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Title: Side Lights
Author: Runciman, James, 1852-1891
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SIDE LIGHTS


By JAMES RUNCIMAN



_WITH MEMOIR BY GRANT ALLEN,
AND INTRODUCTION BY W.T. STEAD.
EDITED BY JOHN F. RUNCIMAN_


London
T. FISHER UNWIN
PATERNOSTER SQUARE
MDCCCXCIII



CONTENTS.


A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR. BY GRANT ALLEN

AN INTRODUCTORY WORD ABOUT THE BOOK. BY W.T. STEAD

    I. LETTER-WRITERS

   II. ON WRITING ONESELF OUT

  III. THE DECLINE OF LITERATURE

   IV. COLOUR-BLINDNESS IN LITERATURE

    V. THE SURFEIT OF BOOKS

   VI. PEOPLE WHO ARE "DOWN"

  VII. ILL-ASSORTED MARRIAGES

 VIII. HAPPY MARRIAGES

   IX. SHREWS

    X. ARE WE WEALTHY

   XI. THE VALUES OF LABOUR

  XII. THE HOPELESS POOR

 XIII. WAIFS AND STRAYS

  XIV. STAGE-CHILDREN

   XV. PUBLIC AND PRIVATE MORALITY: PAST AND PRESENT

  XVI. "RAISING THE LEVEL OF AMUSEMENTS"

 XVII. A LITTLE SERMON ON FAILURES

XVIII. "VANITY OF VANITIES"

  XIX. GAMBLERS

   XX. SCOUNDRELS

  XXI. QUIET OLD TOWNS

 XXII. THE SEA

XXIII. SORROW

 XXIV. DEATH

  XXV. JOURNALISM



A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR.

BY GRANT ALLEN.


I knew James Runciman but little, and that little for the most part
in the way of business. But no one could know that ardent and eager
soul at all, no matter how slightly, without admiring and respecting
much that was powerful and vigorous in his strangely-compounded
personality. His very look attracted. He had human weaknesses not
a few, but all of the more genial and humane sort; for he was
essentially and above everything a lovable man, a noble, interesting,
and unique specimen of genuine, sincere, whole-hearted manhood.

He was a Northumbrian by birth, "and knew the Northumbrian coast,"
says one of his North-Country friends, "like his mother's face." His
birthplace was at Cresswell, a little village near Morpeth, where he
was born in August, 1852, so that he was not quite thirty-nine when he
finally wore himself out with his ceaseless exertions. He had a true
North-Country education, too, among the moors and cliffs, and there
drank in to the full that love of nature, and especially of the sea,
which forms so conspicuous a note in his later writings. Heather and
wave struck the keynotes. A son of the people, he went first, in his
boyhood, to the village school at Ellington; but on his eleventh
birthday he was removed from the wild north to a new world at
Greenwich. There he spent two years in the naval school; and
straightway began his first experiences of life on his own account as
a pupil teacher at North Shields Ragged School, not far from his
native hamlet.

"A worse place of training for a youth," says a writer in _The
Schoolmaster_, "it would be hard to discover. The building was
unsuitable, the children rough, and the neighbourhood vile--and the
long tramp over the moors to Cresswell and back at week ends was,
perhaps, what enabled the young apprentice to preserve his health of
mind and body. His education was very much in his own hands. He
managed in a few weeks to study enough to pass his examinations with
credit. The rest of his time was spent in reading everything which
came in his way, so that when he entered Borough-road in January,
1871, he was not only almost at the top of the list, but he was the
best informed man of his year. His fellow candidates remember even now
his appearance during scholarship week. Like David, he was ruddy of
countenance, like Saul he towered head and shoulders above the rest,
and a mass of fair hair fell over his forehead. Whene'er he took his
walks abroad he wore a large soft hat, and a large soft scarf, and
carried a stick that was large but not soft."

To this graphic description I will add a second one. "He was a
splendid all-round athlete," says another friend, who knew him at this
time, in the British and Foreign School Society's London college. "Six
feet two or three in height, and with a fine muscular development, he
could box, wrestle, fence, or row with all comers, and beat them with
ridiculous ease. No one could have been made to believe that he would
die, physically worn out, before he was forty. His intellectual
mastery was as unquestioned as his physical superiority; he always
topped the examination lists, to the chagrin of some of the lecturers,
whom he teased sadly by protesting against injustice the moment it
peeped out, by teaching all the good young men to smoke prodigiously,
by scattering revolutionary verses about the college, and finally by
collecting and burning in one grand bonfire every copy of an obnoxious
text-book under which the students had long suffered."

This was indeed the germ of the man as we all knew him long afterwards.

Runciman left the college to take up the mastership of a London Board
School in a low part of Deptford; and here he soon gained an
extraordinary influence over the population of one of the worst slums
in London. Mr. Thomas Wright, the "Journeyman Engineer," has already
told in print elsewhere the story of Runciman's descent into the
depths of Deptford, how he set about humanising the shoeless,
starving, conscience-little waifs who were drafted into his school,
and how, before many months had passed, he never walked through the
squalid streets of his own quarter without two or three loving little
fellows all in tatters trying to touch the hem of his garment, while a
group of the more timid followed him admiringly afar off. From the
children, his good influence extended to the parents; and it was an
almost every-day occurrence for visitors from the slums to burst into
the school to fetch the master to some coster who was "a-killin' his
woman." The brawny young giant would dive into the courts where the
police go in couples, clamber ricketty stairs, and "interview" the
fighting pair. "His plan was to appeal to the manliness of the
offender, and make him ashamed of himself; often such a visit ended in
a loan, whereby the 'barrer' was replenished and the surly husband set
to work; but if all efforts at peacemaking were useless, this new
apostle had methods beyond the reach of the ordinary missionary--he
would (the case deserving it) drop his mild, insinuating, persuasive
tones, and not only threaten to pulp the incorrigible blackguard into
a jelly, but proceed to do it."

Runciman, however, was much more in fibre than a mere schoolmaster. He
worked hard at his classes by day; he worked equally hard by night at
his own education, and at his first attempts at journalism. He
matriculated at London University, and passed his first B.Sc.
examination. At one and the same time he was carrying on his own
school, in the far East End, contributing largely to an educational
paper, _The Teacher_, and writing two or three pages a week in
_Vanity Fair_, which he long sub-edited. His powers of work were
enormous, and he systematically overtaxed them.

It is not surprising that, under this strain and stress, even that
magnificent physique showed signs of breaking down, like every other
writer's. A long holiday on the Mediterranean, and another at Torquay,
restored him happily to his wonted health; but he saw he must now
choose between schoolmastering and journalism. To run the two abreast
was too much, even for James Runciman's gigantic powers. Permanent
work on _Vanity Fair_ being offered to him on his return, he decided
to accept it; and thenceforth he plunged with all the strength and
ardour of his fervid nature into his new profession.

"It was during this period of insatiable greed for work," says the
correspondent of a Nottingham journal, "that I first knew him. You may
wonder how he could possibly get through the tasks which he set
himself. You would not wonder if you had seen him, when he was in the
humour, tramp round the room and pour out a stream of talk on men and
books which might have gone direct into print at a high marketable
value. The London correspondent of a Nottingham paper says that
Runciman was justly vain of the speed of his pen. That is true. He
considered that a journalist ought to be able to dictate an article at
the rate of 150 words a minute to a shorthand writer. I doubt whether
anybody can do that, but Runciman certainly thought he could. He loved
to settle a thing off on the instant with one huge effort. Here is an
authentic story that shows his method. It is a physical performance,
but he tackled journalistic obstacles in the same spirit:

"A parent, who fancied he had a grievance, burst furiously into the
schoolroom one day, and startled its quietness with a string of oaths.
'That isn't how we talk here,' said Runciman, in his quiet way. 'Will
you step into my room if you have anything to discuss?' Another volley
of oaths was the reply, and the unwary parent added that he wasn't
going out, and nobody could put him out. Runciman was not the man to
allow such a challenge of his authority and prowess to be issued
before his scholars and to go unanswered. Without another word, he
took the man by the coat-collar with one hand, by the most convenient
part of his breeches with the other hand, carried him to the door,
gave him a half-a-dozen admonitory shakings, and chucked him down
outside. Then he returned and made this cool entry in the school
log-book: 'Father of the boy ---- came into the school to-day, and was
very disorderly. I carried him out and chastised him.'"

It was while he was engaged on _Vanity Fair_ that I first met
Runciman--I should think somewhere about the year 1880. He then edited
(or sub-edited) for a short time that clever but abortive little
journal, _London_, started by Mr. W.E. Henley, and contributed to
by Andrew Lang, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edmund Gosse, and half a dozen
more of us. Here we met not infrequently. I was immensely impressed by
Runciman's vigorous personality, and by his profound sympathy with the
troubles and trials and poverty of the real people. He called himself
a Conservative, it is true, while I called myself a Radical; but,
except in name, I could not see much difference between our democratic
tendencies. Runciman appeared to me a most earnest and able thinker,
full of North-country grit, and overflowing with energy.

His later literary work is well known to the world. He contributed to
the _St. James's Gazette_ an admirable series of seafaring sketches,
afterwards reprinted as "The Romance of the North Coast." He also
wrote "special" articles for the _Standard_ and the _Pall Mall_, as
well as essays on social and educational topics for the _Contemporary_
and the _Fortnightly_. The humour and pathos of pupil-teaching were
exquisitely brought out in his "School Board Idylls" and "Schools and
Scholars"; his knowledge of the sea and his experience of fishermen
supplied him with materials for "Skippers and Shellbacks" and for
"Past and Present." He was always a lover of his kind, so his work has
almost invariably a strong sympathetic note; and perhaps his
best-known book, "A Dream of the North Sea," was written in support of
the Mission to Fishermen. He produced but one novel, "Grace Balmaign's
Sweetheart"; but his latest work, "Joints in our Social Armour,"
returned once more to that happier vein of picturesque description
which sat most easily and naturally upon him.

The essays which compose the present volume were contributed to the
columns of the _Family Herald_. And this is their history:--For
many years I had answered the correspondence and written the social
essays in that excellent little journal--a piece of work on which I
am not ashamed to say that I always look back with affectionate
pleasure. Several years since, however, I found myself compelled by
health to winter abroad, and therefore unable to continue my weekly
contributions. Who could fill up the gap? Who answer my dear old
friends and questioners? The proprietor asked me to recommend a
substitute. I bethought me instinctively at once of Runciman. The work
was, indeed, not an easy one for which to find a competent workman. It
needed a writer sufficiently well educated to answer a wide range of
questions on the most varied topics, yet sufficiently acquainted with
the habits, ideas, and social codes of the lower middle class and the
labouring people to throw himself readily into their point of view on
endless matters of life and conduct. Above all, it needed a man who
could sympathise genuinely with the simplest of his fellows. The love
troubles of housemaids, the perplexities as to etiquette, or as to
practical life among shop-girls and footmen, must strike him, not as
ludicrous, but as subjects for friendly advice and assistance. The
fine-gentleman journalist would clearly have been useless for such a
post as that. Runciman was just cut out for it. I suggested the work
to him, and he took to it kindly. The editor was delighted with the
way he buckled up to his new task, and thanked me warmly afterwards
for recommending so admirable and so gentle a workman. Those who do
not know the nature of the task may smile; but the man who answers the
_Family Herald_ correspondence, stands in the position of confidant
and father-confessor to tens of thousands of troubled and anxious souls
among his fellow-countrymen, and still more his fellow-countrywomen.
It is, indeed, a _sacerdoce_. The essays are usually contributed by
the same person who answers the correspondence; and the collection of
Runciman's papers reprinted in this little volume will show that they
have often no mean literary value.

For many years, however, Runciman had systematically overworked, and
in other ways abused, his magnificent constitution. The seeds of
consumption were gradually developed. But the crash came suddenly.
Early in the summer of 1891, he broke down altogether. He was sent to
a hydropathic establishment at Matlock; but the doctors discovered he
was already in a most critical condition, and four weeks later advised
his wife to take him back to his own home at Kingston. His splendid
physique seemed to run down with a rush, and when a month was over, he
died, on July --th, a victim to his own devouring energy--perhaps,
too, to the hardships of a life of journalism.

"This was a man," said his friendly biographer, whom I have already
quoted. No sentence could more justly sum up the feeling of all who
knew James Runciman. "Bare power and tenderness, and such sadly human
weakness"--that is the verdict of one who well knew him. I cannot
claim to have known him well myself; but it is an honour to be
permitted to add a memorial stone to the lonely cairn of a
fellow-worker for humanity.

G.A.



AN INTRODUCTORY WORD ABOUT THE BOOK.

BY W.T. STEAD.


James Runciman was a remarkably gifted man who died just about the
time when he ought to have been getting into harness for his life's
work. He had in him, more than most men, the materials out of which
an English Zola might have been made. And as we badly need an English
Zola, and have very few men out of whom such a genius could be
fashioned, I have not ceased to regret the death of the author of
this volume. For Zola is the supreme type in our day of the
novelist-journalist, the man who begins by getting up his facts at
first-hand with the care and the exhaustiveness of a first-rate
journalist, and who then works them up with the dramatic and literary
skill of a great novelist. Charles Reade was something of the kind in
his day; but he has left no successor.

James Runciman might have been such an one, if he had lived. He had
the tireless industry, the iron constitution, the journalist's keen
eye for facts, the novelist's inexhaustible fund of human sympathy. He
was a literary artist who could use his pen as a brush with brilliant
effect, and he had an amazing facility in turning out "copy." He had
lived to suffer, and felt all that he wrote. There was a marvellous
range in his interests. He had read much, he improvised magnificently,
and there was hardly anything that he could not have done if only--but,
alas! it is idle mooning in the land of Might-Have-Beens!

The collected essays included in this volume were contributed by Mr.
Runciman to the pages of _The Family Herald_. In the superfine
circles of the Sniffy, this fact is sufficient to condemn them unread.
For of all fools the most incorrigible is surely the conventional
critic who judges literary wares not by their intrinsic merit or
demerit, but by the periodical in which they first saw the light. The
same author may write in the same day two articles, putting his best
work and thought into each, but if he sends one to _The Saturday
Review_ and the other to _The Family Herald_, those who relish
and admire his writing in-the former would regard it as little less
than a _betise_ to suggest that the companion article in _The
Family Herald_ could be anything but miserable commonplace, which
no one with any reputation to lose in "literary circles" would venture
to read. The same arrogance of ignorance is observable in the
supercilious way in which many men speak of the articles appearing in
other penny miscellanies of popular literature. They richly deserve
the punishment which Mr. Runciman reminds us Sir Walter Scott
inflicted upon some blatant snobs who were praising Coleridge's poetry
in Coleridge's presence. "One gentleman had been extravagantly
extolling Coleridge, until many present felt a little uncomfortable.
Scott said, 'Well, I have lately read in a provincial paper some
verses which I think better than most of their sort.' He then recited
the lines 'Fire, Famine, and Slaughter' which are now so famous. The
eulogist of Coleridge refused to allow the verses any merit. To Scott
he addressed a series of questions--'Surely you must own that this is
bad?' 'Surely you cannot call this anything but poor?' At length
Coleridge quietly broke in, 'For Heaven's sake, leave Mr. Scott alone!
I wrote the poem'" (p. 39).

Such lessons are more needed now than ever. Only by stripes can the
vulgar pseudo-cultured be taught their folly.

The post of father-confessor and general director to the readers of
_The Family Herald_ which Mr. Runciman filled in succession to
Mr. Grant Allen is one which any student of human nature might envy.
There is no dissecting-room of the soul like the Confessional, where
the priest is quite impalpable and impersonal and the penitent secure
in the privacy of an anonymous communication. The ordinary man and
woman have just as much of the stuff of tragedy and comedy in their
lives as the Lord Tomnoddy or Lady Fitzboodle, and as there are many
more of them--thank Heaven!--than the lords and ladies, the masses
afford a far more fertile field for the psychological student of life
and character than the classes. They are, besides, much less
artificial. There are fewer apes and more men and women among people
who don't pay income tax than among those who do. As Director-General
of the Answers to Correspondents column of _The Family Herald_
Mr. Runciman was brought into more vitalising touch with the broad and
solid realities of the average life of the average human being, with
all its wretched pettiness and its pathetic anxieties, its carking
cares and its wild, irrational aspirations, than he would have been if
he had spent his nights in dining out in Mayfair and lounged all day
in the clubs of Pall Mall.

The essays which he contributed to _The Family Herald_ were therefore
adjusted to the note which every week was sounded by his innumerable
correspondents. He was in touch with his public. He did not write above
their heads. His contributions were eminently readable, bright,
sensible, and interesting. He always had something to say, and he said
it, as was his wont, crisply, deftly, and well. And through the chinks
and crevices of the smoothly written essay you catch every now and then
glimpses of the Northumbrian genius whose life burnt itself out at the
early age of thirty-nine.

For James Runciman was anything but a smug, smooth, sermonical
essayist. He was a Berserker of the true Northern breed, whose fiery
soul glowed none the less fiercely because he wore a large soft hat
instead of the Viking's helmet and wielded a pen rather than sword or
spear. Like the war-horse in Job, he smelled the battle afar off, the
thunder of the captains and the shouting. His soul rejoiced in
conflict, in the storm and the stress of the struggle both of nature
and of man. It was born in his blood, and what was lacking at birth
came to him in the north-easter which hurled the waves of the Northern
Sea in unavailing fury against the Northumbrian coast. He lived at a
tension too great to be maintained without incessant stimulus. It was
an existence like that of the heroes of Valhalla, who recruited at
night the energies dissipated in the battles of the day by quaffing
bumpers of inexhaustible mead. In these essays we have the Berserker
in his milder moods, his savagery all laid aside, with but here and
there a glint, as of sun-ray on harness, to remind us of the sinking
in the glory and pride of his strength.

The essays abound with traces of that consummate mastery of English
which distinguished all his writings. He, better than any man of our
time, could use such subtle magic of woven words as to make the green
water of the ocean surge and boil into white foam on the printed page.
As befitted a dweller on the north-east coast, he passionately loved
the sea. The sea and the sky are the two exits by which dwellers in
the slums of Deptford and in North Shields can escape from the inferno
of life. He was a close observer of nature and of men. In his pictures
of life in the depths he was a grim and uncompromising realist, who,
however, was kept from pessimism by his faith in good women and his
knowledge of worse men in the past than even "the Squire" and the
valet-keeping prize-fighters of our time.

There was a sensible optimism about James Runciman, Conservative
though he styled himself,--although there are probably few who would
suspect that from such an essay as the bitter description of English
life in "Quiet Old Towns" or his lamentation over the unequal
distribution of wealth. His sympathy with the suffering of the
poor--of the real poor--was a constant passion, and he showed it quite
as much by his somewhat Carlylean denunciation of the reprobate as by
his larger advocacy of measures that seemed to him best calculated to
prevent the waste of child-life.

More than anything else there is in these essays the oozing through of
the bitter but kindly cynicism of a disillusionised man of the world.
His essay, for instance, entitled "Vanity of Vanities," is full of the
sense of vanity of human effort. And yet against the whole current of
this tendency to despondency and despair, we have such an essay as
"Are we Wealthy?" in which he declared the day of declamation has
passed, but that all things are possible to organisation. "In many
respects it is a good world, but it might be made better, nobler,
finer in every quarter, if the poor would only recognise wise and
silent leaders, and use the laws which men have made in order to
repair the havoc which other men have also made." But he reverts to
the note of sad and kindly cynicism as he contemplates this supreme
ironic procession of life with the laughter of gods in the background,
even although he hastens to remind us that much may be made of it if
we are wise.

These prose sermons by a tamed Berserker remind us somewhat of a
leopard in harness. But they are good sermons for all that, veritable
_tours de force_ considering who is their author and how alien to
him was the practice of preaching. His essay entitled "A Little Sermon
on Failures" might be read with profit in many a pulpit, and "Vanity
of Vanities" would serve as an admirable discourse on Ecclesiastes.
They illustrate the manysidedness of their gifted author not less than
his sympathetic treatment of distress and want in "Men who are Down."

These fragments snatched from the mass of his literary output need no
introduction from me. Mr. Grant Allen has written with friendly
appreciation of the man. I gladly join him in paying a tribute of
posthumous respect and admiration to James Runciman and his work.

W.T.S.



SIDE LIGHTS.


I.

LETTER-WRITERS.


Since old Leisure died, we have come to think ourselves altogether too
fine and too busy to cultivate the delightful art of correspondence.
Dickens seems to have been almost the last man among us who gave his
mind to letter-writing; and his letters contain some of his very best
work, for he plunged into his subject with that high-spirited
abandonment which we see in "Pickwick," and the full geniality of his
mind came out delightfully. The letter in which he describes a certain
infant schoolboy who lost himself at the Great Exhibition is one of
the funniest things in literature, but it is equalled in positive
value by some of the more serious letters which the great man sent off
in the intervals of his heavy labour. Dickens could do nothing by
halves, and thus, at times when he could have earned forty pounds a
day by sheer literary work, he would spend hours in answering people
whom he had never seen, and, what is more remarkable, these
"task"-letters were marked by all the brilliant strength and
spontaneity of his finest chapters. He was the last of the true
correspondents, and we shall not soon look upon his like again. With
all the contrivances for increasing our speed of communication, and
for enabling us to cram more varied action into a single life, we have
less and less time to spare for salutary human intercourse. The
post-card symbolises the tendency of the modern mind. We have come to
find out so many things which ought to be done that we make up our
minds to do nothing whatever thoroughly; and the day may come when the
news of a tragedy ruining a life or a triumph crowning a career will
be conveyed by a sixpenny telegram. In the bad old days, when postage
was dear and the means of conveyance slow, people who could afford to
correspond at all sat down to begin a letter as though they were about
to engage in some solemn rite. Every patch of the paper was covered,
and every word was weighed, so that the writer screwed the utmost
possible value for his money out of the post-office. The letters
written in the last century resembled the deliberate and lengthy
communications of Roman gentlemen like Cicero: and there is little
wonder that the good folk made the most of their paper and their time.
We find Godwin casually mentioning the fact that he paid twenty-one
shillings and eightpence for the postage of a letter from Shelley;
readers of _The Antiquary_ will remember that Lovel paid twenty-five
shillings postage for one epistle, besides half a guinea for the
express rider. _Certes_ a man had good need to drive a hard bargain
with the Post Office in those pinching times! Of course the "lower
orders"--poor benighted souls--were not supposed to have any
correspondence at all, and the game was kept up by gentlemen of
fortune, by merchants, by eager and moneyed lovers, and by stray
persons of literary tastes, who could manage to beg franks from
members of Parliament and other dignitaries. One gentleman, not of
literary tastes, once franked a cow and sent her by post; but this
kind of postal communication was happily rare. The best of the
letter-writers felt themselves bound to give their friends good worth
for their money, and thus we find the long chatty letters of the
eighteenth century purely delightful. I do not care much for Lord
Chesterfield's correspondence; he was eternally posing with an eye on
the future--perhaps on the very immediate future. As Johnson sternly
said, "Lord Chesterfield wrote as a dancing-master might write," and
he spoke the truth. Fancy a man sending such stuff as this to a raw
boy--"You will observe the manners of the people of the best fashion
there; not that they are--it may be--the best manners in the world,
but because they are the best manners of the place where you are, to
which a man of sense always conforms. The nature of things is always
and everywhere the same; but the modes of them vary more or less in
every country, and an easy and genteel conformity to them, or rather
the assuming of them at proper times and proper places, is what
particularly constitutes a man of the world, and a well-bred man!" All
true enough, but how shallow, and how ineffably conceited! Here is
another absurd fragment--"My dear boy, let us resume our reflections
upon men, their character, their manners--in a word, our reflections
upon the World." It is quite like Mr. Pecksniff's finest vein. There
is not a touch of nature or vital truth in the Chesterfield letters,
and the most that can be said of them is that they are the work of a
fairly clever man who was flattered until he lost all sense of his
real size. If we take the whole bunch of finikin sermons and compare
them with the one tremendous knock-down letter which Johnson sent to
the dandy earl, we can easily see who was the Man of the pair. When we
return to Walpole, the case is different. Horace never posed at all;
he was a natural gentleman, and anything like want of simplicity was
odious to him. The age lives in his charming letters; after going
through them we feel as though we had been on familiar terms with that
wicked, corrupt, outwardly delightful society that gambled and drank,
and scandalised the grave spirits of the nation, in the days when
George III. was young. Horace Walpole was the letter-writer of
letter-writers; his gossip carries the impress of truth with it; and,
though he had no style, no brilliancy, no very superior ability, yet,
by using his faculties in a natural way, he was able to supply
material for two of the finest literary fragments of modern times. I
take it that the most stirring and profoundly wise piece of modern
history is Carlyle's brief account of William Pitt, given in the "Life
of Frederick the Great." Once we have read it we feel as though the
great commoner had stood before us for a while under a searching
light; his figure is imprinted on the very nerves, and no man who has
read carefully can ever shake off an impression that seems burnt into
the fibre of the mind. This superlatively fine historic portrait was
painted by Carlyle solely from Walpole's material--for we cannot
reckon chance newspaper scraps as counting for much--and thus the
gossip of Strawberry Hill conferred immortality on himself and on our
own Titanic statesman. But Walpole's influence did not end there.
Whoever wants to read a very good and charming work should not miss
seeing Sir George Trevelyan's "Life of Charles James Fox." To praise
this book is almost an impertinence. I content myself with saying that
those who once taste its fascination go back to it again and again,
and usually end by placing it with the books that are "the bosom
friends" of men. Now the grim Scotchman lit up Horace's letters with
the lurid furnace-glow of his genius; Sir George held the serene lamp
of the scholar above the same letters, and lo, we have two pieces that
can only die when the language dies! What a feat for a mere
letter-writer to achieve! Let ambitious correspondents take example by
Horace Walpole, and learn that simplicity is the first, best--nay, the
only--object to be aimed at by the letter-writer.

We have forgotten the easy style of Walpole; we do not any longer care
much for Johnson, though his letters are indeed models; we have no
time for lovely whimsical elaborations like those of Cowper or Charles
Lamb; but still some of us--persons of inferior mind perhaps--do
attempt to write letters. To these I have a word to say. So far as I
can judge, after passing many, many hundreds and thousands of letters
through my hands, the best correspondents nowadays are either those
who have been educated to the finest point, and who therefore dare not
be affected, or those who have no education at all. A little while ago
I went through a terrific letter from a young man, who took up
seventeen enormous double sheets of paper in trying to tell me
something about himself. The handwriting was good, the air of educated
assurance breathed from the style was quite impassive, and the total
amount of six thousand eight hundred words was sufficient to say
anything in reason. Yet this voluminous writer managed to say nothing
in particular excepting that he thought himself very like Lord Byron,
that he was fond of courting, and that his own talents were supreme.
Now a simple honest narrative of youthful struggles would have held me
attentive, but I found much difficulty in keeping a judicial mind on
this enormous effusion. Why? Because the writer was a bad
correspondent; he was so wrapped up in himself that he could not help
fancying that every one else must be in the same humour, and thus he
produced a dull, windy letter in spite of his tolerable smattering of
education. On the other hand, I often study simple letters which err
in the matter of spelling and grammar, but which are enthralling in
interest. A domestic servant modestly tells her troubles and gives the
truth about her life; every word burns with significance--and
Shakespeare himself could do no more than give music of style and
grave coherence to the narrative. The servant writes well because she
keeps clear of high-sounding phrases, and writes with entire
sincerity. It is the sincerity that attracts the judicious reader, and
it is only by sincerity that any letter-writer can please other human
creatures. Beauty of style counts for a great deal; I would not
sacrifice the exquisite daintiness of epistolary style in Lamb or
Coleridge or Thackeray or Macaulay for gold. But style is not
everything, and the very best letter I ever read--the letter which
stands first in my opinion as a model of what written communications
should be--is without grammar or form or elegance. It is simply a
document in which the writer suppresses himself, and conveys all the
intelligence possible in a limited space. To all letter-writers I
would say, "Let your written words come direct from your own mind. The
moment you try to reproduce any thought or any cadence of language
which you have learned from books you become a bore, and no sane man
can put up with you. But, if you resolve that the thought set down
shall be yours and yours alone, that the turns of phrase shall be such
as you would use in talking with your intimates, that each word shall
be prompted by your own knowledge or your belief, then it does not
matter a pin if you are ignorant of spelling, grammar, and all the
graces; you will be a pleasing correspondent." Look at the letters of
Lady Sarah Lennox, who afterwards became the mother of the brilliant
Napiers. This lady did not know how to put in a single stop, and her
spelling is more wildly eccentric than words can describe, yet her
letters are enthralling, and natural fire and fun actually seem to
derive piquancy from the schoolgirlish errors. If you sit down to
write with the intention of being impressive, you may not make a fool
of yourself, but the chances are all in that direction; whereas, if
you resolve with rigid determination to say something essential about
some fact and to say it in your own way, you will produce a piece of
valuable literature. Of course there are times when dignity and
gravity are necessary in correspondence, but even dignity cannot be
divorced from simplicity. Supposing that, by an evil chance, a person
finds himself bound to inflict an epistolary rebuff on another, the
rebuff entirely fails if a single affected word is inserted. The most
perfect example of a courteous snub with which I am acquainted was
sent by a master of measured and ornamental prose. Gibbon, the
historian, received a very lengthy and sarcastic letter from the
famous Doctor Priestley, of Birmingham. Priestley blamed Gibbon for
his covert mode of attacking Christianity, and observed that Servetus
was more to be admired for his courage as a martyr than for his
services as a scientific discoverer. Now Gibbon knew by instinct that
the historic style would at once become ludicrous if used to answer
such a letter; so he deserted his ordinary majestic manner, and wrote
thus--

    "SIR--As I do not pretend to judge of the sentiments or intentions
    of another, I shall not inquire how far you are inclined to suffer
    or inflict martyrdom. It only becomes me to say that the style
    and temper of your last letter have satisfied me of the propriety
    of declining all further correspondence, whether public or private,
    with such an adversary."

A perfect sneer, a perfectly guarded and telling rebuff. But I do not
care to speak about the literature of quarrels; my concern is mainly
with those readers who have relatives scattered here and there, and
who try to keep up communications with the said relatives. Judging
from the countless letters which I see, only a small percentage of
people understand that the duty of a correspondent is to say something.
As a general rule, it may be taken for granted that abstract
reflections are a bore; and I am certain that an exiled Englishman
would be far more delighted with the letter of a child who told him
about the farm or the cows, or the people in the street, or the
marriages and christenings and engagements, than he would be with
miles of sentiment from an adult, no matter how noble might be the
language in which the sentiment was couched. Partly, then, as a hint
to the good folk who load the foreign-bound mails, partly as a hint to
my own army of correspondents,[1] I have given a fragment of the
fruits of wide experience. Remember that stately Sir William Temple is
all but forgotten; chatty Pepys is immortal. Windy Philip de Commines
is unread; Montaigne is the delight of leisurely men all the world
over. The mighty Doctor Robertson is crowned chief of bores; the
despised Boswell is likely to be the delight of ages to come. The
lesson is--be simple, be natural, be truthful; and let style, grace,
grammar, and everything else take care of themselves. I spoke just now
of the best letter I have ever read, and I venture to give a piece of
it--

      [1] Written when Mr. Runciman answered correspondents of the
      _Family Herald_.

    "DEAR MADAM,--No doubt you and Frank's friends have heard the sad
    fact of his death here, through his uncle or the lady who took his
    things. I will write you a few lines, as a casual friend that sat
    by his death-bed. Your son, Corporal Frank H. ----, was wounded
    near Fort Fisher. The wound was in the left knee, pretty bad. On
    the 4th of April the leg was amputated a little above the knee;
    the operation was performed by Dr. Bliss, one of the best surgeons
    in the Army--he did the whole operation himself. The bullet was
    found in the knee. I visited and sat by him frequently, as he was
    fond of having me. The last ten or twelve days of April I saw that
    his case was critical. The last week in April he was much of the
    time flighty, but always mild and gentle. He died 1st of May.
    Frank, as far as I saw, had everything requisite in surgical
    treatment, nursing, &c. He had watchers most of the time--he was
    so good and well-behaved and affectionate. I myself liked him very
    much. I was in the habit of coming in afternoons and sitting by
    him and soothing him; and he liked to have me--liked to put his
    arm out and lay his hand on my knee--would keep it so a long
    while. Towards the last he was more restless and flighty at
    night--often fancied himself with his regiment, by his talk
    sometimes seemed as if his feelings were hurt by being blamed by
    his officers for something he was entirely innocent of--said, 'I
    never in my life was thought capable of such a thing, and never
    was.' At other times he would fancy himself talking, as it seemed,
    to children and such like--his relatives, I suppose--and giving
    them good advice--would talk to them a long while. All the time he
    was out of his head not one single bad word or idea escaped him.
    It was remarked that many a man's conversation in his senses was
    not half so good as Frank's delirium. He seemed quite willing to
    die--he had become weak and had suffered a good deal, and was
    quite resigned, poor boy! I do not know his past life, but I feel
    as if it must have been good; at any rate, what I saw of him here
    under the most trying circumstances, with a painful wound, and
    among strangers, I can say that he behaved so brave, so composed,
    and so sweet and affectionate, it could not be surpassed.... I
    thought perhaps a few words, though from a stranger, about your
    son, from one who was with him at the last, might be worth while,
    for I loved the young man, though I but saw him immediately to
    lose him."

The grammar here is all wrong, but observe the profound goodness of
the writer; he hides nothing he knows that bereaved mother wants to
know about her Frank, her boy; and he tells her everything essential
with rude and noble tenderness, just as though the woman's sorrowing
eyes were on his face. It is a beautiful letter, bald as it is, and I
commend the style to writers on all subjects, even though a
schoolmaster could pick the syntax to pieces.



II.

ON WRITING ONESELF OUT.


Lord Beaconsfield once compared his opponents on the Treasury Bench to
a line of exhausted volcanoes. They had taken office when they were
full of mighty aspirations; they had poured forth measures of all
sorts with prodigal vigour; and at last they were reduced to wait,
supine and helpless, for the inevitable swing of the political
pendulum. A similar process of exhaustion goes on among literary men;
and there are certain symptoms which cause expert persons to say, "Ah,
poor Blank seems to have written himself out!" I have occasionally
alluded to this most distressing topic, but I have never discussed it
fully.

The subject of brain-exhaustion has a very peculiar interest for the
public as well as for the professional penman; half the slovenly prose
which ordinary men use in their correspondence is due to the bad
models set by written-out men, and the agonising exhibitions made by
some thousands of public speakers in this devoted and long-suffering
land are also due to the purblind weakness of the exhausted man. The
wrought-out writer is not permitted to cease from work; he goes on
droning out his fixed quantity of mortal dreariness day by day and
week by week until his mind spins along a particular groove, and he
probably repeats himself every day of his life without being aware
that he is anything but brilliantly original. I am obliged to study
many novels, and I know many most successful workers who at this
present time are turning out the same fiction under varied names with
monotonous regularity. They are not quite like an old hand whom I knew
long ago, who used to promote the characters in novelettes of his own
and turn them on to the market again and again; the effusions of this
genius were not of sufficient importance to attract attention from
folk with clear memories, and I believe that he escaped detection in a
miraculous way. His untitled country gentleman became a baronet, the
injured heroine was similarly moved up on the social scale, and the
noble effort came forth with a fresh name, while the knowing old
impostor chuckled in his garret and pouched his pittance. I believe
the funny soul has passed away; but really there are many very
pretentious persons who do little more than vary his methods
unconsciously. Poor James Grant delighted many a schoolboy, and
perhaps his best work was never quite so much appreciated as it ought
to have been. "The Black Dragoons," "The Queen's Own," and "The
Romance of War" all contained good work, and many gallant lads
delighted their hearts with them; I know that one youth at least
learned "The Black Dragoons" by heart, and amused the people in a
lonely farm-house by reciting whole chapters on winter nights, and I
have some reason to believe that the book gave the boy a taste for
literature which ended in his becoming a novelist. But, as Grant went
on with machine-like regularity, how curiously similar to each other
his books became! Narvaez Cifuentes, in "The Romance of War," is the
type of all the villains; the young dragoons were all alike; the
wooden heroines might have been chopped out by a literary carpenter
from one model; the charges, the escapes, the perils of the hero never
varied very much from volume to volume; and the fact was obvious that
the brain had ceased to develop any strikingly original ideas and only
the busy hand worked on. A very sarcastic personage once observed that
"it is better for literary men to read a little occasionally." To
outsiders the advice may seem like a piece of grotesque fun; but those
who know much of literary work are well aware that a writer may very
easily become possessed by a sick disgust of books which never leaves
him. He will look at volumes of extracts, he will skim poetry, he will
read eagerly for a few days or weeks in order to get up a subject; but
the pure delight in literature for its own sake has left him, and he
is as decidedly prosaic a tradesman as his own hosier. Such a man soon
joins the written-out division, and, unless he travels much or has a
keenly humorous eye for the things about him, he runs a very good
chance of becoming an intolerable bore. He forgets that the substance
of his brain is constantly fading, and that he needs not only to
replenish the physical substance of the organ by constant care, but to
replenish all his dwindling stores of knowledge, ideas, and even of
verbal resources. Among the older authors there were some who offered
melancholy spectacles of mental exhaustion; and the practised reader
knows how to look for particular features in their work, just as he
looks for Wouvermans' white horse and Beaumont's brown tree. These
literary spinners forget the example of Macaulay, who was quite
contented if he turned out two foolscap pages as his actual completed
task in mere writing for one day. He was never tired of laying in new
stores, and he persistently refreshed his memory by running over books
which he had read oftentimes before. The books and manuscripts which
Gibbon read in twenty years reached such an enormous number that, when
he attempted to form a catalogue of them, he was compelled to give up
the task in despair; he was constantly adding to the enormous
reservoir of knowledge which he had at command, and thus his work
never grew stale, and he was ready instantly with a hundred
illustrative lights on any point which chanced to crop up either in
conversation or in the course of his reading. The cheap and flashy
writer is inclined to disdain the men who are thorough in their
studies; but, while his work grows thin and poor, the judicious
reader's becomes marked by more and more of richness and fulness.

Burke kept his vast accumulations of knowledge perfectly fresh; and I
notice in him that, instead of growing more staid and commonplace in
his style as he increased in years, he grew more vigorous, until he
actually slid into the excess of gaudy redundancy. I am sorry that his
prose ever became Asiatic in its splendour; but even that fact shows
how steadfast effort may prevent a man from writing away his
originality and his freshness of manner. Observe the sad results of an
antagonistic proceeding for even the mightiest of brains. Sir Walter
Scott was building up his brain until he was forty years old; then we
had the Homeric strength of "Marmion," the perfect art of the
"Antiquary," the unequalled romantic interest of "Guy Mannering," "Rob
Roy," "Ivanhoe," "Quentin Durward." The long years of steady
production drained that most noble flood of knowledge and skill until
we reached the obvious fatuity of "Count Robert" and the imbecilities
of "Castle Dangerous." Any half-dozen of such books as "Redgauntlet,"
"The Pirate," and "Kenilworth" were sufficient to give a man the
reputation of being great--and yet even that overwhelming opulence was
at last worn down into mental poverty. Poor Scott never gave himself
time to recover when once his descent of the last perilous slope had
begun, and he suffered for his folly in not resting.

In Lord Tennyson's case we see how wisdom may preserve a man's power.
The poet who gave us "Ulysses" so long ago, the poet who brought forth
such a magnificent work as "Maud," retained his power so fully that
thirty years after "Maud" he gave us "Rizpah." This continued
freshness, lasting nearly threescore years, is simply due to economy
of physical and mental resource, which is far more important than any
economy of money. Charles Dickens cannot be said to have been fairly
written out at any time; but he was often perilously near that
condition; only his power of throwing himself with eagerness into any
scheme of relaxation saved him; and, but for the readings and the
unhappy Sittingbourne railway accident, he might be with us now full
of years and honours. When he did suffer himself to be worked to a low
ebb for a time, his writing was very bad. Even in the flush of his
youth, when he was persuaded to write "Oliver Twist" in a hurry, he
fell far below his own standard. I have lately read the book after
many years, and while I find nearly all the comic parts admirable,
some of the serious portions strike me as being so curiously stilted
and bad that I can hardly bring myself to believe that Dickens touched
them. An affectionate student of his books can almost always account
for the bad patches in Dickens by collating the novels with the
letters and diary. Much of the totally nauseating gush of the Brothers
Cheeryble must have been turned out only by way of stop-gap; and there
are passages in "Little Dorrit" which may have been done speedily
enough by the author, but which no one of my acquaintance can reckon
as bearable. Dickens saw the danger of exhausting himself before he
reached fifty-four years of age, and tried to repair damages inflicted
by past excesses; but he was too late, and though "Edwin Drood" was
quite in his best manner, he could not keep up the effort--and we lost
him.

As for the dismal hacks who sometimes call themselves journalists, I
cannot grow angry with them; but they do test the patience of the most
stolid of men. To call them writers--_écrivains_--would be worse than
flattery; they are paper-stainers, and every fresh dribble of their
incompetence shows how utterly written out they are. Let them have a
noble action to describe, or let them have a world-shaking event given
them as subject for comment, the same deadly mechanical dulness marks
the description and the article. Look at an article by Forbes or
McGahan or Burleigh--an article wherein the words seem alive--and then
run over a doleful production of some complacent hack, and the
astounding range that divides the zenith of journalism from the nadir
may at once be seen. The poor hack has all his little bundle of
phrases tied up ready to his hand; but he has no brain left, and he
cannot rearrange his verbal stock-in-trade in fresh and vivid
combinations. The old, old sentences trickle out in the old, old way.
Our friends, "the breach than the observance," "the cynosure of all
eyes," "the light fantastic toe," "beauty when unadorned," "the poor
Indian," and all the venerable army come out on parade. The weariful
writer fills up his allotted space; but he does not give one single
new idea, and we forget within a few minutes what the article
pretended to say--in an hour we have forgotten even the name of the
subject treated.

As one looks around on the corps of writers now living, one feels
inclined to ask the old stale question, "And pray what time do you
give yourself for thinking?" The hurrying reporter or special
correspondent needs only to describe in good prose the pictures that
pass before his eye; but what is required of the man who stays at home
and spins out his thoughts as the spider spins his thread? He must
take means to preserve his own freshness, or he grows more and more
unreadable with a rapidity which lands him at last among the helpless,
hopeless dullards; if he persists in expending the last remnants of
his ideas, he may at last be reduced to such extremities that he will
be forced to fill up his allotted space by describing the interesting
vagaries of his own liver. Scores of written-out men pretend to
instruct the public daily or weekly; the supply of rank commonplace is
pumped up, but the public rush away to buy some cheap story which has
signs of life in it. My impression is that it is not good for writers
to consort too much with men of their own class; the slang of
literature is detestable, and a man soon begins to use it at all
seasons if he lives in the literary atmosphere. The actor who works in
the theatre at night, and lives only among his peers during the day,
ends by becoming a mummer even in private life; a teacher who does not
systematically shake off the taint of the school is among the most
tiresome of creatures; the man who hurries from race-meeting to
race-meeting seems to lose the power of talking about anything save
horses and bets; and the literary man cannot hope to escape the usual
fate of those who narrow their horizon. When a man once settles down
as "literary" and nothing else, he does not take long in reaching
complete nullity. His power of emitting strings of grammatical
sentences remains; but the sentences are only exudations from an awful
blankness--he is written out. The rush after money has latterly
brought some of our most exquisite writers of fiction into a condition
which is truly lamentable; the very beauties which marked their early
work have become garish and vulgarised, and, in running through the
early chapters of a new novel, a reader of fair intelligence discovers
that he could close the book and tell the story for himself. One
artist cannot get away from sentimental merchant-seamen and lovely
lady-passengers; another must always bring in an infant that is cast
on shore near a primitive village; another must have for characters a
roguish trainer of race-horses, an honest jockey, a dark villain who
tampers with race-horses, and a dashing young man who is saved from
ruin by betting on a race; another drags in a surprisingly
lofty-minded damsel who grows up pure and noble amid the most
repulsive surroundings; another can never forget the lost will;
another depends on a mock-modest braggart who kills scores of people
in a humorous way. The mould remains the same in each case, although
there may be casual variations in the hue of the material poured out
and moulded. All these forlorn folk are either verging toward the
written-out condition or have reached the last level of flatness. Like
the great painters who work for Manchester or New York millionaires,
these novelists produce stuff which is only shoddy; they lower their
high calling, and they prepare themselves to pass away into the ranks
of the nameless millions whose works are ranged along miles of
untouched shelves in the great public libraries. Fame may not be
greatly worth trying for; but at least a man may try to turn out the
very best work of which he is capable. Some of our brightest refuse to
aim at the highest, and they land in the dim masses of the
written-out.



III.

THE DECLINE OF LITERATURE.


It may seem almost an impertinence to use such a word as "decline" in
connection with literature at a date when every crossing-sweeper can
read, when free libraries are multiplied, when a new novel is
published every day all the year round, and when thousands and tens of
thousands of books--scientific, historical, critical--are poured out
from the presses. We have several weekly journals devoted almost
entirely to the work of criticising the new volumes which appear, and
the literary caste in society is both numerous and powerful. In the
face of all this I assert that the true literary spirit is declining,
and that the pure enthusiasm of other days is passing away.

I emphatically deny that the actual literary artists in any line are
inferior to the men of the past, and never cease to contemn the
impudent talk of those who shake their heads and allude to the giants
who are supposed to have lived in some unspecified era of our history.
Lord Salisbury is greater than Dean Swift as a political writer; the
author of "John Inglesant" is a finer stylist than any man of the last
two centuries; as a writer of prose no man known in the world's
history can be compared to Mr. Ruskin; with Messrs. Froude, Gardiner,
Lecky, Trevelyan, Bishop Stubbs, and Mr. Freeman we can hold our own
against the historian of any date; the late Lord Tennyson and Mr.
Arnold have written poetry that must live. Then in science we have a
set of men who present the most momentous theories, the most
profoundly thrilling facts in language which is lucid and attractive
as that of a pretty fairy-tale. If we turn to our popular journals, we
find learning, humour, consummate skill in style from writers who do
not even sign their names. Day by day the stream of wit, logic,
artistic power flows on, and for all these literary wares there must
be a steady sale; and yet I am constrained to declare that literature
is declining. This may sound like juggling with words in the fashion
approved by Dr. Johnson when he was in his whimsical humour; but I am
serious, and my meaning will shortly appear. We have more readers and
fewer students. The person known as "the general reader" is nowadays
fond of literary dram-drinking--he wants small pleasant doses of a
stimulant that will act swiftly on his nerves; and, if he can get
nothing better, he will contentedly batten on the tiny paragraphs of
detached gossip which form the main delight of many fairly intelligent
people. Books are cheap and easily procured, and the circulating
library renders it almost unnecessary for any one to buy books at all.
In myriads of houses in town or country the weekly or monthly box of
books comes as regularly as the supplies of provisions; the contents
are devoured, the dram-drinkers crave for further stimulant, and one
book chases another out of memory. Literature is as good as and better
than ever it was in the fabulous palmy days, but it is not so precious
now; and a great work, so far from being treated as a priceless
possession and a companion, is regarded only as an item in the _menu_
furnished for a sort of literary debauch. A laborious historian spends
ten years in studying an important period; he contrives to set forth
his facts in a brilliant and exhilarating style, whereupon the word is
passed that the history must be read. People meet, and the usual
inquiries are exchanged--"Have you read Brown on the Union of 1707?"
"Yes--skimmed it through last week. But have you seen Thomson's attack
on the Apocrypha?" And so the two go on exchanging notes on their
respective bundles of literary lumber, but without endeavouring to
gain the least understanding of any author's meaning, and without
tasting in the smallest degree any one of the ennobling properties of
ripe thought or beautiful workmanship. The main thing is to be able to
say that you have read a book. What you have got out of it is quite
another thing with which no one is concerned; so that in some
societies where the pretence of being "literary" is kept up the
bewildered outsider feels as though he were listening to the
discussion of a library catalogue at a sale. Timid persons think that
they would be looked on lightly if they failed to show an acquaintance
with the name at least of any new work; and the consequences of this
silly ambition would be very droll did we not know how much loose
thought, sham culture, lowering deceit arise from it. A young man
lately made a great success in literature. For his first book he
gained nothing, but lost a good deal; for his second he obtained
twenty pounds, after he had lost his eyesight for a time, owing to his
toiling by night and day; his third work brought him fame and a
fortune. He happened to be in a bookseller's shop when a lady entered
and said, "What is the price of Mr. Blank's works?" "Thirty shillings,
madam." "Oh, that is far too much! I have to dine with him to-night,
and I wanted to skim the books. But he isn't worth thirty shillings!"
Twenty discourses could not exhaust the full significance of that
little speech. The lady was typical of a class, and her mode of
getting ready her table talk is the same which produces confusion,
mean sciolism, and mental poverty among too many of those who set up
as arbiters of taste. A somewhat cruel man of letters is said to have
led on one of the shallow pretenders in a heartless way until the
victim confidently affected knowledge of a plot, descriptions, and
characters which had no existence. The trick was heartless and
somewhat dishonest; but the mere fact that it could be played at all
shows how far the game of literary racing has done harm.

Let us turn from the book-clubs, the libraries, and the swarming cheap
editions of our own days, and hark back for about seventy-seven years.
The great Sheriff was then in the flush of his glorious manhood, and
it is amazing to discover the national interest that was felt in his
works as they came rapidly out. When "Rokeby" appeared, only one copy
reached Cambridge, and the happy student who secured that was followed
by an eager crowd demanding that the poem should be read aloud to
them. When "Marmion" was sent out to the Peninsula, parties of
officers were made up nightly in the lines of Torres Vedras to hear
and revel in the new marvel. Sir Adam Fergusson and his company of men
were sheltered in a hollow at the battle of Talavera. Sir Adam read
the battle-scene from "Marmion" aloud to pass away the time; and the
reclining men cheered lustily, though at intervals the screech of the
French shells sounded overhead. It may be said that the publication of
a new work by Dickens was a national event only a quarter of a century
ago. True; but somehow even Dickens was not regarded with that grave
critical interest which private citizens of the previous generation
bestowed on Scott. The incomparable Sir Walter at that time was
dwelling far away amid the swamps and grim hills and shaggy thickets
of Ashestiel. Town-life was not for him, and he grudged the hours
spent in musty law-courts. Before dawn he went joyously to his work,
and long before the household was astir he had made good progress. At
noon he was free to lead the life of a country farmer and sportsman;
the ponies were saddled, the greyhounds uncoupled, and a merry company
set off across the hills. The talk was refined and gladsome, and
visitors came back refreshed and improved to the cottage. And now
comes the strange part of the story--this healthy retired sporting
farmer was in correspondence with the greatest and cleverest men in
the British Isles, and the most masterly criticisms of literature were
exchanged with a lavish freedom which seems impossible to us in the
days of the post-card and the hurried gasping telegram. In our day
there is absolutely no time for that leisurely conscientious study
which was usual in the time when men bought their books and paid
heavily for them. Even Mr. Ruskin, in his retirement on the shores of
Coniston, cannot carry on that graceful and ineffably instructive
correspondence which was so easy to Southey, Coleridge, and the others
of that fine company who dwelt in the Lake District. Marvellous it is
to observe the splendid quality of the literary criticisms which were
sent to the great ones by men who had no intention of writing or
selling a line. In studying the memoirs of the century we find that,
long before the education movement began, there were scores of men and
women who had no need to make literature a profession, but who were
nevertheless skilled and cultured as the writers who worked for bread.
Who now talks of Mr. Morritt of Rokeby? Yet Morritt carried on a
voluminous correspondence with Scott and the rest of that brilliant
school. Who ever thinks of George Ellis? But Ellis was the most
learned of antiquaries, and devoid of the pedantry which so often
makes antiquarian discourses repellent. His polished expositions have
the charm that comes from a gentle soul and an exquisite intellect,
while his criticism is so luminous and just that even Mr. Ruskin
could hardly improve upon it. Then there were Mr. Skene, Joanna
Baillie--alas, poor forgotten Joanna!--Erskine, the Shepherd, the
Duke of Buccleuch, Wilson, and so many more that we grow amazed to
think that even Scott was able to rear his head above them. All the
school were alike in their love and enthusiasm for literature; and
really they seemed to have had a better mode of living and thinking
than have the smart gentlemen who think that earnest and conscientious
study is only a heavy species of frivolity. And let it be marked that
this wide-spread company of private citizens and public writers by no
means formed a mutual admiration society, for they criticised each
other sharply and wisely; and the criticism was taken in good part by
all concerned. When Ellis wrote a sort of treatise to Scott in
epistolary form, and complained of the poet's monotonous use of the
eight-syllable line, Scott replied with equanimity, and took as much
pains to convince his friend as though he were discussing a thesis for
some valuable prize. On one occasion a few of the really great men
found themselves in the midst of a society where the practice of
mutual admiration was beginning to creep in. The way in which two of
the most eminent guests snubbed the mutual admirers was at once
delightful and effective. One gentleman had been extravagantly
extolling Coleridge, until many present felt a little uncomfortable.
Scott said, "Well, I have lately read in a provincial paper some
verses which I think better than most of their sort." He then recited
the lines "Fire, Famine, and Slaughter" which are now so famous. The
eulogist of Coleridge refused to allow the verses any merit. To Scott
he addressed a series of questions--"Surely you must own that this is
bad?" "Surely you cannot call this anything but poor?" At length
Coleridge quietly broke in, "For Heaven's sake, leave Mr. Scott alone!
I wrote the poem." This cruel blow put an end to mutual admiration in
that quarter for some time.

Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Jeffrey--all in their several
fashions--regarded literature as a serious pursuit, and they were
followed by the "illustrious obscure" ones whose names are now sunk in
the night. How the whirligig of time sweeps us through change after
change! Any of us can buy for shillings books which would have cost
our predecessors pounds; we can have access to all the wit, poetry,
and learning of our generation at a cost of three guineas a year. For
little more than a shilling per week any reader who lives far away in
the country can have relays of books sent him at the rate of fifteen
volumes per relay. Very satisfactory. Most satisfactory too are the
Board-school libraries, from which a million children obtain the best
and noblest of literature without money and without price. Still there
remains the fact that any man who sat down and wrote long letters on
literary subjects would be looked upon as light-headed. We are too
clever to be in earnest, and the expenditure of earnestness on such a
subject as literature is regarded as evidence of pedantry or folly, or
both. Those men of former days knew their few books thoroughly and
loved them wisely; we know our many books only in a smattering way,
and we do not love them at all. When Mr. Mark Pattison suggested that
a well-to-do man reasonably expend 10 per cent. of his income on
books, he roused a burst of kindly laughter, and it was suggested that
solitary confinement would do him a great deal of good. That was a
fine trenchant mode of looking at the matter. When, in meditative
hours, I compare the two generations of readers, I think that the
mental health of the old school and the new school may be compared
respectively with the bodily health of sober sturdy countrymen and
effete satiated gourmands of the town. The countrymen has no great
variety of good cheer, but he assimilates all that is best of his
fare, and he grows powerful, calm, able to endure heavy tasks. The
jaded creature of the clubs and the race-courses and the ball-room has
swift incessant variety until all things pall upon him. In time he
must begin with damaging stimulants before he can go on with the
interesting pursuits of each day. Every device is tried to tickle his
dead palate; but the succession of dainties is of no avail, for the
man cannot assimilate what is set before him, and he becomes soft of
muscle, devoid of nerve--a weed of civilisation. Are not the cases
analogous to those of the sound reverent student and the weary _blasé_
skimmer of books? So, in sum, I say that, even if our enormous output
of printed matter goes on increasing, and if the number of readers
increases by millions, yet, so long as men read the thoughts of other
men not to search for instruction and high pleasure, but to search for
distraction and vain delirious excitement, then we are justified in
talking of the decline of literature. Far be it from me to say that
people should neglect the study of men and women and devote themselves
to the strained study of books alone. The mere bookman is always more
or less a dolt; but the wise reader who learns from the living voice
and visible actions of his fellow-creatures as well as from the dead
printed pages is on the way to placidity and strength and true wisdom.
Thus much I will say--the flippant devourer of books can neither be
wise nor strong nor useful; and it is his tribe who have discredited a
pursuit which once was noble and of good report.



IV.

COLOUR-BLINDNESS IN LITERATURE.


The singular phrase at the head of this Essay came to me from a
correspondent who wrote in great perplexity. This unhappy man was
quite miserable because he found that his own views of the
masterpieces of literature differed from those generally expressed;
his modesty prevented him from setting himself up in opposition to the
opinions of others, and he frankly asked, "Is there anything answering
to colour-blindness which may exist in the mind as regards
literature?" The absurd but felicitous inquiry took my fancy greatly,
and I resolved to examine the problem with care. In particular my
perturbed friend alluded to certain movements in modern criticism. He
cannot admire Shelley, yet he finds Shelley placed above Byron and
next to Shakspere; he reads a political poem by a modern master, and
discovers to his horror that he fails to understand what it is all
about. Moreover, this very free critic cannot abide Browning and the
later works of Tennyson; nor can he admire Mr. Swinburne. This is
dreadful; but worse remains behind. With grief and terror this
penitent declares that he cannot tolerate "The Pilgrim's Progress" or
"Don Quixote"; and he goes on to say, "How much of Milton seems trash,
also Butler, very much of Wordsworth, and all Southey's Epics!" Then,
with a wail of despair, he says, "These works have stood the test of
time. Am I colour-blind?" Now this gentleman's state of mind is far
more common than he supposes; only few people care to confess even to
their bosom-friends that they do not accept public opinion--or rather
the opinions of authority. The age has grown contemptible from cant,
and traditions which are perhaps highly respectable in their place are
thrust upon us in season and out of season. Regarding matters of fact
there is no room for differences of opinion when once the fact is
established; and regarding problems in elementary morality we perceive
the same surety. No one in his senses thinks of denying that America
exists; no one would think of saying that it is wrong to do unto
others as we would they should do unto us; but, when we come to
questions of taste, we have to deal with subtleties so complex that we
are forced to deny any one's right to dogmatise. If a man says, "I
enjoy this book," that is well; but if he adds, "You are a fool if you
do not enjoy it too," he is guilty of folly and impertinence. These
dogmatists have given rise to much hypocrisy. By all means let them
hold their opinions; but at the same time let them make no claims upon
us. Our beloved old friend Doctor Johnson had many views about
literature which now appear to us cramped and strange, but we should
examine his sayings with respect. When however it is found that the
old man used to foam and bellow at persons who did not approve of his
paradoxes, one is slightly inclined--in spite of reverence for his
moral strength--to set him down as a nuisance, and to wonder how
people managed to put up with him at times. In reading the
conversations and essays of the moralist we constantly meet with
passages which we should think over temperately were it not that we
are informed by the critic or his biographer that only fools would
venture to question Johnson's wisdom and insight.

Take the famous article on Milton. Speaking of "Lycidas," Johnson
coolly observes, "In this poem there is no nature, for there is no
truth; there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is that of
a pastoral--easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting; whatever images it
can supply are easily exhausted, and its inherent improbability always
forces dissatisfaction on the mind. He who thus grieves will excite no
sympathy; he who thus praises will confer no honour." Now this is
blunt, positive speech, and no one would mind it much if it were left
alone by ignorant persons; but it is a trifle exasperating when
Johnson's authority is brought forward at second hand in order to
convince us that a poem in which many people delight is disgusting.
Again, the dictator said that a passage in Congreve's "Morning Bride"
was finer than anything in Shakspere. Very good; let Johnson's opinion
stand so far as he is concerned, but let us also consider the passage--

  "How reverend is the face of this tall pile,
  Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads
  To bear aloft its arched and ponderous roof,
  By its own weight made steadfast and immovable,
  Looking tranquillity! It strikes an awe
  And terror on my aching sight."

This is the stuff which is called "noble" and "magnificent" and
"impressive" by people who fail to see that Johnson was merely amusing
himself, as he often did, by upholding a fallacy. The lines from
Congreve are bald and utterly commonplace; they have no positive
quality; and when some of us think of such gems as "When daisies pied
and violets blue," or, "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow," or
even the description of the Dover cliff, not to mention the thousands
of other gems in Shakspere's great dramas, we feel inclined to be
angry when we are asked to admire Congreve's stilted nonsense. There
is much to be objected to in Shakspere. I hold that a man who wrote
such a dull play as "Pericles" would nowadays be scouted; but the
incomparable poet should not be belittled by even a momentary
comparison with Congreve.

I can readily imagine a man of real good sense and cultured taste
objecting to "The Pilgrim's Progress." Why should he not? Millions of
people have read the book, but millions have not; and the fact that
many of the best judges of style love Bunyan offers no reason why the
good tinker should be loved by everybody. As for "Don Quixote," a fine
critic once remarked that he would choose that book if he were to be
imprisoned for life, and if he were also allowed to choose one volume.
Doubtless this gentleman has thrust his dictum concerning the value of
Cervantes's work down the throats of many people who would have liked
to contradict him. If his example were followed by critics
universally, it would doubtless be hard to find in Britain a man
pretending to culture who durst assert that he did not care for "Don
Quixote." In spite of this, the grave terror with which my
correspondent regards his own inability to appreciate a famous book is
more than funny.

Regarding Browning I can only say that, although his worshippers are
aggressive enough, one readily pardons any person who flies from his
poems in disgust. A learned and enthusiastic editor actually gave
"Sordello" up in despair; and even the late Dean Church averred that
he did not understand the poem, though he wrote lengthy studies on it.
To my own knowledge there are men and women who do derive intense
pleasure from Browning, and they are quite right in expressing their
feelings; but they are wrong in attempting to bully the general public
into acquiescence. Certain members of the public say, "Your poet
capers round us in a sort of war-dance; he flicks off our hats with
some muddled paradox, he leaves a line unfinished and hurts us with a
projecting conjunction. We want him to stop capering and grimacing,
and then we shall tell him whether he is good-looking or not." I hold
that the dissenters are right. People with the necessary metaphysical
faculty may understand and passionately enjoy their Browning, but only
too many simple souls have inflicted miserable suffering on themselves
by trying to unravel the meaning of verses at which they never should
have looked.

The fact is that we persistently neglect all true educational
principles in our treatment of literature. Young minds have to be
directed; but in literature, as in mechanics, the tendency of the
force is to move along the lines of least resistance. A dexterous
tutor should watch carefully the slightest tendencies and endeavour to
find out what kind of discipline his charge can best receive. As the
mind gains power it is certain to exhibit particular aptitudes, and
these must be fostered. In the case of a student who is self-taught
the same method must be observed, and a clever reader will soon find
out what is most likely to improve him.

To my thinking some of the attempts made to force certain books on
young folk are shocking and deplorable; for it must be remembered that
in literature, as in the case of bodily nutriment, different foods are
required at different times of life. I have known boys and girls who
were forced to read "Rasselas." Now that allegorical production came
from the mind of a mature, powerful, most melancholy man, and it is
intended to show the barren vanity of human wishes. What an absurd
thing to put in the hands of a buoyant youth! The parents however had
heard that "Rasselas" was a great and moral book, whereupon the
children must be subjected to unavailing torture. It maybe said,
"Would not your hints tend to make people frivolous?" Certainly not,
if my hints are wisely used. Let it be observed that I merely wish to
do away with hypocritical conventions whereby timid men like my
correspondent are subjected to extreme misery and a vast waste of
intellectual power is inflicted on the world. Suppose that some
ridiculous guardian had taken up the modern notions about scientific
culture, and had forced Macaulay to read science alone; should we not
have lost the Essays and the History?

That one consideration alone vividly illustrates my correspondent's
quaint and pregnant inquiry. Macaulay was "colour-blind" to science,
and the most painful times in his happy life were the hours devoted at
Cambridge to mathematical and mechanical formulæ. The genuinely
cultured person is the one who thinks nothing of fashion and yields to
his natural bent as directed by his unerring instinct. A certain
modern celebrity has told us how his early days were wasted; he was
first of all forced to learn Latin and Greek, though his powers fitted
him to be a scientific student, and he was next forced to impart his
own fatal facility to others. Thus his fame came to him late, and the
most precious years of his life were thrown away. He was colour-blind
to certain departments of literature which have gained a mighty
reputation, yet he was obliged by sacred use and wont to act as though
he relished things which he really abhorred. In a minor degree the
same process of lavish waste is going on all around us. The most
utterly incompetent persons of both sexes are those who, in obedience
to convention, have tried to read everything that was sufficiently
bepraised instead of choosing for themselves; in conversation they are
objectionable bores, and it would puzzle the best of thinkers to
discover their precise use in life. Take it once and for all for
granted that no human creature attains fruitful culture unless he
learns his own powers and then resolves to apply them only in the
directions where they tell best; without so much of self-knowledge he
is no more a complete man than he would be were he deficient in
self-reverence and self-control. He must dare to think for himself, or
he will assuredly become a mediocrity, and probably more or less
offensive. All his possible influence on his fellow-creatures must
depart unless he thinks for himself; and he cannot think for himself
unless he is released from insincerity--the insincerity imposed by
usage.



V.

THE SURFEIT OF BOOKS.


Sir John Lubbock once spoke to a company of working-men, and gave them
some advice on the subject of reading. Sir John is the very type of
the modern cultured man; he has managed to learn something of
everything. Finance is of course his strong point; but he stands in
the first rank of scientific workers; he is a profound political
student; and his knowledge of literature would suffice to make a great
reputation for any one who chose to stand before the world as a mere
literary specialist alone. This consummate all-round scholar picked
out one hundred books which he thought might be read with profit, and,
after reciting his appalling list, he cheerfully remarked that any
reader who got through the whole set might consider himself a
well-read man. I most fervently agree with this opinion. If any
student in the known world contrived to read, mark, learn, and
inwardly digest Sir John's hundred works, he would be equipped at all
points; but the trouble is that so few of us have time in the course
of our brief pilgrimage to master even a dozen of the greatest books
that the mind of man has put forth. Moreover, if we could swallow the
whole hundred prescribed by our gracious philosopher, we should really
be very little the better after performing the feat. A sort of
literary indigestion would ensue, and the mind of the learned sufferer
would rest under a perpetual nightmare until charitable oblivion
dulled the memory of the enormous mass of talk. Sir John thinks we
should read Confucius, the Hindoo religious poetry, some Persian
poetry, Thucydides, Tacitus, Cicero, Homer, Virgil, a little--a very
little--Voltaire, Molière, Sheridan, Locke, Berkeley, George Lewes,
Hume, Shakspere, Bunyan, Spenser, Pope, Fielding, Macaulay,
Marivaux--Alas, is there any need to pursue the catalogue to the
bitter end? Need I mention Gibbon, or Froude, or Lingard, or Freeman,
or the novelists? To my mind the terrific task shadowed forth by the
genial orator was enough to scare the last remnant of resolution from
the souls of his toil-worn audience. A man of leisure might skim the
series of books recommended; but what about the striving citizens
whose scanty leisure leaves hardly enough time for the bare recreation
of the body? Is it not a little cruel to tell them that such and such
books are necessary to perfect culture, when we know all the while
that, even if they went without sleep, they could hardly cover such an
immense range of study? Many men and women yearn after the higher
mental life and are eager for guidance; but their yearnings are apt to
be frozen into the stupor of despair if we raise before them a
standard which is hopelessly unattainable by them. I should not dream
of approving the saying of Lord Beaconsfield: "Books are fatal; they
are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are
nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense."
Lord Beaconsfield did not believe in the slap-dash words which he put
into the mouth of Mr. Phoebus, nor did he believe that the greatness
of the English aristocracy arises from the facts that "they don't read
books, and they live in the open air." The great scoffer once read for
twelve hours every day during an entire year, and his general
knowledge of useful literature was quite remarkable. But, while
rejecting epigrammatic fireworks, I am bound to say that the habit of
reading has become harmful in many cases; it is a sort of intellectual
dram-drinking, and it enervates the mind as alcohol enervates the
body. If a man's function in life is to learn, then by all means let
him be learned. When Macaulay took the trouble to master thousands of
rubbishy pamphlets, poems, plays, and fictions, in order that he might
steep his mind in the atmosphere of a particular period in history, he
was quite justified. The results of his research were boiled down into
a few vivid emphatic pages, and we had the benefit of his labour. When
Carlyle spent thirteen mortal years in grubbing among musty German
histories that nearly drove him mad with their dulness, the world
reaped the fruit of his dreary toil, and we rejoiced in the witty,
incomparable life of Frederick II. When poor Emanuel Deutsch gave up
his brilliant life to the study of the obscurest chapters in the
Talmud, he did good service to the human race, for he placed before us
in the most lucid way a summary of the entire learning of a wondrous
people. It was good that these men should fulfil their function; it
was right on their part to read widely, because reading was their
trade. But there must be division of labour in the vast society of
human beings, and any man who endeavours to neglect this principle,
and who tries to fill two places in the social economy, does so at his
peril.

Living cheek by jowl with us, there are hundreds and thousands of
persons who are ruining their minds by a kind of literary debauch.
They endeavour to follow on the footsteps of the specialists; they
struggle to learn a little of everything, and they end by knowing
nothing. They commit mental suicide: and, although no disgrace
attaches to this species of self-murder, yet disgrace is not the only
thing we have to fear in the course of our brief pilgrimage. We emerge
from eternity, we plunge into eternity; we have but a brief space to
poise ourselves in the light ere we drop into the gulf of doom, and
our duty is to be miserly over every moment and every faculty that is
vouchsafed to us. The essentials of thought and knowledge are
contained in a very few books, and the most toilsome drudge who ever
preached a sermon, drove a rivet, or swept a floor may become
perfectly educated by exercising a wise self-restraint, by resolutely
refusing to be guided by the ambitious advice of airy cultured
persons, and by mastering a few good books to the last syllable. Mr.
Ruskin is one of our greatest masters of English, and his supremacy as
a thinker is sufficiently indicated by Mazzini's phrase--"Ruskin has
the most analytic mind in Europe." No truer word was ever spoken than
this last, for, in spite of his dogmatic disposition, Mr. Ruskin does
utter the very transcendencies of wisdom. Now this glorious writer of
English, this subtlest of thinkers, was rigidly kept to a very few
books until he reached manhood. Under the eye of his mother he went
six times through the Bible, and learned most of the Book by heart.
This in itself was a discipline of the most perfect kind, for the
translators of the Bible had command of the English tongue at the time
when it was at its noblest. Then Mr. Ruskin read Pope again and again,
thus unconsciously acquiring the art of expressing meaning with a
complete economy of words. In the evening he heard the Waverley Novels
read aloud until he knew the plot, the motive, the ultimate lesson of
all those beautiful books. When he was fourteen years old, he read one
or two second-rate novels over and over again; and even this was good
training, in that it showed him the faults to be avoided. Before his
boyhood was over, he read his Byron with minute attention, and once
more he was introduced to a master of expression. Byron is a little
out of fashion now, alas! and yet what a thinker the man was! His
lightning eye pierced to the very heart of things, and his intense
grip on the facts of life makes his style seem alive. No wonder that
the young Ruskin learned to think daringly under such a master! Now
many people fancy that our great critic must be a man of universal
knowledge. What do they think of this narrow early training? The use
and purport of it all are plain enough to us, for we see that the
gentle student's intellect was kept clear of lumber; his thoughts were
not battened down under mountains of other men's, and, when he wanted
to fix an idea, he was not obliged to grope for it in a rubbish heap
of second-hand notions. Of course he read many other authors by slow
degrees; but, until his manhood came, his range was restricted. The
flawless perfection of his work is due mainly to his mother's sedulous
insistence on perfection within strict bounds. Again, and keeping
still to authors, Charles Dickens knew very little about books. His
keen business-like intellect perceived that the study of life and of
the world's forces is worth more than the study of letters, and he
also kept himself clear of scholarly lumber. He read Fielding,
Smollett, Gibbon, and, in his later life, he was passionately fond of
Tennyson's poetry; but his greatest charm as a writer and his success
as a social reformer were both gained through his simple power of
looking at things for himself without interposing the dimness that
falls like a darkening shadow on a mind that is crammed with the
conceptions of other folk. Look at the practical men! Nasmyth scarcely
read at all; Napoleon always spoke of literary persons as
"ideologists;" Stephenson was nineteen before he mastered his Bible;
Mahomet was totally uneducated; Gordon was content with the Bible,
"Pilgrim's Progress," and Thomas à Kempis; Hugh Miller became an
admirable editor without having read twoscore books in his lifetime.
Go right through the names on the roll of history, and it will be
found that in all walks of life the men who most influenced their
generation despised superfluous knowledge. They learned thoroughly all
that they thought it necessary to learn within a very limited compass;
they learned, above all, to think; and they then were ready to speak
or act without reference to any authority save their own intellect. If
we turn to the great book-men, we find mostly a deplorable record of
failure and futility. Their lives were passed in making useless
comments on the works of others. Look at the one hundred and eighty
volumes of the huge catalogue in which are inscribed the names of
Shakspere's commentators. Most of these poor laborious creatures were
learned in the extreme, and yet their work is humiliating to read, so
gross is its pettiness, so foolish is its wire-drawn scholarship. Over
all the crowd of his interpreters the royal figure of the poet towers
in grand unlearned simplicity. He knew Plutarch, and he thought for
himself; his commentators knew everything, and did not think at all.
Compare the supreme poet's ignorance with the other men's extravagant
erudition! Think of the men whom I may call book-eaters! Dr. Parr was
a driveller; Porson was a sort of learned pig who routed up truffles
in the classic garden; poor Buckle became, through stress of books, a
shallow thinker; Mezzofanti, with his sixty-four languages and
dialects, was perilously like a fool; and more than one modern
professor may be counted as nothing else but a vain, over-educated
boor.

Another word, which may seem like heresy. I contend that the main
object of reading--after a basis of solid culture has been
acquired--is to gain amusement. No one was ever the worse for reading
good novels, for human fortunes will always interest human beings. I
would say keep clear of Sir John Lubbock's terrific library, and seek
a little for pleasure. You have authoritative examples before you.
Prince Bismarck, once the arbiter of the world, reads Miss Braddon and
Gaboriau; Professor Huxley, the greatest living biologist, reads
novels wholesale; the grim Moltke read French and English romances;
Macaulay used fairly to revel in the hundreds of stories that he read
till he knew them by heart. With these and a hundred other examples
before us, the humblest and most laborious in the community may
without scruple read the harmless tales of fictitious joys and
sorrows, after they have secured that narrow minute training which
alone gives grasp and security to the intellect.



VI.

PEOPLE WHO ARE "DOWN"


If any one happens to feel ashamed when he notices the far-off
resemblances between the lower animals and man's august self, he will
probably feel the most acute humiliation should he take an occasional
walk through a great rookery, such as that in Richmond Park. The black
cloud of birds sweeps round and round, casting a shadow as it goes;
the air is full of a solemn bass music softened by distance, and the
twirling fleets of strange creatures sail about in answer to obvious
signals. They are an orderly community, subject to recognised law, and
we might take them for the mildest and most amusing of all birds; but
wait, and we shall see something fit to make us think. Far off on the
clear gray sky appears a wavering speck which rises and falls and
sways from side to side in an extraordinary way. Nearer and nearer the
speck comes, until at last we find ourselves standing under a rook
which flies with great difficulty. The poor rascal looks most
disreputable, for his tail has evidently been shot away, and he is
wounded. He drops on to a perch, but not before he has run the
gauntlet of several lines of sharp eyes. The poor bird sits on his
branch swinging weakly to and fro, humping up his shoulders in
woebegone style. There is a rustle among the flock, a sharp exchange
of caws, and one may almost imagine the questions and answers which
pass. Circumstances prevent us from knowing the rookish system of
nomenclature; but we may suppose the wounded fellow to be called
Ishmael. Caw number one says, "Did you notice anything queer about
Ishmael as he passed?" "Yes. Why, he's got no tail!" "He'll be rather
a disgrace to the family if he tries to go with us into Sussex on
Tuesday." "Frightful! He's been fooling about within range of some
farming lout's gun. The lazy, useless wretch never did know the
difference between a gun and a broom!" "Serves him right! Let's speak
to the chief about him." The chief considers the matter solemnly and
sorrowfully, and then may be understood to say, "Sorry Ishmael's in
trouble, but we can't acknowledge him. There's an end of the matter.
You Surrey crow, take a dozen of our mates, and drive that Ishmael
away." The wounded bird knows his doom. He fumbles his way through the
branches, and flies off zig-zag and low; but the flight soon mob him.
They laugh at him, and one can positively tell that they are
chattering in derision. Presently one of them buffets him; and that is
the signal for a general assault. Quick as lightning, one of the black
cowards makes a vicious drive with his iron beak, and flies off with a
triumphant caw; another and another squawk at the wretch, and then
stab him, until at last, like a draggled kite, Ishmael sinks among the
ferns and passes away, while the assassins fly back and tell how they
settled the fool who could not keep the shot out of his carcass. If
the observer sees this often, his disposition to moralise may become
very importunate, for he sees an allegory of human life written in
black specks on that sky that broods so softly, like a benediction,
over the fair world. One may easily bring forward half a score of
similar instances from the animal kingdom. A buffalo falls sick, and
his companions soon gore and trample him to death; the herds of deer
act in the same way; and even domestic cattle will ill-treat one of
their number that seems ailing. The terrible "rogue" elephant is
always one that has been driven from his herd; the injury rankles in
him, and he ends by killing any weaker living creature that may cross
his path. Again, watch a poor crow that is blown out to sea. So long
as his flight is strong and even, he is unmolested; but let him show
signs of wavering, or, above all, let him try to catch up with a
steamship that is going in the teeth of the wind, and the fierce gulls
slay him at once.

Do we not observe something analogous taking place in the terrible
crush of civilised human life? To thoughtful minds there is no surer
sign of the progress that humanity is slowly making than the fact that
among our race the weak are succoured. Were it not for the sights of
helpfulness and pity that we can always see, many of us would give way
to despair, and think that man is indeed no more than a two-legged
brute without feathers. The savage even now kills aged people without
remorse, just as the Sardinian islanders did in the ancient days; and
there are certain tribes which think nothing of destroying an
unfortunate being who may have grown weakly. Among us, the merest
lazar that crawls is sure of some succour if he can only contrive to
let his evil case be known; and even the criminal, let him be never so
vile, may always be taken up and aided by kindly friends for the bare
trouble of asking.

But there are still symptoms of the animal disposition to be seen, and
only too many people conspire to show that human nature is much the
same as it was in the days when Job called in his agony for comfort
and found none. Wonderful and disquieting it is to see how the noblest
of minds have been driven in all ages to mourn over the disposition of
men to strike at the unfortunate! The Book of Job is the finest piece
of literary work known to the world, and it is mainly taken up with a
picture of the treatment which the Arabian patriarch met with at the
hands of his friends. People do not look for sarcasm in the Bible, but
the unconscious lofty sarcasm of Job is so terrible, that it shows how
a mighty intellect may be driven by bitter wrong into transcendencies
of wrath and scorn. "Ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with
you." The old desert-prince will not succumb even in his worst
extremity, and he lashes his tormentors with wild but strong bursts of
withering satire. But Job was down, and his cool friends went on
imperturbably, probing his weakness, sneering at his excuses, and, I
suspect, rejoicing not a little in his wild outbreaks of pain and
despair. The book is one of the world's monuments, and it has been
placed there to remind all people that dwell on earth of their own
innate meanness; it has been placed before us as a lesson against
cruelty, treachery, ingratitude. Have we gone very far in the
direction since Job raged and mourned? Those who look around them may
answer the question in their own way.

The world had not progressed much in Shakspere's time, at any rate.
Like all of us, Shakspere was able to look on the work of beautiful
and kind souls--no one has ever spoken more nobly of the benefactions
conferred on their brethren by the righteous; but that calm immortal
soul had in it depths of awful scorn and anger, which bubbled up only
a very few times. Few people read "Timon of Athens"; and I do not
blame the neglect, for it is a spirit-crushing play, and a man must be
bold if he cares to look at it twice. But in it it is plain to me that
Shakspere lets us see a gleam from the boiling flood of scorn that
raged far under his serene exterior. The words bite; the abandonment
of the satirist is complete. He puts into the mouth of the man who is
down a whole acrid and scurrilous philosophy of success and failure;
and there is not a passage in Swift which can equal for venom and
emphasis the ferocious words of the Athenian misanthrope. We know
nothing of Shakspere's mood while he was writing this cruel piece, but
I should imagine he must have been ready to quit the world in a
veritable ecstasy of wild passion and contempt.

If we take away the literature of love and the literature of fear, we
have but little left save the endless works that harp on one
theme--the remorseless savagery of civilised men toward those who
fail, or are supposed to fail, in life's grim warfare.

  "Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
  That dost not bite so nigh
    As benefits forgot!
  Though thou the waters warp,
  Thy tooth is not so sharp
    As friend remembered not!"

Those lines are hackneyed until every poetaster can quote them or
parody them at will; but very few readers consider that the bitter
verse summarises a whole literature. From Homer to Tennyson the ugly
tune has been played on all strings; and mankind have such a vivid
perception of the truth uttered by the satirists, that they read the
whole story with gusto whenever it is put into a fresh form--and each
man thinks that he at least is not one of those for whom the poet's
lash is meant. Novel, essay, poem, play, and sermon--all recur with
steady persistence to one ancient topic; and yet men try their best to
bring themselves low, as they might if Job, Shakspere, Congreve, and
Tennyson had never written at all, and as though no warnings were
being actually enacted all round, as on a stage.

Sometimes I wonder whether the majority of men ever really try to
conceive what it is to be down until their fate is upon them. I can
hardly think it. It has been well said that all of us know we shall
die, but none of us believe it. The idea of the dark plunge is
unfamiliar to the healthy imagination; and the majority of our race go
on as if the great change were only a fable devised by foolish poets
to scare children. I believe that, if all men were vouchsafed a sudden
comprehension of the real meaning of death, sin would cease.
Furthermore, I am persuaded that if every man could see in a flash the
burning history of the one who is down, the whole of our reasonable
population would take thought for the morrow--drink-shops would be
closed, the dice-box would rattle no more, and the sight of a genuine
idler would be unknown. Not a few of us have seen tragedies enough in
the course of our pilgrimage, and have learned to regard the doomed
weaklings--the wreckage of civilisation, the folk who are down--with
mingled compassion and dismay. I have found in such cases that the
miserable mortals never knew to what they were coming; and the most
notable feature in their attitude was the wild and almost tearful
surprise with which they regarded the conduct of their friends. The
pictures of these forlorn wastrels people a certain corner of the
mind, and one can make the ragged brigade start out in lines of deadly
and lurid fire at a moment's warning, until there is a whole Inferno
before one. But I shall speak no more at present of the degraded ones;
I wish to gain a thought of pity for those who are blameless; and I
want to stir up the blameless ones, who are generally ignorant
creatures, so that they may exercise a little of the wisdom of the
serpent in time. Be it remembered that, although the ruined and
blameless man is not subjected to such moral scorn as falls to the lot
of the wastrel, the practical consequences of being down are much the
same for him as for the victim of sloth or sin. He feels the pinch of
physical misery, and, however lofty his spirit may be, it can never be
lofty enough to relieve the gnawing pains of bodily privation.
Moreover, he will meet with persecution just as if he were a villain
or a cheat, and that too from men who know that he is honest. The hard
lawyer will pursue him as a stoat pursues a hare; and, if he asks for
time or mercy, the iron answer will be, "We have nothing to do with
your private affairs; business is business, and our client's interests
must not suffer merely because you are a well-meaning man." Even our
dear Walter Scott, the soul of honour, one of the purest and brightest
of all the spirits that make our joy, the gallant struggler--even that
delight of the world was hounded to death by a firm of bill-discounters
at the very time when he was breaking his gallant heart in the effort
to retrieve disaster. No! The world is pitiful so far as its kindest
hearts are concerned, but the army of commonplace people are all
pitiless. See what follows when a man goes "down." Suppose that he
invests in bank shares. The directors are all men of substance, and
most of them are even lights of religion; the leading spirit attends
the same church as our investor, and he is a light of sanctity--so
pure of heart is he, that he will not so much as look at Monday's
newspapers, because their production entailed Sabbath labour. Indeed,
one wonders how such a man could bring himself to eat or sleep on
Sunday, because his food must be carried up for him, and, I presume,
his bed must be made. All the directors are free in their gifts to
churches and chapels--for that is part of a wise director's
policy--and all of them live sumptuously. But surely our investor
should guess that all this lavish expenditure must come out of
somebody's pocket; and surely he has skill enough to analyse a
balance-sheet! The good soul goes on trusting, until one fine morning
he wakes up and finds that his means of subsistence are gone. Then
comes the bitter ordeal; his friends are grieved, the public are
enraged, the sanctified men go to gaol, and the investor faces an
altered world. His oldest friend says, "Well, Tom, it's a bitter bad
business, and if a hundred is of any use to you, it is at your
service; but you know, with my family," &c. The unhappy defrauded
fellow finds it hard to get work of any sort; begins to show those
pathetic signs of privation which are so easily read by the careful
observer; hat, boots, coat, grow shabby; the knees seem to have a
pathetic bend. Friends are not unkind, but they have their own burdens
to bear, and if he inflicts his company and his sorrows too much on
any one of them, he is apt to receive a hint--probably from a
woman--that his presence can be spared; so the downward road trends
towards utter deprivation, and then to extinction. A young man may
recover from almost any blow that does not affect his character; and
this was strikingly proved in the case of that brilliant man of
science, R.A. Proctor, who was afterwards stricken out of life
untimely. He lost his fortune in the crash of Overend and Gurney's
company, and he immediately forgot his luxurious habits and turned to
work with blithe courage. How he worked only those who knew him can
tell, for no four men of merely ordinary power could have achieved
such bewildering success as he did. But a man who is on the downward
slope of life cannot fare like the lamented Proctor; he must endure
the pangs of neglect, until death comes and relieves him of the dire
torture of being down.

And the harmless widows who are suddenly robbed of their protector.
Ah, how some of them are made to suffer! Little Amelia Sedley, in
"Vanity Fair," has her sufferings and indignities painted by a
master-hand, and there is not a line thickened or darkened overmuch.
The miserable tale of the cheap lodgings, and the insults which the
poor girl had flung at her because, in the passion of her love, she
spent trifling sums on her boy--how actual it all seems! The widow who
may have held her head high in her days of prosperity, soon receives
lessons from women: they call it teaching her what is her proper
place. Those good and discreet ladies have a notion that their conduct
is full of propriety and discretion and sound sense; but how they make
their sisters suffer--ah, how they make the poor things suffer! I
believe that, if any improvident man could see, in a keenly vivid
dream, a vision of his wife's future after his death, he would stint
himself of anything rather than run the risk of having to reflect on
his death-bed that he had failed to do his best for those who loved
him. Women sometimes out of pure wantonness try to exasperate a man so
that he falls into courses which bring his end swiftly. Could those
foolish ones only see their own fate when the doom of being down in
the world came upon them, they would strain every nerve in their
bodies so that their husband's life and powers of work might be spared
to the last possible hour.

What can the man do who is down? Frankly, nothing, unless his strength
holds. I advise such a one never to seek for help from any one but
himself, and never to try for any of the employments which are
supposed to be "easy." Cool neglect, insulting compassion, lying
promises, evasive and complimentary nothings--these will be his
portion. If he cannot perform any skilled labour, let him run the risk
of seeming degraded; and, if he has to push a trade in matches or
flowers, let him rather do that than bear the more or less kindly
flouts which meet the supplicant. To all who are young and strong I
would say, "Live to-day as though to-morrow you might be ruined--or
dead."



VII.

ILL-ASSORTED MARRIAGES.


The people who joke and talk lightly about marriage do not seem to
have the faintest rational conception of the awful nature of the
subject. Awful it is; and, as serious men go through life, they become
more and more impressed with the momentous results which depend on the
choice made by a man or woman. A lad of nineteen lightly engages
himself; he knows nothing of the gloom, the terror, the sordid horror
of the fate that lies before him; and the unhappy girl is equally
ignorant. In fourteen years the actual substance of that young
fellow's very body is twice completely changed; he is a man utterly
different from the boy who contracted the marriage; there is not a
muscle or a thought in common between the boy and the man--yet the man
takes all the consequences of the boy's act. Supposing that the pair
are well matched, life goes on happily enough for them; but, alas, if
the man or the woman has to wake up and face the ghastly results of a
mistake, then there is a tragedy of the direst order! Let us suppose
that the lad is cultured and ambitious, and that he is attracted at
first by a rosy face or pretty figure only; supposing that he is thus
early bound to a vulgar commonplace woman, the consequences when the
woman happens to have a powerful will and an unscrupulous tongue are
almost too dreadful to be pictured in words.

Let no young folk fancy that mind counts for nothing in marriage. A
man must have congenial company, or he will fly to company that is
uncongenial; he must have joy of some kind, or he will fall into
despair. The company and the joy can best be supplied by the wife to
the husband, and by the husband to the wife. If the woman is dull and
trivial, then her husband soon begins to neglect her; if she is meek
and submissive, the neglect does not rouse her, and there are no
violent consequences; but it is awful to think of the poor creature
who sits at home and dimly wonders in the depth of her simple soul
what can have happened to change the man who loved her. She has no
resources--she can only love; she is perhaps kindly enough--yet she is
punished only because she and her lad made a blundering choice before
their judgments were formed. But, if the woman is spirited and
aggressive, then the lookers-on see part of a hideous game which might
well frighten the bravest into celibacy. She is self-assertive, she
desires--very rightly--to be first, and at the first symptom of a
slight from her husband she begins the process of nagging. The man is
refined, and the coarseness which he did not perceive before marriage
strikes him like a venomed point now; he replies fiercely, and perhaps
shows contempt; then the woman tries the effect of weeping. Unhappily
the tears are more exasperating than the scolding, and the quarrel
ends by the man rushing from the house. Then for the first time the
pair find that they have to deal with the whole forces of society; in
their rage they would gladly part and meet no more--or they think
so--but inexorable society steps in and declares that the alliance is
fixed until death or rascality looses it. For a little while the
estrangement lasts, and then there is a reconciliation, after which
all goes well for a time. But the shocking thing about the
ill-assorted marriage is that the estrangements grow longer and longer
and the quarrels ever more bitter. Even children do but little to
reconcile the jarring claims of man and wife, for they are a sign of
the lasting shackle which each of the miserable beings wants to break.

Worst of all in the whole terrible affair is the fact that it matters
not who gets the mastery--both are made more wretched. If the man has
an indomitable will and conquers the woman, he becomes a morose and
sarcastic tyrant, who makes her tremble at his scowl, while she
becomes a beaten drudge who makes up for long spells of submission by
shrill outbursts of casual defiance. If the woman gains the mastery, I
honestly believe that the cause of strict morality is better served;
but the sight of the man's gradual degradation is so sickening that
most people prefer keeping out of the house where a henpecked
individual lives. As time goes by, it matters not which wins in the
odious contest: both undergo a subtle loss of self-respect. In an
ordinary quarrel between men reason may possibly come in to some
degree; but in a quarrel between man and wife reason is utterly
excluded. The man becomes feminine, the woman grows masculine, and the
effect of this change of nature is disgusting and ludicrous to an
outsider, but serious in the extreme to the parties principally
concerned. By degrees indifference and rage give way to sullen, secret
hatred, which finds a vent usually in poisonous sarcasm.

Matters are not much better when the superiority is on the woman's
side. It is delightful to see a husband who is proud of his wife's
cleverness, and good-natured men are pleased by his innocent boasting.
The most pleasant of households may be found in cases where a clever,
good-humoured, dexterous woman rules over a sweet-tempered but
somewhat stupid man. She respects his manhood, he adores her as a
superior being, and they live a life of pure happiness. But, sad to
say, the husband is not usually good-humouredly willing to acknowledge
his partner's superiority, and in that case the girl's doom is a cruel
one. She may marry a gross, stupid lout, who begins by yawning away
his time in leisure hours, and ends by going out to meet companions of
his own sort. By and by comes the time when the ruffian grows
aggressive, and then the proud girl has to bear brutalities which rack
her very soul. Steadily the work of degradation goes on, and at last
the brutal man becomes a capricious bully, while the refined lady
sinks into a careless draggletail.

I have traversed many lands and seen men and cities, and know that the
cruel work which I have described goes on in too many quarters. The
ill-assorted marriage is made more wretched by the occasional glimpses
which the man and woman get of happy homes. The loveliest sight that
can be watched on earth is the daily life of a well-matched couple.
They need not be even in intellect, but each must have some quality
which gives superiority; such people, even if they have to struggle
hard, lead a life which is almost ideally happy. The great thing which
gives happiness is mutual confidence, and, when we see man and wife
exhibiting quiet and mutually respectful familiarity, we may be fairly
certain that they are to be looked on as most fortunate in the world.
By an exquisite natural law it happens that mentally a woman is the
exact complement of the man who is her proper mate, and her intellect
has qualities far finer and more subtle than the man's. Among hard
City men it is a common saying that no one would ever make a bad debt
if he took his customer home to dinner first. That means that the wife
would instantly measure the guest's character with that
lightning-footed tact which women possess. No man ever yet was
completely successful in life unless he took women's counsel in great
affairs; and, when a man has a wife with whom he can consult, his
chance is bettered a thousandfold.

To see a household where love and unity reign drives ill-matched folk
to madness. The man declares that his friend's wife makes the
felicity; the woman praises the other husband; and the unhappy souls
grow jealous together, and hate each other more cordially by reason of
the joy which they have seen. All sorts of evil ends come to these
wretched unions--in every workhouse, asylum, and prison the traces of
the social catastrophe may be seen; and, even when the misery is
hidden from general view, the tragedy is shocking to those who can
peep behind the scenes and look at the bad play. A very wise man has
said that "success is a constitutional trait." The phrase is a
profound one. A man who is born with "constitutional" power of
choosing the right mate is all but assured of success, and a woman has
the same fortune; but, in addition to the power of choosing, both man
and woman need training; and we cannot call a civilised being properly
trained unless he has some idea of the way to set about his choice.

The cases in which idleness, or pique, or dulness drives a man or
woman to take alcohol are numerous and loathsome. Women who start
married life as bright, merry, hopeful creatures become mere degraded
animals; and the odd thing about the matter is that the husband is
always the last to see the turn that his affairs are taking. A woman's
name may be in the mouths of scores of people before the party most
concerned wakes up to a sense of his position and is faced by a
picture of helpless and lost womanhood. If the man falls into the
alcoholic death-trap, we have once more a spectacle of dull misery
which may be indicated but which cannot be accurately described. The
victim grows hateful--his symptoms have been scientifically described
by one of the finest of modern physiologists--he is uncertain in mind,
and vengeful and revengeful. His wife is obliged to live with him,
under his rule and power, but she finds it hopeless to meet his
wishes, desires, fancies, and fantasies, however much she may study
and do her best to oblige, conciliate, and concede. To persons of this
class everything must be conceded, and yet they are neither pacified
nor satisfied; they cannot agree even with themselves, and their homes
are, literally speaking, hells on earth.

Then we have the cases wherein a poetic and artistic spirit is allied
to a gross and worldly soul of the lowest type. One of the most
brilliant artists and poets of his generation was informed by his wife
that she did not care for art and poetry and that sort of stuff. "It's
all high-falutin' nonsense," remarked this gifted and confident dame;
and the shock of surprise which thrilled her husband will be
transmitted to generations of readers. Hitherto we have dwelt upon
mere brutalities; but those who know the world best know that the most
acute forms of agony may be inflicted without any outward show of
brutality being visible. A generous high-souled girl with a passion
for truth and justice is often tied to a fellow whose "company"
manners are polished, but who is at heart a cruel boor. He can stab
her with a sneer which only she can understand; he can delicately hint
to her that she is in subjection, and he can assume an air of cool
triumph as he watches her writhe. I have often observed passages of
domestic drama which looked very like comedy at first sight, but which
were really quivering, torturing tragedy.

It is strange that the jars of married life have been so constantly
made the subject for joking. The attitude of the ordinary witling is
well known; but even great men have made fun out of a subject which is
the most momentous of all that can engage the attention of the
children of men. In running through Thackeray's works lately I was
struck by the flippancy with which some of the most heartbreaking
stories in literature are treated. Thackeray was one of the sweetest
and tenderest beings that ever lived, and no doubt his jocularity was
assumed; but minor men take him seriously, and imitate him. Look at
the stories of Frank Berry, of Rawdon Crawley, of Clive and Rosie
Newcome, and of General Baynes--they are sad indeed, but the tragic
element in them is only shadowed forth by the great master. There is
nothing droll in the history of mistaken marriages. At the very best
each error leads to the ruin or deterioration of one soul, and that is
no laughing matter.



VIII.

HAPPY MARRIAGES.

Although a strong modern school of writers care only to talk of misery
and gloom and frustration, I retain a taste for joy and sweetness and
kindliness. Life has so many sharp crosses, so many inexplicable
sorrows for us all, that I hold it good to snatch at every moment of
gladness, and to keep my eyes on beautiful things whenever they can be
seen. During the days when I was pondering the subject of tragic
marriages, I read the letters of the great Lord Chatham. The mighty
statesman was not distinguished as a letter-writer; like Themistocles,
he might have boasted that, though he was inapt where small
accomplishments were concerned, he converted a small state into a
great empire. John Wilkes called our great man "the worst
letter-writer of his age." Yet to my mind the correspondence of
Chatham with his wife is among the most charming work that we know.
Here is one fragment which is delightful enough in its way. He had
been out riding with his son William, who afterwards ruled England,
becoming Prime Minister at an age when other lads are leaving the
University. His elder son stayed at home to study, and this is the
fashion in which Chatham writes about his boys--"It is a delight to
let William see nature in her free and wild compositions, and I tell
myself, as we go, that the General Mother is not ashamed of her child.
The particular loved mother of our promising tribe has sent the
sweetest and most encouraging of letters to the young Vauban. His
assiduous application to his profession did not allow him to accompany
us in learning to defend the happy land we were enjoying. Indeed, my
life, the promise of our dear children does me more good than the
purest of pure air." Observe how this pompous and formal statement is
framed so as to please the mother. The writer does not say much about
himself; but he knows that his wife is longing to hear of her
darlings, and he tells her the news in his high-flown manner. He was
not often apart from the lady whom he loved so well; but I am glad
that they were sometimes separated, since the separations give us the
delicate and tender letters every phrase of which tells a long story
of love and confidence and mutual pride. That unequalled man who had
made England practically the mistress of the world, the man who gained
for us Canada and India, the man whom the King of Prussia regarded as
our strongest and noblest, could spend his time in writing pretty
babble about a couple of youngsters in order to delight their mother.
If he had gone to London, the people would have taken the horses out
of his carriage, and dragged him to his destination. He was far more
powerful than the king, and he was almost worshipped by every officer
and man in the Army and Navy. Excepting the Duke of Wellington, it is
probable that no subject ever was the object of such fervent
enthusiasm; and many men would have lived amidst the whirl of
adulation. But Chatham liked best to remain in the sweet quiet
country; and the story of his life at Lyme Regis is in reality a
beautiful poem.

Why did this imperial, overbearing, all-powerful man love to stay in
retirement when all Europe was waiting for his word? Why did he spend
days in sauntering in country lanes, and chatting during quiet
evenings with one loved friend alone? That question goes to the root
of my subject. Chatham was happily married; when he was torn by bitter
rage and disappointment, when his sovereign repulsed him, and when not
even the passionate love of an entire nation availed to further the
ends on which the Titan had set his heart, he carried his sorrow with
him, and drew comfort from the goodness of the sweet soul who was his
true mate. It is a very sweet picture; and we see in history how the
softening home influence finally converted the, awful, imposing,
tyrannical Chatham into a yielding, fascinating man.

From the world's arbiter to the bricklayer's labourer, the same
general law holds; the man who makes a happy marriage lives out his
life at its best--he may fail in some things, but in the essential
direction he is successful. The woman who makes a happy marriage may
have trials and suffering to bear, but she also gains the best of
life; and some of the purest and most joyous creatures I have known
were women who had suffered in their day. When I think of some
marriages whereof I know the full history, I am tempted to believe in
human perfectibility; and at chance times there come to me vague
dreams of a day when the majority of human beings will find life
joyous and tranquil. What one wise and well-matched couple achieve in
life may be achieved by others as the days go on. Surely jarring and
misery are not necessary in the great world of nations or in the
little world of the family? Confidence, generosity, and complete
unselfishness on both sides are needed to make the life of a married
pair serene and happy. I know that the demand is a heavy one; but, ah,
when it is adequately met, is not the gain worth all the sacrifices a
thousand times over? There may be petty and amusing differences of
opinion, quiet banter, and an occasional grave conflict of judgment;
but, so long as three central requirements--confidence, generosity,
and unselfishness--are met, there can be no serious break in the
procession of placid, happy days. I abhor the gushing talk sometimes
heard about "married lovers;" the people who dignify life and honour
the community are those who are lovers and something more. Of course
we can all feel sympathy with Fanny Kemble when she says that the
poetry of "Romeo and Juliet" went into her blood as she spoke on the
stage; but there is something needed beyond wild Italian raptures
before the ideal match is secured. Some of us are almost glad that
Juliet passed away in swift fashion when the cup of life foamed most
exquisitely at her lips. How would she have fared had that changeable
firebrand Romeo taken to wandering once more? It is a grievously
flippant question to ask when the most glorious of all love-poems is
in question; yet I ask it very seriously, and merely in a symbolic
way. Romeo is a shadow, the adored Juliet is a shadow; but the two
immortal shades represent for all time the mad lovers whose lives end
in bitterness. I say again that only reasonable and calm love brings
happy marriages. It is as true as any other law of nature that "he
never loved who loved not at first sight;" but the frantic, dissolute
man of genius who wrote that line did not care to go further and speak
of matters which wise men of the world cannot disregard. The first
blinding shock of the supreme passion comes in the course of nature;
but wise people live through the unspeakable tumult of the soul, and
use their reason after they have resisted and subdued into calm
strength the fierce impulse which has wrecked so many human creatures.
 When writing on "Ill-Assorted Marriages," I urged that men and women
who are about to take the terribly momentous steps towards marriage
must be guided by reason, and I repeat my adjuration here. When Lord
Beaconsfield said, "I observe those of my friends who married for
love--some of them beat their wives, and the remainder are divorced,"
he knew that he was uttering a piece of mockery which would have been
blasphemous had it been set down in all seriousness. He meant to say
that headlong marriages--marriages contracted in purblind
passion--always end in misery. No marriage can bring a spark of
happiness unless cool reason guides the choice of the contracting
parties. A hot-headed stripling marries a handsome termagant--her
brilliant face, her grace, and rude health attract him, and he does
not quietly notice the ebullitions of her temper. She is divine to
him; and, though she snarls at her younger brother, insults her
mother, and to outsiders plainly exhibits all sorts of petty
selfishness, yet the stripling rushes on to his fate; and at the end
of a few miserable years he is either a broken and hen-pecked creature
or a mean and ferocious squabbler.

How different is the case of those who are not precipitate! Take the
case of the splendid cynic whose words we have quoted. With his usual
sagacity, Lord Beaconsfield waited, watched, and finally succeeded in
making an ideally happy marriage in circumstances which would have
affrighted an ordinary person. All the world knows the story now. The
brilliant young statesman dared not risk the imputation of
fortune-hunting; but the lady knew his worth; she knew that she could
aid him, and she frankly threw over all the traditions of her sex and
of society and offered herself to him. No one in England who is
interested in this matter can fail to know every detail of a bargain
which makes one proud of one's species, for Lord Ronald Gower has told
us about the married life of the brilliant Hebrew who mastered
England. The two kindred souls were bound up in each other. The lady
was not learned or clever, and indeed her husband said, "She was the
best of creatures; but she never could tell which came first--the
Greeks or the Romans." But she had something more than cleverness--she
had the confidence, generosity, and unselfishness which I have set
forth as the main conditions of happiness. I must repeat an old story;
for it cannot too often be repeated. Think of the woman who gathered
all her resolution and uttered no sound, although the end of her
finger was smashed by the closing of the carriage-door! Mr. D'Israeli
was about to make a great speech; so his wife would not disturb him on
his way to Westminster, though flesh and bone of her finger were
crushed. She fainted when the orator had gone to his task; but her
fortitude did not forsake her until her beloved was out of danger of
being perturbed. That one authentic story is worth a hundred dramatic
tales of stagey heroism. And we must remember how the statesman repaid
the simple devotion of his wife. All his spare time was passed in her
company, and the quaint pair wandered in the woods like happy boy and
girl. Then, when the indomitable man had raised himself to be head of
the State, and was offered a peerage, he declined; but he begged that
his wife might be created countess in her own right. Could anything be
more graceful and courtly? "You are the superior," the first man in
England seemed to say; "and I am content to rejoice in your honours
without rivalling them." All the fanciful rhymes of the troubadours
cannot furnish anything prettier than that.

If we leave the Beaconsfields and the Chathams and come among less
exalted folk, we find that the same laws regulate happy marriages.
Confidence, generosity, unselfishness--that is all. In this beautiful
England of ours there are happy households which are almost
numberless. The good folk do not care for fame or power; their
happiness is rounded off and completed within their own walls, and
they live as the lordly Chatham lived when he was free from the ties
of place and Parliament. On summer days, when the quiet evening is
closing, the wayfarer may obtain chance glimpses of such happy homes
here and there. Some are inhabited by wealthy men, some by poor
workmen; but the essential happiness of both classes is arrived at in
the same way.

A young man wisely waits until his judgment is matured, and then
proceeds to choose his mate; he does not blunder into heroic fooleries
in the way of self-abnegation; for, if his choice is judicious, the
lady will prevent him from hurting his own prospects. Whether he be
aristocrat or plebeian, he knows the worth of money, and he knows how
to despise the foolish beings who talk of "dross" and "filthy lucre"
and the rest. Mere craving for money he despises; but he knows that
the amount of "dross" in a man's possession roughly indicates his
resources in the way of energy, ability, and self-control. When he
marries, his wife is reasonably free from sordid cares. It may be that
he has only seventy pounds in a building society, it may be that his
cheque for fifty thousand pounds would be honoured; but the principle
is the same. When the woman settles in her new home, she is free from
sordid anxieties, and she can give the graces of her mind play. How
beautiful some such households are! An old railway-guard once said to
me--"Ah, there's no talk like your own wife's when she understands
you, and you sit one side of the fire, and she the other! It don't
matter what kind of day you've had, she puts all right." The man was
right--the most delightful conversation that can be held is between a
rational man and woman who love each other, who understand each other,
and who have sufficient worldly keenness to keep clear of lowering
cares. A man rightly mated feels it an absolute delight to confide the
innermost secrets of life to his wife; and the woman would feel almost
criminal if she kept the pettiest of petty secrets from her partner.
They are friends, gloriously mated, and all the glories of birth and
state ever imagined cannot equal their simple but perfect joy. When
the tired mechanic comes home at night and meets one whom he has
wisely chosen, he forgets his sharp day of labour as soon as his
overalls are off. No snappish word greets him; and he is incapable of
being ill-natured with the kind soul whom he worships in his rough
way. I have always found that the merriest and most profitable
evenings were passed in houses where neither of the principal parties
strove for mastery, and where the woman had the art of coaxing
imperceptibly and discreetly. I reject the suggestion made by cynic
men that no married pair can live without quarrelling. No married pair
who were fools before marriage can avoid dissension; but, when man and
wife make their choice wisely and cautiously, the notion of a quarrel
is too horrible to dream of.



IX.

SHREWS.


The greatest masters who ever made studies of the shrew in fiction or
in history have never, after all, given us a strictly scientific
definition of the creature. They let her exhibit herself in all her
drollery or her hatefulness, but they act in somewhat lordly fashion
by leaving us to frame our definition from the picturesque data which
they supply. Mrs. Mackenzie, in "The Newcomes," is repulsive to an
awful degree, but the figure is as true as true can be, and most of
us, no doubt, have seen the type in all its loathsomeness only too
many times. Mrs. Mackenzie is a shrew of one sort, but we could not
take her vile personality as the basis of a classification. Mrs.
Raddle is one of that lower middle-class which Dickens knew so well,
still she is not hateful or vile, or anything but droll. I know how
maddening that kind of woman can be in real life to those immediately
about her, but onlookers find her purely funny; they never think of
poor Bob Sawyer's cruel humiliation; they only laugh themselves
helpless over the screeching little woman on the stairs, who humbles
her wretched consort and routs the party with such consummate
strategy. Mrs. Raddle and Mrs. Mackenzie are as far apart as two
creatures may be; nevertheless they are veritable specimens of the
British shrew, and it should be within the resources of civilisation
to find a definition capable of fitting both of them. As for Queen
Elizabeth--that splendid, false, able, cruel, and inexorable
shrew--she requires the space of volumes to give even the shadow of
her personality and powers. She has puzzled some of the wisest and
most learned of men. She was truly royal, and wholly deceitful;
self-controlled at times, and madly passionate at others; a lover of
pure literature, and yet terribly free in her own writings; kind to
her dependants, yet capable of aiming a violent blow at some courtier
whom she had caressed a moment before the blow came; an icy virgin,
and a confirmed and audacious flirt; a generous mistress, and an
odious miser; a free giver to those near her, and a skinflint who let
the sailors who saved her country lie rotting to death in the open
streets of Ramsgate because she could not find in her heart to give
them either medical attendance or shelter. Was there ever such another
being known beneath the glimpses of the moon? Some might call her
superhuman; I am more inclined to regard her as inhuman, for her
blending of characteristics is not like anything ever seen before or
since among the children of men. She was a shrew--a magnificent,
enigmatic shrew, who was perhaps the more fitted to rule a kingdom
which was in a state of transition in that she was lacking in all
sense of pity, shame, or remorse. She was the apotheosis of the shrew,
and no one of the tribe can ever be like unto her again. Carlyle's
Termagant of Spain is a shadowy figure that flits through all the
note-books on Frederick, but we never get so near to her as we do to
Elizabeth, and she remains to us as a vast shape that gibbers and
threatens and gesticulates in the realms of the dead. Jael, the wife
of Heber the Kenite, must have been a terrible shrew, and I should
think that Heber was not master in the house where Sisera died. The
calm deliberation, the preliminary coaxing, the quick, cool
determination, and the final shrill exultation which was reflected in
Deborah's song all speak of the shrew. Thackeray had a morbid delight
in dwelling on the species, and we know that all of his portraits were
taken from real life. If he really was intimate with all of the cruel
figures that he draws, then I could pardon him for manifesting the
most ferocious of cynicisms even if he had been a cynic--which he was
not. The Campaigner, Mrs. Clapp, the landlady in "Vanity Fair," Mrs.
Baynes, and all the rest of the deplorable bevy rest like nightmares
upon our memory. Dickens always made the shrew laughable, so that we
can hardly spare pity for the poor Snagsbys and Raddles and Crupps, or
any of her victims in that wonderful gallery; but Thackeray's,
Trollope's, Charles Reade's, Mrs. Oliphant's, and even Miss
Broughton's shrews are always odious, and they all seem to start from
the page alive.

But I am not minded to deal with the special instances of shrewism
which have been pronounced enough to claim attention from powerful
masters of fiction and history; I am rather interested in the swarms
of totally commonplace shrews who live around us, and who do their
very best--or worst--to make the earth a miserable place. I can laugh
as heartily as anybody at Dickens's "scolds" and female bullies; none
the less however am I ready in all seriousness to reckon the shrew as
an evil influence, as bad as some of the most subtle and malevolent
scourges inflicted by physical nature. All of us have but a little
span on earth, and we should be able to economise every minute, so as
to extract the maximum of joy from existence; yet how many frail lives
are embittered by the shrew! How many men, women, and children has she
not forced to wish almost for death as a relief from morbid pain and
keen humiliation! Our social conditions tend to foster shrewish
temperament, for we are gradually changing the subjection of woman to
the enslavement of man; gentle chivalry is developing into maudlin
self-advertising self-abnegation on the part of the males who favour
the new movement. The sweet and equable lady remains the same in all
ages; Imogen and Desdemona and Rosalind and the Roaring Girl have
their modern counterparts. The lady never takes advantage of the just
homage bestowed on her; she never asserts herself; her good breeding
is so absolute that she would not be uncontrolledly familiar with her
nearest and dearest, and her thoughts are all for others. But the
shrew must always be thrusting herself forward; her cankered nature
turns kindness into poison; she resents a benefit conferred as though
it were an insult; and yet, if she is not constantly noticed and made,
at the least, the recipient of kindly offers, she contrives to cause
every one within reach of her to feel the sting of her enraged vanity.
When I think of some women who are to be met with in various quarters,
from the "slum" to the drawing-room, I am driven to wonder--shocking
as it may seem--that crimes of violence are not more frequent than
they are. It is most melancholy to notice how well the shrew fares
compared with some poor creatures of gentler nature. In the lower
classes a meek, toil-worn, obliging woman is most foully ill-used by a
vagabond of a husband in only too many cases; while a screaming
selfish wretch who, in trying to madden her miserable husband,
succeeds in maddening all within earshot, escapes unhurt, and
continues to lead her odious life, setting a bad example to
impressionable young girls, and perhaps corrupting a neighbourhood.
England is the happy hunting-ground for the shrew at present; for in
America the average social relation between the sexes has come to be
so frank and even that a shrew would be as severely treated as a
discourteous man. In England a sham sentiment reigns which gives
license to the vilest of women without protecting the martyrs, who, in
all conscience, need protection. The scoundrel who maltreats a woman
receives far less punishment than is inflicted on a teacher who gives
a young Clerkenwell ruffian a stripe with a switch; while the howling
shrew who spends a man's money in drink, empties his house, screeches
at him by the hour together, is not censured at all--nay, the ordinary
"gusher" would say that "the agonised woman vents the feelings of her
overcharged heart."

Now let us glance at the various sorts of these awful scourges who
dwell in our midst. It may be well to classify them at once, because,
unless I mistake many symptoms, the stubborn English may shortly snuff
out the sentimentalists who have raised up a plague among us. I may
say as a preliminary that in my opinion a shrew may be fairly defined
as "a female who takes advantage of the noblest impulses of men and
the kindliest laws of nations in order that she may claim the social
privileges of both sexes and vent her most wicked temper with
freedom." First, consider the doleful shrew. This is a person not
usually found among the classes which lack leisure; she is an
exasperating and most entirely selfish woman, and she cannot very well
invent her refinements of whining cruelty unless she has a little time
on hand; her speciality is to moan incessantly over the ingratitude of
people for whom she has done some trivial service; and, as she always
moans by choice in presence of the person whom she has afflicted by
her generosity, the result is merely distracting. If the victim says,
"I allow that you have been very kind, and I am grateful," he commits
an error in tactics, for the torturer is upon him at once. "Oh, you do
own it then, and yet see how you behave!"--and then the torrent flows
on with swift persistence. If, on the contrary, the sufferer cries,
"Why on earth do you go on repeating what you have done? I owned your
kindness once, and I do not intend to talk any more about it!" he is
still more clearly delivered into the enemy's hands. He lays himself
open to a charge of ingratitude, and the charge is pressed home with
relentless fluency. Then, as to the doleful one's influence on
children--the general modern tendency is towards making children
happy, but the doleful one is a survival from some bad type, and takes
a secret malign delight in wantonly inflicting pain on the minds or
bodies of the young. Some dense people perhaps imagine that children
cannot suffer mental agony; yet the merest mite may carry a whole
tragedy in its innocent soul. We all know the wheedling ways of
children; we know how they will coax little luxuries and privileges
out of "papa" and "mamma," and most of us rather like to submit with
simulated reluctance to the harmless extortion. If I had heard a
certain tiny youth say, "Papa, when I'm a big man, and you're a little
boy, I shall ask you to have some jam," I should have failed entirely
to smother my laughter. Do you think the doleful one would have seen
the fun of the remark if she had any power over the body or soul of
that devoted child? Nay. She would have whined about slyness, and
cunning hints, and greediness, and the probabilities of utter ruin and
disgrace overtaking underhand schemers, until that child would have
been stunned, puzzled, deprived of self-respect, and rendered entirely
wretched. Long ago I heard of a doleful one who turned suddenly on a
merry boy who was playing on the floor. "You're going straight to
perdition!" observed the dolorous one; and the light went out of that
boy's life for a time. A gladsome party of young folk may be instantly
wrecked by the doleful shrew's entrance; and, if she cannot attract
attention to herself amid a gathering even of sensible, cheerful
adults, she will probably break up the evening by dint of a well-timed
fit of spasms or something similar. Dickens made Mrs. Gummidge very
funny; but the Gummidge of real life is not merely a limp, "lorn"
creature--she is a woman who began by being unhealthily vain, and ends
by being venomously malignant. I do not think that many people have
passed through life very far without meeting with a specimen of the
dolorous shrew, and I hope in all charity that the creature is not in
the immediate circle of any one who reads this. In impassioned
moments, when I have reckoned up all the misery caused by this
species, I have been inclined to wish that every peculiarly malign
specimen could be secured at the public expense in a safe asylum.

The aggressive shrew is usually the wife of some phlegmatic man; she
insults him at all hours and on all subjects, and she establishes
complete domination over him until she happens to touch his conscience
fairly, and then he probably crushes her by the sudden exertion of
latent moral force. Shall I talk of the drunken shrew? No--not that!
My task is unlovely enough already, and I cannot inflict that last
horror on those who will read this. Thus much will I say--if ever you
know a man tied to a creature whose cheeks are livid purple in the
morning and flushed at night, a creature who speaks thick at night and
is ready with a villainous word for the most courteous and gentle of
all whom she may meet, pray for that man.

The blue-blooded shrew is by no means uncommon. Watch one of this kind
yelling on a racecourse in tearful and foul-mouthed rage and you will
have a few queer thoughts about human nature. Then there is the
ladylike shrew. Ah, that being! What has she to answer for? She is
neat, low-spoken, precise; she can purr like a cat, and she has the
feline scratch always ready too. Pity the governess, the servant, the
poor flunkey whom she has at her mercy, for their bread is earned in
bitterness. "My lady" does not raise her voice; she can give orders
for the perpetration of the meanest of deeds without varying the
silken flow of her acrid tongue; but she is bad--very bad; and I think
that, if Dante and Swedenborg were at all near being true prophets,
there would be a special quarter in regions dire for the lady-like
shrew.

       *       *       *       *       *

I must distinctly own that the genuine shrew endeavours to make life
more or less unhappy for both sexes. Usually we are apt to think of
the shrew as resembling the village scolds who used to be promptly
ducked in horse-ponds in the unregenerate days; but the scold was an
individual who was usually chastised for making a dead-set at her
husband alone. The real shrew is like the puff-adder or the
whip-snake--she tries to bite impartially all round; and she is often
able to bite in comparative silence, but with a most deadly effect.
The vulgar shrieker is a deplorable source of mischief, but she cannot
match the reticent stabber who is always ready, out of sheer
wickedness, to thrust a venomed point into man, woman, or child. I
shall give my readers an extreme instance towards which they may
probably find it hard to extend belief. I am right however, and have
fullest warrant for my statement. I learn on good authority, and with
plenitude of proof, that trained nurses are rather too frequently
subjected to the tender mercies of the shrew. Nothing is more grateful
to a cankered woman than the chance of humiliating some one who
possesses superior gifts of any description, and a well-bred lady who
has taken to the profession of nursing is excellent "game." Thus I
find that delicate young women of gentle nurture have been sent away
to sleep in damp cellars at the back of great town-houses; they have
had to stay their necessarily fastidious appetites with cold broken
food--and this too after a weary vigil in the sick-room. Greatest
triumph of all, the nurses have been compelled to go as strangers to
the servants' table and make friends as best they could. It is not
easy to form any clear notion of a mind capable of devising such
useless indignities, because the shrew ought to know that her conduct
is contrasted with that of good and considerate people. The nurse
bears with composure all that is imposed on her, but she despises the
shabby woman, and she compares the behaviour of the acrid tyrant with
that of the majority of warm-hearted and generous ladies who think
nothing too good for their hired guests. I quote this extreme example
just to show how far the shrew is ready to go, and I wish it were not
all true.

Next let me deal with the mean shrew, who has one servant or more
under her control. The records of the servants' aid societies will
show plainly that there are women against whose names a significant
mark must be put, and the reason is that they turn away one girl after
another with incredible rapidity, or that despairing girls leave them
after finding life unendurable. I know that there are insolent,
sluttish, lazy, and incompetent servants, and I certainly wish to be
fair toward the mistresses; but I also know that too many of the
persons who send wild and whirling words to the newspapers belong
without doubt to the class of mean shrews. Whenever I see one of those
periodical letters which tell of the writer's lifelong tribulation, I
like to refresh my mind by repeating certain golden utterances of the
man whom we regard as one of the wisest of living Englishmen--"There
is only one way to have good servants--that is, to be worthy of being
well served. All nature and all humanity will serve a good master and
rebel against an ignoble one. And there is no surer test of the
quality of a nation than the quality of its servants, for they are
their masters' shadows and distort their faults in a flattened
mimicry. A wise nation will have philosophers in its servants'-hall, a
knavish nation will have knaves there, and a kindly nation will have
friends there. Only let it be remembered that 'kindness' means, as
with your child, not indulgence, but care." Substitute "mistress" for
"master" in this passage of John Ruskin's, and we have a little lesson
which the mean shrew might possibly take to heart--if she had any
heart. What is the kind of "care" which the mean one bestows on her
dependants? "That's my little woman a-giving it to 'Tilda," pensively
observed Mr. Snagsby; and I suspect that a very great many little
women employ a trifle too much of their time in "giving it to 'Tilda."
That is the "care" which poor 'Tilda gets. Consider the kind of life
which a girl leads when she comes for a time under the domination of
the mean shrew. Say that her father is a decent cottager; then she has
probably been used to plain and sufficient food, dressed in rough
country fashion, and she has at all events had a fairly warm place to
sleep in. When she enters her situation, she finds herself placed in a
bare chill garret; she has not a scrap of carpet on the floor, and
very likely she is bitterly cold at nights. She is expected to be
astir and alert from six in the morning until ten or later at night;
she is required to show almost preternatural activity and
intelligence, and she is not supposed to have any of the ordinary
human being's desire for recreation or leisure. When her Sunday out
comes--ah, that Sunday out, what a tragic farce it is!--she does not
know exactly where to go. If she is near a park or heath, she may fall
in with other girls and pass a little time in giggling and chattering;
but of rational pleasure she knows nothing. Then her home is the bare
dismal kitchen, with the inevitable deal table, frowsy cloth, and
rickety chairs. The walls of this interesting apartment are possibly
decked with a few tradesmen's almanacs, whereon Grace Darling is
depicted with magnificent bluish hair, pink cheeks, and fashionable
dress; or his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales assumes a heroic
attitude, and poses as a field-marshal of the most stern and lofty
description. Thus are 'Tilda's æsthetic tastes developed. The mean
shrew cannot give servants such expensive company as a cat; but the
beetles are there, and a girl of powerful imagination may possibly
come to regard them as eligible pets. Then the food--the breakfast of
weak tea and scanty bread; the mid-day meal of horrid scraps measured
out with eager care to the due starvation limit; the tasteless,
dreadful "tea" once more at six o'clock, and the bread and water for
supper! And the incessant scold, scold, scold, the cunning inquiries
after missing morsels of meat or potatoes, the exasperating orders! It
is too depressing; and, when I see some of the virtuous letters from
ill-used mistresses, I smile a little sardonically, and wish that the
servants could air their eloquence in the columns of great newspapers.
Some time ago there was a case in which a perfectly rich shrew went
away from home from Saturday morning till Monday night, leaving one
shilling to provide all food for two young women. This person of
course needed fresh servants every month, and was no doubt surprised
at the ingratitude of the starvelings who perpetually left her. I call
up memories of homes, refuges, emigration-agencies, and so forth, and
do most sternly and bitterly blame the mean shrew for mischief which
well-nigh passes credence. There is nothing more delightful than to
watch the dexterous, healthy, cheerful maids in well-ordered
households where the mistress is the mother; but there is very little
of the mother about the mean shrew--she is rather more like the
slave-driver. "Stinted means," observes some tender apologist. What
ineffable rubbish! If a woman is married to a man of limited means,
does that give her any right to starve and bully a fellow-creature?
How many brave women have done all necessary housework and despised
ignoble "gentility"! No, I cannot quite accept the "stinted means"
excuse; the fact is that the mean shrew is hard on her dependants
solely because her nature is not good; and we need not beat about the
bush any longer for reasons. A domestic servant under a wise,
dignified, and kind mistress or housekeeper may live a healthy and
happy life; the servant of the mean shrew does not live at all in any
true sense of the word. No rational man can blame girls for preferring
the freedom of shop or factory to the thraldom of certain kinds of
domestic service. If we consider only the case of well-managed houses,
then we may wonder why any girl should enter a factory; but, on the
other hand, there is that dire vision of the mean shrew with gimlet
eye and bitter tongue! What would the mean shrew have made of Margaret
Catchpole, the Suffolk girl who was transported about one hundred
years ago? There is a problem. That girl's letters to her mistress are
simply throbbing with passionate love and gratitude; and the phrases
"My beloved mistress," "My dear, dear mistress," recur like sobs.
Margaret would have become a fiend under the mean shrew; but the holy
influence of a good lady made a noble woman of her, and she became a
pattern of goodness long after one rash but blameless freak was
forgotten. All Margaret's race now rise up and call her blessed, and
her spirit must have rejoiced when she saw her brilliant descendant
appearing in England two years ago as representative of a mighty
colony.

What shall I say about the literary shrew? Let no one be mistaken--we
have a good many of them, and we shall have more and more of them.
There are kind and charming lady-novelists in plenty, and we all owe
them fervent thanks for happy hours; there are deeply-cultured ladies
who make the joy of placid English homes; there are hundreds on
hundreds of honest literary workers who never set down an impure or
ungentle line. I am grateful in reason to all these; but there is
another sort of literary woman towards whom I pretend to feel no
gratitude whatever, and that is the downright literary shrew, who
usually writes, so to speak, in a scream, and whose sentences resemble
bursting packets of pins and needles. She is what the Americans would
call "death on man," and she likes to emphasize her invectives by
always printing "Men" with a capital "M." She is however rigidly
impartial in her distribution of abuse, and she finds out at frequent
intervals that English women and girls are going year by year from bad
to worse. That the earth does not hold a daintier, purer, more
exquisitely lovable being than the well-educated, well-bred English
girl, is an opinion held even by some very cynical males; but the
literary shrew rattles out her libels, and, in order to show how very
virtuous she is, she usually makes her articles unfit to be brought
within the doors of any respectable house. Not that she is ribald--she
is merely so slangy, so audacious, and so bitter that no "prudent" man
would let his daughters glance at a single article turned out by our
emphatic shrew. As to men--well, those ignoble beings fare very badly
at her hands. I do not know exactly what she wants to do with the poor
things, but on paper and on the platform she insists that they shall
practically give up their political power entirely, for women, being
in an immense majority, would naturally outvote the inferior sex.
Sometimes, when the shrew is more than usually capricious and enraged
with her own sex, she may magnanimously propose to disfranchise huge
numbers of women; but, as a rule, she is bent on mastering the
enemy--Man. If you happen to remark that it would be rather awkward if
a majority of women should happen to bring about a war in which
myriads of men would destroy each other, we rather pity you; that
argument always beats the shrew, and she resorts to the literary
equivalent for hysterics. If the controversialist ventures to ask some
questions about the share which women have had in bringing about the
great wars known to history, he draws on himself more and more
hysterical abuse. What a strange being is this! Her life is one long
squabble, she is the most reckless and violent of fighters, and yet
she is always crying out that Men are brutal and bloodthirsty, and
that she and her sisters would introduce the elements of peace and
goodwill to political relations. We may have a harmless laugh at the
literary shrew so long as she confines herself to haphazard
scribbling, because no one is forced to read; but it is no laughing
matter when she transfers her literary powers to some public body, and
inflicts essays on the members. Her life on a School Board may be
summarised as consisting of a battle and a screech; she has the bliss
of abusing individual Men rudely--nay, even savagely--and she knows
that chivalry prevents them from replying. But she is worst when she
rises to read an essay; then the affrighted males flee away and rest
in corners while the shrew denounces things in general. It is
terrible. Among the higher products of civilisation the literary shrew
is about the most disconcerting, and, if any man wants to know what
the most gloomy possible view of life is like, I advise him to attend
some large board-meeting during a whole afternoon while the literary
shrew gets through her series of fights and reads her inevitable
essay. He will not come away much wiser perhaps, but he will be
appreciably sadder.

And so this long procession of shrews passes before us, scolding and
gibbering and dispensing miseries. Is there no way of appealing to
reason so that they may be led to see that inflicting pain can never
bring them anything but a low degree of pleasure? No human creature
was ever made better or more useful by a shrew, for the very means by
which the acrid woman tries to secure notice or power only serves to
belittle her. Take the case of a vulgar schoolmistress who is
continually scolding. What happens in her school? She is mocked,
hated, tricked, and despised; real discipline is non-existent; the
bullied assistants go about their work without heart; and the whole
organisation--or rather disorganisation--gradually crumbles, until a
place which should be the home of order and happiness becomes an ugly
nest of anarchy. But look at one of the lovely high schools which are
now so common; read Miss Kingsley's most fervent and accurate
description of the scholars, and observe how poorly the scolding
teacher fares in the comparison. Who ever heard of a girl being
scolded or punished in a good modern high school? Such a catastrophe
is hardly conceivable, for one quiet look of reproach from a good
teacher is quite sufficient to render the average girl inconsolable
until forgiveness is granted. This illustrates my point--the shrew
never succeeds in doing anything but intensifying the fault or evil
which she pretends to remove. The shrew who shrieks at a drunkard only
makes him dive further into the gulf in search of oblivion; the shrew
who snaps constantly at a servant makes the girl dull, fierce, and
probably wicked; the shrew who tortures a patient man ends by making
him desperate and morose; the shrew who weeps continually out of
spite, and hopes to earn pity or attention in that fashion, ends by
being despised by men and women, abhorred by children, and left in the
region of entire neglect. Perhaps if public teachers could only show
again and again that the shrew makes herself more unhappy, if
possible, than she makes other people, then the selfish instinct which
is dominant might answer to the appeal; but, though I make the
suggestion I have no great hope of its being very fruitful.

After all, I fear the odious individual whose existence and attributes
we have discussed must be accepted as a scourge sent to punish us for
past sins of the race. Certainly women had a very bad time in days
gone by--they were slaves; and at odd moments I am tempted to conclude
that the slave instinct survives in some of them, and they take their
revenge in true servile fashion. This line of thought would carry me
back over more ages than I care to traverse; I am content with knowing
that the shrews are in a minority, and that the majority of my
countrywomen are sweet and benign.



X.

ARE WE WEALTHY?


Among the working-classes shrewd men are now going about putting some
very awkward questions which seem paradoxical at first sight, but
which are quite understood by many intelligent men to whom they are
addressed. The query "Are we wealthy?" seems easy enough to answer;
and of course a rapid and superficial observer gives an affirmative in
reply. It seems so obvious! Our income is a thousand millions per
year; our railways and merchant fleets can hardly be valued without
putting a strain on the imagination; and it seems as if the atmosphere
were reeking with the very essence of riches. A millionaire gives
nearly one thousand pounds for a puppy; he buys seventeen baby horses
for about three thousand pounds apiece; he gives four thousand guineas
for a foal, and bids twenty thousand pounds for one two-year-old
filly; his house costs a million or thereabouts. Minor plutocrats
swarm among us, and they all exhibit their wealth with every available
kind of ostentation; yet that obstinate question remains to be
answered--"Are we wealthy?" We may give the proletarians good advice
and recommend them to employ no extreme talk and no extreme measures;
but there is the new disposition, and we cannot get away from it. I
take no side; the poor have my sympathy, but I endeavour to understand
the rich, and also to face facts in a quiet way. Supposing that a ball
is being given that costs one thousand pounds, and that within sound
of the carriages there are twenty seamstresses working who never in
all their lives know what it is to have sufficient food--is not that a
rather curious position? The seamstresses are the children of mighty
Britain, and it seems that their mother cannot give them sustenance.
The excessive luxury of the ball shows that some one has wealth, but
does it not also seem to show that some one has too much? The clever
lecturers who talk to the populace now will not be content with the
old-fashioned answer, and an awkward deadlock is growing more nearly
imminent daily. Suppose we take the case of the sporting-man again,
and find that he pays three guineas per week for the training of each
of his fifty racers, we certainly have a picture of lavish display;
but, when we see, on the other hand, that nearly half the children in
some London districts never know what it is to have breakfast before
they go to school, we cannot help thinking of the palaces in which the
horses are stabled and the exquisite quality of the animal's food.
There is not a good horse that mother England does not care for, and
there are half a million children who rarely can satisfy their hunger,
and who are quartered in dens which would kill the horses in a week.
These crude considerations are not-presented by us as being
satisfactory statements in economics; but, when the smart mob orator
says, "What kind of parent would keep horses in luxury and leave
children to hunger?" "Is this wealthy England?" his audience reply in
a fashion of their own. Reasoning does not avail against hunger and
privation. I am forced to own that, for my part, the awful problem of
poverty seems insoluble by any logical agent; but the man of the mob
does not now care for logic than ever he did before, and he has
advisers who state to him the problems of life and society with
passionate rhetoric which eludes reason.

The whole world hangs together, and Chicago may be called a mere
suburb of London. English people did not understand the true history
of the genesis of poverty until the developments of society in America
showed us with terrific rapidity the historical development of our own
poverty. The fearful state of things in American cities was brought
about in a very few years, whereas the gradual extension of our
poverty-stricken classes has been going on for centuries. To us
poverty, besides being a horror, was more or less of a mystery; but
America exhibited the development of the gruesome monster with lurid
distinctness. In the old countries the men who first were able to
seize the land gradually sublet portions either for money or warlike
service; the growth of manufactures occupied a thousand years before
it reached its present extent; and with the rising of manufacturing
centres came enormous new populations which were finally obliged to
barter their labour for next to nothing--and thus we have the
appalling and desolating spectacle of our slums. All that took place
in America with the swiftness of a series of stage-scenes; so that men
now living have watched the inception and growth of all the most
harrowing forms of poverty and the vices arising from poverty. And now
the cry is, "Go back to the Land--the Land for the Nation!" Matters
have reached a strange pass when such a political watchword should be
chosen by thousands in grave and stolid England, and we shall be
obliged to compromise in the end with those by whom the cry is raised.
I believe that a compromise may be arranged in time, but the leaders
of the poor will have to teach their followers wisdom, self-restraint,
and even a little unselfishness, impossible as the teaching of that
last may seem to be. We have begun a great labour war, in which
battles are being lost and won by opposing sides around us every day.
The fighting was very terrible at the beginning; but we shall be
forced at last to adopt a system of truces, and then the question "Are
we wealthy?" may find its answer. At this moment, however much an
optimist may point to our wealth, the logical opponent of established
things can always point to the ghastly sights that seem to make the
very name of wealth a cynical mockery.

We have to take up a totally new method of meeting and dealing with
the poor; and rich and poor alike must learn to think--which is an
accomplishment not possessed by many of either class. In the early
part of the century, when the ideas of the Revolution were still very
vital, there was hope that a time might come when wealth and power
would be shared so as to secure genuine human existence to the whole
population. Then came the mad hopes that followed the Reform Bill,
when grave Parliamentary men wept and huzzaed like schoolboys on
seeing that remarkable measure passed. People thought that the good
days had at last come, and even the workers who were still left out in
the cold fancied that in some vague way they were to receive benefits
worth having. The history of human delusions is a very sad one, as sad
almost as the history of human wickedness; and all those poor
enthusiasts had a sad awakening, for they found that the barren fights
of placemen would still go on, that the people would continue to be
shorn, and that the condition of the poor was uncommonly likely to be
worse than ever. The hour of hopefulness passed away, and there
succeeded bitter years of savage despair. The unhappy Chartists
struggled hard; and there is something pathetic in thinking how good
men were treated for preaching political commonplaces which are now
deemed almost Conservative. The wild time in which every crown in
Europe tottered was followed by another period of optimism; for the
great religious revival had begun, and the Church resumed her ancient
power over the people, despite the shock given by Newman's secession.
Then once again the query "Are we wealthy?" was answered with
enthusiasm; and even the poor were told that they were wealthy, for
had they not the reversion of complete felicity to crown their entry
into a future world? We must believe that there is some compensation
for this life's ills, or else existence would become no longer
bearable; but it was hard for people in general to think that
everything was for the best on this earth. Soon came the day of doubt
and bitterness, which assailed eager philanthropists and mere ordinary
people as well. The poor folk did not feel the effects of Darwin's
work, but those effects were terrible in certain quarters, for many
precipitate thinkers became convinced that we must perish like the
dumb beasts. Wherefore came the question, "Why should the poor go
without their share of the good things of this world, since there is
nothing for them in the next?" A very ugly query it is too, because,
when the question of number arises, rash spirits may say, as it was
said long ago, "Are we not many, and are you not few?"

I have not any fine theories, and I do not want to stir up enmities;
and I therefore say to the instructors of the poor, "Instead of egging
your men on to warfare, why not teach them how to use the laws which
they already have? No new laws are wanted; every rational and
necessary reform may be achieved by dint of measures now on the
statute-book--measures which seem to slumber as soon as the agitation
raised in passing them has glorified a certain number of placemen."
Every year we have the outcry, to which we have so often alluded,
about disgraceful dwellings; yet there is not a bad case in London or
elsewhere which could not be cured if the law were quietly set in
motion by men of business. As a matter of fact, a very great portion
of the wealth of the country is now at the service of the poor; but
they do not choose to take it--or, at any rate, they know nothing
about it. Look at the School Board elections, and see how many
exercise the right to vote. Yet, if the majority elected their own
School Board, they could divert enough charities to educate our whole
population, and they could do as they chose in their own schools.
Again, the Local Government Act renders it possible for the populace
to secure any public institutions that they may want, and in the main
they can order their own social life to their liking. What is the use
of incessant declamation? Organisation would be a thousand times
better. Let quiet men who do not want mere self-advertisement tell the
people what is their property and how to get it, and there will be no
need of the outcry of one class against another. It is a bitter grief
for all thinking men to observe the inequalities that continue to make
life positively accursed in many quarters, and the sights of shame
that abound ought to be seen no more; but rage can do nothing, while
wise teaching can do everything. The population question must be dealt
with by the people themselves; they must resolve to crush their masses
no more into slums; they must choose for themselves a nobler and a
purer life--and that can be accomplished by the laws which they may
set in action at once. Then they will be able to say, "England is
wealthy, and we have our share."

Some excellent articles have been turned out by the brilliant
professor of biology who inspects our fisheries for us. He has done
rare service for the people in his own way--no one better, for he was
one of the first who eagerly advocated the education of the masses;
but I fear he is now becoming "disillusionised." He talked once about
erecting a Jacob's Ladder from the gutter to the university; and he
has found that the ladder--such as it is--has merely been used to
connect the tradesman's shop and the artisan's dwelling with the
exalted place of education. The poor gutter-child cannot climb the
ladder; he is too hungry, too thin, too weak for the feat, and hence
the professor's famous epigram has become one of the things at which
scientific students of the human race smile sadly and kindly. And now
the professor grows savage and so wildly Conservative that we fear he
may denounce Magna Charta next as a gross error. I know very well that
all men are not equal, and the professor's keenest logic cannot make
me see that point any more clearly than at present. But suppose that
one fine day some awkward leader of the people says, "You tell us,
professor, that we are wealthy, and that it is right that some men
should be gorged while we are bitten with famine. If Britain is so
wealthy, how is it that eleven million acres of good agricultural land
are now out of cultivation, while the people whom the land used to
feed are crushed in the slums of the towns in the case of labourers,
or gone beyond the sea in the case of the farmers?" I want to be
impartial, but freely own that I should not like to answer that
question, and I do not believe the professor could. The men who used
to supply our fighting force are now becoming extinct. If they go into
the town and pick up some kind of work, then the second generation are
weaklings and a burden to us; while, if they go abroad, they are still
removed from the Mother of Nations, who needs her sons of the soil,
even though she may feel proud of the gallant new States which they
are rearing. And, while rats and mice and obscure vermin are gradually
taking possession of the land on which Britons were bred, the signs of
bursting wealth are thick among us. Is a nation rich that cannot
afford even to keep the kind of men who once defended her? To me the
gradual return of the land to its primitive wildness is more than
depressing. There are districts on the borders of Hertford and Essex
which might make a sentimental traveller sit down and cry. It all
seems strange; it looks so poverty-stricken, so filthy, so sordid, so
like the site of a slum after all the houses have been levelled for a
dozen years; and this in the midst of our England! I say nothing about
land-laws and so forth, but I will say that those who fancy the towns
can survive when the farms are deserted are much mistaken. "Are we
wealthy?" "Yes," and "No." We are wealthy in the wrong places, and we
are poor in the wrong places; and the combination will end in mischief
unless we are very soon prepared to make an alteration in most of our
ways of living. In many respects it is a good world; but it might be
made better, nobler, finer in every quarter, if the poor would only
recognise wise and silent leaders, and use the laws which men have
made in order to repair the havoc which other men have also made.



XI.

THE VALUES OF LABOUR.


Only about a quarter-century ago unlearned men of ability would often
sigh and say, "Ah, if I was only a scholar!" Admirers of a clever and
illiterate workman often said, "Why, if he was a scholar, he would
make a fortune in business for himself!" Women mourned the lack of
learning in the same way, and I have heard good dames deplore the fact
that they could not read. I pity most profoundly those on whom the
light of knowledge has never shone kindly; and yet I have a comic sort
of misgiving lest in a short time a common cry may be, "Ah, if I was
only not a scholar!" The matchless topsy-turvydom which has marked the
passage of the last ten years, the tremendously accelerated velocity
with which labour is moving towards emancipation from all control,
have so confused things in general that an observer must stand back
and get a new focus before he can allow his mind to dwell on the
things that he sees. One day's issue of any good newspaper is enough
to show what a revolution is upon us, for we merely need to run the
eye down columns at random to pick out suggestive little scraps. At
present we cannot get that "larger view" about which Dr. W.B.
Carpenter used to talk; he was wont to study hundreds and thousands of
soundings and measurements piecemeal, and the chaos of figures
gradually took form until at length the doctor had in his mind a
complete picture of enormous ocean depths. In somewhat the same way we
can by slow degrees form a picture of a changed state of society, and
we find that the faculties of body or mind which used to bring their
possessor gain are now nearly worthless. In one column of a journal I
find that a trained schoolmistress is required to take charge of a
village school. The salary is sixteen pounds per annum; but, if the
lady is fortunate enough to have a husband, work can be procured for
him daily on the farm. This is just a little disconcerting. The
teacher must see to the mental and moral training of fifty children;
she must have spent at least seven years in learning before she was
allowed to take charge of a school; then she remained two more years
on probation, and all the time her expenses were not light. As the
final reward of her exertions, she is offered six shillings per week,
out of which she must dress neatly--for a slatternly schoolmistress
would be a dreadful object--buy sufficient food, and hold her own in
rural society! The reverend man who advertises this delectable
situation must have a peculiar idea regarding the class into which an
educated lady like the teacher whom he requires would likely to marry.
An agricultural labourer may be an honest fellow enough, but, as the
husband of an educated woman, he might be out of place; and I fancy
that a schoolmistress whose husband pulled turnips and wore corduroys
might not secure the maximum of deference from her scholars. In
contrast to this grotesque advertisement I run down a list of cooks
required, and I find that the average wage of the cook is not far from
three times that of the teacher, while the domestic has her food
provided for liberality. The village schoolmistress in the old days
was never well paid; but then she was a private speculator; we never
expected to see the specialised product of training and time reckoned
at the same value as the old dame's, who was able to read and knit,
but who could do little more. While we are comparing the wages of
teachers and cooks, I may point out that the _chef_, whose training
lasts seven years, earns, as we calculate, one hundred and thirty
pounds per year more than the average English schoolmaster. This is
perhaps as it should be, for the value of a good _chef_ is hardly to
be reckoned in money; and yet the figures look funny when we first
study them. And now we may turn to the wages of dustmen, who are, it
must be admitted, a most estimable class of men and most useful. I
find that the London dustman earns more than an assistant master under
the Salford School Board, and, besides his wages, he picks up many
trifles. The dustman may dwell with his family in two rooms at
three-and-sixpence per week; his equipment consists of a slop,
corduroys, and a sou'-wester hat, which are sufficient to last many a
day with little washing. But the assistant, whose education alone cost
the nation one hundred pounds cash down, not to speak of his own
private expenditure, must live in a respectable locality, dress
neatly, and keep clear of that ugly soul-killing worry which is
inflicted by trouble about money. Decidedly the dustman has the best
of the bargain all round, for, to say the least, he does not need to
labour very much harder than the professional man. This instance tends
to throw a very sinister and significant flash on the way things are
tending. Again, some of the gangs of Shipping Federation men have full
board and lodging, two changes of clothes free, beer and rum in
moderate quantities, and thirty shillings per week. Does anybody in
England know a curate who has a salary like that? I do not think it
would be possible to find one on the Clergy List. No one grudges the
labourers their extra food and high wages; I am only taking note of a
significant social circumstance. The curate earns nothing until he is
about three-and-twenty; if he goes through one of the older
universities, his education costs, up to the time of his going out
into the world, something very like two thousand pounds; yet, with all
his mental equipment, such as it is, he cannot earn so much as a
labourer of his own age. Certainly the humbler classes had their day
of bondage when the middleman bore heavily on them; they got clear by
a mighty effort which dislocated commerce, but we hardly expected to
find them claiming, and obtaining, payments higher than many made to
the most refined products of the universities! It is the way of the
world; we are bound for change, change, and yet more change; and no
man may say how the cycles will widen. Luxury has grown on us since
the thousands of wealthy idlers who draw their money from trade began
to make the stream of lavish expenditure turn into a series of rushing
rapids. The flow of wasted wealth is no longer like the equable
gliding of the full Thames; it is like the long deadly flurry of the
waters that bears toward Niagara. These newly-enriched people cause
the rise of the usual crop of parasites, and it is the study of the
parasites which forces on the mind hundreds of reflections concerning
the values of different kinds of labour. A little while ago, for
example, an exquisitely comic paragraph was printed with all innocence
in many journals. It appeared that two of the revived species of
parasites known as professional pugilists were unable to dress
properly before they began knocking each other about, "because their
valets were not on the spot." I hope that the foul old days of the
villainous "ring" may never be recalled by anything seen in our day,
for there never were any "palmy days," though there were some ruffians
who could not be bought. Yet the worst things that happened in the
bygone times were not so much fitted to make a man think solemnly as
that one delicious phrase--"their valets were not on the spot." In the
noble days, when England was so very merry, it often happened that a
man who has been battered out of all resemblance to humanity was left
to dress himself as best he could on a bleak marsh, and his chivalrous
friends made the best of their way home, while the defeated gladiator
was reckoned at a dog's value. Now-a-days those sorely-entreated
creatures would have their valets. In one department of industry
assuredly the value of labour has altered. The very best of the brutal
old school once fought desperately for four hours, though it was
thought that he must be killed, and his reason was that, if he lost,
he would have to beg his bread. Now-a-days he would have a valet, a
secretary, a manager, and a crowd of plutocratic admirers who would
load him with money and luxuries. I was tickled to the verge of
laughter by finding that one of these gentry was paid thirty pounds
per night for exhibiting his skill, and my amusement was increased
when it turned out that one of those who paid him thirty pounds
strongly objected on learning that the hero appeared at two other
places, from each of which he received the same sum. Thus for
thirty-six minutes of exertion per day the man was drawing five
hundred and forty pounds per week. All these things appeared in the
public prints; but no public writer took any serious notice of a
symptom which is as significant as any ever observed in the history of
mankind. It is almost awe-striking to contemplate these parasites, and
think what their rank luxurious existence portends. Here we see a man
of vast wealth, whereof every pound was squeezed from the blood and
toil of working-men; he passes his time now in the company of these
fellows who have earned a reputation by pounding each other. The
wealthy bully and his hangers-on are dangerous to the public peace;
their language is too foul for even men of the world to endure it, and
the whole crew lord it in utter contempt of law and decency. That is
the kind of spectacle to be seen in our central city almost every
night. Consider a story which accidently came out a few weeks ago
owing to legal proceedings and kept pleasure-seeking and
scandalmongering London laughing for a while, and say whether any
revelation ever gave us a picture of a more unspeakable society. A
rich man, A., keeps a prizefighter, B., to "mind" him, as the quaint
phrase goes. Mr. A. is offended by another prizefighter, C., and he
offers B. the sum of five hundred pounds if he will give C. a beating
in public. B. goes to C., and says, "I will give you ten pounds if you
will let me thrash you, and I won't hurt you much." C. gladly
consents, so B. pockets four hundred and ninety pounds for himself,
and the noble patron's revenge is satisfied. There is a true tale of
rogues and a fool--a tale to make one brood and brood until the sense
of fun passes into black melancholy. Five hundred men worked for sixty
hours per week before that money was earned--and think of the value
received for the whole sum when it was spent! Truly the parasite's
exertions are lucrative to himself!

As for the market-price of book-learning or clerkly skill, it is not
worth so much as naming. The clerk was held to be a wondrous person in
times when the "neck-verse" would save a man from the gallows; but
"clerk" has far altered its meaning, and the modern being of that name
is in sorrowful case. So contemptibly cheap are his poor services that
he in person is not looked upon as a man, but rather as a lump of raw
material which is at present on sale in a glutted market. All the
walks of life wherein men proceed as though they belonged to the
leisured class are becoming no fit places for self-respecting people.
Gradually the ornamental sort of workers are being displaced; the idle
rich are too plentiful, but I question whether even the idle rich have
done, so much harm as the genteel poor who are ashamed of labour. I do
not like to see wages going downward, but there are exceptions, and I
am almost disposed to feel glad that the searchers after "genteel"
employment are now very much like the birds during a long frost. The
enormous lounging class who earn nothing do not offer an agreeable
subject for contemplation, and their parasites are horrible--there is
no other word. Yet we may gather a little consolation when we think
that the tendency is to raise the earnings of those who do something
or produce something. It is not good to know that a dustman makes more
money than hundreds of hard-worked and well-educated men, for this is
a grotesque state of things brought about by imbecile Government
officials. Neither do I quite like to know that a lady whose education
occupied nine years of her life is offered less wages than a good
housemaid. But I do assuredly like to hear how the higher class of
manual labourers flourish; they are the salt of the earth, and I
rejoice that they are no longer held down and regarded as in some way
inferior to men who do nothing for two hundred pounds a year, except
try to look as if they had two thousand pounds. The quiet man who does
the delicate work on the monster engines of a great ocean steamer is
worthy of his hire, costly as his hire may be. On his eye, his
judgment of materials, his nerve, and his dexterity of hand depend
precious lives. For three thousand miles those vast masses of
machinery must force a huge hull through huge seas; the mighty and
shapely fabrics of metal must work with the ease of a child's toy
locomotive, and they must bear a strain that is never relaxed though
all the most tremendous forces of Nature may threaten. What a charge
for a man! His earnings could hardly be raised high enough if we
consider the momentous nature of the duty he fulfils; he is an
aristocrat of labour, and we do not know that there is not something
grotesque in measuring and arguing over the money-payment made to him.
Then there are the specially skilled hands who in their monkish
seclusion work at the instruments wherewith scientific wonders are
wrought. The rewards of their toil would have seemed fabulous to such
men as Harrison the watchmaker; but they also form an aristocracy, and
they win the aristocrat's guerdon without practising his idleness. The
mathematician who makes the calculations for a machine is not so well
paid as the man who finishes it; the observatory calculator who
calculates the time of occulation for a planet cannot earn so much as
the one who grinds a reflector. In all our life the same tendency is
to be seen: the work of the hand outdoes in value the work of the
brain.



XII.

THE HOPELESS POOR.


By fits and starts the public wake up and own with much clamour that
there is a great deal of poverty in our midst. While each new fit
lasts the enthusiasm of good people is quite impressive in its
intensity; all the old hackneyed signatures appear by scores in the
newspapers, and "Pro Bono Publico," "Audi Alteram Partem," "X.Y.Z.,"
"Paterfamilias," "An Inquirer," have their theories quite pat and
ready. Picturesque writers pile horror on horror, and strive, with the
delightful emulation of their class, to outdo each other; far-fetched
accounts of oppression, robbery, injustice, are framed, and the more
drastic reformers invariably conclude that "Somebody" must be hanged.
We never find out which "Somebody" we should suspend from the dismal
tree; but none the less the virtuous reformers go on claiming victims
for the sacrifice, while, as each discoverer solemnly proclaims his
bloodthirsty remedy, he looks round for applause, and seems to say,
"Did you ever hear of stern and audacious statesmanship like mine? Was
there ever such a practical man?"

The farce is supremely funny in essentials, and yet I cannot laugh at
it, for I know that the drolleries are played out amid sombre
surroundings that should make the heart quake. While the hysterical
newspaper people are venting abuse and coining theories, there are
quiet workers in thousands who go on in uncomplaining steadfastness
striving to remove a deadly shame from our civilisation, and smiling
softly at the furious cries of folk who know so little and vociferate
so much. After each whirlwind of sympathy has reached its full
strength, there is generally a strong disposition among the
sentimentalists to do something. No mere words for the genuine
sentimentalist; he packs his sentimental self into a cab, he engages
the services of a policeman, and he plunges into the nasty deeps of
the City's misery. He treats each court and alley as a department of a
menagerie, and he gazes with mild interest on the animals that he
views. To the sentimentalist they are only animals; and he is kind to
them as he would be to an ailing dog at home. If the sentimentalist's
womenfolk go with him, the tour is made still more pleasing. The
ladies shudder with terror as they trail their dainty skirts up
noisome stairs; but their genteel cackle never ceases. "And you earn
six shillings per week? How very surprising! And the landlord takes
four shillings for your one room? How very mean! And you have--let me
see--four from six leaves two--yes--you have two shillings a week to
keep you and your three children? How charmingly shocking!" The honest
poor go out to work; the wastrels stay at home and invent tales of
woe; then, when the dusk falls on the foul court and all the
sentimentalists have gone home to dinner, the woe-stricken tellers of
harrowing tales creep out to the grimy little public-house at the top
of the row; they spend the gifts of the sentimentalist; and, when the
landlord draws out his brimming tills at midnight, he blesses the kind
people who help to earn a snug income for him. I have seen forty-eight
drunken people come out of a tavern between half-past eleven and
half-past twelve in one night during the time when sentiment ran mad;
there never were such roaring times for lazy and dissolute scoundrels;
and nearly all the money given by the sentimentalists was spent in
sowing crops of liver complaint or _delirium tremens_, and in filling
the workhouses and the police-cells. Then the fit of charity died out;
the clergyman and the "sisters" went on as usual in their sacredly
secret fashion until a new outburst came. It seems strange to talk of
Charity "raging"--it reminds us of Mr. Mantalini's savage lamb--but I
can use no other word but "rage" to express these frantic gushes of
affection for the poor. During one October month I carefully preserved
and collated all the suggestions which were so liberally put forth in
various London and provincial newspapers; and I observed that
something like four hundred of these suggestions resolve themselves
into a very few definite classes. The most sensible of these follow
the lines laid down by Charles Dickens, and the writers say, "If you
do not want the poor to behave like hogs, why do you house them like
hogs? Clear away the rookeries; buy up the sites; pay reasonable
compensation to those now interested in the miserable buildings, and
then erect decent dwellings."

Now I do not want to confuse my readers by taking first a bead-roll of
proposals, and then a bead-roll of arguments for and against, so I
shall deal with each reformer's idea in the order of its importance.
Before beginning, I must say that I differ from all the purveyors of
the cheaper sort of sentiment; I differ from many ladies and gentlemen
who talk about abstractions; and I differ most of all from the
feather-brained persons who set up as authorities after they have paid
flying visits in cabs to ugly neighbourhoods. When a specialist like
Miss Octavia Hill speaks, we hear her with respect; but Miss Hill is
not a sentimentalist; she is a keen, cool woman who has put her
emotions aside, and who has gone to work in the dark regions in a kind
of Napoleonic fashion. No fine phrases for her--nothing but fact,
fact, fact. Miss Hill feels quite as keenly as the gushing persons;
but she has regulated her feelings according to the environment in
which her energies had to be exercised, and she has done more good
than all the poetic creatures that ever raked up "cases" or made
pretty phrases. I leave Miss Hill out of my reckoning, and I deal with
the others. My conclusions may seem hard, and even cruel, but they are
based on what I believe to be the best kindness, and they are
supported by a somewhat varied experience. I shall waive the charge of
cruelty in advance, and proceed to plain downright business.

You want to clear away rookeries and erect decent dwellings in their
place? Good and beautiful! I sympathise with the intention, and I wish
that it could be carried into effect instantly. Unhappily reforms of
that sort cannot by any means be arranged on the instant, and
certainly they cannot be arranged so as to suit the case of the
Hopeless Poor. Shall I tell you, dear sentimentalist, that the
Hopeless brigade would not accept your kindness if they could? I shall
stagger many people when I say that the Hopeless division like the
free abominable life of the rookery, and that any kind of restraint
would only send them swarming off to some other centre from which they
would have to be dislodged by degrees according to the means and the
time of the authorities. Hard, is it not? But it is true. Certain
kinds of cultured men like the life which they call "Bohemian." The
Hopeless class like their peculiar Bohemianism, and they like it with
all the gusto and content of their cultured brethren. Suppose you
uproot a circle of rookeries. The inhabitants are scattered here and
there, and they proceed to gain their living by means which may or may
not be lawful. The decent law-abiding citizens who are turned out of
house and home during the progress of reform suffer most. They are not
inclined to become predatory animals; and, although they may have been
used to live according to a very low human standard, they cannot all
at once begin to live merely up to the standard of pigs. No writer
dare tell in our English tongue the consequences of evicting the
denizens of a genuine rookery for the purpose of substituting
improvements; and I know only one French writer who would be bold
enough to furnish cogent details to any civilised community. But, for
argument's sake, let me suppose that your "rooks" are transferred from
their nests to your model dwellings. I shall allow you to do all that
philanthropy can dictate; I shall grant you the utmost powers that a
government can bestow; and I shall give six months for your
experiment. What will be found at the end of that time? Alas, your
fine model dwellings will be in worse condition than the wigwam that
the Apache and his squaw inhabit! Let a colony of "rooks" take
possession of a sound, well-fitted building, and it will be found that
not even the most stringent daily visitation will prevent utter wreck
from being wrought. The pipes needed for all sanitary purposes will be
cut and sold; the handles of doors and the brass-work of taps will be
cut away; every scrap of wood-work available for fire-wood will be
stolen sooner or later, and the people will relapse steadily into a
state of filth and recklessness to be paralleled only among Australian
and North American aborigines. Which of the sentimentalists has ever
travelled to America with a few hundreds of Russian and Polish Jews,
Saxon peasants, and Irish peasants from the West? That is the only
experience capable of giving an idea of what happens when a
fairly-fitted house is handed over to the tender mercies of a
selection from the British "residuum." I shall be accused of talking
the language of despair. I have never done that. I should like to see
the time come when the poor may no more dwell in hovels like swine,
and when a poverty-stricken inhabitant of London may not be brought up
with ideas and habits coarser than those of a pig; I merely say that
shrieking, impetuous sentimentalists go to work in the wrong way. They
are the kind of people who would provide pigeon-cotes and dog-collars
for the use of ferrets. I grant that the condition of many London
streets is appalling; but make a house-to-house visitation, and see
how the desolation is caused. Wanton, brutish destructiveness has been
at work everywhere. The cistern which should supply a building cannot
be fed because the spring, the hinge, and the last few yards of pipe
have been chopped away and carried to a marine-store dealer; the
landings and the floors are strewn with dirt which a smart, cleanly
countrywoman would have cleared away without ten minutes' trouble. The
very windows are robbed; and the whole set of inhabitants rests in
contented, unspeakable squalor. No--something more is required than
delicate, silky-handed reform; something more is required than
ready-made blocks of neat dwellings; and something more is required
than sighing sentimentalism, which looks at miserable effects without
scrutinising causes. Let the sentimentalist mark this. If you
transplant a colony of "rooks" into good quarters, you will have
another rookery on your hands; if you remove a drove of brutes into
reasonable human dwelling-places, you will soon have a set of homes
fit for brutes and for brutes alone. Bricks and mortar and whitewash
will not change the nature of human vermin; phrases about beauty and
duty and loveliness will not affect the maker of slums, any more than
perfumes or pretty colours would affect the rats that squirm under the
foundations of the city. Does the sentimentalist imagine that the
brick-and-mortar structures about which he wails were always centres
of festering ugliness? If he has that fancy, let him take a glance at
some of the quaint old houses of Southwark. They were clean and
beautiful in their day, but the healthy human plant can no longer
flourish in them, and the weed creeps in, the crawling parasite
befouls their walls, and the structures which were lovely when
Chaucer's pilgrims started from the "Tabard" are abominable now. If
English folk of gentle and cleanly breeding had lived on in those
ancient places, they would have been wholesome and sound like many
another house erected in days gone by; but the weed gradually took
root, and now the ugliest dens in London are found in the places where
knights and trim clerks and gracious dames once lived. In the face of
all these things, how strangely unwise it is to fancy that ever the
Forlorn Army can be saved by bricks and mortar!

Education? Ah, there comes a pinch--and a very severe pinch it is!
About five or six years since some of the most important thoroughfares
in London, Liverpool, and many great towns have been rendered totally
impassable by the savage proceedings of gangs of young roughs. Certain
districts in Liverpool could not be traversed after dark, and the
reason was simply this--any man or woman of decent appearance was
liable to be first of all surrounded by a carefully-picked company of
blackguards; then came the clever trip-up from behind; then the victim
was left to be robbed; and then the authorities wrung their hands and
said that it was a pity, and that everything should be done. The
Liverpool youths went a little too far, and one peculiarly obnoxious
set of rascals were sent to penal servitude, while the leader of a
gang of murderers went to the gallows. But in London we have such
sights every night as never were matched in the most turbulent Italian
cities at times when the hot Southern blood was up; our great English
capital can match Venice, Rome, Palermo, Turin, or Milan in the matter
of stabbing; and, for mere wanton cruelty and thievishness, I imagine
that Hackney Road or Gray's Inn Road may equal any thoroughfare of
François Villon's Paris. These turbulent London mobs that make night
hideous are made up of youths who have tasted the full blessings of
our educational system; they were mostly mere infants when the great
measure was passed which was to regenerate all things, and yet the
London of Swift's time was not much worse than the Southwark or
Hackney of our own day. I never for an instant dispute the general
advance which our modern society has made, and I dislike the gruesome
rubbish talked of the good old times; but I must nevertheless point
out that "fancy" building and education are not the main factors which
have aided in making us better and more seemly. The brutal rough
remains, and the gangs of scamps who infest London in various spots
are quite as bad as the beings whom Hogarth drew. They have all been
forced into the Government schools; all of them have learned to read
and write, and not one was suffered to leave school until he had
reached the age of fourteen years or passed a moderately high standard
according to the Code. Still, we have this monstrous army of the
Hopeless Poor, and they are usually massed with the Hopeful Poor--the
poor who attend the People's Palaces, and institutes, and so forth.
Alas, the Hopeless Poor are not to be dismissed with a light
phrase--they are not to be dealt with by mere pretty words! They are
creatures who remain poor and villainous because they choose to be
poor and villainous; so pity and nice theories will not cure them. The
best of us yearn toward the good poor folk, and we find a healthful
joy in aiding them; but we have a set of very different feelings
towards the Evil Brigade.



XIII.

WAIFS AND STRAYS.


When I talked[2] of the hopeless poor and of degraded men, I had in my
mind only the feeble or detestable adults who degrade our
civilisation; but I have by no means forgotten the unhappy little
souls who develop into wastrels unless they are taken away from
hideous surroundings which cramp vitality, destroy all childish
happiness, and turn into brutes poor young creatures who bear the
human image. Lately I heard one or two little stories which are
amongst the most pathetic that ever came before me in the course of
some small experience of life among the forsaken classes--or rather
let me say, the classes that used to be forsaken. These little stories
have prompted me to endeavour to deal carefully with a matter which
has cost me many sad thoughts.

    [2] Essay XII.

A stray child was rescued from the streets by a society which is
extending its operations very rapidly, and the little creature was
placed as a boarder with a cottager in the country. To the utter
amazement of the good rustic folk, their queer little guest showed
complete ignorance of the commonest plants and animals; she had never
seen any pretty thing, and she was quite used to being hungry and to
satisfying her appetite with scraps of garbage. When she first saw a
daisy on the green, she gazed longingly, and then asked plaintively,
"Please, might I touch that?" When she was told that she might pluck a
few daisies she was much delighted. After her first experiences in the
botanising line she formally asked permission to pluck many wild
flowers; but she always seemed to have a dread of transgressing
against some dim law which had been hitherto represented to her mind
by the man in blue who used to watch over her miserable alley. Before
she became accustomed to receiving food at regular intervals, she
fairly touched the hearts of her foster-parents by one queer request.
The housewife was washing some Brussels sprouts, when the little stray
said timidly, "Please, may I eat a bit of that stalk?" Of course the
stringy mass was uneatable; but it turned out that the forlorn child
had been very glad to worry at the stalks from the gutter as a dog
does at an unclean bone. Another little girl was taken from the den
which she knew as home, after her parents had been sent to prison for
treating her with unspeakable cruelty. The matron of the country home
found that the child's body was scarred from neck to ankle in a
fashion which no lapse of years could efface. The explanation of the
disfigurement was very simple. "If I didn't bring in any money mother
beat me first; and then, when father came in drunk, she tied my hands
behind my back and told him to give me the buckle. Then they strapped
me on the bed and fastened my feet, and he whacked me with the
buckle-end of his strap." It sounds very horrible, does it not?
Nevertheless, the facts remain that the wretched parents were caught
in the act and convicted, and that the child must carry her scars to
her grave. No one who has not seen these lost children can form an
idea of their darkness and helplessness of mind. We all know the story
of the South Sea islanders, who said, "What a big pig!" when they
first saw a horse; one little London savage quite equalled this by
remarking, "What a little cow!" when she saw a tiny Maltese terrier
brought by a lady missionary. The child had some vague conception
regarding a cow; but, like others of her class, her notions of size,
form, and colour, were quite cloudy. Another of these city phenomena
did not know how to blow out a candle; and in many cases it is most
difficult to persuade those newly reclaimed to go to bed without
keeping their boots on. We cannot call such beings barbarians, because
"barbarian" implies something wild, strong, and even noble; yet, to
our shame, we must call them savages, and we must own that they are
born and bred within easy gunshot distance of our centres of culture,
enlightenment, and luxury. They swarm, do these children of suffering:
and easy-going people have no idea of the density of the savagery amid
which such scions of our noble English race are reared. A gentleman
once offered sixpence to a little girl who appeared before him dressed
in a single garment which seemed to have been roughly made from some
sort of sacking. He expected to see her snatch at the coin with all
the eagerness of the ordinary hardy street-arab; but she showed her
jagged brown teeth, and said huskily, "No! Big money!" A lady,
divining with the rapid feminine instinct what was meant by the
enigmatic muttering, explained, "She does not know the sixpence. She
has had coppers to spend before." And so it turned out to be.

Perhaps comfortable, satisfied readers may be startled, or even
offended, if I say that there are young creatures in our great cities
who rarely see even the light of day, save when the beams are filtered
through the reek of a court; and these same infants resemble the black
fellows of Western Australia or the Troglodytes of Africa in general
intelligence. I have little heart to speak of the parents who are
answerable for such horrors of crass neglect and cruelty. By laying a
set of dry police reports before any sensitive person I could make
that person shudder without adding a word of rhetoric; for it would be
seen that the popular picture of a fiend represents rather a mild and
harmless entity if we compare it with the foul-souled human beings who
dwell in our benighted places. What is to be done? It is best to
grapple swiftly with an ugly question; and I do not hesitate to attack
deliberately one of the most delicate puzzles that ever came before
the world. Wise emotionless men may say, and do say, "Are you going to
relieve male and female idlers and drunkards of all anxiety regarding
their offspring? Do you mean to discourage the honest but
poverty-stricken parents who do their best for their children? What
kind of world will you make for us all if you give your aid to the
worst and neglect the good folk?" Those are very awkward questions,
and I can answer them only by a sort of expedient which must not be
mistaken for intellectual conjuring; I drop ordinary logic and
theories of probability and go at once to facts. At first sight it
seems like rank folly for any man or body of men to take charge of a
child which has been neglected by shameless parents; but, on the other
hand, let us consider our own self-interest, and leave sentiment alone
for a while. We cannot put the benighted starvelings into a lethal
chamber and dispose of their brief lives in that fashion; we are bound
to maintain them in some way or other--and the ratepayers of St.
George's-in-the-East know to some trifling extent what that means. If
the waifs grow up to be predatory animals, we must maintain them first
of all in reformatories, and afterwards, at intervals during their
lives, in prisons. If they grow up without shaking off the terrible
mental darkness of their starveling childhood, we must provide for
them in asylums. A thoroughly neglected waif costs this happy country
something like fifteen pounds per year for the term of his natural
life. Very good. At this point some hard-headed person says, "What
about the workhouses?" This brings us face to face with another
astounding problem to solve which at all satisfactorily requires no
little research and thought. I know that there are good workhouses;
but I happen to know that there are also bad ones. In many a ship and
fishing-vessel fine fellows may be met with who were sent out early
from workhouse-schools and wrought their way onward until they became
brave and useful seamen; there are also many industrious
well-conducted girls who came originally from the great Union schools.
But, when I take another side of the picture, I am inclined to say
very fervently, "Anything rather than the workhouse system for
children! Anything short of complete neglect!" Observe that in one of
the overgrown schools the young folk are scarcely treated as human;
their individuality--if they have any to begin with--is soon lost;
they are known only by a number, and they are passed into the outer
world like bundles of shot rubbish. There are seamen who have never
cast off the peculiar workhouse taint--and no worse shipmates ever
afflicted any capable and honourable soul: for these Union weeds carry
the vices of Rob the Grinder and Noah Claypole on to blue water, and
show themselves to be hounds who would fawn or snarl, steal or talk
saintliness, lie or sneak just as interest suited them. Then the
workhouse girls: I have said sharp words about cruel mistresses; but I
frankly own that the average lady who is saddled with the average
workhouse servant has some slight reasons for showing acerbity, though
she has none for practising cruelty. How could anybody expect a girl
to turn out well after the usual course of workhouse training? The
life of the soul is too often quenched; the flame of life in the poor
body is dim and low; and the mechanical morality, the dull,
meaningless round of useless lessons, the habit of herding in
unhealthy rooms with unhealthy companions, all tend to develop a
creature which can be regarded only as one of Nature's failures, if I
may parody a phrase of the superlative Beau Brummel's.

There is another and darker side to the workhouse question, but I
shall skim it lightly. The women whose conversation the young girls
hear are often wicked, and thus a dull, under-fed, inept child may
have a great deal too much knowledge of evil. Can we expect such a
collection to contain a large percentage of seemly and useful
children? Is it a fact that the Unions usually supply domestics worth
keeping? Ask the mistresses, and the answer will not be encouraging.
No; the workhouse will not quite suffice. What we want to do is to
take the waifs and strays into places where they may lead a natural
and healthy life. Get them clear of the horror of the slums, let them
breathe pure air and learn pure and simple habits, and then, instead
of odious and costly human weeds, we may have wholesome, useful
fellow-citizens, who not only will cost us nothing, but who will be a
distinct source of solid profit to the empire. The thing has been and
is being done steadily by good men and women who defy prejudice and go
to work in a vigorous practical way. The most miserable and apparently
hopeless little creatures from the filthy purlieus of great towns
become gradually bright and healthy and intelligent when they are
taken to their natural home--the country--and cut adrift from the
congested centres of population. The cost of their maintenance is at
first a little over the workhouse figure; but then the article
produced for the money is far and away superior to anything turned out
by any workhouse. The rescued children are eagerly sought after in the
Colonies; and I am not aware of any case in which one of the young
emigrants has expressed discontent. How much better it is to see these
poor waifs changed into useful, profitable colonists than to have them
sullenly, uselessly starving in the dens of London and Liverpool and
Manchester! The work of rescuing and training the lost children has
not been fully developed yet; but enough has been done to show that in
a few years we shall have a large number of prosperous Colonial
farmers who will indirectly contribute to the wealth of mighty
Britain. Had the trained emigrants never been snatched away from the
verge of the pit, we should have been obliged to maintain them until
their wretched lives ended with sordid deaths, and the very cost of
their burial would have come from the pockets of pinched workers. I
fancy that I have shown the advisability of neglecting strict economic
canons in this instance. I abhor the pestilent beings who swarm in
certain quarters, and I should never dream of removing any burden from
their shoulders if I thought that it would only leave the rascals with
more money to expend on brutish pleasures; but I desire to look far
ahead, and I can see that, when the present generation of adult
wastrels dies out, it will be a very good thing for all of us if there
are few or none of the same stamp ready to take their places. By
resolutely removing the children of vice and sorrow, we clear the road
for a better race. Let it be understood that I have a truly orthodox
dread of "pauperisation," and I watch very jealously the doings of
those who are anxious to feed all sorts and conditions of men; but
pauperising men by maintaining them in laziness is very different from
rearing useful subjects of the empire, whose trained labour is a
source of profit and whose developed morality is a fund of security.
We cannot take Chinese methods of lessening the pressure of
population, and we must at once decide on the wisest way of dealing
with our waifs and strays; if we do not, then the chances are that
they will deal unpleasantly with us. The locust, the lemming, the
phylloxera, are all very insignificant creatures; but, when they act
together in numbers, they can very soon devastate a district. The
parable is not by any means inapt.



XIV.

STAGE-CHILDREN.


The Modern Legislator is a most terrible creature. When he is not
engaged in obstructing public business, he must needs be meddling with
other people's private affairs--and some of us want to know where he
is going to stop. The Legislator has decreed that no children who are
less than ten years of age shall henceforth be allowed to perform on
the stage. Much of the talk which came from those who carried the
measure was kindly and sensible; but some of the acrid party foisted
mere misleading rubbish on the public. Henceforth the infantile player
will be seen no more. Mr. Crummles will wave a stern hand from the
shades where the children of dreams dwell, and the Phenomenon will be
glad that she has passed from a prosaic earth. Had the stern
law-makers had their way thirty years ago, how many pretty sights
should we have missed! Little Marie Wilton would not have romped about
the stage in her childish glee (she enjoyed the work from the first,
and even liked playing in a draughty booth when the company of roaming
"artists" could get no better accommodation). Little Ellen Terry, too,
would not have played in the Castle scene in "King John," and crowds
of worthy matrons would have missed having that "good cry" which they
enjoy so keenly. We are happy who saw all the Terrys, and Marie the
witty who charmed Charles Dickens, and all the pretty mites who did so
delight us when Mme. Katti Lanner marshalled them. Does any reader
wish to have a perfectly pleasant half-hour? Let that reader get the
number of "Fors Clavigera" which contains Mr. Ruskin's description of
the children who performed in the Drury Lane pantomime. The kind
critic was in ecstasies--as well he might be--and he talked with
enthusiasm about the cleanliness, the grace, the perfectly happy
discipline of the tiny folk. Then, again, in "Time and Tide," the
great writer gives us the following exquisite passage about a little
dancer who especially pleased him--"She did it beautifully and simply,
as a child ought to dance. She was not an infant prodigy; there was no
evidence in the finish and strength of her motion that she had been
put to continual torture during half of her eight or nine years. She
did nothing more than any child--well taught, but painlessly--might
do; she caricatured no older person, attempted no curious or fantastic
skill; she was dressed decently, she moved decently, she looked and
behaved innocently, and she danced her joyful dance with perfect
grace, spirit, sweetness, and self-forgetfulness." How perfect! There
is not much suggestion of torture or premature wickedness in all this;
and I wish that the wise and good man's opinion might have been
considered for a little while by some of the reformers. For my part, I
venture to offer a few remarks about the whole matter; for there are
several considerations which were neglected by the debaters on both
sides during the discussion.

First, then, I must solemnly say that I cannot advise any grown girl
or young man to go upon the stage; and yet I see no harm in teaching
little children to perform concerted movements in graceful ways. This
sounds like a paradox; but it is not paradoxical at all to those who
have studied the question from the inside. If a girl waits until she
is eighteen before going on the stage, she has a good chance of being
thrown into the company of women who do not dream of respecting her.
If she enters a provincial travelling company, she has constant
discomfort and constant danger; some of her companions are certain to
be coarse--and a brutal actor whose professional vanity prevents him
from understanding his own brutality is among the most horrible of
living creatures. After a lady has made her mark as an actress, she
can secure admirable lodging at good hotels; but a poor girl with a
pound per week must put up with such squalor as only actors can
fittingly describe. Amid all this the girl is left to take care of
herself--observe that point. A little child is taken care of; whereas
the adolescent or adult must fight her way through a grimy and
repulsive environment as best she can. There is not a man in the world
who would dare to introduce himself informally to any lady who is
employed under Mr. W.S. Gilbert's superintendence; but what can we say
about the thousands who travel from town to town unguided save by the
curt directions of the stage manager? Let it be understood that when I
speak of the theatre I have not in mind the beautiful refined places
in central London where cultured people in the audience are
entertained by cultured people on the stage; I am thinking grimly of
the squalor, the degradation, the wretched hand-to-mouth existence of
poor souls who work in the casual companies that spend the better part
of their existence in railway carriages. Not long ago a young actress
who can now command two thousand pounds per year was obliged to remain
dinnerless on Christmas Day because she could not afford to pay a
shilling for a hamper which was sent her from home. Her success in the
lottery arrived by a strange chance; but how many bear all the poverty
and trouble without even having one gleam of success in their
miserable dangerous lives? There are theatres and theatres--there are
managers and managers; but in some places the common conversation of
the women is not edifying--and a good girl must insensibly lose her
finer nature if she has to associate with such persons.

In the case of the little children there are none, or few, at any
rate, of the drawbacks. Not one in fifty goes on the stage; the mites
are engaged only at certain seasons; and their harvest-time enables
poor people to obtain many little comforts and necessaries. Further,
there is one curious thing which may not be known to the highly
particular sect--no manager, actor, or actress would use a profane or
coarse word among the children; such an offender would be scouted by
the roughest member of any company and condemned by the very
stage-carpenters. I own that I have sometimes wished that a child here
and there could be warm asleep on a chilly night, especially when the
young creature was perilously suspended from a wire; but that is very
nearly the furthest extent of my pity. So long as the youngsters are
not required to perform dangerous or unnatural feats, they need no
pity. Instead of being inured to brutalities, they are actually taken
away from brutality--for no man or woman would sully their minds. We
have heard it said that the stage-children who return to school after
their spell of pantomime corrupt the others. This is a gross and
stupid falsehood which is calculated to injure a cause that has many
good points. I earnestly sympathise with the well-meaning people who
desire to succour the little ones; but I beseech them not to be led
away by misstatements which are concocted for sensational purposes. So
far from corrupting other children, the young actors invariably act as
a good influence in a school. The experienced observer can almost make
certain of picking out the boys and girls who have had a
stage-training. They like to be smart and cleanly, their deportment
and general manners are improved, and they are almost invariably
superior in intelligence to the ordinary school-trained child. Imagine
Mme. Katti Lanner having a corrupt influence! Imagine those delightful
beings who play "Alice in Wonderland" corrupting anybody or anything!
I have always been struck by the pretty manners of the trained
children--and the advance in refinement is especially noticeable among
those who have been speaking or singing parts. The most pleasing set
of youths that I ever met were the members of a comic-opera troupe.
Some of them, without an approach to freedom of manner, would converse
with good sense on many topics, and their drill had been so extended
as to include a knowledge of polite salutes. Not one of the boys or
girls would have been ill at ease in a drawing-room; and I found their
educational standard quite up to that of any Board school known to me.
These nice little folk were certainly in no wise pallid or distraught;
and, when they danced on the stage, the performance was a beautiful
and delightful romp which suggested no idea of pain. To see the "prima
donna" of the company trundling her hoop on a bright morning was as
pretty a sight as one would care to see. The little lady was neither
forward nor unhealthy, nor anything else that is objectionable--and it
was plain that she enjoyed her life. Is it in the least likely that
any sane manager would ill-treat a little child that was required to
be pleasing? One or two acrobats have been known to be stern with
their apprentices; but the rudest circus-man would not venture to
exhibit a pupil who looked unhappy. The rascally "Arabs" who entrapped
so many boys in years gone by were fiends who met with very
appropriate retribution; but such villains are not common.

I am always haunted by the argument about late hours--and give it
every weight. As aforesaid, I used sometimes to wish that some wee
creature could only be wrapped in a night-gown and sent to rest. But,
for the benefit of those who cannot well imagine what the horrors of a
city slum are like, let me describe the nightly scene in a typical
city alley. It is cold in the pantomime season; but the folk in that
alley have not much fire. Joe, the costermonger, Bill, the
market-labourer, Tom, the fish-porter, and the rest come home in a
straggling way; and, if they can buy a pennyworth of coal, they boil
the little kettle. Then one of the children runs to the chandler's and
gets a halfpennyworth of tea, a scrap of bread, and perhaps a penny
slice of sausage. The men stint themselves in food and firing; but
they always have a little to spare for gin and beer and tobacco. There
is no light in the evil-smelling room; but there is a place at the
corner of the alley where the gas is burning as cheerily as the foul
wreaths of smoke will permit. The men go out and squat on barrels in
the hideous bar; then they call for some liquor which may be warranted
to take speedy effect; then they smoke, and try to forget.

What is the little child to do? Go to bed? Why, it has no bed! If it
were earning a little money, its parents might be able to provide a
flock or straw bed with some sort of covering; but the poverty of
these people is so gnawing and dire that very few lodgings contain
anything which could possibly be pawned for twopence. Usually the
child seeks the streets; and in the dim and filthy haze he or she
sports at large with other ragged companions. Then the women--the
match-box makers, trouser-makers, and such like--begin to troop
in--and they gravitate towards the gin-shop. The darkness deepens; the
bleared lamps blare in the dirty mist; the hoarse roar from the
public-house comes forth accompanied by choking wafts of reek; the
abominable tramps move towards the lodging-house and pollute the
polluted air further with the foulness of their language; the drink
mounts into unstable heads; and presently--especially on Saturday
nights--there are hoarse growls as from rough-throated beasts, shrill
shrieks, and a running chorus of indescribable grossness. Drunken men
are quarrelling in the street, drunken women yell and stagger, and the
hideous discord fills the night on all sides. No item of corruption is
spared the children; and the vile hurly-burly ceases only at midnight.
The children will always try to sneak through the swinging doors of
the gin _inferno_ when the cold becomes too severe; and they will
remain crouched like rats until some capricious guest sends them out
with an oath and a kick. There is not one imaginable horror that does
not become familiar to these children of despair--and they sometimes
have a very good chance of seeing murder. When the last hour comes,
and the father and mother return to their dusky den, the child
crouches anywhere on the floor; undressing is not practised; and, if
any sentimental person will first of all go into a common Board school
in a non-theatrical quarter on a wet afternoon, and if he will then
drive on and pass through a few hundreds of the theatrical children,
his "olfactories" will teach him a lesson which may make him think a
good deal.

Now let me put a question or two in the name of common sense. We must
balance good and evil; and, granting that the theatre has a tendency
to make children light-minded, is it worse than the horror of the
slums and the stench and darkness of the single room where a family
herd together? The youngster who is engaged at the theatre can set off
home at the very latest as soon as the harlequinade is over. Very
well; suppose it is late. Would he or she be early if the night were
spent in the alley? Not at all! Then the child from the theatre is
bathed, fed, taught, clothed nicely, and it gives its parents a little
money which procures food. Some say the extra money goes for extra
gin--and that may happen in some cases; but, at any rate, the child's
earnings usually purchase a share of food as well as of drink; for the
worst blackguard in the world dares not send a starveling to meet the
stage-manager. In sum, then, making every possible allowance for the
good intentions of those who wish to rescue children from the theatre,
I am inclined to fear that they have been hasty. I am not without some
knowledge of the various details of the subject; and I have tried to
give my judgment as fairly as I could--for I also pity and love the
children.



XV.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE MORALITY: PAST AND PRESENT.


Certain enterprising persons have contributed of late years to make
English newspapers somewhat unpleasant reading, and mournful men are
given to moaning over the growth of national corruption. So persistent
have the mournful folk been, that many good simple people are in a
state of grievous alarm, for they are persuaded that the nation is
bound towards the pit of Doom. When doleful men and women cry out
concerning abstract evils, it is always best to meet them with hard
facts, and I therefore propose to show that we ought really to be very
grateful for the undoubted advance of the nation toward righteousness.
Hideous blots there are--ugly cankers amid our civilisation--but we
grow better year by year, and the general movement is towards honesty,
helpfulness, goodness, purity. Whenever any croaker begins speaking
about the golden age that is gone, I advise my readers to try a system
of cross-examination. Ask the sorrowful man to fix the precise period
of the golden age, and pin him to direct and definite statements. Was
it when labourers in East Anglia lived like hogs around the houses of
their lords? Was it when the starving and utterly wretched thousands
marched on London under Tyler and John Ball? Was it when the
press-gangs kidnapped good citizens in broad daylight? Was it when a
score of burning ricks might be seen in a night by one observer? Was
it when imbecile rulers had set all the world against us--when the
French threatened Ireland, and the maddened, hunger-bitten sailors
were in wild rebellion, and the Funds were not considered as safe for
investors? The croaker is always securely indefinite, and a strict,
vigorous series of questions reduces him to rage and impotence.

Now let us go back, say, one hundred and twenty years, and let us see
how the sovereign, the legislators, the aristocracy, and the people
fared then; the facts may perchance be instructive. The King had
resolved to be absolute, and his main energies were devoted to bribing
Parliament. With his own royal hand he was not ashamed to write,
enclosing what he called "gold pills," which were to be used in
corrupting his subjects. He was a most moral, industrious, cleanly man
in private life; yet when the Duke of Grafton, his Prime Minister,
appeared near the royal box of the theatre, accompanied by a woman of
disreputable character, his Majesty made no sign. He was satisfied if
he could keep the mighty Burke, the high-souled Rockingham, the
brilliant Charles James Fox, out of his counsels, and he did not care
at all about the morals or the general behaviour of his Ministers.
About a quarter of a million was spent by the Crown in buying votes
and organising corruption, and King George III. was never ashamed to
appear before his Parliament in the character of an insolvent debtor
when he needed money to sap the morals of his people. A movement in
the direction of purity began even in George III.'s own lifetime; he
was obliged to be cautious, and he ended by coming under the iron
domination of William Pitt. Thus, instead of being remembered as the
dangerous, obstinate, purblind man who made Parliament a sink of
foulness, and who lost America, he is mentioned as a comfortable
simple gentleman of the farmer sort. Before we can half understand the
vast purification that has been wrought, we must study the history of
the reign from 1765 to 1784, and then we may feel happy as we compare
our gentle, beneficent Sovereign with the unscrupulous blunderer who
fought the Colonists and all but lost the Empire.

Then consider the Ministers who carried out the Sovereign's behest.
There was "Jemmy Twitcher," as Lord Sandwich was called. This man was
so utterly bad, that in later life he never cared to conceal his
infamies, because he knew that his character could not possibly be
worse blackened. Sandwich belonged to the unspeakable Medmenham Abbey
set. The lovely ruin had been bought and renovated by a gang of rakes,
who converted it into an abode of drunkenness and grossness; they
defaced the sacred trees and the grey walls with inscriptions which
the indignation of a purer age has caused to be removed; they carried
on nightly revels which no historian could describe, and in their
wicked buffoonery mocked the Creator with burlesque religious rites.
Such an unholy place would be pulled down by the mob nowadays, and the
gang of debauchees would figure in the police-court; but in those
"good old times" the Prime Minister and the Secretary to the Admiralty
were merry members of a crew that disgraced humanity. Just six weeks
after Lord Sandwich had joined the Medmenham Abbey gang, he put
himself forward for election to the High Stewardship of Cambridge
University. Here was a pretty position! The man had been thus
described by a poet--

  "Too infamous to have a friend,
  Too bad for bad men to commend
  Or good to name; beneath whose weight
  Earth groans; who hath been spared by fate
  Only to show on mercy's plan
  How far and long God bears with man"--

and this superb piece of truculence was received with applause by all
that was upright and noble in England. This indescribable villain
presented himself as worthy to preside over the place where the flower
of English youth were educated. A pleasing example he offered to young
and ardent souls! Worst of all, he was elected. He adroitly gained the
votes of country clergymen; he begged his friends to solicit the votes
of their private chaplains; he dodged and manoeuvred until he gained
his position. One voter came from a lunatic asylum, another was
brought from the Isle of Man, others were bribed in lavish
fashion--and Sandwich presided over Cambridge. The students rose in a
body and walked out when he came among them; but that mattered little
to the brazen fellow. To complete the ghastly comedy, it happened that
four years later the Chancellorship fell vacant, and the Duke of
Grafton, who was only second to "Jemmy Twitcher" in wickedness, was
chosen for the high office.

Now I ask plainly, "Can the croakers declare that England was better
under Grafton and 'Jemmy Twitcher' than she now is?" It is nonsense!
The crew of bacchanals and blackguards who then flaunted in high
places would not now be tolerated for a day. I look on our governing
class now,[3] and I may safely declare that not more than one Cabinet
Minister during the past twenty years has been regarded as otherwise
than stainless in character. What is the meaning of this
transformation? It means that good, pure women have gained their
rightful influence, that men have grown purer, and that the elevation
of the general body of society has been reflected in the character of
the men chosen to rule. Vice is all too powerful, and the dark corners
of our cities are awful to see; but the worst of the "fast" men in
modern England are not so bad as were the governors of a mighty empire
when George III. was king.

    [3] 1886.

If we look at the society that diced and drank and squandered health
and fortune in the times which we mention, we are more than ever
struck with the advance made. It is a literal fact that the
correspondence of the young men mainly refers to drink and gaming, the
correspondence of the middle-aged men to gout. There were few of the
educated classes who reached middle age, and a country squire was
reckoned quite a remarkable person if he could still walk and ride
when he attained to fifty years. The quiet, steady middle-class
certainly lived more temperately; but the intemperance of the
aristocracy was indescribable. The leader of the House of Lords
imbibed until six every morning, was carried to bed, and came down
about two in the afternoon; two noblemen declared that they drank a
gallon and a half of Champagne and Burgundy at one sitting; in some
coffee-houses it was the custom, when the night's drinking ended, for
the company to burn their wigs. Some of Horace Walpole's letters prove
plainly enough that great gentlemen conducted themselves occasionally
very much as wild seamen would do in Shadwell or the Highway. What
would be thought if Lord Salisbury reeled into the House in a totally
drunken condition? The imagination cannot conceive the situation, and
the fact that the very thought is laughable shows how much we have
improved in essentials. In bygone days, a man who became a Minister
proceeded to secure his own fortune; then he provided for all his
relatives, his hangers-on, his very jockeys and footmen. One lord held
eight sinecure offices, and was besides colonel of two regiments. A
Chancellor of the Exchequer cleared four hundred thousand on a new
loan, and the bulk of this large sum remained in his own pocket, for
he had but few associates to bribe. When patrols were set to guard the
Treasury at night, an epigram ran--

  "From the night till the morning 'tis true all is right;
  But who will secure it from morning till night?"

There was a perfect carnival of robbery and corruption, and the people
paid for all. Money gathered by public corruption was squandered in
private debauchery, while a sullen and helpless nation looked on.
Think of the change! A Minister now toils during seventeen hours per
day, and receives less than a successful barrister. He must give up
all the ordinary pleasures of life; and, in recompense for the
sacrifice, he can claim but little patronage. By most of the men in
office the work is undertaken on purely patriotic grounds; so that a
duke with a quarter of a million per year is content to labour like an
attorney's clerk.

If we think about the ladies of the old days, we are more than ever
driven to reflection. It is impossible to imagine a more insensate
collection of gamblers than the women of Horace Walpole's society.
Well-bred harpies won and lost fortunes, and the vice became a raging
pest. A young politician could not further his own prospects better
than by letting some high-born dame win his money; if the youth won
the lady's money, then a discreet forgetfulness of the debt was
profitable to him. The rattle of dice and the shuffle of cards sounded
wherever two or three fashionable persons were gathered together; men
and women quarrelled, and society became a mere jumble of people who
suspected and hated and thought to rob each other. It is horrible,
even at this distance of time, to think of those rapacious beings who
forgot literature, art, friendship, and family affection for the sake
of high play. One weary, witty debauchee said, "Play wastes time,
health, money, and friendship;" yet he went on pitting his skill
against that of unsexed women and polished rogues.

The morality of the fair gamblers was more than loose. It was taken
for granted in the whole set that every female member of it must
inevitably be divorced, if the catastrophe had not occurred already;
and one man asked Walpole, "Who's your proctor?" just as he would have
asked, "Who's your tailor?" An unspeakable society--a hollow,
heartless, callous, wicked brood. Compare that crew of furious
money-grabbers with our modern gentlemen and ladies! We have our
faults--crime and vice flourish; but, from the Court down to the
simplest middle-class society in our provincial towns, the spread of
seemliness and purity is distinctly marked. Some insatiable grumblers
will have it that our girls and women are deteriorating, and we are
informed that the taste for objectionable literature is keener than it
used to be. It is a distinct libel. No one save a historian would now
read the corrupting works of Mrs. Aphra Behn; and yet it is a fact
that those novels were read aloud among companies of ladies. A man
winces now if he is obliged to turn to them; the girls in the "good
old times" heard them with never a blush. Wherever we turn we find the
same steady advance. Can any creature be more dainty, more sweet, more
pure, than the ordinary English girl of our day? Will any one bring
evidence to show that the girls of the last century, or of any other,
were superior to our own maidens? No evidence has been produced from
literature, from journals, from family correspondence, and I am pretty
certain that no evidence exists. Practically speaking, the complaints
of the decline of morality are merely uttered as a mode of showing the
talker's own superiority.



XVI.

"RAISING THE LEVEL OF AMUSEMENTS."


It is really most kind on the part of certain good people to
reorganise the amusements of the people; but, as each reorganiser
fancies himself to be the only man who has the right notion, it
follows that matters are becoming more and more complicated. For
example, to begin with literature, a simple person who has no taste
for profundities likes to read the old sort of stories about love's
pretty fever; the simple person wants to hear about the trials and
crosses of true lovers, the defeat of villains--to enjoy the kindly
finish where faith and virtue are rewarded, and where the unambitious
imagination may picture the coming of a long life of homely toil and
homely pleasure. Perhaps the simple personage has a taste for dukes--I
know of one young person aged thirteen who will not write a romance of
her own without putting her hero at the very summit of the peerage--or
wicked baronets, or marble halls. These tastes are by no means
confined to women; sailors in far-away seas most persistently beguile
their scanty leisure by studying tales of sentiment, and soldiers are,
if possible, more eager than seamen for that sort of reading. The
righteous organiser comes on the scene, and says, "We must not let
these poor souls fritter away any portion of their lives on
frivolities. Let us give them less of light literature and more of the
serious work which may lead them to strive toward higher things." The
aggressively righteous individual has a most eccentric notion of what
constitutes "light" literature; he never thinks that Shakspere is
decidedly "light," and I rather fancy that he would regard
Aristophanes as heavy. If one were to suggest, on his proposing to
place the Irving Shakspere on the shelves of a free library, that the
poet is often foolish, often a buffoon of a low type, often a mere
quibbler, and often ribald, he might perhaps have a fit, or he might
inquire if the speaker were mad--assuredly he would do something
impressive; but he would not scruple to deliver an oration of the
severest type if some sweet and innocent story of love and tenderness
and old-fashioned sentiment were proposed. As for the lady who
dislikes "light" literature, she is a subject for laughter among the
gods. To see such an one present a sensible workman with a pamphlet
entitled "Who Paid for the Mangle?--or, Maria's Pennies," is to know
what overpowering joy means. Yet the severe and strait-laced censors
are not perhaps so much of a nuisance as the sternly-cultured and
emotional persons who "yearn" a great deal. The "yearnest" man or
woman always has an ideal which is usually the vaguest thing in the
cloudland of metaphysics. I fancy it means that one must always be
hankering after something which one has not and keeping a look of
sorrow when one's hankering is fruitless. The feeling of pity with
which a "yearnest" one regards somebody who cares only for pleasant
and simple or pathetic books is very creditable; but it weighs on the
average human being. Why on earth should a girl leave the tenderness
of "The Mill on the Floss" and rise to "Daniel Deronda's" elevated but
barren and abhorrent level? There are people capable of advising girls
to read such a literary production as "Robert Elsmere"; and this
advice reveals a capacity for cruelty worthy of an inquisitor. Then we
are bidden to leave the unpolished utterances of frank love and
jealousy and fear and anger in order that we may enjoy the peculiar
works of art which have come from America of late. In these
enthralling fictions all the characters are so exceedingly refined
that they can talk only by hints, and sometimes the hints are very
long. But the explanations of the reasons for giving the said hints
are still longer; and, when once the author starts off to tell why
Crespigny Conyers of Conyers Magna, England, stumbled against the
music-stool prepared for the reception of Selina Fogg, Bones Co.,
Mass., one never knows whether the fifth, the twelfth, or the fortieth
page of the explanation will bring him up. There is no doubt but that
these things are refined in their way. The British peer and the
beautiful American girl hint away freely through three volumes; and it
is understood that they either go through the practical ceremony of
getting married at the finish, or decline into the most
delicately-finished melancholy that resignation, or more properly,
renunciation can produce. Yet the atmosphere in which they dwell is
sickly to the sound soul. It is as if one were placed in an orchid
house full of dainty and rare plants, and kept there until the quiet
air and the light scents overpowered every faculty. In all the doings
of these superfine Americans and Frenchmen and Britons and Italians
there is something almost inhuman; the record of a strong speech, a
blow, a kiss would be a relief, and one young and unorthodox person
has been known to express an opinion to the effect that a naughty word
would be quite luxurious. The lovers whom we love kiss when they meet
or part, they talk plainly--unless the girls play the natural and
delightful trick of being coy--and they behave in a manner which human
beings understand. Supposing that the duke uses a language which
ordinary dukes do not affect save in moments of extreme emotion, it is
not tiresome, and, at the worst, it satisfies a convention which has
not done very much harm. Now on what logical ground can we expect
people who were nourished on a literature which is at all events
hearty even when it chances to be stupid--on what grounds can the
organisers of improvement expect an English man or woman to take a
sudden fancy to the diaphanous ghosts of the new American fiction? I
dislike out-of-the-way words, and so perhaps, instead of "diaphanous
ghosts," I had better say "transparent wraiths," or "marionettes of
superfine manufacture," or anything the reader likes that implies
frailty and want of human resemblance. It all comes to the same thing;
the individuals who recommend a change of literature as they might
recommend a change of air do not know the constitutions of the
patients for whom they prescribe. It has occurred to me that a
delightful comedy scene might be witnessed if one of the badgered folk
who are to be "raised" were to say on a sudden, "In the name of
goodness, how do you know that my literature is not better than yours?
Why should I not raise you? When you tell me that these nicely-dressed
ladies and gentlemen, who only half say anything they want to say and
who never half do anything, are polished and delightful, and so on, I
grant that they are so to you, and I do not try to upset your
judgment. But your judgment and my taste are two very different
things; and, when I use my taste, I find your heroes and heroines very
consummate bores; so I shall keep to my own old favourites." Who could
blame the person who uttered those very awkward protests? The question
to me is--Who need most to be dealt with--those who are asked to learn
some new thing, or those who have learned the new thing and show signs
that they would be better if they could forget it? I should not have
much hesitation in giving an answer.

Then, as to public amusements, we have to look quite as closely and
distrustfully at the action of the reformers as we have at the action
of the kind gentlefolk who are going to give us "Daniel Deronda" and
the highly entertaining works of Mr. William Deans Howells in place of
the dear welcome stories that pass away the long hours. Let it be
understood that I do not wish to say one word likely to be construed
into a jeer at real culture; but I must, as a matter of mercy, say
something in defence of those who cannot understand or win emotions
from such things as classical music or the "advanced" drama. Pray, in
pity's name, what is to be said against the commonplace man who hears
an accomplished musician play Beethoven, Bach, or Chopin in his--the
commonplace one's--drawing-room, and who says in agony, "Very fine!
Very deep! Very profound--profound indeed, sir! Full of breadth and
symmetry and that sort of thing! Now do you think we might vary that
noble masterpiece with a waltz?" Can we blame the poor fellow? Wagner
represents a noise to him, and the awful scorn and despair of the
first movement in the "Moonlight Sonata" only lead him to say, "Heavy
play with that left hand. Can't he go faster over the treble, or
whatever they call it?" He wants intelligible musical ideas, and we
have no right to begin "level-raising" with the unhappy and
remonstrant man. The music halls in London are now under strict
supervision, and some of them used to need it very much in days gone
by. Personally I should suppress the male comic singer who tries to
win a laugh from degraded listeners by unseemly means, and I should
not scruple to draft a short Act ensuring imprisonment for such as he;
but, so long as the entertainment remains inoffensive to the general
good sense of the community, we need not weep greatly if it is
sometimes just a trifle stupid. No one who does not know the inner
life of the working-classes can imagine how restricted are their
interests. Moreover, I shall venture on making a somewhat startling
statement which may surprise those who look on the surface of things
as indicated in the newspapers. The working-classes of a certain grade
cherish a certain convention regarding themselves, but they do not
understand their own set at all. If they heard a real mechanic or
labourer spouting sentiment in the shop or the club, they would
silence him very summarily; but the stage working-man, the stage
hawker, the stage tinker may utter any claptrap that he likes, and the
audience try to believe that they might possibly have been able to
talk in the same way but for circumstances. It is not at any time
pleasant to see people going on under a delusion; but, supposing the
delusion is no worse than that of the man who thinks himself handsome
or witty or fascinating while he is really plain or silly or a bore,
what can the mistake matter to anybody? We smile at the little vanity,
and perhaps pride ourselves a little on our own remarkable
superiority, and there the business may very well end. The men of the
music hall live, as I have said, entirely in a dull convention; and,
if a set of thorough artists were to portray them exactly, no one
would be more surprised than the folk whose portraits were taken. The
gentlemen who are resolved to regenerate the music-hall stage persist
in not considering the audience; and yet, when all is said and done,
the poor stupid audience should be considered a little. If we played
Browning's "Strafford" for them, how much would they be "raised"? They
would not laugh, they would not yawn; they would be stupefied, and a
trifle insulted. Give them a good silly swinging chorus about some
subject connected with the tender affections, and let the refrain run
to a waltz rhythm or to a striking drawl, and they are satisfied in
mind and rejoice exceedingly. The finer class of people in the
East-end of London seem to enjoy the very noblest and even the most
abstruse of sacred music at the Sunday concerts; but it will be long
before the music-hall audiences are educated up even to the standard
of those crowds who come off the Whitechapel pavements to hear Handel.
We cannot hurry them: why try? Their lives are very hard, and, when
the brief gleam comes on the evening of evenings in the week, we
should be content with ensuring them decency, safety, order, and let
them enjoy their own entertainment in their own way. A thoroughly
prosaic and logical preacher might say to those poor souls with
perfect truth, "Why do you waste time in coming here to see things
which are done much better in the streets? You roar and cheer and
stamp when you see a real cab-horse come across from the wings, and
yet in an hour you might watch a hundred cabs pass you in the street
and you would not cheer the least bit. You hear a costermonger on the
stage say, 'Give me my 'umble fireside, and let my good old missus
'and me my cup o' tea and my 'ard-earned bit o' bread, and all the
dooks and lords in Hengland ain't nothin' to me!'--you hear that, and
you know quite well that no costermonger on this goodly earth ever
talked in that way, and still you cheer. You like only what is unreal,
and, when you are shown a character which is supposed in some
mysterious way to resemble you, you are more than delighted, and you
applaud a thing which is either a silly caricature or an utterly
foolish libel." The poor and lowly personage thus hailed with cutting
denunciation and logic might say, "Please mind your own business. Do
you pay my sixpence for the gallery? No; I find it myself, and I come
to have my bit of fun with my own money, in my own place, at my own
price. I have enough of workshops and streets and what you call real
things; so, when I come out to the play, I want them all unreal, and
as unreal as possible. Monday morning's time enough to go back to
reality." As often as ever fussy reformers try to do more than ensure
propriety in theatres, so often will they be beaten; and I am quite
sure that, if any attempt is made to go too far, we may have on any
day a repetition of the O.P. riots, which almost ended in the wrecking
of the patent playhouses. Let us be treated like grown beings, and not
as if we were still in short baby-frocks. Men resent many things, but
they resent being made ridiculous more than all. The committees before
which many theatrical managers were obliged to appear a few years
since have done good in a few instances; but they have often played
the most ridiculous pranks, and they have roused grave fears in minds
unused to know fear of any kind. The peculiar prying questions, the
successful attempts made to interfere with concerns which should not
on any account be public property, the disposition to treat the
people, whose mature wisdom is proclaimed from all political
platforms, as little children, all combine to make the aspect of the
general question not a little alarming. Would it not be better then,
in sum, to abstain from raising levels to such a mighty extent, and to
strive after improving all the amusements on a less heroic scale?



XVII.

A LITTLE SERMON ON FAILURES.


If we study the history of men with patience, it becomes evident that
no great work has ever been done in the world save by those who have
met with bitter rebuffs and severe trials at the beginning of their
career. It seems as though the ruling powers imposed an ordeal on
every human being, in order to single out the strong and the worthy
from the cowardly and worthless. The weakling who meets with trouble
uplifts his voice in complaint and ceases to struggle against
obstacles; the strong man or woman remains silent and strives on
indomitably until success is achieved. It is strange to see how many
complaining weaklings are living around us at this day, and how
querulous and unjust are the outcries addressed to Fate, Fortune, and
Providence. We are the heirs of the ages; we know all about the brave
souls that suffered and strove and conquered in days gone by, and yet
many who possess this knowledge, and who have the gift of expression
at its highest, spend their time in one long tiresome whimper. Half
the poetry of our time is rhythmic complaint; young men who have
hardly had time to look round on the splendid panorama of life profess
to crave for death, and young women who should be thinking only of
work and love and brightness prefer to sink into languor. There is no
curing a poet when once he takes to being mournful, for he hugs his
own woe with positive pleasure, and all his musical pathos is simply
self-pity.

When Napoleon said, "You must not fear Death, my lads. Defy him, and
you drive him into the enemy's ranks!" he uttered a truth which
applies in the moral world as on the battle-field. The sudden panic
which causes battalions of troops to hesitate and break up in
confusion is paralleled by the numbing despair which seems to seize on
the forces of the soul at times. Brave men gaze calmly on the trouble
and think within themselves, "Now is the hour of trial; it is needful
to be strong and audacious;" weak men drop into hopeless lassitude,
and the few who happen to be foolish as well as weak rid themselves of
life. I dare say that hardly one of those who read these lines has
escaped that one awful moment when effort appears vain, when life is
one long ache, and when Time is a creeping horror that seems to lag as
if to torture the suffering heart. We need only turn to the vivid
chapter of modern life to see the utter folly of "giving in." Let us
look at the life-history of a statesman who died some years ago in our
country, after wielding supreme power and earning the homage of
millions. When young Benjamin D'Israeli first entered society in
London, he found that the proud aristocrats looked askance at him. He
came of a despised race, he had no fortune, his modes of acting and
speaking were strange to the cold, self-contained Northerners among
whom he cast his lot, and his chances looked far from promising. He
waited and worked, but all things seemed to go wrong with him; he
published a poem which was laughed at all over the country; he strove
to enter Parliament, and failed again and again; middle age crept on
him, and the shadows of failure seemed to compass him round. In one
terrible passage which he wrote in a flippant novel called "The Young
Duke" he speaks about the woful fate of a man who feels himself full
of strength and ability, and who is nevertheless compelled to live in
obscurity. The bitter sadness of this startling page catches the
reader by the throat, for it is a sudden revelation of a strong man's
agony. At last the toiler obtained his chance, and rose to make his
first speech in the House of Commons. He was then long past thirty
years of age; but he had the exuberance and daring of a boy. All the
best judges in the Commons admired the opening of the oration; but the
coarser members were stimulated to laughter by the speaker's strange
appearance. D'Israeli had dressed himself in utter defiance of all
conventions; he wore a dark green coat which came closely up to his
chin, a gaudy vest festooned with chains, and glittering rings. His
ringlets were combed in a heavy mass over his right shoulder; and it
is said that he looked like some strange actor. The noise grew as he
went on; his finest periods were lost amid howls of derision, and at
last he raised his arms above his head, and shouted, "I sit down now;
but the time will come when you will hear me!" A few good men consoled
him; but most of his friends advised him to get away out of the
country that his great failure might be forgotten. Now here was cause
for despair in all conscience; the brilliant man had failed
disastrously in the very assembly which he had sworn to master, and
the sound of mockery pursued him everywhere. His hopes seemed
blighted; his future was dim, he was desperately and dangerously in
debt, and he had broken down more completely than any speaker within
living memory. Take heart, all sufferers, when you hear what follows.
For eleven long years the gallant orator steadily endeavoured to
repair his early failure; he spoke frequently, asserted himself
without caring for the jeers of his enemies, and finally he won the
leadership of the House by dint of perseverance, tact, and intellect.
We cannot tell how often his heart sank within him during those weary
years; we know nothing of his forebodings; we only know that outwardly
he always appeared alert, vigorous, strenuously hopeful. At last his
name was known all over the world, and, after his death, a traveller
who rode across Asia Minor was again and again questioned by the wild
nomads--"Is your great Sheikh dead?" they asked. The rumour of our
statesman's power had traversed the earth. Men of all parties
acknowledge the indomitable courage of this man who refused to resign
the struggle even when the very Fates seemed to have decreed his ruin.

Take a man of another stamp, and observe how he met the first blows of
Fortune. Thomas Carlyle had dwelt on a lonely moorland for six years.
He came to London and employed himself with feverish energy on a book
which he thought would win him bread, even if it did not gain him
fame. Writing was painful to him, and he never set down a sentence
without severe labour. With infinite pains he sought out the history
of the French Revolution and obtained a clear picture of that
tremendous event. Piece by piece he put his first volume together and
satisfied himself that he had done something which would live. He
handed his precious manuscript to Stuart Mill, and Mill's servant lit
the fire with it. Carlyle had exhausted his means, and his great work
was really his only capital. Like all men who write at high pressure,
he was unable to recall anything that he had once set down, and, so
far as his priceless volume went, his mind was a blank. Years of toil
were thrown away; time was fleeting, and the world was careless of the
matchless historian. The first news of his loss stunned him, and, had
he been a weak man, he would have collapsed under the blow. He saw
nothing but bitter poverty for himself and his wife, and he had some
thoughts of betaking himself to the Far West; but he conquered his
weakness, forgot his despair in labour, and doggedly re-wrote the
masterpiece which raised him to instant fame and caused him to be
regarded as one of the first men in Britain. In the whole wide history
of human trials I cannot recall a more shining instance of fortitude
and triumphant victory over obstacles. Let those who are cast down by
some petty trouble think of the lonely, poverty-stricken student
bending himself to his task after the very light of his life had been
dimmed for a while.

There is nothing like an array of instances for driving home an
argument, so I mention the case of a man about whom much debate goes
on even to this day. Napoleon starved in the streets of Paris; one by
one he sold his books to buy bread; he was without light or fire on
nights of iron frost, and his clothing was too scanty to keep out the
cold. He arrived at that pass which induces some men to end all their
woes by one swift plunge into the river; but he was not of the
despairful stamp, and he stood his term of misery bravely until the
light came for him. Leave his splendid, chequered career of glory and
crime out of reckoning, and remember only that he became emperor
because he had courage to endure starvation; that lesson at least from
his career can harm no one. Choose the example of a woman, for
variety's sake. George Eliot was quite content to scrub furniture,
make cheese and butter, and sweep carpets until she arrived at ripe
womanhood. She felt her own extraordinary power; but she never repined
at the prospect of spending her life in what is lightly called
domestic drudgery. The Shining Ones oftenest walk in lowly places and
utter no sound of mourning. She was nearing middle age before she had
an opportunity of gaining that astonishing erudition which amazed
professed students, and, had she not chanced to meet Mr. Spencer, our
greatest philosopher, she would have lived and died unknown. She never
questioned the decrees of the Power that rules us all, and, when she
suddenly took her place as one of the first living novelists, she
accepted her fame and her wealth humbly and simply. Till her last day
she remembered her bitter years of frustration and failure, and the
meanest of mortals had a share of her holy sympathy; she gained her
unexampled conquest by resolutely treading down despair, and her brave
story should cheer the many girls who find life bleak and joyless.
George Eliot was prepared to bear the worst that could befall her, and
it was her frank and gentle acceptance of the facts of life that
brought her joy in the end. We must also remember such people as
Arkwright, Stephenson, Thomas Edwards the naturalist, and Heine the
poet. Arkwright saw his best machinery smashed again and again; but
his bull-dog courage brought him through his trouble, and he
surmounted opposition that would have driven a weakling to exile and
death. Stephenson feared that he would never conquer the great morass
at Chat Moss, and he knew that, if he failed, his reputation would
perish. He never allowed himself to show a tremor, and he won. Poor
Edwards toiled on, in spite of hunger, poverty, and chill despair; he
received one knock-down blow after another with cheery gallantry, and
old age had clutched him before his relief from grinding penury came;
but nothing could daunt him, and he is now secure. Heine lay for seven
years in his "mattress grave;" he was torn from head to foot by the
pangs of neuralgia; one of his eyes was closed, and at times the lid
of the other had to be raised in order that he might see those who
visited him. Let those who have ever felt the aching of a single tooth
imagine what it must have been to suffer the same kind of pain over
the whole body. Surely this poor tortured wretch might have been
pardoned had he esteemed his life a failure! His spirit never flagged,
and he wrote the brightest, lightest mockeries that ever were framed
by the wit of man; his poems will be the delight of Europe for years
to come, and his memory can no more perish than that of Shakspere.

Enough of examples; the main fact is that to men and women who refuse
to accept failure all life is open, and there is something to hope for
even up to the verge of the grave. When the sullen storm-cloud of
misfortune lowers and life seems dim and dreary, that is the hour to
summon up courage, and to look persistently beyond the bounds of the
mournful present. Why should we uplift our voices in pettish
questioning? The blows that cut most cruelly are meant for our better
discipline, and, if we steel every nerve against the onset of despair,
the battle is half won even before we put forth a conscious effort.
There never yet was a misfortune or an array of misfortunes, there
never was an entanglement wound by malign chance from which a man
could not escape by dint of his own unaided energy. By all means let
us pity those who are sore beset amid the keen sorrows that haunt the
world, look with tenderness on their pain, soothe them in their
perplexities; but, before all things, incite them to struggle against
the numbing influence of despondency. The early failures are the raw
material of the finest successes; and the general who loses a battle,
the mechanic who fails to find work, the writer who pines for the
approach of tardy fame, the forsaken lover who looks out on a dark
universe, and the servant who meets only censure and coldness, despite
her attempts to fulfil her duty, all come under the same law. If they
consent to drift away into the limbo of failures, they have only to
resign themselves, and their existence will soon end in futility and
disaster; but, if they refuse to cringe under the lash of
circumstances, if they toil on as though a bright goal were
immediately before them, the result is almost assured; and, even if
they do succumb, they have the blessed knowledge that they have failed
gallantly. Half the misfortunes which crush the children of men into
insignificance are more or less magnified by imagination, and the
swollen bulk of trouble dwindles before an effort of the human will.
Read over the dismal record of a year's suicides, and you will find
that in nine cases out of ten the causes which lead unhappy men and
women to quench their own light of life are absolutely trivial to the
sane and steadfast soul. Let those who are heavy of heart when
ill-fortune seems to have mastered them remember that our Master is
before all things just. He lays no burden that ought not to be borne
on any one of His children, and those who give way to despair are
guilty of sheer impiety. The same Power that sends the affliction
gives also the capability of endurance, and, if we refuse to exert
that capability, we are sinful. When once the first inclination toward
weakness and doubt is overcome, every effort becomes easier, and the
sense of strength waxes keener day by day. Who are the most serene and
sympathetic of all people that even the most obscure among us meet?
The men and women who have come through the Valley of the Shadow of
Tribulation. By a benign ordinance which is uniform in action, it so
falls out that the conquerors derive enhanced pleasure from the memory
of difficulties beaten down and sorrows vanquished. Where then is the
use of craven shrinking? Let us rather welcome our early failures as
we would welcome the health-giving rigour of some stern physician.
Think of the heroes and heroines who have conquered, and think
joyfully also of those who have wrought out their strenuous day in
seeming failure. There are four lines of poetry which every
English-speaking man and woman should learn by heart, and I shall
close this address with them. They were written on the memorial stone
of certain Italian martyrs--

  "Of all Time's words, this is the noblest one
    That ever spoke to souls and left them blest;
  Gladly we would have rested had we won
    Freedom. We have lost, and very gladly rest."



XVIII.

"VANITY OF VANITIES."


Those who have leisure to explore the history of the past, to peer
into the dark backward and abysm of Time, must of necessity become
smitten with a kind of sad and kindly cynicism. When one has travelled
over a wide tract of history, and when, above all, he has mused much
on the minor matters which dignified historians neglect, he feels much
inclined to say to those whom he sees struggling vainly after what
they call fame, "Why are you striving thus to make your voice heard
amid the derisive silence of eternity? You are fretting and frowning,
with your eyes fixed on your own petty fortunes, while all the
gigantic ages mock you. Day by day you give pain to your own mind and
body; you hope against hope; you trust to be remembered, and you fancy
that you may perchance hear what men will say of you when you are
gone. All in vain. Be satisfied with the love of those about you; if
you can get but a dog to love you during your little life, cherish
that portion of affection. Work in your own petty sphere strenuously,
bravely, but without thought of what men may say of you. Perhaps you
are agonised by the thought of powers that are hidden in you--powers
that may never be known while you live. What matters it? So long as
you have the love of a faithful few among those dear to you, all the
fame that the earth can give counts for nothing. Take that which is
near to you, and value as naught the praises of a vague monstrous
world through which you pass as a shadow. Look at that squirrel who
twirls and twirls in his cage. He wears his heart out in his ceaseless
efforts at progression, and all the while his mocking prison whirls
under him without letting him progress one inch. How much happier he
would be if he stayed in his hutch and enjoyed his nuts! You are like
the restless squirrel; you make a great show of movement and some
noise, but you do not get forward at all. Rest quietly when your
necessary labour is done, and be sure that more than half the things
men struggle for and fail to attain would not be worth the having even
if the strugglers succeeded. Do not waste one moment; do not neglect
one duty, for a duty lost is the deadliest loss of all; snatch every
rational pleasure that comes within your reach; earn all the love you
can, for that is the most precious of all possessions, and leave the
search for fame to those who are petty and vain."

Such a cold and chilling speech would be a very good medicine for
uneasy vanity, but the best medicine of all is the contemplation of
the history of men who have flourished and loomed large before their
fellows, and who now have sunk into the night. How many mighty
warriors have made the earth tremble, filling the mouths of men with
words of fear or praise! They have passed away, and the only record of
their lives is a chance carving on a stone, a brief line written by
some curt historian. The glass of the years was brittle wherein they
gazed for a span; the glass is broken and all is gone. In the wastes
of Asia we find mighty ruins that even now are like symbols of
power--vast walls that impose on the imagination by their bulk,
enormous statues, temples that seem to mock at time and destruction.
The men who built those structures must have had supreme confidence in
themselves, they must have possessed incalculable resources, they must
have been masters of their world. Where are they now? What were their
names? They have sunk like a spent flame, and we have not even the
mark on a stone to tell us how they lived or loved or struggled. Far
in that moaning desert lie the remains of a city so great that even
the men who know the greatest of modern cities can hardly conceive the
original appearance and dimensions of the tremendous pile. Travellers
from Europe and America go there and stand speechless before works
that dwarf all the efforts of modern men. The woman who ruled in that
strong city was an imposing figure in her time, but she died in a
petty Roman villa as an exile, and Palmyra, after her departure, soon
perished from off the face of the earth. One pathetic little record
enables us to guess what became of the population over whom the queen
Zenobia ruled. A stone was dug up on the northern border of England,
and the inscription puzzled all the antiquarians until an Oriental
scholar found that the words were Syriac. "Barates of Palmyra erects
this stone to the memory of his wife, the Catavallaunian woman who
died aged thirty-three." That is a rude translation. Poor Barates was
brought to Britain, married a Norfolk woman of the British race, and
spent his life on the wild frontier. So the powerful queen passed away
as a prisoner, her subjects were scattered over the earth, and her
city, which was once renowned, is now haunted by lizard and antelope.
Alas for fame! Alas for the stability of earthly things! The
conquerors of Zenobia fared but little better. How strong must those
emperors have been whose very name kept the world in awe! If a man
were proscribed by Rome, he was as good as dead; no fastness could
hide him, no place in the known world could give him refuge, and his
fate was regarded as so inevitable that no one was foolhardy enough to
try at staving off the evil day. How coolly and contemptuously the
lordly proconsuls and magistrates regarded the early Christians. Pliny
did not so much as deign to notice their existence, and Pontius
Pilate, who had to deal with the first twelve, seems to have looked
upon them as mere pestilent malefactors who created a disturbance. For
many years those scornful Roman lords mocked the new sectarians and
refused to take them seriously. One scoffing magistrate asked the
Christians who came before him why they gave him the trouble to punish
them. Were there no ropes and precipices handy, he asked, for those
who wished to commit suicide? Those Romans had great names in their
day--names as great as the names of Ellenborough and Wellesley and
Gordon and Dalhousie and Bartle Frere, yet one would be puzzled to
write down a list of six of the omnipotent sub-emperors. They fought,
they made laws, they ruled empires, they fancied themselves only a
little less than the gods, and now not a man outside the circle of a
dozen scholars knows or cares anything about them. The wise lawgivers,
the dread administrators, the unconquerable soldiers have gone with
the snows, and their very names seem to have been writ in water.

If we come nearer our own time, we find it partly droll, partly
pathetic to see how the bubble reputations have been pricked one by
one. "Who now reads Bolingbroke?" asked Burke. Yes--who? The brilliant
many-sided man who once held the fortunes of the empire in his hand,
the specious philosopher, the unequalled orator is forgotten. How
large he loomed while his career lasted! He was one of the men who
ruled great England, and now he is away in the dark, and his books rot
in the recesses of dusty libraries. Where is the great Mr. Hayley? He
was arbiter of taste in literature; he thought himself a very much
greater man than Blake, and an admiring public bowed down to him.
Probably few living men have ever read a poem of Hayley's, and
certainly we cannot advise anybody to try unless his nerve is good. Go
a little farther back, and consider the fate of the distinguished
literary persons who were famous during the period which affected
writers call the Augustan era of our literature. The great poet who
wrote--

  "Behold three thousand gentlemen at least,
  Each safely mounted on his capering beast"--

what has become of that bard's inspired productions? They have gone
the way of Donne and Cowley and Waller and Denham, and nobody cares
very much. Take even the great Cham of literature, the good Johnson.
His fame is undying, but his works would not have saved his reputation
in vigour during so many generations. To all intents and purposes his
books are dead; the laboured writings which he turned out during his
years of starvation are not looked into, and our most eminent modern
novelist declares that, if he were snowed up in a remote inn with
"Bradshaw's Railway Guide" and the "Rambler" as the only books within
reach, he would assuredly not read the "Rambler." Perhaps hardly one
hundred students know how admirably good Johnson's preface to
Shakspere really is, and the "Lives of the Poets" are read only in
fragmentary fashion. Strange, is it not, that the man who made his
reputation by literature, the man who dominated the literary world of
his time with absolute sovereignty, should be saved from sinking out
of human memory only by means of the record of his lighter talk which
was kept by his faithful henchman? But for the wise pertinacity of
poor Boswell, the giant would have been forgotten even by the
generation which immediately followed him. His gallant and strenuous
efforts to gain fame really failed; his chance gossip and the amusing
tale of his eccentricities kept his name alive. Surely the irony of
fate was never better shown. Even this Titan would have had only a
bubble reputation but for the lucky accident which brought that
obscure Scotch laird to London.

Most piteous is the story of the poor souls who have sought to achieve
their share of immortality by literature. Go to our noble Museum and
look at the appalling expanse of books piled up yard upon yard to the
ceiling of the immense dome. Tons upon tons--Pelion on Ossa--of
literature meet the eye and stun the imagination. Every book was
wrought out by eager labour of some hopeful mortal; joy, anguish,
despair, mad ambition, placid assurance, wild conceit, proud courage
once possessed the breasts of those myriad writers, according to their
several dispositions. The piles rest in stately silence, and the
reputations of the authors are entombed.

As for the fighters who sought the bubble reputation even at the
cannon's mouth, who recks of their fierce struggles, their bitter
wounds, their brief success? Who knows the leaders of the superb host
that poured like a torrent from Torres Vedras to the Pyrenees, and
smote Napoleon to the earth? Who can name the leaders of the doomed
host that crossed the Beresina, and left their bones under the Russian
snows? High of heart the soldiers were when they set out on their wild
pilgrimage under their terrible leader, but soon they were lying by
thousands on the red field of Borodino, and the sound of their moaning
filled the night like the calling of some mighty ocean. And now they
are utterly gone, and the reputation for which they strove avails
nothing; they are mixed in the dim twilight story of old unhappy
far-off things and battles long ago.

Critics say that our modern poetry is all sad; and so it is, save when
the dainty muse of Mr. Austin Dobson smiles upon us. The reason is not
far to seek--we know so much, and the sense of the vanity of human
effort is more keenly impressed upon us than ever it was on men of
more careless and more ignorant ages. We see what toys men set store
by, we see what shadows we are and what shadows we pursue, so there is
no wonder that we are mournful. The sweetest of our poets, the most
humorous of our many writers cannot keep the thought of death and
futility away. His loveliest lyric begins--

  "Oh, fair maids Maying
    In gardens green,
  Through deep dells straying,
    What end hath been.

  Two Mays between
    Of the flow'rs that shone
  And your own sweet queen?
    They are dead and gone."

There is the burden--"dead and gone." Another singer chants to us
thus--

  "Merely a round of shadow shows
    Shadow shapes that are born to die
  Like a light that sinks, like a wind that goes,
    Vanishing on to the By-and-by.

  Life, sweet life, as she flutters nigh,
    'Minishing, failing night and day,
  Cries with a loud and bitter cry,
    'Ev'rything passes, passes away.'

       *       *       *       *       *

  Who has lived as long as he chose?
    Who so confident as to defy
  Time, the fellest of mortals' foes?
    Joints in his armour who can spy?
  Where's the foot will nor flinch nor fly?
    Where's the heart that aspires the fray?
  His battle wager 'tis vain to try--
    Ev'rything passes, passes away."

The age is diseased. Why should men be mournful because what they call
their aspirations--precious aspirations--are frustrated? They seek the
bubble reputation, and they whimper when the bubble is burst; but how
much better would it be to cleave to lowly duties, to do the thing
that lies next to hand, to accept cheerfully the bounteous harvest of
joys vouchsafed to the humble? Since we all end alike--since the
warrior, the statesman, the poet alike leave no name on earth save in
the case of the few Titans--what use is there in fretting ourselves
into green-sickness simply because we cannot quite get our own way? To
the wise man every moment of life may be made fruitful of rich
pleasure, and the pleasure can be bought without heartache, without
struggling painfully, without risking envy and uncharitableness.
Better the immediate love of children and of friends than the hazy
respect of generations that must assuredly forget us soon, no matter
how prominent we may seem to be for a time. I have read a sermon to my
readers, but the sermon is not doleful; it is merely hard truth. Life
may be a supreme ironic procession, with laughter of gods in the
background, but at any rate much may be made of it by those who refuse
to seek the bubble reputation.



XIX.

GAMBLERS.


The great English carnival of gamblers is over for a month or two; the
bookmakers have retired to winter quarters after having waxed fat
during the year on the money risked by arrant simpletons. The
bookmaker's habits are peculiar; he cannot do without gambling, and he
contrives to indulge himself all the year round in some way or other.
When the Newmarket Houghton meeting is over, Mr. Bookmaker bethinks
him of billiards, and he goes daily and nightly among interesting
gatherings of his brotherhood. Handicaps are arranged day by day and
week by week, and the luxurious, loud, vulgar crew contrive to pass
away the time pleasantly until the spring race meetings begin. But
hundreds of the sporting gentry have souls above the British
billiard-room, and for them a veritable paradise is ready. The
Mediterranean laps the beautiful shore at Monte Carlo and all along
the exquisite Eiviera--the palms and ferns are lovely--the air is soft
and exhilarating, and the gambler pursues his pleasing pastime amid
the sweetest spots on earth. From every country in the world the
flights of restless gamblers come like strange flocks of migrant
birds. The Russian gentleman escapes from the desolate plains of his
native land and luxuriates in the beautiful garden of Europe; the
queer inflections of the American's quiet drawl are heard everywhere
as he strolls round the tables; Roumanian boyards, Parisian swindlers,
Austrian soldiers, Hungarian plutocrats, flashy and foolish young
Englishmen--all gather in a motley crowd; and the British bookmaker's
interesting presence is obtrusive. His very accent--strident, coarse,
impudent, unspeakably low--gives a kind of ground-note to the hum of
talk that rises in all places of public resort, and he recruits his
delicate health in anticipation of the time when he will be able to
howl once more in English betting-rings.

But I am not so much concerned with the personality of the various
sorts of gamblers, and I assuredly have no pity to spare for the
gentry who lose their money. A great deal of good useful compassion is
wasted on the victims who are fleeced in the gambling places. Victims!
What do they go to the rooms for? Is it not to amuse themselves and to
pass away time amid false exhilaration? Is it not to gain money
without working for it? The dupe has in him all the raw material of a
scoundrel; and even when he blows his stupid brains out I cannot pity
him so much as I pity the dogged labourer who toils on and starves
until his time comes for going to the workhouse. I am rather more
inclined to study the general manifestations of the gambling spirit. I
have in my mind's eye vivid images of the faces, the figures, the
gestures of hundreds of gamblers, and I might make an appalling
picture-gallery if I chose; but such a nightmare in prose would not do
much good to any one, and I prefer to proceed in a less exciting but
more profitable manner. We please ourselves by calling to mind the
days when "society" gambled openly and constantly; and we like to
fancy that we are all very good and spotless now-a-days and free from
the desire for unnatural excitement. Well, I grant that most European
societies in the last century were sufficiently hideous in many
respects. The English aristocrat, male or female, cared only for
cards, and no noble lady dreamed of remaining long in an assembly
where _piquet_ and _écarté_ were not going on. The French seigneur
gambled away an estate in an evening; the Russian landowner staked a
hundred serfs and their lives and fortunes on the turn of a card;
little German princelings would play quite cheerfully for regiments of
soldiers. The pictures which we are gradually getting from memoirs and
letters are almost too grotesque for belief, and there is some little
excuse for the hearty optimists who look back with complacency on the
past, and thank their stars that they have escaped from the domain of
evil. For my own part, when I see the mode of life now generally
followed by most of our European aristocracies, I am quite ready to be
grateful for a beneficent change, and I have again and again made
light of the wailings of persons who persist in chattering about the
good old times. But I am talking now about the spirit of the gambler;
and I cannot say that the human propensity to gamble has in any way
died out. Its manifestations may in some respects be more decorous
than they used to be; but the deep, masterful, subtle tendency is
there, and its force is by no means diminished by the advance of a
complicated civilisation. Often and often I have mused quietly amid
scenes where gamblers of various sorts were disporting themselves--in
village inns where solemn yokels played shove-halfpenny with
statesmanlike gravity; in sunny Italian streets where lazy loungers
played their queer guessing game with beans; in noisy racing-clubs
where the tape clicks all day long; on crowded steamboats when
Tynesiders and Cockneys yelled and cursed and shouted their offers as
the slim skiffs stole over the water and the straining athletes bent
to their work; on Atlantic liners when hundreds of pounds depended on
the result of the day's run; on the breezy heath where half a million
gazers watched as the sleek Derby horses thundered round. As I have
gazed on these spectacles, I have been forced to let the mind wander
into regions far away from the chatter of the gamesters. Again and
again I have been compelled to think with a kind of melancholy over
the fact that man is not content until he is taken out of himself. Our
wondrous bodies, our miraculous power of looking before and after, our
infinite capacities for enjoyment, are not enough for us, and the poor
feeble human creature spends a great part of his life in trying to
forget that he is himself. At the best, our days pass as in the dim
swiftness of a dream. The young man suddenly thinks, "It is but
yesterday that I was a child;" the middle-aged man finds the gray
hairs streaking his head before he has realised that his youth is
gone; the old man lives so completely in the past that he is taken
only by a gentle shock of surprise when he finds that the end is upon
him. Swiftly, like some wild hunt of shadows, the generations fleet
away--nothing stays their frantic speed; and to the true observer no
fictitious flight of spirits on the Brocken could be half so weird as
the passage of one generation of the children of men. As we grow old,
the appalling brevity of time impresses itself more and more on the
consciousness of calm and thoughtful men; yet nine-tenths of our race
spend the best part of their days in trying to make their ghostly
sweeping flight from eternity to eternity seem more rapid than it
really is. That hot and fevered youth who stands in the betting-ring
and nervously pencils his race-card never thinks that the time of
weakness and sadness and weariness is coming on; that gray and
tremulous old man who bends over the roulette-table never thinks that
he will speedily drop into a profundity deeper than ever plummet
sounded. The gliding ball does not swing round in its groove faster
than the old man's soul fares towards the darkness; and yet he
clenches his jaw and engages in the most trivial of pursuits as if he
had an eternity before him. The youth and the dotard have alike
succeeded in passing out of themselves, and their very souls will not
return to the body until the delirious spell has ceased to act. All
men alike seem to have, more or less, this craving for oblivion. Long
ago I remember seeing a company of farmers who had come to market in
the prosperous times; they were among the wildest of their set, and
they settled down to cards when business was done. Day after day those
bucolic gentlemen sat on; when one of them lay down on a settle to
snatch a nap, his place was taken by another, and at the end of the
week some of the original company were still in the parlour, having
gambled furiously all the while without ever washing or undressing.
Time was non-existent for them, and their consciousness was exercised
only in watching the faces of the cards and counting up points. But
the dull-witted farmers were quite equalled by the polished scholar,
the great orator, the brilliant wit, Charles Fox. It was nothing to
Fox if he sat for three days and three nights at a stretch over the
board of green cloth. His fortune went; he might lose at the rate of
ten thousand pounds in the twenty-four hours; but he had succeeded in
forgetting himself, and his loss of time and fortune counted as
nothing. The light, careless gipsy shares the disposition of the
matchless orator and the dull farmer. You may see a gipsy enter the
tossing-ring at a fair; he loses all his money, but he goes on staking
everything he possesses, and, if the luck remains adverse, he will
continue tossing until his pony, his cart, his lurcher-dog, his very
clothes are all gone. The Chinaman will play for his life; the Red
Indian recklessly piles all he owns in the world upon the rough heap
of goods which his tribe wager on the result of a pony race. Look
high, look low, and we see that the gamblers actually form the
majority of the world's inhabitants; and we must go among the men of
abstractions--the men who can achieve oblivion by dint of their own
thinking power--before we find any class untouched by the strange
taint. Observe that venerable looking man who slowly paces about in
one of the luxurious dwelling-places which are sacred to leisure; you
may see his type at Bath, Buxton, Leamington, Scarborough, Brighton,
Torquay, all places, indeed, whither flock the men whose life-work is
done. That venerable gentleman has fulfilled his task in the world,
his desires have been gratified so far as fortune would allow, and one
would think that most pursuits of the competitive sort must have lost
interest for him. Yet he--even he--cannot get rid of the tendency to
gamble; and he studies the financial news with the eagerness of a boy
who follows the fortunes of Quentin Durward or D'Artagnan or Rebecca.
If English railway shares fall, he is exultant or depressed, according
to the operations of his broker; he may be roused into almost
hysterical delight by a rise in "Nitrates" or "Chilians," or any of
the thousands of securities in which stockbrokers deal. What is it to
the old man if Death smiles gently on him, and will soon touch his
heart with ice? There is no past for him; he has forgotten the
raptures of youth, the strength of manhood, the depression of failure,
the gladness of success, and he drugs his soul into forgetfulness by
dwelling on a gambler's chances. So long as the one doubtful boon of
forgetfulness is secured, it seems to matter very little what may be
the stake at disposal. The English racing-man picks out a promising
colt or filly; he finds that he has a swift and good animal, and he
resolves to bring off some vast gambling _coup_. Patiently, cunningly,
month after month, the steps in the plan are matured; the horse runs
badly until the official handicappers think it is worthless, and the
gambler at last finds that he has some great prize almost at his
mercy. Then with slow dexterity the horse is backed to win. If the
owner shows any eagerness, his purpose is balked once and for all; he
may have to employ half-a-dozen agents to bet for him, until at last
he succeeds in wagering so much money that he will gain, say, one
hundred thousand pounds by winning his race. The fluttering jackets
come nearer and nearer to the judge's box; some of the jockeys are
using their whips and riding desperately; the horse on which so much
depends draws to the front; but the owner never moves a muscle. Of
course we have seen men shrieking themselves almost into apoplexy at
the close of a race; but the hardened gambler is deadly cool. In the
last stride the animal so carefully--and fraudulently--prepared is
beaten by a matter of a few inches, and the chance of picking up a
hundred thousand pounds is gone; but the owner remains impassive, and
as soon as settling-day is over, he endeavours to forget the matter. I
have seen an old man watching a race on which he had planned to win
sixty thousand pounds; his horse was beaten in the last two strides,
and the old gentleman never so much as stirred or spoke. No doubt he
was really transported out of himself; but nothing in the world seemed
capable of altering the composure of his wizened features. On the
other hand, there is one man who is known to possess some four
millions in cash, besides an immense property; this man never bets
more than two pounds at a time, yet from his wild fits of excitement
it might be supposed that his colossal wealth was at stake.

So the whole army of the gamblers pass in their mad whirlwind march
toward the region of night; they are delirious, they are creatures of
contradictions--they are fiercely greedy, lavishly generous, wary in
many things, reckless of life, ready to take any advantage, yet
possessed by a diseased sense of honour. Some of them think that a man
is better and happier when he feels all his faculties working rather
than when he goes off into blind transports of excitement or fear or
doubt. I think that the man who is conscious to his very finger-tips
is better than the wild creature whose senses are all blurred. I hold
that the student or thinker who faces life with a calm and calculated
desire for true knowledge is better off than the insensate being whose
hours are passed in a sordid nightmare. But I see little chance of
ever making men care little for the gambler's pleasure, and I humbly
own to the existence of an ugly mystery which only adds yet another to
the number of dark puzzles whereby we are surrounded. I observe that
desperate efforts are made to put down gambling by law rather than by
culture, religion, true and gentle morality. As well try to put down
the passions of love and fear--as well try to interdict the beat of
the pulses! We may deplore the gambler's existence as much as we like;
but it is a fact, and we must accept it.



XX.

SCOUNDRELS.


Byron very often flung out profound truths in his easy, careless way,
but the theatrical vein in his composition sometimes prompted him to
say dashing things, not because he regarded them as true, but because
he wanted to make people stare. Speaking of one interesting and
homicidal gentleman, the poet observes--

  "He knew himself a villain, and he deemed
  The rest no better than the thing he seemed."

Now I take leave to say that the rawest of fifth-form lads never
uttered a more school-boyish sentiment than that; and I wonder how a
man of the world came to make such a blunder. Byron had lived in the
degraded London of the Regency, when Europe's rascality flocked
towards St. James's as belated birds flock towards a light; and he
should have known some villains if any one did. Ephraim Bond, the
abominable moneylender and sportsman, was swaggering round town in
Byron's later days; Crockford, that incarnate fiend, had his nets
open; and ruined men--men ruined body and soul--left the gambling
palace where the satanic spider sat spinning his webs. Byron must have
known Crockford, and he had there a chance of studying a being who was
indeed a villain, but who fancied himself to be a highly respectable
person. From the time when "Crocky" started money-lending in the back
parlour of his little fish-shop up to his last ghastly appearance on
earth, he was a cheat and a consummate rascal; and even after death
his hideous corpse was made to serve a deception. He was engaged in a
Turf swindle, and it was necessary that he should be regarded as alive
on the evening of the Derby day; but he died in the morning, and, to
deceive the betting-men, the lifeless carcass of the old robber was
put upright in a club window, and a daring sharper caused the dead
hand to wave as if in greeting to the shouting crowd--a fit end to a
bad life. Crockford's delusion was that his character was marked by
honesty and general benevolence; and those who wished to please him
pretended to accept his own comfortable theory. He regarded himself as
a really good fellow, and in his own person he was a living
confutation of Byron's dashing paradox. Then there was Renton
Nicholson, a specimen of social vermin if ever there was one. This
fellow earned a sordid livelihood by presiding over a club where men
met nightly in orgies that stagger the power of belief. His huge
figure and his raffish face were seen wherever rogues most did
congregate; he showed young men "life"--and sometimes his work as
cicerone led them to death; his style of conversation would nowadays
lead to a speedy prosecution; he was always seen by the ringside when
unhappy brutes met to pound each other, and his stock of evil stories
entertained the interesting noblemen and gentlemen who patronised the
manly British sport. I could not describe this man's baseness in
adequate terms, nor could I so much as give an idea of his ordinary
round of roguery without arousing some incredulity. This unspeakable
creature was fond of describing himself as "Jolly old Renton," or
"Good old John Bull Nicholson"; he really fancied himself to be a
good, genial fellow, and he appeared to fancy that the crowds who
usually collected to hear his abominations were attracted by his
_bonhomie_ and his estimable intellectual qualities. Byron must have
known this striking example of the scoundrel species, but he appears
to have forgotten him when he propounded his theory of villainy. Then
there was Pea-green Haynes, who was also a fine sample of folly and
rascality mingled. Haynes regarded himself as the most injured man on
earth; he never performed an unselfish action, it is true, and he
flung away a fine patrimony on his own pleasures, yet he whined and
held himself up as an example of suffering virtue. Then there was the
precious Regent. What a creature! Good men and bad men unite in saying
that he was absolutely without a virtue; the shrewd, calculating
Greville described him in words that burn; the great Duke, his chief
subject, uses language of dry scorn--"The king could only act the part
of a gentleman for ten minutes at a time"; and we find that the
commonest satellites of the Court despised the wicked fribble who wore
the crown of England. Faithless to women, faithless to men, a coward,
a liar, a mean and grovelling cheat, George IV. nevertheless clung to
a belief in his own virtues; and, if we study the account of his
farcical progress through Scotland, we find that he imagined himself
to be a useful and genuinely kingly personage. No man, except,
perhaps, Philippe Egalité, was ever so contemned and hated; and until
his death he imagined himself to be a good man. In all that wild set
who disgraced England and disgraced human nature in those gay days of
Byron's youth, I can discover only one thoroughly manly and estimable
individual, and that was Gentleman Jackson, the boxer; yet, with such
a marvellously wide range of villainy to study, Byron never seems to
have observed one ethical fact of the deepest importance--a villain
never knows that he is villainous; if he did, he would cease to be a
villain.

Perhaps Byron's own peculiar disposition--his constitution--prevented
him from understanding the undoubted truth which I have stated. Like
all other men, he possessed a dual nature; there was bad in him and
good, and his force was such that the bad was very bad indeed, and the
good was as powerful in its way as the evil. During the brief time
that Byron employed in behaving as a bad man, his conduct reached
almost epic heights--or depths--of misdoing; but he never in his heart
seemed to recognise the fact that he had been a bad man. At any rate,
he was wrong; and the commonest knowledge of our wild world suffices
to show any reasoning man the gravity of the error propounded in my
quotation. As we study the history of the frivolous race of men, it
sometimes seems hard to disbelieve the theory of Descartes. The great
Frenchman held that man and other animals are automata; and, were it
not that such a theory strikes at the root of morals, we might almost
be tempted to accept it in moments of weakness, when the riddle of the
unintelligible earth weighs heavily on the tired spirit. I find that
every prominent scoundrel known to us pursued his work of sin with an
absolute unconsciousness of all moral law until pain or death drew
near; then the scoundrel cringed like a cur under the scourges of
remorse. Thackeray, in a fit of spasmodic courage, painted the
archetypal scoundrel once and for all in "Barry Lyndon," and he
practically said the last word on the subject; for no grave analysis,
no reasoning, can ever improve on that immortal and most moving
picture of a wicked man. Observe the masterpiece. Lyndon goes on with
his narrative from one horror to another; he exposes his inmost soul
with cool deliberation; and the author's art is so consummate that we
never for a moment sympathise with the fiend who talks so
mellifluously--the narrative of ill-doing unfolds itself with all the
inevitable precision of an operation of nature, and we see the human
soul at its worst. But Thackeray did not make Byron's mistake; and
throughout the book the Chevalier harps with deadly persistence on his
own virtues. He does not exactly whine, but he lets you know that he
regards himself as being very much wronged by the envious caprices of
his fellow-men. His tongue is the tongue of a saint, and, even when he
owns to any doubtful transaction, he takes care to let you know that
he was actuated by the sweetest and purest motives. Many people cannot
read "Barry Lyndon" a second time; but those who are nervous should
screw their courage to the sticking-place, and give grave attention to
that awful moral lesson, for all of us have a little of Barry in our
composition. Thackeray's sudden inspiration enabled him to plumb the
deeps of the scoundrel nature, and he saw with the eye of genius that
the very quality which makes a bad man dangerous is his belief in his
own goodness. If you look at the appalling narrative of Lyndon's life
in this country, you see, with a shudder, that the man regards his
cruelty to his wife, his villainy towards his step-son, as the
inevitable outcome of stern virtue; he tells you things that make you
long to stamp on the inanimate pages; for he rouses such a passion of
wild scorn and wrath as we feel against no other artistic creation.
Yet all the while, like a low under-song, goes on his monotonous
assertion of his own goodness and his own injuries. No sermon could
teach more than that hateful book; if it is read aright, it will
supply men or women with an armoury of warnings, and enable them to
start away from the semblance of self-deception as they would from a
rearing cobra when the hood is up, and the murderous head flattened
ready to strike. Thackeray worked on the same theme in his story of
little Stubbs. Lyndon is the Lucifer of rascals; Stubbs--well, Stubbs
beggars the English vocabulary; he is too low, too mean for adjectives
to describe him, and I could almost find it in my heart to wish that
his portraiture had never been placed before the horrified eyes of
men. Yet this Stubbs--a being who was drawn from life--has a profound
belief in the rectitude of everything that he does. Even when he tells
us how he invited his gang of unspeakables home, to drink away his
mother's substance, he takes credit to himself for his fine display of
British hospitality. How Thackeray contrived to live through the
ordeal of composing those two books I cannot tell; he must have had a
nerve of steel, with all his softness of heart and benevolence. At all
events, he did live to complete his gruesome feat; and he has given
us, in a vivid pictorial way, such a picture of scoundreldom as should
serve as a beacon to all men. It may seem like a paradox; but I am
inclined to think that our non-success in putting down actual crime
and wickedness which do not come within range of the law arises from
the fact that our jurists have not made a proper study of the criminal
nature. Grod made the cobra, the cruel wolverine, and the
thrice-cruel tiger; we study the animals and deal with them
adequately; but some of us do not study our human cobras and
wolverines and tigers. I scarcely ever knew of a case of a convict who
would not moan about his own injuries and his own innocence. Even when
these men, whose criminality is ingrained, are willing to own their
guilt, they will always contrive to blame the world in general and
society in particular. It is almost amusing to hear a desperate thief,
who seems no more able to prevent himself from rushing on plunder than
a greyhound can prevent itself from rushing on a hare, complaining
that employers will not trust him. It is useless to say, "What can you
expect?" The scoundrel persists in crying out against a hard world
which drove him to be what he is.

Some ten years ago the arch-rascal among English thieves was living
quietly in a London suburb; he used to solace himself with high-class
music, and he was very fond of poetry. This dreadful creature was a
curious compound of wild beast and artist. During the day he went
about with an innocent air; and the very police who were destined to
take him and hang him learned to greet him cordially as he passed them
in his walks. They thought he was "a sort of high-class tradesman."
Now, when this cheery little man with the decent frock-coat and the
clean respectable air was sauntering on the margin of the breezy heath
or walking up by-streets with measured sobriety, he was really marking
down the places which he intended to plunder. Here his trained pony
should stand; here he would make his entrance; that bedroom door
should be fastened inside; this lock should be picked. The wild
predatory beast drove the police to despair, for it seemed as if no
human being could have performed the feats which came easy to the
robber. The hard earning of good men went to the rascal's store; the
cherished household gods, the valued keepsakes of innocent women were
transferred callously to the melting-pot. He went coolly into bedrooms
where the inmates were asleep; had any one awaked, there would have
been murder, and the murderer would have decamped long before the door
could be broken open. Now my point is this--the wretch whom I have
described never ceased to inveigh against the wrongs of society. Two
unhappy women served him faithfully and followed him like dogs; but he
did not apply his theories in his treatment of them, for they were
never without the marks of his brutality. In the very presence of his
bruised and beaten slaves he talked of his own virtues, of social
inequality, of the tyranny of the rich, and he held to his belief in
his own innate goodness after he had committed depredations to the
extent of thousands of pounds, and even after he was answerable for
two murders. That man never knew himself a villain, and it was only
when the rope was gradually closing round his neck that the keen
sleuth-hound remorse found him out, and he had the grace to save an
innocent man from a living death. This monstrous hypocrite was another
typical scoundrel, and his like people every prison in the country.

The scoundrels who are called great do not usually come under the
gallows-tree, and their last dying speeches are somewhat rare; but we
may be pretty certain, from the little we know, that each one of them
fancies himself an estimable person. Ivan of Russia, the ferocious
ruler, who had men torn to pieces before his eyes, the being who had
forty thousand men, women, and children massacred in cold blood,
regarded himself as the deputy of the Supreme Being. The mad Capet,
who fired the signal which started tho massacre of St. Bartholomew,
believed that he was fulfilling the demands of goodness and orthodoxy.
The deadly inquisitors who roasted unhappy fellow mortals wholesale
believed--or pretended to believe--that they were putting their
victims through a benign ordeal. The heretic was a naughty child;
roast him, and his sin was purged; while the frosty-blooded old men
who murdered him looked to heaven and returned thanks for their own
special allowance of virtue. Conqueror and inquisitor, burglar and
murderer, forger and wife-beater, brutal sea-captain and prowling
thief--all the scoundrels go about their business with a full faith in
their own blamelessness. I do not like to class them as automata,
though the wise and genial Mr. Huxley would undoubtedly do so. What
shall we do with them? Is it fair that a wearied world and a toil-worn
society should maintain them? My own idea is that sentiment, softness,
regrets for severity should be banished, and we should say to the
scoundrel, "Attend, rascal! You say that you are wronged, and that you
are driven to harm your fellow-creatures by the force of external
circumstances; that may be so, but we have nothing to do with the
matter. Take notice that you shall eat bitter bread on earth, no
matter how you may whine, when our just grip is on you; if you persist
in practising scoundrelism, we shall make your lot harder and harder
for you; and, if in the end we find that you will go on working evil,
we shall treat you as a dangerous wild beast, and put you out of the
world altogether."



XXI.

QUIET OLD TOWNS.


A rather popular writer, who first came into notice by dint of naming
a book of essays, "Is Life worth Living?" gave us not long ago a very
sweet description of an English country town; and he worked himself up
to quite a moving pitch of rapture as he described the admirable
social arrangements which may be perceived on a market-day. This
enthusiast tells us how the members of the great county families drive
in to do their shopping. The stately great horses paw and champ at
their bits, the neat servants bustle about in deft attendance, and the
shopkeeper, who has a feudal sort of feeling towards his betters,
comes out to do proper homage. The great landowner brings his wealth
into the High Street or the market place, and the tradesmen raise
their voices to bless him. We have all heard of institutions called
"stores"; but still it is a pity to carp at a pretty picture drawn by
a literary artist. I know that rebellious tradesmen in many of the
shires use violent language as they describe the huge packing-cases
which are deposited at various mansions by the railway vans. I know
also that the regulation saddler who airs his apron at the door of his
shop on market-days will inform the stranger that the gentry get
saddles, harness, and everything else nowadays from the abominable
"stores"; but I must not leave my artist, and shall let the saddler
growl to himself for the present. The polished writer goes on to speak
of the ruddy farmer who strolls round in elephantine fashion and hooks
out sample-bags from his plethoric and prosperous pockets; the dealers
drive a brisk trade, the small shopkeepers are encouraged by their
neighbours from the country, and everything is extremely idyllic and
pure and pretty and representative of England at her best. The old
church rears its quaint height above the quainter houses that cluster
near. In the churchyard the generations of natives sleep sound; one
may trace some families back for hundreds of years, and thus perceive
how firmly the love of the true townsman clings to his native place.
Perhaps a castle looms over the modest streets and squares--it is
converted into a prison in all probability; but the sight of it brings
memories of haughty nobles, or of untitled personages whose pride of
race would put monarchs to the blush. The river flows sweetly past the
sleepy lovely town, and sober citizens walk solemnly beside the
rippling watery highway when the day's toil is over. On Sunday, when
the bells chime their invitation, all sorts and conditions of men meet
in the dim romantic precincts of the ancient church, and there is much
pleasant gossiping when morning and evening worship are ended. Good
old solid England is put before us in miniature when we glance at such
of the community as choose to show themselves before the artistic
observer, and, as we drive away along the sound level roads, we
say--if we are very literary and enthusiastic--"Happy little town!
Happy little nation!" Now that is all very pretty; and yet the
conscientious philosopher is bound to admit that there is another
side--nay, several other sides--to the charming picture. I do not want
any students of the modern French school to prove that rural life in
small towns may be as base and horrible as the life of crowded
cities--I do not want any minute analysis of degradation; but I may
prick a windbag of conceit and do some little service if I try to show
that the state of things in some scores of these delightful old places
is base and corrupt enough to warm the heart of the most exacting
cynic that ever thought evil of his fellow-creatures.

Let us go behind the scenes and see what the idyllic prospect looks
like from the rear. We must proceed with great deliberation, and we
must take our rustic society stratum by stratum. First, then, there
are the idle men who have inherited or earned fortunes, and who like
to settle in luxurious houses away from great centres of population.
Such men are always in great force on the skirts of quiet old towns,
and they are much revered by the tradesmen. I cannot help thinking
that the fate of the average "retired" man must be not a little
dolorous, for I find that the typical member of that class conducts
himself in much the same way no matter where he pitches his habitation
in broad England. He is saved if he has a hobby; but, without a hobby,
he is a very poor creature, and his ways of living on from day to day
are the reverse of admirable. If such a revolutionary institution as a
club has been established in the town, he may begin his morning's
round there; or, in default of a club, there is the "select" room in
the principal hotel. If he is catholic in his tastes and hungry for
conversation, he may wander from one house of call to another, and he
meets a large and well-chosen assortment of hucksters who come to bind
bargains with the inevitable "drink"; he meets the gossip who knows
all the secrets of the township, he meets flashy persons who have a
manly thirst which requires perpetual assuagement. Then he converses
to his heart's content; and, alas, what conversation it is--what
intellectual exertion is expended by these forlorn gossips in the
morning round that takes up the time of many men in a quiet town!
There is a little slander, a good deal of peeping out of windows, a
little discussion of the financial prospects ascribed to various men
in the neighbourhood, and an impartial examination of everybody's
private affairs. The regular crew of gossips hold it as a duty to know
and talk about the most minute details of each other's lives, and,
when a man leaves any given room where the piquant chatter is going
on, he is quite aware that he leaves his character behind him. The
state of his banking account is guessed at, the disposition of his
will is courageously foretold, the amounts which he paid to various
shopkeepers are added up with reverence or scorn according to the
amount--and the company revel in their mean babble until it is time to
go to another place and pull the character and the financial accounts
of somebody else to pieces. By luncheon time most of these useful
beings are a little affected in complexion and speech by the trifling
potations which wash down the scandal; but no one is intoxicated. To
be seen mastered by "drink" in the morning would cause a man to lose
caste; and, besides, if he said too much while his tongue was loose,
he would not be believed when next he set down a savoury mess for the
benefit of the company. Through all the talk of these wretched
entities, be it observed that money, money runs as a species of
key-note; the men may be coarse and servile, but a shrewd eye can
detect every sign of purse-pride. Let a gentleman of some standing
walk past a window where the grievous crew are wine-bibbing and
blabbing, and some one will say, "Carries hisself high enough, don't
he? He ain't got a thousand to fly with. I bet a bottle on it! Why,
me, or Jimmy there, or even old Billy Spinks, leaving out Harry, and
let alone the Doctor--any one on us could buy him out twelve times
over, and then have a bit of roast or biled for Sunday's dinner!" This
remark is received as a wise and trenchant tribute to the power of the
assembly, and they have more "drink" by way of self-gratulation. Those
poor "retired" men, and "independent" men, often go deeper and deeper
down the incline towards mental and moral degradation until they
become surprisingly repulsive specimens of humanity. In all their
dreary perambulations they rarely speak or hear an intelligent word;
they are amazingly ignorant concerning their country's affairs, and
their conceptions of politics are mostly limited to a broad general
belief that some particular statesman ought to be hanged.

As to the government of these quiet old places, there is much to be
said that is depressing. While men prate about the decay of trade and
the advance of poverty, how few people reflect on the snug fortunes
which are amassed in out-of-the-way corners! We hear of jobbery in the
metropolis, and jobbery in Government departments, but I take it that
the corporations of some little towns could give lessons in jobbery to
any corrupt official that ever plundered his countrymen. Some town
councils may be very briefly and accurately described as nests of
thieves. The thieves wear good clothes, go to church, and do not go to
prison--at least, the cases of detection are rare--but they are
thieves all the same. As a rule, no matter what a man's trade or
profession may be, he contrives to gather profit pretty freely when
once he joins the happy band who handle the community's purse. In some
cases the robbery is so barefaced and open that the particulars might
as well be painted on a monster board and hung up at the town cross;
but tradesmen, workmen, and others who have their living to make in
the town are terrorised, and they preserve a discreet silence in
public however much they may speak evil of dignities in private. As a
general rule, a show of decorum is kept up; yet I should think it
hardly possible for the average vestry or council to meet without an
interchange of winks among the members. John favours Tommy's tender
when Tommy contracts to horse all the corporation's water-carts,
dust-carts, and so forth; then Tommy is friendly when John wants to
sell his row of cottages to the municipality. If Tommy employs two
horses on a certain work and charges for twenty, then John and some
other backers support the transaction. Billy buys land to a heavy
extent, and refuses to build on it; houses are risky property, and
Billy can wait. An astute company meet at William's house and take
supper in luxurious Roman style; then James casually suggests that the
east end of the town is a disgrace to the council. Until the block of
houses in Blank Street is pulled down and a broad road is run straight
to join the main street, the place will be the laughingstock of
strangers. James is eloquent. How curious it is that the new road
which is to redeem the town from shame must run right over Billy's
building plots, and how very remarkable it is to think that the
corporation pays a swinging price for the precious land! Billy looks
more prosperous than ever; he sets up another horse, reduces rivals to
silence by driving forth in a new victoria, and becomes more and more
the familiar bosom friend of the bank manager. I might go on to give a
score of examples showing how innocent rate-payers are fleeced by
barefaced robbers, but the catalogue would be only wearisome. Let any
man of probity venture to force his way into one of these dens of
thieves and see how he will fare! It is a comic thing that the gangs
of jobbers consider that they have a prescriptive right to plunder at
large, and their air of aggrieved virtue when they are challenged by a
person whom they call an "interloper" is among the most droll and
humiliating farces that may be seen in life. The whole crew will make
a ferocious dead set at the intruder who threatens to pull their
quarry away from them; he will be coughed down or interrupted by
insulting noises, and he may esteem himself highly fortunate if he is
not asked to step outside and engage in single combat. Everything that
mean malignity can do to balk him will be done, and, unless he is a
very strong man physically and morally, the opposition will tire him
out. There is usually one dominant family in such towns--for the
possibility of making a heavy fortune by a brewery or tannery or
factory in these quiet places is far greater than any outsider might
fancy. The members of the ruling family and their henchmen arise in
their might to crush the insolent upstart who wants to see accounts
and vouchers: the chairman will rise and say, "Let me tell Mr. X. that
me and my family were old established inhabitants in this ancient
borough long before he came, and we'll be here long after he has gone
bankrupt. We don't require no strangers: the people in this borough
has always managed their own affairs, and by the help of Providence
they'll go on in the good old way in spite of any swell that comes
a-sniffin' and a-smellin' and a-pryin' and a-askin' for accounts about
this and that and the other; and I tell the gentleman plain, the
sooner this council sees his back the better they'll be pleased; so,
if he's not too thick in the skin, let him take a friendly hint and
take himself off." A withering onslaught like this is received with
tumultuous applause, and other speakers follow suit. It is seldom that
a man has nerve enough to stand such brutality from his hoggish
assailants, and the ring of jobbers are too often left to work their
will unchecked. Are such people fit for political power? Ask the
wretched rich man who indirectly buys the seat, and hear his record of
dull misery if he is inclined to be confidential. He does not like to
leave Parliament, and yet he knows he is merely a mark for the
licensed pickpocket; he is not regarded as a politician--he is a donor
of sundry subscriptions, and nothing more. The men in manufacturing
centres will return a poor politician and pay his expenses; but the
people in some quiet towns have about as much sentiment or loyalty as
they have knowledge; and they treat their member of Parliament as a
gentleman whose function it is to be bled, and bled copiously. A sorry
sight it is!

One very remarkable thing in these homes of quietness is the
marvellous power possessed by drink-sellers. These gentry form the
main links in a very tough chain, and they hang together with touching
fidelity; their houses are turned into scandal-shops, and they prosper
so long as they are ready to cringe with due self-abasement before the
magistrates. No refined gentleman who keeps himself to his own class
and refrains from meddling with politics could ever by any chance
imagine the airs of broad-blown impudence which are sometimes assumed
by ignorant and stupid boors who have been endowed with a license; and
assuredly no one would guess the extent of their political power
unless he had something to do with election business. The landlord of
fiction hardly exists in the quiet towns; there is seldom a smiling,
suave, and fawning Boniface to be seen; the influential drink-seller
is often an insolent familiar harpy who will speak of his own member
of Parliament as "Old Tom," and who airily ventures to call gentlemen
by their surnames. The man is probably so benighted in mind that he
knows nothing positive about the world he lives in; his manners are
hideous, his familiarity is loathsome, his assumptions of manly
independence are almost comic in their impudence; but he has his uses,
and he can influence votes of several descriptions. Thus he asserts
himself in detestable fashion; and people who should know better
submit to him. One electioneering campaign in a quiet town would give
a salutary lesson to any politician who resolutely set himself to
penetrate into the secret life of the society whose suffrages he
sought; he would learn why it is that the agents of all the factions
treat the drink-seller with deference.

So the queer existence of the tranquil place moves on; petty scandal,
petty thieving, petty jobbery, petty jealousy employ the energies of
the beings who inhabit the "good old town"--the borough is always good
and old--and a man with a soul who really tried to dwell in the moral
atmosphere of the community would infallibly be asphyxiated. Nowhere
are appearances so deceptive; nowhere do the glamour of antiquity and
the beauty of natural scenery draw the attention away from so vile a
centre. I could excuse any man who became a pessimist after a long
course of conversations in a sleepy old borough, for he would see that
a mildew may attack the human intelligence, and that the manners of a
puffy well-clad citizen may be worse than those of a Zulu Kaffir. The
indescribable coarseness and rudeness of the social intercourse, the
detestable forms of humour which obtain applause, the low distrust and
trickery are quite sufficient to make a sensitive man want to hide
himself away. If any one thinks I am too hard, he should try spending
six whole weeks in any town which is called good and old; if he does
not begin to agree with me about the end of the fifth week I am much
in error.



XXII.

THE SEA.


Is there anything new to say about it? Alas, have not all the poets
done their uttermost; and how should a poor prose-writer fare when he
enters a region where the monarchs of rhythm have proudly trodden? It
is audacious; and yet I must say that our beloved poets seem somehow
to fail in strict accuracy. Tennyson wanders and gazes and thinks; he
strikes out some immortal word of love or despair when the awful
influence of the ocean touches his soul; and yet he is not the poet
that we want. One or two of his phrases are pictorial and decisive--no
one can better them--and the only fault which we find with them is
that they are perhaps a little too exquisite. When he says, "And white
sails flying on the yellow sea," he startles us; but his picture done
in seven words is absolutely accurate. When he writes of "the scream
of the maddened beach," he uses the pathetic fallacy; but his science
is quite correct, for the swift whirling of myriads of pebbles does
produce a clear shrill note as the backdraught streams from the shore.
But, when he writes the glorious passion beginning, "Is that enchanted
moan only the swell Of the long waves that roll-in yonder bay?" we
feel the note of falsity at once--the swell does not moan, and the
poet only wanted to lead up to the expression of a mysterious ecstasy
of love. Again, the most magnificent piece of word-weaving in English
is an attempted description of the sea by a man whose command of a
certain kind of verse is marvellous. Here is the passage--

                           "The sea shone
  And shivered like spread wings of angels blown
  By the sun's breath before him, and a low
  Sweet gale shook all the foam-flowers of thin snow
  As into rainfall of sea-roses, shed
  Leaf by wild leaf in the green garden bed
  That tempests still and sea-winds turn and plough;
  For rosy and fiery round the running prow
  Fluttered the flakes and feathers of the spray
  And bloomed like blossoms cast by God away
  To waste on the ardent water; the wan moon
  Withered to westward as a face in swoon
  Death-stricken by glad tidings; and the height
  Throbbed and the centre quivered with delight
  And the deep quailed with passion as of love,
  Till, like the heart of a new-mated dove,
  Air, light, and wave seemed full of burning rest"--

and so on. Superb, is it not? And yet that noble strain of music gives
us no true picture of our dear, commonplace, terrible sea; it reminds
us rather of some gaudy canvas painted for the theatre. The lines are
glorious, the sense of movement and swing is conveyed, and yet--and
yet it is not the sea. We fancy that only the prose-poets truly
succeed; and the chief of them all--the matchless Mr. Clark
Russell--gets his most moving effects by portraying the commonplace
aspects of the water in a way that reminds people of things which they
noticed but failed to admire promptly. Mr. Russell's gospel is plain
enough; he watches minutely, and there is not a flaw of wind or a
cross-drift of spray that does not offer some new emotion to his quick
and sensitive soul.

I want all those who are now dwelling amid the shrewd sweetness of the
sea-air to learn how to gain simple pleasure from gazing on the
incessant changes that mark the face of the sea. The entertainment is
so cheap, so fruitful of lovely thought, so exhilarating, that I can
hardly keep my patience when I see those wretched men who carry a
newspaper to the beach on a glad summer morning, and yawn in the face
of the Divine spectacle of wave and cloud and limpid sky. Let no one
think that I picture the sea as always gladsome. Ah, no! I have seen
too much of storm and stress for that. On one awful night long ago, I
waited for hours watching waves that reared and thundered as if they
would charge headlong through the streets of the town. The white
crests nickered like flame, and below the crests the dreadful inky
bulge of each monster rolled on like doom--like death. Throughout the
mad night of tempest the guns from many distressed vessels rang out,
and I could see the violent sweep of the ships' lights as they were
hurled in wild arcs from crest to crest. Many and many a corpse lay
out on those sands in the morning; the bold, bronzed men stared with
awful glassy stare at the lowering sky; the little cabin-boy clasped
his fragment of wreckage as though it had been a toy, and smiled--oh,
so sweetly!--in spite of the cruel sand that filled his dead eyes.
There was turmoil enough out at sea, for the steadily northerly drift
was crossed by a violent roll from the east, and these two currents
were complicated in their movement by a rush of water that came like a
mill-race from the southward. Imagine a great city tossed about by a
monstrous earthquake that first dashes the streets against each other,
and then flings up the ruins in vast rolls; that may give some idea of
that memorable storm. One poor, pretty girl saw her husband gallantly
trying to make the harbour. Long, long had she waited for him, and day
by day had she tried to track the vessel's course; the smart barque
had gone round the Horn, and escaped from the perils of the Western
Ocean in dead winter, and now she was heaving convulsively as she
strove to run into harbour at home. Right and left the grey billows
hit her, and we could see her keel sometimes when the wan light of the
morning broke. The girl stared steadily, and her face was like that of
a corpse. The barque swung southward, and with the speed of a railway
engine rushed on to the stones; the pretty girl moaned, "Oh me!--oh
me!" She never saw her lad again until his battered body was in the
dead-house of the pier. A commonplace red-haired woman was in a
dreadful state of mind when she saw a large fishing-boat trying to run
for the harbour. Her husband and two sons were aboard, she said, so
she had reasons for anxiety. The boat was pitched about like a cork;
and presently one fearful sea fairly smashed her. The red-haired woman
fell down upon the sand, and lay there moaning.

Assuredly I am not inclined to imitate the Cockney frivolity of Barry
Cornwall, who never went to sea in his life, but who nevertheless
carolled the most absurdly joyous lays regarding the ocean, which made
him ill even when he merely looked at it. No; the true sea-lover knows
that there are terror and mystery and horror as well as joyousness in
the varied moods of the treacherous, remorseless, magnificent ocean.
Those who read this may see the unspeakable beauty of the opaline and
ruby tints that flame on the water when the sunset sinks behind the
Isle of Thanet. The bay at Westgate will shine like mother-of-pearl,
and the glassy rollers at the horizon will be incarnardined. That is a
splendid sight! Then those who are in Devon may pass sleepy days in
gazing on a vivid piercing blue that is pure and brilliant as the blue
of the Bay of Naples. In the lochs to the West of Scotland the
swarming tourists watch that riot of colour that marks the times of
sunrise and sunset. All these spectacles of suave magnificence are
imposing; but, for my own part, I love the grey water on the East
Coast, and I like the low level dunes where the bent grass gleams and
the sea-wind comes whispering "Forget!" All the gay days of the
holiday-places, all the gorgeous sunsets, the imperial noondays, the
solemn, glittering midnights are imposing, but the wise traveller
learns to see the beauty of all the moods of the wild changing sea.
Observe the commonplace man's attitude on a grey cheerless day, when
the sky hangs low and the rollers are leaden. "A beast of a day!" he
remarks in his elegant fashion; and he goes and grumbles in the vile
parlour of his lodging-house, where the stuffy odour of aged chairs
and the acrid smell of clumsy cookery contend for mastery. Yet outside
on the moaning levels of the dim sea there are mysterious and ghostly
sights that might move the heart of the veriest stockbroker if he
would but force his mind to consider them. Look at that dark tremulous
stream that seems to flow over the sullen sea. It is but a cat's-paw
of wind, and yet it looks like a river flowing in silence from some
fairy region. The boats start out of the haze and glide away into
dimness after having shown their phantom shadows for a few seconds;
the cry of the gull rings weirdly; the simulated agony of the staunch
bird's scream makes one somehow think of tortured souls; you think of
dim strange years, you feel the dim strange weather, you remember the
still strange land unvexed of sun or stars, "where Lancelot rides
clanking through the haze." Ah, who dares talk of a commonplace or
disagreeable sea? I used the phrase once, but I well know that the
"commonplace" day offers sights of sober grandeur to the eyes of the
wise man. Happy those who have royal, serene days, lovely sunsets,
quiet gloamings full of stars; happy also those who see but the
enormous hurly-burly of mixed grey waves, and hear the harsh song of
the wild wind that blows from the fields at night!

Autumn is a great time for the wild Sea Rovers who gather at Cowes and
Southampton. The Rover may always be recognised on shore--and,
by-the-way, he stays ashore a good deal--for his nautical clothing is
spick and span new, the rake of his glossy cap is unspeakably jaunty,
and the dignity of his gesture when he scans the offing with a trusty
telescope is without parallel in history. When the Rover walks, you
observe a slight roll which no doubt is acquired during long
experience of tempestuous weather. The tailors and bootmakers gaze on
the gallant Rover with joy and admiration, for does he not carry the
triumphs of their art on his person? He roughs it, does this bold
sea-dog--none of your fine living for him! His saucy barque lies at
her moorings amid the wild breakers of Cowes or "the Water," and he
sleeps rocked in the cradle of the deep, when he is not tempted to
sojourn in his frugal hotel. The hard life on the briny ocean suits
him, and he leaves all luxuries to the swabs who stay on shore. If the
water is not in a violent humour, the Rover enjoys his humble
breakfast about nine. He tries kidneys, bloaters, brawn, and other
rude fare; he never uses a gold coffee-pot--humble silver suffices;
and even the urn is made of cheap metal. At eleven the hardy fellow
recruits his strength with a simple draught of champagne, for which he
never pays more than twelve pounds a dozen, and then four stalwart
seamen row him to the landing-place. He criticises the mighty ocean
from the balcony of the club until the middle of the afternoon, and
then he prepares for a desperate deed of daring. The Rover goes to the
landing-place and scans the gulf that yawns between him and his
vessel. Two hundred yards at least must be covered before the Rover
can bound on to the deck of his taut craft. Two hundred yards! And
there is a current that might almost sweep a tea-chest out to sea! But
the Rover's steady eye takes in the whole view, and his very nautical
mind enables him to lay plans with wisdom. He looks sternly at his gig
with the four stout oarsmen; his simple carpets are all right; his
cushions, his pillows, his cigar-box, his silken rudder-lines are all
as they should be. The Rover takes his determination, and a dark look
settles on his manly countenance. For one brief instant he thinks of
all he leaves behind him; his dear home rises before his eyes, the
voices of his loved ones thrill in his ear, and his bronzed hand is
raised to dash away the tear that starts unbidden. But there must be
no weakness. Rovers have their feelings, but they must subdue them
when two hundred yards have to be traversed over waves that are nearly
two inches high. The Rover steps into his boat, resolved to do or die.
Now or never! He puts one cushion behind his athletic back, he lights
a Regalia--so cool are genuine heroes in peril--and shoots away over
the yeasty billows. For forty seconds the fierce struggle lasts; the
bow of the boat is wetted to a height of four inches; but
dauntlessness and skill conquer all difficulties, and in forty seconds
and a half the unscathed Rover stands on his quarter-deck.

Sometimes when the captain is in a good humour, the Rover goes for a
sail, and he takes as many as three ladies with him. This statement
may be doubted, but only by those who do not know what British courage
is really like. Yes, the Rover sometimes sails as much as ten miles in
the course of one trip, and he may be as much as three hours away from
his moorings. Moreover, I have known a good-natured skipper who
allowed the roving proprietor of a yacht to take as many as six trips
in the course of a single season. Observe the cheapness of this
amusement, and reflect thankfully on the simplicity of taste which now
distinguishes the wealthy Rovers of the South Coast. The yacht costs
about two thousand pounds to begin with, and one thousand pounds per
year is paid to keep her up. Thus it seems that a Rover may have six
sails at the rate of one hundred and sixty-six pounds thirteen
shillings and fourpence per sail! So long as the breed of Cowes Rovers
exists we need have no fears concerning our naval supremacy. Indeed
competent nautical men think that, if any band of enemies, no matter
how ferocious they might be, happened to see a thorough-bred Cowes
Rover equipped for his perilous afternoon voyage of two hundred yards,
they would instantly lose heart and flee in terror. Such is the
majesty of a true seaman. I hope that all my readers may respect the
Rover when they see him. Remember that his dinner rarely numbers more
than six courses, and he cannot always ice his champagne owing to the
commotion of the elements. If such privations do not win pity from
judicious readers, then, alas, I have written in vain! Those who read
this will often be surrounded by strolling Rovers. Treat the reckless
daring salts with respect, for they live hard and risk much.



XXIII.

SORROW.


I have never been disposed to be niggard of cheerfulness; for it has
always seemed to me that one of the duties of a writer is to supply
solace in a world where, amid all the beauty, so many things seem to
go wrong. But, while I would fain banish cankered melancholy, sour
ill-humour, cynicism, and petty complaining, I have never sought to
disturb those who are mastered for a time by the sacred sorrow which
takes possession of the greatest and purest and gentlest souls at
times. There have been great men who were joyous--and they bore their
part very bravely on earth; but the greatest of all have gained their
strength in Sorrow's service. It matters not which of the kings
amongst men we choose, we find that his kingship was only gained and
kept after he had passed through the school of grief. It is a glad
world for most of us--else indeed we might wish that one cataclysm
would overwhelm us all; but our masters, those who teach us and guide
us, have all been under the dominion of a nameless something which we
can hardly call Melancholy, but which is a kind of divine sad sister
to Melancholy. There is no discontent in the sorrow of the great ones;
they are not querulous, and none of them ever sought to avenge their
subdued grief on the persons of their fellow-creatures. The kings bear
their burden with dignity; they love to see their human kindred light
of heart; but they cannot be light-hearted in turn; for the burden and
mystery of the world are ever with them, and their energy is all
needed to help them in conquering pettiness of soul, so that by no
weak example may they dishearten those who are weak. I am almost
convinced that the man who composed the inscription on the emerald
which is said to have reached Tiberius must have seen the Founder of
our religion--or, at least, must have known some one who had seen Him.
"None hath seen Him smile; but many have seen Him weep." It is so like
what we should have expected! The days of the joyous pagan gods were
passing away, the shadows of tedium and of life-weariness were
drooping over a world that was once filled with thoughtless
merriment--and then came One who preached the Gospel of Sorrow. He
preached that gospel, and a faithless world at first refused to hear
Him; but the Divine depth of sorrow drew the highest of souls; and
soon the world left the religion of pride and vainglory and pleasure
to embrace the religion of Pity.

The sorrow of the weary King Ecclesiast has never seemed to me
altogether noble; it is piercing in its insight--and I understand how
youths who are coming to manhood find in the awful chapters a savage
contrast to the joys of existence. Young men who have reached the
strange time of discontent through which all of us pass are always
profoundly affected by the Preacher; and they are too apt to pervert
the most poignant of his words; but men who have really thought and
suffered can never help feeling that there is a species of ingratitude
in all his splendid lamentations. Why should the mighty king have
bidden the youth to rejoice after so many awful words had been penned
to show the end of all rejoicing? Every pleasure on earth the king had
enjoyed, and he had drained life's chalice so far down that he tasted
the bitterness of the lees. But had he not savoured joy to the full?
Was there one gift showered by the lavish bounty of God which had not
fallen on the chosen of fortune? We revere the intellect of the man
who chastens our souls with his sombre discourse; but I could wish he
had veiled his despair, and had told us of the ravishing delights
which he had known. No; the Preacher is great, but his sorrow is not
the highest. I give my chief reverence to the men who let their sorrow
pass into central fire that blazes into deeds; I revere the men and
women who bear their yoke and utter never a word of complaint; on them
sorrow falls like a pure soft snow that leaves no stain.

Of late, the nations of the world have been thrilled by the deeds of
one humble man who embraced Sorrow and let her claim him for the best
part of his life. I cannot bear to think much of the tragedy of
Damien's life--and I shall not dream of endeavouring to find excuses,
or of declaring that life an essentially happy one. The good Father
chose Grief and clave to her as a bride; he chose the sights and
sounds of grief as his surroundings and he wrought on silently under
his fearful burden of holy sorrow until the release was given. He
spoke no boastful words of contentment save when he thought of the
rest that was coming for him; he gallantly accepted the crudest and
foulest conditions of his dreadful environment, and he uttered no
craving for sympathy, no wish for personal aid. If we think of that
immortal priest's choice, we understand, perhaps for the first time,
what the religion of Sorrow truly means. On the lonely rock the meek,
strong soul spent its forces; joy, friendly faces, laughter of sweet
children, healthy and kindly companions--there were none of these. The
sea moaned round with many voices, and the sky bent over the lonely
disciple; the melancholy of the sea, the melancholy of the changeless
sky, the monotony of silence, must all have weighed on his heart. In
the daytime there were only sights whereat strong men might swoon
away--pain, pain, pain all round, and every complication of horror;
but the Child of Sorrow bore all. Then came the sentence of death. For
ten weary years the hero had to wait in loneliness while the Destroyer
slowly enfolded him in its arms. We pity the monster who dies a swift
death after his life of wickedness has been forfeited; we are vexed if
a criminal endures one minute of suffering; but the noble one on that
sad isle watched his doom coming for ten years, and never flinched
from his task during that harrowing time. It makes the heart grow
chill, despite the pride we feel in our lost brother. The religion of
Sorrow has indeed conquered; and Father Damien has set the seal to its
triumph.

But around us there are others who have composedly accepted sorrow as
their portion. We have, it may be, felt so much joy in living, we have
been so pierced through and through in every nerve and every faculty
of the mind with pure rapture during our pilgrimage, that we would
fain let all dwellers on earth share the blessedness that we have
known. It is not to be; the gospel of pity must needs claim some of
its disciples wholly--and sorrow is their portion. Perhaps under all
their sadness there lurks a joy that passes all known to slighter
souls--I hope so; I hope that they cannot be permitted to endure what
Dante endured. In the purlieus of our cities these resigned, resolute
spirits expend their forces, and their unostentatious figures, passing
from home to home where poor men lie, offer a lesson to the petty
souls of some whose riches and worldly powers are by no means petty.
Ah, it is lovely to see those merciful sisters of the fallen or
falling--good to see the men who help them! Need we pity them? They
would say "No"; but we must, for they live hard. A delicate lady
quietly sets to work in a filthy tenement; her white hands raise up
and cleanse the foulest of the poor little infants who swarm in the
slums; she calmly performs menial offices for the basest and most
ungrateful of the poor--and no one who has not lived among those
degraded folk can tell what ingratitude is really like. Day after day
that lady toils; and the only word of thanks she receives is perhaps a
whine from some woman who wishes to cajole her into bestowing some
gift. These sisters of Sorrow do not need thanks any more than they
need pity; they frankly recognise the baseness of ill-reared human
nature, and they go on trustfully in the hope that maybe things may
grow slowly better. They meet death calmly; they hide their own
sorrow, and even their pity is disciplined into usefulness. The men of
the good company are the same. They have resigned all the lighter joys
of earth, they are calm, and they let the unutterable sadness of the
world spur them on only to quiet efforts after righteousness. Think
what it must be for a man to leave the warm encompassment of the
cheerful day and pass composedly to a gloom which is relieved only by
the inner light that shines from the soul! Were not the hearts of the
heroes pure, they must grow cynical as they looked on the evil mass of
roguery, idleness, foulness, and cunning that seethes around them. But
they have passed the portal beyond which peace is found; and the
sorrow wherewith they gaze on their hapless fellow-men is tinctured
neither by scorn nor weariness. If there is no reward for them, then
we all of us have cause for bitter disappointment. But the forlorn
hope of goodness never trouble themselves about rewards; they face the
shadows of doom only as they face the squalor of their daily
martyrdom. A certain philosopher said that he could not endure so
sombre an existence because his nerves and sinews were frail and the
pain would have mastered him; but he gladly owned that the enthusiasts
had conquered his admiration and taken it for their permanent
possession. The cool keen eye of the scoffer divined the strength of
sorrow, and he admired the men whom he durst not imitate.

There are others who pass through life enwrapped by the veil of a
noble sorrow; and, when I see them, I am minded to wonder whether any
one was ever the worse for encountering the touch of the chilly
Mistress whom most children of earth dread. When I think the matter
over I become convinced that no one who has once felt a noble and
gentle sorrow can ever become wholly bad; and I fancy that even the
bad, when once a real sorrow has pierced them, have a chance of
becoming good. So in strange ways the things that seem hard to bear
steadily tend to make the world better. When the bell tolls and the
brown earth gapes and the form of the loved one is passed from sight
for ever, it is bitter--ah, how bitter! But the chastening touch of
Time takes away the bitterness, and there is left only an intense
gentleness which seeks to soothe those who suffer; and the mother
whose babe seemed to take her very heart away when it went into the
Darkness can pity the other bereaved ones; so that her soul is exalted
through its grief. The poet is thought by some to have uttered a mere
aimless whim in words when he said--

      "To Sorrow
      I bade good-morrow,
  And thought to leave her far away behind;
      But cheerly, cheerly,
      She loves me dearly--
  She is so constant to me and so kind.
      I would deceive her,
      And so leave her;
  But, ah, she is so constant and so kind!"

It sounds like a whim; but it is more than that to those who have been
in the depths of grief; for they know that out of their affliction
grew either a solemn scorn of worldly ills or a keen wish to be
helpful to others.

I have no desire to utter a paradox when I say that all the world
holds of best has sprung from sorrow. Shakspere smiles and is still. I
love the smiles of his wiser years; but they would never have been so
calmly content, so cheering with all their inscrutable depth, had not
the man been weighed down with some dark sorrow before his soul was
rescued and purified. I do not care for him when he is grinning and
merry. He could play the buffoon when he willed--and a very unpleasant
buffoon he was in his day; but Sorrow claimed him, and he came forth
purified to speak to us by Prospero's lips. He had his struggle to
compass resignation, he even seems to have felt himself degraded, and
there is almost a weak complaint in that terrible sonnet, "No longer
mourn for me when I am dead;" but his heart-strings held; he kept his
dignity at the last, and he gave us the splendours of "The Tempest." I
have no manner of superstition about the great poet--indeed I feel
sure that at one time of his life he was what we call a bad man, his
self-reproaches hinting all too plainly at forms of wickedness, moral
wickedness, which pass far beyond the ordinary vice which society
condemns--but I am sure that he became as good as he was serene; and I
like to trace the phases of his sorrow up to the time of his triumph.

Of late it has been the fashion to talk about Byron's theatrical
sorrow. One much-advertised critic went so far as to speak of "Byron's
vulgar selfishness." It might have been supposed that incontestable
evidence had come before him; but a careful perusal of the documents
will prove that, though Byron was as selfish as most other men during
his mad misguided youth, yet, after sorrow had blanched his noble
head, he cast off all that was vile in him and emerged from the
fire-discipline as the most helpful and utterly unselfish of men. His
last calm gentle letter to the woman who drove him out of England is
simply perfect in its dignified humility; and the poorest creature
that ever snarled may see from that letter that grief had turned the
wayward fierce poet into a gentle and forbearing man who had suffered
so much that he could not find it in his heart to inflict suffering on
his worst enemy. I call the Byron of the Abbey a bad man; the Byron
whose home became the home of pure charity--charity done in
secret--was a good man.

Sorrow may appear repulsive and men bid her "Avaunt!" Yet out of
sorrow all that is noblest and highest in poesy and art has arisen;
and all that is noblest in life has been achieved by the
sorrow-stricken. Joy has given us much; and those who have once known
what real earthly joy means should be content to pass unrepining to
the Shades; but Sorrow's gifts are priceless, and no man can appraise
their worth. Even poor Carlyle's sorrow, which was oftentimes aught
but noble, if all tales be true, was sufficient to endow us with the
most splendid of modern books. It is strange to see how that crabbed
man with the passionately-loving heart keeps harping on the
beneficence of sorrow. Once he spoke of "Sorrow's fire-whips"; but
usually his strain is far, far different. He cleaves to the noble and
sorrowful figures that crowd his sombre galleries; and I do not know
that he ever gives more than a light and careless word of praise to
any but his melancholy heroes. Cromwell, Abbot Sampson, the bold
Ziethen, Danton, Mirabeau, Mahomet, Burns, "the great, melancholy
Johnson," and even Napoleon and Luther--all are sorrowful, all are
beautiful. Peace to them, and peace to the strong soul that made them
all live again for the world!



XXIV.

DEATH.


The air of mystery which most of us assume when we speak about the
great change that marks the bound of our mortal progress has
engendered a kind of paralysing terror which makes ordinary people
shudder at the notion of bodily extinction. We are glad enough to
enjoy the beautiful things of life, we welcome the rapture of love,
the delight of the sun, the promise of spring, the glory of strength;
and yet forsooth we must needs tremble at the grand beneficent close
which rounds off our earthly strivings and completes one stage in our
everlasting progress. Why should we not speak as frankly of Death as
we do of love and life? If men would only be content to let their
minds play freely around all the facts that concern our entrance, our
progress, our exit, then existence would be relieved from the presence
of terror. The Greeks were more rational than we are; they took the
joys of life with serenity and gladness, and they accepted the mighty
transformation with the same serenity. On their memorial-stones there
is no note of mourning. A young man calmly bids adieu to his friends
and prepares to pass with dignity from their presence; a gallant
horseman exults in the knowledge that he once rejoiced in life--"Great
joy had I on earth, and now I that came from the earth return to the
earth." Such are the carvings and inscriptions that show the wise,
brave spirit of the ancients. But we, with our civilisation, behave
somewhat like those Indian tribes who keep one mysterious word in
their minds, and try to avoid mentioning it throughout their lives.
Even in familiar conversation it is amusing to hear the desperate
attempts made to paraphrase the word which should come naturally to
the lips of all steadfast mortals. "If anything should happen to me,"
says the timid citizen, when he means, "If I should die"; and it would
be possible to collect a score more of roundabout phrases with which
men try to cheat themselves. It is right that we should be in love
with life, for that is the supreme gift; but it is wrong to think with
abhorrence of the close of life, for the same Being who gave us the
thrilling rapture of consciousness bestows the boon of rest upon the
temple of the soul. "He giveth His beloved sleep," and therein He
proves His mighty tenderness.

Strange it is to see how inevitably men and women are drawn to think
and speak of the great Terror when they are forced to muse in
solitude. We flirt with melancholy; we try all kinds of dismal
coquetries to avoid dwelling on our inexorable and beneficent doom;
yet, if we look over the written thoughts of men, we find that more
has been said about Death than even about love. The stone-cold
comforter attracts the poets, and most of them, like Keats, are half
in love with easeful death. The word that causes a shudder when it is
spoken in a drawing-room gives a sombre and satisfying pleasure when
we dwell upon it in our hours of solitude. Sometimes the poets are
palpably guilty of hypocrisy, for they pretend to crave for the
passage into the shades. That is unreal and unhealthy; the wise man
neither longs for death nor dreads it, and the fool who begs for
extinction before the Omnipotent has willed that it should come is a
mere silly blasphemer. But, though the men who put the thoughts of
humanity into musical words are sometimes insincere, they are more
often grave and consoling. I know of two supreme expressions of dread,
and one of these was written by the wisest and calmest man that ever
dwelt beneath the sun. Marvellous it is to think that our most sane
and contented poet should have condensed all the terror of our race
into one long and awful sentence. Perhaps Shakspere was stricken with
momentary pity for the cowardice of his fellows, and, out of pure
compassion, gave their agony a voice. That may be; at any rate, the
fragment of "Measure for Measure" in which the cry of loathing and
fear is uttered stands as the most striking and unforgettable saying
that ever was conceived in the brain of man. Everybody knows the
lines, yet we may once more touch our souls with solemnity by quoting
them:

  "Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
  To lie in cold obstruction, and to rot;
  This sensible warm motion to become
  A kneaded clod, and the delighted spirit
  To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
  In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
  To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
  And blown with restless violence round about
  The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
  Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
  Imagine howling!--'tis too horrible!
  The weariest and most loathed worldly life
  That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment
  Can lay on nature is a paradise
  To what we fear of death."

There is no more to be said in that particular line of reflection; the
speech is flawless in its gruesome power, and every piercing word
seems to leap from a shuddering soul. The other utterance which is fit
to be matched with Shakspere's was written by Charles Lamb.
"Whatsoever thwarts or puts me out of my way brings death into my
mind. All partial evils, like humours, run into that capital
plague-sore. I have heard some profess an indifference to life. Such
hail the end of their existence as a port of refuge, and speak of the
grave as of some soft arms in which they may slumber as on a pillow.
Some have wooed death--but 'Out upon thee,' I say, 'thou foul, ugly
phantom! I detest, abhor, execrate thee, as in no instance to be
excused or tolerated, but shunned as a universal viper, to be branded,
proscribed, and spoken evil of! In no way can I be brought to digest
thee, thou thin, melancholy _Privation_. Those antidotes prescribed
against the fear of thee are altogether frigid and insulting, like
thyself.'"

Poor Charles's wild humour flickers over this page like lambent flame;
yet he was serious at heart without a doubt, and his whirling words
rouse an echo in many a breast to this day. But both Shakspere and
Lamb had their higher moments. Turn to "Cymbeline," and observe the
glorious triumph of the dirge which rings like the magnificent
exultation of Beethoven's Funeral March--

  "Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
    Nor the furious winter's rages;
  Thou thy worldly task hast done,
    Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
  Golden lads and girls all must,
    As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

  Fear no more the frown o' the great--
    Thou art past the tyrant's stroke;
  Care no more to clothe and eat--
    To thee the reed is as the oak;
  The sceptre, learning, physic, must
    All follow this, and come to dust."

Here in rhythmic form we have the thought of the mighty apostle--"O
Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" Shakspere
was too intensely human to be absolved from mortal weakness; but, in
the main, he took the one view which I should be glad to see cherished
by all. His words sometimes make us pause, as we pause when the violet
flashes of summer lightning fleet across the lowering dome of the sky;
but, in the end, he always has his words of cheer, and we gather heart
from reading the strongest and most perfect writer the earth has
known. Turn where we will, we find that all of our race--emperor,
warrior, poet, clown, fair lady, innocent child--are given to dwelling
on the same thought. It is our business to seek out those who have
spoken with resignation and dauntlessness, and to leave aside all
those who have only affectations of bravery or affectations of horror
to give us. Here is a beautiful word:--

  "The ways of Death are soothing and serene,
  And all the words of Death are grave and sweet;
  Approaching ever, soft of hands and feet,
  She beckons us, and strife and song have been.
  A summer night, descending cool and green
  And dark on daytime's dust and stress and heat,
  The ways of Death are soothing and serene,
  And all the words of Death are grave and sweet.
  O glad and sorrowful, with triumphant mien
  And hopeful fancies look upon and greet
  This last of all your lovers, and to meet
  Her kiss mysterious all your spirit lean!
  The ways of Death are soothing and serene!"

Even Shakspere hardly bettered that!

I should not like to see men begin to encourage the recklessness of
the desperado, nor should I like to see women affect the brazen
abandonment of the Amazon. I only care to see our fellow-creatures
rise above pettiness, so that they may accept all God's ordinances
with unvarying gratitude. Is it not pitiful to see a grown man
trembling and waving his hand with angry disgust when the holy course
of Nature is spoken of with gravity and composed resolution? I have
seen a stout, strong man who had amassed enormous wealth fly into
pettish rage like a spoiled child when a friend spoke to him about the
final disposal of his riches. Like a silly girl, this powerful
millionaire went into tremors when the inevitable was named in his
ear, for he had imbibed all the cowardly conventions that tend to
poison our existence. He died a hundred deaths in his time, and much
of his life was passed in such misery as only cultivated poltroonery
can breed. Wicked wags knew that they could frighten him at any
moment; they would greet him cordially, and then suddenly assume an
air of deep concern. The poor plutocrat's face changed instantly, and
he would ask, "What is the matter?" The joker then made answer, "You
are a little flushed. You should rest." This was enough. The truant
imagination of the unhappy butt went far afield in search of terrors;
neither food, nor wine, nor the pleasures of the theatre could tempt
him, and he remained in a state of limpness until the natural buoyancy
of his spirits asserted itself. What a life! How much better would it
have been for this rich man had he trained himself to preserve General
Gordon's composure, even if he had bought that composure at the price
of his whole colossal fortune! Riches were useless to him, the sun
failed to cheer him, and his end was in truth a release from one
incessant torture.

Turn from this hare-hearted citizen, and think of our hero, the pride
of England, the flower of the human race--Charles Gordon. With his
exquisite simplicity, Gordon confesses in one of his letters that he
used to feel frightened when he went under fire, for the superstitious
dread of death had been grafted on his mind when he was young. But he
learned the fear of God and lost all other fear; he accustomed himself
to the idea of parting with the world and its hopes and labours, and
in all the long series of letters which he sent home from the Soudan
during his period of rule we find him constantly speaking quietly,
joyously about the event which carries horror to the hearts of weak
men--"My Master will lay me aside and use some other instrument when I
have fulfilled His purpose. I have no fear of death, for I know I
shall exchange much weariness for perfect peace." So spoke the hero,
the just and faithful Knight of God. He was simple, with the
simplicity of a flawless diamond; he was reverent, he was faithful
even to the end, and he was incredibly dauntless. Why? Because he had
faced the last great problem with all the force of his noble manhood,
and the thought of his translation to another world woke in his
gallant soul images of beauty and holiness. Why should the meanest and
most unlearned of us all not strive to follow in the footsteps of the
hero? Millions on millions have passed away, and they now know all
things; the cessation of human life is as common and natural as the
drawing of our breath; why then should we invest a natural, blessed,
beautiful event with murky lines of wrath and dread? The pitiful
wretch who flaunts his braggart defiance before the eyes of men and
shrieks his feeble contempt of the inevitable is worthy only of our
quiet scorn; but the grateful soul that bows humbly to the stroke of
fate and accepts death as thankfully as life is in all ways worthy of
admiration and vivid respect. We are prone to talk of our "rights,"
and some of us have a very exalted idea of the range which those
precious "rights" should cover. One of our poets goes so far as to
inquire in an amiable way, "What have we done to thee, O Death?" He
insinuates that Death is very unkind to ply the abhorred shears over
such nice, harmless creatures as we are. Let us, for manhood's sake,
have done with puerility; let us recognise that our "rights" have no
existence, and that we must perforce accept the burdens of life,
labour, and death that are laid upon us. We can do no good by
nourishing fears, by encouraging silly conventionalities, by shirking
the bald facts of life; and we should gently, joyfully, trustfully
look our fate in the face and fear nothing. Life will never be the
joyous pilgrimage that it ought to be until men have learned to crush
their pride, their doubts, their terrors, and have also learned to
regard the beautiful sleep as a holy and fitting reward only to be
rightly enjoyed by those who live purely, righteously, hopefully in
the sight of God and man.



XXV.

JOURNALISM.


When the mystic midnight passes, the bustle of Fleet Street slackens;
but on each side of the thoroughfare hundreds of workers with hand and
brain are toiling with eager intensity. In tall buildings here and
there the lights glitter on every floor, and throw their long shafts
through the gloom; not much activity is plainly visible, and yet
somehow the merest novice feels that there is a throb in the air, and
that some mysterious forces are working around him. Hurrying
messengers dash by, stray cabs rush along with a low rumble and sharp
clash of hoofs. But it is not in the street that the minds and bodies
of men are obviously in action; go inside one of the mighty palatial
offices, and you find yourself in the midst of such a hive of
marvellous industry as the world has never seen before. On one journal
as many as four hundred and fifty or five hundred men are all
labouring for dear life; every one is at high pressure, from the
silent leader-writer to the fussy swift-footed messenger. In that one
building is concentrated a great estate, which yields a revenue that
exceeds that of some principalities; it is a large nerve-centre, and
myriads of fibres connect it with every part of the globe; or, say, it
is like some miraculous eye, which sees in all directions and is
indifferent to distance. Go into one quiet, soft-carpeted room, and
certain small glittering machines flash in the bright light. "Click,
click--click, click!"--long strips of tape are softly unwound and fall
in slack twisted piles. One of those machines is printing off a long
letter from Berlin, another is registering news from Vienna, and by a
third news from Paris comes as easily and rapidly as from Shoreditch;
subdued men take the tapes, expand and make fluent the curt, halting
phrases of the foreign correspondents, and pass the messages swiftly
away to the printers. From America, Australia, India, China, the items
of news pour in, and are scrutinised by severe sub-editors; and those
experts calculate to a fraction of an inch what space can be
judiciously spared for each item. If Parliament is sitting, the relays
of messengers arrive with batches of manuscript; and, when an
important debate is proceeding, the steady influx of hundreds of
scribbled sheets is enormous. A four hours' speech from such an orator
as Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Chamberlain contains, say, thirty thousand
words. Imagine the area of paper covered by the reporters! But such a
speech would rarely come in late at night, and the men can usually
handle an important oration by an eminent speaker in a way that is
leisurely by comparison. The slips are distributed with lightning
rapidity; each man puts his little batch into type, the fragments are
placed in their queer frame, and presently the readers are poring over
the long, damp, and odorous proof-sheets. There is no very great hurry
in the early part of the evening; but, as the small hours wear away,
the strain is feverish in its poignancy. There is no noise, no
confusion; each man knows his office, and fulfils it deftly. But such
great issues are involved, that the nervousness of managers, printers,
sub-editors--every one--may easily be understood. Suppose that a very
important division is to be taken in Parliament; the minutes roll by,
and the news is still delayed. Some kind of comment must be made on
the result of the debate, and an able, swift writer scrawls off his
column of phrases with furious speed. Then that article must be put
into type; a model of the type must be taken on a sheet of
papier-mâché, the melted metal must be poured into the paper mould,
the resulting curved block must be clamped on to a cylinder of the
waiting machine, and all this must be done with strict regard to the
value of seconds. A delay of half a minute might prevent the manager
from sending his piles of journals away by the early train, and that
would be a calamity too fearful to be dreamed of. In one great
newspaper-office ten machines are all set going together, and an
eleventh is kept ready in case of accident. The ten whizzing cylinders
print off the papers, and an impression of a quarter of a million is
soon thrown out, folded, and piled ready for distribution. But imagine
what a loss of one minute means! Truly the agitation of the officials
at an awkward pinch is singularly excusable, and many a hard word is
levelled at pertinacious talkers who insist on thrusting themselves
upon the House at a time when the country is waiting with wild
eagerness for momentous tidings. The long line of carts waits in the
street, the speedy ponies rattle off, and soon the immense building is
all but still. Comfortable people who have their journal punctually
handed in at a convenient hour in the morning are apt to think lightly
of the raging effort, the inconceivably complicated organisation, the
colossal expense needed to produce that sheet which is flung away at
the close of each day. A blunder of the most trivial kind might throw
everything out of gear; but stern discipline and ubiquitous precaution
render the blunder almost an impossibility. Sometimes you may observe
in a paper like the _Times_ one column which bristles with
typographical errors. All the slips are clustered in one place, and
the reason is that the few minutes necessary for proper revision could
not be spared. Good workmen are set on at the last moment, and an
attempt is made to set up the final scraps of matter with as few
errors as possible; but little mistakes will creep in, and people who
do not know the startling exigencies of the printer's trade are apt to
express scornful wonder. Very comic have been the errors made during
the recent furious and prolonged debates, for the frantic conflicts in
the House were extended far into the small hours. One excited orator,
in closing a debate, dropped into poetry, and remarked that a certain
catastrophe came "like a bolt from the blue"; a daily journal of vast
circulation described the event as coming "like a bolt from the
flue"--which was a very sad instance of bathos. The amazing thing is
that such blunders should be so rare as to be memorable.

What a strange population who toil thus at night for our pleasure and
instruction, and who reverse the order of ordinary people's lives!
They are worth knowing, these swift, dexterous, laborious people.
First of all comes the great personage--the editor. In old days simple
persons imagined the conductor of the _Times_ perched upon a majestic
throne, whence he hurled his bolts in the most light-hearted manner.
We know better now; yet it must be owned that the editor of a great
journal is a very important personage indeed. The true editor is born
to his function; if he has not the gift, no amount of drilling will
ever make him efficient. Many of the outside public still picture the
editor as wielding his pen valiantly, and stabbing enemies or
heartening friends with his own hands. As a matter of fact, the
editor's function is not to write; the best of the profession never
touch a pen, excepting to write a brief note of instruction or to send
a private letter. The editor is the brain of the journal; and, in the
case of a daily paper, his business is not so much to instruct the
public as to find out what the public want to say, and say it for them
in the clearest and most forcible way possible. Imagine a general
commanding amid the din of a great battle. He must remember the number
of his forces, the exact disposition of every battalion, the peculiar
capabilities of his principal subordinates, and he must also note
every yard of the ground. He hears that a battalion has been repulsed
with heavy slaughter at a point one mile away, and the officer in
command cannot repeat his assault without reinforcements. He must
instantly decide as to whether the foiled battalion is merely to hold
its ground or to advance once more. Orderlies reach him from all
points of the compass; he must note where the enemy's fire slackens or
gains power; he must be ready to use the field-telegraph with
unhesitating decision, for a minute's hesitation may lose the battle
and ruin his force. In short, the general plays a vast game which
makes the complications of chess seem simple. The editor, in his
peaceful way, has to perform daily a mental feat almost equal in
complexity to that of the warrior. Public opinion usually has strong
general tendencies; but there are hundreds of cross-currents, and the
editor must allow for all. Suppose that a public agitation is begun,
and that a great national movement seems to be in progress; then the
editor must be able to tell instinctively how far the movement is
likely to be strong and lasting. If he errs seriously, and regards an
agitation as trivial which is really momentous, then his journal
receives a blow which may cripple its influence during months. One
great paper was ruined some twenty years ago by a blunder, and about
one hundred thousand pounds were deliberately thrown away through
obstinate folly. The perfect editor, like the great general, seizes
every clue that can guide him, and makes his final movement with alert
decision. No wonder that the work of editing wears men out early. The
great _Times_ editor, Mr. Delane, went about much in society; he
always appeared to be calm, untroubled, inscrutable, though the
factions were warring fiercely and bitterness had reached its height.
He scarcely ever missed his mark; and, when he strolled into his
office late in the evening, his plan was ready for the morrow's
battle. At five the next morning his well-known figure, wrapped in the
queer long coat, was to be seen coming from the square; he might have
destroyed a government, or altered a war policy, or ruined a
statesman--all was one to him; and he went away ready to lay his plans
for the next day's conflict. Delane's power at one time was almost
incalculable, and he gained it by unerringly finding out exactly what
England wanted. England might be wrong or right--that was none of
Delane's business; he cared only to discover what his country wished
for from day to day. An amazing function is that of an editor.

Then we have the leader-writer. The British public have decided that
their newspaper shall furnish them daily with three or four little
addresses on various topics of current interest; and these grave or
gay sermons are composed by practised hands who must be ready to write
on almost any subject under the sun at a minute's notice. In a certain
class of old-fashioned literature the newspaper-writer is represented
as a careless, dissipated Bohemian, who lived with rackety
inconsequence. That tribe of writers has long vanished from the face
of the earth. The last of the sort that I remember was a miserable old
man who haunted the British Museum. No one knew where he lived; but
his work, such as it was, usually went in with punctuality, and he
drank the proceeds. He died in a stall of a low public-house, and was
buried by the parish. No one but his editor and one or two cronies
knew his real name, and he appeared to be utterly friendless. But the
modern leader-writer must beware of strong liquors. Usually he is a
keen, reposeful man who has his brain cool at all hours. The immense
drinking-bouts of old times could never be indulged in now; and
indeed, if a journalist once begins to take stimulants as stimulants,
his end is not far off. Let us mention the kind of feats which must be
performed. A powerful minister makes a speech after eleven o'clock at
night; the leader-writer receives proof-sheets; he must grasp the
whole scope of the speech in a flash, and then proceed with the mere
mechanical work of writing. Twelve hundred words will take about an
hour and twenty minutes to set down, and then the MS. must be rushed
piece by piece to the composing-room. Again, supposing that news of
some great disaster arrives late. An article must be swiftly done, and
the writer must have a theory ready that will hold water. Work like
this needs a quick wit, a copious vocabulary, and an absolutely steady
hand. Moreover, the leader-writer must unhappily be invariably ready
to write "nothings" so that they may look like "somethings." News is
scarce, foreign nations show a culpable lack of desire to kill each
other, no moving accident has occurred--and the paper must be filled.
Then the leader-writer must take some trivial subject and weave round
it a web of graceful and amusing phrases. One brilliant scholar once
wrote a most charming and learned article about pigs; and I have seen
a column of grave nonsense spun out on the subject of an unhappy cat
which fixed its head in a salmon-tin!

This hurried writing on trifling matters brings on a certain looseness
of style and thought; but the public will have it, and the demand
creates the supply of a flimsy, pleasant, literary article. The best
leaders are now written by fine scholars. In travelling over the
country I have been amused by simple people who imagined that the
articles in a journal were produced by one secret and utterly
mysterious being. These good folk are mightily surprised on finding
that the admired leaders are done by a troop of men who are not
exactly commonplace, but who are not much wiser or better than their
fellows.


UNWIN BROTHERS PRINTERS CHILWORTH AND LONDON.





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