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Title: Critical Studies
Author: Ouida, 1839-1908
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                              CRITICAL STUDIES

                                  BY OUIDA


    _SECOND IMPRESSION_

    LONDON
    T. FISHER UNWIN
    PATERNOSTER SQUARE
    1900


    [_All Rights reserved_]



PREFATORY NOTE


With exception of one, that on the poems of Mr Blunt, all these essays
have previously appeared in _The Fortnightly Review_, _The Nineteenth
Century Review_, or the _Nuova Antologia_. The two published in _The
Nuova Antologia_ were written by me in Italian. I have now turned them
into English myself. The article on D'Annunzio, in the _Fortnightly_,
was the first ever printed in English on a writer who is now well known
to all. I do not think that he has, since it was published, created
anything equal to the _Trionfo_. The character of his genius is not
adapted to the theatre, to which he now chiefly devotes himself. It will
be interesting to see if it can be adapted to political life, which has
lately tempted him. Perhaps he may become a new Rienzi. One is greatly
needed in Italy.

OUIDA.



CONTENTS


I. GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO

II. GEORGES DARIEN

III. THE ITALIAN NOVELS OF MARION CRAWFORD

IV. LE SECRET DU PRÉCEPTEUR

V. L'IMPÉRIEUSE BONTÉ

VI. WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT

VII. JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN

VIII. UNWRITTEN LITERARY LAWS

IX. AUBERON HERBERT

X. THE UGLINESS OF MODERN LIFE

XI. THE QUALITY OF MERCY

XII. THE DECADENCE OF LATIN RACES

XIII. ALMA VENIESIA



CRITICAL STUDIES



I

GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO


In the world of letters the name of Gabriele d'Annunzio is now famous.
There is no cultured society which does not know something at least of
the author of the _Innocente_ and the _Trionfo_, and is not aware that,
in him, one of the ablest and most delicate of living critics believes
that he has seen the personification of a renascence of Latin genius.
Imprisoned as his novels were in the limits of a language which, however
great its beauty, is but little known except in its own land, he has
been extraordinarily fortunate in finding such sponsors in the outside
world as he has obtained in M. Herelle, in René Doumic, and in the
Vicomte de Vogüé. Never has any romance been so admirably heralded as
the _Trionfo_ in the _Révue des Deux Mondes_, and never certainly, since
lyre was strung or laurels were woven, was any praise ever heard so
dulcet and so lavish as that with which he, who has been called the
second Chateaubriand, has welcomed and introduced the new Boccaccio.

The grace and beauty of the style of the Vicomte de Vogüé, and the
culture of his intelligence, have gained him in literature this name of
the second Chateaubriand. They are both incontestable. But they are apt
to lead his readers away from the consideration of the value of his
literary judgments. He is a critic of exquisite delicacy and fineness,
but also of great enthusiasms, and these enthusiasms are at times much
stronger than his judgment and overpower it. What he admires he admires
_toto corde_, and is apt to lose in this generous ardour his power of
selection, his accuracy of appraisement.

This fact has been always conspicuous in all his writings on Pasteur,
and it has been equally conspicuous in the unmeasured idolatry with
which he has dipped his pen in all the honey of Hymettus to sing the
praises of the man he loves. But this adoption of D'Annunzio into French
literature has, with its incontestable advantages, equal penalties and
disadvantages for the author; for one reader outside Italy who will read
him in the original text, ten thousand will know him only in the French
version, and twenty thousand will accept De Vogüé's description of his
works without attempting to judge those for themselves. In the French
version the romances gain in certain points; their excessive detail is
abridged, their crudities are softened down, their wearisome analyses
and too frequent obscenities are omitted. The translations of M. Herelle
are, as all must know, admirable in grace and elegance, but, though as
perfect as translations which are guilty of continual excisions can be,
they fail to render the genius of D'Annunzio as it is to be seen and
felt by those who read the works in the original tongue. In the French
version they are much milder, much more tempered, much less unbridled,
and much less cynically nude; but they are also much less vigorous,
virile, impassioned, and furiously scornful. Many fine passages have
been esteemed _longueurs_, and have been omitted altogether, and entire
chapters have been sacrificed to the exigencies of taste or of space.

In the French edition of the _Trionfo_, nearly the whole book, entitled
_La Vita Nuova_, containing the pilgrimage to Casalbordino is omitted.
But without perusal of this marvellous reproduction of a scene of
Italian fanaticism and frenzy, and of similar portions of his works, it
is impossible to estimate fully the real D'Annunzio, and judge of his
magnificent powers of observation and description, as well as of his
incessant search for what is loathsome, his cruel exultation in his
examination of physical diseases and moral leprosies.

I know not why this pilgrimage was rejected, for it is not more indecent
than other portions of the book, and it is singularly true to certain
phases of Italian life, in which all the Paganism bred in the blood and
bone of the people is displayed, mixed with the ferocity of Christian
bigotry. Let me here translate the opening of it:--

     'It was a marvellous and terrible spectacle, unexpected, unlike
     any other assemblage of men and things, composed of mixtures so
     diverse, cruel and strange, that it eclipsed the most dreadful
     visions of a nightmare. All the hideousness of the eternal
     idiot, all the filthiness of vice and its stupidities, all the
     spasms and deformities of baptized flesh, all the tears of
     penitence, all the laughter of license; the mania, the
     cupidity, the craft, the lust, the fraud, the imbecility, the
     silent desperation, the sacred choruses, the howls of the
     possessed, the shouts of the ambulatory vendors, the clanging
     of the bells, the squeal of the trumpets, the lowing, the
     neighing, the bleating; the fires crackling under the
     cauldrons, the heaps of fruits and sweetmeats, the display of
     utensils, of stuffs, of arms, of jewels, of rosaries; the
     obscene capers of the dancers, the convulsions of the
     epileptic, the blows of the quarrelsome, the rush of flying,
     frightened thieves through the crowd; the supreme froth of
     corruption poured forth from the filthy lanes of remote cities,
     and showered out on to an ignorant and astounded multitude,
     like horseflies on the flanks of beasts, shoals of parasites
     descended on a compact mass incapable of defending itself, all
     the base temptations of brutal appetites, all the treacheries
     playing on simplicity and stupidity, all the charlatanisms and
     the effronteries bared in full daylight; all the opposing
     contrasts were there, boiling and effervescing, around the
     House of the Virgin.'

What strength is here? What admirable choice of descriptive phrase, and
truth of design, as in a Callot or Hogarth! what sense conveyed of
press, of haste, of noise, of confusion, of stench, of uproar! We live
in this crowd as we read.

De Vogüé asserts that the indecency of D'Annunzio is never 'polisonne ou
grivoise'; that it is never vulgar, although it is unbridled. He admits
the preference for the unclean, which almost amounts, indeed, to an
hallucination, but he urges that in D'Annunzio it is always redeemed by
art.

'A Rabelais, a Boccaccio, a Loti, or a D'Annunzio, give expression to a
certain temperament, with the artistic resources which that temperament
imposes on them,' writes De Vogüé, in his celebrated criticism,[1] 'they
have nothing in common with tradesmen, who painfully produce the filth
demanded by a publisher and a certain public. An abyss separates the
former from the latter writers. This difference between them which our
judgment perceives, we do not show by critical demonstration; our taste
is conscious of it as our eyes distinguish a flower, venomous perhaps,
but natural, from an artificial flower coloured by poisonous dyes.'

[Footnote 1: _Révue des Deux Mondes_, 1^re janvier 1895.]

Now, in this passage there is much truth, but it is not equally true
that D'Annunzio is at no time to be placed in the lower class. There is
too frequently in his indecency a strain, an effort, a mannerism, an
extravagance, sought, and unnecessary. The reader, if he desires to
understand what I mean by this, can turn to page 320 in the _Trionfo_,
or to Chapter X., in the _Piacere_ (Italian version), in which there are
ingenuities of indecency introduced which have no relation whatever to
the narrative, nor any obligation to appear.

What is, I think, more offensive to taste, and more injurious to art
than any sensual excess in description, is mere nastiness, mere filth;
and of this D'Annunzio is as guilty as Zola is, and as Zola has been,
always.

De Vogüé may pour out his scorn as he will on the _industriel_ who
composed _La Bête Humaine_, and may cover with the roses and lilies of
his exquisite garlands of praise the creator of the _Trionfo_, the fact
remains that the Satyr shows his cloven hoof as much in one as in the
other; and the motives which move either of the writers we have no right
to condemn or to appraise, for the entrance into personal motive is
surely an intrusion which should never be attempted.

We may, nevertheless, suggest as probable that, however dissimilar be
their atmosphere and circumstances, both Zola and D'Annunzio have been
moved to study chiefly what is called immoral, and prurient, by a
sincere desire to reach to the very depths of human nature, to shrink
from no investigation, to deny no evidence, and to protest against the
hypocrisy with which literary art has so frequently covered its eyes and
turned away from the truth. 'Let us study life alone,' says D'Annunzio,
as Zola said it; and if he seek life in its corruption, coming upon the
corpse of putrid pleasure as the gay riders in the Campo Santo of Pisa
check their startled steeds before the open biers, he does no more, and
no less, offend art than Zola offends it in _Nana_.

Indeed, so little is De Vogüé's statement in this matter justified, that
almost every Italian who has read D'Annunzio's works will, in speaking
of him, regret his incessant recurrence to obscenity. Not from prudery,
for Italians are never prudes, but from an artistic sense, that this
perpetually intruded indecency is an error in taste, and becomes quite
as tiresome as any other form of perpetual repetition.

The most conspicuous error of modern literature is, beyond doubt, its
verbiage. It has completely forgotten the great canon of 'Ars est celare
artem'; the supreme ability of conveying immeasurable suggestion in a
mere word, in concentrating all the music of the soul in one brief note.
All the arts err at this epoch in the same manner; literature has the
common malady; it is prolix. The indecencies of D'Annunzio, like his
other descriptions, are prolix; and the prolixity is not redeemed by the
indecency, nor the indecency by the prolixity.

This tendency of redundancy is not his fault alone; it is that of his
time. The enormous canvases and numerous figures of modern paintings,
the crowded groups and tortured attitudes of modern sculpture, the
elaborate scenic effects, and mechanical appliances, and endless acts,
of modern opera and drama, are all forms of the same malady of
repetition; of ignorance of how, and when, to break the laurel bough
before it withers; of lack of skill to master the subtleties of
concentration and suggestion. The descriptions of the modern writer are
frequently mere inventories; they are painfully minute; they are like a
mosaic, in which millions of little cubes are grouped to make a whole.
As before a modern painting we are often unimpressed by the whole, but
struck by the dexterity of the brush-work, so in modern literature we
are little interested in the conception, but allured by the dexterity of
the treatment. Too frequently, unappily, this multiplicity of words
covers a sad poverty of ideas. But in D'Annunzio's works there is not a
page without ideas; ideas which may displease or may disgust the reader
at times, but which are, nevertheless, always worthy to arrest
attention, even when they are only studies of depravity.

D'Annunzio is a greater writer than Zola, not because he has emulated or
surpassed Zola's indecencies, but because he is what Zola never was--a
scholar and a poet. His culture is of the most varied and classical
kind, profound as well as brilliant; and his poetic powers were shown in
his sonnets and lyrics before he wrote his romances. Zola is no scholar,
and is not, either in temperament or expression, a poet. It would be
impossible to conceive him creating such a poem as the _Villa Chigi_ or
the _Riccordi di Ripetta_ of D'Annunzio. There are passages in Zola's
works, notably in _La Terre_, which are, I think, as great as it is
possible for prose to be, but they are never touched by any poetry of
phrase or feeling.

Also, when De Vogüé states that the indecency of D'Annunzio is not
indecency because the Italian language is never indecent, and alleges
that what would be insupportable in any other tongue is possible in
Italian, because Italian enjoys the privilege which pertained to its
mother, Latin, _i.e._, to say with grace and impunity what in any other
tongue would disgust the hearer, he says what is absolutely untrue; and
one can only wonder if he knows anything of the Italian of the streets,
of the fields, of the wine-houses, of the popular theatres. In this
affirmation, as in others, he has imagined what he says to be the fact,
and founded on the fabrications of his imagination a positive statement.
It is a frequent habit with him, and makes the weakness of his arguments
in many instances, on other themes than this.

We know that Italian is heard only occasionally by him during his visits
to Italy, and is then heard by him only in its polished speech. To those
by whom it is heard every day, as spoken by all classes, it certainly
possesses nothing of this privilege which he claims for it. It can be,
on the contrary, very coarse and crude; it has none of the subtleties
and graces, and delicate gradations of French: it calls a spade a spade
with the rudest frankness; and its curses are of an appalling ferocity
and filthiness.

Nor can it be said that D'Annunzio ever tries to give it delicacy or
veiled suggestion; his language is as broad and as gross as that of Ovid
or Catullus. He never allows the smallest doubt about his meaning to
exist at any time; and he is most especially explicit when treating of
those subjects which in modern literature are generally considered
forbidden. Indeed, this anxiety to paint the brothel and the madhouse as
carefully and minutely as the miniaturist paints on the ivory, leads to
his great defect, over-elaboration. He does not trust enough to the
power of suggestion, which is so strong in a great writer over the mind
of a reader. He does not remember that half a chord may fill the ear
with melody, and that a hint may rouse the senses to nausea or to
desire.

Paradoxical as it may appear to say so, I think his wide culture has
injured his style. I think he would have been a greater Italian writer
if he had known no language save Italian and, of course, Latin and
Greek.

The extreme culture and over-variety of modern education tends to
destroy, or at least disturb, originality; it encumbers the mind under
too vast a load of riches, it enlightens, but it also obstructs; if
Shakespeare had been less ignorant he might, perhaps, have been also
less great.

Foreign influence is not beneficial to the Italian. It makes him unreal;
it makes him lose his charming natural grace and abandonment, it renders
him artificial; he never really becomes what is implied by the word
cosmopolitan (such a cosmopolitan as Lord Dufferin or the late Prince
Lobanoff), and he does lose much of his own national qualities. It is
very rarely that an Italian can, like the late lamented scholar Enrico
Nencioni, steep his mind deeply in all the riches of foreign literature
without in the least losing his own Italian individuality. D'Annunzio,
on the contrary, allows himself to be absorbed and assimilated by
foreign influences, to be dominated by them, to so great an extent
indeed that his style is frequently bastardised by them, and many of his
sentences read as though they were translations from foreign sources. He
claims to have greatly embellished and amplified the Italian language;
he has certainly rendered it more colloquial and more copious; but he
has often grafted foreign idioms upon it, and he has perhaps robbed it
of some of its dignity and grace. He considers that the artist should
always remodel the instrument he uses; but the figure will not hold good
in other arts, for Sarasate does not carve the shell of his violin,
Clausen does not weave the canvas he uses, Bartolomé does not blast the
marble out of the hill-side. The writer should use the language he
writes in as it comes pure from its natural springs; he will but
contaminate it if he pour into it alien streams.

D'Annunzio would probably protest that the patchwork effects of the
foreign languages he introduces, do but correctly represent the mixture
of tongues common in our days in those phases of life which pass under
the generic name of society. In such protest there would, no doubt, be
truth; but it could only apply to certain social scenes in the
_Piacere_, and my objection is less to the introduction of foreign
phrases directly than it is to the foreign complexion and contour which
he so frequently gives to his own language; a fault never before him
known in an Italian writer. Many of his phrases are of foreign
construction. But he is not on that account a plagiarist, as has been
said of him; he is never a plagiarist, but is a too highly educated, and
a too sensitively susceptible, mental organisation. The mean charge of
plagiarism is one so easy to bring and so difficult to refute, that it
is cast by envy and inferiority at all those whose genius, like that of
D'Annunzio, is proud, passionate, and defiant of criticism. That which
has in it the elements of true greatness has always these pellets of mud
thrown at it. In some ways, on the contrary, he seems to seek an
exaggeration of original idiosyncrasies, and to no writer would
conscious imitation be more odious or impossible.

There is unhappily, in all his works, an absolute absence of wit, of
mirth, of humour. There is not a laugh, scarcely even a smile, in any
of his pages; if we except the cruel laughter of a lover at his
mistress's physical defects. Over all his genius there broods that
'green melancholy,' which is the too-common hue of modern thought, that
dull greyness of death which has spread from the laboratories of science
over all the worlds of literature. Not only is no joyous laugh ever
heard, there is not even the indulgent smile which relieves melancholy
and bitterness in many writers whose views of life are gloomy. Nowhere
is this more seen than in the almost savage cruelty with which the poor
old _dévote_, Gioconda Aurispa, is drawn; the merciless description of
her senile love of sweetmeats, of her disappointment when her nephew
forgets to bring them, of her expectant eyes, 'almost impudent in their
entreaty,' of her short breath with its foetid odour, of her tottering
steps amongst her flowers; all is cruel, merciless, without a grain of
pity or of sympathy to redeem its biting satire of so feeble and
harmless a creature.

Compare with such treatment the exquisite tenderness of Pierre Loti's
Tante Claire, think with how gentle a respect Thackeray drew the death
of an old man, remember the touch with which Maupassant makes us akin
even to poor Boule de Suiffe. Tragedy is not necessarily cruelty, nor
accuracy necessarily brutality. Shakespeare makes us indignant for Lear
and sharers in his sorrows; but D'Annunzio would concentrate our
thoughts only on his ridiculous thin hair blown by the winter winds, the
tremor of his toothless jaws, and palsy of his bent, unsteady limbs. In
the highest art there is always pity because there is always
comprehension. D'Annunzio has as yet no more pity than the demonstrator
in a physiological amphitheatre. But it is not impossible that such pity
may come to him later on, for pity is rarely a passion of youth; it is
usually the fruit of reflection, comparison, realisation of what is
alien and impersonal. That sense which he already feels of the inner
life of all things cannot leave him for ever insensible to the
sufferings of that life.

At present he is absorbed in the sensual ecstasies of early manhood, and
the fumes of voluptuous delights obscure his sight to much else which
surrounds him, and which finds him callous and negligent of it. De Vogüé
sees in him the leader of a new school, but there is as yet little that
is new in his manner of judging life. It is the manner of _Le Disciple_,
though touched with warmer tones, and placed in richer landscapes, and
vibrating with stronger passions, because Italian in scene and in
temper.

If ever there be a true Latin renascence, which is scarcely to be hoped
for, it will come, not from a writer who is saturated with French,
Russian, German, and English influences, but one who has the Latin
genius, the Latin temper, unalloyed. But does this now exist anywhere?
If it do, it is in remote mountain sides and by lonely lake waters, not
in clubhouses and on racecourses. Such a writer will more probably come,
if he come at all, from the extreme south than from the north, perhaps
even from the great and almost virgin island of the west. In the dense
cork woods and on the desolate shores of Sardinia, a Salvator Rosa of
literature might well be begotten, for there is also there a companion
whom the Muses fear not--Misery.

I imagine that De Vogüé does not know much of the popular songs of the
south and the west of Italy. I venture to think that in those
_stornelli_, _cantileni_ _rispetti_, and the rest, there is more of the
genuine spirit of the Italian soil than in any of the works hitherto
written by D'Annunzio, because, despite their intensity of passion, they
are full of a pure poetical beauty and an idealised tenderness, which in
his pictures of love are absent.

Even in the views which De Vogüé holds of the characters of these
romances, there seems frequently a curious misconstruction of their
salient points. For instance, he sees in the tragedy, with which the
_Trionfo_ closes, the fact that Aurispa loved so intensely that he felt
impelled to destroy what he possessed, as the only absolute means of
fully possessing it. But I do not see this. I see in Aurispa a young man
habitually self-indulgent and constitutionally feeble; who gradually
passes from frantic adoration of a woman possessed, to the nausea which
so frequently follows on such possession. The proof of this lies in the
cruel cynical criticism with which he discovers and enumerates her
physical and mental defects, with which he views the deformity of her
feet as they push the warm sand of the beach to and fro, and with which
he realises the growing disgust which she awakes in him physically and
morally. He feels that he can neither live with her, nor live without
her; that she will be his destroyer in one way or the other; it is in a
frenzy of hatred and of impotence that he seizes her in his last
embrace, and plunges with her over the cliff, into the starlit depths of
the sea below. To ignore this is to miss the whole meaning of the final
act, and the absolute veracity of the whole work.

I have seen such physical jealousy in the man of feeble health of the
vigorous strength of the woman whom he loved, and there is no form of
jealousy more cruel or more incurable, and it is likely to become
frequent in modern life, which develops the physical strength and social
liberties of the female to so vast an extent. This is a painful fact,
but it is one which cannot be disputed. Go wherever a crowd of both
sexes congregate, and there you will see an Ippolita in all her splendid
vitality and magnificent growth, and beside her, nine times out of ten,
there will be a Giorgio Aurispa, small, frail, half-blind, pallid,
bloodless, beardless, sickly, and prematurely decrepit.

I should myself have preferred to trace the destroying influence of
sensual passion eating its way gradually into the health and strength of
a complete masculine sanity, and of a robust masculine health, like
aquafortis biting into a copper plate. Aurispa is already mentally
diseased before the fateful day on which he sees Ippolita in the dusk of
the chapel in Rome. He views all things animate and inanimate, human and
animal, real and ideal, through that distorted medium which the mentally
deformed habitually see through as through a convex and smoked glass. He
is more than feeble, he is not sane. If he had not sought death on
account of his mistress, he would have done so because Demetrius Aurispa
had died before by his own hand; or for some other reason which in his
cerebral condition would have seemed to him imperative and irresistible,
as imaginary conditions do seem to those not sane.

We are told throughout the book to realise this extreme weakness,
physical and moral, which ultimately drives him to destroy himself and
her.

     '"You love life?" he murmured, with a veiled bitterness.

     '"Yes, life delights me," she answered, almost with vehemence.

     'She had, in her voice, in her attitude, in all her person, a
     brightness of unusual joy and pleasure. She had in her whole
     aspect that satisfaction which the living creature only feels
     in those hours when life runs harmoniously in all its currents,
     in which there is a perfect balance in all the vital forces in
     accord with the favour and fairness of all surrounding
     circumstances. As in other similar moments, her whole being
     seemed to unclose in the freshness of the sea air, in the
     coolness of the summer evening, like one of those magnificent
     night-blooming flowers which only open the heart of their
     petals as the sun passes and sets.'

This is one of the innumerable beautiful images in which D'Annunzio
excels, and nothing can surely be finer of its kind than the whole
passage which I have quoted. But it clearly proves, especially if
compared with its context, that the passion which Aurispa once felt for
her had now become a furious envy of her more abounding life, of her
perennial and indestructible capacity of enjoyment.

And that night, indeed, he kills her, not from excess of love, but from
envy of her exultant and exuberant vitality and hatred of its contrast
to his own impotence; from the sense, as I have said, that he could
neither live with her nor without her. In this, D'Annunzio has linked
cause and effect with excellent precision. Every minutia of feeling
described is correctly described, and such feeling is made to arise from
a natural source, precisely as dislike follows on satiety in real life.
But very frequently there is no such natural connection in his treatment
of circumstance and character.

The _Trionfo_ is admirably balanced from its opening to its closing
pages; and the tragedy on the Pincio, with which the work opens,
fittingly and perfectly strikes the keynote of the whole, and the
_motif_ of the opera is suggested in the overture. But in the other
romances there is too often a want of unison between the action
described and its motives or sources. There is, at times, even an
absolute lack of any rational cause at all; so that, in some degree, all
his characters have in them more or less of the irresponsibility and
unconnectedness of the insane. He leaves too much unexplained; too many
actions motiveless; too many portraits floating indistinct like the
night and river studies of Whistler. It is curious that this vagueness,
this uncertainty and obscurity, should exist in one who is on the other
hand so frequently and wearisomely minute in microscopic details. He
constantly calls on us to believe what he gives us no data for
believing. Even in the _Trionfo_ he constantly introduces persons and
incidents having no connection with the narrative. The whole family of
Giorgio, the whole action passing at Guardiagrele, so elaborately
painted, lead to nothing; we neither see nor hear of them again; neither
they nor Guardiagrele ever enter his pages any more; and the momentous
scene with Giorgio's father leads to nothing, but ends in a blind alley.
Now this is a great fault in composition, and one which disappoints and
irritates the reader. Of Demetrius Aurispa, again, much is made, but
nothing is explained or continued; and his long exposition of one of
Tennyson's poems is as unnecessary as the long disquisition upon Wagner
further on in the book.

D'Annunzio is so profoundly engrossed in the psychology of his
characters, that he frequently forgets to make their antecedents and
actions consistent or credible. For instance, few women have been drawn
in fiction more lovable, more real, more refined, more profoundly
interesting, or more truly feminine, than Giuliana Hermil, in the
_Innocente_. There is nothing in her character or in her circumstances
which can render it the least probable to us that such a woman as she is
described to be, would have been led into the half-unconscious sensual
impulse which makes her unfaithful to her conjugal vows without the
smallest excuse of passion or temptation. Nor is it conceivable for an
instant that Tullio Hermil, on hearing her confession of this
_inconsapevole_ adultery, would serenely submit to remain in ignorance
of the name of this lover of an hour, merely suspecting who it was from
an inscription found in a novel, and would merely answer with gentle
irony to her apology that the soul had had no share in her undoing!
'_Povera anima!_' he murmurs with an indulgent smile!

I will not say that this is impossible, for nothing is so in the
relations of the sexes; but it is certainly improbable and incongruous,
since Giuliana is throughout described as the gentlest, most timid, and,
despite the infidelity in which we are asked to believe, the purest of
her sex, submissive to desertion as Griselda, and incapable of an impure
thought. It is contrary to all truth to human nature to make such a
woman err in so common, stupid, and unintelligible a manner, and to make
Tullio Hermil continue under such circumstances to live in the same
house with her until the time of her delivery.

D'Annunzio has also a total lack of perception when the ridiculous mars
the pathetic. This is a very common defect in his countrymen, and is one
frequently traceable to a want of the humorous faculty. There is
something ridiculous, which goes far to spoil all which is intended to
be tragic in the motive or action of the _Innocente_, in the details
accompanying and explaining its culminating act. The idea of this act is
fine, and the hatred of the man for the child is natural, whilst the
conception and carrying out of the semi-crime are subtle and original.
But the filthy description of the infant (almost identical with that of
the new-born babe in Zola's _Joie de Vivre_) and the perpetual
references to its swaddling clothes, and the tedious profusion of
details with which the subject is elaborated, destroy in the mind of the
reader all sense of pity for the victim, and all blame for the act which
sends it to its grave. One feels that the little squalling, dribbling,
shapeless creature, with its scabby head and cat-like miawling, is much
better destroyed, and this is not the sensation which the author desires
to arouse; he would wish us to feel at once horror at, and compassion
for, Tullio Hermil, but we can feel nothing except a vague contempt for
this helpless young man. Had the semi-murder of it followed immediately
on its birth, or had it been found by him after absence a fair
two-year-old child, with all the rosebud loveliness of that age, this
bathos would have been avoided; and the stealthy sin of its effacement
would have carried in it the force of a powerful tragedy undiminished,
as it actually is, by gross and comic images, which may be realism but
are none the less bathos. It is perfectly natural that Tullio Hermil's
abhorrence of this spurious offspring should grow with every day until
the desire to destroy it becomes at last an over-mastering impulse; but
to make this act tragic, and to awaken that sympathy for the victim
which all true tragedy excites, the latter should be so described that
the heart of the reader should bleed for it when exposed to the icy air
which kills it, and that its martyred infancy should seem fitly lamented
by those echoes of the distant _Novena_, which at the supreme moment
float through all the silent house.

The _Innocente_ has many passages in its pages of perfect beauty like
this episode of the _Novena_; its defects are due to its author's
incapacity to perceive where the ludicrous damages the pathetic and
destroys the terrible. The writer's artistic instinct moved him to
create a situation unique, and full of the keenest interest, abounding
in opportunity for the analysis of temptations and emotions; and of such
analysis he is a master, if too prolix in his expositions of it. But a
want of the perception which warns us off the line of demarcation
dividing the dramatic from the grotesque, has allowed him to pass this
line, and merge the dramatic in a flood of trivial and commonplace
minutiæ. Nor is it natural that, loathing this new-born bastard as
Tullio Hermil does, he should accompany his brother to invite an old
peasant to be its sponsor. The beauty and simplicity of this passage are
great, but they cannot reconcile us to the improbability of such an
errand.

     'As we drew near the place where Giovanni de Scordio dwelt, my
     brother saw in the field the tall figure of the old man.

     '"Look! There he is. He is sowing. We bring our invitation in a
     solemn hour."

     'We approached. I trembled within myself as though I were about
     to commit a profanation. I did indeed profane a thing in itself
     sacred and beautiful. I went to solicit the spiritual paternity
     of a venerable life for an adulterous creature.

     '"Look at his height," exclaimed Frederigo, pointing to the
     sower. "He is no taller than other men, and yet he looks a
     giant."

     'We paused under a tree, and watched the labourer from a
     distance. Giovanni had not perceived us.

     'He came straightway towards us up the field with measured
     slowness. He wore a woollen cap, black and green, with two
     wings which covered his ears in the ancient fashion. A white
     sack hung by a leathern strap from throat to waist, the sack
     being full of grain. With his left hand he held the sack open,
     with the right he took the grain and scattered it. His gesture
     was large, easy, sweeping, moderated to a serene rhythm. The
     corn, flying from his hand, shone in the sun like gold dust,
     falling with regularity upon the wet furrows. He advanced
     slowly, his feet sinking in the moist soil, his head sometimes
     lifted to the holiness of the light; all his attitude was
     simple, noble, grand.

            *       *       *       *       *

     'We entered the glebe.

     '"Good health, Giovanni," said Frederigo, going up to the old
     man. "Be your seed blessed. Be blessed your bread of the
     future."

     '"Good health to you," I repeated.

     'The peasant left off work; he uncovered his head.

     '"Cover yourself, Giovanni, or we also must stand with bare
     heads in the sun," said my brother.

     'The old man put on his cap, confused, almost shy, smiling.

     'He asked humbly, "Why so much honour?"

     'I said with a voice which vainly strove to be steady, "I am
     come to beg you to hold my son at the baptismal font."

     'The peasant looked at me astounded, then at my brother. His
     embarrassment increased. He murmured:

     '"Why to me so much honour?"

     '"What do you reply?" I asked.

     '"I am thy servant; God render the grace for the honour thou
     dost me to-day, and God be praised for the joy that He gives
     to my old age. All the benedictions of Heaven rest on thy
     son."'

Nothing can be finer, simpler, more effective than this scene, but when
we are conscious that the son thus spoken of is the spurious offspring
which Tullio Hermil loathes, our sympathies are turned aside by a sense
of incongruity and disgust. We are conscious that the young man would
never have gone on such an errand, never have consecrated by such
expressions the spawn of his wife's incomprehensible and unexplained
amour. It is impossible to bring one's self to believe in any part of
the story of the _Innocente_, strong as the treatment is in realism of a
certain kind, and seductive as is the admirable ease and limpidity of
the narrative, which for smoothness of recital, and wonderful semblance
of being a true narrative of real events, is not surpassed by any
novelist and has been equalled by very few writers indeed.

In all his works D'Annunzio draws women with exquisite veracity and
skill; and a rare intuition into the workings of their minds and the
beatings of their hearts. Of men he has as yet only drawn one type,
whatever they are called, Sperelli, Aurispa, Cantelmi, Hermil, they are
always the same person: 'touched to fine issues,' steeped in
scholarship, refined, susceptible, voluptuous, but all sick with the
_maladie du siècle_; all infirm from the neurasthenia of too early and
too unbridled self-indulgence. But his women are infinitely more varied
and more intricate. They are wondrous presentments of breathing life.
All the contradictions of feminine nature are portrayed with marvellous
exactitude in the vicious, cruel, and frenzied sensualism of Ippolita,
of which we watch the gradual growth as we watch Vesuvius on a summer
night pass from slumber into fury. With what inimitable dexterity he
makes us conscious of the plebeian grossness underlying her physical
sorcery, the commonness of her base birth seen here and there through
the dazzling sorcery of her attractions; and how natural she is in her
buoyant spirits, in her gay sportiveness, in her rapid changes of mood
and humour, in her mingling of cruelty and compassion! Equally does he
convey to the reader the consciousness of the perfect high breeding in
the _Virgine delle Rocce_, of the three sisters of sorrow, so alike yet
so dissimilar; three figures stepped down from the canvas of the
Veronese, but dimmed by solitude and long neglect. Not less admirably
has he given the delicate distinction and infinite sweetness of the
Siennese, Maria Ferrés (although she is indeed an almost exact
reproduction of Giuliana Hermil), whilst that patrician courtesan Donna
Elena Muti, shameless, lascivious, and conscienceless, is nevertheless
always a high-bred woman. He has incarnated the incomparable charm of
the Italian woman, the most graceful, the most impassioned, the most
seductive woman on earth, although also perhaps the most imperious,
pitiless, and fiercely exacting in her passions. Even Ippolita, vicious
as she is, is 'l'adorable Ippolita,' as De Vogüé calls her, and her
portrait is surely one which will become as precious to future
generations as that of Manon Lescaut is to us.

I much fear that the only work of his which will become known to the
English public in general will be the _Virgine delle Rocce_, because
(as far as it has gone) it is not indecent. The other works could not be
reproduced in English; and the _Virgine delle Rocce_ unhappily gives no
just measure of the talent and strength of the writer. At present it is
but the first of a triune romance of which the two latter parts are as
yet unpublished. It is the cleanest, the simplest, and the most romantic
of his works, but it will probably be caviare to the crowd, and it
wholly lacks the great qualities of its predecessors. It is not
well-constructed like the _Innocente_, it is not daring and intense like
the _Trionfo_; it is not brilliant like _Il Piacere_; it is rambling,
and vague, and shadowy, and it is difficult to collect the threads of
the narrative. It is published in a fragment, which is always an unwise
method of publication, but it is to be feared that when entire it will
never equal the _Innocente_ or the _Trionfo_. Indeed when severed from
the theme of sensual psychology D'Annunzio loses in strength and in
colour; he becomes desultory, almost indifferent; and wanders through
his own garden of romance with little interest in it, much as in this
latest story his own Oddo and Antonello stray through the ruins of
Linturno and drift through the water-lilies of the lonely stream.

But this story, defective though it be, has a great charm for those
conversant with certain phases of Italian life. I have known just such a
grand old palace in the solitude of a deserted country, just such young
daughters growing up in stately poverty and perpetual joylessness; just
such paternal obsession in clinging to ruined thrones and perished
faiths; just such an interminable sequence of colourless, uninterested,
imprisoned days where the life is the life of the Lady of Shalott, and
no eyes are lifted to see that the almond-trees are in flower.

Every page of this short book, which Frederic Leighton would have
delighted to illustrate, is impressed with Italian verity of a kind
which few foreigners have ever occasion to verify. The vast stone stairs
of the approach, the huge dim archways, the great fountains where the
stone Tritons spout and the ghosts rise with the spray in the moonlight
of midnight, the dry fish-ponds full of odorous plants self sown, the
neglected, wild, beautiful, fragrant gardens, the immense halls and
chambers frescoed, water-gilt, marble-encrusted; the silent corridors,
the ceilings lofty as the cupolas of cathedrals, the fading tapestries,
the soft grey dust, the abandonment, the poverty, the stateliness, the
infinite pathos and charm of this splendour, 'which dies so slowly
because born of true art and of what was once an heroic nobility.' All
these are portrayed with perfect fidelity in this strange and too slight
story of the three daughters of the fallen House of Montega, and no less
true to the facts of Italian life is the destiny which weighs upon them,
the insanity which dwells amongst them in the person of their mother,
whom we see living before us as she passes, carried in her perfumed and
painted sedan chair, with her strange fixed regard, her tiara of ebon
hair, her pallid face, her jewelled hands. Madness is a frequent malady
in Italy, and few noble families are without some insane member. The
afflicted person is usually kept in his or her apartments in the palace,
or in one of the villas of the family, and is courteously inquired for
by all visitors as Claudio in this story asks after the health of Donna
Aldoina. Italians are usually kind to their insane relatives and not at
all ashamed of them, but _il pazzo_ or _la pazza_ lends a weird
fantastic gloom to the ancient and stately houses which saw their birth,
and shelter their infirmity, and will hold their coffins in their
crypts.

Possibly there seems more to me in this story than there actually is,
because I know so well the tenor of the life therein depicted; and the
absence of all objective interest, of all care for nature and for art,
of all perception of the consolations to be found in both, which render
that life so much more barren than it need be.

D'Annunzio has typified such barrenness of thought, such narrowness of
horizon, in the family which dwells in the grand old villa of Tregento,
and many a time he must, no doubt, with his own mind filled by classic
memories, and knowledge of the arts, and touched to impassioned
appreciation of all natural beauty, have suffered acutely from the
apathy, ignorance, and unconscious self-absorption of such a domestic
atmosphere. He has no doubt constantly been met with the incapacity to
understand, the wonder of ignorance, the blank dulness of unopened
minds, such as he suggests in the following passage:--

     'We were near Rebursa. The rocky chain, with its sharp and
     broken peaks turned to the right following the winding Saurgo,
     rising tier on tier towards the massive summit of Mount Caran.
     On the left of the road, the soil was smooth and undulating
     like the large dunes of a seashore, becoming further off a
     succession of hills, tawny and humped like camels of the
     desert.

     '"Look, look!" I cried, seeing another silver cloud of blossom.
     "Can you not see it, Antonello?"

     'He did not look at the almond trees with my eyes; he looked,
     but with a faint smile, wondering probably at the childlike joy
     awakened in me at the sight of the first flowers. Yet, what
     fairer spectacle could this rude and stony country offer to us?

     '"If my sisters only were here!" cried Oddo, to whom my
     pleasure communicated itself. "Oh, if they were here!"

     'His voice was full of regret.

     '"They need to be brought where flowers bloom," said Antonello,
     softly.

     '"Look, look!" I cried again, giving myself up to my delight
     with fuller ease, now that I saw some reflection of it at least
     awakened in these poor shut souls. "I am glad these flowers are
     mine, Oddo."

     '"My sisters must come to them," sighed Antonello, like one who
     speaks in a dream of sleep.

     'It seemed as if his feverish eyes refreshed themselves with
     that vision of things so pure....

     'They both looked at me, somewhat confused, faintly smiling, as
     if they had been brought unexpectedly before some extraordinary
     sight which stupefied them, yet filled them with delicious
     sensations. They had shown me their malady, had revealed to me
     their suffering, had spoken to me of that melancholy prison
     whence they had come and whither they would return; and I, on
     the common highway open to all, had invited them to recognise
     and celebrate the spring--the spring which they had both
     forgotten, which they seemed to see now for the first time
     after many years, which they gazed at with a mingling of fear
     and joy as at a miracle.'

Is not this delicate in expression as the sprays of the almond blossoms
themselves?

An Italian scholar, in writing to me to-day, does indeed say with
considerable accuracy that the affectation in the style of D'Annunzio
takes from it its freedom and sincerity, that when he is writing of
almond boughs and nightingales he does not give us the impression that
these things are dear to him, but rather that he is endeavouring to say
the most beautiful things he can think of about them. 'His style,' says
my Italian correspondent, 'is the one occupation of his life, the one
absorbing interest of his work; he cares but little for nature or for
human nature, except as these are strings to his lyre.' This is in a
great measure a correct, if a too severe, censure. There is in him
nothing of that genuine emotion which wells up in the heart of Pierre
Loti as he writes; D'Annunzio is always outside that which he describes;
there is in him much of the virtuoso; he reminds me of a friend of mine,
a London celebrity, who once invited a party of artists to see a fine
work of art in his London house. When the curtain was drawn aside, the
work of art was found to be a young nude woman, of singularly beautiful
proportions, extended on a rug of black bear-skins to set off the ambers
and ivories and blue-vein traceries of her skin. D'Annunzio stretches
his subject thus bare before him in a well-adjusted light, and calls the
world to see: for the subject he has no compassion. This _preciosità_
(Anglicè, affectation) is still more apparent in his prefaces than in
his works which they precede. These prefaces are long, elaborate, ornate
disquisitions, with much of the euphuism of pedantic scholarship; and
when in the preface to the _Trionfo_ the author claims that this
licentious romance is intended to hasten and welcome the coming of the
Uebermensch, it is impossible not to smile at such a pretension, and, as
even De Vogüé admits, at this point we are driven to sigh for the return
of the _mandolinata_. He confirms the justice of a charge of
_preciosità_ himself in his introduction to _Il Piacere_, in which he
speaks of 'the long and grave fatigue, the disgust which follows the
painful and capricious artifices of style.' This is not the language of
a true artist, for in the beauties and intricacies of style which should
all have one aim--simplicity--the writer who is a true artist finds the
same intimate satisfaction as the musician, the painter, the sculptor,
each finds in the pursuit of his art. In style is the _sfogo_ of the
writer's procreative passion. It should bring with it neither fatigue
nor disgust, but the serene joys of a satisfied desire.

However, apart from this fault of _preciosità_ which De Vogüé does not
appear to have perceived, but which seems to many Italians
incontestable, the style of D'Annunzio is very fine; finest of all when
it is spent on the portraiture of natural scenes, and of characters
unhampered by conventionality. Read this brief episode of the simplest
kind; how alive with actuality it is! It is taken from the earlier part
of the residence of Aurispa and Ippolita at the Hermitage.

     'Hearing a rattle of plates, he asked, "Are you hungry?" And
     the question suggested by the little homely sound, put eagerly,
     with childlike insistence, made Ippolita smile.

     '"Yes, a little," she answered, smiling; and both of them
     looked at the table ready spread under the oak tree. In a few
     minutes more their dinner was ready.

     '"You must be content with what there is," said Giorgio. "It is
     very humble fare."

     '"Oh, I should be satisfied with herbs."

     'And with a gay air she drew near the table, examined curiously
     the tablecloth, the silver, the glass, the plates, finding
     everything charming, delighted like a child with the blue
     flowers which ornamented the fine white pottery.

     '"Everything delights me here!"

     'She bent over the big, round loaf, which was still warm under
     its golden and crisp crust.

     '"Ah! what a good smell it has!" And, as if impelled by her
     childlike joy in the fresh bread, she broke off a piece of its
     crust.

     '"What good bread!"

     'Her strong, white teeth shone as they bit and closed, and all
     the movements of her curving lip expressed the pleasure which
     she felt; and from her whole person there seemed to emanate a
     rare, fresh grace, which attracted and amazed her lover with a
     new and unexpected charm.

     '"Oh, how good! Taste, how good it is!"'

What can be more graphic, more simple, more radiant, than this picture
painted in words so few?

Take this landscape, so true to the scenery of the Veneto:--

     'It was afternoon. He explored the winding paths which went,
     now up, now down, leading towards the point of the Penna, on
     the seashore. He looked before him and around him with
     curiosity, but, perhaps, with some forced attention, as if he
     wished to understand obscure meanings hidden in these simple
     scenes, to wrest from them some unseizable secret. Rising in
     the heart of these hills of the coast the water of a brook,
     directed by a homely aqueduct made of hollowed trees, crossed
     the low-lying land between the two slopes. Other little
     rivulets were caught and guided by concave tiles to water the
     tilled earth grown with rich vegetation, and above these
     streams, ever bright and rippling, there leaned some beautiful
     purple flowers;[2] all these humble things seemed to him
     pregnant with profound life. All the merry waters ran down
     along the incline towards the pebbly beach, and passed under a
     little bridge. In the shadow of its arch some women were
     washing linen, and their gestures were mirrored in the stream.
     On the shingle other linen was already outspread, whitening in
     the sun. Along the path a man walked with bare feet, carrying
     his shoes swinging in his hand. Two children, laden with linen,
     ran along laughing and playing. An old woman hung up on a line
     a blue mattress.

     'On the edge of the path there were little white shells, out of
     them frail tentacles trembled and stretched to the light. From
     a rock above hung twisted dead roots like entwined snakes.
     Farther on there was a large peasant's house, bearing on the
     summit of its roof a floral ornament in clay. An outside
     staircase led up to a covered terrace. Two women sat spinning
     at the head of the stair, and the flax shone in the sun like
     gold. You could hear the wheels turn. By a window sat another,
     weaving; you could see her rhythmical gestures in moving the
     shuttle. In the courtyard a huge grey ox was lying down; he
     shook his ears and moved his tail faintly but incessantly in
     war against the flies. The cocks and hens cackled and crowed
     around him. Farther on still another little river crossed the
     road; it laughed aloud, crisp, mirthful, vivid, limpid.

     'Near another farmhouse a thick bay hedge shut in an orchard.
     The straight, shining stems rose immovable, crowned with their
     glistening foliage. One of the bay trees was enveloped in the
     embrace of a clematis, which lovingly conquered the martial bay
     with her blossoms of snow, the veil of her nuptial freshness.
     Underneath, the earth was dewy and fragrant. In an angle a
     black cross leaned over the hedge, the silence had the resigned
     sadness of a graveyard. At the end of a line there arose a
     flight of steps, half in shade, half in sunshine; they led to a
     door standing half open, protected by two branches of olive
     hung from its rustic architrave. On the lowest step sat an old
     man asleep, his head uncovered, his chin on his breast, his
     hands on his knees; the light touched his aged brow. From the
     half-open door there came, to soothe his senile sleep, the
     cadence of a rocking cradle, the rise and fall of a murmured
     lullaby.'

[Footnote 2: Campanulas, spotted orchis, or foxglove, I suppose. It it
characteristic of him that he sighs for an 'unseizable secret,' and does
not take the trouble to learn the names of the flowers he sees.]

What can be more true or more beautiful than this? Mark the contrast of
the old man sleeping on the stone steps, with the young mother, unseen
within, singing _sotto voce_ her cradle song. In totally different style
and tone take these few lines on Orvieto:--

     'A rock of tufa hanging above a melancholy valley; a city so
     silent that it seems empty: the windows are closed, in the grey
     lanes grass grows; a capuchin crosses a square; a bishop
     descends from a closed carriage before the gate of a hospital;
     a tower rises in a white and rainy sky; a clock strikes the
     hour slowly; all at once at the end of the street a miracle in
     stone--the Cathedral.'

Is not the city of Luca Signorelli set before you with those few lines?
There is here something far beyond dexterity or ingenuity of style;
there is the poet's, the painter's, power to embrace a world at a
glance, and with a touch set before duller eyes that world in all its
varieties and suggestions, all its past and its present, all its secrets
of the grave and of the future.

Take again this very different picture:--

     'He found the gorse.

     'On a tableland the thickly-growing gorse had flowered so
     densely as to spread a vast golden mantle over all the soil.
     Five maidens were gathering the flowers and filling with them
     skips and baskets, singing as they worked. They sang a song of
     thirds and fives in perfect harmony. When one of them reached a
     special phrase she lifted her whole bust out of the yellow maze
     of blossom that the notes might go forth from her throat with
     fuller liberty, and held it long sustained in air, looking her
     companions in the eyes whilst they applauded with their hands
     of flowers.

     'When they saw the stranger they stopped and bent again over
     the gorse. Stifled saucy laughter rippled under the yellow sea.
     Giorgio asked,--

     '"Which of you is Favetta?"

     'A girl, brown as an olive, raised her head in reply, amazed,
     almost terrified: "It is I, sir."

     '"Are you not the finest singer of San Vito?"

     '"No, sir. That is not true."

     '"It is true. It is true!" cried her companions.

     '"Sir! make her sing."

     '"No, sir, it is not true. I cannot sing."

     'She hid herself, laughing, her face all aflame; she twisted
     her apron whilst the others teased her. She was of short
     stature but well-formed; her bosom was high and large, swollen
     with songs. She had curly hair, dark eyebrows, aquiline
     profile; something in her carriage wild and free. After the
     first resistance she yielded.

     'The others, taking her by the arms, held her in their circle.
     They were up to their waists in the flowering gorse, whilst
     round them the bees were humming.

     'Favetta began unsteadily, but with each note her voice grew
     firmer. It was limpid, liquid, crystal, clear as a water
     spring. She sang a couplet and the others sang in chorus a
     ritornello. They prolonged the harmonies, putting their mouths
     close to form one single vocal flute; the song rose and fell in
     the light air with the slow regularity of a litany.

     'Favetta sang:--

            '"All the springs are dry,
            O poor love of mine!
            He dies of thirst.
            Where is the water thou broughtest me?
        We have brought thee an earthen jar,
        But round it is a chain of gold!"

     'The others sang:--

        '"Long live Love!"

     'It was the salutation of May to Passion, pouring from young
     breasts, which perchance as yet knew not its sweetness and
     perchance never would know its sorrow.'

Or take the following passage which is as essentially true in its
accurate observation as it is beautiful in its expression. Tullio Hermil
and Giuliana are listening at Villa Lilla to the first songster of that
spring.

     'The nightingale sang. At first it was like a burst of
     melodious glee; a jet of easy trills which fell through the air
     like pearls falling on the glass of a harmonium. Then came a
     pause. A shake arose, agile, marvellously prolonged, like a
     proof of strength, in an impulse of insolence, a challenge to
     some unknown rivals.

     'A second pause. A phrase of three notes with a tone of
     interrogation passed on a chain of light variations repeating
     the interrogative phrase five or six times, modulated softly
     like a slender reed flute on which is played a pastoral. A
     third pause: the song becomes elegiac, turns to a minor key,
     tender as a sigh; it is almost a groan; it expresses all the
     grief of the lonely lover, a heartrending desire; a vain hope;
     it flings out a last appeal, improvised, acute as a scream of
     anguish: then it ceases. A longer pause, more ominous. Then one
     hears a new accent which scarcely seems to come from the same
     throat so humble is it, so timid, so slight; it resembles the
     twitter of scarce-fledged birds, the chirrup of sparrows; then,
     with a miraculous volubility, this noisy note changes into a
     breathless song, more and more rapid in its trills, vibrating
     in sustained shakes, turning in daring flights of sound,
     leaping, growing, bounding, attaining the highest heights of
     the soprano. The songster is drunk with his own song. With
     pause so brief that one note scarce ceases ere another succeeds
     it, he spends his delirium in ever-varied melody, impassioned
     and sweet, subdued and ear-piercing, light and grave, now
     interrupted by broken sighs, by lament and supplication, now by
     impetuous lyrical improvisation and supreme appeal. It seems
     that even the gardens are listening, that the sky stoops over
     the old tree from whose summit this poet, invisible to mortal
     eyes, pours out such floods of eloquence. The flowers breathe
     deeply and silently. A yellow glow lingers in the west. This
     last lingering glance of the dying day is sad. But a single
     star has risen, alone and tremulous like a drop of luminous
     dew.'

He who can write thus is a great writer; and the charm of this passage
is not alone its poetry but its exact truth. The song of the nightingale
varies much in accord with age, with species (for there are two species,
Luscinia Philomela, and Luscinia Major), with climate, with the sense of
security, and the want of security, but the song of a nightingale in its
maturity, who is unalarmed and feels at home in the gardens of his
choice, is precisely such a song as is described in this passage, and is
more completely echoed in it than in the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven.
This sympathy with the melody of birds is the more singular in
D'Annunzio, because Italians are almost invariably indifferent to such
melody, and snare the divine songster in the net, or shoot him whilst he
shouts his nuptial _Io Triumphe!_ with the most stolid indifference. And
it may, perhaps, be that D'Annunzio does not care for the bird himself
more than the rest of his countrymen, but only cares for his own
eloquence concerning it. It may be said, without risk of injustice to
him, that great tenderness is at no moment found in him. He has not 'the
pathetic fallacy'; but he approaches it very nearly at times. When women
shall have lost for him some of the intensity of their physical charm,
nature in her wider and more profound meanings will, perhaps, become
more visible and more dear to him. Perhaps, however, it will not, for
the Italian is rarely impersonal.

Something of the affectation to which the delicate taste of my Italian
correspondent justly objects must be admitted to mar, by its
artificiality, the many magnificent pages dedicated by him to the sea.
Magnificent they are, true also, entirely true; but some mannerism there
is in them, some over-intricate embroidery of phrase. The sea he knows
best, and remembers always, is the Adriatic, of which the extreme beauty
of the colour, like the leaves of the silverweed, as wind and sun pass
over the meadows, has always before him been too little noted except, I
may venture to say, by myself.

     'O, fair, clear seas of September!' he cries in the _Piacere_.
     'The water is calm and innocent as a sleeping child, and lies
     outstretched under a pearl-like sky. Sometimes it is all green
     of the brilliant and intense green of malachite, and on it the
     small rosy sails seem like wandering fires. Sometimes it is all
     azure, of an intense blue, like the ultramarine which heralds
     use for blazonries, veined with gold like lapis-lazuli, and on
     it the painted sails seem like a procession of standards, of
     banners, of spears borne on a Catholic holy day. And yet again
     at other moments it takes on a metallic gleam, a silvery
     paleness, the hues of a ripening lemon, something indefinable
     and strange, and on this mystical surface the boats then glide
     and fade, and are seen no more as the illumined wings of
     cherubim sink into the faint fundamental hues of an old
     Giottesque fresco.

     'The sea was not alone for him a delight for the eyes, but it
     was a perennial wave in which he steeped his thirsting
     thoughts; a magical fountain of youth in which his body
     recovered health and his mind nobility. The sea had for him the
     mysterious attraction of a native country, and he abandoned
     himself to it with filial confidence, as a weak child in the
     arms of an omnipotent father; and he derived consolation from
     it, for no one had ever confided his sorrows, his desires, or
     his dreams to the ear of the sea in vain.'

So, we are told by D'Annunzio, thinks Andrea Sperelli, and so thought
also Giorgio Aurispa. But the sea has no permanent power on the soul of
either; the one returns from his contemplations of it to his life of
voluptuous pleasure, and the other drowns both himself and the woman,
whom he has adored to frenzy, in its waves, whilst the dog mourns
'forsaken beneath the olive trees, and the waters murmur softly, rocking
as in a cradle the reflections of the stars.'

Only once in D'Annunzio's work does genuine and yearning regret, of
which it is impossible to doubt the spontaneity and sincerity, thrill
through him, and move him to intense emotion and unstudied eloquence. It
is when, in the person of Claudio Cantelmo, he speaks in furious
invective of the modern desecration of Rome; in these passages he is
strong without effort, eloquent without study, and veracious alike in
sorrow and in scorn. His invective is poured from his heart's depths,
and thrills with the force of the Latin orators of the ruined Forum.

     'I have lived several years in Rome; in that third Rome which
     should have represented "Love reigning by Latin blood on Latin
     soil," and have seen radiant on its heights the wondrous lights
     of a new Ideal. I have been witness to its most ignominious
     evolutions, to the most obscene unions that have ever
     desecrated a sacred place. And I have understood the symbolism
     hidden in that act of an Asiatic conqueror, who cast myriads of
     human heads in the fountains of Samarcand, when he desired to
     create a capital. The wise and cruel tyrant meant to signify
     the necessity of merciless destruction in the creation of a new
     order of things.

            *       *       *       *       *

     'The ship which bore the Thousand of Marsala only set sail that
     the art of exchange and barter should be protected and covered
     by the State!

            *       *       *       *       *

     'It was the epoch of the most frenzied fury of the destroyers
     and contractors on the site of Rome. With the storms of dust
     there were propagated a sort of lunacy of gain, a malignant
     delirium, seizing not only on the tradesman and money-lenders,
     and the workers in brick and mortar, but also on the elect
     heirs of the papal _majorat_, who primarily had looked with
     scorn and disgust on the newcomers from the windows of their
     palaces of travertine, indestructible under the encrustations
     of ages.

     'The magnificent patrician races founded there, renewed and
     strengthened by nepotism, and the strife of opposing houses,
     descended and abased themselves one by one, slid down into the
     new mud, sank, and vanished. The illustrious riches, amassed
     through centuries of gorgeous pillage and Mæcenic luxury, were
     thrown into the whirlpool of the speculations of the Bourse.

     'And around them, on these patrician lawns, where, only the
     previous spring, the violets had blossomed more numberless than
     the blades of grass, there were now mounds of lime, heaps of
     bricks, the wheels of stone-laden carts creaked on the turf, on
     the air were the oaths of the drivers, the shouts of the
     overseers, while every hour hastened on the brutal work which
     was to efface and occupy the sacred soil once dedicated to
     Beauty and to Dreams. There passed over Rome a blighting
     blizzard of barbarism, menacing all that greatness and
     loveliness which were without equals in the memory of the
     world. Even the laurels and the rose trees of the Villa
     Schiarra, for so many nights of so many summers hymned by their
     nightingales, fell destroyed, or remained in their desecration
     behind the gates of little gardens parcelled out to the little
     cockney boxes of tradesmen. The gigantic Ludovisian cypresses,
     those of the Aurora, those which spread the clouds of their
     solemn and mystic antiquity above the Olympian brows of Goethe,
     were now laid prone in line one after another, with all their
     dishonoured roots stretching towards the pallid sky, the black
     dishonoured roots which still seemed to hold in their immense
     network the web of a life greater than our own.

     'Even over the box alleys of the Villa Albani, which had seemed
     as immortal as their Caryatides and their Hermes, there hung
     that shadow of a vandal's ruin. The contagion of destruction
     spread everywhere. In the ceaseless combat of gain, in the
     savage fury of avaricious greed and passions, in the disordered
     haste of commercial activity, every sense of common decency was
     forgotten, all respect for the past was trampled under foot.
     The struggle for gain was carried on with blind fury, with
     neither check nor curb. The pickaxe, the shovel, and the
     cunning of fraud were the weapons employed. And week after
     week, with incredible velocity, there arose on the violated
     earth the huge foolish cages of brick and mortar, pierced with
     square holes, surmounted with sham cornices, encrusted with
     shameful stucco ornaments. A kind of immense white tumour rose
     and spread on the wounded and bleeding side of the great Urbs
     and drained away its life.

     'And then, day after day, at sunset, along the princely avenues
     of the Borghese Park, we could see in gorgeous brand-new
     equipages the new elect of Fortune, from whom not barber, nor
     tailor, nor boot-maker, had power to take away the ignoble
     stamp. We could see them pass and repass with the sonorous trot
     of their shining bay and brown horses; they were recognisable
     at a glance by the insolence of their pose and the awkward
     carriage of their rapacious and vulgar hands; and they seemed
     to cry aloud,--

     '"We are the new rulers of Rome. Bow down to us!"

     'In truth such are its rulers; such the present masters of that
     Rome which prophets and poets once likened to the bow of
     Ulysses.'

Often have I myself written similar things, but in me they have been
considered exaggerations. They cannot be so considered in Gabriele
D'Annunzio of Francavilla.

All who love Rome and loathe her modern violation must thank him from
their hearts for such passages, and must mourn with him that we cannot
drive out the spoilers from our desecrated temples.

This is, indeed, his greatest strength, that, whilst still a young man,
he yet has the courage to resist the intellectual tendencies of his
contemporaries, to refuse to worship their gods, to see and despise the
falseness of those scientific pretensions which enslave the multitude in
modern life. His intellect, richly stored by learning, is, in a large
measure, free of prejudice. This is a great and rare distinction in a
generation which more completely than any which has preceded it, is the
timid slave of formula and the credulous servant of professional
bigotry.

He has kept a complete mental liberty; free from the superstitions of
religion, which, in this day, it is easy to be; but also free from the
superstitions of science, which is far harder, and incurs far greater
obloquy and opposition.

In his study on Giorgione, he says what it needs much courage to say in
these days:--

     'The scientific spirit has invaded the generation of the second
     half of our century. Struck by the surprising results of
     physics and calculation, men were inclined to believe for a
     time, that by the aid of the one or the other, they would be
     able to penetrate into all mysteries and solve all problems.
     But to this proud exaltation has now succeeded a discouragement
     mingled with suspicion. They say to themselves, and not without
     reason: "Where is this certainty that science promised us?" If
     ever certainty were incomplete, deprived of solid criterion, it
     is that offered by natural science. As for the sciences called
     exact, some, like geometry, repose on a tottering base of
     arbitrary affirmations; others, like algebra, on mere methods
     of reasoning, and contain as much or as little certainty as the
     formula of a syllogism.'

This is emphatically true; but it is a fact which is by no means
recognised by all, and which is still violently denied by those fanatics
whose form of bigotry is either experimental or exact science.

The mind of D'Annunzio refuses all bondage. It is a law to itself, as
the mind of the great writer should be. I imagine that the opinion of
him held by others, is to him of the most absolute unimportance. His
teaching is always to preserve the independence of the Ego, to live
without attention to formula or usage, to be, both materially and
spiritually, that which we were created to be by nature.

His morality is of the most primitive kind; or rather, he has none
whatever, no more than has a South-Sea islander lying in the sun under a
cocoa-nut tree whilst the surf bathes his naked limbs. It would be
absurd to accuse him of immorality because the indulgence of the senses
is as natural and as legitimate in his estimation, as Favetta's song
amongst the golden furze, or the reapers' welcome of the purple wine.
Yet by a not rare anomaly, this demand for perfect freedom of the
passions is accompanied by a tendency to desire tyranny in political
matters. He is disposed to deify force. In one or two expressions there
is an echo of Carlyle which sounds oddly and jarringly amongst the
amorous liberties and artistic debaucheries of the rest; and is not
worthy of a writer who has so much courage in opposing scientific
pharisaism and the thraldom of the schools. He is disposed to admire
what is strong simply because it is strong, forgetful that such strength
is sustained and nourished by the suffering of the weak. It is true that
he has lived in an atmosphere in which the verities embodied in the
aspirations, abortive but always noble, of the higher efforts of
revolution have been received with fear and misunderstanding. The
tendencies and training of the _Codini_ are visible through the
eloquence of the poet and the conclusions of the philosopher. The entire
lack in him of all altruism comes from this. Mazzini must be as
unintelligible to him as Tolstoi. The mass of humanity is always to him
the filthy, surging, bestial multitudes of the crowd at Casalbordino.
But even this absence of benevolence is better than the pitiful
sycophancy of writers who are as fulsome in their flattery to Demos as
to kings; is manlier than the nauseating self-worship of a Humanity at
once its own pimp and pander, its own adorer and assassin.

In his scorn of the human flocks of sheep, he forgets, I admit, too
entirely the justice to which the humblest unit amongst these flocks has
right, but that scorn, even when misdirected, is fresh and bracing as
the dash of his own Adriatic waves, when the east wind drives them
hurrying on to the shingle beach. He has no fear; and he never stoops to
that base flattery of his own species which is the most nauseous feature
of modern politics and of modern science.

     'This alone is your office,' he cries to his contemporaries, if
     they would resist the debasing influences of their time,
     'defend the dream which is in you. Since in this day mortals no
     longer bring tribute of love and honour to the choristers of
     the Muses, defend yourselves, O poets, with all your weapons,
     steep the point of your rapiers in the most biting poisons. Let
     your satires bear such corrosive acid in them that they shall
     pierce to the very pith of the spine and destroy it. Brand to
     the very bone the stupid forehead of those fools who would mark
     every soul with the same label, and make every brain like
     another, as the heads of nails are beaten into a common
     likeness by the blows of the nailmaker. Let your mordant
     laughter reach to heaven when you hear the stablemen of the
     Great Beast shouting in the parliaments of the earth.... Defend
     the thought which they menace, defend the beauty which they
     outrage, defend the antique freedom of your masters and the
     future freedom of your disciples, against the insane assaults
     of drunken slaves. Despair not, though you be few in number.
     You have the supreme force of the world: the written word.'

The written word is indeed in his hand a scourge, a sword, a sheaf of
arrows from the quiver of the divine Python Slayer.

And in no country more than in the Italy of his generation is such a
scourge, such a sword, such flame-tipped arrows, needed to slay the
courtiers, the usurers, the sycophants, the knaves, the brutes, the
sellers of justice who fasten like leeches on her body.

This son of Italy is a great writer; a great poet. Read his works in the
original text all ye who can, men and women for whom life has no secrets
and truth has no terror.

He is young; the time will come, as it comes to all, when the joys of
the senses will fade for him as the roses of the summer are scattered by
autumn winds.

Let us hope that there will be later a second period of his creative
art, in which there will be developed an original genius free of exotic
influences, and untrammelled by the search for idioms and pruriencies.
Genius, like the river at its source, takes the colour of the earth it
springs from. It is only when it has reached its full volume, its
deepest currents, that it becomes clear and reflects the sky alone.

Let us hope that such a future awaits him, and that more and more fully
will he realise what he has already said in noble words:--

     'Art! Here is the one faithful passion ever youthful, nay,
     immortal; here is the fountain of pure joy unknown to the
     multitude; here is the divine food which makes men like to
     gods. How could he have stooped to drink at other cups when he
     had once tasted of this?[3] How could he have bent to taste of
     other joys, once having known this ecstasy? How could his
     senses have let themselves be weakened and debased to lowest
     lusts when they had once been stirred to that highest
     sensibility which beholds the invisible, which touches the
     impalpable, which divines the most hidden secrets in the heart
     of nature?'

[Footnote 3: He is writing of Andrea Sperelli in _Il Piacere_.]

With these words, which are the greatest in meaning that he has hitherto
written, I will, for the present moment, take my leave of him.



II

GEORGES DARIEN


Of all countries, France remains the land in which it is possible to
tell the most truth. The nation of Montaigne and Molière is always the
first to recognise and award the title of talent to lay bare the
shoulders of her community and use the scourge upon them. If at its
first appearance the strange and terrible revelations contained in the
work entitled _Biribi_ were met by official obstruction and attempted
suppression, the book has conquered them, and has been allowed to carry
the light of its torches into the dark places of military administration
and oppression. In Italy, as in Germany and Austria, it would have been
stopped by fine, exile, and seizure. In Russia it could never have been
issued at all. In England it would have been as costly to the author as
were his issues of Zola to the unhappy and martyrised Vizetelly. In
France alone its pictures of the most terrible facts pass unarrested, by
right of that literary liberty which the _esprit gaulois_ has always
awarded, however much government and law may have been alarmed.

It has been said that the accusations contained in the works of Georges
Darien are a _Rétrissure à la France_, and as such should never have
been made public by a patriotic writer and a ci-devant soldier. But here
we merely meet again the hackneyed question whether the writer of talent
is bound by patriotism or any other scruple to withhold truth, or
whether he is not rather bound to disclose the truth as he believes it
to be at all costs, whether to himself or to others. It is not necessary
for me to say with which of these opinions I agree. The little which has
been done towards any true progress of the human mind has been done by
the expression of free thought, and by its fearless exposure of evils
protected by the crystallisation of time, usage, and prejudice. Over the
modern world which chatters of liberty, but does not anywhere possess
it, or even know actually what it means, there hang, in heavy and icy
weight, two ever-increasing despotisms: the scientific and the military.
Of the former it is not necessary to treat in these pages; of the latter
the yearly increase throughout Europe, ever since the war of 1870-71,
must alarm every unbiassed thinker, bringing with it, as it does, the
impoverishment of the people, the curse of youth and manhood, the
endless strain of a fiscal burden, so enormous that every class groans
under it, and the perpetual and diseased anxiety in which every nation
lives, suspecting its neighbours, and turn by turn affronting them
insolently and cringing to them obsequiously, according as it is made to
feel the power of its own strength or the weakness of its own
inferiority. Every syllable printed which tends to show the reality of
military tyranny at this moment is valuable, and should be welcomed,
however odious it may be to military authority and government; and
especially valuable when it comes from one who has passed through the
scenes which he depicts, and draws, not from imagination, but from
memory.

Georges Darien has been the man whom he describes; treated as the worst
of criminals, though wholly guiltless of breaking any criminal law.
Georges Darien in using the first person, both in _Biribi_ and in _Bas
les Coeurs_, is but writing portions of his own autobiography; he was
a boy of ten, like his young hero in the latter book, and a volunteer
like the gunner of the second class in the 41st battery of artillery in
the former work, and to this fact there are owing that directness,
simplicity, and virility which are the distinguishing characteristics of
both these volumes. They are alive with life. The reader may resent
them, detest them, dread them and their revelations; but he must be
impressed by them; he must receive from their perusal that thrill which
can only come from reality. They are saturated with the tears of blood
of a strong man who feels his own impotency to rouse his generation and
to change humanity; who knows that his voice is the voice of the prophet
crying in the wilderness, and echoing over a desert of dead bones and
drifting sand. There are few greater pangs than to see the truth and
know it, and feel that the salvation of others lies in it, and to tell
it in vain to deaf ears, and offer its water of life to lips closed by
pride and cruelty and folly.

The name _Biribi_ sounds too light for such a subject; it sounds like a
joke; but the joke is grim indeed, grim as the dance of skeletons round
a gallows-tree. In actual fact _Biribi_ is the nickname given by French
and native soldiers in Algeria to the punishment-battalions of the
Franco-African army; a slangy _petit nom_ given in jest to one of the
most awful hells that earth holds. The tortures which are suffered in
every army, in the best army, and in the time of greatest peace, can
scarcely ever be over-rated; and they are not the less, but the more
terrible, because almost always endured in silence and ignored by
authority. Now and then a voice is raised from the ranks, occasionally,
very rarely, some punishment, or injustice, more brutal than usual,
comes to light, and rouses public indignation. _Biribi_ is one of those
rare utterances rising from the sealed pits, in which uncared-for and
unpitied lives are beaten into senseless pulp of bruised and bleeding
flesh.

There is great originality in the literary talent of Georges Darien. His
style is all his own. His manner of relation resembles no other. He has
nothing of the modern school, except its hopelessness; he is strong,
intense, virile, rough; he seeks no ornament, he strives for no effect;
he writes as he feels, boldly, passionately, with that eloquence which
is the offspring of simplicity and of veracity, and that potency which
comes from wide knowledge of literatures and of mankind. Belonging by
birth to the _bourgeoisie_, son of a Catholic father and a Calvinist
mother, his early years were embittered by religious strife. He has
later on travelled much; he has known the lowest classes and the hardest
ways of life; he is still young in years, but old in the most varied
experiences; and he has, certainly, uncommon powers, which have as yet
not been duly recognised, for he offends the prejudices and vested
interests of his generation, and even in France prejudice and vested
interests are strong and close many channels.

He disdains, moreover, to appeal to that large class of readers who
require a book, cast in the form of a story, to possess a story. Like
the famous knife-grinder he has none to tell, if by story we understand,
as most people do, a love-tale in some one of its forms. _Biribi_ is the
stern and terrible narrative of the career of an _insoumis_; _Bas les
Coeurs_ is the simple, domestic record of a boy's recollections of the
_Année Terrible_. In neither is there any hint or fragment of romance.
This fact at once limits his public to the restricted number who
appreciate the skill which can afford to dispense with the elements of
romance, and to rely solely on its own power of description and analysis
of character. In this respect for literary excellence and harmonious
treatment I should place _Bas les Coeurs_ before _Biribi_. The
relation of events at Versailles, before and after the Prussian
occupation, as seen from the point of view of a family of the town, is
told with such perfect naturalness that the reader follows it with the
deepest interest, and remains fascinated by the admirable manner in
which the most tragic and momentous events of history are reflected in
the mind of a boy of ten years old.

The tranquillity and precision of his use of the etching-needle, with
which he describes the daily life and street scenes in Versailles,
contrasts curiously with the hot colour and broad charcoal marks with
which he portrays the tortures of the punishment-battalions in Africa.

This testifies to the flexibility of Darien's talent, since nothing can
be more different to the impetuous and turgid violence of _Biribi_ than
the restrained and delicate irony of _Bas les Coeurs_: the one is a
battle-piece of Vereschagin, crowded with begrimed and panting figures,
in which the dumb canvas seems to shriek with war and smoke with blood;
the other is a cabinet picture of Meissonier's, finished, polished,
small in measurement, illimitable in suggestion, fine as the point of a
needle, cruel as the fork of a snake's tongue. For, undoubtedly, Darien
is cruel; but he is cruel from the impotent rage which is in him, the
powerless sorrow and scorn which his country, his generation, his fellow
mortals, his vision of things as they are, awaken in his memory and in
his desires.

The apathy and sheepishness of the general multitude fill him with
wrath; he longs to pull down on the world its temple, like Samson,
regardless of the fall of the column and the roof on himself. No one who
loves received doctrines, crystallised commonplaces, undisputed formulæ,
should open these books. Such persons will only see in them blasphemies
against their honoured gods; for this author is not suited to the smug
self-complacency of Philistinism, 'sanding its sugar and praising its
Lord.'

To represent war as it is done in the terrible pages of _La Débâcle_, or
in the heartrending sketch of the _Attaque du Moulin_, is not difficult
to the novelist who has power and knowledge. To represent the effects of
war on entirely uninteresting and commonplace persons, and yet keep the
attention of the reader riveted to what is passing in one ordinary
household during a frightful national calamity, is a far more difficult
feat; especially when all the sympathies of the reader which would be
easily roused by noble sentiments in the sufferers are voluntarily
alienated, and the only motives and feelings depicted are sordid,
egotistic, and miserable, except in the young narrator, whose childish
intelligence is so slowly awakened to the baseness of those around him,
but whose naturally honest and patriotic little soul burns and thrills
with shame when once it becomes conscious of the meanness and cowardice
of his family and of his neighbours. The highest literary faculty seems
to me to show itself in the completeness with which the childlikeness of
the young observer is retained, the vague apprehension, the slowly
awakening comprehension, the gradually dawning horror with which the
events around him impress themselves on a mind remaining instinctively
loyal and just in the midst of corrupt and unworthy examples.

Take this as an example of its style:--

     'Shouts are heard afar off in the woods.

     '"Ah, my poor child!" says my aunt, weeping, "what a hideous
     thing is war!"

     'She looks very feeble, very worn, my poor great-aunt Moreau.
     The sight of her thin face, her skeleton-like hands, moves me
     painfully. She sees this.

     '"At my age," she murmurs, "these events, my dear, are hard to
     bear."

     'However, she assures me the Germans are not very cruel. The
     Captain in command of those billeted on her, despite his rude
     exterior, is not uncivil.

     'At that moment, indeed, this officer returns with his men; his
     heels ring on the bricks of the ante-chamber. He opens the door
     of the little room where we are sitting.

     '"Do not be disturbed, Madame," he says, addressing my aunt,
     "on account of the firing you may have heard. There is nothing
     of any consequence. A wood-cutter, in whose hut we found arms,
     and whom we have shot: nothing more."

     'He salutes and retires. My aunt shudders. She turns white, her
     eyes close, her head falls back against the chair. She is
     faint. I call her maid, who runs to my summons, with the cook
     and the servant just come to fetch me. The three women try and
     revive her. She remains so weak when again conscious, that they
     carry her to her chamber. She is grieved to have fainted.

     '"When my dear little Jean came to see me," she murmurs! "It
     was the thought of that poor wood-cutter--"

     'She trembles like a leaf as I leave her.

     'Germaine, who has come from my grandfather's to fetch me, asks
     me to wait a moment; she has a message for the Prussian Captain
     from my grandfather. The officer is walking up and down,
     smoking, under the lime-trees. I hear his guttural voice as he
     answers, "Tell your master that I shall expect him here." What
     can this mean? When I reach my grandfather's house I rush to
     the dining-room to question the old man, but Germaine catches
     hold of my arm.

     '"You must not disturb Monsieur. He is engaged with someone."

     'Through the door, which I hold half-opened, I have seen that
     someone. He is a person dressed like a peasant, who looks not
     like a peasant, nevertheless. His large hat is worn too
     gracefully; his ragged blue blouse is too old to accord with
     his proud and delicate features. Is he an officer of
     franc-tireurs? A French spy, perhaps? Is my grandfather giving
     or receiving information? Is he not, as I hope, planning to
     surprise the Prussians? I question Germaine. She is astonished
     at my anxiety.

     '"That man? He wanted to see the Mayor, and as the Germans have
     put the Mayor in prison, he was brought here. Do not trouble
     yourself about him, Monsieur Jean."

     'I hear a sound of closing doors. It is, of course, the
     stranger going away.

     'My grandfather joins me.

     '"Well, how is your aunt?"

     'I tell him what happened, the story of the wood-cutter and its
     effect upon her.

     '"Ah! what a pity!--humph, humph!--I will go and see her.
     Germaine, my cloak."

     '"Shall I come with you, grandpapa?"

     '"No, no; not worth while. I shall be back in half an hour."

     'In twenty minutes' time he returns.

     '"You see I am as good as my word. I made haste, eh?"

     '"Is my aunt better?"

     '"Your aunt? Yes--no--that is, yes, much better."

     '"Jean," he says to me after dinner, "you were to go back the
     day after to-morrow, but as I must go on business to Versailles
     in the morning early, I will take you with me. Does it
     disappoint you, eh?"

     '"A little, yes."

     '"Bah! you shall make up for it another time. You shall come
     again soon for several days, and send your lessons to the
     deuce."

     'I laugh. I think I must have been mistaken. The man whom I saw
     must have been really a peasant. My grandsire could not be so
     gay if there were to be fighting at Maussy this evening.
     However, before going to bed I look out over the country, and
     when I lie down I strain my ear to catch a sound. All night
     long I cannot sleep; I can only listen. All at once a hand
     touches my elbow. I start up, screaming. Germaine laughs.

     '"What is the matter, Monsieur Jean? Were you dreaming?"

     'I stare round me in amaze. It is broad day.

     '"Make haste and get up; the chocolate is ready; master is
     waiting."

     'Half an hour later we leave the house. We are at the end of
     the street which opens on to the Versailles road, when a
     platoon of Prussian soldiers, with bayonets fixed, appears upon
     that road. My grandfather seizes me brutally and throws me down
     under a fence behind a hedge. I look through the branches. The
     Prussians pass at quick march. Amidst them marches a man, with
     his hands tied behind his back. I see a broad-leafed hat, a
     pale proud face, an old blue blouse. It is the man of
     yesterday. I know him at a glance.

     '"Grandfather, who is that?"

     '"Eh! Who? who? Some vagabond a Prussian patrol has picked up
     out of some ditch. The Prussians are very severe for--for--for
     wayfarers. It is better not to be seen in these affairs--it is
     better not to be mixed up--I mean--"

     'My grandfather is lying, I am certain; I feel it. Why should
     he lie? Where are they taking this fettered man? Why force me
     to lie hidden under a hedge? From behind the village a loud
     volley thunders through the air.

     '"Grandpapa, grandpapa, did you hear that?"

     'The old man is livid.

     '"It is the Prussians who practise--who practise at firing--in
     the morning. It is their custom--their custom--every morning--"

     'His teeth chatter.'

Or see this description of the troops leaving for the frontier:--

     'To-day the last regiment quartered here goes to the front; it
     is a regiment of the line.

     'Léon and I wait in the market-place to go with the soldiers to
     the railway station.

     'It is an epic, this departure of the troops. I have never felt
     what I feel now. There is a sense and scent of battle in the
     air; the midsummer sun shining on the musket-barrels and
     sparkling on the accoutrements sets fire to one's brain. The
     earth trembles under the passage of artillery which is about to
     vomit death; and one's heart dances in one's breast whilst the
     ponderous caissons, with their iron-circled wheels, shake the
     stones, and the mouths of the bronze guns display their yawning
     jaws. Bands play warlike tunes, men chant the _Marseillaise_,
     the gold of epaulets and the lace on uniforms glow in the
     light; the flags flap against the flagstaffs, on whose summits
     eagles spread their wings; the shoes of the chargers glitter
     like silver crescents; and one feels some mighty spirit of war
     soar above these hearts of flesh and of iron who are about to
     face the shock of battle. The blood steams in one's veins; the
     fever of the hour devours one; and one shouts louder and
     louder, faster and faster, not to become mad.

     'It is market-day. The square is filled by country people who
     have brought in their vegetables and fruits for sale. Their
     stalls are under all the trees, and, here and there, take up
     the pavement. We are standing between a woman selling salads
     and an old man who has onions, and is on all fours beside his
     skips, because every moment or so an onion slides off the heap
     and rolls towards the gutter, unless he stops it. What a funny
     old fellow he is to take so much trouble for an onion! Ah!
     there goes another one! The old man hurries to catch it, but an
     officer, booted and spurred, steps on it; slips, slides,
     tumbles down. The onion-seller takes off his cap: "Oh, sir! a
     thousand pardons!"

     'The officer gets up, takes his riding-whip by the whip-end,
     and brings it with all his force on the uncovered head of the
     old man, who falls backward on his skull. Blood bespatters his
     skips of onions.

     '"Here comes the regiment!" screams Léon.

     'The band sounds at the end of the street. We run towards it.

     '"Did you see the poor old man?" I ask.

     '"Yes. He deserved what he got. Only think! The officer might
     have broken his legs, eh?"

     'I do not answer. I am absorbed in watching the soldiers whom
     we escort, walking on the pavement, keeping step with them.

     'The soldiers do not all keep step with one another; emotion,
     enthusiasm, the delights of going to thrash the Prussians, the
     natural sorrow at leaving those they love--a thousand different
     feelings. There is an old soldier, a decorated soldier next to
     me, who is very unsteady on his legs. A young officer, very
     young, almost beardless, puts his musket straight on the old
     fellow's shoulder every second. It is admirable to see the
     harmony which reigns between privates and officers. The
     Colonel, a grey-beard, salutes with his sword when the people
     cheer him; and a trumpeter in the front rank has stuck a great
     bouquet of roses to the banner of his instrument, and carries
     it as a priest carries the host. Other nosegays are thrust into
     the barrels of muskets. Bottles of wine show their corks from
     under the piles of knapsacks, and two or three dogs are
     stretched out on the haver-sacks in the baggage-waggons. The
     crowd cheers the dogs.

     'All the peasants throng to see, shouting their applause to
     the regiment. Before the chemist's shop at the corner, a knot
     of young men wave their caps in the air; the chemist waves his
     white handkerchief; behind him I see the blue blouse of the old
     onion-seller, who lies unnoticed on the ground.

     'All at once the music breaks out into the _Marseillaise_.

        '"Allons, enfans de la patrie,
        Le jour de gloire est arrivé!"

     'Oh, how beautiful it all is! The soldiers fall into line. The
     populace, shouting and cheering, accompanies them to the
     station. Through the bars of the station-gates a private passes
     me his drinking-cup, and asks me to get it filled at the
     wine-shop in front of the gates.

     '"Wait; here is the money."

     'But I do not wish for the brave fellow's money, I have a franc
     in my pocket. I will pay for his pint. In a moment I run back
     again.

     '"Thanks, young sir," says the soldier. "It is perhaps the last
     drop I shall ever drink."

     '"The last!" cries Léon, red as a turkey-cock; so proud is he
     to be able to rouse the spirit of a warrior. "The last? Ah! we
     shall give you floods of wine when you come back from victory."

     'The townspeople, who are crowding round us, cheer. The soldier
     shakes his head dubiously.

     '"Thanks all the same," he says sadly.

     'He does not seem very confident of success.

     '"Doubt that we shall be victorious?" says Léon in disgust as
     we go homeward. "Leave the town for the frontier with so
     little confidence! I would give--oh, what wouldn't I give?--to
     be old enough to go and beat the Prussians. My dear Jean, that
     soldier has no soul!"

     'I am not sure. The soldier perhaps does not look on the
     campaign as a picnic. Perhaps he sees more clearly than we do?
     Perhaps? A great many things I had never thought of before
     crowd into my brain.'

A few days later, after Sedan, Jean sees the Germans enter Versailles.

     '"Here they are!"

     'It is the octroi-guards who cry out this as they come flying
     from the gates across the town. They brush me roughly as they
     pass, and their abject terror gains on me.

     'I follow them. But as I run I see on the other side of the
     boulevard five or six inquisitive persons, who have stopped in
     their walk, and hide themselves behind the trees. If they stay
     to see, why may not I? I, too, get behind the stem of a tree,
     and I watch with staring eyes to see what will happen. On the
     road, fifty yards from the gates, a dozen horsemen are coming
     onward at a walk. They stop a moment before the
     octroi-officers; then they come on into the town in two lines,
     almost touching the pavement.

     '"The Uhlans!" says someone behind me. Ah, I think with a
     thrill, these are the Uhlans!

     'They draw near us; their pistols are cocked. They pass me
     close, and I feel that I shall fall from fright; my nails
     clutch the bark of the tree which screens me. These riders are
     covered with blood. There is blood on the pennons of their
     lances, on the hocks of their horses, on the rents in their
     torn uniforms, and one of the foremost has a white linen band
     stained with red on his forehead. Ah! it is hideous! I want to
     run away--I want to run away; it is impossible. Before me there
     are these Germans, riding slowly, searching with piercing
     glances the streets which open out to the left and to the
     right. Behind them comes on a dense dark mass. One can hear the
     tramp of feet. One can distinguish the spikes of helmets, the
     barrels of muskets, the little drums no bigger than
     tambourines, and the fifes which are playing a march. These
     drummers and pipers are followed by linesmen in dark blue, shod
     with boots drawn up above their trousers, the musket held
     straight on the shoulder, the cloak rolled.

     'And these men, grey with dust and mud, black with powder, with
     their coats in rags--these men, who fought no doubt this
     morning, and who have just made a forced march--preserve the
     most marvellous exactitude, the most perfect regularity in the
     dressing of their ranks, and the rhythm of their steps keeps
     measure from the first line to the last of the whole column.

     'They pass--they pass--they will never end. I have almost
     forgotten my fear. I am partly in front of my sheltering tree.
     The drums and the fifes cease to sound, and music replaces it
     from a band marching in front of a group of staff-officers.
     They play a warlike march, a battle-hymn, and all down the line
     of troops, from the foremost company which has reached the
     Chateau of Versailles, to the last which is leaving the
     Chesnay, shouts of triumph arise and drown the brazen voice of
     the cymbals. The victorious chant thunders down the wind. It is
     the _Marseillaise_--the _Marseillaise_ which our own troops
     played as they left for the frontier, the hymn which was to
     render every French soldier invincible, which I had sung myself
     when we had been so sure of supremacy, and when I had planted
     my little tricolour flags on the map, all along the route from
     Paris to Berlin in a Via Triumphalis!

     'Now the artillery comes on; its black cannon on their blue
     gun-carriages, with their attendants on foot and in saddle,
     wearing helmets surmounted with brass balls. There are flowers
     in the mouths of the cannon, and they are garlanded with ivy
     and green boughs. The cavalry follow on the artillery;
     dragoons, cuirassiers, hussars with white facings and a
     death's-head on their shakoes. Then come the carriages, the
     waggons, the vehicles with ladders, the baggage-carts.... All
     at once my heart sickens and stands still. Behind the wheels of
     the last waggons I seem to see some red cloth. Yes, it is our
     red cloth--our soldiers. Between two rows of Prussians, who
     have their bayonets fixed, our prisoners march without arms,
     dirty, ragged, miserable, and ashamed. There are at least two
     hundred of them, and I strain my eyes after these, my
     countrymen, who are destined to rot in German fortresses.'

It seems to me that in no contemporary fiction do we possess studies of
spectacles, of sentiments, of street-life in a momentous hour, more
accurate, more vivid, more simple in diction, more touching in
suggestion, than in the above passages.

The sustained and withering irony and censure in this sketch, which yet
never goes out of the selected orbit of a boy's observation and
experiences, seem to me to be perfect in their kind. The incompleteness
of the child's understanding gives only a keener incisiveness to the
satire embodied in his narrative. The general reader will never forgive
such portraits as that of the elder Barbier, who, after shouting,
'Sursum Corda! Prenons serment de défendre le sol sacré de la Patrie!'
accepts the large Prussian orders, sets his steam-saws going in his
timber yard, and furnishes the wood for the besiegers of Paris; or of
that of the tobacconist Legros, who, after crying, 'Un soldat qui renie
son drapeau? Qu'il crêve comme un chien!' stands bareheaded with bent
spine to sell cigars to Bavarian officers. This is human nature: human
nature as commerce and modern teaching and the cheap Press have made it;
but Barbier and Legros will never pardon the limner who thus portrays
them. To the reproach that such portraits are nearly always those which
he selects, Darien would, no doubt, reply that it is not his fault if
they are what have been in his path to the exclusion of finer and nobler
figures. He is a realist in the full sense of that often-abused word,
and he has the courage to represent the realities which he finds.

The _Année Terrible_ casts its black shadows over the childhood of this
writer, and as long as his life shall last the gloom it has left will
stay with him. If France herself should ever forget, which Heaven
forbid, he will not do so. His soul has been dipped in the Styx.

What will, no doubt, alienate from him a large number of readers will be
his almost absolute want of human sympathy, or, at least, of expressions
of such sympathy. It is exceedingly rare with him to give way to any
sign of any emotion of pity. He sees human nature, in all its phases,
with little compassion for it. He sees (and this is, too often, either
through weakness or through policy, ignored by writers and thinkers)
that the great majority of men are neither the martyrs nor the heroes,
neither the victims nor the tyrants of their time, but a mass
considerable alone by its numbers, inconsiderable by any mental or moral
worth, and chiefly absorbed in different forms of selfishness and the
desire of gain. It is probably an error, though one consecrated by usage
and talent, to represent the generality of human beings as worthy
subjects either of blessing or of curse. But the author who says so will
never be forgiven by that mass of mediocrity which forms nine-tenths of
the population of the world. Darien says it, and shows it, and it is
this which will always make his works appear dreary and depressing to
the general reader, who cannot accept and pardon this manner of looking
at life for the sake of its veracity and courage.

Of course, also, in the Press generally, the accusation of exaggeration
is always brought against exposures and delineations which are unwelcome
and embarrassing. But the writer's word may certainly be taken for it
that nothing in his descriptions is exaggerated or invented, and many
recent inquiries into the causes of deaths in the ranks, and of
executions after summary, and almost secret, court-martial in Algeria,
have confirmed the veracity of the statements made in _Biribi_. The
French Government, indeed, was, as I have said, so apprehensive of the
effect of these on the public mind that, although it did not suppress
the book, it forbade large coloured cartoons of the events described in
it to be posted up on the boulevards. In all nations the public is
treated like a child by authority; and as a child who will only walk
straight and submissively if its eyes be bandaged and its feet hobbled.

But in these pages we are not so much concerned with the political and
military side of these works as with their literary qualities; and these
are considerable and of a strong and rare originality of style. _Il vous
empoigne_, and it is impossible to read either of his two works without
recognising their courage and ability, if we feel pained by their
withering scorn and rugged wrath. They are at times hard as the stones
over which the sick and swooning soldier is dragged, tied to the tail of
a mule. They are at times ferocious as the licensed torturer with the
three stripes on the sleeve, who throws his helpless prisoner, gagged
and bound, on the burning sands. Terrible they always are, with all the
terror of truths which have been lived through by the person who
chronicles them. It is not any betrayal of confidence to say that the
author of _Biribi_ has experienced in his own person the tortures of
which the dread record is made under this little playful-sounding word.
After such scenes as are herein described, and such sufferings as these,
the blood in a man's veins cannot be rose-water. 'La haine c'est comme
les balles; en la machant on s'empoisonne.' And it is impossible that
the military system can beget any other than hatred, violent,
unforgiving, imperishable, in the victims of that system.

     'A young soldier, a conscript, a chasseur à cheval, has lost
     two cartridges as the battalion is about to leave for Tunis.

     'The Corporal informs the Captain in command, who turns and
     looks in silence. The boy Loupat gazes at him with the eyes of
     an animal watching the descent of the club which is about to
     brain it, and from which it knows not how to escape.

     'In passing through Tunis the Corporal says to him, "We shall
     leave you here. That will teach you to sell your cartridges."

     'The boy understands. The council of war, the sentence as a
     thief, the indelible shame stamped on the brow of a youth
     because he has lost two of the cartridges of the State! The
     following morning the bugle sounds the _réveil_ at four
     o'clock. It is still dark. At twenty minutes to five the
     company, with knapsacks on their backs, is drawn up in line on
     the road which runs through the camp. The trumpets sound the
     roll-call, and all down the line each man answers "Present" as
     his name is spoken.

     '"No one is missing?"

     '"Yes, Loupat, my Captain."

     '"Loupat is absent?"

     '"Yes, my Captain."

     '"The scoundrel! He has slunk off in the night to escape
     court-martial, but we will find him. Go on. No one else
     missing?"

     '"Look there!" A soldier points to the gymnasium. All the men
     look where he points. Under the portico, on the great
     architrave on the left, a body is swinging, black, at the end
     of a cord.

     'A lieutenant runs to the place, climbs to the body takes hold
     of it, lets it go, returns.

     '"Dead?" says the officer in command. "Is it Loupat?"

     '"He is already cold."

     '"The scoundrel!" says the Captain again. "Well! he has done
     justice on himself. Right flank, march!"

     'We are crowded pell-mell into the railway waggons which are
     bound for Tunis. I look through the opening in the door and see
     far away below me--already far away--a small dark shape which
     swings in the wind as on a gibbet, and which is lighted solely
     by the first rays of the rising sun.

            *       *       *       *       *

     'Another soldier, Barnaux, has had some liqueurs given him by a
     comrade; Barnaux is drinking with the men of his _marabout_,
     when a sergeant enters, espies the irregularity, takes the
     offender before the officer in command.

     'Barnaux refuses to say who the giver of the liqueur was. The
     Captain orders him to be put in irons. They have put him _à la
     crapaudine_, that is, with his arms bound behind him and
     chained to his ankles. He is cast down thus on the sand of the
     camp. Because he moans with pain they gag him with a dirty rag,
     they tie his chin to his head with a cord. He remains all the
     night thus, tied up into a shapeless packet. In the morning
     when they change sentinels they perceive that he is dead. The
     gag has stifled him.

            *       *       *       *       *

     'Then the horror of the hospital; those hells which these men
     so dread that they will tear the bandages off their wounds, or
     cut their veins with a bit of broken glass, rather than live to
     enter them.

     'The muleteers set us down at a great tent which serves as an
     infirmary; within there are planks on trestles and large pails
     filled with reddened water.

     '"You see that," says Palot, who has divined with the instinct
     of the dying the destination of those sinister planks. "Well,
     that will be my last bed."

     'An assistant, a filthy apron round his body, signs to us to
     enter.

     'The great tent is an unutterably miserable place; it has been
     battered about by wind and weather; the currents of air blow
     unchecked through it, and clouds of dust arise from the ground.
     Some twenty iron beds are there, not more; and beyond those a
     pile of mattresses, on which men are lying, rolled up in rough
     counterpanes. There are not sheets enough for all. They make a
     sick man rise and give up his place to Palot, whose pulse the
     surgeon feels.

     '"Done for," says the doctor, between his teeth, without
     heeding whether Palot hears him or not.

     'To the rest of us they assign the mattresses lying on the
     earth; these are full of vermin; they throw on us some
     covering, stained with the vomit of our predecessors.

     'How wretched it is, this hospital! How weary are the days
     passed, with no other companions than the dying, whose
     characters are poisoned by suffering and whose cries of horror
     and anguish ring in one's ears! When, moved by the disgust and
     despair which comes over you in this foetid hole filled with
     filth and misery, you drag yourself out on your trembling limbs
     into the sun, you feel so feeble, so exhausted, so helpless,
     you cannot walk a step. You sit down in the torrid heat; you
     are chilly, despite the high temperature; your teeth chatter,
     your body is drenched with sweat. And at evening you are
     obliged to return to the tent, where you pass such hideous
     nights, troubled by such frightful nightmares, by such vague
     sudden shapeless terrors, which seem to seize you by the throat
     and freeze the blood in your veins. Oh! those horrible nights
     when you see the dying shake off their covering with shrunken
     fingers and try to raise their haggard faces, lighted by the
     yellow-green rays of a lanthorn!

     'These nights in which the living, who so soon will be the
     dead, clutch at the rags which cover them, and shriek with rage
     and fear as though they saw an enemy descend on them! These
     nights in which one hears the childlike sobs of young Palot,
     who is delirious, and who in his long agony calls on his
     mother, "Mamma! Mamma!"

     'They will ring for ever in my ears those two piteous words
     which through three whole nights fill that wretched place with
     their unpitied lament. A lament, low and tender at first,
     broken with choking tears, ending in screams which make one's
     hair stand up on one's skull with horror. The desperate screams
     of a perishing life which has lost all sense and measure of
     things or of time, of one who knows only that he will die, and
     in one supreme appeal protests against his severance from those
     he loves.'

       *       *       *       *       *

And the youth Palot dies in that appeal, and they dig a hole in the red
clay under a low wall beside a Barbary fig-tree.

     'Ah! poor little soldier, who breathe your last, calling on
     your mother; you who, with your glazing eyes, saw the vision of
     your home; you who are laid there, at twenty-three years of
     age, to be devoured by the worms of that foreign soil on which
     you have suffered so much, and where you have met your death
     alone, forsaken, without a friend to soothe your last struggle,
     without a hand to close your eyelids, except the brutal hand of
     the hospital servant, which shut on your mouth like a muzzle
     when your desperate cries disturbed his sleep. Ah, I know why
     your sickness was mortal; I know it much better than the
     surgeon whose steel dissected your emaciated body; and I pity
     you, poor victim of the State, with all my heart and soul as I
     pity your mother who waits for you, counting the days of your
     absence, and who will only receive in her solitude the dry
     official notice of your death!

            *       *       *       *       *

     'Ah, no! I will not pity you, young dead soldier, nor your
     mother who mourns your loss! I will not pity you, sons, who are
     killed by the drinkers of blood, mothers who conceive what they
     send to the shambles. Mad women who endure the pangs of
     childbirth only to give up the fruit of their womb to the
     Minotaur which devours them! Know you not that the she-wolves
     let themselves be slain sooner than lose their offspring; that
     there are beasts which die of grief when their cubs are borne
     away from them? Do you not understand that it would be better
     to tear your new-born creatures limb from limb than to bring
     them up for one-and-twenty years, only to throw them into the
     hands of those who want their flesh to feed the cannon?... And
     you would ask our pity when, in some dark hour, the end comes,
     and the bones of your children are gnawed by hyænas and
     whitened by the sun in some forgotten corner of the earth?'

There are many such passages in _Biribi_, burning with truth and with
pain; and it would be well if they could be stamped into the mind and
the memory of the peoples of this epoch, who go meekly and stupidly as
sheep to the slaughter, under the pressure of their sovereigns and
statesmen. Of course, such a teaching as this carries with it its own
condemnation by what is called authority, and by all those classes of
which I have spoken, to whom war is a necessity and a standing army is
the ark of the Government. But it would be well if the populace of every
country could read, learn, and digest it, and realise its truth and its
justification. As I have said, I place _Bas les Coeurs_ higher, in a
purely literary sense, than _Biribi_, in the sense of construction and
of concentration. For _Biribi_ is abrupt, at times confused; is rather a
series of terrible records and tragical incidents than a consecutive and
harmonious narrative, although it relates the career of the same
soldier from the time when he enters the ranks, to the last day
in which he flings from him for ever the grey coat and _kepi_ of the
punishment-battalion. In that punishment-battalion he has been placed,
let the reader remember, for no especial crime against law or decency,
but for those offences against the military code (the unwritten code)
which make the offender more guilty in the eyes of a court-martial than
any actually criminal accusation: to have lost a regimental article, to
have forgotten to salute a superior, to have stopped to drink at a brook
on a march, to have omitted to put the regulation number on a clothes
brush or a pewter platter, to have been out without leave, to have lost
cartridges or buttons--any one of those innumerable and incessantly
recurring actions or omissions which make a soldier an _insoumis_ to his
military superior, whether sergeant or general, corporal or colonel,
which to the military mind constitute crimes too heinous to be named,
offences which fill a punishment-book with accusations of acts in which
only the semi-insanity of perverted authority could see any provocation.
Read only of the punishment of the _tombeau_ for simple sins of
negligence or thoughtless mirth. The _tombeau_ is a canvas cover,
stretched on stakes, making a cage a mètre long by sixty centimètres
wide, into which the soldier condemned to this torment is obliged to
creep on his stomach as best he can. In this cage he spends days,
weeks, months, at the caprice of his tyrants, with a litre of water as
his only drink, and nothing but the canvas between him and scorching
heat or icy rain, or blinding desert dust. On hot days the water in his
little can evaporates rapidly; and at the will of the corporals in
charge of him he may be kept thirty-six hours without other drink and
without food at all. Remember, as you read these lines, that the
_tombeau_ has been the home for months of the man who describes it; a
home on the scorching Algerian sand in the parching African weather; a
home in which he envied the jackal its lair and the vulture its wings; a
home in which his flesh rotted and his manhood swooned.

It is, perhaps, the finest compliment one can pay to an author to be so
much impressed by his theme that one almost forgets to speak of his
purely intellectual qualities. It is difficult to treat of either of
these works in a coldly critical spirit. For they are written with tears
of blood--such tears as are wrung from the heart's depths of all those
by whom France is beloved.

For if militarism be her only armour, her only resource against her
foes, then must we tremble for her indeed; and tremble no less for the
whole of Europe, of which all the male youth is bruised and crushed
under militarism as in a mortar. The charge of want of patriotism has
been brought against Georges Darien for both these volumes. But it is
the flaw in human nature, not in French nature only, which he exposes;
the cynicism, the selfishness, the cowardice, the meanness, which are
so conspicuous in all modern society, in all nations and in all grades.
Were there a German invasion of Italy or of England next year, there
would probably be as many Italians or English ready to succumb to, to
cringe before, and to profit by, the conquerors as there are Versaillais
ready to do so in the volume called _Bas les Coeurs_. There is a moral
motor ataxy in the spinal marrow of modern nationalities; the love of
money, the fear of poverty, and the continual concentration of the mind
on personal interests taught by modern education and by modern commerce
make up a large percentage of human beings, who are mere time-servers,
always ready to hold the stirrup-leather of the strongest. It is not
alone the French bourgeois of 1870 who is satirised in these pictures of
Versailles under German domination; it is the whole modernity of the
last quarter of the nineteenth century under the teaching of modern
science, modern trade, and modern morality. All humanity has been
inoculated with the serum of concentrated cowardice and egotism; some
are robust enough to resist the contagion, but the majority absorb it
and develop the disease. That which Darien calls not cowardice, but
fear, is enormously developed by modern influences, and will probably
continue to increase in the coming century. He asks himself and his
reader of what elements is it composed that discipline, that blind
obedience, which is enforced in military life (and which is already
demanded in civil life by the scientific and medical tyrannies). He
replies, and it is a subtle distinction which will escape the
comprehension of many, that the soldier who thus cringes to base orders
is not a coward but a craven (_pas un lâche; un peureux_).

     'This craven would throw himself into fire or flood to-day to
     save a comrade's life; but he would blow his comrade's brains
     out to-morrow at the word of command of a non-commissioned
     officer. He is not base: he is frightened. His courage
     disappears before a watch-word: his boldness shrinks and
     vanishes under a regimental order. What cows him is the
     apprehension of punishment, the fear of the men set above him.
     Fear is the keystone of the ark of the temple of Janus. The
     army is a laundry where they throw the consciences of men into
     a tub of soap-suds, and where the characters of men are wrung
     and twisted like wet linen, and are placed, shapeless, under
     the wooden beater of a brutalising discipline. It is only by
     means of fear that the military system has been able to
     establish itself. It is only by such fear that it maintains its
     position. It is obliged to affect the imagination by terror, as
     it must extinguish the soul and sense of nations to prevent
     each from seeing farther than the stupid limit of a frontier.
     It is obliged to surround itself with a mysterious ceremony,
     with a religious pomp in which horror is united to
     magnificence; in which the trumpet-blast joins in the
     death-shrieks; in which one can see confused together the
     blood-stained robe of glory, the plume of generals, the
     handcuffs of gendarmes, the marshal's baton, and the dozen
     balls of the execution-volley, the golden palms of triumph and
     the shattered bones of the dead. It must present this
     spectacle to the crowds which stare and tremble before it as
     they stand open-mouthed before a charlatan quack doctor at a
     fair, whose tinsel and feathers attract them, but from whom
     they shrink alarmed as soon as they see a forceps or a lancet
     glitter ominously in his hand. It must do this in order that
     the people, always in ecstasy before the marvellous, which it
     does not attempt to analyse, shall be seized before it with awe
     and admiration: even as a savage who prostrates himself in
     terror and respect before the shooting-iron which he does not
     understand, but which he knows possesses the power to strike
     him to the earth.'

Many will protest against this figure as an insult to the general
public, but like many other insults which carry an intolerable sting in
them, it may claim that it is merited, and does not overpass the truth.

Darien writes with that force which can, indeed, only come from the
intimate persuasion that what it tells mankind is true, and should be
told.

     '"It is commonly said," he continues, "that the army incarnates
     the nation. History puts this into our heads by means of all
     her subtlest lies. Ten martial anecdotes sum up a century; a
     boast describes a reign. History preaches hatred of the people,
     respect for the pillager, the sanctification of carnage, the
     glorification of slaughter. The weak, the sensitive, the timid
     succumb beneath it, and are buried in the red clay or left on
     the sand for the vultures and jackal. The strong (sometimes,
     not always) lives to have his whole future poisoned by these
     memories, his whole temperament warped and embittered; or he
     forces his tormentors to shoot him by some unpardonable breach
     of discipline; some blow to a superior, or some intentionally
     insolent reply; death is the continually recurring sentence in
     the military code; if the man does not bend he must be broken:
     broken in two with a volley which smashes his spine. The
     punishment-battalions, the workshops of the Travaux Forcés, are
     the immediate consequences of the standing armies. Society, to
     protect its interests, makes of a young citizen a soldier, and
     of the soldier a galley slave at the first effort in him to
     shake off the yoke of that discipline which degrades and
     brutalises him, requiring like all tyrants and usurpers to
     support its rule by terror, to make itself dreaded that its
     prestige may dazzle and its tottering throne be secured. What
     society requires is an obedience passive and blind, a total
     imbecility, a humiliation which has no limit or hesitation; the
     response of the machine to the mechanic, of the dancing dog to
     the stick of his teacher. Take your man, make him surrender all
     free will, power of choice, liberty, and conscience, and you
     create and possess a soldier. To-day, at the end of the
     nineteenth century, there is as much difference between the two
     words, soldier and citizen, as there was in the time of Cæsar
     between two similar words--Milites and Quirites. The standing
     army is the corner-stone of the actual social structure; it is
     a force which sanctions and secures the conquests of force; it
     is a barrier raised much less to combat foreign invasion than
     to resist and paralyse the just claims of nations. Soldiers,
     those sons of the people armed against their fathers, are
     nothing more or less than gendarmes in disguise."'

This is surely absolute truth--that truth which is of all others most
feared by those in authority; those who, whether as sovereigns,
ministers, financiers, professional men, or tradesmen, live on and by
the servility and gullibility of the nations.

     'What is discipline except fear? The soldier is reared to dread
     what is behind him more than what he is forced to face; he must
     be more afraid of the fellow-trooper who will be told off to
     shoot him in the back, than of the adversary whom he is ordered
     to attack. The army is the incarnation of fear. The soldier
     must dread his commanders as a burnt child dreads the fire. He
     must never laugh at their absurdities, nor raise a voice
     against their injustice or their tyrannies. He must never
     speak. He must not even think. His superiors do both for him.
     If he laugh, or resent, or speak, or think, if he be neither a
     coward nor a dolt, he is a mutineer: he must be tamed, beaten,
     broken _à Biribi_.'

And when the dreamer, Queslier, says that it will not be long before the
people will become awake to this abuse of them, and will see that the
military caste is established on prejudices and interests hostile to
them, and will arise and destroy it, Darien replies, with equal
truth:--

     'There will flow much water under all the bridges of the world
     before the people will have ceased to adore their vain idols
     bathed in blood and tears.'

Vain idols, indeed! For thousands of years the Juggernaut of military
despotism has rolled over the living pavement of the prostrate
multitudes, and there is no sign as yet that those multitudes will arise
and shiver the blood-stained car to atoms. Darien has but little hope in
the resistance of the people. He fears that the majority of them will
always continue to be daunted, dazzled, made dumb and helpless by the
powers which ruin and slay them. William of Germany makes his insolent
and inhuman declaration that the soldier must slaughter his own
progenitors if his 'war-lord' bid him do so; and yet William of Germany
is allowed to continue his reign.

What are we to look for from nations which lie down to be stamped on
thus? which lick the spurred boots of those who outrage them?

_Biribi_, and what _Biribi_ represents, has its prototype in every
country of Europe; and wherever Europe introduces her 'civilisation'
there she introduces also her quick-firing cannon, her numbered
battalions of slaves, her organised butchery, her pulverisation of
virility and of volition, her destruction of initiative and of liberty.

England considers that such arguments as those contained in this book do
not concern her because she has no conscription. But how long will she
be able, or be allowed, to be free from enforced service? The present
field-marshal, commanding-in-chief, Lord Wolesley, desires
conscription. It may well be that events, in the not far distant future,
may strengthen his hands and enable him to enforce it.[4]

[Footnote 4: This was written by me in 1897; England has not waited long
to confirm the truth of it.]

     'Ah, Mascarille! who wished to put history into madrigals!'
     cries Darien. 'History has given us Chauvinism (Jingoism), that
     epidemic which makes a nation run headlong like the Gadarene
     swine, to fall into the pit of absolutism! The army incarnates
     the nation, you say? No. It diminishes it. It incarnates
     nothing but force, brutal and blind, which lies at the service
     of whoever most pleases it; or--sad to say--whoever pays it
     highest. The army is the social cancer; is the octopus of which
     the tentacles drain the blood of the nations; the hundred arms
     and feelers which the people should sever with blows of their
     hatchets if they desire themselves to live.'

Such language is very strong, and will rouse strong opposition in those
who have long been cradled in conventional opinions, and believe that
the established order of society, now existing, is admirable, and
intangible, because it has had the force and the cunning to so establish
itself. It is language which may, of course, be challenged by adverse
argument, which may at anyrate be met by counter-statements deserving to
be weighed against it; but it is language which is more needed than any
other in the present state of Europe, with every nation armed to the
teeth and every country an arsenal.



III

THE ITALIAN NOVELS OF MARION CRAWFORD


I believe that the novels of Mr Crawford of which the scene and the
characters are Italian are not among those of his works which are the
most generally popular. This fact, if it be a fact, must be due to the
general inability of his English and American public to appreciate their
accuracy of observation and lineation. Nearly all of them have qualities
which cannot be gauged by those to whom the nationality of his
personages in these works is unknown. In my own works, of which the
scene is in Italy, I have dealt almost exclusively with the Italian
peasantry. Mr Crawford has devoted his attention to the middle and the
higher classes. I do not think his portraiture of the Italian
aristocracy always redolent of the soil, but that of the lower and
middle classes is faithful to a wonderful degree. That side of Italian
life which is given in _Marzio's Crucifix_, for instance, is drawn with
an accuracy not to be surpassed. The whole of this story indeed is
admirable in its construction and execution. There is not a page one
would wish cancelled, and nothing could be added which would increase
its excellence. It is to my taste the _capo d'opera_ of all which he has
hitherto done.

I think in his studies of the Italian aristocracy he has given them less
charm and more backbone than they possess. He has drawn their passions
more visible and furious than they are, and their wills less mutable and
less feeble than they are in general. He seems to have mistaken their
obstinacy for strength, while, if he have perceived it, he has not
rendered that captivating courtesy and graceful animation which are so
lovable in them, and which render so many of their men and women so
irresistibly seductive. According to him they are a savage set of
_berserkers_, always cutting each other's throats, and he does not in
any way render that extreme politeness which so effectually conceals the
real thoughts of the Italian gentleman, and which never deserts him
except in rare moments of irresistible fury. No one remembers so
constantly as the Italian of all classes that language is given us to
conceal our thoughts, and no one lives so completely as the Italian does
from the cradle to the grave in strict concealment of his thoughts even
from his nearest and his dearest.

But in his Italian _genre_ pictures, and in portraiture of the people
whom we meet every day in society, Mr Crawford has a delightful pencil;
little side studies also of more humble persons, which many writers
would neglect, are charming in his treatment; take, for instance, the
old priest of Aquila in _Saracinesca_; with how few touches he is made
to live for us. We only see him once, but he will always remain in our
memory; in his whitewashed room with its sweet smell from the pot of
pinks, and his touching regret that he has never seen Rome, and at his
age cannot hope to do so.

His priests, by the way, are always excellently drawn, from the humble
village vicar to the learned and imposing cardinal. He has penetrated
alike their interiors and their characters with that skill which is only
born of sympathy, and it is therefore perhaps only natural that he has
not the faintest conception of the motives and views of the socialist
and republican whom he dreads and hates.

All these charming little details, like the pot of pinks, can only be
thoroughly appreciated by those who know intimately Italian character
and habits; but they abound, and show so much of fine observation and
delicate discernment in the author that one cannot forgive him for ever
beating the big drum of florid sensation.

Let me not be understood to mean that crime, or the impulse of crime, is
not a perfectly legitimate subject for the novelist; both can be made
so, but they are only so when treated as Mr Crawford himself treats them
in _Marzio's Crucifix_. When treated as he treats them in _To Leeward_
and _Greifenstein_ and _Casa Braccio_ they are merely coarse and
inartistic. He has a leaning towards melodrama which is chiefly to be
regretted because it mars and strains the style most natural to him, and
does not accord with his way of looking at life, which is not either
poetic or passionate, but slightly sad, and slightly humorous, modern
and instinctively superficial, superficial in that sense in which
modern society itself is so.

In _Marzio's Crucifix_ he is perfectly natural, and one cannot but wish
that he had never left that manner of treatment. Every motive therein is
natural, every character consistent with itself. This naturalness in his
characters is Mr Crawford's greatest attraction, and when he departs
from it, as he does in such detestable melodramas as the _Witch of
Prague_ and _Greifenstein_, he is no longer himself. It is hard to
understand that the same author can create the most delicate of
aquarelles and the most glaring of posters, or why one who can draw so
well and finely in silver-point can descend to daub with brooms in such
gross distemper. If this be the price of versatility, it were best not
to be versatile. But it is not versatility, because true versatility
consists in possessing a many-sided power which flashes like a jewel of
which all the facets are equally well cut. True versatility, moreover,
does not consist in the mere change of subject, but in the change of
style, of treatment of thought, in fact, the mutation of the entire mind
of an author, such as brings it into entire harmony with its fresh field
and its new atmosphere. There is no such change in these novels. Mr
Crawford is Mr Crawford always. As he never loses himself in his
creations, so he is always present in them to the reader; and his style
never varies, whether he treats of horrible psychological mysteries in
Prague or of pleasant carnival seasons in Rome.

He is not strong or forcible in tragedy. When it is incidental in his
stories like the murder of Montevarchi, or the attempted assassination
of Ser Tommaso, it is admirably sketched in; but when it forms the
structure and essence of a romance he fails entirely to give it
sublimity; it becomes in his hands a mere scarecrow, which makes us only
smile as its wooden hands beat the empty air. One feels that it is not
his natural element, that he does not like it or feel at home in it, and
has merely lent himself to it from some wrong impression that the public
requires it; due, perhaps, to the suggestion of some unwise publisher or
friend. The coarse melodrama with which some of his novels ends is not
in unison with the characters or the scope of his work. It is quite true
that, as murder is, in some circumstances, justified in actual life, so
in some circumstances it may be used as a _dénouement_ in fiction with
perfect accuracy; yet it is always a violent ending which fully accords
with romance of wild life or peasant life, but always jars, unless
introduced with the most perfect skill, in stories of men and women of
the world; because the evil passions of this latter class of persons are
of a different quality, and find different modes of relief, from the
primitive and barbarous satisfaction of killing enemies or rivals. All
the influences and habits of society make it almost impossible for men
and women of society to become assassins.

Now Mr Crawford can draw men and women of the world so well that it is a
pity he so often goes out of his way to spoil his portraits of them with
the bowl and dagger taken from a different phase of life from that in
which they move.

He is always a gentleman, and he is at his best when writing of
gentlemen in the society which he knows so well. Duels are quite
natural in good society everywhere, except in England, and no one since
Charles Lever ever described them so well as Mr Crawford; but murders
are not general in the world of well-bred people, indeed are not very
often heard of out of the lowest strata of plebeian life.

In _Casa Braccio_ a fine motive, that of the peasant of Subiaco's
long-cherished vengeance, with its final satisfaction, both based on a
mistake, is wasted, because no one can care in the least for the man who
is slain, and the original sin committed by this victim (marriage with a
nun), although it seems so great to Mr Crawford, appears to us no sin at
all; so that his tragic end neither moves us nor satisfies in us any
sense of justice. What are admirably rendered and true to life in _Casa
Braccio_ are not Griggs and Gloria, or Angus Dalrymple and Maria
Addorata, but the peasants of Subiaco, Stefanone, with his
long-cherished vendetta, and his wife, Sora Nanna, who wears her lost
daughter's shoes because it would have been a sin to waste them. One
regrets that two persons so perfectly natural and well drawn should be
set on a pyre of flaring melodrama which obscures their portraits in its
smoke and flame. Why could he not give us a story of Subiaco, passionate
but natural, in which the action would have passed entirely in that
interesting and little-known part of the Sabine mountains?

When I use the term melodrama, I mean by it that which mimics the
tragic, but falls short of it; the tragic, imitated but so environed,
that it loses dignity and has something of the inflated and grotesque.
The melodrama in _Pietro Ghisleri_, in _Taquisara_, and in _The
Children of the King_ is this kind of melodrama; it does not move us for
a moment; we are, on the contrary, impatient of it in a modern period
and history, with neither of which it has any harmony. In the latter
story the conception of Rughero, though by no means new, is fine; but
the frame in which this mariner is set lacks all fitness for such a
figure; and the man whom he murders is not sinner enough, nor serious
enough in his actions, for the reader to be moved to pardon the act as
the author himself pardons it. If violent delights have violent endings,
violent endings need strong provocation and clear explanation; they
should appear to the reader to be inevitable, the offspring of an
unavoidable result. To the reader such a crime as this should appear to
be the inexorable justice of an inevitable retribution. But in the
violent _dénouement_ of _The Children of the King_ the cause is trivial,
the act under the circumstances improbable, and the rude shock of it is
not in accordance with any of the other characters and with the light,
careless modernity of the setting of this story.

This defect of consistency, which is grave in literature, would be
ruinous on the stage where action is so much quicker, and where the
idiosyncrasies of each personage are so visible to the audience; and
such a fault is the more vexatious because it shows that the author was
never really absorbed in his own creations, was never so possessed with
them that they dominated him and made him do what they chose, as Bulwer
Lytton has said that the characters of every true novelist must do,
because a character once conceived is like a child, being once begotten,
it becomes what it must, we cannot control the subsequent shape it
takes.

Another defect of Mr Crawford's works is usually that their interest
flags towards the close, that this close is too abrupt, and that it
gives the reader the impression of the narrative being brought to an
untimely end because the writer no longer cared about narrating it. This
defect may be noticed in nearly all his stories, beginning with _Mr
Isaacs_, in which it is conspicuous; and is startlingly and irritatingly
visible in one of his latest, _Adam Johnstone's Son_; indeed, in the
last-named story the conclusion is obviously totally different from what
it was intended to be in the opening chapters. Now, a well-constructed
novel may please you or not, may be attractive or offensive, but it will
always be accurately conceived and harmoniously balanced; and nothing
animate or intimate will be introduced into it which has not some
bearing direct or indirect upon the plot. Nothing can be more incorrect
than to excite the expectations of the reader by indications which
result in nothing, sign-posts on a road which do but lead to a blank
wall.

A grave violation of this rule is frequently to be found in the Crawford
stories, no worse one than that in this story of Adam Johnstone's son,
where a long chapter is occupied by an incident with a brutal Neapolitan
carter on the Sorrento road. The man is knocked down by the hero, and
endeavours in return to stab him; carabineers arrive and arrest the
carter and not the Englishman (as in real life they unquestionably would
have done). The whole incident, related with much spirit, is obviously
only in its place, only pardonable as an episode, if the carter be
destined to appear again and sate his thirst for vengeance on the hero.
But he disappears from the scene for ever as the carabineers handcuff
him. We neither see nor hear any more of him, nor does the Englishman
hear any more of the matter, which in actual life certainly would have
caused him much annoyance at the local tribunal. The appetite of the
reader should not be tempted by dishes, which become a mere Barmecide's
feast, in this manner. Some intention must have been in the author's
mind when he created this scene. Why did he not carry out his intention?

In this manner many combinations and situations of the most interesting
and uncommon kind are deliberately thrown away unused. He frequently
introduces personages about whom he excites our liveliest interest, and
whom he then forsakes or dismisses with an indifference which the reader
does not share. It is as though a painter painted into his canvas
numerous figures which he has never finished, though he sends out his
picture as a finished work. The only novels of his which are entirely
free from this defect are the _Cigarette Maker_, the _Three Fates_, and
_Marzio's Crucifix_, and here I cannot resist (though it is not within
the scope of this article, since its venue is America) pointing out how
delicate, subtle, and clever is that story entitled the _Three Fates_.
There is little movement in it, no incident of any note, its interest
lies entirely in the development of character and in the evolution of
feeling, but these are so treated that they suffice to hold the reader's
charmed attention, and the study of the man whose hesitations and
tergiversations make the subject of it is one which may be caviare to
the general, but which may be read again and again with sympathy and
curiosity by those who can appreciate psychological problems. The
persons in it are such as we may have known to-day or may know
to-morrow; and the working of their minds and inclinations is traced
with a masterly skill, and is as correct as a physiologist's diagram of
the nervous system.

What to me is especially attractive in Mr Crawford's novels is the
atmosphere of good breeding which one breathes in them. One feels in the
company of a well-bred man. Their philosophy, their experiences, their
views, are all those of a man of the world; and there is in them a
tolerance and a total absence of prejudice (except in religious and
political matters) which are refreshing, and which are a fair approach
to, if not an actual attainment of, unbiassed liberality. There is in
them no enthusiasm for anything, no altruism, no deep emotion. They are
unfortunately entirely lacking in any perception of those myriads of
other lives not human, but as sentient as the human, such as vibrates in
every line of Pierre Loti's works. We have never in his novels any
profound tenderness like that with which the Frères Rosny speak of the
semi-humanity of inanimate things, or show us the dog gambolling on the
wayside turf in all the simple joy of its youth and its pleasure in
existence. To Mr Crawford as to Peter Bell, a primrose by the river's
side is a primrose, and it is nothing more, and the thrush or the linnet
which sings in the hawthorn above the primrose roots for him has no
existence. He has the American's indifference to all created things
which are not human. There are no animals in his books except two poor
terriers (who have their necks broken by the odious lover in _To
Leeward_), and the unhappy cat, introduced only to be poisoned in
_Taquisara_. There is nothing which indicates that he cares for nature
in any of its phases, and he calls the cicala a locust.

In Italy he lives only for the people around him as he would live in
Pall Mall, or Broadway, or the Champs Elysées. That passion with which
Italy has inspired Shelley, Byron, George Sand, De Musset, Owen
Meredith, even the calm analytic mind of Taine, has never touched him.
He has never felt the ecstasy which is embodied in that single phrase of
Taine's, 'On nage dans la lumière.' One would say that the moonlight
shining on the waters of Tiber, under the bridge of St Angelo, is no
more to him than a flash-light illumining a grain-elevator on the
Hudson. All which is still Italy, of colour, of perfume, of light, of
legend, of rapture, of emotion, has wholly escaped him; he has never
felt its _hysterica passio_; he has never known its eternal youth, he
has never seen its lost gods rise and walk through its blossoming grass
as the star rays shine in the white cups of the narcissus of its fields.
But of the people who pass him in the Corso and on the Chiaja, who shake
hands with him at Montecitorio and on the Lung' Arno, who lounge and
talk with him at the cafés, and the legations, and the public gardens,
he is an admirable student, and an admirable photographer.

One of the most admirable of his portraits is that of the young Don
Orsino, the hero of the novel of that name. Sant' Ilario, like his
gallant old father, might be a North German, a Hungarian, or a Scottish
noble, his temperament is, indeed, much more northern than southern; but
Don Orsino,[5] his son, is exactly that which he is represented to be, a
youthful Italian of high rank, who has been educated at an English
public school, and has all the vanity, and egotism, and _sècheresse de
coeur_ of modern youth in him. The type of the modern youngster of
rank was never so well drawn as in this story of his _début_ in
speculation and his failure in it. His character is one very difficult
to draw, that coldness, that self-reliance, that self-sufficiency, which
are something at once harder and less contemptible than conceit, the
qualities which will make him successful later on but will never make
him lovable or tender; the instincts of race which hold him back from
meanness but are not strong enough to raise him to nobility, attenuated
as they have been by modern education, all these are rendered with the
utmost skill till the boy, in his sterile and self-satisfied modernity,
lives before us, and vain and selfish though he be, we are loth to part
from him, and curious to know what his future will become. In his
history that one supreme charm of Mr Crawford's, of which I have
previously spoken, his naturalness, is conspicuous; nothing can be more
natural than the relations of Don Orsino with his mother and father and
those who surround him, and the crafty _affaristi_ who get him into
their meshes of speculation.

[Footnote 5: A novel called _Corleone_ reproduces Don Orsino, but was
published after these pages had been printed. It has been very popular,
but in it, unfortunately, Don Orsino is given away deplorably, and
turned into a mere romantic lover, which in real life he never would
have become.]

What is not natural in this story is the character of Madame d'Aranjuez.
She comes before us instinct with all which goes to make up an
unscrupulous adventuress. She is that, or she is nothing. She does her
uttermost to fascinate and capture the son of Saracinesca. She succeeds;
and lo! with one of those _volte-faces_ which are so frequent and so
irritating in Mr Crawford's works, she gives up the game when she has
won it, does nothing that we expect her to do, and marries the
speculator who has beggared Don Orsino on condition that this gentleman
shall restore to Don Orsino all he has lost. Nothing more improbable or
inconsistent, given the character of the woman, could possibly be
conceived; nor is it more probable that the haughty and irascible young
man would endure to be served by her mediation, however it might be
veiled. Everything surrounding this lady promises us passion, intrigue,
perhaps tragedy, certainly peril, but we are balked of them all. The
mysteries concerning her turn out to be very tame ones indeed, she
appears a wholly innocent and harmless person, and even a very large
paper-knife shaped like a dagger, which we are told always lies beside
her and which has no _raison d'être_, unless it is to be ultimately used
in killing or defending somebody, does nothing whatever and disappears
from the story, leaving us in tantalising ignorance of why we were ever
introduced to it.

Now no French writer of any degree would have created that remarkable
paper-knife, and kept it lying beside the heroine, and laid stress on
its unusual size and splendour, unless he intended to turn it to
account as a _deus ex machina_. To draw the reader's attention to a
conspicuous object, and then to cheat the expectations raised concerning
it, is a great fault in art; but it is one of which English and American
writers are continually guilty. It is true we are told casually, towards
the end, that her husband had hit her with this paper-knife, and that
for this blow the famous fencer Spicca had killed him; but this is
mentioned incidentally, and does not sufficiently account for the
interest we have been excited to take in this weapon. Spicca is, on the
contrary, admirably drawn, and the regard we feel for the merciless old
duellist is roused in us with true art. We have that sense of Spicca
having really lived, and really been that which he is described, which
can only be aroused in a reader by life-like accurate and sympathetic
portraiture.

There are many pathetic touches in this portrait of Spicca, and little
incidents entirely true to the life of an Italian gentleman of
aristocratic race and straitened means, as when in his distress of mind
his servant persuades him to eat 'a little mixed fry' with a fresh
salad, 'the salad is very good to-day'; and Spicca, touched and
refreshed, examines his meagre purse and takes out a ten-franc note
which he gives to the man, remarking that it will buy him a pair of
boots, and this ten-franc note is, when his purse lies on the table at
night, slipped back into it by the servant, who knows that his master
'never counts.'

I think the most exquisitely drawn of all Mr Crawford's many characters
is this Count Spicca; because the character of a noted duellist who
invariably kills, and kills how and in what way he chooses, with
profound indifference and unerring accuracy, is one very hard to make
sympathetic to the general reader, and especially to the English reader,
by whom duelling is abhorred. But Spicca is so perfect a gentleman, so
sad and simple and calm, so natural and unassuming despite his deadly
power, that no one can regard him without interest and even affection,
and see him without sorrow ill-treated by a woman so extremely
unpleasant as Consuelo Aranjuez, for whom he has done and suffered so
much.

The fencing of Mr Crawford is always very accurate, and we hold our
breath when Leone Saracinesca acts as his son's second. All this is
quite true to life in Italy, where duels with the sabre or rapier are
still of daily occurrence, and are resorted to after any insult, and
after a mere difference of opinion or trivial impoliteness.

It is wonderful that these stories have not been appropriated for the
stage by those unscrupulous thieves the London dramatists, for they are
full of dramatic situations and of duologues in which the give and take
is brilliant. Some have indeed the dramatic effect of inconsistency of
which I have spoken, but all are full of fine suggestions for the
theatre. _Saracinesca_, or _Sant' Ilario_, for instance, would be
transferable to the stage with scarcely any alteration. It is full of
incidents which would be most effective on the stage; and the strong
emotions and sensational scenes which it offers would most certainly
thrill and charm an audience.

One wonders also that their author himself does not write for the
stage, for his command of incident and of intricacies of circumstance
would raise him high above many playwrights of the London theatre. There
are scenes in nearly all his works which might be put upon the boards
with scarcely any alteration, such as the duel between Don Giovanni and
Del Ferice in _Saracinesca_, and the death scene of the librarian
Meschini in _Sant' Ilario_, while the whole story of _The Children of
the King_ would furnish matter for a romantic drama were the causes for
the crime in it made more credible.

Here let me note a small but irritating fault in these works, _i.e._,
the childish habit (common to writers of the last century) of naming
characters after their calling, or after some moral characteristic.
Meschini is the plural of the Italian adjective mean, cowardly, or
contemptible, and is given to a man with these defects; while a very
interesting person, a French artist famous in portraiture, is
unfortunately burdened with the ridiculous and impossible name of
Gouache. Mr Crawford is indeed frequently infelicitous in names. In
_Casa Braccio_, the American lover of Gloria, a stagey sort of person,
but one whom we are invited to regard with admiration and sympathy, is
weighted with the shocking name of Griggs. Mr Crawford does not see that
were Othello or Hamlet called Griggs, either would try to move the souls
of men in vain. If a name does not matter to a rose, it does matter
immensely to a character in a book; and there are so many euphonious
names in use in the world that it is wholly unpardonable to select a
ludicrous or ugly one. The poor little natural child of Gloria in this
same novel is also burdened at its birth by the name of Walter Crowdie,
which, for a baby, has such a comical effect that the very pathetic
position of this poor infant is rendered ridiculous by it. It is perhaps
under the idea of being realistic that these droll names are selected to
jar on tragic circumstances, but then Mr Crawford's stories are not
realistic, and cannot be made so by this one expedient.

He has also another fault which is visible in nearly all his works, and
is a grave one. He forgets at times the attributes which he has given to
his chief characters. Thus Giovanni Saracinesca is described as a man of
strong, noble, and reticent nature, and of intellect so superior that
his wife tells him he will be very great some day; and he resembles,
indeed, precisely, one of those men who become great leaders of other
men. But in the sequel (where he is called Sant' Ilario) all this
changes, and he behaves like an idiot, and of his great qualities we
hear no more and certainly see nothing. And where we still farther
follow his fortunes in the subsequent sequel of _Don Orsino_, he has
sunk into complete self-effacement, so complete that he allows his son
to be the associate and the debtor of that very Del Ferice whose utter
baseness and vileness he knows so well, and who tried in the famous duel
to murder him by foul play. Sequels are always ill-advised trials of the
author's consistency and the reader's memory, and it would have been
unquestionably better to have made Don Orsino stand alone in his history
and not figure as the son of Giovanni Saracinesca and of Corona
d'Astrardente. When a reader has followed with interest and sympathy the
fortune of an impassioned lover it is trying to see him standing in St
Peter's 'a middle-aged man,' talking to a son taller than himself. Great
art is required to make a character 'grow' quite consistently. The
continuation of histories, thus, greatly pleased Anthony Trollope and
Thackeray, but I cannot consider it a desirable thing in fiction.

Mr Crawford misses many opportunities of developing the capacity for
analysis and deduction which he undoubtedly possesses. He is very
observant but he is content to note a fact, he does not trouble himself
to seek its origin or the influences which have made it the fact it is.
When the two young people who wish to marry in _Marzio's Crucifix_
discuss what their house shall be like, and what colour the walls and
furniture, their biographer adds, 'Italians have lost all sense of
colour.' This is true, but it is one of the most amazing, grievous, and
extraordinary truths that exist; it is one for which I search in vain
and in perplexity for an explanation. But Mr Crawford does not seek for
any explanation. He states the fact and passes to another subject.

Again, in this sentence he begins well: 'It is of no use to deny the
enormous influence of brandy and games of chance on the men of the
present day. Something might be gained indeed if we could trace the
causes which have made gambling especially the vice of our generation.
But I do not believe this is possible.' That is to say, he does not care
to be at the trouble of such an investigation, even though he adds the
acute sentence that most of the men and women of the world of pleasure
in our times exhibit 'the peculiar and unmistakable signs of physical
exhaustion, chief of which is cerebral anæmia. They are overtrained and
overworked, in the language of training they are "stale."'

He says in another place, 'Italians have no imagination.' This is but
partially true; I am not sure that it is true at all. Their modern
poetry is beautiful, more beautiful than that of any other nation. Their
popular songs are poetic and impassioned as those of no other nation
are, and one may hear among their peasantry expressions of singular
beauty of sentiment and phrase. A woman of middle age, a contadina, said
to me once, 'So long as one's mother lives, one's youth is never quite
gone, for there is always somebody for whom one is young.' A rough, rude
man, a day labourer, who knew not a letter, and spent all his life bent
over his spade or plough, said to me once, one lovely night in spring,
as he looked up at the full moon, 'How beautiful she is! But she has no
heart. She sees us toiling and groaning and suffering down here, and she
is always fair and calm, and never weeps!' Another said once, when a
tree was hard to fell, 'He is sorry to come away, it has been his field
so long.' And when a flock of solan geese flew over our lands, going
from the Marches to the mountains on their homeward way, and descended
to rest, the peasants did not touch them: 'They are tired, poor souls,'
said one of the women; 'one must not grudge them the soil for their
lodging.' Surely such ideas as these in people wholly uneducated
indicate imagination in the speakers?

And what can he possibly mean by no poets, which he says in another
place? Has he never read a line of Carducci? Much as we may mourn and
resent Carducci's turncoat and reactionary politics, no one can deny
that he is a poet of the purest kind. Has he never heard the ringing
stanzas of Cavallotti which sound like a clarion through the land? Has
he never studied the exquisite if too erotic odes of D'Annunzio, or the
touching verse of Stecchetti? There are others besides these who are
true and fine poets also; and even in the ordinary verses written for
newspapers (which in other countries are so poor and tawdry) there is
frequently in Italy a true and delicate feeling and an adorable lyrical
harmony which make one mourn to see things so fair wasted on so
ephemeral a life.

It is through their imagination still more than by their vanity that
Italians are led by unscrupulous political flattery and cajoled into
disastrous political enterprises. They will believe anything if it be
sufficiently captivating to their self-admiration and their fancy, and
will dance blindfold on the brink of a bottomless pit. It is only an
imaginative people who love so wildly, and kill themselves so madly for
affection's sake, as the Italian people do. The other day, because a
young soldier was sent to Africa, his brother killed himself in despair,
and the father of the two youths then killed himself also. It is an
inflammable imagination which makes the nation so easily led away by the
promises and the phantasmagoria of glory with which unscrupulous
statesmen have enticed it to the brink of ruin. It was its imagination
which made it so credulous that when told by its victors that the
disgraceful surrender of Makale was a victory, it believed and rejoiced,
illuminated and hung out flags, and never saw what a dupe it was being
made until cruelly awakened from its delusions by the _déroute_ of Abbu
Carima.

Mr Crawford has lived chiefly in cities, and in the cities, even in
Rome, the Italian is much debased by contact with foreigners; the
influence of foreigners on Italians is excessively bad, especially
American and English influence; and in the cities also the preponderance
of Jews is great. Innumerable persons who call themselves by Italian
names and speak of Italy as their country are Jews and nothing else. A
Finnish Jew known to me buys an Italian estate, and with the estate a
title, which, by the payment of a large sum to a complaisant Government,
he is allowed to adopt; he is decorated by the king for his munificent
'charities' in the land of his adoption; he marries an English woman,
and their children masquerade as Italian nobility with not a single drop
of Italian blood in their veins. Such 'Italian nobles' are numerous,
unhappily, in modern Italy, and do immeasurable discredit to the
nationality which they assume. In a generation or two their origin will
be forgotten, and they will be taken by society in general to be what
they pretend to be. Thus, unhappily, are great nations caricatured, old
titles prostituted, and Italy accredited with sons not her own, with
pretended offspring who are not even her bastards; persons who
impudently affect her name and boast of her blood, when not one single
hair of their head or fibre of their flesh has any affiliation to her.

What stifles Italian imagination, and kills the Italian soul, is the
passion for money; pure acquisitiveness or avarice, for the desire is to
get, little or no pleasure is taken in spending. It is often alleged
that this passion is due to their poverty; but poverty is not
necessarily accompanied by avarice; the Irish people are very poor, but
they are extremely generous; the Spanish people are so also. A comical
instance of this stinginess occurred the other day at Milan: a rich
tradesman had built himself a fine set of new premises, and opened his
new establishment with much feasting; he sent fifteen francs to the
municipality to be divided among the poor, and everyone applauded his
liberality! This love of money, acquisitiveness, niggardliness, or
whatever we call it, is too general not to be injurious to the Italian
character; and it enters into all daily life and personal acts, and is
frequently the chief motor power of marriage, of career, of education.
And then added to this injurious power there is another which is more
deleterious still, which weakens, debases, and falsifies the character
from infancy: it is the direful influence of the Church. But to treat of
this matter would occupy too much space, and would lead too far away
from the stories of Mr Crawford, in which there is an unfortunate
tendency towards approval of what he calls hierarchical government,
although a tendency not strongly enough insisted on by him for it to
demand minute examination. The powers of Mr Crawford, however, are
limited by the narrowness of what is called religion, and the inability
to see the higher side of these subversive opinions which he dreads, and
which he has done his best to turn into ridicule by putting them into
the mouth of the half-mad artist Marzio.

Indeed, his bigotry on religious subjects is very droll to see in these
days; and he speaks of 'unbelievers' in a tone worthy of Puritans in the
days of the _Mayflower_ pilgrims. It does not agree with the tone of his
books, which is invariably the tone of a man of the world; as such he
should possess that liberality of thought which is the chief, perhaps
the only, virtue of his generation; and if he had possessed it he would
undoubtedly have reached a much higher level, a much finer ideal, than
he has actually done. It would seem as if he distrusted and checked the
larger intelligence in him, as an over-cautious rider distrusts and
checks a horse which only asks to be given a free rein to go at speed
over a wide pasture; it would seem as if some extraneous 'influence'
were always at his elbow to keep his reason cribbed, cabined and
confined.

His religious prejudices have contributed to arrest his intellectual
development, for they are puritanical and antiquated in a singular and
lamentable degree. He speaks of _liberi pensatori_ as the Church elders
of Maine or Massachusetts might have done in the days of witch-torturing
and atheist-burning. He thinks that the future great war will be between
what he calls believers and unbelievers; and he looks forward with joy
to the coming conflict when men shall again fly at each other's throat
for the glory of God. This kind of mental cecity has its inevitable
results: it makes him step lamely where he would otherwise walk with
manly alacrity, and it makes him afraid to face the light of facts which
his truer instincts tell him are existing and incontrovertible. Is this
the result of early education, of hereditary inclinations, of female or
ecclesiastical influence? I do not know; but come whence it may, this
taint of bigotry obscures his intelligence and stops his progress, and
is matter of profound regret to those who see what he would have been
without it.

Many passages in his works show that he has perceived and grasped the
universal dominance of that corruption which so fatally exists in all
Italian life, and one could wish that he would make a more complete
exposure of it. Take this account of how the banker, Del Ferice,
obtained the decoration for a syndic who was one of his political
supporters:--

     'Del Ferice, left to himself, returned to the question of the
     mayor's decoration. If he failed to get the man what he wanted,
     the fellow would doubtless apply to someone of the opposite
     party, would receive the coveted honour, and would take the
     whole voting population with him at the next general election,
     to the total discomfiture of Del Ferice.

     It was necessary to find some valid reason for proposing him
     for the distinction. He could not decide what to do just then,
     but he ultimately hit upon a successful plan. He advised his
     correspondent to write a pamphlet upon the rapid improvement of
     agricultural interests in his district under the existing
     Ministry, and he even went so far as to compose and send some
     notes on the subject. These notes proved to be so voluminous
     and complete, that when the mayor had copied them he could not
     find a pretext for adding a single word or correction. They
     were printed upon excellent paper with ornamental margins under
     the title of _Onward, Parthenope!_ The mayor got his decoration
     and Del Ferice was re-elected, but no one has ever inquired
     into the truth of the statements contained in the pamphlet.'

These passages and others similar give one the conviction that Mr
Crawford, if he had 'let himself go,' might have been a satirist of no
slight force. He has preferred to write charming stories, ingenious in
construction, but slight in development, to amuse his generation; yet
there is, I think, abundant evidence that he might have done stronger
things, perhaps may do them still. He has preferred to lead a seagull's
life, skimming the surface of the deep and shunning its storms. But he
might have led the petrel's. Probably all the influences of an agreeable
social existence have tended to make him indolent and unwilling to raise
tempests in it. Few resist the pressure of a social atmosphere. His book
called _With the Immortals_, marred as it is by the incongruity and
impossibility of its setting, shows that he can reflect if he likes, and
can express his reflections. If this work had been cast in such a form
as Mr Mallock's _New Republic_, or Sir Arthur Helps' _Friends in
Council_, or Christopher North's _Noctes Ambrosianæ_ it would have been
remarkable for the arguments and dialogues contained in it. But the
ghost-element, the supernatural scenic effects, kill its excellence. Dr
Johnson, Heine, Pascal, Bayard, François de Valois and Cæsar are too
ill-assorted for us to accept them in each other's company, and the
idea of these dead men being all able to converse in English, and all
doomed to wear through ages the clothes they wore in life, is so comical
that it destroys all interest and illusion which their conversation
otherwise might excite. There is a regrettable inability in Mr Crawford
to perceive the ridiculous. He lacks humour, and the perception of the
incongruous is not alive in him; nor is there either any poetic feeling
in his way of regarding life. He is essentially a citizen of the world
as the world exists in this last quarter of the fast-fading century, and
the Sirens sing not for him, though he dwells upon their shores.

Let him, therefore, appreciate more thoroughly his own very admirable
powers, and confine himself to painting the men and women of his time
and class, with all that cosmopolitan knowledge of them which he
possesses. I should like to see from him an Italian novel of modern
political life. He has, I make no doubt, had ample opportunities of
studying its machinery and its intrigues. He can dissect with so much
subtlety and correctness the brain and the temper of such a man as Del
Ferice, that there can be no doubt a political novel from him, placed in
Rome, would have alike accuracy and interest and irony. But he must
clear his mind of some of its cobwebs, and he must realise that the
'unbelievers' and revolutionists, who at present horrify him, constitute
the keenest intellectual element in Italy, indeed, the only healthy one,
and contain the only hope there is, if this be but a feeble one, of any
attainment by the nation in the future to any true liberty and
cleanliness in political aims.

I cannot conclude these few remarks upon his Italian stories without a
word of thanks to him for the pleasant hours he has often given me, and
the gallery of interesting portraits with which he has enriched the
memory of all those who read his novels.



IV

LE SECRET DU PRÉCEPTEUR


At the opening ceremony of a new free library at Lambeth in London, not
many weeks ago, Sir John Lubbock is reported to have made the following
remarks regarding fiction:--

     'Sir J. Lubbock, in moving a vote of thanks to the Prince of
     Wales and the Princess Louise, remarked that the free libraries
     of London now contained more than 250,000 books, whilst last
     year over 100,000 people borrowed volumes, and on more than
     2,500,000 occasions books were used in the libraries
     themselves. It was a fallacy to suppose that public libraries
     were only used by novel readers. The proportion of works of
     fiction used in the Camberwell libraries was only 65 per cent.,
     and, of course, in this percentage were included nearly all the
     books used by children. It must also be borne in mind that it
     took a great deal longer to read a history or a work of science
     than it did to run through a story. Under these circumstances
     he thought it might fairly be said that the people of London
     exercised a very good choice in the books they read. He himself
     should be very sorry to undervalue novels. Even nonsense was
     extremely refreshing, and he thought the English people had
     learnt more of their history from novels and from Shakespeare's
     plays than from books of history.'

In these few sentences there are embraced the views entertained in
general by the English nation with regard to the art of fiction. By the
English nation it is, and probably always will be, regarded as on a par
with chromo-lithography, the use of the kodak, and tight-rope dancing.

'Even nonsense is refreshing,' says this kind defender of romance. He
might have added that this depends very much on the character of the
nonsense; there is dull nonsense, strained nonsense, self-conscious
nonsense, vulgar nonsense, which is duller than a dull sermon and
heavier than heavy bread; the nonsense which dilates and delights the
heart of the coarse and common fool, is as a stagnant and stinking pond
to the cultured mind; and true nonsense, _i.e._, _jeux d'esprit_,
caricatures, parodies, 'exquisite fooling,' does not come under the head
of novels at all.

Someone had apparently been objecting to the creation of free libraries
on the score that they were chiefly used by readers of fiction, and in
support of such libraries Sir John Lubbock (not venturing to make so
heterodox an assertion as that the perusal of fiction _per se_ is
valuable and desirable) pleads that only sixty-five per cent. of the
books borrowed were novels, and refers to the rapidity with which a
novel can be 'run through,' as he phrases it, and proceeds, as an
excuse for the perusal of fiction, to state that the English public
chiefly derives its knowledge of history from novels and from
Shakespeare's plays. This declaration, which is enough to make Mr
Freeman turn in his grave, and Mr Froude writhe in his professorial
chair, is, I believe, based on an exact truth, but it never appears to
occur to the speaker that while the history to be learned from fiction
and the drama is not of the purest kind, the fine art of an admirable
book, as of an admirable play, contains many another lesson more
valuable than even those of correct history to the reader who is capable
of assimilating and appreciating it.

Sir John Lubbock kindly adds that he should be 'very sorry to undervalue
novels.' Sweet and gracious condescension! He would be sorry to
'undervalue' Boccaccio, Cervantes, Guerrazzi, Théophile Gautier,
Merimée, Victor Hugo, Thackeray, Walter Scott, Fielding, Octave
Feuillet, Georges Sand, and Bulwer Lytton! Admirable benevolence! A
treatise on the ways of ants or bees must, of course, rank as an
infinitely higher work than a mere study of the manners, characters, and
passions of mankind. To peruse the former work is education; to read the
latter work is recreation, not absolutely injurious, perhaps, but
scarcely beneficial. Sir John Lubbock on an ant-hill has the sublimity
of the scientist: Alphonse Daudet on human nature is a mere trumpery
trifler.

It does not appear even to occur to Sir John Lubbock that a fine novel
contains intellectual qualities of the highest kind, and combines in
itself the widest effects and the most delicate minutiæ of creative
art. A fine novel should be no more 'run through' than the sculptures of
the Vatican or the pictures of the Uffizi should be run through in
ignorance and haste: common readers, like common tourists, may do so,
but to do so is as gross and unpardonable an insult to the book as it is
to the sculptures and the paintings.

Reflect but a moment upon all the divers and numerous qualities which
are of necessity existent in the creator of a fine novel before it can
be produced; not only imagination but wit, not only wit but scholarship,
not only scholarship but fancy, not only fancy but discrimination,
observation, knowledge of the passions, sympathy with the most opposite
temperaments, the power to call up character from the void, as the
sculptor creates figures from the clay, and, for amalgamating,
condensing, and vivifying all these talents, the mastery of an exquisite
subtlety, force, and eloquence in language. All these various gifts must
be united in one writer before a fine novel can be produced; and when it
is produced it requires (to be duly estimated) as cultured and as
respectful a study of it as an educated traveller would take to the
Vatican or to the Uffizi.

I have derived month by month, as it has appeared in the _Révue des Deux
Mondes_, the most delicate and acute pleasure from the perusal of _Le
Secret du Précepteur_, yet it is a pleasure which can only be obtained
from it by a serene, leisurely, artistic enjoyment of its exquisite
literary qualities. It is like a wine of which the bouquet can only be
appreciated by educated palates. There is but little movement in it;
the incident is slight, the situations derive their fascination for the
reader not from their violence or their singularity, but from their
perfect probability, and from their psychological interests; and the
whole tone of it is kept carefully throughout to the smooth bantering
semi-_gouailleur_ tone of the opening recital. Ah, that style!--clear as
water, delicate, full of grace, limpid, harmonious, exquisite! It has
all the polished charm of the man of the world, and all the eloquence
and brilliancy of the artist. I have heard a great ambassador in a
beautiful tapestried chamber play the music of Schumann and Chopin and
Bach with admirable and sympathetic _maestria_; the style of Cherbuliez
reminds me of that _diplomât-virtuose_. We hear incessantly of the
magical style of Paul Bourget; but beside the style of Cherbuliez that
of Bourget is strained, tortuous, affected, artificial. The supreme
excellence of that of Cherbuliez is its consummate ease, like the ease
of a perfect manner in society. To employ all the resources of such a
style is as great a delight to the master of it as the use of the rapier
to the master of fencing, as the handling of the plastic clay to the
sculptor. To relate a narrative in such a style is as warm and full a
pleasure to the possessor of it as it is to the painter to create a
winter's night or summer's day, youth or age, dawn or moonlight, a dance
of nymphs, or a frolic of fauns, out of a few ground earths, a little
oil, and a square of canvas. But to appreciate it the reader of it must
bring with him some qualities on his own behalf.

There are in it none of those Anglicisms so irritating in the works of
Bourget and others, such as Henry for Henri, Francis for François,
'window' for 'fenêtre,' 'le cab stoppait' for 'le fiacre s'arrêtait,'
and so many similar disfigurements of the most polished and elegant
language of the world. The temptation to use a foreign language is great
when its expressions are such as no other language can equally well
render. But who can think that 'cab' is better than 'fiacre,' or
'window' than 'fenêtre'? The French of Cherbuliez is the French of an
elegant writer, of a man of the world, and is, beside that of 'les
jeunes,' as a pure and limpid river beside a crooked and choked-up
stream. Without their professorial jargon of psychology or their
strained analysis, which so greatly fatigues the reader and resembles
nothing so much as the efforts of a cyclist to run smoothly on a stony
road, _Le Secret du Précepteur_ is full of delicate and interesting
studies of the human mind and character. Its especial triumph is to
excite and retain the interest of the reader in a character which in the
hands of most writers would have been either insignificant or absurd.

The teller of the story is the preceptor himself, who, unlovely in face
and form, filling a subordinate and somewhat absurd position, frankly
confessing his own follies and errors, is yet the most lovable and the
most dignified of men; the intellectual grace of the scholar and the
philosopher wholly atoning for and effacing the inferiority of place and
the deformity of features. He tells us of his own extreme ugliness, so
that we are not deluded into thinking it a _belle laideur_, but accept
it as what he calls it, an ugliness which, coupled with poverty, would
scare all women away from him all the years of his life; but, despite
of it, we feel the irresistible charm of his personality, we admire his
tact, we adore his unselfishness, we are as delighted by his
self-restraint as by his courage and his will, and we take leave of him
with the regret which we feel when we part for an indefinite period from
a companion of the finest culture and the warmest sympathies. We regret
also that, like most unselfish persons, he is forced to be content with
the crumbs of happiness instead of its bread. It is strictly true to
life that he should receive no more; it proves the author a true artist
that he has been able to resist the temptation of giving so attractive a
character a happy and unnatural fate, and we who know how the awards of
life are proportioned, know that it is entirely in keeping both with art
and truth that the _bon chien_ should receive no more than the good dog
usually gets in recompense for his fidelity. We know that it could not
be otherwise; yet we regret the necessity for leaving the good dog with
his dry broken crusts.

I regard the extreme interest and attachment with which this character
inspires us as one of the greatest triumphs of fiction, because its
attraction is stripped of all the adventitious aids to interest which
accompany beauty, rank, or position. We have a plain, poor man, in a
paltry and invidious situation, who conquers all which is against him as
a hero of romance, and arrives at the highest place in the reader's
esteem and affection by mere force of natural dignity, excellence of
heart, and the irresistible superiority of wit and intellect. He is
throughout all his actions, moreover, entirely natural. It is difficult,
in reading his account of them, to believe that he is a fictitious
character; all that he does and says is so real, so human. No one who
reads _Terre Promise_ or _Coeur de Femme_ is ever for an instant
tempted to think that the characters ever did live or ever could have
lived; they are _cartonnages_, lay figures, draped in clothes from the
costume maker's, and moving in obedience to the hand of their
manipulator. But as Maupassant's Pierre et Jean are living, as Loti's
Gaud and Fatougay live, as Rod's Michael Teissier lives, as the
delicious Yette lives, so, and with even more vitality than they, the
tutor Tristan lives in this admirable novel. And all the people around
him live in this country house near Epernay, which is the scene of
nearly all his joys and sufferings. We wish, indeed, that this scene
never changed; so well does its landscape accord with the narrative,
that one wishes the unities could have been preserved to the end. One
regrets the change of venue when the story is carried to Paris. It is
perhaps probable that the end is not what was originally intended by
Cherbuliez.

It is a story which it is very difficult to end artistically. In point
of fact it is not ended at all; it is only broken off at a certain
crisis, and leaves the reader in the persuasion that Monique will have
many adventures, and her 'bon chien' and her husband many anxieties. The
fault in it, if fault there is, seems to me to be that, if this crisis
had been contemplated from the beginning, the character of Louis
Moufrin, extremely natural as far as it goes, should have been rendered
a little more heroic, so that more interest would have attached to his
transformation under the stings of jealousy. If this were not done the
_coup de pistolet_ should have been given, not by him, but by the
preceptor; indeed, since Tristan tells us early in his story that he is
a very fine pistol-shot, we are always expecting him to prove his skill
on someone, and one could wish that he had exercised it as he desired to
do on the odious coxcomb, Triguères. The impression is irresistibly made
on the reader's mind that this was the _dénouement_ originally
contemplated by the author, and it would have been one stronger and more
satisfactory. But perhaps he renounced it from the feeling that tragedy
as a climax would have jarred on the harmony of a book which is
throughout kept to the good-humoured and jesting tone of cultured
society.

It would take many pages to do justice to the other persons of the
novel; all are admirably drawn; there is only some exaggeration in that
of Madame Moufrin, _mère_. But the cheery and generous merchant Brogues,
the high-bred, high-born _dévote_ who is his wife, the charming priest
Verlet, the shy, silent, tender-hearted and timid Moufrin, the
inimitable portrait of the learned, excellent and insufferable Sidonie,
and lastly, the entirely uncommon conception of the captious and
provoking _petite Japonaise_, who rules her faithful two-legged dog with
a rod of iron; all these are admirably pourtrayed, even if they yield in
importance to the central figure of the preceptor himself. The finest
and most complicated study of them all is that of Madame Brogues, with
her piety, her sensuality, her instinctive patrician revolt against the
monotony of a bourgeois interior, her complex and scornful nature, her
mingled indifference and tenderness for her daughters, the union of
touching maternal sadness and devotion to the superior claims of
_chiffons_, which traits are so admirably depicted in her last meeting
with her younger daughter Monique.

Cherbuliez has, it is plain to see, been much struck with the large
place which _chiffons_ occupy in the lives of women of the world, and
with the power of consolation which the interests of the toilette
possess for them. The mother and daughter are both extremely touched by
their accidental meeting (the first since the elopement of the former
and the marriage of the latter); but this meeting takes place in the
Exhibition building in Paris, and their emotions do not prevent them
from studying, discussing, and purchasing beautiful fabrics. It is
exactly the union of conflicting feelings which is really to be observed
in life: the mingling of deep sentiment and sincere regret with
interests of a totally different kind which appear trivial but are
really absorbing distractions, perhaps frivolous, but entirely natural,
arising from those cares and pleasures of personal appearance which are
indestructible in the _élégante_ by anything short of death.

There is also another passage which equally illustrates the ability and
insight of the author in his perception and representation of that dual
motive, that twin yet conflicting sentiment, which so frequently moves
us and so especially characterises the modern mind, which is frequently
complex and artificial, trivial and analytic, and thereby incapable of a
single, or of a simple, emotion. Sidonie, a very proud, chaste, and
implacable maiden, is stung to the core by her discovery of her
mother's flight; the thought of what the neighbours and the servants
will think is torture to her, and a generous and genuine grief for the
blow to her father moves her to the first tears which she has ever shed.
But still the idea, the knowledge that since she means never to marry,
she is now and will be for ever supreme mistress of her father's house
is a source of irresistible pleasure and consolation, and as she goes
upstairs she cannot resist, even on this terrible night, exercising her
first despotic and unshared power. Her mother, who loved softness and
shadow, had always insisted on the electric lamp at the foot of the
staircase being shaded and softened by folds of rose-coloured stuff,
Sidonie had the rose-coloured stuff taken away, and even on this first
evening of her reign the undimmed and intense radiance of the unveiled
light proclaims the change of domestic government, and the absolute
authority of the new ruler. This is one of the many exquisite finenesses
of touch which reveal the delicacy of observation in the writer
throughout this novel, and can be only appreciated by a reader who
brings to it that attention and capacity which Sir John Lubbock and his
audience would think it only worth while to devote to a treatise on the
stalk-eyed crustacea or a monograph upon the household flea.

M. Jules Lemaitre, in his story of _Les Rois_, says with a sneer that
one of his personages was 'née pour gouter Auber, Cabanel, et les romans
de la _Révue des Deux Mondes_.' Now in his own volume, entitled _Les
Rois_, published this season, and received with great curiosity in
Paris, M. Jules Lemaitre has merely mixed up the tragedy of Meyerling,
the mystery of Johann Orth, and recent well-known card and debt
scandals concerning living princes; and, having reproduced with these
the individuality of Louise Michel, the life of Kropotkine, and the
career of a well-known financier, he has introduced some essays on
social and political problems into his reproductions of these
personages, dated the whole 1900, and called it a novel. But it is not a
novel, for the imagination does not enter into it. It is a photograph,
or a travesty, whatever the reader may please to call it, of actual
recent modern events, thinly disguised, but unjustly exaggerated, and an
almost impudent imitation in many ways of Daudet's _Rois en Exil_. There
is some brilliant writing in it, and some fine thoughts and expressions,
which is, of course, always the case when the writer is so intelligent a
man as Lemaitre, but a novel it is not; it is a series of scenes, almost
all borrowed or imitated from well-known events; it is a patchwork with
little harmony in its arrangement, and it has the supreme fault of
introducing long descriptions of anterior events, and bringing in new
characters, at the close of the action. There is also one suggestion, if
not more, concerning a royal person, so horrible that it seems unfair
and even cruel to make it of one who cannot resent it or defend herself.
The date of the story may be called 1900, but the events on which it is
built have already been lived through by conspicuous characters.

It is not becoming, therefore, in so immature a story-teller as M.
Lemaitre proves himself to be, and one who is obliged to go for his
incidents to the scandals of courts, to sneer at the novels of the
_Révue des Deux Mondes_, in which, to go no further back than last
year, such admirable works as _La Vie Privét de Michael Teissier_ and
_Le Secret du Précepteur_ have first seen the light. To be a critic of
it is much easier than to be a creator of fine fiction; to pull to
pieces requires lesser qualities than to construct.

In the past twenty months there have been some very fine novels in
French literature. _A l'Abîme_, by Paul Vassili, is a masterpiece of
originality, and the character of the great egoist, who is its hero, is
matchless in its intuition, its philosophy, and its realism; it is a
narrative of intense interest without its having any other source for
its interest than that which lies in following the evolution of a type
wholly new in literature, and the crystallisation of a naturally
generous nature into a complete philosophic selfishness through
circumstances which lead to its moral isolation amidst the full success
of a triumphant career. _Amants_ and _La Force des Choses_, of Paul
Margueritte, are beautiful novels, remarkable for originality of
conception, correctness of observation, and the talent of interesting
the reader in perfectly natural events. The former in especial is full
of truth, poetic feeling, and novelty of situation and of character; it
is entirely a story of love, but it is love pourtrayed with equal
sympathy and comprehension, and embracing scenes entirely dramatic
whilst entirely natural. If Sir John Lubbock will read these three books
and end with _Le Secret du Précepteur_, he will, I think, feel bound to
admit that such works require for their due appreciation quite as much
attentive respect in their perusal, and quite as many intellectual and
perceptive qualities in their reader, as the analysis, however
interesting, of a wasp's social habits, and the diary, however
delightful, of a caged bluebottle's appetite. The study of earthworms
demands, no doubt, the exercise of much higher faculties than are
necessary for the study of human nature. Still it is difficult to
believe that the earthworm can afford such varied and complicated
interest as man, and nowhere are the portraiture and analysis of man so
ably depicted as in a fine novel.[6]

[Footnote 6: Since this was written Sir J. Lubbock has been made a peer;
and alas! _notre cher Maître_, Cherbuliez, has passed over to the great
majority.]



V

L'IMPÉRIEUSE BONTÉ.[7]


[Footnote 7: _L'Impérieuse Bonté_, J. H. Rosny.]

A French critic has ranked the Frères Rosny amongst the 'authors of
to-morrow,' and in a certain sense they, no doubt, belong to the class
called _les jeunes_, often wrongly, since amongst these _jeunes_ there
are men of middle age. _Les jeunes_ is an expression which is rather
intended to indicate new methods and new views than to describe the
actual age of the writers. In a sense everyone belongs to _les jeunes_
who is emancipated from conventional tradition; but too much stress, too
much importance, has been attached to this name; true art is always
natural, and this new school is seldom natural; there is more
eccentricity of manner in it than there is genuine originality of
thought; there is too great an effort, too perpetual a strain in its
productions; frequently, as in the case of Maurice Barrés, subtlety of
language is employed to conceal absolute poverty of idea; or, as in the
case of Georges Ohnet, to clothe mere wooden puppets with a semblance of
life by skill in depicting incident; or, as in the case of Paul
Bourget, to eke out a slender modicum of incident and idiosyncrasy with
charm of style and an imposing psychology, and disarm criticism by
euphuism.

In the two Rosnys there are some of the affectations of these writers,
but there is none of their poverty of idea. They are full of ideas; full
of meditation, of observation, of sympathy, of experience; the narrow
limits to which custom confines the novel are far too small for their
abundant powers. In portions of their work there is that more artificial
mode of treatment, that strain after recondite words and tortuous and
archaic methods of expressions, which are the blemish of _les jeunes_;
but in many other portions their true insight, their deep feeling, and
their artistic instincts raise them above this pedantry and enable them
to produce certain passages which have few equals in any literature.
_L'Impérieuse Bonté_ is a very long book, but the reader would be dull
indeed who did not wish it were longer, and who would not feel that the
writers had been forced to renounce many scenes and many reflections and
descriptions with which their minds were teeming. They convey to their
reader their own attachment to their personages; willingly, we feel
sure, they could have filled a hundred volumes with the story of their
fate; the fountain of their sympathies is fed by an eternal spring. What
is most admirable also in them is their remarkable equity; they can see
the injustice done to the rich by the poor, as well as that done to the
poor by the rich; and this quality of impartial sympathy is very rare.
There is abundance in the world of that one-sided sympathy which springs
from a _parti pris_, but that which is many-sided and perfectly just is
very unusual. The Rosnys are capable of it.

The language indeed is at times tortuous, inflated, archaic, after the
manner of the modern school; but at other times it loses this mannerism
and becomes the clear, limpid, polished French so dear to us. It is
never clearer or simpler than in the passages concerning the Lamarques
and other sufferers which touch the heart.

The first portion of the book is the finest; the scenes which treat of
this family are the greatest as they are the simplest of the whole. Was
there ever any passage more pathetic and more real than this description
of the last drive in the poor hired vehicle of the dying man and his
children?

     'Lamarque drew a deep breath under the delicious weight of the
     freshened air. Strength and peace brushed his tired, sickly
     frame.

     '"Ah! I was sure that this would make me well."

     'A smile came around his diaphanous nostrils, his lips parted
     with childlike pleasure. Albert felt that heaven and earth were
     born again in endless life. His soul shone through his blue
     eyes; he began to laugh and jest with nature. But his mother
     and Georges only saw more plainly in the luminous light the
     deadly thinness of Lamarque, and could think of nothing except
     how they should be able to make up for the expense of the five
     francs for the cab. They had driven out towards a road which
     looked mysterious and poetic; limes, acacias, young elms, all
     kinds of shades of green, were lit by a descending sun. There
     were flocks of slender trunks; a dainty philosophy of verdure;
     high above, pale foliage seemed to drink in the light; then
     depths where the sun-rays seemed to flow and stream like the
     nebulæ of comets, where they lay like vapour on which some
     fragile insect life floated like medusæ on the sea. Already
     dead leaves were on the ground like the tanned flesh, or the
     brown fur, of forest creatures. Spiders' webs had the colours
     of the rainbow; in these birdless trees butterflies lent an
     illusion of winged life and figured the flight of nestlings.
     Happiness seemed crystallised in the figure of a woman
     knitting; in the cry of a distant railway train; in the joy of
     two children munching pears with their crusts; in the sport of
     a dog who rolled on the grass with a youthful bark and the eyes
     of one in love with life. The red frock of a young girl passing
     by lent a note of force, of splendour, of intensity, to the
     golden afternoon.

     '"It is so nice here!" said Albert.

     'Georges, watching the silvery gossamer webs of the spiders,
     remembered all the visions he had ever had of liberty and space
     for kind animals and kind people.

     '"I am young again!" murmured Lamarque.

     'He was still pale, but his pallor was less corpse-like. Even
     the little François listened and enjoyed with a mute
     delight--mute because shut within himself--and loved his
     parents, his brothers, the driver, the trees, and the buzzing
     flies.

     '"Stop," said the sick man suddenly. It was before a high gate,
     through which was visible a spectacle of Eden, a large garden.

     'They could see a great pond, over which there could float
     whole broods of delicate dreams; there were tall Lombardy
     poplars, and the grace of weeping willows. Drooping larches
     also hung over the water-lilies; there were the thick shade of
     Canadian poplars, and also the timid murmurs, the sensitive
     sighs, of aspens. Then there was the charm of woodland life
     reflected in the water; of the landscape repeated below,
     symmetrical, and sombre in an abyss of oxidised silver. Then
     came grassy walks and gentle slopes of turf; further off were
     clearings in which beautiful trees were half seen, half hidden
     in misty distance like a promise of abundance and of happiness.
     The felicity of the place entered into the souls of the poor
     family who looked on it; they had at once the anguish of
     feeling that nothing like this would ever be theirs, and the
     ecstasy of knowing that such beauty did exist.

     'Standing up in their sorry hired carriage, they gazed in
     rapture, saying but few words.

     '"One little corner of this garden would be wealth to us!"
     sighed the mother.

     '"That corner--there," said Lamarque.

     '"One could not eat one's garden," said Albert.

     'Georges, hypnotised, followed with his eyes the flight of an
     insect. Poised in the sunlight, the creature was motionless
     awhile; then descended, ascended, then, swift as a sped arrow,
     vanished in the shadows. One would wish for such an atom,
     taking so small a place in creation, the joys, the instincts,
     the intelligence of a great animal. At anyrate, it symbolises
     all the enjoyments of life, repose on a leaf, movement, ecstasy
     of travel through space and towards mystery.

     '"Ah!" thought Georges, in distress, "even to come and see
     this, one must have money!"

     'The hard and heavy thought was like a blow on the tender heart
     of the boy. Soon this bitterness entered into the souls of all,
     even of the youngest child.'

What I have translated as 'oxidised silver' is in the original
'blackened nickel,' one of those unfortunate, grotesque, inharmonious
expressions of which there are many in this work. To compare water, the
liquid, the mobile, the translucent, to any metal is a strange and
unfitting comparison. In this passage, which is serious and poetical,
the intrusion of such words as 'blackened nickel' seems offensive, and
mars all the impression of the phrase. But it is in this kind of offence
to the ear and the intelligence that _les jeunes_ unhappily revel; they
see in such offences signs of emancipation, of realism, of originality,
when, in truth, the usage is no sign of anything except of a faulty ear
and a lack of judgment.

Throughout the work, however, despite these occasional blemishes, every
episode connected with the Lamarques is a masterpiece of pathos and of
simplicity, until the last scene of all, when the three children with
their mother are about to light the charcoal collected by the little
François as it dropped from the waggons when they passed along the quay,
and kept in a corner of the miserable room, in readiness for the last
hour of all.

The characters of the three boys, so dissimilar and yet united by the
vague likeness of race, are drawn with a life-like distinctness:
Georges, pensive and philosophic, proud, gentle, observant; Albert,
sceptic and scornful, with his passionate sense that, since death killed
his father through serving others, there can be no God; and the
youngest, François, timid, imaginative, devoted, hiding himself under
the table, to still the pangs of hunger with fancies of a lonely fairy
isle where neither want nor death should come. These three children
offer one of the most perfect pictures of innocent and unmerited
suffering which literature can offer, and the limner of them and of
their sorrows is a fine writer. Jacques Fougeraye, the central figure of
the romance, yields his place to them as its chief interest; and is also
perhaps inferior in interest to his unhappy and generous patron
Dargelle. One would desire to know through what circumstances a man of
the talent and character of Fougeraye comes to be destitute in the
streets of Paris; something also of the parentage, education, influences
which have gone towards making him what he is. In the same way one would
wish to know how Lamarque fell into poverty, how his children became so
cultured and refined, how the whole family is aloof in every way from
their common and odious kindred. _Les jeunes_ do not deign to throw
light on the antecedents of their _dramatis personæ_; they are wrong,
for two reasons: one because they thus baulk the natural and legitimate
curiosity of their readers; the second, that there is no true psychology
(the word they worship) without study of the causes which have
contributed to make a man or woman what the observer of them finds them
to be. A writer like Gyp may with airy grace jump, as through a
circus-hoop, into the middle of the lives of her personages without
further explanation, but in a philosophic student of human nature in its
sad seriousness such saltatory pranks are unbecoming.

One could well spare the hundreds of pages devoted to long and, one must
say, tiresome descriptions of moral and mental states, for a few pages
of lucid and graphic information as to the causes which brought the
characters of the book to the pass in which we find them at their first
appearance. But this is a method of composition too simple, direct, and
natural to commend itself to _les jeunes_. And when on rare occasions
they do furnish personal descriptions, these are so wrapped up in
anatomical and physiological language that we can conjure up from them
little or no real likeness. The characteristic of this new school is an
extreme vagueness, an intentional nebulosity. Their personages are never
introduced to the reader, nor are they given any pedigree; even personal
description of them is of the slightest. They come abruptly on the scene
as though they came up through a trap-door. It is left to the
intelligence of the reader to supply all the details which the author
disdains to furnish. In a book, as in life, one likes to have people
duly presented before making their acquaintance; but this is a prejudice
which the new school scorns to gratify.

There is a certain tedium in some of the experiences of Fougeraye, such
as in his visits to the hospitals and the asylum of misshappen human
creatures; and the young woman Louise, a medical student, who has
learned to look on death with professional indifference, is so virtuous
and self-satisfied that one is indisposed to share the admiration which
Fougeraye feels for her. He himself is so unpretentious, so
warm-hearted, so single-minded, and so manly that he deserves a more
sympathetic and less vain helpmeet than this female doctor, with her too
prosy platitudes and her chill philosophies.

Jeanne Dargelle, whom he rejects, is the least truthful, the most
artificial, figure in the book. We are never interested in her. The
breath of life has not been breathed into her; and when she kills
herself we remain indifferent; we know that in her world women do not
kill themselves, and a very proud woman would have found the idea of
dying, because her husband's secretary had no love for her, altogether
unendurable. We feel also that in real life Fougeraye would probably
have shared her passion, and the struggle it would have caused between
his temptation, and his loyalty and gratitude to Dargelle, would have
been of profound interest. The chapter following on her death, in which
Dargelle is alone with her dead body, is very fine, and reflects exactly
that strange mixture of emotions and sensations which sway the survivor
who passes long hours of solitude beside the corpse of one once dear to
him--the trivial incongruities which force themselves in amidst intense
regret, the eccentric fancies which dance like marsh-lights over the
sombre swamp of a deep despair. Who amongst us has not cried, like
Dargelle, 'Pardon, pardon!' from the depths of an aching heart, looking
on the dead features of one to whom, in the eyes of the world, we had no
fault?

There is in the Rosnys the distressing habit, common to all the more
recent French writers, with few exceptions, of endeavouring to be
pedantic, to be involved, to express an idea barbarously and
bewilderingly instead of harmoniously and clearly; to say _épiderme_
instead of _peau_, _véridique_ instead of _vrai_, _prunelles_ instead of
_yeux_; to use the jargon of science, the abomination of foreign or
technical idioms; to turn away from the natural, the direct, the usual,
the obvious, and seek an appearance of profundity in what is merely a
confusion of sounds. These affectations, these efforts, spoil many of
the pages, and weary the most attentive reader in many of the chapters;
as does also the incessant tendency to find similes of the most bizarre
and eccentric kind, such as the comparison of dead leaves to the fur of
animals; of a simile 'frail as the downy blow-ball of dandelion-seed';
of a sky 'of a powdery blue, with the horizon of an aquarium'; of a
heart beating 'like a pear oscillating in a breeze,' and many others as
far-fetched, as incongruous, and as grotesque. The excessive use of
simile, however apt and exact, is always a fault; but similes as absurd
and as strained as are most of those employed by the Rosnys, become a
deformity of style, annoy the mind, and disagreeably abstract and
distract the thoughts.

A too long, too technical, and too involved description is an inventory
which leaves no concrete whole upon the reader's mind; it is a mere
conglomeration of items. Take, as an instance, this description of
Dargelle's physiognomy; and be it remembered that we never know who or
what Dargelle is, how he came by his vast fortune, or anything, indeed,
about him, except that he is _un pauvre riche_, a capitalist, one
supposes, rich by inheritance. Here is the personal description of
him:--

     'A fat face, sad, meditative; his cheeks fell in; they were
     flabby. The forehead was a half-circle, with three deep
     wrinkles, the temples inflamed. The brow was vast but
     undecided, despite heavy eyebrows above violent eyes. The lips
     of a wild beast; a short beard which had never grown; flat
     hair, forming a little patch behind the brow and advancing
     laterally to the ears. The whole a Finnish face, very pale,
     with a disposition of the skin to become scaly. The nose long,
     broad, very irregular, between the snub and the aquiline, the
     end raised, the bridge bowed. Hardly any back to the head; the
     neck, like a Celt's, running straight up to the crown. The ears
     folded backward, stiff, cartilaginous,' etc., etc., etc.

This long and disagreeable description merely conveys the impression of
a monster; and it does not in any way agree with the character of
Dargelle, magnanimous, tender, generous, and sensitive; suffering
acutely from a sense of utter loneliness amidst the parasites, who trade
on his kind feelings. A man of this temperament would not have violent
eyes or wild-beast lips; and the elevation of his sentiments would
certainly have given some beauty of expression to his features.

Of Jacques Fougeraye, the hero of the work, we are given no description
whatever. On the other hand, the portraiture of the frightful occupant
of a monsters' asylum is traced in fullest and most minute detail, with
an ostentation of technical knowledge, in that passion for what is
horrible and abnormal which is characteristic of this school.

Dargelle, morally, is throughout consistent and lovable, from his first
movement of suspicion and distrust, feeling that his new favourite will
only use him and cheat him, as all the other dispensers of his charities
have done, to the last frank smile with which, though jealous of the
happiness he has himself created, he says: 'Allons donc! Je vois bien
que vous m'aimez aussi.'

The rich man will only have the crumbs of the bread of the soul which is
called love, but his generosity is content with it. '_Le pauvre riche!_'
say the Rosnys, with rare insight into the small consolation which, to
those in full possession of them, the powers of wealth can give.
Dargelle is unique, and it is almost to be regretted that he should
occupy but a secondary place in the narrative. The description of his
physical malady is perhaps exaggerated; deafness would scarcely cause
such violent moral and mental torture; but the pathos of his last
appearance is unexaggerated, and goes to the heart of the reader. By his
mere word so many people are made happy, and yet, to secure happiness,
even relief, for himself his millions are powerless! This is what many a
rich and generous man must have felt. The irony of fate is more cruel in
a sense to the heirs, than to the disinherited, of fortune. But the pain
which the rich suffer is purely sentimental, and there are very few
indeed who have nobility of nature enough to feel this at all.

The rich man has always material comfort, freedom from daily and hourly
anxieties; he is at liberty to go wherever he likes, to do whatever he
pleases; he enjoys, if he have the true faculty for enjoyment; he can
make himself obeyed, if the obedience be but eye-service; he can
surround himself with beautiful objects; and he can freely indulge the
luxury of generosity, although it is the one luxury of which the rich
are not enamoured, the rich man in general never gives except to see his
name in print in the newspapers. The compassion of the Rosnys for the
rich is scarcely justified, since their greatest burden is _ennui_, and
this is an artificial kind of suffering due to defective sympathies, as
cold feet are due to sluggish circulation. The statement, put in the
mouth of Dargelle, that suicide is much more general amongst the rich
than the poor, is certainly not based on fact or on statistics. The rich
man, moreover, has one great and most precious exemption: he is free
from petty, carking bodily cares; he never knows the greatest agony
possible, that of seeing those dear to him hungry and homeless; he can
be always warm in cold weather, cool in hot weather; in illness he has
every palliative and assistance; his home is his own if he care for it,
intangible and immutable; the whole world is his if he possess
perception enough to enjoy it; his sufferings may be considerable from
dyspepsia and discontent, and, if he be of a high nature, from
irritation at the ingratitude and insincerity of human nature, but it is
absurd to compare his pains with those of the poor--above all, when the
poor are of fine temper, sensitive nerve and cultured intellect like
the Fougeraye and Lamarque of the Rosnys. It is well to remind society
that there are sorrows of the soul from which the rich may suffer more
acutely than the poor; but it is to exceed this truth to represent the
rich as often suffering from this cause. The rich man is usually a
complete egotist, whose philanthropy has a political purpose or a social
ambition as its mainspring. A Dargelle may exist, does exist; but he is
one in ten millions. He is legitimate in his place as a character in
romance, but as a character in real life he is met with but very rarely.

There are many social questions and many philosophic theories discussed
in _L'Impérieuse Bonté_. An unkind critic might say that it is rather a
social and philosophic essay than a romance. But in much it conforms to
and fulfils the highest demands of fiction, and the naturalness and
lovableness of the chief personages lend to it throughout the interest
of romance. The mission of Fougeraye in the expenditure of Dargelle's
money introduces, perforce, many phases of social misery. It was
probably to do this that the book was written; but the harmony and
interest of the action of the novel, as a novel, are not sacrificed to
this intention. In these chapters all affectation, all artifice drop
from the style, and the writers become masters of strong, simple and
infinitely touching prose. It is to be regretted that the influence of
their time should ever mislead them into tortuous and strained
exaggerations and archaisms when it is possible for them to write thus
simply and eloquently:--

     'The few precious things--the brooch and earrings of Madame
     Lamarque, even her wedding-ring, alas! then the china service,
     saved with such effort from the fire, with a little rosewood
     secrétaire, and two Sèvres vases won at a lottery for charity,
     the gift to it of the Empress Eugénie--all disappeared, all
     were devoured by the monster Misery. Georges suffered as much
     as his parents; his nature was inclined towards the adoration
     of relics, of frail things, of the semi-vitality of objects.

            *       *       *       *       *

     'It rained a little; in the shadow of the fortifications the
     lamps trembled under gusts of wind; the reflections touched the
     wet grass, which seemed for the moment as fresh as the turf of
     meadows. Everywhere solitude--solitude filled with a sense of
     near and hidden human life in the closed houses from which came
     the subdued light of unseen chambers in vague suggestion of
     mysterious joys. But there was no living creature out of doors
     except in the openings of the ramparts; on the grass, a dog
     looking as furtive as a hunting wolf. The boy's eyes gazed at
     the sky, at the grass, at the long vista of burning lamps, at
     the grey stony road under his feet. A sense of beauty came into
     his soul, but a beauty sombre as the psalms of All Saints' Day.

     'Beside him his mother carried the mattress which had been
     sold; he bore one side of it on his shoulder.

     'They walk thus, beaten, conquered, the child full of
     suffocating revolt, the mother humble and resigned, like the
     meek beasts of the stall, with occasional flickers of wrath
     soon extinguished. They go thus, saying to each other a few
     words, muffled and heavyhearted, which are the mere dull
     echoes of their souls. "We must turn down that street. How will
     it end?--why does not the family help?" At a corner they stop,
     and suddenly Georges is overwhelmed with pity for his mother,
     as he sees her profile wet with rain in the light of the street
     lamp.

     'He gazes at her. He remembers, in his earliest childhood, a
     time when there had been two servants in their house; when his
     mother had been a gentlewoman, going out for a walk with his
     father, while the bonne pushed the little carriage of the baby
     François. And here she was, his own mother, with a mattress for
     sale on her shoulder, on foot in the mud at this time of night.
     "Mamma! mamma! dear little mamma!" he cried, sobbing, without a
     single selfish thought, caring only for her, so profoundly, so
     intensely!'

Again, there is the same intense sympathy in the author with the
suffering of the spirit when the two Sèvres vases are taken to their new
home, sold for twenty francs, the poor, pretty, familiar things which
look so elegant, so slender, so aristocratic amongst the coarse, vulgar
ornaments of their new owners, that Georges is proud of their
superiority amidst the anguish with which he thinks of them, lost for
ever:

     'Frail penates, saturated with the soul of home. Ah! how many
     birthday mornings, how many twilights of study, how many long
     rainy days and gentle suns of springtime, how many dreams of
     future voyages in far lands, how many nights fearful with storm
     or mute with falling snow, had these objects seen! They had
     been always there, fixing themselves inalienably on the retina
     in their unalterable attitude of delicacy and art: and now they
     were lost for ever, given over to an alien hand for a coin of
     gold which would last two days!'

Nothing can be more touching, more sincere, more eloquent than this
episode.

Take again the magnificent opening chapter of the fire at which Lamarque
contracts the illness which ultimately kills him. It is too long to
quote here, but its description is of a force incomparable, and of a
truth as great. No one of his contemporaries could have written this
chapter; its sobriety and veracity, united to its splendour of diction
and its terror of suggestion, make it a _magnum opus_.

It has only one defect; it gives the reader the impression that it cost
great effort to the author. It does not convey that sense of the
author's spontaneous fertility and joy in creation which Pierre Loti,
François Coppée, Anatole France, feel and give. _L'Impérieuse Bonté_ is
a great work, but its greatness must have cost painful thought and
unremitting labour.

One feels that there is nothing of improvisation, of careless and happy
inspiration, about it. It is the matured fruit of profound observation,
and of complicated doubt, of an unselfish sorrow, and of a noble
altruism. It is a work which must impress and elevate all readers who
are capable of comprehending its teaching. But there is no laughter in
it, nor is there even a smile, save that sad divine smile which
accompanies the tears of pity.



VI

WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT


There are few men of our time more interesting than the man who bears
this name. Fresh with English air, and dark with desert suns,
passionately liberal in thought and nobly independent in opinion,
spending his winters on the shores of the Nile, on the edge of the
desert, and his summers between the vale of Shoreham, and the
alder-shaded water of the humble Mole, he touches, and has always
touched, life at its most different facets. Not without knowledge has he
written of the green Sussex weald, and of the woodcocks and the
thrushes, the oak trees and the yew trees, of 'Evelyn's land'; not
without love as though he were also a son of the soil has he written of
that other far-off country where--

    'We may make terms with Nature, and awhile
    Put as it were our souls to grass, and run
    Barefooted and bareheaded in the smile
    Of that long summer which still girds the Nile.'

His private life, likewise, is equally of interest to the most
indifferent, since he is the husband of Byron's granddaughter, the
father-in-law of Neville Lytton, the companion in youth of Owen
Meredith, the friend of the Arab, the champion of the dumb, and the
standard-bearer of all lost causes. In few personalities is there united
so much which is uncommon, and idiosyncrasies which are so varied. He
has been so fortunate, often-times, in his friends and his fortunes,
that it is perhaps only to be human that he should, in his editor who is
his friend, fail to be so fortunate as one could wish. Mr Henley, who
selected his poems, has excluded many; one is disposed to resent and to
rebel; Mr Henley is apt at all times to arouse that sensation in the
reader of his somewhat too condescending criticisms.

Many of the verses excluded were political; now it is precisely in
politics that Mr Blunt is most delightful to those amongst us who abhor
actual governments.

I wish that these poems had come before the public without this species
of apology with which Mr Henley heads them. They do not need so
uncertain a prefatory note. They are certainly not likely to be popular.
They will not be recited over a little tambourine, and used to collect
monies for woollen socks and chocolate. They will be little appreciated
by the lovers of ballads of blood and fury, and odes of war which scream
like a steam-hooter. They are made to be read in quiet places where
daffodils blossom, and the black-cap sings; where lake waters lie calm
in mountain shadows, or where, through the stillness of a studio or
study, a summer breeze blows dropped rose-leaves across the threshold.

Mr Henley raises one standard of great verse: Milton's: and below that
nothing to him is great. I know not where he places Shelley, but does
Milton ever touch the heart except perhaps in the Lycidas? Who can care
for the exiles of Eden?

I do not think that it was necessary for Mr Henley to say that Mr Blunt
is not John Milton. It would not occur to anyone that he was. But then,
neither to my thinking is he Byron or Burns, whom Mr Henley thinks that
he is, nor is he either Owen Meredith, to whom Mr Henley likewise
compares him. He is, to my thinking, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt; alone in his
verse as he is also alone (or almost alone) in his opinions and his
politics. I dislike comparisons in criticisms. It is a meagre way to
define what is, this habit of declaring what it is not; and I love not
either the diminution of the living for the exaltation of the dead, or
the praise of the living for the depreciation of the dead. Nor is it to
me either wit or wisdom to say that Byron 'followed.' Who did he follow?
Who was his precursor? Who showed him his matchless double rhymes? Who
before him struck the splendid chords of his Juan? Who crowded into a
few years of life such accomplishment, such eloquence such romance of
existence? Who resembled Byron before Byron lived?

Poets who are not great, and do not aspire to be so, may touch the
chords of memory, may unseal the fountains of tears, may make dead loves
arise and smile, and the springs of dead years return, and do this with
a line, a verse, a suggestion. This is what Owen Meredith did in his
song; so does his friend and comrade in his. There is a strongly virile
quality in his verse: it is not epicene, nor ever effeminate; the
thoughts are always the thoughts of a man who has felt the hoof of the
desert horse cast up the sand of the desert, and seen the circle of the
waiting vultures poised in the blue air; and heard 'God's thunder upon
Horeb'; who has read his Augustine and Chrysostom on the shores of the
Dead Sea, and his Horace and his Herrick lying on the short
sheep-cropped grass of Sussex; who knows many a bank whereon the wild
thyme grows in lowly Kentish lanes, and has walked with the shades of
Dante and of Byron in the marble streets of Ravenna, and under the dying
pines of its forest; who has loved and laughed in the artificial
passions and mocking mirth of Paris, and has dwelt in the solitudes
where the hair tents of the sons of Shem are dark against the east.

Mr Henley, in his somewhat autocratic manner, says that a man lives for
posterity in proportion as he figures the gestures and sets forth the
emotions of his own time. We can none of us judge what posterity may do
or say. I fear it will be too engrossed with itself to take much heed of
anything which went before it. Or, possibly, there will be no posterity
at all, but only a shattered earth; scattered into space by some exploit
of that boastful Icarus called Science. But taking Mr Henley's dictum as
it stands, is it true, seeing (as its context shows) that he means an
Englishman must be judged by what he writes of England? If this were
true, where would go the Juan and the Parisina, the Anactoria and the
Atalanta in Calydon, the Cenci and the Adonaïs, the Lucille and the
Clytemnestra? Scott would be greater than Shelley, and Cowper than
Coleridge. The theory will not hold water. Which is the greater play of
Shakespeare--'King John' or 'The Tempest'? 'Henry the Fifth' or 'Romeo
and Juliet'? 'Richard the Third' or 'Hamlet'? What are esteemed the
greatest epics of the human race--Milton's and Dante's--are located in
no known province of our narrow sphere, but, in worlds, heavenly and
infernal, whither no traveller has gone, save in the spirit. 'Country'
is but a restricted boundary for whoever has the vision which sees
beyond the ordinary range of men. To the true poet his native land lies
wherever what is beautiful can be beloved, or that which is sorrowful
needs solace.

The only thing that personally I regret in these verses is their
author's tendency to be too careless in his rhymes. Many of them grate
upon one's ear, and such as _sun_ and _stone_ vex one's sense of melody,
indeed, are not rhymes: whilst some words used, such as for instance
_Revenue_, accord ill with verse at all. He deems himself quit of
obligation to observe these delicacies of metrical beauty, because he
says peevishly that he is no poet. But he is a poet; and is so strongly
one in feeling that there is no excuse for him not to be more observant
of style.

For style is the reed-pipe through which the singer's breath blows
music, and he should take heed that his syrinx be well chosen, and well
cut, so that each air played on it be clear as the throstle's note.

But rough though many of his compositions are--rough and unstudied--yet,
when read in fitting atmosphere, they will be beloved, and in the mind
of the reader they will linger like the lilt of a moorland song heard on
an autumn eve. There is the _vox humana_ in their melody. They come
from the heart of a man who has suffered. They are unequal, extremely
unequal; the poet has gone through the woods and gathered together grass
and orchis, and gorse, and the sceptered meadow sweet and the bearded
barley, all together, just as they happened to come in his path; common
things sometimes, or such as seem so to those who do not see the sun
shine through and the dew tremble on them.

They are not put together with great care. I should not think that they
were turned, and returned, and pondered over, and doubted about. They
are too spontaneous, or seem so, to be the subject of great meditation.
They are the natural children of a forest-lover. As you read them you
receive the irresistible impression that they were written involuntarily
as a full heart sighs, as a glad heart sings, but the sigh is more
frequent than the song.

He has a great love of rural things. He says:--

    'You cannot know,
    In your bald cities where no cowslips blow,
    How dear life is to us. The tramp of feet
    Brushes all other footsteps from the street
    And you see nothing of the graves you tread.
    With us they are still present, the poor dead.
    Being so near the places where they sleep
    Who sowed these fields, we in their absence reap.'

Again:--

                              'This ridge
    Is only thirty miles from London Bridge,
    And when the wind blows north, the London smoke
    Comes down upon us, and the grey crows croak,
    For the great city seems to reach about
    With its dark arms, and grip them by the throat.
    Time may yet prove them right. The wilderness
    May be disforested, and Nature's face
    Stamped out of beauty by the heel of man
    Who has no room for beauty in his plan.'

Again:--

    'The dove did lend me wings. I fled away
      From the loud world which long had troubled me.
    Oh, lightly did I flee when hoyden May
      Threw her wild[8] mantle on the hawthorn tree.
    I left the dusty highroad, and my way
      Was through deep meadows, shut with copses fair,
    A choir of thrushes poured its roundelay
      From every hedge and every thicket there;
    Mild, moon-faced kine looked on, where in the grass
      All heaped I lay, from noon till eve.
    And hares unwitting close to me did pass
      And still the birds sang....'

[Footnote 8: Surely _wild_ is a misprint for _white_? A mantle cannot be
wild, nor is it an epithet to apply to a hawthorn tree.]

A certain similarity there is in his verse to Owen Meredith's, but this
is due to the fact that they were friends and companions always, in
youth and manhood, and that Wilfrid Blunt had an intense and adoring
sentiment for his friend which made him regard the other with a feeling
which was almost religious in its strength and sincerity.

The following sonnet might have come out of 'The Wanderer,' and I
imagine the house called here Palazzo Pagani is the villa in
Bellosguardo which in 'The Wanderer' shelters the lovers of the 'Eve
and May.'

        'This is the house where twenty years ago
    They spent a spring and summer. This shut gate
    Would lead you to the terrace, and below
    To a rose-garden long since desolate.
    Here they once lived. How often I have sat
    Till it was dusk among the olive trees,
    Waiting to hear their coming horse hoofs graze
    Upon the gravel, till the freshening breeze
    Bore down a sound of voices. Even yet
    A broken echo of their laughter rings
    Through the deserted terraces. And see,
    While I am speaking, from the parapet
    There is a hand put forth, and someone flings
    Her very window open overhead.
    How sweet it is, the scent of rosemary,
    These are the last tears I shall ever shed.'

Here the influence of Owen Meredith is very strong, but it is the
influence due to sympathy, not to imitation.

But where he is entirely unlike Owen Meredith is in his passion of pity,
which is his dominant instinct, and which in the other is rarely
perceptible. Owen Meredith was entirely personal; Wilfrid Blunt is
strongly impersonal. The sorrows of man, and of one man in especial,
constituted the be all, and end all, of the former; the woes of all
creation lie heavy on the soul of the latter. The bird with a broken
wing is to Wilfrid Blunt as pitiful a tragedy as the human lover with
his ruined joys was to the author of 'The Wanderer'; the chained eagle
dying in an iron cage is to him as cruel a captive as his own soul
pining to be free from the limits of sense and the blindness of
mortality. He reaches a high level in altruism, which is in him of a
very pure kind.

Such pity thrills through these lines on the stricken hart:--

    'The stricken hart had fled the brake,
    His courage spent for life's dear sake,
    He came to die beside the lake.

    'The golden trout leaped up to view,
    The moorfowl clapped his wings and crew,
    The swallow brushed him as she flew.

    'He looked upon the glorious sun,
    His blood dropped slowly on the stone,
    He loved the life so nearly won,

    'And then he died. The ravens found
    A carcase couched upon the ground,
    They said their god had dealt the wound.

    'The Eternal Father calmly shook
    One page untitled from life's book--
    Few words. None ever cared to look.

    'Yet woe for life thus idly riven,
    He blindly loved what God had given,
    And love, some say, has conquered Heaven.'

What Wilfrid Blunt perceives and feels more keenly than greater English
poets, more keenly indeed than any English poet except Shelley and
Matthew Arnold, are the pathos, the value, the infinite sadness, of
these free forest, or desert, lives struck down in the fulness of their
strength and beauty by the brutal pursuit of that ravenous and
insatiable brute which is Man. It is this emotion which has inspired in
him the strange poem named 'Satan Absolved.'

'Satan Absolved' was not written when Mr Henley edited the books of
earlier poems, and I imagine that it has scared Mr Henley and displeased
him. I do not know this, I have not asked, but I imagine that 'Satan
Absolved' must make Mr Henley extremely uncomfortable.

Briefly, the motive of 'Satan Absolved' is the accusation brought by
Satan against Man; and against God, as the Creator and Authoriser of
Man. This will sound in many ears a profanity; but it is not so, and
Satan has sad reason in his arguments. It was a fine and lofty courage
which made the author produce it at a moment when the English people are
drunk and delirious with the lust of carnage and of conquest, and the
great thinker Herbert Spencer has accepted its dedication, whilst the
great painter Watts has given it its frontispiece.

It is a poem which will alienate many, affright many, and to many no
doubt will appear blasphemous; but it is absolutely true in its hardy
and original conception of the sins of mankind against the other races
of the earth, and of the hypocrisy, brutality, and avarice of man,
clothed and cultured, against man primitive and helpless. It is a _cri
de coeur_, breaking almost involuntarily from a heart swollen with
indignation, and scorn, and pain, before the emptiness of creeds, the
impudence of prayer and praise, the vileness of aggression and of
war-lust.

    'Hast Thou not heard their chanting? Nay, Thou dost not hear,
    Or Thou hadst loosed Thy hand, like lightning in the clear,
    To smite their ribald lips with palsy!'

Like all poems in which Satan is the hero, the Fallen Angel dwarfs
Deity. The rebel, not the lord, is in the right. This is inevitable.

Especially it is inevitable here, where Satan is the holder of the
scales of justice; the advocate of all those countless races upon earth,
who in their birth, and in their death, in their up-rising, and their
down-lying, in every day which dawns, and night which falls, curse Man,
their merciless master.

    'The Earth is a lost force, Man's lazar house of woe
    Undone by his lewd will. We may no longer strive,
    The evil hath prevailed. There is no soul alive
    That shall escape his greed. We spend our days in tears
    Mourning the world's lost beauty in the night of years.
    All pity is departed. Each once happy thing
    That on Thy fair Earth moves how fleet of foot or wing,
    How glorious in its strength, how wondrous in design,
    How royal in its raiment tinctured opaline,
    How rich in joyous life, the inheritor of forms,
    All noble, all of worth which had survived the storms,
    The chances of decay in the World's living plan,
    From the remote fair past when still ignoble Man
    On his four foot soles went, and howled thro' the lone hills
    In moody bestial wrath, unclassed amongst Earth's ills.
    Each one of them is doomed. From the deep Central Seas
    To the white Poles, Man ruleth, pitiless Lord of these,
    And daily he destroyeth. The great whales he driveth
    Beneath the northern ice, and quarter none he giveth,
    Who perish there of wounds in their huge agony.
    He presseth the white bear on the white frozen sea
    And slaughtereth for his pastime. The wise amorous seal
    He flayeth big with young, the walrus cubs that kneel
    But cannot turn his rage, alive he mangleth them,
    Leaveth in breathing heaps, outrooted branch and stem.
    In every land he slayeth. He hath new engines made
    Which no life may withstand, nor in the forest shade,
    Nor in the sunlit plain, which wound all from afar,
    The timorous with the valiant, waging his false war,
    Coward, himself unseen. In pity, Lord, look down
    On the blank widowed plains which he hath made his own
    By right of solitude. Where, Lord God, are they now,
    Thy glorious bison herds, Thy ariels white as snow.
    Thy antelopes in troops, the zebras of Thy plain?
    Behold their whitened bones on the dull track of men.
    Thy elephants, Lord, where? For ages Thou did'st build
    Their frames' capacity, the hide which was their shield
    No thorn might pierce, no sting, no violent tooth assail,
    The tusks which were their levers, the lithe trunk their flail.
    Thou strengthenedst their deep brain. Thou madest them wise to know,
    And wiser to ignore, advised, deliberate, slow,
    Conscious of power supreme in right. The manifest token
    Of Thy high will on earth, Thy natural peace unbroken,
    Unbreakable by fear. For ages did they move
    Thus, kings of Thy deep forest swayed by only love.
    Where are they now, Lord God? A fugitive spent few
    Used as Man's living targets by the ignoble crew
    Who boast their coward skill to plant the balls that fly,
    Thy work of all time spoiled, their only use to die
    That these sad clowns may laugh. Nay, Lord, we weep for Thee,
    And spend ourselves in tears for Thy marred majesty.
    Behold, Lord, what we bring,--this last proof in our hands,
    Their latest fiendliest spoil from Thy fair tropic-lands,
    The birds of all the Earth, unwinged to deck the heads
    Of their unseemly women: plumage of such reds
    As not the sunset teach, such purples as no throne,
    Not even in heaven showeth, hardly, Lord, Thine own;
    Such azures as the sea's, such greens as are in spring
    The oak trees' tenderest buds of watched-for blossoming,
    Such opalescent pearls as only in Thy skies
    The lunar bow revealeth to night's sleep-tired eyes.
    Behold them, Lord of Beauty, Lord of Reverence,
    Lord of Compassion, Thou who metest means to ends,
    Nor madest Thy world fair for less than Thine own fame,
    Behold Thy birds of joy, lost, tortured, put to shame,
    For these vile strumpets' whim. Arise, or cease to be
    Judge of the quick and dead! These dead wings cry to Thee,
    Arise, Lord, and avenge!'

The use of the six-foot Alexandrine couplet may seem to many readers as
a thing unknown and unwelcome in English verse. Others may say that here
and there the language has not been sufficiently carefully weighed, that
there is repetition of thought in some places, and of words in others,
as for instance the word 'plain' recurs three times in seven lines. But
when hypercriticism has said and done its worst, the work remains a just
and generous indictment; heroic in its courage and vigorous in its
eloquence, pleading the cause of those who cannot plead their own. The
human race will be ill-pleased by the denunciation; for their vanity
must be wounded by one who incessantly reminds it of its kinship to 'the
lewd, bare-buttocked ape,' and who calls it full rightly, 'sad creature
without shame,' and calls it also:--

    'A presence saturnine,
    In stealth among the rest, equipped as none of these
    With Thy mind's attributes, low crouched beneath the trees,
    Betraying all and each.

           *       *       *       *       *

    'The red Japhetic stock of the bare plains, which rolled
    A base-born horde on Rome erewhile in lust of gold,
    Tide following tide, the Goth, Gaul, Vandal, Lombard, Hun,
    Spewed forth from the white North, to new dominion
    In the fair Southern lands, with famine at their heel
    And rapine in their van, armed to the lips with steel.

           *       *       *       *       *

    'The master-wolf of all men call the Sassenach,
    The Anglo-Norman dog who goeth by land and sea,
    As his forefathers went in chartered piracy,
    Death, fire, in his right hand.'

Again, who, in the vain-glorious Britain of our time, will pardon
this?--

    'The head knaves of the horde,
    Those who inspire the rest and give the master word,
    The leaders of their thought, their lords political,
    Sages, kings, poets, priests, in their hearts one and all,
    For all their faith avowed and their lip service done
    In face of Thy high fires each day beneath the sun,
    Ay, and their prelates too, their men of godliest worth,
    Believe no word of Thee as master of their Earth,
    Controllers of their acts, no word of Thy high right
    To bend men to obedience, and at need to smite,
    No word of Thy true law, the enforcement of Thy peace,
    Thy all-deciding arm in the world's policies,
    They ignore Thee on the earth. They grant Thee, as their "God,"
    The kingdom of the heavens, seeing it a realm untrod,
    Untreadable, by man, a space, a _res nullius_,
    Or No Man's Land which they, as loyal men and pious,
    Leave and assign to Thee to deal with as Thou wilt,
    To hold as Thy strong throne or loose as water spilt,
    For sun and wind to gather in the wastes of air.
    Whether of a Truth thou _art_, they know not, Lord, nor care;
    Only they name Thee "God," and pay Thee their prayers vain,
    As dormant over-lord and pensioned suzerain,
    The mediatised blind monarch of a world, outgrown
    Of its faith's swaddling clothes, which wills to walk alone.'

These lines must be bitter in the teeth of the men of his generation, of
the men who say openly that religion is for the seventh day, not for the
week of work and war; who, churchgoers and chapelgoers alike, uphold the
campaign of blood and plunder; who prate of Helots, and treat the Kaffir
worse than any Helot that ever lived; who seek warrant in their
Scriptures for endless slaughter, and for endless slavery, of all in any
manner weaker than themselves; and who, with their jargon of
civilisation, and their doggerel of cant, bear fire and pestilence over
all the globe.

Doubtless to man, convinced in deformity of his own beauty, in disease
of his own health, in crime of his own virtue, in blood-lust of his own
religious aims, the portrait of Man as given here in Satan's scathing
words will be very offensive. All honour be to the man who has dared to
draw it!

It might be perhaps easy to show the fallacy of this upbraiding, and
prove the facts of the maintenance of life by the destruction of life
which has always prevailed on earth; the facts that the python and the
cobra, if not the tiger, and the eagle, slays, as man slays, for sport
in addition to food; that in the depths of the unfathomed seas, and in
the azure space of highest air, and in the green twilight of virgin
forests, the god of cruelty reigns and prevails; that the elephant and
the rhinoceros wrestled and the keen cheetah sprang on the meek
cameleopard, and the jaws of the crocodile opened for the playful
gazelle before ever the steel and the lead of the human brute touched
and slew them. But when this has been said and admitted, it does not
invalidate the truth of Satan's charge; that man has laid waste the
earth and slaughtered for greed, for savage pleasure, for mere
wantonness, as never any other creature before him or beside him on this
planet, has done or has ever wished to do.

To blast the harmless, gentle, colossal whale with the coward's tool of
dynamite; to strip the fur coat off the living seal and drive her tender
body over sharp rocks it was never made to cross; to castrate the lion
and tear his flesh with red-hot irons that he may make the sport of
fools; to rear the timid pheasant by millions, hand fed and
unsuspecting, only that they may fall under the breechloaders of princes
and lords and gentlemen; to penetrate into virgin forests and plunge in
untroubled streams to seize the heron on her nest, and poison the
lyre-bird in his haunts, and snatch his golden plumes from the bird of
paradise, and his rosy wings from the flamingo, that commerce may
flourish and women be adorned--all these things, and more like them,
crimes of every clime and every hour, are human sins, and human sins
alone; and justify in its strongest accusations the charge of Satan
against Man as the most brutal murderer on earth; the same creature of
destruction still, in the comedy which he calls civilisation, as when in
his cave and his lake dwellings he first sharpened a stone, and then
stole out to kill.

And it is herein there lie alike the courage and the value of the 'Satan
Absolved.' It is by no means a perfect poem; it would have been well if
it had received much more meditation and amplification, if passages
which approach the grotesque like the 'old world furniture,' the 'linen
long in press' of Heaven in the first page had been altered; and the
destiny and mission of Satan at the close are enwrapped in a mystery
which is to me at least incomprehensible; but when the utmost has been
said against it which can be urged, the poem remains a noble effort to
proclaim a supreme truth, which, as all great truths have done, dawns
slowly on the human mind--the solidarity of life.

The preface alone to the book should make everyone obtain and cherish
it. This time the writer has penned his own presentation, and is not
ushered in by Mr Henley. It is enough to say that the introduction, like
the work, is worthy of the Englishman who, amidst a deafening roar of
national vanity and triumph, dared to denounce the injustice and the
inhumanity of Omdurman.

It must not be forgotten that this poet is also a writer of prose; prose
clear, terse and strong. His letters to the leading journal of London,
and his works on the present state of India and the future state of
Islam are virile in thought and fearless in expression. A Sussex
landowner, and the possessor of a fortune sufficient to give him entire
independence, he has been the nominee of no party and the slave of no
prejudice. His temper is essentially _frondeur_; he has, what so few
possess, absolute independence of judgment; he refuses to see through
other men's spectacles, whether of smoked or of rose-coloured glass.
Again and again has he had the courage to oppose the policy of ministers
who were his personal friends. He opposed Mr Gladstone's and Lord
Granville's policy in Egypt, considering it alike unjust and unwise; and
he appealed alike to Parliament and to the nation against it, uselessly
but not the less manfully. The eloquence which he used so nobly at that
time must remain in the memories of many. He equally opposed the recent
campaign in the Soudan of Lord Salisbury's Cabinet, and the brutal
carnage commanded and excused by Kitchener. In India he was, at an
interval of a few years, the guest of two Viceroys, yet he never for a
moment consented to accept the views of either, although for both he had
strong personal friendship and regard. He thought (and thinks) the whole
system of English administration in India a cruel, costly and most
perilous mistake.

     'I believe,' he says, 'the natives capable of governing
     themselves much better than we can do, and at about a tenth
     part of the expense.

     'I have found a vast economic disturbance, caused partly by the
     selfish commercial policy of the English Government, partly by
     the no less selfish expenditure of the English official class.
     I have found the Indian peasantry poor, in some districts, to
     starvation; deeply in debt, and without the means of improving
     their position; the wealth accumulated in a few great cities
     and in a few rich hands, the public revenues spent to a large
     extent abroad, and by an absentee Government. I have been
     unable to convince myself that India is not a poorer country,
     now, than it was a hundred years ago, when we first began to
     manage its finances. I believe, in common with all native
     economists, that its modern system of finance is unsound, that
     far too large a revenue is raised from the land, and that this
     is only maintained at its present high figure by drawing on
     what may be called the capital of the country, namely, the
     material welfare of the agricultural class; probably, too, the
     productive power of the soil. I find a large public debt and
     foresee further financial difficulties.

     'Again, I find the ancient organisation of society broken up,
     the interdependence of class upon class disturbed, the simple
     customary law of the East replaced by a complicated
     jurisprudence imported from the West, increased powers given to
     the recovery of debt, and consequently increased facilities of
     litigation and usury. Also, great centralisation of power in
     the hands of officers daily more and more automatons and less
     and less interested in the special districts they administer.
     In a word, new machinery replacing, on many points
     disadvantageously, the old. I do not say that all these things
     are unprofitable, but they are not natural to the country and
     are costly and out of all proportion to the good. India has
     appeared to me in the light of a large estate which has been
     experimented on by a series of Scotch bailiffs who have all
     gone away rich.'

In another place he says with equal frankness:--

     'India seems to me just as ill-governed as the rest of Asia.
     There is just the same heavy taxation, government by foreign
     officials, and waste of money that one sees in Turkey. The
     result is the same; and I don't see much difference between
     making the starving Hindoo pay for a cathedral at Calcutta and
     taxing Bulgarians for a palace on the Bosphorus. Want cuts up
     all these great empires in their centralised governments.'

     'The "natives" as they call them,' he writes farther on, 'are a
     race of slaves, frightened, unhappy, and terribly thin. I own
     to being shocked at the Egyptian bondage in which they are
     held, and my faith in British institutions has received a
     severe blow.... I never could see the moral obligations
     Governments acknowledge of taxing people for debts which the
     Governments, and not the people, have incurred. All public
     debts, even in a self-governing country, are more or less
     dishonest, but in a despotism like India they are a swindle.'
     'It is my distinct impression,' he states in another portion of
     his too brief work, 'from all that I have seen and heard, that
     the ill-feeling now existing in India between the English there
     and the indigenous races is one which, if it be not allayed by
     a more generous treatment, will in a few years make the
     continued connection between England and India altogether
     impossible, and that a final rupture of friendly relations will
     ensue between the two countries, which will be an incalculable
     misfortune for both, and may possibly be marked by scenes of
     violence such as nothing in the past history of either will
     have equalled. The people are beginning to awake and to resent
     the stupidity of those who, representing England in India,
     wantonly affront them, and unless the English public at home,
     with whom as yet the Indian races have no quarrel, becomes
     awake, too, to the danger of its own indifference, the
     irreparable result of a general race hatred will follow. Only
     it should be remembered that India is a vast continent peopled
     by races ten times more numerous than ourselves, and then the
     convulsion, when it comes, will be on a scale altogether out of
     proportion to our experience, and so the more alarming. Let
     India once be united in a common sentiment of hatred for all
     that is English and our rule there will _ipso facto_ cease. Let
     it once finally despair of English justice, and English force
     will be powerless to hold it in subjection. The huge mammal,
     India's symbol, is a docile beast and may be ridden by a child.
     He is sensible, docile and easily attached. But ill-treatment
     he will not bear forever, and when he is angered in earnest his
     vast bulk alone makes him dangerous, and puts it beyond the
     strength of the strongest to guide him.'

All who are interested in the future of England and India should read
this volume, which, although written as far back as Lord Ripon's
viceroyalty, applies in all its lessons and all its warnings with ten
times greater force to the India of to-day, which, with the three-fold
curse upon it of famine, of drought, and of plague, finds the British
Government too engrossed in its aggressive and criminal war in South
Africa to come to the relief of its Indian Empire, where tens of
thousands of human lives, and millions of animals, are wasting in death
and in despair.



VII

JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN


Several years ago, at the moment when Mr Chamberlain, having abandoned
the Liberal Party, was adored by the party which calls itself
Conservative, I looked at him one evening after a dinner in a well-known
house in Belgrave Square. He was standing, surrounded by the loveliest
and most fashionable women of society, who were offering him a homage
which must have been delightful to him. It was an interesting, if rather
comical, spectacle, and I imagine that Chamberlain, though he gave no
sign of doing so, enjoyed it extremely, and laughed at it in his sleeve.
His physiognomy indicates his character; it has no distinction, but it
is full of energy, intelligence, and resolution; it is the physiognomy
of a tradesman, not of a statesman, of a person extremely keen and
acute, obstinate and cruel, but not by any means intellectual. The
eternal eyeglass serves to hide such expression as his features might
have, and the nose, short and _rétroussé_, makes plebeian lineaments
which might without this defect be sufficiently regular. In these later
times he has aged more than his years perhaps justify, and it is said
that he suffers from neuralgia and gout. He is always well dressed; 'too
well' an ex-Viceroy murmured to me that evening; and he is never seen,
as everyone knows, without an orchid in his button-hole; a flower always
culled in one of those famous orchid-houses at Highbury, which, before
his conversion, the Tory ladies longed so passionately to burn down, in
days when he was considered odious, accursed, almost an
Antichrist!--days not so very distant as the life of a nation counts.

It was always said, at the time of his apostasy, that he left the
Radicals out of jealousy of Gladstone's greater powers, and of the
magnetism which Gladstone exercised over all his colleagues; and also
because amongst the Liberals there was Lord Rosebery, then in the
fulness of promise; there was Vernon Harcourt, then extremely eloquent
and much followed; and there was also in the Home Rule Party that great
genius, known amongst men as Charles Stewart Parnell, in whom
Chamberlain felt an irresistible superiority. If this were the reason,
he must now be content, since in his present party he has no rival in
the Cabinet, no one ventures to contradict him, and he is _de facto_,
though not yet _de jure_, the head of the present Government. There have
been many men of distinction before him in the somewhat subordinate post
of Secretary of the Colonies, notably the late Lord Carnarvon, and the
first Lord Lytton; but no one has ever made of this Department the
throne of the Suprema Lex as Mr Chamberlain has contrived to do. The
fault of whom, or the fault of what, lies at the root of this
successful usurpation? Let us endeavour to discover, for the problem is
interesting; and one of its most strange phenomena is to see Robert
Cecil, Marquis of Salisbury, fallen under the dominion of the Birmingham
screw-maker.

In the whole of the Tory Party, Chamberlain has no one who opposes him,
no one who approaches him for strength of character and for acuteness of
perception, one may also add for unscrupulousness in principle and in
action. The sole person of the party who could have imposed authority
upon him by superiority of intellect would have been Lord Salisbury; but
either through force of energy on his own part, or by lack of energy on
his chief's, he has been able completely to rule and influence the
master of Hatfield, as he has succeeded in ruling and influencing all
others who sit round the ministerial table in Downing Street. A friend
of mine speaking once to me of Lord Salisbury, whom he knew intimately,
said, 'He is a fine big cannon, but he won't go off; I doubt if he will
ever go off.' It is probable that Chamberlain had the same opinion, and
therefore resolved himself to manoeuvre and fire the cannon. Anyhow,
he has acted well for himself in leaving the Radicals to ally himself
with their adversaries. If posterity blame him, and call him a turncoat,
I imagine that he is a man to whom the verdict of posterity is
absolutely indifferent. He is as 'hard as nails,' to use an appropriate
if common phrase; he is cynical and selfish; and to a politician of this
stamp, reputation in history is a matter of extreme indifference; fame
must seem to him only a carnival-masquer, noisily blowing a tin
trumpet.

Napoleon, after the campaign of Egypt, said once, 'If I die to-morrow I
shall only have half a page in a universal dictionary.' To Chamberlain,
I believe, it would be wholly indifferent to have the half page, or even
a whole page. What suffices to him is to dominate and lead other men
while he lives. He is called inordinately ambitious, but his ambition is
essentially practical, not ideal. He wishes for the loaves and fishes; a
laurel crown would be to him a useless thing, unless it represented to
him solid lucre. Would he have succeeded if he had been born half a
century earlier? I doubt it. In the first half of the past century, men
admired in the ministers who ruled them very different qualities to
those which he possesses. On the other hand, his qualities are precisely
those which beget and command fortune in the actual moment; and by this
I intend no compliment either to him or to his times.

In an epoch more courageous, more honest, more well-bred than the
present, a great Party calling itself Conservative would have repulsed
with contempt any renegade Radical, however disguised in the domino of a
Unionist. Instead, this Party has received him with open arms, nay, with
prostrate self-effacement, and worshipped him with enthusiasm; indeed,
the victory of the so-called Tories at the urns in 1895 would not have
been possible if Chamberlain had not permitted it; which he would not
have done unless he had been assured that he would enter and dominate
the Salisbury Cabinet. He has been equally happy in the occasions which
have presented themselves to him, and in his own capability in using
them; in the mediocrity of the men who combine with him, and of the men
who oppose him; in his infinite ability in influencing the first, and in
intimidating the last; he has been fortunate also in the fact that the
English people are less bigoted in religion than of old; for in an
earlier time they would have seen with horror a Unitarian entering the
Government. But his greatest good fortune of all was in the rise of the
Home Rule question at the very moment when he conceived the project of
going over to the Tory camp, which, without such an opportune reason to
give for it, would have appeared mere unworthy treachery. Without the
platform of Home Rule from which to make his _saut pèrilleux_, the leap
would have probably broken his neck; at any rate he could not have made
it with the certainty of being welcomed and rewarded by his new allies,
and of occupying amongst them a position far more conspicuous than he
ever occupied with the Radicals.

His favouring star has also given him the marvellous good luck that in
the past year the death of Lord Salisbury's consort has so depressed and
preoccupied the Premier that the latter has almost entirely ceased to
occupy himself with the cares of office, and the Colonial Secretary has
been given more and more completely, with every month, a free hand.

To me it has always seemed, during these later months of 1899, and
since, that the Sovereign should have bidden Lord Salisbury either
dismiss Chamberlain from office, or surrender office himself; for since
Chamberlain was allowed virtually to hold the helm of the State, he
should have been forced to accept the responsibility of the State's
navigation.

Chamberlain has frequently declared that he has not changed in anything;
that he has not been an opportunist; that the Tory Party has come to
him, and has granted all his desires, accepted all his policy; and in
this statement of his there is some truth, if not an entire truth. As
two negatives make an affirmative, perhaps two desertions make a
fidelity! It is certain that the Tory Party has forsaken its old paths
quite as much as Chamberlain has his, indeed probably far more, for
there is no conservatism whatsoever in the acts of the so-called
Conservative Cabinets, and in his there is a great deal of radicalism
still, even of socialism, though this is oddly united to a hybrid and
artificial toryism.

An eminent Conservative, a member of the Upper House, assured me the
other day that he honestly believed that Chamberlain had never done
anything which would prevent him at any time from being able,
honourably, to become the leader of the Radical Party. If this be
admitted, what are we to think of the Tory Party which can find no other
guide and saviour than this consistent Radical? Either the consistent
Radical, or the inconsistent Conservative Party, has 'ratted' in the
most barefaced manner. One or the other has been false to primal faith;
and there is only a very small band of independent thinkers who venture
to declare this. For Chamberlain has had the supreme cleverness to get
himself taken by the public as a patriot, and to oppose him, therefore,
lays open his opponent to a charge of want of patriotism. This is
extremely absurd; but it is to him enormously useful; and he knows that
the nation which he 'personally conducts' is not logical or critical. He
has taken its measure very accurately.

The new hysterical creed of 'Imperialism' doubtless gained an impetus,
Home Rule equally certainly lost, by the change of front of 'Birmingham
Joe.' But the aristocratic party was harnessed like a cab-horse to the
triumphal car of the New Unionist, and has ever since then remained thus
harnessed. In the history of English politics these passages will
contribute a chapter which will not edify the readers of the next
generation; especially if its climax be, as it will be almost certainly,
the apotheosis of Chamberlain after a campaign of aggression and
conquest conceived and carried out by him and the Yellow Press which he
inspires. It is he who is responsible for the financiers' war in South
Africa; he might call it proudly, '_my war_,' as the Empress Eugénie
called the war with Germany, '_ma guerre à moi_.' If he had never been
anything higher than Mayor of Birmingham the farmers of the Transvaal
would still be ploughing their lands in peace.

The war was desired, conceived, and imposed on his colleagues by the
Minister of the Colonies, without any appeal to or sanction of
Parliament. He denies this, but it is clearly proved by his famous
speech at Highbury and by the text of his irritating and provocative
despatches; and it was only when that war was begun, beyond all
possibility of alteration, that the Prime Minister, after long silence,
accepted the responsibility of it in his speech at the Guildhall. Lord
Salisbury, in that Mansion House speech, of course, denied the
allegation then made by the President of the French Chamber of Commerce
as to the motives and causes of the war; but no one who has attentively
followed the actions and expressions of Chamberlain before and after the
Jameson Raid, and his conduct at the enquiry held upon the conduct
therein of Cecil Rhodes, can for a moment doubt the intimate relations
which united the Colonial Secretary and the founder of Rhodesia and the
Chartered.

Chamberlain, who, at the close of the Committee of Enquiry of 1897, had,
in common with other signatories, signed a statement that Rhodes was
culpable, declared a few days later in the House of Commons that Rhodes
was a man whose honour was untarnished! This, more than any other fact,
shows to what depths it is now possible to descend in English politics.
Certainly, in the time of Peel or of the earlier Governments of
Gladstone, a Minister capable of such conduct would have lost alike
office and seat in Parliament. Chamberlain, living in times of more
elastic morality, did not lose even a single follower.

'Joseph Chamberlain has brought into English politics the habits and
criterions of a commercial traveller,' an eminent Englishman wrote to me
the other day. 'And of a commercial traveller not burdened by scruples.'
Now, the man of trade may have considerable qualities, great
intelligence, and great enterprise, but his mind and his acts are those
of a tradesman, not those of a gentleman, or of a statesman. Chamberlain
boasted in public one day that he belonged to the Party of Gentlemen;
now no gentleman would ever have so expressed himself.

The tradesman inevitably brings into public life the traditions of his
counting-house; those traditions are to try, invariably, _de rouler les
autres_. Now public life should be something more than, and very
different to, the pursuit of speculation; and its aims should be higher
than the mere desire to trick a rival and send shares up or down. True,
statecraft in our day is chiefly 'land-grabbing' and an effort to bridle
democracy by taxation. Still it is a different art to the art of the
merchant's or manufacturer's office. When Chamberlain endeavours to be
diplomatic he becomes inane: a person (who must have been very _naïf_)
wrote to him the other day to ask if it were true that it had always
been his wish and intention to make war on the Boers, he replied to this
simpleton of a correspondent, 'I fear there will always be those who
will attribute to me the worst motives. Tennyson has said that every man
attributes to another the motives which would actuate himself'--and that
was all! I imagine he thought this reply very ingenious and tactful.

He is no doubt adroit and ingenious in his management of men; but his
cunning does not wear the smiling and elegant mask which a politician's
should do. He does not possess the talent most necessary of all to a
politician, of taking refuge in exquisitely-turned phrases which seem to
reveal everything and reveal nothing. His voice is flexible and fine,
his deliverance imposes, but his statements are frequently impudently
cynical, and it is easy to discern that he holds men very cheap, and in
no way hesitates to use, to abuse, and to deceive them. He is never
really frank in his replies, though he affects candour; he often
approaches brutality; he loses his temper easily; and the spectator sees
by the nerves of his face and the movements of his limbs that he has not
the self-control and _sang-froid_, which are natural gifts of the man of
race and breeding. But despite these defects and these offences he has
conquered both society and his colleagues, and one sees scholarly and
refined men like Mr Arthur Balfour hopelessly and helplessly hypnotised
by him. He has taken with him into Downing Street the manners and the
methods with which he governed the town councillors of Birmingham; and
these succeed equally well in his altered atmosphere. 'We are all
horribly afraid of him,' one of his colleagues said the other day to a
friend of mine; probably because he is the only man amongst them
ill-bred and ill-tempered enough to be disagreeable and dangerous. In
earlier days, in those of Derby, of Palmerston, of Melbourne,
Westminster would not have tolerated him for a single session; in times
when orators quoting Greek or Latin verse were sure to be understood by
either House, when classical allusions were caught flying, when accuracy
and consistency were esteemed necessary in debate, the speeches of the
present Colonial Secretary would not have been thought tolerable.

But the Great Britain of Lord Grey, of Canning, of Sydney Herbert, of
the Rupert of Debate, of the first half of Gladstone's political life is
dead and gone; and Disraeli has passed over its grave, of which he was
the digger. Disraeli and his influence have dominated and penetrated
English political and social atmospheres, in their highest strata, as a
contagious fever enters and reigns in a district. It was a strange
phenomenon, the Venetian Jew leading by the leash the entire English
aristocracies. To trace the manifold reasons which enabled a man so
alien and antipathetic to the British nation in blood, in manner, in
appearance, in opinions, to dominate that nation so completely would
require many folio volumes; for there has never been anything more
singular, or more due to innumerable causes, all converging to one end.

No spectacle is more extraordinary than the power which Disraeli
acquired after being laughed down by everyone; acquired, and wields
still, so many years after his death. I think that his most potent
philtre lay in his flattery. He flattered his Sovereign, his party, and
the nation itself, with all the florid eloquence and subtle suggestion
of which he was so admirable a master. His famous 'Peace with Honour'
was an exact sample of his style; the peace was brittle and the honour
was dubious, but his manner of presenting them was so magnificent that
they were received as though they were gifts from heaven. An able writer
has said that the English are deficient in the power of observation, and
I believe it is true. They do not examine critically before committing
themselves to embrace a cause or an idea; they can easily be led into
any extravagance which humours their national humour. Disraeli played on
this weakness. He had himself a passion for advertisement, for varnish
and gilding, and florid decoration; all his speeches and all his
romances are spoilt by these; and he succeeded in inoculating with this
taste the English character to which it was naturally alien.

The first sign of the nation having been so inoculated was given when it
allowed Disraeli to call the Queen of England the Empress of India, and
change an ancient monarchy into a _parvenu_ empire. The first step
taken, the rest followed; the mania of what is considered aggrandisement
has acquired possession of the national life, and has made of a nation,
naturally noble and great, a swollen boaster, bawling of its millions,
its might, and its superiority, although surely vanity is no more
admirable in a country than in an individual? This alteration in the
British temper, which was primarily the work of Disraeli and of the new
nobility (chiefly commercial and largely Jewish), which was called into
being, prepared the ground for Chamberlain's Imperialism, a much coarser
and greedier thing, without any of the veil of ideality which Disraeli
lent to his creeds. In the time of Disraeli, the temper of England was
still largely coloured by an old aristocracy, retaining, with the
prejudices, the principles of gentlemen; now, the financiers and the
speculators make the old aristocracy dance to whatever music they
choose, and riches are the sole thing sought.

Every Ministry in England, on going out of office, leaves its contingent
of ennobled tradesmen, raised to the peerage solely for their money, and
for the way in which they have spent their money for the Party. In this
way the so-called Conservative leaders possess a solid phalanx of
supporters whose wealth makes them irresistible in the country, and who
practically send up to Westminster any men they choose. These great
_richards_ find Joseph Chamberlain more to their taste than Lord
Salisbury, who is too scholarly, too satirical, and too great a
gentleman for them; his health is failing, he speaks rarely, there is a
cynical contempt in his occasional speeches which cuts the _novi
homines_ like a whip. It is impossible that a man of Lord Salisbury's
pride of character and acuteness of intellect should much longer consent
to be the mere echo of his Colonial Secretary. There is every sign that
his retirement will be followed by the accession to the premiership of
Chamberlain. For months past the Imperialist Press, and notably that
journal which is the property of the Chancellor of the Primrose League,
has been insinuating that no one except Chamberlain is capable of rising
to the height required by advanced Imperialism: and what this journal
says is certain to be echoed by that party, which, with an audacity
almost sublime, still calls itself Conservative.

Chamberlain has continued the work of Disraeli, but he has done so by
vulgarising and brutalising it. The best qualities of the English
character are, under his influence, lost in a blatant self-admiration.
Its sense of morality is blunted; its leaders accept any denial or
excuse of the Minister of the Colonies, and he is applauded when, as an
independent Member said a few weeks since in the House of Commons, he
should be called to the bar of the House. Parliament, and the nation
after it, accept the suppression of despatches and telegrams, the use
and abuse of censorship, the denial and interruption of free speech, the
closure of debate at the moment when its continuance would be
inconvenient to ministers: all things previously intolerable to the
English people. Chamberlain has educated them into the abandonment of
all their ancient virtues. If, as he is almost certain to do if he live,
he become before long the Premier of England, he will do immeasurable
harm both to Great Britain and the world.

The reign of Queen Victoria has been a long succession of wars; few, if
any, were either necessary or inevitable. But not one of these has been
a war of defence at home; the English citizen and peasant know nothing
in their own land of the horrors of war; they have never seen its
desolation and its horrors; they have never seen their little children
crushed under the hoofs and wheels of a battery, their homes set on fire
by a shell, their sons starving, their fields devastated, their towns
beleaguered. They have never seen a battle, a siege, a trench full of
dead; therefore they do not know the hideous suffering which they
inflict when they let loose, in pride of spirit and lightness of heart
and triumphant vanity, the fiends of war upon a distant people and a
far-off land. This is the excuse of a large portion of the nation for
the present war; but it is at the same time the strongest condemnation
of those who preach war to it as a divine creed, and appeal to its most
brutal instincts, and abuse its ignorance to lead it into crime. The
victories now gained will be dearly bought, for they, and the national
madness they produce, will certainly set Joseph Chamberlain in the seat
of supreme power, and no one will have the courage to restrain his hand.
Bellona has served him so well now, she will be his chosen handmaid in
the future.[9]

[Footnote 9: It is possible, though little to be hoped, that the
complications in China (which any far-sighted statesman would have
foreseen and provided for) may open the eyes of the British people to
the terribly heavy bill which they will pay, eventually, for the luxury
of the Chamberlain Cabinet.]



VIII

UNWRITTEN LITERARY LAWS


There has been some idea mooted of forming an Academy in England on the
lines of the Academy of France, but it would never be the same kind of
institution, or exercise the same authority. The English temper is not
academic, the Royal Academy is proof enough of that. Moreover,
Englishmen are indifferent to the use or abuse of their language, and
the first care of an Academy must be to keep the national language pure,
and clear, and elegant. The well of English undefiled is sadly muddy,
nowadays, and any roaring screamer of English or American slang is as
welcome to those who call themselves critics as though he wrote like
Matthew Arnold or John Morley. Lacking an Academy of Letters, and the
writers who would make one, there is in London what is called a Society
of Authors, which is supposed to resemble the Société des Gens de
Lettres in Paris, but the English Society appears to be chiefly an
association for the multiplication and publication of inferior works,
and its authority on literature is _nil_. In addition to these, there
are persons who call themselves literary agents; but the latter have a
decidedly anti-intellectual influence, and to them is probably, in part,
due the enormous increase in the issue of rubbish of all kinds, which is
at the present time doing so much injury to the English literary
reputation.

The number of volumes which pour annually from the English press is, at
the present hour, appalling. One house alone produces, in number, enough
volumes for the whole trade. Why are these volumes, usually worthless,
ever produced? Why do the circulating libraries accept them? Who reads
them? Who buys them? Why does one see in the lists of London
'remainders' the announcement of volumes originally published at six,
eight, ten, twelve shillings, to be sold second-hand, perfectly new and
uncut, at the miserable prices of two shillings, eighteen-pence, one
shilling, and even sixpence? Amongst these is sometimes a work of real
and scholarly worth, which it is painful to see thus sacrificed, but
rarely; for it is rarely that such a work is now issued in London. Where
is this to end? With whom does the fault of it lie? Someone, I suppose,
must gain by such an insane method of over-production, but I cannot see
who it can possibly be. One well-known publisher tells me that he must
issue books thus, or starve. He is not in danger of bodily starvation,
but the public is mentally starved by such a system.

When the three-volume novel was abolished (a course which I urged long
before it was taken) great things were expected by many from its
abolition. I myself hoped that London would adopt the Paris method, and
issue novels and all other works, except _éditions de luxe_, at small
prices and in paper covers; not the gaudy, hideous, pictorial, paper
cover, but the pale smooth grey or cream-coloured paper, so easily
obtainable, with the title of the book clearly printed on its flank.
Instead of this result, some unwritten law, as violently despotic as
that which used to compel the three-volume issue, has decreed that the
London romance shall always appear in a cloth-bound volume at six
shillings; the most foolish price that could be selected, too dear to be
suitable for private purchase, too low to allow of a handsome edition
being issued. There is something grotesquely ludicrous, as well as
extremely painful, in seeing the lists of 'ten new six-shilling novels,'
or 'a dozen new six-shilling novels,' whereby some publishers'
advertisement lists are disfigured in the newspapers with every new
season. It makes a commerce of fiction in a manner most injurious and
deplorable.

Again, no sooner has the six-shilling novel been a year before the
public, than the publisher issues the self-same book at
two-and-sixpence. Why does he cut his own throat thus? It is to me as
inexplicable as why the London drapers sell you a stuff at six shillings
a yard in February, but, if you wait till June, sell it you at
two-and-sixpence a yard at the clearance sales. Either the stuff is sold
at a price unjust and unfair to the purchaser in February, or it is sold
at a price unjust and unfair to the vendor in June. From this
proposition there seems to me no escape.

It is the same with the six-shilling book as with the draper's stuffs.
If the first price be correct, why alter it to the second in a year's
time? If the second price be sufficient to pay expense of production,
why not start with it.

The draper, moreover, has an advantage over the publisher. If I want a
stuff whilst it is a novelty, and when its like has not been worn by
shop girls and servant girls, I must buy it at its high price in
February; but if I want to read a novel whilst it is at its highest
price, I can read it in that form, taking it from the libraries, and
wait for a year to buy it at its lower price, if I then care to do so,
which it is improbable that I shall do.

Now, why not have from first to last, in London, an edition of a novel
similar to that French form which is good enough for Pierre Loti, for
Gyp, for Anatole France, for the brilliant Frères Margueritte? Why?

I suppose because our masters, the librarians, will not have it so; or
because some other unwritten law lies like lead on the souls of London
publishers.

I read few English books for pleasure myself, I prefer the literatures
of other countries; but it pains me to see such a deluge of worthless
verbosity pour from London lanes and London streets where printing
presses of yore worked for Addison and Goldsmith, Thackeray and Arthur
Helps.

If this stream of pseudo-literature be not stopped, it will carry away
and swamp all true English literature under it, as a moving bog covers
flocks and pastures, cottages and country seats.

I have asked several London publishers why it is allowed to go on; their
answers are evasive and contradictory. They assert that most of the
volumes published are paid for by the authors; that they themselves must
publish something, or cease to exist as a trade; and that the public
does not know good from bad, so it does not matter what is printed. Yet,
surely to them, as to the drapers, the apparently insensate system must
be lucrative, or it would not be pursued?

There was a comical lamentation in the London Press the other day for
what was called 'the death of the novel'; not the approaching death
which I expect for it by suffocation under the dust-storms of verbosity
and imbecility, but of death by its own suicide, through its own
curtailed proportions. It was indignantly asked why it was not as long
as it used to be in the 'Fifties and 'Sixties, and why novelists now
wrote short stories which in that period would have found no sale, would
not, indeed, have even found the preliminary necessary to a
sale-publication.

Surely we remember some short stories called _The Cricket on the Hearth_
and _The Chimes_, and others telling the adventures of the Great
Hoggarty Diamond and of one Barry Lyndon? As for the length of novels
nowadays, my own _Massarenes_, published in 1897, contains precisely the
same number of words as _Esmond_, and, I think, Mr Mallock's novels, and
those of Mrs Humphry Ward, must surely be quite as long, whilst Mr Hall
Caine's marvellous narratives appear as endless as 'the thread of Time
reel'd off the wheel of Fate.' The critic who grieves over the brevity
of present-day volumes, thinks that Thackeray and Dickens wrote at such
length because they were obliged to fill their monthly numbers! It seems
to me far more likely that they were in love with their characters, as
every writer of true talent is, and lingered tenderly over many needless
details and dialogues out of sheer pleasure in their creations; and it
must be admitted that both of them had naturally a discursive style,
which would have been the better for some excision. But were it true
that there is an unwritten law which limits or expands the length of
romances according to the public caprice or taste, surely nothing could
be more harmful to fiction than such limitation? Every story, if it be
worth the telling, has its own natural length, which cannot be stretched
or shortened arbitrarily without hurt. The sculptor knows that the form
which he creates has its own natural proportions, its own inherent
symmetry according to natural rules, which he must obey. The painter
knows that, according to the nature of his subject, and of his intended
treatment, he must take for his picture, either a small panel, a
kit-kat, or a large canvas; and that if he force its dimensions, either
by over-compression or over-extension, his work will be a failure.

Why is the author not bound by the same canon of art? Artistically, he
certainly is so bound. Intellectually, he certainly is so bound. That
this obligation is continually defied and broken through by many English
writers, proves only that the great majority of these writers are not
artists in any sense of the word.

The brevity or length of a literary work can have nothing to do with its
beauty or excellence. If it be beautiful, if it be excellent, its
proportions will be those which naturally grew out of its subject; and
the writer who is an artist will know, as the painter knows, that he
cannot alter the unwritten law which prescribes to him those
proportions. What has either length or brevity to do with either
excellence or beauty? What give both excellence and beauty are qualities
not to be measured by a publisher's counting up of words, or a printer's
enumeration of pages.

A sketch of a few pages of Maupassant's is worth all the volumes put
together of Georges Ohnet; one of the _Sonnets of Proteus_ is worth the
whole swagger of the _Seven Seas_.

There seems to be, unhappily, an unwritten law in English literature
that cheapness must of necessity be allied to ugliness. A cheap book is
in England an inferior and unlovely thing. But it need not be so. It is
not so everywhere. I have now before me a book of Pompeo Molmenti's,
issued by Bemporad, of Florence; its cost is two francs twenty-five
centièmes; less than one-and-sixpence in your money. It is bound in
thick cream-coloured paper; it is called _Il Moretto di Brescia_, being
a brief study of the life and works of the great artist of whose pure
and noble work the city of Brescia is full. That the text is of rare
scholarly excellence, and of the finest critical and appreciative
qualities, there can be no question, since it is written by the
President of the Accademia delle Arte of Venice. The type is large, the
paper fine, the illustrations (phototyped) are of extreme delicacy and
beauty, rendering worthily the works of the Moretto; the size of the
book is Imperial 8vo.

Will you tell me where I should find anything equal to it at its price
in London?

Your books are all ill-stitched, and fall to pieces as soon as one
handles them. Your type is usually ugly, even at its best; all foreign
readers complain of its clumsiness and confusing effect on the eyes.
Compare a page of a Parisian book at three francs and a half with a page
of a six-shilling English novel. The former is incomparably the
superior. Your cheap illustrated books are still more scandalously
treated. I have before me a book priced four-and-sixpence, more than
double the price of _Il Moretto_. It is a book for children; its
illustrations have been reproduced from earlier works, and they are not
even all of the same method or the same size; some are printed from old
wood-blocks, some are photographed; in one a child is represented the
size of a fly, in another a dog is drawn bigger than a man; anything is
thought good enough, it seems, for children. Artistic beauty is entirely
lacking in the illustrations of English juvenile books; and there is
nothing so irritating as the sight of illustrations of various qualities
bound up in the same volume.

Even certain illustrated periodicals and journals are not above using up
their old wood-blocks in their new numbers. It is a very disgraceful and
unworthy practice. When the illustrations are fresh, the designer
frequently does not attempt to adapt them to the text; a gentlemen is
drawn like a cad, and a Newfoundland dog is drawn like a poodle; a
peasant of the Romagna is drawn like a loafer in Shoreditch, and so on
continually, without the slightest attention to accuracy.

There is also, beyond all doubt, an unwritten law which has been so
universally observed that it has become, properly, as binding as a
written law. I mean the law that when once a romance, or a story, or a
poem have been published they cannot be altered.

What should we think of the painter who repainted his picture after
sale, or of a sculptor who sawed off an arm from his statue, and affixed
another? Both picture and statue may have many faults; they probably
have; but such as they went out from the studio they must remain. This
is the common morality, the elementary honour, of art, and a similar
canon should certainly lie upon literature.

Yet some writers have of late presumed that they had a right to change
the ending of their romances when these were already well known to their
readers. They would urge, I suppose, that they have a right to do what
they like with their own. But your work once given to the public is no
more your own than your daughter is when you have married her, and she
has become the _Gaia_ of her _Gaius_.

Besides, there is an unspoken good faith on the part of the author which
should be observed in his relations towards the public. He should give
them nothing which is incomplete; nothing, at least, which is not as
harmonious as it is in his power to create. Every work of fiction
requires to be long dreamed of, long thought of, clearly seen in the
mind before written; it ought to be no more susceptible of change than a
conclusion in Euclid. To the writer, as to the reader of a story, it
should seem absolutely true; the actors in it should appear absolutely
real. The illusion of reality is only strong in the reader according to
the strength of that illusion in the writer; but some such illusion must
always exist whilst the reader reads fiction, or fiction would have no
attraction for anyone. The writer who alters his romance after it has
once appeared destroys this illusion, and says effectively to his
public, 'What fools you are to take me seriously!' Moreover, he insults
them, for he tells them that he has set before them a half-finished and
immature thing, about which he has entirely changed his mind. He is like
a cook who should snatch off the table a dish just placed on it because
he wished to alter the flavour. A Vätel or a Soyer would not do that: if
he had made a mistake he would abide by it, though he might kill himself
in despite at it.

In the course of a literary or artistic life, or any other life from
which the blessing of privacy has been lost, there are many wrongs met
with which are real and great wrongs, yet which must be endured because
they cannot be remedied by law suits, and there is no other kind of
tribunal open; nothing analogous, for instance, to the German Courts of
Honour in military matters.

There is, for example, a habit amongst some editors of seeking the
expression of opinion, on some political or public question, of some
well-known writer; printing this expression of opinion, and, before it
is published, showing the proof to some other writer, so that an article
of contrary views and opinions may be written in readiness for the
following number. Now this seems to me an absolutely disloyal betrayal
of trust. In the first place, the proof of an article is of necessity
entirely dependent on the good faith of the editor. It is an understood
thing, a tacit, unwritten law, that no one except the editor is to see
it until the public does so. It is never considered necessary to
stipulate this. To show it to a third person to obtain a refutation, or
a burlesque, of it before the article is published, seems to me a
distinctly incorrect thing to do; an extremely unfair thing to do. Yet
it is becoming a common practice; and a writer has no redress against
it. It is manifestly not the kind of offence which can be taken into a
tribunal, yet it is a very genuine and very annoying injury, and it is
one against which I think that authors, whose names are of value, should
be protected in some manner.

What redress, moreover, is there for the innumerable thefts from which a
writer suffers during his career? I doubt if we, any of us, know the
extent to which we are robbed by bookmakers, who are not of the turf,
but are quite as unscrupulous as those of the turf.

A few years ago I saw, in the pages of one of the highest class of
London periodicals, a story, contained in one number, which was nothing
more or less than the reproduction of the Derbyshire part of my
well-known novel of _Puck_: the narrative of Ben Dare and his love for
his worthless sister Anice. It was far more than a plagiarism; it was a
monstrous theft. The name of a lady was put at the end of it, as that of
the author; of course, I wrote to the editor, expecting, despite
previous experiences, to receive apology and reparation. I misunderstood
my generation. The editor wrote back, with airy indifference, that the
lady who had produced this shameless piracy had never read _Puck_. To
my citation, in reply, of the words of the Emperor Julian, 'If it be
sufficient to deny, who will ever be found guilty?' and to my objection
that an appropriation of an entire section of a novel could not by any
possibility be otherwise than an intentional theft, this model of
editors replied not at all. I ought, perhaps, to have sued the
publisher, who was doubtless quite innocent, but had I done so it is
more than probable that I should have obtained no apology or redress. To
begin a law suit is a very serious thing, and all these grievances and
piracies are so incessant, though few are quite as impudent as was this,
that if one pursued them as they merit one would spend all one's life
and substance in Courts of Law.

Moreover, in the case of the plaintiff in any suit residing out of
England, a large sum for costs must be deposited at the English tribunal
into which the suit is brought; a kind of foregone conclusion that the
plaintiff has no valid case, which seems to me very prejudicial to that
person.

What, then, is to be done in such circumstances?

Nothing at all. You must endure the injury, leave unpunished the
plagiarism; and the offender escapes scot-free.

I do not think that anyone should sue another for any mere expression of
opinion, however hostile or rudely expressed, as Mr Whistler sued Mr
Ruskin, for the liberty of the Press is of more importance than the
annoyance of individuals.

But some protection is required against swindling in literature; and at
the present moment none exists. Practically none exists either against
libel. I saw, a few years ago, three very gross and libellous English
newspaper articles upon myself, and sent them to a high personage in the
law, who is always kind enough to give me his advice, and asked him if
he considered it worth while for me to prosecute them. He wrote me in
answer: 'All three articles are foully slanderous, yet one only,
perhaps, would come within the grip of the law; upon this one you would
most certainly obtain damages, but prosecution entails so much expense,
trouble, worry, and insult, to the aggrieved party, that I would always
say to any friend of mine what I say now to you: Do not do that which
you have a perfect right to do.'

I followed the advice, for if one asks counsel of a person whom one
respects, one ought to submit to it; but the fact remains that, for the
most offensive social libels, there is, neither in law nor in society,
any means of obtaining redress which a great lawyer can honestly
recommend to a friend. For such matters, why cannot there be a tribunal
set apart from other tribunals; one having the attributes of a Court of
Honour, and without the odious publicity of Courts of Law?

Against libel, even of the grossest character, what can one do, as the
law stands, which is not more disagreeable than silently to 'grin and
bear' it? The great preliminary cost; the extreme uncertainty and
irritation involved, the odious publicity necessarily incurred; the
chatter, the comments, the cross-examination; the insolence and the
jeers of the counsel for the defence, are all punishments which fall
upon the plaintiff. What consolation is it for them that he may perhaps
be awarded a thousand pounds damages, though it is more probable that he
will receive only a farthing, and be left to the enjoyment of paying his
own costs? In either result, is the game worth its very costly candle?
Is the injury made less an injury? Is the combat not in every sense most
unjust and unequal, being less a combat indeed than an assassination by
a bravo? To what can we ever look for any remedy of this except from the
unwritten law of opinion? But as the world is at present constituted it
delights far too greatly in this garbage for it ever to rebuke the
providers of it. Hogs do not rend the man who carries the swill-tub.

In one of the Prince Consort's letters to his eldest daughter, then
Crown Princess of Prussia, he tells her to set aside a portion of her
money every year to meet the inevitable blackmail which will certainly
be levied upon her. This blackmail is levied on every kind of success as
well as on royalty. What is to be done? To submit to it, is repugnant to
all one's sense of justice; to rebel against it, however such resistance
be justified, is often ruinous.

The true remedy would lie in a finer, juster, higher kind of public
feeling; but where is there any likelihood of this arising in the world
as it is?

My own feeling is very strongly always against the anonymity of the
Press. Everyone surely should have the candour and courage to put his
signature after his opinions. But, unfortunately, the Press gains so
much importance (fictitious importance) from its anonymity that it is
hopeless to ask for an unwritten or a written law on this subject. The
arrogant 'we' would soon fall to zero in its influence on the public if
it were signed by a Tom, Dick, or Harry, who, as Matthew Arnold used to
say, forms his opinions from what he overhears on the knifeboard of a
city or suburban omnibus. It is, perhaps, worthy of a nation which
treats duelling as a penal offence to countenance anonymous assertions,
anonymous opinions, anonymous bravado, and anonymous insults; but the
result cannot be beneficial to the national character.

For many months in this past year, and in the year before that, hundreds
of anonymous correspondents and leader-writers of the English Press have
been doing their utmost by violence of language to drive to war the
nations of England and of France. Is it not probable, even certain, that
if all these writers had been obliged to sign their names to these
furious articles, they would have paused before making themselves
responsible for such language? I am often accused of using too strong
language; but at all events I sign whatever I say, and I should be
ashamed to do otherwise. An anonymous Press possesses dangerous
privileges; such privileges as the mask gives a masquerade; it also, as
I have said, acquires a dignity and an importance which are not its own;
it is unfair and harmful; it protects exaggeration, hyperbole, flattery,
and calumny, but it is too useful to too many not to be sustained; it
can always serve the Bourses much better than a signed Press could do,
and obey much more efficiently the nods and signs and cypher dispatches
of the great financiers; but it is cowardly, and can easily, if it
chooses, be dishonest.

It will, perhaps, be objected that the anonymity of the Press is more
apparent than real; that the greater writers of the London Press at
least are all recognised by their style, or well known by the initiated;
but this knowledge is limited to a few hundred persons, and can never be
shared by the general public, and it is on the general public that
anonymous journalism has its chief influence.

To whom or what can we look for the pressure of an influence which would
enforce honesty in literature? To public opinion? Undoubtedly we might,
and we should, if public opinion were what it should be. But it is not,
and, most probably, never will be. Breeding and manners grow worse every
day; and it is they alone which could enforce that unwritten code which
is so sorely needed. It is, after all, the absence of moral and
honourable feeling in the world in general which makes the violation of
these not only condoned by others but frequently profitable to the
sinners. Take two instances of this: The sale of private letters both of
the living and of the dead; and the seizure of the plots and characters
of romances by people who are themselves dramatic adapters. The latter
is the more trivial offence of the two; but it is as impudent as it is
dishonest. It is injurious in a great degree, and extremely annoying to
the original author, whose name is bawled and placarded about in
connection with that of his robber, with no consent of his own, and
usually to his extreme irritation, whilst his ideas are borrowed, and
his characters travestied, and his entire creation belittled and
vulgarised. Would the stalls be filled nightly to witness pieces stolen
in this manner were the public governed by any unwritten law of respect
for _meum_ and _tuum_?

The other offence of selling letters is still more heinous; it is
difficult to conceal the piracy of a romance for theatrical purposes,
but it is perfectly easy to conceal the sale of letters; head it the
sale of autographs, and it passes with entire impunity. There is, I
believe, a law (a written law) that letters are the property of the
writer of them; but it is absolutely a dead law; as dead as many of
those of the Tudors or Stuarts. I think that letters ought to be the
property of the recipient, but it should be an inalienable property
which he should be no more able to sell than he is able to sell entailed
property. To write a letter, even a brief one, is, in a sense, an act of
confidence. In writing it we assume that its contents will not be used
against us, either for injury or ridicule. If a conversation be
considered confidential, how much more should a correspondence be so! A
letter, in any degree intimate, is a hostage given into the hands of its
recipient. We are justified in expecting that any sentiments, views, or
opinions it may contain shall not go beyond the reader for whom they
have been penned. This is so much to be desired in the interests of all
letter-writers that no one, I think, can dispute its justice. What,
then, are we to say of the constant appearance in catalogues of sales of
letters of living, and of lately dead, persons?

If it be, as I understand, illegal, why is it permitted publicly? If it
be not thus illegal, why does not general indignation render it
impossible? I have more than once seen, in the autograph-albums of men
and women of the world, letters of the most intimate character by
distinguished writers; letters which have been evidently written in the
careless, open-heartedness of a warm friendship, and which were lying on
a drawing-room or library table, open to the sneer, the jest, or the
wonder of everyone who turned over the pages of the book.

'N'y touchez pas, N'y touchez pas! Je l'ai payé vingt louis!' cried, in
my hearing, a lady (a _rastaquouère_), who owned amongst other
autographs a letter which it was especially wrong to place in such a
collection, since the writer of it is great and is alive. Not for twenty
louis, not for twenty thousand, should it ever have been purchasable.
What traitor sold it? What servant stole it? How did it find its way
into the market, that familiar and intimate thing? Through treachery,
through death, through accident, through greed? We shall never know. It
was certainly not through friendship.

Surely, also, some unwritten law should prescribe and limit the license
of caricature. It is scarcely fair that, because a personality has
interest and eminence attached to it, every draughtsman who can scrawl a
line can make that personality hideous or ridiculous at pleasure.

'You cannot like it?' I said once to a person of considerable eminence,
who was the subject that week of one of the 'Portraits' of a satirical
and political English journal of wide circulation.

'No, I do not!' he answered. 'Of course, I should not object to it if it
were a pen-and-ink drawing being handed about to amuse people in my own
country house; but when one knows that it will be seen by tens of
thousands of people who will never see me in the flesh, the thing
becomes annoying.'

His opinion must be shared by all those who are thus pilloried, even if
they think it politic to laugh and seem indifferent.

It is 'the penalty of distinction,' the offenders reply. But why should
distinction be weighted by a penalty, like the successful racer? I
believe that the world in general is the loser by this kind of
persecution; for dislike to the vulgar ridicule which snarls at the
heels of all eminence in this day, keeps aloof from the public arena men
who would do honour to it, but whose strength of intellect is
accompanied by shyness, pride, and sensitive reserve. Some unwritten law
should also render impossible those verbal libels which are continually
published by persons cunning enough to keep to the windward side of law
in the offensive matter which they write. This is again another
penalty-weight laid on the back of the racer who has won; and it is
precisely this kind of penalty from which an unwritten law, in the
Press, and in the world, should protect such winners of the gold cups of
life.

The unwritten law of common honour should make such a book as that which
was recently issued on Bismarck impossible, because those who would have
the power of writing it would be above the temptation of doing so. There
may be a strong temptation to say what we know better than any other of
one whose name is eminent. But I doubt whether we should yield to the
temptation, even if we ourselves suffer in reputation by not doing so.
But the bookmakers of the world have no such excuse as this temptation
offers; they are merely footmen who have listened with pricked ears
whilst they waited at table on their masters, and when their master is
powerless to chastise, sell what they remember or invent. Even where it
is not libellous, the sickening intrusion into private life which
nowadays disgraces journalism must, to any temper of any refinement and
reserve, be an offence irritating beyond endurance. There are flatteries
and intrusions beside which censure is sweet and obloquy would be
welcome.

There is a great pathos in the fact that the greatest man of these last
fifty years, the man of blood and iron, should, as soon as he lies in
his coffin, be insulted by such a book as this. The hand in its steel
gauntlet, which welded fragments into a nation, is powerless to defend
its owner against betrayal and false witness. The vulgar, insatiable
curiosity of the general world breeds such traitors as these makers of
post-mortem recollections; breeds them, nourishes them, recompenses
them. There would be no supply if there were no demand. The general
world has a greedy appetite for diseased food; as with its jaws it
devours putrid game, decayed oysters, and the swollen livers of tortured
geese, so it loves to devour with its frothy brain all that belittles,
ridicules, dishonours, or betrays the few amongst it--the very few!--who
are above it in mind, in will, in force, in fame. 'Come, come!' they cry
to the great man's servants when the great man lies dead; 'tell us, you
who saw him in his hours of abandonment, tell us of all that can drag
him down nearer to our level! Tell us of his varicocele, tell us of his
dyspepsia, tell us of his caprices, tell us of his humours, tell us of
his tears when his poisoned dog lay dying--you saw them through the
keyhole--tell us of his hasty words, his pettish foibles, his human
mortal waywardness--you know so much about them, you who waited behind
his chair and filled his tobacco-pouch--come, come, comfort us; his
great shadow seems still to lie upon the earth and make us small and
crawling insects crushed by his spurred boot--come, come, comfort us!
Tell us, show us, make us happy belittling him; let us, the envious, the
puny, the mean, rejoice, for you who cleaned his boot and held his bare
foot in your hired hand, can tell us that he, the maker of emperors and
of nations, he, the Mighty, had Achilles' heel!' For there is an
unwritten law, not of literature but of life, which decrees that the
jealousy of the small soul for the great soul shall be cruel and
deathless as Fate.[10]

[Footnote 10: Since this was written, the letters of Ruskin and Rossetti
have been published: a greater offence against dead men could not be
committed.]



IX

AUBERON HERBERT


This little square book, the colour of meadow forget-me-nots, is so
modest and simple that it may very easily be passed over in a period
which has little sympathy with tenderness of feeling and simplicity of
expression. The verses, of which this small volume is full, resemble the
_stornelli_ and _rispetti_ of Italian songs rather than any kind of
verse which has preceded them in English literature, unless it be the
earliest and briefest songs of Robert Lytton, with which they have a
certain kindred, both in their measure and in their themes. Auberon
Herbert is known to the world as a daring and original thinker, a
sociologist who lives three centuries before his time, a fearless
preacher of new liberties and ideal creeds; in this tiny azure booklet
he is also a poet, or, as he would rather himself say, a singer. The
verse springs from the depths of his heart, and calls to those who, like
himself, have loved and suffered and found nothing endure except the
consolations of natural beauty.

    'In the West is the golden glory,
      As the great king goes to his rest;
    In the East the purple staineth
      The hills from foot to crest.

    'And I stand and look in wonder
      Till my heart is cleft in twain,
    Half for the vision of glory,
      And half for the dying pain.'

Like the Italian _canzone_, these little lyrics, brief as a summer
breeze, which momentarily sways the stalks of grass, must be heard with
the ear of the heart. Coldly criticised by the mind alone, they will lie
like the gathered field-poppy, inert and colourless. They are the cries
of the heart, like those brief verses which the southern lover sings to
the sobbing lute beneath the moon. He who has killed his heart in the
pressure of the world will find nothing in them. They who are steeped in
the chill indifference of mundane interests will no more heed them than
such heed the skylark's or the linnet's song, which they resemble. They
were not written in the study, or fashioned with the pruning-knife; they
were born by the edge of the sea, in the woodland shade, by the clover
path of the country hedge, in the falling rain of the peach and
pear-blossoms, in the starlight above the olives. They are the elder
children of the lonely shores and flowering pastures; they have never
known the gaslight of the streets or the electric light of the
drawing-room. They are as sweet and pure as violets.

To those who know, and respect as they should be respected, the virile
and original philosophies of the writer, there is an added charm in
these tender blossoms in the fact that they spring from the same
intelligence as that which proclaims individualism in its boldest forms
and attacks the tyrannies of social and political superstitions.

They are but little songs, short as a ripple of music from a woodlark's
throat, of no more account, if you will, than the blue stars of
mouse-ear by the brook's side, than the dog-rose on the bank; too simple
it may be said, speaking of emotions too trite, of sorrow too common, of
sights too familiar, in language that the dullest can scarce fail to
understand. Yes; no doubt, they are like field-flowers, like
hedge-birds; they claim to be no more than these; they were not wrestled
for as Wordsworth wrestled for an ode beneath the shadow of Rydal, or as
Coleridge strove with the rebellious forces of a halting sonnet when
lying down face foremost amongst 'the common grass.' They are
spontaneous utterances, as natural as the ripple of the water over the
cresses in a brook's bed beneath willow and alder. It may be easy to
dismiss them with indifference, to underrate them with hypercritic
sneer, and assuredly those who take pleasure in the strained archaic
obscurities of much modern verse will find no more charm in them than
the languid æsthete, musing over the pages of Verlaine and Mallarme,
would find in a sea-wet breeze blowing across a hayfield at early
morning. There is no studied mannerism, no sought-for darkness of
expression, no exaggerated ecstasy or pessimism; there is such a natural
feeling, of joy as of sorrow, as comes to the soul at once robust and
sensitive; and these are expressed with frank, unstudied _naïveté_, with
the candour as of a child, and the self-control of a man blent in their
simplicity. 'Look in your own heart and write,' has been the only
precept which their creator has obeyed.

The most intense attachment in them is for the sea. The sea, whether
those grey sad tides which sway from the sands of Christchurch to the
rocks of Freshwater, or that azure radiance which rolls from the
headland of Antibes to the gardens of Porto Fino, has the same magic for
Auberon Herbert that it has for Algernon Swinburne; a charm much calmer
and more peaceful, but not less strong. Many of these little poems speak
of the sea only; are full of that happy sense of return and recognition
which so many amongst us feel when, after absence from the sea, we tread
again its wet salt sands, and feel its white spray dance against our
cheek. Swinburne is the great laureate of ocean, the chords of whose
mighty lyre reverberate with the ocean storm and echo the thunder of
breakers breaking upon iron shores, and of billows sweeping from pole to
pole. The song of Auberon Herbert is the homing cry of the sea-swallows
swaying on the crest of the waves.

'Back to the Sea Mother' he calls these yearning lines:--

    'Kindest of mothers, from whom I have strayed,
      Back again, tired, I come to thee,
    Chaunting and crooning the old wave-song;
      Sing it, oh! sing it again to me!

    'Weary and spent as the hour draws near,
      Hush me to sleep with the soft wave-song;
    Wash all the cares away, wash all the strifes away,
      All the old pains that to living belong.

    'Down at thy side I place me to rest;
      Slowly my senses are stealing from me;
    Passions and pleadings have ceased in my breast,
      Gently my spirit floats away free.'

And yet again:--

    'Thou great strong sea, fast lock'd in dreams,
      Clouds journeying to and fro,
    Whose tender blue the stars come through,
      I can but love ye so!

    'Ye take possession of my heart,
      And all my life renew;
    Like grain of dust I grow a part,
      A small stray part of you.

    'Thy sounds, O storm, are far and faint,
      As thou stridest over the sea;
    And we need thy breath from many a taint
      To set us clean and free.

    'But when thou comest on mighty wings,
      Deal gently with forest and tree,
    For my heart is woe for the goodly things
      That to-morrow will cease to be.

    'Yes! I shall go and you will dream,
      And drink the pale blue sky,
    Beneath the hill that hugs you round
      As silver days go by.

    'When others come your love to claim,
      You still, you pale blue sea,
    Oh, shall you mean for them the same,
      That once you meant for me?

    'And shall they look on you with eyes
      As tender true as mine,
    And love each changing gleam that flies
      Across that face of thine?'

I dislike the translation of expression from one art to another,
otherwise I would call these verses impressionist. They have the
quickly-captured forms, the frail fugitive colour, the infinite
suggestiveness, which are the notes of the highest impressionism in
painting.

See these eight lines:--

    'The sun is at rest--for the storms are o'er;
      Just touch'd with the hand of night,
    And a line of shadow creeps to the shore,
      Then flashes in silver light--

    'Like a note that stops in its flight and droops,
      And clings for a while to the ground;
    Then trembles and wakes from its trance and breaks
      Into passion and glory of sound.'

How entirely true are these to the breaking of a smooth, pale expanse of
water into motion and light; the sudden flashing as of a million spears
with which the sea, when smitten by the sword of the Sun, rises to the
challenge of Morning. And yet by what simple and common words this
strong effect is produced!

Or this:--

    'Only a bit of land-locked bay,
      With a haunting face on the further side;
    Yet the ocean as well might bar the way,
      So far from each other our lives divide.

    'For you jest at times, and at times you pray,
      And you tread a path that cannot be mine;
    And the world is with you from day to day,
      And all that you are I dare not divine.'

Or this:--

    'In the glory of youth the young man went;
      His heart with pride was stirred;
    "They should yield," he cried, "to the message sent,
      And force of the burning word."

    'The long years passed and a wearied man
      Crept back to the old home door:
    "I have spoken my word and none has heard,
      And the great world rolls as before."'

Or this:--

    'Forward we look, and we gild it all,
      Rich is the picture and tender and fair,
    Backward we look, and the blue mists fall,
      Veiling the troubles that once were there.

    'Ah! well, and ah! well, and lighter the load,
      If heart the enchanter weave his web;
    If he tells love-stories to cheat the road,
      And binds in our dreams the purple thread.'

Or this:--

    'Ah! love so sweet, and patient, and fond,
      I wandered far from thy sight,
    And I said to myself that the world beyond
      Was a garden rich with delight.

    'And there rose an image from morn to morn
      Of new bewildering days,
    Till my heart grew proud and I thought with scorn
      Of the peaceful homely ways.

    'For the young are light, and I never had learnt
      To know the false from the true,
    And my feet were drawn where the far lights burnt
      With their wonder strange and new.

    'And now how bitter to heart is the taste,
      And gone are the folly and pride;
    And I save what I can from the years of waste
      And stand once more at thy side.'

It will be seen that the store of words at the singer's command is
limited; his palette is set with few colours; his lute has but few
strings; and it is in this that he resembles the singers of the Italian
folk-songs and couplets which have only the limited vocabulary of the
peasant to express so many of the deepest chords of human feeling. These
English verses might, like those Italian _canzone_, be created by one to
whom all the stores of knowledge and of culture were sealed books. They
are cast in the simplest of all possible forms of expression, and there
is not one which would not suit the plaintive measure of a crooning
ballad sung in twilight by the embers of a cottage hearth. They suggest
their own music, and it would be difficult to read them aloud without
falling into some rhythmical balance of their lines.

Auberon Herbert is, we know by his prose works, master of rich stores of
language and of scholarship; therefore this simplicity of style in his
verses springs, not from poverty of resources, but from correctness of
instinct. These songs are _naïf_ as a child's prayer at its mother's
knee at eventide; were they ornate or elaborate they would cease to be,
as they are now, the frank and spontaneous utterances of the soul,
natural, I have said, as song of linnet or of lark.

Let those who love pure, simple, unstudied, and unborrowed things send
for the little azure book, and read it for themselves; not in noisy
railway train, or metropolitan library, or fashion-filled country house;
but in the solitude of some quiet rural place, beside some nameless
streamlet where the willow-leaves touch the blue brook-lime and the bees
hum amidst the flowering thyme.

When we take it home, as the day dies, let us place it on a shelf
between the hymns of George Herbert and those earliest love-songs which
were signed Owen Meredith. There it will find its fit companionship.



X

THE UGLINESS OF MODERN LIFE


Pierre Loti has lately written in an album published at Schweningen for
charity the following passages, which will be new to the majority of
English readers:--

     'The end of April is the season of change, when the Judas trees
     all along the shores of the Bosphorus are in flower. Nowhere
     else in the world does one find so many Judas trees as here,
     where the two extremities of Asia and of Europe are face to
     face. There are violet-hued tufts and violet-hued alleys; an
     excess of violet colour so intense, and so unusual, that one's
     sight is dazzled and bewildered by it. And the wisteria too,
     which garlands the old eaves of houses with its millions of
     clusters, hangs out wreaths of a lighter lilac from all the
     hamlets of grey timber which lean down over the water. This
     Bosphorus is a great winding river, but a river which has in it
     the life and the seduction of the sea. The hills on its two
     shores are covered by palaces, by mosques, by cottages and by
     tombs, all surrounded by and buried in gardens. And here in
     the month of April, under this sky still veiled and softened by
     the clouds of the North, there is a luxury of foliage and
     blossom in which this violet tone of the Judas trees is
     dominant, and shines beside the dark and ghost-like cypress
     groves.

     'There are on earth other places grander, and perhaps more
     beautiful; certainly there are none of greater power to charm.
     This scenery of the Bosphorus, from which no stranger ever
     escapes, is due to the Oriental mystery which still broods on
     it; it comes from the great closed harems of which the upper
     storeys hang over the waves; it comes from the veiled women
     whom we see in the shadow of the gardens, and in the slender
     caïques which pass. But this Turkish witchery is fading, alas!
     Year by year, more and more, great gaps are made in the ranks
     of the ancient impenetrable buildings, with their grated
     windows, which plunge their walls into the water and which one
     could enter from the water, as at Venice; and with them go the
     slender caïques, the costumes, and the women's veils.

     'Already, even since last spring, Therapia seems to exist no
     longer, masked as it is by a gigantic and hideous caravanserai;
     the exquisite Anatoli Hissar is disfigured by an American
     college, of a sinister ugliness, which has stuck itself above
     the ancient castle with an imbecile air of domination.

     'And everywhere it is the same story, whether on the shores of
     Asia or the shores of Europe; frightful new buildings cumber
     the ground and factory chimneys rise beside minarets of which
     they are the miserable caricatures. In vain do the Judas trees
     continue their beautiful flowering; the Bosphorus will soon
     perish, destroyed by idiotic speculators. And the Turks, my
     dear friends the Turks, have the indolence or fatalism to let
     such destruction be wrought every day under their eyes!'

Thus Loti with his poet's soul, his prose which is a golden lyre; and it
seems to me as I translate his words that his lament for the Judas trees
and the Bosphorus is but the embodiment of a lament which sighs over the
whole world. The beauty of the earth is dying, dying like a creature
with a cancer in its breast.

The writer of the _Foundations of Belief_ thinks that the earth was made
for man; if this presumptuous conviction had indeed any foundation at
all what an ingrate would the recipient of the gift have proved himself,
what an imbecile, as Loti calls him!

The loss of beauty from the world is generally regarded as the purely
sentimental grievance of imaginative persons; but it is not so; it is a
loss which must impress its vacuity fatally on the human mind and
character. It tends, more than any other loss, to produce that apathy,
despondency, and cynical indifference which are so largely
characteristic of the modern temper.

The people are taught to think that all animal life may be tortured and
slaughtered at pleasure; that physical ills are to be feared beyond all
others, and escaped at all vicarious cost; that profit is the only
question of importance in commerce; that antiquity, loveliness, and
grace are like wild flowers, mere weeds to be torn up by a steam
harrow. This is not the temper which makes noble characters, or generous
and sensitive minds. It is the temper which accumulates wealth, and
which flies readily to war to defend that wealth; but which is
absolutely barren of all impersonal sympathy, of all beautiful creation.

Taken as a whole, artists have the kindliest natures and the happiest
temperaments of any body of men. Why? because their minds are always
more or less susceptible to the impressions and influences of
beauty--beauty of line, of hue, of proportion, of suggestion; beauty
alike of the near and of the far; and they surround themselves with
their own ideals of these in such measure as their powers permit. But,
even in artists, modern life tends to deform these ideals, and in any
exhibition of modern paintings ninety-nine out of a hundred of these
works will be ugly; they will display, perhaps, admirable technique,
complete mastery of detail, fine brush work, perhaps unexceptionable
drawing, but the combination of these qualities will produce merely a
sense of ugliness on the retina of the observer of them.

Unless the man of genius buries himself resolutely in the country and by
the sea, as Tennyson did, as Clausen does, he cannot altogether escape
the influence of the unloveliness of modern life. It would be impossible
to painters and poets to live in Regent's Park or the Avenue de
Villiers, in Cromwell Road or the Via Nazionale, or in any of the new
quarters of English or Continental towns, unless their instincts of
beauty had become dulled and dwarfed by the atmosphere around them; life
for any length of time would be insupportable to them under the
conditions in which it is of necessity lived in modern cities; and this
perversion of their natural instincts makes the tendency to replace
beauty by eccentricity and by weirdness fatally frequent. Their critics
obey the same influences, and modern art-criticism, like the recent
studies of Robert de la Sizzeranne on English painting, is characterised
by what appears to be a total incapacity to appreciate the quality of
beauty, a total insensibility to its absence from modern art.

In sculpture this is as remarkable as in painting, and is still more
alarming and painful, the ugliness of realism and of eccentricity being
a still more offensive blasphemy in marble than it is in colour. If the
most ordinary sense of beauty, as distinguished from deformity, were not
extinct in the world, would any one of the monuments erected within the
last half century be allowed to disfigure the cities of Europe? Carnot
in a frock coat lying in the arms of a female, supposed to represent
France, with his boots thrust out towards the spectator; Victor Emmanuel
in a cocked hat with his body like a swollen bladder stuck on two wooden
ninepins; Peabody sitting in an arm-chair as if he awaited a dentist;
old William of Prussia like a child's tin soldier magnified, and with
the greater men who made him dwarfed military manikins underneath;
black-metal Garibaldis, and Gordons, and Napiers, and Macmahons; Claude
Bernard in the act of mutilating a live dog--every imaginable
abomination in every street and square of every capital, and even of
every noticeable town, proclaim to all the quarters of the globe the
debasement of a once pure and lofty art, and the utter ineptitude and
vulgarity of modern taste. Of what use is it to attempt to educate the
nations when such things as these are set up in their midst?

An English archbishop at a recent Royal Academy banquet said that he
hoped the time was near at hand when every child in England would learn
to draw. Apart from the gross folly of teaching a child anything for
which its own natural talent does not pre-dispose it, and the injury
done to the world by the artificial manufacture of millions of
indifferent draughtsmen, what use can it be to attempt to awaken
perception of art in a generation which is begotten where art and nature
are alike persistently outraged?

It is entirely useless to multiply art schools, and desire that every
child should learn to draw, when all the tendencies of modern life have
become such that every rule of art is violated in it and every artistic
sense offended in an ordinary daily walk.

Amongst even the most cultured classes few have really any sensibility
to beauty. Not one in a thousand pauses in the hurried excitements of
social life to note beauty in nature; to art there is accorded a passing
attention because it is considered _chic_ to do so; but all true sense
of art must be lacking in a generation whose women wear the spoils of
tropical birds, slain for them, on their heads and skirts, and whose men
find their principal joy for nearly half the year in the slaughter of
tame creatures, and bespatter with blood the white hellebore of their
winter woods.

Beauty is daily more and more withdrawn from the general life of the
people. Fidgety and repressive bye-laws tend to suppress that element of
the picturesque which popular life by its liberties, and by its
open-air pastimes and peddlings, created for itself. The police are
everywhere, and street-life is joyless and colourless. Even within
doors, in the houses of poor people, the things of daily usage have lost
their old-world charm; the ugly sewing-machine has replaced the
spinning-wheel, the cooking-range the spacious open hearth, the veneered
machine-made furniture the solid home-made oaken chests and presses, a
halfpenny newspaper the old family Bible; whilst out of doors the lads
and lasses must not sing or dance, the dog must not play or bark, the
chair must not stand out on the pavement, the bells must not ring their
chimes, only the cyclist, or the automobilist, lord of all, may tear
along and leave broken limbs and bruised flesh of others behind him at
his pleasure.

If all feeling for grace and beauty were not extinguished in the mass of
mankind at the actual moment, such a method of locomotion as cycling
could never have found acceptance; no man or woman with the slightest
æsthetic sense could assume the ludicrous position necessary for it. Nor
would the auto-car with its stench of petroleum be tolerated for an
instant in lanes and roads. Nor could modern dress be endured for a day
were there any true sense of fitness, of harmony, and of colour extant
in modern times. Even the great Catholic pageants are spoiled in their
grouping and splendour by the dull crowds of ill-dressed, dingily clad
townsfolk which drown their effect like a vast tide of muddy water
rising over a garden of flowers. It is impossible for us, even when
looking at anything so fine in colour as the Carnival at Milan, the Fête
Dieu at Brussels, the Students' Festivals in Munich, or any other of the
great Continental processions, to judge of what their extreme beauty
must have been when not only the procession itself but all the people in
the streets, all the whole vast tide of sightseers, comprising even the
very beggars, were equally full of colour and 'composed' harmoniously
with the central figures.

A gorgeous spectacle of the streets now, whether it be popular,
military, or religious, is swamped in the mass of dull-coloured hues,
and grotesquely ugly head-gear, common to the whole population of a
city. Its effect may struggle as it will: it sinks under the
preponderating mass as a butterfly will be beaten down under a dirty,
drenching, city rain.

There is a modern custom in Italy which is typical of the havoc made by
avarice and indifference and commerce running together hand in hand. It
is the shocking habit of stripping all evergreen trees of their leaves
to sell them to chemists, gilders, dyers, and the managers of what in
France we call _pompes funèbres_. Even magnolias are not spared, and
these magnificent trees stand naked and despoiled in nearly all the
gardens and parks all over the country. In every town there are now
offices for the consignment and purchase of these leaves; to strip and
sell, to buy and export them, has become a recognised trade, and
hundreds of tons weight are every year, from September to April, sent
out of Italy, chiefly to Germany, Austria and Russia. The injury done
to the trees is, of course, immeasurable. After a few seasons they
become anæmic, dry up, and slowly perish, whilst the aspect of the
gardens of which the bay, myrtle, box, laurel, arbutus, and magnolia
were of late such conspicuous ornaments is, of course, utterly changed
and ruined. Unless by some edict of the State the practice be speedily
stopped, another generation will see nothing of those avenues and groves
and alleys of evergreen foliage which have been the glory of Italian
palaces and villas since the days of the Cæsars.

Follow the architectural history of any city, and you find it during the
last half-century the sorrowful record of a pitiful destruction. The
great gardens are always the first thing sacrificed. They are swept
away, and their places covered by brick and mortar with an incredible
indifference. Fine houses, even when of recent construction, like the
Pompeiian house of Prince Napoleon in Paris, are pulled down out of a
mere speculative mania to build something else, or to cut a long,
straight street as uninteresting and as unsuggestive as the boxwood
protractor which lies on a surveyor's desk.

The greatest crime, or one of the greatest crimes (for there are others
black as night), of which the nineteenth century has been guilty has
been the driving of the people out of long familiar homes in the name
and under the pretext of hygiene, but in fact for the enrichment of
contractors, town councillors, and speculators of every kind. It began
with Haussmann; it has continued in Paris, and everywhere else, with
delirious haste ever since his time, as a burglar may drag a grey-beard
to his death. The modern ædiles with their court of ravenous parasites
cannot understand, would not deign even to consider, the sorrow of a
humble citizen driven out of a familiar little home with nooks and
corners filled with memories and a roof-tree dear to generations. Go
into an old street of any old city you will, and you will almost
certainly find a delight for the eye in archway and ogive, in lintel and
casement, in winding stair and leaning eave; in the wallflowers rooted
in the steps, in the capsicum which has seeded itself between the
stones, in the swallows' nests under the gargoyle, in the pots of basil
and mignonette on the window-sills. But the modern street with its
dreary monotony, its long and high blank spaces, its even surfaces where
not a seed can cling or a bird can build, what will it say to your eyes
or your heart? You will see its dull, pretentious uniformity repeated on
either side of you down a mile-long vista, and you will curse it.

It is natural that the people shut up in these structures crave for
drink, for nameless vices, for the brothel, the opium den, the cheap
eating-house and gaming booth; anything, anywhere, to escape from the
monotony which surrounds them and which leaves them no more charm in
life than if they were rabbits shut up in a physiologist's experimenting
cage, and fed on gin-soaked grains. No one in whom the æsthetic sense
was really awakened could dwell in a manufacturing city, or indeed in
any modern town. The 'flat,' whether in a 'first-class mansion,' or in a
'block' for the working man, would be more intolerable than a desert
island to anyone with a sense of the true charm of life, or, one may
add, any sensitiveness to the meaning of the word 'home'; that word
which is to be found in every language, though the English people do not
think so, and which is one of the sweetest and most eloquent in all
tongues. The Americans attach extreme pride to the fact that their
'sky-scrapers' are so advanced that your horses and carriage can be
carried up on a lift to the highest storey, and the nags, if it do not
make them dizzy, can survey the city in a bird's-eye view. But even this
supreme achievement of architects and engineers cannot lend to the cube,
shared with a score of others, the charm, the idiosyncrasy, the meaning,
the soul, which exhale from the smallest cottage where those who love
dwell all alone, through whose lattices a candle shines as a star to the
returning wanderer, and on whose lowly roof memory lies like a
benediction.

According to the statistics of modern cities the mass of middle-class
and labouring-class people change their lodgings or tenements every two
or three years; three years is even an unusually long time of residence.
What can a people who flit like this, continually, know of the real
meaning of a home?

The same restlessness and dissatisfaction which make these classes
change their residence so frequently, make the wealthier classes flit in
another way, from continent to continent, from capital to capital, from
one pleasure-place to another, from one house-party to another, from the
yacht to the _rouge-et-noir_ tables, from the bath to the coverside,
from the homewoods to the antipodes, in an endless gyration which
yields but little pleasure, but which they deem as necessary as cayenne
pepper with their hot soup.

I believe that this monotony and lack of interest in the towns which
they inhabit fatally affect the minds of those whose lot it is to go to
and from the streets in continual toil, and produce in them fatigue,
heaviness and gloom; what the scholar and the poet suffer from
articulately and consciously, the people in general suffer from
inarticulately and unconsciously. The gaiety of nations dies down as the
beauty around them pales and passes. They know not what it is that
affects them, but they are affected by it none the less, as a young
child is hurt by the darkness, though it knows not what dark or light
means.

Admit that the poorer people were ill-lodged in the Middle Ages, that
the houses were ill-lit, undrained, with the gutter water splashing the
threshold, and the eaves of the opposite houses so near that the sun
could not penetrate into the street. All this may have been so, but
around two-thirds of the town were gardens and fields, the neighbouring
streets were full of painted shrines, metal lamps, gargoyles, pinnacles,
balconies of hand-forged iron or hand-carved stone, solid doors, bronzed
gates, richly-coloured frescoes; and the eyes and the hearts of the
dwellers in them had wherewithal to feed on with pleasure, not to speak
of the constant stream of many-coloured costume and of varied pageant or
procession which was for ever passing through them. Then in the niches
there were figures; at the corners there were shrines; on the rivers
there were beautiful carved bridges, of which examples are still left
to our day in the Rialto and the Vecchio. There were barges with
picture-illumined sails, and pleasure-galleys gay to the sights, and
everywhere there were towers and spires, and crenulated walls, and the
sculptured fronts of houses and churches and monasteries, and close at
hand was the greenness of wood and meadow, the freshness of the
unsullied country. Think only what that meant; no miles on miles of
dreary suburban waste to travel; no pert aggressive modern villas to
make day hateful; no underground railway stations and subways; no
hissing steam, no grinding and shrieking cable trams; no hell of factory
smoke and jerry-builders' lath and plaster; no glaring geometrical
flower beds; but the natural country running, like a happy child laden
with posies, right up to the walls of the town.

The cobbler or craftsman, who sat and worked in his doorway, and saw the
whole vari-coloured life of a mediæval city pass by him, was a very
different being to the modern mechanic, a cypher amongst hundreds, shut
in a factory room, amongst the deafening noise of cogwheel and pistons.
Even from a practical view of his position, his guilds were a very much
finer organisation than modern trades-unions, and did far more for him
in his body and his mind. In the exercise of his labour he could then be
individual and original, he is now but one-thousandth part of an inch in
a single tooth of a huge revolving cogwheel. The mediæval house might be
in itself nothing more than a cover from bad weather, but all about it
there was infinite variety; all life in the street or alley was richly
coloured, even the gutter brawls were medleys of shining steel, and
broken plumes, and many-coloured coats, and broidered badges, a whirl of
bright hues, which sent a painter in joy to his palette.

Indoors there were the spinning-wheel, the copper vessels, the walnut
presses, the settle by the wide warm hearth, the shrine upon the stairs
which the women made fresh with flowers. The river was gay with blazoned
hulls and painted sails; over its bridges the processions of church or
guild passed like embroidered ribbons slowly unrolling; the workman had
a busy life, and often a perilous life, but one still blent with
leisure; and the mariners' tales of wondrous lands unknown lent to life
that witchery of the remote and unattainable, that delightful thrill of
mystery and awe, which to the omniscient and cynical modern soul seem
childishness too trivial for words.

Try and realise what life was like when Chaucer walked through Chepe,
when Henri de Valois entered Venice, when Philippe le Bel rode through
the oak woods of Vincennes, when Petrarca was crowned in Rome, when
William Shakespeare sauntered through Warwickshire lanes in cowslip
time. Read Michelet's description of a Flemish Burgher, and contrast it
with the existence of a shopkeeper in a modern town. Read Froude's
description of a sea-going merchantman of Elizabeth's days, and contrast
it with the captain of a modern liner. You will at once see how full of
colour and individuality were the former lives; how colourless,
unlovely, and deprived of all initiative are the latter. Being shorn of
freedom, interest, and beauty, modern life finds vent for the
feverishness which is cooped up in it in commercial gambling--gambling
of all kinds from the Stock Exchange to the tontine, from the foreign
loan to the suburban handicap--and existence is but one gigantic
lottery. Even when a man goes on an excursion of pleasure he will at
starting buy a penny ticket which insures his life for a hundred pounds
in case of accident! How can such a populace, always haunted by the fear
of death, possibly enjoy?

The great increase in cold-blooded and ferocious murders, done on slight
motive and with cynical indifference, is the natural issue of this way
of looking at life. Who has no reverence for his own life has naturally
none for the lives of others. When a man regards his own existence as a
mere parcel to be adequately paid for with a hundred pounds, it follows
as the night the day that he cannot regard the life of another as worth
twenty shillings. Even death itself is made grotesque by modern science,
and the arms and legs and headless trunks flung into the air by the
explosion of a bomb are robbed of that mute majesty which the dead body
claims by right of nature. They seem no more than shreds of cloth or
fragments of chopped wood. It is to be feared, moreover, that the
extreme facilities given by science for instantaneous and widespread
slaughter will lead gradually to greater indifference still in the
public mind to assassination, and it will become so common that it will
be scarcely regarded with disapproval.

Many verdicts in various countries show the growing indulgence of the
law to murders. In France and Italy especially even a cold-blooded
murder will meet scant punishment, whilst one due to sudden passion is
almost sure of being either wholly unpunished, or very lightly
sentenced. In many cases, even in England, the juries have been of an
extraordinary tenderness towards murderers whose guilt they were obliged
to admit. At Chester, in England, a few weeks ago, four young colliers
who set on and stoned another to death, and flung his body in a canal,
were sentenced by Mr Justice Lawrance to the punishment of four months
in prison for three of them, and nine months for the ringleader, and
nothing more.

Many men of violent temper would think so small a price well paid to rid
themselves of a foe or of a rival. The excuse for the colliers was that
they had all been drinking. This is an excuse very generally made in
these days of culture and compulsory education.

It will be said that this has nothing to do with the presence or absence
of beauty in national life. But it has much to do with the callousness
and apathy and egotism so general in national life; and the ugliness of
surrounding influences and poverty of design in the arts so common in
modern times are chief factors in generating this lamentable temper.

Happiness, and its companions goodwill and kindly sympathy, are
insensibly suggested and increased by what is beautiful, artistic, and
full of good colour and varied design. Even the physical aspect of man
is affected by that which it looks upon, that by which it is surrounded,
and the French woman was a wise mother who during her pregnancy went to
gaze upon the finest works of the Louvre. How much, on the contrary, may
the embryo be affected for ill by sordid, dreary, and unlovely
conditions which environ the parent during the period of gestation?

There can be, I think, no doubt that physical beauty is degenerating
rapidly, and the frequency with which the scrofulous mouth is seen in
children, even in children of the aristocracies, is alarming for the
future of the race. In the working classes the offspring must be fatally
affected by the poisonous trades, the sickening effluvia, the deadly
conditions amongst which modern commerce requires its slaves to spend
their lives.

Even the country fields are sullied by chemicals and stink of sulphates,
phosphates, and human excrements. Agriculture tends to become a mere
manufacture, like any other, surrounded by the din of pistons, the fumes
of vapour, the jar of wheels.

Beauty is the safest stimulant, the surest tonic, the most precious
inspiration; natural beauty first of all, and the beauty of the arts
closely following, twinlike handmaids to Aphrodite. But to perceive this
the mentally blind are as incapable as the physically blind; and such,
mental cecity is as general in these days as myopy is common in the
schoolrooms of this generation.

Every year all cities, and even all towns, are severed farther and
farther from the country; every year the electric wires multiply for
telegraph and telephone; the tramways and railways increase, the
sickening grinding noises common to these methods of locomotion fill the
air, and the extraordinary ugliness, which seems attached like a doom to
any modern invention, is multiplied on all sides. That, in an age which
considers itself educated, such hideous constructions as the great
wheels of Chicago and of Earl's Court should attract sane persons as a
diversion will alone prove how completely the instinct of correct taste,
with its accompanying abhorrence of deformity, has become extinct in all
modern crowds.

With the ever-increasing use of steam, the beauty of the sky yearly
grows dimmer and more veiled. That a race with any pretensions to
education and perception can live contentedly under such a sky as that
of London would appear an incredible fact, did we not know that it is an
indisputable one. Whoever revisits Paris after a few seasons' absence
finds the brilliancy of its life more and more dimmed with every decade
by the sullying of the atmosphere through the increase of factories,
railways and other works, and the invasion by the town of its once
beautiful girdle of wood, orchard, and garden. Every year national life
everywhere grows less varied, less picturesque, more unlovely, and every
year finds the people more contented to dwell with no other horizon than
a bank of smoke.

It was monstrous that the selection of the glades and pastures of the
New Forest, for military manoeuvres, should ever have been permitted
by the British War Office. But the mere fact that it _was_ monstrous,
that it was an offence to history and nature, that it disturbed and
distressed wild life, that it wounded and outraged the feelings of
residents and the sentiments of artists, was a reason all-sufficient to
make the modern temper brutally enamoured of the idea. Merely because
the despatch of the battalions and field batteries thither was a
vandalism, and caused pain to more æsthetic minds, military
manoeuvres in the New Forest became all at once a project to be
insisted on and carried out at all costs. The same outrage is now being
done to Stonehenge.

The modern temper cannot respect, cannot appreciate, cannot love, but it
can hate; and its hatred shows itself in damage and destruction
everywhere, whether it set fire to the noble old house of the Hanseatic
League at Antwerp, pull down the water towers of Dieppe, plant the
jerry-builder before the Lateran, drag a railway train up to Murren, or
trample down with ill-shod boy-soldiers the thyme and the bracken of the
Conqueor's woods and the turf which the Druids trod.

The modern temper resembles those children in Victor Hugo's romance who,
being left alone with the beautiful and ancient _Horæ_, find no prank so
delightful as to tear from end to end the illuminated text of the book
and its perfect miniatures, clapping their hands as each fair thing
perishes. Nor is there any indication of the advent of anyone who will
take the book of the world from the destroying hands, and save what
still remains of its beauty.

There is, on the contrary, every sign that the future will see a still
greater domination of that rude, cold, and cruel temper which takes
pleasure in innovation and obliteration, and sneers, with contemptuous
conceit, at those who are pained by such acts of desecration. It is the
same sneer, the same leering and self-satisfied snigger, with which it
views the expression and evidence of pity for, and solidarity with, what
it is pleased to call the lower animals.

The Langdale Pikes are being pierced and blasted for iron foundries and
slate quarries. The great forest of La Haye near Nancy is being
destroyed by military fortifications, and by foundries and by factories.
All the valley of the Meuse and the Moselle is sullied with factory
smoke and blasting powder. The Bay of Amalfi and the shore of Posilippo
are defiled by cannon foundries. The Isle of St Elena at Venice is laid
waste to serve as a railway factory. All the Ardennes are scorched and
soiled, and sickened with stench of smoke and suffocating slag. The Peak
Country and the Derwent vales are being scarred and charred for railway
lines, mines, and factories. Amsterdam, so late the Venice of the North,
is becoming an unmeaning mass of modern insignificance and ugliness;
what has been done to the Venice of the South is such outrage that it
might wake Tiziano from under his weight of marble in the Frari Church,
and call the Veronese from his grave.

To destroy Trinity Hospital in London, and place a brewery in its place
is a joy and glory to the modern municipal soul. The Hôtel Dessin in
Calais, made sacred to the name of Laurence Sterne, was a pleasant place
with an arched entrance and a large courtyard, round whose sides the
buildings were grouped; it had vines and greenery of all kinds, and over
the archway were little dormer windows. Behind it stretched fair gardens
of great extent, and beyond these was a theatre belonging to the hotel.
Of late years it had served as a museum for the town, and was thus
preserved intact; now it has been pulled down and razed to the ground,
and a huge commercial school built in its place. The funicular railways
are ruining the whole of the Swiss Alps; the greed of a few speculators
and the irreverent folly of the multitude combine to scar the sides of
the great mountains and gather on their summits troops of gaping
sightseers, to whom the solemnity of the Gletsch Alp or the virginity of
the Jungfrau are of no account.

Zermatt, so late a virgin stronghold of the Higher Alps, is now a mere
cockney excursion, and sixty thousand trippers invade its solitude with
every summer, plodding like camels in a string, vexing the air with
inane noises, offending the mountain stillness with songs to which the
bray of mules were music, insulting the crystal clearness of the heavens
with the intrusion of their own ludicrous, blatant and imbecile
personalities, incapable even of being silent and ashamed. The island of
Naxos, whose mere name brings before us so many classic memories in all
their loveliness and glory, is being broken up into chips by the
emery-workers, and is to be mined for aluminium.

The finest torrent in Scotland is about to be diverted from its course
and used for aluminium works. The glory of its waters is to be known no
more, merely that some engineers and manufacturers may fill their
pockets to the public loss; that some promoters and shareholders,
possessing large parliamentary influence, may add to their fortunes. To
speak of civilisation, which is a term implying culture, in the same
breath with a nation capable of such an action is ludicrous.

The fumes of these aluminium works will, when they are in full blast,
emit hydrofluoric acid gas which will destroy all the vegetation on Loch
Ness for miles. Yet such is the apathy and want of conscience in modern
generations that the annihilation of the Falls of Foyers appears
scarcely to meet with any general indignation.

There is no modern mania so dangerous as the present one for meddling
with water; no injury more conspicuous and irrevocable than the
perpetual interference with lake and stream and torrent.

The lakes of Maggiore, of Como, of Garda, are all being defiled by
factories and steam-engines; and even such a writer as De Vogüé can look
contentedly forward to a time when such erections will disfigure both
banks of the Rhône.

The isles of Lake Leman serve for commercial and communal purposes.
Thirlmere and Loch Katrine have been violated, and all the other English
and Scotch lakes will be similarly ravaged. Fucina has been dried up as
a speculation, and Trasimene is threatened. The Rhône is already dammed
up, and tapped, and tortured, until all its rich alluvial deposits are
lost to the soil of Provence.

It would be easy to fill folios with the bare enumeration of places and
memories, of sites and scenes of which the destruction has been
accomplished within the last few years. To get money for the
preservation of anything is well-nigh impossible; but millions flow like
water when there is any scheme of destruction. In an age which prates
more than any other of its pride in education, the violation of every
law of taste, of every tie of association, of every rule of beauty, is
always greedily welcomed with a barbaric shout of triumph.

Lath and plaster circuses or theatres are erected by the Mausoleum of
Hadrian, and the miserable caged monkeys of a menagerie pull each
other's tails where Raffaele's pavillion stood amidst the
nightingale-filled ilex groves.

Frederic Harrison, in his admirable studies of Paris, cannot hide from
himself or his readers the loss to art and history which the
Haussmannising of the city began, the insanity of the Commune continued,
and the barbarism of the present Republic confirms. The ruin of Rome
since the Italian occupation is ten times worse and more offensive than
even such ruin as would have been entailed by a siege, for it is more
vulgar; shell and shot would have destroyed indeed, but they would not
have imbecilely and impudently reconstructed. The same sad change
awaits, if it has not already overtaken, every city of Europe, and alas!
even of Asia. The smoke fiend has entered Jerusalem, and the shriek of
the engines has scared the wild dove from her nest in the palm and
pomegranate. The Mount of Olives is 'a thing to be done,' and the
'scorcher,' sweating and grinning, drives his wheel through the
rose-thickets of Damascus.

Factory chimneys stand as thick in Bombay as in Birmingham, and black
trails of foul vapour float over Indus and Ganges; soon their curse will
reach the Euphrates. I believe I am correct in saying that the smoke
from the funnel of a great steamer or a large factory can be traced for
forty-five miles in its passage through the air. Imagine the effect on
atmosphere of the continual crossing and re-crossing on ocean routes of
tens of thousands of such steamships yearly, of the perpetual belching
of such fumes from the innumerable factory shafts annually increased in
every part of what is called the civilised world. To India, from England
alone, the export of machines and other material for factory erection
has been at the enormous rate of £70,000 monthly!

Only let us consider what this means, what destruction of pure light and
of fine atmosphere this involves for Hindostan.

The snow-white marbles of the temples, the ivory doors, the silver
gates, the rosy clouds, the lotus-laden waters, the golden dawns, the
magnolia woods, the camellia groves, the feathered flocks in the bamboo
aisles, will all vanish that the smoke fiend may reign alone and the
traders who live by him grow rich. The 'light of Asia' is forced to grow
foul and dark and sickly, and its radiant suns to be shrouded in
pestilent fog in order that the British Gradgrind may put by his 200 per
cent. and fold his hands complacently on his rotund belly.

Is the end worth the means?

Is modern trade in truth such a godhead descended on earth that all the
loveliness of earth and air, of sky and water should be sacrificed to
its demands?

We hear _ad nauseam_ of the gains of modern life, of what is called
civilisation: does no one count its losses? It might be well to do so.
It might act as a corrective to the inane self-worship which is at once
the most ill-founded and the most irritating feature of the age. Perhaps
other ages have in turn adored themselves in like manner, but there is
not in history any record of it. Its prophets, heroes, sages, each age
has either admired or execrated; but I do not think any age has so
admired itself as the present age, which has its prototype in William of
Germany standing between two sand banks and thinking himself greater
than Alexander because his engineers have succeeded in cutting for him a
ditch longer than usual.

The modern world is at this moment ruled by two enemies of all beauty:
these are commerce and militarism. What the one does not destroy, the
other tramples under foot. In earlier times war, terrible always, was
beautiful, like its goddess Bellona, in its savage splendour. Its camps,
its troops, its standards, its panoply, were all full of colour and of
pomp. Even so late as the Napoleonic wars its awfulness was blended with
beauty. Now the passage of an army is like the course of so many dirty
luggage trains filled with bales of wool or hampers of fish. Its
monstrous maw licks up all loveliness as all life which it finds in its
way. Its frightful steel cylinders belch death on every gracious and
happy thing. It is unenlivened by pageantry, as it is unredeemed by
courtesy. Bellona is no more a goddess, but a hag.

Socialism, which has the future of the world in its hands, will probably
be unable to abolish war, and will certainly not care for beauty or seek
to preserve it. The reconstruction of society which Socialism
contemplates will not be a state of things in which the interests of
either nature or art will be cherished. Collectivism must of necessity
be colourless; equality can afford none of those heights and depths,
those lights and shades, which are the essential charm of life as of
landscape. When all the arable earth is one huge allotment-ground, a
Corot will find no subject for his canvas, not even in his dreams, for
his dreams will be dead of inanition.

There can be, I think, no hope that this loss of beauty will not be
greater and greater with every year. The tendency, continually
increasing in the modern character, is to regard beauty and nature with
cynical indifference, stirred, when stirred at all, into active
insolence; such insolence as was expressed in the joke of the Chicago
citizen who called the plank-walks of his city 'the reafforesting of our
town.' It is a temper not merely brutal, but with a leer in it which is
more offensive than its brutality.

The great beauty which animal and bird life lends to the earth is doomed
to lessen and disappear. The automatic vehicle will render the horse
useless; and he will be considered too costly, and too slow, to be kept
even as a gambling toy. The dog will have no place in a world which has
no gratitude for such simple sincerity and faithful friendliness as he
offers. When wool, and horn, and leather, and meat foods have been
replaced by chemical inventions, cattle and sheep will have no more
tolerance than the wild buffalo has had in the United States. What are
now classed as big game will be exterminated in Asia and Africa, and
already in Europe we are told that the pleasure it affords to people to
kill them is the sole reason why stags, foxes, and gamebirds are allowed
to exist and multiply under artificial protection. All the charm which
the races of 'fur and feather' lend to the earth will be lost for ever;
for a type destroyed can never be recalled.

Every invention of what is called science takes the human race farther
and farther from nature, nearer and nearer to an artificial, unnatural
and dependent state. One seems to hear the laugh of Goethe's
Mephistopheles behind the hiss of steam; and in the tinkle of the
electric bell there lurks the chuckle of glee with which the Tempter
sees the human fools take as a boon and a triumph the fatal gifts he has
given.

What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own
soul? What shall it profit the world to put a girdle about its loins in
forty minutes when it shall have become a desert of stone, a wilderness
of streets, a treeless waste, a songless city, where man shall have
destroyed all life except his own, and can hear no echo of his heart's
pulsation save in the throb of an iron piston.

The engine tearing through the disembowelled mountain, the iron and
steel houses towering against a polluted sky, the huge cylinders
generating electricity and gas, the network of wires cutting across the
poisoned air, the overgrown cities spreading like scurvy, devouring
every green thing like locusts; haste instead of leisure, Neurasthenia
instead of health, mania instead of sanity, egotism and terror instead
of courage and generosity, these are the gifts which the modern mind
creates for the world. It can chemically imitate every kind of food and
drink, it can artificially produce every form of disease and suffering,
it can carry death in a needle and annihilation in an odour, it can
cross an ocean in five days, it can imprison the human voice in a box,
it can make a dead man speak from a paper cylinder, it can transmit
thoughts over hundreds of miles of wire, it can turn a handle and
discharge scores of death-dealing tubes at one moment as easily as a
child can play a tune on a barrel organ, it can pack death and horror up
in a small tin case which has served for sardines or potted herrings,
and leave it on a window-sill, and cause by it towers to fall, and
palaces to crumble, and flames to upleap to heaven, and living men to
change to calcined corpses; all this it can do, and much more. But it
cannot give back to the earth, or to the soul, 'the sweet wild freshness
of morning.' And when all is said of its great inventions and their
marvels and mysteries, are they more marvellous or more mysterious than
the changes of chrysalis and caterpillar and butterfly, or the rise of
the giant oak from the tiny acorn, or the flight of swallow and
nightingale over ocean and continent?

Man has created for himself in the iron beast a greater tyrant than any
Nero or Caligula. And what is the human child of the iron beast, what is
the typical, notable, most conspicuous creation of the iron beast's
epoch?

It is the Cad, vomited forth from every city and town in hundreds,
thousands, millions, with every holy day and holy-day. The chief
creation of modern life is the Cad; he is an exclusively modern
manufacture, and it may safely be said that the poorest slave in Hellas,
the meanest fellah in Egypt, the humblest pariah in Asia was a
gentleman beside him. The Cad is the entire epitome, the complete
blossom and fruit in one, of what we are told is an age of culture.
Behold him in the vélodrome as he yells insanely after his kind as they
tear along on their tandem machines in a match, and then ask yourself
candidly, O my reader, if any age before this in all the centuries of
earth ever produced any creature so utterly low and loathsome, so
physically, mentally, individually, and collectively hideous? The helot
of Greece, the gladiator of Rome, the swash-buckler of Mediæval Europe,
nay, the mere pimp and pander of Elizabethan England, of the France of
the Valois, of the Spain of Velasquez, were dignity, purity, courage in
person beside the Cad of this breaking dawn of the twentieth century;
the Cad rushing on with his shrill scream of laughter as he knocks down
the feeble woman or the yearling child, and making life and death and
all eternity seem ridiculous by the mere existence of his own
intolerable fatuity and bestiality.



XI

THE QUALITY OF MERCY


Whatever we may think of the artistic and critical influence of Mr
Ruskin on his age, we cannot but view with admiration and reverence much
of his moral teaching, and there are in his writings innumerable
isolated words of wisdom which would be well printed in letters of gold
wherever men and women congregate and youth is educated. Amongst these
is one which could not be too often reproduced before the eyes of an
indifferent, egotistic, and cynical generation. It is this: 'Whosoever
is not actively kind, is cruel.' It is an absolute truth, but one which
is very little heeded.

I will not here speak of the three crystallised and applauded forms of
cruelty, war, sport, and scientific experiment. I wish to speak only of
what is by scientists termed 'lay' cruelty, but which I would myself
call general and scarcely conscious cruelty--the ill-treatment of all
sentient creatures not human, by human creatures, due to the apathy,
egotism, and unkindness of the latter. It is to this form of cruelty
that Mr Ruskin alludes in the sentence previously quoted.

The cruelty of earlier times had its chief cause in violence; the
cruelty of modern times has its chief cause in cowardice and
selfishness. The character of the cruelty has altered, but its
prevalence remains equally widespread and its motive is more
contemptible. The modern world regards the pillory and the stocks as
barbarous; but it allows the railway signalman to be riveted to his post
for eighteen consecutive hours, and sees no harm in it. The human race
was then ruder, no doubt, but more generous; more violent in some ways,
but more magnanimous. Remember the familiar story of the Roman who wrung
the neck of the dove which took refuge in his bosom from the pursuing
bird of prey, and was stoned by his fellow-citizens. In the modern world
there would be no movement of indignation against such an act;
gentlewomen and men see the necks wrung of the wounded birds in the
shooting enclosures from Hurlingham to Monte Carlo without the slightest
emotion of pity or effort at censure.

Not long ago I spoke of this to a young and beautiful Englishwoman of
the great world, and she answered, 'Yes, it is useless to attempt to
move them to any feeling for animals. You can get them to do something
for people, because they think it does them good with the masses, keeps
off revolution, and helps in canvassing. But for cruelty they do not
care in the least.' She spoke in simplicity, with no intention of
sarcasm, but she could not have uttered a greater truth, or a more
cutting satire.

There are exceptions, doubtless, but they are not numerous enough to
leaven the great mass of indifferent and selfish people. Animals find
but few friends. Alas! they have no votes!

There is, perhaps, one thing still more nauseating than the world's
apathy, and that is its self-praise; its admiration of its own
charities, so miserably insignificant beside the extravagance of its own
pleasures. When we think how little is done by those who could do so
much to influence even their own households to justice and tenderness,
one cannot wonder that the populace is unmoved by the occasional
invitation to them from a higher world to display those virtues which
the rich prefer rather to inculcate than to practise.

Last year in England, in a nobleman's house, a footman beat a small dog,
which ran into the offices, with a red-hot poker, and piled burning
coals on it until it died in indescribable agony. I wrote and asked the
nobleman in question if he had dismissed this monster from his service,
the man having been only punished by the Bench with a slight fine; the
nobleman answered me so evasively that it was easy to read between the
lines and see that he had retained the footman in his service. This act
on the part of the servant was an extreme case of hideous cruelty, but
his employer's condonation is by no means an extreme case; it is,
indeed, a very common sample of a master's indifference, of that
indifference which is practically connivance. People abandon their
stables to their coachmen, their dogs to their keepers; even the animals
they call pets are frequently allowed to suffer from servants, or
children, and are bullied, neglected, and teased with impunity.

The disgusting spectacle of dog-catching by the police is allowed to be
presented in the public streets of most capitals of Europe, continually;
and there is never the outburst of revolted feeling which such an
offence to all humane sentiment and common decency should provoke. If
such spectacles excited in the general public one-thousandth part of
such disgust as they would excite in any really civilised people, it
would be impossible for such scenes to exist, in either hemisphere, to
shock the sight and sense of those of more refined taste and more humane
feelings.

There is an excellent association for the protection of birds, but its
aims are so little in touch with its generation that it obtains only the
most meagre support. Great names and patrician names are very rare upon
its lists, and at its public meetings its cause has its neck at once
broken by the question of sport being rigorously excluded by its
chairman, who is a noted sportsman!

There is an institution in London which calls itself a 'home for lost
dogs'; under this affecting title it appeals for funds, as though it
were inspired solely by love and anxiety for the happiness of dogs, and
for the protection and prolongation of their lives. In reality it is an
institution for the organised suffocation of fifteen or twenty thousand
dogs annually, which have been kidnapped by the police and taken
forcibly from their owners; it is a slaughter-house for the assistance
and convenience of the police, and as such should be maintained out of
the funds of the Government. Nothing but the most criminal apathy in the
public could permit a slaughter-house to masquerade as a 'Home' and be
a petitioner to charity. The word 'home' implies peace and safety, and
should not be permitted to cover a place of legalised butchery.

Think how odious to the horse must be the mere forcing of the bit into
his mouth and of the headstall over his ears. Without speaking of the
torture of the spur, the stinging of the lash, the dreadful weight upon
the spine from which the riding-horse suffers, and the dreadful strain
upon the lungs and withers to which the draught and driving-horse is
incessantly condemned, only realise the continued imprisonment and
galling servitude in which the equine race are forced to dwell, and ask
yourself if, in common pity or justice, that life should not be as much
alleviated and lightened as it is possible to make it. Yet is there one
owner of horses in a million who takes the trouble to see for himself
how his own stables are organised, or maintains out of gratitude, in
their old age or in their failing speed, the horses which have served
him in their prime?

Many wild-beast shows of the present hour are as cruel as were the
gladiatorial games of Rome, and far less manly. I can imagine no
possible argument which can be put forward for the license awarded to
the travelling caravans which attend fairs and feasts all the world
over, and which are hells of animal torture. What is called the taming
of beasts is the most cruel, demoralising, and loathsome of pursuits;
the horrible wickedness of its methods is known to all, and the appetite
it awakens and stimulates in the public is to the last degree debasing.
Yet not the smallest effort is made to end it.

The encouragement of menageries, where wild animals are cowed and
maltreated into trembling misery and forced to imitate the foolish
attitudes and comedies of men, lies entirely with the public, _i.e._,
with the world at large. If the nations were in any true sense
civilised, such forms of diversion would, I repeat, be insupportable to
them. Dancing dogs, dancing bears, performing wolves, enslaved
elephants, would one and all, from the lion tortured on a bicycle in a
circus, to the little guinea-pig playing a drum in the streets, be so
sickeningly painful to a truly civilised public that the stolid human
brutes who live by their sufferings would not dare to train and exhibit
them.

Not long ago there was a somewhat silly discussion in the English press
on the effect of perfumes on desert animals in captivity, of the
excitement and pleasure produced on them by such odours. It occurred to
no one of the sapient correspondents that such perfumes did, no doubt,
recall to the poor imprisoned animals the intense fragrance of the
flowers in their own jungles and tropical forests. All animals are
intensely sensitive to odours, because their olfactory nerves telegraph
to their brains in a way of which our own dull nostrils are utterly
unconscious.

With what pretension can a world call itself humane when in its codes
all 'wild' animals are unprotected by laws, and may be treated with
whatever brutality is desired? When it is a question for the dweller in
a jungle to kill a wild beast or be killed himself, one can understand
that he chooses the first of the two alternatives. But this is no excuse
for the man in cities to drag a captured lion to make the sport of
fools, and to perish wretchedly of diseased joints, thwarted longings,
and the anguish of nostalgia.

It is idle to speak of the civilisation of a world in which such things
are possible. From a hygienic point of view alone, these poor tormented
creatures, cooped up in filthy cages, breathing fetid air night and day,
hearing each other's piteous cries, having no single want or instinct
gratified, ill-fed, diseased, miserable, and ravaged by parasites, must
be one of the most unwholesome centres of contagion conceivable. A polar
bear is at this moment being taken through Europe for exhibition in a
caravan; he is kept in a cage in which he cannot turn; he has a pan of
water two inches deep, and a few ounces of bread as his only food!

There is no animal which is not to be attached by kindness and justice
shown to him. The lion of Rosa Bonheur fell into decline from grief at
being sent from her keeping to that of the Jardin des Plantes when she
was absent on a distant voyage. She returned to find him dying; he
recognised her voice and opened his eyes with a feeble roar of pleasure,
then laid his great head down upon her knees and died. No one who knows
human nature by long experience can assert for a moment that its
fidelity can be secured by benefits, or its sincerity insured by
affection; but when kindness and regard are shown to 'the beasts which
perish,' these never fail to give them back tenfold.

Let me here tell a true history, which I should have told to Matthew
Arnold had he been living then, with entire certainty of his sympathy.

A little dog of Maltese breed, who belonged to my mother, was
inconsolable at her death. For three weeks he refused all food, and was
kept alive by nourishment artificially administered. He sat up, and
begged, day after day, before her bed and before her favourite chair,
until he dropped from sheer exhaustion. He wanted for nothing that I
could give him; and no habit of his daily life was changed; but he was
unhappy. Whenever the door opened he thought she entered. He ran and
looked into every stranger's face. He knew everything which had belonged
to her. His sorrow injured his health; his heart became weak, and he
died of cardiac paralysis at six years old.

What could human affection offer superior in fidelity and feeling?

    'That loving heart, that patient soul,
      Had they indeed no longer span
    To run their course, and reach their goal,
      And read their homily to man?'

I think that not only is their affection undervalued, but that the
intelligence of animals is greatly underrated. Man having but one
conception of intelligence, his own, does not endeavour to comprehend
another which is different, and differently exhibited and expressed. I
have before now said in print that if our mind exceeds the mind of
animals and birds in much, theirs exceeds ours at least in some things,
as their sight, scent, and hearing far surpass ours.

When we remember also that these other races are absolutely alone, are
never aided by man, are only, on the contrary, hindered by him,
opposed, thwarted, and persecuted by him, their achievements are,
relatively to their opportunities, much more wonderful than any of his.
The elements which are his great foes are likewise theirs; they have to
encounter and suffer all the woes of tempest, hurricane, flood, the
width of barren seas, the hunger on solitary shores; and they have also
in his ruthless and unceasing spite an enemy more cruel than any with
which he himself has to contend. If we meditate on this unquestionable
fact, we shall be forced to admit that Cristoforo Colombo was not a
greater hero than many a little swallow.

But scarcely anyone does meditate on these marvels; one in a million,
one in a generation, at the most. To nearly the whole of humanity the
wonderful and beautiful races with which the world teems, which are for
ever living side by side with the human, do not exist except in so far
as they contribute to the pleasure of slaughter, or the greed of
commerce, or of gambling. For to the majority of men and women all
organisms except their own are as though they were not.

There is no sympathy with these interesting and mysterious lives led
side by side with man, but ignored by him entirely, except when by him
persecuted. The nest of the weaver bird is to the full as ingenious and
as marvellous as the dome of St Peter's or St Paul's. The beaver State,
and the bee State, are as intricate in organisation as the Constitution
of the French Republic, and the British Monarchy, and are distinctly
superior in many parts of their organisation to either of these. The
passage of the white ants through a jungle and across a continent is
quite as admirable in unison and skill and order as the human march to
Chitral; and the annual flights of the storks, of the Solan geese, of
the wild ducks, exhibit qualities of obedience to a chosen commander, of
endurance, of observation, and of wisdom, not exceeded by any human
Arctic or Australian exploring party.

The vain-glorious assumption that we have a monopoly of what is called
reason cannot be allowed by those who bring a reason of their own,
unbiassed, to the study of animals, not under the unnatural conditions
of the laboratory, but in natural freedom and peace.

No skill of a Stanley or a Nansen ever exceeded that of the hound Maida
in tracing Sir Walter Scott, and no journey of a Burton or a Speke was
ever so wonderful as the migratory voyage of a martin or a nightingale.
I have said this ere now; and it can never be repeated too often, for
nothing is so cruel as the vanity of man, and nothing so opposed to his
own true progress as his blind and dogged contempt for all races not
shaped exactly like his own.

The correspondence which has been general in the English press regarding
the muzzling of dogs, has been conspicuous for its silliness, ignorance,
and cruelty, but above all by its disgusting selfishness; and an editor
of a very popular organ was not ashamed to print that if only one human
life could be saved, etc., etc., disregarding the fact that men were at
the time being slaughtered by dysentery and fever, by the scores, for no
better object than to go and cut down cotton trees at Coomassie; whilst
deaths by starvation, a perfectly preventible cause, are so common in
English cities that the reports of them scarcely awaken a passing regret
or compassion. The veneration for human life which is developed by
journalists when a lion kills his gaoler, or when a dog is supposed to
have been the cause of his tormentor's death, is comical in these
gentlemen of the press, who, to help a speculation, open out a new mart,
or influence the share lists, will ravenously demand a military
expedition, or a naval demonstration, to sabre, shell, burn, and ravage
upon distant strands.

The attitude of the Brahmin, to whom all forms of life are sacred, is
intelligible, estimable, and consistent; the attitude of the savage
conqueror, to whom thousands of dead men and thousands of dead beasts
are alike so much carrion, is intelligible and reasonable, whilst
brutal. The attitude of the journalist and county councilman is not
either; it possesses neither logic nor common sense, and is not
estimable or reasonable, but only contemptible.

If there be one thing more loathsome than the carnage of war, it is the
Red Cross societies following in its train. But the modern world, being
conscious that the butchery of war ill accords with its æsthetic and
religious pretensions, gives a sop to its conscience by sending the
ambulance side by side with the gun carriage. A more robust and more
honest temper did not evade the truth that the least brutal war is the
one most immediately and conclusively destructive; the slaughter of
wounded men was more truly merciful than the modern system of surgery
and nursing, which saves shattered constitutions and ruined health to
drag out a miserable and artificially prolonged existence.

There is, however, something which the ordinary human mind finds
soothing and delightful in this formula of 'the sanctity of human life,'
when combined with a corresponding disregard for human and for all other
life. The good Christian likes to be raised aloft, in his own eyes, from
all those other races which he imagines were given to him for his use
and abuse by a gracious Deity. He loves to think that both God and the
neighbouring policeman are watching over him; and taking care alike of
his soul and of his greatcoat. In the enormous vanity of the Christian
who believes all the laws of the universe altered for him, or in the
equally enormous vanity of the scientist who arrogates to himself the
right to dogmatise on the mysteries of creation, this attitude is not
surprising. But in either the philosophic mind; or the poetic
temperament, it is so because to the philosopher the difference between
the human and the other races cannot appear very great, whilst to the
poet the solidarity of all sentient life must always seem
unquestionable. That friend, and scholar, and poet for whom I mourn as
freshly as though he had died but yesterday did not disdain to greet a
brother's spirit in

    'That liquid, melancholy eye
      From whose pathetic, soul-fed springs
    Seem'd surging the Virgilian cry,
      The sense of tears in mortal things,'

for these lines were written by Matthew Arnold to 'only a dog.'

It is not in foolishly endeavouring to make animals our prisoners and
puppets, in trying to force them to count, to caper, or to play cards,
that we reach insight into their natures and their minds. It is in
loving them and respecting them as he loved and respected Geist and Kai.
I use the latter word advisedly, for whoever does not in a fair degree,
as with a human friend, respect the freedom, the preference, and the
idiosyncrasy of an animal will never reach true comprehension of him.

A writer wrote the other day, 'People speak of the law of nature; but
who feels it? There is no such emotion known in the ordinary life of the
world.' The persons who will let their dinner wait whilst they watch a
sunset fade over sea or moor, or who will leave the share list unread to
see the morning dew make silver globes of the gossamer in the grass, are
so few that they may almost be said not to exist, if we except a poet
here, an artist there; and the sense of kinship with races not human can
only come to those whose own kinship with earth and air and sky is
strong enough to resist the dulling and debasing influences of
artificial life, of life amongst men and their trivialities, frauds, and
vanities.

'The sun is God,' said Turner, when he lay dying, and, alas! saw that
sun only through the mists of London. But how many see the sun at all,
even when they live where it is most radiant? How many think of the sun
during the long day it illumines? The light is taken as a matter of
course, as our breath is drawn through our lungs. There is no gratitude
for it.

In similar manner there is no sense of kinship with the winged children
of the air, with the four-footed dwellers beside us on the earth. Almost
the only recognition we give them is maltreatment. At other times the
indifference of our unspeakable fatuity rises in a dust cloud between us
and them. Of gratitude for their companionship, their aid, their
patience, their many virtues, there is not a trace in those who use them
and abuse them, no more than there is gratitude for the beauty of the
rose or the fragrance of the violet.

As 'the winds of March take the world with beauty,' every pasture and
coppice is full of blossom, passed unnoticed by thousands in every daily
country walk; so in the same manner do the multitudes trample down, and
pass by, the ineffable charm and fragrance of disregarded affections,
and unappreciated qualities, in the other races of earth.

Hang a poor woodland bird in a cage, if you can bear to look on such a
captive, above a blossoming honeysuckle or hawthorn, and note his
anguish of remembrance, his ecstasy of hope, his frantic effort to be
free. But the accursed wires are between him and the familiar blossoms,
between him and the blue sky; in a little while he realises that he is a
prisoner; the fluttering joy goes out of his heart and his wings; his
feathers grow ruffled and dull, his eyes are veiled, he sits motionless
and heartbroken, and the breeze of the springtime blows past him, and
never more will bear him on its buoyant way.

Living wild song-birds are sold at a halfpenny each by thousands in the
London slums, and as many more die--nay, thrice as many more--before
they reach the streets, packed close and jammed together in hampers and
crates.

Yet the English Home Secretary, on being asked by a deputation to put an
end to this abominable traffic, answered that it was desirable to do as
little as possible in the way of legislation!

For legislators, always eager to make cruel and coercive laws, prefer to
let humane ones be substituted by what they call 'the gradual education
of the people.' But this gradual education is so extremely gradual that
its progress is imperceptible; it may even be justly suspected that it
is chiefly a backward movement; and such education, as far as education
by example goes, is hindered, not helped, by what are called the
cultured classes.

In this, our own present day, bull fights become at once popular
wherever they are allowed, and with women as much so as with men, and I
am certain that if the gladiatorial shows of Imperial Rome were
introduced at Olympia the London crowds would in the main be delighted
with them, and the London women would eagerly turn down their thumbs.

Why not? They go to see the tight-rope walking and the trapeze jump at
the Crystal Palace and the Aquarium; and the only possible attraction in
these is the probability that in each case the performers will be killed
one day; apart from this chance there is no interest whatever in the
spectacle. If the authorities were induced to permit them, gladiatorial
shows would become so popular with the women of Belgravia and Mayfair
that no one would care for anything less exciting, and the Oxford and
Cambridge sports would be deserted with contempt as offering no
attraction.

The desire for excitement is the most conspicuous feature, and the most
dangerous disease of the age; anything which provides it is welcome;
people are bored despite their incessant search of distraction, and
anything which will exorcise the spectre of boredom is eagerly received;
and after all it would be absurd if persons who go to see steeplechases
pretended to be too squeamish to cry the 'Habet'! Let the managers of
Olympia obtain permission for gladiatorial games (death being
guaranteed), and I will promise them that "all London" in the most
fashionable sense of those words will crowd from April to August to see
the sport. If the ladies could be allowed to descend into the arena, to
touch the dying bodies, as Nero used to like to do, to see the faint
life still lingering shrink and writhe, this success would be still
greater; and Nero was but a primitive creature, he had but a heated iron
wand, whereas my ladies could be provided by their favourite scientist
with the much more excruciating torment of electricity. Imagine what
exquisite little jewelled instruments of torture, made to fasten on to a
bracelet, or hide within a ring, would fill the shops in Bond Street and
Piccadilly. 'We are going electrolysing!' would be heard from all the
pretty lips of the leaders of society; and they would cease to care for
their bicycles, and auto-cars, and even for the discussion of actresses'
new gowns. 'How many dead 'uns did you knock off last night?' their most
intimate friend would ask, as he would lean over the rails in Rotten
Row, sucking the crook of his cane.

Does this appear exaggerated and libellous?[11] Well, let us look at the
example given by a London leader of fashion and politics as she goes
down at election time to shed sweetness and light around her in Poplar
or Shoreditch.

[Footnote 11: To know how possible this is, look at the women of fashion
at the Cape in this springtime of 1900, with their admirable toilettes,
their lovely false hair, their bird-adorned hats, their picnics and
their dinners and their cheery titter: 'Let us go and see the wounded!'
_vide_ the testimony of Mr Treves, the eminent surgeon.]

In her bonnet is, of course, an osprey aigrette; she knows it was torn
from a living creature, but then that was done far away in some Asiatic
or American creek or forest, and so really does not matter. Her Suède
gloves fit like her skin; they were the skin of a kid, and were probably
stripped from its living body as this lends suppleness to the skin. The
jacket she carries on her arm is lined with Astrakhan fur, which was
taken from an unborn lamb to give to the fur that curl and kink which
please her; it has been cut from its mother's ripped-up womb. Her
horses, as they wait for her at the corner of the street, have their
heads fixed in air, and the muscles of their necks cramped by immovable
bearing-reins. Her Japanese pug runs after her, shaking his
muzzle-tortured nose. She has a telegram in her pocket which has
momentarily vexed her. She sent her sable collie to the dog-exhibition
at Brussels, and the excitement, or the crush, or the want of water, or
something, has brought on heat apoplexy, and they wire that he is dead,
poor old nervous Ossian! She really has no luck, for her Java sparrows
died too at the bird show in Edinburgh, because the footman, sent with
them, forgot to fill their water-glass when it got dry on the journey;
a great many people send birds to shows with nobody at all to take care
of them, so she feels that she was not to blame in the very least.

'Why will you show?' says her husband, who is vexed about Ossian; 'you
don't want to win and you don't want to sell.'

'Oh, everybody does it,' she answers.

He goes into his study to console himself with a new model of a pole
trap; and she, her canvassing done, runs upstairs to see her gown for
the May Drawing-Room. The train is of quite a new design, embroidered
with orchids in natural colours, and fringed with the feathers of the
small green parrakeet, a beautiful little bird which has been poisoned
by hundreds in the jungles of New Guiana to make the border to this
_manteau de cour_.

If she were told that she is a more barbaric creature than the squaw of
the poor Indian trapper who poisoned the parrakeets, she would be
equally astonished and offended.

Let us now look at her next-door neighbour; he is a very wealthy person
and seldom refuses a subscription, thinks private charity pernicious and
pauperising, attends his church regularly, and votes in the House of
Commons in favour of pigeon-shooting and spurious sports. If anyone asks
him if he 'likes animals' he answers cheerily, 'Oh, dear me, yes. Poor
creatures, why not?' But it does not disturb him that the horse in the
hansom cab, which he has called to take him to the City, has weals all
over its loins, and a bit that fills its mouth with blood and foam; nor
does he notice the over-driven and half-starved condition of a herd of
cattle being taken from Cannon Street to Smithfield, but only curses
them heartily for blocking the traffic.

He eats a capon, drives behind a gelding, warms himself at a hearth of
which the coal has been procured by untold sufferings of man and beast,
has his fish crimped, and his lobsters scalded to death, in his
kitchens, relishes the green fat cut from a living turtle, reads with
approbation his head keeper's account of the last pair of owls on his
estate having been successfully trapped, writes to that worthy to turn
down two thousand more young pheasants for the autumn shooting, orders
his agent to have his young cattle on his home-farm dishorned, and buys
as a present for his daughters a card case made from the shell of a
tortoise which was roasted alive, turned on its back on the fire to give
the ruddy glow to its shell. Why not? His favourite preacher and his
popular scientist alike assure him that all the subject races are
properly sacrificed to man. It is obviously wholly impossible to
convince such a person that he is cruel: he merely studies his own
convenience, and he has divine and scientific authority for considering
that he is perfectly right in doing so. He is quite comfortable, both
for time and for eternity. It were easier to change the burglar of the
slums, the brigand of the hills, than to change this self-complacent and
pachydermatous householder who represents nine-tenths of the ruling
classes.

Let us not mistake; he is not personally a cruel man; he would not
himself hurt anything, except in sport which he thinks is legitimate,
and in science which he is told is praiseworthy; he is amiable,
good-natured, perhaps benevolent, but he is wrapped up in habits,
customs, facts, egotisms, tyrannies which all seem to him to be good,
indeed to be essential. His horse is a thing to him like his mail
phaeton; his dog is a dummy, like his umbrella stand; his cattle are
wealth-producing stores, like his timber or wheat; he uses them all as
he requires, as he uses his hats and gloves. He sees no more unkindness
in doing away with any of them than in discarding his old boots, and he
passes the most atrocious laws and by-laws for animal torment as
cheerfully as he signs a cheque payable to self.

His ears are wadded by prejudice, his eyes are blinded by formula, his
character is steeped in egotism; you might as well try, I repeat, to
touch the heart of the Sicilian brigand or the London crib-cracker as to
alter his views and opinions; you would speak to him in a language which
is as unintelligible to his world as Etruscan to the philologist.

The majority of his friends, like himself, lead their short, bustling,
bumptious, and frequently wholly useless lives, purblind always and
entirely deaf where anything except their own interests is concerned.
They think but very rarely of anything except themselves, and the
competitions, ambitions, or jealousies which occupy them. But in their
pastimes cruelty is to them acceptable; it is an outlet for the
barbarian who sleeps in them, heavily drugged but not dead; the sight of
blood titillates agreeably their own slow circulation.

Between them, and the cad who breaks the back of the bagged rabbit,
there is no difference except in the degree of power to indulge the
slaughter-lust.

Alas! it were easier 'to quarry the granite rock with razors' than to
touch the feelings of such as this man, or this woman, where their
vanities, or their mere sheep-like love of doing as others do, are in
question. Princesses wear osprey tufts and lophophorus wings, and so
society wears them too, and cares not a straw by what violence and
wickedness they are procured; as the ladies, who attend their State
concerts, sleep none the worse when in their country houses because the
rabbit screams in the steel gins, and the hawk struggles in the pole
trap, in the woods about their ancestral houses, and have no less
appetite for luncheon amongst the bracken or the heather because shot
and bleeding creatures lie half dead in the game bags around, or because
the stag often is stretched in his dead majesty before their eyes. Why,
then, should they care because in far distant lands little feathered
creatures, lovely as flowers, innocent as the dew and the honey they
feed on, are killed by the thousands and tens of thousands because a
vulgar and depraved taste demands their tender bodies?

What does it matter to them that, through their demands, the bird of
paradise has become so rare that, unless stringent measures be taken at
once, it will be soon totally extinct, and the golden glory of its
plumes will gleam no more in tropical sunlight? What does it matter to
them that the herons in all their various kinds, the osprey, the egret,
the crane, the ibis, are scarcely seen now in the southern and middle
States of America, and, when seen, are no longer together in confident
colonies, as of yore, but nesting singly and in fear? 'Practically all
our heronries are deserted. The birds have been slaughtered for their
plumes,' writes a physician[12] dwelling in the Delaware valley. 'What
were common birds in their season half a century ago are now rarely
seen. The struggle for existence has been a violent one and the herons
have been worsted. Scarcely a word of protest has been heard, and none
that has been effectual.' Women of the world know this, or at least have
been told it fifty times; but it makes no impression on them. They will
wear osprey-aigrettes as long as any are left in commerce, and they
think a humming-bird looks so pretty in their hair. What else matters?

[Footnote 12: Charles Conrad Abbott, M.D.]

That their example is copied by the women of the middle classes with
swallows and warblers, and by the servant girl and factory girl with
dyed sparrows and finches, makes no impression on them; if the fact be
noticed to them they say that the common people always will be
ridiculous, and stop their carriage in Bond Street to buy fire-screens
made of owls, or an electric lamp hung in the beak of a stuffed
flamingo.

Why should they care, indeed!--they who walk with the guns, even if they
do not do more and secure a warm corner for their own shot; they who
bring up their young sons to regard the cowardly and brutal sport of
battue-shooting as the supreme pleasure and privilege of youth, and see
unmoved their beautiful autumnal woods turned into slaughter-places?

One cannot but reflect how different might the world have been if women
had been different in mind and temper; if, instead of their smiling,
self-complacent tittering approbation of brutality, they had shown
scorn for and abhorrence of brutality. They clamour for electoral rights
and leave all this vast field of influence unoccupied and untilled! They
do little or nothing to soften the hearts or refine the feelings of the
men who love them, or to bring up their children in any sympathy with
animal life. Sport has become fashionable with them in the last twenty
years, and the crack shot in the coverts of Chantilly this winter was a
woman. Sporting clothes, breeches and gaiters, are now a recognised part
of the fashionable woman's toilet.

I would not affirm (anomaly as it appears) that the pursuit of sport
cannot co-exist with a love of animals, for I have known many sporting
men and hunting men who were in a sense sincerely devoted to some
animals. But sport inevitably creates deadness of feeling. No one could
take pleasure in it who was sensitive to suffering; and therefore its
pursuit by women is much more to be regretted than its pursuit by men,
because women pursue much more violently and recklessly what they pursue
at all; and it is impossible for the sportswoman logically and
effectively to exercise any influence on her young children which could
incline them to mercy--such an influence as Lamartine's mother had on
him to the day of his death.

There are two periods in the life of a woman when she is almost
omnipotent for good or ill. These are when men are in love with her;
and, again, when her children are young enough to be left entirely to
her and to those whom she selects to control them. How many women in ten
thousand use this unlimited power which they then possess to breathe
the quality of mercy into the souls of those who for the time are as wax
in their hands? They will crowd into the Speaker's Box to applaud
debates which concern them in no way. They will impertinently force
their second-hand opinions on Jack and Jill in the village or in the
City alleys. They will go on to platforms and sing comic songs, or
repeat temperance platitudes, and think they are a great moral force in
the improvement of the masses. This they will do, because it amuses them
and makes them of importance. But alter their own lives, abandon their
own favourite cruelties, risk the sneer of society, or lead their little
children to the love of nature and the tenderness of pity; these they
will never do. Mercy is not in them, nor humility, nor sympathy.

Can written words do anything to touch the hearts of those who read? I
fear not.

On how many do written words, even dipped in the heart's blood and
burning with the soul's fire, produce any lasting effect? Is not the
most eloquent voice doomed to cry without echo in the wilderness? And
what wilderness is there so barren as the desert of human indifference
and of human egotism?

Pity is only awakened in those who are already pitiful. We cannot sow
mustard seed on granite. The whole tendency of the age is towards
cynicism, indifference, self-engrossment. The small children sneer much
more often than they smile.

From Plutarch to Voltaire, from Celsus to Sir Arthur Helps, the finest
and most earnest pleading against cruelty has been made by the finest
and most logical minds. But the world has not listened; the majority of
men and women are neither just nor generous, neither fine nor logical.
In a few generations more, there will probably be no room at all allowed
for animals on the earth: no need of them, no toleration of them. An
immense agony will have then ceased, but with it there will also have
passed away the last smile of the world's youth. For in the future the
human race will have no tenderness for those of its own kind who are
feeble or aged, and will consign to lethal chambers all those who weary
it, obstruct it, or importune it: since the quality of mercy will day by
day be more derided, and less regarded, as one of the moral attributes
of mankind.



XII

THE DECADENCE OF LATIN RACES


I have read with the attention due to the author's name the essay of
Professor Sergi on the decadence of the Latin nations. It seems to me,
when reflecting on it, that the esteemed author gives to every slight
change, the much-used, and much-abused, name of progress; and considers
mere change as an indisputable betterment. He also considers that the
Latin races cannot exist under modern conditions unless they form
themselves on the models and follow the examples of non-Latin races; if,
that is to say, they do not imitate what is foreign and alien to them.
It is clear that he does not for a moment doubt that the non-Latin are
infinitely superior to the Latin peoples, and he rebukes the latter for
remaining immovable, although, somewhat oddly, he excepts France from
his censure on account of her great commerce, and only includes in his
ban his own country and Spain.

With Spain I do not occupy myself, as I am not sufficiently well
acquainted with her to do so; indeed, Professor Sergi himself says very
little about her; but of Italy I cannot consider that his condemnation
is merited. If she do merit it, why does she do so?

Both questions are interesting. Professor Sergi, like too many writers
of the present time, assumes as an indisputable fact that the mere
innovation, the mere alteration of a thing, is of necessity improvement,
advancement, amelioration; and this being his rooted conviction, he
considers Great Britain and the United States the models and ideals of
modern life. For this reason he would force Italy to abandon entirely
her traditions, her instincts, and her natural genius, and substitute
for them an exact and servile imitation of these two foreign peoples who
have tastes in common with her. Unfortunately he does not inform us to
what point he carries this desire, and if the immense changes he advises
are to be dynastic and political, or merely social and intellectual. He
prints in capital letters his chief advice to the Latin nations to _move
on new lines_; but he does not explain whether he means to move to a new
Constitution, to a new Representation, to a new theory and practice of
Government; and he does not even say whether he thinks or does not think
that the Church is the greatest enemy of national progress in Latin
nations. It would be interesting to know in what proportions he holds
the two antagonistic forces of Church and State to be guilty of opposing
progress; that each is an obstacle to the higher forms of progress there
can be no question in the mind of any dispassionate thinker. But he is
careful not to commit himself to this view. Since he gives us so little
information on this head, and limits himself to the counsel, somewhat
meagre in its expression, to _move on new lines_, we may endeavour to
find out for ourselves how far his advice goes: if Italy do actually
merit his contempt for her inertia, and if the non-Latin races deserve
or do not deserve the admiration with which he pronounces on their
superiority.

That the Italian nation is immovable is not true: for good or evil it
moves as its great son Gallileo said of the earth. The fault, the peril,
lie the other way. It is to be feared that the Italian people run the
risk of losing their finest instincts, and their most gracious
characteristics, through the exaggerated and obsequious imitation of
foreign peoples, and by a too ready adoration of new things merely
because they are new. They are the ideals of many a modern Italian.
Guglielmo Ferrero has dedicated many hundreds of pages to the
celebration of their perfections. I believe that such worship is chiefly
founded on illusion, for it is as easy to cherish illusions about a
steam mill as about a mediæval saint.

Let us look at the actual situation of Great Britain, setting aside her
imperialist swagger, and regarding only facts. The English themselves
admit that if a European naval coalition succeeded in preventing grain
reaching their shores from America and the colonies, the nation in a
fortnight would want bread. Is that an ideal or a safe position? If, in
a sea-war, the British fleet would be successful is wholly uncertain,
since no one can say how the metal battleships would behave in any
distress; the manoeuvres have not shed much light upon this question,
and many of the marine monsters, as regards their utility in active
warfare, are still unknown quantities. Equally uncertain is what would
be the conduct of the Indian population were Great Britain vanquished
in any great war, for the majority of the peoples of Hindostan most
unwillingly endure through coercion the yoke of the British rule.

In Ireland there is a racial hatred which nothing can extinguish, and
only demands a favourable occasion to show itself. Canada may any day
embroil England with the United States; and so may the West Indies, and
the Nebraskan and Nicaraguan questions; and so may Newfoundland with
France, and East or West Africa with Germany. In every part of the globe
Great Britain has on her hands conquests, colonies, intrigues, enemies,
open questions, and concealed questions, of every kind. Her greed is
great, and her entanglements are innumerable. There are many weak points
in her fortifications. To meet her obligations she is obliged to use
legions of Asiatics, or Africans, or employ as mercenaries men from her
distant colonies, or send the soldiers of one vanquished nation to help
vanquish another. Thus did Imperial Rome, and so went to her undoing.
Doubtless Great Britain is rich, powerful, strong, proud, and vain. So
was Rome; so was Spain. It is possible, even probable, that at some,
perhaps not distant day, Great Britain also will give way under the
enormous weight of her self-sought responsibilities, and the still more
ponderous weight of her many enemies.

Internally, also, England is not what she used to be. The old nobility
is elbowed out of prominent place by a new aristocracy which has been
created entirely on a money basis. Every ministry, when going out of
office, creates a new batch of titled rich men, lifted into the Lords in
return for political or financial service. Wealth is now the dominant
factor of English social life; and a commerce, wholly unscrupulous, is
the sole scope of the tawdry and noisy empire of which Joseph
Chamberlain is the standard-bearer.

What is there in all this to admire or to imitate?

Again we have seen that in the United States, since they abandoned their
wise policy of non-intervention in external affairs, the national life
resembles the English, is vain, boastful, hypocritical, cruel, and
bellicose. The thirst of gain devours the nation. There is no other land
in which the contrast between rich and poor is so sharp and terrible;
none in which millions are thrown away with more frightful indifference
and conceited display. Lynch law in all its horror reigns over many
provinces, and unblushing corruption mounts into the highest places and
poisons all the sources of national life. Guglielmo Ferrero stands
stupefied before their innumerable newspaper offices, which he says use
up every day as much paper as would go round the circumference of the
earth! But he forgets, or ignores, that the literary quality of those
journals is usually of the poorest and vulgarest kind, and that the
chief part of their columns is filled by advertisements. He is also
transfixed with rapture before the colossal houses which Americans call
sky-scrapers, and sees the revelation of a stupendous genius in their
passion for what is big, costly, eccentric; nor does he hesitate to
compare it with the Florentine and Venetian genius!

Actually there was never on earth two more different kinds of creation
than these; never one more absolutely soulless, and one more nobly
penetrated by the soul. The genius of the Italian masters was lofty,
generous, at once humble and sublime, never interested, always
consecrated to Art and Country; the skill of the American constructors
has no other scope than that of getting money, of making the world
stare, of producing the huge, the gross, the extravagant, the enormous,
and labours for only one God, the venal Mercury of the market-place. In
these new cities, so vehemently extolled, with their towering
constructions which hide the smoke-obscured clouds, and their network of
electric wires, of railways in the air, and trams running across each
other, there is not the faintest spark of that divine light which is
called Liberty. Americans boast of their freedom, but it only exists in
words; it has no abiding place outside a boisterous rhetoric. The old
Puritanism still exists in religious bigotry and persecution; office is
bought and sold; justice is a matter of money; private life suffers from
conventionalities and social tyrannies innumerable; political and
municipal elections are the work of a Caucus. A man cannot drink, or
stir, or do aught without his neighbour knowing and judging what he
does; even marriage is to be made a matter for doctors to allow or
disallow; the whole press is but a gigantic Paul Pry, a vast Holy Office
where the persecution by the pen ends in the execution by the revolver.

Such is American liberty.

What can Italy learn from such a model?

Amongst the maladies of the brain known in this day is one which is
called the mania of grandeur. It seems to me that not only individuals,
but entire nations, are possessed by it. It is perilous and contagious.
Italy has already been inoculated by its virus.

There is also everywhere a fatal tendency to open the door of Italy to
every foreign syndicate, and every foreign speculation, which puts
forward a prospectus or launches shares on the market. The preponderance
of Jews is enormous as owners of ground rents and estates in Italy; the
chief part of Italian cities and towns is owned by Jews; and the greater
number of the industries of all kinds in the country are in the hands of
foreigners, like the newly-projected mining enterprise in Elba. If these
mines be worth the working, why does not Italy work them herself, and
take all the profits?

These facts are not due to any immovability; but to a dangerously lax
tendency to run into foreign roads. The Italian Faust is only too
susceptible to the invitations of the foreign Mephistopheles.

On the other hand a very marked inclination in the Italian is towards
the modern forms of co-operation and communism. This tendency is not due
in any way to the influence of the past, but to that mixture of jealousy
and envy, of hatred of the rich, and detestation of labour, and of
humble ways and of poor means, which is as general in Italy as it is
everywhere else in our time, and which is the modern translation of the
old classic clamour for Panem et Circenses. Is it towards this already
popular communism that Professor Sergi would direct the Italian nation?
The direction is already taken, and does not need his propulsion. If
there be one thing more certain than another in the Italy of to-day it
is the preference of a large proportion of the people for different
forms of socialism and collectivism; and the persecution these doctrines
receive lends them a dangerous force. At the same time as it persecutes
them, the State, with strange self-stultification, recognises and grants
one of the largest and most insolent of socialistic and communistic
demands, _i.e._, that for the expropriation of private land in the Agro
Romano, and in the various latifundi in Sicily and elsewhere; and thus
opens the door either to a most high-handed and unjust spoliation, or to
an agrarian civil war in a not distant future.

Again, the most terrible disease of modern society--corruption--is not
due to the past in Italy or anywhere else; it exists wherever men exist,
and is as general in the republic of France or of the United States as
under the autocracy of Russia or of Persia. The Italian disasters of
Eritrea were due rather to corruption than to incapacity. When the mules
were bought in Naples for 100 lire per head, and sold to the State at
500 lire per head, the battle of Abba-Garima, called by English people
the battle of Adowa, was lost before it was fought.

Professor Sergi speaks of the defeat of Abba-Garima as a proof of the
decay of the Italian race; but this is a very unfair deduction. As well
might the continual defeats of the British in the first months of the
present war in South Africa be held as a proof of British poltroonery.
Any shortcomings which may have existed in the Italian army in
Abyssinia, and exist at home, are, moreover, certainly not to be traced
to old-world influences; or to any emasculating tenderness for
tradition. There is no reverence for the armies of the past in the
actual Italian army, for it is unlike any of them; it does not resemble
the armies of the Duchies, or of the Republics, or of the Florentine
Carraccio, or of the Lombard trained bands, or of the levies of the
Neapolitan Bourbons, or of the legions of Varus. The only model it
resembles is that idol of its commanders, the German Army, on which it
is shaped and governed, in all the cut-and-dried narrowness and hardness
inseparable from the German system. All this may be considered to be
inevitable now, but modern militarism is unsuited to the character of
Italians, and reacts injuriously on the genius and temper, and physical
and mental life, of the people.

Unhappily militarism is the most conspicuous and the most tenacious of
all modern influences, and the failure of the Conference of the Hague so
immediately followed by the war of aggression in South Africa, is a sad
and irrefutable proof that the nations are not in the least likely to
free themselves from its yoke.

Taking the modern temper in its civil systems, as in its military, it
does not seem to me any better adapted to the Italian idiosyncrasies;
and all its worst features already exist in all which is here called
government. Italian legislation confounds perpetually regulations with
laws; is fidgeting, irritating, inquisitorial, insolent, harassing; its
tyranny spoils the lives of the populace; by means of its agents it
penetrates into all the privacies of family life; its perpetual
interference between father and son, between master and man, between
mother and child, between buyer and seller, between youth and free
choice, between marriage and celibacy, between the man who takes a walk
and the dog who goes with him, constitutes incessant causes of
irritation, and is a perpetual menace which lowers over the popular life
from sunrise to sunset, and scarcely even leaves in peace the hours of
the night.[13]

[Footnote 13: The other evening, in a theatre in Messina, a young
gentleman expressed aloud his disapprobation of the performance; a
person near bade him hold his tongue; the young man answered the
rudeness with a blow; the person immediately produced a pair of
handcuffs and clapped them on; he was a detective in plain clothes! The
Italian of whatever rank he be can never be sure that he is not
shadowed. The apprehension poisons existence to the most innocent.]

More or less there is too much of this in all modern nations, but in
Italy it is especially odious, being in such absolute antagonism to the
courtesy and gaiety, and warm domestic affections, natural to the
Italian public, and a source of continual fret and friction to it both
in pleasure and in pain.[14]

[Footnote 14: At Palermo in the April of this year it has been decreed
by municipal edict that, as it is contrary to hygiene for the petticoats
of women to sweep up the dust of the streets in which the spittal of the
sufferers from tuberculosis may have fallen and dried in the sun, all
women who walk in Palermo are to shorten their skirts! Health, it is
austerely added, is more important than fashion!]

There is certainly no necessity to incite Italians to admiration of
foreign products and inventions. Such enthusiasm is only too general,
and too blind, at least in that portion of the nation which is under the
influence of the schools, the press, and the universities. An electrical
machine has many more admirers than the bell-tower of Giotto, and a
shop-window of a Bon Marché than the Palace of the Doges. The modern
temper, cynical, trivial, avaricious, vulgar, which now discolours human
life as the _oidium_ discolours the leaves of the vines, has affected
too deeply the Italian mind, and has dried up its natural sense of, and
capacity for, beauty. The glorious cities of Italy have been ruined by
scandalous disembowelling; its ancient small towns are made ridiculous
by electric light and steam tramways; the useful and picturesque dress
of its peasantry is abandoned for the ugly and stupid clothes of modern
fashion, cut out of the shoddy cloths furnished by English
manufacturers; and this want of good sense, of good taste, of all true
instincts towards form and colour, is a moral and mental malady due to
that contagion of foreign influence which has poisoned Italy as it has
poisoned Japan and India, Africa and Asia.

Therefore every counsel to her to follow modern impulses is pernicious.
She is but too ready to do so, believing that, by this way, riches lie.
Moreover, the advice to the Italians to rise, and change, and follow new
paths, seems to me at the present time a cruel derision; because the
Italian who gives it must be well aware that the nation is not free to
do anything or make any change. It is not even allowed to speak. No
public meeting can gather together without intervention of the police.
The press cannot publish any opinions which are disapproved of by the
Government without incurring sequestration of the journal, perhaps
imprisonment of editor, writer, and printer. Where, then, can any fresh
field be found in which to plant any flowers of thought with any hope
to see them root and blossom in action? The hand of the Public
Prosecutor would pluck them up before they could stretch out a single
fibre.

Take that question so dear to the country; the question of Italia
Irredenta. Where could it be discussed in public without 'authority'
intervening and silencing the speakers? Professor Sergi forgets, or
avoids, to say that in Italy the first conditions of a 'movement on new
lines' are wanting; civil liberty is wanting, and free speech and free
acts are forbidden. Who can walk out into the country when barriers
block up the end of every street? On the man, as on the dog, under
pretence of public safety, the muzzle is fastened, and by its enforced
use all health is destroyed.

The Italian of our time is too quickly intimidated, forgets too soon,
wears the rosette in his button-hole when he should put crape round his
arm, dances with too ready an indifference on the grave of his hopes and
of his friends. To form a virile character there is no education so good
as the exercise of political and civil liberty; this education is but
little given anywhere; it is not given at all between Monte Rosa and
Mount Etna. The Italian is by nature too ready to be over-anxious and
over-distressed at trifles; he thinks too much of trifling difficulties
and the petty troubles of the hour; he is quickly discouraged, he is
soon overwhelmed with despair, he has small faith in his own star, and
he has not the elasticity and rebound of the Gaulois temper. Nothing
therefore can possibly be worse for him than the kind of galling public
tutelage and the perpetual molestation in which he is condemned to live;
always esteemed guilty, or likely to be guilty, however harmless he may
be. It is illogical to condemn a nation for having no virility of
character, when the systems under which it is reared, and forced to
dwell, destroys its manhood, and forbid all independence of thought,
speech, and action.

Let us take for instance that uninteresting person, a small tradesman,
native and citizen of any Italian town; in all his smallest actions
relative to his little shop, such, for instance, as altering or
re-painting his signboard, he must obtain the permission of his
Municipality. If he venture to clean or refurbish his board without
authorisation, he will receive a summons and be compelled to pay a fine.
The same kind of torment occurs in a dozen other daily trifles,
magnified into crimes and visited with condign punishment; and,
inevitably, the worried citizen becomes timid, nervous, and either
afraid or incapable of judging or acting for himself. You cannot keep a
man in the swaddling clothes of infancy and expect him to walk erect and
well.

A shopkeeper, a tailor in Florence, known to me, cut the cord with which
a municipal dog-catcher had throttled his dog; he did no more; he was
immediately arrested, dragged off to prison, and kept there for months
without trial: when tried he was condemned to four months of prison and
a heavy fine.

Herbert Spencer has said, 'Govern me as little as you can'; _i.e._,
leave me to regulate my existence as I please, which is clearly the
right of every man not a criminal. The Italian is, however, 'governed to
death,' and tied up in the stifling network of an infinity of small
ordinances and wearisome prohibitions. In the sense, therefore, in which
the sufferer from tuberculosis may be said to want health, the Italian
may be accused of wanting spirit; but this is not the sense of the
reproach of Professor Sergi. Professor Sergi, like so many others of his
teachers and masters, desires to propel him along a road which has
already cost him dear. How many millions has it not cost in the last
score of years, that fatal weakness of Italians for imitating others?
The rural communes of the country have more than a milliard of debts,
almost all due to the senseless mania for demolition, for novelty, for
superfluous alterations and imitations, works worse than useless,
commended or proposed by the Government, and eagerly accepted by the
communal and provincial councils, since each member of these hoped to
rub his share of gilding off the gingerbread as it passed through his
hands. All the vast sums thus expended are all taken out of the enormous
local and imperial taxation, are divided between contractors, engineers,
members of the town and county councils, lawyers, go-betweens, and all
the innumerable middlemen who swarm in every community like mites in
cheese, at the same time that the poor peasant is taxed at the gates for
a half-dozen of eggs, or a bundle of grass, and the poor washerwoman
carrying in her linen has her petticoats pulled up over her head by a
searcher to ascertain if she have nothing saleable or taxable hidden on
her person. These are new ways, no doubt; but they are ways on which
walk the ghost of ruin and the skeleton of famine.

If it be true, as Professor Sergi considers, that Italy can never hope
to extend her conquests and her commerce as northern and western nations
will do, then it is surely all the more needful to hold her own place in
the world by the culture and development of her own natural genius. A
nation, like a person, should be always natural; to be fashioned on
others is to be without any confidence in oneself, and lose one's
equilibrium in the stress of every difficulty. The rigid and
indigestible character of modern education is not adapted, I repeat, to
the Italian temperament, which is _prime-sautier_, subtle but
inflammatory, impressionable but unresisting, and loses enormously when
it is shut down in the hot stove of the so-called 'highest studies.'
Even the national manners, naturally so graceful and charming in all
ranks of Italian society, lose their suavity, their ease, their
elegance, under the influence of the foreigner and the vulgarity of
modern habits. Good taste passes away with good manners; and
pigeon-shooting, sleeping-cars, automobiles, bicycles and tramway crowds
bring with them the breeding suitable to them; and the modern monuments,
the modern squares, the modern houses, the whitewash daubed on old
walls, the cast-iron bridges spanning classic waters, the straight,
featureless, glaring, dusty streets, the electric trolleys cutting
across ancient marbles, all conduce to make ignoble what was noble, and
belittle all which was great.

All this is not the fault of a too reverent admiration for an
incomparable Art, for a glorious history; it is a much worse thing; it
is an oblivion of both history and art, ingrate, unworthy, and ruinous.

Many say that Italians are unfit for freedom; it is certain that they
have never been tried by it. Whatever their government is called,
freedom is unheard of under its rule. Year after year, century after
century, all the Italian provinces, however differently governed, have
been held down under an absolutism more or less disguised. The general
character, with heroic exceptions, has been inevitably weakened. The man
of easy temper and pleasure-loving disposition consoles himself with
amusement; the serious man seeks refuge in study or in science; one and
all accept inaction as their lot. A political _camorra_ guides the
chariot of the State, and the people draw aside, and stand silent, only
hoping to escape being crushed under its wheels. Professor Sergi must be
well aware of this sad truth; then why speak to Italy as if she were a
free country, why speak to her of expansion and vitality when he sees
her without power to purge herself of the fiscal and constitutional
disease which is in her blood?

With as much reason might he chain up a greyhound, and bid him course
the hare; clip the wings of a skylark, and bid it mount to the clouds.



XIII

ALMA VENIESIA


'Our cities are fast losing their best characteristics,' said Pompeo
Molmenti at Montecitorio, in one of those eloquent speeches which the
Chamber hears often from him, and hears, alas! always in vain. His name
is no doubt known to many English readers although his beautiful books
are not as widely read outside the peninsula as they merit. His
conspicuous position as President of the Venetian Academy has perhaps in
a manner obscured, out of Italy, his infinite merits and vast erudition
as a writer on history and art, and even Wyzewa reproaches him with
making Venice too exclusively his universe. But surely Venice is wide
enough, and great enough, to be the world of a man penetrated from his
earliest years with her beauty, and with the grandeur of her past, and
who, in his childhood, saw, accomplished by his seniors, that union of
Venice to northern and central Italy, which raised such high hopes and
caused such glorious dreams.

His works are, as I have said, but little known in England, not known at
least as the classic scholarship, the historic learning and the artistic
erudition of their writer deserve; nor are the debates of the Italian
Chamber truthfully enough represented in the English press for the
brilliant oratory of the deputy for Salo to have found any echo in
English ears. Many-sided as great Italians usually are, politics,
literature, and history alike claim his allegiance, and art is his
adored mistress. Eloquent, dauntless, and sarcastic, his periods pierce
like arrows and lash like scourges, whether he condemns the miserable
blasphemies of the modern spirit, or holds up to mockery such individual
vanity as that of the Under-Secretary of State, who caused his own name
and titles to be cut under a verse of Dante's on one of the stones of
the church of S. Francesco at Assisi!

I can imagine nothing more painful than for a man of fine taste and high
culture, born and bred in such a city as Venice, venerating every shadow
on its waters, the moss upon its walls, to be forced to see, day by day,
roll up and break over it the mud-wave of modern barbarism. So may have
watched, from the marble atrium of his villa, some Roman patrician of
the days of Honorius the approach, upon the golden horizon, of the
unlettered tribes drawing nearer and nearer as the sun descended, to
burn, to slaughter, to deflour, to desecrate. 'Great and sublime
attainment would be his who should save Venice from the dreadful menace
now hanging over her!' cries Pompeo Molmenti, with the bitter
consciousness that none will succeed in that endeavour, since her lot is
now cast in times when her treasures of art are in the hands of
tradesmen and speculators, to whom her past glory is naught.

His years have been passed amongst her art and her disciples of art; he
has watched the spoilers at their work amongst her treasures, and, with
the grief of a son who beholds his mother dishonoured, he has been
overwhelmed in these most recent times by the indignity and injustice of
her lot.

She shares that lot with her sisters; the burden of her chains lies also
on them; every city throughout the peninsula from Monte Rosa to Mount
Etna has been insulted, dishonoured, defamed, defiled, even as she
herself. But Venice is threatened with something still more than this;
she is threatened with absolute extinction. There are schemes now
simmering in the brains of speculators by which she will disappear as
completely as one of her own fishing-boats, when it is sucked under the
sea, canvas, and timbers, and crew, in a night of storm.

A few weeks ago, Molmenti gave the solitary vote against the destruction
of more of the Calle, and the establishment of a night service of
steamers on the Canalezzo. The record of that single unsupported vote is
his own highest honour, and the shame of his contemporaries and
co-citizens. But he wrestles in vain with the forces of cupidity and
stupidity. Whether in the Council Chamber of Venice, or in the
Parliament of Montecitorio, he strives in vain to resist the trampling
hoofs of those devastating barbaric hordes which a pseudo civilisation
vomits over his country.

What he justly calls the burial of the lagoons goes on every day; loads
of clay and sand and stones being poured into that silent water which so
lately mirrored walls which were green with the hart's-tongue,
penny-wort, and ivy-leaved toad's-flax, and reflected statues white
through ages in the dustless air, shining acacia leaves, boughs of fig
and laurel, carved niches, illumined shrines; the rubble and the rubbish
are shot down into the canals which are chosen for extinction, and the
walls are scraped, the acacias, the fig-trees, the laurels are cut down,
the fruit-boat, the _sandalo_, the bridal gondola, are pushed out of the
way by the brick-laden launches; where marble fretwork crossed the air,
there is a cast-iron pontoon, and higher still a telephone wire; under
foot there is a paved or macadamised way. Marco Polo could not find his
house now; it still exists, but all around it is disfigured, dismantled,
defaced.

The Palazzo Narni and the Ponte del Paradiso made, a few years ago,
together one of the most beautiful corners in the world; go look at that
spot now; it is enough to make the grey-beard of Cadore rise from his
grave. There still remains on high, between the two houses, the
admirable cuspide of the Trecento, on which there is sculptured the
Madonna, who opens wide her mantle and her cloak to receive the kneeling
people; but the beautiful bridge has been destroyed, and in its place
has been built a frightful structure, with asphalte roadway and painted
metal parapet. In similar manner the elegant, yet bold, arches of the
three bridges at S. Nicolo di Tolentino exist nowhere, now, except upon
the canvases of painters, and the three banks, near the Campo di Marte,
which those graceful arches united, are now basely conjoined by three
erections of stucco and cast-iron.

     'In the _Arzere_ of Santa Marta,' Molmenti writes in his latest
     work, 'once so green and gay and sunlit, a poor quarter no
     doubt, but one intensely interesting by customs and traditions,
     there blocks the way now, in all its stolid vulgarity, a cotton
     factory. Between the public gardens and the Lido, instead of
     the lovely verdure of the island of Sant' Elena, in its grace
     and its green twilight of drooped boughs, is a shapeless
     expanse of mud and cinders, which spreads farther every season,
     and threatens to invade the water-space which separates it from
     the gardens and S. Pietro di Castello. On this desert of coke
     and dirt there have been lately erected offices, sheds,
     warehouses, chimneys, engines, in the midst of which there
     still stands, hiding as though ashamed, the beautiful church of
     the Quattro Cento. But the invasion has been useless; the
     speculations have failed; and art and history mourn
     unavailingly the senseless and profitless destruction of this
     fairest gem of the lagoons: _insularum ocellus_. The ruin of
     Sant' Elena, of the view of San Giorgio, of the bridge of San
     Lio, the hideous new wing added to the noble brown marbles of
     the Pal Tiepolo, the hideous iron warehouse fronting and
     affronting the Ca d'Oro, the whitewash daubed on the Pal
     Sagredo, the indecent alterations and additions to that jewel
     of Pietro Lombardo the Pal Corner-Spinelli, the new red (like
     ruddle or red ochre) with which the Pal Foscari has been
     insulted, these are all offences which every traveller of
     taste, every artist of culture, can see, and number, and
     denounce. But countless, and unknown to the world in general,
     and undreamed of by those who knew not Venice fifteen years
     ago, is the enormous loss to the city by the destruction at the
     hands of the Muncipal Councillors of the _Calli_, of the
     _Arzere_, of the mediæval bridges, as of those of which I have
     spoken above, of innumerable nooks and corners, historical and
     beautiful; old wells, old fountains, old shrines, beautiful
     fragments of sculpture and fresco, solemn convent walls,
     graceful church spires and monastic belfries, parapets, arches,
     doorways, spiral staircases winding up to hand-forged iron
     balconies, lamps of metal-work fine as lace-work, all these in
     innumerable numbers have been effaced, pulled down, built over,
     or sold; and, above all, there have been destroyed those lovely
     quiet green places, called each _il Campo_ or _il Campiello_
     (the field or the little field), where, of old, the Venetians
     fed their sheep, stretches of grass enclosed by old houses, old
     convents, old towers, old quays, old bridges, with always a
     sculptured well in the centre of each, and the splash of oars
     near at hand.'

These have nearly all had a similar fate to that of the beautiful house
in the Campo di S. Margherita, which Molmenti especially laments, of
which the Venetian colouring, the carven galleries, the climbing vines,
the bronze railing, the falling water with its spouting jets, have all
disappeared, to give place to a yellow, plastered modern building, while
its basso-relievo of the Virgin, so long dear to all artists, has been
sold to a picture dealer.

     'One must be blind indeed,' writes Molmenti, 'not to see the
     horrible misgovernment of Venice in this latter half of the
     century, and persons still young can remember a Venice poetic,
     picturesque, filled with fascination and mysterious charm, now
     destroyed for no other reason than a senseless and brutal craze
     for novelty.'

What language can strongly enough denounce such wicked and insensate
acts?

He quotes the well-known lines of Philippe de Commines as to the 'most
triumphant city' that he had ever seen, 'the most beautiful street' (the
Canal Grande) 'that there could be found in all the world'; and he adds,
'the stranger who comes now into this street only finds himself in a
vast alley of shopkeepers.'

The Canalezzo is now, indeed, as he says, little more than a huge bazaar
of tradesmen and dealers in curios, in which hundreds of advertisements,
in many-coloured posters, announce the wares which are now for sale
within the ancient palaces. The syndicate of foreign traders, now being
established in Venice, will achieve its degradation.

Italian ministers and Italian municipalities are often accused of not
encouraging warmly enough English, German, and American tradesmen and
manufacturers to establish themselves in Italy, and of putting upon
foreign commercial establishments in Italy a prohibitive taxation; the
truth is that it would be much better were such foreign firms
discouraged more effectively. It is urged on their behalf that they
bring capital into the country; they may do so, but only to take it out
again for their own profit, and Italian labour sweats and groans only
that some millionaire of Eaton Square or Fifth Avenue may increase his
wealth, whilst at the same time Italian tradespeople, trading in their
own right, on their own soil, are undersold by the shop-keeping and
store-keeping Briton and Yankee.

I am far from entire agreement with Molmenti in many of his views (as
for instance his admiration of English pre-Raphaelism), but I am wholly
with him in his views of the claims of Venice, and of the sacrilege
which is destroying her; wholly with him in his severe and scornful
denunciation of what he rightly calls the _gretta e meschina arte dei
nostre tempi_ (the mean and trivial art of modern times), and of the
modern density of perception and invulnerable self-conceit which render
it impossible for the modern mind to appreciate harmony of hues and of
proportions, and impossible for the modern architect to place a new
building beside an ancient one without injury or vulgarity. Giotto could
place his church at Padua on the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, with
perfect unity, although in absolute contrast. When a modern mind has
sufficient intuition to enable it to admire a work of other times, it
can think of no better way of showing its admiration than to desire to
pull down all the houses in its vicinity to lay it bare.

Molmenti says, with entire truth, 'It is a supreme duty for the few, who
are capable of feeling them, to assert the sentiment of, and respect
for, Art against the destructive and impious tendencies of the time.'

But, alas! it is labour of Sisyphus.

There is now under consideration a scheme to make a tramway-road raised
on piles from Mestre to Venice parallel with the line now followed
across the lagoon by the railway. It is difficult to comprehend the
motives and views of persons who desire to turn a beautiful water-city
into a commonplace land one, or rather it is easy to perceive that the
motive inspires the views, since nothing but the greed of
concessionaires and of contractors could ever have evolved such a plan
out of any human mind.

The concessionaire and the contractor are the modern representatives of
ghouls and vampires of old-world romance. Truly, to them, as to the
Sabreur of Offenbach, nothing is sacred. They are guided entirely by
their lust of percentage, and to this they are ready to sacrifice every
other consideration; indeed, no other consideration exists for them.
They have settled on Italy for many years past as they are now settling
on Abyssinia. Venice is essentially a water-city; dealt with as land
cities are, under the present system, it will not only be disfigured and
mutilated like them, but it will be swept away; it will cease to be. The
world will have in its stead a dreary, dingy, trading port, with
warehouses, factories, docks, grain elevators, electric works, all the
polluted, crowded, discoloured, monotonous frightfulness which you can
have now at any moment on any coastline of the United States of America.
The Venice of Giambellini and the Veronese will be no more; you will
have in its stead a petty maritime Pittsburg.

At the present moment Molmenti has successfully combated this Mestre
project, but as the abominable scheme of the night steamers on the
Canalezzo, and the pontoon under S. Zeno, was almost unanimously
_rejected_ four times by the Venetian Council, yet, on its presentation
a fifth time, was _accepted_ (unacknowledged influences having been at
work), it is impossible to all those who love Venice as she merits not
to feel the greatest anxiety. For these speculators resemble the Röntgen
rays, and find means to penetrate through closed doors and all other
barriers. Iron still resists the Röntgen rays, and such iron the
speculators find now and then opposed to them in the scorn of such men
as the Count Antonio Donà della Rosa, who dismissed with offence and
disdain the offer of two millions in gold for the purchase of the
historic tapestries of his palace in Venice.

Were there only fifty such men as Count Donà in every Italian province
they would be able to hold in check the rage of destruction. But the
character of Count Donà is very rare in these days anywhere, and grows
rarer with every decade. The sordid Mephistopheles of a buyer usually
finds as sordid a temper in the Faust of a seller whom he tempts. This
may be a temper which enriches individuals; it is not one which ennobles
or elevates a nation: and frequently not even individual wealth is
realised for any length of time by the base barter, for the gambling on
the Bourse, or at the club-house, often makes the ill-got gains vanish
almost as soon as they are obtained. Such persons as find no attraction
in either form of gambling, unhappily for the most part, shrink from
action and from public life. Few have the courage of Molmenti, who
throws himself into the strife careless of what enmity he incurs, and
rarely even buoyed up by any hope of success in his efforts, since to
weave ropes of sand were scarcely more hopeless labour: it is impossible
to succeed in any public work where there is no response to your appeal
from the multitudes. And the voices of those who do secretly respond in
feeling are dumb in Italy; people are afraid to speak; they are
intimidated by the cry cast against them of want of energy, and of
enmity to progress (progress, good heavens! a gin-shop instead of a
temple!); they are afraid to be called reactionary, romantic,
unpatriotic; and in municipal government, as in other government,
everything is done by the wire-pullers, the money-grubbers, the
speculators.

The timid public huddles together, mute, submissive, and afraid, shorn
of its fleeces like a flock of sheep, but not daring to complain.

Those who do so dare are either ignored, or, if they give trouble, are
repressed. The gondoliers of Venice have again and again risen against
the ruin of their livelihood by the 'black devils' of the _vaporetti_,
but force is at once called in and they are brutally silenced, flung
into prison, and deprived of their licence, _i.e._, of their daily
bread. Because it is so picturesque a calling, and the balancing of the
oar looks so easy a work, those who are outside it do not realise the
hardships of a gondolier. In summer, if Venice be full, it is well
enough, and brings a fair, though never a high, wage; but in the other
seasons it is a life of great and continual exposure and fatigue. In
cold weather, and Venice is intensely cold in the winter solstice, the
long vigils on the _traghetto_ are most tedious and trying, especially
through the long chill nights. When the icy winds blow in from the Alps
or the Adriatic, the gondolier stands exposed to all their fury, whilst
the passenger he carries sits warm and sheltered under the felze.

Strong and lithe in form, often handsome in feature, almost invariably
intelligent and acquainted with legend and verse, invariably courteous
and well-bred, the gondolier should have received the utmost attention
from his rulers. It is painful to know that no body of men has ever been
so slighted, so injured, and so wantonly outraged.

There is nowhere any more interesting and deserving community than the
Venetian gondoliers, and few more worthy of regard; yet they have been
dealt with as though they were no more than so much scum of the sea.
Their long-established rights receive no consideration, and their
injuries no compensation.

If the vote of Venice could have been honestly polled, no steam-boat
would ever have been allowed on the Grand Canal, as, if the vote of
Florence could have been honestly polled, the centre of Florence would
be now standing untouched, and would have remained untouched for many a
generation.

Meanwhile, it is said, by those competent to judge, that the great
Murazzi, which protect Venice from the onslaught of the sea in winter
storm, and which we all know so well as we pass out from the Lido by the
Bar of Malamocco to Chioggia, are being dangerously undermined by the
attacks of the high tides in rude weather, and require costly and
immediate repair. It is in vain that this most necessary work is urged
upon the Government in Rome. The Government neither undertakes it
itself, nor allows Venetians to undertake it. For any foolish, needless
disfiguring work, such as the installation of the electric light in the
ducal palace, against which Venetians in vain protested, the Government
is always ready to waste millions. But for a work of obvious and vital
necessity, such as that of the strengthening of the Murazzi, it has not
a soldo to spare.

The architecture of Venice has the fragility as it has the fairness of
the dianthus or the gemmia of the sea; its walls and buttresses and
foundations are plunged into salted, sanded mud; its piles grow green
and brown and purple with weed; its snowy marbles and its ruddy stones
are mirrored in rippling or in stagnant water; they tremble under the
vibrations caused by the accursed paddle-boats; they quiver, like living
things, under the knife, as the engines roar and the cog-wheels turn.
Assailed as the city is within by the invasion of steam and barbarism,
it is entirely certain that she could not resist the force of the
inrushing waters if the Murazzi were ever to yield to the pressure of a
winter sea; and it is unhappily quite possible that the gigantic barrier
of the sea-walls may give way on some day of unusually high tides and
violent tempest, and the city herself will then be overwhelmed beneath
the Adriatic waters.

Who would care if this were her fate?

The contractors, and concessionaires, and jerry-builders, and
bureaucratic thieves, and foreign speculators would have the pleasure
and profit of building a spick and span new town, north-east of Mestre:
all tiresome reminiscences of the Lion of St Mark would have sunk with
the bronze horses underneath the waves.

Many public men would breathe more freely were Venice but a memory of
the past entombed in seaweed and in sand. For there is nothing so
curiously malignant or so restlessly jealous as the enmity of a feeble
Present of a great Past. It is such malignity, it is such jealousy,
which, even more than greed of gain, and vitiated taste, caused, and
causes, and will cause, the destruction of the great cities of Italy by
Italian deputies, syndics, and municipalities, and by those foreign
companies and alien speculations to which they unhappily open their
gates.

If the fact did not face us at every step, it would seem incredible
that, even in this age, such cities as Venice and Florence and Rome
could have been sacrificed to the ignominious interests of wire-pullers.
Each possessed, to protect it, unique beauty, splendour of association
and tradition, an heroic past: and for each had the greatest of men
laboured, in each had the charm of atmosphere and horizon lent a more
than mortal loveliness to the architecture of man. And each is now
wrecked, and ransacked, and despoiled, and obliterated, and destroyed as
though a horde of savages had been let loose in their precincts.

There is no language strong enough to condemn the injuries from which
they suffer.

On the walls of the Flavian Amphitheatre there grew in marvellous
fertility countless plants unknown elsewhere; survivors of sylvan worlds
destroyed, of botanical kingdoms for ever perished, the seeds of which
perchance had lodged in the sandals of the legions as they came from
Palmyra or Babylon; this most precious legacy of nature was, as everyone
knows, mercilessily destroyed in the first years of the Italian
occupation of Rome.

The uprooting with knives and acids of the unique flora of the Colosseum
was a type of the acts which, for the last fifteen years, have hacked
away and corroded and destroyed off the face of the earth the supreme
flowers of human genius.

In the present debasement and desecration of Italian cities there is not
even such motive and excuse as that which was urged by archaeologists
for the ruin of these plants. There is everything lost, nothing whatever
gained, in the debasement of classic and artistic cities to the level of
Buluwayo or Klondyke.

To pull down the Palazzo Venezia and the Palazzo Torlonia, which it is
decided to do in Rome, in order that the statue of Victor Emmanuel, for
which the funds have not even yet been raised, may be visible from the
Corso, is as contemptible as it is childish. The beauty of the
Campidoglio is already ruined in order to place that statue there: might
not that suffice? To throw down the Tower of the Amadei to put in its
place a restaurant, or a drinking-shop, is so stupid an act that the
enormity of the offence to history and art is almost forgotten in its
imbecility. To cut off a portion of the Archbishop's Palace to widen a
road, and destroy half the gardens of the Orti Oricellari to make a mean
street, and to place the stations and rails of tramway companies on the
macigno pavement under the Campanile, the Battistero, and the Duomo of
Florence, are outrages to the whole educated world and the history of
five centuries. To destroy the Ponte del Paradiso in order to put a
cast-iron pontoon in its place, is an abomination which should only seem
possible to a company of clowns crazy with drink; whilst to turn the
lovely isle of Sant' Elena into a heap of cinders for the pleasure of a
carriage-building company, which company was not even guaranteed from
bankruptcy, was unquestionably as unbusinesslike and as unprofitable as
it was impious.

There is neither common sense, nor common decency, in the chief part of
the measures taken within the last decade to humiliate and imbastardise
the cities and towns of Italy. The process of destruction began indeed
much earlier; but within the last ten years the pace has been increased
from a leisurely walk to a furious gallop. The scramble to be first to
outrage, to deface, to despoil, has become a St Vitus's dance amongst
the syndics, assessors, and councilmen; each deliriously eager for the
approving smile of the various ministers in whose hands the destinies of
these great and unrivalled Urbes unfortunately are placed.

It must be remembered by the foreign reader that there is no Minister of
Fine Arts in Italy. There is a Minister of Education, another of Public
Works, and another of Agriculture, and between these three all
questions of art and architecture are divided, and are decided in
agreement with the various municipalities. The mischief the trio does is
incalculable, for they are seldom selected with any regard to their
æsthetic qualifications. Indeed, if ever anyone of them show any
scholarly capacity and aptitude for his office, like that which was
shown by Villari, his possession of power is very short. Of a recent
minister of agriculture it is related that, as he looked over a valley
planted with magnificent olives near Brescia, he exclaimed, 'What fine
willows!'

A similar ignorance in matters belonging to their respective departments
is expected of the Ministers of Education and Public Works. Were there a
Minister of Fine Arts, he would undoubtedly be chosen from the
attorneys, the manufacturers, the scientists, or the rural Boeotians.

Another minister of agriculture, Count Francesco Guicciardini, had an
admirable and thorough command of the objects of his Dicastero; skilled
in agriculture himself, and the owner of large estates, he knew what to
do and how to do it; and by his energy an outbreak of phylloxera was
arrested before any great losses had ensued. But outside agriculture,
his influence was less excellent, because he was unfortunately enabled
to meddle with matters not agricultural and beyond his knowledge; as
when he ordered the destruction of a whole quarter of the martial and
ancient city of Pistoia, and the waste of the town funds in the erection
of a new savings bank. Over the choice of a design for this building,
the townspeople of Pistoia are now violently quarrelling, whilst many
of their finest and noblest palaces are left to go empty to decay!

A minister of the strictest probity, of the strongest desire to do what
is just and wise, is never long able to resist the pressure of those
around him, the force of example, the persuasions of local magnates, and
the insistence of the crowd of hungry perquisite-hunters. It is such
shocking and wicked waste of money as was this in Pistoia which
impoverishes every town, and disfigures each with vulgar piles of brick
and iron, and grotesque monuments of black metal, whilst a miserable
woman at their gates pays four centimes duty on a pint of milk before
she can take it past the guards to sell, and a wretched man, who owns a
little road-fed flock of goats, is taxed two hundred francs a year
before he may drive them into the streets to yield the little
nourishment which they can afford to invalids and children. Should the
law now under consideration pass, and the debts of the Communes be paid
by the State, and monies be henceforth lent lavishly by the State to the
Communes, this expenditure will increase tenfold, and the jobbery
accompanying it will be multiplied in similar measure.

No one of the governing classes is guiltless in the matter; cabinets,
senators, deputies, prefects, mayors, town councils, provincial
councils, each and all, sin alike in this matricide, and seem to vie
with each other in suggesting and executing the abominable projects
which disgrace the close of the century.

In this day, in everything appertaining to municipal government, the
greater is sacrificed to the lesser; the smug, the ordinary, the
expedient, the venal are first of all considered; the kind of man who
pushes to the front in affairs is bustling, sharp, keen, insensible, in
whose own existence no necessity for anything except vulgar prosperity,
as ugly as you will, is felt for an hour. To speak to such men of such
impersonal desires as moved the makers of the great cities of old, is to
speak in an unknown tongue, which they appraise as gibberish. They are,
for the present time, the rulers of the world, and the material they are
made of is the same clay, whether its shape take that of an emperor or a
contractor, of a king or a beadle, of a minister or a vestryman. At the
present hour the earth is given over to them.

Wyzewa accepts this insatiable mania for destruction as a
characteristic, which of course it undoubtedly is, of the general
disease of modernity; but he does not seem to trace it to what is surely
its source, the greed of gain. All these engineers, builders,
contractors, town councillors, bankers, usurers, speculators, chairmen,
shareholders, and directors of companies, can make nothing out of the
ancient glory and grace of beautiful cities; the mayors can get no
savoury morsel to compensate them for all their servility and
time-serving; the deputies can find no useful plunder to enrich the crew
who have voted for them; in respecting the beauty of the past,
syndicates and tradesmen and gamblers on 'Change would reap no harvest
of gold whatever.

What else but greed has been the motive of that shameless desecration of
Rome against which Geoffroy has raised his voice from the tomb to
protest?

What else but greed the motive of that infamous destruction of the
entire centre of Florence, its historic towers and churches and palaces,
torn down with blind rage to be replaced by hideous hotels, and monster
shops, and grotesque monuments? the most piteous, and the most
inexcusable, injury ever done to the rights of history and of art.

What else the motive of that wanton disfigurement of Venice which has
disgraced the last fifteen years of the municipal rule, and is about to
continue the work of ruin merely to enrich the men of greed, the English
and American tradesmen, the Hebrew speculators, the German hucksters,
the cosmopolitan inflators of bubble companies?

The motive of all these destructions is always the same, and always of
the lowest kind: gain. Everyone concerned in them gains, or hopes to
gain. There is no other instinct or idea than this. It is, like the
present diplomacy of Europe, an all-round game of grab; and a large
percentage of the gains goes to the doctors who label the gambling
'Hygiene.'

The plea of health is a falsehood usually advanced in excuse of such
destructions as those of the Florentine centre and the Venetian Calli
and Campielli. Those who allege it know, as well as I do, that the
unhealthiness lies not in the habitations but in the habits of the
people. Water never touches their bodies; tight-lacing is a female rule
in even the peasant class; the field-worker is as tightly cased in her
leather stays as the duchess in her satin corset. The favourite foods of
the populace are such as give worms, dysentery, and skin diseases; their
drinks are adulterated and poisonous;[15] their general habits are
unwholesome and injurious beyond all description; they are saved only by
the purity of the air which the municipalities, who chatter of hygiene,
do their best to pollute with acid and chemical fumes, and the stench of
noxious trades.

[Footnote 15: Contadini drink the _vinaccia_, or _vinella_, made from
the dregs of the wine-vats; but others drink (and often the contadino
does so also) the chemical stuffs sold at drinking-houses and taverns
with which the streets and roads are studded.]

The men who prate of hygiene know these facts as well as I do; they
know, I repeat, that the insalubrity is in the habits, not in the
habitations; but the conventional lie passes muster and serves its end:
it enables landlords to sell, and lawyers to pocket fees, and
contractors to make profits, and all the troops of middlemen to fatten
on the demolition of noble and ancient places and the creation of shoddy
stucco architecture in their stead.

The sense of beauty has died with the public destruction of beauty: it
is dead in the ruling classes; and what is far worse, dead in the
populace; dead, or nearly so, in the writers, the painters, the
sculptors. If in this latter class there were any strong, true, and
delicate instinct of what is noble and beautiful, Molmenti would not
stand alone in the Council of Venice; Prince Corsini would not alone
have resisted the destruction of the Florence of the Renaissance;
D'Annunzio would not alone repeat the denunciations of two dead
foreigners, Geoffroy and Gregorovius, of the violation of ancient and of
mediæval Rome. The voices of the artists (were they artists in feeling
indeed) would be, and would have been, so powerful that no ministry and
no municipality would have ventured to ignore them.

But most modern artists are afraid to offend their public, their
patrons, the town councils, the mayors, and communes, or the Ministers
of Education or of Public Works, to which or to whom they look for
employment; they have the decoration-hunger, which is one of the chief
curses of Continental Europe, and decorations only come from the powers
above; and in these powers above there is not the faintest glimmer of
taste or feeling, there is only jealousy of a great and unapproachable
Past.

Therefore, the few who do feel indignation do not speak; and the
speculator, the jerry builder, the cunning lawyer and conveyancer, the
vast body of greedy and gross spoilers, have their way unchecked.

In the case of Rome, of course, that cruellest and ugliest of all
passions, religious antagonism, has had much to do with the atrocious
ruin of the Prati del Castello, of the Trastevere generally, of the
passage of the four trams in derision in face of St Peter's, of the
hideous gimcrack houses built under the walls of the Lateran, of the
destruction of street shrines and votive chapels and ancient chapels, of
the erection of the entire quarters of what is called New Rome;[16] but
religious hatred cannot be the cause of the barbarous scraping and
daubing of classic buildings, of the degradation of the Via Nomentana,
and of Porta Pia, of the ruin of such glory and grace as that of the
Ludovisi and the Farnesina villas, of the bedaubing and beplastering,
the dwarfing and disfiguring, the vulgarising and disfiguring of
everything which is touched by the modern ædiles of Rome. No matter what
the syndic be called, whether Ruspoli or Guiccioli, or Torlonia, or
Colonna, no matter whether the cabinet be headed by Rudini or Giolitti,
by Crispi or Pelloux, the pickaxe is never at rest, and the hammer and
hatchet sound ceaselessly in street and garden, on desecrated altars,
and in devastated groves.

[Footnote 16: It is now almost forgotten that the Ludovisi gardens ever
existed as the motley fashion of the new Roman world flocks to the
American Legation in the Pal. Piombino!]

To what end have served the fury and haste with which ancient
ecclesiastical buildings have been razed to the ground in both the
cities and the provinces? To none whatever, so far as any diminution of
the funds and the numbers of ecclesiastical foundations can be counted.

The suppression of the monasteries and convents was actuated by love of
gain as much as by polemical rancour, by the hunger of the newly-created
kingdom, for their treasures and riches, for their rich endowments and
saleable possessions. There was no sincerity about it; there could be
none in a nation then almost entirely Catholic; and this insincerity is
proved by the indifference with which the State allows the
re-establishment of these buildings and these orders. At this moment the
bare-footed Carmelites, a most bigoted order, have lately opened a new
church and convent in Milan, which are endowed with three millions of
money, and have been opened with great pomp by the Archbishop. Similar
institutions are being re-created in all directions, possessing all the
evils of those which were suppressed, without their artistic beauty, and
largely without their good faith and munificent charity. Rich and lovely
maidens continue to take the veil when too young to have any realisation
of what they do,[17] and the Church is as enriched as of old by their
dowers; whilst the monk is not the less dangerous to intellectual
liberty because, when he goes out of the gates for a few hours, he wears
a coat and trousers like those of the layman of the adjacent town.

[Footnote 17: A few months ago the Prime Minister, then the Marquis di
Rudini, was present at the taking of the veil by a young relative in
Naples.]

The ancient monasteries and convents were at least an education to the
eye: who could daily see the Certosa of Pavia, or of the Val d'Ema, and
not be purified and instructed in visual memory and artistic instinct?
The new revivals of the old orders teach nothing except a base and
strictly modern union of superstition and compromise. Indeed, the State
forces the priest to be base; it makes it the condition of allowing his
existence. If he do not succumb to the State in all things (even in
those most opposed to his conscience), he is deprived of his _placet_;
and Zanardelli has in these last few days desired to deprive him of it
without such legal forms as have hitherto been observed. For one of the
greatest of the misfortunes of Italy is that, not in the Radicals nor in
the Conservatives, nor in any one of the groups into which political
life is divided, is there the slightest trace of any respect for
individual freedom; liberty of action and of opinion obtain no fair
play whatever from any one of the parties of the State.

True, it is not in Italy alone that the sense of symmetry and harmony is
leaving the terrestial race; the want of beauty, as the daily bread of
life, grows less and less felt every year by the modern mind wherever
that mind has been unhinged by the manias of modernity. Beauty, natural
and artistic, has become entirely indifferent to the majority of even
highly-educated modern men and women. They have no leisure to
contemplate it, no temperament capable of feeling it; it is in no sense
necessary to them; it makes no impression either on their retina or
their memory. Their lives pass before a revolving panorama, so rapidly
dissolving and changing that they have no distinct impression of any of
the scenes or subjects. Every year modern habits become more unlovely,
and modern sensibilities more blunted. The preservation of what is
beautiful, _per se_, at the present time is almost always ridiculed,
unless it can be shown to be joined to some profit or utility. The
characteristic passion of the hour is greed; greed of possession, desire
of acquisition, and passion for ostentation. Trade has become an octopus
embracing the whole world; the thirst for gain engrosses all classes;
beauty, unless it be a means of gain, is to this temper a useless, or
worse than a useless, thing: it is regarded as a stumbling-block and
encumbrance.

It is doubtful if even the power of perceiving what is beautiful has not
in a great measure left a large part of the population in all countries.
Modern cities would not be what they are now had not the race to a
great extent grown colour-blind, and become without the sense of
proportion. Modern builders and modern engineers would remain unoccupied
were not the generations, which employ and enrich them, destitute of all
artistic feelings.

Many of the prevailing fashions would be so intolerable to persons with
any delicate or accurate perception, that such fashions could never have
become general had any perception of this kind been general. Even the
deformity of their bodies awakens no aversion in the modern public; if
it did, the bicycle would never have been in demand.

Such blindness and deadness to the charm of beauty is to be noted in
every nation, and is developed even in the extreme East whenever modern
European and American usage influences the Oriental.

Japan is rapidly becoming the rival in vulgarity and hideousness of
Chicago.

It is no doubt general and inevitable, the low tone of susceptibility,
the dense, thick-skinned temper, which accompany what is called
Civilisation, which are to be seen everywhere from cold to warm
latitudes, wherever the steam-engine screams and the shoddy suits are
worn.

The modern temper is something even worse than inartistic; it is
brutally and aggressively hostile to beauty, whether natural or
architectural. It will go out of the way to injure, to deface, to
uproot, to level with the dust.

To the cold, bald, hard, derisive temper of the modern majority there is
something offensive and irritating in beauty, whether it be seen in the
stately verdure of a tree in its summer glory, or of an ancient
tower,[18] brown and grey in the light of evening. To fell the tree, to
pull down the tower, is the first instinct of the modern mind, and it is
an instinct clamorous, savage, insatiable, born of incapacity and
triviality, of the hunger for destruction, and of a secret and ignoble
jealousy.

[Footnote 18: The other day I saw from a railway train a grand old
Longobardo tower which had been coloured a bright pink!]

There can, I think, be no doubt that modern education implants and
increases this insensibility. If it did not, modern municipalities would
not be what they are, would not do what they do. The only resistance to
this insensibility is found, and this but rarely, at the two extremes of
the social scale--the peasant and the noble, _i.e._, in those who are
least subjected to the pressure of general education. In the man,
absolutely uneducated, and in the man reared by an individual and
highly-cultured education, are alone now to be found any appreciation of
beauty, natural or artistic.

A French writer, with no pity for the lovers of teas and porcelains, has
said recently that he looks forward with joy to the time when the whole
empire of China will be covered with factories and mines as thickly as
blades of grass grow in a meadow. Most modern persons have no higher
ideal than his. In similar phrase, Ferrero, whose political writings I
have often cited with approval, and whose striking abilities I greatly
admire, but with whose narrow socialist temper I have no sympathy,
actually states that the plain of Lombardy was created by nature to be
studded with factory chimneys!

Even into remote mountain towns, and in small forgotten cities, on the
edge of lonely lakes, or deep-sunk in chestnut woods, or ilex-forests,
the same desecration creeps, and sullies, and pollutes. Gimcrack, gaudy
villas, and pasteboard houses, show their pert and paltry forms amidst
noble palaces, or beside patrician towers. Pistachio green paint makes
day hideous everywhere, daubed on deal shutters and blinds, accompanied
by the paltry stained doors, and the stucco mouldings, of the epoch. The
modern municipality displays its whitewashed and belettered frontage,
unashamed, on some grand old piazza, which has seen centuries of strife
and splendour. Silent sunlit bays of Tyrrhene or Adriatic, lovely as a
poem of Shelley, are made vulgar and ludicrous by lines of habitations
such as the jerry-builder of the end of the nineteenth century
procreates, wearing an air of smug imbecility which makes one long to
slap their stucco faces; of course the drinking-shop, the
cycling-casino, and the shooters' club have been run up beside them so
that their patrons and frequenters may befoul the roseate evening, and
insult the ethereal night.

Moreover, it is strange to note how, with the vulgarisation of the towns
and of the landscapes in this classic land, the human physiognomy loses
its classic unity and grace, grows heavier, coarser, meaner, commoner,
changes indeed entirely its type and colouring; the camus or the snub
nose replaces the aquiline, the scrofulous mouth replaces the lips
shaped like a Cupid's bow; the eyes diminish in size and grow
lack-lustre; the beautiful oval outline of cheek and chin alters to the
bull-dog jaw and puffy cheeks; the clear and pure skin alters to the
sodden, pallid, unwholesome complexion of the new type. This is no
exaggerated statement; anyone can see the change for himself who will
take the trouble to observe such young Italians as throng the
second-rate and the third-rate _cafés_ and dining-saloons of cities, and
then go into the more remote country, and see the Italiote race still in
its integrity, in old-world hamlets of the Abruzzi or the Apennines, in
forest-sheltered nooks of the Sabine or the Carrara mountains, in
sea-faring, wind-swept villages of the Veneto, in nomad sheep-folds on
the oak-studded grass plains of the Basilicata, or in old walled towns,
calm and venerable, in the lap of the high hills, where the shriek of
the engine has not yet been heard; where it is still unknown, that which
Loti calls in his latest work, 'cette chose de laid, de noirâtre, de
tapageur, d'idiotement empressée, qui passe vite vite, ébranle la terre,
trouble ce calme délicieux par des sifflets et des bruits de ferailles,
le chemin de fer, le chemin de fer!--plus nivelant que le temps,
propageant la basse camelote de l'industrie, déversant chaque jour de la
banalité et des imbéciles.'

In the provinces he will still find, in thousands of living creatures,
the youths of Luca Signorelli, the knights of Giorgione and Carpaccio,
the young gods of Paolo Veronese, the noble grey-beards of Tiziano, the
stately women of Michelangiolo, the enchanting children of Raffaelle,
and Correggio. But in the towns, and in the country where it receives
the moral and physical miasma of the towns, he will find little else but
the debased modern type, with its snigger of conceit, its cynical grin,
its criminal's jaw, its cutaneous eruptions, its dull and insolent eyes,
its stunted growth, and its breath foul with nicotine and chemical
drinks, such as the modern schools, and the modern scientists, and the
modern dram-shops have made it.

Commerce, from being beneficent, is fast becoming a curse. It usurps and
absorbs all place and all energy. Its objects are allowed to push out of
existence all higher aims; armies and navies exist only to protect it;
and an English Premier was not ashamed at a Lord Mayor's banquet to
declare that this was their unique aim: to conquer fresh fields for
trading, and protect the trader in his invasion of the rights of others.
His Secretary of State for the Colonies and his Chancellor of the
Exchequer have, still more recently, repeated after him this singularly
ignoble view of a nation's duty, and of a soldier's and sailor's
obligation.

The Secretary of the Colonies, indeed, rising to unwonted enthusiasm,
added that all the greatness of Great Britain lies in its commerce. No
doubt this may be a fact; but it is not an ennobling fact; and it is one
which is the parent of gross sins, and the enemy of high ideals; in the
name of commerce, murder, theft, and torture are all legalised, and the
most brutal egotism deified; it can be at best only a material greatness
which is thus consolidated.

To measure the virtue of a nation by its commerce alone is like
measuring the virtue of a man solely by the amount of his income. This
manner of estimation is one common in the world, but it can never be
considered a high standard. However, this excuse of the prior and
dominant claims of commerce which may be put forward in the case of
Great Britain for the sacrifice to it of all other interests cannot be
alleged by Italy except in some districts of the north. What requires
protection in five-sixths of Italy, and only suffers extinction through
fiscal pressure, is small commerce: personal arts, crafts, and trades,
which flourished so happily in past times, and would still live in fair
peace and comfort were they not stoned out of existence by a merciless
taxation, direct and indirect. These neither disfigure nor offend the
beautiful and venerable little towns in which they dwell; the smith has
his anvil under a Lombard arch, the apothecary keeps his ointments and
simples in old majolica vases, the barber's pole slants under a shrine
of the Renascence, the cloth-seller piles his bales against the
sculpture of a Seicento wall, the seedsman's sacks show the shining
berries in their gaping mouths behind the iron scroll-work of mediæval
kneeling-windows. It is not they who have hurt their birthplaces. It is
the English syndicate, the Jew syndicate, the German money-changer, the
American tram-contractor, the foreign electric company, the foreign
co-operative store-keeper, who have no end but their own gain, and who
tempt to shameful acts those native to the soil, in whose hands lie the
fate of these historic, and late happy, places.

Ferrero has, concerning this, a true and touching passage which is much
worthier of him than his views regarding Lombardy and the factories. He
says, in a recent able article on the 'Miseria e Richezza in Italia':--

     'The tendencies of new commercial life, in its immense
     enterprises, is to send money and movement into a very few
     amongst the cities of Italy, the others live content with their
     small traffic and trade; though trembling when the fleet
     well-springs of their small fortunes are menaced or run dry.
     Many of these towns were in other days rich, and still preserve
     the evidences of their splendid past in sumptuous palaces,
     spacious squares, monumental churches; a sense of venerable
     years, of profound repose lie on them; yet a sad and cruel
     tragedy often passes between these walls; beneath the
     magnificent palaces of the Renascence and the beautiful
     mediæval Lombard churches, the populace perishes slowly of
     hunger. The small ancient industries disappear, crushed out by
     the victorious rivalry of the great tradesmen of the north. The
     ruin of these small industries and of these individual crafts
     began some decades ago; but it was much less cruelly felt then
     than it is now, and the sole recourse or solace now left to it
     is in revolt. A revolt to which the Government only replies by
     fixed bayonets, and a duty on corn, which is a crime.'

Ferrero, as a political economist is bound to do, considers that no
means should be taken to artificially sustain ancient methods of work
and trade, but he says with entire truth that to artificially depress
and deplete them is on the part of the State an abominable act. To wear
out the temper and patience of the populace with harassing edicts; to
drive to desperation those who are cheerful and contented in an honestly
supported poverty; to starve them by artificially raised food-prices,
and by gate-taxes, which ruin the small trader, the modest householder,
and the rural vendor alike; to render it, by a monstrous taxation,
impossible for small industries to exist; to levy income-tax
(_focatico_) on the poorest labourer--this is the terrible error, the
inexcusable cruelty, of which the actual, and every preceding, Italian
Cabinet is, and has been, guilty. If there be revolution in the air, who
can wonder? The granaries are guarded by battalions, whilst millions are
thrown away on bad statues to Savoy princes. These are facts which it is
not necessary for a man to know his A B C to read. But they are the
primer which is daily placed before the eyes of the many various peoples
of Italy from the Col de Tenda to Cape Sorano; and these peoples are of
rare intelligence even where wholly illiterate: often, indeed, most
intelligent where most illiterate.

There were, not many years ago, a great measure of mirth and contentment
in all the minor cities of Italy, and in the small towns and the big
walled villages; much harmless merry-making and pastime, much simple and
neighbourly pleasure, much enjoyment of that 'ben' di Dio,' the blessed
air and sunshine. Most of it has been killed now; starved out,
strangled by regulations and penalties and imposts, and a fiendish
fiscal tyranny; dead like the poor slaughtered forgotten conscripts in
Africa.

But this opens out a political question, and it is not of politics that
these pages treat, but of art and its outrage: above all, of such
outrage in Venice; since the President of her Academy did me, of late,
the honour to say to me, 'Non può Lei far nulla per salvare la nostra
povera Venezia?' Alas! how powerless are all our forces against the
ever-rising tide of modern barbarism!

A precious intaglio of exquisite workmanship is being broken up and
pulverised under our eyes; and no one cares.

I know a wide plain, intersected by many streams, and lying full in the
light of the west; these streams are filled from August to October with
millions of white water-lilies.

Nothing more beautiful can be beheld than these countless water-courses
covered with these cups of snow, which share the clear, slowly-rippling
streams only with the water-wagtail and the sedge-warbler, the bullrush,
and the flag. They resemble exactly the river on which the Virgine delle
Rocce drift with their brothers and Claudio. But the peasants push their
black, flat-bottomed boats recklessly amongst the silver goblets of the
flowers, crashing into them and breaking them with brutal indifference,
and raking them into heaps in their boats, to be cast up on to the
oozing banks to rot and serve as land manure; the boorish insensibility
of the boatmen is typical of their time; the lilies would serve quite
as well for manure were they allowed to live out their lovely life, and
were not gathered until they were yellow and faded; but they who rake
them in do not wait for their natural season of decay; they smash and
break them in full flower as they kill birds on the nest in the fields
and hedges.

Their fate is like the fate of that greater lily, rosy-red at sunset,
which lies cradled on the waters between Mestre and Murano; and which is
roughly and painfully being uprooted and destroyed that a pack of
foreign traders and native attorneys may wax fat and lay up gold.

No doubt the fate of Venice is common in these days; no doubt, all over
the world, capitalists and socialists join hands across the gulf of
their differences to unite in the destruction of all that is beautiful,
graceful, harmonious, and venerable.

But in Italy such destruction is more sad and shameful than anywhere
else in Europe, by reason of the magnificence and glory of her past, and
in view of the pitiful fact that the land, which was a Pharos of light
and leading to the earth, is now every year and every day receding
farther and farther into darkness: that dreadful darkness of the modern
world which comes of polluted waters and polluted air, of the breath of
poisoned lungs, and the pressure of starving crowds. The basest form of
venality, the lowest form of greed, have fastened on her with the
tentacles of the devil-fish; and are every hour devouring her.


_Colston & Coy, Limited, Printers, Edinburgh._





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