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´╗┐Title: The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard
Author: Meynell, Alice Christiana Thompson, 1847-1922
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard" ***

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Transcribed from the 1897 John Lane edition by David Price, email



The Colour of Life
A Point Of Biography
Winds of the World
The Honours of Mortality
At Monastery Gates
Rushes and Reeds
Eleonora Duse
Donkey Races
A Woman in Grey
Symmetry and Incident
The Illusion of Historic Time


Red has been praised for its nobility as the colour of life.  But the
true colour of life is not red.  Red is the colour of violence, or of
life broken open, edited, and published.  Or if red is indeed the colour
of life, it is so only on condition that it is not seen.  Once fully
visible, red is the colour of life violated, and in the act of betrayal
and of waste.  Red is the secret of life, and not the manifestation
thereof.  It is one of the things the value of which is secrecy, one of
the talents that are to be hidden in a napkin.  The true colour of life
is the colour of the body, the colour of the covered red, the implicit
and not explicit red of the living heart and the pulses.  It is the
modest colour of the unpublished blood.

So bright, so light, so soft, so mingled, the gentle colour of life is
outdone by all the colours of the world.  Its very beauty is that it is
white, but less white than milk; brown, but less brown than earth; red,
but less red than sunset or dawn.  It is lucid, but less lucid than the
colour of lilies.  It has the hint of gold that is in all fine colour;
but in our latitudes the hint is almost elusive.  Under Sicilian skies,
indeed, it is deeper than old ivory; but under the misty blue of the
English zenith, and the warm grey of the London horizon, it is as
delicately flushed as the paler wild roses, out to their utmost, flat as
stars, in the hedges of the end of June.

For months together London does not see the colour of life in any mass.
The human face does not give much of it, what with features, and beards,
and the shadow of the top-hat and _chapeau melon_ of man, and of the
veils of woman.  Besides, the colour of the face is subject to a thousand
injuries and accidents.  The popular face of the Londoner has soon lost
its gold, its white, and the delicacy of its red and brown.  We miss
little beauty by the fact that it is never seen freely in great numbers
out-of-doors.  You get it in some quantity when all the heads of a great
indoor meeting are turned at once upon a speaker; but it is only in the
open air, needless to say, that the colour of life is in perfection, in
the open air, "clothed with the sun," whether the sunshine be golden and
direct, or dazzlingly diffused in grey.

The little figure of the London boy it is that has restored to the
landscape the human colour of life.  He is allowed to come out of all his
ignominies, and to take the late colour of the midsummer north-west
evening, on the borders of the Serpentine.  At the stroke of eight he
sheds the slough of nameless colours--all allied to the hues of dust,
soot, and fog, which are the colours the world has chosen for its
boys--and he makes, in his hundreds, a bright and delicate flush between
the grey-blue water and the grey-blue sky.  Clothed now with the sun, he
is crowned by-and-by with twelve stars as he goes to bathe, and the
reflection of an early moon is under his feet.

So little stands between a gamin and all the dignities of Nature.  They
are so quickly restored.  There seems to be nothing to do, but only a
little thing to undo.  It is like the art of Eleonora Duse.  The last and
most finished action of her intellect, passion, and knowledge is, as it
were, the flicking away of some insignificant thing mistaken for art by
other actors, some little obstacle to the way and liberty of Nature.

All the squalor is gone in a moment, kicked off with the second boot, and
the child goes shouting to complete the landscape with the lacking colour
of life.  You are inclined to wonder that, even undressed, he still
shouts with a Cockney accent.  You half expect pure vowels and elastic
syllables from his restoration, his spring, his slenderness, his
brightness, and his glow.  Old ivory and wild rose in the deepening
midsummer sun, he gives his colours to his world again.

It is easy to replace man, and it will take no great time, where Nature
has lapsed, to replace Nature.  It is always to do, by the happily easy
way of doing nothing.  The grass is always ready to grow in the
streets--and no streets could ask for a more charming finish than your
green grass.  The gasometer even must fall to pieces unless it is
renewed; but the grass renews itself.  There is nothing so remediable as
the work of modern man--"a thought which is also," as Mr Pecksniff said,
"very soothing."  And by remediable I mean, of course, destructible.  As
the bathing child shuffles off his garments--they are few, and one brace
suffices him--so the land might always, in reasonable time, shuffle off
its yellow brick and purple slate, and all the things that collect about
railway stations.  A single night almost clears the air of London.

But if the colour of life looks so well in the rather sham scenery of
Hyde Park, it looks brilliant and grave indeed on a real sea-coast.  To
have once seen it there should be enough to make a colourist.  O
memorable little picture!  The sun was gaining colour as it neared
setting, and it set not over the sea, but over the land.  The sea had the
dark and rather stern, but not cold, blue of that aspect--the dark and
not the opal tints.  The sky was also deep.  Everything was very
definite, without mystery, and exceedingly simple.  The most luminous
thing was the shining white of an edge of foam, which did not cease to be
white because it was a little golden and a little rosy in the sunshine.
It was still the whitest thing imaginable.  And the next most luminous
thing was the little child, also invested with the sun and the colour of

In the case of women, it is of the living and unpublished blood that the
violent world has professed to be delicate and ashamed.  See the curious
history of the political rights of woman under the Revolution.  On the
scaffold she enjoyed an ungrudged share in the fortunes of party.
Political life might be denied her, but that seems a trifle when you
consider how generously she was permitted political death.  She was to
spin and cook for her citizen in the obscurity of her living hours; but
to the hour of her death was granted a part in the largest interests,
social, national, international.  The blood wherewith she should,
according to Robespierre, have blushed to be seen or heard in the
tribune, was exposed in the public sight unsheltered by her veins.

Against this there was no modesty.  Of all privacies, the last and the
innermost--the privacy of death--was never allowed to put obstacles in
the way of public action for a public cause.  Women might be, and were,
duly suppressed when, by the mouth of Olympe de Gouges, they claimed a
"right to concur in the choice of representatives for the formation of
the laws"; but in her person, too, they were liberally allowed to bear
political responsibility to the Republic.  Olympe de Gouges was
guillotined.  Robespierre thus made her public and complete amends.


There is hardly a writer now--of the third class probably not one--who
has not something sharp and sad to say about the cruelty of Nature; not
one who is able to attempt May in the woods without a modern reference to
the manifold death and destruction with which the air, the branches, the
mosses are said to be full.

But no one has paused in the course of these phrases to take notice of
the curious and conspicuous fact of the suppression of death and of the
dead throughout this landscape of manifest life.  Where are they--all the
dying, all the dead, of the populous woods?  Where do they hide their
little last hours, where are they buried?  Where is the violence
concealed?  Under what gay custom and decent habit?  You may see, it is
true, an earth-worm in a robin's beak, and may hear a thrush breaking a
snail's shell; but these little things are, as it were, passed by with a
kind of twinkle for apology, as by a well-bred man who does openly some
little solecism which is too slight for direct mention, and which a
meaner man might hide or avoid.  Unless you are very modern indeed, you
twinkle back at the bird.

But otherwise there is nothing visible of the havoc and the prey and
plunder.  It is certain that much of the visible life passes violently
into other forms, flashes without pause into another flame; but not all.
Amid all the killing there must be much dying.  There are, for instance,
few birds of prey left in our more accessible counties now, and many
thousands of birds must die uncaught by a hawk and unpierced.  But if
their killing is done so modestly, so then is their dying also.  Short
lives have all these wild things, but there are innumerable flocks of
them always alive; they must die, then, in innumerable flocks.  And yet
they keep the millions of the dead out of sight.

Now and then, indeed, they may be betrayed.  It happened in a cold
winter.  The late frosts were so sudden, and the famine was so complete,
that the birds were taken unawares.  The sky and the earth conspired that
February to make known all the secrets; everything was published.  Death
was manifest.  Editors, when a great man dies, are not more resolute than
was the frost of '95.

The birds were obliged to die in public.  They were surprised and forced
to do thus.  They became like Shelley in the monument which the art and
imagination of England combined to raise to his memory at Oxford.

Frost was surely at work in both cases, and in both it wrought wrong.
There is a similarity of unreason in betraying the death of a bird and in
exhibiting the death of Shelley.  The death of a soldier--_passe_
_encore_.  But the death of Shelley was not his goal.  And the death of
the birds is so little characteristic of them that, as has just been
said, no one in the world is aware of their dying, except only in the
case of birds in cages, who, again, are compelled to die with
observation.  The woodland is guarded and kept by a rule.  There is no
display of the battlefield in the fields.  There is no tale of the game-
bag, no boast.  The hunting goes on, but with strange decorum.  You may
pass a fine season under the trees, and see nothing dead except here and
there where a boy has been by, or a man with a trap, or a man with a gun.
There is nothing like a butcher's shop in the woods.

But the biographers have always had other ways than those of the wild
world.  They will not have a man to die out of sight.  I have turned over
scores of "Lives," not to read them, but to see whether now and again
there might be a "Life" which was not more emphatically a death.  But
there never is a modern biography that has taken the hint of Nature.  One
and all, these books have the disproportionate illness, the death out of
all scale.

Even more wanton than the disclosure of a death is that of a mortal
illness.  If the man had recovered, his illness would have been rightly
his own secret.  But because he did not recover, it is assumed to be news
for the first comer.  Which of us would suffer the details of any
physical suffering, over and done in our own lives, to be displayed and
described?  This is not a confidence we have a mind to make; and no one
is authorised to ask for attention or pity on our behalf.  The story of
pain ought not to be told of us, seeing that by us it would assuredly not
be told.

There is only one other thing that concerns a man still more exclusively,
and that is his own mental illness, or the dreams and illusions of a long
delirium.  When he is in common language not himself, amends should be
made for so bitter a paradox; he should be allowed such solitude as is
possible to the alienated spirit; he should be left to the "not himself,"
and spared the intrusion against which he can so ill guard that he could
hardly have even resented it.

The double helplessness of delusion and death should keep the door of
Rossetti's house, for example, and refuse him to the reader.  His mortal
illness had nothing to do with his poetry.  Some rather affected
objection is taken every now and then to the publication of some facts
(others being already well known) in the life of Shelley.  Nevertheless,
these are all, properly speaking, biography.  What is not biography is
the detail of the accident of the manner of his death, the detail of his
cremation.  Or if it was to be told--told briefly--it was certainly not
for marble.  Shelley's death had no significance, except inasmuch as he
died young.  It was a detachable and disconnected incident.  Ah, that was
a frost of fancy and of the heart that used it so, dealing with an
insignificant fact, and conferring a futile immortality.  Those are ill-
named biographers who seem to think that a betrayal of the ways of death
is a part of their ordinary duty, and that if material enough for a last
chapter does not lie to their hand they are to search it out.  They, of
all survivors, are called upon, in honour and reason, to look upon a
death with more composure.  To those who loved the dead closely, this is,
for a time, impossible.  To them death becomes, for a year,
disproportionate.  Their dreams are fixed upon it night by night.  They
have, in those dreams, to find the dead in some labyrinth; they have to
mourn his dying and to welcome his recovery in such a mingling of
distress and of always incredulous happiness as is not known even to
dreams save in that first year of separation.  But they are not

If death is the privacy of the woods, it is the more conspicuously secret
because it is their only privacy.  You may watch or may surprise
everything else.  The nest is retired, not hidden.  The chase goes on
everywhere.  It is wonderful how the perpetual chase seems to cause no
perpetual fear.  The songs are all audible.  Life is undefended,
careless, nimble and noisy.

It is a happy thing that minor artists have ceased, or almost ceased, to
paint dead birds.  Time was when they did it continually in that British
School of water-colour art, stippled, of which surrounding nations, it
was agreed, were envious.  They must have killed their bird to paint him,
for he is not to be caught dead.  A bird is more easily caught alive than

A poet, on the contrary, is easily--too easily--caught dead.  Minor
artists now seldom stipple the bird on its back, but a good sculptor and
a University together modelled their Shelley on his back, unessentially
drowned; and everybody may read about the sick mind of Dante Rossetti.


During a part of the year London does not see the clouds.  Not to see the
clear sky might seem her chief loss, but that is shared by the rest of
England, and is, besides, but a slight privation.  Not to see the clear
sky is, elsewhere, to see the cloud.  But not so in London.  You may go
for a week or two at a time, even though you hold your head up as you
walk, and even though you have windows that really open, and yet you
shall see no cloud, or but a single edge, the fragment of a form.

Guillotine windows never wholly open, but are filled with a doubled glass
towards the sky when you open them towards the street.  They are,
therefore, a sure sign that for all the years when no other windows were
used in London, nobody there cared much for the sky, or even knew so much
as whether there were a sky.

But the privation of cloud is indeed a graver loss than the world knows.
Terrestrial scenery is much, but it is not all.  Men go in search of it;
but the celestial scenery journeys to them.  It goes its way round the
world.  It has no nation, it costs no weariness, it knows no bonds.  The
terrestrial scenery--the tourist's--is a prisoner compared with this.  The
tourist's scenery moves indeed, but only like Wordsworth's maiden, with
earth's diurnal course; it is made as fast as its own graves.  And for
its changes it depends upon the mobility of the skies.  The mere green
flushing of its own sap makes only the least of its varieties; for the
greater it must wait upon the visits of the light.  Spring and autumn are
inconsiderable events in a landscape compared with the shadows of a

The cloud controls the light, and the mountains on earth appear or fade
according to its passage; they wear so simply, from head to foot, the
luminous grey or the emphatic purple, as the cloud permits, that their
own local colour and their own local season are lost and cease, effaced
before the all-important mood of the cloud.

The sea has no mood except that of the sky and of its winds.  It is the
cloud that, holding the sun's rays in a sheaf as a giant holds a handful
of spears, strikes the horizon, touches the extreme edge with a delicate
revelation of light, or suddenly puts it out and makes the foreground

Every one knows the manifest work of the cloud when it descends and
partakes in the landscape obviously, lies half-way across the mountain
slope, stoops to rain heavily upon the lake, and blots out part of the
view by the rough method of standing in front of it.  But its greatest
things are done from its own place, aloft.  Thence does it distribute the

Thence does it lock away between the hills and valleys more mysteries
than a poet conceals, but, like him, not by interception.  Thence it
writes out and cancels all the tracery of Monte Rosa, or lets the pencils
of the sun renew them.  Thence, hiding nothing, and yet making dark, it
sheds deep colour upon the forest land of Sussex, so that, seen from the
hills, all the country is divided between grave blue and graver sunlight.

And all this is but its influence, its secondary work upon the world.  Its
own beauty is unaltered when it has no earthly beauty to improve.  It is
always great: above the street, above the suburbs, above the gas-works
and the stucco, above the faces of painted white houses--the painted
surfaces that have been devised as the only things able to vulgarise
light, as they catch it and reflect it grotesquely from their importunate
gloss.  This is to be well seen on a sunny evening in Regent Street.

Even here the cloud is not so victorious as when it towers above some
little landscape of rather paltry interest--a conventional river heavy
with water, gardens with their little evergreens, walks, and shrubberies;
and thick trees impervious to the light, touched, as the novelists always
have it, with "autumn tints."  High over these rises, in the enormous
scale of the scenery of clouds, what no man expected--an heroic sky.  Few
of the things that were ever done upon earth are great enough to be done
under such a heaven.  It was surely designed for other days.  It is for
an epic world.  Your eyes sweep a thousand miles of cloud.  What are the
distances of earth to these, and what are the distances of the clear and
cloudless sky?  The very horizons of the landscape are near, for the
round world dips so soon; and the distances of the mere clear sky are
unmeasured--you rest upon nothing until you come to a star, and the star
itself is immeasurable.

But in the sky of "sunny Alps" of clouds the sight goes farther, with
conscious flight, than it could ever have journeyed otherwise.  Man would
not have known distance veritably without the clouds.  There are
mountains indeed, precipices and deeps, to which those of the earth are
pigmy.  Yet the sky-heights, being so far off, are not overpowering by
disproportion, like some futile building fatuously made too big for the
human measure.  The cloud in its majestic place composes with a little
Perugino tree.  For you stand or stray in the futile building, while the
cloud is no mansion for man, and out of reach of his limitations.

The cloud, moreover, controls the sun, not merely by keeping the custody
of his rays, but by becoming the counsellor of his temper.  The cloud
veils an angry sun, or, more terribly, lets fly an angry ray, suddenly
bright upon tree and tower, with iron-grey storm for a background.  Or
when anger had but threatened, the cloud reveals him, gentle beyond hope.
It makes peace, constantly, just before sunset.

It is in the confidence of the winds, and wears their colours.  There is
a heavenly game, on south-west wind days, when the clouds are bowled by a
breeze from behind the evening.  They are round and brilliant, and come
leaping up from the horizon for hours.  This is a frolic and haphazard

All unlike this is the sky that has a centre, and stands composed about
it.  As the clouds marshalled the earthly mountains, so the clouds in
turn are now ranged.  The tops of all the celestial Andes aloft are swept
at once by a single ray, warmed with a single colour.  Promontory after
league-long promontory of a stiller Mediterranean in the sky is called
out of mist and grey by the same finger.  The cloudland is very great,
but a sunbeam makes all its nations and continents sudden with light.

All this is for the untravelled.  All the winds bring him this scenery.
It is only in London, for part of the autumn and part of the winter, that
the unnatural smoke-fog comes between.  And for many and many a day no
London eye can see the horizon, or the first threat of the cloud like a
man's hand.  There never was a great painter who had not exquisite
horizons, and if Corot and Crome were right, the Londoner loses a great

He loses the coming of the cloud, and when it is high in air he loses its
shape.  A cloud-lover is not content to see a snowy and rosy head piling
into the top of the heavens; he wants to see the base and the altitude.
The perspective of a cloud is a great part of its design--whether it lies
so that you can look along the immense horizontal distances of its floor,
or whether it rears so upright a pillar that you look up its mountain
steeps in the sky as you look at the rising heights of a mountain that
stands, with you, on the earth.

The cloud has a name suggesting darkness; nevertheless, it is not merely
the guardian of the sun's rays and their director.  It is the sun's
treasurer; it holds the light that the world has lost.  We talk of
sunshine and moonshine, but not of cloud-shine, which is yet one of the
illuminations of our skies.  A shining cloud is one of the most majestic
of all secondary lights.  If the reflecting moon is the bride, this is
the friend of the bridegroom.

Needless to say, the cloud of a thunderous summer is the most beautiful
of all.  It has spaces of a grey for which there is no name, and no other
cloud looks over at a vanishing sun from such heights of blue air.  The
shower-cloud, too, with its thin edges, comes across the sky with so
influential a flight that no ship going out to sea can be better worth
watching.  The dullest thing perhaps in the London streets is that people
take their rain there without knowing anything of the cloud that drops
it.  It is merely rain, and means wetness.  The shower-cloud there has
limits of time, but no limits of form, and no history whatever.  It has
not come from the clear edge of the plain to the south, and will not
shoulder anon the hill to the north.  The rain, for this city, hardly
comes or goes; it does but begin and stop.  No one looks after it on the
path of its retreat.


Every wind is, or ought to be, a poet; but one is classic and converts
everything in his day co-unity; another is a modern man, whose words
clothe his thoughts, as the modern critics used to say prettily in the
early sixties, and therefore are separable.  This wind, again, has a
style, and that wind a mere manner.  Nay, there are breezes from the east-
south-east, for example, that have hardly even a manner.  You can hardly
name them unless you look at the weather vane.  So they do not convince
you by voice or colour of breath; you place their origin and assign them
a history according as the hesitating arrow points on the top of yonder
ill-designed London spire.

The most certain and most conquering of all is the south-west wind.  You
do not look to the weather-vane to decide what shall be the style of your
greeting to his morning.  There is no arbitrary rule of courtesy between
you and him, and you need no arrow to point to his distinctions, and to
indicate to you the right manner of treating such a visitant.

He prepares the dawn.  While it is still dark the air is warned of his
presence, and before the window was opened he was already in the room.
His sun--for the sun is his--rises in a south-west mood, with a bloom on
the blue, the grey, or the gold.  When the south-west is cold, the cold
is his own cold--round, blunt, full, and gradual in its very strength.  It
is a fresh cold, that comes with an approach, and does not challenge you
in the manner of an unauthorised stranger, but instantly gets your leave,
and even a welcome to your house of life.  He follows your breath in at
your throat, and your eyes are open to let him in, even when he is cold.
Your blood cools, but does not hide from him.

He has a splendid way with his sky.  In his flight, which is that, not of
a bird, but of a flock of birds, he flies high and low at once: high with
his higher clouds, that keep long in the sight of man, seeming to move
slowly; and low with the coloured clouds that breast the hills and are
near to the tree-tops.  These the south-west wind tosses up from his soft
horizon, round and successive.  They are tinted somewhat like ripe clover-
fields, or like hay-fields just before the cutting, when all the grass is
in flower, and they are, oftener than all other clouds, in shadow.  These
low-lying flocks are swift and brief; the wind casts them before him,
from the western verge to the eastern.

Corot has painted so many south-west winds that one might question
whether he ever painted, in his later manner at least, any others.  His
skies are thus in the act of flight, with lower clouds outrunning the
higher, the farther vapours moving like a fleet out at sea, and the
nearer like dolphins.  In his "Classical Landscape: Italy," the master
has indeed for once a sky that seems at anchor, or at least that moves
with "no pace perceived."  The vibrating wings are folded, and Corot's
wind, that flew through so many springs, summers, and Septembers for him
(he was seldom a painter of very late autumn), that was mingled with so
many aspen-leaves, that strewed his forests with wood for the gatherer,
and blew the broken lights into the glades, is charmed into stillness,
and the sky into another kind of immortality.  Nor are the trees in this
antique landscape the trees so long intimate with Corot's south-west
wind, so often entangled with his uncertain twilights.  They are as quiet
as the cloud, and such as the long and wild breezes of Romance have never
shaken or enlaced.

Upon all our islands this south-west wind is the sea wind.  But elsewhere
there are sea winds that are not from the south-west.  They, too, none
the less, are conquerors.  They, too, are always strong, compelling winds
that take possession of the light, the shadow, the sun, moon, and stars,
and constrain them all alike to feel the sea.  Not a field, not a
hillside, on a sea-wind day, but shines with some soft sea-lights.  The
moon's little boat tosses on a sea-wind night.

The south-west wind takes the high Italian coasts.  He gathers the ilex
woods together and throngs them close, as a sheep-dog gathers the sheep.
They crowd for shelter, and a great wall, leaning inland also, with its
strong base to the sea, receives them.  It is blank and sunny, and the
trees within are sunny and dark, serried, and their tops swept and
flattened by months of sea-storms.  On the farther side there are
gardens--gardens that have in their midst those quietest things in all
the world and most windless, box-hedges and ponds.  The gardens take
shelter behind the scared and hurried ilex woods, and the sea-wind spares
them and breaks upon the mountain.  But the garden also is his, and his
wild warm days have filled it with orange-trees and roses, and have given
all the abundant charm to its gay neglect, to its grass-grown terraces,
and to all its lapsed, forsaken, and forgotten dainties.

Nothing of the nature in this seaward Italy would be so beautiful without
the touch of man and of the sea gales.

When the south-west wind brings his rain he brings it with the majestic
onset announced by his breath.  And when the light follows, it comes from
his own doorway in the verge.  His are the opened evenings after a day
shut down with cloud.  He fills the air with innumerable particles of
moisture that scatter and bestow the sun.  There are no other days like
his, of so universal a harmony, so generous.

The north wind has his own landscape, too; but the east wind never.  The
aspect which he gives to the day is not all his own.  The sunshine is
sweet in spite of him.  The clouds go under his whip, but they have
kinder greys than should be the colours of his cold.  Not on an east-wind
day are these races in heaven, for the clouds are all far off.  His rain
is angry, and it flies against the sunset.  The world is not one in his
reign, but rather there is a perpetual revolt or difference.  The lights
and shadows are not all his.  The waxing and waning hours are
disaffected.  He has not a great style, and does not convince the day.

All the four winds are brave, and not the less brave because, on their
way through town, they are betrayed for a moment into taking part in any
paltriness that may be there.  On their way from the Steppes to the
Atlantic they play havoc with the nerves of very insignificant people.  A
part, as it were, of every gale that starts in the far north-east finds
its goal in the breath of a reluctant citizen.

You will meet a wind of the world nimble and eager in a sorry street.  But
these are only accidents of the way--the winds go free again.  Those that
do not go free, but close their course, are those that are breathed by
the nostrils of living creatures.  A great flock of those wild birds come
to a final pause in London, and fan the fires of life with those wings in
the act of folding.  In the blood and breath of a child close the
influences of continent and sea.


The brilliant talent which has quite lately and quite suddenly arisen, to
devote itself to the use of the day or of the week, in illustrated
papers--the enormous production of art in black and white--is assuredly a
confession that the Honours of Mortality are worth working for.  Fifty
years ago, men worked for the honours of immortality; these were the
commonplace of their ambition; they declined to attend to the beauty of
things of use that were destined to be broken and worn out, and they
looked forward to surviving themselves by painting bad pictures; so that
what to do with their bad pictures in addition to our own has become the
problem of the nation and of the householder alike.  To-day men have
began to learn that their sons will be grateful to them for few bequests.
Art consents at last to work upon the tissue and the china that are
doomed to the natural and necessary end--destruction; and art shows a
most dignified alacrity to do her best, daily, for the "process," and for

Doubtless this abandonment of hopes so large at once and so cheap costs
the artist something; nay, it implies an acceptance of the inevitable
that is not less than heroic.  And the reward has been in the singular
and manifest increase of vitality in this work which is done for so short
a life.  Fittingly indeed does life reward the acceptance of death,
inasmuch as to die is to have been alive.  There is a real circulation of
blood-quick use, brief beauty, abolition, recreation.  The honour of the
day is for ever the honour of that day.  It goes into the treasury of
things that are honestly and--completely ended and done with.  And when
can so happy a thing be said of a lifeless oil-painting?  Who of the wise
would hesitate?  To be honourable for one day--one named and dated day,
separate from all other days of the ages--or to be for an unlimited time


No woman has ever crossed the inner threshold, or shall ever cross it,
unless a queen, English or foreign, should claim her privilege.
Therefore, if a woman records here the slighter things visible of the
monastic life, it is only because she was not admitted to see more than
beautiful courtesy and friendliness were able to show her in guest-house
and garden.

The Monastery is of fresh-looking Gothic, by Pugin--the first of the
dynasty: it is reached by the white roads of a limestone country, and
backed by a young plantation, and it gathers its group of buildings in a
cleft high up among the hills of Wales.  The brown habit is this, and
these are the sandals, that come and go by hills of finer, sharper, and
loftier line, edging the dusk and dawn of an Umbrian sky.  Just such a
Via Crucis climbs the height above Orta, and from the foot of its final
crucifix you can see the sunrise touch the top of Monte Rosa, while the
encircled lake below is cool with the last of the night.  The same order
of friars keep that sub-Alpine Monte Sacro, and the same have set the
Kreuzberg beyond Bonn with the same steep path by the same fourteen
chapels, facing the Seven Mountains and the Rhine.

Here, in North Wales, remote as the country is, with the wheat green over
the blunt hill-tops, and the sky vibrating with larks, a long wing of
smoke lies round the horizon.  The country, rather thinly and languidly
cultivated above, has a valuable sub-soil, and is burrowed with mines;
the breath of pit and factory, out of sight, thickens the lower sky, and
lies heavily over the sands of Dee.  It leaves the upper blue clear and
the head of Orion, but dims the flicker of Sirius and shortens the steady
ray of the evening star.  The people scattered about are not mining
people, but half-hearted agriculturists, and very poor.  Their cottages
are rather cabins; not a tiled roof is in the country, but the slates
have taken some beauty with time, having dips and dimples, and grass upon
their edges.  The walls are all thickly whitewashed, which is a pleasure
to see.  How willingly would one swish the harmless whitewash over more
than half the colour--over all the chocolate and all the blue--with which
the buildings of the world are stained!  You could not wish for a better,
simpler, or fresher harmony than whitewash makes with the slight sunshine
and the bright grey of an English sky.

The grey-stone, grey-roofed monastery looks young in one sense--it is
modern; and the friars look young in another--they are like their
brothers of an earlier time.  No one, except the journalists of
yesterday, would spend upon them those tedious words, "quaint," or "old
world."  No such weary adjectives are spoken here, unless it be by the

With large aprons tied over their brown habits, the Lay Brothers work
upon their land, planting parsnips in rows, or tending a prosperous bee-
farm.  A young friar, who sang the High Mass yesterday, is gaily hanging
the washed linen in the sun.  A printing press, and a machine which
slices turnips, are at work in an outhouse, and the yard thereby is
guarded by a St Bernard, whose single evil deed was that under one of the
obscure impulses of a dog's heart--atoned for by long and self-conscious
remorse--he bit the poet; and tried, says one of the friars, to make
doggerel of him.  The poet, too, lives at the monastery gates, and on
monastery ground, in a seclusion which the tidings of the sequence of his
editions hardly reaches.  There is no disturbing renown to be got among
the cabins of the Flintshire hills.  Homeward, over the verge, from other
valleys, his light figure flits at nightfall, like a moth.

To the coming and going of the friars, too, the village people have
become well used, and the infrequent excursionists, for lack of
intelligence and of any knowledge that would refer to history, look at
them without obtrusive curiosity.  It was only from a Salvation Army girl
that you heard the brutal word of contempt.  She had come to the place
with some companions, and with them was trespassing, as she was welcome
to do, within the monastery grounds.  She stood, a figure for Bournemouth
pier, in her grotesque bonnet, and watched the son of the Umbrian
saint--the friar who walks among the Giotto frescoes at Assisi and
between the cypresses of Bello Sguardo, and has paced the centuries
continually since the coming of the friars.  One might have asked of her
the kindness of a fellow-feeling.  She and he alike were so habited as to
show the world that their life was aloof from its "idle business."  By
some such phrase, at least, the friar would assuredly have attempted to
include her in any spiritual honours ascribed to him.  Or one might have
asked of her the condescension of forbearance.  "Only fancy," said the
Salvation Army girl, watching the friar out of sight, "only fancy making
such a fool of one's self!"

The great hood of the friars, which is drawn over the head in Zurbaran's
ecstatic picture, is turned to use when the friars are busy.  As a pocket
it relieves the over-burdened hands.  A bottle of the local white wine
made by the brotherhood at Genoa, and sent to this house by the West, is
carried in the cowl as a present to the stranger at the gates.  The
friars tell how a brother resolved, at Shrovetide, to make pancakes, and
not only to make, but also to toss them.  Those who chanced to be in the
room stood prudently aside, and the brother tossed boldly.  But that was
the last that was seen of his handiwork.  Victor Hugo sings in _La_
_Legende des Siecles_ of disappearance as the thing which no creature
is able to achieve: here the impossibility seemed to be accomplished by
quite an ordinary and a simple pancake.  It was clean gone, and there was
an end of it.  Nor could any explanation of this ceasing of a pancake
from the midst of the visible world be so much as divined by the
spectators.  It was only when the brother, in church, knelt down to
meditate and drew his cowl about his head that the accident was

Every midnight the sweet contralto bells call the community, who get up
gaily to this difficult service.  Of all duties this one never grows easy
or familiar, and therefore never habitual.  It is something to have found
but one act aloof from habit.  It is not merely that the friars overcome
the habit of sleep.  The subtler point is that they can never acquire the
habit of sacrificing sleep.  What art, what literature, or what life but
would gain a secret security by such a point of perpetual freshness and
perpetual initiative?  It is not possible to get up at midnight without a
will that is new night by night.  So should the writer's work be done,
and, with an intention perpetually unique, the poet's.

The contralto bells have taught these Western hills the "Angelus" of the
French fields, and the hour of night--_l'ora di notte_--which rings
with so melancholy a note from the village belfries on the Adriatic
littoral, when the latest light is passing.  It is the prayer for the
dead: "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord."

The little flocks of novices, on paschal evenings, are folded to the
sound of that evening prayer.  The care of them is the central work of
the monastery, which is placed in so remote a country because it is
principally a place of studies.  So much elect intellect and strength of
heart withdrawn from the traffic of the world!  True, the friars are not
doing the task which Carlyle set mankind as a refuge from despair.  These
"bearded counsellors of God" keep their cells, read, study, suffer, sing,
hold silence; whereas they might be "operating"--beautiful word!--upon
the Stock Exchange, or painting Academy pictures, or making speeches, or
reluctantly jostling other men for places.  They might be among the
involuntary busybodies who are living by futile tasks the need whereof is
a discouraged fiction.  There is absolutely no limit to the superfluous
activities, to the art, to the literature, implicitly renounced by the
dwellers within such walls as these.  The output--again a beautiful
word--of the age is lessened by this abstention.  None the less hopes the
stranger and pilgrim to pause and knock once again upon those monastery


Taller than the grass and lower than the trees, there is another growth
that feels the implicit spring.  It had been more abandoned to winter
than even the short grass shuddering under a wave of east wind, more than
the dumb trees.  For the multitudes of sedges, rushes, canes, and reeds
were the appropriate lyre of the cold.  On them the nimble winds played
their dry music.  They were part of the winter.  It looked through them
and spoke through them.  They were spears and javelins in array to the
sound of the drums of the north.

The winter takes fuller possession of these things than of those that
stand solid.  The sedges whistle his tune.  They let the colour of his
light look through--low-flying arrows and bright bayonets of winter day.

The multitudes of all reeds and rushes grow out of bounds.  They belong
to the margins of lands, the space between the farms and the river,
beyond the pastures, and where the marsh in flower becomes perilous
footing for the cattle.  They are the fringe of the low lands, the sign
of streams.  They grow tall between you and the near horizon of flat
lands.  They etch their sharp lines upon the sky; and near them grow
flowers of stature, including the lofty yellow lily.

Our green country is the better for the grey, soft, cloudy darkness of
the sedge, and our full landscape is the better for the distinction of
its points, its needles, and its resolute right lines.

Ours is a summer full of voices, and therefore it does not so need the
sound of rushes; but they are most sensitive to the stealthy breezes, and
betray the passing of a wind that even the tree-tops knew not of.
Sometimes it is a breeze unfelt, but the stiff sedges whisper it along a
mile of marsh.  To the strong wind they bend, showing the silver of their
sombre little tassels as fish show the silver of their sides turning in
the pathless sea.  They are unanimous.  A field of tall flowers tosses
many ways in one warm gale, like the many lovers of a poet who have a
thousand reasons for their love; but the rushes, more strongly tethered,
are swept into a single attitude, again and again, at every renewal of
the storm.

Between the pasture and the wave, the many miles of rushes and reeds in
England seem to escape that insistent ownership which has so changed
(except for a few forests and downs) the aspect of England, and has in
fact made the landscape.  Cultivation makes the landscape elsewhere,
rather than ownership, for the boundaries in the south are not
conspicuous; but here it is ownership.  But the rushes are a gipsy
people, amongst us, yet out of reach.  The landowner, if he is rather a
gross man, believes these races of reeds are his.  But if he is a man of
sensibility, depend upon it he has his interior doubts.  His property, he
says, goes right down to the centre of the earth, in the shape of a
wedge; how high up it goes into the air it would be difficult to say, and
obviously the shape of the wedge must be continued in the direction of
increase.  We may therefore proclaim his right to the clouds and their
cargo.  It is true that as his ground game is apt to go upon his
neighbour's land to be shot, so the clouds may now and then spend his
showers elsewhere.  But the great thing is the view.  A well-appointed
country-house sees nothing out of the windows that is not its own.  But
he who tells you so, and proves it to you by his own view, is certainly
disturbed by an unspoken doubt, if his otherwise contented eyes should
happen to be caught by a region of rushes.  The water is his--he had the
pond made; or the river, for a space, and the fish, for a time.  But the
bulrushes, the reeds!  One wonders whether a very thorough landowner, but
a sensitive one, ever resolved that he would endure this sort of thing no
longer, and went out armed and had a long acre of sedges scythed to

They are probably outlaws.  They are dwellers upon thresholds and upon
margins, as the gipsies make a home upon the green edges of a road.  No
wild flowers, however wild, are rebels.  The copses and their primroses
are good subjects, the oaks are loyal.  Now and then, though, one has a
kind of suspicion of some of the other kinds of trees--the Corot trees.
Standing at a distance from the more ornamental trees, from those of
fuller foliage, and from all the indeciduous shrubs and the conifers
(manifest property, every one), two or three translucent aspens, with
which the very sun and the breath of earth are entangled, have sometimes
seemed to wear a certain look--an extra-territorial look, let us call it.
They are suspect.  One is inclined to shake a doubtful head at them.

And the landowner feels it.  He knows quite well, though he may not say
so, that the Corot trees, though they do not dwell upon margins, are in
spirit almost as extraterritorial as the rushes.  In proof of this he
very often cuts them down, out of the view, once for all.  The view is
better, as a view, without them.  Though their roots are in his ground
right enough, there is a something about their heads--.  But the reason
he gives for wishing them away is merely that they are "thin."  A man
does not always say everything.


The Italian woman is very near to Nature; so is true drama.

Acting is not to be judged like some other of the arts, and praised for a
"noble convention."  Painting, indeed, is not praised amiss with that
word; painting is obviously an art that exists by its convention--the
convention is the art.  But far otherwise is it with the art of acting,
where there is no representative material; where, that is, the man is his
own material, and there is nothing between.  With the actor the style is
the man, in another, a more immediate, and a more obvious sense than was
ever intended by that saying.  Therefore we may allow the critic--and not
accuse him of reaction--to speak of the division between art and Nature
in the painting of a landscape, but we cannot let him say the same things
of acting.  Acting has a technique, but no convention.

Once for all, then, to say that acting reaches the point of Nature, and
touches it quick, is to say all.  In other arts imitation is more or less
fatuous, illusion more or less vulgar.  But acting is, at its less good,
imitation; at its best, illusion; at its worst, and when it ceases to be
an art, convention.

But the idea that acting is conventional has inevitably come about in
England.  For it is, in fact, obliged, with us, to defeat and destroy
itself by taking a very full, entire, tedious, and impotent convention; a
complete body of convention; a convention of demonstrativeness--of voice
and manners intended to be expressive, and, in particular, a whole weak
and unimpulsive convention of gesture.  The English manners of real life
are so negative and still as to present no visible or audible drama; and
drama is for hearing and for vision.  Therefore our acting (granting that
we have any acting, which is granting much) has to create its little
different and complementary world, and to make the division of "art" from
Nature--the division which, in this one art, is fatal.

This is one simple and sufficient reason why we have no considerable
acting; though we may have more or less interesting and energetic or
graceful conventions that pass for art.  But any student of international
character knows well enough that there are also supplementary reasons of
weight.  For example, it is bad to make a conventional world of the
stage, but it is doubly bad to make it badly--which, it must be granted,
we do.  When we are anything of the kind, we are intellectual rather than
intelligent; whereas outward-streaming intelligence makes the actor.  We
are pre-occupied, and therefore never single, never wholly possessed by
the one thing at a time; and so forth.

On the other hand, Italians are expressive.  They are so possessed by the
one thing at a time as never to be habitual in any lifeless sense.  They
have no habits to overcome by something arbitrary and intentional.
Accordingly, you will find in the open-air theatre of many an Italian
province, away from the high roads, an art of drama that our capital
cannot show, so high is it, so fine, so simple, so complete, so direct,
so momentary and impassioned, so full of singleness and of multitudinous
impulses of passion.

Signora Duse is not different in kind from these unrenowned.  What they
are, she is in a greater degree.  She goes yet further, and yet closer.
She has an exceptionally large and liberal intelligence.  If lesser
actors give themselves entirely to the part, and to the large moment of
the part, she, giving herself, has more to give.

Add to this nature of hers that she stages herself and her acting with
singular knowledge and ease, and has her technique so thoroughly as to be
able to forget it--for this is the one only thing that is the better for
habit, and ought to be habitual.  There is but one passage of her mere
technique in which she fails so to slight it.  It is in the long exchange
of stove-side talk between Nora and the other woman of "The Doll's
House."  Signora Duse may have felt some misgivings as to the effect of a
dialogue having so little symmetry, such half-hearted feeling, and, in a
word, so little visible or audible drama as this.  Needless to say, the
misgiving is not apparent; what is too apparent is simply the technique.
For instance, she shifts her position with evident system and notable
skill.  The whole conversation becomes a dance of change and
counterchange of place.

Nowhere else does the perfect technical habit lapse, and nowhere at all
does the habit of acting exist with her.

I have spoken of this actress's nationality and of her womanhood
together.  They are inseparable.  Nature is the only authentic art of the
stage, and the Italian woman is natural: none other so natural and so
justified by her nature as Eleonora Duse; but all, as far as their nature
goes, natural.  Moreover, they are women freer than other Europeans from
the minor vanities.  Has any one yet fully understood how her liberty in
this respect gives to the art of Signora Duse room and action?  Her
countrywomen have no anxious vanities, because, for one reason, they are
generally "sculpturesque," and are very little altered by mere accidents
of dress or arrangement.  Such as they are, they are so once for all;
whereas, the turn of a curl makes all the difference with women of less
grave physique.  Italians are not uneasy.

Signora Duse has this immunity, but she has a far nobler deliverance from
vanities, in her own peculiar distance and dignity.  She lets her
beautiful voice speak, unwatched and unchecked, from the very life of the
moment.  It runs up into the high notes of indifference, or, higher
still, into those of _ennui_, as in the earlier scenes of _Divorcons_; or
it grows sweet as summer with joy, or cracks and breaks outright, out of
all music, and out of all control.  Passion breaks it so for her.

As for her inarticulate sounds, which are the more intimate and the truer
words of her meaning, they, too, are Italian and natural.  English women,
for instance, do not make them.  They are sounds _a bouche fermee_,
at once private and irrepressible.  They are not demonstrations intended
for the ears of others; they are her own.  Other actresses, even English,
and even American, know how to make inarticulate cries, with open mouth;
Signora Duse's noise is not a cry; it is her very thought audible--the
thought of the woman she is playing, who does not at every moment give
exact words to her thought, but does give it significant sound.

When _la femme de Claude_ is trapped by the man who has come in
search of the husband's secret, and when she is obliged to sit and listen
to her own evil history as he tells it her, she does not interrupt the
telling with the outcries that might be imagined by a lesser actress, she
accompanies it.  Her lips are close, but her throat is vocal.  None who
heard it can forget the speech-within-speech of one of these
comprehensive noises.  It was when the man spoke, for her further
confusion, of the slavery to which she had reduced her lovers; she
followed him, aloof, with a twang of triumph.

If Parisians say, as they do, that she makes a bad Parisienne, it is
because she can be too nearly a woman untamed.  They have accused her of
lack of elegance--in that supper scene of _La Dame aux Camelias_,
for instance; taking for ill-breeding, in her Marguerite, that which is
Italian merely and simple.  Whether, again, Cyprienne, in _Divorcons_,
can at all be considered a lady may be a question; but this is quite
unquestionable--that she is rather more a lady, and not less, when
Signora Duse makes her a savage.  But really the result is not at all

It seems possible that the French sense does not well distinguish, and
has no fine perception of that affinity with the peasant which remains
with the great ladies of the old civilisation of Italy, and has so long
disappeared from those of the younger civilisations of France and
England--a paradox.  The peasant's gravity, directness, and
carelessness--a kind of uncouthness which is neither graceless nor, in
any intolerable English sense, vulgar--are to be found in the
unceremonious moments of every cisalpine woman, however elect her birth
and select her conditions.  In Italy the lady is not a creature described
by negatives, as an author who is always right has defined the lady to be
in England.  Even in France she is not that, and between the Frenchwoman
and the Italian there are the Alps.  In a word, the educated Italian
_mondaine_ is, in the sense (also untranslatable) of singular, insular,
and absolutely British usage, a Native.  None the less would she be
surprised to find herself accused of a lack of dignity.

As to intelligence--a little intelligence is sufficiently dramatic, if it
is single.  A child doing one thing at a time and doing it completely,
produces to the eye a better impression of mental life than one receives
from--well, from a lecturer.


English acting had for some time past still been making a feint of
running the race that wins.  The retort, the interruption, the call, the
reply, the surprise, had yet kept a spoilt tradition of suddenness and
life.  You had, indeed, to wait for an interruption in dialogue--it is
true you had to wait for it; so had the interrupted speaker on the stage.
But when the interruption came, it had still a false air of vivacity; and
the waiting of the interrupted one was so ill done, with so roving an eye
and such an arrest and failure of convention, such a confession of a
blank, as to prove that there remained a kind of reluctant and inexpert
sense of movement.  It still seemed as though the actor and the actress
acknowledged some forward tendency.

Not so now.  The serious stage is openly the scene of the race that
loses.  The donkey race is candidly the model of the talk in every
tragedy that has a chance of popular success.  Who shall be last?  The
hands of the public are for him, or for her.  A certain actress who has
"come to the front of her profession" holds, for a time, the record of
delay.  "Come to the front," do they say?  Surely the front of her
profession must have moved in retreat, to gain upon her tardiness.  It
must have become the back of her profession before ever it came up with

It should rejoice those who enter for this kind of racing that the record
need never finally be beaten.  The possibilities of success are
incalculable.  The play has perforce to be finished in a night, it is
true, but the minor characters, the subordinate actors, can be made to
bear the burden of that necessity.  The principals, or those who have
come "to the front of their profession," have an almost unlimited
opportunity and liberty of lagging.

Besides, the competitor in a donkey race is not, let it be borne in mind,
limited to the practice of his own tediousness.  Part of his victory is
to be ascribed to his influence upon others.  It may be that a determined
actor--a man of more than common strength of will--may so cause his
colleague to get on (let us say "get on," for everything in this world is
relative); may so, then, compel the other actor, with whom he is in
conversation, to get on, as to secure his own final triumph by indirect
means as well as by direct.  To be plain, for the sake of those
unfamiliar with the sports of the village, the rider in a donkey race
may, and does, cudgel the mounts of his rivals.

Consider, therefore, how encouraging the prospect really is.  The
individual actor may fail--in fact, he must.  Where two people ride
together on horseback, the married have ever been warned, one must ride
behind.  And when two people are speaking slowly one must needs be the
slowest.  Comparative success implies the comparative failure.  But where
this actor or that actress fails, the great cause of slowness profits,
obviously.  The record is advanced.  Pshaw! the word "advanced" comes
unadvised to the pen.  It is difficult to remember in what a fatuous
theatrical Royal Presence one is doing this criticism, and how one's
words should go backwards, without exception, in homage to this symbol of
a throne.

It is not long since there took place upon the principal stage in London
the most important event in donkey-racing ever known until that first
night.  A tragedian and a secondary actor of renown had a duet together.
It was in "The Dead Heart."  No one who heard it can possibly have yet
forgotten it.  The two men used echoes of one another's voice, then
outpaused each other.  It was a contest so determined, so unrelaxed, so
deadly, so inveterate that you might have slept between its encounters.
You did sleep.  These men were strong men, and knew what they wanted.  It
is tremendous to watch the struggle of such resolves.  They had their
purpose in their grasp, their teeth were set, their will was iron.  They
were foot to foot.

And next morning you saw by the papers that the secondary, but still
renowned, actor, had succeeded in sharing the principal honours of the
piece.  So uncommonly well had he done, even for him.  Then you
understood that, though you had not known it, the tragedian must have
been beaten in that dialogue.  He had suffered himself in an instant of
weakness, to be stimulated; he had for a moment--only a moment--got on.

That night was influential.  We may see its results everywhere, and
especially in Shakespeare.  Our tragic stage was always--well, different,
let us say--different from the tragic stage of Italy and France.  It is
now quite unlike, and frankly so.  The spoilt tradition of vitality has
been explicitly abandoned.  The interrupted one waits, no longer with a
roving eye, but with something almost of dignity, as though he were
fulfilling ritual.

Benvolio and Mercutio outlag one another in hunting after the leaping
Romeo.  They call without the slightest impetus.  One can imagine how the
true Mercutio called--certainly not by rote.  There must have been pauses
indeed, brief and short-breath'd pauses of listening for an answer,
between every nickname.  But the nicknames were quick work.  At the
Lyceum they were quite an effort of memory: "Romeo!  Humours!  Madman!
Passion!  Lover!"

The actress of Juliet, speaking the words of haste, makes her audience
wait to hear them.  Nothing more incongruous than Juliet's harry of
phrase and the actress's leisure of phrasing.  None act, none speak, as
though there were such a thing as impulse in a play.  To drop behind is
the only idea of arriving.  The nurse ceases to be absurd, for there is
no one readier with a reply than she.  Or, rather, her delays are so
altered by exaggeration as to lose touch with Nature.  If it is ill
enough to hear haste drawled out, it is ill, too, to hear slowness out-
tarried.  The true nurse of Shakespeare lags with her news because her
ignorant wits are easily astray, as lightly caught as though they were
light, which they are not; but the nurse of the stage is never simply
astray: she knows beforehand how long she means to be, and never, never
forgets what kind of race is the race she is riding.  The Juliet of the
stage seems to consider that there is plenty of time for her to discover
which is slain--Tybalt or her husband; she is sure to know some time; it
can wait.

A London success, when you know where it lies, is not difficult to
achieve.  Of all things that can be gained by men or women about their
business, there is one thing that can be gained without fear of failure.
This is time.  To gain time requires so little wit that, except for
competition, every one could be first at the game.  In fact, time gains
itself.  The actor is really not called upon to do anything.  There is
nothing, accordingly, for which our actors and actresses do not rely upon
time.  For humour even, when the humour occurs in tragedy, they appeal to
time.  They give blanks to their audiences to be filled up.

It might be possible to have tragedies written from beginning to end for
the service of the present kind of "art."  But the tragedies we have are
not so written.  And being what they are, it is not vivacity that they
lose by this length of pause, this length of phrasing, this illimitable
tiresomeness; it is life itself.  For the life of a scene conceived
directly is its directness; the life of a scene created simply is its
simplicity.  And simplicity, directness, impetus, emotion, nature fall
out of the trailing, loose, long dialogue, like fish from the loose
meshes of a net--they fall out, they drift off, they are lost.

The universal slowness, moreover, is not good for metre.  Even when an
actress speaks her lines as lines, and does not drop into prose by
slipping here and there a syllable, she spoils the _tempo_ by inordinate
length of pronunciation.  Verse cannot keep upon the wing without a
certain measure in the movement of the pinion.  Verse is a flight.


Now and then, at regular intervals of the summer, the Suburb springs for
a time from its mediocrity; but an inattentive eye might not see why, or
might not seize the cause of the bloom and of the new look of humility
and dignity that makes the Road, the Rise, and the Villas seem suddenly
gentle, gay and rather shy.

It is no change in the gardens.  These are, as usual, full, abundant,
fragrant, and quite uninteresting, keeping the traditional secret by
which the suburban rose, magnolia, clematis, and all other flowers grow
dull--not in colour, but in spirit--between the yellow brick house-front
and the iron railings.  Nor is there anything altered for the better in
the houses themselves.

Nevertheless, the little, common, prosperous road, has bloomed, you
cannot tell how.  It is unexpectedly liberal, fresh, and innocent.  The
soft garden-winds that rustle its shrubs are, for the moment, genuine.

Another day and all is undone.  The Rise is its daily self again--a road
of flowers and foliage that is less pleasant than a fairly well-built
street.  And if you happen to find the men at work on the
re-transformation, you become aware of the accident that made all this
difference.  It lay in the little border of wayside grass which a row of
public servants--men with spades and a cart--are in the act of tidying
up.  Their way of tidying it up is to lay its little corpse all along the
suburban roadside, and then to carry it away to some parochial dust-heap.

But for the vigilance of Vestries, grass would reconcile everything.  When
the first heat of the summer was over, a few nights of rain altered all
the colour of the world.  It had been the brown and russet of
drought--very beautiful in landscape, but lifeless; it became a
translucent, profound, and eager green.  The citizen does not spend
attention on it.

Why, then, is his vestry so alert, so apprehensive, so swift; in
perception so instant, in execution so prompt, so silent in action, so
punctual in destruction?  The vestry keeps, as it were, a tryst with the
grass.  The "sunny spots of greenery" are given just time enough to grow
and be conspicuous, and the barrow is there, true to time, and the spade.
(To call that spade a spade hardly seems enough.)

For the gracious grass of the summer has not been content within
enclosures.  It has--or would have--cheered up and sweetened everything.
Over asphalte it could not prevail, and it has prettily yielded to
asphalte, taking leave to live and let live.  It has taken the little
strip of ground next to the asphalte, between this and the kerb, and
again the refuse of ground between the kerb and the roadway.  The man of
business walking to the station with a bag could have his asphalte all
unbroken, and the butcher's boy in his cart was not annoyed.  The grass
seemed to respect everybody's views, and to take only what nobody wanted.
But these gay and lowly ways will not escape a vestry.

There is no wall so impregnable or so vulgar, but a summer's grass will
attempt it.  It will try to persuade the yellow brick, to win the purple
slate, to reconcile stucco.  Outside the authority of the suburbs it has
put a luminous touch everywhere.  The thatch of cottages has given it an
opportunity.  It has perched and alighted in showers and flocks.  It has
crept and crawled, and stolen its hour.  It has made haste between the
ruts of cart wheels, so they were not too frequent.  It has been stealthy
in a good cause, and bold out of reach.  It has been the most defiant
runaway, and the meekest lingerer.  It has been universal, ready and
potential in every place, so that the happy country--village and field
alike--has been all grass, with mere exceptions.

And all this the grass does in spite of the ill-treatment it suffers at
the hands, and mowing-machines, and vestries of man.  His ideal of grass
is growth that shall never be allowed to come to its flower and
completion.  He proves this in his lawns.  Not only does he cut the
coming grass-flower off by the stalk, but he does not allow the mere
leaf--the blade--to perfect itself.  He will not have it a "blade" at
all; he cuts its top away as never sword or sabre was shaped.  All the
beauty of a blade of grass is that the organic shape has the intention of
ending in a point.  Surely no one at all aware of the beauty of lines
ought to be ignorant of the significance and grace of manifest intention,
which rules a living line from its beginning, even though the intention
be towards a point while the first spring of the line is towards an
opening curve.  But man does not care for intention; he mows it.  Nor
does he care for attitude; he rolls it.  In a word, he proves to the
grass, as plainly as deeds can do so, that it is not to his mind.  The
rolling, especially, seems to be a violent way of showing that the
universal grass interrupted by the life of the Englishman is not as he
would have it.  Besides, when he wishes to deride a city, he calls it

But his suburbs shall not, if he can help it, be grass-grown.  They shall
not be like a mere Pisa.  Highgate shall not so, nor Peckham.


The mothers of Professors were indulged in the practice of jumping at
conclusions, and were praised for their impatience of the slow process of

Professors have written of the mental habits of women as though they
accumulated generation by generation upon women, and passed over their
sons.  Professors take it for granted, obviously by some process other
than the slow process of reason, that women derive from their mothers and
grandmothers, and men from their fathers and grandfathers.  This, for
instance, was written lately: "This power [it matters not what] would be
about equal in the two sexes but for the influence of heredity, which
turns the scale in favour of the woman, as for long generations the
surroundings and conditions of life of the female sex have developed in
her a greater degree of the power in question than circumstances have
required from men."  "Long generations" of subjection are, strangely
enough, held to excuse the timorousness and the shifts of women to-day.
But the world, unknowing, tampers with the courage of its sons by such a
slovenly indulgence.  It tampers with their intelligence by fostering the
ignorance of women.

And yet Shakespeare confessed the participation of man and woman in their
common heritage.  It is Cassius who speaks:

   "Have you not love enough to bear with me
   When that rash humour which my mother gave me
   Makes me forgetful?"

And Brutus who replies:

   "Yes, Cassius, and from henceforth
   When you are over-earnest with your Brutus
   He'll think your mother chides, and leave you so."

Dryden confessed it also in his praises of Anne Killigrew:

   "If by traduction came thy mind,
   Our wonder is the less to find
   A soul so charming from a stock so good.
   Thy father was transfused into thy blood."

The winning of Waterloo upon the Eton playgrounds is very well; but there
have been some other, and happily minor, fields that were not won--that
were more or less lost.  Where did this loss take place, if the gains
were secured at football?  This inquiry is not quite so cheerful as the
other.  But while the victories were once going forward in the
playground, the defeats or disasters were once going forward in some
other place, presumably.  And this was surely the place that was not a
playground, the place where the future wives of the football players were
sitting still while their future husbands were playing football.

This is the train of thought that followed the grey figure of a woman on
a bicycle in Oxford Street.  She had an enormous and top-heavy omnibus at
her back.  All the things on the near side of the street--the things
going her way--were going at different paces, in two streams, overtaking
and being overtaken.  The tributary streets shot omnibuses and carriages,
cabs and carts--some to go her own way, some with an impetus that carried
them curving into the other current, and other some making a straight
line right across Oxford Street into the street opposite.  Besides all
the unequal movement, there were the stoppings.  It was a delicate tangle
to keep from knotting.  The nerves of the mouths of horses bore the whole
charge and answered it, as they do every day.

The woman in grey, quite alone, was immediately dependent on no nerves
but her own, which almost made her machine sensitive.  But this alertness
was joined to such perfect composure as no flutter of a moment disturbed.
There was the steadiness of sleep, and a vigilance more than that of an
ordinary waking.

At the same time, the woman was doing what nothing in her youth could
well have prepared her for.  She must have passed a childhood unlike the
ordinary girl's childhood, if her steadiness or her alertness had ever
been educated, if she had been rebuked for cowardice, for the egoistic
distrust of general rules, or for claims of exceptional chances.  Yet
here she was, trusting not only herself but a multitude of other people;
taking her equal risk; giving a watchful confidence to averages--that
last, perhaps, her strangest and greatest success.

No exceptions were hers, no appeals, and no forewarnings.  She evidently
had not in her mind a single phrase, familiar to women, made to express
no confidence except in accidents, and to proclaim a prudent foresight of
the less probable event.  No woman could ride a bicycle along Oxford
Street with any such baggage as that about her.

The woman in grey had a watchful confidence not only in a multitude of
men but in a multitude of things.  And it is very hard for any untrained
human being to practise confidence in things in motion--things full of
force, and, what is worse, of forces.  Moreover, there is a supreme
difficulty for a mind accustomed to search timorously for some little
place of insignificant rest on any accessible point of stable
equilibrium; and that is the difficulty of holding itself nimbly secure
in an equilibrium that is unstable.  Who can deny that women are
generally used to look about for the little stationary repose just
described?  Whether in intellectual or in spiritual things, they do not
often live without it.

She, none the less, fled upon unstable equilibrium, escaped upon it,
depended upon it, trusted it, was 'ware of it, was on guard against it,
as she sped amid her crowd her own unstable equilibrium, her machine's,
that of the judgment, the temper, the skill, the perception, the strength
of men and horses.

She had learnt the difficult peace of suspense.  She had learnt also the
lowly and self-denying faith in common chances.  She had learnt to be
content with her share--no more--in common security, and to be pleased
with her part in common hope.  For all this, it may be repeated, she
could have had but small preparation.  Yet no anxiety was hers, no uneasy
distrust and disbelief of that human thing--an average of life and death.

To this courage the woman in grey had attained with a spring, and she had
seated herself suddenly upon a place of detachment between earth and air,
freed from the principal detentions, weights, and embarrassments of the
usual life of fear.  She had made herself, as it were, light, so as not
to dwell either in security or danger, but to pass between them.  She
confessed difficulty and peril by her delicate evasions, and consented to
rest in neither.  She would not owe safety to the mere motionlessness of
a seat on the solid earth, but she used gravitation to balance the slight
burdens of her wariness and her confidence.  She put aside all the pride
and vanity of terror, and leapt into an unsure condition of liberty and

She leapt, too, into a life of moments.  No pause was possible to her as
she went, except the vibrating pause of a perpetual change and of an
unflagging flight.  A woman, long educated to sit still, does not
suddenly learn to live a momentary life without strong momentary
resolution.  She has no light achievement in limiting not only her
foresight, which must become brief, but her memory, which must do more;
for it must rather cease than become brief.  Idle memory wastes time and
other things.  The moments of the woman in grey as they dropped by must
needs disappear, and be simply forgotten, as a child forgets.  Idle
memory, by the way, shortens life, or shortens the sense of time, by
linking the immediate past clingingly to the present.  Here may possibly
be found one of the reasons for the length of a child's time, and for the
brevity of the time that succeeds.  The child lets his moments pass by
and quickly become remote through a thousand little successive oblivions.
He has not yet the languid habit of recall.

"Thou art my warrior," said Volumnia.  "I holp to frame thee."

Shall a man inherit his mother's trick of speaking, or her habit and
attitude, and not suffer something, against his will, from her bequest of
weakness, and something, against his heart, from her bequest of folly?
From the legacies of an unlessoned mind, a woman's heirs-male are not cut
off in the Common Law of the generations of mankind.  Brutus knew that
the valour of Portia was settled upon his sons.


The art of Japan has none but an exterior part in the history of the art
of nations.  Being in its own methods and attitude the art of accident,
it has, appropriately, an accidental value.  It is of accidental value,
and not of integral necessity.  The virtual discovery of Japanese art,
during the later years of the second French Empire, caused Europe to
relearn how expedient, how delicate, and how lovely Incident may look
when Symmetry has grown vulgar.  The lesson was most welcome.  Japan has
had her full influence.  European art has learnt the value of position
and the tact of the unique.  But Japan is unlessoned, and (in all her
characteristic art) content with her own conventions; she is local,
provincial, alien, remote, incapable of equal companionship with a world
that has Greek art in its own history--Pericles "to its father."

Nor is it pictorial art, or decorative art only, that has been touched by
Japanese example of Incident and the Unique.  Music had attained the
noblest form of symmetry in the eighteenth century, but in music, too,
symmetry had since grown dull; and momentary music, the music of phase
and of fragment, succeeded.  The sense of symmetry is strong in a
complete melody--of symmetry in its most delicate and lively and least
stationary form--balance; whereas the _leit_-_motif_ is isolated.  In
domestic architecture Symmetry and Incident make a familiar
antithesis--the very commonplace of rival methods of art.  But the same
antithesis exists in less obvious forms.  The poets have sought
"irregular" metres.  Incident hovers, in the very act of choosing its
right place, in the most modern of modern portraits.  In these we have,
if not the Japanese suppression of minor emphasis, certainly the Japanese
exaggeration of major emphasis; and with this a quickness and buoyancy.
The smile, the figure, the drapery--not yet settled from the arranging
touch of a hand, and showing its mark--the restless and unstationary
foot, and the unity of impulse that has passed everywhere like a single
breeze, all these have a life that greatly transcends the life of
Japanese art, yet has the nimble touch of Japanese incident.  In passing,
a charming comparison may be made between such portraiture and the aspect
of an aspen or other tree of light and liberal leaf; whether still or in
motion the aspen and the free-leafed poplar have the alertness and
expectancy of flight in all their flocks of leaves, while the oaks and
elms are gathered in their station.  All this is not Japanese, but from
such accident is Japanese art inspired, with its good luck of

What symmetry is to form, that is repetition in the art of ornament.
Greek art and Gothic alike have series, with repetition or counter-change
for their ruling motive.  It is hardly necessary to draw the distinction
between this motive and that of the Japanese.  The Japanese motives may
be defined as uniqueness and position.  And these were not known as
motives of decoration before the study of Japanese decoration.  Repetition
and counter-change, of course, have their place in Japanese ornament, as
in the diaper patterns for which these people have so singular an
invention, but here, too, uniqueness and position are the principal
inspiration.  And it is quite worth while, and much to the present
purpose, to call attention to the chief peculiarity of the Japanese
diaper patterns, which is _interruption_.  Repetition there must
necessarily be in these, but symmetry is avoided by an interruption which
is, to the Western eye, at least, perpetually and freshly unexpected.  The
place of the interruptions of lines, the variation of the place, and the
avoidance of correspondence, are precisely what makes Japanese design of
this class inimitable.  Thus, even in a repeating pattern, you have a
curiously successful effect of impulse.  It is as though a separate
intention had been formed by the designer at every angle.  Such renewed
consciousness does not make for greatness.  Greatness in design has more
peace than is found in the gentle abruptness of Japanese lines, in their
curious brevity.  It is scarcely necessary to say that a line, in all
other schools of art, is long or short according to its place and
purpose; but only the Japanese designer so contrives his patterns that
the line is always short; and many repeating designs are entirely
composed of this various and variously-occurring brevity, this prankish
avoidance of the goal.  Moreover, the Japanese evade symmetry, in the
unit of their repeating patterns, by another simple device--that of
numbers.  They make a small difference in the number of curves and of
lines.  A great difference would not make the same effect of variety; it
would look too much like a contrast.  For example, three rods on one side
and six on another would be something else than a mere variation, and
variety would be lost by the use of them.  The Japanese decorator will
vary three in this place by two in that, and a sense of the defeat of
symmetry is immediately produced.  With more violent means the idea of
symmetry would have been neither suggested nor refuted.

Leaving mere repeating patterns and diaper designs, you find, in Japanese
compositions, complete designs in which there is no point of symmetry.  It
is a balance of suspension and of antithesis.  There is no sense of lack
of equilibrium, because place is, most subtly, made to have the effect of
giving or of subtracting value.  A small thing is arranged to reply to a
large one, for the small thing is placed at the precise distance that
makes it a (Japanese) equivalent.  In Italy (and perhaps in other
countries) the scales commonly in use are furnished with only a single
weight that increases or diminishes in value according as you slide it
nearer or farther upon a horizontal arm.  It is equivalent to so many
ounces when it is close to the upright, and to so many pounds when it
hangs from the farther end of the horizontal rod.  Distance plays some
such part with the twig or the bird in the upper corner of a Japanese
composition.  Its place is its significance and its value.  Such an art
of position implies a great art of intervals.  The Japanese chooses a few
things and leaves the space between them free, as free as the pauses or
silences in music.  But as time, not silence, is the subject, or
material, of contrast in musical pauses, so it is the measurement of
space--that is, collocation--that makes the value of empty intervals.  The
space between this form and that, in a Japanese composition, is valuable
because it is just so wide and no more.  And this, again, is only another
way of saying that position is the principle of this apparently wilful

Moreover, the alien art of Japan, in its pictorial form, has helped to
justify the more stenographic school of etching.  Greatly transcending
Japanese expression, the modern etcher has undoubtedly accepted moral
support from the islands of the Japanese.  He too etches a kind of
shorthand, even though his notes appeal much to the spectator's
knowledge, while the Oriental shorthand appeals to nothing but the
spectator's simple vision.  Thus the two artists work in ways dissimilar.
Nevertheless, the French etcher would never have written his signs so
freely had not the Japanese so freely drawn his own.  Furthermore still,
the transitory and destructible material of Japanese art has done as much
as the multiplication of newspapers, and the discovery of processes, to
reconcile the European designer--the black and white artist--to working
for the day, the day of publication.  Japan lives much of its daily life
by means of paper, painted; so does Europe by means of paper, printed.
But as we, unlike those Orientals, are a destructive people, paper with
us means short life, quick abolition, transformation, re-appearance, a
very circulation of life.  This is our present way of surviving
ourselves--the new version of that feat of life.  Time was when to
survive yourself meant to secure, for a time indefinitely longer than the
life of man, such dull form as you had given to your work; to intrude
upon posterity.  To survive yourself, to-day, is to let your work go into
daily oblivion.

Now, though the Japanese are not a destructive people, their paper does
not last for ever, and that material has clearly suggested to them a
different condition of ornament from that with which they adorned old
lacquer, fine ivory, or other perdurable things.  For the transitory
material they keep the more purely pictorial art of landscape.  What of
Japanese landscape?  Assuredly it is too far reduced to a monotonous
convention to merit the serious study of races that have produced Cotman
and Corot.  Japanese landscape-drawing reduces things seen to such
fewness as must have made the art insuperably tedious to any people less
fresh-spirited and more inclined to take themselves seriously than these
Orientals.  A preoccupied people would never endure it.  But a little
closer attention from the Occidental student might find for their evasive
attitude towards landscape--it is an attitude almost traitorously
evasive--a more significant reason.  It is that the distances, the
greatness, the winds and the waves of the world, coloured plains, and the
flight of a sky, are all certainly alien to the perceptions of a people
intent upon little deformities.  Does it seem harsh to define by that
phrase the curious Japanese search for accidents?  Upon such search these
people are avowedly intent, even though they show themselves capable of
exquisite appreciation of the form of a normal bird and of the habit of
growth of a normal flower.  They are not in search of the perpetual
slight novelty which was Aristotle's ideal of the language poetic ("a
little wildly, or with the flower of the mind," says Emerson of the way
of a poet's speech)--and such novelty it is, like the frequent pulse of
the pinion, that keeps verse upon the wing; no, what the Japanese are
intent upon is perpetual slight disorder.  In Japan the man in the fields
has eyes less for the sky and the crescent moon than for some stone in
the path, of which the asymmetry strikes his curious sense of pleasure in
fortunate accident of form.  For love of a little grotesque strangeness
he will load himself with the stone and carry it home to his garden.  The
art of such a people is not liberal art, not the art of peace, and not
the art of humanity.  Look at the curls and curves whereby this people
conventionally signify wave or cloud.  All these curls have an attitude
which is like that of a figure slightly malformed, and not like that of a
human body that is perfect, dominant, and if bent, bent at no lowly or
niggling labour.  Why these curves should be so charming it would be hard
to say; they have an exquisite prankishness of variety, the place where
the upward or downward scrolls curl off from the main wave is delicately
unexpected every time, and--especially in gold embroideries--is
sensitively fit for the material, catching and losing the light, while
the lengths of waving line are such as the long gold threads take by

A moment ago this art was declared not human.  And, in fact, in no other
art has the figure suffered such crooked handling.  The Japanese have
generally evaded even the local beauty of their own race for the sake of
perpetual slight deformity.  Their beauty is remote from our sympathy and
admiration; and it is quite possible that we might miss it in pictorial
presentation, and that the Japanese artist may have intended human beauty
where we do not recognise it.  But if it is not easy to recognise, it is
certainly not difficult to guess at.  And, accordingly, you are generally
aware that the separate beauty of the race, and its separate dignity,
even--to be very generous--has been admired by the Japanese artist, and
is represented here and there occasionally, in the figure of warrior or
mousme.  But even with this exception the habit of Japanese
figure-drawing is evidently grotesque, derisive, and crooked.  It is
curious to observe that the search for slight deformity is so constant as
to make use, for its purposes, not of action only, but of perspective
foreshortening.  With us it is to the youngest child only that there
would appear to be mirth in the drawing of a man who, stooping violently
forward, would seem to have his head "beneath his shoulders."  The
European child would not see fun in the living man so presented,
but--unused to the same effect "in the flat"--he thinks it prodigiously
humorous in a drawing.  But so only when he is quite young.  The Japanese
keeps, apparently, his sense of this kind of humour.  It amuses him, but
not perhaps altogether as it amuses the child, that the foreshortened
figure should, in drawing and to the unpractised eye, seem distorted and
dislocated; the simple Oriental appears to find more derision in it than
the simple child.  The distortion is not without a suggestion of
ignominy.  And, moreover, the Japanese shows derision, but not precisely
scorn.  He does not hold himself superior to his hideous models.  He
makes free with them on equal terms.  He is familiar with them.

And if this is the conviction gathered from ordinary drawings, no need to
insist upon the ignoble character of those that are intentional

Perhaps the time has hardly come for writing anew the praises of
symmetry.  The world knows too much of the abuse of Greek decoration, and
would be glad to forget it, with the intention of learning that art
afresh in a future age and of seeing it then anew.  But whatever may be
the phases of the arts, there is the abiding principle of symmetry in the
body of man, that goes erect, like an upright soul.  Its balance is
equal.  Exterior human symmetry is surely a curious physiological fact
where there is no symmetry interiorly.  For the centres of life and
movement within the body are placed with Oriental inequality.  Man is
Greek without and Japanese within.  But the absolute symmetry of the
skeleton and of the beauty and life that cover it is accurately a
principle.  It controls, but not tyrannously, all the life of human
action.  Attitude and motion disturb perpetually, with infinite
incidents--inequalities of work, war, and pastime, inequalities of
sleep--the symmetry of man.  Only in death and "at attention" is that
symmetry complete in attitude.  Nevertheless, it rules the dance and the
battle, and its rhythm is not to be destroyed.  All the more because this
hand holds the goad and that the harrow, this the shield and that the
sword, because this hand rocks the cradle and that caresses the unequal
heads of children, is this rhythm the law; and grace and strength are
inflections thereof.  All human movement is a variation upon symmetry,
and without symmetry it would not be variation; it would be lawless,
fortuitous, and as dull and broadcast as lawless art.  The order of
inflection that is not infraction has been explained in a most
authoritative sentence of criticism of literature, a sentence that should
save the world the trouble of some of its futile, violent, and weak
experiments: "Law, the rectitude of humanity," says Mr Coventry Patmore,
"should be the poet's only subject, as, from time immemorial, it has been
the subject of true art, though many a true artist has done the Muse's
will and knew it not.  As all the music of verse arises, not from
infraction but from inflection of the law of the set metre; so the
greatest poets have been those the _modulus_ of whose verse has been most
variously and delicately inflected, in correspondence with feelings and
passions which are the inflections of moral law in their theme.  Law puts
a strain upon feeling, and feeling responds with a strain upon law.
Furthermore, Aristotle says that the quality of poetic language is a
continual _slight_ novelty.  In the highest poetry, like that of Milton,
these three modes of inflection, metrical, linguistical, and moral, all
chime together in praise of the truer order of life."

And like that order is the order of the figure of man, an order most
beautiful and most secure when it is put to the proof.  That perpetual
proof by perpetual inflection is the very condition of life.  Symmetry is
a profound, if disregarded because perpetually inflected, condition of
human life.

The nimble art of Japan is unessential; it may come and go, may settle or
be fanned away.  It has life and it is not without law; it has an obvious
life, and a less obvious law.  But with Greece abides the obvious law and
the less obvious life: symmetry as apparent as the symmetry of the form
of man, and life occult like his unequal heart.  And this seems to be the
nobler and the more perdurable relation.


He who has survived his childhood intelligently must become conscious of
something more than a change in his sense of the present and in his
apprehension of the future.  He must be aware of no less a thing than the
destruction of the past.  Its events and empires stand where they did,
and the mere relation of time is as it was.  But that which has fallen
together, has fallen in, has fallen close, and lies in a little heap, is
the past itself--time--the fact of antiquity.

He has grown into a smaller world as he has grown older.  There are no
more extremities.  Recorded time has no more terrors.  The unit of
measure which he holds in his hand has become in his eyes a thing of
paltry length.  The discovery draws in the annals of mankind.  He had
thought them to be wide.

For a man has nothing whereby to order and place the floods, the states,
the conquests, and the temples of the past, except only the measure which
he holds.  Call that measure a space of ten years.  His first ten years
had given him the illusion of a most august scale and measure.  It was
then that he conceived Antiquity.  But now!  Is it to a decade of ten
such little years as these now in his hand--ten of his mature years--that
men give the dignity of a century?  They call it an age; but what if life
shows now so small that the word age has lost its gravity?

In fact, when a child begins to know that there is a past, he has a most
noble rod to measure it by--he has his own ten years.  He attributes an
overwhelming majesty to all recorded time.  He confers distance.  He, and
he alone, bestows mystery.  Remoteness is his.  He creates more than
mortal centuries.  He sends armies fighting into the extremities of the
past.  He assigns the Parthenon to a hill of ages, and the temples of
Upper Egypt to sidereal time.

If there were no child, there would be nothing old.  He, having conceived
old time, communicates a remembrance at least of the mystery to the mind
of the man.  The man perceives at last all the illusion, but he cannot
forget what was his conviction when he was a child.  He had once a
persuasion of Antiquity.  And this is not for nothing.  The enormous
undeception that comes upon him still leaves spaces in his mind.

But the undeception is rude work.  The man receives successive shocks.  It
is as though one strained level eyes towards the horizon, and then were
bidden to shorten his sight and to close his search within a poor half
acre before his face.  Now, it is that he suddenly perceives the hitherto
remote, remote youth of his own parents to have been something familiarly
near, so measured by his new standard; again, it is the coming of Attila
that is displaced.  Those ten last years of his have corrected the world.
There needs no other rod than that ten years' rod to chastise all the
imaginations of the spirit of man.  It makes history skip.

To have lived through any appreciable part of any century is to hold
thenceforth a mere century cheap enough.  But, it may be said, the
mystery of change remains.  Nay, it does not.  Change that trudges
through our own world--our contemporary world--is not very mysterious.  We
perceive its pace; it is a jog-trot.  Even so, we now consider, jolted
the changes of the past, with the same hurry.

The man, therefore, who has intelligently ceased to be a child scans
through a shortened avenue the reaches of the past.  He marvels that he
was so deceived.  For it was a very deception.  If the Argonauts, for
instance, had been children, it would have been well enough for the child
to measure their remoteness and their acts with his own magnificent
measure.  But they were only men and demi-gods.  Thus they belong to him
as he is now--a man; and not to him as he was once--a child.  It was
quite wrong to lay the child's enormous ten years' rule along the path
from our time to theirs; that path must be skipped by the nimble yard in
the man's present possession.  Decidedly the Argonauts are no subject for
the boy.

What, then?  Is the record of the race nothing but a bundle of such
little times?  Nay, it seems that childhood, which created the illusion
of ages, does actually prove it true.  Childhood is itself Antiquity--to
every man his only Antiquity.  The recollection of childhood cannot make
Abraham old again in the mind of a man of thirty-five; but the beginning
of every life is older than Abraham.  _There_ is the abyss of time.  Let
a man turn to his own childhood--no further--if he would renew his sense
of remoteness, and of the mystery of change.

For in childhood change does not go at that mere hasty amble; it rushes;
but it has enormous space for its flight.  The child has an apprehension
not only of things far off, but of things far apart; an illusive
apprehension when he is learning "ancient" history--a real apprehension
when he is conning his own immeasurable infancy.  If there is no
historical Antiquity worth speaking of, this is the renewed and
unnumbered Antiquity for all mankind.

And it is of this--merely of this--that "ancient" history seems to
partake.  Rome was founded when we began Roman history, and that is why
it seems long ago.  Suppose the man of thirty-five heard, at that present
age, for the first time of Romulus.  Why, Romulus would be nowhere.  But
he built his wall, as a matter of fact, when every one was seven years
old.  It is by good fortune that "ancient" history is taught in the only
ancient days.  So, for a time, the world is magical.

Modern history does well enough for learning later.  But by learning
something of antiquity in the first ten years, the child enlarges the
sense of time for all mankind.  For even after the great illusion is over
and history is re-measured, and all fancy and flight caught back and
chastised, the enlarged sense remains enlarged.  The man remains capable
of great spaces of time.  He will not find them in Egypt, it is true, but
he finds them within, he contains them, he is aware of them.  History has
fallen together, but childhood surrounds and encompasses history,
stretches beyond and passes on the road to eternity.

He has not passed in vain through the long ten years, the ten years that
are the treasury of preceptions--the first.  The great disillusion shall
never shorten those years, nor set nearer together the days that made
them.  "Far apart," I have said, and that "far apart" is wonderful.  The
past of childhood is not single, is not motionless, nor fixed in one
point; it has summits a world away one from the other.  Year from year
differs as the antiquity of Mexico from the antiquity of Chaldea.  And
the man of thirty-five knows for ever afterwards what is flight, even
though he finds no great historic distances to prove his wings by.

There is a long and mysterious moment in long and mysterious childhood,
which is the extremest distance known to any human fancy.  Many other
moments, many other hours, are long in the first ten years.  Hours of
weariness are long--not with a mysterious length, but with a mere length
of protraction, so that the things called minutes and half-hours by the
elderly may be something else to their apparent contemporaries, the
children.  The ancient moment is not merely one of these--it is a space
not of long, but of immeasurable, time.  It is the moment of going to
sleep.  The man knows that borderland, and has a contempt for it: he has
long ceased to find antiquity there.  It has become a common enough
margin of dreams to him; and he does not attend to its phantasies.  He
knows that he has a frolic spirit in his head which has its way at those
hours, but he is not interested in it.  It is the inexperienced child who
passes with simplicity through the marginal country; and the thing he
meets there is principally the yet further conception of illimitable

His nurse's lullaby is translated into the mysteries of time.  She sings
absolutely immemorial words.  It matters little what they may mean to
waking ears; to the ears of a child going to sleep they tell of the
beginning of the world.  He has fallen asleep to the sound of them all
his life; and "all his life" means more than older speech can well

Ancient custom is formed in a single spacious year.  A child is beset
with long traditions.  And his infancy is so old, so old, that the mere
adding of years in the life to follow will not seem to throw it further
back--it is already so far.  That is, it looks as remote to the memory of
a man of thirty as to that of a man of seventy.  What are a mere forty
years of added later life in the contemplation of such a distance?  Pshaw!


There is nothing described with so little attention, with such
slovenliness, or so without verification--albeit with so much confidence
and word-painting--as the eyes of the men and women whose faces have been
made memorable by their works.  The describer generally takes the first
colour that seems to him probable.  The grey eyes of Coleridge are
recorded in a proverbial line, and Procter repeats the word, in
describing from the life.  Then Carlyle, who shows more signs of actual
attention, and who caught a trick of Coleridge's pronunciation instantly,
proving that with his hearing at least he was not slovenly, says that
Coleridge's eyes were brown--"strange, brown, timid, yet earnest-looking
eyes."  A Coleridge with brown eyes is one man, and a Coleridge with grey
eyes another--and, as it were, more responsible.  As to Rossetti's eyes,
the various inattention of his friends has assigned to them, in all the
ready-made phrases, nearly all the colours.

So with Charlotte Bronte.  Matthew Arnold seems to have thought the most
probable thing to be said of her eyes was that they were grey and
expressive.  Thus, after seeing them, does he describe them in one of his
letters.  Whereas Mrs Gaskell, who shows signs of attention, says that
Charlotte's eyes were a reddish hazel, made up of "a great variety of
tints," to be discovered by close looking.  Almost all eves that are not
brown are, in fact, of some such mixed colour, generally spotted in, and
the effect is vivacious.  All the more if the speckled iris has a dark
ring to enclose it.

Nevertheless, the eye of mixed colour has always a definite character,
and the mingling that looks green is quite unlike the mingling that looks
grey; and among the greys there is endless difference.  Brown eyes alone
are apart, unlike all others, but having no variety except in the degrees
of their darkness.

The colour of eyes seems to be significant of temperament, but as regards
beauty there is little or nothing to choose among colours.  It is not the
eye, but the eyelid, that is important, beautiful, eloquent, full of
secrets.  The eye has nothing but its colour, and all colours are fine
within fine eyelids.  The eyelid has all the form, all the drawing, all
the breadth and length; the square of great eyes irregularly wide; the
long corners of narrow eyes; the pathetic outward droop; the delicate
contrary suggestion of an upward turn at the outer corner, which Sir
Joshua loved.

It is the blood that is eloquent, and there is no sign of blood in the
eye; but in the eyelid the blood hides itself and shows its signs.  All
along its edges are the little muscles, living, that speak not only the
obvious and emphatic things, but what reluctances, what perceptions, what
ambiguities, what half-apprehensions, what doubts, what interceptions!
The eyelids confess, and reject, and refuse to reject.  They have
expressed all things ever since man was man.

And they express so much by seeming to hide or to reveal that which
indeed expresses nothing.  For there is no message from the eye.  It has
direction, it moves, in the service of the sense of sight; it receives
the messages of the world.  But expression is outward, and the eye has it
not.  There are no windows of the soul, there are only curtains; and
these show all things by seeming to hide a little more, a little less.
They hide nothing but their own secrets.

But, some may say, the eyes have emotion inasmuch as they betray it by
the waxing and contracting of the pupils.  It is, however, the rarest
thing, this opening and narrowing under any influences except those of
darkness and light.  It does take place exceptionally; but I am doubtful
whether those who talk of it have ever really been attentive enough to
perceive it.  A nervous woman, brown-eyed and young, who stood to tell
the news of her own betrothal, and kept her manners exceedingly composed
as she spoke, had this waxing and closing of the pupils; it went on all
the time like a slow, slow pulse.  But such a thing is not to be seen
once a year.

Moreover, it is--though so significant--hardly to be called expression.
It is not articulate.  It implies emotion, but does not define, or
describe, or divide it.  It is touching, insomuch as we have knowledge of
the perturbed tide of the spirit that must cause it, but it is not
otherwise eloquent.  It does not tell us the quality of the thought, it
does not inform and surprise as with intricacies.  It speaks no more
explicit or delicate things than does the pulse in its quickening.  It
speaks with less division of meanings than does the taking of the breath,
which has impulses and degrees.

No, the eyes do their work, but do it blankly, without communication.
Openings into the being they may be, but the closed cheek is more
communicative.  From them the blood of Perdita never did look out.  It
ebbed and flowed in her face, her dance, her talk.  It was hiding in her
paleness, and cloistered in her reserve, but visible in prison.  It leapt
and looked, at a word.  It was conscious in the fingers that reached out
flowers.  It ran with her.  It was silenced when she hushed her answers
to the king.  Everywhere it was close behind the doors--everywhere but in
her eyes.

How near at hand was it, then, in the living eyelids that expressed her
in their minute and instant and candid manner!  All her withdrawals,
every hesitation, fluttered there.  A flock of meanings and intelligences
alighted on those mobile edges.

Think, then, of all the famous eyes in the world, that said so much, and
said it in no other way but only by the little exquisite muscles of their
lids.  How were these ever strong enough to bear the burden of those eyes
of Heathcliff's in "Wuthering Heights"?  "The clouded windows of Hell
flashed a moment towards me; the fiend which usually looked out, however,
was so dimmed and drowned--"  That mourning fiend, who had wept all
night, had no expression, no proof or sign of himself, except in the
edges of the eyelids of the man.

And the eyes of Garrick?  Eyelids, again.  And the eyes of Charles
Dickens, that were said to contain the life of fifty men?  On the
mechanism of the eyelids hung that fifty-fold vitality.  "Bacon had a
delicate, lively, hazel eye," says Aubrey in his "Lives of Eminent
Persons."  But nothing of this belongs to the eye except the colour.  Mere
brightness the eyeball has or has not, but so have many glass beads: the
liveliness is the eyelid's.  "Dr Harvey told me it was like the eie of a
viper."  So intent and narrowed must have been the attitude of Bacon's

"I never saw such another eye in a human, head," says Scott in describing
Burns, "though I have seen the most distinguished men in my time.  It was
large, and of a dark cast, and glowed (I say literally glowed) when he
spoke with feeling or interest.  The eye alone, I think, indicated the
poetical character and temperament."  No eye literally glows; but some
eyes are polished a little more, and reflect.  And this is the utmost
that can possibly have been true as to the eyes of Burns.  But set within
the meanings of impetuous eyelids the lucidity of the dark eyes seemed
broken, moved, directed into fiery shafts.

See, too, the reproach of little, sharp, grey eyes addressed to Hazlitt.
There are neither large nor small eyes, say physiologists, or the
difference is so small as to be negligeable.  But in the eyelids the
difference is great between large and small, and also between the
varieties of largeness.  Some have large openings, and some are in
themselves broad and long, serenely covering eyes called small.  Some
have far more drawing than others, and interesting foreshortenings and
sweeping curves.

Where else is spirit so evident?  And where else is it so spoilt?  There
is no vulgarity like the vulgarity of vulgar eyelids.  They have a slang
all their own, of an intolerable kind.  And eyelids have looked all the
cruel looks that have ever made wounds in innocent souls meeting them

But all love and all genius have winged their flight from those slight
and unmeasurable movements, have flickered on the margins of lovely
eyelids quick with thought.  Life, spirit, sweetness are there in a small
place; using the finest and the slenderest machinery; expressing meanings
a whole world apart, by a difference of material action so fine that the
sight which appreciates it cannot detect it; expressing intricacies of
intellect; so incarnate in slender and sensitive flesh that nowhere else
in the body of man is flesh so spiritual.

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