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Title: Figures of Several Centuries
Author: Symons, Arthur, 1865-1945
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, December 1916._

_Reprinted, January, June 1917._





SAINT AUGUSTINE                                                     1

CHARLES LAMB                                                       13

VILLON                                                             37

CASANOVA AT DUX                                                    41

JOHN DONNE                                                         80

EMILY BRONTË                                                      109

EDGAR ALLAN POE                                                   115

THOMAS LOVELL BEDDOES                                             122

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT                                                  130

GEORGE MEREDITH AS A POET                                         141

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE                                        153

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI                                            201

A NOTE ON THE GENIUS OF THOMAS HARDY                              207

LÉON CLADEL                                                       216

HENRIK IBSEN                                                      222

JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS                                               268

TWO SYMBOLISTS                                                    300

CHARLES BAUDELAIRE                                                310

WALTER PATER                                                      316

THE GONCOURTS                                                     336

COVENTRY PATMORE                                                  351

SAROJINI NAIDU                                                    376

WELSH POETRY                                                      390


The _Confessions_ of St. Augustine are the first autobiography, and they
have this to distinguish them from all other autobiographies, that they
are addressed directly to God. Rousseau's unburdening of himself is the
last, most effectual manifestation of that nervous, defiant
consciousness of other people which haunted him all his life. He felt
that all the men and women whom he passed on his way through the world
were at watch upon him, and mostly with no very favourable intentions.
The exasperation of all those eyes fixed upon him, the absorbing, the
protesting self-consciousness which they called forth in him, drove him,
in spite of himself, to set about explaining himself to other people, to
the world in general. His anxiety to explain, not to justify, himself
was after all a kind of cowardice before his own conscience. He felt
the silent voices within him too acutely to keep silence. Cellini wrote
his autobiography because he heard within him such trumpeting voices of
praise, exultation, and the supreme satisfaction of a violent man who
has conceived himself to be always in the right, that it shocked him to
think of going down into his grave without having made the whole world
hear those voices. He hurls at you this book of his own deeds that it
may smite you into acquiescent admiration. Casanova, at the end of a
long life in which he had tasted all the forbidden fruits of the earth,
with a simplicity of pleasure in which the sense of their being
forbidden was only the least of their abounding flavours, looked back
upon his past self with a slightly pathetic admiration, and set himself
to go all over those successful adventures, in love and in other arts,
firstly, in order that he might be amused by recalling them, and then
because he thought the record would do him credit. He neither intrudes
himself as a model, nor acknowledges that he was very often in the
wrong. Always passionate after sensations, and for their own sake, the
writing of an autobiography was the last, almost active, sensation that
was left to him, and he accepted it energetically.

Probably St. Augustine first conceived of the writing of an
autobiography as a kind of penance, which might be fruitful also to
others. By its form it challenges the slight difficulty that it appears
to be telling God what God knew already. But that is the difficulty
which every prayer also challenges. To those we love, are we not fond of
telling many things about ourselves which they know already? A prayer,
such confessions as these, are addressed to God by one of those
subterfuges by which it is necessary to approach the unseen and
infinite, under at least a disguise of mortality. And the whole book, as
no other such book has ever been, is lyrical. This prose, so simple, so
familiar, has in it the exaltation of poetry. It can pass, without a
change of tone, from the boy's stealing of pears: 'If aught of those
pears came within my mouth, what sweetened it was the sin'; to a tender
human affection: 'And now he lives in Abraham's bosom: whatever that be
which is signified by that bosom, there lives my Nebridius, my sweet
friend'; and from that to the saint's rare, last ecstasy: 'And sometimes
Thou admittedst me to an affection, very unusual, in my inmost soul,
rising to a strange sweetness, which if it were perfected in me, I know
not what in it would not belong to the life to come.' And even
self-analysis, of which there is so much, becoming at times a kind of
mathematics, even those metaphysical subtleties which seem, to sharpen
thought upon thought to an almost invisible fineness of edge, become
also lyrical, inter-penetrated as they are with this sense of the

To St. Augustine all life is seen only in its relation to the divine;
looked at from any other side, it has no meaning, and, looked at even
with this light upon it, is but for the most part seen as a blundering
in the dark, a wandering from the right path. In so far as it is
natural, it is evil. In so far as it is corrected by divine grace, it
leaves the human actors in it without merit; since all virtue is God's,
though all vice is man's.

This conception of life is certainly valuable in giving harmony to the
book, presenting as it does a sort of background. It brings with it a
very impressive kind of symbolism into its record of actual facts, to
all of which it gives a value, not in themselves, if you please to put
it so, or, perhaps more properly, their essential value. When nothing
which happens, happens except under God's direct responsibility, when
nothing is said which is not one of your 'lines' in the drama which is
being played, not so much by as through you, there can be no
exteriorities, nothing can be trivial, in a record of life so conceived.
And this point of view also helps the writer to keep all his details in
proportion; the autobiographer's usual fault, artistically at least,
being an inordinate valuation of small concerns, because they happened
to him. To St. Augustine, while not the smallest human event is without
significance, in its relation to eternity, not the greatest human event
is of importance, in its relation to time; and his own share in it would
but induce a special, it may seem an exaggerated, humility on his part.
Thus, speaking of his early studies, his triumphs in them, not without a
certain _naïveté_: 'Whatever was written, either in rhetoric or logic,
geometry, music, and arithmetic, by myself without much difficulty or
any instruction, I understood, Thou knowest, O Lord my God; because both
quickness and understanding and acuteness in discerning is Thy gift.'
Or, again, speaking of the youthful excellences ('excellently hadst Thou
made him') of that son who was the son of his beloved mistress: 'I had
no part in that boy, but the sin.'

Intellectual pride, one sees in him indeed, at all times, by the very
force with which it is repressed into humility; and, in all that relates
to that mistress, in the famous cry: 'Give me chastity, but not yet!' in
all those insurgent memories of 'these various and shadowy loves,' we
see the force of the flesh, in one who lived always with so passionate a
life, alike of the spirit and the senses. Now, recalling what was sinful
in him, in his confessions to God, he is reluctant to allow any value to
the most honourable of human sentiments, to so much as forgive the most
estimable of human weaknesses. 'And now, Lord, in writing I confess it
unto Thee. Read it who will, and interpret it how he will: and if any
finds sin therein, that I wept my mother for a small portion of an hour
(the mother who for the time was dead to mine eyes, who had for many
years wept for me that I might live in Thine eyes), let him not deride
me; but rather, if he be one of large charity, let him weep for himself
for my sins unto Thee, the Father of all the brethren of Thy Christ.'
And yet it is of this mother that he writes his most tender, his most
beautiful pages. 'The day was now approaching whereon she was to depart
this life (which day Thou well knewest, we knew not), it came to pass,
Thyself, as I believe, by Thy secret ways so ordering it, that she and I
stood alone, leaning in a certain window, which looked into the garden
of the house where we now lay, at Ostia....' It is not often that
memory, in him, is so careful of 'the images of earth, and water, and
air,' as to call up these delicate pictures. They too had become for him
among the desirable things which are to be renounced for a more
desirable thing.

That sense of the divine in life, and specially of the miracles which
happen a certain number of times in every existence, the moments which
alone count in the soul's summing-up of itself, St. Augustine has
rendered with such significance, with such an absolute wiping out from
the memory of everything else, just because he has come to that, it
might seem, somewhat arid point of spiritual ascent. That famous moment
of the _Tolle, lege_: 'I cast myself down I know not how, under a
certain fig-tree, giving full vent to my tears ... when lo! I heard from
a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting,
and oft repeating, "Take up and read, take up and read"'; the Bishop's
word to Monnica ('as if it had sounded from heaven'), 'It is not
possible that the son of those tears should perish'; the beggar-man,
'joking and joyous,' in the streets of Milan: it is by these, apparently
trifling, these all-significant moments that his narrative moves, with a
more reticent and effective symbolism than any other narrative known to
me. They are the moments in which the soul has really lived, or has
really seen; and the rest of life may well be a blindness and a troubled
coming and going.

I said that the height from which St. Augustine apprehends these truths
may seem a somewhat arid one. That is perhaps only because it is nearer
the sky, more directly bathed in what he calls, beautifully, 'this queen
of colours, the light.' There is a passage in the tenth book which may
almost be called a kind of æsthetics. They are æsthetics indeed of
renunciation, but a renunciation of the many beauties for the one
Beauty, which shall contain as well as eclipse them; 'because those
beautiful patterns which through men's souls are conveyed into their
cunning hands, come from that Beauty, which is above our souls.' And it
is not a renunciation by one who had never enjoyed what he renounces, or
who feels himself, even now, quite safe from certain forms of its
seduction. He is troubled especially by the fear that 'those melodies
which Thy words breathe soul into, when sung with a sweet and attuned
voice,' may come to move him 'more with the voice than with the words
sung.' Yet how graciously he speaks of music, allowing 'that the several
affections of our spirit, by a sweet variety, have their own proper
measures in the voice and singing, by some hidden correspondence
wherewith they are stirred up.' It is precisely because he feels so
intimately the beauty of all things human, though it were but 'a dog
coursing in the field, a lizard catching flies,' that he desires to pass
through these to that passionate contemplation which is the desire of
all seekers after the absolute, and which for him is God. He asks of all
the powers of the earth: 'My questioning them, was my thoughts on them;
and their form of beauty gave the answer.' And by how concrete a series
of images does he strive to express the inexpressible, in that passage
of pure poetry on the love of God! 'But what do I love, when I love
thee? not beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the
brightness of the light, so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of
varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers, and ointments, and
spices, not manna and honey, not limbs acceptable to embracements of
flesh. None of these I love, when I love my God; and yet I love a kind
of light, and melody, and fragrance, and meat, and embracement, when I
love my God, the light, melody, fragrance, meat, embracement of my
inner man: where there shineth unto my soul what space cannot contain,
and there soundeth what time beareth not away, and there smelleth what
breathing disperseth not, and there tasteth what eating diminisheth not,
and there clingeth what satiety divorceth not. This is it which I love
when I love my God.'

Mentioning in his confessions only such things as he conceives to be of
import to God, it happens, naturally, that St. Augustine leaves unsaid
many things that would have interested most men, perhaps more. 'What,
then, have I to do with men, that they should hear my confessions--as if
they could heal my infirmities,--a race curious to know the lives of
others, slothful to amend their own?' Finding, indeed, many significant
mentions of things and books and persons, Faustus the Manichee, the
'Hortensius' of Cicero, the theatre, we shall find little pasture here
for our antiquarian, our purely curious, researches. We shall not even
find all that we might care to know, in St. Augustine himself, of the
surface of the mind's action, which we call character, or the surface
emotions, which we call temperament. Here is a soul, one of the supreme
souls of humanity, speaking directly to that supreme soul which it has
apprehended outside humanity. Be sure that, if it forgets many things
which you, who overhear, would like it to have remembered, it will
remember everything which it is important to remember, everything which
the recording angel, who is the soul's finer criticism of itself, has
already inscribed in the book of the last judgment.




There is something a little accidental about all Lamb's finest work.
Poetry he seriously tried to write, and plays and stories; but the
supreme criticism of the _Specimens of English Dramatic Poets_ arose out
of the casual habit of setting down an opinion of an extract just copied
into one's note-book, and the book itself, because, he said, 'the book
is such as I am glad there should be.' The beginnings of his
miscellaneous prose are due to the 'ferreting' of Coleridge. 'He ferrets
me day and night,' Lamb complains to Manning in 1800, 'to do something.
He tends me, amidst all his own worrying and heart-oppressing
occupations, as a gardener tends his young tulip.... He has lugged me to
the brink of engaging to a newspaper, and has suggested to me for a
first plan the forgery of a supposed manuscript of Burton, the
anatomist of melancholy'; which was done, in the consummate way we know,
and led in its turn to all the rest of the prose. And Barry Cornwall
tells us that 'he was almost teased into writing the _Elia_ essays.'

He had begun, indeed, deliberately, with a story, as personal really as
the poems, but, unlike them, set too far from himself in subject and
tangled with circumstances outside his knowledge. He wrote _Rosamund
Gray_ before he was twenty-three, and in that 'lovely thing,' as Shelley
called it, we see most of the merits and defects of his early poetry. It
is a story which is hardly a story at all, told by comment, evasion, and
recurrence, by 'little images, recollections, and circumstances of past
pleasures' or distresses; with something vague and yet precise, like a
dream partially remembered. Here and there is the creation of a mood and
moment, almost like Coleridge's in the _Ancient Mariner_; but these
flicker and go out. The style would be laughable in its simplicity if
there were not in it some almost awing touch of innocence; some hint of
that divine goodness which, in Lamb, needed the relief and savour of
the later freakishness to sharpen it out of insipidity. There is already
a sense of what is tragic and endearing in earthly existence, though no
skill as yet in presenting it; and the moral of it is surely one of the
morals or messages of _Elia_: 'God has built a brave world, but methinks
he has left his creatures to bustle in it how they may.'

Lamb had no sense of narrative, or, rather, he cared in a story only for
the moments when it seemed to double upon itself and turn into irony.
All his attempts to write for the stage (where his dialogue might have
been so telling) were foiled by his inability to 'bring three together
on the stage at once,' as he confessed in a letter to Mrs. Shelley;
'they are so shy with me, that I can get no more than two; and there
they stand till it is the time, without being the season, to withdraw
them.' Narrative he could manage only when it was prepared for him by
another, as in the _Tales from Shakespeare_ and the _Adventures of
Ulysses_. Even in _Mrs. Leicester's School_, where he came nearest to
success in a plain narrative, the three stories, as stories, have less
than the almost perfect art of the best of Mary Lamb's: of _Father's
Wedding-Day_, which Landor, with wholly pardonable exaggeration, called
'with the sole exception of the _Bride of Lammermoor_, the most
beautiful tale in prose composition in any language, ancient or modern.'
There is something of an incomparable kind of story-telling in most of
the best essays of _Elia_, but it is a kind which he had to find out, by
accident and experiment, for himself; and chiefly through
letter-writing. 'Us dramatic geniuses,' he speaks of, in a letter to
Manning against the taking of all words in a literal sense; and it was
this wry dramatic genius in him that was, after all, the quintessential
part of himself. 'Truth,' he says in this letter, 'is one and poor, like
the cruse of Elijah's widow. Imagination is the bold face that
multiplies its oil: and thou, the old cracked pipkin, that could not
believe it could be put to such purposes.' It was to his correspondents,
indeed to the incitement of their wakeful friendship, that he owes more
perhaps than the mere materials of his miracles.

To be wholly himself, Lamb had to hide himself under some disguise, a
name, 'Elia,' taken literally as a pen name, or some more roundabout
borrowing, as of an old fierce critic's, Joseph Ritson's, to heighten
and soften the energy of marginal annotations on a pedant scholar. In
the letter in which he announces the first essays of _Elia_, he writes
to Barron Field: 'You shall soon have a tissue of truth and fiction,
impossible to be extricated, the interleavings shall be so delicate, the
partitions perfectly invisible.' The correspondents were already
accustomed to this 'heavenly mingle.' Few of the letters, those works of
nature, and almost more wonderful than works of art, are to be taken on
oath. Those elaborate lies, which ramify through them into patterns of
sober-seeming truth, are in anticipation, and were of the nature of a
preliminary practice for the innocent and avowed fiction of the essays.
What began in mischief ends in art.


'I am out of the world of readers,' Lamb wrote to Coleridge, 'I hate all
that do read, for they read nothing but reviews and new books. I gather
myself up into the old things.' 'I am jealous for the actors who
pleased my youth,' he says elsewhere. And again: 'For me, I do not know
whether a constitutional imbecility does not incline me too obstinately
to cling to the remembrances of childhood; in an inverted ratio to the
usual sentiment of mankind, nothing that I have been engaged in since
seems of any value or importance compared to the colours which
imagination gave to everything then.' In Lamb this love of old things,
this willing recurrence to childhood, was the form in which imagination
came to him. He is the grown-up child of letters, and he preserves all
through his life that child's attitude of wonder, before 'this good
world, which he knows--which was created so lovely, beyond his
deservings.' He loves the old, the accustomed, the things that people
have had about them since they could remember. 'I am in love,' he says
in the most profoundly serious of his essays, 'with this green earth;
the face of town and country; and the sweet security of streets.' He was
a man to whom mere living had zest enough to make up for everything that
was contrary in the world. His life was tragic, but not unhappy.
Happiness came to him out of the little things that meant nothing to
others, or were not so much as seen by them. He had a genius for living,
and his genius for writing was only a part of it, the part which he left
to others to remember him by.

Lamb's religion, says Pater, was 'the religion of men of letters,
religion as understood by the soberer men of letters in the last
century'; and Hood says of him: 'As he was in spirit an Old Author, so
was he in faith an Ancient Christian.' He himself tells Coleridge that
he has 'a taste for religion rather than a strong religious habit,' and,
later in life, writes to a friend: 'Much of my seriousness has gone
off.' On this, as on other subjects, he grew shyer, withdrew more into
himself; but to me it seems that a mood of religion was permanent with
him. 'Such religion as I have,' he said, 'has always acted on me more by
way of sentiment than argumentative process'; and we find him preferring
churches when they are empty, as many really religious people have done.
To Lamb religion was a part of human feeling, or a kindly shadow over
it. He would have thrust his way into no mysteries. And it was not
lightly, or with anything but a strange-complexioned kind of gratitude,
that he asked: '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 go out with life?'

It was what I call Lamb's religion that helped him to enjoy life so
humbly, heartily, and delicately, and to give to others the sensation of
all that is most enjoyable in the things about us. It may be said of
him, as he says of the fox in the fable: 'He was an adept in that
species of moral alchemy, which turns everything into gold.' And this
moral alchemy of his was no reasoned and arguable optimism, but a
'spirit of youth in everything,' an irrational, casuistical,
'matter-of-lie' persistence in the face of all logic, experience, and
sober judgment; an upsetting of truth grown tedious and custom gone
stale. And for a truth of the letter it substituted a new, valiant truth
of the spirit; for dead things, living ideas; and gave birth to the
most religious sentiment of which man is capable: grateful joy.

Among the innumerable objects and occasions of joy which Lamb found laid
out before him, at the world's feast, books were certainly one of the
most precious, and after books came pictures. 'What any man can write,
surely I may read!' he says to Wordsworth, of Caryl on Job, six folios.
'I like books about books,' he confesses, the test of the book-lover. 'I
love,' he says, 'to lose myself in other men's minds. When I am not
walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.' He
was the finest of all readers, far more instant than Coleridge; not to
be taken unawares by a Blake ('I must look on him as one of the most
extraordinary persons of the age,' he says of him, on but a slight and
partial acquaintance), or by Wordsworth when the _Lyrical Ballads_ are
confusing all judgments, and he can pick out at sight 'She Dwelt Among
the Untrodden Ways' as 'the best piece in it,' and can define precisely
the defect of much of the book, in one of those incomparable letters of
escape, to Manning: 'It is full of original thought, but it does not
often make you laugh or cry. It too artfully aims at simplicity of
expression.' I choose these instances because the final test of a critic
is in his reception of contemporary work; and Lamb must have found it
much easier to be right, before every one else, about Webster, and Ford,
and Cyril Tourneur, than to be the accurate critic that he was of
Coleridge, at the very time when he was under the 'whiff and wind' of
Coleridge's influence. And in writing of pictures, though his knowledge
is not so great nor his instinct so wholly 'according to knowledge,' he
can write as no one has ever written in praise of Titian (so that his
very finest sentence describes a picture of Titian) and can instantly
detect and minutely expose the swollen contemporary delusion of a
would-be Michael Angelo, the portentous Martin.

Then there were the theatres, which Lamb loved next to books. There has
been no criticism of acting in English like Lamb's, so fundamental, so
intimate and elucidating. His style becomes quintessential when he
speaks of the stage, as in that tiny masterpiece, _On the Acting of
Munden_, which ends the book of _Elia_, with its great close, the
Beethoven soft wondering close, after all the surges: 'He understands a
leg of mutton in its quiddity. He stands wondering, amid the commonplace
materials of life, like primeval man with the sun and stars about him.'
He is equally certain of Shakespeare, of Congreve, and of Miss Kelly.
When he defines the actors, his pen seems to be plucked by the very
wires that work the puppets. And it is not merely because he was in love
with Miss Kelly that he can write of her acting like this, in words that
might apply with something of truth to himself. He has been saying of
Mrs. Jordan, that 'she seemed one whom care could not come near; a
privileged being, sent to teach mankind what it most wants, joyousness.'
Then he goes on: 'This latter lady's is the joy of a freed spirit,
escaping from care, as a bird that had been limed; her smiles, if I may
use the expression, seemed saved out of the fire, relics which a good
and innocent heart had snatched up as most portable; her contents are
visitors, not inmates: she can lay them by altogether; and when she
does so, I am not sure that she is not greatest.' Is not this, with all
its precise good sense, the rarest poetry of prose, a poetry made up of
no poetical epithets, no fanciful similes, but 'of imagination all
compact,' poetry in substance?

Then there was London. In Lamb London found its one poet. 'The earth,
and sea, and sky (when all is said),' he admitted, 'is but as a house to
live in'; and, 'separate from the pleasure of your company,' he assured
Wordsworth, 'I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I
have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and
intense local attachments as any of your mountaineers can have done with
dead nature. The lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street, the
innumerable trades, tradesmen, and customers, coaches, waggons,
play-houses, all the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden,
the very women of the town, the watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles--life
awake, if you awake, at all hours of the night, the impossibility of
being dull in Fleet Street, the crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun
shining upon houses and pavements, the print shops, the old bookstalls,
parsons cheapening books, coffee-houses, steams of soups from kitchens,
the pantomime, London itself a pantomime and a masquerade--all these
things work themselves into my mind and feed me, without a power of
satiating me. The wonder of these sights impels me into night-walks
about her crowded streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand
from fulness of joy at so much life.' There, surely, is the poem of
London, and it has almost more than the rapture, in its lover's
catalogue, of Walt Whitman's poems of America. Almost to the end, he
could say (as he does again to Wordsworth, not long before his death),
'London streets and faces cheer me inexpressibly, though of the latter
not one known one were remaining.' He traces the changes in streets,
their distress or disappearance, as he traces the dwindling of his
friends, 'the very streets, he says,' writes Mary, 'altering every day.'
London was to him the new, better Eden. 'A garden was the primitive
prison till man with Promethean felicity and boldness sinned himself out
of it. Thence followed Babylon, Nineveh, Venice, London, haberdashers,
goldsmiths, taverns, play-houses, satires, epigrams, puns--these all
came in on the town part, and thither side of innocence.' To love London
so was part of his human love, and in his praise of streets he has done
as much for the creation and perpetuating of joy as Wordsworth ('by
whose system,' Mary Lamb conjectured, 'it was doubtful whether a liver
in towns had a soul to be saved') has done by his praise of flowers and

And yet, for all his 'disparagement of heath and highlands,' as he
confessed to Scott, Lamb was as instant and unerring in his appreciation
of natural things, once brought before them, as he was in his
appreciation of the things of art and the mind and man's making. He was
a great walker, and sighs once, before his release from the desk: 'I
wish I were a caravan driver or a penny post man, to earn my bread in
air and sunshine.' We have seen what he wrote to Wordsworth about his
mountains, before he had seen them. This is what he writes of them to
Manning, after he has seen them: 'Such an impression I never received
from objects of sight before, nor do I suppose I can ever again.... In
fine, I have satisfied myself that there is such a thing as that which
tourists call _romantic_, which I very much suspected before.' And to
Coleridge he writes: 'I feel that I shall remember your mountains to the
last day I live. They haunt me perpetually.' All this Lamb saw and felt,
because no beautiful thing could ever appeal to him in vain. But he
wrote of it only in his letters, which were all of himself; because he
put into his published writings only the best or the rarest or the
accustomed and familiar part of himself, the part which he knew by


Beyond any writer pre-eminent for charm, Lamb had salt and sting. There
is hardly a known grace or energy of prose which he has not somewhere
exemplified; as often in his letters as in his essays; and always with
something final about it. He is never more himself than when he says,
briefly: 'Sentiment came in with Sterne, and was a child he had by
Affectation'; but then he is also never more himself than when he
expands and develops, as in this rendering of the hisses which damned
his play in Drury Lane:

     It was not a hiss neither, but a sort of a frantic yell, like a
     congregation of mad geese, with roaring something like bears, mows
     and mops like apes, sometimes snakes, that hissed me into madness.
     'Twas like St. Anthony's temptations. Mercy on us, that God should
     give His favourite children, men, mouths to speak with, to
     discourse rationally, to promise smoothly, to flatter agreeably, to
     encourage warmly, to counsel wisely: to sing with, to drink with,
     and to kiss with: and that they should turn them into the mouths of
     adders, bears, wolves, hyenas, and whistle like tempests, and emit
     breath through them like distillations of aspic poison, to asperse
     and vilify the innocent labours of their fellow creatures who are
     desirous to please them!

Or it may be a cold in the head which starts the heroic agility of his
tongue, and he writes a long letter without a full stop, which is as
full of substance as one of his essays. His technique is so incredibly
fine, he is such a Paganini of prose, that he can invent and reverse an
idea of pyramidal wit, as in this burlesque of a singer: 'The shake,
which most fine singers reserve for the close or cadence, by some
unaccountable flexibility, or tremulousness of pipe, she carrieth quite
through the composition; so that the time, to a common air or ballad,
keeps double motion, like the earth--running the primary circuit of the
tune, and still revolving upon its own axis'; and he can condense into
six words the whole life-history and the soul's essential secret of
Coleridge, when he says of him, in almost the last fragment of prose
that he wrote, 'he had a hunger for eternity.'

To read Lamb makes a man more humane, more tolerant, more dainty;
incites to every natural piety, strengthens reverence; while it clears
his brain of whatever dull fumes may have lodged there, stirs up all his
senses to wary alertness, and actually quickens his vitality, like high
pure air. It is, in the familiar phrase, 'a liberal education'; but it
is that finer education which sets free the spirit. His natural piety,
in the full sense of the word, seems to me deeper and more sensitive
than that of any other English writer. Kindness, in him, embraces
mankind, not with the wide engulfing arms of philanthropy, but with an
individual caress. He is almost the sufficient type of virtue, so far as
virtue can ever be loved; for there is not a weakness in him which is
not the bastard of some good quality, and not an error which had an
unsocial origin. His jests add a new reverence to lovely and noble
things, or light up an unsuspected 'soul of goodness in things evil.'

No man ever so loved his friends, or was so honest with them, or made
such a religion of friendship. His character of Hazlitt in the 'Letter
to Southey' is the finest piece of emotional prose which he ever wrote,
and his pen is inspired whenever he speaks of Coleridge. 'Good people,
as they are called,' he writes to Wordsworth, 'won't serve. I want
individuals. I am made up of queer points and want so many answering
needles.' He counts over his friends in public, like a child counting
over his toys, when some one has offered an insult to one of them. He
has delicacies and devotions towards his friends, so subtle and so noble
that they make every man his friend. And, that love may deepen into awe,
there is the tragic bond, that protecting love for his sister which was
made up of so many strange components: pity for madness, sympathy with
what came so close to him in it, as well as mental comradeship, and that
paradox of his position, by which he supports that by which he is

It is, then, this 'human, too human' creature, who comes so close to our
hearts, whom we love and reverence, who is also, and above all, or at
least in the last result, that great artist in prose, faultless in tact,
flawless in technique, that great man of letters, to whom every lover of
'prose as a fine art' looks up with an admiration which may well become
despair. What is it in this style, this way of putting things, so
occasional, so variegated, so like his own harlequin in his 'ghastly
vest of white patchwork,' 'the apparition of a dead rainbow'; what is it
that gives to a style, which no man can analyse, its 'terseness, its
jocular pathos, which makes one feel in laughter?' Those are his own
words, not used of himself; but do they not do something to define what
can, after all, never be explained?


Lamb's defects were his qualities, and nature drove them inward,
concentrating, fortifying, intensifying them; to a not wholly normal or
healthy brain, freakish and without consecution, adding a stammering
tongue which could not speak evenly, and had to do its share, as the
brain did, 'by fits.' 'You,' we find Lamb writing to Godwin,

     'cannot conceive of the desultory and uncertain way in which I (an
     author by fits) sometimes cannot put the thoughts of a common
     letter into sane prose.... Ten thousand times I have confessed to
     you, talking of my talents, my utter inability to remember in any
     comprehensive way what I have read. I can vehemently applaud, or
     perversely stickle, at parts; but I cannot grasp at a whole. This
     infirmity (which is nothing to brag of) may be seen in my two
     little compositions, the tale and my play, in both which no reader,
     however partial, can find any story.'

'My brain,' he says, in a letter to Wordsworth, 'is desultory, and
snatches off hints from things.' And, in a wise critical letter to
Southey, he says, summing up himself in a single phrase: 'I never judge
system-wise of things, but fasten upon particulars.'

Is he, in these phrases that are meant to seem so humble, really
apologising for what was the essential quality of his genius? Montaigne,
who (it is Lamb that says it) 'anticipated all the discoveries of
succeeding essayists,' affected no humility in the statement of almost
exactly the same mental complexion. 'I take the first argument that
fortune offers me,' he tells us; 'they are all equally good for me; I
never design to treat them in their totality, for I never see the whole
of anything, nor do those see it who promise to show it to me.... In
general I love to seize things by some unwonted lustre.' There, in the
two greatest of the essayists, one sees precisely what goes to the
making of the essayist. First, a beautiful disorder: the simultaneous
attack and appeal of contraries, a converging multitude of dreams,
memories, thoughts, sensations, without mental preference, or conscious
guiding of the judgment; and then, order in disorder, a harmony more
properly musical than logical, a separating and return of many elements,
which end by making a pattern. Take that essay of _Elia_ called _Old
China_, and, when you have recovered from its charm, analyse it. You
will see that, in its apparent lawlessness and wandering like idle
memories, it is constructed with the minute care, and almost with the
actual harmony, of poetry; and that vague, interrupting, irrelevant,
lovely last sentence is like the refrain which returns at the end of a

Lamb was a mental gipsy, to whom books were roads open to adventures; he
saw skies in books, and books in skies, and in every orderly section of
social life magic possibilities of vagrancy. But he was also a Cockney,
a lover of limit, civic tradition, the uniform of all ritual. He liked
exceptions, because, in every other instance, he would approve of the
rule. He broke bounds with exquisite decorum. There was in all his
excesses something of 'the good clerk.'

Lamb seemed to his contemporaries notably eccentric, but he was nearer
than them all to the centre. His illuminating rays shot out from the
very heart of light, and returned thither after the circuit. Where
Coleridge lost himself in clouds or in quicksands, Lamb took the nearest
short-cut, and, having reached the goal, went no step beyond it.

And he was a bee for honey, not, like Coleridge, a browsing ox. To him
the essence of delight was choice; and choice, with him, was readier
when the prize was far-fetched and dear bought: a rarity of manners,
books, pictures, or whatever was human or touched humanity. 'Opinion,'
he said, 'is a species of property; and though I am always desirous to
share with my friends to a certain extent, I shall ever like to keep
some tenets and some property properly my own.' And then he found, in
rarity, one of the qualities of the best; and was never, like most
others, content with the good, or in any danger of confusing it with the
best. He was the only man of that great age, which had Coleridge, and
Wordsworth, and Shelley, and the rest, whose taste was flawless. All the
others, who seemed to be marching so straight to so determined a goal,
went astray at one time or other; only Lamb, who was always wandering,
never lost sense of direction, or failed to know how far he had strayed
from the road.

The quality which came to him from that germ of madness which lay hidden
in his nature had no influence upon his central sanity. It gave him the
tragic pathos and mortal beauty of his wit, its dangerous nearness to
the heart, its quick sense of tears, its at times desperate gaiety; and,
also, a hard, indifferent levity, which, to brother and sister alike,
was a rampart against obsession, or a stealthy way of temporising with
the enemy. That tinge is what gives its strange glitter to his fooling;
madness playing safely and lambently around the stoutest common sense.
In him reason always justifies itself by unreason, and if you consider
well his quips and cranks you will find them always the play of the
intellect. I know one who read the essays of _Elia_ with intense
delight, and was astonished when I asked her if she had been amused. She
had seen so well through the fun to its deep inner meaning that the fun
had not detained her. She had found in all of it nothing but a pure
intellectual reason, beyond logic, where reason is one with intuition.



Villon was the first modern poet; he remains the most modern of poets.
One requires a certain amount of old French, together with some
acquaintance with the argot of the time, to understand the words in
which he has written down his poems; many allusions to people and things
have only just begun to be cleared up, but, apart from these things, no
poet has ever brought himself closer to us, taken us into his confidence
more simply, than this _personnage peu recommandable, fainéant, ivrogne,
joueur, débauché, écornifleur, et, qui pis est, souteneur de filles,
escroc, voleur, crocheteur de portes et de coffres_. The most
disreputable of poets, he confesses himself to us with a frankness in
which shamelessness is difficult to distinguish from humility. M. Gaston
Paris, who for the most part is content to take him as he is, for better
for worse, finds it necessary to apologise for him when he comes to the
ballad of _La Grosse Margot_: this, he professes, we need not take as a
personal confession, but as a mere exercise in composition! But if we
are to understand Villon rightly, we must not reject even _la grosse
Margot_ from her place in his life. He was no dabbler in infamy, but one
who loved infamous things for their own sake. He loved everything for
its own sake: _la grosse Margot_ in the flesh, _les dames du temps
jadis_ in the spirit,

     Sausses, brouets et gros poissons,
     Tartes, flaons, oefs frits et pochez,
     Perdus, et en toutes façons,

his mother, _le bon royaume de France_, and above all, Paris. _Il a
parcouru toute la France sans rapporter une seule impression de
campagne. C'est un poète de ville, plus encore: un poète de quartier. Il
n'est vraiment chez lui que sur la Montague Sainte-Geneviève, entre le
Palais, les collèges, le Châtelet, les tavernes, les rotisseries, les
tripots et les rues où Marion l'Idole et la grande Jeanne de Bretagne
tiennent leur 'publique école'._ It is in this world that he lived, for
this world that he wrote. _Fils du peuple, entré par l'instruction dans
la classe lettrée, puis déclassé par ses vices, il dut à son humble
origine de rester en communication constante avec les sources éternelles
de toute vraie poésie._ And so he came into a literature of formalists,
like a child, a vigorous, unabashed, malicious child, into a company of

Villon, before any one in French literature, called things by their
names, made poetry as Homer made it, with words that meant facts. He was
a thief and a vagabond who wrote in the 'grand style' by daring to be
sincere to himself, to the aspect under which human things came to him,
to the precise names of precise things. He had a sensitiveness in his
soul which perhaps matched the deftness of his fingers, in their adroit,
forbidden trade: his soul bent easily from his mother praying in the
cloister to the fat Margot drinking in the tavern; he could dream
exquisitely over the dead ladies who had once been young, and who had
gone like last year's snow, and then turn to the account-book of his
satirical malice against the clerks and usurers for whom he was making
the testament of his poverty. He knew winter, 'when the wolves live on
wind,' and how the gallows looks when one stands under it. And he knew
all the secrets of the art of verse-making which courtly poets, like the
King, used for the stringing together of delicate trifles, ornamental
evasions of facts. He was no poet of the people, but a scholar vagabond,
loving the gutter; and so he has the sincerity of the artist as well as
the only half-convincing sincerity of the man. There has been no greater
artist in French verse, as there has been no greater poet; and the main
part of the history of poetry in France is the record of a long
forgetting of all that Villon found out for himself.




The _Memoirs_ of Casanova, though they have enjoyed the popularity of a
bad reputation, have never had justice done to them by serious students
of literature, of life, and of history. One English writer, indeed, Mr.
Havelock Ellis, has realised that 'there are few more delightful books
in the world,' and he has analysed them in an essay on Casanova,
published in _Affirmations_, with extreme care and remarkable subtlety.
But this essay stands alone, at all events in English, as an attempt to
take Casanova seriously, to show him in his relation to his time, and in
his relation to human problems. And yet these _Memoirs_ are perhaps the
most valuable document which we possess on the society of the eighteenth
century; they are the history of a unique life, a unique personality,
one of the greatest of autobiographies; as a record of adventures, they
are more entertaining than _Gil Blas_, or _Monte Cristo_, or any of the
imaginary travels, and escapes, and masquerades in life, which have been
written in imitation of them. They tell the story of a man who loved
life passionately for its own sake: one to whom woman was, indeed, the
most important thing in the world, but to whom nothing in the world was
indifferent. The bust which gives us the most lively notion of him shows
us a great, vivid, intellectual face, full of fiery energy and calm
resource, the face of a thinker and a fighter in one. A scholar, an
adventurer, perhaps a Cabalist, a busy stirrer in politics, a gamester,
one 'born for the fairer sex,' as he tells us, and born also to be a
vagabond; this man, who is remembered now for his written account of his
own life, was that rarest kind of autobiographer, one who did not live
to write, but wrote because he had lived, and when he could live no

And his _Memoirs_ take one all over Europe, giving sidelights, all the
more valuable in being almost accidental, upon many of the affairs and
people most interesting to us during two-thirds of the eighteenth
century. Giacomo Casanova was born in Venice, of Spanish and Italian
parentage, on April 2, 1725; he died at the Château of Dux, in Bohemia,
on June 4, 1798. In that lifetime of seventy-three years he travelled,
as his _Memoirs_ show us, in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, England,
Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Poland, Spain, Holland, Turkey; he met
Voltaire at Ferney, Rousseau at Montmorency, Fontenelle, d'Alembert and
Crébillon at Paris, George III. in London, Louis XV. at Fontainebleau,
Catherine the Great at St. Petersburg, Benedict XII. at Rome, Joseph II.
at Vienna, Frederick the Great at Sans-Souci. Imprisoned by the
Inquisitors of State in the _Piombi_ at Venice, he made, in 1755, the
most famous escape in history. His _Memoirs_, as we have them, break off
abruptly at the moment when he is expecting a safe conduct, and the
permission to return to Venice after twenty years' wanderings. He did
return, as we know from documents in the Venetian archives; he returned
as secret agent of the Inquisitors, and remained in their service from
1774 until 1782. At the end of 1782 he left Venice; and next year we
find him in Paris, where, in 1784, he met Count Waldstein at the
Venetian Ambassador's, and was invited by him to become his librarian at
Dux. He accepted, and for the fourteen remaining years of his life lived
at Dux, where he wrote his _Memoirs_.

Casanova died in 1798, but nothing was heard of the _Memoirs_ (which the
Prince de Ligne, in his own _Memoirs_, tells us that Casanova had read
to him, and in which he found _du dramatique, de la rapidité, du
comique, de la philosophie, des choses neuves, sublimes, inimitables
même_) until the year 1820, when a certain Carlo Angiolini brought to
the publishing house of Brockhaus, in Leipzig, a manuscript entitled
_Histoire de ma vie jusqu'à l'an_ 1797, in the handwriting of Casanova.
This manuscript, which I have examined at Leipzig, is written on
foolscap paper, rather rough and yellow; it is written on both sides of
the page, and in sheets or quires; here and there the paging shows that
some pages have been omitted, and in their place are smaller sheets of
thinner and whiter paper, all in Casanova's handsome, unmistakable
handwriting. The manuscript is done up in twelve bundles, corresponding
with the twelve volumes of the original edition; and only in one place
is there a gap. The fourth and fifth chapters of the twelfth volume are
missing, as the editor of the original edition points out, adding: 'It
is not probable that these two chapters have been withdrawn from the
manuscript of Casanova by a strange hand; everything leads us to believe
that the author himself suppressed them, in the intention, no doubt, of
re-writing them, but without having found time to do so.' The manuscript
ends abruptly with the year 1774, and not with the year 1797, as the
title would lead us to suppose.

This manuscript, in its original state, has never been printed. Herr
Brockhaus, on obtaining possession of the manuscript, had it translated
into German by Wilhelm Schütz, but with many omissions and alterations,
and published this translation, volume by volume, from 1822 to 1828,
under the title, _Aus den Memoiren des Venetianers Jacob Casanova de
Seingalt_. While the German edition was in course of publication, Herr
Brockhaus employed a certain Jean Laforgue, a professor of the French
language at Dresden, to revise the original manuscript, correcting
Casanova's vigorous, but at times incorrect, and often somewhat Italian,
French according to his own notions of elegant writing, suppressing
passages which seemed too free-spoken from the point of view of morals
and of politics, and altering the names of some of the persons referred
to, or replacing those names by initials. This revised text was
published in twelve volumes, the first two in 1826, the third and fourth
in 1828, the fifth to the eighth in 1832, and the ninth to the twelfth
in 1837; the first four bearing the imprint of Brockhaus at Leipzig and
Ponthieu et Cie at Paris; the next four the imprint of Heideloff et
Campé at Paris; and the last four nothing but _À Bruxelles_. The volumes
are all uniform, and were all really printed for the firm of Brockhaus.
This, however far from representing the real text, is the only
authoritative edition, and my references throughout this article will
always be to this edition.

In turning over the manuscript at Leipzig, I read some of the suppressed
passages, and regretted their suppression; but Herr Brockhaus, the
present head of the firm, assured me that they are not really very
considerable in number. The damage, however, to the vivacity of the
whole narrative, by the persistent alterations of M. Laforgue, is
incalculable. I compared many passages, and found scarcely three
consecutive sentences untouched. Herr Brockhaus (whose courtesy I cannot
sufficiently acknowledge) was kind enough to have a passage copied out
for me, which I afterwards read over, and checked word by word. In this
passage Casanova says, for instance: _Elle venoit presque tous les jours
lui faire une belle visite._ This is altered into: _Cependant chaque
jour Thérèse venait lui faire une visite._ Casanova says that some one
_avoit, comme de raison, formé le projet d'allier Dieu avec le diable_.
This is made to read: _Qui, comme de raison, avait saintement formé le
projet d'allier les intérêts du ciel aux oeuvres de ce monde._
Casanova tell us that Thérèse would not commit a mortal sin _pour
devenir reine du monde_: _pour une couronne_, corrects the indefatigable
Laforgue. _Il ne savoit que lui dire_ becomes _Dans cet état de
perplexité_; and so forth. It must, therefore, be realised that the
_Memoirs_, as we have them, are only a kind of pale tracing of the vivid
colours of the original.

When Casanova's _Memoirs_ were first published, doubts were expressed as
to their authenticity, first by Ugo Foscolo (in the _Westminster
Review_, 1827), then by Quérard, supposed to be an authority in regard
to anonymous and pseudonymous writings, finally by Paul Lacroix, _le
bibliophile Jacob_, who suggested, or rather expressed his 'certainty,'
that the real author of the _Memoirs_ was Stendhal, whose 'mind,
character, ideas and style' he seemed to recognise on every page. This
theory, as foolish and as unsupported as the Baconian theory of
Shakespeare, has been carelessly accepted, or at all events accepted as
possible, by many good scholars who have never taken the trouble to look
into the matter for themselves. It was finally disproved by a series of
articles of Armand Baschet, entitled _Preuves curieuses de
l'authenticité des Mémoires de Jacques Casanova de Seingalt_, in _Le
Livre_, January, February, April and May, 1881; and these proofs were
further corroborated by two articles of Alessandro d'Ancona, entitled
_Un Avventuriere del Secolo XVIII._, in the _Nuova Antologia_, February
1 and August 1, 1882. Baschet had never himself seen the manuscript of
the _Memoirs_, but he had learnt all the facts about it from Messrs.
Brockhaus, and he had himself examined the numerous papers relating to
Casanova in the Venetian archives. A similar examination was made at the
Frari at about the same time by the Abbé Fulin; and I myself, in 1894,
not knowing at the time that the discovery had been already made, made
it over again for myself. There the arrest of Casanova, his imprisonment
in the _Piombi_, the exact date of escape, the name of the monk who
accompanied him, are all authenticated by documents contained in the
_riferte_ of the Inquisition of State; there are the bills for the
repairs of the roof and walls of the cell from which he escaped; there
are the reports of the spies on whose information he was arrested, for
his too dangerous free-spokenness in matters of religion and morality.
The same archives contain forty-eight letters of Casanova to the
Inquisitors of State, dating from 1763 to 1782, among the _Riferte dei
Confidenti_, or reports of secret agents; the earliest asking
permission to return to Venice, the rest giving information in regard to
the immoralities of the city, after his return there; all in the same
handwriting as the _Memoirs_. Further proof could scarcely be needed,
but Baschet has done more than prove the authenticity, he has proved the
extraordinary veracity, of the _Memoirs_. F. W. Barthold, in _Die
Geschichtlichen Persönlichkeiten in J. Casanova's Memoiren_, 2 vols.,
1846, had already examined about a hundred of Casanova's allusions to
well-known people, showing the perfect exactitude of all but six or
seven, and out of these six or seven inexactitudes ascribing only a
single one to the author's intention. Baschet and d'Ancona both carry on
what Barthold had begun; other investigators, in France, Italy and
Germany, have followed them; and two things are now certain, first, that
Casanova himself wrote the _Memoirs_ published under his name, though
not textually in the precise form in which we have them; and, second,
that as their veracity becomes more and more evident as they are
confronted with more and more independent witnesses, it is only fair to
suppose that they are equally truthful where the facts are such as could
only have been known to Casanova himself.


For more than two-thirds of a century it has been known that Casanova
spent the last fourteen years of his life at Dux, that he wrote his
_Memoirs_ there, and that he died there. During all this time people
have been discussing the authenticity and the truthfulness of the
_Memoirs_, they have been searching for information about Casanova in
various directions, and yet hardly any one has ever taken the trouble,
or obtained the permission, to make a careful examination in precisely
the one place where information was most likely to be found. The very
existence of the manuscripts at Dux was known only to a few, and to most
of these only on hearsay; and thus the singular good fortune was
reserved for me, on my visit to Count Waldstein in September 1899, to be
the first to discover the most interesting things contained in these
manuscripts. M. Octave Uzanne, though he had not himself visited Dux,
had indeed procured copies of some of the manuscripts, a few of which
were published by him in _Le Livre_, in 1887 and 1889. But with the
death of _Le Livre_ in 1889 the _Casanova inédit_ came to an end, and
has never, so far as I know, been continued elsewhere. Beyond the
publication of these fragments, nothing has been done with the
manuscripts at Dux, nor has an account of them ever been given by any
one who has been allowed to examine them.

For five years, ever since I had discovered the documents in the
Venetian archives, I had wanted to go to Dux; and in 1899, when I was
staying with Count Lützow at Zampach, in Bohemia, I found the way kindly
opened for me. Count Waldstein, the present head of the family, with
extreme courtesy, put all his manuscripts at my disposal, and invited me
to stay with him. Unluckily, he was called away on the morning of the
day that I reached Dux. He had left everything ready for me, and I was
shown over the castle by a friend of his, Dr. Kittel, whose courtesy I
should like also to acknowledge. After a hurried visit to the castle we
started on the long drive to Oberleutensdorf, a smaller Schloss near
Komotau, where the Waldstein family was then staying. The air was sharp
and bracing; the two Russian horses flew like the wind; I was whirled
along in an unfamiliar darkness, through a strange country, black with
coal mines, through dark pine woods, where a wild peasantry dwelt in
little mining towns. Here and there, a few men and women passed us on
the road, in their Sunday finery; then a long space of silence, and we
were in the open country, galloping between broad fields; and always in
a haze of lovely hills, which I saw more distinctly as we drove back
next morning.

The return to Dux was like a triumphal entry, as we dashed through the
market-place filled with people come for the Monday market, pots and
pans and vegetables strewn in heaps all over the ground, on the rough
paving stones, up to the great gateway of the castle, leaving but just
room for us to drive through their midst. I had the sensation of an
enormous building: all Bohemian castles are big, but this one was like a
royal palace. Set there in the midst of the town, after the Bohemian
fashion, it opens at the back upon great gardens, as if it were in the
midst of the country. I walked through room after room, along corridor
after corridor; everywhere there were pictures, everywhere portraits of
Wallenstein, and battle-scenes in which he led on his troops. The
library, which was formed, or at least arranged, by Casanova, and which
remains as he left it, contains some 25,000 volumes, some of them of
considerable value; one of the most famous books in Bohemian literature,
Skála's _History of the Church_, exists in manuscript at Dux, and it is
from this manuscript that the two published volumes of it were printed.
The library forms part of the Museum, which occupies a ground-floor wing
of the castle. The first room is an armoury, in which all kinds of arms
are arranged, in a decorative way, covering the ceiling and the walls
with strange patterns. The second room contains pottery, collected by
Casanova's Waldstein on his Eastern travels. The third room is full of
curious mechanical toys, and cabinets, and carvings in ivory. Finally,
we come to the library, contained in the two innermost rooms. The
book-shelves are painted white, and reach to the low-vaulted ceilings,
which are white-washed. At the end of a bookcase, in the corner of one
of the windows, hangs a fine engraved portrait of Casanova.

After I had been all over the castle, so long Casanova's home, I was
taken to Count Waldstein's study, and left there with the manuscripts. I
found six huge cardboard cases, large enough to contain foolscap paper,
lettered on the back: _Gräfl. Waldstein-Wartenberg'sches Real
Fideicommiss. Dux-Oberleutensdorf: Handschriftlicher Nachlass Casanova_.
The cases were arranged so as to stand like books; they opened at the
side; and on opening them, one after another, I found series after
series of manuscripts roughly thrown together, after some pretence at
arrangement, and lettered with a very generalised description of
contents. The greater part of the manuscripts were in Casanova's
handwriting, which I could see gradually beginning to get shaky with
years. Most were written in French, a certain number in Italian. The
beginning of a catalogue in the library, though said to be by him, was
not in his handwriting. Perhaps it was taken down at his dictation.
There were also some copies of Italian and Latin poems not written by
him. Then there were many big bundles of letters addressed to him,
dating over more than thirty years. Almost all the rest was in his own

I came first upon the smaller manuscripts, among which I found, jumbled
together on the same and on separate scraps of paper, washing-bills,
accounts, hotel bills, lists of letters written, first drafts of letters
with many erasures, notes on books, theological and mathematical notes,
sums, Latin quotations, French and Italian verses, with variants, a long
list of classical names which have and have not been _francisés_, with
reasons for and against; 'what I must wear at Dresden'; headings without
anything to follow, such as: 'Reflexions on respiration, on the true
cause of youth--the crows'; a new method of winning the lottery at Rome;
recipes, among which is a long printed list of perfumes sold at Spa; a
newspaper cutting, dated Prague, 25th October 1790, on the
thirty-seventh balloon ascent of Blanchard; thanks to some 'noble donor'
for the gift of a dog called 'Finette'; a passport for _Monsieur de
Casanova, Vénitien, allant d'ici en Hollande_, October 13, 1758 (_Ce
Passeport bon pour quinze jours_), together with an order for
post-horses, gratis, from Paris to Bordeaux and Bayonne.[1]

Occasionally, one gets a glimpse into his daily life at Dux, as in this
note, scribbled on a fragment of paper (here and always I translate the
French literally): 'I beg you to tell my servant what the biscuits are
that I like to eat, dipped in wine, to fortify my stomach. I believe
that they can all be found at Roman's.' Usually, however, these notes,
though often suggested by something closely personal, branch off into
more general considerations; or else begin with general considerations,
and end with a case in point. Thus, for instance, a fragment of three
pages begins: 'A compliment which is only made to gild the pill is a
positive impertinence, and Monsieur Bailli is nothing but a charlatan;
the monarch ought to have spit in his face, but the monarch trembled
with fear.' A manuscript entitled _Essai d'Égoïsme_, dated, 'Dux, this
27th June, 1769,' contains, in the midst of various reflections, an
offer to let his _appartement_ in return for enough money to
'tranquillise for six months two Jew creditors at Prague.' Another
manuscript is headed 'Pride and Folly,' and begins with a long series of
antitheses, such as: 'All fools are not proud, and all proud men are
fools. Many fools are happy, all proud men are unhappy.' On the same
sheet follows this instance or application:

     Whether it is possible to compose a Latin distich of the greatest
     beauty without knowing either the Latin language or prosody. We
     must examine the possibility and the impossibility, and afterwards
     see who is the man who says he is the author of the distich, for
     there are extraordinary people in the world. My brother, in short,
     ought to have composed the distich, because he says so, and because
     he confided it to me tête-à-tête. I had, it is true, difficulty in
     believing him; but what is one to do? Either one must believe, or
     suppose him capable of telling a lie which could only be told by a
     fool; and that is impossible, for all Europe knows that my brother
     is not a fool.

Here, as so often in these manuscripts, we seem to see Casanova thinking
on paper. He uses scraps of paper (sometimes the blank page of a letter,
on the other side of which we see the address) as a kind of informal
diary; and it is characteristic of him, of the man of infinitely curious
mind, which this adventurer really was, that there are so few merely
personal notes among these casual jottings. Often, they are purely
abstract; at times, metaphysical _jeux d'esprit_, like the sheet of
fourteen 'Different Wagers,' which begins:

     I wager that it is not true that a man who weighs a hundred pounds
     will weigh more if you kill him. I wager that if there is any
     difference, he will weigh less. I wager that diamond powder has not
     sufficient force to kill a man.

Side by side with these fanciful excursions into science, come more
serious ones, as in the note on Algebra, which traces its progress since
the year 1494, before which 'it had only arrived at the solution of
problems of the second degree, inclusive.' A scrap of paper tells us
that Casanova 'did not like regular towns.' 'I like,' he says, 'Venice,
Rome, Florence, Milan, Constantinople, Genoa.' Then he becomes abstract
and inquisitive again, and writes two pages, full of curious,
out-of-the-way learning, on the name of Paradise:

     The name of Paradise is a name in Genesis which indicates a place
     of pleasure (_lieu voluptueux_): this term is Persian. This place
     of pleasure was made by God before he had created man.

It may be remembered that Casanova quarrelled with Voltaire, because
Voltaire had told him frankly that his translation of _L'Écossaise_ was
a bad translation. It is piquant to read another note written in this
style of righteous indignation:

     Voltaire, the hardy Voltaire, whose pen is without bit or bridle;
     Voltaire, who devoured the Bible, and ridiculed our dogmas, doubts,
     and after having made proselytes to impiety, is not ashamed, being
     reduced to the extremity of life, to ask for the sacraments, and to
     cover his body with more relics than St. Louis had at Amboise.

Here is an argument more in keeping with the tone of the _Memoirs_:

     A girl who is pretty and good, and as virtuous as you please, ought
     not to take it ill that a man, carried away by her charms, should
     set himself to the task of making their conquest. If this man
     cannot please her by any means, even if his passion be criminal,
     she ought never to take offence at it, nor treat him unkindly; she
     ought to be gentle, and pity him, if she does not love him, and
     think it enough to keep invincibly hold upon her own duty.

Occasionally he touches upon æsthetical matters, as in a fragment which
begins with liberal definition of beauty:

     Harmony makes beauty, says M. de S. P. (Bernardin de St. Pierre),
     but the definition is too short, if he thinks he has said
     everything. Here is mine. Remember that the subject is
     metaphysical. An object really beautiful ought to seem beautiful to
     all whose eyes fall upon it. That is all; there is nothing more to
     be said.

At times we have an anecdote and its commentary, perhaps jotted down for
use in that latter part of the _Memoirs_ which was never written, or
which has been lost. Here is a single sheet, dated 'this 2nd September,
1791,' and headed _Souvenir_:

     The Prince de Rosenberg said to me, as we went down stairs, that
     Madame de Rosenberg was dead, and asked me if the Comte de
     Waldstein had in the library the illustration of the Villa
     d'Altichiero, which the Emperor had asked for in vain at the city
     library of Prague, and when I answered 'yes,' he gave an equivocal
     laugh. A moment afterwards, he asked me if he might tell the
     Emperor. 'Why not, monseigneur? It is not a secret.' 'Is His
     Majesty coming to Dux?' 'If he goes to Oberlaitensdorf (_sic_) he
     will go to Dux, too; and he may ask you for it, for there is a
     monument there which relates to him when he was Grand Duke.' 'In
     that case, His Majesty can also see my critical remarks on the
     Egyptian prints.'

     The Emperor asked me this morning, 6th October, how I employed my
     time at Dux, and I told him that I was making an Italian anthology.
     'You have all the Italians, then?' 'All, sire.' See what a lie
     leads to. If I had not lied in saying that I was making an
     anthology, I should not have found myself obliged to lie again in
     saying that we have all the Italian poets. If the Emperor comes to
     Dux, I shall kill myself.

'They say that this Dux is a delightful spot,' says Casanova in one of
the most personal of his notes, 'and I see that it might be for many;
but not for me, for what delights me in my old age is independent of the
place which I inhabit. When I do not sleep I dream, and when I am tired
of dreaming I blacken paper, then I read, and most often reject all that
my pen has vomited.' Here we see him blackening paper, on every
occasion, and for every purpose. In one bundle I found an unfinished
story about Roland, and some adventure with women in a cave; then a
'Meditation on arising from sleep, 19th May 1789'; then a 'Short
Reflection of a Philosopher who finds himself thinking of procuring his
own death. At Dux, on getting out of bed on 13th October 1793, day
dedicated to St. Lucy, memorable in my too long life.' A big budget,
containing cryptograms, is headed 'Grammatical Lottery'; and there is
the title-page of a treatise on _The Duplication of the Hexahedron,
demonstrated geometrically to all the Universities and all the Academies
of Europe_.[2] There are innumerable verses, French and Italian, in all
stages, occasionally attaining the finality of these lines, which appear
in half a dozen tentative forms:

     _Sans mystère point de plaisirs,_
     _Sans silence point de mystère._
     _Charme divin de mes loisirs,_
     _Solitude! que tu m'es chère!_

Then there are a number of more or less complete manuscripts of some
extent. There is the manuscript of the translation of Homer's _Iliad, in
ottava rima_ (published in Venice, 1775-8); of the _Histoire de Venise_,
of the _Icosameron_, a curious book published in 1787, purporting to be
'translated from English,' but really an original work of Casanova;
_Philocalies sur les Sottises des Mortels_, a long manuscript never
published; the sketch and beginning of _Le Polémarque, ou la Calomnie
démasquée par la présence d'esprit. Tragicomédie en trois actes,
composée à Dux dans le mois de Juin de l'Année, 1791_, which recurs
again under the form of the _Polémoscopé: La Lorgnette menteuse ou la
Calomnie démasquée_, acted before the Princess de Ligne, at her château
at Teplitz, 1791. There is a treatise in Italian, _Delle Passioni_;
there are long dialogues, such as _Le Philosophe et le Théologien_, and
_Rêve: Dieu-Moi_; there is the _Songe d'un Quart d'Heure_, divided into
minutes; there is the very lengthy criticism of _Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre_; there is the _Confutation d'une Censure indiscrète qu'on
lit dans la Gazette de Iéna, 19 Juin 1789_; with another large
manuscript, unfortunately imperfect, first called _L'Insulte_, and then
_Placet au Public_, dated 'Dux, this 2nd March, 1790,' referring to the
same criticism on the _Icosameron_ and the _Fuite des Prisons_.
_L'Histoire de ma Fuite des Prisons de la République de Venise, qu'on
appelle les Plombs_, which is the first draft of the most famous part of
the _Memoirs_, was published at Leipzig in 1788; and, having read it in
the Marcian Library at Venice, I am not surprised to learn from this
indignant document that it was printed 'under the care of a young Swiss,
who had the talent to commit a hundred faults of orthography.'


We come now to the documents directly relating to the _Memoirs_, and
among these are several attempts at a preface, in which we see the
actual preface coming gradually into form. One is entitled _Casanova au
Lecteur_, another _Histoire de mon Existence_, and a third _Preface_.
There is also a brief and characteristic _Précis de ma vie_, dated
November 17, 1797. Some of these have been printed in _Le Livre_, 1887.
But by far the most important manuscript that I discovered, one which,
apparently, I am the first to discover, is a manuscript entitled
_Extrait du Chapitre 4 et 5_. It is written on paper similar to that on
which the _Memoirs_ are written; the pages are numbered 104-148; and
though it is described as _Extrait_, it seems to contain, at all events,
the greater part of the missing chapters to which I have already
referred, Chapters IV. and V. of the last volume of the _Memoirs_. In
this manuscript we find Armelline and Scolastica, whose story is
interrupted by the abrupt ending of Chapter III.; we find Mariuccia of
Vol. VII., Chapter IX., who married a hairdresser; and we find also
Jaconine, whom Casanova recognises as his daughter, 'much prettier than
Sophia, the daughter of Thérèse Pompeati, whom I had left at London.'[3]
It is curious that this very important manuscript, which supplies the
one missing link in the _Memoirs_, should never have been discovered by
any of the few people who have had the opportunity of looking over the
Dux manuscripts. I am inclined to explain it by the fact that the case
in which I found this manuscript contains some papers not relating to
Casanova. Probably, those who looked into this case looked no further. I
have told Herr Brockhaus of my discovery, and I hope to see Chapters IV.
and V. in their places when the long-looked-for edition of the complete
text is at length given to the world.

Another manuscript which I found tells with great piquancy the whole
story of the Abbé de Brosses' ointment, the curing of the Princess de
Conti's pimples, and the birth of the Duc de Montpensier, which is told
very briefly, and with much less point, in the _Memoirs_ (vol. iii., p.
327). Readers of the _Memoirs_ will remember the duel at Warsaw with
Count Branicki in 1766 (vol. x., pp. 274-320), an affair which attracted
a good deal of attention at the time, and of which there is an account
in a letter from the Abbé Taruffi to the dramatist, Francesco Albergati,
dated Warsaw, March 19, 1766, quoted in Ernesto Masi's _Life of
Albergati_, Bologna, 1878. A manuscript at Dux in Casanova's handwriting
gives an account of this duel in the third person; it is entitled,
_Description de l'affaire arrivée à Varsovie le 5 Mars, 1766_. D'Ancona,
in the _Nuova Antologia_ (vol. lxvii., p. 412), referring to the Abbé
Taruffi's account, mentions what he considers to be a slight
discrepancy: that Taruffi refers to the _danseuse_, about whom the duel
was fought, as La Casacci, while Casanova refers to her as La Catai. In
this manuscript Casanova always refers to her as La Casacci; La Catai is
evidently one of M. Laforgue's arbitrary alterations of the text.

In turning over another manuscript, I was caught by the name Charpillon,
which every reader of the _Memoirs_ will remember as the name of the
harpy by whom Casanova suffered so much in London, in 1763-4. This
manuscript begins by saying: 'I have been in London for six months and
have been to see them (that is, the mother and daughter) in their own
house,' where he finds nothing but 'swindlers, who cause all who go
there to lose their money in gambling.' This manuscript adds some
details to the story told in the ninth and tenth volumes of the
_Memoirs_, and refers to the meeting with the Charpillons four and a
half years before, described in Volume V., pages 482-485. It is written
in a tone of great indignation. Elsewhere, I found a letter written by
Casanova, but not signed, referring to an anonymous letter which he had
received in reference to the Charpillons, and ending: 'My handwriting is
known.' It was not until the last that I came upon great bundles of
letters addressed to Casanova, and so carefully preserved that little
scraps of paper, on which postscripts are written, are still in their
places. One still sees the seals on the backs of many of the letters, on
paper which has slightly yellowed with age, leaving the ink, however,
almost always fresh. They come from Venice, Paris, Rome, Prague,
Bayreuth, The Hague, Genoa, Fiume, Trieste, etc., and are addressed to
as many places, often _poste restante_. Many are letters from women,
some in beautiful handwriting, on thick paper; others on scraps of
paper, in painful hands, ill-spelt. A Countess writes pitifully,
imploring help; one protests her love, in spite of the 'many chagrins'
he has caused her; another asks 'how they are to live together'; another
laments that a report has gone about that she is secretly living with
him, which may harm _his_ reputation. Some are in French, more in
Italian. _Mon cher Giacometto_, writes one woman, in French; _Carissimo
e Amatissimo_, writes another, in Italian. These letters from women are
in some confusion, and are in need of a good deal of sorting over and
rearranging before their full extent can be realised. Thus I found
letters in the same handwriting separated by letters in other
handwritings; many are unsigned, or signed only by a single initial;
many are undated, or dated only with the day of the week or month. There
are a great many letters, dating from 1779 to 1786, signed 'Francesca
Buschini,' a name which I cannot identify; they are written in Italian,
and one of them begins: _Unico Mio vero Amico_ ('my only true friend').
Others are signed 'Virginia B.'; one of these is dated, 'Forli, October
15, 1773.' There is also a 'Theresa B.,' who writes from Genoa. I was at
first unable to identify the writer of a whole series of letters in
French, very affectionate and intimate letters, usually unsigned,
occasionally signed 'B.' She calls herself _votre petite amie_; or she
ends with a half-smiling, half-reproachful 'good-night, and sleep better
than I.' In one letter, sent from Paris in 1759, she writes: 'Never
believe me, but when I tell you that I love you, and that I shall love
you always.' In another letter, ill-spelt, as her letters often are, she
writes: 'Be assured that evil tongues, vapours, calumny, nothing can
change my heart, which is yours entirely, and has no will to change its
master.' Now, it seems to me that these letters must be from Manon
Baletti, and that they are the letters referred to in the sixth volume
of the _Memoirs_. We read there (page 60) how on Christmas Day, 1759,
Casanova receives a letter from Manon in Paris, announcing her marriage
with 'M. Blondel, architect to the King, and member of his Academy'; she
returns him his letters, and begs him to return hers, or burn them.
Instead of doing so he allows Esther to read them, intending to burn
them afterwards. Esther begs to be allowed to keep the letters,
promising to 'preserve them religiously all her life.' 'These letters,'
he says, 'numbered more than two hundred, and the shortest were of four
pages.' Certainly there are not two hundred of them at Dux, but it seems
to me highly probable that Casanova made a final selection from Manon's
letters, and that it is these which I have found.

But, however this may be, I was fortunate enough to find the set of
letters which I was most anxious to find: the letters from Henriette,
whose loss every writer on Casanova has lamented. Henriette, it will be
remembered, makes her first appearance at Cesena, in the year 1748;
after their meeting at Geneva, she reappears, romantically _à propos_,
twenty-two years later, at Aix in Provence; and she writes to Casanova
proposing _un commerce épistolaire_, asking him what he has done since
his escape from prison, and promising to do her best to tell him all
that has happened to her during the long interval. After quoting her
letter, he adds: 'I replied to her, accepting the correspondence that
she offered me, and telling her briefly all my vicissitudes. She related
to me in turn, in some forty letters, all the history of her life. If
she dies before me, I shall add these letters to these _Memoirs_; but
to-day she is still alive, and always happy, though now old.' It has
never been known what became of these letters, and why they were not
added to the _Memoirs_. I have found a great quantity of them, some
signed with her married name in full, 'Henriette de Schnetzmann,' and I
am inclined to think that she survived Casanova, for one of the letters
is dated Bayreuth, 1798, the year of Casanova's death. They are
remarkably charming, written with a mixture of piquancy and
distinction; and I will quote the characteristic beginning and end of
the last letter I was able to find. It begins: 'No, it is impossible to
be sulky with you!' and ends: 'If I become vicious, it is you, my
Mentor, who make me so, and I cast my sins upon you. Even if I were
damned I should still be your most devoted friend, Henriette de
Schnetzmann.' Casanova was twenty-three when he met Henriette; now,
herself an old woman, she writes to him when he is seventy-three, as if
the fifty years that had passed were blotted out in the faithful
affection of her memory. How many more discreet and less changing lovers
have had the quality of constancy in change, to which this life-long
correspondence bears witness? Does it not suggest a view of Casanova not
quite the view of all the world? To me it shows the real man, who
perhaps of all others best understood what Shelley meant when he said:

     True love in this differs from gold or clay,
     That to divide is not to take away.

But, though the letters from women naturally interested me the most,
they were only a certain proportion of the great mass of correspondence
which I turned over. There were letters from Carlo Angiolini, who was
afterwards to bring the manuscript of the _Memoirs_ to Brockhaus; from
Balbi, the monk with whom Casanova escaped from the _Piombi_; from the
Marquis Albergati, playwright, actor, and eccentric, of whom there is
some account in the _Memoirs_; from the Marquis Mosca, 'a distinguished
man of letters whom I was anxious to see,' Casanova tells us in the same
volume in which he describes his visit to the Moscas at Pesaro; from
Zulian, brother of the Duchess of Fiano; from Richard Lorrain, _bel
homme, ayant de l'esprit, le ton et le goût de la bonne société_, who
came to settle at Gorizia in 1773, while Casanova was there; from the
Procurator Morosini, whom he speaks of in the _Memoirs_ as his
'protector,' and as one of those through whom he obtained permission to
return to Venice. His other 'protector,' the _avogador_ Zaguri, had,
says Casanova, 'since the affair of the Marquis Albergati, carried on a
most interesting correspondence with me'; and in fact I found a bundle
of no less than a hundred and thirty-eight letters from him, dating
from 1784 to 1798. Another bundle contains one hundred and seventy-two
letters from Count Lamberg. In the _Memoirs_ Casanova says, referring to
his visit to Augsburg at the end of 1761:

     I used to spend my evenings in a very agreeable manner at the house
     of Count Max de Lamberg, who resided at the court of the
     Prince-Bishop with the title of Grand Marshal. What particularly
     attached me to Count Lamberg was his literary talent. A first-rate
     scholar, learned to a degree, he has published several much
     esteemed works. I carried on an exchange of letters with him which
     ended only with his death four years ago in 1792.

Casanova tells us that, at his second visit to Augsburg in the early
part of 1767, he 'supped with Count Lamberg two or three times a week,'
during the four months he was there. It is with this year that the
letters I have found begin: they end with the year of his death, 1792.
In his _Mémorial d'un Mondain_ Lamberg refers to Casanova as 'a man
known in literature, a man of profound knowledge.' In the first edition
of 1774, he laments that 'a man such as M. de S. Galt' should not yet
have been taken back into favour by the Venetian government, and in the
second edition, 1775, rejoices over Casanova's return to Venice. Then
there are letters from Da Ponte, who tells the story of Casanova's
curious relations with Mme. d'Urfé, in his _Memorie scritte da esso_,
1829; from Pittoni, Bono, and others mentioned in different parts of the
_Memoirs_, and from some dozen others who are not mentioned in them. The
only letters in the whole collection that have been published are those
from the Prince de Ligne and from Count Koenig.


Casanova tells us in his _Memoirs_ that, during his later years at Dux,
he had only been able to 'hinder black melancholy from devouring his
poor existence, or sending him out of his mind,' by writing ten or
twelve hours a day. The copious manuscripts at Dux show us how
persistently he was at work on a singular variety of subjects, in
addition to the _Memoirs_, and to the various books which he published
during those years. We see him jotting down everything that comes into
his head, for his own amusement, and certainly without any thought of
publication; engaging in learned controversies, writing treatises on
abstruse mathematical problems, composing comedies to be acted before
Count Waldstein's neighbours, practising verse-writing in two languages,
indeed with more patience than success, writing philosophical dialogues
in which God and himself are the speakers, and keeping up an extensive
correspondence, both with distinguished men and with delightful women.
His mental activity, up to the age of seventy-three, is as prodigious as
the activity which he had expended in living a multiform and
incalculable life. As in life everything living had interested him, so
in his retirement from life every idea makes its separate appeal to him;
and he welcomes ideas with the same impartiality with which he had
welcomed adventures. Passion has intellectualised itself, and remains
not less passionate. He wishes to do everything, to compete with every
one; and it is only after having spent seven years in heaping up
miscellaneous learning, and exercising his faculties in many directions,
that he turns to look back over his own past life, and to live it over
again in memory, as he writes down the narrative of what had interested
him most in it. 'I write in the hope that my history will never see the
broad daylight of publication,' he tells us, scarcely meaning it, we may
be sure, even in the moment of hesitancy which may naturally come to
him. But if ever a book was written for the pleasure of writing it, it
was this one; and an autobiography written for oneself is not likely to
be anything but frank.

'Truth is the only God I have ever adored,' he tells us: and we now know
how truthful he was in saying so. I have only summarised in this article
the most important confirmations of his exact accuracy in facts and
dates; the number could be extended indefinitely. In the manuscripts we
find innumerable further confirmations; and their chief value as
testimony is that they tell us nothing which we should not have already
known, if we had merely taken Casanova at his word. But it is not always
easy to take people at their own word, when they are writing about
themselves; and the world has been very loth to believe in Casanova as
he represents himself. It has been specially loth to believe that he is
telling the truth when he tells us about his adventures with women. But
the letters contained among these manuscripts show us the women of
Casanova writing to him with all the fervour and all the fidelity which
he attributes to them; and they show him to us in the character of as
fervid and faithful a lover. In every fact, every detail, and in the
whole mental impression which they convey, these manuscripts bring
before us the Casanova of the _Memoirs_. As I seemed to come upon
Casanova at home, it was as if I came upon an old friend, already
perfectly known to me, before I had made my pilgrimage to Dux.



[1] See the account of this visit to Holland, and the reference to
taking a passport, _Memoirs_, v. 238.

[2] See Charles Henry, _Les Connaissances Mathématiques de Casanova_.
Rome 1883.

[3] See _Memoirs_, ix. 272, _et seq._



Biography as a fine art can go no further than Walton's _Life and Death
of Dr. Donne_. From the 'good and virtuous parents' of the first line to
the 'small quantity of Christian dust' of the last, every word is the
touch of a cunning brush painting a picture. The picture lives, and with
so vivid and gracious a life that it imposes itself upon us as the
portrait of a real man, faithfully copied from the man as he lived. But
that is precisely the art of the painter. Walton's picture is so
beautiful because everything in it is sacrificed to beauty; because it
is a convention, a picture in which life is treated almost as theme for
music. And so there remains an opportunity, even after this masterpiece,
for a life of Donne which shall make no pretence to harmonise a
sometimes discordant existence, or indeed to produce, properly speaking,
a piece of art at all; but which shall be faithful to the document, a
piece of history. Such a book has now been written by Mr. Gosse, in his
_Life and Letters of John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's_. It is perhaps the
most solid and serious contribution which Mr. Gosse has made to English
literature, and we may well believe that it will remain the final
authority on so interesting and so difficult a subject. For the first
time, in the light of this clear analysis, and of these carefully
arranged letters, we are able, if not indeed to see Donne as he really
was, at all events to form our own opinion about every action of his
life. This is one of the merits of Mr. Gosse's book; he has collected
his documents, and he has given them to us as they are, guiding us
adroitly along the course of the life which they illustrate, but not
allowing himself to dogmatise on what must still remain conjectural. And
he has given us a series of reproductions of portraits, of the highest
importance in the study of one who is not merely a difficult poet, but a
very ambiguous human being. They begin with the eager, attractive,
somewhat homely youth of eighteen, grasping the hilt of his sword so
tightly that his knuckles start out from the thin covering of flesh;
passing into the mature Donne as we know him, the lean, humorous,
large-browed, courtly thinker, with his large intent eyes, a cloak
folded elegantly about his uncovered throat, or the ruff tightening
about his carefully trimmed beard; and ending with the ghastly emblem
set as a frontispiece to _Death's Duel_, the dying man wrapped already
in his shroud, which gathers into folds above his head, as if tied
together like the mouth of a sack, while the sunken cheeks and hollow
closed eyelids are mocked by the shapely moustache, brushed upwards from
the lips. In the beautiful and fanciful monument in St. Paul's done
after the drawing from which this frontispiece was engraved, there is
less ghastliness and a more harmonious beauty in the brave attitude of a
man who dresses for death as he would dress for Court, wearing the last
livery with an almost foppish sense of propriety. Between them these
portraits tell much, and Mr. Gosse, in his narrative, tells us
everything else that there is to tell, much of it for the first time;
and the distinguished and saintly person of Walton's narrative, so
simple, so easily explicable, becomes more complex at every moment, as
fresh light makes the darkness more and more visible. At the end we seem
to have become singularly intimate with a fascinating and puzzling
creature, whom each of us may try to understand after his fashion, as we
try to understand the real secrets of the character of our friends.

Donne's mind, then, if I may make my own attempt to understand him, was
the mind of the dialectician, of the intellectual adventurer; he is a
poet almost by accident, or at least for reasons with which art in the
abstract has but little to do. He writes verse, first of all, because he
has observed keenly, and because it pleases the pride of his intellect
to satirise the pretensions of humanity. Then it is the flesh which
speaks in his verse, the curiosity of woman, which he has explored in
the same spirit of adventure; then passion, making a slave of him for
love's sake, and turning at last to the slave's hatred; finally,
religion, taken up with the same intellectual interest, the same subtle
indifference, and, in its turn, passing also into passionate reality. A
few poems are inspired in him by what he has seen in remote countries;
some are marriage songs and funeral elegies, written for friendship or
for money. But he writes nothing 'out of his own head,' as we say;
nothing lightly, or, it would seem, easily; nothing for the song's sake.
He speaks, in a letter, of 'descending to print anything in verse'; and
it is certain that he was never completely absorbed by his own poetry,
or at all careful to measure his achievements against those of others.
He took his own poems very seriously, he worked upon them with the whole
force of his intellect; but to himself, even before he became a divine,
he was something more than a poet. Poetry was but one means of
expressing the many-sided activity of his mind and temperament. Prose
was another, preaching another; travel and contact with great events and
persons scarcely less important to him, in the building up of himself.

And he was interested in everything. At one moment he is setting himself
to study Oriental languages, a singularly difficult task in those days.
Both in poetry and divinity he has more Spanish than English books in
his library. Scientific and technical terms are constantly found in his
verse, where we should least expect them, where indeed they are least
welcome. In _Ignatius--his Conclave_ he speaks with learned enthusiasm
of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, and of his own immediate contemporaries,
then but just become famous, Galileo ('who of late hath summoned the
other worlds, the stars, to come nearer to him, and to give an account
of themselves') and Kepler ('who hath received it into his care, that no
new thing should be done in heaven without his knowledge'). He rebukes
himself for his abandonment to 'the worst voluptuousness, which is an
hydroptic, immoderate desire of human learning and languages.' At
twenty-three he was a soldier against Spain under Raleigh, and went on
the 'Islands Voyage'; later on, at different periods, he travelled over
many parts of the Continent, with rich patrons or on diplomatic offices.
Born a Catholic, he became a Protestant, deliberately enough; wrote
books on controversial subjects, against his old party, before he had
taken orders in the Church of England; besides a strange, morbid
speculation on the innocence of suicide. He used his lawyer's training
for dubious enough purposes, advising the Earl of Somerset in the dark
business of his divorce and re-marriage. And, in a mournful pause in the
midst of many harrowing concerns, he writes to a friend: 'When I must
shipwreck, I would fain do it in a sea where mine own impotency might
have some excuse; not in a sullen, weedy lake, where I could not have so
much as exercise for my swimming. Therefore I would fain do something,
but that I cannot tell what is no wonder.' 'Though I be in such a
planetary and erratic fortune that I can do nothing constantly,' he
confesses later in the same letter.

No doubt some of this feverish activity, this uncertainty of aim, was a
matter of actual physical health. It is uncertain at what time the
wasting disease, of which he died, first settled upon him; but he seems
to have been always somewhat sickly of body, and with just that at times
depressing, at times exciting, malady which tells most upon the whole
organisation. That preoccupation with death, which in early life led him
to write his _Biathanatos_, with its elaborate apology for suicide, and
at the end of his life to prepare so spectacularly for the act of dying,
was but one symptom of a morbid state of body and brain and nerves, to
which so many of his poems and so many of his letters bear witness.
'Sometimes,' he writes, in a characteristic letter, 'when I find myself
transported with jollity and love of company, I hang lead to my heels,
and reduce to my thoughts my fortunes, my years, the duties of a man, of
a friend, of a husband, of a father, and all the incumbencies of a
family; when sadness dejects me, either I countermine it with another
sadness, or I kindle squibs about me again, and fly into sportfulness
and company.'

At the age of thirty-five he writes from his bed describing every detail
of what he frantically calls 'a sickness which I cannot name or
describe,' and ends his letter: 'I profess to you truly, that my
loathness to give over now, seems to myself an ill sign that I shall
write no more.' It was at this time that he wrote the _Biathanatos_,
with its explicit declaration in the preface: 'Whensoever any
affliction assails me, methinks I have the keys of my prison in mine own
hand, and no remedy presents itself so soon to my heart as mine own
sword.' Fifteen years later, when one of his most serious illnesses was
upon him, and his life in real danger, he notes down all his symptoms as
he lies awake night after night, with an extraordinary and, in itself,
morbid acuteness. 'I observe the physician with the same diligence as he
the disease; I see he fears, and I fear with him; I overtake him, I
over-run him in his fear, because he makes his pace slow; I fear the
more because he disguises his fear, and I see it with the more sharpness
because he would not have me see it.' As he lies in bed, he realises 'I
am mine own ghost, and rather affright my beholders than instruct them.
They conceive the worst of me now, and yet fear worse; they give me for
dead now, and yet wonder how I do when they wake at midnight, and ask
how I do to-morrow. Miserable and inhuman posture, where I must practise
my lying in the grave by lying still.' This preying upon itself of the
brain is but one significant indication of a temperament, neurotic
enough indeed, but in which the neurosis is still that of the curious
observer, the intellectual casuist, rather than of the artist. A
wonderful piece of self-analysis, worthy of St. Augustine, which occurs
in one of his funeral sermons, gives poignant expression to what must
doubtless have been a common condition of so sensitive a brain. 'I throw
myself down in my chamber, and I call in and invite God and His angels
together; and when they are there, I neglect God and his angels for the
noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door;
I talk on in the same posture of prayer, eyes lifted up, knees bowed
down, as though I prayed to God; and if God should ask me when I last
thought of God in that prayer, I cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I
forgot what I was about; But when I began to forget it, I cannot tell. A
memory of yesterday's pleasures, a fear of to-morrow's dangers, a straw
under my knee, a noise in mine ear, a chimera in my brain, troubles me
in my prayer.' It is this brain, turned inward upon itself, and darting
out on every side in purely random excursions, that was responsible, I
cannot doubt, for all the contradictions of a career in which the inner
logic is not at first apparent.

Donne's career divides itself sharply into three parts: his youth, when
we see him a soldier, a traveller, a lover, a poet, unrestrained in all
the passionate adventures of youth; then a middle period, in which he is
a lawyer and a theologian, seeking knowledge and worldly advancement,
without any too restraining scruple as to the means which come to his
hand; and then a last stage of saintly living and dying. What then is
the link between these successive periods, the principle of development,
the real Donne in short? 'He was none of these, or all of these, or
more,' says Mr. Gosse. But, surely, he was indeed all of these, and his
individuality precisely the growth from one stage to another, the subtle
intelligence being always there, working vividly, but in each period
working in a different direction. 'I would fain do something, but that I
cannot tell what is no wonder.' Everything in Donne seems to me to
explain itself in that fundamental uncertainty of aim, and his
uncertainty of aim partly by a morbid physical condition. He searches,
nothing satisfies him, tries everything, in vain; finding satisfaction
at last in the Church, as in a haven of rest. Always it is the curious,
insatiable brain searching. And he is always wretchedly aware that he
'can do nothing constantly.'

His three periods, then, are three stages in the search after a way to
walk in, something worthy of himself to do. Thus, of his one printed
collection of verse he writes: 'Of my _Anniversaries_, the fault which I
acknowledge in myself is to have descended to print anything in verse,
which, though it have excuse, even in our times, by example of men,
which one would think should as little have done it as I, yet I confess
I wonder how I declined to it, and do not pardon myself.' Of his legal
studies he writes in the same letter: 'For my purpose of proceeding in
the profession of the law, so far as to a title, you may be pleased to
correct that imagination where you find it. I ever thought the study of
it my best entertainment and pastime, but I have no ambition nor design
upon the style.' Until he accepts religion, with all its limitations and
encouragements, he has not even sure landmarks on his way. So
speculative a brain, able to prove, and proving for its own uneasy
satisfaction, that even suicide is 'not so naturally sin, that it may
never be otherwise,' could allow itself to be guided by no fixed rules;
and to a brain so abstract, conduct must always have seemed of less
importance than it does to most other people, and especially conduct
which is argument, like the demonstrations on behalf of what seems, on
the face of it, a somewhat iniquitous divorce and re-marriage, or like
those unmeasured eulogies, both of this 'blest pair of swans,' and of
the dead child of a rich father. He admits, in one of his letters, that
in his elegies, 'I did best when I had least truth for my subjects'; and
of the _Anniversaries_ in honour of little Mistress Drury, 'But for the
other part of the imputation of having said so much, my defence is, that
my purpose was to say as well as I could; for since I never saw the
gentlewoman, I cannot be understood to have bound myself to have spoken
the just truth.' He is always the casuist, always mentally impartial in
the face of a moral problem, reserving judgment on matters which, after
all, seem to him remote from an unimpassioned contemplation of things;
until that moment of crisis comes, long after he has become a clergyman,
when the death of his wife changed the world for him, and he became, in
the words of Walton, 'crucified to the world, and all those vanities,
those imaginary pleasures, that are daily acted on that restless stage;
and they were as perfectly crucified to him.' From that time to the end
of his life he had found what he had all the while been seeking: rest
for the restlessness of his mind, in a meditation upon the divine
nature; occupation, in being 'ambassador of God,' through the pulpit;
himself, as it seemed to him, at his fullest and noblest. It was
himself, really, that he had been seeking all the time, conscious at
least of that in all the deviations of the way; himself, the ultimate of
his curiosities.


And yet, what remains to us out of this life of many purposes, which had
found an end satisfying to itself in the Deanery of St. Paul's, is
simply a bundle of manuscript verses, which the writer could bring
himself neither to print nor to destroy. His first satire speaks
contemptuously of 'giddy fantastic poets,' and, when he allowed himself
to write poetry, he was resolved to do something different from what
anybody had ever done before, not so much from the artist's instinctive
desire of originality, as from a kind of haughty, yet really bourgeois,
desire to be indebted to nobody. With what care he wrote is confessed in
a passage of one of his letters, where, speaking of a sermon, he says:
'For, as Cardinal Cusanus wrote a book, _Cribratio Alchorani_, I have
cribrated, and re-cribrated, and post-cribrated the sermon, and must
necessarily say, the King, who hath let fall his eye upon some of my
poems, never saw, of mine, a hand, or an eye, or an affection, set down
with so much study and diligence, and labour of syllables, as in this
sermon I expressed those two points.' But he thought there were other
things more important than being a poet, and this very labour of his was
partly a sign of it. 'He began,' says Mr. Gosse with truth, 'as if
poetry had never been written before.' To the people of his time, to
those who came immediately after him, he was the restorer of English

     The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds
     O'erspread, was purged by thee,

says Carew, in those memorial verses in which the famous lines occur:

     Here lies a king that ruled as he thought fit
     The universal monarchy of wit.

Shakespeare was living, remember, and it was Elizabethan poetry that
Donne set himself to correct. He began with metre, and invented a system
of prosody which has many merits, and would have had more in less
arbitrary hands. 'Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging,'
said Ben Jonson, who was nevertheless his friend and admirer. And yet,
if one will but read him always for the sense, for the natural emphasis
of what he has to say, there are few lines which will not come out in at
all events the way that he meant them to be delivered. The way he meant
them to be delivered is not always as beautiful as it is expressive.
Donne would be original at all costs, preferring himself to his art. He
treated poetry as Æsop's master treated his slave, and broke what he
could not bend.

But Donne's novelty of metre is only a part of his too deliberate
novelty as a poet. As Mr. Gosse has pointed out, with a self-evident
truth which has apparently waited for him to say it, Donne's real
position in regard to the poetry of his time was that of a realistic
writer, who makes a clean sweep of tradition, and puts everything down
in the most modern words and with the help of the most trivial actual

     To what a cumbersome unwieldiness,
     And burdensome corpulence my love hath grown,

he will begin a poem on _Love's Diet_. Of love, as the master of hearts,
he declares seriously:

     He swallows us and never chaws;
     By him, as by chain'd shot, whole ranks do die;
     He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.

And, in his unwise insistence that every metaphor shall be absolutely
new, he drags medical and alchemical and legal properties into verse
really full of personal passion, producing at times poetry which is a
kind of disease of the intellect, a sick offshoot of science. Like most
poets of powerful individuality, Donne lost precisely where he gained.
That cumulative and crowding and sweeping intellect which builds up his
greatest poems into miniature Escurials of poetry, mountainous and
four-square to all the winds of the world, 'purges' too often the
flowers as well as the weeds out of 'the Muses' garden.' To write poetry
as if it had never been written before is to attempt what the greatest
poets never attempted. There are only two poets in English literature
who thus stand out of the tradition, who are without ancestors, Donne
and Browning. Each seems to have certain qualities almost greater than
the qualities of the greatest; and yet in each some precipitation of
arrogant egoism remains in the crucible, in which the draught has all
but run immortally clear.

Donne's quality of passion is unique in English poetry. It is a rapture
in which the mind is supreme, a reasonable rapture, and yet carried to a
pitch of actual violence. The words themselves rarely count for much, as
they do in Crashaw, for instance, where words turn giddy at the height
of their ascension. The words mean things, and it is the things that
matter. They can be brutal: 'For God's sake, hold your tongue, and let
me love!' as if a long, pre-supposed self-repression gave way suddenly,
in an outburst. 'Love, any devil else but you,' he begins, in his abrupt
leap to the heart of the matter. Or else his exaltation will be grave,
tranquil, measureless in assurance.

     All kings, and all their favourites,
     All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
     The sun itself, which makes time, as they pass,
     Is elder by a year now than it was
     When thou and I first one another saw.
     All other things to their destruction draw,
     Only our love hath no decay;
     This no to-morrow hath, no yesterday;
     Running, it never runs from us away,
     But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

This lover loves with his whole nature, and so collectedly because
reason, in him, is not in conflict with passion, but passion's ally. His
senses speak with unparalleled directness, as in those elegies which
must remain the model in English of masculine sensual sobriety. He
distinguishes the true end of such loving in a forcible,
characteristically prosaic image:

     Whoever loves, if he do not propose
     The right true end of love, he's one that goes
     To sea for nothing but to make him sick.

And he exemplifies every motion and the whole pilgrim's progress of
physical love, with a deliberate, triumphant, unluxurious explicitness
which 'leaves no doubt,' as we say 'of his intentions,' and can be no
more than referred to passingly in modern pages. In a series of hate
poems, of which I will quote the finest, he gives expression to a whole
region of profound human sentiment which has never been expressed, out
of Catullus, with such intolerable truth.

     When by thy scorn, O murderess, I am dead,
     And that thou think'st thee free
     From all solicitation from me,
     Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
     And thee, feign'd vestal, in worse arms shall see:
     Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
     And he, whose thou art then, being tired before,
     Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
     Thou call'st for more,
     And, in false sleep, will from thee shrink;
     And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
     Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie
     A verier ghost than I.
     What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
     Lest that preserve thee; and since my love is spent,
     I'd rather thou should'st painfully repent,
     Than by my threatenings rest still innocent.

Yet it is the same lover, and very evidently the same, who winnows all
this earthly passion to a fine, fruitful dust, fit to make bread for
angels. Ecstatic reason, passion justifying its intoxication by
revealing the mysteries that it has come thus to apprehend, speak in the
quintessence of Donne's verse with an exalted simplicity which seems to
make a new language for love. It is the simplicity of a perfectly
abstract geometrical problem, solved by one to whom the rapture of
solution is the blossoming of pure reason. Read the poem called _The
Ecstasy_, which seems to anticipate a metaphysical Blake; it is all
close reasoning, step by step, and yet is what its title claims for it.

It may be, though I doubt it, that other poets who have written personal
verse in English, have known as much of women's hearts and the senses of
men, and the interchanges of passionate intercourse between man and
woman; but, partly by reason of this very method of saying things, no
one has ever rendered so exactly, and with such elaborate subtlety,
every mood of the actual passion. It has been done in prose; may one not
think of Stendhal, for a certain way he has of turning the whole forces
of the mind upon those emotions and sensations which are mostly left to
the heat of an unreflective excitement? Donne, as he suffers all the
colds and fevers of love, is as much the sufferer and the physician of
his disease as we have seen him to be in cases of actual physical
sickness. Always detached from himself, even when he is most helplessly
the slave of circumstances, he has that frightful faculty of seeing
through his own illusions; of having no illusions to the mind, only to
the senses. Other poets, with more wisdom towards poetry, give us the
beautiful or pathetic results of no matter what creeping or soaring
passions. Donne, making a new thing certainly, if not always a thing of
beauty, tells us exactly what a man really feels as he makes love to a
woman, as he sits beside her husband at table, as he dreams of her in
absence, as he scorns himself for loving her, as he hates or despises
her for loving him, as he realises all that is stupid in her devotion,
and all that is animal in his. 'Nature's lay idiot, I taught thee to
love,' he tells her, in a burst of angry contempt, priding himself on
his superior craft in the art. And his devotions to her are exquisite,
appealing to what is most responsive in woman, beyond those of tenderer
poets. A woman cares most for the lover who understands her best, and is
least taken in by what it is the method of her tradition to feign. So
wearily conscious that she is not the abstract angel of her pretence and
of her adorers, she will go far in sheer thankfulness to the man who can
see so straight into her heart as to have

               found something like a heart,
     But colours it and corners had;
     It was not good, it was not bad,
     It was entire to none, and few had part.

Donne shows women themselves, in delight, anger, or despair; they know
that he finds nothing in the world more interesting, and they much more
than forgive him for all the ill he says of them. If women most
conscious of their sex were ever to read Donne, they would say, He was a
great lover; he understood.

And, in the poems of divine love, there is the same quality of mental
emotion as in the poems of human love. Donne adores God reasonably,
knowing why he adores Him. He renders thanks point by point, celebrates
the heavenly perfections with metaphysical precision, and is no vaguer
with God than with woman. Donne knew what he believed and why he
believed, and is carried into no heat or mist as he tells over the
recording rosary of his devotions. His _Holy Sonnets_ are a kind of
argument with God; they tell over, and discuss, and resolve, such
perplexities of faith and reason as would really occur to a speculative
brain like his. Thought crowds in upon thought, in these tightly packed
lines, which but rarely admit a splendour of this kind:

     At the round earth's imagined corners blow
     Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
     From death, you numberless infinities
     Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go.

More typical is this too knotted beginning of another sonnet:

     Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
     As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
     That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
     Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Having something very minute and very exact to say, he hates to leave
anything out; dreading diffuseness, as he dreads the tame sweetness of
an easy melody, he will use only the smallest possible number of words
to render his thought; and so, as here, he is too often ingenious rather
than felicitous, forgetting that to the poet poetry comes first, and all
the rest afterwards.

For the writing of great poetry something more is needed than to be a
poet and to have great occasions. Donne was a poet, and he had the
passions and the passionate adventures, in body and mind, which make the
material for poetry; he was sincere to himself in expressing what he
really felt under the burden of strong emotion and sharp sensation.
Almost every poem that he wrote is written on a genuine inspiration, a
genuine personal inspiration, but most of his poems seem to have been
written before that personal inspiration has had time to fuse itself
with the poetic inspiration. It is always useful to remember
Wordsworth's phrase of 'emotion recollected in tranquillity,' for
nothing so well defines that moment of crystallisation in which direct
emotion or sensation deviates exquisitely into art. Donne is intent on
the passion itself, the thought, the reality; so intent that he is not
at the same time, in that half-unconscious way which is the way of the
really great poet, equally intent on the form, that both may come to
ripeness together. Again it is the heresy of the realist. Just as he
drags into his verse words that have had no time to take colour from
men's association of them with beauty, so he puts his 'naked thinking
heart' into verse as if he were setting forth an argument. He gives us
the real thing, as he would have been proud to assure us. But poetry
will have nothing to do with real things, until it has translated them
into a diviner world. That world may be as closely the pattern of ours
as the worlds which Dante saw in hell and purgatory; the language of the
poet may be as close to the language of daily speech as the supreme
poetic language of Dante. But the personal or human reality and the
imaginative or divine reality must be perfectly interfused, or the art
will be at fault. Donne is too proud to abandon himself to his own
inspiration, to his inspiration as a poet; he would be something more
than a voice for deeper yet speechless powers; he would make poetry
speak straight. Well, poetry will not speak straight, in the way Donne
wished it to, and under the goading that his restless intellect gave it.

He forgot beauty, preferring to it every form of truth, and beauty has
revenged itself upon him, glittering miraculously out of many lines in
which he wrote humbly, and leaving the darkness of a retreating shadow
upon great spaces in which a confident intellect was conscious of

     For, though mind be the heaven, where love may sit,
     Beauty a convenient type may be to figure it,

he writes, in the _Valediction to his Book_, thus giving formal
expression to his heresy. 'The greatest wit, though not the best poet of
our nation,' Dryden called him; the greatest intellect, that is, which
had expressed itself in poetry. Dryden himself was not always careful to
distinguish between what material was fit and what unfit for verse; so
that we can now enjoy his masterly prose with more equable pleasure than
his verse. But he saw clearly enough the distinction in Donne between
intellect and the poetical spirit; that fatal division of two forces,
which, had they pulled together instead of apart, might have achieved a
result wholly splendid. Without a great intellect no man was ever a
great poet; but to possess a great intellect is not even a first step in
the direction of becoming a poet at all.

Compare Donne, for instance, with Herrick. Herrick has little enough of
the intellect, the passion, the weight and the magnificence of Donne;
but, setting out with so much less to carry, he certainly gets first to
the goal, and partly by running always in the right direction. The most
limited poet in the language, he is the surest. He knows the airs that
weave themselves into songs, as he knows the flowers that twine best
into garlands. Words come to him in an order which no one will ever
alter, and no one will ever forget. Whether they come easily or not is
no matter; he knows when they have come right, and they always come
right before he lets them go. But Donne is only occasionally sure of his
words as airs; he sets them doggedly to the work of saying something,
whether or no they step to the beat of the music. Conscious writer
though he was, I suppose he was more or less unconscious of his
extraordinary felicities, more conscious probably of how they came than
of what they were doing. And they come chiefly through a sudden
heightening of mood, which brings with it a clearer and a more exalted
mode of speech, in its merely accurate expression of itself. Even then I
cannot imagine him quite reconciled to beauty, at least actually doing
homage to it, but rather as one who receives a gift by the way.



     This was a woman young and passionate,
     Loving the Earth, and loving most to be
     Where she might be alone with liberty;
     Loving the beasts, who are compassionate;
     The homeless moors, her home; the bright elate
     Winds of the cold dawn; rock and stone and tree;
     Night, bringing dreams out of eternity;
     And memory of Death's unforgetting date.
     She too was unforgetting: has she yet
     Forgotten that long agony when her breath
     Too fierce for living fanned the flame of death?
     Earth for her heather, does she now forget
     What pity knew not in her love from scorn,
     And that it was an unjust thing to be born?

The Stoic in woman has been seen once only, and that in the only woman
in whom there has been seen the paradox of passion without sensuousness.
Emily Brontë lived with an unparalleled energy a life of outward quiet,
in a loneliness which she shared only with the moors and with the
animals whom she loved. She required no passion-experience to endow her
with more than a memory of passion. Passion was alive in her as flame is
alive in the earth. And the vehemence of that inner fire fed on itself,
and wore out her body before its time, because it had no respite and no
outlet. We see her condemned to self-imprisonment, and dying of too much

Her poems are few and brief, and nothing more personal has ever been
written. A few are as masterly in execution as in conception, and almost
all have a direct truth of utterance, which rarely lacks at least the
bare beauty of muscle and sinew, of a kind of naked strength and
alertness. They are without heat or daylight, the sun is rarely in them,
and then 'blood-red'; light comes as starshine, or comes as

                  hostile light
     That does not warm but burn.

At times the landscape in this bare, grey, craggy verse, always a
landscape of Yorkshire moors, with its touches of stern and tender
memory, 'The mute bird sitting on the stone,' 'A little and a lone green
lane,' has a quality more thrilling than that of Wordsworth. There is
none of his observation, and none of his sense of a benignant 'presence
far more deeply interfused'; but there is the voice of the heart's
roots, crying out to its home in the earth.

At first this unornamented verse may seem forbidding, may seem even to
be ordinary, as an actual moorland may, to those for whom it has no
special attraction. But in the verse, as on the moors, there is space,
wind, and the smell of the earth; and there is room to be alone, that
liberty which this woman cried for when she cried:

     Leave the heart that now I bear,
     And give me liberty.

To be alone was for her to be alone with 'a chainless soul,' which asked
of whatever powers might be only 'courage to endure,' constancy not to
forget, and the right to leave the door wide open to those visions that
came to her out of mere fixed contemplation: 'the God of Visions,' as
she called her imagination, 'my slave, my comrade, and my king.' And we
know that her courage was flawless, heroic, beyond praise; that she
forgot nothing, not even that love for her unspeakable brother, for
whom she has expressed in two of her poems a more than masculine
magnanimity of pity and contempt; and that at all times she could turn
inward to that world within, where her imagination waited for her,

     Where thou, and I, and Liberty
     Have undisputed sovereignty.

Yet even imagination, though 'benignant,' is to her a form of 'phantom
bliss' to which she will not trust herself wholly. 'So hopeless is the
world without': but is the world within ever quite frankly accepted as a
substitute, as a truer reality? She is always on her guard against
imagination as against the outer world, whose 'lies' she is resolved
shall not 'beguile' her. She has accepted reason as the final arbiter,
and desires only to see clearly, to see things as they are. She really
believed that

     Earth reserves no blessing
     For the unblest of heaven;

and she had an almost Calvinistic sense of her own condemnation to
unhappiness. That being so, she was suspicious of those opportunities of
joy which did come to her, or at least resolute not to believe too
implicitly in the good messages of the stars, which might be mere
dreams, or of the earth, which was only certainly kind in preparing for
her that often-thought-of grave. 'No coward soul is mine' is one of her
true sayings; but it was with difficulty that she trusted even that
message of life which she seemed to discover in death. She has to assure
herself of it, again and again: 'Who once lives, never dies!' And that
sense of personal identity which aches throughout all her poems is a
sense, not of the delight, but of the pain and ineradicable sting of
personal identity.

Her poems are all outcries, as her great novel, _Wuthering Heights_, is
one long outcry. A soul on the rack seems to make itself heard at
moments, when suffering has grown too acute for silence. Every poem is
as if torn from her. Even when she does not write seemingly in her own
person, the subjects are such disguises as 'The Prisoner,' 'Honour's
Martyr,' 'The Outcast Mother,' echoes of all the miseries and useless
rebellions of the earth. She spells over the fading characters in dying
faces, unflinchingly, with an austere curiosity; and looks closely into
the eyes of shame, not dreading what she may find there. She is always
arguing with herself, and the answers are inflexible, the answers of a
clear intellect which rebels but accepts defeat. Her doubt is itself an
affirmation, her defiance would be an entreaty but for the 'quenchless
will' of her pride. She faces every terror, and to her pained
apprehension birth and death and life are alike terrible. Only Webster's
dirge might have been said over her coffin.

     What my soul bore my soul alone
     Within itself may tell,

she says truthfully; but some of that long endurance of her life, in
which exile, the body's weakness, and a sense of some 'divinest anguish'
which clung about the world and all things living, had their share, she
was able to put into ascetic and passionate verse. It is sad-coloured
and desolate, but when gleams of sunlight or of starlight pierce the
clouds that hang generally above it, a rare and stormy beauty comes into
the bare outlines, quickening them with living splendour.



The poems of Edgar Allan Poe are the work of a poet who thought
persistently about poetry as an art, and would have reduced inspiration
to a method. At their best they are perfectly defined by Baudelaire,
when he says of Poe's poetry that it is a thing 'deep and shimmering as
dreams, mysterious and perfect as crystal.' Not all the poems, few as
they are, are flawless. In a few unequal poems we have the only
essential poetry which has yet come from America, Walt Whitman's vast
poetical nature having remained a nature only, not come to be an art.
Because Poe was fantastically inhuman, a conscious artist doing strange
things with strange materials, not every one has realised how fine, how
rare, was that beauty which this artist brought into the world. It is
true that there was in the genius of Poe something meretricious; it is
the flaw in his genius; but then he had genius, and Whittier and Bryant
and Longfellow and Lowell had only varying degrees of talent. Let us
admit, by all means, that a diamond is flawed; but need we compare it
with this and that fine specimen of quartz?

Poetry Poe defined as 'the rhythmical creation of beauty'; and the first
element of poetry he found in 'the thirst for supernal beauty.' 'It is
not,' he repeats, 'the mere appreciation of the beauty before us. It is
a wild effort to reach the beauty above.... Inspired with a prescient
ecstasy of the beauty beyond the grave, it struggles by multiform
novelty of combination among the things and thoughts of time, to
anticipate some portions of that loveliness whose very elements,
perhaps, appertain solely to eternity.' The poet, then, 'should limit
his endeavours to the creation of novel moods of beauty, in form, in
colour, in sound, in sentiment.' Note the emphasis upon novel: to Poe
there was no beauty without strangeness. He makes his favourite
quotation: '"But," says Lord Bacon (how justly!) "there is no exquisite
beauty without some strangeness in the proportions." Take away this
element of strangeness--of unexpectedness--of novelty--of
originality--call it what we will--and all that is ethereal in
loveliness is lost at once.... We lose, in short, all that assimilates
the beauty of earth with what we dream of the beauty of heaven!' And, as
another of the elements of this creation of beauty, there must be
indefiniteness. 'I _know_,' he says, 'that indefiniteness is an element
of the true music--I mean of the true musical expression. Give to it any
undue decision--imbue it with any very determinate tone--and you deprive
it at once of its ethereal, its ideal, its intrinsic and essential
character.' Do we not seem to find here an anticipation of Verlaine's
'Art Poétique': '_Pas la couleur, rien que la nuance_'? And is not the
essential part of the poetical theory of Mallarmé and of the French
Symbolists enunciated in this definition and commendation of 'that class
of composition in which there lies beneath the transparent upper current
of meaning an under or _suggestive_ one'? To this 'mystic or secondary
impression' he attributes 'the vast force of an accompaniment in
music.... With each note of the lyre is heard a ghostly, and not always
a distinct, but an august soul-exalting _echo_.' Has anything that has
been said since on that conception of poetry without which no writer of
verse would, I suppose, venture to write verse, been said more subtly or
more precisely?

And Poe does not end here, with what may seem generalities. 'Beyond the
limits of beauty,' he says of poetry, 'its province does not extend. Its
sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience it has
only collateral relations. It has no dependence, unless incidentally,
upon either Duty or Truth.' And of the poet who said, not meaning
anything very different from what Poe meant, 'Beauty is truth, truth
beauty,' he says: 'He is the sole British poet who has never erred in
his themes.' And, as if still thinking of Keats, he says: 'It is chiefly
amid forms of physical loveliness (we use the word _forms_ in its widest
sense as embracing modifications of sound and colour) that the soul
seeks the realisation of its dreams of Beauty.' And, with more earnest
insistence on those limits which he knew to be so much more necessary to
guard in poetry than its so-called freedom ('the true artist will avail
himself of no "license" whatever'), he states, with categorical
precision: 'A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by
having, for its _immediate_ object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by
having, for its object, an _indefinite_ instead of a _definite_
pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance
presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with _in_definite
sensations, to which end music is an _essential_, since comprehension of
sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with
a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music, without the idea, is simply music;
the idea, without the music, is prose, from its very definiteness.'

And he would set these careful limits, not only to the province of
poetic pleasure, but to the form and length of actual poetry. 'A long
poem,' he says, with more truth than most people are quite willing to
see, 'is a paradox.' 'I hold,' he says elsewhere, 'that a long poem does
not exist. I maintain that the phrase, "a long poem," is simply a flat
contradiction in terms.' And, after defining his ideal, 'a rhymed poem,
not to exceed in length what might be perused in an hour,' he says,
very justly, that 'within this limit alone can the highest order of true
poetry exist.' In another essay he narrows the duration to 'half an
hour, at the very utmost'; and wisely. In yet another essay he suggests
'a length of about one hundred lines' as the length most likely to
convey that unity of impression, with that intensity of true poetical
effect, in which he found the highest merit of poetry. Remember, that of
true poetry we have already had his definition; and concede, that a
loftier conception of poetry as poetry, poetry as lyric essence, cannot
easily be imagined. We are too ready to accept, under the general name
of poetry, whatever is written eloquently in metre; to call even
Wordsworth's _Excursion_ a poem, and to accept _Paradise Lost_ as
throughout a poem. But there are not thirty consecutive lines of
essential poetry in the whole of _The Excursion_, and, while _Paradise
Lost_ is crammed with essential poetry, that poetry is not consecutive;
but the splendid workmanship comes in to fill up the gaps, and to hold
our attention until the poetry returns. Essential poetry is an essence
too strong for the general sense; diluted, it can be endured; and, for
the most part, the poets dilute it. Poe could conceive of it only in the
absolute; and his is the counsel of perfection, if of a perfection
almost beyond mortal powers. He sought for it in the verse of all poets;
he sought, as few have ever sought, to concentrate it in his own verse;
and he has left us at least a few poems, '_ciascun distinto e di fulgore
e d'arte_,' in which he has found, within his own limits, the absolute.



With the strange fortune that always accompanied him, in life and in
death, Beddoes has not merely escaped the indiscriminate applause which
he would never have valued, but he has remained a bibliographical rather
than a literary rarity. Few except the people who collect first
editions--not, as a rule, the public for a poet--have had the chance of
possessing _Death's Jest-Book_ (1850) and the _Poems_ (1851). At last
Beddoes has been made accessible, the real story of his death, that
suicide so much in the casual and determined manner of one of his own

'The power of the man is immense and irresistible.' Browning's emphatic
phrase comes first to the memory, and remains always the most
appropriate word of eulogy. Beddoes has been rashly called a great poet.
I do not think he was a great poet, but he was, in every sense of the
word, an astonishing one. Read these lines, and remember that they were
written just at that stagnant period (1821-1826) which comes between the
period of Keats, Shelley, and Byron, and the period of Browning and
Tennyson. It is a murderer who speaks:

     I am unsouled, dishumanised, uncreated;
     My passions swell and grow like brutes conceived;
     My feet are fixing roots, and every limb
     Is billowy and gigantic, till I seem
     A wild, old, wicked mountain in the air:
     And the abhorred conscience of this murder,
     It will grow up a lion, all alone,
     A mighty-maned, grave-mouthed prodigy,
     And lair him in my caves: and other thoughts,
     Some will be snakes, and bears, and savage wolves,
     And when I lie tremendous in the desert,
     Or abandoned sea, murderers and idiot men
     Will come to live upon my rugged sides,
     Die, and be buried in me. Now it comes;
     I break, and magnify, and lose my form,
     And yet I shall be taken for a man,
     And never be discovered till I die.

How much this has of the old, splendid audacity of the Elizabethans! How
unlike timid modern verse! Beddoes is always large, impressive; the
greatness of his aim gives him a certain claim on respectful
consideration. That his talent achieved itself, or ever could have
achieved itself, he himself would have been the last to affirm. But he
is a monumental failure, more interesting than many facile triumphs.

The one important work which Beddoes actually completed, _Death's
Jest-Book_, is nominally a drama in five acts. All the rest of his work,
except a few lyrics and occasional poems, is also nominally dramatic.
But there never was anything less dramatic in substance than this mass
of admirable poetry in dialogue. Beddoes' genius was essentially
lyrical: he had imagination, the gift of style, the mastery of rhythm, a
strange choiceness and curiosity of phrase. But of really dramatic power
he had nothing. He could neither conceive a coherent plot, nor develop a
credible situation. He had no grasp on human nature, he had no
conception of what character might be in men and women, he had no
faculty of expressing emotion convincingly. Constantly you find the most
beautiful poetry where it is absolutely inappropriate, but never do you
find one of those brief and memorable phrases, words from the heart,
for which one would give much beautiful poetry. To take one instance: an
Arab slave wishes to say that he has caught sight of a sail nearing the
coast. And this is how he says it:

     I looked abroad upon the wide old world,
     And in the sky and sea, through the same clouds,
     The same stars saw I glistening, and nought else,
     And as my soul sighed unto the world's soul,
     Far in the north a wind blackened the waters,
     And, after that creating breath was still,
     A dark speck sat on the sky's edge: as watching
     Upon the heaven-girt border of my mind
     The first faint thought of a great deed arise,
     With force and fascination I drew on
     The wished sight, and my hope seemed to stamp
     Its shade upon it. Not yet is it clear
     What, or from whom, the vessel.

In scenes which aim at being passionate one sees the same inability to
be natural. What we get is always literature; it is never less than
that, nor more than that. It is never frank, uncompromising nature. The
fact is, that Beddoes wrote from the head, collectively, and without
emotion, or without inspiration, save in literature. All Beddoes'
characters speak precisely the same language, express the same desires;
all in the same way startle us by their ghostly remoteness from flesh
and blood. 'Man is tired of being merely human,' Siegfried says, in
_Death's Jest-Book_, and Beddoes may be said to have grown tired of
humanity before he ever came to understand it.

Looked at from the normal standpoint, Beddoes' idea of the drama was
something wildly amateurish. As a practical playwright he would be
beneath contempt; but what he aimed at was something peculiar to
himself, a sort of spectral dramatic fantasia. He would have admitted
his obligations to Webster and Tourneur, to all the _macabre_
Elizabethan work; he would have admitted that his foundations were based
on literature, not on life; but he would have claimed, and claimed
justly, that he had produced, out of many strange elements, something
which has a place apart in English poetry. _Death's Jest-Book_ is
perhaps the most morbid poem in our literature. There is not a page
without its sad, grotesque, gay, or abhorrent imagery of the tomb. A
slave cannot say that a lady is asleep without turning it into a parable
of death:

         Sleeping, or feigning sleep,
     Well done of her: 'tis trying on a garb
     Which she must wear, sooner or later, long:
     'Tis but a warmer, lighter death.

Not Baudelaire was more amorous of corruption; not Poe was more
spellbound by the scent of graveyard earth. So Beddoes has written a new
Dance of Death, in poetry; has become the chronicler of the praise and
ridicule of Death. 'Tired of being merely human,' he has peopled a play
with confessed phantoms. It is natural that these eloquent speakers
should pass us by with their words, that they should fail to move us by
their sorrows or their hates: they are not intended to be human, except,
indeed, in the wizard humanity of Death.

I have said already that the genius of Beddoes is not dramatic, but
lyrical. What was really most spontaneous in him (nothing was quite
spontaneous) was the impulse of song-writing. And it seems to me that he
is really most successful in sweet and graceful lyrics like this
_Dirge_, so much more than 'half in love with easeful death.'

     If thou wilt ease thine heart
     Of love and all its smart,
         Then sleep, dear, sleep;
     And not a sorrow
       Hang any tear on your eyelashes;
         Lie still and deep,
       Sad soul, until the sea-wave washes
     The rim o' the sun to-morrow,
         In eastern sky.

     But wilt thou cure thine heart
     Of love and all its smart,
         Then die, dear, die;
     'Tis deeper, sweeter,
       Than on a rose-bank to lie dreaming
         With folded eye;
       And then alone, amid the beaming
     Of love's stars, thou'lt meet her
         In eastern sky.

A beautiful lyrist, a writer of charming, morbid, and magnificent poetry
in dramatic form, Beddoes will survive to students, not to readers, of
English poetry, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Ebenezer Jones and
Charles Wells. Charles Wells was certainly more of a dramatist, a writer
of more sustained and Shakespearean blank verse; Ebenezer Jones had
certainly a more personal passion to express in his rough and
tumultuous way; but Beddoes, not less certainly, had more of actual
poetical genius than either. And in the end only one thing counts:
actual poetical genius.



_Salammbô_ is an attempt, as Flaubert, himself his best critic, has told
us, to 'perpetuate a mirage by applying to antiquity the methods of the
modern novel.' By the modern novel he means the novel as he had
reconstructed it; he means _Madame Bovary_. That perfect book is perfect
because Flaubert had, for once, found exactly the subject suited to his
method, had made his method and his subject one. On his scientific side
Flaubert is a realist, but there is another, perhaps a more intimately
personal side, on which he is lyrical, lyrical in a large, sweeping way.
The lyric poet in him made _La Tentation de Saint-Antoine_, the analyst
made _L'Education Sentimentale_; but in _Madame Bovary_ we find the
analyst and the lyric poet in equilibrium. It is the history of a woman,
as carefully observed as any story that has ever been written, and
observed in surroundings of the most ordinary kind. But Flaubert finds
the romantic material which he loved, the materials of beauty, in
precisely that temperament which he studies so patiently and so cruelly.
Madame Bovary is a little woman, half vulgar and half hysterical,
incapable of a fine passion; but her trivial desires, her futile
aspirations after second-rate pleasures and second-hand ideals, give to
Flaubert all that he wants: the opportunity to create beauty out of
reality. What is common in the imagination of Madame Bovary becomes
exquisite in Flaubert's rendering of it, and by that counterpoise of a
commonness in the subject he is saved from any vague ascents of rhetoric
in his rendering of it.

In writing _Salammbô_ Flaubert set himself to renew the historical
novel, as he had renewed the novel of manners. He would have admitted,
doubtless, that perfect success in the historical novel is impossible,
by the nature of the case. We are at best only half conscious of the
reality of the things about us, only able to translate them
approximately into any form of art. How much is left over, in the
closest transcription of a mere line of houses in a street, of a passing
steamer, of one's next-door neighbour, of the point of view of a
foreigner looking along Piccadilly, of one's own state of mind, moment
by moment, as one walks from Oxford Circus to the Marble Arch? Think,
then, of the attempt to reconstruct no matter what period of the past,
to distinguish the difference in the aspect of a world perhaps bossed
with castles and ridged with ramparts, to two individualities encased
within chain-armour! Flaubert chose his antiquity wisely: a period of
which we know too little to confuse us, a city of which no stone is left
on another, the minds of Barbarians who have left us no psychological
documents. 'Be sure I have made no fantastic Carthage,' he says proudly,
pointing to his documents; Ammianus Marcellinus, who has furnished him
with 'the _exact_ form of a door'; the Bible and Theophrastus, from
which he obtains his perfumes and his precious stones; Gresenius, from
whom he gets his Punic names; the _Mémoires de l'Académie des
Inscriptions_. 'As for the temple of Tanit, I am sure of having
reconstructed it as it was, with the treatise of the Syrian Goddess,
with the medals of the Duc de Luynes, with what is known of the temple
at Jerusalem, with a passage of St. Jerome, quoted by Seldon (_De Diis
Syriis_), with the plan of the temple of Gozzo, which is quite
Carthaginian, and best of all, with the ruins of the temple of Thugga,
which I have seen myself, with my own eyes, and of which no traveller or
antiquarian, so far as I know, has ever spoken.' But that, after all, as
he admits (when, that is, he has proved point by point his minute
accuracy to all that is known of ancient Carthage, his faithfulness to
every indication which can serve for his guidance, his patience in
grouping rather than his daring in the invention of action and details),
that is not the question. 'I care little enough for archæology! If the
colour is not uniform, if the details are out of keeping, if the manners
do not spring from the religion and the actions from the passions, if
the characters are not consistent, if the costumes are not appropriate
to the habits and the architecture to the climate, if, in a word, there
is not harmony, I am in error. If not, no.'

And there, precisely, is the definition of the one merit which can give
a historical novel the right to exist, and at the same time a definition
of the merit which sets _Salammbô_ above all other historical novels.
Everything in the book is strange, some of it might easily be
bewildering, some revolting; but all is in harmony. The harmony is like
that of Eastern music, not immediately conveying its charm, or even the
secret of its measure, to Western ears; but a monotony coiling
perpetually upon itself, after a severe law of its own. Or rather, it is
like a fresco, painted gravely in hard, definite colours, firmly
detached from a background of burning sky; a procession of Barbarians,
each in the costume of his country, passes across the wall; there are
battles, in which elephants fight with men; an army besieges a great
city, or rots to death in a defile between mountains; the ground is
paved with dead men; crosses, each bearing its living burden, stand
against the sky; a few figures of men and women appear again and again,
expressing by their gestures the soul of the story.

Flaubert himself has pointed, with his unerring self-criticism, to the
main defect of his book: 'The pedestal is too large for the statue.'
There should have been, as he says, a hundred pages more about Salammbô.
He declares: 'There is not in my book an isolated or gratuitous
description; all are useful to my characters, and have an influence,
near or remote, on the action.' This is true, and yet, all the same, the
pedestal is too large for the statue. Salammbô, 'always surrounded with
grave and exquisite things,' has something of the somnambulism which
enters into the heroism of Judith; she has a hieratic beauty, and a
consciousness as pale and vague as the moon whom she worships. She
passes before us, 'her body saturated with perfumes,' encrusted with
jewels like an idol, her head turreted with violet hair, the gold chain
tinkling between her ankles; and is hardly more than an attitude, a
fixed gesture, like the Eastern women whom one sees passing, with
oblique eyes and mouths painted into smiles, their faces curiously
traced into a work of art, in the languid movements of a pantomimic
dance. The soul behind those eyes? the temperament under that at times
almost terrifying mask? Salammbô is as inarticulate for us as the
serpent, to whose drowsy beauty, capable of such sudden awakenings, hers
seems half akin; they move before us in a kind of hieratic pantomime, a
coloured, expressive thing, signifying nothing. Mâtho, maddened with
love, 'in an invincible stupor, like those who have drunk some draught
of which they are to die,' has the same somnambulistic life; the prey of
Venus, he has an almost literal insanity, which, as Flaubert reminds us,
is true to the ancient view of that passion. He is the only quite vivid
person in the book, and he lives with the intensity of a wild beast, a
life 'blinded alike' from every inner and outer interruption to one or
two fixed ideas. The others have their places in the picture, fall into
their attitudes naturally, remain so many coloured outlines for us. The
illusion is perfect; these people may not be the real people of history,
but at least they have no self-consciousness, no Christian tinge in
their minds.

'The metaphors are few, the epithets definite,' Flaubert tells us, of
his style in this book, where, as he says, he has sacrificed less 'to
the amplitude of the phrase and to the period,' than in _Madame Bovary_.
The movement here is in briefer steps, with a more earnest gravity,
without any of the engaging weakness of adjectives. The style is never
archaic, it is absolutely simple, the precise word being put always for
the precise thing; but it obtains a dignity, a historical remoteness, by
the large seriousness of its manner, the absence of modern ways of
thought, which, in _Madame Bovary_, bring with them an instinctively
modern cadence.

_Salammbô_ is written with the severity of history, but Flaubert notes
every detail visually, as a painter notes the details of natural things.
A slave is being flogged under a tree: Flaubert notes the movement of
the thong as it flies, and tells us: 'The thongs, as they whistled
through the air, sent the bark of the plane trees flying.' Before the
battle of the Macar, the Barbarians are awaiting the approach of the
Carthaginian army. First 'the Barbarians were surprised to see the
ground undulate in the distance.' Clouds of dust rise and whirl over
the desert, through which are seen glimpses of horns, and, as it seems,
wings. Are they bulls or birds, or a mirage of the desert? The
Barbarians watch intently. 'At last they made out several transverse
bars, bristling with uniform points. The bars became denser, larger;
dark mounds swayed from side to side; suddenly square bushes came into
view; they were elephants and lances. A single shout, "The
Carthaginians!" arose.' Observe how all that is seen, as if the eyes,
unaided by the intelligence, had found out everything for themselves,
taking in one indication after another, instinctively. Flaubert puts
himself in the place of his characters, not so much to think for them as
to see for them.

Compare the style of Flaubert in each of his books, and you will find
that each book has its own rhythm, perfectly appropriate to its
subject-matter. That style, which has almost every merit and hardly a
fault, becomes what it is by a process very different from that of most
writers careful of form. Read Chateaubriand, Gautier, even Baudelaire,
and you will find that the aim of these writers has been to construct a
style which shall be adaptable to every occasion, but without structural
change; the cadence is always the same. The most exquisite word-painting
of Gautier can be translated rhythm for rhythm into English, without
difficulty; once you have mastered the tune, you have merely to go on;
every verse will be the same. But Flaubert is so difficult to translate
because he has no fixed rhythm; his prose keeps step with no regular
march-music. He invents the rhythm of every sentence, he changes his
cadence with every mood or for the convenience of every fact. He has no
theory of beauty in form apart from what it expresses. For him form is a
living thing, the physical body of thought, which it clothes and
interprets. 'If I call stones blue, it is because blue is the precise
word, believe me,' he replies to Sainte-Beuve's criticism. Beauty comes
into his words from the precision with which they express definite
things, definite ideas, definite sensations. And in his book, where the
material is so hard, apparently so unmalleable, it is a beauty of sheer
exactitude which fills it from end to end, a beauty of measure and
order, seen equally in the departure of the doves of Carthage, at the
time of their flight into Sicily, and in the lions feasting on the
corpses of the Barbarians, in the defile between the mountains.



Meredith has always suffered from the curse of too much ability. He has
both genius and talent, but the talent, instead of acting as a
counterpoise to the genius, blows it yet more windily about the air. He
has almost all the qualities of a great writer, but some perverse spirit
in his blood has mixed them to their mutual undoing. When he writes
prose, the prose seems always about to burst into poetry; when he writes
verse, the verse seems always about to sink into prose. He thinks in
flashes, and writes in shorthand. He has an intellectual passion for
words, but he has never been able to accustom his mind to the slowness
of their service; he tosses them about the page in his anger, tearing
them open and gutting them with a savage pleasure. He has so fastidious
a fear of dirtying his hands with what other hands have touched that he
makes the language over again, so as to avoid writing a sentence or a
line as any one else could have written it. His hatred of the
commonplace becomes a mania, and it is by his head-long hunt after the
best that he has lost by the way its useful enemy, good. In prose he
would have every sentence shine, in verse he would have every line
sparkle; like a lady who puts on all her jewellery at once, immediately
after breakfast. As his own brain never rests, he does not realise that
there are other brains which feel fatigue; and as his own taste is for
what is hard, ringing, showy, drenched with light, he does not leave any
cool shadows to be a home for gentle sounds, in the whole of his work.
His books are like picture galleries, in which every inch of wall is
covered, and picture screams at picture across its narrow division of
frame. Almost every picture is good, but each suffers from its context.
As time goes on, Meredith's mannerisms have grown rigid, like old bones.
Exceptions have become rules, experiments have been accepted for

In Meredith's earliest verse there is a certain harshness, which seems
to come from a too urgent desire to be at once concise and explicit.
_Modern Love_, published in 1862, remains Meredith's masterpiece in
poetry, and it will always remain, beside certain things of Donne and of
Browning, an astonishing feat in the vivisection of the heart in verse.
It is packed with imagination, but with imagination of so nakedly human
a kind that there is hardly an ornament, hardly an image, in the verse:
it is like scraps of broken, of heart-broken, talk, overheard and jotted
down at random, hardly suggesting a story, but burning into one like the
touch of a corroding acid. These cruel and self-torturing lovers have no
illusions, and their 'tragic hints' are like a fine, pained mockery of
love itself, as they struggle open-eyed against the blindness of
passion. The poem laughs while it cries, with a double-mindedness more
constant than that of Heine; with, at times, an acuteness of sensation
carried to the point of agony at which Othello sweats words like these:

                                   O thou weed,
     Who art so lovely fair, and smell'st so sweet
     That the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst ne'er been born!

Meredith has written nothing more like _Modern Love_, and for twenty
years after the publication of the volume containing it he published no
other volume of verse. In 1883 appeared _Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of
Earth_; in 1887 _Poems and Ballads of Tragic Life_; and, in 1888, _A
Reading of Earth_, to which _A Reading of Life_ is a sort of companion
volume. The main part of this work is a kind of nature-poetry unlike any
other nature-poetry; but there are several groups which must be
distinguished from it. One group contains _Cassandra_, from the volume
of 1862, _The Nuptials of Attila, The Song of Theodolinda_, from the
volume of 1887. There is something fierce, savage, convulsive, in the
passion which informs these poems; a note sounded in our days by no
other poet. The words rush rattling on one another, like the clashing of
spears or the ring of iron on iron in a day of old-world battle. The
lines are javelins, consonanted lines full of force and fury, as if sung
or played by a northern skald harping on a field of slain. There is
another group of romantic ballads, containing the early _Margaret's
Bridal Eve_, and the later _Arch-duchess Anne_ and _The Young
Princess_. There are also the humorous and pathetic studies in _Roadside
Philosophers_ and the like, in which, forty years ago, Meredith
anticipated, with the dignity of a poet, the vernacular studies of
others. And, finally, there is a section containing poems of impassioned
meditation, beginning with the lofty and sustained ode to _France,
December_ 1870, and ending with the volcanic volume of _Odes in
Contribution to the Song of French History_, published in 1900.

But it is in the poems of nature that Meredith is most consistent to an
attitude, most himself as he would have himself. There is in them an
almost pagan sense of the nearness and intimacy of the awful and
benignant powers of nature; but this sense, once sufficient for the
making of poetry, is interpenetrated, in this modern poet, by an almost
scientific consciousness of the processes of evolution. Earth seen
through a brain, not a temperament, it might be defined; and it would be
possible to gather a complete philosophy of life from these poems, in
which, though 'the joy of earth' is sung, it is sung with the wise,
collected ecstasy of Melampus, not with the irresponsible ecstasy of
the Mænads. It is not what Browning calls 'the wild joy of living,' but
the strenuous joy of living in perfect accordance with nature, with the
sanity of animals who have climbed to reason, and are content to be
guided by it. It is a philosophy which may well be contrasted with the
transcendental theories of one with whom Meredith may otherwise be
compared, Emerson. Both, in different ways, have tried to make poetry
out of the brain, forgetting that poetry draws nourishment from other
soil, and dies in the brain as in a vacuum. Both have taken the
abstract, not the concrete, for their province; both have tortured words
in the cause of ideas, both have had so much to say that they have had
little time left over for singing.

Meredith has never been a clear writer in verse; _Modern Love_ requires
reading and re-reading; but at one time he had a somewhat exasperating
semblance of lucidity, which still lurks mockingly about his work. A
freshman who heard Mallarmé lecture at Oxford said when he came away: 'I
understood every word, but not a single sentence.' Meredith is sometimes
equally tantalising. The meaning seems to be there, just beyond one,
clearly visible on the other side of some hard transparency through
which there is no passage. Have you ever seen a cat pawing at the glass
from the other side of a window? It paws and paws, turns its head to the
right, turns its head to the left, walks to and fro, sniffing at the
corner of every pane; its claws screech on the glass, in a helpless
endeavour to get through to what it sees before it; it gives up at last,
in an evident bewilderment. That is how one figures the reader of
Meredith's later verse. It is not merely that Meredith's meaning is not
obvious at a glance, it is, when obscure, ugly in its obscurity, not
beautiful. There is not an uglier line in the English language than:

     Or is't the widowed's dream of her new mate.

It is almost impossible to say it at all. Often Meredith wishes to be
too concise, and squeezes his thoughts together like this:

                 and the totterer Earth detests,
     Love shuns, grim logic screws in grasp, is he.

In his desire to cram a separate sentence into every line, he writes
such lines as:

     Look I once back, a broken pinion I,

He thinks differently from other people, and not only more quickly; and
his mind works in a kind of double process. Take, for instance, this

     Ravenous all the line for speed.

An image occurs to him, the image of a runner, who, as we say, 'devours'
the ground. Thereupon he translates this image into his own dialect,
where it becomes intensely vivid if it can be caught in passing; only,
to catch it in passing, you must go through two mental processes at
once. That is why he cannot be read aloud. In a poem where every line is
on the pattern of the line I have quoted, every line has to be
unriddled; and no brain works fast enough to catch so many separate
meanings, and to translate as it goes.

Meredith has half the making of a great artist in verse. He has harmony
without melody; he invents and executes marvellous variations upon
verse; he has footed the tight-rope of the galliambic measure and the
swaying planks of various trochaic experiments; but his resolve to
astonish is stronger than his desire to charm, and he lets technical
skill carry him into such excesses of ugliness in verse as technical
skill carried Liszt, and sometimes Berlioz, in music. Meredith has
written lines which any poet who ever wrote in English would be proud
of; he has also written lines as tuneless as a deal table and as rasping
as a file. His ear for the sweep and texture of harmonies, for the
building up of rhythmical structure, is not seconded by an ear for the
delicacies of sound in words or in tunes. In one of the finest of his
poems, the _Hymn to Colour_, he can begin one stanza with this ample

     Look now where Colour, the soul's bridegroom, makes
     The house of heaven splendid for the bride;

and can end another stanza thus lumpishly:

     With thee, O fount of the Untimed! to lead,
     Drink they of thee, thee eyeing, they unaged
         Shall on through brave wars waged.

Meredith is not satisfied with English verse as it is; he persists in
trying to make it into something wholly different, and these
eccentricities come partly from certain theories. He speaks in one place

     A soft compulsion on terrene
     By heavenly,

which is not English, but a misapplication of the jargon of science. In
another place he speaks of

     The posts that named the swallowed mile,

which is a kind of pedantry. He chooses harsh words by preference,
liking unusual or insoluble rhymes, like 'haps' and 'yaps,' 'thick' and
'sick,' 'skin' and 'kin,' 'banks' and 'thanks,' 'skims' and 'limbs.' Two
lines from _The Woods of Westermain_, published in 1883 in the _Poems
and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth_, sum up in themselves the whole theory:

     Life, the small self-dragon ramped,
     Thrill for service to be stamped.

Here every word is harsh, prickly, hard of sense; the rhymes come like
buffets in the face. It is possible that Meredith has more or less
consciously imitated the French practice in the matter of rhymes, for in
France rarity of rhyme is sought as eagerly as in England it is avoided.
Rhyme in French poetry is an important part of the art of verse; in
English poetry, except to some extent at the time of Pope, it has been
accepted as a thing rather to be disguised than accentuated. There is
something a little barbarous in rhyme itself, with its mnemonic click
of emphasis, and the skill of the most skilful English poets has always
been shown in the softening of that click, in reducing it to the
inarticulate answer of an echo. Meredith hammers out his rhymes on the
anvil on which he has forged his clanging and rigid-jointed words. His
verse moves in plate-armour, 'terrible as an army with banners.'

To Meredith poetry has come to be a kind of imaginative logic, and
almost the whole of his later work is a reasoning in verse. He reasons,
not always clearly to the eye, and never satisfyingly to the ear, but
with a fiery intelligence which has more passion than most other poets
put into frankly emotional verse. He reasons in pictures, every line
having its imagery, and he uses pictorial words to express abstract
ideas. Disdaining the common subjects of poetry, as he disdains common
rhythms, common rhymes, and common language, he does much by his
enormous vitality to give human warmth to arguments concerning humanity.
He does much, though he attempts the impossible. His poetry is always
what Rossetti called 'amusing'; it has, in other words, what Baudelaire
called 'the supreme literary grace, energy'; but with what relief does
one not lay down this _Reading of Life_ and take up the _Modern Love_ of
forty years ago, in which life speaks! Meredith has always been in
wholesome revolt against convention, against every deadening limitation
of art, but he sometimes carries revolt to the point of anarchy. In
finding new subjects and new forms for verse he is often throwing away
the gold and gathering up the ore. In taking for his foundation the
stone which the builders rejected he is sometimes only giving a proof of
their wisdom in rejecting it.




It is forty-four years since the publication of Swinburne's first
volume, and it is scarcely to the credit of the English public that we
should have had to wait so long for a collected edition of the poems of
one of the greatest poets of this or any country. 'It is nothing to me,'
Swinburne tells us, with a delicate precision in his pride, 'that what I
write should find immediate or general acceptance.' And indeed
'immediate' it can scarcely be said to have been; 'general' it is hardly
likely ever to be. Swinburne has always been a poet writing for poets,
or for those rare lovers of poetry who ask for poetry, and nothing more
or less, in a poet. Such writers can never be really popular, any more
than gold without alloy can ever really be turned to practical uses.
Think of how extremely little the poetical merit of his poetry had to
do with the immense success of Byron; think how very much besides
poetical merit contributed to the surprising reputation of Tennyson.
There was a time when the first series of _Poems and Ballads_ was read
for what seemed startling in its subject-matter; but that time has long
since passed, and it is not probable that any reviewer of the new
edition now reprinted verbatim from the edition of 1866 will so much as
allude to the timid shrieks which went up from the reviewers of that
year, except perhaps as one of the curiosities of literature.

A poet is always interesting and instructive when he talks about
himself, and Swinburne, in his dedicatory epistle to his 'best and
dearest friend,' Mr. Watts-Dunton, who has been the finest, the surest,
and the subtlest critic of poetry now living, talks about himself, or
rather about his work, with a proud and simple frankness. It is not only
interesting, but of considerable critical significance, to know that,
among his plays, Swinburne prefers _Mary Stuart_, and, among his lyrical
poems, the ode on Athens and the ode on the Armada. 'By the test of
these two poems,' he tells us, 'I am content that my claims should be
decided and my station determined as a lyric poet in the higher sense of
the term; a craftsman in the most ambitious line of his art that ever
aroused or can arouse the emulous aspiration of his kind.'

In one sense a poet is always the most valuable critic of his own work;
in another sense his opinion is almost valueless. He knows, better than
any one else, what he wanted to do, and he knows, better than any one
else, how nearly he has done it. In judging his own technical skill in
the accomplishment of his aim, it is easy for him to be absolutely
unbiased, technique being a thing wholly apart from one's self, an
acquirement. But, in a poem, the way it is done is by no means
everything; something else, the vital element in it, the quality of
inspiration, as we rightly call it, has to be determined. Of this the
poet is rarely a judge. To him it is a part of himself, and he is
scarcely more capable of questioning its validity than he is of
questioning his own intentions. To him it is enough that it is his.
Conscious, as he may rightly be, of genius, how can he discriminate, in
his own work, between the presence or the absence of that genius, which,
though it means everything, may be absent in a production technically
faultless, or present in a production less strictly achieved according
to rule? Swinburne, it is evident, grudges some of the fame which has
set _Atalanta in Calydon_ higher in general favour than _Erechtheus_,
and, though he is perfectly right in every reason which he gives for
setting _Erechtheus_ above _Atalanta in Calydon_, the fact remains that
there is something in the latter which is not, in anything like the same
degree, in the former: a certain spontaneity, a prodigal wealth of
inspiration. In exactly the same way, while the ode on Athens and the
ode on the Armada are alike magnificent as achievements, there is no
more likelihood of Swinburne going down to posterity as the writer of
those two splendid poems than there is of Coleridge, to take Swinburne's
own instance, being remembered as the writer of the ode to France rather
than as the writer of the ode on Dejection. The ode to France is a
product of the finest poetical rhetoric; the ode on Dejection is a
growth of the profoundest poetical genius.

Another point on which Swinburne takes for granted what is perhaps his
highest endowment as a poet, while dwelling with fine enthusiasm on the
'entire and absolute sincerity' of a whole section of poems in which the
sincerity itself might well have been taken for granted, is that
marvellous metrical inventiveness which is without parallel in English
or perhaps in any other literature. 'A writer conscious of any natural
command over the musical resources of his language,' says Swinburne,
'can hardly fail to take such pleasure in the enjoyment of this gift or
instinct as the greatest writer and the greatest versifier of our age
must have felt at its highest possible degree when composing a musical
exercise of such incomparable scope and fulness as _Les Djinns_.' In
metrical inventiveness Swinburne is as much Victor Hugo's superior as
the English language is superior to the French in metrical capability.
His music has never the sudden bird's flight, the thrill, pause, and
unaccountable ecstasy of the very finest lyrics of Blake or of
Coleridge; one never wholly forgets the artist in the utterance. But
where he is incomparable is in an 'arduous fulness' of intricate
harmony, around which the waves of melody flow, foam and scatter like
the waves of the sea about a rock. No poet has ever loved or praised the
sea as Swinburne has loved and praised it; and to no poet has it been
given to create music with words in so literal an analogy with the
inflexible and vital rhythmical science of the sea.

In his reference to the 'clatter aroused' by the first publication of
the wonderful volume now reprinted, the first series of _Poems and
Ballads_, Swinburne has said with tact, precision, and finality all that
need ever be said on the subject. He records, with a touch of not
unkindly humour, his own 'deep diversion of collating and comparing the
variously inaccurate verdicts of the scornful or mournful censors who
insisted on regarding all the studies of passion or sensation attempted
or achieved in it as either confessions of positive fact or excursions
of absolute fancy.' And, admitting that there was work in it of both
kinds, he claims, with perfect justice, that 'if the two kinds cannot be
distinguished, it is surely rather a credit than a discredit to an
artist whose medium or material has more in common with a musician's
than with a sculptor's.' Rarely has the prying ignorance of ordinary
criticism been more absurdly evident than in the criticisms on _Poems
and Ballads_, in which the question as to whether these poems were or
were not the record of personal experience was debated with as much
solemn fury as if it really mattered in the very least. When a poem has
once been written, of what consequence is it to anybody whether it was
inspired by a line of Sappho or by a lady living round the corner? There
may be theoretical preferences, and these may be rationally enough
argued, as to whether one should work from life or from memory or from
imagination. But, the poem once written, only one question remains: is
it a good or a bad poem? A poem of Coleridge or of Wordsworth is neither
better nor worse because it came to the one in a dream and to the other
in 'a storm, worse if possible, in which the pony could (or would) only
make his way slantwise.' The knowledge of the circumstances or the
antecedents of composition is, no doubt, as gratifying to human
curiosity as the personal paragraphs in the newspapers; it can hardly
be of much greater importance.

A passage in Swinburne's dedicatory epistle which was well worth saying,
a passage which comes with doubled force from a poet who is also a
scholar, is that on books which are living things: 'Marlowe and
Shakespeare, Æschylus and Sappho, do not for us live only on the dusty
shelves of libraries.' To Swinburne, as he says, the distinction between
books and life is but a 'dullard's distinction,' and it may justly be
said of him that it is with an equal instinct and an equal enthusiasm
that he is drawn to whatever in nature, in men, in books, or in ideas is
great, noble, and heroic. The old name of _Laudi_, which has lately been
revived by d'Annunzio, might be given to the larger part of Swinburne's
lyric verse: it is filled by a great praising of the universe. To the
prose-minded reader who reads verse in the intervals of newspaper and
business there must be an actual fatigue in merely listening to so
unintermittent a hymn of thanksgiving. Here is a poet, he must say, who
is without any moderation at all; birds at dawn, praising light, are not
more troublesome to a sleeper.

Reading the earlier and the later Swinburne on a high rock around which
the sea is washing, one is struck by the way in which these cadences, in
their unending, ever-varying flow, seem to harmonise with the rhythm of
the sea. Here one finds, at least, and it is a great thing to find, a
rhythm inherent in nature. A mean, or merely bookish, rhythm is rebuked
by the sea, as a trivial or insincere thought is rebuked by the stars.
'We are what suns and winds and waters make us,' as Landor knew: the
whole essence of Swinburne seems to be made by the rush and soft flowing
impetus of the sea. The sea has passed into his blood like a passion and
into his verse like a transfiguring element. It is actually the last
word of many of his poems, and it is the first and last word of his

He does not make pictures, for he does not see the visible world without
an emotion which troubles his sight. He sees as through a cloud of
rapture. Sight is to him a transfiguring thrill, and his record of
things seen is clouded over with shining words and broken into little
separate shafts and splinters of light. He has still, undimmed, the
child's awakenings to wonder, love, reverence, the sense of beauty in
every sensation. He has the essentially lyric quality, joy, in almost
unparalleled abundance. There is for him no tedium in things, because,
to his sense, books catch up and continue the delights of nature, and
with books and nature he has all that he needs for a continual inner

In this new book there are poems of nature, poems of the sea, the lake,
the high oaks, the hawthorn, a rosary, Northumberland; and there are
poems of books, poems about Burns, Christina Rossetti, Rabelais, Dumas,
and about Shakespeare and his circle. In all the poems about books in
this volume there is excellent characterisation, excellent criticism,
and in the ode to Burns a very notable discrimination of the greater
Burns, not the Burns of the love-poems but the fighter, the satirist,
the poet of strenuous laughter.

     But love and wine were moon and sun
     For many a fame long since undone,
     And sorrow and joy have lost and won
         By stormy turns
     As many a singer's soul, if none
         More bright than Burns.

     And sweeter far in grief and mirth
     Have songs as glad and sad of birth
     Found voice to speak of wealth or dearth
         In joy of life:
     But never song took fire from earth
         More strong for strife.

       *       *       *       *       *

     Above the storms of praise and blame
     That blur with mist his lustrous name,
     His thunderous laughter went and came,
         And lives and flies;
     The war that follows on the flame
         When lightning dies.

Here the homage is given with splendid energy, but with fine justice.
There are other poems of homage in this book, along with denunciations,
as there are on so many pages of the _Songs before Sunrise_ and the
_Songs of Two Nations_, in which the effect is far less convincing, as
it is far less clear. Whether Mazzini or Nelson be praised, Napoleon
III. or Gladstone be buffeted, little distinction, save of degree, can
be discerned between the one and the other. The hate poems, it must be
admitted, are more interesting, partly because they are more
distinguishable, than the poems of adoration; for hate seizes upon the
lineaments which love glorifies willingly out of recognition. There was
a finely ferocious energy in the _Dirae_ ending with _The Descent into
Hell_ of 9th January 1873, and there is a good swinging and slashing
vigour in _The Commonweal_ of 1886. Why is it that this deeply felt
political verse, like so much of the political verse of the _Songs
before Sunrise_, does not satisfy the ear or the mind like the early
love poetry or the later nature poetry? Is it not that one distinguishes
only a voice, not a personality behind the voice? Speech needs weight,
though song only needs wings.

     I set the trumpet to my lips and blow,

said Swinburne in the _Songs before Sunrise,_ when he was the trumpeter
of Mazzini.

And yet, it must be remembered, Swinburne has always meant exactly what
he has said, and this fact points an amusing contrast between the
attitude of the critics thirty years ago towards work which was then new
and their attitude now towards the same work when it is thirty years
old. There is, in the _Songs before Sunrise_, an arraignment of
Christianity as deliberate as Leconte de Lisle's, as wholesale as
Nietzsche's; in the _Poems and Ballads_, a learned sensuality without
parallel in English poetry; and the critics, or the descendants of the
critics, who, when these poems first appeared, could see nothing but
these accidental qualities of substance, are now, thanks merely to the
triumph of time, to the ease with which time forgets and forgives, able
to take all such things for granted, and to acknowledge the genuine and
essential qualities of lyric exaltation and generous love of liberty by
which the poems exist, and have a right to exist, as poems. But when we
are told that _Before a Crucifix_ is a poem fundamentally reverent
towards Christianity, and that _Anactoria_ is an ascetic experiment in
scholarship, a learned attempt at the reconstruction of the order of
Sappho, it is difficult not to wonder with what kind of smile the writer
of these poems reflects anew over the curiosities of criticism. I have
taken the new book and the old book together, because there is
surprisingly little difference between the form and manner of the old
poems and the new. The contents of _A Channel Passage_ are unusually
varied in subject, and the longest poem, _The Altar of Righteousness_, a
marvellous piece of rhythmical architecture, is unusually varied in
form. Technically the whole book shows Swinburne at his best; if,
indeed, he may ever be said not to be at his best, technically. Is there
any other instance in our literature of a perfection of technique so
unerring, so uniform, that it becomes actually fatiguing? It has often
foolishly been said that the dazzling brilliance of Swinburne's form is
apt to disguise a certain thinness or poverty of substance. It seems to
me, on the contrary, that we are often in danger of overlooking the
imaginative subtlety of phrases and epithets which are presented to us
and withdrawn from us in a flash, on the turn of a wave. Most poets
present us with their best effects deliberately, giving them as weighty
an accent as they can; Swinburne scatters them by the way. Take, for
instance, the line:

     The might of the night subsided: the tyranny kindled in darkness

The line comes rearing like a wave, and has fallen and raced past us
before we have properly grasped what is imaginatively fine in the
latter clause. Presented to us in the manner of slower poets, thus:

               The tyranny
     Kindled in darkness fell,

how much more easily do we realise the quality of the speech which goes
to make this song.

And yet there is no doubt that Swinburne has made his own moulds of
language, as he has made his own moulds of rhythm, and that he is apt,
when a thought or a sensation which he has already expressed recurs to
him, to use the mould which stands ready made in his memory, instead of
creating language over again, to fit a hair's-breadth of difference in
the form of thought or sensation. That is why, in this book, in
translating a 'roundel' of Villon which Rossetti had already translated,
he misses the naïve quality of the French which Rossetti, in a version
not in all points so faithful as this, had been able, in some subtle
way, to retain. His own moulds of language recur to him, and he will not
stop to think that 'wife,' though a good word for his rhyme scheme, is
not a word that Villon could have used, and that

     Deux estions et n'avions qu'ung cueur,

though it is perfectly rendered by Rossetti in

     Two we were and the heart was one,

is turned into a wholly different, a Swinburnian thing, by

     Twain we were, and our hearts one song,
     One heart.

Nor is 'Dead as the carver's figured throng' (for 'Comme les images, par
cueur') either clear in meaning, or characteristic of Villon in form. Is
it not one of the penalties of extreme technical ability that the hand
at times works, as it were, blindly, without the delicate vigilance or
direction of the brain?

Of the poems contained in this new volume, the title-poem, _A Channel
Passage_, is perhaps the finest. It is the record of a memory, fifty
years old, and it is filled with a passionate ecstasy in the
recollection of

     Three glad hours, and it seemed not an hour of supreme and supernal
     Filled full with delight that revives in remembrance a sea-bird's
       heart in a boy.

It may be that Swinburne has praised the sea more eloquently, or sung
of it more melodiously, but not in the whole of his works is there a
poem fuller of personal rapture in the communion of body and soul with
the very soul of the sea in storm. _The Lake of Gaube_ is remarkable for
an exultant and very definite and direct rendering of the sensation of a
dive through deep water. There are other sea-poems in the two brief and
concentrated poems in honour of Nelson; the most delicate of the poems
of flowers in _A Rosary_; the most passionate and memorable of the
political poems in _Russia: an Ode_; the Elizabethan prologues. These
poems, so varied in subject and manner, are the work of many years; to
those who love Swinburne most as a lyric poet they will come with
special delight, for they represent, in almost absolute equality, almost
every side of his dazzling and unique lyric genius.

The final volume of the greatest lyrical poet since Shelley contains
three books, each published at an interval of ten years: the _Midsummer
Holiday_ of 1884, the _Astrophel_ of 1894, and the _Channel Passage_ of
1904. Choice among them is as difficult as it is unnecessary. They are
alike in their ecstatic singing of the sea, of great poets and great
men, of England and liberty, and of children. One contains the finest
poems about the sea from on shore, another the finest poem about the sea
from at sea, and the other the finest poem about the earth from the
heart of the woods. Even in Swinburne's work the series of nine ballades
in long lines which bears the name of _A Midsummer Holiday_ stands out
as a masterpiece of its kind, and of a unique kind. A form of French
verse, which up to then had been used, since the time when Villon used
it as no man has used it before or since, and almost exclusively in
iambic measures, is suddenly transported from the hothouse into the open
air, is stretched and moulded beyond all known limits, and becomes, it
may almost be said, a new lyric form. After _A Midsummer Holiday_ no one
can contend any longer that the ballade is a structure necessarily any
more artificial than the sonnet. But then in the hands of Swinburne an
acrostic would cease to be artificial.

In this last volume the technique which is seen apparently perfected in
the _Poems and Ballads_ of 1866 has reached a point from which that
relative perfection looks easy and almost accidental. Something is lost,
no doubt, and much has changed. But to compare the metrical qualities of
_Dolores_ or even of _The Triumph of Time_ with the metrical qualities
of _On the Verge_ is almost like comparing the art of Thomas Moore with
the art of Coleridge. In Swinburne's development as a poet the metrical
development is significant of every change through which the poet has
passed. Subtlety and nobility, the appeal of ever homelier and loftier
things, are seen more and more clearly in his work, as the metrical
qualities of it become purified and intensified, with always more of
subtlety and distinction, an energy at last tamed to the needs and paces
of every kind of beauty.


'Charles Lamb, as I need not remind you,' says Swinburne in his
dedicatory epistle to the collected edition of his poems, 'wrote for
antiquity: nor need you be assured that when I write plays it is with a
view to their being acted at the Globe, the Red Bull, or the Black
Friars.' In another part of the same epistle, he says: 'My first if not
my strongest ambition was to do something worth doing, and not utterly
unworthy of a young countryman of Marlowe the teacher and Webster the
pupil of Shakespeare, in the line of work which those three poets had
left as a possibly unattainable example for ambitious Englishmen. And my
first book, written while yet under academic or tutoral authority, bore
evidence of that ambition in every line.' And indeed we need not turn
four pages to come upon a mimicry of the style of Shakespeare so close
as this:

     We are so more than poor,
     The dear'st of all our spoil would profit you
     Less than mere losing; so most more than weak
     It were but shame for one to smite us, who
     Could but weep louder.

A Shakespearean trick is copied in such lines as:

                    All other women's praise
     Makes part of my blame, and things of least account
     In them are all my praises.

And there is a jester who talks in a metre that might have come
straight out of Beaumont and Fletcher, as here:

     I am considering of that apple still;
     It hangs in the mouth yet sorely; I would fain know too
     Why nettles are not good to eat raw. Come, children,
     Come, my sweet scraps; come, painted pieces; come.

Touches of the early Browning come into this Elizabethan work, come and
go there, as in these lines:

     What are you made God's friend for but to have
     His hand over your head to keep it well
     And warm the rainy weather through, when snow
     Spoils half the world's work?

And does one not hear Beddoes in the grim line, spoken of the earth:

     Naked as brown feet of unburied men?

An influence still more closely contemporary seems to be felt in _Fair
Rosamond_, the influence of that extraordinarily individual blank verse
which William Morris had made his first and last experiment in, two
years earlier, in _Sir Peter Harpdon's End_.

So many influences, then, are seen at work on the form at least of these
two plays, published at the age of twenty-three. _Fair Rosamond_,
though it has beautiful lines here and there, and shows some
anticipation of that luxurious heat and subtle rendering of physical
sensation which was to be so evident in the _Poems and Ballads_, is
altogether a less mature piece of work, less satisfactory in every way,
than the longer and more regular drama of _The Queen-Mother_. Swinburne
speaks of the two pieces without distinction, and finds all that there
is in them of promise or of merit 'in the language and the style of such
better passages as may perhaps be found in single and separable speeches
of Catherine and of Rosamond.' But the difference between these speeches
is very considerable. Those of Rosamond are wholly elegiac, lamentations
and meditations recited, without or against occasion. In the best
speeches of Catherine there is not only a more masculine splendour of
language, a firmer cadence, there is also some indication of that 'power
to grapple with the realities and subtleties of character and of motive'
which Swinburne finds largely lacking in them. A newspaper critic,
reviewing the book in 1861, said: 'We should have conceived it hardly
possible to make the crimes of Catherine de' Medici dull, however they
were presented. Swinburne, however, has done so.' It seems to me, on the
contrary, that the whole action, undramatic as it is in the strict sense
of the theatre, is breathlessly interesting. The two great speeches of
the play, the one beginning 'That God that made high things,' and the
one beginning 'I would fain see rain,' are indeed more splendid in
execution than significant as drama, but they have their dramatic
significance, none the less. There is a Shakespearean echo, but is there
not also a preparation of the finest Swinburnian harmonies, in such
lines as these?

                          I should be mad,
     I talk as one filled through with wine; thou God,
     Whose thunder is confusion of the hills,
     And with wrath sown abolishes the fields,
     I pray thee if thy hand would ruin us,
     Make witness of it even this night that is
     The last for many cradles, and the grave
     Of many reverend seats; even at this turn,
     This edge of season, this keen joint of time,
     Finish and spare not.

The verse is harder, tighter, more closely packed with figurative
meaning than perhaps any of Swinburne's later verse. It is less fluid,
less 'exuberant and effusive' (to accept two epithets of his own in
reference to the verse of _Atalanta in Calydon_). He is ready to be
harsh when harshness is required, abrupt for some sharp effect; he holds
out against the enervating allurements of alliteration; he can stop when
he has said the essential thing.

In the first book of most poets there is something which will be found
in no other book; some virginity of youth, lost with the first
intercourse with print. In _The Queen-Mother_ and _Rosamond_ Swinburne
is certainly not yet himself, he has not yet settled down within his own
limits. But what happy strayings beyond those limits! What foreign
fruits and flowers, brought back from far countries! In these two plays
there is no evidence, certainly, of a playwright; but there is no
evidence that their writer could never become one. And there is evidence
already of a poet of original genius and immense accomplishment, a poet
with an incomparable gift of speech. That this technical quality, at
least, the sound of these new harmonies in English verse, awakened no
ears to attention, would be more surprising if one did not remember
that two years earlier the first and best of William Morris's books was
saluted as 'a Manchester mystery, not a real vision,' and that two years
later the best though not the first of George Meredith's books of verse,
_Modern Love_, was noticed only to be hooted at. Rossetti waited, and
was wise.

The plays of Swinburne, full as they are of splendid poetry, and even of
splendid dramatic poetry, suffer from a lack of that 'continual slight
novelty' which great drama, more than any other poetical form, requires.
There is, in the writing, a monotony of excellence, which becomes an
actual burden upon the reader. Here is a poet who touches nothing that
he does not transform, who can, as in _Mary Stuart_, fill scores of
pages with talk of lawyers, conspirators, and statesmen, versifying
history as closely as Shakespeare versified it, and leaving in the
result less prose deposit than Shakespeare left. It is perhaps because
in this play he has done a more difficult thing than in any other that
the writer has come to prefer this to any other of his plays; as men in
general prefer a triumph over difficulties to a triumph. A similar
satisfaction, not in success but in the overcoming of difficulties,
leads him to say of the modern play, _The Sisters_, that it is the only
modern English play 'in which realism in the reproduction of natural
dialogue and accuracy in the representation of natural intercourse
between men and women of gentle birth and breeding have been found or
made compatible with expression in genuine if simple blank verse.' This
may be as true as that, in the astounding experiment of _Locrine_, none
of 'the life of human character or the life-likeness of dramatic
dialogue has suffered from the bondage of rhyme or has been sacrificed
to the exigences of metre.' But when all is said, when an unparalleled
skill in language, versification, and everything that is verbal in form,
has been admitted, and with unqualified admiration; when, in addition,
one has admitted, with not less admiration, noble qualities of
substance, superb qualities of poetic imagination, there still remains
the question: is either substance or form consistently dramatic? and the
further question: can work professedly dramatic which is not
consistently dramatic in substance and form be accepted as wholly
satisfactory from any other point of view?

The trilogy on Mary Queen of Scots must remain the largest and most
ambitious attempt which Swinburne has made. The first part,
_Chastelard_, was published in 1865; the last, _Mary Stuart_, in 1881.
And what Swinburne says in speaking of the intermediate play,
_Bothwell_, may be said of them all: 'I will add that I took as much
care and pains as though I had been writing or compiling a history of
the period to do loyal justice to all the historic figures which came
within the scope of my dramatic or poetic design.' Of _Bothwell_, the
longest of the three plays--indeed, the longest play in existence,
Swinburne says: 'That ambitious, conscientious, and comprehensive piece
of work is of course less properly definable as a tragedy than by the
old Shakespearean term of a chronicle history.' Definition is not
defence, and it has yet to be shown that the 'chronicle' form is in
itself a legitimate or satisfactory dramatic form. Shakespeare's use of
it proves only that he found his way through chronicle to drama, and to
take his work in the chronicle play as a model is hardly more
reasonable than to take _Venus and Adonis_ as a model for narrative
poetry. But, further, there is no play of Shakespeare's, chronicle or
other, which might not at least be conceived of, if not on the stage of
our time, at least on that of his, or on that of any time when drama was
allowed to live its own life according to its own nature. Can we
conceive of _Bothwell_ even on the stage which has seen _Les Burgraves_?
The Chinese theatre, which goes on from morning to night without a
pause, might perhaps grapple with it; but no other. Nor would cutting be
of any use, for what the stage-manager would cut away would be largely
just such parts as are finest in the printed play.

There is, in most of Swinburne's plays, some scene or passage of vital
dramatic quality, and in _Bothwell_ there is one scene, the scene
leading to the death of Darnley, which is among the great single scenes
in drama. But there is not even any such scene in the whole of the
lovely and luxurious song of _Chastelard_ or in the severe and strenuous
study of _Mary Stuart_. There are moments, in all, where speech is as
simple, as explicit, as expressive as speech in verse can be; and no
one will ever speak in verse more naturally than this:

     Well, all is one to me: and for my part
     I thank God I shall die without regret
     Of anything that I have done alive.

These simple beginnings are apt indeed to lead to their end by ways as
tortuous as this:

     Indeed I have done all this if aught I have,
     And loved at all or loathed, save what mine eye
     Hath ever loathed or loved since first it saw
     That face which taught it faith and made it first
     Think scorn to turn and look on change, or see
     How hateful in my love's sight are their eyes
     That give love's light to others.

But, even when speech is undiluted, and expresses with due fire or
calmness the necessary feeling of the moment, it is nearly always mere
speech, a talking about action or emotion, not itself action or emotion.
And every scene, even the finest, is thought of as a scene of talk, not
as visible action; the writer hears his people speak, but does not see
their faces or where or how they stand or move. It is this power of
visualisation that is the first requirement of the dramatist; by itself
it can go no further than the ordering of dumb show; but all drama must
begin with the ordering of dumb show, and should be playable without

It was once said by William Morris that Swinburne's poems did not make
pictures. The criticism was just, but mattered little; because they make
harmonies. No English poet has ever shown so great and various a mastery
over harmony in speech, and it is this lyrical quality which has given
him a place among the great lyrical poets of England. In drama the
lyrical gift is essential to the making of great poetic drama, but to
the dramatist it should be an addition rather than a substitute.
Throughout all these plays it is first and last and all but everything.
It is for this reason that a play like _Locrine_, which is confessedly,
by its very form, a sequence of lyrics, comes more nearly to being
satisfactory as a whole than any of the more 'ambitious, conscientious,
and comprehensive' plays. _Marino Faliero_, though an episode of
history, comes into somewhat the same category, and repeats with nobler
energy the song-like character of _Chastelard_. The action is brief and
concentrated, tragic and heroic. Its 'magnificent monotony,' its
'fervent and inexhaustible declamation,' have a height and heat in them
which turn the whole play into a poem rather than a play, but a poem
comparable with the 'succession of dramatic scenes or pictures' which
makes the vast lyric of _Tristram of Lyonesse_. To think of Byron's play
on the same subject, to compare the actual scenes which can be
paralleled in both plays, is to realise how much more can be done, in
poetry and even in drama, by a great lyric poet with a passion for what
is heroic in human nature and for what is ardent and unlimited in human
speech, than by a poet who saw in Faliero only the politician, and in
the opportunities of verse only the opportunity for thin and shrewish
rhetoric pulled and lopped into an intermittent resemblance to metre.

The form of _Locrine_ has something in common with the form of _Atalanta
in Calydon_, with a kind of sombre savagery in the subject which recurs
only once, and less lyrically, in _Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards_. It
is written throughout in rhyme, and the dialogue twists and twines,
without effort, through rhyme arrangements which change in every scene,
beginning and ending with couplets, and passing through the sonnet,
Petrarchan and Shakespearean, ottava rima, terza rima, the six-line
stanza of crossed rhymes and couplet, the seven-line stanza used by
Shakespeare in the _Rape of Lucrece_, a nine-line stanza of two rhymes,
and a scene composed of seven stanzas of chained octaves in which a
third rhyme comes forward in the last line but one (after the manner of
terza rima) and starts a new octave, which closes at the end in a stanza
of two rhymes only, the last line but one turning back instead of
forward, to lock the chain's circle. No other English poet who ever
lived could have written dialogue under such conditions, and it is not
less true than strange that these fetters act as no more than a beating
of time to the feet that dance in them. The emotion is throughout at
white heat; there is lyrical splendour even in the arguments: and a
child's prattle, in nine-line stanzas of two rhymes apiece, goes as
merrily as this:

     That song is hardly even as wise as I--
     Nay, very foolishness it is. To die
     In March before its life were well on wing,
     Before its time and kindly season--why
     Should spring be sad--before the swallows fly--
     Enough to dream of such a wintry thing?
     Such foolish words were more unmeet for spring
     Than snow for summer when his heart is high:
     And why should words be foolish when they sing?

Swinburne is a great master of blank verse; there is nothing that can be
done with blank verse that he cannot do with it. Listen to these lines
from _Mary Stuart_:

     She shall be a world's wonder to all time,
     A deadly glory watched of marvelling men
     Not without praise, not without noble tears,
     And if without what she would never have
     Who had it never, pity--yet from none
     Quite without reverence and some kind of love
     For that which was so royal.

There is in them something of the cadence of Milton and something of the
cadence of Shakespeare, and they are very Swinburne. Yet, after reading
_Locrine_, and with _Atalanta_ and _Erechtheus_ in memory, it is
difficult not to wish that Swinburne had written all his plays in
rhyme, and that they had all been romantic plays and not histories.
_Locrine_ has been acted, and might well be acted again. Its rhyme would
sound on the stage with another splendour than the excellent and
well-sounding rhymes into which Mr. Gilbert Murray has translated
Euripides. And there would be none of that difficulty which seems to be
insuperable on the modern stage: the chorus, which, whether it speaks,
or chants, or sings, seems alike out of place and out of key.

The tragic anecdote which Swinburne has told in _Rosamund, Queen of the
Lombards_, is told with a directness and conciseness unusual in his
dramatic or lyric work. The story, simple, barbarous, and cruel--a story
of the year 573--acts itself out before us in large clear outlines, with
surprisingly little of modern self-consciousness. The book is a small
one, the speeches are short, and the words for the most part short too;
every speech tells like an action in words; there is scarcely a single
merely decorative passage from beginning to end. Here and there the
lines become lyric, as in

                                  Thou rose,
     Why did God give thee more than all thy kin,
     Whose pride is perfume only and colour, this?
     Music? No rose but mine sings, and the birds
     Hush all their hearts to hearken. Dost thou hear not
     How heavy sounds her note now?

But even here the lyrical touch marks a point of 'business.' And for the
most part the speeches are as straightforward as prose; are indeed
written with a deliberate aim at a sort of prose effect. For instance:


                                God must be
     Dead. Such a thing as thou could never else


            That concerns not thee nor me. Be thou
     Sure that my will and power to serve it live.
     Lift now thine eyes to look upon thy lord.

Compare these lines with the lines which end the fourth act:


                             I cannot slay him


            Canst thou slay thy bride by fire? He dies,
     Or she dies, bound against the stake. His death
     Were the easier. Follow him: save her: strike but once.


     I cannot. God requite thee this! I will.             [_Exit._


     And I will see it. And, father, thou shalt see.      [_Exit._

In both these instances one sees the quality which is most conspicuous
in this play--a naked strength, which is the same kind of strength that
has always been present in Swinburne's plays, but hitherto draped
elaborately, and often more than half concealed in the draperies. The
outline of every play has been hard, sharp, firmly drawn; the characters
always forthright and unwavering; there has always been a real precision
in the main drift of the speeches; but this is the first time in which
the outlines have been left to show themselves in all their sharpness.
Development or experiment, whichever it may be, this resolute simplicity
brings a new quality into Swinburne's work, and a quality full of
dramatic possibilities. All the luxuriousness of his verse has gone, and
the lines ring like sword clashing against sword. These savage and
simple people of the sixth century do not turn over their thoughts
before concentrating them into words, and they do not speak except to
tell their thoughts. Imagine what even Murray, in _Chastelard_, a
somewhat curt speaker, would have said in place of Almachildes's one
line, a whole conflict of love, hate, honour, and shame in eight words:

     I cannot. God requite thee this! I will.

Dramatic realism can go no further than such lines. The question remains
whether dramatic realism is in itself an altogether desirable thing, and
whether Swinburne in particular does not lose more than he gains by such

The poetic drama is in itself a compromise. That people should speak in
verse is itself a violation of probability; and so strongly is this felt
by most actors that they endeavour, in acting a play in verse, to make
the verse sound as much like prose as possible. But, as it seems to me,
the aim of the poetic drama is to create a new world in a new
atmosphere, where the laws of human existence are no longer recognised.
The aim of the poetic drama is beauty, not truth; and Shakespeare, to
take the supreme example, is great, not because he makes Othello
probable as a jealous husband, or gives him exactly the words that a
jealous husband might have used, but because he creates in him an image
of more than human energy, and puts into his mouth words of a more
splendid poetry than any one but Shakespeare himself could have found to
say. Fetter the poetic drama to an imitation of actual speech, and you
rob it of the convention which is its chief glory and best opportunity.
A new colour may certainly be given to that convention, by which a
certain directness, rather of Dante than of Shakespeare, may be employed
for its novel kind of beauty, convention being still recognised as
convention. No doubt that is really Swinburne's aim, and to have
succeeded in it is to show that he can master every form, and do as he
pleases with language. And there are passages in the play, like this
one, which have a fervid colour of their own, fully characteristic of
the writer who has put more Southern colouring into English verse than
any other English poet:

     This sun--no sun like ours--burns out my soul.
     I would, when June takes hold on us like fire,
     The wind could waft and whirl us northward: here
     The splendour and the sweetness of the world
     Eat out all joy of life or manhood. Earth
     Is here too hard on heaven--the Italian air
     Too bright to breathe, as fire, its next of kin,
     Too keen to handle. God, whoe'er God be,
     Keep us from withering as the lords of Rome--
     Slackening and sickening toward the imperious end
     That wiped them out of empire! Yea, he shall.

The atmosphere of the play is that of June at Verona, and the sun's heat
seems to beat upon us all through its brief and fevered action.
Swinburne's words never make pictures, but they are unparalleled in
their power of conveying atmosphere. He sees with a certain generalised
vision--it might almost be said that he sees musically; but no English
poet has ever presented bodily sensation with such curious and subtle
intensity. And just as he renders bodily sensation carried to the point
of agony, so he is at his best when dealing, as here, with emotion
tortured to the last limit of endurance. Albovine, the king, sets bare
his heart, confessing:

     The devil and God are crying in either ear
     One murderous word for ever, night and day,
     Dark day and deadly night and deadly day,
     Can she love thee who slewest her father? I
     Love her.

Rosamund, his wife, meditating her monstrous revenge, confesses:

     I am yet alive to question if I live
     And wonder what may ever bid me die.
                         ... There is nought
     Left in the range and record of the world
     For me that is not poisoned: even my heart
     Is all envenomed in me.

And she recognises that

     No healing and no help for life on earth
     Hath God or man found out save death and sleep.

The two young lovers, caught innocently in a net of intolerable shame,
can but question and answer one another thus:


     Hast thou forgiven me?


                            I have not forgiven God.

And at the end Narsetes, the old councillor, the only one of the persons
of the drama who is not the actor or the sufferer of some subtle horror,
sums up all that has happened in a reflection which casts the
responsibility of things further off than to the edge of the world:

     Let none make moan. This doom is none of man's.

As in the time of the great first volume of _Poems and Ballads_,
Swinburne is still drawn to

     What fools God's anger makes of men.

He has never been a philosophical thinker; but he has acquired the
equivalent of a philosophy through his faithfulness to a single outlook
upon human life and destiny. And in this brief and burning play, more
than in much of his later writing, I find the reflection of that unique
temperament, to which real things are so abstract, and abstract things
so coloured and tangible; a temperament in which there is almost too
much poetry for a poet--as pure gold, to be worked in, needs to be
mingled with alloy.

There is, perhaps, no more terrible story in the later history of the
world, no actual tragedy more made to the hand of the dramatist, than
the story of the Borgias. In its entirety it would make another _Cenci_,
in the hands of another Shelley, and another Censor would prohibit the
one as he prohibits the other. We are not permitted to deal with some
form of evil on the stage. Yet what has Shelley said?

     There must be nothing attempted to make the exhibition subservient
     to what is vulgarly termed a moral purpose. The highest moral
     purpose aimed at in the highest species of the drama is the
     teaching the human heart, through its sympathies and antipathies,
     the knowledge of itself.

A great drama on the story of the Borgias could certainly have much to
teach the human heart in the knowledge of itself. It would be moral in
its presentation of the most ignobly splendid vices that have swayed the
world; of the pride and defiance which rise like a strangling serpent,
coiling about the momentary weakness of good; of that pageant in which
the pagan gods came back, drunk and debauched with their long exile
under the earth, and the garden-god assumed the throne of the Holy of
Holies. Alexander, Cæsar, Lucrezia, the threefold divinity, might be
shown as a painter has shown one of them on the wall of one of his own
chapels: a swinish portent in papal garments, kneeling, bloated,
thinking of Lucrezia, with fingers folded over the purple of his rings.
Or the family might have been shown as Rossetti, in one of the
loveliest, most cruel, and most significant of his pictures, has shown
it: a light, laughing masquerade of innocence, the boy and girl dancing
before the cushioned idol and her two worshippers.

Swinburne in _The Duke of Gandia_ has not dealt with the whole matter of
the story--only, in a single act of four scenes, with the heart or
essence of it. The piece is not drama for the stage, nor intended to be
seen or heard outside the pages of a book; but it is meant to be, and
is, a great, brief, dramatic poem, a lyric almost, of hate, ambition,
fear, desire, and the conquest of ironic evil. Swinburne has written
nothing like it before. The manner of it is new, or anticipated only in
the far less effectual _Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards_; the style,
speech, and cadence are tightened, restrained, full of sullen
fierceness. Lucrezia, strangely, is no more than a pale image passing
without consciousness through some hot feast-room; she is there, she is
hidden under their speech, but we scarcely see her, and, like her
historians, wonder if she was so evil, or only a scholar to whom learned
men wrote letters, as if to a pattern of virtue. But in the father and
son live a flame and a cloud, the flame rising steadily to beat back and
consume the cloud. It is Cæsar Borgia who is the flame, and Alexander
the Pope who fills the Vatican and the world with his contagious clouds.
The father, up to this moment, has held all his vices well in hand; he
has no rival; his sons and his daughter he has made, and they live about
him for their own pleasure, and he watches them, and is content. Now one
steps out, the circle is broken; there is no longer a younger son, a
cardinal, but the Duke of Gandia, eldest son and on the highest step of
the Pope's chair. It is, in this brief, almost speechless moment of
action, as if the door of a furnace had suddenly been thrown open and
then shut. One scene stands out, only surpassed by the terrible and
magnificent scene leading up to the death of Darnley--a scene itself
only surpassed, in its own pitiful and pitiless kind, by that death of
Marlowe's king in the dungeons of Berkeley Castle, which, to all who can
endure to read it, 'moves pity and terror,' as to Lamb, 'beyond any
scene ancient or modern.' And only in _Bothwell_, in the whole of
Swinburne's drama, is there speech so adequate, so human, so full of
fear and suspense. Take, for instance, the opening of the great final
scene. The youngest son has had his elder brother drowned in the Tiber,
and after seven days he appears calmly before his father.

       ALEX. Thou hast done this deed.
       CÆSAR. Thou hast said it.
       ALEX. Dost thou think
     To live, and look upon me?
       CÆSAR. Some while yet.
       ALEX. I would there were a God--that he might hear.
       CÆSAR. 'Tis pity there should be--for thy sake--none.
       ALEX. Wilt thou slay me?
       CÆSAR. Why?
       ALEX. Am I not thy sire?
       CÆSAR. And Christendom's to boot.
       ALEX. I pray thee, man,
     Slay me.
       CÆSAR. And then myself? Thou art crazed, but I
       ALEX. Art thou very flesh and blood?
       CÆSAR. They say,
       ALEX. If the heaven stand still and smite thee not,
     There is no God indeed.
       CÆSAR. Nor thou nor I
       ALEX. I could pray to God that God might be,
     Were I but mad. Thou sayest I am mad: thou liest:
     I do not pray.

There, surely, is great dramatic speech, and the two men who speak face
to face are seen clearly before us, naked to the sight. Yet even these
lines do not make drama that would hold the stage. How is it that only
one of our greater poets since the last of Shakespeare's contemporaries,
and that one Shelley, has understood the complete art of the playwright,
and achieved it? Byron, Coleridge, Browning, Tennyson, all wrote plays
for the stage; all had their chance of being acted; Tennyson only made
even a temporary success, and _Becket_ is likely to have gone out with
Irving. Landor wrote plays full of sublime poetry, but not meant for the
stage; and now we have Swinburne following his example, but with an
unexampled lyrical quality. Why, without capacity to deal with it, are
our poets so insistent on using the only form for which a special
faculty, outside the pure poetic gift, is inexorably required?

A poet so great as Swinburne, possessed by an ecstasy which turns into
song as instinctively as the flawless inspiration of Mozart turned into
divine melody, cannot be questioned. Mozart, without a special genius
for dramatic music, wrote _Die Zauberflöte_ to a bad libretto with as
great a perfection as the music to _Don Giovanni_, which had a good one.
The same inspiration was there, always apt to the occasion. Swinburne is
ready to write in any known form of verse, with an equal facility and
(this is the all-important point) the same inspiration. Loving the form
of the drama, and capable of turning it to his uses, not of bending it
to its own, he has filled play after play with music, noble feeling,
brave eloquence. Here in this briefest and most actual of his plays--an
act, an episode--he has concentrated much of this floating beauty, this
overflowing imagination, into a few stern and adequate words, and made a
new thing, as always, in his own image. It is the irony that has given
its precise form to this representation of a twofold Satan, as Blake
might have seen him in vision, parodying God with unbreakable pride. The
conflict between father and son ends in a kind of unholy litany. 'And
now,' cries Cæsar, fresh from murder,

     Behoves thee rise again as Christ our God,
     Vicarious Christ, and cast as flesh away
     This grief from off thy godhead.

And the old man, temporising with his grief, answers:

     Thou art subtle and strong.
     I would thou hadst spared him--couldst have spared him.

And the son replies:

     I would so too. Our sire, his sire and mine,
     I slew him not for lust of slaying, or hate,
     Or aught less like thy wiser spirit and mine.

But Cæsar-Satan has already said the epilogue to the whole
representation, when, speaking to his mother, he bids her leave the
responsibility of things:

     And God, who made me and my sire and thee,
     May take the charge upon him.



Rossetti's phrase about poetry, that it must be 'amusing'; his
'commandment' about verse translation, 'that a good poem shall not be
turned into a bad one'; his roughest and most random criticisms about
poets, are as direct and inevitable as his finest verse. Only Coleridge
among English poets has anything like the same definite grasp upon
whatever is essential in poetry. And it is this intellectual sanity
partly, this complete knowledge of the medium in which he worked, that
has given Rossetti a position of his own, a kind of leadership in art.

And, technically, Rossetti has done much for English poetry. Such a line

     And when the night-vigil was done,

is a perfectly good metrical line if read without any displacement of
the normal accent in speaking, and the rhyme of 'of' to 'enough' is as
satisfying to the ear as the more commonly accepted rhyme of 'love' and
'move.' Rossetti did nothing but good by his troubling of many rhythms
which had become stagnant, and it is in his extraordinary subtlety of
rhythm, most accomplished where it seems most hesitating, that he has
produced his finest emotional effects, effects before his time found but
rarely, and for the most part accidentally, in English poetry.

Like Baudelaire and like Mallarmé in France, Rossetti was not only a
wholly original poet, but a new personal force in literature. That he
stimulated the sense of beauty is true in a way it is not true of
Tennyson, for instance, as it is true of Baudelaire in a way it is not
true of Victor Hugo. In Rossetti's work, perhaps because it is not the
greatest, there is an actually hypnotic quality which exerts itself on
those who come within his circle at all; a quality like that of an
unconscious medium, or like that of a woman against whose attraction one
is without defence. It is the sound of a voice, rather than anything
said; and, when Rossetti speaks, no other voice, for the moment, seems
worth listening to. Even after one has listened, not very much seems to
have been said; but the world is not quite the same. He has stimulated a
new sense, by which a new mood of beauty can be apprehended.

Dreams are precise; it is only when we awake, when we go outside, that
they become vague. In a certain sense Rossetti, with all his keen
practical intelligence, was never wholly awake, had never gone outside
that house of dreams in which the only real things were the things of
the imagination. In the poetry of most poets there is a double kind of
existence, of which each half is generally quite distinct; a real world,
and a world of the imagination. But the poetry of Rossetti knows but one
world, and it inhabits a corner there, like a perfectly contented
prisoner, or like a prisoner to whom the sense of imprisonment is a joy.
The love of beauty, the love of love, because love is the supreme energy
of beauty, suffices for an existence in which every moment is a crisis;
for to him, as Pater has said, 'life is a crisis at every moment': life,
that is to say, the inner life, the life of imagination, in which the
senses are messengers from the outer world, from which they can but
bring disquieting tidings.

The whole of this poetry is tragic, though without pathos or even
self-pity. Every human attempt to maintain happiness is foredoomed to be
a failure, and this is an attempt to maintain ecstasy in a region where
everything which is not ecstasy is pain. In reading every other poet who
has written of love one is conscious of compensations: the happiness of
loving or of being loved, the honour of defeat, the help and comfort of
nature or of action. But here all energy is concentrated on the one
ecstasy, and this exists for its own sake, and the desire of it is like
thirst, which returns after every partial satisfaction. The desire of
beauty, the love of love, can but be a form of martyrdom when, as with
Rossetti, there is also the desire of possession.

Circumstances have very little to do with the making of a poet's
temperament or vision, and it would be enough to point to Christina
Rossetti, who was hardly more in the country than her brother, but to
whom a blade of grass was enough to summon the whole country about her,
and whose poetry is full of the sense of growing things. Rossetti
instinctively saw faces, and only faces, and he would have seen them if
he had lived in the loneliest countryside, and he would never have
learned to distinguish between oats and barley if he had had fields of
them about his door from childhood. It was in the beauty of women, and
chiefly in the mysterious beauty of faces, that Rossetti found the
supreme embodiment of beauty; and it was in the love of women, and not
in any more abstract love, of God, of nature, or of ideas, that he found
the supreme revelation of love.

With this narrowness, with this intensity, he has rendered in his
painting as in his poetry one ideal, one obsession. He calls what is
really the House of Love _The House of Life_, and this is because the
house of love was literally to him the house of life. There is no mystic
to whom love has not seemed to be the essence or ultimate expression of
the soul. Rossetti's whole work is a parable of this belief, and it is a
parable written with his life-blood. Of beauty he has said, 'I drew it
in as simply as my breath,' but, as the desire of beauty possessed him,
as he laboured to create it over again, with rebellious words or
colours, always too vague for him when they were most precise, never the
precise embodiment of a dream, the pursuit turned to a labour and the
labour to a pain. Part of what hypnotises us in this work is, no doubt,
that sense of personal tragedy which comes to us out of its elaborate
beauty: the eternal tragedy of those who have loved the absolute in
beauty too well, and with too mortal a thirst.



He has a kind of naked face, in which you see the brain always working,
with an almost painful simplicity--just saved from being painful by a
humorous sense of external things, which becomes also a kind of
intellectual criticism. He is a fatalist, and he studies the workings of
fate in the chief vivifying and disturbing influence in life, women. His
view of women is more French than English; it is subtle, a little cruel,
not as tolerant as it seems, thoroughly a man's point of view, and not,
as with Meredith, man's and woman's at once. He sees all that is
irresponsible for good and evil in a woman's character, all that is
unreliable in her brain and will, all that is alluring in her
variability. He is her apologist, but always with a certain reserve of
private judgment. No one has created more attractive women, women whom
a man would have been more likely to love, or more likely to regret
loving. _Jude the Obscure_ is perhaps the most unbiased consideration of
the more complicated questions of sex which we can find in English
fiction. At the same time, there is almost no passion in his work,
neither the author nor any of his characters ever seeming able to pass
beyond the state of curiosity, the most intellectually interesting of
limitations, under the influence of any emotion. In his feeling for
nature, curiosity sometimes seems to broaden into a more intimate kind
of communion. The heath, the village with its peasants, the change of
every hour among the fields and on the roads, mean more to him, in a
sense, than even the spectacle of man and woman in their blind, and
painful, and absorbing struggle for existence. His knowledge of woman
confirms him in a suspension of judgment; his knowledge of nature brings
him nearer to the unchanging and consoling element in the world. All the
quite happy entertainment which he gets out of life comes to him from
his contemplation of the peasant, as himself a rooted part of the earth,
translating the dumbness of the fields into humour. His peasants have
been compared with Shakespeare's; that is, because he has the
Shakespearean sense of their placid vegetation by the side of hurrying
animal life, to which they act the part of chorus, with an unconscious
wisdom in their close, narrow, and undistracted view of things.

In his verse there is something brooding, obscure, tremulous,
half-inarticulate, as he meditates over man, nature, and destiny:
Nature, 'waking by touch alone,' and Fate, who sees and feels. In _The
Mother Mourns_, a strange, dreary, ironical song of science, Nature
laments that her best achievement, man, has become discontented with her
in his ungrateful discontent with himself. It is like the whimpering of
a hurt animal, and the queer, ingenious metre, with its one rhyme set at
wide but distinct and heavily recurrent intervals, beats on the ear like
a knell. Blind and dumb forces speak, conjecture, half awakening out of
sleep, turning back heavily to sleep again. Many poets have been sorry
for man, angry with Nature on man's behalf. Here is a poet who is sorry
for Nature, who feels the earth and its roots, as if he had sap in his
veins instead of blood, and could get closer than any other man to the
things of the earth.

Who else could have written this crabbed, subtle, strangely impressive

                 AN AUGUST MIDNIGHT

     A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
     And the beat of a clock from a distant floor;
     On this scene enter--winged, horned, and spined--
     A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
     While 'mid my page there idly stands
     A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands.

     Thus meet we five, in this still place,
     At this point of time, at this point in space.
     --My guests parade my new-penned ink,
     Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.
     'God's humblest, they!' I muse. Yet why?
     They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

No such drama has been written in verse since Browning, and the people
of the drama are condensed to almost as pregnant an utterance as _Adam,
Lilith, and Eve_.

Why is it that there are so few novels which can be read twice, while
all good poetry can be read over and over? Is it something inherent in
the form, one of the reasons in nature why a novel cannot be of the
same supreme imaginative substance as a poem? I think it is, and that it
will never be otherwise. But, among novels, why is it that one here and
there calls us back to its shelf with almost the insistence of a lyric,
while for the most part a story read is a story done with? Balzac is
always good to re-read, but not Tolstoi: and I couple two of the giants.
To take lesser artists, I would say that we can re-read _Lavengro_ but
not _Romola_. But what seems puzzling is that Hardy, who is above all a
story-teller, and whose stories are of the kind that rouse suspense and
satisfy it, can be read more than once, and never be quite without
novelty. There is often, in his books, too much story, as in _The Mayor
of Casterbridge_, where the plot extends into almost inextricable
entanglements; and yet that is precisely one of the books that can be
re-read. Is it on account of that concealed poetry, never absent though
often unseen, which gives to these fantastic or real histories a meaning
beyond the meaning of the facts, beneath it like an under-current,
around it like an atmosphere? Facts, once known, are done with; stories
of mere action gallop through the brain and are gone; but in Hardy
there is a vision or interpretation, a sense of life as a growth out of
the earth, and as much a mystery between soil and sky as the corn is,
which will draw men back to the stories with an interest which outlasts
their interest in the story.

It is a little difficult to get accustomed to Hardy, or to do him
justice without doing him more than justice. He is always right, always
a seer, when he is writing about 'the seasons in their moods, morning
and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees,
waters and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate
things.' (What gravity and intimacy in his numbering of them!) He is
always right, always faultless in matter and style, when he is showing
that 'the impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic
life than the pachydermatous king.' But he requires a certain amount of
emotion to shake off the lethargy natural to his style, and when he has
merely a dull fact to mention he says it like this: 'He reclined on his
couch in the sitting-room, and extinguished the light.' In the next
sentence, where he is interested in expressing the impalpable emotion
of the situation, we get this faultless and uncommon use of words: 'The
night came in, and took up its place there, unconcerned and indifferent;
the night which had already swallowed up his happiness, and was now
digesting it listlessly; and was ready to swallow up the happiness of a
thousand other people with as little disturbance or change of mien.'

No one has ever studied so scrupulously as Hardy the effect of emotion
on inanimate things, or has ever seen emotion so visually in people. For
instance: 'Terror was upon her white face as she saw it; her cheek was
flaccid, and her mouth had almost the aspect of a round little hole.'
But so intense is his preoccupation with these visual effects that he
sometimes cannot resist noting a minute appearance, though in the very
moment of assuring us that the person looking on did not see it. 'She
hardly observed that a tear descended slowly upon his cheek, a tear so
large that it magnified the pores of the skin over which it rolled, like
the object lens of a microscope.' And it is this power of seeing to
excess, and being limited to sight which is often strangely revealing,
that leaves him at times helpless before the naked words that a
situation supremely seen demands for its completion. The one failure in
what is perhaps his masterpiece, _The Return of the Native_, is in the
words put into the mouth of Eustacia and Yeobright in the perfectly
imagined scene before the mirror, a scene which should be the
culminating scene of the book; and it is, all but the words: the words
are crackle and tinsel.

What is it, then, that makes up the main part of the value and
fascination of Hardy, and how is it that what at first seem, and may
well be, defects, uncouthnesses, bits of formal preaching, grotesque
ironies of event and idea, come at last to seem either good in
themselves or good where they are, a part of the man if not of the
artist? One begins by reading for the story, and the story is of an
attaching interest. Here is a story-teller of the good old kind, a
story-teller whose plot is enough to hold his readers. With this point
no doubt many readers stop and are content. But go on, and next after
the story-teller one comes on the philosopher. He is dejected and a
little sinister, and may check your pleasure in his narrative if you
are too attentive to his criticism of it. But a new meaning comes into
the facts as you observe his attitude towards them, and you may be well
content to stop and be fed with thoughts by the philosopher. But if you
go further still you will find, at the very last, the poet, and you need
look for nothing beyond. I am inclined to question if any novelist has
been more truly a poet without ceasing to be in the true sense a
novelist. The poetry of Hardy's novels is a poetry of roots, and it is a
voice of the earth. He seems often to be closer to the earth (which is
at times, as in _The Return of the Native_, the chief person, or the
chorus, of the story) than to men and women, and to see men and women
out of the eyes of wild creatures, and out of the weeds and stones of
the heath. How often, and for how profound a reason, does he not show us
to ourselves, not as we or our fellows see us, but out of the continual
observation of humanity which goes on in the wary and inquiring eyes of
birds, the meditative and indifferent regard of cattle, and the
deprecating aloofness and inspection of sheep?



I hope that the life of Léon Cladel by his daughter Judith, which
Lemerre has brought out in a pleasant volume, will do something for the
fame of one of the most original writers of our time. Cladel had the
good fortune to be recognised in his lifetime by those whose approval
mattered most, beginning with Baudelaire, who discovered him before he
had printed his first book, and helped to teach him the craft of
letters. But so exceptional an artist could never be popular, though he
worked in living stuff and put the whole savour of his countryside into
his tragic and passionate stories. A peasant, who writes about peasants
and poor people, with a curiosity of style which not only packs his
vocabulary with difficult words, old or local, and with unheard of
rhythms, chosen to give voice to some never yet articulated emotion, but
which drives him into oddities of printing, of punctuation, of the very
shape of his accents! A page of Cladel has a certain visible
uncouthness, and at first this seems in keeping with his matter; but the
uncouthness, when you look into it, turns out to be itself a refinement,
and what has seemed a confused whirl, an improvisation, to be the result
really of reiterated labour, whose whole aim has been to bring the
spontaneity of the first impulse back into the laboriously finished

In this just, sensitive, and admirable book, written by one who has
inherited a not less passionate curiosity about life, but with more
patience in waiting upon it, watching it, noting its surprises, we have
a simple and sufficient commentary upon the books and upon the man. The
narrative has warmth and reserve, and is at once tender and
clear-sighted. _J'entrevois nettement_, she says with truth, _combien
seront précieux pour les futurs historiens de la littérature du xix^e
siècle, les mémoires tracés au contact immédiat de l'artiste, exposés de
ses faits et gestes particuliers, de ses origines, de la germination de
ses croyances et de son talent; ses critiques à venir y trouveront de_
_solides matériaux, ses admirateurs un aliment à leur piété et les
philosophes un des aspects de l'Âme française._ The man is shown to us,
_les élans de cette âme toujours grondante et fulgurante comme une
forge, et les nuances de ce fiévreux visage d'apôtre, brun, fin et
sinueux_, and we see the inevitable growth, out of the hard soil of
Quercy and out of the fertilising contact of Paris and Baudelaire, of
this whole literature, these books no less astonishing than their
titles: _Ompdrailles-le-Tombeau-des-Lutteurs_, _Celui de la
Croix-aux-Boeufs_, _La Fête Votive de Saint-Bartholomée-Porte-Glaive_.
The very titles are an excitement. I can remember how mysterious and
alluring they used to seem to me when I first saw them on the cover of
what was perhaps his best book, _Les Va-Nu-Pieds_.

It is by one of the stories, and the shortest, in _Les Va-Nu-Pieds_,
that I remember Cladel. I read it when I was a boy, and I cannot think
of it now without a shiver. It is called _L'Hercule_, and it is about a
Sandow of the streets, a professional strong man, who kills himself by
an over-strain; it is not a story at all, it is the record of an
incident, and there is only the strong man in it and his friend the
zany, who makes the jokes while the strong man juggles with bars and
cannon-balls. It is all told in a breath, without a pause, as if some
one who had just seen it poured it out in a flood of hot words. Such
vehemence, such pity, such a sense of the cruelty of the spectacle of a
man driven to death like a beast, for a few pence and the pleasure of a
few children; such an evocation of the sun and the streets and this
sordid tragic thing happening to the sound of drum and cymbals; such a
vision in sunlight of a barbarous and ridiculous and horrible accident,
lifted by the telling of it into a new and unforgettable beauty, I have
never felt or seen in any other story of a like grotesque tragedy. It
realises an ideal, it does for once what many artists have tried and
failed to do; it wrings the last drop of agony out of that subject which
it is so easy to make pathetic and effective. Dickens could not have
done it, Bret Harte could not have done it, Kipling could not do it:
Cladel did it only once, with this perfection.

Something like it he did over and over again, with unflagging vehemence,
with splendid variations, in stories of peasants and wrestlers and
thieves and prostitutes. They are all, as his daughter says, epic; she
calls them Homeric, but there is none of the Homeric simplicity in this
tumult of coloured and clotted speech, in which the language is tortured
to make it speak. The comparison with Rabelais is nearer. _La recherche
du terme vivant, sa mise en valeur et en saveur, la surabondance des
vocables puisés à toutes sources ... la condensation de l'action autour
de ces quelques motifs éternels de l'épopée: combat, ripaille, palabre
et luxure_, there, as she sees justly, are links with Rabelais.
Goncourt, himself always aiming at an impossible closeness of written to
spoken speech, noted with admiration _la vraie photographie de la parole
avec ses tours, ses abbréviations ses ellipses, son essoufflement
presque_. Speech out of breath, that is what Cladel's is always; his
words, never the likely ones, do not so much speak as cry, gesticulate,
overtake one another. _L'âme de Léon Cladel_, says his daughter, _était
dans un constant et flamboyant automne_. Something of the colour and
fever of autumn is in all he wrote. Another writer since Cladel, who has
probably never heard of him, has made heroes of peasants and vagabonds.
But Maxim Gorki makes heroes of them, consciously, with a mental
self-assertion, giving them ideas which he has found in Nietzsche.
Cladel put into all his people some of his own passionate way of seeing
'scarlet,' to use Barbey d'Aurevilly's epithet: _un rural écarlate_.
Vehement and voluminous, he overflowed: his whole aim as an artist, as a
pupil of Baudelaire, was to concentrate, to hold himself back; and the
effort added impetus to the checked overflow. To the realists he seemed
merely extravagant; he saw certainly what they could not see; and his
romance was always a fruit of the soil. The artist in him, seeming to be
in conflict with the peasant, fortified, clarified the peasant,
extracted from that hard soil a rare fruit. You see in his face an
extraordinary mingling of the peasant, the visionary, and the dandy: the
long hair and beard, the sensitive mouth and nose, the fierce brooding
eyes, in which wildness and delicacy, strength and a kind of
stealthiness, seem to be grafted on an inflexible peasant stock.



'Everything which I have created as a poet,' Ibsen said in a letter,
'has had its origin in a frame of mind and a situation in life; I never
wrote because I had, as they say, found a good subject.' Yet his chief
aim as a dramatist has been to set character in independent action, and
to stand aside, reserving his judgment. 'The method, the technique of
the construction,' he says, speaking of what is probably his
masterpiece, _Ghosts_, 'in itself entirely precludes the author's
appearing in the speeches. My intention was to produce the impression in
the mind of the reader that he was witnessing something real.' That, at
his moment of most perfect balance, was his intention; that was what he
achieved in an astonishing way. But his whole life was a development;
and we see him moving from point to point, deliberately, and yet
inevitably; reaching the goal which it was his triumph to reach, then
going beyond the goal, because movement in any direction was a necessity
of his nature.

In Ibsen's letters we shall find invaluable help in the study of this
character and this development. The man shows himself in them with none
the less disguise because he shows himself unwillingly. In these hard,
crabbed, formal, painfully truthful letters we see the whole narrow,
precise, and fanatical soul of this Puritan of art, who sacrificed
himself, his family, his friends, and his country to an artistic sense
of duty only to be paralleled among those religious people whom he hated
and resembled.

His creed, as man and as artist, was the cultivation, the realisation of
self. In quite another sense that, too, was the creed of Nietzsche; but
what in Nietzsche was pride, the pride of individual energy, in Ibsen
was a kind of humility, or a practical deduction from the fact that only
by giving complete expression to oneself can one produce the finest
work. Duty to oneself: that was how he looked upon it; and though, in a
letter to Björnson, he affirmed, as the highest praise, 'his life was
his best work,' to himself it was the building-up of the artist in him
that he chiefly cared for. And to this he set himself with a moral
fervour and a scientific tenacity. There was in Ibsen none of the
abundance of great natures, none of the ease of strength. He nursed his
force, as a miser hoards his gold; and does he not give you at times an
uneasy feeling that he is making the most of himself, as the miser makes
the most of his gold by scraping up every farthing?

'The great thing,' he says in a letter of advice, 'is to hedge about
what is one's own, to keep it free and clear from everything outside
that has no connexion with it.' He bids Brandes cultivate 'a genuine,
full-blooded egoism, which shall force you for a time to regard what
concerns you as the only thing of any consequence, and everything else
as non-existent.' Yet he goes on to talk about 'benefiting society,' is
conscious of the weight which such a conviction or compromise lays upon
him, and yet cannot get rid of the burden, as Nietzsche does. He has
less courage than Nietzsche, though no less logic, and is held back from
a complete realisation of his own doctrine because he has so much
worldly wisdom and is so anxious to make the best of all worlds.

'In every new poem or play,' he writes, 'I have aimed at my own personal
spiritual emancipation and purification, for a man shares the
responsibility and the guilt of the society to which he belongs.' This
queer entanglement in social bonds on the part of one whose main
endeavour had always been to free the individual from the conventions
and restrictions of society is one of those signs of parochialism which
peep out in Ibsen again and again. 'The strongest man,' he says in a
letter, anticipating the epilogue of one of his plays, 'is he who stands
alone.' But Ibsen did not find it easy to stand alone, though he found
pleasure in standing aloof. The influence of his environment upon him is
marked from the first. He breaks with his father and mother, never
writes to them or goes back to see them; partly because he feels it
necessary to avoid contact with 'certain tendencies prevailing there.'
'Friends are an expensive luxury,' he finds, because they keep him from
doing what he wishes to do, out of consideration for them. Is not this
intellectual sensitiveness the corollary of a practical
cold-heartedness? He cannot live in Norway because, he says, 'I could
never lead a consistent spiritual life there.' In Norway he finds that
'the accumulation of small details makes the soul small.' How curious an
admission for an individualist, for an artist! He goes to Rome, and
feels that he has discovered a new mental world. 'After I had been in
Italy I could not understand how I had been able to exist before I had
been there.' Yet before long he must go on to Munich, because 'here one
is too entirely out of touch with the movements of the day.'

He insists, again and again: 'Environment has a great influence upon the
forms in which the imagination creates'; and, in a tone of
half-burlesque, but with something serious in his meaning, he declares
that wine had something to do with the exaltation of _Brand_ and _Peer
Gynt_, and sausages and beer with the satirical analysis of _The League
of Youth_. And he adds: 'I do not intend by this to place the
last-mentioned play on a lower level. I only mean that my point of view
has changed, because here I am in a community well ordered even to
weariness.' He says elsewhere that he could only have written _Peer
Gynt_ where he wrote it, at Ischia and Sorrento, because it is 'written
without regard to consequences--as I only dare to write far away from
home.' If we trace him through his work we shall see him, with a strange
docility, allowing not only 'frame of mind and situation in life,' but
his actual surroundings, to mould his work, alike in form and in
substance. If he had never left Norway he might have written verse to
the end of his life; if he had not lived in Germany, where there is
'up-to-date civilisation to study,' he would certainly never have
written the social dramas; if he had not returned to Norway at the end
of his life, the last plays would not have been what they were. I am
taking him at his word; but Ibsen is a man who must be taken at his

What is perhaps most individual in the point of view of Ibsen in his
dramas is his sense of the vast importance trifles, of the natural human
tendency to invent or magnify misunderstandings. A misunderstanding is
his main lever of the tragic mischief; and he has studied and diagnosed
this unconscious agent of destiny more minutely and persistently than
any other dramatist. He found it in himself. We see just this brooding
over trifles, this sensitiveness to wrongs, imaginary or insignificant,
in the revealing pages of his letters. It made the satirist of his
earlier years; it made him a satirist of non-essentials. A criticism of
one of his books sets him talking of wide vengeance; and he admitted in
later life that he said to himself, 'I am ruined,' because a newspaper
had attacked him overnight.

With all his desire to 'undermine the idea of the state,' he besieges
king and government with petitions for money; and he will confess in a
letter, 'I should very much like to write publicly about the mean
behaviour of the government,' which, however, he refrains from doing. He
gets sore and angry over party and parochial rights and wrongs, even
when he is far away from them, and has congratulated himself on the
calming and enlightening effect of distance. A Norwegian bookseller
threatens to pirate one of his books, and he makes a national matter of
it. 'If,' he says, 'this dishonest speculation really obtains sympathy
and support at home, it is my intention, come what may, to sever all
ties with Norway and never set foot on her soil again.' How petty, how
like a hysterical woman that is! How, in its way of taking a possible
trifling personal injustice as if it were a thing of vital and even
national moment, he betrays what was always to remain narrow, as well as
bitter, in the centre of his being! He has recorded it against himself
(for he spared himself, as he proudly and truthfully said, no more than
others) in an anecdote which is a profound symbol.

     During the time I was writing _Brand_, I had on my desk a glass
     with a scorpion in it. From time to time the little animal was ill.
     Then I used to give it a piece of soft fruit, upon which it fell
     furiously and emptied its poison into it--after which it was well
     again. Does not something of the kind happen with us poets?

Poets, no; but in Ibsen there is always some likeness of the sick
scorpion in the glass.

In one of his early letters to Björnson, he had written: 'When I read
the news from home, when I gaze upon all that respectable, estimable
narrow-mindedness and worldliness, it is with the feeling of an insane
man staring at one single, hopelessly dark spot.' All his life Ibsen
gazed until he found the black spot somewhere; but it was with less and
less of this angry, reforming feeling of the insane man. He saw the
black spot at the core of the earth's fruit, of the whole apple of the
earth; and as he became more hopeless, he became less angry; he learned
something of the supreme indifference of art. He had learned much when
he came to realise that, in the struggle for liberty, it was chiefly the
energy of the struggle that mattered. 'He who possesses liberty,' he
said, 'otherwise than as a thing to be striven for, possesses it dead
and soulless.... So that a man who stops in the midst of the struggle
and says, "Now I have it," thereby shows that he has lost it.' He had
learned still more when he could add to his saying, 'The minority is
always right,' this subtle corollary, that a fighter in the intellectual
vanguard can never collect a majority around him. 'At the point where I
stood when I wrote each of my books, there now stands a tolerably
compact crowd; but I myself am no longer there; I am elsewhere; farther
ahead, I hope.' 'That man is right,' he thought, 'who has allied
himself most closely with the future.' The future, to Ibsen, was a
palpable thing, not concerned merely with himself as an individual, but
a constantly removing, continually occupied promised land, into which he
was not content to go alone. Yet he would always have asked of a
follower, with Zarathustra: 'This is my road; which is yours?' His
future was to be peopled by great individuals.

It was in seeking to find himself that Ibsen sought to find truth; and
truth he knew was to be found only within him. The truth which he sought
for himself was not at all truth in the abstract, but a truth literally
'efficacious,' and able to work out the purpose of his existence. That
purpose he never doubted. The work he had to do was the work of an
artist, and to this everything must be subservient. 'The great thing is
to become honest and truthful in dealing with oneself--not to determine
to do this or determine to do that, but to do what one _must_ do because
one is oneself. All the rest simply leads to falsehood.' He conceives of
truth as being above all clear-sighted, and the approach to truth as a
matter largely of will. No preacher of God and of righteousness and the
kingdom to come was ever more centred, more convinced, more impregnably
minded every time that he has absorbed a new idea or is constructing a
new work of art. His conception of art often changes; but he never
deviates at any one time from any one conception. There is something
narrow as well as something intense in this certainty, this calmness,
this moral attitude towards art. Nowhere has he expressed more of
himself than in a letter to a woman who had written some kind of
religious sequel to _Brand_. He tells her:

     _Brand_ is an æsthetic work, pure and simple. What it may have
     demolished or built up is a matter of absolute indifference to me.
     It came into being as the result of something which I had not
     observed, but experienced; it was a necessity for me to free myself
     from something which my inner man had done with, by giving poetic
     form to it; and, when by this means I had got rid of it, my book
     had no longer any interest for me.

It is in the same positive, dogmatic way that he assures us that _Peer
Gynt_ is a poem, not a satire; _The League of Youth_ a 'simple comedy
and nothing more'; _Emperor and Galilean_ an 'entirely realistic work';
that in _Ghosts_ 'there is not a single opinion, a single utterance
which can be laid to the account of the author.... My intention was to
produce the impression in the mind of the reader that he was witnessing
something real.... It preaches nothing at all.' Of _Hedda Gabler_ he
says: 'It was not really my desire to deal in this play with so-called
problems. What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings,
human emotions, and human destinies, upon a groundwork of the social
conditions and principles of the present day.' 'My chief life-task,' he
defines: 'to depict human characters and human destinies.'

Ibsen's development has always lain chiefly in the perfecting of his
tools. From the beginning he has had certain ideas, certain tendencies,
a certain consciousness of things to express; he has been haunted, as
only creative artists are haunted, by a world waiting to be born; and,
from the beginning, he has built on a basis of criticism, a criticism of
life. Part of his strength has gone out in fighting: he has had the
sense of a mission. Part of his strength has gone out in the attempt to
fly: he has had the impulse, without the wings, of the poet. And when he
has been content to leave fighting and flying alone, and to build
solidly on a solid foundation, it is then that he has achieved his great
work. But he has never been satisfied, or never been able, to go on
doing just that work, his own work; and the poet in him, the impotent
poet who is full of a sense of what poetry is, but is never able, for
more than a moment, to create poetry, has come whispering in the ear of
the man of science, who is the new, unerring artist, the maker of a
wonderful new art of prose, and has made him uneasy, and given
uncertainty to his hand. The master-builder has altered his design, he
has set up a tower here, 'too high for a dwelling-house,' and added a
window there, with the stained glass of a church window, and fastened on
ornaments in stucco, breaking the severe line of the original design.

In Ibsen science has made its great stand against poetry; and the
Germans have come worshipping, saying, 'Here, in our era of
marvellously realistic politics, we have come upon correspondingly
realistic poetry.... We received from it the first idea of a possible
new poetic world.... We were adherents of this new school of realistic
art: we had found our æsthetic creed.' But the maker of this creed, the
creator of this school of realistic art, was not able to be content with
what he had done, though this was the greatest thing he was able to do.
It is with true insight that he boasts, in one of his letters, of what
he can do 'if I am only careful to do what I am quite capable of,
namely, combine this relentlessness of mind with deliberateness in the
choice of means.' There lay his success: deliberateness in the choice of
means for the doing of a given thing, the thing for which his best
energies best fitted him. Yet it took him forty years to discover
exactly what those means to that end were; and then the experimenting
impulse, the sense of what poetry is, was soon to begin its
disintegrating work. Science, which seemed to have conquered poetry, was
to pay homage to poetry.

Ibsen comes before us as a man of science who would have liked to be a
poet; or who, half-equipped as a poet, is halved or hampered by the
scientific spirit until he realises that he is essentially a man of
science. From the first his aim was to express himself; and it was a
long time before he realised that verse was not his native language. His
first three plays were in verse, the fourth in verse alternating with
prose; then came two plays, historic and legendary, written in more or
less archaic prose; then a satire in verse, _Love's Comedy_, in which
there is the first hint of the social dramas; then another prose play,
the nearest approach that he ever made to poetry, but written in prose,
_The Pretenders_; and then the two latest and most famous of the poems,
_Brand_ and _Peer Gynt_. After this, verse is laid aside, and at last we
find him condemning it, and declaring 'it is improbable that verse will
be employed to any extent worth mentioning in the drama of the immediate
future.... It is therefore doomed.' But the doom was Ibsen's: to be a
great prose dramatist, and only the segment of a poet.

Nothing is more interesting than to study Ibsen's verse in the making.
His sincerity to his innermost aim, the aim at the expression of
himself, is seen in his refusal from the beginning to accept any poetic
convention, to limit himself in poetic subject, to sift his material or
clarify his metre. He has always insisted on producing something
personal, thoughtful, fantastic, and essentially prosaic; and it is in a
vain protest against the nature of things that he writes of _Peer Gynt_,
'My book _is_ poetry; and if it is not, then it will be. The conception
of poetry in our country, in Norway, shall be made to conform to the
book.' His verse was the assertion of his individuality at all costs; it
was a costly tool, which he cast aside only when he found that it would
not carve every material.

Ibsen's earliest work in verse has not been translated. Dr. Brandes
tells us that it followed Danish models, the sagas, and the national
ballads. In the prose play, _Lady Inger of Östraat_, we see the
dramatist, the clever playwright, still holding on to the skirts of
romance, and ready with rhetoric enough on occasion, but more concerned
with plot and stage effect than with even what is interesting in the
psychology of the characters. _The Vikings_, also in prose, is a piece
of strong grappling with a heroic subject, with better rhetoric, and
some good poetry taken straight out of the sagas, with fervour in it,
and gravity; yet an experiment only, a thing not made wholly personal,
nor wholly achieved. It shows how well Ibsen could do work which was not
his work. In _Love's Comedy_, a modern play in verse, he is already
himself. Point of view is there; materials are there; the man of science
has already laid his hand upon the poet. We are told that Ibsen tried to
write it in prose, failed, and fell back upon verse. It is quite likely;
he has already an accomplished technique, and can put his thoughts into
verse with admirable skill. But the thoughts are not born in verse, and,
brilliantly rhymed as they are, they do not make poetry.

Dr. Brandes admits everything that can be said against Ibsen as a poet
when he says, speaking of this play and of _Brand_:

     Even if the ideas they express have not previously found utterance
     in poetry, they have done so in prose literature. In other words,
     these poems do not set forth new thoughts, but translate into metre
     and rhyme thoughts already expressed.

_Love's Comedy_ is a criticism of life; it is full of hard, scientific,
prose thought about conduct, which has its own quality as long as it
sticks to fact and remains satire; but when the prose curvets and tries
to lift, when criticism turns constructive, we find no more than bubbles
and children's balloons, empty and coloured, that soar and evaporate.
There is, in this farce of the intellect, a beginning of social drama;
realism peeps through the artificial point and polish of a verse which
has some of the qualities of Pope and some of the qualities of Swift;
but the dramatist is still content that his puppets shall have the air
of puppets; he stands in the arena of his circus and cracks his whip;
they gallop round grimacing, and with labels on their backs. The verse
comes between him and nature, as the satire comes between him and
poetry. Cynicism has gone to the making of poetry more than once, but
only under certain conditions: that the poet should be a lyric poet,
like Heine, or a great personality in action, like Byron, to whom
cynicism should be but one of the tones of his speech, the gestures of
his attitude. With Ibsen it is a petty anger, an anger against nature,
and it leads to a transcendentalism which is empty and outside nature.

The criticism of love, so far as it goes beyond what is amusing and
Gilbertian, is the statement of a kind of arid soul-culture more sterile
than that of any cloister, the soul-culture of the scientist who thinks
he has found out, and can master, the soul. It is a new asceticism, a
denial of nature, a suicide of the senses which may lead to some literal
suicide such as that in _Rosmersholm_, or may feed the brain on some air
unbreathable by the body, as in _When we Dead Awaken_. It is the old
idea of self-sacrifice creeping back under cover of a new idea of
self-intensification; and it comes, like asceticism, from a contempt of
nature, a distrust of nature, an abstract intellectual criticism of

Out of such material no poetry will ever come; and none has come in
_Love's Comedy_. In the prose play which followed, _The Pretenders_,
which is the dramatisation of an inner problem in the form of a
historical drama, there is a much nearer approach to poetry. The
stagecraft is still too obvious; effect follows effect like
thunder-claps; there is melodrama in the tragedy; but the play is, above
all, the working-out of a few deep ideas, and in these ideas there is
both beauty and wisdom.

It was with the publication of _Brand_ that Ibsen became famous, not
only in his own country, but throughout Europe. The poem has been
seriously compared, even in England, with _Hamlet_; even in Germany with
_Faust_. A better comparison is that which Mr. Gosse has made with
Sidney Dobell's _Balder_. It is full of satire and common-sense, of
which there is little enough in _Balder_: but not _Balder_ is more
abstract, or more inhuman in its action. Types, not people, move in it;
their speech is doctrine, not utterance; it is rather a tract than a
poem. The technique of the verse, if we can judge it from the brilliant
translation of Professor Herford, which reads almost everywhere like an
original, is more than sufficient for its purpose; all this
argumentative and abstract and realistic material finds adequate
expression in a verse which has aptly been compared with the verse of
Browning's _Christmas-eve and Easter-day_. The comparison may be carried
further, and it is disastrous to Ibsen. Browning deals with hard matter,
and can be boisterous; but he is never, as Ibsen is always, pedestrian.
The poet, though, like St. Michael, he carry a sword, must, like St.
Michael, have wings. Ibsen has no wings.

But there is another comparison by which I think we can determine more
precisely the station and quality of _Brand_ as poetry. Take any one of
the vigorous and vivid statements of dogma, which are the very kernel of
the poem, and compare them with a few lines from Blake's _Everlasting
Gospel_. There every line, with all its fighting force, is pure poetry;
it was conceived as poetry, born as poetry, and can be changed into no
other substance. Here we find a vigorous technique fitting striking
thought into good swinging verse, with abundance of apt metaphor; but
where is the vision, the essence, which distinguishes it from what,
written in prose, would have lost nothing? Ibsen writes out of the
intellect, adding fancy and emotion as he goes; but in Blake every line
leaps forth like lightning from a cloud.

The motto of _Brand_ was 'all or nothing'; that of _Peer Gynt_ 'to be
master of the situation.' Both are studies of egoism, in the finding and
losing of self; both are personal studies and national lessons. Of _Peer
Gynt_ Ibsen said, 'I meant it to be a caprice.' It is Ibsen in high
spirits; and it is like a mute dancing at a funeral. It is a harlequin
of a poem, a thing of threads and patches; and there are gold threads in
it and tattered clouts. It is an experiment which has hardly succeeded,
because it is not one but a score of experiments. It is made up of two
elements, an element of folklore and an element of satire. The first
comes and goes for the most part with Peer and his mother; and all this
brings Norwegian soil with it, and is alive. The satire is fierce,
local, and fantastic. Out of the two comes a clashing thing which may
itself suggest, as has been said, the immense contrast between Norwegian
summer, which is day, and winter, which is night. Grieg's music,
childish, mumbling, singing, leaping, and sombre, has aptly illustrated
it. It was a thing done on a holiday, for a holiday. It was of this
that Ibsen said he could not have written it any nearer home than Ischia
and Sorrento. But is it, for all its splendid scraps and patches, a
single masterpiece? is it, above all, a poem? The idea, certainly, is
one and coherent; every scene is an illustration of that idea; but is it
born of that idea? Is it, more than once or twice, inevitable? What
touches at times upon poetry is the folk element; the irony at times has
poetic substance in it; but this glimmer of poetic substance, which
comes and goes, is lost for the most part among mists and vapours, and
under artificial light. That poet which exists somewhere in Ibsen,
rarely quite out of sight, never wholly at liberty, comes into this
queer dance of ideas and humours, and gives it, certainly, the main
value it has. But the 'state satirist' is always on the heels of the
poet; and imagination, whenever it appears for a moment, is led away
into bondage by the spirit of the fantastic, which is its prose
equivalent or makeshift. It is the fantastic that Ibsen generally gives
us in the place of imagination; and the fantastic is a kind of
rhetoric, manufactured by the will, and has no place in poetry.

In _The League of Youth_ Ibsen takes finally the step which he had half
taken in _Loves Comedy_. 'In my new comedy,' he writes to Dr. Brandes,
'you will find the common order of things--no strong emotions, no deep
feelings, and, more particularly, no isolated thoughts.' He adds: 'It is
written in prose, which gives it a strong realistic colouring. I have
paid particular attention to form, and, among other things, I have
accomplished the feat of doing without a single monologue, in fact
without a single "aside." 'The play is hardly more than a good farce;
the form is no more than the slightest of advances towards probability
on the strict lines of the Scribe tradition; the 'common order of
things' is there, in subject, language, and in everything but the
satirical intention which underlies the whole trivial, stupid, and no
doubt lifelike talk and action. Two elements are still in conflict, the
photographic and the satirical; and the satirical is the only relief
from the photographic. The stage mechanism is still obvious; but the
intention, one sees clearly, is towards realism; and the play helps to
get the mechanism in order.

After _The League of Youth_ Ibsen tells us that he tried to 'seek
salvation in remoteness of subject'; so he returned to his old scheme
for a play on Julian the Apostate, and wrote the two five-act plays
which make up _Emperor and Galilean_. He tells us that it is the first
work which he wrote under German intellectual influences, and that it
contains 'that positive theory of life which the critics have demanded
of me so long.' In one letter he affirms that it is 'an entirely
realistic work,' and in another, 'It is a part of my own spiritual life
which I am putting into this book ... and the historical subject chosen
has a much more intimate connexion with the movements of our own time
than one might at first imagine.' How great a relief it must have been,
after the beer and sausages of _The League of Youth_, to go back to an
old cool wine, no one can read _Emperor and Galilean_ and doubt. It is a
relief and an escape; and the sense of the stage has been put wholly on
one side in both of these plays, of which the second reads almost like
a parody of the first: the first so heated, so needlessly colloquial,
the second so full of argumentative rhetoric. Ibsen has turned against
his hero in the space between writing the one and the other; and the
Julian of the second is more harshly satirised from within than ever
_Peer Gynt_ was. In a letter to Dr. Brandes, Ibsen says: 'What the book
is or is not, I have no desire to enquire. I only know that I saw a
fragment of humanity plainly before my eyes, and that I tried to
reproduce what I saw.' But in the play itself this intention comes and
goes; and, while some of it reminds one of _Salammbô_ in its attempt to
treat remote ages realistically, other parts are given up wholly to the
exposition of theories, and yet others to a kind of spectacular romance,
after the cheap method of George Ebers and the German writers of
historical fiction. The satire is more serious, the criticism of ideas
more fundamental than anything in _The League of Youth_; but, as in
almost the whole of Ibsen's more characteristic work up to this point,
satire strives with realism; it is still satire, not irony, and is not
yet, as the later irony is to be, a deepening, and thus a
justification, of the realism.

Eight years passed between _The League of Youth_ and _The Pillars of
Society_; but they are both woven of the same texture. Realism has made
for itself a firmer footing; the satire has more significance; the
mechanism of the stage goes much more smoothly, though indeed to a more
conventionally happy ending; melodrama has taken some of the place of
satire. Yet the 'state satirist' is still at his work, still concerned
with society and bringing only a new detail of the old accusation
against society. Like every play of this period, it is the unveiling of
a lie. See yourselves as you are, the man of science seems to be saying
to us. Here are your 'pillars of society'; they are the tools of
society. Here is your happy marriage, and it is a doll's house. Here is
your respected family, here is the precept of 'honour your father and
your mother' in practice; and here is the little voice of heredity
whispering 'ghosts!' There is the lie of respectability, the lie hidden
behind marriage, the lie which saps the very roots of the world.

Ibsen is no preacher, and he has told us expressly that _Ghosts_
'preaches nothing at all.' This pursuit of truth to its most secret
hiding-place is not a sermon against sin; it sets a scientific dogma
visibly to work, and watches the effect of the hypothesis. As the dogma
is terrible and plausible, and the logic of its working-out faultless,
we get one of the deeper thrills that modern art has to give us. I would
take _A Doll's House_, _Ghosts_, and _The Wild Duck_ as Ibsen's three
central plays, the plays in which his method completely attained its
end, in which his whole capacities are seen at their finest balance; and
this work, this reality in which every word, meaningless in itself, is
alive with suggestion, is the finest scientific work which has been done
in literature. Into this period comes his one buoyant play, _An Enemy of
the People_, his rebound against the traditional hypocrisy which had
attacked _Ghosts_ for its telling of unseasonable truths; it is an
allegory, in the form of journalism, or journalism in the form of
allegory, and is the 'apology' of the man of science for his mission.
Every play is a dissection, or a vivisection rather; for these people
who suffer so helplessly, and are shown us so calmly in their agonies,
are terribly alive. _A Doll's House_ is the first of Ibsen's plays in
which the puppets have no visible wires. The playwright has perfected
his art of illusion; beyond _A Doll's House_ and _Ghosts_ dramatic
illusion has never gone. And the irony of the ideas that work these
living puppets has now become their life-blood. It is the tragic irony
of a playwright who is the greatest master of technique since Sophocles,
but who is only the playwright in Sophocles, not the poet.

For this moment, the moment of his finest achievement, that fantastic
element which was Ibsen's resource against the prose of fact is so
sternly repressed that it seems to have left no trace behind. With _The
Wild Duck_ fantasy comes back, but with a more precise and explicit
symbolism, not yet disturbing the reality of things. Here the irony is
more disinterested than even in _Ghosts_, for it turns back on the
reformer and shows us how tragic a muddle we may bring about in the
pursuit of truth and in the name of our ideals. In each of the plays
which follows we see the return and encroachment of symbolism, the
poetic impulse crying for satisfaction and offering us ever new forms of
the fantastic in place of any simple and sufficing gift of imagination.
The man of science has had his way, has fulfilled his aim, and is
discontented with the limits within which he has fulfilled it. He would
extend those limits; and at first it seems as if those limits are to be
extended. But the exquisite pathos which humanises what is fantastic in
_The Wild Duck_ passes, in _Rosmersholm_, in which the problems of
_Love's Comedy_ are worked out to their logical conclusion, into a form,
not of genuine tragedy, but of mental melodrama. In _The Lady from the
Sea_, how far is the symbol which has eaten up reality really symbol? Is
it not rather the work of the intelligence than of the imagination? Is
it not allegory intruding into reality, disturbing that reality and
giving us no spiritual reality in its place?

_Hedda Gabler_ is closer to life; and Ibsen said about it in a letter:

     It was not really my desire to deal in this play with so-called
     problems. What I principally wanted to do was to depict human
     beings, human emotions, and human destinies, upon a groundwork of
     certain of the social conditions and principles of the present

The play might be taken for a study in that particular kind of
'decadence' which has come to its perfection in uncivilised and
overcivilised Russia; and the woman whom Ibsen studied as his model was
actually half-Russian. Eleonora Duse has created Hedda over again, as a
poet would have created her, and has made a wonderful creature whom
Ibsen never conceived, or at least never rendered. Ibsen has tried to
add his poetry by way of ornament, and gives us a trivial and
inarticulate poet about whom float certain catchwords. Here the chief
catchword is 'vine-leaves in the hair'; in _The Master-builder_ it is
'harps in the air'; in _Little Eyolf_ it takes human form and becomes
the Rat-wife; in _John Gabriel Borkman_ it drops to the tag of 'a dead
man and two shadows'; in _When we Dead Awaken_ there is nothing but icy
allegory. All that queer excitement of _The Master-builder_, that
'ideal' awake again, is it not really a desire to open one's door to the
younger generation? But is it the younger generation that finds itself
at home there? is it not rather _Peer Gynt_ back again, and the ride
through the air on the back of the reindeer?

In his earlier plays Ibsen had studied the diseases of society, and he
had considered the individual only in his relation to society. Now he
turns to study the diseases of the individual conscience. Only life
interests him now, and only life feverishly alive; and the judicial
irony has gone out of his scheme of things. The fantastic, experimental
artist returns, now no longer external, but become morbidly curious. The
man of science, groping after something outside science, reaches back,
though with a certain uneasiness, to the nursery legend of the Rat-wife
in _Little Eyolf_; and the Rat-wife is neither reality nor imagination,
neither Mother Bombie nor Macbeth's witches, but the offspring of a
supernaturalism that does not believe in itself. In _John Gabriel
Borkman_, which is the culmination of Ibsen's skill in construction, a
play in four acts with only the pause of a minute between each, he is no
longer content to concern himself with the old material, lies or
misunderstandings, the irony of things happening as they do; but will
have fierce hatreds, and a kind of incipient madness in things. In _When
we Dead Awaken_ all the people are quite consciously insane, and act a
kind of charade with perfectly solemn faces and a visible effort to look
their parts.

In these last plays, with their many splendid qualities, not bound
together and concentrated as in _Ghosts_, we see the revenge of the
imagination upon the realist, who has come to be no longer interested in
the action of society upon the individual, but in the individual as a
soul to be lost or saved. The man of science has discovered the soul,
and does not altogether know what to do with it. He has settled its
limits, set it to work in space and time, laid bare some of its secrets,
shown its 'physical basis.' And now certain eccentricities in it begin
to beckon to him; he would follow the soul into the darkness, but it is
dark to him; he can but strain after it as it flutters. In the preface
to the collected edition of his plays, published in 1901, Maeterlinck
has pointed out, as one still standing at the cross-roads might point
out to those who have followed him so far on his way, the great
uncertainty in which the poet, the dramatist of to-day, finds himself,
as what seems to be known or conjectured of 'the laws of nature' is
forced upon him, making the old, magnificently dramatic opportunities of
the ideas of fate, of eternal justice, no longer possible for him to

     _Le poète dramatique est obligé de faire descendre dans la vie
     réelle, dans la vie de tous les jours, l'idée qu'il se fait de
     l'inconnu. Il faut qu'il nous montre de quelle façon, sous quelle
     forme, dans quelles conditions, d'après quelles lois, à quelle fin,
     agissent sur nos destinées les puissances supérieures, les
     influences inintelligibles, les principes infinis, dont, en tant
     que poète, il est persuadé que l'univers est plein. Et comme il est
     arrivé à une heure où loyalement il lui est à peu près impossible
     d'admettre les anciennes, et où celles qui les doivent remplacer ne
     sont pas encore déterminées, n'ont pas encore de nom, il hésite,
     tâtonne, et s'il veut rester absolument sincère, il n'ose plus se
     risquer hors de la réalité immédiate. Il se borne à étudier les
     sentiments humains dans leurs effets matériels et psychologiques._

So long as Ibsen does this, he achieves great and solid things; and in
_Ghosts_ a scientific dogma, the law or theory of heredity, has for once
taken the place of fate, and almost persuaded us that science, if it
takes poetry from us, can restore to us a kind of poetry. But, as
Maeterlinck has seen, as it is impossible not to see,

     _quand Ibsen, dans d'autres drames, essaie de relier à d'autres
     mystères les gestes de ses hommes en mal de conscience
     exceptionelle ou de ses femmes hallucinées, il faut convenir que,
     si l'atmosphère qu'il parvient à créer est étrange et troublante,
     elle est rarement saine et respirable, parce qu'elle est rarement
     raisonnable et réele._

From the time when, in _A Doll's House_, Ibsen's puppets came to life,
they have refused ever since to be put back into their boxes. The
manager may play what tricks with them he pleases, but he cannot get
them back into their boxes. They are alive, and they live with a weird,
spectacular, but irrevocable life. But, after the last play of all, the
dramatic epilogue, _When we Dead Awaken_, the puppets have gone back
into their boxes. Now they have come to obey the manager, and to make
mysterious gestures which they do not understand, and to speak in images
and take them for literal truths. Even their spectral life has gone out
of them; they are rigid now, and only the strings set them dancing. The
puppets had come to life, they had lived the actual life of the earth;
and then a desire of the impossible, the desire of a life rarefied
beyond human limits, took their human life from them, and they were
puppets again. The epilogue to the plays is the apostasy of the man of
science, and, as with all apostates, his new faith is not a vital thing;
the poet was not really there to reawaken.

Before Ibsen the drama was a part of poetry; Ibsen has made it prose.
All drama up to Ibsen had been romantic; Ibsen made it science. Until
Ibsen no playwright had ever tried to imitate life on the stage, or
even, as Ibsen does, to interpret it critically. The desire of every
dramatist had been to create over again a more abundant life, and to
create it through poetry or through humour; through some form, that is,
of the imagination. There was a time when Ibsen too would have made
poetry of the drama; there was a time when verse seemed to him the only
adequate form in which drama could be written. But his power to work in
poetry was not equal to his desire to be a poet; and, when he revolted
against verse and deliberately adopted as his material 'the common order
of things,' when he set himself, for the first time in the history of
the drama, to produce an illusion of reality rather than a translation
or transfiguration of reality, he discovered his own strength, the
special gift which he had brought into the world; but at the same time
he set, for himself and for his age, his own limits to drama.

It is quite possible to write poetic drama in prose, though to use prose
rather than verse is to write with the left hand rather than with the
right. Before Ibsen, prose had been but a serving-maid to verse; and no
great dramatist had ever put forward the prose conception of the drama.
Shakespeare and the Elizabethans had used prose as an escape or a
side-issue, for variety, or for the heightening of verse. Molière had
used prose as the best makeshift for verse, because he was not himself a
good craftsman in the art. And, along with the verse, and necessarily
dependent upon it, there was the poetic, the romantic quality in drama.
Think of those dramatists who seem to have least kinship with poetry;
think, I will not say of Molière, but of Congreve. What is more romantic
than _The Way of the World_? But Ibsen extracts the romantic quality
from drama as if it were a poison; and, in deciding to write
realistically in prose, he gives up every aim but that which he defines,
so early as 1874, as the wish 'to produce the impression on the reader
that what he was reading was something that had really happened.' He is
not even speaking of the effect in a theatre; he is defining his aim
inside the covers of a book, his whole conception of drama.

The art of imitation has never been carried further than it has been
carried by Ibsen in his central plays; and with him, at his best, it is
no mere imitation but a critical interpretation of life. How greatly
this can be done, how greatly Ibsen has done it, there is _Ghosts_ to
show us. Yet at what point this supreme criticism may stop, what remains
beyond it in the treatment of the vilest contemporary material, we shall
see if we turn to a play which seems at first sight more grossly
realistic than the most realistic play of Ibsen--Tolstoi's _Powers of
Darkness_. Though, as one reads and sees it, the pity and fear seem to
weigh almost intolerably upon one, the impression left upon the mind
when the reading or the performance is over, is that left by the hearing
of noble and tragic music. How, out of such human discords, such a
divine harmony can be woven I do not know; that is the secret of
Tolstoi's genius, as it is the secret of the musician's. Here, achieved
in terms of naked horror, we find some of the things which Maeterlinck
has aimed at and never quite rendered through an atmosphere and through
forms of vague beauty. And we find also another kind of achievement, by
the side of which Ibsen's cunning adjustments of reality seem a little
trivial or a little unreal. Here, for once, human life is islanded on
the stage, a pin-point of light in an immense darkness; and the sense of
that surrounding darkness is conveyed to us, as in no other modern play,
by an awful sincerity and an unparalleled simplicity. Whether Tolstoi
has learned by instinct some stagecraft which playwrights have been
toiling after in vain, or by what conscious and deliberate art he has
supplemented instinct, I do not know. But, out of horror and humour, out
of some creative abundance which has taken the dregs of human life up
into itself and transfigured them by that pity which is understanding,
by that faith which is creation, Tolstoi has in this play done what
Ibsen has never done--given us an interpretation of life which owes
nothing to science, nothing to the prose conception of life, but which,
in spite of its form, is essential poetry.

Ibsen's concern is with character; and no playwright has created a more
probable gallery of characters with whom we can become so easily and so
completely familiar. They live before us, and with apparently so
unconscious a self-revelation that we speculate about them as we would
about real people, and sometimes take sides with them against their
creator. Nora would, would not, have left her children! We know all
their tricks of mind, their little differences from other people, their
habits, the things that a novelist spends so much of his time in
bringing laboriously before us. Ibsen, in a single stage direction,
gives you more than you would find in a chapter of a novel. His
characters, when they are most themselves, are modern, of the day or
moment; they are average, and represent nothing which we have not met
with, nothing which astonishes us because it is of a nobility, a
heroism, a wildness beyond our acquaintance. It is for this that he has
been most praised; and there is something marvellous in the precision of
his measurements of just so much and no more of the soul.

Yet there are no great characters in Ibsen; and do not great characters
still exist? Ibsen's exceptional people never authenticate themselves as
being greatly exceptional; their genius is vouched for on a report which
they are themselves unable to confirm, as in the inarticulate poet
Lövborg, or on their own assertion, as with John Gabriel Borkman, of
whom even Dr. Brandes admits, 'His own words do not convince me, for
one, that he has ever possessed true genius.' When he is most himself,
when he has the firmest hold on his material, Ibsen limits himself to
that part of the soul which he and science know. By taking the average
man as his hero, by having no hero, no villain, only probable levels, by
limiting human nature to the bounds within which he can clinically
examine it, he shirks, for the most part, the greatest crisis of the
soul. Can the greatest drama be concerned with less than the ultimate
issues of nature, the ultimate types of energy? with Lear and with
Oedipus? The world of Shakespeare and of the Greeks is the world; it
is universal, whether Falstaff blubbers in the tavern or Philoctetes
cries in the cave. But the world which Ibsen really knows is that little
segment of the world which we call society; its laws are not those of
nature, its requirements are not the requirements of God or of man; it
is a business association for the capture and division of profits; it
is, in short, a fit subject for scientific study, but no longer a part
of the material of poetry. The characteristic plays of Ibsen are rightly
known as 'social dramas.' Their problem, for the main part, is no longer
man in the world, but man in society. That is why they have no
atmosphere, no background, but are carefully localised.

The rhythm of prose is physiological; the rhythm of poetry is musical.
There is in every play of Ibsen a rhythm perfect of its kind, but it is
the physiological rhythm of prose. The rhythm of a play of Shakespeare
speaks to the blood like wine or music; it is with exultation, with
intoxication, that we see or read _Antony and Cleopatra_, or even
_Richard II_. But the rhythm of a play of Ibsen is like that of a
diagram in Euclid; it is the rhythm of logic, and it produces in us the
purely mental exaltation of a problem solved. These people who are seen
so clearly, moving about in a well-realised world, using probable words
and doing necessary things, may owe some of their manner at least to the
modern French stage, and to the pamphleteer's prose world of Dumas
_fils_; yet, though they may illustrate problems, they no longer recite
them. They are seen, not as the poet sees his people, naked against a
great darkness, but clothed and contemporary, from the level of an
ironical observer who sits in a corner of the same room. It is the
doctor who sits there, watching his patients, and smiling ambiguously as
he infers from his knowledge of their bodies what pranks their souls are
likely to play.

If Ibsen gets no other kind of beauty, does he not get beauty of
emotion? Or can there be beauty in an intensity of emotion which can be
at least approached, in the power of thrilling, by an Adelphi
melodrama? Is the speech of his people, when it is most nearly a
revelation of the obscure forces outside us or within us, more than a
stammering of those to whom unconsciousness does not lend distinction
but intensifies idiosyncrasy? Drama, in its essence, requires no speech;
it can be played by marionettes, or in dumb show, and be enthralling.
But, speech once admitted, must not that speech, if it is to collaborate
in supreme drama, be filled with imagination, be itself a beautiful
thing? To Ibsen beauty has always been of the nature of an ornament, not
an end. He would concentrate it into a catchword, repeated until it has
lost all emotional significance. For the rest, his speech is the
language of the newspaper, recorded with the fidelity of the phonograph.
Its whole aim is at economy, as if economy were an end rather than a

Has not Ibsen, in the social dramas, tried to make poems without words?
There is to be beauty of motive and beauty of emotion; but the words are
to be the plainest of all the plain words which we use in talking with
one another, and nothing in them is to speak greatly when great
occasions arise. Men's speech in great drama is as much higher than the
words they would use in real life as their thoughts are higher than
those words. It says the unuttered part of our speech. Ibsen would
suppress all this heightening as he has suppressed the soliloquy and the
aside. But here what he suppresses is not a convention but a means of
interpretation. It is suppressing the essence for the sake of the

Ibsen's genius for the invention of a situation has never been
surpassed. More living characters than the characters of Ibsen have
never moved on the stage. His women are at work now in the world,
interpreting women to themselves, helping to make the women of the
future. He has peopled a new world. But the inhabitants of this new
world, before they begin to transgress its laws and so lose their own
citizenship there, are so faithfully copied from the people about us
that they share their dumbness, that dumbness to which it is the power
and privilege of poetry to give speech. Given the character and the
situation, what Ibsen asks at the moment of crisis is: What would this
man be most likely to say? not, What would be the finest, the most
deeply revealing thing that he could say? In that difference lies all
the difference between prose and poetry.



The novels of Huysmans, however we may regard them as novels, are, at
all events, the sincere and complete expression of a very remarkable
personality. From _Marthe_ to _Là-Bas_ every story, every volume,
disengages the same atmosphere--the atmosphere of a London November,
when mere existence is a sufficient burden, and the little miseries of
life loom up through the fog into a vague and formidable grotesqueness.
Here, for once, is a pessimist whose philosophy is mere sensation--and
sensation, after all, is the one certainty in a world which may be well
or ill arranged, for ultimate purposes, but which is certainly, for each
of us, what each of us feels it to be. To Huysmans the world appears to
be a profoundly uncomfortable, unpleasant, ridiculous place, with a
certain solace in various forms of art, and certain possibilities of at
least temporary escape. Part of his work presents to us a picture of
ordinary life as he conceives it, in its uniform trivial wretchedness;
in another part he has made experiment in directions which have seemed
to promise escape, relief; in yet other portions he has allowed himself
the delight of his sole enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of art. He himself
would be the first to acknowledge--indeed, practically, he has
acknowledged--that the particular way in which he sees life is a matter
of personal temperament and constitution, a matter of nerves. The
Goncourts have never tired of insisting on the fact of their _névrose_,
of pointing out its importance in connection with the form and structure
of their work, their touch on style, even. To them the _maladie fin de
siècle_ has come delicately, as to the chlorotic fine ladies of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain: it has sharpened their senses to a point of
morbid acuteness, it has given their work a certain feverish beauty. To
Huysmans it has given the exaggerated horror of whatever is ugly and
unpleasant, with the fatal instinct of discovering, the fatal necessity
of contemplating, every flaw and every discomfort that a somewhat
imperfect world can offer for inspection. It is the transposition of the
ideal. Relative values are lost, for it is the sense of the disagreeable
only that is heightened; and the world, in this strange disorder of
vision, assumes an aspect which can only be compared with that of a drop
of impure water under the microscope. 'Nature seen through a
temperament' is Zola's definition of all art. Nothing, certainly, could
be more exact and expressive as a definition of the art of Huysmans.

To realise how faithfully and how completely Huysmans has revealed
himself in all he has written, it is necessary to know the man. 'He gave
me the impression of a cat,' some interviewer once wrote of him;
'courteous, perfectly polite, almost amiable, but all nerves, ready to
shoot out his claws at the least word.' And, indeed, there is something
of his favourite animal about him. The face is grey, wearily alert, with
a look of benevolent malice. At first sight it is commonplace, the
features are ordinary, one seems to have seen it at the Bourse or the
Stock Exchange. But gradually that strange, unvarying expression, that
look of benevolent malice, grows upon you as the influence of the man
makes itself felt. I have seen Huysmans in his office--he is an employé
in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a model employé; I have seen him
in a café, in various houses; but I always see him in memory as I used
to see him at the house of the bizarre Madame X. He leans back on the
sofa, rolling a cigarette between his thin, expressive fingers, looking
at no one and at nothing, while Madame X. moves about with solid
vivacity in the midst of her extraordinary menagerie of _bric-à-brac_.
The spoils of all the world are there, in that incredibly tiny _salon_;
they lie underfoot, they climb up walls, they cling to screens,
brackets, and tables; one of your elbows menaces a Japanese toy, the
other a Dresden china shepherdess; all the colours of the rainbow clash
in a barbaric discord of notes. And in a corner of this fantastic room,
Huysmans lies back indifferently on the sofa, with the air of one
perfectly resigned to the boredom of life. Something is said by my
learned friend who is to write for the new periodical, or perhaps it is
the young editor of the new periodical who speaks, or (if that were not
impossible) the taciturn Englishman who accompanies me; and Huysmans,
without looking up, and without taking the trouble to speak very
distinctly, picks up the phrase, transforms it, more likely transpierces
it, in a perfectly turned sentence, a phrase of impromptu elaboration.
Perhaps it is only a stupid book that some one has mentioned, or a
stupid woman; as he speaks, the book looms up before one, becomes
monstrous in its dulness, a masterpiece and miracle of imbecility; the
unimportant little woman grows into a slow horror before your eyes. It
is always the unpleasant aspect of things that he seizes, but the
intensity of his revolt from that unpleasantness brings a touch of the
sublime into the very expression of his disgust. Every sentence is an
epigram, and every epigram slaughters a reputation or an idea. He speaks
with an accent as of pained surprise, an amused look of contempt, so
profound that it becomes almost pity, for human imbecility.

Yes, that is the true Huysmans, the Huysmans of _A Rebours_, and it is
just such surroundings that seem to bring out his peculiar quality.
With this contempt for humanity, this hatred of mediocrity, this passion
for a somewhat exotic kind of modernity, an artist who is so exclusively
an artist was sure, one day or another, to produce a work which, being
produced to please himself, and being entirely typical of himself, would
be, in a way, the quintessence of contemporary Decadence. And it is
precisely such a book that Huysmans has written, in the extravagant,
astonishing _A Rebours_. All his other books are a sort of unconscious
preparation for this one book, a sort of inevitable and scarcely
necessary sequel to it. They range themselves along the line of a
somewhat erratic development, from Baudelaire, through Goncourt, by way
of Zola, to the surprising originality of so disconcerting an exception
to any and every order of things.

The descendant of a long line of Dutch painters--one of whom, Cornelius
Huysmans, has a certain fame among the lesser landscape men of the great
period--Joris-Karl Huysmans was born at Paris, February 5, 1848. His
first book, _Le Drageoir á Epices_, published at the age of twenty-six,
is a _pasticcio_ of prose poems, done after Baudelaire, of little
sketches, done after Dutch artists, together with a few studies of
Parisian landscape, done after nature. It shows us the careful, laboured
work of a really artistic temperament; it betrays, here and there, the
spirit of acrimonious observation which is to count for so much with
Huysmans--in the crude malice of 'L'Extase,' for example, in the
notation of the 'richness of tone,' the 'superb colouring,' of an old
drunkard. And one sees already something of the novelty and the
precision of his description, the novelty and the unpleasantness of the
subjects which he chooses to describe, in this vividly exact picture of
the carcass of a cow hung up outside a butcher's shop: 'As in a
hothouse, a marvellous vegetation flourished in the carcass. Veins shot
out on every side like trails of bind-weed; dishevelled branch-work
extended itself along the body, an efflorescence of entrails unfurled
their violet-tinted corollas, and big clusters of fat stood out, a sharp
white, against the red medley of quivering flesh.'

In _Marthe: histoire d'une fille_, which followed in 1876, two years
later, Huysmans is almost as far from actual achievement as in _Le
Drageoir à Epices_, but the book, in its crude attempt to deal
realistically, and somewhat after the manner of Goncourt, with the life
of a prostitute of the lowest depths, marks a considerable advance upon
the somewhat casual experiments of his earlier manner. It is important
to remember that _Marthe_ preceded _La Fille Elisa_ and _Nana_. 'I write
what I see, what I feel, and what I have experienced,' says the brief
and defiant preface, 'and I write it as well as I can: that is all. This
explanation is not an excuse, it is simply the statement of the aim that
I pursue in art.' Explanation or excuse notwithstanding, the book was
forbidden to be sold in France. It is Naturalism in its earliest and
most pitiless stage--Naturalism which commits the error of evoking no
sort of interest in this unhappy creature who rises a little from her
native gutter, only to fall back more woefully into the gutter again.
Goncourt's Elisa at least interests us; Zola's Nana at all events
appeals to our senses. But Marthe is a mere document, like her story.
Notes have been taken--no doubt _sur le vif_--they have been strung
together, and here they are, with only an interesting brutality, a
curious sordidness to note, in these descriptions that do duty for
psychology and incident alike, in the general flatness of character, the
general dislocation of episode.

_Les Soeurs Vatard_, published in 1879, and the short story _Sac au
Dos_, which appeared in 1880 in the famous Zolaist manifesto, _Les
Soirées de Médan_, show the influence of _Les Rougon-Macquart_ rather
than of _Germinie Lacerteux_. For the time the 'formula' of Zola has
been accepted: the result is, a remarkable piece of work, but a story
without a story, a frame without a picture. With Zola, there is at all
events a beginning and an end, a chain of events, a play of character
upon incident. But in _Les Soeurs Vatard_ there is no reason for the
narrative ever beginning or ending; there are miracles of
description--the workroom, the rue de Sèvres, the locomotives, the
_Foire du pain d'épice_--which lead to nothing; there are interiors,
there are interviews, there are the two work-girls, Céline and Désirée,
and their lovers; there is what Zola himself described as _tout ce
milieu ouvrier, ce coin de misère et d'ignorance, de tranquille ordure
et d'air naturellement empesté_. And with it all there is a heavy sense
of stagnancy, a dreary lifelessness. All that is good in the book
reappears, in vastly better company, in _En Ménage_ (1881), a novel
which is, perhaps, more in the direct line of heritage from _L'Education
Sentimentale_--the starting-point of the Naturalistic novel--than any
other novel of the Naturalists.

_En Ménage_ is the story of '_Monsieur Tout-le-monde_, an insignificant
personality, one of those poor creatures who have not even the supreme
consolation of being able to complain of any injustice in their fate,
for an injustice supposes at all events a misunderstood merit, a force.'
André is the reduction to the bourgeois formula of the invariable hero
of Huysmans. He is just enough removed from the commonplace to suffer
from it with acuteness. He cannot get on either with or without a woman
in his establishment. Betrayed by his wife, he consoles himself with a
mistress, and finally goes back to the wife. And the moral of it all
is: 'Let us be stupidly comfortable, if we can, in any way we can: but
it is almost certain that we cannot.' In _A Vau-l'Eau_, a less
interesting story which followed _En Ménage_, the daily misery of the
respectable M. Folantin, the government employé, consists in the
impossible search for a decent restaurant, a satisfactory dinner: for M.
Folantin, too, there is only the same counsel of a desperate, an
inevitable resignation. Never has the intolerable monotony of small
inconveniences been so scrupulously, so unsparingly chronicled, as in
these two studies in the heroic degree of the commonplace. It happens to
André, at a certain epoch in his life, to take back an old servant who
had left him many years before. He finds that she has exactly the same
defects as before, and 'to find them there again,' comments the author,
'did not displease him. He had been expecting them all the time, he
saluted them as old acquaintances, yet with a certain surprise,
notwithstanding, to see them neither grown nor diminished. He noted for
himself with satisfaction that the stupidity of his servant had remained
stationary.' On another page, referring to the inventor of cards,
Huysmans defines him as one who 'did something towards suppressing the
free exchange of human imbecility.' Having to say in passing that a girl
has returned from a ball, 'she was at home again,' he observes, 'after
the half-dried sweat of the waltzes.' In this invariably sarcastic turn
of the phrase, this absoluteness of contempt, this insistence on the
disagreeable, we find the note of Huysmans, particularly at this point
in his career, when, like Flaubert, he forced himself to contemplate and
to analyse the more mediocre manifestations of _la bêtise humaine_.

There is a certain perversity in this furious contemplation of
stupidity, this fanatical insistence on the exasperating attraction of
the sordid and the disagreeable; and it is by such stages that we come
to _A Rebours_. But on the way we have to note a volume of _Croquis
Parisiens_ (1880), in which the virtuoso who is a part of the artist in
Huysmans has executed some of his most astonishing feats; and a volume
on _L'Art Moderne_ (1883), in which the most modern of artists in
literature has applied himself to the criticism--the revelation,
rather--of modernity in art. In the latter, Huysmans was the first to
declare the supremacy of Degas--'the greatest artist that we possess
to-day in France'--while announcing with no less fervour the remote,
reactionary, and intricate genius of Gustave Moreau. He was the first to
discover Raffaëlli, 'the painter of poor people and the open sky--a sort
of Parisian Millet,' as he called him; the first to discover Forain, 'le
véritable peintre de la fille'; the first to discover Odilon Redon, to
do justice to Pissaro and Paul Gauguin. No literary artist since
Baudelaire has made so valuable a contribution to art criticism, and the
_Curiosités Esthétiques_ are, after all, less exact in their actual
study, less revolutionary, and less really significant in their critical
judgments, than _L'Art Moderne_. The _Croquis Parisiens_, which, in its
first edition, was illustrated by etchings of Forain and Raffaëlli, is
simply the attempt to do in words what those artists have done in
aquafortis or in pastel. There are the same Parisian types--the
omnibus-conductor, the washerwoman, the man who sells hot chestnuts--the
same impressions of a sick and sorry landscape, La Bièvre, for
preference, in all its desolate and lamentable attraction; there is a
marvellously minute series of studies of that typically Parisian
music-hall, the Folies-Bergère. Huysmans' faculty of description is here
seen at its fullest stretch of agility; precise, suggestive, with all
the outline and colour of actual brush-work, it might even be compared
with the art of Degas, only there is just that last touch wanting, that
breath of palpitating life, which is what we always get in Degas, what
we never get in Huysmans.

In _L'Art Moderne_, speaking of the water-colours of Forain, Huysmans
attributes to them 'a specious and _cherché_ art, demanding, for its
appreciation, a certain initiation, a certain special sense.' To realise
the full value, the real charm, of _A Rebours_, some such initiation
might be deemed necessary. In its fantastic unreality, its exquisite
artificiality, it is the natural sequel of _En Ménage_ and _A
Vau-l'Eau_, which are so much more acutely sordid than the most sordid
kind of real life; it is the logical outcome of that hatred and horror
of human mediocrity, of the mediocrity of daily existence, which we have
seen to be the special form of Huysmans' _névrose_. The motto, taken
from a thirteenth-century mystic, Rusbroeck the Admirable, is a cry for
escape, for the 'something in the world that is there in no satisfying
measure, or not at all': _Il faut que je me réjouisse au-dessus du temps
... quoique le monde ait horreur de ma joie et que sa grossièreté ne
sache pas ce que je veux dire_. And the book is the history of a
_Thebaïde raffinée_--a voluntary exile from the world in a new kind of
'Palace of Art.' Des Esseintes, the vague but typical hero, is one of
those half-pathological cases which help us to understand the full
meaning of the word _décadence_, which they partly represent. The last
descendant of an ancient family, his impoverished blood tainted by all
sorts of excesses, Des Esseintes finds himself at thirty _sur le chemin,
dégrisé, seul, abominablement lassé_. He has already realised that 'the
world is divided, in great part, into swaggerers and simpletons.' His
one desire is to 'hide himself away, far from the world, in some
retreat, where he might deaden the sound of the loud rumbling of
inflexible life, as one covers the street with straw, for sick people.'
This retreat he discovers, just far enough from Paris to be safe from
disturbance, just near enough to be saved from the nostalgia of the
unattainable. He succeeds in making his house a paradise of the
artificial, choosing the tones of colour that go best with candle-light,
for it need scarcely be said that Des Esseintes has effected a simple
transposition of night and day. His disappearance from the world has
been complete; it seems to him that the 'comfortable desert' of his
exile need never cease to be just such a luxurious solitude; it seems to
him that he has attained his desire, that he has attained to happiness.

Disturbing physical symptoms harass him from time to time, but they
pass. It is an effect of nerves that now and again he is haunted by
remembrance; the recurrence of a perfume, the reading of a book, brings
back a period of life when his deliberate perversity was exercised
actively in matters of the senses. There are his fantastic banquets, his
fantastic amours: the _repas de deuil_, Miss Urania the acrobat, the
episode of the ventriloquist-woman and the reincarnation of the Sphinx
and the Chimæra of Flaubert, the episode of the boy _chez_ Madame
Laure. A casual recollection brings up the schooldays of his childhood
with the Jesuits, and with that the beliefs of childhood, the fantasies
of the Church, the Catholic abnegation of the _Imitatio_ joining so
strangely with the final philosophy of Schopenhauer. At times his brain
is haunted by social theories--his dull hatred of the ordinary in life
taking form in the region of ideas. But in the main he feeds himself,
with something of the satisfaction of success, on the strange food for
the sensations with which he has so laboriously furnished himself. There
are his books, and among these a special library of the Latin writers of
the Decadence. Exasperated by Virgil, profoundly contemptuous of Horace,
he tolerates Lucan (which is surprising), adores Petronius (as well he
might), and delights in the neologisms and the exotic novelty of
Apuleius. His curiosity extends to the later Christian poets--from the
coloured verse of Claudian down to the verse which is scarcely verse of
the incoherent ninth century. He is, of course, an amateur of exquisite
printing, of beautiful bindings, and possesses an incomparable
Baudelaire (_édition tirée à un exemplaire_), a unique Mallarmé.
Catholicism being the adopted religion of the Decadence--for its
venerable age, valuable in such matters as the age of an old wine, its
vague excitation of the senses, its mystical picturesqueness--Des
Esseintes has a curious collection of the later Catholic literature,
where Lacordaire and the Comte de Falloux, Veuillot and Ozanam, find
their place side by side with the half-prophetic, half-ingenious Hello,
the amalgam of a monstrous mysticism and a casuistical sensuality,
Barbey d'Aurevilly. His collection of 'profane' writers is small, but it
is selected for the qualities of exotic charm that have come to be his
only care in art--for the somewhat diseased, or the somewhat artificial
beauty that alone can strike a responsive thrill from his exacting
nerves. 'Considering within himself, he realised that a work of art, in
order to attract him, must come to him with that quality of strangeness
demanded by Edgar Poe; but he fared yet further along this route, and
sought for all the Byzantine flora of the brain, for complicated
deliquescences of style; he required a troubling indecision over which
he could muse, fashioning it after his will to more of vagueness or of
solid form, according to the state of his mind at the moment. He
delighted in a work of art, both for what it was in itself and for what
it could lend him; he would fain go along with it, thanks to it, as
though sustained by an adjuvant, as though borne in a vehicle, into a
sphere where his sublimated sensations would wake in him an unaccustomed
stir, the cause of which he would long and vainly seek to determine.' So
he comes to care supremely for Baudelaire, 'who, more than any other,
possessed the marvellous power of rendering, with a strange sanity of
expression, the most fleeting, the most wavering morbid states of
exhausted minds, of desolate souls.' In Flaubert he prefers _La
Tentation de Saint-Antoine_; in Goncourt, _La Faustin_; in Zola, _La
Faute de l'Abbé Mouret_--the exceptional, the most remote and
_recherché_ outcome of each temperament. And of the three it is the
novel of Goncourt that appeals to him with special intimacy--that novel
which, more than any other, seems to express, in its exquisitely
perverse charm, all that decadent civilisation of which Des Esseintes
is the type and symbol. In poetry he has discovered the fine perfume,
the evanescent charm, of Paul Verlaine, and near that great poet
(forgetting, strangely, Arthur Rimbaud) he places two poets who are
curious--the disconcerting, tumultuous Tristan Corbière, and the painted
and bejewelled Théodore Hannon. With Edgar Poe he has the instinctive
sympathy which drew Baudelaire to the enigmatically perverse Decadent of
America; he delights, sooner than all the world, in the astonishing,
unbalanced, unachieved genius of Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. Finally, it is
in Stéphane Mallarmé that he finds the incarnation of 'the decadence of
a literature, irreparably affected in its organism, weakened in its
ideas by age, exhausted by the excesses of syntax, sensitive only to the
curiosity which fevers sick people, and yet hastening to say everything,
now at the end, torn by the wish to atone for all its omissions of
enjoyment, to bequeath its subtlest memories of sorrow on its

But it is not on books alone that Des Esseintes nurses his sick and
craving fancy. He pushes his delight in the artificial to the last
limits, and diverts himself with a bouquet of jewels, a concert of
flowers, an orchestra of liqueurs, an orchestra of perfumes. In flowers
he prefers the real flowers that imitate artificial ones. It is the
monstrosities of nature, the offspring of unnatural adulteries, that he
cherishes in the barbarically coloured flowers, the plants with barbaric
names, the carnivorous plants of the Antilles--morbid horrors of
vegetation, chosen, not for their beauty, but for their strangeness. And
his imagination plays harmonies on the sense of taste, like combinations
of music, from the flute-like sweetness of anisette, the trumpet-note of
kirsch, the eager yet velvety sharpness of curaçao, the clarionet. He
combines scents, weaving them into odorous melodies, with effects like
those of the refrains of certain poems, employing, for example, the
method of Baudelaire in _L'Irréparable_ and _Le Balcon_, where the last
line of the stanza is the echo of the first, in the languorous
progression of the melody. And above all he has his few, carefully
chosen pictures, with their diverse notes of strange beauty and strange
terror--the two Salomés of Gustave Moreau, the 'Religious Persecutions'
of Jan Luyken, the opium-dreams of Odilon Redon. His favourite artist is
Gustave Moreau, and it is on this superb and disquieting picture that he
cares chiefly to dwell.

     A throne, like the high altar of a cathedral, rose beneath
     innumerable arches springing from columns, thick-set as Roman
     pillars, enamelled with vari-coloured bricks, set with mosaics,
     incrusted with lapis lazuli and sardonyx, in a palace like the
     basilica of an architecture at once Mussulman and Byzantine. In the
     centre of the tabernacle surmounting the altar, fronted with rows
     of circular steps, sat the Tetrarch Herod, the tiara on his head,
     his legs pressed together, his hands on his knees. His face was
     yellow, parchment-like, annulated with wrinkles, withered with age;
     his long beard floated like a white cloud on the jewelled stars
     that constellated the robe of netted gold across his breast. Around
     this statue, motionless, frozen in the sacred pose of a Hindu god,
     perfumes burned, throwing out clouds of vapour, pierced, as by the
     phosphorescent eyes of animals, by the fire of precious stones set
     in the sides of the throne; then the vapour mounted, unrolling
     itself beneath arches where the blue smoke mingled with the
     powdered gold of great sunrays, fallen from the domes.

     In the perverse odour of perfumes, in the overheated atmosphere of
     this church, Salomé, her left arm extended in a gesture of command,
     her bent right arm holding at the level of the face a great lotus,
     advances slowly to the sound of a guitar, thrummed by a woman who
     crouches on the floor.

     With collected, solemn, almost august countenance, she begins the
     lascivious dance that should waken the sleeping senses of the aged
     Herod; her breasts undulate, become rigid at the contact of the
     whirling necklets; diamonds sparkle on the dead whiteness of her
     skin, her bracelets, girdles, rings, shoot sparks; on her triumphal
     robe, sewn with pearls, flowered with silver, sheeted with gold,
     the jewelled breast-plate, whose every stitch is a precious stone,
     bursts into flame, scatters in snakes of fire, swarms on the
     ivory-toned, tea-rose flesh, like splendid insects with dazzling
     wings, marbled with carmine, dotted with morning gold, diapered
     with steel-blue, streaked with peacock-green.

       *       *       *       *       *

     In the work of Gustave Moreau, conceived on no Scriptural data, Des
     Esseintes saw at last the realisation of the strange, superhuman
     Salomé that he had dreamed. She was no more the mere dancing-girl
     who, with the corrupt torsion of her limbs, tears a cry of desire
     from an old man; who, with her eddying breasts, her palpitating
     body, her quivering thighs, breaks the energy, melts the will, of a
     king; she has become the symbolic deity of indestructible Lust, the
     goddess of immortal Hysteria, the accursed Beauty, chosen among
     many by the catalepsy that has stiffened her limbs, that has
     hardened her muscles; the monstrous, indifferent, irresponsible,
     insensible Beast, poisoning, like Helen of old, all that go near to
     her, all that look upon her, all that she touches.

It is in such a 'Palace of Art' that Des Esseintes would recreate his
already over-wrought body and brain, and the monotony of its seclusion
is only once broken by a single excursion into the world without. This
one episode of action, this one touch of realism, in a book given over
to the artificial, confined to a record of sensation, is a projected
voyage to London, a voyage that never occurs. Des Esseintes has been
reading Dickens, idly, to quiet his nerves, and the violent colours of
those ultra-British scenes and characters have imposed themselves upon
his imagination. Days of rain and fog complete the picture of that _pays
de brume et de boue_, and suddenly, stung by the unwonted desire for
change, he takes the train to Paris, resolved to distract himself by a
visit to London. Arrived in Paris before his time, he takes a cab to the
office of _Galignani's Messenger_, fancying himself, as the rain-drops
rattle on the roof and the mud splashes against the windows, already in
the midst of the immense city, its smoke and dirt. He reaches
_Galignani's Messenger_, and there, turning over Baedekers and Murrays,
loses himself in dreams of an imagined London. He buys a Baedeker, and,
to pass the time, enters the 'Bodéga' at the corner of the Rue de Rivoli
and the Rue Castiglione. The wine-cellar is crowded with Englishmen: he
sees, as he drinks his port, and listens to the unfamiliar accents, all
the characters of Dickens--a whole England of caricature; as he drinks
his Amontillado, the recollection of Poe puts a new horror into the
good-humoured faces about him. Leaving the 'Bodéga,' he steps out again
into the rain-swept street, regains his cab, and drives to the English
tavern of the Rue d'Amsterdam. He has just time for dinner, and he finds
a place beside the _insulaires_, with 'their porcelain eyes, their
crimson cheeks,' and orders a heavy English dinner, which he washes down
with ale and porter, seasoning his coffee, as he imagines we do in
England, with gin. As time passes, and the hour of the train draws near,
he begins to reflect vaguely on his project; he recalls the disillusion
of the visit he had once paid to Holland. Does not a similar disillusion
await him in London? 'Why travel, when one can travel so splendidly in a
chair? Was he not at London already, since its odours, its atmosphere,
its inhabitants, its food, its utensils, were all about him?' The train
is due, but he does not stir. 'I have felt and seen,' he says to
himself, 'what I wanted to feel and see. I have been saturated with
English life all this time; it would be madness to lose, by a clumsy
change of place, these imperishable sensations.' So he gathers together
his luggage, and goes home again, resolving never to abandon the 'docile
phantasmagoria of the brain' for the mere realities of the actual world.
But his nervous malady, one of whose symptoms had driven him forth and
brought him back so spasmodically, is on the increase. He is seized by
hallucinations, haunted by sounds: the hysteria of Schumann, the morbid
exaltation of Berlioz, communicate themselves to him in the music that
besieges his brain. Obliged at last to send for a doctor, we find him,
at the end of the book, ordered back to Paris, to the normal life, the
normal conditions, with just that chance of escape from death or
madness. So suggestively, so instructively, closes the record of a
strange, attractive folly--in itself partly a serious ideal (which
indeed is Huysmans' own), partly the caricature of that ideal. Des
Esseintes, though studied from a real man, who is known to those who
know a certain kind of society in Paris, is a type rather than a man: he
is the offspring of the Decadent art that he adores, and this book a
sort of breviary for its worshippers. It has a place of its own in the
literature of the day, for it sums up, not only a talent, but a
spiritual epoch.

_A Rebours_ is a book that can only be written once, and since that date
Huysmans has published a short story, _Un Dilemme_ (1887), which is
merely a somewhat lengthy anecdote; two novels, _En Rade_ (1887) and
_Là-Bas_ (1891), both of which are interesting experiments, but neither
of them an entire success; and a volume of art criticism, _Certains_
(1890), notable for a single splendid essay, that on Félicien Rops, the
etcher of the fantastically erotic. _En Rade_ is a sort of deliberately
exaggerated record--vision rather than record--of the disillusions of a
country sojourn, as they affect the disordered nerves of a town
_névrose_. The narrative is punctuated by nightmares, marvellously woven
out of nothing, and with no psychological value--the human part of the
book being a sort of picturesque pathology at best, the representation
of a series of states of nerves, sharpened by the tragic ennui of the
country. There is a cat which becomes interesting in its agonies; but
the long boredom of the man and woman is only too faithfully shared with
the reader. _Là-Bas_ is a more artistic creation, on a more solid
foundation. It is a study of Satanism, a dexterous interweaving of the
history of Gilles de Retz (the traditional Bluebeard) with the
contemporary manifestations of the Black Art. 'The execration of
impotence, the hate of the mediocre--that is perhaps one of the most
indulgent definitions of Diabolism,' says Huysmans, somewhere in the
book, and it is on this side that one finds the link of connection with
the others of that series of pessimist studies in life. _Un naturalisme
spiritualiste_, he defines his own art at this point in its development;
and it is in somewhat the 'documentary' manner that he applies himself
to the study of these strange problems, half of hysteria, half of a real
mystical corruption that does actually exist in our midst. I do not
know whether the monstrous tableau of the Black Mass--so marvellously,
so revoltingly described in the central episode of the book--is still
enacted in our days, but I do know that all but the most horrible
practices of the sacrilegious magic of the Middle Ages are yet
performed, from time to time, in a secrecy which is all but absolute.
The character of Madame Chantelouve is an attempt, probably the first in
literature, to diagnose a case of Sadism in a woman. To say that it is
successful would be to assume that the thing is possible, which one
hesitates to do. The book is even more disquieting, to the normal mind,
than _A Rebours_. But it is not, like that, the study of an exception
which has become a type. It is the study of an exception which does not
profess to be anything but a disease.

Huysmans' place in contemporary literature is not quite easy to
estimate. There is a danger of being too much attracted, or too much
repelled, by those qualities of deliberate singularity which make his
work, sincere expression as it is of his own personality, so artificial
and _recherché_ in itself. With his pronounced, exceptional
characteristics, it would have been impossible for him to write fiction
impersonally, or to range himself, for long, in any school, under any
master. Interrogated one day as to his opinion of Naturalism, he had but
to say in reply: _Au fond, il y a des écrivains qui ont du talent et
d'autres qui n'en ont pas, qu'ils soient naturalistes, romantiques,
décadents, tout ce que vous voudrez, ça m'est égal! il s'agit pour moi
d'avoir du talent, et voilà tout!_ But, as we have seen, he has
undergone various influences, he has had his periods. From the first he
has had a style of singular pungency, novelty, and colour; and, even in
_Le Drageoir à Epices_, we find such daring combinations as this
(_Camaïeu Rouge_)--_Cette fanfare de rouge m'étourdissait; cette gamme
d'une intensité furieuse, d'une violence inouïe, m'aveuglait._ Working
upon the foundation of Flaubert and of Goncourt, the two great modern
stylists, he has developed an intensely personal style of his own, in
which the sense of rhythm is entirely dominated by the sense of colour.
He manipulates the French language with a freedom sometimes barbarous,
'dragging his images by the heels or the hair' (in the admirable phrase
of Léon Bloy) 'up and down the worm-eaten staircase of terrified
syntax,' gaining, certainly, the effects at which he aims. He possesses,
in the highest degree, that _style tacheté et faisandé_--high-flavoured
and spotted with corruption--that he attributes to Goncourt and
Verlaine. And with this audacious and barbaric profusion of
words--chosen always for their colour and their vividly expressive
quality--he is able to describe the essentially modern aspects of things
as no one had ever described them before. No one before him had ever so
realised the perverse charm of the sordid, the perverse charm of the
artificial. Exceptional always, it is for such qualities as these,
rather than for the ordinary qualities of the novelist, that he is
remarkable. His stories are without incident, they are constructed to go
on until they stop, they are almost without characters. His psychology
is a matter of the sensations, and chiefly the visual sensations. The
moral nature is ignored, the emotions resolve themselves for the most
part into a sordid ennui, rising at times into a rage at existence. The
protagonist of every book is not so much a character as a bundle of
impressions and sensations--the vague outline of a single consciousness,
his own. But it is that single consciousness--in this morbidly personal
writer--with which we are concerned. For Huysmans' novels, with all
their strangeness, their charm, their repulsion, typical too, as they
are, of much beside himself, are certainly the expression of a
personality as remarkable as that of any contemporary writer.



_Un livre comme je ne les aime pas_, says Mallarmé characteristically
(_ceux épars et privés d'architecture_) of this long expected first
volume of collected prose, _Divagations_, in which we find the prose
poems of early date; medallion or full-length portraits of Villiers de
l'Isle-Adam, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Poe, Whistler, and others; the
marvellous, the unique, studies in the symbolism of the ballet and the
theatrical spectacle, comparatively early in date; _Richard Wagner:
rêverie d'un Poète français, Le Mystère dans les Lettres_; and, under
various titles, the surprising _Variations sur un Sujet_. The hesitation
of a lifetime having been, it would seem, overcome, we are at last able
to read Mallarmé's 'doctrine,' if not altogether as he would have us
read it. And we are at last able, without too much injustice, to judge
him as a writer of prose.

In saying that this volume is the most beautiful and the most valuable
which has found its way into my hands for I know not how long, I shall
not pretend to have read it with ease, or to have understood every word
of it. _D'exhiber les choses à un imperturbable premier plan, en
camelots, activés par la pression de l'instant, d'accord--écrire, dans
le cas pourquoi, indûment, sauf pour étaler la banalité; plutôt que
tendre le nuage, précieux, flottant sur l'intime gouffre de chaque
pensée, vu que vulgaire l'est ce à quoi on décerne, pas plus, un
caractère immédiat._ No, it has always been to that _labyrinthe illuminé
par des fleurs_ that Mallarmé has felt it due to their own dignity to
invite his readers. To their own dignity, and also to his. Mallarmé is
obscure, not so much because he writes differently as because he thinks
differently from other people. His mind is elliptical, and (relying on
the intelligence of his readers) he emphasises the effect of what is
unlike other people in his mind by resolutely ignoring even the links of
connection that exist between them. Never having aimed at popularity, he
has never needed, as most writers need, to make the first advances. He
has made neither intrusion upon nor concession to those who after all
need not read him. And when he has spoken he has not considered it
needful or seemly to listen in order that he might hear whether he was
heard. To the charge of obscurity he replies, with sufficient disdain,
that there are many who do not know how to read--except the newspapers,
he adds, in one of those disconcerting, oddly printed parentheses, which
make his work, to those who can rightly apprehend it, so full of wise
limitations, so safe from hasty or seemingly final conclusions. No one
in our time has more significantly vindicated the supreme right of the
artist in the aristocracy of letters; wilfully, perhaps, not always
wisely, but nobly, logically. Has not every artist shrunk from that
making of himself 'a motley to the view,' that handing over of his naked
soul to the laughter of the multitude? but who in our time has wrought
so subtle a veil, shining on this side, where the few are, a thick cloud
on the other, where are the many? The oracles have always had the wisdom
to hide their secret in the obscurity of double meanings or of what has
seemed meaningless; and might it not after all be the finest epitaph for
a self-respecting man of letters to be able to say, even after the
writing of many books: I have kept my secret, I have not betrayed myself
to the crowd?

It has been the distinction of Mallarmé that he has always aspired after
an impossible liberation of the soul of literature from what is fretting
and constraining in 'the body of that death,' which is the mere
literature of words. Words, he has realised, are of value only as
notations of the free breath of the spirit; words, therefore, must be
employed with an extreme care in their choice and adjustment, in setting
them to reflect and chime upon one another; yet least of all things for
their own sake, for the sake of what they can never, except by
suggestion, express. Thus an artificiality, even, in the use of
words--that seeming artificiality which comes from using words as if
they had never been used before, that chimerical search after the
virginity of language--is but the paradoxical outward sign of an extreme
discontent with even the best of their service. Writers who use words
fluently, seeming to disregard their importance, do so from an
unconscious confidence in their expressiveness, which the scrupulous
thinker, the precise dreamer, can never place in the most carefully
chosen among them. To evoke, by some elaborate, instantaneous magic of
language, without the formality of an after all impossible description;
to be, in fact, rather than to express; that is what Mallarmé has
consistently, and from the first, sought in verse and prose. And he has
sought this wandering, illusive, beckoning butterfly, the soul of
dreams, over more and more entangled ground; and it has led him into the
depths of many forests, far from the sunlight. He would be the last to
permit me to say that he has found what he sought; but (is it possible
to avoid saying?) how heroic a search, and what marvellous discoveries,
by the way!

Yes, all these, he admits perhaps proudly, are divagations, and the
secret, eternal, and only beauty is not yet found. Is it, perhaps, in a
mood, a momentary mood, really of discouragement, that he has consented
to the publication--the 'showing off,' within covers, as of goods in a
shop-window: it is his own image--of these fragmentary suggestions
towards a complete Æsthetic? Beautiful and invaluable I find them; here
and there final; and always, in form, hieratic.

Certain writers, in whom the artist's contempt for common things has
been carried to its utmost limit, should only be read in books of
beautiful and slightly unusual form. Perhaps of all modern writers
Villiers and Mallarmé have most carefully sought the most remote ideal,
and seem most to require some elaborate presentation to the reader.
Mallarmé, indeed, delighted in heaping up obstacles in the reader's way,
not only in the concealment of his meaning by style, but in a furtive,
fragmentary, and only too luxurious method of publication, which made it
difficult for most people to get his books at all, even for unlimited
money. Villiers, on the contrary, after publishing his first book, the
_Premières Poésies_ of 1859, in the delicate type of Perrin of Lyons, on
ribbed paper, with old gold covers, became careless as to how his books
appeared, and has to be read in a disorderly crowd of volumes, some of
them as hideous as the original edition of _L'Eve Future_, with its red
stars and streaks, its Apollo and Cupid and grey city landscape. It is
therefore with singular pleasure that one finds the two beautiful books
which have lately been published by M. Deman, the well-known publisher
of Rops: one, the fullest collection of Mallarmé's poems which has ever
been published, the other a selection of twenty stories by Villiers. The
Mallarmé is white and red, the poems printed in italics, a frontispiece
by Rops; the Villiers is a large square volume in shimmering dark green
and gold, with headpieces and tailpieces, in two tints, by Th. van
Rysselberghe. These scrolls and titles are done with a sort of reverent
self-suppression, as if, for once, decoration existed for a book and not
the book for the decoration, which is hardly the quality for which
modern decorators are most conspicuous.

In the _Poésies_ we have, no doubt, Mallarmé's final selection from his
own poems. Some of it is even new. The magnificent and mysterious
fragment of _Hérodiade_, his masterpiece, perhaps, is, though not indeed
completed, more than doubled in length by the addition of a long passage
on which he was at work almost to the time of his death. It is curious
to note that the new passage is written in exactly the style of the
older passage, though in the interval between the writing of the one and
the writing of the other Mallarmé had completely changed his style. By
an effort of will he had thought himself back into an earlier style, and
the two fragments join without an apparent seam. There were, it appears,
still a hymn or lyric spoken by St. John and a concluding monologue, to
be added to the poem; but we have at least the whole of the dialogue
between Hérodiade and the Nurse, certainly a poem sufficiently complete
in itself. The other new pieces are in the latest manner, mainly without
punctuation; they would scarcely be alluring, one imagines, even if
punctuated. In the course of a few centuries, I am convinced, every line
of Mallarmé will have become perfectly clear, as a corrupt Greek text
becomes clear in time. Even now a learned commentator could probably do
much to explain them, at the cost of a life-long labour; but scholars
only give up their lives to the difficult authors of a remote past.
Mallarmé can afford to wait; he will not be forgotten; and for us of the
present there are the clear and lovely early poems, so delightfully
brought together in the white and red book.

_L'insensibilité de l'azur et des pierres_: a serene and gem-like
quality, entirely his own, is in all these poems, in which a particular
kind of French verse realises its ideal. Mallarmé is the poet of a few,
a limited poet, perfect within his limits as the Chinese artist of his
own symbol. In a beautiful poem he compares himself to the painter of
tea-cups who spends his life in painting a strange flower

     _Sur ses tasses de neige à la lune ravie_,

a flower which has perfumed his whole existence, since, as a child, he
had felt it graft itself upon the 'blue filigree of his soul.'

A very different image must be sought if we wish to sum up the
characteristics of Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. An uncertain artist, he was
a man of passionate and lofty genius, and he has left us a great mass of
imperfect work, out of which we have to form for ourselves whatever
notion we can of a man greater than his work. My first impression, on
looking at the twenty stories which make up the present selection, was
that the selection had been badly made. Where is _Les Demoiselles de
Bienfilâtre_? I asked myself, remembering that little ironical
masterpiece; where is _Le Convive des Dernières Fêtes_, with its
subtlety of horror; _Sentimentalisme_, with its tragic and tender
modernity; _La Reine Ysabeau_, with its sombre and taciturn intensity?
Story after story came into my mind, finer, it seemed to me, in the
artistic qualities of the story than many of those selected. Second
thoughts inclined me to think that the selection could scarcely have
been better. For it is a selection made after a plan, and it shows us,
not indeed always Villiers at his best as a story-teller, but,
throughout, Villiers at his highest point of elevation; the man whom we
are always trying to see through his work, and the man as he would have
seen himself. There is not a collection of stories in French of greater
nobility than these _Histoires Souveraines_ in which a regal pomp of
speech drapes a more than regal sovereignty of soul. The Villiers who
mocked mean things and attacked base things is no longer there; the
idealist is at home in his own world, among his ideals.

1897, 1899.


Baudelaire is little known and much misunderstood in England. Only one
English writer has ever done him justice, or said anything adequate
about him. As long ago as 1862 Swinburne introduced Baudelaire to
English readers: in the columns of the _Spectator_, it is amusing to
remember. In 1868 he added a few more words of just and subtle praise in
his book on Blake, and in the same year wrote the magnificent elegy on
his death, _Ave atque Vale_. There have been occasional outbreaks of
irrelevant abuse or contempt, and the name of Baudelaire (generally
mis-spelled) is the journalist's handiest brickbat for hurling at random
in the name of respectability. Does all this mean that we are waking up,
over here, to the consciousness of one of the great literary forces of
the age, a force which has been felt in every other country but ours?

It would be a useful influence for us. Baudelaire desired perfection,
and we have never realised that perfection is a thing to aim at. He only
did what he could do supremely well, and he was in poverty all his life,
not because he would not work, but because he would work only at certain
things, the things which he could hope to do to his own satisfaction. Of
the men of letters of our age he was the most scrupulous. He spent his
whole life in writing one book of verse (out of which all French poetry
has come since his time), one book of prose in which prose becomes a
fine art, some criticism which is the sanest, subtlest, and surest which
his generation produced, and a translation which is better than a
marvellous original. What would French poetry be to-day if Baudelaire
had never existed? As different a thing from what it is as English
poetry would be without Rossetti. Neither of them is quite among the
greatest poets, but they are more fascinating than the greatest, they
influence more minds. And Baudelaire was an equally great critic. He
discovered Poe, Wagner, and Manet. Where even Sainte-Beuve, with his
vast materials, his vast general talent for criticism, went wrong in
contemporary judgments, Baudelaire was infallibly right. He wrote
neither verse nor prose with ease, but he would not permit himself to
write either without inspiration. His work is without abundance, but it
is without waste. It is made out of his whole intellect and all his
nerves. Every poem is a train of thought and every essay is the record
of sensation. This 'romantic' had something classic in his moderation, a
moderation which becomes at times as terrifying as Poe's logic. To
'cultivate one's hysteria' so calmly, and to affront the reader
(_Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère_) as a judge rather than
as a penitent; to be a casuist in confession; to be so much a moralist,
with so keen a sense of the ecstasy of evil: that has always bewildered
the world, even in his own country, where the artist is allowed to live
as experimentally as he writes. Baudelaire lived and died solitary,
secret, a confessor of sins who has never told the whole truth, _le
mauvais moine_ of his own sonnet, an ascetic of passion, a hermit of the

To understand, not Baudelaire, but what we can of him, we must read, not
only the four volumes of his collected works, but every document in
Crépet's _Oeuvres Posthumes_, and, above all, the letters, and these
have only now been collected into a volume, under the care of an editor
who has done more for Baudelaire than any one since Crépet. Baudelaire
put into his letters only what he cared to reveal of himself at a given
moment: he has a different angle to distract the sight of every
observer; and let no one think that he knows Baudelaire when he has read
the letters to Poulet-Malassis, the friend and publisher, to whom he
showed his business side, or the letters to la Présidente, the
touchstone of his _spleen et idéal_, his chief experiment in the higher
sentiments. Some of his carefully hidden virtues peep out at moments, it
is true, but nothing that everybody has not long been aware of. We hear
of his ill-luck with money, with proof-sheets, with his own health. The
tragedy of the life which he chose, as he chose all things (poetry,
Jeanne Duval, the 'artificial paradises') deliberately, is made a little
clearer to us; we can moralise over it if we like. But the man remains
baffling, and will probably never be discovered.

As it is, much of the value of the book consists in those glimpses into
his mind and intentions which he allowed people now and then to see.
Writing to Sainte-Beuve, to Flaubert, to Soulary, he sometimes lets out,
through mere sensitiveness to an intelligence capable of understanding
him, some little interesting secret. Thus it is to Sainte-Beuve that he
defines and explains the origin and real meaning of the _Petits Poèmes
en Prose: Faire cent bagatelles laborieuses qui exigent une bonne humeur
constante (bonne humeur nécessaire, même pour traiter des sujets
tristes), une excitation bizarre qui a besoin de spectacles, de foules,
de musiques, de réverbères même, voilà ce que j'ai voulu faire!_ And,
writing to some obscure person, he will take the trouble to be even more
explicit, as in this symbol of the sonnet: _Avez-vous observé qu'un
morceau de ciel aperçu par un soupirail, ou entre deux cheminées, deux
rochers, ou par une arcade, donnait une idée plus profonde de l'infini
que le grand panorama vu du haul d'une montagne?_ It is to another
casual person that he speaks out still more intimately (and the occasion
of his writing is some thrill of gratitude towards one who had at last
done 'a little justice,' not to himself, but to Manet): _Eh bien! on
m'accuse, moi, d'imiter Edgar Poe! Savez-vous pourquoi j'ai si
patiemment traduit Poe? Parce qu'il me ressemblait. La première fois que
j'ai ouvert un livre de lui, j'ai vu avec épouvante et ravissement, non
seulement des sujets rêvés par moi, mais des phrases, pensées par moi,
et écrites par lui, vingt ans auparavant._ It is in such glimpses as
these that we see something of Baudelaire in his letters.



Writing about Botticelli, in that essay which first interpreted
Botticelli to the modern world, Pater said, after naming the supreme
artists, Michelangelo or Leonardo:

     But, besides these great men, there is a certain number of artists
     who have a distinct faculty of their own by which they convey to us
     a peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get elsewhere; and
     these, too, have their place in general culture, and must be
     interpreted to it by those who have felt their charm strongly, and
     are often the objects of a special diligence and a consideration
     wholly affectionate, just because there is not about them the
     stress of a great name and authority.

It is among these rare artists, so much more interesting, to many, than
the very greatest, that Pater belongs; and he can only be properly
understood, loved, or even measured by those to whom it is 'the
delicacies of fine literature' that chiefly appeal. There have been
greater prose-writers in our language, even in our time; but he was, as
Mallarmé called him, 'le prosateur ouvragé par excellence de ce temps.'
For strangeness and subtlety of temperament, for rarity and delicacy of
form, for something incredibly attractive to those who felt his
attraction, he was as unique in our age as Botticelli in the great age
of Raphael. And he, too, above all to those who knew him, can scarcely
fail to become, not only 'the object of a special diligence,' but also
of 'a consideration wholly affectionate,' not lessened by the slowly
increasing 'stress of authority' which is coming to be laid, almost by
the world in general, on his name.

In the work of Pater, thought moves to music, and does all its hard work
as if in play. And Pater seems to listen for his thought, and to
overhear it, as the poet overhears his song in the air. It is like
music, and has something of the character of poetry, yet, above all, it
is precise, individual, thought filtered through a temperament; and it
comes to us as it does because the style which clothes and fits it is a
style in which, to use some of his own words, 'the writer succeeds in
saying what he _wills_.'

The style of Pater has been praised and blamed for its particular
qualities of colour, harmony, weaving; but it has not always, or often,
been realised that what is most wonderful in the style is precisely its
adaptability to every shade of meaning or intention, its extraordinary
closeness in following the turns of thought, the waves of sensation, in
the man himself. Everything in Pater was in harmony, when you got
accustomed to its particular forms of expression: the heavy frame, so
slow and deliberate in movement, so settled in repose; the timid and yet
scrutinising eyes; the mannered, yet so personal, voice; the precise,
pausing speech, with its urbanity, its almost painful conscientiousness
of utterance; the whole outer mask, in short, worn for protection and
out of courtesy, yet moulded upon the inner truth of nature like a mask
moulded upon the features which it covers. And the books are the man,
literally the man in many accents, turns of phrase; and, far more than
that, the man himself, whom one felt through his few, friendly,
intimate, serious words: the inner life of his soul coming close to us,
in a slow and gradual revelation.

He has said, in the first essay of his which we have:

     The artist and he who has treated life in the spirit of art desires
     only to be shown to the world as he really is; as he comes nearer
     and nearer to perfection, the veil of an outer life, not simply
     expressive of the inward, becomes thinner and thinner.

And Pater seemed to draw up into himself every form of earthly beauty,
or of the beauty made by men, and many forms of knowledge and wisdom,
and a sense of human things which was neither that of the lover nor of
the priest, but partly of both; and his work was the giving out of all
this again, with a certain labour to give it wholly. It is all, the
criticism, and the stories, and the writing about pictures and places, a
confession, the _vraie vérité_ (as he was fond of saying) about the
world in which he lived. That world he thought was open to all; he was
sure that it was the real blue and green earth, and that he caught the
tangible moments as they passed. It was a world into which we can only
look, not enter, for none of us have his secret. But part of his secret
was in the gift and cultivation of a passionate temperance, an
unrelaxing attentiveness to whatever was rarest and most delightful in
passing things.

In Pater logic is of the nature of ecstasy, and ecstasy never soars
wholly beyond the reach of logic. Pater is keen in pointing out the
liberal and spendthrift weakness of Coleridge in his thirst for the
absolute, his 'hunger for eternity,' and for his part he is content to
set all his happiness, and all his mental energies, on a relative basis,
on a valuation of the things of eternity under the form of time. He asks
for no 'larger flowers' than the best growth of the earth; but he would
choose them flower by flower, and for himself. He finds life worth just
living, a thing satisfying in itself, if you are careful to extract its
essence, moment by moment, not in any calculated 'hedonism,' even of the
mind, but in a quiet, discriminating acceptance of whatever is
beautiful, active, or illuminating in every moment. As he grew older he
added something more like a Stoic sense of 'duty' to the old, properly
and severely Epicurean doctrine of 'pleasure.' Pleasure was never, for
Pater, less than the essence of all knowledge, all experience, and not
merely all that is rarest in sensation; it was religious from the first,
and had always to be served with a strict ritual. 'Only be sure it is
passion,' he said of that spirit of divine motion to which he appealed
for the quickening of our sense of life, our sense of ourselves; be
sure, he said, 'that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened,
multiplied consciousness.' What he cared most for at all times was that
which could give 'the highest quality to our moments as they pass'; he
differed only, to a certain extent, in his estimation of what that was.
'The herb, the wine, the gem' of the preface to the _Renaissance_ tended
more and more to become, under less outward symbols of perfection, 'the
discovery, the new faculty, the privileged apprehension' by which 'the
imaginative regeneration of the world' should be brought about, or even,
at times, a brooding over 'what the soul passes, and must pass, through,
_aux abois_ with nothingness, or with those offended mysterious powers
that may really occupy it.'

When I first met Pater he was nearly fifty. I did not meet him for about
two years after he had been writing to me, and his first letter reached
me when I was just over twenty-one. I had been writing verse all my
life, and what Browning was to me in verse Pater, from about the age of
seventeen, had been to me in prose. Meredith made the third; but his
form of art was not, I knew never could be, mine. Verse, I suppose,
requires no teaching, but it was from reading Pater's _Studies in the
History of the Renaissance_, in its first edition on ribbed paper (I
have the feel of it still in my fingers), that I realised that prose
also could be a fine art. That book opened a new world to me, or,
rather, gave me the key or secret of the world in which I was living. It
taught me that there was a beauty besides the beauty of what one calls
inspiration, and comes and goes, and cannot be caught or followed; that
life (which had seemed to me of so little moment) could be itself a work
of art; from that book I realised for the first time that there was
anything interesting or vital in the world besides poetry and music. I
caught from it an unlimited curiosity, or, at least, the direction of
curiosity into definite channels.

The knowledge that there was such a person as Pater in the world, an
occasional letter from him, an occasional meeting, and, gradually, the
definite encouragement of my work in which, for some years, he was
unfailingly generous and attentive, meant more to me, at that time, than
I can well indicate, or even realise, now. It was through him that my
first volume of verse was published; and it was through his influence
and counsels that I trained myself to be infinitely careful in all
matters of literature. Influence and counsel were always in the
direction of sanity, restraint, precision.

I remember a beautiful phrase which he once made up, in his delaying
way, with 'wells' and 'no doubts' in it, to describe, and to describe
supremely, a person whom I had seemed to him to be disparaging. 'He
does,' he said meditatively, 'remind me of, well, of a steam-engine
stuck in the mud. But he is so enthusiastic!' Pater liked people to be
enthusiastic, but, with him, enthusiasm was an ardent quietude, guarded
by the wary humour that protects the sensitive. He looked upon undue
earnestness, even in outward manner, in a world through which the artist
is bound to go on a wholly 'secret errand,' as bad form, which shocked
him as much in persons as bad style did in books. He hated every form of
extravagance, noise, mental or physical, with a temperamental hatred: he
suffered from it, in his nerves and in his mind. And he had no less
dislike of whatever seemed to him either morbid or sordid, two words
which he often used to express his distaste for things and people. He
never would have appreciated writers like Verlaine, because of what
seemed to him perhaps unnecessarily 'sordid' in their lives. It pained
him, as it pains some people, perhaps only because they are more acutely
sensitive than others, to walk through mean streets, where people are
poor, miserable, and hopeless.

And since I have mentioned Verlaine, I may say that what Pater most
liked in poetry was the very opposite of such work as that of Verlaine,
which he might have been supposed likely to like. I do not think it was
actually one of Verlaine's poems, but something done after his manner in
English, that some reviewer once quoted, saying: 'That, to our mind,
would be Mr. Pater's ideal of poetry.' Pater said to me, with a sad
wonder, 'I simply don't know what he meant.' What he liked in poetry was
something even more definite than can be got in prose; and he valued
poets like Dante and like Rossetti for their 'delight in concrete
definition,' not even quite seeing the ultimate magic of such things as
_Kubla Khan_, which he omitted in a brief selection from the poetry of
Coleridge. In the most interesting letter which I ever had from him, the
only letter which went to six pages, he says:

                                                12 EARL'S TERRACE,
                                                    KENSINGTON, W.,
                                                       _Jan. 8, 1888._

     MY DEAR MR. SYMONS,--I feel much flattered at your choosing me as
     an arbiter in the matter of your literary work, and thank you for
     the pleasure I have had in reading carefully the two poems you have
     sent me. I don't use the word 'arbiter' loosely for 'critic'; but
     suppose a real controversy, on the question whether you shall spend
     your best energies in writing verse, between your poetic
     aspirations on the one side, and prudence (calculating results) on
     the other. Well! judging by these two pieces, I should say that you
     have a poetic talent remarkable, especially at the present day, for
     precise and intellectual grasp on the matter it deals with.
     Rossetti, I believe, said that the value of every artistic product
     was in direct proportion to the amount of purely intellectual force
     that went to the initial conception of it: and it is just this
     intellectual conception which seems to me to be so conspicuously
     wanting in what, in some ways, is the most characteristic verse of
     our time, especially that of our secondary poets. In your own
     pieces, particularly in your MS. 'A Revenge,' I find Rossetti's
     requirement fulfilled, and should anticipate great things from one
     who has the talent of conceiving his motive with so much firmness
     and tangibility--with that close logic, if I may say so, which is
     an element in any genuinely imaginative process. It is clear to me
     that you aim at this, and it is what gives your verses, to my mind,
     great interest. Otherwise, I think the two pieces of unequal
     excellence, greatly preferring 'A Revenge' to 'Bell in Camp.'
     Reserving some doubt whether the watch, as the lover's gift, is not
     a little bourgeois, I think this piece worthy of any poet. It has
     that aim of concentration and organic unity which I value greatly
     both in prose and verse. 'Bell in Camp' pleases me less, for the
     same reason which makes me put Rossetti's 'Jenny,' and some of
     Browning's pathetic-satiric pieces, below the rank which many
     assign them. In no one of the poems I am thinking of, is the
     inherent sordidness of everything in the persons supposed, except
     the one poetic trait then under treatment, quite forgotten.
     Otherwise, I feel the pathos, the humour, of the piece (in the
     full sense of the word humour) and the skill with which you have
     worked out your motive therein. I think the present age an
     unfavourable one to poets, at least in England. The young poet
     comes into a generation which has produced a large amount of
     first-rate poetry, and an enormous amount of good secondary poetry.
     You know I give a high place to the literature of prose as a fine
     art, and therefore hope you won't think me brutal in saying that
     the admirable qualities of your verse are those also of imaginative
     prose; as I think is the case also with much of Browning's finest
     verse. I should say, make prose your principal _métier_, as a man
     of letters, and publish your verse as a more intimate gift for
     those who already value you for your pedestrian work in literature.
     I should think you ought to find no difficulty in finding a
     publisher for poems such as those you have sent to me.

     I am more than ever anxious to meet you. Letters are such poor
     means of communication. Don't come to London without making an
     appointment to come and see me here.--Very sincerely yours,

                                                      WALTER PATER.

'Browning, one of my best-loved writers,' is a phrase I find in his
first letter to me, in December 1886, thanking me for a little book on
Browning which I had just published. There is, I think, no mention of
any other writer except Shakespeare (besides the reference to Rossetti
which I have just quoted) in any of the fifty or sixty letters which I
have from him. Everything that is said about books is a direct matter of
business: work which he was doing, of which he tells me, or which I was
doing, about which he advises and encourages me.

In practical things Pater was wholly vague, troubled by their
persistence when they pressed upon him. To wrap up a book to send by
post was an almost intolerable effort, and he had another reason for
hesitating. 'I take your copy of Shakespeare's sonnets with me,' he
writes in June 1889, 'hoping to be able to restore it to you there lest
it should get bruised by transit through the post.' He wrote letters
with distaste, never really well, and almost always with excuses or
regrets in them: 'Am so over-burdened (my time, I mean) just now with
pupils, lectures, and the making thereof'; or, with hopes for a meeting:
'Letters are such poor means of communication: when are we to meet?' or,
as a sort of hasty makeshift: 'I send this prompt answer, for I know by
experience that when I delay my delays are apt to be lengthy.' A review
took him sometimes a year to get through; and remained in the end, like
his letters, a little cramped, never finished to the point of ease, like
his published writings. To lecture was a great trial to him. Two of the
three lectures which I have heard in my life were given by Pater, one on
Mérimée, at the London Institution, in November 1890, and the other on
Raphael, at Toynbee Hall, in 1892. I never saw a man suffer a severer
humiliation. The act of reading his written lecture was an agony which
communicated itself to the main part of the audience. Before going into
the hall at Whitechapel he had gone into a church to compose his mind a
little, between the discomfort of the underground railway and the
distress of the lecture-hall.

In a room, if he was not among very intimate friends, Pater was rarely
quite at his ease, but he liked being among people, and he made the
greater satisfaction overcome the lesser reluctance. He was particularly
fond of cats, and I remember one evening, when I had been dining with
him in London, the quaint, solemn, and perfectly natural way in which he
took up the great black Persian, kissed it, and set it down carefully
again on his way upstairs. Once at Oxford he told me that M. Bourget had
sent him the first volume of his _Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine_,
and that the cat had got hold of the book and torn up the part
containing the essay on Baudelaire, 'and as Baudelaire was such a lover
of cats I thought she might have spared him!'

We were talking once about fairs, and I had been saying how fond I was
of them. He said: 'I am fond of them, too. I always go to fairs. I am
getting to find they are very similar.' Then he began to tell me about
the fairs in France, and I remember, as if it were an unpublished
fragment in one of his stories, the minute, coloured impression of the
booths, the little white horses of the 'roundabouts,' and the little
wild beast shows, in which what had most struck him was the interest of
the French peasant in the wolf, a creature he might have seen in his own
woods. 'An English clown would not have looked at a wolf if he could
have seen a tiger.'

I once asked Pater if his family was really connected with that of the
painter, Jean-Baptiste Pater. He said: 'I think so, I believe so, I
always say so.' The relationship has never been verified, but one would
like to believe it; to find something lineally Dutch in the English
writer. It was, no doubt, through this kind of family interest that he
came to work upon Goncourt's essay and the contemporary _Life of
Watteau_ by the Count de Caylus, printed in the first series of _L'Art
du XVIII^e Siècle_, out of which he has made certainly the most living
of his _Imaginary Portraits_, that _Prince of Court Painters_ which is
supposed to be the journal of a sister of Jean-Baptiste Pater, whom we
see in one of Watteau's portraits in the Louvre. As far back as 1889[4]
Pater was working towards a second volume of _Imaginary Portraits_, of
which _Hippolytus Veiled_ was to have been one. He had another subject
in Moroni's _Portrait of a Tailor_ in the National Gallery, whom he was
going to make a Burgomaster; and another was to have been a study of
life in the time of the Albigensian persecution. There was also to be a
modern study: could this have been _Emerald Uthwart_? No doubt _Apollo
in Picardy_, published in 1893, would have gone into the volume. _The
Child in the House_, which was printed as an _Imaginary Portrait_, in
_Macmillans Magazine_ in 1878, was really meant to be the first chapter
of a romance which was to show 'the poetry of modern life,' something,
he said, as _Aurora Leigh_ does. There is much personal detail in it,
the red hawthorn, for instance, and he used to talk to me of the old
house at Tunbridge, where his great-aunt lived, and where he spent much
of his time when a child. He remembered the gipsies there, and their
caravans, when they came down for the hop-picking; and the old lady in
her large cap going out on the lawn to do battle with the surveyors who
had come to mark out a railway across it; and his terror of the train,
and of 'the red flag, which meant _blood_.' It was because he always
dreamed of going on with it that he did not reprint this imaginary
portrait in the book of _Imaginary Portraits_; but he did not go on with
it because, having begun the long labour of _Marius_, it was out of his
mind for many years, and when, in 1889, he still spoke of finishing it,
he was conscious that he could never continue it in the same style, and
that it would not be satisfactory to rewrite it in his severer, later
manner. It remains, perhaps fortunately, a fragment, to which no
continuation could ever add a more essential completeness.

Style, in Pater, varied more than is generally supposed, in the course
of his development, and, though never thought of as a thing apart from
what it expresses, was with him a constant preoccupation. Let writers,
he said, 'make time to write English more as a learned language.' It has
been said that Ruskin, De Quincey, and Flaubert were among the chief
'origins' of Pater's style; it is curiously significant that matter, in
Pater, was developed before style, and that in the bare and angular
outlines of the earliest fragment, _Diaphanéité_, there is already the
substance which is to be clothed upon by beautiful and appropriate flesh
in the _Studies in the Renaissance_. Ruskin, I never heard him mention,
but I do not doubt that there, to the young man beginning to concern
himself with beauty in art and literature, was at least a quickening
influence. Of De Quincey he spoke with an admiration which I had
difficulty in sharing, and I remember his showing me with pride a set of
his works bound in half-parchment, with pale gold lettering on the white
backs, and with the cinnamon edges which he was so fond of. Of Flaubert
we rarely met without speaking. He thought _Julien l'Hospitalier_ as
perfect as anything he had done. _L'Education Sentimentale_ was one of
the books which he advised me to read; that, and _Le Rouge et le Noir_
of Stendhal; and he spoke with particular admiration of two episodes in
the former, the sickness and the death of the child. Of the Goncourts he
spoke with admiration tempered by dislike. Their books often repelled
him, yet their way of doing things seemed to him just the way things
should be done; and done before almost any one else. He often read
_Madame Gervaisais_, and he spoke of _Chérie_ (for all its 'immodesty')
as an admirable thing, and a model for all such studies.

Once, as we were walking in Oxford, he pointed to a window and said,
with a slow smile: 'That is where I get my Zolas.' He was always a
little on his guard in respect of books; and, just as he read Flaubert
and Goncourt because they were intellectual neighbours, so he could read
Zola for mere pastime, knowing that there would be nothing there to
distract him. I remember telling him about _The Story of an African
Farm_, and of the wonderful human quality in it. He said, repeating his
favourite formula: 'No doubt you are quite right; but I do not suppose I
shall ever read it.' And he explained to me that he was always writing
something, and that while he was writing he did not allow himself to
read anything which might possibly affect him too strongly, by bringing
a new current of emotion to bear upon him. He was quite content that his
mind should 'keep as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world'; it
was that prisoner's dream of a world that it was his whole business as a
writer to remember, to perpetuate.



[4] In this same year he intended to follow the _Appreciations_ by a
volume of _Studies of Greek Remains_, in which he then meant to include
the studies in Platonism, not yet written; and he had thought of putting
together a volume of 'theory,' which was to include the essay on Style.
In two or three years' time, he thought, _Gastom de Latour_ would be


My first visit to Edmond de Goncourt was in May 1892. I remember my
immense curiosity about that 'House Beautiful,' at Auteuil, of which I
had heard so much, and my excitement as I rang the bell, and was shown
at once into the garden, where Goncourt was just saying good-bye to some
friends. He was carelessly dressed, without a collar, and with the usual
loosely knotted large white scarf rolled round his neck. He was wearing
a straw hat, and it was only afterwards that I could see the fine sweep
of the white hair, falling across the forehead. I thought him the most
distinguished-looking man of letters I had ever seen; for he had at once
the distinction of race, of fine breeding, and of that delicate artistic
genius which, with him, was so intimately a part of things beautiful and
distinguished. He had the eyes of an old eagle; a general air of
dignified collectedness; a rare, and a rarely charming, smile, which
came out, like a ray of sunshine, in the instinctive pleasure of having
said a witty or graceful thing to which one's response had been
immediate. When he took me indoors, into that house which was a museum,
I noticed the delicacy of his hands, and the tenderness with which he
handled his treasures, touching them as if he loved them, with little,
unconscious murmurs: _Quel goût! quel goût!_ These rose-coloured rooms,
with their embroidered ceilings, were filled with cabinets of beautiful
things, Japanese carvings, and prints (the miraculous 'Plongeuses'!),
always in perfect condition (_Je cherche le beau_); albums had been made
for him in Japan, and in these he inserted prints, mounting others upon
silver and gold paper, which formed a sort of frame. He showed me his
eighteenth-century designs, among which I remember his pointing out one
(a Chardin, I think) as the first he had ever bought; he had been
sixteen at the time, and he bought it for twelve francs.

When we came to the study, the room in which he worked, he showed me all
his own first editions, carefully bound, and first editions of
Flaubert, Baudelaire, Gautier, with those, less interesting to me, of
the men of later generations. He spoke of himself and his brother with a
serene pride, which seemed to me perfectly dignified and appropriate;
and I remember his speaking (with a parenthetic disdain of the
_brouillard scandinave_, in which it seemed to him that France was
trying to envelop herself; at the best it would be but _un mauvais
brouillard_) of the endeavour which he and his brother had made to
represent the only thing worth representing, _la vie vécue, la vraie
vérité_. As in painting, he said, all depends on the way of seeing,
_l'optique_: out of twenty-four men who will describe what they have all
seen, it is only the twenty-fourth who will find the right way of
expressing it. 'There is a true thing I have said in my journal,' he
went on. 'The thing is, to find a lorgnette' (and he put up his hands to
his eyes, adjusting them carefully) 'through which to see things. My
brother and I invented a lorgnette, and the young men have taken it from

How true that is, and how significantly it states just what is most
essential in the work of the Goncourts! It is a new way of seeing,
literally a new way of seeing, which they have invented; and it is in
the invention of this that they have invented that 'new language' of
which purists have so long, so vainly, and so thanklessly complained.
You remember that saying of Masson, the mask of Gautier, in _Charles
Demailly:_ 'I am a man for whom the visible world exists.' Well, that is
true, also, of the Goncourts; but in a different way.

'The delicacies of fine literature,' that phrase of Pater always comes
into my mind when I think of the Goncourts; and indeed Pater seems to me
the only English writer who has ever handled language at all in their
manner or spirit. I frequently heard Pater refer to certain of their
books, to _Madame Gervaisais_, to _L'Art du XVIII Siècle_, to _Chérie_;
with a passing objection to what he called the 'immodesty' of this last
book, and a strong emphasis in the assertion that 'that was how it
seemed to him a book should be written.' I repeated this once to
Goncourt, trying to give him some idea of what Pater's work was like;
and he lamented that his ignorance of English prevented him from what he
instinctively realised would be so intimate an enjoyment. Pater was of
course far more scrupulous, more limited, in his choice of epithet, less
feverish in his variations of cadence; and naturally so, for he dealt
with another subject-matter and was careful of another kind of truth.
But with both there was that passionately intent preoccupation with 'the
delicacies of fine literature'; both achieved a style of the most
personal sincerity: _tout grand écrivain de tous les temps_, said
Goncourt, _ne se reconnaît absolument qu'à cela, c'est qu'il a une
langue personnelle, une langue dont chaque page, chaque ligne, est
signée, pour le lecteur lettré, comme si son nom était au bas de cette
page, de cette ligne_: and this style, in both, was accused, by the
'literary' criticism of its generation, of being insincere, artificial,
and therefore reprehensible.

It is difficult, in speaking of Edmond de Goncourt, to avoid attributing
to him the whole credit of the work which has so long borne his name
alone. That is an error which he himself would never have pardoned.
_Mon frère et moi_ was the phrase constantly on his lips, and in his
journal, his prefaces, he has done full justice to the vivid and
admirable qualities of that talent which, all the same, would seem to
have been the lesser, the more subservient, of the two. Jules, I think,
had a more active sense of life, a more generally human curiosity; for
the novels of Edmond, written since his brother's death, have, in even
that excessively specialised world of their common observation, a yet
more specialised choice and direction. But Edmond, there is no doubt,
was in the strictest sense the writer; and it is above all for the
qualities of its writing that the work of the Goncourts will live. It
has been largely concerned with truth--truth to the minute details of
human character, sensation, and circumstance, and also of the document,
the exact words, of the past; but this devotion to fact, to the
curiosities of fact, has been united with an even more persistent
devotion to the curiosities of expression. They have invented a new
language: that was the old reproach against them; let it be their
distinction. Like all writers of an elaborate carefulness, they have
been accused of sacrificing both truth and beauty to a deliberate
eccentricity. Deliberate their style certainly was; eccentric it may,
perhaps, sometimes have been; but deliberately eccentric, no. It was
their belief that a writer should have a personal style, a style as
peculiar to himself as his handwriting; and indeed I seem to see in the
handwriting of Edmond de Goncourt just the characteristics of his style.
Every letter is formed carefully, separately, with a certain elegant
stiffness; it is beautiful, formal, too regular in the 'continual slight
novelty' of its form to be quite clear at a glance: very personal, very
distinguished writing.

It may be asserted that the Goncourts are not merely men of genius, but
are perhaps the typical men of letters of the close of our century. They
have all the curiosities and the acquirements, the new weaknesses and
the new powers, that belong to our age; and they sum up in themselves
certain theories, aspirations, ways of looking at things, notions of
literary duty and artistic conscience, which have only lately become at
all actual, and some of which owe to them their very origin. To be not
merely novelists (inventing a new kind of novel), but historians; not
merely historians, but the historians of a particular century, and of
what was intimate and what is unknown in it; to be also discriminating,
indeed innovating, critics of art, but of a certain section of art, the
eighteenth century, in France and in Japan; to collect pictures and
_bibelots_, beautiful things, always of the French and Japanese
eighteenth century: these excursions in so many directions, with their
audacities and their careful limitations, their bold novelty and their
scrupulous exactitude in detail, are characteristic of what is the
finest in the modern, conception of culture and the modern ideal in art.
Look, for instance, at the Goncourts' view of history. _Quand les
civilisations commencent, quand les peuples se forment, l'histoire est
drame ou geste.... Les siècles qui ont précédé notre siècle ne
demandaient à l'historien que le personnage de l'homme, et le portrait
de son génie.... Le XIX^e siècle demande l'homme qui était cet homme
d'État, cet homme de guerre, ce poète, ce peintre, ce grand homme de
science ou de métier. L'âme qui était en cet acteur, le coeur qui a
vécu derrière cet esprit, il les exige et les réclame; et s'il ne peut
recueillir tout cet être moral, toute la vie intérieure, il commande du
moins qu'on lui en apporte une trace, un jour, un lambeau, une relique._
From this theory, this conviction, came that marvellous series of
studies in the eighteenth century in France (_La Femme au XVIII^e
Siècle_, _Portraits intimes du XVIII^e Siècle_, _La du Barry_, and the
others), made entirely out of documents, autograph letters, scraps of
costume, engravings, songs, the unconscious self-revelations of the
time, forming, as they justly say, _l'histoire intime; c'est ce roman
vrai que la postérité appellera peut-être un jour l'histoire humaine_.
To be the bookworm and the magician; to give the actual documents, but
not to set barren fact by barren fact; to find a soul and a voice in
documents, to make them more living and more charming than the charm of
life itself: that is what the Goncourts have done. And it is through
this conception of history that they have found their way to that new
conception of the novel which has revolutionised the entire art of

_Aujourd'hui_, they wrote, in 1864, in the preface to _Germinie
Lacerteux_, _que le Roman s'élargit et grandit, qu'il commence à être la
grande forme sérieuse, passionnée, vivante, de l'étude littéraire et de
l'enquête sociale, qu'il devient, par l'analyse et par la recherche
psychologique, l'Histoire morale contemporaine, aujourd'hui que le Roman
s'est imposé les études et les devoirs de la science, il pent en
revendiquer les libertés et les franchises_. _Le public aime les romans
faux_, is another brave declaration in the same preface; _ce roman est
un roman vrai_. But what, precisely, is it that the Goncourts understood
by _un roman vrai_? The old notion of the novel was that it should be an
entertaining record of incidents or adventures told for their own sake;
a plain, straightforward narrative of facts, the aim being to produce as
nearly as possible an effect of continuity, of nothing having been
omitted, the statement, so to speak, of a witness on oath; in a word, it
is the same as the old notion of history, _drame ou geste_. That is not
how the Goncourts apprehend life, or how they conceive it should be
rendered. As in the study of history they seek mainly the _inédit_,
caring only to record that, so it is the _inédit_ of life that they
conceive to be the main concern, the real 'inner history.' And for them
the _inédit_ of life consists in the noting of the sensations; it is of
the sensations that they have resolved to be the historians; not of
action, nor of emotion, properly speaking, nor of moral conceptions, but
of an inner life which is all made up of the perceptions of the senses.
It is scarcely too paradoxical to say that they are psychologists for
whom the soul does not exist. One thing, they know, exists: the
sensation flashed through the brain, the image on the mental retina.
Having found that, they bodily omit all the rest as of no importance,
trusting to their instinct of selection, of retaining all that really
matters. It is the painter's method, a selection made almost visually;
the method of the painter who accumulates detail on detail, in his
patient, many-sided observation of his subject, and then omits
everything which is not an essential part of the _ensemble_ which he
sees. Thus the new conception of what the real truth of things consists
in has brought with it, inevitably, an entirely new form, a breaking-up
of the plain, straightforward narrative into chapters, which are
generally quite disconnected, and sometimes of less than a page in
length. A very apt image for this new, curious manner of narrative has
been found, somewhat maliciously, by M. Lemaître. _Un homme qui marche à
l'intérieur d'une maison, si nous regardons du dehors, apparaît
successivement à chaque fenêtre, et dans les intervalles nous échappe.
Ces fenêtres, ce sont les chapitres de MM. de Goncourt. Encore_, he
adds, _y a-t-il plusieurs de ces fenêtres où l'homme que nous attendions
ne passe point_. That, certainly, is the danger of the method. No doubt
the Goncourts, in their passion for the _inédit_, leave out certain
things because they are obvious, even if they are obviously true and
obviously important; that is the defect of their quality. To represent
life by a series of moments, and to choose these moments for a certain
subtlety and rarity in them, is to challenge grave perils. Nor are these
the only perils which the Goncourts have constantly before them. There
are others, essential to their natures, to their preferences. And, first
of all, as we may see on every page of that miraculous _Journal_, which
will remain, doubtless, the truest, deepest, most poignant piece of
human history that they have ever written, they are sick men, seeing
life through the medium of diseased nerves. _Notre oeuvre entier_,
writes Edmond de Goncourt, _repose sur la maladie nerveuse; les
peintures de la maladie, nous les avons tirées de nous-mêmes, et, à
force de nous disséquer, nous sommes arrivés à une sensitivité
supra-aiguë que blessaient les infiniment petits de la vie_. This
unhealthy sensitiveness explains much, the singular merits as well as
certain shortcomings or deviations, in their work. The Goncourts' vision
of reality might almost be called an exaggerated sense of the truth of
things; such a sense as diseased nerves inflict upon one, sharpening the
acuteness of every sensation; or somewhat such a sense as one derives
from haschisch, which simply intensifies, yet in a veiled and fragrant
way, the charm or the disagreeableness of outward things, the notion of
time, the notion of space. What the Goncourts paint is the subtler
poetry of reality, its unusual aspects, and they evoke it, fleetingly,
like Whistler; they do not render it in hard outline, like Flaubert,
like Manet. As in the world of Whistler, so in the world of the
Goncourts, we see cities in which there are always fireworks at
Cremorne, and fair women reflected beautifully and curiously in mirrors.
It is a world which is extraordinarily real; but there is choice, there
is curiosity, in the aspect of reality which it presents.

Compare the descriptions, which form so large a part of the work of the
Goncourts, with those of Théophile Gautier, who may reasonably be said
to have introduced the practice of eloquent writing about places, and
also the exact description of them. Gautier describes miraculously, but
it is, after all, the ordinary observation carried to perfection, or,
rather, the ordinary pictorial observation. The Goncourts only tell you
the things that Gautier leaves out; they find new, fantastic points of
view, discover secrets in things, curiosities of beauty, often acute,
distressing, in the aspects of quite ordinary places. They see things as
an artist, an ultra-subtle artist of the impressionist kind, might see
them; seeing them indeed always very consciously with a deliberate
attempt upon them, in just that partial, selecting, creative way in
which an artist looks at things for the purpose of painting a picture.
In order to arrive at their effects, they shrink from no sacrifice, from
no excess; slang, neologism, forced construction, archaism, barbarous
epithet, nothing comes amiss to them, so long as it tends to render a
sensation. Their unique care is that the phrase should live, should
palpitate, should be alert, exactly expressive, super-subtle in
expression; and they prefer indeed a certain perversity in their
relations with language, which they would have not merely a passionate
and sensuous thing, but complex with all the curiosities of a delicately
depraved instinct. It is the accusation of the severer sort of French
critics that the Goncourts have invented a new language; that the
language which they use is no longer the calm and faultless French of
the past. It is true; it is their distinction; it is the most wonderful
of all their inventions: in order to render new sensations, a new vision
of things, they have invented a new language.

1894, 1896.


There are two portraits of Coventry Patmore by Mr. Sargent. One, in the
National Portrait Gallery, gives us the man as he ordinarily was: the
straggling hair, the drooping eyelid, the large, loose-lipped mouth, the
long, thin, furrowed throat, the whole air of gentlemanly ferocity. But
the other, a sketch of the head in profile, gives us more than that;
gives us, in the lean, strong, aquiline head, startlingly, all that was
abrupt, fiery, and essential in the genius of a rare and misunderstood
poet. There never was a man less like the popular idea of him than the
writer of _The Angel in the House_. Certainly an autocrat in the home,
impatient, intolerant, full of bracing intellectual scorn, not always
just, but always just in intention, a disdainful recluse, judging all
human and divine affairs from a standpoint of imperturbable
omniscience, Coventry Patmore charmed one by his whimsical energy, his
intense sincerity, and, indeed, by the childlike egoism of an absolutely
self-centred intelligence. Speaking of Patmore as he was in 1879, Mr.
Gosse says, in his admirable memoir:

     Three things were in those days particularly noticeable in the head
     of Coventry Patmore: the vast convex brows, arched with vision; the
     bright, shrewd, bluish-grey eyes, the outer fold of one eyelid
     permanently and humorously drooping; and the wilful, sensuous
     mouth. These three seemed ever at war among themselves; they spoke
     three different tongues; they proclaimed a man of dreams, a canny
     man of business, a man of vehement determination. It was the
     harmony of these in apparently discordant contrast which made the
     face so fascinating; the dwellers under this strange mask were
     three, and the problem was how they contrived the common life.

That is a portrait which is also an interpretation, and many of the
pages on this 'angular, vivid, discordant, and yet exquisitely
fascinating person,' are full of a similar insight. They contain many of
those anecdotes which indicate crises, a thing very different from the
merely decorative anecdotes of the ordinary biographer. The book,
written by one who has been a good friend to many poets, and to none a
more valuable friend than to Patmore, gives us a more vivid sense of
what Patmore was as a man than anything except Mr. Sargent's two
portraits, and a remarkable article by Mr. Frederick Greenwood,
published after the book, as a sort of appendix, which it completes on
the spiritual side.

To these portraits of Patmore I have nothing of importance to add; and I
have given my own estimate of Patmore as a poet in an essay published in
1897, in _Studies in Two Literatures_. But I should like to supplement
these various studies by a few supplementary notes, and the discussion
of a few points, chiefly technical, connected with his art as a poet. I
knew Patmore only during the last ten years of his life, and never with
any real intimacy; but as I have been turning over a little bundle of
his letters, written with a quill on greyish-blue paper, in the fine,
careless handwriting which had something of the distinction of the
writer, it seems to me that there are things in them characteristic
enough to be worth preserving.

The first letter in my bundle is not addressed to me, but to the friend
through whom I was afterwards to meet him, the kindest and most helpful
friend whom I or any man ever had, James Dykes Campbell. Two years
before, when I was twenty-one, I had written an _Introduction to the
Study of Browning_. Campbell had been at my elbow all the time,
encouraging and checking me; he would send back my proof-sheets in a
network of criticisms and suggestions, with my most eloquent passages
rigorously shorn, my pet eccentricities of phrase severely straightened.
At the beginning of 1888 Campbell sent the book to Patmore. His opinion,
when it came, seemed to me, at that time, crushing; it enraged me, I
know, not on my account, but on Browning's. I read it now with a clearer
understanding of what he meant, and it is interesting, certainly, as a
more outspoken and detailed opinion on Browning than Patmore ever

     MY DEAR MR. CAMPBELL,--I have read enough of Mr. Arthur Symons'
     clever book on Browning to entitle me to judge of it as well as if
     I had read the whole. He does not seem to me to be quite qualified,
     as yet, for this kind of criticism. He does not seem to have
     attained to the point of view from which all great critics have
     judged poetry and art in general. He does not see that, in art, the
     style in which a thing is said or done is of more importance than
     the thing said or done. Indeed, he does not appear to know what
     style means. Browning has an immense deal of mannerism--which in
     art is always bad;--he has, in his few best passages, manner, which
     as far as it goes is good; but of style--that indescribable
     reposeful 'breath of a pure and unique individuality'--I recognise
     no trace, though I find it distinctly enough in almost every other
     English poet who has obtained so distinguished a place as Browning
     has done in the estimation of the better class of readers. I do not
     pretend to say absolutely that style does not exist in Browning's
     work; but, if so, its 'still small voice' is utterly overwhelmed,
     for me, by the din of the other elements. I think I can see, in
     Browning's poetry, all that Mr. Symons sees, though not perhaps all
     that he fancies he sees. But I also discern a want of which he
     appears to feel nothing; and those defects of manner which he
     acknowledges, but thinks little of, are to me most distressing, and
     fatal to all enjoyment of the many brilliant qualities they are
     mixed up with.--Yours very truly,
                                                COVENTRY PATMORE.

Campbell, I suppose, protested in his vigorous fashion against the
criticism of Browning, and the answer to that letter, dated May 7, is
printed on p. 264 of the second volume of Mr. Basil Champneys' _Life of
Patmore_. It is a reiteration, with further explanations, such as that

     When I said that manner was more important than matter in poetry, I
     really meant that the true matter of poetry could only be expressed
     by the manner. I find the brilliant thinking and the deep feeling
     in Browning, but no true individuality--though of course his manner
     is marked enough.

Another letter in the same year, to Campbell, after reading the proofs
of my first book of verse, _Days and Nights_, contained a criticism
which I thought, at the time, not less discouraging than the criticism
of my _Browning_. It seems to me now to contain the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth, about that particular book, and to
allow for whatever I may have done in verse since then. The first letter
addressed to me is a polite note, dated March 16, 1889, thanking me for
a copy of my book, and saying 'I send herewith a little volume of my
own, which I hope may please you in some of your idle moments.' The book
was a copy of _Florilegium Amantis_, a selection of his own poems,
edited by Dr. Garnett. Up to that time I had read nothing of Patmore
except fragments of _The Angel in the House_, which I had not had the
patience to read through. I dipped into these pages, and as I read for
the first time some of the odes of _The Unknown Eros_, I seemed to have
made a great discovery: here was a whole glittering and peaceful tract
of poetry which was like a new world to me. I wrote to him full of my
enthusiasm; and, though I heard nothing then in reply, I find among my
books a copy of _The Unknown Eros_ with this inscription: 'Arthur
Symons, from Coventry Patmore, July 23, 1890.'

The date is the date of his sixty-seventh birthday, and the book was
given to me after a birthday-dinner at his house at Hastings, when, I
remember, a wreath of laurel had been woven in honour of the occasion,
and he had laughingly, but with a quite naïve gratification, worn it for
a while at the end of dinner. He was one of the very few poets I have
seen who could wear a laurel wreath and not look ridiculous.

In the summer of that year I undertook to look after the _Academy_ for a
few weeks (a wholly new task to me) while Mr. Cotton, the editor, went
for a holiday. The death of Cardinal Newman occurred just then, and I
wrote to Patmore, asking him if he would do an obituary notice for me.
He replied, in a letter dated August 13, 1890:

     I should have been very glad to have complied with your request,
     had I felt myself at all able to do the work effectively; but my
     acquaintance with Dr. Newman was very slight, and I have no sources
     of knowledge about his life, but such as are open to all. I have
     never taken much interest in contemporary Catholic history and
     politics. There are a hundred people who could do what you want
     better than I could, and I can never stir my lazy soul to take up
     the pen, unless I fancy that I have something to say which makes it
     a matter of conscience that I should say it.

Failing Patmore, I asked Dr. Greenhill, who was then living at Hastings,
and Patmore wrote on August 16:

     Dr. Greenhill will do your work far better than I could have done
     it. What an intellect we have lost in Newman--so delicately capable
     of adjustment that it could crush a Hume or crack a Kingsley! And
     what an example both in literature and in life. But that we have
     not lost.

Patmore's memory was retentive of good phrases which had once come up
under his pen, as that witty phrase about crushing and cracking had come
up in the course of a brief note scribbled on a half-sheet of paper.
The phrase reappears five years afterwards, elaborated into an
impressive sentence, in the preface to _The Rod, the Root, and the
Flower_, dated Lymington, May 1895:

     The steam-hammer of that intellect which could be so delicately
     adjusted to its task as to be capable of either crushing a Hume or
     cracking a Kingsley is no longer at work, that tongue which had the
     weight of a hatchet and the edge of a razor is silent; but its
     mighty task of so representing truth as to make it credible to the
     modern mind, when not interested in unbelief, has been done.

In the same preface will be found a phrase which Mr. Gosse quotes from a
letter of June 17, 1888, in which Patmore says that the reviewers of his
forthcoming book, _Principle in Art_, 'will say, or at least feel, "Ugh,
Ugh! the horrid thing! It's alive!" and think it their duty to set their
heels on it accordingly.' By 1895 the reviewers were replaced by
'readers, zealously Christian,' and the readers, instead of setting
their heels on it, merely 'put aside this little volume with a cry.'

I find no more letters, beyond mere notes and invitations, until the end
of 1893, but it was during these years that I saw Patmore most often,
generally when I was staying with Dykes Campbell at St. Leonards. When
one is five-and-twenty, and writing verse, among young men of one's own
age, also writing verse, the occasional companionship of an older poet,
who stands aside, in a dignified seclusion, acknowledged, respected, not
greatly loved or, in his best work at least, widely popular, can hardly
fail to be an incentive and an invigoration. It was with a full sense of
my privilege that I walked to and fro with Coventry Patmore on that high
terrace in his garden at Hastings, or sat in the house watching him
smoke cigarette after cigarette, or drove with him into the country, or
rowed with him round the moat of Bodiam Castle, with Dykes Campbell in
the stern of the boat; always attentive to his words, learning from him
all I could, as he talked of the things I most cared for, and of some
things for which I cared nothing. Yes, even when he talked of politics,
I listened with full enjoyment of his bitter humour, his ferocious
gaiety of onslaught; though I was glad when he changed from Gladstone to
St. Thomas Aquinas, and gladder still when he spoke of that other
religion, poetry. I think I never heard him speak long without some
reference to St. Thomas Aquinas, of whom he has written so often and
with so great an enthusiasm. It was he who first talked to me of St.
John of the Cross, and when, eight years later, at Seville, I came upon
a copy of the first edition of the _Obras Espirituales_ on a stall of
old books in the Sierpes, and began to read, and to try to render in
English, that extraordinary verse which remains, with that of S. Teresa,
the finest lyrical verse which Spain has produced, I understood how much
the mystic of the prose and the poet of _The Unknown Eros_ owed to the
_Noche Escura_ and the _Llama de Amor Viva_. He spoke of the Catholic
mystics like an explorer who has returned from the perils of far
countries, with a remembering delight which he can share with few.

If Mr. Gosse is anywhere in his book unjust to Patmore it is in speaking
of the later books of prose, the _Religio Poetae_ and _The Rod, the
Root, and the Flower_, some parts of which seem to him 'not very
important except as extending our knowledge of' Patmore's 'mind, and as
giving us a curious collection of the raw material of his poetry.' To
this I can only reply in some words which I used in writing of the
_Religio Poetae_, and affirm with an emphasis which I only wish to
strengthen, that, here and everywhere, and never more than in the
exquisite passage which Mr. Gosse only quotes to depreciate, the prose
of Patmore is the prose of a poet; not prose 'incompletely executed,'
and aspiring after the 'nobler order' of poetry, but adequate and
achieved prose, of a very rare kind. Thought, in him, is of the very
substance of poetry, and is sustained throughout at almost the lyrical
pitch. There is, in these essays, a rarefied air as of the mountain-tops
of meditation; and the spirit of their sometimes remote contemplation is
always in one sense, as Pater has justly said of Wordsworth,
impassioned. Only in the finest of his poems has he surpassed these
pages of chill and ecstatic prose.

But if Patmore spoke, as he wrote, of these difficult things as a
traveller speaks of the countries from which he has returned, when he
spoke of poetry it was like one who speaks of his native country. At
first I found it a little difficult to accustom myself to his permanent
mental attitude there, with his own implied or stated pre-eminence
(Tennyson and Barnes on the lower slopes, Browning vaguely in sight, the
rest of his contemporaries nowhere), but, after all, there was an
undisguised simplicity in it, which was better, because franker, than
the more customary 'pride that apes humility,' or the still baser
affectation of indifference. A man of genius, whose genius, like
Patmore's, is of an intense and narrow kind, cannot possibly do justice
to the work which has every merit but his own. Nor can he, when he is
conscious of its equality in technical skill, be expected to
discriminate between what is more or less valuable in his own work;
between, that is, his own greater or less degree of inspiration. And
here I may quote a letter which Patmore wrote to me, dated Lymington,
December 31, 1893, about a review of mine in which I had greeted him as
'a poet, one of the most essential poets of our time,' but had ventured
to say, perhaps petulantly, what I felt about a certain part of his

     I thank you for the copy of the _Athenæum_, containing your
     generous and well-written notice of 'Religio Poetae.' There is much
     in it that must needs be gratifying to me, and nothing that I feel
     disposed to complain of but your allusion to the 'dinner-table
     domesticities of the "Angel in the House."' I think that you have
     been a little misled--as almost everybody has been--by the
     differing characters of the metres of the 'Angel' and 'Eros.' The
     meats and wines of the two are, in very great part, almost
     identical in character; but, in one case, they are served on the
     deal table of the octo-syllabic quatrain, and, in the other, they
     are spread on the fine, irregular rock of the free tetrameter.

In his own work he could see no flaw; he knew, better than any one, how
nearly it answered almost everywhere to his own intention; and of his
own intentions he could be no critic. It was from this standpoint of
absolute satisfaction with what he had himself done that he viewed other
men's work; necessarily, in the case of one so certain of himself, with
a measure of dissatisfaction. He has said in print fundamentally foolish
things about writers living and dead; and yet remains, if not a great
critic, at least a great thinker on the first principles of art. And, in
those days when I used to listen to him while he talked to me of the
basis of poetry, and of metres and cadences, and of poetical methods,
what meant more to me than anything he said, though not a word was
without its value, was the profound religious gravity with which he
treated the art of poetry, the sense he conveyed to one of his own
reasoned conception of its immense importance, its divinity.

It was partly, no doubt, from this reverence for his art that Patmore
wrote so rarely, and only under an impulse which could not be withstood.
Even his prose was written with the same ardour and reluctance, and a
letter which he wrote to me from Lymington, dated August 7, 1894, in
answer to a suggestion that he should join some other writers in a
contemplated memorial to Walter Pater, is literally exact in its
statement of his own way of work, not only during his later life:

     I should have liked to make one of the honourable company of
     commentators upon Pater, were it not that the faculty of writing,
     or, what amounts to the same thing, interest in writing, has quite
     deserted me. Some accidental motive wind comes over me, once in a
     year or so, and I find myself able to write half a dozen pages in
     an hour or two: but all the rest of my time is hopelessly sterile.

To what was this curious difficulty or timidity in composition due? In
the case of the poetry, Mr. Gosse attributes it largely to the fact of a
poet of lyrical genius attempting to write only philosophical or
narrative poetry; and there is much truth in the suggestion. Nothing in
Patmore, except his genius, is so conspicuous as his limitations.
Herrick, we may remember from his essay on Mrs. Meynell, seemed to him
but 'a splendid insect'; Keats, we learn from Mr. Champneys' life,
seemed to him 'to be greatly deficient in first-rate imaginative power';
Shelley 'is all unsubstantial splendour, like the transformation scene
of a pantomime, or the silvered globes hung up in a gin-palace'; Blake
is 'nearly all utter rubbish, with here and there not so much a gleam as
a trick of genius.' All this, when he said it, had a queer kind of
delightfulness, and, to those able to understand him, never seemed, as
it might have seemed in any one else, mere arrogant bad taste, but a
necessary part of a very narrow and very intense nature. Although
Patmore was quite ready to give his opinion on any subject, whether on
'Wagner, the musical impostor,' or on 'the grinning woman, in every
canvas of Leonardo,' he was singularly lacking in the critical faculty,
even in regard to his own art; and this was because, in his own art, he
was a poet of one idea and of one metre. He did marvellous things with
that one idea and that one metre, but he saw nothing beyond them; all
thought must be brought into relation with nuptial love, or it was of no
interest to him, and the iambic metre must do everything that poetry
need concern itself about doing.

In a memorandum for prayer made in 1861, we read this petition:

     That I may be enabled to write my poetry from immediate perception
     of the truth and delight of love at once divine and human, and that
     all events may so happen as shall best advance this my chief work
     and probable means of working out my own salvation.

In his earlier work, it is with human love only that he deals; in his
later, and inconceivably finer work, it is not with human love only, but
with 'the relation of the soul to Christ as his betrothed wife': 'the
burning heart of the universe,' as he realises it. This conception of
love, which we see developing from so tamely domestic a level to so
incalculable a height of mystic rapture, possessed the whole man,
throughout the whole of his life, shutting him into a 'solitude for two'
which has never perhaps been apprehended with so complete a
satisfaction. He was a married monk, whose monastery was the world; he
came and went in the world, imagining he saw it more clearly than any
one else; and, indeed, he saw things about him clearly enough, when they
were remote enough from his household prejudices. But all he really ever
did was to cultivate a little corner of a garden, where he brought to
perfection a rare kind of flower, which some thought too pretty to be
fine, and some too colourless to be beautiful, but in which he saw the
seven celestial colours, faultlessly mingled, and which he took to be
the image of the flower most loved by the Virgin in heaven.

Patmore was a poet profoundly learned in the technique of his art, and
the _Prefatory Study on English Metrical Law_, which fills the first
eighty-five pages of the _Amelia_ volume of 1878, is among the subtlest
and most valuable of such studies which we have in English. In this
essay he praises the simplest metres for various just reasons, but yet
is careful to define the 'rhyme royal,' or stanza of seven ten-syllable
lines, as the most heroic of measures; and to admit that blank verse,
which he never used, 'is, of all recognised English metres, the most
difficult to write well in.' But, in his expressed aversion for trochaic
and dactylic measures, is he not merely recording his own inability to
handle them? and, in setting more and more rigorous limits to himself in
his own dealing with iambic measures, is he not accepting, and making
the best of, a lack of metrical flexibility? It is nothing less than
extraordinary to note that, until the publication of the nine _Odes_ in
1868, not merely was he wholly tied to the iambic measure, but even
within those limits he was rarely quite so good in the four-line stanza
of eights and sixes as in the four-line stanza of eights; that he was
usually less good in the six-line than in the four-line stanza of eights
and sixes; and that he was invariably least good in the stanza of three
long lines which, to most practical intents and purposes, corresponds
with this six-line stanza. The extremely slight licence which this
rearrangement into longer lines affords was sufficient to disturb the
balance of his cadences, and nowhere else was he capable of writing
quite such lines as:

     One friend was left, a falcon, famed for beauty, skill and size,
     Kept from his fortune's ruin, for the sake of its great eyes.

All sense, not merely of the delicacy, but of the correctness of rhythm,
seems to have left him suddenly, without warning.

And then, the straightening and tightening of the bonds of metre having
had its due effect, an unprecedented thing occurred. In the _Odes_ of
1868, absorbed finally into _The Unknown Eros_ of 1877, the iambic metre
is still used; but with what a new freedom, and at the summons of how
liberating an inspiration! At the same time Patmore's substance is
purged and his speech loosened, and, in throwing off that burden of
prose stuff which had tied down the very wings of his imagination, he
finds himself rising on a different movement. Never was a development
in metre so spiritually significant.

In spite of Patmore's insistence to the contrary, as in the letter which
I have already quoted, there is no doubt that the difference between
_The Angel in the House_ and _The Unknown Eros_ is the difference
between what is sometimes poetry in spite of itself, and what is poetry
alike in accident and essence. In all his work before the _Odes_ of
1868, Patmore had been writing down to his conception of what poetry
ought to be; when, through I know not what suffering, or contemplation,
or actual inner illumination, his whole soul had been possessed by this
new conception of what poetry could be, he began to write as finely, and
not only as neatly, as he was able. The poetry which came, came fully
clothed, in a form of irregular but not lawless verse, which Mr. Gosse
states was introduced into English by the _Pindarique Odes_ of Cowley,
but which may be more justly derived, as Patmore himself, in one of his
prefaces, intimates, from an older and more genuine poet, Drummond of

Mr. Gosse is cruel enough to say that Patmore had 'considerable
affinities' with Cowley, and that 'when Patmore is languid and Cowley is
unusually felicitous, it is difficult to see much difference in the form
of their odes.' But Patmore, in his essay on metre, has said,

     If there is not sufficient motive power of passionate thought, no
     typographical aids will make anything of this sort of verse but
     metrical nonsense--which it nearly always is--even in Cowley, whose
     brilliant wit and ingenuity are strangely out of harmony with most
     of his measures;

and it seems to me that he is wholly right in saying so. The difference
between the two is an essential one. In Patmore the cadence follows the
contours of the thought or emotion, like a transparent garment; in
Cowley the form is a misshapen burden, carried unsteadily. It need not
surprise us that to the ears of Cowley (it is he who tells us) the verse
of Pindar should have sounded 'little better than prose.' The fault of
his own 'Pindarique' verse is that it is so much worse than prose. The
pauses in Patmore, left as they are to be a kind of breathing, or pause
for breath, may not seem to be everywhere faultless to all ears; but
they _are_ the pauses in breathing, while in Cowley the structure of his
verse, when it is irregular, remains as external, as mechanical, as the
couplets of the _Davideis_.

     Whether Patmore ever acknowledged it or no, or indeed whether [says
     Mr. Gosse] the fact has ever been observed, I know not, but the
     true analogy of the _Odes_ is with the Italian lyric of the early
     Renaissance. It is in the writings of Petrarch and Dante, and
     especially in the _Canzoniere_ of the former, that we must look for
     examples of the source of Patmore's later poetic form.

Here again, while there may be a closer 'analogy,' at least in spirit,
there is another, and even clearer difference in form. The canzoni of
Petrarch are composed in stanzas of varying, but in each case uniform,
length, and every stanza corresponds precisely in metrical arrangement
with every other stanza in the same canzone. In English the
_Epithalamion_ and the _Prothalamion_ of Spenser (except for their
refrain) do exactly what Petrarch had done in Italian; and whatever
further analogy there may be between the spirit of Patmore's writing and
that of Spenser in these two poems, the form is essentially different.
The resemblance with _Lycidas_ is closer, and closer still with the
poems of Leopardi, though Patmore has not followed the Italian habit of
mingling rhymed and non-rhymed verse, nor did he ever experiment, like
Goethe, Heine, Matthew Arnold, and Henley, in wholly unrhymed irregular
lyrical verse.

Patmore's endeavour, in _The Unknown Eros_, is certainly towards a form
of _vers libre_, but it is directed only towards the variation of the
normal pause in the normal English metre, the iambic 'common time,' and
is therefore as strictly tied by law as a metre can possibly be when it
ceases to be wholly regular. Verse literally 'free,' as it is being
attempted in the present day in France, every measure being mingled, and
the disentangling of them left wholly to the ear of the reader, has
indeed been attempted by great metrists in many ages, but for the most
part only very rarely and with extreme caution. The warning, so far, of
all these failures, or momentary half-successes, is to be seen in the
most monstrous and magnificent failure of the nineteenth century, the
_Leaves of Grass_ of Walt Whitman. Patmore realised that without law
there can be no order, and thus no life; for life is the result of a
harmony between opposites. For him, cramped as he had been by a
voluntary respect for far more than the letter of the law, the discovery
of a freer mode of speech was of incalculable advantage. It removed from
him all temptation to that 'cleverness' which Mr. Gosse rightly finds in
the handling of 'the accidents of civilised life,' the unfortunate part
of his subject-matter in _The Angel in the House_; it allowed him to
abandon himself to the poetic ecstasy, which in him was almost of the
same nature as philosophy, without translating it downward into the
terms of popular apprehension; it gave him a choice, formal, yet
flexible means of expression for his uninterrupted contemplation of
divine things.



It was at my persuasion that _The Golden Threshold_ was published. The
earliest of the poems were read to me in London in 1896, when the writer
was seventeen; the later ones were sent to me from India in 1904, when
she was twenty-five; and they belong, I think, almost wholly to those
two periods. As they seemed to me to have an individual beauty of their
own, I thought they ought to be published. The writer hesitated. 'Your
letter made me very proud and very sad,' she wrote. 'Is it possible that
I have written verses that are "filled with beauty," and is it possible
that you really think them worthy of being given to the world? You know
how high my ideal of Art is; and to me my poor casual little poems seem
to be less than beautiful--I mean with that final enduring beauty that I
desire.' And, in another letter, she writes: 'I am not a poet really. I
have the vision and the desire, but not the voice. If I could write just
one poem full of beauty and the spirit of greatness, I should be
exultantly silent for ever; but I sing just as the birds do, and my
songs are as ephemeral.' It is for this bird-like quality of song, it
seems to me, that they are to be valued. They hint, in a sort of
delicately evasive way, at a rare temperament, the temperament of a
woman of the East, finding expression through a Western language and
under partly Western influences. They do not express the whole of that
temperament; but they express, I think, its essence; and there is an
Eastern magic in them.

Sarojini Chattopâdhyây was born at Hyderabad on February 13, 1879. Her
father, Dr. Aghorenath Chattopâdhyây, is descended from the ancient
family of Chattorajes of Bhramangram, who were noted throughout Eastern
Bengal as patrons of Sanskrit learning, and for their practice of Yoga.
He took his degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Edinburgh
in 1877, and afterwards studied brilliantly at Bonn. On his return to
India he founded the Nizam College at Hyderabad, and has since laboured
incessantly, and at great personal sacrifice, in the cause of education.

Sarojini was the eldest of a large family, all of whom were taught
English at an early age. 'I,' she writes, 'was stubborn and refused to
speak it. So one day, when I was nine years old, my father punished
me--the only time I was ever punished--by shutting me in a room alone
for a whole day. I came out of it a full-blown linguist. I have never
spoken any other language to him, or to my mother, who always speaks to
me in Hindustani. I don't think I had any special hankering to write
poetry as a little child, though I was of a very fanciful and dreamy
nature. My training under my father's eye was of a sternly scientific
character. He was determined that I should be a great mathematician or a
scientist, but the poetic instinct, which I inherited from him and also
from my mother (who wrote some lovely Bengali lyrics in her youth),
proved stronger. One day, when I was eleven, I was sighing over a sum in
algebra; it _wouldn't_ come right; but instead a whole poem came to me
suddenly. I wrote it down.

'From that day my "poetic career" began. At thirteen I wrote a long
poem _à la_ "Lady of the Lake"--1300 lines in six days. At thirteen I
wrote a drama of 2000 lines, a full-fledged passionate thing that I
began on the spur of the moment, without forethought, just to spite my
doctor, who said I was very ill and must not touch a book. My health
broke down permanently about this time, and, my regular studies being
stopped, I read voraciously. I suppose the greater part of my reading
was done between fourteen and sixteen. I wrote a novel, I wrote fat
volumes of journals: I took myself very seriously in those days.'

Before she was fifteen the great struggle of her life began. Dr.
Govindurajulu Naidu, now her husband, is, though of an old and
honourable family, not a Brahmin. The difference of caste roused an
equal opposition, not only on the side of her family, but of his; and in
1895 she was sent to England, against her will, with a special
scholarship from the Nizam. She remained in England, with an interval of
travel in Italy, till 1898, studying first at King's College, London,
then, till her health again broke down, at Girton. She returned to
Hyderabad in September 1898, and in the December of that year, to the
scandal of all India, broke through the bonds of caste, and married Dr.
Naidu. 'Do you know I have some very beautiful poems floating in the
air,' she wrote to me in 1904; 'and if the gods are kind I shall cast my
soul like a net and capture them, this year. If the gods are kind--and
grant me a little measure of health. It is all I need to make my life
perfect, for the very "Spirit of Delight" that Shelley wrote of dwells
in my little home; it is full of the music of birds in the garden and
children in the long-arched verandah.' There are songs about the
children in this book; they are called the Lord of Battles, the Sun of
Victory, the Lotus-born, and the Jewel of Delight.

'My ancestors for thousands of years,' I find written in one of her
letters, 'have been lovers of the forest and mountain caves, great
dreamers, great scholars, great ascetics. My father is a dreamer
himself, a great dreamer, a great man whose life has been a magnificent
failure. I suppose in the whole of India there are few men whose
learning is greater than his, and I don't think there are many men more
beloved. He has a great white beard, and the profile of Homer, and a
laugh that brings the roof down. He has wasted all his money on two
great objects: to help others, and on alchemy. He holds huge courts
every day in his garden of all the learned men of all religions--Rajahs
and beggars and saints, and downright villains, all delightfully mixed
up, and all treated as one. And then his alchemy! Oh dear, night and day
the experiments are going on, and every man who brings a new
prescription is welcome as a brother. But this alchemy is, you know,
only the material counterpart of a poet's craving for Beauty, the
eternal Beauty. "The makers of gold and the makers of verse," they are
the twin creators that sway the world's secret desire for mystery; and
what in my father is the genius of curiosity--the very essence of all
scientific genius--in me is the desire for beauty. Do you remember
Pater's phrase about Leonardo da Vinci, "curiosity and the desire of

It was the desire of beauty that made her a poet; her 'nerves of
delight' were always quivering at the contact of beauty. To those who
knew her in England, all the life of the tiny figure seemed to
concentrate itself in the eyes; they turned towards beauty as the
sunflower turns towards the sun, opening wider and wider until one saw
nothing but the eyes. She was dressed always in clinging dresses of
Eastern silk, and, as she was so small, and her long black hair hung
straight down her back, you might have taken her for a child. She spoke
little, and in a low voice, like gentle music; and she seemed, wherever
she was, to be alone.

Through that soul I seemed to touch and take hold upon the East. And
first there was the wisdom of the East. I have never known any one who
seemed to exist on such 'large draughts of intellectual day' as this
child of seventeen, to whom one could tell all one's personal troubles
and agitations, as to a wise old woman. In the East maturity comes
early; and this child had already lived through all a woman's life. But
there was something else, something hardly personal, something which
belonged to a consciousness older than the Christian, which I realised,
wondered at, and admired, in her passionate tranquillity of mind, before
which everything mean and trivial and temporary caught fire and burnt
away in smoke. Her body was never without suffering, or her heart
without conflict; but neither the body's weakness nor the heart's
violence could disturb that fixed contemplation, as of Buddha on his

And along with this wisdom, as of age or of the age of a race, there was
what I can hardly call less than an agony of sensation. Pain or pleasure
transported her, and the whole of pain or pleasure might be held in a
flower's cup or the imagined frown of a friend. It was never found in
those things which to others seemed things of importance. At the age of
twelve she passed the Matriculation of the Madras University, and awoke
to find herself famous throughout India. 'Honestly,' she said to me, 'I
was not pleased; such things did not appeal to me.' But here, in a
letter from Hyderabad, bidding one 'share a March morning' with her,
there is, at the mere contact of the sun, this outburst: 'Come and share
my exquisite March morning with me: this sumptuous blaze of gold and
sapphire sky; these scarlet lilies that adorn the sunshine; the
voluptuous scents of neem and champak and serisha that beat upon the
languid air with their implacable sweetness; the thousand little gold
and blue and silver breasted birds bursting with the shrill ecstasy of
life in nesting time. All is hot and fierce and passionate, ardent and
unashamed in its exulting and importunate desire for life and love. And,
do you know that the scarlet lilies are woven petal by petal from my
heart's blood, these little quivering birds are my soul made incarnate
music, these heavy perfumes are my emotions dissolved into aerial
essence, this flaming blue and gold sky is the "very me," that part of
me that incessantly and insolently, yes, and a little deliberately,
triumphs over that other part--a thing of nerves and tissues that
suffers and cries out, and that must die to-morrow perhaps, or twenty
years hence.'

Then there was her humour, which was part of her strange wisdom, and was
always awake and on the watch. In all her letters, written in exquisite
English prose, but with an ardent imagery and a vehement sincerity of
emotion which make them, like the poems, indeed almost more directly,
un-English, Oriental, there was always this intellectual, critical sense
of humour, which could laugh at one's own enthusiasm as frankly as that
enthusiasm had been set down. And partly the humour, like the delicate
reserve of her manner, was a mask or a shelter. 'I have taught myself,'
she writes to me from India, 'to be commonplace and like everybody else
superficially. Every one thinks I am so nice and cheerful, so "brave,"
all the banal things that are so comfortable to be. My mother knows me
only as "such a tranquil child, but so strong-willed." A tranquil
child!' And she writes again, with deeper significance: 'I too have
learnt the subtle philosophy of living from moment to moment. Yes, it is
a subtle philosophy though it appears merely an epicurean doctrine:
"Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die." I have gone through so
many yesterdays when I strove with Death that I have realised to its
full the wisdom of that sentence; and it is to me not merely a figure of
speech, but a literal fact. Any to-morrow I might die. It is scarcely
two months since I came back from the grave: is it worth while to be
anything but radiantly glad? Of all things that life or perhaps my
temperament has given me I prize the gift of laughter as beyond price.'

Her desire, always, was to be 'a wild free thing of the air like the
birds, with a song in my heart.' A spirit of too much fire in too frail
a body, it was rarely that her desire was fully granted. But in Italy
she found what she could not find in England, and from Italy her letters
are radiant. 'This Italy is made of gold,' she writes from Florence,
'the gold of dawn and daylight, the gold of the stars, and, now dancing
in weird enchanting rhythms through this magic month of May, the gold of
fireflies in the perfumed darkness--"aerial gold." I long to catch the
subtle music of their fairy dances and make a poem with a rhythm like
the quick irregular wild flash of their sudden movements. Would it not
be wonderful? One black night I stood in a garden with fireflies in my
hair like darting restless stars caught in a mesh of darkness. It gave
me a strange sensation, as if I were not human at all, but an elfin
spirit. I wonder why these little things move me so deeply? It is
because I have a most "unbalanced intellect," I suppose.' Then, looking
out on Florence, she cries, 'God! how beautiful it is, and how glad I am
that I am alive to-day!' And she tells me that she is drinking in the
beauty like wine, 'wine, golden and scented, and shining, fit for the
gods; and the gods have drunk it, the dead gods of Etruria, two thousand
years ago. Did I say dead? No, for the gods are immortal, and one might
still find them loitering in some solitary dell on the grey hillsides of
Fiesole. Have I seen them? Yes, looking with dreaming eyes, I have found
them sitting under the olives, in their grave, strong, antique
beauty--Etruscan gods!'

In Italy she watches the faces of the monks, and at one moment longs to
attain to their peace by renunciation, longs for Nirvana; 'then, when
one comes out again into the hot sunshine that warms one's blood, and
sees the eager hurrying faces of men and women in the street, dramatic
faces over which the disturbing experiences of life have passed and
left their symbols, one's heart thrills up into one's throat. No, no,
no, a thousand times no! how can one deliberately renounce this
coloured, unquiet, fiery human life of the earth?' And, all the time,
her subtle criticism is alert, and this woman of the East marvels at the
women of the West, 'the beautiful worldly women of the West,' whom she
sees walking in the Cascine, 'taking the air so consciously attractive
in their brilliant toilettes, in the brilliant coquetry of their
manner!' She finds them 'a little incomprehensible,' 'profound artists
in all the subtle intricacies of fascination,' and asks if these
'incalculable frivolities and vanities and coquetries and caprices' are,
to us, an essential part of their charm? And she watches them with
amusement as they flutter about her, petting her as if she were a nice
child, a child or a toy, not dreaming that she is saying to herself
sorrowfully: 'How utterly empty their lives must be of all spiritual
beauty _if_ they are nothing more than they appear to be.'

She sat in our midst, and judged us, and few knew what was passing
behind that face 'like an awakening soul,' to use one of her own
epithets. Her eyes were like deep pools, and you seemed to fall through
them into depths below depths.



There is certainly a reason for at least suggesting to those who concern
themselves, for good or evil, with Celtic literature, what Celtic
literature really is when it is finest; what a 'reaction against the
despotism of fact' really means; what 'natural magic' really means, and
why the phrase 'Celtic glamour' is perhaps the most unfortunate that
could well have been chosen to express the character of a literature
which is above all things precise, concrete, definite.

Lamartine, in the preface to the _Méditations_, describes the
characteristics of Ossian, very justly, as _le vague, la rêverie,
l'anéantissement dans la contemplation, le regard fixé sur des
apparitions confuses dans le lointain_; and it is those very qualities,
still looked upon by so many as the typically Celtic qualities, which
prove the spuriousness of Ossian. That gaze fixed on formless and
distant shadows, that losing of oneself in contemplation, that vague
dreaminess, which Lamartine admired in Ossian, will be found nowhere in
the _Black Book of Carmarthen_, in the _Book of Taliesin_, in the _Red
Book of Hergest_, however much a doubtful text, uncertain readings, and
confusing commentators may leave us in uncertainty as to the real
meaning of many passages. Just as the true mystic is the man who sees
obscure things clearly, so the Welsh poets (whom I take for the moment
as representing the 'Celtic note,' the quality which we find in the work
of primitive races) saw everything in the universe, the wind itself,
under the images of mortality, hands and feet and the ways and motions
of men. They filled human life with the greatness of their imagination,
they ennobled it with the pride of their expectancy of noble things,
they were boundless in praising and in cursing; but poetical excitement,
in them, only taught them the amplitude and splendour of real things. A
chief is an eagle, a serpent, the bull of battle, an oak; he is the
strength of the ninth wave, an uplifted pillar of wrath, impetuous as
the fire through a chimney; the ruddy reapers of war are his desire.
The heart of Cyndyllan was like the ice of winter, like the fire of
spring; the horses of Geraint are ruddy ones, with the assault of
spotted eagles, of black eagles, of red eagles, of white eagles; an
onset in battle is like the roaring of the wind against the ashen
spears. These poets are the poets of 'tumults, shouting, swords, and men
in battle-array.' The sound of battle is heard in them; they are 'where
the ravens screamed over blood'; they are among 'crimsoned hair and
clamorous sorrow'; they praise 'war with the shining wing,' and they
know all the piteousness of the death of heroes, the sense of the
'delicate white body,' 'the lovely, slender, blood-stained body,' that
will be covered with earth, and sand, and stones, and nettles, and the
roots of the oak. They know too the piteousness of the hearth left
desolate, the hearth that will be covered with nettles, and slender
brambles, and thorns, and dock-leaves, and scratched up by fowls, and
turned up by swine. And they praise the gentleness of strength and
courage: 'he was gentle, with a hand eager for battle.' Women are known
chiefly as the widows and the 'sleepless' mothers of heroes; rarely so
much esteemed as to be a snare, rarely a desire, rarely a reward; 'a
soft herd.' They praise drunkenness for its ecstasy, its uncalculating
generosity, and equal with the flowing of blood in battle, and the
flowing of mead in the hall, is the flowing of song. They have the
haughtiness of those who, if they take rewards, 'ale for the drinking,
and a fair homestead, and beautiful clothing,' give rewards: 'I am
Taliesin, who will repay thee thy banquet.'

And they have their philosophy, always a close, vehemently definite
thing, crying out for precise images, by which alone it can apprehend
the unseen. Taliesin knows that 'man is oldest when he is born, and is
younger and younger continually.' He wonders where man is when he is
sleeping, and where the night waits until the passing of day. He is
astonished that books have not found out the soul, and where it resides,
and the air it breathes, and its form and shape. He thinks, too, of the
dregs of the soul, and debates what is the best intoxication for its
petulance and wonder and mockery. And, in a poem certainly late, or
interpolated with fragments of a Latin hymn, he uses the eternal
numeration of the mystics, and speaks of 'the nine degrees of the
companies of heaven, and the tenth, saints a preparation of sevens';
numbers that are 'clean and holy.' And even in poems plainly Christian
there is a fine simplicity of imagination; as when, at the day of
judgment, an arm reaches out, and hides the sea and the stars; or when
Christ, hanging on the cross, laments that the bones of his feet are
stretched with extreme pain.

It is this sharp physical apprehension of things that really gives its
note to Welsh poetry; a sense of things felt and seen, so intense, that
the crutch on which an old man leans becomes the symbol of all the
bodily sorrow of the world. In the poem attributed to Llywarch Hen there
is a fierce, loud complaint, in which mere physical sickness and the
intolerance of age translate themselves into a limitless hunger, and
into that wisdom which is the sorrowful desire of beauty. The cuckoos at
Aber Cuawg, singing 'clamorously' to the sick man: 'there are that hear
them that will not hear them again!' the sound of the large wave
grating sullenly on the pebbles,--

     The birds are clamorous; the strand is wet:
     Clear is the sky; large the wave:
     The heart is palsied with longing:

all these bright, wild outcries, in which wind and wave and leaves and
the song of the cuckoo speak the same word, as if all came from the same
heart of things; and, through it all, the remembrance: 'God will not
undo what he is doing'; have indeed, and supremely, the 'Celtic note.'
'I love the strand, but I hate the sea,' says the _Black Book of
Carmarthen_, and in all these poems we find a more than mediæval hatred
of winter and cold (so pathetic, yet after all so temperate, in the
Latin students' songs), with a far more unbounded hatred of old age and
sickness and the disasters which are not bred in the world, but are a
blind part of the universe itself; older than the world, as old as
chaos, out of which the world was made.

Yet, wild and sorrowful as so much of this poetry is, with its praise of
slaughter and its lament over death, there is much also of a gentle
beauty, a childlike saying over of wind and wave and the brightness in
the tops of green things, as a child counts over its toys. In the 'Song
of Pleasant Things' there is no distinction between the pleasantness of
sea-gulls playing, of summer and slow long days, of the heath when it is
green, of a horse with a thick mane in a tangle, and of 'the word that
utters the Trinity.' 'The beautiful I sang of, I will sing,' says
Taliesin; and with him the seven senses become in symbol 'fire and
earth, and water and air, and mist and flowers, and southerly wind.' And
touches of natural beauty come irrelevantly into the most tragical
places, like the 'sweet apple-tree of delightful branches' in that song
of battles and of the coming of madness, where Myrddin says: 'I have
been wandering so long in darkness and among spirits that it is needless
now for darkness and spirits to lead me astray.' The same sense of the
beauty of earth and of the elements comes into those mysterious
riddle-rhymes, not so far removed from the riddle-rhymes which children
say to one another in Welsh cottages to this day: 'I have been a tear in
the air, I have been the dullest of stars; I was made of the flower of
nettles, and of the water of the ninth wave; I played in the twilight, I
slept in purple; my fingers are long and white, it is long since I was a

And now, after looking at these characteristics of Welsh poetry, look at
Ossian, and that 'gaze fixed on formless and distant shadows,' which
seemed so impressive and so Celtic to Lamartine. 'In the morning of
Saturday,' or 'On Sunday, at the time of dawn, there was a great
battle'; that is how the Welsh poet tells you what he had to sing about.
And he tells you, in his definite way, more than that; he tells you: 'I
have been where the warriors were slain, from the East to the North, and
from the East to the South: I am alive, they are in their graves!' It is
human emotion reduced to its elements; that instinct of life and death,
of the mystery of all that is tangible in the world, of its personal
meaning, to one man after another, age after age, which in every age
becomes more difficult to feel simply, more difficult to say simply. 'I
am alive, they are in their graves!' and nothing remains to be said in
the face of that immense problem. Well, the Welsh poet leaves you with
his thought, and that simple emphasis of his seems to us now so large
and remote and impressive, just because it was once so passionately
felt, and set down as it was felt. And so with his sense for nature,
with that which seems like style in him; it is a wonderful way of
trusting instinct, of trusting the approaches of natural things. He
says, quite simply: 'I was told by a sea-gull that had come a great
way,' as a child would tell you now. And when he tells you that 'Cynon
rushed forward with the green dawn,' it is not what we call a figure of
speech: it is his sensitive, literal way of seeing things. More
definite, more concrete, closer to the earth and to instinctive emotion
than most other poets, the Welsh poet might have said of himself, in
another sense than that in which he said it of Alexander: 'What he
desired in his mind he had from the world.'


       *       *       *       *       *

Printed in Great Britain by

T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to His Majesty at the University Press,

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