amazing memory, and those were at the service of the trade.  The facts he
knew, or which were brought to his door, he recorded, but research was
not in his way.  Was he not already endowed--with a pension, which, with
his customary indifference to attack, he wished were twice as large, in
order that his enemies might make twice as much fuss over it?  None the
less--nay, perhaps all the more--for being written with so little effort,
the _Lives of the Poets_ are delightful reading, and Pope's is one of the
very best of them. {59}  None knew the infirmities of ordinary human
nature better than Johnson.  They neither angered him nor amused him; he
neither storms, sneers, nor chuckles, as he records man's vanity,
insincerity, jealousy, and pretence.  It is with a placid pen he pricks
the bubble fame, dishonours the overdrawn sentiment, burlesques the sham
philosophy of life; but for generosity, friendliness, affection, he is
always on the watch, whilst talent and achievement never fail to win his
admiration; he being ever eager to repay, as best he could, the debt of
gratitude surely due to those who have taken pains to please, and who
have left behind them in a world, which rarely treated them kindly, works
fitted to stir youth to emulation, or solace the disappointments of age.
And over all man's manifold infirmities, he throws benignantly the mantle
of his stately style.  Pope's domestic virtues were not likely to miss
Johnson's approbation.  Of them he writes:

   'The filial piety of Pope was in the highest degree amiable and
   exemplary.  His parents had the happiness of living till he was at the
   summit of poetical reputation--till he was at ease in his fortune, and
   without a rival in his fame, and found no diminution of his respect or
   tenderness.  Whatever was his pride, to them he was obedient; and
   whatever was his irritability, to them he was gentle.  Life has,
   amongst its soothing and quiet comforts, few things better to give
   than such a son.'

To attempt to state in other words a paragraph like this would be
indelicate, as bad as defacing a tombstone, or rewriting a collect.

Pope has had many editors, but the last edition will probably long hold
the field.  It is more than sixty years since the original John Murray,
of Albemarle Street, determined, with the approval of his most
distinguished client Lord Byron, to bring out a library edition of Pope.
The task was first entrusted to Croker, the man whom Lord Macaulay hated
more than he did cold boiled veal, and whose edition, had it seen the
light in the great historian's lifetime, would have been, whatever its
merits, well basted in the _Edinburgh Review_.  But Croker seems to have
made no real progress; for though occasionally advertised amongst Mr.
Murray's list of forthcoming works, the first volume did not make its
appearance until 1871, fourteen years after Croker's death.  The new
editor was the Rev. Whitwell Elwin, a clergyman, with many qualifications
for the task,--patient, sensible, not too fluent, but an intense hater of
Pope.  'To be wroth with one you love,' sings Coleridge, 'doth work like
madness in the brain;' and to edit in numerous volumes the works of a man
you cordially dislike and always mistrust has something of the same
effect, whilst it is certainly hard measure on the poor fellow edited.
His lot--if I may venture upon a homely comparison founded upon a lively
reminiscence of childhood--resembles that of an unfortunate infant being
dressed by an angry nurse, in whose malicious hands the simplest
operations of the toilet, to say nothing of the severer processes of the
tub, can easily be made the vehicles of no mean torture.  Good cause can
be shown for hating Pope if you are so minded, but it is something of a
shame to hate him and edit him too.  The Rev. Mr. Elwin unravels the web
of Pope's follies with too rough a hand for my liking; and he was,
besides, far too apt to believe his poet in the wrong simply because
somebody has said he was.  For example, he reprints without comment De
Quincey's absurd strictures on the celebrated lines--

   'Who but must laugh if such a man there be;
   Who would not weep if Atticus were he!'

De Quincey found these lines unintelligible, and pulls them about in all
directions but the right one.  The ordinary reader never felt any
difficulty.  However, Mr. Elwin kept it up till old age overtook him, and
now Mr. Courthope reigns in his stead.  Mr. Courthope, it is easy to see,
would have told a very different tale had he been in command from the
first, for he keeps sticking in a good word for the crafty little poet
whenever he decently can.  And this is how it should be.  Mr. Courthope's
_Life_, which will be the concluding volume of Mr. Murray's edition, is
certain to be a fascinating book.

It is Pope's behaviour about his letters that is now found peculiarly
repellent.  Acts of diseased egotism sometimes excite an indignation
which injurious crimes fail to arouse.

The whole story is too long to be told, and is by this time tolerably
familiar.  Here, however, is part of it.  In early life Pope began
writing letters, bits of pompous insincerity, as indeed the letters of
clever boys generally are, to men old enough to be his grandparents, who
had been struck by his precocity and anticipated his fame, and being
always master of his own time, and passionately fond of composition, he
kept up the habit so formed, and wrote his letters as one might fancy the
celebrated Blair composing his sermons, with much solemnity, very slowly,
and without emotion.  A packet of these addressed to a gentleman owning
the once proud name of Cromwell, and who was certainly 'guiltless of his
country's blood'--for all that is now known of him is that he used to go
hunting in a tie-wig, that is, a full-bottomed wig tied up at the
ends--had been given by that gentleman to a lady with whom he had
relations, who being, as will sometimes happen, a little pressed for
money, sold them for ten guineas to Edmund Curll, a bold pirate of a
bookseller and publisher, upon whose head every kind of abuse has been
heaped, not only by the authors whom he actually pillaged, but by
succeeding generations of penmen who never took his wages, but none the
less revile his name.  He was a wily ruffian.  In the year 1727 he was
condemned by His Majesty's judges to stand in the pillory at Charing
Cross for publishing a libel, and thither doubtless, at the appointed
hour, many poor authors flocked, with their pockets full of the bad eggs
that should have made their breakfasts, eager to wreak vengeance upon
their employer; but a printer in the pillory has advantages over others
traders, and Curll had caused handbills to be struck off and distributed
amongst the crowd, stating, with his usual effrontery, that he was put in
the pillory for vindicating the blessed memory of her late Majesty Queen
Anne.  This either touched or tickled the mob--it does not matter
which--who protected Curll whilst he stood on high from further outrage,
and when his penance was over bore him on their shoulders to an adjacent
tavern, where (it is alleged) he got right royally drunk. {65}  Ten years
earlier those pleasant youths, the Westminster scholars, had got hold of
him, tossed him in a blanket, and beat him.  This was the man who bought
Pope's letters to Cromwell for ten guineas, and published them.  Pope,
oddly enough, though very angry, does not seem on this occasion to have
moved the Court of Chancery, as he subsequently did against the same
publisher, for an injunction to restrain the vending of the volume.
Indeed, until his suit in 1741, when he obtained an injunction against
Curll, restraining the sale of a volume containing some of his letters to
Swift, the right of the writer of a letter to forbid its publication had
never been established, and the view that a letter was a gift to the
receiver had received some countenance.  But Pope had so much of the true
temper of a litigant, and so loved a nice point, that he might have been
expected to raise the question on the first opportunity.  He, however,
did not do so, and the volume had a considerable sale--a fact not likely
to be lost sight of by so keen an author as Pope, to whom the thought
occurred, 'Could I only recover all my letters, and get them published, I
should be as famous in prose as I am in rhyme.'  His communications with
his friends now begin to be full of the miscreant Curll, against whose
machinations and guineas no letters were proof.  Have them Curll would,
and publish them he would, to the sore injury of the writer's feelings.
The only way to avoid this outrage upon the privacy of true friendship
was for all the letters to be returned to the writer, who had arranged
for them to be received by a great nobleman, against whose strong boxes
Curll might rage and surge in vain.  Pope's friends did not at first
quite catch his drift.  'You need give yourself no trouble,' wrote Swift,
though at a later date than the transaction I am now describing; 'every
one of your letters shall be burnt.'  But that was not what Pope wanted.
The first letters he recovered were chiefly those he had written to Mr.
Caryll, a Roman Catholic gentleman of character.  Mr. Caryll parted with
his letters with some reluctance, and even suspicion, and was at the
extraordinary pains of causing them all to be transcribed; in a word, he
kept copies and said nothing about it.  Now it is that Pope set about as
paltry a job as ever engaged the attention of a man of genius.  He
proceeded to manufacture a sham correspondence; he garbled and falsified
to his heart's content.  He took a bit of one letter and tagged it on to
a bit of another letter, and out of these two foreign parts made up an
imaginary letter, never really written to anybody, which he addressed to
Mr. Addison, who was dead, or to whom else he chose.  He did this without
much regard to anything except the manufacture of something which he
thought would read well, and exhibit himself in an amiable light and in a
sweet, unpremeditated strain.  This done, the little poet destroyed the
originals, and deposited one copy, as he said he was going to do, in the
library of the Earl of Oxford, whose permission so to do he sought with
much solemnity, the nobleman replying with curtness that any parcel Mr.
Pope chose to send to his butler should be taken care of.  So far good.
The next thing was to get the letters published from the copy he had
retained for his own use.  His vanity and love of intrigue forbade him
doing so directly, and he bethought himself of his enemy, the piratical
Curll, with whom, there can now be no reasonable doubt, he opened a sham
correspondence under the initials 'P.T.'  'P.T.' was made to state that
he had letters in his possession of Mr. Pope's, who had done him some
disservice, which letters he was willing to let Curll publish.  Curll was
as wily as Pope, to whom he at once wrote and told him what 'P.T.' was
offering him.  Pope replied by an advertisement in a newspaper, denying
the existence of any such letters.  'P.T.,' however, still kept it up,
and a mysterious person was introduced as a go-between, wearing a
clergyman's wig and lawyer's bands.  Curll at last advertised as
forthcoming an edition of Mr. Pope's letters to, and, as the
advertisement certainly ran, from divers noblemen and gentlemen.  Pope
affected the utmost fury, and set the House of Lords upon the printer for
threatening to publish peers' letters without their leave.  Curll,
however, had a tongue in his head, and easily satisfied a committee of
their Lordship's House that this was a mistake, and that no noblemen's
letters were included in the intended publication, the unbound sheets of
which he produced.  The House of Lords, somewhat mystified and disgusted,
gave the matter up, and the letters came out in 1735.  Pope raved, but
the judicious even then opined that he protested somewhat too much.  He
promptly got a bookseller to pirate Curll's edition--a proceeding on his
part which struck Curll as the unkindest cut of all, and flagrantly
dishonest.  He took proceedings against Pope's publisher, but what came
of the litigation I cannot say.

The Caryll copy of the correspondence as it actually existed, after long
remaining in manuscript, has been published, and we have now the real
letters and the sham letters side by side.  The effect is grotesquely
disgusting.  For example, on September 20th, 1713, Pope undoubtedly wrote
to Caryll as follows:--

   'I have been just taking a walk in St. James's Park, full of the
   reflections of the transitory nature of all human delights, and giving
   my thoughts a loose into the contemplation of those sensations of
   satisfaction which probably we may taste in the more exalted company
   of separate spirits, when we range the starry walks above and gaze on
   the world at a vast distance, as now we do on those.'

Poor stuff enough, one would have thought.  On re-reading this letter
Pope was so pleased with his moonshine that he transferred the whole
passage to an imaginary letter, to which he gave the, of course
fictitious, date of February 10th, 1715, and addressed to Mr. Blount; so
that, as the correspondence now stands, you first get the Caryll letter
of 1713, 'I have been just taking a solitary walk by moonshine,' and so
on about the starry walks; and then you get the Blount letter of 1715, 'I
have been just taking a solitary walk by moonshine;' and go on to find
Pope refilled with his reflections as before.  Mr. Elwin does not, you
may be sure, fail to note how unlucky Pope was in his second date,
February 10th, 1715; that being a famous year, when the Thames was frozen
over, and as the thaw set in on the 9th, and the streets were impassable
even for strong men, a tender morsel like Pope was hardly likely to be
out after dark.  But, of course, when Pope concocted the Blount letter in
1735, and gave it any date he chose, he could not be expected to carry in
his head what sort of night it was on any particular day in February
twenty-two years before.  It is ever dangerous to tamper with written
documents which have been out of your sole and exclusive possession even
for a few minutes.

A letter Pope published as having been addressed to Addison is made up of
fragments of three letters actually written to Caryll.  Another imaginary
letter to Addison contains the following not inapt passage from a letter
to Caryll:--

   'Good God! what an incongruous animal is man! how unsettled in his
   best part, his soul, and how changing and variable in his frame of
   body.  What is man altogether but one mighty inconsistency?'

What, indeed!  The method subsequently employed by Pope to recover his
letters from Swift, and to get them published in such a way as to create
the impression that Pope himself had no hand in it, cannot be here
narrated.  It is a story no one can take pleasure in.  Of such an
organized hypocrisy as this correspondence it is no man's duty to speak
seriously.  Here and there an amusing letter occurs, but as a whole it is
neither interesting, elevating, nor amusing.  When in 1741 Curll moved to
dissolve the injunction Pope had obtained in connection with the Swift
correspondence, his counsel argued that letters on familiar subjects and
containing inquiries after the health of friends were not learned works,
and consequently were not within the copyright statute of Queen Anne,
which was entitled, 'An Act for the Encouragement of Learning;' but Lord
Hardwicke, with his accustomed good sense, would have none of this
objection, and observed (and these remarks, being necessary for the
judgment, are not mere _obiter dicta_, but conclusive):

   'It is certain that no works have done more service to mankind than
   those which have appeared in this shape upon familiar subjects, and
   which, perhaps, were never intended to be published, and it is this
   which makes them so valuable, for I must confess, for my own part,
   that letters which are very elaborately written, and originally
   intended for the press, are generally the most insignificant, and very
   little worth any person's reading' (2 Atkyns, p. 357).

I am encouraged by this authority to express the unorthodox opinion that
Pope's letters, with scarcely half-a-dozen exceptions, and only one
notable exception, are very little worth any person's reading.

Pope's epistolary pranks have, perhaps, done him some injustice.  It has
always been the fashion to admire the letter which, first appearing in
1737, in Pope's correspondence, and there attributed to Gay, describes
the death by lightning of the rustic lovers John Hewet and Sarah Drew.  An
identical description occurring in a letter written by Pope to Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu, and subsequently published by Warton from the original,
naturally caused the poet to be accused of pilfering another man's
letter, and sending it off as his own.  Mr. Thackeray so puts it in his
world-famous _Lectures_, and few literary anecdotes are better known; but
the better opinion undoubtedly is that the letter was Pope's from the
beginning, and attributed by him to Gay because he did not want to have
it appear that on the date in question he was corresponding with Lady
Mary.  After all, there is a great deal to be said in favour of honesty.

When we turn from the man to the poet we have at once to change our key.
A cleverer fellow than Pope never commenced author.  He was in his own
mundane way as determined to be a poet, and the best going, as John
Milton himself.  He took pains to be splendid--he polished and pruned.
His first draft never reached the printer--though he sometimes said it
did.  This ought, I think, to endear him to us in these hasty days, when
authors high and low think nothing of emptying the slops of their minds
over their readers, without so much as a cry of 'Heads below!'

Pope's translation of the _Iliad_ was his first great undertaking, and he
worked at it like a Trojan.  It was published by subscription for two
guineas; that is, the first part was.  His friends were set to work to
collect subscribers.  Caryll alone got thirty-eight.  Pope fully entered
into this.  He was always alive to the value of his wares, and despised
the foppery of those of his literary friends who would not make money out
of their books, but would do so out of their country.  He writes to

'But I am in good earnest of late, too much a man of business to mind
metaphors and similes.  I find subscribing much superior to writing, and
there is a sort of little epigram I more especially delight in, after the
manner of rondeaus, which begin and end all in the same words,
namely--"Received" and "A. Pope."  These epigrams end smartly, and each
of them is tagged with two guineas.  Of these, as I have learnt, you have
composed several ready for me to set my name to.'

This is certainly much better than that trumpery walk in the moonshine.
Pope had not at this time joined the Tories, and both parties subscribed.
He cleared over 5,000 pounds by the _Iliad_.  Over the _Odyssey_ he
slackened, and employed two inferior wits to do half the books; but even
after paying his journeymen he made nearly 4,000 pounds over the
_Odyssey_.  Well might he write in later life--

   'Since, thanks to Homer, I do live and thrive.'

Pope was amongst the first of prosperous authors, and heads the clan of
cunning fellows who have turned their lyrical cry into consols, and their
odes into acres.

Of the merits of this great work it is not necessary to speak at length.
Mr. Edmund Yates tells a pleasant story of how one day, when an old
school Homer lay on his table, Shirley Brooks sauntered in, and taking
the book up, laid it down again, dryly observing:

'Ah! I see you have _Homer's_ Iliad!  Well, I believe it is the best.'
And so it is.  Homer's Iliad is the best, and Pope's Homer's Iliad is the
second best.  Whose is the third best is controversy.

Pope knew next to no Greek, but then he did not work upon the Greek text.
He had Chapman's translation ever at his elbow, also the version of John
Ogilby, which had appeared in 1660--a splendid folio, with illustrations
by the celebrated Hollar.  Dryden had not got farther than the first book
of the _Iliad_, and a fragment of the sixth book.  A faithful rendering
of the exact sense of Homer is not, of course, to be looked for.  In the
first book Pope describes the captive maid Briseis as looking back.  In
Homer she does not look back, but in Dryden she does; and Pope followed
Dryden, and did not look, at all events, any farther back.

But what really is odd is that in Cowper's translation Briseis looks back
too.  Now, Cowper had been to a public school, and consequently knew
Greek, and made it his special boast that, though dull, he was faithful.
It is easy to make fun of Pope's version, but true scholars have seldom
done so.  Listen to Professor Conington {76}:--

   'It has been, and I hope still is, the delight of every intelligent
   schoolboy.  They read of kings, and heroes, and mighty deeds in
   language which, in its calm majestic flow, unhasting, unresting,
   carries them on as irresistibly as Homer's own could do were they born
   readers of Greek, and their minds are filled with a conception of the
   heroic age, not indeed strictly true, but almost as near the truth as
   that which was entertained by Virgil himself.'

Mr. D. G. Rossetti, himself both an admirable translator and a
distinguished poet, has in effect laid down the first law of rhythmical
translation thus: 'Thou shalt not turn a good poem into a bad one.'  Pope
kept this law.

Pope was a great adept at working upon other men's stuff.  There is
hardly anything in which men differ more enormously than in the degree in
which they possess this faculty of utilization.  Pope's _Essay on
Criticism_, which brought him great fame, and was thought a miracle of
wit, was the result of much hasty reading, undertaken with the intention
of appropriation.  Apart from the _limae labor_, which was enormous, and
was never grudged by Pope, there was not an hour's really hard work in
it.  Dryden had begun the work of English criticism with his _Essay on
Dramatic Poesy_, and other well-known pieces.  He had also translated
Boileau's _Art of Poetry_.  Then there were the works of those noble
lords, Lord Sheffield, Lord Roscommon, Lord Granville, and the Duke of
Buckingham.  Pope, who loved a brief, read all these books greedily, and
with an amazing quick eye for points.  His orderly brain and brilliant
wit re-arranged and rendered resplendent the ill-placed and ill-set
thoughts of other men.

The same thing is noticeable in the most laboured production of his later
life, the celebrated _Essay on Man_.  For this he was coached by Lord

Pope was accustomed to talk with much solemnity of his ethical system, of
which the _Essay on Man_ is but a fragment, but we need not trouble
ourselves about it.  Dr. Johnson said about _Clarissa Harlowe_ that the
man who read it for the story might hang himself; so we may say about the
poetry of Pope: the man who reads it for its critical or ethical
philosophy may hang himself.  We read Pope for pleasure, but a bit of his
philosophy may be given:

   'Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,
   Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?
   First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
   Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less?
   Ask of thy mother Earth why oaks are made
   Taller and stronger than the weeds they shade!
   Or ask of yonder argent fields above
   Why Jove's satellites are less than Jove!'

To this latter interrogatory presumptuous science, speaking through the
mouth of Voltaire, was ready with an answer.  If Jupiter were less than
his satellites they wouldn't go round him.  Pope can make no claim to be
a philosopher, and had he been one, Verse would have been a most improper
vehicle to convey his speculations.  No one willingly fights in handcuffs
or wrestles to music.  For a man with novel truths to promulgate, or
grave moral laws to expound, to postpone doing so until he had hitched
them into rhyme would be to insult his mission.  Pope's gifts were his
wit, his swift-working mind, added to all the cunning of the craft and
mystery of composition.  He could say things better than other men, and
hence it comes that, be he a great poet or a small one, he is a great
writer, an English classic.  What is it that constitutes a great writer?
A bold question, certainly, but whenever anyone asks himself a question
in public you may be certain he has provided himself with an answer.  I
find mine in the writings of a distinguished neighbour of yours, himself,
though living, an English classic--Cardinal Newman.  He says {79}:

'I do not claim for a great author, as such, any great depth of thought,
or breadth of view, or philosophy, or sagacity, or knowledge of human
nature, or experience of human life--though these additional gifts he may
have, and the more he has of them the greater he is,--but I ascribe to
him, as his characteristic gift, in a large sense, the faculty of
expression.  He is master of the two-fold [Greek text], the thought and
the word, distinct but inseparable from each other. . . .  He always has
the right word for the right idea, and never a word too much.  If he is
brief it is because few words suffice; if he is lavish of them, still
each word has its mark, and aids, not embarrasses, the vigorous march of
his elocution.  He expresses what all feel, but all cannot say, and his
sayings pass into proverbs amongst his people, and his phrases become
household words and idioms of their daily speech, which is tessellated
with the rich fragments of his language, as we see in foreign lands the
marbles of Roman grandeur worked into the walls and pavements of modern
palaces.'  Pope satisfies this definition.  He has been dead one hundred
and forty-two years; yet, next to Shakespeare, who has been dead two
hundred and seventy years, and who was nearer to Pope than Pope is to us,
he is the most quoted of English poets, the one who has most enriched our
common speech.  Horace used, but has long ceased, to be the poet of
Parliament; for Mr. Gladstone, who, more than any other, has kept alive
in Parliament the scholarly traditions of the past, has never been very
Horatian, preferring, whenever the dignity of the occasion seemed to
demand Latin, the long roll of the hexameter, something out of Virgil or
Lucretius.  The new generation of honourable members might not
unprofitably turn their attention to Pope.  Think how, at all events, the
labour members would applaud, not with 'a sad civility,' but with
downright cheers, a quotation they actually understood.

Pope is seen at his best in his satires and epistles, and in the mock-
heroic.  To say that the _Rape of the Lock_ is the best mock-heroic poem
in the language is to say nothing; to say that it is the best in the
world is to say more than my reading warrants; but to say that it and
_Paradise Regained_ are the only two faultless poems, of any length, in
English is to say enough.

The satires are savage--perhaps satires should be; but Pope's satires are
sometimes what satires should never be--shrill.  Dr. Johnson is more to
my mind as a sheer satirist than Pope, for in satire character tells more
than in any other form of verse.  We want a personality behind--a strong,
gloomy, brooding personality; soured and savage if you will--nay, as
soured and savage as you like, but spiteful never.

Pope became rather by the backing of his friends than from any other
cause a party man.  Party feeling ran high during the first Georges, and
embraced things now outside its ambit--the theatre, for example, and the
opera.  You remember how excited politicians got over Addison's _Cato_,
which, as the work of a Whig, and appearing at a critical time, was
thought to be full of a wicked wit and a subtle innuendo future ages have
failed to discover amidst its obvious dulness.  Pope, who was not then
connected with either party, wrote the prologue, and in one of the best
letters ever written to nobody tells the story of the first night.

   'The numerous and violent claps of the Whig party, on the one side the
   theatre, were echoed back by the Tories on the other, while the author
   sweated behind the scenes with concern to find their applause
   proceeded more from the hand than the head.  This was the case too of
   the prologue-writer, who was clapped into a stanch Whig, sore against
   his will, at almost every two lines.  I believe that you have heard
   that, after all the applause of the opposite faction, my Lord
   Bolingbroke sent for Booth, who played Cato, into the box between one
   of the acts, and presented him with fifty guineas, in acknowledgment,
   as he expressed it, for his defending the cause of liberty so well
   against a perpetual dictator.  The Whigs are unwilling to be distanced
   this way, as it is said, and, therefore, design a present to the said
   Cato very speedily.  In the meantime they are getting ready as good a
   sentence as the former on their side.  So, betwixt them, it is
   probable that Cato, as Dr. Garth expressed it, may have something to
   live upon after he dies.'

Later on music was dragged into the fray.  The Court was all for Handel
and the Germans; the Prince of Wales and the Tory nobility affected the
Italian opera.  The Whigs went to the Haymarket; the Tories to the Opera
House in Lincoln's Inn Field.  In this latter strife Pope took small
part; for, notwithstanding his _Ode on St. Cecilia's Day_, he hated music
with an entire sincerity.  He also affected to hate the drama; but some
have thought this accounted for by the fact that, early in his career, he
was damned for the farce of _Three Hours after Marriage_, which, after
the fashion of our own days, he concocted with another, the co-author in
this case being a wit of no less calibre than Gay, the author of _The
Beggars' Opera_.  The astonished audience bore it as best they might till
the last act, when the two lovers, having first inserted themselves
respectively into the skins of a mummy and a crocodile, talk at one
another across the boards; then they rose in their rage, and made an end
of that farce.  Their yells were doubtless still in Pope's ears when,
years afterwards, he wrote the fine lines--

   'While all its throats the gallery extends
   And all the thunder of the pit ascends,
   Loud as the wolves on Orca's stormy steep
   Howl to the roarings of the northern deep.'

Pope, as we have said, became a partisan, and so had his hands full of
ready-made quarrels; but his period was certainly one that demanded a
satirist.  Perhaps most periods do; but I am content to repeat, his did.
Satire like Pope's is essentially modish, and requires a restricted
range.  Were anyone desirous of satirizing humanity at large I should
advise him to check his noble rage, and, at all events, to begin with his
next-door neighbour, who is almost certain to resent it, which humanity
will not do.  This was Pope's method.  It was a corrupt set amongst whom
he moved.  The gambling in the South Sea stock had been prodigious, and
high and low, married and single, town and country, Protestant and
Catholic, Whig and Tory, took part in it.  One _could_ gamble in that
stock.  The mania began in February 1720, and by the end of May the price
of 100 pounds stock was up to 340 pounds.  In July and August it was 950
pounds, and even touched, 1,000 pounds.  In the middle of September it
was down to 590 pounds, and before the end of the year it had dropped to
125 pounds.  Pope himself bought stock when it stood so low as 104
pounds, but he had never the courage to sell, and consequently lost,
according to his own account, half his worldly possessions.  The Prime
Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, also bought stock, but he sold--as did his
Most Gracious Majesty the King--at 1,000 pounds.  The age was also a
scandalous, ill-living age, and Pope, who was a most confirmed gossip and
tale-bearer, picked up all that was going.  The details of every lawsuit
of a personal character were at his finger-ends.  Whoever starved a
sister, or forged a will, or saved his candle-ends, made a fortune
dishonestly, or lost one disgracefully, or was reported to do so, be he
citizen or courtier, noble duke or plump alderman, Mr. Pope was sure to
know all about it, and as likely as not to put it into his next satire.
Living, as the poet did, within easy distance of London, he always turned
up in a crisis as regularly as a porpoise in a storm, so at least writes
a noble friend.  This sort of thing naturally led to quarrels, and the
shocking incompleteness of this lecture stands demonstrated by the fact
that, though I have almost done, I have as yet said nothing abort Pope's
quarrels, which is nearly as bad as writing about St. Paul and leaving
out his journeys.  Pope's quarrels are celebrated.  His quarrel with Mr.
Addison, culminating in the celebrated description, almost every line of
which is now part and parcel of the English language; his quarrel with
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, whom he satirized in the most brutal lines
ever written by man of woman; his quarrel with Lord Hervey; his quarrel
with the celebrated Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, ought not to be
dismissed so lightly, but what can I do?  From the Duchess of Marlborough
Pope is said to have received a sum of money, sometimes stated at 1,000
pounds and sometimes at 3,000 pounds, for consenting to suppress his
description of her as Atossa, which, none the less, he published.  I do
not believe the story; money passed between the parties and went to Miss
Martha Blount, but it must have been for some other consideration.  Sarah
Jennings was no fool, and loved money far too well to give it away
without security; and how possibly could she hope by a cash payment to
erase from the tablets of a poet's memory lines dictated by his hate, or
bind by the law of honour a man capable of extorting blackmail?  Then
Pope quarrelled most terribly with the elder Miss Blount, who, he said,
used to beat her mother; then he quarrelled with the mother because she
persisted in living with the daughter and pretending to be fond of her.
As for his quarrels with the whole tribe of poor authors, are they not
writ large in the four books of the _Dunciad_?  Mr. Swinburne is indeed
able to find in some, at all events, of these quarrels a species of holy
war, waged, as he says, in language which is at all events strong,
'against all the banded bestialities of all dunces and all dastards, all
blackguardly blockheads and all blockheaded blackguards.'

I am sorry to be unable to allow myself to be wound up in Mr. Swinburne's
bucket to the height of his argument.  There are two kinds of quarrels,
the noble and the ignoble.  When John Milton, weary and depressed for a
moment in the battle he was fighting in the cause of an enlightened
liberty and an instructed freedom, exclaims, with the sad prophet Jeremy,
'Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me, a man of strife and
contention,' we feel the sublimity of the quotation, which would not be
quite the case were the words uttered by an Irishman returning home with
a broken head from Donnybrook Fair.  The _Dunciad_ was quite uncalled-
for.  Even supposing that we admit that Pope was not the aggressor:

      'The noblest answer unto such
   Is kindly silence when they brawl.'

But it is, to say the least of it, doubtful whether Pope did not begin
brawling first.  Swift, whose misanthropy was genuine, and who begged
Pope whenever he thought of the world to give it another lash on his (the
Dean's) account, saw clearly the danger of Pope's method, and wrote to
him: 'Take care the bad poets do not out-wit you as they have done the
good ones in every age; whom they have provoked to transmit their names
to posterity.  Maevius is as well known as Virgil, and Gildon will be as
well known as you if his name gets into your verses; and as for the
difference between good and bad fame, it is a mere trifle.'  The advice
was far too good to be taken.  But what has happened?  The petty would-be
Popes, but for the real Pope, would have been entirely forgotten.  As it
is, only their names survive in the index to the _Dunciad_; their
indecencies and dastardly blockheadisms are as dead as Queen Anne; and if
the historian or the moralist seeks an illustration of the coarseness and
brutality of their style, he finds it only too easily, not in the works
of the dead dunces, but in the pages of their persecutor.  Pope had none
of the grave purpose which makes us, at all events, partially sympathize
with Ben Jonson in his quarrels with the poetasters of his day.  It is a
mere toss-up whose name you may find in the _Dunciad_--a miserable
scribbler's or a resplendent scholar's; a tasteless critic's or an
immortal wit's.  A satirist who places Richard Bentley and Daniel Defoe
amongst the Dunces must be content to abate his pretensions to be
regarded as a social purge.

Men and women, we can well believe, went in terror of little Mr. Pope.
Well they might, for he made small concealment of their names, and even
such as had the luck to escape obvious recognition have been hoisted into
infamy by the untiring labours of subsequent commentators.  It may,
perhaps, be still open to doubt who was the Florid Youth referred to in
the Epilogue to the _Satires_:

   'And how did, pray, the Florid Youth offend
   Whose speech you took and gave it to a friend?'

Bowles said it was Lord Hervey, and that the adjective is due to his
lordship's well-known practice of painting himself; but Mr. Croker, who
knew everything, and was in the habit of contradicting the Duke of
Wellington about the battle of Waterloo, says, 'Certainly not.  The
Florid Youth was young Henry Fox.'

Sometimes, indeed, in our hours of languor and dejection, when

      'The heart is sick,
   And all the wheels of being slow,'

the question forces itself upon us, What can it matter who the Florid
Youth was, and who cares how he offended?  But this questioning spirit
must be checked.  'The proper study of mankind is man,' and that title
cannot be denied even to a florid youth.  Still, as I was saying, people
did not like it at the time, and the then Duke of Argyll said, in his
place in the House of Lords, that if anybody so much as named him in an
invective, he would first run him through the body, and then throw
himself--not out of the window, as one was charitably hoping--but on a
much softer place--the consideration of their Lordship's House.  Some
persons of quality, of less truculent aspect than McCallum More, thought
to enlist the poet's services, and the Duchess of Buckingham got him to
write an epitaph on her deceased son--a feeble lad--to which transaction
the poet is thought to allude in the pleasing lines,

   'But random praise--the task can ne'er be done,
   Each mother asks it for her booby son.'

Mr. Alderman Barber asked it for himself, and was willing--so at least it
was reported--to pay for it at the handsome figure of 4,000 pounds for a
single couplet.  Pope, however, who was not mercenary, declined to
gratify the alderman, who by his will left the poet a legacy of 100
pounds, possibly hoping by this benefaction, if he could not be praised
in his lifetime, at all events to escape posthumous abuse.  If this were
his wish it was gratified, and the alderman sleeps unsung.

Pope greatly enjoyed the fear he excited.  With something of exultation
he sings:--

   'Yes, I am proud: I must be proud to see
   Men, not afraid of God, afraid of me;
   Safe from the bar, the pulpit, and the throne,
   Yet touched and shamed by ridicule alone.
   O sacred weapon! left for Truth's defence,
   Sole dread of folly, vice, and insolence!
   To all but heaven-directed hands denied,
   The Muse may give thee, but the gods must guide:
   Reverent I touch thee, but with honest zeal,
   To rouse the watchmen of the public weal,
   To Virtue's work provoke the tardy Hall
   And goad the prelate slumb'ring in his stall.
   Ye tinsel insects! whom a court maintains,
   That counts your beauties only by your stains,
   Spin all your cobwebs o'er the eye of day,
   The Muse's wing shall brush you all away.
   All his grace preaches, all his lordship sings,
   All that makes saints of queens, and gods of kings,--
   All, all but truth drops dead-born from the press,
   Like the last gazette, or the last address.'

The poet himself was very far from being invulnerable, and he writhed at
every sarcasm.  There was one of his contemporaries of whom he stood in
mortal dread, but whose name he was too frightened even to mention.  It
is easy to guess who this was.  It was Hogarth, who in one of his
caricatures had depicted Pope as a hunchback, whitewashing Burlington
House.  Pope deemed this the most grievous insult of his life, but he
said nothing about it; the spiteful pencil proving more than master of
the poisoned pen.

Pope died on May 30th, 1744, bravely and cheerfully enough.  His doctor
was offering him one day the usual encouragements, telling him his breath
was easier, and so on, when a friend entered, to whom the poet exclaimed,
'Here I am, dying of a hundred good symptoms.'  In Spence's _Anecdotes_
there is another story, pitched in a higher key: 'Shortly before his
death, he said to me, "What's that?" pointing into the air with a very
steady regard, and then looked down on me and said, with a smile of great
pleasure, and with the greatest softness, "'Twas a vision."'  It may have
been so.  At the very last he consented to allow a priest to be sent for,
who attended and administered to the dying man the last sacraments of the
Church.  The spirit in which he received them cannot be pronounced
religious.  As Cardinal Newman has observed, Pope was an unsatisfactory

Pope died in his enemies' day.

Dr. Arbuthnot, who was acknowledged by all his friends to have been the
best man who ever lived, be the second-best who he might, had predeceased
the poet; and it should be remembered, before we take upon ourselves the
task of judging a man we never saw, that Dr. Arbuthnot, who was as shrewd
as he was good, had for Pope that warm personal affection we too rarely
notice nowadays between men of mature years.  Swift said of Arbuthnot:
'Oh! if the world had but a dozen Arbuthnots in it I would burn my
_Travels_.'  This may be doubted without damage to the friendly
testimony.  The terrible Dean himself, whose azure eyes saw through most
pretences, loved Pope; but Swift was now worse than dead--he was mad,
dying a-top, like the shivered tree he once gazed upon with horror and
gloomy forebodings of impending doom.

Many men must have been glad when they read in their scanty journals that
Mr. Pope lay dead at his villa in Twickenham.  They breathed the easier
for the news.  Personal satire may be a legitimate, but it is an ugly
weapon.  The Muse often gives what the gods do not guide; and though we
may be willing that our faults should be scourged, we naturally like to
be sure that we owe our sore backs to the blackness of our guilt, and not
merely to the fact that we have the proper number of syllables to our
names, or because we occasionally dine with an enemy of our scourger.

But living as we do at a convenient distance from Mr. Pope, we may safely
wish his days had been prolonged, not necessarily to those of his mother,
but to the Psalmist's span, so that he might have witnessed the dawn of a
brighter day.  1744 was the nadir of the eighteenth century.  With
Macbeth the dying Pope might have exclaimed,--

      'Renown and grace is dead;
   The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
   Is left in the vault to brag of.'

The feats of arms that have made the first Ministry of the elder Pitt for
ever glorious would have appealed to Pope's better nature, and made him
forget the scandals of the court and the follies of the town.  Who knows
but they might have stirred him, for he was not wholly without the true
poet's prophetic gift, which dreams of things to come, to foretell, in
that animated and animating style of his, which has no rival save
glorious John Dryden's, the expansion of England, and how, in far-off
summers he should never see, English maidens, living under the Southern
Cross, should solace their fluttering hearts before laying themselves
down to sleep with some favourite bit from his own _Eloisa to Abelard_?
Whether, in fact, maidens in those latitudes do read _Eloisa_ before
blowing out their candles I cannot say; but Pope, I warrant, would have
thought they would.  And they might do worse--and better.

Both as a poet and a man Pope had many negations.

   'Of love, that sways the sun and all the stars,'

he knew absolutely nothing.  Even of the lesser light,

      'The eternal moon of love,
   Under whose motions life's dull billows move,'

he knew but little.

His _Eloisa_, splendid as is its diction, and vigorous though be the
portrayal of the miserable creature to whom the poem relates, most
certainly lacks 'a gracious somewhat,' whilst no less certainly is it
marred by a most unfeeling coarseness.  A poem about love it may be--a
love-poem it is not.  Of the 'wild benefit of nature,'--

   'The silence that is in the starry sky,
   The sleep that is among the lonely hills,'

Pope had small notion, though there is just a whiff of Wordsworth in an
observation he once hazarded, that a tree is a more poetical object than
a prince in his coronation robes.  His taste in landscape gardening was
honoured with the approbation of Horace Walpole, and he spent 1,000
pounds upon a grotto, which incurred the ridicule of Johnson.  Of that
indescribable something, that 'greatness' which causes Dryden to uplift a
lofty head from the deep pit of his corruption, neither Pope's character
nor his style bears any trace.  But still, both as a poet and a man we
must give place, and even high place, to Pope.  About the poetry there
can be no question.  A man with his wit, and faculty of expression, and
infinite painstaking, is not to be evicted from his ancient homestead in
the affections and memories of his people by a rabble of critics, or even
a _posse_ of poets.  As for the man, he was ever eager and interested in
life.  Beneath all his faults--for which he had more excuse than a whole
congregation of the righteous need ever hope to muster for their own
shortcomings--we recognise humanity, and we forgive much to humanity,
knowing how much need there is for humanity to forgive us.  Indifference,
known by its hard heart and its callous temper, is the only unpardonable
sin.  Pope never committed it.  He had much to put up with.  We have much
to put up with--in him.  He has given enormous pleasure to generations of
men, and will continue so to do.  We can never give him any pleasure.  The
least we can do is to smile pleasantly as we replace him upon his shelf,
and say, as we truthfully may, 'There was a great deal of human nature in
Alexander Pope.'


If we should ever take occasion to say of Dr. Johnson's Preface to
Shakspeare what he himself said of a similar production of the poet Rowe,
'that it does not discover much profundity or penetration,' we ought in
common fairness always to add that nobody else has ever written about
Shakspeare one-half so entertainingly.  If this statement be questioned,
let the doubter, before reviling me, re-read the preface, and if, after
he has done so, he still demurs, we shall be content to withdraw the
observation, which, indeed, has only been made for the purpose of
introducing a quotation from the Preface itself.

In that document, Dr. Johnson, with his unrivalled stateliness, writes as
follows:--'The poet of whose works I have undertaken the revision may now
begin to assume the dignity of an ancient, and claim the privilege of
established fame and prescriptive veneration.  He has long outlived his
century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary merit.'

The whirligig of time has brought in his revenges.  The Doctor himself
has been dead his century.  He died on the 13th of December, 1784.  Come,
let us criticise him.

Our qualifications for this high office need not be investigated

'Criticism,' writes Johnson in the 60th _Idler_, 'is a study by which men
grow important and formidable at a very small expense.  The power of
invention has been conferred by nature upon few, and the labour of
learning those sciences which may by mere labour be obtained, is too
great to be willingly endured; but every man can exert such judgment as
he has upon the works of others; and he whom nature has made weak, and
idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a

To proceed with our task by the method of comparison is to pursue a
course open to grave objection, yet it is forced upon us when we find, as
we lately did, a writer in the _Times_ newspaper, in the course of a not
very discriminating review of Mr. Froude's recent volumes, casually
remarking, as if it admitted of no more doubt than the day's price of
consols, that Carlyle was a greater man than Johnson.  It is a good thing
to be positive.  To be positive in your opinions and selfish in your
habits is the best recipe, if not for happiness, at all events for that
far more attainable commodity, comfort, with which we are acquainted.  'A
noisy man,' sang poor Cowper, who could not bear anything louder than the
hissing of a tea-urn, 'a noisy man is always in the right,' and a
positive man can seldom be proved wrong.  Still, in literature it is very
desirable to preserve a moderate measure of independence, and we,
therefore, make bold to ask whether it is as plain as the 'old hill of
Howth,' that Carlyle was a greater man than Johnson?  Is not the precise
contrary the truth?  No abuse of Carlyle need be looked for here or from
me.  When a man of genius and of letters happens to have any striking
virtues, such as purity, temperance, honesty, the novel task of dwelling
on them has such attraction for us, that we are content to leave the
elucidation of his faults to his personal friends, and to stern,
unbending moralists like Mr. Edmund Yates and the _World_ newspaper.
{101}  To love Carlyle is, thanks to Mr. Froude's super-human ideal of
friendship, a task of much heroism, almost meriting a pension; still, it
is quite possible for the candid and truth-loving soul.  But a greater
than Johnson he most certainly was not.

There is a story in Lockhart's _Life of Scott_ of an ancient
beggar-woman, who, whilst asking an alms of Sir Walter, described
herself, in a lucky moment for her pocket, as 'an old struggler.'  Scott
made a note of the phrase in his diary, and thought it deserved to become
classical.  It certainly clings most tenaciously to the memory--so
picturesquely does it body forth the striving attitude of poor battered
humanity.  Johnson was 'an old struggler.' {102}  So too, in all
conscience, was Carlyle.  The struggles of Johnson have long been
historical; those of Carlyle have just become so.  We are interested in
both.  To be indifferent would be inhuman.  Both men had great
endowments, tempestuous natures, hard lots.  They were not amongst Dame
Fortune's favourites.  They had to fight their way.  What they took they
took by storm.  But--and here is a difference indeed--Johnson came off
victorious, Carlyle did not.

Boswell's book is an arch of triumph, through which, as we read, we see
his hero passing into eternal fame, to take up his place with those--

   'Dead but sceptred sovereigns who still rule
      Our spirits from their urns.'

Froude's book is a tomb over which the lovers of Carlyle's genius will
never cease to shed tender but regretful tears.

We doubt whether there is in English literature a more triumphant book
than Boswell's.  What materials for tragedy are wanting?  Johnson was a
man of strong passions, unbending spirit, violent temper, as poor as a
church-mouse, and as proud as the proudest of church dignitaries; endowed
with the strength of a coal-heaver, the courage of a lion, and the tongue
of Dean Swift, he could knock down booksellers and silence bargees; he
was melancholy almost to madness, 'radically wretched,' indolent,
blinded, diseased.  Poverty was long his portion; not that genteel
poverty that is sometimes behindhand with its rent, but that hungry
poverty that does not know where to look for its dinner.  Against all
these things had this 'old struggler' to contend; over all these things
did this 'old struggler' prevail.  Over even the fear of death, the
giving up of this 'intellectual being,' which had haunted his gloomy
fancy for a lifetime, he seems finally to have prevailed, and to have met
his end as a brave man should.

Carlyle, writing to his wife, says, and truthfully enough, 'The more the
devil worries me the more I wring him by the nose;' but then if the
devil's was the only nose that was wrung in the transaction, why need
Carlyle cry out so loud?  After buffeting one's way through the storm-
tossed pages of Froude's _Carlyle_--in which the universe is stretched
upon the rack because food disagrees with man and cocks crow--with what
thankfulness and reverence do we read once again the letter in which
Johnson tells Mrs. Thrale how he has been called to endure, not dyspepsia
or sleeplessness, but paralysis itself:

   'On Monday I sat for my picture, and walked a considerable way with
   little inconvenience.  In the afternoon and evening I felt myself
   light and easy, and began to plan schemes of life.  Thus I went to
   bed, and, in a short time, waked and sat up, as has long been my
   custom; when I felt a confusion in my head which lasted, I suppose,
   about half a minute; I was alarmed, and prayed God that however much
   He might afflict my body He would spare my understanding. . . .  Soon
   after I perceived that I had suffered a paralytic stroke, and that my
   speech was taken from me.  I had no pain, and so little dejection, in
   this dreadful state, that I wondered at my own apathy, and considered
   that perhaps death itself, when it should come, would excite less
   horror than seems now to attend it.  In order to rouse the vocal
   organs I took two drams. . . .  I then went to bed, and, strange as it
   may seem, I think, slept.  When I saw light it was time I should
   contrive what I should do.  Though God stopped my speech He left me my
   hand.  I enjoyed a mercy which was not granted to my dear friend
   Lawrence, who now perhaps overlooks me, as I am writing, and rejoices
   that I have what he wanted.  My first note was necessarily to my
   servant, who came in talking, and could not immediately comprehend why
   he should read what I put into his hands. . . .  How this will be
   received by you I know not.  I hope you will sympathize with me; but

   '"My mistress, gracious, mild, and good,
   Cries--Is he dumb?  'Tis time he shou'd."

   'I suppose you may wish to know how my disease is treated by the
   physicians.  They put a blister upon my back, and two from my ear to
   my throat, one on a side.  The blister on the back has done little,
   and those on the throat have not risen.  I bullied and bounced (it
   sticks to our last sand), and compelled the apothecary to make his
   salve according to the Edinburgh dispensatory, that it might adhere
   better.  I have now two on my own prescription.  They likewise give me
   salt of hartshorn, which I take with no great confidence; but I am
   satisfied that what can be done is done for me.  I am almost ashamed
   of this querulous letter, but now it is written let it go.'

This is indeed tonic and bark for the mind.

If, irritated by a comparison that ought never to have been thrust upon
us, we ask why it is that the reader of Boswell finds it as hard to help
loving Johnson as the reader of Froude finds its hard to avoid disliking
Carlyle, the answer must be that whilst the elder man of letters was full
to overflowing with the milk of human kindness, the younger one was full
to overflowing with something not nearly so nice; and that whilst Johnson
was pre-eminently a reasonable man, reasonable in all his demands and
expectations, Carlyle was the most unreasonable mortal that ever
exhausted the patience of nurse, mother, or wife.

Of Dr. Johnson's affectionate nature nobody has written with nobler
appreciation than Carlyle himself.  'Perhaps it is this Divine feeling of
affection, throughout manifested, that principally attracts us to
Johnson.  A true brother of men is he, and filial lover of the earth.'

The day will come when it will be recognised that Carlyle, as a critic,
is to be judged by what he himself corrected for the press, and not by
splenetic entries in diaries, or whimsical extravagances in private

Of Johnson's reasonableness nothing need be said, except that it is
patent everywhere.  His wife's judgment was a sound one: 'He is the most
sensible man I ever met.'

As for his brutality, of which at one time we used to hear a great deal,
we cannot say of it what Hookham Frere said of Landor's immorality, that
it was:

   'Mere imaginary classicality
   Wholly devoid of criminal reality.'

It was nothing of the sort.  Dialectically the great Doctor was a great
brute.  The fact is, he had so accustomed himself to wordy warfare, that
he lost all sense of moral responsibility, and cared as little for men's
feelings as a Napoleon did for their lives.  When the battle was over,
the Doctor frequently did what no soldier ever did that I have heard tell
of, apologized to his victims and drank wine or lemonade with them.  It
must also be remembered that for the most part his victims sought him
out.  They came to be tossed and gored.  And after all, are they so much
to be pitied?  They have our sympathy, and the Doctor has our applause.  I
am not prepared to say, with the simpering fellow with weak legs whom
David Copperfield met at Mr. Waterbrook's dinner-table, that I would
sooner be knocked down by a man with blood than picked up by a man
without any; but, argumentatively speaking, I think it would be better
for a man's reputation to be knocked down by Dr. Johnson than picked up
by Mr. Froude.

Johnson's claim to be the best of our talkers cannot, on our present
materials, be contested.  For the most part we have only talk about other
talkers.  Johnson's is matter of record.  Carlyle no doubt was a great
talker--no man talked against talk or broke silence to praise it more
eloquently than he, but unfortunately none of it is in evidence.  All
that is given us is a sort of Commination Service writ large.  We soon
weary of it.  Man does not live by curses alone.

An unhappier prediction of a boy's future was surely never made than that
of Johnson's by his cousin, Mr. Cornelius Ford, who said to the infant
Samuel, 'You will make your way the more easily in the world as you are
content to dispute no man's claim to conversation excellence, and they
will, therefore, more willingly allow your pretensions as a writer.'
Unfortunate Mr. Ford!  The man never breathed whose claim to conversation
excellence Dr. Johnson did not dispute on every possible occasion,
whilst, just because he was admittedly so good a talker, his pretensions
as a writer have been occasionally slighted.

Johnson's personal character has generally been allowed to stand high.
It, however, has not been submitted to recent tests.  To be the first to
'smell a fault' is the pride of the modern biographer.  Boswell's artless
pages afford useful hints not lightly to be disregarded.  During some
portion of Johnson's married life he had lodgings, first at Greenwich,
afterwards at Hampstead.  But he did not always go home o' nights;
sometimes preferring to roam the streets with that vulgar ruffian Savage,
who was certainly no fit company for him.  He once actually quarrelled
with 'Tetty,' who, despite her ridiculous name, was a very sensible woman
with a very sharp tongue, and for a season, like stars, they dwelt apart.
Of the real merits of this dispute we must resign ourselves to ignorance.
The materials for its discussion do not exist; even Croker could not find
them.  Neither was our great moralist as sound as one would have liked to
see him in the matter of the payment of small debts.  When he came to
die, he remembered several of these outstanding accounts; but what
assurance have we that he remembered them all?  One sum of 10 pounds he
sent across to the honest fellow from whom he had borrowed it, with an
apology for his delay; which, since it had extended over a period of
twenty years, was not superfluous.  I wonder whether he ever repaid Mr.
Dilly the guinea he once borrowed of him to give to a very small boy who
had just been apprenticed to a printer.  If he did not, it was a great
shame.  That he was indebted to Sir Joshua in a small loan is apparent
from the fact that it was one of his three dying requests to that great
man that he should release him from it, as, of course, the most amiable
of painters did.  The other two requests, it will be remembered, were to
read his Bible, and not to use his brush on Sundays.  The good Sir Joshua
gave the desired promises with a full heart, for these two great men
loved one another; but subsequently discovered the Sabbatical restriction
not a little irksome, and after a while resumed his former practice,
arguing with himself that the Doctor really had no business to extract
any such promise.  The point is a nice one, and perhaps ere this the two
friends have met and discussed it in the Elysian fields.  If so, I hope
the Doctor, grown 'angelical,' kept his temper with the mild shade of
Reynolds better than on the historical occasion when he discussed with
him the question of 'strong drinks.'

Against Garrick, Johnson undoubtedly cherished a smouldering grudge,
which, however, he never allowed anyone but himself to fan into flame.
His pique was natural.  Garrick had been his pupil at Edial, near
Lichfield; they had come up to town together with an easy united fortune
of fourpence--'current coin o' the realm.'  Garrick soon had the world at
his feet and garnered golden grain.  Johnson became famous too, but
remained poor and dingy.  Garrick surrounded himself with what only money
can buy, good pictures and rare books.  Johnson cared nothing for
pictures--how should he? he could not see them; but he did care a great
deal about books, and the pernickety little player was chary about
lending his splendidly bound rarities to his quondam preceptor.  Our
sympathies in this matter are entirely with Garrick; Johnson was one of
the best men that ever lived, but not to lend books to.  Like Lady
Slattern, he had a 'most observant thumb.'  But Garrick had no real cause
for complaint.  Johnson may have soiled his folios and sneered at his
trade, but in life Johnson loved Garrick, and in death embalmed his
memory in a sentence which can only die with the English language: 'I am
disappointed by that stroke of death which has eclipsed the gaiety of
nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.'

Will it be believed that puny critics have been found to quarrel with
this colossal compliment on the poor pretext of its falsehood?  Garrick's
death, urge these dullards, could not possibly have eclipsed the gaiety
of nations, since he had retired from the stage months previous to his
demise.  When will mankind learn that literature is one thing, and sworn
testimony another?

Johnson's relations with Burke were of a more crucial character.  The
author of _Rasselas_ and _The English Dictionary_ can never have been
really jealous of Garrick, or in the very least desirous of 'bringing
down the house;' but Burke had done nobler things than that.  He had made
politics philosophical, and had at least tried to cleanse them from the
dust and cobwebs of party.  Johnson, though he had never sat in the House
of Commons, had yet, in his capacity of an unauthorized reporter, put
into the mouths of honourable members much better speeches than ever came
out of them, and it is no secret that he would have liked to make a
speech or two on his own account.  Burke had made many.  Harder still to
bear, there were not wanting good judges to say that, in their opinion,
Burke was a better talker than the great Samuel himself.  To cap it all,
was not Burke a 'vile Whig'?  The ordeal was an unusually trying one.
Johnson emerges triumphant.

Though by no means disposed to hear men made much of, he always listened
to praise of Burke with a boyish delight.  He never wearied of it.  When
any new proof of Burke's intellectual prowess was brought to his notice,
he would exclaim exultingly, 'Did we not always say he was a great man?'
And yet how admirably did this 'poor scholar' preserve his independence
and equanimity of mind!  It was not easy to dazzle the Doctor.  What a
satisfactory story that is of Burke showing Johnson over his fine estate
at Beaconsfield, and expatiating in his exuberant style on its
'liberties, privileges, easements, rights, and advantages,' and of the
old Doctor, the tenant of 'a two-pair back' somewhere off Fleet Street,
peering cautiously about, criticising everything, and observing with much

   'Non equidem invideo, miror magis.'

A friendship like this could be disturbed but by death, and accordingly
we read:

   'Mr. Langton one day during Johnson's last illness found Mr. Burke and
   four or five more friends sitting with Johnson.  Mr. Burke said to
   him, "I am afraid, sir, such a number of us may be oppressive to you."
   "No, sir," said Johnson, "it is not so; and I must be in a wretched
   state indeed when your company would not be a delight to me."  Mr.
   Burke, in a tremulous voice, expressive of being very tenderly
   affected, replied: "My dear sir, you have always been too good to me."
   Immediately afterwards he went away.  This was the last circumstance
   in the acquaintance of these two eminent men.'

But this is a well-worn theme, though, like some other well-worn themes,
still profitable for edification or rebuke.  A hundred years can make no
difference to a character like Johnson's, or to a biography like
Boswell's.  We are not to be robbed of our conviction that this man, at
all events, was both great and good.

Johnson the author is not always fairly treated.  Phrases are convenient
things to hand about, and it is as little the custom to inquire into
their truth as it is to read the letterpress on banknotes.  We are
content to count banknotes, and to repeat phrases.  One of these phrases
is, that whilst everybody reads Boswell, nobody reads Johnson.  The facts
are otherwise.  Everybody does not read Boswell, and a great many people
do read Johnson.  If it be asked, What do the general public know of
Johnson's nine volumes octavo?  I reply, Beshrew the general public!  What
in the name of the Bodleian has the general public got to do with
literature?  The general public subscribes to Mudie, and has its
intellectual, like its lacteal sustenance, sent round to it in carts.  On
Saturdays these carts, laden with 'recent works in circulation,' traverse
the Uxbridge Road; on Wednesdays they toil up Highgate Hill, and if we
may believe the reports of travellers, are occasionally seen rushing
through the wilds of Camberwell and bumping over Blackheath.  It is not a
question of the general public, but of the lover of letters.  Do Mr.
Browning, Mr. Arnold, Mr. Lowell, Mr. Trevelyan, Mr. Stephen, Mr. Morley,
know their Johnson?  'To doubt would be disloyalty.'  And what these big
men know in their big way hundreds of little men know in their little
way.  We have no writer with a more genuine literary flavour about him
than the great Cham of literature.  No man of letters loved letters
better than he.  He knew literature in all its branches--he had read
books, he had written books, he had sold books, he had bought books, and
he had borrowed them.  Sluggish and inert in all other directions, he
pranced through libraries.  He loved a catalogue; he delighted in an
index.  He was, to employ a happy phrase of Dr. Holmes, at home amongst
books, as a stable-boy is amongst horses.  He cared intensely about the
future of literature and the fate of literary men.  'I respect Millar,'
he once exclaimed; 'he has raised the price of literature.'  Now Millar
was a Scotchman.  Even Horne Tooke was not to stand in the pillory: 'No,
no, the dog has too much literature for that.'  The only time the author
of _Rasselas_ met the author of the _Wealth of Nations_ witnessed a
painful scene.  The English moralist gave the Scotch one the lie direct,
and the Scotch moralist applied to the English one a phrase which would
have done discredit to the lips of a costermonger; {117} but this
notwithstanding, when Boswell reported that Adam Smith preferred rhyme to
blank verse, Johnson hailed the news as enthusiastically as did Cedric
the Saxon the English origin of the bravest knights in the retinue of the
Norman king.  'Did Adam say that?' he shouted: 'I love him for it.  I
could hug him!'  Johnson no doubt honestly believed he held George III.
in reverence, but really he did not care a pin's fee for all the crowned
heads of Europe.  All his reverence was reserved for 'poor scholars.'
When a small boy in a wherry, on whom had devolved the arduous task of
rowing Johnson and his biographer across the Thames, said he would give
all he had to know about the Argonauts, the Doctor was much pleased, and
gave him, or got Boswell to give him, a double fare.  He was ever an
advocate of the spread of knowledge amongst all classes and both sexes.
His devotion to letters has received its fitting reward, the love and
respect of all 'lettered hearts.'

Considering him a little more in detail, we find it plain that he was a
poet of no mean order.  His resonant lines, informed as they often are
with the force of their author's character--his strong sense, his
fortitude, his gloom--take possession of the memory, and suffuse
themselves through one's entire system of thought.  A poet spouting his
own verses is usually a figure to be avoided; but one could be content to
be a hundred and thirty next birthday to have heard Johnson recite, in
his full sonorous voice, and with his stately elocution, _The Vanity of
Human Wishes_.  When he came to the following lines, he usually broke
down, and who can wonder?--

         'Proceed, illustrious youth,
   And virtue guard thee to the throne of truth!
   Yet should thy soul indulge the gen'rous heat
   Till captive science yields her last retreat;
   Should reason guide thee with her brightest ray,
   And pour on misty doubt resistless day;
   Should no false kindness lure to loose delight,
   Nor praise relax, nor difficulty fright;
   Should tempting novelty thy cell refrain,
   And sloth effuse her opiate fumes in vain;
   Should beauty blunt on fops her fatal dart,
   Nor claim the triumph of a lettered heart;
   Should no disease thy torpid veins invade,
   Nor melancholy's phantoms haunt thy shade;
   Yet hope not life from grief or danger free,
   Nor think the doom of man revers'd for thee.
   Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes,
   And pause a while from letters to be wise;
   There mark what ills the scholar's life assail,
   Toil, envy, want, the patron and the gaol.
   See nations, slowly wise and meanly just,
   To buried merit raise the tardy bust.
   If dreams yet flatter, once again attend,
   Hear Lydiat's life, and Galileo's end.'

If this be not poetry, may the name perish!

In another style, the stanzas on the young heir's majority have such
great merit as to tempt one to say that the author of _The Jolly
Beggars_, Robert Burns himself, might have written them.  Here are four
of them:

   'Loosen'd from the minor's tether,
      Free to mortgage or to sell;
   Wild as wind and light as feather,
      Bid the sons of thrift farewell.

   'Call the Betseys, Kates, and Jennies,
      All the names that banish care,
   Lavish of your grandsire's guineas,
      Show the spirit of an heir.

   'Wealth, my lad, was made to wander,
      Let it wander as it will;
   Call the jockey, call the pander,
      Bid them come and take their fill.

   'When the bonny blade carouses,
      Pockets full and spirits high--
   What are acres? what are houses?
      Only dirt--or wet or dry.'

Johnson's prologues, and his lines on the death of Robert Levet, are well
known.  Indeed, it is only fair to say that our respected friend, the
General Public, frequently has Johnsonian tags on its tongue:

   'Slow rises worth by poverty depressed.'

   'The unconquered lord of pleasure and of pain.'

   'He left the name at which the world grew pale
   To point a moral or adorn a tale.'

   'Death, kind nature's signal of retreat.'

   'Panting Time toiled after him in vain.'

All these are Johnson's, who, though he is not, like Gray, whom he hated
so, all quotations, is yet oftener in men's mouths than they perhaps wot

Johnson's tragedy, _Irene_, need not detain us.  It is unreadable, and to
quote his own sensible words, 'It is useless to criticise what nobody
reads.'  It was indeed the expressed opinion of a contemporary called Pot
that _Irene_ was the finest tragedy of modern times; but on this judgment
of Pot's being made known to Johnson, he was only heard to mutter, 'If
Pot says so, Pot lies,' as no doubt he did.

Johnson's Latin Verses have not escaped the condemnation of scholars.
Whose have?  The true mode of critical approach to copies of Latin verse
is by the question--How bad are they?  Croker took the opinion of the
Marquess Wellesley as to the degree of badness of Johnson's Latin
Exercises.  Lord Wellesley, as became so distinguished an Etonian, felt
the solemnity of the occasion, and, after bargaining for secrecy, gave it
as his opinion that they were all very bad, but that some perhaps were
worse than others.  To this judgment I have nothing to add.

As a writer of English prose, Johnson has always enjoyed a great, albeit
a somewhat awful reputation.  In childish memories he is constrained to
be associated with dust and dictionaries, and those provoking obstacles
to a boy's reading--'long words.'  It would be easy to select from
Johnson's writings numerous passages written in that essentially vicious
style to which the name Johnsonese has been cruelly given; but the
searcher could not fail to find many passages guiltless of this charge.
The characteristics of Johnson's prose style are colossal good sense,
though with a strong sceptical bias, good humour, vigorous language, and
movement from point to point, which can only be compared to the measured
tread of a well-drilled company of soldiers.  Here is a passage from the
preface to Shakspeare:

   'Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils.  Let him
   that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakspeare, and who
   desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read
   every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of
   all his commentators.  When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not
   stoop at correction or explanation.  When his attention is strongly
   engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald
   and of Pope.  Let him read on, through brightness and obscurity,
   through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension
   of the dialogue and his interest in the fable.  And when the pleasures
   of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness and read the

Where are we to find better sense, or much better English?

In the pleasant art of chaffing an author Johnson has hardly an equal.  De
Quincey too often overdoes it.  Macaulay seldom fails to excite sympathy
with his victim.  In playfulness Mr. Arnold perhaps surpasses the Doctor,
but then the latter's playfulness is always leonine, whilst Mr. Arnold's
is surely, sometimes, just a trifle kittenish.  An example, no doubt a
very good one, of Johnson's humour must be allowed me.  Soame Jenyns, in
his book on the _Origin of Evil_, had imagined that, as we have not only
animals for food, but choose some for our diversion, the same privilege
may be allowed to beings above us, 'who may deceive, torment, or destroy
us for the ends only of their own pleasure.'

On this hint writes our merry Doctor as follows:

   'I cannot resist the temptation of contemplating this analogy, which I
   think he might have carried farther, very much to the advantage of his
   argument.  He might have shown that these "hunters, whose game is
   man," have many sports analogous to our own.  As we drown whelps or
   kittens, they amuse themselves now and then with sinking a ship, and
   stand round the fields of Blenheim, or the walls of Prague, as we
   encircle a cockpit.  As we shoot a bird flying, they take a man in the
   midst of his business or pleasure, and knock him down with an
   apoplexy.  Some of them perhaps are virtuosi, and delight in the
   operations of an asthma, as a human philosopher in the effects of the
   air-pump.  Many a merry bout have these frolick beings at the
   vicissitudes of an ague, and good sport it is to see a man tumble with
   an epilepsy, and revive and tumble again, and all this he knows not
   why.  The paroxysms of the gout and stone must undoubtedly make high
   mirth, especially if the play be a little diversified with the
   blunders and puzzles of the blind and deaf. . . .  One sport the merry
   malice of these beings has found means of enjoying, to which we have
   nothing equal or similar.  They now and then catch a mortal, proud of
   his parts, and flattered either by the submission of those who court
   his kindness, or the notice of those who suffer him to court theirs.  A
   head thus prepared for the reception of false opinions, and the
   projection of vain designs, they easily fill with idle notions till,
   in time, they make their plaything an author; their first diversion
   commonly begins with an ode or an epistle, then rises perhaps to a
   political irony, and is at last brought to its height by a treatise of
   philosophy.  Then begins the poor animal to entangle himself in
   sophisms and to flounder in absurdity.'

The author of the philosophical treatise, _A Free Inquiry into the Nature
and Origin of Evil_, did not at all enjoy this 'merry bout' of the
'frolick' Johnson.

The concluding paragraphs of Johnson's Preface to his Dictionary are
historical prose, and if we are anxious to find passages fit to compare
with them in the melancholy roll of their cadences and in their grave
sincerity and manly emotion, we must, I think, take a flying jump from
Dr. Johnson to Dr. Newman.

For sensible men the world offers no better reading than the _Lives of
the Poets_.  They afford an admirable example of the manner of man
Johnson was.  The subject was suggested to him by the booksellers, whom
as a body he never abused.  Himself the son of a bookseller, he respected
their calling.  If they treated him with civility, he responded suitably.
If they were rude to him he knocked them down.  These worthies chose
their own poets.  Johnson remained indifferent.  He knew everybody's
poetry, and was always ready to write anybody's Life.  If he knew the
facts of a poet's life--and his knowledge was enormous on such
subjects--he found room for them; if he did not, he supplied their place
with his own shrewd reflections and sombre philosophy of life.  It thus
comes about that Johnson is every bit as interesting when he is writing
about Sprat, or Smith, or Fenton, as he is when he has got Milton or Gray
in hand.  He is also much less provoking.  My own favourite _Life_ is
that of Sir Richard Blackmore.

The poorer the poet the kindlier is the treatment he receives.  Johnson
kept all his rough words for Shakspeare, Milton, and Gray.

In this trait, surely an amiable one, he was much resembled by that
eminent man the late Sir George Jessel, whose civility to a barrister was
always in inverse ratio to the barrister's practice; and whose friendly
zeal in helping young and nervous practitioners over the stiles of legal
difficulty was only equalled by the fiery enthusiasm with which he thrust
back the Attorney and Solicitor General and people of that sort.

As a political thinker Johnson has not had justice.  He has been lightly
dismissed as the last of the old-world Tories.  He was nothing of the
sort.  His cast of political thought is shared by thousands to this day.
He represents that vast army of electors whom neither canvasser nor
caucus has ever yet cajoled or bullied into a polling-booth.  Newspapers
may scold, platforms may shake; whatever circulars can do may be done,
all that placards can tell may be told; but the fact remains that one-
third of every constituency in the realm shares Dr. Johnson's 'narcotic
indifference,' and stays away.

It is, of course, impossible to reconcile all Johnson's recorded
utterances with any one view of anything.  When crossed in conversation
or goaded by folly he was capable of anything.  But his dominant tone
about politics was something of this sort.  Provided a man lived in a
State which guaranteed him private liberty and secured him public order,
he was very much of a knave or altogether a fool if he troubled himself
further.  To go to bed when you wish, to get up when you like, to eat and
drink and read what you choose, to say across your port or your tea
whatever occurs to you at the moment, and to earn your living as best you
may--this is what Dr. Johnson meant by private liberty.  Fleet Street
open day and night--this is what he meant by public order.  Give a
sensible man these, and take all the rest the world goes round.  Tyranny
was a bugbear.  Either the tyranny was bearable, or it was not.  If it
was bearable, it did not matter; and as soon as it became unbearable the
mob cut off the tyrant's head, and wise men went home to their dinner.  To
views of this sort he gave emphatic utterance on the well-known occasion
when he gave Sir Adam Ferguson a bit of his mind.  Sir Adam had
innocently enough observed that the Crown had too much power.  Thereupon

   'Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig.  Why all this childish jealousy
   of the power of the Crown?  The Crown has not power enough.  When I
   say that all governments are alike, I consider that in no government
   power can be abused long; mankind will not bear it.  If a sovereign
   oppresses his people, they will rise and cut off his head.  There is a
   remedy in human nature against tyranny that will keep us safe under
   every form of government.'

This is not, and never was, the language of Toryism.  It is a much more
intellectual 'ism.'  It is indifferentism.  So, too, in his able
pamphlet, _The False Alarm_, which had reference to Wilkes and the
Middlesex election, though he no doubt attempts to deal with the
constitutional aspect of the question, the real strength of his case is
to be found in passages like the following:

   'The grievance which has produced all this tempest of outrage, the
   oppression in which all other oppressions are included, the invasion
   which has left us no property, the alarm that suffers no patriot to
   sleep in quiet, is comprised in a vote of the House of Commons, by
   which the freeholders of Middlesex are deprived of a Briton's
   birthright--representation in Parliament.  They have, indeed, received
   the usual writ of election; but that writ, alas! was malicious
   mockery; they were insulted with the form, but denied the reality, for
   there was one man excepted from their choice.  The character of the
   man, thus fatally excepted, I have no purpose to delineate.  Lampoon
   itself would disdain to speak ill of him of whom no man speaks well.
   Every lover of liberty stands doubtful of the fate of posterity,
   because the chief county in England cannot take its representative
   from a gaol.'

Temperament was of course at the bottom of this indifference.  Johnson
was of melancholy humour and profoundly sceptical.  Cynical he was not--he
loved his fellow-men; his days were full of

   'Little, nameless, unremembered acts
   Of kindness and of love.'

But he was as difficult to rouse to enthusiasm about humanity as is Mr.
Justice Stephen.  He pitied the poor devils, but he did not believe in
them.  They were neither happy nor wise, and he saw no reason to believe
they would ever become either.  'Leave me alone,' he cried to the sultry
mob, bawling 'Wilkes and Liberty.'  'I at least am not ashamed to own
that I care for neither the one nor the other.'

No man, however, resented more fiercely than Johnson any unnecessary
interference with men who were simply going their own way.  The
Highlanders only knew Gaelic, yet political wiseacres were to be found
objecting to their having the Bible in their own tongue.  Johnson flew to
arms: he wrote one of his monumental letters; the opposition was quelled,
and the Gael got his Bible.  So too the wicked interference with Irish
enterprise, so much in vogue during the last century, infuriated him.
'Sir,' he said to Sir Thomas Robinson, 'you talk the language of a
savage.  What, sir! would you prevent any people from feeding themselves,
if by any honest means they can do so?'

Were Johnson to come to life again, total abstainer as he often was, he
would, I expect, denounce the principle involved in 'Local Option.'  I am
not at all sure he would not borrow a guinea from a bystander and become
a subscriber to the 'Property Defence League;' and though it is notorious
that he never read any book all through, and never could be got to
believe that anybody else ever did, he would, I think, read a larger
fraction of Mr. Spencer's pamphlet, '_Man_ versus _the State_,' than of
any other 'recent work in circulation.'  The state of the Strand, when
two vestries are at work upon it, would, I am sure, drive him into open

As a letter-writer Johnson has great merits.  Let no man despise the
epistolary art.  It is said to be extinct.  I doubt it.  Good letters
were always scarce.  It does not follow that, because our grandmothers
wrote long letters, they all wrote good ones, or that nobody nowadays
writes good letters because most people write bad ones.  Johnson wrote
letters in two styles.  One was monumental--more suggestive of the chisel
than the pen.  In the other there are traces of the same style, but, like
the old Gothic architecture, it has grown domesticated, and become the
fit vehicle of plain tidings of joy and sorrow--of affection, wit, and
fancy.  The letter to Lord Chesterfield is the most celebrated example of
the monumental style.  From the letters to Mrs. Thrale many good examples
of the domesticated style might be selected One must suffice:

   'Queeney has been a good girl, and wrote me a letter.  If Burney said
   she would write, she told you a fib.  She writes nothing to me.  She
   can write home fast enough.  I have a good mind not to tell her that
   Dr. Bernard, to whom I had recommended her novel, speaks of it with
   great commendation, and that the copy which she lent me has been read
   by Dr. Lawrence three times over.  And yet what a gipsy it is.  She no
   more minds me than if I were a Branghton.  Pray, speak to Queeney to
   write again. . . .  Now you think yourself the first writer in the
   world for a letter about nothing.  Can you write such a letter as
   this?  So miscellaneous, with such noble disdain of regularity, like
   Shakspeare's works; such graceful negligence of transition, like the
   ancient enthusiasts.  The pure voice of Nature and of Friendship.  Now,
   of whom shall I proceed to speak? of whom but Mrs. Montague?  Having
   mentioned Shakspeare and Nature, does not the name of Montague force
   itself upon me?  Such were the transitions of the ancients, which now
   seem abrupt, because the intermediate idea is lost to modern

But the extract had better end, for there are, (I fear) 'modern
understandings who will not perceive the intermediate idea' between
Shakspeare and Mrs. Montague, and to whom even the name of Branghton will
suggest no meaning.

Johnson's literary fame is, in our judgment, as secure as his character.
Like the stone which he placed over his father's grave at Lichfield, and
which, it is shameful to think, has been removed, it is 'too massy and
strong' to be ever much affected by the wind and weather of our literary
atmosphere.  'Never,' so he wrote to Mrs. Thrale, 'let criticisms operate
upon your face or your mind; it is very rarely that an author is hurt by
his critics.  The blaze of reputation cannot be blown out; but it often
dies in the socket.  From the author of _Fitzosborne's Letters_ I cannot
think myself in much danger.  I met him only once, about thirty years
ago, and in some small dispute soon reduced him to whistle.'  Dr. Johnson
is in no danger from anybody.  None but Gargantua could blow him out, and
he still burns brightly in his socket.

How long this may continue who can say?  It is a far cry to 1985.  Science
may by that time have squeezed out literature, and the author of the
_Lives of the Poets_ may be dimly remembered as an odd fellow who lived
in the Dark Ages, and had a very creditable fancy for making chemical
experiments.  On the other hand, the Spiritualists may be in possession,
in which case the Cock Lane Ghost will occupy more of public attention
than Boswell's hero, who will, perhaps, be reprobated as the profane
utterer of these idle words: 'Suppose I know a man to be so lame that he
is absolutely incapable to move himself, and I find him in a different
room from that in which I left him, shall I puzzle myself with idle
conjectures, that perhaps his nerves have by some unknown change all at
once become effective?  No, sir, it is clear how he got into a different
room--he was _carried_.'

We here part company with Johnson, bidding him a most affectionate
farewell, and leaving him in undisturbed possession of both place and
power.  His character will bear investigation, and some of his books
perusal.  The latter, indeed, may be submitted to his own test, and there
is no truer one.  A book, he wrote, should help us either to enjoy life
or to endure it.  His frequently do both.


_A Lecture delivered before the Edinburgh Philosophical Society_.

Mr. John Morley, who amongst other things has written two admirable books
about Edmund Burke, is to be found in the Preface to the second of them
apologizing for having introduced into the body of the work extracts from
his former volume--conduct which he seeks to justify by quoting from the
Greek (always a desirable thing to do when in difficulty), to prove that,
though you may say what you have to say well once, you cannot so say it

A difficulty somewhat of the same kind cannot fail to be felt by everyone
who takes upon himself to write on Burke; for however innocent a man's
own past life may be of any public references to the subject, the very
many good things other men have said about it must seriously interfere
with true liberty of treatment.

Hardly any man, and certainly no politician, has been so bepraised as
Burke, whose very name, suggesting, as it does, splendour of diction, has
tempted those who would praise him to do so in a highly decorated style,
and it would have been easy work to have brought together a sufficient
number of animated passages from the works of well-known writers all
dedicated to the greater glory of Edmund Burke, and then to have tagged
on half-a-dozen specimens of his own resplendent rhetoric, and so to have
come to an apparently natural and long-desired conclusion without
exciting any more than the usual post-lectorial grumble.

This course, however, not recommending itself, some other method had to
be discovered.  Happily, it is out of the question within present limits
to give any proper summary of Burke's public life.  This great man was
not like some modern politicians, a specialist, confining his activities
within the prospectus of an association; nor was he, like some others, a
thing of shreds and patches, busily employed to-day picking up the facts
with which he will overwhelm his opponents on the morrow; but was one
ever ready to engage with all comers on all subjects from out the stores
of his accumulated knowledge.  Even were we to confine ourselves to those
questions only which engaged Burke's most powerful attention, enlisted
his most active sympathy, elicited his most bewitching rhetoric, we
should still find ourselves called upon to grapple with problems as vast
and varied as Economic Reform, the Status of our Colonies, our Empire in
India, our relations with Ireland both in respect to her trade and her
prevalent religion; and then, blurring the picture, as some may
think--certainly rendering it Titanesque and gloomy--we have the
spectacle of Burke in his old age, like another Laocoon, writhing and
wrestling with the French Revolution; and it may serve to give us some
dim notion of how great a man Burke was, of how affluent a mind, of how
potent an imagination, of how resistless an energy, that even when his
sole unassisted name is pitted against the outcome of centuries, and we
say Burke and the French Revolution, we are not overwhelmed by any sense
of obvious absurdity or incongruity.

What I propose to do is merely to consider a little Burke's life prior to
his obtaining a seat in Parliament, and then to refer to any
circumstances which may help us to account for the fact that this truly
extraordinary man, whose intellectual resources beggar the imagination,
and who devoted himself to politics with all the forces of his nature,
never so much as attained to a seat in the Cabinet--a feat one has known
to be accomplished by persons of no proved intellectual agility.  Having
done this, I shall then, bearing in mind the aphorism of Lord
Beaconsfield, that it is always better to be impudent than servile, essay
an analysis of the essential elements of Burke's character.

The first great fact to remember is that the Edmund Burke we are all
agreed in regarding as one of the proudest memories of the House of
Commons was an Irishman.  When we are in our next fit of political
depression about that island, and are about piously to wish, as the poet
Spenser tells us men were wishing even in his time, that it were not
adjacent, let us do a little national stocktaking, and calculate profits
as well as losses.  Burke was not only an Irishman, but a typical one--of
the very kind many Englishmen, and even possibly some Scotchmen, make a
point of disliking.  I do not say he was an aboriginal Irishman, but his
ancestors are said to have settled in the county of Galway, under
Strongbow, in King Henry the Second's time, when Ireland was first
conquered and our troubles began.  This, at all events, is a better Irish
pedigree than Mr. Parnell's.

Skipping six centuries, we find Burke's father an attorney in
Dublin--which somehow sounds a very Irish thing to be--who in 1725
married a Miss Nagle, and had fifteen children.  The marriage of Burke's
parents was of the kind called mixed--a term which doubtless admits of
wide application, but when employed technically signifies that the
religious faith of the spouses was different; one, the father, being a
Protestant, and the lady an adherent to what used to be pleasantly called
the 'old religion.'  The severer spirit now dominating Catholic councils
has condemned these marriages, on the score of their bad theology and
their lax morality; but the practical politician, who is not usually much
of a theologian--though Lord Melbourne and Mr. Gladstone are
distinguished exceptions--and whose moral conscience is apt to be robust
(and here I believe there are no exceptions), cannot but regret that so
good an opportunity of lubricating religious differences with the sweet
oil of the domestic affections should be lost to us in these days of
bitterness and dissension.  Burke was brought up in the Protestant faith
of his father, and was never in any real danger of deviating from it; but
I cannot doubt that his regard for his Catholic fellow-subjects, his
fierce repudiation of the infamies of the Penal Code--the horrors of
which he did something to mitigate--his respect for antiquity, and his
historic sense, were all quickened by the fact that a tenderly loved and
loving mother belonged through life and in death to an ancient and an
outraged faith.

The great majority of Burke's brothers and sisters, like those of
Laurence Sterne, were 'not made to live;' and out of the fifteen but
three, beside himself, attained maturity.  These were his eldest brother
Garrett, on whose death Edmund succeeded to the patrimonial Irish estate,
which he sold; his younger brother, Richard, a highly speculative
gentleman, who always lost; and his sister, Juliana, who married a Mr.
French, and was, as became her mother's daughter, a rigid Roman
Catholic--who, so we read, was accustomed every Christmas Day to invite
to the Hall the maimed, the aged, and distressed of her vicinity to a
plentiful repast, during which she waited upon them as a servant.  A
sister like this never did any man any serious harm.

Edmund Burke was born in 1729, in Dublin, and was taught his rudiments in
the country--first by a Mr. O'Halloran, and afterwards by a Mr.
FitzGerald, village pedagogues both, who at all events succeeded in
giving their charge a brogue which death alone could silence.  Burke
passed from their hands to an academy at Ballitore, kept by a Quaker,
whence he proceeded to Trinity College, Dublin.  He was thus not only
Irish born, but Irish bred.  His intellectual habit of mind exhibited
itself early.  He belonged to the happy family of omnivorous readers,
and, in the language of his latest schoolmaster, he went to college with
a larger miscellaneous stock of reading than was usual with one of his
years; which, being interpreted out of pedagogic into plain English,
means that 'our good Edmund' was an enormous devourer of poetry and
novels, and so he remained to the end of his days.  That he always
preferred Fielding to Richardson is satisfactory, since it pairs him off
nicely with Dr. Johnson, whose preference was the other way, and so helps
to keep an interesting question wide open.  His passion for the poetry of
Virgil is significant.  His early devotion to Edward Young, the grandiose
author of the _Night Thoughts_, is not to be wondered at; though the
inspiration of the youthful Burke, either as poet or critic, may be
questioned, when we find him rapturously scribbling in the margin of his

   'Jove claimed the verse old Homer sung,
   But God Himself inspired Dr. Young.'

But a boy's enthusiasm for a favourite poet is a thing to rejoice over.
The years that bring the philosophic mind will not bring--they must

In 1750 Burke (being then twenty-one) came for the first time to London,
to do what so many of his lively young countrymen are still doing--though
they are beginning to make a grievance even of that--eat his dinners at
the Middle Temple, and so qualify himself for the Bar.  Certainly that
student was in luck who found himself in the same mess with Burke; and
yet so stupid are men--so prone to rest with their full weight on the
immaterial and slide over the essential--that had that good fortune been
ours we should probably have been more taken up with Burke's brogue than
with his brains.  Burke came to London with a cultivated curiosity, and
in no spirit of desperate determination to make his fortune.  That the
study of the law interested him cannot be doubted, for everything
interested him, particularly the stage.  Like the sensible Irishman he
was, he lost his heart to Peg Woffington on the first opportunity.  He
was fond of roaming about the country during, it is to be hoped, vacation-
time only, and is to be found writing the most cheerful letters to his
friends in Ireland (all of whom are persuaded that he is going some day
to be somebody, though sorely puzzled to surmise what thing or when, so
pleasantly does he take life), from all sorts of out-of-the-way country
places, where he lodges with quaint old landladies who wonder maternally
why he never gets drunk, and generally mistake him for an author until he
pays his bill.  When in town he frequented debating societies in Fleet
Street and Covent Garden, and made his first speeches; for which purpose
he would, unlike some debaters, devote studious hours to getting up the
subjects to be discussed.  There is good reason to believe that it was in
this manner his attention was first directed to India.  He was at all
times a great talker, and, Dr. Johnson's dictum notwithstanding, a good
listener.  He was endlessly interested in everything--in the state of the
crops, in the last play, in the details of all trades, the rhythm of all
poems, the plots of all novels, and indeed in the course of every
manufacture.  And so for six years he went up and down, to and fro,
gathering information, imparting knowledge, and preparing himself, though
he knew not for what.

The attorney in Dublin grew anxious, and searched for precedents of a son
behaving like his, and rising to eminence.  Had his son got the legal
mind?--which, according to a keen observer, chiefly displays itself by
illustrating the obvious, explaining the evident, and expatiating on the
commonplace.  Edmund's powers of illustration, explanation, and
expatiation could not indeed be questioned; but then the subjects
selected for the exhibition of those powers were very far indeed from
being obvious, evident, or commonplace, and the attorney's heart grew
heavy within him.  The paternal displeasure was signified in the usual
manner--the supplies were cut off.  Edmund Burke, however, was no
ordinary prodigal, and his reply to his father's expostulations took the
unexpected and unprecedented shape of a copy of a second and enlarged
edition of his treatise on the _Sublime and Beautiful_, which he had
published in 1756 at the price of three shillings.  Burke's father
promptly sent the author a bank-bill for 100 pounds--conduct on his part
which, considering he had sent his son to London and maintained him there
for six years to study law, was, in my judgment, both sublime and
beautiful.  In the same year Burke published another pamphlet--a one-and-
sixpenny affair--written ironically in the style of Lord Bolingbroke, and
called _A Vindication of Natural Society_; _or_, _A View of the Miseries
and Evils arising to Mankind from Every Species of Civil Society_.  Irony
is a dangerous weapon for a public man to have ever employed, and in
after-life Burke had frequently to explain that he was not serious.  On
these two pamphlets' airy pinions Burke floated into the harbour of
literary fame.  No less a man than the great David Hume referred to him,
in a letter to the hardly less great Adam Smith, as an Irish gentleman
who had written a 'very pretty treatise on the Sublime.'  After these
efforts Burke, as became an established wit, went to Bath to recruit, and
there, fitly enough, fell in love.  The lady was Miss Jane Mary Nugent,
the daughter of a celebrated Bath physician, and it is pleasant to be
able to say of the marriage that was shortly solemnized between the young
couple, that it was a happy one, and then to go on our way, leaving
them--where man and wife ought to be left--alone.  Oddly enough, Burke's
wife was also the offspring of a 'mixed marriage'--only in her case it
was the father who was the Catholic; consequently both Mr. and Mrs.
Edmund Burke were of the same way of thinking, but each had a parent of
the other way.  Although getting married is no part of the curriculum of
a law student, Burke's father seems to have come to the conclusion that
after all it was a greater distinction for an attorney in Dublin to have
a son living amongst the wits in London, and discoursing familiarly on
the 'Sublime and Beautiful,' than one prosecuting some poor countryman,
with a brogue as rich as his own, for stealing a pair of breeches; for we
find him generously allowing the young couple 200 pounds a year, which no
doubt went some way towards maintaining them.  Burke, who was now in his
twenty-eighth year, seems to have given up all notion of the law.  In
1758 he wrote for Dodsley the first volume of the _Annual Register_, a
melancholy series which continues to this day.  For doing this he got 100
pounds.  Burke was by this time a well-known figure in London literary
society, and was busy making for himself a huge private reputation.  The
Christmas Day of 1758 witnessed a singular scene at the dinner table of
David Garrick.  Dr. Johnson, then in full vigour of his mind, and with
the all-dreaded weapons of his dialectics kept burnished by daily use,
was flatly contradicted by a fellow-guest some twenty years his junior,
and, what is more, submitted to it without a murmur.  One of the diners,
Arthur Murphy, was so struck by this occurrence, unique in his long
experience of the Doctor, that on returning home he recorded the fact in
his journal, but ventured no explanation of it.  It can only be accounted
for--so at least I venture to think--by the combined effect of four
wholly independent circumstances: _First_, the day was Christmas Day, a
day of peace and goodwill, and our beloved Doctor was amongst the
sincerest, though most argumentative, of Christians, and a great observer
of days.  _Second_, the house was David Garrick's, and consequently we
may be certain that the dinner had been a superlatively good one; and has
not Boswell placed on record Johnson's opinion of the man who professed
to be indifferent about his dinner?  _Third_, the subject under
discussion was India, about which Johnson knew he knew next to nothing.
And _fourth_, the offender was Edmund Burke, whom Johnson loved from the
first day he set eyes upon him to their last sad parting by the waters of

In 1761 that shrewd old gossip, Horace Walpole, met Burke for the first
time at dinner, and remarks of him in a letter to George Montague:

   'I dined at Hamilton's yesterday; there were Garrick, and young Mr.
   Burke, who wrote a book in the style of Lord Bolingbroke, that was
   much admired.  He is a sensible man, but has not worn off his
   authorism yet, and thinks there is nothing so charming as writers, and
   to be one.  He will know better one of these days.'

But great as were Burke's literary powers, and passionate as was his
fondness for letters and for literary society, he never seems to have
felt that the main burden of his life lay in that direction.  He looked
to the public service, and this though he always believed that the pen of
a great writer was a more powerful and glorious weapon than any to be
found in the armoury of politics.  This faith of his comes out sometimes
queerly enough.  For example, when Dr. Robertson in 1777 sent Burke his
cheerful _History of America_, in quarto volumes, Burke, in the most
perfect good faith, closes a long letter of thanks thus:--

   'You will smile when I send you a trifling temporary production made
   for the occasion of the day, and to perish with it, in return for your
   immortal work.'

I have no desire, least of all in Edinburgh, to say anything
disrespectful of Principal Robertson; but still, when we remember that
the temporary production he got in exchange for his _History of America_
was Burke's immortal letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol on the American
War, we must, I think, be forced to admit that, as so often happens when
a Scotchman and an Irishman do business together, the former got the
better of the bargain.

Burke's first public employment was of a humble character, and might well
have been passed over in a sentence, had it not terminated in a most
delightful quarrel, in which Burke conducted himself like an Irishman of
genius.  Some time in 1759 he became acquainted with William Gerard
Hamilton, commonly called 'Single-speech Hamilton,' on account of the
celebrity he gained from his first speech in Parliament, and the steady
way in which his oratorical reputation went on waning ever after.  In
1761 this gentleman went over to Ireland as Chief Secretary, and Burke
accompanied him as the Secretary's secretary, or, in the unlicensed
speech of Dublin, as Hamilton's jackal.  This arrangement was eminently
satisfactory to Hamilton, who found, as generations of men have found
after him, Burke's brains very useful, and he determined to borrow them
for the period of their joint lives.  Animated by this desire, in itself
praiseworthy, he busied himself in procuring for Burke a pension of 300
pounds a year on the Irish establishment, and then the simple 'Single-
speech' thought the transaction closed.  He had bought his poor man of
genius, and paid for him on the nail with other people's money.  Nothing
remained but for Burke to draw his pension and devote the rest of his
life to maintaining Hamilton's reputation.  There is nothing at all
unusual in this, and I have no doubt Burke would have stuck to his
bargain, had not Hamilton conceived the fatal idea that Burke's brains
were _exclusively_ his (Hamilton's).  Then the situation became one of
risk and apparent danger.

Burke's imagination began playing round the subject: he saw himself a
slave, blotted out of existence--mere fuel for Hamilton's flame.  In a
week he was in a towering passion.  Few men can afford to be angry.  It
is a run upon their intellectual resources they cannot meet.  But Burke's
treasury could well afford the luxury; and his letters to Hamilton make
delightful reading to those who, like myself, dearly love a dispute when
conducted according to the rules of the game by men of great intellectual
wealth.  Hamilton demolished and reduced to stony silence, Burke sat down
again and wrote long letters to all his friends, telling them the whole
story from beginning to end.  I must be allowed a quotation from one of
these letters, for this really is not so frivolous a matter as I am
afraid I have made it appear--a quotation of which this much may be said,
that nothing more delightfully Burkean is to be found anywhere:--


   'I am hardly able to tell you how much satisfaction I had in your
   letter.  Your approbation of my conduct makes me believe much the
   better of you and myself; and I assure you that that approbation came
   to me very seasonably.  Such proofs of a warm, sincere, and
   disinterested friendship were not wholly unnecessary to my support at
   a time when I experienced such bitter effects of the perfidy and
   ingratitude of much longer and much closer connections.  The way in
   which you take up my affairs binds me to you in a manner I cannot
   express; for, to tell you the truth, I never can (knowing as I do the
   principles upon which I always endeavour to act) submit to any sort of
   compromise of my character; and I shall never, therefore, look upon
   those who, after hearing the whole story, do not think me _perfectly_
   in the right, and do not consider Hamilton an infamous scoundrel, to
   be in the smallest degree my friends, or even to be persons for whom I
   am bound to have the slightest esteem, as fair and just estimators of
   the characters and conduct of men.  Situated as I am, and feeling as I
   do, I should be just as well pleased that they totally condemned me as
   that they should say there were faults on both sides, or that it was a
   disputable case, as I hear is (I cannot forbear saying) the affected
   language of some persons. . . .  You cannot avoid remarking, my dear
   Mason, and I hope not without some indignation, the unparalleled
   singularity of my situation.  Was ever a man before me expected to
   enter into formal, direct, and undisguised slavery?  Did ever man
   before him confess an attempt to decoy a man into such an alleged
   contract, not to say anything of the impudence of regularly pleading
   it?  If such an attempt be wicked and unlawful (and I am sure no one
   ever doubted it), I have only to confess his charge, and to admit
   myself his dupe, to make him pass, on his own showing, for the most
   consummate villain that ever lived.  The only difference between us
   is, not whether he is not a rogue--for he not only admits but pleads
   the facts that demonstrate him to be so; but only whether I was such a
   fool as to sell myself absolutely for a consideration which, so far
   from being adequate, if any such could be adequate, is not even so
   much as certain.  Not to value myself as a gentleman, a free man, a
   man of education, and one pretending to literature; is there any
   situation in life so low, or even so criminal, that can subject a man
   to the possibility of such an engagement?  Would you dare attempt to
   bind your footman to such terms?  Will the law suffer a felon sent to
   the plantations to bind himself for his life, and to renounce all
   possibility either of elevation or quiet?  And am I to defend myself
   for not doing what no man is suffered to do, and what it would be
   criminal in any man to submit to?  You will excuse me for this heat.'

I not only excuse Burke for his heat, but love him for letting me warm my
hands at it after a lapse of a hundred and twenty years.

Burke was more fortunate in his second master, for in 1765 being then
thirty-six years of age, he became private secretary to the new Prime
Minister, the Marquis of Rockingham; was by the interest of Lord Verney
returned to Parliament for Wendover, in Bucks; and on January 27th, 1766,
his voice was first heard in the House of Commons.

The Rockingham Ministry deserves well of the historian, and on the whole
has received its deserts.  Lord Rockingham, the Duke of Richmond, Lord
John Cavendish, Mr. Dowdeswell, and the rest of them, were good men and
true, judged by an ordinary standard; and when contrasted with most of
their political competitors, they almost approach the ranks of saints and
angels.  However, after a year and twenty days, his Majesty King George
the Third managed to get rid of them, and to keep them at bay for fifteen
years.  But their first term of office, though short, lasted long enough
to establish a friendship of no ordinary powers of endurance between the
chief members of the party and the Prime Minister's private secretary,
who was at first, so ran the report, supposed to be a wild Irishman,
whose real name was O'Bourke, and whose brogue seemed to require the
allegation that its owner was a popish emissary.  It is satisfactory to
notice how from the very first Burke's intellectual pre-eminence,
character, and aims were clearly admitted and most cheerfully recognised
by his political and social superiors; and in the long correspondence in
which he engaged with most of them there is not a trace to be found, on
one side or the other, of anything approaching to either patronage or
servility.  Burke advises them, exhorts them, expostulates with them,
condemns their aristocratic languor, fans their feeble flames, drafts
their motions, dictates their protests, visits their houses, and
generally supplies them with facts, figures, poetry, and romance.  To all
this they submit with much humility.  The Duke of Richmond once indeed
ventured to hint to Burke, with exceeding delicacy, that he (the Duke)
had a small private estate to attend to as well as public affairs; but
the validity of the excuse was not admitted.  The part Burke played for
the next fifteen years with relation to the Rockingham party reminds me
of the functions I have observed performed in lazy families by a soberly
clad and eminently respectable person who pays them domiciliary visits,
and, having admission everywhere, goes about mysteriously from room to
room, winding up all the clocks.  This is what Burke did for the
Rockingham party--he kept it going.

But fortunately for us, Burke was not content with private adjuration, or
even public speech.  His literary instincts, his dominating desire to
persuade everybody that he, Edmund Burke, was absolutely in the right,
and every one of his opponents hopelessly wrong, made him turn to the
pamphlet as a propaganda, and in his hands

   'The thing became a trumpet, whence he blew
   Soul-animating strains.'

So accustomed are we to regard Burke's pamphlets as specimens of our
noblest literature, and to see them printed in comfortable volumes, that
we are apt to forget that in their origin they were but the children of
the pavement, the publications of the hour.  If, however, you ever visit
any old public library, and grope about a little, you are likely enough
to find a shelf holding some twenty-five or thirty musty, ugly little
books, usually lettered 'Burke,' and on opening any of them you will come
across one of Burke's pamphlets as originally issued, bound up with the
replies and counter-pamphlets it occasioned.  I have frequently tried,
but always in vain, to read these replies, which are pretentious
enough--usually the works of deans, members of Parliament, and other
dignitaries of the class Carlyle used compendiously to describe as
'shovel-hatted'--and each of whom was as much entitled to publish
pamphlets as Burke himself.  There are some things it is very easy to do,
and to write a pamphlet is one of them; but to write such a pamphlet as
future generations will read with delight is perhaps the most difficult
feat in literature.  Milton, Swift, Burke, and Sydney Smith are, I think,
our only great pamphleteers.

I have now rather more than kept my word so far as Burke's
pre-parliamentary life is concerned, and will proceed to mention some of
the circumstances that may serve to account for the fact that, when the
Rockingham party came into power for the second time in 1782, Burke, who
was their life and soul, was only rewarded with a minor office.  First,
then, it must be recorded sorrowfully of Burke that he was always
desperately in debt, and in this country no politician under the rank of
a baronet can ever safely be in debt.  Burke's finances are, and always
have been, marvels and mysteries; but one thing must be said of them--that
the malignity of his enemies, both Tory enemies and Radical enemies, has
never succeeded in formulating any charge of dishonesty against him that
has not been at once completely pulverized, and shown on the facts to be
impossible. {159}  Burke's purchase of the estate at Beaconsfield in
1768, only two years after he entered Parliament, consisting as it did of
a good house and 1,600 acres of land, has puzzled a great many good
men--much more than it ever did Edmund Burke.  But how did he get the
money?  After an Irish fashion--by not getting it at all.  Two-thirds of
the purchase-money remained on mortgage, and the balance he borrowed; or,
as he puts it, 'With all I could collect of my own, and by the aid of my
friends, I have established a root in the country.'  That is how Burke
bought Beaconsfield, where he lived till his end came; whither he always
hastened when his sensitive mind was tortured by the thought of how badly
men governed the world; where he entertained all sorts and conditions of
men--Quakers, Brahmins (for whose ancient rites he provided suitable
accommodation in a greenhouse), nobles and abbes flying from
revolutionary France, poets, painters, and peers; no one of whom ever
long remained a stranger to his charm.  Burke flung himself into farming
with all the enthusiasm of his nature.  His letters to Arthur Young on
the subject of carrots still tremble with emotion.  You all know Burke's
_Thoughts on the Present Discontents_.  You remember--it is hard to
forget--his speech on Conciliation with America, particularly the
magnificent passage beginning, 'Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the
truest wisdom, and a great empire and little minds go ill together.'  You
have echoed back the words in which, in his letter to the Sheriffs of
Bristol on the hateful American War, he protests that it was not
instantly he could be brought to rejoice when he heard of the slaughter
and captivity of long lists of those whose names had been familiar in his
ears from his infancy, and you would all join with me in subscribing to a
fund which should have for its object the printing and hanging up over
every editor's desk in town and country a subsequent passage from the
same letter:

   'A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.  He
   would feel some apprehension at being called to a tremendous account
   for engaging in so deep a play without any knowledge of the game.  It
   is no excuse for presumptuous ignorance that it is directed by
   insolent passion.  The poorest being that crawls on earth, contending
   to save itself from injustice and oppression, is an object respectable
   in the eyes of God and man.  But I cannot conceive any existence under
   heaven (which in the depths of its wisdom tolerates all sorts of
   things) that is more truly odious and disgusting than an impotent,
   helpless creature, without civil wisdom or military skill, bloated
   with pride and arrogance, calling for battles which he is not to
   fight, and contending for a violent dominion which he can never
   exercise. . . .

   'If you and I find our talents not of the great and ruling kind, our
   conduct at least is conformable to our faculties.  No man's life pays
   the forfeit of our rashness.  No desolate widow weeps tears of blood
   over our ignorance.  Scrupulous and sober in a well-grounded distrust
   of ourselves, we would keep in the port of peace and security; and
   perhaps in recommending to others something of the same diffidence, we
   should show ourselves more charitable to their welfare than injurious
   to their abilities.'

You have laughed over Burke's account of how all Lord Talbot's schemes
for the reform of the king's household were dashed to pieces, because the
turnspit of the king's kitchen was a Member of Parliament.  You have
often pondered over that miraculous passage in his speech on the Nabob of
Arcot's debts, describing the devastation of the Carnatic by Hyder Ali--a
passage which Mr. John Morley says fills the young orator with the same
emotions of enthusiasm, emulation, and despair that (according to the
same authority) invariably torment the artist who first gazes on 'The
Madonna' at Dresden, or the figures of 'Night' and 'Dawn' at Florence.
All these things you know, else are you mighty self-denying of your
pleasures.  But it is just possible you may have forgotten the following
extract from one of Burke's farming letters to Arthur Young:

   'One of the grand points in controversy (a controversy indeed chiefly
   carried on between practice and speculation) is that of _deep
   ploughing_.  In your last volume you seem, on the whole, rather
   against that practice, and have given several reasons for your
   judgment which deserve to be very well considered.  In order to know
   how we ought to plough, we ought to know what end it is we propose to
   ourselves in that operation.  The first and instrumental end is to
   divide the soil; the last and ultimate end, so far as regards the
   plants, is to facilitate the pushing of the blade upwards, and the
   shooting of the roots in all the inferior directions.  There is
   further proposed a more ready admission of external influences--the
   rain, the sun, the air, charged with all those heterogeneous contents,
   some, possibly all, of which are necessary for the nourishment of the
   plants.  By ploughing deep you answer these ends in a greater mass of
   the soil.  This would seem in favour of deep ploughing as nothing else
   than accomplishing, in a more perfect manner, those very ends for
   which you are induced to plough at all.  But doubts here arise, only
   to be solved by experiment.  First, is it quite certain that it is
   good for the ear and grain of farinaceous plants that their roots
   should spread and descend into the ground to the greatest possible
   distances and depths?  Is there not some limit in this?  We know that
   in timber, what makes one part flourish does not equally conduce to
   the benefit of all; and that which may be beneficial to the wood, does
   not equally contribute to the quantity and goodness of the fruit; and,
   _vice versa_, that what increases the fruit largely is often far from
   serviceable to the tree.  Secondly, is that looseness to great depths,
   supposing it is useful to one of the species of plants, equally useful
   to all?  Thirdly, though the external influences--the rain, the sun,
   the air--act undoubtedly a part, and a large part, in vegetation, does
   it follow that they are equally salutary in any quantities, at any
   depths?  Or that, though it may be useful to diffuse one of these
   agents as extensively as may be in the earth, that therefore it will
   be equally useful to render the earth in the same degree pervious to
   all?  It is a dangerous way of reasoning in physics, as well as
   morals, to conclude, because a given proportion of anything is
   advantageous, that the double will be quite as good, or that it will
   be good at all.  Neither in the one nor the other is it always true
   that two and two make four.'

This is magnificent, but it is not farming, and you will easily believe
that Burke's attempts to till the soil were more costly than productive.
Farming, if it is to pay, is a pursuit of small economies; and Burke was
far too Asiatic, tropical, and splendid to have anything to do with small
economies.  His expenditure, like his rhetoric, was in the 'grand style.'
He belongs to Charles Lamb's great race, 'the men who borrow.'  But
indeed it was not so much that Burke borrowed as that men lent.  Right-
feeling men did not wait to be asked.  Dr. Brocklesby, that good
physician, whose name breathes like a benediction through the pages of
the biographies of the best men of his time, who soothed Dr. Johnson's
last melancholy hours, and for whose supposed heterodoxy the dying man
displayed so tender a solicitude, wrote to Burke, in the strain of a
timid suitor proposing for the hand of a proud heiress, to know whether
Burke would be so good as to accept 1,000 pounds at once, instead of
waiting for the writer's death.  Burke felt no hesitation in obliging so
old a friend.  Garrick, who, though fond of money, was as
generous-hearted a fellow as ever brought down a house, lent Burke 1,000
pounds.  Sir Joshua Reynolds, who has been reckoned stingy, by his will
left Burke 2,000 pounds, and forgave him another 2,000 pounds which he
had lent him.  The Marquis of Rockingham by his will directed all Burke's
bonds held by him to be cancelled.  They amounted to 30,000 pounds.
Burke's patrimonial estate was sold by him for 4,000 pounds; and I have
seen it stated that he had received altogether from family sources as
much as 20,000 pounds.  And yet he was always poor, and was glad at the
last to accept pensions from the Crown in order that he might not leave
his wife a beggar.  This good lady survived her illustrious husband
twelve years, and seemed as his widow to have had some success in paying
his bills, for at her death all remaining demands were found to be
discharged.  For receiving this pension Burke was assailed by the Duke of
Bedford, a most pleasing act of ducal fatuity, since it enabled the
pensioner, not bankrupt of his wit, to write a pamphlet, now of course a
cherished classic, and introduce into it a few paragraphs about the House
of Russell and the cognate subject of grants from the Crown.  But enough
of Burke's debts and difficulties, which I only mention because all
through his life they were cast up against him.  Had Burke been a
moralist of the calibre of Charles James Fox, he might have amassed a
fortune large enough to keep up half a dozen Beaconsfields, by simply
doing what all his predecessors in the office he held, including Fox's
own father, the truly infamous first Lord Holland, had done--namely, by
retaining for his own use the interest on all balances of the public
money from time to time in his hands as Paymaster of the Forces.  But
Burke carried his passion for good government into actual practice, and,
cutting down the emoluments of his office to a salary (a high one, no
doubt), effected a saving to the country of some 25,000 pounds a year,
every farthing of which might have gone without remark into his own

Burke had no vices, save of style and temper; nor was any of his
expenditure a profligate squandering of money.  It all went in giving
employment or disseminating kindness.  He sent the painter Barry to study
art in Italy.  He saved the poet Crabbe from starvation and despair, and
thus secured to the country one who owns the unrivalled distinction of
having been the favourite poet of the three greatest intellectual factors
of the age (scientific men excepted)--Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and
Cardinal Newman.  Yet so distorted are men's views that the odious and
anti-social excesses of Fox at the gambling-table are visited with a
blame usually wreathed in smiles, whilst the financial irregularities of
a noble and pure-minded man are thought fit matter for the fiercest
censure or the most lordly contempt.

Next to Burke's debts, some of his companions and intimates did him harm
and injured his consequence.  His brother Richard, whose brogue we are
given to understand was simply appalling, was a good-for-nothing, with a
dilapidated reputation.  Then there was another Mr. Burke, who was no
relation, but none the less was always about, and to whom it was not safe
to lend money.  Burke's son, too, whose death he mourned so pathetically,
seems to have been a failure, and is described by a candid friend as a
nauseating person.  To have a decent following is important in politics.

A third reason must be given: Burke's judgment of men and things was
often both wrong and violent.  The story of Powell and Bembridge, two
knaves in Burke's own office, whose cause he espoused, and whom he
insisted on reinstating in the public service after they had been
dismissed, and maintaining them there, in spite of all protests, till the
one had the grace to cut his throat and the other was sentenced by the
Queen's Bench to a term of imprisonment and a heavy fine, is too long to
be told, though it makes interesting reading in the twenty-second volume
of Howell's _State Trials_, where at the end of the report is to be found
the following note:

   'The proceedings against Messrs. Powell and Bembridge occasioned much
   animated discussion in the House of Commons, in which Mr. Burke warmly
   supported the accused.  The compassion which on these and all other
   occasions was manifested by Mr. Burke for the sufferings of those
   public delinquents, the zeal with which he advocated their cause, and
   the eagerness with which he endeavoured to extenuate their
   criminality, have received severe reprehension, and in particular when
   contrasted with his subsequent conduct in the prosecution of Mr.

The real reason for Burke's belief in Bembridge is, I think, to be found
in the evidence Burke gave on his behalf at the trial before Lord
Mansfield.  Bembridge had rendered Burke invaluable assistance in
carrying out his reforms at the Paymaster's Office, and Burke was
constitutionally unable to believe that a rogue could be on his side;
but, indeed, Burke was too apt to defend bad causes with a scream of
passion, and a politician who screams is never likely to occupy a
commanding place in the House of Commons.  A last reason for Burke's
exclusion from high office is to be found in his aversion to any measure
of Parliamentary Reform.  An ardent reformer like the Duke of
Richmond--the then Duke of Richmond--who was in favour of annual
parliaments, universal suffrage, and payment of members, was not likely
to wish to associate himself too closely with a politician who wept with
emotion at the bare thought of depriving Old Sarum of parliamentary

These reasons account for Burke's exclusion, and jealous as we naturally
and properly are of genius being snubbed by mediocrity, my reading at all
events does not justify me in blaming any one but the Fates for the
circumstance that Burke was never a Secretary of State.  And after all,
does it matter much what he was?  Burke no doubt occasionally felt his
exclusion a little hard; but he is the victor who remains in possession
of the field; and Burke is now, for us and for all coming after us, in
such possession.

It now only remains for me, drawing upon my stock of assurance, to essay
the analysis of the essential elements of Burke's mental character, and I
therefore at once proceed to say that it was Burke's peculiarity and his
glory to apply the imagination of a poet of the first order to the facts
and the business of life.  Arnold says of Sophocles:

   'He saw life steadily, and saw it whole.'

Substitute for the word 'life' the words 'organised society,' and you get
a peep into Burke's mind.  There was a catholicity about his gaze.  He
knew how the whole world lived.  Everything contributed to this: his vast
desultory reading; his education, neither wholly academical nor entirely
professional; his long years of apprenticeship in the service of
knowledge; his wanderings up and down the country; his vast
conversational powers; his enormous correspondence with all sorts of
people; his unfailing interest in all pursuits, trades, manufactures--all
helped to keep before him, like motes dancing in a sunbeam, the huge
organism of modern society, which requires for its existence and for its
development the maintenance of credit and of order.  Burke's imagination
led him to look out over the whole land: the legislator devising new
laws, the judge expounding and enforcing old ones, the merchant
despatching his goods and extending his credit, the banker advancing the
money of his customers upon the credit of the merchant, the frugal man
slowly accumulating the store which is to support him in old age, the
ancient institutions of Church and University with their seemly
provisions for sound learning and true religion, the parson in his
pulpit, the poet pondering his rhymes, the farmer eyeing his crops, the
painter covering his canvases, the player educating the feelings.  Burke
saw all this with the fancy of a poet, and dwelt on it with the eye of a
lover.  But love is the parent of fear, and none knew better than Burke
how thin is the lava layer between the costly fabric of society and the
volcanic heats and destroying flames of anarchy.  He trembled for the
fair frame of all established things, and to his horror saw men, instead
of covering the thin surface with the concrete, digging in it for
abstractions, and asking fundamental questions about the origin of
society, and why one man should be born rich and another poor.  Burke was
no prating optimist: it was his very knowledge how much could be said
against society that quickened his fears for it.  There is no shallower
criticism than that which accuses Burke in his later years of apostasy
from so-called Liberal opinions.  Burke was all his life through a
passionate maintainer of the established order of things, and a ferocious
hater of abstractions and metaphysical politics.  The same ideas that
explode like bombs through his diatribes against the French Revolution
are to be found shining with a mild effulgence in the comparative calm of
his earlier writings.  I have often been struck with a resemblance, which
I hope is not wholly fanciful, between the attitude of Burke's mind
towards government and that of Cardinal Newman towards religion.  Both
these great men belong, by virtue of their imaginations, to the poetic
order, and they both are to be found dwelling with amazing eloquence,
detail, and wealth of illustration on the varied elements of society.
Both seem as they write to have one hand on the pulse of the world, and
to be for ever alive to the throb of its action; and Burke, as he
regarded humanity swarming like bees into and out of their hives of
industry, is ever asking himself, How are these men to be saved from
anarchy? whilst Newman puts to himself the question, How are these men to
be saved from atheism?  Both saw the perils of free inquiry divorced from
practical affairs.

'Civil freedom,' says Burke, 'is not, as many have endeavoured to
persuade you, a thing that lies hid in the depth of abstruse science.  It
is a blessing and a benefit, not an abstract speculation, and all the
just reasoning that can be upon it is of so coarse a texture as perfectly
to suit the ordinary capacities of those who are to enjoy and of those
who are to defend it.'

'Tell men,' says Cardinal Newman, 'to gain notions of a Creator from His
works, and if they were to set about it (which nobody does), they would
be jaded and wearied by the labyrinth they were tracing; their minds
would be gorged and surfeited by the logical operation.  To most men
argument makes the point in hand more doubtful and considerably less
impressive.  After all, man is not a reasoning animal, he is a seeing,
feeling, contemplating, actual animal.'

Burke is fond of telling us that he is no lawyer, no antiquarian, but a
plain, practical man; and the Cardinal, in like manner, is ever insisting
that he is no theologian--he leaves everything of that sort to the
schools, whatever they may be, and simply deals with religion on its
practical side as a benefit to mankind.

If either of these great men has been guilty of intellectual excesses,
those of Burke may be attributed to his dread of anarchy, those of Newman
to his dread of atheism.  Neither of them was prepared to rest content
with a scientific frontier, an imaginary line.  So much did they dread
their enemy, so alive were they to the terrible strength of some of his
positions, that they could not agree to dispense with the protection
afforded by the huge mountains of prejudice and the ancient rivers of
custom.  The sincerity of either man can only be doubted by the bigot and
the fool.

But Burke, apart from his fears, had a constitutional love for old
things, simply because they were old.  Anything mankind had ever
worshipped, or venerated, or obeyed, was dear to him.  I have already
referred to his providing his Brahmins with a greenhouse for the purpose
of their rites, which he watched from outside with great interest.  One
cannot fancy Cardinal Newman peeping through a window to see men
worshipping false though ancient gods.  Warren Hastings' high-handed
dealings with the temples and time-honoured if scandalous customs of the
Hindoos filled Burke with horror.  So, too, he respected Quakers,
Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, and all those whom he called
Constitutional Dissenters.  He has a fine passage somewhere about Rust,
for with all his passion for good government he dearly loved a little
rust.  In this phase of character he reminds one not a little of another
great writer--whose death literature has still reason to deplore--George
Eliot; who, in her love for old hedgerows and barns and crumbling moss-
grown walls, was a writer after Burke's own heart, whose novels he would
have sat up all night to devour; for did he not deny with warmth Gibbon's
statement that he had read all five volumes of _Evelina_ in a day?  'The
thing is impossible,' cried Burke; 'they took me three days doing nothing
else.'  Now, _Evelina_ is a good novel, but _Silas Marner_ is a better.

Wordsworth has been called the High Priest of Nature.  Burke may be
called the High Priest of Order--a lover of settled ways, of justice,
peace, and security.  His writings are a storehouse of wisdom, not the
cheap shrewdness of the mere man of the world, but the noble, animating
wisdom of one who has the poet's heart as well as the statesman's brain.
Nobody is fit to govern this country who has not drunk deep at the
springs of Burke.  'Have you read your Burke?' is at least as sensible a
question to put to a parliamentary candidate, as to ask him whether he is
a total abstainer or a desperate drunkard.  Something there may be about
Burke to regret, and more to dispute; but that he loved justice and hated
iniquity is certain, as also it is that for the most part he dwelt in the
paths of purity, humanity, and good sense.  May we be found adhering to


Two distinguished men of letters, each an admirable representative of his
University--Mr. John Morley and Professor Seeley--have lately published
opinions on the subject of history, which, though very likely to prove
right, deserve to be carefully considered before assent is bestowed upon

Mr. Morley, when President of the Midland Institute, and speaking in the
Town Hall of Birmingham, said: 'I do not in the least want to know what
happened in the past, except as it enables me to see my way more clearly
through what is happening to-day,' and this same indifference is
professed, though certainly nowhere displayed, in other parts of Mr.
Morley's writings. {178}

Professor Seeley never makes his point quite so sharp as this, and
probably would hesitate to do so, but in the _Expansion of England_ he
expounds a theory of history largely based upon an indifference like that
which Mr. Morley professed at Birmingham.  His book opens thus: 'It is a
favourite maxim of mine that history, while it should be scientific in
its method, should pursue a practical object--that is, it should not
merely gratify the reader's curiosity about the past, but modify his view
of the present and his forecast of the future.  Now, if this maxim be
sound, the history of England ought to end with something that might be
called a moral.'

This, it must be admitted, is a large order.  The task of the historian,
as here explained, is not merely to tell us the story of the past, and
thus gratify our curiosity, but, pursuing a practical object, to seek to
modify our views of the present and help us in our forecasts of the
future, and this the historian is to do, not unconsciously and
incidentally, but deliberately and of set purpose.  One can well
understand how history, so written, will usually begin with a maxim, and
invariably end with a moral.

What we are afterwards told in the same book follows in logical sequence
upon our first quotation--namely, that 'history fades into _mere
literature_ (the italics are ours), when it loses sight of its relation
to practical politics.'  In this grim sentence we read the dethronement
of Clio.  The poor thing must forswear her father's house, her tuneful
sisters, the invocation of the poet, the worship of the dramatist, and
keep her terms at the University, where, if she is really studious and
steady, and avoids literary companions (which ought not to be difficult),
she may hope some day to be received into the Royal Society as a second-
rate science.  The people who do not usually go to the Royal Society will
miss their old playmate from her accustomed slopes, but, even were they
to succeed in tracing her to her new home, access would be denied them;
for Professor Seeley, that stern custodian, has his answer ready for all
such seekers.  'If you want recreation, you must find it in Poetry,
particularly Lyrical Poetry.  Try Shelley.  We can no longer allow you to
disport yourselves in the Fields of History as if they were a mere
playground.  Clio is enclosed.'

At present, however, this is not quite the case; for the old literary
traditions are still alive, and prove somewhat irritating to Professor
Seeley, who, though one of the most even-tempered of writers, is to be
found on p. 173 almost angry with Thackeray, a charming person, who, as
we all know, had, after his lazy literary fashion, made an especial study
of Queen Anne's time, and who cherished the pleasant fancy that a man
might lie in the heather with a pipe in his mouth, and yet, if he had
only an odd volume of the _Spectator_ or the _Tatler_ in his hand, be
learning history all the time.  'As we read in these delightful pages,'
says the author of _Esmond_, 'the past age returns; the England of our
ancestors is revivified; the Maypole rises in the Strand; the beaux are
gathering in the coffee-houses;' and so on, in the style we all know and
love so well, and none better, we may rest assured, than Professor Seeley
himself, if only he were not tortured by the thought that people were
taking this to be a specimen of the science of which he is a Regius
Professor.  His comment on this passage of Thackeray's is almost a groan.
'What is this but the old literary groove, leading to no trustworthy
knowledge?' and certainly no one of us, from letting his fancy gaze on
the Maypole in the Strand, could ever have foretold the Griffin.  On the
same page he cries: 'Break the drowsy spell of narrative.  Ask yourself
questions, set yourself problems; your mind will at once take up a new
attitude.  Now, modern English history breaks up into two grand
problems--the problem of the Colonies and the problem of India.'  The
Cambridge School of History with a vengeance!

In a paper read at the South Kensington Museum in 1884, Professor Seeley
observes: 'The essential point is this, that we should recognise that to
study history is to study not merely a narrative, but _at the same time_
certain theoretical studies.'  He then proceeds to name them:--Political
philosophy, the comparative study of legal institutions, political
economy, and international law.

These passages are, I think, adequate to give a fair view of Professor
Seeley's position.  History is a science, to be written scientifically
and to be studied scientifically in conjunction with other studies.  It
should pursue a practical object and be read with direct reference to
practical politics--using the latter word, no doubt, in an enlightened
sense.  History is not a narrative of all sorts of facts--biographical,
moral, political--but of such facts as a scientific diagnosis has
ascertained to be historically interesting.  In fine, history, if her
study is to be profitable and not a mere pastime, less exhausting than
skittles and cheaper than horse exercise, must be dominated by some
theory capable of verification by reference to certain ascertained facts
belonging to a particular class.  Is this the right way of looking upon
history?  The dictionaries tell us that history and story are the same
word, and are derived from a Greek source, signifying information
obtained by inquiry.  The natural definition of history, therefore,
surely is the story of man upon earth, and the historian is he who tells
us any chapter or fragment of that story.  All things that on earth do
dwell have, no doubt, their history as well as man; but when a member,
however humble, of the human race speaks of history without any
explanatory context, he may be presumed to be alluding to his own family
records, to the story of humanity during its passage across the earth's

'A talent for history'--I am quoting from an author whose style, let
those mock at it who may, will reveal him--'may be said to be born with
us as our chief inheritance.  History has been written with
quipo-threads, with feather pictures, with wampum belts, still oftener
with earth-mounds and monumental stone-heaps, whether as pyramid or
cairn; for the Celt and the Copt, the red man as well as the white, lives
between two eternities, and warring against oblivion, he would fain unite
himself in clear, conscious relation, as in dim, unconscious relation he
is already united, with the whole future and the whole past.'

To keep the past alive for us is the pious function of the historian.  Our
curiosity is endless, his the task of gratifying it.  We want to know
what happened long ago.  Performance of this task is only proximately
possible; but none the less it must be attempted, for the demand for it
is born afresh with every infant's cry.  History is a pageant, and not a

Poets, no less than professors, occasionally say good things even in
prose, and the following oracular utterance of Shelley is not pure
nonsense:--'History is the cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories
of men.  The past, like an inspired rhapsodist, fills the theatre of
everlasting generations with her harmony.'

If this be thought a little too fanciful, let me adorn these pages with a
passage from one of the great masters of English prose--Walter Savage
Landor.  Would that the pious labour of transcription could confer the
tiniest measure of the gift!  In that bundle of imaginary letters Landor
called _Pericles and Aspasia_, we find Aspasia writing to her friend
Cleone as follows:

   'To-day there came to visit us a writer who is not yet an author; his
   name is Thucydides.  We understand that he has been these several
   years engaged in preparation for a history.  Pericles invited him to
   meet Herodotus, when that wonderful man had returned to our country,
   and was about to sail from Athens.  Until then it was believed by the
   intimate friends of Thucydides that he would devote his life to
   poetry, and, such is his vigour both of thought and expression, that
   he would have been the rival of Pindar.  Even now he is fonder of
   talking on poetry than any other subject, and blushed when history was
   mentioned.  By degrees, however, he warmed, and listened with deep
   interest to the discourse of Pericles on the duties of a historian.

   '"May our first Athenian historian not be the greatest," said he, "as
   the first of our dramatists has been, in the opinion of many.  We are
   growing too loquacious, both on the stage and off.  We make
   disquisitions which render us only more and more dim-sighted, and
   excursions that only consume our stores.  If some among us who have
   acquired celebrity by their compositions, calm, candid, contemplative
   men, were to undertake the history of Athens from the invasion of
   Xerxes, I should expect a fair and full criticism on the orations of
   Antiphon, and experience no disappointment at their forgetting the
   battle of Salamis.  History, when she has lost her Muse, will lose her
   dignity, her occupation, her character, her name.  She will wander
   about the Agora; she will start, she will stop, she will look wild,
   she will look stupid, she will take languidly to her bosom doubts,
   queries, essays, dissertations, some of which ought to go before her,
   some to follow, and all to stand apart.  The field of history should
   not merely be well tilled, but well peopled.  None is delightful to me
   or interesting in which I find not as many illustrious names as have a
   right to enter it.  We might as well in a drama place the actors
   behind the scenes, and listen to the dialogue there, as in a history
   push valiant men back and protrude ourselves with husky disputations.
   Show me rather how great projects were executed, great advantages
   gained, and great calamities averted.  Show me the generals and the
   statesmen who stood foremost, that I may bend to them in reverence;
   tell me their names, that I may repeat them to my children.  Teach me
   whence laws were introduced, upon what foundation laid, by what
   custody guarded, in what inner keep preserved.  Let the books of the
   treasury lie closed as religiously as the Sibyl's; leave weights and
   measures in the market-place, Commerce in the harbour, the Arts in the
   light they love, Philosophy in the shade; place History on her
   rightful throne, and at the sides of her Eloquence and War."'

This is, doubtless, a somewhat full-dress view of history.  Landor was
not one of our modern dressing-gown-and-slippers kind of authors.  He
always took pains to be splendid, and preferred stately magnificence to
chatty familiarity.  But, after allowing for this, is not the passage I
have quoted infused with a great deal of the true spirit which should
animate the historian, and does it not seem to take us by the hand and
lead us very far away from Professor Seeley's maxims and morals, his
theoretical studies, his political philosophy, his political economy, and
his desire to break the drowsy spell of narrative, and to set us all
problems?  I ask this question in no spirit of enmity towards these
theoretical studies, nor do I doubt for one moment that the student of
history proper, who has a turn in their directions, will find his pursuit
made only the more fascinating the more he studies them--just as a little
botany is said to add to the charm of a country walk; but--and surely the
assertion is not necessarily paradoxical--these studies ought not to be
allowed to disfigure the free-flowing outline of the historical Muse, or
to thicken her clear utterance, which in her higher moods chants an epic,
and in her ordinary moods recites a narrative which need not be drowsy.

As for maxims, we all of us have our 'little hoard of maxims' wherewith
to preach down our hearts and justify anything shabby we may have done;
but the less we import their cheap wisdom into history the better.  The
author of the _Expansion of England_ will probably agree with Burke in
thinking that 'a great empire and little minds go ill together,' and so,
surely, _a fortiori_, must a mighty universe and any possible maxim.
There have been plenty of brave historical maxims before Professor
Seeley's, though only Lord Bolingbroke's has had the good luck to become
itself historical. {189}  And as for theories, Professor Flint, a very
learned writer, has been at the pains to enumerate fourteen French and
thirteen German philosophies of history current (though some, I expect,
never ran either fast or far) since the revival of learning.

We are (are we not?) in these days in no little danger of being
philosophy-ridden, and of losing our love for facts simply as facts.  So
long as Carlyle lived the concrete had a representative, the strength of
whose epithets sufficed, if not to keep the philosophers in awe, at least
to supply their opponents with stones.  But now it is different.  Carlyle
is no more a model historian than is Shakspeare a model dramatist.  The
merest tyro can count the faults of either on his clumsy fingers.  That
born critic, the late Sir George Lewis, had barely completed his tenth
year before he was able, in a letter to his mother, to point out to her
the essentially faulty structure of _Hamlet_, and many a duller wit, a
decade or two later in his existence, has come to the conclusion that
_Frederick the Great_ is far too long.  But whatever were Carlyle's
faults, his historical method was superbly naturalistic.  Have we a
historian left us so honestly possessed as he was with the genuine
historical instinct, the true enthusiasm to know what happened; or one
half so fond of a story for its own sake, or so in love with things, not
for what they were, but simply because they were?  'What wonderful things
are events!' wrote Lord Beaconsfield in _Coningsby_; 'the least are of
greater importance than the most sublime and comprehensive speculations.'
To say this is to go perhaps too far; certainly it is to go farther than
Carlyle, who none the less was in sympathy with the remark; for he also
worshipped events, believing as he did that but for the breath of God's
mouth they never would have been events at all.  We thus find him always
treating even comparatively insignificant facts with a measure of
reverence, and handling them lovingly, as does a book-hunter the
shabbiest pamphlet in his collection.  We have only to think of Carlyle's
essay on the _Diamond Necklace_ to fill our minds with his qualifications
for the proud office of the historian.  Were that inimitable piece of
workmanship to be submitted to the criticisms of the new scientific
school, we doubt whether it would be so much as classed, whilst the
celebrated description of the night before the battle of Dunbar in
_Cromwell_, or any hundred scenes from the _French Revolution_, would, we
expect, be catalogued as good examples of that degrading process whereby
history fades into mere literature.

This is not a question, be it observed, of style.  What is called a
picturesque style is generally a great trial.  Who was it who called
Professor Masson's style Carlyle on wooden legs?  What can be drearier
than when a plain matter-of-fact writer attempts to be animated, and
tries to make his characters live by the easy but futile expedient of
writing about them in the present tense?  What is wanted is a passion for
facts; the style may be left to take care of itself.  Let me name a
historian who detested fine writing, and who never said to himself, 'Go
to, I will make a description,' and who yet was dominated by a love for
facts, whose one desire always was to know what happened, to dispel
illusion, and establish the true account--Dr. S. R. Maitland, of the
Lambeth Library, whose volumes entitled _The Dark Ages_ and _The
Reformation_ are to history what Milton's _Lycidas_ is said to be to
poetry: if they do not interest you, your tastes are not historical.

The difference, we repeat, is not of style, but of aim.  Is history a
pageant or a philosophy?  That eminent historian, Lord Macaulay, whose
passion for letters and for 'mere literature' ennobled his whole life,
has expressed himself in some places, I need scarcely add in a most
forcible manner, in the same sense as Mr. Morley.  In his well-known
essay on history, contributed to the _Edinburgh Review_ in 1828, we find
him writing as follows: 'Facts are the mere dross of history.  It is from
the abstract truth which interpenetrates them, and lies latent amongst
them like gold in the ore, that the mass derives its whole value.'  And
again: 'No past event has any intrinsic importance.  The knowledge of it
is valuable only as it leads us to form just calculations with respect to
the future.'  These are strong passages; but Lord Macaulay was a royal
eclectic, and was quite out of sympathy with the majority of that
brotherhood who are content to tone down their contradictories to the
dull level of ineptitudes.  Macaulay never toned down his
contradictories, but, heightening everything all round, went on his
sublime way, rejoicing like a strong man to run a race, and well knowing
that he could give anybody five yards in fifty and win easily.  It is,
therefore, no surprise to find him, in the very essay in which he speaks
so contemptuously of facts, laying on with his vigorous brush a
celebrated purple patch I would gladly transfer to my own dull page were
it not too long and too well known.  A line or two taken at random will
give its purport:

'A truly great historian would reclaim those materials the novelist has
appropriated.  We should not then have to look for the wars and votes of
the Puritans in Clarendon and for their phraseology in _Old Mortality_,
for one half of King James in Hume and for the other half in the
_Fortunes of Nigel_. . . . Society would be shown from the highest to the
lowest, from the royal cloth of state to the den of the outlaw, from the
throne of the legate to the chimney-corner where the begging friar
regaled himself.  Palmers, minstrels, crusaders, the stately monastery
with the good cheer in its refectory, and the tournament with the heralds
and ladies, the trumpets and the cloth of gold, would give truth and life
to the representation.'  It is difficult to see what abstract truth
interpenetrates the cheer of the refectory, or what just calculations
with respect to the future even an upholsterer could draw from a cloth,
either of state or of gold; whilst most people will admit that, when the
brilliant essayist a few years later set himself to compose his own
magnificent history, so far as he interpenetrated it with the abstract
truths of Whiggism, and calculated that the future would be satisfied
with the first Reform Bill, he did ill and guessed wrong.

To reconcile Macaulay's utterances on this subject is beyond my powers,
but of two things I am satisfied: the first is that, were he to come to
life again, a good many of us would be more careful than we are how we
write about him; and the second is that, on the happening of the same
event, he would be found protesting against the threatened domination of
all things by scientific theory.  A Western American, who was once
compelled to spend some days in Boston, was accustomed in after-life to
describe that seat of polite learning to his horrified companions in
California as a city in whose streets Respectability stalked unchecked.
This is just what philosophical theories are doing amongst us, and a
decent person can hardly venture abroad without one, though it does not
much matter which one.  Everybody is expected to have 'a system of
philosophy with principles coherent, interdependent, subordinate, and
derivative,' and to be able to account for everything, even for things it
used not to be thought sensible to believe in, like ghosts and haunted
houses.  Keats remarks in one of his letters with great admiration upon
what he christens Shakspeare's 'negative capability,' meaning thereby
Shakspeare's habit of complaisant observation from outside of theory, and
his keen enjoyment of the unexplained facts of life.  He did not pour
himself out in every strife.  We have but little of this negative
capability.  The ruddy qualities of delightfulness, of pleasantness, are
all 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.'  The varied elements
of life--the

   'Murmur of living,
   Stir of existence,
   Soul of the world!'

seem to be fading from literature.  Pure literary enthusiasm sheds but
few rays.  To be lively is to be flippant, and epigram is dubbed paradox.

That many people appear to like a drab-coloured world hung round with
dusky shreds of philosophy is sufficiently obvious.  These persons find
any relaxation they may require from a too severe course of theories,
religious, political, social, or now, alas! historical, in the novels of
Mr. W. D. Howells, an American gentleman who has not been allowed to
forget that he once asserted of fiction what Professor Seeley would be
glad to be able to assert of history, that the drowsy spell of narrative
has been broken.  We are to look for no more Sir Walters, no more
Thackerays, no more Dickens.  The stories have all been told.  Plots are
exploded.  Incident is over.  In moods of dejection these dark sayings
seemed only too true.  Shakspeare's saddest of sad lines rose to one's

   'My grief lies onward and my joy behind.'

Behind us are _Ivanhoe_ and _Guy Mannering_, _Pendennis_ and _The
Virginians_, Pecksniff and Micawber.  In front of us stretch a
never-ending series, a dreary vista of _Foregone Conclusions_,
_Counterfeit Presentments_, and _Undiscovered Countries_.  But the
darkest watch of the night is the one before the dawn, and relief is
often nearest us when we least expect it.  All this gloomy nonsense was
suddenly dispelled, and the fact that really and truly, and behind this
philosophical arras, we were all inwardly ravening for stories was most
satisfactorily established by the incontinent manner in which we flung
ourselves into the arms of Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, to whom we could
almost have raised a statue in the market-place for having written
_Treasure Island_.

But to return to history.  The interests of our poor human life, which
seems to become duller every day, require that the fields of history
should be kept for ever unenclosed, and be a free breathing-place for a
pallid population well-nigh stifled with the fumes of philosophy.

Were we, imaginatively, to propel ourselves forward to the middle of the
next century, and to fancy a well-equipped historian armed with the
digested learning of Gibbon, endowed with the eye of Carlyle, and say one-
fifteenth of his humour (even then a dangerous allotment in a dull
world), the moral gravity of Dr. Arnold, the critical sympathy of Sainte-
Beuve, and the style of Dr. Newman, approaching the period through which
we have lived, should we desire this talented mortal to encumber himself
with a theory into which to thrust all our doings as we toss clothes into
a portmanteau; to set himself to extract the essence of some new
political philosophy, capable of being applied to the practical politics
of his own day, or to busy himself with problems or economics?  To us
personally, of course, it is a matter of indifference how the historians
of the twentieth century conduct themselves; but ought not our altruism
to bear the strain of a hope that at least one of the band may avoid all
these things, and, leaving political philosophy to the political
philosopher and political economy to the political economist, remember
that the first, if not the last, duty of the historian is to narrate, to
supply the text not the comment, the subject not the sermon, and proceed
to tell our grandchildren and remoter issue the story of our lives?  The
clash of arms will resound through his pages as musically as ever it does
through those of the elder historians as he tells of the encounter
between the Northern and Southern States of America, in which Right and
Might, those great twin-brethren, fought side by side; but Romance, that
ancient parasite, clung affectionately with her tendril-hands to the
mouldering walls of an ancient wrong, thus enabling the historian, whilst
awarding the victor's palm to General Grant, to write kindly of the lost
cause, dear to the heart of a nobler and more chivalrous man, General
Lee, of the Virginian army.  And again, is it not almost possible to envy
the historian to whom will belong the task of writing with full
information, and all the advantage of the true historic distance, the
history of that series of struggles and heroisms, of plots and counter-
plots, of crimes and counter-crimes, resulting in the freedom of Italy,
and of telling to a world, eager to listen, the life-story of Joseph

   'Of God nor man was ever this thing said,
      That he could give
   Life back to her who gave him, whence his dead
      Mother might live.
   But this man found his mother dead and slain,
      With fast sealed eyes,
   And bade the dead rise up and live again,
      And she did rise.'

Nor will our imaginary historian be unmindful of Cavour, or fail to
thrill his readers by telling them how, when the great Italian statesman,
with many sins upon his conscience, lay in the very grasp of death, he
interrupted the priests, busy at their work of intercession, almost
roughly, with the exclamation, 'Pray not for me.'  'Pray for Italy!'
whilst if he be one who has a turn for that ironical pastime, the
dissection of a king, the curious character, and muddle of motives,
calling itself Carlo Alberto, will afford him material for at least two
paragraphs of subtle interest.  Lastly, if our historian is ambitious of
a larger canvas and of deeper colours, what is there to prevent him,
bracing himself to the task,--

      'As when some mighty painter dips
   His pencil in the hues of earthquake and eclipse,'

from writing the epitaph of the Napoleonic legend?

But all this time I hear Professor Seeley whispering in my ear, 'What is
this but the old literary groove leading to no trustworthy knowledge?'  If
by trustworthy knowledge is meant demonstrable conclusions, capable of
being expressed in terms at once exact and final, trustworthy knowledge
is not to be gained from the witness of history, whose testimony none the
less must be received, weighed, and taken into account.  Truly observes
Carlyle: 'If history is philosophy teaching by examples, the writer
fitted to compose history is hitherto an unknown man.  Better were it
that mere earthly historians should lower such pretensions, and, aiming
only at some picture of the thing acted, which picture itself will be but
a poor approximation, leave the inscrutable purport of them an
acknowledged secret.'  'Some picture of the thing acted.'  Here we behold
the task of the historian; nor is it an idle, fruitless task.  Science is
not the only, or the chief source of knowledge.  The _Iliad_,
Shakspeare's plays, have taught the world more than the _Politics_ of
Aristotle or the _Novum Organum_ of Bacon.

Facts are not the dross of history, but the true metal, and the historian
is a worker in that metal.  He has nothing to do with abstract truth, or
with practical politics, or with forecasts of the future.  A worker in
metal he is, and has certainly plenty of what Lord Bacon used to call
'stuff' to work upon; but if he is to be a great historian, and not a
mere chronicler, he must be an artist as well as an artisan, and have
something of the spirit which animated such a man as Francesco Francia of
Bologna, now only famous as a painter, but in his own day equally
celebrated as a worker in gold, and whose practice it was to sign his
pictures with the word Goldsmith after his name, whilst he engraved
Painter on his golden crucifixes.

The true historian, therefore, seeking to compose a true picture of the
thing acted, must collect facts, select facts, and combine facts.  Methods
will differ, styles will differ.  Nobody ever does anything exactly like
anybody else; but the end in view is generally the same, and the
historian's end is truthful narration.  Maxims he will have, if he is
wise, never a one; and as for a moral, if he tell his story well, it will
need none; if he tell it ill, it will deserve none.

The stream of narrative flowing swiftly, as it does, over the jagged
rocks of human destiny, must often be turbulent and tossed; it is,
therefore, all the more the duty of every good citizen to keep it as
undefiled as possible, and to do what in him lies to prevent peripatetic
philosophers on the banks from throwing their theories into it, either
dead ones to decay, or living ones to drown.  Let the philosophers
ventilate their theories, construct their blow-holes, extract their
essences, discuss their maxims, and point their morals as much as they
will; but let them do so apart.  History must not lose her Muse, or 'take
to her bosom doubts, queries, essays, dissertations, some of which ought
to go before her, some to follow, and all to stand apart.'  Let us at all
events secure our narrative first--sermons and philosophy the day after.


Mr. Walter Bagehot preferred Hazlitt to Lamb, reckoning the former much
the greater writer.  The preferences of such a man as Bagehot are not to
be lightly disregarded, least of all when their sincerity is vouched for,
as in the present case, by half a hundred quotations from the favoured
author.  Certainly no writer repays a literary man's devotion better than
Hazlitt, of whose twenty seldom read volumes hardly a page but glitters
with quotable matter; the true ore, to be had for the cost of cartage.
You may live like a gentleman for a twelvemonth on Hazlitt's ideas.
Opinions, no doubt, differ as to how many quotations a writer is entitled
to; but, for my part, I like to see an author leap-frog into his subject
over the back of a brother.

I do not remember whether Bagehot has anywhere given his reasons for his
preference--the open avowal whereof drove Crabb Robinson well-nigh
distracted; and it is always rash to find reasons for a faith you do not
share; but probably they partook of the nature of a complaint that Elia's
treatment of men and things (meaning by things, books) is often
fantastical, unreal, even a shade insincere; whilst Hazlitt always at
least aims at the centre, whether he hits it or not.  Lamb dances round a
subject; Hazlitt grapples with it.  So far as Hazlitt is concerned,
doubtless this is so; his literary method seems to realize the agreeable
aspiration of Mr. Browning's _Italian in England_:--

   'I would grasp Metternich until
   I felt his wet red throat distil
   In blood thro' these two hands.'

Hazlitt is always grasping some Metternich.  He said himself that Lamb's
talk was like snap-dragon, and his own not very much 'unlike a game of
nine-pins.'  Lamb, writing to him on one occasion about his son, wishes
the little fellow a 'smoother head of hair and somewhat of a better
temper than his father;' and the pleasant words seem to call back from
the past the stormy figure of the man who loved art, literature, and the
drama with a consuming passion, who has described books and plays,
authors and actors, with a fiery enthusiasm and reality quite
unsurpassable, and who yet, neither living nor dead, has received his due
meed of praise.  Men still continue to hold aloof from Hazlitt; his
shaggy head and fierce scowling temper still seem to terrorize; and his
very books, telling us though they do about all things most
delightful--poems, pictures, and the cheerful playhouse--frown upon us
from their upper shelf.  From this it appears that would a genius ensure
for himself immortality, he must brush his hair and keep his temper; but,
alas! how seldom can he be persuaded to do either.  Charles Lamb did
both; and the years as they roll do but swell the rich revenues of his
praise.  Lamb's popularity shows no sign of waning.  Even that most
extraordinary compound, the rising generation of readers, whose taste in
literature is as erratic as it is pronounced; who have never heard of
James Thomson who sang _The Seasons_ (including the pleasant episode of
Musidora bathing), but understand by any reference to that name only the
striking author of _The City of Dreadful Night_; even these wayward
folk--the dogs of whose criticism, not yet full grown, will, when let
loose, as some day they must be, cry 'havoc' amongst established
reputations--read their Lamb, letters as well as essays, with laughter
and with love.

If it be really seriously urged against Lamb as an author that he is
fantastical and artistically artificial, it must be owned he is so.  His
humour, exquisite as it is, is modish.  It may not be for all markets.
How it affected the Scottish Thersites we know only too well--that dour
spirit required more potent draughts to make him forget his misery and
laugh.  It took Swift or Smollett to move his mirth, which was always,
three parts of it, derision.  Lamb's elaborateness, what he himself calls
his affected array of antique modes and phrases, is sometimes overlooked
in these strange days, when it is thought better to read about an author
than to read him.  To read aloud the _Praise of Chimney Sweepers_ without
stumbling, or halting, not to say mispronouncing, and to set in motion
every one of its carefully-swung sentences, is a very pretty feat in
elocution, for there is not what can be called a natural sentence in it
from beginning to end.  Many people have not patience for this sort of
thing; they like to laugh and move on.  Other people, again, like an
essay to be about something really important, and to conduct them to
conclusions they deem worth carrying away.  Lamb's views about
indiscriminate almsgiving, so far as these can be extracted from his
paper _On the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis_, are unsound, whilst
there are at least three ladies still living (in Brighton) quite
respectably on their means, who consider the essay entitled _A Bachelor's
Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People_ improper.  But, as a rule,
Lamb's essays are neither unsound nor improper; none the less they are,
in the judgment of some, things of naught--not only lacking, as Southey
complained they did, 'sound religious feeling,' but everything else
really worthy of attention.

To discuss such congenital differences of taste is idle; but it is not
idle to observe that when Lamb is read, as he surely deserves to be, as a
whole--letters and poems no less than essays--these notes of fantasy and
artificiality no longer dominate.  The man Charles Lamb was far more
real, far more serious, despite his jesting, more self-contained and self-
restrained, than Hazlitt, who wasted his life in the pursuit of the
veriest will-o'-the-wisps that ever danced over the most miasmatic of
swamps, who was never his own man, and who died, like Brian de Bois
Gilbert, 'the victim of contending passions.'  It should never be
forgotten that Lamb's vocation was his life.  Literature was but his
byplay, his avocation in the true sense of that much-abused word.  He was
not a fisherman, but an angler in the lake of letters; an author by
chance and on the sly.  He had a right to disport himself on paper, to
play the frolic with his own fancies, to give the decalogue the slip,
whose life was made up of the sternest stuff, of self-sacrifice,
devotion, honesty, and good sense.

Lamb's letters from first to last are full of the philosophy of life; he
was as sensible a man as Dr. Johnson.  One grows sick of the expressions,
'poor Charles Lamb,' 'gentle Charles 'Lamb,' as if he were one of those
grown-up children of the Leigh Hunt type, who are perpetually begging and
borrowing through the round of every man's acquaintance.  Charles Lamb
earned his own living, paid his own way, was the helper, not the helped;
a man who was beholden to no one, who always came with gifts in his hand,
a shrewd man, capable of advice, strong in council.  Poor Lamb, indeed!
Poor Coleridge, robbed of his will; poor Wordsworth, devoured by his own
_ego_; poor Southey, writing his tomes and deeming himself a classic;
poor Carlyle, with his nine volumes of memoirs, where he

   'Lies like a hedgehog rolled up the wrong way,
   Tormenting himself with his prickles'--

call these men poor, if you feel it decent to do so, but not Lamb, who
was rich in all that makes life valuable or memory sweet.  But he used to
get drunk.  This explains all.  Be untruthful, unfaithful, unkind; darken
the lives of all who have to live under your shadow, rob youth of joy,
take peace from age, live unsought for, die unmourned--and remaining
sober you will escape the curse of men's pity, and be spoken of as a
worthy person.  But if ever, amidst what Burns called 'social noise,' you
so far forget yourself as to get drunk, think not to plead a spotless
life spent with those for whom you have laboured and saved; talk not of
the love of friends or of help given to the needy; least of all make
reference to a noble self-sacrifice passing the love of women, for all
will avail you nothing.  You get drunk--and the heartless and the selfish
and the lewd crave the privilege of pitying you, and receiving your name
with an odious smile.  It is really too bad.

The completion of Mr. Ainger's edition of Lamb's works deserves a word of
commemoration.  In our judgment it is all an edition of Lamb's works
should be.  Upon the vexed question, nowadays so much agitated, whether
an editor is to be allowed any discretion in the exclusion from his
edition of the rinsings of his author's desk, we side with Mr. Ainger,
and think more nobly of the editor than to deny him such a discretion.  An
editor is not a sweep, and, by the love he bears the author whose fame he
seeks to spread abroad, it is his duty to exclude what he believes does
not bear the due impress of the author's mind.  No doubt as a rule
editors have no discretion to be trusted; but happily Mr. Ainger has
plenty, and most sincerely do we thank him for withholding from us _A
Vision of Horns_ and _The Pawnbroker's Daughter_.  Boldly to assert, as
some are found to do, that the editor of a master of style has no choice
but to reprint the scraps or notelets that a misdirected energy may
succeed in disinterring from the grave the writer had dug for them, is to
fail to grasp the distinction between a collector of _curios_ and a lover
of books.  But this policy of exclusion is no doubt a perilous one.  Like
the Irish members, or Mark Antony's wife--the 'shrill-toned Fulvia'--the
missing essays are 'good, being gone.'  Surely, so we are inclined to
grumble, the taste was severe that led Mr. Ainger to dismiss _Juke
Judkins_.  We are not, indeed, prepared to say that Judkins has been
wrongfully dismissed, or that he has any right of action against Mr.
Ainger, but we could have put up better with his presence than his

Mr. Ainger's introduction to the _Essays of Elia_ is admirable; here is a
bit of it:

   'Another feature of Lamb's style is its allusiveness.  He is rich in
   quotations, and in my notes I have succeeded in tracing most of them
   to their source, a matter of some difficulty in Lamb's case, for his
   inaccuracy is all but perverse.  But besides those avowedly introduced
   as such, his style is full of quotations held, if the expression may
   be allowed, in solution.  One feels, rather than recognises, that a
   phrase or idiom or turn of expression is an echo of something that one
   has heard or read before.  Yet such is the use made of the material,
   that a charm is added by the very fact that we are thus continually
   renewing our experience of an older day.  This style becomes aromatic,
   like the perfume of faded rose-leaves in a china jar.  With such
   allusiveness as this I need not say that I have not meddled in my
   notes; its whole charm lies in recognising it for ourselves.  The
   "prosperity" of an allusion, as of a jest, "lies in the ear of him
   that hears it," and it were doing a poor service to Lamb or his
   readers to draw out and arrange in order the threads he has wrought
   into the very fabric of his English.'

Then Mr. Ainger's notes are not meddlesome notes, but truly explanatory
ones, genuine aids to enjoyment.  Lamb needs notes, and yet the task of
adding them to a structure so fine and of such nicely studied proportions
is a difficult one; it is like building a tool-house against La Sainte
Chapelle.  Deftly has Mr. Ainger inserted his notes, and capital reading
do they make; they tell us all we ought to want to know.  He is no true
lover of Elia who does not care to know who the 'Distant Correspondent'
was.  And Barbara S---.  'It was not much that Barbara had to claim.'  No,
dear child! it was not--'a bare half-guinea'; but you are surely also
entitled to be known to us by your real name.  When Lamb tells us
Barbara's maiden name was Street, and that she was three times
married--first to a Mr. Dancer, then to a Mr. Barry, and finally to a Mr.
Crawford, whose widow she was when he first knew her--he is telling us
things that were not, for the true Barbara died a spinster, and was born
a Kelly.

Mr. Ainger, as was to be expected, has a full, instructive note anent the
Old Benchers of the Inner Temple.  Some hasty editors, with a sorrowfully
large experience of Lamb's unblushing fictions and Defoe-like falsehoods,
and who, perhaps, have wasted good hours trying to find out all about
Miss Barbara's third husband, have sometimes assumed that at all events
most of the names mentioned by Lamb in his immortal essay on the Benchers
are fictitious.  Mr. Ainger, however, assures us that the fact is
otherwise.  Jekyl, Coventry, Pierson, Parton, Read, Wharry, Jackson, and
Mingay, no less than 'unruffled Samuel Salt,' were all real persons, and
were called to the Bench of the Honourable Society by those very names.
One mistake, indeed, Lamb makes--he writes of Mr. Twopenny as if he had
been a Bencher.  Now, there never yet was a Bencher of the name of
Twopenny; though the mistake is easily accounted for.  There was a Mr.
Twopenny, a very thin man too, just as Lamb described him, who lived in
the Temple; but he was not a Bencher, he was not even a barrister; he was
a much better thing, namely, stockbroker to the Bank of England.  The
holding of this office, which Mr. Ainger rightly calls important,
doubtless accounts for Twopenny's constant good-humour and felicitous
jesting about his own person.  A man who has a snug berth other people
want feels free to crack such jokes.

Of the contents of these three volumes we can say deliberately what Dr.
Johnson said, surely in his haste, of Baxter's three hundred works, 'Read
them all, they are all good.'  Do not be content with the essays alone.
It is shabby treatment of an author who has given you pleasure to leave
him half unread; it is nearly as bad as keeping a friend waiting.  Anyhow,
read _Mrs. Leicester's School_; it is nearly all Mary Lamb's, but the
more you like it on that account the better pleased her brother would
have been.

We are especially glad to notice that Mr. Ainger holds us out hopes of an
edition, uniform with the works, of the letters of Charles Lamb.  Until
he has given us these, also with notes, his pious labours are incomplete.
Lamb's letters are not only the best text of his life, but the best
comment upon it.  They reveal all the heroism of the man and all the
cunning of the author; they do the reader good by stealth.  Let us have
them speedily, so that honest men may have in their houses a complete
edition of at least one author of whom they can truthfully say, that they
never know whether they most admire the writer or love the man.


There are men whose charm is in their entirety.  Their words occasionally
utter what their looks invariably express.  We read their thoughts by the
light of their smiles.  Not to see and hear these men is not to know
them, and criticism without personal knowledge is in their case
mutilation.  Those who did know them listen in despair to the
half-hearted praise and clumsy disparagement of critical strangers, and
are apt to exclaim, as did the younger Pitt, when some extraneous person
was expressing wonder at the enormous reputation of Fox, 'Ah! you have
never been under the wand of the magician.'

Of such was Ralph Waldo Emerson.  When we find so cool-brained a critic
as Mr. Lowell writing and quoting thus of Emerson:

   'Those who heard him while their natures were yet plastic, and their
   mental nerves trembled under the slightest breath of divine air, will
   never cease to feel and say:

   '"Was never eye did see that face
      Was never ear did hear that tongue,
   Was never mind did mind his grace
      That ever thought the travail long;
   But eyes, and ears, and every thought
   Were with his sweet perfections caught;"'

we recognise at once that the sooner we take off our shoes the better,
for that the ground upon which we are standing is holy.  How can we
sufficiently honour the men who, in this secular, work-a-day world,
habitually breathe

   'An ampler ether, a diviner air,'

than ours!

But testimony of this kind, conclusive as it is upon the question of
Emerson's personal influence, will not always be admissible in support of
his claims as an author.  In the long-run an author's only witnesses are
his own books.

In Dr. Holmes's estimate of Emerson's books everyone must wish to concur.
{218}  These are not the days, nor is this dry and thirsty land of ours
the place, when or where we can afford to pass by any well of spiritual
influence.  It is matter, therefore, for rejoicing that, in the opinion
of so many good judges, Emerson's well can never be choked up.  His
essays, so at least we are told by no less a critic than Mr. Arnold, are
the most valuable prose contributions to English literature of the
century; his letters to Mr. Carlyle carried into all our homes the charm
of a most delightful personality; the quaint melody of his poems abides
in many ears.  He would, indeed, be a churl who grudged Emerson his fame.

But when we are considering a writer so full of intelligence as
Emerson--one so remote and detached from the world's bluster and brag--it
is especially incumbent upon us to charge our own language with
intelligence, and to make sure that what we say is at least truth for us.

Were we at liberty to agree with Dr. Holmes in his unmeasured praise--did
we, in short, find Emerson full of inspiration--our task would be as easy
as it would be pleasant; but not entirely agreeing with Dr. Holmes, and
somehow missing the inspiration, the difficulty we began by mentioning
presses heavily upon us.

Pleasant reading as the introductory thirty-five pages of Dr. Holmes's
book make, we doubt the wisdom of so very sketchy an account of Emerson's
lineage and intellectual environment.  Attracted towards Emerson
everybody must be; but there are many who have never been able to get
quit of an uneasy fear as to his 'staying power.'  He has seemed to some
of us a little thin and vague.  A really great author dissipates all such
fears.  Read a page and they are gone.  To inquire after the intellectual
health of such a one would be an impertinence.  Emerson hardly succeeds
in inspiring this confidence, but is more like a clever invalid who says,
and is encouraged by his friends to say, brilliant things, but of whom it
would be cruel to expect prolonged mental exertion.  A man, he himself
has said, 'should give us a sense of mass.'  He perhaps does not do so.
This gloomy and possibly distorted view is fostered rather than
discouraged by Dr. Holmes's introductory pages about Boston life and
intellect.  It does not seem to have been a very strong place.  We lack
performance.  It is of small avail to write, as Dr. Holmes does, about
'brilliant circles,' and 'literary luminaries,' and then to pass on, and
leave the circles circulating and the luminaries shining _in vacuo_.  We
want to know how they were brilliant, and what they illuminated.  If you
wish me to believe that you are witty I must really trouble you to make a
joke.  Dr. Holmes's own wit, for example, is as certain as the law of
gravitation, but over all these pages of his hangs vagueness, and we scan
them in vain for reassuring details.

'Mild orthodoxy, ripened in Unitarian sunshine,' does not sound very
appetising, though we are assured by Dr. Holmes that it is 'a very
agreeable aspect of Christianity.'  Emerson himself does not seem to have
found it very lively, for in 1832, after three years' experience of the
ministry of the 'Second Church' of Boston, he retires from it, not
tumultuously or with any deep feeling, but with something very like a
yawn.  He concludes his farewell sermon to his people as follows:

   'Having said this I have said all.  I have no hostility to this
   institution. {221}  I am only stating my want of sympathy with it.'

Dr. Holmes makes short work of Emerson's childhood.  He was born in
Boston on the 25th May, 1803, and used to sit upon a wall and drive his
mother's cow to pasture.  In fact, Dr. Holmes adds nothing to what we
already knew of the quiet and blameless life that came to its appointed
end on the 27th April, 1882.  On the completion of his college education,
Emerson became a student of theology, and after a turn at teaching, was
ordained, in March, 1829, minister of the 'Second Church' in Boston.  In
September of the same year he married; and the death of his young wife,
in February, 1832, perhaps quickened the doubts and disinclinations which
severed his connection with his 'Church' on the 9th September, 1832.  The
following year he visited Europe for the first time, and made his
celebrated call upon Carlyle at Craigenputtock, and laid the keel of a
famous friendship.  In the summer of 1834 he settled at Concord.  He
married again, visited England again, wrote essays, delivered lectures,
made orations, published poems, carried on a long and most remarkable
correspondence with Carlyle, enjoyed after the most temperate and serene
of fashions many things and much happiness.  And then he died.

'Can you emit sparks?' said the cat to the ugly duckling in the fairy
tale, and the poor abashed creature had to admit that it could not.
Emerson could emit sparks with the most electrical of cats.  He is all
sparks and shocks.  If one were required to name the most non-sequacious
author one had ever read, I do not see how one could help nominating
Emerson.  But, say some of his warmest admirers, 'What then?  It does not
matter!'  It appears to me to matter a great deal.

A wise author never allows his reader's mind to be at large, but casts
about from the very first how to secure it all for himself.  He takes you
(seemingly) into his confidence, perhaps pretends to consult you as to
the best route, but at all events points out to you the road, lying far
ahead, which you are to travel in his company.  How carefully does a
really great writer, like Dr. Newman or M. Renan, explain to you what he
is going to do and how he is going to do it!  His humour, wit, and fancy,
however abundant they may be, spring up like wayside flowers, and do but
adorn and render more attractive the path along which it is his object to
conduct you.  The reader's mind, interested from the beginning, and
desirous of ascertaining whether the author keeps his word and adheres to
his plan, feels the glow of healthy exercise, and pays a real though
unconscious attention.  But Emerson makes no terms with his readers--he
gives them neither thread nor clue, and thus robs them of one of the
keenest pleasures of reading--the being beforehand with your author, and
going shares with him in his own thoughts.

If it be said that it is manifestly unfair to compare a mystical writer
like Emerson with a polemical or historical one, I am not concerned to
answer the objection, for let the comparison be made with whom you will,
the unparalleled non-sequaciousness of Emerson is as certain as the
Correggiosity of Correggio.  You never know what he will be at.  His
sentences fall over you in glittering cascades, beautiful and bright, and
for the moment refreshing, but after a very brief while the mind, having
nothing to do on its own account but to remain wide open, and see what
Emerson sends it, grows first restive and then torpid.  Admiration gives
way to astonishment, astonishment to bewilderment, and bewilderment to

'Napoleon is not a man, but a system,' once said, in her most impressive
tones, Madame de Stael to Sir James Mackintosh, across a dinner-table.
'Magnificent!' murmured Sir James.  'But what does she mean?' whispered
one of those helplessly commonplace creatures who, like the present
writer, go about spoiling everything.  'Mass!  I cannot tell!' was the
frank acknowledgment and apt Shakspearian quotation of Mackintosh.
Emerson's meaning, owing to his non-sequacious style, is often very
difficult to apprehend.  Hear him for a moment on 'Experience':

   'I gossip for my hour concerning the eternal politic.  I have seen
   many fair pictures, not in vain.  A wonderful time I have lived in.  I
   am not the novice I was fourteen, nor yet seven years ago.  Let who
   will ask, Where is the fruit?  I find a private fruit sufficient.  This
   is a fruit, that I should not ask for a rash effect from meditations,
   counsels, and the hiving of truths.'

This surely is an odd way of hiving truths.  It follows from it that
Emerson is more striking than suggestive.  He likes things on a large
scale--he is fond of ethnical remarks and typical persons.
Notwithstanding his habit of introducing the names of common things into
his discourses and poetry ('Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool,
and wood,' is a line from one of his poems), his familiarity therewith is
evidently not great.  'Take care, papa,' cried his little son, seeing him
at work with his spade, 'you will dig your leg.'

His essay on _Friendship_ will not be found satisfactory.  Here is a
subject on which surely we are entitled to 'body.'  The _Over Soul_ was
different; _there_ it was easy to agree with Carlyle, who, writing to
Emerson, says: 'Those voices of yours which I likened to unembodied souls
and censure sometimes for having no body--how _can_ they have a body?
They are light rays darting upwards in the east!'  But friendship is a
word the very sight of which in print makes the heart warm.  One
remembers Elia: 'Oh! it is pleasant as it is rare to find the same arm
linked in yours at forty which at thirteen helped it to turn over the
Cicero _De Amicitia_, or some other tale of antique friendship which the
young heart even then was burning to anticipate.'  With this in your ear
it is rather chilling to read, 'I do, then, with my friends as I do with
my books.  I would have them where I can find them, but I seldom use
them.  We must have society on our own terms, and admit or exclude it on
the slightest cause.  I cannot afford to speak much with my friend.'
These are not genial terms.

For authors and books his affection, real as it was, was singularly
impersonal.  In his treatment of literary subjects, we miss the purely
human touch, the grip of affection, the accent of scorn, that so
pleasantly characterize the writings of Mr. Lowell.  Emerson, it is to be
feared, regarded a company of books but as a congeries of ideas.  For one
idea he is indebted to Plato, for another to Dr. Channing.  _Sartor
Resartus_, so Emerson writes, is a noble philosophical poem, but 'have
you read Sampson Read's _Growth of the Mind_?'  We read somewhere of
'Pindar, Raphael, Angelo, Dryden, and De Stael.'  Emerson's notions of
literary perspective are certainly 'very early.'  Dr. Holmes himself is
every bit as bad.  In this very book of his, speaking about the dangerous
liberty some poets--Emerson amongst the number--take of crowding a
redundant syllable into a line, he reminds us 'that Shakspeare and Milton
knew how to use it effectively; Shelley employed it freely: Bryant
indulged in it; Willis was fond of it.'  One has heard of the _Republic
of Letters_, but this surely does not mean that one author is as good as
another.  'Willis was fond of it.'  I dare say he was, but we are not
fond of Willis, and cannot help regarding the citation of his poetical
example as an outrage.

None the less, if we will have but a little patience, and bid our
occasional wonderment be still, and read Emerson at the right times and
in small quantities, we shall not remain strangers to his charm.  He
bathes the universe in his thoughts.  Nothing less than the Whole ever
contented Emerson.  His was no parochial spirit.  He cries out:

   'From air and ocean bring me foods,
   From all zones and altitudes.'

How beautiful, too, are some of his sentences!  Here is a bit from his
essay on Shakspeare in _Representative Men_:

   'It is the essence of poetry to spring like the rainbow daughter of
   Wonder from the invisible, to abolish the past, and refuse all
   history.  Malone, Warburton, Dyce, and Collier have wasted their life.
   The famed theatres have vainly assisted.  Betterton, Garrick, Kemble,
   Kean, and Macready dedicate their lives to his genius--him they crown,
   elucidate, obey, and express--the genius knows them not.  The
   recitation begins, _one golden word leaps out immortal from all this
   painful pedantry_, _and sweetly torments us with invitations to his
   own inaccessible homes_.'

The words we have ventured to italicize seem to us to be of surpassing
beauty, and to express what many a play-goer of late years must often
have dimly felt.

Patience should indeed be the motto for any Emerson reader who is not by
nature 'author's kin.'  For example, in the essay on _Character_, after
reading, 'Everything in nature is bipolar, or has a positive and negative
pole.  There is a male and a female, a spirit and a fact, a north and a
south.  Spirit is the positive, the event is the negative; will is the
north, action the south pole.  Character may be ranked as having its
natural place in the north'--how easy to lay the book down and read no
more that day; but a moment's patience is amply rewarded, for but sixteen
lines farther on we may read as follows: 'We boast our emancipation from
many superstitions, but if we have broken any idols it is through a
transfer of the idolatry.  What have I gained that I no longer immolate a
bull to Jove or to Neptune, or a mouse to Hecate; that I do not tremble
before the Eumenides or the Catholic Purgatory, or the Calvinistic
Judgment Day--if I quake at opinion, the public opinion as we call it, or
the threat of assault or contumely, or bad neighbours, or poverty, or
mutilation, or at the rumour of revolution or of wonder!  If I quake,
what matters it what I quake at?'  Well and truly did Carlyle write to
Emerson, 'You are a new era, my man, in your huge country.'

Emerson's poetry has at least one of the qualities of true poetry--it
always pleases and occasionally delights.  Great poetry it may not be,
but it has the happy knack of slipping in between our fancies, and of
clinging like ivy to the masonry of the thought-structure beneath which
each one of us has his dwelling.  I must be allowed room for two
quotations, one from the stanzas called _Give all to Love_, the other
from _Wood Notes_.

   'Cling with life to the maid;
   But when the surprise,
   First shadow of surmise,
   Flits across her bosom young
   Of a joy apart from thee,
   Free be she, fancy-free,
   Nor thou detain her vesture's hem,
   Nor the palest rose she flung
   From her summer's diadem.
   Though thou loved her as thyself,
   As a self of purer clay,
   Though her parting dims the day,
   Stealing grace from all alive;
      Heartily know
      When half-gods go,
   The gods arrive.'

The lines from _Wood Notes_ run as follows:

   'Come learn with me the fatal song
   Which knits the world in music strong,
   Whereto every bosom dances,
   Kindled with courageous fancies;
   Come lift thine eyes to lofty rhymes
   Of things with things, of times with times,
   Primal chimes of sun and shade,
   Of sound and echo, man and maid;
   The land reflected in the flood;
   Body with shadow still pursued.
   For nature beats in perfect tune
   And rounds with rhyme her every rune;
   Whether she work in land or sea
   Or hide underground her alchemy.
   Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
   Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
   But it carves the bow of beauty there,
   And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake.
   Not unrelated, unaffied,
   But to each thought and thing allied,
   Is perfect nature's every part,
   Rooted in the mighty heart.'

What place Emerson is to occupy in American literature is for America to
determine.  Some authoritative remarks on this subject are to be found in
Mr. Lowell's essay on 'Thoreau,' in _My Study Windows_; but here at home,
where we are sorely pressed for room, it is certain he must be content
with a small allotment, where, however, he may for ever sit beneath his
own vine and fig-tree, none daring to make him afraid.  Emerson will
always be the favourite author of somebody; and to be always read by
somebody is better than to be read first by everybody and then by nobody.
Indeed, it is hard to fancy a pleasanter destiny than to join the company
of lesser authors.  All their readers are sworn friends.  They are spared
the harsh discords of ill-judged praise and feigned rapture.  Once or
twice in a century some enthusiastic and expansive admirer insists upon
dragging them from their shy retreats, and trumpeting their fame in the
market-place, asserting, possibly with loud asseverations (after the
fashion of Mr. Swinburne), that they are precisely as much above Otway
and Collins and George Eliot as they are below Shakespeare and Hugo and
Emily Bronte.  The great world looks on good-humouredly for a moment or
two, and then proceeds as before, and the disconcerted author is left
free to scuttle back to his corner, where he is all the happier, sharing
the raptures of the lonely student, for his brief experience of

Let us bid farewell to Emerson, who has bidden farewell to the world in
the words of his own _Good-bye_:

   'Good-bye to flattery's fawning face,
   To grandeur with his wise grimace,
   To upstart wealth's averted eye,
   To supple office low and high,
   To crowded halls, to court and street,
   To frozen hearts and hasting feet,
   To those who go and those who come,--
   Good-bye, proud world, I'm going home,
   I am going to my own hearth-stone
   Bosomed in yon green hills, alone,
   A secret nook in a pleasant land,
   Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
   Where arches green the livelong day
   Echo the blackbird's roundelay,
   And vulgar feet have never trod,
   A spot that is sacred to thought and God.'


Dr. John Brown's pleasant story has become well known, of the countryman
who, being asked to account for the gravity of his dog, replied, 'Oh,
sir! life is full of sairiousness to him--he can just never get eneugh o'
fechtin'.'  Something of the spirit of this saddened dog seems lately to
have entered into the very people who ought to be freest from it--our men
of letters.  They are all very serious and very quarrelsome.  To some of
them it is dangerous even to allude.  Many are wedded to a theory or
period, and are the most uxorious of husbands--ever ready to resent an
affront to their lady.  This devotion makes them very grave, and possibly
very happy after a pedantic fashion.  One remembers what Hazlitt, who was
neither happy nor pedantic, has said about pedantry:

   'The power of attaching an interest to the most trifling or painful
   pursuits is one of the greatest happinesses of our nature.  The common
   soldier mounts the breach with joy, the miser deliberately starves
   himself to death, the mathematician sets about extracting the cube-
   root with a feeling of enthusiasm, and the lawyer sheds tears of
   delight over _Coke upon Lyttleton_.  He who is not in some measure a
   pedant, though he may be a wise, cannot be a very happy man.'

Possibly not; but then we are surely not content that our authors should
be pedants in order that they may be happy and devoted.  As one of the
great class for whose sole use and behalf literature exists--the class of
readers--I protest that it is to me a matter of indifference whether an
author is happy or not.  I want him to make me happy.  That is his
office.  Let him discharge it.

I recognise in this connection the corresponding truth of what Sydney
Smith makes his Peter Plymley say about the private virtues of Mr.
Perceval, the Prime Minister:

   'You spend a great deal of ink about the character of the present
   Prime Minister.  Grant all that you write--I say, I fear that he will
   ruin Ireland, and pursue a line of policy destructive to the true
   interests of his country; and then you tell me that he is faithful to
   Mrs. Perceval, and kind to the Master Percevals.  I should prefer that
   he whipped his boys and saved his country.'

We should never confuse functions or apply wrong tests.  What can books
do for us?  Dr. Johnson, the least pedantic of men, put the whole matter
into a nutshell (a cocoanut shell, if you will--Heaven forbid that I
should seek to compress the great Doctor within any narrower limits than
my metaphor requires!), when he wrote that a book should teach us either
to enjoy life or endure it.  'Give us enjoyment!'  'Teach us endurance!'
Hearken to the ceaseless demand and the perpetual prayer of an ever
unsatisfied and always suffering humanity!

How is a book to answer the ceaseless demand?

Self-forgetfulness is of the essence of enjoyment, and the author who
would confer pleasure must possess the art, or know the trick, of
destroying for the time the reader's own personality.  Undoubtedly the
easiest way of doing this is by the creation of a host of rival
personalities--hence the number and the popularity of novels.  Whenever a
novelist fails his book is said to flag; that is, the reader suddenly (as
in skating) comes bump down upon his own personality, and curses the
unskilful author.  No lack of characters and continual motion is the
easiest recipe for a novel, which, like a beggar, should always be kept
'moving on.'  Nobody knew this better than Fielding, whose novels, like
most good ones, are full of inns.

When those who are addicted to what is called 'improving reading' inquire
of you petulantly why you cannot find change of company and scene in
books of travel, you should answer cautiously that when books of travel
are full of inns, atmosphere, and motion, they are as good as any novel;
nor is there any reason in the nature of things why they should not
always be so, though experience proves the contrary.

The truth or falsehood of a book is immaterial.  George Borrow's _Bible
in Spain_ is, I suppose, true; though now that I come to think of it, in
what is to me a new light, one remembers that it contains some odd
things.  But was not Borrow the accredited agent of the British and
Foreign Bible Society?  Did he not travel (and he had a free hand) at
their charges?  Was he not befriended by our minister at Madrid, Mr.
Villiers, subsequently Earl of Clarendon in the peerage of England?  It
must be true; and yet at this moment I would as lief read a chapter of
the _Bible in Spain_ as I would _Gil Blas_; nay, I positively would give
the preference to Don Jorge.

Nobody can sit down to read Borrow's books without as completely
forgetting himself as if he were a boy in the forest with Gurth and

Borrow is provoking, and has his full share of faults, and, though the
owner of a style, is capable of excruciating offences.  His habitual use
of the odious word 'individual' as a noun-substantive (seven times in
three pages of _The Romany Rye_) elicits the frequent groan, and he is
certainly once guilty of calling fish the 'finny tribe.'  He believed
himself to be animated by an intense hatred of the Church of Rome, and
disfigures many of his pages by Lawrence-Boythorn-like tirades against
that institution; but no Catholic of sense need on this account deny
himself the pleasure of reading Borrow, whose one dominating passion was
_camaraderie_, and who hob-a-nobbed in the friendliest spirit with priest
and gipsy in a fashion as far beyond praise as it is beyond description
by any pen other than his own.  Hail to thee, George Borrow!  Cervantes
himself, Gil Blas, do not more effectually carry their readers into the
land of the Cid than does this miraculous agent of the Bible Society, by
favour of whose pleasantness we can, any hour of the week, enter
Villafranca by night, or ride into Galicia on an Andalusian stallion
(which proved to be a foolish thing to do), without costing anybody a
_peseta_, and at no risk whatever to our necks--be they long or short.

Cooks, warriors, and authors must be judged by the effects they produce:
toothsome dishes, glorious victories, pleasant books--these are our
demands.  We have nothing to do with ingredients, tactics, or methods.  We
have no desire to be admitted into the kitchen, the council, or the
study.  The cook may clean her saucepans how she pleases--the warrior
place his men as he likes--the author handle his material or weave his
plot as best he can--when the dish is served we only ask, Is it good?
when the battle has been fought, Who won? when the book comes out, Does
it read?

Authors ought not to be above being reminded that it is their first duty
to write agreeably--some very disagreeable men have succeeded in doing
so, and there is therefore no need for anyone to despair.  Every author,
be he grave or gay, should try to make his book as ingratiating as
possible.  Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be
made disagreeable.  Nobody is under any obligation to read any other
man's book.

Literature exists to please--to lighten the burden of men's lives; to
make them for a short while forget their sorrows and their sins, their
silenced hearths, their disappointed hopes, their grim futures--and those
men of letters are the best loved who have best performed literature's
truest office.  Their name is happily legion, and I will conclude these
disjointed remarks by quoting from one of them, as honest a parson as
ever took tithe or voted for the Tory candidate, the Rev. George Crabbe.
Hear him in _The Frank Courtship_:--

   '"I must be loved;" said Sybil; "I must see
   The man in terrors, who aspires to me:
   At my forbidding frown his heart must ache,
   His tongue must falter, and his frame must shake;
   And if I grant him at my feet to kneel,
   What trembling fearful pleasure must he feel:
   Nay, such the raptures that my smiles inspire,
   That reason's self must for a time retire."

   "Alas! for good Josiah," said the dame,
   "These wicked thoughts would fill his soul with shame;
   He kneel and tremble at a thing of dust!
   He cannot, child:"--the child replied, "He must."'

Were an office to be opened for the insurance of literary reputations, no
critic at all likely to be in the society's service would refuse the life
of a poet who could write like Crabbe.  Cardinal Newman, Mr. Leslie
Stephen, Mr. Swinburne, are not always of the same way of thinking, but
all three hold the one true faith about Crabbe.

But even were Crabbe now left unread, which is very far from being the
case, his would be an enviable fame--for was he not one of the favourite
poets of Walter Scott, and whenever the closing scene of the great
magician's life is read in the pages of Lockhart, must not Crabbe's name
be brought upon the reader's quivering lip?

To soothe the sorrow of the soothers of sorrow, to bring tears to the
eyes and smiles to the cheeks of the lords of human smiles and tears, is
no mean ministry, and it is Crabbe's.


It is now a complaint of quite respectably antiquity that the types in
which humanity was originally set up by a humour-loving Providence are
worn out and require recasting.  The surface of society has become
smooth.  It ought to be a bas-relief--it is a plane.  Even a Chaucer (so
it is said) could make nothing of us as we wend our way to Brighton.  We
have tempers, it is true--bad ones for the most part; but no humours to
be in or out of.  We are all far too much alike; we do not group well; we
only mix.  All this, and more, is alleged against us.  A
cheerfully-disposed person might perhaps think that, assuming the
prevailing type to be a good, plain, readable one, this uniformity need
not necessarily be a bad thing; but had he the courage to give expression
to this opinion he would most certainly be at once told, with that
mixture of asperity and contempt so properly reserved for those who take
cheerful views of anything, that without well-defined types of character
there can be neither national comedy nor whimsical novel; and as it is
impossible to imagine any person sufficiently cheerful to carry the
argument further by inquiring ingenuously, 'And how would that matter?'
the position of things becomes serious, and demands a few minutes'

As we said at the beginning, the complaint is an old one--most complaints
are.  When Montaigne was in Rome in 1580 he complained bitterly that he
was always knocking up against his own countrymen, and might as well have
been in Paris.  And yet some people would have you believe that this
curse of the Continent is quite new.  More than seventy years ago that
most quotable of English authors, Hazlitt, wrote as follows:

   'It is, indeed, the evident tendency of all literature to generalize
   and dissipate character by giving men the same artificial education
   and the same common stock of ideas; so that we see all objects from
   the same point of view, and through the same reflected medium; we
   learn to exist not in ourselves, but in books; all men become alike,
   mere readers--spectators, not actors in the scene and lose all proper
   personal identity.  The templar--the wit--the man of pleasure and the
   man of fashion, the courtier and the citizen, the knight and the
   squire, the lover and the miser--Lovelace, Lothario, Will Honeycomb
   and Sir Roger de Coverley, Sparkish and Lord Foppington, Western and
   Tom Jones, my Father and my Uncle Toby, Millament and Sir Sampson
   Legend, Don Quixote and Sancho, Gil Blas and Guzman d'Alfarache, Count
   Fathom and Joseph Surface--have all met and exchanged commonplaces on
   the barren plains of the _haute litterature_--toil slowly on to the
   Temple of Science, seen a long way off upon a level, and end in one
   dull compound of politics, criticism, chemistry, and metaphysics.'

Very pretty writing, certainly; {244} nor can it be disputed that
uniformity of surroundings puts a tax upon originality.  To make bricks
and find your own straw are terms of bondage.  Modern characters, like
modern houses, are possibly built too much on the same lines, Dickens's
description of Coketown is not easily forgotten:

   'All the public inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe
   characters of black and white.  The jail might have been the
   infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town hall might
   have been either, or both, or anything else, for anything that
   appeared to the contrary in the graces of their construction.'

And the inhabitants of Coketown are exposed to the same objection as
their buildings.  Every one sinks all traces of what he vulgarly calls
'the shop' (that is, his lawful calling), and busily pretends to be
nothing.  Distinctions of dress are found irksome.  A barrister of
feeling hates to be seen in his robes save when actually engaged in a
case.  An officer wears his uniform only when obliged.  Doctors have long
since shed all outward signs of their healing art.  Court dress excites a
smile.  A countess in her jewels is reckoned indecent by the British
workman, who, all unemployed, puffs his tobacco smoke against the window-
pane of the carriage that is conveying her ladyship to a drawing-room;
and a West-end clergyman is with difficulty restrained from telling his
congregation what he had been told the British workman said on that
occasion.  Had he but had the courage to repeat those stirring words, his
hearers (so he said) could hardly have failed to have felt their force--so
unusual in such a place; but he had not the courage, and that sermon of
the pavement remains unpreached.  The toe of the peasant is indeed kibing
the heel of the courtier.  The passion for equality in externals cannot
be denied.  We are all woven strangely in the same piece, and so it comes
about that, though our modern society has invented new callings, those
callings have not created new types.  Stockbrokers, directors, official
liquidators, philanthropists, secretaries--not of State, but of
companies--speculative builders, are a new kind of people known to
many--indeed, playing a great part among us--but who, for all that, have
not enriched the stage with a single character.  Were they to disappear
to-morrow, to be blown dancing away like the leaves before Shelley's west
wind, where in reading or playgoing would posterity encounter them?  Alone
amongst the children of men, the pale student of the law, burning the
midnight oil in some one of the 'high lonely towers' recently built by
the Benchers of the Middle Temple (in the Italian taste), would, whilst
losing his youth over that interminable series, _The Law Reports_, every
now and again strike across the old track, once so noisy with the bayings
of the well-paid hounds of justice, and, pushing his way along it, trace
the history of the bogus company, from the acclamations attendant upon
its illegitimate birth to the hour of disgrace when it dies by
strangulation at the hands of the professional wrecker.  The pale student
will not be a wholly unsympathetic reader.  Great swindles have ere now
made great reputations, and lawyers may surely be permitted to take a
pensive interest in such matters.

   'Not one except the Attorney was amused--
   He, like Achilles, faithful to the tomb,
   So there were quarrels, cared not for the cause,
   Knowing they must be settled by the laws.'

But our elder dramatists would not have let any of these characters swim
out of their ken.  A glance over Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont and
Fletcher, is enough to reveal their frank and easy method.  Their
characters, like an apothecary's drugs, wear labels round their necks.
Mr. Justice Clement and Mr. Justice Greedy; Master Matthew, the town
gull; Sir Giles Overreach, Sir Epicure Mammon, Mr. Plenty, Sir John
Frugal, need no explanatory context.  Are our dramatists to blame for
withholding from us the heroes of our modern society?  Ought we to have--

   'Sir Moses, Sir Aaron, Sir Jamramagee,
   Two stock-jobbing Jews, and a shuffling Parsee'?

Baron Contango, the Hon. Mr. Guinea-Pig, poor Miss Impulsia Allottee, Mr.
Jeremiah Builder--Rare Old Ben, who was fond of the city, would have
given us them all and many more; but though we may well wish he were here
to do it, we ought, I think, to confess that the humour of these typical
persons who so swell the _dramatis personae_; of an Elizabethan is, to
say the least of it, far to seek.  There is a certain warm-hearted
tradition about their very names which makes disrespect painful.  It
seems a churl's part not to laugh, as did our fathers before us, at the
humours of the conventional parasite or impossible serving-man; but we
laugh because we will, and not because we must.

Genuine comedy--the true tickling scene, exquisite absurdity,
soul-rejoicing incongruity--has really nothing to do with types,
prevailing fashions, and such-like vulgarities.  Sir Andrew Aguecheek is
not a typical fool; he _is_ a fool, seised in fee simple of his folly.

Humour lies not in generalizations, but in the individual; not in his hat
nor in his hose, even though the latter be 'cross-gartered'; but in the
deep heart of him, in his high-flying vanities, his low-lying
oddities--what we call his 'ways'--nay, in the very motions of his back
as he crosses the road.  These stir our laughter whilst he lives and our
tears when he dies, for in mourning over him we know full well we are
taking part in our own obsequies.  'But indeed,' wrote Charles Lamb, 'we
die many deaths before we die, and I am almost sick when I think that
such a hold as I had of you is gone.'

Literature is but the reflex of life, and the humour of it lies in the
portrayal of the individual, not the type; and though the young man in
_Locksley Hall_ no doubt observes that the 'individual withers,' we have
but to take down George Meredith's novels to find the fact is otherwise,
and that we have still one amongst us who takes notes, and against the
battery of whose quick wits even the costly raiment of Poole is no
protection.  We are forced as we read to exclaim with Petruchio: 'Thou
hast hit it; come sit on me.'  No doubt the task of the modern humorist
is not so easy as it was.  The surface ore has been mostly picked up.  In
order to win the precious metal you must now work with in-stroke and out-
stroke after the most approved methods.  Sometimes one would enjoy it a
little more if we did not hear quite so distinctly the snorting of the
engine, and the groaning and the creaking of the gear as it painfully
winds up its prize: but what would you?  Methods, no less than men, must
have the defects of their qualities.

If, therefore, it be the fact that our national comedy is in decline, we
must look for some other reasons for it than those suggested by Hazlitt
in 1817.  When Mr. Chadband inquired, 'Why can we not fly, my friends?'
Mr. Snagsby ventured to observe, 'in a cheerful and rather knowing tone,
"No wings!"' but he was immediately frowned down by Mrs. Snagsby.  We
lack courage to suggest that the somewhat heavy-footed movements of our
recent dramatists are in any way due to their not being provided with
those twin adjuncts indispensable for the genius who would soar.


Why all the English poets, with a barely decent number of exceptions,
have been Cambridge men, has always struck me, as did the abstinence of
the Greeks from malt Mr. Calverley, 'as extremely curious.'  But in this
age of detail, one must, however reluctantly, submit to prove one's
facts, and I, therefore, propose to institute a 'Modest Inquiry' into
this subject.  Imaginatively, I shall don proctorial robes, and armed
with a duster, saunter up and down the library, putting to each poet as I
meet him the once dreaded question, 'Sir, are you a member of this

But whilst I am arranging myself for this function, let me utilize the
time by making two preliminary observations--the first one being that, as
to-day is Sunday, only such free libraries are open as may happen to be
attached to public-houses, and I am consequently confined to my own poor
shelves, and must be forgiven even though I make some palpable omissions.
The second is that I exclude from my survey living authors.  I must do
so; their very names would excite controversy about a subject which, when
wisely handled, admits of none.

I now pursue my inquiry.  That Chaucer was a Cambridge man cannot be
proved.  It is the better opinion that he was (how else should he have
known anything about the Trumpington Road?), but it is only an opinion,
and as no one has ever been found reckless enough to assert that he was
an Oxford man, he must be content to 'sit out' this inquiry along with
Shakspeare, Webster, Ford, Pope, Cowper, Burns, and Keats, no one of whom
ever kept his terms at either University.  Spenser is, of course, the
glory of the Cambridge Pembroke, though were the fellowships of that
college made to depend upon passing a yearly examination in the _Faerie
Queen_, to be conducted by Dean Church, there would be wailing and
lamentation within her rubicund walls.  Sir Thomas Wyatt was at St.
John's, Fulke Greville Lord Brooke at Jesus, Giles and Phineas Fletcher
were at King's, Herrick was first at St. John's, but migrated to the
Hall, where he is still reckoned very pretty reading, even by boating
men.  Cowley, most precocious of poets, and Suckling were at Trinity,
Waller at King's, Francis Quarles was of Christ's.  The Herbert family
were divided, some going to Oxford and some to Cambridge, George, of
course, falling to the lot of Cambridge.  John Milton's name alone would
deify the University where he pursued his almost sacred studies.  Andrew
Marvell, a pleasant poet and savage satirist, was of Trinity.  The author
of _Hudibras_ is frequently attributed to Cambridge, but, on being
interrogated, he declined to name his college--always a suspicious

I must not forget Richard Crashaw, of Peterhouse.  Willingly would I
relieve the intolerable tedium of this dry inquiry by transcribing the
few lines of his now beneath my eye.  But I forbear, and 'steer right

Of dramatists we find Marlowe (untimelier death than his was never any)
at Corpus; Greene (I do not lay much stress on Greene) was both at St.
John's and Clare.  Ben Jonson was at St. John's, so was Nash.  John
Fletcher (whose claims to be considered the senior partner in his well-
known firm are simply paramount) was at Corpus.  James Shirley, the
author of _The Maid's Revenge_ and of the beautiful lyric beginning 'The
glories of our birth and state,' in the innocence of his heart first went
to St. John's College, Oxford, from whence he was speedily sent down, for
reasons which the delightful author of _Athenae Oxonienses_ must really
be allowed to state for himself.  'At the same time (1612) Dr. William
Laud presiding at that house, he had a very great affection for Shirley,
especially for the pregnant parts that were visible in him, but then,
having a broad or large mole upon his left cheek, which some esteemed a
deformity, that worthy doctor would often tell him that he was an unfit
person to take the sacred function upon him, and should never have his
consent to do so.'  Thus treated, Shirley left Oxford, that 'home of lost
causes,' but not apparently of large moles, and came to Cambridge, and
entered at St. Catharine's Hall, where, either because the authorities
were not amongst those who esteemed a broad or large mole upon the left
cheek to be a deformity, or because a mole, more or less, made no sort of
difference in the personal appearance of the college, or for other good
and sufficient reasons, poor Shirley was allowed, without, I trust, being
often told of his mole, to proceed to his degree and to Holy Orders.

Starting off again, we find John Dryden, whose very name is a tower of
strength (were he to come to life again he would, like Mr. Brown of
Calaveras, 'clean out half the town'), at Trinity.  In this poet's later
life he said he liked Oxford better.  His lines on this subject are well

   'Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
   Than his own Mother-University.
   Thebes did his rude, unknowing youth engage,
   He chooses Athens in his riper age.'

But idle preferences of this sort are beyond the scope of my present
inquiry.  After Dryden we find Garth at Peterhouse and charming Matthew
Prior at John's.  Then comes the great name of Gray.  Perhaps I ought not
to mention poor Christopher Smart, who was a Fellow of Pembroke; and yet
the author of _David_, under happier circumstances, might have conferred
additional poetic lustre even upon the college of Spenser. {255}

In the present century, we find Byron and his bear at Trinity, Coleridge
at Jesus, and Wordsworth at St. John's.  The last-named poet was fully
alive to the honour of belonging to the same University as Milton.  In
language not unworthy of Mr. Trumbull, the well-known auctioneer in
_Middlemarch_, he has recorded as follows:

   'Among the band of my compeers was one
   Whom chance had stationed in the very room
   Honoured by Milton's name.  O temperate Bard,
   Be it confest that for the first time seated
   Within thy innocent lodge and oratory,
   One of a festive circle, I poured out
   Libations, to thy memory drank, till pride
   And gratitude grew dizzy in a brain
   Never excited by the fumes of wine
   Before that hour or since.' {256}

I know of no more amiable trait in the character of Cambridge men than
their willingness to admit having been drunk _once_.

After the great name of Wordsworth any other must seem small, but I must,
before concluding, place on record Praed, Macaulay, Kingsley, and

A glorious Roll-call indeed!

   'Earth shows to Heaven the names by thousands told
      That crown her fame.'

So may Cambridge.

Oxford leads off with one I could find it in my heart to grudge her,
beautiful as she is--Sir Philip Sidney.  Why, I wonder, did he not
accompany his friend and future biographer, Fulke Greville, to Cambridge?
As Dr. Johnson once said to Boswell, 'Sir, you _may_ wonder!'  Sidney
most indisputably was at Christchurch.  Old George Chapman, who I suppose
was young once, was (I believe) at Oxford, though I have known Cambridge
to claim him.  Lodge and Peele were at Oxford, so were Francis Beaumont
and his brother Sir John.  Philip Massinger, Shakerley Marmion, and John
Marston are of Oxford, also Watson and Warner.  Henry Vaughan the
Silurist, Sir John Davies, George Sandys, Samuel Daniel, Dr. Donne,
Lovelace, and Wither belong to the sister University, so did Dr.
Brady--but Oxford must not claim all the merit of the metrical version of
the Psalms, for Brady's colleague, Dr. Nahum Tate, was a Dublin man.
Otway and Collins, Young, Johnson, Charles Wesley, Southey, Landor,
Hartley Coleridge, Beddoes, Keble, Isaac Williams, Faber, and Clough are
names of which their University may well be proud.  But surely, when
compared with the Cambridge list, a falling-off must be admitted.

A poet indeed once came into residence at University College, whose
single name--for, after all, poets must be weighed and not counted--would
have gone far to right the balance, but is Oxford bold enough to claim
Shelley as her own?  She sent him down, not for riotous living, for no
purer soul than his ever haunted her courts, but for wanting to discuss
with those whose business it was to teach him questions of high
philosophy.  Had Shelley only gone to Trinity in 1810, I feel sure wise
and witty old Dr. Mansel would never have sent him down.  Spenser,
Milton, and Shelley!  What a triad of immortal fames they would have
made.  As it is, we expect Oxford, with her accustomed composure, will
insist upon adding Shelley to her score--but even when she has been
allowed to do so, she must own herself beaten both in men and metal.

But this being so--why was it so?  It is now my turn to own myself
defeated.  I cannot for the life of me tell how it happened.


The most distinguished of living Englishmen, who, great as he is in many
directions, is perhaps inherently more a man of letters than anything
else, has been overheard mournfully to declare that there were more
booksellers' shops in his native town sixty years ago, when he was a boy
in it, than are to-day to be found within its boundaries.  And yet the
place 'all unabashed' now boasts its bookless self a city!

Mr. Gladstone was, of course, referring to second-hand bookshops.  Neither
he nor any other sensible man puts himself out about new books.  When a
new book is published, read an old one, was the advice of a sound though
surly critic.  It is one of the boasts of letters to have glorified the
term 'second-hand,' which other crafts have 'soiled to all ignoble use.'
But why it has been able to do this is obvious.  All the best books are
necessarily second-hand.  The writers of to-day need not grumble.  Let
them 'bide a wee.'  If their books are worth anything, they, too, one day
will be second-hand.  If their books are not worth anything there are
ancient trades still in full operation amongst us--the pastrycooks and
the trunkmakers--who must have paper.

But is there any substance in the plaint that nobody now buys books,
meaning thereby second-hand books?  The late Mark Pattison, who had
16,000 volumes, and whose lightest word has therefore weight, once stated
that he had been informed, and verily believed, that there were men of
his own University of Oxford who, being in uncontrolled possession of
annual incomes of not less than 500 pounds, thought they were doing the
thing handsomely if they expended 50 pounds a year upon their libraries.
But we are not bound to believe this unless we like.  There was a touch
of morosity about the late Rector of Lincoln which led him to take gloomy
views of men, particularly Oxford men.

No doubt arguments _a priori_ may readily be found to support the
contention that the habit of book-buying is on the decline.  I confess to
knowing one or two men, not Oxford men either, but Cambridge men (and the
passion of Cambridge for literature is a by-word), who, on the plea of
being pressed with business, or because they were going to a funeral,
have passed a bookshop in a strange town without so much as stepping
inside 'just to see whether the fellow had anything.'  But painful as
facts of this sort necessarily are, any damaging inference we might feel
disposed to draw from them is dispelled by a comparison of price-lists.
Compare a bookseller's catalogue of 1862 with one of the present year,
and your pessimism is washed away by the tears which unrestrainedly flow
as you see what _bonnes fortunes_ you have lost.  A young book-buyer
might well turn out upon Primrose Hill and bemoan his youth, after
comparing old catalogues with new.

Nothing but American competition, grumble some old stagers.

Well! why not?  This new battle for the books is a free fight, not a
private one, and Columbia has 'joined in.'  Lower prices are not to be
looked for.  The book-buyer of 1900 will be glad to buy at to-day's
prices.  I take pleasure in thinking he will not be able to do so.  Good
finds grow scarcer and scarcer.  True it is that but a few short weeks
ago I picked up (such is the happy phrase, most apt to describe what was
indeed a 'street casualty') a copy of the original edition of _Endymion_
(Keats's poem--O subscriber to Mudie's!--not Lord Beaconsfield's novel)
for the easy equivalent of half-a-crown--but then that was one of my
lucky days.  The enormous increase of booksellers' catalogues and their
wide circulation amongst the trade has already produced a hateful
uniformity of prices.  Go where you will it is all the same to the odd
sixpence.  Time was when you could map out the country for yourself with
some hopefulness of plunder.  There were districts where the Elizabethan
dramatists were but slenderly protected.  A raid into the 'bonnie North
Countrie' sent you home again cheered with chap-books and weighted with
old pamphlets of curious interests; whilst the West of England seldom
failed to yield a crop of novels.  I remember getting a complete set of
the Bronte books in the original issues at Torquay, I may say, for
nothing.  Those days are over.  Your country bookseller is, in fact, more
likely, such tales does he hear of London auctions, and such catalogues
does he receive by every post, to exaggerate the value of his wares than
to part with them pleasantly, and as a country bookseller should, 'just
to clear my shelves, you know, and give me a bit of room.'  The only
compensation for this is the catalogues themselves.  You get _them_, at
least, for nothing, and it cannot be denied that they make mighty pretty

These high prices tell their own tale, and force upon us the conviction
that there never were so many private libraries in course of growth as
there are to-day.

Libraries are not made; they grow.  Your first two thousand volumes
present no difficulty, and cost astonishingly little money.  Given 400
pounds and five years, and an ordinary man can in the ordinary course,
without undue haste or putting any pressure upon his taste, surround
himself with this number of books, all in his own language, and
thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is
possible to be happy.  But pride is still out of the question.  To be
proud of having two thousand books would be absurd.  You might as well be
proud of having two top coats.  After your first two thousand difficulty
begins, but until you have ten thousand volumes the less you say about
your library the better.  _Then_ you may begin to speak.

It is no doubt a pleasant thing to have a library left you.  The present
writer will disclaim no such legacy, but hereby undertakes to accept it,
however dusty.  But good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to
collect one.  Each volume then, however lightly a stranger's eye may roam
from shelf to shelf, has its own individuality, a history of its own.  You
remember where you got it, and how much you gave for it; and your word
may safely be taken for the first of these facts, but not for the second.

The man who has a library of his own collection is able to contemplate
himself objectively, and is justified in believing in his own existence.
No other man but he would have made precisely such a combination as his.
Had he been in any single respect different from what he is, his library,
as it exists, never would have existed.  Therefore, surely he may
exclaim, as in the gloaming he contemplates the backs of his loved ones,
'They are mine, and I am theirs.'

But the eternal note of sadness will find its way even through the
keyhole of a library.  You turn some familiar page, of Shakspeare it may
be, and his 'infinite variety,' his 'multitudinous mind,' suggests some
new thought, and as you are wondering over it you think of Lycidas, your
friend, and promise yourself the pleasure of having his opinion of your
discovery the very next time when by the fire you two 'help waste a
sullen day.'  Or it is, perhaps, some quainter, tenderer fancy that
engages your solitary attention, something in Sir Philip Sydney or Henry
Vaughan, and then you turn to look for Phyllis, ever the best interpreter
of love, human or divine.  Alas! the printed page grows hazy beneath a
filmy eye as you suddenly remember that Lycidas is dead--'dead ere his
prime'--and that the pale cheek of Phyllis will never again be relumined
by the white light of her pure enthusiasm.  And then you fall to thinking
of the inevitable, and perhaps, in your present mood, not unwelcome hour,
when the 'ancient peace' of your old friends will be disturbed, when rude
hands will dislodge them from their accustomed nooks and break up their
goodly company.

   'Death bursts amongst them like a shell,
   And strews them over half the town.'

They will form new combinations, lighten other men's toil, and soothe
another's sorrow.  Fool that I was to call anything _mine_!

_Elliot Stock_, _Paternoster Row_, _London_.


{27}  See note to Mitford's _Milton_, vol. i., clii.

{59}  Not Horace Walpole's opinion.  'Sir Joshua Reynolds has lent me Dr.
Johnson's _Life of Pope_, which Sir Joshua holds to be a _chef d'oeuvre_.
It is a most trumpery performance, and stuffed with all his crabbed
phrases and vulgarisms, and much trash as anecdotes.'--_Letters_, vol.
viii., p. 26.

{65}  Howell's _State Trials_, vol. xvii., p. 159.

{76}  In _Oxford Essays_ for 1858.

{79}  _Lectures and Essays on University Subjects_: Lecture on

{101}  "The late Mr. Carlyle was a brute and a boor."--_The World_,
October 29th, 1884.

{102}  In the first edition, by a strange and distressing freak of the
imagination, I took the 'old struggler' out of Lockhart and put her into

{117}  Anyone who does not wish this story to be true, will find good
reasons for disbelieving it stated in Mr. Napier's edition of Boswell,
vol. iv., p. 385.

{159}  All the difficulties connected with this subject will be found
collected, and somewhat unkindly considered, in Mr. Dilke's _Papers of a
Critic_, vol. ii.  The equity draughtsman will be indisposed to attach
importance to statements made in a Bill of Complaint filed in Chancery by
Lord Verney against Burke fourteen years after the transaction to which
it had reference, in a suit which was abandoned after answer put in.  But,
in justice to a deceased plaintiff, it should be remembered that in those
days a defendant could not be cross-examined upon his sworn answer.

{178}  _Critical Miscellanies_, vol. iii., p. 9.

{189}  'I will answer you by quoting what I have read somewhere or other,
in Dionysius Halicarnassensis I think, that history is philosophy
teaching by examples.'  See Lord Bolingbroke's _Second Letter on the
Study and Use of History_.

{204}  _The Works of Charles Lamb_.  Edited, with notes and introduction,
by the Rev. Alfred Ainger.  Three volumes.  London: 1883-5.

{218}  See _Life of Emerson_, by O. W. Holmes.

{221}  The institution referred to was the Eucharist.

{244}  Yet in his essay _On Londoners and Country People_ we find Hazlitt
writing: 'London is the only place in which the child grows completely up
into the man.  I have known characters of this kind, which, in the way of
childish ignorance and self-pleasing delusion, exceeded anything to be
met with in Shakespeare or Ben Jonson, or the Old Comedy.'

{255}  This passage was written before Mr. Browning's 'Parleyings' had
appeared.  Christopher is now 'a person of importance,' and needs no

{256}  _The Prelude_, p. 55.

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