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Title: Books and Characters - French and English
Author: Strachey, Giles Lytton, 1880-1932
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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First published May 1922


_The following papers are reprinted by kind permission of the Editors
of the Independent Review, the New Quarterly, the Athenaeum, and the
Edinburgh Review._

_The 'Dialogue' is now printed for the first time, from a manuscript,
apparently in the handwriting of Voltaire and belonging to his English


RACINE                               3
SIR THOMAS BROWNE                   27
THE LIVES OF THE POETS              59
MADAME DU DEFFAND                   67
VOLTAIRE AND ENGLAND                93
A DIALOGUE                         115
VOLTAIRE'S TRAGEDIES               121
THE ROUSSEAU AFFAIR                165
THE POETRY OF BLAKE                179
THE LAST ELIZABETHAN               193
HENRI BEYLE                        219
LADY HESTER STANHOPE               241
MR. CREEVEY                        253
INDEX                              261


When Ingres painted his vast 'Apotheosis of Homer,' he represented,
grouped round the central throne, all the great poets of the ancient and
modern worlds, with a single exception--Shakespeare. After some
persuasion, he relented so far as to introduce into his picture a _part_
of that offensive personage; and English visitors at the Louvre can now
see, to their disgust or their amusement, the truncated image of rather
less than half of the author of _King Lear_ just appearing at the
extreme edge of the enormous canvas. French taste, let us hope, has
changed since the days of Ingres; Shakespeare would doubtless now be
advanced--though perhaps chiefly from a sense of duty--to the very steps
of the central throne. But if an English painter were to choose a
similar subject, how would he treat the master who stands acknowledged
as the most characteristic representative of the literature of France?
Would Racine find a place in the picture at all? Or, if he did, would
more of him be visible than the last curl of his full-bottomed wig,
whisking away into the outer darkness?

There is something inexplicable about the intensity of national tastes
and the violence of national differences. If, as in the good old days, I
could boldly believe a Frenchman to be an inferior creature, while he,
as simply, wrote me down a savage, there would be an easy end of the
matter. But alas! _nous avons changé tout cela_. Now we are each of us
obliged to recognise that the other has a full share of intelligence,
ability, and taste; that the accident of our having been born on
different sides of the Channel is no ground for supposing either that I
am a brute or that he is a ninny. But, in that case, how does it happen
that while on one side of that 'span of waters' Racine is despised and
Shakespeare is worshipped, on the other, Shakespeare is tolerated and
Racine is adored? The perplexing question was recently emphasised and
illustrated in a singular way. Mr. John Bailey, in a volume of essays
entitled 'The Claims of French Poetry,' discussed the qualities of
Racine at some length, placed him, not without contumely, among the
second rank of writers, and drew the conclusion that, though indeed the
merits of French poetry are many and great, it is not among the pages of
Racine that they are to be found. Within a few months of the appearance
of Mr. Bailey's book, the distinguished French writer and brilliant
critic, M. Lemaître, published a series of lectures on Racine, in which
the highest note of unqualified panegyric sounded uninterruptedly from
beginning to end. The contrast is remarkable, and the conflicting
criticisms seem to represent, on the whole, the views of the cultivated
classes in the two countries. And it is worthy of note that neither of
these critics pays any heed, either explicitly or by implication, to the
opinions of the other. They are totally at variance, but they argue
along lines so different and so remote that they never come into
collision. Mr. Bailey, with the utmost sang-froid, sweeps on one side
the whole of the literary tradition of France. It is as if a French
critic were to assert that Shakespeare, the Elizabethans, and the
romantic poets of the nineteenth century were all negligible, and that
England's really valuable contribution to the poetry of the world was to
be found among the writings of Dryden and Pope. M. Lemaître, on the
other hand, seems sublimely unconscious that any such views as Mr.
Bailey's could possibly exist. Nothing shows more clearly Racine's
supreme dominion over his countrymen than the fact that M. Lemaître
never questions it for a moment, and tacitly assumes on every page of
his book that his only duty is to illustrate and amplify a greatness
already recognised by all. Indeed, after reading M. Lemaître's book, one
begins to understand more clearly why it is that English critics find it
difficult to appreciate to the full the literature of France. It is no
paradox to say that that country is as insular as our own. When we find
so eminent a critic as M. Lemaître observing that Racine 'a vraiment
"achevé" et porté à son point suprême de perfection _la tragédie_, cette
étonnante forme d'art, et qui est bien de chez nous: car on la trouve
peu chez les Anglais,' is it surprising that we should hastily jump to
the conclusion that the canons and the principles of a criticism of this
kind will not repay, and perhaps do not deserve, any careful
consideration? Certainly they are not calculated to spare the
susceptibilities of Englishmen. And, after all, this is only natural; a
French critic addresses a French audience; like a Rabbi in a synagogue,
he has no need to argue and no wish to convert. Perhaps, too, whether he
willed or no, he could do very little to the purpose; for the
difficulties which beset an Englishman in his endeavours to appreciate a
writer such as Racine are precisely of the kind which a Frenchman is
least able either to dispel or even to understand. The object of this
essay is, first, to face these difficulties, with the aid of Mr.
Bailey's paper, which sums up in an able and interesting way the average
English view of the matter; and, in the second place, to communicate to
the English reader a sense of the true significance and the immense
value of Racine's work. Whether the attempt succeed or fail, some
important general questions of literary doctrine will have been
discussed; and, in addition, at least an effort will have been made to
vindicate a great reputation. For, to a lover of Racine, the fact that
English critics of Mr. Bailey's calibre can write of him as they do,
brings a feeling not only of entire disagreement, but of almost personal
distress. Strange as it may seem to those who have been accustomed to
think of that great artist merely as a type of the frigid pomposity of
an antiquated age, his music, to ears that are attuned to hear it, comes
fraught with a poignancy of loveliness whose peculiar quality is shared
by no other poetry in the world. To have grown familiar with the voice
of Racine, to have realised once and for all its intensity, its beauty,
and its depth, is to have learnt a new happiness, to have discovered
something exquisite and splendid, to have enlarged the glorious
boundaries of art. For such benefits as these who would not be grateful?
Who would not seek to make them known to others, that they too may
enjoy, and render thanks?

M. Lemaître, starting out, like a native of the mountains, from a point
which can only be reached by English explorers after a long journey and
a severe climb, devotes by far the greater part of his book to a series
of brilliant psychological studies of Racine's characters. He leaves on
one side almost altogether the questions connected both with Racine's
dramatic construction, and with his style; and these are the very
questions by which English readers are most perplexed, and which they
are most anxious to discuss. His style in particular--using the word in
its widest sense--forms the subject of the principal part of Mr.
Bailey's essay; it is upon this count that the real force of Mr.
Bailey's impeachment depends; and, indeed, it is obvious that no poet
can be admired or understood by those who quarrel with the whole fabric
of his writing and condemn the very principles of his art. Before,
however, discussing this, the true crux of the question, it may be well
to consider briefly another matter which deserves attention, because the
English reader is apt to find in it a stumbling-block at the very outset
of his inquiry. Coming to Racine with Shakespeare and the rest of the
Elizabethans warm in his memory, it is only to be expected that he
should be struck with a chilling sense of emptiness and unreality. After
the colour, the moving multiplicity, the imaginative luxury of our early
tragedies, which seem to have been moulded out of the very stuff of life
and to have been built up with the varied and generous structure of
Nature herself, the Frenchman's dramas, with their rigid uniformity of
setting, their endless duologues, their immense harangues, their
spectral confidants, their strict exclusion of all visible action, give
one at first the same sort of impression as a pretentious
pseudo-classical summer-house appearing suddenly at the end of a vista,
after one has been rambling through an open forest. 'La scène est à
Buthrote, ville d'Epire, dans une salle du palais de Pyrrhus'--could
anything be more discouraging than such an announcement? Here is nothing
for the imagination to feed on, nothing to raise expectation, no
wondrous vision of 'blasted heaths,' or the 'seaboard of Bohemia'; here
is only a hypothetical drawing-room conjured out of the void for five
acts, simply in order that the persons of the drama may have a place to
meet in and make their speeches. The 'three unities' and the rest of the
'rules' are a burden which the English reader finds himself quite
unaccustomed to carry; he grows impatient of them; and, if he is a
critic, he points out the futility and the unreasonableness of those
antiquated conventions. Even Mr. Bailey, who, curiously enough, believes
that Racine 'stumbled, as it were, half by accident into great
advantages' by using them, speaks of the 'discredit' into which 'the
once famous unities' have now fallen, and declares that 'the unities of
time and place are of no importance in themselves.' So far as critics
are concerned this may be true; but critics are apt to forget that plays
can exist somewhere else than in books, and a very small acquaintance
with contemporary drama is enough to show that, upon the stage at any
rate, the unities, so far from having fallen into discredit, are now in
effect triumphant. For what is the principle which underlies and
justifies the unities of time and place? Surely it is not, as Mr. Bailey
would have us believe, that of the 'unity of action or interest,' for it
is clear that every good drama, whatever its plan of construction, must
possess a single dominating interest, and that it may happen--as in
_Antony and Cleopatra_, for instance--that the very essence of this
interest lies in the accumulation of an immense variety of local
activities and the representation of long epochs of time. The true
justification for the unities of time and place is to be found in the
conception of drama as the history of a spiritual crisis--the vision,
thrown up, as it were, by a bull's-eye lantern, of the final
catastrophic phases of a long series of events. Very different were the
views of the Elizabethan tragedians, who aimed at representing not only
the catastrophe, but the whole development of circumstances of which it
was the effect; they traced, with elaborate and abounding detail, the
rise, the growth, the decline, and the ruin of great causes and great
persons; and the result was a series of masterpieces unparalleled in the
literature of the world. But, for good or evil, these methods have
become obsolete, and to-day our drama seems to be developing along
totally different lines. It is playing the part, more and more
consistently, of the bull's-eye lantern; it is concerned with the
crisis, and nothing but the crisis; and, in proportion as its field is
narrowed and its vision intensified, the unities of time and place come
more and more completely into play. Thus, from the point of view of
form, it is true to say that it has been the drama of Racine rather than
that of Shakespeare that has survived. Plays of the type of _Macbeth_
have been superseded by plays of the type of _Britannicus_.
_Britannicus_, no less than _Macbeth_, is the tragedy of a criminal; but
it shows us, instead of the gradual history of the temptation and the
fall, followed by the fatal march of consequences, nothing but the
precise psychological moment in which the first irrevocable step is
taken, and the criminal is made. The method of _Macbeth_ has been, as it
were, absorbed by that of the modern novel; the method of _Britannicus_
still rules the stage. But Racine carried out his ideals more rigorously
and more boldly than any of his successors. He fixed the whole of his
attention upon the spiritual crisis; to him that alone was of
importance; and the conventional classicism so disheartening to the
English reader--the 'unities,' the harangues, the confidences, the
absence of local colour, and the concealment of the action--was no more
than the machinery for enhancing the effect of the inner tragedy, and
for doing away with every side issue and every chance of distraction.
His dramas must be read as one looks at an airy, delicate statue,
supported by artificial props, whose only importance lies in the fact
that without them the statue itself would break in pieces and fall to
the ground. Approached in this light, even the 'salle du palais de
Pyrrhus' begins to have a meaning. We come to realise that, if it is
nothing else, it is at least the meeting-ground of great passions, the
invisible framework for one of those noble conflicts which 'make one
little room an everywhere.' It will show us no views, no spectacles, it
will give us no sense of atmosphere or of imaginative romance; but it
will allow us to be present at the climax of a tragedy, to follow the
closing struggle of high destinies, and to witness the final agony of
human hearts.

It is remarkable that Mr. Bailey, while seeming to approve of the
classicism of Racine's dramatic form, nevertheless finds fault with him
for his lack of a quality with which, by its very nature, the classical
form is incompatible. Racine's vision, he complains, does not 'take in
the whole of life'; we do not find in his plays 'the whole pell-mell of
human existence'; and this is true, because the particular effects which
Racine wished to produce necessarily involved this limitation of the
range of his interests. His object was to depict the tragic interaction
of a small group of persons at the culminating height of its intensity;
and it is as irrational to complain of his failure to introduce into his
compositions 'the whole pell-mell of human existence' as it would be to
find fault with a Mozart quartet for not containing the orchestration of
Wagner. But it is a little difficult to make certain of the precise
nature of Mr. Bailey's criticism. When he speaks of Racine's vision not
including 'the whole of life,' when he declares that Racine cannot be
reckoned as one of the 'world-poets,' he seems to be taking somewhat
different ground and discussing a more general question. All truly great
poets, he asserts, have 'a wide view of humanity,' 'a large view of
life'--a profound sense, in short, of the relations between man and the
universe; and, since Racine is without this quality, his claim to true
poetic greatness must be denied. But, even upon the supposition that
this view of Racine's philosophical outlook is the true one--and, in its
most important sense, I believe that it is not--does Mr. Bailey's
conclusion really follow? Is it possible to test a poet's greatness by
the largeness of his 'view of life'? How wide, one would like to know,
was Milton's 'view of humanity'? And, though Wordsworth's sense of the
position of man in the universe was far more profound than Dante's, who
will venture to assert that he was the greater poet? The truth is that
we have struck here upon a principle which lies at the root, not only of
Mr. Bailey's criticism of Racine, but of an entire critical method--the
method which attempts to define the essential elements of poetry in
general, and then proceeds to ask of any particular poem whether it
possesses these elements, and to judge it accordingly. How often this
method has been employed, and how often it has proved disastrously
fallacious! For, after all, art is not a superior kind of chemistry,
amenable to the rules of scientific induction. Its component parts
cannot be classified and tested, and there is a spark within it which
defies foreknowledge. When Matthew Arnold declared that the value of a
new poem might be gauged by comparing it with the greatest passages in
the acknowledged masterpieces of literature, he was falling into this
very error; for who could tell that the poem in question was not itself
a masterpiece, living by the light of an unknown beauty, and a law unto
itself? It is the business of the poet to break rules and to baffle
expectation; and all the masterpieces in the world cannot make a
precedent. Thus Mr. Bailey's attempts to discover, by quotations from
Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Goethe, the qualities without which no poet
can be great, and his condemnation of Racine because he is without them,
is a fallacy in criticism. There is only one way to judge a poet, as
Wordsworth, with that paradoxical sobriety so characteristic of him, has
pointed out--and that is, by loving him. But Mr. Bailey, with regard to
Racine at any rate, has not followed the advice of Wordsworth. Let us
look a little more closely into the nature of his attack.

'L'épithète rare,' said the De Goncourts,'voilà la marque de
l'écrivain.' Mr. Bailey quotes the sentence with approval, observing
that if, with Sainte-Beuve, we extend the phrase to 'le mot rare,' we
have at once one of those invaluable touch-stones with which we may test
the merit of poetry. And doubtless most English readers would be
inclined to agree with Mr. Bailey, for it so happens that our own
literature is one in which rarity of style, pushed often to the verge of
extravagance, reigns supreme. Owing mainly, no doubt, to the double
origin of our language, with its strange and violent contrasts between
the highly-coloured crudity of the Saxon words and the ambiguous
splendour of the Latin vocabulary; owing partly, perhaps, to a national
taste for the intensely imaginative, and partly, too, to the vast and
penetrating influence of those grand masters of bizarrerie--the Hebrew
Prophets--our poetry, our prose, and our whole conception of the art of
writing have fallen under the dominion of the emphatic, the
extraordinary, and the bold. No one in his senses would regret this, for
it has given our literature all its most characteristic glories, and, of
course, in Shakespeare, with whom expression is stretched to the
bursting point, the national style finds at once its consummate example
and its final justification. But the result is that we have grown so
unused to other kinds of poetical beauty, that we have now come to
believe, with Mr. Bailey, that poetry apart from 'le mot rare' is an
impossibility. The beauties of restraint, of clarity, of refinement, and
of precision we pass by unheeding; we can see nothing there but coldness
and uniformity; and we go back with eagerness to the fling and the
bravado that we love so well. It is as if we had become so accustomed to
looking at boxers, wrestlers, and gladiators that the sight of an
exquisite minuet produced no effect on us; the ordered dance strikes us
as a monotony, for we are blind to the subtle delicacies of the dancers,
which are fraught with such significance to the practised eye. But let
us be patient, and let us look again.

    Ariane ma soeur, de quel amour blessée,
    Vous mourûtes aux bords où vous fûtes laissée.

Here, certainly, are no 'mots rares'; here is nothing to catch the mind
or dazzle the understanding; here is only the most ordinary vocabulary,
plainly set forth. But is there not an enchantment? Is there not a
vision? Is there not a flow of lovely sound whose beauty grows upon the
ear, and dwells exquisitely within the memory? Racine's triumph is
precisely this--that he brings about, by what are apparently the
simplest means, effects which other poets must strain every nerve to
produce. The narrowness of his vocabulary is in fact nothing but a proof
of his amazing art. In the following passage, for instance, what a sense
of dignity and melancholy and power is conveyed by the commonest words!

    Enfin j'ouvre les yeux, et je me fais justice:
    C'est faire à vos beautés un triste sacrifice
    Que de vous présenter, madame, avec ma foi,
    Tout l'âge et le malheur que je traîne avec moi.
    Jusqu'ici la fortune et la victoire mêmes
    Cachaient mes cheveux blancs sous trente diadèmes.
    Mais ce temps-là n'est plus: je régnais; et je fuis:
    Mes ans se sont accrus; mes honneurs sont detruits.

Is that wonderful 'trente' an 'épithète rare'? Never, surely, before or
since, was a simple numeral put to such a use--to conjure up so
triumphantly such mysterious grandeurs! But these are subtleties which
pass unnoticed by those who have been accustomed to the violent appeals
of the great romantic poets. As Sainte-Beuve says, in a fine comparison
between Racine and Shakespeare, to come to the one after the other is
like passing to a portrait by Ingres from a decoration by Rubens. At
first, 'comme on a l'oeil rempli de l'éclatante vérité pittoresque du
grand maître flamand, on ne voit dans l'artiste français qu'un ton assez
uniforme, une teinte diffuse de pâle et douce lumière. Mais qu'on
approche de plus près et qu'on observe avec soin: mille nuances fines
vont éclore sous le regard; mille intentions savantes vont sortir de ce
tissu profond et serré; on ne peut plus en détacher ses yeux.'

Similarly when Mr. Bailey, turning from the vocabulary to more general
questions of style, declares that there is no 'element of fine
surprise' in Racine, no trace of the 'daring metaphors and similes of
Pindar and the Greek choruses--the reply is that he would find what he
wants if he only knew where to look for it. 'Who will forget,' he says,
'the comparison of the Atreidae to the eagles wheeling over their empty
nest, of war to the money-changer whose gold dust is that of human
bodies, of Helen to the lion's whelps?... Everyone knows these. Who will
match them among the formal elegances of Racine?' And it is true that
when Racine wished to create a great effect he did not adopt the
romantic method; he did not chase his ideas through the four quarters of
the universe to catch them at last upon the verge of the inane; and
anyone who hopes to come upon 'fine surprises' of this kind in his pages
will be disappointed. His daring is of a different kind; it is not the
daring of adventure but of intensity; his fine surprises are seized out
of the very heart of his subject, and seized in a single stroke. Thus
many of his most astonishing phrases burn with an inward concentration
of energy, which, difficult at first to realise to the full, comes in
the end to impress itself ineffaceably upon the mind.

    C'était pendant l'horreur d'une profonde nuit.

The sentence is like a cavern whose mouth a careless traveller might
pass by, but which opens out, to the true explorer, into vista after
vista of strange recesses rich with inexhaustible gold. But, sometimes,
the phrase, compact as dynamite, explodes upon one with an immediate and
terrific force--

    C'est Vénus toute entière à sa proie attachée!

A few 'formal elegances' of this kind are surely worth having.

But what is it that makes the English reader fail to recognise the
beauty and the power of such passages as these? Besides Racine's lack of
extravagance and bravura, besides his dislike of exaggerated emphasis
and far-fetched or fantastic imagery, there is another characteristic of
his style to which we are perhaps even more antipathetic--its
suppression of detail. The great majority of poets--and especially of
English poets--produce their most potent effects by the accumulation of
details--details which in themselves fascinate us either by their beauty
or their curiosity or their supreme appropriateness. But with details
Racine will have nothing to do; he builds up his poetry out of words
which are not only absolutely simple but extremely general, so that our
minds, failing to find in it the peculiar delights to which we have been
accustomed, fall into the error of rejecting it altogether as devoid of
significance. And the error is a grave one, for in truth nothing is more
marvellous than the magic with which Racine can conjure up out of a few
expressions of the vaguest import a sense of complete and intimate
reality. When Shakespeare wishes to describe a silent night he does so
with a single stroke of detail--'not a mouse stirring'! And Virgil adds
touch upon touch of exquisite minutiae:

    Cum tacet omnis ager, pecudes, pictaeque volucres,
    Quaeque lacus late liquidos, quaeque aspera dumis
    Rura tenent, etc.

Racine's way is different, but is it less masterly?

    Mais tout dort, et l'armée, et les vents, et Neptune.

What a flat and feeble set of expressions! is the Englishman's first
thought--with the conventional 'Neptune,' and the vague 'armée,' and the
commonplace 'vents.' And he forgets to notice the total impression which
these words produce--the atmosphere of darkness and emptiness and
vastness and ominous hush.

It is particularly in regard to Racine's treatment of nature that this
generalised style creates misunderstandings. 'Is he so much as aware,'
exclaims Mr. Bailey, 'that the sun rises and sets in a glory of colour,
that the wind plays deliciously on human cheeks, that the human ear will
never have enough of the music of the sea? He might have written every
page of his work without so much as looking out of the window of his
study.' The accusation gains support from the fact that Racine rarely
describes the processes of nature by means of pictorial detail; that, we
know, was not his plan. But he is constantly, with his subtle art,
suggesting them. In this line, for instance, he calls up, without a word
of definite description, the vision of a sudden and brilliant sunrise:

    Déjà le jour plus grand nous frappe et nous éclaire.

And how varied and beautiful are his impressions of the sea! He can give
us the desolation of a calm:

                        La rame inutile
    Fatigua vainement une mer immobile;

or the agitated movements of a great fleet of galleys:

    Voyez tout l'Hellespont blanchissant sous nos rames;

or he can fill his verses with the disorder and the fury of a storm:

    Quoi! pour noyer les Grecs et leurs mille vaisseaux,
    Mer, tu n'ouvriras pas des abymes nouveaux!
    Quoi! lorsque les chassant du port qui les recèle,
    L'Aulide aura vomi leur flotte criminelle,
    Les vents, les mêmes vents, si longtemps accusés,
    Ne te couvriront pas de ses vaisseaux brisés!

And then, in a single line, he can evoke the radiant spectacle of a
triumphant flotilla riding the dancing waves:

    Prêts à vous recevoir mes vaisseaux vous attendent;
    Et du pied de l'autel vous y pouvez monter,
    Souveraine des mers qui vous doivent porter.

The art of subtle suggestion could hardly go further than in this line,
where the alliterating v's, the mute e's, and the placing of the long
syllables combine so wonderfully to produce the required effect.

But it is not only suggestions of nature that readers like Mr. Bailey
are unable to find in Racine--they miss in him no less suggestions of
the mysterious and the infinite. No doubt this is partly due to our
English habit of associating these qualities with expressions which are
complex and unfamiliar. When we come across the mysterious accent of
fatality and remote terror in a single perfectly simple phrase--

    La fille de Minos et de Pasiphaé

we are apt not to hear that it is there. But there is another
reason--the craving, which has seized upon our poetry and our criticism
ever since the triumph of Wordsworth and Coleridge at the beginning of
the last century, for metaphysical stimulants. It would be easy to
prolong the discussion of this matter far beyond the boundaries of
'sublunary debate,' but it is sufficient to point out that Mr. Bailey's
criticism of Racine affords an excellent example of the fatal effects of
this obsession. His pages are full of references to 'infinity' and 'the
unseen' and 'eternity' and 'a mystery brooding over a mystery' and 'the
key to the secret of life'; and it is only natural that he should find
in these watchwords one of those tests of poetic greatness of which he
is so fond. The fallaciousness of such views as these becomes obvious
when we remember the plain fact that there is not a trace of this kind
of mystery or of these 'feelings after the key to the secret of life,'
in _Paradise Lost_, and that _Paradise Lost_ is one of the greatest
poems in the world. But Milton is sacrosanct in England; no theory,
however mistaken, can shake that stupendous name, and the damage which
may be wrought by a vicious system of criticism only becomes evident in
its treatment of writers like Racine, whom it can attack with impunity
and apparent success. There is no 'mystery' in Racine--that is to say,
there are no metaphysical speculations in him, no suggestions of the
transcendental, no hints as to the ultimate nature of reality and the
constitution of the world; and so away with him, a creature of mere
rhetoric and ingenuities, to the outer limbo! But if, instead of asking
what a writer is without, we try to discover simply what he is, will not
our results be more worthy of our trouble? And in fact, if we once put
out of our heads our longings for the mystery of metaphysical
suggestion, the more we examine Racine, the more clearly we shall
discern in him another kind of mystery, whose presence may eventually
console us for the loss of the first--the mystery of the mind of man.
This indeed is the framework of his poetry, and to speak of it
adequately would demand a wider scope than that of an essay; for how
much might be written of that strange and moving background, dark with
the profundity of passion and glowing with the beauty of the sublime,
wherefrom the great personages of his tragedies--Hermione and
Mithridate, Roxane and Agrippine, Athalie and Phèdre--seem to emerge for
a moment towards us, whereon they breathe and suffer, and among whose
depths they vanish for ever from our sight! Look where we will, we shall
find among his pages the traces of an inward mystery and the obscure
infinities of the heart.

    Nous avons su toujours nous aimer et nous taire.

The line is a summary of the romance and the anguish of two lives. That
is all affection; and this all desire--

    J'aimais jusqu'à ses pleurs que je faisais couler.

Or let us listen to the voice of Phèdre, when she learns that Hippolyte
and Aricie love one another:

    Les a-t-on vus souvent se parler, se chercher?
    Dans le fond des forêts alloient-ils se cacher?
    Hélas! ils se voyaient avec pleine licence;
    Le ciel de leurs soupirs approuvait l'innocence;
    Ils suivaient sans remords leur penchant amoureux;
    Tous les jours se levaient clairs et sereins pour eux.

This last line--written, let us remember, by a frigidly ingenious
rhetorician, who had never looked out of his study-window--does it not
seem to mingle, in a trance of absolute simplicity, the peerless beauty
of a Claude with the misery and ruin of a great soul?

It is, perhaps, as a psychologist that Racine has achieved his most
remarkable triumphs; and the fact that so subtle and penetrating a
critic as M. Lemaître has chosen to devote the greater part of a volume
to the discussion of his characters shows clearly enough that Racine's
portrayal of human nature has lost nothing of its freshness and vitality
with the passage of time. On the contrary, his admirers are now tending
more and more to lay stress upon the brilliance of his portraits, the
combined vigour and intimacy of his painting, his amazing knowledge, and
his unerring fidelity to truth. M. Lemaître, in fact, goes so far as to
describe Racine as a supreme realist, while other writers have found in
him the essence of the modern spirit. These are vague phrases, no doubt,
but they imply a very definite point of view; and it is curious to
compare with it our English conception of Racine as a stiff and pompous
kind of dancing-master, utterly out of date and infinitely cold. And
there is a similar disagreement over his style. Mr. Bailey is never
tired of asserting that Racine's style is rhetorical, artificial, and
monotonous; while M. Lemaître speaks of it as 'nu et familier,' and
Sainte-Beuve says 'il rase la prose, mais avec des ailes,' The
explanation of these contradictions is to be found in the fact that the
two critics are considering different parts of the poet's work. When
Racine is most himself, when he is seizing upon a state of mind and
depicting it with all its twistings and vibrations, he writes with a
directness which is indeed naked, and his sentences, refined to the
utmost point of significance, flash out like swords, stroke upon stroke,
swift, certain, irresistible. This is how Agrippine, in the fury of her
tottering ambition, bursts out to Burrhus, the tutor of her son:

    Prétendez-vous longtemps me cacher l'empereur?
    Ne le verrai-je plus qu'à titre d'importune?
    Ai-je donc élevé si haut votre fortune
    Pour mettre une barrière entre mon fils et moi?
    Ne l'osez-vous laisser un moment sur sa foi?
    Entre Sénèque et vous disputez-vous la gloire
    A qui m'effacera plus tôt de sa mémoire?
    Vous l'ai-je confié pour en faire un ingrat,
    Pour être, sous son nom, les maîtres de l'état?
    Certes, plus je médite, et moins je me figure
    Que vous m'osiez compter pour votre créature;
    Vous, dont j'ai pu laisser vieillir l'ambition
    Dans les honneurs obscurs de quelque légion;
    Et moi, qui sur le trône ai suivi mes ancêtres,
    Moi, fille, femme, soeur, et mère de vos maîtres!

When we come upon a passage like this we know, so to speak, that the
hunt is up and the whole field tearing after the quarry. But Racine, on
other occasions, has another way of writing. He can be roundabout,
artificial, and vague; he can involve a simple statement in a mist of
high-sounding words and elaborate inversions.

    Jamais l'aimable soeur des cruels Pallantides
    Trempa-t-elle aux complots de ses frères perfides.

That is Racine's way of saying that Aricie did not join in her brothers'
conspiracy. He will describe an incriminating letter as 'De sa trahison
ce gage trop sincère.' It is obvious that this kind of expression has
within it the germs of the 'noble' style of the eighteenth-century
tragedians, one of whom, finding himself obliged to mention a dog, got
out of the difficulty by referring to--'De la fidélité le respectable
appui.' This is the side of Racine's writing that puzzles and disgusts
Mr. Bailey. But there is a meaning in it, after all. Every art is based
upon a selection, and the art of Racine selected the things of the
spirit for the material of its work. The things of sense--physical
objects and details, and all the necessary but insignificant facts that
go to make up the machinery of existence--these must be kept out of the
picture at all hazards. To have called a spade a spade would have ruined
the whole effect; spades must never be mentioned, or, at the worst, they
must be dimly referred to as agricultural implements, so that the entire
attention may be fixed upon the central and dominating features of the
composition--the spiritual states of the characters--which, laid bare
with uncompromising force and supreme precision, may thus indelibly
imprint themselves upon the mind. To condemn Racine on the score of his
ambiguities and his pomposities is to complain of the hastily dashed-in
column and curtain in the background of a portrait, and not to mention
the face. Sometimes indeed his art seems to rise superior to its own
conditions, endowing even the dross and refuse of what it works in with
a wonderful significance. Thus when the Sultana, Roxane, discovers her
lover's treachery, her mind flies immediately to thoughts of revenge and
death, and she exclaims--

    Ah! je respire enfin, et ma joie est extrême
    Que le traître une fois se soit trahi lui-même.
    Libre des soins cruels où j'allais m'engager,
    Ma tranquille fureur n'a plus qu'à se venger.
    Qu'il meure. Vengeons-nous. Courez. Qu'on le saisisse!
    Que la main des muets s'arme pour son supplice;
    Qu'ils viennent préparer ces noeuds infortunés
    Par qui de ses pareils les jours sont terminés.

To have called a bowstring a bowstring was out of the question; and
Racine, with triumphant art, has managed to introduce the periphrasis in
such a way that it exactly expresses the state of mind of the Sultana.
She begins with revenge and rage, until she reaches the extremity of
virulent resolution; and then her mind begins to waver, and she finally
orders the execution of the man she loves, in a contorted agony of

But, as a rule, Racine's characters speak out most clearly when they are
most moved, so that their words, at the height of passion, have an
intensity of directness unknown in actual life. In such moments, the
phrases that leap to their lips quiver and glow with the compressed
significance of character and situation; the 'Qui te l'a dit?' of
Hermione, the 'Sortez' of Roxane, the 'Je vais à Rome' of Mithridate,
the 'Dieu des Juifs, tu l'emportes!' of Athalie--who can forget these
things, these wondrous microcosms of tragedy? Very different is the
Shakespearean method. There, as passion rises, expression becomes more
and more poetical and vague. Image flows into image, thought into
thought, until at last the state of mind is revealed, inform and
molten, driving darkly through a vast storm of words. Such revelations,
no doubt, come closer to reality than the poignant epigrams of Racine.
In life, men's minds are not sharpened, they are diffused, by emotion;
and the utterance which best represents them is fluctuating and
agglomerated rather than compact and defined. But Racine's aim was less
to reflect the actual current of the human spirit than to seize upon its
inmost being and to give expression to that. One might be tempted to say
that his art represents the sublimed essence of reality, save that,
after all, reality has no degrees. Who can affirm that the wild
ambiguities of our hearts and the gross impediments of our physical
existence are less real than the most pointed of our feelings and
'thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls'?

It would be nearer the truth to rank Racine among the idealists. The
world of his creation is not a copy of our own; it is a heightened and
rarefied extension of it; moving, in triumph and in beauty, through 'an
ampler ether, a diviner air.' It is a world where the hesitations and
the pettinesses and the squalors of this earth have been fired out; a
world where ugliness is a forgotten name, and lust itself has grown
ethereal; where anguish has become a grace and death a glory, and love
the beginning and the end of all. It is, too, the world of a poet, so
that we reach it, not through melody nor through vision, but through the
poet's sweet articulation--through verse. Upon English ears the rhymed
couplets of Racine sound strangely; and how many besides Mr. Bailey have
dubbed his alexandrines 'monotonous'! But to his lovers, to those who
have found their way into the secret places of his art, his lines are
impregnated with a peculiar beauty, and the last perfection of style.
Over them, the most insignificant of his verses can throw a deep
enchantment, like the faintest wavings of a magician's wand. 'A-t-on vu
de ma part le roi de Comagène?'--How is it that words of such slight
import should hold such thrilling music? Oh! they are Racine's words.
And, as to his rhymes, they seem perhaps, to the true worshipper, the
final crown of his art. Mr. Bailey tells us that the couplet is only fit
for satire. Has he forgotten _Lamia_? And he asks, 'How is it that we
read Pope's _Satires_ and Dryden's, and Johnson's with enthusiasm still,
while we never touch _Irene_, and rarely the _Conquest of Granada_?'
Perhaps the answer is that if we cannot get rid of our _a priori_
theories, even the fiery art of Dryden's drama may remain dead to us,
and that, if we touched _Irene_ even once, we should find it was in
blank verse. But Dryden himself has spoken memorably upon rhyme.
Discussing the imputed unnaturalness of the rhymed 'repartee' he says:
'Suppose we acknowledge it: how comes this confederacy to be more
displeasing to you than in a dance which is well contrived? You see
there the united design of many persons to make up one figure; ... the
confederacy is plain amongst them, for chance could never produce
anything so beautiful; and yet there is nothing in it that shocks your
sight ... 'Tis an art which appears; but it appears only like the
shadowings of painture, which, being to cause the rounding of it, cannot
be absent; but while that is considered, they are lost: so while we
attend to the other beauties of the matter, the care and labour of the
rhyme is carried from us, or at least drowned in its own sweetness, as
bees are sometimes buried in their honey.' In this exquisite passage
Dryden seems to have come near, though not quite to have hit, the
central argument for rhyme--its power of creating a beautiful
atmosphere, in which what is expressed may be caught away from the
associations of common life and harmoniously enshrined. For Racine, with
his prepossessions of sublimity and perfection, some such barrier
between his universe and reality was involved in the very nature of his
art. His rhyme is like the still clear water of a lake, through which we
can see, mysteriously separated from us and changed and beautified, the
forms of his imagination, 'quivering within the wave's intenser day.'
And truly not seldom are they 'so sweet, the sense faints picturing

    Oui, prince, je languis, je brûle pour Thésée ...
    Il avait votre port, vos yeux, votre langage,
    Cette noble pudeur colorait son visage,
    Lorsque de notre Crète il traversa les flots,
    Digne sujet des voeux des filles de Minos.
    Que faisiez-vous alors? Pourquoi, sans Hippolyte,
    Des héros de la Grèce assembla-t-il l'élite?
    Pourquoi, trop jeune encor, ne pûtes-vous alors
    Entrer dans le vaisseau qui le mit sur nos bords?
    Par vous aurait péri le monstre de la Crète,
    Malgré tous les détours de sa vaste retraite:
    Pour en développer l'embarras incertain
    Ma soeur du fil fatal eût armé votre main.
    Mais non: dans ce dessein je l'aurais devancée;
    L'amour m'en eût d'abord inspiré la pensée;
    C'est moi, prince, c'est moi dont l'utile secours
    Vous eût du labyrinthe enseigné les détours.
    Que de soins m'eût coûtés cette tête charmante!

It is difficult to 'place' Racine among the poets. He has affinities
with many; but likenesses to few. To balance him rigorously against any
other--to ask whether he is better or worse than Shelley or than
Virgil--is to attempt impossibilities; but there is one fact which is
too often forgotten in comparing his work with that of other poets--with
Virgil's for instance--Racine wrote for the stage. Virgil's poetry is
intended to be read, Racine's to be declaimed; and it is only in the
theatre that one can experience to the full the potency of his art. In a
sense we can know him in our library, just as we can hear the music of
Mozart with silent eyes. But, when the strings begin, when the whole
volume of that divine harmony engulfs us, how differently then we
understand and feel! And so, at the theatre, before one of those high
tragedies, whose interpretation has taxed to the utmost ten generations
of the greatest actresses of France, we realise, with the shock of a new
emotion, what we had but half-felt before. To hear the words of Phèdre
spoken by the mouth of Bernhardt, to watch, in the culminating horror of
crime and of remorse, of jealousy, of rage, of desire, and of despair,
all the dark forces of destiny crowd down upon that great spirit, when
the heavens and the earth reject her, and Hell opens, and the terriffic
urn of Minos thunders and crashes to the ground--that indeed is to come
close to immortality, to plunge shuddering through infinite abysses, and
to look, if only for a moment, upon eternal light.



The life of Sir Thomas Browne does not afford much scope for the
biographer. Everyone knows that Browne was a physician who lived at
Norwich in the seventeenth century; and, so far as regards what one must
call, for want of a better term, his 'life,' that is a sufficient
summary of all there is to know. It is obvious that, with such scanty
and unexciting materials, no biographer can say very much about what Sir
Thomas Browne did; it is quite easy, however, to expatiate about what he
wrote. He dug deeply into so many subjects, he touched lightly upon so
many more, that his works offer innumerable openings for those
half-conversational digressions and excursions of which perhaps the
pleasantest kind of criticism is composed.

Mr. Gosse, in his volume on Sir Thomas Browne in the 'English Men of
Letters' Series, has evidently taken this view of his subject. He has
not attempted to treat it with any great profundity or elaboration; he
has simply gone 'about it and about.' The result is a book so full of
entertainment, of discrimination, of quiet humour, and of literary tact,
that no reader could have the heart to bring up against it the
obvious--though surely irrelevant--truth, that the general impression
which it leaves upon the mind is in the nature of a composite
presentment, in which the features of Sir Thomas have become somehow
indissolubly blended with those of his biographer. It would be rash
indeed to attempt to improve upon Mr. Gosse's example; after his
luminous and suggestive chapters on Browne's life at Norwich, on the
_Vulgar Errors_, and on the self-revelations in the _Religio Medici_,
there seems to be no room for further comment. One can only admire in
silence, and hand on the volume to one's neighbour.

There is, however, one side of Browne's work upon which it may be worth
while to dwell at somewhat greater length. Mr. Gosse, who has so much to
say on such a variety of topics, has unfortunately limited to a very
small number of pages his considerations upon what is, after all, the
most important thing about the author of _Urn Burial_ and _The Garden of
Cyrus_--his style. Mr. Gosse himself confesses that it is chiefly as a
master of literary form that Browne deserves to be remembered. Why then
does he tell us so little about his literary form, and so much about his
family, and his religion, and his scientific opinions, and his porridge,
and who fished up the _murex_?

Nor is it only owing to its inadequacy that Mr. Gosse's treatment of
Browne as an artist in language is the least satisfactory part of his
book: for it is difficult not to think that upon this crucial point Mr.
Gosse has for once been deserted by his sympathy and his acumen. In
spite of what appears to be a genuine delight in Browne's most splendid
and characteristic passages, Mr. Gosse cannot help protesting somewhat
acrimoniously against that very method of writing whose effects he is so
ready to admire. In practice, he approves; in theory, he condemns. He
ranks the _Hydriotaphia_ among the gems of English literature; and the
prose style of which it is the consummate expression he denounces as
fundamentally wrong. The contradiction is obvious; but there can be
little doubt that, though Browne has, as it were, extorted a personal
homage, Mr. Gosse's real sympathies lie on the other side. His remarks
upon Browne's effect upon eighteenth-century prose show clearly enough
the true bent of his opinions; and they show, too, how completely
misleading a preconceived theory may be.

The study of Sir Thomas Browne, Mr. Gosse says, 'encouraged Johnson, and
with him a whole school of rhetorical writers in the eighteenth century,
to avoid circumlocution by the invention of superfluous words, learned
but pedantic, in which darkness was concentrated without being
dispelled.' Such is Mr. Gosse's account of the influence of Browne and
Johnson upon the later eighteenth-century writers of prose. But to
dismiss Johnson's influence as something altogether deplorable, is
surely to misunderstand the whole drift of the great revolution which he
brought about in English letters. The characteristics of the
pre-Johnsonian prose style--the style which Dryden first established and
Swift brought to perfection--are obvious enough. Its advantages are
those of clarity and force; but its faults, which, of course, are
unimportant in the work of a great master, become glaring in that of the
second-rate practitioner. The prose of Locke, for instance, or of Bishop
Butler, suffers, in spite of its clarity and vigour, from grave defects.
It is very flat and very loose; it has no formal beauty, no elegance, no
balance, no trace of the deliberation of art. Johnson, there can be no
doubt, determined to remedy these evils by giving a new mould to the
texture of English prose; and he went back for a model to Sir Thomas
Browne. Now, as Mr. Gosse himself observes, Browne stands out in a
remarkable way from among the great mass of his contemporaries and
predecessors, by virtue of his highly developed artistic consciousness.
He was, says Mr. Gosse, 'never carried away. His effects are closely
studied, they are the result of forethought and anxious contrivance';
and no one can doubt the truth or the significance of this dictum who
compares, let us say, the last paragraphs of _The Garden of Cyrus_ with
any page in _The Anatomy of Melancholy_. The peculiarities of Browne's
style--the studied pomp of its latinisms, its wealth of allusion, its
tendency towards sonorous antithesis--culminated in his last, though not
his best, work, the _Christian Morals_, which almost reads like an
elaborate and magnificent parody of the Book of Proverbs. With the
_Christian Morals_ to guide him, Dr. Johnson set about the
transformation of the prose of his time. He decorated, he pruned, he
balanced; he hung garlands, he draped robes; and he ended by converting
the Doric order of Swift into the Corinthian order of Gibbon. Is it
quite just to describe this process as one by which 'a whole school of
rhetorical writers' was encouraged 'to avoid circumlocution' by the
invention 'of superfluous words,' when it was this very process that
gave us the peculiar savour of polished ease which characterises nearly
all the important prose of the last half of the eighteenth century--that
of Johnson himself, of Hume, of Reynolds, of Horace Walpole--which can
be traced even in Burke, and which fills the pages of Gibbon? It is,
indeed, a curious reflection, but one which is amply justified by the
facts, that the _Decline and Fall_ could not have been precisely what it
is, had Sir Thomas Browne never written the _Christian Morals_.

That Johnson and his disciples had no inkling of the inner spirit of the
writer to whose outward form they owed so much, has been pointed out by
Mr. Gosse, who adds that Browne's 'genuine merits were rediscovered and
asserted by Coleridge and Lamb.' But we have already observed that Mr.
Gosse's own assertion of these merits lies a little open to question.
His view seems to be, in fact, the precise antithesis of Dr. Johnson's;
he swallows the spirit of Browne's writing, and strains at the form.
Browne, he says, was 'seduced by a certain obscure romance in the
terminology of late Latin writers,' he used 'adjectives of classical
extraction, which are neither necessary nor natural,' he forgot that it
is better for a writer 'to consult women and people who have not
studied, than those who are too learnedly oppressed by a knowledge of
Latin and Greek.' He should not have said 'oneiro-criticism,' when he
meant the interpretation of dreams, nor 'omneity' instead of 'oneness';
and he had 'no excuse for writing about the "pensile" gardens of
Babylon, when all that is required is expressed by "hanging."' Attacks
of this kind--attacks upon the elaboration and classicism of Browne's
style--are difficult to reply to, because they must seem, to anyone who
holds a contrary opinion, to betray such a total lack of sympathy with
the subject as to make argument all but impossible. To the true Browne
enthusiast, indeed, there is something almost shocking about the state
of mind which would exchange 'pensile' for 'hanging,' and 'asperous'
for 'rough,' and would do away with 'digladiation' and 'quodlibetically'
altogether. The truth is, that there is a great gulf fixed between those
who naturally dislike the ornate, and those who naturally love it. There
is no remedy; and to attempt to ignore this fact only emphasises it the
more. Anyone who is jarred by the expression 'prodigal blazes' had
better immediately shut up Sir Thomas Browne. The critic who admits the
jar, but continues to appreciate, must present, to the true enthusiast,
a spectacle of curious self-contradiction.

If once the ornate style be allowed as a legitimate form of art, no
attack such as Mr. Gosse makes on Browne's latinisms can possibly be
valid. For it is surely an error to judge and to condemn the latinisms
without reference to the whole style of which they form a necessary
part. Mr. Gosse, it is true, inclines to treat them as if they were a
mere excrescence which could be cut off without difficulty, and might
never have existed if Browne's views upon the English language had been
a little different. Browne, he says, 'had come to the conclusion that
classic words were the only legitimate ones, the only ones which
interpreted with elegance the thoughts of a sensitive and cultivated
man, and that the rest were barbarous.' We are to suppose, then, that if
he had happened to hold the opinion that Saxon words were the only
legitimate ones, the _Hydriotaphia_ would have been as free from words
of classical derivation as the sermons of Latimer. A very little
reflection and inquiry will suffice to show how completely mistaken this
view really is. In the first place, the theory that Browne considered
all unclassical words 'barbarous' and unfit to interpret his thoughts,
is clearly untenable, owing to the obvious fact that his writings are
full of instances of the deliberate use of such words. So much is this
the case, that Pater declares that a dissertation upon style might be
written to illustrate Browne's use of the words 'thin' and 'dark.' A
striking phrase from the _Christian Morals_ will suffice to show the
deliberation with which Browne sometimes employed the latter word:--'the
areopagy and dark tribunal of our hearts.' If Browne had thought the
Saxon epithet 'barbarous,' why should he have gone out of his way to use
it, when 'mysterious' or 'secret' would have expressed his meaning? The
truth is clear enough. Browne saw that 'dark' was the one word which
would give, better than any other, the precise impression of mystery and
secrecy which he intended to produce; and so he used it. He did not
choose his words according to rule, but according to the effect which he
wished them to have. Thus, when he wished to suggest an extreme contrast
between simplicity and pomp, we find him using Saxon words in direct
antithesis to classical ones. In the last sentence of _Urn Burial_, we
are told that the true believer, when he is to be buried, is 'as content
with six foot as the Moles of Adrianus.' How could Browne have produced
the remarkable sense of contrast which this short phrase conveys, if his
vocabulary had been limited, in accordance with a linguistic theory, to
words of a single stock?

There is, of course, no doubt that Browne's vocabulary is
extraordinarily classical. Why is this? The reason is not far to seek.
In his most characteristic moments he was almost entirely occupied with
thoughts and emotions which can, owing to their very nature, only be
expressed in Latinistic language. The state of mind which he wished to
produce in his readers was nearly always a complicated one: they were to
be impressed and elevated by a multiplicity of suggestions and a sense
of mystery and awe. 'Let thy thoughts,' he says himself, 'be of things
which have not entered into the hearts of beasts: think of things long
past, and long to come: acquaint thyself with the choragium of the
stars, and consider the vast expanse beyond them. Let intellectual tubes
give thee a glance of things which visive organs reach not. Have a
glimpse of incomprehensibles; and thoughts of things, which thoughts but
tenderly touch.' Browne had, in fact, as Dr. Johnson puts it, 'uncommon
sentiments'; and how was he to express them unless by a language of
pomp, of allusion, and of elaborate rhythm? Not only is the Saxon form
of speech devoid of splendour and suggestiveness; its simplicity is
still further emphasised by a spondaic rhythm which seems to produce (by
some mysterious rhythmic law) an atmosphere of ordinary life, where,
though the pathetic may be present, there is no place for the complex or
the remote. To understand how unsuitable such conditions would be for
the highly subtle and rarefied art of Sir Thomas Browne, it is only
necessary to compare one of his periods with a typical passage of Saxon

     Then they brought a faggot, kindled with fire, and laid the same
     down at Doctor Ridley's feet. To whom Master Latimer spake in this
     manner: 'Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We
     shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as
     I trust shall never be put out.'

Nothing could be better adapted to the meaning and sentiment of this
passage than the limpid, even flow of its rhythm. But who could conceive
of such a rhythm being ever applicable to the meaning and sentiment of
these sentences from the _Hydriotaphia_?

     To extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily pray for,
     and whose duration we cannot hope without injury to our
     expectations in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to
     our beliefs. We, whose generations are ordained in this setting
     part of time, are providentially taken off from such imaginations;
     and, being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity,
     are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and
     cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which
     maketh pyramids pillars of snow, and all that's past a moment.

Here the long, rolling, almost turgid clauses, with their enormous Latin
substantives, seem to carry the reader forward through an immense
succession of ages, until at last, with a sudden change of the rhythm,
the whole of recorded time crumbles and vanishes before his eyes. The
entire effect depends upon the employment of a rhythmical complexity and
subtlety which is utterly alien to Saxon prose. It would be foolish to
claim a superiority for either of the two styles; it would be still
more foolish to suppose that the effects of one might be produced by
means of the other.

Wealth of rhythmical elaboration was not the only benefit which a highly
Latinised vocabulary conferred on Browne. Without it, he would never
have been able to achieve those splendid strokes of stylistic _bravura_,
which were evidently so dear to his nature, and occur so constantly in
his finest passages. The precise quality cannot be easily described, but
is impossible to mistake; and the pleasure which it produces seems to be
curiously analogous to that given by a piece of magnificent brushwork in
a Rubens or a Velasquez. Browne's 'brushwork' is certainly unequalled in
English literature, except by the very greatest masters of sophisticated
art, such as Pope and Shakespeare; it is the inspiration of sheer
technique. Such expressions as: 'to subsist in bones and be but
pyramidally extant'--'sad and sepulchral pitchers which have no joyful
voices'--'predicament of chimaeras'--'the irregularities of vain glory,
and wild enormities of ancient magnanimity'--are examples of this
consummate mastery of language, examples which, with a multitude of
others, singly deserve whole hours of delicious gustation, whole days of
absorbed and exquisite worship. It is pleasant to start out for a long
walk with such a splendid phrase upon one's lips as: 'According to the
ordainer of order and mystical mathematicks of the City of Heaven,' to
go for miles and miles with the marvellous syllables still rich upon the
inward ear, and to return home with them in triumph. It is then that one
begins to understand how mistaken it was of Sir Thomas Browne not to
have written in simple, short, straightforward Saxon English.

One other function performed by Browne's latinisms must be mentioned,
because it is closely connected with the most essential and peculiar of
the qualities which distinguish his method of writing. Certain classical
words, partly owing to their allusiveness, partly owing to their sound,
possess a remarkable flavour which is totally absent from those of Saxon
derivation. Such a word, for instance, as 'pyramidally,' gives one at
once an immediate sense of something mysterious, something
extraordinary, and, at the same time, something almost grotesque. And
this subtle blending of mystery and queerness characterises not only
Browne's choice of words, but his choice of feelings and of thoughts.
The grotesque side of his art, indeed, was apparently all that was
visible to the critics of a few generations back, who admired him simply
and solely for what they called his 'quaintness'; while Mr. Gosse has
flown to the opposite extreme, and will not allow Browne any sense of
humour at all. The confusion no doubt arises merely from a difference in
the point of view. Mr. Gosse, regarding Browne's most important and
general effects, rightly fails to detect anything funny in them. The
Early Victorians, however, missed the broad outlines, and were
altogether taken up with the obvious grotesqueness of the details. When
they found Browne asserting that 'Cato seemed to dote upon Cabbage,' or
embroidering an entire paragraph upon the subject of 'Pyrrhus his Toe,'
they could not help smiling; and surely they were quite right. Browne,
like an impressionist painter, produced his pictures by means of a
multitude of details which, if one looks at them in themselves, are
discordant, and extraordinary, and even absurd.

There can be little doubt that this strongly marked taste for curious
details was one of the symptoms of the scientific bent of his mind. For
Browne was scientific just up to the point where the examination of
detail ends, and its coordination begins. He knew little or nothing of
general laws; but his interest in isolated phenomena was intense. And
the more singular the phenomena, the more he was attracted. He was
always ready to begin some strange inquiry. He cannot help wondering:
'Whether great-ear'd persons have short necks, long feet, and loose
bellies?' 'Marcus Antoninus Philosophus,' he notes in his commonplace
book, 'wanted not the advice of the best physicians; yet how warrantable
his practice was, to take his repast in the night, and scarce anything
but treacle in the day, may admit of great doubt.' To inquire thus is,
perhaps, to inquire too curiously; yet such inquiries are the stuff of
which great scientific theories are made. Browne, however, used his love
of details for another purpose: he co-ordinated them, not into a
scientific theory, but into a work of art. His method was one which, to
be successful, demanded a self-confidence, an imagination, and a
technical power, possessed by only the very greatest artists. Everyone
knows Pascal's overwhelming sentence:--'Le silence éternel de ces
espaces infinis m'effraie.' It is overwhelming, obviously and
immediately; it, so to speak, knocks one down. Browne's ultimate object
was to create some such tremendous effect as that, by no knock-down
blow, but by a multitude of delicate, subtle, and suggestive touches, by
an elaborate evocation of memories and half-hidden things, by a
mysterious combination of pompous images and odd unexpected trifles
drawn together from the ends of the earth and the four quarters of
heaven. His success gives him a place beside Webster and Blake, on one
of the very highest peaks of Parnassus. And, if not the highest of all,
Browne's peak is--or so at least it seems from the plains below--more
difficult of access than some which are no less exalted. The road skirts
the precipice the whole way. If one fails in the style of Pascal, one is
merely flat; if one fails in the style of Browne, one is ridiculous. He
who plays with the void, who dallies with eternity, who leaps from star
to star, is in danger at every moment of being swept into utter limbo,
and tossed forever in the Paradise of Fools.

Browne produced his greatest work late in life; for there is nothing in
the _Religio Medici_ which reaches the same level of excellence as the
last paragraphs of _The Garden of Cyrus_ and the last chapter of _Urn
Burial_. A long and calm experience of life seems, indeed, to be the
background from which his most amazing sentences start out into being.
His strangest phantasies are rich with the spoils of the real world. His
art matured with himself; and who but the most expert of artists could
have produced this perfect sentence in _The Garden of Cyrus_, so well
known, and yet so impossible not to quote?

     Nor will the sweetest delight of gardens afford much comfort in
     sleep; wherein the dullness of that sense shakes hands with
     delectable odours; and though in the bed of Cleopatra, can hardly
     with any delight raise up the ghost of a rose.

This is Browne in his most exquisite mood. For his most characteristic,
one must go to the concluding pages of _Urn Burial_, where, from the
astonishing sentence beginning--'Meanwhile Epicurus lies deep in Dante's
hell'--to the end of the book, the very quintessence of his work is to
be found. The subject--mortality in its most generalised aspect--has
brought out Browne's highest powers; and all the resources of his
art--elaboration of rhythm, brilliance of phrase, wealth and variety of
suggestion, pomp and splendour of imagination--are accumulated in every
paragraph. To crown all, he has scattered through these few pages a
multitude of proper names, most of them gorgeous in sound, and each of
them carrying its own strange freight of reminiscences and allusions
from the unknown depths of the past. As one reads, an extraordinary
procession of persons seems to pass before one's eyes--Moses,
Archimedes, Achilles, Job, Hector and Charles the Fifth, Cardan and
Alaric, Gordianus, and Pilate, and Homer, and Cambyses, and the
Canaanitish woman. Among them, one visionary figure flits with a
mysterious pre-eminence, flickering over every page, like a familiar and
ghostly flame. It is Methuselah; and, in Browne's scheme, the remote,
almost infinite, and almost ridiculous patriarch is--who can doubt?--the
only possible centre and symbol of all the rest. But it would be vain to
dwell further upon this wonderful and famous chapter, except to note the
extraordinary sublimity and serenity of its general tone. Browne never
states in so many words what his own feelings towards the universe
actually are. He speaks of everything but that; and yet, with triumphant
art, he manages to convey into our minds an indelible impression of the
vast and comprehensive grandeur of his soul.

It is interesting--or at least amusing--to consider what are the most
appropriate places in which different authors should be read. Pope is
doubtless at his best in the midst of a formal garden, Herrick in an
orchard, and Shelley in a boat at sea. Sir Thomas Browne demands,
perhaps, a more exotic atmosphere. One could read him floating down the
Euphrates, or past the shores of Arabia; and it would be pleasant to
open the _Vulgar Errors_ in Constantinople, or to get by heart a chapter
of the _Christian Morals_ between the paws of a Sphinx. In England, the
most fitting background for his strange ornament must surely be some
habitation consecrated to learning, some University which still smells
of antiquity and has learnt the habit of repose. The present writer, at
any rate, can bear witness to the splendid echo of Browne's syllables
amid learned and ancient walls; for he has known, he believes, few
happier moments than those in which he has rolled the periods of the
_Hydriotaphia_ out to the darkness and the nightingales through the
studious cloisters of Trinity.

But, after all, who can doubt that it is at Oxford that Browne himself
would choose to linger? May we not guess that he breathed in there, in
his boyhood, some part of that mysterious and charming spirit which
pervades his words? For one traces something of him, often enough, in
the old gardens, and down the hidden streets; one has heard his footstep
beside the quiet waters of Magdalen; and his smile still hovers amid
that strange company of faces which guard, with such a large passivity,
the circumference of the Sheldonian.



The whole of the modern criticism of Shakespeare has been fundamentally
affected by one important fact. The chronological order of the plays,
for so long the object of the vaguest speculation, of random guesses, or
at best of isolated 'points,' has been now discovered and reduced to a
coherent law. It is no longer possible to suppose that _The Tempest_ was
written before _Romeo and 'Juliet_; that _Henry VI._ was produced in
succession to _Henry V._; or that _Antony and Cleopatra_ followed close
upon the heels of _Julius Caesar_. Such theories were sent to limbo for
ever, when a study of those plays of whose date we have external
evidence revealed the fact that, as Shakespeare's life advanced, a
corresponding development took place in the metrical structure of his
verse. The establishment of metrical tests, by which the approximate
position and date of any play can be readily ascertained, at once
followed; chaos gave way to order; and, for the first time, critics
became able to judge, not only of the individual works, but of the whole
succession of the works of Shakespeare.

Upon this firm foundation modern writers have been only too eager to
build. It was apparent that the Plays, arranged in chronological order,
showed something more than a mere development in the technique of
verse--a development, that is to say, in the general treatment of
characters and subjects, and in the sort of feelings which those
characters and subjects were intended to arouse; and from this it was
easy to draw conclusions as to the development of the mind of
Shakespeare itself. Such conclusions have, in fact, been constantly
drawn. But it must be noted that they all rest upon the tacit
assumption, that the character of any given drama is, in fact, a true
index to the state of mind of the dramatist composing it. The validity
of this assumption has never been proved; it has never been shown, for
instance, why we should suppose a writer of farces to be habitually
merry; or whether we are really justified in concluding, from the fact
that Shakespeare wrote nothing but tragedies for six years, that, during
that period, more than at any other, he was deeply absorbed in the awful
problems of human existence. It is not, however, the purpose of this
essay to consider the question of what are the relations between the
artist and his art; for it will assume the truth of the generally
accepted view, that the character of the one can be inferred from that
of the other. What it will attempt to discuss is whether, upon this
hypothesis, the most important part of the ordinary doctrine of
Shakespeare's mental development is justifiable.

What, then, is the ordinary doctrine? Dr. Furnivall states it as

     Shakespeare's course is thus shown to have run from the amorousness
     and fun of youth, through the strong patriotism of early manhood,
     to the wrestlings with the dark problems that beset the man of
     middle age, to the gloom which weighed on Shakespeare (as on so
     many men) in later life, when, though outwardly successful, the
     world seemed all against him, and his mind dwelt with sympathy on
     scenes of faithlessness of friends, treachery of relations and
     subjects, ingratitude of children, scorn of his kind; till at last,
     in his Stratford home again, peace came to him, Miranda and Perdita
     in their lovely freshness and charm greeted him, and he was laid by
     his quiet Avon side.

And the same writer goes on to quote with approval Professor Dowden's

     likening of Shakespeare to a ship, beaten and storm-tossed, but yet
     entering harbour with sails full-set, to anchor in peace.

Such, in fact, is the general opinion of modern writers upon
Shakespeare; after a happy youth and a gloomy middle age he reached at
last--it is the universal opinion--a state of quiet serenity in which he
died. Professor Dowden's book on 'Shakespeare's Mind and Art' gives the
most popular expression to this view, a view which is also held by Mr.
Ten Brink, by Sir I. Gollancz, and, to a great extent, by Dr. Brandes.
Professor Dowden, indeed, has gone so far as to label this final period
with the appellation of 'On the Heights,' in opposition to the preceding
one, which, he says, was passed 'In the Depths.' Sir Sidney Lee, too,
seems to find, in the Plays at least, if not in Shakespeare's mind, the
orthodox succession of gaiety, of tragedy, and of the serenity of
meditative romance.

Now it is clear that the most important part of this version of
Shakespeare's mental history is the end of it. That he did eventually
attain to a state of calm content, that he did, in fact, die happy--it
is this that gives colour and interest to the whole theory. For some
reason or another, the end of a man's life seems naturally to afford the
light by which the rest of it should be read; last thoughts do appear in
some strange way to be really best and truest; and this is particularly
the case when they fit in nicely with the rest of the story, and are,
perhaps, just what one likes to think oneself. If it be true that
Shakespeare, to quote Professor Dowden, 'did at last attain to the
serene self-possession which he had sought with such persistent effort';
that, in the words of Dr. Furnivall, 'forgiven and forgiving, full of
the highest wisdom and peace, at one with family and friends and foes,
in harmony with Avon's flow and Stratford's level meads, Shakespeare
closed his life on earth'--we have obtained a piece of knowledge which
is both interesting and pleasant. But if it be not true, if, on the
contrary, it can be shown that something very different was actually the
case, then will it not follow that we must not only reverse our judgment
as to this particular point, but also readjust our view of the whole
drift and bearing of Shakespeare's 'inner life'?

The group of works which has given rise to this theory of ultimate
serenity was probably entirely composed after Shakespeare's final
retirement from London, and his establishment at New Place. It consists
of three plays--_Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale_, and _The Tempest_--and
three fragments--the Shakespearean parts of _Pericles, Henry VIII._,
and _The Two Noble Kinsmen_. All these plays and portions of plays form
a distinct group; they resemble each other in a multitude of ways, and
they differ in a multitude of ways from nearly all Shakespeare's
previous work.

One other complete play, however, and one other fragment, do resemble in
some degree these works of the final period; for, immediately preceding
them in date, they show clear traces of the beginnings of the new
method, and they are themselves curiously different from the plays they
immediately succeed--that great series of tragedies which began with
_Hamlet_ in 1601 and ended in 1608 with _Antony and Cleopatra_. In the
latter year, indeed, Shakespeare's entire method underwent an
astonishing change. For six years he had been persistently occupied with
a kind of writing which he had himself not only invented but brought to
the highest point of excellence--the tragedy of character. Every one of
his masterpieces has for its theme the action of tragic situation upon
character; and, without those stupendous creations in character, his
greatest tragedies would obviously have lost the precise thing that has
made them what they are. Yet, after _Antony and Cleopatra_ Shakespeare
deliberately turned his back upon the dramatic methods of all his past
career. There seems no reason why he should not have continued, year
after year, to produce _Othellos, Hamlets_, and _Macbeths_; instead, he
turned over a new leaf, and wrote _Coriolanus_.

_Coriolanus_ is certainly a remarkable, and perhaps an intolerable play:
remarkable, because it shows the sudden first appearance of the
Shakespeare of the final period; intolerable, because it is impossible
to forget how much better it might have been. The subject is thick with
situations; the conflicts of patriotism and pride, the effects of sudden
disgrace following upon the very height of fortune, the struggles
between family affection on the one hand and every interest of revenge
and egotism on the other--these would have made a tragic and tremendous
setting for some character worthy to rank with Shakespeare's best. But
it pleased him to ignore completely all these opportunities; and, in the
play he has given us, the situations, mutilated and degraded, serve
merely as miserable props for the gorgeous clothing of his rhetoric. For
rhetoric, enormously magnificent and extraordinarily elaborate, is the
beginning and the middle and the end of _Coriolanus_. The hero is not a
human being at all; he is the statue of a demi-god cast in bronze, which
roars its perfect periods, to use a phrase of Sir Walter Raleigh's,
through a melodious megaphone. The vigour of the presentment is, it is
true, amazing; but it is a presentment of decoration, not of life. So
far and so quickly had Shakespeare already wandered from the subtleties
of _Cleopatra_. The transformation is indeed astonishing; one wonders,
as one beholds it, what will happen next.

At about the same time, some of the scenes in _Timon of Athens_ were in
all probability composed: scenes which resemble _Coriolanus_ in their
lack of characterisation and abundance of rhetoric, but differ from it
in the peculiar grossness of their tone. For sheer virulence of
foul-mouthed abuse, some of the speeches in Timon are probably
unsurpassed in any literature; an outraged drayman would speak so, if
draymen were in the habit of talking poetry. From this whirlwind of
furious ejaculation, this splendid storm of nastiness, Shakespeare, we
are confidently told, passed in a moment to tranquillity and joy, to
blue skies, to young ladies, and to general forgiveness.

     From 1604 to 1610 [says Professor Dowden] a show of tragic figures,
     like the kings who passed before Macbeth, filled the vision of
     Shakespeare; until at last the desperate image of Timon rose before
     him; when, as though unable to endure or to conceive a more
     lamentable ruin of man, he turned for relief to the pastoral loves
     of Prince Florizel and Perdita; and as soon as the tone of his mind
     was restored, gave expression to its ultimate mood of grave
     serenity in _The Tempest_, and so ended.

This is a pretty picture, but is it true? It may, indeed, be admitted at
once that Prince Florizel and Perdita are charming creatures, that
Prospero is 'grave,' and that Hermione is more or less 'serene'; but why
is it that, in our consideration of the later plays, the whole of our
attention must always be fixed upon these particular characters? Modern
critics, in their eagerness to appraise everything that is beautiful and
good at its proper value, seem to have entirely forgotten that there is
another side to the medal; and they have omitted to point out that these
plays contain a series of portraits of peculiar infamy, whose wickedness
finds expression in language of extraordinary force. Coming fresh from
their pages to the pages of _Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale_, and _The
Tempest_, one is astonished and perplexed. How is it possible to fit
into their scheme of roses and maidens that 'Italian fiend' the 'yellow
Iachimo,' or Cloten, that 'thing too bad for bad report,' or the 'crafty
devil,' his mother, or Leontes, or Caliban, or Trinculo? To omit these
figures of discord and evil from our consideration, to banish them
comfortably to the background of the stage, while Autolycus and Miranda
dance before the footlights, is surely a fallacy in proportion; for the
presentment of the one group of persons is every whit as distinct and
vigorous as that of the other. Nowhere, indeed, is Shakespeare's
violence of expression more constantly displayed than in the 'gentle
utterances' of his last period; it is here that one finds Paulina, in a
torrent of indignation as far from 'grave serenity' as it is from
'pastoral love,' exclaiming to Leontes:

    What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
    What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling
    In leads or oils? what old or newer torture
    Must I receive, whose every word deserves
    To taste of thy most worst? Thy tyranny,
    Together working with thy jealousies,
    Fancies too weak for boys, too green and idle
    For girls of nine, O! think what they have done,
    And then run mad indeed, stark mad; for all
    Thy by-gone fooleries were but spices of it.
    That thou betray'dst Polixenes, 'twas nothing;
    That did but show thee, of a fool, inconstant
    And damnable ingrateful; nor was't much
    Thou would'st have poison'd good Camillo's honour,
    To have him kill a king; poor trespasses,
    More monstrous standing by; whereof I reckon
    The casting forth to crows thy baby daughter
    To be or none or little; though a devil
    Would have shed water out of fire ere done't.
    Nor is't directly laid to thee, the death
    Of the young prince, whose honourable thoughts,
    Thoughts high for one so tender, cleft the heart
    That could conceive a gross and foolish sire
    Blemished his gracious dam.

Nowhere are the poet's metaphors more nakedly material; nowhere does he
verge more often upon a sort of brutality of phrase, a cruel coarseness.
Iachimo tells us how:

                             The cloyed will,
    That satiate yet unsatisfied desire, that tub
    Both filled and running, ravening first the lamb,
    Longs after for the garbage.

and talks of:

                              an eye
    Base and unlustrous as the smoky light
    That's fed with stinking tallow.

'The south fog rot him!' Cloten bursts out to Imogen, cursing her
husband in an access of hideous rage.

What traces do such passages as these show of 'serene self-possession,'
of 'the highest wisdom and peace,' or of 'meditative romance'? English
critics, overcome by the idea of Shakespeare's ultimate tranquillity,
have generally denied to him the authorship of the brothel scenes in
_Pericles_ but these scenes are entirely of a piece with the grossnesses
of _The Winter's Tale_ and _Cymbeline_.

    Is there no way for men to be, but women
    Must be half-workers?

says Posthumus when he hears of Imogen's guilt.

                      We are all bastards;
    And that most venerable man, which I
    Did call my father, was I know not where
    When I was stamped. Some coiner with his tools
    Made me a counterfeit; yet my mother seemed
    The Dian of that time; so doth my wife
    The nonpareil of this--O vengeance, vengeance!
    Me of my lawful pleasure she restrained
    And prayed me, oft, forbearance; did it with
    A pudency so rosy, the sweet view on't
    Might well have warmed old Saturn, that I thought her
    As chaste as unsunned snow--O, all the devils!--
    This yellow Iachimo, in an hour,--was't not?
    Or less,--at first: perchance he spoke not; but,
    Like a full-acorned boar, a German one,
    Cried, oh! and mounted: found no opposition
    But what he looked for should oppose, and she
    Should from encounter guard.

And Leontes, in a similar situation, expresses himself in images no less
to the point.

                              There have been,
    Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now,
    And many a man there is, even at this present,
    Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm,
    That little thinks she has been sluiced in's absence
    And his pond fished by his next neighbour, by
    Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there's comfort in't,
    Whiles other men have gates, and those gates opened,
    As mine, against their will. Should all despair
    That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind
    Would hang themselves. Physic for't there's none;
    It is a bawdy planet, that will strike
    Where 'tis predominant; and 'tis powerful, think it,
    From east, west, north and south: be it concluded,
    No barricade for a belly, know't;
    It will let in and out the enemy
    With bag and baggage: many thousand on's
    Have the disease, and feel't not.

It is really a little difficult, in the face of such passages, to agree
with Professor Dowden's dictum: 'In these latest plays the beautiful
pathetic light is always present.'

But how has it happened that the judgment of so many critics has been so
completely led astray? Charm and gravity, and even serenity, are to be
found in many other plays of Shakespeare. Ophelia is charming, Brutus is
grave, Cordelia is serene; are we then to suppose that _Hamlet_, and
_Julius Caesar_, and _King Lear_ give expression to the same mood of
high tranquillity which is betrayed by _Cymbeline, The Tempest_, and
_The Winter's Tale_? 'Certainly not,' reply the orthodox writers, 'for
you must distinguish. The plays of the last period are not tragedies;
they all end happily'--'in scenes,' says Sir I. Gollancz, 'of
forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.' Virtue, in fact, is not only
virtuous, it is triumphant; what would you more?

But to this it may be retorted, that, in the case of one of
Shakespeare's plays, even the final vision of virtue and beauty
triumphant over ugliness and vice fails to dispel a total effect of
horror and of gloom. For, in _Measure for Measure_ Isabella is no whit
less pure and lovely than any Perdita or Miranda, and her success is as
complete; yet who would venture to deny that the atmosphere of _Measure
for Measure_ was more nearly one of despair than of serenity? What is
it, then, that makes the difference? Why should a happy ending seem in
one case futile, and in another satisfactory? Why does it sometimes
matter to us a great deal, and sometimes not at all, whether virtue is
rewarded or not?

The reason, in this case, is not far to seek. _Measure for Measure_ is,
like nearly every play of Shakespeare's before _Coriolanus_, essentially
realistic. The characters are real men and women; and what happens to
them upon the stage has all the effect of what happens to real men and
women in actual life. Their goodness appears to be real goodness, their
wickedness real wickedness; and, if their sufferings are terrible
enough, we regret the fact, even though in the end they triumph, just as
we regret the real sufferings of our friends. But, in the plays of the
final period, all this has changed; we are no longer in the real world,
but in a world of enchantment, of mystery, of wonder, a world of
shifting visions, a world of hopeless anachronisms, a world in which
anything may happen next. The pretences of reality are indeed usually
preserved, but only the pretences. Cymbeline is supposed to be the king
of a real Britain, and the real Augustus is supposed to demand tribute
of him; but these are the reasons which his queen, in solemn audience
with the Roman ambassador, urges to induce her husband to declare for

             Remember, sir, my liege,
    The Kings your ancestors, together with
    The natural bravery of your isle, which stands
    As Neptune's park, ribbed and paled in
    With rocks unscaleable and roaring waters,
    With sands that will not bear your enemies' boats,
    But suck them up to the topmast. A kind of conquest
    Caesar made here; but made not here his brag
    Of 'Came, and saw, and overcame'; with shame--
    The first that ever touched him--he was carried
    From off our coast, twice beaten; and his shipping--
    Poor ignorant baubles!--on our terrible seas,
    Like egg-shells moved upon the surges, crack'd
    As easily 'gainst our rocks; for joy whereof
    The famed Cassibelan, who was once at point--
    O giglot fortune!--to master Caesar's sword,
    Made Lud's town with rejoicing fires bright
    And Britons strut with courage.

It comes with something of a shock to remember that this medley of
poetry, bombast, and myth will eventually reach the ears of no other
person than the Octavius of _Antony and Cleopatra_; and the contrast is
the more remarkable when one recalls the brilliant scene of negotiation
and diplomacy in the latter play, which passes between Octavius,
Maecenas, and Agrippa on the one side, and Antony and Enobarbus on the
other, and results in the reconciliation of the rivals and the marriage
of Antony and Octavia.

Thus strangely remote is the world of Shakespeare's latest period; and
it is peopled, this universe of his invention, with beings equally
unreal, with creatures either more or less than human, with fortunate
princes and wicked step-mothers, with goblins and spirits, with lost
princesses and insufferable kings. And of course, in this sort of fairy
land, it is an essential condition that everything shall end well; the
prince and princess are bound to marry and live happily ever afterwards,
or the whole story is unnecessary and absurd; and the villains and the
goblins must naturally repent and be forgiven. But it is clear that such
happy endings, such conventional closes to fantastic tales, cannot be
taken as evidences of serene tranquillity on the part of their maker;
they merely show that he knew, as well as anyone else, how such stories
ought to end.

Yet there can be no doubt that it is this combination of charming
heroines and happy endings which has blinded the eyes of modern critics
to everything else. Iachimo, and Leontes, and even Caliban, are to be
left out of account, as if, because in the end they repent or are
forgiven, words need not be wasted on such reconciled and harmonious
fiends. It is true they are grotesque; it is true that such personages
never could have lived; but who, one would like to know, has ever met
Miranda, or become acquainted with Prince Florizel of Bohemia? In this
land of faery, is it right to neglect the goblins? In this world of
dreams, are we justified in ignoring the nightmares? Is it fair to say
that Shakespeare was in 'a gentle, lofty spirit, a peaceful, tranquil
mood,' when he was creating the Queen in _Cymbeline_, or writing the
first two acts of _The Winter's Tale_?

Attention has never been sufficiently drawn to one other characteristic
of these plays, though it is touched upon both by Professor Dowden and
Dr. Brandes--the singular carelessness with which great parts of them
were obviously written. Could anything drag more wretchedly than the
_dénouement_ of _Cymbeline_? And with what perversity is the great
pastoral scene in _The Winter's Tale_ interspersed with long-winded
intrigues, and disguises, and homilies! For these blemishes are unlike
the blemishes which enrich rather than lessen the beauty of the earlier
plays; they are not, like them, interesting or delightful in themselves;
they are usually merely necessary to explain the action, and they are
sometimes purely irrelevant. One is, it cannot be denied, often bored,
and occasionally irritated, by Polixenes and Camillo and Sebastian and
Gonzalo and Belarius; these personages have not even the life of ghosts;
they are hardly more than speaking names, that give patient utterance to
involution upon involution. What a contrast to the minor characters of
Shakespeare's earlier works!

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that he was getting bored
himself. Bored with people, bored with real life, bored with drama,
bored, in fact, with everything except poetry and poetical dreams. He is
no longer interested, one often feels, in what happens, or who says
what, so long as he can find place for a faultless lyric, or a new,
unimagined rhythmical effect, or a grand and mystic speech. In this mood
he must have written his share in _The Two Noble Kinsmen_, leaving the
plot and characters to Fletcher to deal with as he pleased, and
reserving to himself only the opportunities for pompous verse. In this
mood he must have broken off half-way through the tedious history of
_Henry VIII_.; and in this mood he must have completed, with all the
resources of his rhetoric, the miserable archaic fragment of _Pericles_.

Is it not thus, then, that we should imagine him in the last years of
his life? Half enchanted by visions of beauty and loveliness, and half
bored to death; on the one side inspired by a soaring fancy to the
singing of ethereal songs, and on the other urged by a general disgust
to burst occasionally through his torpor into bitter and violent speech?
If we are to learn anything of his mind from his last works, it is
surely this.

And such is the conclusion which is particularly forced upon us by a
consideration of the play which is in many ways most typical of
Shakespeare's later work, and the one which critics most consistently
point to as containing the very essence of his final benignity--_The
Tempest_. There can be no doubt that the peculiar characteristics which
distinguish _Cymbeline_ and _The Winter's Tale_ from the dramas of
Shakespeare's prime, are present here in a still greater degree. In _The
Tempest_, unreality has reached its apotheosis. Two of the principal
characters are frankly not human beings at all; and the whole action
passes, through a series of impossible occurrences, in a place which can
only by courtesy be said to exist. The Enchanted Island, indeed,
peopled, for a timeless moment, by this strange fantastic medley of
persons and of things, has been cut adrift for ever from common sense,
and floats, buoyed up by a sea, not of waters, but of poetry. Never did
Shakespeare's magnificence of diction reach more marvellous heights than
in some of the speeches of Prospero, or his lyric art a purer beauty
than in the songs of Ariel; nor is it only in these ethereal regions
that the triumph of his language asserts itself. It finds as splendid a
vent in the curses of Caliban:

    All the infection that the sun sucks up
    From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him
    By inch-meal a disease!

and in the similes of Trinculo:

    Yond' same black cloud, yond' huge one, looks like a foul
    bombard that would shed his liquor.

The _dénouement_ itself, brought about by a preposterous piece of
machinery, and lost in a whirl of rhetoric, is hardly more than a peg
for fine writing.

               O, it is monstrous, monstrous!
    Methought the billows spoke and told me of it;
    The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
    That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced
    The name of Prosper; it did bass my trespass.
    Therefore my son i' th' ooze is bedded, and
    I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,
    And with him there lie mudded.

And this gorgeous phantasm of a repentance from the mouth of the pale
phantom Alonzo is a fitting climax to the whole fantastic play.

A comparison naturally suggests itself, between what was perhaps the
last of Shakespeare's completed works, and that early drama which first
gave undoubted proof that his imagination had taken wings. The points of
resemblance between _The Tempest_ and _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, their
common atmosphere of romance and magic, the beautiful absurdities of
their intrigues, their studied contrasts of the grotesque with the
delicate, the ethereal with the earthly, the charm of their lyrics, the
_verve_ of their vulgar comedy--these, of course, are obvious enough;
but it is the points of difference which really make the comparison
striking. One thing, at any rate, is certain about the wood near
Athens--it is full of life. The persons that haunt it--though most of
them are hardly more than children, and some of them are fairies, and
all of them are too agreeable to be true--are nevertheless substantial
creatures, whose loves and jokes and quarrels receive our thorough
sympathy; and the air they breathe--the lords and the ladies, no less
than the mechanics and the elves--is instinct with an exquisite
good-humour, which makes us as happy as the night is long. To turn from
Theseus and Titania and Bottom to the Enchanted Island, is to step out
of a country lane into a conservatory. The roses and the dandelions have
vanished before preposterous cactuses, and fascinating orchids too
delicate for the open air; and, in the artificial atmosphere, the gaiety
of youth has been replaced by the disillusionment of middle age.
Prospero is the central figure of _The Tempest_; and it has often been
wildly asserted that he is a portrait of the author--an embodiment of
that spirit of wise benevolence which is supposed to have thrown a halo
over Shakespeare's later life. But, on closer inspection, the portrait
seems to be as imaginary as the original. To an irreverent eye, the
ex-Duke of Milan would perhaps appear as an unpleasantly crusty
personage, in whom a twelve years' monopoly of the conversation had
developed an inordinate propensity for talking. These may have been the
sentiments of Ariel, safe at the Bermoothes; but to state them is to
risk at least ten years in the knotty entrails of an oak, and it is
sufficient to point out, that if Prospero is wise, he is also
self-opinionated and sour, that his gravity is often another name for
pedantic severity, and that there is no character in the play to whom,
during some part of it, he is not studiously disagreeable. But his
Milanese countrymen are not even disagreeable; they are simply dull.
'This is the silliest stuff that e'er I heard,' remarked Hippolyta of
Bottom's amateur theatricals; and one is tempted to wonder what she
would have said to the dreary puns and interminable conspiracies of
Alonzo, and Gonzalo, and Sebastian, and Antonio, and Adrian, and
Francisco, and other shipwrecked noblemen. At all events, there can be
little doubt that they would not have had the entrée at Athens.

The depth of the gulf between the two plays is, however, best measured
by a comparison of Caliban and his masters with Bottom and his
companions. The guileless group of English mechanics, whose sports are
interrupted by the mischief of Puck, offers a strange contrast to the
hideous trio of the 'jester,' the 'drunken butler,' and the 'savage and
deformed slave,' whose designs are thwarted by the magic of Ariel.
Bottom was the first of Shakespeare's masterpieces in characterisation,
Caliban was the last: and what a world of bitterness and horror lies
between them! The charming coxcomb it is easy to know and love; but the
'freckled whelp hag-born' moves us mysteriously to pity and to terror,
eluding us for ever in fearful allegories, and strange coils of
disgusted laughter and phantasmagorical tears. The physical vigour of
the presentment is often so remorseless as to shock us. 'I left them,'
says Ariel, speaking of Caliban and his crew:

    I' the filthy-mantled pool beyond your cell,
    There dancing up to the chins, that the foul lake
    O'erstunk their feet.

But at other times the great half-human shape seems to swell like the
'Pan' of Victor Hugo, into something unimaginably vast.

    You taught me language, and my profit on't
    Is, I know how to curse.

Is this Caliban addressing Prospero, or Job addressing God? It may be
either; but it is not serene, nor benign, nor pastoral, nor 'On the



No one needs an excuse for re-opening the _Lives of the Poets_; the book
is too delightful. It is not, of course, as delightful as Boswell; but
who re-opens Boswell? Boswell is in another category; because, as every
one knows, when he has once been opened he can never be shut. But, on
its different level, the _Lives_ will always hold a firm and comfortable
place in our affections. After Boswell, it is the book which brings us
nearer than any other to the mind of Dr. Johnson. That is its primary
import. We do not go to it for information or for instruction, or that
our tastes may be improved, or that our sympathies may be widened; we go
to it to see what Dr. Johnson thought. Doubtless, during the process, we
are informed and instructed and improved in various ways; but these
benefits are incidental, like the invigoration which comes from a
mountain walk. It is not for the sake of the exercise that we set out;
but for the sake of the view. The view from the mountain which is Samuel
Johnson is so familiar, and has been so constantly analysed and admired,
that further description would be superfluous. It is sufficient for us
to recognise that he is a mountain, and to pay all the reverence that is
due. In one of Emerson's poems a mountain and a squirrel begin to
discuss each other's merits; and the squirrel comes to the triumphant
conclusion that he is very much the better of the two, since he can
crack a nut, while the mountain can do no such thing. The parallel is
close enough between this impudence and the attitude--implied, if not
expressed--of too much modern criticism towards the sort of
qualities--the easy, indolent power, the searching sense of actuality,
the combined command of sanity and paradox, the immovable independence
of thought--which went to the making of the _Lives of the Poets_. There
is only, perhaps, one flaw in the analogy: that, in this particular
instance, the mountain was able to crack nuts a great deal better than
any squirrel that ever lived.

That the _Lives_ continue to be read, admired, and edited, is in itself
a high proof of the eminence of Johnson's intellect; because, as serious
criticism, they can hardly appear to the modern reader to be very far
removed from the futile. Johnson's aesthetic judgments are almost
invariably subtle, or solid, or bold; they have always some good quality
to recommend them--except one: they are never right. That is an
unfortunate deficiency; but no one can doubt that Johnson has made up
for it, and that his wit has saved all. He has managed to be wrong so
cleverly, that nobody minds. When Gray, for instance, points the moral
to his poem on Walpole's cat with a reminder to the fair that all that
glisters is not gold, Johnson remarks that this is 'of no relation to
the purpose; if _what glistered_ had been _gold_, the cat would not have
gone into the water; and, if she had, would not less have been drowned.'
Could anything be more ingenious, or more neatly put, or more obviously
true? But then, to use Johnson's own phrase, could anything be of less
'relation to the purpose'? It is his wit--and we are speaking, of
course, of wit in its widest sense--that has sanctified Johnson's
peversities and errors, that has embalmed them for ever, and that has
put his book, with all its mass of antiquated doctrine, beyond the reach
of time.

For it is not only in particular details that Johnson's criticism fails
to convince us; his entire point of view is patently out of date. Our
judgments differ from his, not only because our tastes are different,
but because our whole method of judging has changed. Thus, to the
historian of letters, the _Lives_ have a special interest, for they
afford a standing example of a great dead tradition--a tradition whose
characteristics throw more than one curious light upon the literary
feelings and ways which have become habitual to ourselves. Perhaps the
most striking difference between the critical methods of the eighteenth
century and those of the present day, is the difference in sympathy. The
most cursory glance at Johnson's book is enough to show that he judged
authors as if they were criminals in the dock, answerable for every
infraction of the rules and regulations laid down by the laws of art,
which it was his business to administer without fear or favour. Johnson
never inquired what poets were trying to do; he merely aimed at
discovering whether what they had done complied with the canons of
poetry. Such a system of criticism was clearly unexceptionable, upon one
condition--that the critic was quite certain what the canons of poetry
were; but the moment that it became obvious that the only way of
arriving at a conclusion upon the subject was by consulting the poets
themselves, the whole situation completely changed. The judge had to bow
to the prisoner's ruling. In other words, the critic discovered that his
first duty was, not to criticise, but to understand the object of his
criticism. That is the essential distinction between the school of
Johnson and the school of Sainte-Beuve. No one can doubt the greater
width and profundity of the modern method; but it is not without its
drawbacks. An excessive sympathy with one's author brings its own set of
errors: the critic is so happy to explain everything, to show how this
was the product of the age, how that was the product of environment, and
how the other was the inevitable result of inborn qualities and
tastes--that he sometimes forgets to mention whether the work in
question has any value. It is then that one cannot help regretting the
Johnsonian black cap.

But other defects, besides lack of sympathy, mar the _Lives of the
Poets_. One cannot help feeling that no matter how anxious Johnson might
have been to enter into the spirit of some of the greatest of the
masters with whom he was concerned, he never could have succeeded.
Whatever critical method he might have adopted, he still would have
been unable to appreciate certain literary qualities, which, to our
minds at any rate, appear to be the most important of all. His opinion
of _Lycidas_ is well known: he found that poem 'easy, vulgar, and
therefore disgusting.' Of the songs in _Comus_ he remarks: 'they are
harsh in their diction, and not very musical in their numbers.' He could
see nothing in the splendour and elevation of Gray, but 'glittering
accumulations of ungraceful ornaments.' The passionate intensity of
Donne escaped him altogether; he could only wonder how so ingenious a
writer could be so absurd. Such preposterous judgments can only be
accounted for by inherent deficiencies of taste; Johnson had no ear, and
he had no imagination. These are, indeed, grievous disabilities in a
critic. What could have induced such a man, the impatient reader is
sometimes tempted to ask, to set himself up as a judge of poetry?

The answer to the question is to be found in the remarkable change which
has come over our entire conception of poetry, since the time when
Johnson wrote. It has often been stated that the essential
characteristic of that great Romantic Movement which began at the end of
the eighteenth century, was the re-introduction of Nature into the
domain of poetry. Incidentally, it is curious to observe that nearly
every literary revolution has been hailed by its supporters as a return
to Nature. No less than the school of Coleridge and Wordsworth, the
school of Denham, of Dryden, and of Pope, proclaimed itself as the
champion of Nature; and there can be little doubt that Donne
himself--the father of all the conceits and elaborations of the
seventeenth century--wrote under the impulse of a Naturalistic reaction
against the conventional classicism of the Renaissance. Precisely the
same contradictions took place in France. Nature was the watchword of
Malherbe and of Boileau; and it was equally the watchword of Victor
Hugo. To judge by the successive proclamations of poets, the development
of literature offers a singular paradox. The further it goes back, the
more sophisticated it becomes; and it grows more and more natural as it
grows distant from the State of Nature. However this may be, it is at
least certain that the Romantic revival peculiarly deserves to be called
Naturalistic, because it succeeded in bringing into vogue the operations
of the external world--'the Vegetable Universe,' as Blake called it--as
subject-matter for poetry. But it would have done very little, if it had
done nothing more than this. Thomson, in the full meridian of the
eighteenth century, wrote poems upon the subject of Nature; but it would
be foolish to suppose that Wordsworth and Coleridge merely carried on a
fashion which Thomson had begun. Nature, with them, was something more
than a peg for descriptive and didactic verse; it was the manifestation
of the vast and mysterious forces of the world. The publication of _The
Ancient Mariner_ is a landmark in the history of letters, not because of
its descriptions of natural objects, but because it swept into the
poet's vision a whole new universe of infinite and eternal things; it
was the discovery of the Unknown. We are still under the spell of _The
Ancient Mariner_; and poetry to us means, primarily, something which
suggests, by means of words, mysteries and infinitudes. Thus, music and
imagination seem to us the most essential qualities of poetry, because
they are the most potent means by which such suggestions may be invoked.
But the eighteenth century knew none of these things. To Lord
Chesterfield and to Pope, to Prior and to Horace Walpole, there was
nothing at all strange about the world; it was charming, it was
disgusting, it was ridiculous, and it was just what one might have
expected. In such a world, why should poetry, more than anything else,
be mysterious? No! Let it be sensible; that was enough.

The new edition of the _Lives_, which Dr. Birkbeck Hill prepared for
publication before his death, and which has been issued by the Clarendon
Press, with a brief Memoir of the editor, would probably have astonished
Dr. Johnson. But, though the elaborate erudition of the notes and
appendices might have surprised him, it would not have put him to
shame. One can imagine his growling scorn of the scientific
conscientiousness of the present day. And indeed, the three tomes of Dr.
Hill's edition, with all their solid wealth of information, their
voluminous scholarship, their accumulation of vast research, are a
little ponderous and a little ugly; the hand is soon wearied with the
weight, and the eye is soon distracted by the varying types, and the
compressed columns of the notes, and the paragraphic numerals in the
margins. This is the price that must be paid for increased efficiency.
The wise reader will divide his attention between the new business-like
edition and one of the charming old ones, in four comfortable volumes,
where the text is supreme upon the page, and the paragraphs follow one
another at leisurely intervals. The type may be a little faded, and the
paper a little yellow; but what of that? It is all quiet and easy; and,
as one reads, the brilliant sentences seem to come to one, out of the
Past, with the friendliness of a conversation.



[Footnote 1: _Lives of the English Poets_. By Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
Edited by George Birkbeck Hill, D.C.L. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press,


When Napoleon was starting for his campaign in Russia, he ordered the
proof-sheets of a forthcoming book, about which there had been some
disagreement among the censors of the press, to be put into his
carriage, so that he might decide for himself what suppressions it might
be necessary to make. 'Je m'ennuie en route; je lirai ces volumes, et
j'écrirai de Mayence ce qu'il y aura à faire.' The volumes thus chosen
to beguile the imperial leisure between Paris and Mayence contained the
famous correspondence of Madame du Deffand with Horace Walpole. By the
Emperor's command a few excisions were made, and the book--reprinted
from Miss Berry's original edition which had appeared two years earlier
in England--was published almost at once. The sensation in Paris was
immense; the excitement of the Russian campaign itself was half
forgotten; and for some time the blind old inhabitant of the Convent of
Saint Joseph held her own as a subject of conversation with the burning
of Moscow and the passage of the Berezina. We cannot wonder that this
was so. In the Parisian drawing-room of those days the letters of Madame
du Deffand must have exercised a double fascination--on the one hand as
a mine of gossip about numberless persons and events still familiar to
many a living memory, and, on the other, as a detailed and brilliant
record of a state of society which had already ceased to be actual and
become historical. The letters were hardly more than thirty years old;
but the world which they depicted in all its intensity and all its
singularity--the world of the old régime--had vanished for ever into
limbo. Between it and the eager readers of the First Empire a gulf was
fixed--a narrow gulf, but a deep one, still hot and sulphurous with the
volcanic fires of the Revolution. Since then a century has passed; the
gulf has widened; and the vision which these curious letters show us
to-day seems hardly less remote--from some points of view, indeed, even
more--than that which is revealed to us in the Memoirs of Cellini or the
correspondence of Cicero. Yet the vision is not simply one of a strange
and dead antiquity: there is a personal and human element in the letters
which gives them a more poignant interest, and brings them close to
ourselves. The soul of man is not subject to the rumour of periods; and
these pages, impregnated though they be with the abolished life of the
eighteenth century, can never be out of date.

A fortunate chance enables us now, for the first time, to appreciate
them in their completeness. The late Mrs. Paget Toynbee, while preparing
her edition of Horace Walpole's letters, came upon the trace of the
original manuscripts, which had long lain hidden in obscurity in a
country house in Staffordshire. The publication of these manuscripts in
full, accompanied by notes and indexes in which Mrs. Toynbee's
well-known accuracy, industry, and tact are everywhere conspicuous, is
an event of no small importance to lovers of French literature. A great
mass of new and deeply interesting material makes its appearance. The
original edition produced by Miss Berry in 1810, from which all the
subsequent editions were reprinted with varying degrees of inaccuracy,
turns out to have contained nothing more than a comparatively small
fraction of the whole correspondence; of the 838 letters published by
Mrs. Toynbee, 485 are entirely new, and of the rest only 52 were printed
by Miss Berry in their entirety. Miss Berry's edition was, in fact,
simply a selection, and as a selection it deserves nothing but praise.
It skims the cream of the correspondence; and it faithfully preserves
the main outline of the story which the letters reveal. No doubt that
was enough for the readers of that generation; indeed, even for the more
exacting reader of to-day, there is something a little overwhelming in
the closely packed 2000 pages of Mrs. Toynbee's volumes. Enthusiasm
alone will undertake to grapple with them, but enthusiasm will be
rewarded. In place of the truthful summary of the earlier editions, we
have now the truth itself--the truth in all its subtle gradations, all
its long-drawn-out suspensions, all its intangible and irremediable
obscurities: it is the difference between a clear-cut drawing in
black-and-white and a finished painting in oils. Probably Miss Berry's
edition will still be preferred by the ordinary reader who wishes to
become acquainted with a celebrated figure in French literature; but
Mrs. Toynbee's will always be indispensable for the historical student,
and invaluable for anyone with the leisure, the patience, and the taste
for a detailed and elaborate examination of a singular adventure of the

The Marquise du Deffand was perhaps the most typical representative of
that phase of civilisation which came into existence in Western Europe
during the early years of the eighteenth century, and reached its most
concentrated and characteristic form about the year 1750 in the
drawing-rooms of Paris. She was supremely a woman of her age; but it is
important to notice that her age was the first, and not the second, half
of the eighteenth century: it was the age of the Regent Orleans,
Fontenelle, and the young Voltaire; not that of Rousseau, the
'Encyclopaedia,' and the Patriarch of Ferney. It is true that her
letters to Walpole, to which her fame is mainly due, were written
between 1766 and 1780; but they are the letters of an old woman, and
they bear upon every page of them the traces of a mind to which the
whole movement of contemporary life was profoundly distasteful. The new
forces to which the eighteenth century gave birth in thought, in art, in
sentiment, in action--which for us form its peculiar interest and its
peculiar glory--were anathema to Madame du Deffand. In her letters to
Walpole, whenever she compares the present with the past her bitterness
becomes extreme. 'J'ai eu autrefois,' she writes in 1778, 'des plaisirs
indicibles aux opéras de Quinault et de Lulli, et au jeu de Thévenart et
de la Lemaur. Pour aujourd'hui, tout me paraît détestable: acteurs,
auteurs, musiciens, beaux esprits, philosophes, tout est de mauvais
goût, tout est affreux, affreux.' That great movement towards
intellectual and political emancipation which centred in the
'Encyclopaedia' and the _Philosophes_ was the object of her particular
detestation. She saw Diderot once--and that was enough for both of them.
She could never understand why it was that M. de Voltaire would persist
in wasting his talent for writing over such a dreary subject as
religion. Turgot, she confessed, was an honest man, but he was also a
'sot animal.' His dismissal from office--that fatal act, which made the
French Revolution inevitable--delighted her: she concealed her feelings
from Walpole, who admired him, but she was outspoken enough to the
Duchesse de Choiseul. 'Le renvoi du Turgot me plaît extrêmement,' she
wrote; 'tout me paraît en bon train.' And then she added, more
prophetically than she knew, 'Mais, assurément, nous n'en resterons pas
là.' No doubt her dislike of the Encyclopaedists and all their works was
in part a matter of personal pique--the result of her famous quarrel
with Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, under whose opposing banner d'Alembert
and all the intellectual leaders of Parisian society had unhesitatingly
ranged themselves. But that quarrel was itself far more a symptom of a
deeply rooted spiritual antipathy than a mere vulgar struggle for
influence between two rival _salonnières_. There are indications that,
even before it took place, the elder woman's friendship for d'Alembert
was giving way under the strain of her scorn for his advanced views and
her hatred of his proselytising cast of mind. 'Il y a de certains
articles,' she complained to Voltaire in 1763--a year before the final
estrangement--'qui sont devenus pour lui affaires de parti, et sur
lesquels je ne lui trouve pas le sens commun.' The truth is that
d'Alembert and his friends were moving, and Madame du Deffand was
standing still. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse simply precipitated and
intensified an inevitable rupture. She was the younger generation
knocking at the door.

Madame du Deffand's generation had, indeed, very little in common with
that ardent, hopeful, speculative, sentimental group of friends who met
together every evening in the drawing-room of Mademoiselle de
Lespinasse. Born at the close of the seventeenth century, she had come
into the world in the brilliant days of the Regent, whose witty and
licentious reign had suddenly dissipated the atmosphere of gloom and
bigotry imposed upon society by the moribund Court of Louis XIV. For a
fortnight (so she confessed to Walpole) she was actually the Regent's
mistress; and a fortnight, in those days, was a considerable time. Then
she became the intimate friend of Madame de Prie--the singular woman
who, for a moment, on the Regent's death, during the government of M. le
Duc, controlled the destinies of France, and who committed suicide when
that amusement was denied her. During her early middle age Madame du
Deffand was one of the principal figures in the palace of Sceaux, where
the Duchesse du Maine, the grand-daughter of the great Condé and the
daughter-in-law of Louis XIV., kept up for many years an almost royal
state among the most distinguished men and women of the time. It was at
Sceaux, with its endless succession of entertainments and
conversations--supper-parties and water-parties, concerts and masked
balls, plays in the little theatre and picnics under the great trees of
the park--that Madame du Deffand came to her maturity and established
her position as one of the leaders of the society in which she moved.
The nature of that society is plainly enough revealed in the letters and
the memoirs that have come down to us. The days of formal pomp and vast
representation had ended for ever when the 'Grand Monarque' was no
longer to be seen strutting, in periwig and red-heeled shoes, down the
glittering gallery of Versailles; the intimacy and seclusion of modern
life had not yet begun. It was an intermediate period, and the
comparatively small group formed by the elite of the rich, refined, and
intelligent classes led an existence in which the elements of publicity
and privacy were curiously combined. Never, certainly, before or since,
have any set of persons lived so absolutely and unreservedly with and
for their friends as these high ladies and gentlemen of the middle years
of the eighteenth century. The circle of one's friends was, in those
days, the framework of one's whole being; within which was to be found
all that life had to offer, and outside of which no interest, however
fruitful, no passion, however profound, no art, however soaring, was of
the slightest account. Thus while in one sense the ideal of such a
society was an eminently selfish one, it is none the less true that
there have been very few societies indeed in which the ordinary forms of
personal selfishness have played so small a part. The selfishness of the
eighteenth century was a communal selfishness. Each individual was
expected to practise, and did in fact practise to a consummate degree,
those difficult arts which make the wheels of human intercourse run
smoothly--the arts of tact and temper, of frankness and sympathy, of
delicate compliment and exquisite self-abnegation--with the result that
a condition of living was produced which, in all its superficial and
obvious qualities, was one of unparalleled amenity. Indeed, those
persons who were privileged to enjoy it showed their appreciation of it
in an unequivocal way--by the tenacity with which they clung to the
scene of such delights and graces. They refused to grow old; they almost
refused to die. Time himself seems to have joined their circle, to have
been infected with their politeness, and to have absolved them, to the
furthest possible point, from the operation of his laws. Voltaire,
d'Argental, Moncrif, Hénault, Madame d'Egmont, Madame du Deffand
herself--all were born within a few years of each other, and all lived
to be well over eighty, with the full zest of their activities
unimpaired. Pont-de-Veyle, it is true, died young--at the age of
seventy-seven. Another contemporary, Richelieu, who was famous for his
adventures while Louis XIV. was still on the throne, lived till within a
year of the opening of the States-General. More typical still of this
singular and fortunate generation was Fontenelle, who, one morning in
his hundredth year, quietly observed that he felt a difficulty in
existing, and forthwith, even more quietly, ceased to do so.

Yet, though the wheels of life rolled round with such an alluring
smoothness, they did not roll of themselves; the skill and care of
trained mechanicians were needed to keep them going; and the task was no
light one. Even Fontenelle himself, fitted as he was for it by being
blessed (as one of his friends observed) with two brains and no heart,
realised to the full the hard conditions of social happiness. 'Il y a
peu de choses,' he wrote, 'aussi difficiles et aussi dangereuses que le
commerce des hommes.' The sentence, true for all ages, was particularly
true for his own. The graceful, easy motions of that gay company were
those of dancers balanced on skates, gliding, twirling, interlacing,
over the thinnest ice. Those drawing-rooms, those little circles, so
charming with the familiarity of their privacy, were themselves the
rigorous abodes of the deadliest kind of public opinion--the kind that
lives and glitters in a score of penetrating eyes. They required in
their votaries the absolute submission that reigns in religious
orders--the willing sacrifice of the entire life. The intimacy of
personal passion, the intensity of high endeavour--these things must be
left behind and utterly cast away by all who would enter that narrow
sanctuary. Friendship might be allowed there, and flirtation disguised
as love; but the overweening and devouring influence of love itself
should never be admitted to destroy the calm of daily intercourse and
absorb into a single channel attentions due to all. Politics were to be
tolerated, so long as they remained a game; so soon as they grew serious
and envisaged the public good, they became insufferable. As for
literature and art, though they might be excellent as subjects for
recreation and good talk, what could be more preposterous than to treat
such trifles as if they had a value of their own? Only one thing; and
that was to indulge, in the day-dreams of religion or philosophy, the
inward ardours of the soul. Indeed, the scepticism of that generation
was the most uncompromising that the world has known; for it did not
even trouble to deny: it simply ignored. It presented a blank wall of
perfect indifference alike to the mysteries of the universe and to the
solutions of them. Madame du Deffand gave early proof that she shared to
the full this propensity of her age. While still a young girl in a
convent school, she had shrugged her shoulders when the nuns began to
instruct her in the articles of their faith. The matter was considered
serious, and the great Massillon, then at the height of his fame as a
preacher and a healer of souls, was sent for to deal with the youthful
heretic. She was not impressed by his arguments. In his person the
generous fervour and the massive piety of an age that could still
believe felt the icy and disintegrating touch of a new and strange
indifference. 'Mais qu'elle est jolie!' he murmured as he came away. The
Abbess ran forward to ask what holy books he recommended. 'Give her a
threepenny Catechism,' was Massillon's reply. He had seen that the case
was hopeless.

An innate scepticism, a profound levity, an antipathy to enthusiasm that
wavered between laughter and disgust, combined with an unswerving
devotion to the exacting and arduous ideals of social intercourse--such
were the characteristics of the brilliant group of men and women who had
spent their youth at the Court of the Regent, and dallied out their
middle age down the long avenues of Sceaux. About the middle of the
century the Duchesse du Maine died, and Madame du Deffand established
herself in Paris at the Convent of Saint Joseph in a set of rooms which
still showed traces--in the emblazoned arms over the great
mantelpiece--of the occupation of Madame de Montespan. A few years later
a physical affliction overtook her: at the age of fifty-seven she became
totally blind; and this misfortune placed her, almost without a
transition, among the ranks of the old. For the rest of her life she
hardly moved from her drawing-room, which speedily became the most
celebrated in Europe. The thirty years of her reign there fall into two
distinct and almost equal parts. The first, during which d'Alembert was
pre-eminent, came to an end with the violent expulsion of Mademoiselle
de Lespinasse. During the second, which lasted for the rest of her life,
her salon, purged of the Encyclopaedists, took on a more decidedly
worldly tone; and the influence of Horace Walpole was supreme.

It is this final period of Madame du Deffand's life that is reflected so
minutely in the famous correspondence which the labours of Mrs. Toynbee
have now presented to us for the first time in its entirety. Her letters
to Walpole form in effect a continuous journal covering the space of
fifteen years (1766-1780). They allow us, on the one hand, to trace
through all its developments the progress of an extraordinary passion,
and on the other to examine, as it were under the microscope of perhaps
the bitterest perspicacity on record, the last phase of a doomed
society. For the circle which came together in her drawing-room during
those years had the hand of death upon it. The future lay elsewhere; it
was simply the past that survived there--in the rich trappings of
fashion and wit and elaborate gaiety--but still irrevocably the past.
The radiant creatures of Sceaux had fallen into the yellow leaf. We see
them in these letters, a collection of elderly persons trying hard to
amuse themselves, and not succeeding very well. Pont-de-Veyle, the
youthful septuagenarian, did perhaps succeed; for he never noticed what
a bore he was becoming with his perpetual cough, and continued to go the
rounds with indefatigable animation, until one day his cough was heard
no more. Hénault--once notorious for his dinner-parties, and for having
written an historical treatise--which, it is true, was worthless, but he
had written it--Hénault was beginning to dodder, and Voltaire, grinning
in Ferney, had already dubbed him 'notre délabré Président.' Various
dowagers were engaged upon various vanities. The Marquise de Boufflers
was gambling herself to ruin; the Comtesse de Boufflers was wringing
out the last drops of her reputation as the mistress of a Royal Prince;
the Maréchale de Mirepoix was involved in shady politics; the Maréchale
de Luxembourg was obliterating a highly dubious past by a scrupulous
attention to 'bon ton,' of which, at last, she became the arbitress:
'Quel ton! Quel effroyable ton!' she is said to have exclaimed after a
shuddering glance at the Bible; 'ah, Madame, quel dommage que le Saint
Esprit eût aussi peu de goût!' Then there was the floating company of
foreign diplomats, some of whom were invariably to be found at Madame du
Deffand's: Caraccioli, for instance, the Neapolitan Ambassador--'je
perds les trois quarts de ce qu'il dit,' she wrote, 'mais comme il en
dit beaucoup, on peut supporter cette perte'; and Bernstorff, the Danish
envoy, who became the fashion, was lauded to the skies for his wit and
fine manners, until, says the malicious lady, 'à travers tous ces
éloges, je m'avisai de l'appeler Puffendorf,' and Puffendorf the poor
man remained for evermore. Besides the diplomats, nearly every foreign
traveller of distinction found his way to the renowned _salon_;
Englishmen were particularly frequent visitors; and among the familiar
figures of whom we catch more than one glimpse in the letters to Walpole
are Burke, Fox, and Gibbon. Sometimes influential parents in England
obtained leave for their young sons to be admitted into the centre of
Parisian refinement. The English cub, fresh from Eton, was introduced by
his tutor into the red and yellow drawing-room, where the great circle
of a dozen or more elderly important persons, glittering in jewels and
orders, pompous in powder and rouge, ranged in rigid order round the
fireplace, followed with the precision of a perfect orchestra the
leading word or smile or nod of an ancient Sibyl, who seemed to survey
the company with her eyes shut, from a vast chair by the wall. It is
easy to imagine the scene, in all its terrifying politeness. Madame du
Deffand could not tolerate young people; she declared that she did not
know what to say to them; and they, no doubt, were in precisely the same
difficulty. To an English youth, unfamiliar with the language and shy
as only English youths can be, a conversation with that redoubtable old
lady must have been a grim ordeal indeed. One can almost hear the
stumbling, pointless observations, almost see the imploring looks cast,
from among the infinitely attentive company, towards the tutor, and the
pink ears growing still more pink. But such awkward moments were rare.
As a rule the days flowed on in easy monotony--or rather, not the days,
but the nights. For Madame du Deffand rarely rose till five o'clock in
the evening; at six she began her reception; and at nine or half-past
the central moment of the twenty-four hours arrived--the moment of
supper. Upon this event the whole of her existence hinged. Supper, she
used to say, was one of the four ends of man, and what the other three
were she could never remember. She lived up to her dictum. She had an
income of £1400 a year, and of this she spent more than half--£720--on
food. These figures should be largely increased to give them their
modern values; but, economise as she might, she found that she could
only just manage to rub along. Her parties varied considerably in size;
sometimes only four or five persons sat down to supper--sometimes twenty
or thirty. No doubt they were elaborate meals. In a moment of economy we
find the hospitable lady making pious resolutions: she would no longer
give 'des repas'--only ordinary suppers for six people at the most, at
which there should be served nothing more than two entrées, one roast,
two sweets, and--mysterious addition--'la pièce du milieu.' This was
certainly moderate for those days (Monsieur de Jonsac rarely provided
fewer than fourteen entrées), but such resolutions did not last long. A
week later she would suddenly begin to issue invitations wildly, and,
day after day, her tables would be loaded with provisions for thirty
guests. But she did not always have supper at home. From time to time
she sallied forth in her vast coach and rattled through the streets of
Paris to one of her still extant dowagers--a Maréchale, or a
Duchesse--or the more and more 'délabré Président.' There the same
company awaited her as that which met in her own house; it was simply a
change of decorations; often enough for weeks together she had supper
every night with the same half-dozen persons. The entertainment, apart
from the supper itself, hardly varied. Occasionally there was a little
music, more often there were cards and gambling. Madame du Deffand
disliked gambling, but she loathed going to bed, and, if it came to a
choice between the two, she did not hesitate: once, at the age of
seventy-three, she sat up till seven o'clock in the morning playing
vingt-et-un with Charles Fox. But distractions of that kind were merely
incidental to the grand business of the night--the conversation. In the
circle that, after an eight hours' sitting, broke up reluctantly at two
or three every morning to meet again that same evening at six, talk
continually flowed. For those strange creatures it seemed to form the
very substance of life itself. It was the underlying essence, the
circumambient ether, in which alone the pulsations of existence had
their being; it was the one eternal reality; men might come and men
might go, but talk went on for ever. It is difficult, especially for
those born under the Saturnine influence of an English sky, quite to
realise the nature of such conversation. Brilliant, charming,
easy-flowing, gay and rapid it must have been; never profound, never
intimate, never thrilling; but also never emphatic, never affected,
never languishing, and never dull. Madame du Deffand herself had a most
vigorous flow of language. 'Écoutez! Écoutez!' Walpole used constantly
to exclaim, trying to get in his points; but in vain; the sparkling
cataract swept on unheeding. And indeed to listen was the wiser part--to
drink in deliciously the animation of those quick, illimitable,
exquisitely articulated syllables, to surrender one's whole soul to the
pure and penetrating precision of those phrases, to follow without a
breath the happy swiftness of that fine-spun thread of thought. Then at
moments her wit crystallised; the cataract threw off a shower of radiant
jewels, which one caught as one might. Some of these have come down to
us. Her remark on Montesquieu's great book--'C'est de l'esprit sur les
lois'--is an almost final criticism. Her famous 'mot de Saint Denis,' so
dear to the heart of Voltaire, deserves to be once more recorded. A
garrulous and credulous Cardinal was describing the martyrdom of Saint
Denis the Areopagite: when his head was cut off, he took it up and
carried it in his hands. That, said the Cardinal, was well known; what
was not well known was the extraordinary fact that he walked with his
head under his arm all the way from Montmartre to the Church of Saint
Denis--a distance of six miles. 'Ah, Monseigneur!' said Madame du
Deffand, 'dans une telle situation, il n'y a que le premier pas qui
coûte.' At two o'clock the brilliance began to flag; the guests began to
go; the dreadful moment was approaching. If Madame de Gramont happened
to be there, there was still some hope, for Madame de Gramont abhorred
going to bed almost as much as Madame du Deffand. Or there was just a
chance that the Duc de Choiseul might come in at the last moment, and
stay on for a couple of hours. But at length it was impossible to
hesitate any longer; the chariot was at the door. She swept off, but it
was still early; it was only half-past three; and the coachman was
ordered to drive about the Boulevards for an hour before going home.

It was, after all, only natural that she should put off going to bed,
for she rarely slept for more than two or three hours. The greater part
of that empty time, during which conversation was impossible, she
devoted to her books. But she hardly ever found anything to read that
she really enjoyed. Of the two thousand volumes she possessed--all bound
alike, and stamped on the back with her device of a cat--she had only
read four or five hundred; the rest were impossible. She perpetually
complained to Walpole of the extreme dearth of reading matter. In
nothing, indeed, is the contrast more marked between that age and ours
than in the quantity of books available for the ordinary reader. How the
eighteenth century would envy us our innumerable novels, our
biographies, our books of travel, all our easy approaches to knowledge
and entertainment, our translations, our cheap reprints! In those days,
even for a reader of catholic tastes, there was really very little to
read. And, of course, Madame du Deffand's tastes were far from
catholic--they were fastidious to the last degree. She considered that
Racine alone of writers had reached perfection, and that only once--in
_Athalie_. Corneille carried her away for moments, but on the whole he
was barbarous. She highly admired 'quelques centaines de vers de M. de
Voltaire.' She thought Richardson and Fielding excellent, and she was
enraptured by the style--but only by the style--of _Gil Blas_. And that
was all. Everything else appeared to her either affected or pedantic or
insipid. Walpole recommended to her a History of Malta; she tried it,
but she soon gave it up--it mentioned the Crusades. She began Gibbon,
but she found him superficial. She tried Buffon, but he was 'd'une
monotonie insupportable; il sait bien ce qu'il sait, mais il ne s'occupe
que des bêtes; il faut l'être un peu soi-même pour se dévouer à une
telle occupation.' She got hold of the memoirs of Saint-Simon in
manuscript, and these amused her enormously; but she was so disgusted by
the style that she was very nearly sick. At last, in despair, she
embarked on a prose translation of Shakespeare. The result was
unexpected; she was positively pleased. _Coriolanus_, it is true, 'me
semble, sauf votre respect, épouvantable, et n'a pas le sens commun';
and 'pour _La Tempête_, je ne suis pas touchée de ce genre.' But she was
impressed by _Othello_; she was interested by _Macbeth_; and she admired
_Julius Caesar_, in spite of its bad taste. At _King Lear_, indeed, she
had to draw the line. 'Ah, mon Dieu! Quelle pièce! Réellement la
trouvez-vous belle? Elle me noircit l'âme à un point que je ne puis
exprimer; c'est un amas de toutes les horreurs infernales.' Her reader
was an old soldier from the Invalides, who came round every morning
early, and took up his position by her bedside. She lay back among the
cushions, listening, for long hours. Was there ever a more incongruous
company, a queerer trysting-place, for Goneril and Desdemona, Ariel and
Lady Macbeth?

Often, even before the arrival of the old pensioner, she was at work
dictating a letter, usually to Horace Walpole, occasionally to Madame de
Choiseul or Voltaire. Her letters to Voltaire are enchanting; his
replies are no less so; and it is much to be regretted that the whole
correspondence has never been collected together in chronological order,
and published as a separate book. The slim volume would be, of its kind,
quite perfect. There was no love lost between the two old friends; they
could not understand each other; Voltaire, alone of his generation, had
thrown himself into the very vanguard of thought; to Madame du Deffand
progress had no meaning, and thought itself was hardly more than an
unpleasant necessity. She distrusted him profoundly, and he returned the
compliment. Yet neither could do without the other: through her, he kept
in touch with one of the most influential circles in Paris; and even she
could not be insensible to the glory of corresponding with such a man.
Besides, in spite of all their differences, they admired each other
genuinely, and they were held together by the habit of a long
familiarity. The result was a marvellous display of epistolary art. If
they had liked each other any better, they never would have troubled to
write so well. They were on their best behaviour--exquisitely courteous
and yet punctiliously at ease, like dancers in a minuet. His cajoleries
are infinite; his deft sentences, mingling flattery with reflection,
have almost the quality of a caress. She replies in the tone of a
worshipper, glancing lightly at a hundred subjects, purring out her
'Monsieur de Voltaire,' and seeking his advice on literature and life.
He rejoins in that wonderful strain of epicurean stoicism of which he
alone possessed the secret: and so the letters go on. Sometimes one just
catches the glimpse of a claw beneath the soft pad, a grimace under the
smile of elegance; and one remembers with a shock that, after all, one
is reading the correspondence of a monkey and a cat.

Madame du Deffand's style reflects, perhaps even more completely than
that of Voltaire himself, the common-sense of the eighteenth century.
Its precision is absolute. It is like a line drawn in one stroke by a
master, with the prompt exactitude of an unerring subtlety. There is no
breadth in it--no sense of colour and the concrete mass of things. One
cannot wonder, as one reads her, that she hardly regretted her
blindness. What did she lose by it? Certainly not

      The sweet approach of even or morn,
    Or sight of vernal bloom, or Summer's rose;

for what did she care for such particulars when her eyes were at their
clearest? Her perception was intellectual; and to the penetrating
glances of her mental vision the objects of the sensual world were mere
irrelevance. The kind of writing produced by such a quality of mind may
seem thin and barren to those accustomed to the wealth and variety of
the Romantic school. Yet it will repay attention. The vocabulary is very
small; but every word is the right one; this old lady of high society,
who had never given a thought to her style, who wrote--and spelt--by the
light of nature, was a past mistress of that most difficult of literary
accomplishments--'l'art de dire en un mot tout ce qu'un mot peut dire.'
The object of all art is to make suggestions. The romantic artist
attains that end by using a multitude of different stimuli, by calling
up image after image, recollection after recollection, until the
reader's mind is filled and held by a vivid and palpable evocation; the
classic works by the contrary method of a fine economy, and, ignoring
everything but what is essential, trusts, by means of the exact
propriety of his presentation, to produce the required effect. Madame du
Deffand carries the classical ideal to its furthest point. She never
strikes more than once, and she always hits the nail on the head. Such
is her skill that she sometimes seems to beat the Romantics even on
their own ground: her reticences make a deeper impression than all the
dottings of their i's. The following passage from a letter to Walpole is

     Nous eûmes une musique charmante, une dame qui joue de la harpe à
     merveille; elle me fit tant de plaisir que j'eus du regret que vous
     ne l'entendissiez pas; c'est un instrument admirable. Nous eûmes
     aussi un clavecin, mais quoiqu'il fût touché avec une grande
     perfection, ce n'est rien en comparaison de la harpe. Je fus fort
     triste toute la soirée; j'avais appris en partant que Mme. de
     Luxembourg, qui était allée samedi à Montmorency pour y passer
     quinze jours, s'était trouvée si mal qu'on avait fait venir
     Tronchin, et qu'on l'avait ramenée le dimanche à huit heures du
     soir, qu'on lui croyait de l'eau dans la poitrine. L'ancienneté de
     la connaissance; une habitude qui a l'air de l'amitié; voir
     disparaître ceux avec qui l'on vit; un retour sur soi-même; sentir
     que l'on ne tient à rien, que tout fuit, que tout échappe, qu'on
     reste seule dans l'univers, et que malgré cela on craint de le
     quitter; voilà ce qui m'occupa pendant la musique.

Here are no coloured words, no fine phrases--only the most flat and
ordinary expressions--'un instrument admirable'--'une grande
perfection'--'fort triste.' Nothing is described; and yet how much is
suggested! The whole scene is conjured up--one does not know how; one's
imagination is switched on to the right rails, as it were, by a look, by
a gesture, and then left to run of itself. In the simple, faultless
rhythm of that closing sentence, the trembling melancholy of the old
harp seems to be lingering still.

While the letters to Voltaire show us nothing but the brilliant exterior
of Madame du Deffand's mind, those to Walpole reveal the whole state of
her soul. The revelation is not a pretty one. Bitterness, discontent,
pessimism, cynicism, boredom, regret, despair--these are the feelings
that dominate every page. To a superficial observer Madame du Deffand's
lot must have seemed peculiarly enviable; she was well off, she enjoyed
the highest consideration, she possessed intellectual talents of the
rarest kind which she had every opportunity of displaying, and she was
surrounded by a multitude of friends. What more could anyone desire? The
harsh old woman would have smiled grimly at such a question. 'A little
appetite,' she might have answered. She was like a dyspeptic at a feast;
the finer the dishes that were set before her, the greater her
distaste; that spiritual gusto which lends a savour to the meanest act
of living, and without which all life seems profitless, had gone from
her for ever. Yet--and this intensified her wretchedness--though the
banquet was loathsome to her, she had not the strength to tear herself
away from the table. Once, in a moment of desperation, she had thoughts
of retiring to a convent, but she soon realised that such an action was
out of the question. Fate had put her into the midst of the world, and
there she must remain. 'Je ne suis point assez heureuse,' she said, 'de
me passer des choses dont je ne me soucie pas.' She was extremely
lonely. As fastidious in friendship as in literature, she passed her
life among a crowd of persons whom she disliked and despised, 'Je ne
vois que des sots et des fripons,' she said; and she did not know which
were the most disgusting. She took a kind of deadly pleasure in
analysing 'les nuances des sottises' among the people with whom she
lived. The varieties were many, from the foolishness of her companion,
Mademoiselle Sanadon, who would do nothing but imitate her--'elle fait
des définitions,' she wails--to that of the lady who hoped to prove her
friendship by unending presents of grapes and pears--'comme je n'y tâte
pas, cela diminue mes scrupules du peu de goût que j'ai pour elle.' Then
there were those who were not quite fools but something very near it.
'Tous les Matignon sont des sots,' said somebody one day to the Regent,
'excepté le Marquis de Matignon.' 'Cela est vrai,' the Regent replied,
'il n'est pas sot, mais on voit bien qu'il est le fils d'un sot.' Madame
du Deffand was an expert at tracing such affinities. For instance, there
was Necker. It was clear that Necker was not a fool, and yet--what was
it? Something was the matter--yes, she had it: he made you feel a fool
yourself--'l'on est plus bête avec lui que l'on ne l'est tout seul.' As
she said of herself: 'elle est toujours tentée d'arracher les masques
qu'elle rencontre.' Those blind, piercing eyes of hers spied out
unerringly the weakness or the ill-nature or the absurdity that lurked
behind the gravest or the most fascinating exterior; then her fingers
began to itch, and she could resist no longer--she gave way to her
besetting temptation. It is impossible not to sympathise with Rousseau's
remark about her--'J'aimai mieux encore m'exposer au fléau de sa haine
qu'à celui de son amitié.' There, sitting in her great Diogenes-tub of
an armchair--her 'tonneau' as she called it--talking, smiling,
scattering her bons mots, she went on through the night, in the
remorseless secrecy of her heart, tearing off the masks from the faces
that surrounded her. Sometimes the world in which she lived displayed
itself before her horrified inward vision like some intolerable and
meaningless piece of clock-work mechanism:

     J'admirais hier au soir la nombreuse compagnie qui était chez moi;
     hommes et femmes me paraissaient des machines à ressorts, qui
     allaient, venaient, parlaient, riaient, sans penser, sans
     réfléchir, sans sentir; chacun jouait son rôle par habitude: Madame
     la Duchesse d'Aiguillon crevait de rire, Mme. de Forcalquier
     dédaignait tout, Mme. de la Vallière jabotait sur tout. Les hommes
     ne jouaient pas de meilleurs rôles, et moi j'étais abîmée dans les
     réflexions les plus noires; je pensai que j'avais passé ma vie dans
     les illusions; que je m'étais creusée tous les abîmes dans lesquels
     j'étais tombée.

At other times she could see around her nothing but a mass of mutual
hatreds, into which she was plunged herself no less than her neighbours:

     Je ramenai la Maréchale de Mirepoix chez elle; j'y descendis, je
     causai une heure avec elle; je n'en fus pas mécontente. Elle hait
     la petite Idole, elle hait la Maréchale de Luxembourg; enfin, sa
     haine pour tous les gens qui me déplaisent me fit lui pardonner
     l'indifférence et peut-être la haine qu'elle a pour moi. Convenez
     que voilà une jolie société, un charmant commerce.

Once or twice for several months together she thought that she had found
in the Duchesse de Choiseul a true friend and a perfect companion. But
there was one fatal flaw even in Madame de Choiseul: she _was_
perfect!--'Elle est parfaite; et c'est un plus grand défaut qu'on ne
pense et qu'on ne saurait imaginer.' At last one day the inevitable
happened--she went to see Madame de Choiseul, and she was bored. 'Je
rentrai chez moi à une heure, pénétrée, persuadée qu'on ne peut être
content de personne.'

One person, however, there was who pleased her; and it was the final
irony of her fate that this very fact should have been the last drop
that caused the cup of her unhappiness to overflow. Horace Walpole had
come upon her at a psychological moment. Her quarrel with Mademoiselle
de Lespinasse and the Encyclopaedists had just occurred; she was within
a few years of seventy; and it must have seemed to her that, after such
a break, at such an age, there was little left for her to do but to die
quietly. Then the gay, talented, fascinating Englishman appeared, and
she suddenly found that, so far from her life being over, she was
embarked for good and all upon her greatest adventure. What she
experienced at that moment was something like a religious conversion.
Her past fell away from her a dead thing; she was overwhelmed by an
ineffable vision; she, who had wandered for so many years in the ways of
worldly indifference, was uplifted all at once on to a strange summit,
and pierced with the intensest pangs of an unknown devotion.
Henceforward her life was dedicated; but, unlike the happier saints of a
holier persuasion, she was to find no peace on earth. It was, indeed,
hardly to be expected that Walpole, a blasé bachelor of fifty, should
have reciprocated so singular a passion; yet he might at least have
treated it with gentleness and respect. The total impression of him
which these letters produce is very damaging. It is true that he was in
a difficult position; and it is also true that, since only the merest
fragments of his side of the correspondence have been preserved, our
knowledge of the precise details of his conduct is incomplete;
nevertheless, it is clear that, on the whole, throughout the long and
painful episode, the principal motive which actuated him was an
inexcusable egoism. He was obsessed by a fear of ridicule. He knew that
letters were regularly opened at the French Post Office, and he lived in
terror lest some spiteful story of his absurd relationship with a blind
old woman of seventy should be concocted and set afloat among his
friends, or his enemies, in England, which would make him the
laughing-stock of society for the rest of his days. He was no less
terrified by the intensity of the sentiment of which he had become the
object. Thoroughly superficial and thoroughly selfish, immersed in his
London life of dilettantism and gossip, the weekly letters from France
with their burden of a desperate affection appalled him and bored him by
turns. He did not know what to do; and his perplexity was increased by
the fact that he really liked Madame du Deffand--so far as he could like
anyone--and also by the fact that his vanity was highly flattered by her
letters. Many courses were open to him, but the one he took was probably
the most cruel that he could have taken: he insisted with an absolute
rigidity on their correspondence being conducted in the tone of the most
ordinary friendship--on those terms alone, he said, would he consent to
continue it. And of course such terms were impossible to Madame du
Deffand. She accepted them--what else could she do?--but every line she
wrote was a denial of them. Then, periodically, there was an explosion.
Walpole stormed, threatened, declared he would write no more; and on her
side there were abject apologies, and solemn promises of amendment.
Naturally, it was all in vain. A few months later he would be attacked
by a fit of the gout, her solicitude would be too exaggerated, and the
same fury was repeated, and the same submission. One wonders what the
charm could have been that held that proud old spirit in such a
miserable captivity. Was it his very coldness that subdued her? If he
had cared for her a little more, perhaps she would have cared for him a
good deal less. But it is clear that what really bound her to him was
the fact that they so rarely met. If he had lived in Paris, if he had
been a member of her little clique, subject to the unceasing searchlight
of her nightly scrutiny, who can doubt that, sooner or later, Walpole
too would have felt 'le fléau de son amitié'? His mask, too, would have
been torn to tatters like the rest. But, as it was, his absence saved
him; her imagination clothed him with an almost mythic excellence; his
brilliant letters added to the impression; and then, at intervals of
about two years, he appeared in Paris for six weeks--just long enough to
rivet her chains, and not long enough to loosen them. And so it was that
she fell before him with that absolute and unquestioning devotion of
which only the most dominating and fastidious natures are capable. Once
or twice, indeed, she did attempt a revolt, but only succeeded in
plunging herself into a deeper subjection. After one of his most violent
and cruel outbursts, she refused to communicate with him further, and
for three or four weeks she kept her word; then she crept back and
pleaded for forgiveness. Walpole graciously granted it. It is with some
satisfaction that one finds him, a few weeks later, laid up with a
peculiarly painful attack of the gout.

About half-way through the correspondence there is an acute crisis,
after which the tone of the letters undergoes a marked change. After
seven years of struggle, Madame du Deffand's indomitable spirit was
broken; henceforward she would hope for nothing; she would gratefully
accept the few crumbs that might be thrown her; and for the rest she
resigned herself to her fate. Gradually sinking into extreme old age,
her self-repression and her bitterness grew ever more and more complete.
She was always bored; and her later letters are a series of variations
on the perpetual theme of 'ennui.' 'C'est une maladie de l'âme,' she
says, 'dont nous afflige la nature en nous donnant l'existence; c'est le
ver solitaire qui absorbe tout.' And again, 'l'ennui est l'avant-goût du
néant, mais le néant lui est préférable.' Her existence had become a
hateful waste--a garden, she said, from which all the flowers had been
uprooted and which had been sown with salt. 'Ah! Je le répète sans
cesse, il n'y a qu'un malheur, celui d'être né.' The grasshopper had
become a burden; and yet death seemed as little desirable as life.
'Comment est-il possible,' she asks, 'qu'on craigne la fin d'une vie
aussi triste?' When Death did come at last, he came very gently. She
felt his approaches, and dictated a letter to Walpole, bidding him, in
her strange fashion, an infinitely restrained farewell:
'Divertissez-vous, mon ami, le plus que vous pourrez; ne vous affligez
point de mon état, nous étions presque perdus l'un pour l'autre; nous ne
nous devions jamais revoir; vous me regretterez, parce qu'on est bien
aise de se savoir aimé.' That was her last word to him. Walpole might
have reached her before she finally lost consciousness, but, though he
realised her condition and knew well enough what his presence would have
been to her, he did not trouble to move. She died as she had lived--her
room crowded with acquaintances and the sound of a conversation in her
ears. When one reflects upon her extraordinary tragedy, when one
attempts to gauge the significance of her character and of her life, it
is difficult to know whether to pity most, to admire, or to fear.
Certainly there is something at once pitiable and magnificent in such an
unflinching perception of the futilities of living, such an
uncompromising refusal to be content with anything save the one thing
that it is impossible to have. But there is something alarming too; was
she perhaps right after all?


[Footnote 2: _Lettres de la Marquise du Deffand à Horace Walpole_
(1766-80). Première Edition complète, augmentée d'environ 500 Lettres
inédites, publiées, d'après les originaux, avec une introduction, des
notes, et une table des noms, par Mrs. Paget Toynbee. 3 vols. Methuen,


The visit of Voltaire to England marks a turning-point in the history of
civilisation. It was the first step in a long process of
interaction--big with momentous consequences--between the French and
English cultures. For centuries the combined forces of mutual ignorance
and political hostility had kept the two nations apart: Voltaire planted
a small seed of friendship which, in spite of a thousand hostile
influences, grew and flourished mightily. The seed, no doubt, fell on
good ground, and no doubt, if Voltaire had never left his native
country, some chance wind would have carried it over the narrow seas, so
that history in the main would have been unaltered. But actually his was
the hand which did the work.

It is unfortunate that our knowledge of so important a period in
Voltaire's life should be extremely incomplete. Carlyle, who gave a
hasty glance at it in his life of Frederick, declared that he could find
nothing but 'mere inanity and darkness visible'; and since Carlyle's day
the progress has been small. A short chapter in Desnoiresterres' long
Biography and an essay by Churton Collins did something to co-ordinate
the few known facts. Another step was taken a few years ago with the
publication of M. Lanson's elaborate and exhaustive edition of the
_Lettres Philosophiques_, the work in which Voltaire gave to the world
the distilled essence of his English experiences. And now M. Lucien
Foulet has brought together all the extant letters concerning the
period, which he has collated with scrupulous exactitude and to which he
has added a series of valuable appendices upon various obscure and
disputed points. M. Lanson's great attainments are well known, and to
say that M. Foulet's work may fitly rank as a supplementary volume to
the edition of the _Lettres Philosophiques_ is simply to say that he is
a worthy follower of that noble tradition of profound research and
perfect lucidity which has made French scholarship one of the glories of
European culture.

Upon the events in particular which led up to Voltaire's departure for
England, M. Foulet has been able to throw considerable light. The story,
as revealed by the letters of contemporary observers and the official
documents of the police, is an instructive and curious one. In the early
days of January 1726 Voltaire, who was thirty-one years of age, occupied
a position which, so far as could be seen upon the surface, could hardly
have been more fortunate. He was recognised everywhere as the rising
poet of the day; he was a successful dramatist; he was a friend of
Madame de Prie, who was all-powerful at Court, and his talents had been
rewarded by a pension from the royal purse. His brilliance, his gaiety,
his extraordinary capacity for being agreeable had made him the pet of
the narrow and aristocratic circle which dominated France. Dropping his
middle-class antecedents as completely as he had dropped his
middle-class name, young Arouet, the notary's offspring, floated at his
ease through the palaces of dukes and princes, with whose sons he drank
and jested, and for whose wives--it was _de rigueur_ in those days--he
expressed all the ardours of a passionate and polite devotion. Such was
his roseate situation when, all at once, the catastrophe came. One night
at the Opéra the Chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, of the famous and powerful
family of the Rohans, a man of forty-three, quarrelsome, blustering,
whose reputation for courage left something to be desired, began to
taunt the poet upon his birth--'Monsieur Arouet, Monsieur Voltaire--what
_is_ your name?' To which the retort came quickly--'Whatever my name may
be, I know how to preserve the honour of it.' The Chevalier muttered
something and went off, but the incident was not ended. Voltaire had let
his high spirits and his sharp tongue carry him too far, and he was to
pay the penalty. It was not an age in which it was safe to be too witty
with lords. 'Now mind, Dancourt,' said one of those _grands seigneurs_
to the leading actor of the day, 'if you're more amusing than I am at
dinner to-night, _je te donnerai cent coups de bâtons._' It was
dangerous enough to show one's wits at all in the company of such
privileged persons, but to do so at their expense----! A few days later
Voltaire and the Chevalier met again, at the Comédie, in Adrienne
Lecouvreur's dressing-room. Rohan repeated his sneering question, and
'the Chevalier has had his answer' was Voltaire's reply. Furious, Rohan
lifted his stick, but at that moment Adrienne very properly fainted, and
the company dispersed. A few days more and Rohan had perfected the
arrangements for his revenge. Voltaire, dining at the Duc de Sully's,
where, we are told, he was on the footing of a son of the house,
received a message that he was wanted outside in the street. He went
out, was seized by a gang of lackeys, and beaten before the eyes of
Rohan, who directed operations from a cab. 'Epargnez la tête,' he
shouted, 'elle est encore bonne pour faire rire le public'; upon which,
according to one account, there were exclamations from the crowd which
had gathered round of 'Ah! le bon seigneur!' The sequel is known to
everyone: how Voltaire rushed back, dishevelled and agonised, into
Sully's dining-room, how he poured out his story in an agitated flood of
words, and how that high-born company, with whom he had been living up
to that moment on terms of the closest intimacy, now only displayed the
signs of a frigid indifference. The caste-feeling had suddenly asserted
itself. Poets, no doubt, were all very well in their way, but really, if
they began squabbling with noblemen, what could they expect? And then
the callous and stupid convention of that still half-barbarous age--the
convention which made misfortune the proper object of ridicule--came
into play no less powerfully. One might take a poet seriously,
perhaps--until he was whipped; then, of course, one could only laugh at
him. For the next few days, wherever Voltaire went he was received with
icy looks, covert smiles, or exaggerated politeness. The Prince de
Conti, who, a month or two before, had written an ode in which he placed
the author of _Oedipe_ side by side with the authors of _Le Cid_ and
_Phèdre_, now remarked, with a shrug of the shoulders, that 'ces coups
de bâtons étaient bien reçus et mal donnés.' 'Nous serions bien
malheureux,' said another well-bred personage, as he took a pinch of
snuff, 'si les poètes n'avaient pas des épaules.' Such friends as
remained faithful were helpless. Even Madame de Prie could do nothing.
'Le pauvre Voltaire me fait grande pitié,' she said; 'dans le fond il a
raison.' But the influence of the Rohan family was too much for her, and
she could only advise him to disappear for a little into the country,
lest worse should befall. Disappear he did, remaining for the next two
months concealed in the outskirts of Paris, where he practised
swordsmanship against his next meeting with his enemy. The situation was
cynically topsy-turvy. As M. Foulet points out, Rohan had legally
rendered himself liable, under the edict against duelling, to a long
term of imprisonment, if not to the penalty of death. Yet the law did
not move, and Voltaire was left to take the only course open in those
days to a man of honour in such circumstances--to avenge the insult by a
challenge and a fight. But now the law, which had winked at Rohan, began
to act against Voltaire. The police were instructed to arrest him so
soon as he should show any sign of an intention to break the peace. One
day he suddenly appeared at Versailles, evidently on the lookout for
Rohan, and then as suddenly vanished. A few weeks later, the police
reported that he was in Paris, lodging with a fencing-master, and making
no concealment of his desire to 'insulter incessamment et avec éclat M.
le chevalier de Rohan.' This decided the authorities, and accordingly on
the night of the 17th of April, as we learn from the _Police Gazette_,
'le sieur Arrouët de Voltaire, fameux poète,' was arrested, and
conducted 'par ordre du Roi' to the Bastille.

A letter, written by Voltaire to his friend Madame de Bernières while he
was still in hiding, reveals the effect which these events had produced
upon his mind. It is the first letter in the series of his collected
correspondence which is not all Epicurean elegance and caressing wit.
The wit, the elegance, the finely turned phrase, the shifting
smile--these things are still visible there no doubt, but they are
informed and overmastered by a new, an almost ominous spirit: Voltaire,
for the first time in his life, is serious.

     J'ai été à l'extrémité; je n'attends que ma convalescence pour
     abandonner à jamais ce pays-ci. Souvenez-vous de l'amitié tendre
     que vous avez eue pour moi; au nom de cette amitié informez-moi par
     un mot de votre main de ce qui se passe, ou parlez à l'homme que je
     vous envoi, en qui vous pouvez prendre une entière confiance.
     Présentez mes respects à Madame du Deffand; dites à Thieriot que je
     veux absolument qu'il m'aime, ou quand je serai mort, ou quand je
     serai heureux; jusque-là, je lui pardonne son indifférence. Dites à
     M. le chevalier des Alleurs que je n'oublierai jamais la générosité
     de ses procédés pour moi. Comptez que tout détrompé que je suis de
     la vanité des amitiés humaines, la vôtre me sera à jamais
     précieuse. Je ne souhaite de revenir à Paris que pour vous voir,
     vous embrasser encore une fois, et vous faire voir ma constance
     dans mon amitié et dans mes malheurs.

'Présentez mes respects à Madame du Deffand!' Strange indeed are the
whirligigs of Time! Madame de Bernières was then living in none other
than that famous house at the corner of the Rue de Beaune and the Quai
des Théatins (now Quai Voltaire) where, more than half a century later,
the writer of those lines was to come, bowed down under the weight of an
enormous celebrity, to look for the last time upon Paris and the world;
where, too, Madame du Deffand herself, decrepit, blind, and bitter with
the disillusionments of a strange lifetime, was to listen once more to
the mellifluous enchantments of that extraordinary intelligence,
which--so it seemed to her as she sat entranced--could never, never grow

Voltaire was not kept long in the Bastille. For some time he had
entertained a vague intention of visiting England, and he now begged for
permission to leave the country. The authorities, whose one object was
to prevent an unpleasant _fracas_, were ready enough to substitute exile
for imprisonment; and thus, after a fortnight's detention, the 'fameux
poète' was released on condition that he should depart forthwith, and
remain, until further permission, at a distance of at least fifty
leagues from Versailles.

It is from this point onwards that our information grows scanty and
confused. We know that Voltaire was in Calais early in May, and it is
generally agreed that he crossed over to England shortly afterwards. His
subsequent movements are uncertain. We find him established at
Wandsworth in the middle of October, but it is probable that in the
interval he had made a secret journey to Paris with the object--in which
he did not succeed--of challenging the Chevalier de Rohan to a duel.
Where he lived during these months is unknown, but apparently it was not
in London. The date of his final departure from England is equally in
doubt; M. Foulet adduces some reasons for supposing that he returned
secretly to France in November 1728, and in that case the total length
of the English visit was just two and a half years. Churton Collins,
however, prolongs it until March 1729. A similar obscurity hangs over
all the details of Voltaire's stay. Not only are his own extant letters
during this period unusually few, but allusions to him in contemporary
English correspondences are almost entirely absent. We have to depend
upon scattered hints, uncertain inferences, and conflicting rumours. We
know that he stayed for some time at Wandsworth with a certain Everard
Falkener in circumstances which he described to Thieriot in a letter in
English--an English quaintly flavoured with the gay impetuosity of
another race. 'At my coming to London,' he wrote, 'I found my damned Jew
was broken.' (He had depended upon some bills of exchange drawn upon a
Jewish broker.)

     I was without a penny, sick to dye of a violent ague, stranger,
     alone, helpless, in the midst of a city wherein I was known to
     nobody; my Lord and Lady Bolingbroke were into the country; I could
     not make bold to see our ambassadour in so wretched a condition. I
     had never undergone such distress; but I am born to run through all
     the misfortunes of life. In these circumstances my star, that among
     all its direful influences pours allways on me some kind
     refreshment, sent to me an English gentleman unknown to me, who
     forced me to receive some money that I wanted. Another London
     citisen that I had seen but once at Paris, carried me to his own
     country house, wherein I lead an obscure and charming life since
     that time, without going to London, and quite given over to the
     pleasures of indolence and friendshipp. The true and generous
     affection of this man who soothes the bitterness of my life brings
     me to love you more and more. All the instances of friendshipp
     indear my friend Tiriot to me. I have seen often mylord and mylady
     Bolinbroke; I have found their affection still the same, even
     increased in proportion to my unhappiness; they offered me all,
     their money, their house; but I have refused all, because they are
     lords, and I have accepted all from Mr. Faulknear because he is a
     single gentleman.

We know that the friendship thus begun continued for many years, but as
to who or what Everard Falkener was--besides the fact that he was a
'single gentleman'--we have only just information enough to make us wish
for more.

'I am here,' he wrote after Voltaire had gone, 'just as you left me,
neither merrier nor sadder, nor richer nor poorer, enjoying perfect
health, having everything that makes life agreeable, without love,
without avarice, without ambition, and without envy; and as long as all
this lasts I shall take the liberty to call myself a very happy man.'
This stoical Englishman was a merchant who eventually so far overcame
his distaste both for ambition and for love, as to become first
Ambassador at Constantinople and then Postmaster-General--has anyone,
before or since, ever held such a singular succession of offices?--and
to wind up by marrying, as we are intriguingly told, at the age of
sixty-three, 'the illegitimate daughter of General Churchill.'

We have another glimpse of Voltaire at Wandsworth in a curious document
brought to light by M. Lanson. Edward Higginson, an assistant master at
a Quaker's school there, remembered how the excitable Frenchman used to
argue with him for hours in Latin on the subject of 'water-baptism,'
until at last Higginson produced a text from St. Paul which seemed

     Some time after, Voltaire being at the Earl Temple's seat in
     Fulham, with Pope and others such, in their conversation fell on
     the subject of water-baptism. Voltaire assumed the part of a
     quaker, and at length came to mention that assertion of Paul. They
     questioned there being such an assertion in all his writings; on
     which was a large wager laid, as near as I remember of £500: and
     Voltaire, not retaining where it was, had one of the Earl's horses,
     and came over the ferry from Fulham to Putney.... When I came he
     desired me to give him in writing the place where Paul said, _he
     was not sent to baptize_; which I presently did. Then courteously
     taking his leave, he mounted and rode back--

and, we must suppose, won his wager.

     He seemed so taken with me (adds Higginson) as to offer to buy out
     the remainder of my time. I told him I expected my master would be
     very exorbitant in his demand. He said, let his demand be what it
     might, he would give it on condition I would yield to be his
     companion, keeping the same company, and I should always, in every
     respect, fare as he fared, wearing my clothes like his and of equal
     value: telling me then plainly, he was a Deist; adding, so were
     most of the noblemen in France and in England; deriding the account
     given by the four Evangelists concerning the birth of Christ, and
     his miracles, etc., so far that I desired him to desist: for I
     could not bear to hear my Saviour so reviled and spoken against.
     Whereupon he seemed under a disappointment, and left me with some

In London itself we catch fleeting visions of the eager gesticulating
figure, hurrying out from his lodgings in Billiter Square--'Belitery
Square' he calls it--or at the sign of the 'White Whigg' in Maiden Lane,
Covent Garden, to go off to the funeral of Sir Isaac Newton in
Westminster Abbey, or to pay a call on Congreve, or to attend a
Quaker's Meeting. One would like to know in which street it was that he
found himself surrounded by an insulting crowd, whose jeers at the
'French dog' he turned to enthusiasm by jumping upon a milestone, and
delivering a harangue beginning--'Brave Englishmen! Am I not
sufficiently unhappy in not having been born among you?' Then there are
one or two stories of him in the great country houses--at Bubb
Dodington's where he met Dr. Young and disputed with him upon the
episode of Sin and Death in _Paradise Lost_ with such vigour that at
last Young burst out with the couplet:

    You are so witty, profligate, and thin,
    At once we think you Milton, Death, and Sin;

and at Blenheim, where the old Duchess of Marlborough hoped to lure him
into helping her with her decocted memoirs, until she found that he had
scruples, when in a fury she snatched the papers out of his hands. 'I
thought,' she cried, 'the man had sense; but I find him at bottom either
a fool or a philosopher.'

It is peculiarly tantalising that our knowledge should be almost at its
scantiest in the very direction in which we should like to know most,
and in which there was most reason to hope that our curiosity might have
been gratified. Of Voltaire's relations with the circle of Pope, Swift,
and Bolingbroke only the most meagre details have reached us. His
correspondence with Bolingbroke, whom he had known in France and whose
presence in London was one of his principal inducements in coming to
England--a correspondence which must have been considerable--has
completely disappeared. Nor, in the numerous published letters which
passed about between the members of that distinguished group, is there
any reference to Voltaire's name. Now and then some chance remark raises
our expectations, only to make our disappointment more acute. Many years
later, for instance, in 1765, a certain Major Broome paid a visit to
Ferney, and made the following entry in his diary:

     Dined with Mons. Voltaire, who behaved very politely. He is very
     old, was dressed in a robe-de-chambre of blue sattan and gold spots
     on it, with a sort of blue sattan cap and tassle of gold. He spoke
     all the time in English.... His house is not very fine, but
     genteel, and stands upon a mount close to the mountains. He is tall
     and very thin, has a very piercing eye, and a look singularly
     vivacious. He told me of his acquaintance with Pope, Swift (with
     whom he lived for three months at Lord Peterborough's) and Gay, who
     first showed him the _Beggar's Opera_ before it was acted. He says
     he admires Swift, and loved Gay vastly. He said that Swift had a
     great deal of the ridiculum acre.

And then Major Broome goes on to describe the 'handsome new church' at
Ferney, and the 'very neat water-works' at Geneva. But what a vision has
he opened out for us, and, in that very moment, shut away for ever from
our gaze in that brief parenthesis--'with whom he lived for three months
at Lord Peterborough's'! What would we not give now for no more than one
or two of the bright intoxicating drops from that noble river of talk
which flowed then with such a careless abundance!--that prodigal stream,
swirling away, so swiftly and so happily, into the empty spaces of
forgetfulness and the long night of Time!

So complete, indeed, is the lack of precise and well-authenticated
information upon this, by far the most obviously interesting side of
Voltaire's life in England, that some writers have been led to adopt a
very different theory from that which is usually accepted, and to
suppose that his relations with Pope's circle were in reality of a
purely superficial, or even of an actually disreputable, kind. Voltaire
himself, no doubt, was anxious to appear as the intimate friend of the
great writers of England; but what reason is there to believe that he
was not embroidering upon the facts, and that his true position was not
that of a mere literary hanger-on, eager simply for money and _réclame_,
with, perhaps, no particular scruples as to his means of getting hold of
those desirable ends? The objection to this theory is that there is even
less evidence to support it than there is to support Voltaire's own
story. There are a few rumours and anecdotes; but that is all. Voltaire
was probably the best-hated man in the eighteenth century, and it is
only natural that, out of the enormous mass of mud that was thrown at
him, some handfuls should have been particularly aimed at his life in
England. Accordingly, we learn that somebody was told by somebody
else--'avec des détails que je ne rapporterai point'--that 'M. de
Voltaire se conduisit très-irrégulièrement en Angleterre: qu'il s'y est
fait beaucoup d'ennemis, par des procédés qui n'accordaient pas avec les
principes d'une morale exacte.' And we are told that he left England
'under a cloud'; that before he went he was 'cudgelled' by an infuriated
publisher; that he swindled Lord Peterborough out of large sums of
money, and that the outraged nobleman drew his sword upon the miscreant,
who only escaped with his life by a midnight flight. A more
circumstantial story has been given currency by Dr. Johnson. Voltaire,
it appears, was a spy in the pay of Walpole, and was in the habit of
betraying Bolingbroke's political secrets to the Government. The tale
first appears in a third-rate life of Pope by Owen Ruffhead, who had it
from Warburton, who had it from Pope himself. Oddly enough Churton
Collins apparently believed it, partly from the evidence afforded by the
'fulsome flattery' and 'exaggerated compliments' to be found in
Voltaire's correspondence, which, he says, reveal a man in whom
'falsehood and hypocrisy are of the very essence of his composition.
There is nothing, however base, to which he will not stoop: there is no
law in the code of social honour which he is not capable of violating.'
Such an extreme and sweeping conclusion, following from such shadowy
premises, seems to show that some of the mud thrown in the eighteenth
century was still sticking in the twentieth. M. Foulet, however, has
examined Ruffhead's charge in a very different spirit, with
conscientious minuteness, and has concluded that it is utterly without

It is, indeed, certain that Voltaire's acquaintanceship was not limited
to the extremely bitter Opposition circle which centred about the
disappointed and restless figure of Bolingbroke. He had come to London
with letters of introduction from Horace Walpole, the English Ambassador
at Paris, to various eminent persons in the Government. 'Mr. Voltaire, a
poet and a very ingenious one,' was recommended by Walpole to the favour
and protection of the Duke of Newcastle, while Dodington was asked to
support the subscription to 'an excellent poem, called "Henry IV.,"
which, on account of some bold strokes in it against persecution and the
priests, cannot be printed here.' These letters had their effect, and
Voltaire rapidly made friends at Court. When he brought out his London
edition of the _Henriade_, there was hardly a great name in England
which was not on the subscription list. He was allowed to dedicate the
poem to Queen Caroline, and he received a royal gift of £240. Now it is
also certain that just before this time Bolingbroke and Swift were
suspicious of a 'certain pragmatical spy of quality, well known to act
in that capacity by those into whose company he insinuates himself,'
who, they believed, were betraying their plans to the Government. But to
conclude that this detected spy was Voltaire, whose favour at Court was
known to be the reward of treachery to his friends, is, apart from the
inherent improbability of the supposition, rendered almost impossible,
owing to the fact that Bolingbroke and Swift were themselves subscribers
to the _Henriade_--Bolingbroke took no fewer than twenty copies--and
that Swift was not only instrumental in obtaining a large number of
Irish subscriptions, but actually wrote a preface to the Dublin edition
of another of Voltaire's works. What inducement could Bolingbroke have
had for such liberality towards a man who had betrayed him? Who can
conceive of the redoubtable Dean of St. Patrick, then at the very summit
of his fame, dispensing such splendid favours to a wretch whom he knew
to be engaged in the shabbiest of all traffics at the expense of himself
and his friends?

Voltaire's literary activities were as insatiable while he was in
England as during every other period of his career. Besides the edition
of the _Henriade_, which was considerably altered and enlarged--one of
the changes was the silent removal of the name of Sully from its
pages--he brought out a volume of two essays, written in English, upon
the French Civil Wars and upon Epic Poetry, he began an adaptation of
_Julius Caesar_ for the French stage, he wrote the opening acts of his
tragedy of _Brutus_, and he collected a quantity of material for his
History of Charles XII. In addition to all this, he was busily engaged
with the preparations for his _Lettres Philosophiques_. The _Henriade_
met with a great success. Every copy of the magnificent quarto edition
was sold before publication; three octavo editions were exhausted in as
many weeks; and Voltaire made a profit of at least ten thousand francs.
M. Foulet thinks that he left England shortly after this highly
successful transaction, and that he established himself secretly in some
town in Normandy, probably Rouen, where he devoted himself to the
completion of the various works which he had in hand. Be this as it may,
he was certainly in France early in April 1729; a few days later he
applied for permission to return to Paris; this was granted on the 9th
of April, and the remarkable incident which had begun at the Opera more
than three years before came to a close.

It was not until five years later that the _Lettres Philosophiques_
appeared. This epoch-making book was the lens by means of which Voltaire
gathered together the scattered rays of his English impressions into a
focus of brilliant and burning intensity. It so happened that the nation
into whose midst he had plunged, and whose characteristics he had
scrutinised with so avid a curiosity, had just reached one of the
culminating moments in its history. The great achievement of the
Revolution and the splendid triumphs of Marlborough had brought to
England freedom, power, wealth, and that sense of high exhilaration
which springs from victory and self-confidence. Her destiny was in the
hands of an aristocracy which was not only capable and enlightened, like
most successful aristocracies, but which possessed the peculiar
attribute of being deep-rooted in popular traditions and popular
sympathies and of drawing its life-blood from the popular will. The
agitations of the reign of Anne were over; the stagnation of the reign
of Walpole had not yet begun. There was a great outburst of intellectual
activity and aesthetic energy. The amazing discoveries of Newton seemed
to open out boundless possibilities of speculation; and in the meantime
the great nobles were building palaces and reviving the magnificence of
the Augustan Age, while men of letters filled the offices of State.
Never, perhaps, before or since, has England been so thoroughly English;
never have the national qualities of solidity and sense, independence of
judgment and idiosyncrasy of temperament, received a more forcible and
complete expression. It was the England of Walpole and Carteret, of
Butler and Berkeley, of Swift and Pope. The two works which, out of the
whole range of English literature, contain in a supreme degree those
elements of power, breadth, and common sense, which lie at the root of
the national genius--'Gulliver's Travels' and the 'Dunciad'--both
appeared during Voltaire's visit. Nor was it only in the high places of
the nation's consciousness that these signs were manifest; they were
visible everywhere, to every stroller through the London streets--in the
Royal Exchange, where all the world came crowding to pour its gold into
English purses, in the Meeting Houses of the Quakers, where the Holy
Spirit rushed forth untrammelled to clothe itself in the sober garb of
English idiom, and in the taverns of Cheapside, where the brawny
fellow-countrymen of Newton and Shakespeare sat, in an impenetrable
silence, over their English beef and English beer.

It was only natural that such a society should act as a powerful
stimulus upon the vivid temperament of Voltaire, who had come to it with
the bitter knowledge fresh in his mind of the medieval futility, the
narrow-minded cynicism of his own country. Yet the book which was the
result is in many ways a surprising one. It is almost as remarkable for
what it does not say as for what it does. In the first place, Voltaire
makes no attempt to give his readers an account of the outward surface,
the social and spectacular aspects of English life. It is impossible not
to regret this, especially since we know, from a delightful fragment
which was not published until after his death, describing his first
impressions on arriving in London, in how brilliant and inimitable a
fashion he would have accomplished the task. A full-length portrait of
Hanoverian England from the personal point of view, by Voltaire, would
have been a priceless possession for posterity; but it was never to be
painted. The first sketch revealing in its perfection the hand of the
master, was lightly drawn, and then thrown aside for ever. And in
reality it is better so. Voltaire decided to aim at something higher and
more important, something more original and more profound. He determined
to write a book which should be, not the sparkling record of an
ingenious traveller, but a work of propaganda and a declaration of
faith. That new mood, which had come upon him first in Sully's
dining-room and is revealed to us in the quivering phrases of the note
to Madame de Bernières, was to grow, in the congenial air of England,
into the dominating passion of his life. Henceforth, whatever quips and
follies, whatever flouts and mockeries might play upon the surface, he
was to be in deadly earnest at heart. He was to live and die a fighter
in the ranks of progress, a champion in the mighty struggle which was
now beginning against the powers of darkness in France. The first great
blow in that struggle had been struck ten years earlier by Montesquieu
in his _Lettres Persanes_; the second was struck by Voltaire in the
_Lettres Philosophiques_. The intellectual freedom, the vigorous
precision, the elegant urbanity which characterise the earlier work
appear in a yet more perfect form in the later one. Voltaire's book, as
its title indicates, is in effect a series of generalised reflections
upon a multitude of important topics, connected together by a common
point of view. A description of the institutions and manners of England
is only an incidental part of the scheme: it is the fulcrum by means of
which the lever of Voltaire's philosophy is brought into operation. The
book is an extremely short one--it fills less than two hundred small
octavo pages; and its tone and style have just that light and airy
gaiety which befits the ostensible form of it--a set of private letters
to a friend. With an extraordinary width of comprehension, an
extraordinary pliability of intelligence, Voltaire touches upon a
hundred subjects of the most varied interest and importance--from the
theory of gravitation to the satires of Lord Rochester, from the effects
of inoculation to the immortality of the soul--and every touch tells. It
is the spirit of Humanism carried to its furthest, its quintessential
point; indeed, at first sight, one is tempted to think that this quality
of rarefied universality has been exaggerated into a defect. The matters
treated of are so many and so vast, they are disposed of and dismissed
so swiftly, so easily, so unemphatically, that one begins to wonder
whether, after all, anything of real significance can have been
expressed. But, in reality, what, in those few small pages, has been
expressed is simply the whole philosophy of Voltaire. He offers one an
exquisite dish of whipped cream; one swallows down the unsubstantial
trifle, and asks impatiently if that is all? At any rate, it is enough.
Into that frothy sweetness his subtle hand has insinuated a single drop
of some strange liquor--is it a poison or is it an elixir of
life?--whose penetrating influence will spread and spread until the
remotest fibres of the system have felt its power. Contemporary French
readers, when they had shut the book, found somehow that they were
looking out upon a new world; that a process of disintegration had begun
among their most intimate beliefs and feelings; that the whole rigid
frame-work of society--of life itself--the hard, dark, narrow,
antiquated structure of their existence--had suddenly, in the twinkling
of an eye, become a faded, shadowy thing.

It might have been expected that, among the reforms which such a work
would advocate, a prominent place would certainly have been given to
those of a political nature. In England a political revolution had been
crowned with triumph, and all that was best in English life was founded
upon the political institutions which had been then established. The
moral was obvious: one had only to compare the state of England under a
free government with the state of France, disgraced, bankrupt, and
incompetent, under autocratic rule. But the moral is never drawn by
Voltaire. His references to political questions are slight and vague; he
gives a sketch of English history, which reaches Magna Charta, suddenly
mentions Henry VII., and then stops; he has not a word to say upon the
responsibility of Ministers, the independence of the judicature, or even
the freedom of the press. He approves of the English financial system,
whose control by the Commons he mentions, but he fails to indicate the
importance of the fact. As to the underlying principles of the
constitution, the account which he gives of them conveys hardly more to
the reader than the famous lines in the _Henriade_:

    Aux murs de Westminster on voit paraître ensemble
    Trois pouvoirs étonnés du noeud qui les rassemble.

Apparently Voltaire was aware of these deficiencies, for in the English
edition of the book he caused the following curious excuses to be
inserted in the preface:

     Some of his _English_ Readers may perhaps be dissatisfied at his
     not expatiating farther on their Constitution and their Laws, which
     most of them revere almost to Idolatry; but, this Reservedness is
     an effect of _M. de Voltaire's_ Judgment. He contented himself with
     giving his opinion of them in general Reflexions, the Cast of which
     is entirely new, and which prove that he had made this Part of the
     _British_ Polity his particular Study. Besides, how was it possible
     for a Foreigner to pierce thro' their Politicks, that gloomy
     Labyrinth, in which such of the _English_ themselves as are best
     acquainted with it, confess daily that they are bewilder'd and

Nothing could be more characteristic of the attitude, not only of
Voltaire himself, but of the whole host of his followers in the later
eighteenth century, towards the actual problems of politics. They turned
away in disgust from the 'gloomy labyrinth' of practical fact to take
refuge in those charming 'general Reflexions' so dear to their hearts,
'the Cast of which was entirely new'--and the conclusion of which was
also entirely new, for it was the French Revolution.

It was, indeed, typical of Voltaire and of his age that the _Lettres
Philosophiques_ should have been condemned by the authorities, not for
any political heterodoxy, but for a few remarks which seemed to call in
question the immortality of the soul. His attack upon the _ancien
régime_ was, in the main, a theoretical attack; doubtless its immediate
effectiveness was thereby diminished, but its ultimate force was
increased. And the _ancien régime_ itself was not slow to realise the
danger: to touch the ark of metaphysical orthodoxy was in its eyes the
unforgiveable sin. Voltaire knew well enough that he must be careful.

     Il n'y a qu'une lettre touchant M. Loke [he wrote to a friend]. La
     seule matière philosophique que j'y traite est la petite bagatelle
     de l'immortalité de l'âme; mais la chose a trop de conséquence pour
     la traiter sérieusement. Il a fallu l'égorger pour ne pas heurter
     de front nos seigneurs les théologiens, gens qui voient si
     clairement la spiritualité de l'âme qu'ils feraient brûler, s'ils
     pouvaient, les corps de ceux qui en doutent.

Nor was it only 'M. Loke' whom he felt himself obliged to touch so
gingerly; the remarkable movement towards Deism, which was then
beginning in England, Voltaire only dared to allude to in a hardly
perceivable hint. He just mentions, almost in a parenthesis, the names
of Shaftesbury, Collins, and Toland, and then quickly passes on. In this
connexion, it may be noticed that the influence upon Voltaire of the
writers of this group has often been exaggerated. To say, as Lord Morley
says, that 'it was the English onslaught which sowed in him the seed of
the idea ... of a systematic and reasoned attack' upon Christian
theology, is to misjudge the situation. In the first place it is certain
both that Voltaire's opinions upon those matters were fixed, and that
his proselytising habits had begun, long before he came to England.
There is curious evidence of this in an anonymous letter, preserved
among the archives of the Bastille, and addressed to the head of the
police at the time of Voltaire's imprisonment.

     Vous venez de mettre à la Bastille [says the writer, who, it is
     supposed, was an ecclesiastic] un homme que je souhaitais y voir il
     y a plus de 15 années.

The writer goes on to speak of the

     métier que faisait l'homme en question, prêchant le déisme tout à
     découvert aux toilettes de nos jeunes seigneurs ... L'Ancien
     Testament, selon lui, n'est qu'un tissu de contes et de fables, les
     apôtres étaient de bonnes gens idiots, simples, et crédules, et les
     pères de l'Eglise, Saint Bernard surtout, auquel il en veut le
     plus, n'étaient que des charlatans et des suborneurs.

'Je voudrais être homme d'authorité,' he adds, 'pour un jour seulement,
afin d'enfermer ce poète entre quatre murailles pour toute sa vie.' That
Voltaire at this early date should have already given rise to such pious
ecclesiastical wishes shows clearly enough that he had little to learn
from the deists of England. And, in the second place, the deists of
England had very little to teach a disciple of Bayle, Fontenelle, and
Montesquieu. They were, almost without exception, a group of second-rate
and insignificant writers whose 'onslaught' upon current beliefs was
only to a faint extent 'systematic and reasoned.' The feeble and
fluctuating rationalism of Toland and Wollaston, the crude and confused
rationalism of Collins, the half-crazy rationalism of Woolston, may each
and all, no doubt, have furnished Voltaire with arguments and
suggestions, but they cannot have seriously influenced his thought.
Bolingbroke was a more important figure, and he was in close personal
relation with Voltaire; but his controversial writings were clumsy and
superficial to an extraordinary degree. As Voltaire himself said, 'in
his works there are many leaves and little fruit; distorted expressions
and periods intolerably long.' Tindal and Middleton were more vigorous;
but their work did not appear until a later period. The masterly and
far-reaching speculations of Hume belong, of course, to a totally
different class.

Apart from politics and metaphysics, there were two directions in which
the _Lettres Philosophiques_ did pioneer work of a highly important
kind: they introduced both Newton and Shakespeare to the French public.
The four letters on Newton show Voltaire at his best--succinct, lucid,
persuasive, and bold. The few paragraphs on Shakespeare, on the other
hand, show him at his worst. Their principal merit is that they mention
his existence--a fact hitherto unknown in France; otherwise they merely
afford a striking example of the singular contradiction in Voltaire's
nature which made him a revolutionary in intellect and kept him a high
Tory in taste. Never was such speculative audacity combined with such
aesthetic timidity; it is as if he had reserved all his superstition for
matters of art. From his account of Shakespeare, it is clear that he had
never dared to open his eyes and frankly look at what he should see
before him. All was 'barbare, dépourvu de bienséances, d'ordre, de
vraisemblance'; in the hurly-burly he was dimly aware of a figured and
elevated style, and of some few 'lueurs étonnantes'; but to the true
significance of Shakespeare's genius he remained utterly blind.

Characteristically enough, Voltaire, at the last moment, did his best to
reinforce his tentative metaphysical observations on 'M. Loke' by
slipping into his book, as it were accidentally, an additional letter,
quite disconnected from the rest of the work, containing reflexions upon
some of the _Pensées_ of Pascal. He no doubt hoped that these
reflexions, into which he had distilled some of his most insidious
venom, might, under cover of the rest, pass unobserved. But all his
subterfuges were useless. It was in vain that he pulled wires and
intrigued with high personages; in vain that he made his way to the aged
Minister, Cardinal Fleury, and attempted, by reading him some choice
extracts on the Quakers, to obtain permission for the publication of his
book. The old Cardinal could not help smiling, though Voltaire had felt
that it would be safer to skip the best parts--'the poor man!' he said
afterwards, 'he didn't realise what he had missed'--but the permission
never came. Voltaire was obliged to have recourse to an illicit
publication; and then the authorities acted with full force. The
_Lettres Philosophiques_ were officially condemned; the book was
declared to be scandalous and 'contraire à la religion, aux bonnes
moeurs, et au respect dû aux puissances,' and it was ordered to be
publicly burned by the executioner. The result was precisely what might
have been expected: the prohibitions and fulminations, so far from
putting a stop to the sale of such exciting matter, sent it up by leaps
and bounds. England suddenly became the fashion; the theories of M. Loke
and Sir Newton began to be discussed; even the plays of 'ce fou de
Shakespeare' began to be read. And, at the same time, the whispered
message of tolerance, of free inquiry, of enlightened curiosity, was
carried over the land. The success of Voltaire's work was complete.

He himself, however, had been obliged to seek refuge from the wrath of
the government in the remote seclusion of Madame du Châtelet's country
house at Cirey. In this retirement he pursued his studies of Newton, and
a few years later produced an exact and brilliant summary of the work of
the great English philosopher. Once more the authorities intervened, and
condemned Voltaire's book. The Newtonian system destroyed that of
Descartes, and Descartes still spoke in France with the voice of
orthodoxy; therefore, of course, the voice of Newton must not be heard.
But, somehow or other, the voice of Newton _was_ heard. The men of
science were converted to the new doctrine; and thus it is not too much
to say that the wonderful advances in the study of mathematics which
took place in France during the later years of the eighteenth century
were the result of the illuminating zeal of Voltaire.

With his work on Newton, Voltaire's direct connexion with English
influences came to an end. For the rest of his life, indeed, he never
lost his interest in England; he was never tired of reading English
books, of being polite to English travellers, and of doing his best, in
the intervals of more serious labours, to destroy the reputation of that
deplorable English buffoon, whom, unfortunately, he himself had been so
foolish as first to introduce to the attention of his countrymen. But it
is curious to notice how, as time went on, the force of Voltaire's
nature inevitably carried him further and further away from the central
standpoints of the English mind. The stimulus which he had received in
England only served to urge him into a path which no Englishman has ever
trod. The movement of English thought in the eighteenth century found
its perfect expression in the profound, sceptical, and yet essentially
conservative, genius of Hume. How different was the attitude of
Voltaire! With what a reckless audacity, what a fierce uncompromising
passion he charged and fought and charged again! He had no time for the
nice discriminations of an elaborate philosophy, and no desire for the
careful balance of the judicial mind; his creed was simple and explicit,
and it also possessed the supreme merit of brevity: 'Écrasez l'infâme!'
was enough for him.



[Footnote 3: _Correspondance de Voltaire_ (1726-1729). By Lucien Foulet.
Paris: Hachette, 1913.]

[Footnote 4: 'Il est aussi animé qu'il ait jamais été. Il a
quatre-vingt-quatre ans, et en vérité je le crois immortel; il jouit de
tous ses sens, aucun même n'est affaibli; c'est un être bien singulier,
et en vérité fort supérieur.' Madame du Deffand to Horace Walpole, 12
Avril 1778.]





Confess, oh _Moses_! Your Miracles were but conjuring-tricks, your
Prophecies lucky Hazards, and your Laws a _Gallimaufry_ of Commonplaces
and Absurdities.


Confess that you were more skill'd in flattering the Vulgar than in
ascertaining the Truth, and that your Reputation in the World would
never have been so high, had your Lot fallen among a Nation of


Confess that when you taught the _Jews_ to spoil the _Egyptians_ you
were a sad rogue.


Confess that it was a Fable to give Horses to Pharaoh and an uncloven
hoof to the Hare.


Confess that you did never see the _Back Parts_ of the Lord.


Confess that your style had too much Singularity and too little Taste to
be that of the Holy Ghost.


All this may be true, my good Friends; but what are the Conclusions you
would draw from your Raillery? Do you suppose that I am ignorant of all
that a Wise Man might urge against my Conduct, my Tales, and my
Language? But alas! my path was chalk'd out for me not by Choice but by
Necessity. I had not the Happiness of living in _England_ or a _Tub_. I
was the Leader of an ignorant and superstitious People, who would never
have heeded the sober Counsels of Good Sense and Toleration, and who
would have laughed at the Refinements of a nice Philosophy. It was
necessary to flatter their Vanity by telling them that they were the
favour'd Children of God, to satisfy their Passions by allowing them to
be treacherous and cruel to their Enemies, and to tickle their Ears by
Stories and Farces by turns ridiculous and horrible, fit either for a
Nursery or _Bedlam_. By such Contrivances I was able to attain my Ends
and to establish the Welfare of my Countrymen. Do you blame me? It is
not the business of a Ruler to be truthful, but to be politick; he must
fly even from Virtue herself, if she sit in a different Quarter from
Expediency. It is his Duty to _sacrifice_ the Best, which is impossible,
to a _little Good_, which is close at hand. I was willing to lay down a
Multitude of foolish Laws, so that, under their Cloak, I might slip in a
few Wise ones; and, had I not shown myself to be both Cruel and
Superstitious, the _Jews_ would never have escaped from the Bondage of
the _Egyptians_.


Perhaps that would not have been an overwhelming Disaster. But, in
truth, you are right. There is no viler Profession than the Government
of Nations. He who dreams that he can lead a great Crowd of Fools
without a great Store of Knavery is a Fool himself.


Are not you too hasty? Does not History show that there have been great
Rulers who were good Men? Solon, Henry of _Navarre_, and Milord Somers
were certainly not Fools, and yet I am unwilling to believe that they
were Knaves either.


No, not Knaves; but Dissemblers. In their different degrees, they all
juggled; but 'twas not because Jugglery pleas'd 'em; 'twas because Men
cannot be governed without it.


I would be happy to try the Experiment. If Men were told the Truth,
might they not believe it? If the Opportunity of Virtue and Wisdom is
never to be offer'd 'em, how can we be sure that they would not be
willing to take it? Let Rulers be _bold_ and _honest_, and it is
possible that the Folly of their Peoples will disappear.


A pretty phantastick Vision! But History is against you.


And Prophecy.


And Common Observation. Look at the World at this moment, and what do we
see? It is as it has always been, and always will be. So long as it
endures, the World will continue to be rul'd by Cajolery, by Injustice,
and by Imposture.


If that be so, I must take leave to lament the _Destiny_ of the Human


The historian of Literature is little more than a historian of exploded
reputations. What has he to do with Shakespeare, with Dante, with
Sophocles? Has he entered into the springs of the sea? Or has he walked
in the search of the depth? The great fixed luminaries of the firmament
of Letters dazzle his optic glass; and he can hardly hope to do more
than record their presence, and admire their splendours with the eyes of
an ordinary mortal. His business is with the succeeding ages of men, not
with all time; but _Hyperion_ might have been written on the morrow of
Salamis, and the Odes of Pindar dedicated to George the Fourth. The
literary historian must rove in other hunting grounds. He is the
geologist of literature, whose study lies among the buried strata of
forgotten generations, among the fossil remnants of the past. The great
men with whom he must deal are the great men who are no longer
great--mammoths and ichthyosauri kindly preserved to us, among the
siftings of so many epochs, by the impartial benignity of Time. It is
for him to unravel the jokes of Erasmus, and to be at home among the
platitudes of Cicero. It is for him to sit up all night with the
spectral heroes of Byron; it is for him to exchange innumerable
alexandrines with the faded heroines of Voltaire.

The great potentate of the eighteenth century has suffered cruelly
indeed at the hands of posterity. Everyone, it is true, has heard of
him; but who has read him? It is by his name that ye shall know him, and
not by his works. With the exception of his letters, of _Candide_, of
_Akakia_, and of a few other of his shorter pieces, the vast mass of his
productions has been already consigned to oblivion. How many persons now
living have travelled through _La Henriade_ or _La Pucelle_? How many
have so much as glanced at the imposing volumes of _L'Esprit des
Moeurs_? _Zadig_ and _Zaïre, Mérope_ and _Charles XII_. still linger,
perhaps, in the schoolroom; but what has become of _Oreste_, and of
_Mahomet_, and of _Alzire_? _Où sont les neiges d'antan_?

Though Voltaire's reputation now rests mainly on his achievements as a
precursor of the Revolution, to the eighteenth century he was as much a
poet as a reformer. The whole of Europe beheld at Ferney the oracle, not
only of philosophy, but of good taste; for thirty years every scribbler,
every rising genius, and every crowned head, submitted his verses to the
censure of Voltaire; Voltaire's plays were performed before crowded
houses; his epic was pronounced superior to Homer's, Virgil's, and
Milton's; his epigrams were transcribed by every letter-writer, and got
by heart by every wit. Nothing, perhaps, shows more clearly the gulf
which divides us from our ancestors of the eighteenth century, than a
comparison between our thoughts and their thoughts, between our feelings
and their feelings, with regard to one and the same thing--a tragedy by
Voltaire. For us, as we take down the dustiest volume in our bookshelf,
as we open it vaguely at some intolerable tirade, as we make an effort
to labour through the procession of pompous commonplaces which meets our
eyes, as we abandon the task in despair, and hastily return the book to
its forgotten corner--to us it is well-nigh impossible to imagine the
scene of charming brilliance which, five generations since, the same
words must have conjured up. The splendid gaiety, the refined
excitement, the pathos, the wit, the passion--all these things have
vanished as completely from our perceptions as the candles, the powder,
the looking-glasses, and the brocades, among which they moved and had
their being. It may be instructive, or at least entertaining, to examine
one of these forgotten masterpieces a little more closely; and we may do
so with the less hesitation, since we shall only be following in the
footsteps of Voltaire himself. His examination of _Hamlet_ affords a
precedent which is particularly applicable, owing to the fact that the
same interval of time divided him from Shakespeare as that which divides
ourselves from him. One point of difference, indeed, does exist between
the relative positions of the two authors. Voltaire, in his study of
Shakespeare, was dealing with a living, and a growing force; our
interest in the dramas of Voltaire is solely an antiquarian interest. At
the present moment,[5] a literal translation of _King Lear_ is drawing
full houses at the Théâtre Antoine. As a rule it is rash to prophesy;
but, if that rule has any exceptions, this is certainly one of
them--hundred years hence a literal translation of _Zaïre_ will not be
holding the English boards.

It is not our purpose to appreciate the best, or to expose the worst, of
Voltaire's tragedies. Our object is to review some specimen of what
would have been recognised by his contemporaries as representative of
the average flight of his genius. Such a specimen is to be found in
_Alzire, ou Les Américains_, first produced with great success in 1736,
when Voltaire was forty-two years of age and his fame as a dramatist
already well established.

_Act I_.--The scene is laid in Lima, the capital of Peru, some years
after the Spanish conquest of America. When the play opens, Don Gusman,
a Spanish grandee, has just succeeded his father, Don Alvarez, in the
Governorship of Peru. The rule of Don Alvarez had been beneficent and
just; he had spent his life in endeavouring to soften the cruelty of his
countrymen; and his only remaining wish was to see his son carry on the
work which he had begun. Unfortunately, however, Don Gusman's
temperament was the very opposite of his father's; he was tyrannical,
harsh, headstrong, and bigoted.

    L'Américain farouche est un monstre sauvage
    Qui mord en frémissant le frein de l'esclavage ...
    Tout pouvoir, en un mot, périt par l'indulgence,
    Et la sévérité produit l'obéissance.

Such were the cruel maxims of his government--maxims which he was only
too ready to put into practice. It was in vain that Don Alvarez reminded
his son that the true Christian returns good for evil, and that, as he
epigrammatically put it, 'Le vrai Dieu, mon fils, est un Dieu qui
pardonne.' To enforce his argument, the good old man told the story of
how his own life had been spared by a virtuous American, who, as he
said, 'au lieu de me frapper, embrassa mes genoux.' But Don Gusman
remained unmoved by such narratives, though he admitted that there was
one consideration which impelled him to adopt a more lenient policy. He
was in love with Alzire, Alzire the young and beautiful daughter of
Montèze, who had ruled in Lima before the coming of the Spaniards. 'Je
l'aime, je l'avoue,' said Gusman to his father, 'et plus que je ne
veux.' With these words, the dominating situation of the play becomes
plain to the spectator. The wicked Spanish Governor is in love with the
virtuous American princess. From such a state of affairs, what
interesting and romantic developments may not follow? Alzire, we are not
surprised to learn, still fondly cherished the memory of a Peruvian
prince, who had been slain in an attempt to rescue his country from the
tyranny of Don Gusman. Yet, for the sake of Montèze, her ambitious and
scheming father, she consented to give her hand to the Governor. She
consented; but, even as she did so, she was still faithful to Zamore.
'Sa foi me fut promise,' she declared to Don Gusman, 'il eut pour moi
des charmes.'

    Il m'aima: son trépas me coûte encore des larmes:
    Vous, loin d'oser ici condamner ma douleur,
    Jugez de ma constance, et connaissez mon coeur.

The ruthless Don did not allow these pathetic considerations to stand in
the way of his wishes, and gave orders that the wedding ceremony should
be immediately performed. But, at the very moment of his apparent
triumph, the way was being prepared for the overthrow of all his hopes.

_Act II_.--It was only natural to expect that a heroine affianced to a
villain should turn out to be in love with a hero. The hero adored by
Alzire had, it is true, perished; but then what could be more natural
than his resurrection? The noble Zamore was not dead; he had escaped
with his life from the torture-chamber of Don Gusman, had returned to
avenge himself, had been immediately apprehended, and was lying
imprisoned in the lowest dungeon of the castle, while his beloved
princess was celebrating her nuptials with his deadly foe.

In this distressing situation, he was visited by the venerable Alvarez,
who had persuaded his son to grant him an order for the prisoner's
release. In the gloom of the dungeon, it was at first difficult to
distinguish the features of Zamore; but the old man at last discovered
that he was addressing the very American who, so many years ago, instead
of hitting him, had embraced his knees. He was overwhelmed by this
extraordinary coincidence. 'Approach. O heaven! O Providence! It is he,
behold the object of my gratitude. ... My benefactor! My son!' But let
us not pry further into so affecting a passage; it is sufficient to
state that Don Alvarez, after promising his protection to Zamore,
hurried off to relate this remarkable occurrence to his son, the

Act III.--Meanwhile, Alzire had been married. But she still could not
forget her Peruvian lover. While she was lamenting her fate, and
imploring the forgiveness of the shade of Zamore, she was informed that
a released prisoner begged a private interview. 'Admit him.' He was
admitted. 'Heaven! Such were his features, his gait, his voice: Zamore!'
She falls into the arms of her confidante. 'Je succombe; à peine je

    ZAMORE: Reconnais ton amant.
    ALZIRE: Zamore aux pieds d'Alzire!
            Est-ce une illusion?

It was no illusion; and the unfortunate princess was obliged to confess
to her lover that she was already married to Don Gusman. Zamore was at
first unable to grasp the horrible truth, and, while he was still
struggling with his conflicting emotions, the door was flung open, and
Don Gusman, accompanied by his father, entered the room.

A double recognition followed. Zamore was no less horrified to behold in
Don Gusman the son of the venerable Alvarez, than Don Gusman was
infuriated at discovering that the prisoner to whose release he had
consented was no other than Zamore. When the first shock of surprise was
over, the Peruvian hero violently insulted his enemy, and upbraided him
with the tortures he had inflicted. The Governor replied by ordering the
instant execution of the prince. It was in vain that Don Alvarez
reminded his son of Zamore's magnanimity; it was in vain that Alzire
herself offered to sacrifice her life for that of her lover. Zamore was
dragged from the apartment; and Alzire and Don Alvarez were left alone
to bewail the fate of the Peruvian hero. Yet some faint hopes still
lingered in the old man's breast. 'Gusman fut inhumain,' he admitted,
'je le sais, j'en frémis;

    Mais il est ton époux, il t'aime, il est mon fils:
    Son âme à la pitié se peut ouvrir encore.'

'Hélas!' (replied Alzire), 'que n'êtes-vous le père de Zamore!'

_Act IV_.--Even Don Gusman's heart was, in fact, unable to steel itself
entirely against the prayers and tears of his father and his wife; and
he consented to allow a brief respite to Zamore's execution. Alzire was
not slow to seize this opportunity of doing her lover a good turn; for
she immediately obtained his release by the ingenious stratagem of
bribing the warder of the dungeon. Zamore was free. But alas! Alzire was
not; was she not wedded to the wicked Gusman? Her lover's expostulations
fell on unheeding ears. What mattered it that her marriage vow had been
sworn before an alien God? 'J'ai promis; il suffit; il n'importe à quel

    ZAMORE: Ta promesse est un crime; elle est ma perte; adieu.
    Périssent tes serments et ton Dieu que j'abhorre!

    ALZIRE: Arrête; quels adieux! arrête, cher Zamore!

But the prince tore himself away, with no further farewell upon his lips
than an oath to be revenged upon the Governor. Alzire, perplexed,
deserted, terrified, tortured by remorse, agitated by passion, turned
for comfort to that God, who, she could not but believe, was, in some
mysterious way, the Father of All.

     Great God, lead Zamore in safety through the desert places. ... Ah!
     can it be true that thou art but the Deity of another universe?
     Have the Europeans alone the right to please thee? Art thou after
     all the tyrant of one world and the father of another? ... No! The
     conquerors and the conquered, miserable mortals as they are, all
     are equally the work of thy hands....

Her reverie was interrupted by an appalling sound. She heard shrieks;
she heard a cry of 'Zamore!' And her confidante, rushing in, confusedly
informed her that her lover was in peril of his life.

    Ah, chère Emire [she exclaimed], allons le secourir!

    EMIRE: Que pouvez-vous, Madame? O Ciel!

    ALZIRE: Je puis mourir.

Hardly was the epigram out of her mouth when the door opened, and an
emissary of Don Gusman announced to her that she must consider herself
under arrest. She demanded an explanation in vain, and was immediately
removed to the lowest dungeon.

_Act V_.--It was not long before the unfortunate princess learnt the
reason of her arrest. Zamore, she was informed, had rushed straight from
her apartment into the presence of Don Gusman, and had plunged a dagger
into his enemy's breast. The hero had then turned to Don Alvarez and,
with perfect tranquillity, had offered him the bloodstained poniard.

    J'ai fait ce que j'ai dû, j'ai vengé mon injure;
    Fais ton devoir, dit-il, et venge la nature.

Before Don Alvarez could reply to this appeal, Zamore had been haled off
by the enraged soldiery before the Council of Grandees. Don Gusman had
been mortally wounded; and the Council proceeded at once to condemn to
death, not only Zamore, but also Alzire, who, they found, had been
guilty of complicity in the murder. It was the unpleasant duty of Don
Alvarez to announce to the prisoners the Council's sentence. He did so
in the following manner:

     Good God, what a mixture of tenderness and horror! My own liberator
     is the assassin of my son. Zamore!... Yes, it is to thee that I owe
     this life which I detest; how dearly didst thou sell me that fatal
     gift.... I am a father, but I am also a man; and, in spite of thy
     fury, in spite of the voice of that blood which demands vengeance
     from my agitated soul, I can still hear the voice of thy
     benefactions. And thou, who wast my daughter, thou whom in our
     misery I yet call by a name which makes our tears to flow, ah! how
     far is it from thy father's wishes to add to the agony which he
     already feels the horrible pleasure of vengeance. I must lose, by
     an unheard-of catastrophe, at once my liberator, my daughter, and
     my son. The Council has sentenced you to death.

Upon one condition, however, and upon one alone, the lives of the
culprits were to be spared--that of Zamore's conversion to Christianity.
What need is there to say that the noble Peruvians did not hesitate for
a moment? 'Death, rather than dishonour!' exclaimed Zamore, while Alzire
added some elegant couplets upon the moral degradation entailed by
hypocritical conversion. Don Alvarez was in complete despair, and was
just beginning to make another speech, when Don Gusman, with the pallor
of death upon his features, was carried into the room. The implacable
Governor was about to utter his last words. Alzire was resigned; Alvarez
was plunged in misery; Zamore was indomitable to the last. But lo! when
the Governor spoke, it was seen at once that an extraordinary change had
come over his mind. He was no longer proud, he was no longer cruel, he
was no longer unforgiving; he was kind, humble, and polite; in short, he
had repented. Everybody was pardoned, and everybody recognised the truth
of Christianity. And their faith was particularly strengthened when Don
Gusman, invoking a final blessing upon Alzire and Zamore, expired in the
arms of Don Alvarez. For thus were the guilty punished, and the virtuous
rewarded. The noble Zamore, who had murdered his enemy in cold blood,
and the gentle Alzire who, after bribing a sentry, had allowed her lover
to do away with her husband, lived happily ever afterwards. That they
were able to do so was owing entirely to the efforts of the wicked Don
Gusman; and the wicked Don Gusman very properly descended to the grave.

Such is the tragedy of _Alzire_, which, it may be well to repeat, was in
its day one of the most applauded of its author's productions. It was
upon the strength of works of this kind that his contemporaries
recognised Voltaire's right to be ranked in a sort of dramatic
triumvirate, side by side with his great predecessors, Corneille and
Racine. With Racine, especially, Voltaire was constantly coupled; and it
is clear that he himself firmly believed that the author of _Alzire_ was
a worthy successor of the author of _Athalie_. At first sight, indeed,
the resemblance between the two dramatists is obvious enough; but a
closer inspection reveals an ocean of differences too vast to be spanned
by any superficial likeness.

A careless reader is apt to dismiss the tragedies of Racine as mere
_tours de force_; and, in one sense, the careless reader is right. For,
as mere displays of technical skill, those works are certainly
unsurpassed in the whole range of literature. But the notion of 'a mere
_tour de force_' carries with it something more than the idea of
technical perfection; for it denotes, not simply a work which is
technically perfect, but a work which is technically perfect and nothing
more. The problem before a writer of a Chant Royal is to overcome
certain technical difficulties of rhyme and rhythm; he performs his
_tour de force_, the difficulties are overcome, and his task is
accomplished. But Racine's problem was very different. The technical
restrictions he laboured under were incredibly great; his vocabulary was
cribbed, his versification was cabined, his whole power of dramatic
movement was scrupulously confined; conventional rules of every
conceivable denomination hurried out to restrain his genius, with the
alacrity of Lilliputians pegging down a Gulliver; wherever he turned he
was met by a hiatus or a pitfall, a blind-alley or a _mot bas_. But his
triumph was not simply the conquest of these refractory creatures; it
was something much more astonishing. It was the creation, in spite of
them, nay, by their very aid, of a glowing, living, soaring, and
enchanting work of art. To have brought about this amazing combination,
to have erected, upon a structure of Alexandrines, of Unities, of Noble
Personages, of stilted diction, of the whole intolerable paraphernalia
of the Classical stage, an edifice of subtle psychology, of exquisite
poetry, of overwhelming passion--that is a _tour de force_ whose
achievement entitles Jean Racine to a place among the very few
consummate artists of the world.

Voltaire, unfortunately, was neither a poet nor a psychologist; and,
when he took up the mantle of Racine, he put it, not upon a human being,
but upon a tailor's block. To change the metaphor, Racine's work
resembled one of those elaborate paper transparencies which delighted
our grandmothers, illuminated from within so as to present a charming
tinted picture with varying degrees of shadow and of light. Voltaire was
able to make the transparency, but he never could light the candle; and
the only result of his efforts was some sticky pieces of paper, cut into
curious shapes, and roughly daubed with colour. To take only one
instance, his diction is the very echo of Racine's. There are the same
pompous phrases, the same inversions, the same stereotyped list of
similes, the same poor bedraggled company of words. It is amusing to
note the exclamations which rise to the lips of Voltaire's characters in
moments of extreme excitement--_Qu'entends-je? Que vois-je? Où suis-je?
Grands Dieux! Ah, c'en est trop, Seigneur! Juste Ciel! Sauve-toi de ces
lieux! Madame, quelle horreur_ ... &c. And it is amazing to discover
that these are the very phrases with which Racine has managed to express
all the violence of human terror, and rage, and love. Voltaire at his
best never rises above the standard of a sixth-form boy writing
hexameters in the style of Virgil; and, at his worst, he certainly falls
within measurable distance of a flogging. He is capable, for instance,
of writing lines as bad as the second of this couplet--

    C'est ce même guerrier dont la main tutélaire,
    De Gusman, votre époux, sauva, dit-on, le père,

or as

    Qui les font pour un temps rentrer tous en eux-mêmes,


    Vous comprenez, seigneur, que je ne comprends pas.

Voltaire's most striking expressions are too often borrowed from his
predecessors. Alzire's 'Je puis mourir,' for instance, is an obvious
reminiscence of the 'Qu'il mourût!' of le vieil Horace; and the cloven
hoof is shown clearly enough by the 'O ciel!' with which Alzire's
confidante manages to fill out the rest of the line. Many of these
blemishes are, doubtless, the outcome of simple carelessness; for
Voltaire was too busy a man to give over-much time to his plays. 'This
tragedy was the work of six days,' he wrote to d'Alembert, enclosing
_Olympie_. 'You should not have rested on the seventh,' was d'Alembert's
reply. But, on the whole, Voltaire's verses succeed in keeping up to a
high level of mediocrity; they are the verses, in fact, of a very clever
man. It is when his cleverness is out of its depth, that he most
palpably fails. A human being by Voltaire bears the same relation to a
real human being that stage scenery bears to a real landscape; it can
only be looked at from in front. The curtain rises, and his villains and
his heroes, his good old men and his exquisite princesses, display for a
moment their one thin surface to the spectator; the curtain falls, and
they are all put back into their box. The glance which the reader has
taken into the little case labelled _Alzire_ has perhaps given him a
sufficient notion of these queer discarded marionettes.

Voltaire's dramatic efforts were hampered by one further unfortunate
incapacity; he was almost completely devoid of the dramatic sense. It is
only possible to write good plays without the power of
character-drawing, upon one condition--that of possessing the power of
creating dramatic situations. The _Oedipus Tyrannus_ of Sophocles, for
instance, is not a tragedy of character; and its vast crescendo of
horror is produced by a dramatic treatment of situation, not of persons.
One of the principal elements in this stupendous example of the
manipulation of a great dramatic theme has been pointed out by Voltaire
himself. The guilt of Oedipus, he says, becomes known to the audience
very early in the play; and, when the _dénouement_ at last arrives, it
comes as a shock, not to the audience, but to the King. There can be no
doubt that Voltaire has put his finger upon the very centre of those
underlying causes which make the _Oedipus_ perhaps the most awful of
tragedies. To know the hideous truth, to watch its gradual dawn upon one
after another of the characters, to see Oedipus at last alone in
ignorance, to recognise clearly that he too must know, to witness his
struggles, his distraction, his growing terror, and, at the inevitable
moment, the appalling revelation--few things can be more terrible than
this. But Voltaire's comment upon the master-stroke by which such an
effect has been obtained illustrates, in a remarkable way, his own sense
of the dramatic. 'Nouvelle preuve,' he remarks, 'que Sophocle n'avait
pas perfectionné son art.'

More detailed evidence of Voltaire's utter lack of dramatic insight is
to be found, of course, in his criticisms of Shakespeare. Throughout
these, what is particularly striking is the manner in which Voltaire
seems able to get into such intimate contact with his great predecessor,
and yet to remain as absolutely unaffected by him as Shakespeare himself
was by Voltaire. It is unnecessary to dwell further upon so hackneyed a
subject; but one instance may be given of the lengths to which this
dramatic insensibility of Voltaire's was able to go--his adaptation of
_Julius Caesar_ for the French stage. A comparison of the two pieces
should be made by anyone who wishes to realise fully, not only the
degradation of the copy, but the excellence of the original. Particular
attention should be paid to the transmutation of Antony's funeral
oration into French alexandrines. In Voltaire's version, the climax of
the speech is reached in the following passage; it is an excellent
sample of the fatuity of the whole of his concocted rigmarole:--

    ANTOINE: Brutus ... où suis-je? O ciel! O crime! O barbarie!'
             Chers amis, je succombe; et mes sens interdits ...
             Brutus, son assassin!... ce monstre était son fils!
    ROMAINS: Ah dieux!

If Voltaire's demerits are obvious enough to our eyes, his merits were
equally clear to his contemporaries, whose vision of them was not
perplexed and retarded by the conventions of another age. The weight of
a reigning convention is like the weight of the atmosphere--it is so
universal that no one feels it; and an eighteenth-century audience came
to a performance of _Alzire_ unconscious of the burden of the Classical
rules. They found instead an animated procession of events, of scenes
just long enough to be amusing and not too long to be dull, of startling
incidents, of happy _mots_. They were dazzled by an easy display of
cheap brilliance, and cheap philosophy, and cheap sentiment, which it
was very difficult to distinguish from the real thing, at such a
distance, and under artificial light. When, in _Mérope_, one saw La
Dumesnil; 'lorsque,' to quote Voltaire himself, 'les yeux égarés, la
voix entrecoupée, levant une main tremblante, elle allait immoler son
propre fils; quand Narbas l'arrêta; quand, laissant tomber son poignard,
on la vit s'évanouir entre les bras de ses femmes, et qu'elle sortit de
cet état de mort avec les transports d'une mère; lorsque, ensuite,
s'élançant aux yeux de Polyphonte, traversant en un clin d'oeil tout le
théâtre, les larmes dans les yeux, la pâleur sur le front, les sanglots
à la bouche, les bras étendus, elle s'écria: "Barbare, il est mon
fils!"'--how, face to face with splendours such as these, could one
question for a moment the purity of the gem from which they sparkled?
Alas! to us, who know not La Dumesnil, to us whose _Mérope_ is nothing
more than a little sediment of print, the precious stone of our
forefathers has turned out to be a simple piece of paste. Its glittering
was the outcome of no inward fire, but of a certain adroitness in the
manufacture; to use our modern phraseology, Voltaire was able to make up
for his lack of genius by a thorough knowledge of 'technique,' and a
great deal of 'go.'

And to such titles of praise let us not dispute his right. His vivacity,
indeed, actually went so far as to make him something of an innovator.
He introduced new and imposing spectacular effects; he ventured to write
tragedies in which no persons of royal blood made their appearance; he
was so bold as to rhyme 'père' with 'terre.' The wild diversity of his
incidents shows a trend towards the romantic, which, doubtless, under
happier influences, would have led him much further along the primrose
path which ended in the bonfire of 1830.

But it was his misfortune to be for ever clogged by a tradition of
decorous restraint; so that the effect of his plays is as anomalous as
would be--let us say--that of a shilling shocker written by Miss Yonge.
His heroines go mad in epigrams, while his villains commit murder in
inversions. Amid the hurly-burly of artificiality, it was all his
cleverness could do to keep its head to the wind; and he was only able
to remain afloat at all by throwing overboard his humour. The Classical
tradition has to answer for many sins; perhaps its most infamous
achievement was that it prevented Molière from being a great tragedian.
But there can be no doubt that its most astonishing one was to have
taken--if only for some scattered moments--the sense of the ridiculous
from Voltaire.


[Footnote 5: April, 1905.]


At the present time,[6] when it is so difficult to think of anything but
of what is and what will be, it may yet be worth while to cast
occasionally a glance backward at what was. Such glances may at least
prove to have the humble merit of being entertaining: they may even be
instructive as well. Certainly it would be a mistake to forget that
Frederick the Great once lived in Germany. Nor is it altogether useless
to remember that a curious old gentleman, extremely thin, extremely
active, and heavily bewigged, once decided that, on the whole, it would
be as well for him _not_ to live in France. For, just as modern Germany
dates from the accession of Frederick to the throne of Prussia, so
modern France dates from the establishment of Voltaire on the banks of
the Lake of Geneva. The intersection of those two momentous lives forms
one of the most curious and one of the most celebrated incidents in
history. To English readers it is probably best known through the few
brilliant paragraphs devoted to it by Macaulay; though Carlyle's
masterly and far more elaborate narrative is familiar to every lover of
_The History of Friedrich II_. Since Carlyle wrote, however, fifty years
have passed. New points of view have arisen, and a certain amount of new
material--including the valuable edition of the correspondence between
Voltaire and Frederick published from the original documents in the
Archives at Berlin--has become available. It seems, therefore, in spite
of the familiarity of the main outlines of the story, that another rapid
review of it will not be out of place.

Voltaire was forty-two years of age, and already one of the most famous
men of the day, when, in August 1736, he received a letter from the
Crown Prince of Prussia. This letter was the first in a correspondence
which was to last, with a few remarkable intervals, for a space of over
forty years. It was written by a young man of twenty-four, of whose
personal qualities very little was known, and whose importance seemed to
lie simply in the fact that he was heir-apparent to one of the secondary
European monarchies. Voltaire, however, was not the man to turn up his
nose at royalty, in whatever form it might present itself; and it was
moreover clear that the young prince had picked up at least a smattering
of French culture, that he was genuinely anxious to become acquainted
with the tendencies of modern thought, and, above all, that his
admiration for the author of the _Henriade_ and _Zaïre_ was unbounded.

     La douceur et le support [wrote Frederick] que vous marquez pour
     tous ceux qui se vouent aux arts et aux sciences, me font espérer
     que vous ne m'exclurez pas du nombre de ceux que vous trouvez
     dignes de vos instructions. Je nomme ainsi votre commerce de
     lettres, qui ne peut être que profitable à tout être pensant. J'ose
     même avancer, sans déroger au mérite d'autrui, que dans l'univers
     entier il n'y aurait pas d'exception à faire de ceux dont vous ne
     pourriez être le maître.

The great man was accordingly delighted; he replied with all that
graceful affability of which he was a master, declared that his
correspondent was 'un prince philosophe qui rendra les hommes heureux,'
and showed that he meant business by plunging at once into a discussion
of the metaphysical doctrines of 'le sieur Wolf,' whom Frederick had
commended as 'le plus célèbre philosophe de nos jours.' For the next
four years the correspondence continued on the lines thus laid down. It
was a correspondence between a master and a pupil: Frederick, his
passions divided between German philosophy and French poetry, poured out
with equal copiousness disquisitions upon Free Will and _la raison
suffisante_, odes _sur la Flatterie_, and epistles _sur l'Humanité_,
while Voltaire kept the ball rolling with no less enormous
philosophical replies, together with minute criticisms of His Royal
Highness's mistakes in French metre and French orthography. Thus, though
the interest of these early letters must have been intense to the young
Prince, they have far too little personal flavour to be anything but
extremely tedious to the reader of to-day. Only very occasionally is it
possible to detect, amid the long and careful periods, some faint signs
of feeling or of character. Voltaire's _empressement_ seems to take on,
once or twice, the colours of something like a real enthusiasm; and one
notices that, after two years, Frederick's letters begin no longer with
'Monsieur' but with 'Mon cher ami,' which glides at last insensibly into
'Mon cher Voltaire'; though the careful poet continues with his
'Monseigneur' throughout. Then, on one occasion, Frederick makes a
little avowal, which reads oddly in the light of future events.

     Souffrez [he says] que je vous fasse mon caractère, afin que vous
     ne vous y mépreniez plus ... J'ai peu de mérite et peu de savoir;
     mais j'ai beaucoup de bonne volonté, et un fonds inépuisable
     d'estime et d'amitié pour les personnes d'une vertu distinguée, et
     avec cela je suis capable de toute la constance que la vraie amitié
     exige. J'ai assez de jugement pour vous rendre toute la justice que
     vous méritez; mais je n'en ai pas assez pour m'empêcher de faire de
     mauvais vers.

But this is exceptional; as a rule, elaborate compliments take the place
of personal confessions; and, while Voltaire is never tired of comparing
Frederick to Apollo, Alcibiades, and the youthful Marcus Aurelius, of
proclaiming the rebirth of 'les talents de Virgile et les vertus
d'Auguste,' or of declaring that 'Socrate ne m'est rien, c'est Frédéric
que j'aime,' the Crown Prince is on his side ready with an equal flow of
protestations, which sometimes rise to singular heights. 'Ne croyez
pas,' he says, 'que je pousse mon scepticisime à outrance ... Je crois,
par exemple, qu'il n'y a qu'un Dieu et qu'un Voltaire dans le monde; je
crois encore que ce Dieu avait besoin dans ce siècle d'un Voltaire pour
le rendre aimable.' Decidedly the Prince's compliments were too
emphatic, and the poet's too ingenious; as Voltaire himself said
afterwards, 'les épithètes ne nous coûtaient rien'; yet neither was
without a little residue of sincerity. Frederick's admiration bordered
upon the sentimental; and Voltaire had begun to allow himself to hope
that some day, in a provincial German court, there might be found a
crowned head devoting his life to philosophy, good sense, and the love
of letters. Both were to receive a curious awakening.

In 1740 Frederick became King of Prussia, and a new epoch in the
relations between the two men began. The next ten years were, on both
sides, years of growing disillusionment. Voltaire very soon discovered
that his phrase about 'un prince philosophe qui rendra les hommes
heureux' was indeed a phrase and nothing more. His _prince philosophe_
started out on a career of conquest, plunged all Europe into war, and
turned Prussia into a great military power. Frederick, it appeared, was
at once a far more important and a far more dangerous phenomenon than
Voltaire had suspected. And, on the other hand, the matured mind of the
King was not slow to perceive that the enthusiasm of the Prince needed a
good deal of qualification. This change of view, was, indeed, remarkably
rapid. Nothing is more striking than the alteration of the tone in
Frederick's correspondence during the few months which followed his
accession: the voice of the raw and inexperienced youth is heard no
more, and its place is taken--at once and for ever--by the
self-contained caustic utterance of an embittered man of the world. In
this transformation it was only natural that the wondrous figure of
Voltaire should lose some of its glitter--especially since Frederick now
began to have the opportunity of inspecting that figure in the flesh
with his own sharp eyes. The friends met three or four times, and it is
noticeable that after each meeting there is a distinct coolness on the
part of Frederick. He writes with a sudden brusqueness to accuse
Voltaire of showing about his manuscripts, which, he says, had only been
sent him on the condition of _un secret inviolable_. He writes to Jordan
complaining of Voltaire's avarice in very stringent terms. 'Ton avare
boira la lie de son insatiable désir de s'enrichir ... Son apparition de
six jours me coûtera par journée cinq cent cinquante écus. C'est bien
payer un fou; jamais bouffon de grand seigneur n'eut de pareils gages.'
He declares that 'la cervelle du poète est aussi légère que le style de
ses ouvrages,' and remarks sarcastically that he is indeed a man
_extraordinaire en tout_.

Yet, while his opinion of Voltaire's character was rapidly growing more
and more severe, his admiration of his talents remained undiminished.
For, though he had dropped metaphysics when he came to the throne,
Frederick could never drop his passion for French poetry; he recognised
in Voltaire the unapproachable master of that absorbing art; and for
years he had made up his mind that, some day or other, he would
_posséder_--for so he put it--the author of the _Henriade_, would keep
him at Berlin as the brightest ornament of his court, and, above all,
would have him always ready at hand to put the final polish on his own
verses. In the autumn of 1743 it seemed for a moment that his wish would
be gratified. Voltaire spent a visit of several weeks in Berlin; he was
dazzled by the graciousness of his reception and the splendour of his
surroundings; and he began to listen to the honeyed overtures of the
Prussian Majesty. The great obstacle to Frederick's desire was
Voltaire's relationship with Madame du Châtelet. He had lived with her
for more than ten years; he was attached to her by all the ties of
friendship and gratitude; he had constantly declared that he would never
leave her--no, not for all the seductions of princes. She would, it is
true, have been willing to accompany Voltaire to Berlin; but such a
solution would by no means have suited Frederick. He was not fond of
ladies--even of ladies like Madame du Châtelet--learned enough to
translate Newton and to discuss by the hour the niceties of the
Leibnitzian philosophy; and he had determined to _posséder_ Voltaire
either completely or not at all. Voltaire, in spite of repeated
temptations, had remained faithful; but now, for the first time, poor
Madame du Châtelet began to be seriously alarmed. His letters from
Berlin grew fewer and fewer, and more and more ambiguous; she knew
nothing of his plans; 'il est ivre absolument' she burst out in her
distress to d'Argental, one of his oldest friends. By every post she
dreaded to learn at last that he had deserted her for ever. But suddenly
Voltaire returned. The spell of Berlin had been broken, and he was at
her feet once more.

What had happened was highly characteristic both of the Poet and of the
King. Each had tried to play a trick on the other, and each had found
the other out. The French Government had been anxious to obtain an
insight into the diplomatic intentions of Frederick, in an unofficial
way; Voltaire had offered his services, and it had been agreed that he
should write to Frederick declaring that he was obliged to leave France
for a time owing to the hostility of a member of the Government, the
Bishop of Mirepoix, and asking for Frederick's hospitality. Frederick
had not been taken in: though he had not disentangled the whole plot, he
had perceived clearly enough that Voltaire's visit was in reality that
of an agent of the French Government; he also thought he saw an
opportunity of securing the desire of his heart. Voltaire, to give
verisimilitude to his story, had, in his letter to Frederick, loaded the
Bishop of Mirepoix with ridicule and abuse; and Frederick now secretly
sent this letter to Mirepoix himself. His calculation was that Mirepoix
would be so outraged that he would make it impossible for Voltaire ever
to return to France; and in that case--well, Voltaire would have no
other course open to him but to stay where he was, in Berlin, and Madame
du Châtelet would have to make the best of it. Of course, Frederick's
plan failed, and Voltaire was duly informed by Mirepoix of what had
happened. He was naturally very angry. He had been almost induced to
stay in Berlin of his own accord, and now he found that his host had
been attempting, by means of treachery and intrigue, to force him to
stay there whether he liked it or not. It was a long time before he
forgave Frederick. But the King was most anxious to patch up the
quarrel; he still could not abandon the hope of ultimately securing
Voltaire; and besides, he was now possessed by another and a more
immediate desire--to be allowed a glimpse of that famous and scandalous
work which Voltaire kept locked in the innermost drawer of his cabinet
and revealed to none but the most favoured of his intimates--_La

Accordingly the royal letters became more frequent and more flattering
than ever; the royal hand cajoled and implored. 'Ne me faites point
injustice sur mon caractère; d'ailleurs il vous est permis de badiner
sur mon sujet comme il vous plaira.' '_La Pucelle! La Pucelle! La
Pucelle!_ et encore _La Pucelle_!' he exclaims. 'Pour l'amour de Dieu,
ou plus encore pour l'amour de vous-même, envoyez-la-moi.' And at last
Voltaire was softened. He sent off a few fragments of his
_Pucelle_--just enough to whet Frederick's appetite--and he declared
himself reconciled, 'Je vous ai aimé tendrement,' he wrote in March
1749; 'j'ai été fâché contre vous, je vous ai pardonné, et actuellement
je vous aime à la folie.' Within a year of this date his situation had
undergone a complete change. Madame du Châtelet was dead; and his
position at Versailles, in spite of the friendship of Madame de
Pompadour, had become almost as impossible as he had pretended it to
have been in 1743. Frederick eagerly repeated his invitation; and this
time Voltaire did not refuse. He was careful to make a very good
bargain; obliged Frederick to pay for his journey; and arrived at Berlin
in July 1750. He was given rooms in the royal palaces both at Berlin and
Potsdam; he was made a Court Chamberlain, and received the Order of
Merit, together with a pension of £800 a year. These arrangements caused
considerable amusement in Paris; and for some days hawkers, carrying
prints of Voltaire dressed in furs, and crying 'Voltaire le prussien!
Six sols le fameux prussien!' were to be seen walking up and down the

The curious drama that followed, with its farcical [Greek: peripeteia]
and its tragi-comic _dénouement_, can hardly be understood without a
brief consideration of the feelings and intentions of the two chief
actors in it. The position of Frederick is comparatively plain. He had
now completely thrown aside the last lingering remnants of any esteem
which he may once have entertained for the character of Voltaire. He
frankly thought him a scoundrel. In September 1749, less than a year
before Voltaire's arrival, and at the very period of Frederick's most
urgent invitations, we find him using the following language in a letter
to Algarotti: 'Voltaire vient de faire un tour qui est indigne.' (He had
been showing to all his friends a garbled copy of one of Frederick's

     Il mériterait d'être fleurdelisé au Parnasse. C'est bien dommage
     qu'une âme aussi lâche soit unie à un aussi beau génie. Il a les
     gentillesses et les malices d'un singe. Je vous conterai ce que
     c'est, lorsque je vous reverrai; cependant je ne ferai semblant de
     rien, car j'en ai besoin pour l'étude de l'élocution française. On
     peut apprendre de bonnes choses d'un scélérat. Je veux savoir son
     français; que m'importe sa morale? Cet homme a trouvé le moyen de
     réunir tous les contraires. On admire son esprit, en même temps
     qu'on méprise son caractère.

There is no ambiguity about this. Voltaire was a scoundrel; but he was a
scoundrel of genius. He would make the best possible teacher of
_l'élocution française_; therefore it was necessary that he should come
and live in Berlin. But as for anything more--as for any real
interchange of sympathies, any genuine feeling of friendliness, of
respect, or even of regard--all that was utterly out of the question.
The avowal is cynical, no doubt; but it is at any rate straightforward,
and above all it is peculiarly devoid of any trace of self-deception. In
the face of these trenchant sentences, the view of Frederick's attitude
which is suggested so assiduously by Carlyle--that he was the victim of
an elevated misapprehension, that he was always hoping for the best, and
that, when the explosion came he was very much surprised and profoundly
disappointed--becomes obviously untenable. If any man ever acted with
his eyes wide open, it was Frederick when he invited Voltaire to Berlin.

Yet, though that much is clear, the letter to Algarotti betrays, in more
than one direction, a very singular state of mind. A warm devotion to
_l'élocution française_ is easy enough to understand; but Frederick's
devotion was much more than warm; it was so absorbing and so intense
that it left him no rest until, by hook or by crook, by supplication, or
by trickery, or by paying down hard cash, he had obtained the close and
constant proximity of--what?--of a man whom he himself described as a
'singe' and a 'scélérat,' a man of base soul and despicable character.
And Frederick appears to see nothing surprising in this. He takes it
quite as a matter of course that he should be, not merely willing, but
delighted to run all the risks involved by Voltaire's undoubted roguery,
so long as he can be sure of benefiting from Voltaire's no less
undoubted mastery of French versification. This is certainly strange;
but the explanation of it lies in the extraordinary vogue--a vogue,
indeed, so extraordinary that it is very difficult for the modern reader
to realise it--enjoyed throughout Europe by French culture and
literature during the middle years of the eighteenth century. Frederick
was merely an extreme instance of a universal fact. Like all Germans of
any education, he habitually wrote and spoke in French; like every lady
and gentleman from Naples to Edinburgh, his life was regulated by the
social conventions of France; like every amateur of letters from Madrid
to St. Petersburg, his whole conception of literary taste, his whole
standard of literary values, was French. To him, as to the vast majority
of his contemporaries, the very essence of civilisation was concentrated
in French literature, and especially in French poetry; and French poetry
meant to him, as to his contemporaries, that particular kind of French
poetry which had come into fashion at the court of Louis XIV. For this
curious creed was as narrow as it was all-pervading. The _Grand Siècle_
was the Church Infallible; and it was heresy to doubt the Gospel of

Frederick's library, still preserved at Potsdam, shows us what
literature meant in those days to a cultivated man: it is composed
entirely of the French Classics, of the works of Voltaire, and of the
masterpieces of antiquity translated into eighteenth-century French. But
Frederick was not content with mere appreciation; he too would create;
he would write alexandrines on the model of Racine, and madrigals after
the manner of Chaulieu; he would press in person into the sacred
sanctuary, and burn incense with his own hands upon the inmost shrine.
It was true that he was a foreigner; it was true that his knowledge of
the French language was incomplete and incorrect; but his sense of his
own ability urged him forward, and his indefatigable pertinacity kept
him at his strange task throughout the whole of his life. He filled
volumes, and the contents of those volumes afford probably the most
complete illustration in literature of the very trite proverb--_Poeta
nascitur, non fit_. The spectacle of that heavy German Muse, with her
feet crammed into pointed slippers, executing, with incredible
conscientiousness, now the stately measure of a Versailles minuet, and
now the spritely steps of a Parisian jig, would be either ludicrous or
pathetic--one hardly knows which--were it not so certainly neither the
one nor the other, but simply dreary with an unutterable dreariness,
from which the eyes of men avert themselves in shuddering dismay.
Frederick himself felt that there was something wrong--something, but
not really very much. All that was wanted was a little expert advice;
and obviously Voltaire was the man to supply it--Voltaire, the one true
heir of the Great Age, the dramatist who had revived the glories of
Racine (did not Frederick's tears flow almost as copiously over
_Mahomet_ as over _Britannicus_?), the epic poet who had eclipsed Homer
and Virgil (had not Frederick every right to judge, since he had read
the 'Iliad' in French prose and the 'Aeneid' in French verse?), the
lyric master whose odes and whose epistles occasionally even surpassed
(Frederick Confessed it with amazement) those of the Marquis de la Fare.
Voltaire, there could be no doubt, would do just what was needed; he
would know how to squeeze in a little further the waist of the German
Calliope, to apply with his deft fingers precisely the right dab of
rouge to her cheeks, to instil into her movements the last _nuances_ of
correct deportment. And, if he did that, of what consequence were the
blemishes of his personal character? 'On peut apprendre de bonnes choses
d'un scélérat.'

And, besides, though Voltaire might be a rogue, Frederick felt quite
convinced that he could keep him in order. A crack or two of the
master's whip--a coldness in the royal demeanour, a hint at a stoppage
of the pension--and the monkey would put an end to his tricks soon
enough. It never seems to have occurred to Frederick that the possession
of genius might imply a quality of spirit which was not that of an
ordinary man. This was his great, his fundamental error. It was the
ingenuous error of a cynic. He knew that he was under no delusion as to
Voltaire's faults, and so he supposed that he could be under no delusion
as to his merits. He innocently imagined that the capacity for great
writing was something that could be as easily separated from the owner
of it as a hat or a glove. 'C'est bien dommage qu'une âme aussi lâche
soit unie à un aussi beau génie.' _C'est bien dommage_!--as if there was
nothing more extraordinary in such a combination than that of a pretty
woman and an ugly dress. And so Frederick held his whip a little
tighter, and reminded himself once more that, in spite of that _beau
génie_, it was a monkey that he had to deal with. But he was wrong: it
was not a monkey; it was a devil, which is a very different thing.

A devil--or perhaps an angel? One cannot be quite sure. For, amid the
complexities of that extraordinary spirit, where good and evil were so
mysteriously interwoven, where the elements of darkness and the elements
of light lay crowded together in such ever-deepening ambiguity, fold
within fold, the clearer the vision the greater the bewilderment, the
more impartial the judgment the profounder the doubt. But one thing at
least is certain: that spirit, whether it was admirable or whether it
was odious, was moved by a terrific force. Frederick had failed to
realise this; and indeed, though Voltaire was fifty-six when he went to
Berlin, and though his whole life had been spent in a blaze of
publicity, there was still not one of his contemporaries who understood
the true nature of his genius; it was perhaps hidden even from himself.
He had reached the threshold of old age, and his life's work was still
before him; it was not as a writer of tragedies and epics that he was to
take his place in the world. Was he, in the depths of his consciousness,
aware that this was so? Did some obscure instinct urge him forward, at
this late hour, to break with the ties of a lifetime, and rush forth
into the unknown?

What his precise motives were in embarking upon the Berlin adventure it
is very difficult to say. It is true that he was disgusted with
Paris--he was ill-received at Court, and he was pestered by endless
literary quarrels and jealousies; it would be very pleasant to show his
countrymen that he had other strings to his bow, that, if they did not
appreciate him, Frederick the Great did. It is true, too, that he
admired Frederick's intellect, and that he was flattered by his favour.
'Il avait de l'esprit,' he said afterwards, 'des grâces, et, de plus, il
était roi; ce qui fait toujours une grande séduction, attendu la
faiblesse humaine.' His vanity could not resist the prestige of a royal
intimacy; and no doubt he relished to the full even the increased
consequence which came to him with his Chamberlain's key and his
order--to say nothing of the addition of £800 to his income. Yet, on the
other hand, he was very well aware that he was exchanging freedom for
servitude, and that he was entering into a bargain with a man who would
make quite sure that he was getting his money's worth; and he knew in
his heart that he had something better to do than to play, however
successfully, the part of a courtier. Nor was he personally attached to
Frederick; he was personally attached to no one on earth. Certainly he
had never been a man of feeling, and now that he was old and hardened by
the uses of the world he had grown to be completely what in essence he
always was--a fighter, without tenderness, without scruples, and without
remorse. No, he went to Berlin for his own purposes--however dubious
those purposes may have been.

And it is curious to observe that in his correspondence with his niece,
Madame Denis, whom he had left behind him at the head of his Paris
establishment and in whom he confided--in so far as he can be said to
have confided in anyone--he repeatedly states that there is nothing
permanent about his visit to Berlin. At first he declares that he is
only making a stay of a few weeks with Frederick, that he is going on to
Italy to visit 'sa Sainteté' and to inspect 'la ville souterraine,' that
he will be back in Paris in the autumn. The autumn comes, and the roads
are too muddy to travel by; he must wait till the winter, when they will
be frozen hard. Winter comes, and it is too cold to move; but he will
certainly return in the spring. Spring comes, and he is on the point of
finishing his _Siècle de Louis XIV_.; he really must wait just a few
weeks more. The book is published; but then how can he appear in Paris
until he is quite sure of its success? And so he lingers on, delaying
and prevaricating, until a whole year has passed, and still he lingers
on, still he is on the point of going, and still he does not go.
Meanwhile, to all appearances, he was definitely fixed, a salaried
official, at Frederick's court; and he was writing to all his other
friends, to assure them that he had never been so happy, that he could
see no reason why he should ever come away. What were his true
intentions? Could he himself have said? Had he perhaps, in some secret
corner of his brain, into which even he hardly dared to look, a
premonition of the future? At times, in this Berlin adventure, he seems
to resemble some great buzzing fly, shooting suddenly into a room
through an open window and dashing frantically from side to side; when
all at once, as suddenly, he swoops away and out through another window
which opens in quite a different direction, towards wide and flowery
fields; so that perhaps the reckless creature knew where he was going
after all.

In any case, it is evident to the impartial observer that Voltaire's
visit could only have ended as it did--in an explosion. The elements of
the situation were too combustible for any other conclusion. When two
confirmed egotists decide, for purely selfish reasons, to set up house
together, everyone knows what will happen. For some time their sense of
mutual advantage may induce them to tolerate each other, but sooner or
later human nature will assert itself, and the _ménage_ will break up.
And, with Voltaire and Frederick, the difficulties inherent in all such
cases were intensified by the fact that the relationship between them
was, in effect, that of servant and master; that Voltaire, under a very
thin disguise, was a paid menial, while Frederick, condescend as he
might, was an autocrat whose will was law. Thus the two famous and
perhaps mythical sentences, invariably repeated by historians of the
incident, about orange-skins and dirty linen, do in fact sum up the gist
of the matter. 'When one has sucked the orange, one throws away the
skin,' somebody told Voltaire that the King had said, on being asked how
much longer he would put up with the poet's vagaries. And Frederick, on
his side, was informed that Voltaire, when a batch of the royal verses
were brought to him for correction, had burst out with 'Does the man
expect me to go on washing his dirty linen for ever?' Each knew well
enough the weak spot in his position, and each was acutely and
uncomfortably conscious that the other knew it too. Thus, but a very few
weeks after Voltaire's arrival, little clouds of discord become visible
on the horizon; electrical discharges of irritability began to take
place, growing more and more frequent and violent as time goes on; and
one can overhear the pot and the kettle, in strictest privacy, calling
each other black. 'The monster,' whispers Voltaire to Madame Denis, 'he
opens all our letters in the post'--Voltaire, whose light-handedness
with other people's correspondence was only too notorious. 'The monkey,'
mutters Frederick, 'he shows my private letters to his
friends'--Frederick, who had thought nothing of betraying Voltaire's
letters to the Bishop of Mirepoix. 'How happy I should be here,'
exclaims the callous old poet, 'but for one thing--his Majesty is
utterly heartless!' And meanwhile Frederick, who had never let a
farthing escape from his close fist without some very good reason, was
busy concocting an epigram upon the avarice of Voltaire.

It was, indeed, Voltaire's passion for money which brought on the first
really serious storm. Three months after his arrival in Berlin, the
temptation to increase his already considerable fortune by a stroke of
illegal stock-jobbing proved too strong for him; he became involved in a
series of shady financial transactions with a Jew; he quarrelled with
the Jew; there was an acrimonious lawsuit, with charges and
countercharges of the most discreditable kind; and, though the Jew lost
his case on a technical point, the poet certainly did not leave the
court without a stain upon his character. Among other misdemeanours, it
is almost certain--the evidence is not quite conclusive--that he
committed forgery in order to support a false oath. Frederick was
furious, and for a moment was on the brink of dismissing Voltaire from
Berlin. He would have been wise if he had done so. But he could not part
with his _beau génie_ so soon. He cracked his whip, and, setting the
monkey to stand in the corner, contented himself with a shrug of the
shoulders and the exclamation 'C'est l'affaire d'un fripon qui a voulu
tromper un filou.' A few weeks later the royal favour shone forth once
more, and Voltaire, who had been hiding himself in a suburban villa,
came out and basked again in those refulgent beams.

And the beams were decidedly refulgent--so much so, in fact, that they
almost satisfied even the vanity of Voltaire. Almost, but not quite.
For, though his glory was great, though he was the centre of all men's
admiration, courted by nobles, flattered by princesses--there is a
letter from one of them, a sister of Frederick's, still extant, wherein
the trembling votaress ventures to praise the great man's works, which,
she says, 'vous rendent si célèbre et immortel'--though he had ample
leisure for his private activities, though he enjoyed every day the
brilliant conversation of the King, though he could often forget for
weeks together that he was the paid servant of a jealous despot--yet, in
spite of all, there was a crumpled rose-leaf amid the silken sheets, and
he lay awake o' nights. He was not the only Frenchman at Frederick's
court. That monarch had surrounded himself with a small group of
persons--foreigners for the most part--whose business it was to instruct
him when he wished to improve his mind, to flatter him when he was out
of temper, and to entertain him when he was bored. There was hardly one
of them that was not thoroughly second-rate. Algarotti was an elegant
dabbler in scientific matters--he had written a book to explain Newton
to the ladies; d'Argens was an amiable and erudite writer of a dull
free-thinking turn; Chasot was a retired military man with too many
debts, and Darget was a good-natured secretary with too many love
affairs; La Mettrie was a doctor who had been exiled from France for
atheism and bad manners; and Pöllnitz was a decaying baron who, under
stress of circumstances, had unfortunately been obliged to change his
religion six times.

These were the boon companions among whom Frederick chose to spend his
leisure hours. Whenever he had nothing better to do, he would exchange
rhymed epigrams with Algarotti, or discuss the Jewish religion with
d'Argens, or write long improper poems about Darget, in the style of _La
Pucelle_. Or else he would summon La Mettrie, who would forthwith prove
the irrefutability of materialism in a series of wild paradoxes, shout
with laughter, suddenly shudder and cross himself on upsetting the salt,
and eventually pursue his majesty with his buffooneries into a place
where even royal persons are wont to be left alone. At other times
Frederick would amuse himself by first cutting down the pension of
Pöllnitz, who was at the moment a Lutheran, and then writing long and
serious letters to him suggesting that if he would only become a
Catholic again he might be made a Silesian Abbot. Strangely enough,
Frederick was not popular, and one or other of the inmates of his little
menagerie was constantly escaping and running away. Darget and Chasot
both succeeded in getting through the wires; they obtained leave to
visit Paris, and stayed there. Poor d'Argens often tried to follow their
example; more than once he set off for France, secretly vowing never to
return; but he had no money, Frederick was blandishing, and the wretch
was always lured back to captivity. As for La Mettrie, he made his
escape in a different manner--by dying after supper one evening of a
surfeit of pheasant pie. 'Jésus! Marie!' he gasped, as he felt the pains
of death upon him. 'Ah!' said a priest who had been sent for, 'vous
voilà enfin retourné à ces noms consolateurs.' La Mettrie, with an oath,
expired; and Frederick, on hearing of this unorthodox conclusion,
remarked, 'J'en suis bien aise, pour le repos de son âme.'

Among this circle of down-at-heel eccentrics there was a single figure
whose distinction and respectability stood out in striking contrast from
the rest--that of Maupertuis, who had been, since 1745, the President of
the Academy of Sciences at Berlin. Maupertuis has had an unfortunate
fate: he was first annihilated by the ridicule of Voltaire, and then
recreated by the humour of Carlyle; but he was an ambitious man, very
anxious to be famous, and his desire has been gratified in over-flowing
measure. During his life he was chiefly known for his voyage to Lapland,
and his observations there, by which he was able to substantiate the
Newtonian doctrine of the flatness of the earth at the poles. He
possessed considerable scientific attainments, he was honest, he was
energetic; he appeared to be just the man to revive the waning glories
of Prussian science; and when Frederick succeeded in inducing him to
come to Berlin as President of his Academy the choice seemed amply
justified. Maupertuis had, moreover, some pretensions to wit; and in his
earlier days his biting and elegant sarcasms had more than once
overwhelmed his scientific adversaries. Such accomplishments suited
Frederick admirably. Maupertuis, he declared, was an _homme d'esprit_,
and the happy President became a constant guest at the royal
supper-parties. It was the happy--the too happy--President who was the
rose-leaf in the bed of Voltaire. The two men had known each other
slightly for many years, and had always expressed the highest admiration
for each other; but their mutual amiability was now to be put to a
severe test. The sagacious Buffon observed the danger from afar: 'ces
deux hommes,' he wrote to a friend, 'ne sont pas faits pour demeurer
ensemble dans la même chambre.' And indeed to the vain and sensitive
poet, uncertain of Frederick's cordiality, suspicious of hidden enemies,
intensely jealous of possible rivals, the spectacle of Maupertuis at
supper, radiant, at his ease, obviously protected, obviously superior to
the shady mediocrities who sat around--that sight was gall and wormwood;
and he looked closer, with a new malignity; and then those piercing eyes
began to make discoveries, and that relentless brain began to do its

Maupertuis had very little judgment; so far from attempting to
conciliate Voltaire, he was rash enough to provoke hostilities. It was
very natural that he should have lost his temper. He had been for five
years the dominating figure in the royal circle, and now suddenly he was
deprived of his pre-eminence and thrown completely into the shade. Who
could attend to Maupertuis while Voltaire was talking?--Voltaire, who as
obviously outshone Maupertuis as Maupertuis outshone La Mettrie and
Darget and the rest. In his exasperation the President went to the
length of openly giving his protection to a disreputable literary man,
La Beaumelle, who was a declared enemy of Voltaire. This meant war, and
war was not long in coming.

Some years previously Maupertuis had, as he believed, discovered an
important mathematical law--the 'principle of least action.' The law
was, in fact, important, and has had a fruitful history in the
development of mechanical theory; but, as Mr. Jourdain has shown in a
recent monograph, Maupertuis enunciated it incorrectly without realising
its true import, and a far more accurate and scientific statement of it
was given, within a few months, by Euler. Maupertuis, however, was very
proud of his discovery, which, he considered, embodied one of the
principal reasons for believing in the existence of God; and he was
therefore exceedingly angry when, shortly after Voltaire's arrival in
Berlin, a Swiss mathematician, Koenig, published a polite memoir
attacking both its accuracy and its originality, and quoted in support
of his contention an unpublished letter by Leibnitz, in which the law
was more exactly expressed. Instead of arguing upon the merits of the
case, Maupertuis declared that the letter of Leibnitz was a forgery, and
that therefore Koenig's remarks deserved no further consideration. When
Koenig expostulated, Maupertuis decided upon a more drastic step. He
summoned a meeting of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, of which Koenig
was a member, laid the case before it, and moved that it should solemnly
pronounce Koenig a forger, and the letter of Leibnitz supposititious and
false. The members of the Academy were frightened; their pensions
depended upon the President's good will; and even the illustrious Euler
was not ashamed to take part in this absurd and disgraceful

Voltaire saw at once that his opportunity had come. Maupertuis had put
himself utterly and irretrievably in the wrong. He was wrong in
attributing to his discovery a value which it did not possess; he was
wrong in denying the authenticity of the Leibnitz letter; above all he
was wrong in treating a purely scientific question as the proper subject
for the disciplinary jurisdiction of an Academy. If Voltaire struck now,
he would have his enemy on the hip. There was only one consideration to
give him pause, and that was a grave one: to attack Maupertuis upon this
matter was, in effect, to attack the King. Not only was Frederick
certainly privy to Maupertuis' action, but he was extremely sensitive of
the reputation of his Academy and of its President, and he would
certainly consider any interference on the part of Voltaire, who himself
drew his wages from the royal purse, as a flagrant act of disloyalty.
But Voltaire decided to take the risk. He had now been more than two
years in Berlin, and the atmosphere of a Court was beginning to weigh
upon his spirit; he was restless, he was reckless, he was spoiling for a
fight; he would take on Maupertuis singly or Maupertuis and Frederick
combined--he did not much care which, and in any case he flattered
himself that he would settle the hash of the President.

As a preparatory measure, he withdrew all his spare cash from Berlin,
and invested it with the Duke of Wurtemberg. 'Je mets tout doucement
ordre à mes affaires,' he told Madame Denis. Then, on September 18,
1752, there appeared in the papers a short article entitled 'Réponse
d'un Académicien de Berlin à un Académicien de Paris.' It was a
statement, deadly in its bald simplicity, its studied coldness, its
concentrated force, of Koenig's case against Maupertuis. The President
must have turned pale as he read it; but the King turned crimson. The
terrible indictment could, of course only have been written by one man,
and that man was receiving a royal pension of £800 a year and carrying
about a Chamberlain's gold key in his pocket. Frederick flew to his
writing-table, and composed an indignant pamphlet which he caused to be
published with the Prussian arms on the title-page. It was a feeble
work, full of exaggerated praises of Maupertuis, and of clumsy
invectives against Voltaire: the President's reputation was gravely
compared to that of Homer; the author of the 'Réponse d'un Académicien
de Berlin' was declared to be a 'faiseur de libelles sans génie,' an
'imposteur effronté,' a 'malheureux écrivain' while the 'Réponse' itself
was a 'grossièreté plate,' whose publication was an 'action malicieuse,
lâche, infâme,' a 'brigandage affreux.' The presence of the royal
insignia only intensified the futility of the outburst. 'L'aigle, le
sceptre, et la couronne,' wrote Voltaire to Madame Denis, 'sont bien
étonnés de se trouver là.' But one thing was now certain: the King had
joined the fray. Voltaire's blood was up, and he was not sorry. A kind
of exaltation seized him; from this moment his course was clear--he
would do as much damage as he could, and then leave Prussia for ever.
And it so happened that just then an unexpected opportunity occurred
for one of those furious onslaughts so dear to his heart, with that
weapon which he knew so well how to wield. 'Je n'ai point de sceptre,'
he ominously shot out to Madame Denis, 'mais j'ai une plume.'

Meanwhile the life of the Court--which passed for the most part at
Potsdam, in the little palace of Sans Souci which Frederick had built
for himself--proceeded on its accustomed course. It was a singular life,
half military, half monastic, rigid, retired, from which all the
ordinary pleasures of society were strictly excluded. 'What do you do
here?' one of the royal princes was once asked. 'We conjugate the verb
_s'ennuyer_,' was the reply. But, wherever he might be, that was a verb
unknown to Voltaire. Shut up all day in the strange little room, still
preserved for the eyes of the curious, with its windows opening on the
formal garden, and its yellow walls thickly embossed with the brightly
coloured shapes of fruits, flowers, birds, and apes, the indefatigable
old man worked away at his histories, his tragedies, his _Pucelle_, and
his enormous correspondence. He was, of course, ill--very ill; he was
probably, in fact, upon the brink of death; but he had grown accustomed
to that situation; and the worse he grew the more furiously he worked.
He was a victim, he declared, of erysipelas, dysentery, and scurvy; he
was constantly attacked by fever, and all his teeth had fallen out. But
he continued to work. On one occasion a friend visited him, and found
him in bed. 'J'ai quatre maladies mortelles,' he wailed. 'Pourtant,'
remarked the friend, 'vous avez l'oeil fort bon.' Voltaire leapt up from
the pillows: 'Ne savez-vous pas,' he shouted, 'que les scorbutiques
meurent l'oeil enflammé?' When the evening came it was time to dress,
and, in all the pomp of flowing wig and diamond order, to proceed to the
little music-room, where his Majesty, after the business of the day, was
preparing to relax himself upon the flute. The orchestra was gathered
together; the audience was seated; the concerto began. And then the
sounds of beauty flowed and trembled, and seemed, for a little space,
to triumph over the pains of living and the hard hearts of men; and the
royal master poured out his skill in some long and elaborate cadenza,
and the adagio came, the marvellous adagio, and the conqueror of
Rossbach drew tears from the author of _Candide_. But a moment later it
was supper-time; and the night ended in the oval dining-room, amid
laughter and champagne, the ejaculations of La Mettrie, the epigrams of
Maupertuis, the sarcasms of Frederick, and the devastating coruscations
of Voltaire.

Yet, in spite of all the jests and roses, everyone could hear the
rumbling of the volcano under the ground. Everyone could hear, but
nobody would listen; the little flames leapt up through the surface, but
still the gay life went on; and then the irruption came. Voltaire's
enemy had written a book. In the intervals of his more serious labours,
the President had put together a series of 'Letters,' in which a number
of miscellaneous scientific subjects were treated in a mildly
speculative and popular style. The volume was rather dull, and very
unimportant; but it happened to appear at this particular moment, and
Voltaire pounced upon it with the swift swoop of a hawk on a mouse. The
famous _Diatribe du Docteur Akakia_ is still fresh with a fiendish
gaiety after a hundred and fifty years; but to realise to the full the
skill and malice which went to the making of it, one must at least have
glanced at the flat insipid production which called it forth, and noted
with what a diabolical art the latent absurdities in poor Maupertuis'
_rêveries_ have been detected, dragged forth into the light of day, and
nailed to the pillory of an immortal ridicule. The _Diatribe_, however,
is not all mere laughter; there is a real criticism in it, too. For
instance, it was not simply a farcical exaggeration to say that
Maupertuis had set out to prove the existence of God by 'A plus B
divided by Z'; in substance, the charge was both important and well
founded. 'Lorsque la métaphysique entre dans la géometrie,' Voltaire
wrote in a private letter some months afterwards, 'c'est Arimane qui
entre dans le royaume d'Oromasde, et qui y apporte des ténèbres'; and
Maupertuis had in fact vitiated his treatment of the 'principle of
least action' by his metaphysical pre-occupations. Indeed, all through
Voltaire's pamphlet, there is an implied appeal to true scientific
principles, an underlying assertion of the paramount importance of the
experimental method, a consistent attack upon _a priori_ reasoning,
loose statement, and vague conjecture. But of course, mixed with all
this, and covering it all, there is a bubbling, sparkling fountain of
effervescent raillery--cruel, personal, insatiable--the raillery of a
demon with a grudge. The manuscript was shown to Frederick, who laughed
till the tears ran down his cheeks. But, between his gasps, he forbade
Voltaire to publish it on pain of his most terrible displeasure.
Naturally Voltaire was profuse with promises, and a few days later,
under a royal licence obtained for another work, the little book
appeared in print. Frederick still managed to keep his wrath within
bounds: he collected all the copies of the edition and had them
privately destroyed; he gave a furious wigging to Voltaire; and he
flattered himself that he had heard the last of the business.

     Ne vous embarrassez de rien, mon cher Maupertuis [he wrote to the
     President in his singular orthography]; l'affaire des libelles est
     finie. J'ai parlé si vrai à l'hôme, je lui ai lavé si bien la tête
     que je ne crois pas qu'il y retourne, et je connais son âme lache,
     incapable de sentiments d'honneur. Je l'ai intimidé du côté de la
     boursse, ce qui a fait tout l'effet que j'attendais. Je lui ai
     déclaré enfin nettement que ma maison devait être un sanctuaire et
     non une retraite de brigands ou de célérats qui distillent des

Apparently it did not occur to Frederick that this declaration had come
a little late in the day. Meanwhile Maupertuis, overcome by illness and
by rage, had taken to his bed. 'Un peu trop d'amour-propre,' Frederick
wrote to Darget, 'l'a rendu trop sensible aux manoeuvres d'un singe
qu'il devait mépriser après qu'on l'avait fouetté.' But now the monkey
_had_ been whipped, and doubtless all would be well. It seems strange
that Frederick should still, after more than two years of close
observation, have had no notion of the material he was dealing with. He
might as well have supposed that he could stop a mountain torrent in
spate with a wave of his hand, as have imagined that he could impose
obedience upon Voltaire in such a crisis by means of a lecture and a
threat 'du côté de la boursse.' Before the month was out all Germany was
swarming with _Akakias_; thousands of copies were being printed in
Holland; and editions were going off in Paris like hot cakes. It is
difficult to withold one's admiration from the audacious old spirit who
thus, on the mere strength of his mother-wits, dared to defy the enraged
master of a powerful state. 'Votre effronterie m'étonne,' fulminated
Frederick in a furious note, when he suddenly discovered that all Europe
was ringing with the absurdity of the man whom he had chosen to be the
President of his favourite Academy, whose cause he had publicly
espoused, and whom he had privately assured of his royal protection.
'Ah! Mon Dieu, Sire,' scribbled Voltaire on the same sheet of paper,
'dans l'état où je suis!' (He was, of course, once more dying.) 'Quoi!
vous me jugeriez sans entendre! Je demande justice et la mort.'
Frederick replied by having copies of _Akakia_ burnt by the common
hangman in the streets of Berlin. Voltaire thereupon returned his Order,
his gold key, and his pension. It might have been supposed that the
final rupture had now really come at last. But three months elapsed
before Frederick could bring himself to realise that all was over, and
to agree to the departure of his extraordinary guest. Carlyle's
suggestion that this last delay arose from the unwillingness of Voltaire
to go, rather than from Frederick's desire to keep him, is plainly
controverted by the facts. The King not only insisted on Voltaire's
accepting once again the honours which he had surrendered, but actually
went so far as to write him a letter of forgiveness and reconciliation.
But the poet would not relent; there was a last week of suppers at
Potsdam--'soupers de Damoclès' Voltaire called them; and then, on March
26, 1753, the two men parted for ever.

The storm seemed to be over; but the tail of it was still hanging in the
wind. Voltaire, on his way to the waters of Plombières, stopped at
Leipzig, where he could not resist, in spite of his repeated promises to
the contrary, the temptation to bring out a new and enlarged edition of
_Akakia_. Upon this Maupertuis utterly lost his head: he wrote to
Voltaire, threatening him with personal chastisement. Voltaire issued
yet another edition of _Akakia_, appended a somewhat unauthorised
version of the President's letter, and added that if the dangerous and
cruel man really persisted in his threat he would be received with a
vigorous discharge from those instruments of intimate utility which
figure so freely in the comedies of Molière. This stroke was the _coup
de grâce_ of Maupertuis. Shattered in body and mind, he dragged himself
from Berlin to die at last in Basle under the ministration of a couple
of Capuchins and a Protestant valet reading aloud the Genevan Bible. In
the meantime Frederick had decided on a violent measure. He had suddenly
remembered that Voltaire had carried off with him one of the very few
privately printed copies of those poetical works upon which he had spent
so much devoted labour; it occurred to him that they contained several
passages of a highly damaging kind; and he could feel no certainty that
those passages would not be given to the world by the malicious
Frenchman. Such, at any rate, were his own excuses for the step which he
now took; but it seems possible that he was at least partly swayed by
feelings of resentment and revenge which had been rendered
uncontrollable by the last onslaught upon Maupertuis. Whatever may have
been his motives, it is certain that he ordered the Prussian Resident in
Frankfort, which was Voltaire's next stopping-place, to hold the poet in
arrest until he delivered over the royal volume. A multitude of strange
blunders and ludicrous incidents followed, upon which much controversial
and patriotic ink has been spilt by a succession of French and German
biographers. To an English reader it is clear that in this little comedy
of errors none of the parties concerned can escape from blame--that
Voltaire was hysterical, undignified, and untruthful, that the Prussian
Resident was stupid and domineering, that Frederick was careless in his
orders and cynical as to their results. Nor, it is to be hoped, need any
Englishman be reminded that the consequences of a system of government
in which the arbitrary will of an individual takes the place of the rule
of law are apt to be disgraceful and absurd.

After five weeks' detention at Frankfort, Voltaire was free--free in
every sense of the word--free from the service of Kings and the clutches
of Residents, free in his own mind, free to shape his own destiny. He
hesitated for several months, and then settled down by the Lake of
Geneva. There the fires, which had lain smouldering so long in the
profundities of his spirit, flared up, and flamed over Europe, towering
and inextinguishable. In a few years letters began to flow once more to
and from Berlin. At first the old grievances still rankled; but in time
even the wrongs of Maupertuis and the misadventures of Frankfort were
almost forgotten. Twenty years passed, and the King of Prussia was
submitting his verses as anxiously as ever to Voltaire, whose
compliments and cajoleries were pouring out in their accustomed stream.
But their relationship was no longer that of master and pupil, courtier
and King; it was that of two independent and equal powers. Even
Frederick the Great was forced to see at last in the Patriarch of Ferney
something more than a monkey with a genius for French versification. He
actually came to respect the author of _Akakia_, and to cherish his
memory. 'Je lui fais tous les matins ma prière,' he told d'Alembert,
when Voltaire had been two years in the grave; 'je lui dis, Divin
Voltaire, _ora pro nobis_.'



[Footnote 6: October 1915.]


No one who has made the slightest expedition into that curious and
fascinating country, Eighteenth-Century France, can have come away from
it without at least _one_ impression strong upon him--that in no other
place and at no other time have people ever squabbled so much. France in
the eighteenth century, whatever else it may have been--however splendid
in genius, in vitality, in noble accomplishment and high endeavour--was
certainly not a quiet place to live in. One could never have been
certain, when one woke up in the morning, whether, before the day was
out, one would not be in the Bastille for something one had said at
dinner, or have quarrelled with half one's friends for something one had
never said at all.

Of all the disputes and agitations of that agitated age none is more
remarkable than the famous quarrel between Rousseau and his friends,
which disturbed French society for so many years, and profoundly
affected the life and the character of the most strange and perhaps the
most potent of the precursors of the Revolution. The affair is
constantly cropping up in the literature of the time; it occupies a
prominent place in the later books of the _Confessions_; and there is an
account of its earlier phases--an account written from the anti-Rousseau
point of view--in the _Mémoires_ of Madame d'Epinay. The whole story is
an exceedingly complex one, and all the details of it have never been
satisfactorily explained; but the general verdict of subsequent writers
has been decidedly hostile to Rousseau, though it has not subscribed to
all the virulent abuse poured upon him by his enemies at the time of the
quarrel. This, indeed, is precisely the conclusion which an unprejudiced
reader of the _Confessions_ would naturally come to. Rousseau's story,
even as he himself tells it, does not carry conviction. He would have us
believe that he was the victim of a vast and diabolical conspiracy, of
which Grimm and Diderot were the moving spirits, which succeeded in
alienating from him his dearest friends, and which eventually included
all the ablest and most distinguished persons of the age. Not only does
such a conspiracy appear, upon the face of it, highly improbable, but
the evidence which Rousseau adduces to prove its existence seems totally
insufficient; and the reader is left under the impression that the
unfortunate Jean-Jacques was the victim, not of a plot contrived by
rancorous enemies, but of his own perplexed, suspicious, and deluded
mind. This conclusion is supported by the account of the affair given by
contemporaries, and it is still further strengthened by Rousseau's own
writings subsequent to the _Confessions_, where his endless
recriminations, his elaborate hypotheses, and his wild inferences bear
all the appearance of mania. Here the matter has rested for many years;
and it seemed improbable that any fresh reasons would arise for
reopening the question. Mrs. F. Macdonald, however, in a
recently-published work[7], has produced some new and important
evidence, which throws entirely fresh light upon certain obscure parts
of this doubtful history; and is possibly of even greater interest. For
it is Mrs. Macdonald's contention that her new discovery completely
overturns the orthodox theory, establishes the guilt of Grimm, Diderot,
and the rest of the anti-Rousseau party, and proves that the story told
in the _Confessions_ is simply the truth.

If these conclusions really do follow from Mrs. Macdonald's
newly-discovered data, it would be difficult to over-estimate the value
of her work, for the result of it would be nothing less than a
revolution in our judgments upon some of the principal characters of the
eighteenth century. To make it certain that Diderot was a cad and a
cheat, that d'Alembert was a dupe, and Hume a liar--that, surely, were
no small achievement. And, even if these conclusions do not follow from
Mrs. Macdonald's data, her work will still be valuable, owing to the
data themselves. Her discoveries are important, whatever inferences may
be drawn from them; and for this reason her book, 'which represents,' as
she tells us, 'twenty years of research,' will be welcome to all
students of that remarkable age.

Mrs. Macdonald's principal revelations relate to the _Mémoires_ of
Madame d'Epinay. This work was first printed in 1818, and the concluding
quarter of it contains an account of the Rousseau quarrel, the most
detailed of all those written from the anti-Rousseau point of view. It
has, however, always been doubtful how far the _Mémoires_ were to be
trusted as accurate records of historical fact. The manuscript
disappeared; but it was known that the characters who, in the printed
book, appear under the names of real persons, were given pseudonyms in
the original document; and many of the minor statements contradicted
known events. Had Madame d'Epinay merely intended to write a _roman à
clef_? What seemed, so far as concerned the Rousseau narrative, to put
this hypothesis out of court was the fact that the story of the quarrel
as it appears in the _Mémoires_ is, in its main outlines, substantiated
both by Grimm's references to Rousseau in his _Correspondance
Littéraire_, and by a brief memorandum of Rousseau's misconduct, drawn
up by Diderot for his private use, and not published until many years
after Madame d'Epinay's death. Accordingly most writers on the subject
have taken the accuracy of the _Mémoires_ for granted; Sainte-Beuve, for
instance, prefers the word of Madame d'Epinay to that of Rousseau, when
there is a direct conflict of testimony; and Lord Morley, in his
well-known biography, uses the _Mémoires_ as an authority for many of
the incidents which he relates. Mrs. Macdonald's researches, however,
have put an entirely different complexion on the case. She has
discovered the manuscript from which the _Mémoires_ were printed, and
she has examined the original draft of this manuscript, which had been
unearthed some years ago, but whose full import had been unaccountably
neglected by previous scholars. From these researches, two facts have
come to light. In the first place, the manuscript differs in many
respects from the printed book, and, in particular, contains a
conclusion of two hundred sheets, which has never been printed at all;
the alterations were clearly made in order to conceal the inaccuracies
of the manuscript; and the omitted conclusion is frankly and palpably a
fiction. And in the second place, the original draft of the manuscript
turns out to be the work of several hands; it contains, especially in
those portions which concern Rousseau, many erasures, corrections, and
notes, while several pages have been altogether cut out; most of the
corrections were made by Madame d'Epinay herself; but in nearly every
case these corrections carry out the instructions in the notes; and the
notes themselves are in the handwriting of Diderot and Grimm. Mrs.
Macdonald gives several facsimiles of pages in the original draft, which
amply support her description of it; but it is to be hoped that before
long she will be able to produce a new and complete edition of the
_Mémoires_, with all the manuscript alterations clearly indicated; for
until then it will be difficult to realise the exact condition of the
text. However, it is now beyond dispute both that Madame d'Epinay's
narrative cannot be regarded as historically accurate, and that its
agreement with the statements of Grimm and Diderot is by no means an
independent confirmation of its truth, for Grimm and Diderot themselves
had a hand in its compilation.

Thus far we are on firm ground. But what are the conclusions which Mrs.
Macdonald builds up from these foundations? The account, she says, of
Rousseau's conduct and character, as it appears in the printed version,
is hostile to him, but it was not the account which Madame d'Epinay
herself originally wrote. The hostile narrative was, in effect, composed
by Grimm and Diderot, who induced Madame d'Epinay to substitute it for
her own story; and thus her own story could not have agreed with
theirs. Madame d'Epinay knew the truth; she knew that Rousseau's conduct
had been honourable and wise; and so she had described it in her book;
until, falling completely under the influence of Grimm and Diderot, she
had allowed herself to become the instrument for blackening the
reputation of her old friend. Mrs. Macdonald paints a lurid picture of
the conspirators at work--of Diderot penning his false and malignant
instructions, of Madame d'Epinay's half-unwilling hand putting the last
touches to the fraud, of Grimm, rushing back to Paris at the time of the
Revolution, and risking his life in order to make quite certain that the
result of all these efforts should reach posterity. Well! it would be
difficult--perhaps it would be impossible--to prove conclusively that
none of these things ever took place. The facts upon which Mrs.
Macdonald lays so much stress--the mutilations, the additions, the
instructing notes, the proved inaccuracy of the story the manuscripts
tell--these facts, no doubt, may be explained by Mrs. Macdonald's
theories; but there are other facts--no less important, and no less
certain--which are in direct contradiction to Mrs. Macdonald's view, and
over which she passes as lightly as she can. Putting aside the question
of the _Mémoires_, we know nothing of Diderot which would lead us to
entertain for a moment the supposition that he was a dishonourable and
badhearted man; we do know that his writings bear the imprint of a
singularly candid, noble, and fearless mind; we do know that he devoted
his life, unflinchingly and unsparingly, to a great cause. We know less
of Grimm; but it is at least certain that he was the intimate friend of
Diderot, and of many more of the distinguished men of the time. Is all
this evidence to be put on one side as of no account? Are we to dismiss
it, as Mrs. Macdonald dismisses it, as merely 'psychological'? Surely
Diderot's reputation as an honest man is as much a fact as his notes in
the draft of the _Mémoires_. It is quite true that his reputation _may_
have been ill-founded, that d'Alembert, and Turgot, and Hume _may_ have
been deluded, or _may_ have been bribed, into admitting him to their
friendship; but is it not clear that we ought not to believe any such
hypotheses as these until we have before us such convincing proof of
Diderot's guilt that we _must_ believe them? Mrs. Macdonald declares
that she has produced such proof; and she points triumphantly to her
garbled and concocted manuscripts. If there is indeed no explanation of
these garblings and concoctions other than that which Mrs. Macdonald
puts forward--that they were the outcome of a false and malicious
conspiracy to blast the reputation of Rousseau--then we must admit that
she is right, and that all our general 'psychological' considerations as
to Diderot's reputation in the world must be disregarded. But, before we
come to this conclusion, how careful must we be to examine every other
possible explanation of Mrs. Macdonald's facts, how rigorously must we
sift her own explanation of them, how eagerly must we seize upon every
loophole of escape!

It is, I believe, possible to explain the condition of the d'Epinay
manuscript without having recourse to the iconoclastic theory of Mrs.
Macdonald. To explain everything, indeed, would be out of the question,
owing to our insufficient data, and the extreme complexity of the
events; all that we can hope to do is to suggest an explanation which
will account for the most important of the known facts. Not the least
interesting of Mrs. Macdonald's discoveries went to show that the
_Mémoires_, so far from being historically accurate, were in reality
full of unfounded statements, that they concluded with an entirely
imaginary narrative, and that, in short, they might be described, almost
without exaggeration, in the very words with which Grimm himself
actually did describe them in his _Correspondance Littéraire_, as
'l'ébauche d'un long roman.' Mrs. Macdonald eagerly lays emphasis upon
this discovery, because she is, of course, anxious to prove that the
most damning of all the accounts of Rousseau's conduct is an untrue one.
But she has proved too much. The _Mémoires_, she says, are a fiction;
therefore the writers of them were liars. The answer is obvious: why
should we not suppose that the writers were not liars at all, but
simply novelists? Will not this hypothesis fit into the facts just as
well as Mrs. Macdonald's? Madame d'Epinay, let us suppose, wrote a
narrative, partly imaginary and partly true, based upon her own
experiences, but without any strict adherence to the actual course of
events, and filled with personages whose actions were, in many cases,
fictitious, but whose characters were, on the whole, moulded upon the
actual characters of her friends. Let us suppose that when she had
finished her work--a work full of subtle observation and delightful
writing--she showed it to Grimm and Diderot. They had only one criticism
to make: it related to her treatment of the character which had been
moulded upon that of Rousseau. 'Your Rousseau, chère Madame, is a very
poor affair indeed! The most salient points in his character seem to
have escaped you. We know what that man really was. We know how he
behaved at that time. _C'était un homme à faire peur_. You have missed a
great opportunity of drawing a fine picture of a hypocritical rascal.'
Whereupon they gave her their own impressions of Rousseau's conduct,
they showed her the letters that had passed between them, and they
jotted down some notes for her guidance. She rewrote the story in
accordance with their notes and their anecdotes; but she rearranged the
incidents, she condensed or amplified the letters, as she thought
fit--for she was not writing a history, but 'l'ébauche d'un long roman.'
If we suppose that this, or something like this, was what occurred,
shall we not have avoided the necessity for a theory so repugnant to
common-sense as that which would impute to a man of recognised integrity
the meanest of frauds?

To follow Mrs. Macdonald into the inner recesses and elaborations of her
argument would be a difficult and tedious task. The circumstances with
which she is principally concerned--the suspicions, the accusations, the
anonymous letters, the intrigues, the endless problems as to whether
Madame d'Epinay was jealous of Madame d'Houdetot, whether Thérèse told
fibs, whether, on the 14th of the month, Grimm was grossly impertinent,
and whether, on the 15th, Rousseau was outrageously rude, whether
Rousseau revealed a secret to Diderot, which Diderot revealed to
Saint-Lambert, and whether, if Diderot revealed it, he believed that
Rousseau had revealed it before--these circumstances form, as Lord
Morley says, 'a tale of labyrinthine nightmares,' and Mrs. Macdonald has
done very little to mitigate either the contortions of the labyrinths or
the horror of the dreams. Her book is exceedingly ill-arranged; it is
enormously long, filling two large volumes, with an immense apparatus of
appendices and notes; it is full of repetitions and of irrelevant
matter; and the argument is so indistinctly set forth that even an
instructed reader finds great difficulty in following its drift.
Without, however, plunging into the abyss of complications which yawns
for us in Mrs. Macdonald's pages, it may be worth while to touch upon
one point with which she has dealt (perhaps wisely for her own case!)
only very slightly--the question of the motives which could have induced
Grimm and Diderot to perpetuate a series of malignant lies.

It is, doubtless, conceivable that Grimm, who was Madame d'Epinay's
lover, was jealous of Rousseau, who was Madame d'Epinay's friend. We
know very little of Grimm's character, but what we do know seems to show
that he was a jealous man and an ambitious man; it is possible that a
close alliance with Madame d'Epinay may have seemed to him a necessary
step in his career; and it is conceivable that he may have determined
not to rest until his most serious rival in Madame d'Epinay's affections
was utterly cast out. He was probably prejudiced against Rousseau from
the beginning, and he may have allowed his prejudices to colour his view
of Rousseau's character and acts. The violence of the abuse which Grimm
and the rest of the Encyclopaedists hurled against the miserable
Jean-Jacques was certainly quite out of proportion to the real facts of
the case. Whenever he is mentioned one is sure of hearing something
about _traître_ and _mensonge_ and _scélératesse_. He is referred to as
often as not as if he were some dangerous kind of wild beast. This was
Grimm's habitual language with regard to him; and this was the view of
his character which Madame d'Epinay finally expressed in her book. The
important question is--did Grimm know that Rousseau was in reality an
honourable man, and, knowing this, did he deliberately defame him in
order to drive him out of Madame d'Epinay's affections? The answer, I
think, must be in the negative, for the following reason. If Grimm had
known that there was something to be ashamed of in the notes with which
he had supplied Madame d'Epinay, and which led to the alteration of her
_Mémoires_, he certainly would have destroyed the draft of the
manuscript, which was the only record of those notes having ever been
made. As it happens, we know that he had the opportunity of destroying
the draft, and he did not do so. He came to Paris at the risk of his
life in 1791, and stayed there for four months, with the object,
according to his own account, of collecting papers belonging to the
Empress Catherine, or, according to Mrs. Macdonald's account, of having
the rough draft of the _Mémoires_ copied out by his secretary. Whatever
his object, it is certain that the copy--that from which ultimately the
_Mémoires_ were printed--was made either at that time, or earlier; and
that there was nothing on earth to prevent him, during the four months
of his stay in Paris, from destroying the draft. Mrs. Macdonald's
explanation of this difficulty is lamentably weak. Grimm, she says, must
have wished to get away from Paris 'without arousing suspicion by
destroying papers.' This is indeed an 'exquisite reason,' which would
have delighted that good knight Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Grimm had four
months at his disposal; he was undisturbed in his own house; why should
he not have burnt the draft page by page as it was copied out? There can
be only one reply: Why _should_ he?

If it is possible to suggest some fairly plausible motives which might
conceivably have induced Grimm to blacken Rousseau's character, the case
of Diderot presents difficulties which are quite insurmountable. Mrs.
Macdonald asserts that Diderot was jealous of Rousseau. Why? Because he
was tired of hearing Rousseau described as 'the virtuous'; that is all.
Surely Mrs. Macdonald should have been the first to recognise that such
an argument is a little too 'psychological.' The truth is that Diderot
had nothing to gain by attacking Rousseau. He was not, like Grimm, in
love with Madame d'Epinay; he was not a newcomer who had still to win
for himself a position in the Parisian world. His acquaintance with
Madame d'Epinay was slight; and, if there were any advances, they were
from her side, for he was one of the most distinguished men of the day.
In fact, the only reason that he could have had for abusing Rousseau was
that he believed Rousseau deserved abuse. Whether he was right in
believing so is a very different question. Most readers, at the present
day, now that the whole noisy controversy has long taken its quiet place
in the perspective of Time, would, I think, agree that Diderot and the
rest of the Encyclopaedists were mistaken. As we see him now, in that
long vista, Rousseau was not a wicked man; he was an unfortunate, a
distracted, a deeply sensitive, a strangely complex, creature; and,
above all else, he possessed one quality which cut him off from his
contemporaries, which set an immense gulf betwixt him and them: he was
modern. Among those quick, strong, fiery people of the eighteenth
century, he belonged to another world--to the new world of
self-consciousness, and doubt, and hesitation, of mysterious melancholy
and quiet intimate delights, of long reflexions amid the solitudes of
Nature, of infinite introspections amid the solitudes of the heart. Who
can wonder that he was misunderstood, and buffeted, and driven mad? Who
can wonder that, in his agitations, his perplexities, his writhings, he
seemed, to the pupils of Voltaire, little less than a frenzied fiend?
'Cet homme est un forcené!' Diderot exclaims. 'Je tâche en vain de faire
de la poésie, mais cet homme me revient tout à travers mon travail; il
me trouble, et je suis comme si j'avais à côté de moi un damné: il est
damné, cela est sûr. ... J'avoue que je n'ai jamais éprouvé un trouble
d'âme si terrible que celui que j'ai ... Que je ne revoie plus cet
homme-là, il me ferait croire au diable et à l'enfer. Si je suis jamais
forcé de retourner chez lui, je suis sûr que je frémirai tout le long du
chemin: j'avais la fièvre en revenant ... On entendait ses cris jusqu'au
bout du jardin; et je le voyais!... Les poètes ont bien fait de mettre
un intervalle immense entre le ciel et les enfers. En vérité, la main me
tremble.' Every word of that is stamped with sincerity; Diderot was
writing from his heart. But he was wrong; the 'intervalle immense,'
across which, so strangely and so horribly, he had caught glimpses of
what he had never seen before, was not the abyss between heaven and
hell, but between the old world and the new.



[Footnote 7: _Jean Jacques Rousseau: a New Criticism_, by Frederika
Macdonald. In two volumes. Chapman and Hall. 1906.]


The new edition of Blake's poetical works, published by the Clarendon
Press, will be welcomed by every lover of English poetry. The volume is
worthy of the great university under whose auspices it has been
produced, and of the great artist whose words it will help to
perpetuate. Blake has been, hitherto, singularly unfortunate in his
editors. With a single exception, every edition of his poems up to the
present time has contained a multitude of textual errors which, in the
case of any other writer of equal eminence, would have been well-nigh
inconceivable. The great majority of these errors were not the result of
accident: they were the result of deliberate falsification. Blake's text
has been emended and corrected and 'improved,' so largely and so
habitually, that there was a very real danger of its becoming
permanently corrupted; and this danger was all the more serious, since
the work of mutilation was carried on to an accompaniment of fervent
admiration of the poet. 'It is not a little bewildering,' says Mr.
Sampson, the present editor, 'to find one great poet and critic
extolling Blake for the "glory of metre" and "the sonorous beauty of
lyrical work" in the two opening lyrics of the _Songs of Experience_,
while he introduces into the five short stanzas quoted no less than
seven emendations of his own, involving additions of syllables and
important changes of meaning.' This is Procrustes admiring the exquisite
proportions of his victim. As one observes the countless instances
accumulated in Mr. Sampson's notes, of the clippings and filings to
which the free and spontaneous expression of Blake's genius has been
subjected, one is reminded of a verse in one of his own lyrics, where he
speaks of the beautiful garden in which--

    Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
    And binding with briers my joys and desires;

and one cannot help hazarding the conjecture, that Blake's prophetic
vision recognised, in the lineaments of the 'priests in black gowns,'
most of his future editors. Perhaps, though, if Blake's prescience had
extended so far as this, he would have taken a more drastic measure; and
we shudder to think of the sort of epigram with which the editorial
efforts of his worshippers might have been rewarded. The present
edition, however, amply compensates for the past. Mr. Sampson gives us,
in the first place, the correct and entire text of the poems, so printed
as to afford easy reading to those who desire access to the text and
nothing more. At the same time, in a series of notes and prefaces, he
has provided an elaborate commentary, containing, besides all the
variorum readings, a great mass of bibliographical and critical matter;
and, in addition, he has enabled the reader to obtain a clue through the
labyrinth of Blake's mythology, by means of ample quotations from those
passages in the _Prophetic Books_, which throw light upon the
obscurities of the poems. The most important Blake document--the
Rossetti MS.--has been freshly collated, with the generous aid of the
owner, Mr. W.A. White, to whom the gratitude of the public is due in no
common measure; and the long-lost Pickering MS.--the sole authority for
some of the most mystical and absorbing of the poems--was, with deserved
good fortune, discovered by Mr. Sampson in time for collation in the
present edition. Thus there is hardly a line in the volume which has not
been reproduced from an original, either written or engraved by the hand
of Blake. Mr. Sampson's minute and ungrudging care, his high critical
acumen, and the skill with which he has brought his wide knowledge of
the subject to bear upon the difficulties of the text, combine to make
his edition a noble and splendid monument of English scholarship. It
will be long indeed before the poems of Blake cease to afford matter for
fresh discussions and commentaries and interpretations; but it is safe
to predict that, so far as their form is concerned, they will
henceforward remain unchanged. There will be no room for further
editing. The work has been done by Mr. Sampson, once and for all.

In the case of Blake, a minute exactitude of text is particularly
important, for more than one reason. Many of his effects depend upon
subtle differences of punctuation and of spelling, which are too easily
lost in reproduction. 'Tiger, tiger, burning bright,' is the ordinary
version of one of his most celebrated lines. But in Blake's original
engraving the words appear thus--'Tyger! Tyger! burning bright'; and who
can fail to perceive the difference? Even more remarkable is the change
which the omission of a single stop has produced in the last line of one
of the succeeding stanzas of the same poem.

    And what shoulder, and what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand? and what dread feet?

So Blake engraved the verse; and, as Mr. Sampson points out,'the
terrible, compressed force' of the final line vanishes to nothing in the
'languid punctuation' of subsequent editions:--'What dread hand and what
dread feet?' It is hardly an exaggeration to say, that the re-discovery
of this line alone would have justified the appearance of the present

But these considerations of what may be called the mechanics of Blake's
poetry are not--important as they are--the only justification for a
scrupulous adherence to his autograph text. Blake's use of language was
not guided by the ordinarily accepted rules of writing; he allowed
himself to be trammelled neither by prosody nor by grammar; he wrote,
with an extraordinary audacity, according to the mysterious dictates of
his own strange and intimate conception of the beautiful and the just.
Thus his compositions, amenable to no other laws than those of his own
making, fill a unique place in the poetry of the world. They are the
rebels and atheists of literature, or rather, they are the sanctuaries
of an Unknown God; and to invoke that deity by means of orthodox
incantations is to run the risk of hell fire. Editors may punctuate
afresh the text of Shakespeare with impunity, and perhaps even with
advantage; but add a comma to the text of Blake, and you put all Heaven
in a rage. You have laid your hands upon the Ark of the Covenant. Nor is
this all. When once, in the case of Blake, the slightest deviation has
been made from the authoritative version, it is hardly possible to stop
there. The emendator is on an inclined plane which leads him inevitably
from readjustments of punctuation to corrections of grammar, and from
corrections of grammar to alterations of rhythm; if he is in for a
penny, he is in for a pound. The first poem in the Rossetti MS. may be
adduced as one instance--out of the enormous number which fill Mr.
Sampson's notes--of the dangers of editorial laxity.

    I told my love, I told my love,
      I told her all my heart;
    Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears,
      Ah! she doth depart.

This is the first half of the poem; and editors have been contented with
an alteration of stops, and the change of 'doth' into 'did.' But their
work was not over; they had, as it were, tasted blood; and their version
of the last four lines of the poem is as follows:

    Soon after she was gone from me,
      A traveller came by,
    Silently, invisibly:
      He took her with a sigh.

Reference to the MS., however, shows that the last line had been struck
out by Blake, and another substituted in its place--a line which is now
printed for the first time by Mr. Sampson. So that the true reading of
the verse is:

    Soon as she was gone from me,
      A traveller came by,
    Silently, invisibly--
      O! was no deny.

After these exertions, it must have seemed natural enough to Rossetti
and his successors to print four other expunged lines as part of the
poem, and to complete the business by clapping a title to their
concoction--'Love's Secret'--a title which there is no reason to suppose
had ever entered the poet's mind.

Besides illustrating the shortcomings of his editors, this little poem
is an admirable instance of Blake's most persistent quality--his
triumphant freedom from conventional restraints. His most characteristic
passages are at once so unexpected and so complete in their effect, that
the reader is moved by them, spontaneously, to some conjecture of
'inspiration.' Sir Walter Raleigh, indeed, in his interesting
Introduction to a smaller edition of the poems, protests against such
attributions of peculiar powers to Blake, or indeed to any other poet.
'No man,' he says, 'destitute of genius, could live for a day.' But even
if we all agree to be inspired together, we must still admit that there
are degrees of inspiration; if Mr. F's Aunt was a woman of genius, what
are we to say of Hamlet? And Blake, in the hierarchy of the inspired,
stands very high indeed. If one could strike an average among poets, it
would probably be true to say that, so far as inspiration is concerned,
Blake is to the average poet, as the average poet is to the man in the
street. All poetry, to be poetry at all, must have the power of making
one, now and then, involuntarily ejaculate: 'What made him think of
that?' With Blake, one is asking the question all the time.

Blake's originality of manner was not, as has sometimes been the case,
a cloak for platitude. What he has to say belongs no less distinctly to
a mind of astonishing self-dependence than his way of saying it. In
English literature, as Sir Walter Raleigh observes, he 'stands outside
the regular line of succession.' All that he had in common with the
great leaders of the Romantic Movement was an abhorrence of the
conventionality and the rationalism of the eighteenth century; for the
eighteenth century itself was hardly more alien to his spirit than that
exaltation of Nature--the 'Vegetable Universe,' as he called it--from
which sprang the pantheism of Wordsworth and the paganism of Keats.
'Nature is the work of the Devil,' he exclaimed one day; 'the Devil is
in us as far as we are Nature.' There was no part of the sensible world
which, in his philosophy, was not impregnated with vileness. Even the
'ancient heavens' were not, to his uncompromising vision, 'fresh and
strong'; they were 'writ with Curses from Pole to Pole,' and destined to
vanish into nothingness with the triumph of the Everlasting Gospel.

There are doubtless many to whom Blake is known simply as a charming and
splendid lyrist, as the author of _Infant Joy_, and _The Tyger_, and the
rest of the _Songs of Innocence and Experience_. These poems show but
faint traces of any system of philosophy; but, to a reader of the
Rossetti and Pickering MSS., the presence of a hidden and symbolic
meaning in Blake's words becomes obvious enough--a meaning which
receives its fullest expression in the _Prophetic Books_. It was only
natural that the extraordinary nature of Blake's utterance in these
latter works should have given rise to the belief that he was merely an
inspired idiot--a madman who happened to be able to write good verses.
That belief, made finally impossible by Mr. Swinburne's elaborate Essay,
is now, happily, nothing more than a curiosity of literary history; and
indeed signs are not wanting that the whirligig of Time, which left
Blake for so long in the Paradise of Fools, is now about to place him
among the Prophets. Anarchy is the most fashionable of creeds; and
Blake's writings, according to Sir Walter Raleigh, contain a complete
exposition of its doctrines. The same critic asserts that Blake was 'one
of the most consistent of English poets and thinkers.' This is high
praise indeed; but there seems to be some ambiguity in it. It is one
thing to give Blake credit for that sort of consistency which lies in
the repeated enunciation of the same body of beliefs throughout a large
mass of compositions and over a long period of time, and which could
never be possessed by a, madman or an incoherent charlatan. It is quite
another thing to assert that his doctrines form in themselves a
consistent whole, in the sense in which that quality would be ordinarily
attributed to a system of philosophy. Does Sir Walter mean to assert
that Blake is, in this sense too, 'consistent'? It is a little difficult
to discover. Referring, in his Introduction, to Blake's abusive notes on
Bacon's _Essays_, he speaks of--

     The sentimental enthusiast, who worships all great men
     indifferently, [and who] finds himself in a distressful position
     when his gods fall out among themselves. His case [Sir Walter
     wittily adds] is not much unlike that of Terah, the father of
     Abraham, who (if the legend be true) was a dealer in idols among
     the Chaldees, and, coming home to his shop one day, after a brief
     absence, found that the idols had quarrelled, and the biggest of
     them had smashed the rest to atoms. Blake is a dangerous idol for
     any man to keep in his shop.

We wonder very much whether he is kept in Sir Walter Raleigh's.

It seems clear, at any rate, that no claim for a 'consistency' which
would imply freedom from self-contradiction can be validly made for
Blake. His treatment of the problem of evil is enough to show how very
far he was from that clarity of thought without which even prophets are
liable, when the time comes, to fall into disrepute. 'Plato,' said
Blake, 'knew of nothing but the virtues and vices, and good and evil.
There is nothing in all that. Everything is good in God's eyes.' And
this is the perpetual burden of his teaching. 'Satan's empire is the
empire of nothing'; there is no such thing as evil--it is a mere
'negation.' And the 'moral virtues,' which attempt to discriminate
between right and wrong, are the idlest of delusions; they are merely
'allegories and dissimulations,' they 'do not exist.' Such was one of
the most fundamental of Blake's doctrines; but it requires only a
superficial acquaintance with his writings to recognise that their whole
tenour is an implicit contradiction of this very belief. Every page he
wrote contains a moral exhortation; bad thoughts and bad feelings raised
in him a fury of rage and indignation which the bitterest of satirists
never surpassed. His epigrams on Reynolds are masterpieces of virulent
abuse; the punishment which he devised for Klopstock--his impersonation
of 'flaccid fluency and devout sentiment'--is unprintable; as for those
who attempt to enforce moral laws, they shall be 'cast out,' for they
'crucify Christ with the head downwards.' The contradiction is indeed
glaring. 'There is no such thing as wickedness,' Blake says in effect,
'and you are wicked if you think there is.' If it is true that evil does
not exist, all Blake's denunciations are so much empty chatter; and, on
the other hand, if there is a real distinction between good and bad, if
everything, in fact, is _not_ good in God's eyes--then why not say so?
Really Blake, as politicians say, 'cannot have it both ways.'

But of course, his answer to all this is simple enough. To judge him
according to the light of reason is to make an appeal to a tribunal
whose jurisdiction he had always refused to recognise as binding. In
fact, to Blake's mind, the laws of reason were nothing but a horrible
phantasm deluding and perplexing mankind, from whose clutches it is the
business of every human soul to free itself as speedily as possible.
Reason is the 'Spectre' of Blake's mythology, that Spectre, which, he

    Around me night and day
    Like a wild beast guards my way.

It is a malignant spirit, for ever struggling with the 'Emanation,' or
imaginative side of man, whose triumph is the supreme end of the
universe. Ever since the day when, in his childhood, Blake had seen
God's forehead at the window, he had found in imaginative vision the
only reality and the only good. He beheld the things of this world 'not
with, but through, the eye':

    With my inward Eye, 'tis an old Man grey,
    With my outward, a Thistle across my way.

It was to the imagination, and the imagination alone, that Blake yielded
the allegiance of his spirit. His attitude towards reason was the
attitude of the mystic; and it involved an inevitable dilemma. He never
could, in truth, quite shake himself free of his 'Spectre'; struggle as
he would, he could not escape altogether from the employment of the
ordinary forms of thought and speech; he is constantly arguing, as if
argument were really a means of approaching the truth; he was subdued to
what he worked in. As in his own poem, he had, somehow or other, been
locked into a crystal cabinet--the world of the senses and of reason--a
gilded, artificial, gimcrack dwelling, after 'the wild' where he had
danced so merrily before.

    I strove to seize the inmost Form
    With ardour fierce and hands of flame,
    But burst the Crystal Cabinet,
    And like a Weeping Babe became--

    A weeping Babe upon the wild....

To be able to lay hands upon 'the inmost form,' one must achieve the
impossible; one must be inside and outside the crystal cabinet at the
same time. But Blake was not to be turned aside by such considerations.
He would have it both ways; and whoever demurred was crucifying Christ
with the head downwards.

Besides its unreasonableness, there is an even more serious objection to
Blake's mysticism--and indeed to all mysticism: its lack of humanity.
The mystic's creed--even when arrayed in the wondrous and ecstatic
beauty of Blake's verse--comes upon the ordinary man, in the rigidity of
its uncompromising elevation, with a shock which is terrible, and
almost cruel. The sacrifices which it demands are too vast, in spite of
the divinity of what it has to offer. What shall it profit a man, one is
tempted to exclaim, if he gain his own soul, and lose the whole world?
The mystic ideal is the highest of all; but it has no breadth. The
following lines express, with a simplicity and an intensity of
inspiration which he never surpassed, Blake's conception of that ideal:

    And throughout all Eternity
    I forgive you, you forgive me.
    As our dear Redeemer said:
    'This the Wine, & this the Bread.'

It is easy to imagine the sort of comments to which Voltaire, for
instance, with his 'wracking wheel' of sarcasm and common-sense, would
have subjected such lines as these. His criticism would have been
irrelevant, because it would never have reached the heart of the matter
at issue; it would have been based upon no true understanding of Blake's
words. But that they do admit of a real, an unanswerable criticism, it
is difficult to doubt. Charles Lamb, perhaps, might have made it;
incidentally, indeed, he has. 'Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary
walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the
delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful
glass, and candle-light, and fire-side conversations, and innocent
vanities, and jests, and _irony itself_'--do these things form no part
of your Eternity?

The truth is plain: Blake was an intellectual drunkard. His words come
down to us in a rapture of broken fluency from impossible intoxicated
heights. His spirit soared above the empyrean; and, even as it soared,
it stumbled in the gutter of Felpham. His lips brought forth, in the
same breath, in the same inspired utterance, the _Auguries of Innocence_
and the epigrams on Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was in no condition to chop
logic, or to take heed of the existing forms of things. In the imaginary
portrait of himself, prefixed to Sir Walter Raleigh's volume, we can see
him, as he appeared to his own 'inward eye,' staggering between the
abyss and the star of Heaven, his limbs cast abroad, his head thrown
back in an ecstasy of intoxication, so that, to the frenzy of his
rolling vision, the whole universe is upside down. We look, and, as we
gaze at the strange image and listen to the marvellous melody, we are
almost tempted to go and do likewise.

But it is not as a prophet, it is as an artist, that Blake deserves the
highest honours and the most enduring fame. In spite of his hatred of
the 'vegetable universe,' his poems possess the inexplicable and
spontaneous quality of natural objects; they are more like the works of
Heaven than the works of man. They have, besides, the two most obvious
characteristics of Nature--loveliness and power. In some of his lyrics
there is an exquisite simplicity, which seems, like a flower or a child,
to be unconscious of itself. In his poem of _The Birds_--to mention, out
of many, perhaps a less known instance--it is not the poet that one
hears, it is the birds themselves.

    O thou summer's harmony,
    I have lived and mourned for thee;
    Each day I mourn along the wood,
    And night hath heard my sorrows loud.

In his other mood--the mood of elemental force--Blake produces effects
which are unique in literature. His mastery of the mysterious
suggestions which lie concealed in words is complete.

    He who torments the Chafer's Sprite
    Weaves a Bower in endless Night.

What dark and terrible visions the last line calls up! And, with the aid
of this control over the secret springs of language, he is able to
produce in poetry those vast and vague effects of gloom, of foreboding,
and of terror, which seem to be proper to music alone. Sometimes his
words are heavy with the doubtful horror of an approaching thunderstorm:

    The Guests are scattered thro' the land,
    For the Eye altering alters all;
    The Senses roll themselves in fear,
    And the flat Earth becomes a Ball;
    The Stars, Sun, Moon, all shrink away,
    A desart vast without a bound,
    And nothing left to eat or drink,
    And a dark desart all around.

And sometimes Blake invests his verses with a sense of nameless and
infinite ruin, such as one feels when the drum and the violin
mysteriously come together, in one of Beethoven's Symphonies, to predict
the annihilation of worlds:

    On the shadows of the Moon,
    Climbing through Night's highest noon:
    In Time's Ocean falling, drowned:
    In Aged Ignorance profound,
    Holy and cold, I clipp'd the Wings
    Of all Sublunary Things:
    But when once I did descry
    The Immortal Man that cannot Die,
    Thro' evening shades I haste away
    To close the Labours of my Day.
    The Door of Death I open found,
    And the Worm Weaving in the Ground;
    Thou'rt my Mother, from the Womb;
    Wife, Sister, Daughter, to the Tomb:
    Weaving to Dreams the Sexual strife,
    And weeping over the Web of Life.

Such music is not to be lightly mouthed by mortals; for us, in our
weakness, a few strains of it, now and then, amid the murmur of ordinary
converse, are enough. For Blake's words will always be strangers on this
earth; they could only fall with familiarity from the lips of his own

          above Time's troubled fountains,
    On the great Atlantic Mountains,
    In my Golden House on high.

They belong to the language of Los and Rahab and Enitharmon; and their
mystery is revealed for ever in the land of the Sunflower's desire.



[Footnote 8: _The Poetical Works of William Blake. A new and verbatim
text from the manuscript, engraved, and letter-press originals, with
variorum readings and bibliographical notes and prefaces._ By John
Sampson, Librarian in the University of Liverpool. Oxford: At the
Clarendon Press, 1905.

_The Lyrical Poems of William Blake._ Text by John Sampson, with an
Introduction by Walter Raleigh. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1905.]


The shrine of Poetry is a secret one; and it is fortunate that this
should be the case; for it gives a sense of security. The cult is too
mysterious and intimate to figure upon census papers; there are no
turnstiles at the temple gates; and so, as all inquiries must be
fruitless, the obvious plan is to take for granted a good attendance of
worshippers, and to pass on. Yet, if Apollo were to come down (after the
manner of deities) and put questions--must we suppose to the
Laureate?--as to the number of the elect, would we be quite sure of
escaping wrath and destruction? Let us hope for the best; and perhaps,
if we were bent upon finding out the truth, the simplest way would be to
watch the sales of the new edition of the poems of Beddoes, which
Messrs. Routledge have lately added to the 'Muses' Library.' How many
among Apollo's pew-renters, one wonders, have ever read Beddoes, or,
indeed, have ever heard of him? For some reason or another, this
extraordinary poet has not only never received the recognition which is
his due, but has failed almost entirely to receive any recognition
whatever. If his name is known at all, it is known in virtue of the one
or two of his lyrics which have crept into some of the current
anthologies. But Beddoes' highest claim to distinction does not rest
upon his lyrical achievements, consummate as those achievements are; it
rests upon his extraordinary eminence as a master of dramatic blank
verse. Perhaps his greatest misfortune was that he was born at the
beginning of the nineteenth century, and not at the end of the
sixteenth. His proper place was among that noble band of Elizabethans,
whose strong and splendid spirit gave to England, in one miraculous
generation, the most glorious heritage of drama that the world has
known. If Charles Lamb had discovered his tragedies among the folios of
the British Museum, and had given extracts from them in the _Specimens
of Dramatic Poets_, Beddoes' name would doubtless be as familiar to us
now as those of Marlowe and Webster, Fletcher and Ford. As it happened,
however, he came as a strange and isolated phenomenon, a star which had
wandered from its constellation, and was lost among alien lights. It is
to very little purpose that Mr. Ramsay Colles, his latest editor,
assures us that 'Beddoes is interesting as marking the transition from
Shelley to Browning'; it is to still less purpose that he points out to
us a passage in _Death's Jest Book_ which anticipates the doctrines of
_The Descent of Man._ For Beddoes cannot be hoisted into line with his
contemporaries by such methods as these; nor is it in the light of such
after-considerations that the value of his work must be judged. We must
take him on his own merits, 'unmixed with seconds'; we must discover and
appraise his peculiar quality for its own sake.

          He hath skill in language;
    And knowledge is in him, root, flower, and fruit,
    A palm with winged imagination in it,
    Whose roots stretch even underneath the grave;
    And on them hangs a lamp of magic science
    In his soul's deepest mine, where folded thoughts
    Lie sleeping on the tombs of magi dead.

If the neglect suffered by Beddoes' poetry may be accounted for in more
ways than one, it is not so easy to understand why more curiosity has
never been aroused by the circumstances of his life. For one reader who
cares to concern himself with the intrinsic merit of a piece of writing
there are a thousand who are ready to explore with eager sympathy the
history of the writer; and all that we know both of the life and the
character of Beddoes possesses those very qualities of peculiarity,
mystery, and adventure, which are so dear to the hearts of subscribers
to circulating libraries. Yet only one account of his career has ever
been given to the public; and that account, fragmentary and incorrect as
it is, has long been out of print. It was supplemented some years ago
by Mr. Gosse, who was able to throw additional light upon one important
circumstance, and who has also published a small collection of Beddoes'
letters. The main biographical facts, gathered from these sources, have
been put together by Mr. Ramsay Colles, in his introduction to the new
edition; but he has added nothing fresh; and we are still in almost
complete ignorance as to the details of the last twenty years of
Beddoes' existence--full as those years certainly were of interest and
even excitement. Nor has the veil been altogether withdrawn from that
strange tragedy which, for the strange tragedian, was the last of all.

Readers of Miss Edgeworth's letters may remember that her younger sister
Anne, married a distinguished Clifton physician, Dr. Thomas Beddoes.
Their eldest son, born in 1803, was named Thomas Lovell, after his
father and grandfather, and grew up to be the author of _The Brides'
Tragedy_ and _Death's Jest Book_. Dr. Beddoes was a remarkable man,
endowed with high and varied intellectual capacities and a rare
independence of character. His scientific attainments were recognised by
the University of Oxford, where he held the post of Lecturer in
Chemistry, until the time of the French Revolution, when he was obliged
to resign it, owing to the scandal caused by the unconcealed intensity
of his liberal opinions. He then settled at Clifton as a physician,
established a flourishing practice, and devoted his leisure to politics
and scientific research. Sir Humphry Davy, who was his pupil, and whose
merit he was the first to bring to light, declared that 'he had talents
which would have exalted him to the pinnacle of philosophical eminence,
if they had been applied with discretion.' The words are curiously
suggestive of the history of his son; and indeed the poet affords a
striking instance of the hereditary transmission of mental qualities.
Not only did Beddoes inherit his father's talents and his father's
inability to make the best use of them; he possessed in a no less
remarkable degree his father's independence of mind. In both cases, this
quality was coupled with a corresponding eccentricity of conduct, which
occasionally, to puzzled onlookers, wore the appearance of something
very near insanity. Many stories are related of the queer behaviour of
Dr. Beddoes. One day he astonished the ladies of Clifton by appearing at
a tea-party with a packet of sugar in his hand; he explained that it was
East Indian sugar, and that nothing would induce him to eat the usual
kind, which came from Jamaica and was made by slaves. More extraordinary
were his medical prescriptions; for he was in the habit of ordering cows
to be conveyed into his patients' bedrooms, in order, as he said, that
they might 'inhale the animals' breath.' It is easy to imagine the
delight which the singular spectacle of a cow climbing upstairs into an
invalid's bedroom must have given to the future author of _Harpagus_ and
_The Oviparous Tailor_. But 'little Tom,' as Miss Edgeworth calls him,
was not destined to enjoy for long the benefit of parental example; for
Dr. Beddoes died in the prime of life, when the child was not yet six
years old.

The genius at school is usually a disappointing figure, for, as a rule,
one must be commonplace to be a successful boy. In that preposterous
world, to be remarkable is to be overlooked; and nothing less vivid than
the white-hot blaze of a Shelley will bring with it even a distinguished
martyrdom. But Beddoes was an exception, though he was not a martyr. On
the contrary, he dominated his fellows as absolutely as if he had been a
dullard and a dunce. He was at Charterhouse; and an entertaining account
of his existence there has been preserved to us in a paper of school
reminiscences, written by Mr. C.D. Bevan, who had been his fag. Though
his place in the school was high, Beddoes' interests were devoted not so
much to classical scholarship as to the literature of his own tongue.
Cowley, he afterwards told a friend, had been the first poet he had
understood; but no doubt he had begun to understand poetry many years
before he went to Charterhouse; and, while he was there, the reading
which he chiefly delighted in was the Elizabethan drama. 'He liked
acting,' says Mr. Bevan, 'and was a good judge of it, and used to give
apt though burlesque imitations of the popular actors, particularly Kean
and Macready. Though his voice was harsh and his enunciation offensively
conceited, he read with so much propriety of expression and manner, that
I was always glad to listen: even when I was pressed into the service as
his accomplice, his enemy, or his love, with a due accompaniment of
curses, caresses, or kicks, as the course of his declamation required.
One play in particular, Marlowe's _Tragedy of Dr. Faustus_, excited my
admiration in this way; and a liking for the old English drama, which I
still retain, was created and strengthened by such recitations.' But
Beddoes' dramatic performances were not limited to the works of others;
when the occasion arose he was able to supply the necessary material
himself. A locksmith had incurred his displeasure by putting a bad lock
on his bookcase; Beddoes vowed vengeance; and when next the man appeared
he was received by a dramatic interlude, representing his last moments,
his horror and remorse, his death, and the funeral procession, which was
interrupted by fiends, who carried off body and soul to eternal
torments. Such was the realistic vigour of the performance that the
locksmith, according to Mr. Bevan, 'departed in a storm of wrath and
execrations, and could not be persuaded, for some time, to resume his

Besides the interlude of the wicked locksmith, Beddoes' school
compositions included a novel in the style of Fielding (which has
unfortunately disappeared), the beginnings of an Elizabethan tragedy,
and much miscellaneous verse. In 1820 he left Charterhouse, and went to
Pembroke College, Oxford, where, in the following year, while still a
freshman, he published his first volume, _The Improvisatore_, a series
of short narratives in verse. The book had been written in part while he
was at school; and its immaturity is obvious. It contains no trace of
the nervous vigour of his later style; the verse is weak, and the
sentiment, to use his own expression, 'Moorish.' Indeed, the only
interest of the little work lies in the evidence which it affords that
the singular pre-occupation which eventually dominated Beddoes' mind
had, even in these early days, made its appearance. The book is full of
death. The poems begin on battle-fields and end in charnel-houses; old
men are slaughtered in cold blood, and lovers are struck by lightning
into mouldering heaps of corruption. The boy, with his elaborate
exhibitions of physical horror, was doing his best to make his readers'
flesh creep. But the attempt was far too crude; and in after years, when
Beddoes had become a past-master of that difficult art, he was very much
ashamed of his first publication. So eager was he to destroy every trace
of its existence, that he did not spare even the finely bound copies of
his friends. The story goes that he amused himself by visiting their
libraries with a penknife, so that, when next they took out the precious
volume, they found the pages gone.

Beddoes, however, had no reason to be ashamed of his next publication,
_The Brides' Tragedy_, which appeared in 1822. In a single bound, he had
reached the threshold of poetry, and was knocking at the door. The line
which divides the best and most accomplished verse from poetry
itself--that subtle and momentous line which every one can draw, and no
one can explain--Beddoes had not yet crossed. But he had gone as far as
it was possible to go by the aid of mere skill in the art of writing,
and he was still in his twentieth year. Many passages in _The Brides'
Tragedy_ seem only to be waiting for the breath of inspiration which
will bring them into life; and indeed, here and there, the breath has
come, the warm, the true, the vital breath of Apollo. No one, surely,
whose lips had not tasted of the waters of Helicon, could have uttered
such words as these:

    Here's the blue violet, like Pandora's eye,
    When first it darkened with immortal life

or a line of such intense imaginative force as this:

    I've huddled her into the wormy earth;

or this splendid description of a stormy sunrise:

    The day is in its shroud while yet an infant;
    And Night with giant strides stalks o'er the world,
    Like a swart Cyclops, on its hideous front
    One round, red, thunder-swollen eye ablaze.

The play was written on the Elizabethan model, and, as a play, it is
disfigured by Beddoes' most characteristic faults: the construction is
weak, the interest fluctuates from character to character, and the
motives and actions of the characters themselves are for the most part
curiously remote from the realities of life. Yet, though the merit of
the tragedy depends almost entirely upon the verse, there are signs in
it that, while Beddoes lacked the gift of construction, he nevertheless
possessed one important dramatic faculty--the power of creating detached
scenes of interest and beauty. The scene in which the half-crazed
Leonora imagines to herself, beside the couch on which her dead daughter
lies, that the child is really living after all, is dramatic in the
highest sense of the word; the situation, with all its capabilities of
pathetic irony, is conceived and developed with consummate art and
absolute restraint. Leonora's speech ends thus:

          ... Speak, I pray thee, Floribel,
    Speak to thy mother; do but whisper 'aye';
    Well, well, I will not press her; I am sure
    She has the welcome news of some good fortune,
    And hoards the telling till her father comes;
    ... Ah! She half laughed. I've guessed it then;
    Come tell me, I'll be secret. Nay, if you mock me,
    I must be very angry till you speak.
    Now this is silly; some of these young boys
    Have dressed the cushions with her clothes in sport.
    'Tis very like her. I could make this image
    Act all her greetings; she shall bow her head:
    'Good-morrow, mother'; and her smiling face
    Falls on my neck.--Oh, heaven, 'tis she indeed!
    I know it all--don't tell me.

The last seven words are a summary of anguish, horror, and despair, such
as Webster himself might have been proud to write.

_The Brides' Tragedy_ was well received by critics; and a laudatory
notice of Beddoes in the _Edinburgh_, written by Bryan Waller
Procter--better known then than now under his pseudonym of Barry
Cornwall--led to a lasting friendship between the two poets. The
connection had an important result, for it was through Procter that
Beddoes became acquainted with the most intimate of all his
friends--Thomas Forbes Kelsall, then a young lawyer at Southampton. In
the summer of 1823 Beddoes stayed at Southampton for several months,
and, while ostensibly studying for his Oxford degree, gave up most of
his time to conversations with Kelsall and to dramatic composition. It
was a culminating point in his life: one of those moments which come,
even to the most fortunate, once and once only--when youth, and hope,
and the high exuberance of genius combine with circumstance and
opportunity to crown the marvellous hour. The spade-work of _The Brides'
Tragedy_ had been accomplished; the seed had been sown; and now the
harvest was beginning. Beddoes, 'with the delicious sense,' as Kelsall
wrote long afterwards, 'of the laurel freshly twined around his head,'
poured out, in these Southampton evenings, an eager stream of song. 'His
poetic composition,' says his friend, 'was then exceedingly facile: more
than once or twice has he taken home with him at night some unfinished
act of a drama, in which the editor [Kelsall] had found much to admire,
and, at the next meeting, has produced a new one, similar in design, but
filled with other thoughts and fancies, which his teeming imagination
had projected, in its sheer abundance, and not from any feeling, right
or fastidious, of unworthiness in its predecessor. Of several of these
very striking fragments, large and grand in their aspect as they each
started into form,

    Like the red outline of beginning Adam,

... the only trace remaining is literally the impression thus deeply cut
into their one observer's mind. The fine verse just quoted is the sole
remnant, indelibly stamped on the editor's memory, of one of these
extinct creations.' Fragments survive of at least four dramas,
projected, and brought to various stages of completion, at about this
time. Beddoes was impatient of the common restraints; he was dashing
forward in the spirit of his own advice to another poet:

          Creep not nor climb,
    As they who place their topmost of sublime
    On some peak of this planet, pitifully.
    Dart eaglewise with open wings, and fly
    Until you meet the gods!

Eighteen months after his Southampton visit, Beddoes took his degree at
Oxford, and, almost immediately, made up his mind to a course of action
which had the profoundest effect upon his future life. He determined to
take up the study of medicine; and with that end in view established
himself, in 1825, at the University at Göttingen. It is very clear,
however, that he had no intention of giving up his poetical work. He
took with him to Germany the beginnings of a new play--'a very
Gothic-styled tragedy,' he calls it, 'for which I have a jewel of a
name--DEATH'S JEST-BOOK; of course,' he adds, 'no one will ever read
it'; and, during his four years at Göttingen, he devoted most of his
leisure to the completion of this work. He was young; he was rich; he
was interested in medical science; and no doubt it seemed to him that he
could well afford to amuse himself for half-a-dozen years, before he
settled down to the poetical work which was to be the serious occupation
of his life. But, as time passed, he became more and more engrossed in
the study of medicine, for which he gradually discovered he had not only
a taste but a gift; so that at last he came to doubt whether it might
not be his true vocation to be a physician, and not a poet after all.
Engulfed among the students of Göttingen, England and English ways of
life, and even English poetry, became dim to him; 'dir, dem Anbeter der
seligen Gottheiten der Musen, u.s.w.,' he wrote to Kelsall, 'was
Unterhaltendes kann der Liebhaber von Knochen, der fleissige Botaniker
und Phisiolog mittheilen?' In 1830 he was still hesitating between the
two alternatives. 'I sometimes wish,' he told the same friend, 'to
devote myself exclusively to the study of anatomy and physiology in
science, of languages, and dramatic poetry'; his pen had run away with
him; and his 'exclusive' devotion turned out to be a double one,
directed towards widely different ends. While he was still in this state
of mind, a new interest took possession of him--an interest which worked
havoc with his dreams of dramatic authorship and scientific research: he
became involved in the revolutionary movement which was at that time
beginning to agitate Europe. The details of his adventures are unhappily
lost to us, for we know nothing more of them than can be learnt from a
few scanty references in his rare letters to English friends; but it is
certain that the part he played was an active, and even a dangerous one.
He was turned out of Würzburg by 'that ingenious Jackanapes,' the King
of Bavaria; he was an intimate friend of Hegetschweiler, one of the
leaders of liberalism in Switzerland; and he was present in Zurich when
a body of six thousand peasants, 'half unarmed, and the other half armed
with scythes, dungforks and poles, entered the town and overturned the
liberal government.' In the tumult Hegetschweiler was killed, and
Beddoes was soon afterwards forced to fly the canton. During the
following years we catch glimpses of him, flitting mysteriously over
Germany and Switzerland, at Berlin, at Baden, at Giessen, a strange
solitary figure, with tangled hair and meerschaum pipe, scribbling
lampoons upon the King of Prussia, translating Grainger's _Spinal Cord_
into German, and Schoenlein's _Diseases of Europeans_ into English,
exploring Pilatus and the Titlis, evolving now and then some ghostly
lyric or some rabelaisian tale, or brooding over the scenes of his
'Gothic-styled tragedy,' wondering if it were worthless or inspired, and
giving it--as had been his wont for the last twenty years--just one more
touch before he sent it to the press. He appeared in England once or
twice, and in 1846 made a stay of several months, visiting the Procters
in London, and going down to Southampton to be with Kelsall once again.
Eccentricity had grown on him; he would shut himself for days in his
bedroom, smoking furiously; he would fall into fits of long and deep
depression. He shocked some of his relatives by arriving at their
country house astride a donkey; and he amazed the Procters by starting
out one evening to set fire to Drury Lane Theatre with a lighted
five-pound note. After this last visit to England, his history becomes
even more obscure than before. It is known that in 1847 he was in
Frankfort, where he lived for six months in close companionship with a
young baker called Degen--'a nice-looking young man, nineteen years of
age,' we are told, 'dressed in a blue blouse, fine in expression, and of
a natural dignity of manner'; and that, in the spring of the following
year, the two friends went off to Zurich, where Beddoes hired the
theatre for a night in order that Degen might appear on the stage in the
part of Hotspur. At Basel, however, for some unexplained reason, the
friends parted, and Beddoes fell immediately into the profoundest gloom.
'Il a été misérable,' said the waiter at the Cigogne Hotel, where he was
staying, 'il a voulu se tuer.' It was true. He inflicted a deep wound in
his leg with a razor, in the hope, apparently, of bleeding to death. He
was taken to the hospital, where he constantly tore off the bandages,
until at last it was necessary to amputate the leg below the knee. The
operation was successful, Beddoes began to recover, and, in the autumn,
Degen came back to Basel. It seemed as if all were going well; for the
poet, with his books around him, and the blue-bloused Degen by his
bedside, talked happily of politics and literature, and of an Italian
journey in the spring. He walked out twice; was he still happy? Who can
tell? Was it happiness, or misery, or what strange impulse, that drove
him, on his third walk, to go to a chemist's shop in the town, and to
obtain there a phial of deadly poison? On the evening of that day--the
26th of January, 1849--Dr. Ecklin, his physician, was hastily summoned,
to find Beddoes lying insensible upon the bed. He never recovered
consciousness, and died that night. Upon his breast was found a pencil
note, addressed to one of his English friends. 'My dear Philips,' it
began, 'I am food for what I am good for--worms.' A few testamentary
wishes followed. Kelsall was to have the manuscripts; and--'W. Beddoes
must have a case (50 bottles) of Champagne Moet, 1847 growth, to drink
my death in ... I ought to have been, among other things,' the gruesome
document concluded, 'a good poet. Life was too great a bore on one peg,
and that a bad one. Buy for Dr. Ecklin one of Reade's best
stomach-pumps.' It was the last of his additions to Death's Jest Book,
and the most _macabre_ of all.

Kelsall discharged his duties as literary executor with exemplary care.
The manuscripts were fragmentary and confused. There were three distinct
drafts of _Death's Jest Book_, each with variations of its own; and from
these Kelsall compiled his first edition of the drama, which appeared in
1850. In the following year he brought out the two volumes of poetical
works, which remained for forty years the only record of the full scope
and power of Beddoes' genius. They contain reprints of _The Brides'
Tragedy_ and _Death's Jest Book_, together with two unfinished
tragedies, and a great number of dramatic fragments and lyrics; and the
poems are preceded by Kelsall's memoir of his friend. Of these rare and
valuable volumes the Muses' Library edition is almost an exact reprint,
except that it omits the memoir and revives _The Improvisatore_. Only
one other edition of Beddoes exists--the limited one brought out by Mr.
Gosse in 1890, and based upon a fresh examination of the manuscripts.
Mr. Gosse was able to add ten lyrics and one dramatic fragment to those
already published by Kelsall; he made public for the first time the true
story of Beddoes' suicide, which Kelsall had concealed; and, in 1893, he
followed up his edition of the poems by a volume of Beddoes' letters. It
is clear, therefore, that there is no one living to whom lovers of
Beddoes owe so much as to Mr. Gosse. He has supplied most important
materials for the elucidation of the poet's history: and, among the
lyrics which he has printed for the first time, are to be found one of
the most perfect specimens of Beddoes' command of unearthly pathos--_The
Old Ghost_--and one of the most singular examples of his vein of
grotesque and ominous humour--_The Oviparous Tailor_. Yet it may be
doubted whether even Mr. Gosse's edition is the final one. There are
traces in Beddoes' letters of unpublished compositions which may still
come to light. What has happened, one would like to know, to _The Ivory
Gate_, that 'volume of prosaic poetry and poetical prose,' which Beddoes
talked of publishing in 1837? Only a few fine stanzas from it have ever
appeared. And, as Mr. Gosse himself tells us, the variations in _Death's
Jest Book_ alone would warrant the publication of a variorum edition of
that work--'if,' he wisely adds, for the proviso contains the gist of
the matter--'if the interest in Beddoes should continue to grow.'

'Say what you will, I am convinced the man who is to awaken the drama
must be a bold, trampling fellow--no creeper into worm-holes--no reviver
even--however good. These reanimations are vampire-cold.' The words
occur in one of Beddoes' letters, and they are usually quoted by
critics, on the rare occasions on which his poetry is discussed, as an
instance of the curious incapacity of artists to practise what they
preach. But the truth is that Beddoes was not a 'creeper into
worm-holes,' he was not even a 'reviver'; he was a reincarnation.
Everything that we know of him goes to show that the laborious and
elaborate effort of literary reconstruction was quite alien to his
spirit. We have Kelsall's evidence as to the ease and abundance of his
composition; we have the character of the man, as it shines forth in his
letters and in the history of his life--records of a 'bold, trampling
fellow,' if ever there was one; and we have the evidence of his poetry
itself. For the impress of a fresh and vital intelligence is stamped
unmistakably upon all that is best in his work. His mature blank verse
is perfect. It is not an artificial concoction galvanized into the
semblance of life; it simply lives. And, with Beddoes, maturity was
precocious, for he obtained complete mastery over the most difficult and
dangerous of metres at a wonderfully early age. Blank verse is like the
Djin in the Arabian Nights; it is either the most terrible of masters,
or the most powerful of slaves. If you have not the magic secret, it
will take your best thoughts, your bravest imaginations, and change them
into toads and fishes; but, if the spell be yours, it will turn into a
flying carpet and lift your simplest utterance into the highest heaven.
Beddoes had mastered the 'Open, Sesame' at an age when most poets are
still mouthing ineffectual wheats and barleys. In his twenty-second
year, his thoughts filled and moved and animated his blank verse as
easily and familiarly as a hand in a glove. He wishes to compare, for
instance, the human mind, with its knowledge of the past, to a single
eye receiving the light of the stars; and the object of the comparison
is to lay stress upon the concentration on one point of a vast
multiplicity of objects. There could be no better exercise for a young
verse-writer than to attempt his own expression of this idea, and then
to examine these lines by Beddoes--lines where simplicity and splendour
have been woven together with the ease of accomplished art.

    How glorious to live! Even in one thought
    The wisdom of past times to fit together,
    And from the luminous minds of many men
    Catch a reflected truth; as, in one eye,
    Light, from unnumbered worlds and farthest planets
    Of the star-crowded universe, is gathered
    Into one ray.

The effect is, of course, partly produced by the diction; but the
diction, fine as it is, would be useless without the phrasing--that art
by which the two forces of the metre and the sense are made at once to
combat, to combine with, and to heighten each other. It is, however,
impossible to do more than touch upon this side--the technical side--of
Beddoes' genius. But it may be noticed that in his mastery of
phrasing--as in so much besides--he was a true Elizabethan. The great
artists of that age knew that without phrasing dramatic verse was a dead
thing; and it is only necessary to turn from their pages to those of an
eighteenth-century dramatist--Addison, for instance--to understand how
right they were.

Beddoes' power of creating scenes of intense dramatic force, which had
already begun to show itself in _The Brides' Tragedy_, reached its full
development in his subsequent work. The opening act of _The Second
Brother_--the most nearly complete of his unfinished tragedies--is a
striking example of a powerful and original theme treated in such a way
that, while the whole of it is steeped in imaginative poetry, yet not
one ounce of its dramatic effectiveness is lost. The duke's next
brother, the heir to the dukedom of Ferrara, returns to the city, after
years of wandering, a miserable and sordid beggar--to find his younger
brother, rich, beautiful, and reckless, leading a life of gay
debauchery, with the assurance of succeeding to the dukedom when the
duke dies. The situation presents possibilities for just those bold and
extraordinary contrasts which were so dear to Beddoes' heart. While
Marcello, the second brother, is meditating over his wretched fate,
Orazio, the third, comes upon the stage, crowned and glorious, attended
by a train of singing revellers, and with a courtesan upon either hand.
'Wine in a ruby!' he exclaims, gazing into his mistress's eyes:

    I'll solemnize their beauty in a draught
    Pressed from the summer of an hundred vines.

Meanwhile Marcello pushes himself forward, and attempts to salute his

    _Orazio_. Insolent beggar!

    _Marcello_. Prince! But we must shake hands.
    Look you, the round earth's like a sleeping serpent,
    Who drops her dusky tail upon her crown
    Just here. Oh, we are like two mountain peaks
    Of two close planets, catching in the air:
    You, King Olympus, a great pile of summer,
    Wearing a crown of gods; I, the vast top
    Of the ghosts' deadly world, naked and dark,
    With nothing reigning on my desolate head
    But an old spirit of a murdered god,
    Palaced within the corpse of Saturn's father.

They begin to dispute, and at last Marcello exclaims--

    Aye, Prince, you have a brother--

    _Orazio_. The Duke--he'll scourge you.

    _Marcello_. Nay, _the second_, sir,
    Who, like an envious river, flows between
    Your footsteps and Ferrara's throne....

    _Orazio_. Stood he before me there,
    By you, in you, as like as you're unlike,
    Straight as you're bowed, young as you are old,
    And many years nearer than him to Death,
    The falling brilliancy of whose white sword
    Your ancient locks so silverly reflect,
    I would deny, outswear, and overreach,
    And pass him with contempt, as I do you.
    Jove! How we waste the stars: set on, my friends.

And so the revelling band pass onward, singing still, as they vanish
down the darkened street:

    Strike, you myrtle-crownèd boys,
    Ivied maidens, strike together!...

and Marcello is left alone:

          I went forth
    Joyfully, as the soul of one who closes
    His pillowed eyes beside an unseen murderer,
    And like its horrible return was mine,
    To find the heart, wherein I breathed and beat,
    Cold, gashed, and dead. Let me forget to love,
    And take a heart of venom: let me make
    A staircase of the frightened breasts of men,
    And climb into a lonely happiness!
    And thou, who only art alone as I,
    Great solitary god of that one sun,
    I charge thee, by the likeness of our state,
    Undo these human veins that tie me close
    To other men, and let your servant griefs
    Unmilk me of my mother, and pour in
    Salt scorn and steaming hate!

A moment later he learnt that the duke has suddenly died, and that the
dukedom is his. The rest of the play affords an instance of Beddoes'
inability to trace out a story, clearly and forcibly, to an appointed
end. The succeeding acts are crowded with beautiful passages, with vivid
situations, with surprising developments, but the central plot vanishes
away into nothing, like a great river dissipating itself among a
thousand streams. It is, indeed, clear enough that Beddoes was
embarrassed with his riches, that his fertile mind conceived too easily,
and that he could never resist the temptation of giving life to his
imaginations, even at the cost of killing his play. His conception of
Orazio, for instance, began by being that of a young Bacchus, as he
appears in the opening scene. But Beddoes could not leave him there; he
must have a romantic wife, whom he has deserted; and the wife, once
brought into being, must have an interview with her husband. The
interview is an exquisitely beautiful one, but it shatters Orazio's
character, for, in the course of it, he falls desperately in love with
his wife; and meanwhile the wife herself has become so important and
interesting a figure that she must be given a father, who in his turn
becomes the central character in more than one exciting scene. But, by
this time, what has happened to the second brother? It is easy to
believe that Beddoes was always ready to begin a new play rather than
finish an old one. But it is not so certain that his method was quite as
inexcusable as his critics assert. To the reader, doubtless, his faulty
construction is glaring enough; but Beddoes wrote his plays to be acted,
as a passage in one of his letters very clearly shows. 'You are, I
think,' he writes to Kelsall, 'disinclined to the stage: now I confess
that I think this is the highest aim of the dramatist, and should be
very desirous to get on it. To look down on it is a piece of
impertinence, as long as one chooses to write in the form of a play,
and is generally the result of one's own inability to produce anything
striking and affecting in that way.' And it is precisely upon the stage
that such faults of construction as those which disfigure Beddoes'
tragedies matter least. An audience, whose attention is held and
delighted by a succession of striking incidents clothed in splendid
speech, neither cares nor knows whether the effect of the whole, as a
whole, is worthy of the separate parts. It would be foolish, in the
present melancholy condition of the art of dramatic declamation, to wish
for the public performance of _Death's Jest Book_; but it is impossible
not to hope that the time may come when an adequate representation of
that strange and great work may be something more than 'a possibility
more thin than air.' Then, and then only, shall we be able to take the
true measure of Beddoes' genius.

Perhaps, however, the ordinary reader finds Beddoes' lack of
construction a less distasteful quality than his disregard of the common
realities of existence. Not only is the subject-matter of the greater
part of his poetry remote and dubious; his very characters themselves
seem to be infected by their creator's delight in the mysterious, the
strange, and the unreal. They have no healthy activity; or, if they
have, they invariably lose it in the second act; in the end, they are
all hypochondriac philosophers, puzzling over eternity and dissecting
the attributes of Death. The central idea of _Death's Jest Book_--the
resurrection of a ghost--fails to be truly effective, because it is
difficult to see any clear distinction between the phantom and the rest
of the characters. The duke, saved from death by the timely arrival of
Wolfram, exclaims 'Blest hour!' and then, in a moment, begins to ponder,
and agonise, and dream:

    And yet how palely, with what faded lips
    Do we salute this unhoped change of fortune!
    Thou art so silent, lady; and I utter
    Shadows of words, like to an ancient ghost,
    Arisen out of hoary centuries
    Where none can speak his language.

Orazio, in his brilliant palace, is overcome with the same feelings:

    Methinks, these fellows, with their ready jests,
    Are like to tedious bells, that ring alike
    Marriage or death.

And his description of his own revels applies no less to the whole
atmosphere of Beddoes' tragedies:

    Voices were heard, most loud, which no man owned:
    There were more shadows too than there were men;
    And all the air more dark and thick than night
    Was heavy, as 'twere made of something more
    Than living breaths.

It would be vain to look, among such spectral imaginings as these, for
guidance in practical affairs, or for illuminating views on men and
things, or for a philosophy, or, in short, for anything which may be
called a 'criticism of life.' If a poet must be a critic of life,
Beddoes was certainly no poet. He belongs to the class of writers of
which, in English literature, Spenser, Keats, and Milton are the
dominant figures--the writers who are great merely because of their art.
Sir James Stephen was only telling the truth when he remarked that
Milton might have put all that he had to say in _Paradise Lost_ into a
prose pamphlet of two or three pages. But who cares about what Milton
had to say? It is his way of saying it that matters; it is his
expression. Take away the expression from the _Satires_ of Pope, or from
_The Excursion_, and, though you will destroy the poems, you will leave
behind a great mass of thought. Take away the expression from
_Hyperion_, and you will leave nothing at all. To ask which is the
better of the two styles is like asking whether a peach is better than a
rose, because, both being beautiful, you can eat the one and not the
other. At any rate, Beddoes is among the roses: it is in his expression
that his greatness lies. His verse is an instrument of many modulations,
of exquisite delicacy, of strange suggestiveness, of amazing power.
Playing on it, he can give utterance to the subtlest visions, such as

    Just now a beam of joy hung on his eyelash;
    But, as I looked, it sunk into his eye,
    Like a bruised worm writhing its form of rings
    Into a darkening hole.

Or to the most marvellous of vague and vast conceptions, such as this:

          I begin to hear
    Strange but sweet sounds, and the loud rocky dashing
    Of waves, where time into Eternity
    Falls over ruined worlds.

Or he can evoke sensations of pure loveliness, such as these:

    So fair a creature! of such charms compact
    As nature stints elsewhere: which you may find
    Under the tender eyelid of a serpent,
    Or in the gurge of a kiss-coloured rose,
    By drops and sparks: but when she moves, you see,
    Like water from a crystal overfilled,
    Fresh beauty tremble out of her and lave
    Her fair sides to the ground.

Or he can put into a single line all the long memories of adoration:

          My love was much;
    My life but an inhabitant of his.

Or he can pass in a moment from tiny sweetness to colossal turmoil:

          I should not say
    How thou art like the daisy in Noah's meadow,
    On which the foremost drop of rain fell warm
    And soft at evening: so the little flower
    Wrapped up its leaves, and shut the treacherous water
    Close to the golden welcome of its breast,
    Delighting in the touch of that which led
    The shower of oceans, in whose billowy drops
    Tritons and lions of the sea were warring,
    And sometimes ships on fire sunk in the blood,
    Of their own inmates; others were of ice,
    And some had islands rooted in their waves,
    Beasts on their rocks, and forest-powdering winds,
    And showers tumbling on their tumbling self,
    And every sea of every ruined star
    Was but a drop in the world-melting flood.

He can express alike the beautiful tenderness of love, and the hectic,
dizzy, and appalling frenzy of extreme rage:--

    ... What shall I do? I speak all wrong,
    And lose a soul-full of delicious thought
    By talking. Hush! Let's drink each other up
    By silent eyes. Who lives, but thou and I,
    My heavenly wife?...
    I'll watch thee thus, till I can tell a second
    By thy cheek's change.

In that, one can almost feel the kisses; and, in this, one can almost
hear the gnashing of the teeth. 'Never!' exclaims the duke to his son

    There lies no grain of sand between
    My loved and my detested! Wing thee hence,
    Or thou dost stand to-morrow on a cobweb
    Spun o'er the well of clotted Acheron,
    Whose hydrophobic entrails stream with fire!
    And may this intervening earth be snow,
    And my step burn like the mid coal of Aetna,
    Plunging me, through it all, into the core,
    Where in their graves the dead are shut like seeds,
    If I do not--O, but he is my son!

Is not that tremendous? But, to find Beddoes in his most characteristic
mood, one must watch him weaving his mysterious imagination upon the
woof of mortality. One must wander with him through the pages of
_Death's Jest Book_, one must grow accustomed to the dissolution of
reality, and the opening of the nettled lips of graves; one must learn
that 'the dead are most and merriest,' one must ask--'Are the ghosts
eaves-dropping?'--one must realise that 'murder is full of holes.' Among
the ruins of his Gothic cathedral, on whose cloister walls the Dance of
Death is painted, one may speculate at ease over the fragility of
existence, and, within the sound of that dark ocean,

          Whose tumultuous waves
    Are heaped, contending ghosts,

one may understand how it is that

    Death is mightier, stronger, and more faithful
    To man than Life.

Lingering there, one may watch the Deaths come down from their cloister,
and dance and sing amid the moonlight; one may laugh over the grotesque
contortions of skeletons; one may crack jokes upon corruption; one may
sit down with phantoms, and drink to the health of Death.

In private intercourse Beddoes was the least morbid of human beings. His
mind was like one of those Gothic cathedrals of which he was so
fond--mysterious within, and filled with a light at once richer and less
real than the light of day; on the outside, firm, and towering, and
immediately impressive; and embellished, both inside and out, with
grinning gargoyles. His conversation, Kelsall tells us, was full of
humour and vitality, and untouched by any trace of egoism or
affectation. He loved discussion, plunging into it with fire, and
carrying it onward with high dexterity and good-humoured force. His
letters are excellent: simple, spirited, spicy, and as original as his
verse; flavoured with that vein of rattling open-air humour which had
produced his school-boy novel in the style of Fielding. He was a man
whom it would have been a rare delight to know. His character, so
eminently English, compact of courage, of originality, of imagination,
and with something coarse in it as well, puts one in mind of Hamlet: not
the melodramatic sentimentalist of the stage; but the real Hamlet,
Horatio's Hamlet, who called his father's ghost old truepenny, who
forged his uncle's signature, who fought Laertes, and ranted in a grave,
and lugged the guts into the neighbour room. His tragedy, like
Hamlet's, was the tragedy of an over-powerful will--a will so strong as
to recoil upon itself, and fall into indecision. It is easy for a weak
man to be decided--there is so much to make him so; but a strong man,
who can do anything, sometimes leaves everything undone. Fortunately
Beddoes, though he did far less than he might have done, possessed so
rich a genius that what he did, though small in quantity, is in quality
beyond price. 'I might have been, among other things, a good poet,' were
his last words. 'Among other things'! Aye, there's the rub. But, in
spite of his own 'might have been,' a good poet he was. Perhaps for him,
after all, there was very little to regret; his life was full of high
nobility; and what other way of death would have befitted the poet of
death? There is a thought constantly recurring throughout his
writings--in his childish as in his most mature work--the thought of the
beauty and the supernal happiness of soft and quiet death. He had
visions of 'rosily dying,' of 'turning to daisies gently in the grave,'
of a 'pink reclining death,' of death coming like a summer cloud over
the soul. 'Let her deathly life pass into death,' says one of his
earliest characters, 'like music on the night wind.' And, in _Death's
Jest Book_, Sibylla has the same thoughts:

          O Death! I am thy friend,
    I struggle not with thee, I love thy state:
    Thou canst be sweet and gentle, be so now;
    And let me pass praying away into thee,
    As twilight still does into starry night.

Did his mind, obsessed and overwhelmed by images of death, crave at last
for the one thing stranger than all these--the experience of it? It is
easy to believe so, and that, ill, wretched, and abandoned by Degen at
the miserable Cigogne Hotel, he should seek relief in the gradual
dissolution which attends upon loss of blood. And then, when he had
recovered, when he was almost happy once again, the old thoughts,
perhaps, came crowding back upon him--thoughts of the futility of life,
and the supremacy of death and the mystical whirlpool of the unknown,
and the long quietude of the grave. In the end, Death had grown to be
something more than Death to him--it was, mysteriously and
transcendentally, Love as well.

    Death's darts are sometimes Love's. So Nature tells,
    When laughing waters close o'er drowning men;
    When in flowers' honied corners poison dwells;
    When Beauty dies: and the unwearied ken
    Of those who seek a cure for long despair
    Will learn ...

What learning was it that rewarded him? What ghostly knowledge of
eternal love?

    If there are ghosts to raise,
      What shall I call,
    Out of hell's murky haze,
      Heaven's blue pall?
    --Raise my loved long-lost boy
    To lead me to his joy.--
      There are no ghosts to raise;
      Out of death lead no ways;
        Vain is the call.

    --Know'st thou not ghosts to sue?
      No love thou hast.
    Else lie, as I will do,
      And breathe thy last.
    So out of Life's fresh crown
    Fall like a rose-leaf down.
      Thus are the ghosts to woo;
      Thus are all dreams made true,
        Ever to last!



In the whole of French literature it would be difficult to point to a
figure at once so important, so remarkable, and so little known to
English readers as Henri Beyle. Most of us are, no doubt, fairly
familiar with his pseudonym of 'Stendhal'; some of us have read _Le
Rouge et Le Noir_ and _La Chartreuse de Parme_; but how many of us have
any further knowledge of a man whose works are at the present moment
appearing in Paris in all the pomp of an elaborate and complete edition,
every scrap of whose manuscripts is being collected and deciphered with
enthusiastic care, and in honour of whose genius the literary
periodicals of the hour are filling entire numbers with exegesis and
appreciation? The eminent critic, M. André Gide, when asked lately to
name the novel which stands in his opinion first among the novels of
France, declared that since, without a doubt, the place belongs to one
or other of the novels of Stendhal, his only difficulty was in making
his choice among these; and he finally decided upon _La Chartreuse de
Parme_. According to this high authority, Henri Beyle was indisputably
the creator of the greatest work of fiction in the French language, yet
on this side of the Channel we have hardly more than heard of him! Nor
is it merely as a writer that Beyle is admired in France. As a man, he
seems to have come in, sixty or seventy years after his death, for a
singular devotion. There are 'Beylistes,' or 'Stendhaliens,' who dwell
with rapture upon every detail of the master's private life, who extend
with pious care the long catalogue of his amorous adventures, who
discuss the shades of his character with the warmth of personal
friendship, and register his opinions with a zeal which is hardly less
than sectarian. But indeed it is precisely in these extremes of his
French devotees that we shall find a clue to the explanation of our own
indifference. Beyle's mind contained, in a highly exaggerated form, most
of the peculiarly distinctive elements of the French character. This
does not mean that he was a typical Frenchman; far from it. He did not,
like Voltaire or Hugo, strike a note to which the whole national genius
vibrated in response. He has never been, it is unlikely that he ever
will be, a popular writer. His literary reputation in France has been
confined, until perhaps quite lately, to a small distinguished circle.
'On me lira,' he was fond of saying, 'vers 1880'; and the 'Beylistes'
point to the remark in triumph as one further proof of the almost divine
prescience of the great man. But in truth Beyle was always read by the
_élite_ of French critics and writers--'the happy few,' as he used to
call them; and among these he has never been without enthusiastic
admirers. During his lifetime Balzac, in an enormous eulogy of _La
Chartreuse de Parme_, paid him one of the most magnificent compliments
ever received by a man of letters from a fellow craftsman. In the next
generation Taine declared himself his disciple; a little later--'vers
1880,' in fact--we find Zola describing him as 'notre père à tous,' and
M. Bourget followed with elaborate incense. To-day we have writers of
such different tendencies as M. Barrès and M. Gide acclaiming him as a
supreme master, and the fashionable idolatry of the 'Beylistes.' Yet, at
the same time, running parallel to this stream of homage, it is easy to
trace a line of opinion of a totally different kind. It is the opinion
of the more solid, the more middle-class elements of French life. Thus
Sainte-Beuve, in two characteristic 'Lundis,' poured a great deal of
very tepid water upon Balzac's flaming panegyric. Then Flaubert--'vers
1880,' too--confessed that he could see very little in Stendhal. And,
only a few years ago, M. Chuquet, of the Institute, took the trouble to
compose a thick book in which he has collected with scrupulous detail
all the known facts concerning the life and writings of a man whom he
forthwith proceeds to damn through five hundred pages of faint praise.
These discrepancies are curious: how can we account for such odd
differences of taste? How are we to reconcile the admiration of Balzac
with the dislike of Flaubert, the raptures of M. Bourget and M. Barrès
with the sniffs of Sainte-Beuve and M. Chuquet of the Institute? The
explanation seems to be that Beyle occupies a position in France
analogous to that of Shelley in England. Shelley is not a national hero,
not because he lacked the distinctive qualities of an Englishman, but
for the opposite reason--because he possessed so many of them in an
extreme degree. The idealism, the daring, the imagination, and the
unconventionality which give Shakespeare, Nelson, and Dr. Johnson their
place in our pantheon--all these were Shelley's, but they were his in
too undiluted and intense a form, with the result that, while he will
never fail of worshippers among us, there will also always be Englishmen
unable to appreciate him at all. Such, _mutatis mutandis_--and in this
case the proviso is a very large one--is the position of Beyle in
France. After all, when Bunthorne asked for a not-too-French French bean
he showed more commonsense than he intended. Beyle is a too-French
French writer--too French even for the bulk of his own compatriots; and
so for us it is only natural that he should be a little difficult. Yet
this very fact is in itself no bad reason for giving him some attention.
An understanding of this very Gallic individual might give us a new
insight into the whole strange race. And besides, the curious creature
is worth looking at for his own sake too.

But, when one tries to catch him and pin him down on the
dissecting-table, he turns out to be exasperatingly elusive. Even his
most fervent admirers cannot agree among themselves as to the true
nature of his achievements. Balzac thought of him as an artist, Taine
was captivated by his conception of history, M. Bourget adores him as a
psychologist, M. Barrès lays stress upon his 'sentiment d'honneur,' and
the 'Beylistes' see in him the embodiment of modernity. Certainly very
few writers have had the good fortune to appeal at once so constantly
and in so varied a manner to succeeding generations as Henri Beyle. The
circumstances of his life no doubt in part account for the complexity of
his genius. He was born in 1783, when the _ancien régime_ was still in
full swing; his early manhood was spent in the turmoil of the Napoleonic
wars; he lived to see the Bourbon reaction, the Romantic revival, the
revolution of 1830, and the establishment of Louis Philippe; and when he
died, at the age of sixty, the nineteenth century was nearly half-way
through. Thus his life exactly spans the interval between the old world
and the new. His family, which belonged to the magistracy of Grenoble,
preserved the living tradition of the eighteenth century. His
grandfather was a polite, amiable, periwigged sceptic after the manner
of Fontenelle, who always spoke of 'M. de Voltaire' with a smile
'mélangé de respect et d'affection'; and when the Terror came, two
representatives of the people were sent down to Grenoble, with the
result that Beyle's father was pronounced (with a hundred and fifty
others) 'notoirement suspect' of disaffection to the Republic, and
confined to his house. At the age of sixteen Beyle arrived in Paris,
just after the _coup d'état_ of the 18th Brumaire had made Bonaparte
First Consul, and he immediately came under the influence of his cousin
Daru, that extraordinary man to whose terrific energies was due the
organisation of Napoleon's greatest armies, and whose leisure
moments--for apparently he had leisure moments--were devoted to the
composition of idylls in the style of Tibullus and to an enormous
correspondence on literary topics with the poetasters of the day. It was
as a subordinate to this remarkable personage that Beyle spent nearly
the whole of the next fifteen years of his life--in Paris, in Italy, in
Germany, in Russia--wherever the whirling tempest of the Napoleonic
policy might happen to carry him. His actual military experience was
considerably slighter than what, in after years, he liked to give his
friends to understand it had been. For hardly more than a year, during
the Italian campaign, he was in the army as a lieutenant of dragoons:
the rest of his public service was spent in the commissariat department.
The descriptions which he afterwards delighted to give of his adventures
at Marengo, at Jéna, at Wagram, or at the crossing of the Niémen have
been shown by M. Chuquet's unkind researches to have been imaginary.
Beyle was present at only one great battle--Bautzen. 'Nous voyons fort
bien,' he wrote in his journal on the following day, 'de midi à trois
heures, tout ce qu'on peut voir d'une bataille, c'est à dire rien.' He
was, however, at Moscow in 1812, and he accompanied the army through the
horrors of the retreat. When the conflagration had broken out in the
city he had abstracted from one of the deserted palaces a finely bound
copy of the _Facéties_ of Voltaire; the book helped to divert his mind
as he lay crouched by the campfire through the terrible nights that
followed; but, as his companions showed their disapproval of anyone who
could smile over Akakia and Pompignan in such a situation, one day he
left the red-morocco volume behind him in the snow.

The fall of Napoleon threw Beyle out of employment, and the period of
his literary activity began. His books were not successful; his fortune
gradually dwindled; and he drifted in Paris and Italy, and even in
England, more and more disconsolately, with thoughts of suicide
sometimes in his head. But in 1830 the tide of his fortunes turned. The
revolution of July, by putting his friends into power, brought him a
competence in the shape of an Italian consulate; and in the same year he
gained for the first time some celebrity by the publication of _Le Rouge
et Le Noir_. The rest of his life was spent in the easy discharge of his
official duties at Civita Vecchia, alternating with periods of
leave--one of them lasted for three years--spent in Paris among his
friends, of whom the most distinguished was Prosper Mérimée. In 1839
appeared his last published work--_La Chartreuse de Parme_; and three
years later he died suddenly in Paris. His epitaph, composed by himself
with the utmost care, was as follows:


The words, read rightly, indicate many things--his adoration of Italy
and Milan, his eccentricity, his scorn of the conventions of society and
the limits of nationality, his adventurous life, his devotion to
literature, and, lastly, the fact that, through all the varieties of his
experience--in the earliest years of his childhood, in his agitated
manhood, in his calm old age--there had never been a moment when he was
not in love.

Beyle's work falls into two distinct groups--the first consisting of his
novels, and the second of his miscellaneous writings, which include
several biographies, a dissertation on Love, some books of criticism and
travel, his letters and various autobiographical fragments. The bulk of
the latter group is large; much of it has only lately seen the light;
and more of it, at present in MS. at the library of Grenoble, is
promised us by the indefatigable editors of the new complete edition
which is now appearing in Paris. The interest of this portion of Beyle's
writings is almost entirely personal: that of his novels is mainly
artistic. It was as a novelist that Beyle first gained his celebrity,
and it is still as a novelist--or rather as the author of _Le Rouge et
Le Noir_ and _La Chartreuse de Parme_ (for an earlier work, _Armance_,
some short stories, and some later posthumous fragments may be left out
of account)--that he is most widely known to-day. These two remarkable
works lose none of their significance if we consider the time at which
they were composed. It was in the full flood of the Romantic revival,
that marvellous hour in the history of French literature when the
tyranny of two centuries was shattered for ever, and a boundless wealth
of inspirations, possibilities, and beauties before undreamt-of suddenly
burst upon the view. It was the hour of Hugo, Vigny, Musset, Gautier,
Balzac, with their new sonorities and golden cadences, their new lyric
passion and dramatic stress, their new virtuosities, their new impulse
towards the strange and the magnificent, their new desire for diversity
and the manifold comprehension of life. But, if we turn to the
contemporaneous pages of Stendhal, what do we find? We find a succession
of colourless, unemphatic sentences; we find cold reasoning and exact
narrative; we find polite irony and dry wit. The spirit of the
eighteenth century is everywhere; and if the old gentleman with the
perruque and the 'M. de Voltaire' could have taken a glance at his
grandson's novels, he would have rapped his snuff-box and approved. It
is true that Beyle joined the ranks of the Romantics for a moment with a
_brochure_ attacking Racine at the expense of Shakespeare; but this was
merely one of those contradictory changes of front which were inherent
in his nature; and in reality the whole Romantic movement meant nothing
to him. There is a story of a meeting in the house of a common friend
between him and Hugo, in which the two men faced each other like a
couple of cats with their backs up and their whiskers bristling. No
wonder! But Beyle's true attitude towards his great contemporaries was
hardly even one of hostility: he simply could not open their books. As
for Chateaubriand, the god of their idolatry, he loathed him like
poison. He used to describe how, in his youth, he had been on the point
of fighting a duel with an officer who had ventured to maintain that a
phrase in _Atala_--'la cime indéterminée des forêts'--was not
intolerable. Probably he was romancing (M. Chuquet says so); but at any
rate the story sums up symbolically Beyle's attitude towards his art. To
him the whole apparatus of 'fine writing'--the emphatic phrase, the
picturesque epithet, the rounded rhythm--was anathema. The charm that
such ornaments might bring was in reality only a cloak for loose
thinking and feeble observation. Even the style of the eighteenth
century was not quite his ideal; it was too elegant; there was an
artificial neatness about the form which imposed itself upon the
substance, and degraded it. No, there was only one example of the
perfect style, and that was the _Code Napoléon_; for there alone
everything was subordinated to the exact and complete expression of what
was to be said. A statement of law can have no place for irrelevant
beauties, or the vagueness of personal feeling; by its very nature, it
must resemble a sheet of plate glass through which every object may be
seen with absolute distinctness, in its true shape. Beyle declared that
he was in the habit of reading several paragraphs of the Code every
morning after breakfast 'pour prendre le ton.' This again was for long
supposed to be one of his little jokes; but quite lately the searchers
among the MSS. at Grenoble have discovered page after page copied out
from the Code in Beyle's handwriting. No doubt, for that wayward lover
of paradoxes, the real joke lay in everybody taking for a joke what _he_
took quite seriously.

This attempt to reach the exactitude and the detachment of an official
document was not limited to Beyle's style; it runs through the whole
tissue of his work. He wished to present life dispassionately and
intellectually, and if he could have reduced his novels to a series of
mathematical symbols, he would have been charmed. The contrast between
his method and that of Balzac is remarkable. That wonderful art of
materialisation, of the sensuous evocation of the forms, the qualities,
the very stuff and substance of things, which was perhaps Balzac's
greatest discovery, Beyle neither possessed nor wished to possess. Such
matters were to him of the most subordinate importance, which it was no
small part of the novelist's duty to keep very severely in their place.
In the earlier chapters of _Le Rouge et Le Noir_, for instance, he is
concerned with almost the same subject as Balzac in the opening of _Les
Illusions Perdues_--the position of a young man in a provincial town,
brought suddenly from the humblest surroundings into the midst of the
leading society of the place through his intimate relations with a woman
of refinement. But while in Balzac's pages what emerges is the concrete
vision of provincial life down to the last pimple on the nose of the
lowest footman, Beyle concentrates his whole attention on the personal
problem, hints in a few rapid strokes at what Balzac has spent all his
genius in describing, and reveals to us instead, with the precision of a
surgeon at an operation, the inmost fibres of his hero's mind. In fact,
Beyle's method is the classical method--the method of selection, of
omission, of unification, with the object of creating a central
impression of supreme reality. Zola criticises him for disregarding 'le

     Il y a [he says] un épisode célèbre dans 'Le Rouge et Le Noir,' la
     scène où Julien, assis un soir à côté de Mme. de Rénal, sous les
     branches noires d'un arbre, se fait un devoir de lui prendre la
     main, pendant qu'elle cause avec Mme. Derville. C'est un petit
     drame muet d'une grande puissance, et Stendhal y a analysé
     merveilleusement les états d'âme de ses deux personnages. Or, le
     milieu n'apparaît pas une seule fois. Nous pourrions être n'importe
     où dans n'importe quelles conditions, la scène resterait la même
     pourvu qu'il fit noir ... Donnez l'épisode à un écrivain pour qui
     les milieux existent, et dans la défaite de cette femme, il fera
     entrer la nuit, avec ses odeurs, avec ses voix, avec ses voluptés
     molles. Et cet écrivain sera dans la vérité, son tableau sera plus

More complete, perhaps; but would it be more convincing? Zola, with his
statistical conception of art, could not understand that you could tell
a story properly unless you described in detail every contingent fact.
He could not see that Beyle was able, by simply using the symbol 'nuit,'
to suggest the 'milieu' at once to the reader's imagination. Everybody
knows all about the night's accessories--'ses odeurs, ses voix, ses
voluptés molles'; and what a relief it is to be spared, for once in a
way, an elaborate expatiation upon them! And Beyle is perpetually
evoking the gratitude of his readers in this way. 'Comme il insiste
peu!' as M. Gide exclaims. Perhaps the best test of a man's intelligence
is his capacity for making a summary. Beyle knew this, and his novels
are full of passages which read like nothing so much as extraordinarily
able summaries of some enormous original narrative which has been lost.

It was not that he was lacking in observation, that he had no eye for
detail, or no power of expressing it; on the contrary, his vision was of
the sharpest, and his pen could call up pictorial images of startling
vividness, when he wished. But he very rarely did wish: it was apt to
involve a tiresome insistence. In his narratives he is like a brilliant
talker in a sympathetic circle, skimming swiftly from point to point,
taking for granted the intelligence of his audience, not afraid here and
there to throw out a vague 'etc.' when the rest of the sentence is too
obvious to state; always plain of speech, never self-assertive, and
taking care above all things never to force the note. His famous
description of the Battle of Waterloo in _La Chartreuse de Parme_ is
certainly the finest example of this side of his art. Here he produces
an indelible impression by a series of light touches applied with
unerring skill. Unlike Zola, unlike Tolstoi, he shows us neither the
loathsomeness nor the devastation of a battlefield, but its
insignificance, its irrelevant detail, its unmeaning grotesquenesses and
indignities, its incoherence, and its empty weariness. Remembering his
own experience at Bautzen, he has made his hero--a young Italian
impelled by Napoleonic enthusiasm to join the French army as a volunteer
on the eve of the battle--go through the great day in such a state of
vague perplexity that in the end he can never feel quite certain that he
really _was_ at Waterloo. He experiences a succession of trivial and
unpleasant incidents, culminating in his being hoisted off his horse by
two of his comrades, in order that a general, who has had his own shot
from under him, might be supplied with a mount; for the rest, he crosses
and recrosses some fields, comes upon a dead body in a ditch, drinks
brandy with a _vivandière_, gallops over a field covered with dying men,
has an indefinite skirmish in a wood--and it is over. At one moment,
having joined the escort of some generals, the young man allows his
horse to splash into a stream, thereby covering one of the generals
with muddy water from head to foot. The passage that follows is a good
specimen of Beyle's narrative style:

     En arrivant sur l'autre rive, Fabrice y avait trouvé les généraux
     tout seuls; le bruit du canon lui sembla redoubler; ce fut à peine
     s'il entendit le général, par lui si bien mouillé, qui criait à son

     Où as-tu pris ce cheval?

     Fabrice était tellement troublé, qu'il répondit en Italien: _l'ho
     comprato poco fa_. (Je viens de l'acheter à l'instant.)

     Que dis-tu? lui cria le général.

     Mais le tapage devint tellement fort en ce moment, que Fabrice ne
     put lui répondre. Nous avouerons que notre héros était fort peu
     héros en ce moment. Toutefois, la peur ne venait chez lui qu'en
     seconde ligne; il était surtout scandalisé de ce bruit qui lui
     faisait mal aux oreilles. L'escorte prit le galop; on traversait
     une grande pièce de terre labourée, située au delà du canal, et ce
     champ était jonché de cadavres.

How unemphatic it all is! What a paucity of epithet, what a reticence in
explanation! How a Romantic would have lingered over the facial
expression of the general, and how a Naturalist would have analysed that
'tapage'! And yet, with all their efforts, would they have succeeded in
conveying that singular impression of disturbance, of cross-purposes, of
hurry, and of ill-defined fear, which Beyle with his quiet terseness has

It is, however, in his psychological studies that the detached and
intellectual nature of Beyle's method is most clearly seen. When he is
describing, for instance, the development of Julien Sorel's mind in _Le
Rouge et Le Noir_, when he shows us the soul of the young peasant with
its ignorance, its ambition, its pride, going step by step into the
whirling vortex of life--then we seem to be witnessing not so much the
presentment of a fiction as the unfolding of some scientific fact. The
procedure is almost mathematical: a proposition is established, the
inference is drawn, the next proposition follows, and so on until the
demonstration is complete. Here the influence of the eighteenth century
is very strongly marked. Beyle had drunk deeply of that fountain of
syllogism and analysis that flows through the now forgotten pages of
Helvétius and Condillac; he was an ardent votary of logic in its
austerest form--'la lo-gique' he used to call it, dividing the syllables
in a kind of awe-inspired emphasis; and he considered the ratiocinative
style of Montesquieu almost as good as that of the _Code Civil_.

If this had been all, if we could sum him up simply as an acute and
brilliant writer who displays the scientific and prosaic sides of the
French genius in an extreme degree, Beyle's position in literature would
present very little difficulty. He would take his place at once as a
late--an abnormally late--product of the eighteenth century. But he was
not that. In his blood there was a virus which had never tingled in the
veins of Voltaire. It was the virus of modern life--that new
sensibility, that new passionateness, which Rousseau had first made
known to the world, and which had won its way over Europe behind the
thunder of Napoleon's artillery. Beyle had passed his youth within
earshot of that mighty roar, and his inmost spirit could never lose the
echo of it. It was in vain that he studied Condillac and modelled his
style on the Code; in vain that he sang the praises of _la lo-gique_,
shrugged his shoulders at the Romantics, and turned the cold eye of a
scientific investigator upon the phenomena of life; he remained
essentially a man of feeling. His unending series of _grandes passions_
was one unmistakable sign of this; another was his intense devotion to
the Fine Arts. Though his taste in music and painting was the taste of
his time--the literary and sentimental taste of the age of Rossini and
Canova--he nevertheless brought to the appreciation of works of art a
kind of intimate gusto which reveals the genuineness of his emotion. The
'jouissances d'ange,' with which at his first entrance into Italy he
heard at Novara the _Matrimonio Segreto_ of Cimarosa, marked an epoch in
his life. He adored Mozart: 'I can imagine nothing more distasteful to
me,' he said, 'than a thirty-mile walk through the mud; but I would
take one at this moment if I knew that I should hear a good performance
of _Don Giovanni_ at the end of it.' The Virgins of Guido Reni sent him
into ecstasies and the Goddesses of Correggio into raptures. In short,
as he himself admitted, he never could resist 'le Beau' in whatever form
he found it. _Le Beau!_ The phrase is characteristic of the peculiar
species of ingenuous sensibility which so oddly agitated this sceptical
man of the world. His whole vision of life was coloured by it. His sense
of values was impregnated with what he called his 'espagnolisme'--his
immense admiration for the noble and the high-sounding in speech or act
or character--an admiration which landed him often enough in hysterics
and absurdity. Yet this was the soil in which a temperament of caustic
reasonableness had somehow implanted itself. The contrast is surprising,
because it is so extreme. Other men have been by turns sensible and
enthusiastic: but who before or since has combined the emotionalism of a
schoolgirl with the cold penetration of a judge on the bench? Beyle, for
instance, was capable of writing, in one of those queer epitaphs of
himself which he was constantly composing, the high-falutin' words 'Il
respecta un seul homme: Napoléon'; and yet, as he wrote them, he must
have remembered well enough that when he met Napoleon face to face his
unabashed scrutiny had detected swiftly that the man was a play-actor,
and a vulgar one at that. Such were the contradictions of his double
nature, in which the elements, instead of being mixed, came together, as
it were, in layers, like superimposed strata of chalk and flint.

In his novels this cohabitation of opposites is responsible both for
what is best and what is worst. When the two forces work in unison the
result is sometimes of extraordinary value--a product of a kind which it
would be difficult to parallel in any other author. An eye of icy gaze
is turned upon the tumultuous secrets of passion, and the pangs of love
are recorded in the language of Euclid. The image of the surgeon
inevitably suggests itself--the hand with the iron nerve and the swift
knife laying bare the trembling mysteries within. It is the intensity of
Beyle's observation, joined with such an exactitude of exposition, that
makes his dry pages sometimes more thrilling than the wildest tale of
adventure or all the marvels of high romance. The passage in _La
Chartreuse de Parme_ describing Count Mosca's jealousy has this quality,
which appears even more clearly in the chapters of _Le Rouge et Le Noir_
concerning Julien Sorel and Mathilde de la Mole. Here Beyle has a
subject after his own heart. The loves of the peasant youth and the
aristocratic girl, traversed and agitated by their overweening pride,
and triumphing at last rather over themselves than over each
other--these things make up a gladiatorial combat of 'espagnolismes,'
which is displayed to the reader with a supreme incisiveness. The climax
is reached when Mathilde at last gives way to her passion, and throws
herself into the arms of Julien, who forces himself to make no response:

     Ses bras se roidirent, tant l'effort imposé par la politique était
     pénible. Je ne dois pas même me permettre de presser contre mon
     coeur ce corps souple et charmant; ou elle me méprise, ou elle me
     maltraite. Quel affreux caractère!

     Et en maudissant le caractère de Mathilde, il l'en aimait cent fois
     plus; il lui semblait avoir dans ses bras une reine.

     L'impassible froideur de Julien redoubla le malheur de Mademoiselle
     de la Mole. Elle était loin d'avoir le sang-froid nécessaire pour
     chercher à deviner dans ses yeux ce qu'il sentait pour elle en cet
     instant. Elle ne put se résoudre à le regarder; elle tremblait de
     rencontrer l'expression du mépris.

     Assise sur le divan de la bibliothèque, immobile et la tête tournée
     du côté opposé à Julien, elle était en proie aux plus vives
     douleurs que l'orgueil et l'amour puissent faire éprouver à une âme
     humaine. Dans quelle atroce démarche elle venait de tomber!

     Il m'était réservé, malheureuse que je suis! de voir repoussées les
     avances les plus indécentes! Et repoussées par qui? ajoutait
     l'orgueil fou de douleur, repoussées par un domestique de mon père.

     C'est ce que je ne souffrirai pas, dit-elle à haute voix.

At that moment she suddenly sees some unopened letters addressed to
Julien by another woman.

     --Ainsi, s'écria-t-elle hors d'elle-même, non seulement vous êtes
     bien avec elle, mais encore vous la méprisez. Vous, un homme de
     rien, mépriser Madame la Maréchale de Fervaques!

     --Ah! pardon, mon ami, ajouta-t-elle en se jetant à ses genoux,
     méprise-moi si tu veux, mais aime-moi, je ne puis plus vivre privée
     de ton amour. Et elle tomba tout à fait évanouie.

     --La voilà donc, cette orgueilleuse, à mes pieds! se dit Julien.

Such is the opening of this wonderful scene, which contains the
concentrated essence of Beyle's genius, and which, in its combination of
high passion, intellectual intensity, and dramatic force, may claim
comparison with the great dialogues of Corneille.

'Je fais tous les efforts possibles pour être _sec_,' he says of
himself. 'Je veux imposer silence à mon coeur, qui croit avoir beaucoup
à dire. Je tremble toujours de n'avoir écrit qu'un soupir, quand je
crois avoir noté une vérité.' Often he succeeds, but not always. At
times his desire for dryness becomes a mannerism and fills whole pages
with tedious and obscure argumentation. And, at other times, his
sensibility gets the upper hand, throws off all control, and revels in
an orgy of melodrama and 'espagnolisme.' Do what he will, he cannot keep
up a consistently critical attitude towards the creatures of his
imagination: he depreciates his heroes with extreme care, but in the end
they get the better of him and sweep him off his feet. When, in _La
Chartreuse de Parme_, Fabrice kills a man in a duel, his first action is
to rush to a looking-glass to see whether his beauty has been injured by
a cut in the face; and Beyle does not laugh at this; he is impressed by
it. In the same book he lavishes all his art on the creation of the
brilliant, worldly, sceptical Duchesse de Sanseverina, and then, not
quite satisfied, he makes her concoct and carry out the murder of the
reigning Prince in order to satisfy a desire for amorous revenge. This
really makes her perfect. But the most striking example of Beyle's
inability to resist the temptation of sacrificing his head to his heart
is in the conclusion of _Le Rouge et Le Noir_, where Julien, to be
revenged on a former mistress who defames him, deliberately goes down
into the country, buys a pistol, and shoots the lady in church. Not only
is Beyle entranced by the _bravura_ of this senseless piece of
brutality, but he destroys at a blow the whole atmosphere of impartial
observation which fills the rest of the book, lavishes upon his hero the
blindest admiration, and at last, at the moment of Julien's execution,
even forgets himself so far as to write a sentence in the romantic
style: 'Jamais cette tête n'avait été aussi poétique qu'au moment où
elle allait tomber.' Just as Beyle, in his contrary mood, carries to an
extreme the French love of logical precision, so in these rhapsodies he
expresses in an exaggerated form a very different but an equally
characteristic quality of his compatriots--their instinctive
responsiveness to fine poses. It is a quality that Englishmen in
particular find it hard to sympathise with. They remain stolidily
unmoved when their neighbours are in ecstasies. They are repelled by the
'noble' rhetoric of the French Classical Drama; they find the tirades of
Napoleon, which animated the armies of France to victory, pieces of
nauseous clap-trap. And just now it is this side--to us the obviously
weak side--of Beyle's genius that seems to be most in favour with French
critics. To judge from M. Barrès, writing dithyrambically of Beyle's
'sentiment d'honneur,' that is his true claim to greatness. The
sentiment of honour is all very well, one is inclined to mutter on this
side of the Channel; but oh, for a little sentiment of humour too!

The view of Beyle's personality which his novels give us may be seen
with far greater detail in his miscellaneous writings. It is to these
that his most modern admirers devote their main attention--particularly
to his letters and his autobiographies; but they are all of them highly
characteristic of their author, and--whatever the subject may be, from a
guide to Rome to a life of Napoleon--one gathers in them, scattered up
and down through their pages, a curious, dimly adumbrated
philosophy--an ill-defined and yet intensely personal point of view--_le
Beylisme_. It is in fact almost entirely in this secondary quality that
their interest lies; their ostensible subject-matter is unimportant. An
apparent exception is the book in which Beyle has embodied his
reflections upon Love. The volume, with its meticulous apparatus of
analysis, definition, and classification, which gives it the air of
being a parody of _L'Esprit des Lois_, is yet full of originality, of
lively anecdote and keen observation. Nobody but Beyle could have
written it; nobody but Beyle could have managed to be at once so
stimulating and so jejune, so clear-sighted and so exasperating. But
here again, in reality, it is not the question at issue that is
interesting--one learns more of the true nature of Love in one or two of
La Bruyère's short sentences than in all Beyle's three hundred pages of
disquisition; but what is absorbing is the sense that comes to one, as
one reads it, of the presence, running through it all, of a restless and
problematical spirit. 'Le Beylisme' is certainly not susceptible of any
exact definition; its author was too capricious, too unmethodical, in
spite of his _lo-gique_, ever to have framed a coherent philosophy; it
is essentially a thing of shreds and patches, of hints, suggestions, and
quick visions of flying thoughts. M. Barrès says that what lies at the
bottom of it is a 'passion de collectionner les belles énergies.' But
there are many kinds of 'belles énergies,' and some of them certainly do
not fit into the framework of 'le Beylisme.' 'Quand je suis arrêté par
des voleurs, ou qu'on me tire des coups de fusil, je me sens une grande
colère contre le gouvernement et le curé de l'endroit. Quand au voleur,
il me plaît, s'il est énergique, car il m'amuse.' It was the energy of
self-assertiveness that pleased Beyle; that of self-restraint did not
interest him. The immorality of the point of view is patent, and at
times it appears to be simply based upon the common selfishness of an
egotist. But in reality it was something more significant than that. The
'chasse au bonheur' which Beyle was always advocating was no respectable
epicureanism; it had about it a touch of the fanatical. There was
anarchy in it--a hatred of authority, an impatience with custom, above
all a scorn for the commonplace dictates of ordinary morality. Writing
his memoirs at the age of fifty-two, Beyle looked back with pride on the
joy that he had felt, as a child of ten, amid his royalist family at
Grenoble, when the news came of the execution of Louis XVI. His father
announced it:

     --C'en est fait, dit-il avec un gros soupir, ils l'ont assassiné.

     Je fus saisi d'un des plus vifs mouvements de joie que j'ai éprouvé
     en ma vie. Le lecteur pensera peut-être que je suis cruel, mais tel
     j'étais à 5 X 2, tel je suis à 10 X 5 + 2 ... Je puis dire que
     l'approbation des êtres, que je regarde comme faibles, m'est
     absolument indifférente.

These are the words of a born rebel, and such sentiments are constantly
recurring in his books. He is always discharging his shafts against some
established authority; and, of course, he reserved his bitterest hatred
for the proudest and most insidious of all authorities--the Roman
Catholic Church. It is odd to find some of the 'Beylistes' solemnly
hailing the man whom the power of the Jesuits haunted like a nightmare,
and whose account of the seminary in _Le Rouge et Le Noir_ is one of the
most scathing pictures of religious tyranny ever drawn, as a prophet of
the present Catholic movement in France. For in truth, if Beyle was a
prophet of anything he was a prophet of that spirit of revolt in modern
thought which first reached a complete expression in the pages of
Nietzsche. His love of power and self-will, his aristocratic outlook,
his scorn of the Christian virtues, his admiration of the Italians of
the Renaissance, his repudiation of the herd and the morality of the
herd--these qualities, flashing strangely among his observations on
Rossini and the Coliseum, his reflections on the memories of the past
and his musings on the ladies of the present, certainly give a
surprising foretaste of the fiery potion of Zarathustra. The creator of
the Duchesse de Sanseverina had caught more than a glimpse of the
transvaluation of all values. Characteristically enough, the appearance
of this new potentiality was only observed by two contemporary forces in
European society--Goethe and the Austrian police. It is clear that
Goethe alone among the critics of the time understood that Beyle was
something more than a novelist, and discerned an uncanny significance in
his pages. 'I do not like reading M. de Stendhal,' he observed to
Winckelmann, 'but I cannot help doing so. He is extremely free and
extremely impertinent, and ... I recommend you to buy all his books.' As
for the Austrian police, they had no doubt about the matter. Beyle's
book of travel, _Rome, Naples et Florence_, was, they decided,
pernicious and dangerous in the highest degree; and the poor man was
hunted out of Milan in consequence.

It would be a mistake to suppose that Beyle displayed in his private
life the qualities of the superman. Neither his virtues nor his vices
were on the grand scale. In his own person he never seems to have
committed an 'espagnolisme.' Perhaps his worst sin was that of
plagiarism: his earliest book, a life of Haydn, was almost entirely
'lifted' from the work of a learned German; and in his next he embodied
several choice extracts culled from the _Edinburgh Review_. On this
occasion he was particularly delighted, since the _Edinburgh_, in
reviewing the book, innocently selected for special approbation the very
passages which he had stolen. It is singular that so original a writer
should have descended to pilfering. But Beyle was nothing if not
inconsistent. With all his Classicism he detested Racine; with all his
love of music he could see nothing in Beethoven; he adored Italy, and,
so soon as he was given his Italian consulate, he was usually to be
found in Paris. As his life advanced he grew more and more wayward,
capricious, and eccentric. He indulged in queer mystifications, covering
his papers with false names and anagrams--for the police, he said, were
on his track, and he must be careful. His love-affairs became less and
less fortunate; but he was still sometimes successful, and when he was
he registered the fact--upon his braces. He dreamed and drifted a great
deal. He went up to San Pietro in Montorio, and looking over Rome, wrote
the initials of his past mistresses in the dust. He tried to make up his
mind whether Napoleon after all _was_ the only being he respected;
no--there was also Mademoiselle de Lespinasse. He went to the opera at
Naples and noted that 'la musique parfaite, comme la pantomime parfaite,
me fait songer à ce qui forme actuellement l'objet de mes rêveries et me
fait venir des idées excellentes: ... or, ce soir, je ne puis me
dissimuler que j'ai le malheur _of being too great an admirer of Lady
L...._' He abandoned himself to 'les charmantes visions du Beau qui
souvent encore remplissent ma tête à l'âge de _fifty-two_.' He wondered
whether Montesquieu would have thought his writings worthless. He sat
scribbling his reminiscences by the fire till the night drew on and the
fire went out, and still he scribbled, more and more illegibly, until at
last the paper was covered with hieroglyphics undecipherable even by M.
Chuquet himself. He wandered among the ruins of ancient Rome, playing to
perfection the part of cicerone to such travellers as were lucky enough
to fall in with him; and often his stout and jovial form, with the
satyric look in the sharp eyes and the compressed lips, might be seen by
the wayside in the Campagna, as he stood and jested with the reapers or
the vine-dressers or with the girls coming out, as they had come since
the days of Horace, to draw water from the fountains of Tivoli. In more
cultivated society he was apt to be nervous; for his philosophy was
never proof against the terror of being laughed at. But sometimes, late
at night, when the surroundings were really sympathetic, he could be
very happy among his friends. 'Un salon de huit ou dix personnes,' he
said, 'dont toutes les femmes ont eu des amants, où la conversation est
gaie, anecdotique, et où l'on prend du punch léger à minuit et demie,
est l'endroit du monde où je me trouve le mieux.'

And in such a Paradise of Frenchmen we may leave Henri Beyle.



The Pitt nose has a curious history. One can watch its transmigrations
through three lives. The tremendous hook of old Lord Chatham, under
whose curve Empires came to birth, was succeeded by the bleak
upward-pointing nose of William Pitt the younger--the rigid symbol of an
indomitable _hauteur_. With Lady Hester Stanhope came the final stage.
The nose, still with an upward tilt in it, had lost its masculinity; the
hard bones of the uncle and the grandfather had disappeared. Lady
Hester's was a nose of wild ambitions, of pride grown fantastical, a
nose that scorned the earth, shooting off, one fancies, towards some
eternally eccentric heaven. It was a nose, in fact, altogether in the

Noses, of course, are aristocratic things; and Lady Hester was the child
of a great aristocracy. But, in her case, the aristocratic impulse,
which had carried her predecessors to glory, had less fortunate results.
There has always been a strong strain of extravagance in the governing
families of England; from time to time they throw off some peculiarly
ill-balanced member, who performs a strange meteoric course. A century
earlier, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was an illustrious example of this
tendency: that splendid comet, after filling half the heavens, vanished
suddenly into desolation and darkness. Lady Hester Stanhope's spirit was
still more uncommon; and she met with a most uncommon fate.

She was born in 1776, the eldest daughter of that extraordinary Earl
Stanhope, Jacobin and inventor, who made the first steamboat and the
first calculating machine, who defended the French Revolution in the
House of Lords and erased the armorial bearings--'damned aristocratical
nonsense'--from his carriages and his plate. Her mother, Chatham's
daughter and the favourite sister of Pitt, died when she was four years
old. The second Lady Stanhope, a frigid woman of fashion, left her
stepdaughters to the care of futile governesses, while 'Citizen
Stanhope' ruled the household from his laboratory with the violence of a
tyrant. It was not until Lady Hester was twenty-four that she escaped
from the slavery of her father's house, by going to live with her
grandmother, Lady Chatham. On Lady Chatham's death, three years later,
Pitt offered her his protection, and she remained with him until his
death in 1806.

Her three years with Pitt, passed in the very centre of splendid power,
were brilliant and exciting. She flung herself impetuously into the
movement and the passion of that vigorous society; she ruled her uncle's
household with high vivacity; she was liked and courted; if not
beautiful, she was fascinating--very tall, with a very fair and clear
complexion, and dark-blue eyes, and a countenance of wonderful
expressiveness. Her talk, full of the trenchant nonchalance of those
days, was both amusing and alarming: 'My dear Hester, what are you
saying?' Pitt would call out to her from across the room. She was
devoted to her uncle, who warmly returned her affection. She was
devoted, too--but in a more dangerous fashion--to the intoxicating
Antinous, Lord Granville Leveson Gower. The reckless manner in which she
carried on this love-affair was the first indication of something
overstrained, something wild and unaccountable, in her temperament. Lord
Granville, after flirting with her outrageously, declared that he could
never marry her, and went off on an embassy to St. Petersburg. Her
distraction was extreme: she hinted that she would follow him to Russia;
she threatened, and perhaps attempted, suicide; she went about telling
everybody that he had jilted her. She was taken ill, and then there were
rumours of an accouchement, which, it was said, she took care to
_afficher_, by appearing without rouge and fainting on the slightest
provocation. In the midst of these excursions and alarums there was a
terrible and unexpected catastrophe. Pitt died. And Lady Hester
suddenly found herself a dethroned princess, living in a small house in
Montague Square on a pension of £1200 a year.

She did not abandon society, however, and the tongue of gossip continued
to wag. Her immediate marriage with a former lover, Mr. Hill, was
announced: 'il est bien bon,' said Lady Bessborough. Then it was
whispered that Canning was 'le régnant'--that he was with her 'not only
all day, but almost all night.' She quarrelled with Canning and became
attached to Sir John Moore. Whether she was actually engaged to marry
him--as she seems to have asserted many years later--is doubtful; his
letters to her, full as they are of respectful tenderness, hardly
warrant the conclusion; but it is certain that he died with her name on
his lips. Her favourite brother, Charles, was killed beside him; and it
was natural that under this double blow she should have retired from
London. She buried herself in Wales; but not for long. In 1810 she set
sail for Gibraltar with her brother James, who was rejoining his
regiment in the Peninsula. She never returned to England.

There can be no doubt that at the time of her departure the thought of a
lifelong exile was far from her mind. It was only gradually, as she
moved further and further eastward, that the prospect of life in
England--at last even in Europe--grew distasteful to her; as late as
1816 she was talking of a visit to Provence. Accompanied by two or three
English fellow travellers, her English maid, Mrs. Fry, her private
physician, Dr. Meryon, and a host of servants, she progressed, slowly
and in great state, through Malta and Athens, to Constantinople. She was
conveyed in battleships, and lodged with governors and ambassadors.
After spending many months in Constantinople, Lady Hester discovered
that she was 'dying to see Napoleon with her own eyes,' and attempted
accordingly to obtain passports to France. The project was stopped by
Stratford Canning, the English Minister, upon which she decided to visit
Egypt, and, chartering a Greek vessel, sailed for Alexandria in the
winter of 1811. Off the island of Rhodes a violent storm sprang up; the
whole party were forced to abandon the ship, and to take refuge upon a
bare rock, where they remained without food or shelter for thirty hours.
Eventually, after many severe privations, Alexandria was reached in
safety; but this disastrous voyage was a turning-point in Lady Hester's
career. At Rhodes she was forced to exchange her torn and dripping
raiment for the attire of a Turkish gentleman--a dress which she never
afterwards abandoned. It was the first step in her orientalization.

She passed the next two years in a triumphal progress. Her appearance in
Cairo caused the greatest sensation, and she was received in state by
the Pasha, Mehemet Ali. Her costume on this occasion was gorgeous: she
wore a turban of cashmere, a brocaded waistcoat, a priceless pelisse,
and a vast pair of purple velvet pantaloons embroidered all over in
gold. She was ushered by chamberlains with silver wands through the
inner courts of the palace to a pavilion in the harem, where the Pasha,
rising to receive her, conversed with her for an hour. From Cairo she
turned northwards, visiting Jaffa, Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus. Her
travelling dress was of scarlet cloth trimmed with gold, and, when on
horseback, she wore over the whole a white-hooded and tasselled burnous.
Her maid, too, was forced, protesting, into trousers, though she
absolutely refused to ride astride. Poor Mrs. Fry had gone through
various and dreadful sufferings--shipwreck and starvation, rats and
black-beetles unspeakable--but she retained her equanimity. Whatever
her Ladyship might think fit to be, _she_ was an Englishwoman to the
last, and Philippaki was Philip Parker and Mustapha Mr. Farr.

Outside Damascus, Lady Hester was warned that the town was the most
fanatical in Turkey, and that the scandal of a woman entering it in
man's clothes, unveiled, would be so great as to be dangerous. She was
begged to veil herself, and to make her entry under cover of darkness.
'I must take the bull by the horns,' she replied, and rode into the
city unveiled at midday. The population were thunderstruck; but at last
their amazement gave way to enthusiasm, and the incredible lady was
hailed everywhere as Queen, crowds followed her, coffee was poured out
before her, and the whole bazaar rose as she passed. Yet she was not
satisfied with her triumphs; she would do something still more glorious
and astonishing; she would plunge into the desert and visit the ruins of
Palmyra, which only half-a-dozen of the boldest travellers had ever
seen. The Pasha of Damascus offered her a military escort, but she
preferred to throw herself upon the hospitality of the Bedouin Arabs,
who, overcome by her horsemanship, her powers of sight, and her courage,
enrolled her a member of their tribe. After a week's journey in their
company, she reached Palmyra, where the inhabitants met her with wild
enthusiasm, and under the Corinthian columns of Zenobia's temple crowned
her head with flowers. This happened in March 1813; it was the apogee of
Lady Hester's life. Henceforward her fortunes gradually but steadily

The rumour of her exploits had spread through Syria, and from the year
1813 onwards, her reputation was enormous. She was received everywhere
as a royal, almost as a supernatural, personage: she progressed from
town to town amid official prostrations and popular rejoicings. But she
herself was in a state of hesitation and discontent. Her future was
uncertain; she had grown scornful of the West--must she return to it?
The East alone was sympathetic, the East alone was tolerable--but could
she cut herself off for ever from the past? At Laodicea she was suddenly
struck down by the plague, and, after months of illness, it was borne in
upon her that all was vanity. She rented an empty monastery on the
slopes of Mount Lebanon, not far from Sayda (the ancient Sidon), and
took up her abode there. Then her mind took a new surprising turn; she
dashed to Ascalon, and, with the permission of the Sultan, began
excavations in a ruined temple with the object of discovering a hidden
treasure of three million pieces of gold. Having unearthed nothing but
an antique statue, which, in order to prove her disinterestedness, she
ordered her appalled doctor to break into little bits, she returned to
her monastery. Finally, in 1816, she moved to another house, further up
Mount Lebanon, and near the village of Djoun; and at Djoun she remained
until her death, more than twenty years later.

Thus, almost accidentally as it seems, she came to the end of her
wanderings, and the last, long, strange, mythical period of her
existence began. Certainly the situation that she had chosen was
sublime. Her house, on the top of a high bare hill among great
mountains, was a one-storied group of buildings, with many ramifying
courts and out-houses, and a garden of several acres surrounded by a
rampart wall. The garden, which she herself had planted and tended with
the utmost care, commanded a glorious prospect. On every side but one
the vast mountains towered, but to the west there was an opening,
through which, in the far distance, the deep blue Mediterranean was
revealed. From this romantic hermitage, her singular renown spread over
the world. European travellers who had been admitted to her presence
brought back stories full of Eastern mystery; they told of a peculiar
grandeur, a marvellous prestige, an imperial power. The precise nature
of Lady Hester's empire was, indeed, dubious; she was in fact merely the
tenant of her Djoun establishment, for which she paid a rent of £20 a
year. But her dominion was not subject to such limitations. She ruled
imaginatively, transcendentally; the solid glory of Chatham had been
transmuted into the phantasy of an Arabian Night. No doubt she herself
believed that she was something more than a chimerical Empress. When a
French traveller was murdered in the desert, she issued orders for the
punishment of the offenders; punished they were, and Lady Hester
actually received the solemn thanks of the French Chamber. It seems
probable, however, that it was the Sultan's orders rather than Lady
Hester's which produced the desired effect. In her feud with her
terrible neighbour, the Emir Beshyr, she maintained an undaunted front.
She kept the tyrant at bay; but perhaps the Emir, who, so far as
physical force was concerned, held her in the hollow of his hand, might
have proceeded to extremities if he had not received a severe
admonishment from Stratford Canning at Constantinople. What is certain
is that the ignorant and superstitious populations around her feared and
loved her, and that she, reacting to her own mysterious prestige, became
at last even as they. She plunged into astrology and divination; she
awaited the moment when, in accordance with prophecy, she should enter
Jerusalem side by side with the Mahdi, the Messiah; she kept two sacred
horses, destined, by sure signs, to carry her and him to their last
triumph. The Orient had mastered her utterly. She was no longer an
Englishwoman, she declared; she loathed England; she would never go
there again; and if she went anywhere, it would be to Arabia, to 'her
own people.'

Her expenses were immense--not only for herself but for others, for she
poured out her hospitality with a noble hand. She ran into debt, and was
swindled by the moneylenders; her steward cheated her, her servants
pilfered her; her distress was at last acute. She fell into fits of
terrible depression, bursting into dreadful tears and savage cries. Her
habits grew more and more eccentric. She lay in bed all day, and sat up
all night, talking unceasingly for hour upon hour to Dr. Meryon, who
alone of her English attendants remained with her, Mrs. Fry having
withdrawn to more congenial scenes long since. The doctor was a
poor-spirited and muddle-headed man, but he was a good listener; and
there he sat while that extraordinary talk flowed on--talk that scaled
the heavens and ransacked the earth, talk in which memories of an
abolished past--stories of Mr. Pitt and of George III., vituperations
against Mr. Canning, mimicries of the Duchess of Devonshire--mingled
phantasmagorically with doctrines of Fate and planetary influence, and
speculations on the Arabian origin of the Scottish clans, and
lamentations over the wickedness of servants; till the unaccountable
figure, with its robes and its long pipe, loomed through the
tobacco-smoke like some vision of a Sibyl in a dream. She might be
robbed and ruined, her house might crumble over her head; but she talked
on. She grew ill and desperate; yet still she talked. Did she feel that
the time was coming when she should talk no more?

Her melancholy deepened into a settled gloom when the news came of her
brother James's death. She had quarrelled with all her English friends,
except Lord Hardwicke--with her eldest brother, with her sister, whose
kind letters she left unanswered; she was at daggers drawn with the
English consul at Alexandria, who worried her about her debts. Ill and
harassed, she hardly moved from her bedroom, while her servants rifled
her belongings and reduced the house to a condition of indescribable
disorder and filth. Three dozen hungry cats ranged through the rooms,
filling the courts with frightful noises. Dr. Meryon, in the midst of it
all, knew not whether to cry or laugh. At moments the great lady
regained her ancient fire; her bells pealed tumultuously for hours
together; or she leapt up, and arraigned the whole trembling household
before her, with her Arab war-mace in her hand. Her finances grew more
and more involved--grew at length irremediable. It was in vain that the
faithful Lord Hardwicke pressed her to return to England to settle her
affairs. Return to England, indeed! To England, that ungrateful,
miserable country, where, so far as she could see, they had forgotten
the very name of Mr. Pitt! The final blow fell when a letter came from
the English authorities threatening to cut off her pension for the
payment of her debts. Upon that, after dispatching a series of furious
missives to Lord Palmerston, to Queen Victoria, to the Duke of
Wellington, she renounced the world. She commanded Dr. Meryon to return
to Europe, and he--how could he have done it?--obeyed her. Her health
was broken, she was over sixty, and, save for her vile servants,
absolutely alone. She lived for nearly a year after he left her--we know
no more. She had vowed never again to pass through the gate of her
house; but did she sometimes totter to her garden--that beautiful garden
which she had created, with its roses and its fountains, its alleys and
its bowers--and look westward at the sea? The end came in June 1839. Her
servants immediately possessed themselves of every moveable object in
the house. But Lady Hester cared no longer: she was lying back in her
bed--inexplicable, grand, preposterous, with her nose in the air.



Clio is one of the most glorious of the Muses; but, as everyone knows,
she (like her sister Melpomene) suffers from a sad defect: she is apt to
be pompous. With her buskins, her robes, and her airs of importance she
is at times, indeed, almost intolerable. But fortunately the Fates have
provided a corrective. They have decreed that in her stately advances
she should be accompanied by certain apish, impish creatures, who run
round her tittering, pulling long noses, threatening to trip the good
lady up, and even sometimes whisking to one side the corner of her
drapery, and revealing her undergarments in a most indecorous manner.
They are the diarists and letter-writers, the gossips and journalists of
the past, the Pepyses and Horace Walpoles and Saint-Simons, whose
function it is to reveal to us the littleness underlying great events
and to remind us that history itself was once real life. Among them is
Mr. Creevey. The Fates decided that Mr. Creevey should accompany Clio,
with appropriate gestures, during that part of her progress which is
measured by the thirty years preceding the accession of Victoria; and
the little wretch did his job very well.

It might almost be said that Thomas Creevey was 'born about three of
the clock in the afternoon, with a white head and something a round
belly.' At any rate, we know nothing of his youth, save that he was
educated at Cambridge, and he presents himself to us in the early years
of the nineteenth century as a middle-aged man, with a character and a
habit of mind already fixed and an established position in the world. In
1803 we find him what he was to be for the rest of his life--a member of
Parliament, a familiar figure in high society, an insatiable gossip
with a rattling tongue. That he should have reached and held the place
he did is a proof of his talents, for he was a very poor man; for the
greater part of his life his income was less than £200 a year. But those
were the days of patrons and jobs, pocket-boroughs and sinecures; they
were the days, too, of vigorous, bold living, torrential talk, and
splendid hospitality; and it was only natural that Mr. Creevey,
penniless and immensely entertaining, should have been put into
Parliament by a Duke, and welcomed in every great Whig House in the
country with open arms. It was only natural that, spending his whole
political life as an advanced Whig, bent upon the destruction of abuses,
he should have begun that life as a member for a pocket-borough and
ended it as the holder of a sinecure. For a time his poverty was
relieved by his marriage with a widow who had means of her own; but Mrs.
Creevey died, her money went to her daughters by her previous husband,
and Mr. Creevey reverted to a possessionless existence--without a house,
without servants, without property of any sort--wandering from country
mansion to country mansion, from dinner-party to dinner-party, until at
last in his old age, on the triumph of the Whigs, he was rewarded with a
pleasant little post which brought him in about £600 a year. Apart from
these small ups and downs of fortune, Mr. Creevey's life was
static--static spiritually, that is to say; for physically he was always
on the move. His adventures were those of an observer, not of an actor;
but he was an observer so very near the centre of things that he was by
no means dispassionate; the rush of great events would whirl him round
into the vortex, like a leaf in an eddy of wind; he would rave, he would
gesticulate, with the fury of a complete partisan; and then, when the
wind dropped, he would be found, like the leaf, very much where he was
before. Luckily, too, he was not merely an agitated observer, but an
observer who delighted in passing on his agitations, first with his
tongue, and then--for so the Fates had decided--with his pen. He wrote
easily, spicily, and persistently; he had a favourite stepdaughter,
with whom he corresponded for years; and so it happens that we have
preserved to us, side by side with the majestic march of Clio (who, of
course, paid not the slightest attention to him), Mr. Creevey's
exhilarating _pas de chat_.

Certainly he was not over-given to the praise of famous men. There are
no great names in his vocabulary--only nicknames: George III. is 'Old
Nobs,' the Regent 'Prinney,' Wellington 'the Beau,' Lord John Russell
'Pie and Thimble,' Brougham, with whom he was on friendly terms, is
sometimes 'Bruffam,' sometimes 'Beelzebub,' and sometimes 'Old
Wickedshifts'; and Lord Durham, who once remarked that one could 'jog
along on £40,000 a year,' is 'King Jog.' The latter was one of the great
Whig potentates, and it was characteristic of Creevey that his
scurrility should have been poured out with a special gusto over his
own leaders. The Tories were villains, of course--Canning was all
perfidy and 'infinite meanness,' Huskisson a mass of 'intellectual
confusion and mental dirt,' Castlereagh ... But all that was obvious and
hardly worth mentioning; what was really too exacerbating to be borne
was the folly and vileness of the Whigs. 'King Jog,' the 'Bogey,'
'Mother Cole,' and the rest of them--they were either knaves or
imbeciles. Lord Grey was an exception; but then Lord Grey, besides
passing the Reform Bill, presented Mr. Creevey with the Treasurership of
the Ordnance, and in fact was altogether a most worthy man.

Another exception was the Duke of Wellington, whom, somehow or other, it
was impossible not to admire. Creevey, throughout his life, had a trick
of being 'in at the death' on every important occasion; in the House, at
Brooks's, at the Pavilion, he invariably popped up at the critical
moment; and so one is not surprised to find him at Brussels during
Waterloo. More than that, he was the first English civilian to see the
Duke after the battle, and his report of the conversation is admirable;
one can almost hear the 'It has been a damned serious business. Blücher
and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing--the
nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,' and the 'By God! I don't
think it would have done if I had not been there.' On this occasion the
Beau spoke, as was fitting, 'with the greatest gravity all the time, and
without the least approach to anything like triumph or joy.' But at
other times he was jocular, especially when 'Prinney' was the subject.
'By God! you never saw such a figure in your life as he is. Then he
speaks and swears so like old Falstaff, that damn me if I was not
ashamed to walk into the room with him.'

When, a few years later, the trial of Queen Caroline came on, it was
inevitable that Creevey should be there. He had an excellent seat in the
front row, and his descriptions of 'Mrs. P.,' as he preferred to call
her Majesty, are characteristic:

     Two folding doors within a few feet of me were suddenly thrown
     open, and in entered her Majesty. To describe to you her appearance
     and manner is far beyond my powers. I had been taught to believe
     she was as much improved in looks as in dignity of manners; it is
     therefore with much pain I am obliged to observe that the nearest
     resemblance I can recollect to this much injured Princess is a toy
     which you used to call Fanny Royds (a Dutch doll). There is another
     toy of a rabbit or a cat, whose tail you squeeze under its body,
     and then out it jumps in half a minute off the ground into the air.
     The first of these toys you must suppose to represent the person of
     the Queen; the latter the manner by which she popped all at once
     into the House, made a _duck_ at the throne, another to the Peers,
     and a concluding jump into the chair which was placed for her. Her
     dress was black figured gauze, with a good deal of trimming, lace,
     &c., her sleeves white, and perfectly episcopal; a handsome white
     veil, so thick as to make it very difficult to me, who was as near
     to her as anyone, to see her face; such a back for variety and
     inequality of ground as you never beheld; with a few straggling
     ringlets on her neck, which I flatter myself from their appearance
     were not her Majesty's own property.

Mr. Creevey, it is obvious, was not the man to be abashed by the
presence of Royalty.

But such public episodes were necessarily rare, and the main stream of
his life flowed rapidly, gaily, and unobtrusively through the fat
pastures of high society. Everywhere and always he enjoyed himself
extremely, but his spirits and his happiness were at their highest
during his long summer sojourns at those splendid country houses whose
hospitality he chronicles with indefatigable _verve_. 'This house,' he
says at Raby, 'is itself _by far_ the most magnificent and unique in
several ways that I have ever seen.... As long as I have heard of
anything, I have heard of being driven into the hall of this house in
one's carriage, and being set down by the fire. You can have no idea of
the magnificent perfection with which this is accomplished.' At Knowsley
'the new dining-room is opened; it is 53 feet by 37, and such a height
that it destroys the effect of all the other apartments.... There are
two fireplaces; and the day we dined there, there were 36 wax candles
over the table, 14 on it, and ten great lamps on tall pedestals about
the room.' At Thorp Perrow 'all the living rooms are on the ground
floor, one a very handsome one about 50 feet long, with a great bow
furnished with rose-coloured satin, and the whole furniture of which
cost £4000.' At Goodwood the rooms were done up in 'brightest yellow
satin,' and at Holkham the walls were covered with Genoa velvet, and
there was gilding worth a fortune on 'the roofs of all the rooms and the
doors.' The fare was as sumptuous as the furniture. Life passed amid a
succession of juicy chops, gigantic sirloins, plump fowls, pheasants
stuffed with pâté de foie gras, gorgeous Madeiras, ancient Ports. Wine
had a double advantage: it made you drunk; it also made you sober: it
was its own cure. On one occasion, when Sheridan, after days of riotous
living, showed signs of exhaustion, Mr. and Mrs. Creevey pressed upon
him 'five or six glasses of light French wine' with excellent effect.
Then, at midnight, when the talk began to flag and the spirits grew a
little weary, what could be more rejuvenating than to ring the bell for
a broiled bone? And one never rang in vain--except, to be sure, at King
Jog's. There, while the host was guzzling, the guests starved. This was
too much for Mr. Creevey, who, finding he could get nothing for
breakfast, while King Jog was 'eating his own fish as comfortably as
could be,' fairly lost his temper.

     My blood beginning to boil, I said: 'Lambton, I wish you could tell
     me what quarter I am to apply to for some fish.' To which he
     replied in the most impertinent manner: 'The servant, I suppose.' I
     turned to Mills and said pretty loud: 'Now, if it was not for the
     fuss and jaw of the thing, I would leave the room and the house
     this instant'; and dwelt on the damned outrage. Mills said: 'He
     hears every word you say': to which I said: 'I hope he does.' It
     was a regular scene.

A few days later, however, Mr. Creevey was consoled by finding himself
in a very different establishment, where 'everything is of a
piece--excellent and plentiful dinners, a fat service of plate, a fat
butler, a table with a barrel of oysters and a hot pheasant, &c.,
wheeled into the drawing-room every night at half-past ten.'

It is difficult to remember that this was the England of the Six Acts,
of Peterloo, and of the Industrial Revolution. Mr. Creevey, indeed,
could hardly be expected to remember it, for he was utterly unconscious
of the existence--of the possibility--of any mode of living other than
his own. For him, dining-rooms 50 feet long, bottles of Madeira, broiled
bones, and the brightest yellow satin were as necessary and obvious a
part of the constitution of the universe as the light of the sun and
the law of gravity. Only once in his life was he seriously ruffled; only
once did a public question present itself to him as something alarming,
something portentous, something more than a personal affair. The
occasion is significant. On March 16, 1825, he writes:

     I have come to the conclusion that our Ferguson is _insane._ He
     quite foamed at the mouth with rage in our Railway Committee in
     support of this infernal nuisance--the loco-motive Monster,
     carrying _eighty tons_ of goods, and navigated by a tail of smoke
     and sulphur, coming thro' every man's grounds between Manchester
     and Liverpool.

His perturbation grew. He attended the committee assiduously, but in
spite of his efforts it seemed that the railway Bill would pass. The
loco-motive was more than a joke. He sat every day from 12 to 4; he led
the opposition with long speeches. 'This railway,' he exclaims on May
31, 'is the devil's own.' Next day, he is in triumph: he had killed the

     Well--this devil of a railway is strangled at last.... To-day we
     had a clear majority in committee in our favour, and the promoters
     of the Bill withdrew it, and took their leave of us.

With a sigh of relief he whisked off to Ascot, for the festivities of
which he was delighted to note that 'Prinney' had prepared 'by having 12
oz. of blood taken from him by cupping.'

Old age hardly troubled Mr. Creevey. He grew a trifle deaf, and he
discovered that it was possible to wear woollen stockings under his silk
ones; but his activity, his high spirits, his popularity, only seemed to
increase. At the end of a party ladies would crowd round him. 'Oh, Mr.
Creevey, how agreeable you have been!' 'Oh, thank you, Mr. Creevey! how
useful you have been!' 'Dear Mr. Creevey, I laughed out loud last night
in bed at one of your stories.' One would like to add (rather late in
the day, perhaps) one's own praises. One feels almost affectionate; a
certain sincerity, a certain immediacy in his response to stimuli, are
endearing qualities; one quite understands that it was natural, on the
pretext of changing house, to send him a dozen of wine. Above all, one
wants him to go on. Why should he stop? Why should he not continue
indefinitely telling us about 'Old Salisbury' and 'Old Madagascar'? But
it could not be.

    Le temps s'en va, le temps s'en va, Madame;
    Las! Le temps non, mais nous, nous en allons.

It was fitting that, after fulfilling his seventy years, he should catch
a glimpse of 'little Vic' as Queen of England, laughing, eating, and
showing her gums too much at the Pavilion. But that was enough: the
piece was over; the curtain had gone down; and on the new stage that was
preparing for very different characters, and with a very different style
of decoration, there would be no place for Mr. Creevey.



Algarotti, 144, 145, 152
Anne, Queen, 106
Arnold, Matthew, 10
Arouet. _See_ 'Voltaire'

Bailey, Mr. John, 4-7, 9-12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22
Balzac, 220, 221, 225, 226, 227
Barrès, M., 220, 21, 234
Beddoes, Dr. Thomas, 194-196
Beddoes, Thos. Lovell, 193-216
Beethoven, 237
Berkeley, 106
Bernhardt, 23
Bernières, Madame de, 96, 107
Bernstorff, 76
Berry, Miss, 67, 68
Beshyr, Emir, 247
Bessborough, Lady, 243
Bevan, Mr. C.D., 196
Beyle, Henri, 219-238
Blake, 36, 63, 179-190
Blücher, 255
Boileau, 62
Bolingbroke, 99, 101, 103, 104, 111
Bonaparte, 222
Boswell, 59
Boufflers, Comtesse de, 76
Boufflers, Marquise de, 75
Bourget, M., 220, 221
Brandes, Dr., 43, 51
Brink, Mr. Ten, 43
Broome, Major, 101
Brougham, 255
Browne, Sir Thomas, 27-28
Buffon, 80, 154
Burke, 76
Butler, Bishop, 29, 106

Canning, George, 243, 247, 255
Canning, Stratford, 243, 247
Caraccioli, 76
Carlyle, 93, 137, 144, 160
Caroline, Queen, 256
Carteret, 106
Castlereagh, 255
Cellini, 68
Chasot, 152, 153
Chateaubriand, 225
Châtelet, Madame du, 113, 141-143
Chatham, Lady, 242
Chatham, Lord, 241
Chesterfield, Lord, 63
Choiseul, Duc de, 79
Choiseul, Duchesse de, 70, 85, 86
Chuquet, M., 220, 221, 223, 238
Cicero, 68
Cimarosa, 230
Claude, 17
Coleridge, 16, 30, 62, 63
Colles, Mr. Ramsay, 194, 195
Collins, Anthony, 110, 111
Collins, Churton, 93, 98, 103
Condillac, 230
Congreve, 101
Conti, Prince de, 96
Corneille, 80, 129
Correggio, 231
Cowley, 196
Creevey, Mr., 253-260

D'Alembert, 70, 75, 131, 162, 166
Dante, 10
d'Argens, 152
d'Argental, 72
Darget, 152
Daru, 222
Davy, Sir Humphry, 195
Deffand, Madame du, 67-89, 97
Degen, 203
d'Egmont, Madame, 72
Denham, 62
Denis, Madame, 149, 150
d'Epinay, Madame, 165, 167, 168, 169, 171-174
Descartes, 113
Desnoiresterres 93
Devonshire, Duchess of, 247
d'Houdetot, Madame, 171
Diderot, 70, 166-175
Diogenes, 115
Donne, 62
Dowden, Prof., 42, 43, 45, 49, 51
Dryden, 4, 22, 29, 62
Durham, Lord, 255

Ecklin, Dr., 203, 204
Edgeworth, Miss, 195, 196
Euler, 154, 155

Falkener, Everard, 98
Fielding, 80, 197
Flaubert, 220, 221
Fleury, Cardinal, 112
Fontenelle, 73, 222
Foulet, M. Lucien, 93, 94, 96, 98, 103, 105
Fox, Charles James, 76, 78
Frederick the Great, 137
Fry, Mrs., 243, 244, 247
Furnivall, Dr., 42, 43

Gautier, 225
Gay, 102
George III, 247, 255
Gibbon, 29, 76, 80
Gide, M. André, 219, 220, 227
Goethe, 237
Gollancz, Sir I., 43, 49
Goncourts, De, 10
Gosse, Mr., 27-31, 35, 115, 204, 205
Gramont, Madame de, 79
Granville, Lord, 242
Gray, 60, 62
Grey, Lord, 255
Grimm, 166-174

Hardwicke, Lord, 248
Hegetschweiler, 202
Helvétius, 230
Hénault, 72, 75
Herrick, 38
Higginson, Edward, 100
Hill, Dr. George Birkbeck, 59, 63
Hill, Mr., 243
Hugo, Victor, 62, 225
Hume, 30, 112, 114, 167, 169
Huskisson, 255

Ingres, 3

Johnson, Dr., 22, 28-30, 32, 59-63, 103, 221
Jordan, 140
Jourdain, Mr., 154

Keats, 211
Kelsall, Thomas Forbes, 200, 203, 204, 209
Klopstock, 186
Koenig, 155

La Beaumelle, 154
Lamb, Charles, 30, 188, 194
Lambton, 258
La Mettrie, 152-154, 158
Lanson, M., 93, 100
Latimer, 31
Lecouvreur, Adrienne, 95
Lee, Sir Sidney, 43
Leibnitz, 155
Lemaître, M., 4-6, 17, 18
Lemaur, 70
Lespinasse, Mlle. de, 70, 71, 75, 86, 238
Leveson Gower, Lord Granville, 242
Locke, 29, 110, 112, 113, 115
Louis Philippe, 222
Louis XIV., 71
Lulli, 70
Luxembourg, Maréchale de, 77, 83

Macaulay, 137
Macdonald, Mrs. Frederika, 164-173
Maine, Duchesse du, 71, 74
Malherbe, 62
Marlborough, Duke of, 105
Marlborough, Duchess of, 101
Marlowe, 197
Massillon, 74
Matignon, Marquis de, 84
Maupertuis, 153-156, 158, 159, 161
Mehemet Ali, 244
Mérimée, Prosper, 223
Meryon, Dr., 243, 247, 248
Middleton, 111
Milton, 10, 16, 211
Mirepoix, Bishop of, 142
Mirepoix, Maréchale de, 76
Molière, 134
Moncrif, 72
Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley, 241
Montespan, Madame de, 74
Montesquieu, 78, 107, 230, 238
Moore, Sir John, 243
Morley, Lord, 110, 167, 172
Moses, 115
Mozart, 23, 230
Musset, 225

Napoleon, 67, 230, 231, 234, 238
Necker, 84
Nelson, 221
Newton, Sir Isaac, 100, 106, 112, 113

Pascal, 36, 112
Pater, 31
Peterborough, Lord, 102, 103
Pitt, William, the younger, 241-243, 247
Plato, 185
Pöllnitz, 152
Pompadour, Madame de, 143
Pont-de-Veyle, 72, 75
Pope, 4, 22, 34, 38, 103, 106, 211
Prie, Madame de, 71, 94, 96
Prior, 63
Proctor, Bryan Waller, 200, 203
Puffendorf, 76

Quinault, 70

Racine, 3-24, 80, 129-131, 225, 237
Raleigh, Sir Walter, 45, 179, 183, 185
Regent, the Prince, 255
Reni, Guido, 231
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 30, 186, 188
Richardson, 80
Richelieu, 73
Rohan-Chabot, Chevalier de, 94, 96, 98
Rossetti, 183
Rousseau, 85, 165-175, 230
Rubens, 34
Russell, Lord John, 255

Sainte-Beuve, 10, 12, 18, 61, 167, 220
Saint-Lambert, 172
Saint-Simon, 80, 179-183
Sampson, Mr. John, 179-183
Sanadon, Mlle., 84
Shaftesbury, 110
Shakespeare, 3, 4, 14, 34, 41-56, 80, 112, 132, 221, 225
Shelley, 23, 38
Sheridan, 257
Sophocles, 132
Spenser, 211
Stanhope, Lady Hester, 241-249
'Stendhal.' _See_ Beyle, Henri
Stephen, Sir James, 211
Sully, Duc de, 95, 105
Swift, 29, 101, 104, 106
Swinburne, 184

Taine, 220, 221
Thévenart, 70
Thomson, 63
Tindal, 111
Toland, 110, 111
Tolstoi, 228
Toynbee, Mrs. Paget, 67-69, 75
Turgot, 70, 169

Velasquez, 34
Vigny, 225
Virgil, 14, 23
Voltaire, 69, 70, 72, 75, 79-81, 83, 93-117, 121-134, 137-162, 174, 188

Walpole, Horace, 30, 63, 67, 68, 69-71, 75, 76, 78-80, 86-89, 103, 104, 106
Webster, 36
Wellington, Duke of, 255
White, W.A., 180
Winckelmann, 237
Wolf, 138
Wollaston, 111
Woolston, 111
Wordsworth, 16, 62, 63, 184
Würtemberg, Duke of, 156

Yonge, Miss, 134
Young, Dr., 101

Zola, 220, 227, 228

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