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Title: Old and New Masters
Author: Lynd, Robert, 1879-1949
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Old and New Masters" ***

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OLD AND NEW MASTERS

BY ROBERT LYND


1919


TO SYLVIA LYND



CONTENTS

   I. DOSTOEVSKY THE SENSATIONALIST
  II. JANE AUSTEN: NATURAL HISTORIAN
 III. MR. G.K. CHESTERTON AND MR. HILAIRE BELLOC
     (1) THE HEAVENLY TWINS
     (2) THE COPIOUSNESS OF MR. BELLOC
     (3) THE TWO MR. CHESTERTONS
  IV. WORDSWORTH
     (1) HIS PERSONALITY AND GENIUS
     (2) HIS POLITICS
   V. KEATS
     (1) THE BIOGRAPHY
     (2) THE MATTHEW ARNOLD VIEW
  VI. HENRY JAMES
     (1) THE NOVELIST OF GRAINS AND SCRUPLES
     (2) THE ARTIST AT WORK
     (3) HOW HE WAS BORN AGAIN
 VII. BROWNING: THE POET OF LOVE
VIII. THE FAME OF J.M. SYNGE
  IX. VILLON: THE GENIUS OF THE TAVERN
   X. POPE
  XI. JAMES ELROY FLECKER
 XII. TURGENEV
XIII. THE MADNESS OF STRINDBERG
XIV. "THE PRINCE OF FRENCH POETS"
XV. ROSSETTI AND RITUAL
XVI. MR. BERNARD SHAW
XVII. MR. MASEFIELD'S SECRET
XVIII. MR. W.B. YEATS
  (1) HIS OWN ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF
  (2) HIS POETRY
XIX. TCHEHOV: THE PERFECT STORY-TELLER
XX. LADY GREGORY
XXI. MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM
XXII. SWINBURNE
  (1) THE EXOTIC BIRD
  (2) GENIUS WITHOUT EYES
XXIII. THE WORK OF T.M. KETTLE
XXIV. MR. J.C. SQUIRE
XXV. MR. JOSEPH CONRAD
  (1) THE MAKING OF AN AUTHOR
  (2) TALES OF MYSTERY
XXVI. MR. RUDYARD KIPLING
  (1) THE GOOD STORY-TELLER
  (2) THE POET OF LIFE WITH A CAPITAL HELL
XXVII. MR. THOMAS HARDY
  (1) HIS GENIUS AS A POET
  (2) A POET IN WINTER



OLD AND NEW MASTERS

I

DOSTOEVSKY THE SENSATIONALIST


Mr. George Moore once summed up _Crime and Punishment_ as "Gaboriau with
psychological sauce." He afterwards apologized for the epigram, but he
insisted that all the same there is a certain amount of truth in it. And
so there is.

Dostoevsky's visible world was a world of sensationalism. He may in the
last analysis be a great mystic or a great psychologist; but he almost
always reveals his genius on a stage crowded with people who behave like
the men and women one reads about in the police news. There are more
murders and attempted murders in his books than in those of any other
great novelist. His people more nearly resemble madmen and wild beasts
than normal human beings.

He releases them from most of the ordinary inhibitions. He is fascinated
by the loss of self-control--by the disturbance and excitement which
this produces, often in the most respectable circles. He is beyond all
his rivals the novelist of "scenes." His characters get drunk, or go mad
with jealousy, or fall in epileptic fits, or rave hysterically. If
Dostoevsky had had less vision he would have been Strindberg. If his
vision had been aesthetic and sensual, he might have been D'Annunzio.

Like them, he is a novelist of torture. Turgenev found in his work
something Sadistic, because of the intensity with which he dwells on
cruelty and pain. Certainly the lust of cruelty--the lust of destruction
for destruction's sake--is the most conspicuous of the deadly sins in
Dostoevsky's men and women. He may not be a "cruel author." Mr. J.
Middleton Murry, in his very able "critical study," _Dostoevsky_, denies
the charge indignantly. But it is the sensational drama of a cruel world
that most persistently haunts his imagination.

Love itself is with him, as with Strindberg and D'Annunzio, for the most
part only a sort of rearrangement of hatred. Or, rather, both hatred and
love are volcanic outbursts of the same passion. He does also portray an
almost Christ-like love, a love that is outside the body and has the
nature of a melting and exquisite charity. He sometimes even portrays
the two kinds of love in the same person. But they are never in balance;
they are always in demoniacal conflict. Their ups and downs are like the
ups and downs in a fight between cat and dog. Even the lust is never, or
hardly ever, the lust of a more or less sane man. It is always lust with
a knife.

Dostoevsky could not have described the sin of Nekhludov in
_Resurrection_. His passions are such as come before the criminal rather
than the civil courts. His people are possessed with devils as the
people in all but religious fiction have long ceased to be. "This is a
madhouse," cries some one in _The Idiot_. The cry is, I fancy, repeated
in others of Dostoevsky's novels. His world is an inferno.

One result of this is a multiplicity of action. There was never so much
talk in any other novels, and there was never so much action. Even the
talk is of actions more than of ideas. Dostoevsky's characters describe
the execution of a criminal, the whipping of an ass, the torture of a
child. He sows violent deeds, not with the hand, but with the sack. Even
Prince Myshkin, the Christ-like sufferer in _The Idiot_, narrates
atrocities, though he perpetrates none. Here, for example, is a
characteristic Dostoevsky story put in the Prince's mouth:

     In the evening I stopped for the night at a provincial hotel, and a
     murder had been committed there the night before.... Two peasants,
     middle-aged men, friends who had known each other for a long time
     and were not drunk, had had tea and were meaning to go to bed in
     the same room. But one had noticed during those last two days that
     the other was wearing a silver watch on a yellow bead chain, which
     he seems not to have seen on him before. The man was not a thief;
     he was an honest man, in fact, and by a peasant's standard by no
     means poor. But he was so taken with that watch and so fascinated
     by it that at last he could not restrain himself. He took a knife,
     and when his friend had turned away, he approached him cautiously
     from behind, took aim, turned his eyes heavenwards, crossed
     himself, and praying fervently "God forgive me, for Christ's sake!"
     he cut his friend's throat at one stroke like a sheep and took his
     watch.

One would not accept that incident from any Western author. One would
not even accept it from Tolstoi or Turgenev. It is too abnormal, too
obviously tainted with madness. Yet to Dostoevsky such aberrations of
conduct make a continuous and overwhelming appeal. The crimes in his
books seem to spring, not from more or less rational causes, but from
some seed of lunacy.

He never paints Everyman; he always projects Dostoevsky, or a nightmare
of Dostoevsky. That is why _Crime and Punishment_ belongs to a lower
range of fiction than _Anna Karénina_ or _Fathers and Sons_.
Raskolnikov's crime is the cold-blooded crime of a diseased mind. It
interests us like a story from Suetonius or like _Bluebeard_. But there
is no communicable passion in it such as we find in _Agamemnon_ or
_Othello_. We sympathize, indeed, with the fears, the bravado, the
despair that succeed the crime. But when all is said, the central figure
of the book is born out of fantasy. He is a grotesque made alive by
sheer imaginative intensity and passion. He is as distantly related to
the humanity we know in life and the humanity we know in literature as
the sober peasant who cut his friend's throat, saying, "God forgive me,
for Christ's sake!"

One does not grudge an artist an abnormal character or two. Dostoevsky,
however, has created a whole flock of these abnormal characters and
watches over them as a hen over her chickens. He invents vicious
grotesques as Dickens invents comic grotesques. In _The Brothers
Karamazov_ he reveals the malignance of Smerdyakov by telling us that he
was one who, in his childhood,

     was very fond of hanging cats, and burying them with great
     ceremony. He used to dress up in a sheet as though it were a
     surplice, and sang, and waved some object over the dead cat as
     though it were a censer.

As for the Karamazovs themselves, he portrays the old father and the
eldest of his sons hating each other and fighting like brutal maniacs:

     Dmitri threw up both hands and suddenly clutched the old man by the
     two tufts of hair that remained on his temples, tugged at them, and
     flung him with a crash on the floor. He kicked him two or three
     times with his heel in the face. The old man moaned shrilly. Ivan,
     though not so strong as Dmitri, threw his arms round him, and with
     all his might pulled him away. Alyosha helped him with his slender
     strength, holding Dmitri in front.

     "Madman! You've killed him!" cried Ivan.

     "Serve him right!" shouted Dmitri, breathlessly. "If I haven't
     killed him, I'll come again and kill him."

It is easy to see why Dostoevsky has become a popular author. Incident
follows breathlessly upon incident. No melodramatist ever poured out
incident upon the stage from such a horn of plenty. His people are
energetic and untamed, like cowboys or runaway horses. They might be
described as runaway human beings.

And Dostoevsky knows how to crowd his stage as only the inveterate
melodramatists know. Scenes that in an ordinary novel would take place
with two or three figures on the stage are represented in Dostoevsky as
taking place before a howling, seething mob. "A dozen men have broken
in," a maid announces in one place in _The Idiot_, "and they are all
drunk." "Show them all in at once," she is bidden. Dostoevsky is always
ready to show them all in at once.

It is one of the triumphs of his genius that, however many persons he
introduces, he never allows them to be confused into a hopeless chaos.
His story finds its way unimpeded through the mob. On two opposite pages
of _The Idiot_ one finds the following characters brought in by name:
General Epanchin, Prince S., Adelaïda Ivanovna, Lizaveta Prokofyevna,
Yevgeny Pavlovitch Radomsky, Princess Byelokonsky, Aglaia, Prince
Myshkin, Kolya Ivolgin, Ippolit, Varya, Ferdyshchenko, Nastasya
Filippovna, Nina Alexandrovna, Ganya, Ptitsyn, and General Ivolgin. And
yet practically all of them remain separate and created beings. That is
characteristic at once of Dostoevsky's mastery and his monstrous
profusion.

But the secret of Dostoevsky's appeal is something more than the
multitude and thrill of his incidents and characters. So incongruous,
indeed, is the sensational framework of his stories with the immense and
sombre genius that broods over them that Mr. Murry is inclined to regard
the incidents as a sort of wild spiritual algebra rather than as events
occurring on the plane of reality. "Dostoevsky," he declares, "is not a
novelist. What he is is more difficult to define."

Mr. Murry boldly faces the difficulty and attempts the definition. To
him Dostoevsky's work is "the record of a great mind seeking for a way
of life; it is more than a record of struggle, it is the struggle
itself." Dostoevsky himself is a man of genius "lifted out of the living
world," and unable to descend to it again. Mr. Murry confesses that at
times, as he reads him, he is "seized by a supersensual terror."

     For an awful moment I seem to see things with the eye of eternity,
     and have a vision of suns grown cold, and hear the echo of voices
     calling without sound across the waste and frozen universe. And
     those voices take shape in certain unforgettable fragments of
     dialogue that have been spoken by one spirit to another in some
     ugly, mean tavern, set in surrounding darkness.

Dostoevsky's people, it is suggested, "are not so much men and women as
disembodied spirits who have for the moment put on mortality."

     They have no physical being. Ultimately they are the creations, not
     of a man who desired to be, but of a spirit which sought to know.
     They are the imaginations of a God-tormented mind. ... Because they
     are possessed they are no longer men and women.

This is all in a measure true. Dostoevsky was no realist. Nor, on the
other hand, was he a novelist of horrors for horrors' sake. He could
never have written _Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar_ like Poe for the
sake of the aesthetic thrill.

None the less he remains a novelist who dramatized his spiritual
experiences through the medium of actions performed by human beings.
Clearly he believed that human beings--though not ordinary human
beings--were capable of performing the actions he narrates with such
energy. Mr. Murry will have it that the actions in the novels take place
in a "timeless" world, largely because Dostoevsky has the habit of
crowding an impossible rout of incidents into a single day. But surely
the Greeks took the same license with events. This habit of packing into
a few hours actions enough to fill a lifetime seems to me in Dostoevsky
to be a novelist's device rather than the result of a spiritual escape
into timelessness.

To say this is not to deny the spiritual content of Dostoevsky's
work--the anguish of the imprisoned soul as it battles with doubt and
denial and despair. There is in Dostoevsky a suggestion of Caliban
trying to discover some better god than Setebos. At the same time one
would be going a great deal too far in accepting the description of
himself as "a child of unbelief." The ultimate attitude of Dostoevsky is
as Christian as the Apostle Peter's, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine
unbelief!" When Dostoevsky writes, "If any one could prove to me that
Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ,
I shall prefer to stay with Christ and not with the truth," Mr. Murry
interprets this as a denial of Christ. It is surely a kind of faith,
though a despairing kind. And beyond the dark night of suffering, and
dissipating the night, Dostoevsky still sees the light of Christian
compassion. His work is all earthquake and eclipse and dead stars apart
from this.

He does not, Mr. Murry urges, believe, as has often been said, that men
are purified by suffering. It seems to me that Dostoevsky believes that
men are purified, if not by their own sufferings, at least by the
sufferings of others. Or even by the compassion of others, like Prince
Myshkin in _The Idiot_. But the truth is, it is by no means easy to
systematize the creed of a creature at war with life, as Dostoevsky
was--a man tortured by the eternal conflict of the devilish and the
divine in his own breast.

His work, like his face, bears the mark of this terrible conflict. The
novels are the perfect image of the man. As to the man himself, the
Vicomte de Vogüé described him as he saw him in the last years of his
life:--

     Short, lean, neurotic, worn and bowed down with sixty years of
     misfortune, faded rather than aged, with a look of an invalid of
     uncertain age, with a long beard and hair still fair, and for all
     that still breathing forth the "cat-life." ... The face was that of
     a Russian peasant; a real Moscow mujik, with a flat nose, small,
     sharp eyes deeply set, sometimes dark and gloomy, sometimes gentle
     and mild. The forehead was large and lumpy, the temples were hollow
     as if hammered in. His drawn, twitching features seemed to press
     down on his sad-looking mouth.... Eyelids, lips, and every muscle
     of his face twitched nervously the whole time. When he became
     excited on a certain point, one could have sworn that one had seen
     him before seated on a bench in a police-court awaiting trial, or
     among vagabonds who passed their time begging before the prison
     doors. At all other times he carried that look of sad and gentle
     meekness seen on the images of old Slavonic saints.

That is the portrait of the man one sees behind Dostoevsky's novels--a
portrait one might almost have inferred from the novels. It is a figure
that at once fascinates and repels. It is a figure that leads one to the
edge of the abyss. One cannot live at all times with such an author. But
his books will endure as the confession of the most terrible spiritual
and imaginative experiences that modern literature has given us.



II


JANE AUSTEN: NATURAL HISTORIAN

Jane Austen has often been praised as a natural historian. She is a
naturalist among tame animals. She does not study man (as Dostoevsky
does) in his wild state before he has been domesticated. Her men and
women are essentially men and women of the fireside.

Nor is Jane Austen entirely a realist in her treatment even of these.
She idealizes them to the point of making most of them good-looking, and
she hates poverty to such a degree that she seldom can endure to write
about anybody who is poor. She is not happy in the company of a
character who has not at least a thousand pounds. "People get so
horridly poor and economical in this part of the world," she writes on
one occasion, "that I have no patience with them. Kent is the only place
for happiness; everybody is rich there." Her novels do not introduce us
to the most exalted levels of the aristocracy. They provide us, however,
with a natural history of county people and of people who are just below
the level of county people and live in the eager hope of being taken
notice of by them. There is more caste snobbishness, I think, in Jane
Austen's novels than in any other fiction of equal genius. She, far more
than Thackeray, is the novelist of snobs.

How far Jane Austen herself shared the social prejudices of her
characters it is not easy to say. Unquestionably, she satirized them. At
the same time, she imputes the sense of superior rank not only to her
butts, but to her heroes and heroines, as no other novelist has ever
done. Emma Woodhouse lamented the deficiency of this sense in Frank
Churchill. "His indifference to a confusion of rank," she thought,
"bordered too much on inelegance of mind." Mr. Darcy, again, even when
he melts so far as to become an avowed lover, neither forgets his social
position, nor omits to talk about it. "His sense of her inferiority, of
its being a degradation ... was dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due
to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend
his suit." On discovering, to his amazement, that Elizabeth is offended
rather than overwhelmed by his condescension, he defends himself warmly.
"Disguise of every sort," he declares, "is my abhorrence. Nor am I
ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you
expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To
congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is
so decidedly beneath my own?"

It is perfectly true that Darcy and Emma Woodhouse are the butts of Miss
Austen as well as being among her heroes and heroines. She mocks
them--Darcy especially--no less than she admires. She loves to let her
wit play about the egoism of social caste. She is quite merciless in
deriding, it when it becomes overbearing, as in Lady Catherine de
Bourgh, or when it produces flunkeyish reactions, as in Mr. Collins. But
I fancy she liked a modest measure of it. Most people do. Jane Austen,
in writing so much about the sense of family and position, chose as her
theme one of the most widespread passions of civilized human nature.

She was herself a clergyman's daughter. She was the seventh of a family
of eight, born in the parsonage at Steventon, in Hampshire. Her life
seems to have been far from exciting. Her father, like the clergy in her
novels, was a man of leisure--of so much leisure, as Mr. Cornish reminds
us, that he was able to read out Cowper to his family in the mornings.
Jane was brought up to be a young lady of leisure. She learned French
and Italian and sewing: she was "especially great in satin-stitch." She
excelled at the game of spillikins.

She must have begun to write at an early age. In later life, she urges
an ambitious niece, aged twelve, to give up writing till she is sixteen,
adding that "she had herself often wished she had read more and written
less in the corresponding years of her life." She was only twenty when
she began to write _First Impressions_, the perfect book which was not
published till seventeen years later with the title altered to _Pride
and Prejudice_. She wrote secretly for many years. Her family knew of
it, but the world did not--not even the servants or the visitors to the
house. She used to hide the little sheets of paper on which she was
writing when any one approached. She had not, apparently, a room to
herself, and must have written under constant threat of interruption.
She objected to having a creaking door mended on one occasion, because
she knew by it when any one was coming.

She got little encouragement to write. _Pride and Prejudice_ was offered
to a publisher in 1797: he would not even read it. _Northanger Abbey_
was written in the next two years. It was not accepted by a publisher,
however, till 1803; and he, having paid ten pounds for it, refused to
publish it. One of Miss Austen's brothers bought back the manuscript at
the price at which it had been sold twelve or thirteen years later; but
even then it was not published till 1818, when the author was dead.

The first of her books to appear was _Sense and Sensibility_. She had
begun to write it immediately after finishing _Pride and Prejudice_. It
was published in 1811, a good many years later, when Miss Austen was
thirty-six years old. The title-page merely said that it was written "By
a Lady." The author never put her name to any of her books. For an
anonymous first novel, it must be admitted, _Sense and Sensibility_ was
not unsuccessful. It brought Miss Austen £150--"a prodigious
recompense," she thought, "for that which had cost her nothing." The
fact, however, that she had not earned more than £700 from her novels by
the time of her death shows that she never became a really popular
author in her lifetime.

She was rewarded as poorly in credit as in cash, though the Prince
Regent became an enthusiastic admirer of her books, and kept a set of
them in each of his residences. It was the Prince Regent's librarian,
the Rev. J.S. Clarke, who, on becoming chaplain to Prince Leopold of
Saxe-Coburg, made the suggestion to her that "an historical romance,
illustrative of the history of the august House of Coburg, would just
now be very interesting." Mr. Collins, had he been able to wean himself
from Fordyce's _Sermons_ so far as to allow himself to take an interest
in fiction, could hardly have made a proposal more exquisitely
grotesque. One is glad the proposal was made, however, not only for its
own sake, but because it drew an admirable reply from Miss Austen on the
nature of her genius. "I could not sit seriously down," she declared,
"to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life;
and, if it were indispensable for me to keep it up, and never relax into
laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before
I had finished the first chapter."

Jane Austen knew herself for what she was, an inveterate laugher. She
belonged essentially to the eighteenth century--the century of the wits.
She enjoyed the spectacle of men and women making fools of themselves,
and she did not hide her enjoyment under a pretence of unobservant
good-nature. She observed with malice. It is tolerably certain that Miss
Mitford was wrong in accepting the description of her in private life as
"perpendicular, precise, taciturn, a poker of whom every one is afraid."
Miss Austen, one is sure, was a lady of good-humour, as well as a
novelist of good-humour; but the good-humour had a flavour. It was the
good-humour of the satirist, not of the sentimentalizer. One can imagine
Jane Austen herself speaking as Elizabeth Bennet once spoke to her
monotonously soft-worded sister. "That is the most unforgiving speech,"
she said, "that I ever heard you utter. Good girl!"

Miss Austen has even been accused of irreverence, and we occasionally
find her in her letters as irreverent in the presence of death as Mr.
Shaw. "Only think," she writes in one letter--a remark she works into a
chapter of _Emma_, by the way--"of Mrs. Holder being dead! Poor woman,
she has done the only thing in the world she could possibly do to make
one cease to abuse her." And on another occasion she writes: "Mrs. Hall,
of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks
before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares
to look at her husband." It is possible that Miss Austen's sense of the
comic ran away with her at times as Emma Woodhouse's did. I do not know
of any similar instance of cruelty in conversation on the part of a
likeable person so unpardonable as Emma Woodhouse's witticism at the
expense of Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic. Miss Austen makes Emma
ashamed of her witticism, however, after Mr. Knightley has lectured her
for it. She sets a limit to the rights of wit, again, in _Pride and
Prejudice_, when Elizabeth defends her sharp tongue against Darcy. "The
wisest and best of men," ... he protests, "may be rendered ridiculous by
a person whose first object in life is a joke." "I hope I never ridicule
what is wise or good," says Elizabeth in the course of her answer.
"Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, _do_ divert me, I own,
and I laugh at them whenever I can." The six novels that Jane Austen has
left us might be described as the record of the diversions of a
clergyman's daughter.

The diversions of Jane Austen were, beyond those of most novelists, the
diversions of a spectator. (That is what Scott and Macaulay meant by
comparing her to Shakespeare.) Or, rather, they were the diversions of a
listener. She observed with her ears rather than with her eyes. With
her, conversation was three-fourths of life. Her stories are stories of
people who reveal themselves almost exclusively in talk. She wastes no
time in telling us what people and places looked like. She will dismiss
a man or a house or a view or a dinner with an adjective such as
"handsome." There is more description of persons and places in Mr.
Shaw's stage-directions than in all Miss Austen's novels. She cuts the
'osses and comes to the cackle as no other English novelist of the same
eminence has ever done. If we know anything of the setting or character
or even the appearance of her men and women, it is due far more to what
they say than to anything that is said about them. And yet how perfect
is her gallery of portraits! One can guess the very angle of Mr.
Collins's toes.

One seems, too, to be able to follow her characters through the trivial
round of the day's idleness as closely as if one were pursuing them
under the guidance of a modern realist. They are the most unoccupied
people, I think, who ever lived in literature. They are people in whose
lives a slight fall of snow is an event. Louisa Musgrave's jump on the
Cobb at Lyme Regis produces more commotion in the Jane Austen world than
murder and arson do in an ordinary novel. Her people do not even seem,
for the most part, to be interested in anything but their opinions of
each other. They have few passions beyond match-making. They are
unconcerned about any of the great events of their time. Almost the only
reference in the novels to the Napoleonic Wars is a mention of the
prize-money of naval officers. "Many a noble fortune," says Mr. Shepherd
in _Persuasion_, "has been made during the war." Miss Austen's principal
use of the Navy outside _Mansfield Park_ is as a means of portraying the
exquisite vanity of Sir Walter Elliott--his inimitable manner of
emphasizing the importance of both rank and good looks in the make-up
of a gentleman. "The profession has its utility," he says of the Navy,
"but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it." He
goes on to explain his reasons:

     It is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of
     objection to it. First as being the means of bringing persons of
     obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours
     which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and,
     secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most terribly; a
     sailor grows older sooner than any other man.

Sir Walter complains that he had once had to give place at dinner to
Lord St. Ives, the son of a curate, and "a certain Admiral Baldwin, the
most deplorable-looking personage you can imagine: his face the colour
of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree, all lines and
wrinkles, nine grey hairs of a side, and nothing but a dab of powder at
top":

     "In the name of heaven, who is that old fellow?" said I to a friend
     of mine who was standing near (Sir Basil Morley). "Old fellow!"
     cried Sir Basil, "it is Admiral Baldwin. What do you take his age
     to be?" "Sixty," said I, "or perhaps sixty-two." "Forty," replied
     Sir Basil, "forty, and no more." Picture to yourselves my
     amazement; I shall not easily forget Admiral Baldwin. I never saw
     quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do; but
     to a degree, I know, it is the same with them all; they are all
     knocked about, and exposed to every climate and every weather, till
     they are not fit to be seen. It is a pity they are not knocked on
     the head at once, before they reach Admiral Baldwin's age.

That, I think, is an excellent example of Miss Austen's genius for
making her characters talk. Luckily, conversation was still formal in
her day, and it was as possible for her as for Congreve to make middling
men and women talk first-rate prose. She did more than this, however.
She was the first English novelist before Meredith to portray charming
women with free personalities. Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse have
an independence (rare in English fiction) of the accident of being
fallen in love with. Elizabeth is a delightful prose counterpart of
Beatrice.

Miss Austen has another point of resemblance to Meredith besides that
which I have mentioned. She loves to portray men puffed up with
self-approval. She, too, is a satirist of the male egoist. Her books are
the most finished social satires in English fiction. They are so perfect
in the delicacy of their raillery as to be charming. One is conscious in
them, indeed, of the presence of a sparkling spirit. Miss Austen comes
as near being a star as it is possible to come in eighteenth-century
conversational prose. She used to say that, if ever she should marry,
she would fancy being Mrs. Crabbe. She had much of Crabbe's realism,
indeed; but what a dance she led realism with the mocking light of her
wit!



III

MR. G.K. CHESTERTON AND MR. HILAIRE BELLOC

1. THE HEAVENLY TWINS


It was Mr. Shaw who, in the course of a memorable controversy, invented
a fantastic pantomime animal, which he called the "Chester-Belloc." Some
such invention was necessary as a symbol of the literary comradeship of
Mr. Hilaire Belloc and Mr. Gilbert Chesterton. For Mr. Belloc and Mr.
Chesterton, whatever may be the dissimilarities in the form and spirit
of their work, cannot be thought of apart from each other. They are as
inseparable as the red and green lights of a ship: the one illumines
this side and the other that, but they are both equally concerned with
announcing the path of the good ship "Mediaevalism" through the
dangerous currents of our times. Fifty years ago, when philology was one
of the imaginative arts, it would have been easy enough to gain credit
for the theory that they are veritable reincarnations of the Heavenly
Twins going about the earth with corrupted names. Chesterton is merely
English for Castor, and Belloc is Pollux transmuted into French.
Certainly, if the philologist had also been an evangelical Protestant,
he would have felt a double confidence in identifying the two authors
with Castor and Pollux as the

    Great Twin Brethren,
    Who fought so well for Rome.

A critic was struck some years ago by the propriety of the fact that Mr.
Chesterton and Mr. Belloc brought out books of the same kind and the
same size, through the same publisher, almost in the same week. Mr.
Belloc, to be sure, called his volume of essays _This, That, and the
Other_, and Mr. Chesterton called his _A Miscellany of Men._ But if Mr.
Chesterton had called his book _This, That, and the Other_ and Mr.
Belloc had called his _A Miscellany of Men_, it would not have made a
pennyworth of difference. Each book is simply a ragbag of essays--the
riotous and fantastically joyous essays of Mr. Chesterton, the sardonic
and arrogantly gay essays of Mr. Belloc. Each, however, has a unity of
outlook, not only an internal unity, but a unity with the other. Each
has the outlook of the mediaevalist spirit--the spirit which finds
crusades and miracles more natural than peace meetings and the
discoveries of science, which gives Heaven and Hell a place on the map
of the world, which casts a sinister eye on Turks and Jews, which brings
its gaiety to the altar as the tumbler in the story brought his cap and
bells, which praises dogma and wine and the rule of the male, which
abominates the scientific spirit, and curses the day on which Bacon was
born. Probably, neither of the authors would object to being labelled a
mediaevalist, except in so far as we all object to having labels affixed
to us by other people. Mr. Chesterton's attitude on the matter, indeed,
is clear from that sentence in _What's Wrong with the World_, in which
he affirms: "Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather
mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout." And
if, on learning some of the inferences he makes from this, you protest
that he is reactionary, and is trying to put back the hands of the
clock, he is quite unashamed, and replies that the moderns "are always
saying 'you can't put the clock back.' The simple and obvious answer is,
'You can.' A clock, being a piece of human construction, can be restored
by the human finger to any figure or hour." The effrontery of an answer
like that is so magnificent that it takes one's breath away. The chief
difficulty of Mr. Chesterton and Mr. Belloc, however, seems to be that
they want their clock to point to two different hours at the same time,
neither of which happens to be the hour which the sun has just marked at
Greenwich. They want it to point at once to 878 and 1789--to Ethandune
and the French Revolution.

Similar though they are in the revolutio-mediaevalist background of
their philosophy, however, Mr. Chesterton and Mr. Belloc are as unlike
as possible in the spirit in which they proclaim it. If Mr. Chesterton
gets up on his box to prophesy against the times, he seems to do so out
of a passionate and unreasoning affection for his fellows. If Mr. Belloc
denounces the age, he seems also to be denouncing the human race. Mr.
Chesterton is jovial and democratic; Mr. Belloc is (to some extent)
saturnine and autocratic. Mr. Chesterton belongs to the exuberantly
lovable tradition of Dickens; indeed, he is, in the opinion of many
people, the most exuberantly lovable personality which has expressed
itself in English literature since Dickens. Mr. Belloc, on the other
hand, has something of the gleaming and solitary fierceness of Swift and
Hazlitt. Mr. Chesterton's vision, coloured though it is with the colours
of the past, projects itself generously into the future. He is
foretelling the eve of the Utopia of the poor and the oppressed when he
speaks of

     the riot that all good men, even the most conservative, really
     dream of, when the sneer shall be struck from the face of the
     well-fed; when the wine of honour shall be poured down the throat
     of despair; when we shall, so far as to the sons of flesh is
     possible, take tyranny, and usury, and public treason, and bind
     them into bundles, and burn them.

There is anger, as well as affection, in this eloquence--anger as of a
new sort of knight thirsting to spill the blood of a new sort of
barbarian in the name of Christ. Mr. Belloc's attack on the barbarians
lacks the charity of these fiery sentences. He concludes his essay on
the scientific spirit, as embodied in Lombroso, for instance, with the
words, "The Ass!" And he seems to sneer the insult where Mr. Chesterton
would have roared it. Mr. Chesterton and he may be at one in the way in
which they regard the scientific criminologists, eugenists,
collectivists, pragmatists, post-impressionists, and most of the other
"ists" of recent times, as an army of barbarians invading the
territories of mediaeval Christendom. But while Mr. Chesterton is in the
gap of danger, waving against his enemies the sword of the spirit, Mr.
Belloc stands on a little height apart, aiming at them the more cruel
shafts of the intellect. It is not that he is less courageous than Mr.
Chesterton, but that he is more contemptuous. Here, for example, is how
he meets the barbarian attack, especially as it is delivered by M.
Bergson and his school:--

     In its most grotesque form, it challenges the accuracy of
     mathematics; in its most vicious, the processes of the human
     reason. The Barbarian is as proud as a savage in a top hat when he
     talks of the elliptical or the hyperbolic universe, and tries to
     picture parallel straight lines converging or diverging--but never
     doing anything so vulgarly old-fashioned as to remain parallel.

     The Barbarian, when he has graduated to be a "pragmatist," struts
     like a nigger in evening clothes, and believes himself superior to
     the gift of reason, etc., etc.

It would be unfair to offer this passage as an example of Mr. Belize's
dominating genius, but it is an excellent example of his domineering
temper. His genius and his temper, one may add, seem, in these essays,
to, be always trying to climb on one another's shoulders, and it is when
his genius gets uppermost that he becomes one of the most biting and
exhilarating writers of his time. On such occasions his malice ceases to
be a talent, and rises into an enthusiasm, as in _The Servants of the
Rich_, where, like a mediaeval bard, he shows no hesitation in housing
his enemies in the circles of Hell. His gloating proclamation of the
eternal doom of the rich men's servants is an infectious piece of
humour, at once grim and irresponsible:--

     Their doom is an eternal sleeplessness and a nakedness in the
     gloom.... These are those men who were wont to come into the room
     of the Poor Guest at early morning, with a steadfast and assured
     step, and a look of insult. These are those who would take the
     tattered garments and hold them at arm's length, as much as to say:
     "What rags these scribblers wear!" and then, casting them over the
     arm, with a gesture that meant: "Well, they must be brushed, but
     Heaven knows if they will stand it without coming to pieces!" would
     next discover in the pockets a great quantity of middle-class
     things, and notably loose tobacco....

     ... Then one would see him turn one's socks inside out, which is a
     ritual with the horrid tribe. Then a great bath would be trundled
     in, and he would set beside it a great can, and silently pronounce
     the judgment that, whatever else was forgiven the middle-class, one
     thing would not be forgiven them--the neglect of the bath, of the
     splashing about of the water, and of the adequate wetting of the
     towel.

     All these things we have suffered, you and I, at their hands. But
     be comforted. They writhe in Hell with their fellows.

Mr. Belloc is not one of those authors who can be seen at their best in
quotations, but even the mutilated fragment just given suggests to some
extent the mixture of gaiety and malice that distinguishes his work from
the work of any of his contemporaries. His gifts run to satire, as Mr.
Chesterton's run to imaginative argument. It is this, perhaps, which
accounts for the fact that, of these two authors, who write with their
heads in the Middle Ages, it is Mr. Chesterton who is the more
comprehensive critic of his own times. He never fights private, but
always public, battles in his essays. His mediaevalism seldom
degenerates into a prejudice, as it often does with Mr. Belloc. It
represents a genuine theory of the human soul, and of human freedom. He
laments as he sees men exchanging the authority of a spiritual
institution, like the Church, for the authority a carnal institution,
like a bureaucracy. He rages as he sees them abandoning charters that
gave men rights, and accepting charters that only give them
prohibitions. It has been the custom for a long time to speak of Mr.
Chesterton as an optimist; and there was, indeed, a time when he was so
rejoiced by the discovery that the children of men were also the
children of God, that he was as aggressively cheerful as Whitman and
Browning rolled into one. But he has left all that behind him. The
insistent vision of a world in full retreat from the world of Alfred and
Charlemagne and the saints and the fight for Jerusalem--from this and
the allied world of Danton and Robespierre, and the rush to the
Bastille--has driven him back upon a partly well-founded and partly
ill-founded Christian pessimism. To him it now seems as if Jerusalem had
captured the Christians rather than the Christians Jerusalem. He sees
men rushing into Bastilles, not in order to tear them down, but in order
to inhabit the accursed cells.

When I say that this pessimism is partly ill-founded, I mean that it is
arrived at by comparing the liberties of the Middle Ages with the
tyrannies of to-day, instead of by comparing the liberties of the Middle
Ages with the liberties of to-day, or the tyrannies of the Middle Ages
with the tyrannies of to-day. It is the result, sometimes, of playing
with history and, sometimes, of playing with words. Is it not playing
with words, for instance, to glorify the charters by which medieval
kings guaranteed the rights and privileges of their subjects, and to
deny the name of charter to such a law as that by which a modern State
guarantees some of the rights and privileges of children--to deny it
simply on the ground that the latter expresses itself largely in
prohibitions? It may be necessary to forbid a child to go into a
gin-palace in order to secure it the privilege of not being driven into
a gin-palace. Prohibitions are as necessary to human liberty as permits
and licences.

At the same time, quarrel as we may with Mr. Chesterton's mediaevalism,
and his application of it to modern problems, we can seldom quarrel with
the motive with which he urges it upon us. His high purpose throughout
is to keep alive the human view of society, as opposed to the mechanical
view to which lazy politicians are naturally inclined. If he has not
been able to give us any very, coherent vision of a Utopia of his own,
he has, at least, done the world a service in dealing some smashing
blows at the Utopia of machinery. None the less, he and Mr. Belloc would
be the most dangerous of writers to follow in a literal obedience. In
regard to political and social improvements, they are too often merely
Devil's Advocates of genius. But that is a necessary function, and they
are something more than that. As I have suggested, above all the
arguments and the rhetoric and the humours of the little political
battles, they do bear aloft a banner with a strange device, reminding us
that organized society was made for man, and not man for organized
society. That, in the last analysis, is the useful thing for which Mr.
Chesterton and Mr. Belloc stand in modern politics. It almost seems at
times, however, as though they were ready to see us bound again with the
fetters of ancient servitudes, in order to compel us to take part once
more in the ancient struggle for freedom.



2. THE COPIOUSNESS OF MR. BELLOC


Mr. Belloc has during the last four or five years become a public man.
Before that he had been acknowledged a man of genius. But even the fact
that he had sat in the House of Commons never led any great section of
Englishmen to regard him as a figure or an institution. He was generally
looked on as one who made his bed aggressively among heretics, as a kind
of Rabelaisian dissenter, as a settled interrupter, half-rude and
half-jesting. And yet there was always in him something of the
pedagogue who has been revealed so famously in these last months. Not
only had he a passion for facts and for stringing facts upon theories.
He had also a high-headed and dogmatic and assured way of imparting his
facts and theories to the human race as it sat--or in so far as it could
be persuaded to sit--on its little forms.

It is his schoolmasterishness which chiefly distinguishes the genius of
Mr. Belloc from the genius of his great and uproarious comrade, Mr.
Chesterton. Mr. Belloc is not a humorist to anything like the same
degree as Mr. Chesterton. If Mr. Chesterton were a schoolmaster he would
give all the triangles noses and eyes, and he would turn the Latin verbs
into nonsense rhymes. Humour is his breath and being. He cannot speak of
the Kingdom of Heaven or of Robert Browning without it any more than of
asparagus. He is a laughing theologian, a laughing politician, a
laughing critic, a laughing philosopher. He retains a fantastic
cheerfulness even amid the blind furies--and how blindly furious he can
sometimes be!--of controversy. With Mr. Belloc, on the other hand,
laughter is a separate and relinquishable gift. He can at will lay aside
the mirth of one who has broken bounds for the solemnity of the man in
authority. He can be scapegrace prince and sober king by turns, and in
such a way that the two personalities seem scarcely to be related to
each other. Compared with Mr. Chesterton he is like a man in a mask, or
a series of masks. He reveals more of his intellect to the world than of
his heart. He is not one of those authors whom one reads with a sense of
personal intimacy. He is too arrogant even in his merriment for that.

Perhaps the figure we see reflected most obtrusively in his works is
that of a man delighting in immense physical and intellectual energies.
It is this that makes him one of the happiest of travellers. On his
travels, one feels, every inch and nook of his being is intent upon the
passing earth. The world is to him at once a map and a history and a
poem and a church and an ale-house. The birds in the greenwood, the
beer, the site of an old battle, the meaning of an old road, sacred
emblems by the roadside, the comic events of way-faring--he has an equal
appetite for them all. Has he not made a perfect book of these things,
with a thousand fancies added, in _The Four Men_? In _The Four Men_ he
has written a travel-book which more than any other of his works has
something of the passion of a personal confession. Here the pilgrim
becomes nearly genial as he indulges in his humours against the rich and
against policemen and in behalf of Sussex against Kent and the rest of
the inhabited world.

Mr. Chesterton has spoken of Mr. Belloc as one who "did and does humanly
and heartily love England, not as a duty but as a pleasure, and almost
an indulgence." And _The Four Men_ expresses this love humorously,
inconsequently, and with a grave stepping eloquence. There are few
speeches in modern books better than the conversations in _The Four
Men._ Mr. Belloc is not one of those disciples of realism who believe
that the art of conversation is dead, and that modern people are only
capable of addressing each other in one-line sentences. He has the
traditional love of the fine speech such as we find it in the ancient
poets and historians and dramatists and satirists. He loves a monologue
that passes from mockery to regret, that gathers up by the way anecdote
and history and essay and foolery, that is half a narrative of things
seen and half an irresponsible imagination. He can describe a runaway
horse with the farcical realism of the authors of _Some Experiences of
an Irish R.M._, can parody a judge, can paint a portrait, and can steep
a landscape in vision. Two recent critics have described him as "the
best English prose writer since Dryden," but that only means that Mr.
Belloc's rush of genius has quite naturally swept them off their feet.

If Mr. Belloc's love of country is an indulgence, his moods of
suspicion and contempt are something of the same kind. He is nothing of
a philanthropist in any sense of the word. He has no illusions about the
virtue of the human race. He takes pleasure in scorn, and there is a
flavour of bitterness in his jests. His fiction largely belongs to the
comedy of corruption. He enjoys--and so do we--the thought of the poet
in Sussex who had no money except three shillings, "and a French penny,
which last some one had given him out of charity, taking him for a
beggar a little way-out of Brightling that very day." When he describes
the popular rejoicings at the result of Mr. Clutterbuck's election, he
comments: "The populace were wild with joy at their victory, and that
portion of them who as bitterly mourned defeat would have been roughly
handled had they not numbered quite half this vast assembly of human
beings." He is satirist and ironist even more than historian. His
ironical essays are the best of their kind that have been written in
recent years.

Mr. Mandell and Mr. Shanks in their little study, _Hilaire Belloc: the
Man and his Work_, are more successful in their exposition of Mr.
Belloc's theory of history and the theory of politics which has risen
out of it--or out of which it has risen--than they are in their
definition of him as a man of letters. They have written a lively book
on him, but they do not sufficiently communicate an impression of the
kind of his exuberance, of his thrusting intellectual ardour, of his
pomp as a narrator, of his blind and doctrinaire injustices, of his
jesting like a Roman Emperor's, of the strength of his happiness upon a
journey, of his buckishness, of the queer lack of surprising phrases in
his work, of his measured omniscience, of the immense weight of
tradition in the manner of his writing. There are many contemporary
writers whose work seems to be a development of journalism. Mr.
Belloc's is the child of four literatures, or, maybe, half a dozen. He
often writes carelessly, sometimes dully but there is the echo of
greatness in his work. He is one of the few contemporary men of genius
whose books are under-estimated rather than over-estimated. He is an
author who has brought back to the world something of the copiousness,
fancy, appetite, power, and unreason of the talk that, one imagines, was
once to be heard in the Mermaid Tavern.



3. THE TWO MR. CHESTERTONS


I cannot help wishing at times that Mr. Chesterton could be divided in
two. One half of him I should like to challenge to mortal combat as an
enemy of the human race. The other half I would carry shoulder-high
through the streets. For Mr. Chesterton is at once detestable and
splendid. He is detestable as a doctrinaire: he is splendid as a sage
and a poet who juggles with stars and can keep seven of them in the air
at a time. For, if he is a gamester, it is among the lamps of Heaven. We
can see to read by his sport. He writes in flashes, and hidden and
fantastic truths suddenly show their faces in the play of his sentences.

Unfortunately, his two personalities have become so confused that his
later books sometimes strike one as being not so much a game played with
light as a game of hide-and-seek between light and darkness. In the
darkness he mutters incantations to the monstrous tyrannies of old time:
in the light he is on his knees to liberty. He vacillates between
superstition and faith. His is a genius at once enslaved and
triumphantly rebel. This fatal duality is seen again and again in his
references to the tyrannies of the Middle Ages. Thus he writes: "It need
not be repeated that the case despotism is democratic. As a rule its
cruelty to the strong is kindness to the weak." I confess I do not know
the "rule" to which Mr. Chesterton refers. The picture of the despot as
a good creature who shields the poor from the rich is not to be found
among the facts of history. The ordinary despot, in his attitude to the
common people suffering from the oppressions of their lords, is best
portrayed in the fable--if it be a fable--of Marie Antoinette and her
flippancy about eating cake.

I fancy, however, Mr. Chesterton's defence of despots is not the result
of any real taste for them or acquaintance with their history: it is due
simply to his passion for extremes. He likes a man, as the vulgar say,
to be either one thing or the other. You must be either a Pope or a
revolutionist to please him. He loves the visible rhetoric of things,
and the sober suits of comfortable citizens seem dull and neutral in
comparison with the red of cardinals on the one hand, and of caps of
liberty on the other. This, I think, explains Mr. Chesterton's
indifference to, if not dislike of, Parliaments. Parliaments are
monuments of compromise, and are guilty of the sin of unpicturesqueness.
One would imagine that a historian of England who did not care for
Parliaments would be as hopelessly out of his element as a historian of
Greece who did not care for the arts. And it is because Mr. Chesterton
is indifferent to so much in the English genius and character that he
has given us in his recent short _History of England_, instead of a
History of England, a wild and wonderful pageant of argument. "Already,"
he cries, as he relates how Parliament "certainly encouraged, and almost
certainly obliged" King Richard to break his pledge to the people after
the Wat Tyler insurrection:--

     Already Parliament is not merely a governing body, but a governing
     class.

The history of England is to Mr. Chesterton largely the history of the
rise of the governing class. He blames John Richard Green for leaving
the people out of his history; but Mr. Chesterton himself has left out
the people as effectually as any of the historians who went before him.
The obsession of "the governing class" has thrust the people into the
background. History resolves itself with him into a disgraceful epic of
a governing class which despoiled Pope and King with the right hand, and
the people with the left. It is a disgraceful epic patched with splendid
episodes, but it culminates in an appalling cry of doubt whether, after
all, it might not be better for England to perish utterly in the great
war while fighting for liberty than to survive to behold the triumph of
the "governing class" in a servile State of old-age pensions and
Insurance Acts.

This theory of history, as being largely the story of the evolution of
the "governing class," is an extremely interesting and even "fruitful"
theory. But it is purely fantastic unless we bear in mind that the
governing class has been continually compelled to enlarge itself, and
that its tendency is reluctantly to go on doing so until in the end it
will be coterminous with the "governed class." History is a tale of
exploitation, but it is also a tale of liberation, and the over-emphasis
that Mr. Chesterton lays on exploitation by Parliaments as compared with
exploitation by Popes and Kings, can only be due to infidelity in regard
to some of the central principles of freedom. Surely it is possible to
condemn the Insurance Act, if it must be condemned, without apologizing
either for the Roman Empire or for the Roman ecclesiastical system. Mr.
Chesterton, however, believes in giving way to one's prejudices. He says
that history should be written backwards; and what does this mean but
that it should be dyed in prejudice? thus, he cannot refer to the
Hanoverian succession without indulging in a sudden outburst of heated
rhetoric such as one might expect rather in a leading article in
war-time. He writes:--

     With George there entered England something that had scarcely been
     seen there before; something hardly mentioned in mediaeval or
     Renascence writing, except as one mentions a Hottentot--the
     barbarian from beyond the Rhine.

Similarly, his characterization of the Revolution of 1688 is largely a
result of his dislike of the governing classes at the present hour:--

     The Revolution reduced us to a country wholly governed by
     gentlemen; the popular universities and schools of the Middle Ages,
     like their guilds and abbeys, had been seized and turned into what
     they are--factories of gentlemen when they are not merely factories
     of snobs.

Both of these statements contain a grain of truth, but neither of them
contains enough truth to be true. One might describe them as sweetmeats
of history of small nutritious value. One might say the same of his
comment on the alliance between Chatham and Frederick the Great:--

     The cannibal theory of a commonwealth, that it can of its nature
     eat other commonwealths, had entered Christendom.

How finely said! But, alas! the cannibal theory of a commonwealth
existed long before Chatham and Frederick the Great. The instinct to
exploit is one of the most venerable instincts of the human race,
whether in individual men or in nations of men; and ancient Hebrew and
ancient Greek and ancient Roman had exhausted the passion of centuries
in obedience to it before the language spoken either by Chatham or by
Frederick was born. Christian Spain, Christian France, and Christian
England had not in this matter disowned the example of their Jewish and
Pagan forerunners.

What we are infinitely grateful to Mr. Chesterton for, however, is that
he has sufficient imagination to loathe cannibalism wherever he sees it.
True, he seems to forgive certain forms of cannibalism on the ground
that it is an exaggeration to describe the flesh of a rich man as the
flesh of a human being. But he does rage with genius at the continual
eating of men that went on in England, especially after the spoliation
of the monasteries in the reign of Henry the Eighth gave full scope to
the greed of the strong. He sees that the England which Whig and Tory
combined to defend as the perfection of the civilized world in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was an England governed by men whose
chief claim to govern was founded on the fact that they had seized their
country and were holding it against their countrymen. Mr. Chesterton
rudely shatters the mirror of perfection in which the possessing class
have long seen themselves. He writes in a brilliant passage:--

     It could truly be said of the English gentleman, as of another
     gallant and gracious individual, that his honour stood rooted in
     dishonour. He was, indeed, somewhat in the position of such an
     aristocrat of romance, whose splendour has the dark spot of a
     secret and a sort of blackmail.... His glory did not come from the
     Crusades, but from the Great Pillage.... The oligarchs were
     descended from usurers and thieves. That, for good or evil, was the
     paradox of England; the typical aristocrat was the typical upstart.

     But the secret was worse; not only was such a family founded on
     stealing, but the family was stealing still. It is a grim truth
     that, all through the eighteenth century, all through the great
     Whig speeches about liberty, all through the great Tory speeches
     about patriotism, through the period of Wandiwash and Plassey,
     through the period of Trafalgar and Waterloo, one process was
     steadily going on in the central senate of the nation. Parliament
     was passing Bill after Bill for the enclosure by the great
     landlords of such of the common lands as had survived out of the
     great communal system of the Middle Ages. It is much more than a
     pun, it is the prime political irony of our history that the
     Commons were destroying the commons.

It would be folly to suggest, however, that, conscious though Mr.
Chesterton is of the crimes of history, he has turned history into a
mere series of floggings of criminals. He is for ever laying down the
whip and inviting the criminals to take their seats while he paints
gorgeous portraits of them in all the colours of the rainbow. His praise
of the mighty rhetoricians of the eighteenth century could in some
passages scarcely be more unstinted if he were a Whig of the Whigs. He
cannot but admire the rotund speech and swelling adventures of those
days. If we go farther back, we find him portraying even the Puritans
with a strange splendour of colour:--

     They were, above all things, anti-historic, like the Futurists in
     Italy; and there was this unconscious greatness about them, that
     their very sacrilege was public and solemn, like a sacrament; and
     they were ritualists even as iconoclasts. It was, properly
     considered, but a very secondary example of their strange and
     violent simplicity that one of them, before a mighty mob at
     Whitehall, cut off the anointed head of the sacramental man of the
     Middle Ages. For another, far away in the western shires, cut down
     the thorn of Glastonbury, from which had grown the whole story of
     Britain.

This last passage is valuable, not only because it reveals Mr.
Chesterton as a marvellous rhetorician doing the honours of prose to his
enemies, but because it helps to explain the essentially tragic view he
takes of English history. I exaggerated a moment ago when I said that to
Mr. Chesterton English history is the story of the rise of a governing
class. What it really is to him is the story of a thorn-bush cut down by
a Puritan. He has hung all the candles of his faith on the sacred thorn,
like the lights on a Christmas-tree, and lo! it has been cut down and
cast out of England with as little respect as though it were a verse
from the Sermon on the Mount. It may be that Mr. Chesterton's sight is
erratic, and that what he took to be the sacred thorn was really a
Upas-tree. But in a sense that does not matter. He is entitled to his
own fable, if he tells it honestly and beautifully; and it is as a
tragic fable or romance of the downfall of liberty in England that one
reads his _History_. He himself contends in the last chapter of the book
that the crisis in English history came "with the fall of Richard II,
following on his failures to use mediaeval despotism in the interests
of mediaeval democracy." Mr. Chesterton's history would hardly be worth
reading, if he had made nothing more of it than is suggested in that
sentence. His book (apart from occasional sloughs of sophistry and
fallacious argument) remains in the mind as a song of praise and dolour
chanted by the imagination about an England that obeyed not God and
despised the Tree of Life, but that may yet, he believes, hear once more
the ancestral voices, and with her sons arrayed in trade unions and
guilds, march riotously back into the Garden of Eden.



IV.

WORDSWORTH

1. HIS PERSONALITY AND GENIUS


Dorothy Wordsworth--whom Professor Harper has praised not beyond reason
as "the most delightful, the most fascinating woman who has enriched
literary history"--once confessed in a letter about her brother William
that "his person is not in his favour," and that he was "certainly
rather plain." He is the most difficult of all the great poets whom one
reverences to portray as an attractive person. "'Horse-face,' I have
heard satirists say," Carlyle wrote of him, recalling a comparison of
Hazlitt's; and the horse-face seems to be symbolic of something that we
find not only in his personal appearance, but in his personality and his
work.

His faults do not soften us, as the faults of so many favourite writers
do. They were the faults, not of passion, but of a superior person, who
was something of a Sir Willoughby Patterne in his pompous
self-satisfaction. "He says," records Lamb in one of his letters, "he
does not see much difficulty in writing like Shakespeare, if he had a
mind to try it." Lamb adds: "It is clear that nothing is wanting but the
mind."

Leigh Hunt, after receiving a visit from Wordsworth in 1815, remarked
that "he was as sceptical on the merit of all kinds of poetry but one as
Richardson was on those of the novels of Fielding." Keats, who had
earlier spoken of the reverence in which he held Wordsworth, wrote to
his brother in 1818: "I am sorry that Wordsworth has left a bad
impression wherever he visited in town by his egotism, vanity, and
bigotry." There was something frigidly unsympathetic in his judgment of
others, which was as unattractive as his complacency in regard to his
own work. When Trelawny, seeing him at Lausanne and, learning who he
was, went up to him as he was about to step into his carriage and asked
him what he thought of Shelley as a poet, he replied: "Nothing." Again,
Wordsworth spoke with solemn reprobation of certain of Lamb's
friendships, after Lamb was dead, as "the indulgences of social humours
and fancies which were often injurious to himself and causes of severe
regrets to his friends, without really benefiting the object of his
misapplied kindness."

Nor was this attitude of Johnny Head-in-Air the mark only of his later
years. It appeared in the days when he and Coleridge collaborated in
bringing out _Lyrical Ballads._ There is something sublimely egotistical
in the way in which he shook his head over _The Ancient Mariner_ as a
drag upon that miraculous volume. In the course of a letter to his
publisher, he wrote:--

     From what I can gather it seems that _The Ancyent Marinere_ has, on
     the whole, been an injury to the volume; I mean that the old words
     and the strangeness of it have deterred readers from going on. If
     the volume should come to a second edition, I would put in its
     place some little things which would be more likely to suit the
     common taste.

It is when one reads sentences like these that one begins to take a
mischievous delight in the later onslaught of a Scottish reviewer who,
indignant that Wordsworth should dare to pretend to be able to
appreciate Burns, denounced him as "a retired, pensive, egotistical,
_collector of stamps_," and as--

     a melancholy, sighing, half-parson sort of gentleman, who lives in
     a small circle of old maids and sonneteers, and drinks tea now and
     then with the solemn Laureate.

One feels at times that no ridicule or abuse of this stiff-necked old
fraud could be excessive; for, if he were not Wordsworth, as what but a
fraud could we picture him in his later years, as he protests against
Catholic Emancipation, the extension of the franchise, the freedom of
the Press, and popular education? "Can it, in a _general_ view," he
asks, "be good that an infant should learn much which its _parents do
not know?_ Will not a child arrogate a superiority unfavourable to love
and obedience?" He shuddered again at the likelihood that Mechanics'
Institutes would "make discontented spirits and insubordinate and
presumptuous workmen." He opposed the admission of Dissenters to
Cambridge University, and he "desired that a medical education should be
kept beyond the reach of a poor student," on the ground that "the better
able the parents are to incur expense, the stronger pledge have we of
their children being above meanness and unfeeling and sordid habits."
One might go on quoting instance after instance of this piety of
success, as it might be called. Time and again the words seem to come
from the mouth, not of one of the inspired men of the modern world, but
of some puffed-up elderly gentleman in a novel by Jane Austen. His
letter to a young relation who wished to marry his daughter Dora is a
letter that Jane Austen might have invented:--

     If you have thoughts of marrying, do look out for some lady with a
     sufficient fortune for both of you. What I say to you now I would
     recommend to every naval officer and clergyman who is without
     prospect of professional advancement. Ladies of some fortune are as
     easily won as those without, and for the most part as deserving.
     Check the first liking to those who have nothing.

One is tempted to say that Wordsworth, like so many other poets, died
young, and that a pensioner who inherited his name survived him.

When one has told the worst about Wordsworth, however, one is as far as
ever from having painted a portrait of him in which anybody could
believe while reading the _Ode on Intimations of Immortality--Ode_ as
it was simply called when it was first published--or _I wandered lonely
as a cloud_, or the sonnet composed on Westminster Bridge. Nor does the
portrait of a stern, unbending egotist satisfy us when we remember the
life-long devotion that existed between him and Dorothy, and the fact
that Coleridge loved him, and that Lamb and Scott were his friends. He
may have been a niggard of warm-heartedness to the outside world, but it
is clear from his biography that he possessed the genius of a good heart
as well as of a great mind.

And he was as conspicuous for the public as for the private virtues. His
latest biographer has done well to withdraw our eyes from the portrait
of the old man with the stiffened joints and to paint in more glowing
colours than any of his predecessors the early Wordsworth who rejoiced
in the French Revolution, and, apparently as a consequence, initiated a
revolution in English poetry. The later period of the life is not
glossed over; it is given, indeed, in cruel detail, and Professor
Harper's account of it is the most lively and fascinating part of his
admirable book. But it is to the heart of the young revolutionary, who
dreamed of becoming a Girondist leader and of seeing England a republic,
that he traces all the genius and understanding that we find in the
poems.

"Wordsworth's connection," he writes, "with the English 'Jacobins,' with
the most extreme element opposed to the war or actively agitating in
favour of making England a republic, was much closer than has been
generally admitted." He points out that Wordsworth's first books of
verse, _An Evening Walk_, and _Descriptive Sketches_, were published by
Joseph Johnson, who also published Dr. Priestley, Horne Tooke, and Mary
Wollstonecraft, and whose shop was frequented by Godwin and Paine.
Professor Harper attempts to strengthen his case by giving brief
sketches of famous "Jacobins," whom Wordsworth may or may not have met,
but his case is strong enough without their help. Wordsworth's
reply--not published at the time, or, indeed, till after his death--to
the Bishop of Llandaff's anti-French-Revolution sermon on _The Wisdom
and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor_, was signed
without qualification, "By a Republican." He refused to join in "the
idle Cry of modish lamentation" over the execution of the French King,
and defended the other executions in France as necessary. He condemned
the hereditary principle, whether in the Monarchy or the House of Lords.
The existence of a nobility, he held, "has a necessary, tendency to
dishonour labour." Had he published this pamphlet when it was written,
in 1793, he might easily have found himself in prison, like many other
sympathizers with the French.

Wordsworth gives us an idea in _The Prelude_--how one wishes one had the
original and unamended version of the poem as it was finished in
1805!--of the extreme lengths to which his Republican idealism carried
him. When war was declared against France, he tells us, he prayed for
French victories, and--

    Exulted in the triumph of my soul,
    When Englishmen by thousands were o'erthrown,
    Left without glory on the field, or driven,
    Brave hearts! to shameful flight.

Two years later we, find him at Racedown planning satires against the
King, the Prince of Wales, and various public men, one of the couplets
on the King and the Duke of Norfolk running:--

    Heavens! who sees majesty in George's face?
    Or looks at Norfolk, and can dream of grace?

But these lines, he declared, were given to him by Southey.

By 1797 a Government spy seems to have been looking after him and his
friends: he was living at the time at Alfoxden, near Coleridge, who, in
the previous year, had brought out _The Watchman_ to proclaim, as the
prospectus said, "the state of the political atmosphere, and preserve
Freedom and her Friends from the attacks of Robbers and Assassins."
Wordsworth at a later period did not like the story of the spy, but it
is certain that about the time of the visit he got notice to quit
Alfoxden, obviously for political reasons, from the lady who owned the
estate.

Professor Harper's originality as a biographer, however, does not lie in
his narration of facts like these, but in the patience with which he
traces the continuance of French sympathies in Wordsworth on into the
opening years of the nineteenth century. He has altered the proportions
in the Wordsworth legend, and made the youth of the poet as long in the
telling as his age. This was all the more necessary because various
biographers have followed too closely the example of the official
_Life_, the materials for which Wordsworth entrusted to his nephew, the
Bishop, who naturally regarded Wordsworth, the pillar of Church and
State, as a more eminent and laudable figure than Wordsworth, the young
Revolutionary. Whether the Bishop deliberately hushed up the fact that,
during his early travels in France, Wordsworth fell in love with an
aristocratic French lady who bore him an illegitimate child, I do not
know. Professor Harper, taking a more ruthless view of the duties of a
biographer, now relates the story, though in a rather vague and
mysterious way. One wishes that, having told us so much, he had told us
a little more. Even with all we know about the early life of Wordsworth,
we are still left guessing at his portrait rather than with a clear idea
of it. He was a figure in his youth, a character in his old age. The
character we know down to the roots of his hair. But the figure remains
something of a secret.

As a poet, Wordsworth may almost be called the first of the democrats.
He brought into literature a fresh vision--a vision bathing the world
and its inhabitants in a strange and revolutionary light. He was the
first great poet of equality and fraternity in the sense that he
portrayed the lives of common country, people in their daily
surroundings as faithfully as though they had been kings. It would be
absurd to suggest that there are no anticipations of this democratic
spirit in English literature from Chaucer down to Burns, but Wordsworth,
more than any other English writer, deserves the credit of having
emancipated the poor man into being a fit subject for noble poetry. How
revolutionary a change this was it is difficult to realize at the
present day, but Jeffrey's protest against it in the _Edinburgh Review_
in 1802 enables one to realize to what a degree the poor man was
regarded as an outcast from literature when Wordsworth was young. In the
course of an attack on _Lyrical Ballads_ Jeffrey wrote:--

     The love, or grief, or indignation, of an enlightened and refined
     character is not only expressed in a different language, but is in
     itself a different emotion from the love, or grief, or anger, of a
     clown, a tradesman, or a market-wench. The things themselves are
     radically and obviously distinct.... The poor and vulgar may
     interest us, in poetry, by their _situation_; but never, we
     apprehend, by any sentiments that are peculiar to their condition,
     and still less by any language that is peculiar to it.

When one takes sides with Wordsworth against Jeffrey on this matter it
is not because one regards Wordsworth as a portrait-painter without
faults. His portraits are marred in several cases by the intrusion of
his own personality with its "My good man" and "My little man" air. His
human beings have a way of becoming either lifeless or absurd when they
talk. _The Leech-Gatherer_ and _The Idiot Boy_ are not the only poems of
Wordsworth that are injured by the insertion of banal dialogue. It is as
though there were, despite his passion for liberty, equality, and
fraternity, a certain gaucherie in his relations with other human
beings, and he were at his happiest as a solitary. His nature, we may
grant, was of mixed aspects, but, even as early as the 1807 _Poems in
Two Volumes_ had he not expressed his impatience of human society in a
sonnet?--

    I am not one who much or oft delight
    To season my fireside with personal talk--
    Of friends, who live within an easy walk,
    Or neighbours, daily, weekly, in _my_ sight:
    And, for my chance-acquaintance, ladies bright,
    Sons, mothers, maidens withering on the stalk,
    These all wear out of me, like forms, with chalk
    Painted on rich men's floors, for one feast-night.

    Better than such discourse doth silence long,
    Long, barren silence, square with my desire;
    To sit without emotion, hope, or aim,
    In the loved presence of my cottage fire,
    And listen to the flapping of the flame,
    Or kettle whispering its faint undersong.

With Wordsworth, indeed, the light of revelation did not fall upon human
beings so unbrokenly as upon the face of the earth. He knew the birds of
the countryside better than the old men, and the flowers far better than
the children. He noticed how light plays like a spirit upon all living
things. He heard every field and valley echoing with new songs. He saw
the daffodils dancing by the lake, the green linnet dancing among the
hazel leaves, and the young lambs bounding, as he says in an unexpected
line, "as to the tabor's sound," and his heart danced to the same music,
like the heart of a mystic caught up in holy rapture. Here rather than
in men did he discover the divine speech. His vision of men was always
troubled by his consciousness of duties. Nature came to him as a
liberator into spiritual existence. Not that he ceased to be a
philosopher in his reveries. He was never the half-sensual kind of
mystic. He was never a sensualist in anything, indeed. It is significant
that he had little sense of smell--the most sensual of the senses. It
is, perhaps, because of this that he is comparatively so roseless a
poet.

But what an ear he had, what a harvesting eye! One cannot read _The
Prelude_ or _The Ode_ or _Tintern Abbey_ without feeling that seldom can
there have been a poet with a more exquisite capacity for the enjoyment
of joyous things. In his profounder moments he reaches the very sources
of joy as few poets have done. He attracts many readers like a prospect
of cleansing and healing streams.

And he succeeds in being a great poet in two manners. He is a great poet
in the grand tradition of English literature, and he is a great poet in
his revolutionary simplicity. _The Idiot Boy_, for all its banalities,
is as immortal as _The Ode_, and _The Solitary Reaper_ will live side by
side with the great sonnets while the love of literature endures. While
we read these poems we tell ourselves that it is almost irrelevant to
mourn the fact that the man who wrote them gave up his faith in humanity
for faith in Church and State. His genius survives in literature: it was
only his courage as a politician that perished. At the same time, he
wished to impress himself upon the world as a politician even more
perhaps than as a poet. And, indeed, if he had died at the age at which
Byron died, his record in politics would have been as noble as his
record in poetry. Happily or unhappily, however, he lived on, a worse
politician and a worse poet. His record as both has never before been
set forth with the same comprehensiveness as in Professor Harper's
important and, after one has ploughed through some heavy pages,
fascinating volumes.



2. HIS POLITICS


"Just for a handful of silver he left us." Browning was asked if he
really meant the figure in _The Lost Leader_ for Wordsworth, and he
admitted that, though it was not a portrait, he had Wordsworth vaguely
in his mind. We do not nowadays believe that Wordsworth changed his
political opinions in order to be made distributor of stamps for the
county of Westmoreland, or even (as he afterwards became in addition)
for the county of Cumberland. Nor did Browning believe this. He did
believe, however, that Wordsworth was a turncoat, a renegade--a poet who
began as the champion of liberty and ended as its enemy. This is the
general view, and it seems to me to be unassailable.

Mr. A.V. Dicey, in a recent book, _The Statesmanship of Wordsworth_,
attempts to portray Wordsworth as a sort of early Mazzini--one who "by
many years anticipated, thought out, and announced the doctrine of
Nationalism, which during at least fifty years of the nineteenth century
(1820-70) governed or told upon the foreign policy of every European
country." I think he exaggerates, but it cannot be denied that
Wordsworth said many wise things about nationality, and that he showed a
true liberal instinct in the French wars, siding with the French in the
early days while they were fighting for liberty, and afterwards siding
against them when they were fighting for Napoleonic Imperialism.
Wordsworth had not yet abandoned his ardour for liberty when, in 1809,
he published his _Tract on the Convention of Cintra._ Those who accuse
him of apostasy have in mind not his "Tract" and his sonnets of
war-time, but the later lapse of faith which resulted in his opposing
Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill, and in his sitting down
seriously to write sonnets in favour in capital punishment.

He began with an imagination which emphasized the natural goodness of
man: he ended with an imagination which emphasized the natural evil of
man. He began with faith in liberty; he ended with faith in restraint.
Mr. Dicey admits much of the case against the later Wordsworth, but his
very defence of the poet is in itself an accusation. He contends, for
instance, that "it was natural that a man, who had in his youth seen
face to face the violence of the revolutionary struggle in France,
should have felt the danger of the Reform Act becoming the commencement
of anarchy and revolution in England." Natural it may have been, but
none the less it was a right-about-turn of the spirit. Wordsworth had
ceased to believe in liberty.

There is very little evidence, indeed, that in his later years
Wordsworth remained interested in liberty at all. The most important
evidence of the kind is that of Thomas Cooper, the Chartist, author of
_The Purgatory of Suicides_, who visited him in 1846 after serving a
term in prison on a charge of sedition. Wordsworth received him and said
to him: "You Chartists are right: you have a right to votes, only you
take the wrong way to obtain them. You must avoid physical violence."
Referring to the conversation, Mr. Dicey comments:--

     At the age of seventy-six the spirit of the old revolutionist and
     of the friend of the Girondins was still alive. He might not think
     much of the Whigs, but within four years of his death Wordsworth
     was certainly no Tory.

There is no reason, however, why we should trouble our heads over the
question whether at the age of seventy-six Wordsworth was a Tory or not.
It is only by the grace of God that any man escapes being a Tory long
before that. What is of interest to us is his attitude in the days of
his vitality, not of his senility. In regard to this, I agree that it
would be grossly unfair to accuse him of apostasy, simply because he at
first hailed the French Revolution as the return of the Golden Age--

    Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
    But to be young was very heaven!

--and ten or fifteen years later was to be found gloomily prophesying
against a premature peace with Napoleon. One cannot be sure that, if one
had been living in those days oneself, one's faith in the Revolution
would have survived the September massacres and Napoleon undiminished.
Those who had at first believed that the reign of righteousness had
suddenly come down from Heaven must have been shocked to find that human
nature was still red in tooth and claw in the new era. Not that the
massacres immediately alienated Wordsworth. In the year following them
he wrote in defence of the French Revolution, and incidentally
apologized for the execution of King Louis. "If you had attended," he
wrote in his unpublished _Apology for the French Revolution_ in 1793,
"to the history of the French Revolution as minutely as its importance
demands, so far from stopping to bewail his death, you would rather have
regretted that the blind fondness of his people had placed a human being
in that monstrous situation which rendered him unaccountable before a
human tribunal." In _The Prelude_, too (which, it will be remembered,
though it was written early, Wordsworth left to be published after his
death), we are given a perfect answer to those who would condemn the
French Revolution, or any similar uprising, on account of its incidental
horrors:--

                    When a taunt
    Was taken up by scoffers in their pride,
    Saying, "Behold the harvest that we reap
    From popular government and equality,"
    I clearly saw that neither these nor aught
    Of wild belief engrafted on their views
    By false philosophy had caused the woe,
    But a terrific reservoir of guilt
    And ignorance filled up from age to age.
    That would no longer hold its loathsome charge,
    But burst and spread in deluge through the land.

Mr. Dicey insists that Wordsworth's attitude in regard to the horrors
of September proves "the statesmanlike calmness and firmness of his
judgment." Wordsworth was hardly calm, but he remained on the side of
France with sufficiently firm enthusiasm to pray for the defeat of his
own countrymen in the war of 1793. He describes, in _The Prelude_, how
he felt at the time in an English country church:--

    When, in the congregation bending all
    To their great Father, prayers were offered up,
    Or praises for our country's victories;
    And, 'mid the simple worshippers, perchance
    I only, like an uninvited guest
    Whom no one owned, sate silent, shall I add,
    Fed on the day of vengeance yet to come.

The faith that survived the massacres, however, could not survive
Napoleon. Henceforth Wordsworth began to write against France in the
name of Nationalism and Liberty.

He now becomes a political thinker--a great political thinker, in the
judgment of Mr. Dicey. He sets forth a political philosophy--the
philosophy of Nationalism. He grasped the first principle of Nationalism
firmly, which is, that nations should be self-governed, even if they are
governed badly. He saw that the nation which is oppressed from within is
in a far more hopeful condition than the nation which is oppressed from
without. In his _Tract_ he wrote:--

     The difference between inbred oppression and that which is from
     without [i.e. imposed by foreigners] is _essential_; inasmuch as
     the former does not exclude, from the minds of the people, the
     feeling of being self-governed; does not imply (as the latter does,
     when patiently submitted to) an abandonment of the first duty
     imposed by the faculty of reason.

And he went on:--

     If a country have put on chains of its own forging; in the name of
     virtue, let it be conscious that to itself it is accountable: let
     it not have cause to look beyond its own limits for reproof:
     and--in the name of humanity--if it be self-depressed, let it have
     its pride and some hope within itself. The poorest peasant, in an
     unsubdued land, feels this pride. I do not appeal to the example of
     Britain or of Switzerland, for the one is free, and the other
     lately was free (and, I trust, will ere long be so again): but talk
     with the Swede; and you will see the joy he finds in these
     sensations. With him animal courage (the substitute for many and
     the friend of all the manly virtues) has space to move in: and is
     at once elevated by his imagination, and softened by his
     affections: it is invigorated also; for the whole courage of his
     country is in his breast.

That is an admirable statement of the Liberal faith. Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman was putting the same truth in a sentence when he said
that good government was no substitute for self-government. Wordsworth,
however, was not an out-and-out Nationalist. He did not regard the
principles of Nationalism as applicable to all nations alike, small and
great. He believed in the "balance of power," in which "the smaller
states must disappear, and merge in the large nations of widespread
language." He desired national unity for Germany and for Italy (which
was in accordance with the principles of Nationalism), but he also
blessed the union of Ireland with Great Britain (which was a violation
of the principles of Nationalism). He introduced "certain limitations,"
indeed, into the Nationalist creed, which enable even an Imperialist
like Mr. Dicey to look like a kind of Nationalist.

At the same time, though he acquiesced in the dishonour of the Irish
Union, his patriotism never became perverted into Jingoism. He regarded
the war between England and France, not as a war between angel and
devil, but as a war between one sinner doing his best and another sinner
doing his worst. He was gloomy as a Hebrew prophet in his summoning of
England to a change of heart in a sonnet written in 1803:--

    England! the time is come when thou shouldst wean
    Thy heart from its emasculating food;
    The truth should now be better understood;
    Old things have been unsettled; we have seen
    Fair seed-time, better harvest might have been
    But for thy trespasses; and, at this day,
    If for Greece, Egypt, India, Africa,
    Aught good were destined, thou wouldst step between.
    England! all nations in this charge agree:
    But worse, more ignorant in love and hate,
    Far, far more abject is thine Enemy:
    Therefore the wise pray for thee, though the freight
    Of thy offences be a heavy weight:
    Oh grief, that Earth's best hopes rest all with Thee!

All this means merely that the older Wordsworth grew, the more he became
concerned with the duties rather than the rights of man. The
revolutionary creed seems at times to involve the belief that, if you
give men their rights, they will perform their duties as a necessary
consequence. The Conservative creed, on the other hand, appears to be
based on the theory that men, as a whole, are scarcely fit for rights
but must be kept to their duties with a strong hand. Neither belief is
entirely true. As Mazzini saw, the French Revolution failed because it
emphasized the rights so disproportionately in comparison with the
duties of man. Conservatism fails, on the other hand, because its
conception of duty inevitably ceases before long to be an ethical
conception: duty in the mouth of reactionaries usually means simply
obedience to one's "betters." The melancholy sort of moralist frequently
hardens into a reactionary of this sort. Burke and Carlyle and
Ruskin--all of them blasphemed the spirit of liberty in the name of
duty. Mr. Dicey contends that Burke's and Wordsworth's political
principles remained essentially consistent throughout. They assuredly
did nothing of the sort. Burke's principles during the American War and
his principles at the time of the French Revolution were divided from
each other like crabbed age and youth. Burke lost his beliefs as he did
his youth. And so did Wordsworth. It seems to me rather a waste of time
to insist at all costs on the consistency of great men. The great
question is, not whether they were consistent, but when they were right.
Wordsworth was in the main right in his enthusiasm for the French
Revolution, and he was in the main right in his hatred of Napoleonism.
But, when once the Napoleonic Wars were over, he had no creed left for
mankind. He lived on till 1850, but he ceased to be able to say anything
that had the ancient inspiration. He was at his greatest an inspired
child of the Revolution. He learned from France that love of liberty
which afterwards led him to oppose France. Speaking of those who, like
himself, had changed in their feelings towards France, he wrote:--

     Though there was a shifting in temper of hostility in their minds
     as far as regarded persons, they only combated the same enemy
     opposed to them under a different shape; and that enemy was the
     spirit of selfish tyranny and lawless ambition.

That is a just defence. But the undeniable fact is that, after that
time, Wordsworth ceased to combat the spirit of selfish tyranny and
lawless ambition as he once had done. There is no need to blame him:
also there is no need to defend him. He was human; he was tired; he was
growing old. The chief danger of a book like Mr. Dicey's is that, in
accepting its defence of Wordsworth's maturity, we may come to disparage
his splendid youth. Mr. Dicey's book, however, is exceedingly
interesting in calling attention to the great part politics may play in
the life of a poet. Wordsworth said, in 1833, that "although he was
known to the world only as a poet, he had given twelve hours' thought to
the condition and prospects of society, for one to poetry." He did not
retire into a "wise passiveness" as regards the world's affairs until he
had written some of the greatest political literature--and, in saying
this, I am thinking of his sonnets rather than of his political
prose--that has appeared in England since the death of Milton.



V.

KEATS

1. THE BIOGRAPHY


Sir Sidney Colvin deserves praise for the noble architecture of the
temple he has built in honour of Keats. His great book, _John Keats: His
Life and Poetry; His Friends, Critics, and After-fame_, is not only a
temple, indeed, but a museum. Sir Sidney has brought together here the
whole of Keats's world, or at least all the relics of his world that the
last of a band of great collectors has been able to recover; and in the
result we can accompany Keats through the glad and sad and mad and bad
hours of his short and marvellous life as we have never been able to do
before under the guidance of a single biographer. We are still left in
the dark, it is true, as to Keats's race and descent. Whether Keats's
father came to London from Cornwall or not, Sir Sidney has not been able
to decide on the rather shaky evidence that has been put forward. If it
should hereafter turn out that Keats was a Cornishman at one remove,
Matthew Arnold's conjecture as to the "Celtic element" in him, as in
other English poets, may revive in the general esteem.

In the present state of our knowledge, however, we must be content to
accept Keats as a Londoner without ancestors beyond the father who was
head-ostler at the sign of the "Swan and Hoop," Finsbury Pavement, and
married his master's daughter. It was at the stable at the "Swan and
Hoop"--not a public-house, by the way, but a livery-stable--that Keats
was prematurely born at the end of October 1795. He was scarcely nine
years old when his father was killed by a fall from a horse. He was only
fourteen when his mother (who had re-married unhappily and then been
separated from her husband) died, a victim of chronic rheumatism and
consumption. It is from his mother that Keats seems to have inherited
his impetuous and passionate nature. There is the evidence of a certain
wholesale tea-dealer--the respectability of whose trade may have
inclined him to censoriousness--to the effect that, both as girl and
woman, she "was a person of unbridled temperament, and that in her later
years she fell into loose ways, and was no credit to the family." That
she had other qualities besides those mentioned by the tea-dealer is
shown by the passionate affection that existed between her and her son
John. "Once as a young child, when she was ordered to be kept quiet
during an illness, he is said to have insisted on keeping watch at her
door with an old sword, and allowing no one to go in." As she lay dying,
"he sat up whole nights with her in a great chair, would suffer nobody
to give her medicine, or even cook her food, but himself, and read
novels to her in her intervals of ease." The Keats children were
fortunately not left penniless. Their grandfather, the proprietor of the
livery-stable, had bequeathed a fortune of £13,000, a little of which
was spent on sending Keats to a good school till the age of sixteen, and
afterwards enabled him to attend Guy's Hospital as a medical student.

It is almost impossible to credit the accepted story that he passed all
his boyhood without making any attempt at writing poetry. "He did not
begin to write," says Sir Sidney Colvin, "till he was near eighteen." If
this is so, one feels all the more grateful to his old schoolfellow,
Cowden Clarke, who lent him _The Faëry Queene_, with a long list of
other books, and in doing so presented him with the key that unlocked
the unsuspected treasure of his genius. There is only one person,
indeed, in all the Keats circle to whom one is more passionately
grateful than to Cowden Clarke: that is Fanny Brawne. Keats no doubt had
laboured to some purpose--occasionally, to fine purpose--with his genius
before the autumn of 1818, when he met Fanny Brawne for the first time.
None the less, had he died before that date, he would have been
remembered in literature not as a marvellous original artist, but rather
as one of those "inheritors of unfulfilled renown" among whom Shelley
surprisingly placed him. Fanny Brawne may (or may not) have been the bad
fairy of Keats as a man. She was unquestionably his good fairy as a
poet.

This is the only matter upon which one is seriously disposed to quarrel
with Sir Sidney Colvin as a biographer. He does not emphasize as he
ought the debt we are under to Fanny Brawne as the intensifier of
Keats's genius--the "minx," as Keats irritably called her, who
transformed him in a few months from a poet of still doubtful fame into
a master and an immortal. The attachment, Sir Sidney thinks, was a
misfortune for him, though he qualifies this by adding that "so probably
under the circumstances must any passion for a woman have been." Well,
let us test this "misfortune" by its consequences. The meeting with
Fanny took place, as I have said, in the autumn of 1818. During the
winter Keats continued to write _Hyperion_, which he seems already to
have begun. In January 1819 he wrote _The Eve of St. Agnes_. During the
spring of that year, he wrote the _Ode to Psyche_, the _Ode on a Grecian
Urn_, the _Ode to a Nightingale_, and _La Belle Dame sans Merci_. In the
autumn he finished _Lamia_, and wrote the _Ode to Autumn_. To the same
year belongs the second greatest of his sonnets, _Bright star, would I
were steadfast as thou art_. In other words, practically all the fine
gold of Keats's work was produced in the months in which his passion for
Fanny Brawne was consuming him as with fire. His greatest poems we
clearly owe to that heightened sense of beauty which resulted from his
translation into a lover. It seems to me a treachery to Keats's memory
to belittle a woman who was at least the occasion of such a passionate
expenditure of genius. Sir Sidney Colvin does his best to be fair to
Fanny, but his presentation of the story of Keats's love for her will, I
am afraid, be regarded by the long line of her disparagers as an
endorsement of their blame.

I can understand the dislike of Fanny Brawne on the part of those who
dislike Keats and all his works. But if we accept Keats and _The Eve of
St. Agnes_, we had better be honest and also accept Fanny, who inspired
them. Keats, it must be remembered, was a sensualist. His poems belong
to the literature of the higher sensualism. They reveal him as a man not
altogether free from the vulgarities of sensualism, as well as one who
was able to transmute it into perfect literature. He seems to have
admired women vulgarly as creatures whose hands were waiting to be
squeezed, rather than as equal human beings; the eminent exception to
this being his sister-in-law, Georgiana. His famous declaration of
independence of them--that he would rather give them a sugar-plum than
his time--was essentially a cynicism in the exhausted-Don-Juan mood.
Hence, Keats was almost doomed to fall in love with provocation rather
than with what the Victorians called "soul." His destiny was not to be a
happy lover, but the slave of a "minx." It was not a slavery without
dignity, however. It had the dignity of tragedy. Sir Sidney Colvin
regrets that the love-letters of Keats to Fanny were ever published. It
would be as reasonable, in my opinion, to regret the publication of _La
Belle Dame sans Merci_. _La Belle Dame sans Merci_ says in literature
merely what the love-letters say in autobiography. The love-letters,
indeed, like the poem, affect us as great literature does. They
unquestionably take us down into the depths of suffering--those depths
in which tortured souls cry out almost inarticulately in their anguish.
The torture of the dying lover, as he sails for Italy and leaves Fanny,
never to see her again, has almost no counterpart in biographical
literature. "The thought of leaving Miss Brawne," he writes to Brown
from Yarmouth, "is beyond everything horrible--the sense of darkness
coming over me--I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing." And
when he reaches Naples he writes to the same friend:--

     I can bear to die--I cannot bear to leave her. O God! God! God!
     Everything that I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes
     through me like a spear. The silk lining she put in my travelling
     cap scalds my head. My imagination is horribly vivid about her--I
     see her--I hear her.... O that I could be buried near where she
     lives! I am afraid to write to her--to receive a letter from her.
     To see her handwriting would break my heart--even to hear of her
     anyhow, to see her name written, would be more than I can bear.

Sir Sidney Colvin does not attempt to hide Keats's love-story away in a
corner. Where he goes wrong, it seems to me, is in his failure to
realize that this love-story was the making of Keats as a man of genius.
Had Sir Sidney fully grasped the part played by Fanny Brawne as, for
good or evil, the presiding genius of Keats as a poet, he would, I
fancy, have found a different explanation of the changes introduced into
the later version of _La Belle Dame sans Merci_. Sir Sidney is all in
favour--and there is something to be said for his preference--of the
earlier version, which begins:--

    O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
      Alone and palely loitering!

But he does not perceive the reasons that led Keats to alter this in the
version he published in Leigh Hunt's _Indicator_ to:--

    Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,

and so on. Sir Sidney thinks that this and other changes, "which are
all in the direction of the slipshod and the commonplace, were made on
Hunt's suggestion, and that Keats acquiesced from fatigue or
indifference." To accuse Hunt of wishing to alter "knight-at-arms" to
"wretched wight" seems to me unwarrantable guessing. Surely a much more
likely explanation is that Keats, who in this poem wrote his own
biography as an unfortunate lover, came in a realistic mood to dislike
"knight-at-arms" as a too romantic image of himself. He decided, I
conjecture, that "wretched wight" was a description nearer the bitter
truth. Hence his emendation. The other alterations also seem to me to
belong to Keats rather than to Hunt. This does not mean that the
"knight-at-arms" version is not also beautiful. But, in spite of this, I
trust the Delegates of the Oxford University Press will not listen to
Sir Sidney Colvin's appeal to banish the later version from their
editions of Keats. Every edition of Keats ought to contain both versions
just as it ought to contain both versions of _Hyperion_.

Nothing that I have written will be regarded, I trust, as depreciating
the essential excellence, power, and (in its scholarly way) even the
greatness of Sir Sidney Colvin's book. But a certain false emphasis here
and there, an intelligible prejudice in favour of believing what is good
of his subject, has left his book almost too ready to the hand of those
who cannot love a man of genius without desiring to "respectabilize"
him. Sir Sidney sees clearly enough the double nature of Keats--his
fiery courage, shown in his love of fighting as a schoolboy, his
generosity, his virtue of the heart, on the one hand, and his luxurious
love of beauty, his tremulous and swooning sensitiveness in the presence
of nature and women, his morbidness, his mawkishness, his fascination as
by serpents, on the other. But in the resultant portrait, it is a too
respectable and virile Keats that emerges. Keats was more virile as a
man than is generally understood. He does not owe his immortality to his
virility, however. He owes it to his servitude to golden images, to his
citizenship of the world of the senses, to his bondage to physical love.
Had he lived longer he might have invaded other worlds. His recasting of
_Hyperion_ opens with a cry of distrust in the artist who is content to
live in the little world of his art. His very revulsion against the
English of Milton was a revulsion against the dead language of formal
beauty. But it is in formal beauty--the formal beauty especially of the
_Ode on a Grecian Urn_, which has never been surpassed in
literature--that his own achievement lies. He is great among the pagans,
not among the prophets. Unless we keep this clearly in mind our praise
of him will not be appreciation. It will be but a sounding funeral
speech instead of communion with a lovely and broken spirit, the
greatest boast of whose life was: "I have loved the principle of beauty
in all things."

2. THE MATTHEW ARNOLD VIEW

Matthew Arnold has often been attacked for his essay on Shelley. His
essay on Keats, as a matter of fact, is much less sympathetic and
penetrating. Here, more than anywhere else in his work, he seems to be a
professor with whiskers drinking afternoon tea and discoursing on
literature to a circle of schoolgirls. It is not that Matthew Arnold
under-estimated Keats. "He is with Shakespeare," he declared; and in
another sentence: "In what we call natural magic, he ranks with
Shakespeare." One may disagree with this--for in natural magic Keats
does not rank even with Shelley--and, at the same time, feel that
Matthew Arnold gives Keats too little rather than too much appreciation.
He divorced Keats's poetry too gingerly from Keats's life. He did not
sufficiently realize the need for understanding all that passion and
courage and railing and ecstasy of which the poems are the expression.
He was a little shocked; he would have liked to draw a veil; he did not
approve of a young man who could make love in language so unlike the
measured ardour of one of Miss Austen's heroes. The impression left by
the letters to Fanny Brawne, he declared, was "unpleasing." After
quoting one of the letters, he goes on to comment:--

     One is tempted to say that Keats's love-letter is the love-letter
     of a surgeon's apprentice. It has in its relaxed self-abandonment
     something underbred and ignoble, as of a youth ill brought up,
     without the training which teaches us that we must put some
     constraint upon our feelings and upon the expression of them. It is
     the sort of love-letter of a surgeon's apprentice, which one might
     hear read out in a breach of promise case, or in the Divorce Court.

Applied to the letter which Arnold had just quoted there could not be a
more foolish criticism. Keats was dogged by a curious vulgarity (which
produced occasional comic effects in his work), but his self-abandonment
was not vulgar. It may have been in a sense immoral: he was an artist
who practised the philosophy of exquisite moments long before Pater
wrote about it. He abandoned himself to the sensations of love and the
sensations of an artist like a voluptuary. The best of his work is
day-dreams of love and art. The degree to which his genius fed itself
upon art and day-dreams of art is suggested by the fact that the most
perfect of his early poems, written at the age of twenty, was the sonnet
on Chapman's Homer, and that the most perfect of his later poems was the
_Ode on a Grecian Urn_. His magic was largely artistic magic, not
natural magic. He writes about Pan and the nymphs, but we do not feel
that they were shapes of earth and air to him, as they were to Shelley;
rather they seem like figures copied out of his friends' pictures.
Consider, for example, the picture of a nymph who appeared to
Endymion:--

    It was a nymph uprising to the breast
    In the fountain's pebbly margin, and she stood
    'Mong lilies, like the youngest of her brood.
    To him her dripping hand she softly kist,
    And anxiously began to plait and twist

The gestures of the nymph are as ludicrous as could be found in an
Academy or Salon picture. Keats's human or quasi-human beings are seldom
more than decorations, but this is a commonplace decoration. The figures
in _The Eve of St. Agnes_ and the later narratives are a part of the
general beauty of the poems; but even there they are made, as it were,
to match the furniture. It is the same in all his best poems. Keats's
imagination lived in castles, and he loved the properties, and the men
and women were among the properties. We may forget the names of Porphyro
and Madeline, but we do not forget the background of casement and arras
and golden dishes and beautiful sensual things against which we see
them, charming figures of love-sickness. Similarly, in _Lamia_, we may
remember the name of the serpent-woman's lover with difficulty; but who
can forget the colours of her serpent-skin or the furnishing of her
couch and of her palace in Corinth:--

    That purple-lined palace of sweet sin?

In Keats every palace has a purple lining.

So much may be said in definition of Keats's genius. It was essentially
an aesthetic genius. It anticipated both William Morris and Oscar Wilde.
There is in Keats a passion for the luxury of the world such as we do
not find in Wordsworth or Shelley. He had not that bird-like quality of
song which they had--that happiness to be alive and singing between the
sky and the green earth. He looked on beautiful things with the intense
devotion of the temple-worshipper rather than with the winged pleasure
of the great poets. He was love-sick for beauty as Porphyro for
Madeline. His attitude to beauty--the secret and immortal beauty--is one
of "love shackled with vain-loving." It is desire of an almost bodily
kind. Keats's work, indeed, is in large measure simply the beautiful
expression of bodily desire, or of something of the same nature as
bodily desire. His conception of love was almost entirely physical. He
was greedy for it to the point of green-sickness. His intuition told him
that passion so entirely physical had in it something fatal. Love in his
poems is poisonous and secret in its beauty. It is passion for a Lamia,
for La Belle Dame sans Merci. Keats's ecstasies were swooning ecstasies.
They lacked joy. It is not only in the _Ode to a Nightingale_ that he
seems to praise death more than life. This was temperamental with him.
He felt the "cursed spite" of things as melancholily as Hamlet did. He
was able to dream a world nearer his happiness than this world of
dependence and church bells and "literary jabberers"; and he could come
to no terms except with his fancy. I do not mean to suggest that he
despised the beauty of the earth. Rather he filled his eyes with it:--

                Hill-flowers running wild
    In pink and purple chequer--

and:--

                                  Up-pil'd,
    The cloudy rack slow journeying in the West,
    Like herded elephants.

But the simple pleasure in colours and shapes grows less in his later
poems. It becomes overcast. His great poems have the intensity and
sorrow of a farewell.

It would be absurd, however, to paint Keats as a man without vitality,
without pugnacity, without merriment. His brother declared that "John
was the very soul of manliness and courage, and as much like the Holy
Ghost as Johnny Keats"--the Johnny Keats who had allowed himself to be
"snuffed out by an article." As a schoolboy he had been fond of
fighting, and as a man he had his share of militancy. He had a quite
healthy sense of humour, too--not a subtle sense, but at least
sufficient to enable him to regard his work playfully at times, as when
he commented on an early version of _La Belle Dame sans Merci_
containing the lines:--

    And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
      With kisses four.

"Why four kisses?" he writes to his brother:--

     Why four kisses--you will say--why four? Because I wish to restrain
     the headlong impetuosity of my Muse--she would have fain said
     "score" without hurting the rhyme--but we must temper the
     imagination, as the critics say, with judgment. I was obliged to
     choose an even number, that both eyes might have fair play, and to
     speak truly I think two apiece quite sufficient. Suppose I had said
     seven, there would have been three and-a-half apiece--a very
     awkward affair, and well got out of on my side.

That was written nearly a year after the famous _Quarterly_ article on
_Endymion_, in which the reviewer had so severely taken to task "Mr.
Keats (if that be his real name, for we almost doubt that any man in his
senses would put his real name to such a rhapsody)." It suggests that
Keats retained at least a certain share of good spirits, in spite of the
_Quarterly_ and Fanny Brawne and the approach of death. His observation,
too, was often that of a spirited common-sense realist rather than an
aesthete, as in his first description of Fanny Brawne:--

     She is about my height--with a fine style and countenance of the
     lengthened sort--she wants sentiment in every feature--she manages
     to make her hair look well--her nostrils are fine--though a little
     painful--her mouth is bad and good--her profile is better than her
     full face, which, indeed, is not full but pale and thin, without
     showing any bone--her shape is very graceful, and so are her
     movements--her arms are good, her hands bad-ish--her feet
     tolerable--she is not seventeen [nineteen?]--but she is ignorant
     monstrous in her behaviour, flying out in all directions, calling
     people such names--that I was forced lately to make use of the term
     _minx_; this is, I think, not from any innate vice but from a
     penchant she has of acting stylishly. I am, however, tired of such
     style, and shall decline any more of it.

Yet before many months he was writing to the "minx," "I will imagine you
Venus to-night, and pray, pray, pray, pray to your star like a heathen."
Certain it is, as I have already said, that it was after his meeting
with Fanny Brawne that he grew, as in a night, into a great poet. Let us
not then abuse Keats's passion for her as vulgar. And let us not attempt
to make up for this by ranking him with Shakespeare. He is great among
the second, not among the first poets.



VI

HENRY JAMES

1. THE NOVELIST OF GRAINS AND SCRUPLES


Henry James is an example of a writer who enjoyed immense fame but
little popularity. Some of his best books, I believe, never passed into
second editions. He was, above all novelists, an esoteric author. His
disciples had the pleasure of feeling like persons initiated into
mysteries. He was subject, like a religious teacher, to all kinds of
conflicting interpretations. He puzzled and exasperated even intelligent
people. They often wondered what he meant and whether it was worth
writing about. Mr. Wells, or whoever wrote _Boon_, compared him to a
hippopotamus picking up a pea.

Certainly he laboured over trifles as though he were trying to pile
Pelion on Ossa. He was capable, had he been a poet, of writing an epic
made up of incidents chosen from the gossip of an old maid in the upper
middle classes. He was the novelist of grains and scruples. I have heard
it urged that he was the supreme incarnation of the Nonconformist
conscience, perpetually concerned with infinitesimal details of conduct.
As a matter of fact, there was much more of the aesthete in him than of
the Nonconformist. He lived for his tastes. It is because he is a
novelist of tastes rather than of passions that he is unlikely ever to
be popular even to the degree to, which Meredith is popular.

One imagines him, from his childhood, as a perfect connoisseur, a
dilettante. He has told us how, as a child, in New York, Paris, London,
and Geneva, he enjoyed more than anything else the "far from showy
practice of wondering and dawdling and gaping." And, while giving us
this picture of the small boy that was himself, he comments:

     There was the very pattern and measure of all he was to demand:
     just to _be_ somewhere--almost anywhere would do--and somehow
     receive an impression or an accession, feel a relation or a
     vibration.

That is the essential Henry James--the collector of impressions and
vibrations. "Almost anywhere would do": that is what makes some of his
stories just miss being as insipid as the verse in a magazine. On the
other hand, of few of his stories is this true. His personality was too
definitely marked to leave any of his work flavourless. His work
reflects him as the arrangement of a room may reflect a charming lady.
He brings into every little world that he enters the light of a new and
refined inquisitiveness. He is as watchful as a cat. Half his pleasure
seems to come from waiting for the extraordinary to peep and peer out of
the ordinary. That is his adventure. He prefers it to seas of bloodshed.
One may quarrel with it, if one demands that art shall be as violent as
war and shall not subdue itself to the level of a game. But those who
enjoy the spectacle of a game played with perfect skill will always find
reading Henry James an exciting experience.

It would be unfair, however, to suggest that the literature of Henry
James can be finally summed up as a game. He is unquestionably a
virtuoso: he uses his genius as an instrument upon which he loves to
reveal his dexterity, even when he is shy of revealing his immortal
soul. But he is not so inhuman in his art as some of his admirers have
held him to be. Mr. Hueffer, I think, has described him as pitiless, and
even cruel. But can one call _Daisy Miller_ pitiless? Or _What Maisie
Knew_? Certainly, those autobiographical volumes, _A Small Boy and
Others_ and _Notes of a Son and Brother_, which may be counted among the
most wonderful of the author's novels, are pervaded by exquisite
affections which to a pitiless nature would have been impossible.

Henry James is even sufficiently human to take sides with his
characters. He never does this to the point of lying about them. But he
is in his own still way passionately on the side of the finer types. In
_The Turn of the Screw_, which seems to me to be the greatest
ghost-story in the English language, he has dramatized the duel between
good and evil; and the effect of it, at the end of all its horrors, is
that of a hymn in praise of courage. One feels--though a more perverse
theory of the story has been put forward--that the governess, who fights
against the evil in the big house, has the author also fighting as her
ally and the children's. Similarly, Maisie has a friend in the author.

He is never more human, perhaps, than when he is writing, not about
human beings, but about books. It is not inconceivable that he will live
as a critic long after he is forgotten as a novelist. No book of
criticism to compare with his _Notes on Novelists_ has been published in
the present century. He brought his imagination to bear upon books as he
brought his critical and analytical faculty to bear upon human beings.
Here there was room for real heroes. He idolized his authors as he
idolized none of his characters. There is something of moral passion in
the reverence with which he writes of the labours of Flaubert and Balzac
and Stevenson and even of Zola.

He lied none of them into perfection, it is true. He accepted, and even
advertised their limitations. But in each of them he found an example of
the hero as artist. His characterization of Flaubert as the "operative
conscience or vicarious sacrifice" of a styleless literary age is the
pure gold of criticism. "The piety most real to her," Fleda says in _The
Spoils of Poynton_, "was to be on one's knees before one's high
standard." Henry James himself had that kind of piety. Above all recent
men of letters, he was on his knees to his high standard.

People may wonder whether his standard was not, to an excessive degree,
a standard of subtlety rather than of creative imagination--at least, in
his later period. And undoubtedly his subtlety was to some extent a
matter of make-believe. He loved to take a simple conversation, and, by
introducing a few subtle changes, to convert it into a sort of
hieroglyphics that need an interpreter. He grew more and more to believe
that it was not possible to tell the simple truth except in an involved
way. He would define a gesture with as much labour as Shakespeare would
devote to the entire portrait of a woman. He was a realist of civilized
society in which both speech and action have to be sifted with
scientific care before they will yield their grain of motive. The
humorous patience with which Henry James seeks for that grain is one of
the distinctive features of his genius.

But, it may be asked, are his people real? They certainly are real in
the relationships in which he exhibits them, but they are real like
people to whom one has been introduced in a foreign city rather than
like people who are one's friends. One does not remember them like the
characters in Meredith or Mr. Hardy. Henry James, indeed, is himself the
outstanding character in his books. That fine and humorous collector of
European ladies and gentlemen, that savourer of the little lives of the
Old World and the little adventures of those who have escaped from the
New, that artist who brooded over his fellows in the spirit less of a
poet than a man of science, that sober and fastidious trifler--this is
the image which presides over his books, and which gives them their
special character, and will attract tiny but enthusiastic companies of
readers to them for many years to come.



2. THE ARTIST AT WORK.


Henry James's amanuensis, Miss Theodora Bosanquet, wrote an article a
year or two ago in the _Fortnightly Review_, describing how the great
man wrote his novels. Since 1895 or 1896 he dictated them, and they were
taken down, not in shorthand, but directly on the typewriter. He was
particular even about the sort of typewriter. It must be a Remington.
"Other kinds sounded different notes, and it was almost impossibly
disconcerting for him to dictate to something that made no responsive
sound at all." He did not, however, pour himself out to his amanuensis
without having made a preliminary survey of the ground. "He liked to
'break ground' by talking to himself day by day about the characters and
the construction until the whole thing was clearly before his mind's
eye. This preliminary talking out the scheme was, of course, duly
recorded by the typewriter. "It is not that he made rough drafts of his
novels-sketches to be afterwards amplified. "His method might better be
compared with Zola's habit of writing long letters to himself about
characters in his next book until they became alive enough for him to
begin a novel about them." Henry James has himself, as Miss Bosanquet
points out, described his method of work in _The Death of a Lion_, in
which it is attributed to his hero, Neil Paraday. "Loose, liberal,
confident," he declares of Faraday's "scenario," as one might call it,
"it might be passed for a great, gossiping, eloquent letter--the
overflow into talk of an artist's amorous plan."

Almost the chief interest of Henry James's two posthumous novels is the
fact that we are given not only the novels themselves--or, rather, the
fragments of them that the author had written--but the "great,
gossiping, eloquent letters" in which he soliloquized about them. As a
rule, these preliminary soliloquies ran to about thirty thousand words,
and were destroyed as soon as the novel in hand was finished. So
delightful are they--such thrilling revelations of the workings of an
artist's mind--that one does not quite know whether or not to
congratulate oneself on the fact that the last books have been left mere
torsos. Which would one rather have--a complete novel or the torso of a
novel with the artist's dream of how to make it perfect? It is not easy
to decide. What makes it all the more difficult to decide in the present
instance is one's feeling that _The Sense of the Past_, had it been
completed, would have been very nearly a masterpiece. In it Henry James
hoped to get what he called a "kind of quasi-turn-of-screw effect."
Here, as in _The Turn of the Screw_, he was dealing with a sort of
ghosts--whether subjective or objective in their reality does not
matter. His hero is a young American who had never been to Europe till
he was about thirty, and yet was possessed by that almost sensual sense
of the past which made Henry James, as a small boy, put his nose into
English books and try to sniff in and smell from their pages the older
world from which they came. The inheritance of an old house in a London
square--a house in which the clocks had stopped, as it were, in
1820--brings the young man over to England, though the lady with whom he
is in love seeks to keep him in America and watch him developing as a
new species--a rich, sensitive, and civilized American, untouched and
unsubdued by Europe. This young man's emotions in London, amid old
things in an atmosphere that also somehow seemed mellow and old, may, I
fancy, be taken as a record of the author's own spiritual experiences as
he drew in long breaths of appreciation during his almost lifelong
wanderings in this hemisphere. For it is important to remember that
Henry James never ceased to be a foreigner. He was enchanted by England
as by a strange land. He saw it always, like the hero of _The Sense of
the Past_, under the charm ... of the queer, incomparable London
light--unless one frankly loved it rather as London shade--which he had
repeatedly noted as so strange as to be at its finest sinister."

     However else this air might have been described it was signally not
     the light of freshness, and suggested as little as possible the
     element in which the first children of nature might have begun to
     take notice. Ages, generations, inventions, corruptions, had
     produced it, and it seemed, wherever it rested, to be filtered
     through the bed of history. It made the objects about show for the
     time as in something "turned on"--something highly successful that
     he might have seen at the theatre.

Henry James saw old-world objects in exactly that sort of light. He knew
in his own nerves how Ralph Pendrel felt on going over his London house.
"There wasn't," he says, "... an old hinge or an old brass lock that he
couldn't work with love of the act." He could observe the inanimate
things of the Old World almost as if they were living things. No
naturalist spying for patient hours upon birds in the hope of
discovering their secrets could have had a more curious, more hopeful,
and more loitering eye. He found even fairly common things in Europe, as
Pendrel found the things in the house he inherited, "all smoothed with
service and charged with accumulated messages."

     He was like the worshipper in a Spanish church, who watches for the
     tear on the cheek or the blood-drop from the wound of some
     wonder-working effigy of Mother and Son.

In _The Sense of the Past_, Henry James conceived a fantastic romance,
in which his hero steps not only into the inheritance of an old house,
but into 1820, exchanging personalities with a young man in one of the
family portraits, and even wooing the young man's betrothed. It is a
story of "queer" happenings, like the story of a dream or a delusion in
which the ruling passion has reached the point of mania. It is the kind
of story that has often been written in a gross, mechanical way. Here it
is all delicate--a study of nuances and subtle relationships. For Ralph,
though perfect in the 1820 manner, has something of the changeling
about him--something that gradually makes people think him "queer," and
in the end arouses in him the dim beginnings of nostalgia for his own
time. It is a fascinating theme as Henry James works it out--doubly
fascinating as he talks about it to himself in the "scenario" that is
published along with the story. In the latter we see the author groping
for his story, almost like a medium in a trance. Like a medium, he one
moment hesitates and is vague, and the next, as he himself would say,
fairly pounces on a certainty. No artist ever cried with louder joy at
the sight of things coming absolutely right under his hand. Thus, at one
moment, the author announces:--

     The more I get into my drama the more magnificent upon my word I
     seem to see it and feel it; with such a tremendous lot of
     possibilities in it that I positively quake in dread of the
     muchness with which they threaten me.

At a moment of less illumination he writes:--

     There glimmers and then floats shyly back to me from afar, the
     sense of something like _this_, a bit difficult to put, though
     entirely expressible with patience, and as I catch hold of the tip
     of the tail of it yet again strikes me as adding to my action but
     another admirable twist.

He continually sees himself catching by the tip of the tail the things
that solve his difficulties. And what tiny little animals he sometimes
manages to catch by the tip of the tail in some of his trances of
inspiration! Thus, at one point, he breaks off excitedly about his hero
with:--

     As to which, however, on consideration don't I see myself catch a
     bright betterment by not at all making him use a latch-key?... No,
     no--no latch-key--but a rat-tat-tat, on his own part, at the big
     brass knocker.

As the writer searches for the critical action or gesture which is to
betray the "abnormalism" of his hero to the 1820 world in which he
moves, he cries to himself:--

     Find it, find it; get it right, and it will be the making of the
     story.

At another stage in the story, he comments:--

     All that is feasible and convincing; rather beautiful to do being
     what I mean.

At yet another stage:--

     I pull up, too, here, in the midst of my elation--though after a
     little I shall straighten everything out.

He discusses with himself the question whether Ralph Pendrel, in the
1820 world, is to repeat exactly the experience of the young man in the
portrait, and confides to himself:--

     Just now, a page or two back, I lost my presence of mind, I let
     myself be scared, by a momentarily-confused appearance, an
     assumption, that he doesn't repeat it. I see, on recovery of my
     wits, not to say of my wit, that he very exactly does.

Nowhere in the "scenario" is the artist's pleasure in his work expressed
more finely than in the passage in which Henry James describes his hero
at the crisis of his experience, when the latter begins to feel that he
is under the observation of his _alter ego_, and is being vaguely
threatened. "There must," the author tells himself--

     There must be sequences here of the strongest, I make out--the
     successive driving in of the successive silver-headed nails at the
     very points and under the very tops that I reserve for them. That's
     it, the silver nail, the recurrence of it in the right place, the
     perfection of the salience of each, and the trick is played.

"Trick," he says, but Henry James resorted little to tricks, in the
ordinary meaning of the word. He scorns the easy and the obvious, as in
preparing for the return of the young hero to the modern world--a
return made possible by a noble act of self-sacrifice on the part of a
second 1820 girl who sends him from her, yet "without an excess of the
kind of romanticism I don't want." There is another woman--the modern
woman whom Ralph had loved in America--who might help the machinery of
the story (as the author thinks) if he brought her on the scene at a
certain stage. But he thinks of the device only to exclaim against it:--

     Can't possibly do anything so artistically base.

The notes for _The Ivory Tower_ are equally alluring, though _The Ivory
Tower_ is not itself so good as _The Sense of the Past_. It is a story
of contemporary American life, and we are told that the author laid it
aside at the beginning of the war, feeling that "he could no longer work
upon a fiction supposed to represent contemporary or recent life."
Especially interesting is the "scenario," because of the way in which we
find Henry James trying--poor man, he was always an amateur at
names!--to get the right names for his characters. He ponders, for
instance, on the name of his heroine:--

     I want her name ... her Christian one, to be Moyra, and must have
     some bright combination with that; the essence of which is a
     surname of two syllables and ending in a consonant--also beginning
     with one. I am thinking of Moyra Grabham, the latter excellent
     thing was in _The Times_ of two or three days ago; the only fault
     is a little too much meaning.

Consciousness in artistry can seldom have descended to minuter details
with a larger gesture. One would not have missed these games of genius
with syllables and consonants for worlds. Is it all an exquisite farce
or is it splendidly heroic? Are we here spectators of the incongruous
heroism of an artist who puts a hero's earnestness into getting the last
perfection of shine on to a boot or the last fine shade of meaning into
the manner in which he says, "No, thank you, no sugar"? No, it is
something more than that. It is the heroism of a man who lived at every
turn and trifle for his craft--who seems to have had almost no life
outside it. In the temple of his art, he found the very dust of the
sanctuary holy. He had the perfect piety of the artist in the least as
well as in the greatest things.



3. HOW HE WAS BORN AGAIN


As one reads the last fragment of the autobiography of Henry James, one
cannot help thinking of him as a convert giving his testimony. Henry
James was converted into an Englishman with the same sense of being born
again as is felt by many a convert to Christianity. He can speak of the
joy of it all only in superlatives. He had the convert's sense of--in
his own phrase--"agitations, explorations, initiations (I scarce know
how endearingly enough to name them I)." He speaks of "this really
prodigious flush" of his first full experience of England. He passes on
the effect of his religious rapture when he tells us that "really
wherever I looked, and still more wherever I pressed, I sank in and in
up to my nose." How breathlessly he conjures up the scene of his
dedication, as he calls it, in the coffee-room of a Liverpool hotel on
that gusty, "overwhelmingly English" March morning in 1869, on which at
the age of almost twenty-six he fortunately and fatally landed on these
shores,

     with immediate intensities of appreciation, as I may call the
     muffled accompaniment, for fear of almost indecently overnaming it.

He looks back, with how exquisite a humour and seriousness, on that
morning as having finally settled his destiny as an artist. "This doom,"
he writes:--

     This doom of inordinate exposure to appearances, aspects, images,
     every protrusive item almost, in the great beheld sum of things, I
     regard ... as having settled upon me once for all while I observed,
     for instance, that in England the plate of buttered muffins and its
     cover were sacredly set upon the slop-bowl after hot water had been
     ingenuously poured into the same, and had seen that circumstance in
     a perfect cloud of accompaniments.

It is characteristic of Henry James that he should associate the hour in
which he turned to grace with a plate of buttered muffins. His fiction
remained to the end to some extent the tale of a buttered muffin. He
made mountains out of muffins all his days. His ecstasy and his
curiosity were nine times out of ten larger than their objects. Thus,
though he was intensely interested in English life, he was interested in
it, not in its largeness as life so much as in its littleness as a
museum, almost a museum of _bric-à-brac_. He was enthusiastic about the
waiter in the coffee-room in the Liverpool hotel chiefly as an
illustration of the works of the English novelists.

Again and again in his reminiscences one comes upon evidence that Henry
James arrived in England in the spirit of a collector, a connoisseur, as
well as that of a convert. His ecstasy was that of a convert: his
curiosity was that of a connoisseur. As he recalls his first experience
of a London eating-house of the old sort, with its "small compartments,
narrow as horse-stalls," he glories: in the sordidness of it all,
because "every face was a documentary scrap."

     I said to myself under every shock and at the hint of every savour
     that this it was for an exhibition to reek with local colour, and
     one could dispense with a napkin, with a crusty roll, with room for
     one's elbows or one's feet, with an immunity from intermittance of
     the "plain boiled" much better than one could dispense with that.

Here, again, one has an instance of the way in which the show of English
life revealed itself to Henry James as an exhibition of eating. "As one
sat there," he says of his reeking restaurant, "one _understood._" It is
in the same mood of the connoisseur on the track of a precious
discovery that he recalls "the very first occasion of my sallying forth
from Morley's Hotel in Trafalgar Square to dine at a house of
sustaining, of inspiring hospitality in the Kensington quarter." What an
epicure the man was! "The thrill of sundry invitations to breakfast"
still survived on his palate more than forty years afterwards. Not that
these meals were recalled as gorges of the stomach: they were merely
gorges of sensation, gorges of the sense of the past. The breakfasts
associated him "at a jump" with the ghosts of Byron and Sheridan and
Rogers. They had also a documentary value as "the exciting note of a
social order in which every one wasn't hurled straight, with the
momentum of rising, upon an office or a store...." It was one morning,
"beside Mrs. Charles Norton's tea-room, in Queen's Gate Terrace," that
his "thrilling opportunity" came to sit opposite to Mr. Frederic
Harrison, eminent in the eyes of the young American, not for his own
sake so much as because recently he had been the subject of Matthew
Arnold's banter. Everybody in England, like Mr. Harrison, seemed to
Henry James to _be_ somebody, or at least to have been talked about by
somebody. They were figures, not cyphers. They were characters in a play
with cross-references.

     The beauty was ... that people had references, and that a reference
     was then, to my mind, whether in a person or an object, the most
     glittering, the most becoming ornament possible, a style of
     decoration one seemed likely to perceive figures here and there,
     whether animate or no, quite groan under the accumulation and the
     weight of.

It is surprising that, loving this new life so ecstatically, James
should so seldom attempt to leave any detailed description of it in his
reminiscences. He is constantly describing his raptures: he only
occasionally describes the thing he was rapturous about. Almost all he
tells us about "the extravagant youth of the aesthetic period" is that
to live through it "was to seem privileged to such immensities as
history would find left her to record but with bated breath." He recalls
again "the particular sweetness of wonder" with which he haunted certain
pictures in the National Gallery, but it is himself, not the National
Gallery, that he writes about. Of Titian and Rembrandt and Rubens he
communicates nothing but the fact that "the cup of sensation was thereby
filled to overflowing." He does, indeed, give a slender description of
his first sight of Swinburne in the National Gallery, but the chief fact
even of this incident is that "I thrilled ... with the prodigy of this
circumstance that I should be admiring Titian in the same breath with
Mr. Swinburne."

Thus the reminiscences are, in a sense, extraordinarily egotistic. This
is, however, not to condemn them. Henry James is, as I have already
said, his own greatest character, and his portrait of his excitements is
one of the most enrapturing things in the literature of autobiography.
He makes us share these excitements simply by telling us how excited he
was. They are exactly the sort of excitements all of us have felt on
being introduced to people and places and pictures we have dreamed about
from our youth. Who has not felt the same kind of joy as Henry James
felt when George Eliot allowed him to run for the doctor? "I shook off
my fellow-visitor," he relates, "for swifter cleaving of the air, and I
recall still feeling that I cleft it even in the dull four-wheeler."
After he had delivered his message, he "cherished for the rest of the
day the particular quality of my vibration." The occasion of the message
to the doctor seems strangely comic in the telling. On arriving at
George Eliot's, Henry James found one of G.H. Lewes's sons lying in
horrible pain in the middle of the floor, the heritage of an old
accident in the West Indies, or, as Henry James characteristically
describes it:--

     a suffered onset from an angry bull, I seem to recall, who had
     tossed or otherwise mauled him, and, though beaten off, left him
     considerably compromised.

There is something still more comic than this, however, to be got out of
his visits to George Eliot. The visit he paid her at Witley under the
"much-waved wing" of the irrepressible Mrs. Greville, who "knew no law
but that of innocent and exquisite aberration," had a superb conclusion,
which "left our adventure an approved ruin." As James was about to
leave, and indeed was at the step of the brougham with Mrs. Greville,
G.H. Lewes called on him to wait a moment. He returned to the
doorstep, and waited till Lewes hurried back across the hall, "shaking
high the pair of blue-bound volumes his allusion to the uninvited, the
verily importunate loan of which by Mrs. Greville had lingered on the
air after his dash in quest of them":--

     "Ah, those books--take them away, please, away, away!" I hear him
     unreservedly plead while he thrusts them again at me, and I scurry
     back into our conveyance.

The blue-bound volumes happened to be a copy of Henry James's own new
book--a presentation copy he had given to Mrs. Greville, and she, in
turn, with the best intentions, had tried to leave with George Eliot, to
be read and admired. George Eliot and Lewes had failed to connect their
young visitor with the volumes. Hence a situation so comic that even its
victim could not but enjoy it:--

     Our hosts hadn't so much as connected book with author, or author
     with visitor, or visitor with anything but the convenience of his
     ridding them of an unconsidered trifle; grudging, as they so
     justifiedly did, the impingement of such matters on their
     consciousness. The vivid demonstration of one's failure to
     penetrate there had been in the sweep of Lewes's gesture, which
     could scarcely have been bettered by his actually wielding a broom.

Henry James Was more fortunate in Tennyson as a host. Tennyson had read
at least one of his stories and liked it. All the same, James was
disappointed in Tennyson. He expected to find him a poet signed and
stamped, and found him only a booming bard. Not only was Tennyson not
Tennysonian: he was not quite real. His conversation came as a shock to
his guest:--

     He struck me as neither knowing nor communicating knowledge.

As Tennyson read _Locksley Hall_ to his guests, Henry James had to pinch
himself, "not at all to keep from swooning, but much rather to set up
some rush of sensibility." What a lovely touch of malice there is in his
description of Tennyson on an occasion on which the ineffable Mrs.
Greville quoted some of his own verse to him:--

     He took these things with a gruff philosophy, and could always
     repay them, on the spot, in heavily-shovelled coin of the same
     mint, since it _was_ a question of his genius.

Henry James ever retained a beautiful detachment of intellect, even
after his conversion. He was a wit as well as an enthusiast. _The Middle
Years_, indeed, is precious in every page for its wit as well as for its
confessional raptures. It may be objected that Henry James's wit is only
a new form of the old-fashioned periphrasis. He might be described as
the last of the periphrastic humorists. At the same time, if ever in any
book there was to be found the free play of an original genius--a genius
however limited and even little--it is surely in the autobiography of
Henry James. Those who can read it at all will read it with shining
eyes.



VII

BROWNING: THE POET OF LOVE


Browning's reputation has not yet risen again beyond a half-tide. The
fact that two books about him were published during the war, however,
suggests that there is a revival of interest in his work. It would have
been surprising if this had not been so. He is one of the poets who
inspire confidence at a time when all the devils are loosed out of Hell.
Browning was the great challenger of the multitude of devils. He did not
achieve his optimism by ignoring Satan, but by defying him. His courage
was not merely of the stomach, but of the daring imagination. There is
no more detestable sign of literary humbug than the pretence that
Browning was an optimist simply because he did not experience sorrow and
indigestion as other people do. I do not mean to deny that he, enjoyed
good health. As Professor Phelps, of Yale, says in a recent book,
_Robert Browning: How to Know Him:--_

     He had a truly wonderful digestion: it was his firm belief that one
     should eat only what one really enjoyed, desire being the
     infallible sign that the food was healthful. "My father was a man
     of _bonne fourchette_," said Barett Browning to me "he was not very
     fond of meat, but liked all kinds of Italian dishes, especially
     with rich sauces. He always ate freely of rich and delicate things.
     He would make a whole meal off mayonnaise."

Upon which the American professor comments with ingenuous humour of a
kind rare in professors in this hemisphere:--

     It is pleasant to remember that Emerson, the other great optimist
     of the century, used to eat pie for breakfast.

The man who does not suffer from pie will hardly suffer from pessimism;
but, as Professor Phelps insists, Browning faced greater terrors than
pie for breakfast, and his philosophy did not flinch. There was no other
English writer of the nineteenth century who to the same degree made all
human experiences his own. His is poems are not poems about little
children who win good-conduct prizes. They are poems of the agonies of
life, poems about tragic severance, poems about failure. They range
through the virtues and the vices with the magnificent boldness of
Dostoevsky's novels. The madman, the atheist, the adulterer, the
traitor, the murderer, the beast, are portrayed in them side by side
with the hero, the saint, and the perfect woman. There is every sort of
rogue here half-way between good and evil, and every sort of half-hero
who is either worse than his virtue or better than his sins. Nowhere
else in English poetry outside the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer is
there such a varied and humorous gallery of portraits. Landor's often
quoted comparison of Browning with Chaucer is a piece of perfect and
essential criticism:--

          Since Chaucer was alive and hale,
    No man hath walked along our roads with step
    So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue
    So varied in discourse.

For Browning was a portrait-painter by genius and a philosopher only by
accident. He was a historian even more than a moralist. He was born with
a passion for living in other people's experiences. So impartially and
eagerly did he make himself a voice of the evil as well as the good in
human nature that occasionally one has heard people speculating as to
whether he can have led so reputable a life as the biographers make one
believe. To speculate in this manner, however, is to blunder into
forgetfulness of Browning's own answer, in _How it Strikes a
Contemporary_, to all such calumnies on poets.

Of all the fields of human experience, it was love into which the
imagination of Browning most fully entered. It may seem an obvious thing
to say about almost any poet, but Browning differed from other poets in
being able to express, not only the love of his own heart, but the love
of the hearts of all sorts of people. He dramatized every kind of love
from the spiritual to the sensual. One might say of him that there never
was another poet in whom there was so much of the obsession of love and
so little of the obsession of sex. Love was for him the crisis and test
of a man's life. The disreputable lover has his say in Browning's
monologues no less than Count Gismond. Porphyria's lover, mad and a
murderer, lives in our imaginations as brightly as the idealistic lover
of Cristina.

The dramatic lyric and monologue in which Browning set forth the
varieties of passionate experience was an art-form of immense
possibilities, which it was a work of genius to discover. To say that
Browning, the inventor of this amazingly fine form, was indifferent to
form has always seemed to me the extreme of stupidity. At the same time,
its very newness puzzles many readers, even to-day. Some people cannot
read Browning without note or comment, because they are unable to throw
themselves imaginatively into the "I" of each new poem. Our artistic
sense is as yet so little developed that many persons are appalled by
the energy of imagination which is demanded of them before they are
reborn, as it were, into the setting of his dramatic studies. Professor
Phelps's book should be of especial service to such readers, because it
will train them in the right method of approach to Browning's best work.
It is a very admirable essay in popular literary interpretation. One is
astonished by its insight even more than by its recurrent banality.
There are sentences that will make the fastidious shrink, such as:--

     The commercial worth of _Pauline_ was exactly zero.

And:--

     Their (the Brownings') love-letters reveal a drama of noble passion
     that excels in beauty and intensity the universally popular
     examples of Heloise and Abelard, Aucassin and Nicolette, Paul and
     Virginia.

And, again, in the story of the circumstances that led to Browning's
death:--

     In order to prove to his son that nothing was the matter with him,
     he ran rapidly up three flights of stairs, the son vainly trying to
     restrain him. Nothing is more characteristic of the youthful folly
     of aged folk than their impatient resentment of proffered hygienic
     advice.

Even the interpretations of the poems sometimes take one's breath away,
as when, discussing _The Lost Mistress_, Professor Phelps observes that
the lover:--

     instead of thinking of his own misery ... endeavours to make the
     awkward situation easier for the girl by small talk about the
     sparrows and the leaf-buds.

When one has marvelled one's fill at the professor's phrases and
misunderstandings, however, one is compelled to admit that he has
written what is probably the best popular introduction to Browning in
existence.

Professor Phelps's book is one of those rare essays in popular criticism
which will introduce an average reader to a world of new excitements.
One of its chief virtues is that it is an anthology as well as a
commentary. It contains more than fifty complete poems of Browning
quoted in the body of the book. And these include, not merely short
poems like _Meeting at Night_, but long poems, such as _Andrea del
Sarto, Caliban on Setebos_, and _Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came._
This is the right kind of introduction to a great author. The poet is
allowed as far as possible to be his own interpreter.

At the outset Professor Phelps quotes in full _Transcendentalism_ and
_How it Strikes a Contemporary_ as Browning's confession of his aims as
an artist. The first of these is Browning's most energetic assertion
that the poet is no philosopher concerned with ideas rather than with
things--with abstractions rather than with actions. His disciples have
written a great many books that seem to reduce him from a poet to a
philosopher, and one cannot protest too vehemently against this dulling
of an imagination richer than a child's in adventures and in the passion
for the detailed and the concrete. In _Transcendentalism_ he bids a
younger poet answer whether there is more help to be got from Jacob
Boehme with his subtle meanings:--

    Or some stout Mage like him of Halberstadt,
    John, who made things Boehme wrote thoughts about.

With how magnificent an image he then justifies the poet of "things" as
compared with the philosopher of "thoughts":--

    He with a "look you!" vents a brace of rhymes,
    And in there breaks the sudden rose herself,
    Over us, under, round us every side,
    Nay, in and out the tables and the chairs
    And musty volumes, Boehme's book and all--
    Buries us with a glory, young once more,
    Pouring heaven into this poor house of life.

One of the things one constantly marvels at as one reads Browning is the
splendid aestheticism with which he lights up prosaic words and
pedestrian details with beauty.

The truth is, if we do not realize that he is a great singer and a great
painter as well as a, great humorist and realist, we shall have read him
in vain. No doubt his phrases are often as grotesque as jagged teeth, as
when the mourners are made to say in _A Grammarian's Funeral_:--

    Look out if yonder be not day again.
    Rimming the rock-row!

Reading the second of these lines one feels as if one of the mourners
had stubbed his foot against a sharp stone on the mountain-path. And
yet, if Browning invented a harsh speech of his own far common use, he
uttered it in all the varied rhythms of genius and passion. There may
often be no music in the individual words, but there is always in the
poems as a whole a deep undercurrent of music as from some hidden river.
His poems have the movement of living things. They are lacking only in
smooth and static loveliness. They are full of the hoof-beats of
Pegasus.

We find in his poems, indeed, no fastidious escape from life, but an
exalted acceptance of it. Browning is one of the very few poets who,
echoing the Creator, have declared that the world is good. His sense of
the goodness of it even in foulness and in failure is written over half
of his poems. _Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came_ is a fable of life
triumphant in a world tombstoned with every abominable and hostile
thing--a world, too, in which the hero is doomed to perish at devilish
hands. Whenever one finds oneself doubting the immensity of Browning's
genius, one has only to read _Childe Roland_ again to restore one's
faith. There never was a landscape so alive with horror as that amid
which the knight travelled in quest of the Dark Tower. As detail is
added to detail, it becomes horrible as suicide, a shrieking progress of
all the torments, till one is wrought up into a very nightmare of
apprehension and the Tower itself appears:--

    The round squat tower, blind as the fool's heart.

Was there ever such a pause and gathering of courage as in the verses
that follow in which the last of the knights takes his resolve?:--

    Not see? because of night perhaps?--why, day
      Came back again for that! before it left,
    The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
      The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay
    Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay--
      "Now stab and end the creature--to the heft!"

    Not hear? When noise was everywhere! it tolled
      Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears,
      Of all the lost adventurers my peers--
    How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
    And such was fortunate, yet each of old
      Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.

    There they stood, ranged along the hillside, met
      To view the last of me, a living frame
      For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
    I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
    Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set.
      And blew. "_Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came_."

There, if anywhere in literature, is the summit of tragic and triumphant
music. There, it seems to me, is as profound and imaginative expression
of the heroic spirit as is to be found in the English language.

To belittle Browning as an artist after such a poem is to blaspheme
against art. To belittle him as an optimist is to play the fool with
words. Browning was an optimist only in the sense that he believed in
what Stevenson called "the ultimate decency of things," and that he
believed in the capacity of the heroic spirit to face any test devised
for it by inquisitors or devils. He was not defiant in a fine attitude
like Byron. His defiance was rather a form of magnanimity. He is said,
on Robert Buchanan's authority, to have thundered "No," when in his
later years he was asked if he were a Christian. But his defiance was
the defiance of a Christian, the dauntlessness of a knight of the Holy
Ghost. Perhaps it is that he was more Christian than the Christians.
Like the Pope in _The Ring and the Book_, he loathed the association of
Christianity with respectability. Some readers are bewildered by his
respectability in trivial things, such as dress, into failing to see his
hatred of respectability when accepted as a standard in spiritual
things. He is more sympathetic towards the disreputable suicides in
_Apparent Failure_ than towards the vacillating and respectable lovers
in _The Statue and the Bust._ There was at least a hint of heroism in
the last madness of the doomed men. Browning again and again protests,
as Blake had done earlier, against the mean moral values of his age.
Energy to him as to Blake meant endless delight, and especially those
two great energies of the spirit--love and heroism. For, though his work
is not a philosophic expression of moral ideas, it is an imaginative
expression of moral ideas, as a result of which he is, above all, the
poet of lovers and heroes. Imagination is a caged bird in these days;
with Browning it was a soaring eagle. In some ways Mr. Conrad's is the
most heroic imagination in contemporary literature. But he does not take
this round globe of light and darkness into his purview as Browning did.
The whole earth is to him shadowed with futility. Browning was too
lyrical to resign himself to the shadows. He saw the earth through the
eyes of a lover till the end. He saw death itself as no more than an
interlude of pain, darkness, and cold before a lovers' meeting. It may
be that it is all a rapturous illusion, and that, after we have laid him
aside and slept a night's broken sleep, we sink back again naturally
into the little careful hopes and infidelities of everyday. But it seems
to me that here is a whole heroic literature to which the world will
always do well to turn in days of inexorable pain and horror such as
those through which it has but recently passed.



VIII

THE FAME OF J.M. SYNGE


The most masterly piece of literary advertising in modern times was
surely Mr. Yeats's enforcement of Synge upon the coteries--or the
choruses--as a writer in the great tradition of Homer and Shakespeare.
So successful has Mr. Yeats been, indeed, in the exaltation of his
friend, that people are in danger of forgetting that it is Mr. Yeats
himself, and not Synge, who is the ruling figure in modern Irish
literature. One does not criticize Mr. Yeats for this. During the Synge
controversy he was a man raising his voice in the heat of battle--a man,
too, praising a generous comrade who was but lately dead. The critics
outside Ireland, however, have had none of these causes of passion to
prevent them from seeing Synge justly. They simply bowed down before the
idol that Mr. Yeats had set up before them, and danced themselves into
ecstasies round the image of the golden playboy.

Mr. Howe, who wrote a sincere and able book on Synge, may be taken as a
representative apostle of the Synge cult. He sets before us a god, not a
man--a creator of absolute beauty--and he asks us to accept the common
view that _The Playboy of the Western World_ is his masterpiece. There
can never be any true criticism of Synge till we have got rid of all
these obsessions and idolatries. Synge was an extraordinary man of
genius, but he was not an extraordinarily great man of genius. He is not
the peer of Shakespeare: he is not the peer of Shelley: he is the peer,
say, of Stevenson. His was a byway, not a high-road, of genius. That is
why he has an immensely more enthusiastic following among clever people
than among simple people.

Once and once only Synge achieved a piece of art that was universal in
its appeal, satisfying equally the artistic formula of Pater and the
artistic formula of Tolstoi. This was _Riders to the Sea. Riders to the
Sea_, a lyrical pageant of pity made out of the destinies of
fisher-folk, is a play that would have been understood in ancient Athens
or in Elizabethan London, as well as by an audience of Irish peasants
to-day.

Here, incidentally, we get a foretaste of that preoccupation with death
which heightens the tensity in so much of Synge's work. There is a
corpse on the stage in _Riders to the Sea_, and a man laid out as a
corpse in _In the Shadow of the Glen_, and there is a funeral party in
_The Playboy of the Western World._ Synge's imagination dwelt much among
the tombs. Even in his comedies, his laughter does not spring from an
exuberant joy in life so much as from excitement among the incongruities
of a world that is due to death. Hence he cannot be summed up either as
a tragic or a comic writer. He is rather a tragic satirist with the soul
of a lyric poet.

If he is at his greatest in _Riders to the Sea_, he is at his most
personal in _The Well of the Saints_, and this is essentially a tragic
satire. It is a symbolic play woven out of the illusions of two blind
beggars. Mr. Howe says that "there is nothing for the symbolists in _The
Well of the Saints_," but that is because he is anxious to prove that
Synge was a great creator of men and women. Synge, in my opinion at
least, was nothing of the sort. His genius was a genius of decoration,
not of psychology. One might compare it to firelight in a dark room,
throwing fantastic shapes on the walls. He loved the fantastic, and he
was held by the darkness. Both in speech and in character, it was the
bizarre and even the freakish that attracted him. In _Riders to the Sea_
he wrote as one who had been touched by the simple tragedy of human
life. But, as he went on writing and working, he came to look on life
more and more as a pattern of extravagances, and he exchanged the noble
style of _Riders to the Sea_ for the gauded and overwrought style of
_The Playboy._

"With _The Playboy of the Western World_," says Mr. Howe, "Synge placed
himself among the masters." But then Mr. Howe thinks that "Pegeen Mike
is one of the most beautiful and living figures in all drama," and that
she "is the normal," and that

     Synge, with an originality more absolute than Wordsworth's,
     insisted that his readers should regain their poetic feeling for
     ordinary life; and presented them with Pegeen with the stink of
     poteen on her, and a playboy wet and crusted with his father's
     blood.

The conception of ordinary life--or is it only ordinary Irish life?--in
the last half-sentence leaves one meditating.

But, after all, it is not Synge's characters or his plots, but his
language, which is his great contribution to literature. I agree with
Mr. Howe that the question how far his language is the language of the
Irish countryside is a minor one. On the other hand, it is worth noting
that he wrote most beautifully in the first enthusiasm of his discovery
of the wonders of Irish peasant speech. His first plays express, as it
were, the delight of first love. He was always a shaping artist, of
course, in search of figures and patterns; but he kept his passion for
these things subordinate to reality in the early plays. In _The Playboy_
he seemed to be determined to write riotously, like a man straining
after vitality. He exaggerated everything. He emptied bagfuls of wild
phrases--the collections of years--into the conversations of a few
minutes. His style became, in a literary sense, vicious, a thing of
tricks and conventions: blank-verse rhythms--I am sure there are a
hundred blank-verse lines in the play--and otiose adjectives crept in
and spoilt it as prose. It became like a parody of the beautiful English
Synge wrote in the noon of his genius.

I cannot understand the special enthusiasm for _The Playboy_ except
among those who read it before they knew anything of Synge's earlier and
better work. With all its faults, however, it is written by the hand of
genius, and the first hearing or reading of it must come as a revelation
to those who do not know _Riders to the Sea_ or _The Well of the
Saints._ Even when it is played, as it is now played, in an expurgated
form, and with sentimentality substituted for the tolerant but
Mephistophelean malice which Synge threaded into it, the genius and
originality are obvious enough. _The Playboy_ is a marvellous
confection, but it is to _Riders to the Sea_ one turns in search of
Synge the immortal poet.



IX

VILLON: THE GENIUS OF THE TAVERN


It is to Stevenson's credit that he was rather sorry that he had ever
written his essay on Villon. He explains that this was due to the fact
that he "regarded Villon as a bad fellow," but one likes to think that
his conscience was also a little troubled because through lack of
sympathy he had failed to paint a just portrait of a man of genius.
Villon was a bad fellow enough in all conscience. He was not so bad,
however, as Stevenson made him out. He was, no doubt, a thief; he had
killed a man; and it may even be (if we are to read autobiography into
one of the most shocking portions of the _Grand Testament_) that he
lived for a time on the earnings of "la grosse Margot." But, for all
this, he was not the utterly vile person that Stevenson believed. His
poetry is not mere whining and whimpering of genius which occasionally
changes its mood and sticks its fingers to its nose. It is rather the
confession of a man who had wandered over the "crooked hills of
delicious pleasure," and had arrived in rags and filth in the famous
city of Hell. It is a map of disaster and a chronicle of lost souls.
Swinburne defined the genius of Villon more imaginatively than Stevenson
when he addressed him in a paradoxical line as:

    Bird of the bitter bright grey golden morn,

and spoke of his "poor, perfect voice,"

    That rings athwart the sea whence no man steers,
    Like joy-bells crossed with death-bells in our ears.

No man who has ever written has so cunningly mingled joy-bells and
death-bells in his music. Here is a realism of damned souls--damned in
their merry sins--at which the writer of _Ecclesiastes_ merely seems to
hint like a detached philosopher. Villon may never have achieved the
last faith of the penitent thief. But he was a penitent thief at least
in his disillusion. If he continues to sing _Carpe diem_ when at the age
of thirty he is already an old, diseased man, he sings it almost with a
sneer of hatred. It is from the lips of a grinning death's-head--not of
a jovial roysterer, as Henley makes it seem in his slang
translation--that the _Ballade de bonne Doctrine à ceux de mauvaise Vie_
falls, with its refrain of destiny:

    Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

And the _Ballade de la Belle Heaulmière aux Filles de Joie_, in which
Age counsels Youth to take its pleasure and its fee before the evil days
come, expresses no more joy of living than the dismallest _memento
mori._

One must admit, of course, that the obsession of vice is strong in
Villon's work. In this he is prophetic of much of the greatest French
literature of the nineteenth century. He had consorted with criminals
beyond most poets. It is not only that he indulged in the sins of the
flesh. It is difficult to imagine that there exists any sin of which he
and his companions were not capable. He was apparently a member of the
famous band of thieves called the Coquillards, the sign of which was a
cockle-shell in the cap, "which was the sign of the Pilgrim." "It was a
large business," Mr. Stacpoole says of this organization in his popular
life of Villon, "with as many departments as a New York store, and, to
extend the simile, its chief aim and object was to make money. Coining,
burglary, highway robbery, selling indulgences and false jewellery,
card-sharping, and dice-playing with loaded dice, were chief among its
industries." Mr. Stacpoole goes on to tone down this catalogue of
iniquity with the explanation that the Coquillards were, after all, not
nearly such villains as our contemporary milk-adulterators and sweaters
of women. He is inclined to think they may have been good fellows, like
Robin Hood and his men or the gentlemen of the road in a later century.
This may well be, but a gang of Robin Hoods, infesting a hundred taverns
in the town and quarrelling in the streets over loose women, is
dangerous company for an impressionable young man who had never been
taught the Shorter Catechism. Paris, even in the twentieth century, is
alleged to be a city of temptation. Paris, in the fifteenth century,
must have been as tumultuous with the seven deadly sins as the world
before the Flood. Joan of Arc had been burned in the year in which
Villon was born, but her death had not made saints of the students of
Paris. Living more or less beyond the reach of the civil law, they made
a duty of riot, and counted insolence and wine to themselves for
righteousness. Villon, we are reminded, had good influences in his life,
which might have been expected to moderate the appeal of wildness and
folly. He had his dear, illiterate mother, for whom, and at whose
request, he wrote that unexpected ballade of prayer to the Mother of
God. He had, too, that good man who adopted him, Guillaume de Villon,
chaplain of Saint Benoist--

    mon plus que père
    Maistre Guillaume de Villon,
    Qui m'a esté plus doux que mère;

and who gave him the name that he has made immortal. That he was not
altogether unresponsive to these good influences is shown by his
references to them in his _Grand Testament_, though Stevenson was
inclined to read into the lines on Guillaume the most infernal kind of
mockery and derision. One of Villon's bequests to the old man, it will
be remembered, was the _Rommant du Pet au Diable_, which Stevenson
refers to again and again as an "improper romance." Mr. Stacpoole has
done a service to English readers interested in Villon by showing that
the _Rommant_ was nothing of the sort, but was a little epic--possibly
witty enough--on a notorious conflict between the students and civilians
of Paris. One may accept the vindication of Villon's goodness of heart,
however, without falling in at all points with Mr. Stacpoole's tendency
to justify his hero. When, for instance, in the account of Villon's only
known act of homicide, the fact that after he had stabbed the priest,
Sermoise, he crushed in his head with a stone, is used to prove that he
must have been acting on the defensive, because, "since the earliest
times, the stone is the weapon used by man to repel attack--chiefly the
attack of wolves and dogs"--one cannot quite repress a sceptical smile.
I admit that, in the absence of evidence, we have no right to accuse
Villon of deliberate murder. But it is the absence of evidence that
acquits him, not the fact that he killed his victim with a stone as well
as a dagger. Nor does it seem to, me quite fair to blame, as Mr.
Stacpoole does by implication, the cold and beautiful Katherine de
Vaucelles for Villon's moral downfall. Katherine de Vaucelles--what a
poem her very name is!-may, for all one knows, have had the best of
reasons for sending her bully to beat the poet "like dirty linen on the
washing-board." We do not know, and it is better to leave the matter a
mystery than to sentimentalize like Mr. Stacpoole:--

     Had he come across just now one of those creative women, one of
     those women who by the alchemy that lives alone in love can bend a
     man's character, even though the bending had been ever so little,
     she might have saved him from the catastrophe towards which he was
     moving, and which took place in the following December.

All we know is that the lady of miracles did not arrive, and that in her
absence Villon and a member of companion gallows-birds occupied the dark
of one winter's night in robbing the chapel of the College de Navarre.
This was in 1456, and not long afterwards Villon wrote his _Petit
Testament_, and skipped from Paris.

We know little of his wanderings in the next five years, nor do we know
whether the greater part of them was spent in crimes or in reputable
idleness. Mr. Stacpoole writes a chapter on his visit to Charles of
Orléans, but there are few facts for a biographer to go upon during this
period. Nothing with a date happened to Villon till the summer of 1461,
when Thibault d'Aussigny, Bishop of Orléans, for some cause or other,
real or imaginary, had him cast into a pit so deep that he "could not
even see the lightning of a thunderstorm," and kept him there for three
months with "neither stool to sit nor bed to lie on, and nothing to eat
but bits of bread flung down to him by his gaolers." Here, during his
three months' imprisonment in the pit, he experienced all that
bitterness of life which makes his _Grand Testament_ a "De Profundis"
without parallel in scapegrace literature. Here, we may imagine with Mr.
Stacpoole, his soul grew in the grace of suffering, and the death-bells
began to bring a solemn music among the joy-bells of his earlier
follies. He is henceforth the companion of lost souls. He is the most
melancholy of cynics in the kingdom of death. He has ever before him the
vision of men hanging on gibbets. He has all the hatreds of a man
tortured and haunted and old.

Not that he ever entirely resigns his carnality. His only complaint
against the flesh is that it perishes like the snows of last year. But
to recognize even this is to have begun to have a just view of life. He
knows that in the tavern is to be found no continuing city. He becomes
the servant of truth and beauty as he writes the most revealing and
tragic satires on the population of the tavern in the world's
literature. What more horrible portrait exists in poetry than that of
"la belle Heaulmière" grown old, as she contemplates her beauty turned
to hideousness--her once fair limbs become "speckled like sausages"?
"La Grosse Margot" alone is more horrible, and her bully utters his and
her doom in the last three awful lines of the ballade which links her
name with Villon's:--

    Ordure amons, ordure nous affuyt;
    Nous deffuyons honneur, il nous deffuyt,
    En ce bordeau, où tenons nostre estat.

But there is more than the truth of ugliness in these amazing ballads of
which the _Grand Testament_ is full. Villon was by nature a worshipper
of beauty. The lament over the defeat of his dream of fair lords and
ladies by the reality of a withered and dissatisfying world runs like a
torment through his verse. No one has ever celebrated the inevitable
passing of loveliness in lovelier verse than Villon has done in the
_Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis._ I have heard it maintained that
Rossetti has translated the radiant beauty of this ballade into his
_Ballad of Dead Ladies._ I cannot agree. Even his beautiful translation
of the refrain,

    But where are the snows of yesteryear,

seems to me to injure simplicity with an ornament, and to turn natural
into artificial music. Compare the opening lines in the original and in
the translation, and you will see the difference between the sincere
expression of a vision and the beautiful writing of an exercise. Here is
Villon's beginning:--

    Dictes-moy où, n'en quel pays,
      Est Flora, la belle Romaine?
    Archipiade, ne Thaïs,
      Qui fut sa cousine germaine?

And here is Rossetti's jaunty English:--

    Tell me now in what hidden way is
      Lady Flora, the lovely Roman?
    Where's Hipparchia, and where is Thaïs,
      Neither of them the fairer woman?

One sees how Rossetti is inclined to romanticize that which is already
romantic beyond one's dreams in its naked and golden simplicity. I would
not quarrel with Rossetti's version, however, if it had not been often
put forward as an example of a translation which was equal to the
original. It is certainly a wonderful version if we compare it with most
of those that have been made from Villon. Mr. Stacpoole's, I fear, have
no rivulets of music running through them to make up for their want of
prose exactitude. Admittedly, however, translation of Villon is
difficult. Some of his most beautiful poems are simple as catalogues of
names, and the secret of their beauty is a secret elusive as a fragrance
borne on the wind. Mr. Stacpoole may be congratulated on his courage in
undertaking an impossible task--a task, moreover, in which he challenges
comparison with Rossetti, Swinburne, and Andrew Lang. His book, however,
is meant for the general public rather than for poets and scholars--at
least, for that intelligent portion of the general public which is
interested in literature without being over-critical. For its purpose it
may be recommended as an interesting, picturesque, and judicious book.
The Villon of Stevenson is little better than a criminal monkey of
genius. The Villon of Mr. Stacpoole is at least the makings of a man.



X

POPE


Pope is a poet whose very admirers belittle him. Mr. Saintsbury, for
instance, even in the moment of inciting us to read him, observes that
"it would be scarcely rash to say that there is not an original thought,
sentiment, image, or example of any of the other categories of poetic
substance to be found in the half a hundred thousand verses of Pope."
And he has still less to say in favour of Pope as a man. He denounces
him for "rascality" and goes on with characteristic irresponsibility to
suggest that "perhaps ... there is a natural connection between the two
kinds of this dexterity of fingering--that of the artist in words, and
that of the pickpocket or the forger." If Pope had been a contemporary,
Mr. Saintsbury, I imagine, would have stunned him with a huge mattock of
adjectives. As it is, he seems to be in two minds whether to bury or to
praise him. Luckily, he has tempered his moral sense with his sense of
humour, and so comes to the happy conclusion that as a matter of fact,
when we read or read about Pope, "some of the proofs which are most
damning morally, positively increase one's aesthetic delight."

One is interested in Pope's virtues as a poet and his vices as a man
almost equally. It is his virtues as a man and his vices as a poet that
are depressing. He is usually at his worst artistically when he is at
his best morally. He achieves wit through malice: he achieves only
rhetoric through virtue. It is not that one wishes he had been a bad son
or a Uriah Heep in his friendships. It is pleasant to remember the
pleasure he gave his mother by allowing her to copy out parts of his
translation of the _Iliad_, and one respects him for refusing a pension
of £300 a year out of the secret service money from his friend Craggs.
But one wishes that he had put neither his filial piety nor his
friendship into writing. Mr. Saintsbury, I see, admires "the masterly
and delightful craftsmanship in words" of the tribute to Craggs; but
then Mr. Saintsbury also admires the _Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady_--a
mere attitude in verse, as chill as a weeping angel in a graveyard.

Pope's attractiveness is less that of a real man than of an inhabitant
of Lilliput, where it is a matter of no importance whether or not one
lives in obedience to the Ten Commandments. We can regard him with
amusement as a liar, a forger, a glutton, and a slanderer of his kind.
If his letters are the dullest letters ever written by a wit, it is
because he reveals in them not his real vices but his imaginary virtues.
They only become interesting when we know the secret history of his life
and read them as the moralizings of a doll Pecksniff. Historians of
literature often assert--mistakenly, I think--that Pliny's letters are
dull, because they are merely the literary exercises of a man
over-conscious of his virtues. But Pliny's virtues, however tip-tilted,
were at least real. Pope's letters are the literary exercises of a man
platitudinizing about virtues he did not possess. They have an
impersonality, like that of the leading articles in _The Times_. They
have all the qualities of the essay except intimate confession. They are
irrelevant scrawls which might as readily have been addressed to one
correspondent as another. So much so is this, that when Pope published
them, he altered the names of the recipients of some of them so as to
make it appear that they were written to famous persons when, as a
matter of fact, they were written to private and little-known friends.

The story of the way in which he tampered with his letters and arranged
for their "unauthorized" publication by a pirate publisher is one of the
most amazing in the history of forgery. It was in reference to this that
Whitwell Elwin declared that Pope "displayed a complication of
imposture, degradation, and effrontery which can only be paralleled in
the lives of professional forgers and swindlers." When he published his
correspondence with Wycherley, his contemporaries were amazed that the
boyish Pope should have written with such an air of patronage to the
aged Wycherley and that Wycherley should have suffered it. We know, now,
however, that the correspondence is only in part genuine, and that Pope
used portions of his correspondence with Caryll and published them as
though they had been addressed to Wycherley. Wycherley had remonstrated
with Pope on the extravagant compliments he paid him: Pope had
remonstrated with Caryll on similar grounds. In the Wycherley
correspondence, Pope omits Wycherley's remonstrance to him and publishes
his own remonstrance to Caryll as a letter from himself to Wycherley.

From that time onwards Pope spared no effort in getting his
correspondence "surreptitiously" published. He engaged a go-between, a
disreputable actor disguised as a clergyman, to approach Curll, the
publisher, with an offer of a stolen collection of letters, and, when
the book was announced, he attacked Curll as a villain, and procured a
friend in the House of Lords to move a resolution that Curll should be
brought before the House on a charge of breach of privilege, one of the
letters (it was stated) having been written to Pope by a peer. Curll
took a number of copies of the book with him to the Lords, and it was
discovered that no such letter was included. But the advertisement was a
noble one. Unfortunately, even a man of genius could not devise
elaborate schemes of this kind without ultimately falling under
suspicion, and Curll wrote a narrative of the events which resulted in
seriously discrediting Pope.

Pope was surely one of the least enviable authors who ever lived. He had
fame and fortune and friends. But he had not the constitution to enjoy
his fortune, and in friendship he had not the gift of fidelity. He
secretly published his correspondence with Swift and then set up a
pretence that Swift had been the culprit. He earned from Bolingbroke in
the end a hatred that pursued him in the grave. He was always begging
Swift to go and live with him at Twickenham. But Swift found even a
short visit trying. "Two sick friends never did well together," he wrote
in 1727, and he has left us verses descriptive of the miseries of great
wits in each other's company:--

    Pope has the talent well to speak,
      But not to reach the ear;
    His loudest voice is low and weak,
      The Dean too deaf to hear.

    Awhile they on each other look,
      Then different studies choose;
    The Dean sits plodding o'er a book,
      Pope walks and courts the muse.

"Mr. Pope," he grumbled some years later, "can neither eat nor drink,
loves to be alone, and has always some poetical scheme in his head."
Swift, luckily, stayed in Dublin and remained Pope's friend. Lady Mary,
Wortley Montagu went to Twickenham and became Pope's enemy. The reason
seems to have been that he was more eager for an exchange of compliments
than for friendship. He affected the attitude of a man in love, when
Lady Mary saw in him only a monkey in love. He is even said to have
thrown his little makeshift of a body, in its canvas bodice and its
three pairs of stockings, at her feet, with the result that she burst
out laughing. Pope took his revenge in the _Epistle to Martha Blount_,
where, describing Lady Mary as Sappho, he declared of another lady that
her different aspects agreed as ill with each other--

    As Sappho's diamonds with her dirty smock;
    Or Sappho at her toilet's greasy task
    With Sappho fragrant at an evening mask;
    So morning insects, that in muck begun,
    Shine, buzz, and fly-blow in the evening sun.

His relations with his contemporaries were too often begun in
compliments only to end in abuse of this kind. Even while he was on good
terms with them, he was frequently doing them ill turns. Thus, he
persuaded a publisher to get Dennis to write abusively of Addison's
_Cato_ in order that he might have an excuse in his turn for writing
abusively of Dennis, apparently vindicating Addison but secretly taking
a revenge of his own. Addison was more embarrassed than pleased by so
savage a defence, and hastened to assure Dennis that he had had nothing
to do with it. Addison also gave offence to Pope by his too judicious
praise of _The Rape of the Lock_ and the translation of the _Iliad_.
Thus began the maniacal suspicion of Addison, which was expressed with
the genius of venom in the _Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot._

There was never a poet whose finest work needs such a running commentary
of discredit as Pope's. He may be said, indeed, to be the only great
poet in reading whom the commentary is as necessary as the text. One can
enjoy Shakespeare or Shelley without a note: one is inclined even to
resent the intrusion of the commentator into the upper regions of
poetry. But Pope's verse is a guide to his age and the incidents of his
waspish existence, lacking a key to which one misses three-fourths of
the entertainment. The _Danciad_ without footnotes is one of the
obscurest poems in existence: with footnotes it becomes a perfect epic
of literary entomology. And it is the same with at least half of his
work. Thus, in the _Imitations of Horace_, a reference to Russell tells
us little till we read in a delightful footnote:

     There was a Lord Russell who, by living too luxuriously, had quite
     spoiled his constitution. He did not love sport, but used to go out
     with his dogs every day only to hunt for an appetite. If he felt
     anything of that, he would cry out, "Oh, I have found it!" turn
     short round and ride home again, though they were in the midst of
     the finest chase. It was this lord who, when he met a beggar, and
     was entreated by him to give him something because he was almost
     famished with hunger, called him a "happy dog."

There may have been a case for neglecting Pope before Mr. Elwin and Mr.
Courthope edited and annotated him--though he had been edited well
before--but their monumental edition has made him of all English poets
one of the most incessantly entertaining.

Pope, however, is a charmer in himself. His venom has graces. He is a
stinging insect, but of how brilliant a hue! There are few satires in
literature richer in the daintiness of malice than the _Epistle to
Martha Blount_ and the _Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot_. The "characters" of
women in the former are among the most precious of those railleries of
sex in which mankind has always loved to indulge. The summing-up of the
perfect woman:

    And mistress of herself, though china fall,

is itself perfect in its wit. And the fickle lady, Narcissa, is a
portrait in porcelain:

    Narcissa's nature, tolerably mild,
    To make a wash, would hardly stew a child;
    Has even been proved to grant a lover's prayer.
    And paid a tradesman once, to make him stare;...
    Now deep in Taylor and the Book of Martyrs,
    Now drinking citron with his Grace and Chartres;
    Now conscience chills her and now passion burns;
    And atheism and religion take their turns;
    A very heathen in the carnal part,
    Yet still a sad, good Christian at the heart.

The study of Chloe, who "wants a heart," is equally delicate and witty:

    Virtue she finds too painful an endeavour,
    Content to dwell in decencies for ever--
    So very reasonable, so unmoved,
    As never yet to love, or to be loved.
    She, while her lover pants upon her breast,
    Can mark the figures on an Indian chest;
    And when she sees her friend in deep despair,
    Observes how much a chintz exceeds mohair!...
    Would Chloe know if you're alive or dead?
    She bids her footman put it in her head.
    Chloe is prudent--would you too be wise?
    Then never break your heart when Chloe dies.

The _Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot_ is still more dazzling. The venom is
passionate without ever ceasing to be witty. Pope has composed a
masterpiece of his vanities and hatreds. The characterizations of
Addison as Atticus, and of Lord Hervey as Sporus:

    Sporus, that mere white curd of ass's milk--

Sporus, "the bug with gilded wings"--are portraits one may almost call
beautiful in their bitter phrasing. There is nothing make-believe here
as there is in the virtue of the letters. This is Pope's confession, the
image of his soul. Elsewhere in Pope the accomplishment is too often
rhetorical, though _The Rape of the Lock_ is as delicate in artifice as
a French fairy-tale, the _Dunciad_ an amusing assault of a major
Lilliputian on minor Lilliputians, and the _Essay on Criticism_--what a
regiment of witty lines to be written by a youth of twenty or
twenty-one!--much nearer being a great essay in verse than is generally
admitted nowadays. As for the _Essay on Man_, one can read! it more than
once only out of a sense of duty. Pope has nothing to tell us that we
want to know about man except in so far as he dislikes him. We praise
him as the poet who makes remarks--as the poet, one might almost say,
who makes faces. It is when he sits in the scorner's chair, whether in
good humour or in bad, that he is the little lord of versifiers.



XI

JAMES ELROY FLECKER


James Elroy Flecker died in January 1915, having added at least one poem
to the perfect anthology of English verse. Probably his work contains a
good deal that is permanent besides this. But one is confident at least
of the permanence of _The Old Ships_. Readers coming a thousand years
hence upon the beauty, the romance and the colour of this poem will turn
eagerly, one imagines, in search of other work from the same pen. This
was the flower of the poet's genius. It was the exultant and original
speech of one who was in a great measure the seer of other men's
visions. Flecker was much given to the translation of other poets, and
he did not stop at translating their words. He translated their
imagination also into careful verse. He was one of those poets whose
genius is founded in the love of literature more than in the love of
life. He seems less an interpreter of the earth than one who sought
after a fantastic world which had been created by Swinburne and the
Parnassians and the old painters and the tellers of the _Arabian
Nights_.

"He began," Mr. J.C. Squire has said, "by being more interested in his
art than in himself." And all but a score or so of his poems suggest
that this was his way to the last. He was one of those for whom the
visible world exists. But it existed for him less in nature than in art.
He does not give one the impression of a poet who observed minutely and
delightedly as Mr. W.H. Davies observes. His was a painted world
inhabited by a number of chosen and exquisite images. He found the real
world by comparison disappointing. "He confessed," we are told, "that he
had not greatly liked the East--always excepting, of course, Greece."
This was almost a necessity of his genius; and it is interesting to see
how in some of his later work his imagination is feeling its way back
from the world of illusion to the world of real things--from Bagdad and
Babylon to England. His poetry does not as a rule touch the heart; but
in _Oak and Olive_ and _Brumana_ his spectatorial sensuousness at last
breaks down and the cry of the exile moves us as in an intimate letter
from a friend since dead. Those are not mere rhetorical reproaches to
the "traitor pines" which

      sang what life has found
    The falsest of fair tales;

which had murmured of--

               older seas
    That beat on vaster sands,

and of--

                         lands
    Where blaze the unimaginable flowers.

It was as though disillusion had given an artist a soul. And when the
war came it found him, as he lay dying of consumption in Switzerland, a
poet not merely of manly but of martial utterance. _The Burial in
England_ is perhaps too much of an _ad hoc_ call to be great poetry. But
it has many noble and beautiful lines and is certainly of a different
world from his mediocre version of _God Save the King_.

At the same time, I do not wish to suggest that his poetry of illusion
is the less important part of his work. The perfection of his genius is
to be sought, as a matter of fact, in his romantic eastern work, such as
_The Ballad of Iskander, A Miracle of Bethlehem, Gates of Damascus_,
and _Bryan of Brittany_. The false, fair tale of the East had, as it
were, released; him from mere flirtation with the senses into the world
of the imagination. Of human passions he sang little. He wrote oftener
of amorousness than of love, as in _The Ballad of the Student of the
South._ His passion for fairy tales, his amorousness of the East,
stirred his imagination from idleness among superficial fancies into a
brilliant ardour. It was these things that roused him to a nice
extravagance with those favourite words and colours and images upon
which Mr. Squire comments:

     There are words, just as there are images, which he was especially
     fond of using. There are colours and metals, blue and red, silver
     and gold, which are present everywhere in his work; the progresses
     of the sun (he was always a poet of the sunlight rather than a poet
     of the moonlight) were a continual fascination to him; the images
     of Fire, of a ship, and of an old white-bearded man recur
     frequently in his poems.

Mr. Squire contends justly enough that in spite of this Flecker is
anything but a monotonous poet. But the image of a ship was almost an
obsession with him. It was his favourite toy. Often it is a silver ship.
In the blind man's vision in the time of Christ even the Empires of the
future are seen sailing like ships. The keeper of the West Gate of
Damascus sings of the sea beyond the sea:

                    when no wind breathes or ripple stirs,
    And there on Roman ships, they say, stand rows of metal mariners.

Those lines are worth noting for the way in which they suggest' how much
in the nature of toys were the images with which Flecker's imagination
was haunted. His world was a world of nursery ships and nursery
caravans.

"Haunted" is, perhaps, an exaggeration. His attitude is too impassive
for that. He works with the deliberateness of a prose-writer. He is
occasionally even prosaic in the bad sense, as when he uses: the word
"meticulously," or makes his lost mariners say:

    How striking like that boat were we
    In the days, sweet days, when we put to sea.

That he was a poet of the fancy rather than of the imagination also
tended to keep his poetry near the ground. His love of the ballad-design
and "the good coloured things of Earth" was tempered by a kind of
infidel humour in his use of them. His ballads are the ballads of a
brilliant dilettante, not of a man who is expressing his whole heart and
soul and faith, as the old ballad-writers were. In the result he walked
a golden pavement rather than mounted into the golden air. He was an
artist in ornament, in decoration. Like the Queen in the _Queen's Song_,
he would immortalize the ornament at the cost of slaying the soul.

Of all recent poets of his kind, Flecker is the most successful. The
classical tradition of poetry has been mocked and mutilated by many of
the noisy young in the last few years. Flecker was a poet who preserved
the ancient balance in days in which want of balance was looked on as a
sign of genius. That he was what is called a minor poet cannot be
denied, but he was the most beautiful of recent minor poets. His book,
indeed, is a treasury of beauty rare in these days. Of that beauty, _The
Old Ships_ is, as I have said, the splendid example. And, as it is
foolish to offer anything except a poet's best as a specimen of his
work, one has no alternative but to turn again to those
gorgeously-coloured verses which begin:

    I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep
    Beyond the village which men still call Tyre,
    With leaden age o'ercargoed, dipping deep
    For Famagusta and the hidden sun
    That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
    And all those ships were certainly so old--
    Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
    Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
    The pirate Genoese
    Hell-raked them till they rolled
    Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
    But now through friendly seas they softly run,
    Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
    Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

That is the summary and the summit of Flecker's genius. But the rest of
his verse, too, is the work of a true and delightful poet, a faithful
priest of literature, an honest craftsman with words.



XII

TURGENEV


Mr. Edward Garnett has recently collected his prefaces to the novels and
stories of Turgenev, and refashioned them into a book in praise of the
genius of the most charming of Russian authors. I am afraid the word
"charming" has lost so much of its stamp and brightness with use as to
have become almost meaningless. But we apply it to Turgenev in its
fullest sense. We call him charming as Pater called Athens charming. He
is one of those authors whose books we love because they reveal a
personality sensitive, affectionate, pitiful. There are some persons
who, when they come into a room, immediately make us feel happier.
Turgenev seems to "come into the room" in his books with just such a
welcome presence. That is why I wish Mr. Garnett had made his book a
biographical, as well as a critical, study.

He quotes Turgenev as saying: "All my life is in my books." Still, there
are a great many facts recorded about him in the letters and
reminiscences of those who knew him (and he was known in half the
countries of Europe), out of which we can construct a portrait. One
finds in the _Life of Sir Charles Dilke_, for instance, that Dilke
considered Turgenev "in the front rank" as a conversationalist. This
opinion interested one all the more because one had come to think of
Turgenev as something of a shy giant. I remember, too, reading in some
French book a description of Turgenev as a strange figure in the
literary circles of Paris--a large figure with a curious chastity of
mind who seemed bewildered by some of the barbarous jests of civilized
men of genius.

There are, indeed, as I have said, plenty of suggestions for a portrait
of Turgenev, quite apart from his novels. Mr. Garnett refers to some of
them in two excellent biographical chapters. He reminds us, for example,
of the immense generosity of Turgenev to his contemporaries and rivals,
as when he introduced the work of Tolstoy to a French editor. "Listen,"
said Turgenev. "Here is 'copy' for your paper of an absolutely
first-rate kind. This means that I am not its author. The master--for he
is a _real_ master--is almost unknown in France; but I assure you, on my
soul and conscience, that I do not consider myself worthy to unloose the
latchet of his shoes." The letter he addressed to Tolstoy from his
death-bed, urging him to return from propaganda to literature, is
famous, but it is a thing to which one always returns fondly as an
example of the noble disinterestedness of a great man of letters. "I
cannot recover," Turgenev wrote:--

     That is out of the question. I am writing to you specially to say
     how glad I am to be your contemporary, and to express my last and
     sincere request. My friend, return to literary activity! That gift
     came to you whence comes all the rest. Ah, how happy I should be if
     I could think my request would have an effect on you!... I can
     neither walk, nor eat, nor sleep. It is wearisome even to repeat it
     all! My friend--great writer of our Russian land, listen to my
     request!... I can write no more; I am tired.

One sometimes wonders how Tolstoy and Dostoevsky could ever have
quarrelled with a friend of so beautiful a character as Turgenev.
Perhaps it was that there was something barbarous and brutal in each of
them that was intolerant of his almost feminine refinement. They were
both men of action in literature, militant, and by nature propagandist.
And probably Turgenev was as impatient with the faults of their strength
as they were with the faults of his weakness. He was a man whom it was
possible to disgust. Though he was Zola's friend, he complained that
_L'Assommoir_ left a bad taste in the mouth. Similarly, he discovered
something almost Sadistic in the manner in which Dostoevsky let his
imagination dwell on scenes of cruelty and horror. And he was as
strongly repelled by Dostoevsky's shrieking Pan-Slavism as by his
sensationalism among horrors. One can guess exactly the frame of mind he
was in when, in the course of an argument with Dostoevsky, he said: "You
see, I consider myself a German." This has been quoted against Turgenev
as though he meant it literally, and as though it were a confession of
denationalization. His words were more subtle than that in their irony.
What they meant was simply: "If to be a Russian is to be a bigot, like
most of you Pan-Slav enthusiasts, then I am no Russian, but a European."
Has he not put the whole gospel of Nationalism in half a dozen sentences
in _Rudin?_ He refused, however, to adopt along with his Nationalism the
narrowness with which it has been too often associated.

This refusal was what destroyed his popularity in Russia, in his
lifetime. It is because of this refusal that he has been pursued with
belittlement by one Russian writer after another since his death. He had
that sense of truth which always upsets the orthodox. This sense of
truth applied to the portraiture of his contemporaries was felt like an
insult in those circles of mixed idealism and make-believe, the circles
of the political partisans. A great artist may be a member--and an
enthusiastic member--of a political party, but in his art he cannot
become a political partisan without ceasing to be an artist. In his
novels, Turgenev regarded it as his life-work to portray Russia
truthfully, not to paint and powder and "prettify" it for show purposes,
and the result was an outburst of fury on the part of those who were
asked to look at themselves as real people instead of as the
master-pieces of a professional flatterer. When _Fathers and Children_
was published in 1862, the only people who were pleased were the enemies
of everything in which Turgenev believed. "I received congratulations,"
he wrote,

     almost caresses, from people of the opposite camp, from enemies.
     This confused me, wounded me; but my conscience did not reproach
     me. I knew very well I had carried out honestly the type I had
     sketched, carried it out not only without prejudice, but positively
     with sympathy.

This is bound to be the fate of every artist who takes his political
party or his church, or any other propagandist group to which he
belongs, as his subject. He is a painter, not a vindicator, and he is
compelled to exhibit numerous crooked features and faults in such a way
as to wound the vanity of his friends and delight the malice of his
enemies. Artistic truth is as different from propagandist truth as
daylight from limelight, and the artist will always be hated by the
propagandist as worse than an enemy--a treacherous friend. Turgenev
deliberately accepted as his life-work a course which could only lead to
the miseries of being misunderstood. When one thinks of the long years
of denunciation and hatred he endured for the sake of his art, one
cannot but regard him as one of the heroic figures of the nineteenth
century. "He has," Mr. Garnett tells us, "been accused of timidity and
cowardice by uncompromising Radicals and Revolutionaries.... In an
access of self-reproach he once declared that his character was
comprised in one word--'poltroon!'" He showed neither timidity nor
cowardice, however, in his devotion to truth. His first and last advice
to young writers, Mr. Garnett declares, was: "You need truth,
remorseless truth, as regards your own sensations." And if Turgenev was
remorseless in nothing else, he was remorseless in this--truth as
regards both his own sensations and the sensations of his
contemporaries. He seems, if we may judge from a sentence he wrote about
_Fathers and Children_, to have regarded himself almost as the first
realist. "It was a new method," he said, "as well as a new type I
introduced--that of Realizing instead of Idealizing." His claim has, at
least, this truth in it: he was the first artist to apply the realistic
method to a world seething with ideas and with political and
philosophical unrest. His adoption of the realistic method, however, was
the result of necessity no less than of choice. He "simply did not know
how to work otherwise," as he said. He had not the sort of imagination
that can invent men and women easily. He had always to draw from the
life. "I ought to confess," he once wrote, "that I never attempted to
create a type without having, not an idea, but a living person, in whom
the various elements were harmonized together, to work from. I have
always needed some groundwork on which I could tread firmly."

When one has praised Turgenev, however, for the beauty of his character
and the beautiful truth of his art, one remembers that he, too, was
human and therefore less than perfect. His chief failing was, perhaps,
that of all the great artists, he was the most lacking in exuberance.
That is why he began to be scorned in a world which rated exuberance
higher than beauty or love or pity. The world before the war was afraid
above all things of losing vitality, and so it turned to contortionists
of genius such as Dostoevsky, or lesser contortionists, like some of the
Futurists, for fear restfulness should lead to death. It would be
foolish, I know, to pretend to sum up Dostoevsky as a contortionist; but
he has that element in him. Mr. Conrad suggests a certain vice of
misshapenness in Dostoevsky when he praises the characters of Turgenev
in comparison with his. "All his creations, fortunate or unfortunate,
oppressed and oppressors," he says in his fine tribute to Turgenev in
Mr. Garnett's book, "are human beings, not strange beasts in a
menagerie, or damned souls knocking themselves about in the stuffy
darkness of mystical contradictions." That is well said. On the other
hand, it is only right to remember that, if Turgenev's characters are
human beings, they (at least the male characters) have a way of being
curiously ineffectual human beings. He understood the Hamlet in man
almost too well. From Rudin to the young revolutionist in _Virgin Soil_,
who makes such a mess of his propaganda among the peasantry, how many of
his characters are as remarkable for their weakness as their unsuccess!
Turgenev was probably conscious of this pessimism of imagination in
regard to his fellow man--at least, his Russian fellow man. In _On the
Eve_, when he wished to create a central character that would act as an
appeal to his countrymen to "conquer their sluggishness, their weakness
and apathy" (as Mr. Garnett puts it), he had to choose a Bulgarian, not
a Russian, for his hero. Mr. Garnett holds that the characterization of
Insarov, the Bulgarian, in _On the Eve_, is a failure, and puts this
down to the fact that Turgenev drew him, not from life, but from
hearsay. I think Mr. Garnett is wrong. I have known the counterpart of
Insarov among the members of at least one subject nation, and the
portrait seems to me to be essentially true and alive. Luckily, if
Turgenev could not put his trust in Russian men, he believed with all
his heart in the courage and goodness of Russian women. He was one of
the first great novelists to endow his women with independence of soul.
With the majority of novelists, women are sexual or sentimental
accidents. With Turgenev, women are equal human beings--saviours of men
and saviours of the world. _Virgin Soil_ becomes a book of hope instead
of despair as the triumphant figure of Marianna, the young girl of the
Revolution, conquers the imagination. Turgenev, as a creator of noble
women, ranks with Browning and Meredith. His realism was not, in the
last analysis, a realism of disparagement, but a realism of affection.
His farewell words, Mr. Garnett tells us, were: "Live and love others as
I have always loved them."



XIII

THE MADNESS OF STRINDBERG


The mirror that Strindberg held up to Nature was a cracked one. It was
cracked in a double sense--it was crazy. It gave back broken images of a
world which it made look like the chaos of a lunatic dream. Miss
Lind-af-Hageby, in her popular biography of Strindberg, is too intent
upon saying what can be said in his defence to make a serious attempt to
analyse the secret of genius which is implicit in those "115 plays,
novels, collections of stories, essays, and poems" which will be
gathered into the complete edition of his works shortly to be published
in Sweden. The biography will supply the need of that part of the public
which has no time to read Strindberg, but has plenty of time to read
about him. It will give them a capably potted Strindberg, and will tell
them quietly and briefly much that he himself has told violently and at
length in _The Son of a Servant, The Confession of a Fool_, and, indeed,
in nearly everything he wrote. On the other hand, Miss Lind's book has
little value as an interpretation. She does not do much to clear up the
reasons which have made the writings of this mad Swede matter of
interest in every civilized country in the world. She does, indeed,
quote the remark of Gorki, who, at the time of Strindberg's death,
compared him to the ancient Danubian hero, Danko, "who, in order to help
humanity out of the darkness of problems, tore his heart out of his
breast, lit it, and holding it high, led the way." "Strindberg," Miss
Lind declares, "patiently burnt his heart for the illumination of the
people, and on the day when his body was laid low in the soil, the
flame of his self-immolation was seen, pure and inextinguishable." This
will not do. "Patiently" is impossible; so is "pure and
inextinguishable." Strindberg was at once a man of genius (and therefore
noble) and a creature of doom (and therefore to be pitied). But to sum
him up as a spontaneous martyr in the greatest of great causes is to do
injustice to language and to the lives of the saints and heroes. He was
a martyr, of course, in the sense in which we call a man a martyr to
toothache. He suffered; but most of his sufferings were due, not to
tenderness of soul, but to tenderness of nerves.

Other artists lay hold upon life through an exceptional sensibility.
Strindberg laid hold on life through an exceptional excitability--even
an exceptional irritability. In his plays, novels, and essays alike, he
is a specialist in the jars of existence. He magnified even the smallest
worries until they assumed mountainous proportions. He was the kind of
man who, if something went wrong with the kitchen boiler, felt that the
Devil and all his angels had been loosed upon him, as upon the righteous
Job, with at least the connivance of Heaven. He seems to have regarded
the unsatisfactoriness of a servant as a scarcely less tremendous evil
than the infidelity of a wife. If you wish to see into twhat follies of
exaggeration Strindberg's want of the sense of proportion led him, you
cannot do better than turn to those pages in _Zones of the Spirit_ (as
the English translation of his _Blue Book_ is called), in which he tells
us about his domestic troubles at the time of the rehearsals of _The
Dream Play._

     My servant left me; my domestic arrangements were upset; within
     forty days I had six changes of servants--one worse than the other.
     At last I had to serve myself, lay the table, and light the stove.
     I ate black broken victuals out of a basket. In short, I had to
     taste the whole bitterness of life without knowing why.

Much as one may sympathize with a victim of the servant difficulty, one
cannot but regard the last sentence as, in the vulgar phrase, rather a
tall order. But it becomes taller still before Strindberg has done with
it.

     Then came the dress-rehearsal of _The Dream Play._ This drama I
     wrote seven years ago, after a period of forty days' suffering
     which were among the worst which I had ever undergone. And now
     again exactly forty days of fasting and pain had passed. There
     seemed, therefore, to be a secret legislature which promulgates
     clearly defined sentences. I thought of the forty days of the
     Flood, the forty years of wandering in the desert, the forty days'
     fast kept by Moses, Elijah, and Christ.

There you have Strindberg's secret. His work is, for the most part,
simply the dramatization of the conflict between man and the irritations
of life. The chief of these is, of course, woman. But the lesser
irritations never disappear from sight for long. His obsession by them
is very noticeable in _The Dream Play_ itself--in that scene, for
instance, in which the Lawyer and the daughter of Indra having married,
the Lawyer begins to complain of the untidiness of their home, and the
Daughter to complain of the dirt:

     THE DAUGHTER. This is worse than I dreamed!

     THE LAWYER. We are not the worst off by far. There is still food in
     the pot.

     THE DAUGHTER. But what sort of food?

     THE LAWYER. Cabbage is cheap, nourishing, and good to eat.

     THE DAUGHTER. For those who like cabbage--to me it is repulsive.

     THE LAWYER. Why didn't you say so?

     THE DAUGHTER. Because I loved you. I wanted to sacrifice my own
     taste.

     THE LAWYER. Then I must sacrifice my taste for cabbage to you--for
     sacrifices must be mutual.

     THE DAUGHTER. What are we to eat then? Fish? But you hate fish?

     THE LAWYER. And it is expensive.

     THE DAUGHTER. This is worse than I thought it!

     THE LAWYER _(kindly)._ Yes, you see how hard it is.

And the symbolic representation of married life in terms of fish and
cabbage is taken up again a little later:--

     THE DAUGHTER. I fear I shall begin to hate you after this!

     THE LAWYER. Woe to us, then! But let us forestall hatred. I promise
     never again to speak of any untidiness--although it is torture to
     me!

     THE DAUGHTER. And I shall eat cabbage, though it means agony to me.

     THE LAWYER. A life of common suffering, then! One's pleasure the
     other one's pain.

One feels that, however true to nature the drift of this may be, it is
little more than bacilli of truth seen as immense through a microscope.
The agonies and tortures arising from eating cabbage and such things
may, no doubt, have tragic consequences enough, but somehow the men whom
these things put on the rack refuse to come to life in the imagination
on the same tragic plane where Prometheus lies on his crag and Oedipus
strikes out his eyes that they may no longer look upon his shame.
Strindberg is too anxious to make tragedy out of discomforts instead of
out of sorrows. When he is denouncing woman as a creature who loves
above all things to deceive her husband, his supreme way of expressing
his abhorrence is to declare: "If she can trick him into eating
horse-flesh without noticing it, she is happy." Here, and in a score of
similar passages, we can see how physical were the demons that endlessly
consumed Strindberg's peace of mind.

His attitude to women, as we find it expressed in _The Confession of a
Fool, The Dance of Death_, and all through his work, is that of a man
overwhelmed with the physical. He raves now with lust, now with
disgust--two aspects of the same mood. He turns from love to hatred with
a change of front as swift as a drunkard's. He is the Mad Mullah of all
the sex-antagonism that has ever troubled men since they began to think
of woman as a temptress. He was the most enthusiastic modern exponent of
the point-of-view of that Adam who explained: "The woman tempted me."
Strindberg deliberately wrote those words on his banner and held them
aloft to his generation as the summary of an eternal gospel. Miss
Lind-af-Hageby tells us that, at one period of his life, he was
sufficiently free from the physical obsessions of sex to preach the
equality of men and women and even to herald the coming of woman
suffrage. But his abiding view of woman was that of the plain man of the
nineteenth century. He must either be praising her as a ministering
angel or denouncing her as a ministering devil--preferably the latter.
It would be nonsense, however, to pretend that Strindberg did not see at
least one class of women clearly and truly. The accuracy with which he
portrays woman the parasite, the man-eater, the siren, is quite
terrible. No writer of his day was so shudderingly conscious of every
gesture, movement, and intonation with which the spider-woman sets out
to lure the mate she is going to devour. It may be that he prophesies
against the sins of women rather than subtly analyses and describes them
as a better artist would have done. _The Confessions of a Fool_ is less
a revelation of the soul of his first wife than an attack on her. But we
must, in fairness to Strindberg, remember that in his violences against
women he merely gives us a new rendering of an indictment that goes back
to the beginning of history. The world to him was a long lane of
oglings, down which man must fly in terror with his eyes shut and his
ears covered. His foolishness as a prophet consists, not in his
suspicions of woman regarded as an animal, but in his frothing at the
mouth at the idea that she should claim to be treated as something
higher than an animal. None the less, he denied to the end that he was a
woman-hater. His denial, however, was grimly unflattering:--

     I have said that the child is a little criminal, incapable of
     self-guidance, but I love children all the same. I have said that
     woman is--what she is, but I have always loved some woman, and been
     a father. Whoever, therefore, calls me a woman-hater is a
     blockhead, a liar, or a noodle. Or all three together.

Sex, of course, was the greatest cross Strindberg had to bear. But there
were hundreds of other little changing crosses, from persecution mania
to poverty, which supplanted each other from day to day on his back. He
suffered continually both from the way he was made and from the way the
world was made. His novels and plays are a literature of suffering. He
reveals himself there as a man pursued by furies, a man without rest. He
flies to a thousand distractions and hiding-places--drink and lust and
piano-playing, Chinese and chemistry, painting and acting, alchemy and
poison, and religion. Some of these, no doubt, he honestly turns to for
a living. But in his rush from one thing to another he shows the
restlessness of a man goaded to madness. Not that his life is to be
regarded as entirely miserable. He obviously gets a good deal of
pleasure even out of his acutest pain. "I find the joy of life in its
violent and cruel struggles," he tells us in the preface to _Miss
Julia_, "and my pleasure lies in knowing something and learning
something." He is always consumed with the greed of knowledge--a phase
of his greed of domination. It is this that enables him to turn his
inferno into a purgatory.

In his later period, indeed, he is optimist enough to believe that the
sufferings of life cleanse and ennoble. By tortuous ways of sin he at
last achieves the simple faith of a Christian. He originally revolted
from this faith more through irritation than from principle. One feels
that, with happier nerves and a happier environment, he might easily
have passed his boyhood as the model pupil in the Sunday-school. It is
significant that we find him in _The Confession of a Fool_ reciting
Longfellow's _Excelsior_ to the first and worst of his wives. Strindberg
may have been possessed of a devil; he undoubtedly liked to play the
part of a devil; but at heart he was constantly returning to the
Longfellow sentiment, though, of course, his hungry intellectual
curiosity was something that Longfellow never knew. In his volume of
fables, _In Midsummer Days_, we see how essentially good and simple were
his ideas when he could rid himself of sex mania and persecution mania.
Probably his love of children always kept him more or less in chains to
virtue. Ultimately he yielded himself a victim, not to the furies, but
to the still more remorseless pursuit of the Hound of Heaven. On his
death-bed, Miss Lind tells us, he held up the Bible and said: "This
alone is right." Through his works, however, he serves virtue best, not
by directly praising it, but by his eagerly earnest account of the
madness of the seven deadly sins, as well as of the seventy-seven deadly
irritations. He has not the originality of fancy or imagination to paint
virtue well. His genius was the genius of frank and destructive
criticism. His work is a jumble of ideas and an autobiography of raw
nerves rather than a revelation of the emotions of men and women. His
great claim on our attention, however, is that his autobiography is true
as far as the power of truth was in him. His pilgrim's progress through
madness to salvation is neither a pretty nor a sensational lie. It is a
genuine document. That is why, badly constructed though his plays and
novels are, some of them have a fair chance of being read a hundred
years hence. As a writer of personal literature, he was one of the bold
and original men of his time.



XIV

"THE PRINCE OF FRENCH POETS"


It is difficult nowadays to conceive that, within half a century of his
death, Ronsard's fame suffered so dark an eclipse that no new edition of
his works was called for between 1629 and 1857. When he died, he was, as
M. Jusserand reminds us, the most illustrious man of letters in Europe.
He seemed, too, to have all those gifts of charm--charm of mood and
music--which make immortality certain. And yet, in the rule-of-thumb
ages that were to follow, he sank into such disesteem in his own country
that Boileau had not a good word for him, and Voltaire roundly said of
him that he "spoiled the language." Later, we have Arnauld asserting
that France had only done herself dishonour by her enthusiasm for "the
wretched poetry of Ronsard." Fénelon, as M. Jusserand tells us,
discusses Ronsard as a linguist, and ignores him as a poet.

It was the romantic; revival of the nineteenth century that placed
Ronsard on a throne again. Even to-day, however, there are pessimistic
Frenchmen who doubt whether their country has ever produced a great
poet. Mr. Bennet has told us of one who, on being asked who was the
greatest of French poets, replied: "Victor Hugo, hélas!" And in the days
when Hugo was still but a youth the doubt must have been still more
painful. So keenly was the want of a national poet felt that, if one
could not have been discovered, the French would have had to invent him.
It was necessary for the enthusiastic young romanticists to possess a
great indigenous figure to stand beside those imported idols
--Shakespeare, Byron, Goethe, and Dante. Sainte-Beuve, who brought out a
Ronsard anthology with a critical essay in 1828, showed them where to
look. After that, it was as though French literature had begun with
Ronsard. He was the "ideal ancestor." He was, as it were, a
re-discovered fatherland. But his praise since then has been no mere
task of patriotism. It has been a deep enthusiasm for literature. "You
cannot imagine," wrote Flaubert, in 1852, "what a poet Ronsard is. What
a poet! What a poet! What wings!... This morning, at half-past twelve, I
read a poem aloud which almost upset my nerves, it gave me so much
pleasure." That may be taken as the characteristic French view of
Ronsard. It may be an exaggerated view. It may be fading to some extent
before modern influences. But it is unlikely that Ronsard's reputation
in his own country will ever again be other than that of a great poet.

At the same time, it is not easy, on literary grounds, to acquiesce in
all the praises that have been heaped upon him. One would imagine from
Flaubert's exclamations that Ronsard had a range like Shelley's,
whereas, in fact, he was more comparable with the English cavalier
poets. He had the cavalier poet's gift of making love seem a profession
rather than a passion. He was always very much a gentleman, both in his
moods and his philosophy. A great deal of his best poetry is merely a
variation on _carpe diem._ On the other hand, though he never went very
deep or very high, he did express real sentiments and emotions in
poetry. Few poets have sung the regret for youth more sincerely and more
beautifully, and, with Ronsard, regret for the lost wonder of his own
youth was perhaps the acutest emotion he ever knew. He was himself, in
his early years, one of those glorious youths who have the genius of
charm and comeliness, of grace and strength and the arts. He excelled at
football as in lute-playing. He danced, fenced, and rode better than the
best; and, with his noble countenance, his strong limbs, his fair
beard, and his "eyes full of gentle gravity," he must have been the
picture of the perfect courtier and soldier. Above all, we are told, his
conversation was delightful. He had "the gift of pleasing." When he went
to Scotland in 1537 with Madeleine, the King's daughter, to attend as
page her tragic marriage with James V, James was so attracted by him
that he did not allow him to leave the country for two years. With every
gift of popularity and success, with the world apparently already at his
feet, Ronsard was suddenly struck down by an illness that crippled his
whole life. He became deaf, or half-deaf. His body was tortured with
arthritis and recurrent attacks of gout. His career as a courtier lay in
ruins before him.

Possibly, had it not been so, his genius as a poet would have spent
itself in mere politeness. The loss of his physical splendour and the
death of more than one of his companions, however, filled him with an
extreme sense of the transitoriness of the beauty of the world--of youth
and fame and flowers--and turned him both to serious epicureanism and to
serious writing. By the year 1550 he was leading the young men of France
in a great literary renaissance--a reaction against the lifeless jingle
of ballades and punning rhymes. Like du Bellay, he asked himself and his
contemporaries: "Are we, then, less than the Greeks and Romans?" And he
set out to lay the foundations in France of a literature as individual
in its genius as the ancient classics. M. Jusserand, in a most
interesting chapter, relates the story of the battles over form and
language which were fought by French men of letters in the days of La
Pléiade. In an age of awakenings, of conquests, of philosophies, of
discussions on everything under the sun, the literature of tricksters
was ultimately bound to give way before the bold originality and the
sincerities of the new school. But Ronsard had to endure a whole
parliament of mockery before the day of victory.

Of his life, apart from his work in literature, there is little to
tell. For a man who lived in France in days when Protestantism and
Catholicism were murderously at one another's throats, he had a
peculiarly uneventful career. This, too, though he threw himself
earnestly into the battle against the heretics. He had begun by
sympathizing with Protestantism, because it promised much-needed reforms
in the Church; but the sympathy was short-lived. In 1553, though a
layman, he was himself filling various ecclesiastical offices. He drew
the salaries of several priories during his life, more lowly paid
priests apparently doing the work. Though an earnest Catholic, however,
Ronsard was never faithless to friends who took the other side. He
published his kindly feelings towards Odet de Coligny, the Admiral's
cardinal brother, for instance, who had adopted Protestantism and
married, and, though he could write bloodily enough against his
sectarian enemies, the cry for tolerance, for pity, for peace, seems
continually to force itself to his lips amid the wars of the time. M.
Jusserand lays great stress on the plain-spokenness of Ronsard. He
praises especially the courage with which the poet often spoke out his
mind to kings and churchmen, though no man could write odes fuller of
exaggerated adulation when they were wanted. He sometimes counselled
kings, we are told, "in a tone that, after all our revolutions, no
writer would dare to employ to-day." Perhaps M. Jusserand over-estimates
the boldness with which his hero could remind kings that they, like
common mortals, were made of mud. He has done so, I imagine, largely in
order to clear him from the charge of being a flatterer. It is
interesting to be reminded, by the way, that one of his essays in
flattery was an edition of his works dedicated, by order of Catherine de
Medicis, to Elizabeth of England, whom he compared to all the
incomparables, adding a eulogy of "Mylord Robert Du-Dlé comte de
l'Encestre" as the ornament of the English, the wonder of the world.
Elizabeth was delighted, and gave the poet a diamond for his pretty
book.

But Ronsard does not live in literature mainly as a flatterer. Nor is
he remembered as a keeper of the conscience of princes, or as a
religious controversialist. If nothing but his love-poems had survived,
we should have almost all his work that is of literary importance. He
fell in love in the grand manner three times, and from these three
passions most of his good poetry flowed. First there was Cassandre, the
beautiful girl of Florentine extraction, whom he saw singing to her
lute, when he was only twenty-two, and loved to distraction. She married
another and became the star of Ronsard's song. She was the irruptive
heroine of that witty and delightful sonnet on the _Iliad:--_

    Je veux lire en trois jours l'Iliade d'Homère,
    Et pour ce, Corydon, ferme bien l'huis sur moi;
    Si rien me vient troubler, je t'assure ma foi,
    Tu sentiras combien pesante est ma colère.

    Je ne veux seulement que notre chambrière
    Vienne faire mon lit, ton compagnon ni toi;
    Je veux trois jours entiers demeurer à recoi,
    Pour folâtrer après une semaine entière.

    Mais, si quelqu'un venait de la part de Cassandre,
    Ouvre-lui tôt la porte, et ne le fais attendre,
    Soudain entre en ma chambre et me viens accoutrer.

    Je veux tant seulement à lui seul me montrer;
    Au reste, si un dieu voulait pour moi descendre
    Du ciel, ferme la porte et ne le laisse entrer.

Nine years after Cassandre came Marie, the fifteen-year-old daughter of
an Angevin villager, nut-brown, smiling, and with cheeks the colour of a
May rose. She died young, but not before she had made Ronsard suffer by
coquetting with another lover. What is more important still, not before
she had inspired him to write that sonnet which has about it so much of
the charm of the morning:--

    Mignonne, levez-vous, vous êtes paresseuse,
    Ja la gaie alouette au ciel a fredonné,
    Et ja le rossignol doucement jargonné,
    Dessus l'épine assis, sa complainte amoureuse.

    Sus! debout allons voir l'herbelette perleuse,
    Et votre beau rosier de boutons couronné,
    Et vos oeillets aimés auxquels aviez donné
    Hier au soir de l'eau d'une main si soigneuse.

    Harsoir en vous couchant vous jurâtes vos yeux
    D'être plus tôt que moi ce matin éveillée:
    Mais le dormir de l'aube, aux filles gracieux,

    Vous tient d'un doux sommeil encor les yeux silléee.
    Ça, ça, que je les baise, et votre beau tetin,
    Cent fois, pour vous apprendre à vous lever matin.

Ronsard was old and grey--at least, he was old before his time and
grey--when he met Hélène de Sorgères, maid of honour to the Queen, and
began the third of his grand passions. He lived all the life of a young
lover over again. They went to dances together, Hélène in a mask. Hélène
gave her poet a crown of myrtle and laurel. They had childish quarrels
and swore eternal fidelity. It was for her that Ronsard made the most
exquisite of his sonnets: _Quand vous serez bien vieille_-a sonnet of
which Mr. Yeats has written a magical version in English.

It is in referring to the sonnets for Hélène that M. Jusserand calls
attention to the realism of Ronsard's poetry. He points out that one
seems to see the women Ronsard loves far more clearly than the heroines
of many other poets. He notes the same genius of realism again when he
is relating how Ronsard, on the eve of his death, as he was transported
from priory to priory, in hope of relief in each new place, wrote a poem
of farewell to his friends, in which he described the skeleton horrors
of his state with a minute carefulness, Ronsard, indeed, showed himself
a very personal chronicler throughout his work. "He cannot hide the
fact that he likes to sleep on the left side, that he hates cats,
dislikes servants 'with slow hands,' believes in omens, adores physical
exercises and gardening, and prefers, especially in summer, vegetables
to meat." M. Jusserand, I may add, has written the just and scholarly
praise of a most winning poet. His book, which appears in the _Grands
Ecrivains Français_ series, is not only a good biographical study, but
an admirable narrative of literary and national history.



XV

ROSSETTI AND RITUAL


Rossetti's great gift to his time was the gift of beauty, of beauty to
be worshipped in the sacred hush of a temple. His work is not richer in
the essentials of beauty than Browning's--it is not, indeed, nearly so
rich; but, while Browning served beauty joyously, a god in a firmament
of gods, Rossetti burned a lonely candle to it as to the only true god.
To Browning, the temple of beauty was but a house in a living world; to
Rossetti, the world outside the temple was, for the most part, a dead
world. _Jenny_ may, seem to stand in vivid contradiction of this. But
_Jenny_ was an exceptional excursion into life, and hardly expresses the
Rossetti that was a power in art and literature. Him we find best,
perhaps, in _The Blessed Damozel_, written when he was little more than
a boy. And this is not surprising, for the arrogant love of beauty, out
of which the aesthetic sort of art and literature has been born, is
essentially a boy's love. Poets who are sick with this passion must
either die young, like Keats, or survive merely to echo their younger
selves, like Swinburne. They are splendid in youth, like Aucassin, whose
swooning passion for Nicolette is symbolical of their almost painful
desire of beauty. In _Hand and Soul_, Rossetti tells us of Chiaro dell
Erma that "he would feel faint in sunsets and at the sight of stately
persons." Keats's Odes express the same ecstasy of faintness, and
Rossetti himself was obviously a close nineteenth-century counterpart of
Chiaro. Even when he troubles about the soul--and he constantly troubles
about it--he never seems to be able altogether to escape out of what
may be called the higher sensationalism into genuine mysticism. His work
is earth-born: it is rich in earthly desire. His symbols were not wings
to enable the soul to escape into a divine world of beauty. They were
the playthings of a grown man, loved for their owft beauty more than for
any beauty they could help the spirit to reach. Rossetti belongs to the
ornamental school of poetry. He writes more like a man who has gone into
a library than like one who has gone out to Nature, and ornamentalism in
poetry is simply the result of seeing life, not directly, but through
the coloured glass of literature and the other arts. Rossetti was the
forerunner of all those artists and authors of recent times, who, in
greater or less degree, looked on art as a weaving of patterns, an
arrangement of wonderful words and sounds and colours. Pater in his
early writings, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, and all those others who
dreamed that it was the artist's province to enrich the world with
beautiful furniture--for conduct itself seemed, in the philosophy of
these writers, to aspire after the quality of tapestry--are implicit in
_The Blessed Damozel_ and _Troy Town._ It is not that Rossetti could
command words like Pater or Wilde. His phrasing, if personal, is
curiously empty of the graces. He often does achieve graces of phrase;
but some of his most haunting poems owe their power over us to their
general pattern, and not to any persistent fine workmanship. How
beautiful _Troy Town_ is, for instance, and yet how lacking in beautiful
verses! The poet was easily content in his choice of words who could
leave a verse like:--

    Venus looked on Helen's gift;
            _(O Troy Town!)_
    Looked and smiled with subtle drift,
    Saw the work of her heart's desire:--
    "There thou kneel'st for Love to lift!"
            _(O Troy's down,
            Tall Troy's on fire!)_

Rossetti never wrote; a poem that was fine throughout. There is nothing
to correspond to _The Skylark_ or the _Ode to a Grecian Urn_ or _Childe
Roland to the Dark Tower Came_ in his work. The truth is, he was not a
great poet, because he was not a singer. He was capable of decorations
in verse, but he was not capable of song. His sonnets, it may be argued,
are more than decorations. But even they are laden with beauty; they are
never, as it were, light and alight with it, as are _Shall I compare
thee to a summer's day?_ and _Where lies the land to which yon ship must
go?_ They have flagging pulses like desire itself, and are often weary
before the fourteenth line. Only rarely do we get a last six lines
like:--

    O love, my love! if I no more should see
    Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
       Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,--
    How then should sound upon Life's darkening slope
    The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
       The wind of Death's imperishable wing?

And, beautiful as this is, is not the imagery of the closing lines a
little more deliberate than we are conscious of in the great work of the
great singers? One never feels that the leaves and the winds in
themselves were sufficiently full of meaning and delight for Rossetti.
He loved them as pictorial properties--as a designer rather than a poet
loves them.

In his use of the very mysteries of Christianity, he is intoxicated
chiefly by the beauty of the designs by which the painters have
expressed their vision of religion. His _Ave_ is a praise of the beauty
of art more than a praise of the beauty of divinity. In it we are told
how, on the eve of the Annunciation,

    Far off the trees were as pale wands,
    Against the fervid sky: the sea
    Sighed further off eternally
    As human sorrow sighs in sleep.

The poem is not a hymn but a decorated theme. And yet there is a
sincere vain-longing running through Rossetti's work that keeps it from
being artificial or pretentious. This was no less real for being vague.
His work is an attempt to satisfy his vain-longing with rites of words
and colour. He always sought to bring peace to his soul by means of
ritual. When he was dying, he was anxious to see a confessor. "I can
make nothing of Christianity," he said, "but I only want a confessor to
give me absolution for my sins." That was typical of his attitude to
life. He loved its ceremonies more--at least, more vividly--than he
loved its soul. One is never done hearing about his demand for
"fundamental brainwork" in art. But his own poetry is poor enough in
brainwork. It is the poetry, of one who, like Keats, hungered for a
"life of sensations rather than of thoughts." It is the poetry of grief,
of regret--the grief and regret of one who was a master of sensuous
beauty, and who reveals sensuous beauty rather than any deeper secret
even in touching spiritual themes. Poetry with him is a dyed and
embroidered garment which weighs the spirit down rather than winged
sandals like Shelley's, which set the spirit free.

Yet his influence on art and literature has been immense. He, far more
than Keats or Swinburne, was the prophet of that ritualism which has
been a; dominant characteristic in modern poetry, whether it is the
Pagan ritualism of Mr. Yeats or the Catholic ritualism of Francis
Thompson. One need not believe that he was an important direct influence
on either of these poets. But his work as poet and painter prepared the
world for ritualism in literature. No doubt the medievalism of Scott and
the decorative imagination of Keats were also largely responsible for
the change in the literary atmosphere; but Rossetti was more
distinctively a symbolist and ritualist than any other English man of
letters who lived in the early or middle part of the nineteenth century.

People used to debate whether he was greater as a painter or as a poet,
and he was not always sure himself. When, however, he said to
Burne-Jones, in 1857: "If any man has any poetry in him, he should
paint; for it has all been said and written, and they have scarcely
begun to paint it," he gave convincing proof that painting, and not
poetry, was his essential gift. He may be denounced for his bad drawing
and twenty other faults as an artist; but it is his paintings that show
him as a discoverer and a man of high genius. At the same time, how well
he can also paint in verse, as in those ever-moving lines on Jenny's
wanderings in the Haymarket:--

    Jenny, you know the city now.
    A child can tell the tale there, how
    Some things which are not yet enrol'd
    In market-lists are bought and sold,
    Even till the early Sunday light,
    When Saturday night is market-night
    Everywhere, be it dry or wet,
    And market-night in the Haymarket.
    Our learned London children know,
    Poor Jenny, all your pride and woe;
    Have seen your lifted silken skirt
    Advertise dainties through the dirt;
    Have seen your coach wheels splash rebuke
    On virtue; and have learned your look
    When wealth and health slipped past, you stare
    Along the streets alone, and there,
    Round the long park, across the bridge,
    The cold lamps at the pavement's edge
    Wind on together and apart,
    A fiery serpent for your heart.

In most of his poems, unfortunately, the design, as a whole, rambles.
His imagination worked best when limited by the four sides of a canvas.



XVI

MR. BERNARD SHAW


Mr. Shaw came for a short time recently to be regarded less as an author
than as an incident in the European War. In the opinion of many people,
it seemed as if the Allies were fighting against a combination composed
of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Mr. Shaw. Mr. Shaw's gift of
infuriating people is unfailing. He is one of those rare public men who
can hardly express an opinion on potato-culture--and he does express an
opinion on everything--without making a multitude of people shake their
fists in impotent anger. His life--at least, his public life--has been a
jibe opposed to a rage. He has gone about, like a pickpocket of
illusions, from the world of literature to the world of morals, and from
the world of morals to the world of politics, and, everywhere he has
gone, an innumerable growl has followed him.

Not that he has not had his disciples--men and women who believe that
what Mr. Shaw says on any conceivable subject is far more important than
what _The Times_ or the _Manchester Guardian_ says. He has never founded
a church, however, because he has always been able to laugh at his
disciples as unfeelingly as at anybody else. He has courted unpopularity
as other men have courted popularity. He has refused to assume the
vacuous countenance either of an idol or a worshipper, and in the result
those of us to whom life without reverence seems like life in ruins are
filled at times with a wild lust to denounce and belittle him. He has
been called more names than any other man of letters alive. When all the
other names have been exhausted and we are about to become
inarticulate, we even denounce him as a bore. But this is only the
Billingsgate of our exasperation. Mr. Shaw is not a bore, whatever else
he may be. He has succeeded in the mere business of interesting us
beyond any other writer of his time.

He has succeeded in interesting us largely by inventing himself as a
public figure, as Oscar Wilde and Stevenson did before him. Whether he
could have helped becoming a figure, even if he had never painted that
elongated comic portrait of himself, it is difficult to say. Probably he
was doomed to be a figure just as Dr. Johnson was. If he had not told us
legends about himself, other people would have told them, and they could
scarcely have told them so well: that would have been the chief
difference. Even if Mr. Shaw's plays should ever become as dead as the
essays in _The Rambler_, his lineaments and his laughter will survive in
a hundred stories which will bring the feet of pilgrims to Adelphi
Terrace in search of a ghost with its beard on fire.

His critics often accuse him, in regard to the invention of the Shaw
myth, of having designed a poster rather than painted a portrait. And
Mr. Shaw always hastens to agree with those who declare he is an
advertiser in an age of advertisement. M. Hamon quotes him as saying:--

     Stop advertising myself! On the contrary, I must do it more than
     ever. Look at Pears's Soap. There is a solid house if you like, but
     every wall is still plastered with their advertisements. If I were
     to give up advertising, my business would immediately begin to fall
     off. You blame me for having declared myself to be the most
     remarkable man of my time. But the claim is an arguable one. Why
     should I not say it when I believe that it is true?

One suspects that there is as much fun as commerce in Mr. Shaw's
advertisement. Mr. Shaw would advertise himself in this sense even if he
were the inmate of a workhouse. He is something of a natural peacock.
He is in the line of all those tramps and stage Irishmen who have gone
through! life with so fine a swagger of words. This only means that in
his life he is an artist.

He is an artist in his life to an even greater extent than he is a
moralist in his art. The mistake his depreciators make, however, is in
thinking that his story ends here. The truth about Mr. Shaw is not quite
so simple as that. The truth about Mt. Shaw cannot be told until we
realize that he is an artist, not only in the invention of his own life,
but in the observation of the lives of other people. His Broadbent is as
wonderful a figure as his George Bernard Shaw. Not that his portraiture
is always faithful. He sees men and women too frequently in the
refracting shallows of theories. He is a doctrinaire, and his characters
are often comic statements of his doctrines rather than the reflections
of men and women. "When I present true human nature," he observes in one
of the many passages in which he justifies himself, "the audience thinks
it is being made fun of. In reality I am simply a very careful writer of
natural history." One is bound to contradict him. Mr. Shaw often thinks
he is presenting true human nature when he is merely presenting his
opinions about human nature--the human nature of soldiers, of artists,
of women. Or, rather, when he is presenting a queer fizzing mixture of
human nature and his opinions about it.

This may be sometimes actually a virtue in his comedy. Certainly, from
the time of Aristophanes onwards, comedy has again and again been a
vehicle of opinions as well as a branch of natural history. But it is
not always a virtue. Thus in _The Doctors Dilemma_, when Dubedat is
dying, his self-defence and his egoism are for the most part admirably
true both to human nature and to Mr. Shaw's view of the human nature of
artists. But when he goes on with his last breath to utter his artistic
creed: "I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rembrandt; in the
might of design, the mystery of colour, the redemption of all things by
Beauty everlasting, and the message of Art that has made these hands
blessed. Amen, Amen," these sentences are no more natural or
naturalistic than the death-bed utterances in one of Mr. G.R. Sims's
ballads. Dubedat would not have thought these things, he would not have
said these things; in saying them he becomes a mere mechanical figure,
without any admixture of humanity, repeating Mr. Shaw's opinion of the
nature of the creed of artists. There is a similar falsification in the
same play in the characterization of the newspaper man who is present at
Dubedat's death and immediately afterwards is anxious to interview the
widow. "Do you think," he asks, "she would give me a few words on 'How
it Feels to be a Widow?' Rather a good title for an article, isn't it?"
These sentences are bad because into an atmosphere of more or less
naturalistic comedy they simply introduce a farcical exaggeration of Mr.
Shaw's opinion of the incompetence and impudence of journalists. Mr.
Shaw's comedies are repeatedly injured by a hurried alteration of
atmosphere in this manner. Comedy, as well as tragedy, must create some
kind of illusion, and the destruction of the illusion, even for the sake
of a joke, may mean the destruction of laughter. But, compared with the
degree of reality in his characterization, the proportion of unreality
is not overwhelming. It has been enormously exaggerated.

After all, if the character of the newspaper man in _The Doctor's
Dilemma_ is machine-made, the much more important character of B.B., the
soothing and incompetent doctor, is a creation of the true comic genius.

Nine people out of ten harp on Mr. Shaw's errors. It is much more
necessary that we should recognize that, amid all his falsifications,
doctrinal and jocular, he has a genuine comic sense of character. "Most
French critics," M. Hamon tells us ... "declare that Bernard Shaw does
depict characters. M. Remy de Gourmont writes: 'Molière has never drawn
a doctor more comically "the doctor" than Paramore, nor more
characteristic figures of women than those in the same play, _The
Philanderer._ The character-drawing is admirable.'" M. Hamon himself
goes on, however, to suggest an important contrast between the
characterization in Mr. Shaw and the characterization in Molière:--

     In Shaw's plays the characters are less representative of vices or
     passions than those of Molière, and more representative of class,
     profession, or sect. Molière depicts the miser, the jealous man,
     the misanthrope, the hypocrite; whereas Shaw depicts the bourgeois,
     the rebel, the capitalist, the workman, the Socialist, the doctor.
     A few only of these latter types are given us by Molière.

M. Hamon's comparison, made in the course of a long book, between the
genius of Mr. Shaw and the genius of Molière is extraordinarily
detailed. Perhaps the detail is overdone in such a passage as that which
informs us regarding the work of both authors that "suicide is never one
of the central features of the comedy; if mentioned, it is only to be
made fun of." The comparison, however, between the sins that have been
alleged against both Molière and Mr. Shaw--sins of style, of form, of
morals, of disrespect, of irreligion, of anti-romanticism, of farce, and
so forth--is a suggestive contribution to criticism. I am not sure that
the comparison would not have been more effectively put in a chapter
than a book, but it is only fair to remember that M. Hamon's book is
intended as a biography and general criticism of Mr. Shaw as well as a
comparison between his work and Molière's. It contains, it must be
confessed, a great deal that is not new to English readers, but then so
do all books about Mr. Shaw. And it has also this fault that, though it
is about a master of laughter, it does not contain even the shadow of a
smile. Mr. Shaw is made an idol in spite of himself: M. Hamon's volume
is an offering at a shrine.

The true things it contains, however, make it worth reading. M. Hamon
sees, for instance, what many critics have failed to see, that in his
dramatic work Mr. Shaw is less a wit than a humorist:--

     In Shaw's work we find few studied jests, few epigrams even, except
     those which are the necessary outcome of the characters and the
     situations. He does not labour to be witty, nor does he play upon
     words.... Shaw's brilliancy does not consist in wit, but in humour.

Mr. Shaw was at one time commonly regarded as a wit of the school of
Oscar Wilde. That view, I imagine, is seldom found nowadays, but even
now many people do not realize that humour, and not wit, is the ruling
characteristic of Mr. Shaw's plays. He is not content with witty
conversation about life, as Wilde was: he has an actual comic vision of
human society.

His humour, it is true, is not the sympathetic humour of Elia or
Dickens; but then neither was Molière's. As M. Hamon reminds us, Molière
anticipated Mr. Shaw in outraging the sentiment, for instance, which has
gathered round the family. "Molière and Shaw," as he puts it with quaint
seriousness, "appear to be unaware of what a father is, what a father is
worth."

The defence of Mr. Shaw, however, does not depend on any real or
imaginary resemblance of his plays to Molière's. His joy and his misery
before the ludicrous spectacle of human life are his own, and his
expression of them is his own. He has studied with his own eyes the
swollen-bellied pretences of preachers and poets and rich men and lovers
and politicians, and he has derided them as they have never been derided
on the English stage before. He has derided them with both an artistic
and a moral energy. He has brought them all into a Palace of Truth,
where they have revealed themselves with an unaccustomed and startling
frankness. He has done this sometimes with all the exuberance of mirth,
sometimes with all the bitterness of a satirist. Even his bitterness is
never venomous, however. He is genial beyond the majority of inveterate
controversialists and propagandists. He does not hesitate to wound and
he does not hesitate to misunderstand, but he is free from malice. The
geniality of his comedy, on the other hand, is often more offensive than
malice, because it is from an orthodox point of view geniality in the
wrong place. It is like a grin in church, a laugh at a marriage service.

It is this that has caused all the trouble about Mr. Shaw's writings on
the war. He saw, not the war so much as the international diplomacy that
led up to the war, under the anti-romantic and satirical comic vision. I
do not mean that he was not intensely serious in all that he wrote about
the war. But his seriousness is essentially the seriousness of (in the
higher sense of the word) the comic artist, of the disillusionist. He
sees current history from the absolutely opposite point of view, say, to
the lyric poet. He was so occupied with his satiric vision of the
pretences of the diplomatic world that, though his attitude to the war
was as anti-Prussian as M. Vandervelde's, a great number of people
thought he must be a pro-German.

The fact is, in war time more than at any other time, people dread the
vision of the satirist and the sceptic. It is a vision of only one-half
of the truth, and of the half that the average man always feels to be
more or less irrelevant. And, even at this, it is not infallible. This
is not to disparage Mr. Shaw's contributions to the discussion of
politics. That contribution has been brilliant, challenging, and humane,
and not more wayward than the contribution of the partisan and the
sentimentalist. It may be said of Mr. Shaw that in his politics, as in
his plays, he has sought Utopia along the path of disillusion as other
men have sought it along the path of idealism and romance.



XVII

MR. MASEFIELD'S SECRET


Mr. Masefield, as a poet, has the secret of popularity. Has he also the
secret of poetry? I confess his poems often seem to me to invite the
admirably just verdict which Jeffrey delivered on Wordsworth's
_Excursion_: "This will never do." We miss in his lines the onward march
of poetry. His individual phrases carry no cargoes of wonder. His art is
not of the triumphant order that lifts us off our feet. As we read the
first half of his narrative sea-poem, _Dauber_, we are again and again
moved to impatience by the sheer literary left-handedness of the author.
There are so many unnecessary words, so many unnecessary sentences. Of
the latter we have an example in the poet's reflection as he describes
the "fiery fishes" that raced Dauber's ship by night in the southern
seas:--

    What unknown joy was in those fish unknown!

It is one of those superfluous thoughts which appear to be suggested
less by the thing described than by the need of filling up the last line
of the verse. Similarly, when Dauber, as the ship's lampman and painter
is nicknamed, regards the miracle of a ship at sea in moonlight, and
exclaims:--

    My Lord, my God, how beautiful it is!

we feel that he is only lengthening into a measured line the "My God,
how beautiful it is!" of prose. A line like this, indeed, is merely
prose that has learned the goose-step of poetry.

Perhaps one would not resent it--and many others like it--so much if it
were not that Mr. Masefield so manifestly aims at realism of effect. His
narrative is meant to be as faithful to commonplace facts as a
policeman's evidence in a court of law. We are not spared even the old
familiar expletives. When Dauber's paintings, for example--for he is an
artist as well as an artisan--have been destroyed by the malice of the
crew, and he questions the Bosun about it,

    The Bosun turned: "I'll give you a thick ear!
    Do it? I didn't. Get to hell from here!"

Similarly, when the Mate, taking up the brush, makes a sketch of a ship
for Dauber's better instruction,

    "God, sir," the Bosun said, "You do her fine!"
    "Aye!" said the Mate, "I do so, by the Lord!"

And when the whole crew gathers round to impress upon Dauber the fact of
his incompetence,

    "You hear?" the Bosun cried, "You cannot do it!"
    "A gospel truth," the Cook said, "true as hell!"

Here, obviously, the very letter of realism is intended.

Here, too, it may be added, we have as well-meaning an array of oaths as
was ever set out in literature. When Mr. Kipling repeats a soldier's
oath, he seems to do so with a chuckle of appreciation. When Mr.
Masefield puts down the oaths of sailors, he does so rather as a
melancholy duty. He swears, not like a trooper, but like a virtuous man.
He does not, as so many realists do, love the innumerable coarsenesses
of life which he chronicles; that is what makes his oaths often seem as
innocent as the conversation of elderly sinners echoed on the lips of
children. He has a splendid innocence of purpose, indeed. He wishes to
give us the prosaic truth of actual things as a kind of correspondence
to the poetic truth of spiritual things of which they are the setting
and the frame. Or it may be that he repeats these oaths and all the
rest of it simply as a part of the technicalities of life at sea.

He certainly shows a passion for technicalities hardly less than Mr.
Kipling's own. He tells us, for instance, how, in the height of the fury
of frost and surge and gale round Cape Horn,

                      at last, at last
    They frapped the cringled crojick's icy pelt;
    In frozen bulge and bunt they made it fast.

And, again, when the storm was over and Dauber had won the respect of
his mates by his manhood, we have an almost unintelligible verse
describing how the Bosun, in a mood of friendship, set out to teach him
some of the cunning of the sea:--

    Then, while the Dauber counted, Bosun took
    Some marline from his pocket. "Here," he said,
    "You want to know square sennit? So fash. Look!
    Eight foxes take, and stop the ends with thread.
    I've known an engineer would give his head
    To know square sennit." As the Bose began,
    The Dauber felt promoted to a man.

Mr. Masefield has generously provided six pages of glossary at the end
of his poem, where we are told the meaning of "futtock-shrouds,"
"poop-break," "scuttlebutt," "mud-hooks," and other items in the jargon
of the sea.

So much for Mr. Masefield's literary method. Let me be equally frank
about his genius, and confess at once that, in any serious estimate of
this, all I have said will scarcely be more relevant than the charge
against Burke that he had a clumsy delivery. Mr. Masefield has given us
in _Dauber_ a poem of genius, one of the great storm-pieces of modern
literature, a poem that for imaginative infectiousness challenges
comparison with the prose of Mr. Conrad's _Typhoon_. To criticize its
style takes us no nearer its ultimate secret than piling up examples of
bathos takes us to the secret of Wordsworth, or talking about maniacal
construction and characterization takes us to the secret of Dostoevsky.
There is no use pretending that the methods of these writers are good
because their achievements are good. On the other hand, compared with
the marvel of achievement, the faultiness of method in each case sinks
into a matter almost of indifference. Mr. Masefield gives us in _Dauber_
a book of revelation. If he does this in verse that is often merely
prose crooked into rhyme--if he does it with a hero who is at first
almost as bowelless a human being and as much an appeal for pity as
Smike in _Nicholas Nickleby_--that is his affair. In art, more than
anywhere else, the end justifies the means, and the end of _Dauber_ is
vision--intense, terrible, pitiful, heroic vision. Here we have in
literature what poor Dauber himself aimed at putting down on his
inexpert canvases:--

                                     A revealing
    Of passionate men in battle with the sea,
    High on an unseen stage, shaking and reeling;
    And men through him would understand their feeling,
    Their might, their misery, their tragic power,
    And all by suffering pain a little hour.

That verse suggests both the kind and the degree of Mr. Masefield's
sensitiveness as a recorder of the life of the sea. His is the witness
less of a doer than of a sufferer. He is not a reveller in life: he is
one, rather, who has found himself tossed about in the foaming tides of
anguish, and who clings with a desperate faith to some last spar of
beauty or heroism. He is a martyr to the physical as well as to the
spiritual pain of the world. He communicates to us, not only the horror
of humiliation, but the horror of a numbed boy, "cut to the ghost" by
the polar gale, as high in the yards Dauber fights against the ship's
doom, having been

             ordered up when sails and spars
    Were flying and going mad among the stars,

How well, too, he imparts the dread and the danger of the coming storm,
as the ship gets nearer the Horn:

      All through the windless night the clipper rolled
    In a great swell with oily gradual heaves,
      Which rolled her down until her time-bells tolled,
    Clang, and the weltering water moaned like beeves.

And the next verse reiterates the prophecies of the moving waters:

            Like the march of doom
    Came those great powers of marching silences;
    Then fog came down, dead-cold, and hid the seas.

The night was spent in dread of fog, in dread of ice, and the ship
seemed to respond to the dread of the men as her horn called out into
the impenetrable wilderness of mists and waters:

    She bayed there like a solitary hound
    Lost in a covert.

Morning came, bringing no release from fear:

    So the night passed, but then no morning broke--
    Only a something showed that night was dead.
    A sea-bird, cackling like a devil, spoke,
    And the fog drew away and hung like lead.
    Like mighty cliffs it shaped, sullen and red;
    Like glowering gods at watch it did appear,
    And sometimes drew away, and then drew near.

Then suddenly swooped down the immense black fiend of the storm,
catching, as the Bosun put it, the ship "in her ball-dress."

    The blackness crunched all memory of the sun.

Henceforth we have a tale of white fear changing into heroism as Dauber
clambers to his giddy place in the rigging, and goes out on the yard to
his task,

    Sick at the mighty space of air displayed
    Below his feet, where soaring birds were wheeling.

It was all a "withering rush of death," an orgy of snow, ice, and
howling seas.

    The snow whirled, the ship bowed to it, the gear lashed,
    The sea-tops were cut off and flung down smashed;
    Tatters of shouts were flung, the rags of yells--
    And clang, clang, clang, below beat the two bells.

How magnificent a flash of the fury of the storm we get when the Dauber
looks down from his scramblings among rigging and snapped spars, and
sees the deck

    Filled with white water, as though heaped with snow.

In that line we seem to behold the beautiful face of danger--a beauty
that is in some way complementary to the beauty of the endurance of
ships and the endurance of men. For the ship is saved, and so is the
Dauber's soul, and the men who had been bullies in hours of peace reveal
themselves as heroes in stress and peril.

_Dauber_, it will be seen, is more than an exciting story of a storm. It
is a spiritual vision of life. It is a soul's confession. It is Mr.
Masefield's _De Profundis_. It is a parable of trial--a chant of the
soul that has "emerged out of the iron time." It is a praise of life,
not for its own sake, but for the spiritual mastery which its storms and
dangers bring. It is a paean of survival: the ship weathers the storm to
go boldly forward again:--

    A great grey sea was running up the sky,
    Desolate birds flew past; their mewings came
    As that lone water's spiritual cry,
    Its forlorn voice, its essence, its soul's name.
    The ship limped in the water as if lame,
    Then, in the forenoon watch, to a great shout,
    More sail was made, the reefs were shaken out.

Not even the death of the Dauber in a wretched accident defeats our
sense of divine and ultimate victory. To some readers this fatality may
seem a mere luxury of pathos. But it is an essential part of the scheme
of the poem. The poet must state his acceptance of life, not only in its
splendid and tragic dangers, but in its cruelty and pathetic
wastefulness. He must know the worst of it in order to put the best of
it to the proof. The worst passes, the best continues--that is the
secret enthusiasm of Mr. Masefield's song. Our final vision is of the
ship in safety, holding her course to harbour in a fair wind:--

    Shattering the sea-tops into golden rain.
    The waves bowed down before her like blown grain.

And as she sits in Valparaiso harbour, a beautiful thing at peace under
the beautiful shadow of "the mountain tower, snow to the peak," our
imagination is lifted to the hills-to where

                            All night long
    The pointed mountain pointed at the stars,
    Frozen, alert, austere.

It is a fine symbol of the aspiration of this book of men's "might,
their misery, their tragic power." There is something essentially
Christian and simple in Mr. Masefield's presentation of life. Conscious
though he is of the pain of the world--and aloof from the world though
this consciousness sometimes makes him appear--he is full of an
extraordinary pity and brotherliness for men. He wanders among them, not
with the condescension of so many earnest writers, but with the humility
almost of one of the early Franciscans. One may amuse oneself by
fancying that there is something in the manner of St. Francis even in
Mr. Masefield's attitude to his little brothers the swear-words. He may
not love them by nature, but he is kind to them by grace. They strike
one as being the most innocent swear-words in literature.



XVIII

MR. W.B. YEATS


1. HIS OWN ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF


Mr. W.B. Yeats has created, if not a new world, a new star. He is not a
reporter of life as it is, to the extent that Shakespeare or Browning
is. One is not quite certain that his kingdom is of the green earth. He
is like a man who has seen the earth not directly but in a crystal. He
has a vision of real things, but in unreal circumstances. His poetry
repels many people at first because it is unlike any other poetry. They
are suspicious of it as of a new sect in religion. They have been
accustomed to bow in other temples. They resent the ritual, the
incantations, the unearthly light and colour of the temple of this
innovating high priest.

They resent, most of all, the self-consciousness of the priest himself.
For Mr. Yeats's is not a genius with natural readiness of speech. His
sentences do not pour from him in stormy floods. It is as though he had
to pursue and capture them one by one, like butterflies. Or, perhaps, it
is that he has not been content with the simple utterance of his vision.
He has reshaped and embroidered it, and has sung of passion in a mask.
There are many who see in his poetry only the mask, and who are
apparently blind to the passion of sorrowful ecstasy that sets _The Wind
Among the Reeds_ apart from every other book that has ever been written
in English. They imagine that the book amounts to little more than the
attitude of a stylist, a trifler with Celtic nomenclature and fairy
legend.

One may agree that some of the less-inspired poems are works of
intellectual craftsmanship rather than of immediate genius, and that
here and there the originality of the poet's vision is clouded by
reminiscences of the aesthetic painters. But the greatest poems in the
book are a new thing in literature, a "rapturous music" not heard
before. One is not surprised to learn from Mr. Yeats's autobiographical
volume, _Reveries over Childhood and Youth_, that, when he began to
write poetry as a boy, "my lines but seldom scanned, for I could not
understand the prosody in the books, although there were many lines
that, taken by themselves, had music." His genius, as a matter of fact,
was unconsciously seeking after new forms. Those who have read the first
draft of _Innisfree_ will remember how it gives one the impression of a
new imagination stumbling into utterance. Mr. Yeats has laboured his
verse into perfect music with a deliberateness like that of Flaubert in
writing prose.

_Reveries_ is the beautiful and fascinating story of his childhood and
youth, and the development of his genius. "I remember," he tells us,
"little of childhood but its pain. I have grown happier with every year
of life, as though gradually conquering something in myself." But there
is not much of the shadow of pain on these pages. They are full of the
portraits of fantastically remembered relations and of stories of home
and school related with fantastic humour. It is difficult to believe
that Mr. Yeats as a schoolboy "followed the career of a certain
professional runner for months, buying papers that would tell me if he
had won or lost," but here we see him even in the thick of a fight like
a boy in a school story. His father, however, seems to have had
infinitely more influence over him than his school environment.

It was his father who grew so angry when the infant poet was taught at
school to sing "Little drops of water," and who indignantly forbade him
to write a school essay on the subject of the capacity of men to rise on
stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things. Mr. Yeats's
upbringing in the home of an artist anti-Victorian to the finger-tips
was obviously such as would lead a boy to live self-consciously, and Mr.
Yeats tells us that when he was a boy at school he used to feel "as
proud of myself as a March cock when it crows to its first sunrise." He
remembers how one day he looked at his schoolfellows on the
playing-field and said to himself, "If when I grow up I am as clever
among grown-up men as I am among these boys, I shall be a famous man."
Another sentence about these days suggests what a difficult inarticulate
genius was his. "My thoughts," he says, "were a great excitement, but
when I tried to do anything with them, it was like trying to pack a
balloon into a shed in a high wind."

Though he was always near the bottom of his class, and was useless at
games--"I cannot," he writes, "remember that I ever kicked a goal or
made a run"--he showed some promise as a naturalist, and used to look
for butterflies, moths, and beetles in Richmond Park. Later, when living
on the Dublin coast, he "planned some day to write a book about the
changes through a twelvemonth among the creatures of some hole in the
rock."

These passages in his autobiography are specially interesting as
evidence to refute the absurd theory that Mr. Yeats is a mere vague
day-dreamer among poets. The truth is, Mr. Yeats's early poems show that
he was a boy of eager curiosity and observation--a boy with a remarkable
intellectual machine, as well as a visionary who was one day to build a
new altar to beauty. He has never been entirely aloof from the common
world. Though at times he has conceived it to be the calling of a man of
letters to live apart like a monk, he has mingled with human interests
to a far greater extent than most people realize. He has nearly always
been a politician and always a fighter.

At the same time, we need not read far in his autobiography to discover
why people who hate self-consciousness in artists are so hostile to him.

_Reveries Over Childhood and Youth_ is the autobiography of one who was
always more self-conscious than his fellows. Mr. Yeats describes himself
as a youth in Dublin:--

     sometimes walking with an artificial stride in memory of Hamlet,
     and stopping at shop windows to look at my tie, gathered into a
     loose sailor-knot, and to regret that it could not be always blown
     out by the wind like Byron's tie in the picture.

Even the fits of abstraction of the young poet must often have been
regarded as self-conscious attitudinizing by his neighbours--especially
by the "stupid stout woman" who lived in the villa next to his father's,
and who, as he amusingly relates, mocked him aloud:--

     I had a study with a window opposite some window of hers, and one
     night when I was writing, I heard voices full of derision, and saw
     the stout woman and her family standing at the window. I have a way
     of acting what I write, and speaking it aloud without knowing what
     I am doing. Perhaps I was on my hands and knees, or looking down
     over the back of a chair, talking into what I imagined an abyss.

It will be seen that Mr. Yeats is as interesting a figure to himself as
he is to Mr. George Moore. If he were not he would not have troubled to
write his autobiography. And that would have been a loss to literature.
_Reveries Over Childhood and Youth_ is a book of extraordinary
freshness. It does not, like Wordsworth's _Prelude_, set forth the full
account of the great influences that shaped a poet's career. But it is a
delightful study of early influences, and depicts a dedicated poet in
his boyhood as this has never been done before in English prose.

Of all the influences that have shaped his career, none was more
important than the Irish atmosphere to which he early returned from
London. He is distinctively an Irish poet, though we find him in his
youth writing plays and poems in imitation of Shelley and Spenser.
Irish places have done more to influence his imagination even than the
masterpieces of English literature.

It was apparently while he was living in Sligo, not far from the lakes,
that he conceived the longing which he afterwards expressed with such
originality of charm in _The Lake Isle of Innisfree_:--

     My father had read to me some passage out of _Walden_, and I
     planned to live some day in a cottage on a little island called
     Innisfree....

     I thought that, having conquered bodily desire and the inclination
     of my mind towards women and love, I should live as Thoreau lived,
     seeking wisdom.

It is the little world of Sligo, indeed, that provides all the spacious
and twilit landscape in Mr. Yeats's verse. Here were those fishermen and
raths and mountains of the Sidhe and desolate lakes which repeat
themselves as images through his work. Here, too, he had relatives
eccentric and adventurous to excite his imagination, such as the

    Merchant skipper that leaped overboard
    After a ragged hat in Biscay Bay.

Mr. Yeats's relations seem in his autobiography as real as the
characters in fiction. Each of them is magnificently stamped with
romance or comedy--the hypochondriac uncle, for example, who--

     passed from winter to summer through a series of woollens that had
     always to be weighed; for in April or May, or whatever the date
     was, he had to be sure that he carried the exact number of ounces
     he had carried upon that date since boyhood.

For a time Mr. Yeats thought of following his father's example and
becoming a painter. It was while attending an art school in Dublin that
he first met A.E. He gives us a curious description of A.E. as he was
then:--

     He did not paint the model as we tried to, for some other image
     rose always before his eyes (a St. John in the Desert I remember),
     and already he spoke to us of his visions. His conversation, so
     lucid and vehement to-day, was all but incomprehensible, though now
     and again some phrase could be understood and repeated. One day he
     announced that he was leaving the Art Schools because his will was
     weak, and the arts or any other emotional pursuit would but weaken
     it further.

Mr. Yeats's memoirs, however, are not confined to prose. His volume of
verse called _Responsibilities_ is almost equally autobiographical. Much
of it is a record of quarrels with contemporaries--quarrels about Synge,
about Hugh Lane and his pictures, about all sorts of things. He aims
barbed epigrams at his adversaries. Very Yeatsian is an epigram "to a
poet, who would have me praise certain bad poets, imitators of his and
mine":--

    You say, as I have often given tongue
    In praise of what another's said or sung,
    'Twere politic to do the like by these;
    But have you known a dog to praise his fleas?

In an earlier version, the last line was still more arrogant:--

    But where's the wild dog that has praised his fleas?

There is a noble arrogance again in the lines called _A Coat_:--

    I made my song a coat,
    Covered with embroideries,
    Out of old mythologies,
    From heel to throat.
    But the fools caught it,
    Wore it in the world's eye,
    As though they'd wrought it.
    Song, let them take it,
    For there's more enterprise
    In walking naked.

Mr. Yeats still gives some of his songs the old embroidered vesture. But
his work is now more frankly personal than it used to be--at once
harsher and simpler. One would not give _Responsibilities_ to a reader
who knew nothing of Mr. Yeats's previous work. There is too much raging
at the world in it, too little of the perfected beauty of _The Wind
Among the Reeds_. One finds ugly words like "wive" and "thigh"
inopportunely used, and the retort to Mr. George Moore's _Hail and
Farewell_, though legitimately offensive, is obscure in statement.
Still, there is enough beauty in the book to make it precious to the
lover of literature. An Elizabethan might have made the music of the
first verse of _A Woman Homer Sung_.

And what splendour of praise and censure Mr. Yeats gives us in _The
Second Troy_:--

    Why should I blame her, that she filled my days
      With misery, or that she would of late
    Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways.
      Or hurled the little streets against the great,
    Had they but courage equal to desire?
      What could have made her peaceful with a mind
    That nobleness made simple as a fire,
      With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
    That is not natural in an age like this,
      Being high and solitary, and most stern?
    Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
      Was there another Troy for her to burn?

It is curious to note in how much of his verse Mr. Yeats repeats his
protest against the political passion of Ireland which once meant so
much to him. _All Things can Tempt Me_ expresses this artistic mood of
revolt with its fierce beginning:--

    All things can tempt me from this craft of verse;
    One time it was a woman's face, or worse,
    The seeming needs of my fool-driven land.

Some of the most excellent pages of _Reveries_, however, are those which
recall certain famous figures in Irish Nationalism like John O'Leary and
J.F. Taylor, the orator whose temper so stood in his way.

Mr. Yeats recalls a wonderful speech Taylor once made at a meeting in
Dublin at which a Lord Chancellor had apparently referred in a
belittling way to Irish nationality and the Irish language:

     Taylor began hesitating and stopping for words, but after speaking
     very badly for a little, straightened his figure and spoke as out
     of a dream: "I am carried to another age, a nobler court, and
     another Lord Chancellor is speaking. I am at the court of the first
     Pharaoh." Thereupon he put into the mouth of that Egyptian all his
     audience had listened to, but now it was spoken to the children of
     Israel. "If you have any spirituality as you boast, why not use our
     great empire to spread it through the world, why still cling to
     that beggarly nationality of yours? what are its history and its
     works weighed with those of Egypt?" Then his voice changed and
     sank: "I see a man at the edge of the crowd; he is standing
     listening there, but he will not obey"; and then, with his voice
     rising to a cry, "had he obeyed he would never have come down the
     mountain carrying in his arms the tables of the Law in the language
     of the outlaw."

That Mr. Yeats, in spite of his secession from politics, loves the old
passionate Ireland, is clear from the poem called _September, 1913_,
with its refrain:--

    Romantic Ireland's dead and gone
    And with O'Leary in the grave.

And to this Mr. Yeats has since added a significant note:--

    "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone" sounds old-fashioned
    now. It seemed true in 1913, but I did not foresee 1916. The
    late Dublin Rebellion, whatever one may say of its wisdom, will
    long be remembered for its heroism. "They weighed so lightly
    what they gave," and gave, too, in some cases without hope of
    success.

Mr. Yeats is by nature a poet of the heroic world--a hater of the
burgess and of the till. He boasts in _Responsibilities_ of ancestors
who left him

                                      blood
    That has not passed through any huckster's loin.

There may be a good deal of vanity and gesticulation in all this, but
it is the vanity and gesticulation of a man of genius. As we cannot have
the genius of Mr. Yeats without the gestures, we may as well take the
gestures in good part.


2. HIS POETRY

It is distinctly surprising to find Mr. Yeats compared to Milton and
Jeremy Taylor, and Mr. Forrest Reid, who makes the comparison, does not
ask us to apply it at all points. There is a remoteness about Milton's
genius, however, an austere and rarefied beauty, to which Mr. Reid
discovers certain likenesses in the work of Mr. Yeats. Mr. Yeats is
certainly a little remote. He is so remote that some people regard his
work with mixed feelings, as a rather uncanny thing. The reason may
partly be that Mr. Yeats is not a singer in the ordinary tradition of
poets. His poems are incantations rather than songs. They seem to call
for an order of priests and priestesses to chant them. There are one or
two of his early poems, like _Down by the Sally Garden_, that might
conceivably be sung at a fair or even at a ballad-concert. But, as Mr.
Yeats has grown older, he has become more and more determinedly the
magician in his robes. Even in his prose he does not lay aside his
robes; it is written in the tones of the sanctuary: it is prose for
worshippers. To such an extent is this so that many who do not realize
that Mr. Yeats is a great artist cannot read much of his prose without
convincing themselves that he is a great humbug. It is easy to
understand how readers accustomed to the rationalism of the end of the
century refused to take seriously a poet who wrote "spooky" explanations
of his poems, such as Mr. Yeats wrote in his notes to _The Wind Among
the Reeds_, the most entirely good of his books. Consider, for example,
the note which he wrote on that charming if somewhat perplexing poem,
_The Jester_. "I dreamed," writes Mr. Yeats:--

     I dreamed this story exactly as I have written it, and dreamed
     another long dream after it, trying to make out its meaning, and
     whether I was to write it in prose or verse. The first dream was
     more a vision than a dream, for it was beautiful and coherent, and
     gave me a sense of illumination and exaltation that one gets from
     visions, while the second dream was confused and meaningless. The
     poem has always meant a great deal to me, though, as is the way
     with symbolic poems, it has not always meant quite the same thing.
     Blake would have said, "The authors are in eternity"; and I am
     quite sure they can only be questioned in dreams.

Why, even those of us who count Mr. Yeats one of the immortals while he
is still alive, are inclined to shy at a claim at once so solemn and so
irrational as this. It reads almost like a confession of witchcraft.


Luckily, Mr. Yeats's commerce with dreams and fairies and other spirits
has not all been of this evidential and disputable kind. His confessions
do not convince us of his magical experiences, but his poems do. Here we
have the true narrative of fairyland, the initiation into other-worldly
beauty. Here we have the magician crying out against

     All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,

and attempting to invoke a new--or an old--and more beautiful world into
being.

     The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told,

he cries, and over against the unshapely earth he sets up the "happy
townland" of which he sings in one of his later and most lovely poems.
It would not be easy to write a prose paraphrase of _The Happy
Townland_, but who is there who can permanently resist the spell of this
poem, especially of the first verse and its refrain?--

    There's many a strong farmer
    Whose heart would break in two,
    If he could see the townland
    That we are riding to;
    Boughs have their fruit and blossom
    At all times of the year;
    Rivers are running over
    With red beer and brown beer.
    An old man plays the bagpipes
    In a golden and silver wood;
    Queens, their eyes blue like the ice,
    Are dancing in a crowd.

    The little fox he murmured,
    "O what of the world's bane?"
    The sun was laughing sweetly,
    The moon plucked at my rein;
    But the little red fox murmured,
    "O, do not pluck at his rein,
    He is riding to the townland
    That is the world's bane."

You may interpret the little red fox and the sun and the moon as you
please, but is it not all as beautiful as the ringing of bells?

But Mr. Yeats, in his desire for this other world of colour and music,
is no scorner of the everyday earth. His early poems especially, as Mr.
Reid points out, give evidence of a wondering observation of Nature
almost Wordsworthian. In _The Stolen Child_, which tells of a human
child that is enticed away by the fairies, the magic of the earth the
child is leaving is the means by which Mr. Yeats suggests to us the
magic of the world into which it is going, as in the last verse of the
poem:--

    Away with us he's going,
    The solemn eyed:
    He'll hear no more the lowing
    Of the calves on the warm hillside;
    Or the kettle on the hob
    Sing peace into his breast,
    Or see the brown mice bob
    Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
    _For he comes, the human child,
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    From a world more full of weeping than he can understand._

There is no painting here, no adjective-work. But no painting or
adjectives could better suggest all that the world and the loss of the
world mean to an imaginative child than this brief collection of simple
things. To read _The Stolen Child_ is to realize both that Mr. Yeats
brought a new and delicate music into literature and that his genius had
its birth in a sense of the beauty of common things. Even when in his
early poems the adjectives seem to be chosen with the too delicate care
of an artist, as when he notes how--

            in autumnal solitudes
    Arise the leopard-coloured trees,

his observation of the world about him is but proved the more
conclusively. The trees in autumn _are_ leopard-coloured, though a poet
cannot say so without becoming dangerously ornamental.

What I have written so far, however, might convey the impression that in
Mr. Yeats's poetry we have a child's rather than a man's vision at work.
One might even gather that he was a passionless singer with his head in
the moon. This is exactly the misunderstanding which has led many people
to think of him as a minor poet.

The truth is Mr. Yeats is too original and, as it were, secret a poet to
capture all at once the imagination that has already fixed the outlines
of its kingdom amid the masterpieces of literature. His is a genius
outside the landmarks. There is no prototype in Shelley or Keats, any
more than there is in Shakespeare, for such a poem as that which was at
first called _Breasal the Fisherman_, but is now called simply _The
Fisherman_:

    Although you hide in the ebb and flow
    Of the pale tide when the moon has set,
    The people of coming days will know
    About the casting out of my net,
    And how you have leaped times out of mind
    Over the little silver cords.
    And think that you were hard and unkind,
    And blame you with many bitter words.

There, in music as simple as a fable of Aesop, Mr. Yeats has figured the
pride of genius and the passion of defeated love in words that are
beautiful in themselves, but trebly beautiful in their significances.

Beautifully new, again, is the poem beginning, "I wander by the edge,"
which expresses the desolation of love as it is expressed in few modern
poems:

    I wander by the edge
    Of this desolate lake
    Where wind cries in the sedge:
    _Until the axle break
    That keeps the stars in their round
    And hands hurl in the deep
    The banners of East and West
    And the girdle of light is unbound,
    Your breast will not lie by the breast
    Of your beloved in sleep._

Rhythms like these did not exist in the English language until Mr. Yeats
invented them, and their very novelty concealed for a time the passion
that is immortal in them. It is by now a threadbare saying of Wordsworth
that every great artist has himself to create the taste by which he is
enjoyed, but it is worth quoting once more because it is especially
relevant to a discussion of the genius of Mr. Yeats. What previous
artist, for example, had created the taste which would be prepared to
respond imaginatively to such a revelation of a lover's triumph in the
nonpareil beauty of his mistress as we have in the poem that ends:--

    I cried in my dream, "_O women bid the young men lay
    Their heads on your knees, and drown their eyes with your hair,
    Or remembering hers they will find no other face fair
    Till all the valleys of the world have been withered away_,"

One may doubt at times whether Mr. Yeats does not too consciously show
himself an artist of the aesthetic school in some of his epithets, such
as "cloud-pale" and "dream-dimmed." His too frequent repetition of
similar epithets makes woman stand out of his poems at times like a
decoration, as in the pictures of Rossetti and Burne-Jones, rather than
in the vehement beauty of life. It is as if the passion in his verse
were again and again entangled in the devices of art. If we take his
love-poems as a whole, however, the passion in them is at once vehement
and beautiful.

The world has not yet sufficiently realized how deep is the passion that
has given shape to Mr. Yeats's verse. _The Wind Among the Reeds_ is a
book of love-poetry quite unlike all other books of love-poetry. It
utters the same moods of triumph in the beloved's beauty, of despair, of
desire, of boastfulness of the poet's immortality, that we find in the
love-poetry of other ages. But here are new images, almost a new
language. Sometimes we have an image which fills the mind like the image
in some little Chinese lyric, as in the poem _He Reproves the Curlew_:--

    O, curlew, cry no more in the air,
    Or only to the waters of the West;
    Because your crying brings to my mind
    Passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
    That was shaken out over my breast:
    There is enough evil in the crying of the wind.

This passion of loss, this sense of the beloved as of something secret
and far and scarcely to be attained, like the Holy Grail, is the
dominant theme of the poems, even in _The Song of Wandering Aengus_,
that poem of almost playful beauty, which tells of the "little silver
trout" that became

           --a glimmering girl
    With apple blossom in her hair,
    Who called me by my name and ran
    And faded through the brightening air.

What a sense of long pursuit, of a life's quest, we get in the
exquisite last verse--a verse which must be among the best-known of Mr.
Yeats's writings after _The Lake Isle of Innisfree_ and _Had I the
Heaven's Embroidered Cloths_:--

    Though I am old with wandering
    Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
    I will find out where she has gone,
    And kiss her lips and take her hands;
    And walk among long dappled grass,
    And pluck till time and times are done
    The silver apples of the moon,
    The golden apples of the sun.

This is the magic of fairyland again. It seems a little distant from
human passions. It is a wonderful example, however, of Mr. Yeats's
genius for transforming passion into elfin dreams. The emotion is at
once deeper and nearer human experience in the later poem called _The
Folly of Being Comforted_. I have known readers who professed to find
this poem obscure. To me it seems a miracle of phrasing and portraiture.
I know no better example of the nobleness of Mr. Yeats's verse and his
incomparable music.



XIX

TCHEHOV: THE PERFECT STORY-TELLER


It is the custom when praising a Russian writer to do so at the expense
of all other Russian writers. It is as though most of us were
monotheists in our devotion to authors, and could not endure to see any
respect paid to the rivals of the god of the moment. And so one year
Tolstoy is laid prone as Dagon, and, another year, Turgenev. And, no
doubt, the day will come when Dostoevsky will fall from his huge
eminence.

Perhaps the luckiest of all the Russian authors in this respect is
Tchehov. He is so obviously not a god. He does not deliver messages to
us from the mountain-top like Tolstoy, or reveal himself beautifully in
sunset and star like Turgenev, or announce himself now in the hurricane
and now in the thunderstorm like Dostoevsky. He is a man and a medical
doctor. He pays professional visits. We may define his genius more
exactly by saying that his is a general practice. There has, I think,
never been so wonderful an examination of common people in literature as
in the short stories of Tchehov. His world is thronged with the average
man and the average woman. Other writers have also put ordinary people
into books. They have written plays longer than _Hamlet_, and novels
longer than _Don Quixote_, about ordinary people. They have piled such a
heap of details on the ordinary man's back as almost to squash him out
of existence. In the result the reader as well as the ordinary man has a
sense of oppression. He begins to long for the restoration of the big
subject to literature.

Henry James complained of the littleness of the subject in _Madame
Bovary._ He regarded it as one of the miracles of art that so great a
book should have been written about so small a woman. _Tom Jones_, on
the other hand, is a portrait of a common man of the size of which few
people complain. But then _Tom Jones_ is a comedy, and we enjoy the
continual relief of laughter. It is the tragic realists for whom the
common man is a theme so perilous in its temptations to dullness. At the
same time he is a theme that they were bound to treat. He is himself,
indeed, the sole source and subject of tragic realism in literature.
Were it not for the oppression of his futile and philoprogenitive
presence, imaginative writers would be poets and romancers.

The problem of the novelist of contemporary life for whom ordinary
people are more intensely real than the few magnificent personalities is
how to portray ordinary people in such a way that they will become
better company than they are in life. Tchehov, I think, solves the
problem better than any of the other novelists. He sees, for one thing,
that no man is uninteresting when he is seen as a person stumbling
towards some goal, just as no man is uninteresting when his hat is blown
off and he has to scuttle after it down the street. There is bound to be
a break in the meanest life.

Tchehov will seek out the key situation in the life of a cabman or a
charwoman, and make them glow for a brief moment in the tender light of
his sympathy. He does not run sympathy as a "stunt" like so many popular
novelists. He sympathizes merely in the sense that he understands in his
heart as well as in his brain. He has the most unbiassed attitude, I
think, of any author in the world. Mr. Edward Garnett, in his
introduction to Mrs. Garnett's translation of Tchehov's tales, speaks
admirably of his "profundity of acceptation." There is no writer who is
less inclined to use italics in his record of human life. Perhaps Mr.
Garnett goes too far when he says that Tchehov "stands close to all his
characters, watching them quietly and registering their circumstances
and feelings with such finality that to pass judgment on them appears
supererogatory." Tchehov's judgment is at times clear enough--as clear
as if it followed a summing-up from the bench. He portrays his
characters instead of labelling them; but the portrait itself is the
judgment. His humour makes him tolerant, but, though he describes moral
and material ugliness with tolerance, he never leaves us in any doubt as
to their being ugly. His attitude to a large part of life might be
described as one of good-natured disgust.

In one of the newly-translated stories, _Ariadne_, he shows us a woman
from the point of view of a disgusted lover. It is a sensitive man's
picture of a woman who was even more greedy than beautiful. "This thirst
for personal success ... makes people cold, and Ariadne was cold--to me,
to nature, and to music." Tchehov extends towards her so little charity
that he makes her run away to Italy with a bourgeois who had "a neck
like goose-skin and a big Adam's apple," and who, as he talked,
"breathed hard, breathing straight in my face and smelling of boiled
beef." As the more sensitive lover who supplanted the bourgeois looks
back, her incessant gluttony is more vivid in his thoughts than her
charm:

     She would sleep every day till two or three o'clock; she had her
     coffee and lunch in bed. At dinner she would eat soup, lobster,
     fish, meat, asparagus, game, and after she had gone to bed I used
     to bring up something, for instance, roast beef, and she would eat
     it with a melancholy, careworn expression, and if she waked in the
     night she would eat apples or oranges.

The story, it is only fair to say, is given in the words of a lover
dissatisfied with lust, and the judgment may therefore be regarded as
the lover's rather than as Tchehov's. Tchehov sets down the judgment,
however, in a mood of acute perceptiveness of everything that is jarring
and vulgar in sexual vanity. Ariadne's desire to please is never
permitted to please us as, say, Beatrix Esmond's is. Her will to
fascinate does not fascinate when it is refracted in Tchehov's critical
mind:

     She waked up every morning with the one thought of "pleasing." It
     was the aim and object of her life. If I told her that in such a
     house, in such a street, there lived a man who was not attracted by
     her, it would have caused her real suffering. She wanted every day
     to enchant, to captivate, to drive men crazy. The fact that I was
     in her power and reduced to a complete nonentity before her charms
     gave her the same sort of satisfaction that victors used to get in
     tournaments.... She had an extraordinary opinion of her own charms;
     she imagined that if somewhere, in some great assembly, men could
     have seen how beautifully she was made and the colour of her skin,
     she would have vanquished all Italy, the whole world. Her talk of
     her figure, of her skin, offended me, and observing this, she
     would, when she was angry, say all sorts of vulgar things taunting
     me.

A few strokes of cruelty are added to the portrait:

     Even at a good-humoured moment, she could always insult a servant
     or kill an insect without a pang; she liked bull-fights, liked to
     read about murders, and was angry when prisoners were acquitted.

As one reads _Ariadne_, one feels that those who say the artist is not a
judge are in error. What he must avoid becoming is a
prosecuting--perhaps even a defending--counsel.

Egoism seems to be the quality which offends Tchehov most. He is no more
in love with it when it masquerades as virtue than when it parades as
vice. _An Artist's Story_--a beautiful sad story, which might almost
have been written by Turgenev--contains a fine critical portrait of a
woman absorbed in the egoism of good works. She is always looking after
the poor, serving on committees, full of enthusiasm for nursing and
education. She lacks only that charity of the heart which loves human
beings, not because they are poor, but because they are human beings.
She is by nature a "boss." She "bosses" her mother and her younger
sister, and when the artist falls in love with the latter, the stronger
will of the woman of high principles immediately separates lovers so
frivolous that they had never sat on a committee in their lives. When,
the evening after the artist confesses his love, he waits for the girl
to come to him in the garden of her house, he waits in vain. He goes
into the house to look for her, but does not find her. Then through one
of the doors he overhears the voice of the lady of the good works:

     "'God ... sent ... a crow,'" she said in a loud, emphatic voice,
     probably dictating--"'God sent a crow a piece of cheese.... A crow
     ... A piece of cheese ... Who's there?" she called suddenly,
     hearing my steps.

     "It's I."

     "Ah! Excuse me, I cannot come out to open this minute; I'm giving
     Dasha her lesson."

     "Is Ekaterina Pavlovna in the garden?"

     "No, she went away with my sister this morning to our aunt in the
     province of Penza. And in the winter they will probably go abroad,"
     she added after a pause. "'God sent ... the crow ... a piece ... of
     cheese....' Have you written it?"

     I went into the hall and stared vacantly at the pond and the
     village, and the sound reached me of "A piece of cheese ... God
     sent the crow a piece of cheese."

     And I went back by the way I had come here for the first
     time--first from the yard into the garden past the house, then into
     the avenue of lime-trees.... At this point I was overtaken by a
     small boy who gave me a note.

     "I told my sister everything and she insisted on my parting from
     you," I read. "I could not wound her by disobeying. God will give
     you happiness. Forgive me. If only you knew how bitterly my mother
     and I are crying!"

The people who cannot wound others--those are the people whose sharp
pangs we feel in our breasts as we read the stories of Tchehov. The
people who wound--it is they whom he paints (or, rather, as Mr. Garnett
suggests, etches) with such felicitous and untiring irony. But, though
he often makes his people beautiful in their sorrow, he more often than
not sets their sad figures against a common and ugly background. In
_Anyuta_, the medical student and his mistress live in a room
disgusting in its squalor:

     Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, boots, clothes, a big
     filthy slop--pail filled with soap-suds in which cigarette-ends
     were swimming, and the litter on the floor--all seemed as though
     purposely jumbled together in one confusion....

And, if the surroundings are no more beautiful than those in which a
great part of the human race lives, neither are the people more
beautiful than ordinary people. In _The Trousseau_, the poor thin girl
who spends her life making a trousseau for a marriage that will never
take place becomes ridiculous as she flushes at the entrance of a
stranger into her mother's house:

     Her long nose, which was slightly pitted with small-pox, turned red
     first, and then the flush passed up to her eyes and her forehead.

I do not know if a blush of this sort is possible, but the thought of it
is distressing.

The woman in _The Darling_, who marries more than once and simply cannot
live without some one to love and to be an echo to, is "not half bad" to
look at. But she is ludicrous even when most unselfish and
adoring--especially when she rubs with eau-de-Cologne her little, thin,
yellow-faced, coughing husband with "the curls combed forward on his
forehead," and wraps him in her warm shawls to an accompaniment of
endearments. "'You're such a sweet pet!' she used to say with perfect
sincerity, stroking his hair. 'You're such a pretty dear!'"

Thus sympathy and disgust live in a curious harmony in Tchehov's
stories. And, as he seldom allows disgust entirely to drive out sympathy
in himself, he seldom allows it to do so in his readers either. His
world may be full of unswept rooms and unwashed men and women, but the
presiding genius in it is the genius of gentleness and love and
laughter. It is a dark world, but Tchehov brings light into it. There is
no other author who gives so little offence as he shows us offensive
things and people. He is a writer who desires above all things to see
what men and women are really like--to extenuate nothing and to set down
naught in malice. As a result, he is a pessimist, but a pessimist who is
black without being bitter. I know no writer who leaves one with the
same vision of men and women as lost sheep.

We are now apparently to have a complete edition of the tales of Tchehov
in English from Mrs. Garnett. It will deserve a place, both for the
author's and the translator's sake, beside her Turgenev and Dostoevsky.
In lifelikeness and graciousness her work as a translator always reaches
a high level. Her latest volumes confirm one in the opinion that Tchehov
is, for his variety, abundance, tenderness and knowledge of the heart of
the "rapacious and unclean animal" called man, the greatest short-story
writer who has yet appeared on the planet.



XX

LADY GREGORY


It was Mr. Bernard Shaw who, in commenting on the rowdy reception of the
Irish players in some American theatres, spoke of Lady Gregory as "the
greatest living Irishwoman." She is certainly a remarkable enough writer
to put a generous critic a little off his balance. Equal mistress in
comedy and tragedy, essayist, gatherer of the humours of folk-lore,
imaginative translator of heroic literature, venturesome translator of
Molière, she has contributed a greater variety of grotesque and
beautiful things to Anglo-Irish literature than any of her
contemporaries.

She owes her chief fame, perhaps, to the way in which, along with Mr.
G.A. Birmingham and the authors of _Some Experiences of an Irish R.M._,
she has kept alive the tradition of Ireland as a country in which
Laughter has frequent occasion to hold both his sides. She surpasses the
others in the quality of her comedy, however. Not that she is more
comic, but that she is more comprehensively true to life. Mr. Birmingham
has given us farce with a salt of reality; Miss Somerville and Miss
Ross, practical jokers of literature, turned to reality as upper-class
patrons of the comic; but Lady Gregory has gone to reality as to a cave
of treasure. She is one of the discoverers of Ireland. Her genius, like
Synge's, opened its eyes one day and saw spread below it the immense sea
of Irish common speech, with its colour, its laughter, and its music. It
is a sort of second birth which many Irish men and women of the last
generation or so have experienced. The beggar on the road, the piper at
the door, the old people in the workhouse, are henceforth accepted as a
sort of aristocracy in exile.

Lady Gregory obviously sought out their company as the heirs to a great
inheritance--an inheritance of imaginative and humorous speech. Not that
she plundered them of their fantastic tropes so greedily as Synge did.
She studied rather their common turn of phrase, its heights and its
hollows, its exquisite illogic, its passionate underflow of poetry. Has
she not herself told us how she could not get on with the character of
Bartley Fallon in _Spreading the News_, till one day she met a
melancholy man by the sea at Duras, who, after describing the crosses he
endured at home, said: "But I'm thinking if I went to America, it's long
ago I'd be dead. And it's a great expense for a poor man to be buried in
America." Out of sentences like these--sentences seized upon with the
genius of the note-book--she has made much of what is most delightful in
her plays. Her sentences are steeped and dyed in life, even when her
situations are as mad as hatters.

Some one has said that every great writer invents a new language. Lady
Gregory, whom it would be unfair to praise as a great writer, has at
least qualified as one by inventing a new language out of her knowledge
of Irish peasant speech. This, perhaps, is her chief literary peril.
Having discovered the beautiful dialect of the Kiltartan peasantry, she
was not content to leave it a peasant dialect--as we find it in her best
dramatic work, _Seven Short Plays_; but she set about transforming it
into a tongue into which all literature and emotion might apparently be
translated. Thus, she gave us Molière in Kiltartan--a ridiculously
successful piece of work--and she gave us Finn and Cuchullain in
modified Kiltartan, and this, too, was successful, sometimes very
beautifully so. Here, however, she had masterpieces to begin with. In
_Irish Folk-History Plays_, on the other hand, we find her embarking,
not upon translation, but upon original heroic drama, in the Kiltartan
language. The result is unreality as unreal as if Meredith had made a
farm-labourer talk like Diana of the Crossways. Take, for instance, the
first of the plays, _Grania_, which is founded on the story of the
pursuit of Diarmuid and Grania by Finn MacCool, to whom Grania had been
betrothed. When Finn, disguised as a blind beggar, visits the lovers in
their tent, Grania, who does not recognize him, bids him give Finn this
message from her:--

     Give heed to what I say now. If you have one eye is blind, let it
     be turned to the place where we are, and that he might ask news of.
     And if you have one seeing eye, cast it upon me, and tell Finn you
     saw a woman no way sad or afraid, but as airy and high-minded as a
     mountain-filly would be challenging the winds of March!

I flatly refuse to take the high-minded mountain filly seriously as a
tragic heroine, and I confess I hold Finn equally suspect, disguised as
a beggar though he is, when he speaks of himself to Grania as a hard
man--"as hard as a barren step-mother's slap, or a highway gander's
gob." After all, in heroic literature, we must have the illusion of the
heroic. If we can get the peasant statement of the heroic, that is
excellent; its sincerity brings its illusion. But a mere imitation of
the peasant statement of the heroic, such as Lady Gregory seems to aim
at giving us in these sentences, is as pinchbeck and unreal as
Macpherson's _Ossian_. It reaches a grotesque absurdity when at the
close of Act II Finn comes back to the door of the tent and, in order to
stir up Diarmuid's jealousy, says:--

     It is what they were saying a while ago, the King of Foreign is
     grunting and sighing, grunting and sighing, around and about the
     big red sally tree beside the stream!

To write like that is to use not a style but a jargon.

If you want a standard of reality with which to compare these passages
of Abbey-Theatre rhetoric, you have only to turn to Lady Gregory's own
notes at the end of _Irish Folk-History Plays_, where she records a
number of peasant utterances on Irish history. Here, and not in the
plays--in the tragic plays, at any rate--is the real "folk-history" of
her book to be found. One may take, as an example, the note on
_Kincora_, where some one tells of the Battle of Clontarf, in which
Brian Boru defeated the Danes:--

     Clontarf was on the head of a game of chess. The generals of the
     Danes were beaten at it, and they were vexed. It was Broder, that
     the Brodericks are descended from, that put a dagger through
     Brian's heart, and he attending to his prayers. What the Danes left
     in Ireland were hens and weasels. And when the cock crows in the
     morning the country people will always say: "It is for Denmark they
     are crowing; crowing they are to be back in Denmark."

Lady Gregory reveals more of life--leaping, imaginative life--in that
little note than in all the three acts about Grania and the three about
Brian. It is because the characters in the comic plays in the book are
nearer the peasantry in stature and in outlook that she is so much more
successful with them than with the heroes and heroines of the tragedies.
She describes the former plays as "tragic comedies"; but in the first
and best of them, _The Canavans_, it is difficult to see where the
tragedy comes in. _The Canavans_ is really a farce of the days of
Elizabeth. The principal character is a cowardly miller, who ensues
nothing but his own safety in the war of loyalties and disloyalties
which is destroying Ireland. He is equally afraid of the wrath of the
neighbours on the one hand, and the wrath of the Government on the
other. Consequently, he is at his wits' end when his brother Antony
comes seeking shelter in his house, after deserting from the English
Army. When the soldiers come looking for Antony, so helpless with terror
is the miller, that he flies into hiding among his sacks, and his
brother has to impersonate him in the interview with the officer who
carries out the search. The situation obviously lends itself to comic
elaborations, and Lady Gregory misses none of her opportunities. She
flies off from every semblance of reality at a tangent, however, in a
later scene, where Antony disguises himself as Queen Elizabeth, supposed
to have come on a secret visit of inspection to Ireland, and takes in
both his brother and the officer (who is himself a Canavan, anglicized
under the name of Headley). This is a sheer invention of the theatre; it
turns the play from living speech into machinery. _The Canavans_,
however, has enough of present-day reality to make us forgive its
occasional stage-Elizabethanism. On the whole, its humours gain nothing
from their historical setting.

_The White Cockade_, the second of the tragic comedies, is a play about
the flight of King James II after the Battle of the Boyne, and it, too,
is lifeless and mechanical in so far as it is historical. King James
himself is a good comic figure of a conventional sort, as he is
discovered hiding in the barrel; but Sarsfield, who is meant to be
heroic, is all joints and sawdust; and the mad Jacobite lady is a puppet
who might have been invented by any writer of plays. "When my _White
Cockade_ was produced," Lady Gregory tells us, "I was pleased to hear
that Mr. Synge had said my method had made the writing of historical
drama again possible." But surely, granted the possession of the
dramatic gift, the historical imagination is the only thing that makes
the writing of historical drama possible. Lady Gregory does not seem to
me to possess the historical imagination. Not that I believe in
archaeology in the theatre; but, apart from her peasant characters, she
cannot give us the illusion of reality about the figures in these
historical plays. If we want the illusion of reality, we shall have to
turn from _The White Cockade_ to the impossible scene outside the
post-office and the butcher's shop in _Hyacinth Halvey_. As for the
third of the tragic comedies, _The Deliverer_, it is a most interesting
curiosity. In it we have an allegory of the fate of Parnell in a setting
of the Egypt of the time of Moses. Moses himself--or the King's
nursling, as he is called--is Parnell; and he and the other characters
talk Kiltartan as to the manner born. _The Deliverer_ is grotesque and,
in its way, impressive, though the conclusion, in which the King's
nursling is thrown to the King's cats by his rebellious followers,
invites parody. The second volume of the _Irish Folk-History Plays_,
even if it reveals only Lady Gregory's talent rather than her genius, is
full of odd and entertaining things, and the notes at the end of both
of these volumes, short though they are, do give us the franchise of a
wonderful world of folk-history.



XXI

MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM


Mr. Cunninghame Graham is a grandee of contemporary literature. He is
also a grandee of revolutionary politics. Both in literature and in
politics he is a figure of challenge for the love of challenge more than
any other man now writing. Other men challenge us with Utopias, with
moral laws and so forth. But Mr. Graham has little of the prophet or the
moralist about him. He expresses himself better in terms of his
hostilities than in terms of visionary cities and moralities such as
Plato and Shelley and Mazzini have built for us out of light and fire.
It is a temperament, indeed, not a vision or a logic, that Mr. Graham
has brought to literature. He blows his fantastic trumpet outside the
walls of a score of Jerichos:--Jerichos of empire, of cruelty, of
self-righteousness, of standardized civilization--and he seems to do so
for the sheer soldierly joy of the thing. One feels that if all the
walls of all the Jerichos were suddenly to collapse before his
trumpet-call he would be the loneliest man alive. For he is one of those
for whom, above all, "the fight's the thing."

It would be difficult to find any single purpose running through the
sketches which fill most of his books. His characteristic book is a
medley of cosmopolitan "things seen" and comments grouped together under
a title in which irony lurks. Take the volume called _Charity_, for
example. Both the title of the book and the subject-matter of several
of the sketches may be regarded as a challenge to the unco' guid (if
there are any left) and to respectability (from which even the humblest
are no longer safe). On the other hand, his title may be the merest
lucky-bag accident. It seems likely enough, however, that in choosing it
the author had in mind the fact that the supreme word of charitableness
in the history of man was spoken concerning a woman who was taken in
adultery. It is scarcely an accident that in _Charity_ a number of the
chapters relate to women who make a profession of sin.

Mr. Graham is unique in his treatment of these members of the human
family. If he does not throw stones at them, as the Pharisees of virtue
did, neither does he glorify them as the Pharisees of vice have done in
a later generation. He simply accepts them as he would accept a
broken-down nation or a wounded animal, and presents them as characters
in the human drama. It would be more accurate to say "as figures in the
human picture," for he is far more of a painter than a dramatist. But
the point to be emphasized is that these stories are records, tragic,
grim or humorous, as the portraits in Chaucer are--acceptances of life
as it is--at least, of life as it is outside the vision of policemen and
other pillars of established interests. For Mr. Graham can forgave you
for anything but two things--being successful (in the vulgar sense of
the term) or being a policeman.

It would be wrong, however, to suggest that Mr. Graham achieves the very
finest things in charity. It is the charity of tolerance, or the minor
charity, that is most frequent in his pages. The larger charity which we
find in Tolstoi and the great teachers is not here. We could not imagine
Mr. Graham forgetting himself so far in his human sympathies as Ruskin
did when he stooped and kissed the filthy beggar outside the church door
in Rome. Nor do we find in any of these sketches of outcasts that sense
of humanity bruised and exiled that we get in such a story as
Maupassant's _Boule de Suif_. Mr. Graham gloriously insists upon our
recognizing our human relations, but many of them he introduces to us as
first cousins once removed rather than as brothers and sisters by the
grace of God.

He does more than this in his preface, indeed, a marvellous piece of
reality and irony which tells how a courtesan in Gibraltar fell madly in
love with a gentleman-sponger who lived on her money while he could, and
then took the first boat home with discreet heartlessness on coming into
a bequest from a far-off cousin. "Good God, a pretty sight I should have
looked...." he explained to a kindred spirit as they paced the deck of
the boat to get an appetite. "I like her well enough, but what I say is,
Charity begins at home, my boy. Ah, there's the dinner bell!" Mr. Graham
has a noble courtesy, an unerring chivalry that makes him range himself
on the side of the bottom dog, a detestation of anything like
bullying--every gift of charity, indeed, except the shy genius of pity.
For lack of this last, some of his sketches, such as _Un Autre
Monsieur_, are mere anecdotes and decorations.

Possibly, it is as a romantic decorator that Mr. Graham, in his art as
opposed to his politics, would prefer to be judged. He has dredged half
the world for his themes and colours, and Spain and Paraguay and Morocco
and Scotland and London's tangled streets all provide settings for his
romantic rearrangements of life in this book. He has a taste for uncivil
scenes, as Henley had a taste for uncivil words. Even a London street
becomes a scene of this kind as he pictures it in his imagination with
huge motorbuses, like demons of violence, smashing their way through the
traffic. Or he takes us to some South American forest, where the vampire
bats suck the blood of horses during the night. Or he introduces us to a
Spanish hidalgo, "tall, wry-necked, and awkwardly built, with a nose
like a lamprey and feet like coracles." (For there is the same note of
violence, of exaggeration, in his treatment of persons as of places.)
Even in Scotland, he takes us by preference to some lost mansion
standing in grotesque contrast to the "great drabness of prosperity
which overspreads the world." He is a great scene-painter of
wildernesses and lawless places, indeed. He is a Bohemian, a lover of
adventures in wild and sunny lands, and even the men and women are apt
to become features in the strange scenery of his pilgrimages rather than
dominating portraits. In his descriptions he uses a splendid rhetoric
such as no other living writer of English commands. He has revived
rhetoric as a literary instrument. Aubrey Beardsley called Turner a
rhetorician in paint. If we were to speak of Mr. Graham as a painter in
rhetoric, we should be doing more than making a phrase.

But Mr. Graham cannot be summed up in a phrase. To meet him in his books
is one of the desirable experiences of contemporary literature, as to
hear him speak is one of the desirable experiences of modern politics.
Protest, daring, chivalry, the passion for the colour of life and the
colour of words--he is the impersonation of these things in a world
that is muddling its way half-heartedly towards the Promised Land.



XXII

SWINBURNE

1. THE EXOTIC BIRD


Swinburne was an absurd character. He was a bird of showy strut and
plumage. One could not but admire his glorious feathers; but, as soon as
he began to moult--and he had already moulted excessively by the time
Watts-Dunton took him under his roof--one saw how very little body
there was underneath. Mr. Gosse in his biography compared Swinburne to a
coloured and exotic bird--a "scarlet and azure macaw," to, be
precise--and the comparison remains in one's imagination. Watts-Dunton,
finding the poor creature moulted and "off its feed," carried it down to
Putney, resolved to domesticate it. He watched over it as a farmer's
wife watches over a sick hen. He taught it to eat out of his hand. He
taught it to speak--to repeat things after him, even "God Save the
Queen." Some people say that he ruined the bird by these methods. Others
maintain that, on the contrary, but for him the bird would have died of
a disease akin to the staggers. They say, moreover, that the tameness
and docility of the bird, while he was looking after it, have been
greatly exaggerated, and they deny that it was entirely bald of its old
gay feathers.

There you have a brief statement of the great Swinburne question, which,
it seems likely, will last as long as the name of Swinburne is
remembered. It is not a question of any importance; but that will not
prevent us from arguing it hotly. The world takes a malicious joy in
jibing at men of genius and their associates, and a generous joy in
defending them from jibes. Further, the discussion that interests the
greatest number of people is discussion that has come down to a
personal level. Ten people will be bored by an argument as to the nature
of Swinburne's genius for one who will be bored by an argument as to the
nature of Swinburne's submissiveness to Watts-Dunton. Was Watts-Dunton,
in a phrase deprecated by the editors of a recent book of letters, a
"kind of amiable Svengali"? Did he allow Swinburne to have a will of his
own? Did Swinburne, in going to Putney, go to the Devil? Or did not
Watts-Dunton rather play the part of the good Samaritan? Unfortunately,
all those who have hitherto attempted to describe the relations of the
two men have succeeded only in making them both appear ridiculous. Mr.
Gosse, a man of letters with a sting, has done it cleverly. The others,
like the editors to whom I have referred, have done it inadvertently.
They write too solemnly. If Swinburne had lost a trouser-button, they
would not have felt it inappropriate, one feels, for the Archbishop of
Canterbury to hurry to the scene and go down on his knees on the floor
to look for it.... Well, no doubt, Swinburne was an absurd character.
And so was Watts-Dunton. And so, perhaps, is the Archbishop of
Canterbury.

Most of us have, at one time or another, fallen under the spell of
Swinburne owing to the genius with which he turned into music the
enthusiasm of the heretic. He fluttered through the sooty and Sabbatic
air of the Victorian era, uttering melodious cries of protest against
everything in morals, politics, and religion for which Queen Victoria
seemed to stand. He was like a rebellious boy who takes more pleasure in
breaking the Sabbath than in the voice of nightingales. He was one of
the few Englishmen of genius who have understood the French zest for
shocking the bourgeois. He had little of his own to express, but he
discovered the heretic's gospel in Gautier, and Baudelaire and set it
forth in English in music that he might have learned from the Sirens
who sang to Ulysses. He revelled in blasphemous and licentious fancies
that would have made Byron's hair stand on end. Nowadays, much of the
blasphemy and licentiousness seems flat and unprofitable as Government
beer. But in those days it seemed heady as wine and beautiful as a
mediaeval tale. There was always in Swinburne more of pose than of
passion. That is why we have to some extent grown tired of him. But in
the atmosphere of Victorianism his pose was original and astonishing. He
was anti-Christ in a world that had annexed Christ rather than served
him. Nowadays, there is such an abundance of anti-Christs that the part
seems hardly worth playing by a man of first-rate ability. Consequently,
we have to remember the circumstances in which they were written in
order to appreciate to the full many of Swinburne's poems and even some
of the amusing outbursts of heresy in his letters. Still, even to-day,
one cannot but enjoy the gusto with which he praised
Trelawney--Shelley's and Byron's Trelawney--"the most splendid old man I
have seen since Landor and my own grandfather":--

     Of the excellence of his principles I will say but this: that I did
     think, by the grace of Saban (unto whom, and not unto me, be the
     glory and thanksgiving. Amen: Selah), I was a good atheist and a
     good republican; but in the company of this magnificent old rebel,
     a lifelong incarnation of the divine right of insurrection, I felt
     myself, by comparison, a Theist and a Royalist.

In another letter he writes in the same gay, under-graduatish strain of
marriage:--

     When I hear that a personal friend has fallen into matrimonial
     courses, I feel the same sorrow as if I had heard of his lapsing
     into theism--a holy sorrow, unmixed with anger; for who am I to
     judge him? I think at such a sight, as the preacher--was it not
     Baxter?--at the sight of a thief or murderer led to the gallows:
     "There, but for the grace of----, goes A.C.S.," and drop a tear
     over fallen man.

There was, it is only fair to say, a great deal in Swinburne's
insurrectionism that was noble, or, at least, in tune with nobleness.
But it is impossible to persuade oneself that he was ever among the
genuine poets of liberty. He loved insurrectionism for its own sake. He
revelled in it in the spirit of a rhetorician rather than of a martyr.
He was a glorious humbug, a sort of inverted Pecksniff. Even his
republicanism cannot have gone very deep if it is true, as certain of
his editors declare, that having been born within the precincts of
Belgravia "was an event not entirely displeasing to a man of his
aristocratic leanings." Swinburne, it seems, was easily pleased. One of
his proudest boasts was that he and Victor Hugo bore a close resemblance
to each other in one respect: both of them were almost dead when they
were born, "certainly not expected to live an hour." There was also one
great difference between them. Swinburne never grew up.

His letters, some of which Messrs. Hake and Compton Rickett have given
us, are interesting and amusing, but they do not increase one's opinion
of Swinburne's mind. He reveals himself as a sensitive critic in his
remarks on the proofs of Rossetti's poems, in his comments on Morris,
and in his references to Tennyson's dramas. But, as a rule, his
intemperance of praise and blame makes his judgments appear mere
eccentricities of the blood. He could not praise Falstaff, for instance,
without speaking of "the ever dear and honoured presence of Falstaff,"
and applauding the "sweet, sound, ripe toothsome, wholesome kernel" of
Falstaff's character as well as humour. He even defied the opinion of
his idol, Victor Hugo, and contended that Falstaff was not really a
coward. All the world will agree that Swinburne was right in glorifying
Falstaff. He glorified him, however, on the wrong plane. He mixed his
planes in the same way in his paean over Captain Webb's feat in swimming
the English Channel. "I consider it," he said, "as the greatest glory
that has befallen England since the publication of Shelley's greatest
poem, whatever that may have been." This is shouting, not speech. But
then, as I have said, Swinburne never grew up. He never learned to
speak. He was ever a shouter. The question that has so far not been
settled is: Did Watts-Dunton put his hand over Swinburne's mouth and
forcibly stop him from shouting? As we know, he certainly stopped him
from swearing before ladies, except in French. But, as for shouting,
Swinburne had already exhausted himself when he went to the Pines.
Meanwhile, questions of this sort have begun to absorb us to such a
degree that we are apt to forget that Swinburne after all _was_ a man of
genius--a man with an entrancing gift of melody--spiritually an echo,
perhaps, but aesthetically a discoverer, a new creature, the most
amazing ecstatician of our time.



2. GENIUS WITHOUT EYES

Swinburne, says Mr. Gosse, "was not quite like a human being." That is
chiefly what is the matter with his poetry. He did not write quite like
a human being. He wrote like a musical instrument. There are few poets
whose work is less expressive of personal passions. He was much given to
ecstasies, but it is remarkable that most of these were echoes of other
people's ecstasies. He sought after rapture both in politics and poetry,
and he took as his masters Mazzini in the one and Victor Hugo in the
other. He has been described as one who, while conversing, even in his
later years, kept "bobbing all the while like a cork on the sea of his
enthusiasms." And, in a great deal of his rapture, there is much of the
levity as well as the "bobbing" quality of the cork. He who sang the
hymns of the Republic in his youth, ended his life as
rhetorician-in-chief of the Jingoes against the Irish and the Boers. Nor
does one feel that there was any philosophic basis for the change in his
attitude as there was for a similar change in the attitude of Burke and
Wordsworth in their later years. He was influenced more by persons than
by principles. One does not find any real vision of a Republic in his
work as one finds it in the work of Shelley. He had little of the
saintliness of spirit which marks the true Republican and which turns
politics into music in _The Masque of Anarchy_. His was not one of those
tortured souls, like Francis Adams's, which desire the pulling-down of
the pillars of the old, bad world more than love or fame. There is no
utterance of the spirit in such lines as:--

    Let our flag run out straight in the wind!
      The old red shall be floated again
    When the ranks that are thin shall be thinned,
      When the names that are twenty are ten;

    When the devil's riddle is mastered
      And the galley-bench creaks with a Pope,
    We shall see Buonaparte the bastard
      Kick heels with his throat in a rope.

It is possible for those who agree with the sentiments to derive a
certain satisfaction from verse of this sort as from a vehement leading
article. But there is nothing here beyond the rhetoric of the hot fit.
There is nothing to call back the hot fit in anybody older than a boy.

Even when Swinburne was writing out of his personal experience, he
contrived somehow to empty his verse of personality and to put
sentimentalism and rhetoric in its place. We have an instance of this in
the story of the love-affair recorded by Mr. Gosse. Swinburne, at the
age of twenty-five, fell in love with a kinswoman of Sir John Simon, the
pathologist. "She gave him roses, she played and sang to him, and he
conceived from her gracious ways an encouragement which she was far from
seriously intending." Swinburne proposed to her, and, possibly from
nervousness, she burst out laughing. He was only human in feeling
bitterly offended, and "they parted on the worst of terms." He went off
to Northumberland to escape from his wretchedness, and there he wrote
_The Triumph of Time_, which Mr. Gosse maintains is "the most profound
and the most touching of all his personal poems." He assured Mr. Gosse,
fourteen years afterwards, that "the stanzas of this wonderful lyric
represented with the exactest fidelity the emotions which passed through
his mind when his anger had died down, and when nothing remained but the
infinite pity and the pain." Beautiful though the poem intermittently
is, however, it seems to me to lack that radiance of personal emotion
which we find in the great love poems. There is much decoration of music
of a kind of which Swinburne and Poe alone possessed the secret, as in
the verse beginning:--

    There lived in France a singer of old
      By the tideless, dolorous, midland sea.
    In a land of sand and ruin and gold
      There shone one woman and none but she.

But is there more than the decoration of music in the verses which
express the poet's last farewell to his passion?

    I shall go my ways, tread out my measure,
      Fill the days of my daily breath
    With fugitive things not good to treasure,
      Do as the world doth, say as it saith;
    But if we had loved each other--O sweet,
      Had you felt, lying under the palms of your feet,
    The heart of my heart, beating harder with pleasure,
      To feel you tread it to dust and death--

    Ah, had I not taken my life up and given
      All that life gives and the years let go,
    The wine and honey, the balm and leaven,
      The dreams reared high and the hopes brought low?
    Come life, come death, not a word be said;
      Should I lose you living, and vex you dead?
    I shall never tell you on earth, and in heaven,
    If I cry to you then, will you care to know?

Browning, unquestionably, could have expressed Swinburne's passion
better than Swinburne did it himself. He would not have been content
with a sequence of vague phrases that made music. With him each phrase
would have been dramatic and charged with a personal image or a personal
memory.

Swinburne, however, was a great musician in verse and beyond
belittlement in this regard. It would be incongruous to attempt a close
comparison between him and Longfellow, but he was like Longfellow in
having a sense of music out of all proportion to the imaginative content
of his verse. There was never a distinguished poet whose work endures
logical analysis so badly. Mr. Arthur Symons, in a recent essay, refers
scornfully to those who say that "the dazzling brilliance of Swinburne's
form is apt to disguise a certain thinness or poverty of substance." But
he produces no evidence on the other side. He merely calls on us to
observe the way in which Swinburne scatters phrases and epithets of
"imaginative subtlety" by the way, while most poets "present us with
their best effects deliberately." It seems to me, on the contrary, that
Swinburne's phrasing is far from subtle. He induces moods of excitement
and sadness by his musical scheme rather than by individual phrases. Who
can resist, for example, the spell of the opening verses of _Before the
Mirror_, the poem of enchantment addressed to Whistler's _Little White
Girl?_ One hesitates to quote again lines so well known. But it is as
good an example as one can find of the pleasure-giving qualities of
Swinburne's music, apart from his phrases and images:--

    White rose in red rose-garden
      Is not so white;
    Snowdrops that plead for pardon
      And pine from fright,
    Because the hard East blows
    Over their maiden rows,
      Grow not as thy face grows from pale to bright.
    Behind the veil, forbidden,
      Shut up from sight,
    Love, is there sorrow hidden,
      Is there delight?
    Is joy thy dower or grief,
    White rose of weary leaf,
      Late rose whose life is brief, whose loves are light?

The snowdrop image in the first verse is, charming as is the sound of
the lines, nonsense. The picture of the snowdrops pleading for pardon
and pining from fright would have been impossible to a poet with the
realizing genius of the great writers. Swinburne's sense of rhythm,
however, was divorced in large measure from his sense of reality. He was
a poet without the poet's gift of sight. William Morris complained that
Swinburne's poems did not make pictures. Swinburne had not the necessary
sense of the lovely form of the things around him. His attitude to
Nature was lacking, as Mr. Gosse suggests, in that realism which gives
coherence to poetry. To quote Mr. Gosse's own words:--

     Swinburne did not live, like Wordsworth, in a perpetual communion
     with Nature, but exceptional, and even rare, moments of
     concentrated observation wakened in him an ecstasy which he was
     careful to brood upon, to revive, and perhaps, at last, to
     exaggerate. As a rule, he saw little of the world around him, but
     what he did see was presented to him in a blaze of limelight.

Nearly all his poems are a little too long, a little tedious, for the
simple reason that the muzziness of vision in them, limelight and all,
is bewildering to the intelligence. There are few of his poems which
close in splendour equal to the splendour of their opening verses. _The
Garden of Proserpine_ is one of the few that keep the good wine for the
last. Here, however, as in the rest of his poems, we find beautiful
passages rather than beauty informing the whole poem. Swinburne's poems
have no spinal cord. One feels this even in that most beautiful of his
lyrics, the first chorus in _Atalanta in Calydon._ But how many poets
are there who could have sustained for long the miracle of "When the
hounds of spring are on winter traces," and the verse that follows? Mrs.
Disney Leith tells us in a charming book of recollections and letters
that the first time Swinburne recited this poem to her was on horseback,
and one wonders whether he had the ecstasy of the gallop and the music
of racing horses in his blood when he wrote the poem. His poems are
essentially expressions of ecstasy. His capacity for ecstasy was the
most genuine thing about him. A thunderstorm gave him "a more vivid
pleasure than music or wine." His pleasure in thunder, in the gallop of
horses, in the sea, was, however, one fancies, largely an intoxication
of music. It is like one's own enjoyment of his poems. This, too, is
simply an intoxication of music.

The first series of _Poems and Ballads_, it must be admitted, owed its
success for many years to other things besides the music. It broke in
upon the bourgeois moralities of nineteenth-century England like a
defiance. It expressed in gorgeous wordiness the mood of every
green-sick youth of imagination who sees that beauty is being banished
from the world in the name of goodness. One has only to look at the grey
and yellow and purple brick houses built during the reign of Victoria to
see that the green-sick youth had a good right to protest. A world that
makes goodness the enemy of beauty and freedom is a blasphemous denial
of both goodness and beauty, and young men will turn from it in disgust
to the praise of Venus or any other god or goddess that welcomes beauty
at the altar. The first volume of _Poems and Ballads_ was a challenge to
the lie of tall-hatted religion. There is much truth in Mr. Gosse's
saying that "the poet is not a lotus-eater who has never known the
Gospel, but an evangelist turned inside out." He had been brought up
Puritanically by his mother, who kept all fiction from him in his
childhood, but grounded him with the happiest results in the Bible and
Shakespeare. "This acquaintance with the text of the Bible," says Mr.
Gosse, "he retained to the end of his life, and he was accustomed to be
emphatic about the advantage he had received from the beauty of its
language." His early poems, however, were not a protest against the
atmosphere of his home, but against the atmosphere of what can only be
described by the worn-out word "respectability." Mrs. Disney Leith
declares that she never met a character more "reverent-minded." And,
certainly, the irreverence of his most pagan poems is largely an
irreverence of gesture. He delighted in shocking his contemporaries, and
planned shocking them still further with a volume called _Lesbia
Brandon_, which he never published; but at heart he never freed himself
from the Hebrew awe in presence of good and evil. His _Aholibah_ is a
poem that is as moral in one sense as it is lascivious in another. As
Mr. Gosse says, "his imagination was always swinging, like a pendulum,
between the North and the South, between Paganism and Puritanism,
between resignation to the insticts and an ascetic repudiation of their
authority." It is the conflict between the two moods that is the most
interesting feature in Swinburne's verse, apart from its purely artistic
qualities. Some writers find Swinburne as great a magician as ever in
those poems in which he is free from the obsession of the flesh. But I
doubt if Swinburne ever rose to the same great heights in his later work
as in the two first series of _Poems and Ballads._ Those who praise him
as a thinker quote _Hertha_ as a masterpiece of philosophy in music, and
it was Swinburne's own favourite among his poems. But I confess I find
it a too long sermon. Swinburne's philosophy and religion were as vague
as his vision of the world about him. "I might call myself, if I
wished," he wrote in 1875, "a kind of Christian (of the Church of Blake
and Shelley), but assuredly in no sense a Theist."

Mr. Gosse has written Swinburne's life with distinction and
understanding; but it was so eventless a life that the biographer's is
not an easy task. The book contains plenty of entertainment, however. It
is amusing to read of the author of _Anactoria_ as a child going about
with Bowdler's Shakespeare under his arm and, in later years, assisting
Jowett in the preparation of a _Child's Bible._



XXIII

THE WORK OF T.M. KETTLE


To have written books and to have died in battle has been a common
enough fate in the last few years. But not many of the young men who
have fallen in the war have left us with such a sense of perished genius
as Lieutenant T.M. Kettle, who was killed at Ginchy. He was one of those
men who have almost too many gifts to succeed. He had the gift of
letters and the gift of politics; he was a mathematician, an economist,
a barrister, and a philosopher; he was a Bohemian as well as a scholar;
as one listened to him, one suspected at times that he must be one of
the most brilliant conversationalists of the age. He lived in a blaze of
adoration as a student, and, though this adoration was tempered by the
abuse of opponents in his later years, he still had a way of going about
as a conqueror with his charm. Had he only had a little ordinariness in
his composition to harden him, he would almost certainly have ended as
the leading Irish statesman of his day. He was undoubtedly ambitious of
success in the grand style. But with his ambition went the mood of
Ecclesiastes, which reminded him of the vanity of ambition. In his youth
he adhered to Herbert Spencer's much-quoted saying: "What I need to
realize is how infinitesimal is the importance of anything I can do, and
how infinitely important it is that I should do it." But, while with
Spencer this was a call to action, with Kettle it was rather a call to
meditation, to discussion. He was the Hamlet of modern Ireland. And it
is interesting to remember that in one of his early essays he defended
Hamlet against the common charge of "inability to act," and protested
that he was the victim, not of a vacillating will, but of the fates. He
contended that, so great were the issues and so dubious the evidence,
Hamlet had every right to hesitate. "The commercial blandness," he
wrote, "with which people talk of Hamlet's 'plain duty' makes one wonder
if they recognize such a thing as plain morality. The 'removal' of an
uncle without due process of law and on the unsupported evidence of an
unsubpoenable ghost; the widowing of a mother and her casting-off as
unspeakably vile, are treated as enterprises about which a man has no
right to hesitate or even to feel unhappy." This is not
mere speciousness. There is the commonsense of pessimism in it too.

The normal Irish man of letters begins as something of a Utopian. Kettle
was always too much of a pessimist--he himself would have said a
realist--to yield easily to romance. As a very young man he edited in
Dublin a paper called _The Nationist_, for which he claimed, above all
things, that it stood for "realism" in politics. Some men are driven
into revolution by despair: it was as though Kettle had been driven into
reform by despair. He admired the Utopians, but he could not share their
faith. "If one never got tired," he wrote in a sketch of the
International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart in 1907, "one would always
be with the revolutionaries, the re-makers, with Fourier and Kropotkin.
But the soul's energy is strictly limited; and with weariness there
comes the need for compromise, for 'machines,' for reputation, for
routine. Fatigue is the beginning of political wisdom." One finds the
same strain of melancholy transmuting itself into gaiety with an epigram
in much of his work. His appreciation of Anatole France is the
appreciation of a kindred spirit. In an essay called _The Fatigue of
Anatole France_ in _The Day's Burden_ he defended his author's
pessimistic attitude as he might have defended his own:

     A pessimism, stabbed and gashed with the radiance of epigrams, as a
     thundercloud is stabbed by lightning, is a type of spiritual life
     far from contemptible. A reasonable sadness, chastened by the music
     of consummate prose, is an attitude and an achievement that will
     help many men to bear with more resignation the burden of our
     century.

How wonderfully, again, he portrays the Hamlet doubts of Anatole France,
when, speaking of his bust, he says: "It is the face of a soldier ready
to die for a flag in which he does not entirely believe." And he goes
on:

     He looks out at you like a veteran of the lost cause of intellect,
     to whose soul the trumpet of defeat strikes with as mournful and
     vehement a music as to that of Pascal himself, but who thinks that
     a wise man may be permitted to hearten himself up in evil days with
     an anecdote after the manner of his master Rabelais.

Kettle himself practised just such a gloom shot with gaiety. He did not,
however, share Anatole France's gaiety of unbelief. In some ways he was
more nearly akin to Villiers de l'Isle Adam, with his religion and his
love of the fine gesture. Had he been a Frenchman of an earlier
generation, he would have been famous for his talk, like Villiers, in
the cafés. Most people who knew him contend that he talked even better
than he wrote; but one gets a good enough example of his ruling mood and
attitude in the fine essay called _On Saying Good-bye._ Meditating on
life as "a sustained good-bye," he writes:

     Life is a cheap _table d'hôte_ in a rather dirty restaurant, with
     Time changing the plates before you have had enough of anything.

     We were bewildered at school to be told that walking was a
     perpetual falling. But life is, in a far more significant way, a
     perpetual dying. Death is not an eccentricity, but a settled habit
     of the universe. The drums of to-day call to us, as they call to
     young Fortinbras in the fifth act of _Hamlet_, over corpses piled
     up in such abundance as to be almost ridiculous. We praise the
     pioneer, but we praise him on wrong grounds. His strength lies not
     in his leaning out to new things--that may be mere curiosity--but
     in his power to abandon old things. All his courage is a courage of
     adieus.

This meditativeness on the passing nature of things is one of the old
moods of mankind. Kettle, however, was one of the men of our time in
whom it has achieved imaginative expression. I remember his once saying,
in regard to some hostile criticisms that had been passed on his own
"power to abandon old things": "The whole world is nothing but the story
of a renegade. The bud is renegade to the tree, and the flower to the
bud, and the fruit to the flower." Though he rejoiced in change as a
politician, however, he bewaited the necessity of change as a
philosopher. His praise of death in the essay I have just quoted from is
the praise of something that will put an end to changes and goodbyes

     There is only one journey, as it seems to me ... in which we attain
     our ideal of going away and going home at the same time. Death,
     normally encountered, has all the attractions of suicide without
     any of its horrors. The old woman--

an old woman previously mentioned who complained that "the only
bothersome thing about walking was that the miles began at the wrong
end"--

     the old woman when she comes to that road will find the miles
     beginning at the right end. We shall all bid our first real adieu
     to those brother-jesters of ours, Time; and Space; and though the
     handkerchiefs flutter, no lack of courage will have power to cheat
     or defeat us. "However amusing the comedy may have been," wrote
     Pascal, "there is always blood in the fifth act. They scatter a
     little dust in your face; and then all is over for ever." Blood
     there may be, but blood does not necessarily mean tragedy. The
     wisdom of humility bids us pray that in that fifth act we may have
     good lines and a timely exit; but, fine or feeble, there is comfort
     in breaking the parting word into its two significant halves, a
     Dieu. Since life has been a constant slipping from one good-bye to
     another, why should we fear that sole good-bye which promises to
     cancel all its forerunners?

There you have a passage which, in the light of events, seems strangely
prophetic. Kettle certainly got his "good lines" at Ginchy. He gave his
life greatly for his ideal of a free Ireland in a free Europe.

This suggests that underlying his Hamlet there was a man of action as
surely as there was a jester. He was a man with a genius for rising to
the occasion--for saying the fine word and doing the fine thing. He
compromised often, in accordance with his "realistic" view of things;
but he never compromised in his belief in the necessity of large and
European ideals in Ireland. He stood by all good causes, not as an
extremist, but as a helper somewhat disillusioned. But his
disillusionment never made him feeble in the middle of the fight. He was
the sworn foe of the belittlers of Ireland. One will get an idea of the
passion with which he fought for the traditional Ireland, as well as for
the Ireland of coming days, if one turns to his rhymed reply to a living
English poet who had urged the Irish to forget their history and gently
cease to be a nation. The last lines of this poem--_Reason in Rhyme_, as
he called it--are his testament to England no less than his call to
Europeanism is his testament to Ireland:

    Bond, from the toil of hate we may not cease:
    Free, we are free to be your friend.
    And when you make your banquet, and we come.
    Soldier with equal soldier must we sit,
    Closing a battle, not forgetting it.
    With not a name to hide,
    This mate and mother of valiant "rebels" dead
    Must come with all her history on her head.
    We keep the past for pride:
    No deepest peace shall strike our poets dumb:
    No rawest squad of all Death's volunteers,
    No rudest men who died
    To tear your flag down in the bitter years.
    But shall have praise, and three times thrice again,
    When at the table men shall drink with men.

That was Kettle's mood to the last. This was the mood that made him
regard with such horror the execution of Pearse and Connolly, and the
other leaders of the Dublin insurrection. He regarded these men as
having all but destroyed his dream of an Ireland enjoying the freedom
of Europe. But he did not believe that any English Government possessed
the right to be merciless in Ireland. The murder of Sheehy-Skeffington,
who was his brother-in-law, cast another shadow over his imagination
from which he never recovered. Only a week before he died he wrote to me
from France: "The Skeffington case oppresses me with horror." When I saw
him in the previous July, he talked like a man whose heart Easter Week
and its terrible retributions had broken. But there must have been
exaltation in those days just before his death, as one gathers from the
last, or all but the last, of his letters home:

     We are moving up to-night into the battle of the Somme. The
     bombardment, destruction, and bloodshed are beyond all imagination,
     nor did I ever think that the valour of simple men could be quite
     as beautiful as that of my Dublin Fusiliers. I have had two chances
     of leaving them--one on sick leave and one to take a staff job. I
     have chosen to stay with my comrades.

There at the end you have the grand gesture. There you have the "good
lines" that Kettle had always desired.



XXIV

MR. J.C. SQUIRE


It would not have been easy a few years ago to foresee the achievement
of Mr. Squire as a poet. He laboured under the disadvantage of being
also a wit. It used to be said of Ibsen that a Pegasus had once been
shot under him, and one was alarmed lest the reverse of this was about
to happen to Mr. Squire, and lest a writer who began in the gaiety of
the comic spirit should end soberly astride Pegasus. When, in _Tricks of
the Trade_, he announced that he was going to write no more parodies,
one had a depressed feeling that he was about to give up to poetry what
was meant for mankind. Yet, on reading Mr. Squire's collected poems in
_Poems: First Series_, it is difficult not to admit that it was to write
serious verse even more than parody and political epigram that he was
born.

He has arranged the poems in the book in the order of their composition,
so that we can follow the development of his powers and see him, as it
were, learning to fly. To read him is again and again to be reminded of
Donne. Like Donne, he is largely self-occupied, examining the horrors of
his own soul, overburdened at times with thought, an intellect at odds
with the spirit. Like Donne, he will have none of the merely poetic,
either in music or in imagery. He beats out a music of his own and he
beats out an imagery of his own. In his early work, this sometimes
resulted in his poems being unable to rise far from the ground. They
seemed to be labouring on unaccustomed wings towards the ether. What
other living poet has ever given a poem such a title as _Antinomies on
a Railway Station?_ What other has examined himself with the same X-rays
sort of realism as Mr. Squire has done in _The Mind of Man?_ The
latter, like many of Mr. Squire's poems, is an expression of fastidious
disgust with life. The early Mr. Squire was a master of disgust, and we
see the same mood dominant even in the _Ode: In a Restaurant_, where the
poet suddenly breaks out:--

    Soul! This life is very strange,
    And circumstances very foul
    Attend the belly's stormy howl.

The ode, however, is not merely, or even primarily, an expression of
disgust. Here, too, we see Mr. Squire's passion for romance and energy.
Here, too, we see him as a fisherman of strange imagery, as when he
describes the sounds of the restaurant band as they float in upon him
from another room and die again:--

    Like keen-drawn threads of ink dropped into a glass
    Of water, which curl and relax and soften and pass.

The _Ode: In a Restaurant_ is perhaps the summit of Mr. Squire's writing
as a poet at odds with himself, a poet who floats above the obscene and
dull realities of every day, "like a draggled seagull over dreary flats
of mud." He has already escaped into bluer levels in the poem, _On a
friend Recently Dead_, written in the same or the following year. Here
he ceases to be a poet floating and bumping against a ceiling. He is now
ranging the heaven of the emancipated poets. Even when he writes of the
common and prosaic things he now charges them with significance for the
emotions. He is no longer a satirist and philosopher, but a lover. How
well he conjures up the picture of the room in which his friend used to
sit and talk:--

    Capricious friend!
    Here in this room, not long before the end,
    Here in this very room six months ago
    You poised your foot and joked and chuckled so.
    Beyond the window shook the ash-tree bough,
    You saw books, pictures, as I see them now.
    The sofa then was blue, the telephone
    Listened upon the desk and softly shone
    Even as now the fire-irons in the grate,
    And the little brass pendulum swung, a seal of fate
    Stamping the minutes; and the curtains on window and door
    Just moved in the air; and on the dark boards of the floor
    These same discreetly-coloured rugs were lying ...
    And then you never had a thought of dying.

How much richer, too, by this time Mr. Squire's imagery has become! His
observation is both exact and imaginative when he notes how--

      the frail ash-tree hisses
    With a soft sharpness like a fall of mounded grain.

Elsewhere in the same poem Mr. Squire has given us a fine new image of
the brevity of man's life:--

    And I, I see myself as one of a heap of stones,
    Wetted a moment to life as the flying wave goes over.

It was not, however, till _The Lily of Malud_ appeared that readers of
poetry in general realized that Mr. Squire was a poet of the imagination
even more than of the intellect. This is a flower that has blossomed out
of the vast swamps of the anthropologists. It is the song of the ritual
of initiation. Mr. Squire's power in the sphere both of the grotesque
and of lovely imagery is revealed in the triumphant close of this
poem:--

    And the surly thick-lipped men, as they sit about their huts
    Making drums out of guts, grunting gruffly now and then,
    Carving sticks of ivory, stretching shields of wrinkled skin,
    Smoothing sinister and thin squatting gods of ebony,
    Chip and grunt and do not see.

      But each mother, silently,
    Longer than her wont stays shut in the dimness of her hut,
    For she feels a brooding cloud of memory in the air,
    A lingering thing there that makes her sit bowed
    With hollow shining eyes, as the night-fire dies.
    And stare softly at the ember, and try to remember
    Something sorrowful and far, something sweet and vaguely seen
    Like an early evening star when the sky is pale green:
    A quiet silver tower that climbed in an hour,
    Or a ghost like a flower, or a flower like a queen:
    Something holy in the past that came and did not last,
    But she knows not what it was.

It is easy to see in the last lines that Mr. Squire has escaped finally
from the idealist's disgust to the idealist's exaltation. He has learned
to express the beautiful mystery of life and he is no longer haunted in
his nerves by the ugliness of circumstances. Not that he has shut
himself up in an enchanted world: he still remains a poet of this
agonizing earth. In _The Stronghold_ he summons up a vision of "easeful
death," only to turn aside from it as Christian turned aside from the
temptations on his way:--

    But, O, if you find that castle,
    Draw back your foot from the gateway,
    Let not its peace invite you,
    Let not its offerings tempt you,
    For faded and decayed like a garment,
    Love to a dust will have fallen,
    And song and laughter will have gone with sorrow,
    And hope will have gone with pain;
    And of all the throbbing heart's high courage
    Nothing will remain.

And these later poems are not only nobler in passion than the early
introspective work; they are also more moving. Few of the "in memoriam"
poems of the war touch the heart as does that poem, _To a Bulldog_, with
its moving close:--

    And though you run expectant as you always do
      To the uniforms we meet,
    You will never find Willy among all the soldiers
      Even in the longest street.

    Nor in any crowd: yet, strange and bitter thought,
      Even now were the old words said,
    If I tried the old trick, and said "Where's Willy?"
      You would quiver and lift your head.

    And your brown eyes would look to ask if I was serious,
      And wait for the word to spring.
    Sleep undisturbed: I shan't say that again,
      You innocent old thing.

    I must sit, not speaking, on the sofa,
      While you lie there asleep on the floor;
    For he's suffered a thing that dogs couldn't dream of,
      And he won't be coming here any more.

Of the new poems in the book, one of the most beautiful is _August
Moon_. The last verses provide an excellent example of Mr. Squire's gift
both as a painter of things and a creator of atmosphere:--

    A golden half-moon in the sky, and broken gold in the water.

    In the water, tranquilly severing, joining, gold:
    Three or four little plates of gold on the river:
    A little motion of gold between the dark images
    Of two tall posts that stand in the grey water.
    A woman's laugh and children going home.
    A whispering couple, leaning over the railings,
    And somewhere, a little splash as a dog goes in.

    I have always known all this, it has always been,
    There is no change anywhere, nothing will ever change.

    I heard a story, a crazy and tiresome myth.

    Listen! Behind the twilight a deep, low sound
    Like the constant shutting of very distant doors.

    Doors that are letting people over there
    Out to some other place beyond the end of the sky.

The contrast between the beauty of the stillness of the moonlit world
and the insane intrusion of the war into it has not, I think, been
suggested so expressively in any other poem.

Now that these poems have been collected into a single volume it is
possible to measure the author's stature. His book will, I believe, come
as a revelation to the majority of readers. A poet of original music,
of an original mind, of an original imagination, Mr. Squire has now
taken a secure place among the men of genius of to-day. _Poems: First
Series_, is literary treasure so novel and so abundant that I can no
longer regret, as I once did, that Mr. Squire has said farewell to the
brilliant lighter-hearted moods of _Steps to Parnassus_ and _Tricks of
the Trade._ He has brought us gifts better even than those.



XXV

R. JOSEPH CONRAD

1. THE MAKING OF AN AUTHOR


Mr. Joseph Conrad is one of the strangest figures in literature. He has
called himself "the most unliterary of writers." He did not even begin
to write till he was half-way between thirty and forty. I do not like to
be more precise about the date, because there seems to be some doubt as
to the year in which Mr. Conrad was born. Mr. Hugh Walpole, in his brief
critical study of Mr. Conrad, gives the date as the 6th of December,
1857; the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_ says 1856; Mr. Conrad himself
declares in his reminiscences that he was "nine years old or
thereabouts" in 1868, which would bring the year of his birth nearer
1859. Of one thing, however, there is no question. He grew up without
any impulse to be a writer. He apparently never even wrote bad verse in
his teens. Before he began to write _Almayer's Folly_ he "had written
nothing but letters and not very many of these." "I never," he declares,
"made a note of a fact, of an impression, or of an anecdote in my life.
The ambition of being an author had never turned up among those precious
imaginary existences one creates fondly for oneself in the stillness and
immobility of a daydream."

At the same time, Mr. Conrad's is not a genius without parentage or
pedigree. His father was not only a revolutionary, but in some degree a
man of letters. Mr. Conrad tells us that his own acquaintance with
English literature began at the age of eight with _The Two Gentlemen of
Verona_, which his father had translated into Polish. He has given us a
picture of the child he then was (dressed in a black blouse with a white
border in mourning for his mother) as he knelt in his father's study
chair, "with my elbows on the table and my head held in both hands over
the pile of loose pages." While he was still a boy he read Hugo and _Don
Quixote_ and Dickens, and a great deal of history, poetry, and travel.
He had also been fascinated by the map. It may be said of him even in
his childhood, as Sir Thomas Browne has said in general of every human
being, that Africa and all her prodigies were within him. No passage in
his autobiography suggests the first prophecy of his career so markedly
as that in which he writes: "It was in 1868, when nine years old or
thereabouts, that while looking at a map of Africa of the time and
putting my finger on the blank space then representing the unsolved
mystery of that continent, I said to myself with absolute assurance and
an amazing audacity which are no longer in my character now: 'When I
grow up I shall go _there_.'" Mr. Conrad's genius, his consciousness of
his destiny, may be said to have come to birth in that hour. What but
the second sight of genius could have told this inland child that he
would one day escape from the torturing round of rebellion in which the
soul of his people was imprisoned to the sunless jungles and secret
rivers of Africa, where he would find an imperishable booty of wonder
and monstrous fear? Many people regard _Heart of Darkness_ as his
greatest story. _Heart of Darkness_ surely began to be written on the
day on which the boy of nine "or thereabouts" put his finger on the
blank space of the map of Africa and prophesied.

He was in no hurry, however, to accomplish his destiny. Mr. Conrad has
never been in a hurry, even in telling a story. He has waited on fate
rather than run to meet it. "I was never," he declares, "one of those
wonderful fellows that would go afloat in a washtub for the sake of the
fun." On the other hand, he seems always to have followed in his own
determined fashion certain sudden intuitions, much as great generals and
saints do. Alexander or Napoleon could not have seized the future with a
more splendid defiance of reason than did Mr. Conrad, when, though he
did not yet know six words of English, he came to the resolve: "If a
seaman, then an English seaman." He has always been obedient to a star.
He likes to picture himself as a lazy creature, but he is really one of
the most dogged day-labourers who have ever served literature. In
_Typhoon_ and _Youth_ he has written of the triumph of the spirit of man
over tempest and fire. We may see in these stories not only the record
of Mr. Conrad's twenty years' toil as a seaman, but the image of his
desperate doggedness as an author writing in a foreign tongue. "Line by
line," he writes, "rather than page by page, was the growth of
_Almayer's Folly_." He has earned his fame in the sweat of his brow. He
speaks of the terrible bodily fatigue that is the lot of the imaginative
writer even more than of the manual labourer. "I have," he adds,
"carried bags of wheat on my back, bent almost double under a ship's
deck-beams, from six in the morning till six in the evening (with an
hour and a half off for meals), so I ought to know." He declares,
indeed, that the strain of creative effort necessary in imaginative
writing is "something for which a material parallel can only be found in
the everlasting sombre stress of the westward winter passage round Cape
Horn." This is to make the profession of literature a branch of the
heroic life. And that, for all his smiling disparagement of himself as a
Sybarite, is what Mr. Conrad has done.

It is all the more curious that he should ever have been regarded as one
who had added to the literature of despair. He is a tragic writer, it is
true; he is the only novelist now writing in English with the grand
tragic sense. He is nearer Webster than Shakespeare, perhaps, in the
mood of his tragedy; he lifts the curtain upon a world in which the
noble and the beautiful go down before an almost meaningless malice. In
_The End of the Tether_, in _Freya of the Seven Isles_, in _Victory_, it
is as though a very Nero of malice who took a special delight in the
ruin of great spirits governed events. On the other hand, as in _Samson
Agonistes_, so in the stories of Mr. Conrad we are confronted with the
curious paradox that some deathless quality in the dying hero forbids us
utterly to despair. Mr. Hardy has written the tragedy of man's weakness;
Mr. Conrad has written the tragedy of man's strength "with courage never
to submit or yield." Though Mr. Conrad possesses the tragic sense in a
degree that puts him among the great poets, and above any of his living
rivals, however, the mass of his work cannot be called tragic. _Youth,
Typhoon, Lord Jim, The Secret Sharer, The Shadow Line_--are not all
these fables of conquest and redemption? Man in Mr. Conrad's stories is
always a defier of the devils, and the devils are usually put to flight.

Though he is eager to disclaim being a moralist or even having any
liking for moralists, it is clear that he is an exceedingly passionate
moralist and is in more ardent imaginative sympathy with the duties of
man and Burke than with the rights of man and Shelley. Had it not been
so, he might have been a political visionary and stayed at home. As it
is, this son of a Polish rebel broke away from the wavering aspirations
and public dreams of his revolutionary countrymen, and found salvation
as an artist in the companionship of simple men at sea.

Some such tremendous breach with the past was necessary in order that
Mr. Conrad might be able to achieve his destiny as an artist. No one but
an inland child could, perhaps, have come to the sea with such a passion
of discovery. The sea to most of us is a glory, but it is a glory of our
everyday earth. Mr. Conrad, in his discovery of the sea, broke into a
new and wonder-studded world, like some great adventurer of the
Renaissance. He was like a man coming out of a pit into the light. That,
I admit, is too simple an image to express all that going to sea meant
to Mr. Conrad. But some such image seems to me to be necessary to
express that element in his writing which reminds one of the vision of a
man who has lived much underground. He is a dark man who carries the
shadows and the mysteries of the pit about with him. He initiates us in
his stories into the romance of Erebus. He leads us through a haunted
world in which something worse than a ghost may spring on us out of the
darkness. Ironical, sad, a spectator, he is nevertheless a writer who
exalts rather than dispirits. His genius moves enlargingly among us, a
very spendthrift of treasure--treasure of recollection, observation,
imagery, tenderness, and humour. It is a strange thing that it was not
until he published _Chance_ that the world in general began to recognize
how great a writer was enriching our time. Perhaps his own reserve was
partly to blame for this. He tells us that all the "characters" he ever
got on his discharge from a ship contained the words "strictly sober,"
and he claims that he has observed the same sobriety--"asceticism of
sentiment," he calls it--in his literary work as at sea. He has been
compared to Dostoevsky, but in his quietism he is the very opposite of
Dostoevsky--an author, indeed, of whom he has written impatiently. At
the same time, Mr. Conrad keeps open house in his pages as Dostoevsky
did for strange demons and goblins--that population of grotesque
characters that links the modern realistic novel to the fairy tale. His
tales are tales of wonder. He is not only a philosopher of the bold
heart under a sky of despair, but one of the magicians of literature.
That is why one reads the volume called _Youth_ for the third and fourth
time with even more enthusiasm than when one reads it for the first.



2. TALES OF MYSTERY

Mr. Joseph Conrad is a writer with a lure. Every novelist of genius is
that, of course, to some extent. But Mr. Conrad is more than most. He
has a lure like some lost shore in the tropics. He compels to adventure.
There is no other living writer who is sensitive in anything like the
same degree to the sheer mysteriousness of the earth. Every man who
breathes, every woman who crosses the street, every wind that blows,
every ship that sails, every tide that fills, every wave that breaks, is
for him alive with mystery as a lantern is alive with light--a little
light in an immense darkness. Or perhaps it is more subtle than that.
With Mr. Conrad it is as though mystery, instead of dwelling in people
and things like a light, hung about them like an aura. Mr. Kipling
communicates to us aggressively what our eyes can see. Mr. Conrad
communicates to us tentatively what only his eyes can see, and in so
doing gives a new significance to things. Occasionally he leaves us
puzzled as to where in the world the significance can lie. But of the
presence of this significance, this mystery, we are as uncannily certain
as of some noise that we have heard at night. It is like the "mana"
which savages at once reverence and fear in a thousand objects. It is
unlike "mana," however, in that it is a quality not of sacredness, but
of romance. It is as though for Mr. Conrad a ghost of romance inhabited
every tree and every stream, every ship and every human being. His
function in literature is the announcement of this ghost. In all his
work there is some haunting and indefinable element that draws us into a
kind of ghost-story atmosphere as we read. His ships and men are, in an
old sense of the word, possessed.

One might compare Mr. Conrad in this respect with his master--his
master, at least, in the art of the long novel--Henry James. I do not
mean that in the matter of his genius Mr. Conrad is not entirely
original. Henry James could no more have written Mr. Conrad's stories
than Mr. Conrad could have written Henry James's. His manner of
discovering significance in insignificant things, however, is of the
school of Henry James. Like Henry James, he is a psychologist in
everything down to descriptions of the weather. It can hardly be
questioned that he has learned more of the business of psychology from
Henry James than from any other writer. As one reads a story like
_Chance_, however, one feels that in psychology Mr. Conrad is something
of an amateur of genius, while Henry James is a professor. Mr. Conrad
never gives the impression of having used the dissecting-knife and the
microscope and the test-tubes as Henry James does. He seems rather to be
one of the splendid guessers. Not that Henry James is timid in
speculations. He can sally out into the borderland and come back with
his bag of ghosts like a very hero of credulity. Even when he tells a
ghost story, however--and _The Turn of the Screw_ is one of the great
ghost stories of literature--he remains supremely master of his
materials. He has an efficiency that is scientific as compared with the
vaguer broodings of Mr. Conrad. Where Mr. Conrad will drift into
discovery, Henry James will sail more cunningly to his end with chart
and compass.

One is aware of a certain deliberate indolent hither-and-thitherness in
the psychological progress of Mr. Conrad's _Under Western Eyes_, for
instance, which is never to be found even in the most elusive of Henry
James's novels. Both of them are, of course, in love with the elusive.
To each of them a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand. But while
Henry James's birds perch in the cultivated bushes of botanical gardens,
Mr. Conrad's call from the heart of natural thickets--often from the
depths of the jungle. The progress of the steamer up the jungle river in
_Heart of Darkness_ is symbolic of his method as a writer. He goes on
and on, with the ogres of romance always lying in wait round the next
bend. He can describe things seen as well as any man, but it is his
especial genius to use things seen in such a way as to suggest the
unseen things that are waiting round the corner. Even when he is
portraying human beings, like Flora de Barrel--the daughter of the
defalcating financier and wife of the ship's captain, who is the heroine
of _Chance_--he often permits us just such glimpses of them as we get of
persons hurrying round a corner. He gives us a picture of disappearing
heels as the portrait of a personality. He suggests the soul of wonder
in a man not by showing him realistically as he is so much as by
suggesting a mysterious something hidden, something on the horizon, a
shadowy island seen at twilight. One result of this is that his human
beings are seldom as rotund as life. They are emanations of personality
rather than collections of legs, arms, and bowels. They are, if you
like, ghostly. That is why they will never be quoted like Hamlet and my
Uncle Toby and Sam Weller. But how wonderful they are in their
environment of the unusual! How wonderful as seen in the light of the
strange eyes of their creator! "Having grown extremely sensitive (an
effect of irritation) to the tonalities, I may say, of the affair"--so
the narrator of _Chance_ begins one of his sentences; and it is not in
the invention of new persons or incidents, but in just such a
sensitiveness to the tonalities of this and that affair that Mr. Conrad
wins his laurels as a writer of novels. He would be sensitive, I do not
doubt, to the tonalities of the way in which a waitress in a Lyons
tea-shop would serve a lumpy-shouldered City man with tea and toasted
scone. His sensitiveness only becomes matter for enthusiasm, however,
when it is concerned with little man in conflict with destiny--when,
bare down to the immortal soul, he grapples with fate and throws it, or
is beaten back by it into a savage of the first days.

Some of his best work is contained in the two stories _Typhoon_ and
_The Secret Sharer_, the latter of which appeared in the volume called
_'Twixt Land and Sea_. And each of these is a fable of man's mysterious
quarrel with fate told with the Conrad sensitiveness, the dark Conrad
irony, and the Conrad zest for courage. These stories are so great that
while we read them we almost forget the word "psychology." We are swept
off our feet by a tide of heroic literature. Each of the stories,
complex though Mr. Conrad's interest in the central situation may be, is
radically as heroic and simple as the story of Jack's fight with the
giants or of the defence of the round-house in _Kidnapped_. In each of
them the soul of man challenges fate with its terrors: it dares all, it
risks all, it invades and defeats the darkness. _Typhoon_ was, I fancy,
not consciously intended as a dramatization of the struggle between the
soul and the Prince of the power of the air. But it is because it is
eternally true as such a dramatization that it is--let us not shrink
from praise--one of the most overwhelmingly fine short stories in
literature. It is the story of an unconquerable soul even more than of
an unconquerable ship. One feels that the ship's struggles have angels
and demons for spectators, as time and again the storm smashes her and
time and again she rises alive out of the pit of the waters. They are an
affair of cosmic relevance as the captain and the mate cling on,
watching the agonies of the steamer.

     Opening their eyes, they saw the masses of piled-up foam dashing to
     and fro amongst what looked like fragments of the ship. She had
     given way as if driven straight in. Their panting hearts yielded
     before the tremendous blow; and all at once she sprang up again to
     her desperate plunging, as if trying to scramble out from under the
     ruins. The seas in the dark seemed to rush from all sides to keep
     her back where she might perish. There was hate in the way she was
     handled, and a ferocity in the blows that fell. She was like a
     living creature thrown to the rage of a mob: hustled terribly,
     struck at, borne up, flung down, leaped upon.

It is in the midst of these blinding, deafening, whirling, drowning
terrors that we seem to see the captain and the mate as figures symbolic
of Mr. Conrad's heroic philosophy of life.

     He [the mate] poked his head forward, groping for the ear of his
     commander. His lips touched it, big, fleshy, very wet. He cried in
     an agitated tone, "Our boats are going now, sir."

     And again he heard that voice, forced and ringing feebly, but with
     a penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous discord of
     noises, as if sent out from some remote spot of peace beyond the
     black wastes of the gale; again he heard a man's voice--the frail
     and indomitable sound that can be made to carry an infinity of
     thought, resolution, and purpose, that shall be pronouncing
     confident words on the last day, when the heavens fall and justice
     is done--again he heard it, and it was crying to him, as if from
     very, very far: "All right."

Mr. Conrad's work, I have already suggested, belongs to the literature
of confidence. It is the literature of great hearts braving the perils
of the darkness. He is imaginatively never so much at home as in the
night, but he is aware not only of the night, but of the stars. Like a
cheer out of the dark comes that wonderful scene in _The Secret Sharer_
in which, at infinite risk, the ship is sailed in close under the
looming land in order that the captain may give the hidden manslayer a
chance of escaping unnoticed to the land. This is a story in which the
"tonalities of the affair" are much more subtle than in _Typhoon_. It is
a study in eccentric human relations--the relations between the captain
and the manslayer who comes naked out of the seas as if from nowhere one
tropical night, and is huddled away with his secrets in the captain's
cabin. It is for the most part a comedy of the abnormal--an ironic fable
of splendid purposeless fears and risks. Towards the end, however, we
lose our concern with nerves and relationships and such things, and our
hearts pause as the moment approaches when the captain ventures his ship
in order to save the interloper's life. That is a moment with all
romance in it. As the ship swerves round into safety just in the nick of
time, we have a story transfigured into the music of the triumphant
soul. Mr. Conrad, as we see in _Freya of the Seven Isles_ and elsewhere,
is not blind to the commonness of tragic ruin--tragic ruin against which
no high-heartedness seems to avail. He is, indeed, inclined rather than
otherwise to represent fate as a monstrous spider, unaccountable, often
maleficent, hard to run away from. But he loves the fantastic comedy of
the high heart which persists in the heroic game against the spider till
the bitter end. His _Youth_ is just such a comedy of the peacockry of
adventure amid the traps and disasters of fate.

All this being so, it may be thought that I have underestimated the
flesh-and-blood qualities in Mr. Conrad's work. I certainly do not want
to give the impression that his men are less than men. They are as manly
men as ever breathed. But Mr. Conrad seldom attempts to give us the
complete synthesis of a man. He deals rather in aspects of personality.
His longer books would hold us better if there were some overmastering
characters in them. In reading such a book as _Under Western Eyes_ we
feel as though we had here a precious alphabet of analysis, but that it
has not been used to spell a magnificent man.

Worse than this, Mr. Conrad's long stories at times come out as
awkwardly as an elephant being steered backwards through a gate. He
pauses frequently to impress upon us not only the romance of the fact he
is stating but the romance of the circumstances in which somebody
discovered it. In _Chance_ and _Lord Jim_ he is not content to tell us a
straightforward story: he must show us at length the processes by which
it was pieced together. This method has its advantages. It gives us the
feeling, as I have said, that we are voyaging into strange seas and
harbours in search of mysterious clues. But the fatigue of
reconstruction is apt to tell on us before the end. One gets tired of
the thing just as one does of interviewing a host of strangers. That is
why some people fail to get through Mr. Conrad's long novels. They are
books of a thousand fascinations, but the best imagination in them is by
the way. Besides this, they have little of the economy of dramatic
writing, but are profusely descriptive, and most people are timid of an
epic of description.

Mr. Conrad's best work, then, is to be found, I agree with most people
in believing, in three of his volumes of short stories--in _Typhoon,
Youth_, and _'Twixt Land and Sea_. His fame will, I imagine, rest
chiefly on these, just as the fame of Wordsworth and Keats rests on
their shorter poems. Here is the pure gold of his romance--written in
terms largely of the life of the old sailing-ship. Here he has written
little epics of man's destiny, tragic, ironic, and heroic, which are
unique in modern (and, it is safe to say, in all) literature.



XXVI

MR. RUDYARD KIPLING

1. THE GOOD STORY-TELLER


Mr. Kipling is an author whom one has loved and hated a good deal. One
has loved him as the eternal schoolboy revelling in smells and bad
language and dangerous living. One has loved him less, but one has at
least listened to him, as the knowing youth who could tell one all about
the ladies of Simla. One has found him rather adorable as the favourite
uncle with the funny animal stories. One has been amazed by his
magnificent make-believe as he has told one about dim forgotten peoples
that have disappeared under the ground. One has detested him, on the
other hand, as the evangelist with the umbrella--the little Anglo-Indian
Prussian who sing hymns of hate and Hempire.

Luckily, this last Kipling is allowed an entirely free voice only in
verse. If one avoids _Barrack Room Ballads_ and _The Seven Seas_, one
misses the worst of him. He visits the prose stories, too, it is true,
but he does not dominate them in the same degree. Prose is his easy
chair, in which his genius as a humorist and anecdotalist can expand.
Verse is a platform that tempts him at one moment into the performance
of music-hall turns and the next into stump orations the spiritual home
of which is Hyde Park Corner rather than Parnassus. _Recessional_
surprises one like a noble recantation of nearly all the other verse Mr.
Kipling has written. But, apart from _Recessional_, most of his
political verse is a mere quickstep of bragging and sneering.

His prose, certainly, stands a third or a fourth reading, as his verse
does not. Even in a world which Henry James and Mr. Conrad have taught
to study motives and atmospheres with an almost scientific carefulness,
Mr. Kipling's "well-hammered anecdotes," as Mr. George Moore once
described the stories, still refuse to bore us.

At the same time, they make a different appeal to us from their appeal
of twenty or twenty-five years ago. In the early days, we
half-worshipped Mr. Kipling because he told us true stories. Now we
enjoy him because he tells us amusing stories. He conquered us at first
by making us think him a realist. He was the man who knew. We listened
to him like children drinking in travellers' tales. He bluffed us with
his cocksure way of talking about things, and by addressing us in a
mysterious jargon which we regarded as a proof of his intimacy with the
barrack-room, the engine-room, the racecourse, and the lives of
generals, Hindus, artists, and East-enders. That was Mr. Kipling's
trick. He assumed the realistic manner as Jacob assumed the hairy hands
of Esau. He compelled us to believe him by describing with elaborate
detail the setting of his story. And, having once got us in the mood of
belief, he proceeded to spin a yarn that as often as not was as unlike
life as _A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur_. His characters are
inventions, not portraits. Even the dialects they speak--dialects which
used to be enthusiastically spoken of as masterly achievements of
realism--are ludicrously false to life, as a page of Mulvaney's or
Ortheris's talk will quickly make clear to any one who knows the real
thing. But with what humour the stories are told! Mr. Kipling does
undoubtedly possess the genius of humour and energy. There are false
touches in the boys' conversation in _The Drums of the Fore and Aft_,
but the humour and energy with which the progress of the regiment to the
frontier, its disgrace and its rescue by the drunken children, are
described, make it one of the most admirable short stories of our time.

His humour, it must be admitted, is akin to the picaresque. It is
amusing to reflect as one looks round the disreputable company of Mr.
Kipling's characters, that his work has now been given a place in the
library of law and order. When _Stalky and Co._ was published, parents
and schoolmasters protested in alarm, and it seemed doubtful for a time
whether Mr. Kipling was to be reckoned among the enemies of society. If
I am not mistaken, _The Spectator_ came down on the side of Mr. Kipling,
and his reputation as a respectable author was saved.

But the parents and the schoolmasters were not nervous without cause.
Mr. Kipling is an anarchist in his preferences to a degree that no bench
of bishops could approve. He is, within limits, on the side of the
Ishmaelites--the bad boys of the school, the "rips" of the regiment. His
books are the praise of the Ishmaelitish life in a world of law and
order. They are seldom the praise of a law and order life in a world of
law and order. Mr. Kipling demands only one loyalty (beyond mutual
loyalty) from his characters. His schoolboys may break every rule in the
place, provided that somewhere deep down in their hearts they are loyal
to the "Head." His pet soldiers may steal dogs or get drunk, or behave
brutally to their heart's content, on condition that they cherish a
sentimental affection for the Colonel. Critics used to explain this
aspect of Mr. Kipling's work by saying that he likes to show the heart
of good in things evil. But that is not really a characteristic of his
work. What he is most interested in is neither good nor evil but simply
roguery. As an artist, he is a barn rebel and lover of mischief. As a
politician he is on the side of the judges and the lawyers. It was his
politics and not his art that ultimately made him the idol of the
genteel world.



2. THE POET OF LIFE WITH A CAPITAL HELL


Everybody who is older than a schoolboy remembers how Mr. Rudyard
Kipling was once a modern. He might, indeed, have been described at the
time as a Post-Imperialist. Raucous and young, he had left behind him
the ornate Imperialism of Disraeli, on the one hand, and the cultured
Imperialism of Tennyson, on the other. He sang of Imperialism as it was,
or was about to be--vulgar and canting and bloody--and a world that was
preparing itself for an Imperialism that would be vulgar and canting and
bloody bade him welcome. In one breath he would give you an invocation
to Jehovah. In the next, with a dig in the ribs, he would be getting
round the roguish side of you with the assurance that:--

    If you've ever stole a pheasant-egg behind the keeper's back,
      If you've ever snigged the washin' from the line,
    If you've ever crammed a gander in your bloomin' 'aversack,
      You will understand this little song o' mine.

This jumble--which seems so curious nowadays--of delight in piety and
delight in twopence-coloured mischiefs came as a glorious novelty and
respite to the oppressed race of Victorians. Hitherto they had been
building up an Empire decently and in order; no doubt, many
reprehensible things were being done, but they were being done quietly:
outwardly, so far as was possible, a respectable front was preserved. It
was Mr. Kipling's distinction to tear off the mask of Imperialism as a
needless and irritating encumbrance; he had too much sense of
reality--too much humour, indeed--to want to portray Empire-builders as
a company of plaster saints. Like an _enfant terrible_, he was ready to
proclaim aloud a host of things which had, until then, been kept as
decorously in the dark as the skeleton in the family cupboard. The
thousand and one incidents of lust and loot, of dishonesty and
brutality and drunkenness--all of those things to which builders of
Empire, like many other human beings, are at times prone--he never
dreamed of treating as matters to be hushed up, or, apparently, indeed,
to be regretted. He accepted them quite frankly as all in the day's
work; there was even a suspicion of enthusiasm in the heartiness with
which he referred to them. Simple old clergymen, with a sentimental
vision of an Imperialism that meant a chain of mission-stations (painted
red) encircling the earth, suddenly found themselves called upon to sing
a new psalm:--

               Ow, the loot!
               Bloomin' loot!
    That's the thing to make the boys git up an' shoot!
      It's the same with dogs an' men,
      If you'd make 'em come again.
    Clap 'em forward with a Loo! Loo! Lulu! Loot!
    Whoopee! Tear 'im, puppy! Loo! Loo! Lulu! Loot! Loot! Loot!

Frankly, I wish Mr. Kipling had always written in this strain. It might
have frightened the clergymen away. Unfortunately, no sooner had the
old-fashioned among his readers begun to show signs of nervousness than
he would suddenly feel in the mood for a tune on his Old Testament harp,
and, taking it down, would twang from its strings a lay of duty. "Take
up," he would sing--

    Take up the White Man's burden,
      Send forth the best ye breed,
    Go, bind your sons to exile,
      To serve your captives' need;
    To wait in heavy harness
      On fluttered folk and wild--
    Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
      Half-devil and half-child.

Little Willie, in the tracts, scarcely dreamed of a thornier path of
self-sacrifice. No wonder the sentimentalists were soon all dancing to
the new music--music which, perhaps, had more of the harmonium than the
harp in it, but was none the less suited on that account to its
revivalistic purpose.

At the same time, much as we may have been attracted to Mr. Kipling in
his Sabbath moods, it was with what we may call his Saturday night moods
that he first won the enthusiasm of the young men. They loved him for
his bad language long before he had ever preached a sermon or written a
leading article in verse. His literary adaptation of the unmeasured talk
of the barrack-room seemed to initiate them into a life at once more
real and more adventurous than the quiet three-meals-a-day ritual of
their homes. He sang of men who defied the laws of man; still more
exciting, he sang of men who defied the laws of God. Every oath he
loosed rang heroically in the ear like a challenge to the universe; for
his characters talked in a daring, swearing fashion that was new in
literature. One remembers the bright-eyed enthusiasm with which very
young men used to repeat to each other lines like the one in _The Ballad
of "The Bolivar_," which runs--

    Boys, the wheel has gone to Hell--rig the winches aft!

Not that anybody knew, or cared, what "rigging the winches aft" meant.
It was the familiar and fearless commerce with hell that seemed to give
literature a new: horizon. Similarly, it was the eternal flames in the
background that made the tattered figure of Gunga Din, the
water-carrier, so favourite a theme with virgins and boys. With what
delight they would quote the verse:--

     So I'll meet 'im later on,
     At the place where 'e is gone--
    Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
     'E'll be squattin' on the coals,
     Givin' drink to poor damned souls.
    An' I'll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!

Ever since the days of Aucassin, indeed, who praised hell as the place
whither were bound the men of fashion and the good scholars and the
courteous fair ladies, youth has taken a strange, heretical delight in
hell and damnation. Mr. Kipling offered new meats to the old taste.

    Gentlemen-rankers, out on the spree,
    Damned from here to eternity,

began to wear halos in the undergraduate imagination. Those "seven men
from out of Hell" who went

    Rolling down the Ratcliff Road,
    Drunk, and raising Cain,

were men with whom youth would have rejoiced to shake hands. One even
wrote bad verses oneself in those days, in which one loved to picture
oneself as

    Cursed with the curse of Reuben,
    Seared with the brand of Cain,

though so far one's most desperate adventure into reality had been the
consumption of a small claret hot with a slice of lemon in it in a
back-street public-house. Thus Mr. Kipling brought a new violence and
wonder, a sort of debased Byronism, into the imagination of youth; at
least, he put a crown upon the violence and wonder which youth had long
previously discovered for itself in penny dreadfuls and in its rebellion
against conventions and orthodoxies.

It may be protested, however, that this is an incomplete account of Mr.
Kipling's genius as a poet. He does something more in his verse, it may
be urged, than drone on the harmonium of Imperialism, and transmute the
language of the Ratcliff Road into polite literature. That is quite
true. He owes his fame partly also to the brilliance with which he
talked adventure and talked "shop" to a generation that was
exceptionally greedy for both. He, more than any other writer of his
time, set to banjo-music the restlessness of the young man who would not
stay at home--the romance of the man who lived and laboured at least a
thousand miles away from the home of his fathers. He excited the
imagination of youth with deft questions such as--

    Do you know the pile-built village, where the sago-dealers trade--
    Do you know the reek of fish and wet bamboo?

If you did not know all about the sago-dealers and the fish and the wet
bamboo, Mr. Kipling had a way of making you feel unpardonably ignorant;
and the moral of your ignorance always was that you must "go--go--go
away from here." Hence an immense increase in the number of passages
booked to the colonies. Mr. Kipling, in his verse, simply acted as a
gorgeous poster-artist of Empire. And even those who resisted his call
to adventure were hypnotized by his easy and lavish manner of talking
"shop." He could talk the "shop" of the army, the sea, the engine-room,
the art-school, the charwoman; he was a perfect young Bacon of
omniscience. How we thrilled at the unintelligible jingle of the _Anchor
Song_, with its cunning blend of "shop" and adventure:--

      Heh! Tally on. Aft and walk away with her!
      Handsome to the cathead, now! O tally on the fall!
    Stop, seize, and fish, and easy on the davit-guy.
      Up, well up, the fluke of her, and inboard haul!

    Well, ah, fare you well for the Channel wind's took hold of us,
      Choking down our voices as we snatch the gaskets free,
            And its blowing up for night.
            And she's dropping light on light,
    And she's snorting and she's snatching for a breath of open sea.

The worst of Mr. Kipling is that, in verse like this, he is not only
omniscient; he is knowing. He mistakes knowingness for knowledge. He
even mistakes it for wisdom at times, as when he writes, not of ships,
but of women. His knowing attitude to women makes some of his
verse--not very much, to be quite fair--absolutely detestable. _The
Ladies_ seems to me the vulgarest poem written by a man of genius in our
time. As one reads it, one feels how right Oscar Wilde was when he said
that Mr. Kipling had seen many strange things through keyholes. Mr.
Kipling's defenders may reply that, in poems like this, he is merely
dramatizing the point of view of the barrack-room. But it is unfair to
saddle the barrack-room with responsibility for the view of women which
appears here and elsewhere in the author's verse. One is conscious of a
kind of malign cynicism in Mr. Kipling's own attitude, as one reads _The
Young British Soldier_, with a verse like--

    If your wife should go wrong with a comrade, be loth
    To shoot when you catch 'em--you'll swing, on my oath!--
    Make 'im take 'er and keep 'er; that's hell for them both,
      And you're shut o' the curse of a soldier.

That seems to me fairly to represent the level of Mr. Kipling's poetic
wisdom in regard to the relations between the sexes. It is the logical
result of the keyhole view of life. And, similarly, his Imperialism is a
mean and miserable thing because it is the result of a keyhole view of
humanity. Spiritually, Mr. Kipling may be said to have seen thousands of
miles and thousands of places through keyholes. In him, wide wanderings
have produced the narrow mind, and an Empire has become as petty a thing
as the hoard in a miser's garret. Many of his poems are simply miser's
shrieks when the hoard seems to be threatened. He cannot even praise the
flag of his country without a shrill note of malice:--

  Winds of the world, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro--
  And what should they know of England who only England know?
  The poor little street-bred people, that vapour, and fume, and brag,
  They are lifting their heads in the stillness, to yelp at the English flag!

Mr. Kipling is a good judge of yelping.

The truth is, Mr. Kipling has put the worst of his genius into his
poetry. His verses have brazen "go" and lively colour and something of
the music of travel; but they are too illiberal, too snappish, too
knowing, to afford deep or permanent pleasure to the human spirit.



XXVII

MR. THOMAS HARDY

1. HIS GENIUS AS A POET


Mr. Thomas Hardy, in the opinion of some, is greater as a poet than as a
novelist. That is one of the mild heresies in which the amateur of
letters loves to indulge. It has about as much truth in it as the
statement that Milton was greater as a controversialist than as a poet,
or that Lamb's plays are better than his essays. Mr. Hardy has
undoubtedly made an original contribution to the poetry of his time. But
he has given us no verse that more than hints at the height and depth of
the tragic vision which is expressed in _Jude the Obscure_. He is not by
temperament a singer. His music is a still small voice unevenly matched
against his consciousness of midnight and storm. It is a flutter of
wings in the rain over a tomb. His sense of beauty is frail and
midge-like compared with his sense of everlasting frustration. The
conceptions in his novels are infinitely more poetic than the
conceptions in his verse. In _Tess_ and _Jude_ destiny presides with
something of the grandeur of the ancient gods. Except in _The Dynasts_
and a few of the lyrics, there is none of this brooding majesty in his
verse. And even in _The Dynasts_, majestic as the scheme of it is, there
seems to me to be more creative imagination in the prose passages than
in the poetry.

Truth to tell, Mr. Hardy is neither sufficiently articulate nor
sufficiently fastidious to be a great poet. He does not express life
easily in beautiful words or in images. There is scarcely a magical
image in the hundred or so poems in the book of his selected verse.
Thus he writes in _I Found Her Out There_ of one who:--

          would sigh at the tale
    Of sunk Lyonesse
    As a wind-tugged tress
    Flapped her cheek like a flail.

There could not be an uglier and more prosaic exaggeration than is
contained in the image in the last line. And prose intrudes in the
choice of words as well as in images. Take, for example, the use of the
word "domiciled" in the passage in the same poem about--

          that western sea,
    As it swells and sobs,
    Where she once domiciled.

There are infelicities of the same kind in the first verse of the poem
called _At an Inn_:--

    When we, as strangers, sought
      Their catering care,
    Veiled smiles bespoke their thought
      Of what we were.

    They warmed as they opined
      Us more than friends--
    That we had all resigned
      For love's dear ends.

"Catering care" is an appalling phrase.

I do not wish to over-emphasize the significance of flaws of this kind.
But, at a time when all the world is eager to do honour to Mr. Hardy's
poems, it is surely well to refrain from doing equal honour to his
faults. We shall not appreciate the splendid interpretation of earth in
_The Return of the Native_ more highly for persuading ourselves that:--

    Intermissive aim at the thing sufficeth,

is a line of good poetry. Similarly the critic, if he is to enjoy the
best of Mr. Hardy, must also be resolute not to shut his eyes to the
worst in such a verse as that with which _A Broken Appointment_
begins:--

    You did not come,
    And marching time drew on, and wore me numb,--
    Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
    Than that I thus found lacking in your make
    That high compassion which can overbear
    Reluctance for pure loving kindness' sake
    Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
    You did not come.

There are hints of the grand style of lyric poetry in these lines, but
phrases like "in your make" and "as the hope-hour stroked its sum" are
discords that bring it tumbling to the levels of Victorian commonplace.

What one does bless Mr. Hardy for, however, both in his verse and in his
prose, is his bleak sincerity. He writes out of the reality of his
experience. He has a temperament sensitive beyond that of all but a few
recent writers to the pain and passion of human beings. Especially is he
sensitive to the pain and passion of frustrated lovers. At least half
his poems, I fancy, are poems of frustration. And they, hold us under
the spell of reality like a tragedy in a neighbour's house, even when
they leave us most mournful over the emptiness of the world. One can see
how very mournful Mr. Hardy's genius is if one compares it with that of
Browning, his master in the art of the dramatic lyric. Browning is also
a poet of frustrated lovers. One can remember poem after poem of his
with a theme that might easily have served for Mr. Hardy--_Too Late,
Cristina, The Lost Mistress, The Last Ride Together, The Statue and the
Bust_, to name a few. But what a sense of triumph there is in Browning's
tragedies! Even when he writes of the feeble-hearted, as in _The Statue
and the Bust_, he leaves us with the feeling that we are in the presence
of weakness in a world in which courage prevails. His world is a place
of opulence, not of poverty. Compare _The Last Ride Together_ with Mr.
Hardy's _The Phantom Horsewoman_, and you will see a vast energy and
beauty issuing from loss in the one, while in the other there is little
but a sad shadow. To have loved even for an hour is with Browning to
live for ever after in the inheritance of a mighty achievement. To have
loved for an hour is, in Mr. Hardy's imagination, to have deepened the
sadness even more than the beauty of one's memories.

Not that Mr. Hardy's is quite so miserable a genius as is commonly
supposed. It is false to picture him as always on his knees before the
grave-worm. His faith in beauty and joy may be only a thin flame, but it
is never extinguished. His beautiful lyric, _I Look into my Glass_, is
the cry of a soul dark but not utterly darkened:--

    I look into my glass,
    And view my wasting skin,
    And say: "Would God, it came to pass
    My heart had shrunk as thin!"

    For then, I, undistrest,
    By hearts grown cold to me,
    Could lonely wait my endless rest
    With equanimity.

    But Time, to make me grieve,
    Part steals, lets part abide;
    And shakes this fragile frame at eve
    With throbbings of noontide.

That is certainly worlds apart from the unquenchable joy of Browning's
"All the breath and the bloom of the world in the bag of one bee"; but
it is also far removed from the "Lo! you may always end it where you
will" of _The City of Dreadful Night_. And despair is by no means
triumphant in what is perhaps the most attractive of all Mr. Hardy's
poems, _The Oxen_:--

    Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
      "Now they are all on their knees,"
    An elder said as we sat in a flock
      By the embers in hearthside ease.

    We pictured the meek mild creatures where
      They dwelt in their strawy pen,
    Nor did it occur to one of us there
      To doubt they were kneeling then.

    So fair a fancy few would weave
      In these years! Yet, I feel,
    If some one said on Christmas Eve,
      "Come; see the oxen kneel

    "In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
      Our childhood used to know,"
    I should go with him in the gloom,
      Hoping it might be so.

The mood of faith, however--or, rather, of delight in the memory of
faith--is not Mr. Hardy's prevailing mood. At the same time, his unfaith
relates to the duration of love rather than to human destiny. He
believes in "the world's amendment." He can enter upon a war without
ironical doubts, as we see in the song _Men who March Away_. More than
this, he can look forward beyond war to the coming of a new patriotism
of the world. "How long," he cries, in a poem written some years ago:--

    How long, O ruling Teutons, Slavs, and Gaels,
    Must your wroth reasonings trade on lives like these,
    That are as puppets in a playing hand?
    When shall the saner softer polities
    Whereof we dream, have sway in each proud land,
    And Patriotism, grown Godlike, scorn to stand
    Bondslave to realms, but circle earth and seas?

But, perhaps, his characteristic attitude to war is to be found, not in
lines like these, but in that melancholy poem, _The Souls of the Slain_,
in which the souls of the dead soldiers return to their country and
question a "senior soul-flame" as to how their friends and relatives
have kept their doughty deeds in remembrance:--

    "And, General, how hold out our sweethearts,
        Sworn loyal as doves?"
      "Many mourn; many think
      It is not unattractive to prink
    Them in sable for heroes. Some fickle and fleet hearts
        Have found them new loves."

    "And our wives?" quoth another, resignedly,
        "Dwell they on our deeds?"
      "Deeds of home; that live yet
      Fresh as new--deeds of fondness or fret,
    Ancient words that were kindly expressed or unkindly,
        These, these have their heeds."

Mr. Hardy has too bitter a sense of reality to believe much in the glory
of war. His imagination has always been curiously interested in
soldiers, but that is more because they have added a touch of colour to
the tragic game of life than because he is on the side of the military
show. One has only to read _The Dynasts_ along with _Barrack-room
Ballads_ to see that the attitude of Mr. Hardy to war is the attitude of
the brooding artist in contrast with that of the music-hall politician.
Not that Mr. Kipling did not tell us some truths about the fate of our
fellows, but he related them to an atmosphere that savoured of beer and
tobacco rather than of eternity. The real world to Mr. Hardy is the
world of ancient human things, in which war has come to be a hideous
irrelevance. That is what he makes emphatically clear in _In the Time of
the Breaking of Nations_:--

    Only a man harrowing clods
      In a slow silent walk
    With an old horse that stumbles and nods
      Half asleep as they stalk.

    Only thin smoke without flame
      From the heaps of couch grass:
    Yet this will go onward the same
      Though Dynasties pass.

    Yonder a maid and her wight
      Come whispering by;
    War's annals will fade into night
      Ere their story die

It may be thought, on the other hand, that Mr. Hardy's poems about war
are no more expressive of tragic futility than his poems about love.
Futility and frustration are ever-recurring themes in both. His lovers,
like his soldiers, rot in the grave defeated of their glory. Lovers are
always severed both in life and in death:--

    Rain on the windows, creaking doors,
      With blasts that besom the green,
    And I am here, and you are there,
      And a hundred miles between!

In _Beyond the Last Lamp_ we have the same mournful cry over severance.
There are few sadder poems than this with its tristful refrain, even in
the works of Mr. Hardy. It is too long to quote in full, but one may
give the last verses of this lyric of lovers in a lane:--

    When I re-trod that watery way
    Some hours beyond the droop of day,
    Still I found pacing there the twain
      Just as slowly, just as sadly,
      Heedless of the night and rain.
    One could but wonder who they were
    And what wild woe detained them there.

    Though thirty years of blur and blot
    Have slid since I beheld that spot,
    And saw in curious converse there
      Moving slowly, moving sadly,
      That mysterious tragic pair,
    Its olden look may linger on--
    All but the couple; they have gone.

    Whither? Who knows, indeed.... And yet
    To me, when nights are weird and wet,
    Without those comrades there at tryst
      Creeping slowly, creeping sadly,
      That love-lane does not exist.
    There they seem brooding on their pain,
    And will, while such a lane remain.

And death is no kinder than life to lovers:--

    I shall rot here, with those whom in their day
          You never knew.
    And alien ones who, ere they chilled to clay,
          Met not my view,
    Will in yon distant grave-place ever neighbour you.

    No shade of pinnacle or tree or tower,
          While earth endures,
    Will fall on my mound and within the hour
          Steal on to yours;
    One robin never haunt our two green covertures.

Mr. Hardy, fortunately, has the genius to express the burden and the
mystery even of a world grey with rain and commonplace in achievement.
There is a beauty of sorrow in these poems in which "life with the sad,
seared face" mirrors itself without disguise. They bring us face to face
with an experience intenser than our own. There is nothing common in the
tragic image of dullness in _A Common-place Day_:--

        The day is turning ghost,
    And scuttles from the kalendar in fits and furtively,
        To join the anonymous host
    Of those that throng oblivion; ceding his place, maybe,
        To one of like degree....

        Nothing of tiniest worth
    Have I wrought, pondered, planned; no one thing asking blame or praise,
        Since the pale corpse-like birth
    Of this diurnal unit, bearing blanks in all its rays--
        Dullest of dull-hued days!

        Wanly upon the panes
    The rain slides, as have slid since morn my colourless thoughts; and yet
        Here, while Day's presence wanes,
    And over him the sepulchre-lid is slowly lowered and set,
        He wakens my regret.

In the poem which contains these verses the emotion of the poet gives
words often undistinguished an almost Elizabethan rhythm. Mr. Hardy,
indeed, is a poet who often achieves music of verses, though he seldom
achieves music of phrase.

We must, then, be grateful without niggardliness for the gift of his
verse. On the larger canvas of his prose we find a vision more abundant,
more varied, more touched with humour. But his poems are the genuine
confessions of a soul, the meditations of a man of genius, brooding not
without bitterness but with pity on the paths that lead to the grave,
and the figures that flit along them so solitarily and so ineffectually.



2. A POET IN WINTER


In the last poem in his last book, _Moments of Vision_, Mr. Hardy
meditates on his own immortality, as all men of genius probably do at
one time or another. _Afterwards_, the poem in which he does so, is
interesting, not only for this reason, but because it contains
implicitly a definition and a defence of the author's achievement in
literature. The poem is too long to quote in full, but the first three
verses will be sufficient to illustrate what I have said:

    When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
      And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
    Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the people say:
      "He was a man who used to notice such things"?

    If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
      The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
    Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, will a gazer think:
      "To him this must have been a familiar sight"?

    If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
      When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
    Will they say: "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
      But he could do little for them; and now he is gone"?

Even without the two other verses, we have here a remarkable attempt on
the part of an artist to paint a portrait, as it were, of his own
genius.

Mr. Hardy's genius is essentially that of a man who "used to notice such
things" as the fluttering of the green leaves in May, and to whom the
swift passage of a night-jar in the twilight has "been a familiar
sight." He is one of the most sensitive observers of nature who have
written English prose. It may even be that he will be remembered longer
for his studies of nature than for his studies of human nature. His days
are among his greatest characters, as in the wonderful scene on the
heath in the opening of _The Return of the Native_. He would have
written well of the world, one can imagine, even if he had found it
uninhabited. But his sensitiveness is not merely sensitiveness of the
eye: it is also sensitiveness of the heart. He has, indeed, that
hypersensitive sort of temperament, as the verse about the hedgehog
suggests, which is the victim at once of pity and of a feeling of
hopeless helplessness. Never anywhere else has there been such a world
of pity put into a quotation as Mr. Hardy has put into that line and a
half from _The Two Gentlemen of Verona_, which he placed on the
title-page of _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_:--

    Poor wounded name, my bosom as a bed
    Shall lodge thee!

In the use to which he put these words Mr. Hardy may be said to have
added to the poetry of Shakespeare. He gave them a new imaginative
context, and poured his own heart into them. For the same helpless pity
which he feels for dumb creatures he feels for men and women:

    ... He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
    But he could do little for them.

It is the spirit of pity brooding over the landscape in Mr. Hardy's
books that makes them an original and beautiful contribution to
literature, in spite of his endless errors as an artist.

His last book is a reiteration both of his genius and of his errors. As
we read the hundred and sixty or so poems it contains we get the
impression of genius presiding over a multitude of errors. There are not
half a dozen poems in the book the discovery of which, should the
author's name be forgotten, would send the critics in quest of other
work from the same magician's hand. One feels safe in prophesying
immortality for only two, _The Oxen_ and _In Time of "the Breaking of
Nations"_; and these have already appeared in the selection of the
author's poems published in the Golden Treasury Series. The fact that
the entirely new poems contain nothing on the plane of immortality,
however, does not mean that _Moments of Vision_ is a book of verse about
which one has the right to be indifferent. No writer who is so concerned
as Mr. Hardy with setting down what his eyes and heart have told him can
be regarded with indifference. Mr. Hardy's art is lame, but it carries
the burden of genius. He may be a stammerer as a poet, but he stammers
in words of his own concerning a vision of his own. When he notes the
bird flying past in the dusk, "like an eyelid's soundless blink," he
does not achieve music, but he chronicles an experience, not merely
echoes one, with such exact truth as to make it immortally a part of all
experience. There is nothing borrowed or secondhand, again, in Mr.
Hardy's grim vision of the yew-trees in the churchyard by moonlight in
_Jubilate_:

    The yew-tree arms, glued hard to the stiff, stark air,
      Hung still in the village sky as theatre-scenes.

Mr. Hardy may not enable us to hear the music which is more than the
music of the earth, but he enables us to see what he saw. He
communicates his spectacle of the world. He builds his house lopsided,
harsh, and with the windows in unusual places; but it is his own house,
the house of a seer, of a personality. That is what we are aware of in
such a poem as _On Sturminster Foot Bridge_, in which perfect and
precise observation of nature is allied to intolerably prosaic
utterance. The first verse of this poem runs:

    Reticulations creep upon the slack stream's face
        When the wind skims irritably past.
    The current clucks smartly into each hollow place
    That years of flood have scrabbled in the pier's sodden base;
      The floating-lily leaves rot fast.

One could make as good music as that out of a milk-cart. One would
accept such musicless verse only from a man of genius. But even here Mr.
Hardy takes us home with him and makes us stand by his side and listen
to the clucking stream. He takes us home with him again in the poem
called _Overlooking the River Stour_, which begins:

    The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
            Above the river-gleam
            In the wet June's last beam:
    Like little crossbows animate,
    The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
            Above the river-gleam.

    Planing up shavings made of spray,
            A moor-hen darted out
            From the bank thereabout.
    And through the stream-shine ripped her way;
    Planing up shavings made of spray,
            A moor-hen darted out.

In this poem we find observation leaping into song in one line and
hobbling into a hard-wrought image in another. Both the line in which
the first appears, however--

    Like little crossbows animate,

and the line in which the second happens--

    Planing up shavings made of spray,

equally make us feel how watchful and earnest an observer is Mr. Hardy.
He is a man, we realize, to whom bird and river, heath and stone, road
and field and tree, mean immensely more than to his fellows. I do not
suggest that he observes nature without bias--that he mirrors the
procession of visible things with the delight of a child or a lyric
poet. He makes nature his mirror as well as himself a mirror of nature.
He colours it with all his sadness, his helplessness, his (if one may
invent the word and use it without offence) warpedness. If I am not
mistaken, he once compared a bleak morning in _The Woodlanders_ to the
face of a still-born baby. He loves to dwell on the uncomfortable moods
of nature--on such things as:--

      ... the watery light
    Of the moon in its old age;

concerning which moon he goes on to describe how:

    Green-rheumed clouds were hurrying past where mute and cold it globed
    Like a dying dolphin's eye seen through a lapping wave.

This, I fear, is a failure, but it is a failure in a common mood of the
author's. It is a mood in which nature looks out at us, almost ludicrous
in its melancholy. In such a poem as that from which I have quoted, it
is as though we saw nature with a drip on the end of its nose. Mr.
Hardy's is something different from a tragic vision. It is a desolate,
disheartening, and, in a way, morbid vision. We wander with him too
often under--

      Gaunt trees that interlace,
    Through whose flayed fingers I see too clearly
      The nakedness of the place.

And Mr. Hardy's vision of the life of men and women transgresses
similarly into a denial of gladness. His gloom, we feel, goes too far.
It goes so far that we are tempted at times to think of it as a
factitious gloom. He writes a poem called _Honeymoon Time at an Inn_,
and this is the characteristic atmosphere in which he introduces us to
the bridegroom and bride:

    At the shiver of morning, a little before the false dawn,
        The moon was at the window-square,
      Deedily brooding in deformed decay--
      The curve hewn off her cheek as by an adze;
    At the shiver of morning, a little before the false dawn,
        So the moon looked in there.

There are no happy lovers or happy marriages in Mr. Hardy's world. Such
people as are happy would not be happy if only they knew the truth. Many
of Mr. Hardy's poems are, as I have already said, dramatic lyrics on the
pattern invented by Robert Browning--short stories in verse. But there
is a certain air of triumph even in Browning's tragic figures. Mr.
Hardy's figures are the inmates of despair. Browning's love-poems belong
to heroic literature. Mr. Hardy's love-poems belong to the literature of
downheartedness. Browning's men and women are men and women who have had
the courage of their love, or who are shown at least against a
background of Browning's own courage. Mr. Hardy's men and women do not
know the wild faith of love. They have not the courage even of their
sins. They are helpless as fishes in a net--a scarcely rebellious
population of the ill-matched and the ill-starred.

Many of the poems in his last book fail through a lack of imaginative
energy. It is imaginative energy that makes the reading of a great
tragedy like _King Lear_ not a depressing, but an exalting experience.
But is there anything save depression to be got from reading such a poem
as _A Caged Goldfinch_:--

    Within a churchyard, on a recent grave,
      I saw a little cage
    That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence, save
      Its hops from stage to stage.

    There was inquiry in its wistful eye.
      And once it tried to sing;
    Of him or her who placed it there, and why,
      No one knew anything.

    True, a woman was found drowned the day ensuing,
      And some at times averred
    The grave to be her false one's, who when wooing
      Gave her the bird.

Apart even from the ludicrous associations which modern slang has given
the last phrase, making it look like a queer pun, this poem seems to one
to drive sorrow over the edge of the ridiculous. That goldfinch has
surely escaped from a Max-Beerbohm parody. The ingenuity with which Mr.
Hardy plots tragic situations for his characters in some of his other
poems is, indeed, in repeated danger of misleading him into parody. One
of his poems tells, for instance, how a stranger finds an old man
scrubbing a Statue of Liberty in a city square, and, hearing he does it
for love, hails him as "Liberty's knight divine." The old man confesses
that he does not care twopence for Liberty, and declares that he keeps
the statue clean in memory of his beautiful daughter, who had sat as a
model for it--a girl fair in fame as in form. In the interests of his
plot and his dismal philosophy, Mr. Hardy identifies the stranger with
the sculptor of the statue, and dismisses us with his blighting aside on
the old man's credulous love of his dead daughter:

    Answer I gave not. Of that form
      The carver was I at his side;
    His child my model, held so saintly,
         Grand in feature.
         Gross in nature,
      In the dens of vice had died.

This is worse than optimism.

It is only fair to say that, though poem after poem--including the one
about the fat young man whom the doctors gave only six months to live
unless he walked a great deal, and who therefore was compelled to refuse
a drive in the poet's phaeton, though night was closing over the
heath--dramatizes the meaningless miseries of life, there is also to be
found in some of the poems a faint sunset-glow of hope, almost of faith.
There have been compensations, we realize in _I Travel as a Phantom
Now_, even in this world of skeletons. Mr. Hardy's fatalism concerning
God seems not very far from faith in God in that beautiful Christmas
poem, _The Oxen_. Still, the ultimate mood of the poems is not faith. It
is one of pity, so despairing as to be almost nihilism. There is mockery
in it without the merriment of mockery. The general atmosphere of the
poems, it seems to me, is to be found perfectly expressed in the last
three lines of one of the poems, which is about a churchyard, a dead
woman, a living rival, and the ghost of a soldier:

    There was a cry by the white-flowered mound,
    There was a laugh from underground,
    There was a deeper gloom around.

How much of the art of Thomas Hardy is suggested in those lines! The
laugh from underground, the deeper gloom--are they not all but
omnipresent throughout his later and greatest work? The war could not
deepen such pessimism. As a matter of fact, Mr. Hardy's war poetry is
more cheerful, because more heroic, than his poetry about the normal
world. Destiny was already crueller than any war-lord. The Prussian, to
such an imagination, could be no more than a fly--a poisonous fly--on
the wheel of destiny's disastrous car.





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