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Title: Adventures in Criticism
Author: Quiller-Couch, Arthur Thomas, Sir, 1863-1944
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Adventures in Criticism" ***

Transcriber's Note: Brief Greek phrases appear in the original
                    text in three places. They have been
                    transliterated and placed between +marks+.




New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
Copyright, 1896
Trow Directory Printing and Bookbinding Company
New York



     MY DEAR A.B.W.

     The short papers which follow have been reprinted, with a few
     alterations, from _The Speaker_. Possibly you knew this without
     my telling you. Possibly, too, you have sat in a theatre before
     now and seen the curtain rise on two characters exchanging
     information which must have been their common property for years.
     So this dedication is partly designed to save me the trouble of
     writing a formal preface.

     As I remember then, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed us
     by destiny to write side by side in _The Speaker_ every week, you
     about Plays and I about Books. Three years ago you found time to
     arrange a few of your writings in a notable volume of _Playhouse
     Impressions_. Some months ago I searched the files of the paper
     with a similar design, and read my way through an astonishing
     amount of my own composition. Noble edifice of toil! It stretched
     away in imposing proportions and vanishing perspective--week upon
     week--two columns to the week! The mischief was, it did not
     appear to lead to anything: and for the first mile or two even
     the casual graces of the colonnade were hopelessly marred through
     that besetting fault of the young journalist, who finds no
     satisfaction in his business of making bricks without straw
     unless he can go straightway and heave them at somebody.

     Still (to drop metaphor), I have chosen some papers which I hope
     may be worth a second reading. They are fragmentary, by force of
     the conditions under which they were produced: but perhaps the
     fragments may here and there suggest the outline of a first
     principle. And I dedicate the book to you because it would be
     strange if the time during which we have appeared in print side
     by side had brought no sense of comradeship. Though, in fact, we
     live far apart and seldom get speech together, more than one of
     these papers--ostensibly addressed to anybody whom they might
     concern--has been privately, if but sub-consciously, intended
     for you.



     CHAUCER                             1
     "THE PASSIONATE PILGRIM"           29
     SHAKESPEARE'S LYRICS               39
     SAMUEL DANIEL                      48
     WILLIAM BROWNE                     59
     THOMAS CAREW                       67
     "ROBINSON CRUSOE"                  75
     LAWRENCE STERNE                    90
     SCOTT AND BURNS                   103
     CHARLES READE                     124
     HENRY KINGSLEY                    131
     C.S.C. AND J.K.S                  147
     ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON            156
     M. ZOLA                           192
     SELECTION                         198
     EXTERNALS                         204
     CLUB TALK                         222
     EXCURSIONISTS IN POETRY           229
     POETS ON THEIR OWN ART            245
        PUBLIC TOWARDS LETTERS         254
     IBSEN'S "PEER GYNT"               283
     A MORNING WITH A BOOK             306
     MR. JOHN DAVIDSON                 314
     BJÖRNSTERNE BJÖRNSON              332
     MR. GEORGE MOORE                  341
     MRS. MARGARET L. WOODS            349
     MR. HALL CAINE                    368
     MR. ANTHONY HOPE                  377
     "TRILBY"                          384
     MR. STOCKTON                      391
     BOW-WOW                           399
     OF SEASONABLE NUMBERS             404



March 17, 1894. Professor Skeat's Chaucer.

After twenty-five years of close toil, Professor Skeat has completed
his great edition of Chaucer.[A] It is obviously easier to be
dithyrambic than critical in chronicling this event; to which indeed
dithyrambs are more appropriate than criticism. For when a man writes
_Opus vitæ meæ_ at the conclusion of such a task as this, and so lays
down his pen, he must be a churl (even if he be also a competent
critic) who will allow no pause for admiration. And where, churl or no
churl, is the competent critic to be found? The Professor has here
compiled an entirely new text of Chaucer, founded solely on the
manuscripts and the earliest printed editions that are accessible.
Where Chaucer has translated, the originals have been carefully
studied: "the requirements of metre and grammar have been carefully
considered throughout": and "the phonology and spelling of every word
have received particular attention." We may add that all the materials
for a Life of Chaucer have been sought out, examined, and pieced
together with exemplary care.

All this has taken Professor Skeat twenty-five years, and in order to
pass competent judgment on his conclusions the critic must follow him
step by step through his researches--which will take the critic (even
if we are charitable enough to suppose his mental equipment equal to
Professor Skeat's) another ten years at least. For our time, then, and
probably for many generations after, this edition of Chaucer will be
accepted as final.

       *       *       *       *       *

And the Clarendon Press.

And I seem to see in this edition of Chaucer the beginning of the
realization of a dream which I have cherished since first I stood
within the quadrangle of the Clarendon Press--that fine combination of
the factory and the palace. The aspect of the Press itself repeats, as
it were, the characteristics of its government, which is conducted by
an elected body as an honorable trust. Its delegates are not intent
only on money-getting. And yet the Clarendon Press makes money, and
the University can depend upon it for handsome subsidies. It may well
depend upon it for much more. As the Bank of England--to which in its
system of government it may be likened--is the focus of all the other
banks, private or joint-stock, in the kingdom, and the treasure-house,
not only of the nation's gold, but of its commercial honor, so the
Clarendon Press--traditionally careful in its selections and
munificent in its rewards--might become the academy or central temple
of English literature. If it would but follow up Professor Skeat's
Chaucer with a resolution to publish, at a pace suitable to so large
an undertaking, _all the great English classics_, edited with all the
scholarship its wealth can command, I believe that before long the
Clarendon Press would be found to be exercising an influence on
English letters which is at present lacking, and the lack of which
drives many to call, from time to time, for the institution in this
country of something corresponding to the French Academy. I need only
cite the examples of the Royal Society and the Marylebone Cricket
Club to show that to create an authority in this manner is consonant
with our national practice. We should have that centre of correct
information, correct judgment, correct taste--that intellectual
metropolis, in short--which is the surest check upon provinciality in
literature; we should have a standard of English scholarship and an
authoritative dictionary of the English language; and at the same time
we should escape all that business of the green coat and palm branches
which has at times exposed the French Academy to much vulgar intrigue.

Also, I may add, we should have the books. Where now is the great
edition of Bunyan, of Defoe, of Gibbon? The Oxford Press did once
publish an edition of Gibbon, worthy enough as far as type and paper
could make it worthy. But this is only to be found in second-hand
book-shops. Why are two rival London houses now publishing editions of
Scott, the better illustrated with silly pictures "out of the artists'
heads"? Where is the final edition of Ben Jonson?

These and the rest are to come, perhaps. Of late we have had from
Oxford a great Boswell and a great Chaucer, and the magnificent
Dictionary is under weigh. So that it may be the dream is in process
of being realized, though none of us shall live to see its full
realization. Meanwhile such a work as Professor Skeat's Chaucer is not
only an answer to much chatter that goes up from time to time about
nine-tenths of the work on English literature being done out of
England. This and similar works are the best of all possible answers
to those gentlemen who so often interrupt their own chrematistic
pursuits to point out in the monthly magazines the short-comings of
our two great Universities as nurseries of chrematistic youth. In this
case it is Oxford that publishes, while Cambridge supplies the
learning: and from a natural affection I had rather it were always
Oxford that published, attracting to her service the learning,
scholarship, intelligence of all parts of the kingdom, or, for that
matter, of the world. So might she securely found new Schools of
English Literature--were she so minded, a dozen every year. They would
do no particular harm; and meanwhile, in Walton Street, out of earshot
of the New Schools, the Clarendon Press would go on serenely
performing its great work.

       *       *       *       *       *

March 23, 1895. Essentials and Accidents of Poetry.

A work such as Professor Skeat's Chaucer puts the critic into a frame
of mind that lies about midway between modesty and cowardice. One
asks--"What right have I, who have given but a very few hours of my
life to the enjoying of Chaucer; who have never collated his MSS.; who
have taken the events of his life on trust from his biographers; who
am no authority on his spelling, his rhythms, his inflections, or the
spelling, rhythms, inflections of his age; who have read him only as I
have read other great poets, for the pleasure of reading--what right
have I to express any opinion on a work of this character, with its
imposing commentary, its patient research, its enormous accumulation
of special information?"

Nevertheless, this diffidence, I am sure, may be carried too far.
After all is said and done, we, with our average life of three-score
years and ten, are the heirs of all the poetry of all the ages. We
must do our best in our allotted time, and Chaucer is but one of the
poets. He did not write for specialists in his own age, and his main
value for succeeding ages resides, not in his vocabulary, nor in his
inflections, nor in his indebtedness to foreign originals, nor in the
metrical uniformities or anomalies that may be discovered in his poems;
but in his _poetry_. Other things are accidental; his poetry is
essential. Other interests--historical, philological, antiquarian--must
be recognized; but the poetical, or (let us say) the spiritual, interest
stands first and far ahead of all others. By virtue of it Chaucer, now
as always, makes his chief and his convincing appeal to that which is
spiritual in men. He appeals by the poetical quality of such lines as
these, from Emilia's prayer to Diana:

    "Chaste goddesse, wel wostow that I
     Desire to been a mayden al my lyf,
     Ne never wol I be no love ne wyf.

     I am, thou woost, yet of thy companye,
     A mayde, and love hunting and venerye,
     And for to walken in the wodes wilde,
     And noght to been a wyf, and be with childe..."

Or of these two from the Prioresses' Prologue:

    "O moder mayde! O mayde moder free!
     O bush unbrent, brenninge in Moyses sighte..."

Or of these from the general Prologue--also thoroughly poetical,
though the quality differs:

    "Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
     That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy;
     Hir gretteste ooth was but by sëynt Loy;
     And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
     Ful wel she song the service divyne,
     Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
     And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
     After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
     For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowe..."

Now the essential quality of this and of all very great poetry is also
what we may call a _universal_ quality; it appeals to those sympathies
which, unequally distributed and often distorted or suppressed, are
yet the common possessions of our species. This quality is the real
antiseptic of poetry: this it is that keeps a line of Homer
perennially fresh and in bloom:--

     +"Hôs phato tous d' êdê katechen physizoos aia
       en Lakedaimoni authi, philê en patridi gaiê."+

These lines live because they contain something which is also
permanent in man: they depend confidently on us, and will as
confidently depend on our great-grandchildren. I was glad to see this
point very courageously put the other day by Professor Hiram Corson,
of Cornell University, in an address on "The Aims of Literary
Study"--an address which Messrs. Macmillan have printed and published
here and in America. "All works of genius," says Mr. Corson, "render
the best service, in literary education, when they are first
assimilated in their absolute character. It is, of course, important
to know their relations to the several times and places in which they
were produced; but such knowledge is not for the tyro in literary
study. He must first know literature, if he is constituted so to know
it, in its absolute character. He can go into the philosophy of its
relationships later, if he like, when he has a true literary
education, and when the 'years that bring the philosophic mind' have
been reached. Every great production of genius is, in fact, in its
essential character, no more related to one age than to another. It is
only in its phenomenal character (its outward manifestations) that it
has a _special_ relationship." And Mr. Corson very appositely quotes
Mr. Ruskin on Shakespeare's historical plays--

     "If it be said that Shakespeare wrote perfect historical plays on
     subjects belonging to the preceding centuries, I answer that they
     _are_ perfect plays just because there is no care about centuries
     in them, but a life which all men recognize for the human life of
     all time; and this it is, not because Shakespeare sought to give
     universal truth, but because, painting honestly and completely
     from the men about him, he painted that human nature which is,
     indeed, constant enough--a rogue in the fifteenth century being
     _at heart_ what a rogue is in the nineteenth century and was in
     the twelfth; and an honest or knightly man being, in like manner,
     very similar to other such at any other time. And the work of
     these great idealists is, therefore, always universal: not
     because it is _not portrait_, but because it is _complete_
     portrait down to the heart, which is the same in all ages; and
     the work of the mean idealists is _not_ universal, not because it
     is portrait, but because it is _half_ portrait--of the outside,
     the manners and the dress, not of the heart. Thus Tintoret and
     Shakespeare paint, both of them, simply Venetian and English
     nature as they saw it in their time, down to the root; and it
     does for _all_ time; but as for any care to cast themselves into
     the particular ways of thought, or custom, of past time in their
     historical work, you will find it in neither of them, nor in any
     other perfectly great man that I know of."--_Modern Painters._

It will be observed that Mr. Corson, whose address deals primarily
with literary training, speaks of these absolute qualities of the
great masterpieces as the _first_ object of study. But his words, and
Ruskin's words, fairly support my further contention that they remain
the _most important_ object of study, no matter how far one's literary
training may have proceeded. To the most erudite student of Chaucer in
the wide world Chaucer's poetry should be the dominant object of
interest in connection with Chaucer.

But when the elaborate specialist confronts us, we are apt to forget
that poetry is meant for mankind, and that its appeal is, or should
be, universal. We pay tribute to the unusual: and so far as this
implies respect for protracted industry and indefatigable learning, we
do right. But in so far as it implies even a momentary confusion of
the essentials with the accidentals of poetry, we do wrong. And the
specialist himself continues admirable only so long as he keeps them

I hasten to add that Professor Skeat _does_ keep them distinct very
successfully. In a single sentence of admirable brevity he tells us
that of Chaucer's poetical excellence "it is superfluous to speak;
Lowell's essay on Chaucer in 'My Study Windows' gives a just estimate
of his powers." And with this, taking the poetical excellence for
granted, he proceeds upon his really invaluable work of preparing a
standard text of Chaucer and illustrating it out of the stores of his
apparently inexhaustible learning. The result is a monument to
Chaucer's memory such as never yet was reared to English poet. Douglas
Jerrold assured Mrs. Cowden Clarke that, when her time came to enter
Heaven, Shakespeare would advance and greet her with the first kiss of
welcome, "_even_ should her husband happen to be present." One can
hardly with decorum imagine Professor Skeat being kissed; but Chaucer
assuredly will greet him with a transcendent smile.

The Professor's genuine admiration, however, for the poetical
excellence of his poet needs to be insisted upon, not only because the
nature of his task keeps him reticent, but because his extraordinary
learning seems now and then to stand between him and the natural
appreciation of a passage. It was not quite at haphazard that I chose
just now the famous description of the Prioresse as an illustration of
Chaucer's poetical quality. The Professor has a long note upon the
French of Stratford atte Bowe. Most of us have hitherto believed the
passage to be an example, and a very pretty one, of Chaucer's
playfulness. The Professor almost loses his temper over this: he
speaks of it as a view "commonly adopted by newspaper-writers who know
only this one line of Chaucer, and cannot forbear to use it in jest."
"Even Tyrwhitt and Wright," he adds more in sorrow than in anger,
"have thoughtlessly given currency to this idea." "Chaucer," the
Professor explains, "merely states a _fact_" (the italics are his
own), "viz., that the Prioress spoke the usual Anglo-French of the
English Court, of the English law-courts, and of the English
ecclesiastics of higher ranks. The poet, however, had been himself in
France, and knew precisely the difference between the two dialects;
but he had no special reason for thinking _more highly_" (the
Professor's italics again) "of the Parisian than of the
Anglo-French.... Warton's note on the line is quite sane. He shows
that Queen Philippa wrote business letters in French (doubtless
Anglo-French) with 'great propriety'" ... and so on. You see, there
was a Benedictine nunnery at Stratford-le-Bow; and as "Mr. Cutts says,
very justly, 'She spoke French correctly, though with an accent which
savored of the Benedictine Convent at Stratford-le-Bow, where she had
been educated, rather than of Paris.'" So there you have a fact.

And, now you have it, doesn't it look rather like Bitzer's horse?

    "Bitzer," said Thomas Gradgrind. "Your definition of a horse?"

    "Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four
     grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the
     spring; in marshy countries sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but
     requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth."
     Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

       *       *       *       *       *

March 30, 1895. The Texts of the "Canterbury Tales."

It follows, I hope, from what I said last week, that by far the most
important service an editor can render to Chaucer and to us is to give
us a pure text, through which the native beauty of the poetry may best
shine. Such a text Professor Skeat has been able to prepare, in part
by his own great industry, in part because he has entered into the
fruit of other men's labors. The epoch-making event in the history of
the Canterbury Tales (with which alone we are concerned here) was Dr.
Furnivall's publication for the Chaucer Society of the famous
"Six-Text Edition." Dr. Furnivall set to work upon this in 1868.

The Six Texts were these:--

     1. The great "Ellesmere" MS. (so called after its owner, the Earl
     of Ellesmere). "The finest and best of all the MSS. now extant."

     2. The "Hengwrt" MS., belonging to Mr. William W.E. Wynne, of
     Peniarth; very closely agreeing with the "Ellesmere."

     3. The "Cambridge" MS. Gg 4.27, in the University Library. The
     best copy in any public library. This also follows the
     "Ellesmere" closely.

     4. The "Corpus" MS., in the library of Corpus Christi College,

     5. The "Petworth" MS., belonging to Lord Leconfield.

     6. The "Lansdowne" MS. in the British Museum. "Not a good MS.,
     being certainly the worst of the six; but worth reprinting owing
     to the frequent use that has been made of it by editors."

In his Introduction, Professor Skeat enumerates no fewer than
fifty-nine MSS. of the Tales: but of these the above six (and a
seventh to be mentioned presently) are the most important. The most
important of all is the "Ellesmere"--the great "find" of the Six-Text
Edition. "The best in nearly every respect," says Professor Skeat.
"It not only gives good lines and good sense, but is also (usually)
grammatically accurate and thoroughly well spelt. The publication of
it has been a great boon to all Chaucer students, for which Dr.
Furnivall will be ever gratefully remembered.... This splendid MS. has
also the great merit of being complete, requiring no supplement from
any other source, except in a few cases when a line or two has been

Professor Skeat has therefore chiefly employed the Six-Text Edition,
supplemented by a seventh famous MS., the "Harleian 7334"--printed in
full for the Chaucer Society in 1885--a MS. of great importance,
differing considerably from the "Ellesmere." But the Professor judges
it "a most dangerous MS. to trust to, unless constantly corrected by
others, and not at all fitted to be taken as the basis of a text." For
the basis of his text, then, he takes the Ellesmere MS., correcting it
freely by the other seven MSS. mentioned.

Now, as fate would have it, in the year 1888 Dr. Furnivall invited Mr.
Alfred W. Pollard to collaborate with him in an edition of Chaucer
which he had for many years promised to bring out for Messrs.
Macmillan. The basis of their text of the Tales was almost precisely
that chosen by Professor Skeat, _i.e._ a careful collation of the Six
Texts and the Harleian 7334, due preponderance being given to the
Ellesmere MS., and all variations from it stated in the notes. "A
beginning was made," says Mr. Pollard, "but the giant in the
partnership had been used for a quarter of a century to doing, for
nothing, all the hard work for other people, and could not spare from
his pioneering the time necessary to enter into the fruit of his own
Chaucer labors. Thus the partner who was not a giant was left to go on
pretty much by himself. When I had made some progress, Professor Skeat
informed us that the notes which he had been for years accumulating
encouraged him to undertake an edition on a large scale, and I gladly
abandoned, in favor of an editor of so much greater width of reading,
the Library Edition which had been arranged for in the original
agreement of Dr. Furnivall and myself with Messrs. Macmillan. I
thought, however, that the work which I had done might fairly be used
for an edition on a less extensive plan and intended for a less
stalwart class of readers, and of this the present issue of the
Canterbury Tales is an instalment."[B]

So it comes about that we have two texts before us, each based on a
collation of the Six-Text edition and the Harleian MS. 7334--the chief
difference being that Mr. Pollard adheres closely to the Ellesmere
MS., while Professor Skeat allows himself more freedom. This is how
they start--

    "Whán that Apríllė with híse shourės soote
     The droghte of March hath percėd to the roote,
     And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
     Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
     Whan Zephirus eck with his swetė breeth      5
     Inspirėd hath in every holt and heeth
     The tendrė croppės, and the yongė sonne
     Hath in the Ram his halfė cours y-ronne,
     And smalė fowelės maken melodye
     That slepen al the nvght with open eye,--      10
     So priketh hem Natúre in hir coráges,--
     Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages ..."


    "Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
     The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
     And bathed every veyne in swich licour
     Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
     Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth      5
     Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
     The tendre croppes, and the yong sonne
     Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y ronne,
     And smale fowles maken melodye,
     That slepen al the night with open yë,      10
     (So priketh hem nature in hir corages:)
     Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages..."


On these two extracts it must be observed (1) that the accents and the
dotted e's in the first are Mr. Pollard's own contrivances for helping
the scansion; (2) in the second, l. 10, "yë" is a special contrivance
of Professor Skeat. "The scribes," he says (Introd. Vol. IV. p. xix.),
"usually write _eye_ in the middle of a line, but when they come to it
at the end of one, they are fairly puzzled. In l. 10, the scribe of Hn
('Hengwrt') writes _lye_, and that of Ln ('Lansdowne') writes _yhe_;
and the variations on this theme are curious. The spelling _ye_ (= yë)
is, however, common.... I print it 'yë' to distinguish it from _ye_,
the pl. pronoun." The other differences are accounted for by the
varying degrees in which the two editors depend on the Ellesmere MS.
Mr. Pollard sticks to the Ellesmere. Professor Skeat corrects it by
the others. Obviously the editor who allows himself the wider range
lays himself open to more criticism, point by point. He has to justify
himself in each particular case, while the other's excuse is set down
once for all in his preface. But after comparing the two texts in over
a dozen passages, I have had to vote in almost every case for
Professor Skeat.

The Alleged Difficulty of Reading Chaucer.

The differences, however, are always trifling. The reader will allow
that in each case we have a clear, intelligible text: a text that
allows Chaucer to be read and enjoyed without toil or vexation. For my
part, I hope there is no presumption in saying that I could very well
do without Mr. Pollard's accents and dotted e's. Remove them, and I
contend that any Englishman with an ear for poetry can read either of
the two texts without difficulty. A great deal too much fuss is made
over the pronunciation and scansion of Chaucer. After all, we are
Englishmen, with an instinct for understanding the language we
inherit; in the evolution of our language we move on the same lines as
our fathers; and Chaucer's English is at least no further removed from
us than the Lowland dialect of Scott's novels. Moreover, we have in
reading Chaucer what we lack in reading Scott--the assistance of
rhythm; and the rhythm of Chaucer is as clearly marked as that of
Tennyson. Professor Skeat might very well have allowed his admirable
text to stand alone. For his rules of pronunciation, with their
elaborate system of signs and symbols, seem to me (to put it coarsely)
phonetics gone mad. This, for instance, is how he would have us read
the Tales:--

    "Whán-dhat Ápríllə/wídh iz-shúurez sóotə
     dhə-drúuht' ov-Márchə/hath pérsed tóo dhə róotə,
     ənd-báadhed év'ri véinə/in-swích likúur,
     ov-whích vertýy/enjéndred iz dhə flúur...."

--and so on? I think it may safely be said that if a man need this
sort of assistance in reading or pronouncing Chaucer, he had better
let Chaucer alone altogether, or read him in a German prose

       *       *       *       *       *

April 6, 1895.

Why is Chaucer so easy to read? At a first glance a page of the
"Canterbury Tales" appears more formidable than a page of the "Faërie
Queene." As a matter of fact, it is less formidable; or, if this be
denied, everyone will admit that twenty pages of the "Canterbury
Tales" are less formidable than twenty pages of the "Faërie Queene." I
might bring several recent editors and critics to testify that, after
the first shock of the archaic spelling and the final "e," an
intelligent public will soon come to terms with Chaucer; but the
unconscious testimony of the intelligent public itself is more
convincing. Chaucer is read year after year by a large number of men
and women. Spenser, in many respects a greater poet, is also read; but
by far fewer. Nobody, I imagine, will deny this. But what is the
reason of it?

The first and chief reason is this--Forms of language change, but the
great art of narrative appeals eternally to men, and its rules rest on
principles older than Homer. And whatever else may be said of Chaucer,
he is a superb narrator. To borrow a phrase from another venerable
art, he is always "on the ball." He pursues the story--the story, and
again the story. Mr. Ward once put this admirably--

    "The vivacity of joyousness of Chaucer's poetic temperament ...
     make him amusingly impatient of epical lengths, abrupt in his
     transitions, and anxious, with an anxiety usually manifested by
     readers rather than by writers, to come to the point, 'to the
     great effect,' as he is wont to call it. 'Men,' he says, 'may
     overlade a ship or barge, and therefore I will skip at once to
     the effect, and let all the rest slip.' And he unconsciously
     suggests a striking difference between himself and the great
     Elizabethan epic poet who owes so much to him, when he declines
     to make as long a tale of the chaff or of the straw as of the
     corn, and to describe all the details of a marriage-feast

       'The fruit of every tale is for to say:
        They eat and drink, and dance and sing and play.'

     This may be the fruit; but epic poets, from Homer downward, have
     been generally in the habit of not neglecting the foliage.
     Spenser in particular has that impartial copiousness which we
     think it our duty to admire in the Ionic epos, but which, if
     truth were told, has prevented generations of Englishmen from
     acquiring an intimate personal acquaintance with the 'Fairy
     Queen.' With Chaucer the danger certainly rather lay in the
     opposite direction."

Now, if we are once interested in a story, small difficulties of
speech or spelling will not readily daunt us in the time-honored
pursuit of "what happens next"--certainly not if we know enough of our
author to feel sure he will come to the point and tell us what happens
next with the least possible palaver. We have a definite want and a
certainty of being satisfied promptly. But with Spenser this
satisfaction may, and almost certainly will, be delayed over many
pages: and though in the meanwhile a thousand casual beauties may
appeal to us, the main thread of our attention is sensibly relaxed.
Chaucer is the minister and Spenser the master: and the difference
between pursuing what we want and pursuing we-know-not-what must
affect the ardor of the chase. Even if we take the future on trust,
and follow Spenser to the end, we cannot look back on a book of the
"Faërie Queene" as on part of a good story: for it is admittedly an
unsatisfying and ill-constructed story. But my point is that an
ordinary reader resents being asked to take the future on trust while
the author luxuriates in casual beauties of speech upon every mortal
subject but the one in hand. The first principle of good narrative is
to stick to the subject; the second, to carry the audience along in a
series of small surprises--satisfying expectation and going just a
little beyond. If it were necessary to read fifty pages before
enjoying Chaucer, though the sum of eventual enjoyment were as great
as it now is, Chaucer would never be read. We master small
difficulties line by line because our recompense comes line by line.

Moreover, it is as certain as can be that we read Chaucer to-day more
easily than our fathers read him one hundred, two hundred, three
hundred years ago. And I make haste to add that the credit of this
does not belong to the philologists.

The Elizabethans, from Spenser onward, found Chaucer distressingly
archaic. When Sir Francis Kynaston, _temp_. Charles I., translated
"Troilus and Criseyde," Cartwright congratulated him that he had at
length made it possible to read Chaucer without a dictionary. And from
Dryden's time to Wordsworth's he was an "uncouthe unkiste" barbarian,
full of wit, but only tolerable in polite paraphrase. Chaucer himself
seems to have foreboded this, towards the close of his "Troilus and
Criseyde," when he addresses his "litel book"--

    "And for there is so great diversitee
     In English, and in wryting of our tonge,
     So preye I God that noon miswryte thee,
     Ne thee mismetre for defaute of tonge.
     And red wher-so thou be, or elles songe,
     That thou be understoude I God beseche!..."

And therewith, as though on purpose to defeat his fears, he proceeded
to turn three stanzas of Boccaccio into English that tastes almost as
freshly after five hundred years as on the day it was written. He is
speaking of Hector's death:--

    "And whan that he was slayn in this manere,
     His lighte goost ful blisfully it went
     Up to the holownesse of the seventh spere
     In convers leting every element;
     And ther he saugh, with ful avysement,
     The erratik starres, herkening armonye
     With sownes ful of hevenish melodye.

    "And down from thennes faste he gan avyse
     This litel spot of erthe, that with the see
     Embraced is, and fully gan despyse
     This wrecched world, and held al vanitee
     To respect of the pleyn felicitee
     That is in hevene above; and at the laste,
     Ther he was slayn, his loking down he caste;

    "And in himself he lough right at the wo
     Of hem that wepten for his death so faste;
     And dampned al our werk that folweth so
     The blinde lust, the which that may not laste,
     And sholden al our harte on hevene caste.
     And forth he wente, shortly for to telle,
     Ther as Mercurie sorted him to dwelle...."

Who have prepared our ears to admit this passage, and many as fine?
Not the editors, who point out very properly that it is a close
translation from Boccaccio's "Teseide," xi. 1-3. The information is
valuable, as far as it goes; but what it fails to explain is just the
marvel of the passage--viz., the abiding "Englishness" of it, the
native ring of it in our ears after five centuries of linguistic and
metrical development. To whom, besides Chaucer himself, do we owe
this? For while Chaucer has remained substantially the same,
apparently we have an aptitude that our grandfathers and
great-grandfathers had not. The answer surely is: We owe it to our
nineteenth century poets, and particularly to Tennyson, Swinburne, and
William Morris. Years ago Mr. R.H. Horne said most acutely that the
principle of Chaucer's rhythm is "inseparable from a full and fair
exercise of the genius of our language in versification." This "full
and fair exercise" became a despised, almost a lost, tradition after
Chaucer's death. The rhythms of Skelton, of Surrey, and Wyatt, were
produced on alien and narrower lines. Revived by Shakespeare and the
later Elizabethans, it fell into contempt again until Cowper once more
began to claim freedom for English rhythm, and after him Coleridge,
and the despised Leigh Hunt. But never has its full liberty been so
triumphantly asserted as by the three poets I have named above. If we
are at home as we read Chaucer, it is because they have instructed us
in the liberty which Chaucer divined as the only true way.


[A] The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Edited, from numerous
manuscripts, by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat, Litt. D., LL.D., M.A. In six
volumes. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press. 1894.

[B] Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Edited, with Notes and Introduction,
by Alfred W. Pollard. London: Macmillan & Co.


January 5, 1805. "The Passionate Pilgrim."

_The Passionate Pilgrim_ (1599). _Reprinted with a Note about the
Book, by Arthur L. Humphreys. London: Privately Printed by Arthur L.
Humphreys, of 187, Piccadilly. MDCCCXCIV._

I was about to congratulate Mr. Humphreys on his printing when, upon
turning to the end of this dainty little volume, I discovered the
well-known colophon of the Chiswick Press--"Charles Whittingham & Co.,
Took's Court, Chancery Lane, London." So I congratulate Messrs.
Charles Whittingham & Co. instead, and suggest that the imprint should
have run "Privately Printed _for_ Arthur L. Humphreys."

This famous (or, if you like it, infamous) little anthology of thirty
leaves has been singularly unfortunate in its title-pages. It was
first published in 1599 as _The Passionate Pilgrims. By W.
Shakespeare. At London. Printed for W. Jaggard, and are to be sold by
W. Leake, at the Greyhound in Paules Churchyard._ This, of course, was
disingenuous. Some of the numbers were by Shakespeare: but the
authorship of some remains doubtful to this day, and others the
enterprising Jaggard had boldly conveyed from Marlowe, Richard
Barnefield, and Bartholomew Griffin. In short, to adapt a famous line
upon a famous lexicon, "the best part was Shakespeare, the rest was
not." For this, Jaggard has been execrated from time to time with
sufficient heartiness. Mr. Swinburne, in his latest volume of Essays,
calls him an "infamous pirate, liar, and thief." Mr. Humphreys
remarks, less vivaciously, that "He was not careful and prudent, or he
would not have attached the name of Shakespeare to a volume which was
only partly by the bard--that was his crime. Had Jaggard foreseen the
tantrums and contradictions he caused some commentators--Mr. Payne
Collier, for instance--he would doubtless have substituted 'By William
Shakespeare _and others_' for 'By William Shakespeare.' Thus he might
have saved his reputation, and this hornets' nest which now and then
rouses itself afresh around his aged ghost of three centuries ago."

That a ghost can suffer no inconvenience from hornets I take to be
indisputable: but as a defence of Jaggard the above hardly seems
convincing. One might as plausibly justify a forger on the ground
that, had he foreseen the indignation of the prosecuting counsel, he
would doubtless have saved his reputation by forbearing to forge. But
before constructing a better defence, let us hear the whole tale of
the alleged misdeeds. Of the second edition of _The Passionate
Pilgrim_ no copy exists. Nothing whatever is known of it, and the
whole edition may have been but an ideal construction of Jaggard's
sportive fancy. But in 1612 appeared _The Passionate Pilgrime, or
certaine amorous Sonnets between Venus and Adonis, newly corrected and
augmented. By W. Shakespeare. The third edition. Whereunto is newly
added two Love Epistles, the first from Paris to Hellen, and Hellen's
answere back again to Paris. Printed by W. Jaggard._ (These "two Love
Epistles" were really by Thomas Heywood.) This title-page was very
quickly cancelled, and Shakespeare's name omitted.

Mr. Humphrey's Hypothesis.

These are the bare facts. Now observe how they appear when set forth
by Mr. Humphreys:--

     "Shakespeare, who, when the first edition was issued, was aged
     thirty-five, acted his part as a great man very well, for he with
     dignity took no notice of the error on the title-page of the
     first edition, attributing to him poems which he had never
     written. But when Jaggard went on sinning, and the third edition
     appeared under Shakespeare's name _solely_, though it had poems
     by Thomas Heywood, and others as well, Jaggard was promptly
     pulled up by both Shakespeare and Heywood. Upon this the
     publisher appears very properly to have printed a new title-page,
     omitting the name of Shakespeare."

Upon this I beg leave to observe--(1) That although it may very likely
have been at Shakespeare's own request that his name was removed from
the title-page of the third edition, Mr. Humphreys has no right to
state this as an ascertained fact. (2) That I fail to understand, if
Shakespeare acted properly in case of the third edition, why we should
talk nonsense about his "acting the part of a great man very well" and
"with dignity taking no notice of the error" in the first edition. In
the first edition he was wrongly credited with pieces that belonged
to Marlowe, Barnefield, Griffin, and some authors unknown. In the
third he was credited with these and some pieces by Heywood as well.
In the name of common logic I ask why, if it were "dignified" to say
nothing in the case of Marlowe and Barnefield, it suddenly became
right and proper to protest in the case of Heywood? But (3) what right
have we to assume that Shakespeare "took no notice of the error on the
title-page of the first edition"? We know this only--that if he
protested, he did not prevail as far as the first edition was
concerned. That edition may have been already exhausted. It is even
possible that he _did_ prevail in the matter of the second edition,
and that Jaggard reverted to his old courses in the third. I don't for
a moment suppose this was the case. I merely suggest that where so
many hypotheses will fit the scanty data known, it is best to lay down
no particular hypothesis as fact.


For I imagine that anyone can, in five minutes, fit up an hypothesis
quite as valuable as Mr. Humphreys'. Here is one which at least has
the merit of not making Shakespeare look a fool:--W. Jaggard,
publisher, comes to William Shakespeare, poet, with the information
that he intends to bring out a small miscellany of verse. If the poet
has an unconsidered trifle or so to spare, Jaggard will not mind
giving a few shillings for them. "You may have, if you like," says
Shakespeare, "the rough copies of some songs in my _Love's Labour's
Lost_, published last year"; and, being further encouraged, searches
among his rough MSS., and tosses Jaggard a lyric or two and a couple
of sonnets. Jaggard pays his money, and departs with the verses. When
the miscellany appears, Shakespeare finds his name alone upon the
title-page, and remonstrates. But, of the defrauded ones, Marlowe is
dead; Barnefield has retired to live the life of a country gentleman
in Shropshire; Griffin dwells in Coventry (where he died, three years
later). These are the men injured; and if they cannot, or will not,
move in the business, Shakespeare (whose case at law would be more
difficult) can hardly be expected to. So he contents himself with
strong expressions at The Mermaid. But in 1612 Jaggard repeats his
offence, and is indiscreet enough to add Heywood to the list of the
spoiled. Heywood lives in London, on the spot; and Shakespeare, now
retired to Stratford, is of more importance than he was in 1599.
Armed with Shakespeare's authority Heywood goes to Jaggard and
threatens; and the publisher gives way.

Whatever our hypothesis, we cannot maintain that Jaggard behaved well.
On the other hand, it were foolish to judge his offence as if the man
had committed it the day before yesterday. Conscience in matters of
literary copyright has been a plant of slow growth. But a year or two
ago respectable citizens of the United States were publishing our
books "free of authorial expenses," and even corrected our imperfect
works without consulting us. We must admit that Jaggard acted up to
Luther's maxim, "_Pecca fortiter_." He went so far as to include a
piece so well known as Marlowe's _Live with me and be my love_--which
proves at any rate his indifference to the chances of detection. But
to speak of him as one would speak of a similar offender in this New
Year of Grace is simply to forfeit one's claim to an historical sense.

The Book.

What further palliation can we find? Mr. Swinburne calls the book "a
worthless little volume of stolen and mutilated poetry, patched up
and padded out with dirty and dreary doggrel, under the senseless and
preposterous title of _The Passionate Pilgrim_." On the other hand,
Mr. Humphreys maintains that "Jaggard, at any rate, had very good
taste. This is partly seen in the choice of a title. Few books have so
charming a name as _The Passionate Pilgrim_. It is a perfect title.
Jaggard also set up a good precedent, for this collection was
published a year before _England's Helicon_, and, of course, very many
years before any authorized collection of Shakespeare's 'Poems' was
issued. We see in _The Passionate Pilgrim_ a forerunner of _The Golden
Treasury_ and other anthologies."

Now, as for the title, if the value of a title lie in its application,
Mr. Swinburne is right. It has little relevance to the verses in the
volume. On the other hand, as a portly and attractive mouthful of
syllables _The Passionate Pilgrim_ can hardly be surpassed. If not "a
perfect title," it is surely "a charming name." But Mr. Humphreys'
contention that Jaggard "set up a good precedent" and produced a
"forerunner" of English anthologies becomes absurd when we remember
that _Tottel's Miscellany_ was published in June, 1557 (just forty-two
years before _The Passionate Pilgrim_), and had reached an eighth
edition by 1587; that _The Paradise of Dainty Devices_ appeared in
1576; _A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions_ in 1578; _A Handfull
of Pleasant Delights_ in 1584; and _The Phoenix' Nest_ in 1593.

Almost as wide of the mark is Mr. Swinburne's description of the
volume as "worthless." It contains twenty-one numbers, besides that
lofty dirge, so unapproachably solemn, _The Phoenix and the Turtle_.
Of these, five are undoubtedly by Shakespeare. A sixth (_Crabbed age
and youth_), if not by Shakespeare, is one of the loveliest lyrics in
the language, and I for my part could give it to no other man. Note
also that but for Jaggard's enterprise this jewel had been irrevocably
lost to us, since it is known only through _The Passionate Pilgrim_.
Marlowe's _Live with me and be my love_, and Barnefield's _As it fell
upon a day_, make numbers seven and eight. And I imagine that even Mr.
Swinburne cannot afford to scorn _Sweet rose, fair flower, untimely
pluck'd, soon vaded_--which again only occurs in _The Passionate
Pilgrim_. These nine numbers, with _The Phoenix and the Turtle_, make
up more than half the book. Among the rest we have the pretty and
respectable lyrics, _If music and sweet poetry agree; Good night, good
rest; Lord, how mine eyes throw gazes to the east. When as thine eye
hath chose the dame_, and the gay little song, _It was a Lording's
daughter_. There remain the _Venus and Adonis_ sonnets and _My flocks
feed not_. Mr. Swinburne may call these "dirty and dreary doggrel," an
he list, with no more risk than of being held a somewhat over-anxious
moralist. But to call the whole book worthless is mere abuse of words.

It is true, nevertheless, that one of the only two copies existing of
the first edition was bought for three halfpence.


August 25, 1894. Shakespeare's Lyrics.

In their re-issue of _The Aldine Poets_, Messrs. George Bell & Sons
have made a number of concessions to public taste. The new binding is
far more pleasing than the old; and in some cases, where the notes and
introductory memoirs had fallen out of date, new editors have been set
to work, with satisfactory results. It is therefore no small
disappointment to find that the latest volume, "The Poems of
Shakespeare," is but a reprint from stereotyped plates of the Rev.
Alexander Dyce's text, notes and memoir.

The Rev. A. Dyce.

Now, of the Rev. Alexander Dyce it may be fearlessly asserted that his
criticism is not for all time. Even had he been less prone to accept
the word of John Payne Collier for gospel; even had Shakespearian
criticism made no perceptible advance during the last quarter of a
century, yet there is that in the Rev. Alexander Dyce's treatment of
his poet which would warn us to pause before accepting his word as
final. As a test of his æsthetic judgment we may turn to the "Songs
from the Plays of Shakespeare" with which this volume concludes. It
had been as well, in a work of this sort, to include all the songs;
but he gives us a selection only, and an uncommonly bad selection. I
have tried in vain to discover a single principle of taste underlying
it. On what principle, for instance, can a man include the song "Come
away, come away, death" from _Twelfth Night_, and omit "O mistress
mine, where are you roaming?"; or include Amiens' two songs from _As
you Like It_, and omit the incomparable "It was a lover and his lass"?
Or what but stark insensibility can explain the omission of "Take, O
take those lips away," and the bridal song "Roses, their sharp spines
being gone," that opens _The Two Noble Kinsmen_? But stay: the Rev.
Alexander Dyce may attribute this last pair to Fletcher. "Take, O take
those lips away" certainly occurs (with a second and inferior stanza)
in Fletcher's _The Bloody Brother_, first published in 1639; but Dyce
gives no hint of his belief that Fletcher wrote it. We are, therefore,
left to conclude that Dyce thought it unworthy of a place in his
collection. On _The Two Noble Kinsmen_ (first published in 1634) Dyce
is more explicit. In a footnote to the Memoir he says: "The title-page
of the first edition of Fletcher's _Two Noble Kinsmen_ attributes the
play partly to Shakespeare; I do not think our poet had any share in
its composition; but I must add that Mr. C. Lamb (a great authority in
such matters) inclines to a different opinion." When "Mr. C. Lamb" and
the Rev. Alexander Dyce hold opposite opinions, it need not be
difficult to choose. And surely, if internal evidence count for
anything at all, the lines

    "Maiden pinks, of odour faint,
     Daisies smell-less, yet most quaint,
            And sweet thyme true."


     "Oxlips in their cradles growing"


    "Not an angel of the air,
     Bird melodious, or bird fair,
            Be absent hence."

--were written by Shakespeare and not by Fletcher. Nor is it any
detraction from Fletcher to take this view. Shakespeare himself has
left songs hardly finer than Fletcher wrote at his best--hardly finer,
for instance, than that magnificent pair from _Valentinian_. Only the
note of Shakespeare happens to be different from the note of
Fletcher: and it is Shakespeare's note--the note of

     "The cowslips tall her pensioners be"

(also omitted by the inscrutable Dyce) and of

    "When daisies pied, and violets blue,
     And lady-smocks all silver-white,
     And cuckoo buds of yellow hue
     Do paint the meadows with delight ..."

--that we hear repeated in this Bridal Song.[A] And if this be so, it
is but another proof for us that Dyce was not a critic for all time.

Nor is the accent of finality conspicuous in such passages as this
from the Memoir:--

     "Wright had heard that Shakespeare 'was a much better poet than
     player'; and Rowe tells us that soon after his admission into the
     company, he became distinguished, 'if not as an extraordinary
     actor, yet as an excellent writer.' Perhaps his execution did not
     equal his conception of a character, but we may rest assured that
     he who wrote the incomparable instructions to the player in
     _Hamlet_ would never offend his audience by an injudicious

I have no more to urge against writing of this order than that it has
passed out of fashion, and that something different might reasonably
have been looked for in a volume that bears the date 1894 on its
title-page. The public owes Messrs. Bell & Sons a heavy debt; but at
the same time the public has a peculiar interest in such a series as
that of _The Aldine Poets_. A purchaser who finds several of these
books to his mind, and is thereby induced to embark upon the purchase
of the entire series, must feel a natural resentment if succeeding
volumes drop below the implied standard. He cannot go back: and to
omit the offending volumes is to spoil his set. And I contend that the
action taken by Messrs. Bell & Sons in improving several of their more
or less obsolete editions will only be entirely praiseworthy if we may
take it as an earnest of their desire to place the whole series on a
level with contemporary knowledge and criticism.

Nor can anyone who knows how much the industry and enthusiasm of Dyce
did, in his day, for the study of Shakespeare, do more than urge that
while, viewed historically, Dyce's criticism is entirely respectable,
it happens to be a trifle belated in the year 1894. The points of
difference between him and Charles Lamb are perhaps too obvious to
need indication; but we may sum them up by saying that whereas Lamb,
being a genius, belongs to all time, Dyce, being but an industrious
person, belongs to a period. It was a period of rapid development, no
doubt--how rapid we may learn for ourselves by the easy process of
taking down Volume V. of Chalmers's "English Poets," and turning to
that immortal passage on Shakespeare's poems which Chalmers put forth
in the year 1810:--

    "The peremptory decision of Mr. Steevens on the merits of these
     poems must not be omitted. 'We have not reprinted the Sonnets,
     etc., of Shakespeare, because the strongest Act of Parliament
     that could be framed would fail to compel readers into their
     service. Had Shakespeare produced no other works than these, his
     name would have reached us with as little celebrity as time has
     conferred upon that of Thomas Watson, an older and much more
     elegant sonnetteer.' Severe as this may appear, it only amounts
     to the general conclusion which modern critics have formed.
     Still, it cannot be denied that there are many scattered beauties
     among his Sonnets, and in the Rape of Lucrece; enough, it is
     hoped, to justify their admission into the present collection,
     especially as the Songs, etc., from his plays have been added,
     and a few smaller pieces selected by Mr. Ellis...."

No comment can add to, or take from, the stupendousness of this. And
yet it was the criticism proper to its time. "I have only to hope,"
writes Chalmers in his preface, "that my criticisms will not be found
destitute of candour, or improperly interfering with the general and
acknowledged principles of taste." Indeed they are not. They were the
right opinions for Chalmers; as Dyce's were the right opinions for
Dyce: and if, as we hope, ours is a larger appreciation of
Shakespeare, we probably hold it by no merit of our own, but as the
common possession of our generation, derived through the chastening
experiences of our grandfathers. That, however, is no reason why we
should not insist on having such editions of Shakespeare as fulfil our
requirements, and refuse to study Dyce except as an historical figure.

It is an unwise generation that declines to take all its inheritance.
I have heard once or twice of late that English poets in the future
will set themselves to express emotions more complex and subtle than
have ever yet been treated in poetry. I shall be extremely glad, of
course, if this happen in my time. But at present I incline to rejoice
rather in an assured inheritance, and, when I hear talk of this kind,
to say over to myself one particular sonnet which for mere subtlety of
thought seems to me unbeaten by anything that I can select from the
poetry of this century:--

     Thy bosom is endeared of all hearts
     Which I by lacking have supposed dead;
     And there reigns Love and all Love's loving parts,
     And all those friends which I thought buried.
     How many a holy and obsequious Tear
     Hath dear religious love stol'n from mine eye,
     As interest of the dead, which now appear
     But things remov'd that hidden in thee lie!

     Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
     Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
     Who all their parts of me to thee did give;
     That due of many now is thine alone!
         Their images I lov'd I view in thee,
         And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.


[A] The opening lines of the second stanza of this poem have generally
been printed thus:

      "Primrose, firstborn child of Ver,
       Merry springtime's harbinger,
       With her bells dim...."

And many have wondered how Shakespeare or Fletcher came to write of
the "bells" of a primrose. Mr. W.J. Linton proposed "With harebell
slim": although if we must read "harebell" or "harebells," "dim" would
be a pretty and proper word for the color of that flower. The
conjecture takes some little plausibility from Shakespeare's elsewhere
linking primrose and harebell together:

                           "Thou shalt not lack
     The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor
     The azured harebell, like thy veins...."
                                      _Cymbeline_, iv. 2.

I have always suspected, however, that there should be a semicolon
after "Ver," and that "Merry springtime's harbinger, with her bells
dim," refers to a totally different flower--the snowdrop, to wit. And
I have lately learnt from Dr. Grosart, who has carefully examined the
1634 edition (the only early one), that the text actually gives a
semicolon. The snowdrop may very well come after the primrose in this
song, which altogether ignores the process of the seasons.


February 24, 1894. Samuel Daniel.

The writings of Samuel Daniel and the circumstances of his life are of
course well enough known to all serious students of English poetry.
And, though I cannot speak on this point with any certainty, I imagine
that our younger singers hold to the tradition of all their fathers,
and that Daniel still

     _renidet in angulo_

of their affections, as one who in his day did very much, though
quietly, to train the growth of English verse; and proved himself, in
everything he wrote, an artist to the bottom of his conscience. As
certainly as Spenser, he was a "poet's poet" while he lived. A couple
of pages might be filled almost offhand with the genuine compliments
of his contemporaries, and he will probably remain a "poet's poet" as
long as poets write in English. But the average reader of culture--the
person who is honestly moved by good poetry and goes from time to
time to his bookshelves for an antidote to the common cares and
trivialities of this life--seems to neglect Daniel almost utterly. I
judge from the wretched insufficiency of his editions. It is very hard
to obtain anything beyond the two small volumes published in 1718 (an
imperfect collection), and a volume of selections edited by Mr. John
Morris and published by a Bath bookseller in 1855; and even these are
only to be picked up here and there. I find it significant, too, that
in Mr. Palgrave's _Golden Treasury_ Daniel is represented by one
sonnet only, and that by no means his best. This neglect will appear
the more singular to anyone who has observed how apt is the person
whom I have called the "average reader of culture" to be drawn to the
perusal of an author's works by some attractive idiosyncrasy in the
author's private life or character. Lamb is a staring instance of this
attraction. How we all love Lamb, to be sure! Though he rejected it
and called out upon it, "gentle" remains Lamb's constant epithet. And,
curiously enough, in the gentleness and dignified melancholy of his
life, Daniel stands nearer to Lamb than any other English writer, with
the possible exception of Scott. His circumstances were less gloomily
picturesque. But I defy any feeling man to read the scanty narrative
of Daniel's life and think of him thereafter without sympathy and


He was born in 1562--Fuller says in Somersetshire, not far from
Taunton; others say at Beckington, near Philip's Norton, or at
Wilmington in Wiltshire. Anthony Wood tells us that he came "of a
wealthy family;" Fuller that "his father was a master of music." Of
his earlier years next to nothing is known; but in 1579 he was entered
as a commoner at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and left the university three
years afterwards without taking a degree. His first book--a
translation of Paola Giovio's treatise on Emblems--appeared in 1585,
when he was about twenty-two. In 1590 or 1591 he was travelling in
Italy, probably with a pupil, and no doubt busy with those studies
that finally made him the first Italian scholar of his time. In 1592
he published his "Sonnets to Delia," which at once made his
reputation; in 1594 his "Complaint of Rosamond" and "Tragedy of
Cleopatra;" and in 1595 four books of his "Civil Wars." On Spenser's
death, in 1599, Daniel is said to have succeeded to the office of

     "That wreath which, in Eliza's golden days,
        My master dear, divinist Spenser, wore;
     That which rewarded Drayton's learned lays,
        Which thoughtful Ben and gentle Daniel wore...."

But history traces the Laureateship, as an office, no further back
than Jonson, and we need not follow Southey into the mists. It is
certain, however, that Daniel was a favorite at Elizabeth's Court, and
in some way partook of her bounty. In 1600 he was appointed tutor to
the Lady Anne Clifford, a little girl of about eleven, daughter of
Margaret, Countess of Cumberland; and his services were gratefully
remembered by mother and daughter during his life and after. But
Daniel seems to have tired of living in great houses as private tutor
to the young. The next year, when presenting his works to Sir Thomas
Egerton, he writes:--"Such hath been my misery that whilst I should
have written the actions of men, I have been constrained to bide with
children, and, contrary to mine own spirit, put out of that sense
which nature had made my part."


Now there is but one answer to this--that a man of really strong
spirit does not suffer himself to be "put out of that sense which
nature had made my part." Daniel's words indicate the weakness that
in the end made futile all his powers: they indicate a certain
"donnish" timidity (if I may use the epithet), a certain distrust of
his own genius. Such a timidity and such a distrust often accompany
very exquisite faculties: indeed, they may be said to imply a certain
exquisiteness of feeling. But they explain why, of the two
contemporaries, the robust Ben Jonson is to-day a living figure in
most men's conception of those times, while Samuel Daniel is rather a
fleeting ghost. And his self-distrust was even then recognized as well
as his exquisiteness. He is indeed "well-languaged Daniel," "sweet
honey-dropping Daniel," "Rosamund's trumpeter, sweet as the
nightingale," revered and admired by all his compeers. But the note of
apprehension was also sounded, not only by an unknown contributor to
that rare collection of epigrams, _Skialetheia, or the Shadow of

     "Daniel (as some hold) might mount, _if he list_;
      But others say he is a Lucanist"

--but by no meaner a judge than Spenser himself, who wrote in his
"Colin Clout's Come Home Again":

    "And there is a new shepherd late upsprung
     The which doth all afore him far surpass:
     Appearing well in that well-tunéd song
     Which late he sung unto a scornful lass.
     _Yet doth his trembling Muse but lowly fly,
     As daring not too rashly mount on height_;
     And doth her tender plumes as yet but try
     In love's soft lays, and looser thoughts delight.
     Then rouse thy feathers quickly, DANIEL,
     And to what course thou please thyself advance;
     But most, meseems, thy accent will excel
     In tragic plaints and passionate mischance."

Moreover, there is a significant passage in the famous "Return from
Parnassus," first acted at Cambridge during the Christmas of 1601:

    "Sweet honey-dropping Daniel doth wage
     War with the proudest big Italian
     That melts his heart in sugar'd sonneting,
     _Only let him more sparingly make use
     Of others' wit and use his own the more._"

The 'mauvais pas' of Parnassus.

Now it has been often pointed out that considerable writers fall into
two classes--(1) those who begin, having something to say, and are
from the first rather occupied with their matter than with the manner
of expressing it; and (2) those who begin with the love of expression
and intent to be artists in words, _and come through expression to
profound thought_. It is fashionable just now, for some reason or
another, to account Class 1 as the more respectable; a judgment to
which, considering that Shakespeare and Milton belonged undeniably to
Class 2, I refuse to assent. The question, however, is not to be
argued here. I have only to point out in this place that the early
work of all poets in Class 2 is largely imitative. Virgil was
imitative, Keats was imitative--to name but a couple of sufficiently
striking examples. And Daniel, who belongs to this class, was also
imitative. But for a poet of this class to reach the heights of song,
there must come a time when out of imitation he forms a genuine style
of his own, _and loses no mental fertility in the transformation_.
This, if I may use the metaphor, is the _mauvais pas_ in the ascent of
Parnassus: and here Daniel broke down. He did indeed acquire a style
of his own; but the effort exhausted him. He was no longer prolific;
his ardor had gone: and his innate self-distrustfulness made him quick
to recognize his sterility.

Soon after the accession of James I., Daniel, at the recommendation
of his brother-in-law, John Florio, possibly furthered by the interest
of the Earl of Pembroke, was given a post as gentleman extraordinary
and groom of the privy chamber to Anne of Denmark; and a few months
after was appointed to take the oversight of the plays and shows that
were performed by the children of the Queen's revels, or children of
the Chapel, as they were called under Elizabeth. He had thus a snug
position at Court, and might have been happy, had it been another
Court. But in nothing was the accession of James more apparent than in
the almost instantaneous blasting of the taste, manners, and serious
grace that had marked the Court of Elizabeth. The Court of James was a
Court of bad taste, bad manners, and no grace whatever: and
Daniel--"the remnant of another time," as he calls himself--looked
wistfully back upon the days of Elizabeth.

    "But whereas he came planted in the spring,
     And had the sun before him of respect;
     We, set in th' autumn, in the withering
     And sullen season of a cold defect,
     Must taste those sour distastes the times do bring
     Upon the fulness of a cloy'd neglect.
     Although the stronger constitutions shall
     Wear out th' infection of distemper'd days ..."

And so he stood dejected, while the young men of "stronger
constitutions" passed him by.

In this way it happened that Daniel, whom at the outset his
contemporaries had praised with wide consent, and who never wrote a
loose or unscholarly line, came to pen, in the dedicatory epistle
prefixed to his tragedy of "Philotas," these words--perhaps the most
pathetic ever uttered by an artist upon his work:

    "And therefore since I have outlived the date
     Of former grace, acceptance and delight.
     I would my lines, late born beyond the fate
     Of her[A] spent line, had never come to light;
     So had I not been tax'd for wishing well,
     Nor now mistaken by the censuring Stage,
     Nor in my fame and reputation fell,
     Which I esteem more than what all the age
     Or the earth can give. _But years hath done this wrong,
     To make me write too much, and live too long_."

Ease of his verse.

I said just now that Daniel had done much, though quietly, to train
the growth of English verse. He not only stood up successfully for
its natural development at a time when the clever but less largely
informed Campion and others threatened it with fantastic changes. He
probably did as much as Waller to introduce polish of line into our
poetry. Turn to the famous "Ulysses and the Siren," and read. Can
anyone tell me of English verses that run more smoothly off the
tongue, or with a more temperate grace?

    "Well, well, Ulysses, then I see
       I shall not have thee here:
     And, therefore, I will come to thee,
       And take my fortune there.
     I must be won that cannot win,
       Yet lost were I not won;
     For beauty hath created been
       T'undo or be undone."

To speak familiarly, this is as easy as an old shoe. To speak yet more
familiarly, it looks as if any fool could turn off lines like these.
Let the fool try.

And yet to how many anthologies do we not turn in vain for "Ulysses
and the Siren"; or for the exquisite spring song, beginning--

    "Now each creature joys the other,
     Passing happy days and hours;
     One bird reports unto another
     In the fall of silver showers ..."

--or for that lofty thing, the "Epistle to the Countess of
Cumberland"?--which Wordsworth, who quoted it in his "Excursion,"
declares to be "an admirable picture of the state of a wise man's mind
in a time of public commotion." Certainly if ever a critic shall arise
to deny poetry the virtue we so commonly claim for her, of fortifying
men's souls against calamity, this noble Epistle will be all but the
last post from which he will extrude her defenders.


[A] Sc. Elizabeth's.


April 21, 1894. William Browne of Tavistock.

It has been objected to the author of _Britannia's Pastorals_ that
their perusal sends you to sleep. It had been subtler criticism, as
well as more amiable, to observe that you can wake up again and,
starting anew at the precise point where you dropped off, continue the
perusal with as much pleasure as ever, neither ashamed of your
somnolence nor imputing it as a fault to the poet. For William Browne
is perhaps the easiest figure in our literature. He lived easily, he
wrote easily, and no doubt he died easily. He no more expected to be
read through at a sitting than he tried to write all the story of
Marina at a sitting. He took up his pen and composed: when he felt
tired he went off to bed, like a sensible man: and when you are tired
of reading he expects you to be sensible and do the same.

A placid life.

He was born at Tavistock, in Devon, about the year 1590; and after the
manner of mild and sensible men cherished a particular love for his
birth-place to the end of his days. From Tavistock Grammar School he
passed to Exeter College, Oxford--the old west-country college--and
thence to Clifford's Inn and the Inner Temple. His first wife died
when he was twenty-three or twenty-four. He took his second courtship
quietly and leisurely, marrying the lady at length in 1628, after a
wooing of thirteen years. "He seems," says Mr. A.H. Bullen, his latest
biographer, "to have acquired in some way a modest competence, which
secured him immunity from the troubles that weighed so heavily on men
of letters." His second wife also brought him a portion. More than
four years before this marriage he had returned to Exeter College, as
tutor to the young Robert Dormer, who in due time became Earl of
Carnarvon and was killed in Newbury fight. By his fellow-collegians--as
by everybody with whom he came into contact--he was highly beloved and
esteemed, and in the public Register of the University is styled, "vir
omni humana literarum et bonarum artium cognitione instructus." He
gained the especial favor of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, whom
Aubrey calls "the greatest Mæcenas to learned men of any peer of his
time or since," and of whom Clarendon says, "He was a great lover of
his country, and of the religion and justice, which he believed could
only support it; and his friendships were only with men of those
principles,"--another tribute to the poet's character. He was familiarly
received at Wilton, the home of the Herberts. After his second marriage
he moved to Dorking and there settled. He died in or before the year
1645. In the letters of administration granted to his widow (November,
1645) he is described as "late of Dorking, in the county of Surrey,
Esquire." But there is no entry of his death in the registers at Dorking
or Horsham: so perhaps he went back to lay his bones in his beloved Devon.
A William Browne was buried at Tavistock on March 27th, 1643. This may or
may not have been our author. "Tavistock,--Wilton,--Dorking," says Mr.
Bullen,--"Surely few poets have had a more tranquil journey to the
Elysian Fields."

An amiable poet.

As with his life, so with his poetry--he went about it quietly,
contentedly. He learned his art, as he confesses, from Spenser and
Sidney; and he took it over ready-made, with all the conventions and
pastoral stock-in-trade--swains languishing for hard-hearted nymphs,
nymphs languishing for hard-hearted swains; sheep-cotes, rustic
dances, junketings, anadems, and true-love knots; monsters invented
for the perpetual menace of chastity; chastity undergoing the most
surprising perils, but always saved in the nick of time, if not by an
opportune shepherd, then by an equally opportune river-god or
earthquake; episodes innumerable, branching off from the main stem of
the narrative at the most critical point, and luxuriating in endless
ramifications. Beauty, eluding unwelcome embraces, is never too hotly
pressed to dally with an engaging simile or choose the most agreeable
words for depicting her tribulation. Why indeed should she hurry? It
is all a polite and pleasant make-believe; and when Marina and Doridon
are tired, they stand aside and watch the side couples, Fida and
Remond, and get their breath again for the next figure. As for the
finish of the tale, there is no finish. The narrator will stop when he
is tired; just then and no sooner. What became of Marina after Triton
rolled away the stone and released her from the Cave of Famine? I am
sure I don't know. I have followed her adventures up to that point
(though I should be very sorry to attempt a _précis_ of them without
the book) through some 370 pages of verse. Does this mean that I am
greatly interested in her? Not in the least. I am quite content to
hear no more about her. Let us have the lamentations of Celadyne for a
change--though "for a change" is much too strong an expression. The
author is quite able to invent more adventures for Marina, if he
chooses to, by the hour together. If he does not choose to, well and

Was the composition of _Britannia's Pastorals_ then, a useless or
inconsiderable feat? Not at all: since to read them is to taste a mild
but continuous pleasure. In the first place, it is always pleasant to
see a good man thoroughly enjoying himself: and that Browne thoroughly
"relisht versing"--to use George Herbert's pretty phrase--would be
patent enough, even had he not left us an express assurance:--

    "What now I sing is but to pass away
     A tedious hour, as some musicians play;
     Or make another my own griefs bemoan--"

--rather affected, that, one suspects:

    "Or to be least alone when most alone,
     In this can I, as oft as I will choose,
     Hug sweet content by my retirèd Muse,
     And in a study find as much to please
     As others in the greatest palaces.
     Each man that lives, according to his power,
     On what he loves bestows an idle hour.
     Instead of hounds that make the wooded hills
     Talk in a hundred voices to the rills,
     I like the pleasing cadence of a line
     Struck by the consort of the sacred Nine.
     In lieu of hawks ..."

--and so on. Indeed, unless it be Wither, there is no poet of the time
who practised his art with such entire cheerfulness: though Wither's
satisfaction had a deeper note, as when he says of his Muse--

    "Her true beauty leaves behind
     Apprehensions in the mind,
     Of more sweetness than all art
     Or inventions can impart;
     Thoughts too deep to be express'd,
     And too strong to be suppressed."

Yet Charles Lamb's nice observation--

    "Fame, and that too after death, was all which hitherto the poets
     had promised themselves from their art. It seems to have been
     left to Wither to discover that poetry was a present possession
     as well as a rich reversion, and that the muse had promise of
     both lives--of this, and of that which was to come."

--must be extended by us, after reading his lines quoted above, to
include William Browne. He, at least, had no doubt of the Muse as an
earthly companion.

As for posthumous fame, Browne confides to us his aspirations in that
matter also:--

    "And Time may be so kind to these weak lines
     To keep my name enroll'd past his that shines
     In gilded marble, or in brazen leaves:
     Since verse preserves, when stone and brass deceives.
     Or if (as worthless) Time not lets it live
     To those full days which others' Muses give,
     Yet I am sure I shall be heard and sung
     Of most severest eld and kinder young
     Beyond my days; and maugre Envy's strife,
     Add to my name some hours beyond my life."

This is the amiable hope of one who lived an entirely amiable life in

                                 "homely towns,
     Sweetly environ'd with the daisied downs:"

and who is not the less to be beloved because at times his amiability
prevents him from attacking even our somnolence too fiercely. If the
casual reader but remember Browne as a poet who had the honor to
supply Keats with inspiration,[A] there will always be others, and
enough of them, to prize his ambling Muse for her own qualities.


[A] _Cf._ his lament for William Ferrar (brother of Nicholas Ferrar,
of Little Gidding), drowned at sea--

     "Glide soft, ye silver floods,
      And every spring:
      Within the shady woods
      Let no bird sing...."


July 28, 1894. A Note on his Name.

Even as there is an M alike in Macedon and Monmouth, so Thomas Carew
and I have a common grievance--that our names are constantly
mispronounced. It is their own fault, of course; on the face of it
they ought to rhyme with "few" and "vouch." And if it be urged
(impolitely but with a fair amount of plausibility) that what my name
may or may not rhyme with is of no concern to anybody, I have only to
reply that, until a month or so back, I cheerfully shared this opinion
and acquiesced in the general error. Had I dreamed then of becoming a
subject for poetry, I had pointed out--as I do now--for the benefit of
all intending bards, that I do not legitimately rhyme with "vouch" (so
liable is human judgment to err, even in trifles), unless they
pronounce it "vooch," which is awkward. I believe, indeed (speaking as
one who has never had occasion to own a Rhyming Dictionary), that the
number of English words consonant with my name is exceedingly small;
but leave the difficulty to the ingenious Dr. Alexander H. Japp,
LL.D., F.R.S.E., who has lately been at the pains to compose and put
into private circulation a sprightly lampoon upon me. As it is not my
intention to reply with a set of verses upon Dr. Japp, it seems
superfluous to inquire if _his_ name should be pronounced as it is

But Carew's case is rather important; and it is really odd that his
latest and most learned editor, the Rev. J.F. Ebsworth, should fall
into the old error. In a "dedicatory prelude" to his edition of "The
Poems and Masque of Thomas Carew" (London: Reeves & Turner), Mr.
Ebsworth writes as follows:--

    "Hearken strains from one who knew
     How to praise and how to sue:
     _Celia's_ lover, TOM CAREW."

Thomas Carew (born April 3d, 1590, at Wickham, in Kent) was the son of
Sir Matthew Carew, Master in Chancery, and the grandson of Sir Wymond
Carew, of East Antony, or Antony St. Jacob, between the Lynher and
Tamar rivers in Cornwall, where the family of Pole-Carew lives to
this day. Now, the Cornish Carews have always pronounced their name as
"Carey," though, as soon as you cross the Tamar and find yourself (let
us say) as far east as Haccombe in South Devon, the name becomes
"Carew"--pronounced as it is written. The two forms are both of great
age, as the old rhyme bears witness--

    "Carew, Carey and Courtenay,
     When the Conqueror came, were here at play"--

and the name was often written "Carey" or "Cary," as in the case of
the famous Lucius Carey, Lord Falkland, and his descendants. In
Cornwall, however, where spelling is often an untrustworthy guide to
pronunciation (I have known people to write their name "Hix" and
pronounce it as "Hic"--when sober, too), it was written "Carew" and
pronounced as "Carey"; and there is not the slightest doubt that this
was the case with our poet's name. If anyone deny it, let him consider
the verse in which Carew is mentioned by his contemporaries: and
attempt, for instance, to scan the lines in Robert Baron's "Pocula
Castalia," 1650--

    "Sweet _Suckling_ then, the glory of the Bower
     Wherein I've wanton'd many a genial hour,
     Fair Plant! whom I have seen _Minerva_ wear
     An ornament to her well-plaited hair,
     On highest days; remove a little from
     Thy excellent _Carew_! and thou, dearest _Tom_,
     _Love's Oracle_! lay thee a little off
     Thy flourishing _Suckling_, that between you both
     I may find room...."

Or this by Suckling--

    "_Tom Carew_ was next, but he had a fault,
     That would not well stand with a Laureat;
     His Muse was hard-bound, and th' issue of 's brain
     Was seldom brought forth but with trouble and pain."

Or this, by Lord Falkland himself (who surely may be supposed to have
known how the name was pronounced), in his "Eclogue on the Death of
Ben Jonson"--

    "_Let Digby, Carew, Killigrew_ and _Maine,
     Godolphin, Waller_, that inspired train--
     Or whose rare pen beside deserves the grace
     Or of an equal, or a neighbouring place--
     Answer thy wish, for none so fit appears
     To raise his Tomb, as who are left his heirs."

In each case "Carey" scans admirably, while "Carew" gives the line an
intolerable limp.

Mr. Ebsworth's championship.

This mistake of Mr. Ebsworth's is the less easy to understand inasmuch
as he has been very careful to clear up the popular confusion of our
poet Thomas Carew, "gentleman of the Privy Chamber to King Charles I.,
and cup-bearer to His Majesty," with another Thomas Gary (also a
poet), son of the Earl of Monmouth and groom of His Majesty's
bed-chamber. But it is one thing to prove that this second Thomas Gary
is the original of the "medallion portrait" commonly supposed to be
Carew's: it is quite another thing to saddle him, merely upon
guess-work, with Carew's reputed indiscretions. Indeed, Mr. Ebsworth
lets his enthusiasm for his author run clean away with his sense of
fairness. He heads his Introductory Memoir with the words of Pallas in
Tennyson's "Œnone"--

    "Again she said--'I woo thee not with gifts:
     Sequel of guerdon could not alter me
     To fairer. Judge thou me by what I am,
     So shalt thou find me fairest.'"--

from which I take it that Mr. Ebsworth claims his attitude towards
Carew to be much the same as Thackeray's towards Pendennis. But in
fact he proves himself a thorough-going partisan, and anyone less
enthusiastic may think himself lucky if dismissed by Mr. Ebsworth
with nothing worse than a smile of pity mingled with contempt. Now,
so long as an editor confines this belligerent enthusiasm to the
defence of his author's writings, it is at worst but an amiable
weakness; and every word he says in their praise tends indirectly to
justify his own labor in editing these meritorious compositions. But
when he extends this championship over the author's private life, he
not unfrequently becomes something of a nuisance. We may easily
forgive such talk as "There must assuredly have been a singular
frankness and affectionate simplicity in the disposition of Carew:"
talk which is harmless, though hardly more valuable than the
reflection beloved of local historians--"If these grey old walls could
speak, what a tale might they not unfold!" It is less easy to forgive
such a note as this:--

    "Sir John Suckling was incapable of understanding Carew in his
     final days of sickness and depression, as he had been (and this
     is conceding much) in their earlier days of reckless gallantry.
     His vile address 'to T---- C----,' etc., 'Troth, _Tom_, I must
     confess I much admire ...' is nothing more than coarse badinage
     without foundation; in any case not necessarily addressed to
     Carew, although they were of close acquaintance; but many other
     Toms were open to a similar expression, since 'T.C.' might apply
     to Thomas Carey, to Thomas Crosse, and other T.C. poets."

It is not pleasant to rake up any man's faults; but when an editor
begins to suggest some new man against whom nothing is known (except
that he wrote indifferent verse)--who is not even known to have been
on speaking terms with Suckling--as the proper target of Suckling's
coarse raillery, we have a right not only to protest, but to point out
that even Clarendon, who liked Carew, wrote of him that, "after fifty
years of his life spent with less severity and exactness than it ought
to have been, he died with great remorse for that license, and with
the greatest manifestation of Christianity that his best friends could
desire." If Carew thought fit to feel remorse for that license, it
scarcely becomes Mr. Ebsworth to deny its existence, much less to hint
that the sinfulness was another's.

A correction.

As a minor criticism, I may point out that the song, "Come, my Celia,
let us prove ..." (included by Mr. Ebsworth, with the remark that
"there is no external evidence to confirm the attribution of this song
to Carew") was written by Ben Jonson, and is to be found in
_Volpone_, Act III., sc. 7, 1607.

But, with some imperfections, this is a sound edition--sadly
needed--of one of the most brilliant lyrical writers of his time. It
contains a charming portrait; and the editor's enthusiasm, when it
does not lead him too far, is also charming.


April 13, 1895. Robinson Crusoe.

Many a book has produced a wide and beneficent effect and won a great
reputation, and yet this effect and this reputation have been
altogether wide of its author's aim. Swift's _Gulliver_ is one
example. As Mr. Birrell put it the other day, "Swift's gospel of
hatred, his testament of woe--his _Gulliver_, upon which he expended
the treasures of his wit, and into which he instilled the concentrated
essence of his rage--has become a child's book, and has been read with
wonder and delight by generations of innocents."

How far is the tale a parable?

Generations of innocents in like manner have accepted _Robinson
Crusoe_ as a delightful tale about a castaway mariner, a story of
adventure pure and simple, without sub-intention of any kind. But we
know very well that Defoe in writing it intended a parable--a parable
of his own life. In the first place, he distinctly affirms this in
his preface to the _Serious Reflections_ which form Part iii. of his
great story:--

    "As the design of everything is said to be first in the
     intention, and last in the execution, so I come now to
     acknowledge to my reader that the present work is not merely a
     product of the two first volumes, but the two first volumes may
     rather be called the product of this. The fable is always made
     for the moral, not the moral for the fable...."

He goes on to say that whereas "the envious and ill-disposed part of
the world" have accused the story of being feigned, and "all a
romance, formed and embellished by invention to impose upon the
world," he declares this objection to be an invention scandalous in
design, and false in fact, and affirms that the story, "though
allegorical, is also historical"; that it is

    "the beautiful representation of a life of unexampled
     misfortunes, and of a variety not to be met with in the world,
     sincerely adapted to and intended for the common good of mankind,
     and _designed at first_, as it is now further applied, to the
     most serious use possible. Farther, that there is a man alive,
     and well known too, the actions of whose life are the just
     subject of these volumes, _and to whom all or most part of the
     story most directly alludes_; this may be depended upon, for
     truth, and to this I set my name."

He proceeds to assert this in detail of several important passages in
the book, and obviously intends us to infer that the adventures of
Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, were throughout and from the
beginning designed as a story in parable of the life and adventures of
Daniel Defoe, Gentleman. "But Defoe may have been lying?" This was
never quite flatly asserted. Even his enemy Gildon admitted an analogy
between the tale of Crusoe and the stormy life of Defoe with its
frequent shipwrecks "more by land than by sea." Gildon admitted this
implicitly in the title of his pamphlet, _The Life and Strange
Surprising Adventures of Mr. D---- De F----, of London, Hosier, who
has lived above Fifty Years by himself in the Kingdoms of North and
South Britain._ But the question has always been, To what extent are
we to accept Defoe's statement that the story is an allegory? Does it
agree step by step and in detail with the circumstances of Defoe's
life? Or has it but a general allegorical resemblance?

Hitherto, critics have been content with the general resemblance, and
have agreed that it would be a mistake to accept Defoe's statement
too literally, to hunt for minute allusions in _Robinson Crusoe_, and
search for exact resemblances between incidents in the tale and events
in the author's life. But this at any rate may be safely affirmed,
that recent discoveries have proved the resemblance to be a great deal
closer than anyone suspected a few years ago.

Mr. Wright's hypothesis.

Mr. Aitken supplied the key when he announced in the _Athenæum_ for
August 23rd, 1890, his discovery that Daniel Defoe was born, not in
1661 (as had hitherto been supposed), but earlier, and probably in the
latter part of the year 1659. The story dates Crusoe's birth September
30th, 1632, or just twenty-seven years earlier. Now Mr. Wright,
Defoe's latest biographer,[A] maintains that if we add these
twenty-seven years to the date of any event in Crusoe's life we shall
have the date of the corresponding event in Defoe's life. By this
simple calculation he finds that Crusoe's running away to sea
corresponds in time with Defoe's departure from the academy at
Newington Green; Crusoe's early period on the island (south side)
with the years Defoe lived at Tooting; Crusoe's visit to the other
side of the island with a journey of Defoe's into Scotland; the
footprint and the arrival of the savages with the threatening letters
received by Defoe, and the physical assaults made on him after the
Sacheverell trial; while Friday stands for a collaborator who helped
Defoe with his work.

Defoe expressly states in his _Serious Reflections_ that the story of
Friday is historical and true in fact--

    "It is most real that I had ... such a servant, a savage, and
     afterwards a Christian, and that his name was called Friday, and
     that he was ravished from me by force, and died in the hands that
     took him, which I represent by being killed; this is all
     literally true, and should I enter into discoveries many alive
     can testify them. His other conduct and assistance to me also
     have just references in all their parts to the helps I had from
     that faithful savage in my real solitudes and disasters."

It may be added that there are strong grounds for believing Defoe to
have had about this time assistance in his literary work.

All this is very neatly worked out; but of course the really important
event in Crusoe's life is his great shipwreck and his long solitude
on the island. Now of what events in Defoe's life are these

The 'Silence.'

Well, in the very forefront of his _Serious Reflections_, and in
connection with his long confinement in the island, Defoe makes Crusoe
tell the following story:--

    "I have heard of a man that, upon some extraordinary disgust
     which he took at the unsuitable conversation of some of his
     nearest relations, whose society he could not avoid, suddenly
     resolved never to speak any more. He kept his resolution most
     rigorously many years; not all the tears or entreaties of his
     friends--no, not of his wife and children--could prevail with him
     to break his silence. It seems it was their ill-behaviour to him,
     at first, that was the occasion of it; for they treated him with
     provoking language, which frequently put him into undecent
     passions, and urged him to rash replies; and he took this severe
     way to punish himself for being provoked, and to punish them for
     provoking him. But the severity was unjustifiable; it ruined his
     family and broke up his house. His wife could not bear it, and
     after endeavouring, by all the ways possible, to alter his rigid
     silence, went first away from him, and afterwards from herself,
     turning melancholy and distracted. His children separated, some
     one way and some another way; and only one daughter, who loved
     her father above all the rest, kept with him, tended him, talked
     to him by signs, and lived almost dumb like her father _near
     twenty-nine years with him; till being very sick, and in a high
     fever, delirious as we call it, or light-headed, he broke his
     silence_, not knowing when he did it, and spoke, though wildly at
     first. He recovered of his illness afterwards, and frequently
     talked with his daughter, but not much, and very seldom to
     anybody else."

I italicise some very important words in the above story. Crusoe was
wrecked on his island on September 30th, 1659, his twenty-seventh
birthday. We are told that he remained on the island twenty-eight
years, two months and nineteen days. (Compare with duration of the
man's silence in the story.) This puts the date of his departure at
December 19th, 1687.

Now add twenty-seven years. We find that Defoe left _his_
solitude--whatever that may have been--on December 19th, 1714. Just at
that date, as all his biographers record, Defoe was struck down by a
fit of apoplexy and lay ill for six weeks. Compare this again with the

You divine what is coming. Astounding as it may be, Mr. Wright
contends that Defoe himself was the original of the story: that Defoe,
provoked by his wife's irritating tongue, made a kind of vow to live
a life of silence--and kept it for more than twenty-eight years!

So far back as 1859 the egregious Chadwick nibbled at this theory in
his _Life and Times of Daniel Defoe, with Remarks Digressive and
Discursive_. The story, he says, "would be very applicable" to Defoe
himself, and again, "is very likely to have been taken from his own
life"; but at this point Chadwick maunders off with the remark that
"perhaps the domestic fireside of the poet or book-writer is not the
place we should go to in search of domestic happiness." Perhaps not;
but Chadwick, tallyhoing after domestic happiness, misses the scent.
Mr. Wright sticks to the scent and rides boldly; but is he after the
real fox?

       *       *       *       *       *

April 20, 1895.

Can we believe it? Can we believe that on the 30th of September, 1686,
Defoe, provoked by his wife's nagging tongue, made a vow to live a
life of complete silence; that for twenty-eight years and a month or
two he never addressed a word to his wife or children; and that his
resolution was only broken down by a severe illness in the winter of

Mr. Aitken on Mr. Wright's hypothesis.

Mr. Aitken,[B] who has handled this hypothesis of Mr. Wright's, brings
several arguments against it, which, taken together, seem to me quite
conclusive. To begin with, several children were born to Defoe during
this period. He paid much attention to their education, and in 1713,
the penultimate year of this supposed silence, we find his sons
helping him in his work. Again, in 1703 Mrs. Defoe was interceding for
her husband's release from Newgate. Let me add that it was an age in
which personalities were freely used in public controversy; that Defoe
was continuously occupied with public controversy during these
twenty-eight years, and managed to make as many enemies as any man
within the four seas; and I think the silence of his adversaries upon
a matter which, if proved, would be discreditable in the extreme, is
the best of all evidence that Mr. Wright's hypothesis cannot be
sustained. Nor do I see how Mr. Wright makes it square with his own
conception of Defoe's character. "Of a forgiving temper himself," says
Mr. Wright on p. 86, "he (Defoe) was quite incapable of understanding
how another person could nourish resentment." This of a man whom the
writer asserts to have sulked in absolute silence with his wife and
family for twenty-eight years, two months, and nineteen days!

An inherent improbability.

At all events it will not square with _our_ conception of Defoe's
character. Those of us who have an almost unlimited admiration for
Defoe as a master of narrative, and next to no affection for him as a
man, might pass the heartlessness of such conduct. "At first sight,"
Mr. Wright admits, "it may appear monstrous that a man should for so
long a time abstain from speech with his own family." Monstrous,
indeed--but I am afraid we could have passed that. Mr. Wright, who has
what I may call a purfled style, tells us that--

    "To narrate the career of Daniel Defoe is to tell a tale of
     wonder and daring, of high endeavour and marvellous success. To
     dwell upon it is to take courage and to praise God for the
     splendid possibilities of life.... Defoe is always the hero; his
     career is as thick with events as a cornfield with corn; his
     fortunes change as quickly and as completely as the shapes in a
     kaleidoscope--he is up, he is down, he is courted, he is spurned;
     it is shine, it is shower, it is _couleur de rose_, it is
     Stygian night. Thirteen times he was rich and poor. Achilles was
     not more audacious, Ulysses more subtle, Æneas more pious."

That is one way of putting it. Here is another way (as the cookery
books say):--"To narrate the career of Daniel Defoe is to tell a tale
of a hosier and pantile maker, who had a hooked nose and wrote tracts
indefatigably--he was up, he was down, he was in the Pillory, he was
at Tooting; it was _poule de soie_, it was leather and prunella; and
it was always tracts. Æneas was not so pious a member of the Butchers'
Company; and there are a few milestones on the Dover Road; but Defoe's
life was as thick with tracts as a cornfield with corn." These two
estimates may differ here and there; but on one point they agree--that
Defoe was an extremely restless, pushing, voluble person, who could as
soon have stood on his head for twenty-eight years, two months, and
nineteen days as have kept silence for that period with any man or
woman in whose company he found himself frequently alone. Unless we
have entirely misjudged his character--and, I may add, unless Mr.
Wright has completely misrepresented the rest of his life--it simply
was not _in_ the man to keep this foolish vow for twenty-four hours.

No, I am afraid Mr. Wright's hypothesis will not do. And yet his plan
of adding twenty-seven years to each important date in Crusoe's
history has revealed so many coincident events in the life of Defoe
that we cannot help feeling he is "hot," as they say in the children's
game; that the wreck upon the island and Crusoe's twenty-eight years
odd of solitude do really correspond with some great event and
important period of Defoe's life. The wreck is dated 30th September,
1659. Add the twenty-seven years, and we come to September 30th, 1686.
Where was Defoe at that date, and what was he doing? Mr. Wright has to
confess that of his movements in 1686 and the two following years "we
know little that is definite." Certainly we know of nothing that can
correspond with Crusoe's shipwreck.

A suggestion.

But wait a moment--The _original_ editions of _Robinson Crusoe_ (and
most, if not all, later editions) give the date of Crusoe's departure
from the island as December 19th, 1686, instead of 1687. Mr. Wright
suggests that this is a misprint; and, to be sure, it does not agree
with the statement respecting the length of Crusoe's stay on the
island, _if we assume the date of the wreck to be correct_. But, (as
Mr. Aitken points out) the mistake must be the author's, not the
printer's, because in the next paragraph we are told that Crusoe
reached England in June, 1687, not 1688. I agree with Mr. Aitken; and
I suggest _that the date of Crusoe's arrival at the island, not the
date of his departure, is the date misprinted_. Assume for a moment
that the date of departure (December 19th, 1686) is correct. Subtract
the twenty-eight years, two months, and nineteen days of Crusoe's stay
on the island, and we get September 30th, 1658, as the date of the
wreck and his arrival at the island. Now add the twenty-seven years
which separate Crusoe's experiences from Defoe's, and we come to
September 30th, 1685. What was happening in England at the close of
September, 1685? Why, Jeffreys was carrying through his Bloody Assize.

"Like many other Dissenters," says Mr. Wright on p. 21, "Defoe
sympathised with Monmouth; and, to his misfortune, took part in the
rising." His comrades perished in it, and he himself, in Mr. Wright's
words, "probably had to lie low." There is no doubt that the Monmouth
affair was the beginning of Defoe's troubles: and I suggest that
certain passages in the story of Crusoe's voyage (_e.g._ the "secret
proposal" of the three merchants who came to Crusoe) have a peculiar
significance if read in this connection. I also think it possible
there may be a particular meaning in the several waves, so carefully
described, through which Crusoe made his way to dry land; and in the
simile of the reprieved malefactor (p. 50 in Mr. Aitken's delightful
edition); and in the several visits to the wreck.

I am no specialist in Defoe, but put this suggestion forward with the
utmost diffidence. And yet, right or wrong, I feel it has more
plausibility than Mr. Wright's. Defoe undoubtedly took part in the
Monmouth rising, and was a survivor of that wreck "on the south side
of the island": and undoubtedly it formed the turning-point of his
career. If we could discover how he escaped Kirke and Jeffreys, I am
inclined to believe we should have a key to the whole story of the
shipwreck. I should not be sorry to find this hypothesis upset; for
the story of Robinson Crusoe is quite good enough for me as it stands,
and without any sub-intention. But whatever be the true explanation
of the parable, if time shall discover it, I confess I expect it will
be a trifle less recondite than Mr. Wright's, and a trifle more
creditable to the father of the English novel.[C]


[A] "The Life of Daniel Defoe." By Thomas Wright, Principal of Cowper
School, Olney. London: Cassell & Co.

[B] _Romances and Narratives by Daniel Defoe_. Edited by George A.
Aitken. Vols. i., ii., and iii. Containing the Life and Adventures,
Farther Adventures, and Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe. With a
General Introduction by the Editor. London: J.M. Dent & Co.

[C] Upon this suggestion Mr. Aitken, in a postscript to his seventh
volume of the _Romances and Narratives_, has since remarked as

    "In a discussion in _The Speaker_ upon Defoe's supposed
    period of 'silence,' published since the appearance of the
    first volume of this edition, Mr. Quiller Couch, while
    agreeing, for the reasons I have given (vol. i. p. lvii.),
    that there is no mistake in the date of Robinson Crusoe's
    departure from his island (December, 1686), has suggested
    that perhaps the error in the chronology lies, not in the
    length of time Crusoe is said to have lived on the island,
    but in the date given for his landing (September, 1659). That
    this suggestion is right appears from a passage which has
    hitherto escaped notice. Crusoe was born in 1632, and Defoe
    makes him say (vol. i. p. 147), 'The same day of the year I
    was born on, viz. the 30th of September, that same day I had
    my life so miraculously saved twenty-six years after, when I
    was cast ashore on this island.' Crusoe must, therefore, have
    reached his island on September 30, 1658, not 1659, as twice
    stated by Defoe; and by adding twenty-eight years to 1658 we
    get 1686, the date given for Crusoe's departure.

    "It is, however, questionable whether this rectification
    helps us to interpret the allegory in _Robinson Crusoe_. It
    is true that if, in accordance with the 'key' suggested by
    Mr. Wright, we add twenty-seven years to the date of the
    shipwreck (1658) in order to find the corresponding event in
    Defoe's life, we arrive at September, 1685, when Jeffreys was
    sentencing many of those who--like Defoe--took part in
    Monmouth's rising. But we have no evidence that Defoe
    suffered seriously in consequence of the part he took in this
    rebellion; and the addition of twenty-seven years to the date
    of Crusoe's departure from the island (December, 1686) does
    not bring us to any corresponding event in Defoe's own story.
    Those who are curious will find the question discussed at
    greater length in _The Speaker_ for April 13 and 20, and May
    4, 1895."


Dec. 10, 1891. Sterne and Thackeray.

It is told by those who write scraps of Thackeray's biography that a
youth once ventured to speak disrespectfully of Scott in his presence.
"You and I, sir," said the great man, cutting him short, "should lift
our hats at the mention of that great name."

An admirable rebuke!--if only Thackeray had remembered it when he sat
down to write those famous Lectures on the English Humorists, or at
least before he stood up in Willis's Rooms to inform a polite audience
concerning his great predecessors. Concerning their work? No.
Concerning their genius? No. Concerning the debt owed to them by
mankind? Not a bit of it. Concerning their _lives_, ladies and
gentlemen; and whether their lives were pure and respectable and free
from scandal and such as men ought to have led whose works you would
like your sons and daughters to handle. Mr. Frank T. Marzials,
Thackeray's latest biographer, finds the matter of these Lectures

    "One feels in the reading that Thackeray is a peer among his
     peers--a sort of elder brother,[A] kindly, appreciative and
     tolerant--as he discourses of Addison, Steele, Swift, Pope,
     Sterne, Fielding, Goldsmith. I know of no greater contrast in
     criticism--a contrast, be it said, not to the advantage of the
     French critic--than Thackeray's treatment of Pope and that of M.
     Taine. What allowance the Englishman makes for the physical ills
     that beset the 'gallant little cripple'; with what a gentle hand
     he touches the painful places in that poor twisted body! M.
     Taine, irritated apparently that Pope will not fit into his
     conception of English literature, exhibits the same deformities
     almost savagely."

I am sorry that I cannot read this kindliness, this appreciation, this
tolerance, into the Lectures--into those, for instance, of Sterne and
Fielding: that the simile of the "elder brother" carries different
suggestions for Mr. Marzials and for me: and that the lecturer's
attitude is to me less suggestive of a peer among his peers than of a
tall "bobby"--a volunteer constable--determined to warn his polite
hearers what sort of men these were whose books they had hitherto read

And even so--even though the lives and actions of men who lived too
early to know Victorian decency must be held up to shock a crowd in
Willis's Rooms, yet it had been but common generosity to tell the
whole truth. Then the story of Fielding's _Voyage to Lisbon_ might
have touched the heart to sympathy even for the purely fictitious low
comedian whom Thackeray presented: and Sterne's latest letters might
have infused so much pity into the polite audience that they, like his
own Recording Angel, might have blotted out his faults with a tear.
But that was not Thackeray's way. Charlotte Brontë found "a finished
taste and ease" in the Lectures, a "something high bred." Motley
describes their style as "hovering," and their method as "the
perfection of lecturing to high-bred audiences." Mr. Marzials quotes
this expression "hovering" as admirably descriptive. It is. By
judicious selection, by innuendo, here a pitying aposiopesis, there an
indignant outburst, the charges are heaped up. Swift was a toady at
heart, and used Stella vilely for the sake of that hussy Vanessa.
Congreve had captivating manners--of course he had, the dog! And we
all know what that meant in those days. Dick Steele drank and failed
to pay his creditors. Sterne--now really I know what Club life is,
ladies and gentlemen, and I might tell you a thing or two if I would:
but really, speaking as a gentleman before a polite audience, I warn
you against Sterne.

I do not suppose for a moment that Thackeray consciously defamed these
men. The weaknesses, the pettinesses of humanity interested him, and
he treated them with gusto, even as he spares us nothing of that
horrible scene between Mrs. Mackenzie and Colonel Newcome. And of
course poor Sterne was the easiest victim. The fellow was so full of
his confounded sentiments. You ring a choice few of these on the
counter and prove them base metal. You assume that the rest of the bag
is of equal value. You "go one better" than Sir Peter Teazle and damn
all sentiment, and lo! the fellow is no better than a smirking jester,
whose antics you can expose till men and women, who had foolishly
laughed and wept as he moved them, turn from him, loathing him as a
swindler. So it is that although _Tristram Shandy_ continues one of
the most popular classics in the language, nobody dares to confess his
debt to Sterne except in discreet terms of apology.

But the fellow wrote the book. You can't deny _that_, though
Thackeray may tempt you to forget it. (What proportion does my Uncle
Toby hold in that amiable Lecture?) The truth is that the elemental
simplicity of Captain Shandy and Corporal Trim did not appeal to the
author of _The Book of Snobs_ in the same degree as the pettiness of
the man Sterne appealed to him: and his business in Willis's Rooms was
to talk, not of Captain Shandy, but of the man Sterne, to whom his
hearers were to feel themselves superior as members of society. I
submit that this was not a worthy task for a man of letters who was
also a man of genius. I submit that it was an inversion of the true
critical method to wreck Sterne's _Sentimental Journey_ at the outset
by picking Sterne's life to pieces, holding up the shreds and warning
the reader that any nobility apparent in his book will be nothing
better than a sham. Sterne is scarcely arrived at Calais and in
conversation with the Monk before you are cautioned how you listen to
the impostor. "Watch now," says the critic; "he'll be at his tricks in
a moment. Hey, _paillasse_! There!--didn't I tell you?" And yet I am
as sure that the opening pages of the _Sentimental Journey_ are full
of genuine feeling as I am that if Jonathan Swift had entered the room
while the Lecture upon him was going forward, he would have eaten
William Makepeace Goliath, white waistcoat and all.

Frenchmen, who either are less awed than we by lecturers in white
waistcoats, or understand the methods of criticism somewhat better,
cherish the _Sentimental Journey_ (in spite of its indifferent French)
and believe in the genius that created it. But the Briton reads it
with shyness, and the British critic speaks of Sterne with bated
breath, since Thackeray told it in Gath that Sterne was a bad man, and
the daughters of Philistia triumphed.

       *       *       *       *       *

October 6, 1894. Mr. Whibley's Edition of "Tristram Shandy."

We are a strenuous generation, with a New Humor and a number of
interesting by-products; but a new _Tristram Shandy_ stands not yet
among our achievements. So Messrs. Henley and Whibley have made the
best of it and given us a new edition of the old _Tristram_--two
handsome volumes, with shapely pages, fair type, and an Introduction.
Mr. Whibley supplies the Introduction, and that he writes lucidly and
forcibly needs not to be said. His position is neither that so
unfairly taken up by Thackeray; nor that of Allibone, who, writing for
Heaven knows how many of Allibone's maiden aunts, summed up Sterne

     "A standing reproach to the profession which he disgraced,
     grovelling in his tastes, indiscreet, if not licentious, in his
     habits, he lived unhonoured and died unlamented, save by those
     who found amusement in his wit or countenance in his

But though he avoids these particular excesses; though he goes
straight for the book, as a critic should; Mr. Whibley cannot get quit
of the bad tradition of patronizing Sterne:--

     "He failed, as only a sentimentalist can fail, in the province of
     pathos.... There is no trifle, animate or inanimate, he will not
     bewail, if he be but in the mood; nor does it shame him to dangle
     before the public gaze those poor shreds of sensibility he calls
     his feelings. Though he seldom deceives the reader into sympathy,
     none will turn from his choicest agony without a thrill of
     disgust. The _Sentimental Journey_, despite its interludes of
     tacit humour and excellent narrative, is the last extravagance of
     irrelevant grief.... Genuine sentiment was as strange to Sterne
     the writer as to Sterne the man; and he conjures up no tragic
     figure that is not stuffed with sawdust and tricked out in the
     rags of the green-room. Fortunately, there is scant opportunity
     for idle tears in _Tristram Shandy_.... Yet no occasion is
     lost.... Yorick's death is false alike to nature and art. The
     vapid emotion is properly matched with commonness of expression,
     and the bad taste is none the more readily excused by the
     suggestion of self-defence. Even the humour of My Uncle Toby is
     something: degraded by the oft-quoted platitude: 'Go, poor
     devil,' says he, to an overgrown fly which had buzzed about his
     nose; 'get thee gone. Why should I hurt thee? This world surely
     is big enough to hold both thee and me.'"

But here Mr. Whibley's notorious hatred of sentiment leads him into
confusion. That the passage has been over-quoted is no fault of
Sterne's. Of My Uncle Toby, if of any man, it might have been
predicted that he would not hurt a fly. To me this trivial action of
his is more than merely sentimental. But, be this as it may, I am sure
it is honestly characteristic.

Still, on the whole Mr. Whibley has justice. Sterne _is_ a
sentimentalist. Sterne _is_ indecent by reason of his reticence--more
indecent than Rabelais, because he uses a hint where Rabelais would
have said what he meant, and prints a dash where Rabelais would have
plumped out with a coarse word and a laugh. Sterne _is_ a convicted
thief. On a famous occasion Charles Reade drew a line between plagiary
and justifiable borrowing. To draw material from a heterogeneous
work--to found, for instance, the play of _Coriolanus_ upon Plutarch's
_Life_--is justifiable: to take from a homogeneous work--to enrich
your drama from another man's drama--is plagiary. But even on this
interpretation of the law Sterne must be condemned; for in decking out
_Tristram_ with feathers from the history of Gargantua he was
pillaging a homogeneous work. Nor can it be pleaded in extenuation
that he improved upon his originals--though it can, I think, be
pleaded that he made his borrowings his own. I do not think much of
Mr. Whibley's instance of Servius Sulpicius' letter. No doubt Sterne
took his translation of it from Burton; but the letter is a very well
known one, and Burton's translation happened to be uncommonly good,
and the borrowing of a good rendering without acknowledgment was not,
as far as I know, then forbidden by custom. In any case, the whole
passage is intended merely to lead up to the beautiful perplexity of
My Uncle Toby. And that is Sterne's own, and could never have been
another man's. "After all," says Mr. Whibley, "all the best in Sterne
is still Sterne's own."

But the more I agree with Mr. Whibley's strictures the more I desire
to remove them from an Introduction to _Tristram Shandy_, and to read
them in a volume of Mr. Whibley's collected essays. Were it not
better, in reading _Tristram Shandy_, to take Sterne for once (if only
for a change) at his own valuation, or at least to accept the original
postulates of the story? If only for the entertainment he provides we
owe him the effort. There will be time enough afterwards to turn to
the cold judgment of this or that critic, or to the evidence of this
or that thief-taker. For the moment he claims to be heard without
prejudice; he has genius enough to make it worth our while to listen
without prejudice; and the most lenient "appreciation" of his sins, if
we read it beforehand, is bound to raise prejudice and infect our
enjoyment as we read. And, as a corollary of this demand, let us ask
that he shall be allowed to present his book to us exactly as he
chooses. Mr. Whibley says, "He set out upon the road of authorship
with a false ideal: 'Writing,' said he, 'when properly managed, is
but a different name for conversation.' It would be juster to assert
that writing is never properly managed, unless it be removed from
conversation as far as possible." Very true; or, at least, very
likely. But since Sterne _had_ this ideal, let us grant him full
liberty to make his spoon or spoil his horn, and let us judge
afterwards concerning the result. The famous blackened page and the
empty pages (all omitted in this new edition) are part of Sterne's
method. They may seem to us trick-work and foolery; but, if we
consider, they link on to his notion that writing is but a name for
conversation; they are included in his demand that in writing a book a
man should be allowed to "go cluttering away like hey-go mad." "You
may take my word"--it is Sterne who speaks, and in his very first

     "You may take my word that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or
     his nonsense, his success and miscarriages in this world, depend
     upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and
     trains you put them into, so that when they are once set
     going--whether right or wrong, 'tis not a halfpenny matter--away
     they go cluttering like hey-go mad; and by treading the same
     steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as
     plain and smooth as a garden walk, which, when once they are
     used to, the devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive
     them off it."

This, at any rate, is Sterne's own postulate. And I had rather judge
him with all his faults after reading the book than be prepared
beforehand to make allowances.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nov. 12, 1895. Sterne's Good-nature.

Let one thing be recorded to the credit of this much-abused man. He
wrote two masterpieces of fiction (one of them a work of considerable
length), and in neither will you find an ill-natured character or an
ill-natured word. On the admission of all critics My Father, My
Mother, My Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, and Mrs. Wadman are immortal
creations. To the making of them there has gone no single sour or
uncharitable thought. They are essentially amiable: and the same may
be said of all the minor characters and of the author's disquisitions.
Sterne has given us a thousand occasions to laugh, but never an
occasion to laugh on the wrong side of the mouth. For savagery or
bitterness you will search his books in vain. He is obscene, to be
sure. But who, pray, was ever the worse for having read him? Alas,
poor Yorick! He had his obvious and deplorable failings. I never
heard that he communicated them. Good-humor he has been communicating
now for a hundred and fifty years.


[A] But why "elder"?

[B]  "Pan might _indeed_ be proud if ever he begot
          Such an Allibone ..."
                                _Spenser (revised)._


Dec. 9, 1893. Scott's Letters.

    "_All Balzac's novels occupy one shelf. The new edition fifty
     volumes long"_

--says Bishop Blougram. But for Scott the student will soon have to
hire a room. The novels and poems alone stretch away into just sixty
volumes in Cadell's edition; and this is only the beginning. At this
very moment two new editions (one of which, at least, is
indispensable) are unfolding their magnificent lengths, and report
says that Messrs. Hodder and Stoughton already project a third, with
introductory essays by Mr. Barrie. Then the Miscellaneous Prose Works
by that untiring hand extend to some twenty-eight or thirty volumes.
And when Scott stops, his biographer and his commentators begin, and
all with like liberal notions of space and time. Nor do they deceive
themselves. We take all they give, and call for more. Three years ago,
and fifty-eight from the date of Scott's death, his Journal was
published; and although Lockhart had drawn upon it for one of the
fullest biographies in the language, the little that Lockhart had left
unused was sufficient to make its publication about the most important
literary event of the year 1890.

And now Mr. David Douglas, the publisher of the "Journal," gives us in
two volumes a selection from the familiar letters preserved at
Abbotsford. The period covered by this correspondence is from 1797,
the year of Sir Walter's marriage, to 1825, when the "Journal"
begins--"covered," however, being too large a word for the first seven
years, which are represented by seven letters only; it is only in 1806
that we start upon something like a consecutive story. Mr. Douglas
speaks modestly of his editorial work. "I have done," he says, "little
more than arrange the correspondence in chronological order, supplying
where necessary a slight thread of continuity by annotation and
illustration." It must be said that Mr. Douglas has done this
exceedingly well. There is always a note where a note is wanted, and
never where information would be superfluous. On the taste and
judgment of his selection one who has not examined the whole mass of
correspondence at Abbotsford can only speak on _a priori_ grounds. But
it is unlikely that the writer of these exemplary footnotes has made
many serious mistakes in compiling his text.

Man's perennial and pathetic curiosity about virtue has no more
striking example than the public eagerness to be acquainted with every
detail of Scott's life. For what, as a mere story, is that life?--a
level narrative of many prosperous years; a sudden financial crash;
and the curtain falls on the struggle of a tired and dying gentleman
to save his honor. Scott was born in 1771 and died in 1832, and all
that is special in his life belongs to the last six years of it. Even
so the materials for the story are of the simplest--enough, perhaps,
under the hand of an artist to furnish forth a tale of the length of
Trollope's _The Warden_. In picturesqueness, in color, in wealth of
episode and +peripeteia+, Scott's career will not compare for a
moment with the career of Coleridge, for instance. Yet who could
endure to read the life of Coleridge in six volumes? De Quincey, in an
essay first published the other day by Dr. Japp, calls the story of
the Coleridges "a perfect romance ... a romance of beauty, of
intellectual power, of misfortune suddenly illuminated from heaven, of
prosperity suddenly overcast by the waywardness of the individual."
But the "romance" has been written twice and thrice, and desperately
dull reading it makes in each case. Is it then an accident that
Coleridge has been unhappy in his biographers, while Lockhart
succeeded once for all, and succeeded so splendidly?

It is surely no accident. Coleridge is an ill man to read about just
as certainly as Scott is a good man to read about; and the secret is
just that Scott had character and Coleridge had not. In writing of the
man of the "graspless hand," the biographer's own hand in time grows
graspless on the pen; and in reading of him our hands too grow
graspless on the page. We pursue the man and come upon group after
group of his friends; and each as we demand "What have you done with
Coleridge?" answers "He was here just now, and we helped him forward a
little way." Our best biographies are all of men and women of
character--and, it may be added, of beautiful character--of Johnson,
Scott, and Charlotte Brontë.

There are certain people whose biographies _ought_ to be long. Who
could learn too much concerning Lamb? And concerning Scott, who will
not agree with Lockhart's remark in the preface to his abridged
edition of 1848:--"I should have been more willing to produce an
enlarged edition; for the interest of Sir Walter's history lies, I
think, peculiarly in its minute details"? You may explore here, and
explore there, and still you find pure gold; for the man was gold
right through.

So in the present volume every line is of interest because we refer it
to Scott's known character and test it thereby. The result is always
the same; yet the employment does not weary. In themselves the letters
cannot stand, as mere writing, beside the letters of Cowper, or of
Lamb. They are just the common-sense epistles of a man who to his last
day remained too modest to believe in the extent of his own genius.
The letters in this collection which show most acuteness on literary
matters are not Scott's, but Lady Louisa Stuart's, who appreciated
the Novels on their appearance (their faults as well as their merits)
with a judiciousness quite wonderful in a contemporary. Scott's
literary observations (with the exception of one passage where the
attitude of an English gentleman towards literature is stated
thus--"he asks of it that it shall arouse him from his habitual
contempt of what goes on about him") are much less amusing; and his
letters to Joanna Baillie the dullest in the volume, unless it be the
answers which Joanna Baillie sent. Best of all, perhaps, is the
correspondence (scarcely used by Lockhart) between Scott and Lady
Abercorn, with its fitful intervals of warmth and reserve. This alone
would justify Mr. Douglas's volumes. But, indeed, while nothing can be
found now to alter men's conception of Scott, any book about him is
justified, even if it do no more than heap up superfluous testimony to
the beauty of his character.

       *       *       *       *       *

June 15, 1895. A racial disability.

Since about one-third of the number of my particular friends happen to
be Scotsmen, it has always distressed and annoyed me that, with the
best will in the world, I have never been able to understand on what
principle that perfervid race conducts its enthusiasms. Mine is a
racial disability, of course; and the converse has been noted by no
less a writer than Stevenson, in the story of his journey "Across the

    "There were no emigrants direct from Europe--save one German
     family and a knot of Cornish miners who kept grimly by
     themselves, one reading the New Testament all day long through
     steel spectacles, the rest discussing privately the secrets of
     their old-world mysterious race. Lady Hester Stanhope believed
     she could make something great of the Cornish; for my part I can
     make nothing of them at all. A division of races, older and more
     original than that of Babel, keeps this dose, esoteric family
     apart from neighbouring Englishmen."

The loss on my side, to be sure, would be immensely the greater, were
it not happily certain that I _can_ make something of Scotsmen; can,
and indeed do, make friends of them.

The Cult of Burns.

All the same, this disability weighs me down with a sense of hopeless
obtuseness when I consider the deportment of the average intelligent
Scot at a Burns banquet, or a Burns _conversazione_, or a Burns
festival, or the unveiling of a Burns statue, or the putting up of a
pillar on some spot made famous by Burns. All over the world--and all
under it, too, when their time comes--Scotsmen are preparing
after-dinner speeches about Burns. The great globe swings round out of
the sun into the dark; there is always midnight somewhere; and always
in this shifting region the eye of imagination sees orators
gesticulating over Burns; companies of heated exiles with crossed arms
shouting "Auld Lang Syne"; lesser groups--if haply they be
lesser--reposing under tables, still in honor of Burns. And as the
vast continents sweep "eastering out of the high shadow which reaches
beyond the moon," and as new nations, with _their_ cities and
villages, their mountains and seashores, rise up on the morning-side,
lo! fresh troops, and still fresh troops, and yet again fresh troops,
wend or are carried out of action with the dawn.

Scott and Burns.

None but a churl would wish this enthusiasm abated. But why is it all
lavished on Burns? That is what gravels the Southron. Why Burns? Why
not Sir Walter? Had I the honor to be a fellow-countryman of Scott,
and had I command of the racial tom-tom, it seems to me that I would
tund upon it in honor of that great man until I dropped. To me, a
Southron, Scott is the most imaginative, and at the same time the
justest, writer of our language since Shakespeare died. To say this is
not to suggest that he is comparable with Shakespeare. Scott himself,
sensible as ever, wrote in his _Journal_, "The blockheads talk of my
being like Shakespeare--not fit to tie his brogues." "But it is also
true," said Mr. Swinburne, in his review of the _Journal_, "that if
there were or could be any man whom it would not be a monstrous
absurdity to compare with Shakespeare as a creator of men and inventor
of circumstance, that man could be none other than Scott." Greater
poems than his have been written; and, to my mind, one or two novels
better than his best. But when one considers the huge mass of his work,
and its quality in the mass; the vast range of his genius, and its
command over that range; who shall be compared with him?

These are the reflections which occur, somewhat obviously, to the
Southron. As for character, it is enough to say that Scott was one of
the best men who ever walked on this planet; and that Burns was not.
But Scott was not merely good: he was winningly good: of a character
so manly, temperate, courageous that men read his Life, his Journal,
his Letters with a thrill, as they might read of Rorke's Drift or
Chitral. How then are we to account for the undeniable fact that his
countrymen, in public at any rate, wax more enthusiastic over Burns?
Is it that the _homeliness_ of Burns appeals to them as a wandering
race? Is it because, in farthest exile, a line of Burns takes their
hearts straight back to Scotland?--as when Luath the collie, in "The
Twa Dogs," describes the cotters' New Year's Day:--

    "That merry day the year begins,
     They bar the door on frosty winds;
     The nappy reeks wi' mantling ream,
     An' sheds a heart-inspirin' steam;
     The luntin' pipe an' sneeshin' mill
     Are handed round wi' richt guid will;
     The cantie auld folks crackin' crouse,
     The young anes rantin' through the house,--
     My heart has been sae fain to see them,
     That I for joy hae barkit wi' them."

That is one reason, no doubt. But there is another, I suspect. With
all his immense range Scott saw deeply into character; but he did not,
I think, see very deeply into feeling. You may extract more of the
_lacrimæ rerum_ from the story of his own life than from all his
published works put together. The pathos of Lammermoor is
taken-for-granted pathos. If you deny this, you will not deny, at any
rate, that the pathos of the last scene of _Lear_ is quite beyond his
scope. Yet this is not more certainly beyond his scope than is the
feeling in many a single line or stanza of Burns'. Verse after verse,
line after line, rise up for quotation--

    "Thou'lt break my heart, thou bonnie bird
       That sings beside thy mate;
     For sae I sat, and sae I sang,
       And wist na o' my fate."


    "O pale, pale now, those rosy lips
       I aft hae kissed sae fondly!
     And closed for aye the sparkling glance
       That dwelt on me sae kindly!
     And mouldering now in silent dust
       The heart that lo'ed me dearly--
     But still within my bosom's core
       Shall live my Highland Mary."


    "Had we never loved sae kindly,
       Had we never loved sae blindly,
     Never met--or never parted,
       We had ne'er been broken-hearted."

Scott left an enormous mass of writing behind him, and almost all of
it is good. Burns left very much less, and among it a surprising
amount of inferior stuff. But such pathos as the above Scott cannot
touch. I can understand the man who holds that these deeps of pathos
should not be probed in literature: and am not sure that I wholly
disagree with him. The question certainly is discutable and worth
discussing. But such pathos, at any rate, is immensely popular: and
perhaps this will account for the hold which Burns retains on the
affections of a race which has a right to be at least thrice as proud
of Scott.

However, if Burns is honored at the feast, Scott is read by the
fireside. Hardly have the rich Dryburgh and Border editions issued
from the press before Messrs. Archibald Constable and Co. are bringing
out their reprint of the famous 48-volume edition of the Novels; and
Mr. Barrie is supposed to be meditating another, with introductory
notes of his own upon each Novel. In my own opinion nothing has ever
beaten, or come near to beat, the 48-volume "Waverley" of 1829; and
Messrs. Constable and Co. were happily inspired when they decided to
make this the basis of their new edition. They have improved upon it
in two respects. The paper is lighter and better. And each novel is
kept within its own covers, whereas in the old editions a volume would
contain the end of one novel and beginning of another. The original
illustrations, by Wilkie, Landseer, Leslie, Stanfield, Bonington, and
the rest, have been retained, in order to make the reprint complete.
But this seems to me a pity; for a number of them were bad to begin
with, and will be worse than ever now, being reproduced (as I
understand) from impressions of the original plates. To do without
illustrations were a counsel of perfection. But now that the novels
have become historical, surely it were better to illustrate them with
authentic portraits of Scott, pictures of scenery, facsimiles of MSS.,
and so on, than with (_e.g._) a worn reproduction of what Mr. F.P.
Stephanoff thought that Flora Mac-Ivor looked like while playing the
harp and introducing a few irregular strains which harmonized well
with the distant waterfall and the soft sigh of the evening breeze in
the rustling leaves of an aspen which overhung the fair
harpress--especially as F.P. Stephanoff does not seem to have known
the difference between an aspen and a birch.

In short, did it not contain the same illustrations, this edition
would probably excel even that of 1828. As it is, after many
disappointments, we now have a cheap Waverley on what has always been
the best model.

A Protest.

       'SIR,--In your 'Literary Causerie' of last week ... the question
     is discussed why the name of Burns raises in Scotsmen such
     unbounded enthusiasm while that of Scott falls comparatively
     flat. This question has puzzled many another Englishman besides
     'A.T.Q.C.' And yet the explanation is not far to seek: Burns
     appeals to the hearts and feelings of the masses in a way Scott
     never does. 'A.T.Q.C.' admits this, and gives quotations in
     support. These quotations, however excellent in their way, are
     not those that any Scotsman would trust to in support of the
     above proposition. A Scotsman would at once appeal to 'Scots wha
     hae,' 'Auld Lang Syne,' and 'A man's a man for a' that.' The very
     familiarity of these quotations has bred the proverbial contempt.
     Think of the soul-inspiring, 'fire-eyed fury' of 'Scots wha hae';
     the glad, kind, ever fresh greeting of 'Auld Lang Syne'; the
     manly, sturdy independence of 'A man's a man for a' that,' and
     who can wonder at the ever-increasing enthusiasm for Burns' name?

        Is there for honest poverty
          That hangs his head and a' that?
        The coward slave we pass him by--
          We dare be poor for a' that.'
        *       *       *       *       *
       'The rank is but the guinea stamp--
          The man's the gowd for a' that.'

    "Nor is it in his patriotism, independence, and conviviality
     alone that Burns touches every mood of a Scotsman's heart. There
     is an enthusiasm of humanity about Burns which you will hardly
     find equalled in any other author, and which most certainly does
     not exist in Scott.

       'Man's inhumanity to man
          Makes countless thousands mourn.'
        *       *       *       *       *
       'Why has man this will and power
          To make his fellow mourn?'

    "These quotations might be multiplied were it necessary; but I
     think enough has been said to explain what puzzles 'A.T.Q.C.' I
     have an unbounded admiration of Sir W. Scott--quite as great as
     'A.T.Q.C.' Indeed, I think him the greatest of all novelists;
     but, as a Scot, somewhat Anglicised by a residence in London of
     more than a quarter of a century, I unhesitatingly say that I
     would rather be the author of the above three lyrics of Burns'
     than I would be the author of all Scott's novels. Certain I am
     that if immortality were my aim I should be much surer of it in
     the one case than the other. I cannot conceive 'Scots wha hae,'
     'Auld Lang Syne,' etc., ever dying. Are there any of Scott's
     writings of which the same could be said? I doubt it....

     --I am yours, etc.,            "J.B.
     "London, June 18th, 1895."

The hopelessness of the difficulty is amusingly, if rather
distressingly, illustrated by this letter. Here again you have the
best will in the world. Nothing could be kindlier than "J.B.'s" tone.
As a Scot he has every reason to be impatient of stupidity on the
subject of Burns: yet he takes real pains to set me right. Alas! his
explanations leave me more than ever at sea, more desperate than ever
of understanding _what exactly it is_ in Burns that kindles this
peculiar enthusiasm in Scotsmen and drives them to express it in
feasting and oratory.

After casting about for some time, I suggested that Burns--though in
so many respects immeasurably inferior to Scott--frequently wrote with
a depth of feeling which Scott could not command. On second thoughts,
this was wrongly put. Scott may have _possessed_ the feeling, together
with notions of his own, on the propriety of displaying it in his
public writings. Indeed, after reading some of his letters again, I am
sure he did possess it. Hear, for instance, how he speaks of Dalkeith
Palace, in one of his letters to Lady Louisa Stuart:--

    "I am delighted my dear little half god-daughter is turning out
     beautiful. I was at her christening, poor soul, and took the
     oaths as representing I forget whom. That was in the time when
     Dalkeith was Dalkeith; how changed alas! I was forced there the
     other day by some people who wanted to see the house, and I felt
     as if it would have done me a great deal of good to have set my
     manhood aside, to get into a corner and cry like a schoolboy.
     Every bit of furniture, now looking old and paltry, had some
     story and recollections about it, and the deserted gallery, which
     I have seen so happily filled, seemed waste and desolate like

        'Banquet hall deserted,
           Whose flowers are dead,
           Whose odours fled,
         And all but I departed.'

     But it avails not either sighing or moralising; to have known the
     good and the great, the wise and the witty, is still, on the
     whole, a pleasing reflection, though saddened by the thought that
     their voices are silent and their halls empty."

Yes, indeed, Scott possessed deep feelings, though he did not exhibit
them to the public.

Now Burns does exhibit his deep feelings, as I demonstrated by
quotations. And I suggested that it is just his strength of emotion,
his command of pathos and readiness to employ it, by which Burns
appeals to the mass of his countrymen. On this point "J.B." expressly
agrees with me; but--he will have nothing to do with my quotations!
"However excellent in their way" these quotations may be, they "are
not those that any Scotsman would trust to in support of the above
proposition"; the above proposition being that "Burns appeals to the
hearts and feelings of the masses in a way that Scott never does."

You see, I have concluded rightly; but on wrong evidence. Let us see,
then, what evidence a Scotsman will call to prove that Burns is a
writer of deep feeling. "A Scotsman," says "J.B." "would at once
appeal to "Scots wha hae," "Auld Lang Syne," and "A man's a man for a'
that." ... Think of the soul-inspiring, 'fire-eyed fury' of 'Scots wha
hae'; the glad, kind, ever fresh greeting of 'Auld Lang Syne'; the
manly, sturdy independence of 'A man's a man for a' that,' and who can
wonder at the ever-increasing enthusiasm for Burns' name?... I would
rather," says "J.B.," "be the author of the above three lyrics than I
would be the author of all Scott's novels."

Here, then, is the point at which I give up my attempts, and admit my
stupidity to be incurable. I grant "J.B." his "Auld Lang Syne." I
grant the poignancy of--

    "We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,
       Frae morning sun till dine:
     But seas between us braid hae roar'd
       Sin auld lang syne."

I see poetry and deep feeling in this. I can see exquisite poetry and
deep feeling in "Mary Morison"--

    "Yestreen when to the trembling string,
       The dance ga'ed thro' the lighted ha',
     To thee my fancy took its wing,
       I sat, but neither heard nor saw:
     Tho' this was fair, and that was braw,
       And yor the toast a' the town,
     I sigh'd and said amang them a'
      'Ye are na Mary Morison.'"

I see exquisite poetry and deep feeling in the Lament for the Earl of

    "The bridegroom may forget the bride
       Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
     The monarch may forget the crown
       That on his head an hour has been;
     The mother may forget the child
       That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
     But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
       And a' that thou hast done for me!"

But--it is only honest to speak one's opinion and to hope, if it be
wrong, for a better mind--I do _not_ find poetry of any high order
either in "Scots wha hae" or "A man's a man for a' that." The former
seems to me to be very fine rant--inspired rant, if you will--hovering
on the borders of poetry. The latter, to be frank, strikes me as
rather poor rant, neither inspired nor even quite genuine, and in no
proper sense poetry at all. And "J.B." simply bewilders my Southron
intelligence when he quotes it as an instance of deeply emotional

    "Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
       Wha struts, and stares, and a' that;
     Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
       He's but a coof for a' that:
     For a' that, and a' that,
       His riband, star and a' that.
     The man of independent mind,
       He looks and laughs at a' that."

The proper attitude, I should imagine, for a man "of independent mind"
in these circumstances--assuming for the moment that ribands and stars
_are_ bestowed on imbeciles--would be a quiet disdain. The above
stanza reminds me rather of ill-bred barking. People of assured
self-respect do not call other people "birkies" and "coofs," or "look
and _laugh_ at a' that"--at least, not so loudly. Compare these
verses of Burns with Samuel Daniel's "Epistle to the Countess of
Cumberland," and you will find a higher manner altogether--

    "He that of such a height hath built his mind,
     And reared the dwelling of his thoughts so strong,
     As neither fear nor hope can shake the frame
     Of his resolved powers; nor all the wind
     Of vanity and malice pierce to wrong
     His settled peace, or to disturb the same;
     What a fair seat hath he, from whence he may
     The boundless wastes and wilds of men survey?

    "And with how free an eye doth he look down
     Upon these lower regions of turmoil?" ...

As a piece of thought, "A man's a man for a' that" unites the two
defects of obviousness and inaccuracy. As for the deep feeling, I
hardly see where it comes in--unless it be a feeling of wounded and
blatant but militant self-esteem. As for the _poetry_--well, "J.B."
had rather have written it than have written one-third of Scott's
novels. Let us take him at less than his word: he would rather have
written "A man's a man for a' that" than "Ivanhoe," "Redgauntlet," and
"The Heart of Midlothian."

     _Ma sonties!_


March 10, 1894. "The Cloister and the Hearth."

There is a venerable proposition--I never heard who invented it--that
an author is finally judged by his best work. This would be comforting
to authors if true: but is it true? A day or two ago I picked up on a
railway bookstall a copy of Messrs. Chatto & Windus's new sixpenny
edition of _The Cloister and the Hearth_, and a capital edition it is.
I think I must have worn out more copies of this book than of any
other; but somebody robbed me of the pretty "Elzevir edition" as soon
as it came out, and so I have only just read Mr. Walter Besant's
Introduction, which the publishers have considerately reprinted and
thrown in with one of the cheapest sixpennyworths that ever came from
the press. Good wine needs no bush, and the bush which Mr. Besant
hangs out is a very small one. But one sentence at least has
challenged attention.

    "I do not say that the whole of life, as it was at the end of the
     fourteenth century, may be found in the _Cloister and the
     Hearth_; but I do say that there is portrayed so vigorous,
     lifelike, and truthful a picture of a time long gone by, and
     differing, in almost every particular from our own, that the
     world has never seen its like. To me it is a picture of the past
     more faithful than anything in the works of Scott."

This last sentence--if I remember rightly--was called a very bold one
when it first appeared in print. To me it seems altogether moderate.
Go steadily through Scott, and which of the novels can you choose to
compare with the _Cloister_ as a "vigorous, lifelike, and truthful
picture of a time long gone by"?

Is it _Ivanhoe_?--a gay and beautiful romance, no doubt; but surely,
as the late Mr. Freeman was at pains to point out, not a "lifelike and
truthful picture" of any age that ever was. Is it _Old Mortality_?
Well, but even if we here get something more like a "vigorous,
lifelike, and truthful picture of a time gone by," we are bound to
consider the scale of the two books. Size counts, as Aristotle pointed
out, and as we usually forget. It is the whole of Western Europe that
Reade reconstructs for the groundwork of his simple story.

Mr. Besant might have said more. He might have pointed out that no
novel of Scott's approaches the _Cloister_ in lofty humanity, in
sublimity of pathos. The last fifty pages of the tale reach an
elevation of feeling that Scott never touched or dreamed of touching.
And the sentiment is sane and honest, too: the author reaches to the
height of his great argument easily and without strain. It seems to me
that, as an appeal to the feelings, the page that tells of Margaret's
death is the finest thing in fiction. It appeals for a score of
reasons, and each reason is a noble one. We have brought together in
that page extreme love, self-sacrifice, resignation, courage,
religious feeling: we have the end of a beautiful love-tale, the end
of a good woman, and the last earthly trial of a good man. And with
all this, there is no vulgarization of sacred ground, no cheap parade
of the heart's secrets; but a deep sobriety relieved with the most
delicate humor. Moreover, the language is Charles Reade's at its
best--which is almost as good as at its worst it is abominable.

That Scott could never reach the emotional height of Margaret's
death-scene, or of the scene in Clement's cave, is certain. Moreover
in the _Cloister_ Reade challenges comparison with Scott on Scott's
own ground--the ground of sustained adventurous narrative--and the
advantage is not with Scott. Once more, take all the Waverley Novels
and search them through for two passages to beat the adventures of
Gerard and Denis the Burgundian (1) with the bear and (2) at "The Fair
Star" Inn, by the Burgundian Frontier. I do not think you will
succeed, even then. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that to match
these adventures of Gerard and Denis you must go again to Charles
Reade, to the homeward voyage of the _Agra_ in _Hard Cash_. For these
and for sundry other reasons which, for lack of space, cannot be
unfolded here, _The Cloister and the Hearth_ seems to me a finer
achievement than the finest novel of Scott's.

And now we come to the proposition that an author must be judged by
his best work. If this proposition be true, then I must hold Reade to
be a greater novelist than Scott. But do I hold this? Does anyone hold
this? Why, the contention would be an absurdity.

Reade wrote some twenty novels beside _The Cloister and the Hearth_,
and not one of the twenty approaches it. One only--_Griffith
Gaunt_--is fit to be named in the same day with it; and _Griffith
Gaunt_ is marred by an insincerity in the plot which vitiates, and is
at once felt to vitiate, the whole work. On everything he wrote before
and after _The Cloister_ Reade's essential vulgarity of mind is
written large. That he shook it off in that great instance is one of
the miracles of literary history. It may be that the sublimity of his
theme kept him throughout in a state of unnatural exaltation. If the
case cannot be explained thus, it cannot be explained at all. Other of
his writings display the same, or at any rate a like, capacity for
sustained narrative. _Hard Cash_ displays it; parts of _It is Never
Too Late to Mend_ display it. But over much of these two novels lies
the trail of that defective taste which makes _A Simpleton_, for
instance, a prodigy of cheap ineptitude.

But if Reade be hopelessly Scott's inferior in manner and taste, what
shall we say of the invention of the two men? Mr. Barrie once affirmed
very wisely in an essay on Robert Louis Stevenson, "Critics have said
enthusiastically--for it is difficult to write of Mr. Stevenson
without enthusiasm--that Alan Breck is as good as anything in Scott.
Alan Breck is certainly a masterpiece, quite worthy of the greatest of
all story-tellers, _who, nevertheless, it should be remembered,
created these rich side characters by the score, another before
dinner-time_." Inventiveness, is, I suppose, one of the first
qualities of a great novelist: and to Scott's invention there was no
end. But set aside _The Cloister_; and Reade's invention will be found
to be extraordinarily barren. Plot after plot turns on the same old
tiresome trick. Two young people are in love: by the villainy of a
third person they are separated for a while, and one of the lovers is
persuaded that the other is dead. The missing one may be kept missing
by various devices; but always he is supposed to be dead, and always
evidence is brought of his death, and always he turns up in the end.
It is the same in _The Cloister_, in _It is Never Too Late to Mend_,
in _Put Yourself in His Place_, in _Griffith Gaunt_, in _A Simpleton_.
Sometimes, as in _Hard Cash_ and _A Terrible Temptation_, he is
wrongfully incarcerated as a madman; but this is obviously a variant
only on the favorite trick. Now the device is good enough in a tale of
the fourteenth century, when news travelled slowly, and when by the
suppression of a letter, or by a piece of false news, two lovers, the
one in Holland, the other in Rome, could easily be kept apart. But in
a tale of modern life no trick could well be stagier. Besides the
incomparable Margaret--of whom it does one good to hear Mr. Besant
say, "No heroine in fiction is more dear to me"--Reade drew some
admirable portraits of women; but his men, to tell the truth--and
especially his priggish young heroes--seem remarkably ill invented.
Again, of course, I except _The Cloister_. Omit that book, and you
would say that such a character as Bailie Nicol Jarvie or Dugald
Dalgetty were altogether beyond Reade's range. Open _The Cloister_ and
you find in Denis the Burgundian a character as good as the Bailie and
Dalgetty rolled into one.

Other authors have been lifted above themselves. But was there ever a
case of one sustained at such an unusual height throughout a long,
intricate and arduous work?


Feb. 9, 1895. Henry Kingsley.

Mr. Shorter begins his Memoir of the author of _Ravenshoe_ with this

    "The story of Henry Kingsley's life may well be told in a few
     words, because that life was on the whole a failure. The world
     will not listen very tolerantly to a narrative of failure
     unaccompanied by the halo of remoteness. To write the life of
     Charles Kingsley would be a quite different task. Here was
     success, victorious success, sufficient indeed to gladden the
     heart even of Dr. Smiles--success in the way of Church
     preferment, success in the way of public veneration, success,
     above all, as a popular novelist, poet, and preacher. Canon
     Kingsley's life has been written in two substantial volumes
     containing abundant letters and no indiscretions. In this
     biography the name of Henry Kingsley is absolutely ignored. And
     yet it is not too much to say that, when time has softened his
     memory for us, as it has softened for us the memories of Marlowe
     and Burns and many another, the public interest in Henry Kingsley
     will be stronger than in his now more famous brother."[A]

A prejudice confessed.

I almost wish I could believe this. If one cannot get rid of a
prejudice, the wisest course is to acknowledge it candidly: and
therefore I confess myself as capable of jumping over the moon as of
writing fair criticism on Charles or Henry Kingsley. As for Henry, I
worshipped his books as a boy; to-day I find them full of
faults--often preposterous, usually ill-constructed, at times
unnatural beyond belief. John Gilpin never threw the Wash about on
both sides of the way more like unto a trundling mop or a wild goose
at play than did Henry Kingsley the decent flow of fiction when the
mood was on him. His notion of constructing a novel was to take equal
parts of wooden melodrama and low comedy and stick them boldly
together in a paste of impertinent drollery and serious but entirely
irrelevant moralizing. And yet each time I read _Ravenshoe_--and I
must be close upon "double figures"--I like it better. Henry did my
green unknowing youth engage, and I find it next to impossible to give
him up, and quite impossible to choose the venerated Charles as a
substitute in my riper age. For here crops up a prejudice I find quite
ineradicable. To put it plainly, I cannot like Charles Kingsley. Those
who have had opportunity to study the deportment of a certain class
of Anglican divine at a foreign _table d'hôte_ may perhaps understand
the antipathy. There was almost always a certain sleek offensiveness
about Charles Kingsley when he sat down to write. He had a knack of
using the most insolent language, and attributing the vilest motives
to all poor foreigners and Roman Catholics and other extra-parochial
folk, and would exhibit a pained and completely ludicrous surprise on
finding that he had hurt the feelings of these unhappy inferiors--a
kind of indignant wonder that Providence should have given them any
feelings to hurt. At length, encouraged by popular applause, this very
second-rate man attacked a very first-rate man. He attacked with every
advantage and with utter unscrupulousness; and the first-rate man
handled him; handled him gently, scrupulously, decisively; returned
him to his parish; and left him there, a trifle dazed, feeling his

Charles and Henry.

Still, one may dislike the man and his books without thinking it
probable that his brother Henry will supersede him in the public
interest; nay, without thinking it right that he should. Dislike him
as you will, you must acknowledge that Charles Kingsley had a lyrical
gift that--to set all his novels aside--carries him well above Henry's
literary level. It is sufficient to say that Charles wrote "The
Pleasant Isle of Avès" and "When all the world is young, lad," and the
first two stanzas of "The Sands of Dee." Neither in prose nor in verse
could Henry come near such excellence. But we may go farther. Take the
novels of each, and, novel for novel, you must acknowledge--I say it
regretfully--that Charles carries the heavier guns. If you ask me
whether I prefer _Westward Ho!_ or _Ravenshoe_, I answer without
difficulty that I find _Ravenshoe_ almost wholly delightful, and
_Westward Ho!_ as detestable in some parts as it is admirable in
others; that I have read _Ravenshoe_ again and again merely for
pleasure, and that I can never read a dozen pages of _Westward Ho!_
without wishing to put the book in the fire. But if you ask me which I
consider the greater novel, I answer with equal readiness that
_Westward Ho!_ is not only the greater, but much the greater. It is a
truth too seldom recognized that in literary criticism, as in
politics, one may detest a man's work while admitting his greatness.
Even in his episodes it seems to me that Charles stands high above
Henry. Sam Buckley's gallop on Widderin in _Geoffry Hamlyn_ is (I
imagine) Henry Kingsley's finest achievement in vehement narrative:
but if it can be compared for one moment with Amyas Leigh's quest of
the Great Galleon then I am no judge of narrative. The one point--and
it is an important one--in which Henry beats Charles as an artist is
his sustained vivacity. Charles soars far higher at times; but Charles
is often profoundly dull. Now, in all Henry's books I have not found a
single dull page. He may be trivial, inconsequent, irrelevant, absurd;
but he never wearies. It is a great merit: but it is not enough in
itself to place a novelist even in the second rank. In a short sketch
of Henry Kingsley, contributed by his nephew, Mr. Maurice Kingsley, to
Messrs. Scribner's paper, _The Bookbuyer_, I find that the younger
brother was considered at home "undoubtedly the novelist of the
family; the elder being more of the poet, historian, and prophet."
(Prophet!) "My father only wrote one novel pure and simple--viz. _Two
Years Ago_--his other works being either historical novels or 'signs
of the times.'" Now why an "historical novel" should not be a "novel
pure and simple," and what kind of literary achievement a "sign of the
times" may be, I leave the reader to guess. The whole passage seems to
suggest a certain confusion in the Kingsley family with regard to the
fundamental divisions of literature. And it seems clear that the
Kingsley family considered novel-writing "pure and simple"--in so far
as they differentiated this from other kinds of novel-writing--to be
something not entirely respectable.

Their opinion of Henry Kingsley in particular is indicated in no
uncertain manner. In Mrs. Charles Kingsley's life of her husband,
Henry's existence is completely ignored. The briefest biographical
note was furnished forth for Mr. Leslie Stephen's _Dictionary of
National Biography_: and Mr. Stephen dismisses our author with a few
curt lines. This disposition to treat Henry as an awful warning and
nothing more, while sleek Charles is patted on the back for a saint,
inclines one to take up arms on the other side and assert, with Mr.
Shorter, that "when time has softened his memory for us, the public
interest in Henry Kingsley will be stronger than in his now more
famous brother." But can we look forward to this reversal of the
public verdict? Can we consent with it if it ever comes? The most we
can hope is that future generations will read Henry Kingsley, and will
love him in spite of his faults.

Henry, the third son of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, was born in
Northamptonshire on the 2nd of January, 1830, his brother Charles
being then eleven years old. In 1836 his father became rector of St.
Luke's Church, Chelsea--the church of which such effective use is made
in _The Hillyars and the Burtons_--and his boyhood was passed in that
famous old suburb. He was educated at King's College School and
Worcester College, Oxford, where he became a famous oarsman, rowing
bow of his College boat; also bow of a famous light-weight University
"four," which swept everything before it in its time. He wound up his
racing career by winning the Diamond Sculls at Henley. From 1853 to
1858 his life was passed in Australia, whence after some variegated
experiences he returned to Chelsea in 1858, bringing back nothing but
good "copy," which he worked into _Geoffry Hamlyn_, his first romance.
_Ravenshoe_ was written in 1861; _Austin Elliot_ in 1863; _The
Hillyars and the Burtons_ in 1865; _Silcote of Silcotes_ in 1867;
_Mademoiselle Mathilde_ (admired by few, but a favorite of mine) in
1868. He was married in 1864, and settled at Wargrave-on-Thames. In
1869 he went north to edit the _Edinburgh Daily Review_, and made a
mess of it; in 1870 he represented that journal as field-correspondent
in the Franco-Prussian War, was present at Sedan, and claimed to have
been the first Englishman to enter Metz. In 1872 he returned to London
and wrote novels in which his powers appeared to deteriorate steadily.
He removed to Cuckfield, in Sussex, and there died in May, 1876.
Hardly a man of letters followed him to the grave, or spoke, in print,
a word in his praise.

And yet, by all accounts, he was a wholly amiable ne'er-do-well--a
wonderful flyfisher, an extremely clever amateur artist, a lover of
horses and dogs and children (surely, if we except a chapter of Victor
Hugo's, the children in _Ravenshoe_ are the most delightful in
fiction), and a joyous companion.

    "To us children," writes Mr. Maurice Kingsley, "Uncle Henry's
     settling in Eversley was a great event.... At times he fairly
     bubbled over with humour; while his knowledge of slang--Burschen,
     Bargee, Parisian, Irish, Cockney, and English provincialisms--was
     awful and wonderful. Nothing was better than to get our uncle on
     his 'genteel behaviour,' which, of course, meant exactly the
     opposite, and brought forth inimitable stories, scraps of old
     songs and impromptu conversations, the choicest of which were
     between children, Irishwomen, or cockneys. He was the only man, I
     believe, who ever knew by heart the famous _Irish Court
     Scenes_--naughtiest and most humorous of tales--unpublished, of
     course, but handed down from generation to generation of the
     faithful. Most delightful was an interview between his late
     Majesty George the Fourth and an itinerant showman, which ended
     up with, 'No, George the Fourth, you shall not have my
     Rumptifoozle!' What said animal was, or the authenticity of the
     story, he never would divulge."

I think it is to the conversational quality of their style--its
ridiculous and good-humored impertinences and surprises--that his best
books owe a great deal of their charm. The footnotes are a study in
themselves, and range from the mineral strata of Australia to the best
way of sliding down banisters. Of the three tales already republished
in this pleasant edition, _Ravenshoe_ has always seemed to me the best
in every respect; and in spite of its feeble plot and its impossible
lay-figures--Erne, Sir George Hillyar, and the painfully inane
Gerty--I should rank _The Hillyars and the Burtons_ above the more
terrifically imagined and more neatly constructed _Geoffry Hamlyn_.
But this is an opinion on which I lay no stress.


[A] _The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn_. By Henry Kingsley. New
Edition, with a Memoir by Clement Shorter. London: Ward, Lock &


January 10, 1891. His Life.

Alexander William Kinglake was born in 1812, the son of a country
gentleman--Mr. W. Kinglake, of Wilton House, Taunton--and received a
country gentleman's education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge.
From college he went to Lincoln's Inn, and in 1837 was called to the
Chancery Bar, where he practised with fair but not eminent success. In
1844 he published _Eothen_, and having startled the town, quietly
resumed his legal work and seemed willing to forget the achievement.
Ten years later he accompanied his friend, Lord Raglan, to the Crimea.
He retired from the Bar in 1856, and entered Parliament next year as
member for Bridgwater. Re-elected in 1868, he was unseated on petition
in 1869, and thenceforward gave himself up to the work of his life. He
had consented, after Lord Raglan's death, to write a history of the
Invasion of the Crimea. The two first volumes appeared in 1863; the
last was published but two years before he succumbed, in the first
days of 1891, to a slow incurable disease. In all, the task had
occupied thirty years. Long before these years ran out, the world had
learnt to regard the Crimean struggle in something like its true
perspective; but over Kinglake's mind it continued to loom in all its
original proportions. To adapt a phrase of M. Jules Lemaître's, "_le
monde a changé en trente ans: lui ne bouge; il ne lève plus de dessus
son papier à copie sa face congestionné_." And yet Kinglake was no
cloistered scribe. Before his last illness he dined out frequently,
and was placed by many among the first half-a-dozen talkers in London.
His conversation, though delicate and finished, brimmed full of
interest in life and affairs: but let him enter his study, and its
walls became a hedge. Without, the world was moving: within, it was
always 1854, until by slow toiling it turned into 1855.


His style is hard, elaborate, polished to brilliance. Its difficult
labor recalls Thucydides. In effect it charms at first by its accuracy
and vividness: but with continuous perusal it begins to weigh upon
the reader, who feels the strain, the unsparing effort that this
glittering fabric must have cost the builder, and at length ceases to
sympathize with the story and begins to sympathize with the author.
Kinglake started by disclaiming "composition." "My narrative," he
says, in the famous preface to _Eothen_, "conveys not those
impressions which _ought to have been_ produced upon any
well-constituted mind, but those which were really and truly received,
at the time of his rambles, by a headstrong and not very amiable
traveller.... As I have felt, so I have written."


For all this, page after page of _Eothen_ gives evidence of deliberate
calculation of effect. That book is at once curiously like and
curiously unlike Borrows' _Bible in Spain_. The two belong to the same
period and, in a sense, to the same fashion. Each combines a
tantalizing personal charm with a strong, almost fierce, coloring of
circumstance. The central figure in each is unmistakably an
Englishman, and quite as unmistakably a singular Englishman. Each
bears witness to a fine eye for theatrical arrangement. But whereas
Borrow stood for ever fortified by his wayward nature and atrocious
English against the temptation of writing as he ought, Kinglake
commenced author with a respect for "composition," ingrained perhaps
by his Public School and University training. Borrow arrays his page
by instinct, Kinglake by study. His irony (as in the interview with
the Pasha) is almost too elaborate; his artistic judgment (as in the
Plague chapter) almost too sure; the whole book almost too clever. The
performance was wonderful; the promise a trifle dangerous.

The "Invasion."

"Composition" indeed proved the curse of the _Invasion of the Crimea_:
for Kinglake was a slow writer, and composed with his eye on the page,
the paragraph, the phrase, rather than on the whole work. Force and
accuracy of expression are but parts of a good prose style; indeed
are, strictly speaking, inseparable from perspective, balance, logical
connection, rise and fall of emotion. It is but an indifferent
landscape that contains no pedestrian levels: and his desire for the
immediate success of each paragraph as it came helped Kinglake to miss
the broad effect. He must always be vivid; and when the strain told,
he exaggerated and sounded--as Matthew Arnold accused him of
sounding--the note of provinciality. There were other causes. He was,
as we have seen, an English country gentleman--_avant tout je suis
gentilhomme anglais_, as the Duke of Wellington wrote to Louis XVIII.
His admiration of the respectable class to which he belonged is
revealed by a thousand touches in his narrative--we can find half a
score in the description of Codrington's assault on the Great Redoubt
in the battle of the Alma; nor, when some high heroic action is in
progress, do we often miss an illustration, or at least a metaphor,
from the hunting-field. Undoubtedly he had the distinction of his
class; but its narrowness was his as surely. Also the partisanship of
the eight volumes grows into a weariness. The longevity of the English
Bench is notorious; but it comes of hearing both sides of every

After all, he was a splendid artist. He tamed that beautiful and
dangerous beast, the English sentence, with difficulty indeed, but
having tamed, worked it to high achievements. The great occasion
always found him capable, and his treatment of it is not of the sort
to be forgotten: witness the picture of the Prince President cowering
in an inner chamber during the bloodshed of the _Coup d'État_, the
short speech of Sir Colin Campbell to his Highlanders before the Great
Redoubt (given in the exact manner of Thucydides), or the narrative of
the Heavy Brigade's charge at Balaclava, culminating thus--

    "The difference that there was in the temperaments of the two
     comrade regiments showed itself in the last moments of the onset.
     The Scots Greys gave no utterance except to a low, eager, fierce
     moan of rapture--the moan of outbursting desire. The
     Inniskillings went in with a cheer. With a rolling prolongation
     of clangour which resulted from the bends of a line now deformed
     by its speed, the 'three hundred' crashed in upon the front of
     the column."

C.S.C. and J.K.S.

Dec. 5, 1891. Cambridge Baras.

What I am about to say will, no doubt, be set down to tribal
malevolence; but I confess that if Cambridge men appeal to me less at
one time than another it is when they begin to talk about their poets.
The grievance is an old one, of course--at least as old as Mr.
Birrell's "_Obiter Dicta_": but it has been revived by the little book
of verse ("_Quo Musa Tendis_?") that I have just been reading. I laid
it down and thought of Mr. Birrell's essay on Cambridge Poets, as he
calls them: and then of another zealous gentleman, hailing from the
same University, who arranged all the British bards in a tripos and
brought out the Cambridge men at the top. This was a very
characteristic performance: but Mr. Birrell's is hardly less so in
these days when (to quote the epistolary parent) so much prominence is
given to athleticism in our seats of learning. For he picks out a team
of lightblue singers as though he meant to play an inter-University
match, and challenges Oxford to "come on." He gives Milton a "blue,"
and says we oughtn't to play Shelley because Shelley isn't in

Now to me this is as astonishing as if my butcher were to brag about
Kirke White. My doctor might retort with Keats; and my scrivener--if I
had one--might knock them both down with the name of Milton. It would
be a pretty set-to; but I cannot see that it would affect the relative
merits of mutton and laudanum and the obscure products of scrivenage.
Nor, conversely (as they say at Cambridge), is it certain, or even
likely, that the difference between a butcher or a doctor is the
difference between Kirke White and Keats. And this talk about
"University" poets seems somewhat otiose unless it can be shown that
Cambridge and Oxford directly encourage poesy, or aim to do so. I am
aware that somebody wins the Newdigate every year at Oxford, and that
the same thing happens annually at Cambridge with respect to the
Chancellor's Prize. But--to hark back to the butcher and
apothecary--verses are perennially made upon Mr. Lipton's Hams and
Mrs. Allen's Hair Restorer. Obviously some incentive is needed beyond
a prize for stanzas on a given subject. I can understand Cambridge men
when they assert that they produce more Wranglers than Oxford: that is
a justifiable boast. But how does Cambridge encourage poets?


Oxford expelled Shelley: Cambridge whipped Milton.[A] _Facit
indignatio versus_. If we press this misreading of Juvenal, Oxford
erred only on the side of thoroughness. But that, notoriously, is
Oxford's way. She expelled Landor, Calverley, and some others. My
contention is that to expel a man is--however you look at it--better
for his poesy than to make a don of him. Oxford says, "You are a poet;
therefore this is no place for you. Go elsewhere; we set your aspiring
soul at large." Cambridge says: "You are a poet. Let us employ you to
fulfil other functions. Be a don." She made a don of Gray, of
Calverley. Cambridge men are for ever casting Calverley in our teeth;
whereas, in truth, he is specially to be quoted against them. As
everybody knows, he was at both Universities, so over him we have a
fair chance of comparing methods. As everybody knows, he went to
Balliol first, and his ample cabin'd spirit led him to climb a wall,
late at night. Something else caused him to be discovered, and
Blaydes--he was called Blaydes then--was sent down.

Nobody can say what splendid effect this might have had upon his
poetry. But he changed his name and went to Cambridge. And Cambridge
made a don of him. If anybody thinks this was an intelligent stroke,
let him consider the result. Calverley wrote a small amount of verse
that, merely as verse, is absolutely faultless. To compare great
things with little, you might as well try to alter a line of Virgil's
as one of Calverley's. Forget a single epithet and substitute another,
and the result is certain disaster. He has the perfection of the
phrase--and there it ends. I cannot remember a single line of
Calverley's that contains a spark of human feeling. Mr. Birrell
himself has observed that Calverley is just a bit inhuman. But the
cause of it does not seem to have occurred to him. Nor does the
biography explain it. If we are to believe the common report of all
who knew Calverley, he was a man of simple mind and sincere, of quick
and generous emotions. His biographers tell us also that he was one
who seemed to have the world at his feet, one who had only to choose a
calling to excel in it. Yet he never fulfilled his friends' high
expectations. What was the reason of it all?

The accident that cut short his career is not wholly to blame, I
think. At any rate, it will not explain away the exception I have
taken to his verse. Had that been destined to exhibit the humanity
which we seek, some promise of it would surely be discoverable; for he
was a full-grown man at the time of that unhappy tumble on the ice.
But there is none. It is all sheer wit, impish as a fairy
changeling's, and always barren of feeling. Mr. Birrell has not
supplied the explanatory epithet, so I will try to do so. It is
"donnish." Cambridge, fondly imagining that she was showing right
appreciation of Calverley thereby, gave him a Fellowship. Mr. Walter
Besant, another gentleman from Calverley's college, complained, the
other day, that literary distinction was never marked with a peerage.
It is the same sort of error. And now Cambridge, having made
Calverley a don, claims him as a Cambridge poet; and the claim is
just, if the epithet be intended to mark the limitations imposed by
that University on his achievement.


Of "J.K.S.," whose second volume, _Quo Musa Tendis?_ (Macmillan &
Bowles), has just come from the press, it is fashionable to say that
he follows after Calverley, at some distance. To be sure, he himself
has encouraged this belief by coming from Cambridge and writing about
Cambridge, and invoking C.S.C. on the first page of his earlier
volume, _Lapsus Calami_. But, except that J.K.S. does his talent some
violence by constraining it to imitate Calverley's form, the two men
have little in common. The younger has a very different wit. He is
more than academical. He thinks and feels upon subjects that were far
outside Calverley's scope. Among the dozen themes with which he deals
under the general heading of _Paullo Majora Canamus_, there is not one
which would have interested his "master" in the least. Calverley
appears to have invited his soul after this fashion--"Come, let us go
into the King's Parade and view the undergraduate as he walks about
having no knowledge of good or evil. Let us make a jest of the books
he admires and the schools for which he is reading." And together they
manage it excellently. They talk Cambridge "shop" in terms of the
wittiest scholarship. But of the very existence of a world of grown-up
men and women they seem to have no inkling, or, at least, no care.

The problems of J.K.S. are very much more grown-up. You have only to
read _Paint and Ink_ (a humorous, yet quite serious, address to a
painter upon the scope of his art) or _After the Golden Wedding_
(wherein are given the soliloquies of the man and the woman who have
been married for fifty years) to assure yourself that if J.K.S. be not
Calverley's equal, it is only because his mind is vexed with problems
bigger than ever presented themselves to the Cambridge don. To C.S.C.,
Browning was a writer of whose eccentricities of style delicious sport
might be made. J.K.S. has parodied Browning too; but he has also
perpended Browning, and been moulded by him. There are many stanzas in
this small volume that, had Browning not lived, had never been
written. Take this, from a writer to a painter:--

    "So I do dare claim to be kin with you,
       And I hold you higher than if your task
     Were doing no more than you say you do:
       We shall live, if at all, we shall stand or fall,
     As men before whom the world doffs its mask
     And who answer the questions our fellows ask."

Many such lines prove our writer's emancipation from servitude to the
Calverley fetish, a fetish that, I am convinced, has done harm to many
young men of parts. It is pretty, in youth, to play with style as a
puppy plays with a bone, to cut teeth upon it. But words are, after
all, a poor thing without matter. J.K.S.'s emancipation has come
somewhat late; but he has depths in him which he has not sounded yet,
and it is quite likely that when he sounds them he may astonish the
world rather considerably. Now, if we may interpret the last poem in
his book, he is turning towards prose. "I go," he says--

    "I go to fly at higher game:
       At prose as good as I can make it;
     And though it brings nor gold nor fame,
       I will not, while I live, forsake it."

It is no disparagement to his verse to rejoice over this resolve of
his. For a young man who begins with epic may end with good epic; but
a young man who begins with imitating Calverley will turn in time to
prose if he means to write in earnest. And J.K.S. may do well or ill,
but that he is to be watched has been evident since the days when he
edited the _Reflector_.[B]


[A] I am bound to admit that the only authority for this is
a note written into the text of Aubrey's _Lives_.

[B] The reader will refer to the date at the head of this paper:--

     "Heu miserande puer! signa fata aspera rumpas,
      Tu Marcellus eris.
            *       *       *       *       *
      Sed nox atra caput tristi circumvolat umbra."


April 15, 1893. The "Island Nights' Entertainments."

I wish Mr. Stevenson had given this book another title. It covers but
two out of the three stories in the volume; and, even so, it has the
ill-luck to be completely spoilt by its predecessor, the _New Arabian

The _New Arabian Nights_ was in many respects a parody of the Eastern
book. It had, if we make a few necessary allowances for the difference
between East and West, the same, or very near the same, atmosphere of
gallant, extravagant, intoxicated romance. The characters had the same
adventurous irresponsibility, and exhibit the same irrelevancies and
futilities. The Young Man with the Cream Cakes might well have sprung
from the same brain as the facetious Barmecide, and young Scrymgeour
sits helpless before his destiny as sat that other young man while the
inexorable Barber sang the song and danced the dance of Zantout.
Indeed Destiny in these books resembles nothing so much as a Barber
with forefinger and thumb nipping his victims by the nose. It is as
omnipotent, as irrational, as humorous and almost as cruel in the
imitation as in the original. Of course I am not comparing these in
any thing but their general presentment of life, or holding up _The
Rajah's Diamond_ against _Aladdin_. I am merely pointing out that life
is presented to us in Galland and in Mr. Stevenson's first book of
tales under very similar conditions--the chief difference being that
Mr. Stevenson has to abate something of the supernatural, or to handle
it less frankly.

But several years divide the _New Arabian Nights_ from the _Island
Nights' Entertainments_; and in the interval our author has written
_The Master of Ballantrae_ and his famous _Open Letter_ on Father
Damien. That is to say, he has grown in his understanding of the human
creature and in his speculations upon his creature's duties and
destinies. He has travelled far, on shipboard and in emigrant trains;
has passed through much sickness; has acquired property and
responsibility; has mixed in public affairs; has written _A Footnote
to History_, and sundry letters to the _Times_; and even, as his
latest letter shows, stands in some danger of imprisonment. Therefore,
while the title of his new volume would seem to refer us once more to
the old Arabian models, we are not surprised to find this apparent
design belied by the contents. The third story, indeed, _The Isle of
Voices_, has affinity with some of the Arabian tales--with Sindbad's
adventures, for instance. But in the longer _Beach of Falesá_ and _The
Bottle Imp_ we are dealing with no debauch of fancy, but with the
problems of real life.

For what is the knot untied in the _Beach of Falesá_? If I mistake
not, our interest centres neither in Case's dirty trick of the
marriage, nor in his more stiff-jointed trick of the devil-contraptions.
The first but helps to construct the problem, the second seems a
superfluity. The problem is (and the author puts it before us fair
and square), How is Wiltshire a fairly loose moralist with some
generosity of heart, going to treat the girl he has wronged? And I
am bound to say that as soon as Wiltshire answers that question
before the missionary--an excellent scene and most dramatically
managed--my interest in the story, which is but halftold at this
point, begins to droop. As I said, the "devil-work" chapter strikes me
as stiff, and the conclusion but rough-and-tumble. And I feel certain
that the story itself is to blame, and neither the scenery nor the
persons, being one of those who had as lief Mr. Stevenson spake of the
South Seas as of the Hebrides, so that he speak and I listen. Let it
be granted that the Polynesian names are a trifle hard to distinguish
at first--they are easier than Russian by many degrees--yet the
difficulty vanishes as you read the _Song of Rahéro_, or the _Footnote
to History_. And if it comes to habits, customs, scenery, etc., I
protest a man must be exacting who can find no romance in these while
reading Melville's _Typee_. No, the story itself is to blame.

But what is the human problem in _The Bottle Imp_? (Imagine
Scheherazadé with a human problem!) Nothing less, if you please than
the problem of Alcestis--nothing less and even something more; for in
this case when the wife has made her great sacrifice of self, it is no
fortuitous god but her own husband who wins her release, and at a
price no less fearful than she herself has paid. Keawe being in
possession of a bottle which must infallibly bring him to hell-flames
unless he can dispose of it at a certain price, Kokua his wife by a
stratagem purchases the bottle from him, and stands committed to the
doom he has escaped. She does her best to hide this from Keawe, but
he, by accident discovering the truth, by another stratagem wins back
the curse upon his own head, and is only rescued by a _deus ex
machinâ_ in the shape of a drunken boatswain.

Two or three reviewers have already given utterance upon this volume;
and they seem strangely unable to determine which is the best of its
three tales. I vote for _The Bottle Imp_ without a second's doubt;
and, if asked my reasons, must answer (1), that it deals with a high
and universal problem, whereas in _The Isle of Voices_ there is no
problem at all, and in the _Beach of Falesá_ the problem is less
momentous and perhaps (though of this I won't be sure) more closely
restricted by the accidents of circumstance and individual character;
(2) as I have hinted, the _Beach of Falesá_ has faults of
construction, one of which is serious, if not vital, while _The Isle
of Voices_, though beautifully composed, is tied down by the
triviality of its subject. But _The Bottle Imp_ is perfectly
constructed: the last page ends the tale, and the tale is told with a
light grace, sportive within restraint, that takes nothing from the
seriousness of the subject. Some may think this extravagant praise for
a little story which, after all (they will say), is flimsy as a soap
bubble. But let them sit down and tick off on their fingers the names
of living authors who could have written it, and it may begin to dawn
on them that a story has other dimensions than length and thickness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sept. 9, 1893. First thoughts on "Catriona."

Some while ago Mr. Barrie put together in a little volume eleven
sketches of eleven men whose fame has travelled far beyond the
University of Edinburgh. For this reason, I believe, he called them
"An Edinburgh Eleven"--as fond admirers speak of Mr. Arthur Shrewsbury
(upon whose renown it is notorious that the sun never sets) as "the
Notts Professional," and of a yet more illustrious cricketer by his
paltry title of "Doctor"--

    "Not so much honouring thee,
       As giving it a hope that there
     It could not wither'd be."

Of the Eleven referred to, Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson was sent in at
eighth wicket down to face this cunning "delivery":--"He experiments
too long; he is still a boy wondering what he is going to be. With
Cowley's candor he tells us that he wants to write something by which
he may be for ever known. His attempts in this direction have been in
the nature of trying different ways, and he always starts off
whistling. Having gone so far without losing himself, he turns back to
try another road. Does his heart fail him, despite his jaunty bearing,
_or is it because there is no hurry?_ ... But it is quite time the
great work was begun."

I have taken the liberty to italicise a word or two, because in them
Mr. Barrie supplied an answer to his question. "The lyf so short, the
craft so long to lerne!" is not an exhortation to hurry: and in Mr.
Stevenson's case, at any rate, there was not the least need to hurry.
There was, indeed, a time when Mr. Stevenson had not persuaded himself
of this. In _Across the Plains_ he tells us how, at windy Anstruther
and an extremely early age, he used to draw his chair to the table and
pour forth literature "at such a speed, and with such intimations of
early death and immortality, as I now look back upon with wonder.
Then it was that I wrote _Voces Fidelium_, a series of dramatic
monologues in verse; then that I indited the bulk of a Covenanting
novel--like so many others, never finished. Late I sat into the night,
toiling (as I thought) under the very dart of death, toiling to leave
a memory behind me. I feel moved to thrust aside the curtain of the
years, to hail that poor feverish idiot, to bid him go to bed and clap
_Voces Fidelium_ on the fire before he goes, so clear does he appear
to me, sitting there between his candles in the rose-scented room and
the late night; so ridiculous a picture (to my elderly wisdom) does
the fool present!"

There was no hurry then, as he now sees: and there never was cause to
hurry, I repeat. "But how is this? Is, then, the great book written?"
I am sure I don't know. Probably not: for human experience goes to
show that _The_ Great Book (like _The_ Great American Novel) never
gets written. But that _a_ great story has been written is certain
enough: and one of the curious points about this story is its title.

It is not _Catriona_; nor is it _Kidnapped_. _Kidnapped_ is a taking
title, and _Catriona_ beautiful in sound and suggestion of romance:
and _Kidnapped_ (as everyone knows) is a capital tale, though
imperfect; and _Catriona_ (as the critics began to point out, the day
after its issue) a capital tale with an awkward fissure midway in it.
"It is the fate of sequels"--thus Mr. Stevenson begins his
Dedication--"to disappoint those who have waited for them"; and it is
possible that the boys of Merry England (who, it may be remembered,
thought more of _Treasure Island_ than of _Kidnapped_) will take but
lukewarmly to _Catriona_, having had five years in which to forget its
predecessor. No: the title of the great story is _The Memoirs of David
Balfour_. Catriona has a prettier name than David, and may give it to
the last book of her lover's adventures: but the Odyssey was not
christened after Penelope.

Put _Kidnapped_ and _Catriona_ together within the same covers, with
one title-page, one dedication (here will be the severest loss) and
one table of contents, in which the chapters are numbered straight
away from I. to LX.: and--this above all things--read the tale right
through from David's setting forth from the garden gate at Essendean
to his homeward voyage, by Catriona's side, on the Low Country ship.
And having done this, be so good as to perceive how paltry are the
objections you raised against the two volumes when you took them
separately. Let me raise again one or two of them.

(1.) _Catriona_ is just two stories loosely hitched together--the one
of David's vain attempt to save James Stewart, the other of the loves
of David and Catriona: and in case the critic should be too stupid to
detect this, Mr. Stevenson has been at the pains to divide his book
into Part I. and Part II. Now this, which is a real fault in a book
called _Catriona_, is no fault at all in _The Memoirs of David
Balfour_, which by its very title claims to be constructed loosely. In
an Odyssey the road taken by the wanderer is all the nexus required;
and the continuity of his presence (if the author know his business)
is warrant enough for the continuity of our interest in his
adventures. That the history of Gil Blas of Santillane consists
chiefly of episodes is not a serious criticism upon Lesage's novel.

(2.) In _Catriona_ more than a few of the characters are suffered to
drop out of sight just as we have begun to take an interest in them.
There is Mr. Rankeillor, for instance, whose company in the concluding
chapter of _Kidnapped_ was too good to be spared very easily; and
there is Lady Allardyce--a wonderfully clever portrait; and Captain
Hoseason--we tread for a moment on the verge of re-acquaintance, but
are disappointed; and Balfour of Pilrig; and at the end of Part I.
away into darkness goes the Lord Advocate Preston-grange, with his
charming womenkind.

Well, if this be an objection to the tale, it is one urged pretty
often against life itself--that we scarce see enough of the men and
women we like. And here again that which may be a fault in _Catriona_
is no fault at all in _The Memoirs of David Balfour_. Though novelists
may profess in everything they write to hold a mirror up to life, the
reflection must needs be more artificial in a small book than in a
large. In the one, for very clearness, they must isolate a few human
beings and cut off the currents (so to speak) bearing upon them from
the outside world: in the other, with a larger canvas they are able
to deal with life more frankly. Were the Odyssey cut down to one
episode--say that of Nausicäa--we must round it off and have everyone
on the stage and provided with his just portion of good and evil
before we ring the curtain down. As it is, Nausicäa goes her way. And
as it is, Barbara Grant must go her way at the end of Chapter XX.; and
the pang we feel at parting with her is anything rather than a
reproach against the author.

(3.) It is very certain, as the book stands, that the reader must
experience some shock of disappointment when, after 200 pages of the
most heroical endeavoring, David fails in the end to save James
Stewart of the Glens. Were the book concerned wholly with James
Stewart's fate, the cheat would be intolerable: and as a great deal
more than half of _Catriona_ points and trembles towards his fate like
a magnetic needle, the cheat is pretty bad if we take _Catriona_
alone. But once more, if we are dealing with _The Memoirs of David
Balfour_--if we bear steadily in mind that David Balfour is our
concern--not James Stewart--the disappointment is far more easily
forgiven. Then, and then only, we get the right perspective of
David's attempt, and recognize how inevitable was the issue when this
stripling engaged to turn back the great forces of history.

It is more than a lustre, as the Dedication reminds us, since David
Balfour, at the end of the last chapter of _Kidnapped_, was left to
kick his heels in the British Linen Company's office. Five years have
a knack of making people five years older; and the wordy, politic
intrigue of _Catriona_ is at least five years older than the
rough-and-tumble intrigue of _Kidnapped_; of the fashion of the
_Vicomte de Bragelonne_ rather than of the _Three Musketeers_. But
this is as it should be; for older and astuter heads are now mixed up
in the case, and Preston-grange is a graduate in a very much higher
school of diplomacy than was Ebenezer Balfour. And if no word was said
in _Kidnapped_ of the love of women, we know now that this matter was
held over until the time came for it to take its due place in David
Balfour's experience. Everyone knew that Mr. Stevenson would draw a
woman beautifully as soon as he was minded. Catriona and her situation
have their foreshadowing in _The Pavilion on the Links_. But for all
that she is a surprise. She begins to be a surprise--a beautiful
surprise--when in Chapter X. she kisses David's hand "with a higher
passion than the common kind of clay has any sense of;" and she is a
beautiful surprise to the end of the book. The loves of these two make
a moving story--old, yet not old: and I pity the heart that is not
tender for Catriona when she and David take their last walk together
in Leyden, and "the knocking of her little shoes upon the way sounded
extraordinarily pretty and sad."

       *       *       *       *       *

Nov. 3, 1894. "The Ebb Tide."

A certain Oxford lecturer, whose audience demurred to some trivial
mistranslation from the Greek, remarked: "I perceive, gentlemen, that
you have been taking a mean advantage of me. You have been looking it
out in the Lexicon."

The pleasant art of reasoning about literature on internal evidence
suffers constant discouragement from the presence and activity of
those little people who insist upon "looking it out in the Lexicon."
Their brutal methods will upset in two minutes the nice calculations
of months. Your logic, your taste, your palpitating sense of style,
your exquisite ear for rhythm and cadence--what do these avail against
the man who goes straight to Stationers' Hall or the Parish Register?

     "Two thousand pounds of education
        Drops to a ten-rupee jezail,"

as Mr. Kipling sings. The answer, of course, is that the beauty of
reasoning upon internal evidence lies in the process rather than the
results. You spend a month in studying a poet, and draw some
conclusion which is entirely wrong: within a week you are set right by
some fellow with a Parish Register. Well, but meanwhile you have been
reading poetry, and he has not. Only the uninstructed judge criticism
by its results alone.

If, then, after studying Messrs. Stevenson and Osbourne's _The
Ebb-Tide_ (London: Heinemann) I hazard a guess or two upon its
authorship; and if somebody take it into his head to write out to
Samoa and thereby elicit the information that my guesses are entirely
wrong--why then we shall have been performing each of us his proper
function in life; and there's an end of the matter.

Let me begin though--after reading a number of reviews of the
book--by offering my sympathy to Mr. Lloyd Osbourne. Very possibly he
does not want it. I guess him to be a gentleman of uncommonly cheerful
heart. I hope so, at any rate: for it were sad to think that
indignation had clouded even for a minute the gay spirit that gave us
_The Wrong Box_--surely the funniest book written in the last ten
years. But he has been most shamefully served. Writing with him, Mr.
Stevenson has given us _The Wrecker_ and _The Ebb-Tide_. Faults
may be found in these, apart from the criticism that they are freaks in
the development of Mr. Stevenson's genius. Nobody denies that they are
splendid tales: nobody (I imagine) can deny that they are tales of a
singular and original pattern. Yet no reviewer praises them on their
own merits or points out their own defects. They are judged always in
relation to Mr. Stevenson's previous work, and the reviewers
concentrate their censure upon the point that they are freaks in Mr.
Stevenson's development--that he is not continuing as the public
expected him to continue.

Now there are a number of esteemed novelists about the land who earn
comfortable incomes by doing just what the public expects of them. But
of Mr. Stevenson's genius--always something wayward--freaks might have
been predicted from the first. A genius so consciously artistic, so
quick in sympathy with other men's writings, however diverse, was
bound from the first to make many experiments. Before the public took
his career in hand and mapped it out for him, he made such an
experiment with _The Black Arrow_; and it was forgiven easily enough.
But because he now takes Mr. Osbourne into partnership for a new set
of experiments, the reviewers--not considering that these, whatever
their faults, are vast improvements on _The Black Arrow_--ascribe all
those faults to the new partner.

But that is rough criticism. Moreover it is almost demonstrably false.
For the weakness of _The Wrecker_, such as it was, lay in the Paris
and Barbizon business and the author's failure to make this of one
piece with the main theme, with the romantic histories of the
_Currency Lass_ and the _Flying Scud_. But which of the two partners
stands responsible for this Pais-Barbizon business? Mr. Stevenson
beyond a doubt. If you shut your eyes to Mr. Stevenson's confessed
familiarity with the Paris and the Barbizon of a certain era; if you
choose to deny that he wrote that chapter on Fontainebleau in _Across
the Plains_; if you go on to deny that he wrote the opening of Chapter
XXI. of _The Wrecker_; why then you are obliged to maintain that it
was Mr. Osbourne, and not Mr. Stevenson, who wrote that famous chapter
on the Roussillon Wine--which is absurd. And if, in spite of its
absurdity, you stick to this also, why, then you are only
demonstrating that Mr. Lloyd Osbourne is one of the greatest living
writers of fiction: and your conception of him as a mere imp of
mischief jogging the master's elbow is wider of the truth than ever.

No; the vital defect of _The Wrecker_ must be set down to Mr.
Stevenson's account. Fine story as that was, it failed to assimilate
the Paris-Barbizon business. _The Ebb-Tide_, on the other hand, is all
of one piece. It has at any rate one atmosphere, and one only. And who
can demand a finer atmosphere of romance than that of the South

_The Ebb-Tide_, so far as atmosphere goes, is all of one piece. And
the story, too, is all of one piece--until we come to Attwater: I own
Attwater beats me. As Mr. Osbourne might say, "I have no use for" that
monstrous person. I wish, indeed, Mr. Osbourne _had_ said so: for
again I cannot help feeling that the offence of Attwater lies at Mr.
Stevenson's door. He strikes me as a bad dream of Mr. Stevenson's--a
General Gordon out of the _Arabian Nights_. Do you remember a drawing
of Mr. du Maurier's in _Punch_, wherein, seizing upon a locution of
Miss Rhoda Broughton's, he gave us a group of "magnificently ugly"
men? I seem to see Attwater in that group.

But if Mr. Stevenson is responsible for Attwater, surely also he
contributed the two splendid surprises of the story. I am the more
certain because they occur in the same chapter, and within three pages
of each other. I mean, of course, Captain Davis's sudden confession
about his "little Adar," and the equally startling discovery that the
cargo of the _Farallone_ schooner, supposed to be champagne, is mostly
water. These are the two triumphant surprises of the book: and I shall
continue to believe that only one living man could have contrived
them, until somebody writes to Samoa and obtains the assurance that
they are among Mr. Osbourne's contributions to the tale.

Two small complaints I have to make. The first is of the rather
inartistically high level of profanity maintained by the speech of
Davis and Huish. It is natural enough, of course; but that is no
excuse if the frequency of the swearing prevent its making its proper
impression in the right place. And the name "Robert Herrick," bestowed
on one of the three beach-loafers, might have been shunned. You may
call an ordinary negro "Julius Cæsar": for out of such extremes you
get the legitimately grotesque. But the Robert Herrick, loose writer
of the lovely _Hesperides_, and the Robert Herrick, shameful haunter
of Papeete beach, are not extremes: and it was so very easy to avoid
the association of ideas.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dec. 22, 1894. R.L.S. In Memorium.

The Editor asks me to speak of Stevenson this week: because, since the
foundation of THE SPEAKER, as each new book of Stevenson's appeared, I
have had the privilege of writing about it here. So this column, too,
shall be filled; at what cost ripe journalists will understand, and
any fellow-cadet of letters may guess.

For when the telegram came, early on Monday morning, what was our
first thought, as soon as the immediate numbness of sorrow passed and
the selfish instinct began to reassert itself (as it always does) and
whisper "What have _I_ lost? What is the difference to _me_?" Was it
not something like this--"Put away books and paper and pen. Stevenson
is dead. Stevenson is dead, and now there is nobody left to write
for." Our children and grandchildren shall rejoice in his books; but
we of this generation possessed in the living man something that they
will not know. So long as he lived, though it were far from
Britain--though we had never spoken to him and he, perhaps, had barely
heard our names--we always wrote our best for Stevenson. To him each
writer amongst us--small or more than small--had been proud to have
carried his best. That best might be poor enough. So long as it was
not slipshod, Stevenson could forgive. While he lived, he moved men to
put their utmost even into writings that quite certainly would never
meet his eye. Surely another age will wonder over this curiosity of
letters--that for five years the needle of literary endeavor in Great
Britain has quivered towards a little island in the South Pacific, as
to its magnetic pole.

Yet he founded no school, though most of us from time to time have
poorly tried to copy him. He remained altogether inimitable, yet never
seemed conscious of his greatness. It was native in him to rejoice in
the successes of other men at least as much as in his own triumphs.
One almost felt that, so long as good books were written, it was no
great concern to him whether he or others wrote them. Born with an
artist's craving for beauty of expression, he achieved that beauty
with infinite pains. Confident in romance and in the beneficence of
joy, he cherished the flame of joyous romance with more than Vestal
fervor, and kept it ardent in a body which Nature, unkind from the
beginning, seemed to delight in visiting with more unkindness--a
"soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed" almost from birth. And his
books leave the impression that he did this chiefly from a sense of
duty: that he labored and kept the lamp alight chiefly because, for
the time, other and stronger men did not.

Had there been another Scott, another Dumas--if I may change the
image--to take up the torch of romance and run with it, I doubt if
Stevenson would have offered himself. I almost think in that case he
would have consigned with Nature and sat at ease, content to read of
new Ivanhoes and new D'Artagnans: for--let it be said again--no man
had less of the ignoble itch for merely personal success. Think, too,
of what the struggle meant for him: how it drove him unquiet about the
world, if somewhere he might meet with a climate to repair the
constant drain upon his feeble vitality; and how at last it flung him,
as by a "sudden freshet," upon Samoa--to die "far from Argos, dear
land of home."

And then consider the brave spirit that carried him--the last of a
great race--along this far and difficult path; for it is the man we
must consider now, not, for the moment, his writings. Fielding's
voyage to Lisbon was long and tedious enough; but almost the whole of
Stevenson's life has been a voyage to Lisbon, a voyage in the very
penumbra of death. Yet Stevenson spoke always as gallantly as his
great predecessor. Their "cheerful stoicism," which allies his books
with the best British breeding, will keep them classical as long as
our nation shall value breeding. It shines to our dim eyes now, as we
turn over the familiar pages of _Virginibus Puerisque_, and from page
after page--in sentences and fragments of sentences--"It is not
altogether ill with the invalid after all" ... "Who would project a
serial novel after Thackeray and Dickens had each fallen in
mid-course." [_He_ had two books at least in hand and uncompleted, the
papers say.] "Who would find heart enough to begin to live, if he
dallied with the consideration of death?" ... "What sorry and pitiful
quibbling all this is!" ... "It is better to live and be done with it,
than to die daily in the sick-room. By all means begin your folio;
even if the doctor does not give you a year, even if he hesitates over
a month, make one brave push and see what can be accomplished in a
week.... For surely, at whatever age it overtake the man, this is to
die young.... The noise of the mallet and chisel is scarcely quenched,
the trumpets are hardly done blowing, when, trailing with him clouds
of glory, this happy-starred, full-blooded spirit shoots into the
spiritual land."

As it was in _Virginibus Puerisque_, so is it in the last essay in his
last book of essays:--

     "And the Kingdom of Heaven is of the childlike, of those who are
     easy to please, who love and who give pleasure. Mighty men of
     their hands, the smiters, and the builders, and the judges, have
     lived long and done sternly, and yet preserved this lovely
     character; and among our carpet interests and two-penny concerns,
     the shame were indelible if _we_ should lose it. _Gentleness and
     cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the
     perfect duties_...."

I remember now (as one remembers little things at such times) that,
when first I heard of his going to Samoa, there came into my head
(Heaven knows why) a trivial, almost ludicrous passage from his
favorite, Sir Thomas Browne: a passage beginning "He was fruitlessly
put in hope of advantage by change of Air, and imbibing the pure
Aerial Nitre of those Parts; and therefore, being so far spent, he
quickly found Sardinia in Tivoli, and the most healthful air of little
effect, where Death had set her Broad Arrow...." A statelier sentence
of the same author occurs to me now--

"To live indeed, is to be again ourselves, which being not only a
hope, but an evidence in noble believers, it is all one to lie in St.
Innocent's Churchyard, as in the sands of Egypt. Ready to be anything
in the ecstacy of being ever, and as content with six foot as the
_moles_ of Adrianus."

This one lies, we are told, on a mountain-top, overlooking the
Pacific. At first it seemed so much easier to distrust a News Agency
than to accept Stevenson's loss. "O captain, my captain!" ... One
needs not be an excellent writer to feel that writing will be
thankless work, now that Stevenson is gone. But the papers by this
time leave no room for doubt. "A grave was dug on the summit of Mount
Vaea, 1,300 feet above the sea. The coffin was carried up the hill by
Samoans with great difficulty, a track having to be cut through the
thick bush which covers the side of the hill from the base to the
peak." For the good of man, his father and grandfather planted the
high sea-lights upon the Inchcape and the Tyree Coast. He, the last of
their line, nursed another light and tended it. Their lamps still
shine upon the Bell Rock and the Skerryvore; and--though in alien
seas, upon a rock of exile--this other light shall continue,
unquenchable by age, beneficent, serene.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nov. 2, 1895. The "Vailima Letters."

Eagerly as we awaited this volume, it has proved a gift exceeding all
our hopes--a gift, I think, almost priceless. It unites in the rarest
manner the value of a familiar correspondence with the value of an
intimate journal: for these Samoan letters to his friend Mr. Sidney
Colvin form a record, scarcely interrupted, of Stevenson's thinkings
and doings from month to month, and often from day to day, during the
last four romantic years of his life. The first is dated November 2nd,
1890, when he and his household were clearing the ground for their
home on the mountain-side of Vaea: the last, October 6th, 1894, just
two months before his grave was dug on Vaea top. During his Odyssey in
the South Seas (from August, 1888, to the spring of 1890) his letters,
to Mr. Colvin at any rate, were infrequent and tantalizingly vague;
but soon after settling on his estate in Samoa, "he for the first
time, to my infinite gratification, took to writing me long and
regular monthly budgets as full and particular as heart could wish;
and this practice he maintained until within a few weeks of his
death." These letters, occupying a place quite apart in Stevenson's
correspondence, Mr. Colvin has now edited with pious care and given to
the public.

But the great, the happy surprise of the _Vailima Letters_ is neither
their continuity nor their fulness of detail--although on each of
these points they surpass our hopes. The great, the entirely happy
surprise is their intimacy. We all knew--who could doubt it?--that
Stevenson's was a clean and transparent mind. But we scarcely allowed
for the innocent zest (innocent, because wholly devoid of vanity or
selfishness) which he took in observing its operations, or for the
child-like confidence with which he held out the crystal for his
friend to gaze into.

One is at first inclined to say that had these letters been less
open-hearted they had made less melancholy reading--the last few of
them, at any rate. For, as their editor says, "the tenor of these last
letters of Stevenson's to me, and of others written to several of his
friends at the same time, seemed to give just cause for anxiety.
Indeed, as the reader will have perceived, a gradual change had during
the past months been coming over the tone of his correspondence.... To
judge by these letters, his old invincible spirit of cheerfulness was
beginning to give way to moods of depression and overstrained feeling,
although to those about him, it seems, his charming, habitual
sweetness and gaiety of temper were undiminished." Mr. Colvin is
thinking, no doubt, of passages such as this, from the very last

    "I know I am at a climacteric for all men who live by their wits,
     so I do not despair. But the truth is, I am pretty nearly useless
     at literature.... Were it not for my health, which made it
     impossible, I could not find it in my heart to forgive myself
     that I did not stick to an honest, commonplace trade when I was
     young, which might have now supported me during these ill years.
     But do not suppose me to be down in anything else; only, for the
     nonce, my skill deserts me, such as it is, or was. It was a very
     little dose of inspiration, and a pretty little trick of style,
     long lost, improved by the most heroic industry. So far, I have
     managed to please the journalists. But I am a fictitious article,
     and have long known it. I am read by journalists, by my
     fellow-novelists, and by boys; with these _incipit et explicit_
     my vogue."

I appeal to all who earn their living by pen or brush--Who does not
know moods such as this? Who has not experience of those dark days
when the ungrateful canvas refuses to come right, and the artist sits
down before it and calls himself a fraud? We may even say that these
fits of incapacity and blank despondency are part of the cost of all
creative work. They may be intensified by terror for the family
exchequer. The day passes in strenuous but futile effort, and the man
asks himself, "What will happen to me and mine if this kind of thing
continues?" Stevenson, we are allowed to say (for the letters tell
us), did torment himself with these terrors. And we may say further
that, by whatever causes impelled, he certainly worked too hard during
the last two years of his life. With regard to the passage quoted,
what seems to me really melancholy is not the baseless self-distrust,
for that is a transitory malady most incident to authorship; but that,
could a magic carpet have transported Stevenson at that moment to the
side of the friend he addressed--could he for an hour or two have
visited London--all this apprehension had been at once dispelled. He
left England before achieving his full conquest of the public heart,
and the extent of that conquest he, in his exile, never quite
realized. When he visited Sydney, early in 1893, it was to him a new
and disconcerting experience--but not, I fancy altogether
unpleasing--_digito monstrari_, or, as he puts it elsewhere, to "do
the affable celebrity life-sized." Nor do I think he quite realized
how large a place he filled in the education, as in the affections, of
the younger men--the Barries and Kiplings, the Weymans, Doyles and
Crocketts--whose courses began after he had left these shores. An
artist gains much by working alone and away from chatter and criticism
and adulation: but his gain has this corresponding loss, that he must
go through his dark hours without support. Even a master may take
benefit at times--if it be only a physical benefit--from some closer
and handier assurance than any letters can give of the place held by
his work in the esteem of "the boys."

We must not make too much of what he wrote in this dark mood. A few
days later he was at work on _Weir of Hermiston_, laboring "at the
full pitch of his powers and in the conscious happiness of their
exercise." Once more he felt himself to be working at his best. The
result the world has not yet been allowed to see: for the while we are
satisfied and comforted by Mr. Colvin's assurances. "The fragment on
which he wrought during the last month of his life gives to my mind
(as it did to his own) for the first time the true measure of his
powers; and if in the literature of romance there is to be found work
more masterly, of more piercing human insight and more concentrated
imaginative wisdom, I do not know it."

On the whole, these letters from Vailima give a picture of a serene
and--allowance being made for the moods--a contented life. It is, I
suspect, the genuine Stevenson that we get in the following passage
from the letter of March, 1891:--

    "Though I write so little, I pass all my hours of field-work in
     continual converse and imaginary correspondence. I scarce pull up
     a weed, but I invent a sentence on the matter to yourself; it
     does not get written; _autant en emportent les vents_; but the
     intent is there, and for me (in some sort) the companionship.
     To-day, for instance, we had a great talk. I was toiling, the
     sweat dripping from my nose, in the hot fit after a squall of
     rain; methought you asked me--frankly, was I happy? Happy (said
     I); I was only happy once; that was at Hyères; it came to an end
     from a variety of reasons--decline of health, change of place,
     increase of money, age with his stealing steps; since then, as
     before then, I know not what it means. But I know pleasures
     still; pleasure with a thousand faces and none perfect, a
     thousand tongues all broken, a thousand hands, and all of them
     with scratching nails. High among these I place the delight of
     weeding out here alone by the garrulous water, under the silence
     of the high wood, broken by incongruous sounds of birds. And take
     my life all through, look at it fore and back, and upside down--I
     would not change my circumstances, unless it were to bring you
     here. And yet God knows perhaps this intercourse of writing
     serves as well; and I wonder, were you here indeed, would I
     commune so continually with the thought of you. I say 'I wonder'
     for a form; I know, and I know I should not."

In a way the beauty of these letters is this, that they tell us so
much of Stevenson that is new, and nothing that is strange--nothing
that we have difficulty in reconciling with the picture we had already
formed in our own minds. Our mental portraits of some other writers,
drawn from their deliberate writings, have had to be readjusted, and
sometimes most cruelly readjusted, as soon as their private
correspondence came to be published. If any of us dreamed of this
danger in Stevenson's case (and I doubt if anyone did), the danger at
any rate is past. The man of the letters is the man of the books--the
same gay, eager, strenuous, lovable spirit, curious as ever about life
and courageous as ever in facing its chances. Profoundly as he
deplores the troubles in Samoa, when he hears that war has been
declared he can hardly repress a boyish excitement. "War is a huge
_entraînement_," he writes in June, 1893; "there is no other
temptation to be compared to it, not one. We were all wet, we had been
five hours in the saddle, mostly riding hard; and we came home like
schoolboys, with such a lightness of spirits, and I am sure such a
brightness of eye, as you could have lit a candle at."

And that his was not by any means mere "literary" courage one more
extract will prove. One of his boys, Paatalise by name, had suddenly
gone mad:--

    "I was busy copying David Balfour, with my left hand--a most
     laborious task--Fanny was down at the native house superintending
     the floor, Lloyd down in Apia, and Bella in her own house
     cleaning, when I heard the latter calling on my name. I ran out
     on the verandah; and there on the lawn beheld my crazy boy with
     an axe in his hand and dressed out in green ferns, dancing. I ran
     downstairs and found all my house boys on the back verandah,
     watching him through the dining-room. I asked what it
     meant?--'Dance belong his place,' they said.--'I think this is no
     time to dance,' said I. 'Has he done his work?'--'No,' they told
     me, 'away bush all morning.' But there they all stayed in the
     back verandah. I went on alone through the dining-room and bade
     him stop. He did so, shouldered the axe, and began to walk away;
     but I called him back, walked up to him, and took the axe out of
     his unresisting hands. The boy is in all things so good, that I
     can scarce say I was afraid; only I felt it had to be stopped ere
     he could work himself up by dancing to some craziness. Our house
     boys protested they were not afraid; all I know is they were all
     watching him round the back door, and did not follow me till I
     had the axe. As for the out-boys, who were working with Fanny in
     the native house, they thought it a bad business, and made no
     secret of their fears."

But indeed all the book is manly, with the manliness of Scott's
_Journal_ or of Fielding's _Voyage to Lisbon_. "To the English-speaking
world," concludes Mr. Colvin, "he has left behind a treasure which it
would be vain as yet to attempt to estimate; to the profession of
letters one of the most ennobling and inspiriting of examples; and
to his friends an image of memory more vivid and more dear than are
the presences of almost any of the living." Very few men of our time
have been followed out of this world with the same regret. None have
repined less at their own fate--

    "This be the verse you grave for me:--
     'Here he lies where he longed to be;
     Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
       And the hunter home from the hill.'"


Sept. 23, 1892. La Débâcle.

To what different issues two men will work the same notion! Imagine
this world to be a flat board accurately parcelled out into squares,
and you have the basis at once of _Alice through the Looking-Glass_
and of _Les Rougon-Macquart_. But for the mere fluke that the
Englishman happened to be whimsical and the Frenchman entirely without
humor (and the chances were perhaps against this), we might have had
the Rougon-Macquart family through the looking-glass, and a natural
and social history of Alice in _parterres_ of existence labelled
_Drink, War, Money_, etc. As it is, in drawing up any comparison of
these two writers we should remember that Mr. Carroll sees the world
in sections because he chooses, M. Zola because he cannot help it.

If life were a museum, M. Zola would stand a reasonable chance of
being a Balzac. But I invite the reader who has just laid down _La
Débâcle_ to pick up _Eugénie Grandet_ again and say if that little
Dutch picture has not more sense of life, even of the storm and stir
and big furies of life, than the detonating _Débâcle_. The older

     "Saw life steadily and saw it whole"

--No matter how small the tale, he draws no curtain around it; it
stands in the midst of a real world, set in the white and composite
light of day. M. Zola sees life in sections and by one or another of
those colors into which daylight can be decomposed by the prism. He is
like a man standing at the wings with a limelight apparatus. The rays
fall now here, now there, upon the stage; are luridly red or vividly
green; but neither mix nor pervade.

I am aware that the tone of the above paragraph is pontifical and its
substance a trifle obvious, and am eager to apologize for both.
Speaking as an impressionist, I can only say that _La Débâcle_ stifles
me. And this is the effect produced by all his later books. Each has
the exclusiveness of a dream; its subject--be it drink or war or
money--possesses the reader as a nightmare possesses the dreamer. For
the time this place of wide prospect, the world, puts up its shutters;
and life becomes all drink, all war, all money, while M. Zola
(adaptable Bacchanal!) surrenders his brain to the intoxication of his
latest theme. He will drench himself with ecclesiology, or veterinary
surgery, or railway technicalities--everything by turns and everything
long; but, like the gentleman in the comic opera, he "never mixes." Of
late he almost ceased to add even a dash of human interest.

Mr. George Moore, reviewing _La Débâcle_ in the _Fortnightly_ last
month, laments this. He reminds us of the splendid opportunity M. Zola
has flung away in his latest work.

    "Jean and Maurice," says Mr. Moore, "have fought side by side;
     they have alternately saved each other's lives; war has united
     them in a bond of inseparable friendship; they have grasped each
     other's hands, and looked in each other's eyes, overpowered with
     a love that exceeds the love that woman ever gave to man; now
     they are ranged on different sides, armed one against the other.
     The idea is a fine one, and it is to be deeply regretted that M.
     Zola did not throw history to the winds and develop the beautiful
     human story of the division of friends in civil war. Never would
     history have tempted Balzac away from the human passion of such a

But it is just fidelity to the human interest of every subject that
gives the novelist his rank; that makes--to take another instance--a
page or two of Balzac, when Balzac is dealing with money, of more
value than the whole of _l'Argent_.

Of Burke it has been said by a critic with whom it is a pleasure for
once in a way to agree, that he knew how the whole world lived.

    "It was Burke's peculiarity and his glory to apply the
     imagination of a poet of the first order to the facts and
     business of life.... Burke's imagination led him to look over the
     whole land: the legislator devising new laws, the judge
     expounding and enforcing old ones, the merchant despatching all
     his goods and extending his credit, the banker advancing the
     money of his customers upon the credit of the merchant, the
     frugal man slowly accumulating the store which is to support him
     in old age, the ancient institutions of Church and University
     with their seemly provisions for sound learning and true
     religion, the parson in his pulpit, the poet pondering his
     rhymes, the farmer eyeing his crops, the painter covering his
     canvases, the player educating the feelings. Burke saw all this
     with the fancy of a poet, and dwelt on it with the eye of a

Now all this, which is true of Burke, is true of the very first
literary artists--of Shakespeare and Balzac. All this, and more--for
they not only see all this immense activity of life, but the emotions
that animate each of the myriad actors.

Suppose them to treat of commerce: they see not only the goods and
money changing hands, but the ambitions, dangers, fears, delights, the
fierce adventures by desert and seas, the slow toil at home, upon
which the foundations of commerce are set. Like the Gods,

    "They see the ferry
     On the broad, clay-laden
     Lone Chorasmian stream;--thereon,
     With snort and strain,
     Two horses, strongly swimming, tow
     The ferry-boat, with woven ropes
     To either bow
     Firm-harness'd by the mane; a chief,
     With shout and shaken spear,
     Stands at the prow, and guides them; but astern
     The cowering merchants, in long robes,
     Sit pale beside their wealth...."

Like the Gods, they see all this; but, unlike the Gods, they must feel

    "They see the merchants
     On the Oxus stream;--_but care
     Must visit first them too, and make them pale_.
     Whether, through whirling sand,
     A cloud of desert robber-horse have burst
     Upon their caravan; or greedy kings,
     In the wall'd cities the way passes through,
     Crush'd them with tolls; or fever-airs,
     On some great river's marge,
     Mown them down, far from home."

Mr. Moore speaks of M. Zola's vast imagination. It is vast in the
sense that it sees one thing at a time, and sees it a thousand times
as big as it appears to most men. But can the imagination that sees a
whole world under the influence of one particular fury be compared
with that which surveys this planet and sees its inhabitants busy with
a million diverse occupations? Drink, Money, War--these may be
usefully personified as malignant or beneficent angels, for pulpit
purposes. But the employment of these terrific spirits in the harrying
of the Rougon-Macquart family recalls the announcement that

     "The Death-Angel smote Alexander McGlue...."

while the methods of the _Roman Expérimental_ can hardly be better
illustrated than by the rest of the famous stanza--

     "--And gave him protracted repose:
     He wore a check shirt and a Number 9 shoe,
       And he had a pink wart on his nose."


May 4, 1895. Hazlitt.

"Coming forward and seating himself on the ground in his white dress
and tightened turban, the chief of the Indian jugglers begins with
tossing up two brass balls, which is what any of us could do, and
concludes with keeping up four at the same time, which is what none of
us could do to save our lives." ... You remember Hazlitt's essay on
the Indian Jugglers, and how their performance shook his self-conceit.
"It makes me ashamed of myself. I ask what there is that I can do as
well as this. Nothing..... Is there no one thing in which I can
challenge competition, that I can bring as an instance of exact
perfection, in which others cannot find a flaw? The utmost I can
pretend to is to write a description of what this fellow can do. I can
write a book; so can many others who have not even learned to spell.
What abortions are these essays! What errors, what ill-pieced
transitions, what crooked reasons, what lame conclusions! How little
is made out, and that little how ill! Yet they are the best I can do."

Nevertheless a play of Shakespeare's, or a painting by Reynolds, or an
essay by Hazlitt, imperfect though it be, is of more rarity and worth
than the correctest juggling or tight-rope walking. Hazlitt proceeds
to examine why this should be, and discovers a number of good reasons.
But there is one reason, omitted by him, or perhaps left for the
reader to infer, on which we may profitably spend a few minutes. It
forms part of a big subject, and tempts to much abstract talk on the
universality of the Fine Arts; but I think we shall be putting it
simply enough if we say that an artist is superior to an "artiste"
because he does well what ninety-nine people in a hundred are doing
poorly all their lives.


When people compare fiction with "real life," they start with
asserting "real life" to be a conglomerate of innumerable details of
all possible degrees of pertinence and importance, and go on to show
that the novelist selects from this mass those which are the most
important and pertinent to his purpose. (I speak here particularly of
the novelist, but the same is alleged of all practitioners of the fine
arts.) And, in a way, this is true enough. But who (unless in an idle
moment, or with a view to writing a treatise in metaphysics) ever
takes this view of the world? Who regards it as a conglomerate of
innumerable details? Critics say that the artist's difficulty lies in
selecting the details proper to his purpose, and his justification
rests on the selection he makes. But where lives the man whose
difficulty and whose justification do not lie just here?--who is not
consciously or unconsciously selecting from morning until night? You
take the most ordinary country walk. How many millions of leaves and
stones and blades of grass do you pass without perceiving them at all?
How many thousands of others do you perceive, and at once allow to
slip into oblivion? Suppose you have walked four miles with the
express object of taking pleasure in country sights. I dare wager the
objects that have actually engaged your attention for two seconds are
less than five hundred, and those that remain in your memory, when you
reach home, as few as a dozen. All the way you have been, quite
unconsciously, selecting and rejecting. And it is the brain's
bedazzlement over this work, I suggest, and not merely the rhythmical
physical exertion, that lulls the more ambitious walker and induces
that phlegmatic mood so prettily described by Stevenson--the mood in

    "we can think of this or that, lightly or laughingly, as a child
     thinks, or as we think in a morning doze; we can make puns or
     puzzle out acrostics, and trifle in a thousand ways with words
     and rhymes; but when it comes to honest work, when we come to
     gather ourselves together for an effort, we may sound the trumpet
     as long and loud as we please; the great barons of the mind will
     not rally to the standard, but sit, each one at home, warming his
     hands over his own fire and brooding on his own private thought!"

Again, certain critics never seem tired of pelting the novelist with
comparisons drawn between painting and photography. "Mr. So-and-So's
fidelity to life suggests the camera rather than the brush and
palette"; and the implication is that Mr. So-and-So and the camera
resemble each other in their tendency to reproduce irrelevant detail.
The camera, it is assumed, repeats this irrelevant detail. The
photographer does not select. But is this true? I have known many
enthusiasts in photography whose enthusiasm I could not share. But I
never knew one, even among amateurs, who wished to photograph
everything he saw, from every possible point of view. Even the amateur
selects--wrongly as a rule: still he selects. The mere act of setting
up a camera in any particular spot implies a process of selection. And
when the deed is done, the scenery has been libelled. Our eyes behold
the photograph, and go through another process of selection. In short,
whatever they look upon, men and women are selecting ceaselessly.

The artist therefore does well and consciously, and for a particular
end, what every man or woman does poorly, and unconsciously, and
casually. He differs in the photographer in that he has more licence
to eliminate. When once the camera is set up, it's owner's power over
the landscape has come to an end. The person who looks on the
resultant photograph must go through the same process of choosing and
rejecting that he would have gone through in contemplating the natural
landscape. The sole advantage is that the point of view has been
selected for him, and that he can enjoy it without fatigue in any
place and at any time.

The truth seems to be that the human brain abhors the complexity--the
apparently aimless complexity--of nature and real life, and is for
ever trying to get away from it by selecting this and ignoring that.
And it contrives so well that I suppose the average man is not
consciously aware twice a year of that conglomerate of details which
the critics call real life. He holds one stout thread, at any rate, to
guide him through the maze--the thread of self-interest.

The justification of the poet or the novelist is that he discovers a
better thread. He follows up a universal where the average man follows
only a particular. But in following it, he does but use those
processes by which the average man arrives, or attempts to arrive, at


Nov. 18, 1893. Story and Anecdote.

I suppose I am no more favored than most people who write stories in
receiving from unknown correspondents a variety of suggestions,
outlines of plots, sketches of situations, characters, and so forth.
One cannot but feel grateful for all this spontaneous beneficence. The
mischief is that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred (the fraction
is really much smaller) these suggestions are of no possible use.

Why should this be? Put briefly, the reason is that a story differs
from an anecdote. I take the first two instances that come into my
head: but they happen to be striking ones, and, as they occur in a
book of Mr. Kipling's, are safe to be well known to all my
correspondents. In Mr. Kipling's fascinating book, _Life's Handicap,
On Greenhow Hill_ is a story; _The Lang Men o' Larut_ is an anecdote.
_On Greenhow Hill_ is founded on a study of the human heart, and it is
upon the human heart that the tale constrains one's interest. _The
Lang Men o' Larut_ is just a yarn spun for the yarn's sake: it informs
us of nothing, and is closely related (if I may use some of Mr.
Howells' expressive language for the occasion) to "the lies swapped
between men after the ladies have left the table." And the reason why
the story-teller, when (as will happen at times) his invention runs
dry, can take no comfort in the generous outpourings of his unknown
friends, is just this--that the plots are merely plots, and the
anecdotes merely anecdotes, and the difference between these and a
story that shall reveal something concerning men and women is just the
difference between bad and good art.

Let us go a step further. At first sight it seems a superfluous
contention that a novelist's rank depends upon what he can see and
what he can tell us of the human heart. But, as a matter of fact, you
will find that four-fifths at least of contemporary criticism is
devoted to matters quite different--to what I will call Externals, or
the Accidents of Story-telling: and that, as a consequence, our
novelists are spending a quite unreasonable proportion of their labor
upon Externals. I wrote "as a consequence" hastily, because it is
always easier to blame the critics. If the truth were known, I dare
say the novelists began it with their talk about "documents," "the
scientific method," "observation and experiment," and the like.

The Fallacy of "Documents."

Now you may observe a man until you are tired, and then you may begin
and observe him over again: you may photograph him and his
surroundings: you may spend years in studying what he eats and drinks:
you may search out what his uncles died of, and the price he pays for
his hats, and--know nothing at all about him. At least, you may know
enough to insure his life or assess him for Income Tax: but you are
not even half-way towards writing a novel about him. You are still
groping among externals. His unspoken ambitions; the stories he tells
himself silently, at midnight, in his bed; the pain he masks with a
dull face and the ridiculous fancies he hugs in secret--these are the
Essentials, and you cannot get them by Observation. If you can
discover these, you are a Novelist born: if not, you may as well shut
up your note-book and turn to some more remunerative trade. You will
never surprise the secret of a soul by accumulating notes upon

Local Color.

Then, again, we have Local Color, an article inordinately bepraised
just now; and yet an External. For human nature, when every possible
allowance has been made for geographical conditions, undergoes
surprisingly little change as we pass from one degree of latitude or
longitude to another. The Story of Ruth is as intelligible to an
Englishman as though Ruth had gleaned in the stubble behind Tess
Durbeyfield. Levine toiling with the mowers, Achilles sulking in his
tent, Iphigeneia at the altar, Gil Blas before the Archbishop of
Granada have as close a claim on our sympathy as if they lived but a
few doors from us. Let me be understood. I hold it best that a
novelist should be intimately acquainted with the country in which he
lays his scene. But, none the less, the study of local color is not of
the first importance. And the critic who lavishes praise upon a writer
for "introducing us to an entirely new atmosphere," for "breaking new
ground," and "wafting us to scenes with which the jaded novel-reader
is scarcely acquainted," and for "giving us work which bears every
trace of minute local research," is praising that which is of
secondary importance. The works of Richard Jefferies form a
considerable museum of externals of one particular kind; and this is
possibly the reason why the Cockney novelist waxes eloquent over
Richard Jefferies. He can now import the breath of the hay-field into
his works at no greater expense of time and trouble than taking down
the _Gamekeeper at Home_ from his club bookshelf and perusing a
chapter or so before settling down to work. There is not the slightest
harm in his doing this: the mistake lies in thinking local color
(however acquired) of the first importance.

In judging fiction there is probably no safer rule than to ask one's
self, How far does the pleasure excited in me by this book depend upon
the transitory and trivial accidents that distinguish this time, this
place, this character, from another time, another place, another
character? And how far upon the abiding elements of human life, the
constant temptations, the constant ambitions, and the constant
nobility and weakness of the human heart? These are the essentials,
and no amount of documents or local color can fill their room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sept. 30, 1893. The Country as "Copy".

The case of a certain small volume of verse in which I take some
interest, and its treatment at the hands of the reviewers, seems to me
to illustrate in a sufficiently amusing manner a trick that the
British critic has been picking up of late. In a short account of Mr.
Hosken, the postman poet, written by way of preface to his _Verses by
the Way_ (Methuen & Co.), I took occasion to point out that he is not
what is called in the jargon of these days a "nature-poet"; that his
poetic bent inclines rather to meditation than to description; and
that though his early struggles in London and elsewhere have made him
acquainted with many strange people in abnormal conditions of life,
his interest has always lain, not in these striking anomalies, but in
the destiny of humanity as a whole and its position in the great
scheme of things.

These are simple facts. I found them, easily enough, in Mr. Hosken's
verse--where anybody else may find them. They also seem to me to be,
for a critic's purpose, ultimate facts. It is an ultimate fact that
Publius Virgilius Maro wore his buskins somewhat higher in the heel
than did Quintus Horatius Flaccus: and no critic, to my knowledge,
has been impertinent enough to point out that, since Horace had some
experience of the tented field, while Virgil was a stay-at-home
courtier, therefore Horace should have essayed to tell the martial
exploits of Trojan and Rutulian while Virgil contented himself with
the gossip of the Via Sacra. Yet--to compare small things with
great--this is the mistake into which our critics have fallen in Mr.
Hosken's case; and I mention it because the case is typical. They try
to get behind the ultimate facts and busy themselves with questions
they have no proper concern with. Some ask petulantly why Mr. Hosken
is not a "nature-poet." Some are gravely concerned that "local talent"
(_i.e._ the talent of a man who happens to dwell in some locality
other than the critic's) should not concern itself with local affairs;
and remind him--

    "To thine orchard edge belong
     All the brass and plume of song."

As if a man may not concern himself with the broader problems of life
and attack them with all the apparatus of recorded experience, unless
he happen to live on one bank or other of the Fleet Ditch! If a man
have the gift, he can find all the "brass and plume of song" in his
orchard edge. If he have not, he may (provided he be a _bonâ fide_
traveller) find it elsewhere. What, for instance, were the use of
telling Keats: "To thy surgery belong all the brass and plume of
song"? He couldn't find it there, so he betook himself to Chapman and
Lempriere. If you ask, "What right has a country postman to be
handling questions that vexed the brain of Plato?"--I ask in return,
"What right had John Keats, who knew no Greek, to busy himself with
Greek mythology?" And the answer is that each has a perfect right to
follow his own bent.

The assumption of many critics that only within the metropolitan cab
radius can a comprehensive system of philosophy be constructed, and
that only through the plate-glass windows of two or three clubs is it
possible to see life steadily, and see it whole, is one that I have
before now had occasion to dispute. It is joined in this case to
another yet more preposterous--that from a brief survey of an author's
circumstances we can dictate to him what he ought to write about, and
how he ought to write it. And I have observed particularly that if a
writer be a countryman, or at all well acquainted with country life,
all kinds of odd entertainment is expected of him in the way of notes
on the habits of birds, beasts, and fishes, on the growth of all kinds
of common plants, on the proper way to make hay, to milk a cow, and so

Richard Jefferies.

Now it is just the true countryman who would no more think of noting
these things down in a book than a Londoner would think of stating in
a novel that Bond Street joins Oxford Street and Piccadilly: simply
because they have been familiar to him from boyhood. And to my mind it
is a small but significant sign of a rather lamentable movement--of
none other, indeed, than the "Rural Exodus," as Political Economists
call it--that each and every novelist of my acquaintance, while
assuming as a matter of course that his readers are tolerably familiar
with the London Directory, should, equally as a matter of course,
assume them to be ignorant of the commonest features of open-air life.
I protest there are few things more pitiable than the transports of
your Cockney critic over Richard Jefferies. Listen, for instance, to
this kind of thing:--

    "Here and there upon the bank wild gooseberry and currant bushes
     may be found, planted by birds carrying off ripe fruit from the
     garden. A wild gooseberry may sometimes be seen growing out of
     the decayed 'touchwood' on the top of a hollow withy-pollard.
     Wild apple trees, too, are not uncommon in the hedges.

    "The beautiful rich colour of the horse-chestnut, when quite ripe
     and fresh from its prickly green shell, can hardly be surpassed;
     underneath the tree the grass is strewn with shells where they
     have fallen and burst. Close to the trunk the grass is worn away
     by the restless trampling of horses, who love the shade its
     foliage gives in summer. The oak apples which appear on the oaks
     in spring--generally near the trunk--fall off in summer, and lie
     shrivelled on the ground, not unlike rotten cork, or black as if
     burned. But the oak-galls show thick on some of the trees, light
     green, and round as a ball; they will remain on the branches
     after the leaves have fallen, turning brown and hard, and hanging
     there till the spring comes again."--_Wild Life in a Southern
     County_, pp. 224-5.

I say it is pitiable that people should need to read these things in
print. Let me apply this method to some district of south-west
London--say the Old Brompton Road:--

    "Here and there along the street Grocery Stores and shops of
     Italian Warehousemen may be observed, opened here as branches of
     bigger establishments in the City. Three gilt balls may
     occasionally be seen hanging out under the first-floor windows of
     a 'pawnbroker's' residence. House-agents, too, are not uncommon
     along the line of route.

    "The appearance of a winkle, when extracted from its shell with
     the aid of a pin, is extremely curious. There is a winkle-stall
     by the South Kensington Station of the Underground Railway.
     Underneath the stall the pavement is strewn with shells, where
     they have fallen and continue to lie. Close to the stall is a
     cab-stand, paved with a few cobbles, lest the road be worn
     overmuch by the restless trampling of cab-horses, who stand here
     because it is a cab-stand. The thick woollen goods which appear
     in the haberdashers' windows through the winter--generally
     _inside_ the plate glass--give way to garments of a lighter
     texture as the summer advances, and are put away or exhibited at
     decreased prices. But collars continue to be shown, quite white
     and circular in form; they will probably remain, turning grey as
     the dust settles on them, until they are sold."

This is no travesty. It is a hasty, but I believe a pretty exact
application of Jefferies' method. And I ask how it would look in a
book. If the critics really enjoy, as they profess to, all this
trivial country lore, why on earth don't they come into the fresh air
and find it out for themselves? There is no imperative call for their
presence in London. Ink will stain paper in the country as well as in
town, and the Post will convey their articles to their editors. As it
is, they do but overheat already overheated clubs. Mr. Henley has
suggested concerning Jefferies' works that

    "in years to be, when the whole island is one vast congeries of
     streets, and the fox has gone down to the bustard and the dodo,
     and outside museums of comparative anatomy the weasel is not, and
     the badger has ceased from the face of the earth, it is not
     doubtful that the _Gamekeeper_ and _Wild Life_ and the
     _Poacher_--epitomising, as they will, the rural England of
     certain centuries before--will be serving as material authority
     for historical descriptions, historical novels, historical epics,
     historical pictures, and will be honoured as the most useful
     stuff of their kind in being."

Let me add that the movement has begun. These books are already
supplying the club-novelist with his open-air effects: and, therefore,
the club-novelist worships them. From them he gathers that "wild
apple-trees, too, are not uncommon in the hedges," and straightway he
informs the public of this wonder. But it is hard on the poor
countryman who, for the benefit of a street-bred reading public, must
cram his books with solemn recitals of his A, B, C, and impressive
announcements that two and two make four and a hedge-sparrow's egg is

       *       *       *       *       *

Aug. 18, 1894. A Defence of "Local Fiction."

Under the title "Three Years of American Copyright" the _Daily
Chronicle_ last Tuesday published an account of an interview with Mr.
Brander Matthews, who holds (among many titles to distinction) the
Professorship of Literature in Columbia College, New York. Mr.
Matthews is always worth listening to, and has the knack of speaking
without offensiveness even when chastising us Britons for our national
peculiarities. His conversation with the _Daily Chronicle's_
interviewer contained a number of good things; but for the moment I am
occupied with his answer to the question "What form of literature
should you say is at present in the ascendant in the United States?"
"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Matthews, "what I may call local fiction."

    "Every district of the country is finding its 'sacred poet.' Some
     of them have only a local reputation, but all possess the common
     characteristic of starting from fresh, original, and loving study
     of local character and manners. You know what Miss Mary E.
     Wilkins has done for New England, and you probably know, too,
     that she was preceded in the same path by Miss Sarah Orne Jewett
     and the late Mrs. Rose Terry Cooke. Mr. Harold Frederic is
     performing much the same service for rural New York, Miss Murfree
     (Charles Egbert Craddock) for the mountains of Tennessee, Mr.
     James Lane Allen for Kentucky, Mr. Joel Chandler Harris for
     Georgia, Mr. Cable for Louisiana, Miss French (Octave Thanet) for
     Iowa, Mr. Hamlin Garland for the western prairies, and so forth.
     Of course, one can trace the same tendency, more or less clearly,
     in English fiction...."

And Mr. Matthews went on to instance several living novelists, Scotch,
Irish, and English to support this last remark.

The matter, however, is not in doubt. With Mr. Barrie in the North,
and Mr. Hardy in the South; with Mr. Hall Caine in the Isle of Man,
Mr. Crockett in Galloway, Miss Barlow in Lisconnell; with Mr. Gilbert
Parker in the territory of the H.B.C., and Mr. Hornung in Australia;
with Mr. Kipling scouring the wide world, but returning always to
India when the time comes to him to score yet another big artistic
success; it hardly needs elaborate proof to arrive at the conclusion
that 'locality' is playing a strong part in current fiction.

The thing may possibly be overdone. Looking at it from the artistic
point of view as dispassionately as I may, I think we are overdoing
it. But that, for the moment, is not the point of view I wish to take.
If for the moment we can detach ourselves from the prejudice of
fashion and look at the matter from the historical point of view--if
we put ourselves into the position of the conscientious gentleman who,
fifty or a hundred years hence, will be surveying us and our works--I
think we shall find this elaboration of "locality" in fiction to be
but a swing-back of the pendulum, a natural revolt from the
thin-spread work of the "carpet-bagging" novelist who takes the whole
world for his province, and imagines he sees life steadily and sees it
whole when he has seen a great deal of it superficially.

The "carpet-bagger" still lingers among us. We know him, with his
"tourist's return" ticket, and the ready-made "plot" in his head, and
his note-book and pencil for jotting down "local color." We still find
him working up the scenery of Bolivia in the Reading Room of the
British Museum. But he is going rapidly out of fashion; and it is as
well to put his features on record and pigeon-hole them, if only that
we may recognize him on that day when the pendulum shall swing him
triumphantly back into our midst, and "locality" shall in its turn
pass out of vogue.

I submit this simile of the pendulum with some diffidence to those
eager theorists who had rather believe that their art is advancing
steadily, but at a fair rate of speed, towards perfection. My own less
cheerful--yet not altogether cheerless view--is that the various
fashions in art swing to and fro upon intersecting curves. Some of the
points of intersection are fortunate points--others are obviously the
reverse; and generally the fortunate points lie near the middle of
each arc, or the mean; while the less fortunate ones lie towards the
ends, that is, towards excess upon one side or another. I have already
said that, in the amount of attention they pay to locality just now,
the novelists seem to be running into excess. If I must choose between
one excess and the other--between the carpet-bagger and the writer of
"dialect-stories," each at his worst--I unhesitatingly choose the
latter. But that is probably because I happened to be born in the

Let us get back (I hear you implore) to the historical point of view,
if possible: anywhere, anywhere, out of the _Poetics!_ And I admit
that a portion of the preceding paragraph reads like a bad parody of
that remarkable work. Well, then, I believe that our imaginary
historian--I suppose he will be a German: but we need not let our
imagination dwell upon _that_--will find a dozen reasons in
contemporary life to account for the attention now paid by novelists
to "locality." He will find one of them, no doubt, in the development
of locomotion by steam. He will point out that any cause which makes
communication easier between two given towns is certain to soften the
difference in the characteristics of their inhabitants: that the
railway made communication easier and quicker year by year; and its
tendency was therefore to obliterate local peculiarities. He will
describe how at first the carpet-bagger went forth in railway-train
and steamboat, rejoicing in his ability to put a girdle round the
world in a few weeks, and disposed to ignore those differences of race
and region which he had no time to consider and which he was daily
softening into uniformity. He will then relate that towards the close
of the nineteenth century, when these differences were rapidly
perishing, people began to feel the loss of them and recognize their
scientific and romantic value; and that a number of writers entered
into a struggle against time and the carpet-bagger, to study these
differences and place them upon record, before all trace of them
should disappear. And then I believe our historian, though he may find
that in 1894 we paid too much attention to the _minutiæ_ of dialect,
folk-lore and ethnic differences, and were inclined to overlay with
these the more catholic principles of human conduct, will acknowledge
that in our hour we did the work that was most urgent. Our hour, no
doubt, is not the happiest; but, since this is the work it brings,
there can be no harm in going about it zealously.


Nov. 12, 1892. Mr. Gilbert Parker.

Mr. Gilbert Parker's book of Canadian tales, "Pierre and His People"
(Methuen and Co.), is delightful for more than one reason. To begin
with, the tales themselves are remarkable, and the language in which
they are told, though at times it overshoots the mark by a long way
and offends by what I may call an affected virility, is always
distinguished. You feel that Mr. Parker considers his sentences, not
letting his bolts fly at a venture, but aiming at his effects
deliberately. It is the trick of promising youth to shoot high and
send its phrases in parabolic curves over the target. But a slight
wildness of aim is easily corrected, and to see the target at all is a
more conspicuous merit than the public imagines. Now Mr. Parker sees
his target steadily; he has a thoroughly good notion of what a short
story ought to be: and more than two or three stories in his book are
as good as can be.

Open Air v. Clubs.

But to me the most pleasing quality in the book is its open-air
flavor. Here is yet another young author, and one of the most
promising, joining the healthy revolt against the workshops. Though
for my sins I have to write criticism now and then, and use the
language of the workshops, I may claim to be one of the rebels, having
chosen to pitch a small tent far from cities and to live out of doors:
and it rejoices me to see the movement growing, as it undoubtedly has
grown during the last few years, and find yet one more of the younger
men refusing, in Mr. Stevenson's words, to cultivate restaurant fat,
to fall in mind "to a thing perhaps as low as many types of
_bourgeois_--the implicit or exclusive artist." London is an alluring
dwelling-place for an author, even for one who desires to write about
the country. He is among the paragraph-writers, and his reputation
swells as a cucumber under glass. Being in sight of the newspaper men,
he is also in their mind. His prices will stand higher than if he go
out into the wilderness. Moreover, he has there the stimulating talk
of the masters in his profession, and will be apt to think that his
intelligence is developing amazingly, whereas in fact he is developing
all on one side; and the end of him is--the Exclusive Artist:--

    "_When the flicker of London sun falls faint on the
            Club-room's green and gold
     The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their
            pens in the mould--
     They scratch with their pens in the mould of their
            graves and the ink and the anguish start,
     For the Devil mutters behind the leaves: 'It's pretty,
            but is it Art?'_"

The spirit of our revolt is indicated clearly enough on that page of
Mr. Stevenson's "Wrecker," from which I have already quoted a

    "That was a home word of Pinkerton's, deserving to be writ in
     letters of gold on the portico of every School of Art: 'What I
     can't see is why you should want to do nothing else.' The dull
     man is made, not by the nature, but by the degree of his
     immersion in a single business. And all the more if that be
     sedentary, uneventful, and ingloriously safe. More than half of
     him will then remain unexercised and undeveloped; the rest will
     be distended and deformed by over-nutrition, over-cerebration and
     the heat of rooms. And I have often marvelled at the impudence of
     gentlemen who describe and pass judgment on the life of man, in
     almost perfect ignorance of all its necessary elements and
     natural careers. Those who dwell in clubs and studios may paint
     excellent pictures or write enchanting novels. There is one thing
     that they should not do: they should pass no judgment on man's
     destiny, for it is a thing with which they are unacquainted.
     Their own life is an excrescence of the moment, doomed, in the
     vicissitude of history, to pass and disappear. The eternal life
     of man, spent under sun and rain and in rude physical effort,
     lies upon one side, scarce changed since the beginning."

A few weeks ago our novelists were discussing the reasons why they
were novelists and not playwrights. The discussion was sterile enough,
in all conscience: but one contributor--it was "Lucas Malet"--managed
to make it clear that English fiction has a character to lose. "If
there is one thing," she said, "which as a nation we understand, it is
_out-of-doors_ by land and sea." Heaven forbid that, with only one
Atlantic between me and Mr. W.D. Howells, I should enlarge upon any
merit of the English novel: but I do suggest that this open-air
quality is a characteristic worth preserving, and that nothing is so
likely to efface it as the talk of workshops. It is worth preserving
because it tends to keep us in sight of the elemental facts of human
nature. After all, men and women depend for existence on the earth and
on the sky that makes earth fertile; and man's last act will be, as it
was his first, to till the soil. All empires, cities, tumults, civil
and religious wars, are transitory in comparison. The slow toil of
the farm-laborer, the endurance of the seaman, outlast them all.

Open Air in Criticism.

That studio-talk tends to deaden this sense of the open-air is just
as certain. It runs not upon Nature, but upon the presentation of
Nature. I am almost ready to assert that it injures a critic as
surely as it spoils a creative writer. Certainly I remember that
the finest appreciation of Carlyle--a man whom every critic among
English-speaking races had picked to pieces and discussed and
reconstructed a score of times--was left to be uttered by an inspired
loafer in Camden, New Jersey. I love to read of Whitman dropping the
newspaper that told him of Carlyle's illness, and walking out under
the stars--

    "Every star dilated, more vitreous, larger than usual. Not as in
     some clear nights when the larger stars entirely outshine the
     rest. Every little star or cluster just as distinctly visible and
     just as high. Berenice's hair showing every gem, and new ones. To
     the north-east and north the Sickle, the Goat and Kids,
     Cassiopeia, Castor and Pollux, and the two Dippers. While through
     the whole of this silent indescribable show, inclosing and
     bathing my whole receptivity, ran the thought of Carlyle dying."

In such a mood and place--not in a club after a dinner unearned by
exercise--a man is likely, if ever, to utter great criticism as well
as to conceive great poems. It is from such a mood and place that we
may consider the following fine passage fitly to issue:--

    "The way to test how much he has left his country were to
     consider, or try to consider, for a moment the array of British
     thought, the resultant _ensemble_ of the last fifty years, as
     existing to-day, _but with Carlyle left out._ It would be like an
     army with no artillery. The show were still a gay and rich
     one--Byron, Scott, Tennyson, and many more--horsemen and rapid
     infantry, and banners flying--but the last heavy roar so dear to
     the ear of the trained soldier, and that settles fate and
     victory, would be lacking."

For critic and artist, as for their fellow-creatures, I believe an
open-air life to be the best possible. And that is why I am glad to
read in certain newspaper paragraphs that Mr. Gilbert Parker is at
this moment on the wide seas, and bound for Quebec, where he starts to
collect material for a new series of short stories. His voyage will
loose him, in all likelihood, from the little he retains of club art.

Of course, a certain proportion of our novelists must write of town
life: and to do this fitly they must live in town. But they must
study in the town itself, not in a club. Before anyone quotes Dickens
against me, let him reflect, first on the immensity of Dickens'
genius, and next on the conditions under which Dickens studied London.
If every book be a part of its writer's autobiography I invite the
youthful author who now passes his evenings in swapping views about
Art with his fellow cockneys to pause and reflect if he is indeed
treading in Dickens' footsteps or stands in any path likely to lead
him to results such as Dickens achieved.


Nov. 5, 1892. An Itinerary.

Besides the glorious exclusiveness of it, there is a solid advantage
just now, in not being an aspirant for the Laureateship. You can go
out into the wilderness for a week without troubling to leave an
address. A week or so back I found with some difficulty a friend who
even in his own judgment has no claim to the vacant office, and we set
out together across Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Quantocks, by eccentric
paths over the southern ranges of Wales to the Wye, and homewards by
canoe between the autumn banks of that river. The motto of the voyage
was Verlaine's line--

     "Et surtout ne parlons pas littérature"

--especially poetry. I think we felt inclined to congratulate each
other after passing the Quantocks in heroic silence; but were content
to read respect in each other's eyes.

The Return to Literature.

On our way home we fell across a casual copy of the _Globe_
newspaper, and picked up a scrap of information about the Blorenge, a
mountain we had climbed three days before. It is (said the _Globe_)
the only thing in the world that rhymes with orange. From this we
inferred that the Laureate had not been elected during our wanderings,
and that the Anglo-Saxon was still taking an interest in poetry. It
was so.

Public Excursions in Verse.

The progress of this amusing epidemic may be traced in the _Times_.
It started mildly and decorously with the death of a politician. The
writer of Lord Sherbrooke's obituary notice happened to remember and
transcribe the rather flat epigram beginning--

    "Here lie the bones of Robert Lowe,
     Where he's gone to I don't know...."

with Lowe's own Latin translation of the same. At once the _Times_ was
flooded with other versions by people who remembered the lines more or
less imperfectly, who had clung each to his own version since
childhood, who doubted if the epigram were originally written on Lord
Sherbrooke, who had seen it on an eighteenth-century tombstone in
several parts of England, and so on. London Correspondents took up
the game and carried it into the provincial press. Then country
clergymen bustled up and tried to recall the exact rendering; while
others who had never heard of the epigram waxed emulous and produced
translations of their own, with the Latin of which the local
compositor made sport after his kind. For weeks there continued quite
a pretty rivalry among these decaying scholars.

The gentle thunders of this controversy had scarcely died down when
the _Times_ quoted a four-lined epigram about Mr. Leech making a
speech, and Mr. Parker making something darker that was dark enough
without; and another respectable profession, which hitherto had
remained cold, began to take fire and dispute with ardor. The Church,
the Legislature, the Bar, were all excited by this time. They strained
on the verge of surpassing feats, should the occasion be given. From
men in this mood the occasion is rarely withheld. Lord Tennyson died.
He had written at Cambridge a prize poem on Timbuctoo. Somebody else,
at Cambridge or elsewhere, had also written about Timbuctoo and a
Cassowary that ate a missionary with his this and his that and his
hymn-book too. Who was this somebody? Did he write it at Cambridge
(home of poets)? And what were the "trimmings," as Mr. Job Trotter
would say, with which the missionary was eaten?

Poetry was in the air by this time. It would seem that those treasures
which the great Laureate had kept close were by his death unlocked and
spread over England, even to the most unexpected corners. "All have
got the seed," and already a dozen gentlemen were busily growing the
flower in the daily papers. It was not to be expected that our
senators, barristers, stockbrokers, having proved their strength,
would stop short at Timbuctoo and the Cassowary. Very soon a bold
egregious wether jumped the fence into the Higher Criticism, and gave
us a new and amazing interpretation of the culminating line in
_Crossing the Bar_. The whole flock was quick upon his heels. "Allow
me to remind the readers of your valuable paper that there are _two_
kinds of pilot" is the sentence that now catches our eyes as we open
the _Times_. And according to the _Globe_ if you need a rhyme
for orange you must use Blorenge. And the press exists to supply the real
wants of the public.[A]

They talk of decadence. But who will deny the future to a race capable
of producing, on the one hand, _Crossing the Bar_--and on the other,
this comment upon it, signed "T.F.W." and sent to the _Times_ from
Cambridge, October 27th, 1892?--

    "... a poet so studious of fitness of language as Tennyson would
     hardly, I suspect, have thrown off such words on such an occasion
     haphazard. If the analogy is to be inexorably criticised, may it
     not be urged that, having in his mind not the mere passage 'o'er
     life's solemn main,' which we all are taking, with or without
     reflection, but the near approach to an unexplored ocean beyond
     it, he was mentally assigning to the pilot in whom his confidence
     was fast the _status_ of the navigator of old days, the
     sailing-master, on whose knowledge and care crews and captains
     engaged in expeditions alike relied? Columbus himself married the
     daughter of such a man, _un piloto Italiano famoso navigante_.
     Camoens makes the people of Mozambique offer Vasco da Gama a
     _piloto_ by whom his fleet shall be deftly (_sabiamente_)
     conducted across the Indian Ocean. In the following century
     (1520-30) Sebastian Cabot, then in the service of Spain,
     commanded a squadron which was to pass through the Straits of
     Magellan to the Moluccas, having been appointed by Charles V.
     Grand Pilot of Castile. The French still call the mates of
     merchant vessels--that is, the officers who watch about, take
     charge of the deck--_pilotes_, and this designation is not
     impossibly reserved to them as representing the _pilote
     hauturier_ of former times, the scientific guide of ships _dans
     la haute mer_, as distinguished from the _pilote côtier_, who
     simply hugged the shore. The last class of pilot, it is almost
     superfluous to observe, is still with us and does take our ships,
     inwards or outwards, across the bar, if there be one, and does no
     more. The _hauturier_ has long been replaced in all countries by
     the captain, and it must be within the experience of some of us
     that when outward bound the captain as often as not has been the
     last man to come on board. We did not meet him until the ship,
     which until his arrival was in the hands of the _côtier_, was
     well out of harbour. Then our _côtier_ left us."



[A] Note, Oct. 21, 1893.--The nuisance revived again when Mr.
Nettleship the younger perished on Mont Blanc. And again, the friend
of Lowe and Nettleship, the great Master of Balliol, had hardly gone
to his grave before a dispute arose, not only concerning his parentage
(about which any man might have certified himself at the smallest
expense of time and trouble), but over an unusually pointless epigram
that was made at Cambridge many years ago, and neither on him, nor on
his father, but on an entirely different Jowett, _Semper ego auditor

     If a funny "Cantab" write a dozen funny rhymes,
     Need a dozen "Cantabs" write about it to the _Times_?
     Need they write, at any rate, a generation after,
     Stating cause and date of joke and reasons for their laughter?


June 24, 1893. March 4, 1804. In what respect Remarkable.

What seems to me chiefly remarkable in the popular conception of a
Poet is its unlikeness to the truth. Misconception in this case has
been flattered, I fear, by the poets themselves:--

    "The poet in a golden Clime was born,
       With golden stars above;
     Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
       The love of love.
     He saw thro' life and death, thro' good and ill;
       He saw thro' his own soul.
     The marvel of the Everlasting Will,
       An open scroll,
     Before him lay...."

I should be sorry to vex any poet's mind with my shallow wit; but this
passage always reminds me of the delusions of the respectable

                "At my birth
     The frame and huge foundation of the earth
     Shak'd like a coward."

--and Hotspur's interpretation (slightly petulant, to be sure), "Why,
so it would have done at the time if your mother's cat had but
kittened, though you yourself had never been born." I protest that I
reverence poetry and the poets: but at the risk of being warned off
the holy ground as a "dark-browed sophist," must declare my plain
opinion that the above account of the poet's birth and native gifts
does not consist with fact.

Yet it consents with the popular notion, which you may find presented
or implied month by month and week by week, in the reviews; and even
day by day--for it has found its way into the newspapers. Critics have
observed that considerable writers fall into two classes--

Two lines of Poetic Development.

(1) Those who start with their heads full of great thoughts, and are
from the first occupied rather with their matter than with the manner
of expressing it.

(2) Those who begin with the love of expression and intent to be
artists in words, _and come through expression to profound thought_.

The Popular Type.

Now, for some reason it is fashionable just now to account Class 1 the
more respectable; a judgment to which, considering that Virgil and
Shakespeare belong to Class 2, I refuse my assent. It is fashionable
to construct an imaginary figure out of the characteristics of Class
1, and set him up as the Typical Poet. The poet at whose nativity
Tennyson assists in the above verses of course belongs to Class 1. A
babe so richly dowered can hardly help his matter overcrowding his
style; at least, to start with.

But this is not all. A poet who starts with this tremendous equipment
can hardly help being something too much for the generation in which
he is born. Consequently, the Typical Poet is misunderstood by his
contemporaries, and probably persecuted. In his own age his is a voice
crying in the wilderness; in the wilderness he speeds the "viewless
arrows of his thought"; which fly far, and take root as they strike
earth, and blossom; and so Truth multiplies, and in the end (most
likely after his death) the Typical Poet comes by his own.

Such is the popular conception of the Typical Poet, and I observe
that it fascinates even educated people. I have in mind the recent
unveiling of Mr. Onslow Ford's Shelley Memorial at University College,
Oxford. Those who assisted at that ceremony were for the most part men
and women of high culture. Excesses such as affable Members of
Parliament commit when distributing school prizes or opening free
public libraries were clearly out of the question. Yet even here, and
almost within the shadow of Bodley's great library, speaker after
speaker assumed as axiomatic this curious fallacy--that a Poet is
necessarily a thinker in advance of his age, and therefore peculiarly
liable to persecution at the hands of his contemporaries.

How supported by History.

But logic, I believe, still flourishes in Oxford; and induction still
has its rules. Now, however many different persons Homer may have
been, I cannot remember that one of him suffered martyrdom, or even
discomfort, on account of his radical doctrine. I seem to remember
that Æchylus enjoyed the esteem of his fellow-citizens, sided with the
old aristocratic party, and lived long enough to find his own
tragedies considered archaic; that Sophocles, towards the end of a
very prosperous life, was charged with senile decay and consequent
inability to administer his estates--two infirmities which even his
accusers did not seek to connect with advanced thinking; and that
Euripides, though a technical innovator, stood hardly an inch ahead of
the fashionable dialectic of his day, and suffered only from the
ridicule of his comic contemporaries and the disdain of his
wife--misfortunes incident to the most respectable. Pindar and Virgil
were court favorites, repaying their patrons in golden song. Dante,
indeed, suffered banishment; but his banishment was just a move in a
political (or rather a family) game. Petrarch and Ariosto were not
uncomfortable in their generations. Chaucer and Shakespeare lived
happy lives and sang in the very key of their own times. Puritanism
waited for its hour of triumph to produce its great poet, who lived
unmolested when the hour of triumph passed and that of reprisals
succeeded. Racine was a royal pensioner; Goethe a chamberlain and the
most admired figure of his time. Of course, if you hold that these
poets one and all pale their ineffectual fires before the radiant
Shelley, our argument must go a few steps farther back. I have
instanced them as acknowledged kings of song.

The Case of Tennyson.

Tennyson was not persecuted. He was not (and more honor to him for his
clearness) even misunderstood. I have never met with the contention
that he stood an inch ahead of the thought of his time. As for seeing
through death and life and his own soul, and having the marvel of the
everlasting will spread before him like an open scroll,--well, to
begin with, I doubt if these things ever happened to any man. Heaven
surely has been, and is, more reticent than the verse implies. But if
they ever happened, Tennyson most certainly was not the man they
happened to. What Tennyson actually sang, till he taught himself to
sing better, was:--

    "Airy, fairy Lilian,
     Flitting fairy Lilian,
     When I ask her if she love me,
     Claps her tiny hands above me,
         Laughing all she can;
     She'll not tell me if she love me,
         Cruel little Lilian."

There is not much of the scorn of scorn, or the love of love, or the
open scroll of the everlasting will, about _Cruel Little Lilian_. But
there _is_ a distinct striving after style--a striving that, as
everyone knows, ended in mastery: and through style Tennyson reached
such heights of thought as he was capable of. To the end his thought
remained inferior to his style: and to the end the two in him were
separable, whereas in poets of the very first rank they are
inseparable. But that towards the end his style lifted his thought to
heights of which even _In Memoriam_ gave no promise cannot, I think,
be questioned by any student of his collected works.

Tennyson belongs, if ever poet belonged, to Class 2: and it is the
prettiest irony of fate that, having unreasonably belauded Class 1, he
is now being found fault with for not conforming to the supposed
requirements of that Class. He, who spoke of the poet as of a seër
"through life and death," is now charged with seeing but a short way
beyond his own nose. The Rev. Stopford Brooke finds that he had little
sympathy with the aspirations of the struggling poor; that he bore
himself coldly towards the burning questions of the hour; that, in
short, he stood anywhere but in advance of his age. As if plenty of
people were not interested in these things! Why, I cannot step out
into the street without running against somebody who is in advance of
the times on some point or another.

Of Virgil and Shakespeare.

Virgil and Shakespeare were neither martyrs nor preachers despised in
their generation. I have said that as poets they also belong to Class
2. Will a champion of the Typical Poet (new style) dispute this, and
argue that Virgil and Shakespeare, though they escaped persecution,
yet began with matter that overweighted their style--with deep
stuttered thoughts--in fine, with a Message to their Time? I think
that view can hardly be maintained. We have the _Eclogues_ before the
_Æneid_; and _The Comedy of Errors_ before _As You Like It_.
Expression comes first; and through expression, thought. These are the
greatest names, or of the greatest: and they belong to Class 2.

Of Milton.

Again, no English poetry is more thoroughly informed with thought than
Milton's. Did he find big thoughts hustling within him for utterance?
And did he at an early age stutter in numbers till his oppressed soul
found relief? And was it thus that he attained the glorious manner of

    "Seasons return, but not to me returns
     Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn...."

--and so on. No, to be short, it was not. At the age of twenty-four,
or thereabouts, he deliberately proposed to himself to be a great
poet. To this end he practised and studied, and travelled unweariedly
until his thirty-first year. Then he tried to make up his mind what to
write about. He took some sheets of paper--they are to be seen at this
day in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge--and set down no less
than ninety-nine subjects for his proposed _magnum opus_, before he
could decide upon _Paradise Lost_. To be sure, when the _magnum opus_
was written it fetched £5 only. But even this does not prove that
Milton was before his age. Perhaps he was behind it. _Paradise Lost_
appeared in 1667: in 1657 it might have fetched considerably more than

If the Typical Poet have few points in common with Shakespeare or
Milton, I fear that the Typical Poet begins to be in a bad way.

Of Coleridge.

Shall we try Coleridge? He had "great thoughts"--thousands of them. On
the other hand, he never had the slightest difficulty in uttering
them, in prose. His great achievements in verse--his _Genevieve_, his
_Christabel_, his _Kubla Khan_, his _Ancient Mariner_--are
achievements of expression. When they appeal from the senses to the
intellect their appeal is usually quite simple.

    "He prayeth best who loveth best
     All things both great and small."

No, I am afraid Coleridge is not the Typical Poet.

On the whole I suspect the Typical Poet to be a hasty generalization
from Shelley.


May 11, 1895. A Prelude to Poetry.

"To those who love the poets most, who care most for their ideals,
this little book ought to be the one indispensable book of devotion,
the _credo_ of the poetic faith." "This little book" is the volume
with which Mr. Ernest Rhys prefaces the pretty series of Lyrical Poets
which he is editing for Messrs. Dent & Co. He calls it _The Prelude to
Poetry_, and in it he has brought together the most famous arguments
stated from time to time by the English poets in defence and praise of
their own art. Sidney's magnificent "Apologie" is here, of course, and
two passages from Ben Jonson's "Discoveries," Wordsworth's preface to
the second edition of "Lyrical Ballads," the fourteenth chapter of the
"Biographia Literaria," and Shelley's "Defence."

Poets as Prose-writers.

What admirable prose these poets write! Southey, to be sure, is not
represented in this volume. Had he written at length upon his art--in
spite of his confession that, when writing prose, "of what is now
called style not a thought enters my head at any time"--we may be sure
the reflection would have been even more obvious than it is. But
without him this small collection makes out a splendid case against
all that has been said in disparagement of the prose style of poets.
Let us pass what Hazlitt said of Coleridge's prose; or rather let us
quote it once again for its vivacity, and so pass on--

    "One of his (Coleridge's) sentences winds its 'forlorn way
     obscure' over the page like a patriarchal procession with camels
     laden, wreathed turbans, household wealth, the whole riches of
     the author's mind poured out upon the barren waste of his
     subject. The palm tree spreads its sterile branches overhead, and
     the land of promise is seen in the distance."

All this is very neatly malicious, and particularly the last
co-ordinate sentence. But in the chapter chosen by Mr. Rhys from the
"Biographia Literaria" Coleridge's prose is seen at its
best--obedient, pertinent, at once imaginative and restrained--as in
the conclusion--

    "Finally, good sense is the body of poetic genius, fancy its
     drapery, motion its life, and imagination the soul that is
     everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one graceful and
     intelligent whole."

The prose of Sidney's _Apologie_ is Sidney's best; and when that has
been said, nothing remains but to economize in quoting. I will take
three specimens only. First then, for beauty:--

    "Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapistry, as divers
     Poets have done, neither with plesant rivers, fruitful trees,
     sweet-smelling flowers: nor whatsoever else may make the too much
     loved earth more lovely. Her world is brasen, the Poets only
     deliver a golden: but let those things alone and goe to man, for
     whom as the other things are, so it seemeth in him her uttermost
     cunning is imployed, and know whether shee have brought forth so
     true a lover as _Theagines_, so constant a friende as _Pilades_,
     so valiant a man as _Orlando_, so right a Prince as _Xenophon's
     Cyrus_; so excellent a man every way as _Virgil's Aeneas_...."

Next for wit--roguishness, if you like the term better:--

     "And therefore, if _Cato_ misliked _Fulvius_, for carrying
     _Ennius_ with him to the field, it may be answered, that if
     _Cato_ misliked it, the noble _Fulvius_ liked it, or else he had
     not done it."

And lastly for beauty and wit combined:--

    "For he (the Poet) doth not only show the way, but giveth so
     sweete a prospect into the way, as will intice any man to enter
     into it. Nay he doth, as if your journey should lye through a
     fayre Vineyard, at the first give you a cluster of Grapes: that
     full of that taste, you may long to passe further. He beginneth
     not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with
     interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulnesse: but he
     cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either
     accompanied with or prepared for the well inchanting skill of
     Musicke: and with a tale forsooth he cometh unto you: with a tale
     which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney

"Is not this a glorious way to talk?" demanded the Rev. T.E. Brown of
this last passage, when he talked about Sidney, the other day, in Mr.
Henley's _New Review_. "No one can fail," said Mr. Brown, amiably
assuming the fineness of his own ear to be common to all mankind--"no
one can fail to observe the sweetness and the strength, the
outspokenness, the downrightness, and, at the same time, the nervous
delicacy of pausation, the rhythm all ripple and suspended fall, the
dainty _but_, the daintier _and forsooth_, as though the
pouting of a proud reserve curved the fine lip of him, and had to be
atoned for by the homeliness of _the chimney-corner_."

Everybody admires Sidney's prose. But how of this?--

    "Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is
     the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all
     science. Emphatically it may be said of the Poet, as Shakespeare
     has said of man, 'that he looks before and after.' He is the rock
     of defence of human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying
     everywhere with him relationship and love. In spite of difference
     of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and
     customs, _in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and
     things violently destroyed_, the Poet binds together by passion
     and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread
     over the whole earth, and over all time."

It is Wordsworth who speaks--too rhetorically, perhaps. At any rate,
the prose will not compare with Sidney's. But it is good prose,
nevertheless; and the phrase I have ventured to italicise is superb.

Their high claims for Poesy.

As might be expected, the poets in this volume agree in pride of their
calling. We have just listened to Wordsworth. Shelley quotes Tasso's
proud sentence--"Non c'è in mondo chi merita nome di creatore, se non
Iddio ed il Poeta": and himself says, "The jury which sits in judgment
upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of
his peers: it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of the
wise of many generations." Sidney exalts the poet above the historian
and the philosopher; and Coleridge asserts that "no man was ever yet a
great poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher." Ben
Jonson puts it characteristically: "Every beggarly corporation affords
the State a mayor or two bailiffs yearly; but _Solus rex, aut poeta,
non quotannis nascitur_." The longer one lives, the more cause one
finds to rejoice that different men have different ways of saying the
same thing.

Inspiration not Improvisation.

The agreement of all these poets on some other matters is more
remarkable. Most of them claim _inspiration_ for the great
practitioners of their art; but wonderful is the unanimity with which
they dissociate this from _improvisation_. They are sticklers for the
rules of the game. The Poet does not pour his full heart

     "In profuse strains of _unpremeditated_ art."

On the contrary, his rapture is the sudden result of long
premeditation. The first and most conspicuous lesson of this volume
seems to be that Poetry is an _art_, and therefore has rules. Next
after this, one is struck with the carefulness with which these
practitioners, when it comes to theory, stick to their Aristotle.

Poetry not mere Metrical Composition

For instance, they are practically unanimous in accepting Aristotle's
contention that it is not the metrical form that makes the poem.
"Verse," says Sidney, "is an ornament and no cause to poetry, since
there have been many most excellent poets that never versified, and
now swarm many versifiers that need never answer to the name of
poets." Wordsworth apologizes for using the word "Poetry" as
synonymous with metrical composition. "Much confusion," he says, "has
been introduced into criticism by this contradistinction of Poetry and
Prose, instead of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of
Fact or Science. The only strict antithesis to Prose is Metre: nor is
this, in truth, a _strict_ antithesis, because lines and passages of
metre so naturally occur in writing prose that it would be scarcely
possible to avoid them, even were it desirable." And Shelley--"It is
by no means essential that a poet should accommodate his language to
this traditional form, so that the harmony, which is its spirit, be
observed.... The distinction between poets and prose writers is a
vulgar error." Shelley goes on to instance Plato and Bacon as true
poets, though they wrote in prose. "The popular division into prose
and verse," he repeats, "is inadmissible in accurate philosophy."

Its philosophic function.

Then again, upon what Wordsworth calls "the more philosophical
distinction" between Poetry and Matter of Fact--quoting, of course,
the famous +"Philosophôteron kai spoudaioteron"+ passage in the
_Poetics_--it is wonderful with what hearty consent our poets pounce
upon this passage, and paraphrase it, and expand it, as the great
justification of their art: which indeed it is. Sidney gives the
passage at length. Wordsworth writes, "Aristotle, I have been told,
hath said that Poetry is the most philosophic of all writings: it is
so." Coleridge quotes Sir John Davies, who wrote of Poesy (surely with
an eye on the _Poetics_):

     "From their gross matter she abstracts their forms,
     And draws a kind of quintessence from things;
     Which to her proper nature she transforms
     To bear them light on her celestial wings.

     "Thus does she, when from individual states
       She doth abstract the universal kinds;
     Which then reclothed in divers names and fates
       Steal access through our senses to our minds."

And Shelley has a remarkable paraphrase, ending, "The story of
particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which
should be beautiful: poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that
which is distorted."

In fine, this book goes far to prove of poetry, as it has been proved
over and over again of other arts, that it is the men big enough to
break the rules who accept and observe them most cheerfully.


Sept. 29, 1894. The "Great Heart" of the Public.

I observe that our hoary friend, the Great Heart of the Public, has
been taking his annual outing in September. Thanks to the German
Emperor and the new head of the House of Orleans, he has had the
opportunity of a stroll through the public press arm in arm with his
old crony and adversary, the Divine Right of Kings. And the two have
gone once more a-roaming by the light of the moon, to drop a tear,
perchance, on the graves of the Thin End of the Wedge and the Stake in
the Country. You know the unhappy story?--how the Wedge drove its thin
end into the Stake, with fatal results: and how it died of remorse and
was buried at the cross-roads with the Stake in its inside! It is a
pathetic tale, and the Great Heart of the Public can always be trusted
to discriminate true pathos from false.

Miss Marie Corelli's Opinion of it.

It was Mr. G.B. Burgin, in the September number of the _Idler_, who
let the Great Heart loose this time--unwittingly, I am sure; for Mr.
Burgin, when he thinks for himself (as he usually does), writes sound
sense and capital English. But in the service of Journalism Mr. Burgin
called on Miss Marie Corelli, the authoress of _Barabbas_, and asked
what she thought of the value of criticism. Miss Corelli "idealised
the subject by the poetic manner in which she mingled tea and
criticism together." She said--

    "I think authors do not sufficiently bear in mind the important
     fact that, in this age of ours, the public _thinks for itself_
     much more extensively than we give it credit for. It is a
     cultured public, and its great brain is fully capable of deciding
     things. It rather objects to be treated like a child and told
     'what to read and what to avoid'; and, moreover, we must not fail
     to note that it mistrusts criticism generally, and seldom reads
     'reviews.' And why? Simply 'logrolling.' It is perfectly aware,
     for instance, that Mr. Theodore Watts is logroller-in-chief to
     Mr. Swinburne; that Mr. Le Gallienne 'rolls' greatly for Mr.
     Norman Gale; and that Mr. Andrew Lang tumbles his logs along over
     everything for as many as his humour fits...."

--I don't know the proportion of tea to criticism in all this: but
Miss Corelli can hardly be said to "idealise the subject" here:--

     "... The public is the supreme critic; and though it does not
     write in the _Quarterly_ or the _Nineteenth Century_, it thinks
     and talks independently of everything and everybody, and on its
     thought and word alone depends the fate of any piece of

Mr. Hall Caine's View.

Then Mr. Burgin called on Mr. Hall Caine, who "had just finished
breakfast." Mr. Hall Caine gave reasons which compelled him to believe
that "for good or bad, criticism is a tremendous force." But he, too,
confessed that in his opinion the public is the "ultimate critic." "It
often happens that the public takes books on trust from the professed
guides of literature, but if the books are not _right_, it drops
them." And he proceeded to make an observation, with which we may most
cordially agree. "I am feeling," he said, "increasingly, day by day,
that _rightness_ in imaginative writing is more important than
subject, or style, or anything else. If a story is right in its theme,
and the evolution of its theme, it will live; if it is not right, it
will die, whatever its secondary literary qualities."

In what sense the Public is the "Ultimate Critic."

I say that we may agree with this most cordially: and it need not cost
us much to own that the public is the "ultimate critic," if we mean no
more than this, that, since the public holds the purse, it rests
ultimately with the public to buy, or neglect to buy, an author's
books. That, surely, is obvious enough without the aid of fine
language. But if Mr. Hall Caine mean that the public, without
instruction from its betters, is the best judge of a book; if he
consent with Miss Corelli that the general public is a cultured public
with a great brain, and by the exercise of that great brain approves
itself an infallible judge of the rightness or wrongness of a book,
then I would respectfully ask for evidence. The poets and critics of
his time united in praising Campion as a writer of lyrics: the Great
Brain and Heart of the Public neglected him utterly for three
centuries: then a scholar and critic arose and persuaded the public
that Campion was a great lyrical writer: and now the public accepts
him as such. Shall we say, then, the Great Heart of the Public is the
"ultimate judge" of Campion's lyrics? Perhaps: but we might as well
praise for his cleanliness a boy who has been held under the pump.
When Martin Farquhar Tupper wrote, the Great Heart of the Public
expanded towards him at once. The public bought his effusions by tens
of thousands. Gradually the small voice of skilled criticism made
itself heard, and the public grew ashamed of itself; and, at length,
laughed at Tupper. Shall we, then, call the public the ultimate judge
of Tupper? Perhaps: but we might as well praise the continence of a
man who turns in disgust from drink on the morning after a drunken

What is "The Public"?

The proposition that the Man in the Street is a better judge of
literature than the Critic--the man who knows little than the man who
knows more--wears (to my mind, at least) a slightly imbecile air on
the face of it. It also appears to me that people are either confusing
thought or misusing language when they confer the title of "supreme
critic" on the last person to be persuaded. And, again, what is "the
public?" I gather that Miss Corelli's story of _Barabbas_ has had an
immense popular success. But so, I believe, has the _Deadwood Dick_
series of penny dreadfuls. And the gifted author of _Deadwood Dick_
may console himself (as I daresay he does) for the neglect of the
critics by the thought that the Great Brain[B] of the Public is the
supreme judge of literature. But obviously he and Miss Corelli will
not have the same Public in their mind. If for "the Great Brain of the
Public" we substitute "the Great Brain of that Part of the Public
which subscribes to Mudie's," we may lose something of impressiveness,
but we shall at least know what we are talking about.

       *       *       *       *       *

June 17, 1893. Mr. Gosse's View.

Astounding as the statement must appear to any constant reader of
the Monthly Reviews, it is mainly because Mr. Gosse happens to be
a man of letters that his opinion upon literary questions is worth
listening to. In his new book[C] he discusses a dozen or so: and
one of them--the question, "What Influence has Democracy upon
Literature?"--not only has a chapter to itself, but seems to lie at
the root of all the rest. I may add that Mr. Gosse's answer is a
trifle gloomy.

     "As we filed slowly out of the Abbey on the afternoon of
     Wednesday, the 12th of October, 1892, there must have occurred to
     others, I think, as to myself, a whimsical and half-terrifying
     sense of the symbolic contrast between what we had left and what
     we had emerged upon. Inside, the grey and vitreous atmosphere,
     the reverberations of music moaning somewhere out of sight, the
     bones and monuments of the noble dead, reverence, antiquity,
     beauty, rest. Outside, in the raw air, a tribe of hawkers urging
     upon the edges of a dense and inquisitive crowd a large sheet of
     pictures of the pursuit of a flea by a 'lady,' and more insidious
     salesmen doing a brisk trade in what they falsely pretended to be
     'Tennyson's last poem.' Next day we read in our newspapers
     affecting accounts of the emotion displayed by the vast crowd
     outside the Abbey--horny hands dashing away the tear,
     seamstresses holding 'the little green volumes' to their faces to
     hide their agitation. Happy for those who could see these with
     their fairy telescopes out of the garrets of Fleet Street. I,
     alas!--though I sought assiduously--could mark nothing of the

Nothing of the kind was there. Why should anything of the kind be
there? Her poetry has been one of England's divinest treasures: but
of her population a very few understand it; and the shrine has always
been guarded by the elect who happen to possess, in varying degrees,
certain qualities of mind and ear. It is, as Mr. Gosse puts it, by a
sustained effort of bluff on the part of these elect that English
poetry is kept upon its high pedestal of honor. The worship of it as
one of the glories of our birth and state is imposed upon the masses
by a small aristocracy of intelligence and taste.

Mr. Gissing's Testimony.

What do the "masses" care for poetry? In an appendix Mr. Gosse prints
a letter from Mr. George Gissing, who, as everyone knows, has studied
the popular mind assiduously, and with startling results. Here are a
few sentences from his letter:--

     (1) "After fifteen years' observation of the poorer classes of
     English folk, chiefly in London and the south, I am pretty well
     assured that, whatever civilising agencies may be at work among
     the democracy, poetry is not one of them."

     (2) "The custodian of a Free Library in a southern city informs
     me that 'hardly once in a month' does a volume of verse pass over
     his counter; that the exceptional applicant (seeking Byron or
     Longfellow) is generally 'the wife of a tradesman;' and that an
     offer of verse to man or woman who comes simply for 'a book' is
     invariably rejected; 'they won't even look at it.'"

     (3) "It was needless folly to pretend that, because one or two of
     Tennyson's poems became largely known through popular recitation,
     therefore Tennyson was dear to the heart of the people, a subject
     of their pride whilst he lived, of their mourning when he died.
     My point is that _no_ poet holds this place in the esteem of the
     English lower orders."

     (4) "Some days before (the funeral) I was sitting in a public
     room, where two men, retired shopkeepers, exchanged an occasional
     word as they read the morning's news. 'A great deal here about
     Lord Tennyson' said one. The 'Lord' was significant. I listened
     anxiously for his companion's reply. 'Ah, yes.' The man moved
     uneasily, and added at once: 'What do you think about this
     long-distance ride?' In that room (I frequented it on successive
     days with this object) not a syllable did I hear regarding
     Tennyson save the sentence faithfully recorded."

Poetry not beloved by any one Class.

Mr. Gissing, be it observed, speaks only of the class which he has
studied: but in talking of "demos," or, more loosely, of "democracy,"
we must be careful not to limit these terms to the "lower" and
"lower-middle" classes. For Poetry, who draws her priests and warders
from all classes of society, is generally beloved of none. The average
country magnate, the average church dignitary, the average
professional man, the average commercial traveller--to all these she
is alike unknown: at least, the insensibility of each is
differentiated by shades so fine that we need not trouble ourselves to
make distinctions. A public school and university education does as
little for the Squire Westerns one meets at country dinner-tables as a
three-guinea subscription to a circulating library for the kind of
matron one comes upon at a _table d'hôte_. Five minutes after hearing
the news of Browning's death I stopped an acquaintance in the street,
a professional man of charming manner, and repeated it to him. He
stared for a moment, and then murmured that he was sorry to hear it.
Clearly he did not wish to hurt my feelings by confessing that he
hadn't the vaguest idea who Browning might be. And if anybody think
this an extreme case, let him turn to the daily papers and read the
names of those who were at Newmarket on that same afternoon when our
great poet was laid in the Abbey with every pretence of national
grief. The pursuit of one horse by another is doubtless a more
elevating spectacle than "the pursuit of a flea by a 'lady,'" but on
that afternoon even a tepid lover of letters must have found an equal
incongruity in both entertainments.

I do not say that the General Public hates Poetry. But I say that
those who care about it are few, and those who know about it are
fewer. Nor do these assert their right of interference as often as
they might. Just once or twice in the last ten or fifteen years they
have pulled up some exceptionally coarse weed on which the General
Public had every disposition to graze, and have pitched it over the
hedge to Lethe wharf, to root itself and fatten there; and terrible as
those of Polydorus have been the shrieks of the avulsed root. But as a
rule they have sat and piped upon the stile and considered the good
cow grazing, confident that in the end she must "bite off more than
she can chew."

The "Outsiders."

Still, the aristocracy of letters exists: and in it, if nowhere else,
titles, social advantages, and commercial success alike count for
nothing; while Royalty itself sits in the Court of the Gentiles. And I
am afraid we must include in the crowd not only those affable
politicians who from time to time open a Public Library and oblige us
with their views upon literature, little realizing what Hecuba is to
them, and still less what they are to Hecuba, but also those affable
teachers of religion, philosophy, and science, who condescend
occasionally to amble through the garden of the Muses, and rearrange
its labels for us while drawing our attention to the rapid
deterioration of the flowerbeds. The author of _The Citizen of the
World_ once compared the profession of letters in England to a Persian
army, "where there are many pioneers, several suttlers, numberless
servants, women and children in abundance, and but few soldiers." Were
he alive to-day he would be forced to include the Volunteers.


[A] In a private letter, from which I am allowed to quote, Mr. Hall
Caine (October 2nd, 1894) explains and (as I think) amends his
position:--"If I had said _time_ instead of _the public_, I should
have expressed myself exactly. It is impossible for me to work up any
enthusiasm for the service done to literature by criticism as a whole.
I have, no doubt, the unenviable advantage over you of having wasted
three mortal months in reading all the literary criticism extant of
the first quarter of this century. It would be difficult to express my
sense of its imbecility, its blundering, and its bad passions. But the
good books it assailed are not lost, and the bad ones it glorified do
not survive. It is not that the public has been the better judge, but
that good work has the seeds of life, while bad work carries with it
the seeds of dissolution. This is the key to the story of Wordsworth
on the one hand, and to the story of Tupper on the other. Tupper did
not topple down because James Hannay smote him. Fifty James Hannays
had shouted him up before. And if there had not been a growing sense
that the big mountain was a mockery, five hundred James Hannays would
not have brought it down. The truth is that it is not the 'critic who
knows' or the public which does not know that determines the ultimate
fate of a book--the immediate fate they may both influence. The book
must do that for itself. If it is right, it lives; if it is wrong, it
dies. And the critic who re-establishes a neglected poet is merely
articulating the growing sense. There have always been a few good
critics, thank God ... but the finest critic is the untutored
sentiment of the public, not of to-day or to-morrow or the next day,
but of all days together--a sentiment which tells if a thing is right
or wrong by holding on to it or letting it drop."

Of course, I agree that a book must ultimately depend for its fate
upon its own qualities. But when Mr. Hall Caine talks of "a growing
sense," I ask, In whom does this sense first grow? And I answer, In
the cultured few who enforce it upon the many--as in this very case of
Wordsworth. And I hold the credit of the result (apart from the
author's share) belongs rather to those few persistent advocates than
to those judges who are only "ultimate" in the sense that they are the
last to be convinced.

[B] If the reader object that I am using the Great Heart and Great
Brain of the Public as interchangeable terms, I would refer him to Mr.
Du Maurier's famous Comic Alphabet, letter Z:--

     "Z is a Zoophyte, whose heart's in his head,
      And whose head's in his turn--rudimentary Z!"

[C] _Questions at Issue_; by Edmund Gosse. London: William Heinemann.


March 16, 1895. The "Woman Who Did," and Mr. Eason who wouldn't.

    "In the romantic little town of 'Ighbury,
     My father kept a Succulating Libary...."

--and, I regret to say, gave himself airs on the strength of it.

The persons in my instructive little story are--

     H.H. Prince Francis of Teck.

     Mr. Grant Allen, author of _The Woman Who Did_.

     Mr. W.T. Stead, Editor of _The Review of Reviews_.

     Messrs. Eason & Son, booksellers and newsvendors, possessing on
     the railways of Ireland a monopoly similar to that enjoyed by
     Messrs. W.H. Smith & Son on the railways of Great Britain.

     Mr. James O'Hara, of 18, Cope Street, Dublin.

     A Clerk.

Now, on the appearance of Mr. Grant Allen's _The Woman Who Did_, Mr.
Stead conceived the desire of criticising it as the "Book of the
Month" in _The Review of Reviews_ for February, 1895. He strongly
dissents from the doctrine of _The Woman Who Did_, and he also
believes that the book indicts, and goes far to destroy, its own
doctrine. This opinion, I may say, is shared by many critics. He says
"Wedlock is to Mr. Grant Allen _Nehushtan_. And the odd thing about it
is that the net effect of the book which he has written with his
heart's blood to destroy this said _Nehushtan_ can hardly fail to
strengthen the foundation of reasoned conviction upon which marriage
rests." And again--"Those who do not know the author, but who take
what I must regard as the saner view of the relations of the sexes,
will rejoice at what might have been a potent force for evil has been
so strangely overruled as to become a reinforcement of the garrison
defending the citadel its author desires so ardently to overthrow.
From the point of view of the fervent apostle of Free Love, this is a
Boomerang of a Book."

Believing this--that the book would be its own best antidote--Mr.
Stead epitomized it in his _Review_, printed copious extracts, and
wound up by indicating his own views and what he deemed the true moral
of the discussion. The _Review_ was published and, so far as Messrs.
W.H. Smith & Son were concerned, passed without comment. But to the
Editor's surprise (he tells the story in the _Westminster Gazette_ of
the 2nd inst.), no sooner was it placed on the market in Ireland than
he received word that every copy had been recalled from the
bookstalls, and that Messrs. Eason had refused to sell a single copy.
On telegraphing for more information, Mr. Stead was sent the following

    "DEAR SIR,--Allen's book is an avowed defence of Free Love, and
     a direct attack upon the Christian view of marriage. Mr. Stead
     criticises Allen's views adversely, but we do not think the
     antidote can destroy the ill-effects of the poison, and we
     decline to be made the vehicle for the distribution of attacks
     upon the most fundamental institution of the Christian
     state.--Yours faithfully,

Mr. Stead thereupon wrote to the managing Director of Messrs. Eason &
Son, and received this reply:--

    "DEAR SIR,--We have considered afresh the character of the
     February number of your _Review_ so far as it relates to the
     notice of Grant Allen's book, and we are more and more confirmed
     in the belief that its influence has been, and is, most

     "Grant Allen is not much heard of in Ireland, and the laudations
     you pronounce on him as a writer, so far as we know him, appear
     wholly unmerited.

     "At any rate, he appears in your _Review_ as the advocate for
     Free Love, and it seems to us strange that you should place his
     work in the exaggerated importance of 'The Book of the Month,'
     accompanied by eighteen pages of comment and quotation, in which
     there is a publicity given to the work out of all proportion to
     its merits.

     "I do not doubt that the topic of Free Love engages the attention
     of the corrupt Londoner. There are plenty of such persons who are
     only too glad to get the sanction of writers for the maintenance
     and practice of their evil thoughts, but the purest and best
     lives in all parts of the field of Christian philanthropy will
     mourn the publicity you have given to this evil book. It is not
     even improbable that the perusal of Grant Allen's book, which you
     have lifted into importance as 'The Book of the Month,' may
     determine the action of souls to their spiritual ruin.

     "The problem of indirect influence is full of mystery, but, as
     the hour of our departure comes near, the possible consequences
     to other minds of the example and teaching of our lives may
     quicken our perceptions, and we may see and deeply regret our
     actions when not directed by the highest authority, the will of
     God.--We are, dear Sir, yours very truly (for Eason & Son,

     "CHARLES EASON, Managing Director."

Exception may be taken to this letter on many points, some trivial and
some important. Of the trivial points we may note with interest Mr.
Eason's assumption that his opinion is wanted on the literary merits
of the ware he vends; and, with concern, the rather slipshod manner in
which he allows himself and his assistants to speak of a gentleman as
"Allen," or "Grant Allen," without the usual prefix. But no one can
fail to see that this is an honest letter--the production of a man
conscious of responsibility and struggling to do his best in
circumstances he imperfectly understands. Nor do I think this view of
Mr. Eason need be seriously modified upon perusal of a letter received
by Mr. Stead from a Mr. James O'Hara, of 18, Cope Street, Dublin, and
printed in the _Westminster Gazette_ of March 11th. Mr. O'Hara

     "DEAR SIR,--The following may interest you and your readers. I
     was a subscriber to the library owned by C. Eason & Co., Limited,
     and in December asked them for _Napoleon and the Fair Sex_, by
     Masson. The librarian informed me Mr. Eason had decided not to
     circulate it, as it contained improper details, which Mr. Eason
     considered immoral. A copy was also refused to one of the
     best-known pressmen in Dublin, a man of mature years and

     "Three days afterwards I saw a young man ask the librarian for
     the same book, and Eason's manager presented it to him with a low
     bow. I remarked on this circumstance to Mr. Charles Eason, who
     told me that he had issued it to this one subscriber only,
     because he was Prince Francis of Teck.

     "I told him it was likely, from the description he had given me
     of it, to be more injurious to a young man such as Prince Francis
     of Teck than to me; but he replied: 'Oh, these high-up people
     _are different_. Besides, they are so influential we cannot
     refuse them. However, if you wish, you can now have the book.'

     "I told Mr. Eason that I did not wish to read it ever since he
     had told me when I first applied for it that it was quite

The two excuses produced by Mr. Eason do not agree very well together.
The first gives us to understand that, in Mr. Eason's opinion,
ordinary moral principles cannot be applied to persons of royal blood.
The second gives us to understand that though, in Mr. Eason's opinion,
ordinary moral principles _can_ be applied to princes, the application
would involve more risk than Mr. Eason cares to undertake. Each of his
excuses, taken apart, is intelligible enough. Taken together they can
hardly be called consistent. But the effects of royal and semi-royal
splendor upon the moral eyesight are well known, and need not be dwelt
on here. After all, what concerns us is not Mr. Eason's attitude
towards Prince Francis of Teck, but Mr. Eason's attitude towards the
reading public. And in this respect, from one point of view--which
happens to be his own--Mr. Eason's attitude seems to me
irreproachable. He is clearly alive to his responsibility, and is
honestly concerned that the goods he purveys to the public shall be
goods of which his conscience approves. Here is no grocer who sands
his sugar before hurrying to family prayer. Here is a man who carries
his religion into his business, and stakes his honor on the purity of
his wares. I think it would be wrong in the extreme to deride Mr.
Eason's action in the matter of _The Woman Who Did_ and Mr. Stead's
review. He is doing his best, as Mr. Stead cheerfully allows.

The reasonable Objection to Bookstall Censorship.

But, as I said above, he is doing his best under circumstances he
imperfectly understands--and, let me add here, in a position which is
unfair to him. That Mr. Eason imperfectly understands his position
will be plain (I think) to anyone who studies his reply to Mr. Stead.
But let me make the point clear; for it is the crucial point in the
discussion of the modern Bookstall Censorship. A great deal may be
said against setting up a censorship of literature. A great deal may
be said in favor of a censorship. But if a censorship there must be,
the censor should be deliberately chosen for his office, and, in
exercising his power, should be directly responsible to the public
conscience. If a censorship there must be, let the community choose a
man whose qualifications have been weighed, a man in whose judgment it
decides that it can rely. But that Tom or Dick or Harry, or Tom Dick
Harry & Co. (Limited), by the process of collaring a commercial
monopoly from the railway companies, should be exalted into the
supreme arbiters of what men or women may or may not be allowed to
read--this surely is unjustifiable by any argument? Mr. Eason may on
the whole be doing more good than harm. He is plainly a very
well-meaning man of business. If he knows a good book from a bad--and
the public has no reason to suppose that he does--I can very well
believe that when his moral and literary judgment came into conflict
with his business interests, he would sacrifice his business
interests. But the interests of good literature and profitable
business cannot always be identical; and whenever they conflict they
put Mr. Eason into a false position. As managing director of Messrs.
Eason & Son, he must consider his shareholders; as supreme arbiter of
letters, he stands directly answerable to the public conscience. I
protest, therefore, that these functions should never be combined in
one man. As readers of THE SPEAKER know, I range myself on the side of
those who would have literature free. But even our opponents, who
desire control, must desire a form of control such as reason


Oct. 5, 1895. Our "Crusaders."

The poor little Penny Dreadful has been catching it once more. Once
more the British Press has stripped to its massive waist and solemnly
squared up to this hardened young offender. It calls this remarkable
performance a "Crusade."

I like these Crusades. They remind one of that merry passage in
_Pickwick_ (p. 254 in the first edition):--

     "Whether Mr. Winkle was seized with a temporary attack of that
     species of insanity which originates in a sense of injury, or
     animated by this display of Mr. Weller's valour, is uncertain;
     but certain it is, that he no sooner saw Mr. Grummer fall, than
     _he made a terrific onslaught on a small boy who stood next to
     him_; whereupon Mr. Snodgrass--"

[Pay attention to Mr. Snodgrass, if you please, and cast your memories
back a year or two, to the utterances of a famous Church Congress on
the National Vice of Gambling.]

     "--whereupon Mr. Snodgrass, in a truly Christian spirit, and in
     order that he might take no one unawares, announced in a very
     loud tone that he was going to begin, and proceeded to take off
     his coat with the utmost deliberation. He was immediately
     surrounded and secured; and it is but common justice both to him
     and to Mr. Winkle to say that they did not make the slightest
     attempt to rescue either themselves or Mr. Weller, who, after a
     most vigorous resistance, was overpowered by numbers and taken
     prisoner. The procession then reformed, the chairmen resumed
     their stations, and the march was re-commenced."

"The chairmen resumed their stations, and the march was re-commenced."
Is it any wonder that Dickens and Labiche have found no fit
successors? One can imagine the latter laying down his pen and
confessing himself beaten at his own game; for really this periodical
"crusade" upon the Penny Dreadful has all the qualities of the very
best vaudeville--the same bland exhibition of _bourgeois_ logic, the
same wanton appreciation of evidence, the same sententious alacrity in
seizing the immediate explanation--the more trivial the better--the
same inability to reach the remote cause, the same profound
unconsciousness of absurdity.

You remember _La Grammaire_? Caboussat's cow has eaten a piece of
broken glass, with fatal results. Machut, the veterinary, comes:--

     _Caboussat._ "Un morceau de verre ... est-ce drole? Une vache de
     quatre ans."

     _Machut._ "Ah! monsieur, les vaches ... ça avale du verre à tout
     âge. J'en ai connu une qui a mangé une éponge à laver les
     cabriolets ... à sept ans! Elle en est morte."

     _Caboussat._ "Ce que c'est que notre pauvre humanité!"

Penny Dreadfuls and Matricide.

Our friends have been occupied with the case of a half-witted boy who
consumed Penny Dreadfuls and afterwards went and killed his mother.
They infer that he killed his mother because he had read Penny
Dreadfuls (_post hoc ergo propter hoc_) and they conclude very
naturally that Penny Dreadfuls should be suppressed. But before
roundly pronouncing the doom of this--to me unattractive--branch of
fiction, would it not be well to inquire a trifle more deeply into
cause and effect? In the first place matricide is so utterly unnatural
a crime that there must be something abominably peculiar in a form of
literature that persuades to it. But a year or two back, on the
occasion of a former crusade, I took the pains to study a
considerable number of Penny Dreadfuls. My reading embraced all
those--I believe I am right in saying all--which were reviewed, a few
days back, in the _Daily Chronicle_; and some others. I give you my
word I could find nothing peculiar about them. They were even rather
ostentatiously on the side of virtue. As for the bloodshed in them, it
would not compare with that in many of the five-shilling adventure
stories at that time read so eagerly by boys of the middle and upper
classes. The style was ridiculous, of course: but a bad style excites
nobody but a reviewer, and does not even excite him to deeds of the
kind we are now trying to account for. The reviewer in the _Daily
Chronicle_ thinks worse of these books than I do. But he certainly
failed to quote anything from them that by the wildest fancy could be
interpreted as sanctioning such a crime as matricide.

The Cause to be sought in the Boy rather than in the Book.

Let us for a moment turn our attention from the Penny Dreadful to the
boy--from the _éponge á laver les cabriolets_ to _notre pauvre
humanité_. Now--to speak quite seriously--it is well known to every
doctor and every schoolmaster (and should be known, if it is not, to
every parent), that all boys sooner or later pass through a crisis in
growth during which absolutely nothing can be predicted of their
behavior. At such times honest boys have given way to lying and theft,
gentle boys have developed an unexpected savagery, ordinary boys--"the
small apple-eating urchins whom we know"--have fallen into morbid
brooding upon unhealthy subjects. In the immense majority of cases the
crisis is soon over and the boy is himself again; but while it lasts,
the disease will draw its sustenance from all manner of
things--things, it may be, in themselves quite innocent. I avoid
particularizing for many reasons; but any observant doctor will
confirm what I have said. Now the moderately affluent boy who reads
five-shilling stories of adventure has many advantages at this period
over the poor boy who reads Penny Dreadfuls. To begin with, the crisis
has a tendency to attack him later. Secondly, he meets it fortified by
a better training and more definite ideas of the difference between
right and wrong, virtue and vice. Thirdly (and this is very
important), he is probably under school discipline at the time--which
means, that he is to some extent watched and shielded. When I think
of these advantages, I frankly confess that the difference in the
literature these two boys read seems to me to count for very little. I
myself have written "adventure-stories" before now: stories which, I
suppose--or, at any rate, hope--would come into the class of "Pure
Literature," as the term is understood by those who have been writing
on this subject in the newspapers. They were, I hope, better written
than the run of Penny Dreadfuls, and perhaps with more discrimination
of taste in the choice of adventures. But I certainly do not feel able
to claim that their effect upon a perverted mind would be innocuous.

Fallacy of the "Crusade."

For indeed it is not possible to name any book out of which a
perverted mind will not draw food for its disease. The whole fallacy
lies in supposing literature the cause of the disease. Evil men are
not evil because they read bad books: they read bad books because they
are evil: and being evil, or diseased, they are quickly able to
extract evil or disease even from very good books. There is talk of
disseminating the works of our best authors, at a cheap rate, in the
hope that they will drive the Penny Dreadful out of the market. But
has good literature at the cheapest driven the middle classes from
their false gods? And let it be remembered, to the credit of these
poor boys, that they do buy their books. The middle classes take
_their_ poison on hire or exchange.

But perhaps the full enormity of the cant about Penny Dreadfuls
can best be perceived by travelling to and fro for a week
between London and Paris and observing the books read by those
who travel with first-class tickets. I think a fond belief in
Ivanhoe-within-the-reach-of-all would not long survive that


Oct. 7, 1892. A Masterpiece.

     "_Peer Gynt_ takes its place, as we hold, on the summits of
     literature precisely because it means so much more than the poet
     consciously intended. Is not this one of the characteristics of
     the masterpiece, that everyone can read in it his own secret? In
     the material world (though Nature is very innocent of symbolic
     intention) each of us finds for himself the symbols that have
     relevance and value for him; and so it is with the poems that are
     instinct with true vitality."

I was glad to come across the above passage in Messrs. William and
Charles Archer's introduction to their new translation of Ibsen's
_Peer Gynt_ (London: Walter Scott), because I can now, with a clear
conscience, thank the writers for their book, even though I fail to
find some of the things they find in it. The play's the thing after
all. _Peer Gynt_ is a great poem: let us shake hands over that. It
will remain a great poem when we have ceased pulling it about to find
what is inside or search out texts for homilies in defence of our own
particular views of life. The world's literature stands unaffected,
though Archdeacon Farrar use it for chapter-headings and Sir John
Lubbock wield it as a mallet to drive home self-evident truths.

Not a Pamphlet.

_Peer Gynt_ is an extremely modern story founded on old Norwegian
folk-lore--the folk-lore which Asbjörnsen and Moe collected, and
Dasent translated for our delight in childhood. Old and new are
curiously mixed; but the result is piquant and not in the least
absurd, because the story rests on problems which are neither old nor
new, but eternal, and on emotions which are neither older nor newer
than the breast of man. To be sure, the true devotee of Ibsen will not
be content with this. You will be told by Herr Jaeger, Ibsen's
biographer, that _Peer Gynt_ is an attack on Norwegian romanticism.
The poem, by the way, is romantic to the core--so romantic, indeed,
that the culminating situation, and the page for which everything has
been a preparation, have to be deplored by Messrs. Archer as "a mere
commonplace of romanticism, which Ibsen had not outgrown when he wrote
_Peer Gynt_." But your true votary is for ever taking his god off the
pedestal of the true artist to set him on the tub of the
hot-gospeller; even so genuine a specimen of impressionist work as
_Hedda Gabler_ being claimed by him for a sermon. And if ever you have
been moved by _Ghosts_, or _Brand_, or _Peer Gynt_ to exclaim "This is
poetry!" you have only to turn to Herr Jaeger--whose criticism, like
his namesake's underclothing, should be labelled "All Pure Natural
Wool"--to find that you were mistaken and that it is really

Yet Enforcing a Moral.

To be sure, in one sense _Peer Gynt_ is a sermon upon a text. That is
to say, it is written primarily to expound one view of man's duty, not
to give a mere representation of life. The problem, not the picture,
is the main thing. But then the problem, not the picture, is the main
thing in _Alcestis_, _Hamlet_, _Faust_. In _Peer Gynt_ the poet's own
solution of the problem is presented with more insistence than in
_Alcestis_, _Hamlet_, or _Faust_: but the problem is wider, too.

The problem is, What is self? and how shall a man be himself? And the
poet's answer is, "Self is only found by being lost, gained by being
given away": an answer at least as old as the gospels. The eponymous
hero of the story is a man essentially half-hearted, "the incarnation
of a compromising dread of self-committal to any one course," a fellow
who says,

     "Ay, think of it--wish it done--_will_ it to boot,
     But _do_ it----. No, that's past my understanding!"

--who is only stung to action by pique, or by what is called the
"instinct of self-preservation," an instinct which, as Ibsen shows, is
the very last that will preserve self.

The Story.

This fellow, Peer Gynt, wins the love of Solveig, a woman essentially
whole-hearted, who has no dread of self-committal, who surrenders
self. Solveig, in short, stands in perfect antithesis to Peer. When
Peer is an outlaw she deserts her father's house and follows him to
his hut in the forest. The scene in which she presents herself before
Peer and claims to share his lot is worthy to stand beside the ballad
of the Nut-browne Mayde: indeed, as a confessed romantic I must own to
thinking Solveig one of the most beautiful figures in poetry. Peer
deserts her, and she lives in the hut alone and grows an old woman
while her lover roams the world, seeking everywhere and through the
wildest adventures the satisfaction of his Self, acting everywhere on
the Troll's motto, "To thyself be enough," and finding everywhere his
major premiss turned against him, to his own discomfiture, by an
ironical fate. We have one glimpse of Solveig, meanwhile, in a little
scene of eight lines. She is now a middle-aged woman, up in her forest
hut in the far north. She sits spinning in the sunshine outside her
door and sings:--

     _"Maybe both the winter and spring will pass by,
     And the next summer too, and the whole of the year;
     But thou wilt come one day....
            *       *       *       *       *
     God strengthen thee, whereso thou goest in the world!
     God gladden thee, if at His footstool thou stand!
     Here will I await thee till thou comest again;
     And if thou wait up yonder, then there we'll meet, my friend!"_

At last Peer, an old man, comes home. On the heath around his old hut
he finds (in a passage which the translators call "fantastic,"
intending, I hope, approval by this word) the thoughts he has missed
thinking, the watchword he has failed to utter, the tears he has
missed shedding, the deed he has missed doing. The thoughts are
thread-balls, the watchword withered leaves, the tears dewdrops, etc.
Also he finds on that heath a Button-Moulder with an immense ladle.
The Button-Moulder explains to Peer that he must go into this ladle,
for his time has come. He has neither been a good man nor a sturdy
sinner, but a half-and-half fellow without any real self in him. Such
men are dross, badly cast buttons with no loops to them, and must go,
by the Master's orders, into the melting-pot again. Is there no
escape? None, unless Peer can find the loop of the button, his real
Self, the Peer Gynt that God made. After vain and frantic searching
across the heath, Peer reaches the door of his own old hut. Solveig
stands on the threshold.

As Peer flings himself to earth before her, calling out upon her to
denounce him, she sits down by his side and says--

     "_Thou hast made all my life as a beautiful song.
      Blessed be thou that at last thou hast come!
      Blessed, thrice-blessed our Whitsun-morn meeting_!"

"But," says Peer, "I am lost, unless thou canst answer riddles." "Tell
me them," tranquilly answers Solveig. And Peer asks, while the
Button-Moulder listens behind the hut--

     "_Canst thou tell me where Peer Gynt has been since we parted_?"


     Peer.--           _With his destiny's seal on his brow;
           Been, as in God's thought he first sprang forth?
           Canst thou tell me? If not, I must get me home_,--
          _Go down to the mist-shrouded regions_.

     Solveig (smiling).--_Oh, that riddle is easy_.

     Peer.--             _Then tell what thou knowest!
            Where was I, as myself, as the whole man, the true man?
            Where was I, with God's sigil upon my brow_?

     Solveig.--_In my faith, in my hope, in my love_.

A Shirking of the Ethical Problem?

"This," says the Messrs. Archer, in effect, "may be--indeed
is--magnificent: but it is not Ibsen." To quote their very words--

     "The redemption of the hero through a woman's love ... we take to
     be a mere commonplace of romanticism, which Ibsen, though he
     satirised it, had by no means fully outgrown when he wrote _Peer
     Gynt_. Peer's return to Solveig is (in the original) a passage of
     the most poignant lyric beauty, but it is surely a shirking, not
     a solution, of the ethical problem. It would be impossible to the
     Ibsen of to-day, who knows (none better) that _No man can save
     his brother's soul, or pay his brother's debt_."

In a footnote to the italicized words Messrs. Archer add the

     "No, nor woman, neither."

       *       *       *       *       *

Oct. 22, 1892. The main Problem.

"Peer's return to Solveig is surely a shirking, not a solution of the
ethical problem." Of what ethical problem? The main ethical problem of
the poem is, What is self? And how shall a man be himself? As Mr.
Wicksteed puts it in his "Four Lectures on Henrik Ibsen," "What is it
to be one's self? God _meant something_ when He made each one of us.
For a man to embody that meaning of God in his words and deeds, and so
become, in a degree, 'a word of God made flesh' is to be himself. But
thus to be himself he must slay himself. That is to say, he must slay
the craving to make himself the centre round which others revolve, and
must strive to find his true orbit, and swing, self poised, round the
great central light. But what if a poor devil can never puzzle out
what God _did_ mean when He made him? Why, then he must _feel_ it. But
how often your 'feeling' misses fire! Ay, there you have it. The devil
has no stancher ally than _want of perception_."

And its Solution.

This is a fair statement of Ibsen's problem and his solution of it. In
the poem he solves it by the aid of two characters, two diagrams we
may say. Diagram I. is Peer Gynt, a man who is always striving to make
himself the centre round which others revolve, who never sacrifices
his Self generously for another's good, nor surrenders it to a decided
course of action. Diagram II. is Solveig, a woman who has no dread of
self-committal, who surrenders Self and is, in short, Peer's perfect
antithesis. When Peer is an outlaw she forsakes all and follows him to
his hut in the forest. Peer deserts her and roams the world, where he
finds his theory of Self upset by one adventure after another and at
last reduced to absurdity in the madhouse at Cairo. But though his own
theory is discredited, he has not yet found the true one. To find this
he must be brought face to face in the last scene with his deserted
wife. There, for the first time, he asks the question and receives the
answer. "Where," he asks, "has Peer Gynt's true self been since we

     "Where was I, as myself, as the whole man, the true man?
      Where was I with God's sigil upon my brow?"

And Solveig answers:--

     "In my faith, in my hope, in my love."

In these words we have the main ethical problem solved; and Peer's
_perception_ of the truth (_vide_ Mr. Wicksteed's remarks quoted
above) is the one necessary climax of the poem. We do not care a
farthing--at least, I do not care a farthing--whether Peer escape the
Button-Moulder or not. It may be too late for him, or there may be yet
time to live another life; but whatever the case may be, it doesn't
alter what Ibsen set out to prove. The problem which Ibsen shirks (if
indeed he does shirk it) is a subsidiary problem--a rider, so to
speak. Can Solveig by her love redeem Peer Gynt? Can the woman save
the man's soul? Will she, after all, cheat the Button-Moulder of his

The poet, by giving Solveig the last word, seems to think it possible.
According to Mr. Archer, the Ibsen of to-day would know it to be
impossible. He knows (none better) that "No man can save his brother's
soul or pay his brother's debt." "No, nor women neither," adds Mr.

Is Peer's Redemption a romantic Fallacy?

But is this so? _Peer Gynt_ was published in 1867. I turn to _A Doll's
House_, written twelve years later, and I find there a woman preparing
to redeem a man just as Solveig prepares to redeem Peer. I find in Mr.
Archer's translation of that play the following page of dialogue:--

     _Mrs. Linden_: There's no happiness in working for oneself, Nils;
     give me somebody and something to work for.

     _Krogstad_: No, no; that can never be. It's simply a woman's
     romantic notion of self-sacrifice.

     _Mrs. Linden_: Have you ever found me romantic?

     _Krogstad_: Would you really--? Tell me, do you know my past?

     _Mrs. Linden_: Yes.

     _Krogstad_: And do you know what people say of me?

     _Mrs. Linden_: Didn't you say just now that with me you could
     have been another man?

     _Krogstad_: I am sure of it.

     _Mrs. Linden_: Is it too late?

     _Krogstad_: Christina, do you know what you are doing? Yes, you
     do; I see it in your face. Have you the courage--?

     _Mrs. Linden_: I need someone to tend, and your children need a
     mother. You need me, and I--I need you. Nils, I believe in your
     better self. With you I fear nothing.

Ibsen's hopes of Enfranchised Women.

Again, we are not told if Mrs. Linden's experiment is successful; but
Ibsen certainly gives no hint that she is likely to fail. This was in
1879. In 1885 Ibsen paid a visit to Norway and made a speech to some
workingmen at Drontheim, in which this passage occurred:--

     "Democracy by itself cannot solve the social question. We must
     introduce an aristocratic element into our life. I am not
     referring, of course, to an aristocracy of birth, or of purse, or
     even of intellect. I mean an aristocracy of character, of will,
     of mind. That alone can make us free. From two classes will this
     aristocracy I desire come to us--_from our women and our
     workmen_. The social revolution, now preparing in Europe, is
     chiefly concerned with the future of the workers and the women.
     On this I set all my hopes and expectations...."

I think it would be easy to multiply instances showing that, though
Ibsen may hold that no man can save his brother's soul, he does not
extend this disability to women, but hopes and believes, on the
contrary, that women will redeem mankind. On men he builds little
hope. To speak roughly, men are all in Peer Gynt's case, or Torvald
Helmer's. They are swathed in timid conventions, blindfolded with
selfishness, so that they cannot perceive, and unable with their own
hands to tear off these bandages. They are incapable of the highest
renunciation. "No man," says Torvald Helmer, "sacrifices his honor,
even for one he loves." Those who heard Miss Achurch deliver Nora's
reply will not easily forget it. "Millions of women have done so." The
effect in the theatre was tremendous. This sentence clinched the whole

Millions of women are, like Solveig, capable of renouncing all for
love, of surrendering self altogether; and, as I read Ibsen, it is
precisely on this power of renunciation that he builds his hope of
man's redemption. So that, unless I err greatly, the scene in _Peer
Gynt_ which Mr. Archer calls a shirking of the ethical problem, is
just the solution which Ibsen has been persistent in presenting to the

Let it be understood, of course, that it is only your Solveigs and
Mrs. Lindens who can thus save a brother's soul: women who have made
their own way in the world, thinking for themselves, working for
themselves, freed from the conventions which man would impose on them.
I know Mr. Archer will not retort on me with Nora, who leaves her
husband and children, and claims that her first duty is to herself.
Nora is just the woman who cannot redeem a man. Her Doll's House
training is the very opposite of Solveig's and Mrs. Linden's. She is a
silly girl brought up amid conventions, and awakened, by one blow, to
the responsibilities of life. That she should at once know the right
course to take would be incredible in real life, and impossible in a
play the action of which has been evolved as inevitably as real life.
Many critics have supposed Ibsen to commend Nora's conduct in the last
act of the play. He neither sanctions nor condemns. But he does
contrast her in the play with Mrs. Linden, and I do not think that
contrast can be too carefully studied.


May 5, 1894. Aloofness of Mr. Swinburne's Muse.

There was a time--let us say, in the early seventies--when many young
men tried to write like Mr. Swinburne. Remarkably small success waited
on their efforts. Still their numbers and their youth and (for a while
also) their persistency seemed to promise a new school of poesy, with
Mr. Swinburne for its head and great exemplar: exemplar rather than
head, for Mr. Swinburne's attitude amid all this devotion was rather
that of the god than of the priest. He sang, and left the worshippers
to work up their own enthusiasm. And to this attitude he has been
constant. Unstinting, and occasionally unmeasured, in praise and
dispraise of other men, he has allowed his own reputation the noble
liberty to look after itself. Nothing, for instance, could have been
finer than the careless, almost disdainful, dignity of his bearing in
the months that followed Tennyson's death. The cats were out upon the
tiles, then, and his was the luminous, expressive silence of a sphere.
One felt, "whether he received it or no, here is the man who can wear
the crown."

And Her Tendency towards Abstractions.

It was not, however, the aloofness of Mr. Swinburne's bearing that
checked the formation of a Swinburnian school of poetry. The cause lay
deeper, and has come more and more into the light in the course of Mr.
Swinburne's poetic development--let me say, his thoroughly normal
development. We can see now that from the first such a school, such a
successful following, was an impossibility. The fact is that Mr.
Swinburne has not only genius, but an extremely rare and individual
genius. The germ of this individuality may be found, easily enough, in
"Atalanta" and the Ballads; but it luxuriates in his later poems and
throughout them--flower and leaf and stem. It was hardly more natural
in 1870 to confess the magic of the great chorus, "Before the
beginning of years," or of "Dolores," than to embark upon the vain
adventure of imitating them. I cannot imagine a youth in all Great
Britain so green or unknowing as to attempt an imitation of "A
Nympholept," perhaps the finest poem in the volume before me.

I say "in Great Britain;" because peculiar as Mr. Swinburne's genius
would be in any country, it is doubly peculiar as the endowment of an
English poet. If there be one quality beloved above others by the
inhabitants of this island, it is concreteness; and I suppose there
never was a poet in the world who used less concreteness of speech
than Mr. Swinburne. Mr. Palgrave once noted that the landscape of
Keats falls short of the landscape of Shelley in its comparative lack
of the larger features of sky and earth; Keats's was "foreground work"
for the most part. But what shall be said of Shelley's universe after
the immense vague regions inhabited by Mr. Swinburne's muse? She sings
of the sea; but we never behold a sail, never a harbor: she sings of
passion--among the stars. We seem never to touch earth; page after
page is full of thought--for, vast as the strain may be, it is never
empty--but we cannot apply it. And all this is extremely distressing
to the Briton, who loves practice as his birthright. He comes on a
Jacobite song. "Now, at any rate," he tells himself, "we arrive at
something definite: some allusion, however small, to Bonny Prince
Charlie." He reads--

    "Faith speaks when hope dissembles;
       Faith lives when hope lies dead:
     If death as life dissembles,
     And all that night assembles
       Of stars at dawn lie dead,
     Faint hope that smiles and trembles
       May tell not well for dread:
       But faith has heard it said."

"Very beautiful," says the Briton; "but why call this a 'Jacobite
Song'?" Some thorough-going admirer of Mr. Swinburne will ask, no
doubt, if I prefer gush about Bonny Prince Charlie. Most decidedly I
do not. I am merely pointing out that the poet cares so little for the
common human prejudice in favor of concreteness of speech as to give
us a Jacobite song which, for all its indebtedness to the historical
facts of the Jacobite Risings, might just as well have been put in the
mouth of Judas Maccabæus.

Somebody--I forget for the moment who it was--compared Poetry with
Antæus, who was strong when his feet touched Earth, his mother;
weaker when held aloft in air. The justice of this criticism I have
no space here to discuss; but the difference is patent enough between
poetry such as this of Herrick--

    "When as in silks my Julia goes,
     Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
     The liquefaction of her clothes."

Or this, of Burns--

    "The boat rocks at the pier o' Leith,
       Fu' loud the wind blaws frae the ferry,
     The boat rides by the Berwick-law,
       And I maun leave my bonny Mary."

Or this, of Shakespeare--

    "When daisies pied, and violets blue,
       And lady smocks all silver-white,
     And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
       Do paint the meadows with delight."

Or this, of Milton--

                    "the broad circumference
     Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb,
     Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
     At evening from the top of Fesolé,
     Or in Valdarno...."

And such lines as these by Mr. Swinburne--

    "The dark dumb godhead innate in the fair world's life
       Imbues the rapture of dawn and of noon with dread,
     Infects the peace of the star-shod night with strife,
       Informs with terror the sorrow that guards the dead.
       No service of bended knee or of humbled head
     May soothe or subdue the God who has change to wife:
       And life with death is as morning with evening wed."

Take Burns's song, "It was a' for our right-fu' King," and set it
beside the Jacobite song quoted above, and it is clear at once that
with Mr. Swinburne we pass from the particular and concrete to the
general and abstract. And in this direction Mr. Swinburne's muse has
steadily marched. In his "Erechtheus" he tells how the gods gave
Pallas the lordship of Athens--

    "The lordship and love of the lovely land,
     The grace of the town that hath on it for crown
         But a headband to wear
       Of violets one-hued with her hair."

Here at least we were allowed a picture of Athens: the violet crown
was something definite. But now, when Mr. Swinburne sings of England,
we have to precipitate our impressions from lines fluid as these:--

    "Things of night at her glance took flight: the
       strengths of darkness recoiled and sank:
     Sank the fires of the murderous pyres whereon wild
       agony writhed and shrank:
     Rose the light of the reign of right from gulfs of
       years that the darkness drank."


    "Change darkens and lightens around her, alternate
         in hope and in fear to be:
     Hope knows not if fear speak truth, nor fear whether
         hope be not blind as she:
     But the sun is in heaven that beholds her immortal,
         and girdled with life by the sea."

I suspect, then, that a hundred years hence, when criticism speaks
calm judgment upon all Mr. Swinburne's writings, she will find that
his earlier and more definite poems are the edge of his blade, and
such volumes as "Astrophel" the heavy metal behind it. The former
penetrated the affections of his countrymen with ease: the latter
followed more difficultly through the outer tissues of a people
notoriously pachydermatous to abstract speech. And criticism will then
know if Mr. Swinburne brought sufficient impact to drive the whole
mass of metal deep.

A Voice chanting in the Void.

At present in these later volumes his must seem to us a godlike voice
chanting in the void. For, fit or unfit as we may be to grasp the
elusive substance of his strains, all must confess the voice of the
singer to be divine. At once in the range and suppleness of his music
he is not merely the first of our living poets, but incomparable. In
learning he has Robert Bridges for a rival, and no other. But no
amount of learning could give us 228 pages of music that from first to
last has not a flaw. Rather, his marvellous ear has taken him safely
through metres set by his learning as so many traps. There is one
metre, for instance, that recurs again and again in this volume. Here
is a specimen of it:--

    "Music bright as the soul of light, for wings an eagle,
           for notes a dove,
     Leaps and shines from the lustrous lines wherethrough
           thy soul from afar above
     Shone and sang till the darkness rang with light whose
           fire is the fount of love."

These lines are written of Sir Philip Sidney. Could another man have
written them they had stood even better for Mr. Swinburne. But we are
considering the metre, not the meaning. Now the metre may have great
merits. I am disposed to say that, having fascinated Mr. Swinburne, it
must have great merits. That I dislike it is, no doubt, my fault, or
rather my misfortune. But undoubtedly it is a metre that no man but
Mr. Swinburne could handle without producing a monotony varied only by


April 29, 1893. Hazlitt's Stipulation.

    "Food, warmth, sleep, and a book; these are all I at present
     ask--the _Ultima Thule_ of my wandering desires. Do you not then
     wish for--
                  _a friend in your retreat
       Whom you may whisper, 'Solitude is sweet'?_

     Expected, well enough: gone, still better. Such attractions are
     strengthened by distance."

So Hazlitt wrote in his _Farewell to Essay Writing_. There never was
such an epicure of his moods as Hazlitt. Others might add Omar's

                           "--and Thou
     Beside me singing in the wilderness."

But this addition would have spoiled Hazlitt's enjoyment. Let us
remember that his love affairs had been unprosperous. "Such
attractions," he would object, "are strengthened by distance." In any
case, the book and singer go ill together, and most of us will declare
for a spell of each in turn.

What are "The Best Books"?

Suppose we choose the book. What kind of book shall it be? Shall it be
an old book which we have forgotten just sufficiently to taste
surprise as its felicities come back to us, and remember just
sufficiently to escape the attentive strain of a first reading? Or
shall it be a new book by an author we love, to be glanced through
with no critical purpose (this may be deferred to the second reading),
but merely for the lazy pleasure of recognizing the familiar brain at
work, and feeling happy, perhaps, at the success of a friend? There is
no doubt which Hazlitt would have chosen; he has told us in his essay
_On Reading Old Books_. But after a recent experience I am not sure
that I agree with him.

That your taste should approve only the best thoughts of the best
minds is a pretty counsel, but one of perfection, and is found in
practice to breed prigs. It sets a man sailing round in a vicious
circle. What is the best thought of the best minds? That approved by
the man of highest culture. Who is the man of highest culture? He
whose taste approves the best thoughts of the best minds. To escape
from this foolish whirlpool, some of our stoutest bottoms run for
that discredited harbor of refuge--Popular Acceptance: a harbor full
of shoals, of which nobody has provided even the sketch of a chart.

Some years ago, when the _Pall Mall Gazette_ sent round to all sorts
and conditions of eminent men, inviting lists of "The Hundred Best
Books"--the first serious attempt to introduce a decimal system into
Great Britain--I remember that these eminent men's replies disclosed
nothing so wonderful as their unanimity. We were prepared for Sir John
Lubbock, but not, I think, for the host of celebrities who followed
his hygienic example, and made a habit of taking the Rig Vedas to bed
with them. Altogether their replies afforded plenty of material for a
theory that to have every other body's taste in literature is the
first condition of eminence in every branch of the public service. But
in one of the lists--I think it was Sir Monier Williams's--the
unexpected really happened. Sir Monier thought that Mr. T.E. Brown's
_The Doctor_ was one of the best books in the world.

Now, the poems of Mr. T.E. Brown are not known to the million. But,
like Mr. Robert Bridges, Mr. Brown has always had a band of readers to
whom his name is more than that of many an acknowledged classic. I
fancy it is a case of liking deeply or scarce at all. Those of us who
are not celebrities may be allowed to have favorites who are not the
favorites of others, writers who (fortuitously, perhaps) have helped
us at some crisis of our life, have spoken to us the appropriate word
at the moment of need, and for that reason sit cathedrally enthroned
in our affections. To explain why the author of _Betsy Lee_, _Tommy
Big-Eyes_ and _The Doctor_ is more to me than most poets--why to open
a new book of his is one of the most exciting literary events that can
befall me in now my twenty-ninth year--would take some time, and the
explanation might poorly satisfy the reader after all.

My Morning with a Book.

But I set out to describe a morning with a book. The book was Mr.
Brown's _Old John, and other Poems_, published but a few days back by
Messrs. Macmillan & Co. The morning was spent in a very small garden
overlooking a harbor. Hazlitt's conditions were fulfilled. I had
enjoyed enough food and sleep to last me for some little time: few
people, I imagine, have complained of the cold, these last few weeks:
and the book was not only new to me for the most part, but certain to
please. Moreover, a small incident had already put me in the best of
humors. Just as I was settling down to read, a small tug came down the
harbor with a barque in tow whose nationality I recognized before she
cleared a corner and showed the Norwegian colors drooping from her
peak. I reached for the field-glass and read her name--_Henrik Ibsen_!
I imagined Mr. William Archer applauding as I ran to my own flag-staff
and dipped the British ensign to that name. The Norwegians on deck
stood puzzled for a moment, but, taking the compliment to themselves,
gave me a cheerful hail, while one or two ran aft and dipped the
Norwegian flag in response. It was still running frantically up and
down the halliards when I returned to my seat, and the lines of the
bark were softening to beauty in the distance--for, to tell the truth,
she had looked a crazy and not altogether seaworthy craft--as I opened
my book, and, by a stroke of luck, at that fine poem, _The Schooner_.

    "Just mark that schooner westward far at sea--
       'Tis but an hour ago
     When she was lying hoggish at the quay,
       And men ran to and fro
     And tugged, and stamped, and shoved, and pushed, and swore.
     And ever an anon, with crapulous glee,
       Grinned homage to viragoes on the shore.

    "So to the jetty gradual she was hauled:
       Then one the tiller took,
     And chewed, and spat upon his hand, and bawled;
       And one the canvas shook
     Forth like a mouldy bat; and one, with nods
     And smiles, lay on the bowsprit end, and called
     And cursed the Harbour-master by his gods.

    "And rotten from the gunwale to the keel,
       Rat riddled, bilge bestank,
     Slime-slobbered, horrible, I saw her reel
       And drag her oozy flank,
     And sprawl among the deft young waves, that laughed
       And leapt, and turned in many a sportive wheel
     As she thumped onward with her lumbering draught.

    "And now, behold! a shadow of repose
       Upon a line of gray
     She sleeps, that transverse cuts the evening rose,
       She sleeps and dreams away,
     Soft blended in a unity of rest
     All jars, and strifes obscene, and turbulent throes
     'Neath the broad benediction of the West--

    "Sleeps; and methinks she changes as she sleeps,
       And dies, and is a spirit pure;
     Lo! on her deck, an angel pilot keeps
       His lonely watch secure;
     And at the entrance of Heaven's dockyard waits
       Till from night's leash the fine-breathed morning leaps
     And that strong hand within unbars the gates."

It is very far from being the finest poem in the volume. It has not
the noble humanity of _Catherine Kinrade_--and if this be not a great
poem I know nothing about poetry--nor the rapture of _Jessie_, nor the
awful pathos of _Mater Dolorosa_, nor the gentle pathos of _Aber
Stations_, nor the fine religious feeling of _Planting_ and
_Disguises_. But it came so pat to the occasion, and used the occasion
so deftly to take hold of one's sympathy, that these other poems were
read in the very mood that, I am sure, their author would have asked
for them. One has not often such luck in reading--"Never the time and
the place and the author all together," if I may do this violence to
Browning's line. Yet I trust that in any mood I should have had the
sense to pay its meed of admiration to this volume.

Now, having carefully read the opinions of some half-a-dozen
reviewers upon it, I can only wonder and leave the question to my
reader, warning him by no means to miss _Mater Dalorosa_ and
_Catherine Kinrade_. If he remain cold to these two poems, then I
shall still preserve my own opinion.


April 7, 1894. His Plays.

For some weeks now I have been meaning to write about Mr. John
Davidson's "Plays" (Elkin Mathews and John Lane), and always shirking
the task at the last moment. The book is an exceedingly difficult one
to write about, and I am not at all sure that after a few sentences I
shall not stick my hands in my pockets and walk off to something
easier. The recent fine weather has, however, made me desperate. The
windows of the room in which I sit face S. and S.-E.; consequently a
deal of sunshine comes in upon my writing-table. In ninety-nine cases
out of the hundred this makes for idleness; in this, the hundredth
case, it constrains to energy, because it is rapidly bleaching the
puce-colored boards in which Mr. Davidson's plays are bound--and
(which is worse) bleaching them unevenly. I have tried (let the
miserable truth be confessed) turning the book daily, as one turns a
piece of toast--But this is not criticism of Mr. Davidson's "Plays."

His Style full of Imagination and Wit.

Now it would be easy and pleasant to express my great admiration of
Mr. Davidson's Muse, and justify it by a score of extracts and so make
an end: and nobody (except perhaps Mr. Davidson himself) would know my
dishonesty. For indeed and out of doubt he is in some respects the
most richly-endowed of all our younger poets. Of wit and of
imagination he has almost a plethora: they crowd this book, and all
his books, from end to end. And his frequent felicity of phrase is
hardly less remarkable. You may turn page after page, and with each
page the truth of this will become more obvious. Let me add his quick
eye for natural beauty, his penetrating instinct for the principles
that lie beneath its phenomena, his sympathy with all men's more
generous emotions--and still I have a store of satisfactory
illustrations at hand for the mere trouble of turning the leaves.
Consider, for instance, the imagery in his description of the fight by

                                  Now are they hand to hand!
     How short a front! How close! _They're sewn together
     with steel cross-stitches, halbert over sword,_
     _Spear across lance and death the purfled seam!_
     I never saw so fierce, so lock'd a fight.
     That tireless brand that like a pliant flail
     Threshes the lives from sheaves of Englishmen--
     Know you who wields it? Douglas, who but he!
     A noble meets him now. Clifford it is!
     No bitterer foes seek out each other there.
     Parried! That told! And that! Clifford, good night!
     And Douglas shouts to Randolf; Edward Bruce
     Cheers on the Steward; while the King's voice rings
     In every Scotch ear: such a narrow strait
     Confines this firth of war!

     _Young Friar_:       "God gives me strength
     Again to gaze with eyes unseared. _Jewels!
     These must be jewels peering in the grass.
     Cloven from helms, or on them: dead men's eyes
     Scarce shine so bright. The banners dip and mount
     Like masts at sea...._"

Or consider the fanciful melody of the Fairies' song in _An
Unhistorical Pastoral_--

    "Weave the dance and sing the song;
     _Subterranean depths prolong
     The rainy patter of our feet;_
     Heights of air are rendered sweet
     By our singing. Let us sing,
       Breathing softly, fairily,
       Swelling sweetly, airily,
     Till earth and sky our echo ring.
       Rustling leaves chime with our song:
       Fairy bells its close prolong
         Ding-dong, ding-dong."

--Or the closely-packed wit in such passages as these--

     _Brown_:                     "This world,
               This oyster with its valves of toil and play,
               Would round his corners for its own good ease,
               And make a pearl of him if he'd plunge in.
                   *       *       *       *       *
     _Jones_: And in this matter we may all be pearls.

     _Smith_: Be worldlings, truly. I would rather be
               A shred of glass that sparkles in the sun,
               And keeps a lowly rainbow of its own,
               Than one of these so trim and patent pearls
               With hearts of sand veneered, sewed up and down
               The stiff brocade society affects."

I have opened the book at random for these quotations. Its pages are
stuffed with scores as good. Nor will any but the least intelligent
reviewer upbraid Mr. Davidson for deriving so much of his inspiration
directly from Shakespeare. Mr. Davidson is still a young man; but the
first of these plays, _An Unhistorical Pastoral_, was first printed so
long ago as 1877; and the last, _Scaramouch in Naxos; a Pantomime_, in
1888. They are the work therefore of a very young man, who must use
models while feeling his way to a style and method of his own.

Lack of "Architectonic" Quality.

But--there is a "but"; and I am coming at length to my difficulty with
Mr. Davidson's work. Oddly enough, this difficulty may be referred to
the circumstance that Mr. Davidson's poetry touches Shakespeare's
great circle at a second point. Wordsworth, it will be remembered,
once said that Shakespeare _could_ not have written an Epic
(Wordsworth, by the way, was rather fond of pointing out the things
that Shakespeare could not have done). "Shakespeare _could_ not have
written an Epic; he would have died of plethora of thought."
Substitute "wit" for "thought," and you have my difficulty with Mr.
Davidson. It is given to few men to have great wit: it is given to
fewer to carry a great wit lightly. In Mr. Davidson's case it
luxuriates over the page and seems persistently to choke his sense of
form. One image suggests another, one phrase springs under the very
shadow of another until the fabric of his poem is completely hidden
beneath luxuriant flowers of speech. Either they hide it from the
author himself; or, conscious of his lack of architectonic skill, he
deliberately trails these creepers over his ill-constructed walls. I
think the former is the true explanation, but am not sure.

Let me be cautious here, or some remarks I made the other day upon
another poet--Mr. Hosken, author of _Phaon and Sappho_, and _Verses by
the Way_--will be brought up against me. Defending Mr. Hosken against
certain critics who had complained of the lack of dramatic power in
his tragedies, I said, "Be it allowed that he has little dramatic
power, and that (since the poem professed to be a tragedy) dramatic
power was what you reasonably looked for. But an alert critic,
considering the work of a beginner, will have an eye for the
bye-strokes as well as the main ones: and if the author, while missing
the main, prove effective with the bye--if Mr. Hosken, while failing
to construct a satisfactory drama, gave evidence of strength in many
fine meditative passages--then at the worst he stands convicted of a
youthful error in choosing a literary form unsuited to convey his

Not in the "Plays" only.

These observations I believe to be just, and having entered the
_caveat_ in Mr. Hosken's case, I should observe it in Mr. Davidson's
also, did these five youthful plays stand alone. But Mr. Davidson has
published much since these plays first appeared--works both in prose
and verse--_Fleet Street Eclogues_, _Ninian Jamieson_, _A Practical
Novelist_, _A Random Itinerary_, _Baptist Lake_: and because I have
followed his writings (I think from his first coming to London) with
the greatest interest, I may possibly be excused for speaking a word
of warning. I am quite certain that Mr. Davidson will never bore me:
but I wish I could be half so certain that he will in time produce
something in true perspective; a fabric duly proportioned, each line
of which from the beginning shall guide the reader to an end which the
author has in view; something which

                                      "_Servetur ad imum
     Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet._"

_Sibi constet_, be it remarked. A work of art may stand very far from
Nature, provided its own parts are consistent. Heaven forbid that a
critic should decry an author for being fantastic, so long as he is
true to his fantasy.

But Mr. Davidson's wit is so brilliant within the circles of its
temporary coruscation as to leave the outline of his work in a
constant penumbra. Indeed, when he wishes to unburden his mind of an
idea, he seems to have less capacity than many men of half his
ability to determine the form best suited for conveying it. If
anything can be certain which has not been tried, it is that his story
_A Practical Novelist_ should have been cast in dramatic form. His
vastly clever _Perfervid: _or_ the Career of Ninian Jamieson_ is cast
in two parts which neither unite to make a whole, nor are sufficiently
independent to stand complete in themselves. I find it characteristic
that his _Random Itinerary_--that fresh and agreeable narrative of
suburban travel--should conclude with a crashing poem, magnificent in
itself, but utterly out of key with the rest of the book. Turn to the
_Compleat Angler_, and note the exquisite congruity of the songs
quoted by Walton with the prose in which they are set, and the
difference will be apparent at once. Fate seems to dog Mr. Davidson
even into his illustrations. _A Random Itinerary_ and this book of
_Plays_ (both published by Messrs. Mathews and Lane) have each a
conspicuously clever frontispiece. But the illustrator of _A Random
Itinerary_ has chosen as his subject the very poem which I have
mentioned as out of harmony with the book; and I must protest that the
vilely sensual faces in Mr. Beardsley's frontispiece to these _Plays_
are hopelessly out of keeping with the sunny paganism of _Scaramouch
in Naxos_. There is nothing Greek about Mr. Beardsley's figures: their
only relationship with the Olympians is derived through the goddess

With all this I have to repeat that Mr. Davidson is in some respects
the most richly endowed of all the younger poets. The grand manner
comes more easily to him than to any other: and if he can cultivate a
sense of form and use this sense as a curb upon his wit, he has all
the qualities that take a poet far.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nov. 24, 1984. "Ballads and Songs."

At last there is no mistake about it: Mr. John Davidson has come by
his own. And by "his own" I do not mean popularity--though I hope
that in time he will have enough of this and to spare--but mastery of
his poetic method. This new volume of "Ballads and Songs" (London:
John Lane) justifies our hopes and removes our chief fear. You
remember Mr. T.E. Brown's fine verses on "Poets and Poets"?--

     He fishes in the night of deep sea pools:
       For him the nets hang long and low,
     Cork-buoyed and strong; the silver-gleaming schools
       Come with the ebb and flow
     Of universal tides, and all the channels glow.

     Or holding with his hand the weighted line
       He sounds the languor of the neaps,
     Or feels what current of the springing brine
       The cord divergent sweeps,
     The throb of what great heart bestirs the middle deeps.

     Thou also weavest meshes, fine and thin,
       And leaguer'st all the forest ways;
     But of that sea and the great heart therein
       Thou knowest nought; whole days
     Thou toil'st, and hast thy end--good store of pies and jays.

Mr. Davidson has never allowed us to doubt to which of these two
classes he belongs. "For him the nets hang long and low." But though
it may satisfy the Pumblechook within us to recall our pleasant
prophesyings, we shall find it more salutary to remember our fears. We
watched Mr. Davidson struggling in the thicket of his own fancies, and
saw him too often break his shins over his own wit. We asked: Will he
in the end overcome the defect of his qualities? Will he remain unable
to see the wood for the trees? Or will he some day be giving us poems
of which the whole conception and structure shall be as beautiful as
the casual fragment or the single line? For this architectonic quality
is just that "invidious distinction" which the fabled undergraduate
declined to draw between the major and minor prophets.

The "Ballad of a Nun."

Since its appearance, a few weeks back, all the critics have spoken of
"A Ballad of a Nun," and admitted its surprising strength and beauty.
They have left me in the plight of that belated fiddle in "Rejected
Addresses," or of the gentleman who had to be content with saying
"ditto" to Mr. Burke. For once they seem unanimous, and for once they
are right. The poem is beautiful indeed in detail:

     "The adventurous sun took Heaven by storm;
       Clouds scattered largesses of rain;
     The sounding cities, rich and warm,
       Smouldered and glittered in the plain."

Dickens, reading for the first time Tennyson's "Dream of Fair Women,"
laid down the book, saying, "What a treat it is to come across a
fellow who can _write_!" The verse that moved him to exclaim it was

     "Squadrons and squares of men in brazen plates,
       Scaffolds, still sheets of water, divers woes,
     Ranges of glimmering vaults with iron grates;
       And hushed seraglios."

It is not necessary to compare these two stanzas. Tennyson's depicts a
confused and moving dream; Mr. Davidson's a wide earthly prospect. The
point to notice in each is the superlative skill with which the poet
chooses the essential points of the picture and presents them so as to
convey their full meaning, appealing at once to the senses and the
intelligence. Tennyson, who is handling a mental condition in which
the sensations are less sharply and logically separated than in a
waking vision, can enforce this second appeal--this appeal to the
intelligence--by introducing the indefinite "divers woes" between the
definite "sheets of water" and the definite "ranges of glimmering
vaults with iron grates": just as Wordsworth, to convey the vague
unanalyzed charm of singing, combines the indefinite "old unhappy
far-off things" with the definite "battles long ago." Mr. Davidson, on
the other hand, is describing what the eye sees, and conveying what
the mind suspects, in their waking hours, and is therefore restricted
in his use of the abstract and indefinite. Notice, therefore, how he
qualifies that which can be seen--the sun, the clouds, the plain, the
cities that "smoulder" and "glitter"--with the epithets "sounding,"
"rich," and "warm," each an inference rather than a direct sensation:
for nobody imagines that the sound of the cities actually rang in the
ear of the Nun who watched them from the mountain-side. The whole
picture has the effect of one of those wide conventional landscapes
which old painters delighted to spread beyond the court-yard of
Nazareth, or behind the pillars of the temple at Jerusalem. My attempt
to analyze it is something of a folly; to understand it is impossible:

           "but _if_ I could understand
     What you are, root and all, and all in all,"--

I should at length comprehend the divine and inexplicable gift of

The "Ballad of the Making of a Poet."

But beautiful as it is in detail, this poem, and at least one other in
the little volume, have the great merit which has hitherto been
lacking in the best of Mr. Davidson's work. They are thoroughly
considered; seen as solid wholes; seen not only in front but round at
the back. In fact, they are natural growths of Mr. Davidson's
philosophy of life. In his "Ballad of the Making of a Poet" Mr.
Davidson lets us know his conception of the poet's proper function.

                   "I am a man apart:
     A mouthpiece for the creeds of all the world;
     A soulless life that angels may possess
     Or demons haunt, wherein the foulest things
     May loll at ease beside the loveliest;
     A martyr for all mundane moods to tear;
     The slave of every passion; and the slave
     Of heat and cold, of darkness and of light;
     A trembling lyre for every wind to sound.
            *       *       *       *       *
                    Within my heart
     I'll gather all the universe, and sing
     As sweetly as the spheres; and I shall be
     The first of men to understand himself...."

Making, of course, full concessions to the demands of poetical
treatment, we may assume pretty confidently that Mr. Davidson intended
this "Ballad in Blank Verse of the Making of a Poet" for a soul's
autobiography, of a kind. If so, I trust he will forgive me for
doubting if he is at all likely to fulfil the poet's office as he
conceives it here, or even to approach within measurable distance of
his ideal--

     "A trembling lyre for every wind to sound."

That it is one way in which a poet may attain, I am not just now
denying. But luckily men attain in many ways: and the man who sits
himself down of fixed purpose to be an Æolian harp for the winds of
the world, is of all men the least likely to be merely Æolian. For the
first demand of Æolian sound is that the instrument should have no
theories of its own; and explicitly to proclaim yourself Æolian is
implicitly to proclaim yourself didactic. As a matter of fact, both
the "Ballad of the Making of a Poet" and the "Ballad of a Nun" contain
sharply pointed morals very stoutly driven home. In each the poet has
made up his mind; he has a theory of life, and presents that theory to
us under cover of a parable. The beauty of the "Ballad of a Nun"--or
so much of it as stands beyond and above mere beauty of
language--consists in this, that it is informed, and consciously
informed, by a spirit of tolerance so exceedingly wide that to match
it I can find one poem and one only among those of recent years: I
mean "Catherine Kinrade." In Mr. Brown's poem the Bishop is welcomed
into Heaven by the half-wilted harlot he had once condemned to painful
and public punishment. In Mr. Davidson's poem, Mary, the Mother of
Heaven, herself takes the form and place of the wandering nun and
fills it until the penitent returns. Take either poem: take Mr.

    "Awe-stricken, he was 'ware
     How on the Emerald stair
       A woman sat divinely clothed in white,
       And at her knees four cherubs bright.
         That laid
       Their heads within their lap. Then, trembling, he essayed
         To speak--'Christ's mother, pity me!'
         Then answered she--
       'Sir, I am Catherine Kinrade.'"

Or take Mr. Davidson's--in a way, its converse--

     "The wandress raised her tenderly;
       She touched her wet and fast-shut eyes;
     'Look, sister; sister, look at me;
       Look; can you see through my disguise?'

     She looked and saw her own sad face,
       And trembled, wondering, 'Who art thou?'
     'God sent me down to fill your place;
       I am the Virgin Mary now.'

     And with the word, God's mother shone;
       The wanderer whispered 'Mary, hail!'
     The vision helped her to put on
       Bracelet and fillet, ring and veil.

     'You are sister to the mountains now,
       And sister to the day and night;
     Sister to God.' And on her brow
       She kissed her thrice and left her sight."

The voice in each case is that of a prophet rather than that of a reed
shaken by the wind, or an Æolian harp played upon by the same.

       *       *       *       *       *

March, 1895. Second Thoughts.

I have to add that, apart from the beautiful language in which they
are presented, Mr. Davidson's doctrines do not appeal to me. I cannot
accept his picture of the poet's as "a soulless life ... wherein the
foulest things may loll at ease beside the loveliest." It seems to me
at least as obligatory on a poet as on other men to keep his garden
weeded and his conscience active. Indeed, I believe some asceticism of
soul to be a condition of all really great poetry. Also Mr. Davidson
appears to be confusing charity with an approbation of things in the
strict sense damnable when he makes the Mother of Christ abet a Nun
whose wanderings have no nobler excuse than a carnal desire--_savoir
enfin ce que c'est un homme_. Between forgiving a lapsed man or woman
and abetting the lapse I now, in a cooler hour, see an immense, an
essential, moral difference. But I confess that the foregoing paper
was written while my sense of this difference was temporarily blinded
under the spell of Mr. Davidson's beautiful verse.

It may still be that his Nun had some nobler motive than I am able,
after two or three readings of the ballad, to discover. In that case I
can only ask pardon for my obtuseness.


June 1, 1895. Björnson's First Manner.

I see that the stories promised in Mr. Heinemann's new series of
translations of Björnson are _Synnövé Solbakken_, _Arne_, _A Happy
Boy_, _The Fisher Maiden_, _The Bridal March_, _Magnhild_, and
_Captain Mansana_. The first, _Synnövé Solbakken_, appeared in 1857.
The others are dated thus:--_Arne_ in 1858, _A Happy Boy_ in 1860,
_The Fisher Maiden_ in 1868, _The Bridal March_ in 1873, _Magnhild_ in
1877, and _Captain Mansana_ in 1879. There are some very significant
gaps here, the most important being the eight years' gap between _A
Happy Boy_ and _The Fisher Maiden_. Again, after 1879 Björnson ceased
to write novels for a while, returning to the charge in 1884 with
_Flags are Flying in Town and Haven_, and following up with _In God's
Way_, 1889. Translations of these two novels have also been published
by Mr. Heinemann (the former under an altered title, _The Heritage of
the Kurts_) and, to use Mr. Gosse's words, are the works, by which
Björnson is best known to the present generation of Englishmen. "They
possess elements which have proved excessively attractive to certain
sections of our public; indeed, in the case of _In God's Way_, a novel
which was by no means successful in its own country at its original
publication, has enjoyed an aftermath of popularity in Scandinavia,
founded on reflected warmth from its English admirers."

Taking, then, Björnson's fiction apart from his other writings (with
which I confess myself unacquainted), we find that it falls into three
periods, pretty sharply divided. The earliest is the idyllic period,
pure and simple, and includes _Synnövé_, _Arne_, and _A Happy Boy_.
Then with _The Fisher Maiden_ we enter on a stage of transition. It is
still the idyll; but it grows self-conscious, elaborate, confused by
the realism that was coming into fashion all over Europe; and the
trouble and confusion grow until we reach _Magnhild_. With _Flags are
Flying_ and _In God's Way_ we reach a third stage--the stage of
realism, some readers would say. I should not agree. But these tales
certainly differ remarkably from their predecessors. They are much
longer, to begin with; in them, too, realism at length preponderates;
and they are probably as near to pure realism as Björnson will ever

If asked to label these three periods, I should call them the periods
of (1) Simplicity, (2) Confusion, (3) Dire Confusion.

I speak, of course, as a foreigner, obliged to read Björnson in
translations. But perhaps the disability is not so important as it
seems at first sight. Translations cannot hide Björnson's genius; nor
obscure the truth that his genius is essentially idyllic. Now if one
form of literary expression suffers more than another by translation
it is the idyll. Its bloom is peculiarly delicate; its freshness
peculiarly quick to disappear under much handling of any kind. But all
the translations leave _Arne_ a masterpiece, and _Synnövé_ and _The
Happy Boy_.

How many artists have been twisted from their natural bent by the long
vogue of "naturalism" we shall never know. We must make the best of
the great works which have been produced under its influence, and be
content with that. But we may say with some confidence that Björnson's
genius was unfortunate in the date of its maturity. He was born on the
8th of December, 1832, in a lonely farmhouse among the mountains, at
the head of the long valley called Osterdalen; his father being priest
of Kvikne parish, one of the most savage in all Norway. After six
years the family removed to Naesset, in the Romsdal, "a spot as
enchanting and as genial as Kvikne is the reverse." Mr. Gosse, who
prefaces Mr. Heinemann's new series with a study of Björnson's
writings, quotes a curious passage in which Björnson records the
impression of physical beauty made upon his childish mind by the
physical beauty of Naesset:--

     "Here in the parsonage of Naesset--one of the loveliest places in
     Norway, where the land lies broadly spreading where two fjords
     meet, with the green braeside above it, with waterfalls and
     farmhouses on the opposite shore, with billowy meadows and cattle
     away towards the foot of the valley, and, far overhead, along the
     line of the fjord, mountains shooting promontory after promontory
     out into the lake, a big farmhouse at the extremity of each--here
     in the parsonage of Naesset, where I would stand at the close of
     the day and gaze at the sunlight playing over mountain and
     fjord, until I wept, as though I had done something wrong; and
     where I, descending on my snow-shoes into some valley, would
     pause as though bewitched by a loveliness, by a longing, which I
     had not the power to explain, but which was so great that above
     the highest ecstasy of joy I would feel the deepest apprehension
     and distress--here in the parsonage of Naesset were awakened my
     earliest sensations."

The passage is obviously important. And Björnson shows how much
importance he attaches to the experience by introducing it, or
something like it, time after time into his stories. Readers of _In
God's Way_--the latest of the novels under discussion--will remember
its opening chapter well.

It was good fortune indeed that a boy of such gifts should pass his
early boyhood in such surroundings. Nor did the luck end here. While
the young Björnson accumulated these impressions, the peasant-romance,
or idyll of country life, was taking its place and growing into favor
as one of the most beautiful forms of modern prose-fiction. Immermann
wrote _Der Oberhof_ in 1839. Weill and Auerbach took up the running in
1841 and 1843. George Sand followed, and Fritz Reuter. Björnson began
to write in 1856. _Synnövé Solbakken_ and _Arne_ came in on the high
flood of this movement. "These two stories," writes Mr. Gosse, "seem
to me to be almost perfect; they have an enchanting lyrical quality,
without bitterness or passion, which I look for elsewhere in vain in
the prose literature of the second half of the century." To my mind,
without any doubt, they and _A Happy Boy_ are the best work Björnson
has ever done in fiction, or is ever likely to do. For they are
simple, direct, congruous; all of one piece as a flower is of a piece
with its root. And never since has Björnson written a tale altogether
of one piece.

His later Manner.

For here the luck ended. All over Europe there began to spread
influences that may have been good for some artists, but were (we may
say) peculiarly injurious to so _naïf_ and, at the same time, so
personal a writer as Björnson. I think another age will find much the
same cause to mourn over Daudet when it compares his later novels with
the promise of _Lettres de Mon Moulin_ and _Le Petit Chose_.
Naturalism demands nothing more severely than an impersonal treatment
of its themes. Of three very personal and romantic writers, our own
Stevenson escaped the pit into which both Björnson and Daudet
stumbled. You may say the temptation came later to him. But the
temptation to follow an European fashion does, as a rule, befall a
Briton last of all men, for reasons of which we need not feel proud:
and the date of Mr. Hardy's stumbling is fairly recent, after all.
Björnson, at any rate, began very soon to be troubled. Between 1864
and 1874, from his thirty-second to his forty-second year, his
invention seemed, to some extent, paralyzed. _The Fisher Maiden_, the
one story written during that time, starts as beautifully as _Arne_;
but it grows complicated and introspective: the psychological
experiences of the stage-struck heroine are not in the same key as the
opening chapters. Passing over nine years, we find _Magnhild_ much
more vague and involved--

     "Here he is visibly affected by French models, and by the methods
     of the naturalists, but he is trying to combine them with his own
     simpler traditions of rustic realism.... The author felt himself
     greatly moved by fermenting ideas and ambitions which he had not
     completely mastered.... There is a kind of uncomfortable
     discrepancy between the scene and the style, a breath of Paris
     and the boulevards blowing through the pine-trees of a
     puritanical Norwegian village.... But the book is a most
     interesting link between the early peasant-stories and the great
     novels of his latest period."

Well, of these same "great novels"--of _Flags are Flying_ and _In
God's Way_--people must speak as they think. They seem to me the
laborious productions of a man forcing himself still further and
further from his right and natural bent. In them, says Mr. Gosse,
"Björnson returns, in measure, to the poetical elements of his youth.
He is now capable again, as for instance in the episode of Ragni's
symbolical walk in the woodlands, _In God's Way_, of passages of pure
idealism." Yes, he returns--"in measure." He is "capable of idyllic
passages." In other words, his nature reasserts itself, and he remains
an imperfect convert. "He has striven hard to be a realist, and at
times he has seemed to acquiesce altogether in the naturalistic
formula, but in truth he has never had anything essential in common
with M. Zola." In other words, he has fallen between two stools. He
has tried to expel nature with a pitchfork and still she runs back
upon him. He has put his hand to the plough and has looked back: or
(if you take my view of "the naturalistic formula") he has sinned, but
has not sinned with his whole heart. For to produce a homogeneous
story, either the acquired Zola or the native Björnson must have been
cast out utterly.

Value of Early Impressions to a Novelist.

I have quoted an example of the impressions of Björnson's childhood. I
do not think critics have ever quite realized the extent to which
writers of fiction--especially those who use a personal style--depend
upon the remembered impressions of childhood. Such impressions--no
matter how fantastic--are an author's firsthand stock: and in using
them he comes much closer to nature than when he collects any number
of scientifically approved data to maintain some view of life which he
has derived from books. Compare _Flags are Flying_ with _Arne_, and
you will see my point. The longer book is ten times as realistic in
treatment, and about one-tenth as true to life.


March 31, 1894. "Esther Waters."

It is good, after all, to come across a novel written by a man who can
write a novel. We have been much in the company of the Amateur of
late, and I for one am very weary of him--weary of his preposterous
goings-out and comings-in, of his smart ineptitudes, of his solemn
zeal in reforming the decayed art of fiction, of his repeated failures
to discover beneficence in all those institutions, from the Common Law
of England to the Scheme of the Universe, which have managed to leave
him and his aspirations out of count. I am weary of him and of his
deceased wife's sister, and of their fell determination to discover
each other's soul in a bottle of hay. Above all, I am weary of his
writings, because he cannot write, neither has he the humility to sit
down and learn.

Mr. George Moore, on the other hand, has steadily labored to make
himself a fine artist, and his training has led him through many
strange places. I should guess that among living novelists few have
started with so scant an equipment. As far as one can tell he had, to
begin with, neither a fertile invention nor a subtle dramatic
instinct, nor an accurate ear for language. A week ago I should have
said this very confidently: after reading _Esther Waters_ I say it
less confidently, but believe it to be true, nevertheless. Mr. Moore
has written novels that are full of faults. These faults have been
exposed mercilessly, for Mr. Moore has made many enemies. But he has
always possessed an artistic conscience and an immense courage. He
answered his critics briskly enough at the time, but an onlooker of
common sagacity could perceive that the really convincing answer was
held in reserve--that, as they say in America, Mr. Moore "allowed" he
was going to write a big novel one of these days, and meanwhile we had
better hold our judgment upon Mr. Moore's capacity open to revision.

What, then, is to be said of _Esther Waters_, this volume of a modest
377 pages, upon which Mr. Moore has been at work for at least two

"Esther" and Mr. Hardy's "Tess."

Well, in the first place, I say, without hesitation, that _Esther
Waters_ is the most important novel published in England during these
two years. We have been suffering from the Amateur during that period,
and no doubt (though it seems hard) every nation has the Amateur it
deserves. To find a book to compare with _Esther Waters_ we must go
back to December, 1891, and to Mr. Hardy's _Tess of the
D'Urbervilles_. It happens that a certain similarity in the motives of
these two stories makes comparison easy. Each starts with the
seduction of a young girl; and each is mainly concerned with her
subsequent adventures. From the beginning the advantage of probability
is with the younger novelist. Mr. Moore's "William Latch" is a
thoroughly natural figure, and remains a natural figure to the end of
the book: an uneducated man and full of failings, but a man always,
and therefore to be forgiven by the reader only a little less readily
than Esther herself forgives him. Mr. Hardy's "Alec D'Urberville" is a
grotesque and violent lay figure, a wholly incredible cad. Mr. Hardy,
by killing Tess's child, takes away the one means by which his heroine
could have been led to return to D'Urberville without any loss of the
reader's sympathy. Mr. Moore allows Esther's child to live, and thus
has at hand the material for one of the most beautiful stories of
maternal love ever imagined by a writer. I dislike extravagance of
speech, and would run my pen through these words could I remember, in
any novel I have read, a more heroic story than this of Esther Waters,
a poor maid-of-all-work, without money, friends, or character,
fighting for her child against the world, and in the end dragging
victory out of the struggle. In spite of the Æschylean gloom in which
Mr. Hardy wraps the story of Tess, I contend that Esther's fight is,
from end to end, the more heroic.

Also Esther's story seems to me informed with a saner philosophy of
life. There is gloom in her story; and many of the circumstances are
sordid enough; but throughout I see the recognition that man and woman
can at least improve and dignify their lot in this world. Many people
believe _Tess_ to be the finest of its author's achievements. A
devoted admirer of Mr. Hardy's genius, I decline altogether to
consent. To my mind, among recent developments of the English novel
nothing is more lamentable than the manner in which this
distinguished writer has allowed himself of late to fancy that the
riddles of life are solved by pulling mouths at Providence (or
whatever men choose to call the Supreme Power) and depicting it as a
savage and omnipotent bully, directing human affairs after the fashion
of a practical joker fresh from a village ale-house. For to this
teaching his more recent writings plainly tend; and alike in _Tess_
and _Life's Little Ironies_ the part played by the "President of the
Immortals" is no sublimer--save in the amount of force exerted--than
that of a lout who pulls a chair suddenly from under an old woman.
Now, by wedding Necessity with uncouth Jocularity, Mr. Hardy may have
found an hypothesis that solves for him all the difficulties of life.
I am not concerned in this place to deny that it may be the true
explanation. I have merely to point out that art and criticism must
take some time in getting accustomed to it, and that meanwhile the
traditions of both are so far agreed in allowing a certain amount of
free will to direct the actions of men and women that a tale which
should be all necessity and no free will would, in effect, be
necessity's own contrary--a merely wanton freak.

For, in effect, it comes to this:--The story of Tess, in which
attention is so urgently directed to the hand of Destiny, is not felt
to be inevitable, but freakish. The story of Esther Waters, in which a
poor servant-girl is allowed to grapple with her destiny and, after a
fashion, to defeat it, is felt (or has been felt by one reader, at any
rate) to be absolutely inevitable. To reconcile us to the black flag
above Wintoncester prison as to the appointed end of Tess's career, a
curse at least as deep as that of Pelops should have been laid on the
D'Urberville family. Tess's curse does not lie by nature on all women;
nor on all Dorset women; nor on all Dorset women who have illegitimate
children; for a very few even of these are hanged. We feel that we are
not concerned with a type, but with an individual case deliberately
chosen by the author; and no amount of talk about the "President of
the Immortals" and his "Sport" can persuade us to the contrary. With
Esther Waters, on the other hand, we feel we are assisting in the
combat of a human life against its natural destiny; we perceive that
the woman has a chance of winning; we are happy when she wins; and we
are the better for helping her with our sympathy in the struggle.
That is why, using the word in the Aristotelian sense, I maintain that
_Esther Waters_ is a more "philosophical" work than _Tess_.

The atmosphere of the low-class gambling in which Mr. Moore's
characters breathe and live is no doubt a result of his careful study
of Zola. It is, as everyone knows, M. Zola's habit to take one of the
many pursuits of men--from War and Religion down to Haberdashery and
Veterinary Surgery--and expand it into an atmosphere for a novel. But
in Mr. Moore's case it may safely be urged that gambling on racehorses
actually is the atmosphere in which a million or two of Londoners pass
their lives. Their hopes, their very chances of a satisfying meal,
hang from day to day on the performances of horses they have never
seen. I cannot profess to judge with what accuracy Mr. Moore has
reproduced the niceties of handicapping, bookmaking, place-betting,
and the rest, the fluctuations of the gambling market, and their
causes. I gather that extraordinary care has been bestowed upon these
details; but criticism here must be left to experts, I only know that,
not once or twice only in the course of his narrative, Mr. Moore
makes us study the odds against a horse almost as eagerly as if it
carried our own money: because it does indeed carry for a while the
destiny of Esther Waters--and yet for a while only. We feel that,
whichever horse wins the ultimate issues are inevitable.

It will be gathered from what I have said that Mr. Moore has vastly
outstripped his own public form, even as shown in _A Mummer's Wife_.
But it may be as well to set down, beyond possibility of
misapprehension, my belief that in _Esther Waters_ we have the most
artistic, the most complete, and the most inevitable work of fiction
that has been written in England for at least two years. Its plainness
of speech may offend many. It may not be a favorite in the circulating
libraries or on the bookstalls. But I shall be surprised if it fails
of the place I predict for it in the esteem of those who know the true
aims of fiction and respect the conscientious practice of that great


Nov. 28, 1891. "Esther Vanhomrigh."

Among considerable novelists who have handled historical
subjects--that is to say, who have brought into their story men and
women who really lived and events which have really taken place--you
will find one rule strictly observed, and no single infringement of it
that has been followed by success. This rule is that the historical
characters and events should be mingled with poetical characters and
events, and _made subservient to them_. And it holds of books as
widely dissimilar as _La Vicomte de Bragelonne_ and _La Guerre et la
Paix_; _The Abbot_ and _John Inglesant_. In history Louis XIV. and
Napoleon are the most salient men of their time: in fiction they fall
back and give prominence to D'Artagnan and the Prince André. They may
be admirably painted, but unless they take a subordinate place in the
composition, the artist scores a failure.

A Disability of "Historical Fiction."

The reason of this is, of course, very simple. If an artist is to
have full power over his characters, to know their hearts, to govern
their emotions and sway them at his will, they must be his own
creatures and the life in them derived from him. He must have an
entirely free hand with them. But the personages of history have an
independent life of their own, and with them his hand is tied.
Thackeray has a freehold on the soul of Beatrix Esmond, but he takes
the soul of Marlborough furnished, on a short lease, and has to render
an account to the Muse of History. He is lord of one and mere occupier
of the other. Nor will it do to say that an artist by sympathetic and
intelligent study can master the motives of any group of historical
characters sufficiently for his purpose. For, since they have
anticipated him and lived their lives without his help, they leave him
but a choice between two poor courses. If he narrate their lives and
adventures as they really befel, he is writing history. If, on the
other hand, he disregard historical accuracy, he might just as well
have used another set of characters or have given his characters other
names. Indeed, it would be much better. For if Alcibiades went as a
matter of fact to Sparta and as a matter of fiction you make him stay
at home, you merely advertise to the world that there was something in
Alcibiades you don't understand. And if you are writing about an
Alcibiades whom you don't quite understand, you will save your readers
some risk of confusion by calling him Charicles.

Now Jonathan Swift and Esther Johnson and Esther Vanhomrigh really
lived; and by living, became historical. But Mrs. Woods sets forth to
translate them back into fiction, not as subordinate characters, but
as protagonists. She has chosen to work within the difficult limits I
have indicated. But there are others which might easily have cramped
her hand even more closely.

A Tale of Passion to be told in Terms of Reason.

The story of Swift and Esther Vanhomrigh is a story of passion, and
runs on the confines of madness. But it happened in the Age of Reason.
Doubtless men and women felt madness and passion in that age:
doubtless, too, they spoke of madness and passion, but not in their
literature. And now that the lips are dust and the fiery conversations
lost, Mrs. Woods has only their written prose to turn to for help. To
satisfy the pedant she must tell her story of passion in terms of
reason. In one respect Thackeray had a more difficult task in
_Esmond_; for he aimed to make his book a reflection, in every page
and line, of the days of Queen Anne. Not only had he, like Mrs. Woods,
to make his characters and their talk consistent with that age; but
every word of the story is supposed to be told by a gentleman of that
age, whereas Mrs. Woods in her narrative prose may use the language of
her own century. On the other hand, the story of _Esmond_ deals with
comparatively temperate emotions. There is nothing in Thackeray's
masterpiece to strain the prose of the Age of Reason. It is pitched in
the key of those times, and the prose of those times is sufficient and
exactly sufficient for it. That it should be so is all the more to
Thackeray's honor, for the artist is to be praised in the conception
as duly as in the execution of his work. But, the conception being
granted, I think _Esther Vanhomrigh_ must have been a harder book than
_Esmond_ to write.

For even the prose of Swift himself is inadequate to Swift. He was a
great and glaring anomaly who never fell into perspective with his age
while he lived, and can hardly be pulled into perspective now with the
drawing materials which are left to us. Men of like abundant genius
are rarely measurable in language used by their contemporaries; and
this is perhaps the reason why they disquiet their contemporaries so
confoundedly. Where in the books written by tye-bewigged gentlemen, or
in the letters written by Swift himself, can you find words to explain
that turbulent and potent man? He bursts the capacity of Addison's
phrase and Pope's couplet. He was too big for a bishop's chair, and
now, if a novelist attempt to clothe him in the garments of his time,
he splits them down the back.

It is in meeting this difficulty that Mrs. Woods seems to me to
display the courage and intelligence of a true artist. She is bound to
be praised by many for her erudition; but perhaps she will let me
thank her for having trodden upon her erudition. In the first volume
it threatened to overload and sink her. But no sooner does she begin
to catch the wind of her subject than she tosses all this superfluous
cargo overboard. From the point where passion creeps into the story
this learning is carried lightly and seems to be worn unconsciously.
Instead of cataloguing the age, she comprehends it.

To me the warmth and pathos she packs into her eighteenth-century
conversation, without modernizing it thereby, is something amazing.
For this alone the book would be notable; and it can be proved to come
of divination, simply because nothing exists from which she could have
copied it. More obvious, though not more wonderful, is her feminine
gift of rendering a scene vivid for us by describing it, not as it is,
but as it excites her own intelligence or feelings. Let me explain
myself: for it is the sorry fate of a book so interesting and
suggestive as _Esther Vanhomrigh_ to divert the critic from praise of
the writer to consider a dozen problems which the writer raises.

Women and "le don pittoresque."

Well, then, M. Jules Lemaître has said somewhere--and with
considerable truth--that women when they write have not _le don
pittoresque_. By this he means that they do not strive to depict a
scene exactly as it strikes upon their senses, but as they perceive
it after testing its effect upon their emotions and experience.
Suppose now we have to describe a moonlit night in May. Mrs. Woods
begins as a man might begin, thus--

     "The few and twinkling lights disappeared from the roadside
     cottages. The full white moon was high in the cloudless deep of
     heaven, and the sounds of the warm summer night were all about
     their path; the splash of leaping fish, the sleepy chirrup of
     birds disturbed by some night-wandering creature; the song of the
     reed-warbler, the persistent churring of the night jar, and the
     occasional hoot of the owl, far off on some ancestral tree."

Now all this, except, perhaps, the "ancestral" tree, is a direct
picture, and with it some men might stop. But no woman could stop
here, and Mrs. Woods does not. She goes on--

     "It was such an exquisite May night, full of the mystery and
     beauty of moonlight and the scent of hawthorn, as makes the earth
     an Eden in which none but lovers should walk--happy lovers or
     young poets, whose large eyes, so blind in the daylight world of
     men, can see God walking in the Garden." ...

You see it is sensation no longer, but reflection and emotion.

Now I am only saying that women cannot avoid this. I am not
condemning it. On the contrary, it is beautiful in Mrs. Woods's hand,
and sometimes luminously true. Take this, for instance, of the
interior of a city church:--

     "It had none of the dim impressiveness of a mediæval church, that
     seems reared with a view to Heaven rather than Earth, and whose
     arches, massive or soaring, neither gain nor lose by the
     accidental presence of ephemeral human creatures below them. No,
     the building seemed to cry out for a congregation, and the mind's
     eye involuntarily peopled it with its Sunday complement of
     substantial citizens and their families."

This is not a picturesque but a reflective description. Yet how it
illuminates! If we had never thought of it before we know now, once
and for all, the essential difference between a Gothic church and one
of Wren's building. And further, since Mrs. Woods is writing of an age
that slighted Gothic for the architecture of Wren and his followers,
we get a brilliant side-flash to help our comprehension. It is a hint
only, but it assures us as we read that we are in the eighteenth
century, when men and women were of more account than soaring

And the conclusion is that if Mrs. Woods could not conquer the
difficulties which beset any attempt to make protagonists of two
historical characters, if she was obliged to follow the facts to the
detriment of composition, she has vitalized and recreated a dead age
in a fashion to make us all wonder. _Esther Vanhomrigh_ is a great
feat, and its authoress is one of the few of whom almost anything may
be expected.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jan. 26, 1895. "The Vagabonds."

In her latest book,[A] Mrs. Woods returns to that class of life--so
far as life may be classified--which she handled so memorably in _A
Village Tragedy_. There are differences, though. As the titles
indicate, the life in the earlier story was stationary: in the latter
it is nomadic--the characters are artistes in a travelling show. This
at once suggests comparison with M. Edmond de Goncourt's _Les Frères
Zemganno_; or rather a contrast: for the two stories, conceived in
very similar surroundings, differ in at least two vital respects.

Compared with "Les Frères Zemganno."

For what, in short, is the story of _Les Frères Zemganno_? Two
brothers, Gianni and Nello, tumblers in a show that travels round the
village fairs and small country towns of France, are seized with an
ambition to excel in their calling. They make their way to England,
where they spend some years clowning in various circuses. Then they
return to make their _debut_ in Paris. Gianni has invented at length a
trick act, a feat that will make the brothers famous. They are
performing it for the first time in public, when a circus girl, who
has a spite against Nello, causes him to fall and break both his legs.
He can perform no more: and henceforward, as he watches his brother
performing, a strange jealousy awakes and grows in him, causing him
agony whenever Gianni touches a trapèze. Gianni discovers this and
renounces his art.

Now here in the first place it is to be noted that the whole story
depends upon the circus profession, and the brothers' love for it and
desire to excel in it. The catastrophe; Nello's jealousy; Gianni's
self-sacrifice; are inseparable from the atmosphere of the book. The
catastrophe is a professional catastrophe; the jealousy a professional
jealousy; the sacrifice a sacrifice of a profession. And in the second
place we know, even if we had not his own word for it, that M. de
Goncourt--contrary to his habit--deliberately etherealized the
atmosphere of the circus-ring and idealized the surroundings. He calls
his tale an essay in poetic realism, "Je me suis trouvé dans une de
ces heures de la vie, vieillissantes, maladives, lâches devant le
travail poignant et angoisseux de mes autres livres, en un état de
l'âme où la vérité trop vraie m'était antipathique à moi aussi!--et
j'ai fait cette fois de l'imagination dans du rêve mêlé à du
souvenir." We know from the Goncourt Journals exactly what is meant by
"du souvenir." We know that M. Edmond de Goncourt is but translating
into the language of the circus-ring and symbolizing in the story of
Gianni and Nello the story of his own literary collaboration with his
brother Jules--a collaboration of quite singular intimacy, that ceased
only with Jules's death in 1870. Possibly, as M. Zola once suggested,
M. Edmond de Goncourt did at first intend to depict the circus-life,
after his wont, in true "naturalistic" manner, softening and
extenuating nothing: but "par une délicatesse qui s'explique, il a
reculé devant le milieu brutal de cirques, devant certaines laideurs
et certaines monstruosités des personnages qu'il choisis-sait." The
two facts remain that in _Les Frères Zemganno_ M. de Goncourt (1) made
professional life in a circus the very blood and tissue of his story;
and (2) that he softened the details of that life, and to a certain
degree idealized it.

Turning to Mrs. Woods's book and taking these two points in reverse
order, we find to begin with that she idealizes nothing and softens
next to nothing. Where she does soften, she softens only for literary
effect--to give a word its due force, or a picture its proper values.
She does not, for instance, accurately report the oaths and

     "The tents and booths of the show were disappearing rapidly like
     stage scenery. The red-faced Manager, Joe, and several others in
     authority, ran hither and thither shouting their orders to a
     crowd of workmen in jackets and fustian trousers, who were piling
     rolls of canvas, and heavy chests, and mountains of planks and
     long vibrating poles, on the great waggons. Others were
     harnessing the big powerful horses to the carts, horses that were
     mostly white, and wore large red collars. The scene was so busy,
     so full of movement, that it would have been exhilarating had not
     the fresh morning air been full of senseless blasphemies and
     other deformities of speech, uttered casually and constantly,
     without any apparent consciousness on the part of the speakers
     that they were using strong language. Probably the lady who
     dropped toads and vipers from her lips whenever she opened them
     came in process of time to consider them the usual accompaniments
     of conversation."

There are a great many reasons against copious profanity of speech.
Here you have the artistic reason, and, by implication, that which
forbids its use in literature--namely, its ineffectiveness. But though
she selects, Mrs. Woods does not refine. She exhibits the life of the
travelling show in its habitual squalor as well as in its occasional
brightness. How she has managed it passes my understanding: but her
book leaves the impression of confident familiarity with this kind of
life, of knowledge not merely accumulated, but assimilated. Knowing as
we do that Mrs. Woods was not brought up in a circus, we infer that
she must have spent much labor in research: but, taken by itself, her
book permits no such inference. The truth is that in the case of a
genuine artist no line can be drawn between knowledge and imagination.
Probably--almost certainly--Mrs. Woods has to a remarkable degree that
gift which Mr. Henry James describes as "the faculty which when you
give it an inch takes an ell, and which for an artist is a much
greater source of strength than any accident of residence or of place
in the social scale ... the power to guess the unseen from the seen,
to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the
pattern; the condition of feeling life in general so completely that
you are well on your way to knowing a particular corner of it." Be
this as it may, Mrs. Woods has written a novel which, for mastery of
an unfamiliar _milieu_, is almost fit to stand beside _Esther Waters_.
I say "almost": for, although Mrs. Woods's mastery is easier and less
conscious than Mr. Moore's, it neither goes so deep to the springs of
action nor bears so intimately on the conduct of the story. But of
this later.

If one thing more than another convinces me that Mrs. Woods has
thoroughly realized these queer characters of hers, it is that she
makes them so much like other people. Whatever our profession may be,
we are generally silent upon the instincts that led us to adopt
it--unless, indeed, we happen to be writers and make a living out of
self-analysis. So these strollers are silent upon the attractiveness
of their calling. But they crave as openly as any of us for
distinction, and they worship "respectability" as heartily and
outspokenly as any of the country-folk for whose amusement they tumble
and pull faces. It is no small merit in this book that it reveals how
much and yet how very little divides the performers in the ring from
the audience in the sixpenny seats. I wish I had space to quote a
particularly fine passage--you will find it on pp. 72-74--in which
Mrs. Woods describes the progress of these motley characters through
Midland lanes on a fresh spring morning; the shambling white horses
with their red collars, the painted vans, the cages "where bears paced
uneasily and strange birds thrust uncouth heads out into the
sunshine," the two elephants and the camel padding through the dust
and brushing the dew off English hedges, the hermetically sealed
omnibus in which the artistes bumped and dozed, while the
wardrobe-woman, Mrs. Thompson, held forth undeterred on "those
advantages of birth, house-rent, and furniture, which made her
discomforts of real importance, whatever those of the other ladies in
the show might be."

But in bringing her Vagabonds into relation with ordinary English
life, Mrs. Woods loses all, or nearly all, of that esoteric
professional interest which, at first sight, would seem the chief
reason for choosing circus people to write about. The story of _Les
Frères Zemganno_ has, as I have said, this esoteric professional
interest. The story of _The Vagabonds_ is the story of a husband and
of a young wife who does not love him, but discovers that she loves
another man--a story as old as the hills and common to every rank and
every calling. Mrs. Woods has made the husband a middle-aged clown,
the wife a girl with strict notions about respectability, and the
lover, Fritz, a handsome young German gymnast. But there was no
fundamental reason for this choice of professions. The tale might be
every bit as true of a grocer, and a grocer's wife, and a grocer's
assistant. Once or twice, indeed, in the earlier chapters we have
promise of a more peculiar story when we read of Mrs. Morris's
objection to seeing her husband play the clown. "No woman," she says,
"that hadn't been brought up to the business would like to see her
husband look like that." And of Joe Morris we read that he took an
artistic pride in his clowning. But there follows no serious struggle
between love and art--no such struggle, for instance, as Zola has
worked out to tragic issues in his _L'Œuvre_. Mrs. Morris's shame at
her husband's ridiculous appearance merely heightens the contrast in
her eyes between him and the handsome young gymnast.

But though the circus-business is not essential, Mrs. Woods makes most
effective use of it. I will select one notable illustration of this.
When Mrs. Morris at length makes her confession--it is in the wagon,
and at night--the unhappy husband wraps her up carefully in her bed
and creeps away with his grief to the barn where Chang, a ferocious
elephant amenable only to him, has been stabled:--

     "He opened the door; the barn was pitch dark, but as he entered
     he could hear the noise of the chain which had been fastened to
     the elephant's legs being suddenly dragged. He spoke to Chang,
     and the noise ceased. Then running up a short ladder which was
     close to the door, he threw himself down on the straw and stared
     up into the darkness, which to his aching eyes seemed spangled
     with many colours. Presently he was startled by something warm
     touching him on the face.

     "'Who's there?' he called out.

     "There was no answer, but the soft thing, something like a hand,
     felt him cautiously and caressingly all over.

     "'Oh, it's you, Chang, my boy, is it?' said Joe. 'What! are you
     glad to have me, old chappie? No humbug about yer, are yer sure?
     No lies?'"

The circus-business is employed again in the catastrophe: but, to my
mind, far less happily. In spite of very admirable writing, there
remains something ridiculous in the spectacle of an injured husband,
armed with a Winchester rifle and mounted on a frantic elephant,
pursuing his wife's lover by moonlight across an English common and
finally "treeing" him up a sign-post. Mrs. Woods, indeed, means it to
be grotesque: but I think it is something more.

The problem of the story is the commonest in fiction. And when I add
that the injured husband has been married before and that his first
wife, honestly supposed to be dead, returns to threaten his happiness,
you will see that Mrs. Woods sets forth upon a path trodden by many
hundreds of thousands of incompetent feet. To start with such a
situation almost suggests bravado. If it be bravado, it is entirely
justified as the tale proceeds: for amid the crowd of failures Mrs.
Woods's solution wears the singular distinction of truth. That the
book is written in restrained and beautiful English goes without
saying: but the best tribute one can pay to the writing of it is to
say that its style and its truthfulness are at one. If complaint must
be made, it is the vulgar complaint against truth--that it leaves one
a trifle cold. A less perfect story might have aroused more emotion.
Yet I for one would not barter the pages that tell of Joe Morris's
final surrender of his wife--with their justness of imagination and
sobriety of speech--for any amount of pity and terror.

A word on the few merely descriptive passages in the book. Mrs.
Woods's scene-painting has all a Frenchman's accomplishment with the
addition of that open-air feeling and intimate knowledge of the
phenomena of "out-of-doors" which a Frenchman seldom or never attains
to. Though not, perhaps, her strongest gift, it is the one by which
she stands most conspicuously above her contemporaries. The more
credit, then, that she uses it so temperately.


[A] _The Vagabonds_. By Margaret L. Woods. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


August 11, 1894. "The Manxman."

Mr. Hall Caine's new novel _The Manxman_ (London: William Heinemann)
is a big piece of work altogether. But, on finishing the tale, I
turned back to the beginning and read the first 125 pages over again,
and then came to a stop. I wish that portion of the book could be
dealt with separately. It cannot: for it but sets the problem in human
passion and conduct which the remaining 300 pages have to solve.
Nevertheless the temptation is too much for me.

As one who thought he knew how good Mr. Hall Caine can be at his best,
I must confess to a shock of delight, or rather a growing sense of
delighted amazement, while reading those 125 pages. Yet the story is a
very simple one--a story of two friends and a woman. The two friends
are Philip Christian and Pete Quilliam: Philip talented, accomplished,
ambitious, of good family, and eager to win back the social position
which his father had lost by an imprudent marriage; Pete a nameless
boy--the bastard son of Philip's uncle and a gawky country-girl--ignorant,
brave, simple-minded, and incurably generous. The boys have grown up
together, and in love are almost more than brothers when the time comes
for them to part for a while--Philip leaving home for school, while
Pete goes as mill-boy to one Cæsar Cregeen, who combined the occupations
of miller and landlord of "The Manx Fairy" public-house. And now enters
the woman--a happy child when first we make her acquaintance--in the
shape of Katherine Cregeen, the daughter of Pete's employer. With her
poor simple Pete falls over head and ears in love. Philip, too, when
home for his holidays, is drawn by the same dark eyes; but stands aside
for his friend. Naturally, the miller will not hear of Pete, a landless,
moneyless, nameless, lad, as a suitor for his daughter; and so Pete sails
for Kimberley to make his fortune, confiding Kitty to Philip's care.

It seems that the task undertaken by Philip--that of watching over his
friend's sweetheart--is a familiar one in the Isle of Man, and he who
discharges it is known by a familiar name.

     "They call him the _Dooiney Molla_--literally, the 'man-praiser';
     and his primary function is that of an informal, unmercenary,
     purely friendly and philanthropic match-maker, introduced by the
     young man to persuade the parents of the young woman that he is a
     splendid fellow, with substantial possessions or magnificent
     prospects, and entirely fit to marry her. But he has a secondary
     function, less frequent, though scarcely less familiar; and it is
     that of a lover by proxy, or intended husband by deputy, with
     duties of moral guardianship over the girl while the man himself
     is off 'at the herrings,' or away 'at the mackerel,' or abroad on
     wider voyages."

And now, of course, begins Philip Christian's ordeal: for Kitty
discovers that she loves him and not Pete, and he that he loves Kitty
madly. On the other hand there is the imperative duty to keep faith
with his absent friend; and more than this. His future is full of high
hope; the eyes of his countrymen and of the Governor himself are
beginning to fasten on him as the most promising youth in the island;
it is even likely that he will be made Deemster, and so win back all
the position that his father threw away. But to marry Kitty--even if
he can bring himself to break faith with Pete--will be to marry
beneath him, to repeat his father's disaster, and estrange the favor
of all the high "society" of the island. Therefore, even when the
first line of resistance is broken down by a report that Pete is dead,
Philip determines to cut himself free from the temptation. But the
girl, who feels that he is slipping away from her, now takes fate into
her own hands. It is the day of harvest-home--the "Melliah"--on her
father's farm. Philip has come to put an end to her hopes, and she
knows it. The "Melliah" is cut and the usual frolic begins:

     "Then the young fellows went racing over the field, vaulting the
     stooks, stretching a straw rope for the girls to jump over,
     heightening and tightening it to trip them up, and slackening it
     and twirling it to make them skip. And the girls were falling
     with a laugh, and, leaping up again and flying off like the dust,
     tearing their frocks and dropping their sun-bonnets as if the
     barley-grains they had been reaping had got into their blood.

     "In the midst of this maddening frolic, while Cæsar and the
     others were kneeling by the barley-stack, Kate snatched Philip's
     hat from his head and shot like a gleam into the depths of the

     "Philip dragged up his coat by one of its arms and fled after

Here, then, in Sulby Glen, the girl stakes her last throw--the last
throw of every woman--and wins. It is the woman--a truly Celtic
touch--who wooes the man, and secures her love and, in the end, her

     "When a good woman falls from honour, is it merely that she is
     the victim of a momentary intoxication, of stress of passion, of
     the fever of instinct? No. It is mainly that she is the slave of
     the sweetest, tenderest, most spiritual, and pathetic of all
     human fallacies--the fallacy that by giving herself to the man
     she loves she attaches him to herself for ever. This is the real
     betrayer of nearly all good women that are betrayed. It lies at
     the root of tens of thousands of the cases that make up the
     merciless story of man's sin and woman's weakness. Alas! it is
     only the woman who clings the closer. The impulse of the man is
     to draw apart. He must conquer it, or she is lost. Such is the
     old cruel difference and inequality of man and woman as Nature
     made them--the old trick, the old tragedy."

And meanwhile Pete is not dead; but recovered, and coming home.

Here, on p. 125, ends the second act of the drama: and the telling has
been quite masterly. The passage quoted above has hitherto been the
author's solitary comment. Everything has been presented in that fine
objective manner which is the triumph of story-telling. As I read, I
began to say to myself, "This is good"; and in a little while, "Ah,
but this is very good"; and at length, "But this is amazing. If he can
only keep this up, he will have written one of the finest novels of
his time." The whole story was laid out so easily; with such humor,
such apparent carelessness, such an instinct for the right stroke in
the right place, and no more than the right stroke; the big
scenes--Pete's love-making in the dawn and Kate's victory in Sulby
Glen--were so poetically conceived (I use the adverb in its strictest
sense) and so beautifully written; above all, the story remained so
true to the soil on which it was constructed. A sworn admirer of Mr.
Brown's _Betsy Lee_ and _The Doctor_ has no doubt great advantage over
other people in approaching _The Manxman_. Who, that has read his
_Fo'c's'le Yarns_ worthily, can fail to feel kindly towards the little
island and its shy, home-loving folk? And--by what means I do not
know--Mr. Hall Caine has managed from time to time to catch Mr.
Brown's very humor and set it to shine on his page. The secret, I
suppose, is their common possession as Manxmen: and, like all the best
art, theirs is true to its country and its material.

Pete comes home, suspecting no harm; still childish of heart and loud
of voice--a trifle too loud, by the way; his shouts begin to irritate
the reader, and the reader begins to feel how sorely they must have
irritated his wife: for the unhappy Kate is forced, after all, into
marrying Pete. And so the tragedy begins.

I wish, with my heart, I could congratulate Mr. Hall Caine as warmly
upon the remainder of the book as upon its first two parts. He is too
sure an artist to miss the solution--the only adequate solution--of
the problem. The purification of Philip Christian and Kitty must come,
if at all, "as by fire"; and Mr. Hall Caine is not afraid to take us
through the deepest fire. No suffering daunts him--neither the anguish
of Kitty, writhing against her marriage with Pete, nor the desperate
pathos of Pete after his wife has run away, pretending to the
neighbors that she has only gone to Liverpool for her health, and
actually writing letters and addressing parcels to himself and posting
them from out-of-the-way towns to deceive the local postman; nor the
moral ruination of Philip, with whom Kitty is living in hiding; nor
his final redemption by the ordeal of a public confession before the
great company assembled to see him reach the height of worldly
ambition and be appointed governor of his native island.

And yet--I have a suspicion that Mr. Hall Caine, who deals by
preference with the elemental emotions, would rejoice in the epithet
"Æschylean" applied to his work. The epithet would not be unwarranted:
but it is precisely when most consciously Æschylean that Mr. Hall
Caine, in my poor judgment, comes to grief. This is but to say that he
possesses the defects of his qualities. There is altogether too much
of the "Go to: let me be Titanic" about the book. Æschylus has grown a
trifle too well aware of his reputation, has taken to underscoring his
points, and tends to prolixity in consequence. Mr. Hall Caine has not
a little of Hugo's audacity, but, with it, not a little of Hugo's
diffuseness. Standing, like Destiny, with scourge lifted over the
naked backs of his two poor sinners, he spares them no single
stroke--not so much as a little one. Every detail that can possibly
heighten their suffering is brought out in its place, until we feel
that Life, after all, is more careless, and tell ourselves that Fate
does not measure out her revenge with an inch rule. We see the
machinery of pathos at work: and we are rather made incredulous than
moved when the machinery works so accurately that Philip is made to
betray Pete on the very night when Pete goes out to beat a big drum in
Philip's honor. Nor is this by any means the only harrowing
coincidence of the kind. Worse than this--for its effect upon us as a
work of art--our emotions are so flogged and out-tired by detail after
detail that they cannot rise at the last big fence, and so the scene
of Philip's confession in the Courthouse misses half its effect. It is
a fine scene. I am no bigoted admirer of Hawthorne--a very cold one,
indeed--and should be the last to say that the famous scene in _The
Scarlet Letter_ cannot be improved upon. Nor do I make any doubt that,
as originally conceived by Mr. Hall Caine, the story had its duly
effective climax here. But still less do I doubt that the climax, and
therefore the whole story, would have been twice as impressive had the
book, from p. 125 onwards, contained just half its present number of
words. But whether this opinion be right or wrong, the book remains a
big book, and its story a beautiful story.


Oct. 27, 1894. "The God in the Car" and "The Indiscretion
of the Duchess."

As I set down the titles of these two new stories by Mr. Anthony Hope,
it occurs to me that combined they would make an excellent title for a
third story yet to be written. For Mr. Hope's duchess, if by any
chance she found herself travelling with a god in a car, would
infallibly seize the occasion for a _tour de force_ in charming
indiscretion. That the car would travel for some part of the distance
in that position of unstable equilibrium known to skaters as the
"outside edge" may, I think, be taken for granted. But far be it from
me to imagine bungling developments of the situation I here suggest to
Mr. Hope's singular and agreeable talents. Like Mr. Stevenson's
smatterer, who was asked, "What would be the result of putting a pound
of potassium in a pot of porter?" I content myself with anticipating
"that there would probably be a number of interesting bye-products."

Be it understood that I suggest only a combination of the titles--not
of the two stories as Mr. Hope has written them: for these move on
levels altogether different. The constant reader of _The Speaker's_
"Causeries" will be familiar with the two propositions--not in the
least contradictory--that a novel should be true to life, and that it
is quite impossible for a novel to be true to life. He will also know
how they are reconciled. A story, of whatever kind, must follow life
at a certain remove. It is a good and consistent story if it keep at
that remove from first till last. Let us have the old tag once more:

                      "Servetur ad inum
     Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet."

A good story and real life are such that, being produced in either
direction and to any extent, they never meet. The distance between the
parallels does not count: or rather, it is just a matter for the
author to choose. It is here that Mr. Howells makes his mistake, who
speaks contemptuously of Romance as _Puss in Boots_. _Puss in Boots_
is a masterpiece in its way, and in its way just as true to
life--_i.e._, to its distance from life--as that very different
masterpiece _Silas Lapham_. When Mr. Howells objects to the figure of
Vautrin in _Le Père Goriot_, he criticizes well: Vautrin in that tale
is out of drawing and therefore monstrous. But to bring a similar
objection against Porthos in _Le Vicomte de Bragelonne_ would be very
bad criticism; for it would ignore all the postulates of the story. In
real life Vautrin and Porthos would be equally monstrous: in the
stories Vautrin is monstrous and Porthos is not.

But though the distance from real life at which an author conducts his
tale is just a matter for his own choice, it usually happens to him
after a while, either from taste or habit, to choose a particular
distance and stick to it, or near it, henceforth in all his writings.
Thus Scott has his own distance, and Jane Austen hers. Balzac, Hugo,
Charlotte Brontë, Dickens, Tolstoi, Mr. Howells himself--all these
have their favorite distances, and all are different and cannot be
confused. But a young writer usually starts in some uncertainty on
this point. He has to find his range, and will quite likely lead off
with a miss or a ricochet, as Mr. Hardy led off with _Desperate
Remedies_ before finding the target with _Under the Greenwood Tree_.
Now Mr. Hope--the application of these profound remarks is coming at
last--being a young writer, hovers in choice between two ranges. He
has found the target with both, and cannot make up his mind between
them: and I for one hope he will keep up his practice at both: for his
experiments are most interesting, and in the course of them he is
giving us capital books. Of the two before me, _The God in the Car_
belongs to the same class as his earliest work--his _Father Stafford_,
for instance, a novel that did not win one-tenth of the notice it
deserved. It is practice at short range. It moves very close to real
life. Real people, of course, do not converse as briskly and wittily
as do Mr. Hope's characters: but these have nothing of the impossible
in them, and even in the whole business of Omofaga there is nothing
more fantastic than its delightful name. The book is genuinely tragic;
but the tragedy lies rather in what the reader is left to imagine than
in what actually occurs upon the stage. That it never comes to a more
explicit and vulgar issue stands not so much to the credit of the
heroine (as I suppose we must call Mrs. Dennison) as to the force of
circumstances as manipulated in the tactful grasp of Mr. Hope. Nor is
it to be imputed to him for a fault that the critical chapter xvii.
reminds us in half a dozen oddly indirect ways of a certain chapter in
_Richard Feverel_. The place, the situation, the reader's suspense,
are similar; but the actors, their emotions, their purposes are vastly
different. It is a fine chapter, and the page with which it opens is
the worst in the book--a solitary purple patch of "fine writing." I
observe without surprise that the reviewers--whose admiring attention
is seldom caught but by something out of proportion--have been
fastening upon it and quoting it ecstatically.

_The Indiscretion of the Duchess_ is the tale in Mr. Hope's second
manner--the manner of _The Prisoner of Zenda_. Story for story, it
falls a trifle sort of _The Prisoner of Zenda_. As a set-off, the
telling is firmer, surer, more accomplished. In each an aimless,
superficially cynical, but naturally amiable English gentleman finds
himself casually involved in circumstances which appeal first to his
sportsmanlike love of adventure, and so by degrees to his chivalry,
his sense of honor, and his passions. At first amused, then perplexed,
then nettled, then involved heart and soul, he is left to fight his
way through with the native weapons of his order--courage, tact,
honesty, wit, strength of self-sacrifice, aptitude for affairs. The
_donnée_ of these tales, their spirit, their postulates, are nakedly
romantic. In them the author deliberately lends enchantment to his
view by withdrawing to a convenient distance from real life. But, once
more, the enchantment is everything and the distance nothing. If I
must find fault with the later of the stories, it will not be with its
general extravagance--for extravagance is part of the secret of
Romance--but with the sordid and very nasty Madame Delhasse. She would
be repulsive enough in any case: but as Marie's mother she is
peculiarly repulsive and, let me add, improbable. Nobody looks for
heredity in a tale of this sort: but even in the fairy tales it is
always the heroine's _step_-mother who ends very fitly with a roll
downhill in a barrel full of spikes.

But great as are the differences between _The God in the Car_ and _The
Indiscretion of the Duchess_--and I ought to say that the former
carries (as it ought) more weight of metal--they have their points of
similarity. Both illustrate conspicuously Mr. Hope's gift of
advancing the action of his story by the sprightly conversation of his
characters. There is a touch of Dumas in their talk, and more than a
touch of Sterne--the Sterne of the _Sentimental Journey_.

     "I beg your pardon, madame," said I, with a whirl of my hat.

     "I beg your pardon, sir," said the lady, with an inclination of
     her head.

     "One is so careless in entering rooms hurriedly," I observed.

     "Oh, but it is stupid to stand just by the door!" insisted the

To sum up, these are two most entertaining books by one of the writers
for whose next book one searches eagerly in the publishers' lists. If,
however, he will not resent one small word of caution, it is that he
should not let us find his name there too often. As far as we can see,
he cannot write too much for us. But he may very easily write too much
for his own health.


Sept. 14, 1895. Hypnotic Fiction.

A number of people--and I am one--cannot "abide" hypnotism in fiction.
In my own case the dislike has been merely instinctive, and I have
never yet found time to examine the instinct and discover whether or
not it is just and reasonable. The appearance of a one-volume edition
of _Trilby_--undoubtedly the most successful tale that has ever dealt
with hypnotism--and the success of the dramatic version of _Trilby_
presented a few days ago by Mr. Tree, invite one to apply the test.
Clearly there are large numbers of people who enjoy hypnotic fiction,
or whose prejudices have been effectively subdued by Mr. du Maurier's
tact and talent. Must we then confess that our instinct has been
unjust and unreasonable, and give it up? Or--since we _must_ like
_Trilby_, and there is no help for it--shall we enjoy the tale under
protest and in spite of its hypnotism?

Analysis of an Aversion.

I think my first objection to these hypnotic tales is the terror they
inspire. I am not talking of ordinary human terror, which, of course,
is the basis of much of the best tragedy. We are terrified by the
story of Macbeth; but it is with a rational and a salutary terror. We
are aware all the while that the moral laws are at work. We see a
hideous calamity looming, approaching, imminent: but we can see that
it is the effect of causes which have been duly exhibited to us. We
can reason it out: we know where we stand: our conscience approves the
punishment even while our pity calls out against it. And when the blow
falls, it shakes away none of our belief in the advantages of virtuous
conduct. It leaves the good old impregnable position, "Be virtuous and
you will be happy," stronger than ever. But the terror of these
hypnotic stories resembles that of a child in a dark room. For
artistic reasons too obvious to need pointing out, the hypnotizer in
these stories is always the villain of the piece. For the same or
similar reasons, the "subject" is always a person worthy of our
sympathy, and is usually a woman. Let us suppose it to be a good and
beautiful woman--for that is the commonest case. The gives us to
understand that by hypnotism this good and beautiful woman is for a
while completely in the power of a man who is _ex hypothesi_ a beast,
and who _ex hypothesi_ can make her commit any excesses that his
beastliness may suggest. Obviously we are removed outside the moral
order altogether; and in its place we are presented with a state of
things in which innocence, honesty, love, and the rest are entirely at
the disposal and under the rule of malevolent brutality; the result,
as presented to us, being qualified only by such tact as the author
may choose to display. That Mr. du Maurier has displayed great tact is
extremely creditable to Mr. du Maurier, and might have been predicted
of him. But it does not alter the fact that a form of fiction which
leaves us at the mercy of an author's tact is a very dangerous form in
a world which contains so few Du Mauriers. It is lamentable enough to
have to exclaim--as we must over so much of human history--

     "Ah! what avails the sceptred race
        And what the form divine?..."

But it must be quite intolerable when a story leaves us demanding,
"What avail native innocence, truthfulness, chastity, when all these
can be changed into guile and uncleanliness at the mere suggestion of
a dirty mesmerist?"

The answer to this, I suppose, will be, "But hypnotism is a scientific
fact. People can be hypnotized, and are hypnotized. Are you one of
those who would exclude the novelist from this and that field of human
experience?" And then I am quite prepared to hear the old tag, "_Homo
sum_," etc., once more misapplied.

Limitation of Hypnotic Fiction.

Let us distinguish. Hypnotism is a proved fact: people are hypnotized.
Hypnotism is not a delimited fact: nobody yet knows precisely its
conditions or its effects; or, if the discovery has been made, it has
certainly not yet found its way to the novelists. For them it is as
yet chiefly a field of fancy. They invent vagaries for it as they
invent ghosts. And as for the "_humananum nihil a me alienum_"
defence, my strongest objection to hypnotic fiction is its inhumanity.
An experience is not human in the proper artistic sense (with which
alone we are concerned) merely because it has befallen a man or a
woman. There was an Irishman, the other day, who through mere
inadvertence cut off his own head with a scythe. But the story is
rather inhuman than not. Still less right have we to call everything
human which can be supposed by the most liberal stretch of the
imagination to have happened to a man or a woman. A story is only
human in so far as it is governed by the laws which are recognized as
determining human action. Now according as we regard human action, its
two great determinants will be free will or necessity. But hypnotism
entirely does away with free will: and for necessity, fatal or
circumstantial, it substitutes the lawless and irresponsible
imperative of a casual individual man, who (in fiction) usually
happens to be a scoundrel.

A story may be human even though it discard one or more of the
recognized conditions of human life. Thus in the confessedly
supernatural story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the conflict between
the two Jekylls is human enough and morally significant, because it
answers to a conflict which is waged day by day--though as a rule less
tremendously--in the soul of every human being. But the double Trilby
signifies nothing. She is naturally in love with Little Billee: she is
also in love with Svengali, but quite unnaturally and irresponsibly.
There is no real conflict. As Gecko says of Svengali--

     "He had but to say '_Dors!_' and she suddenly became an
     unconscious Trilby of marble, who could produce wonderful
     sounds--just the sounds he wanted and nothing else--and think his
     thoughts and wish his wishes--and love him at his bidding with a
     strange, unreal, factitious love ... just his own love for
     himself turned inside out--à l'envers--and reflected back on him
     as from a mirror ... un écho, un simulacre, quoi? pas autre
     chose!... It was not worth having! I was not even jealous!"

This last passage, I think, suggests that Mr. du Maurier would have
produced a much less charming story, indeed, but a vastly more
artistic one, had he directed his readers' attention rather upon the
tragedy of Svengali than upon the tragedy of Trilby. For Svengali's
position as complete master of a woman's will and yet unable to call
forth more than a factitious love--"just his own love for himself
turned inside out and reflected back on him as from a mirror"--is a
really tragic one, and a fine variation on the old Frankenstein
_motif_. The tragedy of Frankenstein resides in Frankenstein himself,
not in his creature.

An Incongruous Story.

In short, _Trilby_ seems--as _Peter Ibbetson_ seemed--to fall into two
parts, the natural and supernatural, which will not join. They might
possibly join if Mr. du Maurier had not made the natural so
exceedingly domestic, had he been less successful with the Trilby, and
Little Billee, and Taffy, and the Laird, for all of whom he has taught
us so extravagant a liking. But his very success with these domestic
(if oddly domestic) figures, and with the very domestic tale of Little
Billee's affair of the heart, proves our greatest stumbling-block when
we are invited to follow the machinations of the superlative Svengali.
That the story of Svengali and of Trilby's voice is a good story only
a duffer would deny. So is Gautier's _La Morte Amoureuse_; perhaps the
best story of its kind ever written. But suppose Thackeray had taken
_La Morte Amoureuse_ and tried to write it into _Pendennis!_


Sept. 21, 1895. Stevenson's Testimony.

In his chapter of "Personal Memories," printed in the _Century
Magazine_ of July last, Mr. Gosse speaks of the peculiar esteem in
which Mr. Frank R. Stockton's stories were held by Robert Louis
Stevenson. "When I was going to America to lecture, he was
particularly anxious that I should lay at the feet of Mr. Frank R.
Stockton his homage, couched in the following lines:--

     My Stockton if I failed to like,
       It were a sheer depravity;
     For I went down with the 'Thomas Hyke,'
       And up with the 'Negative Gravity.'

He adored these tales of Mr. Stockton's, a taste which must be shared
by all good men."

It is shared at any rate by some thousands of people on this side of
the Atlantic. Only, one is not quite sure how far their admiration
extends. As far as can be guessed--for I have never come across any
British attempt at a serious appreciation of Mr. Stockton--the
general disposition is to regard him as an amusing kind of "cuss" with
a queer kink in his fancy, who writes puzzling little stories that
make you smile. As for taking him seriously, "why he doesn't even
profess to write seriously"--an absurd objection, of course; but good
enough for the present-day reviewer, who sits up all night in order
that the public may have his earliest possible opinion on the
Reminiscences of Bishop A, or the Personal Recollections of
Field-Marshal B, or a Tour taken in Ireland by the Honorable Mrs. C.
For criticism just now, as a mere matter of business convenience,
provides a relative importance for books before they appear; and in
this classification the space allotted to fiction and labelled
"important" is crowded for the moment with works dealing with
religious or sexual difficulties. Everyone has read _Rudder Grange_,
_The Lady or the Tiger?_ and _A Borrowed Month_; but somehow few
people seem to think of them as subjects for serious criticism.

"Classical" qualities.

And yet these stories are almost classics. That is to say, they have
the classical qualities, and only need time to ripen them into
classics: for nothing but age divides a story of the quality of _The
Lady or the Tiger?_ (for instance) from a story of the quality of _Rip
Van Winkle_. They are full of wit; but the wit never chokes the style,
which is simple and pellucid. Their fanciful postulates being granted,
they are absolutely rational. And they are in a high degree original.
Originality, good temper, good sense, moderation, wit--these are
classical qualities: and he is a rare benefactor who employs them all
for the amusement of the world.

A Comparison.

At first sight it may seem absurd to compare Mr. Stockton with Defoe.
You can scarcely imagine two men with more dissimilar notions of the
value of gracefulness and humor, or with more divergent aims in
writing. Mr. Stockton is nothing if not fanciful, and Defoe is hardly
fanciful at all. Nevertheless in reading one I am constantly reminded
of the other. You must remember Mr. Stockton's habit is to confine his
eccentricities of fancy to the postulates of a tale. He starts with
some wildly unusual--but, as a rule, not impossible--conjuncture of
circumstances. This being granted, however, he deduces his story
logically and precisely, appealing never to our passions and almost
constantly to our common sense. His people are as full of common-sense
as Defoe's. They may have more pluck than the average man or woman,
and they usually have more adaptability; but they apply to
extraordinary circumstances the good unsentimental reasoning of
ordinary life, and usually with the happiest results. The shipwreck of
Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine was extraordinary enough, but their
subsequent conduct was rational almost to precision: and in
story-telling rationality does for fancy what economy of emotional
utterances does for emotion. We may apply to Mr. Stockton's tales a
remark which Mr. Saintsbury let fall some years ago upon
dream-literature. He was speaking particularly of Flaubert's
_Tentation de Saint Antoine_:--

     "The capacities of dreams and hallucinations for literary
     treatment are undoubted. But most writers, including even De
     Quincey, who have tried this style, have erred, inasmuch as they
     have endeavoured to throw a portion of the mystery with which the
     waking mind invests dreams over the dream itself. Anyone's
     experience is sufficient to show that this is wrong. The events
     of dreams as they happen are quite plain and matter-of-fact, and
     it is only in the intervals, and, so to speak, the
     scene-shifting of dreaming, that any suspicion of strangeness
     occurs to the dreamer."

A dream, however wild, is quite plain and matter-of-fact to the
dreamer; therefore, for verisimilitude, the narrative of a dream
should be quite plain and matter-of-fact. In the same way the narrator
of an extremely fanciful tale should--since verisimilitude is the
first aim of story-telling--attempt to exclude all suspicion of the
unnatural from his reader's mind. And this is only done by persuading
him that no suspicion of the unnatural occurred to the actors in the
story. And this again is best managed by making his characters persons
of sound every-day common sense. "If _these_ are not upset by what
befalls them, why"--is the unconscious inference--"why in the world
should _I_ be upset?"

So, in spite of the enormous difference between the two writers, there
has been no one since Defoe who so carefully as Mr. Stockton regulates
the actions of his characters by strict common sense. Nor do I at the
moment remember any writer who comes closer to Defoe in mathematical
care for detail. In the case of the True-born Englishman this
carefulness was sometimes overdone--as when he makes Colonel Jack
remember with exactness the lists of articles he stole as a boy, and
their value. In the _Adventures of Captain Horn_ the machinery which
conceals and guards the Peruvian treasure is so elaborately described
that one is tempted to believe Mr. Stockton must have constructed a
working model of it with his own hands before he sat down to write the
book. In a way, this accuracy of detail is part of the common-sense
character of the narrative, and undoubtedly helps the verisimilitude

A Genuine American.

But to my mind Mr. Stockton's characters are even more original than
the machinery of his stories. And in their originality they reflect
not only Mr. Stockton himself, but the race from which they and their
author spring. In fact, they seem to me about the most genuinely
American things in American fiction. After all, when one comes to
think of it, Mrs. Lecks and Captain Horn merely illustrate that ready
adaptation of Anglo-Saxon pluck and businesslike common sense to
savage and unusual circumstances which has been the real secret of the
colonization of the North American Continent. Captain Horn's
discovery and winning of the treasure may differ accidentally, but do
not differ in essence, from a thousand true tales of commercial
triumph in the great Central Plain or on the Pacific Slope. And in the
heroine of the book we recognize those very qualities and aptitudes
for which we have all learnt to admire and esteem the American girl.
They are hero and heroine, and so of course we are presented with the
better side of a national character; but then it has been the better
side which has done the business. The bitterest critic of things
American will not deny that Mr. Stockton's characters are typical
Americans, and could not belong to any other nation in the world. Nor
can he deny that they combine sobriety with pluck, and businesslike
behavior with good feeling; that they are as full of honor as of
resource, and as sportsmanlike as sagacious. That people with such
characteristics should be recognizable by us as typical Americans is a
sufficient answer to half the nonsense which is being talked just now
_à propos_ of a recent silly contest for the America Cup.

Nationality apart, if anyone wants a good stirring story, _Captain
Horn_ is the story for his money. It has loose ends, and the
concluding chapter ties up an end that might well have been left
loose; but if a better story of adventure has been written of late I
wish somebody would tell me its name.


August 26, 1893. Dauntless Anthology.

It is really very difficult to know what to say to Mr. Maynard
Leonard, editor of _The Dog in British Poetry_ (London: David Nutt).
His case is something the same as Archdeacon Farrar's. The critic who
desires amendment in the Archdeacon's prose, and suggests that
something might be done by a study of Butler or Hume or Cobbett or
Newman, is met with the cheerful retort, "But I have studied these
writers, and admire them even more than you do." The position is
impregnable; and the Archdeacon is only asserting that two and two
make four when he goes on to confess that, "with the best will in the
world to profit by the criticisms of his books, he has never profited
in the least by any of them."

Now, Mr. Leonard has at least this much in common with Archdeacon
Farrar, that before him criticism must sit down with folded hands. In
the lightness of his heart he accepts every fresh argument against
such and such a course as an added reason for following it:--

     "While this collection of poems was being made," he tells us, "a
     well-known author and critic took occasion to gently ridicule
     (_sic_) anthologies and anthologists. He suggested, as if the
     force of foolishness could no further go, that the next anthology
     would deal with dogs."

"Undismayed by this," to use his own words, Mr. Leonard proceeded to
prove it. Now it is obvious that no man can set a term to literary
activity if it depend on the Briton's notorious unwillingness to
recognize that he is beaten. I might dare, for instance, a Scotsman to
compile an anthology on "The Eel in British Poetry"; but of what avail
is it to challenge an indomitable race?

I am sorry Mr. Leonard has not given the name of this critic; but have
a notion it must be Mr. Andrew Lang, though I am sure he is innocent
of the split infinitive quoted above. It really ought to be Mr. Lang,
if only for the humor of the means by which Mr. Leonard proposes to
silence him. "I am confident," says he, "that the voice of the great
dog-loving public in this country would drown that of the critic in
question." Mr. Leonard's metaphors, you see, like the dyer's hand, are
subdued to what they work in. But is not the picture delightful? Mr.
Lang, the gentle of speech; who, with his master Walton, "studies to
be quiet"; who tells us in his very latest verse

     "I've maistly had my fill
         O' this world's din"--

--Mr. Lang set down in the midst of a really representative dog show,
say at Birmingham or the Crystal Palace, and there howled down! His
_blandi susurri_ drowned in the combined clamor of mongrel, puppy,
whelp, and hound, and "the great dog-loving public in this country"!

"_Solvitur ululando_," hopes Mr. Leonard; and we will wait for the
voice of the great dog-loving public to uplift itself and settle the
question. Here, at any rate, is the book, beautiful in shape, and
printed by the Constables upon sumptuous paper. And the title-page
bears a rubric and a reference to Tobias' dog. "It is no need," says
Wyclif in one of his sermons, "to busy us what hight Tobies' hound";
but Wyclif had never to reckon with a great dog-loving public. And Mr.
Leonard, having considered his work and dedicated it "To the
Cynics"--which, I suppose, is Greek for "dog-loving public"--observes,
"It is rather remarkable that no one has yet published such a book as
this." Perhaps it is.

But if we take it for granted (1) that it was worth doing, and (2)
that whatever be worth doing is worth doing well, then Mr. Leonard has
reason for his complacency. "It was never my intention," he says, "to
gather together a complete collection of even British poems about
dogs."--When will _that_ come, I wonder?--"I have sought to secure a
representative rather than an exhaustive anthology." His selections
from a mass of poetry ranging from Homer to Mr. Mallock are judicious.
He is not concerned (he assures us) to defend the poetical merits of
all this verse:--

     "--O, the wise contentment
        Th' anthologist doth find!"

--but he has provided it with notes--and capital notes they are--with
a magnificent Table of Contents, an Index of Authors, an Index of
First Lines, an Index of Dogs Mentioned by Name in the Poems, and an
Index of the Species of Dogs Mentioned. So that, even if he miss
transportation to an equal sky, the dog has better treatment on earth
than most authors. And Mr. Nutt and the Messrs. Constable have done
their best; and everyone knows how good is that best. And the wonder
is, as Dr. Johnson remarked (concerning a dog, by the way), not that
the thing is done so well, but that it should be done at all.


_A Baconian Essay_

Dec. 26, 1891.

That was a Wittie Invective made by _Montaigny_ upon the _Antipodean_,
Who said they must be Thieves that pulled on their breeches when
Honest Folk were scarce abed. So is it Obnoxious to them that purvey
_Christmas Numbers_, _Annuals_, and the like, that they commonly write
under _Sirius_ his star as it were _Capricornus_, feigning to Scate
and Carol and blow warm upon their Fingers, while yet they might be
culling of Strawberries. And all to this end, that Editors may take
the cake. I know One, the Father of a long Family, that will sit a
whole June night without queeching in a Vessell of Refrigerated Water
till he be Ingaged with hard Ice, that the _Publick_ may be docked no
pennyweight of the Sentiments incident to the _Nativity_. For we be
like Grapes, and goe to Press in August. But methinks these rigours do
postulate a _Robur Corporis_ more than ordinary (whereas 'tis but one
in ten if a Novelist overtop in Physique); and besides will often fail
of the effect. As I _myself_ have asked--the Pseudonym being but

     "O! Who can hold a fire in his hand
     By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?"

Yet sometimes, because some things are in kind very Casuall, which if
they escape prove Excellent (as the man who by Inadvertence inherited
the throne of the _Grand Turk_ with all appertayning) so that the kind
is inferiour, being subject to Perill, but that which is Excellent
being proved superiour, as the Blossom of March and the Blossom of
May, whereof the French verse goeth:--

     "Bourgeon de Mars, enfant de Paris;
      Si un eschape, il en vaut dix."

--so, as I was saying (till the Mischief infected my Protasis), albeit
the gross of writings will moulder between _St. John's_ feast and _St.
Stephen's_, yet, if one survive, 'tis odds he will prove Money in your
Pocket. Therefore I counsel that you preoccupate and tie him, by
Easter at the latest, to _Forty thousand words_, naming a Figure in
excess: for Operation shrinketh all things, as was observed by
Galenus, who said to his Friend, "I will cut off your Leg, and then
you will be lesse by a Foot." Also you will do well to provide a
_Pictura_ in Chromo-Lithography. For the Glaziers like it, and no harm
done if they blush not: which is easily avoided by making it out of a
little Child and a Puppy-dog, or else a Mother, or some such trivial
Accompaniment. But Phryne marrs all. It was even rashly done of that
Editor who issued a Coloured Plate, calling it "_Phryne Behind the
Areopagus_": for though nothing was Seen, the pillars and Grecian
elders intervening, yet 'twas Felt a great pity. And the Fellow ran
for it, saying flimsily:--

     "Populus me sibilat. At mihi plaudo."

Whereas I rather praise the dictum of that other writer, who said, "In
this house I had sooner be turned over on the Drawing-room Table than
roll under that in the Dining-room," meaning to reflect on the wine,
but the Hostess took it for a compliment.

But to speak of the Letter Press. For the Sea you will use Clark
Russell; for the East, Rudyard Kipling; for _Blood_, Haggard; for
neat pastorall Subjects, Thomas Hardy, so he be within Bounds. I
mislike his "Noble Dames." Barrie has a prettier witt; but Besant will
keep in all weathers, and serve as right _Pemmican_. As for conundrums
and poetry, they are but Toys: I have seen as good in crackers; which
we pull, not as meaning to read or guess, but read and guess to cover
the Shame of our Employment. Yet for Conundrums, if you hold the
Answers till your next issue they Raise the Wind among Fools.

He that hath _Wife and Children_ hath given Hostages to _Little
Folks_: he will hardly redeem but by sacrifice of a Christmas Tree.
The learned Poggius, that had twelve Sons and Daughters, used to note
ruefully that he might never escape but by purchase of a _dozen
Annuals_, citing this to prove how greatly Tastes will diverge among
the Extreamely Young, even though they come of the same geniture. So
will Printed Matter multiply faster than our Parents. Yet 'tis
discutable that this phrensy of _Annuals_ groweth staler by
Recurrence. As that Helvetian lamented, whose Cuckoo-clock failed of
a ready Purchaser, and he had to live with it. "_What Again?_" said
he, and "_Surely Spring is not come yet, dash it?_" Also I cannot
stomach that our Authors portend a Severity of Weather unseasonable in
these Muggy Latitudes. I will eat my Hat if for these twenty
Christmasses I have made six Slides worthy the Mention. Yet I know an
Author that had his _Hero and Heroine_ consent together very prettily;
but 'twas in a _Thaw_, and the Editor being stout, the match was
broken off unblessedly, till a Pact was made that it should indeed be
a Thaw, but sufficient only to let the Heroine drop through the Ice
and be Rescewed.

Without _Ghosts_, we twiddle thumbs....

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Adventures in Criticism" ***

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