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Title: The Vagabond in Literature
Author: Rickett, Arthur
Language: English
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Transcribed from the 1906 J. M. Dent & Co. edition by David Price, email

 [Picture: William Hazlitt.  From a crayon drawing by W. Bewick executed
                                 in 1822]

                               THE VAGABOND
                              IN LITERATURE

                              ARTHUR RICKETT

                       [Picture: Decorative device]

                              SIX PORTRAITS

                                * * * * *

                             J. M. DENT & CO.
                       29 & 30 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.

                          _All Rights Reserved_

                                MY FRIEND
                            ALFRED E. FLETCHER


In the introductory paper to this volume an attempt is made to justify
the epithet “Vagabond” as applied to writers of a certain temperament.
This much may be said here: the term Vagabond is used in no derogatory
sense.  Etymologically it signifies a wanderer; and such is the meaning
attached to the term in the following pages.  Differing frequently in
character and in intellectual power, a basic similarity of temperament
gives the various writers discussed a remarkable spiritual affinity.  For
in each one the wandering instinct is strong.  Sometimes it may take a
physical, sometimes an intellectual expression—sometimes both.  But
always it shows itself, and always it is opposed to the routine and
conventions of ordinary life.

These papers are primarily studies in temperament; and the literary
aspects have been subordinated to the personal element.  In fact, they
are studies of certain forces in modern literature, viewed from a special
standpoint.  And the standpoint adopted may, it is hoped, prove
suggestive, though it does not pretend to be exhaustive.

If the papers on Hazlitt and De Quincey are more fragmentary than the
others, it is because these writers have been already discussed by the
author in a previous volume.  It has been thought unnecessary to repeat
the points raised there, and these studies may be regarded therefore as
at once supplementary and complementary.

My cordial thanks are due to Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton, who has taken so
kindly and friendly an interest in this little volume.  He was good
enough to read the proofs, and to express his appreciation, especially of
the Borrow and Thoreau articles, in most generous terms.  I had hoped,
indeed, that he would have honoured these slight studies by a prefatory
note, and he had expressed a wish to do so.  Unhappily, prior claims upon
his time prevented this.  The book deals largely, it will be seen, with
those “Children of the Open Air” about whom the eloquent author of
_Aylwin_ so often has written.  I am especially glad, therefore, to quote
(with Mr. Watts-Dunton’s permission) his fine sonnet, where the
“Vagabond” spirit in its happiest manifestation is expressed.

                          “A TALK ON WATERLOO BRIDGE
                       “THE LAST SIGHT OF GEORGE BORROW

    “We talked of ‘Children of the Open Air,’
    Who once on hill and valley lived aloof,
    Loving the sun, the wind, the sweet reproof
    Of storms, and all that makes the fair earth fair,
    Till, on a day, across the mystic bar
    Of moonrise, came the ‘Children of the Roof,’
    Who find no balm ’neath evening’s rosiest woof,
    Nor dews of peace beneath the Morning Star.
    We looked o’er London, where men wither and choke,
    Roofed in, poor souls, renouncing stars and skies,
    And lore of woods and wild wind prophecies,
    Yea, every voice that to their fathers spoke:
    And sweet it seemed to die ere bricks and smoke
    Leave never a meadow outside Paradise.” {0}

                                                                     A. R.

London, _October_, 1906


       I  Explanation of the term Vagabond                           3
          First note of the Vagabond temperament—restlessness
      II  Second note of the Vagabond temperament—a passion          4
          for the Earth
          Compare this with a passion for Nature
          Browning—William Morris—George Meredith
     III  Third note of the Vagabond temperament—the note of         6
          Illustrate from Borrow, Thoreau, Walt Whitman
      IV  Bohemianism—its relation to Vagabondage                    8
          Charles Lamb—a Bohemian rather than a Vagabond
          The decadent movement in Verlaine, Baudelaire
          The Russian Vagabond—Tolstoy, Gorky
       V  The Gothic Revival and Vagabondage                        12
      VI  Robert Browning and his “Vagabond moods”                  13
          Tennyson and William Morris compared
     VII  Effect of the Vagabond temperament upon Literature        15
                           WILLIAM HAZLITT
       I  Discussion of the term “complexity”                       19
          Illustration from Herbert Spencer, showing that
          complexity is of two kinds: (1) Complexity—the
          result of degeneration, e.g. cancer in the body;
          (2) Complexity—the consequent of a higher organism,
          e.g. dog more complex than dog-fish
          Complexity and the Vagabond—Neuroticism and Genius
          Genius not necessarily morbid because it may have
          sprung from a morbid soil.  Illustrate from Hazlitt
      II  Two opposing tendencies in Hazlitt’s temperament:         24
          (1) The austere, individualistic, Puritan strain;
          (2) The sensuous, voluptuous strain.  Illustrations
          of each
     III  The Inquisitiveness of Hazlitt                            28
          No patience with readers who will not quit their
          own small back gardens.  He is for ranging “over
          the hills and far away”
          Hazlitt and the Country—Country people—Walking
      IV  The joyfulness of Hazlitt                                 31
          The joyfulness of the Vagabond a fundamental
       V  The styles of Hazlitt and De Quincey compared             32
          The tonic wisdom of Hazlitt
                          THOMAS DE QUINCEY
       I  The call of the Earth and the call of the Town            37
          Compare De Quincey, Charles Dickens, and Elia
          The veil of phantasy in De Quincey’s writings
          seemed to shut him off from the outside world
      II  Merits and defects of his style.  Not a plastic           40
          style, but in the delineation of certain moods
          supremely excellent
          Compare De Quincey and Oscar Wilde
          _Our Ladies of Sorrow_ and _De Profundis_
     III  The intellectual grip behind the shifting                 45
          De Quincey as critic and historian
      IV  The humour of De Quincey—not very genuine page            48
          Witty rather than humorous
          Humour not characteristic of the Vagabond
       V  De Quincey—Mystic and Logician                            52
          The fascination of his personality
                            GEORGE BORROW
       I  Dreamers in Literature                                    57
          Romantic autobiography and _Lavengro_
          Borrow on the subject of autobiography
          The Celt and the Saxon in Borrow
          His egotism
          Little objective feeling in his friendships
          A self-absorbed and self-contained nature
          The Isopel Berners episode discussed
          The coldness of Borrow
      II  His faculty for seizing on the picturesque and            66
          picaresque elements in the world about him
          Illustrations from _The Bible in Spain_
          Illustrations from _Lavengro_
     III  Borrow and the Gypsies                                75
          Mr. Watts-Dunton’s tribute to Borrow
          Borrow’s faculty for characterization
          “How to manage a horse on a journey”
      IV  Borrow and Thomas Hardy compared                          82
          Both drawn to characters not “screened by
          Differences in method of presentment
          Borrow’s greater affinity with Charles Reade
          His distinctive originality
          The spacious freshness of his writings
          In his company always “a wind on the heath”
                           HENRY D. THOREAU
       I  Thoreau and his critics                                   89
          The Saxon attitude towards him
          The Walden episode
          Too much has been made of it
          He went to Walden not to escape ordinary life, but
          to fit himself for ordinary life
      II  His indebtedness to Emerson                               93
          His poetic appreciation of Nature
          Thoreau on “Walking”—compare with Hazlitt
     III  Thoreau and the Indians                                   97
          The Indians were to Thoreau what the Gypsies were
          to Borrow.  But he lacked the picturesque vigour of
          His utterances on the Indian character considered
          Thoreau and civilization
          Swagger and Vagabondage
      IV  Thoreau as a thinker                                     104
          His Orientalism
          “Donatello” (?)
          His power over animals
          Thoreau and children—his fondness for them
          This _not_ an argument in favour of sociability
          Lewis Carroll
          The “unsociability” of the Vagabond in general, and
          Thoreau in particular
          Thoreau and George Meredith
          Similarity in attitude towards the Earth
                        ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
       I  Romance—what is it?                                      117
          Its twofold character
          Romanticism analysed
          The elfish character of Stevenson’s work
      II  The “Ariel” element in Stevenson predominant             120
          The “unreality” of his fiction
          Light but little heat
     III  The Romantic and the Artist                              123
          His ideal as an artist
          His courageous gaiety
      IV  His captivating grace                                    126
          The essays discussed—their merits and defects
          His indebtedness to Hazlitt, Lamb, Montaigne
          His “private bravado”
       V  The artist exemplified in three ways: (1) The maker      130
          of phrases; (2) The limner of pictures; (3) The
          painter of character.  Illustrations
          Dickens, Browning, and Stevenson—their love of the
          Treatment of Nature in fiction from the days of
          Mrs. Radcliffe to the present day
          Scott—the Brontës—Kingsley—Thomas Hardy
          Stevenson moralizes
      VI  Is the “Shorter Catechist” element a weakness?           137
          Edgar Allan Poe and Stevenson
                          RICHARD JEFFERIES
       I  Jefferies, Borrow, and Thoreau                           141
          The neuroticism of Jefferies
          Distinction between susceptibility and passion
      II  Jefferies as an artist                                   143
          He loved the Earth with every nerve of his body
          His acute sense of touch
          Compare with Keats
          His writings, studies, and tactile sensation
          Their sensuous charm
     III  His mysticism                                            148
          Compare with Tennyson
          Mysticism and hysteria
          The psychology of hysteria
          “Yoga” and the Sufis
          Oriental ecstasies and the trances of Jefferies
          Max Nordau—Professor William James
          De Quincey and Jefferies compared
      IV  Differences between Thoreau and Jefferies                156
          Praise and desire alternate in Jefferies’ writings
          His joy in the beauty and in the plenitude of the
       V  Jefferies as a thinker                                   158
          “All things seem possible in the open air”
          Defect in his Nature creed
          His attitude towards the animal creation
          “Good sport”
          His democratic sympathies—influence of Ruskin
          His stoicism
          His pride and reserve
          Our indebtedness to him
                             WALT WHITMAN
       I  The supreme example of the Vagabond in Literature        169
          Mr. Swinburne’s verdict
          Whitman the pioneer of a new order
          No question about a “Return to Nature” with Whitman
          He never left it.  A spiritual native of the woods
          and heath
          Yet wild only so far as he is cosmic
          His songs no mere pæans of rustic solitudes; they
          are songs of the crowded streets as well as of the
          country roads; of the men and women of every type,
          no less than of the fields and streams
          No quarrel with civilisation as such
          His “rainproof coat” and “good shoes”
          Compare with Borrow’s big green gamp
      II  Whitman’s attitude towards Art                           173
          Two essentials of Art—Sincerity and Beauty
          Whitman’s allegiance to Sincerity
          Why he has chosen the better part
          His occasional failure to seize essentials
          Illustrations of his powers as an artist
          “On the Beach at Night”—“Reconciliation”—“When
          lilacs last on the dooryard bloomed”
          Whitman’s utterances on Death
          Whitman’s rude nonchalance deliberate, not due to
          “I furnish no specimens”
          Whitman’s treatment of sea
          The question of outspokenness in Literature
          Mr. Swinburne’s dictum
          Stevenson’s criticism—“A Bull in a China Shop”
          “The Children of Adam”
          Merits and defects of his Sex Cycle
          Whitman and Browning
          The poetry of animalism
          Whitman, William Morris, and Byron
          Mr. Burroughs’ eulogy of Whitman discussed
          The treatment of love in modern poetry
          On the whole the defects of Whitman’s sex poems
          typical of his defects as a writer generally
          Characteristics of Whitman’s style
     III  Whitman’s attitude towards Humanity                      187
          His faith in the “powerful uneducated person”
          The Poet of Democracy
          Whitman and Victor Hugo
          His affection comprehensive rather than deep
          Mr. William Clarke’s eulogy discussed
          The psychology of the social reformer
          Whitman and the average man
          His egotism—emptied of condescension
          Whitman no demagogue—his plain speaking
          The Conservatism and conventionality of the masses
          Illustration from Mr. Barrie’s _Admirable Crichton_
          Democratic poets other than Whitman—Ebenezer
          Elliott, Thomas Hood, and Mrs. Browning
          Whitman’s larger utterance
          Whitman and William Morris compared
          Affinity with Tolstoy
      IV  Whitman’s attitude towards Life                          198
          No moralist—but a philosophy of a kind
          The value of “messages” in Literature
          Whitman and Browning compared
          Whitman and culture
          Whitman and science
          Compares here with Tennyson and Browning
          Tonic influence of his writings
          “I shall be good health to you”
          His big, genial sanity


WILLIAM HAZLITT                 _Photogravure Frontispiece_
From a crayon drawing by W. Bewick, executed in 1822
THOMAS DE QUINCEY                                        38
From an engraving by W. H. More
GEORGE BORROW                                            60
From a portrait in the possession of Mr. John Murray.
Reproduced by kind permission of Mr. Murray
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON                                  118
From a woodcut by R. Bryden
RICHARD JEFFERIES                                       146
From a photograph.  Reproduced by kind permission of the
London Stereoscopic Company
WALT WHITMAN                                            172
From a woodcut by R. Bryden


    “There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and
    stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind on the


There are some men born with a vagrant strain in the blood, an unsatiable
inquisitiveness about the world beyond their doors.  Natural
revolutionaries they, with an ingrained distaste for the routine of
ordinary life and the conventions of civilization.  The average
common-sense Englishman distrusts the Vagabond for his want of sympathy
with established law and order.  Eccentricity and unconventionality smack
to him always of moral obliquity.  And thus it is that the literary
Vagabond is looked at askance.  One is reminded of Mr. Pecksniff: “Pagan,
I regret to state,” observed that gentleman of the Sirens on one
occasion.  Unhappily no one pointed out to this apostle of purity that
the naughtiness of the Sirens was not necessarily connected with
paganism, and that the siren disposition has been found even “in choirs
and places where they sing.”

Restlessness, then, is one of the notes of the Vagabond temperament.

Sometimes the Vagabond is a physical, sometimes only an intellectual
wanderer; but in any case there is about him something of the primal
wildness of the woods and hills.

Thus it is we find in the same spiritual brotherhood men so different in
genius and character as Hazlitt, De Quincey, Thoreau, Whitman, Borrow,
Jefferies, Stevenson.

Thoreau turned his back on civilization, and found a new joy of living in
the woods at Maine.  ’Tis the Open Road that inspired Whitman with his
rude, melodic chants.  Not the ways of men and women, but the flaunting
“pageant of summer” unlocked the floodgates of Jefferies’ heart.  Hazlitt
was never so gay, never wrote of books with such relish, as when he was
recounting a country walk.  There are few more beautiful passages than
those where he describes the time when he walked between Wrexham and
Llangollen, his imagination aglow with some lines of Coleridge.  De
Quincey loved the shiftless, nomadic life, and gloried in uncertainties
and peradventures.  A wandering, open-air life was absolutely
indispensable to Borrow’s happiness; and Stevenson had a schoolboy’s
delight in the make-believe of Romance.


Another note now discovers itself—a passion for the Earth.  All these men
had a passion for the Earth, an intense joy in the open air.  This
feeling differs from the Nature-worship of poets like Wordsworth and
Shelly.  It is less romantic, more realistic.  The attitude is not so
much that of the devotee as that of the lover.  There is nothing mystical
or abstract about it.  It is direct, personal, intimate.  I call it
purposely a passion for the Earth rather than a passion for Nature, in
order to distinguish it from the pronounced transcendentalism of the
romantic poets.

The poet who has expressed most nearly the attitude of these Vagabonds
towards Nature—more particularly that of Thoreau, Whitman, Borrow, and
Jefferies—is Mr. George Meredith.

Traces of it may be found in Browning with reference to the “old brown
earth,” and in William Morris, who exclaimed—

    “My love of the earth and the worship of it!”

but Mr. Meredith has given the completest expression to this

One thinks of Thoreau and Jefferies when reading Melampus—

    “With love exceeding a simple love of the things
    That glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck;
    Or change their perch on a beat of quivering wings
    From branch to branch, only restful to pipe and peck;
    Or, bristled, curl at a touch their snouts in a ball;
    Or, cast their web between bramble and thorny hook;
    The good physician Melampus, loving them all,
    Among them walked, as a scholar who reads a book.”

While that ripe oddity, “Juggling Jerry,” would have delighted the
“Romany”-loving Borrow.

Indeed the Nature philosophy of Mr. Meredith, with its virile joy in the
rich plenitude of Nature and its touch of wildness has more in common
with Thoreau, with Jefferies, with Borrow, and with Whitman than with
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, or even with Tennyson—the first of our
poets to look upon the Earth with the eyes of the scientist.


But a passion for the Earth is not sufficient of itself to admit within
the charmed circle of the Vagabond; for there is no marked restlessness
about Mr. Meredith’s genius, and he lacks what it seems to me is the
third note of the genuine literary Vagabond—the note of aloofness, of
personal detachment.  This it is which separates the Vagabond from the
generality of his fellows.  No very prolonged scrutiny of the disposition
of Thoreau, Jefferies, and Borrow is needed to reveal a pronounced
shyness and reserve.  Examine this trait more closely, and it will
exhibit a certain emotional coldness towards the majority of men and
women.  No one can overlook the chill austerity that marks Thoreau’s
attitude in social converse.  Borrow, again, was inaccessible to a
degree, save to one or two intimates; even when discovered among
congenial company, with the gipsies or with companions of the road like
Isopel Berners, exhibiting, to me, a genial bleakness that is
occasionally exasperating.

It was his constitutional reserve that militated against the success of
Jefferies as a writer.  He was not easy to get on with, not over fond of
his kind, and rarely seems quite at ease save in the solitude of the

Whitman seems at first sight an exception.  Surely here was a friendly
man if ever there was one.  Yet an examination of his life and writings
will compel us to realize a lack of deep personal feeling in the man.  He
loves the People rather than the people.  Anyone who will go along with
him is a welcome comrade.  This catholic spirit of friendliness is
delightful and attractive in many ways, but it has its drawbacks; it is
not possible perhaps to have both extensity and intensity of emotion.
There is the impartial friendliness of the wind and sun about his
salutations.  He loves all men—because they are a part of Nature; but it
is the common human element in men and women themselves that attracts
him.  There was less of the Ishmaelite about Whitman than about Thoreau,
Borrow, or Jefferies; but the man whose company he really delighted in
was the “powerful, uneducated man”—the artisan and the mechanic.  Those
he loved best were those who had something of the elemental in their
natures—those who lived nearest to the earth.  Without denying for a
moment that Whitman was capable of genuine affection, I cannot help
feeling, from the impression left upon me by his writings, and by
accounts given by those who knew him, that what I must call an absence of
human _passion_—not necessarily affection—which seems to characterize
more or less the Vagabond generally, may be detected in Whitman, no less
than in Thoreau and Borrow.  It would seem that the passion for the
earth, which made them—to use one of Mr. Watts-Dunton’s happy
phrases—“Children of the Open Air,” took the place of a passion for human

In the papers dealing with these writers these points are discussed at
greater length.  For the present reference is made to them in order to
illustrate the characteristics of the Vagabond temperament, and to
vindicate my generic title.

The characteristics, then, which I find in the Vagabond temperament are
(1) Restlessness—the wandering instinct; this expresses itself mentally
as well as physically.  (2) A passion for the Earth—shown not only in the
love of the open air, but in a delight in all manifestations of life.
(3) A constitutional reserve whereby the Vagabond, though rejoicing in
the company of a few kindred souls, is put out of touch with the majority
of men and women.  This is a temperamental idiosyncrasy, and must not be
confounded with misanthropy.

These characteristics are not found in equal degree among the writers
treated of in these pages.  Sometimes one predominates, sometimes
another.  That is to be expected.  But to some extent all these
characteristics prevail.


There is a certain type of Vagabondage which may be covered by the term
“Bohemianism.”  But ’tis of a superficial character mostly, and is in the
nature of a town-made imitation.  Graces and picturesqueness it may have
of a kind, but it lacks the rough virility, the sturdy grit, which is the
most attractive quality of the best Vagabond.

Bohemianism indeed is largely an attitude of dress; Vagabondage an
attitude of spirit.  At heart the Bohemian is not really unconventional;
he is not nomadic by instinct as is the Vagabond.

Take the case of Charles Lamb.  There was a man whose habits of life were
pleasantly Bohemian, and whose sympathy with the Vagabond temperament has
made some critics over-hastily class him temperamentally with writers
like Hazlitt and De Quincey.  He was not a true Vagabond at all.  He was
a Bohemian of the finer order, and his graces of character need no
encomium to-day.  But he was certainly not a Vagabond.  At heart he was
devoted to convention.  When released from his drudgery of clerkship he
confessed frankly how potent an influence routine had been and still was
in his life.  This is not the tone of the Vagabond.  Even Elia’s
wanderings on paper are more apparent than real, and there is a method in
his quaintest fantasies.  His discursive essays are arabesques observing
geometrical patterns, and though seemingly careless, follow out cunningly
preconceived designs.  He only appears to digress; but all his bypaths
lead back into the high road.  Hazlitt, on the other hand, was a genuine
digressionalist; so was De Quincey; so was Borrow.  There is all the
difference between their literary mosaic and the arabesques of Lamb.  And
should one still doubt how to classify Elia, one could scarcely place him
among the “Children of the Open Air.”  Make what allowance you like for
his whimsical remarks about the country, it is certain that no passion
for the Earth possessed him.

One characteristic, however, both the Bohemian and the Vagabond have in
common—that is, restlessness.  And although there is a restlessness which
is the outcome of superabundant nervous energy—the restlessness of
Dickens in his earlier years, for instance—yet it must be regarded as,
for the most part, a pathological sign.  One of the legacies of the
Industrial Revolution has been the neurotic strain which it has
bequeathed to our countrymen.  The stress of life upon the nervous system
in this era of commercialism has produced a spirit of feverish unrest
which, permeating society generally, has visited a few souls with special
intensity.  It has never been summed up better than by Ruskin, when, in
one of his scornful flashes, he declared that our two objects in life
were: whatever we have, to get more; and wherever we are, to go somewhere
else.  Nervous instability is very marked in the case of Hazlitt and De
Quincey; and there was a strain of morbidity in Borrow, Jefferies, and

Far more pronounced in its neurotic character is Modern Bohemianism—as I
prefer to call the “town Vagabond.”  The decadent movement in literature
has produced many interesting artistic figures, but they lack the grit
and the sanity of outlook which undoubtedly marks the Vagabond.  In
France to-day morbidity and Vagabondage are inseparable.

Gallic Vagabonds, such as Verlaine and Baudelaire, interesting as they
are to men of letters and students of psychology, do not engage our
affections as do the English Vagabonds.  We do not take kindly to their
personalities.  It is like passing through the hot streets after inhaling
the scent of the woodland.  There is something stifling and unhealthy
about the atmosphere, and one turns with relief to the vagabondage of men
like Whitman, who are “enamoured of growth out of doors.”

Of profounder interest is the Russian Vagabond.  In Russian Literature
the Vagabond seems to be the rule, not the exception.

Every great Russian writer has more or less of the Vagabond about him.
Tolstoy, it is true, wears the robe of the Moralist, and Tolstoy the
Ascetic cries down Tolstoy the Artist.  But I always feel that the most
enduring part of Tolstoy’s work is the work of the Vagabond temperament
that lurks beneath the stern preacher.  Political and social exigencies
have driven him to take up a position which is certainly not in harmony
with many traits in his nature.

In the case of Gorky, of course, we have the Vagabond naked and
unashamed.  His novels are fervent defences of the Vagabond.  What could
be franker than this?—“I was born outside society, and for that reason I
cannot take in a strong dose of its culture, without soon feeling forced
to get outside it again, to wipe away the infinite complications, the
sickly refinements, of that kind of existence.  I like either to go about
in the meanest streets of towns, because, though everything there is
dirty, it is all simple and sincere; or else to wander about in the high
roads and across the fields, because that is always interesting; it
refreshes one morally, and needs no more than a pair of good legs to
carry one.”  Racial differences mark off in many ways the Russian
Vagabond from his English brother; a strange fatalism, a fierce
melancholy, and a nature of greater emotional intensity; but in the
passage quoted how much in common they have also.


There were literary Vagabonds in England before the nineteenth century.
Many interesting and picturesque figures—Marlowe’s, for instance—arrest
the attention of the student, and to some extent the characteristics
noted may be traced in these.  But every century, no less than every
country, has its psychological atmosphere, and the modern literary
Vagabond is quite a distinctive individual.  Some I know are inclined to
regard Goldsmith as one of the Vagabond band; but, although a charming
Vagabond in many ways, he did not express his Vagabondage in his
writings.  The spirit of his time was not conducive to Vagabond
literature.  The spirit of the succeeding age especially favoured the
Vagabond strain.

The Gothic Revival, and the newly-awakened interest in medievalism,
warmed the imaginations of verse men and prose men alike.  The impulse to
wander, to scale some “peak in Darien” for the joy of a “wild surmise,”
seized every artist in letters—poet, novelist, essayist.  A longing for
the mystic world, a passion for the unknown, surged over men’s minds with
the same power and impetuosity as it had done in the days of the
Renaissance.  Ordinary life had grown uglier, more sordid; life seemed
crushed in the thraldom of mechanism.  Men felt like schoolboys pent up
in a narrow whitewashed room who look out of the windows at the smiling
and alluring world beyond the gates.  Small wonder that some who hastened
to escape should enter more thoroughly than more cautious souls into the
unconventional and the changeful.

The swing of the pendulum was sure to come, and it is not surprising that
the mid-century furnishes fewer instances of literary Vagabonds and of
Vagabond moods.  But with the pre-Raphaelite Movement an impulse towards
Vagabondage revived.  And the era which started with a De Quincey closed
with a Stevenson.


Many writers who cannot be classed among the Vagabonds gave occasional
expression to the Vagabond moods which sweep across every artist’s soul
at some time or other.  It would be beside my purpose to dwell at length
upon these Vagabond moods, for my chief concern is with the
thorough-going wanderer.  Mention may be made in passing, however, of
Robert Browning, whose cordial detestation of Bohemianism is so well
known.  Outwardly there was far less of the Vagabond about him than about
Tennyson.  However the romantic spirit may have touched his boyhood and
youth, there looked little of it in the staid, correctly dressed,
middle-aged gentleman who attended social functions and cheerfully
followed the life conventional.  One recalls his disgust with George Sand
and her Bohemian circle, his hatred for spiritualism, his almost
Philistine horror of the shiftless and lawless elements in life.  At the
same time I feel that Mr. Chesterton, in his brilliant monograph of the
poet, has overstated the case when he says that “neither all his
liberality nor all his learning ever made him anything but an Englishman
of the middle class.”  He had mixed blood in his veins, and the fact that
his grandmother was a Creole is not to be lightly brushed aside by a
Chestertonian paradox.  For the Southern blood shows itself from time to
time in an unmistakable manner.  It is all very well to say that “he
carried the prejudices of his class (i.e. the middle class) into
eternity!”  But we have to reckon with the hot passion of “Time’s
Revenges,” the daring unconventionality of “Fifine at the Fair,” and the
rare sympathy and discernment of the gipsy temperament in “The Flight of
the Duchess.”  Conventional prejudices Browning undoubtedly had, and
there was a splendid level-headedness about the man which kept in check
the extravagances of Vagabondage.

But no poet who has studied men and women as he had studied them,
pondering with loving care the curious, the complex, the eccentric, could
have failed to break away at times from the outlook of the middle-class

Tennyson, on the other hand, looking the handsome Vagabond to the life,
living apart from the world, as if its conventions and routine were
distasteful to him, had scarcely a touch of the Vagabond in his
temperament.  That he had no Vagabond moods I will not say; for the poet
who had no Vagabond moods has yet to be born.  But he frowned them down
as best he could, and in his writings we can see the typical, cultured,
middle-class Englishman as we certainly fail to see in Browning.  A great
deal of Tennyson is merely Philistinism made musical.  The romantic
temper scarcely touches him at all; and in those noble poems—“Lucretius,”
“Ulysses,” “Tithonus”—where his special powers find their happiest
expression, the attitude of mind has nothing in common with that of the
Vagabond.  It was classic art, not romantic art, that attracted Tennyson.

Compare the “Guinevere” of Tennyson with the “Guenevere” of Morris, and
you realize at once the vast difference that separates Sentimentalism
from Romanticism.  And Vagabondage can be approached only through the
gateway of Romanticism.


In looking back upon these discursive comments on the Vagabond element in
modern literature, one cannot help asking what is the resultant effect of
the Vagabond temperament upon life and thought.  As psychologists no
doubt we are content to examine its peculiarities and extravagances
without troubling to ask how far it has made for sanity and sweetness.

Yet the question sooner or later rises to our lips.  This Vagabond
temperament—is its charm and attractiveness merely superficial?  I cannot
think so.  I think that on the whole its effect upon our literature has
been salutary and beneficial.

These more eager, more adventurous spirits express for us the holiday
mood of life.  For they are young at heart, inasmuch as they have lived
in the sunshine, and breathed in the fresh, untainted air.  They have
indeed scattered “a new roughness and gladness” among men and women, for
they have spoken to us of the simple magic of the Earth.


    “He that is weary, let him sit,
       My soul would stir
    And trade in courtesies and wit,
       Quitting the fur
    To cold complexions needing it.”

                                                           GEORGE HERBERT.

    “Men of the world, who know the world like men,
    Who think of something else beside the pen.”



It is not unusual to hear the epithet “complex” flung with a too ready
alacrity at any character who evinces eccentricity of disposition.  In
olden days, when regularity of conduct, and conformity even in small
particulars were regarded as moral essentials, the eccentric enjoyed
short shrift.  The stake, the guillotine, or the dungeons of the
Inquisition speedily put an end to the eccentricities.  A slight measure
of nonconformity was quite enough to earn the appellation of witch or
wizard.  One stood no chance as an eccentric unless the eccentricity was
coupled with unusual force of character.

Alienists assure us that insanity is on the increase, and it is certain
that modern conditions of life have favoured nervous instabilities of
temperament, which express themselves in eccentricities of conduct.  But
nervous instability is one thing, complexity another.  The fact that they
may co-exist affords us no excuse for confusing them.  We speak of a
man’s personality, whereas it would be more correct to speak of his

Much has been written of late years about multi-personalities, until the
impression has spread that the possession of a number of differing
personalities is a special form of insanity.  This is quite wrong.  The
sane, no less than the insane man has a number of personalities, and the
difference between them lies in the power of co-ordination.  The sane man
is like a skilful driver who is able to control his team of horses;
whereas the insane man has lost control of his steeds, and allows first
one and then the other to get the mastery of him.

The personalities are no more numerous than before, only we are made
aware of their number.

In a sense, therefore, every human being is complex.  Inheritance and
environment have left distinctive characteristics, which, if the power of
co-ordination be weakened, take possession of the individual as
opportunity may determine.  We usually apply the term personality to the
resulting blend of the various personalities in his nature.  In the case
of sane men and women the personality is a very composite affair.  What
we are thinking of frequently when we apply the epithet “complex” is a
certain contradictoriness of temperament, the result of opposing strains
of blood.  It is the quality, not the quantities, of the personalities
that affects us.  If not altogether happy, the expression may in these
cases pass as a rough indication of the opposing element in their nature.
But when used, as it often is, merely to indicate an eccentricity, the
epithet assumes a restricted significance.  A may be far more complex
than B; but his power of co-ordination, what we call his will, is strong,
whereas that of B is weak, so we reserve the term complex for the weaker
individual.  But why reserve the term complex for a few literary
decadents who have lost the power of co-ordination, and not apply it to a
mind like Shakespeare’s, who was certainly as complex a personality as
ever lived?

Now I do not deny that it is wrong to apply the term complexity to men of
unstable, nervous equilibrium.  What I do deny is the right to apply the
term to these men only, thus disseminating the fallacy—too popular
nowadays—that genius and insanity are inseparable.

As a matter of fact, if we turn to Spencer’s exposition of the
evolutionary doctrine we shall find an illustration ready at hand to show
that complexity is of two kinds.  Evolution, as he tells us, is a change
from homogeneity to heterogeneity, from a simple to a complex.  Thus a
dog is more complex than a dog-fish, a man than a dog, a Shakespeare
greater than a Shaw.  But complexity, though a law of Evolution, is not
_the_ law of Evolution.  Mere complexity is not necessarily a sign of a
higher organism.  It may be induced by injury, as, for instance, the
presence of a marked growth such as cancer.  Here we have a more complex
state, but complexity of this kind is on the road to dissolution and
disintegration.  Cancer, in fact, in the body is like disaffection in an
army.  The unity is disturbed and differences are engendered.  Thus,
given a measure of nervous instability, a complexity may be induced, a
disintegration of the composite personality into the various separate
personalities, that bespeaks a lower, not a higher organism. {21}

Now all this may seem quite impertinent to our subject, but I have
discussed the point at length because complexity is certainly one of the
marks of the Vagabond, and it is important to make quite clear what is
connoted by that term.

Recognizing, then, the two types of complexity, the type of complexity
with which I am concerned especially in these papers is the higher type.
I have not selected these writers merely on account of their
eccentricities or deviations from the normal.  Mere eccentricity has a
legitimate interest for the scientist, but for the psychologist it is of
no particular moment.  Hazlitt is not interesting _because_ he was
afflicted with a morbid egotism; or Borrow _because_ he suffered from
fits of melancholia; or De Quincey _because_ he imagined he was in debt
when he had plenty of money.  It was because these neurotic signs were
associated with powerful intellects and exceptional imaginations, and
therefore gave a peculiar and distinctive character to their writings—in
short, because they happened to be men of genius, men of higher complex
organisms than the average individual—that they interest so strongly.

It seems to me a kind of inverted admiration that is attracted to what is
bizarre and out of the way, and confounds peculiarity with cleverness and
eccentricity with genius.

The real claim that individuals have upon our appreciation and sympathy
is mental and moral greatness; and the sentimental weakness with the
“oddity” is no more rational, no more to be respected, than a sympathy
which extends to physical monstrosities and sees nothing to admire in a
normal, healthy body.

It may be urged, of course, by some that I have admitted to a neurotic
strain affecting more or less all the Vagabonds treated of in this
volume, and this being so, it is clear that the morbid tendencies in
their temperament must have conditioned the distinctive character of
their genius.

Now it is quite true that the soil whence the flower of their genius
sprung was in several cases not without a taint; but it does not follow
that the flower itself is tainted.  And here we come upon the fallacy
that seems to me to lie at the basis of the doctrine which makes genius
itself a kind of disease.  The soil of the rose garden may be manured
with refuse that Nature uses in bringing forth the lovely bloom of the
rose.  But the poisonous character of the refuse has been chemically
transformed in giving vitality to the roses.  And so from unhealthy
stock, from temperaments affected by disease, have sprung the roses of
genius—transformed by the mysterious alchemy of the imagination into pure
and lovely things.  There are, of course, poisonous flowers, just as
there is a type of genius—not the highest type—that is morbid.  But this
does not affect my contention that genius is not necessarily morbid
because it may have sprung from a morbid soil.  Hazlitt is a case in
point.  His temperament was certainly not free from morbidity, and this
morbidity may be traced in his writings.  The most signal instance is the
_Liber Amoris_—an unfortunate chapter of sentimental autobiography which
did irreparable mischief to his reputation.  But there is nothing morbid
in Hazlitt at his best; and let it be added that the bulk of Hazlitt’s
writings displays a noble sanity.

Much has been written about his less pleasing idiosyncrasies, and no
writer has been called more frequently to account for deficiencies.  It
is time surely that we should recall once more the tribute of Lamb: “I
think William Hazlitt to be in his natural and healthy state one of the
wisest and finest spirits breathing.”


The complexity of Hazlitt’s temperament was especially emphasized by the
two strong, opposing tendencies that called for no ordinary power of
co-ordination.  I mean the austere, individualistic, Puritan strain that
came from his Presbyterian forefathers; and a sensuous, voluptuous strain
that often ran athwart his Puritanism and occasioned him many a mental
struggle.  The general effect of these two dements in his nature was
this: In matters of the intellect the Puritan was uppermost; in the realm
of the emotions you felt the dominant presence of the opposing element.

In his finest essays one feels the presence at once of the Calvinist and
the Epicurean; not as two incompatibles, but as opposing elements that
have blent together into a noble unity; would-be rivals that have
co-ordinated so that from each the good has been extracted, and the less
worthy sides eliminated.  Thus the sweetness of the one and the strength
of the other have combined to give more distinction and power to the

Take this passage from one of his lectures:—

    “The poet of nature is one who, from the elements of beauty, of
    power, and of passion in his own breast, sympathises with whatever is
    beautiful, and grand, and impassioned in nature, in its simple
    majesty, in its immediate appeal to the senses, to the thoughts and
    hearts of all men; so that the poet of nature, by the truth, and
    depth, and harmony of his mind, may be said to hold communion with
    the very soul of nature; to be identified with, and to foreknow, and
    to record, the feelings of all men, at all times and places, as they
    are liable to the same impressions; and to exert the same power over
    the minds of his readers that nature does.  He sees things in their
    eternal beauty, for he sees them as they are; he feels them in their
    universal interest, for he feels them as they affect the first
    principles of his and our common nature.  Such was Homer, such was
    Shakespeare, whose works will last as long as nature, because they
    are a copy of the indestructible forms and everlasting impulses of
    feature, welling out from the bosom as from a perennial spring, or
    stamped upon the senses by the hand of their Maker.  The power of the
    imagination in them is the representative power of all nature.  It
    has its centre in the human soul, and makes the circuit of the

And this:—

    “The child is a poet, in fact, when he first plays at hide-and-seek,
    or repeats the story of Jack the Giant-killer; the shepherd boy is a
    poet when he first crowns his mistress with a garland of flowers; the
    countryman when he stops to look at the rainbow; the city apprentice
    when he gazes after the Lord Mayor’s show; the miser when he hugs his
    gold; the courtier who builds his hopes upon a smile; the savage who
    paints his idol with blood; the slave who worships a tyrant, or the
    tyrant who fancies himself a god; the vain, the ambitious, the proud,
    the choleric man, the hero and the coward, the beggar and the king,
    the rich and the poor, the young and the old, all live in a world of
    their own making; and the poet does no more than describe what all
    the others think and act.”

    “Poetry is not a branch of authorship; it is the stuff of which our
    life is made.”

The artist is speaking in Hazlitt, but beneath the full, rich exuberance
of the artist, you can detect an under-note of austerity.

Then again, his memorable utterance about the Dissenting minister from
one of his essays on “Court Influence.”

    “A Dissenting minister is a character not so easily to be dispensed
    with, and whose place cannot be well supplied.  It is a pity that
    this character has worn itself out; that that pulse of thought and
    feeling has ceased almost to beat in the heart of a nation, who, if
    not remarkable for sincerity and plain downright well-meaning, are
    remarkable for nothing.  But we have known some such, in happier
    days, who had been brought up and lived from youth to age in the one
    constant belief in God and of His Christ, and who thought all other
    things but dross compared with the glory hereafter to be revealed.
    Their youthful hopes and vanity had been mortified in them, even in
    their boyish days, by the neglect and supercilious regards of the
    world; and they turned to look into their own minds for something
    else to build their hopes and confidence upon.  They were true
    priests.  They set up an image in their own minds—it was truth; they
    worshipped an idol there—it was justice.  They looked on man as their
    brother, and only bowed the knee to the Highest.  Separate from the
    world, they walked humbly with their God, and lived in thought with
    those who had borne testimony of a good conscience, with the spirits
    of just men in all ages. . . .  Their sympathy was not with the
    oppressors, but the oppressed.  They cherished in their thoughts—and
    wished to transmit to their posterity—those rights and privileges for
    asserting which their ancestors had bled on scaffolds, or had pined
    in dungeons, or in foreign climes.  Their creed, too, was ‘Glory to
    God, peace on earth, goodwill to man.’  This creed, since profaned
    and rendered vile, they kept fast through good report and evil
    report.  This belief they had, that looks at something out of itself,
    fixed as the stars, deep as the firmament; that makes of its own
    heart an altar to truth, a place of worship for what is right, at
    which it does reverence with praise and prayer like a holy thing,
    apart and content; that feels that the greatest Being in the universe
    is always near it; and that all things work together for the good of
    His creatures, under His guiding hand.  This covenant they kept, as
    the stars keep their courses; this principle they stuck by, for want
    of knowing better, as it sticks by them to the last.  It grows with
    their growth, it does not wither in their decay.  It lives when the
    almond-tree flourishes, and is not bowed down with the tottering
    knees.  It glimmers with the last feeble eyesight, smiles in the
    faded cheek like infancy, and lights a path before them to the

Here is a man of Puritan lineage speaking; but is it the voice of
Puritanism only?  Surely it is a Puritanism softened and refined, a
Puritanism which is free of those harsh and unpleasing elements that have
too often obscured its finer aspects.  I know of no passage in his
writings which for spacious eloquence, nobleness of thought, beauty of
expression, can rival this.  It was written in 1818, when Hazlitt was
forty years old, and in the plenitude of his powers.


But the power of co-ordination was not always exerted; perhaps not always
possible.  Had it been so, then Hazlitt would not take his place in this
little band of literary Vagabonds.

There are times when the Puritan element disappears; and it is Hazlitt
the eager, curious taster of life that is presented to us.  For there was
the restless inquisitiveness of the Vagabond about him.  This gives such
delightful piquancy to many of his utterances.  He ranges far and wide,
and is willing to go anywhere for a fresh sensation that may add to the
interest of his intellectual life.  He has no patience with readers who
will not quit their own small back gardens.  He is for ranging “over the
hills and far away.”

No sympathy he with the readers who take timid constitutionals in
literature, choosing only the well-worn paths.  He is a true son of the
road; the world is before him, and high roads and byways, rough paths and
smooth paths, are equally acceptable, provided they add to his zest and

Not that he cares for the new merely because it is new.  The essay on
“Reading Old Books” is proof enough of that.  A literary ramble must not
merely be novel, it must have some element of beauty about it, or he will
revisit the old haunts of whose beauty he has full cognizance.

The passion for the Earth which was noted as one of the Vagabond’s
characteristics is not so pronounced in Hazlitt and De Quincey as with
the later Vagabonds.  But it is unmistakable all the same.  There are, he
says, “only three pleasures in life pure and lasting, and all derived
from inanimate things—books, pictures, and the face of Nature.”  The
somewhat curious use of the word “inanimate” here as applied to the “face
of Nature” scarcely does justice to his intense, vivid appreciation of
the life of the open air; but at any rate it differentiates his attitude
towards Nature from that of Wordsworth and his school.  It is a feeling
more direct, more concrete, more personal.

He has no special liking for country people.  On the contrary, he thinks
them a dull, heavy class of people.

“All country people hate one another,” he says.  “They have so little
comfort that they envy their neighbours the smallest pleasure and
advantage, and nearly grudge themselves the necessaries of life.  From
not being accustomed to enjoyment, they become hardened and averse to
it—stupid, for want of thought, selfish, for want of society.”

No; it is the sheer joy of being in the open, and learning what Whitman
called the “profound lesson of reception,” that attracted Hazlitt.  “What
I like best,” he declares, “is to lie whole mornings on a sunny bank on
Salisbury Plain, without any object before me, neither knowing nor caring
how time passes, and thus, ‘with light-winged toys and feathered
idleness, to melt down hours to moments.’”  A genuine Vagabond mood this.

Hazlitt, like De Quincey, had felt the glamour of the city as well as the
glamour of the country; not with the irresistibility of Lamb, but for all
that potently.  But an instinct for the open, the craving for pleasant
spaces, and the longing of the hard-driven journalist for the gracious
leisure of the country, these things were paramount with both Hazlitt and
De Quincey.

In Hazlitt’s case there is a touch of wildness, a more primal delight in
the roughness and solitude of country places than we find in De Quincey.

“One of the pleasantest things,” says Hazlitt, in true Vagabond spirit,
“is going on a journey; but I like to go by myself.”

The last touch is not only characteristic of Hazlitt, it touches that
note of reserve verging on anti-social sentiment that was mentioned as
characteristic of the Vagabond.

He justifies his feeling thus with an engaging frankness: “The soul of a
journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel.  Do just as one
pleases.  We go a journey chiefly to be free of all impediments and of
all inconveniences; to leave ourselves behind; much more to get rid of
others. . . .  It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone
heaths.  I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy.  From the point of
yonder rolling cloud I plunge into my past being, and revel there, as the
sunburnt Indian plunges headlong into the wave that wafts him to his
native shore.  Then long-forgotten things, like ‘sunken wrack and sunless
treasures,’ burst upon my eager sight, and I begin to feel, think, and be
myself again.”


Taken on the whole, the English literary Vagabond is a man of joy, not
necessarily a cheerful man.  There is a deeper quality about joy than
about cheerfulness.  Cheerfulness indeed is almost entirely a physical
idiosyncrasy.  It lies on the surface.  A man, serious and silent, may be
a joyful man; he can scarcely be a cheerful man.  Moody as he was at
times, sour-tempered and whimsical as he could be, yet there was a fine
quality of joy about Hazlitt.  It is this quality of joy that gives the
sparkle and relish to his essays.  He took the same joy in his books as
in his walks, and he communicates this joy to the reader.  He appears
misanthropic at times, and rages violently at the world; but ’tis merely
a passing gust of feeling, and when over, it is easy to see how
superficial it was, so little is his general attitude affected by it.

The joyfulness of the Vagabond is no mere light-hearted, graceful spirit.
It is of a hardy and virile nature—a quality not to be crushed by
misfortune or sickness.  Outwardly, neither the lives of Hazlitt nor De
Quincey were what we would call happy.  Both had to fight hard against
adverse fates for many years; both had delicate constitutions, which
entailed weary and protracted periods of feeble health.

But there was a fundamental serenity about them.  At the end of a hard
and fruitless struggle with death, Hazlitt murmured, “Well, I’ve had a
happy life.”  De Quincey at the close of his long and varied life showed
the same tranquil stoicism that had carried him through his many

Joyfulness permeates Thoreau’s philosophy of life; and until his system
was shattered by a painful and incurable complaint, Jefferies had the
same splendid capacity for enjoyment, a huge satisfaction in noting the
splendour and rich plenitude of the Earth.  Whitman’s fine optimism
defied every attack from without and within; and the deliberate happiness
of Stevenson, when temptation to despondency was so strong, is one of his
most attractive characteristics.

Yet the characteristic belongs to the English race, and it is quite other
with the Russian.  Melancholy in his cast of thought, and pessimistic in
his philosophy, the Russian Vagabond presents a striking contrast in this


Comparing the styles of Hazlitt and De Quincey, one is struck with the
greater fire and vigour of Hazlitt.

Indeed, the term which De Quincey applied to certain of his
writings—“impassioned prose”—is really more applicable to many of
Hazlitt’s essays.  The dream fugues of De Quincey are delicately
imaginative, but real passion is absent from them.  The silvery, far-away
tones of the opium-eater do not suggest passion.

Besides, an elaborate, involved style such as his does not readily convey
passion of any kind.  It moves along too slowly, at too leisurely a pace.
On the other hand, the prose of Hazlitt was very frequently literally
“impassioned.”  It was sharp, concise, the sentences rang out resolutely
and clearly.  And no veil of phantasy hung at these times between himself
and the object of his description, as with De Quincey, muffling the voice
and blurring the vision.  Defects it had, which there is no necessity to
dwell on here, but there was a passion in Hazlitt’s nature and writings
which we do not find in his contemporary.

Trying beyond doubt as was the wayward element in Hazlitt’s disposition,
to his friends it is not without its charm as a literary characteristic.
His bitterness against Coleridge in his later years leads him to dwell
the longer upon the earlier meetings, upon the Coleridge of Wem and
Nether Stowey, and thus his very prejudices leave his readers frequently
as gainers.

A passing whim, a transient resentment, will be the occasion of some
finely discursive essay on abstract virtues and vices.  And, after all,
there is at bottom such noble enthusiasm in the man, and where his
subjects were not living people, and his judgment is not blinded by some
small prejudices, how fair, how just, how large and admirable his view.
His faults and failings were of such a character as to bring upon the
owner their own retribution.  He paid heavily for his mistakes.  His
splenetic moods and his violent dislikes arose not from a want of
sensibility, but from an excess of sensibility.  So I do not think they
need seriously disturb us.  After all, the dagger he uses as a critic is
uncommonly like a stage weapon, and does no serious damage.

Better even than his brilliant, suggestive, if capricious, criticisms are
his discursive essays on men and things.  These abound in a tonic wisdom,
a breadth of imagination as welcome as they are rare.


    “In thoughts from the visions of the night when deep sleep falleth on


Although a passion for the Earth is a prevalent note in the character of
the literary Vagabond, yet while harking to the call of the country, he
is by no means deaf to the call of the town.  With the exception of
Thoreau, who seemed to have been insensible to any magic save that of the
road and woodland, our literary Vagabonds have all felt and confessed to
the spell of the city.  It was not, as in the case of Lamb and Dickens,
the one compelling influence, but it was an influence of no small

The first important event in De Quincey’s life was the roaming life on
the hillside of North Wales; the second, the wanderings in “stony-hearted
Oxford Street.”  Later on the spell of London faded away, and a longing
for the country possessed him once more.  But the spell of London was
important in shaping his literary life, and must not be under-estimated.
Mention has been made of Lamb and Dickens, to whom the life of the town
meant so much, and whose inspiration they could not forgo without a pang.
But these men were not attracted in the same way as De Quincey.  What
drew De Quincey to London was its mystery; whereas it was the stir and
colour of the crowded streets that stirred the imagination of the two
Charles’s.  We scarcely realize as we read of those harsh experiences,
those bitter struggles with poverty and loneliness, that the man is
writing of his life in London, is speaking of some well-known
thoroughfares.  It is like viewing a familiar scene in the moonlight,
when all looks strange and weird.  A faint but palpable veil of phantasy
seemed to shut off De Quincey from the outside world.  In his most
poignant passages the voice has a ghostly ring; in his most realistic
descriptions there is a dreamlike unreality.  A tender and sensitive soul
in his dealings with others, there are no tears in his writings.  One has
only to compare the early recorded struggles of Dickens with those of De
Quincey to feel the difference between the two temperaments.  The one
passionately concrete, the other dispassionately abstract.  De Quincey
will take some heartfelt episode and deck it out in so elaborate a
panoply of rhetoric that the human element seems to have vanished.
Beautiful as are many of the passages describing the pathetic outcast
Ann, the reader is too conscious of the stylist and the full-dress

That he feels what he is writing of, one does not doubt; but he does not
suit his manner to his matter.  For expressing subtle emotions, half
shades of thought, no writer is more wonderfully adept than De Quincey.
But when the episode demands simple and direct treatment his elaborate
cadences feel out of place.

When he pauses in his description to apostrophize, then the disparity
affects one far less; as, for instance, in this apostrophe to
“noble-minded” Ann after recalling how on one occasion she had saved his

                       [Picture: Thomas de Quincey]

    “O youthful benefactress! how often in succeeding years, standing in
    solitary places, and thinking of thee with grief of heart and perfect
    love—how often have I wished that, as in ancient times the curse of a
    father was believed to have a supernatural power, and to pursue its
    object with a fatal necessity of self-fulfilment, even so the
    benediction of a heart oppressed with gratitude might have a like
    prerogative; might have power given it from above to chase, to haunt,
    to waylay, to pursue thee into the central darkness of a London
    brothel, or (if it were possible) even into the darkness of the
    grave, there to awaken thee with an authentic message of peace and
    forgiveness, and of final reconciliation!”

Perhaps the passage describing how he befriended the small servant girl
in the half-deserted house in Greek Street is among the happiest, despite
a note of artificiality towards the close:—

    “Towards nightfall I went down to Greek Street, and found, on taking
    possession of my new quarters, that the house already contained one
    single inmate—a poor, friendless child, apparently ten years old; but
    she seemed hunger-bitten; and sufferings of that sort often make
    children look older than they are.  From this forlorn child I learned
    that she had slept and lived there alone for some time before I came;
    and great joy the poor creature expressed when she found that I was
    in future to be her companion through the hours of darkness.  The
    house could hardly be called large—that is, it was not large on each
    separate storey; but, having four storeys in all, it was large enough
    to impress vividly the sense of its echoing loneliness; and, from the
    want of furniture, the noise of the rats made a prodigious uproar on
    the staircase and hall; so that, amidst the real fleshly ills of cold
    and hunger, the forsaken child had found leisure to suffer still more
    from the self-created one of ghosts.  Against these enemies I could
    promise her protection; human companionship was in itself protection;
    but of other and more needful aid I had, alas! little to offer.  We
    lay upon the floor, with a bundle of law papers for a pillow, but
    with no other covering than a large horseman’s cloak; afterwards,
    however, we discovered in a garret an old sofa-cover, a small piece
    of rug, and some fragments of other articles, which added a little to
    our comfort.  The poor child crept close to me for warmth, and for
    security against her ghostly enemies. . . .  Apart from her
    situation, she was not what would be called an interesting child.
    She was neither pretty, nor quick in understanding, nor remarkably
    pleasing in manners.  But, thank God! even in those years I needed
    not the embellishments of elegant accessories to conciliate my
    affections.  Plain human nature, in its humblest and most homely
    apparel, was enough for me; and I loved the child because she was my
    partner in wretchedness.”


I cannot agree with Mr. H. S. Salt when, in the course of a clever and
interesting biographical study of De Quincey, {40} he says: “It (in _re_
style) conveys precisely the sense that is intended, and attains its
effect far less by rhetorical artifice than by an almost faultless
instinct in the choice and use of words.”

In the delineation of certain moods he is supremely excellent.  But
surely the style is not a plastic style; and its appeal to the ear rather
than to the pictorial faculty limits its emotional effect upon the
reader.  Images pass before his eyes, and he tries to depict them by
cunningly devised phrases; but the veil of phantasy through which he sees
those images has blurred their outline and dimmed their colouring.  The
phrase arrests by its musical cadences, by its solemn, mournful music.
Even some of his most admirable pieces—the dream fugues, leave the reader
dissatisfied, when they touch poignant realities like sorrow.  Despite
its many beauties, that dream fugue, “Our Ladies of Sorrow,” seems too
misty, too ethereal in texture for the intense actuality of the subject.
Compare some of its passages with passages from another prose-poet, Oscar
Wilde, where no veil of phantasy comes between the percipient and the
thing perceived, and it will be strange if the reader does not feel that
the later writer has a finer instinct for the choice and use of words.

It would be untrue to say that Wilde’s instinct was faultless.  A garish
artificiality spoils much of his work; but this was through wilful
perversity.  Even in his earlier work—in that wonderful book, _Dorian
Gray_, he realized the compelling charm of simplicity in style.  His
fairy stories, _The Happy Prince_, for instance, are little masterpieces
of simple, restrained writing, and in the last things that came from his
pen there is a growing appreciation of the value of simplicity.

De Quincey never realized this; he recognized one form of art—the
decorative.  And although he became a master of that form, it was
inevitable that at times this mode of art should fail in its effect.

Here is a passage from _Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow_:—

    “The eldest of the three is named Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of
    Tears.  She it is that night and day raves and moans, calling for
    vanished faces.  She stood in Rama, where a voice was heard of
    lamentation—Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be
    comforted.  She it was that stood in Bethlehem on the night when
    Herod’s sword swept its nurseries of Innocents, and the little feet
    were stiffened for ever which were heard at times as they trotted
    along floors overhead, woke pulses of love in household hearts that
    were not unmarked in heaven.  Her eyes are sweet and subtle; wild and
    sleepy by turns; often times rising to the clouds, often times
    challenging the heavens.  She wears a diadem round her head.  And I
    knew by childish memories that she could go abroad upon the winds,
    when she heard the sobbing of litanies or the thundering of organs,
    and when she beheld the mustering of summer clouds.”

And here is Oscar Wilde in _De Profundis_:—

    “Prosperity, pleasure, and success, may be rough of grain and common
    in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things.
    There is nothing that stirs in the whole world of thought to which
    sorrow does not vibrate in terrible and exquisite pulsation. . . .
    It is a wound that bleeds when any hand but that of love touches it,
    and even then must bleed again, though not in pain.  Behind joy and
    laughter there may be a temperament coarse, hard, and callous.  But
    behind sorrow there is always sorrow.  Pain, unlike pleasure, wears
    no mask.  Truth in Art is . . . no echo coming from a hollow hill,
    any more than it is a silver well of water in the valley that shows
    the moon to the moon, and Narcissus to Narcissus.  Truth in Art is
    the unity of a thing with itself—the soul made incarnate, the body
    instinct with spirit.  For this reason there is no truth comparable
    to sorrow.  There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only
    truth.  Other things may be illusions of the eye or the appetite made
    to blind the one and clog the other, but out of sorrow have the
    worlds been built, and at the birth of a child or a star there is

I have not quoted these passages in order to pit one style against
another; for each writer sets himself about a different task.  A “dream
fugue” demands a treatment other than the simpler, more direct treatment
essential for Wilde’s purpose.  It is not because De Quincey the artist
chose this especial form for once in order to portray a mood that the
passage merits consideration; but because De Quincey always treated his
emotional experiences as “dream fugues.”  Of suffering and privation, of
pain and anguish bodily and mental, he had experiences more than the
common lot.  But when he tries to show this bleeding reality to us a mist
invariably arises, and we see things “as in a glass darkly.”

There is a certain passage in his Autobiography which affords a key to
this characteristic of his work.

When quite a boy he had constituted himself imaginary king of an
imaginary kingdom of Gombrom.  Speaking of this fancy he writes: “O
reader! do not laugh!  I lived for ever under the terror of two separate
wars and two separate worlds; one against the factory boys in a real
world of flesh and blood, of stones and brickbats, of flight and pursuit,
that were anything but figurative; the other in a world purely aerial,
where all the combats and the sufferings were absolute moonshine.  And
yet the simple truth is that for anxiety and distress of mind the reality
(which almost every morning’s light brought round) was as nothing in
comparison of that Dream Kingdom which rose like a vapour from my own
brain, and which apparently by the fiat of my will could be for ever
dissolved.  Ah, but no!  I had contracted obligations to Gombrom; I had
submitted my conscience to a yoke; and in secret truth my will had no
autocratic power.  Long contemplation of a shadow, earnest study for the
welfare of that shadow, sympathy with the wounded sensibilities of that
shadow under accumulated wrongs; these bitter experiences, nursed by
brooding thought, had gradually frozen that shadow into a region of
reality far denser than the material realities of brass or granite.”

This confession is a remarkable testimony to the reality of De Quincey’s
imaginative life.  “I had contracted obligations to Gombrom.”  Yes,
despite his practical experiences with the world, it was Gombrom, “the
moonlight” side of things, that appealed to him.  The boys might fling
stones and brickbats, just as the world did later—but though he felt the
onslaught, it moved him far less than did the phantasies of his

There is no necessity to weigh Wilde’s experiences of “Our Ladies of
Sorrow” beside those of De Quincey.  All we need ask is which impresses
us the more keenly with the actuality of sorrow.  And I think there can
be no doubt that it is not De Quincey.

“The Dream Kingdom that rose like a vapour” from his brain, this it
was—this Vagabond imagination of his—that was the one great reality in
life.  It is a mistake to assume, as some have done, that this faculty
for daydreaming was a legacy of the opium-eating.  The opium gave an
added brilliance to the dream-life, but it did not create it.  He was a
dreamer from his birth—a far more thorough-going dreamer than was ever
Coleridge.  There was a strain of insanity about him undoubtedly, and it
says much for his intellectual activity and moral power that the Dream
Kingdom did not disturb his mental life more than it did.  Had he never
touched opium to relieve his gastric complaint, he would have been
eccentric—that is, if he had lived.  Without some narcotic it is doubtful
whether his highly sensitive organization would have survived the attacks
of disease.  As it was, the opium not only eased the pain, but lifted his
imagination above the ugly realities of life, and afforded a solace in
times of loneliness and misery.


Intellectually he was a man of a conservative turn of mind, with an
ingrained respect for the conventions of life, but temperamentally he was
a restless Vagabond, with a total disregard for the amenities of
civilization, asking for nothing except to live out his own dream-life.
Dealing with him as a writer, you found a shrewd, if wayward critic, with
no little of “John Bull” in his composition.  Deal with him as a man, you
found a bright, kindly, nervous little man in a chronic state of
shabbiness, eluding the attention of friends so far as possible, and
wandering about town and country as if he had nothing in common with the
rest of mankind.  His Vagabondage is shown best in his purely imaginative
work, and in the autobiographical sketches.

Small and insignificant in appearance to the casual observer, there was
something arresting, fascinating about the man that touched even the
irascible Carlyle.  Much of his work, one can well understand, seemed to
this lover of facts “full of wire-drawn ingenuities.”  But with all his
contempt for phantasy, there was a touch of the dreamer in Carlyle, and
the imaginative beauty, apart from the fanciful prettiness in De
Quincey’s work, would have appealed to him.  For there was power,
intellectual grip, behind the shifting fancies, and both as a critic and
historian he has left behind him memorable work.  As critic he has been
taken severely to task for his judgments on French writers and on many
lights of eighteenth-century thought.  Certainly De Quincey’s was not the
type of mind we should go to for an interpretative criticism of the
eighteenth century.  Yet we must not forget his admirable appreciation of
Goldsmith.  At his best, as in his criticism of Milton and Wordsworth, he
shows a fine, delicate, analytical power, which it is hard to overpraise.

“Obligations to Gombrom” do not afford the best qualification for the
historian.  One can imagine the hair rising in horror on the head of the
late Professor Freeman at the idea of the opium-eater sitting down
seriously to write history.

Yet he had, like Froude, the power of seizing upon the spectacular side
of great movements which many a more accurate historian has lacked.
Especially striking is his _Revolt of the Tartars_—the flight eastward of
a Tartar nation across the vast steppes of Asia, from Russia to Chinese
territory.  Ideas impressed him rather than facts, and episodes rather
than a continuous chain of events.  But when he was interested, he had
the power of describing with picturesque power certain dramatic episodes
in a nation’s history.

A characteristic of the literary Vagabond is the eager versatility of his
intellectual interests.  He will follow any path that promises to be
interesting, not so much with the scholar’s patient investigation as with
the pedestrian’s delight in “fresh woods and pastures new.”

A prolific writer for the magazines, it is inevitable that there should
be a measure that is ephemeral in De Quincey’s voluminous writings.  But
it is impossible not to be struck by the wide range of his intellectual
interests.  A mind that is equally at home in the economics of Ricardo
and the transcendentalism of Wordsworth; that can turn with undiminished
zest from Malthus to Kant; that could deal lucidly with the “Logic of
Political Economy,” despite the dream-world that finds expression in the
“impassioned prose”; that could delight in such broadly farcical
absurdities as “_Sortilege and Astrology_,” and such delicately
suggestive studies as “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth,” a mind of
this adventurous and varied type is assuredly a very remarkable one.
That he should touch every subject with equal power was not to be
expected, but the analytic brilliance that characterizes even his
mystical writings enabled him to treat such subjects as political economy
with a sureness of touch and a logical grasp that has astonished those
who had regarded him as merely an inconsequential dreamer of dreams.


I cannot agree with Dr. Japp {48} when, in the course of some laudatory
remarks on De Quincey’s humour, he says: “It is precisely here that De
Quincey parts company, alike from Coleridge and from Wordsworth; neither
of them had humour.”

In the first place De Quincey’s humour never seems to me very genuine.
He could play with ideas occasionally in a queer fantastic way, as in his
elaborate gibe on Dr. Andrew Bell.

    “First came Dr. Andrew Bell.  We knew him.  Was he dull?  Is a wooden
    spoon dull?  Fishy were his eyes, torpedinous was his manner; and his
    main idea, out of two which he really had, related to the moon—from
    which you infer, perhaps, that he was lunatic.  By no means.  It was
    no craze, under the influence of the moon, which possessed him; it
    was an idea of mere hostility to the moon. . . .  His wrath did not
    pass into lunacy; it produced simple distraction; and uneasy fumbling
    with the idea—like that of an old superannuated dog who longs to
    worry, but cannot for want of teeth.”

A clever piece of analytical satire, if you like, but not humorous so
much as witty.  Incongruity, unexpectedness, belongs to the essence of
humour.  Here there is that cunning display of congruity between the old
dog and the Doctor which the wit is so adroit in evolving.

Similarly in the essay on “Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts,”
the style of clever extravaganza adopted in certain passages is witty,
certainly, but lacks the airy irresponsibility characterizing humour.
Sometimes he indulges in pure clowning, which is humorous in a
heavy-handed way.  But grimacing humour is surely a poor kind of humour.

Without going into any dismal academic discussion on Wit and Humour, I
think it is quite possible to differentiate these two offsprings of
imagination, making Wit the intellectual brother of the twain.
Analytical minds naturally turn to wit, by preference: Impressionistic
minds to humour.  Dickens, who had no gift for analysis, and whose
writings are a series of delightful unreflective, personal impressions,
is always humorous, never witty.  Reflective writers like George Eliot or
George Meredith are more often witty than humorous.

I do not rate De Quincey’s wit very highly, though it is agreeably
diverting at times, but it was preferable to his humour.

The second point to be noted against Dr. Japp is his reference to
Coleridge.  No one would claim Wordsworth as a humorist, but Coleridge
cannot be dismissed with this comfortable finality.  Perhaps he was more
witty than humorous; he also had an analytic mind of rarer quality even
than De Quincey’s, and his _Table Talk_ is full of delightful flashes.
But the amusing account he gives of his early journalistic experiences
and the pleasant way in which he pokes fun at himself, can scarcely be
compatible with the assertion that he had “no humour.”

Indeed, it was this quality, I think, which endeared him especially to
Lamb, and it was the absence of this quality which prevented Lamb from
giving that personal attachment to Wordsworth which he held for both
Coleridge and Hazlitt.

But the comparative absence of humour in De Quincey is another
characteristic of Vagabondage.  Humour is largely a product of
civilization, and the Vagabond is only half-civilized.  I can see little
genuine humour in either Hazlitt or De Quincey.  They had wit to an
extent, it is true, but they had this despite, not because, of their
Vagabondage.  Thoreau, notwithstanding flashes of shrewd American wit,
can scarcely be accounted a humorist.  Whitman was entirely devoid of
humour.  A lack of humour is felt as a serious deficiency in reading the
novels of Jefferies; and the airy wit of Stevenson is scarcely
full-bodied enough to rank him among the humorists.

This deficiency of humour may be traced to the characteristic attitude of
the Vagabond towards life, which is one of eager curiosity.  He is
inquisitive about its many issues, but with a good deal of the child’s
eagerness to know how a thing happened, and who this is, and what that
is.  Differing in many ways, as did Borrow and De Quincey, we find the
same insatiable curiosity; true, it expressed itself differently, but
there is a basic similarity between the impulse that took Borrow over the
English highways and gave him that zest for travel in other countries,
and the impulse that sent De Quincey wandering over the various roads of
intellectual and emotional inquiry.  Thoreau’s main reason for his two
years’ sojourn in the woods was one of curiosity.  He “wanted to know”
what he could find out by “fronting” for a while the essential facts of
life, and he left, as he says, “for as good a reason as I went there.
Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live.”  In other
words, inquisitiveness inspired the experiment, and inquisitiveness as to
other experiments induced him to terminate the Walden episode.

Now, in his own way, De Quincey was possibly the most inquisitive of all
the Vagabonds.  The complete absence of the imperative mood in his
writings has moved certain moralists like Carlyle to impatience with him.
There is a fine moral tone about his disposition, but his writings are
engagingly unmoral (quite different, of course, from immoral).  He has
called himself “an intellectual creature,” and this happy epithet exactly
describes him.  He collected facts, as an enthusiast collects curios, for
purposes of decoration.  He observed them, analysed their features, but
almost always with a view to æsthetic comparisons.

And to understand De Quincey aright one must follow him in his
multitudinous excursions, not merely rest content with a few fragments of
“impassioned prose,” and the avowedly autobiographic writings.  For the
autobiography extends through the sixteen volumes of his works.  The
writings, no doubt, vary in quality; in many, as in the criticism of
German and French writers, acute discernment and astounding prejudices
jostle one another.  But this is no reason for turning impatiently away.
Indeed, it is an additional incentive to proceed, for they supply such
splendid psychological material for illustrating the temperament and
tastes of the writer.  And this may confidently be said: There is
“fundamental brainwork” in every article that De Quincey has written.


What gives his works their especial attraction is not so much the
analytic faculty, interesting as it is, or the mystical turn of mind, as
in the piquant blend of the two.  Thus, while he is poking fun at
Astrology or Witchcraft, we are conscious all the time that he retains a
sneaking fondness for the occult.  He delights in dreams, omens, and
coincidences.  He reminds one at times of the lecturer on
“Superstitions,” who, in the midst of a brilliant analysis of its
futility and absurdity, was interrupted by a black cat walking on to the
platform, and was so disturbed by this portent that he brought his
lecture to an abrupt conclusion.

On the whole the Mystic trampled over the Logician.  His poetic
imagination impresses his work with a rich inventiveness, while the
logical faculty, though subsidiary, is utilized for giving form and
substance to the visions.

It is curious to contrast the stateliness of De Quincey’s literary style,
the elaborate full-dress manner, with the extreme simplicity of the man.
One might be tempted to add, surely here the style is _not_ the man.  His
friends have testified that he was a gentle, timid, shrinking little man,
and abnormally sensitive to giving offence; and to those whom he cared
for—his family, for instance—he was the incarnation of affection and

Yet in the writings we see another side, a considerable sprinkle of
sturdy prejudices, no little self-assertion and pugnacity.  But there is
no real disparity.  The style is the man here as ever.  When roused by
opposition he could even in converse show the claws beneath the velvet.
Only the militant, the more aggressive side of the man is expressed more
readily in his writings.  And the gentle and amiable side more readily in
personal intimacy.  Both the life and the writings are wanted to supply a
complete picture.

In one respect the records of his life efface a suspicion that haunts the
reader of his works.  More than once the reader is apt to speculate as to
how far the arrogance that marks certain of his essays is a superficial
quality, a literary trick; how far a moral trait.  The record of his
conversations tends to show that much of this was merely surface.  Unlike
Coleridge, unlike Carlyle, he was as willing to listen as to talk; and he
said many of his best things with a delightful unconsciousness that they
were especially good.  He never seemed to have the least wish to impress
people by his cleverness or aptness of speech.

But when all has been said as to the personality of the man as expressed
in his writings—especially his _Confessions_, and to his personality as
interpreted by friends and acquaintances—there remains a measure of
mystery about De Quincey.  This is part of his fascination, just as it is
part of the fascination attaching to Coleridge.  The frank confidences of
his _Confessions_ hide from view the inner ring of reserve, which gave a
strange impenetrability to his character, even to those who knew and
loved him best.  A simple nature and a complex temperament.

Well, after all, such personalities are the most interesting of all, for
each time we greet them it is with a note of interrogation.


    “The common sun, the air, the skies,
    To him are opening Paradise.”


    “He had an English look; that is was square
    In make, of a complexion white and ruddy.”



Why is it that almost as soon as we can toddle we eagerly demand a story
of our elders?  Why is it that the most excitable little girl, the most
incorrigible little boy can be quieted by a teaspoonful of the jam of
fiction?  Why is it that “once upon a time” can achieve what moral
strictures are powerless to effect?

It is because to most of us the world of imagination is the world that
matters.  We live in the “might be’s” and “peradventures.”  Fate may have
cast our lot in prosaic places; have predetermined our lives on humdrum
lines; but it cannot touch our dreams.  There we are princes,
princesses—possessed of illimitable wealth, wielding immeasurable power.
Our bodies may traverse the same dismal streets day after day; but our
minds rove luxuriantly through all the kingdoms of the earth.

Those wonderful eastern stories of the “Flying Horse” and the “Magic
Carpet,” symbolize for us the matter-of-fact world and the
matter-of-dream world.  Nay, is there any sound distinction between facts
and dreams?  After all—

             “We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.”

But there are dreams and dreams—dreams by moonlight and dreams by
sunlight.  Literature can boast of many fascinating moonlight
dreams—Ancient Mariners and Christabels, Wonder Books and Tanglewood
Tales.  And the fairies and goblins, the witches and wizards, were they
not born by moonlight and nurtured under the glimmer of the stars?

But there are dreams by sunlight and visions at noonday also.  Such
dreams thrill us in another but no less unmistakable way, especially when
the dreamer is a Scott, a William Morris, a Borrow.

And dreamers like Borrow are not content to see visions and dream dreams,
their bodies must participate no less than their minds.  They must needs
set forth in quest of the unknown.  Hardships and privations deter them
not.  Change, variety, the unexpected, these things are to them the very
salt of life.

This untiring restlessness keeps a Richard Burton rambling over Eastern
lands, turns a Borrow into the high-road and dingle.  This bright-eyed
Norfolk giant took more kindly to the roughnesses of life than did
Hazlitt and De Quincey.  Quite as neurotic in his way, his splendid
physique makes us think of him as the embodiment of fine health.  Illness
and Borrow do not agree.  We think of him swinging along the road like
one of Dumas’ lusty adventurers, exhibiting his powers of horsemanship,
holding his own with well-seasoned drinkers—especially if the drink be
Norfolk ale—conversing with any picturesque rag-tag and bob-tail he might
happen upon.  There is plenty of fresh air in his pages.  No thinker like
Hazlitt, no dreamer like De Quincey; but a shrewd observer with the most
amazing knack of ingratiating himself with strangers.

No need for this romancer to seek distant lands for inspiration.  Not
even the villages of Spain and Portugal supplied him with such fine stuff
for romance as Mumper’s Dingle.  He would get as strange a story out of a
London counting-house or an old apple-woman on London Bridge as did many
a teller of tales out of lonely heaths and stormy seas.

_Lavengro_ and _The Romany Rye_ are fine specimens of romantic
autobiography.  His life was varied enough, abounding in colour; but the
Vagabond is never satisfied with things that merely happen.  He is
equally concerned with the things that might happen, with the things that
ought to happen.  And so Borrow added to his own personal record from the
storehouse of dreams.  Some have blamed him for not adhering to the
actual facts.  But does any autobiographer adhere to actual facts?  Can
any man, even with the most sensitive feeling for accuracy, confine
himself to a record of what happened?

Of course not.  The moment a man begins to write about himself, to delve
in the past, to ransack the storehouse of his memory; then—if he has
anything of the literary artist about him, and otherwise his book will
not be worth the paper it is written on—he will take in a partner to
assist him.  That partner’s name is Romance.

As a revelation of temperament, the _Confessions_ of Rousseau and the
_Mémoires_ of Casanova are, one feels, delightfully trustworthy.  But no
sane reader ever imagines that he is reading an accurate transcript from
the life of these adventurous gentlemen.  The difference between the
editions of De Quincey’s _Opium Eater_ is sufficient to show how the
dreams have expanded under popular approbation.

Borrow himself suggests this romantic method when he says, “What is an
autobiography?  Is it a mere record of a man’s life, or is it a picture
of the man himself?”  Certainly, no one carried the romantic colouring
further than he did.  When he started to write his own life in _Lavengro_
he had no notion of diverging from the strict line of fact.  But the
adventurer Vagabond moved uneasily in the guise of the chronicler.  He
wanted more elbow-room.  He remembered all that he hoped to encounter,
and from hopes it was no far cry to actualities.

Things might have happened so!  Ye gods, they _did_ happen so!  And after
all it matters little to us the exact proportion of fact and fiction.
What does matter is that the superstructure he has raised upon the
foundation of fact is as strange and unique as the palace of Aladdin.

However much he suggested the typical Anglo-Saxon in real life, there was
the true Celt whenever he took pen in hand.

A stranger blend of the Celt and the Saxon indeed it would be hard to
find.  The Celtic side is not uppermost in his temperament—this strong,
assertive, prize-fighting, beer-loving man (a good drinker, but never a
drunkard) seems far more Saxon than anything else.  De Quincey had no
small measure of the John Bull in [Picture: George Borrow] his
temperament, and Borrow had a great deal more.  The John Bull side was
very obvious.  Yet a Celt he was by parentage, and the Celtic part was
unmistakable, though below the surface.  If the East Anglian in him had a
weakness for athleticism, boiled mutton and caper sauce, the Celt in him
responded quickly to the romantic associates of Wales.

Readers of Mr. Watts-Dunton’s charming romance _Aylwin_ will recall the
emphasis laid on the passionate love of the Welsh for a tiny strip of
Welsh soil.  Borrow understood all this; he had a rare sympathy with the
Cymric Celt.  You can trace the Celt in his scenic descriptions, in his
feeling for the spell of antiquity, his restlessness of spirit.  And yet
in his appearance there was little to suggest the Celt.  Small wonder
that many of his friends spoke of this white-haired giant of six foot
three as if he was first and foremost an excellent athlete.

Certainly he had in full measure an Englishman’s delight and proficiency
in athletics—few better at running, jumping, wrestling, sparring, and

In many respects indeed Borrow will not have realized the fancy picture
of the Englishman as limned by Hawthorne’s fancy—the big, hearty,
self-opiniated, beef-eating, ale-drinking John Bull.  Save to a few
intimates like Mr. Watts-Dunton and Dr. Hake he seems to have concealed
very effectually the Celtic sympathies in his nature.  But no reader of
his books can be blind to this side of his character; and then again, as
in all the literary Vagabonds, it is the complexity of the man’s
temperament that attracts and fascinates.

The man who can delight in the garrulous talk of a country inn,
understand the magic of big solitudes; who can keenly appraise the points
of a horse and feel the impalpable glamour of an old ruin; who will
present an impenetrable reserve to the ordinary stranger and take the
fierce, moody gypsy to his heart; who will break almost every convention
of civilization, yet in the most unexpected way show a sturdy element of
conventionality; a man, in short, of so many bewildering contradictions
and strangely assorted qualities as Borrow cannot but compel interest.

Many of the contradictory traits were not, as they seemed, the
inconsequential moods of an irresponsible nature, but may be traced to
the fierce egotism of the man.  The Vagabond is always an egotist; the
egotism may be often amusing, and is rarely uninteresting.  But the
personal point of view, the personal impression, has for him the most
tremendous importance.  It makes its possessor abnormally sensitive to
any circumstances, any environment, that may restrict his independence or
prevent the full expression of his personal tastes and whims.  Among our
Vagabonds the two most pronounced egotists are Borrow and Whitman.  The
secret of their influence, their merits, and their deficiencies lies in
this intense concentration of self.  An appreciation of this quality
leads us to comprehend a good deal of Borrow’s attitude towards men and
women.  Reading _Lavengro_ and _The Romany Rye_ the reader is no less
struck by the remarkable interest that Borrow takes in the
people—especially the rough, uncultured people—whom he comes across, as
in the cheerful indifference with which he loses sight of them and passes
on to fresh characters.  There is very little objective feeling in his
friendships; as flesh and blood personages with individualities of their
own—loves, hopes, faiths of their own—he seems to regard them scarcely at
all.  They exist chiefly as material for his curiosity and
inquisitiveness.  Hence there is a curious selfishness about him—not the
selfishness of a passionate, capricious nature, but the selfishness of a
self-absorbed and self-contained nature.  Perhaps there was hidden away
somewhere in his nature a strain of tenderness, of altruistic affection,
which was reserved for a few chosen souls.  But the warm human touch is
markedly absent from his writings, despite their undeniable charm.

Take the Isopel Berners episode.  Whether Isopel Berners was a fiction of
the imagination or a character in real life matters not for my purpose.
At any rate the episode, his friendship with this Anglo-Saxon girl of the
road, is one of the distinctive features of both _Lavengro_ and _The
Romany Rye_.  The attitude of Borrow towards her may safely be regarded
as a clear indication of the man’s character.

A girl of fine physical presence and many engaging qualities such as were
bound to attract a man of Borrow’s type, who had forsaken her friends to
throw in her lot with this fellow-wanderer on the road.  Here were the
ready elements of a romance—of a friendship that should burn up with the
consuming power of love the baser elements of self in the man’s
disposition, and transform his nature.

And what does he do?

He accepts her companionship, just as he might have accepted the
companionship of one of his landlords or ostlers; spends the time he
lived with her in the Dingle in teaching her Armenian, and when at last,
driven to desperation by his calculating coldness, she comes to take
farewell of him, he makes her a perfunctory offer of marriage, which she,
being a girl of fine mettle as well as of strong affection, naturally
declines.  She leaves him, and after a few passages of philosophic
regret, he passes on to the next adventure.

Now Borrow, as we know, was not physically drawn towards the ordinary
gypsy type—the dark, beautiful Celtic women; and it was in girls of the
fair Saxon order such as Isopel Berners that he sought a natural mate.

Certainly, if any woman was calculated by physique and by disposition to
attract Borrow, Isopel Berners was that woman.  And when we find that the
utmost extent of his passion is to make tea for her and instruct her in
Armenian, it is impossible not to be disagreeably impressed by the
unnatural chilliness of such a disposition.  Not even Isopel could break
down the barrier of intense egoism that fenced him off from any profound
intimacy with his fellow-creatures.

Perhaps Dr. Jessop’s attack upon him errs in severity, and is to an
extent, as Mr. Watts-Dunton says, “unjust”; but there is surely an
element of truth in his remarks when he says: “Of anything like animal
passion there is not a trace in all his many volumes.  Not a hint that he
ever kissed a woman or even took a little child upon his knee.”  Nor do I
think that the anecdote which Mr. Watts-Dunton relates about the
beautiful gypsy, to whom Borrow read Arnold’s poem, goes far to dissipate
the impression of Borrow’s insensibility to a woman’s charm.

A passing tribute to the looks of an extraordinarily beautiful girl is
quite compatible with a comparative insensibility to feminine beauty and
feminine graces.  That Borrow was devoid of animal passion I do not
believe—nor indeed do his books convey that impression; that he had no
feeling for beauty either would be scarcely compatible with the Celtic
element in his nature.  I think it less a case—as Dr. Jessop seems to
think—of want of passion as of a tyrannous egotism that excluded any
element likely to prove troublesome.  He would not admit a disturbing
factor—such as the presence of the self-reliant Isopel—into his life.

No doubt he liked Isopel well enough in his fashion.  Otherwise certainly
he would not have made up his mind to marry her.  But his own feelings,
his own tastes, his own fancies, came first.  He would marry her—oh
yes!—there was plenty of time later on.  For the present he could study
her character, amuse himself with her idiosyncrasies, and as a return for
her devotion and faithful affection teach her Armenian.  Extremely

But the episode of Isopel Berners is only one illustration, albeit a very
significant one, of Borrow’s calculating selfishness.  No man could prove
a more interesting companion than he; but one cannot help feeling that he
was a sorry kind of friend.

It may seem strange at first sight, finding this wanderer of the road in
the pay of the Bible Society, and a zealous servant in the cause of
militant Protestantism.  But the violent “anti-Popery” side of Borrow is
only another instance of his love of independence.  The brooding egotism
that chafed at the least control was not likely to show any sympathy with

There was no trace of philosophy in Borrow’s frankly expressed views on
religious subjects.  They were honest and straightforward enough, with
all the vigorous unreflective narrowness of ultra-Protestantism.

It says much for the amazing charm of Borrow’s writing that _The Bible in
Spain_ is very much better than a glorified tract.  It must have come as
a surprise to many a grave, pious reader of the Bible Society’s

And the Bible Society made the Vagabond from the literary point of view.
Borrow’s book—_The Zincali_—or an account of the gypsies of Spain,
published in 1841, had brought his name before the public.  But _The
Bible in Spain_ (1843) made him famous—doubtless to the relief of
“glorious John Murray,” the publisher, who was doubtful about the book’s

It is a fascinating book, and if lacking the unique flavour of the
romantic autobiographies, _Lavengro_ and _The Romany Rye_, has none the
less many of the characteristics that give all his writings their
distinctive attraction.


Can we analyse the charm that Borrow’s books and Borrow’s personality
exercise over us, despite the presence of unpleasing traits which repel?

In the first place he had the faculty for seizing upon the picturesque
and picaresque elements in the world about him.  He had the ready
instinct of the discursive writer for what was dramatically telling.
Present his characters in dramatic form he could not; one and all pass
through the crucible of his temperament before we see them.  We feel that
they are genuinely observed, but they are Borrovized.  They speak the
language of Borrow.  While this is quite true, it is equally true that he
knows exactly how to impress and interest the reader with the personages.

Take this effective little introduction to one of the characters in _The
Bible in Spain_:—

    “At length the moon shone out faintly, when suddenly by its beams I
    beheld a figure moving before me at a slight distance.  I quickened
    the pace of the burra, and was soon close at its side.  It went on,
    neither altering its pace nor looking round for a moment.  It was the
    figure of a man, the tallest and bulkiest that I had hitherto seen in
    Spain, dressed in a manner strange and singular for the country.  On
    his head was a hat with a low crown and broad brim, very much
    resembling that of an English waggoner; about his body was a long
    loose tunic or slop, seemingly of coarse ticken, open in front, so as
    to allow the interior garments to be occasionally seen; these
    appeared to consist of a jerkin and short velveteen pantaloons.  I
    have said that the brim of the hat was broad, but broad as it was, it
    was insufficient to cover an immense bush of coal-black hair, which,
    thick and curly, projected on either side; over the left shoulder was
    flung a kind of satchel, and in the right hand was held a long staff
    or pole.

    “There was something peculiarly strange about the figure, but what
    struck me the most was the tranquillity with which it moved along,
    taking no heed of me, though, of course, aware of my proximity, but
    looking straight forward along the road, save when it occasionally
    raised a huge face and large eyes towards the moon, which was now
    shining forth in the eastern quarter.

    “‘A cold night,’ said I at last.  ‘Is this the way to Talavera?’

    “‘It is the way to Talavera, and the night is cold.’

    “‘I am going to Talavera,’ said I, ‘as I suppose you are yourself.’

    “‘I am going thither, so are you, _Bueno_.’

    “The tones of the voice which delivered these words were in their way
    quite as strange and singular as the figure to which the voice
    belonged; they were not exactly the tones of a Spanish voice, and yet
    there was something in them that could hardly be foreign; the
    pronunciation also was correct, and the language, though singular,
    faultless.  But I was most struck with the manner in which the last
    word, _bueno_, was spoken.  I had heard something like it before, but
    where or when I could by no means remember.  A pause now ensued; the
    figure stalking on as before with the most perfect indifference, and
    seemingly with no disposition either to seek or avoid conversation.

    “‘Are you not afraid,’ said I at last, ‘to travel these roads in the
    dark?  It is said that there are robbers abroad.’

    “‘Are you not rather afraid,’ replied the figure, ‘to travel these
    roads in the dark—you who are ignorant of the country, who are a
    foreigner, an Englishman!’

    “‘How is it that you know me to be an Englishman?’ demanded I, much

    “‘That is no difficult matter,’ replied the figure; ‘the sound of
    your voice was enough to tell me that.’

    “‘You speak of voices,’ said I; ‘suppose the tone of your own voice
    were to tell me who you are?’

    “‘That it will not do,’ replied my companion; ‘you know nothing about
    me—you can know nothing about me.’

    “‘Be not sure of that, my friend; I am acquainted with many things of
    which you have little idea.’

    “‘Por exemplo,’ said the figure.

    “‘For example,’ said I, ‘you speak two languages.’

    “The figure moved on, seemed to consider a moment, and then said
    slowly, ‘_Bueno_.’

    “‘You have two names,’ I continued; ‘one for the house and the other
    for the street; both are good, but the one by which you are called at
    home is the one which you like best.’

    “The man walked on about ten paces, in the same manner as he had
    previously done; all of a sudden he turned, and taking the bridle of
    the burra gently in his hand, stopped her.  I had now a full view of
    his face and figure, and those huge features and Herculean form still
    occasionally revisit me in my dreams.  I see him standing in the
    moonshine, staring me in the face with his deep calm eyes.  At last
    he said—

    “‘Are you then one of us?’”

An admirable sketch, adroitly conceived and executed beyond doubt, but as
a fragment of dialogue remarkable for its literary skill rather than for
its characterization.

His instinct for the picturesque never fails him.  This is one of the
reasons why, despite his astounding garrulousness, the readers of his
books are never wearied.

Whether it be a ride in the forest, a tramp on foot, an interview with
some individual who has interested him, the picturesque side is always
presented, and never is he at better advantage than when depicting some
scene of gypsy life.

Opening _The Bible in Spain_ at random I happen on this description of a
gypsy supper.  It is certainly not one of the best or most picturesque,
but as an average sample of his scenic skill it will serve its purpose

    “Hour succeeded hour, and still we sat crouching over the brasero,
    from which, by this time, all warmth had departed; the glow had long
    since disappeared, and only a few dying sparks were to be
    distinguished.  The room or hall was now involved in utter darkness;
    the women were motionless and still; I shivered and began to feel
    uneasy.  ‘Will Antonio be here to-night?’ at length I demanded.

    “‘_No tenga usted cuidao_, my London Caloro,’ said the gypsy mother,
    in an unearthly tone; ‘Pepindorio {70} has been here some time.’

    “I was about to rise from my seat and attempt to escape from the
    house, when I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder, and in a moment I
    heard the voice of Antonio.

    “‘Be not afraid, ’tis I, brother; we will have a light anon, and then

    “The supper was rude enough, consisting of bread, cheese, and olive.
    Antonio, however, produced a leathern bottle of excellent wine; we
    dispatched these viands by the light of an earthern lamp which was
    placed upon the floor.

    “‘Now,’ said Antonio to the youngest female, ‘bring me the pajandi,
    and I will sing a gachapla.’

    “The girl brought the guitar, which with some difficulty the gypsy
    tuned, and then, strumming it vigorously, he sang—

    “I stole a plump and bonny fowl,
       But ere I well had dined,
    The master came with scowl and growl,
       And me would captive bind.

    “My hat and mantle off I threw,
       And scour’d across the lea,
    Then cried the beng {71} with loud halloo,
       Where does the Gypsy flee?”

    “He continued playing and singing for a considerable time, the two
    younger females dancing in the meanwhile with unwearied diligence,
    whilst the aged mother occasionally snapped her fingers or beat time
    on the ground with her stock.  At last Antonio suddenly laid down the

    “‘I see the London Caloro is weary.  Enough, enough; to-morrow more
    thereof—we will now to the _charipé_’ (bed).

    ‘“With all my heart,’ said I; ‘where are we to sleep?’

    “‘In the stable,’ said he, ‘in the manger; however cold the stable
    may be, we shall be warm enough in the bufa.’”

Perhaps his power in this direction is more fully appreciated when he
deals with material that promises no such wealth of colour as do gypsy
scenes and wanderings in the romantic South.

Cheapside and London Bridge suit him fully as well as do Spanish forests
or Welsh mountains.  True romancer as he is, he is not dependent on
conventionally picturesque externals for arresting attention; since he
will discover the stuff of adventure wherever his steps may lead him.
The streets of Bagdad in the “golden prime” of Haroun Alraschid are no
more mysterious, more enthralling, than the well-known thoroughfares of
modern London.  No ancient sorceress of Eastern story can touch his
imagination more deeply than can an old gypsy woman.  A skirmish with a
publisher is fully as exciting as a tilt in a medieval tourney; while the
stories told him by a rural landlord promise as much relish as any of the
tales recounted by Oriental barbers and one-eyed Calenders.

Thus it is that while the pervasive egotism of the man bewitches us, we
yield readily to the spell of his splendid garrulity.  It is of no great
moment that he should take an occasional drink to quench his thirst when
passing along the London streets.  But he will continue to make even
these little details interesting.  Did he think fit to recount a sneeze,
or to discourse upon the occasion on which he brushed his hair, he would
none the less, I think, have held the reader’s attention.

Here is the episode of a chance drink; it is a drink and nothing more;
but it is not meant to be skipped, and does not deserve to be overlooked.

    “Notwithstanding the excellence of the London pavement, I began,
    about nine o’clock, to feel myself thoroughly tired; painfully and
    slowly did I drag my feet along.  I also felt very much in want of
    some refreshment, and I remembered that since breakfast I had taken
    nothing.  I was in the Strand, and glancing about I perceived that I
    was close by an hotel which bore over the door the somewhat
    remarkable name of ‘Holy Lands.’  Without a moment’s hesitation I
    entered a well-lighted passage, and turning to the left I found
    myself in a well-lighted coffee-room, with a well-dressed and
    frizzled waiter before me.  ‘Bring me some claret,’ said I, for I was
    rather faint than hungry, and I felt ashamed to give a humble order
    to so well-dressed an individual.  The waiter looked at me for a
    moment, then making a low bow he bustled off, and I sat myself down
    in the box nearest to the window.  Presently the waiter returned,
    bearing beneath his left arm a long bottle, and between the fingers
    of his right hand two purple glasses; placing the latter on the
    table, set the bottle down before me with a bang, and then standing
    still appeared to watch my movements.  You think I don’t know how to
    drink a glass of claret, thought I to myself.  I’ll soon show you how
    we drink claret where I come from; and filling one of the glasses to
    the brim, I flickered it for a moment between my eyes and the lustre,
    and then held it to my nose; having given that organ full time to
    test the bouquet of the wine, I applied the glass to my lips.  Taking
    a large mouthful of the wine, which I swallowed slowly and by degrees
    that the palate might likewise have an opportunity of performing its
    functions.  A second mouthful I disposed of more summarily; then
    placing the empty glass upon the table, I fixed my eyes upon the
    bottle and said nothing; whereupon the waiter who had been observing
    the whole process with considerable attention, made me a bow yet more
    low than before, and turning on his heel retired with a smart chuck
    of the head, as much as to say, ‘It is all right; the young man is
    used to claret.’”

A slight enough incident, but, like every line which Borrow wrote,
intensely temperamental.  How characteristic this of the man’s attitude:
“You think I don’t know how to drink a glass of claret, thought I to
myself.”  Then with what deliberate pleasure does he record the
theatrical posing for the benefit of the waiter.  How he loves to
impress!  You are conscious of this in every scene which he describes,
and it is quite useless to resent it.  The only way to escape it is by
leaving Borrow unread.  And this no wise man can do willingly.

The insatiable thirst for adventure, the passion for the picturesque and
dramatic, were so constant with him, that it need not surprise us when he
seizes upon every opportunity for mystifying and exciting interest.  It
is possible that the “veiled period” in his life about which he hints is
veiled because it was a time of privation and suffering, and he is
consequently anxious to forget it.  But I do not think it likely.  Nor do
the remarks of Mr. Watts-Dunton on this subject support this theory.
Indeed, Mr. Watts-Dunton, who knew him so intimately, and had ample
occasion to note his love of “making a mystery,” hints pretty plainly
that “the veiled period” may well be a pleasant myth invented by Borrow
just for the excitement of it, not because there was anything special to
conceal, or because he wished to regard certain chapters in his life as a
closed book.


Mention has been made of Borrow’s feeling for the picaresque elements in
life.  Give him a rogue, a wastrel, any character with a touch of the
untamed about him, and no one delighted him more in exhibiting the
fascinating points of this character and his own power in attracting
these rough, unsocial fellows towards him and eliciting their
confidences.  Failing the genuine article, however, Borrow had quite as
remarkable a knack of giving even for conventional people and highly
respectable thoroughfares a roguish and adventurous air.  Indeed it was
this sympathy with the picaresque side of life, this thorough
understanding of the gypsy temperament, that gives Borrow’s genius its
unique distinction.  Other characteristics, though important, are
subsidiary to this.  Writers such as Stevenson have given us discursive
books of travel; other Vagabonds have shown an equal zest for the life of
the open air—Thoreau and Whitman, for example.  But contact with the
gypsies revealed Borrow to himself, made him aware of his powers.  It is
not so much a case of like seeking like, as of like seeking unlike.
Affinities there were, no doubt, between the Romany and the “Gorgio”
Borrow, but they are strong temperamental differences.  On the one side
an easy, unconscious nonchalance, a natural vivacity; on the other a
morbid self-consciousness and a pronounced strain of melancholy.  And it
was doubtless the contrast that appealed to him so strongly and helped
him to throw off his habitual moody reserve.

For beneath that unpromising reserve, as a few chosen friends knew, and
as the gypsies knew, there was a frank camaraderie that won their hearts.

Was he, one naturally asks, when once this barrier of reserve had been
broken down, a lovable man?  Certainly he seems to have won the affection
of the gypsies; and the warm admiration of men like Mr. Watts-Dunton
points to an affirmative answer.  And yet one hesitates.  He attracted
people, that cannot be gainsaid; he won many affections, that also is
uncontrovertible.  But to call a man lovable it is not sufficient that he
should win affection, he must retain it.  Was Borrow able to do this?
There is the famous case of Isopel to answer in the negative.  She loved
him, but she found him out.  Was it not so?  How else explain the gradual
change of demeanour, and the sad, disillusioned departure.  Perhaps at
first the independence of the man, his freedom from sentimentality,
piqued, interested, and attracted her.  This is often the case with
women.  They may fall in love with an unsentimental man, but they can
never be happy with him.

Isopel retained a regard for her fellow-comrade of the road, but she
would not be his wife.

Of his literary friends no one has written so warmly in defence of
Borrow, or shown a more discerning admiration of his qualities than Mr.

And yet in the warm tribute which Mr. Watts-Dunton has paid to Borrow I
cannot help feeling that some of the illustrations he gives in
justification of his eulogy are scarcely adequate.  It may well be that
he has a wealth of personal reminiscences which he could quote if so
inclined, and make good his asseverations.  As it is, one can judge only
by what he tells us.  And what does he tell us?

To show that Borrow took an interest in children, Mr. Watts-Dunton quotes
a story about Borrow and the gipsy child which “Borrow was fond of
telling in support of his anti-tobacco bias.”  The point of the story
lies in the endeavours of Borrow to dissuade a gypsy woman from smoking
her pipe, whilst his friend pointed out to the woman how the smoke was
injuring the child whom she was suckling.  Borrow used his friend’s
argument, which obviously appealed to the maternal instinct in order to
persuade the woman to give up her pipe.  There is no reason to think that
Borrow was especially concerned for the child’s welfare.  What concerned
him was a human being poisoning herself with nicotine, and his dislike
particularly to see a woman smoking.  After the woman had gone he said to
his friend: “It ought to be a criminal offence for a woman to smoke at
all.”  And that it was frankly as an anti-tobacco crusader that he
considered the episode, is proved surely by Mr. Watts-Dunton himself,
when he adds: “Whenever he (Borrow) was told, as he sometimes was, that
what brought on the ‘horrors’ when he lived alone in the Dingle, was the
want of tobacco, this story was certain to come up.”

One cannot accept this as a specially striking instance of Borrow’s
interest in children, any more than the passing reference (already noted)
to the extraordinarily beautiful gypsy girl, as an instance of his
susceptibility to feminine charms.

Failing better illustrations at first hand, one turns toward his books,
where he reveals so many characteristics, and here one is struck by the
want of susceptibility, the obvious lack of interest in the other sex,
showed by his few references to women, and what is even more significant
the absence of any love story in his own life, apart from his books (his
marriage with the well-to-do widow, though a happy one, can scarcely be
called romantic).  These things certainly outweigh the trivial incident
which Mr. Watts-Dunton recalls.

As for the pipe episode, it reminds me of Macaulay’s well-known gibe at
the Puritans, who objected to bear-baiting, he says, less because it gave
pain to the bear than because it gave pleasure to the spectators.
Similarly his objection to the pipe seems not so much on account of the
child suffering, as because the woman took pleasure in this “pernicious

But enough of fault-finding.  After all, Mr. Watts-Dunton has done a
signal service to literature by preferring the claims of Borrow, and has
upheld him loyally against attacks which were too frequently
mean-spirited and unfair.

Obviously, Borrow was a man of an ingratiating personality, which is a
very different thing from saying that he was a man with an ingratiating
manner.  Of all manners, the ingratiating is the one most likely to
arouse suspicion in the minds of all but the most obtuse.  An
ingratiating personality, however, is one that without effort and in the
simplest way attracts others, as a magnet attracts iron.  Once get Borrow
interested in a man, it followed quite naturally that the man was
interested in Borrow.  He might be a rough, unsociable fellow with whom
others found it hard to get on, but Borrow would win his confidence in a
few moments.

Borrow seemed to know exactly how to approach people, what to say, and
how to say it.  Sometimes he may have preferred to stand aloof in moody
reserve; that is another matter.  But given the inclination, he had a
genius for companionship, as some men have a genius for friendship.  As a
rule it will be found that the Vagabond, the Wanderer, is far better as a
companion than as friend.  What he cares for is to smile, chatter, and
pass on.  Loyal he may be to those who have done him service, but he is
not ready to encroach upon his own comfort and convenience for any man.
Borrow remained steadfast to his friends, but a personal slight, even if
not intended, he regarded as unforgivable.

The late Dr. Martineau was at school with him at Norwich, and after a
youthful escapade on Borrow’s part, Martineau was selected by the master
as the boy to “horse” Borrow while he was undergoing corporal punishment.
Probably the proceeding was quite as distasteful to the young Martineau
as to the scapegrace.  But Borrow never forgot the incident nor forgave
the compulsory participator in his degradation.  And years afterwards he
declined to attend a social function when he had ascertained that
Martineau would be there, making a point of deliberately avoiding him.
Another instance this of the morbid egotism of the man.

Where, however, no whim or caprice stood in the way, Borrow reminds one
of the man who knows as soon as he has tapped the earth with the
“divining rod” whether or no there is water there.  Directly he saw a man
he could tell by instinct whether there was stuff of interest there; and
he knew how to elicit it.  And never is he more successful than when
dealing with the “powerful, uneducated man.”  Consequently, no portion of
his writings are more fascinating than when he has to deal with such
figures.  Who can forget his delightful pictures of the gypsy—“Mr.
Petulengro”?  Especially the famous meeting in _Lavengro_, when he and
the narrator discourse on death.

    “‘Life is sweet, brother.’

    “‘Do you think so?’

    “‘Think so!  There’s night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun,
    moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there’s likewise a wind
    on the heath.  Life is very sweet, brother.  Who would wish to die?’

    “‘I would wish to die.’

    “‘You talk like a Gorgio—which is the same as talking like a
    fool—were you a Romany chal you would talk wiser.  Wish to die
    indeed!  A Romany chal would wish to live for ever.’

    “‘In sickness, Jasper?’

    “‘There’s the sun and stars, brother.’

    “‘In blindness, Jasper?’

    “‘There’s the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that,
    I would gladly live for ever.  Dosta, we’ll now go to the tents and
    put on the gloves; and I’ll try to make you feel what a sweet thing
    it is to be alive.’”

Then again there is the inimitable ostler in _The Romany Rye_, whose talk
exhales what Borrow would call “the wholesome smell of the stable.”  His
wonderful harangues (Borrovized to a less extent than usual) have all the
fine, breathless garrulity of this breed of man, and his unique discourse
on “how to manage a horse on a journey” occupies a delightful chapter.
Here are the opening sentences:—

    “‘When you are a gentleman,’ said he, ‘should you ever wish to take a
    journey on a horse of your own, and you could not have a much better
    than the one you have here eating its fill in the box yonder—I
    wonder, by the by, how you ever came by it—you can’t do better than
    follow the advice I am about to give you, both with respect to your
    animal and yourself.  Before you start, merely give your horse a
    couple of handfuls of corn and a little water, somewhat under a
    quart, and if you drink a pint of water yourself out of the pail, you
    will feel all the better during the whole day; then you may walk and
    trot your animal for about ten miles, till you come to some nice inn,
    where you may get down, and see your horse led into a nice stall,
    telling him not to feed him till you come.  If the ostler happens to
    be a dog-fancier, and has an English terrier dog like that of mine
    there, say what a nice dog it is, and praise its black and fawn; and
    if he does not happen to be a dog-fancier, ask him how he’s getting
    on, and whether he ever knew worse times; that kind of thing will
    please the ostler, and he will let you do just what you please with
    your own horse, and when your back is turned he’ll say to his
    comrades what a nice gentleman you are, and how he thinks he has seen
    you before; then go and sit down to breakfast, get up and go and give
    your horse a feed of corn; chat with the ostler two or three minutes
    till your horse has taken the shine out of his oats, which will
    prevent the ostler taking any of it away when your back is turned,
    for such things are sometimes done—not that I ever did such a thing
    myself when I was at the inn at Hounslow; oh, dear me, no!  Then go
    and finish your breakfast.’”


It is interesting to compare Borrow’s studies in unvarnished human nature
with the characterizations of novelists like Mr. Thomas Hardy.  Both
Borrow and Hardy are drawn especially to rough primal characters,
characters not “screened by conventions.”  As Mr. Hardy puts it in an
essay contributed to the _Forum_ in 1888.

    “The conduct of the upper classes is screened by conventions, and
    thus the real character is not easily seen; if it is seen it must be
    pourtrayed subjectively, whereas in the lower walks conduct is a
    direct expression of the inner life, and their characters can be
    directly pourtrayed through the act.”

Mr. Hardy’s rustics differ from Borrow’s rustics, however, in the method
of presentment.  Mr. Hardy is always the sympathetic, amused observer.
The reader of that delicious pastoral “Under the Greenwood Tree” feels
that he is listening to a man who is recounting something he has
overheard.  The account is finely sympathetic, but there is an
unmistakable note of philosophic detachment.  The story-teller has
enjoyed his company, but is obviously not of them.  That is why he will
gossip to you with such relish of humour.  Borrow, on the other hand,
speaks as one of them.  He is far less amused by his garrulous ostlers
and whimsical landlords than profoundly interested in them.  Then again,
though the Vagabond type appeals to Mr. Hardy, it appeals to him not
because of any temperamental affinity, but because he happens to be a
curious, wistful spectator of human life.  He sees in the restless
Vagabond an extreme example of the capricious sport of fate, but while
his heart goes out to him his mind stands aloof.

Looking at their characterization from the literary point of view, it is
evident that Mr. Hardy is the greater realist.  He would give you _an_
ostler, whereas Borrow gives you _the_ ostler.  Borrow knows his man
thoroughly, but he will not trouble about little touches of
individualization.  We see the ostler vividly—we do not see the man—save
on the ostler side.  With Hardy we should see other aspects beside the
ostler aspect of the man.

A novelist with whom Borrow has greater affinity is Charles Reade.  There
is the same quick, observant, unphilosophical spirit; the same preference
for plain, simple folk, the same love of health and virility.  And in
_The Cloister and the Hearth_, one of the great romances of the world,
one feels touches of the same Vagabond spirit as animates _Lavengro_ and
_The Romany Rye_.  The incomparable Denys, with his favourite cry, “Le
diable est mort,” is a splendid study in genial vagrancy.

Literary comparisons, though they discover affinities, but serve to
emphasize in the long run the distinctive originality of Borrow’s

He has himself admitted to the influence of Defoe and Lesage.  But though
his manner recalls at times the manner of Defoe, and though the form of
his narrative reminds the reader of the Spanish rogue story, the
psychological atmosphere is vastly different.  He may have taken Defoe as
his model just as Thackeray took Fielding; but _Vanity Fair_ is not more
unlike _Tom Jones_ than is _Lavengro_ unlike _Robinson Crusoe_.

It is idle to seek for the literary parentage of this Vagabond.  Better
far to accept him as he is, a wanderer, a rover, a curious taster of
life, at once a mystic and a realist.  He may have qualities that repel;
but so full is he of contradictions that no sooner has the frown settled
on the brow than it gives place to a smile.  We may not always like him;
never can we ignore him.  Provocative, unsatisfying, fascinating—such is
George Borrow.  And most fascinating of all is his love of night, day,
sun, moon, and stars, “all sweet things.”  Cribbed in the close and dusty
purlieus of the city, wearied by the mechanical monotony of the latest
fashionable novel, we respond gladly to the spacious freshness of
_Lavengro_ and _The Romany Rye_.  Herein lies the spell of Borrow; for in
his company there is always “a wind on the heath.”


    “Enter these enchanted woods
    You who dare.”

                                                          GEORGE MEREDITH.


Thoreau has suffered badly at the hands of the critics.  By some he has
been regarded as a poser, and the Walden episode has been spoken of as a
mere theatrical trick.  By others he has been derided as a cold-blooded
hermit, who fled from civilization and the intercourse of his fellows.
Even Mr. Watts-Dunton, the eloquent friend of the Children of the Open
Air, quite recently in his introduction to an edition of _Walden_ has
impugned his sincerity, and leaves the impression that Thoreau was an
uncomfortable kind of egotist.  He has not lacked friends, but his
friends have not always written discreetly about him, thus giving the
enemy opportunity to blaspheme.  And while not unmindful of Mr. H. S.
Salt’s sympathetic biography, nor the admirable monograph by Mr. “H. A.
Page,” there is no denying the fact that the trend of modern criticism
has been against him.  The sarcastic comments of J. R. Lowell, and the
banter of R. L. Stevenson, however we may disagree with them, are not to
be lightly ignored, coming from critics usually so sane and discerning.

Since it is the Walden episode, the two years’ sojourn in the woods near
Concord, that has provoked the scornful ire of the critics, it may be
well to re-examine that incident.

From his earliest years Thoreau was a lover of the open air.  It was not
merely a poetic appreciation such as Emerson had of the beauties of
nature—though a genuine poetic imagination coloured all that he wrote—but
an intellectual enthusiasm for the wonders of the natural world, and,
most important of all, a deep and tender sympathy with all created things
characteristic of the Eastern rather than the Western mind.  He observed
as a naturalist, admired like a poet, loved with the fervour of a
Buddhist; every faculty of his nature did homage to the Earth.

Most of us will admit to a sentimental regard for the open air and for
country sights and sounds.  But in many cases it reduces itself to a
vague liking for “pretty scenery” and an annual conviction that a change
of air will do us good.  And so it is that the man who prefers to live
the greater part of his life in the open is looked upon either as a crank
or a poser.  Borrow’s taste for adventure, and the picturesque vigour of
his personality, help largely in our minds to condone his wandering
instinct.  But the more passive temperament of Thoreau, and the absence
in his writings of any stuff of romance, lead us to feel a kind of
puzzled contempt for the man.

“He shirks his duty as a citizen,” says the practical Englishman; “He
experienced nothing worth mentioning,” says the lover of adventure.
Certainly he lacked many of the qualities that make the literary Vagabond
attractive—and for this reason many will deny him the right to a place
among them—but he was neither a skulker nor a hermit.

In 1839, soon after leaving college, he made his first long jaunt in
company with his brother John.  This was a voyage on the Concord and
Merrimac rivers—a pleasant piece of idling turned to excellent literary
account.  The volume dealing with it—his first book—gives sufficient
illustration of his practical powers to dissipate the absurd notion that
he was a mere sentimentalist.  No literary Vagabond was ever more skilful
with his hands than Thoreau.  There was scarcely anything he could not
do, from making lead pencils to constructing a boat.  And throughout his
life he supported himself by manual labour whenever occasion demanded.
Had he been so disposed he could doubtless have made a fortune—for he had
all the nimble versatility of the American character, and much of its
shrewdness.  His attacks, therefore, upon money-making, and upon the
evils of civilization, are no mere vapourings of an incompetent, but the
honest conviction of a man who believes he has chosen the better part.

In his _Walk to Wachusett_ there are touches of genial friendliness with
the simple, sincere country folk, and evidence that he was heartily
welcome by them.  Such a welcome would not have been vouchsafed to a
cold-blooded recluse.

The keen enjoyment afforded to mind and body by these outings suggested
to Thoreau the desirability of a longer and more intimate association
with Nature.  Walden Wood had been a familiar and favoured spot for many
years, and so he began the building of his tabernacle there.  So far from
being a sudden, sensational resolve with an eye to effect, it was the
natural outcome of his passion for the open.

He had his living to earn, and would go down into Concord from time to
time to sell the results of his handiwork.  He was quite willing to see
friends and any chance travellers who visited from other motives than
mere inquisitiveness.  On the other hand, the life he proposed for
himself as a temporary experiment would afford many hours of congenial
solitude, when he could study the ways of the animals that he loved and
give free expression to his naturalistic enthusiasms.

Far too much has been made of the Walden episode.  It has been written
upon as if it had represented the totality of Thoreau’s life, instead of
being merely an interesting episode.  Critics have animadverted upon it,
as if the time had been spent in brooding, self-pity, and sentimental
affectations, as if Thoreau had gone there to escape from his fellow-men.
All this seems to me wide of the mark.  Thoreau was always keenly
interested in men and manners; his essays abound in a practical sagacity,
too frequently overlooked.  He went to Walden not to escape from ordinary
life, but to fit himself for ordinary life.  The sylvan solitudes, as he
knew, had their lessons for him no less than the busy haunts of men.

Of course it would be idle to deny that he found his greatest happiness
in the woods and fields; it is this touch of wildness that makes of him a
Vagabond.  But though not an emotional man, his was not a hard nature so
much as a reserved, self-centred nature, rarely expressing itself in
outward show of feeling.  That he was a man capable of strong affection
is shown by his devotion to his brother.  Peculiarities of temperament he
had certainly, idiosyncrasies as marked as those of Borrow.  These I wish
to discuss later.  For the moment I am concerned to defend him from the
criticism that he was a loveless, brooding kind of creature, more
interested in birds and fishes than in his fellow-men.  For he was
neither loveless nor brooding, and the characteristics that have proved
most puzzling arose from the mingled strain in his nature of the Eastern
quietist and the shrewd Western.  These may now be considered more
leisurely.  I will deal with the less important first of all.


Some of his earlier work suffers somewhat from a too faithful
discipleship of Emerson; but when he had found himself, as he has in
_Walden_, he can break away from this tendency, and there are many lovely
passages untouched by didacticism.

    “The stillness was intense and almost conscious, as if it were a
    natural sabbath.  The air was so elastic and crystalline that it had
    the same effect on the landscape that a glass has on a picture—to
    give it an ideal remoteness and perfection.  The landscape was bathed
    in a mild and quiet light, while the woods and fences chequered and
    partitioned it with new regularity, and rough and uneven fields
    stretched far away with lawnlike smoothness to the horizon, and the
    clouds, finely distinct and picturesque, seemed a fit drapery to hang
    over fairyland.”

But while there is the Wordsworthian appreciation of the peaceful moods
of Nature and of the gracious stillnesses, there is the true spirit of
the Vagabond in his Earth-worship.  Witness his pleasant “Essay on

    “We are but faint-hearted crusaders; even the walkers nowadays
    undertake no persevering world’s end enterprises.  Our expeditions
    are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearthside
    from which we set out.  Half of the walk is but retracing our steps.
    We should go forth on the shortest walks, perchance, in the spirit of
    stirring adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our
    embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdom.  If you have
    paid your debts and made your will and settled all your affairs, and
    are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.”

There is a relish in this sprightly abjuration that is transmittible to
all but the dullest mind.  The essay can take its place beside Hazlitt’s
“On Going a Journey,” than which we can give it no higher praise.

With all his appreciation of the quieter, the gentler aspects of nature,
he has the true hardiness of the child of the road, and has as cheery a
welcome for the east wind as he has for the gentlest of summer breezes.
Here is a little winter’s sketch:—

    “The wonderful purity of Nature at this season is a most pleasing
    fact.  Every decayed stump and moss-grown stone and rush of the dead
    leaves of autumn are concealed by a clean napkin of snow.  In the
    bare fields and trickling woods see what virtue survives.  In the
    coldest and bleakest places the warmest charities still maintain a
    foothold.  A cold and searching wind drives away all contagion, and
    nothing can withstand it but what has a virtue in it; and accordingly
    whatever we meet with in cold and bleak places as the tops of
    mountains, we respect for a sort of sturdy innocence, a Puritan

But Thoreau’s pleasant gossips about the woods in Maine, or on the
Concord River, would pall after a time were they not interspersed with
larger utterances and with suggestive illustrations from the Books of the
East.  Merely considered as “poet-naturalist” he cannot rank with Gilbert
White for quaint simplicity, nor have his discursive essays the full,
rich note that we find in Richard Jefferies.  That his writings show a
sensitive imagination as well as a quick observation the above extracts
will show.  But unfortunately he had contracted a bad attack of
Emersonitis, from which as literary writer he never completely recovered.
Salutary as Emerson was to Thoreau as an intellectual irritant, he was
the last man in the world for the discursive Thoreau to take as a
literary model.

Many fine passages in his writings are spoiled by vocal imitations of the
“voice oracular,” which is the more annoying inasmuch as Thoreau was no
weak replica of Emerson intellectually, showing in some respects indeed a
firmer grasp of the realities of life.  But for some reason or other he
grew enamoured of certain Emersonian mannerisms, which he used whenever
he felt inclined to fire off a platitude.  Sometimes he does it so well
that it is hard to distinguish the disciple from his master.  Thus:—

    “How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not a seedtime of


    “Only he can be trusted with goods who can present a face of bronze
    to expectations.”

Unimpeachable in sentiment, but too obviously inspired for us to view
them with satisfaction.  And Thoreau at his best is so fresh, so
original, that we decline to be put off with literary imitations, however
excellently done.

And thus it is that Thoreau has been too often regarded as a mere
disciple of Emerson.  For this he cannot altogether escape blame, but the
student will soon detect the superficiality of the criticism, and see the
genuine Thoreau beneath the Emersonian veneer.

Thoreau lacked the integrating genius of Emerson, on the one hand, yet
possessed an eye for concrete facts which the master certainly lacked.
His strength, therefore, lay in another direction, and where Thoreau is
seen at his best is where he is dealing with the concrete experiences of
life, illustrating them from his wide and discursive knowledge of Indian
character and Oriental modes of thought.


Insufficient attention has been paid, I think, to Thoreau’s sympathy with
the Indian character and his knowledge of their ways.

The Indians were to Thoreau what the gypsies were to Borrow.  Appealing
to certain spiritual affinities in the men’s natures, they revealed their
own temperaments to them, enabling them to see the distinctiveness of
their powers.  Thoreau was never quite able to give this intimate
knowledge such happy literary expression as Borrow.  Apprehending the
peculiar charm, the power and limitations of the Indian character,
appreciating its philosophical value, he lacked the picturesque pen of
Borrow to visualize this for the reader.

A lover of Indian relics from his childhood, he followed the Indians into
their haunts, and conversed with them frequently.  Some of the most
interesting passages he has written detail conversations with them.  One
feels he knew and understood them; and they no less understood him, and
talked with him as they certainly would not have done with any other
white man.  But one would have liked to have heard much more about them.
If only Thoreau could have given us an Indian Petulengro, how interesting
it would have been!

But, like the Indian, there was a reserve and impenetrability about
Thoreau which prevented him from ever becoming really confidential in
print.  If he had but unbended more frequently, and not sifted his
thought so conscientiously before he gave us the benefit of it, he would
certainly have appealed to our affections far more than he does.

One feels in comparing his writings with the accounts of him by friends
how much that was interesting in the man remains unexpressed in terms of
literature.  Partly this is due, no doubt, to his being tormented with
the idea of self-education that he had learnt from Emerson.  In a
philosopher and moralist self-education is all very well.  But in a
naturalist and in a writer with so much of the Vagabond about him as
Thoreau this sensitiveness about self-culture, this anxiety to eliminate
all the temperamental tares, is blameworthy.

The care he took to eliminate the lighter element in his work—the flash
of wit, the jocose aside—a care which pursued him to the last, seems to
show that he too often mistook gravity for seriousness.  Like Dr. Watts’
bee (which is not Maeterlinck’s) he “improved the shining hour,” instead
of allowing the shining hour to carry with it its own improvement, none
the less potent for being unformulated.  But beside the Emersonian
influence, there is the Puritan strain in Thoreau’s nature, which must
not be overlooked.  No doubt it also is partly accountable for his
literary silences and austere moods.

To revert to the Indians.

If Thoreau does not deal dramatically with his Indians, yet he had much
that is interesting and suggestive to say about them.  These are some
passages from _A Week on the Concord_:—

    “We talk of civilizing the Indians, but that is not the name for his
    improvement.  By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim
    forest-life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods, and is
    admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with
    Nature.  He has glances of starry recognition to which our salons are
    strangers.  The steady illumination of his genius, dim only because
    distant, is like the faint but satisfying light of the stars compared
    with the dazzling but ineffectual and short-lived blaze of candles. .
    . .  We would not always be soothing and taming Nature, breaking the
    horse and the ox, but sometimes ride the horse wild and chase the
    buffalo.  The Indian’s intercourse with Nature is at least such as
    admits of the greatest independence of each.  If he is somewhat of a
    stranger in her midst, the gardener is too much of a familiar.  There
    is something vulgar and foul in the latter’s closeness to his
    mistress, something noble and cleanly in the former’s distance.  In
    civilization, as in a southern latitude, man degenerates at length
    and yields to the incursion of more northern tribes.

    ‘Some nations yet shut in
    With hills of ice.’

    “There are other savager and more primeval aspects of Nature than our
    poets have sung.  It is only white man’s poetry—Homer and Ossian even
    can never revive in London or Boston.  And yet behold how these
    cities are refreshed by the mere tradition or the imperfectly
    transmitted fragrance and flavour of these wild fruits.  If one could
    listen but for an instant to the chant of the Indian muse, we should
    understand why he will not exchange his savageness for civilization.
    Nations are not whimsical.  Steel and blankets are strong
    temptations, but the Indian does well to continue Indian.”

These are no empty generalizations, but the comments of a man who has
observed closely and sympathetically.  All of Thoreau’s references to
Indian life merit the closest attention.  For, as I have said, they help
to explain the man himself.  He had a sufficient touch of wildness to be
able to detach himself from the civilized man’s point of view.  Hence the
life of the woods came so naturally to him.  The luxuries, the
excitements, that mean so much to some, Thoreau passed by indifferently.
There is much talk to-day of “the simple life,” and the phrase has become
tainted with affectation.  Often it means nothing more than a passing fad
on the part of overfed society people who are anxious for a new
sensation.  A fad with a moral flavour about it will always commend
itself to a certain section.  Certainly it is quite innocuous, but, on
the other hand, it is quite superficial.  There is no real intention of
living a simple life any more than there is any deep resolve on the part
of the man who takes the Waters annually to abstain in the future from
over-eating.  But with Thoreau the simple life was a vital reality.  He
was not devoid of American self-consciousness, and perhaps he pats
himself on the back for his healthy tastes more often than we should
like.  But of his fundamental sincerity there can be no question.

He saw even more clearly than Emerson the futility and debilitating
effect of extravagance and luxury—especially American luxury.  And his
whole life was an indignant protest.

Yet it is a mistake to think (as some do) that he favoured a kind of
Rousseau-like “Return to Nature,” without any regard to the conventions
of civilization.  “It is not,” he states emphatically, “for a man to put
himself in opposition to society, but to maintain himself in whatever
attitude he finds himself through obedience to the laws of his own being,
which will never be one of opposition to a just government.  I left the
woods for as good a reason as I went there.  Perhaps it seemed to me that
I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for
that one.”

This is not the language of a crank, or the words of a man who, as Lowell
unfairly said, seemed “to insist in public in going back to flint and
steel when there is a match-box in his pocket.”

Lowell’s criticism of Thoreau, indeed, is quite wide of the mark.  It
assumes throughout that Thoreau aimed at “an entire independence of
mankind,” when Thoreau himself repeatedly says that he aimed at nothing
of the sort.  He made an experiment for the purpose of seeing what a
simple, frugal, open-air life would do for him.  The experiment being
made, he returned quietly to the conditions of ordinary life.  But he did
not lack self-assurance, and his frank satisfaction with the results of
his experiment was not altogether pleasing to those who had scant
sympathy with his passion for the Earth.

To be quite fair to Lowell and other hostile critics one must admit that,
genuine as Thoreau was, he had the habit common to all self-contained and
self-opiniated men of talking at times as though his very idiosyncrasies
were rules of conduct imperative upon others.  His theory of life was
sound enough, his demand for simple modes of living, for a closer
communion with Nature, for a more sympathetic understanding of the “brute
creation,” were reasonable beyond question.  But the Emersonian mannerism
(which gives an appearance of dogmatism, when no dogmatism is intended)
starts up from time to time and gives the reader the impression that the
path to salvation traverses Walden, all other paths being negligible, and
that you cannot attain perfection unless you keep a pet squirrel.

But if a sentence here and there has an annoying flavour of complacent
dogmatism, and if the note of self-assertion grows too loud on occasion
for our sensitive ears, {102} yet his life and writings considered as a
whole do not assuredly favour verdicts so unfavourable as those of Lowell
and Stevenson.

Swagger and exaggeration may be irritating, but after all the important
thing is whether a man has anything to swagger about, whether the case
which he exaggerates is at heart sane and just.

Every Vagabond swaggers because he is an egotist more or less, and
relishes keenly the life he has mapped out for himself.  But the swagger
is of the harmless kind; it is not really offensive; it is a sort of
childish exuberance that plays over the surface of his mind, without
injuring it, the harmless vanity of one who having escaped from the
schoolhouse of convention congratulates himself on his good luck.

Swagger of this order you will find in the writings even of that quiet,
unassuming little man De Quincey.  Hazlitt had no small measure of it,
and certainly it meets us in the company of Borrow.  It is very
noticeable in Whitman—far more so than in Thoreau.  Why then does this
quality tend to exasperate more when we find it in _Walden_?  Why has
Thoreau’s sincerity been impugned and Whitman escaped?  Why are Thoreau’s
mannerisms greeted with angry frowns, and the mannerisms, say of Borrow,
regarded with good-humoured intolerance?  Chiefly, I think, because of
Thoreau’s desperate efforts to justify his healthy Vagabondage by
Emersonian formulas.

I am not speaking of his sane and comprehensive philosophy of life.  The
Vagabond has his philosophy of life no less than the moralist, though as
a rule he is content to let it lie implicit in his writings, and is not
anxious to turn it into a gospel.  But he did not always realize the
difference between moral characteristics and temperamental peculiarities,
and many of his admirers have done him ill service by trying to make of
his very Vagabondage (admirable enough in its way) a rule of faith for
all and sundry.  Indeed, I think that much of the resentment expressed
against Thoreau by level-headed critics is due to the unwise eulogy of

Thoreau has become an object of worship to the crank, and in our
annoyance with the crank—who is often a genuine reformer destitute of
humour—we are apt to jumble up devotee and idol together.  Idol-worship
never does any good to the idol.


As a thinker Thoreau is suggestive and stimulating, except when he tries
to systematize.  Naturally I think he had a discursive and inquisitive,
rather than a profound and analytical mind.  He was in sympathy with
Eastern modes of regarding life; and the pantheistic tendency of his
religious thought, especially his care and reverence for all forms of
life, suggest the devout Buddhist.  The varied references scattered
throughout his writings to the Sacred Books of the East show how
Orientalism affected him.

Herein we touch upon the most attractive side of the man; for it is this
Orientalism, I think, in his nature that explains his regard for, and his
sympathy with, the birds and animals.

The tenderness of the Buddhist towards the lower creation is not due to
sentimentalism, nor is it necessarily a sign of sensitiveness of feeling.
In his profoundly interesting study of the Burmese people Mr. Fielding
Hall has summed up admirably the teaching of Buddha: “Be in love with all
things, not only with your fellows, but with the whole world, with every
creature that walks the earth, with the birds in the air, with the
insects in the grass.  All life is akin to man.”  The oneness of life is
realized by the Eastern as it seldom is by the Western.  The love that
stirs in your heart kindled the flower into beauty, and broods in the
great silent pools of the forest.

But Nature is not always kind.  That he cannot help feeling.  She
inspires fear as well as love.  She scatters peace and consolation, but
can scatter also pain and death.  All forms of life are more or less
sacred.  The creatures of the forest whose ferocity and cunning are
manifest, may they not be inhabited by some human spirit that has misused
his opportunities in life?  Thus they have an affinity with us, and are
signs of what we may become.

And if a measure of sacredness attaches to all life, however unfriendly
and harmful it may seem, the gentler forms of life are especially to be
objects of reverence and affection.

In one particular, however, Thoreau’s attitude towards the earth and all
that therein is differed from the Buddhist, inasmuch as the fear that
enters into the Eastern’s Earth-worship was entirely purged from his
mind.  Mr. Page has instituted a suggestive comparison between Thoreau
and St. Francis d’Assisi.  Certainly the rare magnetic attraction which
Thoreau seemed to have exercised over his “brute friends” was quite as
remarkable as the power attributed to St. Francis, and it is true to say
that in both cases the sympathy for animals is constantly justified by a
reference to a dim but real brotherhood.  The brutes are “undeveloped
men”; they await their transformation and stand on their defence; and it
is very easy to see that inseparably bound up with this view there are
certain elements of mysticism common to the early saint and the American
“hut builder.” {106}

And yet, perhaps, Mr. Page presses the analogy between the medieval saint
and the American “poet-naturalist” too far.  St. Francis had an ardent,
passionate nature, and whether leading a life of dissipation or tending
to the poor, there is about him a royal impulsiveness, a passionate
abandonment, pointing to a temperament far removed from Thoreau’s.

Prodigal in his charities, riotous in his very austerities, his
tenderness towards the animals seems like the overflowing of a finely
sensitive and artistic nature.  With Thoreau one feels in the presence of
a more tranquil, more self-contained spirit; his affection is the
affection of a kindly scientist who is intensely interested in the ways
and habits of birds, beasts, and fishes; one who does not give them the
surplus of the love he bears towards his fellow-men so much as a care and
love which he does not extend so freely towards his fellows.  I do not
mean that he was apathetic, especially when his fellow-creatures were in
trouble; his eloquent defence of John Brown, his kindliness towards
simple folk, are sufficient testimony on this score.  But on the whole
his interest in men and women was an abstract kind of interest; he showed
none of the personal curiosity and eager inquisitiveness about them that
he showed towards the denizens of the woods and streams.  And if you are
not heartily interested in your fellow-men you will not love them very

I am not sure that Hawthorne was so far out in his characterization
“Donatello”—the creature half-animal, half-man, which he says was
suggested by Thoreau.  It does not pretend to realize all his
characteristics, nor do justice to his fine qualities.  None the less in
its picture of a man with a flavour of the wild and untameable about
him—whose uncivilized nature brings him into a close and vital intimacy
with the animal world, we detect a real psychological affinity with
Thoreau.  May not Thoreau’s energetic rebukes of the evils of
civilization have received an added zest from his instinctive repugnance
to many of the civilized amenities valued by the majority?

Many of Thoreau’s admirers—including Mr. Page and Mr. Salt—defend him
stoutly against the charge of unsociability, and they see in this feeling
for the brute creation an illustration of his warm humanitarianism.
“Thoreau loves the animals,” says Mr. Page, “because they are manlike and
seem to yearn toward human forms.”  It seems to me that Thoreau’s
affection was a much simpler affair than this.  He was drawn towards them
because _he_ felt an affinity with them—an affinity more compelling in
its attraction than the affinity of the average human person.

No doubt he felt, as Shelley did when he spoke of “birds and even
insects” as his “kindred,” that this affinity bespoke a wider brotherhood
of feeling than men are usually ready to acknowledge.  But this is not
the same as loving animals _because_ they are manlike.  He loved them
surely because they were _living_ things, and he was drawn towards all
living things, not because he detected any semblance to humankind in
them.  The difference between these two attitudes is not easy to define
clearly; but it is a real, not a nominal difference.

It is argued, however, as another instance of Thoreau’s undervalued
sociability, that he was very fond of children.  That he was fond of
children may be admitted, and some of the pleasantest stories about him
relate to his rambles with children.  His huckleberry parties were justly
famous, if report speaks true.  “His resources for entertainment,” says
Mr. Moncure Conway, “were inexhaustible.  He would tell stories of the
Indians who once dwelt thereabouts till the children almost looked to see
a red man skulking with his arrow and stone, and every plant or flower on
the bank or in the water, and every fish, turtle, frog, lizard about was
transformed by the wand of his knowledge from the low form into which the
spell of our ignorance had reduced it into a mystic beauty.”

Emerson and his children frequently accompanied him on these expeditions.
“Whom shall we ask?” demanded Emerson’s little daughter.  “All children
from six to sixty,” replied her father.

    “Thoreau,” writes Mr. Conway in his _Reminiscences_, “was the guide,
    for he knew the precise locality of every variety of berry.”

    “Little Edward Emerson, on one occasion, carrying a basket of fine
    huckleberries, had a fall and spilt them all.  Great was his
    distress, and offers of berries could not console him for the loss of
    those gathered by himself.  But Thoreau came, put his arm round the
    troubled child, and explained to him that if the crop of
    huckleberries was to continue it was necessary that some should be
    scattered.  Nature had provided that little boys and girls should now
    and then stumble and sow the berries.  ‘We shall,’ he said, ‘have a
    grand lot of bushes and berries on this spot, and we shall owe them
    to you.’  Edward began to smile.”

Thoreau evidently knew how to console a child, no less than how to make
friends with a squirrel.  But his fondness for children is no more an
argument for his sociability, than his fondness for birds or squirrels.
As a rule it will be found, I think, that a predilection for children is
most marked in men generally reserved and inaccessible.  Lewis Carroll,
for instance, to take a famous recent example, was the reverse of a
sociable man.  Shy, reserved, even cold in ordinary converse, he would
expand immediately when in the company of children.  Certainly he
understood them much better than he did their elders.  Like Thoreau,
moreover, Lewis Carroll was a lover of animals.

Social adaptability was not a characteristic of Thackeray, his moroseness
and reserve frequently alienating people; yet no one was more devoted to
children, or a more delightful friend to them.

So far from being an argument in favour of its possessor’s sociability,
it seems to be a tolerable argument against it.  It is not hard to
understand why.  When analysed this fondness for children is much the
same in quality as the fondness for animals.  A man is drawn towards
children because there is something fresh, unsophisticated, and elemental
about them.  It has no reference to their moral qualities, though the
æsthetic element plays a share.  Thoreau knew how to comfort little
Edward Emerson just as he knew how to cheer the squirrel that sought a
refuge in his waistcoat.  This fondness, however, must not be confused
with the paternal instinct.  A man may desire to have children, realize
that desire, interest himself in their welfare, and yet not be really
fond of them.  As children they may not attract him, but he regards them
as possibilities for perpetuating the family and for enhancing its

A good deal of nonsense is talked about the purity and innocence of
childhood.  Children are consequently brought up in a morbidly
sentimental atmosphere that makes of them too quickly little prigs or
little hypocrites.  I do not believe, however, that any man or woman who
is genuinely fond of children is moved by this artificial point of view.
The innocence and purity of children is a middle-class convention.  None
but the unreal sentimentalist really believes in it.  What attracts us
most in children is naturalness and simplicity.  We note in them the
frank predominance of the instinctive life, and they charm us in many
ways just as young animals do.

Lewis Carroll’s biographer speaks of “his intense admiration for the
white innocence and uncontaminated spirituality of childhood.”

If this be true then it shows that the Rev. C. L. Dodgson had a great
deal to learn about children, who are, or should be, healthy little
pagans.  But though his liking for them may not have been free of the
sentimental taint, there is abundant proof that other less debatable
qualities in childhood appealed to him with much greater force.

“Uncontaminated spirituality,” forsooth.  I would as soon speak of the
uncontaminated spirituality of a rabbit.  I am sure rabbits are a good
deal more lovable than some children.

Thoreau’s love of children, then, seems to be only a fresh instance of
his attraction towards simpler, more elemental forms of life.  Men and
women not ringed round by civilized conventions, children who have the
freshness and wildness of the woods about them; such were the human
beings that interested him.

Such an attitude has its advantages as well as its limitations.  It calls
neither for the censorious blame visited upon Thoreau by some of the
critics nor the indiscriminate eulogy bestowed on him by others.

The Vagabond who withdraws himself to any extent from the life of his
day, who declines to conform to many of its arbitrary conventions,
escapes much of the fret and tear, the heart-aching and the
disillusionment that others share in.  He retains a freshness, a
simplicity, a joyfulness, not vouchsafed to those who stay at home and
never wander beyond the prescribed limits.  He exhibits an individuality
which is more genuinely the legitimate expression of his temperament.  It
is not warped, crossed, suppressed, as many are.

And this is why the literary Vagabond is such excellent company, having
wandered from the beaten track he has much to tell others of us who have
stayed at home.  There is a wild luxuriance about his character that is
interesting and fascinating—if you are not thrown for too long in his
company.  The riotous growth of eccentricities and idiosyncrasies are
picturesque enough, though you must expect to find thorns and briars.

On the other hand, we must beware of sentimentalizing the Vagabond, and
to present him as an ideal figure—as some enthusiasts have done—seems to
me a mistake.  As a wholesome bitter corrective to the monotonous sweet
of civilization he is admirable enough.  Of his tonic influence in
literature there can be no question.  But it is well for the Vagabond to
be in the minority.  Perhaps these considerations should come at the
close of the series of Vagabond studies, but they arise naturally when
considering Thoreau—for Thoreau is one of the few Vagabonds whom his
admirers have tried to canonize.  Not content with the striking qualities
which the Vagabond naturally exhibits, some of his admirers cannot rest
without dragging in other qualities to which he has no claim.  Why try to
prove that Thoreau was really a most sociable character, that Whitman was
the profoundest philosopher of his day, that Jefferies was—deep down—a
conventionally religious man?  Why, oh why, may we not leave them in
their pleasant wildness without trying to make out that they were the
best company in the world for five-o’clock teas and chapel meetings?

For—and it is well to admit it frankly—the Vagabond loses as well as
gains by his deliberate withdrawal from the world.  No man can live to
himself without some injury to his character.  The very cares and
worries, the checks and clashings, consequent on meeting other
individualities tend to keep down the egotistic elements in a man’s
nature.  The necessary give and take, the sacrifice of self-interests,
the little abnegations, the moral adjustment following the appreciation
of other points of view; all these things are good for men and women.
Yes, and it is good even to mix with very conventional people—I do not
say live with them—however distasteful it may be, for the excessive
caution, the prudential, opportunistic qualities they exhibit, serve a
useful purpose in the scheme of things.  The ideal thing, no doubt, is to
mix with as many types, as many varieties of the human species, as
possible.  Browning owes his great power as a poet to his tireless
interest in all sorts and conditions of men and women.

It is idle to pretend then that Thoreau lost nothing by his experiments,
and by the life he fashioned for himself.  Nature gives us plenty of
choice; we are invited to help ourselves, but everything must be paid
for.  There are drawbacks as well as compensations; and the most a man
can do is to strike a balance.

And in Thoreau’s case the balance was a generous one.

Better than his moralizing, better than his varied culture, was his
intimacy with Nature.  Moralists are plentiful, scholars abound, but men
in close, vital sympathy with the Earth, a sympathy that comprehends
because it loves, and loves because it comprehends, are rare.  Let us
make the most of them.

In one of his most striking Nature poems Mr. George Meredith exclaims:—

    “Enter these enchanted woods,
       You who dare.
    Nothing harms beneath the leaves
    More than waves a swimmer cleaves.
    Toss your heart up with the lark,
    Foot at peace with mouse and worm,
       Fair you fare,
    Only at a dread of dark
    Quaver, and they quit their form:
    Thousand eyeballs under hoods
       Have you by the hair.
    Enter these enchanted woods,
       You who dare.”

So to understand Nature you must trust her, otherwise she will remain at
heart fearsome and cryptic.

    “You must love the light so well
    That no darkness will seem fell;
    Love it so you could accost
    Fellowly a livid ghost.”

Mr. Meredith requires us to approach Nature with an unswerving faith in
her goodness.

No easy thing assuredly; and to some minds this attitude will express a
facile optimism.  Approve it or reject it, however, as we may, ’tis a
philosophy that can claim many and diverse adherents, for it is no dusty
formula of academic thought, but a message of the sunshine and the winds.
Talk of suffering and death to the Vagabond, and he will reply as did
Petulengro, “Life is sweet, brother.”  Not that he ignores other matters,
but it is sufficient for him that “life is sweet.”  And after all he
speaks as to what he has known.


    “Choice word and measured phrase above the reach
    Of ordinary man.”

                               WORDSWORTH (_Revolution and Independence_).

    “Variety’s the very spice of life
    That gives it all its flavour.”


    . . . “In his face,
    There shines a brilliant and romantic grace,
    A spirit intense and rare, with trace on trace
    Of passion and impudence and energy.
    Valiant in velvet, light in ragged luck,
    Most vain, most generous, sternly critical,
    Buffoon and poet, lover and sensualist:
    A deal of Ariel, just a streak of Puck,
    Much Antony, of Hamlet most of all,
    And something of the Shorter Catechist.

                                                             W. E. HENLEY.


Romance!  At times it passes athwart our vision, yet no sooner seen than
gone; at times it sounds in our ears, only to tremble into silence ere we
realize it; at times it touches our lips, and is felt in the blood, but
our outstretched arms gather naught but the vacant air.  The scent of a
flower, the splendour of a sunrise, the glimmer of a star, and it wakens
into being.  Sometimes when standing in familiar places, speaking on
matters of every day, suddenly, unexpectedly, it manifests its presence.
A turn of the head, a look in the eye, an inflection of the voice, and
this strange, indefinable thing stirs within us.  Or, it may be, we are
alone, traversing some dusty highway of thought, when in a flash some
long-forgotten memory starts at our very feet, and we realize that
Romance is alive.

I would fain deem Romance a twin—a brother and sister.  The one fair and
radiant with the sunlight, strong and clean-fibred, warm of blood and
joyous of spirit; a creature of laughter and delight.  I would fancy him
regarding the world with clear, shining eyes, faintly parted lips, a
buoyant expectancy in every line of his tense figure.  Ready for anything
and everything; the world opening up before him like a white, alluring
road; tasting curiously every adventure, as a man plucks fruit by the
wayside, knowing no horizon to his outlook, no end to his journey, no
limit to his enterprise.

As such I see one of the twins.  And the other?  Dark and wonderful; the
fragrance of poesy about her hair, the magic of mystery in her
unfathomable eyes.  Sweet is her voice and her countenance is comely.  A
creature of moonlight and starshine.  She follows in the wake of her
brother; but his ways are not her ways.  Away, out of sound of his mellow
laughter, she is the spirit that haunts lonely places.  There is no price
by which you may win her, no entreaty to which she will respond.  Compel
her you cannot, woo her you may not.  Yet, uninvited, unbidden, she will
steal into the garret, gaunt in its lonesome ugliness, and bend over the
wasted form of some poor literary hack, until his dreams reflect the
beauty of her presence.

And yet, when one’s fancy has run riot in order to recall Romance, how
much remains that cannot be put [Picture: Robert Louis Stevenson] into
words.  One thing, however, is certain.  Romance must be large and
generous enough to comprehend the full-blooded geniality of a Scott, the
impalpable mystery of a Coleridge or Shelley, to extend a hand to the
sun-tanned William Morris, and the lover of twilight, Nathaniel

Borrow was a Romantic, so is Stevenson.  Scott was a Romantic, likewise
Edgar Allan Poe.  If Romance be not a twin, then it must change its form
and visage wondrously to appeal to temperaments so divergent.  But if
Romance be a twin (the conceit will serve our purpose) then one may
realize how Scott and Borrow followed in the brother’s wake; Stevenson
and Poe being drawn rather towards the sister.

In the case of Stevenson it may seem strange that one who wrote stirring
adventures, who delighted boys of all ages with _Treasure Island_ and
_Black Arrow_ (oh, excellent John Silver!), and followed in the steps of
Sir Walter in _The Master of Ballantrae_ and _Catriona_, should not be
associated with the adventurous brother.  But Scott and Stevenson have
really nothing in common, beyond a love for the picturesque—and there is
nothing distinctive in that.  It is an essential qualification in the
equipment of every Romantic.  Adventures, as such, did not appeal to
Stevenson, I think; it was the spice of mystery in them that attracted
him.  Watch him and you will find he is not content until he has thrown
clouds of phantasy over his pictures.  His longer stories have no
unity—they are disconnected episodes strung lightly together, and this is
why his short stories impress us far more with their power and

_Markheim_ and _Jekyll and Hyde_ do not oppress the imagination in the
same way as do Poe’s tales of horror; but they show the same passion for
the dark corners of life, the same fondness for the gargoyles of Art.
This is Romance on its mystic side.

Throughout his writings—I say nothing of his letters, which stand in a
different category—one can hear

    “The horns of Elfland faintly blowing.”

Sometimes the veil of phantasy is shaken by a peal of impish laughter, as
if he would say, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” but the attitude
that persists—breaks there must be, and gusty moods, or it would not be
Stevenson—is the attitude of the Romantic who loves rather the night side
of things.


Much has been written about the eternal boy in Stevenson.  I confess that
this does not strike me as a particularly happy criticism.  In a
superficial sort of way it is, of course, obvious enough; he was fond of
“make-believe”; took a boyish delight in practical joking; was ever ready
for an adventure.  But so complex and diverse his temperament that it is
dangerous to seize on one aspect and say, “There is the real Stevenson.”
Ariel, Hamlet, and the Shorter Catechist cross and recross his pages as
we read them.  Probably each reader of Stevenson retains most clearly one
special phase.  It is the Ariel in Stevenson that outlasts for me the
other moods.  If any one phase can be said to strike the keynote of his
temperament, it is the whimsical, freakish, but kindly Ariel—an Ariel
bound in service to the Prospero of fiction—never quite happy, longing
for his freedom, yet knowing that he must for a while serve his master.
One can well understand why John Addington Symonds dubbed Stevenson
“sprite.”  This elfish dement in Stevenson is most apparent in his
letters and stories.

The figures in his stories are less flesh-and-blood persons than the
shapes—some gracious, some terrifying—that the Ariel world invoke.  It is
not that Stevenson had no grip on reality; his grip-hold on life was very
firm and real.  Beneath the light badinage, the airy, graceful wit that
plays over his correspondence, there is a steel-like tenacity.  But in
his stories he leaves the solid earth for a phantastic world of his own.
He does so deliberately: he turns his back on reality, has dealings with
phantom passions.  His historical romances are like ghostly editions of
Scott.  There is light, but little heat in his fictions.  They charm our
fancy, but do not seize upon our imagination.  Stevenson’s novels remind
one of an old _Punch_ joke about the man who chose a wife to match his
furniture.  Stevenson chooses his personages to match his furniture—his
cunningly-woven tapestries of style; and the result is that we are too
conscious of the tapestry on the wall, too little conscious of the people
who move about the rooms.  If only Stevenson had suited his style to his
matter, as he does in his letters, which are written in fine Vagabond
spirit—his romances would have seemed less artificial.  I say _seemed_,
for it was the stylist that stood in the way of the story-teller.
Stevenson’s sense of character was keen enough, particularly in his ripe,
old “disreputables.”  But much of his remarkable psychology was lost, it
seems to me, by the lack of dramatic presentment.

Borrow’s characters do not speak Borrow so emphatically as do Stevenson’s
characters speak Stevenson.  And with Stevenson it matters more.
Borrow’s picturesque, vivid, but loose, loquacious style, fits his
subject-matter on the whole very well.  But Stevenson’s delicate,
nervous, mannerized style suits but ill some of the scenes he is
describing.  If it suits, it suits by a happy accident, as in the
delightful sentimentality, _Providence and the Guitar_.

To appraise Stevenson’s merits as a Romantic one has to read him after
reading Scott, Dumas, Victor Hugo; or, better still, to peruse these
giants after dallying with Ariel.

We realize then what it is that we had vaguely missed in Stevenson—the
human touch.  These men believe in the figments of their imagination, and
make us believe in them.

Stevenson is obviously sceptical as to their reality; we can almost see a
furtive smile upon his lip as he writes.  But there is nothing unreal
about the man, whatever we feel of the Artist.

In his critical comments on men and matters, especially when Hamlet and
the Shorter Catechist come into view, we shall find a vigorous sanity, a
shrewd yet genial outlook, that seems to say there is no make-believe
_here_; _here_ I am not merely amusing myself; here, honestly and
heartily admitted, you may find the things that life has taught me.


Stevenson had many sides, but there were two especially that reappear
again and again, and were the controlling forces in his nature.  One was
the Romantic element, the other the Artistic.  It may be thought that
these twain have much in common; but it is not so.  In poetry the first
gives us a Blake, a Shelley; the second a Keats, a Tennyson.  Variety,
fresh points of view, these are the breath of life to the Romantic.  But
for the Artist there is one constant, unchanging ideal.  The Romantic
ventures out of sheer love of the venture, the other out of sheer love
for some definite end in view.  It is not usual to find them coexisting
as they did in Stevenson, and their dual existence gives an added
piquancy and interest to his work.  It is the Vagabond Romantic in him
that leads him into so many byways and secret places, that sends him
airily dancing over the wide fields of literature; ever on the move,
making no tabernacle for himself in any one grove.  And it is the Artist
who gives that delicacy of finish, that exquisitive nicety of touch, to
the veriest trifle that he essays.  The matter may be beggarly, the
manner is princely.

Mark the high ideal he sets before him: “The Artist works entirely upon
honour.  The Public knows little or nothing of those merits in its quest
of which you are condemned to spend the bulk of your endeavours.  Merits
of design, the merit of first-hand energy, the merit of a certain cheap
accomplishment, which a man of the artistic temper easily acquires; these
they can recognize, and these they value.  But to those more exquisite
refinements of proficiency and finish, which the Artist so ardently
desires and so keenly feels, for which (in the vigorous words of Balzac)
he must toil ‘like a miner buried in a landslip,’ for which day after day
he recasts and revises and rejects, the gross mass of the Public must be
ever blind.  To those lost pains, suppose you attain the highest point of
merit, posterity may possibly do justice; suppose, as is so probable,
that you fail by even a hair’s breadth of the highest, rest certain they
shall never be observed.  Under the shadow of this cold thought alone in
his studio the Artist must preserve from day to day his constancy to the
ideal.” {124a}

An exacting ideal, but one to which Stevenson was as faithful as a
Calvinist to his theology.  The question arises, however; is the
fastidiousness, the patient care of the Artist, consistent with
Vagabondage?  Should one not say the greater the stylist, the lesser the

This may be admitted.  And thus it is that in the letters alone do we
find the Vagabond temperament of Stevenson fully asserting itself.
Elsewhere ’tis held in check.  As Mr. Sidney Colvin justly says: {124b}
“In his letters—excepting a few written in youth, and having more or less
the character of exercises, and a few in after years which were intended
for the public eye—Stevenson, the deliberate artist is scarcely
forthcoming at all.  He does not care a fig for order, or logical
sequence, or congruity, or for striking a key of expression and keeping
it, but becomes simply the most spontaneous and unstudied of human
beings.  He will write with the most distinguished eloquence on one day,
with simple good sense and good feeling on a second, with flat triviality
on another, and with the most slashing, often ultra-colloquial vehemency
on a fourth, or will vary through all these moods, and more, in one and
the same letter.”

Fresh and spontaneous his letters invariably appear; with a touch of the
invalid’s nervous haste, but never lacking in courage, and with nothing
of the querulousness which we connect with chronic ill-health.  Weak and
ailing, shadowed by death for many years before the end, Stevenson showed
a fine fortitude, which will remain in the memory of his friends as his
most admirable character.  With the consistency of Mark Tapley (and with
less talk about it) he determined to be jolly in all possible
circumstances.  Right to the end his wonderful spirits, his courageous
gaiety attended him; the frail body grew frailer, but the buoyant
intellect never failed him, or if it did so the failure was momentary,
and in a moment he was recovered.

No little of his popularity is due to the desperate valour with which he
contested the ground with death, inch by inch, and died, as Buckle and
John Richard Green had done, in the midst of the work that he would not
quit.  Romance was by him to the last, gladdening his tired body with her
presence; and if towards the end weariness and heart-sickness seized him
for a spell, yet the mind soon resumed its mastery over weakness.  In a
prayer which he had written shortly before his death he had petitioned:
“Give us to awake with smiles, give us to labour smiling; as the sun
lightens the world, so let our lovingkindness make bright this house of
our habitation.”  Assuredly in his case this characteristic petition had
been realized; the prevalent sunniness of his disposition attended him to
the last.


Of all our writers there has been none to whom the epithet “charming” has
been more frequently applied.  Of late the epithet has become a kind of
adjectival maid-of-all-work, and has done service where a less emphatic
term would have done far better.  But in Stevenson’s case the epithet is
fully justified.  Of all the literary Vagabonds he is the most
captivating.  Not the most interesting; the most arresting, one may
admit.  There is greater power in Hazlitt; De Quincey is more unique; the
“prophetic scream” of Whitman is more penetrating.  But not one of them
was endowed with such wayward graces of disposition as Stevenson.
Whatever you read of his you think invariably of the man.  Indeed the
personal note in his work is frequently the most interesting thing about
it.  I mean that what attracts and holds us is often not any originality,
any profundity, nothing specially inherent in the matter of his speech,
but a bewitchingly delightful manner.

Examine his attractive essays, _Virginibus Puerisque_ and _Familiar
Studies of Men and Books_, and this quality will manifest itself.  There
is no pleasanter essay than the one on “Walking Tours”; it dresses up
wholesome truths with so pleasant and picturesque a wit; it is so
whimsical, yet withal so finely suggestive, that the reader who cannot
yield to its fascination should consult a mental specialist.

For instance:—

    “It must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some would have us
    fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing the country.  There
    are many ways of seeing landscape quite as good; and none more vivid,
    in spite of canting dilettantes, than from a railway train.  But
    landscape on a walking tour is quite accessory.  He who is indeed of
    the brotherhood does not voyage in quest of the picturesque, but of
    certain jolly humours—of the hope and spirit with which the march
    begins at morning, and the peace and spiritual repletion of the
    evening’s rest.  He cannot tell whether he puts his knapsack on or
    takes it off with more delight.  The excitement of the departure puts
    him in key for that of the arrival.  Whatever he does will be further
    rewarded in the sequel; and so pleasure leads on to pleasure in an
    endless chain.”

An admirable opening, full of the right relish.  And the wit and relish
are maintained down to the last sentence.  But it cannot fail to awaken
memories of the great departed in the reader of books.  “Now to be
properly enjoyed,” counsels Stevenson, “a walking tour should be gone
upon alone. . . . a walking tour should be gone upon alone because
freedom is of the essence,” and so on in the same vein for twenty or
thirty lines.  One immediately recalls Hazlitt—“On Going a Journey”: “One
of the pleasantest things is going on a journey; but I like to go by
myself. . . .  The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to
think, feel, do just as one pleases.”

A suspicion seizes the mind of the reader, and he will smile darkly to
himself.  But Stevenson is quite ready for him.  “A strong flavour of
Hazlitt, you think?” he seems to say, then with the frank ingenuousness
of one who has confessed to “playing the sedulous ape,” he throws in a
quotation from this very essay of Hazlitt’s and later on gives us more
Hazlitt.  It is impossible to resent it; it is so openly done, there is
such a charming effrontery about the whole thing.  And yet, though much
that he says is obviously inspired by Hazlitt, he will impart that
flavour of his own less mordant personality to the discourse.

If you turn to another, the “Truth of Intercourse,” it is hard to feel
that it would have thrived had not Elia given up his “Popular Fallacies.”
There is an unmistakable echo in the opening paragraph: “Among sayings
that have a currency, in spite of being wholly false upon the face of
them, for the sake of a half-truth upon another subject which is
accidentally combined with the error, one of the grossest and broadest
conveys the monstrous proposition that it is easy to tell the truth and
hard to tell a lie.  I wish heartily it were!”  Similarly in other essays
the influence of Montaigne is strongly felt; and although Stevenson never
fails to impart the flavour of his own individuality to his
discourses—for he is certainly no mere copyist—one realizes the unwisdom
of those enthusiastic admirers who have bracketed him with Lamb,
Montaigne, and Hazlitt.  These were men of the primary order; whereas
Stevenson with all his grace and charm is assuredly of the secondary
order.  And no admiration for his attractive personality and captivating
utterances should blind us to this fact.

As a critic of books his originality is perhaps more pronounced, but wise
and large though many of his utterances are, here again it is the
pleasant wayward Vagabond spirit that gives salt and flavour to them.
There are many critics less brilliant, less attractive in their speech,
in whose judgment I should place greater reliance.  Sometimes, as in the
essay on “Victor Hugo’s Romances,” his own temperament stands in the way;
at other times, as in his “Thoreau” article, there is a vein of wilful
capriciousness, even of impish malice, that distorts his judgment.
Neither essays can be passed over; in each there is power and shrewd
flashes of discernment, and both are extremely interesting.  One cannot
say they are satisfying.  Stevenson does scant justice to the
extraordinary passion, the Titanic strength, of Hugo; and in the case of
Thoreau he dwells too harshly upon the less gracious aspects of the

It is only fair to say, however, that in the case of Thoreau he made
generous amends in the preface to the Collected Essays.  Both the
reconsidered verdict and the original essay are highly characteristic of
the man.  Other men have said equally harsh things of Thoreau.  Stevenson
alone had the fairness, the frank, childlike spirit to go back upon
himself.  These are the things that endear us to Stevenson, and make it
impossible to be angry with any of his paradoxes and extravagant capers.
Who but Stevenson would have written thus: “The most temperate of living
critics once marked a passage of my own with a cross and the words, ‘This
seems nonsense.’  It not only seemed, it was so.  It was a private
bravado of my own which I had so often repeated to keep up my spirits
that I had grown at last wholly to believe it, and had ended by setting
it down as a contribution to the theory of life.”

Touched by this confidence, one reads Stevenson—especially the
letters—with a more discerning eye, a more compassionate understanding;
and if at times one feels the presence of the Ariel too strong, and longs
for a more human, less elfin personality, then the thought that we are
dealing with deliberate “bravado” may well check our impatience.

Men who suffer much are wont to keep up a brave front by an appearance of


To turn now to another side of Stevenson—Stevenson the Artist, the
artificer of phrases, the limner of pictures.  His power here is shown in
a threefold manner—in deft and happy phrasing, in skilful
characterization, in delicately suggestive scenic descriptions.

This, for instance, as an instance of the first:—

    “The victim begins to shrink spiritually; he develops a fancy for
    parlours with a regulated atmosphere, and takes his morality on the
    principle of tin shoes and tepid milk.  The care of one important
    body or soul becomes so engrossing that all the noises of the outer
    world begin to come thin and faint into the parlour with the
    regulated temperature; and the tin shoes go equally forward over
    blood and ruin” (_New Arabian Nights_).

Or this:—

    “Whitman, like a large, shaggy dog, just unchained, scouring the
    beaches of the world, and baying at the moon” (_Men and Books_).

Or this:—

    “To have a catchword in your mouth is not the same thing as to hold
    an opinion; still less is it the same thing as to have made one for
    yourself.  There are too many of these catchwords in the world for
    people to rap out upon you like an oath by way of an argument.  They
    have a currency as intellectual counters, and many respectable
    persons pay their way with nothing else” (_Virginibus Puerisque_).

In his characterization he is at his best—like Scott and Borrow—when
dealing with the picaresque elements in life.  His rogues are depicted
with infinite gusto and admirable art, and although even they, in common
with most of his characters, lack occasionally in substance and objective
reality, yet when he has to illustrate a characteristic he will do so
with a sure touch.

Take, for instance, this sketch of Herrick in _The Ebb Tide_—the weak,
irresolute rascal, with just force enough to hate himself.  He essays to
end his ignominious career in the swift waters:—

    . . . “Let him lie down with all races and generations of men in the
    house of sleep.  It was easy to say, easy to do.  To stop swimming;
    there was no mystery in that, if he could do it.  Could he?

    “And he could not.  He knew it instantly.  He was instantly aware of
    an opposition in his members, unanimous and invincible, clinging to
    life with a single and fixed resolve, finger by finger, sinew by
    sinew; something that was at once he and not he—at once within and
    without him; the shutting of some miniature valve within the brain,
    which a single manly thought would suffice to open—and the grasp of
    an external fate ineluctable to gravity.  To any man there may come
    at times a consciousness that there blows, through all the
    articulations of his body, the wind of a spirit not wholly his; that
    his mind rebels; that another girds him, and carries him whither he
    would not.  It came even to Herrick with the authority of a
    revelation—there was no escape possible.  The open door was closed in
    his recreant face.  He must go back into the world and amongst men
    without illusion.  He must stagger on to the end with the pack of his
    responsibility and disgrace, until a cold, a blow—a merciful chance
    blow—or the more merciful hangman should dismiss him from his infamy.

    “There were men who could commit suicide; there were men who could
    not; and he was one who could not.  His smile was tragic.  He could
    have spat upon himself.”

Profoundly dissimilar in many ways, one psychological link binds together
Dickens, Browning, and Stevenson—a love of the grotesque, a passion for
the queer, phantastic sides of life.  Each of them relished the tang of
roughness, and in Browning’s case the relish imparts itself to his style.
Not so with Stevenson.  He will delve with the others for curious
treasure; but not until it is fairly wrought and beaten into a thing of
finished beauty will he allow you to get a glimpse of it.

This is different from Browning, who will fling his treasures at you with
all the mud upon them.  But I am not sure that Stevenson’s is always the
better way.  He may save you soiling your fingers; but the real
attractiveness of certain things is inseparable from their uncouthness,
their downright ugliness.  Sometimes you feel that a plainer setting
would have shown off the jewel to better advantage.  Otherwise one has
nothing but welcome for such memorable figures as John Silver, the
Admiral in _The Story of a Lie_, Master Francis Villon, and a goodly
company beside.

It is impossible even in such a cursory estimate of Stevenson as this to
pass over his vignettes of Nature.  And it is the more necessary to
emphasize these, inasmuch as the Vagabond’s passion for the Earth is
clearly discernible in these pictures.  They are no Nature sketches as
imagined by a mere “ink-bottle feller”—to use a phrase of one of Mr.
Hardy’s rustics.  One of Stevenson’s happiest recollections was an “open
air” experience when he slept on the earth.  He loved the largeness of
the open air, and his intense joy in natural sights and sounds bespeaks
the man of fine, even hectic sensibility, whose nerves quiver for the
benison of the winds and sunshine.

Ever since the days of Mrs. Radcliffe, who used the stormier aspects of
Nature with such effect in her stories, down to Mr. Thomas Hardy, whose
massive scenic effects are so remarkable, Nature has been regarded as a
kind of “stage property” by the novelist.

To the great writers the Song of the Earth has proved an inspiration only
second to the “Song of Songs,” and the lesser writer has imitated as best
he could so effective a decoration.  But there is no mistaking the
genuine lover of the Earth.  He does not—as Oscar Wilde wittily said of a
certain popular novelist—“frighten the evening sky into violent
chromo-lithographic effects”; he paints the sunrises and sunsets with a
loving fidelity which there is no mistaking.  Nor are all the times and
seasons of equal interest in his eyes.  If we look back at the masters of
fiction (ay, and mistresses too) in the past age, we shall note how each
one has his favourite aspect, how each responds more readily to one
special mood of the ancient Earth.

Mention has been made of Mrs. Radcliffe.  Extravagant and absurd as her
stories are in many ways, she was a genuine lover of Nature, especially
of its grand and sublime aspects.  Her influence may be traced in Scott,
still more in Byron.  The mystic side of Nature finds its lovers chiefly
in the poets, in Coleridge and in Shelley.  But at a later date Nathaniel
Hawthorne found in the mysticism of the Earth his finest inspiration;
while throughout the novels of Charlotte and Emily Brontë wail the bleak
winds of the North, and the grey storm-clouds are always hurrying past.
Even in Dickens there is more snow than sunshine, and we hear more of
“the winds that would be howling at all hours” than of the brooding peace
and quiet of summer days.  Charles Kingsley is less partial towards the
seasons, and cares less about the mysticism than the physical influences
of Nature.

In our own day Mr. George Meredith has reminded us of the big geniality
of the Earth; and the close relationship of the Earth and her moods with
those who live nearest to her has found a faithful observer in Mr. Hardy.

Stevenson differs from Meredith and Hardy in this.  He looks at her
primarily with the eye of the artist.  They look at her primarily with
the eye of the scientific philosopher.

Here is a twilight effect from _The Return of the Native_:—

    “The sombre stretch of rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the
    evening gloom in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as
    rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. . . .  The place became full
    of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank brooding to
    sleep, the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen.  Every night
    its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus
    unmoved during so many centuries, through the crises of so many
    things, that it could only be imagined to await one last crisis—the
    final overthrow. . . .  Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon
    Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without
    showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity.”

Contrast with this a twilight piece from Stevenson:—

    “The sky itself was of a ruddy, powerful, nameless changing colour,
    dark and glossy like a serpent’s back.  The stars by innumerable
    millions stuck boldly forth like lamps.  The milky way was bright,
    like a moonlit cloud; half heaven seemed milky way.  The greater
    luminaries shone each more clearly than a winter’s moon.  Their light
    was dyed in every sort of colour—red, like fire; blue, like steel;
    green, like the tracks of sunset; and so sharply did each stand forth
    in its own lustre that there was no appearance of that flat,
    star-spangled arch we know so well in pictures, but all the hollow of
    heaven was one chaos of contesting luminaries—a hurly-burly of stars.
    Against this the hill and rugged tree-tops stood out redly dark.”

Each passage has a fresh beauty that removes it from the perfunctory
tributes of the ordinary writer.  But the difference between the Artist
and the Philosopher is obvious.  Not that Mr. Hardy has no claims as an
artist.  Different as their styles are, and although Stevenson has a more
fastidious taste for words, the large, deliberate, massive art of Hardy
is equally effective in its fashion.  That, however, by the way.  The
point is that Mr. Hardy never rests _as_ an artist—he is quite as
concerned with the philosophic as with the pictorial aspects of the
scene.  Stevenson rejoices as a Romantic; admires like an Artist.


But if Stevenson does not care to philosophize over Nature—herein parting
company with Thoreau as well as Hardy—he can moralize on occasion, and
with infinite relish too.

“Something of the Shorter Catechist,” as his friend Henley so acutely
said.  There is the Moralist in his essays, in some of the short
stories—_Jekyll and Hyde_ is a morality in disguise, and unblushingly so
is _A Christmas Sermon_.

Some of his admirers have deplored this tendency in Stevenson; have
shaken their heads gloomily over his Scottish ancestry, and spoken as
apologetically about the moralizing as if it had been kleptomania.

Well, there it is as glaring and apparent as Borrow’s big green gamp or
De Quincey’s insularity.  “What business has a Vagabond to moralize?”
asks the reader.  Yet there is a touch of the Moralist in every Vagabond
(especially the English-speaking Vagabond), and its presence in Stevenson
gives an additional piquancy to his work.  The _Lay Morals_ and the
_Christmas Sermon_ may not exhilarate some readers greatly, but there is
a fresher note, a larger utterance in the _Fables_.  And even if you do
not care for Stevenson’s “Hamlet” and “Shorter Catechist” moods, is it
wise, even from the artistic point of view, to wish away that side of his
temperament?  Was it the absence of the “Shorter Catechist” in Edgar
Allan Poe that sent him drifting impotently across the world, brilliant,
unstable, aspiring, grovelling; a man of many fine qualities and
extraordinary intensity of imagination, but tragically weak where he
ought to have been strong?  And was it the “Shorter Catechist” in
Stevenson that gave him that grip-hold of life’s possibilities, imbued
him with his unfailing courage, and gave him as Artist a strenuous
devotion to an ideal that accompanied him to the end?  Or was it so
lamentable a defect as certain critics allege?  I wonder.


    “Noises of river and of grove
    And moving things in field and stall
    And night birds’ whistle shall be all
    Of the world’s speech that we shall hear.”

                                                           WILLIAM MORRIS.

    “The poetry of earth is never dead.”



The longing of a full, sensuous nature for fairer dreams of beauty than
come within its ken; the delight of a passionate soul in the riotous
wealth of the Earth, the luxuriant prodigality of the Earth; the
hysterical joy of the invalid in the splendid sanity of the
sunlight—these are the sentiments that well up from the writings of
Richard Jefferies.

By comparison with him, Thoreau’s Earth-worship seems quite a stolid
affair, and even Borrow’s frank enjoyment of the open air has a strangely
apathetic touch about it.

No doubt he felt more keenly than did the Hermit of Walden, or the
Norfolk giant, but it was not so much passionate intensity as nervous
susceptibility.  He had the sensitive quivering nerves of the neurotic
which respond to the slightest stimulus.  Of all the “Children of the
Open Air” Jefferies was the most sensitive; but for all that I would not
say that he felt more deeply than Thoreau, Borrow, or Stevenson.

Some people are especially susceptible by constitution to pain or
pleasure, but it would be rash to assume hastily that on this account
they have more deeply emotional natures.  That they express their
feelings more readily is no guarantee that they feel more deeply.

In other words, there is a difference between susceptibility and passion.

Whether a man has passion—be it of love or hate—can be judged only by his
general attitude towards his fellow-beings, and by the stability of the

Now Jefferies certainly had keener sympathies with humankind than
Thoreau, and these sympathies intensified as the years rolled by.  Few
men have espoused more warmly the cause of the agricultural labourer.
Perhaps Hodge has never experienced a kinder advocate than Jefferies.  To
accuse him of superficiality of emotion would be unfair; for he was a man
with much natural tenderness in his disposition.

All that I wish to protest against is the assumption made by some that
because he has written so feelingly about Hodge, because he has shown so
quick a response to the beauties of the natural world, he was therefore
gifted with a deep nature, as has been claimed for him by some of his

One of the characteristics that differentiates the Vagabond writer from
his fellows is, I think, a lack of passion—always excepting a passion for
the earth, a quality lacking human significance.  In their human
sympathies they vary: but in no case, not even with Whitman, as I hope to
show in my next paper, is there a _passion_ for humankind.  There may be
curiosity about certain types, as with Borrow and Stevenson; a delight in
simple natures, as with Thoreau; a broad, genial comradeship with all and
sundry, as in the case of Whitman; but never do you find depth,

Jefferies then presents to my mind all the characteristics of the
Vagabond, his many graces and charms, his notable deficiencies,
especially the absence of emotional stability.  This trait is, of course,
more pronounced in some Vagabonds than in others; but it belongs to his
inmost being.  Eager, curious, adventurous; tasting this experience and
that; his emotions share with his intellect in a chronic restless
transition.  More easily felt than defined is the lack of permanence in
his nature; his emotions flame fitfully and in gusts, rather than with
steady persistence.  Finally, despite the tenderness and kindliness he
can show, the egotistic elements absorb too much of his nature.  A great
egotist can never be a great lover.

This may seem a singularly ungracious prelude to a consideration of
Richard Jefferies; but whatever it may seem it is quite consistent with a
hearty admiration for his genius, and a warm appreciation of the man.
Passion he had of a kind, but it was the rapt, self-centred passion of
the mystic.

He interests us both as an artist and as a thinker.  It will be useful,
therefore, to keep these points of view as separate as possible in
studying his writings.


Looking at him first of all as an artist, the most obvious thing that
strikes a reader is his power to convey sensuous impressions.  He loved
the Earth, not as some have done with the eye or ear only, but with every
nerve of his body.  His scenic pictures are more glowing, more ardent
than those of Thoreau.  There was more of the poet, less of the
naturalist in Jefferies.  Perhaps it would have been juster to call
Thoreau a poetic naturalist, and reserved the term poet-naturalist for
Jefferies.  Be that as it may, no one can read Jefferies—especially such
books as _Wild Life in a Southern County_, or _The Life of the Fields_,
without realizing the keen sensibility of the man to the sensuous
impressions of Nature.

Again and again in reading Jefferies one is reminded of the poet Keats.
There is the same physical frailty of constitution and the same rare
susceptibility to every manifestation of beauty.  There is, moreover, the
same intellectual devotion to beauty which made Keats declare Truth and
Beauty to be one.  And the likeness goes further still.

The reader who troubles to compare the sensuous imagery of the three
great Nature poets—Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats, will realize an
individual difference in apprehending the beauties of the natural world.
Wordsworth worships with his ear, Shelley with his eye, Keats with his
sense of touch.  Sound, colour, feeling—these things inform the poetry of
these great poets, and give them their special individual charm.

Now, in Jefferies it is not so much the colour of life, or the sweet
harmonies of the Earth, that he celebrates, though of course these things
find a place in his prose songs.  It is the “glory of the sum of things”
that diffuses itself and is felt by every nerve in his body.

Take, for instance, the opening to _Wild Life in a Southern County_:—

    “The inner slope of the green fosse is inclined at an angle pleasant
    to recline on, with the head just below the edge, in the summer
    sunshine.  A faint sound as of a sea heard in a dream—a sibilant
    “sish-sish”—passes along outside, dying away and coming again as a
    fresh wave of the wind rushes through the bennets and the dry grass.
    There is the happy hum of bees—who love the hills—as they speed by
    laden with their golden harvest, a drowsy warmth, and the delicious
    odour of wild thyme.  Behind, the fosse sinks and the rampart rises
    high and steep—two butterflies are wheeling in uncertain flight over
    the summit.  It is only necessary to raise the head a little way, and
    the cod breeze refreshes the cheek—cool at this height, while the
    plains beneath glow under the heat.”

This, too, from _The Life of the Fields_:—

    “Green rushes, long and thick, standing up above the edge of the
    ditch, told the hour of the year, as distinctly as the shadow on the
    dial the hour of the day.  Green and thick and sappy to the touch,
    they felt like summer, soft and elastic, as if full of life, mere
    rushes though they were.  On the fingers they left a green scent;
    rushes have a separate scent of green, so, too, have ferns very
    different to that of grass or leaves.  Rising from brown sheaths, the
    tall stems, enlarged a little in the middle like classical columns,
    and heavy with their sap and freshness, leaned against the hawthorn
    sprays.  From the earth they had drawn its moisture, and made the
    ditch dry; some of the sweetness of the air had entered into their
    fibres, and the rushes—the common rushes—were full of beautiful

Jefferies’ writings are studies in tactile sensation.  This is what
brings him into affinity with Keats, and this is what differentiates him
from Thoreau, with whom he had much in common.  Of both Jefferies and
Thoreau it might be said what Emerson said of his friend, that they “saw
as with a microscope, heard as with an ear-trumpet.”  As lovers of the
open air and of the life of the open air, every sense was preternaturally
quickened.  But though both observed acutely, Jefferies alone felt

“To me,” he says, “colour is a sort of food; every spot of colour is a
drop of wine to the spirit.”

It took many years for him to realize where exactly his strength as a
writer lay.  In early and later life he again and again essayed the novel
form, but, superior as were his later fictions—_Amaryllis at the Fair_,
for instance, to such crude stuff as _The Scarlet Shawl_—it is as a prose
Nature poet that he will be remembered.

He knew and loved the Earth; the atmosphere of the country brought into
play all the faculties of his nature.  Lacking in social gifts, reserved
and shy to an extreme, he neither knew much about men and women, nor
cared to know much.  With a few exceptions—for the most part studies of
his own kith and kin—the personages of his stories are shadow people;
less vital realities than the trees, the flowers, the birds, of whom he
has to speak.

But where he writes of what he has felt, what he has [Picture: Richard
Jefferies] realized, then, like every fine artist, he transmits his
enthusiasm to others.  Sometimes, maybe, he is so full of his subject, so
engrossed with the wonders of the Earth, that the words come forth in a
torrent, impetuous, overwhelming.  He writes like a man beside himself
with sheer joy.  _The Life of the Fields_ gives more than physical
pleasure, more than an imaginative delight, it is a religion—the old
religion of Paganism.  He has, as Sir Walter Besant truly said, “communed
so much with Nature, that he is intoxicated with her fulness and her
beauty.  He lies upon the turf, and feels the embrace of the great round
world.” {147}

Even apart from fiction, his earlier work varied greatly in quality.
With the publication of _The Game-keeper at Home_, it was clear that a
new force had entered English literature.  A man of temperamental
sympathies with men like Borrow and Thoreau, nevertheless with a power
and individuality of his own.  But if increasing years brought
comparative recognition, they brought also fresh physical infirmities.
The last few years of his life were one prolonged agony, and yet his
finest work was done in them, and that splendid prose-poem, “The Pageant
of Summer,” was dictated in the direst possible pain.  As the physical
frame grew weaker the passion for the Earth grew in intensity; and in his
writing there is all that desperate longing for the great healing forces
of Nature, that ecstasy in the glorious freedom of the open air,
characteristic of the sick man.

At its best Jefferies’ style is rich in sensuous charm, and remarkable no
less for its eloquence of thought than for its wealth of observation.


One characteristic of his art is of especial interest; I mean the
mystical quality which he imparts to certain of his descriptions of
Nature.  The power of mystic suggestion is a rare one; even poets like
Keats and Shelley could not always command it successfully—and perhaps
Blake, Coleridge, and Rossetti alone of our poets possessed it in the
highest degree.  It is comparatively an easy matter to deal with the
mysticism of the night.  The possibilities of darkness readily impress
the imagination.  But the mysticism of the sunlight—the mysticism not of
strange shapes, but of familiar things of every day, this, though felt by
many, is the most difficult thing in the world to suggest in words.

The “visions” of Jefferies, his moods of emotional exaltation, recall not
only the opium dream of De Quincey, but the ecstasies of the old Mystics.
The theological colouring is not present, but there is the same sharpened
condition of the senses, the same spiritual hunger for a fuller life, the
same sense of physical detachment from the body.

In that fascinating volume of autobiography _The Story of my Heart_,
Jefferies gives many remarkable instances of these visions.  Here is

    “I looked at the hills, at the dewy grass, and then up through the
    elm branches to the sky.  In a moment all that was behind me—the
    house, the people, the sound—seemed to disappear and to leave me
    alone.  Involuntarily I drew a long breath, then I breathed slowly.
    My thought, or inner conscience, went up through the illumined sky,
    and I was lost in a moment of exaltation.  This lasted only a very
    short time, only a part of a second, and while it lasted there was no
    formulated wish.  I was absorbed.  I drank the beauty of the morning.
    I was exalted.”

One is reminded of Tennyson’s verses:—

    “Moreover, something is or seems,
    That touches me with mystic gleams,
    Like glimpses of forgotten dreams—

    “Of something felt, like something here;
    Of something done, I know not where;
    Such as no knowledge may declare.” {149}

“Ah!” says the medical man, with a wise shake of the head, “this mental
condition is a common enough phenomenon, though only on rare occasions
does it express itself in literature.  It is simple hysteria.”

The transcendentalist who has regarded this state of mind as a spiritual
revelation, and looked upon its possessor as one endowed with special
powers of intuition, is indignant with this physiological explanation.
He is more indignant when the medical man proceeds to explain the
ecstatic trances of saints, those whom one may call professional mystics.
“Brutal materialism,” says the transcendentalist.

Now although hysteria is commonly regarded as a foolish exhibition of
weakness on the part of some excitable men and women, there is absolutely
no scientific reason why any stigma should attach to this phenomenon.
Nor is there any reason why the explanation should be considered as
derogatory and necessarily connected with a materialistic view of the

For what is hysteria?  It is an abnormal condition of the nervous system
giving rise to certain physiological and psychical manifestations.  With
the physiological ones we are not concerned, but the psychical
manifestation should be of the greatest interest to all students of
literature who are also presumably students of life.  The artistic
temperament is always associated with a measure of nervous instability.
And where there is nervous instability there will always be a tendency to
hysteria.  This tendency may be kept in check by other faculties.  But it
is latent—ready to manifest itself in certain conditions of health or
under special stress of excitement.  It does not follow that every
hysterical person has the artistic temperament; for nervous instability
may be the outcome of nervous disease, epilepsy, insanity, or even simple
neuroticism in the parents.  But so powerful is the influence of the
imagination over the body, that the vivid imagination connoted by the
artistic temperament controls the nervous system, and when it reaches a
certain intensity expresses itself in some abnormal way.  And it is the
abnormal psychical condition that is of so much significance in
literature and philosophy.

This psychical condition is far commoner in the East than in the West.
Indeed in India, training in mystical insight goes by the name of Yoga.
{151a}  The passive, contemplative temperament of the Oriental favours
this ecstatic condition.

    “The science of the Sufis,” says a Persian philosopher of the
    eleventh century, {151b} “aims at detaching the heart from all that
    is not God, and at giving to it for sole occupation the meditation of
    the divine being. . . .  Just as the understanding is a stage of
    human life in which an eye opens to discuss various intellectual
    objects uncomprehended by sensation; just so in the prophetic the
    sight is illumined by a light which uncovers hidden things and
    objects which the intellect fails to reach.  The chief properties of
    prophetism are perceptible only during the transport by those who
    embrace the Sufi life.  The prophet is endowed with qualities to
    which you possess nothing analogous, and which consequently you
    cannot possibly understand.  How should you know their true
    nature?—what one can comprehend?  But the transport which one attains
    by the method of the Sufis is like an immediate perception, as if one
    touched the objects with one’s hand.”

It is worthy of note how that every ecstatic condition is marked by the
same characteristics; and in the confession of Jefferies, the admissions
of Tennyson, and in the utterance of religious mystics of every kind, two
factors detach themselves.  The vision or state of mind is one of
expectant wonder.  Something that cannot be communicated in words thrills
the entire being.  That is one characteristic.  The other is that this
exaltation, this revelation to the senses, is one that appeals wholly to
sensation.  It can be felt; it cannot be apprehended by any intellectual
formulæ.  It can never be reduced to logical shape.  And the reference to
“touch” in the quotation just made will remind the reader of the
important part played by the tactile sense in Jefferies’ æsthetic

We are not concerned here with any of the philosophical speculations
involved in these “trance conditions.”  All that concerns us is the
remarkable literature that has resulted from this well-ascertained
psychical condition.  How far the condition is the outcome of forces
beyond our immediate ken which compel recognition from certain
imaginative minds, how far it is a question of physical disturbance; or,
in other words, how far these visions are objective realities, how far
subjective, are questions that he beyond the scope of the present paper.
One thing, however, is indisputable; they have exercised a great
fascination over men of sensitive, nervous temperaments, and are often
remarkable for the wider significance they have given to our ideals of

The fact that mysticism may arise out of morbid conditions of health does
not justify us, I think, in looking upon it with Max Nordau as “the fruit
of a degenerate brain.”  Such a criticism is at one with the linking of
genius with insanity—an argument already broached in the paper dealing
with Hazlitt.

Professor William James—who certainly holds no brief for the mystic—makes
the interesting suggestion that “these mystical flights are inroads from
the subconscious life of the cerebral activity, correlative to which we
as yet know nothing.” {153a}

    “As a rule,” he says elsewhere, “mystical states merely add a
    super-sensuous meaning to the ordinary outward data of consciousness.
    They are excitements like the emotions of love or ambition, gifts to
    our spirit by means of which facts already objectively before us fall
    into a new expressiveness, and make a new connection with our active
    life.  They do not contradict these facts as such, or deny anything
    that our senses have immediately seized.”

The connection between mysticism and hysteria, and the psychological
importance of hysteria, merits the fullest consideration in dealing with
the writings of these literary Vagabonds.  Stevenson’s mysticism is more
speculative than that of Jefferies; the intellectual life played a
greater share in his case, but it is none the less marked; and quite
apart from, perhaps even transcending, their literary interest is the
psychological significance of stories like _Markheim_ and _The Strange
Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_.

A medical friend of Jefferies, Dr. Samuel Jones, {153b} has said, when
speaking of his “ecstasies”: “His is not the baneful, sensuous De Quincey
opium-deliriation; he felt a purer delight than that which inspired the
visions of Kubla Khan; he saw ‘no damsel with a dulcimer,’ but thrilled
with yearning unspeakable for the ‘fuller soul,’ and felt in every
trembling fibre of his frame the consciousness of incarnate immortality.”

This attempt to exalt Jefferies at the expense of De Quincey and
Coleridge seems to me unfortunate.  Enough has been said already in the
remarks on De Quincey to show that the dreams of De Quincey were no mere
opium dreams.  De Quincey was a born dreamer, and from his earliest days
had visions and ecstatic moods.  The opium which he took (primarily at
any rate to relieve pain, not, as Dr. Jones suggests, to excite sensuous
imagery) undoubtedly intensified the dream faculty, but it did not
produce it.

I confess that I do not know quite what the Doctor means by preferring
the “purer delight” of the Jefferies exaltation to the vision that
produced _Kubla Khan_.  If he implies that opium provoked the one and
that “the pure breath of Nature” (to use his own phrase) inspired the
other, and that the latter consequently is the purer delight, then I
cannot follow his reasoning.

A vision is not the less “pure” because it has been occasioned by a drug.
One of the sublimest spiritual experiences that ever happened to a man
came to John Addington Symonds after a dose of chloroform.  Nitrous
oxide, ether, Indian hemp, opium, these things have been the means of
arousing the most wonderful states of ecstatic feeling.

Then why should _Kubla Khan_ be rated as a less “pure” delight than one
of the experiences retailed in _The Story of my Heart_?  Is our
imagination so restricted that it cannot enjoy both the subtleties of
Coleridge and the fuller muse of Jefferies?

The healing power of Nature has never found happier expression than in
_The Story of my Heart_.  In words of simple eloquence he tells us how he
cured the weariness and bitterness of spirit by a journey to the

    “The inner nature was faint, all was dry and tasteless; I was weary
    for the pure fresh springs of thought.  Some instinctive feeling
    uncontrollable drove me to the sea. . . .  Then alone I went down to
    the sea.  I stood where the foam came to my feet, and looked out over
    the sunlit waters.  The great earth bearing the richness of the
    harvest, and its hills golden with corn, was at my back; its strength
    and firmness under me.  The great sun shone above, the wide sea was
    before me.  The wind came sweet and strong from the waves.  The life
    of the earth and the sea, the glow of the sun filled me; I touched
    the surge with my hand, I lifted my face to the sun, I opened my lips
    to the wind.  I prayed aloud in the roar of the waves—my soul was
    strong as the sea, and prayed with the sea’s might.  Give me fulness
    of life like to the sea and the sun, and to the earth and the air;
    give me fulness of physical life, mind equal and beyond their
    fulness; give me a greatness and perfection of soul higher than all
    things; give me my inexpressible desire which swells in me like a
    tide—give it to me with all the force of the sea.”

Those who know Jefferies only by his quieter passages of leisurely
observation are surprised when they find such a swirl of passionate
longing in his autobiography.


The points of affinity between Thoreau and Jefferies are sufficiently
obvious; and yet no two writers who have loved the Earth, and found their
greatest happiness in the life of the woods and fields, as did these two
men, have expressed this feeling so variously.  Thoreau, quiet, passive,
self-contained, has seized upon the large tranquillity of Nature, the
coolness and calm, “the central piece subsisting at the heart of endless
agitation.”  Interspersed with his freshly observed comments on the
myriad life about him are moral reflections, shrewd criticism of men and
things, quaint and curious illustrations from his scholarly knowledge.
But although he may not always talk of the Earth, there is the flavour of
the Earth, the sweetness and naturalness of the Earth, about his finest

Jefferies, feverish, excitable, passionate, alive to the glorious
plenitude of the Earth, has seized upon the exceeding beauty, and the
healing beauty of natural things.  No scholar like Thoreau, he brings no
system of thought, as did the American, for Nature to put into shape.
Outside of Nature all is arid and profitless to him.  He comes to her
with empty hands, and seeks for what she may give him.  To Thoreau the
Earth was a kind and gracious sister; to Jefferies an all-sufficing

The reader who passes from Thoreau to Jefferies need have no fear that he
will be wearied with the same point of view.  On the contrary, he will
realize with pleasure how differently two genuine lovers of the Earth can
express their affection.

In Jefferies’ song of praise, his song of desire—praise and desire
alternate continually in his writings—there are two aspects of the Earth
upon which he dwells continually—the exceeding beauty of the Earth, and
the exceeding plenitude of the Earth.  Apostrophes to the beauty have
been quoted already; let this serve as an illustration of the other

    “Everything,” {157a} he exclaims, “on a scale of splendid waste.
    Such noble broadcast, open-armed waste is delicious to behold.  Never
    was there such a lying proverb as ‘Enough is as good as a feast.’
    {157b}  Give me the feast; give me squandered millions of seeds,
    luxurious carpets of petals, green mountains of oak leaves.  The
    greater the waste the greater the enjoyment—the nearer the approach
    to real life.  Casuistry is of no avail; the fact is obvious; Nature
    flings treasures abroad, puffs them with open lips along on every
    breeze; piles up lavish layers of them in the free, open air, packs
    countless numbers together in the needles of a fir tree.  Prodigality
    and superfluity are stamped on everything she does.”

This is no chance passage, no casual thought.  Again and again Jefferies
returns to the richness and plenty of the Earth.  And his style, suiting
itself to the man’s temperament, is rich and overflowing, splendidly
diffuse, riotously exulting, until at times there is the very incoherence
of passion about it.

Thus, in looking at the man’s artistic work, its form of expression, its
characteristic notes, something of the man’s way of thinking has
impressed itself upon us.


It may be well to gather up the scattered impressions, and to look at the
thought that underlies his fervid utterances.  Beginning as merely an
interested observer of Nature, his attitude becomes more enthusiastic, as
knowledge grows of her ways, and what began in observation ends in
aspiration.  The old cry, “Return to Nature,” started by Rousseau, caught
by the poets of the “Romantic Revival” in England, and echoed by the
essayists of New England, fell into silence about the middle of last
century.  It had inspired a splendid group of Nature poets; and for a
time it was felt some new gospel was needed.  Scientific and
philosophical problems took possession of men’s minds; the intellectual
and emotional life of the nation centred more and more round the life of
the city.  For a time this was, perhaps, inevitable.  For a time Nature
regarded through the eyes of fresh scientific thought had lost her charm.
Even the poets who once had been content to worship, now began to
criticize.  Tennyson qualified his homage with reproachings.  Arnold
carried his books of philosophy into her presence.  But at last men tired
of this questioning attitude.  America produced a Whitman; and in England
William Morris and Richard Jefferies—among others—cried out for a
simpler, freer, more childlike attitude.

“All things seem possible,” declared Jefferies, “in the open air.”  To
live according to Nature was, he assured his countrymen, no poet’s fancy,
but a creed of life.  He spoke from his own experience; life in the open,
tasting the wild sweetness of the Earth, had brought him his deepest
happiness; and he cried aloud in his exultation, bidding others do
likewise.  “If you wish your children,” says he, “to think deep things,
to know the holiest emotions, take them to the woods and hills, and give
them the freedom of the meadows.”  On the futility of bookish learning,
the ugliness and sordidness of town life, he is always discoursing.  His
themes were not fresh ones; every reformer, every prophet of the age had
preached from the same text.  And none had put the case for Nature more
forcibly than Wordsworth when he lamented—

    “The world is too much with us.”

But the plea for saner ways of living cannot be urged too often, and if
Jefferies in his enthusiasm exaggerates the other side of the picture,
pins his faith over much on solitudes and in self-communion, too little
on the gregarious instincts of humankind, yet no reformer can make any
impression on his fellows save by a splendid one-sidedness.

The defect of his Nature creed which calls for the most serious criticism
is not the personal isolation on which he seems to insist.  We herd
together so much—some unhappily by necessity, some by choice, that it
would be a refreshing thing, and a wholesome thing, for most of us to be
alone, more often face to face with the primal forces of Nature.

The serious defect in his thought seems to me to lie in his attitude
towards the animal creation.  It is summed up in his remark: “There is
nothing human in any living Animal.  All Nature, the Universe as far as
we see, is anti- or ultra-human outside, and has no concern with man.”
In this statement he shows how entirely he has failed to grasp the secret
of the compelling power of the Earth—a secret into which Thoreau entered
so fully.

Why should the elemental forces of Nature appeal so strongly to us?  Why
does the dweller in the open air feel that an unseen bond of sympathy
binds him to the lowest forms of sentient life?  Why is a St. Francis
tender towards animals?  Why does a Thoreau take a joy in the company of
the birds, the squirrels, and feel a sense of companionship in the very
flowers?  Nay, more: what is it that gives a Jefferies this sense of
communion? why, if the Earth has no “concern with man,” should it soothe
with its benison, and fire his being with such ecstatic rapture?  If this
doctrine of a Universal Brotherhood is a sentimental figment, the
foundation is swept away at once of Jefferies’ Nature creed.  His sense
of happiness, his delight in the Earth, may no doubt afford him
consolation, but it is an irrational comfort, an agreeable delusion.

And yet no one can read a book of Jefferies without realizing that here
is no sickly fancy—however sickness may have imparted a hectic colouring
here and there—but that the instinct of the Artist is more reliable than
the theory of the Thinker.  Undoubtedly his Nature creed is less
comprehensive than Thoreau’s.  Jefferies regarded many animals as “good
sport”; Thoreau as good friends.  “Hares,” he says, “are almost formed on
purpose to be good sport.”  The remark speaks volumes.  A man who could
say that has but a poor philosophic defence to offer for his rapt
communion with Nature.

How can you have communion with something “anti- or ultra-human”?  The
large utterance, “All things seem possible in the open air” dwindles down
rather meanly when the speaker looks at animals from the sportsman’s
point of view.  Against his want of sympathy with the lower forms of
creation one must put his warm-hearted plea for the agricultural poor.
In his youth there was a certain harsh intolerance about his attitude
towards his fellows, but he made ample amends in _Hodge and his Master_,
still more in _The Dewy Morn_, for the narrow individualism of his
earlier years.

One might criticize certain expressions as extravagant when he lashed out
against the inequalities in society.  But after all there is only a
healthy Vagabond flavour about his fling at “modern civilization,” and
the genuine humanitarian feeling is very welcome.  Some of his
unpublished “Notes on the Labour Question” (quoted by Mr. Salt in his
able study of Jefferies) are worthy of Ruskin.  This, for instance, is
vigorously put:—

    “‘But they are paid to do it,’ says Comfortable Respectability (which
    hates anything in the shape of a ‘question,’ glad to slur it over
    somehow).  They are paid to do it.  Go down into the pit yourself,
    Comfortable Respectability, and try it, as I have done, just one hour
    of a summer’s day, then you will know the preciousness of a vulgar
    pot of beer!  Three and sixpence a day is the price of these brawny
    muscles, the price of the rascally sherry you parade before your
    guests in such pseudo-generous profusion.  One guinea a week—that is
    one stall at the Opera.  But why do they do it?  Because Hunger and
    Thirst drive them.  These are the fearful scourges, the whips worse
    than the knout, which lie at the back of Capital, and give it its
    power.  Do you suppose these human beings, with minds, and souls, and
    feelings, would not otherwise repose on the sweet sward, and hearken
    to the song-birds as you may do on your lawn at Cedar Villa?”

Really the passage might have come out of _Fors Clavigera_; it is
Ruskinian not only in sentiment, but in turn of expression.  Ruskin
impressed Jefferies very considerably, one would gather, and did much to
open up his mind and broaden his sympathies.  Making allowance for
certain inconsistencies of mood, hope for and faith in the future, and
weary scepticism, there is a fine stoicism about the philosophy of
Jefferies.  His was not the temperament of which optimists are made.  His
own terrible ill-health rendered him keenly sensitive to the pain and
misery of the world.  His deliberate seclusion from his fellow-men—more
complete in some ways than Thoreau’s, though not so ostensible—threw him
back upon his own thoughts, made him morbidly introspective.

Then the æsthetic Idealism which dominated him made for melancholy, as it
invariably does.  The Worshipper at the shrine of Beauty is always
conscious that

    “. . . . In the very temple of Delight
    Veiled Melancholy has her sovran shrine.”

He realizes the tragic ineffectuality of his aspiration—

    “The desire of the moth for the star,”

as Shelley expresses it, and in this line of poetry the mood finds
imperishable expression.

But the melancholy that visits the Idealist—the Worshipper of Beauty—is
not by any means a mood of despair.  The moth may not attain the star,
but it feels there is a star to be attained.  In other words, an intimate
sense of the beauty of the world carries within it, however faintly,
however overlaid with sick longing, a secret hope that some day things
will shape themselves all right.

And thus it is that every Idealist, bleak and wintry as his mood may be,
is conscious of the latency of spring.  Every Idealist, like the man in
the immortal allegory of Bunyan, has a key in his bosom called Promise.
This it is that keeps from madness.  And so while Jefferies will

    “The whole and the worst the pessimist can say is far beneath the
    least particle of the truth, so immense is the misery of man.”  He
    will also declare, “There lives on in me an impenetrable belief,
    thought burning like the sun, that there is yet something to be
    found, something real, something to give each separate personality
    sunshine and flowers in its own existence now.”

It is a mistake to attach much importance to Jefferies’ attempts to
systematize his views on life.  He lacked the power of co-ordinating his
impressions, and is at his best when giving free play to the instinctive
life within him.  No Vagabond writer can excel him in the expression of
feeling; and yet perhaps no writer is less able than he to account for,
to give a rational explanation of his feelings.  He is rarely
satisfactory when he begins to explain.  Thoreau’s lines about himself
seem to me peculiarly applicable to Jefferies:—

    “I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
       By a chance bond together,
    Dangling this way and that, their links
       Were made so loose and wide
          For milder weather.

    “A bunch of violets without their roots
       And sorrel intermixed,
    Encircled by a wisp of straw
       Once coiled about their shoots,
             The law
          By which I’m fixed.

    “Some tender buds were left upon my stem
       In mimicry of life,
    But ah, the children will not know
       Till Time has withered them,
             The woe
          With which they’re rife.”

Jefferies was a brave man, with a rare supply of resolution and patience.
His life was one long struggle against overwhelming odds.  “Three great
giants,” as he puts it—“disease, despair, and poverty.”  Not only was his
physical health against him, but his very idiosyncrasies all conspired to
hinder his success.  His pride and reserve would not permit him to take
help from his friends.  He even shrank from their sympathy.  His years of
isolation, voluntary isolation, put him out of touch with human society.
His socialistic tendencies never made him social.  His was a kind of
abstract humanitarianism.  A man may feel tenderly, sympathize towards
humanity, yet shrink from human beings.  Misanthropy did not inspire him;
he did not dislike his fellow-men; it was simply that they bewildered and
puzzled him; he could not get on with them.  So it will be seen that he
had not the consolation some men take in the sympathy and co-operation of
their fellows.  After all, this is more a defect of temperament than a
fault of character, and he had to pay the penalty.  Realizing this, it is
impossible to withhold admiration for the pluck and courage of the man.
As a lover of Nature, and an artist in prose, he needs no encomium
to-day.  In his eloquent “Eulogy” Sir Walter Besant gave fitting
expression to the debt of gratitude we owe this poet-naturalist—this
passionate interpreter of English country life.

What Borrow achieved for the stirring life of the road, Jefferies has
done for the brooding life of the fields.  What Thoreau did for the woods
at Maine and the waters of Merrimac, Jefferies did for the Wiltshire
streams and the Sussex hedgerows.  He has invested the familiar scenery
of Southern England with a new glamour, a tenderer sanctity; has arrested
our indifferent vision, our careless hearing, turned our languid
appreciation into a comprehending affection.

Ardent, shy, impressionable, proud, stout-hearted pagan and wistful
idealist; one of the most pathetic and most interesting figures in modern


    “So will I sing on, fast as fancies come;
    Rudely the verse being as the mood it paints.”

                                                          ROBERT BROWNING.

    “A man he seems of cheerful yesterdays
    And confident to-morrows.”



The “good gray poet” is the supreme example of the Vagabond in
literature.  It is quite possible for one not drawn towards the Vagabond
temperament to admire Stevenson, for Stevenson was a fine artist; to take
delight in the vigorous “John Bullism” of _Lavengro_; to sympathize with
the natural mysticism of Jefferies; the Puritan austerity of Thoreau.  In
short, there are aspects in the writings of the other “Vagabonds” in this
volume which command attention quite apart from the characteristics
specifically belonging to the literary Vagabond.

But it is not possible to view Whitman apart from his Vagabondage.  He is
proud of it, glories in it, and flings it in your face.  Others, whatever
strain of wildness they may have had, whatever sympathies they may have
felt for the rough sweetness of the earth, however unconventional their
habits, accepted at any rate the recognized conventions of literature.
As men, as thinkers, they were unconventional; as artists conventional.
They retained at any rate the literary garments of civilized society.

Not so Whitman.  He is the Orson of literature.  Unconventionality he
carries out to its logical conclusion, and strides stark naked among our
academies of learning.  A strange, uncouth, surprising figure, it is
impossible to ignore him however much he may shock our susceptibilities.

Many years ago Mr. Swinburne greeted him as “a strong-winged soul with
prophetic wings”; subsequently he referred to him as a “drunken
apple-woman reeling in a gutter.”  For this right-about-face he has been
upbraided by Whitman’s admirers.  Certainly it is unusual to find any
reader starting out to bless and ending with a curse.  Usually it is the
precedent of Balaam that is followed.  But Mr. Swinburne’s mingled
feelings typify the attitude of every one who approaches the poet, though
few of us can express ourselves so resourcefully as the author of _Poems
and Ballads_.

There may be some students who accept Whitman without demur at the outset
on his own terms.  All I can say is that I never heard of one.  However
broad-minded you may consider yourself, however catholic in your
sympathies, Whitman is bound to get athwart some pet prejudice, to
discover some shred of conventionality.  Gaily, heedlessly, you start out
to explore his writings, just as you might start on a walking tour.  He
is in touch with the primal forces of Nature, you hear.  “So much the
better,” say you; “civilization has ceased to charm.”  “You are enamoured
of wildness.”  Thus men talk before camping out, captivated by the
picturesque and healthy possibilities, and oblivious to the
inconveniences of roughing it.

But just as some amount of training is wanted before a walking tour, or a
period of camping out, so is it necessary to prepare yourself for a
course of Whitman.  And this, not because there is any exotic mystery
about Whitman, not because there are any intellectual subtleties about
his work, as there are in Browning, but because he is the pioneer of a
new order, and the pioneer always challenges the old order; our tastes
require adjusting before they can value it properly.

There is no question about a “Return to Nature” with Whitman.  He never
left it.  Thoreau quitted the Emersonian study to get fresh inspiration
from the woods.  Even Jefferies, bred up in the country, carried about
with him the delicate susceptibilities of the neurotic modern.  Borrow
retained a firm grip-hold of many conventions of the city.  But Whitman?
It was no case with him of a sojourn in the woods, or a ramble on the
heath.  He was a spiritual native of the woods and heath; not, as some
seem to think, because he was a kind of wild barbarian who loved the
rough and uncouth, and could be found only in unfrequented parts, but
because he was in touch with the elemental everywhere.  The wildness of
Whitman, the barbarian aspects of the man, have been overrated.  He is
wild only in so far as he is cosmic, and the greater contains the less.
He loves the rough and the smooth, not merely the rough.  His songs are
no mere pæans of rustic solitudes; they are songs of the crowded streets,
as well of the country roads; of men and women—of every type—no less than
of the fields and the streams.  In fact, he seeks the elemental
everywhere.  Thoreau found it in the Indian, Borrow in the gypsies,
Whitman, with a finer comprehensiveness, finds it in the multitude.  His
business is to bring it to the surface, to make men and women rejoice
in—not shrink from—the great primal forces of life.  But he is not for

    “I give nothing as duties,
    What others give as duties I give as loving impulses.
    (Shall I give the heart’s action as a duty?)”

He has no quarrel with civilization as such.  The teeming life of the
town is as wonderful to him as the big solitude of the Earth.  Carlyle’s
pleasantry about the communistic experiments of the American
Transcendentalists would have no application for him.  “A return to
Acorns and expecting the Golden Age to arrive.”

Here is no exclusive child of Nature:—

       “I tramp a perpetual journey, . . .
    My signs are a rainproof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the
    woods . . .
    I have no chair, no church, no philosophy.”

People talk of Whitman as if he relied entirely on the “staff cut from
the woods”; they forget his rainproof coat and good shoes.  Assuredly he
has no mind to cut himself adrift from the advantages of civilization.

The rainproof coat, indeed, reminds one of Borrow’s green gamp, which
caused such distress to his friends and raised doubts in the minds of Mr.
Watts-Dunton and Dr. Hake as to whether he was a genuine child of
[Picture: Walt Whitman] the open air. {173}  No one would cavil at that
term as applied to Whitman—yet one must not forget the “rainproof coat.”

In regarding the work of Whitman there are three aspects which strike one
especially.  His attitude towards Art, towards Humanity, towards Life.


First of all, Whitman’s attitude towards Art.

For the highest art two essentials are required—Sincerity and Beauty.
The tendency of modern literature has been to ignore the first and to
make the second all-sufficient.  The efforts of the artist have been
concentrated upon the workmanship, and too often he has been satisfied
with a merely technical excellence.

It is a pleasant and attractive pastime, this playing with words.  Grace,
charm, and brilliance are within the reach of the artificer’s endeavour.
But a literature which is the outcome of the striving after beauty of
form, without reference to the sincerity of substance, is like a posy of
flowers torn away from their roots.  Lacking vitality, it will speedily

No writer has seen this more clearly than Whitman, and if in his vigorous
allegiance to Sincerity he has seemed oblivious at times to the existence
of Beauty, yet he has chosen the better part.  And for this reason.
Beauty will follow in the wake of Sincerity, whether sought for or no,
and the writer whose one passion it is to see things as they are, and to
disentangle from the transient and fleeting the great truths of life,
finds that in achieving a noble sincerity he has also achieved the
highest beauty.

The great utterances of the world are beautiful, because they are true.
Whereas the artist who is determined to attain beauty at all costs will
obtain beauty of a kind—“silver-grey, placid and perfect,” as Andrea del
Sarto said, but the highest beauty it will not be, for that is no mere
question of manner, but a perfect blend of manner and matter.

It will no doubt be urged that, despite his sincerity, there is a good
deal in Whitman that is not beautiful.  And this must be frankly
conceded.  But this will be found only when he has failed to separate the
husk from the kernel.  Whitman’s sincerity is never in question, but he
does not always appreciate the difference between accuracy and truth,
between the accidental and the essential.  For instance, lines like

    “The six framing men, two in the middle, and two at each end,
    carefully bearing on their shoulders a heavy stick for a cross-beam.”

or physiological detail after this fashion:—

    “Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws and the jaw
    Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
    Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck sheer.
    Strong shoulders, manly beard, hind shoulders, and the ample size
    round of the chest,
    Upper arm, armpit, elbow socket, lower arms, arm sinews, arm bones.
    Wrist and wrist joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger,
    finger joints, finger nails, etc., etc.”

The vital idea lying beneath these accumulated facts is lost sight of by
the reader who has to wade through so many accurate non-essentials.

It is well, I think, to seize upon the weakness of Whitman’s literary
style at the outset, for it explains so much that is irritating and

_Leaves of Grass_ he called his book, and the name is more significant
than one at first realizes.  For there is about it not only the
sweetness, the freshness, the luxuriance of the grass; but its prolific
rankness—the wheat and the tares grow together.

It has, I know, been urged by some of Whitman’s admirers that his power
as a writer does not depend upon his artistic methods or non-artistic
methods, and he himself protested against his _Leaves_ being judged
merely as literature.  And so there has been a tendency to glorify his
very inadequacies, to hold him up as a poet who has defied successfully
the unwritten laws of Art.

This is to do him an ill service.  If Whitman’s work be devoid of Art,
then it possesses no durability.  Literature is an art just as much as
music, painting, or sculpture.  And if a man, however fine, however
inspiring his ideas may be, has no power to shape them—to express them in
colour, in sound, in form, in words—to seize upon the essentials and use
no details save as suffice to illustrate these essentials, then his work
will not last.  For it has no vitality.

In other words, Whitman must be judged ultimately as an artist, for Art
alone endures.  And on the whole he can certainly bear the test.  His art
was not the conventional art of his day, but art it assuredly was.

In his best utterances there are both sincerity and beauty.

Who could deny the title of artist to the man who wrote those noble
verses, “On the Beach at Night”?—

    “On the beach at night,
    Stands a child with her father,
    Watching the east, the autumn sky.

    “Up through the darkness,
    While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
    Lower sullen and fast athwart and down the sky,
    Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
    Ascends large and calm the lord-star Jupiter,
    And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
    Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades.

    “From the beach the child holding the hand of her father,
    Those burial clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all
    Watching, silently weeps.

    “Weep not, child,
    Weep not, my darling,
    With these kisses let me remove your tears,
    The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
    They shall not long possess the sky, they devour the stars only in
    Jupiter shall emerge, be patient, watch again another night, the
    Pleiades shall emerge,
    They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall
    shine out again,
    The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they
    The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall
    again shine.

    “Then, dearest child, mournest thou only for Jupiter?
    Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

    “Something there is,
    (With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
    I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection)
    Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
    (Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away)
    Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
    Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
    Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.”

or those touching lines, “Reconciliation”?—

    “Word over all beautiful as the sky,
    Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be
    utterly lost,
    That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly
    Wash again, and ever again, this soil’d world;
    For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
    I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin—
    I draw near—
    Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the

Again, take that splendid dirge in memory of President Lincoln, majestic
in its music, spacious and grand in its treatment.  It is too long for
quotation, but the opening lines, with their suggestive beauty, and the
Song to Death, may be instanced.

    “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,
    And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
    I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
    Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring
    Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
    And thought of him I love.

    “O powerful western fallen star!
    O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
    O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
    O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
    O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul!

    “In the dooryard fronting an old farmhouse near the whitewash’d
    Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich
    With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong
    I love.
    With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
    With delicate coloured blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich
    A sprig with its flower I break.

                                  * * * * *

    “Come lovely and soothing death,
    Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
    In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
    Sooner or later delicate death.

    “Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
    For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
    And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise!
    For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

    “Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
    Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
    Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
    I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come

                                  * * * * *

    “The night in silence under many a star,
    The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
    And the soul-turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d death,
    And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

    “Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
    Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the
    prairies wide,
    Over the dense-pack’d cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
    I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O death.”

This is not only Art, but great Art.  So fresh in their power, so
striking in their beauty, are Whitman’s utterances on Death that they
take their place in our memories beside the large utterances of
Shakespeare, Milton, and Shelley.

It is a mistake to think that where Whitman fails in expression it is
through carelessness; that he was a great poet by flashes, and that had
he taken more pains he would have been greater still.  We have been
assured by those who knew him intimately that he took the greatest care
over his work, and would wait for days until he could get what he felt to
be the right word.

To the student who comes fresh to a study of Whitman it is conceivable
that the rude, strong, nonchalant utterances may seem like the work of an
inspired but careless and impatient artist.  It is not so.  It is done

“I furnish no specimens,” he says; “I shower them by exhaustless laws,
fresh and modern continually, as Nature does.”

He is content to be suggestive, to stir your imagination, to awaken your
sympathies.  And when he fails, he fails as Wordsworth did, because he
lacked the power of self-criticism, lacked the faculty of humour—that
saving faculty which gives discrimination, and intuitively protects the
artist from confusing pathos with bathos, the grand and the grandiose.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his treatment of Sex.  Frankness,
outspokenness on the primal facts of life are to be welcomed in
literature.  All the great masters—Shakespeare, Dante, Dostoievsky,
Tolstoy, have dealt openly and fearlessly with the elemental passions.
There is nothing to deplore in this, and Mr. Swinburne was quite right
when he contended that the domestic circle is not to be for all men and
writers the outer limit of their world of work.  So far from regretting
that Whitman claimed right to equal freedom when speaking of the primal
fact of procreation as when speaking of sunrise, sunsetting, and the
primal fact of death, every clean-minded man and woman should rejoice in
the poet’s attitude.  For he believed and gloried in the separate
personalities of man and woman, claiming manhood and womanhood as the
poet’s province, exulting in the potentialities of a healthy sexual life.
He was angry, as well he might be, with the furtive snigger which greets
such matters as motherhood and fatherhood with the prurient
unwholesomeness of a mind that can sigh sentimentally over the “roses and
raptures of Vice” and start away shamefaced from the stark
passions—stripped of all their circumlocutions.  He certainly realized as
few have done the truth of that fine saying of Thoreau’s, that “for him
to whom sex is impure there are no flowers in Nature.”

But at the same time I cannot help feeling that Stevenson was right when
he said that Whitman “loses our sympathy in the character of a poet by
attracting too much of our attention—that of a Bull in a China Shop.”

His aim is right enough; it is to his method one may take objection.  Not
on the score of morality.  Whitman’s treatment of passion is not immoral;
it is simply like Nature herself—unmoral.  What shall we say then about
his sex cycle, “Children of Adam”?  Whitman, in his anxiety to speak out,
freely, simply, naturally, to vindicate the sanity of coarseness, the
poetry of animalism, seems to me to have bungled rather badly.  There are
many fine passages in his “Song of the Body Electric” and “Spontaneous
Me,” but much of it impresses me as bad art, and is consequently
ineffectual in its aim.  The subject demands a treatment at once strong
and subtle—I do not mean finicking—and subtlety is a quality not
vouchsafed to Whitman.  Lacking it, he is often unconsciously comic where
he should be gravely impressive.  “A man’s body is sacred, and a woman’s
body is sacred.”  True; but the sacredness is not displayed by making out
a tedious inventory of the various parts of the body.  Says Whitman in
effect: “The sexual life is to be gloried in, not to be treated as if it
were something shameful.”  Again true; but is there not a danger of
missing the glory by discoursing noisily on the various physiological
manifestations.  Sex is not the more wonderful for being appraised by the
big drum.

The inherent beauty and sanctity of Sex lies surely in its superb
unconsciousness; it is a matter for two human beings drawn towards one
another by an indefinable, world-old attraction; scream about it, caper
over it, and you begin to make it ridiculous, for you make it

Animalism merely as a scientific fact serves naught to the poet, unless
he can show also what is as undeniable as the bare fact—its poetry, its
coarseness, and its mystery go together.  Browning has put it in a line:—

    “. . . savage creatures seek
    Their loves in wood and plain—_and GOD renews_
    _His ancient rapture_.”

It is the “rapture” and the mystery which Whitman misses in many of his
songs of Sex.

There is no need to give here any theological significance to the word
“God.”  Let the phrase stand for the mystic poetry of animalism.  Whitman
has no sense of mystery.

I have another objection against “The Children of Adam.”  The loud,
self-assertive, genial, boastful style of Whitman suits very well many of
his democratic utterances, his sweeping cosmic emotions.  But here it
gives one the impression of a kind of showman, who with a flourishing
stick is shouting out to a gaping crowd the excellences of manhood and
womanhood.  Deliberately he has refrained from the mood of imaginative
fervour which alone could give a high seriousness to his treatment—a high
seriousness which is really indispensable.  And his rough, slangy,
matter-of-fact comments give an atmosphere of unworthy vulgarity to his
subject.  Occasionally he is carried away by the sheer imaginative beauty
of the subject, then note how different the effect:—

    “Have you ever loved the body of a woman,
    Have you ever loved the body of a man,
    Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all
    Nations and times all over the earth?”

    “If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred,
    And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,
    And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body is
    More beautiful than the most beautiful face.”

If only all had been of this quality.  But interspersed with lines of
great force and beauty are cumbrous irrelevancies, wholly superfluous

William Morris has also treated the subject of Sex in a frank, open
fashion.  And there is in his work something of the easy, deliberate
spaciousness that we find in Whitman.  But Morris was an artist first and
foremost, and he never misses the _poetry_ of animalism; as readers of
the “Earthly Paradise” and the prose romances especially know full well.

It is not then because Whitman treats love as an animal passion that I
take objection to much in his “Children of Adam.”  There are poets enough
and to spare who sing of the sentimental aspects of love.  We need have
no quarrel with Whitman’s aim as expressed by Mr. John Burroughs: “To put
in his sex poems a rank and healthy animality, and to make them as frank
as the shedding of pollen by the trees, strong even to the point of
offence.”  All we ask is for him to do so as a poet, not as a mere
physiologist.  And when he speaks one moment as a physiologist, next as a
poet; at one time as a lover, at another as a showman, the result is not
inspiring.  “He could not make it pleasing,” remarks Mr. Burroughs, “a
sweet morsel to be rolled under the tongue; that would have been levity
and sin, as in Byron and the other poets . . .  He would sooner be
bestial than Byronic, he would sooner shock by his frankness than inflame
by his suggestion.”  This vague linking together of “Byron and the other
poets” is not easy to understand.  In the first place, not one of the
moderns has treated love from the same standpoint.  Shelley, for
instance, is transcendental, Byron elemental, Tennyson sentimental;
Rossetti looks at the soul through the body, Browning regards the body
through the soul.  There is abundant variety in the treatment.  Then,
again, why Byron should be singled out especially for opprobrium I fail
to see, for love is to him the fierce elemental passion it is for
Whitman.  As for frankness, the episode of Haidee and Don Juan does not
err on the side of reticence.  Nor is it pruriently suggestive.  It is a
splendid piece of poetic animalism.  Let us be fair to Byron.  His work
may in places be disfigured by an unworthy cynicism; his treatment of
sexual problems be marred by a shallow flippancy.  But no poet had a
finer appreciation of the essential poetry of animalism than he, and much
of his cynicism, after all, is by way of protest against the same narrow
morality at which Whitman girds.  To single Byron out as a poet
especially obnoxious in his treatment of love, and to condemn him so
sweepingly, seems to me scarcely defensible.  To extol unreservedly the
rankness and coarseness of “The Children of Adam,” and to have no word of
commendation, say, for so noble a piece of naturalism as the story of
Haidee, seems to me lacking in fairness.  Besides, it suggests that the
_only_ treatment in literature of the sexual life is a coarse, unpleasing
treatment, which I do not suppose Mr. Burroughs really holds.  Whitman
has vindicated, and vindicated finely, the inherent truth and beauty of
animalism.  But so has William Morris, so has Dante Gabriel Rossetti, so
has poor flouted Byron.  And I will go further, and say that these other
poets have succeeded often where Whitman has failed; they have shown the
beauty and cosmic significance, when Whitman has been merely cataloguing
the stark facts.

It may be objected, of course, that Whitman does not aim in his sex poems
at imaginative beauty, that he aims at sanity and wholesomeness; that
what he speaks—however rank—makes for healthy living.  May be; I am not
concerned to deny it.  What I do deny is the implication that the
wholesomeness of a fact is sufficient justification for its treatment in
literature.  There are a good many disagreeable things that are wholesome
enough, there are many functions of the body that are entirely healthy.
But one does not want them enshrined in Art.

To attack Whitman on the score of morality is unjustifiable; his sex
poems are simply unmoral.  But had he flouted his art less flagrantly in
them they would have been infinitely more powerful and convincing, and
given the Philistines less opportunity for blaspheming.

I have dwelt at this length upon Whitman’s treatment of Sex largely
because it illustrates his strength and weakness as a literary artist.
In some of his poems—those dealing with Democracy, for instance—we have
Whitman at his best.  In others, certainly a small proportion, we get
sheer, unillumined doggerel.  In his sex poems there are great and fine
ideas, moments of inspiration, flashes of beauty, combined with much that
is trivial and tiresome.

But this I think is the inevitable outcome of his style.  The style, like
the man, is large, broad, sweeping, tolerant; the sense of “mass and
multitude” is remarkable; he aims at big effects, and the quality of
vastness in his writings struck John Addington Symonds as his most
remarkable characteristic. {186}  This vast, rolling, processional style
is splendidly adapted for dealing with the elemental aspects of life,
with the vital problems of humanity.  He sees everything in bulk.  His
range of vision is cosmic.  The very titles are suggestive of his point
of view—“A Song of the Rolling Earth,” “A Song of the Open Road,” “A Song
for Occupation,” “Gods.”  There are no detailed effects, no delicate
points of light and shade in his writings, but huge panoramic effects.
It is a great style, it is an impressive style, but it is obviously not a
plastic style, nor a versatile style.  Its very merits necessarily carry
with them corresponding defects.  The massiveness sometimes proves mere
unwieldiness, the virile strength tends to coarseness, the eye fixed on
certain broad distant effects misses the delicate by-play of colour and
movement in the foreground.  The persistent unconventionality of metre
and rhythm becomes in time a mannerism as pronounced as the mannerism of
Tennyson and Swinburne.

I do not urge these things in disparagement of Whitman.  No man can take
up a certain line wholeheartedly and uncompromisingly without incurring
the disabilities attaching to all who concentrate on one great issue.

And if sometimes he is ineffectual, if on occasion he is merely strident
in place of authoritative, how often do his utterances carry with them a
superb force and a conviction which compel us to recognize the sagacious
genius of the man.


Indeed, it is when we examine Whitman’s attitude towards Humanity that we
realize best his strength and courage.  For it is here that his qualities
find their fittest artistic expression.  Nothing in Whitman’s view is
common or unclean.  All things in the Universe, rightly considered, are
sweet and good.  Carrying this view into social politics, Whitman
declares for absolute social equality.  And this is done in no
doctrinaire spirit, but because of Whitman’s absolute faith and trust in
man and woman—not the man and woman overridden by the artifices of
convention, but the “powerful uneducated person.”  Whitman finds his
ideal not in Society (with a capital S), but in artisans and mechanics.
He took to his heart the mean, the vulgar, the coarse, not idealizing
their weaknesses, but imbuing them with his own strength and vigour.

    “I am enamoured of growth out of doors,
    Of men that live among cattle, or taste of the ocean or woods,
    Of the builder and steerers of ships, and the wielders of axes, and
    The drivers of horses.
    I can eat and sleep with them week in week out.”

Such are his comrades.  And well he knows them.  For many years of his
life he was roving through country and city, coming into daily contact
with the men and women about whom he has sung.  Walt Whitman—farm boy,
school teacher, printer, editor, traveller, mechanic, nurse in the army
hospital, Government clerk.  Truly our poet has graduated as few have
done in the school of Life.  No writer of our age has better claims to be
considered the Poet of Democracy.

But he was no sentimentalist.  More tolerant and passive in disposition
than Victor Hugo, he had the same far-seeing vision when dealing with the
people.  He recognized their capacity for good, their unconquerable
faith, their aspirations, their fine instincts; but he recognized also
their brutality and fierceness.  He would have agreed with Spencer’s
significant words: “There is no alchemy by which you can get golden
conduct out of leaden instincts”; but he would have denied Spencer’s
implication that leaden instincts ruled the Democracy.  And he was right.
There is more real knowledge of men and women in _Leaves of Grass_ and
_Les Miserables_ than in all the volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy.
Thus Whitman announces his theme:—

    “Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
    Cheerful, for freest action formed under the laws divine.
    The modern man I sing.”

“Whitman,” wrote the late Mr. William Clarke, in his stimulating study of
the Poet, {188} “sings of the Modern Man as workman, friend, citizen,
brother, comrade, as pioneer of a new social order, as both material and
spiritual, final and most subtle, compound of spirit and nature, firmly
planted on this rolling earth, and yet ‘moving about in worlds not
realized.’  As representative democratic bard Whitman exhibits complete
freedom from unconventionality, a very deep human love for all, faith in
the rationality of the world, courage, energy, and the instincts of

In the introductory essay to this volume some remarks were made about the
affections of the literary Vagabond in general and of Whitman in
particular, which call now for an ampler treatment, especially as on this
point I find myself, apparently, at issue with so many able and
discerning critics of Whitman.  I say apparently because a consideration
of the subject may show that the difference, though real, is not so
fundamental as it appears to be.

That Whitman entertained a genuine affection for men and women is, of
course, too obvious to be gainsaid.  His noble work in the hospitals, his
tenderness towards criminals and outcasts—made known to us through the
testimony of friends—show him to be a man of comprehensive sympathies.
No man of a chill and calculating nature could have written as he did,
and, although his writings are not free of affectation, the strenuous,
fundamental sincerity of the man impresses every line.

But was it, to quote William Clarke, “a _very deep_ human love”?  This
seems to me a point of psychological interest.  A man may exhibit
kindliness and tenderness towards his fellow-creatures without showing
any deep personal attachment.  In fact, the wider a man’s sympathies are
the less room is there for any strong individual feeling.  His friend,
Mr. Donaldson, has told us that he never remembers Whitman shedding a
tear of grief over the death of any friend.  Tears of joy he shed often;
but no tear of sorrow, of personal regret.  It is true that Mr. Donaldson
draws no particular inference from this fact.  It seems to me highly
significant.  The absence of intense emotion is no argument truly for
insensibility; but to a man of large, sweeping sympathies such as Whitman
the loss of a particular friend did not strike home as it would do in men
of subtler temperaments.

Cosmic emotions leave no room for those special manifestations of
concentrated feeling in individual instances which men with a narrower
range of sympathies frequently show.

For in denying that Whitman was a man capable of “a very deep human
love,” no moral censure is implied.  If not deep, it was certainly
comprehensive; and rarely, if ever, do the two qualities coexist.  Depth
of feeling is not to be found in men of the tolerant, passive type; it is
the intolerant, comparatively narrow-minded man who loves deeply; the man
of few friends, not the man who takes the whole human race to his heart
in one colossal embrace.  Narrowness may exist, of course, without
intensity.  But intensity of temperament always carries with it a certain
forceful narrowness.  Such a man, strongly idiosyncratic, with his
sympathies running in a special groove, is capable of one or two
affections that absorb his entire nature.  Those whom he cares for are so
subtly bound up with the peculiarities of his temperament that they
become a part of his very life.  And if they go, so interwoven are their
personalities with the fibres of his being, that part of his life goes
with them.  To such the death of an intimate friend is a blow that
shatters them beyond recovery.  Courage and endurance, indeed, they may
show, and the undiscerning may never note how fell the blow has been.
But though the healing finger of Time will assuage the wound, the scars
they will carry to their dying day.

As a rule, such men, lovable as they may be to the few, are not of the
stuff of which social reformers are made.  They feel too keenly, too
sensitively, are guided too much by individual temperamental preferences.
It is of no use for any man who has to deal with coarse-grained humanity,
with all sorts and conditions of men, to be fastidious in his tastes.  A
certain bluntness, a certain rude hardiness, a certain evenness of
disposition is absolutely necessary.  We are told of Whitman by one of
his most ardent admirers that his life was “a pleased, uninterested
saunter through the world—no hurry, no fever, no strife, hence no
bitterness, no depression, no wasted energies . . . in all his tastes and
attractions always aiming to live thoroughly in the free nonchalant
spirit of the day.”

Yes; this is the type of man wanted as a social pioneer, as a poet of the
people.  A man who felt more acutely, for whom the world was far too
terrible a place for sauntering, would be quite unfitted for Whitman’s
task.  It was essential that he should have lacked deep individual
affection.  Something had to be sacrificed for the work he had before
him, and we need not lament that he had no predilection for those
intimate personal ties that mean so much to some.

A man who has to speak a word of cheer to so many can ill afford to
linger with the few.  He is not even concerned to convert you to his way
of thinking.  He throws out a hint, a suggestion, the rest you must do
for yourself.

“I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual
look upon you, and then averts his face.  Leaving you to prove and define
it.  Expecting the main things from you.”

Nowhere are Whitman’s qualities more admirably shown than in his attitude
towards the average human being.  As a rule the ordinary man is not a
person whom the Poet delights to honour.  He is concerned with the
exceptional, the extraordinary type.  Whitman’s attitude then is of
special interest.

    “I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you;
    None has understood you, but I understand you;
    None has done justice to you—you have not done justice to yourself.
    None but has found you imperfect; I only find no imperfection in you.
    None but would subordinate you; I only am he who will never consent
    to subordinate you.”

                                  * * * * *

    “Painters have painted their swarming groups, and the centre figure
    of all;
    From the head of the centre figure, spreading a nimbus of
    gold-coloured light.
    But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus of
    gold-coloured light.
    From My hand, from the brain of every man and woman it streams
    effulgently flowing for ever.
    O! I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
    You have not known what you are; you have slumbered upon yourself all
    your time.  . . .”

And so on, in a vein of courageous cheer, spoken with the big, obtrusive,
genial egotism that always meets us in Whitman’s writings.  Whitman’s
egotism proves very exasperating to some readers, but I do not think it
should trouble us much.  After all it is the egotism of a simple,
natural, sincere nature; there is no self-satisfied smirk about it, no
arrogance.  He is conscious of his powers, and is quite frank in letting
you know this.  Perhaps his boisterous delight in his own prowess may jar
occasionally on the nerves; but how much better than the affected
humility of some writers.  And the more you study his writings the less
does this egotism affect even the susceptible.  Your ears get attuned to
the pitch of the voice, you realize that the big drum is beaten with a
purpose.  For it must be remembered that it is an egotism entirely
emptied of condescension.  He is vain certainly, but mainly because he
glories in the common heritage, because he feels he is one of the common
people.  He is proud assuredly, but it is pride that exults in traits
that he shares in common with the artist, the soldier, and the sailor.
He is no writer who plays down to the masses, who will prophesy fair
things—like the mere demagogue—in order to win their favour.  And it is a
proof of his plain speaking, of his fearless candour, that for the most
part the very men for whom he wrote care little for him.

Conventionality rules every class in the community.  Whitman’s gospel of
social equality is not altogether welcome to the average man.  One
remembers Mr. Barrie’s pleasant satire of social distinction in _The
Admirable Crichton_, where the butler resents his radical master’s
suggestion that no real difference separates employer and employed.  He
thinks it quite in keeping with the eternal fitness of things that his
master should assert the prerogative of “Upper Dog,” and points out how
that there are many social grades below stairs, and that an elaborate
hierarchy separates the butler at one end from the “odds and ends” at the

In like manner the ordinary citizen resents Whitman’s genuine democratic
spirit, greatly preferring the sentimental Whiggism of Tennyson.

Whitman reminds us by his treatment of the vulgar, the ordinary, the
commonplace, that he signalizes a new departure in literature.  Of poets
about the people there have been many, but he is the first genuine Poet
_of_ the People.

Art is in its essence aristocratic, it strives after selectness, eschews
the trivial and the trite.  There is, therefore, in literature always a
tendency towards conservatism; the literary artist grows more and more
fastidious in his choice of words; the cheap and vulgar must be
rigorously excluded, and only those words carrying with them stately and
beautiful associations are to be countenanced.  Thus Classicism in Art
constantly needs the freshening, broadening influence of Romanticism.

What Conservatism and Liberalism are to Politics Classicism and
Romanticism are to Art.  Romantic revolutions have swept over literature
before the nineteenth century, and Shakespeare was the first of our great
Romantics.  Then with the reaction Formalism and Conservatism crept in
again.  But the Romantic Revival at the beginning of the nineteenth
century went much further than previous ones.  Out of the throes of the
Industrial Revolution had been born a lusty, clamorous infant that
demanded recognition—the new Demos.  And it claimed not only recognition
in politics, but recognition in literature.  Wordsworth and Shelley
essayed to speak for it with varying success; but Wordsworth was too
exclusive, and Shelley—the most sympathetic of all our poets till the
coming of Browning—was too ethereal in his manner.  Like his own skylark,
he sang to us poised midway between earth and heaven; a more emphatically
flesh and blood personage was wanted.

Here and there a writer of genuine democratic feeling, like Ebenezer
Elliott, voiced the aspirations of the people, but only on one side.
Thomas Hood and Mrs. Browning sounded a deeper note; but the huge,
clamorous populace needed a yet fuller note, a more penetrating insight,
a more forceful utterance.  And in America, with its seething democracy—a
democracy more urgent, more insistent than our own—it found its
spokesman.  That it did not recognize him, and is only just beginning to
do so, is not remarkable.  It did not recognize him, for it had scarcely
recognized itself.  Only dimly did it realize its wants and aspirations.
Whitman divined them; he is the Demos made articulate.

And not only did he sweep away the Conservative traditions and
conventions of literature, he endeavoured to overthrow the aristocratic
principle that underlies it.  Selectness he would replace with
simplicity.  No doubt he went too far.  That is of small moment.
Exaggeration and over-emphasis have their place in the scheme of things.
A thunderstorm may be wanted to clear the air, and if it does
incidentally some slight damage to crops and trees it is of no use

But in the main Whitman’s theory of Art was very true and finely
suggestive, and is certainly not the view of a man who cares for nothing
but the wild and barbaric.

    “The art of Art, the glory of expression, and the sunshine of the
    light of letters is simplicity.  Nothing is better than simplicity,
    nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness.  To
    carry on the heave of impulse, and pierce intellectual depths, and
    give all subjects their articulations, are powers neither common nor
    very uncommon.  But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude
    and insouciance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness
    of the sentiment of trees in the woods, and grass by the woodside, is
    the flawless triumph of Art.”

A fitting attitude for a Poet of Democracy, one likely to bring him into
direct contact with the broad, variegated stream of human life.

What perhaps he did not realize so clearly is that Nature, no less than
Art, exercises the selective facility, and corrects her own riotous
extravagance.  And thus on occasion he falls into the very
indefiniteness, the very excess he deprecates.

The way in which his Art and democratic spirit correspond suggests
another, though less unconventional poet of the Democracy—William Morris.
The spaciousness the directness, the tolerance that characterise
Whitman’s work are to be found to Morris.  Morris had no eclectic
preferences either in Art or Nature.  A wall paper, a tapestry, an epic
were equally agreeable tasks; and a blade of grass delighted him as fully
as a sunset.  So with men.  He loved many, but no one especially.
Catholicity rather than intensity characterised his friendships.  And,
like Whitman, he could get on cheerfully enough with surprisingly
unpleasant people, provided they were working for the cause in which he
was interested. {197}  That is the secret.  Whitman and Morris loved the
Cause.  They looked at things in the mass, at people in the mass.  This
is the true democratic spirit.  They had no time, nor must it be
confessed any special interest—in the individual as such.  What I have
said about Whitman’s affection being comprehensive rather than intense
applies equally to Morris.  Why?  Because it is the way of the Democrat
and the Social Reformer.  To such the individual suggests a whole class,
a class suggests the race.  Whitman is always speaking to man as man,
rarely does he touch on individual men.  If he does so, it is only to
pass on to some cosmic thoughts suggested by the particular instance.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Whitman’s attitude towards
humanity is his thorough understanding of the working classes, and his
quick discernment of the healthy naturalism that animates them.  He
neither patronizes them nor idealizes them; he sees their faults, which
are obvious enough; but he also sees, what is not so obvious, their fine
independence of spirit, their eager thirst for improvement, for ampler
knowledge, for larger opportunities, and their latent idealism.

No doubt there is more independence, greater vigour, less servility, in
America than in England; but the men he especially delights in, the
artisan or mechanic, represent the best of the working classes in either

In this respect Whitman and Tolstoy, differing in so many ways, join
hands.  In the “powerful uneducated person” they see the salvation of
society, the renovation of its anæmic life.


Whitman is no moralist, and has no formal philosophy to offer.  But the
modern spirit which always seeks after some “criticism of life” does not
forsake even the Vagabond.  He is certainly the only Vagabond, with the
exception of Thoreau, who has felt himself charged with a message for his
fellows.  The popular tendency is to look for a “message” in all literary
artists, and the result is that the art in question is knocked sometimes
out of all shape in order to wrest from it some creed or ethical
teaching.  And as the particular message usually happens to be something
that especially appeals to the seeker, the number of conflicting messages
wrung from the unfortunate literary artist are somewhat disconcerting.

But in Whitman’s case the task of the message hunter is quite simple.
Whitman never leaves us in doubt what he believes in, and what ideas he
wishes to propagate.  It is of course easy—perhaps inevitable—that with a
writer whose method it is to hint, suggest, indicate, rather than
formulate, elaborate, codify, the student should read in more than was
intended.  And, after all, as George Eliot said, “The words of Genius
bear a wider meaning than the thought which prompted them.”  But at any
rate there is no mistaking the general outline of his thought, for his
outlook upon life is as distinctive as Browning’s, and indeed possesses
many points of similarity.  But in speaking of Whitman’s message one
thing must be borne in mind.  Whitman’s work must not be adjudged merely
as a special blend of Altruism and Individualism.  No man ever works, it
has been well said {199}—not even if philanthropy be his trade—from the
primary impulse to help or console other people, any more than his body
performs its functions for the sake of other people.  And what Professor
Nettleship says of Browning might be applied with equal truth to Whitman.
His work consists “not in his being a teacher, or even wanting to be one,
but in his doing exactly the work he liked best and could not help
doing.”  And Whitman’s stimulating thought is not the less true for that,
for it is the spontaneous expression of his personality, just as fully as
a melody or picture is an expression of an artist’s personality.  He
could no more help being a teacher than he could help breathing.  And his
teaching must be valued not in accordance with the philosophy of the
schools, not by comparison with the ethics of the professional moralist,
but as the natural and inevitable outcome of his personality and

As a panacea for social evils Whitman believes in the remedial power of
comradeship in a large-hearted charity.

    “You felons on trial in courts,
    You convicts in prison cells, you sentenced assassins chained and
    handcuffed with iron,
    Who am I, too, that I am not on trial or in prison?
    Me ruthless and devilish as any, that my wrists are not chained
    With iron, or my ankles with iron?”

Mark the watchful impassiveness with which he gazes at the ugly side of

    “I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all
    oppression and shame;
    I hear convulsive sobs from young men at anguish with themselves,
    remorseful after deeds done;

                                  * * * * *

    I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny;
    I see martyrs and prisoners—
    I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who
    shall be killed, to preserve the lives of the rest;
    I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon
    labourers, the poor, and upon negroes and the like;
    All these—all the meanness and agony without end, I sit and look out
    See, hear, and am silent.”

No one is too base, too degraded for Whitman’s affection.  This is no
mere book sentiment with him; and many stories are told of his tenderness
and charity towards the “dregs of humanity.”  That a man is a human being
is enough for Whitman.  However he may have fallen there is something in
him to appeal to.  He would have agreed with Browning that—

    “Beneath the veriest ash there hides a spark of soul,
    Which, quickened by Love’s breath, may yet pervade the whole
    O’ the grey, and free again be fire; of worth the same
    Howe’er produced, for great or little flame is flame.”

Like Browning, also, Whitman fears lassitude and indifference more than
the turmoil of passion.  He glories in the elemental.  At present he
thinks we are too fearful of coarseness and rankness, lay too much stress
on refinement.  And so he delights in “unrefinement,” glories in the
woods, air-sweetness, sun-tan, brawn.

    “_So long_!
    I announce a life that shall be copious, vehement, spiritual bold,
    And I announce an did age that shall lightly and joyfully meet its

Cultured conventions, of which we make so much, distress him.  They tend,
he argues, to enervation, to a poor imitative, self-conscious art, to an
artificial, morbid life.

His curative methods were heroic; but who can say that they were not
needed, or that they were mischievous?

Certainly in aiming first of all at sincerity he has attained that noble
beauty which is born of strength.  Nature, as he saw, was full of vital
loveliness by reason of her very power.  The average literary artist is
always seeking for the loveliness, aiming after beauty of form, without a
care whether what he is saying has the ring of sincerity and truth,
whether it is in touch with the realities of Nature.  And in his
super-refinements he misses the beauty that flashes forth from the rough,
savage songs of Whitman.

Whitman does not decry culture.  But he places first the educative
influence of Nature.  “The best Culture,” he says, “will always be that
of the manly and courageous instincts and loving perception, and of

No advocate of lawlessness he; the influence of modern sciences informs
every line that he has written.

As Mr. Burroughs very justly says: “Whitman’s relation to science is
fundamental and vital.  It is the soil under his feet.  He comes into a
world from which all childish fear and illusion has been expelled.  He
exhibits the religious and poetic faculties perfectly adjusted to a
scientific, industrial, democratic age, and exhibits them more fervent
and buoyant than ever before.  We have gained more than we have lost.
The world is anew created by science and democracy, and he pronounces it
good with the joy and fervour of the old faith.”

In this respect Mr. Burroughs thinks that Whitman shared with Tennyson
the glory of being one of the two poets in our time who have drawn
inspiration from this source.  Certainly no poet of our time has made
finer use as an artist of scientific facts than the late Laureate.

But Tennyson seems scarcely to have drawn inspiration from science as did
Browning, if we look at the thought underlying the verse.  On the whole
scientific discoveries depressed rather than cheered him, whereas from
_Paracelsus_ onwards Browning accepts courageously all the results of
modern science, and, as in the case of Whitman, it enlarged his moral and
spiritual horizon.

But he was not a philosopher as Browning was; indeed, there is less of
the philosopher about Whitman than about any poet of our age.  His method
is quite opposed to the philosophic.  It is instinctive, suggestive, and
as full of contradictions as Nature herself.  You can no more extract a
philosophy from his sweeping utterances than you can from a tramp over
the hills.

But, like a tramp over the hills, Whitman fits every reader who
accompanies him for a stronger and more courageous outlook.  It is not
easy to say with Whitman as in the case of many writers: “This line
quickened my imagination, that passage unravelled my perplexities.”  It
is the general effect of his writings that exercises such a remarkable
tonic influence.  Perhaps he has never indicated this cumulative power
more happily than in the lines that conclude his “Song of Myself.”

    “You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean,
    But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
    And filter and fibre your blood.

    “Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged.
    Missing me one place search another,
    I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Yes; that is Whitman’s secret—“Good health.”  To speak of him as did his
biographer, Dr. Bucke, as “perhaps the most advanced nature the world has
yet produced,” to rank him, as some have done, with the world’s greatest
moral teachers, beside Jesus and Socrates, seems to me the language of
hysterical extravagant.  Nay, more, it misses surely the special
significant of his genius.

In his religious thought, his artistic feelings, his affections, there is
breadth of sympathy, sanity of outlook, but an entire absence of
intensity, of depth.

We shall scan his pages vainly for the profound aspiration, the subtle
spiritual insight of our greatest religious teachers.  In his
indifference to form, his insensibility to the noblest music, we shall
realize his artistic limitations.

Despite his genial comradeship, the more intimate, the more delicate
experiences of friendship are not to be found in his company.  Delicacy,
light and shade, subtlety, intensity, for these qualities you must not
seek Whitman.  But that is no reason for neglecting him.  The Modern and
Ancient world are rich in these other qualities, and the special need of
the present day is not intensity so much as sanity, not subtlety so much
as breadth.

In one of his clever phrases Mr. Havelock Ellis has described Whitman “as
a kind of Titanic Undine.” {204}  Perhaps it is a good thing for us that
he never “found his soul.”  In an age of morbid self-introspection there
is something refreshing in an utterance like this, where he praises the
animals because—

    “They do not screech and whine about their condition,
    They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
    They do not make me sick discussing their duty to GOD.”

In a feverish, restless age it is well to feel the presence of that
large, passive, tolerant figure.  There is healing in the cool, firm
touch of his hand; healing in the careless, easy self-confidence of his
utterance.  He has spoken to us of “the amplitude of the earth, and the
coarseness and sexuality of the earth, and the great charity of the
earth.”  And he has done this with the rough outspokenness of the
elements, with the splendid audacity of Nature herself.  Brawn, sun-tan,
air-sweetness are things well worth the having, for they mean good
health.  That is why we welcome the big, genial sanity of Walt Whitman,
for he has about him the rankness and sweetness of the Earth.


(Some of the most noteworthy books and articles dealing with the authors
discussed in this volume are indicated below.)

WILLIAM HAZLITT (1778–1830).

_Memoirs_, by William Carew Hazlitt.  _Four Generations of a Literary
Family_, by W. C. Hazlitt (1897).  _William Hazlitt_, by Augustine
Birrell.  _William Hazlitt_, by Alexander Ireland (Frederick Warne & Co.,

THOMAS DE QUINCEY (1785–1859).

_De Quincey_, by David Masson (Macmillan & Co.).  _De Quincey and his
Friends_, by James Hogg (1895).  _De Quincey_, by H. S. Salt (“Bell’s
Miniature Series of Great Writers”).

GEORGE BORROW (1803–81).

_Life and Letters_ (2 vols.), by Dr. Knapp.  Introductions to _Lavengro_
(Frederick Warne & Co.), _The Romany Rye_ (Frederick Warne & Co.), _Wild
Wales_ (J. M. Dent & Co.), by Theodore Watts-Dunton.  Article in
Chambers’s _Cyclopedia of English Literature_.  “Reminiscences of George
Borrow” (_Athenæum_, Sept. 3, 10, 1881).

HENRY D. THOREAU (1817–62).

_Thoreau_, _his Life and Aims_, by H. A. Page (Chatto & Windus).
_Thoreau_, by H. S. Salt (“Great Writers Series”).  Essays by R. L.
Stevenson (_Familiar Studies of Men and Books_), and J. R. Lowell (_My
Study Window_).

The best edition of Thoreau’s writings is published by the Riverside
Press, Cambridge, U.S.A.  Some useful volumes of selections are issued by
Walter Scott, Limited, with good introductions by Will. H. Dricks.
_Walden_, with introduction by Theodore Watts-Dunton (Henry Froude).

R. L. STEVENSON (1850–94).

_Letters of R. L. Stevenson to his Family and Friends_ (2 vols.), by
Sidney Colvin, with introduction.  _R. L. Stevenson_, by L. Cope Cornford
(Blackwood & Son).


_Eulogy of Richard Jefferies_, by Walter Besant (1888).  _Nature in
Books_, by P. Anderson Graham (Methuen, 1891).  _Richard Jefferies_, by
H. S. Salt (Swan Sonnenschein, 1894).  _Dictionary of National
Biography_.  Chambers’s _Cyclopedia of English Literature_.

WALT WHITMAN (1819–92).

_Walt Whitman_, by William Clarke (Swan Sonnenschein).  Essay by R. L.
Stevenson (_Familiar Studies of Men and Books_).  _Walt Whitman_: _a
Study_, by J. Addington Symonds.  _Walt Whitman_, by R. M. Bucke
(Philadelphia).  _Walt Whitman_, by John Burroughs (Constable).  _The New
Spirit_ (Essay on Whitman), by Havelock Ellis (Walter Scott).  The best
edition of _Leaves of Grass_, published by David McKay, Philadelphia.

                                * * * * *

                      WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD.



                            BY THE SAME AUTHOR

“The agreeable work of a man of taste and many sympathies.”—_The

“It is delightful to come across a book so careful, to enlightened, and
so full of fresh comments.”—_The Tribune_.

“A brilliant contribution to critical literature.”

                                                            _The Clarion_.

“Clever monographs.”—_The Outlook_.

“Always suggestive and stimulating.”

                                                     _The Morning Leader_.

“Mr. Rickett writes capably, sanely, and vividly, with a just perception
of the distinctive quality of his subjects and considerable power in
presenting them in an interesting and engaging way.”—_The Daily News_.

“Mr. Rickett is a sound critic and he has a scholarly acquaintance with
his subjects.”

                                 “CLAUDIUS CLEAR” in _The British Weekly_.

“An acute, sympathetic, and original critic.”

                                                     _The Glasgow Herald_.

                                * * * * *

              J. M. DENT & CO. 29 & 30 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.


{0}  _The Coming of Love and Other Poems_, by Theodore Watts-Dunton (John

{21}  For an excellent summary of this doctrine, vide _Introduction to
Herbert Spencer_, by W. H. Hudson.

{40}  _Thomas De Quincey_, by H. S. Salt (Bell’s Miniature Biographies).

{48}  _De Quincey’s Life and Writings_, p. 456, by A. H. Japp, LL.D.

{70}  The gypsy word for Antonio.

{71}  Devil.

{102}  It is a peculiarly American trait.  The same thing dominates
Whitman.  Saxon egotism and Yankee egotism are quite distinctive

{106}  _Thoreau_, by H. A. Page.

{124a}  _Later Essays_.

{124b}  Introduction, _The Letters of Robert Lents Stevenson_.

{147}  _The Eulogy of Richard Jefferies_ by Walter Besant.

{149}  Perhaps even more remarkable is the abnormal state of
consciousness described in the “Ancient Sage.”

{151a}  _Six Systems of Indian Philosophy_, by F. Max Müller.

{151b}  Quoted by Professor William James, _Varieties of Religions
Experiences_, p. 402.

{153a}  _Varieties of Religious Experience_, p. 427.

{153b}  Vide _Richard Jefferies_, by H. S. Salt.

{157a}  _The Life of the Fields_, p. 72.

{157b}  Curious similarity of thought here with Elia’s “popular fallacy,”
though probably quite uninspired by Lamb.  Jefferies was no great reader.
It is said that he knew little or nothing of Thoreau.

{173}  _Vide_ Introduction to Borrow’s _The Romany Rye_, by Theodore

{180}  _Familiar Studies of Men and Books_, by R. L. Stevenson.

{186}  _Walt Whitman_, a study, by J. A. Symonds.

{188}  _Walt Whitman_, by William Clarke, p. 79.

{197}  Vide _Life of William Morris_ by J. W. Mackail.

{199}  _Robert Browning_: _Essays and Thought_, by John T. Nettleship.

{204}  _The New Spirit_, by Havelock Ellis.

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